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`You make this all go away': Revisiting `Pretty Hate Machine'.

COLUMN: POP CULTURE NOTEBOOK

Rewind to last Thursday night, and I'm alone in my kitchen, blaring Nine Inch Nails' "Head Like a Hole" and singing at the top of my lungs. "HEAD LIKE A HOLE," I shouted, gloriously off key, "BLACK AS YOUR SOUL/ I'D RATHER DIE/ THEN GIVE YOU CONTROL!"

It was a stupidly necessary catharsis after a day that had begun with a disproportionate frustration with operating a tire gauge, escalated with a clipped tone that seemed to emerge unbidden during every conversation and which culminated with a head full of negative thoughts that skittered around the corners of my brain like mice.

I don't think I was alone. Throughout the day, there was an edge in the newsroom's air, a thin bristle as people very pointedly talked about how they weren't worried about the impending sale of the New England Media Group, including the Telegram, which had been announced the day before. It's impossible to say what was going on under other people's skins, what was rolling through the recesses of their brains as they talked to sources and wrote stories, edited copy and took photographs - as they went about this business of journalism with the same dedication and professionalism as always. I can only speak for myself, who likewise was pushing myself through the day. The newspaper doesn't stop for anybody, even if they're screaming inside. Even if 320 people are screaming inside.

"Pretty Hate Machine," the debut album by Nine Inch Nails, fronted by Trent Reznor, wasn't an album I paid much attention to when it came out in 1989. Already familiar with the intertwined gloom and visceral sensuality of goth and industrial dance clubs, there was very little that struck me as particularly novel, even as "Head Like a Hole" was barreling its way through MTV and commercial radio stations.

It was a catchy song, certainly - fun to sing, even more fun to dance to. Familiar with its influences, I could hear the strains of bands such as Skinny Puppy and Ministry flowing through it, but for some reason, it didn't make an impression. Maybe it wasn't a song I needed at that moment - my catharsis of choice was generally more guitar and drum-driven.

At its core, "Pretty Hate Machine" is an album about control, about an intense resentment at being at other people's mercy. Its screeching samples and synthesized sounds have a frenetic, anxiety-inducing effect, one that almost compels the listener to move. In "Down In It," sings Reznor, "I used to be so big and strong./ I used to know my right from wrong./ I used to never be afraid," before screeching the last line of the verse, "I used to be somebody" in a high-pitched primal release, a shriek that comes from somewhere deep in the id.

There are a million true things you tell yourself when uncertainty enters your life. You concentrate on the things you can actually affect. You strive to move forward as an adult professional, knowing the things happening around you actually have little or nothing to do with you. To the best of your ability, you try to stay positive. You tell yourself that there are no bad guys here.

But that's not the entirety of your brain.

"You make this all go away," sings Reznor, in "Something I Can Never Have. "I'm down to just one thing./ And I'm starting to scare myself."

There are any number of reasons why we turn to a particular set of songs at a given moment. Sometimes it's merely that you find the songs enjoyable, or that they take you back to a particular moment. And sometimes you turn to a song or album because it's an almost custom-built place to put the things you're feeling that are not reasonable. Those songs become a place to put the fears and dark impulses that your conscious brain knows full-well are not helpful, which could actually be destructive if not handled cautiously. Moreover, they become a release from that frustration of behaving like an adult, when, really, part of you just wants to lash out.

"Pretty Hate Machine" was a great album to dance to in '89 and the early '90s, even if I didn't particularly pay much attention to it at the time. But in 2013, it's a fantastic album to scream along to in the privacy of one's own kitchen, a great place to put the anxiety, resentment and fear that are perfectly natural in uncertain times, before they fester and become counterproductive. And for that, I suddenly find myself with a new appreciation. For that, I find myself grateful. (Victor D. Infante)

Golden Oscars Playbook

As long as I can remember, I've always been thrilled and fascinated by the Academy Awards.

Even when I was little, I remember rushing home from grammar school, sleeping the whole afternoon and into most of the night and waking up for the 10 p.m. telecast of the Oscars. Yes, there was a time when the Academy Awards started at 10 p.m. (and on a Monday, no less).

And, yes, I remember the Academy Awards finishing way after 2 a.m. and not being able to get my sleepy head out of bed the next day. Those were the days, my friend.

Obviously, I will never be one of Hollywood's beautiful people, but on the same token, I can always spot a missed opportunity, botched joke or failed attempt at humor. This is my blessing. This is also my curse, as I found out watching Seth MacFarlane's hosting stint on the Academy Awards.

During an evening in which Daniel Day-Lewis proved he has a future in standup - or at Disneyland's Hall of Presidents, if his acting career ever peters out - MacFarlane was predictable, stiff and unfunny. And this coming from someone who usually finds "Family Guy" very funny and thinks MacFarlane has a fine singing voice.

MacFarlane made the same mistake that David Letterman made when he hosted (but, admittedly, not as embarrassing). The Academy Awards are not about the host. They're about the glitz, the glamour, the gluttony and the gorgeous people of Tinseltown. When you come down to it, it's narcissism at its finest.

And, always remember, an opening monologue about not being funny is as bad as not being funny.

Instead of opening with a tired "Star Trek" spoof with a decrepit Captain James T. Kirk (and this is coming from a diehard Trekkie), why not a spoof on "Looper," one of the most highly regarded time-tripping, sci-fi movies in recent years? And it actually came out the year you're celebrating. Go figure. The telecast even had one of its stars, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, perform a stupid soft shoe bit with Daniel Radcliffe. How hard would it have been to persuade Bruce Willis to get onboard?

If not "Looper," how about Ben Affleck trying to smuggle MacFarlane out of the Dolby Theatre with the cover of him being an Academy Award winning animator or caterer? There would have been plenty of opportunities to jab the Academy for Affleck's blatant omission for a "Best Director" nod.

Better yet, MacFarlane flashing a gratuitous leg shot in homage to Angelina Jolie, or sharing some heartwarming and potentially hilarious memories of seeing movies when he was a kid.

Personally, my fondest movie memory from when I was a kid was seeing my first James Bond movie, "Live and Let Die," in the theater, with my father, my brother and my mother telling me "Don't look! Don't look!" every time there was a scene of violence or nudity. Being that I was only a kid, I didn't have enough sense to just close my eyes, so I would flip my head completely around my neck every time (and it was quite often) my mom said, "Don't look! Don't look!" In the opening title sequence alone, I stared at the face of the person sitting directly behind me more so than the actual movie screen itself. To this day, I could pick the man out of a lineup.

MacFarlane seemed too set in his ways and didn't do his homework. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure he meticulously and painstakingly brainstormed, practiced and prepared up to the last minute, but he focused too much on performing stupid (and unfunny) songs and fancy footwork. You've got to focus on the movies and their stars.

Did anyone come away from the Academy Awards a year ago saying, "Gee, the Oscars could use a little more song and dance numbers?" That's why we have the Tonys.

First off, how can you have Channing Tatum dancing onstage and not taking his shirt off? Instead of dancing with Charlize Theron, Tatum should have danced with Mathew McConaughey (who seems game for anything) and the rest of the "Magic Mike" cast.

If you're going to have Theron dancing on stage, how about an interpretative dance of "Prometheus?"

And is anybody really itching for a salute to the much ballyhooed musicals "Chicago" or "Dreamgirls," neither of which were (despite their awards) that particularly good?

Better yet, if you're going heavy on the dance card, how about Hollywood's "It Girl" Jennifer Lawrence and "Sexiest Man Alive" Bradley Cooper recreating the ridiculously bad but inevitably triumphant dance routine from "Silver Linings Playbook" with a reunited White Stripes playing in the background? That would have been killer.

In keeping with the "Silver Linings Playbook" theme, how about a madcap salute to mental illness in the movies from "Psycho" to "The Silence of the Lambs," from "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" to "Fatal Attraction" - because it helps to have a screw loose to make it in Hollywood.

Even the "In Memoriam" reel was lame. With the biggest stars living long, full lives (Jack Klugman, 80; Charles Durning, 89; and Ernest Borgnine, 95) and a majority of the others being relatively unknowns, I expected to see someone who worked at the concession stand at the Grauman's Chinese Theatre 50 years ago to pop up.

As for the James Bond tribute, Dame Shirley Bassey nailed the quintessential 007 theme song "Goldfinger." But, I wish they took it further with the likes of Sheena Easton, Carly Simon, Paul McCartney, even Duran Duran singing snippets of their respective Bond songs and ending with Adele.

Ted - MacFarlane's fouled-mouth Teddy Ruxpin character - overstayed his welcome. Gasp. The Snuggle's Bear made a comment about there being a lot of Jews in Hollywood. Who knew?

Now that we are done with the "Twilight" movies, MacFarlane could have said we can move on to the real issue at hand, the impending zombie apocalypse, and segued into a grisly highlight reel with assorted B-movies clips and the forthcoming "World War Z" with Brad Pitt.

And how cool would it have been if during one of those boring song-and-dance numbers we caught MacFarlane backstage watching "The Walking Dead" on a portable TV after the nine o'clock hour?

And, what, no "Hunger Games" jokes?

As for the problems with the "Best Picture" categories this year, most of the films are thinly disguised remakes of better products.

For instance, "Lincoln" is clearly a remake of "Norma Rae," told from the perspective of the 16th president.

"Zero Dark Thirty" is a combination "Working Girl" meets "The Dirty Dozen" (with Osama bin Laden in the role of "Maggott").

"Argo" is a remake of "Casablanca" but, instead of Rick staying behind while Isa Lund flies away with Victor Laszio, Affleck boards the plane with six U.S. Embassy workers pretending to be Canadian filmmakers during the height of the Iran Hostage Crisis.

"Django Unchained" is, of course, the infamous "Saturday Night Live" job interview sketch with Chevy Chase and Richard Pryor inflated to a two-and-a-half-hour movie and boasting a much higher body count.

And "Les Miserables" is, by far, the campiest of the "X-Men" spinoffs.

If the Academy Awards truly wanted to be hip, risky and irreverent, I suggest Sacha Baron Cohen or "South Park" creators (and Tony Award winners) Matt Stone and Trey Parker to helm the Oscars next year. (Craig S. Semon)

Bay State Rock Battle

We were excited about the prospect of The Modern Lovers' "Roadrunner" becoming the official rock song of Massachusetts, but no sooner had we gotten used to the idea than we learned another contender had entered the race: Aerosmith.

Which songs? "Walk This Way"? "Eat the Rich"? "Love In an Elevator"? "Dude Looks Like a Lady"? No, the nominee is none other than the anthemic "Dream On."

"Duxbury Representative Josh Cutler and Marshfield Representative James Cantwell filed a bill Monday to name Aerosmith's `Dream On' the state's official rock song," reports The Boston Globe. "The two Democrats cite the tune's inclusion in Rolling Stone magazine's Top 500 greatest Songs of all Time. `Steve Tyler plays a huge part in the community affairs in Marshfield, and I can't think of a better song to represent the state,' Cantwell told us Monday. `In the pantheon of rock 'n' roll, Aerosmith is the best band from Massachusetts.' He said he likes `Roadrunner,' written in the early 1970s by Jonathan Richman, but thinks `Dream On' is a better choice. `It's a classic ballad that's all about holding on to your dreams and seizing opportunity.'"

Leaving aside the assertion about Aerosmith being "the best band from Massachusetts" - which I might quibble with, except I'd get an earful from Telegram music columnist Craig Semon - Aerosmith is certainly the biggest band to emerge from the Bay State, and its cultural relevance and roots in the community can't be denied.

Still, as fine of a song as "Dream On" is, I'm afraid my heart is still set on "Roadrunner." It might not be as famous of a song, but it's not obscure, and more important, it's one of very few songs that exalt in the beauty of all of Massachusetts, and not just Boston. "Dream On" is written more for a general audience, and while it's got a certain grandeur to it, it feels like it could be the state song of any state. "Roadrunner" is undeniably about here.

On the other hand, if any state legislators want to throw The Pixies into this mix, drop me a line, because I could seriously be swayed by "Debaser." (VDI)

Deliciously wicked

The aptly named Evil Streaks have a wicked new video out for their song "Highway," and it's as gleefully Hitchcockian as fans would hope.

The video, directed by Kevin McGowan, is shot mostly in black and white, with occasional flashes of red. It features vocalist Myra Graverobber at her most gleefully homicidal, singing lines such as "I'm gonna dump your body on the side of the highway/ I'll be long gone before it's dead" while wielding a kitchen knife in the suggestive style of classic horror films such as "Psycho."

As macabre as it all is, it's also deliciously fun. That's no surprise, of course - the band's a favorite around these parts, after all - but still, it's amazing to see how they can take such dark fare and make it unnervingly perky. It's the delight in Graverobber's voice as she sings, the bounce of the Cramps-style surf/garage rock sound, a jangle of darkness and joy that will be on display when the band plays Ralph's Chadwick Square Diner in Worcester March 8.

Here, though, it all works exceedingly well, with the sleek, highly stylized video harkening back to another cinematic era, and capturing the feel of the song completely. (VDI)

Name that tune

Naming songs is hard. A good title gives the song some context, gives the listener a frame of reference to how to listen to the song. Or, conversely, it just repeats a snippet of the refrain. But that's no fun.

So when local jazz crooner Dale LePage offers up a contest for a fan to name the newest song by him and The Manhattans, you know it's serious business. OK, maybe "serious" is a bit strong. But it's certainly good, clean fun. And the winner takes home $100, which is nothing to sneeze at.

Entering is easy. Just visit the band's Facebook page, where you can listen to the song, and post your title suggestion. The contest ends March 31.

The contest will be judged by Terry Lee, of the podcast "Music For Young Lovers," Phil Knudsen of the Amazing Things Art Center, George Tocci of The Bull Run, Nick Noble of WICN 90.5 FM, and ... um ... me.

That's right. I am evidently a judge on this thing, which may be enough for me to question LePage's judgment. I once belonged to a short-lived band called Capt. Gerbil and the Death Monkeys, so I may be the wrong person to talk to about naming things. But we'll see. At the very least, I'll endeavor to not be bored. (Hint: If you want to win, don't bore me.)

All right, in the immortal words of Effie Trinket, "May the odds be ever in your favor." (VDI)

ART: PHOTOS

CUTLINE: (1) Trent Reznor performing with Nine Inch Nails at the DCU Center in Worcester in 2008. (2) The Evil Streaks (3) From second left, actors Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth MacFarlane and Daniel Radcliffe perform onstage during the Oscars Sunday at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (4) LePage (5) Tyler

PHOTOG: (1) ED COLLIER (3) THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
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Title Annotation:LIVING
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Mar 1, 2013
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