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Thursday, Oct. 15, 2009

Riding easy through American culture

Classic Movie review

AMATEURS KEVIN MALICKI So you play guitar, do you? What a surprise! Because the last time I checked, so does every damn person in college . No, I understand, you’re different than the rest, right? What’s your self-ascribed code for redemption in this world of six-string enthusiasts? “It’s about the music man, it’s about the feel of the rhythm!� Or, “I only play for myself, to better my musicianship.� Even “Hey you know that song from dispatch called ‘The General’?� Yes, we’ve heard that song, and, no, we don’t want to hear it. We don’t want to hear “Blackbird,� or “Knocking on Heaven’s Door� or “Hotel California� from anyone else besides Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan and the Eagles, respectively. We don’t want to hear your flawed replication of the introduction to “Stairway to Heaven� and we certainly don’t want to hear an acoustic version of “Iron Man� or “Smoke on the Water.� And for Christ’s sake, keep your jam sessions in your room. I know how magical those moments can be – I’ve been playing guitar since the seventh grade – but frankly, the longer I’m in college the less I can stand the fraudulent musicianship that seems to ooze out of every corner of college life. I’m not exactly sure where this trend started, but I want to say medieval Europe. In the days of yore, fair maidens were serenaded by the dexterous finger work of gentlemen and their lutes. They say this was a time before chivalry was dead, but I don’t buy it. Even if playing a 13-course Baroque-era lute with 24 strings was more difficult, those chaps were just trying to get laid. As time went on, we just got lazier; the 24 strings were divided by four and “Greensleeves� was surpassed by Jason Mraz. The problem has only continued from there with the proliferation of games like “Guitar Hero� and “Rock Band�. Not only have we moved to fewer strings on the instrument, but we’ve moved away from real instruments all together. Suddenly, wildly clicking colored buttons have become just as viable an option to impress others as wildly strumming something by State Radio. Might I add that neither one is very impressive. Most guitar players I have met, myself included, are a standard issue representative of the music they listen to. There will always be someone out there claiming to be better or secretly holding the view that they are better. Whether or not they are actually better is not significant, it just means there is always going to be someone else trying to do exactly what you’re doing. We’ve almost completely lost a sense of what making music is really about because everyone is doing it. No one really jams for the simple sake of creating music but because it beats whipping out their man-pieces and comparing sizes. Jam sessions between guitarists don’t last because the music is good, they last because it’s a battle of endurance to see which guitar player gives up first. This is why there’s always a bevy of instrumental boasters in every Guitar Center I’ve ever been in, wailing on their guitar like they’re the next Hendrix in a dissonant fury of crap. Or the soft-spoken Van Morrison-type, who insists he creates music for emotional satisfaction. There’s a character for each genre of music and each is just as fake as the next. This creates a competitive energy that entrenches each guitar player in an endless battle of one-up-manship while the rest of the population watches in awe. This is precisely why most popular music includes guitar; we’ve forgotten how to appreciate any other instrument. Sure, the guitar is a versatile and accessible instrument, it’s a staple in most modern music, and who doesn’t love a killer solo? But just because the guitar is all of those things does not make the player all of those things. Picking up an axe and clumsily banging out something from James Taylor or Dave Matthews does not make you gifted, it does not make you cool, and it certainly does not make you versatile. It makes you just like every other schmuck on campus who carries their shoelace-strapped Martin into the center of the quad, acting cool but secretly hoping that everyone is watching. We are watching and we see right through you. If you really want to impress your friends and the opposite sex, pick up a violin, or a trumpet, or a fricken glockenspiel for all I care, just not a guitar. Kevin Malicki can be contacted at kmalicki@keeneequinox.com.

Steve Theleen

Equinox Staff

stand them. They meet a rancher, enjoy time in a hippie commune and after a run-in with the law, meet George Hanson (Jack Nicholson), an alcoholic lawyer who helps the two get out of jail. Inspired by what the men are doing, Hanson decides to join them after failing several times previously himself to get to Mardi Gras. Hanson knows the way things work in life and what makes people act the way they do. Along the way he offers comments, peppered with advice and observations. Their encounter in a restaurant with rednecks, who judge them based on their appearances is foretelling. Later that night, as they sit around a campfire Hanson talks about how others are not scared of Captain America and Billy as people, but rather they are afraid of what they represent, freedom. Hanson’s views on how Americans often talk about the value of freedom, but are actually afraid of anyone who exhibits it, captures the essence of the film. This is the last piece of advice we hear from Hanson before he is brutally murdered by the rednecks met earlier. Hanson’s words, as well as his death, leaves a lasting impression on the men for the rest of their journey. In another scene, they make camp for the night and Billy is excited because they reached their destination with their drug money. We finally learn Captain America’s name is Wyatt and he simply responded to Billy by saying: “We blew it.� It is left to the viewer to interpret the meaning behind Wyatt’s words. In the end, the film’s cultural importance is as important today as it was 40 years ago. The message still rings true that peoples beliefs about what our society should be like does not mean that people should also simply live their lives the way they see fit. To be different is to threaten. The film shows people try to live out their own personal dreams, it should not matter to society what beliefs or lifestyle people have, even if they happen to be different from the “norm.� We all need to take it easy in this ride called life.

In order to more fully appreciate “Easy Rider� (1969), shown throughout last week at the Redfern Arts Center in celebration of the 40th anniversary of its release, it is most important to remember the time period in which this film was made. It is easy for anyone born two decades or more after the film’s release to more simply characterize “Easy Rider� as a story of drugs, hippies and free love gone wrong. However, to do so would overlook the rich message this film offers about whether a society that professes to proudly uphold the values of an individual freedom, actually has much tolerance at all for the freedom of individual. It also seems fair to say 40 years later that a film made on a $500,000 budget (a low amount even in 1969) that grossed over $60 million worldwide by 1972, has offered a cultural message of deeper significance to millions of people. That is worth examining in more detail. The end of the 1960’s in America is commonly described as an era of counter-culture and social revolution brought on by the younger generation in protest of materialism, conservative and social conformity, and the U.S.’s extensive involvement in Vietnam. Questioning authority, demanding more rights for more people (in particular women and minorities)and drug use are examples of the cultural changes at work during this time. Perhaps one of the best ways to put this time period in proper context is to remember that as “Easy Rider� was playing in theaters, Woodstock was unfolding in upstate New York. The film is based on living in America during this time period. The story revolves around two men, Captain America (Peter Fonda) and Billy (Dennis Hopper), who use money made in a drug deal in Los Angeles to help pay for a cross-country trip on their motorcycles to Mardi Gras in New Orleans. In addition to staring role, Hopper directed the film, who also wrote the screenplay with Peter Fonda, who served as the film’s producer. Along the way, they experience the scenery of America’s countryside, but also the Steve Theleen can be contacted at stheleen@ harshness of the people who do not under- keeneequinox.com

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September 12–November 24, 2009

Downstream: Current Works on Water by Six Artists Christine Destrempes, Janet Fredericks, Amy Jenkins, Mary Lang, Nathalie Miebach, and Marjorie Ryerson use water as inspiration and metaphor in a variety of innovative media to address the issue of the shrinking global availability of clean water.

Migrations: New Directions in Native American Art The Migrations project was developed to identify and showcase emerging Native American artists working with a contemporary vocabulary.

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October 24–December 6, 2009

Out of Sequence: Underrepresented Voices in American Comics Celebrating creators of comics, both historical and contemporary, from underrepresented demographics, including women and minorities.

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Columnist ClassiC movie review Thorne-Sagendorph Art Gallery Black [ KeeneEquinox.com ] Steve Theleen can be contacted at stheleen@ keeneequ...