Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Out with the Old, In With theNew - 2013, 2014

My idiot cat is very happy, currently stretched out between the keyboard and the screen, purring away and occasionally batting my fingers. She is a lot of help. Here is a picture of her helping me put away some pots and pans I got this year - she is often very helpful that way:

The year is waning fast. I figure I should put up one more post though. It has been a very eventful year - blizzards, the Red Sox, wickedness, personal loss - in a year in which I passed one of those milestone birthdays people get worked up about (not that I am about to admit which one, though anyone following my band series might be able to hazard a guess, from the dates referred to here and there...) It was a momentous year, with anniversaries and birthdays, deaths, retirements of friends at work, things that brought out reminiscences and considerations of events - and things like the trip my brothers and I made to Ellsworth ME, to find our great- (and great-great-) grandparents' graves.

All of which makes me more inclined than usual to post something like this, looking back, maybe looking ahead. It was an eventful year - a reasonably satisfying one, in a way. I don't usually post things like resolutions or goals for the next year - but if I had last year, I would have ended up reasonably happy with the results. Just thinking about the blog - I have stopped writing film reviews for some reason, and stopped writing about politics (though I think about politics more than is healthy) - but I am rather pleased (and a bit relieved) that I have kept up with my Civil War posts, with those band of the month posts, with the director of the month posts (though I've missed the last couple - holiday congestion, call it; I should be back at it in the new year. Not sure what kind of theme I will pursue - though I suspect I know where I will start...) I hope this continues in 2014 - I see no reason not to keep it up. I have music and civil war posts already in the pipeline, so things should proceed. And I imagine I will pick up another anniversary series this year - I have been diligent in making Armistice Day posts every year - 2014 is the 100th anniversary of The Great War, an event that, I think, was as definitive for Europe as the Civil War was for the United States. Everything since revolves around it, to this day, we are still working out its aftermath. (Just as the US is for the Civil War.) I don't actually know as much about WWI going in as I did about the Civil War - that sounds like an invitation to find out all I can, and I hope I can share it as I go.

This might turn into a history blog, after having spells as a political blog, mostly a film blog, though always a bit of a music blog. Why not? I have been reading history the last couple years - Civil War mostly, though lately I've been reading Elizabeth Eisenstein's The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe - a fascinating subject itself. But - I do hope this year to get back to more film reviews - and for that matter, more politics.

I can't get away from politics. I have been inclined to try to avoid it lately - it's been very depressing these past few years. But - you can't get away from politics; I certainly think about it enough. I could have plenty opt opportunities to argue about it, particularly on Facebook - though that is a soul destroying forum for any kind of serious conversation. Just this week I had a bit of a conversation - someone posted a meme about how the Republicans passed the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments with almost no Democratic support - and now, the Democrats passed Obamacare with no Republican support. It would have been hard to figure out the intended point, if the thing hadn't included an anti-Hillary Clinton bit: seems to have been a Republican source trying to resurrect their past as the sensible party. It's not very effective - though one certainly can feel the irony of the party of Lincoln becoming the party of Jeff Davis. Parties change - it is fascinating to see how the Republicans and Democrats have reversed themselves so completely, and almost perfectly. Still - the conversation that ensued ended with someone making one of those weaselly both-sides-do-it, what-is-the-difference complaints - a complaint given the lie by the graphic itself. Obamacare passed with 0 Republican votes - whether you think the ACA is a good thing or bad thing, it's pretty clear that it is part of a very different set of policies between the party.

And that is true - party discipline is about as strong right now as it has ever been in the US (especially among the Republicans; the Democrats are a bigger, broader party - their positions and orthodoxies are a lot less rigid.) And I was thinking about it - I can list off a dozen or so policies I would like to see: and most are official Democratic positions, and the others have supporters among Democrats; none (almost) have any support from the Republicans at all. I wonder how often, in American history, that would have been true? that policies I like would be almost exclusively associated with one party?

I mean it - here are some examples, things I would like to see:

Higher minimum wage
Higher top marginal and corporate tax rates
Expended social security and medicare and Medicaid
Expanded benefits for food stamps and other programs
More spending on education
More spending on infrastructure
Better health insurance systems
Climate change projects
Gay marriage
Stronger unions
Stronger regulation of banks and financials and corporations
Prosecution of bankers etc. for the more egregious offenses
Reining in the security state

Of those - everything down to stronger unions are basically positions held and advanced by Democrats, and opposed by Republicans. The strength of the party positions varies, the parties may have different priorities - but those positions are all clearly aligned with one party or the other.

The bits about bankers and corporations goes quite a ways beyond the official Democratic party - but plenty of actual Democrats (my senior Senator, prominently!) push for those kinds of policies.

The security state - NSA spying, drones, all that crap - is about the only item on the list where I radically part company with the Democrats. It's an issue that you will hear Republicans weigh in - though to be honest, I don't believe a word of that. Rand Paul can say what he wants to now, but if he were to get elected president in 2016, I hope no one will be shocked to find that he's as enthusiastic a war monger and authoritarian as any other Republican. (Or way too many Democrats.)

BUt the point of this is - well: two things. First - that parties matter, whether you like it or not. And second - imagine me trying to make this case on Facebook, a sentence at a time. It's hopeless! I can't do anything in a sentence at a time. I need 1000 words!

So consider yourself warned.

And so - I have managed to time this almost perfectly to finish on the stroke of midnight - or 11:59 I hope, so this hits 2013 not 2014. I will leave you with another cat - a carving of a lion in Copley Square. Happy new year, everyone!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Is that a reindeer I hear?

Look out Doctor! There's a Dalek behind you!

Merry Christmas - let's hope you all got nice boxes to sleep in!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Accept No Substitutes

If you absolutely, positively got to kill every motherfucker in the room... Odd post for Festivus, but for a history nerd like me, what can I do?> Mikhail Kalashnikov, inventor of the AK-47, the greatest firearm ever invented, is dead, at 94. A machine that more or less literally redrew the map... He certainly made it easier to air one's grievances.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Its the Season...

Winter has come and gone this week - by the end of the day, it will look like spring around here! headed for the 50s...

All right. We are less than a week from Christmas - a rather startling fact, that I can't quite process. I might have some shopping to do....

So - whatever, man. Time for tunes. Here, then, a perfectly random friday offering...

1. Dungen - Mina Damer Och Fasaner
2. Benny Goodman Sextet - Six Appeal (fromt he Charlie Christian collection)
3. Fairport Convention - Book Song
4. ABC - The Look of Love Pt. 1
5. The Fall - Cruisers Creek
6. Pavement - Passat Dream
7. Neko Case - Magpie to the Morning
8. And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead - Worlds Apart
9. OOIOO - Baby Bamboo From Noise
10. Matthew SWeet - Does She Talk

Not a single Christmas song. Can Bing help? Video? Cruiser's Creek, video, sounds like a plan...

Matthew Sweet - this is Girlfiend, live - but it's got Robert Quine playing - that's worth having.

and what the hell - Richard Lloyd, playing Someone to Pull the Trigger:

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Quiz for the Holidays

Dennis Cozzalio has a new quiz up, just in time for finals.... Larry Gopnik's Post-Hanukah, Pre-Christmas, Post-Schrodinger, Pre-Apocalypse Holiday Movie Quiz. Took me four days to finish this one (it's like in high school and college - I spent all my time listening to The Who to do my homework...) But here it is!

1) Favorite unsung holiday film

A. Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence? for all having the word in the title, it doesn't get much attention for that element of it (even from me, and I have paid a lot of attention to it) - but - it probably should.

2) Name a movie you were surprised to have liked/loved

A. The most obvious was probably The Fall - a film I hoped I would think was okay, but that turned out to be wonderful. There are others (and I think I have used this a lot in these sort of quizzes) - but it is hard to beat the difference between expectation and result there.

3) Ned Sparks or Edward Everett Horton?

A. I grew up on Fractured Fairy Tales, so what choice do I have?

4) Sam Peckinpah's Convoy-- yes or no?

A. No - haven’t seen it.

5) What contemporary actor would best fit into a popular, established genre of the past

A. Michael Shannon should make Westerns.

6) Favorite non-disaster movie in which bad weather is a memorable element of the film’s atmosphere

A. Anything by Altman? McCabe and Mrs. Miller notably.

7) Second favorite Luchino Visconti movie

A. Visconti is one of the holes in my experience - I have only seen The Leopard.

8) What was the last movie you saw theatrically? On DVD/Blu-ray?

A. Theater - Nebraska; Blu-Ray - Pirates of the Caribbean, On Stranger Tides (my damned nephew watched all four of them over Thanksgiving.) DVD - shoot: Winchester 73 (writing about it) - been a while since I have watched a lot of movies. And what the hey - streaming: Up - my nephew again, downloaded it from Netflix.

9) Explain your reaction when someone eloquently or not-so-eloquently attacks one of your favorite movies? (Question courtesy of Patrick Robbins)

A. I am generally inclined to argue, though probably with myself. If I'm in a conversation I might argue with the person - depends on the conversation, I suppose. In the past, some of these conversations could become less than amiable - now, I find myself less willing to start fights - so I just write up rebuttals to myself...

10) Joan Blondell or Glenda Farrell?

A. Joan Blondell! Over and over!

11) Movie star of any era you’d most like to take camping

A. Isabelle Huppert, in another country, maybe...

12) Second favorite George Cukor movie

A. I would say Holiday.

13) Your top 10 of 2013 (feel free to elaborate!)

A. I will have to wait for the new year for write-ups, but:
1. The Act of Killing
2. 12 Years a Slave
3. Blue is the Warmest Color
4. Beyond the Hills
5. Apres Mai
6. Like SOmeone in Love
7. 56 Up
8. Stories We Tell
9. Computer Chess
10. The Hunt

(Though since Inside Llewyn Davis hasn't opened yet, maybe the whole list should wait...)

14) Name a movie you loved (or hated) upon first viewing, to which you eventually returned and had more or less the opposite reaction

A. people always ask this. It’s very hard to answer. I might as well go with Batman & Robin, since it's something of an extreme case - to my horror, when I rewatched it, I found myself actually enjoying it. Not just Uma Thurman either.

15) Movie most in need of a deluxe Blu-ray makeover

A. McCabe and Mrs. Miller? I don’t know really.

16) Alain Delon or Marcello Mastroianni?

A. Marcello, all the way

17) Your favorite opening sequence, credits or no credits (provide link to clip if possible)

A. Aguirre: Wrath of God - it's hard to beat that shot...

18) Director with the strongest run of great movies

A. Ozu over his whole career; Godard in the 60s, or Ozu in the 30s or 50s, or Capra in the 30s.

19) Is elitism a good/bad/necessary/inevitable aspect of being a cineaste?

A. Elitism is good. One should be the best you can be, like the best you can find, and value everything.

20) Second favorite Tony Scott film

A. Beverly Hills Cop II? (I haven't seen a lot...)

21) Favorite movie made before you were born that you only discovered this year. Where and how did you discover it?

A. Joli Mai - rereleased on its 50th anniversary (I believe). This was an odd year - fewer of these than usual.

22) Actor/actress you would most want to see in a Santa suit, traditional or skimpy

A. Guy Kibbee? or maybe Eugene Pallette? I guess that would have to be traditional... I pray that it's traditional...

23) Video store or streaming?

A. Um - I do stream movies now and then, so I guess that is the answer. It is not really an improvement over video stores, I admit that. (Netflix is, though, which is why I haven't been in a video store in 12 years or so - that and there aren't any left....)

24) Best/favorite final film by a noted director or screenwriter

A. Would Night of the Hunter count? probably not, since Laughton probably can't be called a "noted director" on one film - still... I think in it's place, among directors with a decent career as directors - it's Yi Yi, Edward Yang. There is quite a bit of competition - An Autumn Afternoon, Tabu, L'Argent, etc...

25) Monica Vitti or Anna Karina?

A. Anna Karina, very easily.

26) Name a worthy movie indulgence you’ve had to most strenuously talk friends into experiencing with you. What was the result?

A. I convinced some of my history nerd buddies (who were not really the type of film nerds) to see Kusterica's Underground - they liked it, very much, so there's that.

27) The movie made by your favorite filmmaker (writer, director, et al) that you either have yet to see or are least familiar with among all the rest

A. I need to see Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Clan in a good print - I have seen it twice, but the print was a mess - badly damaged soundtrack. So there is that.

28) Favorite horror movie that is either Christmas-oriented or has some element relating to the winter holiday season in it

A. Nightmare Before Christmas? I suppose Curse of the Cat People would be the best answer for real horror films.

29) Name a prop or other piece of movie memorabilia you’d most like to find with your name on it under the Christmas tree

A. Jimmy Stewart's cowboy hat?

30) Best holiday gift the movies could give to you to carry into 2014

A. Inside Llewyn Davis, to start.

Friday, December 13, 2013

We Have a Remedy

And with this month's band of the month, we are back on schedule. I mean, back to my rough autobiographical chronology. Though truth to tell, it was not easy deciding when to slot The Who into this story. I've been writing about bands I really started to embrace in college - Springsteen, U2 - I liked the Who in high school, when I was listening to all AOR. I liked them very much - maybe not up to The Beatles or Led Zeppelin, but not far off. I bought Who records when I did not have money to buy records with - they war one of my favorites before I went to college.

But I'm putting them here, because it was in college that I understood the full majesty of the Who at their best. That was when I heard Live at Leeds. My roommate had it on tape: I listened to it (along with the White Album and The River) over and over and over. I never actually bought it, though - I taped the tape and listened to that until it wore out. Then (around the end of the 80s) I broke down and bought the CD. And then, when the deluxe edition of the CD came out, I bought that. And, you know...

It was the perfect record for what I wanted to hear in college - it shaped what I liked. My appreciation of the Who grew in tandem with my deeper love of Springsteen, my discovery of U2, my general embrace of more contemporary bands. The Zep got shaded out (and the Doors, and Black Sabbath, and a good deal of the hard rock I liked in high school) - the Beatles grew, and The Who grew. The Beatles, though, were the Beatles - they were in their own world - the Who was the model of what I loved.

Live at Leeds. Even then, I can't say I was much of a fan of the later who - though I did buy a copy of It's Hard when it came out - just about the only record I bought that in college, before War. And that was not a coincidence - what I liked most about U2 is that they seemed to me to be the 80s version of the Who. What I wished the Who sounded like in 1983 - worthy successors. It's Hard? I don't remember much of it - Eminence Front is the only song I really remember from that record (and a pretty good song at that - Pete could craft a tune, even when things were not going so well); digging around on the internet for this, I am reminded of some of the others - Cry if You Want - sheesh! I forgot that existed! and I think I loved that song, when the record came out... Still - that wasn't going to hold up, not to bands like U2, and certainly not to classic Who - and never to Live at Leeds.

If they had a problem, it's that everything else they did faded next to that live record. (And to the other live recordings they made in that period - 69 to early 70s - not sure when it stopped, 73 or so maybe...) The later stuff declines - maybe Pete Townsend got too caught up in his elaborate ideas - maybe the drugs cut them down - maybe - something else was wrong... but though there is plenty to like about their 70s records, they were distinctly less convincing after Who's Next - and when Keith Moon died, they were just another mince band trying to adapt to the times. (Look at the woful clothes in that Cry if you Want video - oh god: the 80s...) And the earlier stuff - is superb, but they were a band that needed the technology. Those great songs they did in the 60s sound thin, weak, compared to their mature sound (and I mean, sound.) They always had the attitude, the approach - those crunchy guitars and hammering drums and Entwhistle's bass sound, keeping the beat and carrying the melody - but until they got the equipment to make the noise they made in the late 60s, it never quite makes it. Or - hearing it now - it feels like it is striving for the sound of Live at Leeds and not getting there. But still - the albums get better and better, until Tommy and Who's Next sound fantastic - and they could make a dreadful noise live.

And so: this is the other thing - that after college, as I embraced punk and underground music far more - The Who stayed right where they were, more or less at the center of it all. Live at Leeds did: Pete beating the hell out of his guitar, his solos were always rooted in his rhythm playing, and the rhythm, everything (this is clearly a big part of why I loved U2 as well); the bass, on the beat and the melody; Daltry's voice - if you are going to bellow, that's the way to do it. And Moonie. That fantastic, fast, sputtery drum sound he had, always moving, moving, moving, always changing... they could drift, they could sink into noodling, solos and making stuff up and wandering all over the place - but they never lost their momentum. Something like that massive jam on My Generation on Live at Leeds works because Townsend never runs out of riffs, never stops coming up with more, and Moonie keeps driving the songs on. That is pretty much what hard rock is supposed to do - no one does it better than they did at their height, and more or less every hard rock band I have liked since have done some kind of variation on it. Maybe not all of them - I sort of re-embraced the virtues of Black Sabbath and Ac/DC through the years, and straight punk... but still. At their best - they are the coolest thing on earth.

And so - the songs:

1. A Quick One While He's Away - which is among the great songs ever
2. I Can See for Miles - which ain't far off the great songs ever...
3. Baba O'Reilly
4. My Generation
5. Substitute
6. Won't Get Fooled Again
7. Pinball Wizard
8. Who Are You?
9. Bargain
10. I'm A Boy

Since the version from Rock and Roll Circus doesn't seem to be available, here's The Who live, doing A Quick One - with a lot of comic business on the way in... (Ivor, being an engine driver, doesn't come on time...)

And at Monterey:

Out here in the fields...

Very early live My Generation:

And at their height, 1969 - same show as the first, stretching out, the coolest thing on earth...

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Ozu Memorial

Today is Yasujiro Ozu's birthday. It is also, as it happens, the 50th anniversary of his death. I jumped the gun - I should have held up my great big Film Countdown for this date - what can you do? I suppose I can repost my top 32, for the enjoyment of anyone who missed the first...

1. Early Summer
2. Late Spring
3. Tokyo Story
4. I Was Born But...
5. The Only Son
6. Good Morning
7. Passing Fancy
8. An Inn in Tokyo
9. Tokyo Chorus
10. Autumn Afternoon
11. What did the Lady Forget?
12. Early Spring
13. Story of Floating Weeds
14. Woman of Tokyo
15. Tokyo Twilight
16. That Night's Wife
17. Floating Weeds
18. Record of a Tenement Gentleman
19. Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice
20. There Was A Father
21. Equinox Flower
22. Days of Youth
23. Brother and Sisters of the Toda Clan
24. Late Autumn
25. Where Now are the Dreams of Youth
26. Hen in the Wind
27. Walk Cheerfully
28. Dragnet Girl
29. I Flunked But...
30. The Lady and the Beard
31. End of Summer
32. Munekata Sisters

And point to another fine appreciation from David Bordwell.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Friday Music, Nelson Mandela

Today should start by noting the passing of one of the great men of the 20th century, Nelson Mandela. Someone who's achievements might be underrated, when you think about it - he spent his life fighting Apartheid, was able, in the end, to end it, to take over the government of South Africa - and to do it without destroying his country. Came to power without war, held power without violence - how many other leaders could do that? He will be missed, though I suppose it is more true to say, his example will be treasured. RIP.

On a very different not - Wonders in the Dark's Western Countdown has reached the end, with the inevitable #1 movie, John Ford's The Searchers. It has been a pleasure to read, and an honor to participate.

And now? Let's go with a basic random 10, shall we?

1. Robert Johnson - Ramblin' on my Mind
2. The United States of America - The American Way of Love (a dollar ninety takes you to the movie...)
3. Young Marble Giants - N.I.T.A.
4. The Kinks - Til the End of the Day
5. of Montreal - I Was Never Young
6. The Replacements - Dope Smokin' Moron
7. Creation - Making Time
8. Fujiya & Miyagi - Ankle Injuries
9. Fleetwood Mac - Only You (live at the Boston Tea Party)
10. Tim Buckley - Monterey

Video - first - that was one hell of a random 10 - nothing there to skip at all... Then? Start with the obvious, I suppose - The Specials, "Free Nelson Mandela" - which is the song that comes into the head whenever anyone mentions him name...

And - on the subject, here's Bono trying to play with the big boys, from the Sun City record - this song was worth the price of the record, back in the day... those guitars: it's purified Keith Richards, and what's better than that?

And - from the list? I have to post the United States of America song, even if it's just the song:

And - end with the Replacements, live in 1981, sober!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Black Friday Music Post

Have fun shopping, suckers! The single stupidest product of capitalism yet, and boy, there are some bad ones. Anyway; I guess it is all part of the True Meaning of Christmas...

okay - enough of that. Friday Random Ten, I guess it is:

1. Stiff Little Fingers - Closed Groove
2. Ginger Baker Trio (Bill Frisell and Charlie Haden) - When we Go
3. The Attack - Mr. Pinnodmy's Dilemma
4. Husker Du - Back from Somewhere
5. Outkast - Vibrate
6. G.O.N.G. - Zero the Human and the Witch's Spell
7. Shudder to Think - Red House
8. Descendants - Suburban Home
9. Waterboys - Natural Bridge Blues
10. Buck Owens - Together Again

This deserves something - this is the Attack, obscure English psychedelic rockers The Attack, anticipating Tommy by a year or so, with the story of a lonely deaf and dumb boy:

And - any day is a good day for Buck Owens:

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Thanksgiving 150

This is a very eventful week or so in Civil War history - after the Gettysburg address, the battle of Chattanooga, today, November 26, was the first official, national celebration of Thanksgiving. I will leave it to Honest Abe - or really, William Seward, who wrote it - to issue the proclamation that made the turkey our de facto national bird:

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward,
Secretary of State

Monday, November 25, 2013


Today is the 150th anniversary of the end of the Battle of Chattanooga. The Chattanooga campaign lasted a while - the situation developed after Chickamauga: the Union army was defeated, retreated to Chattanooga, to the city itself - the Confederates followed, and occupied the high ground around the city, blocking most of the easy resupply routes. For a month or so they tried to starve the Yankees out - then Grant arrived, and set in motion a plan to get supplies through.

That was an interesting campaign itself - a night crossing of the Tennessee river, to allow the men of the Army of the CUmberland (George Thomas' army, which had been holding Chattanooga) to link with men from the Army of the Potomac, who had been brought west under Fightin' Joe Hooker. It all worked - the forces united, repulsed a night attack by the Confederates, and were able to open a short and reliable supply line, to feed the troops in Chattanooga. All that happened in late October - Grant then went to work on a plan to drive off the rebels holding the high ground (Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge), a plan that depended on the arrival of Sherman's army of the Tennessee. While that was happening, the Confederates feuded and divided their forces (Bragg sent Longstreet's corps off to Knoxville to harass Ambrose Burnside), thus leaving themselves badly outnumbered by the time the fighting started. They did very little to improve their positions - they were almost as badly supplied as the Army of the Cumberland. They held ground that looked very formidable, but had done all they could to neutralize their advantages.

When all was ready, Grant expected to put the burden of the fighting on Sherman's army. Their part in the plan was to cross the Tennessee on the Union left, and attack the Confederate right, at the end of Missionary Ridge. Thomas' army was not expected to do much - they had been shot to pieces at Chickamauga, and on short rations since, and were not considered ready for much fighting. Hooker's men, on the Union right, were mostly charged with pinning down what rebels they could, to keep the Confederates from shifting men to oppose Sherman. But all these plans started to come apart.

First - Hooker's men attacked Lookout Mountain, a high, rough mountain at the left end of the Confederate line - they went up the side of the mountain, managed to break the rebel lines in a couple places, and ended up taking it. It was a rather remarkable feet - a high, wild mountain, topped with nearly sheer cliffs - but the terrain tended to break up regular formations, and the union was able to negate the South's advantages there. By the end of November 24, the rebels had abandoned the mountain, leaving Hooker in possession.

On the 25th, the plan was for Sherman to attack to the other end of the Confederate line, while Hooker looked threatening, and Thomas waiting. But this went wrong. Sherman had some bad information - the hills were broken and ragged on that part of the field, and he found that he had not taken the position he thought - when he started attacking, he found himself facing another line of hills. He delayed badly allowing the Rebels to reinforce and prepare, and attacked in an uncoordinated and inefficient way, and made no progress. That threw the whole plan off balance - but then, the Army of the Cumberland attacked.

They were not expected to take an active part in the fighting. They were worn down from their experiences - and Grant didn't exactly trust the army or Thomas. They were also lined up in the valley, under Missionary Ridge - commanding high ground where the Rebels had been entrenched for some time. But as things went badly for Sherman, Grant decided to order Thomas' men forward. Not really expecting to accomplish a lot - but hoping that the Confederates would be forced to shift men away from Sherman's front. So - Thomas' army was ordered to attack the Rebel positions at the bottom of Missionary Ridge - and they took the whole thing. It was an odd, somewhat botched attack - the orders were vague - some commanders through they were supposed to take the lines at the bottom of the ridge only; others thought they were expected to go as far as they could. No one quite looked at it as anything more than a diversion. But it worked.

As it happened - the rebel lines were deceptive. The ground looked strong, their entrenchments looked strong - but the lines were poorly laid out, with little mutual support, especially given the steep hillside. The lines were held by far too few men - who were divided between the bottom and top of the ridge. On the other side - the initial attack succeeded, giving the Union control of the lines at the bottom of the ridge - but there, they were exposed to murderous fire from higher up - many of them had no choice but to continue up the ridge. So up they were - they reached the top - they broke the lines there - and swept all of Missionary Ridge clear.

It was a heady day of rate Army of the Cumberland - humiliated at Chickamauga, treated as distinctly second (even third) best by Grant (and Sherman and Hooker), they had come into the battle, almost by accident, after Sherman's failure and carried the day. They had their vengeance. They proved their worth. They made George Thomas' career (though he had little to do with any of it - he argued against the attack, did very little to control it), as well as adding another triumph to Grant's career (though he didn't have much to do with it either: the Cracker Line campaign was really George Thomas and Baldy Smith; Hooker's success at Lookout Mountain came against Grant's directions; Sherman's attack had failed; this one was supposed to be a glorified demonstration.) The battle also elevated Philip Sheridan, one of Thomas' division commanders - he would go east with Grant, command the cavalry, then an army, and be instrumental in winning the war. He was very prominent during the storming of Missionary Ridge, riding around making himself conspicuous - the sort of thing that gets attention, though his general air of aggression wasn't just for show.

And so it was. Bragg's army was routed. Bragg himself would finally be relieved after this, Joe Johnston put n charge, sometime over the winter. The Union held Chattanooga, once and for all - a perfect starting point for their innovation of George in the spring.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Friday Music

Quick one today - preparing for a bit of travel. I do hope to get back, to offer some kind of thoughts on the 50th anniversary of JFK's assassination - that's kind of a big deal, though it's hard to figure out what I think about it. I am sure it changed my life profoundly (changing the world I would grow up in) - but I have never quite figured out how. A lot of that comes down to knowing how much of what is good and bad in the 1960s (and there were many things both good and bad) were driven by JFK, and how much LBJ. Johnson was the one who did most of it - the Civil Rights laws, the Great Society, but also the Vietnam War - but how do those things relate to JFK, and to his assassination? I don't know... and am not sure what to say about them.

Anyway - enough of that. I point you to a somewhat more pleasant subject - my essay on Winchester 73 for Wonders in the Dark's western countdown. More may come of that - I've put a couple essays in there about Anthony Mann, and suspect he might be my next Director of the Month - though probably not this month. The holiday, you know... For now - I leave you with music - a plain random ten, though it's a nice one.... I commend iTunes for its taste.

1. Gomez - Sweet Virginia
2. Sonic Youth - Winner's Blues
3. Mission of Burma - Good, not Great
4. Scott Walker - If You Go Away
5. Nick Cave & Bad Seeds - Hold On to Yourself
6. John Zorn - The James Bond Theme
7. Ramones - 53rd and 3rd (live)
8. Spacemen 3 - Starship (live - feedback rules!)
9. Jimmy Smith - God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman (oh crap! even iTunes is starting with the Christmas music!)
10. George Harrison - Hear Me Lord

Video: Ramones, of course. Twice, since that vintage footage is rather - distressed...

And - a different kind of thing, but just about as cool - Spacemen 3:

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Gettysburg Address

150 Years ago today, in Gettysburg, the United States dedicated a cemetery for the Union dead from the battle. That in itself was important, part of the evolution of the way the country treated the dead in the Civil War - part of the increasing effort, during the war, to give fallen soldiers a proper burial, to accord them the dignity and respect they deserved. It was a daunting task, north and south, to take care of the dead - again, I recommend Drew Gilpin Faust's This Republic of Suffering.

At the dedication, there were speeches and ceremonies, and then Abraham Lincoln spoke. Not a long speech, one with its modesty built in ("the world will little note, nor long remember"), and rather underwhelming at first. But it rings down through history, partly for its clarity and efficiency (for Lincoln was a great writer, one who helps to invent a more modern form of political speech), but also for its definition of the war. It marks how the nature of the war has changed since the beginning of the war. It is now a war for freedom, which by 1863, meant freedom for slaves - but phrased in a way that makes it clear that without freedom for all (including slaves), there is freedom for none. That ties it back to the beginning of the war, Lincoln's arguments from the start - that the war was about the question of whether "government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." The speech integrates the earlier statements of the Union's aims in the war with the aims as they had evolved in 1863, it links the defense of the union and of democracy itself to the freeing of the slaves; it carries the recognition that slavery was always a fall from the ideals of the country (a case made by abolitionists, Frederick Douglass, say, who revered the Declaration of Independence, and distrusted the Constitution) - that is powerful. It is moving to this day.

This is Jim Getty (I believe), a regular Lincoln re-enactor:

And Charles Laughton, from Ruggles of Red Gap:

And the words themselves:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln
November 19, 1863

Friday, November 15, 2013

Friday Music

I think today we are going with a simple iPod shuffle. We are coming into the Holiday Season, and even now I can see Tasks, Looming Up Before Me.... So - simple and to the point:

1. REM - Discoverer
2. David Bowie - Moonage Daydream
3. REM - Departure [two REM songs, from records I don't listen to much? how weird!]
4. TV on the Radio - Hours
5. Public Enemy - Night of the Living Baseheads
6. Loren Connors - Airs No. 7
7. Pere Ubu - Montana [proof that you CAN play accordion in a rock and roll band!]
8. Einsturzende Neubauten - Well Well Well
9. Faust - Jennifer
10. Built to Spill - Good Old Boredom

And video? Try REM, one of the high points of their late career....

A bit of Krautrock - Faust, doing Jennifer:

And though I can't find a live clip of Hours, here's TV on the Radio, since it's best to have someone on the list younger than me. (I suppose the Built to Spill guys count too.) And because TV on the Radio are the real deal...

Monday, November 11, 2013

Armistice Day

We are getting close to the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I - next year... It is, I think, the defining moment in modern history - even WWII plays as a kind of sequel - bigger, more horrible, though also, maybe, more "successful" in remaking the world in a slightly better form. In some places. Kinda, sorta… I imagine, next year, I will try to follow along with it, as I have been doing with the Civil War's 150th anniversary - it is, I think, to modern Europe what the Civil War is to the United States.

And now - on this day, again, we should remember the end of the first one: the bad war - the war to end all wars, that spawned a dozen more wars. We should remember, and think about what war is.

I will turn it over to Wilfred Owen. Here, first, his most famous poem - Dulce et Decorum Est (here, with annotations):

And here is Kenneth Branagh reading Anthem for Doomed Youth:

the texts:

Wilfred Owen
Dulce Et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!-- An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.--
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.


Anthem for Doomed Youth

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground

This month's band is a bit out of order, if I were sticking to my rough chronology - but events have intervened, so let's look at the Velvet Underground, and Lou Reed.

I became a fan after college; that was late, I suppose, but it took a while to get where I was going. I started listening to a lot of things after college that I'd missed before - contemporary stuff like the Feelies, Replacements and Husker Du; punk, especially the Sex Pistols, Joy Division, the Ramones; and older underground music - the Velvets, Stooges, etc... All of it felt like I had finally reached the place I wanted to be. All of those bands, really, made me feel that way - like I was hearing something that I had imagined but didn't know existed until now... And the best of these was the Velvet Underground.

There were reasons. Reed's lyrics, obviously - they were a different matter than anyone else I'd listened to. Stories, full of characters, situations, described, in clear and evocative ways. They were naughty of course (shiny shiny boots of leather...), but more than that, I loved their descriptive power, their way of describing things that might be happening somewhere. I was not, then, the movie geek I would become - but I had the makings; and Reed's songs operate almost like little movies. They are built, after all, around stories and people - vignettes, scenes - and images - "Severin, down on your bended knee..." - conversations, actions, things seen. Not all - but the imagery in Reed's songs is still more vivid than almost anyone else (at least of the songwriters I knew then) - "I wish that I was born a thousand years ago..." They are a tour of a world - they are like a sketchbook, with commentary... they feel documentary. And the man can turn a phrase....

But I don't know - was it the words? or the music? Because the music blew me away just as much. Nothing else quite sounds like that - listening to the first Velvet Underground record, especially, is like watching old Godard films - the more you know about music (or films) the more familiar they seem, because everyone since then seems to be stealing a little of it - but almost no one since then has come close to taking the chances they took. There's nothing quite like that set of drones and pretty melodies, the dissonance and pulsing rhythms, the ebb and flow of the music, between songs, inside songs. They are beautiful, genuinely unsettling, and build up to real honest to god rock and roll climaxes. It crushed me in the late 80s, and has the same effect now.

And then there is this - it had the same effect in 1973 or 4. I have a memory - I don't know if I trust it - of hearing Walk on the Wild Side on the radio, on AM, I think, when it was a hit, I think. I try to place the memory - I can, almost - I was in my bedroom, it was back when I shared a room with my brothers - I think I remember details, playing with some kind of plastic cowboys and Indians or soldiers or something on an old dresser... and Lou Reed came on the radio and brought me up short. That's a very strange song to hear as a kid, used to the Carpenters and Wings and maybe Elton John. It didn't sound like anything I had ever heard - or anything I would hear for a couple years afterwards, I think. But even then - it was fantastic. It would bring me up short, when I heard it - the way it sounds... It's a fairly simple rock song in a sense, but nothing about it is simple. From the chunky acoustic guitar, the twin bass lines, the brushed drums, Lou's voice, to the colored girls on the chorus, and the sax solo - it didn't sound like anything else. I don't know how often I heard it, in those early days - but I must have loved it. When I started hearing it later, I remembered it, and could sing along with it.... Now - when I first heard it, I had no clue what it was about. When I heard it later - well, yes. But by that time I had heard plenty of "dirty" songs - you know - Love is the Drug; Sweet Emotion; things like that... That time around I got Walk on the Wild side. But from the start - the sound of it burrowed into my head and waited until I was old enough to get it.

What I did get, from the beginning, was the line about the colored girls singing. I recognized the irony - the joke, about white musicians using black musicians and voices to give their songs authenticity and a touch of beauty. I could tell this song was doing that, and making fun of it at the same time. And I thought that was very cool. And I think I recognized it in a lot of Reed's music - the stuff I heard in the 70s and 80s especially. The AOR stations I listened to played Sweet Jane and Rock and Roll from Rock and Roll Animal a lot - those guitar solos are as familiar as Jimmy Page or Tommy Iommi's... they were odd - sounding nothing like Walk on the Wild Side (which got played a bit); then later, other stations would occasionally play something from the Velvets - which sounded nothing like either. And when I started listening to the Velvet Underground records - well - that's another of Lou's many virtues. He was something of a musical chameleon. He played in many styles - played with styles - adopting the slick rock and roll of Rock and Roll Animal, going off into the experimental strangeness of Metal Machine Music - you could never quite tell how seriously he meant to take it... though I suspect a big part of the point is that you don't really have to choose, seriousness or irony. You should be able to hold both in your mind at the same time - and when it's good, it's good.

And so one more thing, still on the musical legacy of Reed and the Velvets. It sometimes seems that all of my favorite songs in the last 30 years have been variations on Heroin. Seriously - Bad? Atmosphere? Marquee Moon? The Cross? Nirvana made people talk about the soft/hard thing - it wasn't new - it isn't even really unique to the Velvets, but they did something different. Songs like Behind Blue Eyes, Stairway to Heaven have a similar structure, but they seem so much more conventional. The main difference, I think, is that the Velvets work the structure around a drone - most of the other bands weren't doing that. (Oddly enough, the one big English band that did love drones, as much as the Velvets, is the Beatles - all those fake-Indian songs, or Tomorrow Never Knows?) But after the Velvets, people picked up on it - whole National Musical Styles picked up on it - take Krautrock.... They made drones an integral part of rock. That's something right there.

It's also something that really depended on John Cale and Mo Tucker, too - I've made this post mostly about Lou Reed, for obvious reasons - but they were a great band. Cale brought a lot of the musical sophistication and strangeness - and Tucker brought that sound, that 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 drum pattern, that makes every song seem to race. YOu can't beat them.

All right - now to the top 10. I could have stuck to The Velvet Underground, but I think I will make this a combined list - Velvets and Lou by himself. Here then - my 10 favorite songs:

1. Some Kinds of Love - the possibilities are endless...
2. Heroin
3. Street Hassle - tramps like us, we were born to pay...
4. What Goes On - this song, especially the live versions, chugging along the way it does, could go on forever, and I would be happy; it is all you need. Lou and Sterling do yeoman work, keeping those rhythm guitars going for 10 minutes at a stretch.
5. Walk on the Wild Side
6. Rock and Roll - another song that comes in half a dozen variations, all of them thrilling
7. Sweet Jane
8. All Tomorrow's Parties
9. Pale Blue Eyes
10. Venus in Furs

And now some video - start with Walk on the Wild Side, live in France, full glam - which in Lou's case translates into something like horror movie makeup:

And Street Hassle, video made of Warhol films...

Loutallica! doing Sweet Jane.

80s Lou, doing Rock and Roll at Amnesty International. I read a Christian rock newsletter that described Lou Reed at this concert (and the Meters if such a thing can be imagined) as "disposable pop music." This remains one of the touchstones in my life for bad music criticism.

The Gift, from the Velvet's reunion tour:

And Heroin, also from the reunion (nice shots of Mo and CAle, as well as Lou - though Sterling gets short shrift from the editors, I'm sorry to say):

One more - Romeo had Juliet - since, for all my talk about the Velvet Underground, Lou kept churning them out for a long time. The one time I saw Lou play, was after the New York record - he held his own with the Feelies, which no one else has ever done... Also - this is the first record I could not find of vinyl, and had to buy on CD. It marked the end of something there...

Sunday, November 03, 2013

One Last Red Sox Post

Just some pictures from the parade. A gorgeous day - we got a great spot by the Charles, I got a ton of pictures (though I ended up watching the whole thing through the camera viewfinder, probably - though modern cameras and all, you can sort of hold them at arms length and take your pictures... that helps explain why I got so many shots of duck boat roofs and water), and all was well. This stuff doesn't get old...

Friday, November 01, 2013

Covering Lou Reed

The Red Sox have completely disrupted my writing patterns over the last couple weeks (not that they are ever very disciplined). So I am well behind on what I was hoping to pt up this Friday - another Band of the Month, dedicated to Lou Reed. Fortunately, I can stick to my second Friday of the month schedule for that, and pretend I did it on purpose...

But I think the general plan can hold - we can dedicate this week's music post to Lou. Mainly video - and this week - to Brian Eno's remark that everyone who bought the first Velvet Underground record formed a band...

Here's Roky Erickson, doing Heroin:

Feelies' Velvet Underground medley:

The Cowboy Junkies, playing Sweet Jane:

Galaxie 500, and Here She Comes:

And Ralph Stanley:

Thursday, October 31, 2013

World Series Day After

I want to write some more about the World Series - having had a day of sober reflection, you know...

This year had an odd sense of of inevitability about it. I remember the first week of the season, playing the Yankees - thinking about how well everything seemed to have worked out. The team got off to a fast start - playing well in the field, getting good starting pitching, and just murdering people out of the bullpen. You could see they were loaded - Uehara and Tazawa were the first guys out of the pen, and were shutting people down - the guys pitching the end of games, Hanrahan, later Bailey, looked just as good. They looked invincible. But Hanrahan got hurt; then Bailey got hurt; then Andrew Miller (lefty specialist) got hurt - and the guys pitching the 6th and 7th started pitching the 8th and 9th and they barely missed a beat. And got infinitely better when Uehara took over closing full time.

It reminds you how much of this year was, really, luck - especially the macro scale kind of luck. They had plenty of the game to game luck, walk off wins and the like, but their real good fortune came in the fact that they were able to basically play the year with the team they expected to have. I've mentioned before - my doubts about the team came from the fact they were assembling too many guys in their early (or late) 30s, who'd had an injury here or there, and could be about ready to start to decline - Napoli and Victorino and Uehara all fit that bill, as do Ortiz, even Lester and Buchholz, going on last year's performance. All of them with a very good track record - but so many of them with questions. And basically, they all stayed healthy, got healthy (Lackey), performed as expected. That hasn't happened for a few years - the Sox in the 2010s have had a run of pretty awful luck, to tell the truth. Young guys getting hurt - Beckett in 2010, Buchholz in 2011, Ellsbury in 10 and 12, Pedroia and Youk in 2010, Crawford in 2011 - formerly reliable older players breaking down - Lackey, Beckett, etc., Wake and Tek reaching the end of the road, crazy people in positions of importance (Alfredo Aceves, closer? Bobby Valentine, manager??) This year made up for that - the good players with health or age concerns all stayed healthy and performed...

The big exception was the bullpen - but that serves to illustrate the nature of this luck - it's luck the organization made, as much as you can make your own luck. They managed to lose 2 closers and a top setup guy for the year, and not really miss a beat - because they had assembled a very deep pool of arms to choose from. They had Bailey, with hopes he could come back; they acquired Hanrahan (though I imagine they wished they'd had Malancon back...) and signed Uehara; they had a deep pool of options on the roster - Tazawa, Miller, Breslow, Morales - and had rebuilt the farm system to the point of producing real talent. And it paid off. They were right - they had enough depth to survive losing half their bullpen. A big part of it was, frankly, last year's debacle - the one good thing that came from that was the development of Tazawa and Miller - Miller finally found his niche last year; Tazawa came back from Tommy John surgery, and turned into an excellent reliever. Across the board, the team tried to do that - collect players - build depth everywhere, to make sure they had good players on the field, and more good players to cover injuries.

Though in the end - without Lester and Lackey doing what they did (and Buchholz, for the half season he was healthy), without Ortiz healthy, Pedroia being Pedroia and Ellsbury coming back, they weren't winning much. The stars came through. The rest of the team came through. Most of them stayed healthy and were able to deliver what they were there to do. It's been a beautiful thing.

And it's worth reflecting on what an impressive post-season they put together. The pitching, specifically. They went up against some of the scariest pitching you can imagine - Cy Young award winners, past and present, super-rookies, hard throwers, pitchers - and they out-pitched the lot of them. True, the Sox have a great offense, but the Tigers and Cards score runs - but not against the Red Sox. The starters shut them down, mostly; the bullpen might have been even better. Other than Craig Breslow (who had been quite superb in the first two rounds, but apparently missed a payment on his contract with Satan for the world series), they gave up almost nothing. Meanwhile - the Red Sox faced the win leaders in the AL and NL, twice each - and won all 4. Beat the last 2 Cy Young award winners in the American League. Basically, outpitching them, in every one of those games (except maybe the first Scherzer start - Jim Leyland did help the Sox immeasurably...) It was a dominant performance, that just got better in the world series.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Sox Win!

One more time! Red Sox win the world series, third time in 10 years - after all the angst of being a Red Sox fan in the 70s and 80s, and the knowledge of the decades of angst before that - it's strange and wonderful.

The first one was almost unfathomable - the second one just satisfying. This one is something else - it's been tougher than the other two, for one thing - they were both anti-climactic, after the league championships. This has been the culmination of a great year - a wonderful year, really, for a Red Sox fan. This team has been a joy to watch, has been tough and smart and effective, a complete team from beginning to end. You could tell from the start - shutting down the Yankees on opening day, opening week - the starters solid, the bullpen unhittable from the beginning - and they kept it up. I guess what I mean is, this has been a hugely satisfying season, from beginning to end, and winning it all just tops it all off. A very wonderful thing.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

October's Auteur - Yasujiro Ozu

It is time for October's Director of the Month - and the end of my little countdown of favorite Japanese filmmakers. We have reached the top - Yasujiro Ozu. For most of these, I have written up an essay - but the truth is, I've written so much about Ozu here, it might be easier just to point. Particularly to this one, summing up my love of Ozu - I can't really add much to that. He is, I say, the greatest filmmaker of all - an almost endless source of awe and beauty.

Maybe in place of a top 10 films I could list the top 10 reasons he is the best - or my favorite:

1. His formal brilliance

2. His Humanism
3. Space - the way he slices it up and recombines it
4. Every screen is impeccable
5. His editing - which is where his formal brilliance lies, I think - no one puts a film together like he did. The cuts on motion, the matches, on motion, on actions, or just on the images, the graphic match. And his disregard for the usual rules of editing - or more properly, his disruption of the normal rules of editing - he quite deliberately disorients the viewer, while teaching us to put an Ozu film together.
6. His range - I mean, to extend on those remarks about editing - the fact that all the things Ozu does, formally, can be done for emotional resonance, for a pure formal effect - or (and this happens a lot) as a gag.
7. His humor - the way his comic skills (of all kinds, physical humor, verbal jokes, character humor, formal gags with cuts and set design and what have you) are always there, worked into the fabric of the film, even when it's not a comedy. Though most of them are, at least partially, comedies. And some of them - Good Morning maybe most of all - are absolute comic masterpieces. The old lady and the knife gag....

8. His subtle, but unmistakeable and unmissable once you notice it, attention to economic and social issues. Really - attention to how people live, and how people live within their specific economic circumstances, is everywhere in his films.

9. Death - I have read that people don't usually die in Ozu films - but that is not right. His films are full of death. Seldom on screen (though there are a few - you can find just about anything in an Ozu film somewhere) but it is always there, offscreen - people are haunted in film after film by the people who have died - sons in the war; mothers, wives, children, young and old - there is no getting around it.

10. The way he runs changes on situations - the way he explores a theme, by circling it in a series of films. Take the obvious question of marriage in Japan - and all the different possibilities - arranged marriages, love marriages, sad marriages, happy marriages... Or running through parent child relationships: mother and son, father and son, father and daughter, mother and daughter....

And I could probably add this - that I can almost follow the dialogue in a lot of them.

So - that is that. As for the films - up to now, I've stuck to top 10s, but for Ozu, I am going whole hog - all the complete features I have seen, in order. That leaves out A Mother Should be Loved - I have seen it, but it is missing at least the first and last reels. It would come in near the bottom - it's a nice enough film, but a bit of an over the top tear-jerker. Still - there's nothing here that isn't a very well made piece of work...

1. Early Summer
2. Late Spring
3. Tokyo Story
4. I Was Born But...
5. The Only Son
6. Good Morning
7. Passing Fancy
8. An Inn in Tokyo
9. Tokyo Chorus
10. Autumn Afternoon
11. What did the Lady Forget?
12. Early Spring
13. Story of Floating Weeds
14. Woman of Tokyo
15. Tokyo Twilight
16. That Night's Wife
17. Floating Weeds
18. Record of a Tenement Gentleman
19. Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice
20. There Was A Father
21. Equinox Flower
22. Days of Youth
23. Brother and Sisters of the Today Clan
24. Late Autumn
25. Where Now are the Dreams of Youth
26. Hen in the Wind
27. Walk Cheerfully
28. Dragnet Girl
29. I Flunked But...
30. The Lady and the Beard
31. End of Summer
32. Munekata Sisters

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Lou Reed RIP

Lou Reed has died. I guess it is not too surprising, but... that gets pretty close to the center of the musical universe, you know.

Here he is, playing Sweet Jane, with Robert Quine.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Friday Music World Series Edition

Here we are, Friday, middle of the World Series - people were thinking the Sox were going to run off with it after the first game, but things have come back down. All tied up and off to St. Louis. It's going to be a tight one.

And so? let's go straight to the tunes...

1. Neil Young - Long May You Run
2. Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention - Absolutely Free
3. Pere Ubu - Postcard
4. Love - Listen to My Song
5. Red Krayola - Farewell to Arms
6. Johnny Cash - Rock Island Line
7. George Michael - Look at Your Hands
8. Pavement - Perfume (live)
9. Grinderman - Depth Charge Ethel
10. T. Rex - Jeepster

Video? It's starting to feel rather Canadian out there - good an cold... so let's start with Young Neil on the pump organ:

And how about Absolutely Free played as a duet for guitar and clarinet?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Problems of Command

On October 23, 1863, Ulysses S. Grant arrived in Chattanooga, to take over command of the effort to rescue the Army of the Cumberland, which was sealed up in that place.

After the battle of Chickamauga, the Union army had retreated, in great disarray, to Chattanooga. Half the army, and William Rosecrans, its commander, were completely wrecked - the rest, which had made an epic stand under George Thomas, retreated during the night. All of them were in a bad way. The Confederates came after them - but not at full speed. The Yankees were able to dig in around the city, though in the valley. The Rebels dug in along the hills ringing the city. The Union men were not exactly trapped in Chattanooga - but they were cut off from easy contact with the rest of the world. The Rebels could block the river, most of the main roads - food had to come in over the mountains, there in southern Tennessee. For the next month or so, the Southerners tried to starve the Yankees out. While this was happening, Grant was put in charge of everything from the Appalachians to the Mississippi, Rosecrans was replaced by Thomas, and Grant set out to save them. He worked his way through the wilderness to Chattanooga, followed by reinforcements - his own Army of the Tennessee, now led by Sherman, and a detachment from the Army of the Potomac, the XI and XII corps, led by Fightin' Joe Hooker himself.

Grant didn't waste any time getting to work on a plan (or accepting a plan that Thomas and Baldy Smith had already worked out) - but that can wait for now. I want to write about Command, right now. Especially, the difference between how the Union and Confederacy handled command problems after Chickamauga. The north we've seen - they were whipped and whipped bad at Chickamauga. Rosecrans himself could be blamed for the defeat, and was - and his indecisiveness after the battle sealed his fate. Lincoln put Grant in command, and gave Grant the authority to decide who commanded the Army of the Cumberland - Grant dismissed Rosecrans and appointed (or rather, accepted Lincoln's appointment of) George Thomas. Things went differently in the south.

Let's start with this - was there a more troublesome general on either side than Braxton Bragg? He was a strange case - it is not that he was incompetent, or even particularly unsuccessful; he acquitted himself well in his Kentucky campaign of 1862, and you could say that he actually won all three major battles he had fought to this point (Perryville, Stone's River and Chickamauga). But he had a knack for failure. He might have carried most of the field at Perryville and Stone's River, but he abandoned the field in both cases, and they went down as Union victories. He won clearly at Chickamauga, but it is hard to see how any credit could go to him - Rosecrans' and Wood's blunders, Longstreet's attack, and the Confederate division and brigade commanders deserve the credit there - and at the end of it, he did not pursue aggressively, and a wrecked Union army got back to Chattanooga intact, and dug in, to hold the town.

Bragg's underlings certainly blamed Bragg, and wasted no time before they started scheming against him. MOre or less openly. The usual suspects - Polk and Breckinridge and Buckner, joined now by the easterners, Longstreet and D.H. Hill - writing their political allies in Richmond, writing to Jeff Davis, writing open letters, anonymous letters.... And that is the real problem with Bragg. Whatever he was on the battlefield, Bragg was an astonishingly unsuccessful leader of men. From top to bottom. The men in the ranks hated him. His generals hated him and openly schemed against him. Politicians hated him. Everyone hated him, except a few toadies, and Jefferson Davis. It is hard to imagine what Jefferson Davis was thinking. Bragg's generals were lobbying for his replacement after Chickamauga - which is bad enough, except they did exactly the same thing after Stone's River and Perryville - and every time, Davis left him in charge. It is very hard to see why - you are left thinking that either Davis was a terrific fool, or he simply despaired of the situation.

It isn't as though he didn't have options. After Stone's River, Davis was prepared to let Joe Johnston take over, sent him to decide whether Bragg should go or not - but didn't order Johnston to take over. After Chickamauga, Davis had even more choices - Johnston again, with the added option of having Johnston bring his army east to combine with Bragg's. And Longstreet - who was on the scene, and seems to have been scheming for the job. Longstreet's behavior, especially, was rather unseemly - but then again - he was just about the only one of the lot willing to take the job if it were offered. Either general brought problems - Johnston was a resolutely defensive minded general - though for a siege, that might have been just what was needed. He had the added advantage of being able to bring reinforcements with him - the south outnumbered the north at Chickamauga, and could have maintained that, by adding Johnston to Bragg and Longstreet. Longstreet's politicking might have been unseemly, but he was a real general - men followed him, Lee trusted him, he was willing to act on his own - he would have been well suited for the job.

But Davis left Bragg in charge. He couldn't bring himself to make the change - even after Stone's River, he wouldn't make the decision, he left the choice to Johnston - a man very unlikely to make a decision if he didn't have to. So Bragg stayed in command, though by this time, he was an obvious liability. He had lost the confidence of his officers, and of the men in the ranks; he showed no sign of being able to run a campaign. He had to go.

It is ironic: there is a legend that the South went to war with far better soldiers and leaders than the north. Most accounts grant that the Union learned the business of war as they went along, and by the end had leaders who knew how to win with overwhelming odds. You could put it that way, but it misses the point, even of what you have just said. This story illustrates it: the fact is that the Union, when it failed, changed commanders. More in the east than in the west, but they failed more in the east than the west. The whole point is that Lincoln, once he got going, was willing to change. The Union high command - Lincoln and Stanton and company - were ruthless. They expected success and chased it hard. They found it. It took awhile - took a year’s worth of campaigning in the east, to basically shake out the lesser men and give the better ones time to learn their trade. By 1863, even in the east,m where things had gone so badly, Lincoln had men to choose from. Meade, Reynolds, Sedgwick - all of them had drawbacks, mostly their lingering McClellanisms, the institutional caution and ponderousness the Army of the Potomac never shed - but all were strong leaders, willing and able to fight, and any of the three, at least, would have won the battle of Gettysburg, as Meade did, for the reasons Meade did. They did their jobs. They knew what they had. They knew their underlings and knew how to use them (Meade’s decision to rely as heavily as he did on Hancock was inspired - it’s like Grant’s decision to rely on Sheridan at the end of the war, or on Sherman in the west. You could almost say that the difference at Gettysburg is that Meade had Hancock, and used him - Lee no longer had Jackson.)

The Union had better luck early in the west - Grant had an army by 1862, Sherman and Thomas were in positions of authority, and did well - though there were still bumps in the road. Rosecrans was a mixed bag - brilliant at some things, overwhelmed at others - after Chickamauga, he'd lost the confidence of much of his army and the Union high command... But again - the important point is that the Union high command was willing to act. It's true, Lincoln had had Grant and Thomas and Sherman on hand to take over - men he trusted, and who were, themselves, willing to take on the responsibility they were given. (Joe Johnston was not willing to relieve Bragg when given the option; Grant had no problem replacing Rosecrans with Thomas when given the authority.) The Union got there by being willing to change.

That refinement did not happen in the south. Partly, to be sure, because Lee found those men in 1862 - Longstreet and Jackson, the division commanders - A. P. Hill and Ewell and Hood and the like, people like Gordon and Rodes and Early, all very fine officers, who were identified fairly early. The Union found some good officers at the beginning of the war, but not as many, and they never quite managed to get them in position. The first round of leaders - Franklin and Porter, Sumner and Keyes - were not quite up to it. The next round - Hooker and Kearney, Richardson and the like, died or drifted - it’s the third generation, and the fourth - Sedgwick and Meade and Reynolds, Hancock, Howard, Gibbon, Birney, Barlow, and so on, who really distinguished themselves. BUt the emergence of strong officers later in the war in part of the difference - in the south, even in Lee’s army, as the top men were killed or disabled, the men moving into their place did not expand to their new responsibilities as often. Generals like Hill and Ewell, Early, Anderson, Rodes were all good men, but none of them as good as the men they replaced, none of them as good at higher levels as they were with their brigades and divisions. People like Sherman and Sheridan, meanwhile, got better as they rose through the ranks - they were better with more responsibility than less.

But all of this was far, far worse for the Confederacy in the west. You can imagine the way the north would have reacted to some of those battles - Bragg would have been done at least after Stone’s River. Lincoln, pulling a sad face, would tell him about the old farmer he knew, and his favorite cow, that wouldn’t give, and send him home. He’d have tried Polk or Hardee - he’d have given Breckinridge or Buckner a shot at it - he might even have been willing to bring back Beauregard or put Johnston in charge - but he’d have found someone, and if they fucked up, he’d have found someone else. They’d have gotten to the men who knew their jobs - in the Union army, men like Cleburne or Stephen Lee or Forrest, who had real talent, would have found their way to high command, the way Sheriden and Sherman and McPherson and James Wilson did. It is fascinating - in the long run, the Union did a far, far better job of identifying talent, developing it, keeping a fair stream of talent occupying high positions. And you have to say - that the Union did a much better job of moving people up successfully. The Meades and Hancocks and Warrens, later Humphreys - the Logans and Blairs, the Sheridans, Wilsons, etc., all made the transition from brigade to division to corps command, successfully. Yes - often with the institutional problems of their armies intact (which is a reason why people like Howard and Slocum seem so inept in the east and thrived in the west, maybe), but still, far more successfully than Hill or Ewell or Hood moved up.

In the end, if all comes back to Jeff Davis. He has to take a lot of the blame for this. He sustained Bragg in the face of universal condemnation, and in the face of Bragg never accomplishing anything. He sidelined Beauregard, marginalized Johnston, because he did not like them. He did insanely self-destructive things like putting John Hood in charge of the most important army in the “country”. He did many things - he pushed to hold all of Mississippi when it was impossible; kept Pemberton in command in the face of universal distrust; he could never act decisively - to concentrate, to scatter, to give Lee unqualified support, or to force Lee to support someone else. He let feuds and personal bickering simmer, never removing the people complaining or the target of their complaints, and nothing he did helped.

The closest comparison to Bragg's position in 1863 might be Burnside's at the beginning of 1863. It's true that Burnside had failed far more than Bragg. His army was melting away (as was Bragg’s). His officers were in open revolt (as were Bragg's). Burnside himself, usually a generous, good man (no one ever said that of Braxton Bragg), was on the warpath against them. What to do? Lincoln got rid of Burnside. He bit the bullet and turned to the most talented and successful general on hand, Fightin' Joe Hooker, even though he was also a self-aggrandizing blowhard who was openly (and surreptitiously) campaigning for the job (Lincoln's as much as Burnside's, I suspect. Giving interviews about the need for a military dictator?) It didn’t work out all that well - Hooker choked at the key moment. But Lincoln did it. And when Hooker failed - Lincoln turned him out and put Meade in. It's not hard to guess what would have happened in the south if Lincoln were their president - he would have sent Bragg home and put Longstreet in charge. There is no doubt. And the war might well have lasted another year.

Monday, October 21, 2013

World Series, Here We Come!

I am happy to report that I got the playoffs right so far - we've got Boston and St. Louis in the World Series, the two best records in the game, and pretty clearly the two best teams. So it should be pretty good. Sox got there rather predictably, by staying close, and taking out the Tiger's bullpen - winning two games late that way. Cards won mostly by shutting down the Dodgers, though they did rise up and smite Clayton Kershaw in game 6.

They look pretty evenly matched - the Cards with great young arms, deep and strong, and a deep, balanced, tough lineup; the Sox with a run of proven starters, a couple of them in fine form (Lester and Lackey), backed by a solid bullpen in front of a nearly unhittable closer. Plus a lineup a lot like the Cards' - everyone hits, everyone brings something; they hit line drives, they hit for power, they have some speed - and it's all anchored by David Ortiz. Which isn't too far from what the Cards bring - maybe less power, but plenty of high average hitters - and Carlos Beltran, who, it should be noted, is a better post-season hitter than Ortiz.

The last time these teams played was 2004 - the Sox came into that one on a more or less unmatchable high, and took the poor Cards (and their 105 wins) apart. But that was a different kind of team - different pitching - the Cards ran out 4 solid journeymen starters, none of them lights out arms. None of them with the kind of history Boston's worse starter had (dear old Derek Lowe, who took the whole year off, until the team was behind 3-0 in the playoffs, when he reverted to his 21 game winning 2002 form.) The Sox just put it to them. Of course - the 2004 Red Sox were a pretty notable bunch of underachievers most of the year - they never really got going until August, though after that they almost ran the table. They let the Yankees take 3 from them, and had to fight an almost supernatural battle for the next two wins - but really, after the Bloody Sock game, there wasn't much room for doubt. That team wasn't about to lose.

This year is another matter. This Red Sox team has not underachieved at all. It's tempting to think they overachieved, since they weren't exactly expected to be this good - but mostly, that's a matter of people staying healthy, and performing to expectations. Well - hopes; but reasonable hopes. I think one of the things Ben Cherington did right is see that he had good players, 93 losses notwithstanding, and didn't need to rebuild fromt he top. Ortiz (if healthy), Pedroia, Lester and Buchholz (if healthy) were quite capable of anchoring a good team - they needed a roster to go with it. So he added players that filled out the roster, all of them proven players, with good track records; added arms in the bullpen (to their salvation). It is a 25 man team - everyone on the roster brings value. It's impressive. This Cardinal team, meanwhile, is just as good - not many holes in the lineup; a bench; lots of good young power arms (unlike the 04 version), plus an ace, in Wainwright (the 2004 St. Louis ace was Chris Carpenter, who was injured - when he was healthy, he was 3-0 with a 2.00 ERA in the World Series.) They have a tough, deep bullpen. This is going to be a tight series, I think - 6 or 7 games, and I'd expect most of them to be nail-biters. In the end? I'm going with the Red Sox because I have to, and also - their resiliency. Grinding out every at bat, inning, game; they never seem to break...