Every month, Cosmik Debris brings you many CD and record reviews, but the writers manage to find a little time for other pursuits, like reading, going to movies and watching videos. That's where Everything Else In Review comes in.

MOVIE: The Lord Of The Rings - The Fellowship Of The Ring
Starring Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Christopher Lee,
Ian Holm, Sean Astin, Sean Bean, Cate Blanchett, and Liv Tyler
Directed by Peter Jackson Screenplay by Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and
Philippa Boyens
Music by Howard Shore, Enya New Line Cinema

Reviewed by Rusty Pipes

I spent all summer studying for this movie. How? By reading aloud both The Hobbit and The Fellowship Of The Ring to my kids. Call it a preemptive strike against what I feared would be a Hollywood hatchet job on one of the all-time great pieces of literature. It turns out that I needn't have feared; this is an awesome, expansive motion picture that does justice to J.R.R. Tolkein's masterpiece.

Maybe the reason it wasn't a hatchet job is because Director Peter Jackson hardly qualifies as a Hollywood type. In his native New Zealand in the 80's he shot his first 8MM film, Bad Taste, with help from the Film Board there. That was enough to launch his career. Rising fast, in 1994 he got an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay for another Down Under production, Heavenly Creatures. His first real Hollywood credit is 1996's The Frighteners. Many of his movies are in the horror genre and he uses that experience to craft the dark tones that give FOTR much of its power.

I'm not going to try to synopsize Fellowship's screenplay. Pieces of Tolkein's Ring Trilogy have been copied so many times over the last five decades, it seems like this story of Hobbits, Elves, Dwarves, Men, Wizards, Orcs and Goblins should be familiar to everyone already, even trite. In truth it's the granddaddy of all modern sword and sorcery epics in books, movies, cartoons and comics. And yes, video games too. (Remember the bad guys in Warcraft? Orcs.) Fans of the Ring Trilogy will be happy to find that the movie walks the same magical paths Tolkein trod throughout its 3 hours. Unfortunately that still isn't long enough for Jackson to get in all 500 pages of the original. Tom Bombadil and his enchanted forest are completely missing. On the other hand some scenes, such as the history of Sauron's Ring and the conflict with Saruman, are fleshed out a little. Frodo's savior at the river changes to a woman, the Elfin Lady Arwan, who is also a love interest for Aragorn, but don't expect me to complain about watching Liv Tyler on screen instead of another man playing Glorfindel from the book. The only other female character, Galadriel, played by Cate Blanchett, certainly could use the help. Call it a nod to 21st century political correctness. Also Boromir's battle at the end is actually from the first chapter of The Two Towers. Only purists would argue that these things are flaws; all the important scenes are there.

However I do miss the poetry. When I read it to my kids every twenty pages or so there was a lovely bit of verse as a character recites an ancient tale or sings a song. Tolkein was a linguist first and it's one of the most beautiful things about his books. In the movie Arwan and Aragorn at least express their love in Tolkein Elvish with subtitles, but that's as close as you get. Now I wouldn't expect a dozen poems sprinkled throughout, but still, a couple poems or a song delivered in one of the many languages of Middle Earth would have added a lot to the production.

They did at least work out distinct accents for each of the different races and all the actors are quite believable in their Middle Earth guises, however it's tough for actors to put their own stamp on roles that are so archetypical. Elijah Wood as Frodo certainly plays the reluctant hero well but there's not much unexpected in his portrayal. By the way, am I the only one who thinks his face would have been better as an Elf? Sean Astin's face as faithful Sam, now that's a hobbit. Ian McKellen does a perfect job as Gandalf The Gray, especially when up against the old master of the Dracula role, Christopher Lee as Saruman The White. Veteran Ian Holm is endearing as befuddled, obsessed Bilbo. Viggo Mortensen plays the mysterious warrior Strider with a cold intensity, but perhaps the best work is done by Sean Bean as Boromir, the knight of Gondor who longs to use the Ring to save his country, but is in anguish because the Fellowship is charged to destroy it. In this sea of seriousness, Jackson was wise to also give us some comic relief from Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd as fellow hobbits Merry and Pippin.

The general tone of the movie depends more on the colors in the photography and the wonderfully realized sets than special effects. Jackson employs the unspoiled landscapes of his native land as Middle Earth, making for richly leafy Elvan exteriors or barren and blasted wastelands in the places touched by evil. When magical firefights happen obviously the animators worked overtime, but most of their work is quite subtle. One of the more amazing things is how the actors playing half-size characters are handled in shots with other full-size actors. John Rhys-Davies is somehow squashed into the role of Gimli the Dwarf. (I don't think this dwarf could be tossed in real life!) Likewise, McKellen and Holm are about the same size; but Gandalf looks really cramped in a hobbit hole, while Bilbo fits perfectly in the same place talking with him and handing him items. All this is built off a fine sonic foundation. Howard Shore (the original bandleader on SNL) has made a score of great intensity, very dark compared to most big budget movies, waxing Wagnerian with dashes of Celtic pipes to accentuate the flavor of Middle Earth in the lighter scenes. In a similar vein, Enya's two new songs are briefly heard in the scenes with lots of Elves around. Again the work is dead on target.

All in all, I think old JRR would be happy with Jackson's adaptation of Fellowship. Me? I was knocked out by it. I came out of the theater thinking it was better than Star Wars, but I now realize I shouldn't compare them before the trilogy is complete. One of my few complaints about the Star Wars movies is how much they changed after the first release. A New Hope started out with the Imperial Troopers as truly fearsome enemies (see those precision blast points?), but by Return Of The Jedi, little teddy bears were whupping up on them. Phantom's little boy Anakin wasn't all that convincing either. Still, Lucas's masterful series is the benchmark for all SF and fantasy and to even think Fellowship may be superior is high praise for Jackson. I hope he maintains the high quality through The Two Towers and The Return Of The King. Apparently they're shot already, so if he does he will have achieved something monumental. For its place in literary history, Lord Of The Rings deserves it.

(C) 2001 - Rusty Pipes

DVD: The Story Of The Moody Blues - Legend Of A Band
Polydor Records - Running time 1 hour 20 minutes

Reviewed by DJ Johnson

Legend Of A Band was released as a video in 1990, just before keyboardist Patrick Moraz left The Moody Blues. This DVD doesn't seem to offer anything that the video didn't offer other than the standard DVD ability to choose your own sound configuration. They didn't even bother to update the back of the box, referring to the band's 25 year career (which is almost a 37 year career now, see). So there you go. There's the negative paragraph. Yep! It's a paste job. But what does that mean? It means another video is now available in DVD format. Another video won't wear down from friction and end up sounding like crap and having video static across the middle of the picture. Boo hoo.

The positives are plenty. Legend Of A Band allows the band to tell their own story without an anonymous narrator interrupting. Vintage footage of the band in Beatlesque suits and haircuts, playing fast and hopping up and down in the mid 1960s, show the beginning of a voyage that would take a very different course after a few members jumped ship and Eric Burdon let the band have some of the mail from musicians who had answered The Animals' ad that simply said "established rock band seeking guitarist." The first name they pulled was Justin Hayward, according to Ray Thomas, and the rest is history. History well documented on this DVD.

Over the course of 80 minutes we hear the story up until 1989. We fly to the empty fields of the Isle Of Wight with John Lodge, get the zanier perspective on things from Graeme Edge, the more reserved observations from Thomas, and in one of the most personal moments for the viewer, we're treated to a private acoustic performance of "Tuesday Afternoon" by Justin Hayward, who has just explained how he came to write the song sitting in a field on a beautiful day.

There are videos, too. For my money, there could have been more vintage performances and less then-recent videos of songs that former Yes keyboardist Patrick Moraz had, let's face it, been so busy on that they ended up sounding like Electric Light Orchestra. But in 1990, this is what they were selling, so who can blame them? All in all, it's 80 minutes well spent, you do come away knowing the legend of the band, and that's the important thing.

(C) 2002 - DJ Johnson

BOOK: The Indie Bible - Third Edition
Editor - David Wimble
Big Meteor Publishing
ISBN 0-9686214-1-4, 322 pages, $25.95 US

Reviewed by Bill Holmes

Crammed with thousands of listings, contacts, web sites, phone numbers and contact names, The Indie Bible is a massive 9x12 tome that no musician or industry person should be without. By it's nature, any contact or mass marketing list is only as good as its database, and we all know that those change daily. Maintaining thousands of contacts is a daunting task, let alone creating one in the first place, so the thought behind this book is that the musician or publicist can spend less time gathering the information and more time using it. After selecting fifty entries at random, I logged on to the Internet and was pleased to get forty-nine successful hits, which is a strong result. To maintain a high rate of accurate returns, Editor David Wimble, in his introduction, asks that corrections and additions be forwarded to his attention (www.indiebible.com has a community message board as well as detailed information about the book itself).

The book is separated into different media - radio, magazines, etc. - and then into musical genre within those parameters. Naturally there are entries that span categories, and Wimble has used a judicious eye to make this easy for the reader. Some entries list only a web address, while others have complete contact information and/or a short description of the listing. It appears that the comments were supplied by the person submitting the listings rather than by the Editor, and the book makes no effort to editorialize on the competency or reliability of the specific contacts. While I'm certain any responsible Editor would weed out known fraudulent entities, it's virtually impossible for anyone to maintain that level of information on a go-forward basis. So, buyer beware.

The Indie Bible claims that it lists "2300 publications that will review your music, 2700 radio stations that will play your songs, and 440 services that will help sell your CDs." If I have to be the one to tell you that claims like those are hogwash, you need this book more than I thought. There is no way in Hell that you will get a guaranteed review, or airplay, or distribution, and if you were to press 5000 CDs and cover the radio stations and publications listed, you'd be sorely disappointed at the results, unless you had a plan of action. As a former Artist Manager and booking agent, I can tell you that the number one cause of failure is that the musicians are too inept - or too busy - to handle the business end of "show business." Music styles may change, even the way we do business, but the smart and persistent players will always rise above those who expect the world to ring their doorbell. Here's where the book really shines, with thirty-three excerpts and articles written by industry people that (for the most part) spell out some great ground rules for managing yourself as a player. While a lot of it may be common sense - follow up your calls, always be polite and on time, etc. - you would be amazed how many people fail at the first rung of the ladder. I don't want to turn this into an industry lesson - I'm available for those types of consults elsewhere - but do want to stress that that section of the book alone is worth ten times the cover price if it sinks in.

There are many books on the market for venue, magazine, club and other listings, and depending upon your goals you may need more than one. But in this day and age, if I were an independent musician (or a publicist/manager who worked with one), I'd grab this book in a heartbeat. It's only a starting point, however, and how you use the information (and whom you put your trust in) will ultimately tell the tale. Good luck!

(C) 2002 - Bill Holmes

DVD: The Very Best Of Joe Jackson (Steppin' Out - The Videos)
A&M Records - Approximate running time - 50 Minutes

Reviewed by DJ Johnson

This DVD samples a decade of work by the great Joe Jackson, doing so in a way that is consistently entertaining and often flat-out brilliant. The years covered are 1979-1989. Don't ask me why they chose to begin with the "I'm The Man," from the second album, as opposed to something from the first album, Look Sharp. It, like all the other songs in this collection, came from an album that was on A&M, so... go figure. Look Sharp is represented on track five with one of the highest highlights of the disc, an exciting a cappella version of "Is She Really Going Out With Him" that made me want to corner him and bore him for hours telling him how entirely brilliant I thought it was.

The rarely seen video for "Mad At You," from the now sadly obscure Beat Crazy album, is thoughtfully included so fans don't have to wait forever for rare sightings. The MTV staple videos of "Steppin' Out" and "Real Men" are here, too, and as much as I've seen them before I admit I'd be sad if they weren't. The disc ends with a pair of tracks from 1989's Blaze Of Glory, "Down To London" and "Nineteen Forever," which were done just near the transition point when Jackson turned yet another of the many corners of his career (he's done everything from punk to big band to classical), so it seems rather fitting.

Besides "Is She Really Going Out With Him," I've saved a few special moments for the end here. Jackson's Jumpin' Jive album, a tribute to the jump styles of Louis Jordan, Cab Calloway and others like them, produced a remarkable tour in 1981, represented here by an unforgettable, hyperactive performance of the title track. (Is this entire concert on film, and if so... where can we get it, please?) The 1986 Big World tour was well documented, with the entire Tokyo concert available on DVD (look for a review of that one soon), and Jackson's performance of "Right And Wrong" is dead on, and made all the better by his pre-song explanation of his motivation for writing the song. We 2002-era people suddenly hear the song with Reagan-era ears and appreciate it much more, and we appreciate Jackson's ability to turn a simple lyric into a profound jab. Even those of us who already thoroughly appreciated Jackson come away with that battery recharged.

Special features are limited, as is becoming the trend with music DVDs, to sound options. Since this has a 1990 copyright, I have to assume there was a VHS tape I never heard about at that time and this is the DVD version. Therefore I can't tell you about superiority one way or the other. All I can tell you is it's on DVD, it's widely available, it sounds very, very nice and it's filled with moments that remind us why we are always trying to turn our friends on to Joe Jackson.

Track List:

I'm The Man * It's Different For Girls * Mad At You * Jumpin' Jive * Is She Really Going Out With Him * Real Men * Steppin' Out * You Can't Get What You Want 'til You Know What You Want * Right & Wrong * Hometown * Down To London * Nineteen Forever

(C) 2002 - DJ Johnson


Okay, I'm going out on a limb this month here. I'm usually hiding in the blues pages or the review screens of Cosmik Debris, but this year, I can't hold back. I've discovered many books that I consider real treasures in 2001, and wanted to share my top five favorites.

ODETTE LARSON - Flying Sparks: Growing up on the Edge of Las Vegas (Verso Press)

Odette Larson's memoir of her childhood initially only sparked my interest but later it inflamed several passions. Mostly, Odette's story incited disbelief and rage at the way she was molested, raped, discarded, or distrusted by nearly every adult in her life, save one kindly rescuer near the projects of Oakland. As Larson recounts her life between her ninth and twelfth birthdays in the 50's, Flying Sparks is a torturous journey from grinding poverty in the Las Vegas desert to Oakland's dopehouses, with a stop at the Sparks Mental Hospital in between. Most children develop their math and reading skills in grades five through seven, but Odette was rolling joints, in-between multiple rapes, or forcibly institutionalized (either in a convent school or a mental hospital). Two convicted killers helped spring her from Sparks, and she was left to drive the getaway car. At age 12. Odette's 50's weren't innocent and her Las Vegas was a world away from the glitz and glamour of the Rat Pack or the show world of the Flamingo, Joey Heatherton, Buddy Hackett, et al. I'm eager to hear more from this talented first-time writer, especially how she faced the challenges of adolescence after such a hideous period of childhood. There's more to Odette Larson's story than the horrific abuse of her early years, though: she returned to college late in life, is a grandmother, and a recognized horse trainer.

BILL WYMAN (WITH RICHARD HAVERS): Bill Wyman's Blues Odyssey (Dorling- Kindersley)

As I mentioned on these screens last year, Bill Wyman's Blues Odyssey is one of the best introductions to the blues I've ever seen. This coffee-table tome deserves a rightful place on my bookshelf between Alan Lomax classic The Land Where the Blues Began and some of my favorite blues CDs. It's no coincidence that some of these CDs are some of Wyman's favorites, too, as Wyman and I share a very strong passion for the blues. Lomax helped America discover the blues, and this 1993 National Book Award winner shows how he captured the early work of Muddy Waters and others, for the Library of Congress, against considerable odds in an American South dominated by Jim Crow laws and customs that forbade blacks and whites from mixing on any side of the tracks. On my blues shelf, Wyman's book sits right there up next to CDs like Muddy Waters at Newport, The Sky is Crying, The History of Elmore James, and Howlin Wolf's Moanin at Midnight. I can't give Bill Wyman's Blues Odyssey higher praise than that. Put on some of your favorite blues, turn the pages, and learn something new about a uniquely American music.

MIKE ROYKO: For the Love of Mike: More of the Best of Mike Royko (University of Chicago Press)

Mike Royko was one of the best newspapermen around. I grew up reading his columns in the Chicago Daily News, Chicago Sun-Times, and the Chicago Tribune, and to this day, appreciate the way he always celebrated the common man. Our leaders, ranging from Mayor Daley (the elder), an assortment of wily and entrepreneurial Chicago Alderman, to former President Clinton, however, often didn't appreciate being in Royko's sights. When I first encountered his fictional alter ego, Slats Grobnik, I howled. Slats didn't like gym class, for one very logical reason: if he lifted weights or worked out, the local grocer might consider him as a potential employee. Slats loved his freedom, and there was no way would he muscle around banana boxes of groceries for pocket change. While his first musical instrument was the cymbal, he always was inspired to play something else, like the horses, and Royko's story about how Slats' mom and dad lived above the Nort' side tavern he called home is pure old-time Chicago. As a White Sox fan, I delighted in Mike's description of his beloved Cubbies. Unlike the Cubs, Royko may have had his ups and downs over the years, and I noticed how his columns changed, like shortly after his first wife died. I wish the Trib or the Sun-Times would run Royko's work in his honor on their websites, but until that day comes, we've got another collection of some of the best commentary around.

CHRISTOPHER P. BAKER: Mi Moto Fidel: Motorcycling Through Castro's Cuba (National Geographic Adventure Press)

Mi Moto Fidel is the story of travel writer Christopher P. Baker's 7,000-mile journey across Cuba on a 1000cc Paris-Dakar model BMW motorcycle. The title, Mi Moto Fidel, is a play on words as it can be translated as "faithful or reliable motorcycle." It's an intriguing story from start to finish, from how he gets his gleaming moto to the island despite America's long-standing blockade against Fidel Castro's Cuba. Along the way, Baker meets an assortment of Cuban government functionaries, entrepreneurial fishermen plying Miami's waters, and a string of young women who gladly fall over and over, and into bed, for the dashing, British expat on a shiny new foreign motorcycle. I've not read a better recipe for a midlife change of life than a new motorcyle and tropical beaches. Baker tells us he's a confirmed Leftist, and he talks with Cubans from all over the socioeconomic map on the island about the successes and failures of Castro's revolution. He's heard one joke that I've heard about Cuba's former mentor state, the Soviet Union: the three failings of the revolution are breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Baker's travel writing digs deeper than a simple stop for a black beans and rice lunch and Mi Moto Fidel shows why he's won a string of awards for his writing, including the prestigious Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Award.

BARBARA EHRENREICH: Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America (Metropolitan Books)

Barbara Ehrenreich, a frequent contributor to The Nation and writer of several books of social commentary, temporarily traded in her Ph.D. in biology for minimum wage work. Her memoir of this life near the bottom of America's economic ladder should be a fist in the air wake up call among the millions of people who toil as hotel maids, waitresses, or part-time retail clerks behind the cash register. To her credit, Ehrenreich does not use her education or degree as a passport out of low-wage America, even for a break in the back- breaking work schedule as a waitress and retail clerk, two jobs a day for six days a week. With the encouragement of her editor, she immerses herself in this assignment and learns how to balance a budget, rent an apartment, and meet other basic needs on around $7.00 an hour, which is a far cry from the safety of her decidedly more comfortable surroundings writing for The Nation and others. She lives in what are charitably called welfare motels, and we get to know the plight of an American underclass that is employed, often more than 40 hours per week. Unfortunately, Barbara's low-wage workers most likely will not rise up against a system that ensnares them in a very difficult social and economic web. They are too busy working at jobs without the safety nets of health insurance, paid sick leave or vacation time, and more than a few work and live in their cars. Nickel and Dimed is as forceful a portrait of poverty as Michael Harrington's The Other America of the 1960's, and is a loud wake up call. Unfortunately, it will take a lot more to change housing prices or policies that affect low-wage America than this excellent tale born of poverty.

There you have it. These are five books that I'll recommend to friends and colleagues, and hope that you'll check them out as well.

(C) 2002 - Eric Steiner