Jimmy Guterman's blog

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Archive for the ‘how to live’ Category

What teachers do

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I usually find something to laugh at on the front page of The Brookline Tab (a typical recent piece heralded the arrival of new burrito shops to our town), but “Brookline Teachers Cut Extra Work” hit me. Teachers are so committed to what they do for the children and the community that their idea of a work slowdown is to stop doing some of the extra things that they’re not even paid for. Just a quick reminder of how much dedication people bring to that job.


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March 4, 2016 at 11:25 am

In which I accidentally friend the bass player of the Rolling Stones

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A while back, I accidentally friended on Facebook Bill Wyman, the former bass player for the Rolling Stones, instead of Bill Wyman, the rock critic, the person I meant to connect with. (I wrote about the latter Wyman on this blog late last year.) Didn’t seem like good karma to unfriend the guy who played bass on “19th Nervous Breakdown” and several dozen more of the greatest songs in all rock’n’roll so I stuck around. Mostly his Wall offered tour dates, although he would occasionally touch on photography, archaeology, his books (did you know he wrote seven?) and setting scores.

Recently on his wall he turned to a regular topic for him: his assertion that it was he, and not Keith, who wrote the glorious riff of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” He mentioned that the inspiration was “an obscure Chuck Berry single I had called ‘Club Nitty Gritty.'” (He may have mentioned this in Stone Alone, the only one of his books I read, but it was really long and it was only a seven-day-limit library book so I probably read it too quickly and I don’t remember.)

I won’t wade into Wyman’s claim about authorship, but I do want to go on a bit about Chuck Berry’s “Club Nitty Gritty.” There are two reasons it’s obscure (Wyman is surely right about that). One: it’s not very good, a lazy list of dances that could turn Alvin Ailey into a wallflower. Two: it appeared as the last track on what may be Chuck’s worst-ever record without a song about his ding-a-ling on it: Golden Hits, a 1967 collection of mediocre rerecordings of his early hits, plus “Club Nitty Gritty” buried at the end as a booby prize. So the song’s not very good and it deserves its rarity status. Only deeply committed Chuck Berry fans (like these guys) would have heard it. And it does boast a riff that could be an antecedent of the brutal “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” theme. Whoever pulled that riff out of the air took something shapeless and built a universe out of it.

The lessons here? You can find inspiration anywhere, not only in canonical classics but in trash. And pay attention. The next piece of crap you hear may make your career.

Written by guterman

May 15, 2011 at 5:49 pm

Posted in how to live, music

Brief notes on taste and entertainment: A shark, an octopus, Celine Dion, and Batman

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Until Runaway American Dream, the book of mine that got the most attention was The Worst Rock’n’Roll Records of All Time, which I wrote with my friend Owen O’Donnell. Almost 20 years later, I have mixed feelings about that book. Working with Owen was a great pleasure, but the book now feels more mean and less funny than it should have been. (You could say the same for the book that inspired us, the Medved Brothers’ Golden Turkey Awards.)

I hardly ever think about The Worst anymore. I get the occasional email asking me when we’re doing a sequel or defending Bon Jovi, but that’s it. Questions of awful art and how we treat awful art zoomed back to front of mind earlier this month when I read Carl Wilson’s Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste. It’s a wonderful short book, part of Continuum’s 33-1/3 series, and it focuses on a Celine Dion record that Wilson, an ace rock critic, doesn’t think is any good. Yet he spends more than 100 pages finding interesting things to say about it and finding aspects of it that are not as awful as other aspects. He finds it a tremendously flawed work of art, but he also finds it a work of art.

In most of The Worst, it was easy to sneer at the performers. Owen and I didn’t break much of a sweat making fun of Billy Joel and his ilk. (If I remember correctly, we broke more of a sweat playing handball in the street in front of my house when we should have been writing.) Sometimes, though, the sneer didn’t come so easily. I’m thinking in particular of when we wrote about The Shaggs, a group of sisters best-known for their inability to stay in tune. Yet there is joy in their playing, an artless love of life in their songwriting, and I think Meg White listened to them when she and Jack were dreaming up The White Stripes. Can they play? Not really. But their enthusiasm is infectious. If the Shaggs’ music gives me so such pleasure, how can it possibly be bad? Why would I make fun of someone who is creating art that is moving me?

Which brings us to Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus. It’s a disaster film that came out last year. Don’t worry if you missed it; almost everyone else did, too, even though it is, I think, the only film in which Lorenzo Lamas and Deborah Gibson (yes, she of “Shake Your Love”) both appear, the latter as a submarine-stealing oceanographer. The film was originally entitled Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus in 3D, but the filmmakers had to change the name when they couldn’t get enough funding to shoot in 3D.

But let’s see a bit of the work itself:

That’s right; you just saw a shark jump thousands of feet out of the ocean to attack a jetliner (it could happen). And you should see what the shark does to the Golden Gate bridge:

And don’t forget the “octopus” part of the title:

We self-appointed tastemakers tend to consider work of this level wanting. But what does bad mean here? All three of those clips bring me pleasure. Every single person I’ve shown the clip with the plane has responded to it. How can that be bad? No, the pleasures aren’t as deep as a film by Bergman or Kurosawa might bring, but they are pleasures nonetheless. The filmmakers sought to entertain me and they succeeded. How can such a pleasure be relegated to a guilty one?

Speaking of guilty pleasures, I cannot end this post about a shark attacking a plane without a reference to my until-now favorite shark moment on film, which, of course, involves Batman:

And now I’m going to decide whether I want to reread The Guermantes Way or Seagalogy: A Study of the Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal.

Written by guterman

January 27, 2010 at 12:36 am

Posted in how to live

Some notes on favorite musical moments in the most unlikely contexts

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Two nights before Christmas, I went to see Eli perform for his peers in a theater called The Black Box. (Yes, I had to ask one of his cronies, “Where is the Black Box?” I sounded like a David Lynch character.) Eli was wonderful, of course; he and a few dozen of his buddies played a pair of Arcade Fire covers that were as big and loud and over the top as you’d want from a big band of high school friends playing Arcade Fire covers. I went to The Black Box to hear Eli and I enjoyed his performance a great deal.

But it’s not his performance that’s still front of mind the better part of a week later. That dubious distinction belongs to the last band that played to those of us in the audience who lasted the full three-and-a-half hours. They were a trio who smashed big holes through a pair of Talking Heads songs, “Psycho Killer” …

… and “And She Was.”

In the spirit of being honest that I hear is important on the bloggernet, I must acknowledge: the band didn’t learn half the words or half the chords of those two songs, and they didn’t take the time to recruit a bass player. They were sloppy. They were, on the whole, not very good.

Yet I must also proclaim: I loved them.

I loved them for the attitude and excitement and affection for music that they brought with them to the performance in lieu of talent and rehearsal. They were smiling, laughing, playing hard (poorly but hard), unsure how to play the songs but absolutely certain that they were going to have a great time bashing these sturdy songs within millimeters of their lives. I’ve seen great bands seem to enjoy themselves onstage, I’ve seen great bands seem like they’d rather be getting prostate exams than performing, and I’ve seen thousands of bands in what I imagined was every possible permutation of engagement. But the other night was the first night since the early heydays of punk and rap that I saw a bunch of amateurs as free and in love with not only what they were doing, but the possibility of what they were doing. It was going to be over in a few minutes, they knew that. No one was ever going to ask them to do this again, they might have suspected. But while they were out there they were going to be as alive as any band could be, standing on chairs, falling to their knees, not caring whether the other members hit their cues. They were there to be loud. They were there to connect. And they were there to play music by Talking Heads, a band that broke up before these kids were born.

Talking Heads have been on my mind and my headphones lately. They’re my favorite person‘s favorite band, and early this year we were lucky enough to see David Byrne perform some wonderful new songs, like this one …

… some classics, like this one …

… and reanimate some more obscure songs I didn’t think enough of the first time around, like this one.

And now, to bring a few strands of my life closer together, here’s an amateur video of the lead singer of my wife’s favorite band playing with a band my son adores, singing a song that has made me fill up more than once:

Happy new year, everyone! May it be full of music and people who make you feel something.

Written by guterman

December 26, 2009 at 7:26 pm

Posted in family, how to live, music

Quote of the day

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September 25, 2008 at 2:12 pm

Beyond dismissiveness

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I dismiss things too quickly. For example, a while back, when some of my normally astute friends and colleagues were urging me to pay attention to The Secret and its law [sic!] of attraction, I simply assumed it was crazy and I was dealing with crazy people. I’ve got good company in my dismissiveness: See all of this great clip from Julia Sweeney and Jill Sobule, but I’m thinking of what Sweeney says about the law [sic!] of attraction starting around 4:11. (I also just realized — after watching the clip — that I quoted Sweeney without attribution last night. Sorry, Jane.)

Yeah, yeah, but I was reading the usually reliable Zen Habits blog yesterday and I was confronted with not-dismissive post about the law [sic!] of attraction.

Don’t worry. Leo Babauta hasn’t gone nuts. He does note that the law [sic!] of attraction is flat-out wrong. He also acknowledges that it’s pseudoscientific nonsense. But instead of dismissing it, a la Guterman and Sweeney, he goes on to point out what we can learn from it, even if it is nuts. He finds the useful in the dismissable. That’s quite an achievement. I hope I remember this next time someone tells me something I’m inclined to dismiss immediately.

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June 9, 2008 at 9:35 am

Posted in how to live

Quote of the day

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November 6, 2007 at 6:34 pm

Posted in how to live