Tuesday, July 31, 2007


It's finally happening. After months of planning, rerecording, and polishing, Ken Slavin is putting out his new CD, which I produced.

I've described the project in detail before, and there are even some clips of the music to listen to.

So, mark your calendar for Monday, August 27th, from 6 to 9 pm, at the El Tropicano, the perfect venue for this party. There'll be cocktails, free appetizers, a concert, and a meet-and-greet afterwards.

Sunday, July 29, 2007


for those who have completed Book 7:

I and a couple of others have posted some comments in my previous post on Severus.

Sunday, July 22, 2007


A cartoonist for the Express-News showed up at a gig recently, and did drawings of the band on a napkin. Cool! Looks just like me, except cartoonish!

Friday, July 20, 2007


Texas Public Radio has asked me again to compose and perform, live, an original soundtrack to a silent movie. This time, it's King Vidor's The Crowd. It's Tuesday night at seven: I think you can still get tickets.

Yesterday morning, I talked all about it on KPAC's "Classical Spotlight," in a 25-minute interview hosted by Nathan Cone. I explain a bit about doing silent movies, and we talk about the themes of this one, and I play several excerpts.

Have a listen.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


We're off to Manchester. The Manchester Music Festival had the good sense to book the Blue Nile as Saturday's headliners, culminating the festival with a once-in-a-decade event. Paul Buchanan, their lead singer, toured a while back, and did lots of Nile tunes, and I believe they had either Robert Bell or Paul Joseph Moore, but not both. And there was lots of other material as well. So it wasn't the Blue Nile.

This is. My beautiful wife, who knows how I feel about these things, gave me a truly spectacular fortieth birthday present: second row, center.

They've had a couple of top-twenty hits and one top-ten over the course of their long career, but many folks just don't know them. Fans of Six Feet Under get a nice dose of Blue Nile every now and then, though, on the soundtrack.

Perhaps, while we tour Northern England, you should tour the Nile. I'll include links to some copyrighted material, copied from my own personal collection, which I'll share with you via my website. They'll be up for at least a few days. Listen, and, if you like what you hear, get onto iTunes and do some real exploring.

And now, the Blue Nile, Cliff's Notes version.

Their first album, A Walk Across The Rooftops, came out in 83. They were classified as New Wave, mainly because of their first single, which didn't appear on any album. But Walk was much more experimental than most New Wave. Interesting instrumentations, unusual textures, a dryness to the production, and a melancholy vein through even the happiest songs.

Walk Across The Rooftops

Their big hit off that one was "Tinseltown In The Rain":


In 90 came Hats. Most people consider it to be their best. It's a satisfying song cycle, with shimmering synth orchestration that evokes city lights. Their biggies were "Headlights On The Parade" and "The Downtown Lights."

Downtown Lights

In 96 came Peace At Last, which puzzled some people who had only thought of The Blue Nile as a Manchestery pop group ("Headlights" was one of the defining tunes of the "Manchester sound" in the early 90s), and would have been content with Hats all over again. But on Peace they pared down their sound and used more of Paul Buchanan's acoustic guitar, brilliantly well-recorded. Though a bit uneven, it's a great album.

Tomorrow Morning

Then in 2004, when many had given up hope, they came out with High, in my opinion better than Peace. All the classic elements are there: the slightly irritating machine drums, the dated-yet-perfect synths, the solo trumpet, the sad voice, the deceptively simple lyrics.


There's also a large catalog of non-album stuff. One of their B-sides, "The Wires Are Down," captures just about every element of the Blue Nile that I love. An amazing production, composed and arranged practically perfectly. I just love those swelling strings that just pop like a giant balloon.

The Wires Are Down

Dreamboat trumpeter Chris Botti apparently heard himself in their signature solo trumpet, and asked for a collaboration or two. "Midnight Without You" is one of my favorite songs of theirs, though I count points off for an excessively noodly trumpet — you can tell that's the one element that was out of their control.

Midnight Without You

He also did another Blue Nile song but had Jonatha Brooke sing it. Quite a few of Paul's songs refer to his Christian faith, in a refreshingly organic, non-propagandizing way.


Saturday night. Yeah.


In adapting a book, it's bad to be true to the letter and untrue to the spirit. That's Chris Columbus's problem. He practically filmed the chapter titles, and yet there was no Potterishness to the first two movies at all. They weren't movies: they were theme parks.

Then came Alfonso Cuaron. He created one of the great fantasy movies of recent years. Fresh, green, and real. He got the actors to act. The special effects were special. Buckbeak looked just like a real hippogriff, and they got the gravity right (always the hardest thing to do, apparently, in animation).

It makes sense that Mike Newell, the director of Four Weddings and a Funeral, would do so well with Goblet of Fire. Of course, the sports scenes (in a movie whose title refers to an Olympic contest) were almost shapeless, but the emotional center of the movie was all about British kids in horribly awkward social situations. Pretty near perfect.

Then again, we did see the result of some bad decisions Newell hadn't been in control of. Hermione, for instance. She has this big Cinderella moment in that movie, and it fell flat because the previous directors had made Hermione too movie-gorgeous to begin with. Therein lies the problem: in doing a series, you've got to not paint yourself into a corner.

Michael Gambon does not have any of the ambiguity of Snape: no one will argue about whether he's good or bad. He's bad. Sure, he's a fine actor, but he's just not Dumbledore, and none of the directors have tried to make him Dumbledorish. (Cuaron got the closest.) He runs around and flails his arms and yells: "Everyone, QUIET!!!!!!!!!!" As we all know, the real Dumbledore simply clears his throat and says, "If I may have your attention." And the entire stadium full of thousands of people immediately hushes. That's Dumbledore for you.

I really don't care if you are untrue to the letter of the book. Leave out characters; invent new ones. Put in extra stuff that wasn't in the book. (Cuaron is a role-model: a scene with the boys sitting around eating candy that makes them roar and neigh like various animals is entirely invented, and yet so true it's hard to believe JKR didn't do it.) Compress whole storylines. After all you only have a couple of hours if it's going to be a satisfying movie.

But the one thing you mustn't do is mess with the pH balance of the characters. You must never get the story wrong, even if there's not a single line from the book that survives.

So. Where to begin on the new movie? First, it's not a disaster. But it's a step in the direction of the first two. Not that it's letter-true, but that it's spirit-false in so many places that one leaves a bit depressed. Sure, leave out the entire Quidditch plot. Not even Cuaron could ever get those scenes right. Sure, leave out the entire bit about the Quibbler and Rita Skeeter. Sure, leave out everything pertaining to Cho after the kiss; and go ahead and compress the DA snitching so that it's Cho, but not quite her fault. Fine, fine, fine. But our new guys, director David Yates and screenwriter Michael Goldenberg, make changes that kill.

Why not have Dumbledore upend the Ministry's plan to arrest him by doing a few signal-glances between Order people and arranging a quick shootout, like happens in the book? It underlines an entire truth about Harry's makeshift family and about life that the moviemakers are trying to get at. But, opportunity missed. Dumbledore just says Shalakazam! and flashes outta there. Wow, he's cool.

JKR gives us a great shootout between Dumbledore and Voldemort in the book, that carries the emotional and plot content forward. Between carefully placed spells (Voldy is flashy and pressing, Dumby is calmly puissant), they have a here's-what's-wrong-with-you-no-here's-what's-wrong-with-you conversation that is utterly central to the entire series. Instead, we get garden-variety zippy-zappy, that seems to take twice as long. Could've been imported from X-men.

JKR gives us a nice moment right after that one, too. Harry is momentarily possessed by Voldy, and his mouth is made to say to Dumby, "Here's your chance — kill me now by killing Harry." Harry then thinks that he'd be willing to let that happen, to die if it meant Voldy would die (which it wouldn't, but anyway). His mind flashes to people he loves, and when it settles on Sirius, the gush of emotion forcibly expels Voldy. Wow! And the movie actually gives us a powerful visual depiction of that flash in Harry, but then carries it on and on and on, until Harry goes all Robin Williams and leadenly pronounces the Moral Of The Story: "I feel sorry for you... because You Can't Love.

Phooey!! Are these people tone-deaf? Really, when JKR gives you something so startlingly cinematic to begin with, why not just cut and paste? The change here actually dulls the thing, makes it boring where it shouldn't be, and misses the point in the bargain.

We haven't had anything that wrong since Columbus was in charge. The director of Home Alone and Mrs Doubtfire showed us the kids rushing up to the camera, looking beyond it at a scary-thing-we-haven't-seen-yet, putting their hands upside their faces in unison in a cartoon-Munch scream, and then turning in unison to run away; at the end, Harry smiles woodenly at Hermione, Hermione smiles woodenly at Ron, Ron smiles woodenly at Harry, Hagrid smiles woodenly at the kids, the kids smile woodenly at Hagrid, the music swells and swells and swells, time ticks away, come on.

And how does the new one end? With an iron-grey sense of loss and dread, and an affirmation of the Order as a real family for Harry, a third-best that will possibly do just fine? Nope, we get some high-fiving as they jaunt along toward the thestrals (another missed opportunity), with Harry pronouncing that "we've got something Voldemort doesn't: something worth fighting for. "

Even with such Hollywood schlog, the movie is watchable, and at times beautiful. It's fairly well paced. Whoever did the production design deserves an award: the interiors are beautifully realized, especially in the Wizengamot. A thrilling broom-flight through modern London swerves and rattles and fills the eye with glittery images (in which, for the only time this time, the gravity is right). Like Cuaron's Azkaban, the picture is contrasty, which adds to the edgy feel of the movies, working like nail-polish-remover on the glossy surfaces of earlier movies. The kids are being directed to act, and they can.

I've been thinking as I've reread the entire series in past weeks that if you worked in television you could just film the entire thing, scene by scene, dialog as is. With good editing and good actors, each book would make a great mini-series. We're becoming more used to the telenovela in Norteamerica — 24 has trained us well — and that way you could stretch out and explore all the elements. Nearly Headless Nick would be a real presence, as would Peeves. We could get to know Tonks. Luna would be loony (where's Zooey Deschanel when you need her?) Umbridge could be Umbridge (though Imelda Staunton as QEII-meets-Thatcher is a delight, a real re-imagining of the character that works); Quidditch could at last be Quidditch. The television budget, moreover, would remove some of the temptations to mere flash that the lesser directors of the series have fallen for.

JKR is a solid, Dickensian storyteller. I'm sure she understands that something has to be cut in these movies. But I'm also sure that she's horrified when what's cut is the jugular.