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kottke.org posts about James Poniewozik

The music of The Vietnam War

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 02, 2017

I’m about two-thirds of the way through Ken Burns & Lynn Novick’s The Vietnam War on PBS. Much like the war itself, the series is epic and complicated and weird and perhaps even too long.1

NY Times TV critic James Poniewozik says that The Vietnam War “is not Mr. Burns’s most innovative film”, but I would argue that doesn’t apply to the music. Half of the music is what you would expect: rock and folk music from 60s & 70s groups and musicians like Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, CCR, The Rolling Stones, Otis Redding, etc. More than two hours of songs used during the series have been released on this album:

Even The Beatles were part of the soundtrack:

Then there’s all that popular music from the 60s and 70s: more than 120 songs by the artists who actually soundtracked the times, such as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, the Animals, Janis Joplin, Wilson Pickett, Buffalo Springfield, the Byrds, the Rolling Stones, and even the ordinarily permissions-averse and budget-breaking Beatles. Of the Beatles, Novick noted, “They basically said, We think this is an important part of history, we want to be part of what you’re doing, and we will take the same deal everybody else gets. That’s kind of unprecedented.”

But an original score was also provided by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross that sounds a lot like their work on The Social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Seven episodes in, I’m used to the mix of music, but the effect is definitely discongruous; the transitions pulled me out of the narrative more than once. Not sure that’s the effect they were going for…

  1. The whole series starts off on a wrong note. Literally the first thing you hear in the first episode is a shout-out to the sponsors: “Major support for the Vietnam War was provided by…”, which my brain quickly filled in as “Robert MacNamara, Dow Chemical, the American military industrial complex, etc etc”

Freaks and Geeks and the 70s-ness of the early 80s

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 16, 2017

James Poniewozik, chief TV critic for the NY Times, wrote about his favorite scene from Freaks and Geeks. Here’s the scene:

I loved this bit:

First, the music. “I’m One” by the Who, from the 1973 album “Quadrophenia.” It builds from mournfulness (“I’m a loser / No chance to win”) to a defiant chorus. And it’s a great example of how “Freaks and Geeks” chose its soundtracks. The episode is set in 1981, but it avoids on-the-nose ’80s-song choices. Paul Feig, the show’s creator, once told me that the thing about the early ’80s in the Midwest was that they were really still the ’70s.

I grew up in the Midwest in the early 80s and though I’ve never really thought about it before, Feig’s observation that they were still really the 70s is spot on. (via @tcarmody)

Halt and Catch Fire soundtrack

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 04, 2014

Halt and Catch Fire just ended its first season last night and while the show wasn’t perfect, I loved almost every single minute of it. (In Time, James Poniewozik writes about why the series was so interesting.) Even haters of the show can agree that one of the best aspects of the 80s period drama is the music. There are several playlists of the music on Rdio…this seems to be the best one.

Each main character from the show also has their own playlist. Joe MacMillan: Brian Eno, Eurythmics, and The Cars. Cameron Howe: Blondie, The Clash, and The Slits. Gordon Clark: Creedence, Eric Clapton, and Dire Straits. Donna Clark: Mozart, Joni Mitchell, and Billy Joel.