Sunday, October 19, 2014

Cedar Creek (and Ypres I)

I've been terrible in keeping up with my Civil War posts lately - but need to put something up today, the anniversary of the Battle of Cedar Creek. When last we left U.S. Grant, at the Battle of the Crater, he had failed, yet again, to break through Lee's lines outside Petersburg - and he was about to stop trying. He settled down to hold Lee in place, and look for ways to win the war elsewhere - the trenches let him do that - though they also let Lee send some of his men off to try to win the war elsewhere. Specifically, he sent Jubal Early to the Shenandoah Valley, to see what mischief they could make. They made their share - marching up to Washington, firing on the city itself, causing panic and fear in all but Lincoln and Grant (Lincoln went to see the fighting, and terrified the Union Generals by peering out at the rebels over the parapets.) Grant sent an army corps (the VI corps - which by this time was probably the best unit in the army); later he sent Phil Sheridan and most of their cavalry, and sent them to do their worst to Early. They did quite a bit - thrashing the Rebels at the battle of Winchester in September - then a couple days later at Fisher's Hill - this left Early's army in ruins, and Sheridan set out to make the Shenandoah Valley waste. Anticipating Sherman's march to the sea, Sheridan marched through the valley, burning crops, destroying barns and mills, turning what had been a major source of supply for the Confederacy into ruins. At the bend of this, thinking that Early was done, Sheridan went to Washington, and started planning to bring the Army of the Potomac men back to Grant.

But Early had other ideas. He had been reinforced - and he knew he had to do something, since he was running out of supplies - so he attacked. In the event, the attack went splendidly - he found that the Union army was not keeping close watch on their left flank: the ground was rough, they though it would discourage the Rebels - but Early was an old Jackson underling, and took that kind of situation for an opportunity. So they attacked, and caved in the Union left, and forced the whole army into retreat. There was heavy fighting, especially when the Rebels ran into the VI corps - but the Federals were drive steadily back.

Meanwhile, Sheridan was in Winchester, a dozen or so miles away. By 9 in the morning (after 3 hours or so to it), he heard enough of the noise to decide to get moving - he rode south, and as he did, realized there was a battle going on. So off he went, at full speed, arriving somewhere around 10:30. He found the lines fairly stable - the VI corps was holding their lines; the rebels had called a halt to their attack, to regroup - to recollect their men, who had been looting the Union camps. Sheridan set about organizing a counterattack - it was ready later that afternoon, and when it came, it was overwhelming. He attacked on the flanks with cavalry, then straight ahead with infantry - there was a period of heavy fighting, then the Rebels collapsed, the cavalry got into their rear, and the rout was on.

And that was that. This was the end of Confederate efforts in the Valley - it was always a strategy doomed by long odds: the Union had very large advantages in numbers, everywhere - so when the Confederates sent away men to fight elsewhere, Grant could send away more men. The very trenches that allowed Lee to dispatch parts of his army to try to find other opportunities allowed the Yankees to dispatch more men to beat the Rebels in detail. Which is what they did - here and elsewhere. Whenever the Confederates came out of their trenches in 1864, they were thrashed mightily. They were outnumbered, and increasingly outgunned - the union cavalry was starting to carry repeaters, and starting to operate as a powerful offensive force on their own. The cavalry itself was becoming a decided Union advantage - especially here, in a fairly mobile warfare, where cavalry was deployed as an offensive force. Their mobility, their firepower told.

It might be enough to make you think that cavalry was still a viable arm of the military! A delusion we might want to visit again in the next couple days - 50 years after the battle of Cedar Creek, the First Battle of Ypres started, October 19, 1914. That would mark the end, really, of mobile warfare on the Western Front - or more precisely, the end of warfare in the open. But we can come back to that - the Battle of Ypres lasted for a month. But I will end with this - no one in Europe paid much attention to what happened in the Civil War; if they had - they probably would have looked at battles like Winchester and Cedar Creek, with their decisive cavalry actions, and saw vindication for their ideas about offense. What they would not have noticed, since they never noticed it, is that what really started to separate union cavalry at the end of the Civil war, was their firepower - Sharps, Spencer and Henry rifles, breechloaders and repeaters - which would change everything, more than anyone could conceive in 1864, and, tragically, even in 1914.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Friday Five (Lazy October Edition)

I have been awfully lazy in posting lately, on this once a week schedule - I can't pretend to have a reason.... I suppose I could blame work; that's always a nuisance. I suppose I could also blameHarvard, for offering a very interesting class on the Great War - that's probably served to distract me from writing historical pieces for this blog.

Well, there's nothing for it but to keep on going, hope productive energy comes back - and in the meanwhile, at least we have Fridays:

1. Lift to Experience - The Ground So Soft
2. Minutemen - Party with me Punker
3. Minutemen - Fodder
4. New York Dolls - Personality Crisis
5. John Zorn - Inside Straight
6. The Kinks - You Really Got Me
7. Beck - Don't Let It Go
8. Iron & Wine - Carousel
9. Beatles - Lovely Rita
10. Ella Fitzgerald - They Can't Take that Away From Me

and so - video? Kinks, of course:

And the Minutemen, just a song, but I have to post it:

And in another vein - Ella, like in Finland they can't take that away from me:

Friday, October 10, 2014

Holy Ghosts ands Talk Show Hosts

October is here and time for another Band of the Month - and another entry in the bands of the 80s, too, for that matter. But what can I say - when I got out of college, I started buying records, going to shows, reading about music - turned into a bit of a nerd about it. Went looking for stuff that could fill my head with music I wanted to hear....

Like the Meat Puppets. In the summer of 1987 I got Mirage - I loved it. I was obsessing over Hank Williams and Johnny Cash in those days, and the Stooges, and I guess the Meat Puppets landed cleanly in the middle of that. I remember that summer - we had an enclosed porch in the apartment, and I took it over mostly, with my desk and books and record player out there, and would listen to records while reading or writing or whatever I did... I remember the mornings, especially - getting up, getting a cup of coffee, sitting on the porch and listening to a side of a record before I had to go to work. Puppets - Hank - maybe the Velvets now and then, the Feelies - but especially the Meat Puppets. Mirage is their airiest record, right? swirling guitars, those rough harmonies, loose, light songs, countrified bass lines - great stuff, and a perfect way to get a day started.

Over the years, then, they have been a comfort - they kept putting out records throughout he early 90s when I wasn't really listening to rock, and I kept buying them, liking them - still do! - though maybe not as much as the 80s records. Of course that gets us to an irony - once I discovered them, I jumped right out and bought their music - on LP, not CD - and so later on, I would go years without being able to listen to Up on the Sun, until I broke down and bought them again on CD. Technology - man... Still, they were in my head - I rather obsessed over Mirage and Huevos (and I think I got Huevos on CD, pretty early, so I could get my Look at the Rain fix a few times a year) - and the 90s records were still pretty good. They always made me happy - good songs, their sound, and the fact that every song seemed to be about food, drugs or masturbation - simple pleasures!

I saw them play live, twice, in the late 80s/early 90s. The second show, around the time of Forbidden Places I think - was strangely disappointing - they were sloppy, the material a little less sharp, their performance kind of routine... It was surprising because I'd seen them when they were touring Huevos, and it was one of the best shows I have ever seen. I suppose they might have been as sloppy and shambolic as the later gig, but their casual style was a big part of the appeal - the way it makes their music sound effortless, like three guys in a garage, or - and I admit this is something I can't ever get out of the back of my head - like the people who got up and sang at church when I was a kid. Who might or might not be able to carry a tune, but somehow, meant it - and could somehow get across the strength of the songs themselves, through the imperfect vessels of their earthly bodies. So that first show I saw - they were so good. Curt was inspired - soloing all over the place, kind of pushing home the fact that they were a very good set of musicians. All their charms were there to see. The great songs; their loose, adventurous style; the messy, but deceptively competent harmonies; the sense of fun they showed - funny, smarter than they act, and enjoying themselves and all the noise they were making; with clever, well played covers; all of it going on and on, a sheer joy.

All right. They've been at it for 30 plus years now, and have produced a nice body of work - still putting out records that remain likable and listenable (if not quite something I can obsess about). Though there's no getting around the quality of the first decade of music. And so, to get to it - here is what I take to be their 10 best songs:

1. Look at the Rain
2. Crazy
3. Up on the Sun
4. Lake of Fire
5. A Hundred Miles
6. Plateau
7. Shine
8. Beauty
9. Paradise
10. Swimming Ground

Videos: kind of a mixed bag out there - lots of newer footage, most of which is quite competent - but maybe lacks both the shambles and the moments of transcendence they had in their prime. But there is some - this, say - vintage Look at the Rain, shot off a TV screen:

Here is Up on the Sun and I Can't Be Counted On, 1990:

Lake of Fire, mid-90s, Kurt letting his inner shredder out a little:

A 2011 cover of the Sloop John B:

And a cover version of Plateau, featuring the Kirkwood brothers on guitars:

Friday, October 03, 2014

Friday in the Fall

Getting cold outside. Rain and gloom all week, which I hope is done. I like fall - it's cool, comfortable, and usually drier than the spring - all that is good. And apple pie! etc. All right - cut straight to the music shall we?

1. Boris - Ibitsu
2. Flying Burrito Brothers - If you Gotta Go
3. John Cale - Save Us
4. Bishop Allen - Eve of Destruction
5. Big Star - Til the End of the Day
6. GONG - Magick Mother Invcation
7. Benny Goodman (featuring Charlie Christian) - Gone with "What" Wind
8. Jane's Addiction - City
9. Jimi Hendrix - Manic Depression
10. Pere Ubu - 30 Seconds Over Tokyo

Video? here's this - Jimi Hendrix on TV in 1967 - a very bad tape, faded and abused, so you get flicking glimpses of the band through the haze. Kind of cool I suppose, and - well - some metaphorical significance I guess. I saw the new Jimi: All is by my Side film last week - which I'm tempted to say gives a similarly fleeting and murky picture of the man. Mostly because it's missing most of his music... but it's still compelling, in its slightly maddening way - and so is this.

And - here's Alex Chilton, with Yo La Tengo, covering the Kinks:

Friday, September 26, 2014

Friday Music Randomness

Another Friday - another random 10, without much in the way of introduction:

1. Serge Gainsbourg - Docteur Jekyll et Monsieur Hyde
2. The Decembrists - I Was Meant for the Stage
3. Iggy & the Stooges - Search and Destroy
4. Come - Bell
5. Pink Floyd - In the Flesh?
6. Blind Faith - Well All right
7. Neutral Milk Hotel - Naomi
8. John Martyn - I'd Rather Be the Devil
9. Pearl Jam - Deep
10. James White & The Blacks - Almost Black Pt 1

Young Iggy:

Old Iggy (with Mike Watt and James Williamson):

And John Martyn:

And Come, from a reunion show a couple years ago; kind of reminds me that I've managed to see Thalia Zadek with three different bands - Live Skull, Come and her own band:

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Shop Around the Corner

On the home stretch at Wonders in the Dark's Romance Countdown: I kick off the top ten with Shop Around the Corner.

There is a strange irony to love stories. To be stories, something has to change - and so it seems if you want the film to end with lovers together, happily ever after, they have to spend the bulk of the film apart. Enemies, even. And on the other side - if you show the lovers together, show their happiness in the film, the story demands that something changes - they have to be parted. And so the irony - the most powerful depictions of love and desire in films are often in the doomed love affairs, while in films with happy endings, lovers spend the whole show fighting - a merry war perhaps - but war, any any case... Tragedies and romantic comedies - Romeo and Juliet; and Much Ado About Nothing - the models for so many love stories, in their broad shape at least. Blissful lovers parted; bickering enemies united.

But that offers a challenge to a clever storyteller - how do you show people in love and still have a happy ending? How do you honor the conventions of romantic comedy (about what keeps people who belong together apart), while showing them actually in love? I suppose there are as many ways to do this as there are romantic comedies - mistaken identities, amnesia, class expectations, the comedy of remarriage - or - this one. What if the lovers are pen pals? what if they have never met, but have fallen in love with one another in words, two lonely, clever people stuck in their hard lives in the big city - who find they have a bond? What about that? And then - they meet in the real world - and take a dislike to one another - and - then you'll have a story! You'll have a story where they are in love with one another from the start, and enemies from the start; they can be as romantic as they want; they can bicker and fight and put each other down to their heart's content. (And cleverly - well enough they start to be impressed with their mutual nastiness.) Yes - then, you just have to play it out, the revelations, the consequences of lies and truths and self-deception - until, of course, it all comes together.

That is the plot of The Shop Around the Corner. Jimmy Stewart (as Kralik) has a pen pal he has fallen for, "dear friend"; Margaret Sullavan (Clara) shows up looking for a job. He is sympathetic, but can't help her - but she plays him against his boss to get the job, and they are off to a bad start. But she is, of course, Dear Friend - and off they go.

Though their story is just part of the film. There is a major subplot running alongside it - Matuschek the store owner's wife is having an affair (he receives an anonymous letter) - he thinks it is Kralik and fires him. It is not Kralik, though, and the twin humiliation of his wife's faithlessness and his mistreatment of Kralik drives Matuschek to attempted suicide; he is saved by the errand boy, and more plots are spawned, as Kralik comes back, and Pepi rises in the world. But for the first half of the film, this subplot haunts the main story. It's rooted in the same issues - secrets, deceptions, suspicions; anonymous letters and double talk; loneliness, loss. Both stories revolve around the question of who your true friends are. The plots are intertwined - Kralik's relationship with Clara is poisoned early by her willingness to get between Matuschek and Kralik, and take advantage of the rift between them; the trouble between the men (caused by Matuschek's suspicions) continues to pit Kralek and Clara against each other. The subplot ruins their hopes for one another - the pen pals were supposed to meet, but Kralik losing his job makes him avoid the rendezvous, though he can't help spying - and so learns the pen pal is Clara. And when the truth comes out, and Matuschek brings Kralik back, the romance gets another chance - though not without trouble.

It's a simpler story problem now - Kralik knows more than Clara does, and what will he do with it? He isn't exact happy to find that Clara is his correspondent, but it doesn't take him long to start thinking. And when he starts thinking - and paying attention to her - and he starts to fall in love. It pays off, in the end - as sweet and tender a moment of discovery as you get on film, all of it set up by the structure, the way their anonymous love is played against their workaday dislike for one another, and plays into their discovery of one another. Kralek finds that he likes her - he hears his correspondent's voice in Clara, he starts to imagine her as the woman he writes to. And maybe she likes him - she is brought to admit her own initial attraction to him, her foolish acting that stopped any connection before it started. But it doesn't matter - by then, she has him, completely - and he just has to let her know.

And so he tells - and she reacts, and all of their desires and conflicts and inner torments and outer strife come together, as they come together:

Very sweet. But then again, it is an incredibly sweet movie - a sweetness paid for by a spine of bitterness. Faithless lovers, attempted suicide, betrayals and cruelties; poverty, fear - everyone lives on a knife's edge of fear, if they were to lose this job, what could they do? - there is an edge to the whole story, a sense of just how close everyone is to ruin. The film is expressly about that shop around the corner - a quaint, gentle place, the friends and comrades there - but that shelter belies what happens within. Things burn; nothing is what it seems. It is a film about loneliness, the desperate loneliness in the city. Loneliness lies under much of Clara and Kralik's dilemma. They are so alone, they aren't really even at ease with themselves - they function well enough in their daily lives, but they know it is empty, that it leaves them bitter, in fear that they will never know anything else. Their letters are a lifeline - a thread connecting them to something better, not just to another person, but to a better version of themselves. They don't just find a kindred soul in the letters - they find their own better selves. And that too pays off in the end - how out of that profound solitude they have, in fact, found someone, a real person, who connects to the self they want to be - very nice.

And of course, it isn't just them. The shop, and the city itself, is full of all the trouble they have - loneliness and betrayal, no one quite honest with each other, no one quite connecting. But Lubitsch pays this off too. Mr. Matuschek's Christmas dinner with Rudi might be as moving as the actual ending of the film - someone who has lost his home and someone who has left his home connecting in the snow. What community there is is hard bought - but there it is.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Potty Train the Chairman Mao

Well, it is talk like a Pirate day, and I suspect if Pirates were around in the 1980s, they'd have been Butthole Surfers fans - so - this month's (delayed) band of the month is the pride of Texas, the psychedelic freak show that was the Butthole Surfers.

I'm in danger of getting stuck in the 1980s on this series - Husker Du last month, Surfers this month - and I could keep doing this for a while. I can't say exactly that I listened to more music, or bought more music then than since - but I was immersed in music in the late 80s in ways I haven't been since. I saw all these bands (most of them) - some of them quite often. I went to clubs, read magazines and zines, paid attention. This period still feels like the base of my musical experience.

And so the Butthole Surfers. I saw them three times in the late 80s - they were very impressive. The first time was a particularly interesting experience - 1987... I must admit that I had consumed many ardent spirits that evening, and was in something of an ardent spirit myself - it was the end of a semester (I had turned in the last paper of the term that very afternoon), and was in a mood to blow off steam. The Surfers were good for that. I spent most of their show in the pit - which probably should have scared the hell out of me - my friend who was there said he saw a metal pipe being circulated; someone got stabbed later in the evening - but I didn't notice. I had a grand time. (Truth is, mosh pits usually struck me as fairly supportive places - everyone wants to thrash and bang around, all together - if anyone fell, the rest picked them up and went back to thrashing; maybe that depended on the show... it was true for the Surfers anyway.) I do remember the aftereffects of grad school though - I remember standing on the edge of the pit, watching the band and the mass of fans surging around - looking at the films (driver's ed films; surgery films; other stuff, maybe less cringe-worthy), the naked dancer, listening to the wash or racket they were making - thinking - Hey! This is as if Freud's Thanatos Syndrome and Eros Syndrome were combined into one thing! sex and death together! Even sober, that's not such a bad way to put it. Something too about surfing on the waves of sound and scatology - who knows. It was great fun, I can say that - and their particular brand of racket definitely felt like it took stupid well onto the clever side of the line...

So there. I still like them - they made a very satisfying kind of noise: funny (always funny), funny lyrics, funny music, funny (if rather daunting at times) stage show - but some pretty fine music as well. They could write real songs, in a couple different idioms; they did a better job than you might think of combining things - there's a bluesy vibe throughout heir stuff, that doesn't necessarily show up in a lot of the 80s era underground post punk scene; they brought psychedelia back, long jams, Black Sabbath riffs, a bit before that stuff was fashionable again, and they managed to do it in a way that was always funny and usually convincing as straight music. And, especially when they had the two stand up dreamers going, they always rocked like a motherfucker. So - there you go.

Top 10 Songs:

1. Moving to Florida
2. Rocky
3. Gary Floyd
4. Mexican Caravan
5. Pepper
6. Lady Sniff
7. John E. Smoke
8. Ricky
9. Cherub
10. The Lord is a Monkey

And some video: here's their video for Pepper - a "one hit wonder" someone said, which is extremely bizarre to think about, since they were around for ages before this came out, but - perspective, you know. What they were as an underground act in the 80s is almost completely unconnected to what they were as a nearly MTV sanctioned act in the 90s:

As for what they were: here's Psychedelic Jam, 1987, the first tour I saw - naked dancer, films - an experience, and convincing music even. Strange stuff, but the kind of thing that could convince you on the spot - did I mention up there that I had only heard of them before I saw them? had never heard their music, and knew very little except their reputation for being extremely strange and shocking? It's true - they won me on the spot, and that is more to do with the music than the act:

And here - live in 1984, a straightforward, well lit live set - the two stand up drummers, the wild Texas psychedelic squall - Gibby - god knows what he's up to, though it seems to involve several costume changes:

And this is live in Holland, 1985, a particular bit of bad chaos, featuring Moving to Florida, Lady Sniff, and others - Gibby in a dress, Kramer on bass, lots of staggering around in circles in the infernal roar:

And one more - a vintage performance of Cherub:

Friday, September 12, 2014

Friday 10 Again

Yikes - I just noticed this is the second Friday of the month - I owe you a Band of the Month! Well - I forgot that this was the second Friday of the month - I barely remembered it was Friday (and not for the first time this summer) - I am getting old.... So - well - so it goes. Band of the month will be late this month, I guess - I'm not abandoning it in any case...

Unlike Apple and the iPod Classic - shit! Where will I go when mine dies? the design may be old, but 160GB of storage is nothing to sneeze at, and not available anywhere else right now. Oh well: ever onwards! Someday soon, I will have a watch that tells time and plays - a couple songs anyway. Though I'll have to pay some telecom to listen to them... I suppose that's progress.

So this week - just random songs it is:

1. Atoms for Peace - Dropped
2. Boris - Untitled
3. Mars Volta - Roulette Dares (Live)
4. Decembrists - As I Rise
5. Jackie-O-Motherfucker - Bewcastle UK Oct 29 (live)
6. Waterboys - All the Things she Gave Me
7. Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - We Can't Help You
8. Beck - Ramshackle
9. Grant Hart - Run for the Wilderness
10. Badfinger - Midnight Caller

And video? The Mars Volta sounds good.... I'm a sucker for a good bit of guitar wanking, and Omar certainly delivers.

And - let's try Beck:

Friday, September 05, 2014

Love Me Tonight

[This essay written for the Romance countdown at Wonders in the Dark. I posted there a couple days ago - then got distracted from posting here by the anniversary of the Fall of Atlanta. Anyway - here it is.]

Love Me Tonight starts with the ringing of bells, then fades in to shots of Paris, rooftops, streets, the Seine. We see a lone bicyclist, hear the swish of his tires on the street, then see an overhead shot of one street, with a man pushing a wheelbarrow. We hear its wheels; he stops, tosses his tools into the street (clank, clank), and he starts working, pounding a steady rhythm. We cut to an overhead shot of a bum, asleep, snoring. Then to a woman sweeping; to steam whistling from a chimney; to windows opening, a baby crying, to a man with a sawhorse, kids in the street, another man opening a store; women hanging out clothes, flapping them off their balconies; two cobblers sit down to their work, pounding nails (bang: tap/tap - bang: tap/tap); a knife grinder grinds, there's traffic in the streets, there's a woman pounding a rug, a car horn sounds - all of it mixes together, layered on everything else, a symphony of sounds, finished, so to speak, by a woman opening her window and turning on her gramophone, the whole street come together in music. And the camera goes into one room and finds Maurice Chevalier, dressing for the day, trying to shut out the noise, but not able to resist it - give him a second, and he'll be singing along.

And after that? It's all like that - Love me Tonight is a fairy tale, about a tailor who goes to collect a debt from a profligate Vicomte, and meets a princess, locked in a tower, surrounded by (mostly well meaning) jailers - mostly old men, though Myrna Loy is along as a bit of a comic foil; do they fall in love? does he rescue her? does he rescue him? It's hardly a mystery, as the whole film is a vast celebration of music and love, of community and life, and the wonders of film. It's a light, joyous story, and the film - everything - music, dialogue, performances, filmmaking - is as exuberant as the story.

Rouben Mamoulian directs, and he pulls out the stops. It's a trove of cinematic devices - musical and theatrical as well, and all together. The opening sequence with its natural sounds incorporated into music; the "pass-along" songs, especially Isn't it Romantic?; the way dialogue slips into lyrics and back, conversations sung, or half sung, rhymed at any rate; strictly cinematic tricks, like fast motion, slow motion, split screens, 180 degree cutting, animation, double exposure; theatrical tricks like direct address to the audience, use of shadows and mirrors, visual jokes. It's all there, for the joy of it all - but also working, all the time, to pull everyone together - especially the lovers - but everyone. It's a film of choruses, mostly - the streets of Paris, the people Isn't it Romantic passes through, the reprise of Mimi, the ensemble performance of The Son of a Gun is Nothing but a Tailor. Plus a duet or two, and complimentary songs for the lovers when they meet.

Everything in the story brings the lovers together; everything in the filmmaking brings them together; the whole affair works to make sure they fall in love and all is well. Right off the bat - Maurice sings in Paris - Isn't it Romantic? - and the song makes its way across France to Jeannette MacDonald, locked in her tower.

The usual complications arise - he runs her off the road; he charms and annoys her with a song; at the Chateau, the Vicomte has to pass him off as a Baron to keep him around long enough to scare up the money, and Jeannette takes a dislike to him. Myrna Loy tries to take him for herself; Charles Butterworth's count (who imagines himself a suitor for Jeannette) suspects him - but there is no way around it. Everything is against them - or with them - whatever it is. Her maiden aunts weave spells for her:

Cupid - cupid isn't subtle about it:

And Maurice can charm wild animals and wild men - saving a stag, and then sending the hunt away in slow motion, in a scene worthy of Cocteau:

How else could it end?

Though that is not the end. Our lovers come together, kissing in the garden, pledging love - whoever you are, whatever you are, wherever you are - united in their dreams (in song; in bed) - but there is more. He is a tailor - she is a princess - how can they be wed? But that can't be the end either - so if the prince can't ride up and save the princess from her tower, she will ride out and save him.

And that? Might be that. So back to the chateau and the three aunts, sewing, and their tapestry - which just happens to exactly reverse (in gender and angle) the actual end of the film. (Mamoulian doesn't miss much.) But someone rescues someone and everyone is happy, and so are we. It is a marvelous ensemble - the fantastic, inventive filmmaking, the outstanding Rogers and Hart songs, the witty, sexy dialogue, and an inspired cast - it's a joy from start to finish.

Friday in Fender Land

Another Friday is at hand. Here is some music for you....

1. Pink Floyd - Any Colour You Like
2. Audioslave - #1 Zero
3. Modest Mouse - Alone Down There
4. Flipper - Falling
5. The Kills - Pull a U
6. Neutral Milk Hotel - Where You'll Find Me Now
7. Black Sabbath - Sweet Leaf
8. Loren Connors - Onora's Kid
9. Earth - Miami Morning Coming Down
10. The Velvet Underground - Rock and Roll (Live)

Video? I am going off list for the Feelies, because I had a dream last night that I was Glenn Mercer. At least I thought I was Glenn Mercer - over the course of the dream, I think I realized I was actually Bill Million. Or I was in a band that was trying to cover the Feelies, and I wanted to be Glenn Mercer, but realized I was better suited to being Bill Million, and ended up trading my telecaster for a Gibson. In any case, Sooner or Later kept playing in my dream. The record version - a lot slower than this. This would have woken me up, I am sure....

And - speaking of telecasters - Dylan Carlson (Earth) in a recent performance. Not the song on the list, but a particularly nice sense of his sound:

And I suppose, following on the theme, which seems to be mostly Fender playing guitar heroes - here's a live shot of Loren Connors making beautiful and unworldly sounds on a strat:

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

The Fall of Atlanta

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

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

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

Friday, August 29, 2014

Another Week in the Books

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

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

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

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

I think Linda Ronstadt is in order today:

And - here's Monk, live in 1963:

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

Friday, August 22, 2014

Fighting the Power

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

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

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

Video? Gotta have this:

Pixies, slicing up eyeballs...

And Beasties, of course:

And live vintage Throwing Muses:

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Chikamatsu Monogatari

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 08, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

And so - 10 songs:

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

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

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

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

Or real early - 1981 - Diane:

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

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

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