Friday, April 18, 2014

Punk, Ubu Style

Friday again, more music - and I have to follow up on last week. Actually - go backwards from last week - from Pere Ubu, to Rocket From the Tombs, mostly. A couple weeks ago, I went to see a kid I know who plays in a band - high school kids, they're a punk band, hammering away at their stuff, pretty good at what they do - though it sometimes gets very disconcerting watching them. Teenagers playing a 40 year old type of music, their parents pogoing and moshing along.... it is all very strange, given the claims of punk, then and now, to rebellion - to being a rejection of the past. All the talk back then about rejecting the worn out mainstream rock and roll - nonsense in the 70s, of course, but extremely bizarre now. It's another illustration of my theory that rock stopped in the mid-80s (say) - this bunch of kids (the first couple bands we saw) are playing their parents' music - without any anxiety about it at all. Which is fine with me - though I wish if they were going to play oldies, they'd play better oldies. I kept wishing they'd play Sonic Reducer.

Because before punk even existed, David Thomas and company pretty much summed it up and moved along, a lot of it in two songs: Sonic Reducer, Final Solution. They are very good - and very smart, the way they play their teenaged angst both for real and for a joke, and as something that's already old hat in 1974. Since it was old hat in 1974. They're so smart - their irony, their mix of wild hyperbole and solipsism (which is pretty close to the adolescent condition: hyperbole and solipsism), their distance and knowingness, playing alongside the sense that, at some level, he really means it - or meant it, when he was younger. Something like that. The way those songs embrace the fact that there is nothing new in their teenaged blustering, that it has always been thus for the Youth of Today, and that it has been pretty much exactly thus since rock and roll became the sound of Youth of Today... while at the same time, getting across the point that the reason teenagers keep repeating the same kinds of things is that this is what it feels like to be a teenager - ready to explode and being stomped down at the same time - "they all just pass me by, but I'm not just anyone..." And that became something like the point of an awful lot of punk rock, ever since - and it's all there, more self-aware than it would be again, in 1974. That self-awareness helps, too - it doesn't seem ridiculous to me for 60 year olds to play those songs - they were never a direct expression of teenaged angst - they were always about it, and always in on the joke, and written in a way you could be in on the joke when you are 50, partly because they make you remember just what it felt like to be 15. Always balanced between the real thing and making fun of it - balance of those classic rock riffs and the sense of their ridiculousness, which plays out in the straighahead parts of the songs and the ironic parts and the weird parts. They are nostalgic and mocking, modern and old; they rock out and deconstruct rock. They are fascinating.

It's interesting that Pere Ubu, especially, came up with some songs that seem a bit more direct in their angst. Heart of Darkness and My Dark Ages especially - they seem like a more adult kind of angst, with their literary and film references, their sense of restlessness and solitude, and a kind of loneliness that doesn't feel like it is going to go away any time soon. And musically, they are moving past the standard rock and roll templates - with their drones and minimalism and Ravenstine taking a bigger part. I recognized myself in those songs, far more than the others (especially when I first started listening to them) - I was never a particularly angtsy teenager in the usual sense, but I was a lonely and over analytical young adult. And shoot - there are days, you get in a certain mood, and everything I see seems so deformed - none of the faces fit a human form... you get that....

So - I wish those kids would cover RFTT. Pere Ubu if they want, but hey - they're just a punk band. Rocket is fine. Sonic Reducer is a better punk song than anything since, and not really done to death - it's in there with a couple others early punk songs - Final Solution, Suspect Device - that just never get old.

Though on the subject of RFTT and angst - the Peter Laughner songs are a bit of a different matter. Ain’t it Fun - jesus christ. That’s murder. You get contempt, self-contempt, despair, laid out like a patient on an operating table. In some ways it has distance, but it's almost the inverse of the Thomas songs: something that sounds like it's standing outside the angst, but is all of it exactly accurate. I mean - as far as I can tell that song is pretty much a straight recitation of Peter Laughner's sins. Right up to knowing you're going to die young. It has bite. (And every time I listen to it, I remember a remark someone made about the original RFTT recording - the way in the middle, Laughner takes a guitar solo - and it's completely drowned out by Cheetah, who's amp is closer to the mic.... Poor Pete - he was extraordinarily talented, and drank himself to death at 24, quite knowingly, guessing from Ain't It Fun.)

Videos - latter day Rocket from the Tombs:



Cheetah singing Ain't It Fun:



And maybe Joey Ramone playing Sonic Reducer, with Cheetah Chrome on guitar:



And finally - Living Color doing Final Solution:


Saturday, April 12, 2014

Fort Pillow

I've been neglecting my Civil War anniversaries - though that's going to change around the beginning of May. Winters in those days usually meant everyone went into camp and tried not to die of dysentery and pneumonia, and went back to shooting one another in the spring... And that's what happened 150 years ago - Nathan Bedford Forrest set out on a raid, and on April 12, attacked Fort Pillow, in western Tennessee, on the Mississippi river. A vigorous fight resulted - the Union troops were outnumbers badly, and in a bad position, though they were entrenched - after a few hours of fighting, Forrest demanded their surrender, they refused, and the rebels charged, broke through - and the battle turned into a massacre.

The reason it did, and the reason it became such a touch point afterwards, is that most of the men killed were U.S. Colored Troops. (Though it didn't help, probably, that the white Union troops at Ft. Pillow were Tennesseans.) It was not unique - the Confederates treated Colored Troops appallingly - sometimes murdering them in cold blood, usually selling the prisoners as slaves. The massacre brought all this into the center of attention - leading, for instance, to the breakdown of arrangements for exchange and parole of POWS. The north demanded that captured black soldiers be treated the same as any Federal POW - the south refused. So during 1864, prisoner exchanges ended, and prison camps such as Andersonville became horrific death zones. The war became exceedingly hard in 1864 - Ft. Pillow contributed to that, directly, and as part of the larger changes marked by the use of Colored Troops. It was becoming a different kind of war - talk about a war to free the slaves became less talk, and more reality - blacks fought directly for their freedom; and Northerners increasingly accepted their cause as identical to the cause of the Union.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Boy That Sounds Swell

After I posted last month's Feelies essay, I remembered something I should have said. It's something that contradicts the gist of that essay - or at least reminds me that most of what I posted I wrote in 1989-90. That image of the Feelies as caretakers of dream albums comes from The Good Earth, and their later records; it doesn't fit Crazy Rhythms so well. Now, back in 1989, I didn't have much doubt which I preferred - I remember talking to my boss about the Feelies, before I saw them play that year - he said he loved Crazy Rhythms; I said, that's a great record but I like The Good Earth more... I did - for all the reasons I wrote about last month. But that was 1989, this is 2014; you should take note of the balance of songs on my top 10 - 3 top 5, 4 top 10, the top cover, all from the first record. You might notice the title I gave the essay. You might well ask - what IS your favorite Feelies record, anyway? WOuld I still say The Good Earth? Actually - yeah, I might - but that would be mostly because it stands as a proxy for their live shows. That 1989 essay was written on the occasion of the 7th time I saw them play, and it is rooted mainly in their live performances - which transcend the differences among their albums, turning everything into something fast and sleek - integrating the edginess of the first record with the pastoral and rock of the later ones...

But really, in isolation, as a record, today, Crazy Rhythms would be my favorite. And it's not just a matter of preferring one record by a band to another - it's a matter of preferring a sound, an approach, maybe a tradition. (And this is about preferring one thing I love to another thing I love - a matter of ranking within my favorite things, not about things I like and don't like). It's something that changed in the 90s - in 1989, my tastes were defined by the base of classic rock, and the immediate, conscious influence mostly of the Velvet Underground (plus some country floating around). 10 years later - the ground had become classic rock plus the Velvets and punk plus jazz (and floating country) - but the band at the center was different. I start with Crazy Rhythms, then, because its aesthetic reflects that change in taste - and because it provides a direct tangible link, in the person of Andy/Anton Fier, to the cause of this change. By the end of the 20th century, Pere Ubu was The Band.

There's a fair amount of autobiography involved in how that happened. Like most things, I discovered Pere Ubu late - I heard them - heard OF them - back in 87, about the time they got back together to make The Tenement Year. I bought that record and liked it, without, maybe, overdoing it; at more or less the same time, I found a copy of Terminal Tower, their singles compilation, and that, I will say, hit hard. Even now, their singles are what they are known for, among non-obsessives at least - Heart of Darkness, Final Solution, 30 Seconds Over Tokyo - and they certainly convinced me. They weren't a radical departure, of course - those early songs grow pretty directly out of the Velvets and Stooges and such, which I was long since immersed in back then. And I was immersed in a lot of 80s bands that had certainly been listening to Pere Ubu for a while - Mission of Burma, Husker Du, Butthole Surfers all have their moments. (And the Pixies, though they might have gotten prominent a bit later.) So I took to Pere Ubu fast, and took to them hard - hard rock, literary allusions, Jimmy Doolittle, guitar solos - they had it all, and I was convinced. I found a copy of 390 Degrees of Simulated Stereo; I went to see them play (fall '88 - the people who were supposed to go with me bailed for some reasons - work, most likely, so I went alone, and had to take a cab home - spending some $50-60 on the gig - the most money I have ever spent to see a show, I think, to this day.) I listened to them obsessively for a while, and over the years associated them very strongly with the beginning of summer - something about Street Waves makes me think of the first hot day of June... maybe I should have waited to write about them...

What I didn't do at the time is buy more records. The most flattering explanation I can come up with is that the early ones were out of print - that might even be true. I seem to remember seeing a couple of them - The Modern Dance, maybe Dub Housing - as imports or rarities, wrapped in loose plastic, priced over $20 - as a poor graduate student who wanted to buy as many records as possible, that did not seem to be a good investment. And why didn't I buy Cloudland? I don't think I knew it existed - they weren't on the radio, they didn't get talked about anywhere; and I admit, I rather thought of them as a 70s band, trying to relive the past... But what I had was a good start - and between the singles and the love record, I had most of the early stuff, most of the Modern Dance - even on those old bootlegs, I could tell that was the real thing - if I could find the record, it would probably become one of my favorites; the live record was up there. (One song I didn't have was the one about boozy sailors that made the strongest impression when I saw them live - if I'd known what it was called, or what record it was on, I would have bought that.) In any case - they were one of my favorites in the late 90s...

And then came a real disruption to my musical habits. I went to New Orleans in late 1991 - and when I came back, more or less simply decided that from now on I would listen to jazz. And I did - for half the decade - obsessively - buying everything I could (I had a job; I could buy lots of records), reading about it, etc. And then - I had worked throughout he history of jazz, arriving at last at electric Miles, John McLaughlin, Bill Frisell, Sonny Sharrock, James Blood Ullmer - guitarists - and found myself drawn back into rock and roll. Specifically to Richard Thompson, since this was mostly a guitar obsession; but also - Raygun Suitcase, which came out about that time. And had about the same effect that Terminal Tower did - I listened to it obsessively... and this time, I had money, and their old records were in print - not just in print, packaged in a nice big box.... which I listened to, end to end, singles, 5 LPs, live record and fellow Cleveland bands, for the next 3-4 years.... and came to measure everything else against them.

The seeds were there in the 80s. Terminal Tower has the singles arranged in order - you can work your way into them, trace their development, trace the development of the aesthetic they represent. Call it post-punk - a style looser, more angular than punk, usually more rhythmically interesting, less consumed by its attitude. It's a style that includes Pere Ubu - Television - Joy Division - Gang of Four - Minutemen, all very dear to me; PIL, Mission of Burma, Young Marble Giants, Pylon; that first Feelies record - it leads more directly (I think) to more avant grade music - Sonic Youth and DNA (another direct link to Pere Ubu), the Butthole Surfers; or even backwards, to prog and its ilk - especially Krautrock, Captain Beefheart, Red Crayola (another direct link), Soft Machine, etc... And in Pere Ubu's singles, you can hear it coming - hear it emerging, almost like a process of stripping things away. The extra guitar player, the classic rock sound, the denser, hard rock style riffing - being dropped, bit by bit as you move from the strange noisy rock of 30 seconds Over Tokyo to the classic rock/proto-punk of Heart of Darkness and Final Solution - until they arrive, at the song that probably tipped me, more than anything, to the fact that they were different: My Dark Ages.

It's the first record they made with their classic lineup - Thomas, Herman, Krauss, Maimone, Ravenstine - and it's a song that really defined post-punk, before punk had really gotten going. Even now, it's rather shocking how bare it is - they've pared things down to something a bit beyond the basics, stripped to the bone, digging into the bone - guitar, bass, a bit of drum, and some kind of splatty synth riff, a splash of piano, all separated, with miles of space between them, with lots of empty spaces in the sound, none of it in any hurry - and Thomas coming in like a taxi dispatcher muttering into a mic... I loved Heart of Darkness, but I loved My Dark Ages almost as much, and it was something new - it was strange, it was beautiful, it was haunting and a bit scary, it evoked night in the city where the air can shine - it was great. And there was a guitar solo! (I'm a sucker for electric guitar, and for solos.) A real one, and as thrilling and radical as the song itself - those long, slow slides, the strings of single notes, the biting, acidic tone. Tom Herman’s style is remarkable - simple enough, but brilliantly controlling the tone. His solos are fantastic, absolutely ace. Punk never made much of guitar solos (though that's not fair - American punk, especially, produced a swarm of superb guitarists - Verlaine and Lloyd, Quine, D. Boon, Mould, Kurt Kirkwood), but Herman played solos, solos that didn't sound like much of anyone else - he is hugely underrated... This clip, from 1995, I think proves my point:



It's startling, even now, to notice how spare they are, and almost always have been. My Dark Ages is something of the extreme in their early days (though they certainly stripped things down even more on some of the more experimental records - Lost in Art!), but they almost always have as much space in their sound as any band. Rocket From the Tombs was not spare - two guitarists battling for space, the whole thing dense and powerful - but Pere Ubu's versions of the RFTT songs are already stripped down, cleaner, patient. They stay like that - sounds distinct (even played live) - parts related, complimentary, but not getting in the way. Instruments coming in one at a time, circling each other - maybe coming together into a neat little chorus, only to break up again, wander off, into a guitar solo, a bit of synthesizer or theremin weirdness, a found recording, or Thomas doing his thing... They were never afraid of losing the plot - partly because from the start, they were tight enough to come back to the organizing riff without missing a beat - and when they wanted to, they could swing. They could do anything, and did - abstraction, solid rock songs, pop songs, various warped forms of country, folk and such - all at once! They weren't, in any meaningful sense, a jazz band, but my own enthusiasm for jazz certainly helped me become the obsessive fan I am - it tied to their avant grade tendencies, but also to their ability to navigate the twists and turns their songs took, the skill to get back to the beat when they needed to... and it made me pay attention to things like tone, tones - Herman's slides, the sounds from Ravenstine's synths - less notes, more sounds, something jazz relies on...

And finally - I can't stop this without writing about David Thomas' lyrics. Song by song, they are good enough - but I am not sure anyone has supplied such a store of lines that echo in my head...

I don’t get around, I don’t fall in love much
Image object illusion, go down to the corner, where none of the faces fit a human form
Yeah, I oughta know that nothing's worth the half of half of what it used to
Mom threw me out 'til I get some pants that fit
Out in the real world, in real time, technoramic heartache!
walked around took the bus walked around took the bus
Here's to the details that so often get overlooked
If the devil comes, we’ll shoot him with a gun, if he shows his face, we'll laugh
Don’t fret now baby! Don’t be so tired
On a day such as this insist on more than the truth
(The folderol of fretful peregrination)
one day they're crawlin in the streets, afraid of a strange, free, wide open land
Marchin on the Home of the Blues
In the ghost town inside of my heart the downtown is parking lots
I want to hang around in your Greyhound terminal
One day I will be the best that you can do.
And the radio, AM radio, oh the radio will set you free

There are concrete reason for the excellence of his work - all those turns of phrase; but also the imagery - sharp and clear, and usually concrete - things, places, actions, real or imaginary, realized in clear imagery - we'll drive around and oh we'll fall in love... night in the city where the air just shines - they evoke a place you can see. The emptiness of the nighttime city streets, the loneliness of the lone driver. The settings change - the city in the early songs, the open road, usually, in the late records - always cars, though, diners and bars... All this runs along with his literary and film allusions - titles, lines (maybe in a secret lab works Dr. Moreau), stories (30 seconds over Tokyo), situations - books and movies weave through his work along with the roads and cars and skies and rain... and who doesn't want songs about books and movies?

So finally - when push comes to shove - other than the Beatles maybe, maybe the Stones - this is it: Pere Ubu might as well be my favorite band. Maybe more than that, they are, more than anyone else in this series, mine. I like them more than anyone I know in real life; they have a pretty strong claim for being my favorite band; they are the band I identify with most. I did it literally back in my AOL days - stealing a song title for a handle (instead of a secondary villain in an atrocious juvenile book) - actually, using a couple song titles as handles, figuring it would signal the right people that they were both me - it is a credit to the people I hung out with that more than one of them made the connection. If I ever go to that desert island, and take one band's music along, it will be theirs - if I took one CD along, it would be the first CD in the Datapanik in the Year Zero box set, with the Modern Dance and the singles on it.

Songs - I am tempted to split this out: first run - post-reunion, maybe. Not a balance, but they were better during their first run - but not so much better I like to see the later stuff swamped by the early songs, which is what happens this way. Longevity counts - the fact that they have continued to produce excellent records right to the present day is no small part of my affection for them. I should list off my favorite records, while I am at it.... But - well - start with the top 10:

1. Heart of Darkness
2. Humor Me
3. My Dark Ages
4. Caligari's Mirror
5. Memphis
6. Go
7. 30 Seconds over Tokyo
8. Wine Dark Sparks
9. Final Solution
10. Beach Boys

But I am willing - 10 pre-breakup:

1. Heart of Darkness
2. Humor Me
3. My Dark Ages
4. Caligari's Mirror
5. Go
6. 30 Seconds over Tokyo
7. Final Solution
8. Street Waves
9. Misery Goats
10. Over My Head

And Post reunion:

1. Memphis
2. Wine Dark Sparks
3. Beach Boys
4. Busman's Honeymoon
5. Dark
6. Folly of Youth
7. Electricity
8. I Hear They Smoke the Barbecue
9. Kathleen
10. Rhythm King

And, finally - 5 best LPs:
1. The Modern Dance - you need to memorize this.
2. Raygun Suitcase - a very welcome return to the experimentation of their early records, which simultaneously contained some of their best songs
3. Dub Housing - things are starting to get odd, but this still kicks
4. Art of Walking - really you say? hell if I know. This is as strange a record as I have ever heard, and certainly the strangest record I have listened to end to end dozens of times... but it's fascinating, and contains 2 classic tunes...
5. The Tenement Year - a nice set of songs, with plenty of noise going with it - how much of their style can be traced to the guitarists, I don't know - but they do seem distinct - when Laughner was in the group, they sounded like the Velvets and the Stooges; Herman's records all of a version of that stripped down sound I wrote about; Mayo Thompson makes AOW and SOABM sound like Red Crayola; the Jim Jones records are built around solid indy rock songs, almost pop; the Keith Moline records verge on electronic music - it's noticeable... Anyway - there's nothing in their catalogue quite as strange sounding as Cloudland - pop songs with pop productions - and David Thomas singing? Rhapsody in Pink becomes reassuringly normal after that... But Tenement Year hasn't gotten there yet - it sounds like 30-somthing art punks, like later Wire say - and that is a very good thing.

And now, video. They can be frustrating - there is very little old stuff - nothing before Birdies, in Urgh! A Music War:



They are very well documented in the 00s - here's a complete set from 2013:



And Sonic Reducer, played in a Borders in 2006; you might see something stranger or cooler somewhere, but I doubt it:



In between you can find things - they were on Letterman, and David Sanborn's show, back in the late 80s; here they are with Sanborn and Loudon Wainwright... children point and say he is the one...



And finally - Final Solution, in 1988 - I saw this tour - they were a force of nature, with Chris Cutler and Scott Krause in the back - I was still somewhat of a neophyte as far as they went, but that was a great show:

Friday, April 04, 2014

April Songs

Finally, this week, things start to look like spring - temperature in the 50s, sun out, baseball games being played - a wonderful thing. Now to come out of hibernation myself - I owe myself a bunch of film reviews and posts; next week, a band; and - ought to revive my director of the month stuff. And next month, Wonders in the Dark launches another countdown - Romantic movies... I have plenty of things to do - I hope I can shake my current indolence. (Which isn't really indolence; it's misdirected effort... but that's another post, maybe...)

Enough of that - here are 10 songs, generated not quite at random....

1. Benny Goodman - Santa Claus Came in the Spring
2. Jolie Holland - Springtime Can Kill You
3. Burnt Sugar - Ghost Track Springtime for Chillun
4. Pentangle - Spring Time Promises
5. Pere Ubu - Silent Spring
6. Pylon - Springtime
7. Rites of Spring - Spring
8. Waterboys - Spring comes to Spiddal
9. PJ Harvey and John Parish - April
10. Thelonius Monk - April in Paris

Video? Well - rites of spring, doing spring - that sounds right:



How about PJ Harvey, singing April? Live in Paris...



And Ella Fitzgerald can take us there...

Friday, March 28, 2014

Friday Random Ten

Spring, by the way, might have finally arrived - temperatures getting into the 50s, maybe. March will go out like a lamb! a damp, dingy lamb maybe, as it looks like rain for the next few days, but nonetheless! None too soon... we avoided the worst of the snow this week, though the weather seems to have done us some real harm anyway - there was an absolutely horrifying fire here this week, in the middle of Wednesday's wind-storm: 40-50 mph winds coming off the river seem to have contributed quite a bit to the intensity of the fire. There may have been more to it - afire in the basement of an apartment building expanded extremely fast, injuring several firemen, and trapping others - 2 were killed - I don;'t know if there was a gas leak or something like that... but it seems that once the fire spread, the wind sent it through the building in a hell of a hurry - like a blowtorch, one article said. Very sad, and on a different day, without the gale, who knows...

All right. Now? it is Friday - I don't have much besides our customary random 10. Here goes!

1. Olivia Tremor Control - A Peculiar Noise Called 'Train Director'
2. Benny Goodman Sextet - Seven Come Eleven
3. MIA - Tell Me Why
4. Interpol - Obstacle 1
5. The Sensational Alex Harvey Band - Give My Compliments to the Chef
6. Fire Theft - Rubber Bands
7. David Bowie - Heroes
8. Warren Zevon - Werewolves of London
9. Stereolab - Metronomic Underground
10. Ciccone Youth - Burnin' Up

Damn - it's the tale of two lists - deep cuts and oddball stuff in the first half, then some rather Frequestly Played, shall we say, tunes... So video? Bowie is of course required - especially this fairly glorious clip, with Adrian Belew on guitar:



Alex Harvey usually makes for an entertaining time:



And finally - Benny Goodman, with George Benson doing the Charlie Christian parts:

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Baseball Predictions 2014

Spring is here, you know - though the wind is howling outside, it's still frigging cold, and there's still been snow flying around (though most of it went out to sea - up to Nova Scotia, judging from what my cousins up there are saying...) - but it is spring: baseball season is underway, and all is well. Better anyway.

So what do I think will happen this year? well - roughly:

AL East:

Boston - last year, all my Red Sox Ifs came true - they stayed healthy, the solid pros they brought in all performed to reasonable expectations, Farrell stabilized the pitching staff, and so on. This year - they brought back most of the team, and I'd say, most of the same ifs apply. If they stay healthy - if people perform to expectations... It took a lot of luck to do what they did last year - but it's at least partly luck they made. They stocked up on players - they had cover for the positions where people were hurt (filling up the bullpen like they did.) They've done much the same thing this year - bringing in Mujica and Badenhop and Capuano to stock the pen, bringing in position players, and so on - and they have a deep farm system, that's a year further along. They have risks - Ortiz and Uehara are not young; Napoli, Victorino, Lackey, the catchers have been around the block a few times as well - but they have a good team and lots of depth and should be in the running once more, and might as well be the favorites.

Tampa - as always, they don't have a lot of room for error, but they have a really good core and outstanding pitching - so they should be fine. There's nothing there to make you think they won't be in the thick of things.

Toronto - after making fools of many a prognosticator last year (me included), people are likely to write them off - but I don't think they are hopeless. If they get a bit of luck this year, they could get back to respectability or better. Though they are quite capable of another stink bomb.

NY - I look forward to their decline every year and was finally rewarded last year. Sort of. They had a strange off-season - bringing in a bunch of outfielders and letting Cano walk, which is an odd approach, given that they had decent outfielders last year and nothing beyond Cano in the infield. This year could be grim, unless they put Soriano back at second. Still - it comes down to pitching, and there is at least a chance that could be solid. Or awful - is a crap shoot. Will Sabathia decline? Will Tanaka be Darvish or Dice-K? what kind of pen can they field? I don't think they will be awful (alas), but I don't see a lot of ways they can get into the post-season.

Baltimore - I wish they had more pitching - they could get past the Yankees. They have a nice team on the field - but the pitching seems more than a little suspect. They strike me as being in a difficult race with Toronto and NY for the honor of being the best last place team in baseball.

AL Central:

Detroit - they remain prohibitive favorites. Building on last year - excellent starting pitching; a better bullpen; good lineup, probably balanced better than last year, and better with the gloves (though losing Iglesias hurts.) A solid team in a weak division, and, I think, the safest post-season berth in the game. And a real chance at the world series.

KC - they made great strides last year, and I think they will hang around this year. Maybe slip on the hill, improve with the sticks - who knows. Still - they aren't far off respectability.

Cleveland - likely to regress, but there's still enough talent, and Terry Francona, to be respectable.

Minnesota - I think they could sneak back into the high 70s this year, though probably not much more - they tend to be capable of over-achieving, and I can see people like Hughes and Nolasco giving them a definite bump.

Chicago - they have Chris Sale, right? Actually, they have some interesting young outfielders, who may or may not get them past awfulness.

AL West:

Texas - I think they will do all right. Just as the Tigers are better balanced with Kinsler than Fielder, I think Texas is better balanced with Fielder than Kinsler - that trade should help them. They might not be great, but I think they have the best chance of staying clear of the rest of the division.

Anaheim - can't stay sucky forever. Though soon enough they are going to suck and have to pay Albert Pujols to do nothing: but I suspect before that day arrives he has a throwback season or two. If he and Hamilton have their throwback seasons together, they could be dangerous.

Oakland - they are deep and well put together, but they have been a bit lucky with the pitching the last couple years, and that luck might run out on them. They have some injuries - and a bit like Tampa, I don;t think they have the resources to absorb too many losses. Though they do a very good job of rooting up has beens who still are...

Seattle - there are hints and signs that they could be in a position to improve - they certainly laid out a lot of cash. They should be decent - if they got a dose of luck, they might improve dramatically.

Houston - not much to talk about here yet. Might be in a couple years.

NL East:

Washington - they sort of disappeared for a lot of last year, but were coming on fast at the end - they have arms and talent and should be back at the top this year. It helps to have the competition fall apart of course...

Atlanta - They lost some players (McCann notably), and their pitching has been slammed this year - 2 Tommy Johns so far? They're still pretty good - and could get better, if Heyward and the Uptons bounce back - but probably not past second.

Philadelphia - they haven't really addressed their problems, but have talent hanging around - and the rest of the division is not good.

NY - they added a few people, but not really from the top drawer. Unless Granderson returns to form, which is possible, or Colon's deal with the devil still has some years to run.

Miami - I hope they lose, anyway. They deserve to lose. They don't deserve players like Stanton and Fernandez. They probably won't have them more than a year or so more.

NL Central:

St. Louis - they moved some pieces around, but basically brought back the team, all those young arms - if they stay healthy and develop, they should stay good for a while.

Pittsburgh - they need to make the transition from developing into a good team to staying a good team, which is the hardest thing to do. They should still be pretty good this year, though.

Cincinnati - solid team that should stay solid for a while. As usual, the health of the pitching is probably the difference.

Milwaukee - one of the real wild cards, I think - I expect Braun to pick up where he left off (I'm inclined to think steroids, if they have an effect, mostly keep players on the field, and inflate the overall offensive numbers - individuals tend to stay around where they were, relative to everyone else. Maybe spend more time on the DL. So while Braun's numbers might be down, everyone's numbers are down, and he should stay roughly where he always was, relative to the league.) I hope Segura develops, and Davis too (since I drafted both of them for fantasy...) They could be very good - they could be completely irrelevant. I think. Probably 77 wins and utter mediocrity - the Blue Jays! - but you never know.

Chicago - they seem to add a player a year, though someone else seems to regress. Not likely to factor in any pennant races.

NL West:

Dodgers - yes, they do look very good. I don;t like the Dodgers, but there's not much to say against this team.

San Francisco - this is their On year, right? they still don't have much offense, they still have a bunch of good arms - we'll see. They like the even numbers...

Colorado - why not.

Arizona - Corbin's out - there's not much going on there.

San Diego - they could be a bit better than this - they could menace .500.

Playoffs:
AL: Boston - Detroit - Texas + Tampa and Anaheim, I suspect. I'll pick Boston to come out of it, because I want them to, though Detroit, Texas and Tampa are all quite capable.

NL: Washington - St. Louis - LA + Pittsburgh - San Francisco. I want Washington to come out, but suspect SL and SF have the advantages. Not LA, for all their talent.

Awards:
AL MVP - should be Trout, for the third year in a row.
NL MVP - likely to be McCutcheon again, I think.

AL Cy Young - there are lots of candidates, really - I suppose Verlander is the default choice, but Scherzer, King Felix, Darvish are all good choices, Price maybe, even Lester maybe - Anibel Sanchez - Weaver. Right?
NL Cy Young - all Kershaw until he fails. Though Strasbourg, Cain, Wainwright, Fernandez etc. will be hanging around.

AL Rookie - might as well be Bogaerts. or Tanaka, I suppose.
NL Rookie - Wacha? why not?

And World Series Champions? Time for the Red Sox to go back to back! though - it's unlikely - they still need a bit too much luck. a couple years, when Bogaerts is established, and they've traded for Jose Fernandez, then - you know... now - Boston's still the best team if everything goes to plan - but since going to plan twice in a row would be very rare - Detroit is my safety pick.

Friday, March 21, 2014

First Random Ten of Spring

So spring is finally here - the calendar says so, and the last couple days, here in Boston anyway, I can almost believe it! Sun is out, over 50 degrees for a day or two in a row - what next? More snow next week; temperatures back in the 20s - yeah yeah... Baseball starts tomorrow, though on the other side of the planet. But hey... spring.

In the world? I spent most of last week off the grid - up in Vermont - a somewhat... difficult trip. Car troubles in Montpelier - not fun, when you don't live in Montpelier... It's good to be back, resuming something of a normal schedule - Lars von Trier and Wes Anderson films to see... The news has been a bit off - missing planes; helicopter crashes; dead monsters. Both Slacktivist and Tom Junod contrast the late Mr. Phelps to the magnificent Mr. Rogers - Junod pointing out the astonishing fact that Phelps actually picketed Mr. Rogers' funeral. I suppose grifters gotta grift, but you do wish he'd found a less hideous way of hustling a buck or two.

Anyway - music... Let's keep it simple today. 10 songs, etc.

1. Nightingales - First My Job
2. Blue Oyster Cult - The Subhuman (live)
3. Grinderman - Worm Tamer
4. DNA - Cops Buy a Donut
5. Radiohead - Kid A
6. Badfinger - Icicles
7. Jarvis Cocker - Baby's Coming Back to Me
8. Pavement - Jackals, False Grails: The Lonesome Era
9. Husker Du - The Biggest Lie
10. Robert Johnson - 32-20 Blues

Video? No sign of Jackals, live, on YouTube, so - Loretta's Scars, live in Belgium, will suffice:



And to make up for not having the one iTunes wanted - here's a more recent performance of Summer Babe:



And some live Radiohead...

Friday, March 14, 2014

You Remind me of a TV Show, Well That's All Right Don't Watch it Anyway

This month, we have the Feelies. They come up a lot - they have their own tag - like the Replacements, I've already sort of written them up... Did I say what I needed to say then? Probably not - it's hard to overstate how mind-blowing they were. I alluded to it again, a couple months ago, writing about REM - since the first time I heard them was opening for REM. They stole that show - REM was in fine form, but they were better. I saw Husker Du a few months later - and they stole that show. I saw them open for Sonic Youth a few years ago - they mostly stole that. I saw them open for Lou Reed - the one time they didn't knock the headliners out - probably because Glenn Mercer kept breaking strings... of course Lou was in fine form, but all those bands wee in fine form. The Feelies were just the most satisfying live act I ever saw anywhere.

Still - they provided an odd sort of satisfaction. I wrote myself an essay about them, God - 25 years ago almost - interestingly, one of the first things I typed on a Mac, whatever that is worth. I had just seen them play, for the 7th time I think it was... I've cannibalized bits of it since - looking at it now, it ain't bad - at least, it hits on why the Feelies are one of THE BANDS here. Let's see:

Seeing the Feelies is never quite like seeing a show. Music, I think, is a communal sort of thing. Of course there are songs that should be listened to in your room alone with the lights off, and songs that can be listened to like that, but there is something in music that is meant to be shared. Even private songs almost cry to be shared. Concerts should be the epitome of musical experience - rock concerts especially, where you stand in a hot cellar, banged against and crowded, inundated with the smell of tobacco and alcohol and sweat, and the music lifts the crowd, grabs it into motion, and the crowd (if it is a good crowd, a good concert, a good place) surges side to side, like the sea rushing into and out of a niche in the rocks. I don't mean you have to slam dance at every concert - only that there should be motion at concerts, that music needs motion, some kind of dancing, in a mass, in pairs, something. But the Feelies—

These days, they are almost accessible - they still tune the guitars between every song, but now they use electric tuners (cutting down the delay between songs by several minutes); you can hear the vocals now, almost, sometimes pretty well; they are getting friendlier, the drummers smile, they throw souvenirs into the crowd, at their most recent show, the bassist even cracked a joke and they tried to plug their record from the stage (in the tone of someone contractually obligated to do so of course). Their music is even lightening up - it is harder (as though they had spent the last year locked in five dark rooms listening to The Stooges very loud) [as I said above - I think this is from the end of 1989, so is referring to Only Life - though this sounds more like a description of Time for a Witness, from 91; these old documents have been reworked a few times through the years I'm afraid...], but also more accessible, more conventionally rock and roll. Yet for all that, a Feelies show remains one of the most intensely private experiences imaginable.

Music is usually communal - it binds listener and singer/player, binds its various listeners, creates a community, or the image of a community, even in the most private songs. But not the Feelies. No matter what the context, their songs sound like echoes inside your head, like remembered voices, remembered impressions of the sounds of guitars. The effect probably comes in part from the band’s stage presence - the bowed heads, the expressions of nothing but concentration, the abstracted jumping that looks more like air guitar than real rock-star antics - but there is more. They are rock music’s equivalent to Borges - they do nothing new - they almost deplore the idea of originality, they are content to do covers of songs someone somewhere should have written. Everything sounds like that lost forgotten unreleased Velvet Underground record, or maybe something by Iggy Pop or the Beatles you’ve never heard before.

There are records that exist in dreams that seem as though they should be real, just as there are books you dream about that should exist. In your dreams, you hesitate on these records, songs, pages, drawings - you realize you are dreaming, and some instinct warns you that these dream-books are illusions - they are only dreams. But these books or records are things you desperately want to be real - music you have not heard, new, unknown Beatles records, a Herman Melville novel you had forgotten about, that says just those things you suspected Melville meant to say, but never actually did - and you hesitate in the dream, you wait, you weigh this thing, check it against wakefulness (the subconscious seems to do this), and finally, you decide that it is real. Then sometimes this dream will recur - there is a stash of records, for example, David Bowie, The Beatles, T-Rex, I think, Pink Floyd, and lately, a Replacements record or two have been added, in the bottom of a hope chest in Maine, that though I have never actually found these records in that hope chest in Maine, I dream about, over and over, every time doubting their existence, every time knowing I hadn’t ever really found them there before, but every time rejoicing, when I remember that they indeed are there, and this dream is a memory and not an invention.

The Feelies are the caretakers of these dreams, just as Borges is the caretaker of the libraries of dream books. Both, Feelies and Borges, make art that seems like a synopsis of something already done, something you have heard, on a radio in Vermont somewhere, something you have heard about, seen cited in an article somewhere, seen in a dusty library or a shambles of a record store somewhere. You must always squint when you hear the Feelies, as if trying to remember where you heard this song before, just as you frown reading Borges, wondering if you didn't see the book he is describing on the shelves at Aunt Annie’s library. And maybe you did - The Search for Al-Mutas’m never existed before Borges, and Loveless Love is original to the Feelies, but The Purple Land, generally forgotten, and Take it Any Way You Can may indeed have preceded their reinterpreters; but that strange hesitation is part of the point.

Well - you can see what I was reading 25 years ago. But that's about it - what always struck me was their ability to absorb vast chunks of music history, and play it in a way that sounded both as if it were something you had heard all your life, and something that was just being revealed to you now for the first time. And - that goes for songs I've listened to for going on 30 years. I mean to say - the first time I heard them they were a revelation, and as familiar as my favorite band - and they have that quality now that I have heard them hundreds of times - everything sounds like it has always been there; everything sounds brand new.

And for all my 1989 era mysticism, the fact is that Feelies concerts were just about the most enjoyable, and indeed, communal experiences, I remember. They always conveyed a shared delight in the music - the songs, the playing. Maybe part of the mysticism comes from how easy they were to identify with. (Which may or may not have been a function of being a nerdy white guy.) And this - that they were (and still are) one of the tightest, sharpest bands going. The tight, fast rhythms, the interlocking drums and guitars, the clean sharp solos, their ability to convey multiple feelings in their songs - jittery, smooth, mellow, harsh - they could excel in any mode. They were more pastoral and pretty than REM, harder, more intense than Husker Du, more experimental than Sonic Youth. And - the guitars. I am a sucker for guitars, and Mercer and Million just ride those machines... it is a thing of beauty indeed.

And so - the countdown - which requires two lists of rate Feelies. First, their own material:

1. Slipping (Into Something) - which also provides one of the greatest musical cues in film history: the moment this song shifts tempos in Something Wild - signaling the films' shift in tone... just glorious.
2. The Boy with Perpetual Nervousness
3. Crazy Rhythms
4. Find a Way
5. Loveless Love - another song that makes a film, Assayas' Carlos - coming in as the film seems to take off...
6. The Good Earth
7. Slow Down
8. Away
9. Moscow Nights
10. Decide

And then, Covers:

1. Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except for me and My Monkey
2. She said She said
3. Sedan Delivery
4. Dancing Barefoot
5. Roadrunner
6. What Goes On
7. I Wanna Sleep in your Arms
8. European Son
9. Fame
10. Mannequin

Video:

Dancing Barefoot:

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Young Neil, sped up:

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And another cover - featuring Peter Buck on another of the all time great rock songs... See No Evil:

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And Bowie/Lennon, from Something Wild:



Beatles covers:

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And here's Loveless Love live - just how fast they were live:

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And another live version of Slipping (Into Something), which there can't be too many of:

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Monday, March 10, 2014

Charles Pierce for the Win

Dipping briefly into politics... Here's Charles Pierce, the magnificent Charles Pierce, summing up one of the blights on the American political landscape:
She is the living representation of the infantilization of American politics, a poisonous Grimm Sister telling toxic fairy tales to audiences drunk on fear, and hate and nonsense. She respects no standards but her own. She is in perpetual tantrum, railing against her betters, which is practically everyone, and volunteering for the job of avatar to the country's reckless vandal of a political Id. It was the address of a malignant child delivered to an audience of malignant children. If you applauded, you're an idiot and I feel sorry for you.
The fact that that dim bulb is still running her grift, 6 years after being laughed off the stage... tells you all you need to know about modern conservatism. They are a pack of suckers, and proud of it.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Music Day

Well - I don't have a lot to say today. Daylight Savings Time is coming - painful! I don't want to lose an hour of sleep! I don't want to wake up in the dark! - and for some reason, Grand Budapest Hotel is not, not for another week. Horrible. Cruel. Evil. Anyway... music:

1. Doctor Nerve - Mister Stiff Fries a Dozen
2. The Raplacements - Run It
3. Dinosaur Jr. - Your Weather
4. The Who - They Made My Dream Come True
5. Boredoms - (Star)
6. Delta 5 - Now That You've Gone
7. Johnny Cash - Cocaine Blues
8. Six Organs of Admittance - Harmonice Mundi II
9. fIREHOSE - Number Seven
10. The Germs - Manimal

How have I never heard of Delta 5? despite having one of their songs on the computer? How did that happen? They are pretty amazing - a 2 bass, 2 girl singers version of Gang of Four. How did one song make it to my computer? Just one? strange. Anyway - this is the song above - music only.



Here's another one on Top of the Tops:



and going from 2 bass players to 77 drummers - the Boredoms - their 77BOADRUM incarnation....



And finally - the Germs:

Saturday, March 01, 2014

What About the Oscars?

We're almost there - everyone seems to be posting something, so why not me? As usual, I admit I am not going to watch the show - I can barely muster any interest in the voting and winners.... But it does give me an excuse to post my own favorites in the various categories. So off we go, right?

Best Picture:

So one of my top 5 got a nomination - and stands a pretty good shot at a win. I skipped a couple of the best picture nominations without a good reason (Gravity say) - but... of the ones I saw - 12 Years... is the best - I hope it wins. I didn't love Nebraska, but it's not a bad film - but pretty hard to see it winning. Same for Her, I suppose. I hope 12 years wins - and think that's as likely as anything.

My Top 5:
1. Inside Llewyn Davis
2. Act of Killing
3. 12 Years a Slave
4. Blue is the Warmest Color
5. Beyond the Hills

Director:

It's been noted that since the academy expanded the best picture nominations, they have severely restricted the number of films nominated for any major awards - so - the five nominees are all best picture nominees as well. Annoying, as it does tend to squeeze out some of the alternatives, I think. (They start to show up in cinematography I noticed.) Anyway - I do hope McQueen wins, because that was a great film and he did a superb job. Cuaron seems to stand a good chance, and though I didn't actually see it - that's my fault, not his; I suspect this is a justifiable pick.

My Top 5:
1. Coen Brothers
2. Steve McQueen
3. Christian Mungiu - Beyond the Hills
4. Miguel Gomes - Tabu
5. Olivier Assayas - Apres Mai

Actor:

Of the nominations - shoot: I can't complain about any of them. Wouldn't feel too bad about any of them winning, though a couple stand out - Ejiofor should win I suppose; people seem to think McConaughey is the favorite - I can't complain if he does. Dern would be a nice pick, though he won't get it.

My Top 5:
1. Chiwetel Ejiofor
2. Bruce Dern
3. Mads Mikkelson - The Hunt
4. Matthew McConaughey
5. Toni Servillo - The Great Beauty

Actress:

Of these nominees, I only managed to see 1 - Amy Adams. I hope not. She's fine, but American Hustle is a mediocre and weird film, miscast high and low, including her. Blanchett? why not - she's the consensus favorite, so - fine. My not seeing any of these American actresses is a rather marked contrast to the extraordinary slate of actresses in foreign films (and a few smaller American films) I saw last year, a slate that goes on quite a ways beyond the 5 below...

My Top 5:
1. Greta Gerwig - Frances Ha
2. Adele Exarchopolous
3. Christina Flutur - Beyond the Hills
4. Amy Acker - Much Ado About Nothing
5. Rin Takanashi - Like Someone in Love

Supporting Actor:

Usually, if Michael Fassbender is nominated, he should win. This is no exception. At least until the academy starts nominating Michael Shannon for things. But meanwhile, off in Coen Brothers land, John Goodman steals another picture.

My Top 5:
1. John Goodman - Inside Llewyn Davis
2. Fassbender
3. Gerald Peary - Computer Chess
4. Jared Leto
5. Paul Giamatti - 12 Years a Slave

Supporting Actress:

I saw three of these - Jennifer Lawrence, Lupita Nyong'o and June Squibb. Lawrence had no business being nominated, she's the weakest part of a rather badly put together and cast film. The other two are first rate. Squibb, in a just world, would win; the Oscars are seldom just - I have no idea who will win. The cynic in me says Lawrence. I hope it's Squibb or Nyong'o.

My Top 5:
1. June Squibb
2. Lupita Nyongo'o
3. Gaby Hoffman - Crystal Fairy
4. Amy Adams - Her
5. Carey Mulligan - Inside Llewyn Davis

Original Screenplay:

I saw 4 of the 5; of the ones I saw, I would pick Her, with Dallas Buyers' Club justifiable. Nebraska's script was solid, but a bit too obvious some of the time; American Hustle wasn't bad, but - I dunno. Not a fan. Woody Allen, of course, I'm back on my one in 7 plan, after getting suckered into a couple off year films. I wonder if you can guess, o reader, what film I have at the top?

My Top 5:
1. Inside Llewyn Davis
2. Frances Ha
3. Like Someone in Love
4. The Hunt
5. Enough Said

Adapted Screenplay:

This category actually has a film not nominated for best picture - an upset in itself. I would give the prize to 12 Years a Slave - I don't know if that is going to win, though I suppose it's got a good chance.

My Top 5:
1. 12 Years a Slave
2. Before Midnight
3. In the House
4. Blue is the Warmest Color
5. Much Ado About Nothing

Music or Score:

I don't know; of the nominations - my god: I've only seen Her. So, I guess, whatever. My own choices - I admit, I find the "original score" concept a bit underwhelming - I tend to think of music in film in terms of how the music is used. Songs or original scores or adapted music, it's all the same - it;s how it is deployed. Anyway - it's a category I'm always surprisingly unsure of... but here goes anyway:

My Top 5:
1. Inside Llewyn Davis - I suppose this is inevitable
2. I Used to be Darker - another backstage musical, and a fine one
3. A Band Called Death - I'm not sure what I'm after in this category, but I might as well bring in the documentaries - Death was damned good.
4. Frozen - not the greatest music, but very cleverly used, a neat idea
5. Much Ado About Nothing - cause I remember it...

Cinematography:

The nominees in this category come fairly close to actually matching what was on the screen this year. They are all fine choices. I suspect Gravity wins, because it's the most gimmicky - but you have some interesting films here. Points to the academy... There were lots of great looking films last year to choose from.

My Top 5:
1. Tabu
2. Inside Llewyn Davis
3. Nebraska
4. The Great Beauty
5. Computer Chess (cinematography should not just be about beauty - it should be about the most effective use of photography in a film - and the hideous video of this film is very effective. It's very funny, for one thing, and making cinematography funny is an accomplishment in itself.)

Foreign:

I saw two of these, and probably should have seen a couple more - Great Beauty and The Hunt are both excellent - The Hunt probably the better film.

My Top 5:
1. The Act of Killing
2. Beyond the Hills
3. Blue is the Warmest Color
4. a Touch of Sin
5. Apres Mai

Documentary:

I saw one of the nominees - I don't think The Act of Killing has a chance, but you can see what I thought of it. I don't know if I can justify a top 5 - though I saw more than 5. Might as well, right?

My Top 5:
1. The Act of Killing
2. 56 Up
3. Stories We Tell
4. A Band Called Death
5. Tim's Vermeer (though I don't know if it was actually released anywhere last year...)

And some of the other categories:

Editing:
Never mind the academy, I guess. I liked - Upstream Color... The Grandmaster... An oversimplification of Her Beauty (often an exercise in editing...) As well as many of the films I have listed in categories above. But I did want to work those in somewhere.

Animated:
The Wind Rises just made it here last week - I am going to see it tomorrow. I assume it is the best and should win on principal. Probably won't. I liked Frozen, certainly - Despicable Me 2 was quite good as well. From Up on Poppy Hill was a lovely film as well...

Sound:
I don't know what the academy is up to - there was a Kiarostami film in the theaters last year. And A Wong Kar-wei film... and films like Upstream Color and A Touch of Sin and Inside Llewyn Davis and Computer Chess all did great things with sound. What can I say?

Film Posts 2014

Later getting this up than usual - and rather slow so far posting anything. But I do find it useful to have an index of what I have posted... That is this.

Occasional Pieces & Longer Pieces:

2/3: Philip Seymour Hoffman obituary

Polls, Lists, Memes, and so on:

1/2: 2013 Lists
3/1: Oscar comments and my picks for categories

Reviews:

2/10: Inside Llewyn Davis

Friday, February 28, 2014

Another Friday

Another week and another month gone - I am sorry for the state of this blog. Best intentions or not, I have been very lax in posting here.... Though - I thought I had been a bit more explicit in that post about my hopes to write this year, with comments not only on the history posts I want to do (and will, once campaigning season starts in 1864) but on some of the other things I hoped to do... I guess not... But... I can make plenty of excuses for not posting, some coming down to laziness, some to doing other things - traveling, watching soccer and hockey (the only part of the Olympics I care about really) - but thankfully, a big part of it has been due to a certain non-blogging productivity (as they say in the Corporate World; "productivity" I mean.) I've been reading history, cramming, you could say, for the spring and summer, when Grant and Sherman go off to redeem the United States of America, and 50 years later, when Europe destroys itself and much of the world, though also, in some backhanded way, helps maybe start freeing itself and the world. That's a topic for another day - but WWI and the Civil War are topics that can keep you very occupied.

All right; that is all for now. This is Oscar weekend - I hope to offer some humble something for that... but right now - music, just music...

1. Bob Dylan - I Want You
2. Keiji Haino/Tatsuya Yoshida - Cchjdisoiugpodf
3. Mars Volta - Conjugal Burns
4. Galaxie 300 - When Will You Come Home (live)
5. Blue Oyster Cult - ME 262 (live)
6. Distillers - Hall of Mirrors
7. Melt Banana - His Name is Mickey (live - the live records are heavily represented today!)
8. Gomez - Shot Shot (live)
9. X-Ray Specs - Identity
10. Robert Wyatt - Fragment

Video? A couple songs from X-Ray Specs, live, rehearsal - O Bondage, Up Yours and Identity:



And - not the piece listed above, but - here's Keiji Haino and Tatsuya Yoshida, playing with Damo Suzuki (and others) - what's not to like?



And another performance, rocking out a bit....



And Galaxie 500, live in a high school gym:

Friday, February 21, 2014

Still Winter? Friday Music

Suddenly - it's still February, but the weather has changed. Warm - rainy - like it's jumped a month ahead. I can't complain - I have had my fill of winter. Another storm this week - a very pretty storm this week - icy and shiny snow on the trees, though awful slick slush underfoot. Still - I don't mind winter that much, but I think I have had my fill. Though it won't take me long to start complaining about the rain, if that's what comes next...

Onwards - music - simple random 10 this week, it is. Here goes:

1. Loretta Lynn - Van Lear Rose
2. Pere Ubu - Ray Gun Suitcase
3. Second Hand - Rhubard! [Mojo collection psych rock...]
4. Janelle Monae - Electric Lady
5. Fleetwood Mac - I don't Wanna Know
6. Godspeed You Black Emperor! - 09-15-00
7. Devendra Banhart - Dogs they Make Up the Dark
8. Modest Mouse - Convenient Parking
9. Feelies - Raised Eyebrows
10. Big Black - Kitty Empire

Nice set of songs there, in their way. Let's start, though, with something else - RIP Bob Casale:



And because this might be their best guitar song - and - one of the greatest, strangest, covers ever:



From the randomizer - The Feelies:



And Janelle Monae, on Arsenio:


Friday, February 14, 2014

Left of the Dial

This month's band of the month post will not be as long as usual - because I have done it already, reviewing Color Me Obsessed, the Replacements movie. That post is really the model of these posts - right down to the heavy autobiography. The Replacements were extremely important to me - they marked a definitive break with pop music, and maybe most importantly, with the radio. All the bands I've listed up to now (except Johnny Cash, probably, who I discovered mostly through records people I knew had) I discovered on the radio, listened to and became a fan of from the radio, which led me to the records, and so on.

The Replacements were the first band I came to love that I did not discover through the radio. I did hear them on the radio - they got some airplay when Tim came out, and I think I heard Hold My Life and probably Kiss me on the Bus on the radio - and those songs were enough to convince me to buy the new record (Tim it was.) I also saw them on Saturday Night Live - surprised and delighted by that, making a point of watching it... But I was inclined to like them anyway - I mentioned in the DVD review that I read about them before I heard them, in college newspapers, maybe even in Time or Rolling Stone - and even then, I was beginning to find radio too restrictive. I'd heard a lot of the underground bands in college, on college radio, and late night specials on the more mainstream channels - REM, Husker Du, Mission of Burma, SSD - bands I didn't hear on the regular radio, and by the time I got done with college, I was growing restless. The underground bands that did get on the radio later - REM and X, say, or Joy Division - were better, certainly more interesting, than what was being played in 1985 - so by then I knew I wasn't getting the whole story, and had to find it.

If I'd had any money to spare, I'd have done it all quicker, instead of buying half a dozen records a year. But broke as I was, I spared it for Tim (and Candy Apple Gray, about the same time)> That proved the concept. I'll to paraphrase myself: songs like Hold My Life, Bastards of the Young, Little Mascara, Left of the Dial, Kiss Me on the Bus, Here Comes a Regular - struck me, from the first listen, as being the best written songs I had heard in years, as good as anything I knew. The words particularly - they told stories, I recognized the people in them, they were clever, full of word play, sharp, surprising images and turns of phrase, there weren't cliches - or the cliches were jokes, the jokes were funny - they gave us a world. They were set to the music they needed to be set to - and performed with almost unexplainable directness. Loose, almost careless sounding, but still, somehow, precise, sharp, completely committed. And after that, for a year or two, The Mats were my favorite band in the world. They were what I wanted rock music to sound like. It certainly helped that I saw them, right at the end of their Bob Stinson days, a couple weeks before Westerberg broke his arm and they cancelled their tour and a couple months before they fired poor Bob from his own band. Seeing them live - they came as advertised, an odd mix of drunken shenanigans, half serious covers, snarky noise, and those fucking incredible songs, given strange, sloppy, but usually completely committed readings. They were funny and mind-blowingly brilliant at once. They ended up playing Mississippi Queen until the cops escorted them off the stage at closing time. My god, they were great.

And after the Replacements, almost all the bands I discovered, loved, still love, I discovered somewhere other than the radio - and a lot of them, I never heard on the radio. The Feelies I saw live, the first time I had ever heard them; Pere Ubu - I heard Peter Murphy's cover of Final Solution, but otherwise, I read about them somewhere and bought records on the recommendation; The Butthole Surfers and Meat Puppets I read about, and they sounded interesting enough to check out - bought a Puppets record; went to see the Surfers without having ever heard them (that will make a lively essay when I get to it.) By the late 80s, even the more mainstream bands I liked I found somewhere else, usually MTV - Jane's Addiction; Public Enemy. (Talk about nostalgia - mentioning MTV makes me nostalgic for the days when people were nostalgic for the days when MTV played music.) In the 80s, though, most of these bands I found by reading - I could lay my hands on half a dozen little newspapers - college papers, indie papers, music papers. Since the 90s, most of the bands I have discovered I have found through the internet - a lot by clicking through the related materials on All Music or YouTube - and magazines, Mojo and The Wire mainly. There you go. It was liberating and still is - it means I am dependent on the amount of work am willing to do to find new music, not on someone else putting them on the radio.

And I was willing to do a lot of work in the 80s. The second half of that decade I may have been broke, but what discretionary income I had ended up at Newbury Comix or the Channel - I bought lots of records, went to lots of shows - national acts (almost all playing clubs - The Channel, the Rat, TT The Bears, The Paradise), local acts - or just bars with a house band of some kind. It was good, and I probably feel as much at home listening to music from that time as any time - Mats and Husker Du, Meat Puppets and Butthole Surfers, Feelies, REM (though this is a bit past their time), Public Enemy, KRS-1, NWA, Ministry, The Cramps, locals like the Zulus, Galaxie 500, Buffalo Tom, Christmas, The Blood Oranges... it was a good time, and it started with the Replacements.

That's enough. Let's do the list:

1. Within Your Reach
2. Hold My Life
3. Can't Hardly Wait
4. Answering Machine
5. Color Me Impressed
6. Bastards of the Young
7. Alex Chilton
8. I Will Dare
9. Little Mascara
10. Unsatisfied

Video - start with this, late, 1991, but an early song - I first heard it live, their Pleased to Meet Me tour, post-Bob - they were still good then, but far more professional seeming, and a good deal less interesting. But this is such a gorgeous song - and I went away obsessed with it. It's got Westerberg's way with words - the brilliant twists, sun keeps rising in the west - and the way he twists them live, coming up with new versions, as clever as the originals, sometimes... or - ignoring the originals. Downplaying them in a way that just reiterates how good he is... what can I say.



Saturday Night live - Bastards of the Young:


What a mess by mmr421

Music only version of Can't Hardly Wait, live in 86 - great stuff, which was never guaranteed in those days:



And a very fine live version of Color Me Impressed, 1983:



And finally - Hold My Life, 2013 - Paul and Tommy reliving the old days...