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):