Tuesday, September 02, 2014

The Fall of Atlanta

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

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

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

Friday, August 29, 2014

Another Week in the Books

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

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

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

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



I think Linda Ronstadt is in order today:



And - here's Monk, live in 1963:



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

Friday, August 22, 2014

Fighting the Power

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

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

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

Video? Gotta have this:



Pixies, slicing up eyeballs...



And Beasties, of course:



And live vintage Throwing Muses:


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Chikamatsu Monogatari

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



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

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



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

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



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



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



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



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

Friday, August 08, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

And so - 10 songs:

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

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

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



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



Or real early - 1981 - Diane:



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



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



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

Monday, August 04, 2014

Another World War I Post

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 01, 2014

August Friday Fun

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

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

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

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

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



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



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

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Battle of the Crater

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 25, 2014

Tour de France Fridays

Another Friday.



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

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

Enough of that. Music.

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

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



And Warren Zevon:

Friday, July 18, 2014

The End of an Eventful Week

We need some music. The world is having one of its spells - things going bad in the Ukraine - or more accurately, trouble in the Ukraine spilling out... or this local story - about a funeral director with 12 bodies in a storage facility. Great.

And that after Tommy Ramone's death - immediately after my post on the Ramone's. That made for a very irritating coincidence - most of that post was a repost from 2004 - which I put up the week before Johnny Ramone's death. Thankfully, I have no other occult powers, when it comes to music.

On a happier note, Germany won the World Cup - the final was a very well played game, 0-0 until 112 minutes in, but an active and gripping 0-0, well played and closely contested - both teams earned their chances. It was probably a just result - maybe not as obviously as in 2010, when Spain got their deserved victory very late as well - but Germany was the best team in the tournament, the best team in the world. The Cup over all was quite exciting - very evenly matched all the way through, with almost all tight, exciting games in the playoffs. (Brazil's 2 stinkers being the only exceptions.) Having come through a superb, well contested tournament, where almost everyone looked like they deserved to be there, FIFA will probably act quickly to make sure it doesn't happen again - talk about expanding the teams in the field, to 40 or more, has been around - that should bring back the 6-0s and the bus parking of past tournaments. But while it is a mistake to underestimate the cynicism and greed of FIFA, it's best to think on what they get right - the game itself...

And - speaking of sport (and Bastille Day!) - it's also Tour de France time - this year has been a kind of bloodbath, with the top two favorites, Chris Froome and Alberto Contador, forced to pull out, with a broken wrist and broken leg. It's a strange sport to watch on TV (if you have a life), but surprisingly compelling. Strategy and planning (long and short term) and bursts of excitement - I have become semi-addicted to it... though not yet to cycling as a whole.

Enough. Another beautiful day (after a nasty tropical beginning of the week), and time for some random music:

1. The Seeds - 900 Million People Daily (All Making Love)
2. Gene Vincent - Five Days, Five Days
3. The New Pornographers - Centre for the Holy Wars
4. Of Montreal - Hegira Emigre
5. Outkast - Spaghetti Junction
6. Danielson Famille - Ye Olde Battleaxe
7. Billie Holiday - Strange Fruit
8. Dinosaur Jr. - There's no Here
9. Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots part 1
10. Buzzcocks - Nothing Left

And video? That Billie Holiday song coming up in the middle rather overpowers the rest of the list... But you can't pass by something of that power:



There's not much that can follow that - live Buzzcocks have a fighting chance:



And end with Of Montreal:


Monday, July 14, 2014

Happy Bastille Day!

Is there anything more French that women, bread and art?





Maybe the roofs of Paris?



Happy Bastille Day!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

World Cup Final

We're down to the end of the World Cup. Holland beat Brazil for third place, 3-0 - that wasn't much closer than that. Tomorrow, we get the final, Germany vs. Argentina, coming in off very different wins - Germany's 7-1 demolition of the hosts; Argentina's 0-0 penalty win over the Netherlands. It's an interesting matchup.

I think Argentina is the story of the tournament. They came in built around Messi and their fantastic forward line - Higuain, DiMaria, Aguero - hoping to run people over, in front of a suspect defense. Instead? they started slowly - winning their group games narrowly, being shut down by Iran, being put under pressure by Nigeria - all the way looking very questionable in the back, and very dull up front. Messi did his work - but the rest of them were completely MIA, and Messi himself looked increasingly human. (Or completely surrounded most of the time; and the rest of the team didn't do anything to free him.) Then - they shut down Switzerland, shut down Belgium - and did both with increasingly organized, strong defensive work. And did the same with Holland. All of a sudden, they look like one of the best defensive teams in the tournament. It's been fascinating - 4 years ago, they poured in the goals, but the first organized team they played took them apart. This time - the goals dried up early, and they've turned themselves into Italy. Everyone still talks about this being Messi and 10 guys, but the last couple games have been Mascherano, the defense, and some other guys. (And Messi started turning up in front of his own penalty area...)

As for Brazil - they are being treated as the story after their collapse, but it's an odd collapse. They were thrashed by the Germans, beaten by Holland - but neither of those results look very surprising. They were coming - Brazil showed very little up to that point - the real story is probably their ability to outlast Chile and upset Columbia. Those games fooled me a bit - made me think that Brazil was getting cynical - willing and able to take the air out of the ball and win on set pieces... Not that that tactic would ever beat Germany, but it can keep a respectable scoreline. Instead, they decided to play all in attack against overwhelmingly good counterattacking sides, first Germany then Holland. They got their deserts.

And it was interesting in the third place game, watching the end - Brazil this time managed to hang around, though never looking all that strong. But in the last 10-15 minutes, the Dutch were still playing, and Brazil seemed to be looking for the exits. It brought the third goal - and summed things up. Brazil seemed completely lost in those games - willing to attack, especially early, but lost on defense, and once they fell behind, with no answers. Not enough offense to overcome a lead (they never mounted the kind of rally other teams did - look how the US reacted to being down 0-2, or Columbia, or look at the end of the Mexico-Holland game, or the end of the Switzerland-Argentina game, or even Greece when they went behind) - and still unwilling to play defense. They just folded up.

Anyway. Holland, meanwhile, had a nice world cup - beating Spain out of the gate gave them a nice path through the tourney, and they took advantage of it. Arjen Robben showed up - he was probably the best forward outside of James Rodriguez, and was again today.

And Germany? has done what they were supposed to do - they have been by far the best team, able to shut people down, able to score, able to play fast or slow, good on set pieces, good counter attacking, and good at ball control. They've done everything right. They are a game away from winning it all - and seem a good bet to do it. The way Argentina has been playing - they might shut the Germans down, but that is going to be harder than shutting down Holland or Belgium. Unless something changes, it is hard to see them scoring a goal - maybe a set piece, but that's less likely against Germany than most teams. And Messi? teams have handled him, especially in the second round. Germany should do it better than the rest. So - a good chance for a 1-0 German win, maybe they'll get 2, who knows. That's the likelier result, but Argentina is certainly capable of a win, whether through penalties, or a goal here or there. It should be a good game.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Hey Ho, Let's Go!

This month's Band of the Month is the Ramones. This post is going to be different - because I have already written it, basically, back in 2004 - reviewing End of the Century and memorializing Johnny Ramone. And really - most of what I would say now, I said then - so I might as well just repost it. (Editing to stress the music, and the autobiography... I've cannibalized these things before, for comments on some of the others bands I've written about - but I can live with that.)

From the movie review:
Punk: I heard it late, and probably didn't really hear punk for a while - what I heard first were bands like the Talking Heads, Elvis Costello - The Cars, if that counts (and probably it does, in some sense.) I don't know what the first punk song I ever heard was. Probably "Train in Vain" - I knew the Clash was a punk band, heard that - thought, this is not so strange - this is just a bit rougher version of Tom Petty or Neil Young - this is pretty good! And then I heard "Lost in a Supermarket" and thought this is even more so than the last... And then I heard "London Calling" - that's when I realized what people were talking about with punk.

The Ramones I didn't hear until End of the Century came out - "Rock and Roll Radio". I found it to be just about exactly what it was meant to be - those big melodies, the big sound - I loved it, without thinking it was anything but just a great little updating of all those old pop classics you heard on oldies stations. When I was youngr than that, I rather liked bands like The Bay City Rollers, Shawn Cassidy - those cheesy pseudo Rock 'n' Roll teeny bopper bands... The Ramones struck me as making music like that that was, unlike theirs, original (in both the sense that they wrote it and the sense that, even playing this old fashioned sound, they sounded brand new, and completely real), and absolutely legit. None of the calculated crowd -pleasing - the feeling I got from the Ramones was of a bunch of guys who absolutely worshipped the music they were playing and were trying to express pure glee with it.

It is strange - it is hard to believe, thinking about it - the poor Ramones, never had a real hit - nothing huge. Nothing like, oh - "We Will Rock You". They never sold the records - but within a year or so, that song - "Rock and Roll Radio" was as inescapably part of the universal pop culture as "We Will Rock You" - just, somehow, divorced from the Ramones themselves... And while maybe nothing else from the Ramones has reached that level of popular penetration, their music has permeated pop culture. Everyone knows them, loves them, takes them - took them - for granted...

Sometime in 1980, the radio stations where I lived got cool. I don't know when or why or how, but that year, I heard everything - I heard the Ramones, the Clash, the Talking Heads and Blondie and The Cars and Elvis Costello and The Police, I heard the B-52s, Split Enz, The Vapors, Sniff and the Tears, The Greg Kinh Band, U2 - all of this alongiside, on the same station, I think, as all the AOR stuff around. Zep and the Doors and Stone and Hendrix - and a good dose of Bruce and Lou Reed... not to neglect Southern Rock - crappy metal (Ozzie, Ronnie James Dio, Def Leppard, The Priest) - party rock (George Thorogood) - art rock (Steely Dan to ELP)... This did not last that long. Radio in Boston, in 1981 or so, was similar - less classic rock, more punk, new wave, and edgier punk and new wave (you could hear Soft Cell and the Damned in those days... the FCC was not so curious - you could hear "Jet Boy, Jet Girl" on the radio...) All this stuff layered on top of my fairly well established AOR music tastes - I liked a lot of the newer stuff, though I still separated it from the old stuff. That started to change as U2, REM, and eventually groups like the Replacements and Husker Du entered my consciousness....

But the Ramones - yes, the Ramones. Somewhere in here (80 or so) the radio started playing older stuff - "I Wanna Be Sedated" - sometimes "Sheena is a Punk Rocker", covers - "Do You Wanna Dance", "Needles and Pins" - very rarely, though, anything deeper, harder than that. Much later I heard those songs - and then a buddy of mine got Ramones Mania, and we wore the tape out, driving around listening to it over and over. And so... years after that, on a drive to New Jersey with some people, we had only 2 CDs in the car, and listened to Rocket to Russia through 3 or 4 times - that was a very good thing. It does not wear out its welcome. Every time "Cretin Hop" kicks in, you think - should I tell them to turn it off? Why should I? who's going to regret hearing this again? And so - again....

And from Johnny's memorial:
I was heartbroken by the news of his death. That surprised me a bit - I was sad, but not heartbroken when Joey died, and he was a lot more likable. It’s probably the timing - I'd seen the movie, and was writing about the band, thinking about them - and then he died. It hurt - far more than most celebrity deaths (Marlon Brando, say) - almost as much as when my transcendent cultural heroes (Johnny Cash? Charles Schulz?) died.

It’s odd, feeling sentimental about Johnny Ramone. Joey made sense - but Johnny? He was an asshole - no one liked him. He comes off very badly in the film - a sour, mean, bitter man, with a cruel streak - the way he turns to his wife and puts her on the spot about whether there was any tension between him and Joey, and won’t let her get away with uttering a platitude or too. His wife - the woman he took away from Joey, causing that break. Classy. But at the same time, he comes off as someone who knew what he had in the band - who knew, maybe even better than the others, how fucking good they really were (he says in the film that only the Clash were close to them - the only way to dispute that is to note that the Clash aren’t in their league.) He knew what he had, and respected it (The Ramones) immensely, to the point of realizing it was worth more than his petty feuds.

So, yeah, he was an asshole, but he was also a genius. Everyone says he inspired a raft of guitar players - true. And he and his band (but in a lot of ways, that is him - the sound of the band, if not their material, is really Johnny’s guitar, fully formed from the very beginning, pure and unwavering from that point on) did inspire a raft of musicians, making simplicity possible, making it possible for anyone to be in a band. I myself - I fiercely regret that I did not hear them in time. If I had heard them, instead of Kiss, in 1976? Where would I be? Better than I turned out, right? They were cool, they were simple, they were honest, they were perfect.

That is the last word on them: they were a perfect rock band. Very possibly the perfect rock band. And Johnny Ramone was, probably, the perfect rock guitar player.

So back to the Ramones - their place in the world of rock and roll, my reaction to them. About what they did - their sound, their importance...

The dirty secret is that I am ambivalent about them. Not really the Ramones themselves, but sometimes the propaganda about them, the propaganda that surrounds punk. You never hear anyone talk about the Ramones without talking about killing off the dinosaurs - and about simplicity and fun as if that were somehow antithetical to “seriousness” or virtuosity. That was not part of the first wave of punk. The Ramones' contemporaries were bands like Television - guitar noodling eggheads; Patti Smith - poetess; the midwest bands - Rocket From the Tombs, The Mirrors, the Electric Eels - coming out of the 60s bands, Stooges, Velvets, MC 5, the garage bands, the art bands (Captain Beefheart, Red Krayola, the Mothers, etc.) It was not monolithic - it was just devoted to freedom, aggression, to expression. The Ramones were part of it - it is a bitter pill to hear them being turned into another force of conformity.

I have to stop somewhere. I have the luxury here in blogland of developing whatever it is I'm saying over time. So I can come back. But I want to finish with this - something I wrote down back when Joey Ramone died. Punk changed everything - but it did more than kill off what was on the radio and replace it. (It didn't really do that - just exposed so much of what was on the radio as the shit it was.) It created plenty new - but it also changed what was already there. After punk - and when I say punk, I mean The Ramones - you could, if you were listening, hear the rock in the bloat of what came before. It didn't so much kill off all the Led Zeppelins and Black Sabbaths of the world as redeem them. Robert Plant once said that "God Saved the Queen" was a slowed down version of "Communication Breakdown" - which it is. But you needed punk to hear it again. It changed the way people listened to heavy metal - after punk, people could hear Bonham's drumming, Sabbath's drive and AC/DC's punch again. That is what punk did for me - I started listening to punk in earnest in the mid-80s - and it sent me as much for my old Zep and AC/DC records as for the punk-derived bands around at the time (The Replacements, Husker Du, Butthole Surfers, The Meat Puppets - my personal mid-80s favorites). I was not alone - as grunge would soon show us...

I can live with that... And so on to a top 10:

1. Blitzkrieg Bop
2. Rockaway Beach
3. Pinhead
4. Cretin Hop
5. I Wanna Be Sedated
6. Teenaged Lobotomy
7. 53rd and 3rd
8. Commando
9. Bonzo Goes to Bitburg
10. Now I wanna Sniff Some Glue

And video: a very great video for I Wanna Be Sedated:



Sniffin some glue in 1974, with that little Sabbath riff in the middle. (And 2 more songs in the 6 minutes of the clip.)



If you have an hour - live in Germany, 1978:



1980 - doing Rock and Roll High School and Rock and Roll Radio:



For a change of pace - a 1988 clip from Regis and Kathy Lee:



And right up to the end:

Monday, July 07, 2014

World Cup Semi Finals

It's been a lively first couple rounds of the knockout rounds - that have somehow ended up with all the favorites going through. It took some strange things to happen - from Chile and the US hitting the woodwork at the very end of regulation; a cheap penalty for the Netherlands against Mexico; some close misses and some spectacular goaltending to keep teams out - it's been amazingly tight, and all the more amazing for all the favorites to go through.

So now? it could still happen - Argentina against Belgium looked the best they have in the whole tournament; Holland had to go to penalties (and get some heroics out of Tim Krul, brought in specifically for the penalties) to beat Costa Rica (who were about the best defensive team in the field, when all is said and done.) Brazil is missing Neymar (a result of a bad foul at the end of a horribly reefed game, full of hacks and dives that were called but not carded, which just kept encouraging the violence), and Tiago Silva - they are deep and steering though, and have won the last two on possession and pragmatism as much as talent - which is Germany's plan as well - they could win. But it could also be time for the upsets - if Germany winning can be called an upset. Holland winning might be one, but not a huge one - they have scuffled at times, but Robben might be the second best player in the tourney to date (the best was James Rodriguez, by a significant margin - what a joy he has been to watch!), and Argentina has not been all that dominant - but they have won everything - same as Holland. It is going to be a corker, at least if the refs do their jobs. They have for the most part - the Brazil-Columbia game has been the only real stinker in the knockout stages. Should be fun.