Drake's father is Dennis Graham, a journeyman Memphis drummer known for his work with Jerry Lee Lewis. His adoptive uncle is Teenie Hodges, the legendarily silky Memphis rhythm guitarist. His other adoptive uncle was the late Willie Mitchell, the paterfamilias of Hi Records, the Memphis label that released knuckle-cracking love songs by Al Green, Syl Johnson, and Ann Peebles. This trio — not Canadian, not soft-hearted, definitely not OVO — represent Drake's secret history. Though raised by his mother in Toronto and burdened by the familiar father issues created by a broken home, Drake clings tightly to this side of his family's story, in the American South. Wouldn't you? It's the soul, the history, the consequence. Toronto is for partying and pretty boys; Memphis is for music, integrity, reality, and men.
Tomorrow marks the 20th anniversary of one of the most important cultural documents of a generation: the Wu-Tang Clan's Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). The album was crafted in a dojo in Staten Island, New York — better known as Shaolin — by a nine-man collective (sorry, Cappadonna) with a staggering amount of talent, and it was released into the world on November 9, 1993. Mystical, lyrical, fantastical, aerobic, hysterical: They were an evolutionary flock of young guns with old souls. To celebrate the group's debut — which launched a swarm of solo careers, a hive of affiliated artists, a clothing line, a loose philosophy of life, and a few terrible movies — we asked nine Grantland staffers to represent for their favorite member of the Wu, just as they did back in '93.
These are boom times for horror. An unquestioned cavalcade of money and interest and exaltation (and screaming) are in play. In the history of the genre, which spans as far back as a 1910 adaptation of Frankenstein, eight of the 35 highest-grossing horror movies have been released in the last 24 months. These movies include perfectly adequate haunted house stories like this summer's The Conjuring, slick viscera carnivals like the recent Evil Dead remake, and smartly marketed, quickly forgotten exorcism dreck like last year's The Devil Inside. Producers like Jason Blum and Oren Peli have leveraged an appetite for grotesquerie and high-concept execution to create a kind of shadow business for movie studios — Blum's Insidious: Chapter 2 was made for $5 million. It is still reeling in theatergoers six weeks and $82 million later.
That may not necessarily be the first thing that comes to mind after you've seen Prometheus, director Ridley Scott's 2012 prequel to his first hit, 1979’s Alien. But these are the kind of insane, inspired, somehow totally plausible extrapolations viewers draw from Scott's movies. Scott doesn't exactly lie as a filmmaker. As a fine-arts student who got his start in the vulgar world of commercial directing and slick TV shows, he has always subverted expectations. You think you're getting a slam-bang war movie? Here's the ultimate story of bureaucratic failure (with explosions). Looking for the quintessential interstellar extraterrestrial adventure? Instead, take the most grotesque body-horror movie ever made. Scott's movies are delivery systems for ideas, but they're also Trojan horses — hulking, beautiful objects, meant to distract audiences while those ideas creep in, one soldier at a time, to take over your mind. It's been an effective, unlikely strategy for the British-born filmmaker. He's a three-time Academy Award nominee for Best Director — zero wins — and his 21 feature films have a lifetime box office gross of $1.25 billion. His name implies prestige, big-time moviemaking on a grand scale: Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, Blade Runner. But he's often at his best when he zooms in on the internal horrors of people's lives — a beleaguered king contemplating war, a scientist tortured by her pregnancy, a cop trying to protect a widow witness.
"He's so cool!" she yelped. "He's so cool, he's so cool, he's sooooo coooool."
The girl was no older than 17, wearing a zebra-stripe skirt, a black T-shirt covered in daisy decals, and her hair in a severe swoop. She was vibrating with excitement. Her voice rose above the crowd in our section, somewhere between a bleat and a squeal. She was watching a man in a silk tank top twirl onstage at the Hollywood Bowl on a Saturday night in October, leading his band in a version of their song "This Is War." She was not alone in her enthusiasm. In fact, I can't recall a more invested crowd — one stage beyond preteen boy-band mania but well before Boomer-style veneration. It was all-in fandom writ large, the kind that makes you quake and shiver with the opening chords of every song, that has you buying albums 10 years into a band's career, that makes you scream and sing along and maybe tear up a little.
On Friday, Kanye West's seventh album, Yeezus, was revealed to the world. In celebration of this holy event, members of the Grantland staff seized one song each and reflected upon its beauty, truth, and awesomeness. Or made jokes about it.
1. "On Sight"
Chris Ryan: If this is your first time hearing this, you are about to experience something so cold. Yeezus begins with a Daft Punk beat. Or a Daft Punk something. It's everything but the beat. Music writer Piotr Orlov compared the track's major lasers to the French duo's classic "Rollin' & Scratchin'", and I hear that, but there's very little rolling going on here. The prerelease campfire talk is that Kanye brought the basic tracks of this album to Rick Rubin's Malibu musical monastery and put Yeezus on a cleanse, shedding all the excess fat from the Paris-recorded songs. I have no reason to doubt that version of things, until Kanye West jumps up in my face and raps, "How much do I not give a fuck?" At that point it becomes apparent who is withholding from whom here.
The thing about first songs — and I mean songs, not intros — on Kanye West albums is (1) they are awesome ("We Don't Care," "Good Morning," and "Dark Fantasy" are among his best), and (2) they are often about dreams. Two albums begin with the command "Wake up, Mr. West," while "Dark Fantasy" is the realization of something West fantasized about back in Chicago. (It also introduces us to Kanye as Ichabod Brain [cue Cat Stark moan].) "Say You Will," which kicks off 808s & Heartbreak, has a midsong admission that Kanye still fantasizes about the track's subject. For as real and relatable as Kanye seems, his music is often the stuff that dreams (or nightmares) are made of.
Kneel before Michael Shannon, for he is the character actor of our time, a living embodiment of the madness inside us all. And now, little more than 20 years after his first onscreen appearance as "Fred," a WWF-loving newlywed in 1993's Groundhog Day, Shannon becomes a household name. Or, at least, a household name in the sort of households that value the many fine gifts of actors like William Fichtner, Philip Baker Hall, and Ben Mendelsohn and before them Martin Balsam, Harry Carey Jr., and Eli Wallach. That's because Shannon, long a "that guy" par excellence, is Man of Steel's General Zod, the most nihilistic and imperious villain in Superman's universe. The actor, born in Kentucky and bred in Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre scene, has never had a role so prominent. There are, let's say, reasons for that. We'll get there.
Last October, between the Tarantinos and the Spielbergs, the Hanekes and the Bigelows, the first glimmer of another little auteurist movie trickled out. Over Keith Richards's bending guitar strings on "Parachute Woman," a curled-lip kid from Jersey whines about leaving home. "I think we should all move to the East Village," the kid says to his bandmate. "There's a music scene there — not here!" It was for David Chase's first film, Not Fade Away. This is the trailer:
Derek Cianfrance's new movie, The Place Beyond the Pines, is a winding local epic about two generations of men failing at life in the rural-suburban sprawl of Schenectady, New York. Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, and their screen sons are at the center of things, but there's another guy tucked into the story who steals every moment he can. His name is Ben Mendelsohn. You've seen him before. He's a That Guy.
"The melancholy of the blues and the immediacy of jazz his characters are hard-hearted and hardheaded, so I thought Women can do that." That was how critic and curator of the Film Independent at LACMA Film Series Elvis Mitchell wryly described David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross before introducing the conceit of last night's Live Read. Mamet's terse, rhythmic story tracks four real estate salesmen (and scam artists) desperately working through the night on the eve of a robbery. The Live Read, a semi-regular event at LACMA, is a quiet, clever, only-in-L.A. happening where the city's access to celebrity and artists is actually used for good. Here's the layout: Typically, Film Independent's artist-in-residence and director, Jason Reitman, reads the stage direction, a screen behind the cast projects scenes from the movie but with the characters erased from the mise-en-scène, and the cast simply read from scripts placed in front of them on easels. Mitchell's idea, shepherded and executed by Reitman, was to subvert the sulking machismo and grandiloquent gutter talk of Mamet's characters with a gender swap. It basically worked in that way, but mostly because the cast Reitman assembled was a shockingly accurate rebuttal to the 1992 film adaptation directed by James Foley. Here was the lineup:
In the epic, contentious, slanderous 40-person e-mail chain that kickstarted this endeavor a few weeks back, I slavishly recalled more than 20 perceived Oscar Travesties" occurring before 1972, our cutoff year in this arbitrary contest. (Here's one: Paul Lukas in Watch on the Rhine beat Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca for Best Actor in 1942. Think about that.) I never thought we would vote on these ancient mistakes, no matter how deeply I believe Dr. Strangelove deserves that shine over My Fair Lady. I was merely trying to point out that the Oscars, before we were watching them, before we were born, hell, before our parents were born, have been blowing it. And though the voting procedures have changed over the years (revisit Mark Harris's essential Oscarmetrics coverage from 2012 for more details on the evolving voting body), the fact has remained: Getting it wrong is the only way Oscar can be right.
It has been 2,342 days since Justin Timberlake released FutureSex/LoveSounds. There's a case for it as the century's best album. It's of its time (Three 6 Mafia cameos, beloved Timbaland productions, that horrifying faux-futurism title) and it lives beyond. In the terrifying world of nightmarish wedding DJ scenarios, there are three Timberlake songs any guest can rely on: "SexyBack," an embarrassing but OK, let's go dance staple; "My Love," which goes hard forevermore; and "Until the End of Time," a sleeper slow dance favorite. There are not many millennial jams you'll hear at a bad wedding that won't make you want to renounce the day's holy congregation. But these three songs are probably wedged into the musical consciousness for at least another 10 years.
Yesterday, eight new inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame were announced: Rush, Donna Summer, Heart, Randy Newman, Public Enemy, and Albert King, as well as two Ahmet Ertegun Award for Lifetime Achievement inductees in producer/promoter Lou Adler and arranger/producer Quincy Jones. What does this mean? Effectively, not much. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum has been around since 1983, inducting artists and industry shakers since 1986, and it’s been an actual building you can visit in Cleveland, Ohio, since 1993. It’s a fine place, designed by I.M. Pei and everything, but it’s not much more than a shrine to particular artists deemed worthy by a shadow group responsible for the voting. Every year, there's mild consternation over that year’s nominees — all of whom become eligible exactly 25 years since first becoming active — but this is nothing like the Baseball Hall of Fame. There is no Internet community driven mad by a Tim Raines–style fascination with, say, Jethro Tull. Wonderful as it might be, there is no Rock VORP in play though Tull’s Flute-Solo-Per-Song (FSPS) average is Gehrig-esque. To honor and examine this moment, Grantland’s resident music critic Steven Hyden and editor Sean Fennessey, a Rock Hall voter, discussed this year’s lineup, some methodology, and asked: Why do we need this thing?