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Howard Stern, Prince, Gnarls Barkley, V for Vendetta, Final Four, Teddy Geiger, more

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The Howard Stern Show on Sirius Satellite Radio

I’ve been listening to Howard on Sirius for around a week now, and I’m wondering whether all that much-ballyhooed freedom from the FCC has been a good or bad thing. Rather than artfully skirting around the boundaries of bad taste, like some ’30s movie avoiding the Hayes Code, all hell has broken loose, and while it makes for a freewheeling, unfettered, bawdy atmosphere, it also begs the question as to when art ends and self-indulgence begins, always an issue with Stern and company.

Aside from losing some 10-odd million listeners, Howard seems to have further marginalized himself from the mainstream, which can’t be what he had in mind. Since I first discovered him over 15 years ago, ironically for a New Yorker like me, out here in L.A., where automobile culture reigns supreme, I always found the 30 minutes or so he entertained me driving to work indispensable. Or so I thought. Since he’s moved over to satellite, I’ve hesitated making the commitment to Sirius, since I already have XM and was quite happy with it. In fact, I even began to find myself listening to Adam Carolla and not missing Howard as much as I thought I would.

My morning show fickleness surprised even me, since I regard Stern as nothing less than the Lenny Bruce of our era, even more important because he was able to reach a mass audience and now has more outlets than the beleaguered Bruce was ever allowed. Of course, Howard’s traded in the masses for cult subscribers, who seem even more delighted to hear him without language and content constraints or commercials, in a sorta expanded way that I have yet to get used to. He certainly seems happier and looser in his new environment, but a satisfied Stern isn’t quite as entertaining as a kvetching one. Still, I thought he’d lose his outsider edge without the constant complaints of being married when he got divorced years ago, but that didn’t seem to stop him.

In fact, he simply got into another monogamous relationship, albeit with a shapely blonde model type he never could have hoped to score starting out as a DJ all those years ago, but his audience paid that no mind. It is clear Stern’s move to satellite has paid off in the short term for him, and may well pay off in the long run for Sirius, especially when every new car comes equipped with a satellite receiver. But his days as the unabashed King of all Media are over. With only those who pay for the privilege of hearing him, that water-cooler factor is way diminished, and even when we all have Sirius in our cars, he’ll still be competing with 200 some-odd channels rather than the dozen or so pre-sets on your old dashboard radio.

At any rate, it’s a brand-new media world. I’m just not sure my man Howard’s gonna rule over it like he did the old one. Indeed, no one will.

Prince, 3121 (Universal)

Along with Michael Jackson, Prince helped drag R&B, funk and disco kicking and screaming into the rock era of the late ’70s and early-to-mid-’80s, climaxed, naturally, by his 1984 triumph, Purple Rain. Since then, the Purple One has struggled to regain the pop epicenter, overshadowed by the explicit rawness of rap, much like his predecessor James Brown’s career was temporarily waylaid by synths and the drum machine.

Returning to the major label fold, albeit on a series of one-off arrangements, has been a boon for The Artist’s prolific nature and reluctance to edit himself, and like Musicology, his latest at least returns him to song structure and some of the things we’ve come to love about the mighty tyke – his melding of sensuality and spirituality (“Satisfied”), minimalist techno funk (“Love”) and widescreen guitar epics (“The Dance”).

While “Te Amo Corazon,” his flaccid attempt to win over the Latin market, literally peters out, “Black Sweat” is a welcome return to Brown’s “It’s Too Funky in Here” territory, and “Fury” is introduced with an organ chord progression that evokes everyone-on-the-dance-floor classics like “1999” and “Let’s Go Crazy.” This time, though, our man Prince seems to have abandoned dalliance for devotion, as in “Lolita,” where he vows to his under-aged temptress, “U’re sweeter but U’ll never make a cheater out of me.” And when he asks, “Don’t U wanna come?” up to his hotel room in the title track, it’s more about transcendence than titillation. Even for a non-believer, devotion never sounded so tempting.

Gnarls Barkley, “Crazy” (Downtown/Atlantic)

After his groundbreaking The Grey Album and Grammy-nominated turn on the Gorillaz’ Demon Days, Danger Mouse (Brian Burton) is the producer of the moment, and he doesn’t let down on this remarkable collaboration with Atlanta soul singer Cee-Lo Green (Thomas DeCarlo Callaway) that takes the ache of classic soul and grafts onto it a bouncy backbeat teased with silky strings. The first single from their upcoming album, St. Elsewhere, it’s already #1 at the Apple U.K. iTunes Music Store. “I remember when I lost my mind,” croons Green, and guaranteed you will, too.

A second track, “Go Go Gospel,” has a speeded-up Eastern European, vaguely klezmer flavor, featuring bleating horns and a surging church choir, proving that the mash-up is a malleable concept with infinite possibilities.

V for Vendetta

Call it the Phantom of the Revolution. Like The Matrix, the Wachowski brothers’ latest is about a near-future fascist empire, in this case England, is intent on quashing any sign of rebellion, as a masked figure known simply as V, who fancies himself a latter-day Guy Fawkes crossed with the Count of Monte Cristo, seeks to liberate the oppressed people by blowing up buildings like the criminal court of the famed Old Bailey and the Parliament, with its iconic Big Ben watchtower.

For a movie that purports to be about ideas, V for Vendetta seems to pinch its most lucid bits from other places: “A revolution without dancing is a revolution not worth having” is nicked from feminist radical Emma Goldman, while “There is no such thing as coincidence, only the illusion of coincidence,” could come from a primer on western theology. Still, this is one of the most politically radical films to come from mainstream Hollywood since Christopher Jones sent his own mother, Shelley Winters, to a concentration camp for everyone over the age of 30 in Wild in the Streets.

A closely cropped Natalie Portman gets to do her Joan of Arc martyrdom thing, but Hugo Weaving’s performance is effectively stymied by his frozen rictus grin mask, reminiscent of Batman’s Joker. The 9/11 references are fairly obvious in its depiction of the government being behind the outbreak of germ warfare that precipitated its crackdown on civil liberties, while the famed Wachowski set pieces are saved mostly for the beginning and the end, with Stephen Rea’s dogged search to uncover the conspiracy taking up the Crime and Punishment-like middle, though there is a wonderful spoof of a Tonight-style talk show that first-time director (and longtime assistant) James McTeigue gives Oliver Stone-like energy.

There is a wonderfully moving pas de deux between Weaving and Portman to Julie London’s aching “Cry Me a River,” coming from a vintage Wurlitzer, and a final credit blast of the Rolling Stones’ “Street Fighing Man” to send the viewer out on a violence high, but for a movie that takes pride in words and theories, it’s a little fuzzy around the edges. V for Vendetta aims for A Clockwork Orange meets 1984 (whose John Hurt is also the dastardly dictator here), but ends up somewhere in between.

NCAA Final Four

Not since 1980, when it was still a 48-team field, have all four #1 seeds failed to make it to the final round, which means such perennials as Duke, Connecticut, Memphis, Villanova, Michigan State, North Carolina, Texas, Oklahoma State and Arizona are all gone, and 11th seeded Cinderella George Mason, from Fairfax, VA, is still in it to win it.

The one-and-done format makes the NCAA basketball tournament perhaps the greatest of all sporting events, and this year has been particularly thrilling, filled with more upsets, buzzer-beating baskets and improbable comebacks than ever before. Still, after all is said and done, you can’t really beat height, and both LSU, with its newly crowned Round Mound of Rebound Redux, Big Baby Glen Davis, at its center, and Florida, with the all-arms-and-legs sheer athletic skill of tennis great Yannick Noah’s gangly but powerful pony-tailed son Joakim, would appear to be the favorites to meet in Monday night’s championship.

But you can never count out either the Tenacious D of coach Ben Howland’s UCLA team, with stifling guards Arron Afflalo and homegrown Jordan Farmar, or the sheer heart of Jim Larranaga’s GMU, with its aptly named guard Tony Skinn and heretofore underrated big men Jai Lewis and Will Thomas. You gotta figure their magic ride to the Final Four is about to end, but then again, Michigan State, North Carolina, Wichita State and Connecticut all probably thought the same thing.

That said, the clock strikes midnight for Mason, and UCLA’s time is yet to come, so expect the expected for once, with LSU striking one for the heart of beleaguered Bayou country and topping Florida for their first-ever NCAA b-ball title. It’s only fair, right?

Teddy Geiger, Underage Thinking (Columbia):

Man, they grow up fast these days, and as the father of an emo-leaning, straight-edge 15-year-old daughter and a gangly, laid-back teenage son two years older, I should know. So when this barely legal 17-year-old Rochester, NY, pop phenom declares: “I’m 16, my world just opened wide,” in the title track, it rings pretty true. And if this is the state of teenpop in the year 2006, that’s not too bad, either.

By positioning Teddy as the new John Mayer, the label must be sending chills up the spine of the old one, now parading as a snarky stand-up blues slinger. Actually, on a song like “Air Dry,” Geiger proves closer to the next Elton John, who has seemingly replaced Bob Dylan as the singer/songwriter of choice for today’s neo-classic rocker youth.

Elsewhere, Geiger shows he can pull off Jackson Browne/James Taylor-style folk-rock in “A Million Years” and even some Van Morrison scat with the Claptonesque wah-wah of “Possibilities.” By the time he gets to the closing “Love Is a Marathon,” which he sang on the short-lived TV series Love Monkey — where his charmingly awkward innocence struck a note of reality amid the sitcom yuppie sarcasm — it’s clear that Geiger has a good chance to last a lot longer than the show.

ArcLight Cinemas, Hollywood

With the likes of everyone from Peter Bogdanovich to L.A. Times film pundit Patrick Goldstein lamenting the loss of the luxurious movie palaces of their youth in favor of high-tech home entertainment systems, this deluxe theater chain, featuring on-site dining areas, reserved seating and a $14 ticket, is a reasonable alternative to your local multiplex, with state-of-the-art picture and often digital sound.

I mean, it’s almost worth the extra $5 a ticket to see a movie in this kind of setting, where not only do you get a pristine screening, but you can avoid the riff-raff at the same time. Of course, you still can’t block out the guy sitting in the next row loudly munching on his popcorn, but that’s life.

What’s for Breakfast?

In which Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is seen probing his proboscis and striking paydirt, discretely slipping the excavation between his lips after making sure no one is watching, then washing the whole thing down with a sip of espresso. Mmmm good. Just one more sign that a public figure is never safe in this age of ubiquitous surveillance. Wonder if his excellence would survive a recall election tomorrow if this were aired on Italian national TV. See it here.

Gripe of the Week

In a recent two-week period, I was hit with a $97 ticket for driving without a seat-belt (the CHP officer wouldn’t let me off with a warning, and practically barked at me as he handed it to me), a $45 penalty for parking in East Hollywood at a meter, which I paid for but failed to see the sign down the block indicating a street cleaning during that three-hour period and $380 (plus additional for Traffic School) after getting photographed going through a red light at the corner of La Brea and Fountain. (I swear it was yellow, but I guess the evidence doesn’t lie.)

Now, I realize it’s just the price of driving, but still, isn’t it a little Big Brother creepy to be nabbed by remote surveillance? And don’t the cops have anything better to do than to chase down usually law-abiding citizens like myself? I have enough trouble slowing down when I spot a patrol car in my rearview mirror, let alone being aware of the invisible long arm of the law. I just thank my lucky stars I wasn’t snapped in mid-bong hit.

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About Roy Trakin

  • RogerMDillon

    “isn’t it a little Big Brother creepy to be nabbed by remote surveillance? ”

    It’s called “Capitalism”.

  • http://www.futonreport.net/ Matthew T. Sussman

    I’ve only seen one entity go out on a limb and say Mason wins the title, and that’s Deadspin.com. Why is that?

  • http://www.AtticWitt.com Ed E. Druckman

    Agreed. Stern is now an inside outsider, the same way Letterman was when he went to CBS and 11:30PM in 1992 and the same way Conan O’B will when he takes over from Leno. So it goes.

    And now a bit of the truly absurd: