Friday, November 21, 2014

Pre-Thanksgiving Friday Random Music

Another quiet week here, and I'm afraid another quick hit on the music front. That's all right. It's been busy enough in the real world... I believe I owe the world something about Sherman's March - it began last week, and will stretch on for another month, leaving Georgia in ruins. We will have to get to that. Otherwise - WWI has been occupying my time and attention, and keeping me off this humble blog, even more than usual. It would be nice to work some of that into this blog, but the papers have been dominating my attention. Oh well.

Music: and - just some random stuff today.

1. Deerhoof - Breakup Song
2. Charlie Parker - Don't Blame Me
3. Jimi Hendrix - Fire
4. The Beatles - Carry that weight
5. Melvins - The Smiling Cobra
6. Pavement - Transport is Arranged
7. Van der Graf Generator - White Hammer
8. Beatles - Love me Do
9. Fleetwood Mac - World in Harmony (live at Boston Tea Party)
10. Bob Dylan's - Bob Dylan's 115th Dream

Video - first up - in memory of Mike Nichols, here's Simon and Garfunkel...

This is not going well - YouTube is not cooperating. when it does, you can watch Sir Paul, carrying that weight:

On the other hand, the Melvins are loading, so enjoy that:

Friday, November 14, 2014

Model to Buy a Model to Try

For this month's band, we get one more dip into 80s punk. The Minutemen were different from the bands of the era I've been writing about, because I didn't really listen to them in the 80s. Part of the reasons for that is that D Boon died almost exactly at the point I started chasing down contemporary underground music. So while I discovered and followed the Replacements and Husker Du, and discovered the Surfers and Meat Puppets (through concerts as much as anything else), I didn't dig into the Minutemen. I did buy a couple fIREHOSE records - liked them, without quite being blown away by them. The Minutemen were one of the bands I didn't quite get, even if they were right up my alley. (Sonic Youth is in that category; you might say The Bad Seeds as well, though that was different - I'll get to that eventually; Sonic Youth and Nick Cave will surely get their month on this blog eventually. Like the Minutemen, they both became serious favorites later - maybe for different reasons, though.)

I got to the Minutemen in the late 90s. I stopped listening to rock for the first half of the 90s (becoming a jazz fanatic). I came back, through Pere Ubu and Richard Thompson, (and Sonny Shamrock and John McLaughlin)in the mid 90s. And somewhere in here, I decided that my lack Minutemen records was a hole that needed to be filled - I bought one, and realized what I had missed. I bought the rest. They were, for a while, close to my favorite band. They benefitted a lot from technology - they were an absolutely ideal CD band. I am not sure how they would have fared if I picked up on them in the 00s, after the iPod became the main way I listened to music. I'll come back to this, but the fact is that their style - the short, sharp songs - have a fantastic cumulative effect, that seems a bit less impressive split up into single tracks. Technology did a lot of shape what I listened to though the years - there were bands I picked up from the radio; bands I listen to on LPs, some I listened to on tapes. Concerts made a huge impact on me in the 80s; magazines and fanzines in the 80s, magazines and the internet in the 90s and beyond; and so on. Truth is, I'm not sure if they would have made the same impression in the 80s if I had heard them - I saw almost everyone I liked live - without seeing them play, would I have been as enthusiastic then> The questions we ask...

But I listened to them wen I was listening to CDs, all the way through - and they were perfect for that, and it was perfect for them. Listening to them at length, their strengths are accentuated. Their songs are almost fragments - and the accumulation of them builds a mosaic of music. Their records become long form pieces, made up of those carefully crafted fragments. They were such a great sounding band. The bass/guitar interplay, George Hurley's fast, wonderful drumming, their ability to write riffs, and Boon's solos - efficient, and increasingly proficient, packing an amazing amount into very tight structures, while maintaining a sense of expansiveness - he is one of my favorite guitar players, hands down... They were fantastic.

They shaped me a good deal, as well. They prepared me to rediscover (since these bands I had heard and liked in real time) bands like Gang of Four, PIL, Wire; they helped cement the idea that post-punk was, in fact, a better musical form than punk ever was. (Though that idea was inevitable given my Pere Ubu obsession, I suppose.) They were a great band, and if push comes to shove, I would have to say they probably were the best American punk band of the 80s. The Mats and Husker Du hit me hard when I heard them; but from a distance - the Minutemen were the most consistent of the bunch, the most revolutionary, the most interesting.

Though it is kind of hard to come up with a top ten songs. For the reasons just named - they are better in the aggregate. Albums are a different matter - double Nickels on the Dime and What Makes a Man Start Fires especially have to rank in the top - what? 5? - of the 80s... But choosing songs - the individual songs are all good - but there are so many of them, and they are so short, fragmentary - they are sometimes hard to distinguish. Their records circle through a host of ideas and images and lines, and the songs start to feel like pieces of one bigger song. Maybe. Still - there are riffs, lines, solos, that do a little more - things like those pauses at the beginning of Sell or Be Sold, or D's solo - that stuff, I can't get enough of. These days, anyway, when they come up on the iPod, I am inclined to listen to every song that comes up three times...

1. Bob Dylan Wrote Propaganda Songs
2. Sell of Be Sold
3. Little Man with a Gun in his Hand
4. Glory of Man
5. The Anchor
6. Corona
7. Search
8. This Ain't No Picnic
9. Lost
10. Paranoid Chant

Video - here's King of the Hill: which might have been the first video I ever posted not his blog - was it? Yes - I think it was - the first one I embedded, at any rate. The version I posted, 8 1/2 years ago is gone, but I am pretty sure it was King of the Hill.

Here's another video - This Ain't No Picnic:

Glory of Man, plus an interview:

Three live songs, including Bob Dylan Wrote Propaganda songs:

Sell or Be Sold:

And a full concert, 1985:

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Armistice Day 2014

Today is Armistice Day again. The 100th anniversary of the Great War is on us - I am taking a class, and so have been reading, thinking and writing about WWI all fall. Today, 100 years ago, November 11, 1914, was just another day. Part of the first battle of Ypres - in fact, it was part of what would turn out to be the last German push of that battle. The Germans attacked near the town of Nonnebosschen; they broke through he British lines, but were stopped by reserves. Both armies were pretty well wiped out by then - Wikipedia's account notes that Haig's I Corps had lost 90% of its officers and 83% of its enlisted men by then - and after this, there wasn't much fight left in anyone. When the attack on Nonnebosschen failed, the Germans backed off - began transferring men to the Eastern front - and winter came in.

That's 1914. The end of the Battle of Ypres basically locked both sides in place - this is where they all finally dug in for real, when trench warfare took over the whole western front. There would be a few months of relative calm at the end of 1914 into 1915, before both sides started trying to figure out how to get through trench lines. We will have four more years to see how that would go.

And 4 years in the future, it would end. The Germans would be fought to the point of collapse; the German government would collapse (after the Russians collapsed); the Allies would still be functional - so they got to win. But this isn't about winning.

No one really won anything in World War I. Millions of people were killed, and who gained? Japan, probably; the Bolsheviks; Serbia, I suppose, got what they wanted (despite being invaded and wrecked and nearly obliterated by the war). There were some interesting secondary effects, like women's suffrage, which appeared in many countries after the war - probably not a coincidence. But the thing itself, even by the standards of warfare, was a pointless and depressing affair from beginning to end. Marking its ending thus becomes something of a symbol for the hope that humans could learn from it, figure out the futility of war. It's something of a vain hope, but a worthwhile hope anyway.

A news story about the commemoration of the First Battle of Ypres:

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Citizenfour and The Berlin Wall

Today is the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, one of the great moments of the 20th century, and one of the few important events of the 20th century that is altogether good. It is the symbol of a heady time - the end of the iron curtain, the undoing of Communism throughout Europe, a moment that looked like it might usher in a period of freedom for much of the world. It did, for a good part of Europe - but not completely. The Balkans disintegrated in the wake of the end of Communist rule - Yugoslavia in particular dissolved and turned into a war zone. Things didn't go smoothly in the Soviet Union itself - the coup in 1991 basically put an end to it. The coup was defeated, but the winners were the Republics, including Russia itself, and Boris Yeltsin. Years of chaos and gangsterism have led to Vladimir Putin, and a return to the bad old days of Russian oppression at home, and troublemaking abroad. Maybe nothing really like Brezhnev's days, but not what we might have hoped we'd see after 1989. And the US? That idiot Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, and dragged us directly into middle eastern wars, and we have not been able to get out since. Those troubles have poisoned us - with our involvement in the middle east bringing terrorism to the US, and 9/11 serving as a pretense for massive expansion of government surveillance and the undermining of civil rights.

I saw Citizenfour today. I imagine that explains the gloominess of this post. t's the story of Edward Snowden, built around a long series of interviews with Snowden in Hong Kong, just before he revealed his name, though that is just the centerpiece of the film. It's about the massive government surveillance programs that have appeared in the wake of 9/11 - their continued growth - and the government's reaction to the exposure of these programs. It's a gripping tale - and a very distressing tale. I suppose there is nothing new in the film - all this information has been available for the last year or so. It's been widely discussed. It doesn't matter in the least, does it? nothing has changed; there is almost nothing any individual can do to get around all this data collection; there is no sign of a concerted political will to do anything about it. It is as if everything that happened with Snowden was swallowed by the sea of information, that kept rolling on. And he became nothing more than another vaguely recognizable face and name, a weird international celebrity, famous for being famous.

Isn't it? Seeing it today - it raises the unpleasant thought that maybe the fall of the Berlin Wall don't so much let freedom into East Germany, as it let the Stasi out. Which is not to say that the USA is like East Germany, the NSA is like the Stasi to the KGB - but they could be. And the film concentrates on government abuses, government programs and data - but it doesn't take a very big leap to realize that the government is just one agent in all this. Several people talk about the relationship between the government and other entities - internet and phone providers, content and service providers (the Facebooks and Googles of the world), device manufacturers (apple and company), banks, subway systems, stores - you name it. And you can worry about what AT&T or Facebook or Apple or Visa or Target give to the NSA - but you might also give a thought for what all those entities do with the data themselves. What they give to each other. What the government can give to them. We walk in a cloud of data that we can't hide, and who knows who can get inside it? And what they might do with it?

I don't mean here that the NSA (or Facebook) is the Stasi - they aren't killing people, or, not a lot of people (wonderful caveat that, huh?) But they have the ability to be the Stasi. What stops them? Their goodwill? well - one problem with people like Snowden that I noticed at times in this film is that the act as though there is something new about government surveillance government overstep, and so on. Maybe we should remember the Stasi; and maybe we should remember how our government acted for much for the cold war. It is probably true the government has more information now than it had in the 60s - but that didn't stop them from spying on Martin Luther King or John Lennon or whoever you want. I think - that while what Snowden talks about is terrifying, and while all this cloud of data we can never get out of, and is increasingly vulnerable to use and abuse by entities of all sorts around us - all that is true, all that is terrifying - but all that is still not where the battle has to be won and lost. Why aren't we like the Stasi? we aren't using this information to crush dissent, to impose a constant oppression on the population. And why? Because the government is full of nice guys, honest and honorable and trustworthy to a fault? You answer that....

But what is relevant is it is all political. In this country, the government comes from the people - it is, still, in however imperfect a way, an elected government for the people by the people and all that. I think - you can't rely on the good will of government: but you have to rely on the political engagement of the people. It's hard to muster much optimism - but I think this is the only thing we have and probably the only thing we have ever had: to vote; to speak; to act, politically. I think, even if the NSA and company continue to do what they have been doing - even if the government still trots out the specter of terrorism to scare people into accepting these programs - even if the public, as a whole, doesn't care all that much about the possibly inconvenience of someone reading Jihadist websites somewhere - or even about all the other people who had to get new credit cards after Target got breached (and what the government can do to everyone, criminals and hackers can do to a good number of people - they can get that data to).... Even with all that bad news, what people like Snowden did, or Glenn Greenwald and Jacob Applebaum and Laura Poitras do, is crucial. Stories like this, films like this, keep a wedge in there, an awareness of the presence of all this data, and the degree to which we depend on the goodwill of the government (and corporations, and individual data thieves) not to abuse it. And then, I hope, somehow, people remain just political committed enough to keep things controlled.

It's hard to be optimistic: it's hard to say what this kind of optimism even looks like. I don't expect this to change: I think government will continue to collect all the data they can get, and look for ways to use it - and they will always be able to abuse it. I think companies will always have this data and will always abuse it, and will always be in danger of losing it, with nearly catastrophic consequences. But I also think that this abuse is, in the end, mostly a political question: do we have a government that benefits from abusing this data? (Or - since governments always abuse their power - what level of abuse will they be willing to commit?) The reason the NSA is not the Stasi is that the United States is not East Germany - complain all you want about our government, but it is not a dictatorship, it is not totalitarian. It is not because it is, still, a democracy - elections matter. They are at the root of our government and they are where our salvation or damnation will always lie.

Which means what I should really be worried about is last Tuesday. But that's a topic for another day.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Simple Random Friday Music Post

Back to random music, this Friday, simplicity itself:

1. Liars - Vox tuned D.E.D.
2. Cream - Sunshine of Your Love (RIP to Jack Bruce...)
3. Mirah - Cold Cold Water
4. Serge Gainsbourg - Ford Mustang
5. Charlie Parker - Donna Lee
6. Yo La Tengo - My Little Corner of the Road
7. John's Children - Smashed Block
8. Deerhoof - Don't Get Born
9. Velvet Underground - Ride into the Sun (live)
10. The Kinks - I'm not like Everybody Else

and Video? I will try Mirah - I don't know where that song came from on my computer, but it ain't half bad, so here goes:

If we're going to start that way - let's keep going: I can at least figure out how I got John's Children on the computer - a Mojo bonus CD - still. But another piece of interesting music....

This is not so obscure - here's Jack Bruce performing Sunshine of Your Love in Germany, 1980 - with Billy Cobham on drums, Clem Clemson on guitar, David Sancious on keyboards - I like Jack Bruce. Glenn Kenny has a nice piece about him today.

And - let's end with the Davies brothers - Ray:

And Dave:

And hope they can get together again...