Ep. 46 – Cate Blanchett in TAR (2022) and Steve Vai’s “Greasy Kid’s Stuff” (1990)

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In this episode, Carl King examines Cate Blanchett in TAR (2022) and Steve Vai’s “Greasy Kid’s Stuff” (1990).

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Episode 46!


Get TAR on BluRay

Get Steve Vai’s Passion & Warfare on CD

Carl King Patreon Trailer 2023

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Mr. Bungle’s “Travolta” Bass Interlude Chord

Janie Grant / That Greasy Kid Stuff (1962)

They Might Be Giants / Greasy Kid Stuff

Harold Mabern / Great Kid Stuff

Vintage 1950s “Vitalis” Commercial


A few Carl King The Human Updates, and then we will officially get beginned. 1 – I’m in the process of mapping out all of my own creative work for 2023. Inside my Patreon, I recently posted a list of everything I want to release this year. That includes a couple of new musical albums, and some re-releases of a book and a film. 

This weekend I put it all into a spreadsheet, with a breakdown of every week of the year, and realized, uh oh. This is too many things. So I’m now re-thinking my strategy. Either way, expect more focus on MUSIC this year. 

2 – I just released an updated Patreon Trailer. And you can see that on my YouTube or on my actual Patreon page. 

Carl King Patreon Trailer 2023

3 – Ever wanted to wear a Sir Millard Mulch shirt? Well, I just made available a whole bunch of new MERCH on TeePublic. I’ve got old Sir Millard Mulch / Dr. Zoltan designs that were never printed, as well as some new designs for That Monster Show. 

There’s T-shirts, long-sleeves, hoodies, coffee mugs, stickers, and even pillows if you want to take a nap on Carl King. So head over to TeePublic Slash User Slash CarlKingdom, or click on the link in the show notes. 

CarlKingdom on TeePublic

4 – Someone named Hansell Gonzalez posted a message on Facebook asking how to play what I am calling the Bass Interlude Chord during Mr. Bungle’s “Travolta.” So I made a short YouTube video demonstrating what I think it is, including tab and notation. And I’ll post a link to that in the show notes. 

Mr. Bungle’s “Travolta” Bass Interlude Chord

5 – Remember my previous episode where I analyzed Red Dress by Sarah Brand? Well, she left me a nice comment on my YouTube video. It simply says: “Thanks for the thoughtful analysis. ;)” And a little winky smiley face. 

And now, let’s get into this week’s Analytical Filmmaking Analysis of the Week. 

TAR (2022)

This week’s Analytical Filmmaking Analysis of the Week is: Tar. Directored by and Screenwrited by Todd Field. And starring Cate Blanchett from Thor Ragnarok. 

Lately, I continue to be surprised at how much I am surprised by movies. How is it possible for there to be so many good movies? Maybe it’s because my tastes have evolved. I just wasn’t open to things like that before. Did not know the vocabulary.


Let’s start with The Music. I went into this… only hoping the music would be as good as it was in the trailer. I was led by my own imagination to believe this was about a noisy orchestral composer. Unfortunately, that piece of music is only used briefly in a single scene. 

It’s by a composer whose name I can’t pronounce, but her first name is Anna, and the last name is spelled T-H-O-R-V-A-L-D-S-D-O-T-T-I-R. Thor-Valds-Dottir? 

The piece of music is called Ro. No relation to Chris Higgins. And it has those prepared piano BANGS and creepy string and woodwind sounds. Really cool piece of music, in my own subjective opinion. I’ll put a link to it in the show notes. 

Anna Thorvaldsdóttir / Ró


Tar is a film loaded with classical music and music theory jargon. So I was kinda proud of myself for understanding it. 

I believe the players in the orchestra were legit classical musicians instead of actors. I think only Tar’s partner, the concertmaster was acting. And aside from her vibrato, it was mostly believable. 

There are some performance shots where her bowing is pretty darn good. We’ve come a long way since Ralph Macchio faked guitar playing in the film Crossroads. 


Let’s talk about the Structure and Rhythm. The film begins with a candid 30 seconds shot. It’s Lydia Tar sleeping on a plane. There’s no context for scenes like this. So the film requires us to do some work.

Followed by 4 MINUTES of intro credits. Tiny typeface, white over black. It’s mostly the crew rather than the cast. Who has ever put the entire VFX crew credits up front in a movie?

I had the thought: is this whole movie going to be backwards? The first actual scene is a roughly 11 minute interview with a New Yorker writer. And that’s unusual, isn’t it. So much for all those rules they teach in screenwriting classes.   


The theme here is addiction to status, addition to power. So rather than a rise to success and fame, this this film follows Lydia Tar’s slow descent into destruction.


Let’s talk about the Character and Acting. It’s revealed that Lydia Tar’s is not her real name. She has altered her real name, and even added a pretentious accent over the A to appear more exotic. 

Her character is obsessed with, and imitates composer Leonard Berstein (Burnstine). Going so far as to sit at home and imitate one of his album covers in the mirror, and even having one of his exact shirts remade, so she can wear it exactly as he did. She’s trying to literally become him. 

And that makes me wonder if Lydia is a reference to The Lydian Mode, famously used Berstein’s (Burn-Stine’s) West Side Story. 

She constantly drops cultural and literary “references” to peacock her status and sophistication. It is exhausting, and reminds me of some people I’ve met. 

I’m amused by her bizarre mannerisms when she’s trying to “center” or “reset” herself. Like when lighting candles, she does a little ritual, this whispering sound. And when composing at the piano, there’s the “brush off the shoulders and waving her fingers in front of nose” behavior that she also did just before going on stage with New Yorker interview.

I’m assuming these are behaviors stolen directly from Bernstein (Burnstine). And you might notice whenever she doesn’t like someone, she calls them a Robot. Why? This comes up again and again. I wonder what the creative source of this was. We don’t know yet. 

But probably my favorite acting of this film was by Nina Hoss, who plays Lydia Tar’s wife. Her silent RE-acting to interactions between Lydia and the young Cellist. It shows she knows EXACTLY what’s going on. 


Let’s talk about the cinematography. That scene at Julliard with the bouncy-leg pan-gender student is a Single Long Take. I think they used Steadicam, because part of the way through it’s likely the operator went down those stairs at the front of the stage. That scene is 10 and a half minutes of flawless execution. 

And during that, Tar so obviously thinks she’s Bernstein (Burn-stine). If you’ve ever seen his lecture series, Tar talks exactly like him. It comes off as unbelievably pretentious. 


Let’s talk about some of the Storytelling choices that were made. There is a story of a Scandalous Affair and Suicide going on in the background. 

In any other film, that main ACTION of the story would have been followed, AS IT WAS HAPPENING. In the NOW. But we never actually WITNESS it. The camera wasn’t there. We never even MEET the girl Tar destroyed. We only see vague, abstract, dreamlike flashbacks. 

So we don’t see Krista Taylor’s face, only her hair. It’s a clever way to go about it, because it mirror’s Lydia Tar’s efforts to BLOCK the girl out of her consciousness. So as the viewers, we experience it from the perspective of someone REPRESSING memories. The narrator is in DENIAL.

There are other mysterious bits of information we have to put together ourselves. As they’re never overtly stated with dialogue. 

First of all, Tar is stealing and abusing her wife’s beta blockers. For the purpose of lowering her adrenaline. I didn’t put that together until a repeat viewing. 

Second, it’s never explained, but I think Lydia’s WIFE stole the performance score of Mahler’s Fifth. So her wife was ALREADY making moves to remove Tar from her life. 

Third? Why did we need that scene with the neighbor? Maybe because it shows how uncomfortable Tar is with humanity, suffering, old age, and even death. Was this related to her past? Did something similar happen to one of her parents? Maybe her dad?

Fourth: During that scene where she tosses all her Mahler vinyls on the floor. Who was in the room with her? We only see feet. I’m assuming it was one of her affairs. Maybe it was Krista Taylor. 

These mysteries are set up in the same way that Obi Wan Kenobi briefly mentions something called “The Clone Wars” in A New Hope, but then never explains it. Many argue it should have been left that way. 

So the filmmakers here have created a complex character in Lydia Tar. They show us BARELY enough, and as viewers we want to know more. 

Overall, this story seems to be abstractly based on the life of Leonard Bernstein himself, but without the sudden scandal and crumbling career. 


Regarding the budget and production, According to Wikipedia, Tar had a $30M Budget, and only a $7 Million box office. It made maybe 1/4 of its budget back. 

However, I loved this film, and Mark Borchardt also told me it was the most meaningful film for him in 2022. So I give Tar 5/5 stars and a little heart on Letterboxd. 

And now let’s move on to this week’s analytical music analysis of the week. 


This week’s Analytical Musical Analysis of the Week is: Steve Vai’s Greasy Kid’s Stuff, from his 1991 album Passion & Warfare. Coincidentally, or not coincidentally, my favorite album of all time. 

Little bit of trivia: I discovered there are MANY songs called Greasy Kid’s Stuff. Even They Might Be Giants wrote one. From what I can tell it’s a reference to a hair product, possibly generic, used in the 50s. 

I’m guessing it’s related to the term GREASER. I’ll put some links to some YouTube videos, including old commercials mentioning Greasy Kid’s Stuff, in the show notes. 

Janie Grant / That Greasy Kid Stuff (1962)

They Might Be Giants / Greasy Kid Stuff

Harold Mabern / Great Kid Stuff

Vintage 1950s “Vitalis” Commercial

Now today I’m going to focus on only the OUTRO of this song, because Steve uses a compositional technique known as PLANING. And I think it’s fascinating yet simple. But before I explain what planing is, let’s talk a little bit of basic music theory. 

In a major key, like C major, you have seven notes:

C – D – E – F – G – A – B

And for each note, there is a simple triad, or 3-note chord built on it. 

Now how do we do that? 

To build a triad on C, you play C – skip the letter D, and play E. Skip the next letter F, and play G. So you have C, E, and G. And that is a C major triad. 

Do this with each of the 7 notes, and it sounds like this. 

Triads built on: C – D – E – F – G – A – B

That’s 7 triads, one built on each note of the scale. 

Without getting into too much detail, we end up with 3 Major Triads, and 3 Minor Triads. There’s also 1 Diminished Triad, built on the 7th note, and compared to the other triads, it is rarely used. 

So, to review, in a key, we have 7 notes, and 7 triads (chords). And when we stick to those notes and triads, the music is called Diatonic. 

But what would happen if we make ALL of those triads… MAJOR? Well, that would no longer be diatonic, and it would sound like this. 

C major, D major, E major, F major, G major, A major, B major. 

For extra credit, you can try making them all MINOR and see how THAT sounds. Anyway, if we make all of these chords major — even though our root notes, or the notes that these chords are based on — are in C major, the rest of the notes in the chord are OUTSIDE of C major. 

In other words, We have to use a bunch of sharps and flats. Or black keys. For instance, the D major chord is:

D – F# – A

E major is:

E – G# – B

And skipping a bunch of them, the B major would have TWO sharps:

B – D# – F#. 

When we start breaking out of “Diatonic” in this case, the sound becomes “Chromatic.” That would mean using all 12 of the notes instead of just 7. 

Now when we go up or down in pitch with ALL the same chord shape, such as ALL MAJOR or ALL MINOR, all of the voices are moving in a parallel motion. On a guitar, you would see it’s all the same chord shape moving up and down the neck. And that is called: PLANING. Also called Parallel Harmony. 

Getting back to the OUTRO of Greasy Kid’s Stuff, this is exactly what Mr. Vai is doing. 

This outro happens, sort of in the key of A. With 3 sharps. And those would be the notes:

A – B – C# – D – E – F# – G# – A

But we find out quickly it’s not just in the key of A. It’s only in RELATION to the key of A. 

The rhythm section is holding down an A note. And Steve is moving parallel major chords, or PLANING, over the top of it. He’s using layers of guitar harmonies to creating tension and release. Or, maybe just tension. We don’t know yet. 

So let’s dig into the analysis of the Outro of Greasy Kid’s Stuff. He starts with an F Major over that A. 

And by the way, this is that classic outer space / mediant major chord relationship that Devin Townsend uses all the time. 

Then Steve goes up chromatically:

F Major – F# Major – G Major. 

And we can hear where he might be going next. He’s works his way from:

G Major – G# Major. And landing on A Major. 

Notice that at this point, the guitar harmonies and the bass note are now both playing A Major. They’re back to their home base. 

And Steve reinforces that A Major, by playing a little fill with the notes:

E – F# – G#

Those would be the scale degrees:

5 – 6 – 7

They are sort of jazzy notes to emphasize, but that’s OK. 

And then for the next phrase, it gets very tense. And we go into outer space, because he uses these major chords:

C# – Bb – B – G# – A – Bb 

Notice the sequence there in those first 4 notes of that phrase: It’s 3 half steps down, one half step up, three half steps down, one half step up. That’s the basic pattern of the Diminished or Octatonic Scale. 

And then he goes back up to A and Bb. 

The next phrase, continuing on that Bb goes:

Bb – B – C – C# – D – D# – E

And those are all chromatic half steps, going up. 

It is getting EXTREMELY chromatic and tense and this point. But you can hear that A is still hammering away down there in the rhythm section. 

For the next phrase, he uses these major chords, moving downward:

F – D – Eb – C – C# – Bb – B – G# – F

There’s that same sequence again 3 half steps down, one half step up. Similar to the Diminished or Octatonic Scale. But in a different location. 

And then he moves back up, starting on F:

F – F# – G – G# – A – Bb 

And that sequence here is again, all chromatic half steps). And finally landing on B over that A. Which is a LYDIAN sound. 

And the song ENDS. So it never resolves to A over A. It just kinda hangs there. And that’s OK. It creates forward motion and makes us listen for what’s going to happen next. 

By the time this Greasy Kid’s Stuff Outro is over, Steve has used every note of the Chromatic scale. 

Now Planing, or Parallel Harmony, is not an uncommon compositional technique in Classical Music. It’s all over the music of Stravinsky, Ravel, and even John Williams. It’s a way to add more tension and break outside of simple diatonic harmony. 

So be sure to check out Steve Vai’s Passion & Warfare album, for more of his creative uses of reharmonization and guitar orchestration. 


OK, that’s the end of this Episode of the Carl King Podcast. Remember to subscribe on Spotify, Apple, or anywhere else you listen to these dang podcasts. 

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