Friday, November 8, 2013

Paul Kelly's "From Little Things Big Things Grow," And The Winds of Change in America

Today's quiet, but momentous announcement of a law that effectively insures Americans' access to mental health treatment prompted me to think of a personal mantra adopted over the past decade or so.

"From little things, big things grow."  I often use it when referring to a struggle's fruition.

It's the title of a Paul Kelly song, penned with Indigenous Australian musician Kev Carmody over 20 years ago and initially released on Kelly's outrageously brilliant 1991 album with the Messengers, Comedy.  Carmody has also recorded it; the two iconic artists have been known to sing it together from time to time.

"From Little Things Big Things Grow" remains a prime example of folklore, of storytelling, in song, and is considered by many Australians to be a national treasure.  It's been covered countless times over the years; a true classic.  The song relates the legendary, ultimately successful Gurindji Strike  — a late-1960s/early 1970s labor and land dispute — and its leader, Vincent Lingiari.

"Vincent said, 'If we fall, others are rising.'"

For all of the frightening, hateful rhetoric on display in America, there has also been a wind of incredibly positive change blowing here in recent years. Gays and lesbians serving in the military is now a non-issue; marriage equality is sweeping the land.  A new minimum wage is coming; immigration law reform is on the horizon.  And as of today, an insurer can't charge more for mental health care coverage, or limit it.  People unfortunately had to fight for these things, and not just politicians.

Indomitable people, grassroots leaders — Vincent Lingiaris — here and there, across the country.  There are many struggles for justice ahead, but it's important to pause and remember the battles won, and celebrate those who lead the way.

- Steve Stav

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Captain America: The Winter Soldier Trailer Debuts!

The trailer for the upcoming Captain America film has arrived!

The official boilerplate, then my thoughts, if you're interested...

"After the cataclysmic events in New York with The Avengers, Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier finds Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, living quietly in Washington, D.C. and trying to adjust to the modern world. But when a S.H.I.E.L.D. colleague comes under attack, Steve becomes embroiled in a web of intrigue that threatens to put the world at risk. Joining forces with the Black Widow, Captain America struggles to expose the ever-widening conspiracy while fighting off professional assassins sent to silence him at every turn. When the full scope of the villainous plot is revealed, Captain America and the Black Widow enlist the help of a new ally, the Falcon. However, they soon find themselves up against an unexpected and formidable enemy—the Winter Soldier.

Based on the ever-popular Marvel comic book series, first published in 1941, Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier is produced by Kevin Feige, directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, from a screenplay by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely, and stars Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Emily VanCamp and Hayley Atwell, with Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury."

Obvious reasons to cheer:
1. Another Captain America film! The powers-that-be, while not redeeming themselves for the exciting-meets-disappointing duality of 2011's The First Avenger, created a decent portrayal of the character in the Avengers... and as a huge Cap fan from my 1970s childhood, I've been interested in where Marvel (and Chris Evans, not bad in the role so far) will take the country's #1 defender.

2. The Falcon appears!  'nuff said.

3. The return of gorgeous Hayley Atwell, and the Avengers crossover appearances of Cobie Smulders and Scarlett Johansson — three ladies who are welcome around my campfire any time — will certainly add some grrrl power to offset the explosions of testosterone.


1. The story has to be good, thrilling and not give way to average-fare CGI action and rote dialogue in the second half.... a terrible mistake made in The First Avenger, and an error that seems to befall too many superhero flicks... the last Superman attempt comes to mind.  And I want to be on the edge of my seat rooting for my childhood hero, not a costumed Jason Bourne or Frank Martin. I know its difficult re-establishing a character's kick-ass originality with so many latter-day variants in the wake, but umpteen millions of dollars should buy a script.

2. My number two cause for wariness is more of the "S.H.I.E.L.D." motif.  I think the all-knowing, paramilitary, super-righteous squad of spies is what made me wary of the government back when I was a grade-schooler!  As the 1970s progressed into the 80s, one never quite knew where Fury & Co. would land in the ethics department... which was deliberate, as Stan Lee's writers began to address the debate between national (or world) security interests and civil rights, zealotry and abuse of political power decades before Wikileaks and NSA hijinks prompted a collective opening of eyes.  This theme intensified over the years, with ultra-patriot Steve Rogers sometimes torn between unfortunate American realities and commendable American ideals.

We'll see how this plays out... in this mistrust-breeding age of wiretapping and secret programs made not-so-secret, I've found Marvel Film's embrace - and so far, a pretty, one-sided portrayal - of a Homeland Security wet dream to be a bit odd.  I've got a feeling that Cap's S.H.I.E.L.D. involvement in Winter Soldier will be a bit more dimensional.

But, please... not three-dimensional!

- Steve Stav

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Erasure's Christmas Album Out Nov 11; Snow Globe Trailer Released

I usually loathe the mention of Christmas before Halloween — but an exception has to be made for Erasure's new Yuletide release, Snow Globe (Mute Records), which hits the shelves on November 11th.

In addition to the standard CD, a limited edition, ultimate holiday gift for the Erasure fan will be issued.  The Deluxe Christmas Box Set includes a desktop calendar, a "tree bauble," postcards, a Christmas card signed by Vince Clarke and Andy Bell, and more.

What, no Erasure snow globe?  

Reading the Mute press release, I'd have to imagine that admirers will not be disappointed by the band's approach to a Christmas album — a recording that usually is one of any artist's most lasting legacies... if done right.

"I told Vince I wanted the music to sound like shards of ice or snowflakes falling," Bell recalled in a press statement, which went on to explain that "Clarke paired all the music of songs he worried might be over-familiar back to their route chord and fleshed nothing out, with carefully aggregated synthetic punctuation points, making a spare, brittle noise that speaks of Erasure’s incredible ability to move listeners from the simplest of places."  

"'It sounds quite odd,' Clark said, delighted at the leftfield result of what could’ve been such a mainstream pursuit. ‘But always with us melody is at the heart of everything.’"

An extraordinary trailer for Snow Globe — featuring a remarkable interpretation of "Silent Night" — has been created by Martin Meunier (Coraline, James & The Giant Peach), which can be seen here.

The album's first single, Erasure's version of the traditional latin carol "Gaudete," will be released on October 29th.

Snow Globe Track Listing:

Bells Of Love (Isabelle's of Love)
Make It Wonderful
Sleep Quietly
Silent Night
Loving Man
The Christmas Song
Bleak Midwinter
Blood On The Snow
There'll Be No Tomorrow
Midnight Clear
White Christmas
Silver Bells

Erasure's official website:

- Steve Stav

Monday, September 9, 2013

Spark And Shine To Release Star Anna's Go To Hell

Go To Hell, the long-awaited new album by Seattle's Star Anna, is due on shelves Sept. 24.

I've had a few listens... my verdict, as a biased fan?  The musical, emotional depths of Ms. Anna's bluesy, (mostly) Americana effort doubtlessly will delight — and might even surprise — her longtime admirers.  New fans will be definitely brought into the fold; hopefully Star Anna will take this record on the road until she's an international draw.  It's right around the corner; I'm not the only one who feels that way.

Go To Hell is a mature effort by a performer who has paid her dues, yet is still very hungry.   A great slot for an artist to occupy, and you can hear it on this disc.   Every local musician I know is in awe of her stage presence - no one wants her on their undercard.  Star Anna's the most riveting performer I've witnessed in a long time; watching her sing a quiet number, a ballad, can be like hearing a lullaby, or waiting for a bomb to go off.   Fire-in-the-belly, punk rock personified, regardless of what musical path she's traveling on at the moment.

Things do explode, get a bit incendiary on Go To Hell — but there's a gentleness, a sweetness here, too.  Altogether, more of a resolution than an exorcism.  

I can't recommend it strongly enough, but have a listen yourselves.  The song, "For Anyone" can be heard here.

- Steve Stav

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Futurama's Last Hurrah

Tonight, Matt Groening's hilarious, irreverent, illegitimate children will take their final bow.

For almost 14 years, I've done my best to keep abreast of the Futurama gang's adventures during an oft-fractured run of seasons; I - and countless others in the Gen-X demographic that seems to be the show's primary target - will miss them terribly.

I'll miss Fry's gold-hearted idiocy, Professor Farnsworth's addled profundity, Leela's pragmatic badassery (Katey Sagal's finest role, ever);  Dr Zoidberg's bottom-feeding gluttony, Bender's hedonistic greed, Morbo's pathological hatred of the human race.  Not to mention the overwhelming power of Hypnotoad!

Groening's careening, alternately pessimistic and hopeful vision of the future - a far cry from Roddenberry's clean, near-utopian Earth - was the perfect vehicle for thought-provoking satire... not just of pop culture, politics and societal status quos, but of humanity, period.  One thing Futurama and Star Trek do have in common is the exploration of human (and alien) natures  — conditions that technology can't evolve or alter.

Every one of Futurama's main characters have at least one glaring weakness to battle, at least one fear to overcome.  I've loved seeing them all shamelessly exploited for laughs... and an occasional tear. There may have not been roses at the end of each episode, but there was always perspective.  It's the sentimental side of Futurama that has always appealed to me the most, a sentimentality tempered with dark humor... an alcoholic robot's skills in the realm of crass levity never went to waste.

All of my favorite episodes, then, contained profound moments of sobriety encapsulated in outrageous plots.  For example, at the conclusion of 2001's "Paradise Lost," a pining, heartbroken Fry feebly attempted to recreate a stellar, sonic drawing of Leela after the alien parasites that made him a superhuman Leela-magnet were expelled.  

In the mindblowing H.G. Wells riff, "The Late Philip J. Fry" (2010), Fry stood up Leela again - this time, literally for centuries - as he's trapped in a forward-only time travel expedition with Bender and Farnsworth.  The episode ended with Leela acknowledging their more-than-friendship... as Bender took care of a space-time continuum problem with a shovel.

This year's "Game of Tones" combined hilarious theft of a Close Encounters hallmark with another trip back to the day Fry went into the deep freeze; in the final moments, an indebted Nibbler granted Fry's wish to somehow go back in time and visit his mother in her dreams.

Deep, funny, poignant stuff.  Can't wait to see how (or if) it all wraps up.  Will Fry and Leela finally make something official?  My guess is yes.  And no.

Indeed, there was no certainty in the world of Futurama - except that almost every episode brought with it a cheerful, yet ominous utterance of, "Good news, everyone!"

I think I'll miss that most of all.

- Steve Stav