Friday, July 18, 2014

The End of an Eventful Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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



And end with Of Montreal:


Monday, July 14, 2014

Happy Bastille Day!

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





Maybe the roofs of Paris?



Happy Bastille Day!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

World Cup Final

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 11, 2014

Hey Ho, Let's Go!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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



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



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



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



And right up to the end:

Monday, July 07, 2014

World Cup Semi Finals

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

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

Friday, July 04, 2014

Fourth of July Friday Music

Happy Birthday, America, and good luck with the hurricanes.

Making this quick, since I am on vacation... how about 10 Songs for America?

Green Day - American Idiot
The Guess Who - American Woman
Sonic Youth - Early America
U2 - Elvis in America
REM - Little America
You La Tengo - We're an American Band
Stevie Wonder - Jesus Children of America
Iron & Wine - Flightless Bird, American Mouth
Wilco - Ashes of American Flags
The Germs - American Leather

And let's add - 4 songs for the fourth of July: Bruce...



And again:



X



And Dean Wareham:



Happy 4th!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Franz Ferdinand

100 years ago today, Gavrilo Princip, a young Bosnian Serbian radical, shot and killed Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo. This was one of a number of assassinations, bombings, political murders carried out around the turn of the century by various radicals, terrorists and cranks, but this one blew up. Serbia was looking for ways to expand, to take Slavic lands away from the Austro-Hungarian empire; hey may not have planned the assassination, but they certainly encouraged that sort of behavior from Serbs in Bosnia. Austria-Hungary was looking for ways to crush Serbia, to protect their holdings, to remove a threat, to humiliate an enemy, to regain some prestige lost after the earlier Balkan wars. So Austria turned the assassination into an excuse to humiliate Serbia, to neutralize them - or better, to force them to war. But war meant European war - because Russia made promises to Serbia, and Germany made promises to Austria, and France and Russia made promises to one another, and England was hanging around, half promising things to France. And Germany's plans for fighting Russia involved starting by knocking France out of the war and that required invading Belgium, and England guaranteed Belgium's neutrality, and so were brought into the war, from the start. And that was that.

It took another month for the diplomacy to play out, with no one quite grasping the full scope of the coming disaster for a while. Even when they did - no one seemed to quite grasp the full scope of disaster modern all out warfare would bring. And maybe worse, that lack of understanding seemed to be ubiquitous - countries continued to play at war like they were playing a game of Diplomacy, making deals, promises, creating and destroying countries out of nothing. So when it was all over, the world was left with more problems than it started with - Bolshevik Russia; a bitter resentful Germany, ripe for the plucking by worse radicals still; unstable, patched together countries in middle and southern Europe - the patchwork of the Austro-Hungarian empire reproduced in smaller places like Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. And a messy patchwork of countries and powers and the like in the middle east - which plague us to this day. Much of it made by the high handedness of the winners. Much like today. (Listening to Dick Cheney talk about Iraq is like resurrecting Kaiser Wilhelm or Moltke the Younger to talk about the wisdom of invading France.)

All that after millions of men were killed in the fighting - a war to end all wars, but one that proved to be a hothouse for future wars. And things started down that hill today, 100 years ago, in Sarajevo.

Knockout Rounds Begin

The World Cup resumes today - the business end of the tournament. The contestants are interesting - the group stages ended with a nice mix of favorites and surprises, with pre-tourney dark horses delivering and plenty of drama. I managed to pick 6 of the group winners; 10/16 total; a few of the misses were ambiguous ones. I picked Spain over Holland for fairly arbitrary reasons - I thought one of the two would fail, and just got the wrong one. The same happened in group D - there I even said it - either England or Italy could flame out, maybe both. I wish I'd gone with that thought... It is very nice to see Costa Rica advancing; teams like Greece and Nigeria and Algeria are cool underdog stories; and the USA overcame a very tough group to sneak into the next round. Setting up an interesting bunch of games.

Brazil v. Chile - this should be a lively game; it would be very cool to see Chile win, though I find it unlikely; Brazil is likely to get tougher as the tournament goes, not just because of the crowds and the potentially cowardly refs.

Columbia v Uruguay - Columbia has looked as good as anyone; Uruguay has been the Luis Suarez show, for good and, in the end, mostly ill. While resentment and self-pity can take you a ways in a game like this, I don;t think it will be enough.

France v Nigeria - Nigeria played fairly well in the group games, though in the end, they are in the sec one round because of the refs blowing an offside call against Bosnia. France has been running roughshod over some average opponents, so I expect them to handle Nigeria pretty well.

Germany v Algeria - Germany should be Germany; Algeria isn't Germany.

Holland v Mexico - While Holland has looked good, especially up front, this one has potential for trouble - Mexico has also looked very good; Ochoa stands on his head again, and Mexico could get out of this. I suspect Holland will win, but Mexico should give them a game.

Costa Rica v Greece - the minnow game; one of them will be in the quarters! Costa Rica has looked genuinely good so far, and I expect them to win this one too. Then - they aren't impossible odds to knock someone else off as well. Semi-finalists, Costa Rica? not likely, but not impossible.

Argentina v Switzerland - While Argentina are close to co-favorites, the have not played like favorites. They have played like Leo and the other guys. They look weak in the back - they seem far too dependent on Messi - everything goes through Messi - defenses can gang up on Messi. That won't stop them, if the other teams can't score, because Messi will get his - he seems to have come to play - but sooner or later someone will be able to put 3 on them, and that could be the end. Switzerland? is not impossible - they seem happy to attack - though that seems more likely to give Argentina the chance to put up a 4-2 win.

Belgium v US - hard to know what to think about Belgium; have they shown toughness in wearing down teams that have played to frustrate them? or have they floundered against mediocrity? Well, we should find out - the US won't park the bus (and if they do, they're likely to forget to set the emergency brake, so don't get downhill of them!), so we should find out of Belgium can play with teams that want to play. They should - but this strikes me as being abut the most evenly matched game of this round.

Should be fun; on we go.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Kennesaw Mountain

Today is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, one of the largest and most significant battles of the Atlanta Campaign. I have been giving short shrift to Sherman's campaign in the west in my attempts to follow along with 1864. There are reasons - ranging from the relative fame of the eastern battles (Grant vs. Lee and all that), to the books I've been able to find to read, to my background - reading Bruce Catton's Army of the Potomac books in 5th grade made me the nerd I am... But a big part of it is that the western campaign did not have the kind of cataclysmic battles the east had. Triggering posts on anniversaries favors those kinds of events - there aren't as many of them in the west, and they weren't as dramatic. It was a very different campaign in the west - Sherman was determined to avoid the kinds of frontal assaults on fortifications that caused so much havoc in the wast; his opponent, Joseph Johnston, was just as determined to avoid any kind of fighting out of trenches. So Sherman maneuvered and Johnston defended...

And so it went. Johnston started the campaign in a very strong position - Sherman sent his armies marching around him, and Johnston retreated, rather than be cut off. He had new lines prepared to the south - Sherman flanked him again - he retreated again. And so on. Kennesaw mountain, just outside Marietta Georgia, was the fourth defensive position Johnston occupied - and it looked to be more of a problem for Sherman than the others. It was a very strong position in itself - a defensive line built along the top of the mountain and the ridges around it - but more than that, it was in a place Sherman was going to find it hard to get around. By this time, the Union army was well inside Georgia, dependent on one rail line for supply - Sherman had doubts about his ability to conduct any kind of flanking maneuver away from the railroad, and Johnston had him blocked on the railroad. So he decided to try breaking the lines. There were other considerations - Sherman had been trying to slide around the ends of the rebel lines, and found that his own lines were starting to get very thin - he reasoned that if he was thin, the rebels, with half as many men, should be even thinner. If he attacked, then, at several points of the line, while demonstrating against the whole line - there was a chance that someone could break the lines. So - on June 27, the union army attacked.

It went about as well as frontal attacks went in the east. The attackers went in - the defenders cut them down - the attackers either went back or dug in where they were stopped. There were places where the Union soldiers got to the confederate lines, engaged in some nasty close in combat - but they never came close to breaking the lines. In fact, the results are not that different from the big final attack at Cold Harbor - Sherman's men lost about 3000 casualties, in an hour or two of fighting, without a thing to show for it; the rebels a fraction of that. Like Cold Harbor, the attacks were piecemeal - that was by design at Kennesaw Mountain. Sherman attacked with 3 or 4 divisions, on fairly narrow fronts - the hope was to punch a hole in the lines, and send in reinforcements to exploit the breakthrough. It didn't work - it was just about impossible to break an entrenched line in any circumstances - and when it failed, Sherman called off the attacks. The attacking forces were cut to pieces - the rest of the army avoided most of the fighting. The Yankees dug in again, and waited for dark, and went back to siege warfare....

But in the end, Sherman won the day anyway. He'd ordered part of his army around the far left of Johnston's line, as a pure distraction - but this flanking movement worked. They got in behind the rebels, giving the Yankees a starting point to continue the flinching movement - and Sherman started moving the rest of his army around in that direction. And so, a few days after the battle, Johnston was obliged to abandon another defensive line, falling back even closer to Atlanta, where they would start up the process again.

By that time, though, Johnston was gone. He was replaced by John B. Hood, who was put in command to attack, and so attack he did, thus hastening the end of the war. We'll be back for those battles, I imagine - but Hood was a superb division commander who was completely lost as an army commander. Though again - he was put in command to attack, and he did what he was expected to - the strategy was a disaster for the south - they were outnumbered in Georgia 2 to 1 or more, and never had a chance. Johnston, for all his flaws, could string the thing out, which in the end was the only hope the South had...

And so... Sherman's campaign in the west was a very different kind of campaign from the east, for many reasons. The personalities of the commanders certainly mattered - Johnston was defensive minded and cagy where Lee was aggressive, and willing to gamble to win, and Grant was as aggressive as Lee, while Sherman was more of a planner. But as much as that, the land itself mattered. Virginia was a fairly constricted theater - there wasn't a lot of room to move. And everything led to Richmond (strategically at least) - there was only so far you could move back. In the west, Johnston had plenty of land to trade for time; Sherman had room to move around him. The war in the west featured its share of bloody fighting, but it was also shaped by the spaces of the west - it was a war of marching and logistics. The South survived there due the spaces the Union had to cover; the Union marched and turned the South out of positions.

And finally - this campaign was like the eastern campaign in being sustained - once the armies started, they kept going. By this time, the campaign had been going two months - it could continue for another two months before Atlanta fell. In its way, it was groping toward modern warfare itself.

Friday Music in the Summertime

As we pause in the world cup, no games for the first time in 2 weeks... here is some music to hold you over...

1. Sunny Day Real Estate - Days Were Golden
2. Richard & Linda Thompson - Why Don't You Love Me
3. Swell Maps - My L'il Shoppes Round the Corner
4. Heroin - Indecision
5. Marvin Gaye - Mercy Mercy Me
6. Richard Thompson - A Man In Need
7. Feelies - Should be Gone
8. Pentangle - Lyke-Wake Dirge
9. Come - Sad Eyes
10. Spirit - Soldier

And video, on this fine summer day? Can't find Richard and Linda doing that Hank Williams song, so how about this? Roy Clark and Joe Pass picking their way through it (with some superfluous voiceover, but just a bit):



And live footage of Swell Maps - that sounds like a win:



And Marvin Gaye:

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Really?



What would a world cup be without idiocy? And who is a bigger idiot, really, than Luis Suarez? I mean, once, maybe, people do stupid things in the heat of the moment, even inexplicable things - and biting someone, in a soccer game, is pretty inexplicable.... But to do it twice? who does that? And to bite someone after you've been banned once for biting someone? And were banned the year before racial abuse? That's - how can that happen? But it did... And now, for the third time in his career, Luis Suarez has bitten someone in the middle of a soccer game. Big, ugly defenders, too - Ivanovic? Giorgio Chiellini? you'll break a tooth biting those guys... I don't know. Someone needs to get him a muzzle.

He should listen to Ian Hunter:

Sunday, June 22, 2014

World Cup Game 2

Picking up where we left off I guess - lots of goals; not as many comebacks, though still a couple - and lots of late drama; 4 draws, instead of 2, though that includes what was just about the game of the game of the tournament, and a last second equalizer; plus upsets, near upsets, and so on. Plenty of football being played, and though there have been some grinders, even they have been tight and dramatic. It's been good stuff.

The story, I suppose, is Spain being out. It isn't surprising, watching them play - they were static and dull against Holland; they were run off the field by Chile. You can see the reasons, retrospectively - lack of defensive steel; not really getting Costa integrated with the team; maybe some of the central players getting old. And sometimes, good teams lay an egg - look at Holland in 2012 - and look where they are now. Meanwhile, England is out too - and gnashing their teeth about it. It looked a close thing in the first one - not the second one though. Strange coaching decisions in there - in the Italy game, it as obvious quickly that Rooney wasn't playing any defense on his side of the field. They had an answer - move Sterling out there - but didn't take it. Then, against Uruguay - they switched their places. It makes no sense - why make the change you needed against Italy against Uruguay? Who are exposed by a fast central player in their first game - I don't know. A few other good teams have underachieved - Portugal is alive buy the skin of their teeth; Italy and Uruguay have to play to get through, and neither has been exactly dominant. Bosnia is out, despite looking like a pretty good side - and so on.

On the other side, the good side - it is very cool to see Costa Rica in the second round already - well deserved, as well. Chile, Columbia are going on, maybe not surprisingly, but both looking very dangerous. France seem to be establishing an on/off/on/off pattern at these cups - after being horrible in South Africa, they have looked great - scoring all over the place, looking good doing it. Some of the big teams have been a bit less convincing - Brazil got shut out by Mexico (who are looking for real) after looking average against Croatia; Holland let the Aussies make a very tight game of it; then Argentina and Belgium both had to wait almost to the end to take their 3 points - the latter two showing the value of the superstar, Messi making a spectacular goal; Hazard creating a pretty nice one for Origi. It's been a neat tournament for the small fry - Costa Rica; Algeria winning big; Iran almost getting a point off Argentina. And, in the second round, we've seen Africa's resurrection - Nigeria and Algeria winning, and Ghana playing one of the games of the tourney.

That game - what a game. Germany is Germany; Ghana looked better in the US game than the result showed - and kept it up against Germany. Meanwhile, the US reverted to their early and late goal allowing ways, and let what looked like a very nice win turn into a point - but that's better than I would have expected. They are still in a good place for the last game. The tournament has, indeed, confirmed this as the group of death - a couple other groups tried to claim it, but this one has delivered. Portugal was awful in the first game, and looked vulnerable in the US game - but they got their point; they are still dangerous. The other three teams have all looked like the real deal - Germany has done very little to dispel its place as one of the favorites - Ghana looked great coming in, looked strong against the US, and ever better against Portugal; the US has looked solid - showing a good deal more steel than you might expect, and more than a little creativity going forward. If Altidore were healthy - they might be looking even better. Though there isn't much to complain about as it is.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Friday Random 10 and Casey Kasem

First up - RIP to Casey Kasem. I can't really overstate how important American Top 40 was to me - I listened to it every week, devotedly, and fretted terribly if I missed part of it. It was my Saturday morning routine - enough to make me stop watching Scooby Doo! It was kind of a gateway to a broader musical world - the means of changing from casual listening to whatever was on the radio, to sustained attention to music. And though it was, by definition, a show full of pop songs - before I started listening to it, all I really heard were the AM stations my parents listened to for news and weather - so it infinitely expanded my horizons at the key moment. All that lasted from, oh, 75-80 or so - by the end of high school, I was listening to AOR, and had some records of my own, and had a firmer grasp of my own tastes, and didn't care so much about what the #27 song in America might be - I stopped listening so religiously, though I still managed to get the top 10 in every week, until I went to college... But I remember it fondly, and Casey Kasem's voice, his stories, his ability to play anything and talk about anything as if it were all interesting - a perfect DJ.

And now? My tastes have long since departed the realm of the top 40 - or the top 40 has long since departed me. I suspect by the late 70s, things were already gone from the openness of the 60s, when Eve of Destruction and The Ballad of the Green Berets could hit the charts more or less simultaneously. But that's all right. I can live in the margins...

1. MIA - Sexodus
2. Boris - Fuzzy Reactor
3. Smokey Robinson & The Miracles - The Love I Saw In You Was Just a Mirage
4. Billie Holiday - I Cried for You
5. Rolling Stones - Street Fighting Man (live)
6. Allman Brothers - In Memory of Elizabeth Reed (live)
7. Brian Eno - Dead Finks Don't Talk
8. Robert Wyatt - Just a Bit
9. Audioslave - Hypnoptize
10. Donovan - Atlantis

Video? I stopped listening to the top 40 about the time I started listening to U2 - so - probably not likely to stay up, but here you go - the letter U and the numeral 2.



And maybe something that wouldn't fit on the top 40 very well - Allman Brothers live:



And of course - Scooby Doo!


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Lie Down, You damned fools, you'll never take them forts

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the end of the first stage of the battle of Petersburg, in the Civil War. It is also the day my great-great grandfather was wounded, part of the attack by the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery, the most severe of a number of similar one sided fights on this day.

The battle of Petersburg was the last of Grant's attempts to get around Lee in Virginia in 1864. It was his most successful as well - but like the others, ended in stalemate. He had tried again and again - but various factors, from Lee's ability to react to the Army of the Potomac's bad habits, to the messy command relationship between Grant and Meade and their underlings, every attempt had been thwarted. But they got closer every time - the Yankees had chances at Cold Harbor that they missed, but things were closer. After that - Grant planned this stage more closely. He got his men out of their lines at Cold Harbor, and stole a march on Lee - getting a good chunk of his army over the James river into position to attack Petersburg before Lee could react. They had chances - the city was held by a scratch force, and it took a took a couple days for serious reinforcements to reach the confederate lines - but once again, the union army failed to take advantage of their chances. Baldy Smith arrived, almost took the city, but paused; other men came up - and a number of attacks were attempted - but nothing broke through, though the rebels were forced to pull back to a series of defensive lines. It was only on the 18th that the Union mounted a serious attack - and by then, the confederates were dug in deep, and had started to get Lee's men into lines - and the results were the same as at all the other battles in the spring of 1864. No one was going to break a well entrenched line - and they didn't.

After this, Grant stopped trying to get around Lee. He dug in and held the rebels in place, and stayed for the rest of the war. There would be a couple more attacks - there would be one big attack, at the Crater, in July - but from this point on, Grant wa]as willing to stay where he was and keep Lee there as well. Strategically, the idea was a good one - Lee had nowhere to go - no option but to defend Petersburg and Richmond at all costs. So Grant kept him there - let the rest of the armies settle the issue. Things settled down into trench warfare - another hint of things to come, that no one quite paid attention to, with disastrous results 40 years later.

Monday, June 16, 2014

World Cup Round 1

Well - most of the first round is done - it's been a lively one! Especially compared to the last outing - 6 draws, no comebacks (to win), 4 teams scoring more than once - etc. This time? 14 of 16 games - we've had one draw; 5 comebacks to win, including a winner in extra time; 12 of 14 teams have scored 2 or more; 6 have scored 3. There have been 6 shutouts - vs. 13 last time. It's all good - it makes for entertaining soccer. Things got more open in 2010 in the later games - if that happens here, we could see some wild ones.

I wonder what is causing it? I suspect a couple factors: Spain and Germany - whose influence brought in possession and strong attacking/counterattacking football - lots of teams seem to be set up around one of those plans... Though I suspect another part of it is that a lot of teams seem to be going younger - look at England, France, Italy, the USA - all of them playing younger players, faster, more offensive minded, less experience. Which is the other side - all those young teams are playing young defenders, with all the problems that can arise from that... Could be.

In any case - it's been interesting. A couple shockers - Uruguay's loss is a shock; Spain's loss is less shocking (Holland is very good), but the scoreline is shocking. So was Portugal's loss, in a way. Though they are liable to give up when things are against them. Uruguay looks to be in real trouble - England and Italy both looked good, Costa Rica is no pushover - unless Uruguay beats England, they are done. Spain and Portugal, the other prominent losers, are in better shape - they both would have come in expecting the hardest time in that first game, and thinking they can win out. Portugal has troubles, with injuries and Pepe suspended, and both the US and Ghana looking pretty capable - but the US has injures too. We'll see.

At the top end - Holland and Germany did their thing - I picked against Holland, almost arbitrarily at the beginning - I have no problem being wrong about that. If they show up, they are a very good team, and I guess they showed up. Germany just did what Germany does. The other favorites, Brazil and Argentina, say, were less convincing. Brazil won on an awful penalty call, a PK off the goalie's hands, and two dribblers; they looked very vulnerable - if Mandzukic had played, they might have given up another goal or two. Argentina? won easily enough, but the first goal was blind luck, they weren't exactly untouchable on defense - and though Messi scored a beautiful goal, most of the game, their offense looked quite solvable. Everything went right up the middle through Messi - they only got one goal out of it, and how well is that going to work in the second round, when they start to see better defensive teams? For all that - both teams look quite strong, and likely to grow into the tournament - but they are not as convincing as Holland the Germany were.

And outside the favorites - Columbia looks very strong; Mexico should have won 3-0 - they look capable of doing things; so did Croatia, though they need better keeping. Italy looked very strong - England let then run rampant down the right, but looked very dangerous on attack. France played a good game; US and Ghana played solid games - it's been an interesting cup. Looking forward to the next round.

Blogaversary

As of today, I have been doing this blog for 10 years. I don't know if there is much to say about it. I set up a blog (not this one) in the first place to see if I could write for a blog, see if posting stuff online a couple times a week made sense. I'd been interacting with people online for years by then - started at work back around 1990-91, tried out Prodigy, Compuserve, AOL about the same time (early 91), settled into AOL by 93-94, and stayed there. Message boards - I found a couple groups I really liked - a writers group first, some movie groups later, and found that very satisfying. But by 2004 or so, AOL was starting to lose its appeal. The folders my buddies hung out in were shut down; we started up somewhere else, but were invaded by trolls, racists and fools, and the decent people slowly drained away. Meanwhile, I had been reading the internet since the WWW began - Mosaic opened up the world. I read whatever I could find through the years - personal web pages; online magazines; sites like Slate and Suck and Salon and Word; and finally, in the early 00s, blogs. I don't remember exactly where I started - maybe links out from Slate or Salon, maybe somewhere else - but I started finding blogs...and as AOL got boring, I decided to try blogging. That was in 2003, actually - it already seemed a bit passé, and I wasn't sure if I wanted to do it or not - so I set about trying it, but almost in private. Opting out of search engines, things like that. And - decided the process worked - but wasn't really all that enthused about unleashing my experiments on the world... So The Listening Ear was born, to start clean, a little more publicly.

Even so, I didn't really chase readers - it was still more an exercise in writing and posting for itself, than for an audience. At the beginning, it looked more like a normal blog, I think. All politics, all the time for a while - with the odd bit of culture blogging, occasional geek posts, and eventually - in the same post! - getting to what would be the staples of the blog (and were the staples of what I argued about on AOL for many years) - films and music. Still - it was mostly politics at first, until 2005, when I started working in a few more film posts - the kinds of things I would have posted on AOL in the past... But AOL was dead - and so I started putting that stuff here. And started seeing the advantages of doing things like that on a blog. Starting with a series of posts on Busby Berkeley, in May and June - a combination of notes from a film festival, and a long essay on Berkeley's style, much of it (to be honest) derived from an essay I'd written for a class a couple years before that... After that, this became a film blog - which it has remained, more or less - though this year, you'd never know it. I've given myself over completely to history - anniversaries and such - and music.

But mainly, this has been a film blog. Film blogging started to get me something like an audience - and I started making connections to other bloggers. Those were the days of the blogathons - there were so many, I put up a page to keep track of them - I participated in a few. I made connections, there, and managed, in my modest and somewhat uncommitted way, to interact with the film blogosphere. It was a very satisfying time - which is reflected in the content at this blog. I posted a lot, from 05-08, most of it film related (though music got in there too, in a more ritualized way, maybe), a good deal of it related to film-writing on other blogs. Blogathons - Harry Tuttle's Contemplative Cinema blogathons and site; the Film of the Month Club , and so on. I made connections - from old AOL cronies, like Joseph B. and Evan Waters; academic oriented film bloggers, like Girish; and other film bloggers, like Edward Copeland, Ed Howard and Joel Bocko. People have come and gone since then - though I am happy to still have a few connections in the world. These days mainly, Wonders in the Dark - which remains a great site, varied and enthusiastic.

So - the next 10 years? Good lord. Who knows. This year - expect more Civil War and WWI, bands of the month - and hopefully some films. (Definitely in relation to Wonders in the Dark's Romance Countdown, going on all summer.) The next month or so - mostly soccer... I've always intended this to be a place I can write about whatever popped into my head - an assortment of observations - the soup of culture, I called it back when I started. Hardy Boys, Captain Beefheart and Imamura my guiding lights, so to speak... probably ought to have Bruce Catton, Carl Yastrzemski and Charles Schulz up there somewhere too. Anyway - on we go.

UPDATE: One thing I hope to manage in the next 10 years is to learn to read a calendar. The anniversary of the birth of this humble blog is June 17, not June 16 - unfortunately, I suppose, as I could then celebrate its anniversaries with Joyce quotes. Hoopsa, boyaboy, hoops! But alas - the date is tomorrow.

Friday, June 13, 2014

I Won't Forget to Put Roses on Your Grave

This Friday, we reach a kind of milestone - the first anniversary of my Band of the Month posts. My posting has been a bit spotty this year, but this feature has been going strong - and I see no end in sight. There are lots of bands to go!

This month might be the end of my autobiographical organization, though. This brings us full circle - I started at the beginning and the top, with the Beatles - and now we come back to the top, their closest rivals - The Rolling Stones. It's back to the beginning, in a way as well - back to the 60s, to a band that has been on the radio all my life. Maybe not as much, in the early years, as the Fab Four, but certainly by the time I started listening to the radio deliberately, I heard the Stones, and heard them all the time. They were, as far as I can tell, always taken for granted as one of the Great Bands - which might be a hint to why they come at the end of this series. By the time I really started listening with intent, I was inclined to take them for granted. That's around the time of Black and Blue - a time when they'd settled into a certain style, a bit too familiar and predictable. They were the very model of the mainstream hard rock band. They sounded like everyone else, since everyone else sounded like them. It was easy (for me) to treat them as elder statesmen, admirable enough, but nothing too serious... Though even then, that was missing the point. After all, they followed up Black and Blue with Some Girls, which did vary the sound a bit, slipping some disco into the mix, changing up the way Mick sang... And even then, I heard their older songs too, and knew they hadn't always sounded like It's Only Rock and Roll. There was a teacher in high school who had a record player in his classroom, and 2 singles - one was Hey Jude/Revolution; the other Hey, You, Get Offa My Cloud; the teacher was notorious for showing up to class late - and we kids would put on the Stones or the Beatles and groove. The early songs were different - the difference made them more interesting... But I still didn't quite embrace it.

How do you put that? It was obvious how good they were; my friends and I liked the Stones - could sing along on most of their songs, probably considered half a dozen of them as good as anything... But I didn't obsess about them, and I'm not sure I had any friends who did. I had friends were obsessed over Springsteen (in high school and college); over the Beatles; Led Zeppelin; people who talked all the time about Pink Floyd or the Doors or Black Sabbath - later, U2, The Ramones, The Police, Prince.... I myself obsessed over the bands I've been writing about - The Who, the Zep, The Beatles, U2, Bruce - but I don't remember anyone who treated the Stones like their favorite band. We all knew them - loved them - but took them for granted. I did - I remember it that way. And it stayed that way, and might have to this day - except it didn't. Maybe there was an external reason - maybe they reissued all their CDs in the late 90s, and I bought them (I never bought the Stones before that - why bother> I had heard all their songs on the radio, I knew the good ones by heart - why bother?) - then listened to them (in those days before the iPod when I listed to whole records) - and suddenly found myself a convinced Rolling Stones fan. Whether it was taking the time to work through their records, being able to separate the actual music from the general (and generic) adulation, being able to separate their music from their imitators, or maybe being able to really understand the universality of their influence - whatever it was - I understood.

For they are a force. Impressive in their way for hanging around as long as they have - though I can't say I've followed the latter stages of their career. They were impressive enough for hanging around into the 80s, still making decent records - I had a cassette of Tattoo You that I listened to a great deal in college; Emotional Rescue and Undercover were still more than passable. But before that - they had a long run at their best - and at their best they were magnificent. With a much better range than I had noticed in the 70s and 80s - they moved through rather distinct phases: the early blue band, evolving into a pop band (though with a dark undercurrent, at their prettiest), trying psychedelia, before arriving at the rootsy sound they settled into - until they started paying around with disco and funk in the late 70s, and so on. They were credible at all of it, though some of it sounds a bit odd - they seem a bit lost and out of sorts in the Between the Buttons/Their Satanic Majesties Request era, though even there, the songs are still well crafted and made, and they are full of ideas and imagination. Between the Buttons, especially, can be a very jarring and cool sounding record - the cuts in the middle of the record, All Sold Out, or Who's Sleeping Here? or Cool, Calm Collected are very odd, very cool pieces, various kinds of pop disintegrating in your ears. They almost have a Frank Zappa vibe - things going in every direction at once....

Still - that's not their natural mode, exactly. The truth is, they are first rate songwriters, superb craftsmen, and better served by the songs where they establish a sound, a groove, a riff, and go with it. Nobody wrote better riffs. And nobody did a abetter job of working their riffs into the texture of the song, working the words into the riffs. And then playing them - they were tight and hard at the beginning; they were tight and hard in the 70s - they can still play those songs. Charlie and Keef are rightly worshipped; Mick Taylor ought to get some love too - he was only in the band for a few years, but he added high end guitar solos to the spines of those songs - things just take off... but all their guitar players give them something - Brian Jones put much of the decoration on those mid-60s records; Ron Wood regrounds them - brings out the core sound, though his presence also feels like a retreat: I like Mick Taylor... but that's all right.

And finally - the Stones don't get quite the credit they deserve as lyricists. They should - they should be considered among the elite there too. (Not that they didn't write a lot of dreck - but it's always mixed with the brilliance.) Very early on - Satisfaction, 19th Nervous Breakdown, As Tears Go By - they were writing clever, smart, sharp turns of phrase. They get to be as quotable as anyone - he can't be a man cause he doesn't smoke, the same cigarettes as me - your father's still perfecting ways of making ceiling wax - the squirmin' dog who's just had her day (now - I can't say they're lyrics are exactly edifying - more on that in a while) - I was born in a cross fire hurricane - I went down to the demonstration to get my fair share of abuse - when you're sitting back in your rose pink cadillac making bets on Kentucky derby day - I been walking' central park, singing after dark, people think I'm crazy... this can go on forever. Now - there's no doubt, they are willing to go over the line - songs like Under My Thumb, Brown Sugar, etc., are pretty nasty bits of work - but as crafted as anything, and part of the craft is not quite letting you in on the joke. Is Under My Thumb a joke? it's certainly played up - siamese cat of a girl, the sweetest [pause] pet in the world... it probably doesn't matter if Mick meant it - he sells it, he writes it - the story it tells and how he tells it make it a heck of a song.

And so? Now? if I were making lists of bands here - they would probably get #2 - and in moments of weakness, maybe when heads is tails, I think that might be putting them too low. They are brilliant.

And so - Rolling Stones, top 10:

1. Sympathy for the Devil - this might be the main reason they might be #1 - because this is not just their best song, it might be the best rock song of them all. That groove; the solos; the rolling piano and bass line - and the lyrics: it's Jagger at his best (and he is among the best) - clever wordplay, a clear story, political and social commentary, literary references, delivered in his best drawl - I never get tired of hearing it. (Or quoting it - every cop is a criminal, and all the sinners saints...) And then you listen to the version on Get Your Ya Ya's Out, Keith and Mick Taylor trading solos - Taylor's a masterpiece (and Richards' a cool, biting, rhythmic stab at the song - they're both fantastic.) That recording does justice to the best rock song there is.)



2. You Can't Always Get What You Want
3. Dead Flowers
4. Jumpin' Jack Flash
5. (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction
8. No Expectations
7. Street Fighting Man
8. 19th Nervous Breakdown
9. Gimme Shelter
10. Under My Thumb

AS always, I could go to 30 without much difficulty... what can you do. Video? Start with very old Satisfaction performance:



And the Mick Taylor years - Jumping Jack Flash, live in New York:



And a complete set at the Marquee Club, if you have 40 minutes:



And some songs I should have put on the list - like Loving Cup, live in the 70s:



Or Mick singing to a track (and the others watching) of Play With Fire...



And high 80s video - disco! Mick in a white suit and a mustache! Keef as a terrorist!



And the present? if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need...