Thursday, December 31, 2015

Year End

I should post something to say good bye to 2015. (This New Year's post is starting to be a tradition.) I should post something - I have had a terrible year on this blog - the lowest post total ever, including the year I started in June... Sad. It is a chore.

2016, I am sure, will give me plenty of things I could write about if I were masochistic - it is an election year! 2015 has been a campaigning year, and a horrific one at that. The sensible party marches along, with an appealing old geezer running against a depressing old politician, either of whom I can vote for with no regrets (though I will not be voting for any Clintons before I have to). The Republicans, meanwhile, run out dozens of nobodies with no chance of winning a national election (assuming people show up), and little chance of winning their own lunatic election... More than one of them embrace something that comes closer and closer to open fascism (with its xenophobia and racism and willed, learned stupidity, its authoritarianism, its corporatist economics, and its deliberate dishonest fantasy), with the most fascist being the front runner most of the time. Fuck - it's depressing to watch. You want the party you disagree with to be someone with policies you don't prefer - not a bunch of con men and apparatchiks competing for place in the tabloids with the Kardashians, and promising to reproduce the glory days of 1865 Virginia. The whole lot of them pissing their pants in terror of the possibility that there's a Moslem somewhere in the world who isn't donating to their campaign.

Right. More happened in 2015 than politics, I suppose. Right? I have found it hard this year to write about anything except politics and music, something I have to change. I will not be so foolish as to post resolutions here - but if I did, "blog more" would have to be one of them. About the only things I have managed to do this year were my essays for the Wonders in the Dark Childhood Countdown - I am happy with those, and always honored to be part of their projects... But I have to do more than that. I can promise a couple things for the coming year - 1916 is 100 years ago, and that means, Verdun and the Somme - yes indeed - Great War blogging! Things are about to get really bad... Maybe some Lawrence of Arabia blogging too, while we're at it - since that part of WWI seems to still be going on, having barely stopped in the 100 years meantime. This year's bogeyman is ISIS - but how much of the last 100 years have not had something bad happening in the middle east? Most of it caused by misguided attempts to fix last years' problems...

Politics again. I should leave off the politics... or accept my fate and write about politics... or the weather - I see the Heat Miser got his way - springtime at the North Pole! We are all doomed. It was 60 here last week, 50 last weekend in Vermont, then we got snow, and it's back int he 40s again - who knows. It was mild last winter, up throuigh the end of January, when All Hell Broke Loose.

I can live without that again. All right - it's still early - not going to try to post this at 11:59 this year - do it now and then spend the evening watching Thin Man movies? might be, might be. Happy new year!

And happy new year, from this naughty fat cat, about to knock my Columbo and Monty Python DVDs on the floor. Awful beast!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Friday! 2015 Random Ten

Well? It's Friday - the holiday season is coming up on us - a week from now is Christmas - the next week or so will probably ber very hectic. Not that it will show on this blog, which has become a sparsely populated place. And here I almost forgot to post something for the one routine I have managed to (mostly) preserve, the Friday Music post... But I didn't forget! So now, before heading off to see MacBeth - here's some music. Today's Random Ten will be drawn from records released this year - I didn't get a lot, but I bought some - sadly, the usual array of collection of nostalgia and obscurities I tend to listen to these days. I see one band on this particular list that didn't exist in the 1990s (maybe 2 - when did Arcade Fire come out? or, maybe Chris Thiele?) And 4, I think, that existed in the 70s. well - that's life. At least I am still tossing a few pennies a year into the music industry.... here you go:

1. Sleater Kiney - Bury our Friends
2. Gang of Four - Isle of Dogs
3. Yo La Tengo - Rickety
4. Prince (featuring Lianna La Havas) - Mr. Nelson
5. Rocket From the Tombs - Hawk full of Soul
6. Punch Brothers - Prelude
7. Will Butler - Finish What I started
8. Screaming Females - Ripe
9. Mercury Rev - Central Park East
10. The Pop Group - Shadow Child

Video? The only actual young group on the list - Screaming Females:

And some Sleater Kinney:

And finally - let's go for some full on nostalgia - here's the current version of RFTT playing Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo:

Friday, December 11, 2015

Listen the Snow is Falling

This month on Band of the Month, we look at not a band: Not the Beatles, specifically. That is - John, Paul, George and Ringo, on their own. (I should add - this is not because of Boyhood - I have been planning to do something like this since the beginning - Beatles: Not the Beatles.) And Yoko, because - why not? Yoko gets a bad rap - she was an interesting part of the late Beatles music, and kept John a bit more interesting in after years - and produced (in the Plastic Ono Band) some of the best rock (at least the best hard rock) of the post-Beatles careers. Did it with John and Ringo, too - she's getting into this post, like it or not.

All right - we may come back to that, but for now ... The Beatles, after the Beatles - what is there to say? First - between the lot of them, they made a hell of a lot of great music, were very successful, remained major cultural forces. Given the quality and importance of their solo work, it's just all the more striking how disappointing it all could be. In this case - the whole of the Beatles was very much greater than the sum of the parts. I love a few of these songs, but would any of them break into a Beatles top 10? Working Class Hero, especially, is in the elite - but, let's see - 2 years ago, I had She Said She Said #10 - would Working Class Hero bump that? Not readily... I am not sure why there is such a noticeable gap: they were almost four solo acts by the end of the Beatles; they were all good musicians, but none of them so good or inventive they transformed the band around them with sheer talent (like Richard Thompson or Keith Moon or Clarence White, say); they were all liberated, in some ways, by going off on their own - they all made great music - but it's impossible to forget who they had been.

Now - this is mainly true of John and Paul. George Harrison really was liberated by the end of the Beatles, and finally got to put as much of his music out as he wanted - his career didn't really sustain the strength of All Things Must Pass, but that's a very high place to start - probably the best post-Beatles record of the lot of them. And Ringo too finally got to be the star, and has put together a very entertaining and generous career. So - George, especially, did solo music as good as his Beatles music (in the vicinity at least.) But John and Paul? I like their solo stuff - but it never lives up to their Beatles work, and it is never sustained. I look at the records I have on the computer, on the ipod - and realize there's quite a bit from either of them I'm happy to fast forward through. Are there Beatles songs I'd fast forward through? Revolution #9? if I were in a certain mood, maybe, maybe; usually not, though - I mean, I like experimental stuff! I'm sorry this is so negative - again - they are victims of their own work - everyone looks bad compared to the Beatles, even ex-Beatles.

I think there are fairly definable problems with their solo music, that might be traced to their break. John's songs tend to work pretty well (in the Beatles, I am not inclined to chose between John and Paul; as solo artists - it is John Lennon all the way, the clear and unambiguous winner [and George takes 2nd]) - but they don't have the musical thrill his Beatles songs have. There are good songs - but they are increasingly bland, unchallenging musically. Still often quite good, in a craftsmanlike way - they work, because they are built on simple direct melodies, and are lyrically satisfying - but they are, at best, decent singer-songwriter tunes, elevated by the words. He didn't slip as a lyricist - might even have become more direct and serious (whether that is all to the good, I won't say - but it's a virtue, nonetheless.) But you can read working Class Hero and it doesn't sound much worse than the song - can't say that for She Said She Said.

And Paul tends to reverse this. I can't deny - his solo and Wings material remains gorgeous - melodically, harmonically, rhythmically interesting, stylistically imaginative (if not exactly adventurous) - but... Sometimes drowning in the sweetness - a trait that crept into his music with the Beatles, but never overcame it. And there are songs - the best ones, the ones here - that are, musically especially, thrilling. But - are they songs? He did love collages - Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey, Band on the Run - maybe to a fault? Band on the Run especially, is almost frustrating - he's overwhelmed with ideas, packs three into one song that might have been three songs - though I suppose my real complaint is I wish the middle one had gone on longer - that riff (give it all to charity), I think, might be the best of his career, while the final riff, the bulk of the song is just - nice... But I can't complain - for all the over-sweetness of McCartney's work, it always sound great, as sheer sound. But - some of his songs have lyrics. Not enough of them. And very few that come close to John's lyrics, or even George's (or Paul's own Beatles words.) And more songs that I care to admit barely have any words - or make the words a purely musical element. Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey might epitomize this - a few words, repeated, varying the sound more than the sense - words as music. Which - there - works rather marvelously. It might as well be an instrumental - an instrumental with voices - or, what it is, a collage, of words and sounds and music. And - that's not the problem. But then you start to notice that this isn't all that different from so much of what he did - songs like Silly Love Songs, Listen to What the Man says - a kind of statement, then repeated, varied - sounds great; doesn't say much.

What it means? I think - they challenged each other when they were in the Beatles - I don't know how much they edited one another, but just the sense of competition maybe, forced them to try to make everything work, made both of them be sure they were writing complete songs. Wait, you say - the last couple records were packed full of snippets weren't that? But are any of John's solo songs as musically cool as Polythene Pam, say? No; and somehow that's got to be the point - that together, they pushed each other in ways that going on their own lost. It's strange - but I can't get away from it. It's sad - Paul's musical invention; John's continued lyrical seriousness and ambition - working apart, never pushing the other to make the lyrics or music live up to the rest. Creating two excellent artists that you can't help compare to what they had been.

All right. This is far more negative than it should be - the cruel impact of having been the best, for both of them... I do like them both - have since the 70s, especially McCartney and Wings, who were all over the radio in those days... And - I don't want to sell them short: I've implied it so I will say it plain: that John's lyrics remained pretty much as good as a solo artist as they were in the Beatles (and more direct and political, as well; sharper) - that Paul remained as inspired a composer, and almost as adventurous, as a solo artist. But John was less musical inspired - became far more conservative, as a musician (except with Yoko, interestingly); while Paul became - at worst - insipid as a lyricist... They needed each other.

Unlike George Harrison - who, at least at the beginning, was all the things the other two were as solo artists. All Things Must Pass has excellent songs - words, music; excellent melodies; and is often far more adventurous musically - shifting styles, incorporating more different sounds - harder rock, country, Indian styles, horn sections - it's all over the place in ways the other three never really did (but the Beatles did all the time.) A good place to stop - on the best record any of them made alone...

All right - let's try a top 10. This is a bit painful - nothing like picking a top 10 for the Beatles (along with the commenters back then, we got up to a top 40 that didn't really begin to cover the scope of their work... yeah.) But - Let's do it: 10 best songs by ex-Beatles (including Yoko, because I like Yoko!)

Top 10:

1. Working Class Hero - John
2. What is Life - George
3. Maybe I'm Amazed - Paul
4. Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey - Paul
5. Cold Turkey - John
6. Jealous Guy - John
7. Why? - Yoko (with John and Ringo, rocking out)
8. It Don't Come Easy - Ringo
9. If Not For You - George
10. Band on the Run - Paul

And some video:


Here are George and Ringo playing It Don't Come Easy:

Paul McCartney, 2004:

As for John - I've posted a lot of Lennon through the years - not sure I've posted this one - How Do You Sleep, with recording footage (George playing; Paul the target) - a rather unfair piece of work, but a heck of a song:

And Yoko, Why?

And finally - 2 halves of another band that broke up too soon, covering Yoko. Which is another reason to keep Yoko in here - at least in bands I listen to a lot, she probably had more influence than the rest of them put together (post Beatles.) Her unholy squall - and the music around it - shows up all over the place in the 80s and 90s - Sonic Youth, The Butthole Surfers, The Boredoms, etc. - and the pretty stuff - well -

Friday, December 04, 2015

Friday Music Post to Start the Month

Happy December. Missed last week's music post (which has become my only post most weeks), in my post-thanksgiving wallow, but not today! though this will be quick. I do not wish to dwell on the news, for it continues bad - 2 more mass killings in this country in the last couple weeks, a nutcase/terrorist at a Planned Parenthood, and a nutcase/terrorist couple at a developmental center - more rounds of calls for gun control, which generate a lot of emotion, but no political action.... Haven't een as many of the idiotic defenses of guns this time around - maybe I am not looking, maybe it's dawning on people that having lots of guns around doesn't in fact make anyone safer or freer. I doubt that. That implies that the conservatives can learn... Anyway. These are good all American killings at least - pregnant women and disabled kids - along with junior colleges and church prayer meetings, the preferred target of the American gunman...

Music, thankfully, can help us here. Let us see what songs we oculd listen to, shall we:

1. Carter Family - Meeting in the Air
2. Boris - Sweet No 1
3. Ramsey Lewis Trio - Wade in the Water
4. The Andrews Sisters (with Les Paul) - Rumors are Flying
5. Frank Zappa - Valley Girl
6. The Who - I don't Even Know Myself
7. Tinariwen - Iswegh Attay
8. Jefferson Airplane - Hey Frederick
9. James and Kami Thompson - I long for Lonely
10. Janelle Monae - BaBobBye Ya

video? let's start with Ramsey Lewis:

Tinariwen as well:

And - some Zappa kids (and grand kids):

Friday, November 20, 2015

Friday Calls for Music

Hello again. I will try to be fairly brief today, though it's tempting to rave a while. It's been a week since ISIS attacked Paris - vicious pointless mass murder, but I guess that goes without saying. It is hard to say much about it without being pulled into the political aftershocks - which have been very, very depressing. I don't know how, but in this country at least, this attack by Vicious Extremists on random civilians has led, largely to a clamor to stop helping the random civilians trying to flee the same vicious extremists. Why are American's trying to stop Syrian refugees from coming here? That is such a profoundly wrong approach. It's cowardly (strange how quickly Awericans - especially conservatives - are to give up their freedom, their willingness to help others, etc., when something bad happens somewhere); it's cruel and spiteful - punishing the people who ISIS hurts the most for ISIS' crimes; and it's astonishingly bad politics. ISIS claims for legitimacy are based in the idea that whatever they do, they are better for Sunni Moslems than Americans and Europeans (etc.) ever are - and turning those refugees away is like saying, Yes They Are.

That's not getting into the general anti-Islamic politics being trotted out - closing Mosques? discriminating against Moslem immigrants? Databases and ID cards? Concentration camps? I don't know how many of these ideas have widespread support - Donald Trump and some other high profile republicans are supporting (at least floating, as possible solutions) some of these things. Some of the others seem to come from random minor state officials - so who knows. (The Mayor of Roanoke! That's the prize winner: Via George Takei's informed (to put it lightly) response. This, by the way, really gets under my skin: "it appears that the threat of harm to America from Isis now is just as real and serious as that from our enemies then" says the mayor of Roanoke. "Then" by the way would be December of 1941 - when Imperial Japan attacked the US, sinking a good part of our Pacific battleship fleet, while embarking on the conquest of Burma, Singapore and Indonesia, the Philippines and much of Southeast Asia; and when - as of December 11 - Nazi Germany declared war on the U.S. So - ISIS poses a threat as "serious" as Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany together? This stuff used to drive me crazy in the run up to our invasion of Iraq in 2003 - comparisons of Saddam Hussein to Hitler - however nasty a dictator Hussein was, he had a country that was already shattered and held together by a thread (and that only nominally) - Hitler had Germany, the most powerful country in Europe. Etc.... That all aside from the fact that FDR was dead wrong to intern Japanese Americans during WWII. ISIS is not Japan. They aren't even Iraq.)

See? I can get sucked deep into political crap if I want. I don't want. I will stop. Let us hope that music helps:

1. Robert Johnson - Phonograph Blues
2. Nirvana - Frances Farmer will Have her Revenge on Seattle
3. Fairport Convention - Sloth
4. Pogues - Sally MacLennane
5. Miho Hatari - Sweet Samsara Part II
6. Radiohead - Airbag
7. Robert Wyatt - Hasta Siempre Comandante
8. Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - Cinnamon and Lesbians
9. Leo Kottke - Airproofing
10. Slapp Happy/Henry Cow - Excerpt from the Messiah

Video: here's Malkmus and the Jicks, channeling a bit of the Allman Brothers in Paris:

And always good to hear the Pogues:

Friday, November 13, 2015

Take Some Time and Learn How to Play

Here we are, second Friday of November, Band of the Month Friday - another Friday the 13th (what's that - three this year?), but I don't know if that means anything, except this is one of the more unlucky and self-destructive bands in this series.... I give you - The Byrds. What shall I say about the Byrds? Staples on the radio when I was growing up, though never in the first rank of classic artists; a band easy to hear as a kind of glorified cover band, easy listening act - with a couple songs that stood out. Songs that did, it has to be said, cut through the dross.... That impression (formed from 70s radio) started to come apart in the 80s, when suddenly they were one of the most influential bands in the world - REM and all those southern/psychedelic/jangle/country-folk bands that came in REM's wake changed that - though it wasn't really until the late 80s, when I got my hands on the box set they put out about that time that I finally got them, for real. I had my hands on the box set - I didn't own it - but I taped most of it - and proceeded to listen to the cassette obsessively for the next few years. All that happened just about the time I started listening to jazz instead of rock - they were one of the survivors.... When I went back to buying rock records, I eventually got around to buying most of their records - though somehow, that was never quite as satisfying as the box set.

There are fairly clear reasons for that: I said they were unlucky and self-destructive - whichever one it is. They were loaded with talent - Roger McGuinn, Chris Hillman, Gene Clark, David Crosby - all very good, all, I suspect, a bit on the difficult side - or maybe, bloody impossible. Clark quit, and Crosby got thrown out (for being an asshole, with an ego the size of the Washington monument? - see the video below), they started bringing in other people, who were, frankly, just as good - Gram Parsons notably, though they threw him out before they finished any records. It's that, directly, that made the box better than their records - the presence of songs like Triad, and Parsons' versions of songs like The Christian Life, 100 Years From Today and so on.

But Parsons wasn't their only recruit - there was also, about the same time, Clarence White: and come to think of it, I have to change what I said. It wasn't that their actual, released records were less satisfying than the unreleased stuff on the box - it's that their earlier (and middle) releases were less interesting than the live records they put out with White on board. Untitled, Live at the Fillmore (which I think was released somewhere in the 90s) - those records were something else again. Because of White (and Gene Parsons, who gives them a different sound, rhythmically) mainly - McGuinn, who might not have been the best technical guitarist, but always one of the most distinctive and inventive - had someone alongside him even better. What they do, 12 string and modified telecaster, twisting around their songs - the details and decorations and flourishes, all of it in perfect time - my goodness.

Which brings us back around - there are a lot of guitar bands in this world, but I'm not sure there has ever been a band as single minded in their devotion to the sounds of guitars. When you start listening to it you hear it all through their career - their early records put the drums so far down in the mix you can barely hear them, but you can always hear the guitars - especially McGuinn, that insistent Rickenbacker sound, but the other guys get their due. The early version of the band gives the vocals almost equal billing with the guitars - kind of. But really - listen to the way the guitar come in over the vocals on songs like I See You, or - most notably - Eight Miles High: pretty as the harmonies are, the guitars just lay waste to them.

And, right from the beginning, they weren't just a guitar band - they were a band that was up to something with those guitars. Lots of bands were playing around with 12 strings, Rickenbackers, jangle in all its forms in 65-66 - but no one else was pushing those instruments like McGuinn and company. (And listen to the rhythms behind McGuinn, on those old songs: harsh, chunky chords - buried a bit - but Eight Miles High, particularly, is a tour de force, all the way down. They were paying attention to the rhythms all along, they just bury it so far down in the mix you almost can't hear it; when you can, it's prime.) The solos, the sound, the extremity of it - pulling in those jazz riffs, the dense clusters of notes, pulled of Coltrane records, in 1966... The other early guitar wankers were all playing blues - Clapton? Green? Beck? Page? Hendrix? - McGuinn though is in there working through bluegrass sounds, stealing jazz bits - all of it clean and pretty. It is brilliant stuff. And then Clarence White joins, and they push it further, and White has chops, the ability to play things that are hard to even imagine. The sounds - 1:35-36 of Rock and Roll Star on Live at the Fillmore - that bend - just put that on a loop... though I can find something, maybe not that good, but something similar on every song he played on. They work in country, they master it, they work out how to blend all these influences, all these sounds so that every song is surprising and fascinating.... I - I love the early Byrds, and they are hugely influential, especially over groups I like.... But the Clarence White version of the band is mind-blowing. (Though, I confess, prone to pointless noodling - long jams that are half given over to bass solos? que? you have Clarence White and Roger McGuinn, and you're letting someone play a bass solo? Thankfully, they left most of that off the records - but you can find it on YouTube - it's not as bad as I make it sound, but - I'm not looking up Byrds' videos to see drum and bass solos.)

All right then. So let's get this top 10 down. There is no point in distinguishing between originals and covers - one of their features is a way of making every song completely their own. Those Dylan songs - lots of people were covering Dylan, but they were a vehicle for the 12 strings, really. They sounded like something completely original when the Byrds played them. And of course, in case you haven't already figured it out - the lyrics aren't all that important (though not irrelevant - I got cats and teeth and hair for sale.... see your soul to the company who are waiting there to sell plasticware... and their indisputably good taste in outside lyricists, all those Dylan songs, Parsons, songs, Lowell George songs...) - the guitars, baby:

1. Eight Miles High (from the opening bass riff on, with McGuinn coming in - damn fine stuff.)
2. So You Want to Be a Rock and Roll Star (though the version on Live at the Fillmore is the recording of theirs I would take to a desert island; that one thing Clarence White does, in the middle...)
3. Lover of the Bayou
4. Truck Stop Girl
5. Mr. Tambourine Man
6. 5D (Fifth Dimension)
7. Bad Night at the Whiskey
8. The Christian Life (the Parsons version)
9. Triad
10. Buckaroo (Clarence White workout covering Buck Owens)

And some video, though video is maddening hard to find - especially video that does justice to what they could sound like. Still - we can try. Here, then, is Turn! Turn! Turn! - live, early:

McGuinn and Gene Clark, in 1978, just the two of them, acoustic guitar and that Ricky. McGuinn starts slow, but works his way into it, those intricate, strange riffs, cutting against the pretty harmonies - nice:

The late edition of the band, live on German TV, doing So You Want to be a Rock and Roll Star:

Live on Playboy after Dark - You Ain't Going Nowhere and This Wheel's On Fire - some neat guitar bits in there, though it's hard to see much through the dancing girls at the Hef's. There are some nice shots, though, where you can see Clarence manipulating his B-bender - pushing down the neck to operate it....

A bit of Clarence White, just noodling - apparently backstage in Boston:

And here's David Crosby - telling stories and singing Triad:

Can't help myself - another noted guitar band playing 8 Miles High - feedback takes the place of that gorgeous 12-string, but they make the guitar bits work:

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Armistice Day, With Robert Graves

Today is Armistice Day, a holiday established to mark the end of the Great War, the War to End All Wars. We shouldn't forget the most important message of this day: Never Again. It's a message the world has failed utterly to understand. We Americans, who for a time seemed to keep it in mind, except when we were attacked, have forgotten it, fighting a number of wars for no purpose and to no good end. Vietnam and the Second Iraq war were particularly disastrous - killing thousands, causing immense domestic strife and harm, having ongoing repercussions. (Though oddly, 40 years along, Vietnam's legacy isn't quite so bad - we get along with them now. We had the decency to lose, I suppose, and somehow were able to get past that loss, and move toward decent relations with Southeast Asia. Though that just tends to indicate that the war was a waste - we would have ended up friends anyway, maybe. When you look at the devastation that war brought - to Vietnam, to Cambodia - and the amount of harm it did to us, the ways it stranded Johnson's political achievements, delivering the country to Nixon and evil - it is a horrible thing.) And Iraq? we're back to talking about boots on the ground in the Middle East - insanity... Though here - blaming George Bush and co. is well justified - they took bad things and made them far worse - but in so many ways, the ongoing strife in the middle east is just a reminder that 11/11/18 was just a ceasefire in one theater of the Great War. The war didn't really stop in the middle east - it kept going, the results of the war warping and twisting around each other, and forming new conflicts, which go on to this day.


It's important, then, to remember that today is a sad day - a day of mourning for the men sacrificed in war, for what war did to them. A day of atonement for all the young men we have killed (all us countries.)

So - from one who was there, Robert Graves. First, an arty video set to the poem, The Assault Heroic:

And then - getting to the point in a hurry: the Dead Boche:

And text: The Assault Heroic:

Down in the mud I lay,
Tired out by my long day
Of five damned days and nights,
Five sleepless days and nights, ...
Dream-snatched, and set me where
The dungeon of Despair
Looms over Desolate Sea,
Frowning and threatening me
With aspect high and steep—
A most malignant keep.
My foes that lay within
Shouted and made a din,
Hooted and grinned and cried:
"Today we've killed your pride;
Today your ardour ends.
We've murdered all your friends;
We've undermined by stealth
Your happiness and your health.
We've taken away your hope;
Now you may droop and mope
To misery and to Death."
But with my spear of Faith,
Stout as an oaken rafter,
With my round shield of laughter,
With my sharp, tongue-like sword
That speaks a bitter word,
I stood beneath the wall
And there defied them all.
The stones they cast I caught
And alchemized with thought
Into such lumps of gold
As dreaming misers hold.
The boiling oil they threw
Fell in a shower of dew,
Refreshing me; the spears
Flew harmless by my ears,
Struck quivering in the sod;
There, like the prophet's rod,
Put leaves out, took firm root,
And bore me instant fruit.
My foes were all astounded,
Dumbstricken and confounded,
Gaping in a long row;
They dared not thrust nor throw.
Thus, then, I climbed a steep
Buttress and won the keep,
And laughed and proudly blew
My horn, "Stand to! Stand to!
Wake up, sir! Here's a new
Attack! Stand to! Stand to!"

A Dead Boche:

TO you who'd read my songs of War
And only hear of blood and fame,
I'll say (you've heard it said before)
"War's Hell!" and if you doubt the same,
Today I found in Mametz Wood
A certain cure for lust of blood:
Where, propped against a shattered trunk,
In a great mess of things unclean,
Sat a dead Boche; he scowled and stunk
With clothes and face a sodden green,
Big-bellied, spectacled, crop-haired,
Dribbling black blood from nose and beard.

Friday, November 06, 2015

This Week in Grifting

Another Friday, another working week done, fall well underway, though you wouldn't know it in balmy Boston. The world Series is done - the Royals winning quickly, 5 games, though a couple of those games went long enough to make it seem longer. Close and well fought. Not exactly surprising - the Royal's starters showed up, the Mets' defense was a problem - the Ryals' offense did what id did, but did it better than usual. Once Escobar started hitting, they didn't have any holes - 9 guys who hit line drives and run hard - you have to be very good to get past that. Interesting, possibly meaningless fact, that the only game the Mets won is the one they started by dropping one of the Royals on his butt. Lots of squawking about that, but you have to throw inside.

God enough. Speaking of catastrophic brain injuries, Ben Carson continues his book tour, making a fool of himself. This week he topped most of the nonsense by saying that Joseph built the pyramids in Egypt to store grain - mockery ensues. Meanwhile, his "autobiography" seems to come up a bit short on the factuality front - not that anyone cares. It does seem the level of attention to the poor man is rising - people are asking, wait - just how crazy is he? Which might indicate that the money boys in the GOP are moving to neutralize the insanity as they line up to push Marco Rubio to glory - could be. But there's no indication that Ben Carson has any interest in being president - his operation is a transparent grift, more so than any of the rest of them - it's all about moving units. So he's doing what he needs to do...

Though this latest bit with the pyramids - most of the Republican field seems more interested in the TV deals they can get from running than in winning: when Ted Cruz suggested that the lines of Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh should host their debates, it sounded about right. The debates are like job interviews, and most of them (probably all) are more interested in getting work on Fox than in the White House. But Carson, maybe, seems to be aiming as much for H2 as Fox - maybe he can team up with Scott Walker to look for giant templar pirates from outer space!

Anyway. We will need some music to recover from thinking about Ben Carson for even this amount of time. Whatever else he is, he seems to be just about the most cynical person in America - which is saying something when he;s running against Donald Trump. But - unlike any of the other GOP candidates, Carson is, in fact, good at something, successful at something - besides lying and running the long con, I mean, though he's good at that. It's kind of sad that he has fallen to this.


1. Cream - Badge
2. Jane's Addiction - Broken People
3. Sensational Alex Harvey Band - Hole in her Stocking
4. Lightning Bolt - Over the River and through the Woods
5. The Who - Getting in Tune
6. Janelle Monae - Sir Greendown
7. Built to Spill - Untrustable Part 2 (About Someone Else)
8. Diane Cluck - All I Bring You is Love
9. Modest Mouse - Satin in a Coffin
10. Television - Adventure

Video? Thanksgiving is coming, so here's some Lightning Bolt with that old holiday classic, over the river and through the woods:

And maybe Built to Spill:

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Halloween Quiz

HAving managed to answer Dennis Cozzalio's previous quiz, it is time to try his Halloween quiz - more precisely, PROFESSOR ABRAHAM SETRAKIAN'S VIRULENTLY VAMPIRIC, MALEVOLENTLY MONSTERIFFIC SUPER-STRAIN HALLOWEEN MOVIE QUIZ. In fact, he has another quiz up - a screen shot quiz - which - might be quiz too far for me... But this one - I can try. I do fear that as horror is not my favorite genre, this will not be the most enlightning set of answers... But one has to try:

1) Edwige Fenech or Barbara Bouchet?
A: This is what I mean - not being a particular fan of horror movies, I don't dig that far into the genre - so... even though I have heard of them, and probably seen them - how could I answer this?

2) The horror movie you will stand up for when no one else will
A: How about Stoker? It kind of got shrugged off when it came out - but it's actually pretty good.

3) Your favorite horror novel
A. Dracula, the original, Bram Stoker. With Let the Right One In as a more than honorable contender.

4) Lionel Atwill or George Zucco?
A: Lionel Atwill - he's generally worth a spark when he turns up in a film.

5) Name a horror film which you feel either goes "too far" or, conversely, might have been better had been bolder
A: I suppose there are a fair number of films where the gore or sex or sex an gore is ridiculous - and plenty I haven't bothered to see - no idea, frankly, whether The Human Centipede or Hostel "goes to far" - never expect to find out... but - I suppose I can answer - the Japanese film Organ struck me as being particularly unsuccessful mix of gratuitous grossout stuff and dimwitted filmmaking. So there.

6) Let the Right One In or Let Me In?
A: Let the Right One In (and the book is even better)

7) Favorite horror film released by American International Pictures
A: I see they released Black Sabbath - that'll do.

8) Veronica Carlson or Barbara Shelley
A: Another one I can't quite answer. (Comparing what I can answer - kind of points out that, for deeper genre cuts - I am a bit better off with the older stuff. That's accurate - I dabble in post-1950s horror, but not much, and what I've seen tends to be very auteurist - Bava and Argento, mainly, and some Japanese horror, like Kurosawa; my pre 1950 horror experiences are spotty, but there's a better chance I've seen a bit more variety...)

9) Name the pinnacle of slasher movie kills, based on either gore quotient, level of cleverness or shock value
A: A sub-genre I don't bother with much, and don't really remember when I do - I've seen some of those Freddy movies, and Halloween and the like, but I don't remember them. Gory specifics tend to be torture scenes - the end of Audition, the stuff in Funny Games - or - wild nonsense, like in Stuart Gordon's films ("more passion!"), or Dead Alive... So - screw it: Janet Leigh in the shower - has anyone topped that? no.

10) Dracula (1931; Tod Browning) or Dracula (1931; George Melford)?
A. Tod Browning - I used to come across lots of talk about how the Spanish version is better, but the facts do not bear this out. The Browning film, though uneven to an extreme, has elements that soar - Lugosi and Frye (especially Frye), some of the atmospherics - and most surprisingly, an admittedly intermittant and inconsistent, but none the less brilliant, sound design. You always hear Renfield before you see him. The Spanish version is smoother, missing some of thew weird jumpiness of Brownings version, but it's also duller (and longer, and somehow ever stagier.) even some of the problems with the English version - the weird continuity problems - help, giving it a creepier atmosphere, keeping you just a bit off balance.

11) Name a movie which may not strictly be thought of as a horror film which you think qualifies for inclusion in the category
A: Well - a recent one might be Martha Marcy May Marlene

12) The last horror movie you saw in a theater? On home video?
A. Last in a theater - I have been trying to see Crimson Peak for a ocuple weeks, and managed to miss it - even today (ironically, it was pre-empted today by a horror marathon). So that means the answer is Goodnight, Mommy - which is no slouch. On video - I have been watching a lot of Val Lewton this month, so when I started writing this, the answer was The Body Snatcher - then, it was Isle of the Dead - but I just watched Evil Dead II, so - there's your answer.

13) Can you think of a horror movie that works better as a home video experience than as a theatrical one?
A. This seems unlikely in general.

14) Brad Dourif or Robert Englund?
A. Brad Dourif, obviously, though outside of horror.

15) At what moment did you realize you were a horror fan? Or what caused you to realize that you weren't?
A. Not really relevant. I like horror films, but not in any special way.

16) The Thing with Two Heads or The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant?
A: I am innocent of both.

17) Favorite giallo or giallo moment
A. Suspiria is the best; moment? I am thinking the scene in Bird With the Crystal Plumage where the writer sees an attack in a glass gallery - it's been a long time since I have seen it, so I'm not sure I remember it, but it is something, isn't it?

18) Name a horror remake, either a character or an entire film, that you prefer over its original or more iconic incarnation. (Example: Frank Langella's Dracula/Dracula > Christopher Lee's Dracula/Dracula)
A: I suppose Evil Dead II sort of counts... the first ones tend to be the best, of the films I watch - assuming you could the iconic ones as the first one. Some, like Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde, were made before the iconic one appeared - but still...

19) Your favorite director of horror films
A. James Whale? along with Bava and Argento, I suppose. (And Lewton, but he's not a director.)

20) Caroline Munro or Stephanie Beacham?
A: And again - I can't really help.

21) Best horror moment created specifically for TV
A: Well, The Kingdom was created for TV. The best moment in all that - oh, man, there are too many - Bondo and his liver, maybe?

22) The Stephen King adaptation that works better as a movie than a book
A: I don't know. The Shining probably counts - ahuge book about writers' block is just not something I intend to find out about.

23) Name the horror movie you most want to see but to this point never have
A: Abominable Dr. Phibes? could be.

24) Andre Morell or Laurence Naismith?
A: Nope.

25) Second-favorite horror film made in the 1980s
A. This poses a problem - my favorits of that decade are the comedies - Raimi and Gordon - Evil Dead(s) and Reanimator/From Beyond. Are they horror films? I suppose so - but also comedies. If I tried to go with something closer to straight horror - I still get some oddball stuff. Possession would take top spot - #2 would be Chow Yun Fat and Brigitte Lin in Tonay Au's Dream Lovers - a hell of a film, too.

26) Tell us about your favorite TV horror host and the program showcasing horror classics over which he/she presided/presides
A: Never really watched those kinds of shows. I am glad Ghoulardi existed, fathering PT Anderson, and inspiring all those Ohio bands I love - Pere Ubu and Devo and the like. Though I suppose I could quite honestly say Count Floyd:


Friday, October 30, 2015

Friday Notes on Passing Time

Another week in the books, almost another month in the books - and getting close to putting another year in the books. Yikes. Time passes. Yikes. Tomorrow is halloween, and I find my reaction against all the horror movie posts in recent years might have become an overreaction - nothing about horror films whatsoever on this blog! in three years! sad. Well - that will not last! As noted - there's another quiz to answer, and that should be forthcoming.

Meanwhile. Politics? Another Republican debate, another desperate scramble to find someone other than Trump or Ben Carson for the "Party" to get behind. It's Marco Rubio this time, I guess. With Jeb! Bush the designted whipping boy. And the Liberal Media! Maybe they should nominate the Liberal Media. This might be something like an argument for waiting until some actual voters cast some actual ballots before getting too worked up about elections... someone will get the nomination, probably neither Trump nor Carson, both of whom are pretty obviously in it to sell books. Whoever wins is going to lose in the general, assuming voters get out of bed on a Tuesday - presidential elections tend to draw good crowds - the voter suppression tacts are usually forced into the open and become an incentive to vote and so on. 60% turnout probably elects Hilary Clinton in a landslide. 50% or less is a more terrifying proposition. Possibly to the Republicans - it's hard to see exactly why they would want to win the presidency. They control the House, they can stagnate government without shutting it down (though they can raise money on making noise about shutting it down). They don't have to govern. Money will continue to be redistributed upward with a Democrat in the white house. If they can get Clinton elected, they will have perfect material for fundraising. They have to talk like that hate Hilary and Obama and liberals and such, and want to win every election - but not winning seems to give them a lot more. Nothing changes; the money flows - they are happy. It is all a grift. And even if it isn't, if they really believe it - what difference does it make? They still lose, and the money still comes in...

Okay: politics is a sad topic to hang a post on. Sports! The World Series is underway - I got the last round completely wrong, but those were cheering interests as much as predictions, and neither predictions or rooting were all that strong. Mets and Royals are both deserving teams, and I don't mind either. Now - Royals have jumped out 2-0, winning twice at home - 2-0 isn't insurmountable, but the Royals aren't known for giving up leads - they should carry it through. It's been noted this is the first time 2 expansion teams have met in a World Series - a bit shocking, when you think about it - the first time one of the original 16 hasn't made it to the Series? It is odd - it's still the old franchises that tend to boss the series. Since 1969, the Mets, Jays and Marlins have won it twice - the only expansion clubs to win that many. Since 2000, the Red Sox and Giants have won 3 each, Cards 2, Yankees 2; since 1969 - Yanks have won 7, A's 4; Reds 3, along with the Sox and Giants - granting that a lot of the expansion happened in the 90s, but still - a good chunk of those teams have been around 45 years or more, and not won a thing - Astros, Rangers, Nats, Padres, Brewers - not to mention the newer teams that haven't won... Interesting.

All right - music time:

1. Pylon - Crazy
2. Robert Johnson - Stop Breakin' Down Blues
3. Public enemy - Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos
4. Mudhoney - Dead Love
5. Jane's Addiction - Ocean Sized
6. Rush - The Camera Eye
7. Nation of Ulysses - Spectra Sonic Sound
8. Tom Waits - 9th and Hennepin
9. Frank Sinatra - Old Man River
10. REM - Shiny Happy People

All right - a couple videos to keep us going: Here's Pylon:

And maybe REM, rehearsing for SNL:

And as it is almost Halloween - Roky Erickson, with I Walked With a Zombie:

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Mr. Dadier Back to School Quiz

This is terrible - it was been almost a month since Dennis Cozzalio posted his (almost) latest quiz, Mr. Dadier’s Juvie-Ready, Tough-As-Nails Blackboard-Bustin’ Back to School Movie Quiz - and I am only now getting around to posting answers? I don't know what it taking me so long - it is shameful, and inexcusable - but I am, by god, going to take the shame, and post it anyway. I missed the last one, back in April - never posting any response. What is wrong with me? [Well - in April/May I was writing a paper about Ivan the Terrible for an actual class - that's almost excusable...] (And I missed the one before that too - the music one. What is wrong with me?) In any case - late as it is - I have to stop these bad habits, so here this one is. And with a bit of luck - I'll be bacl before the month ends to essay his Halloween quiz!

1) Favorite moment from a Coen Brothers movie
A: Donnie’s funeral in the Big Lebowski always floors me... But on a brighter vein - the recording session in O Brother Where Art Thou has it all - the singing, “damn, Tommy, I think you really did sell your soul to the devil!” - Clooney scamming an extra $10 ("Mert and Aloisius will have to sign X's, as only four of us can write") - it’s got it all.

2) Scratching The Ladykillers, Intolerable Cruelty and The Hudsucker Proxy from consideration, what would now rate as your least-favorite Coen Brothers movie?
A: The Man Who Wasn’t There, I think. Burn After Reading gets the edge - I like their madcap side. Hudsucker Proxy is not remotely in contention for their bottom three, though; it is a very lovely film. (Though also a collaboration - didn’t catch that point at first)

3) Name the most underrated blockbuster of all time
A: Do failed wannabe Blockbuster's count? Ishtar? Maybe for something really horrifying - Batman and Robin? I don't know why - it has a weird B movie energy, the actors seem to get the point (Uma Thurman especially). If it were 70 minutes long it might be a fun guilty pleasure...

4) Ida Lupino or Sylvia Sidney?
A: I'll say Ida Lupino.

5) Edwards Scissorhands—yes or no?
A: Yes

6) The movie you think most bastardizes, misinterprets or does a disservice to the history or historical event it tires to represent
A: Life is Beautiful - totally disgraceful.

7) Favorite Aardman animation
A: The creature comforts shorts are wonderful in themselves - but I think I must vote for The Wrong Trousers, in the end.

8) Second-favorite Olivier Assayas movie
A: Carlos

9) Neville Brand or Mike Mazurki?
A: I may be stumped here...

10) Name the movie you would cite to a nonbeliever as the best evidence toward convincing them of the potential greatness of a favorite genre
A: Drunken Master II - kung fu; Jackie Chan.

11) Name any director and one aspect of his/her style or career, for good or bad, that sets her/him apart from any other director
A: Ozu's editing - crossing the line (ignoring the line), the graphic matches, the jokes, the disorienting directions, the pillow shots - no one else looks like him, no matter how they try.

12) Best car chase
A: Gone in 60 Seconds (the original)

13) Favorite moment directed by Robert Aldrich
A: All those feet in Kiss Me Deadly.

14) The last movie you saw in a theater? On home video?
A: Kind of depressing - looks like it's going to be Rock The Kasbah in theaters; Things to Come, at home.

15) Jane Greer or Joan Bennett?
A: Joan Bennett

16) Second-favorite Paul Verhoeven movie
A: Black Book

17) Your nominee for best/most important political or social documentary you’ve seen
A: The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On

18) Favorite movie twins
A: Paul Dano and Paul Dano in There Will be Blood, maybe?

19) Best movie or movie moment about or involving radio
A: When the truth is found to be lies and all the joy within you dies - more Coens - Danny gets his radio back in A Serious Man.
For a whole movie about radio - I am strangely fond of Tune in Tomorrow. No patch on the book, but a very likable thing. Peter Falk, you know.

20) Eugene Pallette or William Demarest?
A: A cruel choice to make - but - how can I choose? Pallette? that voice...

21) Favorite moment directed by Ken Russell
A: Um - he annoys me too much - though truthfully, the moments are what make his films. They're always amusing to look at in clips. Say -

I don't know if I can take the whole movie, but - most of them are full of scenes like this, really gripping in short bursts.

22) All-time best movie cat
A: Ulysses?

23) Your nominee for best movie about teaching and learning, followed by the worst
A. Best = Kind of a wild card, but what about Henry Fool? Education of a poet, and all that...
Worst = how about Fight Club? take away the cheesy insanity, and it is a film about a mentor and pupil - and a pretty dumb film about it at that. Though it's worse with the cheesy insanity. Blech.

24) Name an actor/actress currently associated primarily with TV who you'd like to see on the big screen
A: I'd like to find out what Nikolai Coster Waldau would do in a movie; or Rory McCann. Or Sophie Turner. Being about the only TV show from the last 10 years I've actually watched...

25) Stanley Baker or David Farrar
A: Stanley Baker, for Accident if nothing else.

26) Critic Manny Farber once said of Frank Capra that he was "an old-time movie craftsman, the master of every trick in the bag, and in many ways he is more at home with the medium than any other Hollywood director, but all the details give the impression of a contrived effect."

What is the Capra movie that best proves or disproves Farber's assertion?
And who else in Hollywood history might just as easily fit his description?

A: I suppose quite a few Capra films fit this - especially in the late 30s - Mr. Deeds and Lost Horizon and You Can't Take it With You, Meet John Doe. All of them pull out the stops on the style, but also the preaching - they wear on you. I have to agree with the good side of Farber's comment - I think Capra really was the great American master director - and specifically in synthetic style: he understood everything about filmmaking, he used everything at his disposal. Photography, sound, acting, stories, music, editing - everything, and used everything the parts offered - so deep focus, tight shots, moving cameras, sequence shots, fast cutting, set design, lighting design - everything. There are other directors who did this - Lang, Hitchcock, Kurosawa - but I don't think even they were as good at everything, or as able to exploit everything the way he did. And most comparably great directors - Ozu and Mizoguchi, Murnau, Eisenstein, Dreyer, Hawks, Renoir, etc. - tended to work in a somewhat narrower style. He used everything - to good effect, but sometimes - yes - it's all a bit too clean, too smug about its skill and its messages.... it becomes heavy (which is fatal, almost, to later comedies, like You Can't Take it With You or Arsenic and Old Lace).

But then again - when it works: It's a Wonderful Life, Mr Smith Goes to Washington, Platinum Blonde, American Madness - by does it work. Calling those films contrived is completely beside the point - "contrived" starts to mean something like the same thing as "fiction" - a story, told a certain way, to convey ideas and emotions - everything is contrived. They have emotional depth, they have ideas, they have a complex way of looking at the world, and all of it is conveyed through Capra's mastery of the medium. So - when he doesn't quite get it, Farber has a point. When Capra does get it - the films are just masterpieces.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Friday Music and Stuff

So how lazy am I this Friday? Pretty darn lazy. Anything to write about? Sport? Cubs are done - I guess Back to the Future was not right about that, any more than the hoverboards. Jays are still alive, hanging on against the Royals - all those bats, and the pitching they have, they are never going to be easy to get rid of. Still hope, for semi-Canadian me! Speaking of Canadians - congratulations to Justin Trudeau, newly elevated Prime Minister - blessed, it seems, with his father's political skills, and his mother's looks. And blessed with an absolute majority in parliament, so maybe he can stop Canada from turning into the USA. Stephen Harper sometimes seemed to be dreaming of Texas...

Anyway - that's all I have today. Here are some randomly selected songs to think about:

1. Mark Stewart - Radio Freedom
2. Sunn O))) - Bathory Erzsebet
3. Q and not U - Hooray for Humans
4. Shonen Knife - Insect Collector
5. The Go! Team - Friendship Update
6. The Red Krayola - Zukuntsfleiger
7. Boris - My Neighbor Satan
8. Six Organs of Admittance - They Called You Near
9. Pat Dinizio - Behind Blue Eyes
10. Ray Charles - Drown in My Own Tears

And video: Ray Charles, needless to say:

And for something completely different, with Halloween coming up - some Boris:

And since no Halloween can be complete without somehting from SunnO))) - well - here's 10 minutes of very good footage of the boys making an unholy din. Not sure what song it is, but I'm not sure songs are precisely the relevant unit of interest where SunnO))) is concerned. Feedback in your friend!

Friday, October 16, 2015

Friday Music and Sports Rapture

We have come to another Friday, here in the middle of October. First round of the baseball playoffs are done - things worked out pretty much as I expected, or hoped - I wish Houston had beaten KC, but I don't mind KC; the other three series all went the way I hoped. (And mostly expected - Dodgers are notorious chokers; Cards were ripe for a fall.) So now? I continue to think Toronto will win out in the AL. NL is harder - Cubs are a better balanced team, but the Mets have al that front line pitching, and a kind of drive to win... One must always steer around the Cubs' history - but that's mostly a product of organizational ineptitude, that makes it so they only get a half-chance every decade or two - post-season appearances are rare enough that their failings are just normal. So - with a real good team (not the first real good team they're fielded), they are as likely to win as anyone. So all right - Cubs and Blue Jays it is; Jays win it all.

And I can't not mention the 7th inning of that Toronto/Texas game. How do you describe that? So Martin throws the ball back to the pitcher,but it hits Choo's bat - the umpire calls time, but the the runner on third comes home. The Umps talk - they realize the ball was alive, they should not have called time, so the run scores. The Jays go wild and play under protest - the fans start showering the field with garbage. The inning plays out. Bottom of the 7th, a simple grounder to Andrus, he kicks it. A simple grounder to first and Moreland bounces it to Andrus. 2 up, 2 errors, 2 on. A bunt, Beltre fields it, routine toss to third, where Andrus drops it. 3 up 3 errors 3 on. Then - a force at home, and a hard slide, and a long debate about whether the batter should be called out because of the slide. (He wasn't.) Then Donaldson hits a simple pop up/soft liner to second but Odor misses it - but Choo throws out the runner at second, run in, 2 out, runners at the corners. Joey Bats comes up. The ball goes a mile - the bat goes half a mile - the crowd goes wild. After the celebrations start to settle down, Encarnacion comes up - trying to calm the crowd, who are still throwing shit around... The pitcher comes in to whine. Benches clear. Game resumes. Inning ends, pitcher get Tulo on a pop up, and comes in and gives him a friendly butt pat - benches clear!

It is a beautiful thing. Being a Blue Jays supporter (in the absence of the Sox, obviously), I am inclined to point and laugh - except Texas is kind of the other fall back team when the Sox aren't around, especially with Cole Hamels, who I like as well. I feel sorry for them - especially Hamels - he must have thought he'd just woken up and the last 2 months were just a dream - he was still on the Phillies! kicking the ball around the infield.... But still. Attempts to gin up "controversy" about Bautista's bat flip are amusing - that home run in that situation - what is he supposed to do? There's nothing on earth he could do that isn't "styling" right there - he puts his head down and runs the bases, it's every bit as much as act as throwing the bat. Now - that said - ca you blame the pitchers? especially Hamels, who can't exactly say, if the manager left me in there - if the other guy hadn't served up a meatball.. They are doing what pitchers do - batters celebrate; pitchers whine; both are right and proper parts of the ritual of a big post season home run. And I suppose we should always keep a few old fogie sportswriters around to wring their hands and shake their hoary heads and write think pieces about culture.... But the rest of us can just sit back and enjoy it.

All right - and some music....

1. Loren Connors - Airs No. 18
2. Pavement - Newark Wilder
3. Liars - Too Much, Too Much
4. The Rolling Stones - Let It Loose
5. Franz Ferdinand - Treason! Animals
6. Modest Mouse - Ocean Breathes Salty
7. The M's - Good Morning, Good Morning
8. Blondie - Rapture
9. Spoon - Goodnight Laura
10. PJ Harvey - Down by the Water

Video - we do need some Blondie today.

Friday, October 09, 2015

Can You Help Me Occupy My Brain

Happy October, and time for another band of the month - and who better for Halloween's month than Black Sabbath? I have to admit up front, this is a very front loaded Band of the month - their later material has its attractions, but they never came close to the first 3 - maybe even 2 - records. Later - they were a more than decent metal band; Ozzy had a more than decent solo career - but that's it. Not my favorite type of music - not the best of the style.

But at the beginning - that's different. They are heavy metal, they are inventing the stuff - whatever counts as the shift from hard rock to metal, it's in those first three records. There were other bands playing heavy music in 69-70, but they still sound different. Heavier, rawer. Heavier than what a lot of metal would become - there's a lot of melody in later metal - just listen to Ozzy Osbourne's solo stuff. Who do you blame that, or Def Leppard, or Motley Crue on? Deep Purple maybe? I don't know. Not Sabbath, anyway. It's Black Sabbath haunting the hard music I like, though - and I like a lot of it - and almost all of it Sabbath inspired. Butthole Surfers - Melvins - Boris - Earth - SunnO))) - groups dear to my heart, and groups rooted very firmly in early Sabbath. I don't know where the sound came from - maybe they were just trying to play hard blues, like Cream or Fleetwood Mac, and didn't have the chops - or had to work harder at it, and slowed it down, atomized it - cause that's what it feels like. The riffs, the sounds, isolated, set adrift like zombies wandering through a foggy moor - something like that. (No - less a foggy moor than a post-apocalyptic factory, where all the people are gone - or turned into zombies - but the machinery is still running. Actually, that's probably just a documentary of their early lives. Birmingham, you know.) It is so extreme - so slow, so dominated by the low sounds, the falling bends Iommi likes to play (think Iron Man) - they seem to be coming from Mars.

They were very good. They got whacked by the critics in real time, but things aren't always apparent in real time. (I've said before - the punks redeemed a lot of these bands: changed the way you could hear them. I heard Sabbath in high school, and didn't much care - I heard them after I became a punk fan and loved it.) They were good. The riffs on the first few records are absolutely stellar - Black Sabbath - NIB - War Pigs - Paranoid - Hand of Doom - Iron Man - Children of the Grave - guitar lines as memorable and cool as they come. And the rest worked too - the clobbering, relentless rhythms; even the lyrics - not as poetry, but as raw slices of id and anger at the world, are all first rate. Better than the Zep, I am afraid, and almost as funny. They set the standard for all the hard rock to follow - a standard for heavy metal everyone else fell short of. Most punk falls short of it too (even as punk - Paranoid might as well be punk.) The best punk and best metal takes off from it.

And they make a nice Halloween band. The first time I heard War Pigs I had nightmares for weeks. That is how it should be - you hope someone with their taste in movies would be able to deliver on it. They are certainly a reminder that the best horror movies are made by good Catholic boys, too - they master the imagery as well as Bava or Argento or the like. The music feels like a horror film - those slow, hammering riffs, Ozzy's tuneless yelp - and they looked the part. I had a poster of them back in college - not sure where I got it - someone might have told me it was Led Zeppelin, though I knew better than that... had it on the wall - 4 guys in black, wearing big crosses around their neck, all that hair, standing out in a field somewhere (I think it was the gatefold art from Paranoid - not sure; it has long since disappeared) - it was very neat...

And so - 10 songs, all from the first three records, not that I can even pretend to know more than a couple songs from after that... But that's all right. They were great at the beginning; they may have behaved badly after that, but they kept plowing along, making music, and not bad music, for decades after that. I can respect that.

1. War Pigs
2. Paranoid
3. Wasp/Behind the Wall of Sleep/NIB
4. Black Sabbath
5. Iron Man
6. After Forever
7. Planet Caravan
8. Children of the Grave
9. Hand of Doom
10. Sweet Leaf

Video - I may have posted this before, I don't know - this is a live TV gig from 1970 - hair, leather, hammering riffs and drums - clean and sharp and marvelous, with most of their best songs from the first two records, sounding better than the records do (at least the crappy CD versions I have.):

Children of the Grave in 1974 - they're in California, and the wardrobe seems to reflect it - oh, the 70s!

War Pigs, when it was Walpurgis, more horror film than politics at this point, filmed in Germany, in front of a cowd of what look like random bystanders... The riffs are all there, though, and good go, isn't this a riff. Later, they play Iron Man in a boxing ring...

And finally - Black Sabbath - 2013. I can't say they've aged with dignity - at least Ozzy (Tony Iommi seems like he's aged pretty well) - but they can still bring it. I've heard Ozzy talk plenty the last 20 odd years, and never understood a word he said - but he's clear as day, singing. It's like it all comes back, up there on stage... God bless you all!

Monday, October 05, 2015

Baseball Postseason and Post Mortem

Another year in the books. The local nine have protected their traditional (3 out of 4) last place position, though it took losing 4 in a row at the end of the year. Still - a richly deserved last place most of the year. I may have picked the Crimson Hose to finish first, but it was not the most optimistic prediction - their complete collapse in the early months was surprising only in that they did it by not hitting a lick. That was surprising (the horrible pitching was not) - and didn't last. They shed the old timers and let the kids play and started winning; they brought up young pitchers and seemed to straighten out a couple of their awful starters, and got a whole lot better - coming almost all the way back to .500 before the dip at the end. They purged the front office that built those 3 out of 4 last place teams. It bodes well for the future, though maybe not well enough to be too excited - yet. They have no bullpen; they still have a bunch of #3 starters (if they are lucky) and some kids who could be better than that. They are still paying Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval a lot of money to eat and sulk and hit .250. So - we shall see. But hope springs eternal, and there are reasons to hope here. They have some fine young players - Betts and Bogaerts are very good now, the rest of the opitfield showed real ssigns, Swihart and Vazquez are promising young catchers. They have some solid old timers (Ortiz and Pedroia when he's on the field), good parts (Brock Holt and maybe Travis Shaw.) They have a couple very nice looking young starters who showed stuff in the majors, in Rodriguez and Owens. Porcello didn't look half bad once he got healthy. Miley and Kelly showed the occasional sign. So - they probably need a #1 starter, and they need a lot of bullpen help - and they need to either lose Hanley and Panda or have them come back - which is not impossible - vets tend to revert to the mean, so they are quite capable of getting better... so - a fun offseason is in store, and then we can try again.

For now though - well - all right. So how bad did I do guessing? Sox? nope. The Blue Jays did indeed slug their way to some wins, then added David Price and became world beaters. I'll take it. I was deeply wrong about the Yankees, to my sorrow. (Sorry Sam.) I was completely wrong about the Central - lord. Royals played very well this year - though I'm still not sure how they got what they did from their starters. Bullpens help, of course. And out west - probably should just delete those predictions - Sox, Tigers and Seattle? One of those teams did not finish last! Actually - looking at the records of those teams - notice how bunched the AL was this year. Oakland'
s the only team to lose 90 games - Toronto and KC the only ones to win 90... Maybe I have an excuse there. I had the Texas teams 4 and 5 instead of 1 and 2 - but basically, they got the breaks and performed -t he Houston pitching was better sooner than they expected - I'm certainly glad to see them win.

Predictions? I certainly hope the Astros beat the Yankees - Keuchel has been fantastic all year, so there is hope. Tanaka has also been good - it's a good matchup. Then? Blue Jays beat the wld card team - I think that's safe. KC will probably win the other series, but Texas has Hamels, who has been there before - they've been very hot down the stretch as well - they were outscored through the beginning of September, but turned that around. KC has the team and the pen, but are their starters good enough? In the end - the winner there should fall to the Jays - they look like an awful good team. Hammering the ball, running out 3 or 4 first rate starters - if form holds, they are the real deal.

And NL? So I thought Washington was the easiest pick int he majors back in April? they should have been. That was without Bryce Harper turning into Mike Trout, and Max Scherzer throwing 162 consecutive no-hitters. Let us use the work Choke. I thought the Mets were close to respectability - like Houston, their starters got better a little faster than expected - and Cespedes reminded them how to hit. They did well. (Look at all the teams who finished with a rush - Blue Jays, Texas, NY - all came on like gang-busters in the second half.) In the Central - I got those right! I underestimated the Cubs - but about the only thing I got right this year was assuming SL and Pittsburgh would pick up where they left off. And the Cubs just did what everyone else expected. Out west? Bought the San Diego hype - sorry. But the Dodgers did what they were supposed to do.

Playoffs? I can't pick between the Pirates and Cubs - Cole and Arrieta - it's a strange case: the 2nd and 3rd best teams in baseball playing a one game playoff to face - the best team in baseball - all in the same division! Yeah. Pirates and Cubs are the teams I want to see come out of the NL - but one will be gone day one. Dodgers and Mets? no idea, though the Dodgers have been excellent chokers in recent years. Cards vs wild card? Again - best two teams left in the playoffs, playing the short series. Sad. Whoever wins it would seem like the favorites,but it might be the Cubs... I;m not going out on that limb.

I know what I want: Blue Jays beating the Pirates. Cubs if they must. It's got a pretty good chance, right? Meanwhile, there are some very interesting matchups. I'm sure the TV guys are salivating over a subway series. Me - that would be the most horrible thing imaginable - unless the Mets win. That - ah. I am, after all, a yankee hater second... NY/LA would go over well. I imagine a Missouri series would have its fans - and would be a showcase for the joys of solid, fundamental baseball - those two teams do play a good game. At the other extreme - Cubs vs Houston might be a true sign of the apocalypse - and I suspect if Pittsburg and Houston get there, Fox execs will be on suicide watch. Anyway - go Toronto!

And finally - I might as well offer up my season awards:

MVP - AL: Mike Trout was as good as ever - I suspect Josh Donaldson will win it, having better counting stats and playing on a better team. That would not be unfair: I think I would vote for him myself.
NL: If anyone votes for anyone other than Harper at the top, they should lose their credentials. (I picked Standon before the season - I might have been right, if he had gotten through the year unscathed. Though probably not: Harper was immense.)

CY Young: AL - the usual suspects pitched well, but Price and Keuchel put some separation up - I would vote for Keuchel, and he will probably win. He has the most wins - he has the best WAR - he pitched his team to the post-season. He deserves it.
NL: There's a pretty nice collection of candidates there - though wins and all the other numbers narrow it down to Greinke vs. Arrieta. (The supporting numbers keep Kershaw and Scherzer and de Grom in the hunt - but they aren't better than the guys with wins this year, so let the wins separate them.) If Arrieta wins, it won't be a travesty. If Greinke wins, it will be well deserved. If I had a vote - crap: Greinke, I guess. Let his battingbe the tie breaker - he hit 2 home runs; he slugged .343 - better than 2 of the Royals' regular starting lineup; 2 points behind Jacoby Ellsbury! It's worth half a run above replacement! Go Zach!

Friday, October 02, 2015

Friday Music and fewer Guns Please

Friday. Another week, another mass killing here in the good old USA. The knee jerk reaction is, get rid of the guns. Living in a time when crime rates are falling, murder rates falling, violence is falling, mass shootings stick out all the more - it's hard to put them down to whatever societal malaise causes crime. I don't know what it is. But they would be a lot harder to pull off if getting guns was harder. And - at the risk of venturing into mind-reading - if guns weren't treated quite so fetishistically, if they weren't linked so much to the idea of power and virility and freedom - you might have fewer sexually insecure losers going on shooting sprees. So - yeah: get rid of them. Or take "get rid of them" as the starting point and make the gun defenders come up with a better plan. Some plan at all...

And - I don't trust too much psychological profiling in cases like this, but you can't get around this fact: more or less all of these massacres are perpetrated by men. Seem to be mostly white guys at that, though that's not anywhere near as hard a rule (like this one, perpetrated by a mixed race guy). But male - that's pretty much a rule.

All right. No more about that for now. Let's have some music.

1. Jay Farrar - New Multitudes
2. Television - Beauty Trip
3. Velvet Underground - Some Kinda Love (live - Quine tapes)
4. The Strokes - Killing Lies
5. Nick Cave and Bad Seeds - Hiding All Away (live)
6. Pavement - Zurich is Stained
7. Husker Du - I Don't Want to Know if You Are Lonely
8. Six Organs of Admittance - Bar-Nasha
9. Butthole Surfers - American Woman
10. Egg Hunt - We All Fall Down

and some video. Lots of New York rock on there - here is the least of them, though still pretty good - The Strokes:

Maybe not the Velvets,but the next best thing, when it comes to New York rockers. Richard Lloyd gets a nice solo here:

And we should not neglect the great midwest - Husker Du:

Friday, September 25, 2015

Loos, 1915

Today, September 25, is the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Loos. It's an important battle - the largest fought by the British in 1915; the first use of gas by the British in the war; and the first significant use of New Army troops in the war. It was, for the most part, a disaster. The Brits had a huge numerical superiority, but their preliminaries did not dislodge the Germans, who mowed them down, as machine guns will - the Germans then brought up reserves and drove back subsequent attacks. They kept fighting for a few more days - dragged it on for weeks - but nothing really changed. (That's the basic description of every battle of WWI - bloody and disastrous initial attack, that maybe made some progress - reinforcements and counter-attacks that negate whatever advantages were gained - weeks of both sides trying it again - nothing different at the end.) (You can read all the details here, matter of factly - with casualty numbers at the end.)

Loos was very badly handled. It was the first big British attack, and it was fraught with trouble. There weren't enough shells - so the artillery barrage didn't really suppress the German lines, even the front lines. didn't break the wire. didn't support the initial waves of attack. (This would become a major scandal - it would help to bring down the British commanding general, John French, leading to Douglas Haig taking his place.) The gas (the "accessory") didn't do much good - the Brits released it from canisters, hoping the winds would carry it into the German lines. The wind wasn't blowing; it hung over the battlefield and sometimes drifted back into the British lines. It probably could have been worse - Robert Graves says that the gas-company had the wrong spanners, and couldn't get the canisters open - only a few of them went off, though of course they did the Brits more harm than the Germans. The Germans were ready (says Graves) - and managed to do what the gas company couldn't - scored a couple direct hits on the unopened canisters, releasing their contents to add to the confusion... All this mess was compounded by French's misuse of reserves - by supply problems (Graves writes about a New Army division that made notable advances, only to have to retreat when they ran out of rations) - and by general and complete confusion.

I know the battle best through Robert Graves' account in Goodbye to All That. It's a masterpiece of understated fury. Graves was at the left of the line, part of the attack on the town of La Bassée, a diversion from the main assault in theory. He described the attack as a complete fiasco - even before the battle, with drunken subalterns and staff officers abusing their commanders. Everyone expects disaster - a "glorious balls-up". And it is. Not enough artillery; the gas attack goes all wrong; when the attack gets going, the communication lines are broken, so no one behind the lines knows what is happening, no orders come up, no information goes back. The fighting itself is pure confusion - men go forward, are shot, and come back, or lay in shell holes sniping at the Germans to no effect. There is heroism - almost all of it involving men risking their lives to save their comrades. Or a fatally wounded man choking himself to stop crying so no one else will be killed to try saving him.

He had no love for the higher officers, Graves. He tells us how the colonel went to the rear with the wounded, "with a slight cut on the hand." (The junior officer who chewed his hand to stop himself from screaming, meanwhile, was hit 17 times. Lieutenants and captains take the brunt of the damage and acquit themselves well in Graves' account.) He ends his story of the battle with a very nasty (but typically understated) story of two second lieutenants who survived the brunt of the fighting. (2 of 3 officers in their battalion to emerge from the battle unwounded.) They reported to their commander, who they found eating a meat pie; he took their report, and sent them on their way (without offering any of the pie), with an admonition to make sure that men remembered to button their shoulder straps. Graves adds that the colonel was heard to complain “that he only had two blankets and that it was a deucedly cold night.” At least another officer, having heard the story, gets some payback, by helping himself to the meat pie without being invited...

It's an extraordinary passage, and well worth seeking out. (The book, of course, is itself extraordinary, and well worth the read.) It gets at so much of what was wrong in the war - the pointlessness of the tactics; the endless screw ups, undermining the already bad plans; the absurdity of the class structure and command structure that kept haunting the war effort. (He tells the story of the son of a prominent Jamaican planter who got appointed a first lieutenant by the governor of Jamaica. The boy (a kid, 18 or so) was hopelessly incompetent, but outranked most of the other officers. He was appointed to the mortal battalion, since he was otherwise useless - at first, mortars were useless too, but they were starting to become valuable by the end of 1915. When the battle started, the kid ("Jamaica" as Graves call shim) did all right, working the mortars - but in the middle of the battle, a captain, the only man in the battalion to treat him well, was mortally wounded - and "Jamaica" fell to pieces. Abandoned the mortars - leaving one German machine gun unscathed, machine gun that proceeded to cut down attackers in swaths. And more - "Jamaica" and his wounded captain blocked the trenches, so men couldn't move top and from the battle - another disaster. But all too typical, given the men in positions of authority because of who they knew, rather than what they knew...) Grave's account is, in miniature, as clear eyed a picture of what the hwole war was like as you can get.

End of the Week Music Plus

Welcome back Friday, glad to see you, as always.

This is not going to be a huge post - music, mainly. Saw the Feelies again last week - they were, as always, spectacular. Took me back 30 years. It is strange - nothing has changed, they might be older, but they look and act the same, and sound more or less the same - one of their essential qualities, that: everything sounds as though you've heard it a thousand times before, and everything sounds absolutely new. I notice it in the guitar parts - they can play riffs exactly as they always played them, but they still sound somehow completely new. It's in the tone, it's in the twists around the edges of the notes, in the details. Seeing them live is still a euphoric experience.

And - anything else? The 100th anniversary of the Battle of Loos is today - first use of poison gas by the British in WWI. With disastrous results. I hope to have a longer post up this weekend - Loos is the centerpiece of Robert Grave's writing about WWI in Goodbye to All That - a particularly scathing account of a badly run battle. I can't say "particularly" badly run battle (though it was), because most WWI battles were complete fuck ups for almost all concerned.

For now though, just some random music to hold you over.

1. Louis Armstrong & Hot Five - You're Next
2. Ric Ocasek - Crashland Consequences
3. Wire - 99.9
4. James White and the Blacks - Bleached Black
5. Outkast - ?
6. The Rolling Stones - Let It Loose
7. Wire - I Am The Fly
8. Radiohead - I Might Be Wrong
9. Melt Banana - Mind Thief
10. Husker Du - Divide and Conquer

Video? start with a clip from last week's Feelies show, because, there's a clip from last week's Feelies show:

And since iTunes wants Wire - here's I am the Fly, from the Peel sessions:

And if you need more Wire than that (and who doesn't?) here's a full show from Rockpalast, 1979:

Friday, September 18, 2015

Radio Burnin Up Above

Iggy Iggy Iggy Iggy.... This month's band of the month will be Iggy Pop and the Stooges. It will also be short (at least comparatively). Not that there isn't plenty to say about Detroit's finest, but you don't have to say it all.

They are simple and direct and powerful always. They get called the fathers of punk, though not very many punk bands live up to them. They have a savvy about them, though - which punks did too, let's be fair - an ability to slip sideways into those long grooves of Fun House. They never fail to rock, and they rock all over the place, at least on those first 2 records - they manage to be calculated and completely raw, musically adventurous and brutal at once. They are almost alone out there.

And Iggy - the Stooges made three records and then he went off on his own, and something was lost. Not his doing exactly - he made a lot of good (to great) music on his own - and Iggy himself was always a beast. But he spent decades seeming wildly out of place with his surroundings - way cooler and scarier and better than anyone around him, spending a lot of time playing with journeymen. Even when he played with people who were great artists in their own right, Bowie and Lou Reed, say, he was different, off kilter - too much, even for David Bowie. Too wild, too cool - as a performer - just beyond everyone else. He's not the only rock and roller to put on an extreme show - but he's one of the few who is both awe inspiring and a bit terrifying who never comes off as even remotely desperate. He is in control, no matter how out of control he is.

But still: after those Stooges records - it's all a bit less. Which is credit to the Asheton brothers, as much as anything - I can't say they're particularly great musicians, but they are dead on to what they are doing. They had a sound, and they nailed it - fuzzy guitar, the wah wah solos, the plain, relentless drumming - it's a sound that fits Iggy's voice, growling and punching along, distilling that garage sound to its perfect form. It is relentless and punchy and I can listen to them forever. Ron's guitar sound - that's something brought to perfection right there.

All right - here are my Ten favorite songs from Iggy's long and illustrious career. The songs are still pretty good in the late 70s - but the x sound misses the Ashetons. All right - here goes:

1. 1970
2. 1969
3. TV Eye
4. I Wanna Be Your Dog
5. Loose
6. Search and Destroy
7. Lust for Life
8. Passenger
9. Mexican Guy - even in their late incarnations, they can be funny and very funky
10. No Fun

Video: I wish there was more of them in their heyday - what there is is pretty mindblowing. Here's 1970, in 1970 -

And a short documentary, that works in most of the old footage (Iggy and his peanut butter!), along with some interviews from the time of their comeback: "we never failed to make an impression"

Lust for Life, later:

Full concert from 2003:

Searching and Destroying at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, with James Williamson:

Finally, since I'm going to see them tonight, here are the Feelies covering Real Cool Time, Bill and Glenn trading solo, though Bill gets the better of them, for once:

And finally, a tribute to the power of the internet - here is a cute girl covering The Passenger on the Polish Voice:

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Ivan's Childhood

[Also cross posted at Wonders in the Dark as part of their ongoing Childhood films countdown.]

Andrei Tarkovsky's Ivan’s Childhood begins with the sound of a cuckoo, and a shot of a boy standing behind a tree, looking up at us through cobweb. It ends with the same boy chasing a little girl along a beach, the two of them circling a dead black tree, that seems to keep forcing itself into the image. Both are dreams: the boy, Ivan, is in the middle of a war, dreaming of the world before the war, his childhood. He is still a child in the present of the film, but his childhood is long gone.

Ivan’s Childhood, like Germany Year Zero, is a war film about childhood that is also a childhood film about war, using each side of the equation to heighten the emotion of the other. Ivan is already a hardened veteran when Ivan’s Childhood begins - orphaned, a partisan, now working for the regular army as a scout. That is where he is when the film’s story begins - but that is not how the film begins. It begins with the dream, Ivan walking, running, flying, through fields and forests, coming to rest at his mother’s feet, drinking from a bucket of water. It begins with the childhood he has lost, before waking him to the war he is living in. But it is a very thin line between waking and dreaming. The difference may mean everything to Ivan, but it is very permeable for Tarkovsky’s filmmaking. In Ivan’s dream, Tarkovsky’s camera soars and swirls, almost gleefully defying gravity and rules of space. But when Ivan wakes in a ruined windmill and goes out, the camera remains as vertiginous as in the dream, swinging around, taking extreme angles, cutting up his experiences into flashes of imagery. Real life is immediately established as being as disorienting and strange as any dream.

As we come to know Ivan, we see that he thinks of himself as an adult, the equal of anyone around him - but he is still a child. In the banal outside world, he tries to be an adult, but he isn't, and he remains at the mercy of the men around him. They try to force him to be a child, to go to school, to find surrogate parents, none of which he he thinks he needs. And Tarkovsky's filmmaking emphasizes Ivan’s subjectivity, both awake and in dreams, in ways that show just how close he is to his lost childhood. Dreams and childhood push into his life, haunting him. Ivan isn't always sure which is which - he worries that he is talking in his sleep, his dreams and memories escaping into the world where he wants to be treated as an adult. And apart from the dreams, we see that Ivan has a kind of psychic bond to the world around him. Much of the film is set in a house serving as headquarters for Lt. Galtsev's unit, a house where 8 Russians, none over 19, were held before being shot by the Germans. Their last message is written on the wall - “Avenge us” they say. Tarkovsky emphasizes this graffiti throughout the film - and Ivan, when left alone in the room, is swept up into the story of those executed children. He hears them; feels them; sees them (and his mother, and himself). He seems to slip between his present and the past, theirs and his own, increasingly acting out their story. They are palpable ghosts for him.

It’s not just how Ivan sees the world, but how Tarkovsky sees the world that keeps the boundaries between reality and visions permeable. The camera work remains fluid and inventive throughout; the editing disruptive, jumping across time and space without connections. Things appear out of context, and Tarkovsky takes his time to reveal the context. For example, the first sight we have of Lt. Galtsev - a hand sticking up out of a blackness. A hand coming out of the ground? Out of the swamp Ivan had been wading through? No - eventually we see it is just a man, sleeping. But Tarkovsky delays the revelation. Similar imagery continues - isolated body parts (of the living or the dead); slippage between reality, flashbacks, visions and dreams; and the nature shots - vertiginous rows of trees, people moving through them; the earth disappearing under their feet. Some of this harkens back to other films - especially to Cranes Are Flying, another crucial Soviet war film. Tarkovsky’s camera work owes a lot to that film - the camera flying, spinning, moving, dancing, all of it in luscious black and white. As well as specific scenes and moments - particularly the scenes in a wooded swamp, referring to the death of the hero of Cranes Are Flying.

There are thematic parallels as well - the way human beings are swallowed by nature; the god’s eye views and worm’s eye views of the world. But we can see some of Tarkovsky’s obsessions appearing as well. Bells - pervasive natural imagery, the elements (earth water air and fire) - flying - memories, visions, dreams - and images and words on walls, seeming to come off the walls, into the minds of the characters in the film.

And in the end, Tarkovsky blurs all the lines of the film - between reality and visions, between Ivan's subjectivity and others, between all the times of the film. The final sequence takes place at the end of the war, the Soviets going throught he ruins of Germany - Galtsev, the only survivor, going through old Nazi records, looking at the fate of their prisoners. He finds Ivan's record - and it is as if he can follow the records into Ivan's memories and dreams. He imagines/sees/feels Ivan’s death - rather, the film shows it, but shows it as if Galtsev were experiencing it. And Tarkovsky moves from the vision of Ivan’s death to another dream, children on a beach, Ivan and his mother again - in a way here that links Galtsev to Ivan's mother, making identical gestures, reality and dream combining:

And so we end, with Ivan playing on the beach, running, laughing, with a little girl - though still haunted by the image of the war, that gaunt stark tree in the middle of the beach. (That reminds me, maybe incongruously, but maybe not, of the hanging tree in Budd Boetticher’s Ride Lonesome.) The kids play, but around that tree, that seems to keep intruding into the frame, and finally swallows them up.