Friday, April 29, 2016

Prince Not Prince

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

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

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

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



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



And another big fan - Janelle Monae:



And finally - Young Marble Giants, live:


Sunday, April 24, 2016

Easter, 1916

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

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

Easter, 1916

BY WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 22, 2016

Was I What You Wanted Me To Be

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All right.

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

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

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

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

Like this full concert in 1982:



And Dirty Mind, from the same show:



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



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



Can't really ignore this video:



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



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



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

Friday, April 15, 2016

Friday Music on Tax Day

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

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

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



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



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

Friday, April 08, 2016

Merle Haggard

Well, it's felt like January the last week or so, snow and cold and all - and now comes news that would have fit too well back in January, when it seemed like every week some great artist was dying... Merle Haggard died this week.

He was a giant. In a better world, I'd be writing a band of the month for him - but in this one, I never dove into his catalogue like I did for others. I did for Hank Williams and Johnny Cash, back in the 80s, and early 90s - later, though, I was more inclined to browse through country, picking up familiarity with the other greats - the Carter Family, Merle, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn and so on - without that immersion. I regret it, though, especially with Haggard, who had the weight and importance of Williams and Cash, and would have rewarded every minute I spent listening to him.

Though I got plenty of pleasure from listening to what I did. He was magnificent, and even when he was playing redneck, he was smart and funny about it. He will be missed.

Playing to the base, Okie from Muskogee, with Willie Nelson:



Mama Tried:



If We Make it Through December:



I Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink, from October last year:



Sing Me Back Home:



Thursday, April 07, 2016

NL Baseball Predictions

And now, a couple days late (thanks to a power failure, a baseball draft, and some Comcast shenanigans), here are my National League predictions.

NL East:

1. NY Mets - if the Indians deserve consideration for their rotation - what about the Mets? it's obscene, really, how much starting pitching talent they have. Young and powerful? Personally, I hope they al stay healthy and come through, because I want to see what they can do, all fo them. The Mets, meanwhile, do have a decent team on the field behind them - Cespedes and Granderson and Duda - all solid to very good, a couple guys who could get better - a nice team.

2. Washington Nationals - they have been scorching hot this spring. They have Bryce Harper. They have Scherzer and Strasburg and depth. They certainly can win it. This might be their best chance - Dusty Baker has a good track record or wining, but has that other track record with pitchers - he might be tempted never to take Scherzer out of a game...

3. Miami Marlins - there is real talent here - Stanton, obviously, as well as Fernandez and Gordon and some others - enough to challenge the top two? I don't really think so.

4. Philadelphia Phillies - rebuilding; but they have some interesting players on the team - Franco and the like. They won't be any good, but might be fun.

5. Atlanta Braves - being dismantled, maybe so none of their current fans try to move with them to their new ball park in the suburbs. Freddie Freeman and his cats will surely be hoping for a trade...

AL Central:
1. Chicago Cubs - obviously. They were the third best team in baseball last year, and have added players while the teams ahead of them did not - indeed, the Cubbies took 2 of the Cards' best, in Hayward and Lackey. There's not a lot of downside, un;ess people get hurt - which is a possibility, especially among the starters. They are not as dazzling as the Mets, but Arrieta, Lester, Lackey, Hammel, Hendricks is pretty frigging impressive. The bullpen is solid. There are no holes int he lineup, there are defensive standouts at several positions, there are a couple superstars or budding superstars in the lineup. They have the best manager in the game. They are raring to go. It's hard to pick against them.

2. Pittsburgh Pirates - they didn't lose a lot from last year's second best team in the majors. Cole and Liriano, Melancon, McCutcheon, Marte - it's a good team, still. The NL is still very different from the AL - the AL is the parity league these days; the NL is extremely top heavy. That might be exaggerating the records of teams like the Pirates - they get to feast on teams like the Reds... But they are quite solid, and should b in the thick of the playoff mix again. Though like last year - they are going to have to get past 2 extremely good teams to win their division.

3. St. Louis Cardinals - they have lost a lot from last year - but they have Wainwright back - Lackey for Wainwright is a trade most of us would make (even those of us who love John Lackey.) If Wacha and Martinez can step forward - they could have a rotation that approaches some of the other great ones... The offense has its issues - though getting Holliday healthy would help. Thye are going to be hard pressed to match last year's success - they still have to take on two of the best teams in the league in their division - but they are still a strong contender for all of it.

4. Milwaukee Brewers - I forget they exist sometimes.

5. Cincinnati Reds - I bet they wish they could forget they exist. Though they have some punch still - Votto is aces, Bruce and Merrerro and even Phillips can still play a bit. They have some interesting young pitchers, though they are very young - Iglesias has talent. They are likely to lose a lot, but be interesting doing it. I think.

NL West:
1. SF Giants - it's an even numbered year. They had troubles in the spring, but whatever. Bumgarner is an ace, Cueto and Samardjia should do fine in San Francisco. The offense has issues, but they have players - Posey and Belt and Panik and Pence - not all bad. Other teams have issues too - so - why not?

2. LA Dodgers - Kershaw is somewhat lonely out on the hill, but they have enough talent around him to hang around, I think. They are fragile though.

3. Arizona Diamondbacks - last year I picked all the winterball champions to win - this year I am avoiding them all like a plague. So putting them 3rd is another way of picking them to win the division. Why not? Greinke and Miller, Goldschmidt and Peralta and Segura... I see AJ Pollock is out for a big chuink of the season with a broken elbow - that does not help. But they are an interesting team - they're probably more intriguing as dark horses than as favorites, though.

4. Colorado Rockies - why ahead of the Padres? Arenado, Gonzalez, Blackmon, LeMahieu, Paulson - right? reasonable, I suppose. In the end, they will mostly serve as fodder for the top 2-3 teams in the division.

5. San Diego Padres - another team that was trendy to pick last year, but stunk out the joint and unloaded a lot of their money guys - which means, they are likely to bounce back big, right? I don't know. I wouldn't rule them out, with Shields and Ross - even guys like Kemp could pull up the ghost of seasons past.... It's not really convincing though, is it?

Post-season then? Mets - Cubs - Giants, I say; Wildcards = Nats and - oy: Cards and Pirates tie, so they play each other for the right to play the Nats? why not. I think this is going to come down to the Cubs and Mets - one or the other is going to come through in the post-season, and get tot he series. Where - either of them - will be a pretty strong favorite. (Though the difference between the leagues - the Nats, Cards and Pirates, maybe even the Giants might be the favorites if they got to the series. On the other hand - only the A's have even an outside chance of being as bad as the Phillies, Braves, Reds, Brwers and possibly PAds and Rockies.) All or nothing baby!

MVP = Harper's to lose again, with the usual suspects - Goldschmidt, Votto, Bryant, McCutcheon hanging around.
Cy Young = Kershaw's to lose again. Scherzer and the Mets the likeliest contenders, I would say - maybe Bumgarner.
Rookie = let's go with Steven Matz, shall we? might as well!

Monday, April 04, 2016

American League Predictions and Such

snowing like a bastard out, but baseball season is here so let it snow, let it snow, let it snow! I am going to split the leagues this year, partly because I don't know how long it's going to take me to do the National League (now that I have gotten around to the AL) - so... here goes, part 1.

AL East:
1. Red Sox - this is obviously the homer pick - but the thing is, the AL East seems to me to be even enough that you could almost throw the names in a hat and draw them out and have a convincing order. Bad as Boston, and Tampa were last year, both finished near .500 - Boston within a bad series of it - and I can find plenty of reasons why they could win it this year. So: 1) David Price and the bullpen, Kimbrel and Smith - the starters are still iffy, but Price makes things a lot simpler at the top; the bullpen has gone from a weakness to a strength - though that could be gone if Smith and Koji both end up hurt... 2) They hit pretty well last year, in the end - and without really hitting as well as they could. You figure Ortiz might slip some, and maybe Pedroia - but both are likely to contribute; Hanley looks like he's found his bat again, and should be all right; Betts and Bogaerts look like the real thing - even if last year is at the high end of their potential, they were both so good, they could slip and still be valuable - but it's not unreasonable to look at last year as their true level - maybe even their starting point. Those are 2 really good ballplayers there. Offense shouldn't be a problem, and if a couple guys improve,t hey could be very good. All that - vs. the fact that they still don't have anyone other than Price you trust; Smith and koji have looked fragile already; and age and mediocrity could still leave the offense thin... But I will hope.

2. Blue Jays - they lost Price, but they kept the offense that was so good; tghey still have some decent pitching up there - Stroman, Estrada, Dickey isn't terrible - I don't know what to say about Drew Hutchison - he looked close to breaking out last spring, then - won 13 games without getting anyone out, as far as I can tell. (Which means he's probably due for a year where he has a 2.20 ERA, strikes out 200 and has a 4-12 records on the best hitting team in baseball... in triple A, apparently) Osuna looks promising, and their other relievers have talent. They aren't likely, in short, to win 95, but 88-92 is very reasonable, though I could say that for every tea, in the division this year.

3. Yankees - they have a killer bullpen, give or take a couple injuries and a suspension; they have guys who can hit, though more than one of them started hitting in the previous millennium; I don't know about their starters - they have more than their share of cripples, bastards and broken things, though they have some talent too... eery time I think they are done, they win the division - it's not impossible they do this year. One of these teams is going to get lucky, everyone is going to stay healthy, the long shots are going to pay off - it's probably a bit more likely it's the Sox or Jays, but the Yankees are certainly capable.

4. Orioles - So are the Orioles, though it's hard to see who's going to do the pitching. They could score a ton of runs if everything breaks - Machado and Davis and Jones, and Trumbo and Alvarez in the AL - who knows. I don't think it is likely, but it is not impossible.

5. Rays - they are harder to see winning - but they do have pitchers, they have some okay offense - luck and all could get them over after all. But it's definitely a stretch.

AL Central:
1. Indians - it's stupid to pick against the world series champs, but I'm stupid. And Kluber, Carrasco, Salazar, Timlin - that's four good reasons to pick against the Royals (and Tigers, who have sort of rebuilt.) But mostly, I suppose I just want the Indians to win.

2. Royals - the Tigers rebuilt, but the Royals are still a very dangerous team. They are flirting with disaster with their pitching - but enough starters could emerge to keep them close, they should hit, they have a strong bullpen still - so there's no reason to write them off. But it is hard to see them maintaining their position, unless someone like Ventura turns into an ace.

3. Tigers - they were awful last year, but they brought in Zimmerman and Upton, not a bad start, still have Cabrera and Martinez and Kinsler - they could be decent. A lot riding on Verlander coming back, maybe Sanchez - but there's no reason to think either is necessarily done. So they could get back into this thing. The AL as a whole was very bunched last year - and it's hard to say more than a couple teams are out of it completely this year.

4. Twins - a big surprise last year, but they have talent, they have solid pitching, some good young hitters - they are likely to regress, since teams usually do when they get that much better that fast - but who knows. Joe Mauer might remember how to hit - then where are they? I don't expect them to contend, but I won't be shocked if they do.

5. White Sox - they have some very fine pitchers, they have some offense - but what are the odds that a team that people would have forgotten existed if they hadn't staged a full scale clubhouse melt down in spring training is going to start winning when the games count? This year is likely to be most interesting for the speculation on when and for what Chris Sale gets traded.

AL West:
1. Rangers - really? well - Hamels, other decent starters - and maybe Yu Darvish in a couple months? nice bullpen; plenty of offense - they aren't bad. I think this is a very tight division (4 deep), and I suppose they get a bit of the edge here.

2. Astros - another team that might regress - but probably won't. They need to move forward in a couple area - better pitching behind Keuchel, more consistency in the lineup - but they have a lot of good young players who are more likely to get better than worse - I think they remain a solid contender.

3. Mariners - everyone overrated them last year, like the Red Sox - and that tends to make their eventual season look worse than it was. A couple guys turn, this way or that - they could be back in it. Why not?

4. Angels - the theme here is, again, that whoever gets a break or two is likely to take the division. A team with Mike Trout and even the aging husk of Albert Pujols can't be written off (and guys like Calhoun help too) - pitching might be a problem, but it isn't a disaster. Like almost everyone, they were hanging around the races last year - they will again, and a break or two and there you go.

5. A's - I don't see much hope for the A's though. Which probably means they win the division.

So what do we have: Sox, Indians, Rangers + wildcards: Toronto and KC. We all know what we want - the days of Red Sox/Cubs portending the apocalypse are gone, so maybe I should pick the Indians and Cubs - Tito vs. Theo! Actually, that's not ridiculous, if the pitching comes through for the Tribe. The truth is - I have less than no idea who could win this thing. whoever gets Chris Sale? The thing is - I can make a case for almost everyone being in the mix - maybe not the A's and White Sox, and the Twins, Rays and Orioles seem a stretch - but that leaves 10 teams that could contend - whichever one has the luck and a couple breakout seasons will win the games, whichever one is hot is October will get to face the Cubs. Right?

MVP = Trout's to lose, as usual. If he does, probably be to Donaldson again or Carlos Correa, Manny Machado - Mookie Betts?
Rookie of the Year = don't really know - say Buxton?
Cy Young = Danny Salazar! why not. I have him in 2 fantasy leagues, and wish I had him in more? maybe. Kluber and Price and Archer and Gray and Keuchel again and King Felix are all oging to be hanging around... Though based on yesterday - Marcus Stroman might be the next big thing in the league...

Friday, April 01, 2016

Aprile Fool's Music Post

USed to be, April Fol's day meant something - one day a year, you could write or do the most ridiculous things, and when it was done - April Fool's! Now? thanks to Donald Trump and the Republican party, every day is April fool's day!

Better not to dwell on that. Baseball is coming! though that has it's April fool's aspects as well - like the local 9 decided to sit $100 dollars (and 300 pounds?) of Panda for Travis Shaw? we'll see. Though asserting control over the team - you play according to how you play, not what we pay! - is a good sing, the opposite of folly. Right?

Anything else? Spring is here! for a day or so. Snow again by Sunday! ha ha ha! Anyway - that's just New England.

And so? 10 songs about fools:

1. Led Zeppelin - Fool in the Rain
2. The Who - Won't get Fooled Again
3. Frank Zappa - Dancin' Fool
4. Yo La Tengo - I was the Fool Beside You for Too Long
5. Billie Holiday - Foolin' Myself
6. John Cale - Ship of Fools
7. Neutral Milk Hotel - The Fool
8. George Michael - Kissing a Fol
9. Jay Farrar - Fool King's Crown
10. Camper van Beethoven - The Fool

Video: let's start with Lady Day:



I may be totally wrong, but I'm a -



And, John Cale, with Nick Cave and Chrissie Hynde backing him:

Friday, March 25, 2016

Almost Spring; Almost

Friday has come around again. Spring is playing coy - the temperatures jumping around from day to day, hour to hour, all accompanied by rain. Had some snow at the beginning of the week, but before the day was out the sun was up and the snow all gone. March coming in like a lion and going out like a lamb, all on the same day. It's like that almost every day! Fun stuff.

Baseball is coming - about another week. All is close to being well.

And some music, to round off the week:

1. Pylon - Very Right
2. Steve Almas & Ali Smith - The Lonely Sea
3. Pixies - No. 13 Baby
4. Richard Thompson - Little Blue Number
5. Grinderman - Go Tell the Women
6. Syd Barrett - No Good Trying
7. Rage Against the Machine - Settle for Nothing
8. The Kinks - She's Got Everything
9. OOIOO - Asozan
10. Sonny Sharrock - Fourteen

And some video? Always the Pixies, no?



Audio only, but this naturally suggests itself: Sonny Sharrock:



And a lottle more work on YouTube, and I found what I really wanted - Sonny Sharrock live, 14:

Friday, March 18, 2016

Marching Forward

Spring is almost here - it's looking and feeling like spring - but for how long? IS there a snow storm on the horizon this weekend? ha ha ha - who knows? On the other hand - only a couple more weeks to baseball - there is always that!

All right - I don't have much more to say. Politics? the usual grim litany of stupidity, and President Obama tramping straight ahead as if he were president, while the idiots around him flail and flounder... There will be plenty of chances to lament the stupidity of the Republican party, so I will let that pass for now. Let's just do some music today.

1. The White Stripes - In the Cold Cold Night
2. Prince and the Revolution - New Position
3. Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - Tigers
4. Beck - Milk & Honey
5. Sleater Kinny - Funeral Song
6. The Strokes - Trying Your Luck
7. John Martyn - Don't Think Twice It's All Right
8. Tim Burgess - A Case of Vinyl
9. Ghost - Hanmiyau
10. My Bloody Valentine - Only Tomorrow

Video? In honor of yesterday's holiday - The Irish Rover, from the Pogues and the Dubliners:



And also: how about Beck?



And some MBV:

Friday, March 11, 2016

The Slyest Rhymes and the Sharpest Suits

[well - Comcast manged to stop me from posting this this mogrning - but it's still Friday! And Smokey can bring as much happiness in the evening as the morning, right? So here we are.]

I'm in a complicated stretch of my band of the month series - Bowie last month, and one of these days I am going to have to essay Dylan - big, complicated artists that I have a somewhat uneasy relationship with, people I have been avoiding because they deserve attention, but I haven't always had the emotional or biographical connections I have with most fo these people. What can I say?

This month is not like that. This month I am going to write about a much more direct pleasure - the man I think might be the best songwriter of the rock era, and possessor of one of the best voices as well - Mr. William "Smokey" Robinson Jr. Sometimes, Motown artists can be victims of their own success - all over the radio, and the silly, oldies stations (when I was growing up - now, oldies are Nirvana and Ice Cube), trotted out during fundraiser week for PBS to do smile and mime some dance moves from 1962, covered by everybody, from Mick and Keef and Bob and Jerry down to every wedding band ever, all this repetition reducing the songs to pretty melodies and clever turns of phrase, and memories of the perfection of the original harmonies... You take it for granted. The Motown songs seem to suffer a bit more from this than, say, Stax Volt, or funk artists - maybe because they were prettier, smoother, slicker - maybe because the artists weren't as confrontational. (Do you ever take James Brown for granted? maybe as a celebrity - but now matter how many times you hear it, doesn't Sex Machine or Cold Sweat just bowl you over? right?) Maybe - they are slicker, a bit safer, a bit easier to absorb into nostalgia and sentimentality. Maybe.

I have to fight this, sometimes; not with Smokey though. All the things that made Motown's music great, he has - and he has himself, as well. His songs are just a little bit better (whether he sang them or someone else did): the melodies a bit more surprising, a bit more beautiful - and his words, always, sharp as the sharpest steel. Stories, emotions, atmosphere, he gets with great precision - it's not just the famous lines (when it's cold outside, I have the month of May), it's the gems buried in the middle of songs, not quite throwaways - most every taxi that you flag.... He's worthy of Cole Porter: she may be cute, she's just a substitute, because you are the permanent one... if good looks was a minute, you know you coulda been an hour... sweetness was only heartache's camouflage... in order to shield my pride I try to cover this hurt with a show of gladness... I've got so much honey the bees envy me...

They're good. And he had a voice to match. I won't say his is the best - Motown didn't lack for great voices - but he had an almost perfect voice for his songs. His high sweet falsetto, his emotionalism, his intimate tone, inhabit the songs, make them live. They are miniature dramas, carefully crafted, deeply felt, and performed with total conviction. And given musical settings worthy of them. I don't want to underrate the music. The records themselves are glorious - first rate musicians, brilliant arrangements, the sharp, clean production. All Motown records were spectacular productions, but the Miracles songs certainly. They are as memorable for the musical parts - the guitars on Tracks of My Tears (and many others, but that one is particularly famous); drum intro on Going to a Go Go - as as the vocals and words. Marv Tarplin, especially, was an integral part of the band, his guitars shaping many of their songs. They are sonic masterpieces.

And so it is. I can listen to Smokey all day and all night. For a top 10 - it's tempting to work in some of the songs he wrote for other people, but I won't (in this list). I will include some solo work.

1. Tracks of My Tears [there's not much better, anywhere.]
2. I Second that Emotion
3. Tears of a Clown
4. The Love I saw in you was Just a Mirage
5. Going to a Go Go
6. Cuisin'
7. Oooh Baby Baby
8. You've Really Got a Hold On Me
9. More Love
10. Shop Around

Video? It's harder to find good live video of the Miracles - the technology is more primitive, and good live television frm the early 60s is rare. And besides that - they were very much a recording act. It's hard to match their production on stage, and their sound depends, an awful lot, on their sound. That's true of quite a lot of the 60s acts - the Beatles certainly, the Stones even for a while (though they shifted gears with Beggar's Banquet, went back to a more live sound.) So these tend to be pantomime performances - but I think they give a good idea of what the Miracles were actually like live. The sounds, the look, the subtle choreography.... Here is a very cool run through of Tracks of My Tears, black and white minimalism:



And what might be an even more minimalist, cusp of the 70s abstract color set, for Tears of a Clown:



Here, on the other hand, while we still have a cool, minimalist set, we get Smokey and the band performing Second That Emoption live - no slouches:



From the 70s, here's Smokey solo, with Cruisin':



Meanwhile - to get in some of the material he wrote for other people - here are the Temptations, doing both My Girl & The Way You Do the Things You Do:



And the first Smokey Robinson song I remember hearing - Linda Ronstadt singing Tracks of My Tears, and doing complete justice to it. She had a pretty magnificent set of pipes herself, and knew how to get inside a song:



And finally, the source of the title of this post, ABC and Martin Fry's tribute to the great man - a pretty nifty song itself:

Friday, March 04, 2016

Such a Disgrace

Happy Friday, world. Super Tuesday is done, and Hillary Clinton seems a lot closer to nomination, and Donald "The Donald" Trump seems a bit closer to his, and both seem to bring out the stupid and the venal. I see people calling themselves "progressives" saying they will never vote for Clinton - I see memes pretending that Clinton won Super Tuesday back in 2008, and Obama came back (claims easily debunked: Wikipedia). And of courese the GOP has it almost as bad - serial losers are run out to call Donald Trump names, Donald Trump responds with his usual class and grace. On your knees boy! The Republicans are certainly mounting an entertaining, if ridiculous spectacle, though I wonder if presidential election is the best forum for that kind of thing.

Stil: bad as Trump is, and ridiculous as the rest of the GOP is, I don't fear them as much as I fear the Democratic response to this election. Trump makes a big noise, but in the end he's a Republican politician running to a shrinking slice of the American public - they don't really have the votes to win. which is why what really worries me are the "progressives" and such who insist they won't vote for Hillary under any circumstances. That, right there, is the problem in this country. If Democrats vote for Democrats, Democrats will win. If Democrats (or liberals, progressives, leftists, socialists, whatever they want to call themselves) see Donald Trump's name next to the R (or, really, anyone's name next to the R) and don't vote for the D - it is their fault. If people vote, the Democrats will win; if they don't, the Republicans win. There are more of us, but we don't always vote. It is that simple. It is our fault.

Enough: music...

1. X - Real Child of Hell
2. The Red Krayola - Farewell to Arms
3. Melvins - Bride of Crankenstein
4. Thompson Family - Careful
5. Rocket from the Tombs (Redux) - Ain't it Fun
6. Tool - Viganti Tres
7. The Dictators - The Next Big Thing
8. Interpol - Anything
9. Outkast - Stankonia
10. John Parish and Polly Jean Harvey - Is That All There Is?

Video: If we must have a Dictator from New York, can't it be Handsome Dick?



Should a theme be discerned? Real Child of Hell...



Take it away Cheetah:

Monday, February 29, 2016

Bernie Sanders for President

I have been writing some about politics, off and on, but now I want to be more plain. The Massachusetts primary is tomorrow, part of Super Tuesday - and the race is still open - not as open as it was in 2008, but still open. Another reason to be glad I'm a Democrat - the GOP nomination looks pretty well sealed up, and a horrifying nightmare it looks to be too! Donald Trump! Though truth is, it's hard to see anything about Trump that's any worse, or any different, than the rest of them. Maybe he says the racist stuff out loud - maybe he shrugs off the KKK rather than pretend to disavow them (and conjure up poor Robert Byrd, ex-klansman and Democrat - did you know he was a Democrat?) - but the policies and rhetoric is pretty much all the same over there. If anything, Trump seems to have some traits that are less horrible than the rest of them - not being willing to let people die in the streets, that kind of thing... Though his main characteristic is that he is a con man all the way down. Does he believe anything he says? does it matter? will he do any of the things he says he will, if he were somehow to get elected president? I don't know. I don't want to risk finding out. And he won't be running unopposed - we still get to vote against him!

So - I am a Democrat, and glad of it. And tomorrow I am going to vote for Bernie Sanders. I know Hillary Clinton is probably going to win in the end, and when she does, I will vote for her, with nary a complaint. And given what she's going to run against - I will vote for her with a good deal of enthusiasm. But that is still to come. For now, I still have a choice on the Democratic side, and I am taking Sanders. Why?

1. He is closer to the policies I want to see enacted. I know Clinton has moved to the left - but Sanders still has her beat there. The things I care about, he supports, and is more aggressive about: higher corporate taxes and higher top marginal income tax rates; more spending, on infrastructure and other job-creating projects. I want a better health care system, And he is more likely to push that farther. I want something done about sky-rocketing tuitions and student debt - he pushes that. something he talks about. He is less likely to support things like TPP - he is likely to be stronger on labor. He will push harder for minimum wage hikes - he will work to break up big banks and restore the kind of regulation that kept us from having these economic collapses every 10 years or so. He will work to improve Civil rights - for women, Blacks, gays - though I think Clinton will be just about as good on this. Truth is, Clinton won't be bad on most of these issues - he's just usually a bit better. And much better on some things (TPP, say.)

2. I can't deny there is some negativity to this. Hillary Clinton is maddening. I know that most of the things people attack her for are bullshit - Benghazi? no! shut up! But it's also hard to ignore what she has done. The money she's made - and who she's taken it from. And more than one of her political choices - supporting the Iraq war - there was no excuse for that in 2003, and no reason for Democrats to forget it now. we may have to forgive, move on - but we don't have to reward, or accept, the ones who voted for it. I also find the dynastic politics she's part of depressing. The Clintons are not fools - this is not the Bush family, getting dumber and more venal as you go down the years, but it's still annoying. And though she is smart and accomplished, in her own right, she is where she is because of Bill Clinton. And Bill? looking at his presidency now is a bit depressing - it was depressing then, and comparing him to Obama, it looks even worse. Health care, gays in the military, gay marriage - things Obama got and Clinton gave away. Welfare reform, deregulation of financial institutions - those are Clinton policies, and look what they got us. I know it isn't fair to blame Hillary for Bill's policies - but she was there too... All this - I said she was maddening: she is; Bill was. Because they are both so smart, such skilled politicians - and because they can talk as good a game as anyone. But they have always tended to tack to the center - tack to the machine. She still can't seem to understand that there are values outside of Washington and Wall Street - or maybe, that there are values outside the machine that are, in fact,opposed to the machine. It drives me crazy.

3. So what about electibility? It's a big topic this winter - will Americans vote for someone who calls himself a Socialist? It's a bugaboo word for the Republicans - they will run against it with all their might. But there are two things about that - the first is - they hate socialists, but they aren't too fussy about who they accuse of being a socialist. They've been calling Obama a socialist since day one - Obama? they'll call Hillary a socialist as soon as they will Bernie. Socialism is an insult - it doesn't mean anything. They have emptied it of meaning, and it's quite possible that no one cares about it any more. I don't know if it will be such a drawback.

The second point, and this is the big one - the GOP may hate reds - but they really hate Hillary Clinton. I can see it, in my crazy tea bagger cousins and moron friends, they are just itching to go after Clinton. They are doing it now - attacking her relentlessly, to the point that they half endorse Sanders sometimes. I am not sure if they don't hate her more than they hate Obama - at least, they have been practicing hating her since 1992. Obama, in the end, is just a black guy - Hillary Clinton is Hillary Clinton.

And one more point on this subject: I think this election will be determined by turnout. Get 60% of the voters to vote and the Democrat will win. Get under 50% - and look into the job market in Toronto. And there - Clinton will be able to control the party machinery more, and their GOTV efforts. But the Democrats are horrible at getting people to vote - that's the biggest single reason for the trouble this country is in now. Those 40% mid-terms. Here - I think Sanders inspires people - they will come out; Clinton - might get people out, but I think there is more danger of Democrats shrugging the election off if she is there. I hope not - but I suspect it will be more of a challenge to get people out...

So - those are my reasons for voting Sanders. I wish he could win, I suppose - I don't expect him to be able to. I can live with Clinton. I think, in the end, whichever of them wins the Democratic nomination will, in fact, win the presidency: Trump might do more to get out the Democratic vote than anything any Democrat can do. But I think even Trump is overrated as an electoral force - parties matter more than people. We are in an age of extreme party discipline - a fact the Republicans seem to have figured out, and the Democrats have been slower to adopt. Of course it serves the Republican's interests more than it serves the Dems' - deadlock is easy in the American system, with all its checks and balances. And deadlock helps the GOP - they can make government ineffective if they refuse to govern. They make government ineffective, then run on government's ineffectiveness. They work to make people cynical about government, about elections - so they don't vote. Because - they do not want people to vote. The fewer votes the better for them.

Look at the controversy over replacing Scalia: the GOP is counting on the idea that by making the system not work people will give up on the system. Now - that could backfire - there's a pretty good chance it will - the Democrats might be able to use this issue, if they try. But the GOP plan is clear enough. (Of course, if Obama were to take them up on it, and not nominate anyone - they would run against that, right? Sometimes, they seem to be daring him to rule by fiat - they've come pretty close the last couple years: doing nothing - forcing him to govern by executive action for the country to continue to function - and of course, running against his attempts to keep things going.)

I could go on. I will stop. I will end though by saying - the odds are good nothing much is going to happen until the 2020s. The GOP will hold the house - it would be almost impossible to get it away from them (they won a strong majority in 2012, despite getting several million fewer votes, for House seats, than the Democrats) - and they can continue to paralyze the government. It makes the election a strange one: Sanders and Clinton can talk a good game, but how much will they be able to do? Not a lot - how will they operate in that environment? I suppose it's another reason to vote for Bernie - he seems less likely to compromise and make deals with people who won't compromise or make deals. Clinton might try - which will end up being nothing but unilateral giveaways, because until the GOP breaks in half - which might well be coming, sooner or later - they will not pass anything.

And what happens if Trump wins? I am not sure - the GOP is organized around refusing to govern - they have had it easy the last 7 years. If they controlled government - they might try to finish the place off once and for all (that is, steal everything left over from the last time the fools ran the place), or get involved in a land war somewhere (invade Mexico? you know - wars certainly stimulate the economy). Or - they might collapse into posturing and incompetence and - god knows what could happen. Nothing good. Let's not do that, right?

Friday, February 26, 2016

Friday Music and Miscellany

Friday, time for some songs before we start the last day of the week. Work and all that. Yuck.

No politics this week, not here - because I hope to get up a more substantial post before Tuesday, when my state gets to vote. More to come there.

How about the weather? an odd winter - last week was the champion here, going from -7 or so Sunday morning to 55 Tuesday, but this week has continued. Nights in the 20s sometimes, one day getting up to low 30s, the next to the 60s, with a big noisy overnight thunderstorm Wednesday night. Didn't seem to do much harm near me, but raised hell other places. Up in Vermont, say, where quite a few of my family live - rains, floods, mud. No fun.

Let us take comfort. Spring is coming - spring training is coming, which is even better! Pablo Sandoval does not appear to have gone hungry over the winter; Yoenis Cespedes was able to find round waffles! Spring is coming...

And now, music.

1. The Byrds - I Come and Stand at Every Door
2. Pixies - Blue Eyed Hexe
3. Bill Frisell 858 Quartet - All the People, All the Time
4. Neil Diamond - Girl You'll Be a Woman Soon
5. Rolling Stones - The Lantern
6. At the Drive In - Raschuache
7. REM - Alligator_Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter
8. Consonant - Little Murders
9. Meat Puppets - Fly Like the Wind
10. Violent Femmes - Prove my Love

Video? That's a nice set of tunes - too many choices, right? Violent Femmes don't come up enough on these lists so here you go:



And maybe some latter day Pixies?



And finally - Brother Neil, in 1967: