2012 - %3, January

8 Videos to Commemorate the Beatles' Final Concert, 43 Years Later

| Mon Jan. 30, 2012 7:00 AM EST

"January 30" means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. In 1649, Charles I of England marked the date by getting his head lopped off by angry parliamentarians. On the same day in 1882, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was born. Exactly 51 years later, Adolf Hitler was sworn in as chancellor.

And on January 30, 1969, some British rock band played its last concert on some rooftop in some part of London. There were four guys in the band, we think. One of the songwriters was from Liverpool. They might have done a show in Hamburg once or twice. Oh, and the group also had this peculiar affinity for never-ending pasturage of soft, red fruit with seed-studded facades....

…Okay, fine, you win. It was the Beatles.

As part of the two-album prelude to their dissolution in 1970, the band allowed British TV director Michael Lindsay-Hogg to film the (tense and foreboding) 1969 recording of their penultimate album Let It Be. The resulting documentary includes footage of that surprise midday concert on top of Apple Studio. (Police put the kibosh on the fun after a few buzz-killing noise complaints were made.)

The whole movie is well-worth watching: The live performances—particularly their electrifying work-outs of "I've Got a Feeling" and "Get Back"—show the band at their ragged peak. Keyboard extraordinaire Billy Preston hangs around to nudge the boys along with his precise electric-piano licks. And the behind-the-scenes glimpse at the Beatles' work ethic and squabbling is borderline elegiac.

In celebration of the forty-third anniversary of the rooftop set, here are seven of the best Beatles (and ex-Beatles) live recordings:

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The Wood Brothers Get Back to Their Roots

| Mon Jan. 30, 2012 7:00 AM EST
Oliver Wood, left, got his younger brother Chris, right, started on bass.

Chris and Oliver Wood hadn't played music together since childhood, but that all changed one night in 2004. Oliver's funky rock band King Johnson had opened a gig in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, for his kid brother Chris' far-out fusion trio Medeski Martin & Wood. At some point during the headlining act, as Chris plucked lustily at his upright bass, Oliver carried his guitar onstage, plugged in, and melted into the sound.

Despite the brothers having spent years in the musical trenches, it had taken this long for them to strike a chord as professionals. But they share the sort of uncanny chemistry usually only found between veteran bandmates: John and Paul, Miles and Coltrane, Simon and Garfunkel, and now Chris and Oliver. "It was like watching myself play," Chris said at the time. Oliver calls it "a certain telepathy…a supernatural, psychic kind of thing."

Fast forward to last Saturday night at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, and it's clear there's still no static in that psychic connection. After the Winston-Salem show, the brothers whipped up a demo of Oliver's soul-saturated roots-folk songs, sent it off to Blue Note Records, and the Wood Brothers were born. Their 2006 debut album, Ways Not To Lose, was an invigorating reminder of the understated power of the duo; NPR called it one of the year's top "overlooked" albums. Last week, the brothers kicked off a national tour in support of their most recent album, August's Smoke Ring Halo. Along for the ride is another sibling duet, Winnipeg's Sarah and Christian Dugas, a howling chanteuse with a dark blue melodic sensibility and her rhythm guitar-picking brother.

"The Grey": So Much More Than Liam Neeson Brutalizing Wolves

| Fri Jan. 27, 2012 1:27 PM EST
Liam Neeson being Liam Neeson.

The Grey

Open Road Films

117 minutes

There's no easier way to get a movie made in Hollywood than to walk into a room full of studio executives and say these 16 magic words: "Two straight hours of Liam Neeson fighting wild animals to the death with his bare hands."

And if you've seen any of the trailers for The Grey, chances are good that's exactly what you thought the movie was going to be about. The plot is refreshingly without frills: Neeson stars as Ottway, a brooding, poetry-quoting middle-aged man who works on an Alaskan oil rig. His profession? Killing wolves with his rifle all day—something he describes as a "job at the end of the world." One day, a plane he's riding on crashes into a pitiless Alaskan snowscape. Ottway and six other survivors are stranded and terrified, with only a handful of useful supplies. And you can bet all the money in your pockets that the local wolves—very pissed-off wolves—have zero intention of leaving them be.

Understandably, animal rights advocates aren't too thrilled about this movie. Even though writer/director Joe Carnahan has repeatedly claimed that the film has an environmental message at its core, some animal rights and conservation groups are pushing for a boycott of the film.

"Carnahan's irrational fear [of wolves] will further drive the 21st-century extermination campaign on wolves," Wendy Keefover, carnivore protection director for WildEarth Guardians, told Mother Jones. "In the last few months alone, hundreds have been slaughtered in Idaho and Montana because of displaced fears by fanatics, who wrongly believe that wolves compete with or pose a threat to them…Just watching the trailer is too anxiety-producing for me. It's so brutally wrongheaded."


Forced Sterilization for Transgender People in Sweden

| Wed Jan. 25, 2012 7:19 AM EST
Love Georg Elfvelin from an AllOut.org video at a protest against Sweden's law mandating trans people be sterilized

Little known fact about Sweden, that supposed bastion of liberal idealism: If a Swedish transgender person wants to legally update their gender on official ID papers, a 1972 law requires them to get both divorced and sterilized first.

Sweden is considered extremely gay-friendly, with one of the highest rates of popular support for same-sex marriage, and more than half the population supports gay adoption. Arguing that the current law is both unpopular and abusive, the country's moderate and liberal parties want to see it repealed. In response, the small but powerful Christian Democrat party formed a coalition with other right-of-center parties to join in upholding the requirement for sterilization. End result: a proposal for new legislation that allows trans—a preferred term for many people who undergo gender reassignment—to be married but continues to force them to be sterilized.

I Created Elmo, and Here's Proof!

| Wed Jan. 25, 2012 7:00 AM EST

Ignore the blue and green paint. I was five. Sheesh.Ignore the blue and green paint.  I was five.  Sheesh!You want proof? Ta-daaa.

My nine-year-old son pulled a poster tube out from behind his bed the other day. My mom had sent it a while back, but I never looked inside.

Turns out it contained this painting, which I did in July 1970, at age five, before Elmo existed.

I hereby claim 17 percent of gross proceeds from all Elmo licensing and merchandising, retroactively and hereafter.

Hello, 1 percent!

And now, back to substantive journalism

Review: "The Rushing Dark," by Laura Gibson

| Mon Jan. 23, 2012 7:00 AM EST

TRACK 5

"The Rushing Dark"

From Laura Gibson's La Grande

Liner notes: Her voice filtered through layers of distortion and noise to simulate the effect of an antique recording, Laura Gibson murmurs, "For all the wandering I have done/I could not repent enough," on this eerie track from her death-obsessed fourth solo album.

Behind the music: Starting small, the Portland, Oregon-based folkie self-released her 2004 debut and played gigs at kindergartens, AIDS hospices, and prisons. Her more recent credits include vocals on Colin Meloy Sings Sam Cooke—an unlikely EP from the Decemberists' leader—and an equally unlikely contribution to a Led Zeppelin tribute album.

Check it out if you like: Women who revitalize familiar styles, such as Alela Diane, Madeleine Peyroux, and Eilen Jewell.

Image: Vince Kmeron/Flickr

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"Red Tails": The Tuskegee Airmen Deserved a Movie That's Not Completely Unwatchable

| Sat Jan. 21, 2012 7:00 AM EST

Photo courtesy of LucasfilmPhoto courtesy of Lucasfilm

Red Tails

Lucasfilm

120 minutes

If you've heard anything about the movie Red Tails in the past few weeks, it likely had something to do with George Lucas venting about systemic racism in Hollywood.

In the month leading up to the film's release, Lucas (who served as executive producer) took his high-profile publicity stops as an opportunity to call out the big-studio aversion to predominantly black casts.

"This has been held up for release since 1942, since it was shot," Lucas joked on an episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on January 9. Then, he started talking bluntly—and sounding more than a little bitter: "It's because it's an all-black movie. There's no major white roles in it at all…I showed it to all of them and they said, 'Noooo. We don't know how to market a move like this.'"

The "all-black movie" is based on the true story of the Tuskegee Airmen, the WWII pilots who were the first black servicemen to fly combat missions for the US Army Air Forces at a time when the military was racially segregated and black Americans were not recognized as full citizens at home.

Here's a rough outline of Red Tails' two-hour running time: Brave black pilots are stationed in Italy in 1944. They battle the institutionalized racism in the army and swiftly debunk decades of bigotry masquerading as science. The Airmen massacre the living snot out of scores of mean-spirited, smug Nazis. They triumph over their own fears and personal flaws, and even win the hearts and minds of some white dudes along the way. And (spoiler alert) in the end, racism loses, the fascists get owned, and the Tuskegee Airmen (or "Red Tails") end up as decorated heroes.

It's a great story, and it certainly doesn't hurt that it was inspired by actual events.

But the film, released in at the frigid movie-dump weeks of January, lives up to neither the compelling history nor the premise. In fact, the movie is devoid of visceral thrill, drained of emotional energy, and head-scratchingly awful throughout.

Video: 6 Bizarro Ads From the Colbert Super-PAC

| Sat Jan. 21, 2012 7:00 AM EST

Last week Stephen Colbert announced that he was exploring a bid for "president of the United States of South Carolina" in advance of the state's Republican primary on January 21. News organizations quickly pointed out that he'd missed the deadline to get on the ballot and that write-in votes were not permitted.

But that didn't stop the pro-Colbert super-PAC Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow (now headed by Jon Stewart) from getting into the action. It released an ad endorsing GOP dropout Herman Cain, who's still on the South Carolina ballot.

Check out that ad and five others produced by the Colbert super-PAC as part of its surreal civics lesson.

Before endorsing Cain, Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow enlisted John Lithgow (who played a serial killer on Dexter) to narrate an ad about "Mitt the Ripper" killing corporations (which, you'll recall, he thinks are people).

 

After endorsing Cain, the Colbert super-PAC attacked Romney again, adding Newt Gingrich to the mix. "We'll destroy both these guys and their super-PACs with a merciless ad torrent so fierce they'll wish they'd never been incorporated, an orgy of pure distortion leaving nothing behind, with a clean campaign we all deserve," the ad promises.

 

The super-PAC followed that up with a spot narrated by Samuel L. Jackson attacking Colbert. "Enough is enough! I have had it with these money-grubbing super-PACs messing with our Monday-to-Friday elections!" Jackson exclaims, a reference to his famous Snakes on a Plane line.

 

Back when Stephen Colbert still ran his super-PAC, and before releasing ads on the NBA lockout and Buddy Roemer talking about a unicorn, he aired two spots ahead of the Ames Straw Poll. The first warned of a "money storm" that was "gathering over Iowa" and encouraged voters to write-in Rick "Parry"—with an A. (The final straw poll tally didn't mention how many votes Parry received.)

 

The second Cobert Super PAC ad in Iowa, also released before the straw poll, condemned pro-Perry super-PACs for promoting the Texas governor with images of "cheap cornography". Don't worry, the clip is SFW.

 Front page image: Comedy Central

Review: "Curse," by Stew & the Negro Problem

| Fri Jan. 20, 2012 7:00 AM EST

TRACK 4

"Curse"

From Stew & the Negro Problem's Making It

Liner notes: "You don't need a new girlfriend/What you need is a nurse," sings Mark Stewart (a.k.a. Stew) on this ballad about romantic disaster, which mirrors his breakup with longtime girlfriend and bandmate Heidi Rodewald.

Behind the music: The Los Angeles-bred Stewart launched the Negro Problem in the early '90s and garnered mainstream attention with the stage production Passing Strange, which won a 2008 Tony Award and was adapted for film by Spike Lee. Stew and Rodewald's next play is scheduled to debut in New York City in early 2012.

Check it out if you like: Rockers with a theatrical streak, like David Bowie, Peter Gabriel, and Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong.

#SOPA Jokes

| Wed Jan. 18, 2012 7:41 PM EST

Today, lots of websites are in a self-imposed "blackout" to show what SOPA might do to the Internet if it passes. And on Twitter, tweeps have invented their own SOPA early-warning system.

Also watch this video explainer of SOPA, read the story behind the SOPA blackout, and see a slideshow of the websites that went dark Wednesday in protest of the bills.