Audio-Visuals for New Year

FILM: American Music: Off The Record — Documentary filmmaker Benjamin Meade sifts through the rubble of the music industry in this movie that features the observations of such noted cultural theorists as Noam Chomsky and Douglas Rushkoff alongside ruminations and performances by some 50 musical talents from across the musical spectrum, including Jackson Browne, Sonic Youth, Les Paul, Iris DeMent, Wanda Jackson, Richard Thompson and a host of other notables. After a year in which the recorded music business crumbled while the live music industry showed a surprising and reassuring vitality, this full-length feature is a state of the union review of where both the music and the business of making and selling it stands in our modern age.

TELEVISION: The Wire (Fifth Season) — Many critics as well as fans of the HBO urban drama set in Baltimore contend that it is the finest television series ever made, and after re-upping on the previous four seasons in anticipation of its final season, I heartily agree. After putting its focus on such aspects of the city as the drug trade, corrupt longshoremen and the Baltimore schools, this season the show eavesdrops on the local daily paper — drawing from producer and creator David Simon’s days as a reporter for the Baltimore Sun and campouts with the homeless. The Wire pulls no punches with its realistic and unstinting portrayal of life in a crumbling American city, yet at the same time has created a rich cast of characters that evoke understanding and sympathy across the board, from cops to drug dealers to scheming and corrupt politicians. And even though the Baltimore of The Wire is as telling slice of urban decay as to be found in modern America, there’s a vitality that suffuses the milieu that speaks to his faith in the great urban experiment. If you aren’t already tuned in on HBO from the early January premiere there’s still time to hook up the cable connection and catch up on In Demand. Otherwise, get to your local video store and rent the first four seasons in anticipation of this season appearing on DVD in the future. Either way, The Wire is essential viewing for anyone who enjoys crackling drama with real life resonance and flashes of existential humor that proves how the Idiot Box can be a source of intelligent entertainment that is rich with human insight and political relevance. Dedicated fans like this writer may feel mixed emotions as the series comes to an end, but the good news is that Simon is next turning his talents to New Orleans and its music scene in his next TV venture.

MUSIC: Jesus of Cool by Nick Lowe (reissue) — For this disc’s original 1978 release in the US, the powers that be at Columbia Records changed its title to Pure Pop For Now People to sidestep any controversy. The alternate titling does well describe the music within this seminal new wave record by the British pub rock veteran (and producer of such other new wave talents as Elvis Costello, Graham Parker and The Damned), both in its day and today. The fresh, energetic and catchy stripped-down rocking and Lowe’s cheeky sensibility — which tackles everything from the vagaries of the music business to the gruesome death of silent film star Marie Prevost (“She was a winner/who became a doggie’s dinner”) — continue to delight some three decades later, augmented by extra tracks. Though hardly political in content, the album nonetheless struck a resounding blow against the empire of musical pretentiousness and is simply good fun with a provocative edge that is at the heart of rock’n’roll since the days of Chuck Berry. (Released 2/19)

Email Rob Patterson at orca@io.com.

From The Progressive Populist, February 1, 2008

Home Page

Subscribe to The Progressive Populist

Copyright © 2008 The Progressive Populist.