Nick Drake – A Biography by Patrick Humphries

Nick Drake - A Biography by Patrick Humphries

It’s hard to say whether or not this biography would have been so enjoyable had I not been such a complete and total Nick Drake disciple. Less of a tabloid recounting than most rock bios, this is the story of an artist whose happy life suddenly turned very dark at the moment when his prospects, as a musician, became the brightest. Preoccupied at first with describing the physical places and social environments where Nick had lived, Patrick Humphries has written a story that seems to intentionally mirror the darkness and fragility of the music.

As a child we learn that Nick Drake was happy and popular, having attended one of the more prestigious prep schools in Britain and excelling at almost everything that he attempted. He was a star athlete, a good student, and a regular cigarette-sneaking teenager. He led a band in high school, had a good relationship with his parents and generally appeared to be upbeat and excited about every new day.

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Spain – She Haunts Your Dreams

Spain - She Haunts Your Dreams

Label: Restless Records

A Spain record really should come complete with a roaring fire, a bottle of great scotch and a sack full of moments captured from the most intense love affair of your life. As some clever critic once said about records like this “it’s almost like there is drama without melodrama.” It’s hard to name too many bands that set as quietly confident a tone as Spain, except maybe Red House Painters, Low and Nick Drake, but this is primarily because it is so difficult to do. To make a heart pound and bask in a series of crisply meandering love songs while still reeking of “cool,” and I’m talking more about Sinatra on Prozac than James Taylor, you’ve got to be doing something right.

In a year without too many truly stand-out releases, Spain’s second album (which took four years to complete), has emerged thus far as this year’s real diamond in the rough. This time around Spain, the brainchild of jazz great Charlie Haden’s son Josh, has elevated itself from the patient, moody band that they were four years ago to one of the most mature, self-assured and sophisticated sounding bands playing today.

On the band’s aptly titled 1995 debut “The Blue Moods of Spain,” they perfected a kind of patient momentum, where at almost every moment they created a kind of beautiful tension.

But “She Haunts Your Dreams” is a smoother, bolder album. The lyrics and rock elements are stronger, still hinting at classic jazz, but edging further out towards rock. Led by the seductively breathy vocals of Josh Haden, songs like “Easy Lover” and “Hoped and Prayed” drift along effortlessly like majestically cynical reflections on modern love.

Although most of the lyrics seem a bit trite and redundant when merely led aloud, Haden and company drop a beautifully slow motion groove behind the words which lends itself to mesmerizing repetition. Too many this record will come off as too slow and moody, too romantic and dramatic, but for the lover of darkly uplifting rock, there is little doubt that “She Haunts Your Dreams” will rank among this year’s best.

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About A Boy by Nick Hornby

About A Boy by Nick Hornby

“About A Boy,” the follow-up to Nick Hornby’s debut pop culture romp “High Fidelity,” is a surprisingly more entertaining and engaging tale than his first. Nothing much has changed in terms of tone and character except that we reenter the world of British slackers from a slightly different angle. In fact the seed idea for the protagonist in “About A Boy” was subtly explored in “High Fidelity.”

The book tells the story of Will Freeman, a slacker with a trust fund just large enough to allow him to get by without working. He lives, quite literally, off of the royalties of a cheesy Santa Xmas song, which ironically and invariably makes his life miserable around the holidays. Although he is articulate and well mannered, what Will does best is hang out, stay in touch with what’s cool, and remain as comfortably distanced from depression and responsibility as possible.
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Easy Riders and Raging Bulls by Peter Biskind

Easy Riders and Raging Bulls by Peter Biskind

I love movies, so as a result it should come as no surprise that I would love a book about the Bacchanalian excess of the 70’s in Hollywood. In fact, the book is so convincing and compelling that it actually yielded that same kind of easy, lucid narrative style that good movies usually succeed in accomplishing. Beginning with a look at the fall of the all-powerful studio system in the late 60’s, and the groundbreaking and critical success of “Bonnie and Clyde” and “Easy Rider,” Biskind primarily examines the producers and directors who managed to redefine Hollywood during the 70’s.

When Warren Beatty managed to convince a studio to allow him to make “Bonnie and Clyde” it took a critic to rescue the film from obscurity. Pauline Kael, who would arguably become one of the most influential film critics there will ever be, was also, in some ways, the savior of Hollywood. Her endorsement was often the straw that kept a movie in theaters and her love of non-traditional subjects and themes allowed creative luminaries to make films that didn’t necessarily need to reach a massive audience. And so, we are told, the film industry was reinvented.
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Eyes Wide Shut

Eyes Wide Shut
Director : Stanley Kubrick
With : Nicole Kidman, Tom Cruise, Sidney Pollack

At the ripe old age of eleven I saw my first Kubrick movie, “The Shining,” unbeknownst to my parents while sleeping over at a friend’s. There was something so eloquently dark and legitimately creepy, about Nicholson and his decent into madness, that I remember thinking that it was a movie that even adults would like. And so slowly but surely I begin to tick off and file among my favorite films most of the movies by Stanley Kubrick. As a teenager “Clockwork Orange” was my favorite film, in college it was “Dr. Strangelove” or “2001.”

So like most Kubrick fanatics the years of hearing whispers about the “Eyes Wide Shut” mixed with the ensuing media events surrounding the film led me to the theater with a mixed dose of anticipation and apprehension. The idea of Hollywood’s most visible couple starring in the final film by Hollywood’s most reclusive genius would either be a brilliant boom, or marvelous failure. Most critics and viewers inevitably had severely bifurcated views on the film, but that being said, at least every opinion was at least a strong one. In my book validates the movie as a success.
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