Archive | Music Matters

Filling Those Blue Suede Shoes

Last week, it was reported that Baz Luhrmann is in talks with Warner Brothers to direct an Elvis Presley biopic. Since rumors also abound that he may be directing a 1970s-style Kung Fu flick, there’s no need yet to start cheering – or jeering, for that matter. (Luhrmann rarely provokes a neutral response.) But it’s likely the Presley movie will happen, especially since Warner Brothers has secured the rights to his full music catalog and Luhrmann has cornered the market on dizzyingly over-the-top musical extravaganzas – think Moulin Rouge! and last summer’s megahit Gatsby.

In the interest of full disclosure, I admit I’ve never been a fan of the Aussie helmer’s films, which seem like never-ending music videos directed by a Busby Berkeley with attention deficit disorder. (Luhrmann’s adaptation of Romeo and Juliet was so steroidally MTV-like that he had to call it William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet in order to clarify his antecedent material.) But even I can’t pretend he isn’t the obvious choice to tackle pop music’s original bad boy, who was no stranger to excesses himself. The only real wild card of this project might be the script, reportedly being written by Kelly Marcel (of the super-saccharine Saving Mr. Banks). That said, Luhrmann’s films are never about anything so pedestrian as words, anyway.

What his films are about is star power. Luhrmann always casts blindingly shiny stars (Nicole Kidman, Leonardo DiCaprio) to portray blindingly shiny stars, and certainly no one radiated star power like The King of Rock and Roll. So the true success of this Luhrmann-directed biopic lies squarely with whomever plays Elvis. It has to be a fellow with enough swagger to override our intellectual objections; enough of a wink to lighten the director’s bombast; enough talent to stand up to the inevitable comparisons to Presley himself; enough of a range to take him from breakout panty-dropper to bloated Las Vegas lounge lizard; and enough heavy-lidded beauty to mesmerize us into submission.  For Word and Film, I consider what actor could possibly fill those blue suede shoes.

Goodbye, Beautiful-Ugly Man

A world without Lou Reed feels inconceivable to me. He’s any punk rock kid’s dad—all of punk rock’s dad, really—and I’d assumed the fact he’d initially survived his drug years meant the heroin had converted his blood to some high-tech preservative that rendered him not only timeless but immortal. God knows his what’s-it-to-you fuckery permanently opened all kinds of roads and minds when it came to mixing and matching genders, races, styles, sorrows. He was the deepest superficial guy rock ‘n’ roll never knew, a tabula rasa of high-low poetry and one-note chords, the reigning king of Open and Shut, not to mention Ugly Is Beautiful. In high school I dressed as Nico partly because it was the closest I could get to Lou. All the way through college, I had one sign on my dormroom door: “LOU IS GOD.” In the first week I moved to NYC, I actually met him. I was ogling a display of his Between Thoughts and Expression in the window of the old 8th Street Barnes and Noble, and turned around to discover him looking at me looking at his book. “I don’t believe it,” I said. “Believe it, dude,” he responded, and sped down the street before I could ruin the purity of the drama. It was at that moment I knew I was supposed to grow old in this Crazy Apple. I do take some solace in imagining that, wherever Lou is now, he’s shoving the 31 years he lived longer than Lester Bangs in the late music critic’s face. But, man. Today I am totally inconsolable about a city, planet, universe without my Lou. From now on it’ll be another loneliness I carry: forever waiting for my man.

You Do Not Mess With the Queen

There are times when the only singer I can bear to hear is Aretha Franklin. She doesn’t belong to any one of my former relationships. She doesn’t belong to any particular era of my life. She belongs to all of them or, rather, everything belongs to her. I know every one of her songs inside and out, and have been learning them since before I could talk. Our family cat, adopted six months after my birth, was named Aretha Franklin Rosman. It’s like that. I have every album recorded by this woman, and most of them on vinyl. Sometimes when I’m feeling blue I just ogle her record covers. For one thing, she’s unfathomably beautiful—feline and sly-eyed and blowsily ladycurvy—and for another I know everything divine and earthly rolls through that big, matter-of-factly churchified and cracked-up soothing-the-savage-beast of a voice. I need her to be strong so I can be strong, and in her music, as far as back as her Columbia Records years, she has never, ever let me down. I don’t care about her personal life, and I really don’t want to have coffee with her, no more than I’d like to have tea with the Queen of England. Royals, especially those who have earned their throne, are best when worshipped from afar. I know someday she won’t be on the same planet as me but I’m grateful she has been so far and even more grateful to have her music pouring through my ears when I leave that man, tote that barge, straighten that spine, open that heart in all my worst and best moments. Truly, Aretha is the Queen of Soul, and I am lucky to have lived under her reign. We all are.

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy