Staff Picks: Sad songs, Christian songs and Lee Van Cleef | Rock Candy

Staff Picks: Sad songs, Christian songs and Lee Van Cleef

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Lee Van Cleef in "The Big Gundown"
  • Lee Van Cleef in "The Big Gundown"

I generally don't love westerns. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s the simplistic moralizing, all black hats and white hats and bullshit showdowns. Maybe it’s a consequence of growing up as the geekish asthmatic in a household of competent, muscular men who build houses and drive tractors. Maybe it’s just the fact that watching people squint into the desert sun makes me feel uncomfortably thirsty.

I say this because about a month ago I watched a 1966 spaghetti western called “The Big Gundown” that was absolutely great. It features Lee Van Cleef as Corbett, a heroic gunslinger — not the villain for once in his miserable life — ready to trade in the bounty hunting life for a career in the U.S. Senate. Really. But before he runs for office, he’s got one last job — to track down a desperado escaped across the border. (Then, as now, accusing destitute Mexicans of violent crimes seems to be the route to the popular vote.) Bizarre Odyssean set pieces and cat-and-mouse hijinks ensue before the plot swerves in an unexpected direction. Being a spaghetti western, the fact that “The Big Gundown” ends up being surprisingly substantive doesn’t mean, of course, that it isn’t also hokey as hell — a principal bad guy is a monocled, azure-eyed Prussian clad in a pitch-black cloak whose abiding obsession is to outdraw the fastest gun in the West. His name is Baron von Schulenberg.

Also: I’d never have seen this film without my friend Omaya Dehsaun Jones, who knows everything about movies, whereas I know nothing. Deshaun wants people to watch good movies, and so he screens good movies at his house. So maybe I’m really just recommending being friends with people with good taste, or at least being friends with Deshaun. — Benji Hardy

The five saddest songs I've liked on YouTube in 2016:

1. Neil Young - "Philadelphia" 
2. T.I. - "Still Ain't Forgave Myself"
3. Christopher Denny - "Age Old Hunger"
4. Z-Ro - "Help Me Please"
5. John Martyn - "Hurt In Your Heart"

Be careful with these. (Don't listen all at once — maybe scatter them.) Happy New Year! Things are good. Things are going to be really good. — Will Stephenson

There is a small handful of actually good to truly excellent Christian (or approximating religious) rock acts in the history of the world. Very small. And I mean excellent enough to deserve a place alongside other unsung heroes of rock and roll. Sitting on the middle finger of that handful of bands is the Georgia band Luxury. They were just kiddos back when they started in the early nineties, but now they are "three Orthodox priests, one burrito maker, and one fantastic drummer" according to their Bandcamp page. There is also a documentary in the works (watch this extended preview) about the band as well as their devastating auto accident in 1995 while on tour with Piltdown Man. Their next album "Trophies" comes out in February. — Bryan Moats


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