The ‘Beautiful People’ at Sonsie, the fun ones at ManRay

BY DOMINIQUE CASTRO

I bet that a fair number of guys wonder what girls talk about when they go to the bathroom in groups. I suppose it can be unnerving to wonder if “the girls” are getting a debrief of your date’s real feelings for you. Well, guys, unfortunately I’m not here to divulge the secret conversations and private deals that are negotiated in our ultra-secret society. Suffice it to say, however, that the conversation I had in the ladies room at Sonsie (327 Newbury St.) on October 19 was not at all typical. I share this story only because the encounter is better than any description I can come up with of this hip, ultra-trendy hangout.

So, I’m cramped in line, No Exit style, in the impossibly small ladies room, and I mention to my friend that my husband has closed out our tab and was getting the car from the valet. Standing next to me is a future Boston socialite, now in the social climber stage of her development. She might not otherwise have spoken to me, but her ears perked up when I said a word in her language: “valet.” Without missing a beat she turned to me and asked point-blank what kind of car I drive. “I beg your pardon?” I said, bewildered that she felt entitled to make such a query. “Car,” she said impatiently, “what kind of car do you drive?” It was one of those instances, sort of like in my Contracts class, where after I’ve answered the question, I can think of millions of witty things I could have said. Instead, I just answered the question.

She then looks me up and down tells me that I should venture down to the Red Room, the downstairs club/bar area of Sonsie, where, as she said, “all the beautiful people” hang out. Why on earth would I be getting invited to hang with “the beautiful people” of Boston? Mind you, I’ve been told I resemble the transexual from ‘The Crying Game’ and the little troll figurines with the big afros. My only guess is that she was blinded by the Swarovski-esque crystals draping her lithe frame. She then proceeds to launch such an aggressive name-dropping campaign that I’m tempted to ask if she works with Alan Dershowitz, since they both seem to be chummy with the same ilk of high-rollers. She regaled me with stories of partying with none other than P. Diddy, and the more enigmatic “guy from that movie Can’t Hardly Wait.” OK, well, the only famous person I’ve run into recently was MTV’s Julie Brown (the white one, not the somewhat more interesting black one) at the Newark International Airport, so I keep my mouth shut, and decide that perhaps I’m not quite fabulous enough to lounge about the Red Room …

I in no way mean to throw dirt on Sonsie or its clientele. For those seeking a modicum of hauteur when they hit the town, this is, to be sure, the place to see and be seen. My risotto with autumn squash was delectable. The highly suggestive artwork and dark wood decor makes you feel a bit naughty as you sip decadently on expensive red wine and flick a cigarette seductively over the ashtray. You can watch the game at the bar, and rub elbows that are certainly not clothed in (gasp!) last season’s Prada. With a great view of Newbury Street and proximity to other nightspots, Sonsie is the place to go for dinner and drinks before hitting the town.

As we left, Sonsie, however, I felt a draw to a scene altogether grittier in nature. Somehow I ended up at ManRay (21 Brookline St.), a gothic/leather/gay/bisexual (depending on the night) nightclub in Central Square. As we approach the door, the bouncers stop us, not to pat us down and check for contraband, but to unzip our jackets to check for compliance with the dress code. Apparently, all black was the order of the night. Once it was determined that our duds were legit, we were ushered inside. We paid a higher cover charge than I was expecting ($12/person), but the experiences that awaited us inside more than made up for it.

ManRay is not a place for the conservative yuppie. A man dressed as Jim Carrey’s Vera de Milo character paraded about the dance floor. We were treated to a vinyl/latex fashion show, a bondage show and an endless barrage of freaky-but-friendly patrons gyrating about in various stages of undress. The music was dark: gothic and industrial techno-rock reverberated from the sound system, but then turned almost campy at times, with dancers painted to resemble witch doctors shaking to “Groove is in the Heart” by Dee-Lite. Trust me, if you have anything even remotely approaching a gothic ensemble, you want to get down to ManRay on Friday nights for unparalleled people watching.

I decided to have a tarot card reading ($5), thinking that the cards might resolve my current dilemma about whether my professional destiny lies in the private or the public sector. Needless to say, I was thrilled when the “Success” card was placed on the table before me. I was slightly less amused to have the “Death” card plunked down next to it. (Note to self: call Miss Cleo for a second opinion.).

As for the ladies room, I don’t get the impression that ManRay emphasizes as strict a male/female dichotomy as Sonsie. Its more of a continuum: if you need to borrow black eyeliner, for example, you’re just as likely to find it either the men’s or the ladies’ room. While ManRay may not be the venue of our next section outing, it is undoubtedly a bastion of tolerance, where it doesn’t matter what kind of car you drive as long as you’re dressed in black and ready to have fun.

The 1L Experience

BY DAVID BAHARVAR

Many non-1Ls seem curious to know whether there is a more familial feeling within the 1L sections now that they are so much smaller than before. As a 1L, of course, I have little to compare the present system to, but certain new developments this year indicate that the answer is yes.

The administration made some mild attempts to promote friendly competition between the seven 1L sections (each of which has roughly 80 students). An outdoor competition between all the sections last Saturday, involving a tug-of-war and various other physical challenges, was poorly attended but seems to have been enjoyable for those who participated. Other than this, the extent of comparison drawn between sections seems to be through offhand remarks by professors, administrators or fellow students. For instance, Dean Clark made a point of joking at a reception for Sections III and IV (all of the sections had a reception with the Dean) that someone in Section IV told him that Section III would rather spend its time “over by the bar” than socializing with the Dean and others. I imagine the Dean made similar attempts to incite rivalry at other receptions. In my section (Section III, the BEST section) we acknowledge anyone’s birthday as a group, often by writing “Happy Birthday _____” on the blackboard or singing it to the person. There is an emerging sense of identification within my section at least, and even a “reputation” of sorts for some other sections. For example, Section VI is reported to be the most tightly knit group thus far as well as the “hottest” on average. But, all in all, as 1Ls our own sections are all that we really know about; and we have little to no clue about how life is for any other sections. Most of us, I think, would welcome more events to bring the various sections together. After all, one of the reasons that I’m sure many of us chose to come to HLS over other schools was the opportunity to network with more fellow students than most other schools can offer. We are beginning to wonder: Where are these opportunities?

If anything is going to bring us together more as sections, it will be our shared anxiety over two things: the prospect of exams and job applications. I have not yet seen these worries bloom on a noticeable scale within the 1L population, but the seeds are being sewn: Our sections had our first exam preparation group sessions this week, as well as “job search” advising lectures from OCS and OPIA. As far as some of the exam prep sessions, it was great to have 2Ls and 3Ls who had our same professors walking us through the kind of analysis that we’ll be expected to do for finals. Many of us feel more comfortable asking them the “stupid,” basic questions about what is expected of us. We feel relieved to have some more clue of what exams will be like than students before us did. But these sessions also seem to be raising as many questions as they answer, which makes us a little worried. For instance, most people I talk to are wondering if they’ve been taking notes the “right” way all semester, or if their notes will really help them at all, come exam time.

More so than a feeling of happy togetherness, people seem to be getting a little tired of the grind — the workload which seems to have gotten heavier, and the fact that, in most classes, 1Ls aren’t able quickly to figure out what the professor is looking for, even if they have done all the reading twice over. Most professors seem to have their own “song and dance” of sorts that we have to adapt our thinking and our answers in order to satisfy, and after a while, most of us are getting tired of dealing with unnecessary “quirks” of how they have to state things. Most of us have given up the idea that we will come out of class on any given day with any concrete answers to “what the law is” and have realized that our professors will rarely ask us questions that we can simply answer from looking at our notes. We’ve accepted that we’re going to be stumped much of the time and just plain in the dark some of the time.

One funny thing we can always come together around is that legal lingo has begun to infuse our everyday vocabulary. For example, pick-up basketball games at Hemenway gym may include such utterances as, “Come on, that’s hardly a formally realizable rule!” in arguments over fouls; friends at a bar tease each other with lines like “That’s battery!” while playing darts at a bar; to offhand remarks like, “I’ll call you tonight,” one might joke in reply, “Is that a promise??” Would our jokes seem cheesy and annoying to anyone not studying these concepts in depth? Probably.

U2’s relevant celebration

BY H.L. ROGERS

Straight from Ground Zero via Madison Square Garden the boys from Dublin burst onto the stage with a message. Their customary opener “Elevation” had a different ending: This should be a “celebration, jubilation, celebration, celebration.” In a “Bad”-esque move Bono informed the crowd that tonight would be different. Tonight Providence wouldn’t rock just to rock. Tonight we were celebrating freedom and peace. Edge burst out in a Yankee’s shirt and Bono told us “No more! Wipe those tears away” in a rendition of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” that had a lot more to do with a certain Tuesday than the significant Sunday so many years ago. His voice wavered and he bowed his head, “no more, sing it no more.” From the audience he pulled an American flag (significant that he pulled the American flag out of a sea of Irish). He held it close, hugged it and sang “no more.”

U2 had a lot to celebrate. First, it was Larry’s birthday. The lead singer lead the audience in “Happy Birthday to You” and Larry walked to the front of the stage. “What is amazing is that it has taken me 40 years to stand out here and I really like it,” he said. “Good news is Bono can’t play the drums.” The band had just come from a concert where Irish-American and other New York firefighters rushed the stage. And Bono was amazed as he announced that 10,000 people a day had been calling the treasury secretary to plead for third-world debt relief. “That’s incredible after all you have been through in America that you still care about debt relief. And it’s smart because monsters like bin Laden feed off the lie that we don’t give a shit about Africa.”

The band also celebrated their place on stage. “It’s a thrill for us to be on tour in America at this point in time,” Bono declared. “People pulled together in New York and they pulled together across America.” So Bono returned the honor. He and Edge strode to the end of the heart ramp and delivered an acoustic version of “Please” dedicated to “wealthy revolutionaries — you know who I’m talking about. Those who think their ideas are more important than people.” As the song wound down they added new lyrics: “Please get up off your knees. September flying over, buildings charred to the ground, falling to the ground — and he only cares about himself.” Please, Bono begged all of us.

He had a message he wanted to deliver and the Providence Civic Center was the place he wanted to declare it. The small, 10,000-seat college hockey arena gave the band a chance to express themselves in a way that they haven’t in America for 20 years. The venue was so perfect they played an extra 40 minutes and Bono strode out into the crowd. The music, the concert and the celebration culminated with the second encore. The non-Fly, wearing a NYFD shirt, dedicated the song to a firefighter who lost his life. As the first chords of “One” weeped from Edge’s revamped guitar solo, a screen rose behind the band and listed all the people who lost their lives on the airplanes, all the police officers who died. And finally, as Bono and the Edge played a five-minute, extended, acoustic ending to “One,” all the firefighters’ names were listed — and the list just kept rolling. With every name that passed before our eyes the crowd grew more hushed. As silence reigned Bono demanded, “Don’t forget.”

And no one will. The band seemed to lose their relevancy in the ’90s when money ruled and an American-isolationist peace prevailed. The band kept singing of the violence in their country so far away. They regained their meaning last night. Finally we understood what the world was feeling — fear. But U2 didn’t play to our fears, they played to hope — they played a celebration.

Coen brothers pull off film noir in ‘Man Who Wasn’t There’

BY KEN WALCZAK

Two years ago, a man named Scott King won a special jury prize at Sundance for “Treasure Island,” a movie he wrote, directed and photographed. Ostensibly, the movie was about code-breaking, espionage and West Coast racial prejudice during World War II. More to the point, it was also a painstaking retread of gritty, no-nonsense American filmmaking in black and white.

Unfortunately, “Treasure Island” was not a good movie. Its preoccupation with psychosexual hang-ups and its predilection for withered private parts (of both genders, on display wantonly though not at all erotically) quickly overshadowed anything King had to offer in terms of plot, dialogue or characterization. More crucially, the film’s revisionist politics and frontal nudity broke the otherwise charming spell cast by its unique visual approach. King seemed to have succeeded, if at all, only in making his audience feel icky, a trick he could easily have pulled off in color.

Which is where the Coen Brothers come in. Having just recently dragged Homer’s Odyssey riotously through the mud, and unleashed upon the world of bluegrass music a sensation of force majeure proportions, America’s favorite quirkmongers were primed to try something a little more serious. Why not follow a road movie with a film noir?

Enter “The Man Who Wasn’t There,” lovingly rendered in black and white, though eschewing “Treasure Island’s” fake film-aging, and shot in the more modern 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Cinematographer Roger Deakins (Thirteen Days, a bevy of other Coen works) takes a far higher road than King, opting for mid-level expressionism over pitch-black psychosis. To this end he surrounds J. & E. Coen’s characters with a splendid array of dark gray tones, plunging them into the inky depths at the corners of his frame only when absolutely necessary. This really shouldn’t work — it’s a less ambitious tack than King’s and one that seems destined to appear half-hearted or wishy-washy — but it does work, and splendidly.

The acting is in a similar vein. Billy Bob Thornton’s Ed Crane comes off like Bogart brooding his way through a recast Ministry of Fear. Again, not exactly a recipe for thespian greatness. Yet Thornton’s is a flawless performance, worthy of its description by the Brattle Theatre (or whomever writes their calendar descriptions) as “note-perfect.” The Coens’ script gives Thornton an eternity of gilded silence to work with, and he uses every moment to his advantage, evoking pathos while maintaining our unflinching respect. It is the kind of performance that is convincing in the best sense of the word. We leave with the distinct impression that Thornton/Crane possesses perfect economy of expression in a word-drunk world, and experience none of the bitter aftertaste of Stanislavsky that so often sullies such impressions.

Frances McDormand is again excellent, her off-kilter beauty and quizzical glances evoking menace à la “Blood Simple” (though with less innocence, frankly, which is saying something considering the real existential ambivalence of her character in the earlier film. Maybe this shows just how far the Coens have advanced as filmmakers; or maybe it’s just something inherent in the genre and era they’ve so successfully evoked this time around). And James Gandolfini plays Tony Soprano playing the Coen type usually represented by John Goodman — in other words, a gregarious thug with no Italian accent, or something very close to what one imagines Gandolfini is like in person.

And there’s more. In true ’40s fashion, “The Man Who Wasn’t There” is presented as a hard-drinking (everyone but Ed), chain-smoking (especially Ed) cavalcade into the abyss. It’s clear from the beginning that Ed is doomed; he’s too noble for his world. As the strong, silent type in a language-drenched town, his prospects are seriously bleak — think Tyrone Power in “Nightmare Alley,” if you’ve had the pleasure of seeing it.

As an account of one man’s life, the film is engrossing, engaging, humbling. Its storytelling falters only in scope, as many key events seem elbowed hurriedly into the denouement, throwing off the pace and balance of the movie. For similar reasons, the viewer is also asked to grapple with a lot of voice-over, though this is handled pleasantly enough.

Really, though, the most impressive thing about “The Man Who Wasn’t There” is its attitude toward the era it recreates. The Coens deserve high praise for avoiding the temptation of both nauseating nostalgia (“American Graffiti”) and backward-looking critique (“Treasure Island”), the two sides of a single, obnoxious coin. Neither technique shows any respect for the past. Neither does the present any service, and neither makes for good filmmaking.

Their keen grasp of this truth must be what allows the Coen brothers a leg up on any competition in this specialized field. With the proper reverence for American film at the height of the studio system, they are able to create a picture that succeeds in unlikely ways, a mainstream drama that bears witness as it entertains … essentially, “Treasure Island” done right.

Tracks for your favorite druggies, teens and techno-heads

BY JONAS BLANK

For young people especially, Christmas shopping can almost turn the holiday into more of a hassle than it’s worth. Figuring out what to get a long list of friends can be a nightmare, not to mention a route to bankruptcy. The onus is on you to prove you’re not like everybody else, to give someone something they might not buy themselves, but that they might actually want.

Instead of the umpteenth Grateful Dead necktie or clever little knickknack, there is an alternative that’s easy to buy, doesn’t require assembly or sizing, is relatively inexpensive AND lets you express your creativity — music. Chosen properly, a CD that somebody didn’t think to pick up — but should have — can be an ideal way to show you both know a person and want to broaden their artistic horizons a touch.

It’s impossible to know what everybody wants, but here are some suggestions for several sorts of people:

The Indie Rocker:

That’s the guy with the black plastic framed glasses. The one who’s always dressed sloppy-but-chic on a thrift-store budget and may, at any given time, smell like smoke. If he’s any kind of music fan, he’s already heard of The Strokes, the media’s latest New York darlings. But if you want to impress him, try The Dismemberment Plan’s excellent Change, an album that finds the D.C. band’s frenetic, quirky energy taken down a notch in favor of introspective but original songwriting. Or, if he doesn’t already own it, pick up one of this year’s best albums: The White Stripes’ White Blood Cells. It’s rock stripped to its essential core, chock-full of the grinding of cheap instruments churning out perfect melodies. Few of its songs clock in at over three minutes, but don’t worry — the album has 16 of them to choose from, and they’re almost universally brilliant.

The Girlfriend:

For the ultimate in cheese, there’s always the new Jewel album. But a purchase that really shows some thought gives her music that, while appealing to women, doesn’t scream, “chick music.” To that end, try Beth Orton’s Central Reservation. It came out two years ago, but the singer-songwriter’s captivating narratives still sound better than most of what’s come out since. You could also get some mileage out of Massive Attack’s 1994 classic, Protection, a trip-hop masterpiece that still manages to sound sexy, catchy and undeniably cool even seven years after its release. For something more current, Tori Amos’ recent covers album, Strange Little Girls, isn’t always the easiest listen, but Tori’s ability to deconstruct such macho detritus as Eminem’s 1997 Bonnie and Clyde or Slayer’s Reigning Blood more than justifies sitting through its more difficult passages.

The Teenage Guy:

His CD rack is probably littered with Limp Bizkit and Blink-182. For something that combines Blink’s pop-punk sensibility with smarter, but still simple songwriting, try Sugarcult’s Start Static. If this had come out in 1993, they’d be bigger than Green Day. Not a song on the album fails to be catchy, relevant and charming, in that very confused male sort of way.

The Teenybopper Girl:

Well, she watches TRL, so there’s not much point aiming very far outside the mainstream. But Madonna now has two greatest hits albums out — including one just released this month — and anyone with ears can tell her stuff is still far better than Britney.

The Techno-Head:

Demystifying techno’s myriad genres is nearly impossible these days. So rather than try to explain to a record store clerk why you need the most up-to-date drum and speed garage 2-step breakbeat bass music, stick with something that’s still virtually genreless: The Avalanches’ Since I Left You, a playful pastiche of fluttering, whirring, bleeping snippets that, when blended, turns downright beautiful. Or if you must stick with pure DJ music, try the more recent installments of the Essential Mix” or Global Underground series, which usually offer high quality, up-to-date mixes by DJs who are probably still somewhere within their 15 minutes of fame.

Dad:

Boxed sets. For anybody. Think of the obvious: The Doors, The Beach Boys, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan and The Velvet Underground all have superb collections bearing their names. Oh, and if he’s a sucker for men in leather, KISS just put out a new one, too.

Mom:

Do not buy your mother a CD. Save your knickknack purchase for her. But if you must, make her feel young again and give her Madonna to show you think she’s kind of hip.

The Mopey Guy:

He’s on his eighth breakup of the year and as many broken hearts, and he’s wept enough to fertilize a garden of willows. Show him you share his pain and send him a copy of Ben Folds’ solo effort, Rockin’ The Suburbs. The modern era’s piano man will help him realize that, yes, there is somebody out there even more pathetic than him.

Your Older Brother/Sister:

They grew up in the ’80s. Remind them that the era is still cool, kinda. For the edgier types, try The Clash’s excellent box set, Clash On Broadway (yes, their best work was in the ’70s, but the influence lived on ….) or a best-of from The Pixies. For more mainstream folks, don’t stray far from best-of collections from the Talking Heads or, yet again, Madonna. Or you could straight up spite them and buy them Michael Jackson’s Invincible, reminding them that people from the ’80s are, like, so old.

The Hip-Hop Head:

For a more mainstream person, don’t overlook Timbaland’s latest offering, Indecent Proposal, where the man who made Missy’s hits thump does some more of his own thing. For someone a bit more into the avant-garde, try Cannibal Ox’s The Cold Vein, where the Harlem duo and producer El P remind us that hip-hop can still be independent, political and uncompromising in the age of Diddy and the Jigga.

The Drug Addict:

If they’ve tried every hallucinogen in the book and are still listening to nothing but Phish, send them Bardo Pond’s trippy, distortion-laden opus Dilate and a few doses of percoset. They’ll never know what hit ’em.

The Beantown Scenester:

Boston is probably best known for crews like Aerosmith and the ska explosion that was the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. So be different — serve up The Last Star by Halfcocked, the band’s major label debut. A sonic mutt of ’80s metal and that whole “riot-grrrl” thing that ruled the early ’90s, this album is almost kitschy enough to be timeless.

The Country Fan:

If “country” means Tim McGraw and Garth Brooks to them, try giving them something that puts the twang to better use. Ryan Adams’ Gold is a standout, if nothing else because of its moving ode to New York, and Bob Dylan’s Love and Theft has been hailed as one of his best in years. Neither is really a “country” album, either, so if you hate that stuff, you can listen to these the next time you’re rolling in your friend’s Dodge Ram.

There’s a start. And remember, when in doubt, go to an independent record store and consult a salesperson who actually likes music.

Try a little holiday Sugarcult to satisfy the need for pop-punk sensibility.

Renaissance man Jack Johnson faces the music

BY JEFF LEVEN

‘I used to have a punk band in high school called Liver Chicken, and it was just basically a Minor Threat cover band.’

–Jack Johnson

Due diligence. A few months ago my brother tips me off to this album Brushfire Fairytales, by this Hawaiian guy named Jack Johnson. I give it a couple spins — great voice, elegant yet simple guitar, an enchanting and mellow Sunday afternoon sort of album. Play it for a couple of friends — unanimous appeal. Ben Harper has a cameo on “Flake,” and Dave Matthews has a rival on just about every song. So it turns out he’s coming to Boston. I set up an interview. I read up on the guy, and discover that, well, he’s a pro surfer, sponsored by Quiksilver, one of the best in the world. And beyond that he’s a cinematographer whose two surf films, “Thicker Than Water” and “The September Sessions,” are award-winning documentaries in their own right. And now there’s this great album. Filmmaker, troubador, runner of the waves. Renaissance man if I’ve ever seen one ….

For a Renaissance man, Jack Johnson’s a pretty quiet guy. Bundled up against the freezing wind, he makes his way into the Paradise Rock Club with a subdued confidence. He looks around, spots me and my tape recorder gives a slight nod. “Let’s bust this interview” he says with a smile, and so:

RECORD: Did you bring your board on this one?

Johnson: Yeah. I’ve only used it twice. I used it out at Charleston and at Myrtle Beach. I brought my skateboard, too, so I’ve been skating every day. It’s good, I just try to find a hill. I’ve found hills in every town.

R: Where did this album fall between “The September Sessions” and “Thicker Than Water”? Did this come after you finished both of those?

J: Yeah, I did “Thicker than Water” and then I did “The September Sessions,” and then I did the album.

R: Was this something you wanted to do for a while and it was just a matter of timing?

J: No, not really. I mean I always made four-track tapes for my friends and stuff like that, but I never really pictured putting an album out. I guess right before I did “The September Sessions,” I already had that trip all planned and then I hooked up with G. Love and Special Sauce and did that song “Rodeo Clowns” with them. And that’s what jump-started the whole thing of having record companies approach me and stuff. It was good and bad timing. I already had the trip all planned, so I basically went off and shot that film and spent a little while making the film and doing all that stuff and then kind of put if off for six months, and then I did the record after that.

R: So you’d had the songs for a while?

J: Yeah, I had the songs for three years or so. One of the songs, “It’s All Understood,” the last song on the record, I wrote while I was in the studio, just kind of made it up right there, and then one song was written on the trip that I filmed “September Sessions” on. “F-Stop Blues” was written on that trip.

R: It’s interesting, I think that one has the most Hawaiian feel on the album.

J: Yeah, people say it feels like the ocean or something.

R: I’m sure a lot of people have been asking about the Ben Harper collaboration. How did that come about?

J: Yeah, basically, J.P. Plunier who is Ben Harper’s producer/manager is a surfer and I knew him for a while, and he just started inviting me to Ben’s shows and stuff, and I was a big fan of Ben’s so I met Ben a couple of times at shows and like a year after I knew J.P. …. He was just a surfer, and so he would come in when I was editing those surf movies and watch the footage and stuff like that, and so that’s kind of how I knew him, and about a year later he got a four-track tape of mine and gave me a call and — he didn’t even know I played music or anything — just said he really liked it and he was really busy at the time. So it actually worked out — because while I shot “September Sessions” he was real busy, too. I went off for six months and did all the movie stuff and then he did a bunch of stuff — he was on tour with Ben and stuff, and then all of a sudden he had a little break and I had a little break, so we just recorded the record real quick. But I guess in the meantime he had passed off the four-track tape to Ben, and Ben came to one of my shows when I was first just starting to play out live before we recorded the record or anything, and he told me he was really excited to hear it once we had basic drums on it and everything, and then it just happened that he was in town. We spent a week in the studio and he happened to be home for two of the days and came in.

R: Had he worked anything out for “Flake” when he came in?

J: No, I think he just sat down and listened to everything we’d recorded at that point and then just kind of dug that one. I mean, we’d recorded it that way even without him on it and then he just sat down and did that and that was really cool … It’s my favorite.

R: Who else do you listen to?

J: Contemporary people like G. Love and Special Sauce, too. I like their group a lot. And then going backwards, De La Soul, Tribe Called Quest, that kind of stuff. Light-hearted hip-hop stuff, and then a lot of older stuff like Bob Dylan and Cat Stevens and Nick Drake … Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles and John Lennon stuff. Just loads of people, you know? In high school I listened to Bad Religion, Minor Threat and Fugazi a lot.

R: I was going to say, with the surf thing the music runs the gamut from punk stuff to …

J: I used to have a punk band in high school called Liver Chicken, and it was just basically a Minor Threat cover band. That’s all we did. And then a couple of Fugazi songs. I just listened to everything growing up. I got really into Sepultura and Slayer and stuff for a little while, too. Just because I was learning the guitar, and all that distortion and stuff is fun when you’re learning how to play. But then I started travelling a lot, so I’d always have an acoustic guitar with me, and I’d just start writing songs that way.

R: If you could have any band cover a Jack Johnson song, who would you have cover which song?

J: That’s an interesting question. Usually it’s the other way — “whose song do you want to cover?” I’d love to hear Sade sing a song. Maybe this song “Taylor;” it’s a new song. It would be more fun to pick one off “Brushfire Fairytales,” so … let me think … (“Fortunate Fool”) … yeah, “Fortunate Fool” would be nice, “F-Stop Blues” maybe … or to hear the guy who’s playing with us right now, Mason Jennings — we always play each other’s songs a lot, like during soundcheck. Hearing him cover them is pretty fun. Yeah, I like Sade’s voice a lot.

R: Is the plan to go back to the studio and try to cut another album after this?

J: I think so. I’m not positive right now, but I’m thinking I want to do another record sometime this summer, maybe do another surf movie after that, you know take a little break from music after they put out another record. I feel like I have enough material to do another record right now.

R: Do you write on the road?

J: A little bit. No, but to be honest, I just have a lot of stuff that we chose from that could have been on the first record that we didn’t record, and a lot of it I still want to put out. And some of the stuff I’ve been writing along the way. I like to write songs that I can play on a sunny day, you know, sitting out on the front porch. A lot of times when you’re on the road in dark clubs all the time you start writing in a different way. I write songs out here and sometimes they feel kind of silly to play at a barbecue with my friends or something. The context is all different. I’d like to put out another record. I mean, in the end that’s more my personality. These tours are fun, but I feel like I almost have to turn into somebody else for the tour. I get a whole different thing with people looking at me every night and I just sort of change my personality a little bit almost. And then I get home and it takes a few days and I’m like “ah, ok, cool” and I slide b
ack into who I really am. It’s not like I don’t try to write songs out here, but I don’t get frustrated if I don’t. I just sort of wait until.. I’d like to do another surf movie maybe and wait another year and see if more songs come out of that.

R: I imagine it’s got to be sort of crazy to go being playing songs that you play for your friends and then all of a sudden you’re a “rock star”…

J: It’s been a trip. It’s been pretty crazy to come back over here. We kinda planned on doing a tour that was roughing about, playing some shows, but the support on this whole tour has overwhelmed us. It’s been pretty fun, though. There was one night down in Arlington. We played this little club that holds like 200 people and there were another couple hundred outside that couldn’t get in, and so we cruised out to the parking lot and played acoustic guitars for everybody in the parking lot. We all came out of the van and the drummer had a conga drum and we played like six songs out there for everybody. You can tell people really appreciate it. We’re not used to it either, so it’s cool to come to a town and be able to come outside and do something like that for everybody.

R: It’s that thing, though, where you discover and album and you and your friends get into it, and you want them to be successful and all, but it’s also sort of your secret and you want to be able to see them in a small venue …

J: That’s the nice thing about having a musician that you’re into that’s not just so big, not that everybody knows about. That’s one of the scary things as it gets bigger and bigger — knowing that there are a lot people including myself who have this thing where if somebody gets too big they don’t like it anymore and it’s just not that cool anymore. You know what I mean, if everybody likes it then it can’t be that good.

R: I’m sure you get a lot of idle comparisons to Dave Matthews, and of course he started out in small clubs and now he’s selling out Giant’s Stadium.

J: Yeah. Somewhere you’ve gotta draw the line I think. You’ve got to make the choices for yourself. Bigger is not always better. These kind of clubs are the most fun to play and see bands in, you know what I mean? You can kind of choose. Money always becomes a factor. You can always make more money and play bigger places, but you have to decide- “I can make more money, but it sure would be cooler to play this kind of place” … I dunno. Hopefully I won’t be reading this interview in two years and thinking “what a hypocrite!”

And with that he takes the stage for soundcheck. A couple takes of the Meter’s “Cissy Strut,” a stroll through “Posters” my personal favorite and a mellow smile from a mellow genius.

Vino & Veritas

BY JUSTIN DILLON

Some wine columns ask the simple questions.

“Should you drink red or white with salmon?” (Either.)

“What’s Burgundy?” (A region in France that makes wine you can’t afford.)

“Why do the French name their wines for places, not grapes?” (Because they’re French. Asking that is like asking, ‘Why are Canadians dumb?’ If you’re asking that, you’re probably Canadian.)

This column, though, asks the hard questions. And not just the inappropriately political, up-with-gay-people kind. No, the hard kind. To wit: instead of asking, “What do you get for the wine lover who has everything?”, this column asks, “What do you get for guy who sort of likes wine but would probably ask for the receipt if you got him anything to do with wine?”

This column, then, is about what to get for the non-wine-lover who has nothing. Call it “Gifts for the Interested Amateur.” Or “My Column Is Due Tomorrow.”

The best gift you can get a wine-drinker is Riedel glasses. These are great for people who drink wine all the time as well as for people who don’t know anything about wine and who even don’t care to learn more. Why? Because believe it or not, Riedel glasses will change the way you think about wine. For about $8 a glass (usually in packs of four), one of Riedel’s Ouverture Series will focus the flavors and smells of a wine in a way that will show you much more about wine than you’ve known before.

Dedicated wine-drinkers (also known as “wine columnists” or “the lonely ones”) always need more of these, and oenophilic neophytes (Look, ma! No editor!) will probably find it changes how they experience wine. Riedels are available at almost any wine store and at www.riedelcry-stal.com.

Another great gift is a good corkscrew. My personal favorite is the “waiter’s friend,” which is the one you’ve seen, um, waiters use. It has the flip-out corkscrew and the little lever that uses leverage to pull out the cork. But because it can be a little tough to learn, you might go with a screwpull for people who are less used to opening wine bottles. These little beauties cost about $20 and are a simple, virtually effortless way of getting the cork out — which can sometimes be the most intimidating thing about serving wine to people at home.

Next, and at the risk of forcing the reader to recall the seedy contours of my social life, I’d recommend a Vacu-Vin system. These are the rubber-cork-and-vacuum-pump combos that, by removing much of the oxygen from an opened bottle, can extend a wine’s freshness. They cost around $10 and are sold at most wine shops; for people who don’t drink much wine and would like their bottles to last for several days, these make a great gift.

Finally, there are always wine books. Because this is putatively a list for the non-wine-lover, I’ll confine my recommendation to what remains my favorite wine book ever. The Wine Avenger, by Willie Gluckstern, is the first wine book I ever read. It’s funny, opinionated and boils down the formidable universe of wine to one of those smaller Saturn moons. More bang for the buck in the often-soporific wine-book world would be hard to find.

Tasting notes:

A somewhat mediocre crop this week: Of the four wines tasted this week, three proved disappointing.

The best of the bunch was the 1999 Abadia Retuerta Rivola, a 60/40 blend of tempranillo and cabernet sauvignon that had decent structure and deep fruit. I got it at Marty’s for $12.99. While by no means a superstar, it’s a good buy that would taste especially good with winter’s meatier dishes.

Next came the Castell Del Remei Gotim Bru 1998, which Marty’s sells for $10.99. It had good fruit but lacked “guts.” After a while, it did open up a bit and gain some structure, so it might be worth revisiting, but all in all, I found it disappointing.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment, in terms of initial expectations, was The Fifteen Grenache 2000, a 100 percent grenache wine that I bought at Marty’s for $12.99. Robert Parker, my trusty wine muse, loved this wine. I found it a little too sweet and lacking in structure; while it had a pleasant juiciness, I couldn’t stop thinking of grape Bubble Yum.

Finally, I was perhaps predictably let down by an Italian zinfandel (zin is done best, and almost exclusively, in America), the Anfora Zinfandel 2000, which Marty’s sells for $12.99. While it had a chocolatey, dark-fruited nose, it turns out to be somewhat less fruity to taste, and it lacked the characteristic jamminess of an American zin.

For better or worse, no surprises in ‘Sorcerer’s Stone’

BY LYNN LEE

Well, it’s finally here, and Harry Potter fans everywhere can breathe (somewhat) freely. The movie is scrupulously faithful to the text, perhaps faithful to a fault. In attempting to reproduce as literally as possible the scenes, events and characters of the original, the filmmakers appear to have forgotten that a good movie, even an adaptation, has to be a creative work in its own right.

The brilliance of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” lies in J.K. Rowling’s ability to create, like Tolkien, a richly layered alternative world, a parallel universe inhabited by witches and wizards — and unlike Tolkien, to do it with a light touch and an unerring ear for the present and modern, rather than the past and archaic. For every quotidian item we Muggles (non-magic folk) take for granted, Rowling conjures a magical counterpart with an ingenious twist: chocolate frogs and Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavor Beans, in place of Hershey bars and Skittles; Quidditch, played on flying brooms, in lieu of soccer; pictures in which the people move around instead of remaining in eternally fixed poses. The crowning feat of Rowling’s vision is, of course, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, her delightful riff on the British public-school system, which our hero enters with no idea what to expect.

The movie shows painstaking efforts to recreate all this, but the demands of conventional film narration force it to limit the setting to merely that, a setting, at best a sumptuous backdrop to a storyline which in itself is far less noteworthy. Narrative drive isn’t the strong suit of “The Sorcerer’s Stone:” Loosely stitched and episodic, it’s more concerned with introducing the framework of Harry’s new world than constructing a well-made plot. Rowling taps into the myths and archetypes of good versus evil drawn on by Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle, George Lucas, et al. for her über-narrative, but she’s clumsier at it here than in her later books. Which is one reason why the final showdown, in the movie, seems so painfully cheesy and downright anticlimactic. It isn’t much better in the original.

But the movie has serious flaws that can’t be blamed on the plot alone. It’s curiously dull; it lacks Rowling’s lightness and wit, paradoxically because it seems weighed down by its mission of textual fidelity. For the same reason, perhaps, it also lacks directorial vision. We may be thankful that Chris Columbus (“Home Alone,” “Mrs. Doubtfire,” “Stepmom,” etc.) doesn’t get to gum up the works with his usual mixture of slapstick and syrup, but his self-effacement leaves a vacuum. For a reader who knows in advance everything that’s going to happen, there can be no suspense in the movie except in seeing how the director is going to make it happen. The problem with a face-value transcription such as this is that it packs no surprises; it is entirely devoid of cinematic daring. Even in the visuals, there’s much to impress the eye (the filming locations, which include various Oxford sites and a stunning castle in Northumberland, are gorgeous), but little to astonish the imagination. The Quidditch match is a swift and bracing piece of technical wizardry, and only that; it feels too much like a video game, and not enough like — well, think of the flying scene in “E.T.” Spielberg, as it happens, was originally slated to direct “Harry Potter;” not surprisingly, he butted heads with Rowling and abandoned the project due to “creative differences.” No doubt he wanted to alter too much. Yet the thought occurred to me that, had he remained at the helm and been given some (but not too much) free rein, he’d have taken more liberties with the book but maybe made a better movie — one with a truer sense of wonder and enchantment.

As for the cast, all of them look and act their parts admirably, but not too many convey a genuine sense of feeling it, inhabiting it, down to the bone. There are exceptions — notably, Robbie Coltrane, who is pitch-perfect as the gigantic, rough-hewn but soft-hearted Hagrid, Harry’s first non-Muggle friend; David Bradley as the dour caretaker, Filch; and Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton), Harry’s snobbish rival at school, whose slicked-back blond hair, perpetually wrinkled nose and supercilious sneer continually upstage Daniel Radcliffe’s Harry, adorable as the latter is. I also would have liked to see more of the wonderful Maggie Smith as the straitlaced Professor McGonagall and hear more of Alan Rickman’s velvet drawl as Snape, the sinister potions teacher. As for the three stars — Radcliffe’s Harry and his best buds Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) — they do just fine. I’d pictured Harry a little edgier, Ron a little lankier and Hermione a bit more overbearing; Watson’s Hermione in particular is cuter and snippier than I had imagined her. These quibbles aside, though, their perfectly commendable performances somehow don’t really get beneath the surface of their characters. We get very little background history on anyone except Harry, and even there, explanation is minimized; we don’t get a full sense of why he, and the fact that he’s “the boy who lived,” is so damn important.

This speaks to the broader question of why the film, for all its good looks and good intentions, fails to live up to the book. I came away with the feeling that anyone who saw it who hadn’t read the book would have no better understanding what the big deal is about Harry Potter. This movie may satisfy the existing fans, but it’s unlikely to win any new ones or convince the uninitiated to read the series. A pity, because these are books that deserve to be read; unlike the movie, they transcend the sum of their parts.

It’s a man’s world, or ‘I will never complain about HLS men again’

BY GISELLE FAHIMIAN

I’m no economist, but HurryDating seems Pareto-optimal to me. What’s more efficient than spending less than $1 per date and being able to run off without giving anyone my contact information? So when the RECORD asked me to take this dating service for a test-drive, I agreed.

Wednesday, 6:30 p.m.: I’m standing in front of my closet in the Grope trying to decide what one wears to this sort of thing. I put on knee-high boots and a tight tank top.

Then again, maybe it’s time to try something different — the classy and conservative approach — so I change into a long skirt and plain brown shirt. I’m bordering on stuffy. I call a cab and head for Pravda.

7:30 p.m.: I walk into the club and make my way through a sea of thirtysomethings who look like they’re on a mission. I immediately suspect that more than a few of these balding studs stretched the truth when they signed up for the 25-to-35 age group. I’ll have to resist the urge to give them a lecture on dating within their own generation.

Someone tells me to check in at a booth in the back. A cute blonde who personifies the word “chipper” is running the event. She checks my name off a list and hands me a name tag with a number as well as a list of suggested questions to try if I’m stumped for conversation. (“Do you have an arch enemy?” “Can you roll your tongue?” “Do you own anything tie-dyed?” Hmm. Maybe not.) My “dates” will use my number (84) to keep track of me on their score sheets.

7:45 p.m.: I head to the bar for sustenance (of the food-variety). Most of the HurryDaters are enthusiastically throwing back obscene quantities of alcohol. I’m only able to resist imbibing because … well, I’m faking. I have a wonderful boyfriend whom I care about very much. Who better to observe this social phenomenon than a totally disinterested party?

The other HurryDaters are not your average Pravda crowd. For one thing, there’s an overabundance of cardigans. I’ve never seen so little skin here before — suddenly my “conservative” outfit seems hip.

7:47 p.m.: Wait, there is one categorically cute guy here. He’s wearing a leather jacket and standing by the bar.

7:49 p.m.: Never mind. My friend tells me that’s Jonas, the guy the RECORD sent.

7:52 p.m.: Two men sitting at the bar start hitting on me. “Do you do this often?” the first guy asks. ‘I should hope not,’ I think.

I leave Jonas standing alone to see how long it takes for the single women to zero in on him. The answer? Approximately 28 seconds, and the woman running the event is trying to buy him a drink.

8:05 p.m.: HurryDating begins. The women sit still, and the men move from booth to booth at the blow of a whistle. We have three minutes to “get to know each other.” To my surprise, it’s more than enough time.

8:20 p.m.: A drunk guy wearing a shiny black suit stumbles over to my table.

“See my number?” he says, pointing to his nametag. “I’m 69. Heh heh.”

He tries to slide across the bench toward me.

“Look, I’m just here to write an article,” I say, trying to get rid of him.

He refuses to be deterred. “No — you? Not you. I can tell you’re horny as hell.”

What a keeper.

8:29 p.m.: I decide to make a break for the bathroom. As I wash my hands in the bathroom, I hear one woman say, “I’m so nervous!” Another calls a friend on her cell phone and confesses: “It took me an hour to figure out what to wear!” I’ve stumbled into a bleak world where people actually look forward to this kind of torture.

8:38 p.m.: When I tell a young-ish guy that I am researching an article, he says: “That’s great — not too many people write about the porn industry these days.”

Um … nobody mentioned porn.

8:41 p.m.: The next fine specimen of manhood looks at me shyly and says, “You know who you kind of look like? You look like Cher, back in her day, back when she was young and hot.”

Great. He was old enough to remember Cher before her nasty plastic surgery days.

I will never complain about the men of HLS again.

8:47 p.m.: A fat-faced guy makes the third joke in a row about my HurryDating ID number: “You look really good for 84!” Real original.

9:14 p.m.: One guy informs me that he has a 1-2-3 ranking system for all the women he’s meeting “because, you know, I’m in sales, and that’s just the way I think.”

I sneak a peek at his sheet and notice that I’m a 2. I content myself with scribbling “God help me” in Persian next to his number on my score sheet.

9:20 p.m.: It’s over. Out of 25 men, I gave nine a “yes” on my score sheet.

9:42 p.m.: In the cab on the way back to Cambridge, my friend and I pledge that we will never — I mean never — do this again.

Sunday, 3:34 p.m.: The results are in! I was matched with six of the men I circled. That means three guys — the very nice but bald milkman, the slick Italian guy who was hitting on my friend, and that jerky cute guy from the RECORD — all turned me down.

I’m not sure how I feel about that.

Final analysis: This kind of set-up might be good for an older professional who doesn’t get out much, but it’s not likely to be the next hot thing for the grad student crowd.

New Pornographers: Just good, clean Canadian fun

BY BRIAN NEUMANN

Read the next sentence twice, and try not to laugh. The New Pornographers are a Canadian supergroup! You probably let out a little chuckle, right? Maybe you even had some fun with the concept: Let’s see, a Canadian supergroup. Well we could start off with Bryan Adams or the weird-looking dude from The Barenaked Ladies on male vocals, Celine Dion or Alanis Morissette on female vocals. Throw in the two guitarists from The Tragically Hip? Hmm … I guess we’d have to use the rhythm section from Rush: Geddy Lee and Neil Peart. At least if their live show got dull, Neil Peart could rotate his revolving 80-piece drum kit and kill about twenty minutes with a chimes and triangle solo …

Well, it turns out the joke’s on us. At least, the joke is on most of us Americans who have probably heard very little about the six Canadians that comprise this band.

The New Pornographers is the brainchild of singer, songwriter and arranger Carl Newman, whose most famous work is with Zumpano (another great Canadian band that we’ll probably never see tour the States …). Perhaps retreating a bit from Zumpano’s occasionally overwrought musical stylings, Newman zipped through his Rolodex to assemble a dream pop lineup, enlisting boy wonder and Bowie-wannabe Daniel Bejar (a.k.a. Destroyer), golden-throated alt-country singer Neko Case, bassist and producer John Collins of The Evaporators, plus a drummer with a three-octave vocal range and a keyboardist most famous for his cartoon and film work. The result was the 2000 Mint Records release Mass Romantic, a blissful, power-pop-rock record to stand alongside Cheap Trick’s Heaven Tonight and The Pixies’ Trompe le Monde.

And, as it turns out, these Pornographers aren’t too shabby in person, either. Carl and company hit the downstairs room at the Middle East in Cambridge, Mass., on a mini-tour of the Northeast, and it’s fair to say that audience got their ten dollars’ worth. Opening up with the chugging, sing-along tune “My Slow Descent Into Alcoholism,” off Mass Romantic, the New Pornographers had the room bouncing on their feet by the song’s first chorus. And as soon as Neko Case belted-out the harmony on the song’s second verse, The New Pornographers had made a speedy ascent into the inebriated hearts of everyone in the room. That woman can sing … and then some.

To listen to Neko Case recorded is an incredible experience, but to actually watch her sing is breathtaking. While the audience (and sometimes the rest of the band) gasps in awe, struggling to draw enough air to yell into a friend’s ear, “Can you believe her voice?!”, Neko simply opens her mouth and lets loose an auditory assault. In a good way. The English language needs a new verb to describe the manner in which Neko produces sound. It is not singing. It is some peculiar form of channeling, in which her vocal chords become conduit for a blend of Linda Ronstadt’s, Patsy Cline’s and Ozzy Osbourne’s voices, driven through a Marshall amp with all the knobs turned to 10.

As the applause from the opening tune rang out, the band offered a new song, “The Electric Version.” Another jangly Big Star-esque product of the Carl Newman Songwriting School, this new song was a quick hit with the crowd and bodes well for the next Pornographers release. Although guitarist/songwriter Dan Bejar left the band earlier this year and is neither recording nor touring with them, the Pornographers have found a stellar replacement in keyboardist/guitarist Todd Fancey, and they’ve turned over some of Dan’s vocal parts to drummer Kurt Dahle (who is an absolute rock force, both in timekeeping and vocals).

Between tunes, Carl and Neko flirted and joked with the crowd, each other, and members of opening band Kingsbury Manx. Carl accused Neko of making a play for the soundman: “She does that to every soundman, wherever we play,” he told the crowd (about half of which suddenly wished they were working the controls of the soundboard). Neko responded by calling Carl a lush, which he didn’t seem to mind. Six-string Danelectro slung around his neck, the lead singer struck a pouty, Jagger-like pose and asked the crowd to bring him some drinks. Well, he may have had a few too many because about halfway through the set he made some bizarre pronouncements: “It’s nice to be back at the Middle East! We played upstairs last time we were here, but the downstairs is a lot better because it doesn’t smell like a toilet!” And I thought Canadians were respected worldwide for their social graces and easy charm.

Truth is, The New Pornographers could have done or said whatever they wanted, since the audience was drooling over them. With a few new songs interspersed, the band played all of the twelve songs on Mass Romantic, and I think most of the crowd wouldn’t have minded hearing some of those more than once. The opening set breezed by in an instant. Only after feeling their vocal chords throb from roaring “this boy’s life under the electrical lights” what seemed like a few hundred times during the glorious refrain of set closer “Mass Romantic” did the crowd realize that they’d been swaying and singing for over an hour.

The band had barely completed the obligatory stroll offstage when Neko Case quickly returned, claiming, “The Canadians just beat Kingsbury Manx in a tickle fight.” Carl Newman hopped back on stage to lead the encore, teasing the crowd with the opening riffs of Stooges’ anthem “1969” and Led Zeppelin’s “Heartbreaker.” But instead of those rock chestnuts, the band turned in a passionate, emotive version of “Send Me a Postcard” by late-’60s bubble-gum band Shocking Blue. This may have been the night’s highlight, featuring Neko singing the first verse in the twangy, country style that’s earned her a living, before being joined by Carl on low harmony for the refrain and remainder of the song. The band finished off the show with “Centre for Holy Wars” and the Nick Lowe classic “Cruel to Be Kind,” showing off four-part harmonies as a parting shot.

So for those who think Canadian rock music hasn’t given us much except Neil Young, Robbie Robertson and maybe a few Sloan tunes, check out The New Pornographers. While American boy bands and teen pop stars focus on dance steps and magazine covers, some of our neighbors to the North are working on the next Pet Sounds.

Timbaland & Magoo: Your question answered

BY KEN WALCZAK

Timbaland & MagooIndecent Proposal$18.97 ($11.88 from the Newbury Comics Email Club)

So there’s a new Timbaland album out?

Yep. Timbaland & Magoo: Indecent Proposal.

Indecent Proposal?

Another rap album that steals its title from a movie?

Hey, at least it’s not called To Wong Foo …

Too true. I thought this thing was, like, pushed back to January of 2000 — never or something …

No, you’re thinking of the Neptunes album. This one came out last Tuesday.

OK, let’s get to it then. Is this album worth my $18.97 Suggested Retail Price?

Please. $15 max. In an age of Student Advantage cards, online coupons and the Newbury Comics Email friggin’ Club, the MSRP is for suckers. No one pays it.

But yes, if you had to pay full price, I’d still say go for it. Indecent Proposal is a lot of fun, and it should keep the thangs backing up nicely at your next Bar Review After-Party. Of course, maybe you hang out with the 1Ls at Stanford, in which case your parties don’t need any encouragement.

But is it hot?

Of course it is. Has Timbaland let you down before? More to the point, has he let you down recently? His tracks on the Aaliyah record: hot. The latest Missy record: hot. Petey Pablo? “Some Like It Hot”? “Hola Hovito”? Hot hot hot.

And the beats here are just as nice. “Drop” is a classic club banger that switches gears to hard house 4 minutes in; “All Y’all” is on some crazy-flute shit (and nothing, I mean nothing beats a crazy flute); “It’s Your Night” brings the grimy, synthesized funk. And that’s just the first third of the album …

Wow. I read somewhere that Magoo is a good MC now. Is this true, or even kind of true?

No, it is not. I realize that in interviews with MTV, etc., Tim has been touting the great strides made of late by his protégé. He may not be lying – Mags certainly wasn’t any good before. That being said, however, Magoo is still not a good rapper by any stretch of the imagination.

For one thing, his newest strategy appears to be slowing it down a notch and dragging out his words more …

Like Snoop Dogg?

Personally, I would have said “like Da Brat’s developmentally handicapped cousin,” but yes.

Either way the man is not about to steal the spotlight away from Timbaland. In fact, his producer is the better MC on this record. Sample lyrics:

Tim: “Shake that ass as fast as you can/ White girls shake it like you’re burnin’ from a suntan.”

Magoo: “I live life to the fullest/ Drive cars, eat hot food/ Live in a mansion next to Hanson.”

Eat hot food?! I rest my case.

Considering the panoply of guests surrounding him, the really sad part is that Magoo is probably the fourth or fifth best MC on what amounts to his own record. (Maybe sixth – can I count Aaliyah?)

Oh, yes, Aaliyah. She had so much talent, the poor girl. How is her posthumous appearance anyway?

Disappointing. There is nothing wrong with her singing, certainly, and the beat is solid enough, but what an awful concept. It’s called “I Am Music” and all the words essentially pound a single reification (Aaliyah-as-song) into your head. You can buy her in the store, she lives in the radio in your car, etc. etc. Incredibly corny, and therefore such a waste.

Does Beck sing on it? I heard he was going to.

No Beck, thank God.

You know I am always searching for the source of these “gay rapper” rumors. Are there, by chance, any strange homoerotic undertones on the album?

Funny you should ask. To begin with, there is a skit in which Tim goes out of his way to avoid the advances of a crowd of sexy-voiced women, who conclude “you trippin’ …” when he finally succeeds in squirming away. Then there are Tim’s reminders to women on “People Like Myself” that he doesn’t “want your sex.” On “Party People,” Magoo makes some muddled reference to biting ears and sucking blood from other MCs, but this is probably reaching.

By far the most striking homoeroticism comes from a character named Sebastin (!), who pops up on several tracks without ever earning a “Featuring” credit, the poor guy. His verse on “Roll Out” makes reference to “eating raw franks.” If you’ve got a less controversial interpretation, I’d love to hear it.

But let’s not get carried away, either. None of this should be viewed out of context. There are certainly plenty of references to how much women looove Tim & Mags, and the lyrics in general are characterized by an utter disregard for self-contradiction. There are contradictory phrases and moments all over the place.

Such as?

Such as Timbaland alternately exhorting the party people to “get some liquor in the gut,” and teetotaling: “I don’t drink and smoke/ That’s why I love my body.” Such as Magoo’s above-mentioned “live life to the fullest” lines juxtaposed with his assurances that he “hates the game,” and stays home from clubs because the attention bugs him. Such as the hypnotic chorus “People like myself only hang with self,” and really all the words in that song, versus the fact that this album alone has no fewer than 13 guests on it, all of them either past associates of Timbaland or new disciples …

Yeah, what’s up with Tim’s ever-expanding circle of acolytes, anyway? I mean Beat Club, Blackground … I can’t keep up. Can you explain how this all fits together?

Nope; sorry. It confuses the hell out of me, too.

Anything else I should know?

Well, do you remember how the last 40 seconds of “We Need A Resolution” were far and away the best part of that song? A lot of the stuff on Indecent Proposal works that way, too. Listen to the ends of these songs, and the segues between them, and you will be reminded of why Timbaland is the best thing mainstream hip-hop and R&B production have going for them right now.

In fact the whole album is really a triumph of A&R, in both the old and new sense of the industry term. Time was, the A&R guy decided which order the songs went in on an LP – hence the title, Artists & Repertory. Indecent Proposal displays immaculate track ordering – everything flows into everything else naturally, allowing the oft-mentioned party people to put down their glasses and still their asses only once every 6 or 7 songs. Skits are minimal, and serve either to flesh out an introduction or to demarcate the LP’s thirds (into The Dance Part, The Petey Pablo Part, and The Quiet Part, respectively). It’s all superbly executed.

Nowadays an A&R guy recruits and signs new talent for a label, which is of course exactly what Timbaland has been doing for years, and what he continues to do with Tweet, Static from Playa, and even Mr. Sebastin on Indecent Proposal. To the extent that they all make distinct contributions to a successful, funky-as-hell record, Tim succeeds here, too.

Fenno

BY

It was a nice day in Cambridge for near December. It occurred to Fenno that the global warming thing wasn’t all bad. He took a drag on his cigarette. There was something about the man sitting next to him that soured the taste of the cigarette for Fenno. This guy reeked of … evil.

“So, Fenno, how much is it going to cost us? Can you do the thing?” asked the man in the trench coat. The voice almost sounded Romanian, but it was closer to the ambiguous, multi-ethnic accent of all European terrorists in ’80s movies. It made Fenno feel cold.

“One-point-five million!” said Fenno. He knew they were good for it. It was just a question of how badly they wanted the deed done, and Fenno knew that he was the only one who could do it.

“You’ll get what you want, Fenno. Money is no object.” The man popped open his briefcase and removed a small vial. “We only need one drop, Fenno, and you’ll get the money. Call this number when you have it.”

The man got up and walked away, leaving Fenno alone on his bench by the Charles. He looked at the piece of paper that the man had left him. 702-497-9186. Immediately memorizing it, he lit it on fire and tossed the ashes over his shoulder. Pocketing the vial, he turned and ran back towards campus.

Fenno looked at his watch as he entered campus. There wasn’t much time. He had to locate the target quickly. Fenno headed for Austin Hall. As he entered he saw Charlie Nesson and several white male students looking officious. Though it was obviously Nesson, and the students were all obviously blond and white, Fenno was confused by the fact that they were all wearing blackface.

“What the hell are you doing?” asked Fenno.

“We’re parodying racists, Fenno. Isn’t it obvious?” said Nesson. He was smiling in the way that only those with disastrously high IQs can.

“But I thought the whole point was that blackface was inherently racist?”

“Indeed, Fenno. Indeed. However at this moment I am actually playing Hitler playing Al Warren playing Charles Ogletree, so I am not the racist.” said Nesson.

“Who is?”

“That’s the question, isn’t it?” said Nesson. Fenno grabbed him by the shoulders and gave him a shake.

“Listen, I must find Clark. Do you know how to find Bob Clark?”

“Yes. Find COLO, find Clark,” said Nesson. Fenno watched as Nesson’s presence disappeared from his body right in front of him. He dropped the limp, sleeping body and ran out of Austin. He had to find COLO, but where would it be? Fenno looked in the sky and it hit him. He ran towards Hauser.

As Fenno entered the building, smiling men in Haz-Mat suits greeted him.

“Welcome to Hauser Hall! We’d just like to remind you that the air quality here has been rated at the ‘Russian-prison’ level. Enter at your own risk!” Fenno pushed the men out of his way and walked to the elevator. He pushed the button and waited. Several hours later the elevator arrived, and Fenno stepped in. He didn’t press a button. The door closed, and, after Fenno was completely still for a moment, the elevator began a high-speed trip down. It arrived at its destination and the doors opened on an opulent board room. The table was circular, and in the center sat Dean Robert Clark. Surrounding him were the seven faces of COLO! Elena Kagan jumped out of her seat and ran towards Fenno.

“How did you find us here?” she yelled. Her tone was demanding in a way that made Fenno feel that he had to answer. It was heavily … socratic.

“It was easy once I thought about it. If I wanted to get a law school community out of a city really fast, and I didn’t want to risk a Tom Clancy-esque reactor accident, how would I do it? Begin to infect the buildings with ‘toxic mold’!” said Fenno. The members of COLO nodded in appreciation of Fenno’s intellect. Hal Jackson looked angry.

“But how did you know how to get into the COROBORO?” asked Jackson.

“Well, that was just a guess, but I reasoned that no modern elevator could really be as slow as the one in this building pretends to be, so it only made sense that the lag time was actually just a front for the time it take the elevator to get back from a secret underground bunker,” said Fenno. Again, the members of COLO nodded approvingly.

“Well, Fenno,” said Clark. “What do you want. A position on COLO? I think there might be a place for a man with your deductive reasoning skills. How does ‘Assistant Dean of Assistant Deandom’ sound?” said a smiling Clark. Fenno nodded. This was too easy.

“I accept,” said Fenno. “Can we shake on it?”

He outstretched his hand and, as Clark extended his, he jabbed him with the hypodermic vial. It immediately filled with Clark’s blood. Fenno ran back into the elevator and pressed the “door close” button. It slammed shut before anyone could stop him and shot up to the first floor. Fenno pulled out his cell phone and called the number as he ran out of the building.

“This is Fenno. I have it!” he yelled.

“Meet us at the Harvard boathouse,” said a woman’s voice. Fenno dropped the phone and ran towards the river. He got there and a large boat with the word CLONAID on the back was at the dock. Fenno ran on and handed the man in the trench coat the vial. All of the Raelians on the boat began clapping as the man held up the vial of blood in triumph. He handed Fenno a briefcase.

“So, now you can clone Clark and replace him with one raised over three weeks in a liberal think tank?” asked Fenno. The trench coated man exchanged a knowing glance with the Raelian next to him.

“There’s been a change of plan, Fenno,” said the man. Kagan walked out of the back of the boat and took the vial. She put it in a case which had several other vials in it. One was labeled Summers. Another said Fried. Yet another was labeled Ashcroft. Fenno was confused.

“Kagan? A Raelian? But, she was with COLO?” said Fenno.

“Yes,” said Kagan. “The Committee On Locational Options and CLONAID were able to find some common ground. They wanted to make a clone, we had the money and the need to combine the DNA of enough great leaders to make one fit to lead the new, greater law school in Allston. We’re calling it COLO Commander!”

“But, that’s from an episode of G.I. JOE! And it makes no sense!” screamed Fenno. Everyone around him laughed.

“Life is not a cartoon! It is not a comic book …” said Fenno. He wasn’t even sure if he believed himself.

Report Card

BY

It’s the end of the semester, and grades are in!*In the spirit of HLS, these grades may seem completely arbitrary. That’s because, in a way, they are.

Mark Weber — An enthusiastic B+. Let’s face it, Mark. The legal market right now ain’t so hot, and “challenging” is a transparent euphemism. But overall you’ve done an admirable job of eliminating some of the more arcane aspects of the OCI process.

Whoever keeps arbitrarily tearing student comments off of the Sound-off board — C-. Someone has to maintain standards of public decency, but a little consistency would be nice.

Charlie Nesson — X. What are grades, anyway? No, really, you get a C. You’ve kept us rolling in the floors this fall, but we’re not amused with the in-class description of your sexual organs.

ITS — W/D. Your reassuring emails are nice, but let’s see some results.

The genius at the distribution center who decided to put course packets on the counter — A. We don’t have to yell “Contracts with Brewer. No! BREWER!” over the din of the Xerox machines anymore. Plus, now we trust you when you tell us there’s nothing to pick up.

Grade reform — F. What reform? If you were trying to make the first year less competitive, why did you vote to add a grade for FYL? And a “suggested mandatory curve” doesn’t get a lot of mileage at a school where professors can’t agree on when to schedule a speaker.

That white-haired woman who’s almost slower than OpenMail when checking people out at the Hark — C-. We have places to be, lady. And, yes, I am a student.

Faculty rumor mill — A+. Thanks for keeping us amused, guys. From now on, a little less national press would be better for the school, but suit yourselves.

Shawn McDonald — B-. He surpassed Nick Brown when it comes to HLS in the public eye, but we’re not thrilled with his comments about having his own “little outsourced stable” of women.

Undergrads who use Hemenway — D-. This campus isn’t yours yet. Get off my treadmill.

Dean Clark — GNR. We’re waiting to see if you will weigh faculty and student input on the Allston option. But we do like the fact that you’ve been known to play a little foosball.

HL Central — C+. Bring back TJ! At least then we’ll know what your intentions are. All this stuff about community service is confusing us. Can we get points for helping our roommates nurse their bar review hangovers?

And speaking of which … TJ Duane — A. Thanks for the pizza at the MPRE-review class.

LETTER: Civil Rights and Homeland Security

BY

On the day before Thanksgiving, at 6:20 AM, my husband and I stood in line amongst people hailing from around the world whose unifying cause in waiting outside before dawn through a snow storm was the hope to become citizens of the United States. We were waiting outside the Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) headquarters, to appeal a last-minute cancellation of our immigration interview, the final phase in my sponsorship of my husband’s permanent resident application. Two weeks before the date we had been assigned in August, our interview was delayed for over four months rendering my husband ineligible for federal education loans, and ruining his plans to attend graduate school. We are lucky. For us, the delay simply “delays” the natural course of our lives. For others standing in line with us, recent changes in federal immigration procedures meant an indefinite and unreliable termination of family separation. Freezing INS-classified “priority” cases is a violation of American citizens’ fundamental right to family unification, established and codified not only in our domestic law, but also in international treaties that form the core of the human rights doctrine our country proudly advocates abroad.

Since the new Department of Homeland Security was established, the INS is in havoc. Timing guidelines once strictly adhered to have been revoked. Under new regulations not available for public distribution, the INS has reserved the right to indefinitely postpone the granting of immigration interviews which form part of the federal right to family unification through immigration. This creates a group of status-less immediate relatives of American citizens whose mobility is severely restricted by their inability to leave the country without defaulting on their visa application, for an indefinite period of years.

The scene we experienced at the INS was disturbingly Kafkaesque. Clerks and bureaucrats dispossessed of any information directed herds of confused citizens and immigrants from one desk to another, shuffling forms, dispelling responsibilities, answering inquiries with “I dunno, no one knows.” My Congressman attempted to interfere on our behalf along with many of his other constituents, only to receive the same response. The lack of any appeals mechanism before the issuing of a final visa rejection and deportation warrant leaves citizens at the mercy of powerless clerks. Additional security precautions are certainly necessary, but their victims are not potential terrorists–who have succeeded in securing visas since September 11th–but innocent Americans and their sponsored relatives, whose rights have been temporarily frozen while the INS restructures.

Unfortunately, as an Israeli dual-citizen, I am experienced with the potential dangers of subjugating civil rights to security concerns in times of war or potential terrorism. Israeli citizens have long been torn between demanding security and lamenting government infringement of individual rights for security concerns in car searches and roadblocks, mandatory identification cards, and other security investigations. The United States consistently demands of Israel to respect individual rights to the greatest extent possible while fighting terror. Now, while under attack, it must serve as a model of its own philosophy. Clearly, new security measures must be instated. But there are ways of balancing improved security and the maintenance of civil rights. A citizen’s complaints Ombudsman at the major immigration offices, for example, could be granted a mandate to interfere on behalf of special cases that are especially damaged by the new proceedings. In moving towards a security-conscious society, while remembering that we remain an immigrant society, striking and maintaining such a balance is critically important.

Hephzibah Levine, 1L

Winter theater review

BY AMANDA GOAD

A short survey of some theater opportunities available to us in the weeks before finals:

A Carol Christmas: Not Your Average Holiday Show, presented by The Footlight Club. This tiny JP company is consistently voted best in Boston by the readers of The Boston Phoenix and Improper Bostonian. Its holiday show is a benefit ($25/ticket) for efforts to restore the performance space, historic Eliot Hall. December 6 and 7 only, reception 7 pm/ show 8pm. Info: www.footlight.org or 617 524-3200

Uncle Vanya, written by Anton Chekhov, presented by the American Repertory Theatre at Loeb Drama Center in Harvard Square. Chaos befalls the village when Professor Serebriakov returns from St. Petersburg with his bride. November 30 – December 28, tickets $34 – $68 with $5 discounts for online purchase OR student ID (not both). Info: www.amrep.org or 617-547-8300.

The Pirates of Penzance, presented by the MIT Gilbert and Sullivan Players. “If you liked Trial by Jury, you’ll love Pirates!” claims their trombone player. Nov. 21-23 at 8pm, plus Nov. 23-24 at 2 p.m, La Sala de Puerto Rico, MIT Student Center. Tickets $8 for Harvard students, $10 general public, advance reservations suggested. http://web.mit.edu/gsp/www/current.html, (617) 253-0190.

Stones in His Pockets, at the Shubert Theater/Wang Center for the Performing Arts. Bronson Pinchot and one other actor play 15 characters in this comedy about a Hollywood film crew shooting on location in rural Ireland. Dec. 3-15, see www.wangcenter.org for times, Tickets $35-$65, 1-800-447-7400.

The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife, co-presented by Broadway in Boston and the Huntington Theatre Company. Critically acclaimed comic tale of a New Yorker’s midlife crisis, starring Rhoda Morgenstern (The Mary Tyler Moore Show). Dec. 3 – Jan. 1, see http://www.broadwayinboston.com/html/shows/allergist/schedule.html for times, Tickets $47-$67, (617)880-2400.