I'll Be Seeing You/'80s Pop
James Gray’s We Own the Night begins movingly with a montage of black-and-white still photographs (archival? staged?) that show New York City cops at work. Accompanying these images is the melody line, played on trumpet, of “I’ll Be Seeing You” featuring Jackie Gleason’s orchestra. It’s one of the many songs written for and sung mostly by women during WW II.
“I’ll Be Seeing You” [mp3], here in a duet by Iggy Pop and Françoise Hardy, is a familiar chestnut in the jazz repertory. Rosemary Clooney made a version of it on her WW II ‘concept record,’ For The Duration (1991), that collects songs sung from the point of view of the ‘waiting woman.’ Every time we say goodbye/ I die a little. For all we know/we may never meet again. These foolish things/remind me of you. No love, no nothin’/till my baby comes home. I’ll be seeing you/in all the old familiar places.
We Own the Night itself is also about the women (mainly Eva Mendes’ Amada, but also Marat’s wife) pushed to the margins, left behind, by men at war. (See Noel Vera’s post on the film for more.)
Immediately following that opening B&W montage, we cut to the exterior of an NYC club called “El Caribe,” scored to Blondie’s “Heart of Glass.” Which reminds me that the Debbie Harry catalog contains at least two terrific songs with Caribbean roots: the well-known “The Tide is High” [mp3] (on The Best of Blondie) and the much lesser-known but equally good “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” [mp3] (on her solo Def, Dumb and Blonde from 1989).
The film also includes one of the earliest rap/singing hybrids, Blondie’s “Rapture,” although my favorite example of this genre—actually, my single favorite pop song of the 1980’s—is Chaka Khan’s “I Feel For You” [mp3], on the album of the same name (1984). It was written and recorded by Prince on his self-titled record in 1979, and features both Stevie Wonder on harmonica and also Melle Mel of Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five. There are so many high points on this recording: the stuttering spoken-word opening by Mel; the presence of both synth bass and bass guitar, which creates a nice textural tension; the killer hook (at 1:22 and 1:30, then repeated) of a descending four-note figure on ‘slapped’ bass; and Stevie's harmonica solo. The late, great Arif Mardin arranged and produced.
A parlor game, if you feel like it: your single favorite (no ties or multiples!) pop song of the 1980’s?
Old-school hip-hop legend Kool Mo Dee’s entertaining, unclassifiable book, “There’s a God on the Mic” (2003), critically evaluates MC’s from hip-hop history. (He also evaluates himself!) Each MC gets an essay, a lyric excerpt, and a table of scores based on the following criteria: originality, concepts, versatility, vocabulary, substance, flow, flavor, freestyle, vocal presence, live performance, poetic value, body of work, industry impact, social impact, longevity, lyrics, battle skills. He awards values on a 100-point scale and chalks up totals to come up with a ranking of the top 50 MC’s.
Here’s his list of the top 15 MC’s of all time: (1) Melle Mel (2) Rakim (3) KRS-One (4) Big Daddy Kane (5) Kool Mo Dee (!) (6) Grandmaster Caz (7) LL Cool J (8) Chuck D (9) Notorious B.I.G. (10) Lauryn Hill (11) Nas (12) Queen Latifah (13) Tupac (14) Kool G Rap (15) Jay Z.
Some reading. Paul Arthur in Cineaste (winter 2006) on Brakhage and the translation from celluloid to TV screen.
Discovering what looks good on a TV screen is a trial-and-error process. Some films simply demand a larger-than-life scale and thus shrink into triviality; others possess such delicate coloration or iconographic intricacy that they barely register in electronic formats. Brakhage’s five-part Dog Star Man (1961-64) is among his best-known films and the only feature-length text selected for inclusion [on the Brakhage Criterion DVD]. Regrettably, neither its dense layers of superimposition nor its jolting combinations of macro- and micro-spaces are particularly receptive to digital translation. Morever, the central figure of an ax-wielding climber, an autobiographical projection of Brakhage himself, looked rather less than heroic on my living-room appliance. On the other hand, subtle gradations of color among several chosen film stocks made the technological leap in The Act of Seeing with One’s Own Eyes (1971), part of a visual ensemble transforming grisly autopsy procedures into a lambent suite of human meat shapes and textures. By the late Eighties, Brakhage had segued almost completely from photographic depiction to brief bursts of rhythmic abstraction painted directly onto film stock. Possibly due to the fact that light on a television screen glows from behind the image, as in stained-glass windows, or due to the nature of pixels versus film grain, Brakhage’s vibrant celluloid paintings tend to retain their original vividness.
From Adrian Martin’s book Phantasms, a simple, strong, lucid definition of a critic: “[A]s Daney once remarked, critics should be those who either know something or love something — or, even better, know why they love something, and then know how to share that special knowledge with the public.”