Friday, September 26, 2014

Friday Music Randomness

Another Friday - another random 10, without much in the way of introduction:

1. Serge Gainsbourg - Docteur Jekyll et Monsieur Hyde
2. The Decembrists - I Was Meant for the Stage
3. Iggy & the Stooges - Search and Destroy
4. Come - Bell
5. Pink Floyd - In the Flesh?
6. Blind Faith - Well All right
7. Neutral Milk Hotel - Naomi
8. John Martyn - I'd Rather Be the Devil
9. Pearl Jam - Deep
10. James White & The Blacks - Almost Black Pt 1

Young Iggy:



Old Iggy (with Mike Watt and James Williamson):



And John Martyn:



And Come, from a reunion show a couple years ago; kind of reminds me that I've managed to see Thalia Zadek with three different bands - Live Skull, Come and her own band:

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Shop Around the Corner



On the home stretch at Wonders in the Dark's Romance Countdown: I kick off the top ten with Shop Around the Corner.

There is a strange irony to love stories. To be stories, something has to change - and so it seems if you want the film to end with lovers together, happily ever after, they have to spend the bulk of the film apart. Enemies, even. And on the other side - if you show the lovers together, show their happiness in the film, the story demands that something changes - they have to be parted. And so the irony - the most powerful depictions of love and desire in films are often in the doomed love affairs, while in films with happy endings, lovers spend the whole show fighting - a merry war perhaps - but war, any any case... Tragedies and romantic comedies - Romeo and Juliet; and Much Ado About Nothing - the models for so many love stories, in their broad shape at least. Blissful lovers parted; bickering enemies united.

But that offers a challenge to a clever storyteller - how do you show people in love and still have a happy ending? How do you honor the conventions of romantic comedy (about what keeps people who belong together apart), while showing them actually in love? I suppose there are as many ways to do this as there are romantic comedies - mistaken identities, amnesia, class expectations, the comedy of remarriage - or - this one. What if the lovers are pen pals? what if they have never met, but have fallen in love with one another in words, two lonely, clever people stuck in their hard lives in the big city - who find they have a bond? What about that? And then - they meet in the real world - and take a dislike to one another - and - then you'll have a story! You'll have a story where they are in love with one another from the start, and enemies from the start; they can be as romantic as they want; they can bicker and fight and put each other down to their heart's content. (And cleverly - well enough they start to be impressed with their mutual nastiness.) Yes - then, you just have to play it out, the revelations, the consequences of lies and truths and self-deception - until, of course, it all comes together.

That is the plot of The Shop Around the Corner. Jimmy Stewart (as Kralik) has a pen pal he has fallen for, "dear friend"; Margaret Sullavan (Clara) shows up looking for a job. He is sympathetic, but can't help her - but she plays him against his boss to get the job, and they are off to a bad start. But she is, of course, Dear Friend - and off they go.



Though their story is just part of the film. There is a major subplot running alongside it - Matuschek the store owner's wife is having an affair (he receives an anonymous letter) - he thinks it is Kralik and fires him. It is not Kralik, though, and the twin humiliation of his wife's faithlessness and his mistreatment of Kralik drives Matuschek to attempted suicide; he is saved by the errand boy, and more plots are spawned, as Kralik comes back, and Pepi rises in the world. But for the first half of the film, this subplot haunts the main story. It's rooted in the same issues - secrets, deceptions, suspicions; anonymous letters and double talk; loneliness, loss. Both stories revolve around the question of who your true friends are. The plots are intertwined - Kralik's relationship with Clara is poisoned early by her willingness to get between Matuschek and Kralik, and take advantage of the rift between them; the trouble between the men (caused by Matuschek's suspicions) continues to pit Kralek and Clara against each other. The subplot ruins their hopes for one another - the pen pals were supposed to meet, but Kralik losing his job makes him avoid the rendezvous, though he can't help spying - and so learns the pen pal is Clara. And when the truth comes out, and Matuschek brings Kralik back, the romance gets another chance - though not without trouble.



It's a simpler story problem now - Kralik knows more than Clara does, and what will he do with it? He isn't exact happy to find that Clara is his correspondent, but it doesn't take him long to start thinking. And when he starts thinking - and paying attention to her - and he starts to fall in love. It pays off, in the end - as sweet and tender a moment of discovery as you get on film, all of it set up by the structure, the way their anonymous love is played against their workaday dislike for one another, and plays into their discovery of one another. Kralek finds that he likes her - he hears his correspondent's voice in Clara, he starts to imagine her as the woman he writes to. And maybe she likes him - she is brought to admit her own initial attraction to him, her foolish acting that stopped any connection before it started. But it doesn't matter - by then, she has him, completely - and he just has to let her know.



And so he tells - and she reacts, and all of their desires and conflicts and inner torments and outer strife come together, as they come together:





Very sweet. But then again, it is an incredibly sweet movie - a sweetness paid for by a spine of bitterness. Faithless lovers, attempted suicide, betrayals and cruelties; poverty, fear - everyone lives on a knife's edge of fear, if they were to lose this job, what could they do? - there is an edge to the whole story, a sense of just how close everyone is to ruin. The film is expressly about that shop around the corner - a quaint, gentle place, the friends and comrades there - but that shelter belies what happens within. Things burn; nothing is what it seems. It is a film about loneliness, the desperate loneliness in the city. Loneliness lies under much of Clara and Kralik's dilemma. They are so alone, they aren't really even at ease with themselves - they function well enough in their daily lives, but they know it is empty, that it leaves them bitter, in fear that they will never know anything else. Their letters are a lifeline - a thread connecting them to something better, not just to another person, but to a better version of themselves. They don't just find a kindred soul in the letters - they find their own better selves. And that too pays off in the end - how out of that profound solitude they have, in fact, found someone, a real person, who connects to the self they want to be - very nice.



And of course, it isn't just them. The shop, and the city itself, is full of all the trouble they have - loneliness and betrayal, no one quite honest with each other, no one quite connecting. But Lubitsch pays this off too. Mr. Matuschek's Christmas dinner with Rudi might be as moving as the actual ending of the film - someone who has lost his home and someone who has left his home connecting in the snow. What community there is is hard bought - but there it is.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Potty Train the Chairman Mao

Well, it is talk like a Pirate day, and I suspect if Pirates were around in the 1980s, they'd have been Butthole Surfers fans - so - this month's (delayed) band of the month is the pride of Texas, the psychedelic freak show that was the Butthole Surfers.

I'm in danger of getting stuck in the 1980s on this series - Husker Du last month, Surfers this month - and I could keep doing this for a while. I can't say exactly that I listened to more music, or bought more music then than since - but I was immersed in music in the late 80s in ways I haven't been since. I saw all these bands (most of them) - some of them quite often. I went to clubs, read magazines and zines, paid attention. This period still feels like the base of my musical experience.

And so the Butthole Surfers. I saw them three times in the late 80s - they were very impressive. The first time was a particularly interesting experience - 1987... I must admit that I had consumed many ardent spirits that evening, and was in something of an ardent spirit myself - it was the end of a semester (I had turned in the last paper of the term that very afternoon), and was in a mood to blow off steam. The Surfers were good for that. I spent most of their show in the pit - which probably should have scared the hell out of me - my friend who was there said he saw a metal pipe being circulated; someone got stabbed later in the evening - but I didn't notice. I had a grand time. (Truth is, mosh pits usually struck me as fairly supportive places - everyone wants to thrash and bang around, all together - if anyone fell, the rest picked them up and went back to thrashing; maybe that depended on the show... it was true for the Surfers anyway.) I do remember the aftereffects of grad school though - I remember standing on the edge of the pit, watching the band and the mass of fans surging around - looking at the films (driver's ed films; surgery films; other stuff, maybe less cringe-worthy), the naked dancer, listening to the wash or racket they were making - thinking - Hey! This is as if Freud's Thanatos Syndrome and Eros Syndrome were combined into one thing! sex and death together! Even sober, that's not such a bad way to put it. Something too about surfing on the waves of sound and scatology - who knows. It was great fun, I can say that - and their particular brand of racket definitely felt like it took stupid well onto the clever side of the line...

So there. I still like them - they made a very satisfying kind of noise: funny (always funny), funny lyrics, funny music, funny (if rather daunting at times) stage show - but some pretty fine music as well. They could write real songs, in a couple different idioms; they did a better job than you might think of combining things - there's a bluesy vibe throughout heir stuff, that doesn't necessarily show up in a lot of the 80s era underground post punk scene; they brought psychedelia back, long jams, Black Sabbath riffs, a bit before that stuff was fashionable again, and they managed to do it in a way that was always funny and usually convincing as straight music. And, especially when they had the two stand up dreamers going, they always rocked like a motherfucker. So - there you go.

Top 10 Songs:

1. Moving to Florida
2. Rocky
3. Gary Floyd
4. Mexican Caravan
5. Pepper
6. Lady Sniff
7. John E. Smoke
8. Ricky
9. Cherub
10. The Lord is a Monkey

And some video: here's their video for Pepper - a "one hit wonder" someone said, which is extremely bizarre to think about, since they were around for ages before this came out, but - perspective, you know. What they were as an underground act in the 80s is almost completely unconnected to what they were as a nearly MTV sanctioned act in the 90s:



As for what they were: here's Psychedelic Jam, 1987, the first tour I saw - naked dancer, films - an experience, and convincing music even. Strange stuff, but the kind of thing that could convince you on the spot - did I mention up there that I had only heard of them before I saw them? had never heard their music, and knew very little except their reputation for being extremely strange and shocking? It's true - they won me on the spot, and that is more to do with the music than the act:



And here - live in 1984, a straightforward, well lit live set - the two stand up drummers, the wild Texas psychedelic squall - Gibby - god knows what he's up to, though it seems to involve several costume changes:



And this is live in Holland, 1985, a particular bit of bad chaos, featuring Moving to Florida, Lady Sniff, and others - Gibby in a dress, Kramer on bass, lots of staggering around in circles in the infernal roar:



And one more - a vintage performance of Cherub:


Friday, September 12, 2014

Friday 10 Again

Yikes - I just noticed this is the second Friday of the month - I owe you a Band of the Month! Well - I forgot that this was the second Friday of the month - I barely remembered it was Friday (and not for the first time this summer) - I am getting old.... So - well - so it goes. Band of the month will be late this month, I guess - I'm not abandoning it in any case...

Unlike Apple and the iPod Classic - shit! Where will I go when mine dies? the design may be old, but 160GB of storage is nothing to sneeze at, and not available anywhere else right now. Oh well: ever onwards! Someday soon, I will have a watch that tells time and plays - a couple songs anyway. Though I'll have to pay some telecom to listen to them... I suppose that's progress.

So this week - just random songs it is:

1. Atoms for Peace - Dropped
2. Boris - Untitled
3. Mars Volta - Roulette Dares (Live)
4. Decembrists - As I Rise
5. Jackie-O-Motherfucker - Bewcastle UK Oct 29 (live)
6. Waterboys - All the Things she Gave Me
7. Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - We Can't Help You
8. Beck - Ramshackle
9. Grant Hart - Run for the Wilderness
10. Badfinger - Midnight Caller

And video? The Mars Volta sounds good.... I'm a sucker for a good bit of guitar wanking, and Omar certainly delivers.



And - let's try Beck:

Friday, September 05, 2014

Love Me Tonight

[This essay written for the Romance countdown at Wonders in the Dark. I posted there a couple days ago - then got distracted from posting here by the anniversary of the Fall of Atlanta. Anyway - here it is.]



Love Me Tonight starts with the ringing of bells, then fades in to shots of Paris, rooftops, streets, the Seine. We see a lone bicyclist, hear the swish of his tires on the street, then see an overhead shot of one street, with a man pushing a wheelbarrow. We hear its wheels; he stops, tosses his tools into the street (clank, clank), and he starts working, pounding a steady rhythm. We cut to an overhead shot of a bum, asleep, snoring. Then to a woman sweeping; to steam whistling from a chimney; to windows opening, a baby crying, to a man with a sawhorse, kids in the street, another man opening a store; women hanging out clothes, flapping them off their balconies; two cobblers sit down to their work, pounding nails (bang: tap/tap - bang: tap/tap); a knife grinder grinds, there's traffic in the streets, there's a woman pounding a rug, a car horn sounds - all of it mixes together, layered on everything else, a symphony of sounds, finished, so to speak, by a woman opening her window and turning on her gramophone, the whole street come together in music. And the camera goes into one room and finds Maurice Chevalier, dressing for the day, trying to shut out the noise, but not able to resist it - give him a second, and he'll be singing along.



And after that? It's all like that - Love me Tonight is a fairy tale, about a tailor who goes to collect a debt from a profligate Vicomte, and meets a princess, locked in a tower, surrounded by (mostly well meaning) jailers - mostly old men, though Myrna Loy is along as a bit of a comic foil; do they fall in love? does he rescue her? does he rescue him? It's hardly a mystery, as the whole film is a vast celebration of music and love, of community and life, and the wonders of film. It's a light, joyous story, and the film - everything - music, dialogue, performances, filmmaking - is as exuberant as the story.

Rouben Mamoulian directs, and he pulls out the stops. It's a trove of cinematic devices - musical and theatrical as well, and all together. The opening sequence with its natural sounds incorporated into music; the "pass-along" songs, especially Isn't it Romantic?; the way dialogue slips into lyrics and back, conversations sung, or half sung, rhymed at any rate; strictly cinematic tricks, like fast motion, slow motion, split screens, 180 degree cutting, animation, double exposure; theatrical tricks like direct address to the audience, use of shadows and mirrors, visual jokes. It's all there, for the joy of it all - but also working, all the time, to pull everyone together - especially the lovers - but everyone. It's a film of choruses, mostly - the streets of Paris, the people Isn't it Romantic passes through, the reprise of Mimi, the ensemble performance of The Son of a Gun is Nothing but a Tailor. Plus a duet or two, and complimentary songs for the lovers when they meet.

Everything in the story brings the lovers together; everything in the filmmaking brings them together; the whole affair works to make sure they fall in love and all is well. Right off the bat - Maurice sings in Paris - Isn't it Romantic? - and the song makes its way across France to Jeannette MacDonald, locked in her tower.



The usual complications arise - he runs her off the road; he charms and annoys her with a song; at the Chateau, the Vicomte has to pass him off as a Baron to keep him around long enough to scare up the money, and Jeannette takes a dislike to him. Myrna Loy tries to take him for herself; Charles Butterworth's count (who imagines himself a suitor for Jeannette) suspects him - but there is no way around it. Everything is against them - or with them - whatever it is. Her maiden aunts weave spells for her:



Cupid - cupid isn't subtle about it:



And Maurice can charm wild animals and wild men - saving a stag, and then sending the hunt away in slow motion, in a scene worthy of Cocteau:



How else could it end?



Though that is not the end. Our lovers come together, kissing in the garden, pledging love - whoever you are, whatever you are, wherever you are - united in their dreams (in song; in bed) - but there is more. He is a tailor - she is a princess - how can they be wed? But that can't be the end either - so if the prince can't ride up and save the princess from her tower, she will ride out and save him.



And that? Might be that. So back to the chateau and the three aunts, sewing, and their tapestry - which just happens to exactly reverse (in gender and angle) the actual end of the film. (Mamoulian doesn't miss much.) But someone rescues someone and everyone is happy, and so are we. It is a marvelous ensemble - the fantastic, inventive filmmaking, the outstanding Rogers and Hart songs, the witty, sexy dialogue, and an inspired cast - it's a joy from start to finish.

Friday in Fender Land

Another Friday is at hand. Here is some music for you....

1. Pink Floyd - Any Colour You Like
2. Audioslave - #1 Zero
3. Modest Mouse - Alone Down There
4. Flipper - Falling
5. The Kills - Pull a U
6. Neutral Milk Hotel - Where You'll Find Me Now
7. Black Sabbath - Sweet Leaf
8. Loren Connors - Onora's Kid
9. Earth - Miami Morning Coming Down
10. The Velvet Underground - Rock and Roll (Live)

Video? I am going off list for the Feelies, because I had a dream last night that I was Glenn Mercer. At least I thought I was Glenn Mercer - over the course of the dream, I think I realized I was actually Bill Million. Or I was in a band that was trying to cover the Feelies, and I wanted to be Glenn Mercer, but realized I was better suited to being Bill Million, and ended up trading my telecaster for a Gibson. In any case, Sooner or Later kept playing in my dream. The record version - a lot slower than this. This would have woken me up, I am sure....



And - speaking of telecasters - Dylan Carlson (Earth) in a recent performance. Not the song on the list, but a particularly nice sense of his sound:



And I suppose, following on the theme, which seems to be mostly Fender playing guitar heroes - here's a live shot of Loren Connors making beautiful and unworldly sounds on a strat:

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

The Fall of Atlanta

Today is the 150th anniversary of the fall of Atlanta, the event, more than any other single event, that marked the end of any chance the Confederacy had to win the Civil War. Militarily, the issue was probably not in doubt - but there was an election in 1864, and Abraham Lincoln stood a chance of losing, enough of a chance that he made serious plans about what to do in case he lost. His opponent was George McClellan, one time self-declared savior of the republic (though to be fair, he was not alone in thinking he was chosen to save the country) - McClellan proved a terrible battlefield general, with no stomach for the war - and politically very squeamish about pushing the war into political realms. But it was a political war, more and more, and the Democratic party, by 1864 was becoming very defeatist, not least because they had no desire to win a war that would free the slaves and make citizens of all black men. McClellan himself didn't go as far as the party did - he was not prepared to abandon the war or the south - but if he won, he would have been hard pressed to continue the war, and in any case, he was not a very forceful leader.

And the voting looked like a close thing, there for awhile. Grant's Virginia campaign was a bloodbath that ended in a siege of Petersburg. Sherman's George campaign brought less bloodshed (as both sides had more room to maneuver, and more inclination to do so), but appeared to be ending in just as much of a stalemate as the east. But the Confederate government saw things differently - they did not see the advantages of dragging out the campaign as far as it would go - they wanted to win a battle and drive the Yankees off... So back in July, they put John B. Hood in command of the Atlanta defenses, under the clear assumption that he would take the battle to the Federals - he did, fighting a series of bloody battles, that he lost, making the outcome inevitable. And on September 2, he set fire to the city and marched away, and Sherman had Atlanta, and fairly won.

There was a lot more killing to come. Hood headed off west and pestered the Union troops in Tennessee for some time - ending in more bloodbaths, at Franklin and Nashville. Lee held on in the east another 6 plus months, but his situation was desperate. Campaigns in the Shenandoah went for the Union. Sheridan in the east and Sherman in the west would eventually go on scorched earth campaigns to try to starve out the Confederate armies (And punish the Confederate civilians). And so on. But there was no changing the ending, really, after Atlanta fell, and Lincoln's reelection became assured. And so, today - it is worth remembering and celebrating.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Another Week in the Books

and a delightful week it's been. A helpful rule to remember - "all" anything, in the computer world, is a dangerous thing; be sure when you change something that you are not changing "all" anything. Just a word of advice....

Okay - Friday - music - randomly selected! And then? a Long Weekend! an extra day to rest from our labors, in honor of all the labor we've been doing! I need it.... And so:

1. Led Zeppelin - Black Dog
2. Linda Ronstadt - Silver Thread and Golden Needles
3. Boredoms - Super Are
4. Loretta Lynn - God Makes No Mistakes
5. 13th Floor Elevators - You Really Got Me (live)
6. Thelonious Monk - Off Minor
7. Wire - On Returning
8. Brian Jonestown Massacre - My Man Std
9. The Kinks - Sunny Afternoon
10. The Stooges - We Will Fall

Now that was a nice random 10 - that would make a nice mix tape.... Okay - what video can we find? Hoping for the weekend, plenty of sunny afternoons to see out the summer...



I think Linda Ronstadt is in order today:



And - here's Monk, live in 1963:



That should put us in a good frame of mind of the weekend! Enjoy!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Fighting the Power

So last Friday, I completely forgot it was Friday - thus missing my one reliable weekly post... sad. Today is different - it is a horrible thing to contemplate, but I have been working 25 years at the same place... and this week, was being feted along with a few hundred other old timers. This ended with a party with a cover band playing oldies (40s to Kool and the Gang) - nothing from 1989, though. You'd think...

So to make up for it - here's a top 10 of songs from 1989 - a number, another summer... top 10 on my compeer anyway...

1. Public Enemy - Fight the Power
2. Pixies - Debaser
3. Dela Soul - Me, Myself and I
4. Beastie Boys - Hey Ladies
5. Throwing Muses - Dizzy
6. Zulus - Gotta Have Faith
7. Pixies - Monkey Goes to Heaven
8. Beasties - High Plains Drifter
9. The Cure - Pictures of You
10. De la Soul - Magic Number

Video? Gotta have this:



Pixies, slicing up eyeballs...



And Beasties, of course:



And live vintage Throwing Muses:


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Chikamatsu Monogatari

[This post is cross-posted at Wonders in the Dark, as part of their Romance countdown. 33 more to go, and 66 already done - so check it out, if you haven't been.]



There's no romance like a doomed romance, and no one does doomed romance like Kenji Mizoguchi. Couples form, usually ill-considered pairings, and they suffer - and suffer and suffer and suffer some more. Though not always together - women suffer more than men, usually for the benefit of men, who go on to better things because of the suffering of a woman; think of The Tale of the Last Chrysanthemum, or Ugetsu, for that matter. But that is something that distinguishes Chikamatsu Monogatari from the rest. It is a tale of doomed romance, and the lovers suffer, they suffer indeed - but they suffer together, and, by Mizoguchi standards, the ending (this isn't exactly a spoiler, since the film is also known as The Tale of Crucified Lovers) is a positively joyous one. They die, yes, but they die together.

It is a convoluted tale, set in 17th century Kyoto, derived from two classic Japanese authors, Chikamatsu and Saikaku. A woman, Osan, is married to a printer - the Great Printer of Kyoto. She has a useless brother who begs money from her, but her husband is a cheapskate; her husband also lusts for a maid, Otama - who pines for Mohei, the printer's best employee; Otama tells Ishun (the printer) that she and Mohei plan to marry, hoping he will leave her alone - it backfires, and he just grows jealous. Mohei, meanwhile, is kind to Osan, who asks him for help for her brother - he is glad to get her money, but he has to embezzle it. A co-worker catches him, and tries to blackmail him - sparking repentance and honesty in Mohei, to everyone's sorrow. He tells the Great Printer - whose natural greed is here augmented by jealousy, and when Otama jumps in saying Mohei did it for her, it all gets worse. Ishun locks up Mohei; the women talk, and when Otama admits to Ishun's lust for her, Osan plans to trap him by hiding in Otama's bed; but Mohei escapes and goes to Otama (he thinks) before Ishun gets there - and they are caught together (Mohei and Osan). Ishun, fearing the disgrace to him from this, tells Osan to kill herself - instead she runs away - with Mohei. And so their fates are sealed.



It is all almost accidental. They do not intend to be involved - to run away together - and certainly not to have an affair: but they are doomed to love, as much as they are doomed lovers. The world conspires to bring them together - misunderstandings, secret motives, social mores conspire to force them out of the house, to travel together, and on the road, they are further harried to the point where they decide to give up and end it all, jumping into Lake Biwa to drown. But here Mohei has to get one last thing off his chest: he says he loves her - he always loved her. Osan is taken aback - as if it had never occurred to her. But you suspect, given her life - her nightmarish family (a horrific set of thieves and no-accounts), her marriage to Ishun (a greedy, selfish, philandering snake) - the revelation that there is a person in the world who loves her - wins her in an instant. She vows to live, to live to love, and they head off together, one step ahead of their pursuers.

But having accepted their love, they follow it all the way. Their life together is a hard one, always on the run, flushed out of one miserable hiding place after another, betrayed by everyone - his father; her brother and mother; random peasants and shopkeepers - but suffering just intensifies their passion. They have each other. Their love may be doomed, but they embrace the doom - every misfortune, every betrayal just raises the stakes on their love - reinforces the idea that all they have in the world is each other. And so they end their days, tied together on horseback, holding hands - free until they cut them down.



As in many stories of doomed love, the lovers are doomed by the world they live in - and as in many of the best (most Mizoguchi; masterpieces like Oliveira's Doomed Love or Francesca, or Murnau's Tabu), this one is as concerned with attacking the evil as it is with the lovers. Mohei and Osan's love story runs alongside an intensely bitter satire against the world they live in. They are surrounded by monsters - everyone around them (except maybe the other women at Ishun's house) is monstrous. Ishun is greedy and cruel, too cheap to give money to his own flesh and blood, raping the help, ruining people for petty offenses; when Osan runs off, all he cares about is saving his reputation and business. Osan's brother is a scoundrel, broke and shameless about everything - ruining his family, faking it as a singer, treating his sister as a bank account. He does exhibit the dubious virtue of honesty - he's quite aware of what a wretch he is, and makes no claims to virtue. Osan's mother plays it a little more politely, but she has no scruples either - she married Osan to Ishun for the money in the first place, and has been pressuring her for money ever since. The peripheral characters aren't any better: Mohei's fellow clerk is a thief, a would be blackmailer, and ready to sell out the boss (and Mohei and Osan along with him) at the hint of a better position elsewhere. Ishun's rival Isan is angling to get Ishun's business - he recruits the clerk to help him ruin Ishun by ruining the lovers, and when he gets what he wants, sells out the faithless clerk without blinking an eye. Then there are the court nobles - playing the great men, but all of them in debt, pawning their belongings to Ishun, then using his misfortunes to get rid of their debts. The poison infects all of society - the women of the house are like a chorus sometimes, against society: why can a man commit adultery and not a woman? why does the woman have no recourse when a man does? and why is the husband ruined along with the wife when she is at fault? Now, the root of all this evil is money - maybe with some sex mixed in. But mostly money. It has poisoned everything - every good thing is corrupted by commerce. Craftsmanship (the printing business) is degraded, utterly subsumed into making money - with Mohei, who does the most work, getting the least out of it; art is corrupt - Osan's brother sings (badly, he as much as says), and his the music teacher grovels and flatters him, since he needs the money. Everything is rotten, except Mohei and Osan's love - nature itself conspires against the lovers. Look at the scene when the authorities arrive at Mohei's father's house - a gorgeous shot, bathed in sunlight - but the light brings their doom.



This film was, according to Tony Rayns at least, something of a job of work for Mizoguchi, not a project he was deeply committed to. That is surprising, looking at it - it is a gorgeous film, as always with Mizoguchi - framing and photography and staging are all superb. The beauty might be a bit more isolated than it is at his best - a string of brilliant moments, with more filler in between - I don't know; maybe. Mizoguchi's standards are very high. I don't think there is any escaping the bitterness of the film - which might be a reflection of his being pushed into making it. But if so, his sense of the corruption of his own art is ably translated into a film about corruption. The anger might even be a bit too on the nose - but that results in some glorious moments of outrage. He gets at these characters in a hurry sometimes - Ishun and his gold:



Or Osan's brother's shameless celebration when he gets the money Osan has raised (at the cost of this whole plot and her ruin, and indeed, the ruin of just about everyone in the story), while his mother takes it all matter of factly - "what's she doing in Osaka?" How much more effectively could a filmmaker convey his contempt for his characters?



Whatever his state of mind, and even if there is less sustained brilliance than in his best work (that's Rayns' view; I'm not sure I see it), there are compensations. We get that bitter satire; and we also get a film where the lovers are purified by their love; we get both together in one work, money's corruption and love's purification poised against each other. And not least, we get a story where the lovers follow through on their love all the way to the bitter end. They are not separated - which is very unusual among Mizoguchi's greatest films. They abandon everything else - all the ugliness and evil in the world, to sink into one another. The worse things become around them, the clearer and stronger their love becomes. It is a corrupt and irredeemable world, and Mizoguchi doesn't pretend it isn't - all there is is love, and love is doomed. There's nothing else in the world worth having - just each other, and they get that, for their short happy lives.

Friday, August 08, 2014

There's Only One Virgin and She Don't Fly

I've rather run through the autobiographical structure of my Band of the Month series - time to start looping back across the bands I skipped the first time through.... The essays might get shorter somewhere in here, though i guess not yet. This month, we go back to the middle of the 1980s, to ground I have been over before - in fact, I have always tended to lump Husker Du in with the Replacements. Two Minneapolis bands - though more to the point, I discovered them both at about the same time. I read about Husker Du sometime in the fall of 1985, more or less at the same time I first read about the Replacements (and the Minutemen, another band sure to appear here eventually), maybe even in the same article. Maybe this one in Rolling Stone? Quite possible. It was about the time Candy Apple Grey and Tim came out (and Three Way Tie for Last) - and I resolved to obtain those records when they did appear.

I did that: literally, I think. I think I went to Strawberry records in Kenmore Square and bought Tim and Candy Apple Grey, took them home and listened to them. Tim more or less immediately became a favorite; Candy Apple Grey though hit a snag - it skipped in the middle of Hardly Getting Over It (track one, side two). So I went back Strawberry's with a sad face, and changed it for another copy. Took it home - and it skipped in the same damned place! Well - I can take a hint. So I taped the rest of record and went back again, commiserating with the clerk about my bad luck (I think I might have said something like, "right in the middle of the best song!" - a remark I regretted as soon as I said it - not hearing the song all the way through must have made me think there'd be something like a guitar solo at the end, I don't know. I did know I didn't really mean it - Dead Set on Destruction, man!), and ultimately giving up on the new record, and switching it for a copy of Flip Your Wig. Took that home - and thought, hell, this is a way better record!

And so it went. They were great - and they were instrumental to this change of taste (or expansion of taste) in the mid-80s, when I started seeking out punk and underground rock, more experimental stuff, and also rootsier stuff - however that happened. Getting into Husker Du and the Mats got me into Hank Williams and reminded me of Johnny Cash, for some reason. For a while, though, The Mats and Husker Du ware just about my favorite bands - and then? The Mats stayed there - but Husker Du didn't, somehow. It's a marginal thing, but it's there. Some of it, I imagine, is the rootsier stuff I started listening to - it's not a great leap from Paul Westerburg to Hank Williams of Johnny Cash. Some if it I could probably see the first time I listened to Candy Apple Grey, and the reasons I liked Flip Your Wig better. The new one was good enough, but all Grant Hart's songs sounded like exactly the same song - and Bob Mould's songs sounded - how do you describe it? like he's trying too hard? While on Flip Your Wig - both are more varied, more musically interesting - I don't know. Once I got Zen Arcade, it was even more noticeable - they were more varied, more imaginative, more experimental when they were younger. That record has everything: punk, psychedelia, Beatles songs with hard guitars, different structures, different sounds - its a great record. But going in the other direction - Warehouse, Songs and Stories came out, and I was very annoyed. I think I have mentioned my reaction to the lyrics on the Joshua Tree - well - Warehouse, Songs and Stories had the same effect. I thought - if you were making fun of pretentious rock songs - you would write this. Especially Bob Mould's songs - yikes. And I thought he could write!

But that's all right. I saw them, right after it came out, playing the record in its entirety - and that was almost enough to overcome my resistance. That live sound - that wall of guitar, that always overcame a lot of sins - that carried everything before it. I didn't like that record much, but damn, that was a good concert! (Though the Feelies were better, opening; faster, harder. Not louder though.) And really - Husker Du always delivered, musically - they always could play, they were always intense. They made some outstanding records over the years, and some first rate songs. They were always a bit uneven - and they seemed to have been fading down the stretch; it makes you wonder whether putting out as much material as fast as they did just made them run out of songs. I don't know. I know that this mild disillusionment hit me about the time they broke up - 88 or so - but when they released their live album in the early 90s, it all disappeared in the rush of sound. The tight playing, the wall of guitar, the solos - tight and precise, packing more into 30 seconds than a lot of guitarists get into a whole set - they were just so good.

And so - 10 songs:

1. Keep Hanging On
2. It's Not Funny Anymore
3. Whatever
4. Dead Set on Destruction
5. Somewhere
6. What's Going On
7. Diane
8. She Floated Away
9. In a Free Land
10. Pink Turns to Blue

There is a definitely a bias toward Grant Hart there. From the start, I liked hiss songs more. Mould would talk about the Beatles' influence, but Hart wrote Beatles songs. He could sing a bit, too. Over time - his lyrics come out better as well, though there is irony in that - he was never as ambitious, maybe, as Mould - his songs stay closer to safe, rock and roll territory - so he never quite got lost. Though then again - I really liked his Paradise Lost record he made recently - so maybe that isn't it. What can I say? Bob probably is a better musician - but I much prefer Hart as a singer and songwriter. Anyway - let's get some video, shall we?

Here they are live in 1983 - It's not Funny Anymore leading off a series of songs:



From 85, Keep Hanging On live, just sound; it does sound good - and Bob rips it, just for that little bit, but damn:



Or real early - 1981 - Diane:



And here they are covering ELO - maybe not literally, but.... You can't quite tell in this, or the other live versions of the song, but Terms of Psychic Warfare has more than a hint of Do Ya. Husker Du made no secret of their love for Beatles and post-Beatles pop, and ELO is as post-Beatles-pop as it gets. You wonder a bit just how much ELO there is in Husker Du - look at those record titles: New World Record; Land Speed Record? Even if it's a coincidence, I imagine they were fans.



And out on their own - Grant Hart doing She Floated Away:



And the song I never quite got to finish, back in 1986 - Bob Mould doing Hardly Getting Over It, with Dave Grohl:

Monday, August 04, 2014

Another World War I Post

100 years ago today, the United Kingdom declared war on Germany, after Germany invaded Belgium. Britain had signed a treaty guaranteeing Belgium's neutrality (as had Germany) - Germany had decided they had to go through Belgium to invade France. Britain issued an ultimatum (lots of ultimatums were issued in the days leading up to the Great War) telling the Germans to get out of Belgium; Germany kept on coming. And so England joined the war.

There are lots of places where the war starts - July 28, when Austria attacked Serbia; July 31 when Russia mobilized; August 1 when Germany responded to that, and declared war - and of course the 4th. August 4 might make some claim to being where the Great War became a World War - without Great Britain, the war would have been mostly continental - maybe some colonial squabbling, but nothing like what would happen when England joined. It brought in Australia, New Zealand and Canada, for example, brought in India; it made the war more of a naval affair; it brought countries like Japan in. It also probably sealed Germany's fate - however long their odds of beating both France and Russia, they were considerably worse with England involved. Whatever ideas they might have had for their navy, for instance, became moot. It undoubtedly changed the shape of their submarine war. It made their position quite difficult.

Should England have fought the war? it is controversial - some claim that they lost far more than they could have ever gained by fighting. That is undoubtedly true - though the question is, exactly how long would they have been able to stay out? if they hadn't fought in 1914 - would Germany have provoked them to fight in 1915? what if Germany had won in 1914? would that have been a disaster? obviously not the disaster it would have been - and was - when Germany won in 1940 - but not likely to help England much.

The truth is - most arguments about WWI, and who should have done what, tend to founder on the course of the ear, and the aftermath. The war itself developed into a pointless bloodbath. The peace proved to be a disaster for all concerned. You keep looking for ways they could have done something different - not gotten into it, dug in and stayed dug in without trying to break the stalemate; Versailles is pretty easy to improve.... But it's kind of pointless. Everyone went in - well, it's the opposite of what Renoir said: everyone had bas reasons. Except, maybe, the British - there is something to be said for honoring your treaties and defending the national and territorial integrities of other countries. None of it did anyone any good - but the Germans (and Austrians, and in some ways, the Russians and even the French) are going to have their war come what may - and odds are everyone was going to get sucked into it. The US would get sucked into it eventually - I imagine the UK would haven even if they hadn't defended Belgium.

Friday, August 01, 2014

August Friday Fun

Happy Friday! Happy August! An eventful week - the Local 9 have remade their roster, trading their best two started - Jon Lester and John Lackey, as well as a bunch of other players of varying value (Andrew Miller, Stephen Drew, Felix Dubront, Jake Peavy, last week) for all sorts of things. Actual major leaguers! Yoenis Cespedes comes from the A's - nice right handed power hitting outfielder; Joe Kelly and Allen Craig from the Cardinals - a promising right handed pitcher, a decent hitter; the Yankees gave us a long time scrub, Kelly Johnson, for Drew - whatever Drew is. The rest are prospects. All told - an interesting day. Probably not quite up to 2012's massive salary dump (which remains one of the steals of the century, whether the 2 starters they got out of the deal stick or not - though De La Rosa has pitched pretty well, and Webster has promise) - and it doesn't have the thrill of 2008, when the Sox traded Brandon Moss (currently leading the A's to the post-season) for Jason Bay (throwing in Manny Ramirez to make the numbers work, right?) - there haven't been many thrills of any sort with this Sox team. But you don't see that many major leaguers moving around these days - between the sox and the Tigers, getting David Price in a complicated trade that apparently involved everyone in the league except the red sox, but again - with plenty of major leaguers moving - it was a lively day. Fun stuff. Might make the Sox worth watching, out of curiosity at least. They do have enough young players to leave one more optimistic than a last place team ought to make you feel. The Bogaerts, Bradley, Betts, Holt contingent, the De La Rosas, Websters, Workmans - and here comes Renaudo! where's Henry Owens? - make this year easier to take. They have not all been up to snuff this year, but they are all young - a few of them ought to be involved in this team's success for a while to come. Keep the big league team running and things could get back to the good next year after all...

Okay - that's that. Historically - August 1 is the day the German's declared war on the Russians in 1914 - World War I was already going by then - Austria attacked Serbia on July 28 - but this is probably the point of no return. Once Germany and Russia started fighting, it was all going to come apart - France was committed to help Russia; Germany's plans committed her to attacking France before they attacked Russia, so if they were going to start fighting one, they would have to fight both - so off it went. The next month or so would be a bloodbath, as bad as any part of the war (and all of the war was a bloodbath.) So there is that.

Well - I don't have any way to connect those two bits to music, so thank god for randomization!

1. The Kills - Wild Charms
2. Pere Ubu - Thoughts that Go By Steam
3. Heroin - Meaning Less
4. 13th Floor Elevators - You're Gonna Miss Me
5. Pere Ubu - Muddy Waters (who can complain about 2 Pere Ubu songs in 10? not me!)
6. Pere Ubu - Ice Cream Truck (this might be a bit much - iTunes is messing with me.)
7. Arcade Fire - Here Comes the Night II
8. Mission of Burma - What We Really Were
9. Volcano Suns - Animals (all right - now I know iTunes is messing with me.)
10. Wire - The Other Window

Video? All that Pere Ubu (though all of it fairly obscure) demands a response: so here's Pere Ubu live in San Diego, a full set.



And - howsabout - some Boston rock? same deal - here's a full Volcano Suns performance from 1991:



Okay - we need at least one video people can watch in one sitting: Roky and company sound right - 13th Floor Elevators:

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Battle of the Crater

There may not be a more depressing battle in the Civil War than the Battle of the Crater, fought 150 years ago today. What happened? Basically, a regiment of Pennsylvania coal miners got the notion of digging tunnel under the rebel lines at Petersburg, where the two armies had settled down to trench warfare. Their commander, named Henry Pleasants, took the project in hand - took it to his commander (Ambrose Burnside, one of the worst generals of the war), who approved - and they set to work. They dug a mine under the Rebel lines - very effectively, quickly, and without being detected - everything was set to blow the thing sky high. And behind the lines, Burnside was having one of his better moments - planning the attack, specifically training one of his divisions to make the attack, and take advantage of the expected breach int he Rebel lines. But - this is where it gets depressing. Not that it failed (as it did) - but how it failed. Burnside chose his largest and freshest division to lead the attack - a division of US Colored Troops. But when the army's commander, George Meade, found out - he panicked. He had never liked the idea of the mine - his engineers thought the tunnel would be impossible to dig; no one in the Union high command thought much of Burnside - if he liked the idea, it had to be a bad one. So Meade was not invested in the attack at all, didn't think it would work, and was not about to be attacked in the press for putting Colored Troops in an impossible situation. He told Burnside to pick someone else - Burnside put up a fight - but Grant backed up Meade (he didn't think much of Burnside or the mine either) - and that was that.

It is painful to think about it - to read about it - to read what happened next. There were other chances to win the war - Grant's campaign to get to Petersburg probably came the closest, and the initial fighting around the city in the middle of June was probably the worst lost chance of the war. As it would happen, the mine in fact did break the rebel line - though it was hardly a given that they could have taken Petersburg even with the break. But the nature of this failure, that's what really gets you. The ingenuity of the plan - the effectiveness of the mining itself - the mere fact that Ambrose Burnside showed initiative (or recognized it in others) - the fact that he had a chance to do something right for once, and mostly did it - his moral courage in choosing the Colored Troops.... And the whole thing brought to grief by the short-sightedness and prejudice and moral cowardice of Meade and Grant. And of course, Burnside reverting to type: forced to change divisions to lead the attack, he left it to chance - got stuck with the worst men, the worst general in the corps, who proceeded to fail spectacularly.

The fight itself was a disaster, except for the start. The mine went undetected - was packed with powder - there were anxious moments when the fuse went out, but it was relit, and then the thing went up and went up well. The confederate lines were obliterated, along with a good part of the hill - leaving a huge crater where the rebels had been. The Union troops attacked, led by the division of one James Ledlie - and things started going to hell. Ledlie himself spent the battle behind the lines with a bottle; his men went forward in broken and piecemeal fashion, and did very little to exploit the fact that there were no rebels left anywhere near the front. The confederates recovered quickly, and started to counter attack - as they did, more Union troops came up, with little more organization than the first wave, and soon found themselves bottled up. Finally, the Colored Troops joined the fight, and made an attack, but by now the rebels had formed a very strong line - they repelled the attacks, and forced almost all of Burnside's corps into the crater itself, where they slaughtered them. Especially the black troops, who were murdered in cold blood, as often as not. And so it ended - a complete disaster.

It didn't need to be. And not much needed to be different - letting the Colored Troops lead the attack, as they were prepared to do, would have done much to exploit it. They were ready - they knew to fan out beyond the mine, to roll up all the subsidiary trenches and break the rebel army apart - they would have won something. They were prevented from trying, and sent in late to their doom - another in the long line of disgraceful treatments of blacks in this country.

They could have won something at the Crate - though probably not the war. The problem was, as it had been at the Bloody Angle, and as it would be all through World War I - even if you broke a trench line, it was almost impossible to do much more. You could break a line - but once you did, you came up against a simple limit: there was no way to move troops through a battle zone faster than the human body could move. Maybe if you could get past the trenches, but that was very difficult - even in 1864, the area behind a line of trenches was a maze of more trenches, strongpoints, communication tunnels and all the rest. That's what Burnside's men found when they got past the crater itself - more trenches and holes and what not. They ran afoul that as much as they ran afoul the confederates. This was bad in 1864 - by 1914 (once everyone was dug in), it was even worse. Miles of trenches extended behind the main lines - you could break the front line, you could get through some of the zone behind - but you could never get far enough that there wouldn't be a new trench line waiting for you eventually. In 1864, Burnside used a mine; in 1916, everyone would use artillery to obliterate the front lines - but the results were the same. The front lines would be obliterated - the armies would move forward - the enemy would regroup and counterattack - both sides would suffer unimaginable casualties. The lines never moved. Burnside and AP Hill didn't have machine guns in 1864, so only some 4,500 Union troops were lost (out of 13,000 attackers), and 1,500 confederates - but the results were the same. The lines didn't move an inch. They wouldn't move an inch, until April 1865, when the confederates didn't have enough men left to prevent Grant from going around them; or 1918, when the Allies had tanks and millions of Americans and the Germans were out of men. Tanks, of course, changed everything - because now you could move through a battle zone, fully armored, at speed. That was a long way away.

The Battle of the Crater was the end of Ambrose Burnside, as a general anyway. (He went on to be a senator and a governor after the ware, so it wasn't all bad.) James Ledlie was done as well, drummed out of the army as a drunk. It was also the last time Grant tried anything like a direct attack on the rebel lines - after this, he accepted the siege and tried other things. Soon, he would detach part of his army with Phil Sheridan to run down Jubal Early's army in the Shenandoah Valley. Sherman would be able to take Atlanta - things would move ahead, while Grant held Lee in place.

Unfortunately, Europeans would consider this war something of a backwater feud - they would ignore what happened in Petersburg, and try to fight in the open in 1914. It took a while for that to play out, but it did - and once everyone dug in, that was that. (Their real mistake might have been something different - missing what had changed since 1864 (or 1871, and the Franco-Prussian war): the development of a true industrialized war machine - mass produced weapons, trains, the ability to bring the masses of the country into the war. The reason the siege of Petersburg is different from the siege of France in 1914 is that Germany, France and Britain managed to mobilize millions of men, keep them in action for 4 years, and make lines across the whole of France.) But all that mobilization, and all the means of moving men across large distances in 1914, still didn't solve the problem of Petersburg - you still couldn't move men through a war zone by any means but their feet. Cavalry didn't help until you got past the trenches - no one could get past all the trenches. (Until those tanks and Americans turned up.) So - size and logistics made the whole western front a siege: made it easy to hold, but everyone kept trying to break it - none of them would seem to grasp that there was nothing they could do, no way to get through all the trenches.

But that's another war (one that started 100 years ago Monday.) Just one that could have profited from the lessons of the Crater.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Tour de France Fridays

Another Friday.



I have been watching the Tour de France. It's rolling to its end - Vincenzo Nibali has ridden off with the overall victory, but there's a mad scramble behind him for the next places, with 2 Frenchmen in contention - passions must be running high over there....

It is a time consuming sport to watch though. That ands the heat have kept everything else on hold a bit. Anyway - today we're going random, as usual. I want to add a word of complaint - all the updates to iOS and phones and iTunes over the years have made it not work right anymore on my phone - smart playlists aren't synching between my computer and phone - how is that happening? I actually bought a bunch of CDs recently (new Jack White, new Boris, things like that) and would like to get them to play on the phone.... Usually I can figure out how to work around Apple's bad ideas, but why do I have to all the time? I have been a rather extreme mac loyalist through the years, but they are doing a lot to undo that. They've cost themselves a computer purchase in the last year by not updating the Mini; they're endangering the odds of me getting a another iPhone in a couple years. It's getting bad.

Enough of that. Music.

1. Iron and Wine - Rabbit Will Run
2. Husker Du - No Promises Have I Made
3. De La Soul - Potholes in my Lawn
4. Soft Machine - Certain Kind
5. Radiohead - Weird Fishes/Arpeggi
6. All Seeing I - No Return
7. Boris - Farewell
8. Warren Zevon - Poor Poor Pitiful Me
9. Lydia Lunch & Nick Cave - Done Dun
10. Spirit - Elijah

I can't resist a bit of Queen this morning...



And Warren Zevon: