Finally saw Whiplash on Sunday night. I had the house to myself after doing an early-ish Easter dinner with Mrs. YHT’s family in northern Virginia, and I’d been meaning to watch the thing for ages, but this scathing piece by Sound Opinions host Jim DeRogatis was getting in the way. This wasn’t a Bob Dylan situation — you either love his voice or you hate it — DeRogatis’ thoughts punctured an acclaim bubble that had gotten huge, at least in terms of what I’d read and heard, and it complicated the idea of watching Whiplash. Should I consider this a guilty pleasure? Am I buying into something harmful?
Now that I’ve watched it, I believe the answers to those questions to be no and no, though I wasn’t so sure when Mrs. YHT called from her parents’ house to chat when I was about a third of the way through. Had the film continued on what seemed to be its likely trajectory — teacher yells, some students cower, this one steps up — I would have felt differently. And from a super zoomed-out perspective, that kind of is what happens, but it’s what happens along the way that keeps Whiplash from being exploitative or clichéd.
[Editor’s Note: Don’t want the movie’s plot spoiled? Stop reading now. And don’t listen to the song embedded at the bottom of this post.]
“Give credit where credit is due.”
It’s the kind of idiomatic expression that any non-sociopath can cosign without thinking too hard about it. Like “Treat others the way you’d like to be treated,” or “Let’s order a pizza when we get back from the bar.” But GCWCID’s promise often goes unfulfilled, and there doesn’t even have to be a good reason why. No villain, no deliberate deception or cover-up. Sometimes credit is hiding in plain sight. Or in a Lynyrd Skynyrd song everyone in the country has heard between five and 500 times:
Now Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers
And they’ve been known to pick a song or two
Lord they get me off so much
They pick me up when I’m feeling blue
Now how about you?
“The Swampers” is another name for the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, a handful of session musicians who provided the backbone for a string of huge hits in the 60’s and 70’s. Whether you’ve heard of the Swampers or not, Muscle Shoals, the new documentary about their work, the town they hail from and the producer/studio owner who gave them an opportunity to record with some of music’s most legendary artists, is an absolute must-see.
I spend a fair number of keystrokes chatting you fine people up about the virtues of vinyl, but I spent last Saturday night having a fling with a different physical medium — the ol’ Digital Video Disc (or “Digital Versatile Disc,” depending on who you ask). A coworker who has a great taste in/encyclopedic knowledge of music lent me a DVD of what is considered one of the greatest soul concerts of all time — Stax/Volt Revue: Live in Norway 1967. I managed to dig up YouTube clips of some of the Oslo show’s high points, and I thought I’d share a few thoughts, starting with the night’s first act, Booker T. & the M.G.’s.