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Monday, 29 August 2011

Words to Live By #6

Two titans of industry:  

"If I asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse"

- Henry Ford

"I want to put a ding in the universe"  

 - Steve Jobs

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Icons of Cool #2

C'est vraiment dégueulasse
Okay, is it my fault that international cinema from the 50's and 60's contains so many great examples of cool? First Marcello Mastroianni, and now Jean-Paul Belmondo, he of the pinnacle of Godardian insouciance and insanity.

Look no further than Jean-Luc Godard's game-changing debut film A bout de soufflé (1960) to see how Belmondo, nobody's idea of a handsome leading man, embodies cool.  In the film Belmondo plays Michel, a small-time crook with a serious love for American films, and particularly Humphrey Bogart, who he apes incessantly. He flips cigarettes into his mouth and runs his thumb across his lips just like his hero.

Throughout Belmondo's films, especially with Godard (Pierrot le Fou, Une femme est une femme), Belmondo often plays tough guys with sensitive, romantic sides. He looks almost silly playing a no-nonsense rough type since there always seems to be humour bubbling just under the surface. This isn't to say he never played intense roles, he did and did well, but when I think of my favourite Belmondo films, he always plays a guy who knows all the angles, talks big, and cracks wise at every turn.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Writing His Curses in Cursive

I have spent the better part of a week writing a piece on the new Kanye West/Jay-Z collaboration Watch The Throne. It's an album I've been listening to on pretty heavy rotation for the last couple of weeks, and I think it's great. Maybe not all time classic great, but it's a damn fine album with two rap titans at the peak of their powers rapping mostly about how awesome and rich they are and having a hell of a time doing it. But as I was writing about the album, I found myself getting sidetracked, writing mostly about the idiosyncratic, unpredictable Mr. West more than anything else and I realized what the hell, why don't I just write about him and let the album speak for itself. I don't like writing reviews very much anyways.

Kanye West is an artist in every sense of the word. He is brash, bold, unapologetic, and extremely talented. He's also flawed and a major dick a lot of the time. He's the icon this generation deserves. In a time where it pays to be everything to all people, to appeal to as wide a demographic as possible to make the most amount of money, Kanye stands out like a sore thumb hitchhiking down the road leading to his own spectacular demise.

But the guy has flourished to become one of the most critically acclaimed recording artists of all time, atop all the negative press, the public breakups, and the loudmouth interjections. Kanye called out George Bush as hating black people, and was called a jackass by Barack Obama. He has publicly embarrassed beloved pop stars, essentially inspiring instant hatred from millions of people in one fell swoop. So how on earth does one man win back the hearts and minds of people who he has so dutifully alienated, seemingly gleefully so? Easy. Kanye embraces his faults, accepts his behaviors and never makes excuses for his screw-ups. In fact, he crafts his foibles into edgy, sonically daring music so removed from the pop landscape of today it's hard not to listen to it without forgetting everything Kanye has ever done and just admire his raw talent.

I'm trying to right my wrongs, but it's funny those same wrongs helped me write this song

Kanye's personality is inextricably intertwined with his music, so much so that I believe you couldn't have one without the other. His music is an outlet for all his contradictions, his anger, his confessions, and ultimately his redemption. Rarely has one man poured so much of himself into his art. For proof one simply needs to listen to Kanye's 2008 album 808s and Heartbreak, a cold, distant, auto-tuned paean to bleeding wounds and personal tragedies; he recorded it after his fiancee left him and his mother passed away needlessly from an elective cosmetic surgery. Kanye has sent out pictures of his privates to women via email, got busted, owned up and included the act in his song Runaway. He's up front about his cheating, lying and all around hedonistic ways in nearly every song he writes. And not only is he honest, he's bloody clever about it too, often making the listener smile and wince at the same time.

My childlike creativity, honesty, and purity, is honestly being crowded by these grown thoughts

What else has Kanye brought to music besides his own bleeding heart? Well, quite a few things actually. Like fun. Yeah, it's crazy that the guy who bares his soul in his music can also bring a complete and utter sense of giddiness to his work. But Kanye does, and more importantly, does it well. He cracks himself up during his songs, he samples everything from Nina Simone to King Crimson, and it always sounds like he's having a blast doing it. Even during his more sober tracks where he's lamenting the murder rate in his hometown of Chicago or contemplating suicide, his high energy is palpable to the listener.

I admit my first watch was a Fossil, now I'm in the Louvre, lookin' for fossils

Successful rappers like Kanye West are wealthy beyond the imagination of most people. They have access to a life that's limited only by imagination. There is a substantial backlash against Watch The Throne because these two multimillionaires are rapping about how great it is to be rich and famous while there are millions of people scraping by during a recession. Fair enough. If all Kanye rapped about was his wealth, and if he did it in a dull, repetitive fashion, he'd have a lot less of a devoted fanbase. But he's a larger than life figure that raps about what he knows, from his humble beginnings in Chicago to an internationally renowned superstar. He plays the luxury angle so over the top that one can't help but just get caught up in it glorious excess of it all.

Everything I'm not made me everything I am

Kanye West stands head and shoulders above 99% of not just rappers, but recording artists today. The musical landscape is so overstuffed with successful mediocrity that the mere fact that someone so bold like Kanye West can thrive is a minor miracle. Love him or not, he can never be accused of lack of ambition, of simply wanting to sell records and take the easy way out. Where others would have vanished into the background after so many public humiliations, he came back with a record like My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, a record of such stunning originality and vision that critics and fans simply could not ignore him. Kanye has taken rap music to a higher level where he is unmatched by anyone else currently making music, and he is showing no signs of slowing down. He is exactly what we need right now: a bold streak of neon technicolor amongst a yawning sea of beige.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Words To Live By #5

The empty round headed shaven chimp like buffoon, Karl Pilkington
"You can be an ugly baby and everyone goes "awww innit nice?" There was some women in a cafe the other week that I was sat in, and she came up and she sat down with her mate and she was talkin' loudly goin' on about "oh the baby's lovely." They said it's got, er, lovely big eyes, er, really big hands and feet. Now that doesn't sound like a nice baby to me. I felt like sayin' it sounds like a frog. But I thought I dont know her, there's only so much you can say to a stranger. I dont know what kept me from sayin' it." 

--Karl Pilkington

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Icons of Cool #1

Okay, I don't consider myself cool by any stretch of the imagination, but I think I know enough to observe it from a distance. The subjectivity of the word "cool" really works in my favor for a post like this, since no one can really call me out on my choices if they disagree with me, since one man's James Dean is another man's John Cazale (and just for the record, John Cazale is one of my favorite actors, and I sure as hell am not knocking him, but I've never really thought of him as cool, per se. More intensely moody in a fragile, heartbreaking "it was you, Fredo" sorta way).

So what is cool to me?

Tall order to be sure, and it's not like I have a list of criteria in front of me with boxes to check, so I'm just going to go on a gut instinct. I'll ask myself would I be in absolute awe if I ever was in the presence of this individual because of their overwhelming embodiment of cool?

If the answer is yes, then there you go.

So, onto my first icon of cool.

Marcello Mastroianni Italian actor born 1924, died 1996.

The glasses, the cuffs. the look. 
The first movie I saw with Marcello Mastroianni was Fellini's 8 1/2 (1963). In it, he plays a film director struggling to overcome a mental block of creativity while dealing with the various women in his life, past and present. Fellini and Mastroianni worked together on La Dolce Vita as well, where he embodies the callousness and extravagance of the titular "sweet life" of upper crust Rome during the late 50’s. Both roles require Mastroianni to be a commanding presence while retaining a sensitive, wounded persona. He also has to look as though he can attract the attentions of Anouk Aimee, Anita Ekberg, and Claudia Cardinale without any audience members scoffing at the verité of such a ludicrous notion, for how can one single man seduce one of these otherworldly beauties, let alone three? But Mastroianni does it effortlessly, and I believe thats what his embodiment of cool really boils down to. The unquestionable effortlessness of this man coasting through beauty and glamour, debonaire and sophisticated at every turn, and you never once even believe he's acting.

He just is.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Words to Live By #4

If home is where the heart is baby
Then my home is inside you
I don't need a living room of diamonds, yeah
A chicken shack will do.

--tUnE-yArDs, You Yes You from their album WHOKILL

Honestly, please check this album out. It is full of some of the most amazing and energetic music I've heard in a very long while.