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Todd Alcott
02 August 2010 @ 08:13 am

I went to Disneyland yesterday with my son Sam (9). We were waiting in line at the Indiana Jones ride, and, if you haven’t ridden it, one of the things they have in the waiting area is a dimly-heard radio program about the Temple of the Forbidden Eye, or whatever the thing is called that you’re about to walk into. In between broadcasts of the pretend news-show, they play Benny Goodman Glenn Miller (my error).

When “In the Mood” came on, Sam asked “What is this?” looking like someone had poured coffee into his Orangina. I said: “This is Benny Goodman Glenn Miller, this is a song that was really popular when Indiana Jones was doing the things he was doing. So they’ve got this pretend radio broadcast with this kind of music to get you ‘in the mood’ for the ride.”

Sam: “But Indiana Jones wouldn’t listen to stuff like this.”

And then it occurred to me: What would Indiana Jones listen to? I tried to picture him listening to any of the contemporary popular music of the day and drew a blank. I tried to picture him listening to classical music, but again nothing. I could imagine his father, Henry Jones Sr, listening to Bach and chiding young Indiana for not appreciating its precision and beauty, but as far as what Indiana Jones would listen to while grading papers or driving from place to place, nothing came to me.

So I turn to you, dear readers. I know there are Indiana Jones comics and novels and role-playing games and God knows what else — is there ever a mention of what Indy listens to?
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Todd Alcott
09 December 2009 @ 12:32 am
The "best of decade" lists are out. I note that I own four of the titles on The Onion's list, and eighteen of the titles on Rolling Stone's list.

Make of that what you will.hits counter
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Todd Alcott
12 January 2009 @ 03:23 am

I noted the other day the passing of William Zantzinger. What did William Zantzinger do, you might ask. Well, every Bob Dylan fan knows the answer to that -- "William Zantzinger killed poor Hattie Carroll, with a cane that he twirled 'round his diamond-ring finger." "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" is the high-water mark of Dylan's "protest songs" era, a compelling, crushing indictment of careless racism and social injustice (Zantzinger was sentenced to a mere six months for killing Carroll in a drunken rage).free stats

I mention the lonesome death of Mr. Zantzinger here because, a few years back, I was listening to a version of "Hattie Carroll" from one of Dylan's many live albums, and I suddenly thought "Wait -- this is a real guy." William Zantzinger is a real guy." Dylan recorded this song practically on the day the events unfolded, but he's still singing the song in concert thirty, forty years later. In the song, Dylan paints William Zantzinger in all shades of ill repute, presents him in terms of lofty wealth and political connections, the better to contrast him to his victim, poor Hattie Carroll, who lived a simple, spare, selfless life of servitude and motherhood.

And it hit me: Jesus, what must it be like to be William Zantzinger? Just imagine, everywhere you go, you introduce yourself, and in the mind of every person of a certain age, a little song starts playing.

YOU: "Hi, I'm William Zantzinger."
GUY: (thinks, humming) "William Zantzinger killed poor Hattie Carroll..."
(GUY slowly backs away, giving you a vaguely disgusted look)

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Todd Alcott
10 December 2008 @ 02:30 pm

The Onion has published their Best Music of the Year list. I find that, of the albums listed, I own one.

One. (Portishead's Third, to answer your next question.)click tracking

Back in my day, if you can believe it, we had artists like Elvis Costello and Talking Heads, and we listened to music on vinyl discs on turntables, where you would put a tiny fake-diamond needle on the surface of the vinyl and then you'd have to sit there and listen to the songs in the order the artist intended while you looked at the big cardboard sleeve the thing came in. Now it's all blippity-blip music and coarse youth with their gaudy styles and lack of melody. Where did you go, Johnny Rotten?

Also: get off my lawn.

Todd Alcott
15 August 2008 @ 02:04 pm

David Bowie's sudden right turn from freak-flag Stonesy rock to blue-eyed Philly soul remains, 35 years later, one of the more startling transitions in pop-music history. This transition is most notable on Changesonebowie, where the LP suddenly goes from "Rebel Rebel" to "Young Americans," and if you're not prepared it can snap your head around like a spring-loaded head-snapping machine. The transition is so complete and uncompromised, it's hard to believe it's even the same artist -- until the distinctive voice comes in, which somehow doesn't make the transition any easier to digest. Rather the opposite -- if the Bowie of Diamond Dogs was the "real Bowie," then this bouffanted smoothie with the gold bracelets and the smoldering cigarette must be some kind of put-on, right? Because if it's not, what could this music possibly mean? And yet the music on Young Americans seems, if anything, more authentic and accomplished than the half-parody rock of the Ziggy Stardust era. Then, was Ziggy the real put-on? But then who was the long-haired prog-folk freak in the dress from the first three albums?


Todd Alcott
12 August 2008 @ 07:31 am

Pop music albums don't get much better than Ziggy Stardust. The hippie leanings of Bowie's previous three albums vanish completely, his mystic pretensions have been fully digested and formed into nuggets of pure pop gold. The sound is crunchy, compelling and immediate, the songs are short, punchy, direct, concise, catchy and irresistible.hitcounter Lyrical gaffes are kept to a minimum, and there is much to delight in. Cliches are avoided or inverted, the sense of drama is thrilling and palpable.

Todd Alcott
10 August 2008 @ 03:20 pm


I am not a musicologist. I am a dramatist, and I am therefore prejudiced toward structure. My form is the screenplay, which means, you know, doubly so. This means, in terms of pop-music appreciation, I tend to appreciate the "well-made song."

(One day, I will do an entire post on Avril Lavigne's "Sk8ter Boi".)

got to make way for the homo superiorCollapse )

Todd Alcott
09 August 2008 @ 05:24 am


Watching Labyrinth the other night re-awakened me to the thrill and the puzzle that is David Bowie.

You know how sometimes you have a vague awareness of an artist's work, but then one day you experience it in an unexpected context and somehow the new context illuminates everything that artist has done, and suddenly the artist "clicks" for you in an unprecedented way and becomes your favorite artist ever?

Well, the opposite is also possible. Your favorite artist ever can sometimes put out a piece of work so baffling, lame and unambitious that it ends up throwing suspicion on everything else they've done, and then you look at all that work you loved so much and think "Hey -- I've been duped, this guy's a fraud."

David Bowie made a whole career out of this dynamic.

Todd Alcott
03 May 2008 @ 07:15 am

Portishead has a new record out.

The reader will be forgiven for one of the following responses:

1. Portishead? What the hell is Portishead?
2. Portishead? They're still making records?
3. Portishead -- I think my Mom listens to them.
4. Portishead, yeah, I remember liking them -- when Bill Clinton was president.

Twelve years is a long time to go without putting out a record. But one of the things I've always liked about Portishead is that they don't seem to give a rat's ass about being successful. And it's one thing for bands to stay "indie" by downscaling their operations and staying closer to their (limited) audience, but it's something else again to simply refuse to play the game, to pack up ones samplers and go home. In a way it's kind of the ultimate cred move -- smooth move, Portishead, playing the "integrity card."

Anyway, Portishead has a new record out, and it's called Third, and it's wonderful.  It's quickly becoming my favorite record so far this year (step aside, Raconteurs, R.E.M., Rolling Stones, et alia).

A band that takes twelve years between albums would be forgiven for becoming irrelevant, dusty, twee or marginal in the lapse (I'm looking at you, XTC) but Portishead simply picks up where it left off and moves forward. The record everything one would want from a Portishead record, and then more. It is startling, eerie, moody, catchy. It is simultaneously more "live" than their first two records and more artificial, more contrived. (Am I the only one who prefers the live versions on their Roseland NYC album to the studio versions?) The arrangements are more adventurous (a mandolin even pops up on one tune, with Gene Autry-style cowboy harmonies), the tempos more diverse, and there are some stylistic experiments so surprising that I've had to stop several times to make sure that what I had heard was intentional and not some download glitch. The tension between the druggy electronic backgrounds and Beth Gibbons's keening vocals is as alive and disturbing as ever.  If popular music has moved on from where Portishead was in 1996, well, I was never too interested in popular music anyway.

Note: while this post is filed under "iTunes Catch of the Day," I actually downloaded Third from Amazon, where it was two dollars cheaper. This was my first time downloading from Amazon, and I am happy to report that the Amazon download program is fast, efficient and problem-free -- unlike eMusic, which is cheaper but is, frankly, is a pain in the ass.

Todd Alcott
19 April 2008 @ 07:15 am

As mcbrennan and The New York Times remind me, today is Record Store Day in the US.

I offer three anecdotes:

1. Back in the day, there used to be a whole district of radio-repair shops in lower Manhattan. It was a thriving district, but by the late 60s it was thriving with cranky old men who gathered in musty shops arguing about arcana. Then David Rockefeller got the idea to wipe the district off the face of the earth and put the World Trade Center there instead. Overnight, a dying, outmoded business disappeared, and the World Trade Center stood in that spot, triumphant and unmovable, 110 stories tall and proud, for, um, 28 years. Well, all things must pass, and pride goeth before a fall, and substitute "record stores" for "radio-repair" and "iTunes" for "World Trade Center" and maybe, perhaps, you won't feel so bad about the passing of this particular dusty institution.

2. I have spent more time in used record stores than probably any other kind of store in my life. I have, literally, thousands of used-record-store stories, of which only three or so are of interest to anyone but me. Suffice to say, when I was a teenager, living in an unheated trailer in southern Illinois in March of 1980, literally starving to death, living on a 25-cent can of store-brand spaghetti a day and a 33-cent frozen chicken-pot-pie on Sundays, a friend sent me 20 dollars in a letter. Fifteen dollars of that 20 dollars I spent on food, five I spent on a copy of Elvis Costello's Get Happy!!

3. When I moved to New York in the autumn of 1983, ground zero of my existence was Tower Records at Broadway and 4th St. Tower was a five-minute walk from St. Mark's Place, which held Sounds, St. Mark's Books, Venus Records and a few other choice used-record stores. My goal for being a New Yorker was to live within a block of Broadway and 4th St. I lived in New York for 22 years and by 1999 I achieved my goal, living in a loft at Broadway and Washington Place, finally within walking distance of all the places I considered the lifeblood of my creative imagination. Any given Tuesday afternoon I could be found making the trek from Tower to St. Mark's to the Strand and back. Including Tuesday, September 11, 2001, upon which morning I watched the World Trade Center burn on my TV, 1.5 miles away from the site, then walk downstairs and head over to Tower. The sidewalks were filled with refugees fleeing the financial district and Tower was filled with sobbing, distraught New Yorkers watching the TV monitors. I took all this in, and then bought Bob Dylan's "Love and Theft" and Leonard Cohen's Ten New Songs and went back home.

Support your local record store today! I will be at Amoeba in Hollywood this evening. (And let me just note that it was only a couple of years ago that the opening of Amoeba, which is a great store, forced the closing of several worthy Hollywood used record stores. Plus ca change.

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