Thursday, April 30, 2009


Oh, how I miss the Friday nights of my youth. It was a time before our dependence on iPhones and the internet, when Nintendo was the most sophisticated technology of the day, swine flu was something that pigs, not people got, and our only worry in the world was figuring out how our parents could drop us off at the movies without our friends noticing them.

So while in the midst of my daily perusal of YouTube, I found some comical (yet good) renditions of three of my favorite sitcom theme songs growing up. I hope they bring back some memories for you too...Wesley!!!

Friday, April 17, 2009

John Mayer, Douche?

Perhaps. But you can't say the mf'er ain't funny. Actually, at The Weight, we are unabashed fans of the six-string slinging, Twittering, tabloid fodder that is John Mayer. We posted about it last June:

Here is a vintage clip from way back in 2004 where John and Kanye integrated their disparate brands of cool in recording the Kanye Graduation track, Bittersweet:

And like John says, "Go Back and Listen to Daughters, Bitches".

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Weighing In: Shadow of a Doubt

Old or new, a great film always remains a great film. They transcend years and their messages hold true despite societal changes in norms and attitudes. Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt (1943) is one of those films. The first time I saw Shadow of a Doubt was during my senior year of college, appropriately enough, while enrolled in a course about Hitchcock's films. I remember taking the class because one, some of my fondest movie memories from childhood involved Hitch's films (North by Northwest, Psycho, Strangers on a Train) and two, because typical lazy college student I was, I naturally envisioned an "easy A." Some ten years later, this is probably the only course that still sticks in my brain. Since then, I have watched and re-watched Shadow of a Doubt many times, and on each occasion, the film leaves a greater imprint on me. This morning, I viewed it again, and it only solidified the film's rank amongst my favorites in Hitchcock's vast catalog.

Shadow of a Doubt is a great film for a number of reasons. First and foremost, Hitch's direction is masterful. His use of noir-type blacks and whites, tracking shots, and close-ups is superb. One of his earlier American films, there is no question that Shadow of a Doubt set a benchmark from which Hitchcock would elaborate in his later films like Notorious, Strangers on a Train and Rear Window. Second, the casting is exceptional. Joseph Cotten, who plays the misanthropic Uncle Charlie, and Teresa Wright, as his sexy but naive niece, Charlotte "Charlie" Newton, make as twisted a pair as Grant and Bergman or Stewart and Novack. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the screenplay is quite good -- maybe even ahead of its time. Notably, the script was written in large part by Thornton Wilder of Our Town fame.

The story takes place in the real-life town of Santa Rosa, California, presumably before the outbreak of WWII. Santa Rosa is the kind of place we see or read about in American fairy-tales -- that is, the sort of town that only exists on Hollywood sound stages (a good modern cinematic example is portrayed in the underrated film Pleasantville). In Santa Rosa, 9-year-old girls read Ivanhoe while their kid brothers count the number of steps it takes to get home from the candy shop. There is a crossing-guard at every intersection and like the familiar tune, everybody knows your name. You get the point. Young Charlie is an 18 or 19-year-old, uncharacteristically sexy girl for the period, who is bored out her mind; she is "trapped" in this storybook small-town and craving some form of excitement. I imagine that this was the typical sort of teen-angst common amongst girls of Charlie's generation. So, like a child throwing a tantrum, she ominously wishes that something "happen" to spice up the family's routine and mundane lifestyle. It is at this moment that Hitchcock foreshadows where the film is heading.

At the other end of the country -- New York City (although the opening sequences are clearly not New York, but Newark, New Jersey) -- we learn that Charlie's uncle and namesake, Charlie Oakley, is the primary suspect in a series of recent murders. As all of the victims are wealthy widows (made rich by their deceased husbands), the killer is appropriately dubbed, "The Merry Widow Murderer." In order to elude the police, Uncle Charlie seeks shelter with the Newtons (his sister is Charlie's mother) in tranquil Santa Rosa until things cool off.

Early on, we learn that there is some sort of "telepathy" (not in the science-fiction sense) between Charlie and her uncle. So much so that, during the course of sending him a telegram inviting him to visit the family, he has unbeknownst to her, already planned a trip to "drop in;" of course, we already know that he has ill intentions. When Uncle Charlie's cross-country train arrives in Santa Rosa, Hitch immediately alerts us to his sinister objectives. Symbolically, the train's smokestack pollutes the air with a thick cloud of black smoke, no doubt suggesting that something evil has just arrived at the doorsteps of this innocent little town. I can't help but wonder if this was a metaphor for the ongoing war already rampant at the time of the film's release. Recall, just two year earlier, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and xenophobia was at this country's peak. Perhaps there is a propagandist message embedded in the film: Beware of foreign invaders. Indeed, war was not a foreign subject for Hitchcock; in fact, his next film Lifeboat, was entirely about the subject.

In any event, from the very moment we see Uncle Charlie and his niece embrace in hello, we get the sense that there is some deep-rooted incestuous relationship between them -- if not physical, then an emotional one. The very manner in which they interact -- the touching and the caressing -- immediately causes one to raise an eyebrow. Even the way she prances around town showing him off to her girlfriends is innocent at best. You wonder if young Charlie's girlfriends secretly talk behind her back; or maybe, they are jealous that they don't have an uncle like that. Hitchcock artfully fuels the sexual repression/tension between the characters through careful framing of shots with Charlie and her uncle. There are even several moments in the film where you truly anticipate that the two characters will passionately embrace, only to have Hitch kill the moment in the nick of time. In his typical perverted, but artful manner, Hitchcock almost makes it feel natural. Scenes like this not only demonstrated Hitchcock's finesse as a director, but in reality, were quite daring leaps for the period (keep in mind the Hays Code was still in effect). Filmmakers were barely allowed to portray an on-screen kiss let alone insinuate an illicit, incestuous relationship. However, this is just another example of how Hitch masterfully eluded the authorities -- just like so many of his protagonists.

As the film progresses, Uncle Charlie gets a bit cocky, and clumsily, he begins to drop hints about his past criminal endeavors. There is a very Dostoevsky-element in Uncle Charlie's behavior. For example, he goes on a diatribe at the dinner table about how all widows are "fat, wheezing animals" and complains that the "whole world is a joke." He also gifts an expensive ring to his niece, not realizing that the ring is engraved with one of his victim's initials. However, the only person who picks up on this is young Charlie; the rest of the family is too clueless to suspect anything.

With respect to the casting, Joseph Cotten shines as the quintessential Hitchcockian villain: he is sinister but charming; sociopathic but sympathetic; and maybe, both wrong and right. I think that this is the very essence of Hitchcock: his keen ability to manipulate. Any director can "make a film," but few filmmakers can play the dual role of psychologist. Hitchcock was remarkable at enticing his audiences to sympathize with the "bad guy" or even craftier, at implicating the audience themselves in committing the very "immoral" acts perpetrated by his characters (e.g. our voyeuristic gazing into the window of a bra-clad Janet Leigh in Psycho or our spying inside of Raymond Burr's apartment in Rear Window -- only to get caught). Indeed, there is a poignant monologue spoken by Uncle Charlie to his niece when he realizes that she's aware of his true identity; or worse, that she might judge him for what he's done:

"You think you know something, don't you? You think you're the clever little girl who knows something. There's so much you don't know. So much. What do you know really? You're just an ordinary little girl, living in an ordinary little town. You wake up every morning of your life and you know perfectly well that there's nothing in the world to trouble you. You go through your ordinary little day; and at night, you sleep your untroubled ordinary little sleep filled with peaceful, stupid dreams...And I brought you nightmares...You live in a dream; you're a sleepwalker -- blind. How do you know what the world is like? Do you know that the world is a foul sty? Do you know if you ripped the fronts off houses you'd find swine? The world's a hell. What does it matter what happens in it? Wake up Charlie; use your wits, learn something."

This was undoubtedly profound for 1943. Even by today's standards, it remains remarkably convincing. But I think Hitchcock (via Uncle Charlie) lectures not only young Charlie, but the audience as well: Who are we to sit in judgment over another's supposed "immoral" conduct? Doesn't each of us have a dark side -- a little kept secret that we hope nobody finds out? During his famous interview with director Francois Truffaut, Hitch aptly observed, "[v]illains are not all black and heroes are not all white; there are grays everywhere." It is this sort of philosophy that makes his films timeless. They are more than just moving pictures; each is an abstract commentary on the elements of human behavior, morality, societal norms, relationships and the perception of justice.

Of course, we get our fair share of Hitchcock "staples" such as the ever-present perilous staircase, steam locomotives, the beautiful high-angle crane shots, and some spectacular cross-tracking shots -- only Kubrick and Scorsese are in the same league. There is one particular cross-tracking shot where young Charlie, already suspicious of her uncle's "secret," is walking towards the house while Uncle Charlie ominously waits on the porch for her arrival. It is chilling. Hitch also does a wonderful job through the use of shadows (appropriately enough considering the name of the film). Take for example a shot where we see Uncle Charlie sitting in his room (we are looking from outside-in) and the shadows cast by the railing balusters create a"jail-like" effect -- in essence, imprisoning Uncle Charlie in his "cell." With few exceptions, hardly any modern filmmakers come close to emulating such beautiful and skillful use of lighting -- and this was before the time of special effects. There are other signature touches like ruthless police tricks and interrogation methods common for the time. Remember, this was a period before many of the notable search and seizure cases were decided by the courts. The authorities had practically unfettered ability to coerce confessions and undertake in all sorts of dilatory tactics to "get their man." Here, the detectives in pursuit of Uncle Charlie go as far as posing as census-takers who must "conduct interviews" and "take photographs" inside the Newtons' home -- sans warrant -- to dig up dirt on Uncle Charlie. Talk about sinister! It's no secret that Hitch himself claimed to have a lifelong fear of the police as evidenced by this recurring theme in many of his films (a popular anecdote tells that Hitchcock's fear began after his father had him locked up for several minutes at a local police station for no apparent reason in order to "teach him a lesson").

Another notable character in the film is Herbie Hawkins (played marvelously by Hume Cronyn in his first Hollywood role), the nebbishy, next-door neighbor who lives with his mother (domineering mother alert) and whose only source of leisure is concocting the "perfect murder" (make believe of course) of Charlie's father Joseph (Henry Travers). The two of them play this absurd and childish game nightly, entirely oblivious that a real "criminal" -- Uncle Charlie -- is right under their noses. Cronyn would go on to co-star in Hitch's next film, Lifeboat and contribute to the scripts of both Rope and Under Capricorn. The picture also puts into perspective certain historical context, which while incidental, is nonetheless informative. One particular item that stands out is a sign on the door of a seedy restaurant that reads, "Tables for Ladies." Apparently, signs like this emerged in the 30's and 40's signaling that woman could "freely" or "safely" dine alone without the stigma of being marked a prostitute or the town floozy.

It comes as no surprise that so many of Hitchcock's films have been made and re-made countless times. In fact, many critics theorize that David Lynch's Blue Velvet was directly influenced by Shadow of a Doubt itself. This seems very likely. Indeed, Shadow of a Doubt remains a timeless suspense-thriller, not only because it embodies a great story, but because it still strikes a chord -- on an emotional and psychological level -- some 65 years after its initial release. Its themes aren't dated, its lessons never pedantic, and its characters are as identifiable today as they were during a time when men wore hats and the milkman was your best friend.

Verdict: Heavyweight

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Weight Goes to School: This Day in History

Most famously, April 10th marks the "accepted" date that Paul McCartney publicly announced the break-up of The Beatles (39 years ago!). However, after a bit of research, it turns out that April 10th is not only a significant date in Beatles history, but throughout the history of music, film and literature in general:

-(1925) F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby is first published in NYC by Charles Scribner's Sons.

-(1929) Famed The Seventh Seal actor and staple of numerous Ingmar Bergman films, Max Von Sydow is born.

-(1938) Legendary musician, composer, and bandleader, Joe "King" Oliver dies at the age of 52. King Oliver is perhaps best known for his tutelage of jazz great Louis Armstrong.

-(1959) Acclaimed rock/jazz guitarist and founding member of The Stray Cats Brian Setzer is born.

-(1962) Stuart Sutcliffe, a member of The Quarrymen and original bassist for The Beatles, passes away at the age of 21 from a brain hemorrhage. According to many sources, both Sutcliffe and Lennon are credited with naming The Beatles.

-(1968) In the Heat of the Night wins the Oscar for Best Picture.

-(1968) Mickey Hart joins the Grateful Dead.*

-(1970) Paul McCartney formally announces the break-up of The Beatles; or, according to McCartney apologists, Paul merely issues a press release to promote his upcoming solo album McCartney. The other theory is that Lennon "broke-up" the band on September 20, 1969 when he asked McCartney for a "divorce."

-(1971) The French Connection wins the Oscar for Best Picture.

-(1979) Nino Rota, best known for composing the themes to The Godfather and Romeo and Juliet, and his lifetime collaboration with Federico Fellini, dies at the age of 67.

-(1992) Comedian Sam Kinnison dies in a tragic auto accident at the age 38.

*Wikipedia states September 1967; I'm unable to confirm either date, but it's likely Mickey probably informally "sat in" with the band earlier than September.

From Top to Bottom: F. Scott Fitzgerald; Nino Rota; Stuart Sutcliffe; King Oliver; Max Von Sydow (seated on the right in the photo); Mickey Hart; Sam Kinnison

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Idol Thoughts...


-The audience "APPLAUSE" signal must have been in full effect last night because there is about a 0% chance that any of those cheering morons actually knew who Frankie Avalon was.

-The "Brady Bunch-style" sing-a-longs at the beginning of the show, along with the faux-commercials, are getting creepier and creepier each week...

-Kara is still hot but listening to her talk makes me gag. I can't believe I'm about to admit this, but I think despite her speaking gibberish, I'd rather listen to Paula than Kara voice her opinion (well, if only to hear Simon's reaction to her)

-It's getting uncomfortable watching Anoop sweat it out each week...


-Beyond all comprehension, the Lil Rounds conspiracy lives on; I'm just speechless...

-Scott McIntyre: nice guy, but this competition was way too big for him. Besides the fact that his voice is nowhere NEAR as good as the remaining contestants, I have to think that his bizarre and terrible choice of songs (about as atrocious as Lil Rounds' selections) did him in. He probably could have bought another week or so if he stopped singing Bruce Hornsby and Survivor (Survivor?!? Really?!?); but then again, that would have only prolonged the inevitable. Better off this way.

-Simon is THE TRUTH!

-Adam Lambert IS the next American Idol.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Buried Treasure: All-Star Bands

Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Paul McCartney, Elton John & Mark Knopfler

Dancing In The Streets

Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Elton John, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Ben E King & Phil Collins

With A Little Help From My Friends

Paul McCartney, Rod Stewart, Joe Cocker, Eric Clapton, Roger Taylor, Brian May, Phil Collins & Ozzy Osbourne

All You Need Is Love

Evil Ways: Ticketmaster and Live Nation

In a not-so-shocking headline The Dallas Observer reports: 'Ticketmaster and Livenation Merger Hearings Reveal a Hell of a Secret: Bands Get a Cut of Service Fees' in an article that includes,
"Everyone is guilty," adds the promoter, "and we've got to solve this shit."
Read the full article here.

Come Together?

The Arizona Republic is reporting that the recent on-stage reunion between Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr may be just the beginning of a renewed working relationship between the former bandmates. Their story includes the following quote:
"They had a fantastic time in New York, and realise they still work well together. They're now getting together later in the year to work on some of Paul's new songs."
Read the full article here.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Run DMC: Kings Of Rock

Every jam we play, we break two needles /
There's three of us but we're not the Beatles

Run DMC were a huge influence on my interest in music and one of my first favorites. I remember buying Raising Hell on cassette when it was first released in 1986 (when I was 8 years old??!?!). I fell in love with the big beats and straight ahead lyrics of tracks like 'It's Tricky', 'Peter Piper', and 'You Be 'Illin'.' All these years later, watching them inducted into the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame, it confirms that I had pretty good taste for a third grader.

Joseph 'Run' Simmons, Daryl 'DMC' McDaniels, and Jason 'Jam Master Jay' Mizell were inducted by Eminem as part of the first RnR HOF ceremony to take place outside of New York City, at the museum's home in Cleveland, OH.

Check out Marshall Mather's heartfelt induction speech and the acceptance by Simmons, McDaniels, and Jay's mother.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Bob Dylan: Let Me Ask You One Question

Bob Dylan recently gave a rare and unfortunately short interview to London's Times Online. I am entirely impressed with how educated and aware he comes across. Read his words and listen to a fantastic free track off of his new album here.

Having listened to the new song, which I highly recommend you do, it's impossible not to notice how clearly and effectively he communicates the lyrics. If he is capable of singing this well and enunciating this clearly in 2009, why the hell does he sing so damn poorly in concert in recent years?

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Will They or Won't They?

One thing we know is true. Both Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr will be making appearances tonight at Radio City Music Hall in New York City for the "Change From Within" benefit concert. The purpose of the show is to raise awareness for the David Lynch Foundation. Yes, the Twin Peaks, Se7en, Zodiac, David Lynch. The Foundation "provides funds to teach students how to meditate so they can change their world from within."

The two Beatles know a thing or two about meditation as they famously traveled to India to visit with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi 40 years ago to learn the practice. 40 YEARS AGO!! Joining them in the transcendentalfest (phrase stolen from!) are Eddie Vedder, Sheryl Crow, My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, Moby and more.

Amidst the wonderful cause that is getting children of the world to shut the hell up and breath deeply for a few minutes, we may get a BEATLES RE-UNION!!!. Call it insignificant if you want without George or John, but this may be IT folks. How many more times is this going to happen? Or even potentially happen?

As far as specific rumors, there are few. From

More hints from Howard Stern Thursday about the "Change From Within" concert: Ringo will only be doing a couple of songs at the benefit, while Paul will be doing an "extended set."

For those that have no plans on a Saturday night, the concert will be simulcast via David Lynch's website: How good is that going to go? Where is Butch Trucks and Moogis when you need them?

Friday, April 3, 2009

Classical Weight: Bryan Wagorn, Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, NYC, 4/2/09

Vowing to make more of an effort to actually leave my apartment and seek out the innumerable cultural endeavors this great city has to offer, I recently started flipping through Time Out and New York Magazine in search of some outlet away from Netflix and DVR. A few days back, there was one particular event (along with others) that caught my attention. Not Elvis Costello at The Beacon or Umphrey's at Nokia, but rather, Bryan Wagorn -- an acclaimed, twenty-something Canadian pianist who performed last night at the Weill Recital Hall, Carnegie Hall. This was the change of pace I was craving.

Wagorn, who studied at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto (the same institution attended by Glenn Gould), impressively showcased his array of talents before an audience of about 200 people at the very intimate Weill Recital Hall on 57th Street. His approach to the piano is both naturalistic and methodical -- as opposed to the overemphasis on ebullience displayed by many of the young concert pianists today. So much so, that at times I felt as if his technique encapsulated the essence of each piece in the manner in which they were intended, not expected, to be played. There was a certain raw appeal to his style, and I mean that in the most complimentary way.

Wagorn's first choice of the evening was Bach's "Prelude and Fugue in F-sharp minor" -- a moving and arduous piece of music. As a Bach devotee, I guess I'm biased in thinking that it was my favorite and his best performance of the night, but it was apparent from watching Wagorn that he was especially connected to this piece on an emotional level as well -- perhaps in homage to Gould whom he recently honored at Canada's Museum of Civilization. Gazing at the audience, they were equally captivated.

Also wonderfully executed was Beethoven's "Piano Sonata No. 32 in C Minor, Op.111" -- a demanding piece that requires a high level of proficiency and inspiration from any artist. Wagorn continued with Ravel's "Valses Nobles et Sentimentales" and concluded the evening with Schumann's "Sonata in F-sharp minor, Op.11." The latter proved to be a difficult and sweeping piece, but Wagorn gave every last bit of effort to masterfully complete this beautiful selection. Wagorn is certainly one to watch and I look forward to his next appearance in New York.

Music aside, I was both surprised and ecstatic to notice that about half of those in attendance were between the ages of 20-40. There were few suits, few snobs, and I even spotted a baseball cap here and there in the audience. Everyone from wealthy Upper East-Siders to East Village hipsters were moved and entranced alike. This is what it's all about. Maybe I was wrong; perhaps a sub-culture of us still do exist who have a passion for classical music, or on a wider scale, great art as whole. Either way, I was glad to take part in its celebration last night. It was a relief to say the least.

Bryan Wagorn, Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, 4/2/09

J.S. Bach: Prelude and Fugue in F-sharp minor from Book Two of the Well-Tempered Clavier; BMV 883
L. van Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor; Op. 111
M. Ravel: Valses Nobles et Sentimentales
R. Schumann: Sonata in F-sharp minor; Op. 11

Other Suggested listening:

Rosalyn Tureck - The Well-Tempered Claiver, Books I & II (J.S. Bach)
Glenn Gould, The Goldberg Variations (J.S. Bach)
Arthur Brendel - Piano Sonatas No. 8 in C minor, "Pathetique"; No. 14 in C-sharp minor "Moonlight" (L. van Beethoven)
Artur Rubinstein - 19 Nocturnes (F. Chopin)
Vladimir Ashkenazy - 24 Preludes (S. Rachmaninov)