Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Lou Reed's Metal Machine Trio

Lou Reed has a new album out although you might not know about it yet. Metal Machine Trio: The Creation of the Universe is an instrumental double album recorded over two nights at Los Angeles' Redcat. Please visit this link for purchasing details on what promises to be an exciting and delightfully combative release. I am going to get mine ordered as soon as I get moved completely and settled in to my new place.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Classic Song Chronicles: Kris Kristofferson’s "Help Me Make it Through the Night"

Simultaneously erotic, lonely and altogether heartbreaking, Kris Kristofferson’s landmark “Help Me Make it Through the Night” has been recorded by hundreds of major artists ranging from Kris himself, to Johnny Cash, to Gladys Knight, to Elvis Presley.
The legendary and influential singer song-writer wrote the song in a highly unusual place, as Kristofferson recalled in the essential book on Elvis Presley songwriters, "Writing for the King" with, “I wrote the song when I was still flying petroleum helicopters out in the Gulf of Mexico. I wrote it out there on one of those lonely oil rigs where we lived at for a week at a time. It was a good way to deal with the loneliness out there…” It is that loneliness that comes through the most in the song’s haunting lyrics of a man so desperate for a night of human contact that he is literally willing to ‘let the devil take tomorrow’ for it.
Kris’ version first appeared on his seminal self-titled 1970 album that would alert the world to his considerable skills as an interpreter of his own material. "Help Me Make it Through the Night", ironically and controversially, first became a hit for a woman when country singer Sammi Smith recorded it for her album named after the song also in 1970. Smith’s version was a smash hit and landed at number one across the country charts and was seen as a major leap forward for many conservatively minded radio stations and listeners, as it helped correlate country music with the sexual revolution that was sweeping the country in the early seventies.

Kristofferson’s favorite version of the song was recorded shortly after Smith’s when Elvis Presley recorded a splendidly laid back and chillingly heartfelt take in
1971. Kris said of Elvis in "Writing For The King" that, “I found out that Elvis recorded it when I was on the road” and that even though “all my heroes were recording my stuff” that “To have Elvis record your song was amazing.” Kris recalled the first time he heard Elvis’ eerie take later with, “I was in Bob Beckham’s office at Combine Music in Nashville when I first heard Elvis’ version of "Help Me Make it Through the Night", We played it and it was just like being at church…the fact that it was Elvis singing your song was an honor…I like everything that Elvis did. I just liked his approach.” Not totally sure why Elvis picked the song, Kris finally decided that, “Certainly it’s a situation he could have identified with. I mean, 'Help me make it through the night', I’m sure he could have identified with that emotion.”

The song became one of the most recorded of the seventies and appealed to country, pop, soul and rock fans. It even appealed to director John Huston, who used it to great effect in his 1972 feature Fat City, a film in which Kris appeared.
Some of the most notable version include this wonderful rendering by Gladys Knight and the Pips for the mid seventies:

And here is Johnny and June Cash singing the song famously as a duet:

Kris himself has continued to make the song a staple of his own live shows and this performance of it on the Old Grey Whistle Test with Rita Coolidge remains a particular favorite:

A humorous anecdote about the song came out recently courtesy of Criterion’s excellent Two Lane Blacktop set, on which director Monte Hellman interviews Kris. Kris recalled that during Bob Dylan’s recording session of his legendary Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid Soundtrack, a film in which Kris starred as The Kid, director Sam Peckinpah drunkenly interrupted it one night telling Dylan he wished he would stop what he was doing and lay down something like “Help Me Make it Through the Night.”
Despite all of the versions, Kris seems to remain proudest of Presley’s and would say in Writing for the King that, “It’s one of the highlights for me to have had Elvis cut one of my songs…I would have never dreamed that Elvis would sing one of my songs (and) with so much soul. I feel a lot of gratitude for that.” Elvis would record two other Kris Kristofferon songs in the seventies, “For the Good Times” and “Why Me Lord” before his untimely death in 1977. The mind boggles at the kind of collaborative work the two could have done as songwriter and interpreter had things worked out differently.

Roger Ebert Weighs in on The Wrestler and Mickey Rourke

"I cared as deeply about Randy the Ram as any movie character I've seen this year. I cared about Mickey Rourke, too. The way this role and this film unfold, that almost amounts to the same thing. Rourke may not win the Oscar for best actor. But it would make me feel good to see him up there. It really would."

-Roger Ebert's closing to his four star review of The Wrestler.-

Click over to his site to read the full review and also check out the vintage Barfly posts at the bottom of the page Ebert has posted. Roger was typically someone who gave Rourke a lot of love back in the day, so this review really brought a smile to my face. My most anticipated film is still not playing anywhere around me but I will see it as soon as it is within driving distance.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Personal Note

I wanted to let everyone know that posts here in the next week or so might be a bit more sporadic than usual. I am in the process of moving upstate, so my time to write is limited. I must admit that the last month or so has been among the most stressful that I have had in a very long time, and sitting here surrounded by all these boxes just trying to get through the next week is not helping matters. Still, I am excited about the move and hope that it marks a new happy chapter for myself, my girlfriend Kelley and my misbehaving cat, Mazzy Star.
For Moon in the Gutter readers the move should be a most promising one as I will be back in an area where it's possible for me to see more foreign and independent films, plus more club shows that I can write on.
Anyway, I apologize if the posts are few here in the next week or two and if they are mostly of a visual nature. I really appreciate all the comments and emails I have been getting lately and will respond (but it might take me a bit). Send me a good thought if you will on the upcoming move, as it has me a bit against the ropes right now.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Images From My All Time Favorite Films: Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life (1947)

Robert Mulligan R.I.P.

The director of two of my favorite Natalie Wood films from the sixties has past away at the age of 83. Of course Oscar nominated Robert Mulligan is known for much more than just Love With the Proper Stranger (1963) and Inside Daisy Clover (1965) but those are my two personal favorites from him.
Mulligan, an always interesting and solid director, got his start in television in the early fifties and is best known for his remarkable adaptation of Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird (1962). Other fan favorites include Up The Down Staircase (1967), Summer of ‘42 (1971) and the interesting little thriller The Other (1972). Mulligan remained active up until the early nineties and finished out his career with the lovely The Man in the Moon, in which he garnered a terrifically engaging and subtle performance from 14-year-old Reese Witherspoon, in what was her debut performance.
Film fans all over the world will miss Robert Mulligan, myself included. My best wishes go out to his friends and family.

Rhoda Hits DVD

One of my all time favorite sitcoms is finally scheduled to hit Region 1 DVD on April 21st. The Mary Tyler Moore spin-off Rhoda is being brought to disc courtesy of the typically reliable Shout Factory on a 4 DVD set. The multi-Emmy winning pioneering show starring Valerie Harper, Julie Kavner, Nancy Walker, Harold Gould and the much missed Dave Groh was a real favorite of mine growing up and I am thrilled to see it finally getting released. Hopefully sets of the other MTM spin-offs Phyllis and Lou Grant won't be far behind. Sadly, there is still no more information on the rest of The Mary Tyler Moore box sets that many fans are praying for. Shout Factory's set will include every episode from Rhoda's first season and hopefully some extras, although they haven't been announced as of yet.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Poll Results (Actors in need of a Comeback)

Thanks to everyone who voted in Moon in the Gutter's newest poll. De Niro just edged out Walken as our greatest actor in need of a serious artistic comeback. The full results are as follows:

Robert De Niro 52 (40%)

Christopher Walken 51 (39%)

Harvey Keitel 48 (36%)

Winona Ryder 43 (33%)

James Woods 43 (33%)

Al Pacino 39 (30%)

Dennis Hopper 37 (28%)

Nicolas Cage 27 (20%)

Dustin Hoffman 26 (20%)

Burt Reynolds 25 (19%)

Eric Roberts 22 (16%)

John Travolta 16 (12%)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Classic Song Chronicles: "To Love Somebody" (Barry and Robin Gibb)

Originally written for soul great Otis Redding, who was tragically killed in a plane crash before recording it, at the request of their ambitious manager Robert Stigwood, “To Love Somebody” is one of the great songs of the sixties and one of the most important tracks the legendary Bee Gees ever delivered.

With the hopes of Redding recording it destroyed, Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb recorded the Barry and Robin penned track themselves in 1967 for their historic third LP, Bee Gees 1st. The song, one of the album’s most majestic, would become The Bee Gees second single taken from the influential LP and would turn out to be a solid if not massive hit. Peaking just inside the Top Twenty in The United States and barely scratching the Top Forty in Britain, the song’s impact didn't begin to really be felt until 1969 when both Nina Simone and Janis Joplin recorded stunning versions of it.

Barry Gibb, recalling the writing of the magnificent track in the liner notes Rhino’s great 2006 reissue of Bee Gees’ 1st, stated “I wrote that in New York, and I think the last verse I finished with Robin in London after that". Barry also noted that he had in fact met Otis Redding the night the song was written, and it was that meeting that gave Stigwood the notion of the Bee Gees giving the song to the legendary soul Stax soul singer.

Covered literally hundreds of times by artists ranging from Rod Stewart to The Flying Burrito Brothers to Damien Rice (seen above) to Billy Corgan of The Smashing Pumpkins (seen below), "To Love Somebody" is one of the earliest examples of The Bee Gees absolute mastery of their songwriting craft. Working as both a soaring love song and a devastating lament for a lost love, "To Love Somebody" remains one of the Bee Gees most powerful compositions, and acts as one of the earliest chapters in what was soon to become one of the most successful and legendary songwriting teams in all of popular music.

While the Bee Gees original studio-take is a work of perfection, it can be argued that a couple of the later cover versions are even more accomplished. Nina Simone’s bruising and beautiful take from 69 especially adds further dimensions to the song, as does Joplin’s searing version of the song from the same year. Favorite version arguments aside, "To Love Somebody" is at the end of the day one of the essential Bee Gees songs.

While history often attempts to push the band into a separate corner from their peers, the wide ranging artists that have covered "To Love Somebody" show the Bee Gees as being very much at the head of the vanguard of the greatest sixties rock musicians. The fact that their own recordings remain so immaculate and individualistic make them all the more transcendent, important and inspiring.