Friday, December 19, 2014

Christmas Songs Ranked

The year is getting gone in a hurry - less than a week to Christmas, 2 weeks to the new year - things are getting away from me. well - last week should have been a Band of the Month week - but no Band of the Month was forthcoming! and now I am sorry to say, nothing is coming this week, either. Instead - let us celebrate the season! or something like that. A simple enough pair of lists: first - my favorite Christmas carols, because - why not? who doesn't love Christmas carols? And second - my favorite performances of Christmas songs - because - again - why not? They have to be different though because these are different sets of things. Christmas carols are there to be sung - best in a group - in the cold maybe, but anywhere - in the living room, in church, on the sidewalk, in a bar, in your car - who cares? Christmas carols, I admit, are the one thing that make me like going to church - to hear them, better to sing them - they are something I enjoy without reserve. And so - let's do this:

Christmas Carols, judged as much by the fun of singing them as by the song:

1. Silent Night - simple, clean and precise, sentimental, but honest, if you are going to sing about christmas, you can't do better
2. O Come All Ye Faithful - rousing lovely old fashioned Christmas song, a joy to hear and sing.
3. Come Thou Long Expected Jesus - with the Rowland Pritchard tune, it is a very beautiful and enjoyable song
4. Joy to the World - the finale to every christmas pageant ever, and so it should be: a rousing exuberant triumph. Handel! And such fun to bellow out before you get your presents and candy!
5. What Child is This (Greensleeves) - this song tends to baffle the amateur singers, probably because the words put to it are something of a tangle - but it is such a beautiful and classic melody, that I can't resist it.
6. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen - lots of these songs are in moonier keys, at least part of the way through - why is that? This one is fun to sing, and when I was a wean, it was fun to play on the trumpet, the only instrument I ever managed to fight to a draw. I have great nostalgia for that, and sometimes even now have been known to give it a shot again...
7. Hark the Herald Angels Sing - another very happy one, fun to bellow out in groups, in the cold; and of course there is Linus...
8. Angels We Have Heard on High - lovely French Carol, with those great glorias, though they are not quite singable by those of us who are not exactly singers. But they are fun to try, and this is such a pretty song...
9. We Three Kings - cool melody; see below.
10. Away in a Manger - you have to sing it every Christmas; it is schmaltzy where Silent Night is sentimental - never quite convincing, but it's still something you have to do around Christmas; and it is a fine song for singing. Hard to make it sound bad.

And now, five christmas songs, performed. You will note that these are not carols - they are mostly secular. There are reasons - mostly that this depends on recordings, and recordings are new... But also because Carols are experienced mainly by being sung - these are more about listening.

1. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas - Judy Garland: another melancholy christmas song - one of the most melancholy of them all. A beautiful song, from a beautiful movie - one of those movies where the date of release probably tells you more about it than the story or the setting. Gets 1944 better than a lot of songs explicitly about the war... we'll have to muddle through somehow...



2. We Free Kings - Rahsaan Roland Kirk - this is just thrilling.



3. Silver Bells - Der Bingle (with Carol Richards) - I grew up on this LP, Bing's Merry Christmas LP - like every other household in America (or 14,999,999 other households, anyway.) There are many good songs on that record, which we listen to every Christmas, and I listened to every Christmas on my own when I appropriated the thing from my mother (since I still had a record player in my living room, and they did not.) And still do on old iTunes, and would on LP if I had the energy to hook up the turntable again. Yes. well. All those great songs - and Der Bingle's voice - but this, I think, might be the prettiest, the nicest arrangement.



4. The Little Drummer Boy - Bing Crosby and David Bowie - might have started as one of those attempts at bridging the old and new, making some old timer hip, some youngster serious - but the results... It is a lovely song, Bowie's part countering the Little Drummer Boy - but part of the joy of it is the surprise in seeing one of the things come so right.



5. The Christmas Song - Jack Teagarden - I had this on some compilation - still do, actually - but of all the versions of this song (a hell of a song, too), this is my favorite. Jack's cool, drawling delivery just kills it.



That will do. Happy Holidays, people.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Friday 10 - 2014 Songs Sampled

Yikes - it is a Friday, isn't it. I have become really bad about this stuff - bad enough that I barely post anything outside of these Friday music things, but here I am mostly missing this one. And blowing off a Band of the Month post (since this is, theoretically, the week for that.) I will continue to blame World War I - and hope I can use some of it to provide posts in the future. Plenty of anniversaries coming over the next four years... Right now, though, I am obsessed with a paper that is due - maybe next week we can work in something more substantial.

Not today though: let's just do last week's trip again - 10 random songs from 2014....

1. Mogwai - Deesh
2. Melvins - Barcelonian Horseshoe Pit
3. Boris - Vanilla
4. Liars - Darkside
5. Pixies - Greens and Blues
6. Prince & 3rdeyegirl - Plectrum Electrum
7. Scott Walker & Sunn O)))) - Lullaby
8. Pere Ubu - Road to Utah
9. Jad Fair & Danielson - Ready Steady
10. Earth - From the Zodiacal Light

That kind of worked out better than last week. Still no TV on the Radio - come on iTunes! Here's a couple videos to hold you until I get more energetic...

Here's Boris, looking and sounding very 80s - though there's still a good deal of noise in there somewhere....



How about some drony Mogwai?



And maybe a drone or two here too - Earth, live. What beautiful sounds electric guitars can make.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Friday Music - 2014 Random Ten

We are getting late into this year - I think it's rime to take a couple random runs through stuff I bought this year. Another lean year, in terms of music purchasing - and every single record by an old favorite or two. What can you do? Worse than that - I haven't listened to nearly enough of it, even by these old favorites. Sad state of affairs, isn't it?

Anyway, here you go:

1. Pixies - Magdelena 318
2. Liars - Boyzone
3. Mogwai - Blues Hour
4. Boris - Taiyo no Baka
5. Interpol - My Desire
6. Bill Frisell - Messin' with the Kid
7. Beck - Unforgiven
8. Earth - Even Hell has its Heroes
9. Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - Surreal Teenagers (live)
10. Thurston Moore - The Best Day

Well? the two CDs I have tried to listen to didn't come up. Scott Walker and Sunn O)))) - which is all it should be, really:



And brand new, TV on the Radio, live on Letterman:



Ands - how about the Pixies?



And why not Bill Frisell?


Friday, November 21, 2014

Pre-Thanksgiving Friday Random Music

Another quiet week here, and I'm afraid another quick hit on the music front. That's all right. It's been busy enough in the real world... I believe I owe the world something about Sherman's March - it began last week, and will stretch on for another month, leaving Georgia in ruins. We will have to get to that. Otherwise - WWI has been occupying my time and attention, and keeping me off this humble blog, even more than usual. It would be nice to work some of that into this blog, but the papers have been dominating my attention. Oh well.

Music: and - just some random stuff today.

1. Deerhoof - Breakup Song
2. Charlie Parker - Don't Blame Me
3. Jimi Hendrix - Fire
4. The Beatles - Carry that weight
5. Melvins - The Smiling Cobra
6. Pavement - Transport is Arranged
7. Van der Graf Generator - White Hammer
8. Beatles - Love me Do
9. Fleetwood Mac - World in Harmony (live at Boston Tea Party)
10. Bob Dylan's - Bob Dylan's 115th Dream

Video - first up - in memory of Mike Nichols, here's Simon and Garfunkel...



This is not going well - YouTube is not cooperating. when it does, you can watch Sir Paul, carrying that weight:



On the other hand, the Melvins are loading, so enjoy that:

Friday, November 14, 2014

Model to Buy a Model to Try

For this month's band, we get one more dip into 80s punk. The Minutemen were different from the bands of the era I've been writing about, because I didn't really listen to them in the 80s. Part of the reasons for that is that D Boon died almost exactly at the point I started chasing down contemporary underground music. So while I discovered and followed the Replacements and Husker Du, and discovered the Surfers and Meat Puppets (through concerts as much as anything else), I didn't dig into the Minutemen. I did buy a couple fIREHOSE records - liked them, without quite being blown away by them. The Minutemen were one of the bands I didn't quite get, even if they were right up my alley. (Sonic Youth is in that category; you might say The Bad Seeds as well, though that was different - I'll get to that eventually; Sonic Youth and Nick Cave will surely get their month on this blog eventually. Like the Minutemen, they both became serious favorites later - maybe for different reasons, though.)

I got to the Minutemen in the late 90s. I stopped listening to rock for the first half of the 90s (becoming a jazz fanatic). I came back, through Pere Ubu and Richard Thompson, (and Sonny Shamrock and John McLaughlin)in the mid 90s. And somewhere in here, I decided that my lack Minutemen records was a hole that needed to be filled - I bought one, and realized what I had missed. I bought the rest. They were, for a while, close to my favorite band. They benefitted a lot from technology - they were an absolutely ideal CD band. I am not sure how they would have fared if I picked up on them in the 00s, after the iPod became the main way I listened to music. I'll come back to this, but the fact is that their style - the short, sharp songs - have a fantastic cumulative effect, that seems a bit less impressive split up into single tracks. Technology did a lot of shape what I listened to though the years - there were bands I picked up from the radio; bands I listen to on LPs, some I listened to on tapes. Concerts made a huge impact on me in the 80s; magazines and fanzines in the 80s, magazines and the internet in the 90s and beyond; and so on. Truth is, I'm not sure if they would have made the same impression in the 80s if I had heard them - I saw almost everyone I liked live - without seeing them play, would I have been as enthusiastic then> The questions we ask...

But I listened to them wen I was listening to CDs, all the way through - and they were perfect for that, and it was perfect for them. Listening to them at length, their strengths are accentuated. Their songs are almost fragments - and the accumulation of them builds a mosaic of music. Their records become long form pieces, made up of those carefully crafted fragments. They were such a great sounding band. The bass/guitar interplay, George Hurley's fast, wonderful drumming, their ability to write riffs, and Boon's solos - efficient, and increasingly proficient, packing an amazing amount into very tight structures, while maintaining a sense of expansiveness - he is one of my favorite guitar players, hands down... They were fantastic.

They shaped me a good deal, as well. They prepared me to rediscover (since these bands I had heard and liked in real time) bands like Gang of Four, PIL, Wire; they helped cement the idea that post-punk was, in fact, a better musical form than punk ever was. (Though that idea was inevitable given my Pere Ubu obsession, I suppose.) They were a great band, and if push comes to shove, I would have to say they probably were the best American punk band of the 80s. The Mats and Husker Du hit me hard when I heard them; but from a distance - the Minutemen were the most consistent of the bunch, the most revolutionary, the most interesting.

Though it is kind of hard to come up with a top ten songs. For the reasons just named - they are better in the aggregate. Albums are a different matter - double Nickels on the Dime and What Makes a Man Start Fires especially have to rank in the top - what? 5? - of the 80s... But choosing songs - the individual songs are all good - but there are so many of them, and they are so short, fragmentary - they are sometimes hard to distinguish. Their records circle through a host of ideas and images and lines, and the songs start to feel like pieces of one bigger song. Maybe. Still - there are riffs, lines, solos, that do a little more - things like those pauses at the beginning of Sell or Be Sold, or D's solo - that stuff, I can't get enough of. These days, anyway, when they come up on the iPod, I am inclined to listen to every song that comes up three times...

1. Bob Dylan Wrote Propaganda Songs
2. Sell of Be Sold
3. Little Man with a Gun in his Hand
4. Glory of Man
5. The Anchor
6. Corona
7. Search
8. This Ain't No Picnic
9. Lost
10. Paranoid Chant

Video - here's King of the Hill: which might have been the first video I ever posted not his blog - was it? Yes - I think it was - the first one I embedded, at any rate. The version I posted, 8 1/2 years ago is gone, but I am pretty sure it was King of the Hill.



Here's another video - This Ain't No Picnic:



Glory of Man, plus an interview:



Three live songs, including Bob Dylan Wrote Propaganda songs:



Sell or Be Sold:



And a full concert, 1985:

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Armistice Day 2014

Today is Armistice Day again. The 100th anniversary of the Great War is on us - I am taking a class, and so have been reading, thinking and writing about WWI all fall. Today, 100 years ago, November 11, 1914, was just another day. Part of the first battle of Ypres - in fact, it was part of what would turn out to be the last German push of that battle. The Germans attacked near the town of Nonnebosschen; they broke through he British lines, but were stopped by reserves. Both armies were pretty well wiped out by then - Wikipedia's account notes that Haig's I Corps had lost 90% of its officers and 83% of its enlisted men by then - and after this, there wasn't much fight left in anyone. When the attack on Nonnebosschen failed, the Germans backed off - began transferring men to the Eastern front - and winter came in.

That's 1914. The end of the Battle of Ypres basically locked both sides in place - this is where they all finally dug in for real, when trench warfare took over the whole western front. There would be a few months of relative calm at the end of 1914 into 1915, before both sides started trying to figure out how to get through trench lines. We will have four more years to see how that would go.

And 4 years in the future, it would end. The Germans would be fought to the point of collapse; the German government would collapse (after the Russians collapsed); the Allies would still be functional - so they got to win. But this isn't about winning.

No one really won anything in World War I. Millions of people were killed, and who gained? Japan, probably; the Bolsheviks; Serbia, I suppose, got what they wanted (despite being invaded and wrecked and nearly obliterated by the war). There were some interesting secondary effects, like women's suffrage, which appeared in many countries after the war - probably not a coincidence. But the thing itself, even by the standards of warfare, was a pointless and depressing affair from beginning to end. Marking its ending thus becomes something of a symbol for the hope that humans could learn from it, figure out the futility of war. It's something of a vain hope, but a worthwhile hope anyway.

A news story about the commemoration of the First Battle of Ypres:

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Citizenfour and The Berlin Wall

Today is the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, one of the great moments of the 20th century, and one of the few important events of the 20th century that is altogether good. It is the symbol of a heady time - the end of the iron curtain, the undoing of Communism throughout Europe, a moment that looked like it might usher in a period of freedom for much of the world. It did, for a good part of Europe - but not completely. The Balkans disintegrated in the wake of the end of Communist rule - Yugoslavia in particular dissolved and turned into a war zone. Things didn't go smoothly in the Soviet Union itself - the coup in 1991 basically put an end to it. The coup was defeated, but the winners were the Republics, including Russia itself, and Boris Yeltsin. Years of chaos and gangsterism have led to Vladimir Putin, and a return to the bad old days of Russian oppression at home, and troublemaking abroad. Maybe nothing really like Brezhnev's days, but not what we might have hoped we'd see after 1989. And the US? That idiot Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, and dragged us directly into middle eastern wars, and we have not been able to get out since. Those troubles have poisoned us - with our involvement in the middle east bringing terrorism to the US, and 9/11 serving as a pretense for massive expansion of government surveillance and the undermining of civil rights.

I saw Citizenfour today. I imagine that explains the gloominess of this post. t's the story of Edward Snowden, built around a long series of interviews with Snowden in Hong Kong, just before he revealed his name, though that is just the centerpiece of the film. It's about the massive government surveillance programs that have appeared in the wake of 9/11 - their continued growth - and the government's reaction to the exposure of these programs. It's a gripping tale - and a very distressing tale. I suppose there is nothing new in the film - all this information has been available for the last year or so. It's been widely discussed. It doesn't matter in the least, does it? nothing has changed; there is almost nothing any individual can do to get around all this data collection; there is no sign of a concerted political will to do anything about it. It is as if everything that happened with Snowden was swallowed by the sea of information, that kept rolling on. And he became nothing more than another vaguely recognizable face and name, a weird international celebrity, famous for being famous.

Isn't it? Seeing it today - it raises the unpleasant thought that maybe the fall of the Berlin Wall don't so much let freedom into East Germany, as it let the Stasi out. Which is not to say that the USA is like East Germany, the NSA is like the Stasi to the KGB - but they could be. And the film concentrates on government abuses, government programs and data - but it doesn't take a very big leap to realize that the government is just one agent in all this. Several people talk about the relationship between the government and other entities - internet and phone providers, content and service providers (the Facebooks and Googles of the world), device manufacturers (apple and company), banks, subway systems, stores - you name it. And you can worry about what AT&T or Facebook or Apple or Visa or Target give to the NSA - but you might also give a thought for what all those entities do with the data themselves. What they give to each other. What the government can give to them. We walk in a cloud of data that we can't hide, and who knows who can get inside it? And what they might do with it?

I don't mean here that the NSA (or Facebook) is the Stasi - they aren't killing people, or, not a lot of people (wonderful caveat that, huh?) But they have the ability to be the Stasi. What stops them? Their goodwill? well - one problem with people like Snowden that I noticed at times in this film is that the act as though there is something new about government surveillance government overstep, and so on. Maybe we should remember the Stasi; and maybe we should remember how our government acted for much for the cold war. It is probably true the government has more information now than it had in the 60s - but that didn't stop them from spying on Martin Luther King or John Lennon or whoever you want. I think - that while what Snowden talks about is terrifying, and while all this cloud of data we can never get out of, and is increasingly vulnerable to use and abuse by entities of all sorts around us - all that is true, all that is terrifying - but all that is still not where the battle has to be won and lost. Why aren't we like the Stasi? we aren't using this information to crush dissent, to impose a constant oppression on the population. And why? Because the government is full of nice guys, honest and honorable and trustworthy to a fault? You answer that....

But what is relevant is it is all political. In this country, the government comes from the people - it is, still, in however imperfect a way, an elected government for the people by the people and all that. I think - you can't rely on the good will of government: but you have to rely on the political engagement of the people. It's hard to muster much optimism - but I think this is the only thing we have and probably the only thing we have ever had: to vote; to speak; to act, politically. I think, even if the NSA and company continue to do what they have been doing - even if the government still trots out the specter of terrorism to scare people into accepting these programs - even if the public, as a whole, doesn't care all that much about the possibly inconvenience of someone reading Jihadist websites somewhere - or even about all the other people who had to get new credit cards after Target got breached (and what the government can do to everyone, criminals and hackers can do to a good number of people - they can get that data to).... Even with all that bad news, what people like Snowden did, or Glenn Greenwald and Jacob Applebaum and Laura Poitras do, is crucial. Stories like this, films like this, keep a wedge in there, an awareness of the presence of all this data, and the degree to which we depend on the goodwill of the government (and corporations, and individual data thieves) not to abuse it. And then, I hope, somehow, people remain just political committed enough to keep things controlled.

It's hard to be optimistic: it's hard to say what this kind of optimism even looks like. I don't expect this to change: I think government will continue to collect all the data they can get, and look for ways to use it - and they will always be able to abuse it. I think companies will always have this data and will always abuse it, and will always be in danger of losing it, with nearly catastrophic consequences. But I also think that this abuse is, in the end, mostly a political question: do we have a government that benefits from abusing this data? (Or - since governments always abuse their power - what level of abuse will they be willing to commit?) The reason the NSA is not the Stasi is that the United States is not East Germany - complain all you want about our government, but it is not a dictatorship, it is not totalitarian. It is not because it is, still, a democracy - elections matter. They are at the root of our government and they are where our salvation or damnation will always lie.

Which means what I should really be worried about is last Tuesday. But that's a topic for another day.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Simple Random Friday Music Post

Back to random music, this Friday, simplicity itself:

1. Liars - Vox tuned D.E.D.
2. Cream - Sunshine of Your Love (RIP to Jack Bruce...)
3. Mirah - Cold Cold Water
4. Serge Gainsbourg - Ford Mustang
5. Charlie Parker - Donna Lee
6. Yo La Tengo - My Little Corner of the Road
7. John's Children - Smashed Block
8. Deerhoof - Don't Get Born
9. Velvet Underground - Ride into the Sun (live)
10. The Kinks - I'm not like Everybody Else

and Video? I will try Mirah - I don't know where that song came from on my computer, but it ain't half bad, so here goes:



If we're going to start that way - let's keep going: I can at least figure out how I got John's Children on the computer - a Mojo bonus CD - still. But another piece of interesting music....



This is not so obscure - here's Jack Bruce performing Sunshine of Your Love in Germany, 1980 - with Billy Cobham on drums, Clem Clemson on guitar, David Sancious on keyboards - I like Jack Bruce. Glenn Kenny has a nice piece about him today.



And - let's end with the Davies brothers - Ray:



And Dave:



And hope they can get together again...

Friday, October 31, 2014

Boo!

Imhotep bids you a happy Halloween.



And so do I, in the form of music - enjoy!:

1. Half Japanese - Frankenstein Must Die
2. Neutral Milk Hotel - Ghost
3. Slint - Nosferatu Man
4. Black Sabbath - Black Sabbath
5. Blue Oyster Cult - Joan Crawford
6. Donovan - Season of the Witch
7. Pink Floyd - Lucifer Sam
8. Warren Zevon - Werewolves of London
9. Chickasaw Mudd Puppies - Lon Chaney
10. Butthole Surfers - Creep in the Cellar

What my iTunes can't provide, YouTube offers - Edgar Winters Group and Frankenstein:



And the Surfers, worrying about what might be living under the floorboards:



And the Chickasaw Mudd Puppies serenading the man with a thousand faces:



And Junior:



And finish up with Slint, live:

Friday, October 24, 2014

Music Friday, With Associated Technological Musings

Rather shocking to notice the date - how far along this month, and year, has gotten. Time is passing! We have had a week of bloody bad weather - winter is coming....

Meanwhile, I have a new computer, a new Mac Mini; the first time in a long while I have gotten a piece of hardware the minute it showed up in the stores. For all my love of computers and such, I generally wait - partly, I suppose, because once I have something that works, I am willing to keep it as long as I can. I did get an iPhone 5 as soon as they showed up (mostly because the old iPhone I had was becoming noticeably low) - before that? you might have to go back to the beginning - the first Mac I bought was a Classic, 1990, which I also got the minute they appeared. I hope that's not too portentous - the first Mac I ever bought; now the last one? I wonder sometimes. Companies these days seem to be pushing users to mobile devices - operating systems these days seem to be trying to look like mobile devices - Yosemite has the same ugly flat design the new iOS's have; it gives you things like the "launchpad", which acts like an iPad screen - just a flat array of icons. I have been able to avoid Windows 8, but by all reports it is even more atrocious. Lawd, lawd, won't these kids get off my lawn?



I don't know; maybe I'm old and stubborn and set in my ways; or maybe the point is that I was smitten by macs in the first place because they were a better way to write - whatever it is, the core of the computer experience for me is still sitting down at a keyboard and firing up Word. (Or, these days, Scrivener, as much as Word; in the glory days of the early 90s I went through word processors at a dizzying rate - Word Perfect; MacWrite; Nisus - which still exists? there's a nostalgia kick for you...) Phones and iPads and such are good in their way - what they are and do is very nice indeed - but they are something apart from computers. I have yet to find any way to write on them: at least not in the satisfying way I can write on my computer. Which adds up to this - that I am very happy with this new machine: a very pleasing setup: desktop computer, driving 2 big monitors, with a good keyboard (I bought an Apple wireless keyboard for this machine - and I find it to be very good. I have found Apple keyboards in the 21st century to be flimsy and unsatisfying devices - but this one is very good; it feels right, which is what you need in a keyboard), giving me plenty of room to open up a dozen folders and documents and carry on to my heart's content. It is hard to deny that for me, the computer reached its moment of perfection 20 odd years ago - all I really needed was a good word processor, a good keyboard, a decent monitor, and a connection to the outside world - this machine might as well be the old Mac Duo I had back then, just a lot faster for some things. (Though not everything - partly because back then I set up a RAM disk on the duo, and so approximated the fusion drive this one has; and partly because no one has really improved on Word 5.1.) I wanted a computer to write on - I was very happy when the internet developed to the point that I could read on it too - and that's still what I want it for. Music and movies and things like that are nice, but they are gravy - TV and stereos work perfectly well at what they do...

I suppose that's ironic in a post about playing music on my computer. So what? I contain multitudes, just like my Mac! and so enough of that - iTune! Randomize!

1. Deerhoof - Cooper
2. white Magic - The Light
3. Big Boi - Buggface
4. Neil Young - Comes a Time (from Live Rust)
5. M.I.A. - 10
6. Grant Hart - Morningstar
7. Nina Simone - Jelly Roll
8. Tim Rose - Long Time Man
9. Rocket from the Tombs - Foggy Notion
10. Flaming Lips - the Observer

Viudeo? Here's Grant Hart, performing live:



And - say - Nina Simone, playing I Want a Little Sugar in my Bowl (since I can't find a good live performance of Jelly Roll.)



And end with Nick Cave performing Long Time Man:

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Cedar Creek (and Ypres I)

I've been terrible in keeping up with my Civil War posts lately - but need to put something up today, the anniversary of the Battle of Cedar Creek. When last we left U.S. Grant, at the Battle of the Crater, he had failed, yet again, to break through Lee's lines outside Petersburg - and he was about to stop trying. He settled down to hold Lee in place, and look for ways to win the war elsewhere - the trenches let him do that - though they also let Lee send some of his men off to try to win the war elsewhere. Specifically, he sent Jubal Early to the Shenandoah Valley, to see what mischief they could make. They made their share - marching up to Washington, firing on the city itself, causing panic and fear in all but Lincoln and Grant (Lincoln went to see the fighting, and terrified the Union Generals by peering out at the rebels over the parapets.) Grant sent an army corps (the VI corps - which by this time was probably the best unit in the army); later he sent Phil Sheridan and most of their cavalry, and sent them to do their worst to Early. They did quite a bit - thrashing the Rebels at the battle of Winchester in September - then a couple days later at Fisher's Hill - this left Early's army in ruins, and Sheridan set out to make the Shenandoah Valley waste. Anticipating Sherman's march to the sea, Sheridan marched through the valley, burning crops, destroying barns and mills, turning what had been a major source of supply for the Confederacy into ruins. At the bend of this, thinking that Early was done, Sheridan went to Washington, and started planning to bring the Army of the Potomac men back to Grant.

But Early had other ideas. He had been reinforced - and he knew he had to do something, since he was running out of supplies - so he attacked. In the event, the attack went splendidly - he found that the Union army was not keeping close watch on their left flank: the ground was rough, they though it would discourage the Rebels - but Early was an old Jackson underling, and took that kind of situation for an opportunity. So they attacked, and caved in the Union left, and forced the whole army into retreat. There was heavy fighting, especially when the Rebels ran into the VI corps - but the Federals were drive steadily back.

Meanwhile, Sheridan was in Winchester, a dozen or so miles away. By 9 in the morning (after 3 hours or so to it), he heard enough of the noise to decide to get moving - he rode south, and as he did, realized there was a battle going on. So off he went, at full speed, arriving somewhere around 10:30. He found the lines fairly stable - the VI corps was holding their lines; the rebels had called a halt to their attack, to regroup - to recollect their men, who had been looting the Union camps. Sheridan set about organizing a counterattack - it was ready later that afternoon, and when it came, it was overwhelming. He attacked on the flanks with cavalry, then straight ahead with infantry - there was a period of heavy fighting, then the Rebels collapsed, the cavalry got into their rear, and the rout was on.

And that was that. This was the end of Confederate efforts in the Valley - it was always a strategy doomed by long odds: the Union had very large advantages in numbers, everywhere - so when the Confederates sent away men to fight elsewhere, Grant could send away more men. The very trenches that allowed Lee to dispatch parts of his army to try to find other opportunities allowed the Yankees to dispatch more men to beat the Rebels in detail. Which is what they did - here and elsewhere. Whenever the Confederates came out of their trenches in 1864, they were thrashed mightily. They were outnumbered, and increasingly outgunned - the union cavalry was starting to carry repeaters, and starting to operate as a powerful offensive force on their own. The cavalry itself was becoming a decided Union advantage - especially here, in a fairly mobile warfare, where cavalry was deployed as an offensive force. Their mobility, their firepower told.

It might be enough to make you think that cavalry was still a viable arm of the military! A delusion we might want to visit again in the next couple days - 50 years after the battle of Cedar Creek, the First Battle of Ypres started, October 19, 1914. That would mark the end, really, of mobile warfare on the Western Front - or more precisely, the end of warfare in the open. But we can come back to that - the Battle of Ypres lasted for a month. But I will end with this - no one in Europe paid much attention to what happened in the Civil War; if they had - they probably would have looked at battles like Winchester and Cedar Creek, with their decisive cavalry actions, and saw vindication for their ideas about offense. What they would not have noticed, since they never noticed it, is that what really started to separate union cavalry at the end of the Civil war, was their firepower - Sharps, Spencer and Henry rifles, breechloaders and repeaters - which would change everything, more than anyone could conceive in 1864, and, tragically, even in 1914.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Friday Five (Lazy October Edition)

I have been awfully lazy in posting lately, on this once a week schedule - I can't pretend to have a reason.... I suppose I could blame work; that's always a nuisance. I suppose I could also blameHarvard, for offering a very interesting class on the Great War - that's probably served to distract me from writing historical pieces for this blog.

Well, there's nothing for it but to keep on going, hope productive energy comes back - and in the meanwhile, at least we have Fridays:

1. Lift to Experience - The Ground So Soft
2. Minutemen - Party with me Punker
3. Minutemen - Fodder
4. New York Dolls - Personality Crisis
5. John Zorn - Inside Straight
6. The Kinks - You Really Got Me
7. Beck - Don't Let It Go
8. Iron & Wine - Carousel
9. Beatles - Lovely Rita
10. Ella Fitzgerald - They Can't Take that Away From Me

and so - video? Kinks, of course:



And the Minutemen, just a song, but I have to post it:



And in another vein - Ella, like in Finland they can't take that away from me:

Friday, October 10, 2014

Holy Ghosts ands Talk Show Hosts

October is here and time for another Band of the Month - and another entry in the bands of the 80s, too, for that matter. But what can I say - when I got out of college, I started buying records, going to shows, reading about music - turned into a bit of a nerd about it. Went looking for stuff that could fill my head with music I wanted to hear....

Like the Meat Puppets. In the summer of 1987 I got Mirage - I loved it. I was obsessing over Hank Williams and Johnny Cash in those days, and the Stooges, and I guess the Meat Puppets landed cleanly in the middle of that. I remember that summer - we had an enclosed porch in the apartment, and I took it over mostly, with my desk and books and record player out there, and would listen to records while reading or writing or whatever I did... I remember the mornings, especially - getting up, getting a cup of coffee, sitting on the porch and listening to a side of a record before I had to go to work. Puppets - Hank - maybe the Velvets now and then, the Feelies - but especially the Meat Puppets. Mirage is their airiest record, right? swirling guitars, those rough harmonies, loose, light songs, countrified bass lines - great stuff, and a perfect way to get a day started.

Over the years, then, they have been a comfort - they kept putting out records throughout he early 90s when I wasn't really listening to rock, and I kept buying them, liking them - still do! - though maybe not as much as the 80s records. Of course that gets us to an irony - once I discovered them, I jumped right out and bought their music - on LP, not CD - and so later on, I would go years without being able to listen to Up on the Sun, until I broke down and bought them again on CD. Technology - man... Still, they were in my head - I rather obsessed over Mirage and Huevos (and I think I got Huevos on CD, pretty early, so I could get my Look at the Rain fix a few times a year) - and the 90s records were still pretty good. They always made me happy - good songs, their sound, and the fact that every song seemed to be about food, drugs or masturbation - simple pleasures!

I saw them play live, twice, in the late 80s/early 90s. The second show, around the time of Forbidden Places I think - was strangely disappointing - they were sloppy, the material a little less sharp, their performance kind of routine... It was surprising because I'd seen them when they were touring Huevos, and it was one of the best shows I have ever seen. I suppose they might have been as sloppy and shambolic as the later gig, but their casual style was a big part of the appeal - the way it makes their music sound effortless, like three guys in a garage, or - and I admit this is something I can't ever get out of the back of my head - like the people who got up and sang at church when I was a kid. Who might or might not be able to carry a tune, but somehow, meant it - and could somehow get across the strength of the songs themselves, through the imperfect vessels of their earthly bodies. So that first show I saw - they were so good. Curt was inspired - soloing all over the place, kind of pushing home the fact that they were a very good set of musicians. All their charms were there to see. The great songs; their loose, adventurous style; the messy, but deceptively competent harmonies; the sense of fun they showed - funny, smarter than they act, and enjoying themselves and all the noise they were making; with clever, well played covers; all of it going on and on, a sheer joy.

All right. They've been at it for 30 plus years now, and have produced a nice body of work - still putting out records that remain likable and listenable (if not quite something I can obsess about). Though there's no getting around the quality of the first decade of music. And so, to get to it - here is what I take to be their 10 best songs:

1. Look at the Rain
2. Crazy
3. Up on the Sun
4. Lake of Fire
5. A Hundred Miles
6. Plateau
7. Shine
8. Beauty
9. Paradise
10. Swimming Ground

Videos: kind of a mixed bag out there - lots of newer footage, most of which is quite competent - but maybe lacks both the shambles and the moments of transcendence they had in their prime. But there is some - this, say - vintage Look at the Rain, shot off a TV screen:



Here is Up on the Sun and I Can't Be Counted On, 1990:



Lake of Fire, mid-90s, Kurt letting his inner shredder out a little:



A 2011 cover of the Sloop John B:



And a cover version of Plateau, featuring the Kirkwood brothers on guitars:

Friday, October 03, 2014

Friday in the Fall

Getting cold outside. Rain and gloom all week, which I hope is done. I like fall - it's cool, comfortable, and usually drier than the spring - all that is good. And apple pie! etc. All right - cut straight to the music shall we?

1. Boris - Ibitsu
2. Flying Burrito Brothers - If you Gotta Go
3. John Cale - Save Us
4. Bishop Allen - Eve of Destruction
5. Big Star - Til the End of the Day
6. GONG - Magick Mother Invcation
7. Benny Goodman (featuring Charlie Christian) - Gone with "What" Wind
8. Jane's Addiction - City
9. Jimi Hendrix - Manic Depression
10. Pere Ubu - 30 Seconds Over Tokyo

Video? here's this - Jimi Hendrix on TV in 1967 - a very bad tape, faded and abused, so you get flicking glimpses of the band through the haze. Kind of cool I suppose, and - well - some metaphorical significance I guess. I saw the new Jimi: All is by my Side film last week - which I'm tempted to say gives a similarly fleeting and murky picture of the man. Mostly because it's missing most of his music... but it's still compelling, in its slightly maddening way - and so is this.



And - here's Alex Chilton, with Yo La Tengo, covering the Kinks: