Friday, July 15, 2016

Thinking about What a Friend Had Said

(I put this post off last week because of the shootings in Dallas; yesterday, someone drove a truck into a crowd in Nice, on Bastille day. How long, how long... Well, Neil Young started out in the middle of chaos, and has always addressed it directly, so he's going up. What can you do?)



For this month's band of the month, let us go north of the border, and Neil Young. I've mentioned this a couple other times, but when I started writing this, I was amazed to see how few of his records I actually have on the computer. It's one of the artifacts of FM radio in the late 70s and 80s: these classic rock bands who got played to death - 4 or 5 songs from their best 4, 5, 6 records - to the point that you forget what you have and don't have. I had to go on to iTunes to get Southern Man on the computer just now - I've never noticed I didn't have it...

That's all right. The broader point is that old Neil has been at it a very long time, all of it solid, great swatches of it magnificent - I have not kept up for most of that career, dipping in and out of the new releases, and picking off the old classics when I can. Like Dylan, like Bowie, like Prince even, I haven't done justice to his career. A bunch of records, some of which I have listened to obsessively at times (a friend in college had Live Rust, and we went through that a few times, beginning to end, as I have since) - a bunch of songs on the radio - but a vast catalogue I have barely touched. So - well, we're into that stage of this series, I am afraid...

It is all right. He does have an impressive body of work. It's interesting, of course - being split into a couple fairly distinct streams: the hard rockers - the country rock - with a handful of songs that slide around the edges, like After the Gold Rush - folk, I suppose, but, really - hymns, right? that is basically a hymn... though even the rockers sometimes are basically hymns - the Unplugged version of Like a Hurricane comes to mind - sounding as natural on a pump organ as Rock of Ages does. They are all fairly simple, straightforward songs - always lyrically compelling, of course - and always played and sung with conviction. He bites into his songs, singing or paying - milking everything he can get from his voice and guitar. He isn't exactly a great singer - but he knows exactly how to use his voice to serve the songs. And as a guitarist, he can get as much from as little as anyone. That droned guitar solo on Cinnamon Girl, the album version especially, is as simple and as powerful as it gets. And I can listen to his epics all day - Like a Hurricane, Cowgirl in the Sand - he's always rewarding.

And finally - I have to say, he writes songs that inspire people. He's been endlessly influential, and inspired some really outstanding covers, from all across the rock spectrum. He's one of the greats.

All right - songs: Top 10:

1. After the Gold Rush
2. Like a Hurricane
3. Cinnamon Girl
4. The Needle of the Damage Done
5. Cowgirl in the Sand
6. Sedan Delivery
7. Ohio
8. Hey Hey My My
9. Heart of Gold
10. Southern Man

Video? Start before the beginning - Buffalo Springfield, miming back in the 60s:



Audio only of Cinnamon Girl, live, 1970, featuring the magnificent Danny Whitten behind Young:



The Needle and the Damage Done, on the Johnny Cash show:



Like a Hurricane, Live Rust:



And Southern Man, with CSN, in 2000:



And 3 songs from last year - After the Gold Rush, Hey Hey My My, and Helpless:



Perhaps a cover or two - starting with the pride of New Jersey, juicing up Sedan Delivery:



And Built to Spill, a band that seems built on the ghosts of Neil Young guitar anthems, doing Cowgirl in the Sand:

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Plan 9 From Outer Space



Cross posted to Wonders in the Dark, as part of their Science Fiction Countdown.

Plan 9 From Outer Space is the poster child for a lot of things. Worst film of all time? So bad it's good? Or more positively, as a piece of 0 budget filmmaking, and all that can go into that. But today, I want to write a bit about it as the poster child for the Limits of Intention.

Sorry that sounds so pretentious. But this is the point: that it is a hugely entertaining film, and while a lot of the entertainment value comes from mocking it, it's not just ineptitude that makes it fun - there are some surprisingly clever ideas in there, though you can't always be sure if they are supposed to be there. The film, even in a so-bad-its-good sense, holds its entertainment value. It is strange - see it a few times, and it might occur to you (it certainly occurs to me) that if you took the film as being deliberately made the way it is, as a parody, or as camp, or even as a low budget, slyly raw art film, it wouldn't look much different than it does. Think about parodies, camp, art films - films like The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra or Sleeper, or Killer Klowns from Outer Space - or films by John Waters, Luc Moullet, Guy Maddin: what makes those good films in themselves, and Plan 9 not? Knowing what the filmmakers had in mind, basically. How different would Plan 9 look if it were intended as a deliberate parody? If you ignore the fact that Ed Wood was a real guy with a real career who made films as he did without that kind of explicit parodic intention - if you just accepted that he knew exactly what he was doing - would it be better? even that much different?



I don't think it would be all that different - and if you didn't know anything about Ed Wood, I'm not sure it would be too hard to make a case he meant it like that. It works perfectly well if you say he was Guy Maddin before the fact, instead of saying, he was trying to be Val Lewton (or some other low budget filmmaker, making the best of his material), and just wasn't good enough. I've seen this film in theaters, with people trying to make fun of it live - but what can you say to make it funnier? I used to be a fairly faithful MST3K fan - but I can't imagine they could make this more entertaining than it is. I have seen parodies of Z grade films - how many parodies come up with anything funnier than what is here? The continuity issues, the sets, the acting, the clunky dialogue, Criswell's speeches, Tor Johnson getting stuck coming out of his grave - can you improve on that? It's one of the reasons Ed Wood (the movie) works so well - Burton generally gives you Ed Wood's films themselves, pretty straight. There's some backstage comedy, but he doesn't have to change much of what's on screen. You can see the sets wobbling in the films - seeing them backstage is really just repeating the jokes.

Though of course, in the film itself, they aren't jokes, they're mistakes. But who cares? they are still funny. And sometimes - maybe more than mistakes. Maybe. Wood does try to write jokes - most of them don't come off, whether because they are badly written or the actors can't put them over - but some of them work. And sometimes - especially around the edges of the story - they work better than that. How much of the oddball details, or even the goofy action (cops scratching their heads with their guns, say) are intended as jokes? There's a lot of it - the body falling off its stretcher during the saucer flyby; the drunks reading about saucers over Hollywood; the weird little asides "let's ball it up in Albuquerque." It is full of strange little details that don't come off as just incompetent - they come off as absurd. Meanwhile, the dialogue sometimes slips into explicit metafiction, commenting directly on the action. It's sometimes innocuous, like people at a funeral asking why the wife is buried in the ground and the husband in a crypt - but at other times, it's more thematically relevant. Like all the talk about violence.



That's what makes the question of what is intentional and what isn't, and whether it matters, complicated - the fact that under all the nonsense, there is a pretty serious theme going on. The film certainly builds up to some directly anti-nuke speechifying by the aliens - but its woven into the story all along. "Are big guns the usual way of welcoming visitors?" the captain asks Colonel Edwards, during the big saucer attack early in the film. It keeps coming back: Colonel Edwards saying he has to believe "in what I saw and shot at." Jeff's reaction - "if I see any little green men, I'll shoot first and ask questions later." The aliens give it back, though: "how can any race be so stupid?" Eros asks on the tape; "all you of earth are idiots" - "your stupid minds! stupid! stupid! stupid!"

So Jeff slugs him.

The truth is, as science fiction - well, the plot is nonsense of the highest order, resurrecting the dead to march to the capitals of earth and do something - but it's nonsense with a surprising edge. It takes a big chunk of the plot from films like The Day the Earth Stood Still, with their benevolent (but arrogant and rather impractical) aliens coming to save or damn humanity - but gives it more of an edge. It's more cynical - humans are more instinctively self-destructively violent; the aliens are even preachier and ruder, and not exactly slow to reach for the decomposition rays themselves. All that stupidity and violence (and let's not forget misogyny - earthlings and spacemen alike are quick to put uppity women in their place, even if the women seem rather smarter than the rest of them in fact) is played out, and remarked on. People act like idiots, and someone else is sure to say so. And under it all - Eros is right - humans keep building bigger and better bombs, to the point they can wipe out themselves, and maybe more - and can't seem to do a thing to stop it, and won't listen to anyone telling them otherwise...



There is all that. But there is also this, which is also something that Burton's Ed Wood puts across: the sheer pleasure of filmmaking that comes across from Wood's films. That is true for all of his 50s output - the sense that at some level, he does not care if they are good films or not, because the product is not as important as the act of making the films. That is one of the clearest things they have in common with the camp and art films they half remind me of - the sense of the pleasure of making films that comes through in John Waters' or Luc Moullet's or Guy Maddin's films, or even lesser practitioners like Jared Hess. (A subject I keep coming back to.) These are films about making films: the act of making this film is what counts. There is art devoted to this idea - Michel Gondry's career seems to be built on it; obviously Ed Wood depicts it, and the complete abandonment to the material of filmmaking is certainly one of the things that separates directors like Maddin from Ed Wood. But Wood is the real thing, the way Moullet's films are, and Waters' - films where the film you see is almost a documentary about making a film (for no money at all.) Anything worth doing is worth doing badly - and really, the act of making these films is what really makes them exciting. In Plan 9, you can see the act of making the film through the film - the cheap sets, the one take acting, the accidents, the recycled footage. You can see how Wood wrote the story, dialogue, Criswell's narration around the stock footage he could find. You see it in some of his story telling - the stock footage, the stripped down sets for things like the airplane cockpit or the space ship, that indicate the location, without really trying to depict it. He's telling you the story with whatever he can find - and, whatever might be wrong with the story itself, he does it. The story moves along, it's quite compelling at times (however silly) - and once in a while, he really hits something square.



Tor Johnson rising from the grave is one of the most famous sequences in the film, with Johnson getting stuck halfway out of the grave. But the jokes about it hide the fact that it's a pretty cool sequence. It's edited cleanly and briskly with some decent footage of not-Lugosi and Vampira chasing poor Mrs. Trent, and the images of Clay's emergence are surprisingly spooky. Even when Johnson gets stuck, it comes off half comical, and half like a twist, a bit of pacing, drawing it all out a bit longer. Right up to the end, where the gravestone falls into the grave - a bit of absurdity again, since the stone that falls into the grave is nothing at all like the one looming behind Johnson as he emerges, but it's in moments like that, where the intentions of the scene, the meaning of the scene, clashes with the means of telling it that a lot of the humor, and maybe the joy of the film lives.

And that first shot of Inspector Clay's head coming out of the ground - it's a shot to savor.



It makes it a little harder to make fun of Ed Wood. He couldn't make films to live up to their best moments, and their best ideas, but there are enough moments and ideas to give you some honest pleasures along with the jokes.

Friday, July 08, 2016

Dallas Shootings

I have a band of the month post coming - but the news overtakes me this morning. A day after two awful stories about Black men murdered by the police (a depressingly common event), we hear of an ambush of the police at a protest in Dallas. 5 dead, I believe, at this point. I don't have much to say about this - any way you look at it, murdering cops in cold blood is a bad, bad thing. It is not easy to hold cops to a higher standard when they use violence, if they are targeted for violence themselves. For all the tension caused by controversy and protests about police violence, it's something we can, as a country, move forward on, and have - only to see the progress, and hope of progress, obliterated by terrorism against the police. It's depressing.

So - the regular music post is going to have to wait a bit. For now - this month's featured artist singing about another mass shooting. Back in 1970, it was the national guard shooting protesters; this week, someone shooting police. Different, I guess, but both feel like a hint of war coming to the streets.

Friday, July 01, 2016

First Day of the Somme

100 years ago today, the Battle of the Somme began. The results of that first day's attack are what we usually think of when we think of World War I: slaughter, quick and efficient on an unimaginable scale. 120,000 British soldiers attacked: something like 57,000 were killed or wounded, that day; 20,000 dead. Some gains were made, around the edges of the main battle, but nothing much was accomplished by the men who made the bulk of the attack. The Germans lost about 8000 men in the day's fighting. The battle then continued until November, with the Allies moving the lines forward a few miles, and losing another 700,000 or so casualties, to the German's 500,000.

Everything in WWI comes back to this (at least everything on the Western Front.) Individual battles all follow that form - a massive attack, usually unsuccessful, though sometimes with some progress - that always degenerates into a long brutal slog. You come across attempts to explain or justify some of the tactics and strategy of the war, but these all end up being explanations of how things went wrong in such a battle, and how maybe that didn't go wrong in quite the same way in the next one - though it always went wrong. The details are different in how Loos or Verdun or the Somme or the Aisne or Ypres went wrong, but they all went wrong, hundreds of thousands of casualties, minimal change in the fronts, and no change at all in the strategic situation of the war, except t convince the generals that they needed another battle to relieve the pressure of this battle. That's part of the story of the Somme - a massive British attack that was supposed to relieve the pressure from the massive German attack on Verdun. On and on, death breeding death.

So what happened at the Somme? The British blasted the hell out of the Germans for weeks (having learned, from Loos, that preliminary artillery bombardment was crucial) - but they still didn't actually break the German lines. Most of the German soldiers spent the bombardment hiding well below the surface, and popped back out in time to man their machine guns before the British soldiers arrived. The artillery didn't destroy the barbed wire, so the Brits were funneled directly into the field of fire of the machine guns. The bombardment didn't damage any of the German artillery, which responded quickly and to great effect. Etc, etc. And then - horrible as the first day was, the fact is - if the first day had gone differently, the rest of the battle would not have changed. Even had the British broken the German lines on July 1, they would not have been able to move past the battle zone fast enough: they wouldn't have run into more trenches and the rest of the battle would have gone just abut as it did. Until the tanks arrive, there was nothing anyone could do to end this warfare.

But they kept trying. There's not much more to say, besides to look in stunned horror at the stream of battles that look just like this - massive casualties, noting changed - that made up the bulk of the western front in the Great War. Only at the end, with tanks and a completely exhausted Germany, did it change. It's hard to say what anyone anywhere gained from all this death. It's hard to escape the conclusion that both sides could have sat in their trenches and waited for the British naval blockade to destroy the German economy and force more or less the armistice they signed. That might not have worked out so well for France (where all this fighting was taking place), but then again, France also bore unimaginable casualties in all this - it's hard to what they gained by trying to drive the Germans out. Millions dead. That's pretty much all you can say about the western front.

All right - let's move to some video - first, a 1916 Documentary about the battle:



And some music - Fairport Convention's version of The Battle of the Song, set to a painting of part of the British attack:

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!