Friday, June 24, 2016

Anti Christmas Friday Music

Another Friday, another international crisis - the UK votes to leave the European Market. Panic ensues. Or something. I can't pretend to understand all the ramifications of this, but they do seem bad. Bad sign for British politics, as this seems driven by no small amount of racism and nationalism. Bad for the world economy, as it takes London out of the mainstream - a big deal. Probably bad for the United part of the United Kingdom, as Scotland is likely to revisit their own bid for independence, with a big incentive to leave. (Scotland was one of the strongest proponents of staying in the EU, and might look to get in on their own now.) Heck, I've seen some Northern Irish politicians are making noise about leaving the UK for Ireland - might not be a bad plan. Still - all this is what I can glean from stories and comments - may or may not be as bad as all that. But it is harder to be optimistic than usual.

Maybe this can cheer you up - who cares about economics and politics, when the world is starting to boil? Gizmodo tracks the hottest month on record, with May being the 13th month in a row to set a new record.

Maybe not. Okay music.

1. Prince & 3RDEYEGIRL - FUNKNROLL
2. CCR - Long as I Can See The Light
3. Deerhoof - Cast off Crown
4. Tom Verlaine - Rings
5. Jimmy Smith - God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman (who doesn't need some Christmas in June, at more or less the farthest point from Christmas you can get in a year?)
6. Body/Head - Aint
7. Throwing Muses - Say Goodbye
8. The Go! Team - Panther Dash
9. The Beatles - Something
10. Sleater Kinney - Entertain

Video? we do need some Christmas, right?



And we have to do all this in a world without Prince. Life is cruel:



At least I have this to look forward to Monday: don't fret now baby, don't be so tired!

Friday, June 17, 2016

The World, For Good and Bad

Another Friday. The weather has become very pleasant, and stayed there a while. There are soccer tournaments rolling along nicely. Otherwise, though, things are pretty shitty out in the world. Another mass shooting in the USA; a political assassination in the UK, in the middle of a campaign to pull the UK out of the European union. The former has the usual debates going - the standard attempt to maybe make it harder for people to acquire tools specifically designed for killing people has made a bit more progress - a filibuster, that may force the Senate to vote on a gun bill. Profiles in Courage, part 1! it's not just that politicians (deeply in the pockets of the NRA - or, I should say, the part of the NRA that disperses the money, since I think the majority of the NRA itself still supports better gun laws) refuse to pass gun laws - it's that they don't want to vote on guns laws. Vote for gun regulation, and those checks disappear. Vote against them, and the fact that very large majorities of the voting public support them might have some consequences. So - my god: decent people (Democrats) are all excited because they managed to force a vote!

Hey, if it works...

Meanwhile, the right, when it's not reposting their defenses of gun ownership they post every time someone shoots a dozen people or more, is trying to make what hay they can about the fact that the possibly closeted religious zealot homophobe who did the killing in Orlando was Islamic this time, instead of the usual right wing Christian. Cheeto Jesus starts the wanking off, the usual stuff about banning Moslem immigrants (not useful against people born in Queens, as this killer was, but he'll get to rounding up the American born Moslems, etc., sooner or later), and claiming Obama is somehow responsible for the attacks. People called him on this, he whined, picked a fight with the Washington post, doubled down on the original nonsense - etc. Meanwhile, John McCain, woke up from another dream of world war III to second Trump's accusation - oh yeah - Obama is "directly responsible" for the attacks. However, the next day - Profiles in Courage Part 2! - McCain claims he "misspoke" - funny how that works. Get that smear on record, then try to pretend you never did it - bravely done.

Enough of that. I hope it's enough. I worry, though - the racists, homophobes, gun nuts, Jesus nuts (and Mohammed nuts) are a shrinking demographic - but as they get smaller, and less and less able to win anything by any other means, they are probably more likely to resort to violence. They can't win elections (without massive gerrymandering and corruption), so they start shooting. Not just here, but globally. Once more thing to worry about, I guess.

But now? Let's do some video - this week, being Pride month, and because the terrorism/hate crime in Orlando was directed explicitly against gays - some songs from out musicians:

Husker Du - New Day Rising, It's Not Funny Anymore:



The Priest, Breaking the Law:



Buzzcocks - I Believe:



And some Sigur Rus - which might also get us back t the good stuff - Iceland is in the European soccer championships - 10% of the country apparently travelled to France to attend the games - very nice. This is Hoppipolla:

Friday, June 10, 2016

Blue Ocean Water Cannot Stop My Heart and Mind from Burning

For this month's Band of the Month, we're back in the 21st century, and the ubiquitous (it sometimes seems) Jack White - mainly for the White Stripes, but he hasn't really slacked off in his other bands. He has been wonderfully prolific - a dozen or so records, with various bands, along with work with other people. And it's all fine stuff - all distinctly his, but also bringing in the personalities and talents of his collaborators. The White Stripes sound like the Raconteurs - but not exactly; the Dead Weather offers a different twist - a different voice; his solo records bring in some new sounds - in fact, it's the sound that varies the most among them, the instrumentation, sometimes the style. There's continuity across all his work, but he still always seems to be evolving - trying new sounds, new styles - every record is rewarding.

Thinking about this essay, I thought of the ways he is like other favorites of mine. Iv'e had Prince on the mind - and White's record in the past decade or so reminds me of Prince in the 80s (and beyond). It is interesting: they share a work ethic - I'm not sure how many artists are as committed to getting a record out every year as White has been in that time. He can work like Prince - playing all the instruments, playing different instruments in different combos. At the same time, he's involved with other artists - all those collaborations, all his effort to work with other people. He's versatile - he's committed to controlling his art - to building the infrastructure for his creativity... He might not be the musical genius Prince was, especially as a musician - but he is a very interesting musician, and s superb song-writer, who milks rich veins of American songwriting styles. Country, blues, pop, rock, gospel, folk - he plays with them all, very successfully. He is a kind of one man industry.... He has in common with Nick Cave too - who's also put out a wealth of material throughout his career, still going strong; who's also slipped around through a variety of styles, without really abandoning his base skills. And he sometimes reminds me of Cave as a songwriter - the way he writes fiction, stories - characters who aren't necessarily him. The hints of gods and devils lurking in those songs. And a kind of characteristic hardness - he might have the best body of last lines to songs in the business:

"if there's anything good about me, I'm the only one who knows"
"not one single person on god's golden shore is entitled to one single thing; we don't deserve a single damn thing"
"Worse than All Your Dreams Could Ever Make Me"
"I never said I would throw my jacket in the mud for you, but my father gave it to me so maybe I could carry you, then you said you almost dropped me so then I did, and I got mud on my shoes"
"this kind of things must be important because somebody ripped out my page in your telephone book"

All right. He has had a pretty good career, beginning to the present, and still going strong - but I can't deny that he was particularly great at the beginning. When it was them, not him, too - the later stuff, the other projects, are fantastic, but he hasn't really matched the impact of the White Stripes. I heard the first couple records, liked them, though I didn't completely fall for them - then White Blood Cells came out, and that did it. It was very exciting - that stripped down style, the endlessly catchy tunes, the clever words - I liked the poppier garage sound more than their earlier bluesier sound, it felt more open, more adventurous, freer - I was sold. And you can guess from the comments above, I continued to enjoy their music as they got even more expansive - I like bands with wide tastes in music, and was very happy to follow them into their rockier moments, their ballads, the country, the folk, as well as the blues. And though Jack continues to work similar styles since, I don't know if he has ever quite been able to match the direct appeal of the Stripes. Simple, direct rhythms, his straightforward riffs, warped and twisted around - nothing else quite works that well. Meg focused the music, and focused him. They were a truly great band.

All right: let's do the lists. Here, to start, a White Stripes Top Ten:

1. The Same Boy You've Always Known
2. Prickly Thorn, But Sweetly worn
3. I Want to be the Boy
4. As Ugly as I Seem
5. I'm Finding It Harder to be a Gentleman
6. 300 MPH Torrential Outpour Blues
7. Icky Thump
8. Seven Nation Army
9. we're Going to Be Friends
10. The Big Three Killed My Baby

And Then, an other Jack White top 5:

1. These Stones Will Shout - Raconteurs
2. Portland Oregon - with Loretta Lynn
3. So Far from Your Weapon - Dead Weather
4. Top Yourself - Raconteurs
5. Entitlement - Solo

And some video: Start with a classic White Stripes performance of Same Boy You're Always Known:



And later, acoustic and intense, Ugly as I seem, on Charlie Rose:



Here's Jack playing Seven Nation Army, with Jimmy Page and The Edge from the This Might Get Loud documentary. The more I think about that film, the more inspired the choices seem: it's not just that the three guitarists cover three generations, or even that they are three very fine purveyors of The Riff - it's that they are so different. Page, the virtuoso, the session genius, able to play anything, the improvisor, the excessive one; The Edge, the minimalist, the rhythm guitarist, the one relying on his effects almost more than his playing - building riffs out of that; and White - the songwriter - never quite so virtuosic as Page, but willing to solo, make noise, risk excess (though more economical) - but more than that, and more than the other two - making his musicianship always the servant of his songwriting. He is a very good guitarist, but he is a musician and songwriter first - he can shift instruments if it works better, he keeps the pyrotechnics tied to the song. They bounce off one another - each working differently, a fact that sometimes comes through in the movie, but mostly dawns on you later. It's a neat film, and that dynamic is part of it...



And a clip of The Raconteurs:



Here's drummer Jack, with the Dead Weather:



And singing with Loretta Lynn:



And finally some blues - St. James Infirmary - can't find a good performance clip, so here's a Betty Boop cartoon someone matched to the song:


Saturday, June 04, 2016

Muhammed Ali (And Swarbrick)

This year continues to suck - another great figure has died, Muhammed Ali. I probably can't add a lot to what is being said about him - you can find more and better anywhere - Charles Pierce, say - he was a towering figure. Great athlete - almost impossibly charismatic - and hugely important, politically. Athletes in America tend to sometimes leave race and politics alone - but Ali did not. He was Black, he was a Muslim, he was against the Vietnam war, and he didn't hide from any of those things. He made his politics public - he forced us to confront them and everything they meant in the US. He was right about them, too - Vietnam was a distraction from what was wrong in the US (and what might have been getting better in the 60s, if not for Vietnam) - racism and its consequences have always been our fatal flaw, and worst enemy. Ali confronted it - and showed ways to get through it. The more the country listens to people like him, the better off we are.

And of course, he always did it with grace and style. He was a beautiful boxer to watch, fast and light, quick and loose; and he talked like it too. Smart and charismatic and funny. I watched him plenty in the 70s - wins and losses, though by then, he was past his prime, hanging on and coming back and, even then, visibly diminishing his legacy and risking his health. But he made fighting interesting - more than anyone. It's strange to look back - watching him in the 60s - so fast, so commanding, toying with people, beating the shit out of them - it's both beautiful to watch him, and rather horrifying, to think what boxers do to one another. (Mostly Ali doing it to the others, at that point.) Looking at some of the fights - guys going down four, five times, getting up for Ali to smack around some more.... I wish he could have picked a different sport - but he was so good at this one.



All right - that's enough. He talked like he fought - smart and fast and graceful, but hard as a rock - he was the greatest, the Black Superman.



Meanwhile - just a note, that Dave Swarbrick also died this week. Maybe not a transformative figure like Ali, but an integral part of one of my favorite bands. Here he is with Richard Thompson, 2009, playing one of their epic collaborations, Sloth:

Friday, June 03, 2016

June Friday Music and More

Another Friday, another lazy post, but I hope, some good music to think about. Nice holiday week ere, very welcome; even had some flashes of springlike weather in the last few days, though of course they quickly revert to April type weather. I won't complain too much about that - I am no fan of the heat. But it would be nice to get a couple months over 70, you know...

Npt much else to add, so I will leave you to it. It is going to be a busy summer, in a good way, mostly. As a sports fan I am very happy to see my local nine hitting like pros, though I wish they could stop other teams. Last 2 games, the Red Sox have scored 15 runs, and been outscored by 10 runs. Last night they were almost beaten by home runs alone - gave up 7, same as they scored... sad. Sort of. Cause, boy can they hit. And along with this, we're getting closer to the European soccer championships - that is great fun. That will keep me in front of the TV most of this month. Ending just in time for the tour de France, which will end just about in time for the Olympics, which I admit I watch mostly for the soccer tournaments, but still. All this without really mentioning either the NBA or NHL, which are in their finals, and - I used to care a lot about,but have kind of faded from in the past couple years...

And also - Wonders in the Dark is working up to a science fiction poll and countdown - something to look forward to.

And now? some tunes, to tide you over...

1. Prince - Fallinlove2nite
2. Duffy Power - Lawdy Miss Clawdy
3. Buffalo Tom - Gravity
4. Times New Viking - Fuck her Tears
5. Devendra Banhart - Fall
6. Meat Puppets - I am a Machine
7. X-Ray Specs - Oh! Bondage up Yours!
8. Ian Drury - Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick
9. Raconteurs - These Stones Will Shout
10. Merle Haggard - The Bottle Let Me Down

That was a nice set right there. Here's some video - start off the list - Charlie Watts had a birthday this week, so - select a stone, with Charlie Watts:



And - Ian Drury and the Blockheads working the rhythm stick:



And Poly:

Friday, May 27, 2016

Long weekend Friday Ten

Memorial Day weekend is here, with actual seasonal weather! Hooray! fire up that grill! My weekend is getting an early start, so I don't have much to add here - enjoy it... Don't forget to remember those who've gone, and especially those who've gone serving their country, and maybe especially those who went saving our country from division and freeing the slaves - don't forget Decoration Day.

And with that - some random songs to consider...

1. Wire - Smash
2. Jacques Brel - Vesoul
3. Slits - Enemy Numero Uno
4. Kinks - Superman
5. Mono - Gone
6. 13th Floor Elevators - Kingdom of Heaven
7. Nina Simone - My Baby Just Cares for Me
8. Battles - Futura
9. Boris - Window Shopping
10. Nick Cave & Bad Seeds - God is in the House

Video? first - in case I don't get back in here before the holiday - here is Odetta singing the Battle Hymn of the Republic:



And some some singer-songwiriter goodness, starting with Jacques Brel:



And - here's Nina Simone:



And Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, on Jules Holland:

Friday, May 20, 2016

Let Us Not Talk Falsely Now

This essay has been a while in coming. It is time to address one of the Big Boys of American Music, that I have not yet addressed - the (other) pride of Minnesota (actually, the fourth pride of Minnesota post in this series, since I got to Husker Du and the Mats a couple years back), Mr. Bob Dylan.

It's been a while in coming because Dylan is a hard one to write about - I imagine for anyone, but definitely for me. I like old Bob - always have; I respect old Bob, always have, maybe do now more than ever - and he is obviously one of the great artists of the last 60 years - but it's still hard sometimes for me to get my head around him. He isn't obvious to me - even now - his virtues are elusive, sometimes. Or what should I say? I always heard Dylan on the radio, and always liked him - I knew how important he was almost from the start, and how good he was - I've always listened to him, and, I suppose you could say, taken him for granted. I guess it's that for some reason he never made that personal connection to me most of the bands in this series have - I can't come up with stories about listening to Dylan the way I can for almost everyone else. I always liked him, but there were never times when he took over my head for a while, again - the way everyone else here has. I've written similar things about some of the others - Bowie for example - but with Bowie, there was a jump, a point where I kind of sat down and listened, and kind of reevaluated him, upwards. Dylan - has just always been this major figure I agreed with everyone else when they said how good he was. I don't know if that makes any sense. Especially since you listen to the songs and of course he's one of the great ones. That's what makes it hard to write about him - as far back as I've cared about Dylan at all, I've known how good he was, never doubted it. It probably would be easier to write about him if I dismissed him, even just had a spell where I thought Dylan was overrated - but I haven't. I suppose he is overrated if you say he's as good as the Beatles or Stones, but otherwise, no. So -

Leave it then. Let's get to the good stuff. Because there is no denying his genius: as a writer at least, though he is not slouch as a songwriter, and though he is not what you would call a singer - he is most definitely a voice. But it is the words that make him what he is. I sometimes come across people who doubt the Bob - who try to show he wasn't so good after all - they are incorrect. They might complain about some aspect of his writing - the obscurity and obliqueness of some of his songs - but they complain about those things by ignoring the songs that are nothing like that: that get to the point and fast. What's obscure about Hurricane or the Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll? But plain or obscure, conventional or experimental - he was always sharp, dazzling, surprising and careful. The words make him what he is, the words and how he uses them. It's there in those piles of words, lines, images in the early songs - in the clear, direct statement of songs like the Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll - in the meandering narratives of 70s songs, from Desire or Blood on the Tracks. He uses words to make music - the way they clash and throng, jammed together out of time, their mysterious pauses and transitions, repetitions, all the poetic tricks he uses - rhymes and internal rhymes and alliterations and assonance - While preachers preach of evil fates/Teachers teach that knowledge waits... lay slain by a cane... (or those three tables, also in ...Hattie Carroll...) - they all add up. However they read on the page, he always wrote these words to be sung - or performed, anyway - they are rhythmic and propulsive, ragged (usually), fitted to his voice. It's as if the words were a musical instrument.

Musically, he is not as dazzling, but he is always interesting. He gets a nice sense of propulsion in his music quite soon - the early acoustic songs usually roll along pretty well, and when he went electric, he did it in style. Right out of the gate, Subterranean Homesick Blues, fast and straight and no looking back. You feel like you've stepped onto a fast train, rattling along, steady and relentless.... He picked good collaborators for his music, and all through his career, the backgrounds remain as interesting as his voice - moments spring out at you - the piano and sleazy horns in Rainy Day Women, organ on Like a Rolling Stone, the drumming on Tangled up in Blue or all Along the Watchtower, the violin haunting Hurricane (indeed all of Desire) - making the songs, always fitting them, adding to them, pulling them away, surprising you.

And finally - it's impossible to overstate just how important Bob Dylan has been as an artist. Some many artists came directly in his path - so many I have written about - Lou Reed, The Byrds, Bruce Springsteen, Nick Cave; and he had profound influence on almost all rock songwriters after - the Beatles and the Stones were shaped by him, and everyone after. He raised the stakes for songwriters - issued a kind of challenge to them, to make the words matter, and carve out your own space in your words. It's obviously something that was around before him - blues and country songwriters always worked with similar material, and greatly influenced him - though that was just one mode he worked with. He shifted things - bringing in ideas from modern poetry (subject matter and devices) - bringing in (and adapting) longer narrative forms - bringing in a lot of things. His voice is everywhere in rock and roll.

And so we come to the list: not easy, but that's not new. This is made more troublesome by the fact that while I have a decent collection of Dylan records, he's been at it for almost 60 years, putting out a pretty steady stream of music for that whole time. That's another reason to put this essay off - all that work, all that unexplored work.... But that's can't be helped (except by waiting a couple more years to do this.) So here you go:

1. It's Alright Ma (Im Only Bleeding)
2. Tangled Up In Blue
3. Subterranean Homesick Blues
4. The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
5. Hurricane
6. All Along the Watchtower
7. Rainy Day Women #12 & 35
8. Like a Rolling Stone
9. Buckets of Rain
10. It's All Over Now Baby Blue

Here he is in 1964 - Blowing in the Wind:



It's All Right Ma - another of those acoustic songs that rocks harder than any metal and punk you might come up with:



Electric Bob, not working on Maggie's farm no more:



One of the great music videos (I hope this one's legal, and sticks around, so this post won't look like the Prince post from last month, which is all blank YouTube links now...):



Dylan in 84 with Mick Taylor, Ian McLagan, etc. - Mick takes a pretty epic guitar solo here as well, a nice touch - one fo the most underrated guitar players in the business:



Latter day Bob, tangled up in blue - 2014:



And leave with - Bob's Christian phase? whatever - this kicks ass:

Friday, May 13, 2016

Post Sox Friday 10

Had a very late night last night, thanks to the Red Sox (4th game in a row with double digit runs! which includes games against both Sonny Gray and Dallas Keuchel! Plus Good David Price, the 1 run, 12 Ks variety, not the one with the 6.75 ERA), so this will be one of those minimalist Friday 10 things.

HAve a good weekend!

1. Gang of Four - It was Never Going to Turn Out too Good
2. Gang of Four - Ether - yes, it is random; well - no one ever complained about 2 gang of four songs in a row.
3. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Slowly Goes the Night
4. Ruins - Komnigriss
5. Lightning Bolt - No Rest for the Obsessed
6. Dungen - Err Skall Att Trivas
7. Carter Family - Wildwood Flower
8. Jack White - Take Me With You When You Go
9. Nick Cave and Warren Ellis - the Boy
10. Joy Division - Ice Age

Well - that certainly came out well. Some video? Gang of four, comeback edition:



A later generation of the Carter family playing Wildwood Flower:



Here's Joy Division:

Friday, May 06, 2016

Friday Music, Randomly

Friday again, and I don't have a lot to say. I guess Donald Trump is now assured the Republican nomination, with Cruz and Kasich dropping out. They must be so proud, though I don't know what they don't like about Trump - he's got the core of republicanism down cold: racism and misogyny and tax cuts on the rich - that's American conservatism to the bone. He seems to have won because he gave the racists and misogynists exactly what they wanted to hear, in so many words, and because he's a TV star, and knows what the cameras are for. well - they can have him. I remain optimistic that once he's being voted on by the general public, not by the racist misogynists in the GOP, he will lost badly. One hopes.

Anyway - let's do some random music - iTunes appears to be restless today...

1. Big Kids - I'm Bored
2. Matthew Sweet - Don't Go
3. Interpol - Always Malaise (The Man I Am)
4. Lotte Lenya & The Three Admirals - Alabama Song
5. The Flaming Lips - Feeling Yourself Disintegrate
6. fIREHOSE - 4.29.92
7. At The Drive In - Arcarsenal
8. Xiu Xiu - 20,000 Deaths for Eidelyn Gonzalez, 20,000 Deaths for Jamie Peterson
9. Hank Williams - Your Cheatin' Heart
10. Mercury Rev - Queen of Swans

Video? Let's try the Big Kids - an obscurity I have thanks to a Mojo collection - a neat piece of retro rockin'...



I posted Bowie doing Brecht/Weill last week - here's Lottle Lenya:



And - let's end with Omar and Cedric and company, back in the day - Arcarsenal live:

Sunday, May 01, 2016

On Bernie Sanders' Success

Happy May Day! In past, I have used this as a chance to post musical videos and jokes about witches, communists and morris dancers, but this year, with Bernie Sanders, Socialist, running for president, and doing very well, thank you very much, I might try something more.

It seems, in the last couple weeks, that Sanders' campaign is starting to run down. He was never really going to win, I suppose - but he made a nice run of it, and has been relevant all along. The race has gotten uglier as it has gone along, but it's only May now, and there is plenty of time for the Democrats to get their act together and get on with the business of winning elections. The presidency, of course - though maybe just as important, maybe more, Senate and House races. The senate is in range - the house, probably not - but getting the Senate takes a lot of pressure off, allows a Democratic president to fill up the Supreme Court, move the country left (or at least, sane) there, generally force more stuff through. There is a lot of whining on the "left" about the horror or Hillary Clinton, neoliberal as the candidate, but I still hope that's just a fringe, dimwits looking for clicks, you know...

Because too much lamenting over Sanders' failure is not justified in the least. First - because he hardly failed. He didn't win the nomination, but it's hard to see how that was ever in the cards. But assuming he's smart enough to know that - he has succeeded brilliantly in getting his policies into the public eye. He has made Socialism respectable - made it possible to talk about socialism, socialist policies, and to call them socialist. (Even if most of them are just good liberal positions - tax the rich, help the poor, use government money to put people to work and keep the roads and trains and bridges functioning, don’t invade every country we disagree with, and pay for medical care and education for everyone.) He has gotten votes for those things - he has injected leftist ideas into the conversation - not the moronic kind of "conversation" dimwits like Walker Bragman (maybe the dumbest thing on the internet this week - which tells you how stupid some of the internet has become, if that's in question) babble about, but the actual things actual politicians actually talk about. We shall see how much of it makes it into the Democratic platform, and see how well Clinton (if she wins, which she should) sticks to them, either with some legislative support or without it, but it is there.

And this is the thing: Sanders likes to talk about revolutions, but that's just rhetoric, for all the Salon writers pretending to be confused. When he decided to run, as a Democrat, he made it clear that he is, in fact, smarter than that - revolution is for the choir; but better platforms, better down ticket candidates, more public pressure for liberal policies, that is where the action is. And for all the wailing and gnashing of teeth among the (alleged) Bernie true believers, all the Democrats in disarray nonsense being published - it's working. It's not just Bernie - in the past few years, we've seen the Occupy Wall Street movement, the election of people like Elizabeth Warren, Sharrod Brown and such, the emergence of Sanders himself as a national figure, the movement for a $15 minimum wage, along with a significant number of liberal social victories. Not much of this has made inroads as Federal law (since the Democrats lost the house in 2010 - before that, real progress was made), but it has made significant progress in states and cities. Minimum wages have gone up; tipped minimum wages have been eliminated; social policies have changed for the better in many cities, as well as Federally, thanks to the Supreme Court recognizing obvious truth. And it's important to remember that egregiously regressive laws, like North Carolina or Mississippi and so on, are, more often than not, defensive laws passed to try to hold back pressure from above and below. The Supreme court has joined the 21st century in some areas; and many cities, even in the Old Confederacy, are passing laws to raise minimum wages, to protect gay, lesbian, transgender rights - thus causing the states to try to reverse history again.

All of this makes it easy to get discouraged, I won't deny it. You look at Trump, running more or less explicitly as a fascist, certainly making white supremacy the one true issue of his campaign, and it is discouraging. Look at North Carolina (and a parade of other states) trying to stop their own cities from treating people decently, and it is easy to forget that these things come because their own cities are turning on them. But in the end, if change comes, it comes the way it always comes - by people voting for it. It's fun to talk about electing Bernie Sanders - but it's far more important to elect more liberal liberals to more offices. To take over city governments, state governments (though as always, the states are the most regressive forces in the country; you want a revolution? abolish states), get people into the house and the senate, and then you can change. And personally I think Bernie Sanders, running as he did, and succeeding as he did, has made it easier to do that - has legitimized the liberal side of Democratic politics, created an audience and a constituency for leftier politicians, policies and all the rest. Whining about how the establishment won again underestimates how much he has done to change the establishment - and underestimates by far the importance of simply voting to move the establishment.

Because when you get to the nitty gritty of it - if Democrats and liberals and progressives and socialists want to move the country (and the party) left, they do it by voting. Get 74% participations, and the Democrats will dominate government for the foreseeable future. Get that participation in every election, and it will move the Democratic party left as well. And moving the party is more important than electing one man. So - vote, people! Vote for Democrats! vote for the most liberal Democrat in the primary (if that's your thing), but for the love of god and the democracy, vote for the Democrat in the general. And if that means Hillary Clinton, well - that works for me. And anyway, the tea baggers all thing she's a communist anyway, so - who am I to doubt them?

All right. That said - may day is a day for jokes and music about commies, witches and morris dancers -and celebration of all things red. Not a good day on the soccer front, with Liverpool getting smoked - what can you do?

David Bowie singing Brecht?



Maybe Prince doing Red House with Maceo Parker (enjoy it while you can - Prince songs go fast off YouTube):



And don't forget Black Phillip, this may day!

Friday, April 29, 2016

Prince Not Prince

Friday is on us again, a very welcome Friday it is. We have survived a whole week now without Prince, which is a bit hard to believe. The flood of Prince posts is starting to wane, though not completely, and I can't say want to see them stop coming. I was thinking, how familiar it felt, to have everyone talking about Prince all the time - but that kind of makes sense. During his heyday in the 80s, I listened to the radio and watched MTV and V-66 and read about pop music, and every new record by acts at tht level got the saturation treatment. A Prince record, Madonna, record, Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen record, was everywhere for a week, a month, whatever. Maybe it's still the case (didn't Beyonce just put something out? people keep mentioning it), but I don't pay attention the same way (people mention it on the internet; do I go tot he trouble of clicking on their links? not yet!) - you didn't have to do anything to hear Thriller 10 times a day. So all that is part of it - and the other part is that of those mega stars, Prince is the one I liked as much as the public did. So not only did you hear When Doves Cry or Let's Go Crazy 10 times a day, will you nil you, but I sought them out. Looked for them on the radio or TV; and people had the record (not me - I was in college and had no money - but my friends did. After college, I was the one getting Sign of the Times the minute it came out...) So yeah - you could live Prince for a couple weeks or a month.

Anyway, I'm not the one to stop the Prince talk. I've seen lots of posts about the songs he wrote for other people - this is a bit different. Here are some songs that he didn't write, but could have. Some are pretty obvious - Terrence Trent D'Arby? - some might be a bit far-fetched - but his influence was vast - and this might cover some of it. (Plus a young marble giants sound, with the organ sound, almost the notes, from Dirty Mind - more or less exactly contemporary, that...)

1. NERD - Don't Worry About it
2. Terrance Trent D'Arby - Wishing Well (everyone noticed this, of course)
3. Janelle Monae - Dance Apocalyptic
4. Scissor Sisters - I Don't Feel Like Dancin'
5. TV On the Radio - Wear You Out
6. Outkast - Hey Ya!
7. U2 - Even Better than the Real Thing
8. Wilco - Heavy Metal Drummer
9. Of Montreal - I was Never Young
10. Young Marble Giants - Colossal Youth

And some video: Best thing I can find for the NERD song is just the song - but - this is pretty much Prince karaoke:



Terrence Trent D'Arby - one of the more obvious acts to take advantage of Prince's style to do their own thing, and, at least for one perfect song, to more than hold his own:



And another big fan - Janelle Monae:



And finally - Young Marble Giants, live:


Sunday, April 24, 2016

Easter, 1916

100 years ago today elements of Irish Republicans rose against the English, demanding independence. They seized the Dublin General Post Office, and a few other business, and held out a few days against the British army sent to out them down. It was not a very effective rising, nor a popular one, but the British - in the very depths of the Great War at the time - were in no mood to fool around, and set about executing the leaders without much ceremony. And that made the rising far more popular among the Irish, and, you could say, ultimately successful. The dead became martyrs; the living were more dedicated to their purpose, and would continue on, striving for an independent Ireland, that would come.

Abd Yeats, the poet, would brood on the rising, and the deaths, and would write about them. And get, I would have to say, the essence of revolution - its appeal; its folly; its ways of corrupting its adherents - too long a sacrifice can make a stone of the heart - but a stone that transforms the world, as well, perhaps. A terrible beauty is born.

Easter, 1916

BY WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS

I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

That woman's days were spent
In ignorant good-will,
Her nights in argument
Until her voice grew shrill.
What voice more sweet than hers
When, young and beautiful,
She rode to harriers?
This man had kept a school
And rode our wing├Ęd horse;
This other his helper and friend
Was coming into his force;
He might have won fame in the end,
So sensitive his nature seemed,
So daring and sweet his thought.
This other man I had dreamed
A drunken, vainglorious lout.
He had done most bitter wrong
To some who are near my heart,
Yet I number him in the song;
He, too, has resigned his part
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,
Transformed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Hearts with one purpose alone
Through summer and winter seem
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.
The horse that comes from the road,
The rider, the birds that range
From cloud to tumbling cloud,
Minute by minute they change;
A shadow of cloud on the stream
Changes minute by minute;
A horse-hoof slides on the brim,
And a horse plashes within it;
The long-legged moor-hens dive,
And hens to moor-cocks call;
Minute by minute they live:
The stone's in the midst of all.

Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven's part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse—
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Was I What You Wanted Me To Be

Well, I wasn't planning to write about Prince this month - this is not the way it is supposed to work. But I have to. I have to find words to wrap my head around this news - it is beyond unexpected. And horrible.

He is, was (how awful to write that - "was"), like Bowie and Dylan (who I was planning to write about this month, and will get to), an artist I revere, but - find very hard to get my head around. He was in the air in the 80s - the dominant musician of the decade - others might have sold more, gotten more attention (Michael Jackson or Madonna, say); I might have listened to the indie punks I've written about here over the last couple years more... But Prince was the one who got on both lists. The biggest acts of the decade - the best acts of the decade - and my favorite acts of the decade. He defined the 80s. He redeemed the 80s (though I can't deny being pretty fond of a lot of the music of that decade, not just indie and punk, but it's best pop acts - Madonna at her best; Michael Jackson especially early; George Michael - new wave stuff, like The english Beat or ABC or Talk Talk - rap, obviously - etc.) Still: Prince redeemed it, transcended it, he was better than all of it. He did everything. He did everything as well or better than anyone else. Maybe more pop/soul/funk than anything else - but everything you could do in rock is in there. He claimed all of music history for himself, and bettered it. (Look at his Superbowl Halftime Show - playing a couple of his greatest hits, and running through a quick history of American rock music - Dylan and CCR to Foo Fighters and back to himself - making it all his.) The - what do you call them? middle early records? - Dirty Mind, Controversy, 1999 - are pop/soul/funk to be sure, but they are also New Wave - clean and spare and tight - put them on headphones, and they sound as minimalist and precise as Young Marble Giants - and funkier than funk. Never mind something like Sister, which, spare as it is, is basically a punk song... Then comes Purple Rain, and he takes on and betters arena rock. And you get indie rock songs like The Cross, you get hiphop, you get Zep impersonations - everything.

And in the 80s, along with the music, there was more. There was always something explicitly Utopian about Prince - getting beyond race, beyond gender, beyond sexual preference, beyond the duality of spirit and body - though without ever losing any of it. He didn't transcend race or gender, he embraced all of race and gender. Am I black or white? Am I straight or gay? - well - sure - why not? It's all good. And on a practical level, he played it out: he appealed to anyone who would listen. The rock kids, the dance kids, the pop kids - bringing all of those things with him to your favorite genre, which he played as well as anyone at home there. And always sexy and funny.

I'll tell a couple stories - this one is kind of sketchy, but the basics are this: I remember having an argument, sort of, with a girl in college. She was a Bowie fan. She was defending him - I don't remember the details, but I compared him to Prince, two chameleons, two brilliant musicians and writers who deliberately tried to be everything it was possible to be.But sShe didn't like Prince - or - maybe she liked the music, but she found him disturbing. The sex! the religion! the - something. I remember asking her how she could like Bowie for the very same things, and not like Prince. I wish I remembered the details - did we even finish the conversation? I remember thinking about it - thinking it came down tot he fact that she was religious herself, and I think it came down to the fact that she was religious herself, but Bowie's polymorphous perversity was safe because he never pretended to involve god or religion. He could be cool without being religious. But Prince didn't let her break things apart like that. He was everything Bowie was, and he was steeped in the church. He claimed everything, and claimed it was all continuous - black and white, male and female, straight and gay, spiritual and physical, sex and love and ecstasy - it's all a game; we're all the same; do you wanna play? I think that's what bothered her - he didn't let people keep their distinctions, he could recite the lord's prayer and then wish we all were nude in the same song. (And I think she was complaining, specifically, about Controversy.) He really did break down barriers - and the barrier between sex and the spirit is a pretty big one - and Prince wasn't going to let anyone out of it. "I am something that you'll never comprehend." Sex and god are the same thing. Worrisome, maybe....

The other story is clearer. This happened in 1989 - the opening of Batman, with it's Prince soundtrack. I saw it twice the weekend it opened. First time at a sneak preview at the old Cherie theater in Boston, the backbay - sellout crowd that looked like a Prince audience: white, black, Hispanic, Asian, all mixed up together, and everyone absolutely stoked. They cheered everything - they cheered the previews, they cheered the credits, they cheered all the stars, and they cheered Prince maybe louder than anyone. They cheered all the way through, every joke, every fight, every song. It was, easily, the best movie showing I have ever been to. The next night, I went to see it again, with a different bunch of friends (a couple black kids and 3 or 4 white guys, a fact worth noting.) This was at a suburban mall, and though the crowd might have been almost as diverse as it was the night before, the vibe was completely different. The white people and black people came in in separate groups, sat in mutually exclusive blocks, and (after a brawl before the movie started, when some white kids mouthed off to some black kids over holding seats for their friends), when the film started, cheered and booed in separate blocks. The white kids cheered Batman; the black kids cheered the joker; the black kids cheered Prince - the white kids booed Prince.

Who boos Prince? How do you boo Prince? That night was pretty decisive, I think, in making a city boy out of me - took a couple years to have the resources to afford to move to the city, but I got there... but after that second night - I never much cared about the suburbs again. I figured I'd take my chances in the city, with the city people, with the Prince fans...

And then, in the world, the 90s came - Prince got weird, changed his name, stopped sounding quite as vital. I stopped listening to the radio, MTV stopped playing music. And when Prince got weird, I let him go, and didn't really come back to him until the last couple records. Which have been pretty good in themselves - and of course, completely unlike each other. I have been hoping to dig through the last 20 years of his music before writing about him - I guess that's off, though the digging will still be on... But it gives this essay more of an 80s feel than it should have - and makes it sound as if Prince has been in hiding the last 25 years, and that's not true either. Sometimes weird, yes; probably not as immediately compelling as he was in the 80s; but still at it, and still a force.

Still, quite possibly, American's greatest rock and roll star. Which probably means, the world's greatest. Quite possibly.

All right.

Songs - a top 10? because that's the format, right? Hey, I did a Beatles top 10 - I can take a shot...

1. When Doves Cry - this is, maybe, the best single ever; I suppose you have the usual suspects - Hey Jude, say - but damn... Certainly when I was listening to the radio - seriously: was there ever a song that, the first time you heard it on the radio, came out and grabbed you by the neck like this?
2. Controversy
3. Kiss - this is a pretty damned good single too; and another example of what a light touch he had - the stripped down sound, full of space, all the sounds clean and precise, and always funky.
4. 1999
5. Sign of the Times
6. When You Were Mine
7. Dirty Mind
8. I Would Die for U
9. I Wanna Be Your Lover - though I remember the first time I heard this, too, on American top 40, Casey Kasem - I think i remember old Casey saying something about Prince playing all the instruments... I thought, ooh - listen to that dirty pun! and - cool song. Also - speaking of Casey Kasem, Richard Lyons, from Nagativland, also died today... these guys are from England and who gives a shit?
10. The Cross - yeah, I'm a sucker for tuneful guitar rock...

(Sorry, then, to many many songs - Head and Uptown, Sexuality, Let's Pretend We're Married, Delirious and Little Red Corvette, Purple Rain and Let's Go Crazy, Raspberry Beret - oh well...)

As for video - this is more trouble than it is worth, since old Prince made life hard for video posters. He had his reasons, and he had the right, but - maybe - youtube is kind of the radio of the 21st century, maybe - for some of us... It's all right. I will find what I can:

Like this full concert in 1982:



And Dirty Mind, from the same show:



Here's a live version of When Dove's Cry - I wish I could find the actual video, which is almost as much a kick in the ass as the song, but Prince's copyright lawyers have done their work - but this will do. From the period - Wendy on guitar...



Purple Rain live on TV (I had a different video here yesterday; it was gone overnight - but this one works):



Can't really ignore this video:



And here's Partyman, from the Batman soundtrack - playing Harvey Dent for the video. I remember thinking, they should cast Prince as Robin in the sequel. (Since Harvey Dent was already Billy Dee Williams). Oh well; no one listens to me. (And they even recast two-face when he got his star turn. Jesus.)



And a couple videos showing his mad skills on the guitar, on other people's songs: here he is doing Creep, with an epic solo at the end...



And here he is playing with various Traveling Wilbury's at a tribute for George Harrison - he comes in halfway through and - everything else disappears.... top this, mere Beatles!

Friday, April 15, 2016

Friday Music on Tax Day

Well - I am late with this month's band of the month post - it's been a bit of a hectic month so far... Next week! definitely! for sure! Today? well - I guess we can say something nice about income taxes - hey! there are a lot worse ways to pay for a country! Things could be a lot worse: baseball is back... it LOOKS like spring out, though it's still pretty brisk out there... Liverpool pulled off a mind-boggling comeback in the Euro league... it's good! So here are some songs:

1. The Beatles - I Want You (She's So Heavy)
2. The Dictators - Baby Let's Twist
3. The New Pornographers - Twin Cinema
4. Six Organs of Admittance - Hold But Let GO
5. Decembrists - Summersong
6. Sly & The Family Stone - Life
7. The English Beat - Save it for Later
8. Boogie Down Productions - You Must Learn
9. Maximum Balloon - Pink Bricks
10. Thelonius Monk - Nice Work if You Can Get It

Video? First, let's honor the day - two very rich white men whining about taxes over Neal Hefti's riff. (But if you whine this cleverly, who is going to complain?):



And how about a little KRS-1? BDP, 1989, video:



And finally, coming to us through the generosity of Steve Wozniak, heres' the English Beat, saving it for later: