Good Ass Blogging: On Beyonce, Aaliyah, and the importance of having a “Katie Couric”.
"I will battle you with the entirety of my heart and you will probably lose. But maybe, just maybe. You might challenge me. The Beatles needed the Rolling Stones. Even Diane Sawyer needed Katie Couric. Will you be my Katie Couric? "
- Jean Girard, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby
Today we find ourselves at an interesting crossroads. The 13th anniversary of Aaliyah’s passing happens to be the day after Beyonce won her Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award. The MTV Video Music Awards were weak this year and are increasingly less relevant as music becomes more niched and compartmentalized, but the Video Vanguard still manages to maintain its air of prestige. The list of people who have won this award is short and impressive, every recipient is inarguably a legendary figure in the history of music videos, and MTV still holds it in such a high regard they don’t even feel the need to give it out every year.
This year Beyonce upped the awards prestige with her refusal to take a trip down memory lane and play the hits already like so many of her predecessors. Instead, she relied on the strength of her most recent output for one of the longest and greatest performances in VMA history, cemented her status as a feminist icon, kept it brief while graciously accepting her award, and literally shut the place down. This ambitious and forward-looking style of performance is what makes Beyonce unparalleled in her field. I don’t want to take anything away from that, but everyone runs faster when someone else is chasing them.
Of all the things that were taken away from Aaliyah on the night she died, her chance at providing the perfect counterbalance to the mononymous monolith that is Beyonce leaves me the most curious. I won’t speculate on where Aaliyah would have taken her career, or which one of them would have been more likely to surpass the other creatively, I’m not writing fan fiction right now. However, I do assume that Aaliyah had some legendary pop records left in her, she only made it to 22, but she already had a leg up on Beyonce. She debuted as a solo artist at age 15, by the time Destiny’s Child had proven themselves in the late 90s they all looked up to Aaliyah. Her work with Timbaland had made her one of the most original things going in R&B, to the point where it clearly influenced the sound of Destiny’s Child second album. It isn’t hard to imagine that eventually Aaliyah and Beyonce would have pitted themselves against each other without even trying. They both sought to occupy the same spot, like The Beatles and the Rolling Stones, or Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric.
Instead, sadly, the closest thing Beyonce has to a Katie Couric today is Justin Timberlake, (who benefitted from Timbaland’s unconventional pop production in the wake of Aaliyah’s death) and he’s a distant second. Timberlake is an immensely talented performer, but he will always be safe. He’s done a good job of washing off the boy-band stigma, and that’s a rare thing, but that stigma existed because he was kind of guy who gets hand picked to lead a group of singing and dancing beautiful people. Think about that, when Timberlake won his Video Vanguard last year he reunited N*Sync to the surprise of no one, took a trip down memory lane, and played the hits already. By comparison, Beyonce absolutely trounces him, but how would she perform against real competition? How would she perform against someone who had what she has? The answer died thirteen years ago.
Slept-On Singles #1
Fallen Star- LaToiya Williams
The Poor Man’s… #6
The “America Runs on Dunkin’” logo is the poor man’s…
This American Life logo
I think you’ll enjoy this, I’m going to perfectly cast a movie or TV show based on some prior work or historical event for absolutely no reason. First up, what if that Roger Corman thing never happened and a major studio wound up releasing a Fantastic Four movie in the mid-to-late 90s?
Gary Sinise as Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic
Sinise is maybe too creepy to be a big screen leading man for some, but the truth is Reed Richards shouldn’t quite measure up to those standards either. You’d believe him as a workhorse scientist in his 40s who married a younger woman and that’s all you need. Reed Richards as the leader is sort of a red-herring. He’s just the smart one, and he got everyone into this mess, but they all signed on and it’s really about the team. Reed is the guy who thinks he can do it all until he’s shown that he can’t, he needs help.
Heather Graham as Sue Storm/The Invisible Woman
I chose Graham in hopes of eschewing the trope of the token female in a team. The one who carries the burden of keeping the boys from ripping each other’s heads off. Her teammates are her brother, her husband, and their mutual friend who has a crush on her, just let her have it out with them. Heather Graham could make a superhero argument feel like one from the real world, or at least The Real World (which a 90s FF movie should draw a little inspiration from). The Fantastic Four’s powers say something about each of them but it’s the least obvious with Sue Storm (invisibility, force fields, flight). Normally you get some garbage about her being shy but that makes for an awful hero and also how are you the shy one when Ben is made of rocks now? She’s the defensive one, and that’s a result of her being the only woman on the team and being regularly undermined.
James Van Der Beek as Johnny Storm/Human Torch
There’s Varsity Blues, and then there’s Angus, there’s Dawson’s Creek, and then there’s The Rules of Attraction. Van Der Beek was typecast as an all-American “nice young man”, but he could also be a complete asshole. Johnny Storm was already a jerk and then he got the power to fly and create flames. He’s the teams id, maybe he’s just having a little fun or maybe the people around him are the only thing keeping him from being a complete sociopath. Obviously he has to be more “likable but arrogant young person” than “loose cannon/pyromaniac”, that’s why I picked Van Der Beek.
Bruce Willis as Ben Grimm/The Thing
One thing the mid-2000s Fantastic Four movies were missing outside of a decent script and a sense of urgency was a bankable star in one of the lead roles. Even If everything else went wrong here, you’d still have Bruce Willis as The Thing. That’s good, because Ben Grimm is the real heart of the team. Now that he’s a walking pile of orange rocks he very much needs this Fantastic Four thing to work out, he needs this support system, these people with this shared experience. But again, most importantly, Bruce Willis covered in rocks would put butts in seats.
Giancarlo Esposito as Doctor Victor von Doom
He wasn’t Gustavo Fring yet, but had alread been Julian (A.K.A. Dean Big Brother Almighty) in School Daze, and that’s still his most Doom-like role to date. Both are charismatic leaders, too blinded by power to see all the wrong they do. What I like about Doom (and where he and Julian differ) is that usually the good guy and the bad guy are friends in the early going, but he disliked Reed Richards even when they were colleagues. They both want to help the world but they have radically different ideas about how to do that. He’s disfigured after a crazy experiment, and then he sees these people he already despises turn into gods after their even crazier experiment. So instead of feeling sorry for himself he becomes an opposing force.
Salma Hayek as Kristof̶f̶ Vernard
She was pretty busy in those days, but what if she had done this instead of Fled? Just typing that makes me feel like whatever universe this movie exists in is more balanced than ours. Kristoff Vernard is a sort of neat FF character who no one knows about so who cares if it isn’t a white dude? Just change it to Kristo, that’s vaguely feminine enough. Kristof̶f̶ is Doom’s heir, that weaselly ”power behind the throne” character who has the king’s ear and his trust, all the while biding her time, planning her coup in secret. You know, like Cassius from Julius Caesar or Starscream from Transformers.
As for directors, I can think of three guys who make the kinds of movies that you drop what you’re doing and watch when they’re on basic cable. Also, interestingly enough, none of them directed much in the mid-to-late 90s: Joe Johnston, Robert Zemeckis, and John Carpenter. Johnston and Zemeckis are the safe bets, but Carpenter on his best day is better than either of them. I just worry that by that point in his career he had already lost it. All three have used old pulp sci-fi imagery in their work and all three made good action movies. I want to say Peter Jackson too, but that could stop Lord of the Rings from happening and I have respect for the fantasy nerds, so I’m keeping that unofficial.
So that’s my first installment, I’ll admit, I’m sort of pitching underhand here with six characters. As long as you admit that this is not only a thing that could’ve feasibly happened before the year 2000, but that you would have seen it. I thought about trying to add some more color since Michael B. Jordan is the Human Torch now and Kerry Washington played The Thing’s blind artist girlfriend in the 2000s, but making us the bad guys was how they did us in the 90s anyway (not that much has changed but if I added more leads for minorities this thing damn sure wouldn’t have gotten made in the 90s). Next time I’ll be sure to do a much bigger cast. How big you ask? About the size of a small Colorado town.
Unassuming Badasses #5
In 2006, David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence was the last major studio film to be released on VHS. There’s something very appropriate about that, right down to the title. It lends a certain nobility to the demise of the format.
YEARBOOK PRESALES ARE LIVE!
Brain Frame is a pivotal happening in Chicago’s storied underground art history. Brain Frame exploded onto the scene on July 28th, 2011, and has continued to blow minds and expand the very definition of comics. To audiences, Brain Frame is an original, undefinable but always impactful happening. It is also a place where bonds form between artists, leading to collaborations and mutual support in what can be an isolated and competitive medium.
Our third anniversary and final show, this August, is kicking off with the launch of the Brain Frame Yearbook! This book is a true collector’s item, a gold embossed leatherette compendium of every unforgettable Brain Frame event, stuffed with portraits, photos, memories, and original content from performers and audience members: comics, essays, flip-page animations, as well as jokes, games, and the winners of the Brain Frame Superlatives.
Our all-volunteer Yearbook Club is working hard to collect all these memories, and we need your help! To ensure that this richly illustrated, cleverly handsome tome is produced in time for the show, Brain Frame needs to raise $7,779 by July 1st. This will cover the cost of 300 books, each 160 pages, half color, half black and white, full bleed, hard bound, and foil embossed at a final cost of $25.93 per book. Our Brain Frame ethos of embracing risk is so strong that each book will be on sale for only $25! Keep your $0.93, keep the memories, and call us crazy. We love that.
I haven’t really reblogged anything on this tumblr but hell, this is important. The people that work on Brain Frame deserve this, especially the pack leader, but especially the people that work on Brain Frame. Years after this book is released it will be a legendary document, a perfect snapshot of what some of us were up to in the early 2010s Chicago comic art scene, a panoramic view of a three year mindfuck, a thing that will make you say “they don’t make ‘em like this anymore”. I’m proud to have been a part of a couple of the Brain Frame events, as well as a small part of this book. So If Brain Frame wants a reblog, Brain Frame gets a reblog.
In the rare event that I get a haircut, I give the barber a vague idea of what I want but make it clear that beyond that, they can do whatever. I’ve never been disappointed using that method.
Theme Songs #16
Fu-Gee-La- The Fugees
I saw a video this week of Lauryn Hill singing “Doo Wop (That Thing)” with her oldest daughter, Sehlah Marley. If you know the words to that song (and why wouldn’t you?), then I don’t have to explain the significance of this, just hit the link. Anyhow, it made me think of her first big hit with the Fugees, because I feel like I don’t hear it mentioned as much among the classics.
Update: There’s some song on the radio now by Trey Songz that borrows the hook from this. The hook is actually from a Teena Marie song, but listen to both and tell me that Lauryn Hill’s delivery wasn’t the primary inspiration for Trey’s shit.
Good Ass Blogging: Alvin and the Revolution
Listen to this while reading.
In 1983, a singing trio of childlike immortal anthropoid rodent thingies called Alvin and the Chipmunks were on an unprecedented hot streak. The release of their primal 1979 comeback record Chipmunk Punk led to a new record deal with RCA and their second Saturday morning television series. There was one problem, the groups leader, Alvin Seville had recorded Chipmunk Punk in hopes of courting a counterculture fan base. It didn’t work, but Alvin still played ball, singing Top 40 covers was what put him over in the 60s after all. In his off time however, Alvin was rarely seen with his brothers Simon and Theodore, he worked on his own music and suffered the same kind of growing pains that would tear Bobby Brown from New Edition just three years later.
In February, Alvin began a brief relationship with studio percussionist Sheila E. after they were introduced through his good friend, Sheila’s cousin Javier Escovedo of the west coast punk act, The Zeros. Later in April, Sheila would be asked to join Prince for the Purple Rain recording sessions, she brought Alvin with her, he and Prince butted heads almost immediately. They were two tiny egotists filling the lead guitarist/lead singer position in their respective acts, and they were both into Sheila (see: Krush Groove). Alvin made fun of Princes clothes, Prince made fun of Alvin’s voice. Sheila kicked Alvin out of the studio but the mood was ruined and she wound up leaving as well, then something incredible happened.
Unbeknownst to each other, Prince and Alvin both had tickets to Parliament-Funkadelic’s now legendary gig at the Beverly Theatre in Los Angeles. Later that night, and Alvin and Sheila wound up literally bumping into Prince and the Revolution while dancing to "(Not Just) Knee Deep”. The vibe was so infectious that they all wound up partying like old friends. That night they returned to the studio, motivated by the P-Funk to get into some experimental grooves of their own, this was what Alvin needed, a chance to cut loose, to make something fresh, something dirty.
Alvin and Sheila provided backing vocals for this new Prince song, “Erotic City”. Prince admitted to being enamored with Alvin’s voice and ultimately being inspired by him to play with different voice modulations on the track, Alvin even contributed a few guitar licks, but he knew what was up. An x-rated Prince single featuring Alvin Seville could hurt both of their careers, Prince would look like a sell out, and Alvin and his brothers could lose their show at his mere utterance of the word “fuck”(though some still insist it’s “funk”). So in a move borrowed from Mel Brooks’ executive producer credit on David Lynch’s The Elephant Man, Alvin took his name off of the song.
”Erotic City” was released in 1984 as a B-side to "Let’s Go Crazy", and though several stations have been fined by the FCC for playing it, it is regarded today as one of Prince’s all time classics. Sheila E. left Alvin for Prince that same year and joined the Purple Rain Tour as a supporting act, they are said to have parted amicably.Ten years later, George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic would cover the song for the soundtrack to the 1994 college comedy, PCU. Alvin’s independent streak never really reared it’s head like this again, the group went mostly silent in the 90s only to resurface again in 2007 with essentially the same routine enact.
So what can we say about Alvin’s involvement in the recording of “Erotic City”? It isn’t hard to understand the circumstances that brought him there, but why wouldn’t he take this potential reinvention further after the song found success? It could have been money, it could have been family, it could have been that after having this breakthrough in the studio and giving arguably the most passionate vocal performance of his musical career, he was content to go back to what he knew. I’m not trying to say that the Chipmunks held him back, or that Alvin Seville may have secretly been one of the greatest artists of the 80s. I am simply awed by his voice on this recording, and disappointed that there isn’t anything else like it in his discography.