In 1986, I fell in love with James Spader. Sure, I was 15 and he was 25; and he was an actor and I didn’t actually know him; but it was real to me, damn it. I’d seen him on the big screen in Pretty In Pink, but he reminded me too much of the rich, preppy jackasses I knew in real life for me to develop anything but antagonism for him in reel life. (And what was up with his feathered, John Taylor-in-“The Wild Boys”-video hair, anyway?)
Serendipity intervened shortly thereafter: Tuff Turf was on HBO one night when I was at a friend’s house and that’s when it hit me: this James Spader guy was all right. Better than all right, in fact. As Morgan in Tuff Turf, he was perfect (and woe unto all the guys who didn’t measure up). Thus began my lifelong quest of watching every James Spader movie ever. That’s how I found out about Jack’s Back, released in 1988.
The third of Omnivore’s expanded reissues of JD Souther’s criminally overlooked solo albums, Home By Dawn, is an unusual album. The things that make his previous albums, John David Souther and Black Rose work are there: his incredible lyricism, gift for melody, and warm vocals. These things have to share space with a particularly 1980s sounding production. Songs are slicker than they need be, and while the writing is, as always, brilliant, they suffer. A bit. But keep in mind, this is JD Souther we’re talking about, and he’s got this.
Thank you, Omnivore Records, for reissuing JD Souther’s albums. The recent reissue of Souther’s debut, John David Souther, was like reading a blueprint for Americana music. Souther’s follow up album, Black Rose, shows an artist broadening his horizons, marrying jazz with rock and coming up with something unexpected but very effective.
Since its release and quick deletion, Game Theory’s third official LP, Lolita Nation, has carried with it a mystique. Is it because it’s the third album, as producer Mitch Easter has suggested, or because it’s been impossible to find and prohibitively expensive for so long? Now that Scott Miller’s magnum opus is widely available, will we discover that this is actually an average album for the era and subgenre? Happily, Omnivore’s long-awaited reissue reveals an idiosyncratic and breathtakingly ambitious release by a cult-favorite songwriter and band who deserved a greater place in the 1980s college-rock firmament.
Toronto residents can watch a special theatrical screening of Gilda at The Royal tonight at 7:30 p.m., presented by the Ladies of Burlesque.
Without Gilda, my life would have been very different. As a naïve young English major at UC Santa Barbara, I registered for a Film Noir class to fulfill a requirement for my degree. I wasn’t new to old cinema; the giant poster of James Dean on my bedroom door and my stash of Gary Cooper movies recorded onto VHS were a testament to that. I didn’t know, however, about German Expressionism, Jim Thompson novels, the word “chiaroscuro,” or how important Citizen Kane was to the development of the noir style. I would soon learn.
Think about something you hate, or try to remember something that made so little of an impression on you that recalling details about that thing is difficult or impossible. The shocking truth is that thing is someone else’s favorite thing in the whole wide world. It could be a song, a book, a movie; it doesn’t matter. Somewhere out there, someone’s thinking of that thing you despise with a fondness you will never understand.
It’s strange to hear a reissue of an album from 1972 that sounds as current as Omnivore’s reissue of JD Souther’s John David Souther. It’s not a difficult argument to make that Souther’s cult-classic albums were precursors to present day Americana. It’s all here: thoughtful lyrics and a high lonesome voice (on occasion); momentary fiddles and bottleneck guitar. JD Souther is a songwriter’s songwriter, known for writing for the Eagles (all of their good songs? Souther had a hand in those, like “New Kid In Town” and “Heartache Tonight”), and his songs have been covered by artists from Glen Campbell to India Irie to Linda Ronstadt.
“The Black Cat” isn’t usually the first story that comes to mind when people think of Edgar Allan Poe. It tends to get overshadowed by his poem, “The Raven,” or his story, “The Tell-tale Heart,” which actually shares a lot of plot devices with “The Black Cat,” but that’s not important right now. What is important is that Poe’s work is public domain. No one owns it. That makes his work ripe for the gutting by film producers and writers. Slap Poe’s name on it somewhere and you’ve got a built-in audience of horror fans and American Literature majors.
Roger Corman certainly made his nut making quickie Poe flicks, but that’s not important right now, either. What is important is what happened to “The Black Cat” in the hands of two stylistically different Italian directors, horror maestro Lucio Fulci and giallo king Sergio Martino. Their two versions of Poe’s old tale can be found in one beautiful box set from Arrow Video.
For more discussion about the items on my list, check out the Popshifter Best Of 2015 Podcast!
Many thanks to the following: All the writers at Popshifter but especially Melissa Bratcher, Brad Henderson, Tyler Hodg, Jeffery X Martin, and Tim Murr for being so generous with their time and talent; all the fantastic PR folks that help make everything possible (too many to list!); Kier-La Janisse and Paul Corupe at Spectacular Optical for graciously publishing my essay on Ricky Kasso in their Satanic Panic: Pop-Cultural Paranoia in the 1980s anthology; the kind people of Rue Morgue for publishing my music reviews in the magazine as well as my Frightful Flashback column on the blog; the good folks at all of the websites who invited me to write for them this year: Everything Is Scary, Nerdy Stuff, Modern Horrors, Dirge Magazine, and Biff Bam Pop; Colin Geddes and Carol Borden for being terrific and for letting me write for the TIFF Vanguard and Midnight Madness blogs again; and last but certainly NOT least, Shaun Hatton for being a generally awesome person.
And now, for the lists!
When you compare and contrast 2015 with other years, it really wasn’t half bad. It was a great year for movies, an absolutely stellar year for music, and television reached new heights of creativity and watchability. Sure, there were some celebrity deaths that shook me to the core (these are still hard times, Dream), but there wasn’t a whole lot to complain about in 2015, except how difficult it was to choose the best things of it.
So let’s start with the movies, shall we? In ascending order, please, Maestro. (more…)