Friday, February 05, 2016

Snowy Friday Random Ten

Another week in the books. One without any famous artists dying - which counts as a triumph this year. It is looking like a good weekend to be on the earth - snow! normal snow, it seems - 5-8 inches, wet and sloppy sure - but after last year, there's almost relief in getting just a regular winter snow storm. And - really, it's not supposed to be crowding 60 this time of year in Boston... Even better, the Coen brothers are back - Hail Caesar on the big screens! Always good. Sooner or later, the mails will bring me that big Rivette set - soon! soon!

I may even finally get around to writing my 2015 end of the year post. The way films come out, it's very tempting to wait a bit longer, until one more thing comes out - but I guess it's time. Expect it soon.

And, of course, the primary season is now officially underway. The Iowa caucuses are in the books, with the usual scramble to turn whatever happens there into a useful narrative. So - Trump falters! Little Marco Rubio surges! Hillary and Bernie tie and - what does that mean? Sanders on the rise? Clinton on the wane? or Clinton still winning, even in the places where Sanders can concentrate all his efforts? they all say all of that. Twitter is ugly - but we should take a deep breath and remember (as Matt Yglesias, cited here on Balloon Juice, says): "most Democrats like both Clinton and Sanders." Even the candidates seem aware of this, as their remarks (cited on another Balloon Juice post) about picking VPs attest. This is the time to try to get your favorite in - as long as everyone unites and votes in the fall for one of those two.

And so? Music:

1. The Feelies - Raised Eyebrows (live)
2. The Byrds - Pretty Boy Floyd (live)
3. Lou Reed - White Light/White Heat (live)
4. Six Organs of Admittance - Attar
5. Nirvana - Heart Shaped Box
6. Flaming Lips - Aquarius Sabotage
7. Highrise - Sadame [turning into a very feedback heavy Friday]
8. Bloc Party - Letter to my Son
9. White Stripes - Passive Manipulation
10. PJ Harvey - Man Sized

And video? got some find options today, huh? Feelies are always a good place to start:



Here's Lou, with some old English guy singing along...



And Roger McGuinn and Marty Stuart playing Pretty Boy Floyd; this is not a Bernie Sanders campaign ad, though maybe it should be:

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Jacques Rivette

Jacques Rivette has died. He was 87, and apparently has been suffering from Alzheimers disease for the past few years - I had heard he was ill, and so am not surprised. Still; saddened. The news come the day after I finally finished paying my 88 pounds for the new Out 1 collection - unfortunately, before this object crossed the ocean to my front door, so I can't spend the next week watching it... But it is coming...

He is One of the Great Ones. I haven't posted any kind of list of favorite directors lately, but if I did, he would be up there - top 10 somewhere. I came to him late - most of my favorites I discovered in the mid and late 90s, when I started watching films obsessively. I saw some Rivette in that period, but didn't see enough until 2007, when I saw a whole series - that immediately elevated him to his place among the greats. I do remember when I first heard about him - when La Belle Noiseuse came out - that was before I was an obsessive filmgoer, and the main thing I remember about it is that it was a very French film about a painter that had some actress naked for 3 hours. Some time after that, probably around 1998 or 99, I finally saw a Rivette - Haut Bas Fragile - by that time I had become an obsessive filmgoer, I knew who Jacques Rivette was, in a general sense (historically), and had seen some films obviously influenced by him - Pascal Bonitzer's Encore, possibly, or some of the Assayas or Desplechins films that call Rivette to mind... I liked it - quite a bit in fact, though I don't know if I could have explained it at the time. Later, Va Savoir got a bit of an American release, and I saw that in the theaters. And I tried renting the Story of Marie and Julian, though the DVD copy I got was damaged and I missed the opening 15 minutes or so of the film - which made it even more incomprehensible... Though still enjoyable. I liked Va Savoir very much - liked The Story of Marie and Julian well enough. It meant that Rivette had gone into that pile of directors whose films are just too hard to see - so you have to wait for your chance and take it.

That's what happened: the HFA booked a whole run of his films, and I went to see them, starting with Paris Belongs to Us, the Nun and Celine and Julie Go Boating - and those three were enough to put him in the pantheon, and then I saw Out 1: Spectre and L'Amour Fou and Jeanne la Poucelle and La Belle Noiseuse - and that settled it. They all hit me hard - you can see the comments from back when I wrote about films I saw, at the Rivette link - his films, once I saw them clean like that, really hit the sweet spot. All those doubles and old houses and games and plays and lost manuscripts - that stuff fascinates me; the structural games - but also the sense of play, invention, imagination in his films. Their playful postmodernism - if I had been able to see Paris Belongs to Us in 1993 or so, I would have saved a lot of time. Back when I was reading Pynchon and Barth and Gaddis and McElroy and Queneau and DeLillo, and reading about them - it struck me when I saw the film how well it matched them. Like Lookout Cartridge or V, with its mystery plot, lack of resolution, the lost artists and artifacts, the shadiness of the whole thing, the way it comes apart and gels into something sinister at the same time. Seeing it, it felt like something I had been waiting to see - and then I saw Celine and Julie and the short Out 1, and those were even more perfect. They bring in the other great thread in his work - the making of art, of theater, or sometimes music, painting, etc. But especially theater, since it is art as collaboration, as invention and exploration, and as acting things out. Maybe most of all, he gave us a view of art as play. That convinced me. That series, and his films, changed how I saw films, and probably how I saw the world.

It is sad that there will be no more Rivette films - though given what I still haven't seen (the three titles in the Arrow set I just bought, mainly - Out 1: Noli Me Tangere, Duelle and Pont Du Nord), I have plenty to look forward to - and more, his films have a kind of inexhaustibility that makes rewatching them as surprising as watching them. The ones Ive managed to buy never disappoint, and I keep noticing more to them, more twists and ideas and details. And more - his films have been immensely satisfying, intellectually - but they are also, always, exceptionally entertaining. They are full of pleasures, like early Godard, as well as depth and thought. He was one of my favorites, and will be missed.

Work, pleasures and mysteries:

Friday, January 29, 2016

Volunteers of America

Friday again - here I was about to write that we'd finally made it through a week without any famous musicians dying, when I read that Paul Kantner has died. I suppose he is less iconic than the others who've passed this year, but not that much less iconic - or maybe, more indissociable from his band. I can't deny that the Jefferson Starship became something horrible in the 80s, but how many bands didn't? (And I suppose the worst of it came after Kantner took Jefferson away from them.) Still - the Jeffersons weren't necessarily the first rank of rock bands, but they were big - they were important - and at their best, they were damned good. Airplane or Starship. Though I have to admit - Marty Balin is my favorite...)



Up against the wall, motherfuckers! Ah, for the days when politics was serious and people wrote interesting songs about them... Now? we get dimwit moochers occupying bird sanctuaries, for some reason... And a presidential race between the sensible party and the extremely silly party. Though the sensible party has been misbehaving more and more as we close in on the actual voting. I see more and more from both Bernie and Hillary supporters abusing the other - to hear their opponents talk, only hacks support Clinton, and only bros support Sanders. Bernie's a dreamer! Hillary's a Republican! Bernie's a communiss! Hillary's rich! I guess it's normal. I worry about the few - mostly on the Sanders side, I am sorry to say - who say they will never vote for Clinton - that is an attitude I can't accept. Whatever you think of Clinton, or either one of them - the Democrats have to win the White House for the sake of the country. Go listen to Donald Trump a while. No. Parties matter, more than the people probably. In officem there probably isn't a dime's worth of difference between Sanders and Clonton: there's a Goldman Sachs bonus check's difference between either one of them and the sanest Republican.

Speaking of Republicans - I will outsource commentary to Edroso I think.

Enough. Music it is! Random Ten!

1. Mahavishnu Orchestra - You Know, You Know
2. The Velvet Underground - What Goes On (live)
3. The Kills - Gypsy Death and You
4. Madonna - Beautiful Stranger
5. Little Feat - Crazy Captain Gunboat Willie
6. Sex Pistols - No Feelings
7. REM - Carnival of Sorts (Box Cars)
8. Spirit - Morning Will Come
9. Fairport Convention - Doctor of Physick
10. Blood Brothers - Burn, Piano Island Burn

And again, for Paul Kantner - by favorite Airplane song, written by Kantner and Balin:



Something soothing from the Blood Brothers:



And the Kills:



Friday, January 22, 2016

Already Gone

Another Friday, another 70s era rock star gone. I can't pretend that Glenn Frey compared to Lemmy or David Bowie, but I would also be lying if I denied his importance in my life. The Eagles were the first records I ever bought - Life in the Fast Lane single (not Glenn Frey, though - Joe Walsh), then Hotel California itself. Not long after, I added their greatest hits - and for a year or so, listened to them, quite a lot. And then? my friends and relations were more Kiss or Aerosmith fans, so that's who I listened to more - then I discovered Styx, and though that's hardly a huge step forward, for me, it served as an invitation to more - what? AOR rock? I guess. Better anyway: it wasn't long before I was listening to Led Zeppelin and the Who - real music...

The Eagles went on their way, and I laughed at them with everyone else. But still - they weren't half bad. That isn't high praise - and if you want an honest critical opinion of them, at this late date - sure: they come off like a third or fifth generation copy of Untitled era Byrds - mushy country inflected rock-pop, catchy enough, but without a lot of character, smug and professional to a fault.... But they still aren't half bad. Even watered down Byrds is pretty good, and they were undeniably talented - they could play, they could sing, they wrote some songs that get in your head and don't come out - songs that come close enough to being great song as not to matter. So - no: I can't love the Eagles, or ever not snicker a bit at them - but I also can't help but like more of their songs that I care to admit. They aren't half bad.

And finally - whatever else the Eagles did, they were inspiration for the best TV show I saw last year. That might not sound so impressive if I admit I only watched 2 new TV series all year (Mr Norrell and Jonathan Strange, and Documentary Now!) - but still. The Blue Jean Committee episode of Documentary Now was really fantastic - parodying that California soft rock sound, but gentle and soft - parody that doesn't deny its pleasures, and gets all the little details - the look, the sound, the gaps between the musicians' roots and their ultimate sound, or their on and off stage personalities - all that stuff. It's fantastic. Playing around with all the sources - The Eagles and the Band, the Byrds (the singers being named Gene and Clark might be a hint), all the west coast bands (no matter where they might actually be from), from CCR to America to Poco, to Martin Scorsese, VH-1, Spinal Tap - all in an hour of television. And it's mix of mockery and affection - well - that's not far from how I feel about the Eagles now. They're a bit of a joke - but they're also pretty damned good.

And so? we need a list - so here's what Genius gives me from the only Eagles song I have on iTunes:

1. Eagles - Hotel California
2. CCR - Up Around the Bend
3. Steve Miller Band - Fly Like an Eagle
4. Beatles - The Long and Winding Road
5. Bruce Springsteen - Hungry Heart
6. Beach Boys - Good Vibrations
7. Pink Floyd - Us and THem
8. Rolling Stones - Ruby Tuesday
9. Led Zeppelin - Good Times, Bad Times
10. Neil Young - The Needle and the Damage Done

Here they are trying to rock out - actually, no - this is a heck of a song:



And from 74 - James Dean - a low down bad refrigerator... I'm not sure what James Dean ever did to deserve this, but still...



And Mojo Nixon's thoughts on the Eagles' legacy:



And here's America with Gene Allen (Fred Armisen) from the Blue Jean Committee...

Friday, January 15, 2016

Ain't No Need of Crying

Happy Friday. Not very happy, is it? Somehow, the bad new from the entertainment world keeps coming - before people got over the shock of David Bowie's death, we're faced with Alan Rickman's. I wish he'd played Sherlock Holmes somewhere - he was this generations Basil Rathbone, and ought to have gotten a shot at Rathbone's most famous role. Alas. He was mind-bogglingly good in a lot of film - too few of which had anything else going for them. He stole most of them, even the good ones, without seeming ruffled in it - what can you say. He'll be missed.

Well - miserable news that is, but the world goes on. It's a Friday, and we need some music. So - randomize! time to randomize!

1. Warren Zevon - Accidentally Like a Martyr
2. Gomez - Song in My Heart
3. Kings of Leon - Dusty
4. Sensational Alex Harvey Band - Hammer Song
5. Sleater Kinney - Not What You Want
6. The Bards - My Generation
7. Rance Allen - Ain't No Need of Crying
8. PJ Harvey - Happy and Bleeding
9. PJ Harvey - Working for the Man (where did the randomizer go wrong? though Polly Jean is a welcome place to stick, I suppose)
10. Red Krayola - The Story So Far

And some Video? How about Rickman as Rathbone in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves? These seem to be deleted scenes - though it makes you wonder why they didn't delete all the scenes with Costner and just make a Sheriff of Nottingham movie. Rickman's all I remember from it...



Such as - Call off Christmas!



And some music - here's Warren Zevon:



And how about Rance Allen, because there ain't no need of crying when it's raining:

Monday, January 11, 2016

David Bowie

This year is starting with too much death. Today I hear that David Bowie has died. It is hard to know what to say - his importance is obvious; he was one of the great ones. I haven't gotten to him in my band of the month series, largely because he is hard to sum up - too protean by half, a master of everything he turned his hand to. A very fine actor, when he tried it - in Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence - in the Man Who Fell to Earth, his star power, his beauty and his skill create powerful characters, unique characters. Though even as a musician, he was maybe first an actor - building new characters, in the songs and to sing the songs - songs always as performances, in every sense. Look through a bunch of performances of a single song - how they change, music, attitude, pose, character - it's wonderful.

I will miss him.

Here is Heroes, on Marc Bolan's show - a glorious performance:



And a neat video to Space Oddity, 1969:



And finally, playing Waiting for the Man with Lou Reed:

Friday, January 08, 2016

Rock and Roll Ain't Noise Pollution

God heavens, we're a week into 2016 already! Second Friday - band of the month time - and I think I want to start with a pretty straightforward band of the month - AC/DC, the pride of Australia. They're easy to write about, their appeal is obvious and direct and, as far as I am concerned, undeniable. I don't have to say a lot: they are what they are - straight and hard and direct and utterly reliable, from the beginning to the end. They are one of those bands whose music sounds inevitable to me - bands like Motorhead, like the Ramones - and the Feelies, in a slightly different vein. They have found a style, a sound, a groove, and they work it, pretty much just the one, and they have perfected it - and more than that - made it sound like it has always been there, always will be, and is just as it should be. They play a type of music that thousands of bands play - and somehow, sound completely unique - no one else sounds like them.

I know there is a lot more to it than that, for any of those groups - but it is a place to start. And then you can talk about their virtues - the guitars, first - those sharp, precise rhythm tracks (Malcolm Young is just about as good a rhythm guitarist as it gets), the clean, precise (that again) solos from Angus, the propulsive rhythm section, the charismatic squall of either singer (though Brian Johnson never comes close to the glories of Bon Scott), and the first rate song-writing. Simple songs, built on basic chords and obvious structures, but every riff well chosen, every melody memorable... And lyrics as efficient as anything, and usually funny as hell as well - Scott's especially. Lots of stoopid there, and more stupid, probably, that Lemmy or Iggy or the Ramones gave out - but Scott, especially, could turn (and deliver) a phrase (concrete shoes, cyanide, TNT), and build an attitude, and turn the attitude on its head... they are a funny band, as well as fun, deliberately funny - the songs, the act (Angus and his strip tease), Scott's voice - what can I say? What more can you ask?

Top 10 Songs:

1. Back in Black
2. Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
3. Ride On
4. TNT
5. It's a Long Way to the Top If You Want to Rock and Roll
6. Rock and Roll Ain't Noise Pollution
7. Big Balls
8. Jailbreak
9. Highway to Hell
10. You Shook Me All Night Long

Video: Bon singing Jailbreak,



Though first - YouTube offers this - pre-Bon Scott AC/DC - that doesn't sound a bit like them...



This is more like it, complete with Scott pretending to play the bagpipes and OWNING the camera:



TNT, 1976:



Highway to Hell:



Back in Black:


Monday, January 04, 2016

Edward Copeland

I have mentioned before the strange way the internet can expand the number of people you will come to mourn. This week, I read, from Matt Zoller Seitz, that Edward Copeland has died. Edward Copeland was the pen name of a man named Scott Schuldt, who ran a blog, mostly devoted to movies, but with some TV and politics and personal posts as well. His blog was one of my touchstones, back in the late 00s - a source of great writing; and for his occasional surveys and list posts - Oscar rundowns; or elaborate multi-voter projects like the foreign film poll he hosted, the Ray Memorial 100. The blog had some of the flavor that Wonders in the Dark has now - multiple writers (though Edward himself tended to dominate), broad interests, a sense of community - lively comment section, plenty of back and forth among blogs - strong opinions, expressed forcefully, but with the expectation of debate... I liked his blog, and his writing, very much, and have missed him, as his health took him off the net. He suffered from multiple sclerosis - and for some years, has been bedridden, and for some time now, struggling even to write. He wrote about his illness, on the blog and on facebook - those posts made wrenching reading, but in the past year or so, they have become very rare - which I suppose is more wrenching still. I miss seeing his posts come up, on facebook or in my blog feeds - I did not know him, beyond the kind of correspondence and interactions we have on blogs and facebook and such, but I will miss him.

(And I can't fail to note that he was the one who got me on Facebook in the first place. Back in 2007, around the time of the foreign film poll, I think, he sent me an invite - probably along with the other participants in the poll, or in his email address book... either way, I did it, and that was that.)

Friday, January 01, 2016

Lemmy

Happy New Year! somewhat. Today is Friday, a day for a music post - and this week, one music story stood above them all - the death of Lemmy Kilmister died earlier this week - one of the great ones. He's been at it a long time - playing in Hawkwind first, then forming Motorhead, stripping his music down to something that roared like an express train. He is one of those musicians, like the Ramones, AC/DC and a few others, who are both infinitely influential, but no one else quite sounds like them. Lots of bands have a lot of Motorhead in them - not very many get it all. He will be missed - it as a comfort knowing he was in the world.

And now - let's see what Genius conjures up from Ace of Spades, shall we?

1. Black Sabbath - Lord of this World
2. Sex Pistols - Problems
3. The Ramones - 53rd and 3rd
4. Iggy Pop - Some Weird Sin
5. Pantera - Message in Bood
6. Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers - Chinese Rocks
7. Black Flag - Rise Above
8. AC/DC - Love at First Feel
9. Bad Brains - Banned in DC
10. Dead Boys - Sonic Reducer

Video? Start back in the day - Lemmy in Hawkwind:



Ace of Spades Promo:



Killed by Death, live:

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Year End

I should post something to say good bye to 2015. (This New Year's post is starting to be a tradition.) I should post something - I have had a terrible year on this blog - the lowest post total ever, including the year I started in June... Sad. It is a chore.

2016, I am sure, will give me plenty of things I could write about if I were masochistic - it is an election year! 2015 has been a campaigning year, and a horrific one at that. The sensible party marches along, with an appealing old geezer running against a depressing old politician, either of whom I can vote for with no regrets (though I will not be voting for any Clintons before I have to). The Republicans, meanwhile, run out dozens of nobodies with no chance of winning a national election (assuming people show up), and little chance of winning their own lunatic election... More than one of them embrace something that comes closer and closer to open fascism (with its xenophobia and racism and willed, learned stupidity, its authoritarianism, its corporatist economics, and its deliberate dishonest fantasy), with the most fascist being the front runner most of the time. Fuck - it's depressing to watch. You want the party you disagree with to be someone with policies you don't prefer - not a bunch of con men and apparatchiks competing for place in the tabloids with the Kardashians, and promising to reproduce the glory days of 1865 Virginia. The whole lot of them pissing their pants in terror of the possibility that there's a Moslem somewhere in the world who isn't donating to their campaign.

Right. More happened in 2015 than politics, I suppose. Right? I have found it hard this year to write about anything except politics and music, something I have to change. I will not be so foolish as to post resolutions here - but if I did, "blog more" would have to be one of them. About the only things I have managed to do this year were my essays for the Wonders in the Dark Childhood Countdown - I am happy with those, and always honored to be part of their projects... But I have to do more than that. I can promise a couple things for the coming year - 1916 is 100 years ago, and that means, Verdun and the Somme - yes indeed - Great War blogging! Things are about to get really bad... Maybe some Lawrence of Arabia blogging too, while we're at it - since that part of WWI seems to still be going on, having barely stopped in the 100 years meantime. This year's bogeyman is ISIS - but how much of the last 100 years have not had something bad happening in the middle east? Most of it caused by misguided attempts to fix last years' problems...

Politics again. I should leave off the politics... or accept my fate and write about politics... or the weather - I see the Heat Miser got his way - springtime at the North Pole! We are all doomed. It was 60 here last week, 50 last weekend in Vermont, then we got snow, and it's back int he 40s again - who knows. It was mild last winter, up throuigh the end of January, when All Hell Broke Loose.



I can live without that again. All right - it's still early - not going to try to post this at 11:59 this year - do it now and then spend the evening watching Thin Man movies? might be, might be. Happy new year!

And happy new year, from this naughty fat cat, about to knock my Columbo and Monty Python DVDs on the floor. Awful beast!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Friday! 2015 Random Ten

Well? It's Friday - the holiday season is coming up on us - a week from now is Christmas - the next week or so will probably ber very hectic. Not that it will show on this blog, which has become a sparsely populated place. And here I almost forgot to post something for the one routine I have managed to (mostly) preserve, the Friday Music post... But I didn't forget! So now, before heading off to see MacBeth - here's some music. Today's Random Ten will be drawn from records released this year - I didn't get a lot, but I bought some - sadly, the usual array of collection of nostalgia and obscurities I tend to listen to these days. I see one band on this particular list that didn't exist in the 1990s (maybe 2 - when did Arcade Fire come out? or, maybe Chris Thiele?) And 4, I think, that existed in the 70s. well - that's life. At least I am still tossing a few pennies a year into the music industry.... here you go:

1. Sleater Kiney - Bury our Friends
2. Gang of Four - Isle of Dogs
3. Yo La Tengo - Rickety
4. Prince (featuring Lianna La Havas) - Mr. Nelson
5. Rocket From the Tombs - Hawk full of Soul
6. Punch Brothers - Prelude
7. Will Butler - Finish What I started
8. Screaming Females - Ripe
9. Mercury Rev - Central Park East
10. The Pop Group - Shadow Child

Video? The only actual young group on the list - Screaming Females:



And some Sleater Kinney:



And finally - let's go for some full on nostalgia - here's the current version of RFTT playing Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo:

Friday, December 11, 2015

Listen the Snow is Falling

This month on Band of the Month, we look at not a band: Not the Beatles, specifically. That is - John, Paul, George and Ringo, on their own. (I should add - this is not because of Boyhood - I have been planning to do something like this since the beginning - Beatles: Not the Beatles.) And Yoko, because - why not? Yoko gets a bad rap - she was an interesting part of the late Beatles music, and kept John a bit more interesting in after years - and produced (in the Plastic Ono Band) some of the best rock (at least the best hard rock) of the post-Beatles careers. Did it with John and Ringo, too - she's getting into this post, like it or not.

All right - we may come back to that, but for now ... The Beatles, after the Beatles - what is there to say? First - between the lot of them, they made a hell of a lot of great music, were very successful, remained major cultural forces. Given the quality and importance of their solo work, it's just all the more striking how disappointing it all could be. In this case - the whole of the Beatles was very much greater than the sum of the parts. I love a few of these songs, but would any of them break into a Beatles top 10? Working Class Hero, especially, is in the elite - but, let's see - 2 years ago, I had She Said She Said #10 - would Working Class Hero bump that? Not readily... I am not sure why there is such a noticeable gap: they were almost four solo acts by the end of the Beatles; they were all good musicians, but none of them so good or inventive they transformed the band around them with sheer talent (like Richard Thompson or Keith Moon or Clarence White, say); they were all liberated, in some ways, by going off on their own - they all made great music - but it's impossible to forget who they had been.

Now - this is mainly true of John and Paul. George Harrison really was liberated by the end of the Beatles, and finally got to put as much of his music out as he wanted - his career didn't really sustain the strength of All Things Must Pass, but that's a very high place to start - probably the best post-Beatles record of the lot of them. And Ringo too finally got to be the star, and has put together a very entertaining and generous career. So - George, especially, did solo music as good as his Beatles music (in the vicinity at least.) But John and Paul? I like their solo stuff - but it never lives up to their Beatles work, and it is never sustained. I look at the records I have on the computer, on the ipod - and realize there's quite a bit from either of them I'm happy to fast forward through. Are there Beatles songs I'd fast forward through? Revolution #9? if I were in a certain mood, maybe, maybe; usually not, though - I mean, I like experimental stuff! I'm sorry this is so negative - again - they are victims of their own work - everyone looks bad compared to the Beatles, even ex-Beatles.

I think there are fairly definable problems with their solo music, that might be traced to their break. John's songs tend to work pretty well (in the Beatles, I am not inclined to chose between John and Paul; as solo artists - it is John Lennon all the way, the clear and unambiguous winner [and George takes 2nd]) - but they don't have the musical thrill his Beatles songs have. There are good songs - but they are increasingly bland, unchallenging musically. Still often quite good, in a craftsmanlike way - they work, because they are built on simple direct melodies, and are lyrically satisfying - but they are, at best, decent singer-songwriter tunes, elevated by the words. He didn't slip as a lyricist - might even have become more direct and serious (whether that is all to the good, I won't say - but it's a virtue, nonetheless.) But you can read working Class Hero and it doesn't sound much worse than the song - can't say that for She Said She Said.

And Paul tends to reverse this. I can't deny - his solo and Wings material remains gorgeous - melodically, harmonically, rhythmically interesting, stylistically imaginative (if not exactly adventurous) - but... Sometimes drowning in the sweetness - a trait that crept into his music with the Beatles, but never overcame it. And there are songs - the best ones, the ones here - that are, musically especially, thrilling. But - are they songs? He did love collages - Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey, Band on the Run - maybe to a fault? Band on the Run especially, is almost frustrating - he's overwhelmed with ideas, packs three into one song that might have been three songs - though I suppose my real complaint is I wish the middle one had gone on longer - that riff (give it all to charity), I think, might be the best of his career, while the final riff, the bulk of the song is just - nice... But I can't complain - for all the over-sweetness of McCartney's work, it always sound great, as sheer sound. But - some of his songs have lyrics. Not enough of them. And very few that come close to John's lyrics, or even George's (or Paul's own Beatles words.) And more songs that I care to admit barely have any words - or make the words a purely musical element. Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey might epitomize this - a few words, repeated, varying the sound more than the sense - words as music. Which - there - works rather marvelously. It might as well be an instrumental - an instrumental with voices - or, what it is, a collage, of words and sounds and music. And - that's not the problem. But then you start to notice that this isn't all that different from so much of what he did - songs like Silly Love Songs, Listen to What the Man says - a kind of statement, then repeated, varied - sounds great; doesn't say much.

What it means? I think - they challenged each other when they were in the Beatles - I don't know how much they edited one another, but just the sense of competition maybe, forced them to try to make everything work, made both of them be sure they were writing complete songs. Wait, you say - the last couple records were packed full of snippets weren't that? But are any of John's solo songs as musically cool as Polythene Pam, say? No; and somehow that's got to be the point - that together, they pushed each other in ways that going on their own lost. It's strange - but I can't get away from it. It's sad - Paul's musical invention; John's continued lyrical seriousness and ambition - working apart, never pushing the other to make the lyrics or music live up to the rest. Creating two excellent artists that you can't help compare to what they had been.

All right. This is far more negative than it should be - the cruel impact of having been the best, for both of them... I do like them both - have since the 70s, especially McCartney and Wings, who were all over the radio in those days... And - I don't want to sell them short: I've implied it so I will say it plain: that John's lyrics remained pretty much as good as a solo artist as they were in the Beatles (and more direct and political, as well; sharper) - that Paul remained as inspired a composer, and almost as adventurous, as a solo artist. But John was less musical inspired - became far more conservative, as a musician (except with Yoko, interestingly); while Paul became - at worst - insipid as a lyricist... They needed each other.

Unlike George Harrison - who, at least at the beginning, was all the things the other two were as solo artists. All Things Must Pass has excellent songs - words, music; excellent melodies; and is often far more adventurous musically - shifting styles, incorporating more different sounds - harder rock, country, Indian styles, horn sections - it's all over the place in ways the other three never really did (but the Beatles did all the time.) A good place to stop - on the best record any of them made alone...

All right - let's try a top 10. This is a bit painful - nothing like picking a top 10 for the Beatles (along with the commenters back then, we got up to a top 40 that didn't really begin to cover the scope of their work... yeah.) But - Let's do it: 10 best songs by ex-Beatles (including Yoko, because I like Yoko!)

Top 10:

1. Working Class Hero - John
2. What is Life - George
3. Maybe I'm Amazed - Paul
4. Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey - Paul
5. Cold Turkey - John
6. Jealous Guy - John
7. Why? - Yoko (with John and Ringo, rocking out)
8. It Don't Come Easy - Ringo
9. If Not For You - George
10. Band on the Run - Paul

And some video:

George



Here are George and Ringo playing It Don't Come Easy:



Paul McCartney, 2004:



As for John - I've posted a lot of Lennon through the years - not sure I've posted this one - How Do You Sleep, with recording footage (George playing; Paul the target) - a rather unfair piece of work, but a heck of a song:



And Yoko, Why?



And finally - 2 halves of another band that broke up too soon, covering Yoko. Which is another reason to keep Yoko in here - at least in bands I listen to a lot, she probably had more influence than the rest of them put together (post Beatles.) Her unholy squall - and the music around it - shows up all over the place in the 80s and 90s - Sonic Youth, The Butthole Surfers, The Boredoms, etc. - and the pretty stuff - well -



Friday, December 04, 2015

Friday Music Post to Start the Month

Happy December. Missed last week's music post (which has become my only post most weeks), in my post-thanksgiving wallow, but not today! though this will be quick. I do not wish to dwell on the news, for it continues bad - 2 more mass killings in this country in the last couple weeks, a nutcase/terrorist at a Planned Parenthood, and a nutcase/terrorist couple at a developmental center - more rounds of calls for gun control, which generate a lot of emotion, but no political action.... Haven't een as many of the idiotic defenses of guns this time around - maybe I am not looking, maybe it's dawning on people that having lots of guns around doesn't in fact make anyone safer or freer. I doubt that. That implies that the conservatives can learn... Anyway. These are good all American killings at least - pregnant women and disabled kids - along with junior colleges and church prayer meetings, the preferred target of the American gunman...

Music, thankfully, can help us here. Let us see what songs we oculd listen to, shall we:

1. Carter Family - Meeting in the Air
2. Boris - Sweet No 1
3. Ramsey Lewis Trio - Wade in the Water
4. The Andrews Sisters (with Les Paul) - Rumors are Flying
5. Frank Zappa - Valley Girl
6. The Who - I don't Even Know Myself
7. Tinariwen - Iswegh Attay
8. Jefferson Airplane - Hey Frederick
9. James and Kami Thompson - I long for Lonely
10. Janelle Monae - BaBobBye Ya

video? let's start with Ramsey Lewis:



Tinariwen as well:



And - some Zappa kids (and grand kids):

Friday, November 20, 2015

Friday Calls for Music

Hello again. I will try to be fairly brief today, though it's tempting to rave a while. It's been a week since ISIS attacked Paris - vicious pointless mass murder, but I guess that goes without saying. It is hard to say much about it without being pulled into the political aftershocks - which have been very, very depressing. I don't know how, but in this country at least, this attack by Vicious Extremists on random civilians has led, largely to a clamor to stop helping the random civilians trying to flee the same vicious extremists. Why are American's trying to stop Syrian refugees from coming here? That is such a profoundly wrong approach. It's cowardly (strange how quickly Awericans - especially conservatives - are to give up their freedom, their willingness to help others, etc., when something bad happens somewhere); it's cruel and spiteful - punishing the people who ISIS hurts the most for ISIS' crimes; and it's astonishingly bad politics. ISIS claims for legitimacy are based in the idea that whatever they do, they are better for Sunni Moslems than Americans and Europeans (etc.) ever are - and turning those refugees away is like saying, Yes They Are.

That's not getting into the general anti-Islamic politics being trotted out - closing Mosques? discriminating against Moslem immigrants? Databases and ID cards? Concentration camps? I don't know how many of these ideas have widespread support - Donald Trump and some other high profile republicans are supporting (at least floating, as possible solutions) some of these things. Some of the others seem to come from random minor state officials - so who knows. (The Mayor of Roanoke! That's the prize winner: Via George Takei's informed (to put it lightly) response. This, by the way, really gets under my skin: "it appears that the threat of harm to America from Isis now is just as real and serious as that from our enemies then" says the mayor of Roanoke. "Then" by the way would be December of 1941 - when Imperial Japan attacked the US, sinking a good part of our Pacific battleship fleet, while embarking on the conquest of Burma, Singapore and Indonesia, the Philippines and much of Southeast Asia; and when - as of December 11 - Nazi Germany declared war on the U.S. So - ISIS poses a threat as "serious" as Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany together? This stuff used to drive me crazy in the run up to our invasion of Iraq in 2003 - comparisons of Saddam Hussein to Hitler - however nasty a dictator Hussein was, he had a country that was already shattered and held together by a thread (and that only nominally) - Hitler had Germany, the most powerful country in Europe. Etc.... That all aside from the fact that FDR was dead wrong to intern Japanese Americans during WWII. ISIS is not Japan. They aren't even Iraq.)

See? I can get sucked deep into political crap if I want. I don't want. I will stop. Let us hope that music helps:

1. Robert Johnson - Phonograph Blues
2. Nirvana - Frances Farmer will Have her Revenge on Seattle
3. Fairport Convention - Sloth
4. Pogues - Sally MacLennane
5. Miho Hatari - Sweet Samsara Part II
6. Radiohead - Airbag
7. Robert Wyatt - Hasta Siempre Comandante
8. Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - Cinnamon and Lesbians
9. Leo Kottke - Airproofing
10. Slapp Happy/Henry Cow - Excerpt from the Messiah

Video: here's Malkmus and the Jicks, channeling a bit of the Allman Brothers in Paris:



And always good to hear the Pogues: