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Friday, May 5, 2023

The National Continues to Push the Envelope

Written by Jon Williams

Last week the indie rock band the National thrilled fans worldwide with the release of their ninth full-length album, First Two Pages of Frankenstein. The title was created by frontman Matt Berninger. Struggling to write lyrics for a new album, he turned to his bookshelf for inspiration and found a handful of words and phrases that spoke to him in Mary Shelley’s classic novel. It was the breakthrough he needed. The result is an 11-track disc that features contributions from Sufjan Stevens, Phoebe Bridgers, and Taylor Swift.
Although the members (Berninger [vocals], brothers Scott [bass] and Bryan Devendorf [drums], and twin brothers Aaron and Bryce Dessner [guitar/piano]) all grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, the band formed in Brooklyn in 1999. They released two albums (The National and Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers) and an EP (Cherry Tree) as they honed their craft and refined their sound.
After signing with Beggars Banquet Records in 2004, the National hit their stride. In 2005, Alligator raised their profile by appearing on several publications’ lists of albums of the year (and eventually the decade). They saw similar critical acclaim from the breakout album Boxer in 2007, and skyrocketed into the public consciousness when an instrumental version of “Fake Empire” was used in Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign for the presidency. They followed that up in 2010 with High Violet, and their tour in support of that album was chronicled in the 2013 documentary Mistaken for Strangers (currently unavailable) made by Tom Berninger, Matt’s brother.
Now bona fide indie darlings, their music began to show up in more and more places, including over the closing credits of an episode of Game of Thrones, the Boardwalk Empire soundtrack, and on The Bob’s Burgers Music Album. They scored their first Grammy nomination for 2013’s Trouble Will Find Me, and won Best Alternative Music Album for the 2017 follow-up, Sleep Well Beast. Then, instead of taking a break as they had planned, they came back quickly, in 2019, with I Am Easy to Find, a collaboration with director Mike Mills, who used the album’s soundscape as the background for a short film of the same name.
The band hasn’t been idle since. They wrote the music for the 2021 film Cyrano, which features their single “Somebody Desperate.” They’ve also kept busy individually with side projects, some of which have been quite notable. In 2020 Matt Berninger released a solo album, Serpentine Prison. Aaron’s high-profile projects included cowriting and coproducing Taylor Swift’s Grammy-winning album folklore and its follow-up, evermore (which featured the National on the track “Coney Island”), as well as Ed Sheeran’s latest, among several others. He also recorded an album (also featuring a Taylor Swift appearance) with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon as Big Red Machine, How Long Do You Think It’s Gonna Last?
And we may hear more from the National as they kick off a world tour this month. Members of the band have said they wrote a lot of good songs that didn’t make the new album, and hinted that it may be released soon in some form. In the meantime, fans new and old have plenty of music to dig into. Click the links above for their albums, or SmartBrowse on our website for more.

Friday, February 10, 2023

Ups and Downs for Ozzy Osbourne

Written by Jon Williams

On February 1, the legendary hard rocker announced his retirement from touring, citing spinal injuries that have left him unable to endure the necessary travel. While Ozzy said the announcement was “one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to share,” at least it was followed up rather quickly with some good news. On February 5, he won two Grammy Awards: Best Metal Performance for the song “Degradation Rules,” and Best Rock Album for his most recent, Patient Number 9—a star-studded affair featuring contributions from Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Zakk Wylde, and the late Taylor Hawkins, to name just a few.

Ozzy’s career began in the late 1960s when he joined up with guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler, and drummer Bill Ward in a band that went through many names before finally settling on Black Sabbath, after the film of the same name. Inspired by that movie, they decided to take on a heavier sound and explore darker themes in their music. As a result, their self-titled debut album, released in 1970, is generally considered to be the birth of the heavy metal genre.

They refined that sound on their second album, Paranoid (currently unavailable on CD), released later in 1970 (early 1971 in North America). Propelled by now-iconic hits like “Iron Man,” “War Pigs,” and the title track, it is regularly cited among the best (and most influential) rock and metal albums of all time. The band followed that up with Master of Reality in 1971, their third album in quick succession, then took a quick break before returning with Black Sabbath Vol. 4 in 1972, incorporating new sounds. They would go on to put out four further albums—Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (1973, currently unavailable on CD), Sabotage (1975), Technical Ecstasy (1976), and Never Say Die! (1978)—before internal conflicts drove Ozzy from the band. He later reunited with most of the original members to tour and record the 2013 album 13.

After leaving Black Sabbath, Ozzy’s musical career would go on to reach even greater heights. Forming a new band including guitarist Randy Rhoads, his 1979 debut solo album, Blizzard of Ozz, contained the rock classics “Crazy Train,” “I Don’t Know,” and “Goodbye to Romance.” His second, 1981’s Diary of a Madman, included “Flying High Again.” Sadly, those were the only two albums to feature the guitar work of Rhoads, who was killed in a plane crash (along with two members of the band’s touring crew) early in 1982; the album Tribute, featuring a collection of songs recorded live, was released in 1987 in his honour.

Saddened by his friend’s passing, Ozzy nevertheless soldiered on. Jake E. Lee came on as guitarist for 1983’s Bark at the Moon and 1986’s The Ultimate Sin (currently unavailable on CD). He then teamed with Zakk Wylde for the first time on 1988’s No Rest for the Wicked, a partnership that has endured, in various forms, through to now. He was the primary guitarist on four more Ozzy studio albums—No More Tears (1991), Ozzmosis (1995), Down to Earth (2001), and Black Rain (2007)—in addition to several live albums, and has performed and recorded with him ever since.

Heavy metal is something of a niche genre, but Ozzy’s outlandish persona and antics gave many people at least a passing familiarity with him. He became a full-fledged household name with the 2002 debut of the MTV reality series The Osbournes (currently unavailable on DVD). Depicting the regular daily life of Ozzy, his wife and manager Sharon, and their kids Jack and Kelly, the show ran for four seasons and brought the singer even further into the spotlight.

Ozzy is no stranger to accolades—his two wins this year give him five Grammy Awards for his career. And Black Sabbath was enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006. While his touring days may be over, he has indicated that he would like to find a way to perform without the rigours of travel. In the meantime, music fans everywhere will continue to enjoy and discover his music. Use the links above to put his music on your shelves for patrons, or SmartBrowse his name on our website for all we have to offer, including concert videos, books by and about him, and so much more.

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

In Memoriam: James Caan

Written by Jon Williams

The film industry lost an incredible actor and a unique, larger-than-life personality last week with the passing of James Caan. He was 82.

Born in the Bronx in 1940, Caan was determined to avoid working as a butcher like his father. He went to Michigan State University with hopes of playing football but moved on to Hofstra University when those dreams fell through. It was at Hofstra that he met Francis Ford Coppola and developed an interest in acting. In the early 1960s he started turning that interest into a career, first with some stage work and then with a series of small television roles. His first significant film role was opposite Olivia de Havilland in 1964’s Lady in a Cage, and his part in 1965’s The Glory Guys earned a Golden Globe nomination for New Star of the Year. He landed his first starring role in the racing film Red Line 7000 for director Howard Hawks in 1965. He followed that up with another Hawks film, the Western El Dorado, which also starred John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, and Ed Asner. He worked with Robert Altman in the 1967 space thriller Countdown, and with his friend Francis Ford Coppola for the first time in 1969’s The Rain People.

Many of his films in the ‘60s struggled at the box office, but Caan’s status was about to skyrocket. The 1970s started with the starring role in Rabbit, Run, an adaptation of the John Updike novel. In 1971 he played dying football player Brian Piccolo in the TV movie Brian’s Song, earning an Emmy Award nomination (as did costar Billy Dee Williams). Then in 1972 came the role with which he would forever be associated, mobster Sonny Corleone, in Coppola’s The Godfather, widely regarded as one of the best films of all time. Playing the short-tempered and violent Sonny, the oldest son and heir apparent to Don Vito Corleone, earned Caan nominations for both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe. He reprised the role in a cameo appearance for The Godfather: Part II in 1974. Other notable performances in the ‘70s include The Gambler, Funny Lady, Rollerball, and A Bridge Too Far, to name a few.

The ’80s started strong for Caan. In 1980 his passion project, Hide in Plain Sight, was released, the only film he directed. Next came the stylish crime thriller Thief, the directorial debut of Michael Mann. Soon thereafter, though, a series of personal issues forced Caan from the limelight. Thinking he was done acting, he paused his career for several years. He did return, though, starting with another Coppola flick, Gardens of Stone, in 1987. He dipped his toe into sci-fi with 1988’s Alien Nation, which spawned a separate TV series. He then completed his comeback with another iconic role, playing injured and stranded author Paul Sheldon against Kathy Bates’s sadistic nurse and “number one fan” Annie Wilkes in the adaptation of Stephen King’s Misery.

From then until his passing, Caan worked steadily, appearing in roles both large and small across all genres. He did straight drama (The Program), crime drama (The Yards, The Way of the Gun), and comedy (Mickey Blue Eyes, Get Smart). He appeared in Wes Anderson’s debut film, Bottle Rocket, and Lars von Trier’s avant garde ensemble drama Dogville. He starred in the modern Christmas classic Elf. He did voice work for Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and its sequel, as well as for the anime film The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, and even voiced himself in cameos for both The Simpsons and Family Guy. He also had TV roles in the shows Las Vegas, Magic City, and Back in the Game. Caan’s final movie role was as an aging mob boss in the crime drama Fast Charlie, which will release in 2023.

James Caan leaves behind an extensive body of work that fans old and new will want to explore for years to come. Click on the links above, or SmartBrowse his name on our website to find all his movies we have available on DVD and Blu-ray. Patrons can also find a selection of his films available digitally on hoopla.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Bruce Willis Retires from Acting

Written by Jon Williams

Recently, representatives and family members of Bruce Willis announced that he was stepping away from his acting career. The popular action hero has been diagnosed with aphasia, a condition that affects a person’s ability to communicate.

Willis has long been known as a movie star, but he got his start in television. In 1984 and 1985 he appeared in first-season episodes of Miami Vice and the revival of The Twilight Zone. His big break came later in 1985 when he landed the role of private investigator David Addison on Moonlighting. For four seasons he starred alongside Cybill Shepherd on this hit show, winning both a Golden Globe and an Emmy Award for Best Actor along the way. (He later won another Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actor for his three episodes of the sixth season of Friends.)

During this time, he took his first steps toward the big-screen fame that would define him. His first starring role came opposite Kim Basinger in 1987’s Blind Date. Then, in 1988, his career launched into the stratosphere with the definitive action blockbuster Die Hard. Detective John McClane would become Willis’s most iconic character, a role he would reprise for four sequels, and cement his reputation as an action star. He would put those chops to work in movies like The Last Boy Scout, Red, The Expendables 2, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, and so many more.

But while he was best known for action flicks, it was never his only trick. His comedy chops were apparent from early voice roles in Look Who’s Talking and Look Who’s Talking Too, and continued in movies like Death Becomes Her, The Whole Nine Yards, and Cop Out. He took on sci-fi with 12 Monkeys, The Fifth Element, Armageddon, and Looper. And that’s in addition to blockbusters and favorites like Pulp Fiction, The Sixth Sense, Sin City, and Moonrise Kingdom, to name just a few.

So while he may be leaving the spotlight, all of these memorable TV and film roles ensure that Bruce Willis will be celebrated for a long time to come. Make sure you have his work on your shelves for patrons to discover or revisit. SmartBrowse his name on our website to find everything we have available.

Friday, March 25, 2022

King, Chizmar Wrap Up Gwendy Trilogy

Written by Jon Williams

A new novel from Stephen King is on its way. Fairy Tale, due out September 6, promises a tale of dark fantasy, and will be King’s first solo novel since last year’s Billy Summers. But those constant readers (or listeners) looking for something else set in the land of King’s fertile imagination need look only for a recent collaborative release flying somewhat under the radar.

Released in February, Gwendy’s Final Task, written with Richard Chizmar, concludes the tale that began with Gwendy’s Button Box, released in 2017. Set in King’s famous fictional town of Castle Rock, it details the series of events that ensue when young Gwendy Peterson is approached by a mysterious stranger and entrusted with a powerful magical device.

While King collaborated with Richard Chizmar for the first and third installment in the saga, the second, 2019’s Gwendy’s Magic Feather, was written solely by Chizmar. Well known in horror circles as the publisher of Cemetery Dance magazine, he has also edited and contributed to a number of horror anthologies. In 2021, he released the well-received fictional “true crime” novel Chasing the Boogeyman.

King, of course, is no stranger to collaborations. His first was 1984’s The Talisman, written with fellow horror author Peter Straub. They teamed up again for a sequel, Black House, in 2001. He has also written with each of his sons. He and Joe Hill got together for the novellas Throttle, an homage to Richard Matheson, and In the Tall Grass, both published in Hill’s collection Full Throttle. And in 2017, King collaborated with his son Owen for the bestselling novel Sleeping Beauties.

And because longtime King fans will want to know: yes, the Gwendy books do have the connections to his other works that he loves to include. Stories set in Castle Rock include The Dead Zone, Cujo, The Body, The Dark Half, The Sun Dog, Needful Things, and Elevation, as well as numerous short stories found in Skeleton Crew, Nightmares & Dreamscapes, and The Bazaar of Bad Dreams. The Gwendy stories also tie into his magnum opus, the eight-volume Dark Tower series (which begins with The Gunslinger).

Even with these connections, it’s not necessary to read these stories in any particular order, so readers and listeners can feel free to jump in at any point. The stories on your shelves are sure to provide hours of entertainment for fans old and new—use the links above, or browse around on our website to find other novels and collections, available in physical formats and digitally on hoopla Flex.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

In Memoriam: Charlie Watts

Written by Jon Williams

The music world is mourning the death of legendary Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts, who passed away on Tuesday at the age of 80.

Although not a founding member of the band, Watts joined the Stones very early on—the band played their first show in July of 1962, and Watts took over as permanent drummer in February of 1963. He quickly became the foundation upon which the band’s success was built. Guitarist Keith Richards himself said, “Everybody thinks Mick [Jagger] and Keith are the Rolling Stones. If Charlie wasn’t doing what he’s doing on drums, that wouldn’t be true at all. You’d find out that Charlie Watts is the Stones.”

The band’s discography kicked off with their self-titled debut in 1964 (titled England’s Newest Hit Makers in the U.S.). Since then, they’ve released 23 British albums and 25 in North America, most recently the covers album Blue & Lonesome in 2016. Other notable releases include their incredible run from 1968 through 1972—Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, and Exile on Main St.—to name just a few. They also released a number of live albums, with 1970’s Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out being perhaps the best example of the band at the top of their game. In addition to serving as the band’s drummer, Watts often helped to design their tour stages, album sleeve art, and more.

Before he joined the Rolling Stones, Charlie Watts was primarily a jazz drummer, and his own musical tastes inclined more in that direction. He would often play with big bands and his own quintet, which he formed in 1991. Recordings of these efforts can be hard to find, but one example is Charlie Watts Meets the Danish Radio Big Band, recorded in 2010.

Whether they’re revisiting old favorites or discovering it for the first time, make sure your patrons can experience the timeless music of the Rolling Stones and Charlie Watts. SmartBrowse ‘the Rolling Stones’ on our website for all their studio and live albums, greatest hits compilations, concert video, and more. And if your library offers hoopla, patrons can find the Stones’ music there as well, so they can explore the band’s music at home or on the go.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Expanded Visibility on

Starting this week, all users of the website will see more options for expanding their library’s media collection. In addition to our full line of physical media products (DVD, Blu-ray, and 4K video and music and audiobooks on CD), you will now also be able to see the digital audiobooks and eBooks available on hoopla Flex. Offering our version of one-copy one-user functionality, hoopla Flex allows you to offer your patrons the newest and most popular audiobook and eBook titles alongside the hundreds of thousands of digital titles that are always available via hoopla Instant!

Click here to learn more! If you have questions, contact our Customer Service department at 1.866.698.2231 or