Saturday, September 30, 2006

Jackass: Number Two

Pamplona this ain't
by Ryland Walker Knight

When the first JACKASS movie came out in theatres I had zero desire to subject myself to its stupidity and I still haven't seen it. In line for the sequel I was ready to abandon the plan. I thought, This is going to make me sick--I know it. But I was persuaded to stick with it ("It'll be funny!") and despite any weariness of watching so much vomit onscreen I might want to spew in my seat, I was too busy laughing for my gag reflex to take hold. For the most part. There's a couple sequences that made me avert my eyes but even those skits had my laughing seconds later. The movie runs 95 minutes and my stomach was taut for, I'd say, 92 minutes. Sometimes I was recoiling, shocked and appalled, but the absurdity kept me howling. There's a little slack in the middle of the movie and it ends a little late with a near-brilliant (yet mishandled) Busby Berkeley musical number but there's enough in there too keep you giggling and oblivious. And that's probably the best thing about the JACKASS brand: you never have to think, just laugh. The only thing I kept mental tabs on was how often the cast was naked, or close to. They're a close knit bunch of ridiculous adrenaline junkies getting paid ridiculous salaries to risk death and mutilation for laughs, often at one another's expense. Its immaturity and plain idiocy is easily forgotten, though, once those laughs start piling up in this oddball monster movie that, in the end, is some kind of masterpiece.

02006: 95 minutes: dir. Jeff Tremaine: "written" by Sean Cliver and Preston Lacy

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Femme Fatale

Was it good for you?
by Ryland Walker Knight

Brian DePalma's no slouch. His career as a film director has produced a few great films and a lot of flashy filmmaking across his filmography--even in lesser, uneven pictures. Those films that don't quite work are dismissed in facile workaday reviews as rip offs of his obvious idol, Alfred Hitchcock. Only recently has DePalma received his own auteur label, complete with theory applied so thick you almost forget how middling that movie was you just watched. Yes, I'm talking about a few, choice critics' wild praise for the scatterbrained and briefly sparkling mess that is THE BLACK DAHLIA. (David Edelstein says it best "even with the movie’s won’t-shut-up narrator I didn’t know what was going on.") But I could also be talking about the roundly appreciated, generally well reviewed film he made just prior, FEMME FATALE.

Brian DePalma can move the camera. He's a conductor, really, orchestrating elaborate set-pieces because he's having fun. He's not a writer. FEMME FATALE was the first picture he directed in a decade from a screenplay he had written. I agree with Jonathan Rosenbaum in that it appears DePalma "set out to combine every previous thriller he'd made in one hyperbolically frothy cocktail." All the cranes, split frames, slow motion and po-mo duality/doppelganger themes we've seen before. It has everything but a leading lady to fill those big boots the title character has to wear around town.

In the flamboyant, formalist world of FEMME FATALE it shouldn't matter that Rebecca Romijn isn't the most talented performer, but that she should demand attention. A former model, Romijn has a typically beautiful model's face and lithe, toned limbs but she never projects the sex appeal and danger required for a role such as this. In the first scene, Romijn's Laure is watching the climax to Billy Wilder's DOUBLE INDEMNITY and we watch, for a minute of so, Barbara Stanwyck convey more magnetism than Romijn will during any of her dialogue-driven scenes. I think that's the problem: Rebecca Romijn's voice has too much model in it, not enough movie star, and all I hear is petulance. I never believed this woman was manipulating this world that much.

bathing beauty

The only manipulation on display is DePalma's unrestrained play with film, from Laure's first (mute) scene to the last freeze frame. The film opens with a ludicrously fun heist sequence complete with lesbian make out, piss electrocution and a pitch black, night-vision escape. It's the high point of the film. DePalma is giddy, showing off and making an easy joke about the festival goers groping for something to hold onto in that enveloping darkness. Sight, and voyeurism in particular, is always a crucial element in DePalma's bag of filmic tricks--right up there with doubling--so it's no surprise that Laure snakes her way out of the heist amongst all those blind festival goers. (Here's where those theory-mad disciples go nuts all over their keyboards.) Romijn may be the star onscreen but really the show belongs to DePalma. And from that angle, this is a great film, full of vigor and excitement: sheer cinematic joy at work. However, it's hard to ignore such an underwhelming figure at centre of such ecstatic filmmaking. No, it cannot hold, and Rosenbaum agrees again: "I realize that De Palma's thrillers are commonly regarded as emotional rather than cerebral, but I'd question how emotional one can be about characters one only halfheartedly (quarter-heartedly?) believes in."

Antonio Banderas plays semi-retired paparazzi, Nicolas Bardo (sorta like Boudu but he's really doing the saving, in the end), who's working on a mural of photographs depicting the square his enviable Paris apartment overlooks. He takes a picture of Laure twice, the first a random snapshot without consequence--a minor annoyance for Laure--yet the second one gets him entirely too involved in her hairbrained scheme to free herself not only of a boring diplomat husband (serviceable Peter Coyote) but the men she double crossed during the opening heist. Banderas is also having fun, giving us, probably, his best English-language performance in more than a decade. He almost makes up for the cypher that is Romijn. But then, when the flip-your-lid reveal of the last act pops up to burst your noirish bubble, you have to wonder why were we given him as our only emotional connection to the characters. It's to show you, the audience, you're the patsy, too, by falling for DePalma's machinations all over again. If you surrender to FEMME FATALE you may be no better off than Banderas, drawn in by some flashy camerawork and pretty pictures left hanging in freeze frame, befuddled by something cryptic Rebecca Romijn has said trying to charm you. You know better, don't you? Go finish that mural.

02002: 114 minutes: dir. Brian DePalma: written by DePalma

Thom Yorke: A Scientific Lyric Study

by Michael Strenski

Like any human being with a smattering of intelligence, I am an avowed Radiohead fan. Me and the band go way back. My earliest Radiohead recollection is of repeatedly listening to "Creep" from a cassette copy of the "S.F.W." soundtrack on my Walkman while riding my skateboard in the suburbs. I was wearing a ridiculous Sonic Youth beanie with a pom-pom on top of it. Welcome to the mid-90's.

I had Pablo Honey but I didn't really come on board until the Bends and the "Pulp Fiction" rip-off of a video for "High and Dry" that MTV played incessantly. Since then I have purchased each new Radiohead release (including EP's, but not singles or imports) on the day they came out, usually at 10am. When OK Computer was released I picked it up from Tower, went home and took a shower before listening to it so I would be as clean and pure as possible for that first experience. Very few bands elicit such rituals. I have since been willing to follow the band into any weird direction they decide on heading. Kid A was initially a struggle, most of which I blame on the mountains of press I devoured before its release telling me that it would be difficult. Nowadays it rests quite unchallenged at the top of my Radiohead list.

Flash forward to a week ago when "Atoms for Peace" came on the iPod shuffle. At this point I had owned Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke's solo album, the Eraser (that "Atoms for Peace" appears on) for two months already, and only listened to it in its entirety twice. I had simply not felt compelled to put it on, unlike every other Radiohead-affilated album. When played individually I enjoyed the songs, but on the whole the album seemed incredibly one-note and repetitive. I blame the instrumentation for that. The entire album features nine songs consisting of skittering electronic beats, treated piano and bass. That's it, save Thom's incredible voice. There are beautiful melodies and interplay between these sparse elements but it hasn't struck me as a compelling listen.

My biggest hang-up with the album is that it contains some of the worst lyrics I have ever heard. The biggest offender is within track six, the aforementioned "Atoms for Peace". At one minute and fifty-five seconds into the song Thom sings quite earnestly, "peel all of your layers off/I want to eat your artichoke heart." What the....??? Is this is a joke? How could anyone that's not a hormone-addled teenager write those lyrics with a straight face, let alone sing them? Much has been written about Thom Yorke's shortcomings as a lyricist, but until this album I had never really thought he was terrible. In fact, there are a lot of his lines that I truly love.

The more I thought about it it seemed that over the last decade of releasing records, Thom's lyrics have shifted away from more poetic wordplay to bare confessional lines, usually repeated over and over for emphasis. Now, a shift in lyrical style is not necessarily a bad thing. Since I was merely hypothesising at this point, I decided to conduct a scientific study on what I would call the Degeneration of Thom Yorke's Lyrics. Were his words in fact, getting worse? I decided that because the most offensive lyric to my taste appeared at one minute fifty-five seconds into track six on the album, I would study the lyrics on previous albums that appear at this moment. Below are my thoughts, results, and overall observations about the lyrical world of Mister Thom Yorke:

"Where I end and where you start
Where you, you left me alone"
-"Where I End and You Begin" from 02003's Hail to the Thief

This lyric is pretty self-explanatory and falls into the bare bones-style I mentioned above. With the music and producton, the lyrics manage to effectively convey the loneliness that the singer inhabits.

"Look into my eyes
It's the only way you'll know I'm telling the truth"
-"Knives Out" from 02001's Amnesiac

Right before the above lines are sung Thom claims that "if you'd been a dog, they would have drowned you at birth." Ouch. Harsh words to say the least, made all the more convincing by this simple line that follows. There is not much to these words but for some reason I find them really great.

"This one dropped a payload
Fodder for the animals
Living on animal farm"
-"Optimistic" from 02000's Kid A

The "one" mentioned here is the last in a group of ones that brings to mind the "this little piggy" game played with children's toes. This one is definitely the most sinister of the group. All in all a quite effective line.

"I've given all I can
But we're still on the payroll"
-"Karma Police" from 01997's OK Computer

This really surprised me. "Payroll" and "payload" appearing at exactly the same spot on the same track on two different albums? Kid A in a lot of ways was a comment on the phenominal critical success of OK Computer. Could the band have actually meant for this to sync up? It is highly unlikely but an interesting coincidence nonetheless. The payroll in this song is in fact not monetary but the karmic one. The character tries to do as much good as he can but continues to receive trouble.

"Nice dream
nice dream
nice dream"
-"(nice dream)" from 01995's the Bends

This is the chorus to one of the most exquisite in the Radiohead canon. On paper it doesn't amount to much, but sung repeatedly over a very gentle melody, it is just wonderful. Also it is the name of a Cheech and Chong movie. Another coincidence?

"Grow my hair
I am Jim Morrison"
-"Anyone Can Play Guitar" from 01993's Pablo Honey

Even if I had been trying to stretch my logic to maintain my original hypotheses about the degeneration of Thom Yorke's lyrics this puppy would have sunk that ship. Who the hell would want to be Jim Morrison? Not I, sir. This without a doubt proves my initial theory wrong. Thom Yorke has been producing clunkers among the passable lines and occasional gems since the beginning. This leads me to an even more interesting idea for an experiment:

Who the hell listens to Radiohead for the words?

Monday, September 25, 2006

Viva Pedro: Matador

First blood
by Ryland Walker Knight

Sony Pictures Classics is earning mega points this fall by touring 8 new prints of 8 of Pedro Almodóvar's finest films. This unlucky guy only got to see one, MATADOR, but boy was it fun. Released in Spain in 1986 it is the earliest of the series despite its American release two years later in '88. Many critics have bemoaned Pedro for classing it up and going mainstream with a few movies about trannies, pedophilia, necrophilia, HIV-positive nuns finding out they're pregnant and plenty of sweaty gay sex. They've said he's tamed himself, and that's true, to an extent, but the major difference I can see between his 80s films and this recent string of excellence is his writing has matured. The 80s films are all just as lively and colorful yet their characters are not as fully formed: he's developed an uncanny ability to turn a melodramatic archetype into a poignant character study. In MATADOR, for example, we have all the familiar caricatures but none of the emotional depth found in, say, TALK TO HER.

Antonio Banderas plays Angel, a naive young man eager to rebel against his Opus Dei mother (a hilariously oblivious Julieta Serrano) and become a bullfighter because, he says, he is "drawn to danger." He takes classes from Diego (Nacho Martinez), a matador forced into retirement after a brutal goring limited his mobility. When Diego asks Angel if he is homosexual, Angel explodes and declares he'll prove he's not gay. Later that evening he attempts to rape his next door neighbor Eva (Eva Cobo), who also happens to be Diego's girlfriend. However, it's all wrong: Angel can't open his Swiss Army knife to threaten Eva and can't pull her panties down before prematurely ejaculating between her legs. A thunderstorm begins as Angel slides off Eva and apologizes. Eva stands up, straightens herself and slaps him. Turning to go, she trips and falls to the ground, cutting her temple. At the sight of blood, Angel faints, alone in the rain.

Here, the scene is the blackest humor, nearly slapstick, all nerves and pratfalls but one imagines the scene might play earnest in a later film; in TALK TO HER we're horrified when Benigno rapes the comatose Alicia. Risk and consequence are very much at play in MATADOR nevertheless. According to Diego, "not to kill is to die" for him now that he has been forced to leave the ring. Diego finds a kindred spirit in Maria (Assumpta Serna) who, fascinated by matadors--and Diego in particular it seems--has been seducing men and killing them during sex with a deadly hairpin to the back of the neck. She also happens to be Angel's lawyer once he impulsively confesses to her murders as well as two others strangely linked to him through his class under Diego.

With all the coincidences piling up, it would be easy to dismiss the writing as a series of cheap, fortuitous devices were it not for Almodóvar's direction and the great acting by his cast until he takes it one step further than I had expected. That's where he genius lies, I think: finding that line to step over and leap across. It's a tricky proposition that many directors fail at (the most recent example is DePalma's BLACK DAHLIA) but Almodóvar's heedless love of movies and expert melodrama raises his pulp to art.

Being a relative neophytic world cinema fan (I discovered Pedro just prior to TALK TO HER's stateside release), it's a wonder to slowly discover all the foreign sources many successful American directors steal from and remember they, too, were borrowing and re-inventing American movies that came before them. Almodóvar tips his hand when Diego and Maria meet in a movie theatre at the climax of King Vidor's DUEL IN THE SUN, wherein Jennifer Jones and Gregory Peck kill each other, and all four characters on screen are smiling. And despite the depravity onscreen throughout any of Pedro's films I always find myself joining him, celebrating all things cinematic and beautiful. I don't think MATADOR can compete with his later, "tamer" movies on an emotional level but as far as sheer entertainment goes, you won't be disappointed by any of the plot's unlikely and abrupt twists and turns and stabs in every direction imaginable but impossible to predict. Except that last one.

The fashion show
(Check out the sweet stache on Pedro, flanked by Eva Cobo & Chus Lampreave, plus make up dude)

01986: 110 minutes: dir. Pedro Almodóvar: written by Almodóvar & Jesús Ferrero

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Science of Sleep

It's punk...
by Ryland Walker Knight

I was going to write a review full of pull quotes: a tribute to how Michel Gondry seemingly constructed this new diary entry of a movie. Here's the best I could come up with for a one liner:

A wildly inventive visual feast for immature romantics with self-pity to burn and little to offer the world but their wonder with it.

-- Ryland Walker Knight, Vinly Is Heavy

Pretty good, right? I thought so. Better than any writing on display in the film.

Anyways, you should probably see this in a theatre where you won't be tempted to fast forward to the next dream sequence, or any scene with Alain Chabat as Guy, because it is a delight to behold. I wasn't blown away by ETERNAL SUNSHINE but I dug its rhythm and visual flair and Jim Carrey is great helping you believe the fantasy. Where that film succeeds and this one fails is the former had true insights about how love crumbles when people are petty on top of its brilliant premise. And you might could identify with its protagonist from time to time despite his loser demeanor. But with SCIENCE OF SLEEP you suspect Michel Gondry has a serious love-hate relationship with his own psyche: always fascinated by his own imagination but not enough of an adult to process its flights of fancy for a healthy lifestyle. Gael Garcia Bernal is a decent enough stand-in for Gondry in the lead but the great acting is done by his coworker, Chabat, and his love interest, the obliquely beautiful Charlotte Gainsbourg.

02006: 105 minutes: dir. Michel Gondry: written by Gondry

Monday, September 18, 2006

Little Miss Sunshine

The poster image
by Ryland Walker Knight

When you watch Steve Carrell on television most often he will wow you with an exciting, flamboyant caricature. On film he reigns himself in, somehow, and has, in the past two years, delivered two nuanced and subtle portraits of wounded men who happen to have impeccable comedic timing and mannerisms.

The latest display of these talents is Uncle Frank from the debut feature of longtime music video directors, Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris, LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE. We meet Frank at, in all likelihood, his lowest point: having survived a suicide attempt, Frank is released into the care of his always-distracted sister Sheryl (Toni Collette) who asks him if he wants to talk but as soon as he says "No" shunts him off to share a room with her son, Dwayne (Paul Dano), who has taken a vow of silence to become a Neitzchian superman. Carrell plays Frank as still recovering, possibly still in shock, accepting what's given him because, well, he has to, and this is family. A family going on a road trip from Albuquerque, NM to Redondo Beach, CA in a bright yellow broken down VW bus. They don't fix the bus but you sure can bet they fix each other, right?

The family is a dream cast with each member of the ensemble lending more humanity and credibility to their broadly sketched characters. This is the kind of movie where the cast picks up where the screenplay left off and if it weren't for them everything would be just a little too perfectly awry. The new directors manage the chaos and crowd control well, balancing all the personalities against one another to orchestrate the mania of a family road trip, but it's really the actors' show here.

Along with Carrell, Collette & Dano we have crusty, bitter Grandpa played, with the kind of loony anger he lacked in CATCH-22, by Alan Arkin, the other standout addition to the cast. Unfortunately, once Grandpa exits the story about halfway through there's a good ten minute lull where the audience has to adjust to his void not readily filled immediatly. Yet there are more twists and turns to come across that seem proposterous but, luckily, the cast makes them believable and charming once again. We've all seen somebody get out of a ticket by chance but the way Greg Kinnear plays with the traffic cop and the ugly situation is proof of his dedication to the film and his character.

And that's all this movie boils down to, really: some great acting of a mediocre screenplay shaped by talented directors. Should be a home run, right? I think the reason the picture has developed such a following (like Carrell's 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN from last year) is because it succeeds where most modern comedies fail: it's not simply a concept stretched over 90 minutes (WEDDING CRASHERS?), but rather an honest and heartfelt film. It just so happens it uses every device and rote plot point you would expect it to dole out. When Beth Grant shows up as the talent show proctor with no time for the family who's just been through so much but are only five minutes late I was not tickled (Oh, remember her from DONNIE DARKO?) but annoyed, yet again, at a broad caricature used as a plot device. But what saves the scene--and the rest of the third act--is the family's devotion and the laughs you can't deny. Tell me this isn't a funny picture:

broken door

02006: 101 minutes: dir. Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris: written by Michael Arndt

Monday, September 11, 2006

25th Hour

Going Upriver

by Ryland Walker Knight

"Champagne for my real friends. And real pain for my cham friends."

In the five years since the World Trade Center attack only one film has captured the immediate feeling of New York City in the wake of September 11th. Throughout Spike Lee's 25TH HOUR you can sense the loss, confusion, anger and weariness of a city. The film follows Monty Brogan (a resigned Edward Norton) on his last day before heading upriver to serve seven years for dealing heroin and in that span we see not just his life recoiling, burning, but his hometown as well.

After a prologue set sometime in the past wherein Monty saves a battered mutt (because the dog's "still got some fight in him"), Lee rolls his opening credits over a montage of the floodlights the city erected as temporary memorium to bring us current. It says there once was unabashed optimism. An optimism that could get you hurt, true, as Monty is bitten on the neck by the dog, but also an optimism and confidence nobody owned after the towers fell.


At the time of its release, Lee's film was criticized--like many of his films--for being heavy handed and meandering. Manohla Dargis, of the LA Times, said it was a film with a split personality that could not cohere. Richard Corliss, of Time Magazine, had the ever-insightful quip, "Pretty lethargic stuff." Most reviews were middling except for a few raves (one notably from the SF Chronicle's Mick LaSalle) and there was little to no advertising prior to its opening so, unfortunately, it debuted quietly and left theatres quieter still. There was no PR hubub leading up to it like this year's lauded UNITED 93 or Oliver Stone's event WORLD TRADE CENTER. It remains slightly to the side, rarely remembered. And if it is brought up, people seem to forget it was a Spike Lee joint. Earlier this year, none of the studio-sanctioned press about Lee's slick INSIDE MAN mentioned 25TH HOUR among Lee's previous successes, relegating it to the "misfire" category along with another underrated (if uneven) entry in his back catalogue, BAMBOOZLED. The only review I found of INSIDE MAN to mention 25TH HOUR comes from one of my favorite critics that few film fans read, yet desperately should, Walter Chaw:

You make mistakes as a film critic sometimes and, unlike a lot of professions, when you flub, you do it for the record. I underestimated Spike Lee's 25th Hour badly upon its release a few years ago, misunderstanding it, fearing it, seeing it as a mediocre film when, in fact, subsequent viewings have revealed it as possibly Lee's tonal masterpiece. [read the whole review here]

That tone is on full display in the first of two minor masterpieces within the film, Monty's bathroom soliloquy; which harks back to the insult slinging of DO THE RIGHT THING. In this film, though, it's just Monty spewing Fuck You's to his entire city, his entire world--the world he is no longer a part of. This monologue is at the heart of Lee's metaphor for his beloved hometown: it raises the connection from superficiality to formal stroke of genius.

Father & Son

The film is based on David Benioff's novel of the same name and apparently the writer molded his screenplay close to his own source. He keeps the best elements, including another monologue, this time from Monty's father, James, played beautifully by Brian Cox. James is driving Monty upstate to prison and at the George Washington Bridge he offers to take a left, go west, in a marvelous ending that risks everything and jumps over that line into the divine. Few films as dire and bleak as this can inspire such patriotism. But that's what we all felt that fall of 2001. It's just unfortunate that was exploited so expertly by our leaders for false goals and gains.

Spike Lee has a reputation as a rambunctious sensationalist, a reputation he does nothing to deny. The next film he made, from a screenplay he wrote, had so many ideas there were about four different films at play within SHE HATE ME. At the heart of the film there was an angry man railing against Enron's thievery but, for what reason I don't know, he covered it up with a sex farce, an unconvincing mob yarn and one hell of a male fantasy threeway romance. Luckily with 25TH HOUR he had great source material adapted by its own author and plenty of focused ire to pour into that story. I was glad to see him working at the top of his game with THE INSIDER and look forward to finally watching his Katrina doc when I get the time. He may have built a career out of copying his mentor, Martin Scorsese, but his stamp is clear and never been stronger than in 25TH HOUR.

[I'd been planning on writing something like a reflective review of Mr Lee's film for a couple days but Mick LaSalle already beat me to it and did a pretty durned good job already. You can read his eloquent, concise and informative caption here and his original review from the film's release here. For an interview with Walter Chaw, click on over to The House Next Door's tête-à-tête. Also, I couldn't not put up a picture of the delicious Rosario Dawson (as Monty's girlfriend Naturelle Rivera) and Phillip Seymour Hoffman & Barry Pepper (as longtime friends Jacob and Frank) so here it is at the bottom.]

delicious, and such

02002: 135 minutes: dir. Spike Lee: written by David Benioff, from his novel

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Destroy All Human Life

by Michael Strenski

I cannot stop listening to the Country Teasers. Over the last few weeks the only albums that I have been drawn to repeatedly are the three I own by this ragtag unit of Scottish drunks. Their sloppy-sounding songs have been consistently bringing utter joy to my little heart. The fact that most of these songs are filled with, what on the surface at least, appear to be the most offensive, misogynistic, racist, homophobic, completely misanthropic lyrics makes the situation a trifle uncomfortable. It's a bit difficult for me to fully enjoy a band that has a song called "Panty Shots" that spends three minutes expounding the glory of well, panty shots, extremely loud on my stereo when my lesbian landlord and her daughter are upstairs. Or for that matter, an updated version of the Pink Floyd song "In the Flesh" which retains the lines about "queers, coons and Jews", but adds another verse or two to the mix just to get the point across.

Now I don't find anything wrong with misanthropy on the whole. It's when you economize and start picking on specific groups of people that I get a little touchy. I can't help it. I was raised in the Bay Area, land of the Politically Correct. Ever since I was a wee lad I have always thought that racism, sexism and the like are the most deplorable thoughts humans harbor. I have never been able to stand overhearing comments of the like spewed out by co-workers or classmates. It betrays a human's ignorance more than anything. My subsequent years on this planet have only served to reinforce this opinion.

A few years ago my band played a show in St. Louis on a summer tour. The show was held at a house rented by some people we had met through a punk rock touring resource. It was one of the easiest shows we got for the tour. We sent out a demo and got an immediate response. On the phone the booker sounded utterly gracious and accomodating. After numerous trips across the country, my bandmate Adam and I were quite used to pulling up to random buildings in foreign towns to play, eat, and stay with people we had never met. On first impression St. Louis seemed to be another one of these scenarios, we met the booker who raved about our demo, offered us food and apologized for the lack of attendance. It wasn't until I found myself in a meandering conversation with one of the booker's roommates that I realized that something was amiss. Out of the blue he asked me if we had a lot of Bosnians in California. I replied that California is a very diverse place and yes, I was sure that there was a healthy Bosnian population around there somewhere. He then felt comfortable enough to delve into a lengthy diatribe denouncing the Bosnians in his neighborhood. Soon thereafter Adam found the Nazi flag in someone's bedroom. In a nutshell, we played our loud pop songs for a living room full of neo-nazis, tried to forget the night and fell asleep fast by consuming a lot of Miller High Life. At the crack of dawn we got the hell out of St. Louis. It was one of the most uncomfortable nights of my life.

That being said, one can imagine my difficulty when listening to lyrics like "fries are free, toast is free, kisses are free to/your granddad killed a lot of niggers to buy those free things for you", from the second song on the latest Country Teasers album, The Empire Strikes Back. Most of my concern stems from the irrational fear of someone overhearing a choice lyric or two amongst the fray and figuring me for an ignorant racist and/or sexist. Out of context these assumptions could easily be made but anyone who bothers to delve just a little deeper into the songs soon realizes that the Teasers mastermind/lyricist Ben Wallers does not agree with most of the characters his songs inhabit. In fact, he uses the songs to shock us into thinking about these opinions (a situation I am using this digital tablet to exercise). For example, the aforementioned song is blatantly called "Points of View" and describes an entire host of diverse, yet all quite horrific opinions that many people on this planet hold.

I say "most" of the characters because the one recurring opinion that appears to hold any water with Ben Wallers is the destruction of all human life. If you're going to hate one human, you might as well hate them all. I hate to quote Marilyn Manson at any point in a conversation but he truly was on to something when he said "there's no time to discriminate/hate every motherfucker that's in your way". Lately I have noticed myself becoming more and more misanthropic and maybe that's part of the reason the Country Teasers appeal to me. I have been continually disappointed with humanity. The older I get and the wider my scope becomes, the more pessimistic I find myself.

And I think that is what Country Teasers songs boil down to. They want to expose us to these ugly thoughts to show us evidence of human ills and misfortunes. Ben Wallers is trying to make the indie rock kids squirm so that they pay more attention to the world outside of their bubble. How could someone want to get married and have children in Ben Wallers' portrait of the world? It would be a selfish and thoughtless act. How could we possibly feel any sort of compassion for a world on the brink of self-imposed annihilation?

Anyway, none of this really matters. I wouldn't have given the Country Teasers a second thought if the songs were not well-written, catchy and entirely rocking. Despite the troubles I find myself fretting about, despite the horrors and injustices in this world, I find myself enjoying a simple solace and a forty-five minute respite by listening to an album called Destroy All Human Life.