Friday, August 28, 2015

Friday Music Quickie

I am starting to run late this morning, so here is a simple random ten to keep the blog alive. I may be back later with something else - politics? film? who knows. For now, here's music:

1. PJ Harvey - Written on the Forehead
2. Eric Dolphy - Bird's Mother
3. Boris - Laser Beam
4. The Who - Young Man's Blues (live at Leeds)
5. Deerhoof = Panda Panda Panda
6. David Bowie - Starman
7. Sleater Kinney - Hollywood Ending
8. Wire - Mr. Suit
9. Yoko Ono - Open Your Box
10. Elvis Costello - Alison (live)

Video? The Who at the Isle of Wight to start off:

More drumming brilliance, Greg Saunier and Deerhoof:

And end with Elvis:

Friday, August 21, 2015

Lazy Summer Day

Another Friday. Another hot, sticky week, so I have gotten nothing of importance done, certainly nothing to post. I don't have much to talk about today - the world outside is as stupid as ever, with Donald Trump still showing up on every news source; Josh Duggar caught with his pants down again... though the Red Sox have been winning,a nd have unloaded Ben Cherington (and his 3 last place finishes in 4 years)...

And right now it is pouring outside - which might cool things down, if we're lucky. Maybe. Gotta hope.

Anyway - some music from the iRandomizer:

1. Bobby Darin - Happy
2. Franz Ferdinand - Stand on the Horizon
3. Peter Laughner - Lullaby
4. Madvillain - Rhinestone Cowboy
5. Mogwai - We're No Here
6. Gordon Lightfoot - Go-go Round
7. AC/DC - Ride On
8. Boredoms - Bo Go
9. Dead Moon - Dead Moon Night
10. The Carter Family - Bury me Under the Weeping Willow Tree

That was particularly random... Video? Dead Moon sounds like a good place to start:

or - Roseanne Cash, singing Bury Me Beneath the Weeping Willow Tree:

And - nothing live with Bon Scott on it, but some nice footage of old Bon, accompanying AC/DC's foray into slow blues:

Friday, August 14, 2015

That Used to be My Favorite Song

I don't know if it is just August, or if I have hit a snag, but I am having a hard time coming up with a subject for this month's Band of the Month. Probably mostly August and sloth, but I can see the shoals a-comin'. Not that there aren't plenty of bands left to write about (and list off songs) - but it might be harder to run out those 2000 word essays I am sometimes guilty of. And - I am starting to get to bands that, well, I think I need to do more work on before I write about. I may be forced to start researching these posts.

So far, I have had 3 criteria for this series: 1) bands I love, or have loved, or something like that; 2) bands that have some autobiographical significance - though this is starting to run out - quite a few of the recent bands have just been favorites, without a huge amount of biographical importance; 3) Bands that I have listened to pretty extensively, if not exhaustively - though a lot of them are pretty close to exhaustively, at least for their regular official releases. Now - 1 is not a problem - still lots of bands I like out there, love even - some quite devotedly. 2 might be harder to continue with - I got most of the extra-musical stuff done the first year. But it's 3 that's starting to pose problems. Maybe I should put up a 4) Bands that have put out a significant amount of music, that I am familiar with all the way through. Because when I look at the bands I haven't written about yet, that I want to - I notice a couple things. On the one side, bands that haven't got a very big library of material - Joy Division, Television, Gang of Four, Mission of Burma, say. And on the other side, bands that have a huge mass of material that I have not listened to comprehensively. I have a fair amount of Bob Dylan records, say, but there is such a mass of it... David Bowie; Neil Young; Captain Beefheart; Frank Zappa; the Kinks - I have a reasonable amount of most of them, but way less than half their total output. It is a problem. Other than Johnny Cash and a couple acts I dropped in the middle of their careers (Bruce Springsteen; U2) I have, or at least have heard, more or less everything (at least the official everything) of the bands I've listed. To do that with Dylan or Young to the Kinks is going to cost me a pretty penny and lots of time. It poses a problem.

Not an insurmountable problem. I rather look forward to spending some time trying to fill out my collection of Kinks or David Bowie records. (Dylan is daunting.) And there are bands that fit the criteria pretty well, and I am shameless enough to do a top ten off a greatest hits record if I have to... Material is forthcoming. But this is a good time to mark the likelihood that I might shift the focus of this series a bit, from bands to other sets of music. I started it partly as a way to add a little substance to my weekly music posts - something I tried fitfully through the years (like this one about a particularly nice Television song), but only managed to do with this series. It is something we may see more of though. Other types of lists (by decades or years or genres or what have you) - or whatever I do to accommodate bands that have problems fitting into the top 10 format. There are quite a few of those - from bands that only managed a couple records (a top 10 Sex Pistols songs list?) to bands that don't work through conventional songs. I have listened to a lot of more experimental bands in the last 10-15 years - Earth and Acid Mothers Temple and Godspeed You Black Emperor and so on - that... work differently. Even some more conventional bands feel that way to me - Sonic Youth and Six Organs of Admittance and the Melvins and Boris - seem harder to make a top 10 of then, you know, Bob Dylan.

All right. So - sorry for the meta whatever post this month. We should be back top our regularly scheduled whatever next month.

And since I couldn't settle on a band to write about, and indeed began to brood about same - let's go the opposite direction. If I am stymied in writing about Dylan or Bowie (who are on my mind) because I am missing too much of their music - let's make a virtue of it: and write about the best songs I have totally in isolation. That is: songs I have in iTunes, rated 5 stars (and then listed in order) - that are the only song I own by the artist. Which yields an unusual set of material, actually. Peter Gabriel? I like Peter Gabriel! I like lots of Peter Gabriel songs - but this is the only one I have bothered to acquire in any form. There are a couple of those - the Eels, The Brothers Johnson - I should have more of their stuff. It's not impossible I do, somewhere in some box somewhere, a greatest hits record or some such - when I started using iTunes I stuck a lot of single songs on it. Who knows. That is certainly the case with the Hoodoo Gurus - there's a compilation somewhere in the stacks... I was worried there might be some cringy songs on here - there are - Kansas? I can imagine some pushback against the Starland Vocal Band - though at least I avoided Coldplay. A close thing, too - I like Clocks, a fact that grieves me sore.... Still: this is not a guilty pleasures kind of post. I have also steered away from outright novelty songs - Right Said Fred (song or band), that sort of thing.... And so, without further ado - here it is: best 10 songs on my computer by artists I only have one song by on my computer:

1. Hoodoo Gurus - Bittersweet [Somewhere in the past I took the rest of the record this comes from off the computer; I considered eliminating them because of this - I own more - but... no, I'll stick with the letter of the law - this is the only song on the computer, so it goes... And indeed, it should be here, since this as good a justification for this post as any: a song that is seriously perfect, by a band that is mostly forgettable. No - that's not right: I remember the rest of their material as very pleasant pop rock in the same vein as this - but this transcends the rest of it. Alex Chilton would be proud of this song. It deserves a list to top.]
2. Peter Gabriel - Games without Frontiers
3. Brothers Johnson - Strawberry Letter 23
4. Eddie Money - Two Tickets to Paradise [this is pretty much the perfect song for this list: Eddie Money is awful; this is a surprisingly good song, and the guitar solo is, of course, brilliant.]
5. Mamas & the Papas - California Dreamin' [I think I must be dreamin' I have heard Monday Monday on my iPod - apparently it's not there.]
6. The Eels - Novacaine for the Soul [I should listen to them more]
7. Roger Miller - King of the Road [sort of novelty, but who doesn't love Roger Miller?]
8. Blind Melon - No Rain [another perfect fit for this - I have never heard any other Blind Melon songs - has anyone, ever? But I do like this.]
9. Kansas - Carry on My Wayward Son [a bit surprising that Dust in the Wind, at least, has never crept onto the machine, but just as well really.]
10. Starland Vocal Band - Afternoon Delight [definitely a novelty, but it's a hell of a novelty]

Video? 4 aging Australians who have probably played this song 2-300 times a year for the past 25 years, and still hit it dead square. There is nobility in that, something positively moving.

it's a knockout.... I am rather surprised I don't have any more Peter Gabriel (or Genesis, in any form) - I'm not a huge fan, but he (and they) have made some good stuff, something I should have. I have this anyway:

As for the Brothers Johnson, I think I do have a greatest hits record buried somewhere - I might have to find that... Since I haven't put it on the computer, I can include this song in this post, and it is Ace,

Trailors for sale or rent, rooms to let 50 cents... Roger Miller performing on TV, with the kids squealing like he's a Beatle:

And I will end with Kansas - I think Steve Walsh wanted people to know he was working out.

Friday, August 07, 2015

Dog Days of Music

High summer has been here, though we're probably starting to get past the worst of it. New England having gotten off very lightly this year - the world outside is melting and we are getting nothing worse than a week or so of moderate heat. We did get a neat hail storm the other day, even neater for being done and the sun back out in half an hour or so. Still - I think I will keep it simple this week - just see what iTunes can produce. Nothing worth noting going on in the world (Republican debate? why do I care? I don't watch Fox news, and don't care who they give a show to - and is this about anything more lofty than getting a slot of Fox?) Anyhoo...

1. Bruce Springsteen - Jungleland
2. 13th Floor Elevators - Everybody Needs Somebody to Love
3. My Bloody Valentine - (When you Wake) You're Still in a Dream
4. Badfinger - No Matter What
5. Dungen - Finns Det Nagon Mojlighet
6. Bruce Springsteen - Atlantic City
7. The Red Krayola - Yik Yak
8. Raconteurs - The Switch and the Spur
9. Earth - Like Gold and Faceted
10. Cream - Badge

Video: Broooce!

Maybe some Badfinger:

and - though both are sound only - we can't let 2 sets of Texas geniuses come up witdhout posting something, can we? Red Krayola -

and 13th Floor Elevators, live:

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Summer time Film Going

It has been a long time since I have managed to do this - I need to get back into the habit. I could blame my Russian class int he spring, and have been inclined to blame the heat lately - but there is no excuse. Time to write! Time to write about films - since the end of June, these are.

Starting with the most recent films I saw, two extraordinary documentaries about the evil than men do and the good they would do. Both utterly heart breaking films:

Don't Think I have Forgotten: Cambodia's Lost Rock and Roll - 12/15 - Documentary about Cambodia's rock and roll scene of the 60s and 70s, and also Cambodia's history through its pop music, Sinn Sisimouth on. Start with Cambodia's independence - France let them go without a drawn out war - and continues through the 50s and 60s, as they tried to find a place to survive in an increasingly perilous world. Follows the music - the influences from outside - Afro-cuban, French, later British, American soul, American rock - showing how these outside styles influenced their music, and how the music itself evolved. The European and American music fed into Cambodian styles, especially gtheir singing styles and melodies, to create something really cool. There's quite a lot of detail, digging into the artists, the development of the music, the business and so on. This story is poised against the political history - Cambodia's attempts to thread a neutral path between its enemies - which can't hold. You see the dangers gathering - you see the bad decisions by Cambodians (Sihanouk's flirtations with both sides, the coup that overthrew him, his flirtation with the Khmer Rouge), the casual villainy of the United States, the opportunism of the Chinese and Vietnamese - leading to the final horror of the Khmer Rouge takeover. And the killing fields - which wiped out not just the music, but many of the musicians. Seeing them bac to back, you can't help notice the parallels with Look of Silence - in Cambodia, communists killed anti-communists; in Indonesia, anti-communists killed communists - though the actual targets of both seem eerily similar - artists, intellectuals, small time labor leaders, teachers.... At the end - the film does justice to those who survived - letting them speak, of the joys of their youth and the horrors of the 70s - and is a fine tribute to them all.

Look of Silence - 13/15 - This is the follow up to one of the films of the decade, The Act of Killing - again examining the anti-communist bloodbath of the 1960s in Indonesia. This time, Joshua Oppenheimer approaches the killings from the victim's side, particular one Adi, the brother of a man killed in the massacre in 1965. Adi was born later, 1968 - he grew up without the direct memory of the killings, though unable to escape their effects. He is an eye doctor, and uses this as a hook to talk to many of the people involved in killing his brother - he meets them and tries to get them to apologize, not heavy handedly - just telling them who he is, and asking if they have regrets. These interviews are the spine of the film. There are several of them. A thin old man who talks about drinking blood to not go crazy, and asks why Adi wants to talk about politics. The leader of the paramilitary, who brags about the killings until Adi mentions his brother, then tries hard to avoid the responsibility. (Oh, the army ordered us! he says.) There's a politician who as much as threatens that they will do it again if Adi keeps asking questions. Then another old man with his daughter - she talks about being proud of her father, but then the old man tells his version of the story of drinking blood to not go mad, and she cracks. Indeed - she is the one person on the side of the killers who does so - she apologizes, begs forgiveness, tries to reconcile. Adi talks to his own uncle, who was in the army, a guard at the prison camp - who tries to avoid responsibility for his part And finally, Adi confronts the widow of another of the leaders, a man who had been seen bragging about it on archive footage, showing off a book about it and bragging about killing Ramli (Adi's brother) by name. Ramli died hard - running away, being recaptured, being stabbed repeatedly without dying, finally being castrated and bleeding to death. Adi asks his widow and children about it, and they deny ever knowing about it - he shows them the book, with a drawing of Ramli being taken away from his family and they deny ever seeing the book. So Oppenheimer plays the clips from earlier, showing the man talking about it, showing the book to his wife and others. The man's sons get defensive and even turn on Oppenheimer. These visits are interwoven with scenes with Adi's family - his parents (father ancient, blind, crippled, mostly deaf, thinking he is 17, forgetting everything else - his mother, also old though not that old, and seeming to have forgotten nothing - and his children, growing up learning the stories of the killings, that still praise them as defeating evil communists. The film ends, finally, with Adi and his parents visiting another survivor - the father is lost, he doesn't know where he is; the mother falls into the man's arms weeping.

In the end, this is less formally thrilling than The Act of Killing, but even more gut wrenching. And it is a picture of the sheerest courage - Adi's interviews with his brother's killers might be the bravest thing I have ever seen on film. More than once, you know that all that is standing between Adi and death is a Danish film crew and an American with a camera. (An impression borne out in Oppenheimer's description of the measures they took to ensure their safety.) In a way, this film works like a sane, pacifist version of The Emperor's Naked Army Marches on - Adi confronts people who did heinous things, trying, over and over, to get them to acknowledge what they did, and that it was heinous - without any luck. But he does so peacefully, gently even, calm and direct in the face of the past - as quiet as Kenzo Okuzaki is ferocious. Paired, especially, Oppenheimer's films rank with the very best documentaries.

The Tribe - 11/15 - A fairly standard Young Gangster film made interesting by 2 things - all the characters are deaf, and perform it all in sign language without translations; and it contains a total of 34 shots (per IMDB; I counted 28 myself, but probably missed a handful.) Those are both gimmicks, but they work. The film is a tour de force, with those long takes and silence, and the visual punch of the sign language - performed with great elan, and very well made. Clear story telling, visually engaging, and so on. The formal properties are superb: the silence, the editing, the camera movements, the use of sound, the choreography - bands of kids moving back and forth - as well as the silent filmmaking chops. The story - is old hat, probably old hat 100 years ago (one kid in a gang falls for one of the girls and gets crosswise the rest of the gang, with lethal results), but traditional genres are traditional for reasons; this one doesn't do anything new with the story, but plenty new (or newish), and all very well with the form. And old hat or not, it is engaging - a very good film.

Do I Sound Gay? - 10/15 - Documentary about the "gay voice" - where it comes from, what it is, and so on - interesting, if not revelatory. Follows the writer/director, David Thorpe, as he examines his own voice, and takes steps to change it - there is plenty of interesting material around this. Old clips of comedians with "sissy" voices - Paul Lynde, Rip Taylor, Charles Nelson Reilly, Liberace - as a potential model; interviews with speech therapists, on the gendering of speech and so on; discussions of performance, and how - and why - sounding gay is sometimes perceived as worse than being gay. (A revealing Louis CK joke to that affect...) There is a lot of interesting material here, maybe too much - lots of questions and observations are raised, but they aren't always followed through that deeply.

Tangerine - 12/15 - Christmas eve in LA, with 2 trans prostitutes, Alexandra and Sin-Dee Rella. Sindee is just out of jail, and Alexandra tells her that her pimp/lover has been cheating, with a woman - so Sindee goes on the war path to find her. She tracks her down, and drags her back to confront Chester the pimp, while the film follows two other characters, Alexandra, and an Armenia cabbie named Razmik, who is having a very bad day. Annoying fares, 2 drunks puking in his cab, and finally what he thinks is a ladyboy prostitute who doesn't have anything between her legs - but he hooks up with Alexandra, and things get better. That night, Alexandra has a gig singing in a club - though only Sindee and Chester's white fish show up. And then they all converge on the donut shop (Sindee, the white girl, Chester, Alexandra, Razmik, Razmik's mother in law and his wife) to have it out. All of it adds up to a remarkable film. Shot on iPhones, taking full advantage of their size and flexibility, a really fine looking film. It's carried by the performances though - the leads (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor) are fantastic - charismatic, funny, surprising. A very fine film.

Mr. Holmes - 9/15 - An entertaining and sometimes almost moving story about a very old Sherlock Holmes, losing his memory, going to Japan to get "Prickly Ash" - a plant with magical powers he hopes. He is hosted by a Japanaese man who seems to adulate him, but turns out to have lost his father because Holmes told the man to stay in England. Back in England, Holmes' health declines, and especially his memory - but he teaches his housekeeper's son bee keeping, and tries to remember a story that caused him to retire. The film jumps around between these time frames - the present in the country, the story he is trying to remember, and his time in Japan - and all come to their climax together. Roger is stung almost to death, but by wasps (one last piece of fairly obvious detection for the old man), and he remembers the story - a woman who lost two still born children loses her mind and he doesn't prevent her suicide... (Sorry for spoiling it, in case anyone is reading this... but I've spoiled better films already haven't I?) Anyway - it is sentimental nonsense - I've been reading Sherlock Holmes stories this summer and he failed rather often to save people, and while he always strove to avenge them, it doesn't seem likely to break him... But that aside - apart from the sentimentality, Ian McKellan and the kid playing Roger (Milo Parker) are fantastic. I'm sure Laura Linney would be too, if she had anything to do. But they are great and worth seeing the film for.

Amy - 11/15 - Biography of Amy Winehouse that does justice to her, as an artist as well as a fuckup. Starts with Amy in home movies, ae 14 or so, belting out happy birtthday, and then marches through her life - singing professionally at 16, making a record around 20, winning prizes, with a kind of jazzy sound - going more pop in 2006 with a huge record - then everything coming apart. Though we also see that it was always apart - she was already a pothead at 16, etc. Her nemesis is her boyfriend and eventual husband, one Blake Fielder, a flashy club kid who takes up with her, lives an amour fou, then dumps her; when she becomes a huge star he comes back, and they sink into crack, heroin and so on (along with booze) - and - 5 years of decline as it happened, until she died. And so? I didn't think much about Amy Winehouse when she was alive - the film does a fine job of demonstrating what the fuss was about. She had a stunning set of pipes, and more talent for song writing than I had any idea of. The film dwells on her songs - maybe leaning a bit toward milking the autobiographical content from them, but still showing them clearly, showing her songwriting skills. They are good songs. I'm still not totally convinced - she's a fine singer, a master of old styles, but all of it comes off a bit to derivative, too polite - she's too much Tony Bennett, not enough Frank Sinatra. But that's a matter of degrees - and she died at 27 and was basically done as an artist at 22 - if she'd had half a chance to survive a while, she might have lived up to the raw talent. Unfortunately, her doom seems pre-ordained: she was screwed up young and stayed screwed up, and surrounded by people who wren't going to let her troubles get in the way of her paycheck. Blake might be the most obvious monster, but you feel a hint or so of sympathy for him - he's in the same state she's in, after all. But her father and her manager come off as just about as crass and oblivious to her condition - they are riding the gravy train and trying to get everything out of it they can, as if they knew she wasn't long for the world, and they wee going to make their bank before she went. The kid never had a chance.

Big Game - 8/15 - Fake 80s style action comedy - the president's plane is shot down in Finland by Walter Palmer - wait, no - but - terrorists, or big game hunters - something. But on the ground, the president (played by Samuel L Jackson, who would make a fine president) is found by a 13 year old on some kind of coming of age mission to kill him an animal in the woods. The kid proceeds to save the day. Yay! It is all amusing, sometimes very nifty - though also usually simplistic and sometimes rather dumb. It's an homage to the 80s, in a way that seems half serious and half comical - since a lot of the films it riffs on were half serious half comic the math get confusing - but it's more than enjoyable enough on its own terms.

Testament of Youth - 9/15 - This is a handsome, inteligent adaptation of Vera Brittain's memoir of WWI. Brittain's book is a bit of a brute - very long and full of horrors, being about WWI - the film is not very long, and though it has its share of horrors it doesn't really do justice to the book. It starts well, this new film, but falls apart in the second half - which is probably an inevitable by product of the story. The book covers WWI and its aftermath - an in conventional terms (and this is a very conventional film), her story is very front-loaded. All the drama happens up front - she studies for Oxford - she meets Roland Leighton, a young poet on his way to Oxford - she gets into Oxford! - the war starts and all the boys go off to war - she goes to Oxford, but decides she can't be in school while men are dying in the Belgian mud, so she becomes a VAD (a volunteer nurse) - and then Roland dies in the Belgian mud. All that is by the end of 1915: there are still 3 years of war to go; 3 more close friends to die; and then it's back to Oxford and time to End War Forever. The effect is noticeable in the book (which I read for the class I've mentioned before, The Great War in Film and Literature) - it is a definite slog through the middle parts, a long march of death and pain - but Brittain knows it, and makes that part of the story. It is a story of endurance, survival - and survivor's guilt (in spades) - and maybe ultimately redemption and return to life, sort of. She makes it work by making the endurance part of her subject - treating her experiences like stations of the cross in her education: the Mediterrainean, Edward's wounding, Victor's death, her time in France and Hope Milroy, Edward's death and so on. And she makes it work by always maintaining a double perspective on the material, from beginning to end. Her voice writing in 1933 is always present, always important - along with her sense of her immediate reactions to events. (Often achieved with primary sources - letters and poems written at the time, incorporated whole into the memoir.) This film is pretty good, actually, through the first part, the dramatic part, the love story - but completely lost once Roland is gone. It never figures out how to get through the rest of the war, so reduces the main events to a couple scenes, and drops much of the material that gives the book its emotional punch: the sense of the length of the war; Vera's friendship with an older nurse, Hope Milroy; her brother's increasing bitterness as the war progresses. It speeds past things that have great resonance for Vera - her survivor's guilt, particularly, which is made worse when she leaves the VAD to take care of her mother; this happens in the film without any weight. It's probably hopeless, really - there's no way to make a conventional film out of the material without butchering the material, and this is a very conventional film. Though to be fair - even as a mini-series, it ran into trouble - it could cover the material, but they also dropped Brittain's narration, and that flattened out the material. It's a problem - that love story at the beginning makes it a tempting story to film - the rest of the story makes it very likely to come short...

Still - I wish they could have done better. The cast is very good - Alicia Vikander is especially good, Kit Harrington holds his own, and the rest of the cast is fine. But Vikander, particularly, doesn't get enough to do - Vera Brittain's character is flattened out along with the story - the politics (and it is a very political book - feminist and pacifist, and quite pointedly so in both) is mostly gone, certainly made polite. She registers suffering - she doesn't register the anger that is obvious in the book...

Friday, July 31, 2015

Murder, Empathy and Some Songs

It is Friday, time for more music - but maybe more than music. One of these days I might manage more than one post a week! but until then it can't hurt to expand the one post a bit.

Another week with a lot going on, I admit. Might we relate some of these events?

1) In Cincinnati, another policeman shooting another black person - this time, though, the cop has been indicted. The cop shot the man for no reason, and did it on camera - so... stunning how much it takes to get a case to come to this level of justice; also stunning to think just how arrogant some cops can be. How little attention they pay to the evidence that could emerge against them.

2) Cecil the Lion: this has been dominating the internet lately - a famous lion on a wildlife reservation in Zimbabwe was lured off the preserve and shot by an American dentist called Walter Palmer who paid $50,000+ to kill a lion. International outrage follows. Palmer's dental practice is chased out of business in short order by internet abuse and real life protests. Well - he deserves it. It's hard to fathom the awfulness of this person - flying around the world to kill rare animals for fun, at least some of the time breaking the law to do it; and then look at the way he immediately blamed his guides when he got caught! A real class guy.

It really is an awful story - I just don't get it at all. I understand hunting - I don't have any interest in it myself, never did, but I grew up in semi-rural places, and most of my family still lives in rural and semi-rural places, I have always known lots of hunters. And they strike me as being as unlike this Palmer character as I am. Hunting deer and birds - they hunt things they plan to eat (and that seems like a baseline: if you aren't going to eat it, don't kill it - not a complete moral system there, but an irreducible core of one); they hunt things where they are part of the ecological system. Deer hunters help control the population, which can cause problems when it gets too big - they have replaced the wolves and puma humans killed off centuries ago... And most of the hunters I know are also part of the ecology in the sense that they hunt where they live, hunt in the same environment. They live with deer year round; they share the ecology; the deer eats their zucchini and they eat the deer.... All this is completely unlike Palmer: he isn't eating the lions and elephants and bears he's killing; he isn't hunting creatures who are plentiful and have no other predators - in fact some of them are quite rare; and he isn't part of the ecology of the place he's hunting in. He's flying halfway around the world and paying someone else thousands of dollars to let him take a shot at something. Oh yeah - the deer hunters I know do their own shooting; they don't hire a band of locals to take all the risks and do most of the work. There's simply no level of contempt deep enough for this fucker.

3) A meme - I have seen a couple instances of this, complaints about all the attention for a dumb beast and none for the poor suffering XXX. Marco Rubio might be the most prominent person to post it (if Marco Rubio can be considered prominent), and he put it in the most ignorant and dishonest form, bringing up that bogus planned parenthood story.... For people like Rubio the lies are deep - because in what universe is anyone ignoring that planned parenthood video? both sides are flogging the hell out of that thing - no one is ignoring it. And really, the whole point is absurd. Yes there is a lot of attention paid to Cecil and his killer, but there is plenty of attention paid to the rest of the world. Look back at #1 - another police killing, getting a fair amount of attention. That is a pattern of stories that has been receiving attention for a couple years, which continues. The three recent mass killings in the good old USA continue to get plenty of attention. I've seen stories popping up about George Zimmerman, poor fellow. (He's homeless apparently - a shame, since in a just world he would be housed at the state's expense for some decades.) It's hard to see evidence that people are not moved by human suffering. Maybe not every single horror show the world has to offer - but there are no lack of horror shows.

The meme (why are people so worked up about a dead lion when there is human suffering to worry about?) misses the important point: all of this - all compassion, for anyone and anything - is based on the human ability to empathize. I came across a TED Talk about the rise of human beings - how did we become the apex predator of apex predators? The answer? Imagination - or maybe empathy - the ability to create stories that other people share, that bind us together. Or you could say - the ability to see ourselves in others - other people, other animals. To imagine their inner lives. It;'s obvious how this works with people - maybe less so how it works with animals, though it's not too far off - isn't that how we came to domesticate animals? We imagine dogs and cats (and horses, and even cows and pigs and chickens) as beings with some kind of consciousness that we can relate to, and we relate to them. Even a lot of the creatures we eat - we form bonds with them. (And they benefit - at the evolutionary level anyway: cows and pigs and chickens won't be endangered any time soon.) So - how can it be bad that people form a bond with a wild animal living half a world away from us? And understanding how killing it is an abomination? I don't think it distracts from our ability to sympathize with people - I think it helps form the habits of sympathy, that extends to other people.

Well - I guess that was more than just some observations to attach to a lit of songs... So I guess we're in for something less random today - today And now I find that I have written too much to allow me to append a random list of songs... so less random:

1. The Germs - Lion's Share
2. Dire Straights - Lions
3. Neko Case - Lion's Jaws
4. Sleater Kinney - Lions and Tigers
5. Wire - Ex Lion Tamer

Video: start with Dire Straits:

And add a bit - maybe Ladysmith Black Mambazo singing the Lion Sleeps Tonight?

And maybe some topical humor. In case of accidents he always took his mom - also appropriate I think:

This also comes to mind:

Friday, July 24, 2015

On the Ground Like a Wild Potato

Good morning. A very lovely day outside - after a few days of real heat this week. More heat coming next week - nothing all that bad, really, for Boston, but it's been a cool summer, so it comes as a shock.

The world? The bloodshed and misery does not seem to want to stop - this one might be harder to politicize (from the preliminary reports) - just another crazy white guy. That's not a comfort exactly.

Comfort is hard to find. The local 9 have fallen on very hard times - I suppose that is a comfort to many fans, who have seemed a bit out of step with the Sox' successes. we are so used to suffering in Boston! having a team we can feel sorry for ourselves about is a bit of a comfort. Could be. I have taken some solace in the Tour de France - a fascinating event, way more addictive than I would ever have thought. Though it's been tough this week - the best American, Tejay Van Garderen, had been doing very well, top three for most of the race - but it all went wrong. A respiratory illness in the Alps - not an easy thing to ride a bike race with. So - it took some of the air out of the race, mainly because it looked like the most interesting battle was going to be for third place. 1 and 2 are Chris Froome and Nairo Quintana, who finished 1-2 2 years ago, and don't look likely to be challenged this year. 3rd place looked like it could be a fight. Still does, kind of, though it's harder to muster a rooting interest in the likes of Alberto Contador and Alejandro Valverde.

Enough of that. There is comfort in the world - music! and so to the business of the day.

1. Richard Thompson - I Still Dream
2. Billie Holiday & Lester Yong - This Year's Kisses
3. The Raconteurs - The Switch and the Spur
4. PJ Harvey - Who the Fuck?
5. Melvins - Pearl Bomb
6. Melt-Banana - Stick Out
7. Radiohead - Kid A
8. The High Back Chairs - Summer
9. Scott Walker - Face on Breast
10. B-52s - Private Idaho

Well - that was a good crop... Video? We have some PJ Harvey still, can't miss that:

Melt Banana might also be in order:

And the B-52s of course:

Friday, July 17, 2015

I'm Immortal When I'm With You

For this month's Band of the Month, we are back in the 90s and 00s, this time for one of the acts that brought me back into contemporary music in the late 90s: PJ Harvey.

I don't remember exactly when this happened - late 90s, 96, 97 - after her career was established, anyway. I remember seeing her on MTV back in the early 90s, but I didn't care, I was listening to jazz then - I picked up on her later. I remember a couple things: listening to Rid of Me and To Bring You My Love somewhat obsessively for a while; then seeing her on TV, singing songs from To Bring You My Love and Is This Desire. A TV show - must have been Sessions at West 54th Street (having consulted the googles, I see it was; I saw a few episodes of that show - Cibo Matto say...) - that was 98 or 99. The records came first, but that really sealed it - seeing her sing made those songs all the better. (Big fish little fish swimmin' inna water, come back here man gimme my daughter...) Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea just deepened it - those big jangly guitars, right in my wheelhouse. But really, she's been there since I started listening to her - Bring You My Love fit in nicely with what I listened to in the 90s - Pere Ubu and Built to Spill, to Sleater Knney and Captain Beefheart - and she led me to other things. Listening to PJ Harvey probably got me to check out Sleater Kinney - I am quite sure that Nick Cave's association with Harvey was the reason I picked up his records. I think I bought Murder Ballads first because of the duet with her. In this series, I've put her at the end of a 90s and 00s artists - but the truth is, she was the source of my interest in a lot of them.

Looking back across her career now, she is even more impressive. How much range she has! From punk (or post-punk - a musical offspring of Patti Smith and Nick Cave) to electronica/blues to jangly guitar pop to weird piano ballds (starting to sound like Kate Bush) to weird folk, sometimes all at once! She is a chameleon - changing styles; changing her voice, up and down in pitch, whispers, screams, shouts, croons, belting them out, thin and pretty sometimes, rich and powerful other times, capable of anything; changing her look. Looking through videos across her career - she covers pretty much every imaginable look, from punk to trashy to glamorous, to those weird white and black dresses she's featured in recent years. The look changes, her style changes - but she's there, a calm center - commanding every stage she's on. That volatility has always been her trademark, I think - the dynamic of her songs, the soft/hard dynamic on the early records; the mix of pretty melodies and seductive rhythms with edgy themes in the later ones - the shifts in tone, texture of songs, the sudden splashes of sound. She keeps you on your toes.

And finally, as a songwriter - she's among the elites. She's among my favorites - Cave; David Thomas; Mick and Keef; Richard Thompson, Lou Reed. Like Cave (and often Thomas, Thompson, Reed) she's more story teller than lyricist - she writes as a narrator - very striking on the early records, where the voice was often a man's, and on Let England Shake, where the stories were topical - and does it with great control, telling the story, and getting you into the narrator's emotional state. She creates characters that you come to know in 3 minutes - it's a gift. And she can turn a phrase with the best of them:
Seen and Done Things I Want to Forget
I don't want to make a fuss, I want to make my own fuckups
Until the light shines on me, I damn to hell every second you breath
I've lain with the devil, cursed god above, forsaken heaven, to bring you my love
Does it have to be a life full of dread, want to chase you round a table, want to touch your head...

Yes. So - on to the list, a top 10:

1. To Bring You My Love
2. Down By The Water
3. The Words That Maketh Murder
4. The Whores Hustle and the Hustlers Whore
5. Rid of Me
6. Big Exit
7. Man-Size
8. Catherine
9. Dress
10. My Beautiful Leah

And video: Start here, a 1991 full concert. Right at the beginning - she had such a big voice, big sound, that she could go anywhere, and has gone most places. These early clips, she is so confident and powerful - there's nothing missing, she's a neo-punk act as good as anyone else at the time, and better in ways, her song writing voice - her perspective - and her voice, which is just shocking, even then:

Here she is in 1993, playing Rid of Me on Leno - Leno; electric; solo (which I didn't really notice til the long shots came - she and a guitar can fill the world):

Down by the Water, 95 - Jools Holland:

This is the TV show I saw back in the 90s - Sessions at West 54th Street - this is I Think I'm a Mother and Is This Desire, plus an interview with David Byrne:

To Bring You My Love - playing guitar, 2003:

Speak to me of your inner charm, how you'll keep me, safe from harm - I don't think so...

Words That Maketh Murder, live:

And end with another complete concert, from 2011:

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Happy Bastille Day!

The Tour de France is starting back up today, moving into the mountains - always fun. This year's race looks likely to come down to an Englishman (from Kenya) vs. a Columbian, with an American, Spaniard and Italian in serious contention - well - it's an international sport. So here, to celebrate it, is a group of Germans:

And to wish our French friends a happy Bastille Day, here are some nice Canadian boys:

And finally, a very French performance of the Marsiellaise:

Monday, July 13, 2015

Halftime Film Report

I know I have become an awfully lazy blogger - lucky to get a list of autogenerated songs up every week, and that one long essay a month... Maybe an anniversary will wake me up, but those have faded, what with the Civil War over... Sad sad.

I haven't had a movie post up in forever - without external stimulation, I don't know if I'd have gotten one out this year. Of course that might help suggest why I have been such a slug here - I took a class in the spring, which as it happened did involve a pretty substantial Eisenstein paper. The Russians did rather finish me off for a while - at least that's what I hope happened. There's a decent post version of that Eisenstein paper somewhere - it might surface eventually...

For now though, I just want to get a hand in. I used to do this more often - knock off a Best So Far list about halfway through the year. Been a while since I have done that - three years in fact. Sad. But as a way of getting a hand back in, it'l do. So without too much ado - here are the 10 best films I have seen, in something like a real release this year:

1. Winter Sleep
2. Adieu au Langage
3. About Elly
4. Clouds of Sils Maria
5. The Wolfpack
6. Juaja
7. What we Do in the Shadows
8. The King and the Mockingbird
9. Amy
10. Results

And a much smaller list - best films I have seen dated 2015 - it's too early to do much of this: most of the films that I see in theazters the first half of any year are older, catching up on all last year's international films. (Thgough this year has been a bit ridiculous in that - The King and the Mockingbird? even About Elly is 6 years old. And if I wanted to really cheat, I could include Rebels of the Neon God, which is getting what I think is its first American theatrical run. I've seen it already, though, some years back at the MFA, so that's a bit too much for me. But I might as well post something from this year - since I have only seen 12 films dated 2015 (I think) - well - might as well rank them all. Very heavy on the documentaries...

1. The Wolfpack
2. Amy
3. Results
4. Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles
5. Iris
6. While We're Young
7. I'll see You in My Dreams
8. I am Big Bird
9. When Marnie Was There
10. Slow West
11. Mad Max Fury Road
12. Danny Collins

Actually - nothing bad - I enjoyed those all the way down (with occasional reservations). So not bad really.

I may even try to get some reviews up in the coming weeks - always a hope.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Musical Interlude

I am back. This is by rights my band of the month week, but that will have to wait. The holiday last week, and childhood film series entry this week, have me well behind. A weak excuse, but I have become so lazy.... It's all right. It's coming.

For now, then, just songs, randomized and all that.

1. Big Black - L Dopa
2. Ton Waits - Rainbirds
3. Dinosaur Jr. - Tarpit
4. Replacements - Within Your Reach
5. Tom Waits - Oily Night
6. Jay Farrar - Old LA
7. Scott Walker - Winter Night
8. Missy Elliot - Pump it Up
9. The Postal Service - Natural Anthem
10. Meat Puppets - The Touchdown King

Video - obviously Tom Waits this week. This is a neat piece of work, a student film set to Oily Night:

And - let's do - Big Black, live:

And maybe a preview for next week....

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Let the Right One In

Published as part of the Childhood Films countdown at Wonders in the Dark.

Adolescence can be a terrible time. It can be very painful. It is a time when you lose yourself, lose what you have been, and become a new person in spite of yourself. For most of us, this happens surrounded by others going through the same thing at the same time - is it any wonder how horribly 12 and 13 year olds can treat one another? Let the Right One In is a vampire movie, and a bit of a social satire (if that’s the word) - but mostly, it is about that time when you stop being a child and start to become something else (not quite an adult - but not a child). It is about loss - the loss of childhood, of identity, though also other losses (losing connections with other people, through death or changes in you and them) - but also about what you become. Change is loss, but also gain - you lose who you were, you become someone new. It is about the effects of these changes on groups of kids - about their cruelty, their pain, about how they cope, and perhaps escape.

The main story is about Oskar, a 12 year old living in a particularly horrifying suburb of Stockholm in 1981 (a period promising transition itself - Brezhnev was on his last legs; Reagan was rattling sabers across the sea - the Cold War itself was starting to change, but it wasn't sure what it was going to change into, and Sweden was right there between the two of them). Oskar lives with his mother, who is seldom home; his father lives in the country and is something of a refuge for the boy (except when he's drinking). He goes to school, where he is too clever for his own good, with an excessive interest in police matters; his classmates torment him mercilessly, and he goes home and imagines bloody vengeance on them. There don't seem to be any other kids in his apartment complex; then one moves in - Eli, a strange girl about his age who doesn't seem to dress appropriately for the cold, who seems about as lonely and suspicious as Oskar. It doesn't take them long to become friends - they bond over a Rubik's cube, and they are soon very close.

But Eli has secrets of her own. The film doesn't waste a lot of time letting us in on them - she lives with a Hakan, an odd, quiet, older man, who murders and guts people in the woods to bring her blood. Or tries - when he is interrupted, she has to go out herself and find prey, for she is a vampire. She kills a middle aged drunk, touching off a sub plot involving a number of aging alcoholics, who may have seen her. Meanwhile, things escalate at the school - the kids bullying Oskar get worse, and when he fights back (at Eli's urging), he hurts one of them badly enough to cause further repercussions. The assorted plots build - rising trouble among the kids; the developing friendship and intimacy between Oskar and Eli; and the complications coming out of the killings. Hakan is caught in the act of trying to kill another kid, and leaves Eli alone; one of the friends of the man she killed finds her and tries to kill her while she sleeps, but Oskar warns her and she kills the man; then the boys at school try to get their ultimate vengeance on Oskar, but Eli saves him in a spectacularly gruesome fashion, and they leave together.

It delivers as a horror film, but it is much more concerned with the relationships. The film concentrates on Oskar and Eli - the novel it is based on develops a number of relationships in addition to theirs. It delves into the lives of the kids who torment Oskar; it details Eli and Hakan's relationship; it spends more time with the old drinkers; more time with Oskar and his family. But the broader scope of the book mainly expands and deepens the themes that are at the heart of Oskar and Eli's relationship - the sense of loss, loneliness, change, and their powerlessness against that change. In the book, we learn that the bullies are more like Oskar than not - they lose parents, families, they are going through the same changes he is - they take their troubles out on him, creating a chain of misery. The film retains hints of this - Oskar's main tormenter has an older brother, who is introduced in the film bullying the little brother (who will pass it on to Oskar); the film also retains the subplot with Ginia and Lacke, an older couple who are in the process of losing one another (and in the end, lose everything.) This is a world of pain; everyone is alone, everyone is isolated - and Eli is the epitome of all of their pain.

Most of the characters are kids, most of them on the edge of puberty, about to change forever - and Eli is trapped forever at that very moment. Eli was made a vampire at age 12 - taken from his family, castrated, tortured to death, though not to actual death, then trapped forever at that point of transition and pain. Eli is locked forever in pre-pubescence, trapped between childhood and adulthood, between boy and girl, life and death, ageless and 12 years old, always in the middle. The film is extraordinary at capturing her strange condition - it shows her childishness, her sense of discovery of the world, of things like the Rubik's cube, her loneliness, her desire for contact, a connection, her willingness to try things - while never losing the sense that she is hundreds of years old, has been through this before, has suffered everything and more. And that she is a vampire, and must live on blood, is subject to a host of rules and conditions - she will catch fire in the sun; she cannot enter a place without being invited, without consequences, and so on. She is immensely powerful, but she can't get along without the help of others. We see it in her relationship with Oskar - she genuinely likes him, she longs for friendship, for communication - but she also sees that she can use him, that he can replace Hakan. She uses him - his anger and fear, his loneliness - while at the same time responding to him directly, as one lonely child to another. The film handles this with great care, we can see both; it is a superb balancing act.

And it is a superb film throughout. I've written before about its look, the cold spare spaces of Blackeberg, all square buildings and empty courtyards, a fair version of hell, but that excellence is everywhere in the film. It's beautiful, and it uses its look and feel to advance the themes. It is a film about the end of childhood, about transition - and plays that out, all the shots of doorways and windows and gates we see. The themes come from the book - the importance of those liminal spaces, the central metaphor of the vampire's inability to go in uninvited, with Eli as the ultimate liminal character, forever caught <i>between</i> - and the film finds the imagery to give them weight and power.

So we come back to adolescence, to the traumatic transition from a childhood to maturity, to the loss of oneself, and the discovery of a new self - and the importance of that part of the change. Oskar, at the end of the film, has lost everything - abandoned his family, his life, left a trail of devastation in his wake - he is moving into a very uncertain future, very possibly headed for a life of slavery to a vampire who needs him to kill for her, and certainly obliged to drag her around with him wherever he goes.... But he is on his way somewhere - moving, alive, sane, not locked in a trunk until sunset. He has put off the childish things, and become someone else, something no one else, not even Eli, can do.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Politics, Music and so On

Happy Friday. It has been Another One of Those Weeks, so this will not be the most interesting of posts... On the other hand, it has been a very interesting, and rather heartening, week in the real world, so....

The big news is that the Moops did not invade Spain - I mean, that it is possible to recognize errors in a text. I mean - that Obamacare is legal as stands, and that a phrase that seems to contradict the clear meaning of the rest of the law, cannot be used to invalidate the law. So says John Roberts, communist. This is a very good thing. Millions of people who have health insurance because of the ACA will continue to have health insurance; the law itself will be embedded into the fabric of the country (isn't that what Obama said somewhere? ah, the hazards of skimming through Twitter for my news...) - thus very difficult to get rid of. It also will probably serve to seal Obama's place among the great presidents - his legacy is going to be hard to parse out, I suppose, but it is going to be a very good on, overall.

And, referring back to last week's news, somewhat surprisingly, the move to get rid of Confederate flags in public places has gained a lot of traction - South Carolina, even, went first (or Nikki Haley went first - the legislature has to approve. This being SC, god knows what they will do.) They were followed by a number of states - by Walmart and NASCAR - and many more. Sometimes, it has to be said, to the point of fucking stupidity - Apple, apparently, decided this meant they should remove Civil War themed games from the App Store. (And from a quote in that article, only games with the Battle Flag are considered offensive - so you can use some other Confederate flag... Good god, that's dumb.) Mostly, though, the responses have been sensible enough - government endorsement of the flag of treason in defense of slavery (any of the flags of that villainous crew, ideally) has to stop. This is hardly the end of the problem, but admitting that it is a problem is certainly a helpful first step.

All right. Two political posts in a row? I am running out of time - I can't be doing this all morning. So I will switch to the usual Friday fare - music - random - etc.

1. Brian Jonestown Massacre - Whoever You Are
2. Richard Thompson - Sally B
3. The Carter Family - Heaven's Radio
4. Pere Ubu - Heartbreak Garage
5. Big Boi - Knowing
6. John Lee Hooker - Black Cat Blues
7. Green River - This Town
8. Picturebooks - Golden Tongues
9. The Melvins Lite - Mr. Ripoff
10. The Saints - New Center of the Universe

And video? Should have put this up last week, but I found it after I posted - Juneteenth Jamboree, by Gladys Bentley.

Friday, June 19, 2015


Today is the 150th anniversary of Juneteenth - June 19, 1865, the day Union troops arrived in Galveston Texas with news that the war was over and the slaves had been freed. General Gordon Granger read a general order announcing their freedom:
The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages.
And there was, indeed, very great rejoicing. Over the years it became an annual celebration - though one that perhaps grew bittersweet over the years. The United States won the Civil War, but the Confederate states won the Reconstruction - removing many rights from the freed blacks, imposing an apartheid regime in the south, that only started to be undone in the 1950s and 1960s. In recent years, Juneteenth has again become an important celebration in some places - a state holiday in Texas even - and we would not go wrong as a country to make it a national holiday. It is an excellent place to mark the end of the Civil War, and the good that came out of the Civil War - a subject that deserves more celebration.

Right now in particular. The shooting at the AME church in Charleston, SC, is a reminder, if we need one, that the Civil War has not really gone away. A white man, an open racist, goes into a Black church and murders 9 people, spouting off as he did it - “I have to do it. You’re raping our women and taking over the country. You have to go.” He seems to have been an over-determined piece of work - racist, drug addled thug, a time bomb waiting to go off - but when he went off, he went off in a Black church pastored by a state senator - whatever he might have been as an individual, his act was political terrorism. Which is nothing new: the south has practiced political terrorism from the day the Civil War ended (of course before that, they practiced terrorism against Blacks for some centuries, though it was all more or less legal), to restore and maintain white supremacy.

There's no escaping it. And this attack is depressingly continuous with all the violence against African Americans - it is continuous with the police murders that have been in the news (Michael Brown and Eric Garvin and Walter Scott and Freddie Gray). It is continuous with the state it occurred in - which still flies the Confederate flag. You can't get around that fact: South Carolina continues to celebrate its role in killing 650,000 plus Americans in defense of slavery and white supremacy - it is a bit disingenuous to lament some free-lancer adding 9 more to the toll, when you do that. Ta-Nehisi Coates sums it up, as he usually does: "The flag that Roof embraced, which many South Carolinians embrace, does not stand in opposition to this act—it endorses it." At some point, even the parts of the United States unhappy with the results of the Civil War will need to accept its outcome.

In the meantime, we can celebrate its outcome. Forget the bad news for a while, and have a happy Juneteenth.