Monday, November 25, 2019

I'd Love to Turn You On #244 - Ghostface Killah – Supreme Clientele (2000)

            Lately I’ve been getting caught up in the Hulu show Wu-Tang: An American Saga. Even though it’s kind of a shitty show, it’s reminded me that revisiting my love of the Wu-Tang Clan is something I need to do occasionally. I’m certain I’m not alone in my assessment that when the Wu-Tang Clan came to prominence, they were a cut above the rest in terms of the hip-hop of the ‘90s. They quickly became one of my favorites and it didn’t take long for me to start tracking down every solo album by every solo rapper even tangentially related to the Wu.
            Among the masterpieces to grace the world at the turn of the new millennium was Supreme Clientele, the second solo record by the inimitable Ghostface Killah. Released at a time when most Wu-Tang members had either already ventured off onto their own solo paths or were about to, de facto leader RZA could not oversee production on all of them, and it often showed. He did, however, opt to man the boards (and contribute some rhymes) for Supreme Clientele, enlisting the help of a small team of other RZA disciples. Incorporating the sexiest of obscure R&B samples (the cover photo of Ghost crooning into a retro microphone makes it even look like it could be a 1970s Jerry Butler record or something) into the sleaziest of beats and loops, to produce a result that is pure Staten Island sound: pure Wu-Tang. Ghost’s lyrics provide vivid narrative structures emboldened by deep personal introspection while laced with abstract, ostensibly nonsensical poetic liberties. Many of the lyrics on Supreme Clientele were written while Ghost was on a several month-long trip to Africa, incorporating much of his experience with the culture there (and his subsequent disdain for American consumerism) into his words. And the flow doesn’t stop with just Ghost. In fact, not only is he joined by RZA but other fellow Wu members Cappadonna, GZA, Masta Killa and Raekwon pop in and out to take a verse or two, making it just about as close to Wu-Tang-Proper as it gets.
            The thing about Supreme Clientele is that it’s quite notoriously one of the most-loved, if not the most-loved of the non-Wu-Tang Wu-Tang projects. At least one of the highest charting ones, if I’m not mistaken. And deservedly so. It’s not only a step up creatively from its predecessor, Ghost’s powerful debut Ironman (which is also great), but production-wise too. Supreme Clientele is stamped front to back with that unmistakable RZA sound which, by 2000, just wasn’t as ubiquitous as it once was. In the 19 years since this record came out, the world of hip-hop has only gotten more incredible and complex and the landscape is constantly changing. There are countless talented emcees and DJs out there and with Soundcloud and Bandcamp and the like, it’s easier than ever for some of the lesser-known talented acts to be heard. Even Ghostface himself has gone on to release material that far surpasses that of Supreme Clientele. In fact, 2006’s Fishscale is high in the running for best hip-hop record ever, in my opinion. But this… this is the one. This is, I think, the reference point that people will point to when talking about solo Wu-Tang albums. When this record came out, I could not get enough of it. And now, listening back to it as much as I did in preparation to write this, it still sounds as fresh and exciting as it did when I first bought it.
            Honestly, I wouldn’t ordinarily choose to write about a record that’s already received as much critical and commercial praise as Supreme Clientele has received. I mean, theoretically it’s already had so much smoke blown up its ass over the years that I couldn’t possibly have anything to add that would be useful. And anyway, the point of these reviews is to “turn you on” to something you may have otherwise missed. It’s just that I truly believe that this record still needs to be talked about because it’s a god damn masterpiece. Whether you’re new school or old school, there’s something on Supreme Clientele for every hip-hop fan.
            - Jonathan Eagle

Monday, November 18, 2019

I’d Love To Turn You On At The Movies #231 - Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997, dir. Clint Eastwood)

         Anyone who knows me isn’t even a little bit surprised I’m writing a review about Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. It’s got all the things I love: true crime, the occult, John Cusack, and it’s set in the South. Based on John Berendt’s non-fiction book of the same name and directed by Clint Eastwood, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil brings all the southern charm Savannah, Georgia has to offer - along with all of its dirty laundry.
The basic plot of the film is as follows. John Kelso (John Cusack), is sent to Savannah to write a 500-word article on a Christmas party held by eccentric local Jim Williams (Kevin Spacey). When Williams kills Billy Hanson (a baby-faced Jude Law) in what Williams said was an “act of self-defense,” Kelso decides to stay and cover the trial. Kelso gets sucked into the drama of the trial and Savanah itself, describing it as “Gone with the Wind on mescaline.” It’s the local characters that Kelso meets during his time in Savannah that really make the film.
 Mandy Nicholls (Allison Eastwood, Clint Eastwood’s daughter) is a love interest of sorts for Kelso, as well as helping him break into the morgue to solve the mystery of what actually happened the night Billy Hanson was shot. Sonny Seiler (Jack Thompson), Williams' attorney and the owner of the University of Georgia mascot - a long line of English bulldogs named Uga (pronounced “UGH – uh”), adds that unique Southern charm that only Savannah natives can offer. Fun fact about the film - the real life Sonny Seiler plays the judge in the murder trial. Kelso and Williams make a trip to Bonaventure Cemetery to see voodoo practitioner Minerva (Irma P. Hall) in an attempt to communicate with and help calm Billy Hanson’s spirit. Kelso is skeptical to say the least, and Cusack’s scenes with Minerva are some his best acting in the film; he seems genuinely bewildered by what she says and does. But in the end she gives him some great advice - “to understand the living you gotta commune with the dead.” Quite possibly the strangest character Kelso comes into contact with is Luther Driggers (Geoffrey Lewis), a man who keeps flies on strings attached to a shirt and threatens to poison the water supply almost daily with a mystery substance he keeps in a vial that goes with him everywhere, even while he eats his lunch at Clary’s Café. If he enjoys his lunch he will put the vial back in his pocket and be on his way while the entire café breathes a sigh of relief. Last, but certainly not least, playing herself because there isn’t another human on this planet that could do it, The Lady Chablis, a transgender club performer and all around iconic Southern Lady. Kelso comes into contact with her after learning she may have some information about Hanson’s relationship with Williams. The Lady Chablis has her fun with Kelso, making him take her along as his date to a debutante ball he is attending and delivering the best life advice and the best line in the film: “Two tears in a bucket, motherfuck it.” I quote it all the time and most people don’t have a clue where it comes from.
            I can’t talk about this movie without talking about the music. The real Jim Williams lived in famed songwriter Johnny Mercer’s house and Eastwood chose to use the real house in the film (which is now called the Mercer-Williams House and is open for public tours). Hell, I even made my parents take me on a tour of the Mercer-Williams House on a family trip to Savannah. Yes, that’s right, I’ve been in the room where all this went down. This is the reason every song used in the film is a song written by Johnny Mercer. It opens with an absolutely haunting version of “Skylark” sung by k.d. lang. Rosemary Clooney, Cassandra Wilson, Tony Bennett, Allison Eastwood and even director Clint Eastwood contribute covers of some of Mercer's most iconic songs. It keeps that theme of Southern charm going throughout the entire film.
What is most striking about this film is Eastwood cast as many real life people as he could, The Lady Chablis and Sonny Seiler are just a couple of them. It’s what makes the film, which is already based on a true story, work. What better to make something feel more authentic than casting the real life people who were involved? The entire film is a good romp around Savannah, and Eastwood made use of this unique southern town, highlighting many of its most iconic landmarks and colorful locals. I find it to be a highly entertaining film, perfect for a lazy afternoon watch full of laughs, voodoo, an invisible dog being walked on a leash, murder, and a whole lot of Southern charm.

-Anna Lathem  

Monday, November 11, 2019

I'd Love to Turn You On #243 - The Killers - Sam's Town (2006)

            When The Killers' debut album Hot Fuss came out in 2004 I begged and begged my dad to take me to see them at City Stages in Birmingham the next year. They played the entire album and I was hooked instantly; I became a forever fan and my poor dad had to stand there with a screaming teenage girl. I still wear the t-shirt I got at the show and am amazed it still fits me. I guess it’s just that Killers magic. When their second studio album Sam’s Town came out the year after that I instantly went out and bought the CD and later when I got my first turntable it was the first new record I bought with my own money. It was a departure from the synth and auto-tune featured heavily in Hot Fuss, while still being very much a Killers album at its core. It’s a love letter to Las Vegas - where the members either grew up or moved to when they were young, and where the band formed.
            I guess a little background on the band will make their love of Las Vegas and the Sam’s Town Hotel and Gambling Hall make a little more sense. Lead singer Brandon Flowers, drummer Ronnie Vannucci Jr. and bassist Mark Stoermer grew up in Las Vegas while guitarist Dave Keuning moved there in his early 20’s. But all four of them met in the City of Sin under the bright lights and formed The Killers in 2001. As a child Stoermer could see the Sam’s Town Hotel and Gambling Hall sign from his bedroom window. Las Vegas gave them an edge that they couldn’t have gotten anywhere else. The album was even recorded in Las Vegas. With Vegas in their hearts and minds they as a group decided to move away from the new wave Brit-pop sound of Hot Fuss and record an album that sounded more like where they came from.
            Sam’s Town kicks off with the title track, a larger than life rock anthem. It gives you the feeling of walking down the Las Vegas Strip at night soaking in all of the bright lights and big sounds. It comes from a place in Flowers' heart, because he grew up doing just that. Two of my favorite things about Sam’s Town are the “Enterlude” and “Exitlude” tracks bookending the album. You can imagine Flowers as a lounge singer in a casino, welcoming in patrons as the night begins and softly letting them know it’s time to go when the sun comes up. My other two favorites off Sam’s Town, “Uncle Johnny” and “Bones,” fill in the sex and drugs part of “sex, drugs and rock & roll” for the album. “Uncle Johnny” is raw and feels like a person strung out on cocaine while living it up in Las Vegas. “Bones” is a throwback to the synth-pop sound from Hot Fuss, but with a little more Mojave Desert dirt mixed in. Both tracks don’t hold anything back and that is what makes them stand out on this album.
The Killers didn’t hold anything back when making this album, and while most reviews of the album were not stellar, the album holds true to their Las Vegas roots and that desert sound. It isn’t flashy, it doesn’t try to copy their sound from Hot Fuss, and it stands alone in the pantheon of Killers albums. It’s raw, it’s dusty and it’s very Las Vegas. While Hot Fuss tends to get all the glory, Sam’s Town in my opinion is a truly Killers album. They made it the way they wanted, they recorded it where they wanted and to me it works, even if the rest of the world didn’t seem to think so.
P.S. Brandon Flowers' debut solo album Flamingo is also a beautiful heartfelt love letter to the city of Las Vegas and is well worth a listen.
- Anna Lathem

Monday, November 4, 2019

I’d Love To Turn You On At The Movies #230 - Ed and His Dead Mother (1993, dir. Jonathan Wacks)

In the early ‘90s, after falling completely in love with his character Mr. Pink in Reservoir Dogs, I became sort of fixated on consuming all the other films in which Steve Buscemi starred. That included a lot of late-1980s/early-1990s independent vehicles that were very hit and miss. Ed and His Dead Mother was one of the hits for me. It was one of the first Buscemi flicks that I watched period, let alone one of the first ones that I saw where Buscemi played a (relatively) normal schlub and not a psychotic, violent creep. Ed is also a comedy, which was (and really still is) my forte; my first love. And even though Buscemi was absolutely hilarious in most of his roles, he didn’t do a lot of comedic movies in his early days - at least not that I had seen. Buscemi’s turn as Ed, a sweetly naïve hardware salesman from small town Iowa is simultaneously charming and disturbing.
Ed is the third and final effort by American director Jonathan Wacks. Wacks is perhaps best known for his first film, the George Harrison (yes, THAT George Harrison) co-produced Powwow Highway, or for producing the cult favorite Repo Man. Buscemi plays the titular Ed Chilton, the ultimate mama’s boy. Ed receives a visit from a kind of shifty snake oil salesman (John Glover) from a company called Happy People, Ltd., who offer to reanimate his dead mother for a fee. After some consideration and a lot of resistance from his live-in Uncle Benny (Ned Beatty), Ed decides to go through with it. At first Ed is thrilled to have his mother back, as she picks up where she left off when she died, cooking and cleaning and generally helping Ed keep his life in order. But over time, as her behavior grows more and more irrational and bizarre, (hunting and killing living things for sustenance, for example), Ed must make a decision on what to do about mother.
The film itself is any indie film nut’s darling. In addition to Beatty, Glover and Buscemi himself, the film also stars a handful of other fairly well-known character actors, like Miriam Margolyes, Gary Farmer, Eric Christmas and especially Rance Howard, father of Ronnie and Clint, who plays the town preacher shopping at Ed’s store for tools to use to murder his unfaithful wife. The film also has one of the more curious set design choices I’ve ever seen. For the most part, the film looks like 1993, when it comes to wardrobe and hairstyles and things like that, but location-wise, the small Iowa town that’s supposed to be being portrayed here looks almost more 1953. Whether this was a conscious decision or a happy accident is beyond me, but somehow it works, adding yet another layer of strange to an already eccentric film.
Steve Buscemi is still one of my all-time favorites and I still tend to try to watch everything he appears in. Wacks, on the other hand, never directed another full length after Ed and His Dead Mother was released, most likely due to the poor box office activity of all three of his feature films. This would also explain why, up until 2018, the DVD was long out-of-print as well. This is a shame too, because I consider Ed to be kind of an indie classic. A deep cut that never tries to be anything it’s not. It’s just a quirky little comedy, in the tradition of Floundering or Living in Oblivion, with a little bit of a dark and macabre edge to it. Not a zombie film per se, but definitely a seasonally-appropriate film that offers a fresh take on portraying the undead.

- Jonathan Eagle