Category: impressions

The Same Man – A Brief Review

Sometimes one encounters a book whose subject matter gives the author no excuse for boring his audience. David Lebedoff has had the fortune of finding just such a topic for The Same Man, which was released earlier this year (er, last year). Most of the work is a short biography of George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh. Now, these two at first glance may seem like an odd pair to write about in the same volume, since their personal lives and political and religious views so widely differed, and they only met each other once.

However, this is not just some random pairing, but rather a great insight on Lebedoff’s part, because the theme of the book is just how similar the two men were in their views of modernity. For all their differences, both valued the concept of objective reality while rejecting moral relativism, which have become major underlying problems of the modern world. When discussing my religion with others, I often hear the phrase “All that really matters is what you believe.” Impressing upon those people that there can only be one truth has proven surprisingly difficult, and that attitude seems to have been one that both Orwell and Waugh disapproved of.

One of the most startling parts of the book is Lebedoff’s discussion of Orwell’s statement that “One must choose between this life and the next.” Both men agreed with that, but Orwell, an atheist, chose to focus on this life and improve it. Waugh, a Catholic, felt that this world could not really be improved and thus chose to focus on the next.

Though Lebedoff’s biography and analysis of the two men’s ideas is one of the most enlightening works I’ve read lately, it does have a few minor problems. First, he too often uses the phrase “must have,” which should never appear in a work of history or biography. There are times when a biographer can only speculate about the details of an event, and sometimes he can offer a guess that seems almost certain to be accurate. It’s still a guess, though, and should be presented as such – “probably” or some other such term would be more accurate. Also, so much of the book is straight biography that there is less room for real analysis than I would like. The biography is, of course, necessary to understand the thesis behind the work, and Lebedoff is convincing in his analysis, but at 218 pages most readers could probably stand the addition of some more space to for the author to expand on his central idea.…

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On Critiquing Live Music

So, right now I’m trying to write a critique of a live concert by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra for a class I’m taking.

The problem is, all I can really say about it is that I enjoyed it, though it suffered from some problems to be expected from an outdoor concert. Somewhat unclear sound, sirens from a passing fire engine, and some other miscellaneous distractions. However, I made the critical mistake of not taking notes at the concert. Even driving home from the event, I could scarecly have said much about the early pieces performed (out of seven or so total). Since I got home a bit late and had to wake up early the next morning, I made another mistake in not writing anything down before going to bed.

Lesson learned for the next assignment, though.…

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Rock Site Reviews – Genesis

In the tradition of blog reviews of random things, this post introduces a new feature here at O.K.! – Rock Site Reviews. What I’ll do is, with each installment, write a review of the official website of some rock band. Given the wide range of styles, and even wider range of quality, of different official websites, I figured this could provide minutes of fun.

Since I cannot comprehend passing up the wordplay, we will begin at the beginning, which is Genesis, whose official site is genesis-music.com. Just <genesis.com> was taken by some computer company, apparently.

Anyway, as soon as you load the page some links come up, a television falls from the sky, a moon floats around the top-left corner, and some deformed dude runs across the screen. If that’s not enough to grab your attention, the letters in the name “Genesis” change font as the mouse hovers over them. It’s a subtle touch, but I spent about ten minutes playing with the letters before I finally clicked something.

Let’s start with the News section. Now, websites devoted to older bands often struggle to maintain a news section, since many don’t even tour, and you can forget about albums. Luckily, Genesis seems to still do the occasional tour, including one that started last year. Genesis-music seems to update with some regularity, and was even nice enough to link to a fansite’s contest. In a further show of generosity, they also link to several tribute bands. Another nice touch is the articles and reviews about the band all the way from the early 1970’s on. It’s definitely nice to have such things available, but unfortunately they’re organized like the news – that is, most recently posted on top. The database is searchable, but why they aren’t organized by topic instead of date is puzzling. There’s also a Press section, which seems to be just like the News but more formal and not updated as often.

Browsing along the convenient navigation bar atop the screen, just under the stylish banner, we progress to Contests, which just takes us to a relevant post in the News section to a contest that ended last year. Okay, whatever.

Skipping Community for a moment, let’s check out the the most critical part of any band’s website – Discography – and what an elaborate Discography it is! Not only do they have the release information, tracklisting, and lyrics for all of Genesis’s albums, they have such information for each member’s solo material. Way to go above and beyond the call of duty, and I must applaud them including lyrics. They’re such an obvious thing to have, but as we’ll see over and over later in this series, many sites don’t even do that. Alas, all is not perfect. Each song tantalizingly displays a drop-down menu offering “Lyrics,” “Description,” “Artist’s Comments,” and “Personnel,” but lyrics is the only one with any content. Allow me to state the obvious, “What is the point of having these sections if there’s nothing in them?” Maybe they’re planned, but I couldn’t find any songs with any description or comments. Oh, well.

Moving on, the Multimedia section has some videos, as well as some photos and images of their album covers.

Where genesis-music really shines, though, is in the FAQ section. Now, most of this stuff is fairly straightforward answers to common questions, but it’s very convenient to have. Impressively, though, they also field more potentially awkward questions like “Is there animosity between Steve Hackett and other members of the band? Is that why he left?” Amazingly, in the Genesis General FAQ section, they actually answer the inquiry

How do I find out what bootleg CDs / DVDs / VCDs / VHS are available and how do I get hold of them?

(emphasis mine)

Now, here you’d expect the basic RIAA line about how bootlegs are illegal so don’t do anything with them. Instead, genesis-music links to an online guide to Genesis bootlegs, and then continues

As for how to get hold of the recordings: start by joining the Yahoo Group “Genesis Trades” […]

Otherwise, try asking in the “Boot Info and Exchange” forum! More often than not, someone will be only too happy to help you out, or explain to you how to get started in trading.

Only one rule – Don’t buy or sell (that includes eBay.) Anything that you may have seen for sale on eBay, at record fairs, or elsewhere is available for free through trading or weeding. It should also be remembered that the versions circulating amongst collectors are always superior to those being sold, often with better sound, extra tracks, lovingly created artwork and so on. Don’t waste your money!

All I can say is, wow, and wow again. o_0

Not all is well, though. Returning to the Community tab, we’re greeted with a list of most recent topics in their message board, some statistics for the same, and a poll. To view the boards, however, you have to register.

No.

First of all, I don’t want to. Secondly, how do I know if I want to join if I can’t see what I’m getting? Playing along for a moment, though, the “Join Now” button tells me all the things I can do as a member, which do look pretty good, except for one thing – a “Premium Membership” costs $35.

No.

Does anyone do that?…

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Sweeney Todd

Warning: This review contains spoilers, so don’t read it if you haven’t seen Sweeney Todd and don’t want to know major plot points in advance.

I went to see Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, director Tim Burton‘s new film, Saturday morning. It was definitely the first horror musical I’ve ever seen, and unfortunately one of the few musicals of any sort made since 1960 or so. (Note, though, that I have not seen the original stage musical the film is based on, so I can’t comment on it).

Pretty much all musicals are stylish – that’s what makes them so great – and Sweeney was no exception. The settings, songs, costumes, and performances all contributed to the film’s dark atmosphere. The only exception was the subplot with Antony and Joanna.

Now, Joanna’s story does a lot to characterize Judge Turpin as the film’s villain, though Antony is the only major character who might be considered a hero. However, Joanna’s subplot with Antony also supplies the only part of the film that could leave the viewer with a feeling of satisfaction.

I say “could” because the outcome of the rest of the story is basically “everyone dies, the kid’s an orphan again, life sucks.” Joanna and Antony are still alive, though, and would seeem to have a decent chance for a happier ending, but Burton doesn’t show us what happens to them. Instead, the film ends with Toby killing Sweeney. Cutting from there to Antony taking his love interest in his arms and running away to a (possibly) happier life would have given the film a much more uplifting feeling at the end, and I’m guessing that’s why Burton left it out.

Whether this is the best ending is up for debate. Some people I’ve talked to about the film would have preferred more of a conclusion for Antony and Joanna. It certainly would have given the audience a greater sense of satisfaction, especially since the film does give a little hope for a happy ending for the main characters – not much, but a little. Such an ending, however, would have clashed with the atmosphere of the rest of the film. Antony’s sole purpose, I believe, is as a plot device. He’s the one who inadvertently chases Turpin out of Sweeney’s barber shop, allowing Sweeney to provide the meat for Mrs. Lovett’s delicious meat-pies from his other customers. His youthful optimism also provides a foil for Sweeney, and heightens the tragedy of the film’s main characters.

Showing Antony and Joanna rolling away to live happily ever after would have both to focus on an ultimately irrelevant sub-plot, and to demolish the film’s atmosphere just when it was at its strongest.

On a side note, one more thing the film made me realize is that I’ve never had a meat-pie. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a meat-pie. More of an English thing, I guess.…

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Icky Reviews

Last month the White Stripes released their sixth album, Icky Thump, to mostly positive reviews and strong sales. So, the music must be pretty good, right? Rolling Stone‘s review seems to think so, but while reading their review I noticed that their main critique seems to be not the music, but the lack of a message. For example, the critic (Robert Christgau) said:

Still, what do the White Stripes have to say? What do they stand for? Why do simple pop fans care about minimal Jack and his mythical sister, Meg?

[…] The other part of the answer, sad to say, is that this cultural breakthrough is almost certainly an accident. That’s because Jack White is less a songwriter than a sonic architect. Compared even with Lil Jon or Avril Lavigne, what his hits have in common isn’t anything he stands for.

After this, Christgau does begin to critique the album proper, but what did he accomplish with this little sideshow? It does not give any real insight into the album, but instead tells the reader that Christgau feels all musicians must have a message, as though one cannot produce compelling music unless it is at the forefront of a great political or social movement. I’d be curious about where this attitude comes from. Was it Bob Dylan? Though Dylan has always resented being tied to any social movements, he is well-known for the protest songs of his early career, and Rolling Stone did give Dylan 10 spots on its list of the 500 greatest albums, and 12 of its 500 greatest songs (including the top spot).

Providing an interesting contrast to Rolling Stone‘s review is a review by John’s Music Reviews (which is also the simplest-titled blog I’ve seen). Not a single mention does John provide of the White Stripes’ politics, though he does agree with RS that the band is slightly overrated.

A music review focusing on music. Imagine that……

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