Musings @musicandmeaning.com

Only hope can keep me together. Love can mend your life but love can break your heart.
"He had a theory that musicians are incredibly complex, and know far less than other artists what they want and what they are; that they puzzle themselves as well as their friends; that their psychology is a modern development, and has not yet been understood." – E. M. Forster

Archive for May, 2003


Friday, 23 May 2003

Someone is listening…

Late Wednesday night, I found myself wanting to listen to some upbeat music. I listened to a few things but then thought, "David Gray. I think what I need right now is White Ladder" — so I rummaged around and found pretty much every other one of my DG discs except for that one. It had been at least five or six months since I’d listened to the album, so it wasn’t in my room but in some other place (the living room somewhere?) probably. But when I couldn’t find the CD right away, I just thought "Never mind" and went without that particular DG. It was getting late anyway, so I just ended up going to sleep.

The next morning (yesterday), I remembered to make a mental note to find my DG disc. Then as I was making breakfast, I suddenly began humming/singing Peggy Lee & Dave Barbour‘s song, "It’s a Good Day." I’d listened to the original tune from the 1940s many times — but not recently — and I think that may have been the first time it popped into my head spontaneously somehow, and the first time I actually sang it on my own like that.

That was breakfast, and I didn’t think any more of it all…until later that afternoon. I finally persuaded myself to go grocery shopping, and just a few minutes after I stepped into Trader Joe’s, guess whose voice came over the speakers? David Gray. And singing "Babylon" from White Ladder, no less. What a weird coincidence…but still, it’s probably his most popular song, so it wasn’t completely unprecedented.

About a half hour or so later, I was about ready to go to checkout when I heard a very familiar opening electric guitar arpeggio introduce a song. My reaction: "What the heck? Am I really hearing this?"

A few measures later, Peggy Lee started singing "It’s a Good Day" as Dave Barbour continued to accompany her on guitar.

Now, I’ve always loved the eclectic music played at Trader Joe’s…I’ve heard a bunch of tunes from my own collection played while I shopped, as well as some nifty titles I’d never heard before. But those two instances of DG and "It’s a Good Day" (the original version, too!) on this visit…it was just spooky.

Posted at 3:21 pm | Filed under Music, Musings & everything else |  

Friday, 16 May 2003

Shaken, not stirred. And shaken a lot.

A few weeks ago in the comments/reply to BJ for an entry about The West Wing, I wrote, “It looks like Sorkin isn’t too far from sending all of his established stories and characters over the edge, and then having the new producers and writers deal with the fallout next season.”

Well madbard…dang, I had no idea that Sorkin would actually push Barlet over the edge too. It’s as if he really is burning all bridges, laughing maniacally and saying “Hey new writers…take that! The West Wing you once knew is now kaput. Rebuild at your own risk…by the way, good luck without me.”

It was odd seeing John Goodman appear suddenly. I think the last time I saw him on TV was when he was Eric Close’s character’s original physical body on “Now and Again” a couple of years ago. And as an aside, it was also good on a continuity level to see Harry Groener (a.k.a. former mayor of Sunnydale on Buffy) back as the Secretary of Agriculture.

From a writing/Sorkin-is-about-to-leave standpoint, it’s interesting but I wasn’t shocked, really. Sorkin has a history of pulling out all sorts of “What if…” scenarios and resulting consequences dictated by the U.S. Constitution. He’s shaped past dilemmas that rarely occur in real life, if ever (like this season’s finale) and culls his ideas from the more rarely needed (but imperative) sections of the Constitution. Not a bad way to learn about our government’s fail safes and quirks, really. I don’t know how accurate it is, of course, not to mention realistic, but it’s a natural move for Sorkin to sort of blow everything out of the water without, well, blowing everything completely out of the water. When Hoynes resigned, and even when Zoey was kidnapped, I knew the tough part wouldn’t be over for the President and the West Wing. It was all a build-up to something, and I thought fleetingly that Bartlet could resign…but then how could the show continue? Admittedly, I did not know that the President could, in effect, temporarily “resign.” But leave it to Sorkin to take advantage of this probably not-so-common knowledge in the majority of viewers and use it as his last plot device.

I just hope they don’t kill off Zoey Bartlet. And I wonder how many more interesting, Constitutional aces-from-sleeves the writers will have left. (I’m sure Sorkin and any other diligent writer of the show has the Constitution/Amendments/Declaration of Independence/ important federal law documents all parsed, highlighted and otherwise marked for possible story ideas.)

But please, don’t let this be where West Wing jumped the shark.

Posted at 5:53 pm | Filed under Television | 2 replies »

Monday, 12 May 2003

Time, the revelator

Hope everyone had a nice Mother’s Day weekend.

I haven’t included concert recommendations in what seems like ages; let’s remedy that right now. If you’re in SoCal, you can catch Gillian Welch & David Rawlings this week, as they tour throughout California to promote their new album, Soul Journey (released 3 June). Check out their official tour dates page for more info. Next month, they’ll move on to southern states and will also open for Norah Jones in her east coast tour (isn’t that a relatively odd combo?).

Posted at 1:50 pm | Filed under Music |  

Monday, 5 May 2003

And the winner for best shark jumping goes to…

I’m trying to be positive about Alias — I really am. But since the mega Super Bowl episode in January, where creator J. J. Abrams essentially wiped the slate clean for his show by destroying SD-6 and killing off a loveable supporting character, the subsequent episodes have lacked luster. No longer did I find myself eagerly anticipating the next new chapter of heroine Sydney Bristow and her cohorts. I even stopped (gasp) taping the show, and last week, for the first time, I didn’t even pay full attention to the episode — for some parts of the show, I worked on other stuff as the television stayed on in the room, and I turned around only when things seemed interesting.

So, after hearing and reading about the hoopla surrounding the big surprise of this season’s two-hour finale (which aired last night): of Abrams once again redefining the series, I succumbed. I’d stayed away from spoilers, and sat down and watched the show, and yes, even taped it, hoping that some of that old Alias magic would show up.

The first hour was okay — nothing really tremendous, really. Basically it was a big setup for the second hour. (BTW, that Ford Focus commercial within the show was really an eye-roller.) But most of the last half hour redeemed the episode. When Irena leaped over the roof — that whole confrontation was well done. When Will figured out the truth about FauxFrancie, I thought, "Finally! Now we’re getting somewhere!" and of course noticed that there were only five minutes left — so, cliffhanger must be coming soon. When Vaughn dropped off Sydney, I knew what was coming. I mean, he chose that night of all nights not to go into the house with her? Please. And while I’m on the topic of nitpicks, why exactly was Will at Francie and Syd’s? He was supposed to go to the CIA safehouse…although with the safety history of that place on the show, "safehouse" is an oxymoron…oh, and also based on the show history, if the CIA is transporting anything, they really need to have more than one vehicle guarding the transport… And before I forget: Syd has to find Will in her bathtub? The tub is getting such a bad rap.

So, yes, finally, the showdown between Syd and FauxFrancie happens, and it really did not disappoint in terms of hold-your-breath intensity. (Everything about this episode, especially the FauxFrancie scenes, proclaims just why Alias is not a show for kids.)

But then (Abrams, you scoundrel you), there’s Sydney with no scars or signs of a fight on her, lying dazed and confused in the streets of Hong Kong. At this point I was practically begging the TV, "Please, please don’t pull a Dallas and have it all be a bad dream…Okay, that’s not the case, thank goodness." But then Abrams pulls the rug out and yes, surprise, it may just as well be a dream.

So, it’s been three years. So, Vaughn is married and apparently out of the CIA. So, we really have no falutin’ idea what’s happened and how Syd ended up where she ended up.

The problem I have is this: Abrams isn’t just "redefining" the series when he does this kind of rug pulling — he’s basically creating new series. First (run-on sentences ahead), it was Alias with Syd, a grad student/spy grieving the murder of her fiance (whose body she found in her bathtub), and learning that her entire life has been a complete lie. (BTW, did you notice that if you turn the letter "d" upside down, it becomes a "p" and then Syd’s name becomes an anagram for "spy"? Yes, that is what I would call mental thumb-twiddling…)

Second, it was Alias: Family Reunion (We’ll Take Our Portrait Later) with Syd the double agent (who apparently is still a grad student but is never seen at school) dealing with her seriously cracked spy family and, as a double agent, still trying to take down the fanatic Sloane who killed her fiance and ruined her family, all the while still falling in love with a man whose father was killed by her own enemy spy mother (who by the way has miraculously turned herself in to the CIA).

Then, in mid-season, it was Alias, But Not Really, Because SD-6 Tumbled Easily Like a Squishy Layer Cake and Sydney No Longer Has to Use an Alias with Syd who spends the next few episodes doing more globe-trotting (that seems to be the only consistent thing on the show…) to find Sloane and stop him, and not realizing that her best friend has been murdered, replaced by a genetic mutant allied with Sloane and is brainwashing her other best friend, whose life Syd had saved and is now working for the CIA. And of course I neglected to mention that Syd’s longtime partner tries to deal with the truth of his own life having been a lie, his wife gets murdered, Sloane’s wife (but Syd’s mother-figure friend) helped staged her own kidnapping but gets shot accidentally by Dixon, Syd’s mother escapes from the CIA, and Syd somehow managed to keep up with all of her schoolwork, sight unseen, and graduate from her graduate program.

So, what’s going to be the theme of the Alias show for next season? Since Abrams skipped three years, and Syd hasn’t a clue (nor do we) as to what happened, obviously the next few episodes need to backtrack and explain that period of time. It’s like we’ve seen one of those spoiler teasers, where the teaser of an episode shows a scene that hasn’t happened yet, and then after the opening credits roll, we get a "72 hours prior" and see how we get to that scene. Except this time, the teaser is that Syd is seriously confused, quite a lot of time has elapsed, and Vaughn is married to someone else. I seriously hope that next season will not open with "3 years prior" and will not be Alias: The Quest to Restore Sydney’s Memory. I realize that the audience is supposed to identify with Syd, because she’s just as bewildered about the whole three years thing as we are. But I feel like Abrams did more than pull out a rug…he yanked my chain.

Although I love cliffhangers and drama and plot development — just look at the first season for some truly exciting episodes — I somehow feel that he’s toying with his audience just because he can. I don’t know if he’s trying to redefine television, but getting the audience invested in a certain story and certain characters of that story, and then changing the foundation of that story — twice in one season — it’s just difficult to process. I wonder if I’m the only one who feels this way, but as time passed after the Super Bowl episode aired, I kept looking back pondered whether the series really jumped the shark* then. And here it is nearly four months later, and my instinct is telling me that this is yet another shark jumping incident, if that’s even possible in one series, let alone one season.

As an optimist, I keep hoping that the show will improve, and that the beautifully scripted and shot original Alias I grew to love would emerge again. It could be that this season was simply a victim of the sophomore curse, but with the two drastic — and boy were they ever drastic — plot developments, my optimism for this show is getting tougher to bide. The series was once was a slick show that had an action facade, espionage and noir themes but always the strong element of familial discord and hints of reconciliation. But with all of these so-called plot twists, it’s looking more and more like an expensive, prime-time, outlandish soap opera wrapped in a thriller setting. And for this fan of continuity and good writing, it’s reminding me why I don’t watch soap operas.

The capsule summary: no, I didn’t really like this season’s finale, and unless Abrams has something ingenious planned to work out of the "years lost" chain yank, this very well may be the episode where Alias made its second shark jump. The first season’s finale was leagues better, in terms of suspense and excitement and purpose within the story at hand.

Parting thoughts: Farewell to Merrin Dungey, who has the distinction of "dying" twice on the show, once in each of the shark jumping episodes. I hope she appears next season, as part of the "let’s help Syd remember" story, but I’m guessing that’s improbable.

Sorry for the spiel on this, and the show in general. I suppose I really wanted to enjoy the finale — and wished that it would provide some hope for the future quality of the show. As mentioned, my interest in it had waned significantly since January; and with the news of Aaron Sorkin and Tommy Schlamme leaving The West Wing after this season (see previous blog), my current core of favorite television shows has really suffered a huge blow. Please, please let Gilmore Girls remain interesting, even with the change from Rory in high school to college.

* Unfamiliar with the term "jump the shark"? Check out the first couple of questions in the FAQ from jumptheshark.com.

Posted at 1:25 am | Filed under Television | 2 replies »

Thursday, 1 May 2003

West Wing, why?

It’s official: Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme are leaving The West Wing. Reasons for the sudden move, however, are as of yet unknown.

At least when Chris Carter left The X-Files, he’d already established a strong set of writers and producers. But Sorkin leaving TWW — his writing is the foundation of the show. Hasn’t he written practically every single episode — if not story, then teleplay? Without him writing, what the heck’s gonna happen?

This is a huge loss for the show, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the entire cast and crew just let out a gasp of astonishment — and trepidation — upon hearing the news. It’s as if the very successful Aaron Sorkin Repertory Theater Company has just found out that it can no longer perform the works of Aaron Sorkin.

At least when Sports Night was cancelled, it meant no one else could mess with the show. Now with Sorkin and Schlamme’s departures, The West Wing will become The West Wing Desperately Trying To Be The Same Show It Was.

I was going to just post a little about "Life on Mars" — last night’s episode — when I read this bit of news. I was going to just write that my favorite part of the episode last night (which, incidentally was above average for this season) was when Donna talks to the bird (was it a pigeon? dove?) outside the window, and later tells Josh not to scare it away. Yeah, it had absolutely nothing to do with the main (or secondary) plot, and it could have been a really pointless and dumb scene, but Janel Moloney (and Bradley Whitford) simply sold it. Who would have thought the line "You’re going to hurt your beak" could be so endearing? Plus it was nice to get a Josh & Donna exchange reminiscent of old.

I hope the small, character-driven scenes like that stay in the show. Even without Sorkin, I hope the writing can be fresh next season, and not resort to a forced and formulaic attempt at his style. At this very moment, a vast majority of people probably doubt the future of the series beyond 2004. This may well mean the beginning of the end. But if the remaining and new producers can harness some excellent screenwriters — they won’t be Sorkin, but if they know the characters extremely well and can write dramatic dialogue…

Well. What can I say? 2003-04 will be a significant season for the series, undoubtedly.

Posted at 6:03 pm | Filed under Television | 3 replies »