Saturday, January 31, 2009

Roger Waters, Live Arrangement, David Gilmour, Annoying Drummers

Too healthy to sit around, but still just a BIT too sick to booze it up, I instead spent the night watching Roger Waters' "In the Flesh" 2000 tour DVD. I love to see brilliant musicians interpret equally-brilliant songs. But this DVD sort of bugs me.

The bulk of it consists of old -- and often surprising -- Pink Floyd songs. The band tries to reproduce them as faithfully as possible -- their version of "Dogs" is absolutely shocking in its adherence to the studio version -- but Waters has never been a particularly competent live arranger, and this is VERY obvious on the DVD.

In a sense it's a study of "live versus studio." The basic problem is -- of course -- that you've got different musicians on stage than you did in the studio, and even though they have individual styles that are deeply ingrained, they're still forced to play close enough to the record in order to please the fans. Graham Broad (drummer) is most guilty of "embellishing," followed closely by guitarist voodoo-dude Doyle Bramhall II, who looks just as pretentious as his name.

The problem gets worse when Roger Waters' sings Gilmour's parts. His voice sounds surprisingly good considering, but he seems hellbent on avoiding Gilmour's cadence, removing the "human" element which made many of these songs so special. Instead of warm vocals we get Waters' intellectual, somewhat sardonic delivery, which ultimately sounds like two hours of "Welcome to the Machine."

Things REALLY break down when we come to backup singers Katie Kissoon, Susannah Melvoin, and P. P. Arnold. They're perfectly competent and they're great at what they do, but when they're shoehorned into songs they don't belong in ("Wish You Were Here") they end up doing the exact same stilted, soulless vocals that Roger Waters is doing. To make things worse they act out the lyrics using "Standard Drag Style," that is, little three-step choreographed pantomimes which convey the simplest of ideas...while singing a lyric about a telephone call, they actually hold their fingers to their ears in that time-worn "talking on the phone" charade. Sad.

But that's only when they're doing the Pink Floyd stuff. When they do the music of Roger Waters they all come into their own, and suddenly the concert is PERFECT. They CARE. But for all that they are doing a live-or-Memorex duplication of the studio songs, which appears to be the only sort of arrangement Waters is GOOD at.

Here's the title song from "Amused To Death," which demonstrates all that is good and beautiful about the solo-album portion of the concert. It's awfully long but is 100% faithful to the album, right down to the heartbreaking samples at the end.

The main reason I mentioned David Gilmour in this post is because, for all his weaknesses, he is AMAZING at live arrangements. The "Delicate Sound of Thunder" film shows his skills in their finest glory...but the only clips available on YouTube look like they were compressed with a "sludgy mud" effect, so I won't post them.

Looking through the archives, however, I discovered this live 1987 performance of "Comfortably Numb" which gives a pretty good impression of his approach. Sure it's a cheesy song, but it's also a difficult one to reproduce live...this clip shows the technique he would use on the subsequent tour: slowing it down, changing the key, enlisting a clear-singing backup vocalist (Sam Brown in this case), and not trying to do anything appallingly TRICKY.

This particular version even manages to sound slightly new wave, somehow.

Incidentally, keeping with the theme of live adaptations, I love one of the comments posted to this video:
ladies and gentleman , simon phillips on drums, what a fuckin jerk, smashed the whole end of the song, double bass here, double there, accent here, accent every second, jerk this is not how floyd sounds... maybe toto, disgusting...
It's true, Phillips needs an elbow to the ribs during the ending portion, but to his credit he doesn't manage to COMPLETELY ruin it.

A Musical Moment, Childhood, Mike Oldfield, and Fovea Hex

Most of us probably felt music in a more pure and mysterious way when we were children, as opposed to the critical outlook we adopt as adults. When I was a child I had no idea how music was actually MADE, or why anybody would WANT to make it...I just opened myself up to an album and accepted it for what it was, mixed with the bizarre magical thinking of an imaginative and introspective childhood.

Fortunately my mother viewed music in a similar way, and in fact she still does. Some of my fondest memories are of listening to scratchy vinyl records over and over again in our farm's living room, and actually being ENCOURAGED in my love by both my mother and father. In that sort of environment the music seemed to get INTO me in a way that I still can't describe, and in a way that music rarely does nowadays unless it's really wonderful or I'm slightly drunk and very happy.

One album that I listened to endlessly was Mike Oldfield's Ommadawn, released in 1975. His third "classic" album, it combined the best of the first two and was therefore much more complex and varied. The whole thing is amazing, but the highpoint is definitely the last seven minutes of side one. It's a classic "musical moment" which music reviewer Karl Dallas described this way:
High whistles play the second, descending theme slowly, almost as if the whole side is coming to a gentle close: and there is a sudden break, the drums are upfront, and voices chant words which may or may not have coherent meaning. It is impossible to hear the words, but the effect is electric.
This section starts out very quietly with just the drums, the voices, and the tinny reeds of a monophonic synthesizer. The "drums" are a sequence of overlapping and increasingly polyrhythmic African drum this final section of the song progresses the loops are subsequently overdubbed, gaining more and more high-frequency taps which echo back and forth. A warm xylophone appears. Oldfield's guitar sings all by itself, no-nonsense but human in tone, like he's explaining to you how he feels while listening to these beautiful and exotic sounds.

The "voices," though...oh, the voices! It's Clodagh Simonds singing back there. Her syllables were actually Gaelic and they sound vaguely pagan and somehow powerful. Oldfield tended to use "pretty" singers like Maggie Riley on his later albums, but Simonds' voice is something other than pretty; it's adult, mystical, and a little scary.

What makes this section so amazing is that Simdons' multi-tracked vocals are actually being shouted, but everything else is so QUIET. To compensate, the producer has pushed her voices way back into the mix, applied lots of reverb, and -- inexplicably -- stripped out her bass and treble so that she truly IS ghostly...a shouting ghost keeping time, adding structure to the building movement, getting louder and louder as the song reaches its end.

And the ending IS the climax. Mike Oldfield has been described as a man of multiple climaxes, able to string you up and up and up until you achieve the ultimate release. The guitar solo at the end of Ommadawn is the PERFECT and most sexual Oldfield climax, rising to a screech as the drums and vocals and keyboards are also screeching...then sustaining...then...


...just the drum loop playing quietly in one speaker, nothing else. The loop plays for over ninety seconds, just one bar over and over again. It no longer sounds exotic or pulsing or pushing, it sounds...well, post-coital. Eventually, far beyond a time which would be considered "reasonable" in a normal situation, the drums fade away, and side one is finished.

This segment entranced me as a child. I could listen to it forever. Everything about it was unique and perfect, but most entrancing were the vocals by Clodagh Simonds, a woman who didn't exist to me as a biography or a picture. Over the years she appeared on a few other Oldfield albums, but somehow it wasn't the same...Clodagh Simonds would always be for me the woman who yelled "Ommadawn" at the end of side one. Other than that she was a complete mystery from thirty years ago.

Then, yesterday, I discovered Fovea Hex. Now I know who Simonds really is.

You can read the details of her life in the Mellow Candle biography if you wish, but you should really check out her current music. "Fovea Hex" appears to be her band for the most part, but it is also a bit of a supergroup collaborations along the lines of .O.Rang, featuring contributions from people she has worked with through the years (including Brian Eno and Robert Fripp, predictably). On a whim -- and out of respect -- I purchased the mp3s from her "Neither Speak Nor Remain Silent" EPs, and the songs "get into me" the same way I mentioned at the beginning of this post...something above and beyond, something magical, something REAL.

Their music is minimalistic, often little more than a harmonium, a vocal harmony, and a background of sly and unidentifiable manipulations. The lyrics are full of gravity and totally without irony...stark poetry. It's sad, but not angsty...just the sadness of every day life as told in tales around a fireside.

If you're going to try one, I recommend the "Huge" EP as the easiest to get into. This is not music to listen to while walking to work, though...

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Words, Words, Words

Workmate Henning sent me this video today. It's word-geek and lexicographer Erin McKean pondering the future of "The Dictionary."

It's an amazingly fun talk so you should really watch it, but if you want a brief summary...well, she feels that our concept of "dictionary" is still rooted in a Victorian concept of "appropriate words." This concept started because there simply weren't enough resources to include EVERYTHING in the dictionary. She resents being put into a "traffic cop" role when maintaining a dictionary, and instead looks forward to the day when dictionaries are well-sourced repositories of all available words...not just the words considered dictionary-worthy.

It's a compelling argument and a very current one. Now that we can collaboratively store an essentially unlimited amount of information in forums and wikis all over the world, it makes sense to question whether our information-collection methods are outdated or pointlessly constrained.

But I do find that this discussion tends to overlook something very simple: when people consult a repository of information, what exactly are they looking for? Do they want access to everything, or are they only looking for a subset? And as long as people are looking for a subset we will always require "traffic cops," whether during the information-collection process or during information retrieval.

My objection is that dictionaries are often NOT consulted in order to learn about every word, everywhere, through all times. When I consult a dictionary I simply want to know how to spell a word I already know, and learn the conditions of its use, and perhaps pick up a few synonyms. I need this information because I want to communicate my ideas in as specific and unambiguous a way as possible, especially if I'm writing an essay or -- in my job -- a technical document.

When I consult a dictionary, I am not concerned about interesting regional words or slight differences in spelling ...I want to know what the STANDARD supposedly is for its spelling and usage, so that I can be relatively sure that the reader will understand what I've written...without misunderstanding a word, needing to puzzle over its usage, or having to look it up in the same place I did.

There are obviously places where word standards are less important, sometimes to extreme degrees -- creative writing, emails, texting, blank verse -- but dictionaries do not ONLY serve those situations. Likewise -- to use another one of McKean's examples -- you don't always consult a dictionary because you're just interested in exploring words.

Sometimes you need to know what the STANDARD for the word is. For that you use your style guide, your guide of specific technical terminology...or your dictionary. And for that you also need a "traffic cop."

I think McKean is getting excited about possibilities without stopping to consider the usage. There's certainly a place for a Total Word Repository, but I argue that such a thing is a different concept from the sort of dictionary *I* find useful (except in less formal situations when such a word repository WOULD be useful). I have no problems with viewing language as an organic, ever-changing construct -- that's why we revise dictionaries, after all -- but there are still situations where we require standards within ANY collection as long as it is to be a useful reference -- Wikipedia, a bug list, a technical forum, a book on art history -- and I therefore doubt that a complete, constantly-changing collection of ANYTHING is useful in all (or even most) situations.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Could It Really Be That Bad?

I'm terribly ill and my shoulder feels like it's been put through a meat tenderizer, so I have been spending lots of time on the couch recuperating. The only thing I can do without moving my arm is watch movies. Watching movies is my way of healing my body and avoiding pain.

But "The Phantom Menace" is causing me more pain than I've felt in years. It's simply AWFUL. It has the script and pacing of a children's Saturday morning cartoon, simultaneously stretched out (to two hours) and compressed (so that no scene lasts longer than thirty seconds). The dialog is on par with a Care Bears episode -- just a collection of soulless exposition, boring cliches, and totally unfunny gags -- and it's delivered with no verve whatsoever. It's like Lucas said to the actors, "Just read the goddamn lines!" and they read the lines once, and he said "Okay, next scene!"

I am only 45 minutes into this film and I already feel like I've spent an entire day with it, but paradoxically I have no interest in any of the characters, environments, or bizarre racially-loaded cultures. Why's the junkyard guy speaking like he runs a pizzaria? What spliff did Jar-Jar crawl out from under? Boy, those Japanese Federation monsters sure pulled a Pearl Harbor on Naboo!

And yet, when characters DON'T have funny accents...well, they have nothing at all. They're blanks. They're actors that Lucas obviously wishes he could have replaced with a CGI model.

I hear the second and third episodes are better than this one, but you know what? I'm so appalled by Lucas' chutzpah that I don't think I'll be able to watch them. I don't even know if I can get to the whizzy eye-candy that supposedly ends this episode...not if I have to hear Jar-Jar say "How rude!" again.

Ha ha!

"How rude!" That's a punchline!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Muffy Does New Hamburg...AGAIN!

During the semi-regular hibernation of The Daily Muffy I'll be resurrecting a few older episodes, now presented for full Flickr posterity. Starting today is 2006's "Muffy Does New Hamburg."

Hamburg 0

It includes some updated commentary, since several awful things have happened to New Hamburg since Vanilla and I were there. Enjoy!

Having a Bad Day? Try the Go! Team

I was sitting at work, bored stiff and frustrated. I had a million worries in my head. My shoulder was cramped, and there was a persistent throb in my bicep which just about made my eyes water. My blood sugar was terrible and could not be corrected. My feet were wet and cold. One of my fingernails had gotten ripped through the nail plate, and whenever I handled something my nail would get caught and rip further.

Plus it was Monday. What could possibly, POSSIBLY make me happy in this state?

Only THIS:

Before Christmas, workmate Mr. App turned me on to "The Knife." Now he's done it again with "The Go! Team." If I had a firstborn I'd happily give it to him in gratitude.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Colette's "Chéri"

I bought a boxed-set of some of Colette's novels, thinking that maybe they'd give me some insight into the lives of outrageous 1920's Parisian femme-fatales.

Having just finished "Chéri"...well, I'm not feeling too enlightened. Maybe it's because her characters are unlikeable and dull and her writing is clunky. Maybe her "pearl necklace" theme got on my nerves. Maybe stories about vicious middle-aged women need to be awfully good before I start to enjoy them...

...but all-in-all, "Chéri" struck me as a relatively dull story about vacuous, spoiled people who suddenly suffered an unrealistic moment of conscience during the last few pages. This is probably what I should have expected from a story about a kept woman and her emotionally-retarded boy-toy, and it's possible that her awkward style was due more to the translation than to her own writing ability.

But I wonder if the thrill of Colette had more to do with her outrageous life than it did to her storytelling ability?

"Max and Nightingale"

The party is finally picking up. The smiles have become manic, toothy, like the grins of boxing fans anticipating a particularly good fight, not caring who wins as long as they can see the blood. It's going to be that kind of night.

My stomach feels like it has fallen off of Blondie's balcony. I've been a reluctant visitor at enough of these parties to make an educated guess about the sudden change in attitude; either there's been a newsworthy tragedy which I haven't been informed of yet -- an assassination, an earthquake, a bombing -- or a pathetic and volatile guest is about to arrive.

None of these prospects interest me and I consider finding a quieter place to sit or -- better yet -- escaping the party entirely, but a slumming debutante has blocked the room's exit and is attacking the radio with her shoe. An elderly patron wearing a red bozo wig has sunk down into the couch and is being pulled apart from various directions, apparently unable to stand. Everybody is flaunting their drinks, and most of them are attractive, clean, stylish, and well-to-do. Most of them I know by reputation, some of them by name, but none of them intimately.

I just wish I could find Max, really.

Senator Worthy arrives, changing my corner seat from a cozy retreat into a fetid cul de sac. His toothy odour and desperate need for attention make me edgy. I know the dangers of encouraging him.

"Nightingale just phoned and he's bringing his girl," he says to me, hoping for a reaction. I give him my wide-eyed look of the stupid and unconcerned.

The Senator is not a nice man but he falls short of outright evil. The early-evening grapevine said that the party would be relying on HIM for entertainment -- which is why the other guests have been feeding him drinks all night -- but he has always been a mediocre fiend, trying hard to be offensive but lacking variety, doing the same things all the time. Like many of our elected alcoholics, Senator Worthy doesn't grow tired of his crude come-ons and crass jokes and late-night penis-waving.

But he was invited for a reason. Blondie doesn't pay professionals to sing or tap-dance or burlesque at her parties, she just invites selections of deviants, agitators, and the subtly drug-addicted. Part of the fun is guessing which one will go furthest over the edge, with bets on who's first.

Thrill-seekers and urban aristocrats enjoy this sort of thing. I personally don't want to be thrilled tonight, especially not by Nightingale and his new girl. I shouldn't have come at all and I certainly shouldn't have stayed. I'll never find Max, especially if he doesn't want to be found, and if I did find him I'm not sure exactly what I'd say and he'd probably run away anyway.

The static from the radio and the smell of the Senator's teeth is making my headache worse, so I excuse myself and accidentally spill my scotch on some anonymous person's shirt. "Whoa, Tiger!" yells the Senator, toasting me, grinning.

Out on Blondie's balcony the wind is vicious and a necessary tonic. I can't avoid the anticipatory chatter about Nightingale's girl, but by pleading feminine weakness I manage to secure a seat near the far end of the railing, close to the edge of the crowd. I huddle down, hug myself a bit, look out over the city. I can see three rooftop orchestras without even turning my head.

A new voice, sweet and naive and slightly twangy, says what the other guests are too tactful to mention. "Seriously, how do they do it? How do the two of them..." She stops, shy. She's a little lady who still smells of the countryside. Every party needs a farm-fresh waif the same way it needs a beast, a hero, and a cynic. I'm not sure which one I am at the moment.

The Short Actor grabs the girl's thigh and he promises a demonstration. "Want to know how they do it? Abby, darling, put your leg out like this and then lean back a bit. Pretend you're a hooch dancer--"

"Hey!" laughs a gaudy woman, feigning offense, but the Short Actor will not be distracted . He squashes the little farm girl against the railing and tries to force her head back. "Now pretend you're lying on the floor, prone, and put this bottle between your legs--"

"Don't, I don't wanna--"

"--and I'll be Nightingale moving in for the kill..."

"STOP it!"

She's not having fun. Tonight's hero, I come out of my huddle and say "Hey Dick, give the kid a break. She's never been to Coney Island. She's not your kind of girl."

He's surprised. There's a mixture of relief and disappointment in the air, but mostly the latter. He says, "I should be teaching YOU how to screw like a freak. Maybe you can get your boyfriend back."

The farm girl has slipped off the railing and darted back inside, so the Short Actor takes some of his pent-up aggression out on me. Among other things he says I'm too "loose" to be ruining other people's fun, says I make a living out of other people's misery, calls me a stuck-up elitist who needs a REAL man. He recites a brief speech about fallen women that I think I remember from one of his plays -- one I reviewed negatively -- then finishes with an absolute soliloquy of gossip: Blondie and I, Max and I, Nightingale and I. "You're giving ME a puritanical line about the sacred virtue of womankind?" He hisses. "That's rich."

Shrugs all around. I'm not interested in fighting with him. He makes a mocking evil eye sign that belies his upbringing and goes back inside, and after a respectable pause I follow.

I weave my way through the staring crowd, trying half-heartedly to corner Max. Everybody saw him walk through a door just a few seconds ago.

In the kitchen, Blondie's coloured maid is standing in my way and restocking the icebox, her single chore for the night. I ask her if she's seen Max lately and she shakes her head, frustrated, because I've asked her this already. She's never liked me, but I don't really believe she's ever liked anybody, at least not the sort of people I know.

Liquor bottles have completely taken over the kitchen. The abandoned diversions of the Blondie household are sitting atop a forgotten shelf: decks of cards, crossword puzzles, a horse-racing game, the dusty mah-jongh set. What happened to these normal pastimes, I wonder? Blondie and Max had decided that playing bridge wasn't exciting enough, long before I ever met them.

"Are we horrible?" I ask the maid. I don't know what I'm expecting to hear. "Me, Blondie's friends, her party guests. Are we horrible people?"

"I dunno," says the maid, muffled, her head in the icebox. "It's not my business."

I agree. It's none of my business either.

I hear a chorus of cheers; Nightingale and his girl have finally arrived. I hear Max out there too, suddenly audible after all this time, welcoming the newcomers, shushing the girl who's still trying to break the radio. Blondie laughs and makes kissy noises and asks them what they'd like to drink. With my head against the door I listen to Max and Nightingale, two men talking about booze and girl trouble. They're only inches away.

"Excuse me," says the maid, pushing her way past me, and she whispers something that I'm sure is uncomplimentary.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Touching Bass

It's time, I think, for an update!

Shirley Bass-ey

First of all, there are some new pictures on Flickr, including the one above, which serves a few purposes: to prove that I really DO have a bass, to show off my New Year's Eve outfit (theme: "red"), and to show that my cat is either still alive or stuffed...the former is true.

As a person who has never seriously tried to learn an instrument -- let alone the theory behind playing one -- my experiences might be useful to those who want to try it themselves. I bought some self-instruction books (and a cheesy DVD starring this guy), I hooked up an amp, I tuned the strings, and then I got down to business.

In order to learn a skill I need to understand what I'm actually doing, but in this case I'm forced to realize that the background information is so specialized and esoteric that I'll need to take some of it on faith. I've learned a lot over the last few weeks -- in particular the very necessary information about WHY the strings are arranged and tuned the way they are -- but I still have a long way to go. It's humbling to learn the major scale and then turn the page and realize that it's only one of many, and that all those wonderful rules and tricks I'd assiduously practiced no longer apply.

Who can we blame for the bizarre grab-bag that is musical knowledge and perception? Lay it on the Organ of Corti.

I'm playing the examples, over and over again. As far as I can tell it's much easier to learn your scales on a fretted instrument (as opposed to one with keys) because you're just transposing your fingering up and down the neck. I'm working on the major chords and trying to keep in mind the notes I'm actually playing, to lay the groundwork necessary for actual competence (as opposed to rote repetition).

It's thrilling to me how, by just doing the same thing over and over again, you are eventually able to refine your abilities. For instance, now that I can actually play my scales without thinking about them, I can concentrate on keeping the other strings from ringing, and I can even stop staring at the frets for a short period of time.

If you want to learn the bass I DO recommend David Overthrow's book & DVD, but it's disappointing how many errors and omissions they contain. A beginner should NOT be presented with an illustration containing the wrong numbers, or be forced to puzzle out why a number isn't where you expect it to be. Otherwise it's just fun watching Overthrow playing dead-simple reggae basslines which obviously bore him to tears.

In summary: if I can maintain my enthusiasm and discipline I'll actually be able to play the bass by the spring. I won't be GOOD necessarily, but I think I'll be able to hold my own.

Otherwise life is good. I've come through the holidays relatively unchanged after my initial (and sort of inexplicable) emotional snap, with the addition that I find myself simply caring less about my own behaviour in, I think I've suddenly stopped worrying about such things. This could be because I've done something terrible to my shoulder -- it crackles in the morning -- and this leaves me less energy for feeling silly that I dropped the contents of my purse all over the dancefloor steps last night.

It's all a matter of perspective.

And to Syd & Gary, the removal of the blog "comment" feature started out as an accident but soon became deliberate, just because I needed to realign myself to the world, and this blog is part of that. I've turned them on again! Life is good.

Oh yes, back to the cat: she continues to be fragile and skinny, yet alert and spunky. She's had a slight rheumatic limp for about six months which has suddenly gotten a lot worse, but it hasn't stopped her from catching more mice and devouring them at my bedside, always leaving a piece behind: a black organ which looks like an olive, a veneer of pinkish blood, a tiny back foot with claws and pads attached.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009


Here's to Morgan and Hunter James, profiled in this issue of "Fab Magazine."

You might know them as constant workhorses for the International Court, or as photographers and stylistic advisers for the more recent Toronto "Daily Muffy" episodes...but I know them as a wonderful couple who always seem to have extra time and energy for their friends. And as two people perfectly matched in their love of jewelery.

Not even John Borrowman could come between them! Congrats on your profile, hons!

Sunday, January 04, 2009

The Boys and Girls Guide to Getting Down

On Saturday night I got a full-on eyeful of rutty, desperate, stupid, angry, cheesy, Jerry Springer-style sexual aggression, so I was a bit anxious about watching "The Boys and Girls Guide to Getting Down" this afternoon. Did I really want to see a movie about the kind of people I'd reluctantly shared a bar with just 24 hours ago, let alone a movie intended to REINFORCE such behaviour?

But no, it was wonderful! As a tongue-in-cheek "guide" to the typical party night, it certainly WAS dead-on, and it WOULD have been depressing except that the party-people in the film were far funnier and more interesting than such people are in real life (just watch the "behind-the-scenes" footage to see witty characters become boneheaded REAL people in the blink of an eye).

I particularly liked the movie's observations about the END of the night, when everybody is at the tail-end of their buzz and all promising to do fun things tomorrow ("Let's go to Vegas!" "Let's play Laser Tag!")...but nobody EVER calls, because they're all too exhausted and jaded to want to see each other. I also enjoyed their "mouse experiments," and their expose of the "coke bore" personality.

If you've ever looked at bar/club sexuality with a critical eye, this movie really IS a must-see. It even manages to have an upbeat message under all the debauchery: even if you're depressed the morning after, don't will rise "Phoenix-like" in just a few days, and you should be happy that you had more fun in a few hours than many people have in a month. As somebody who gets unaccountably melancholic after most nights out, this is good advice indeed.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Happy New Year!

I can't think of a better song to ring in the new year than "Xanadu." Olivia Newton-John? Electric Light Orchestra? Was there ever a better blend of gorgeousness?