Friday, January 20, 2006

Steely Dan

Pearl Of The Quarter

My first full-blown band obsession was Steely Dan. Ironically, I discovered them at the moment of their break-up in the early eighties, and spent a couple of years committing their seven records to memory. It’s easy to love melody (ever met anyone who didn’t?), and 20th century popular music enshrined rhythm (the backbeat of rock n’ roll; the all-important “swing” in jazz), but I’ve always had a special place in my heart for harmony (chords). And to my ears, Steely Dan’s chord progressions were rich and flavorsome like nothing I’d ever heard before. I didn’t realize at the time how much they owed to jazz.

A few elements of the Steely Dan sound:

  • A bohemian, sarcastic, slightly weary take on the world. Both Becker and Fagen went to Bard College and their hipster literariness shows. Their songs could be satirical but deep down they were poignant. "I cried when I wrote this song," Fagen sang on "Deacon Blues", "Sue me if I play too long."

  • Masterful use of the recording studio as a sort of grand musical instrument. Two years after it was formed, the band stopped touring, devoting their time exclusively to the studio. Their albums are fastidiously arranged, immaculately recorded. The southern California production (e.g. spending days getting the snare sound just right), which sounds fetishistic and sterile on other people’s records, inexplicably only adds to the intelligence and sophistication of Steely Dan's records.

  • Sorry, but some of the music labeled as jazz-rock fusion of the early 70s sounds a little masturbatory to me, possessing neither the elegance of jazz nor the vitality of rock n’ roll. But Steely Dan figured out the alchemical formula to blend jazz with pop music forms by somehow keeping the "best selves" of those two musics intact and making them resonate off each other. Perhaps they did it by remembering that jazz once was pop music, in the swing era, when it relied on economy of form (its material consisted of the songs now known as the Great American Songbook) and creative large-group arranging with a rich instrumental palette.

  • The influence of jazzy Hollywood arrangers which can be heard, for example, in occasional guitar-bass unison lines that stand up and walk right over from Mancini’s Peter Gunn. Steely Dan had a penchant for un-rock-like elaborate charts employing scores of session musicans who came in and (yikes) sight-read their parts. Not exactly the “three-chords-and-the-truth” paradigm, but looking back, the well-known fussiness of the band's recording process appears to have been a sound long-term choice. Today, the records sound gem-like, lovingly wrought, still fresh.

A word about the song: "Pearl Of The Quarter" is tucked away into a corner of their second album, Countdown To Ecstasy (1973). It's an outwardly dry but secretly touching love song to a New Orleans hooker. I vividly remember that the first time I heard it, I found a tear in my eye; I have no idea why. Maybe it was Jeff "Skunk" Baxter's pedal steel fills.

So, your first band obsession?


Blogger girish said...

The drawing is the letter "Ka", the first consonant of the Devanagari (Sanskrit/Hindi) alphabet.

Steely Dan reformed in 2000.
And here's the lyric to "Pearl Of The Quarter".

January 20, 2006 1:23 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Mubarak posts a yummy list of his choice Bollywood films, and now I'm all mushy with nostalgia.

January 20, 2006 1:27 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Ben on Brick (and Veronica Mars).

January 20, 2006 1:29 AM  
Blogger girish said...

As you probably know, the band was named for a talking dildo in Naked Lunch.

January 20, 2006 2:12 AM  
Blogger Flickhead said...

Nice write-up. I remember when Steely Dan's first album came out it sounded fresh and new.

My first band obsession? Growing up when I did where I did, first there were The Beatles...and then there was everyone else.

My older sisters were at war: one loved The Beatles, the other loved the Stones. Such were the conflicts that rocked suburbia in the mid-'60s.

I remember seeing The Beatles when they first played on American TV, on Ed Sullivan's Sunday night variety show. It wasn't until a couple of years later when I began to appreciate their music, and was instantly blown away by "I Am the Walrus" (still my favorite Beatles song).

The album Beatles 65 intrigued me with its interesting arrangements and compositions -- though most other people preferred Rubber Soul and Revolver.

Other early obsessions included Bob Dylan ("Like a Rolling Stone" was my anthem for a long time), The Band (mostly for their second album, The Band), and Pink Floyd (pre-Dark Side of the Moon).

The Band's Richard Manuel (R.I.P.) had a simple playing style on piano that helped me simplify my own goals on that instrument. To this day, his voice is one of my favorites, especially his duet with Levon Helm on "Whispering Pines".

I learned every note of Pink Floyd's albums More, Dark Side of the Moon and Meddle. While a lot of people admired their "Atom Heart Mother Suite", I thought it dragged; but I loved the pastel psychedelia of the four songs on side two of Atom Heart Mother.

With the exception of a few moments on the album Animals, after Dark Side..., Pink Floyd lost their creative spark, and I hated the direction Roger Waters led them to.

There were, however, a couple of interesting solo albums: Wet Dream by Rick Wright, and David Gilmour's self-titled debut.

January 20, 2006 8:13 AM  
Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

Like Flickhead, I came of age (12) when The Beatles met America. While I was enthusiastic about alot of music at the time, I think my first band I was truly obsessed by was The Doors. I saw bought the albums, and saw them twice in concert. the people who ran The Family Dog in San Francisco operated a "psychedelic" ballroom in Denver. In early 1977, The Ramones played their Denver debut in a small club billed with Ray Manzarek's band Nite City. Ray Manzarek actually sat next to me during The Ramones set. He seemed pleased when i mentioned that I saw him in concert back in 1967 with Captain Beefheart.

January 20, 2006 8:39 AM  
Anonymous acquarello said...

My first band obsession was with X-Ray Spex, primarily because they were a punk band with a very young female vocalist and even had the audacity to throw in a saxophone! They were far more melodic than The Sex Pistols could ever hope to be (personally, I preferred Johnny Lydon/PiL).

January 20, 2006 9:15 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Richard Manuel, what a voice. Unlike many people, I've always preferred The Band to Music From Big Pink, but Manuel on "In A Station" and "Lonesome Suzie" gives me the chills.
Manzarek is hilarious in interviews: very articulate and funny. There's a great one of him in the NPR Fresh Air web archives.
Ah, Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex. I discovered their music late (much later than my other formative punk heroes and heroines).
I think my own punk heroine was Exene Cervenka of X.

January 20, 2006 10:17 AM  
Blogger girish said...

And Manuel on "Whispering Pines" has got to be one of the greatest things ever committed to wax. Heaven on earth.

January 20, 2006 10:27 AM  
Blogger Brian said...

As you know Girish, I share your obsession with the Dan. Regarding the literary roots, lets not forget that the band named itself after a steam powered dildo from Burroughs' Naked Lunch! Really, their songs are just chuck full of literary/cultural references.

For my own obsession, it was the Aja album that hooked me, and Deacon Blue is noticeably more worn than the other tracks on my vinyl version. Countdown to Ecstasy was the last of their albums that I discovered, and I didn't quite like it as much as their others, but now its probably my favorite in their catalogue.

January 20, 2006 10:32 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Oh and Brian--did you notice that you turned Jeannette on to some Mondrian? (I'd never seen that one before; I certainly wouldn't have been able to ID it).

January 20, 2006 10:37 AM  
Blogger Flickhead said...

Girish: In case you've never heard it, Robbie Robertson's song "Between Trains" has an excellent Richard Manuel backing vocal (with Garth noodling away on keyboard). As far as I know, the song only appeared on the vinyl soundtrack to "King of Comedy". If you ever come across it on mp3, let me know. I haven't heard it in well over ten years and I'd love to hear it again.

January 20, 2006 10:59 AM  
Anonymous Jmac said...

G. I respect your love letter to Steely Dan. :) I might try to appreciate them a bit more now . . . My first obsession was The Beatles. Not the most cutting edge, but I'm from Ohio. I had all of their albums but one or two, and Iistened to them so frequently, that my parents accused me of smoking pot. For real! Which I was doing a little bit . . .


January 20, 2006 11:05 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Flickhead: yes, I do have the King Of Comedy soundtrack on vinyl. Unfortunately, I'm yet to look into equipment/software for ripping vinyl to CD. (I actually use my turntable a lot.) But if and when I do, I will surely send you that mp3.

J., I didn't realize you grew up in Ohio.
The Beatles are (like for a lot of us) my favorite band, but the chronology of my discovery of Western popular music is all messed up because of my growing up in India, where imports of music were highly restricted. I had to buy a lot of it smuggled, off sailors, and in the backrooms of shady astrological parlors. It's a weird story, another one for the blog post burner.

January 20, 2006 12:00 PM  
Blogger Flickhead said...

Of course, there’s always William Shatner.

January 20, 2006 12:10 PM  
Anonymous jmac said...

That is such a cool story, G. You must write about it further! Sounds like a movie . . .

January 20, 2006 12:19 PM  
Anonymous Darren said...

Anyone else a fan of Reno 911! on Comedy Central? There was a three- or four-episode story line recently about the officers losing their jobs and having to find other work. Clementine uses it as an excuse to go "on the road with 'The Dan'" as if they were the Grateful Dead. I don't know why, exactly, but I thought it was really, really funny.

Aja was my big Steely Dan moment, too. It's one of the few albums that my dad, who is an amateur arranger and big band jazz fanatic, enjoys as much as I do. I remember being really proud of myself when I figured out those opening chords of "I Got the News." Thanks for the mp3, Girish. I'd never heard "Pearl of the Quarter" before. Great tune.

My first musical obsession was Rush.

January 20, 2006 12:33 PM  
Anonymous Michael said...

I enjoyed both your written appreciation of Steely Dan and the MP3, Girish. I've never been that familiar with the group and was not aware of how meticulous they were when recording albums.

My first musical obsession was (ahem, ahem) Van Halen, adolescent lyrics and all. It was the guitar playing that drew me in (spontaneous, creative, with great tone), and I often enjoyed their arrangements -- for example, some tunes begin with intros that are never repeated in the songs, and often the guitar solos are played over chord changes that appear nowhere else. In addition to all that, I think was mandatory to listen to Van Halen if you grew up in Southern California at that time.

January 20, 2006 1:18 PM  
Anonymous Michael said...

Wait a second -- the backrooms of shady astrological parlors?

That's a story I gotta hear.

January 20, 2006 1:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yowza, Bruddah! Thank you for the eloquent, and loving description, of a band I too love to no limit,(though, sounds as if you've loved them much longer, and more passionatly than I). A few choice jems for me,
'Here at the Western World' & Black Cow'. 'Sign in Stranger'(well, the entire Royal Scam album is amazing, it's my favorite from them-a concept album about organized crime, it's the kind of humor you wrote about, and the mobster descriptions are scarry enough to frighten Scorcese
'a scar from ear to ear'). I love Aja, and Gaucho...hell...I love the greatest hits, Gold, and a decade...
It was tragic to loose Jeff Picaro. Toto was a hot band, but no where near as deep as the Dan. I love the McDonald/Baxter years of the Doobies as well, but not like Steely. Fagans solo records were fantastic , both 'The Night Fly', and 'Karmakirad', but I never heard one note from a Becker solo album, something to look forward to in the future. I did get to see them live, circa 1993, in San Diego,(remember the live record from that era?)I'm probably in the crowd noises. It was the impetus for the "'officialy' got back together", and form there they made two grammy winning albums. They had an all saxaphone hornsection! However, both cats being clean, left the 'Cuervo Gold and fine Columbian', change from 'Hey Nineteen'...shocking to my ears, but the show was amazangBubby!
Thanks for writing that.

January 20, 2006 1:21 PM  
Anonymous Darren said...

"Here at the Western World" is such a great song. Damn.

January 20, 2006 1:44 PM  
Blogger phil said...

i know lots of people like to write off U2 because they were the biggest band in the world in the 80s, or, if they're bit less ashamed will claim that "the Joshua Tree" was their only good album.

well fuck those people.

U2 was my first band obsession...because they're just good. sorry, Henry Rollins, that their brand of rock doesn't sonically thrash, eviscerate, and send your soul to hell.

yeah, i'm pretty pissed. that Bono is outspoken and charitable is not a good enough reason to not like the U2.

i won't go so far as to say they are revolutionary and innovative. but something about bono's voice, something in the edge's guitarwork...they set me aflame. their music i think is swollen with interesting if not the most intricate sound. i'm sad about the scoffers. because there is something in their music that cuts to the quick. it is why bands like Radiohead revere them. they do their thing, and they do it well.

January 20, 2006 2:19 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Good stories, y'all. Thank you.

You know, I didn't mention it, but the whole reason I sat down to write this post last night was because of Aja. I netflixed a fascinating documentary about it, with extensive interviews with Fagen and Becker and other musicians, taking apart each track on the album. If you love Aja, this is a must-see.
So, I was planning to write about the album in detail, and for ambience, put 5 Dan albums in the carousel disc player, and before I knew it, the post turned into an all-encompassing Dan smoochfest rather than a narrow and focused musical examination of Aja.

And Michael--Astrology and palmistry are really ubiquitous in India; my parents even have a family astrologer (like a family physician or a family grocer.) :-)

January 20, 2006 2:53 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Putting in a second yowsah for The Royal Scam in general, and "Green Earrings" and "Haitian Divorce" in particular.

January 20, 2006 3:09 PM  
Blogger girish said...

"...and often the guitar solos are played over chord changes that appear nowhere else."

Great point about Van Halen, Michael.
Like Eddie's smokin' solo on "Jump".

January 20, 2006 3:12 PM  
Anonymous Michael said...

Girish, I wasn't aware of that. How very interesting, especially from a cultural point-of-view. (When you first mentioned it, I had images in my head of darkened backrooms where shady things occur ... and, with sailors and smuggled music that does have to be a good story).

January 20, 2006 3:22 PM  
Anonymous Michael said...

"Jump" is definitely one example among many. If I recall correctly, I think the solo is an entirely different key too, D-flat or something (while the rest of the tune is in C).

January 20, 2006 3:25 PM  
Anonymous Filmbrain said...

Ah...Girish. Leave it to you to write something so wonderful and poetic about a band that also means the world to me.

My dad had all the SD albums, but it wasn't until I was an overly-sensitive eleven year-old that I started to really pay attention to the lyrics. At that highly impressionable age, they meant the world to me. There was no finer poetry to be found anywhere.

"Any world that I'm welcome to
Is better than the one I come from"

was my credo for years. Don't even get me started on Caves of Altamira! (I was emo before they had a word for it.)

To this day, there are moments within their songs that never fail to send shivers down my spine -- especially the way Fagan sings, "Is there gas in the car? Yes there's gas in the car."

That Aja doc is great. I love when the two of them are listening to the hip-hop song that samples Black Cow.

Other songs that sample the Dan:
Eye Know, De La Soul (Peg)
Do It Again, Disco Killaz (Do It Again)
Destroy Rock and Roll, Mylo (Aja)
Threemosphere, Atmosphere (Hatian Divorce)

January 20, 2006 3:26 PM  
Blogger Shasta said...

my first band obsession was REM, back in middle school. i listened to "document" over and over. i was exploring my political bent.

steely dan was a good one, too, though. i once had a monumental crush on a steely dan lover.

January 20, 2006 3:56 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Filmbrain, this is too cool. I had no idea whatsoever that you were a Dan-o-phile. If we all get together for a (non-virtual) party someday, we know what we'll be spinning.
I've watched that Aja doc three or four times since I discovered it last year, and never tire of it. Fagen and Becker are like a middle-aged married couple, finishing each other's thoughts and sentences.

Shasta, I have great nostalgia-love for Document (easily my favorite REM album). It was the first record (and band) I discovered soon after I moved to the States.

Michael, You're right about Eddie's solo on Van Halen's "Jump". The tune modulates up a bizarro interval (like a half-step) rather than something normal like a fourth or a fifth. (I should go pull out the 45 and check.) I love that jarring transition.

January 20, 2006 4:12 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Filmbrain, I don't think I know that Atmosphere tune, and I thought I had all their albums...shall hunt it down.

January 20, 2006 4:33 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Zach on the Brazilian Coffin Joe films; I hadn't heard of them till ten minutes ago.
There are two at Netflix that I just added to my queue: Awakening Of The Beast and At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul.
And I remember enjoying the wonderfully self-reflexive Wes Craven's New Nightmare. Think it's time to see it again.

January 20, 2006 6:31 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Monsieur Pop View would make a really good teacher. (Maybe he is one by trade.)
Here he is with a couple of nice mash-ups.

January 20, 2006 6:36 PM  
Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

's an interesting article on Rush and Ayn Rand.

January 20, 2006 7:44 PM  
Anonymous Mikey D. said...

A terrific post! You really have that band down to a science. It was nice to hear Pearl Of The Quarter again (a Steely Dan tune I had not discovered on my own). An hour before reading your post I was playing the chords to "Peg" on the piano- I think between the brilliant chords and Michael McDonald's rich background vocals, "Peg" is my favorite Steely Dan song. "Do It Again" and "Deacon Blues" are close seconds.

Like a lot of other music fans, the first band I was obsessed with was The Beatles, exclusively from Revolver on. I first heard "late Beatles" songs in my seventh grade music class from a super hip teacher who was a devout fan. We followed the "Paul is Dead" phenomenon through clues in album covers and lyrics. During that time, I remember that my favorite Beatles songs were "The Fool On The Hill" and "Lovely Rita".

Getting back to Steely Dan, I think Ivy's cover of "Only A Fool Would Say That" is brilliant. Any Steely Dan fan should check out the "Me Myself and Irene" soundtrack that this and other terrific Steely Dan covers are on.

January 20, 2006 7:56 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Peter, did you mean a Steely Dan article? Coz I found one there.

Hey Mikey. Good to see ya. Hope med school's rocking right along. I was actually hoarding up the Me Myself & Irene soundtrack for another post. :-) A double bill of Dan original + Wilco cover, which I'll do sometime soon.

January 20, 2006 8:12 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

Girish, now that I'm at home and have a chance to read comments more slowly (as opposed to at work where scanning is more the norm), I realize that you had already brought up the Burroughs reference for The Dan. Sorry about that, but not that I don't think you're a forgiving fella.

Anyway, had to throw in Aja tonight because of your post, and forgot that Wayne Shorter sits in for the title track; top notch through and through.

January 20, 2006 11:06 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Please. Don't apologize, Brian. It's nothing.
By the way, your formidable run of Werner Herzogs has got me netflixing them too.

January 20, 2006 11:26 PM  
Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

Actually, I forgot about the Dan article at While it wasn't an obsession, I did write to Al Kooper, and he actually wrote back to me.

January 20, 2006 11:56 PM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

I love a good group harmony, but I suspect that I couldn't tell an innovative chord change from a pedestrian one. I do love it, though, when instruments are off doing different things (usually in the middle solo) and then come together perfectly in synch to play a certain phrase and kick the song back into the chorus.

January 21, 2006 10:05 AM  
Anonymous The Pop View said...

The Dan were great because they were the smart rock band of the Seventies. At the time, believe me, it wasn't hard to seem smarter than a lot of the rock bands, but neither were they pretentious.

Great lyrics. Who else could rhyme "the Wolverine up to Annandale" with "the working girls in the county jail" and "Oleanders" with "I can't stand her," all in the same song?

They were a prime example of Devo's theory of de-evolution, because they became quite boring by 1980. But they made some great music. Other noteworthy songs are "Fire In The Hole," "Show Biz Kids," "Charlie Freak," and "Kid Charlemagne." The Minutemen covered "Doctor Wu" on their classic Double Nickels on the Dime album.

Of course, my first obsession band was The Beatles, during high school in 1978. Still my number one band, but haven't obsessed about them in years.

January 21, 2006 10:13 AM  
Blogger girish said...

I am going to link to Mubarak's Indian filmi list *again*, because Dipanjan has added several good suggestions in the comments. I've bookmarked the post, Mubarak, for months/years of catch-up.

January 21, 2006 1:44 PM  
Blogger Mubarak Ali said...

Thanks for the shout-out, Girish. Dipanjan has indeed added some excellent titles, several that I've been dying to see, and between our lists I'd say we probably have several of the 'essentials' down.

First band obsession? I remember I was bored with much of the music scene until I discovered Jesus and Mary Chain's Psychocandy in my early teens in the early 90s. But my first true band obsession (which is still very much alive today) was with Cocteau Twins. It's amazing that even today if I listen to their works like Blue Bell Knoll or Aikea-Guinea, I'm left speechless.

January 21, 2006 7:34 PM  
Anonymous Walter (QB) said...

Great post, Girish. For years, I found Steely Dan too sterile, but then I heard "Peg" sampled in De La Soul's fantastic song "Eye Know," and I've (slowly) come around. Of course, De La Soul didn't cite the sample in the album's liner notes; I sought out the source because De La was my first band obsession. (Or maybe R.E.M.; I found both around 1990.)

January 21, 2006 10:23 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

I grew up in a household in which Steely Dan's 1978 greatest hits album was in heavy rotation, and though I must say I haven't ever really gone through an obsessive phase with the band, all that stuff is ingrained in me somewhere.

It was their version of East St. Louis Toodle-Oo that I most connected to as a youngster. I remember at one point asking my mom and dad to play me that "Halloween" song they always played and they couldn't figure out what I was talking about. I thought the first few bars of that song were so sinister-sounding! Eventually it all got straightened out.

January 22, 2006 3:13 AM  
Anonymous rakesh said...

My first bad obsession was (I am embarassed to admit this now)Guns N'Roses. Ironically, I started listening to them after they broke up in 1993. I was so much into hard rock, heavy metal at that time(typical

January 22, 2006 6:44 AM  
Blogger Ed Garrity said...

Well, we have some music overlap Girish! I've always loved Steely Dan, and as of a year ago, I've rediscovered them. I own more than a few of their LP vinyls, and 6 months ago I bought their greatest hits on CD (I guess I've gotten older, I don't download music like most of the <40 world)

Anyway, I'm going in the kitchen to make pasta sauce for tonight ... I think I'll crank up Steely Dan, including Pearl of the Quarter and My Old School .... which always takes me back to writing up the dissertation and my final drive away from my old school.

ps Yes, I'm still a latent blogger. I keep learning new vocabulary and learning new cool artistic views of the world from your site.

January 22, 2006 10:29 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Ah, awaken to a few more.
Walter, De La Soul's Three Feet High & Rising was the record that first got me into old school hip-hop (or hip-hop, period) in 1989. And I nearly fell out of my car seat when I heard their Dan sample for the first time.
Mubarak, I don't know any of the Cocteau Twins' music, or that of their 4AD brethren, save Pixies and Breeders.
Rakesh, I was never into Guns N' Roses, except for their covers album, The Spaghetti Incident, which is a truly wonderful record, and an unlikely one.
Brian, "East St. Louis Toodle-oo", the only cover Steely Dan ever recorded. If you're only going to do one, why not pick the best and go with Duke Ellington? The guys had taste.

Part of my Sunday morning ritual is going to the Netflix weekly new releases page. Just added to my queue: Bergman's THE VIRGIN SPRING; Hong Sang-Soo's THE VIRGIN STRIPPED BARE BY HER BACHELORS; and Polanski's OLIVER TWIST.

January 22, 2006 10:32 AM  
Anonymous acquarello said...

Whoa! Mubarak's another Cocteau Twins fan! I actually used to *try* to sing along to Blue Bell Knoll and Caroline's least the "hee hee hee", "ha ha ha", and "ho ho ho" parts. :) After them, I was obsessed with Stoa for a while; in terms of melodic complexity, they're similar, but Stoa feels a bit darker.

Anyway, my Sunday ritual is to pore through my unwatched pile, pick one out, put it on top of the TV for later watching during the week, then put it back on the pile next Sunday. :)

(Looking forward to your impressions on the Hong film.)

January 22, 2006 11:21 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks, A. Is there a good accessible "entry point" album with Cocteau Twins? I've been meaning to check 'em out for years.
I've seen just two by Hong: The Day A Pig Fell Into The Well (which I liked a lot, but remember nothing of; I think I was hung over that afternoon), and Turning Gate at TIFF, which was excellente.
I'm going up to Toronto for a Hong double bill next month: Tale Of Cinema and Woman Is The Future Of Man. And James has just announced a Hong retro there, coming soon.

January 22, 2006 11:50 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Anthony Kaufman article in the New York Times:

""The Constant Gardener," an English-language film set largely in Africa, exemplifies another threatening trend for subtitled films. Foreign-born directors like Mr. Meirelles, known for his Brazilian gang drama "City of God," quickly make the leap to films that rely on American stars and are made for American tastes. So fewer accomplished foreign directors are working in the culture and craft of their homelands.

"The residual effect," Mr. Urman said, "is that national cinemas don't get a chance to gain traction. There's no such thing as an affinity with German films, because the second you find a German director you like, then he becomes an English-language director."

"I feel as if there's almost no auteur draw anymore," Ms. Guirgis said. "As opposed to 20 years ago, you were marketing the movies around the filmmaker - Fassbinder's new film, Godard's new film. We still do it, but the honest truth is that the filmmaker matters increasingly little today.""

January 22, 2006 2:09 PM  
Anonymous rakesh said...

Girish,The Spaghetti Incident has some nice songs but my favourite GN'R album has got to be Appetite for Destruction. It's been a while (almost a couple of years) since I listened to a GN'R album (I guess I have grown out a GN'R)...Currently, I am obsessed with Velvet Underground & Nico's debut album "Peel Slowly and See".

January 22, 2006 2:20 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

Girish, thanks for excerpting that NYT article there. I'm feeling too lazy even for bugmenot this morning.

I have a hunch you'll love Virgin Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, still my favorite Hong film (I'm two behind).

Noticed that the Showgirls post has exactly the right number of comments right now.

Oh and I forgot to mention my first band obsession: The Beatles, like so many others.

January 22, 2006 3:12 PM  
Anonymous Darren said...

"If you're only going to do one, why not pick the best and go with Duke Ellington?"

I remember seeing a snippet of Becker and Fagen -- maybe on the Two Against Nature DVD? -- in which a young interviewer was running them through their career together. The two guys were growing noticeably bored, so when they were asked to name their favorite album -- presumably their favorite Steely Dan album -- they quickly settled on Kind of Blue. The joke sailed right over the interviewer's head, but I laughed real loud.

I was never a huge Cocteau Twins fan, but I have strong memories of the summer I delivered pizzas and listened to Heaven or Las Vegas once or twice a day.

January 22, 2006 3:14 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Brian, it's hilarious that Showgirls has 69 comments. I should turn off future comments on the post right now. :-)
Darren, I didn't even know there was a Two Against Nature DVD. Head back to Netflix.

January 22, 2006 4:40 PM  
Blogger Mubarak Ali said...

Acquarello, wow! Always exciting to meet another Twins' fan. Y'know, I still sing to some of their songs though I never know what language I'm singing in :) I used to listen to their songs and go over the lyrics at the same time, and was always amazed how Elizabeth Fraser could wrap her voice around anything. Haven't even heard of Stoa, but they sound like something I might like.

Girish, I'd recommend Heaven or Las Vegas as an entry point into Cocteau Twins' music - I know it had me hooked.

"I think I was hung over that afternoon..."
How very appropriate for a Hong film! I have one more Hong Sang-soo film to watch, but Virgin Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors is my favourite so far, so hope you like it.

January 22, 2006 5:16 PM  
Anonymous Matt said...

Ah, Girish, enjoy Woman is the Future of Man. It was one of my favourites from 2004.

January 22, 2006 7:59 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks, Matt.
Just found a nice and lengthy Hong essay in a Film Quarterly back issue.

January 23, 2006 10:50 AM  
Anonymous NancyRae said...

Better late than never. Couldn't let this one pass me by...

My first "band obsession" was with Massive Attack, a UK group Girish introduced me to in 1991.

Massive Attack's "Blue Lines" launched my fifteen-year obsession with the whole trip-hop genre (Portishead, Tricky, Morcheeba, Bjork, Lamb, DJ Shadow, etc.).

I still love trip-hop, but think the genre has mutated just enough to be slightly out of sync with my outlook.

Sadly, the original object of my trip-hop obsession (Massive Attack), to my thinking has became somewhat tainted since the early '00's. Excessive bouts of under-the-radar commercialism has taken their edge away. Lately, MA seems to specialize in churning out incidental music for movie and TV soundtracks -- which they tat together to make an "album."

My latest band obsession? Hands down: the Cocteau Twins.

What a band! I was hooked from my very first listening (Four-Calendar Cafe).

There is a pleasant, upbeat, loving-the-journey-of-life quality to the Cocteau Twins' work. Distinctive vocals paired with optimistic, life-affirming melodies make for a great combo.

I get the same gut reaction to Cocteau Twins as I do with Coldplay or Katrina & the Waves...

The Cocteau Cocktail: walking on sunshine with an aromatherapy twist.

January 25, 2006 7:00 PM  
Blogger girish said...

NancyRae the trip-hop queen.
And this was before the genre had a name.

January 25, 2006 9:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

becker & fagen are currently (2006) working on solo albums. becker's last one had a brilliant piece called 'lucky henry' on it. worth tracking down.

January 26, 2006 10:10 PM  
Blogger Dennis Cozzalio said...

Girish: I've been away for a little over a week, and look what happened. A wonderful Steely Dan article and all these comments to read and enjoy. Nice to know there are so many Steely Dan fans out there, and smart, articulate ones too. I can't wait to dig in to all of this stuff. I'd rate "The Royal Scam" at the top of my list, but really, when I think of bands, they weren't my first obsession (I'm old enough to say the Beatles probably were), but they are the only band I can think of that I can honestly say has not a song in their discography that I wouldn't want to hear right now, even considering the blitzkrieg of classic rock radio that has scorched so much earth in its path. Thanks again! And now, on to Michael Haneke!

January 27, 2006 2:59 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Dennis, I played The Royal Scam again yesterday, and marvelled for the hundredth time.

January 27, 2006 4:02 PM  
Blogger Dennis Cozzalio said...

"I'm a bookeeper's son/I don't wanna hurt no one/But I crossed my old man/Back in Oregon/Don't take me alive..."

Absolutely wonderful, evocative and downright creepy too!

January 27, 2006 7:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just thought you might like to know that there's a very large contigency of Danfans out there that meet on a fairly regular basis. The upcoming Heavy Rollers Tour 2007 already has the community buzzing. Check out or if your interested.

February 17, 2007 6:54 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thank you, Anonymous. I didn't know about either of those sites...

February 17, 2007 6:59 PM  

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