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:

Monday, August 04, 2014

Another World War I Post

100 years ago today, the United Kingdom declared war on Germany, after Germany invaded Belgium. Britain had signed a treaty guaranteeing Belgium's neutrality (as had Germany) - Germany had decided they had to go through Belgium to invade France. Britain issued an ultimatum (lots of ultimatums were issued in the days leading up to the Great War) telling the Germans to get out of Belgium; Germany kept on coming. And so England joined the war.

There are lots of places where the war starts - July 28, when Austria attacked Serbia; July 31 when Russia mobilized; August 1 when Germany responded to that, and declared war - and of course the 4th. August 4 might make some claim to being where the Great War became a World War - without Great Britain, the war would have been mostly continental - maybe some colonial squabbling, but nothing like what would happen when England joined. It brought in Australia, New Zealand and Canada, for example, brought in India; it made the war more of a naval affair; it brought countries like Japan in. It also probably sealed Germany's fate - however long their odds of beating both France and Russia, they were considerably worse with England involved. Whatever ideas they might have had for their navy, for instance, became moot. It undoubtedly changed the shape of their submarine war. It made their position quite difficult.

Should England have fought the war? it is controversial - some claim that they lost far more than they could have ever gained by fighting. That is undoubtedly true - though the question is, exactly how long would they have been able to stay out? if they hadn't fought in 1914 - would Germany have provoked them to fight in 1915? what if Germany had won in 1914? would that have been a disaster? obviously not the disaster it would have been - and was - when Germany won in 1940 - but not likely to help England much.

The truth is - most arguments about WWI, and who should have done what, tend to founder on the course of the ear, and the aftermath. The war itself developed into a pointless bloodbath. The peace proved to be a disaster for all concerned. You keep looking for ways they could have done something different - not gotten into it, dug in and stayed dug in without trying to break the stalemate; Versailles is pretty easy to improve.... But it's kind of pointless. Everyone went in - well, it's the opposite of what Renoir said: everyone had bas reasons. Except, maybe, the British - there is something to be said for honoring your treaties and defending the national and territorial integrities of other countries. None of it did anyone any good - but the Germans (and Austrians, and in some ways, the Russians and even the French) are going to have their war come what may - and odds are everyone was going to get sucked into it. The US would get sucked into it eventually - I imagine the UK would haven even if they hadn't defended Belgium.

Friday, August 01, 2014

August Friday Fun

Happy Friday! Happy August! An eventful week - the Local 9 have remade their roster, trading their best two started - Jon Lester and John Lackey, as well as a bunch of other players of varying value (Andrew Miller, Stephen Drew, Felix Dubront, Jake Peavy, last week) for all sorts of things. Actual major leaguers! Yoenis Cespedes comes from the A's - nice right handed power hitting outfielder; Joe Kelly and Allen Craig from the Cardinals - a promising right handed pitcher, a decent hitter; the Yankees gave us a long time scrub, Kelly Johnson, for Drew - whatever Drew is. The rest are prospects. All told - an interesting day. Probably not quite up to 2012's massive salary dump (which remains one of the steals of the century, whether the 2 starters they got out of the deal stick or not - though De La Rosa has pitched pretty well, and Webster has promise) - and it doesn't have the thrill of 2008, when the Sox traded Brandon Moss (currently leading the A's to the post-season) for Jason Bay (throwing in Manny Ramirez to make the numbers work, right?) - there haven't been many thrills of any sort with this Sox team. But you don't see that many major leaguers moving around these days - between the sox and the Tigers, getting David Price in a complicated trade that apparently involved everyone in the league except the red sox, but again - with plenty of major leaguers moving - it was a lively day. Fun stuff. Might make the Sox worth watching, out of curiosity at least. They do have enough young players to leave one more optimistic than a last place team ought to make you feel. The Bogaerts, Bradley, Betts, Holt contingent, the De La Rosas, Websters, Workmans - and here comes Renaudo! where's Henry Owens? - make this year easier to take. They have not all been up to snuff this year, but they are all young - a few of them ought to be involved in this team's success for a while to come. Keep the big league team running and things could get back to the good next year after all...

Okay - that's that. Historically - August 1 is the day the German's declared war on the Russians in 1914 - World War I was already going by then - Austria attacked Serbia on July 28 - but this is probably the point of no return. Once Germany and Russia started fighting, it was all going to come apart - France was committed to help Russia; Germany's plans committed her to attacking France before they attacked Russia, so if they were going to start fighting one, they would have to fight both - so off it went. The next month or so would be a bloodbath, as bad as any part of the war (and all of the war was a bloodbath.) So there is that.

Well - I don't have any way to connect those two bits to music, so thank god for randomization!

1. The Kills - Wild Charms
2. Pere Ubu - Thoughts that Go By Steam
3. Heroin - Meaning Less
4. 13th Floor Elevators - You're Gonna Miss Me
5. Pere Ubu - Muddy Waters (who can complain about 2 Pere Ubu songs in 10? not me!)
6. Pere Ubu - Ice Cream Truck (this might be a bit much - iTunes is messing with me.)
7. Arcade Fire - Here Comes the Night II
8. Mission of Burma - What We Really Were
9. Volcano Suns - Animals (all right - now I know iTunes is messing with me.)
10. Wire - The Other Window

Video? All that Pere Ubu (though all of it fairly obscure) demands a response: so here's Pere Ubu live in San Diego, a full set.

And - howsabout - some Boston rock? same deal - here's a full Volcano Suns performance from 1991:

Okay - we need at least one video people can watch in one sitting: Roky and company sound right - 13th Floor Elevators: