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Being There 

We talk movies with Allison Moorer and pit the Moz against Nick Carter

Nowadays, there are so many doggone glorious female tunesmiths straddling the line between twang and rock/pop/folk/blues/soul that it must qualify as a gender-specific Golden Age for the elusive genre of "alt-country." Beyond the pioneering (and still very relevant) Emmylou Harris, you've got -- in no particular order -- Lucinda Williams, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Gillian Welch, Kelly Willis, Kasey Chambers, Alison Krauss, Caitlin Cary, Natalie Maines, Tift Merritt, Patty Griffin, Lori McKenna, Shelby Lynne and her sister, Allison Moorer -- to name a few.

Of this group, Moorer stands the worst chance of achieving mass recognition. She had her window: In 1998, Moorer received an Oscar nomination for "A Soft Place to Fall" from The Horse Whisperer soundtrack. But in Nashville, trains get derailed. That her most recent release, The Duel, was pressed by the indie Sugar Hill Records is testament to how far Moorer has willingly fallen from MCA Nashville and its hit-making tree.

Moorer's folks perished in a murder-suicide carried out by her father when Moorer was growing up in Alabama, so her soul ain't so sunny to begin with. Which brings us to Being There.

A 1979 adaptation of a satirical Jerzy Kosinski novel that was nominated for multiple Academy Awards, Being There is Moorer's favorite movie. Starring Peter Sellers and Shirley MacLaine, Being There follows a mentally challenged gardener named Chance whose only knowledge of the world consists of what he's seen on television. Once his employer dies, Chance is thrust into the mean streets of Washington, D.C.

Conversing almost exclusively in simple platitudes involving his lone field of expertise (gardening), Chance -- who erroneously becomes known as "Chauncey Gardener" -- quickly ascends in public stature to that of economic genius and then would-be presidential candidate. Moorer recently spent a few minutes discussing the impact of '70s cinema -- a Golden Age in its own right -- on her craft.

B-Sides: Why is Being There your favorite movie ever?

Allison Moorer: Being There makes me feel warm but a little unsettled. That film is so multi-layered. It really reminds me of the music business. You can make anybody believe anything you want them to believe. When's somebody going to wake up and realize the emperor is naked?

While Richard Strauss' "Also Sprach Zarathustra" is best known as the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey, it is brilliantly employed here in conjunction with Chauncey's being cast forth into the world. Do you feel like modern cinema has lost its ability to properly integrate soundtrack and script?

I think the use of film with music is the most powerful medium there is. It can just blow you over, absolutely. What I see a lot is somebody using a certain song for a cheap shot. There can be moments when things are more subtle, but sometimes they hit you over the head with it, and it becomes a lowest-common-denominator kind of thing.

The movie's final shot shows Chauncey walking across a lake as his friend Ben is buried. Is there a quasi-spiritual message at play here or what?

I think the whole film has a spiritual message. I think Chauncey, through the whole film, is just being himself, which is a pretty spiritual concept if you think about it. The last scene, I'm not really sure what that's all about, but it made perfect sense to me.

Do you have to go to dark places personally and emotionally to achieve that sort of shading in your own work?

I just started writing for my first record, which I'm going to do alone for the first time. Yesterday, I was on the bus writing, and I totally exhausted myself. I took myself to a place I don't go very often, and it totally shook me. So the answer is yes. -- Mike Seely

Charming Men

Back in the day when Britney Spears was still unwed jailbait and Carson Daly was a TRL figurehead, the Backstreet Boys were the toast of the teenpop world. After the tinny, Eurotrashy pop of "We've Got It Goin' On" made them stars overseas in 1995, the Orlando-based quintet -- baby-faced Nick Carter, altar-boy-cherubic Brian Littrell, nondescript Howie Dorough, brooding old dude Kevin Richardson and bad-boy-with-even-worse-facial-hair A.J. McLean -- reigned over the late-'90s American charts with hits like "I Want It That Way" and "I'll Never Break Your Heart."

Five years after their last studio album, the Boys are on a small club tour in an attempt to recapture the pre-fab magic of those days. Oddly enough, however, the return of the band brings to mind another high-profile comeback kid in recent months: the godfather of alt-rock misery, Morrissey. Sound implausible that the two are linked? Think again.

First, each artist took great pains to stay out of the spotlight for a significant amount of time, at least recording-wise. The perpetually mopey Brit took a seven-year recording hiatus and emerged triumphantly last year with You Are the Quarry, although the interim found him touring sporadically and losing a lawsuit filed by former Smiths bandmates Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce. BSB, on the other hand, spent the last five studio-free years since 2000's Black and Blue unleashing a greatest-hits CD -- and chilling in rehab (McLean) or driving while intoxicated (Carter).

Style-wise, Moz and BSB favor similar threads: The cover of the new BSB single, "Incomplete," shows the boys swaggering in natty suits down what looks like a deserted desert street -- shades of Mozzer's pinstriped gangster-pose and impeccable coif on the cover of Quarry. Morrissey sports crowd-pleasing dress shirts live and has even been known to throw in costume changes during a concert -- just like the sartorial extravagance favored by the Backstreeters of yore.

Moreover, each artist's bread and butter are songs about love -- either the crushing valleys and OMGWOW!?! highs of romantic entanglement, or the bitterness inherent in a lack thereof. Although the Backstreeters tended to attain actual booty -- if songs like "I'll Never Break Your Heart" are any indication -- its "Show Me The Meaning of Being Lonely" and "Quit Playin' Games (With My Heart)" had quite a bit in common with the frustration Moz unleashed on "I Am Hated for Loving" and "How Can Anybody Possibly Know How I Feel?"

At the height of their popularity, though, this sensitivity attracted a very similar fan base: adolescent girls looking for sexually ambiguous crush objects, gay men and anyone clinging to youthfulness through music. The two even share audience uncertainty now that commercial viability has been elusive in recent years. Morrissey is no longer the angst of choice for suburban misfits -- My Chemical Romance, we're looking at you -- but now has an extremely loyal Latino fan base along with a cadre of hardcore crustpunks and perpetually lovelorn Smiths lifers into him.

As for the Boys? Well, it's still too early to tell who will scream for them in 2005. Soccer moms bored with their husbands? Latent fans that now crush on Ben Gibbard but still secretly pine for McLean? Young teens ready to move beyond Hilary Duff albums? Only time will tell -- although as long as unrequited teen crushes and adult contemporary radio exist, the Boys will always have folks willing to listen. -- Annie Zaleski

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