Prince's music is so potent and intoxicating that despite universal acclaim it still seems underrated. What sacred art, what sacred love.
— James Greene, Jr. (@HoneyIShrunkJG2) April 21, 2016
To say anything else may be exceptionally unnecessary. And yet…
It was only a few years ago that I began digging into the Prince catalog. I purposely started with The Black Album, my reasoning being, I know the hits, I know Prince can orchestrate pop perfection, let’s see what it’s like when this guy is stumbling. Prince suppressed Black for nearly a decade because he felt dissatisfaction with it (one rumor suggests a bad ecstasy trip convinced him the album projects too much evil). Yes, I often begin my journey into legendary bodies via a most dubious property. What can I tell you? I’m American, I’m obsessed with failure.
My immediate reaction to The Black Album: if this is Prince at his worst, sign me up. Sections of Black’s malcontent electro funk are misguided, sure, but as with all his work, Prince commits with such totality (even to utter silliness) you can’t deny the sale. You remain absorbed and ultimately feted.
Now The Love Symbol Album and The Gold Experience are go-tos. Bold, decadent, liberating, rich with flavor. I also spend a lot of time getting lost in the grooves and hymnals of Chaos & Disorder. Sign O’ The Times? That thing is a best of / greatest hits unto itself. And of course, the one Prince album I paid close attention to at the time of its release, Batman.
I want to say I understand people who dog the Batman album but I actually don’t. Prince captures the glamor, the restlessness, and the bankruptcy of Gotham City. The music freezes, it bleeds, it works both within and outside the motion picture’s context. I can’t comprehend why “Partyman” and “Trust” aren’t FM radio staples. The balladry avoids being overwrought. What a thrill to have it all culminate in the white knuckle lunacy of “Batdance.”
“Batdance” is on this Warhol level, a gleeful vandalism of Neal Hefti’s 1960s theme, a schizophrenic pastiche of Burton’s film driven by fascist percussion, indiscriminate keyboards, searing guitar, and direct dialogue samples. It’s jarring and insane but again, Prince commits. That’s why the song reached #1; the Artist’s dedication willed this cacophony into something incredible.
It feels strange to comment on all the risks Prince took in his career, if only because he possessed the celestial wizardry to more or less conquer them all. Is there another human being who could have successfully changed their enormously bankable and recognizable name to a singular character of their own invention with no known (or offered) pronunciation? Ricky Shroder has spent decades trying in vain to make people drop the “y.” If he had adopted a symbol we would have sent him to live on the international space station.
Thanks for the fifty-seven years, Prince. You will never be equaled.
Garry Shandling was an innovator who turned a lot of comedy on its ear, but what’s more important to me is the raw, sometimes ugly emotional core of his humor. Fraying anxiety, sizzling jealousy, swampy deposits of depression—all served with flashes of that famous mile-wide grin. We hear Garry could be quite impassioned offstage, in the best and worst senses of that phrase, and that’s no surprise. It’s the nucleus of his work.
I was under ten when “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show” was airing, and even though it was difficult to understand what I was watching, I loved tuning in because it was so different. Here’s this quote-unquote sitcom where every plot device and character takes a backseat to Garry’s ongoing conversation with the viewer, a conversation that is basically just, “Wow, look at my show, isn’t it strange?” It’s a minimalist, neurotic “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.” What if your neighbor thought he was on tv all the time but refused to play it up? What if he talked about it like the weather or a bake sale?
Later we got “The Larry Sanders Show,” a transcendent entry, a masterclass of meta comedy streaked with pathos. Garry won an Emmy Award for writing on “Sanders” but he should have received an additional one for acting. When he really wanted to, the guy could get it all into one glance or wordless aside.
Garry pops up in some of the Marvel movies, and that’s deeply satisfying. An entire generation will only know Shandling as the Senator giving Tony Stark what for in Iron Man 2, the same government creep who appears in Captain America 2. I have to admit I was waiting for him to turn to the camera in both films to say, “Can you believe this? Me, a Senator? I know, but listen, there’s some good stuff coming up, so don’t walk out yet.”
I’ll miss the Shand Man. Stormy genius. And funny as hell.
“My dog’s penis tastes bitter. Do you think it’s his diet?”
“Why you in my movie now, bro?” “I just am, bro. Deal with it.”
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Starring: Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg
Directed by Zack Snyder
2013’s Man of Steel establishes a Superman who is profoundly uncertain of himself and his place on this alien planet. Is he a savior? Is he a threat? His parents don’t know what to tell him (raising a normal kid is hard enough—imagine if your child is bulletproof and can fly). The defining battle arrives and though he does come out on top there’s no questioning that Superman makes a handful of serious mistakes. This set the stage for a potentially excellent sequel where the Last Son of Krypton could work through his identity issues that are now also issues for the world at large.
Batman v Superman tries to get to the heart of all this, but as the title implies Superman (Henry Cavill) is now sharing the marquee with another financially solvent comic book hero. Shoehorning the Dark Knight into Man of Steel 2 is a cheap move that cripples our favorite Kryptonian’s character development, but this Batman (Ben Affleck) proves an interesting personality contrast in the sense that he is not lacking in confidence. Fearless, undaunted, occasionally brash, Gotham’s rogue has an answer for everything. Unfortunately, he’s also totally fried from twenty years on the prowl and not in good headspace to be entering a “Superman: friend or foe?” debate with the exile himself.
Ben Affleck, by the way, succeeds as Batman because it is easy to believe Ben Affleck would go fucking crazy if he had to be Batman for any amount of time in real life. He’s barely handling the terrible reviews this film is getting, can you imagine if he had to hide the Batmobile every night?
There’s enough to work with when Batman and Superman are investigating one other, the former running back to Alfred (Jeremy Irons) each act break, the latter to Lois Lane (Amy Adams). Alas, once Batman was throw into the fray the filmmakers thought, “Why not everybody else?” So we also have Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), Lex’s cronies, the U.S. Senator trying to stop Lex (Holly Hunter), the U.S. Senator who isn’t trying to stop Lex, Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Wonder Woman’s computer, a little bit of the Flash (Ezra Miller), a little Aquaman (Jason Momoa), a dash of Cyborg (Ray Fisher), one or two characters who died in Man of Steel, and another major villain who probably should have held out for his own years-long franchise.
And yet, as overstuffed as this caped opera gets piling all these people atop one another, Batman v Superman keeps pace and manages to engross. Not everything onscreen is agreeable but nothing catapults you from the universe (not even the Neil deGrasse Tyson cameo). There’s intrigue, suspense, a few iconic visuals, and even a couple great jokes.
Going back to the self-assurance motif, Wonder Woman steals every scene she’s in because she knows exactly who she is, why she’s there, and where and how to draw the line (the thunderous musical sting she’s granted by the score doesn’t hurt either). Gadot’s buoyancy cuts through the visual pallor and makes you hope for Wonder Woman v Anybody. Actually, maybe start with Wonder Woman v Perry White. I want to see Laurence Fishburne—who plays White, boss of Lois Lane—take his delightful grump to the main event.
Similar sentiments can be extended to Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor, a mincing prick you love to hate who appears closer to victory than a great deal of his cinematic predecessors. Killer wardrobe, too.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice gets just as grim and heavy as any other Zack Snyder film but the entire premise is grim and heavy: two of our favorite superheroes hatin’ on each other like a couple of goddamn haters. In order to make it anywhere near plausible you have to saddle these guys with handicaps of disquiet, fear, exhaustion, and recurring nightmares. If this isn’t your flavor of choice, don’t worry—depending on the way you count, BvS is the seventh Superman movie and the tenth Batman movie and there’s no way Hollywood won’t make that many more for each dude because they’re some of the most profitable folklore America has to its name.
And if all those stink, there’s always Wonder Woman.
FINAL SCORE: Three grumpy Larry Fishburnes (out of four).
The article below was originally written for and published by Crawdaddy! in two thousand ten. Since that time my appreciation for the enormously absurd album discussed has only grown deeper. Just call me Stretch Nuts.
Quality, essence, virtue—terms that, by this point, are rarely (if ever) debated when it comes to Insane Clown Posse, the ultimate bastard sons of music. True Juggalos have already unconditionally accepted the alleged greatness of rapping jesters Violent J & Shaggy 2 Dope like the most fervent born again Christians, while those outside “The Dark Carnival” have difficulty thinking of a more pathetic and misguided social subset America has produced. Even Civil War re-enactors rank higher than Juggalos, mostly because of their stately 1860s facial hair and the vintage weapons they brandish that could blow your spleen across a Long John Silver’s parking lot.
The Juggalos are one thing; overzealous fans of any entity (Paul McCartney, the Green Bay Packers, the Twilight franchise) can be intolerable. Is it fair, though, to automatically malign and dismiss the Wicked Clowns themselves? I was viewing the much-ballyhooed video for ICP’s “Miracles” the other day, and I have to say, aside from the LOL-inducing, are-they-serious? lyrics, the song is pretty boring. Straight up, “Miracles” is a boring ass song. The clowns aren’t even really rapping, they’re just kinda talking softly (save for that jaw-dropping “fuck scientists” bit). The beat in “Mircales” is equally flaccid. The sub-mediocrity I saw before me got the rusty gears in my brain turning.
These guys weren’t always this bad.
Yeah, yeah, Insane Clown Posse used to be, like, kind of exciting. Actually almost insane, even. 1997. The Great Milenko. Everyone I knew had that album. Everyone I knew loved that album. It was funny, it was weird, it was stupid, the songs had legitimately cool beats. The clowns had dreadlocks. They relied heavily on the term “stretch nuts.” They screamed shit like their trashy Midwestern lives depended on it.
What happened? Am I crazy? Is this selective amnesia?
As my steam-powered noggin began chugging, I remembered that I had very similar thoughts of disappointment when ICP released the limp single “Let’s Go All The Way” in 2000. It sounded like fuckin’ half-assed 311. Where was the evil calliope music? I was dumbfounded when I saw Violent J in the video with closely cropped bleach blonde hair. Were the Wicked Clowns selling out on the final Joker’s Card?
I’m not sure it’s possible to sell out when your group is named Insane Clown Posse and you’ve been signed to a Disney subsidiary for an amount of time that can be measured in hours. Hollywood Records paid $1 million for the rights to release The Great Milenko in 1997 after a groundswell of industry buzz. Then, someone in khakis actually listened to the thing, and Disney realized these clowns were insane in the stabby killy way, not the wearing-Hawaiian-shirts-to-business-meetings way. Hollywood withdrew Milenko the same day it was released (even though it had already sold nearly 20,000 copies and was climbing up the charts) and canceled all future plans for ICP. The Clowns were at an autograph signing when they learned they were no longer part of Donald Duck’s extended family.
I can think of ten thousand hardcore punk bands who wish they could say they were kicked off a major label like that. Let’s face it: ICP were the Clinton Era’s Sex Pistols, and Disney was their great rock n’ roll swindle.
Though nowhere near as invigorating or groundbreaking as the Sex Pistols, the Insane Clown posse of Great Milenko remain worthy of more praise than they’ve ever received. Milenko offers the same template of boiling suburban rage, infectious beats, hilarious rhymes, and comically graphic violence that Eminem rode to global renown just a year or two later. Granted, Eminem is a better rapper than either Clown, but as far as gimmicks go, Em’s reference-every-current-tabloid-headline approach probably dates his material more than ICP’s insistence they belong to an evil carnival from another dimension. Besides, Eminem was already complaining about the pressures his superstar lifestyle on his second album. Marshall Mathers gets on “TRL” a couple times and bro-ham can’t handle the pressure. Boo hoo. Didn’t you fool around with Mariah Carey? Yeah, you don’t get to complain about anything.
The Great Milenko is Insane Clown Posse’s fourth album, and never again would they sound this legitimately disturbed, hilariously demented, or crazy frightening. Possibly the greatest example of this comes almost midway through the “House Of Horrors,” when Violent J intones the following:
“Lemme show you something—[makes high-pitched raspberry noise] / You know what that means? it don’t mean nothin’! / But it scared you, ’cause people don’t be doin’ that shit / But me? [makes noise again] / Bitch, [makes once noise again] I’m all about it!”
Think about that for a minute. An overweight harlequin with dreadlocks invites you into his dark, foreboding fun house. Suddenly, he turns to you amidst the dry ice and strobe lights and starts excitedly making noises with his mouth. Can you honestly say you wouldn’t vigorously soil your Tommy John boxer shorts at that very moment?
The Clowns’ bizarre viewpoint also pops up in the slow, introspective jam “How Many Times?” At first, it seems like this song is just another chill rap tune about dealing with life’s smaller aggravations (particularly highway traffic). Then, apropos of nothing, one of the clowns starts losing his shit because he cannot pay for fast food by imparting scientific knowledge upon the cashier (“Can I walk into McDonald’s to the counter / and tell ’em you can make limestone from gun powder? / Will they give me a cheeseburger if I know that shit? / Fuck no, fuck you, and shut your fuckin’ lip!”). That ICP favors the barter system comes as no surprise, as I don’t believe psychotic circus workers generally keep bank accounts.
I’d call it a double standard that people have been regularly eating up GWAR for so many years when their musical output is at least equally as stupid as ICP’s, but everyone involved here is a white male from flyover states. GWAR wears foam rubber cocks that shoot fake ejaculate all over their audience and they get more respect from the outside world than ICP. Does that make any sense? Perhaps ICP lowered their market value by aligning themselves with an off-brand soft drink like Faygo. Winn Dixie brand doesn’t cost much more, and it carries a less backwoods stigma. Good rule of thumb: if they can afford to put a NASCAR driver on the bottle, you won’t look stupid drinking it.
Another point to ponder: if the Insane Clown Posse is so bad, how come legends like Alice Cooper and Slash make appearances on Milenko? Those guys don’t necessarily go around lending their legacies to crap (Alice Cooper was in Wayne’s World, for the love of Chris Farley). What could Slash have to gain by appearing on the major label debut of some rapping clown band? Nothing, really, aside from a paycheck he probably didn’t need. He’s Slash! He must have simply dug the hot circus jams.
Perhaps it’s all a tomayto / tomahto thing. I believe there’s some kind of genius in lyrics like “He eats Monopoly and shits out Connect Four!” (Violent J’s description of an average ICP fan in “What Is A Juggalo?”). If you can’t see that, I guess we’re just in opposite time zones. This entire debate brings to mind an astute remark usually attributed to actress Mary Woronov: there is a difference between art and bullshit; sometimes, bullshit is more interesting.
Yes, The Great Milenko is targeted at people who would rather spend a Saturday afternoon watching “Charles In Charge” and doing whippets as opposed to visiting the nearest Christo exhibit or foreign film fest. Yet you can’t view this album through the same “OMG, irony fail!” prism as “Miracles.” Milenko is a finely-tuned, gratifying journey through the admittedly low brow genre of horrorcore, second only to the first Gravediggaz album in terms of relative greatness. Juggalo fervor has overshadowed ICP’s music in recent years, be it good or bad. No one seemed to bat an eye when the Clowns released 2007’s The Tempest, possibly the first hip-hop album featuring a song about a roller coaster. Seems like they had to make a crazy joint like “Miracles” just remind people they’re an actual musical group and not just some out-there trailer park cult.
Hopefully one day bizarre and sickening minutia like Juggalo baby coffins will be separated from ICP’s musical catalog and The Great Milenko will garner recognition as the worthwhile exercise in cathartic silliness it is. If Music From “The Elder” by Kiss could eventually find a home in our shared cultural circle, there’s hope yet for the fourth Joker’s Card.
Certain elements excite me (crisp look of the establishing shots, everything with Kate McKinnon, the car) and certain elements give me pause (recycling of the library ghost, recycling of Slimer, the ghost punch). Judgment reserved until I exit the theater in July but definitely interested to discover what else this remake / reimagining is cooking up. Ready for busting to commence.
Sometimes I doodle. Here are a few examples from the past several years.
Paul Westerberg, ink, 2013.
Sausages, ink, 2014.
Spikeleeosaurus, Mac Paint, 2014.
Tyrannoshaft, Mac Paint, 2014.
Goodlizard, Mac Paint, 2014.
Live On Tape From Hollywood, ink, 2014.
Electric Hoff, ink, 2014.
Thank You For Being A Ninja, ink, 2014.
Val Kilmer Tickles Lou Reed, ink, 2015.
The Miracle of Al Lewis, ink, 2015.
Gary The Squirrel, ink, 2015.
Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens
Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Harrison Ford
Directed by J.J. Abrams
Early marketing for The Force Awakens made it relatively clear J.J. Abrams and the Disney Corp would not be reinventing the wheel for this entry. And why would they? Even the sacred original Star Wars films closely mimic one another. All open in some barren wasteland, all feature dwarfish scavenging weirdos, all allow an otherwise goofy robot to play hero in a clutch moment. And so, seventh verse, same as the first: desert orphan, precocious droid, masked villain with red glowing rod, geometrically opposed spaceships.
It’s not the material, though, it’s the delivery, and Force Awakens delivers, effortlessly weaving visual potency, emotional conviction, unexpected humor, and raw excitement into a crackerjack package that provides antidote to the prequel trilogy’s turgid masturbation. Set thirty years after Return of The Jedi, the film brings us up to speed quickly: Luke Skywalker has disappeared, the Rebels have failed to consolidate their power, the Empire has not remained in defeat. That evil reich, now known as the First Order, counts amongst its ranks a brooding and violent Darth Vader disciple named Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). When a map pointing to the whereabouts of Luke fumbles out into the cosmos, Ren believes it’s his key to restoring Vader’s galactic vision.
Fate (or dumb luck) brings together the heroic team that quickly becomes Kylo Ren’s biggest headache. The AWOL Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) and isolated junk trader Rey (Daisy Ridley), both barely out of their teens, are a little overwhelmed as they inadvertently become swept up in the search for Skywalker (a figure neither can believe is real). Lucky for das kinder, another storied figure of lore (Harrison Ford) crashes the party and offers a lending hand (and wookiee). Meanwhile, the First Order turns an entire planet into a makeshift Death Star powered by the sun, and of course our band of outlaws winds up in an assault on that enormous menace, because what, are they not gonna help Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Admiral Ackbar?
Critics dog J.J. Abrams for doing little more than heating up other people’s leftovers in lens flare, but The Force Awakens proves when elements like a supremely talented cast and snappy scripting align the guy can slam dunk. Any bits that seem to defy whatever logic exists in this starry fantasy you forgive because the film’s whizzing you on a spirited, satisfying ride. The wonder and fun have returned to Star Wars, and not a moment too soon.
FINAL SCORE: Four precocious droids (out of four).