Hat Check Girl Releases Spooky Gem

Road to Red Point
Waterbug 110
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If your idea of female/male country collaboration courses toward the overwrought lyrics and contrived drama of Lady Antebellum, steer clear of Hat Check Girl; Road to Red Point is something moodier, rootsier, and more ominous. When Annie Gallup and Peter Gallway label their songs, they drag out adjectives such as “spooky” and “haunting,” and they’re not kidding. This album has quite a few songs about drifters, desperados, losers, and hard-luck folks who, as they do in “The Other Road,” tend to relive regret rather than moving on. The title track also evokes memory, but check out its crunchy bass-driven lines that evoke swamp rock and make you think that maybe an alligator or two will appear to no good end. This dark little gem of an album serves gall along with the whiskey. In “Under Those Trees” Gallway sings: “I never took to the Bible but the words ring true/It’s a hell of a story when you’re lonely or blue/Life is a hard road to travel but we struggle and try/And will sleep in comfort when we die.” How about a love song in which the lady of desire stepping from the shower is compared to Scarlett O’Hara?  As you may recall, she was a romantic figure, but also a tragic one. “Remember” is also a love song, but the kind an outlaw might write. You want a nice ending? You’ll find it “Up in the Country” where “it’s colder than Satan,” and he isn’t the worst thing encountered on the road to redemption.

Gallup and Gallway gives us scorched earth country–literally in the case of “Texas is Burning,” a piece that’s a cross between chronicle, music, and Beat poetry. The entire album evokes the sort of thing Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer might have done after a weekend of reading Nietzsche. So why would anyone want to hear this? Because it’s a sonic wonderment enveloping lyrics of poetic honesty rather than canned emotion. Give this one a little time. At first, it’s quiet and creepy, but the more you listen, the more it gets under your skin and you begin to see tiny rays that pierce the darkness with hope. My hat’s off to Hat Check Girl for a bold, unconventional album. Maybe it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s a potent brew nonetheless.--Rob Weir

Here's the only decent YouTube video of Hat Check Girl. This song is on the new album. 


Let's do a Lieberman on the Tea Party

Believe it or not, Joe Lieberman may have a plan to save America!

It should be clear to reasonable Americans of all political persuasions that the band of radical right lunatics called the Tea Party is dangerous and must be taken down. Principles are important, but what should one do when confronted with those that center on ideals such as racism, naked self- interest, corporatism, contraction of personal liberties, and states rights arguments straight out of the 1832 Nullification Crisis? One exaggerates only slightly when comparing the Tea Party to the rightwing putsch that brought Hitler to power. This time evangelical churches play the compliant role that Roman Catholicism played in Germany and Italy.

Okay, it’s a bit much to call every local who hates taxes and dons a tri-cornered hat a Nazi-in-training. Call him instead the puppet of shadowy masters whose identities he does not know and whose agenda he does not understand. Lots of those who show up at rallies are angry white men engaged in boyish conniption fits. Many feel disempowered, and quite a few lack the intellectual wherewithal and skill sets necessary in today’s economy. They are the collateral damage of globalism, a system created by the very masters who pull their strings. (Globalism is another conversation that needs to take place.) 

But let us make no mistake about their masters–they are beyond unpatriotic. Many of them unabashedly call for the overthrow of the American government. In an ideal society, the FBI and Department of Justice would be making treason arrests. At the very least, they’d be infiltrating such groups with the same ardor with which they got inside the liberation movements of the 1960s. (Most of those groups, I hasten to add, spoke of participatory democracy and greater freedom; only a fringe handful used the word “revolution” to mean a violent overthrow of the government.) Don’t take my word for the treasonous statements made by Tea Party leaders, Google “Tea Party + overthrow government” and see what your search yields.

As in Germany during the 1920s, the very structure of a republic makes it harder to ferret out the traitors in our midst. The Bill of Rights must protect citizens and scoundrels alike to have true meaning. Moreover, money-driven primary elections and the nature of representative democracy make it easy for Tea Party activists to get elected to office. Once in Congress, they need not actively subvert government, simply use procedural moves (filibusters, filing technicalities, arcane Congressional rules, etc.) to undermine political machinery and wait for it to rot away. Often, all they do to subvert is utter the word "no," over and over. In fact, when nothing gets done, it increases their attractiveness to the tri-cornered crowd. 

Luckily, representative democracy is also the way to take down the Tea Party. I say it’s time to Lieberman the Tea Party, a strategy named for (now) retired Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. Slick Joe was certainly one of the oiliest politicians of recent memory. Lest we forget, Lieberman lost the 2006 Democratic nomination to the far more progressive Ned Lamont; in fact, he lost by 4%, which is on the verge of a trouncing in elections these days. Instead of licking his wounds, Lieberman simply declared himself an “independent,” raised twice as much money as Lamont, and won the three-way general election.  (Four if you count the Green Party, whose 6,000 votes would have given Lamont the election if no Republican had run.)    

Many people perceive an elision of the two major parties, the so-called “Republicrats.” In ideological terms, Republicrats are hard to love; in pragmatic terms, a strategic alliance between what I’d call “non-crazy Republicans” and “payback Democrats” could save the nation from Tea Party toxic tannin. This would involve a sort of “Lieberman Plus” tactic. There are districts in this country that are the GOP equivalent of Democratic Massachusetts; that is to say, if you run for Congress as a Democrat, your chances of winning lie between slim and none. It makes no sense for Democrats to waste resources in red-meat sections of the old Confederacy. What it could do is engage in old-fashioned you-scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours politics. In districts where “moderate” Republicans are in jeopardy or lose primary elections,  Democrats should strike a deal in which they sit out the general election and extract policy promises from the newly declared "independent." In those districts in which a Tea Party Congressman currently reigns, the Democrats should get behind a fusion candidate. Eric Cantor, for instance, won reelection with 66% of the vote against a Democrat, but would he win against a GOP independent? Such a candidate would claim roughly a third of the vote upfront–those who'd rather gargle razor blades than vote for Cantor–and would need only to convince 30,000 GOP Virginian voters–less than a quarter–to switch. If that happened, Cantor would go down. And he's in one of the safer Tea Party districts. 

The Lieberman Plus strategy is, I grant you, low on principles. As political strategy, though, it could be a winning gambit. Here’s another thing about representative democracy–it works best when there’s give-and-take. Compromise has a tendency to frustrate ideologues of all stripes, but it is to be preferred to rule by refuseniks. Democrats–a group never known for their long-term vision–may think it’s in their best interest to allow the GOP to hemorrhage internally, but this is a risky strategy in an electoral system in which a Tea Party Republican needs only win the primary to secure overall victory. As Lyndon Johnson might have said, in politics you have some son-of-a-bitch with whom you can make a deal. It has to be one that at least has the word “yes” in his vocabulary. The future of America may rest upon Democrats willingness to go Lieberman and ransom the electoral present to save America from the traitors at the gates of power.    --Rob Weir


Silver Linings Playbook Needs to Scrap its Script

Two wonderful performances in search of a worthy vehicle.

Directed by David O. Russell
Weinstein Group, 122 minutes, R (brief nudity, language)
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Need more confirmation that movies are in the creative doldrums? Silver Linings Playbook is up for numerous Oscars, including Best Picture, and it’s not even a good movie, let alone an Oscar-worthy nominee. Were it not for outstanding performances from leads Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, it would be one of the worst pieces of manipulative tearjerker schlock since Terms of Endearment.

Like so many bad films, Silver Linings Playbook can’t decide if it’s a drama, a romance, or a comedy. By trying to be all three, it doesn’t work as any of them. The setup is simple. Patrick Solatano Jr. (Cooper) comes unglued when he comes home early and finds his wife Nikki (Brea Bee) showering and groping with a colleague. Blind with rage and–we’re led to believe–latent mental instability, he nearly kills the guy. Because of that (script convenient) latency, Pat is sent to Excelsior, a mental health facility in Baltimore instead of jail, though he does end losing his home, job, and wife. Okay, let’s get it straight from the start. This film is set in Philadelphia and I used to work in Pennsylvania law enforcement. It’s extremely unlikely that Pat would have been sent anywhere except jail, and he surely wouldn’t have been shipped across state lines (which would have involved an enormous outflow of money).

Never mind that. We pick up the story eight months later when Pat’s mother, Dolores (Jacki Weaver), signs his discharge from the facility. Pat moves in with Dolores and paterfamilias Pat. Sr. (Robert DeNiro), who is making ends meet by running numbers. We quickly learn where Pat Jr. got his demon–his old man is textbook (or is stereotype?) OCD, a guy who truly believes that he can gamble his way back to solvency through the fortunes of his beloved Philadelphia Eagles, as long as everyone wears the proper jerseys, touches an Eagles kerchief properly, and holds a set of remote controls at the correct height. Having Pat Jr. watch the game with him is part of the “mojo.” Except Pat Jr. is a wreck. He didn’t take his meds in the facility, thinks his therapy with psychiatrist Cliff Patel (Anupam Kher) is a joke, and believes he can cure himself through running, reading, and positive thinking. Part of the “cure” involves winning back Nikki, with whom he is obsessed.

Cooper is terrific in the role. He is a hyper hair trigger that can go off at any time and it doesn’t take much. His ineffectual mother is sympathetic, as are friends Ronnie (Jim Ortiz) and Danny (Chris Tucker), but they have issues of their own. Ronnie is in over his head with a big mortgage, a new baby, and a materialistic, free-spending wife, Veronica (Julia Stiles); and Danny is a frequent AWOL from Excelsior, where Pat met him. Water finds its own level in the form of Veronica’s troubled younger sister, Tiffany (Jessica Lawrence), who also came mentally unhinged when her husband was killed in an accident. The initial sparks fly when Pat and Tiffany spar over which one of them is crazier. Lawrence is every bit Cooper’s equal in a role in which she’s part icy Goth, part vulnerable sparrow, and part call-the-bullshit truth speaker.

Had the film centered on these two people moving toward one another in the healing process, this might have been a very good film. Alas, the film is junked up with paste-up characters: Veronica, a cop that shows up every time Pat goes off, an older jerk brother, and Kher playing one of the least convincing shrinks in movie history (and that’s quite a statement). DeNiro doesn’t do much except populate the film. Did Russell swallow a Political Correctness pill? Pat Jr. has an Indian psychiatrist, a Hispanic friend, and a black sidekick. In North Philly? If you think that’s unlikely, how about a plot that involves Pat Sr. needing to win a bet on an Eagles game to save his dream (and probably his house)? And he’s talked into taking it by none other than Tiffany, who delivers a snarky monologue that’s lifted from My Cousin Vinny with the automobile litany replaced by football stats. But let’s take it a step further down the path of absurdity. Even if the Eagles win, Pat St. can’t collect unless he also wins a side bet that Pat Jr. and Tiffany will score at least a 5 in a professional dance contest! Cue the music and let’s see how much of Saturday Night Fever we can pirate. And let’s throw in a few conventions such as an old-fashioned fistfight, Pat Jr. running through the streets of Philly (Rocky), and letters of questionable authorship (Cyrano).

What could have been an incisive look at mental illness dissolves into caper and lame comedy. The entire movie is a manipulative strip tease posing as a feel-good movie. It has the intellectual depth of junior high school, and it demeans the problems with which Cooper and Lawrence are wrestling. Lawrence may well win an Oscar in a not-so-strong pool of actresses and she’s so good that few would begrudge her. But if this film wins anything beyond that, the Oscars can officially be declared a joke. David O. Russell apparently wishes to be a Hollywood director in the worst way. He’s succeeded. –Rob Weir