Thursday, December 29, 2011

Song Review: Beenie Man - "Who Am I (Sim Simma)" (1997)

I had the beat to this song (which I found out is actually called "Playground Riddim") stuck in my head for the last few days. I couldn't place it but the staccato notes at the end of the phrase kept looping over and over in my brain. I knew I had heard it many a time. I just couldn't figure out what it was.
I first heard this song at least ten years ago when my friend Tony made me a mix CD with this on it. This song never made it to where I grew up in Mitchell, Ind. and it had to be smuggled in to reach my consciousness. Not unlike a lot of other things I've grown to love.
Such is life.
The funny part is that now that I know what song it is I realize I still don't understand 90 percent of the lyrics. Whatever. I get the feeling of the song. It doesn't take complicated stanzas to get the basic idea across.
SOMEONE has the keys to his truck and he wants answers!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Television Review: The Secrets of Scientology: A Panorama Special, BBC One (2010)

John Sweeney is a madman. You can trace his gonzo form of emotional outburst-based documentary film-making directly from fellow English crazy person Nick Broomfield. Both charge headfirst into fraught situations without consideration for the consequences. In the meantime they often gather amazing footage and admissions by their interview subjects. It somehow seems almost accidental that they came across this information.
The Secrets of Scientology (which you see in four parts on this site) is a fascinating movie, but not always for the reasons it's creators probably intended. A full half of the 60-minute run time is spent recounting parts of the last John Sweeny Panorama special Scientology and Me. For the most part this has to do with the moment that he began shouting at the Scientology handlers that had been sent to follow and harass him as he filmed. I even remember seeing this clip a while ago even independent of even realizing it was from this special:

He apologizes over and over for losing it here, but he does manage to get a ex-Scientology spokesperson Mike Rinder to admit that he was goaded into having this reaction. He further admits that Sweeney and his crew were followed during the last production.
Beyond that, the rest of what's here is a pretty one-sided conclusion that Scientology is a cult, a claim that is pretty hard to refute given the available evidence. Still, there's really no question about what conclusion Sweeney is going to arrive at by the end of the proceedings when he asks rhetorically whether it's a benevolent organization or something more sinister.
The celebrity interviews that are shown via the Scientology response to the first documentary were barred from appearing in the original. Kirstie Alley, Juliette Lewis and others lash out violently when questioned about their faith. They get especially prickly when the subject of Xenu and the Scientology creation myth are brought up. The stars publicly deny this teaching, which makes sense since apparently it isn't revealed to the participants what they're in for until they've invested a significant amount of time and money. Other former members say this is not acknowledged to outsiders because the information would literally kill them. Heady stuff.
"Cult" is a charged term that's not easy to define. Sweeney believes this fully and the point here isn't to have him go on a journey from one opinion to other. This is as biased in this direction as any production from Scientology would be from the other. He has an agenda. Based on what he uncovers I don't think he's necessarily wrong. His closing argument is to interview family members that have been ripped away from their kin after leaving the confines of the church.
And that does sound a bit cult-y.

Top five things I learned from Wikipedia about North Korea

Translation of North Korean propaganda poster
: "Though the dog barks the procession moves on!"

When Kim Jong-il died 10 days ago, I realized just how little I knew about North Korea. My mental file on the country was pretty thin. Most of it centered around movies I've seen featuring either fictional or documentary portraits, both released in 2004: the puppets in Team America: World Police and the dancers in A State of Mind. The former being Matt Stone and Trey Parker's action-comedy parody and the latter a frightening look at the children who train for years to participate in the country's Mass Games. Well, that and that one George W. Bush State of the Union speech from January 2002.
And that was pretty much it. That means that up until very recently I received around 2/3 of my mental picture of the single-party state from the South Park guys and Dubya. Not an enviable position for your average intellectual.
So, in an effort to further my continual goal of perpetual education, I turned to the one source I always turn to without shame to broaden my horizons: Wikipedia. I've always enjoyed Wikipedia, even if I've never fully trusted it. It can't be used as a source or reference in and of itself, but I have always found it to be one of the quicker ways to ascertain the general idea of any given subject.
And now I present to you without shame, the top five things I learned from Wikipedia about North Korea. Let's get it:

5. After his death, Kim Il-sung was declared the country's Eternal President.

Right out the gate I love this fact. I think there are some people in this country who would declare Washington or Lincoln or Kennedy or whoever Eternal President if they could. I also like how on the Wikipedia page for Kim Il-sung it says that he is the office holder and he is the incumbent, even though this position was taken away in the North Korean constitution meaning that it would take an amendment to have anyone ever succeed him; which they never will.

4. Kim Jong-il's official biography states he was born in a secret military camp on Baekdu Mountain in Japanese Korea on 16 February 1942. Official biographers claim that his birth at Baekdu Mountain was foretold by a swallow, and heralded by the appearance of a double rainbow across the sky over the mountain and a new star in the heavens.

Whoa. "Cult of Personality" isn't just a rad Living Colour song, it's an all too real concept in North Korea. This whole mystical power provided to the royal bloodline as it were is pretty interesting. I say interesting because I don't have to live there and pretend like I think it's a great idea.

3. There is even widespread belief that Kim Il-sung "created the world", and Kim Jong-il could "control the weather".

It's as though in the absence of religion, a state religion has to take it's place. The need for mass control on this level still exists for totalitarian governments, it just takes a different form. There still has to be a willing populace to grant credence to this, though.

2. Reporters without Borders ranked freedom of the press in North Korea as 177th out of 178, above only that of Eritrea.

I don't know what they're doing in Eritrea, but they've got to be screwing things up pretty to fall behind North Korea in this category. When I lived in England I was staggered by the amount of tabloid tactics in even general-issue newspapers. At least they never deified Tony Blair. On second thought, maybe Eritrea and North Korea are just worse at hiding it than other countries.

1. (Kim Jong-un's) eldest half-brother, Kim Jong-nam, had been the favourite to succeed, but reportedly fell out of favour after 2001, when he was caught attempting to enter Japan on a fake passport to visit Tokyo Disneyland.

This one kills me. Of all the things to get taken down for, it had to be this. I can just picture him with his mouse ears on his head and Disney Dollars in his hand being led back to the helicopter. Ironically, the official motto of Tokyo Disneyland is: "Where Dreams Come True". Except for you, Kim Jong-nam, except for you.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Song Review: Van Halen - "Everybody Wants Some!!" (1980)

I started think about this song after finding the below YouTube video of the song. One of the best movies of the past few years, Zombieland, used Van Halen's "Everybody Wants Some!!", along with Metallica's 1985 single "For Whom The Bell Tolls", to great effect. As often happens with movies, it made me love both of these songs more. Just like always, I read the YouTube comments when I knew I probably shouldn't. There's sometimes brilliance, but more than often than not, it's just the 21st Century incarnation of the bathroom wall. A lot of the songs that are used in movies have this same discussion: should it be acceptable to discover and appreciate a song via other media long after it has initially been released?
Here's some of the comments on this video, titled "Everybody Wants Some Zombieland song HQ":

"Thumbs up if you heard this in "Better off dead" before Zombieland."

"Thumbs up if you knew this song before all these movies :P"

"zombieland song? this song was out almost 30 years before zombieland. show some respect put it under van halen-everybody wants some. if it wasnt for zombieland you wouldnt even know about this song like most kids today. keep listening to what mtv tells u..."

"because it shows that you don't search for good music yourself. you probably didnt even know who van halen was before the movie. now this is the part when you lie and tell me youve always listened to van halen"
Here's my take: It doesn't really matter where you find out about a certain song or group or genre, just that you found it. It's all the same. One of my favorite groups when I was in high school was The Who. I first got into them because I saw a preview for the 1998 movie A Bug's Life when I was 15 which featured "Baba O'Riley":

I feel no shame about this. Why should I? Now, if you found out about Journey because of the "Glee" version or Ja Rule because of Kidz Bop, you might want to keep that to yourself.