December 24, 2005

Essentials

Been reading a lot of Bob Lefsetz lately. Whether it's his scathing music reviews, condemnations of the record industry, or recollections of the golden age of music (to him, 1964-1974), he cracks me up.

Here he is from a podcast (MP3 link) from a few months ago:

I hadn't eaten any lunch and i got to Burbank and I was just looking for a McDonald's, quarter pounder, something to keep me goin', and I pulled into Quizno's. Now, back in the day, which may be like six years ago, you only saw Quizno's in airports, where you could sort of tolerate what was goin' on there. But now, Quizno's are everywhere . . . .

. . . . but I got this sub, you know, they have like two thousand ingredients in this toasted sub, and by the time you finally eat it, it's incredibly bland. And that's what's wrong with a lot of music today. Even if it's in your face, it's bland, it doesn't have character.

Lefsetz nails it again and again how so much of what passes for today's music lacks any authenticity, real passion, real meaning. It's all substance. And so again and again he points out examples of music that he feels does possess authenticigty, passion, and meaning. Stuff from what he would probably consider his "essential" collection.

Speaking of which . . . this blog post was supposed to be about essentials. Works by artists that, well, if this was all you saw, it would be all you need to see, or if this is all you read, it was all you needed to read, or if this is all you heard, it was all you needed to hear -- before having to see or read or hear everything else the artist has ever done, but perhaps not bested.

One artistic work that comes to mind instantly as an absolute essential for me is "Life Lessons", a short film by Marty Scorsese. It's the first film in a three-part movie called New York Stories. Best of the three, although Woody Allen's film is pretty funny.

But "Life Lessons" is, for me, one of the best films ever made, and, since it's a Scorsese movie, it's got some of the best music -- music I bet Lefsetz would agree is part of the essential stuff. Two absolutely stunning sequences in the film -- both show a tortured painter at work on a huge canvas in his New York loft studio. In the first sequence, we hear Procol Harum's "Whiter Shade of Pale" -- the song is so perfect for the film you'd think it was written for it. And then later, Scorsese tops it by playing a live version of Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" that blows me away everytime I hear it.

Sure, Scorsese did Taxi Driver, and Goodfellas and Casino and a bunch more, but for me, he has never topped Life Lessons. All that needed to be said was said better than all the menacing violence of his other films combined could ever say. If and when I paint a canvas, it's going to be in the Lionel Dobie style. And I'll have A Whiter Shade of Pale blaring from the speakers, the hell with what the neighbors think.

While we're on the topic . . . . why is there no Criterion Collection extra-widescreen super remastered DVD with 5:1 audio? Why is the only DVD available a 1.33:1 fullscreen TV version? What's holding up something decent? C'mon Disney. Get with the program and get a widescreen DVD out into the market.

Posted by brian at December 24, 2005 10:25 AM

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