Clarence Clemons, 1942-2011, a saxophone shredder

Clarence Clemons, 1942-2011, a saxophone shredder (photo)

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In a recent piece for Slate called “Bringing Saxy Back: The sax solo returns to pop music,” critic Jonah Weiner connected hits by Katy Perry and Lady Gaga to proclaim that “the saxophone is repopulating” pop music. In earlier decades, the shiny, serpentine cylinder had been a staple, used by everyone from No Wave noiseniks and Lou Reed to red-blooded American rock bands and Elton John. But with the ’90s–or the rise of grunge gruffness and indie irony, countered by the popularity of soft-jazz sax anti-icon Kenny G–the instrument fell out of favor, relegated to bit comedy and very minor musical roles.

Interestingly, Weiner claims that the saxophone suffered during the last two decades because it was wimpy, a one-time rock ‘n’ roll accessory that lacked much of rock ‘n’ roll’s requisite machismo. Better tools could be brandished. “Compare the fanboy hyperbole. A guitarist shreds. What does a saxophonist do? Blow? Cook?” It’s a notion to which any Bruce Springsteen devotee should take umbrage.

Clarence Clemons, who died Saturday in Florida from complications stemming from a stroke he suffered two weeks ago, was a shredder. Despite the PR and personnel troubles Weiner notes of the saxophone during the last 20 years, Clemmons was a commensurate showman, the sweaty, hulking centerpiece that always took high moments only higher. I only saw Clemons play live once, two years ago. I’d never before seen the E-Street Band, despite all the talk I’d heard of how they were a rock unit that couldn’t stop climbing. I was cynical upon going, a disciple upon leaving. When you thought their energy had peaked, they’d somehow get bigger, better, bolder. When I saw the E-Street Band, Springsteen himself crowd-surfed early in the show. That, somehow, was less inspiring than each time the band locked in as a tireless unit, when Van Zandt looked down at his hands, checking himself, while Clemons arched his back and puffed his cheeks to find just the right phrase or howl. Despite the warnings, I wasn’t ready for Clemons, a supreme showman among showmen. After that night, I always assumed I’d have another chance to see the E-Street Band, a touring machine for decades. I won’t, at least not with Clemons. I regret only seeing him once.

At least, as Weiner notes, Clemons lived long enough to see his instrument of choice return to favor. He was a professed Lady Gaga fan who played on two tracks on her latest record, as well as American Idol just before the stroke that finally killed him. What’s more, the saxophone is creeping back into the underground that Weiner suggests helped silence it. Last month, when I interviewed Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, he talked about the sounds on his new record, including the saxophone. He studied Duke Ellington charts and recruited two modern giants of the instrument, Mike Lewis and Colin Stetson, to make his latest LP. “Colin and Lewis are literally my favorite living saxophone players–like Happy Apple is my favorite jazz group in the world,” he said, speaking with a candor that shut down any ironic winks the record could suggest. What was unhip, then, has returned somewhere near the top, just as the guy who carried the instrument through decades of what otherwise might have been atrophy has died.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.