Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Stooges - Raw Power

I recently came across some CD's that a friend had given me that I didn't have burned into my iTunes yet. Among the music I found was the first three albums by The Stooges (or Iggy and the Stooges as they would come to be known): The Stooges, Fun House, and Raw Power. The first album certainly has its moments, but is brought to a screeching halt by the 10-minute drone fest "We Will Fall" that takes the rest of the album to recover from. Fun House is among the greatest "punk" albums ever made and is something I would recommend to anyone with an interest in such a type of music. Their third album, Raw Power, however, is among the greatest albums of all time, "punk" or otherwise. I say "punk" because that term didn't really exist in our minds when The Stooges were initially together. Their albums came out in 1969, '70, and '73, long before The Ramones, The Sex Pistols and others burst along in the late 70's with what we call punk today. As such, The Stooges can kinda get lost, I feel, as they're not really classic rock, but were ahead of their time as far as punk is concerned (they're lumped into a small sub-genre called protopunk, alongside groups like MC5, The Velvet Underground, and others). I personally decided to lump them in with those they influenced, I hate having too many categories and normally call nearly everyone just a rock band, but for my money only The Ramones' Rocket to Russia can compare to the greatness of Raw Power for the title of "Best Punk Album Ever".

Original guitarist Ron Asheton switched to bass for the album, and he and brother Scott make for one hell of a rhythm section. The brothers' former high school buddy James Williamson had joined the band as guitarist, and thanks to him I'd name Raw Power as one of my favorite guitar albums. The opener "Search and Destroy" is already one of those songs that I had to learn once I'd heard it (I'd heard it before, it's a classic song, but I had no idea what or who it was). But the real star, as it is for most people, is singer Iggy Pop. Part Mick Jagger, part Jim Morrison, Iggy Pop is one of the great front men in all of rock music. His unpredictability onstage is legendary, but has overshadowed what a great singer he was as well. He has a tremendous snarl and rasp throughout The Stooges and Fun House, but the mix on Raw Power (expertly done in just a day by David Bowie) lets his vocals shine through much more clearly and reveal a guy who had more dimension to his voice than he's ever given credit for.

So I'm really geeking out on an album that came out 10 years before I was even born, that just goes to show that great music is timeless, and The Stooges most definitely made great music.

Friday, July 8, 2011

My 10 favorite cartoon characters

Anyone who knows me (or reads this blog) knows that I love animation and watch quite a bit of it. Naturally I've run across many animated characters in my time, and I thought I'd cobble together a list of my favorite animated characters. I know I'll have left out someone that when it's brought to my attention I'll think "How the hell did I forget them?!" but still, here we go:

10. Jake Morgendorffer, from Daria

Jake is one of those great supporting characters that always liven up a show when they come around. Some characters, animated in particular, get lodged into your mind with a certain catch phrase. Jake doesn't exactly have a catch phrase, but it seems like he says "Dammit!" at least once in every episode. He's by turns sweetly innocent, wildly self conscious, and hilariously angry, often at the most mundane things. One of my favorite scenes is when Jake and his wife Helen are having problems and are talking with a therapist. He says she doesn't let him drink milk anymore because it makes him all riled up. This, of course, riles him up even more since milk is his comfort food "Got milk? Not Jakey, dammit!"

Another great Jake moment

9. Daffy Duck
I don't know why Bugs Bunny became the face of Looney Tunes, Daffy was always the best and most interesting character. Besides being the star of the best of the Looney Tunes output (the classics Duck Amuck and Duck Dodgers in the 24th 1/2 century), Daffy was also the funniest of the gang, especially when he had someone to play off of like Marvin the Martian or the animator in Duck Amuck. There are so many great Looney Tunes characters, but Daffy stands head and shoulders above everyone else.

The great Duck Amuck

8. Totoro

The most lasting image from the resume of Hayao Miyazaki, the silent Totoro helps the young heroes of My Neighbor Totoro through their new surroundings and helps them deal with the sickness of their mother. Amazing in his ability to be cuddly and mysteriously powerful at the same time, Totoro has a remarkable complexity despite not uttering a single word. Miyazaki allows so much space for us to project onto Totoro that even though he's not in the movie a whole lot, he is the defining creation of the master's entire career.

This is my favorite scene from the movie, as Totoro watches over the girls while they wait for their fathers bus (which is very late), it's one of the sweetest moments in all animated film, I think.

7. Wall-E
Man, has there ever been a more loveable character than Wall-E (yes, actually, and he's coming up next)? He's so pure, so admirable, so curious, and so in love with EVE that he hitches a ride on the outside of a ship and travels through untold amounts of space just to be near her. Not only is Wall-E a great character, but he's about the only robot you actually wanna pick up and hug. That's quite an accomplishment!

6. Winnie the Pooh
I wrote about Pooh a while back, and I'm very excited to see what Disney does with the upcoming Winnie the Pooh movie. Pooh is just the most adorable and loveable character ever created, though he is a teddy bear, so that's not too surprising. I can't really think of much to say about him, he's just so wonderful I'll let him speak for himself

5. Mickey Mouse

If there were a President of Animated Characters, Mickey would be it. He's been the face of the biggest animation company in America for longer than most of us have been around. Sadly, I think his starring role in some of the great animated shorts of all time has been diminished due to his iconic nature. But, a person needs only go back and watch Brave Little Tailor, The Band Concert, or my favorite Lonesome Ghosts, to see why Micky became the legend that he is.

4. Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz
The most surprising addition to the list, for many, I know, Dr. Doofensmhirtz is the antagonist on the best kids show on TV, Phineas and Ferb. The show itself is consistently hysterical, smartly written and not condescending to its audience. It has none of the wink wink to the parents bullshit that so much stuff written for kids has, and if it does, it's incorporated into the show and not just a wink wink. Anyway, Dr. Doofenshmirtz is the best character and usually the reason for the biggest laughs. His increasingly pathetic childhood (it seems to get worse with every flashback) and love life, and of course his relationship to his arch-nemesis Perry the Platypus, combine with the often hilarious evil inventions, make him the funniest evil villain we've ever known.

3. Dr. John Zoidberg
I could've easily chosen Bender, Fry, The Professor, Zapp Brannigan, Scruffy, or any number of amazing characters in the Futurama universe, but it's gotta be Dr. Zoidberg. He's the most hysterically pathetic character in the history of animation, and the voice that genius actor Billy West uses for him may be my favorite voice ever. Like many other great characters, he's best as a support, but when he's used, it's usually the best part of this incredible show.

2. Eric Cartman
Now, I called Dr. Doofenshmirtz "the funniest evil villain we've ever known" only because Cartman is not technically the villain of South Park. He is, after all, still in elementary school. From his many attempts at getting rich through the most awful ways (a Christian rock band, having crack babies fight each other and filming it, and so many others), to his repeated schemes against not just his Jewish "friend" Kyle, but the Jews as a whole, Cartman is without a doubt the most awful character ever created. Thankfully, he's also one of the funniest. There's something about Cartman's unfailingly evil nature that we just can't get enough of. Although South Park has noticeably faltered the last few seasons, Cartman's greatness cannot be tainted.

1. Homer Simpson
No big surprise at the top of the list, Homer has been the best animated character for a long time now. The Simpsons has been on forever, and Homer has nearly always been the biggest star (Bart went through his moments in the early 90's, but then took his rightful place behind Homer). Because of the show being on for so long, Homer has been able to show so many sides of his character. He's best when trying to be a good father, I think. Many of my favorite episodes either revolve around his relationship to Marge or his children. He's not always great (or even decent) at either job, but even then it's to humorous effect. Not only do I simply never tire of Homer, he's always supremely fun and interesting to watch, and after 20+ years and many hundreds of episodes, that's quite a feat.

Great characters that I thought of but didn't make the list:

Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty
Doug from Doug
Ioz from Pirates of Dark Water
Tommy Pickles from Rugrats
Darkwing Duck from Darkwing Duck
Scooby and Shaggy from Scooby Doo
Batman from Batman the Animated Series
Goliath from Gargoyles
So many of the great Pixar characters
And you know, I love Snoopy (and all Snoopy memorabilia), but he's really just not that interesting of a character the more I look back on him. Charlie and Linus are the greater characters in the Peanuts universe.

Edit: Somehow, I forgot the character(s) that initially inspired me to do this list. Wallace and Gromit (because to me they're inseparable and must be listed as a team) must be on the list, but since I've already made the list and don't want to kick anyone out or rearrange, they will get a special unnumbered entry all to themselves.