The Sometimes Daily Journal

The Writings of J. R. Stemple

Category: Reviews

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (a movie review)

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” directed by Terry Gilliam and released in 1998, based on the story of the same name, is a film about a renegade journalist sent to cover a few events located in the popular town of Las Vegas, Nevada. Although a renowned journalist, Raoul Duke (this is a name the author, Hunter S. Thompson used for himself to blend fact and fiction into a story, i.e. Gonzo Journalism) spends the majority of his time in the fabulous Laz Vegas in a haze of all kinds of drugs. Indeed a disgusting view into the mind of the depraved, Duke, and his attorney—aptly named Dr. Gonzo—trawl around Vegas with almost no intention of doing anything at all.

The first event they were sent to cover was the Mint 400, which Duke says, “In some circles, the Mint 400 is a far, far better thing than the Super Bowl, the Kentucky Derby and the Lower Oakland Roller Derby Finals all rolled into one.” After a failure to cover the race due to indulgence in an array of drugs from LSD to DMT, Duke and his attorney wind up across town after destroying their hotel room, covering a narcotics convention run by police officers (Duke carries his briefcase stash right through the crowd of power-hungry cops). Again, Duke and his attorney wind up on all sorts of drugs, missing the convention entirely, but with a rich story to tell instead.

At the surface, this film is seen as a staple “druggy” movie due to the, well, the rampant drug use. A flop at the time, it’s become a cult film in the last two decades. Looking deeper into the film (and thus the novel, if given a read) has a theme of the death of the American dream. In this sense, the American dream can be summed up as being financially stable, with the perfect wife and kids, white picket fences, a perfect lawn; a nuclear family if you will. It was the hope that you’d be in America and “win big” (especially in Vegas) and live comfortably with your material wealth. Gilliam—and by extension, Thompson—sought to show that this idea died in that era and that the hippie movement was a failure. The rampant drug use wasn’t just because—it was because that’s what the pair felt they needed to enjoy the concept of Vegas. For example, at one point in the film, Duke and Gonzo huff Ether—a dissociative drug causing you to lose control of your motor functions—and try to enter a casino, which they fail to do themselves. The bouncers see this and shove them through the gates, hoping the “drunks” would lose all their money in the casino. This shows that the society in Vegas was ugly; it was out to steal your money, not make you rich. The American Dream was dead.

Thompson (or Duke) was always out to show his readers that the world is ugly sometimes. He made himself ugly to really dig into that idea. That’s what Gilliam was trying to convey in his 1998 movie, which was possibly why the movie was seen as a failure at the time. By comparison, some of the highest grossing movies of 1998 were “Armageddon,” “Saving Private Ryan,” and “Godzilla,” all films of Americans coming together and stopping something larger than themselves, growing as people, and simply being patriotic. The late 90’s was a thriving time for the USA; people didn’t want to be told that they were ugly.

Media is a subjective view—which can be seen by the horrible reviews of Fear and Loathing at the time of its release, but the cult status it contains decades later—but “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” remains a great movie. But sometimes you have to be just the right mindset for it.


An influence on the genre of heavy metal

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The late 60’s were trying times for rock bands. All the mainstream rock had begun to go in different directions; heavy metal was beginning to emerge, psychedelic pop still ran rampant in the UK scene, San Francisco improvisational jazz rock blossoming on the streets; it was a crazy time indeed.

One band that found themselves ensnared within it all was Iron Butterfly whose claim to fame was the infamous “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.” The 17-minute song was originally recorded as a single at 2:53, but a cut was recorded of each band member taking extended solos in the midst of the intro and the outro, coming in at a sweet 17:04 seconds (the live version is even longer).

Written by band member Doug Ingles, this song sounds like the demon love child of The Doors and Led Zeppelin. Indeed, it’s credited as an influence of the heavy metal genre. The deep guitar riffs and awesome drum solo are definitely where you can see the heavy metal influences; the song beats at your ears for a good few minutes.

The song title’s gibberish title comes from Ingles slurring his words— “The Garden of Eden”—and it apparently stuck. The lyrics and singing, in general, is not where the song’s strength comes from—honestly I could do without them.

Regardless, this is a wonderful example of where heavy metal came from, as well as a fantastic song to just sit back and enjoy the sound of the 60’s with. Iron Butterfly may have been overshadowed by other bands of the time, but they still left their mark on rock history with this influential song.

Dark Star

Improvisational jazz rock of varying length

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The Grateful Dead are known for their live performances. Popularised by Ken Kesey’s San Francisco acid tests, the dead have toured extensively for decades, performing a wide array of music as years have progressed. Many of their live performances differ from studio albums; they’re known for being highly improvisational.

One such song that is known for being subject to improvisation is “Dark Star,” which was released in 1968 as a single. The studio version runs at a quick 2:44, but live versions were well over 20 minutes—some versions even lasted an hour. This was due to the band’s interest in improvisational jazz, and Jerry Garcia was known for taking extended parts of the song and well, jamming out until the fans brains were melted.

Due to how many live shows the Grateful Dead played, and how often “Dark Star” was performed, countless versions of the song exist. One of the most popular is off of their 1969 album, Live/Dead, which “Dark Star” stretches over 23 minutes in length. In a recent article on Rolling Stone, where Live/Dead ranks #7 on their top 50 live albums of all time, Jerry Garcia said, “We were after a serious, long composition, musically and then a recording of it.”

The lyrics only encompass a few minutes of the improvisation and almost serve as an indication where the song is at, as it’s easy to slip and forget how long you’ve been listening to the song (especially when time isn’t an object).

Formless, improvisational composition paves way for all kinds of interesting music, so any two recordings of “Dark Star” may not be the same. However, the experience still remains the same: amazing, flowy, creative guitar riffs and coordinative intersubjectivity among one of the greatest bands in rock history.

Atom Heart Mother Suite

A title track overshadowing the other side of the album

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Pink Floyd is seen as one of the greatest bands in rock history, at least by some. There have been several changes in leadership, from Barret to Waters to Gilmour, but regardless they’ve produced classics like Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall.

Their discography spans from 1967 all the way to 2014 (though that is disputed among hardcore fans). One album—which was on Pink Floyd’s road of transition after Barret was ejected—was the infamous Atom Heart Mother released in 1970. The title track, “Atom Heart Mother Suite” was apparently a troublesome number to not only perform but even record.

The ~23 minute, six-part suite is still Pink Floyd’s longest song to date (the separated “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” notwithstanding) and created much strife within the band. Recorded at Abbey Road Studios, Roger Waters and Nick Mason had to play all 23 minutes of the suite when recording and had the other sounds overlaid afterwards, causing a strange tempo all around. In recent years, the band expressed negative attitudes about the suite.

It’s quite the strange trip; each section is devoid of lyrics except for gibberish half sung, half spoken by the featured choir in the fourth section, “Funky Dung.” In a review from 1970, music writer Alec Dubro said “Side one is a suite, almost a symphony. It has a lot in it. They use orchestral elements and a choir. The best that can be said for it is that it’s craftsman-like and that in spite of its many parts, it’s an entity.”

The other sections, “Father’s Shout,” “Breast Milky,” “Mother’s Fore,” Mind Your Throats Please,” make up the remaining parts of the suite. “Mind Your Throats Please” is the section where mostly just… noise occurs; one can see where the noise of their next extended song, “Echoes,” gets its noise section from.

And though the band—and those who participated in the making of the suite—had negative thoughts after completion, it still remains one of the bands wackiest experiments during the counterculture era. And thank goodness this bad experience didn’t stop Pink Floyd from producing more glorious music.

1983 (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)

An escape from a war-torn world

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Jimi Hendrix’s 1968 release of Electric Ladyland is known for some hits, like “All Along the Watchtower” and “Voodoo Chile,” but I usually don’t see many other’s eyes light up when I say “have you heard 1983?”

The full title is “1983 (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)” and is the second longest track ever conceived by Hendrix (“Voodoo Chile” of course winning spot #1) running at about thirteen minutes long.

Hendrix tells a story of him and his love escaping a world riddled with war and pain: “oh, say can you see, it’s really such a mess/every inch of earth is a fighting nest/giant pencil and lip-stick shaped things. This song really shows Hendrix’s anti-war method of thought and his fondness for fantasy within reality.

Hendrix and his love, Catherina, built a machine—that apparently their friends wouldn’t think would work, “that’s why they aren’t coming with us today.”

Just as It’s alluded that the machine works, “without a scratch on our bodies and we bid it farewell/starfish and giant foams greet us with a smile,” Hendrix takes the listener on a trip underwater with an intense psychedelic breakdown; the drums beat like bubbles whizzing by; a loss of sound besides a few strings on guitar at one point mimics the wide-open sea, and a mind melting riff on his guitar signals that Hendrix and his love reached their destination: Atlantis

Hendrix ends the journey chanting “I can hear Atlantis full of cheer,” showing a genuine transition from the war-torn world he escaped from. His imagination shows clearly in this song like no other; his creativity flows in psychedelic imagery. In a BBC review in 2007, music writer Chris Jones said it’s “a stoned classic, utilising washes of backwards tape, jazzy time shifts and far out fish-friendly lyrics to tell the tale of future apocalypse and return to the oceans.”

The Celebration of the Lizard: the mad poet’s dream

A (brief) look into the lyrical work of Jim Morrison’s poetry epic

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Jim Morrison was never known for being the sanest of people. After all, he did earn the title of “the mad poet” along with a slew of other names over the course of his career with his successful band, The Doors, including “the lizard king.” This title stemmed from a poetry epic that never made it to a studio album titled “The Celebration of the Lizard.”

The seven-part song was meant to cover an entire side of their third LP released in 1968, Waiting for the Sun. However, The Doors’ longtime producer Paul Rothchild deemed the psychedelic spoken word song unmarketable—in another blog, it was stated he favoured hit singles over the poetry epic—and with Morrison slipping further into the throes of alcoholism, the project was scrapped.

The lyrics read like an excerpt from Morrison’s life: he went down south across the border/left the chaos and disorder/back there over his shoulder, much like the way Morrison ran away from home to San Francisco.

Morrison obviously alludes to his (psychedelic) drug use: you should try this little game/just close your eyes forget your name/forget the world, forget the people/and we’ll erect, a different steeple.

And as the song progresses through the separate parts, it seeps deeper past “the realm of pain” as Morrison puts it, making less and less sense—unless you, of course, knew Morrison’s mind (and there’s far too much to look at anyways).

One section of The Celebration of the Lizard made it to a studio album, “Not to Touch the Earth,” highlighting that maybe this project wasn’t an all out failure. And even though this poetry epic was meant to be what Morrison was known for, the lizard king still reigns supreme.