Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Goodbye to 2014

I can see this year is ending like last year - the idiot cat is stretched out on the desk, making it very difficult to type. But I am not really here to write a whole lot - just a bit of a roundup, a farewell to 2014.

I can't say I'll miss it. Nothing particularly bad happened to me or anyone close to me - I can't complain about that. But it's just been an odd disappointment, across the board. This blog has suffered, especially in the second half of the year - Gran't Overland campaign and the World Cup provided some mid-year fodder, but otherwise, man, have I been lazy about posting. I can't offer much for excuses - work has been a bear; I took a rather demanding class in the fall - but mostly, I have just been lazy. I might as well take the opportunity to pretend to make a resolution about that - back up over 100 a year! I will do it! I can! I should also try to write some movie posts - though I've been shockingly lazy about seeing movies this year too. Never mind writing about them. I need to get that up over 200 again - a reasonable, makable goal, that I can't seem to manage these days...

That's me. Out in the world - it's been a strange year. The country is not in the worse shape ever - the economy is better than it has been; we are managing to creep our way out of out bad wars. The government continues to spy on us; the revelations about the horrors perpetrated by our government during the 00s - torture, war crimes - seem to make no difference. No one is locking Dick Cheney away - or even pardoning him, which at least would let us put on record, maybe, that he needs to be pardoned, because he is a war criminal. Not just Cheney, but start with him. It's a strange world. It is very strange - the old adage, "it's the economy, stupid" didn't quite work this year - the Republicans won big in the elections, even with gas prices low, the economy keeping up, even a greater sense that the country ought to move left to fix its problems - raise minimum wages, reduce debt... It's really a simple lesson of course - people need to vote. There were protesters out today, again, protesting the Eric Garner and Michael Brown non-indictments - I heard some young fools complaining about them, and about the Occupy movement, saying they were just a bunch of pot-heads who got nothing done. Which - might not be totally fair: pot is legal in four states now, all in the last year or two. Minimum wages have been raised in a number of states and cities in the last couple years - not enough, and not nationally - but there has been movement. Occupy didn't do anything directly, but it's hard to dismiss the fact that it made economic reform a subject for discussion.

Though that is probably my point here: that political change has to happen at the ballot box. Protests are fine, but they are not going to change anything themselves - they have to be transformed into votes, votes into laws - or regulations - though laws are better. Unfortunately, this is a point that the Republicans seem to grasp more than the Democrats - the right more than the left. The fact is - the right comes out to vote, all the time, every time - so you get 40% turnout and you get Republican controlled congresses. When we get 60% turnout, we get Democrats. If we got 70% turnouts, we might get Democratic supermajorities. The Republican party gets it, I have to say - they vote; they know that they have to keep other people from voting - so they pursue policies to limit voting, pretty consistently... They work to make people think voting is irrelevant - though not their own people, who seem to show up anyway. I could go on about that a while.

But it creates a situation that is kind of depressing and hopeful at the same time. The GOP won this year - but they won a lot of very close races - despite being very successful at voter suppression, despite during horrifying amounts of money into the election... They did win in the face of economic recovery - though it's hard to get too excited about the recovery. People still don't have enough money - the whole thing seems very fragile, and very vulnerable, as long as wages stay low, corporate taxes and the higher tax brackets stay low, debt keeps rising (especially student debt.) Those things require the federal government and the federal government isn't going to do anything controlled by Republicans... But still: the numbers are against them. there are more Democratic voters than Republicans - the GOP is more and more converting itself explicitly into the party of racist white people - which is to say, older white people - so - they might just fade away.

All right. Politics. I should stop - though - there is more. The Garner and Brown stories (and other similar stories) have galvanized the country - made people pay attention to the continuing racism in American society. It's pulled the cover off things - the NY Police Department has managed to squander more good will in the last two weeks than you would imagine they could have. I don't know where that will go - they are very powerful, capable of making great trouble - but they are also demonstrating rather clearly the need to get police under control. Police need to be controlled by the civil authority. we have been lucky in this country - or,put another way, blessed, in having a military that has, for the most part, taken seriously the fact that they are under civilian control. They answer to the government - and while they might whine now and then, they generally do their duty. That has not always been the case for police - it hasn't been in the last couple weeks in New York. That has to stop. I don't know where this is going, to be honest - maybe we have started to wear off the deference to armed law that we have held since 9/11 - one has to hope. But it is going to take some votes to do it...

Votes. Comes down to votes.

All right: look at this - just like last year, this year end roundup degenerated into a political rant. Sad. I will leave you then with a film still - Walter and Hildy in His Girl Friday, getting ready to bring down the ward-heelers. My New Year's Eve movie marathon this year was The Front Page x2 - Milestone and Hawks. The 1931 film is an interesting one - more of the newspaper stuff, less of Walter/Hildy - and showing its age in odd ways. The sound (at least on the cheap DVD I have) is pretty bad; the camera work is quite remarkable. Milestone liked to move the camera around, and it spins and swoops around the room throughout the play - sometimes rather dizzyingly. It's also interesting for coming pretty close to the same rapid fire overlapping patter the Hawks films features - not quite so fast, but getting there. It's a neat film in itself. Though the Hawks is one of the great ones. The comedy of remarriage stuff picks the plot up another notch; the performers are as good as they come; and the improved production values make the whole thing crisp looking and sounding, which it needs. Great fun - a great way to ring out the old year.

And finally - the cat, claiming another kitchen appliance before I could even get it home. Horrible beast!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Sherman's March to the Sea

I have been neglecting my Civil War posts - but I can't ignore Sherman's March to the Sea. This week is the end - he reached Savannah, Georgia on December 21, 1864.


The story - after taking Atlanta, Sherman stayed there; Confederate General John B. Hood took his army west, after a while, hoping to cut Sherman's lines, renew the war in the west (the Confederacy was being sliced up by this time, but that still left big chunks of land under their control - geography was their friend), and generally - find something useful to do. Sherman chased him around for a while, but not long - he gave it up, figuring that the Union forces in the west were more than adequate for the task. Instead, Sherman would take his army and head for the Atlantic - cutting the Confederacy into smaller pieces; wrecking their means of supporting the war; and teaching them what it meant to lose a war. So off they went, and they made gruesome work of it.

Behind him, John Schofield and George Thomas handled Hood easily enough. At the end of November, Hood wrecked his army with direct attacks on Schofield's entrenchments at the Franklin. Hood didn’t have much left after that, but Thomas took a couple weeks to finish him off - but on December 15 and 16, at the Battle of Nashville, he attacked, and didn’t leave much doubt about it. Hood’s army was ruined, taken out of the war, and the Union got on with the job of finishing the Rebels off.

Sherman’s army was already well on their way by then, though no one knew it. When he headed east from Atlanta, he cut off all ties with the rest of the United States. No communications, only the supplies he could carry - but his armies lived off the land, while wrecking it for the Confederacy. They tore Georgia apart - destroying everything of use to the enemy - the food supplies (still producing in this part of the country), industry, transportation, everything. By this time in the war, the places that had seen fighting - Virginia (especially the north), big chunks of Tennessee, Mississippi and such - had been ravaged for years; they could not support what was left of the Confederate armies. But the deep south had been spared - it still could supply Lee and the other armies still in the field - but not when Sherman was done with them. He destroyed that resource base, destroyed the transportation need to get supplies to Virginia. And on top of that, a big part of his goal was to show them the war was over except for the formalities - that Union armies could come and go as they pleased and do as they pleased...

It's hard to argue with the results. Sherman certainly demonstrated that the confederacy was beaten, and had best give up. He wrecked Georgia, and even if Lee and Johnston hadn't been finally beaten in the field in early 1865, they would probably have had no means of carrying on much longer. They were running out of room anyway; and by the end of Sherman's march, he'd reached the southern border of Virginia. At the same time, though the march wrought havoc on the south, there wasn't a lot of direct violence - property was ruined; lives were generally spared.

Still. A thing that works in one context might not be right for another; a thing that seems just and effective in one place, might not be so in another. You can detect the ghost of Sherman and his marchers in many of the wars we've fought since. It was immediately applied to the plains Indians - Sherman and Sheridan (who did the same thing to the Shenandoah) were in charge of those campaigns, and adopted a similar scorched earth policy. You can see its legacy in World War II's strategic bombing campaigns - hoping to destroy the enemies' ability to make war; and to demonstrate to the civilians that they were losing, and should surrender now. But whatever you think of what Sherman did - those later campaigns were a different sort of affair. Starting with the fact that the campaigns against the Sioux and Cheyenne and such were aimed as much against people as resources - they were genocidal, or at least willing to be genocidal - and the talk was certainly genocidal. And in WWII, there was no pretense at sparing the lives of civilians - bombing campaigns were meant to kill people, as much as to destroy war resources. No one pretended otherwise.

They were terrorism. And so was Sherman,strictly speaking. He certainly thought so - whatever he might have called it, his goal was to teach he south that they had lost, and break their will to continue fighting. That is what terrorism is - attacking not military targets in an effort to break the will of the population to fight. And - it might have worked in 1864 - though the history of the south after the Civil War tends to undermine that theory. It certainly didn't work in WWI or WWII - Zeppelin bombings didn't break the English in the Great War; the Blitz didn't break them in the second war; neither Germany or Japan broke, on the home front, in WWII, for all the devastation raised on them from the sky. Hiroshima and Nagasaki might have convinced the Emperor to intervene to force his more suicidal officers to surrender - but that is all. Even on the plains - the US did destroy the power of the plains tribes, but they did it by sheer force of numbers, and by obliterating their food supply. Which is what really worked against Georgia and the Shenandoah in 1864 (and worked against the Japanese in 1945) - destroying resources made it impossible for the CSA or Imperial Japan to resist. (Germany was beaten by main force: they maintained their war production fairly well to the end. In WWI, they were beaten largely by the blockade, which also ruined their resources, and starved the people to the point where they did turn against their government. That, in fact, might come closer to a parallel with Sherman - the British blockade starved them, without killing people openly; as did Sherman. Maybe economic warfare does work, when not coupled with (too much) open violence - bombs made people fight harder; hunger convinces them that getting rid of the Tsar or the Kaiser can save them. A thought anyway.)

So in the end - you have an event that in itself was very effective - not all that excessive - and, well - the Confederacy deserved what they got, and a good deal more. But - but - the precedents were bad; and in the back of my mind, it's hard to avoid the thought that what really won the war (in this part of the South) was the combination of John Hood heading of for nowhere and Schofield and Thomas blasting his army to shreds. Once the southern armies were gone - the war was won. Sherman gets the press - but Thomas and Schofield (and Grant and Sheridan) did the work.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Christmas Songs Ranked

The year is getting gone in a hurry - less than a week to Christmas, 2 weeks to the new year - things are getting away from me. well - last week should have been a Band of the Month week - but no Band of the Month was forthcoming! and now I am sorry to say, nothing is coming this week, either. Instead - let us celebrate the season! or something like that. A simple enough pair of lists: first - my favorite Christmas carols, because - why not? who doesn't love Christmas carols? And second - my favorite performances of Christmas songs - because - again - why not? They have to be different though because these are different sets of things. Christmas carols are there to be sung - best in a group - in the cold maybe, but anywhere - in the living room, in church, on the sidewalk, in a bar, in your car - who cares? Christmas carols, I admit, are the one thing that make me like going to church - to hear them, better to sing them - they are something I enjoy without reserve. And so - let's do this:

Christmas Carols, judged as much by the fun of singing them as by the song:

1. Silent Night - simple, clean and precise, sentimental, but honest, if you are going to sing about christmas, you can't do better
2. O Come All Ye Faithful - rousing lovely old fashioned Christmas song, a joy to hear and sing.
3. Come Thou Long Expected Jesus - with the Rowland Pritchard tune, it is a very beautiful and enjoyable song
4. Joy to the World - the finale to every christmas pageant ever, and so it should be: a rousing exuberant triumph. Handel! And such fun to bellow out before you get your presents and candy!
5. What Child is This (Greensleeves) - this song tends to baffle the amateur singers, probably because the words put to it are something of a tangle - but it is such a beautiful and classic melody, that I can't resist it.
6. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen - lots of these songs are in moonier keys, at least part of the way through - why is that? This one is fun to sing, and when I was a wean, it was fun to play on the trumpet, the only instrument I ever managed to fight to a draw. I have great nostalgia for that, and sometimes even now have been known to give it a shot again...
7. Hark the Herald Angels Sing - another very happy one, fun to bellow out in groups, in the cold; and of course there is Linus...
8. Angels We Have Heard on High - lovely French Carol, with those great glorias, though they are not quite singable by those of us who are not exactly singers. But they are fun to try, and this is such a pretty song...
9. We Three Kings - cool melody; see below.
10. Away in a Manger - you have to sing it every Christmas; it is schmaltzy where Silent Night is sentimental - never quite convincing, but it's still something you have to do around Christmas; and it is a fine song for singing. Hard to make it sound bad.

And now, five christmas songs, performed. You will note that these are not carols - they are mostly secular. There are reasons - mostly that this depends on recordings, and recordings are new... But also because Carols are experienced mainly by being sung - these are more about listening.

1. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas - Judy Garland: another melancholy christmas song - one of the most melancholy of them all. A beautiful song, from a beautiful movie - one of those movies where the date of release probably tells you more about it than the story or the setting. Gets 1944 better than a lot of songs explicitly about the war... we'll have to muddle through somehow...

2. We Free Kings - Rahsaan Roland Kirk - this is just thrilling.

3. Silver Bells - Der Bingle (with Carol Richards) - I grew up on this LP, Bing's Merry Christmas LP - like every other household in America (or 14,999,999 other households, anyway.) There are many good songs on that record, which we listen to every Christmas, and I listened to every Christmas on my own when I appropriated the thing from my mother (since I still had a record player in my living room, and they did not.) And still do on old iTunes, and would on LP if I had the energy to hook up the turntable again. Yes. well. All those great songs - and Der Bingle's voice - but this, I think, might be the prettiest, the nicest arrangement.

4. The Little Drummer Boy - Bing Crosby and David Bowie - might have started as one of those attempts at bridging the old and new, making some old timer hip, some youngster serious - but the results... It is a lovely song, Bowie's part countering the Little Drummer Boy - but part of the joy of it is the surprise in seeing one of the things come so right.

5. The Christmas Song - Jack Teagarden - I had this on some compilation - still do, actually - but of all the versions of this song (a hell of a song, too), this is my favorite. Jack's cool, drawling delivery just kills it.

That will do. Happy Holidays, people.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Friday 10 - 2014 Songs Sampled

Yikes - it is a Friday, isn't it. I have become really bad about this stuff - bad enough that I barely post anything outside of these Friday music things, but here I am mostly missing this one. And blowing off a Band of the Month post (since this is, theoretically, the week for that.) I will continue to blame World War I - and hope I can use some of it to provide posts in the future. Plenty of anniversaries coming over the next four years... Right now, though, I am obsessed with a paper that is due - maybe next week we can work in something more substantial.

Not today though: let's just do last week's trip again - 10 random songs from 2014....

1. Mogwai - Deesh
2. Melvins - Barcelonian Horseshoe Pit
3. Boris - Vanilla
4. Liars - Darkside
5. Pixies - Greens and Blues
6. Prince & 3rdeyegirl - Plectrum Electrum
7. Scott Walker & Sunn O)))) - Lullaby
8. Pere Ubu - Road to Utah
9. Jad Fair & Danielson - Ready Steady
10. Earth - From the Zodiacal Light

That kind of worked out better than last week. Still no TV on the Radio - come on iTunes! Here's a couple videos to hold you until I get more energetic...

Here's Boris, looking and sounding very 80s - though there's still a good deal of noise in there somewhere....

How about some drony Mogwai?

And maybe a drone or two here too - Earth, live. What beautiful sounds electric guitars can make.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Friday Music - 2014 Random Ten

We are getting late into this year - I think it's rime to take a couple random runs through stuff I bought this year. Another lean year, in terms of music purchasing - and every single record by an old favorite or two. What can you do? Worse than that - I haven't listened to nearly enough of it, even by these old favorites. Sad state of affairs, isn't it?

Anyway, here you go:

1. Pixies - Magdelena 318
2. Liars - Boyzone
3. Mogwai - Blues Hour
4. Boris - Taiyo no Baka
5. Interpol - My Desire
6. Bill Frisell - Messin' with the Kid
7. Beck - Unforgiven
8. Earth - Even Hell has its Heroes
9. Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - Surreal Teenagers (live)
10. Thurston Moore - The Best Day

Well? the two CDs I have tried to listen to didn't come up. Scott Walker and Sunn O)))) - which is all it should be, really:

And brand new, TV on the Radio, live on Letterman:

Ands - how about the Pixies?

And why not Bill Frisell?

Friday, November 21, 2014

Pre-Thanksgiving Friday Random Music

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

Music: and - just some random stuff today.

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 14, 2014

Model to Buy a Model to Try

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Glory of Man, plus an interview:

Three live songs, including Bob Dylan Wrote Propaganda songs:

Sell or Be Sold:

And a full concert, 1985:

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Armistice Day 2014

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Citizenfour and The Berlin Wall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 07, 2014

Simple Random Friday Music Post

Back to random music, this Friday, simplicity itself:

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

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

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

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

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

And Dave:

And hope they can get together again...

Friday, October 31, 2014


Imhotep bids you a happy Halloween.

And so do I, in the form of music - enjoy!:

1. Half Japanese - Frankenstein Must Die
2. Neutral Milk Hotel - Ghost
3. Slint - Nosferatu Man
4. Black Sabbath - Black Sabbath
5. Blue Oyster Cult - Joan Crawford
6. Donovan - Season of the Witch
7. Pink Floyd - Lucifer Sam
8. Warren Zevon - Werewolves of London
9. Chickasaw Mudd Puppies - Lon Chaney
10. Butthole Surfers - Creep in the Cellar

What my iTunes can't provide, YouTube offers - Edgar Winters Group and Frankenstein:

And the Surfers, worrying about what might be living under the floorboards:

And the Chickasaw Mudd Puppies serenading the man with a thousand faces:

And Junior:

And finish up with Slint, live:

Friday, October 24, 2014

Music Friday, With Associated Technological Musings

Rather shocking to notice the date - how far along this month, and year, has gotten. Time is passing! We have had a week of bloody bad weather - winter is coming....

Meanwhile, I have a new computer, a new Mac Mini; the first time in a long while I have gotten a piece of hardware the minute it showed up in the stores. For all my love of computers and such, I generally wait - partly, I suppose, because once I have something that works, I am willing to keep it as long as I can. I did get an iPhone 5 as soon as they showed up (mostly because the old iPhone I had was becoming noticeably low) - before that? you might have to go back to the beginning - the first Mac I bought was a Classic, 1990, which I also got the minute they appeared. I hope that's not too portentous - the first Mac I ever bought; now the last one? I wonder sometimes. Companies these days seem to be pushing users to mobile devices - operating systems these days seem to be trying to look like mobile devices - Yosemite has the same ugly flat design the new iOS's have; it gives you things like the "launchpad", which acts like an iPad screen - just a flat array of icons. I have been able to avoid Windows 8, but by all reports it is even more atrocious. Lawd, lawd, won't these kids get off my lawn?

I don't know; maybe I'm old and stubborn and set in my ways; or maybe the point is that I was smitten by macs in the first place because they were a better way to write - whatever it is, the core of the computer experience for me is still sitting down at a keyboard and firing up Word. (Or, these days, Scrivener, as much as Word; in the glory days of the early 90s I went through word processors at a dizzying rate - Word Perfect; MacWrite; Nisus - which still exists? there's a nostalgia kick for you...) Phones and iPads and such are good in their way - what they are and do is very nice indeed - but they are something apart from computers. I have yet to find any way to write on them: at least not in the satisfying way I can write on my computer. Which adds up to this - that I am very happy with this new machine: a very pleasing setup: desktop computer, driving 2 big monitors, with a good keyboard (I bought an Apple wireless keyboard for this machine - and I find it to be very good. I have found Apple keyboards in the 21st century to be flimsy and unsatisfying devices - but this one is very good; it feels right, which is what you need in a keyboard), giving me plenty of room to open up a dozen folders and documents and carry on to my heart's content. It is hard to deny that for me, the computer reached its moment of perfection 20 odd years ago - all I really needed was a good word processor, a good keyboard, a decent monitor, and a connection to the outside world - this machine might as well be the old Mac Duo I had back then, just a lot faster for some things. (Though not everything - partly because back then I set up a RAM disk on the duo, and so approximated the fusion drive this one has; and partly because no one has really improved on Word 5.1.) I wanted a computer to write on - I was very happy when the internet developed to the point that I could read on it too - and that's still what I want it for. Music and movies and things like that are nice, but they are gravy - TV and stereos work perfectly well at what they do...

I suppose that's ironic in a post about playing music on my computer. So what? I contain multitudes, just like my Mac! and so enough of that - iTune! Randomize!

1. Deerhoof - Cooper
2. white Magic - The Light
3. Big Boi - Buggface
4. Neil Young - Comes a Time (from Live Rust)
5. M.I.A. - 10
6. Grant Hart - Morningstar
7. Nina Simone - Jelly Roll
8. Tim Rose - Long Time Man
9. Rocket from the Tombs - Foggy Notion
10. Flaming Lips - the Observer

Viudeo? Here's Grant Hart, performing live:

And - say - Nina Simone, playing I Want a Little Sugar in my Bowl (since I can't find a good live performance of Jelly Roll.)

And end with Nick Cave performing Long Time Man:

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Cedar Creek (and Ypres I)

I've been terrible in keeping up with my Civil War posts lately - but need to put something up today, the anniversary of the Battle of Cedar Creek. When last we left U.S. Grant, at the Battle of the Crater, he had failed, yet again, to break through Lee's lines outside Petersburg - and he was about to stop trying. He settled down to hold Lee in place, and look for ways to win the war elsewhere - the trenches let him do that - though they also let Lee send some of his men off to try to win the war elsewhere. Specifically, he sent Jubal Early to the Shenandoah Valley, to see what mischief they could make. They made their share - marching up to Washington, firing on the city itself, causing panic and fear in all but Lincoln and Grant (Lincoln went to see the fighting, and terrified the Union Generals by peering out at the rebels over the parapets.) Grant sent an army corps (the VI corps - which by this time was probably the best unit in the army); later he sent Phil Sheridan and most of their cavalry, and sent them to do their worst to Early. They did quite a bit - thrashing the Rebels at the battle of Winchester in September - then a couple days later at Fisher's Hill - this left Early's army in ruins, and Sheridan set out to make the Shenandoah Valley waste. Anticipating Sherman's march to the sea, Sheridan marched through the valley, burning crops, destroying barns and mills, turning what had been a major source of supply for the Confederacy into ruins. At the bend of this, thinking that Early was done, Sheridan went to Washington, and started planning to bring the Army of the Potomac men back to Grant.

But Early had other ideas. He had been reinforced - and he knew he had to do something, since he was running out of supplies - so he attacked. In the event, the attack went splendidly - he found that the Union army was not keeping close watch on their left flank: the ground was rough, they though it would discourage the Rebels - but Early was an old Jackson underling, and took that kind of situation for an opportunity. So they attacked, and caved in the Union left, and forced the whole army into retreat. There was heavy fighting, especially when the Rebels ran into the VI corps - but the Federals were drive steadily back.

Meanwhile, Sheridan was in Winchester, a dozen or so miles away. By 9 in the morning (after 3 hours or so to it), he heard enough of the noise to decide to get moving - he rode south, and as he did, realized there was a battle going on. So off he went, at full speed, arriving somewhere around 10:30. He found the lines fairly stable - the VI corps was holding their lines; the rebels had called a halt to their attack, to regroup - to recollect their men, who had been looting the Union camps. Sheridan set about organizing a counterattack - it was ready later that afternoon, and when it came, it was overwhelming. He attacked on the flanks with cavalry, then straight ahead with infantry - there was a period of heavy fighting, then the Rebels collapsed, the cavalry got into their rear, and the rout was on.

And that was that. This was the end of Confederate efforts in the Valley - it was always a strategy doomed by long odds: the Union had very large advantages in numbers, everywhere - so when the Confederates sent away men to fight elsewhere, Grant could send away more men. The very trenches that allowed Lee to dispatch parts of his army to try to find other opportunities allowed the Yankees to dispatch more men to beat the Rebels in detail. Which is what they did - here and elsewhere. Whenever the Confederates came out of their trenches in 1864, they were thrashed mightily. They were outnumbered, and increasingly outgunned - the union cavalry was starting to carry repeaters, and starting to operate as a powerful offensive force on their own. The cavalry itself was becoming a decided Union advantage - especially here, in a fairly mobile warfare, where cavalry was deployed as an offensive force. Their mobility, their firepower told.

It might be enough to make you think that cavalry was still a viable arm of the military! A delusion we might want to visit again in the next couple days - 50 years after the battle of Cedar Creek, the First Battle of Ypres started, October 19, 1914. That would mark the end, really, of mobile warfare on the Western Front - or more precisely, the end of warfare in the open. But we can come back to that - the Battle of Ypres lasted for a month. But I will end with this - no one in Europe paid much attention to what happened in the Civil War; if they had - they probably would have looked at battles like Winchester and Cedar Creek, with their decisive cavalry actions, and saw vindication for their ideas about offense. What they would not have noticed, since they never noticed it, is that what really started to separate union cavalry at the end of the Civil war, was their firepower - Sharps, Spencer and Henry rifles, breechloaders and repeaters - which would change everything, more than anyone could conceive in 1864, and, tragically, even in 1914.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Friday Five (Lazy October Edition)

I have been awfully lazy in posting lately, on this once a week schedule - I can't pretend to have a reason.... I suppose I could blame work; that's always a nuisance. I suppose I could also blameHarvard, for offering a very interesting class on the Great War - that's probably served to distract me from writing historical pieces for this blog.

Well, there's nothing for it but to keep on going, hope productive energy comes back - and in the meanwhile, at least we have Fridays:

1. Lift to Experience - The Ground So Soft
2. Minutemen - Party with me Punker
3. Minutemen - Fodder
4. New York Dolls - Personality Crisis
5. John Zorn - Inside Straight
6. The Kinks - You Really Got Me
7. Beck - Don't Let It Go
8. Iron & Wine - Carousel
9. Beatles - Lovely Rita
10. Ella Fitzgerald - They Can't Take that Away From Me

and so - video? Kinks, of course:

And the Minutemen, just a song, but I have to post it:

And in another vein - Ella, like in Finland they can't take that away from me:

Friday, October 10, 2014

Holy Ghosts ands Talk Show Hosts

October is here and time for another Band of the Month - and another entry in the bands of the 80s, too, for that matter. But what can I say - when I got out of college, I started buying records, going to shows, reading about music - turned into a bit of a nerd about it. Went looking for stuff that could fill my head with music I wanted to hear....

Like the Meat Puppets. In the summer of 1987 I got Mirage - I loved it. I was obsessing over Hank Williams and Johnny Cash in those days, and the Stooges, and I guess the Meat Puppets landed cleanly in the middle of that. I remember that summer - we had an enclosed porch in the apartment, and I took it over mostly, with my desk and books and record player out there, and would listen to records while reading or writing or whatever I did... I remember the mornings, especially - getting up, getting a cup of coffee, sitting on the porch and listening to a side of a record before I had to go to work. Puppets - Hank - maybe the Velvets now and then, the Feelies - but especially the Meat Puppets. Mirage is their airiest record, right? swirling guitars, those rough harmonies, loose, light songs, countrified bass lines - great stuff, and a perfect way to get a day started.

Over the years, then, they have been a comfort - they kept putting out records throughout he early 90s when I wasn't really listening to rock, and I kept buying them, liking them - still do! - though maybe not as much as the 80s records. Of course that gets us to an irony - once I discovered them, I jumped right out and bought their music - on LP, not CD - and so later on, I would go years without being able to listen to Up on the Sun, until I broke down and bought them again on CD. Technology - man... Still, they were in my head - I rather obsessed over Mirage and Huevos (and I think I got Huevos on CD, pretty early, so I could get my Look at the Rain fix a few times a year) - and the 90s records were still pretty good. They always made me happy - good songs, their sound, and the fact that every song seemed to be about food, drugs or masturbation - simple pleasures!

I saw them play live, twice, in the late 80s/early 90s. The second show, around the time of Forbidden Places I think - was strangely disappointing - they were sloppy, the material a little less sharp, their performance kind of routine... It was surprising because I'd seen them when they were touring Huevos, and it was one of the best shows I have ever seen. I suppose they might have been as sloppy and shambolic as the later gig, but their casual style was a big part of the appeal - the way it makes their music sound effortless, like three guys in a garage, or - and I admit this is something I can't ever get out of the back of my head - like the people who got up and sang at church when I was a kid. Who might or might not be able to carry a tune, but somehow, meant it - and could somehow get across the strength of the songs themselves, through the imperfect vessels of their earthly bodies. So that first show I saw - they were so good. Curt was inspired - soloing all over the place, kind of pushing home the fact that they were a very good set of musicians. All their charms were there to see. The great songs; their loose, adventurous style; the messy, but deceptively competent harmonies; the sense of fun they showed - funny, smarter than they act, and enjoying themselves and all the noise they were making; with clever, well played covers; all of it going on and on, a sheer joy.

All right. They've been at it for 30 plus years now, and have produced a nice body of work - still putting out records that remain likable and listenable (if not quite something I can obsess about). Though there's no getting around the quality of the first decade of music. And so, to get to it - here is what I take to be their 10 best songs:

1. Look at the Rain
2. Crazy
3. Up on the Sun
4. Lake of Fire
5. A Hundred Miles
6. Plateau
7. Shine
8. Beauty
9. Paradise
10. Swimming Ground

Videos: kind of a mixed bag out there - lots of newer footage, most of which is quite competent - but maybe lacks both the shambles and the moments of transcendence they had in their prime. But there is some - this, say - vintage Look at the Rain, shot off a TV screen:

Here is Up on the Sun and I Can't Be Counted On, 1990:

Lake of Fire, mid-90s, Kurt letting his inner shredder out a little:

A 2011 cover of the Sloop John B:

And a cover version of Plateau, featuring the Kirkwood brothers on guitars:

Friday, October 03, 2014

Friday in the Fall

Getting cold outside. Rain and gloom all week, which I hope is done. I like fall - it's cool, comfortable, and usually drier than the spring - all that is good. And apple pie! etc. All right - cut straight to the music shall we?

1. Boris - Ibitsu
2. Flying Burrito Brothers - If you Gotta Go
3. John Cale - Save Us
4. Bishop Allen - Eve of Destruction
5. Big Star - Til the End of the Day
6. GONG - Magick Mother Invcation
7. Benny Goodman (featuring Charlie Christian) - Gone with "What" Wind
8. Jane's Addiction - City
9. Jimi Hendrix - Manic Depression
10. Pere Ubu - 30 Seconds Over Tokyo

Video? here's this - Jimi Hendrix on TV in 1967 - a very bad tape, faded and abused, so you get flicking glimpses of the band through the haze. Kind of cool I suppose, and - well - some metaphorical significance I guess. I saw the new Jimi: All is by my Side film last week - which I'm tempted to say gives a similarly fleeting and murky picture of the man. Mostly because it's missing most of his music... but it's still compelling, in its slightly maddening way - and so is this.

And - here's Alex Chilton, with Yo La Tengo, covering the Kinks:

Friday, September 26, 2014

Friday Music Randomness

Another Friday - another random 10, without much in the way of introduction:

1. Serge Gainsbourg - Docteur Jekyll et Monsieur Hyde
2. The Decembrists - I Was Meant for the Stage
3. Iggy & the Stooges - Search and Destroy
4. Come - Bell
5. Pink Floyd - In the Flesh?
6. Blind Faith - Well All right
7. Neutral Milk Hotel - Naomi
8. John Martyn - I'd Rather Be the Devil
9. Pearl Jam - Deep
10. James White & The Blacks - Almost Black Pt 1

Young Iggy:

Old Iggy (with Mike Watt and James Williamson):

And John Martyn:

And Come, from a reunion show a couple years ago; kind of reminds me that I've managed to see Thalia Zadek with three different bands - Live Skull, Come and her own band:

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Shop Around the Corner

On the home stretch at Wonders in the Dark's Romance Countdown: I kick off the top ten with Shop Around the Corner.

There is a strange irony to love stories. To be stories, something has to change - and so it seems if you want the film to end with lovers together, happily ever after, they have to spend the bulk of the film apart. Enemies, even. And on the other side - if you show the lovers together, show their happiness in the film, the story demands that something changes - they have to be parted. And so the irony - the most powerful depictions of love and desire in films are often in the doomed love affairs, while in films with happy endings, lovers spend the whole show fighting - a merry war perhaps - but war, any any case... Tragedies and romantic comedies - Romeo and Juliet; and Much Ado About Nothing - the models for so many love stories, in their broad shape at least. Blissful lovers parted; bickering enemies united.

But that offers a challenge to a clever storyteller - how do you show people in love and still have a happy ending? How do you honor the conventions of romantic comedy (about what keeps people who belong together apart), while showing them actually in love? I suppose there are as many ways to do this as there are romantic comedies - mistaken identities, amnesia, class expectations, the comedy of remarriage - or - this one. What if the lovers are pen pals? what if they have never met, but have fallen in love with one another in words, two lonely, clever people stuck in their hard lives in the big city - who find they have a bond? What about that? And then - they meet in the real world - and take a dislike to one another - and - then you'll have a story! You'll have a story where they are in love with one another from the start, and enemies from the start; they can be as romantic as they want; they can bicker and fight and put each other down to their heart's content. (And cleverly - well enough they start to be impressed with their mutual nastiness.) Yes - then, you just have to play it out, the revelations, the consequences of lies and truths and self-deception - until, of course, it all comes together.

That is the plot of The Shop Around the Corner. Jimmy Stewart (as Kralik) has a pen pal he has fallen for, "dear friend"; Margaret Sullavan (Clara) shows up looking for a job. He is sympathetic, but can't help her - but she plays him against his boss to get the job, and they are off to a bad start. But she is, of course, Dear Friend - and off they go.

Though their story is just part of the film. There is a major subplot running alongside it - Matuschek the store owner's wife is having an affair (he receives an anonymous letter) - he thinks it is Kralik and fires him. It is not Kralik, though, and the twin humiliation of his wife's faithlessness and his mistreatment of Kralik drives Matuschek to attempted suicide; he is saved by the errand boy, and more plots are spawned, as Kralik comes back, and Pepi rises in the world. But for the first half of the film, this subplot haunts the main story. It's rooted in the same issues - secrets, deceptions, suspicions; anonymous letters and double talk; loneliness, loss. Both stories revolve around the question of who your true friends are. The plots are intertwined - Kralik's relationship with Clara is poisoned early by her willingness to get between Matuschek and Kralik, and take advantage of the rift between them; the trouble between the men (caused by Matuschek's suspicions) continues to pit Kralek and Clara against each other. The subplot ruins their hopes for one another - the pen pals were supposed to meet, but Kralik losing his job makes him avoid the rendezvous, though he can't help spying - and so learns the pen pal is Clara. And when the truth comes out, and Matuschek brings Kralik back, the romance gets another chance - though not without trouble.

It's a simpler story problem now - Kralik knows more than Clara does, and what will he do with it? He isn't exact happy to find that Clara is his correspondent, but it doesn't take him long to start thinking. And when he starts thinking - and paying attention to her - and he starts to fall in love. It pays off, in the end - as sweet and tender a moment of discovery as you get on film, all of it set up by the structure, the way their anonymous love is played against their workaday dislike for one another, and plays into their discovery of one another. Kralek finds that he likes her - he hears his correspondent's voice in Clara, he starts to imagine her as the woman he writes to. And maybe she likes him - she is brought to admit her own initial attraction to him, her foolish acting that stopped any connection before it started. But it doesn't matter - by then, she has him, completely - and he just has to let her know.

And so he tells - and she reacts, and all of their desires and conflicts and inner torments and outer strife come together, as they come together:

Very sweet. But then again, it is an incredibly sweet movie - a sweetness paid for by a spine of bitterness. Faithless lovers, attempted suicide, betrayals and cruelties; poverty, fear - everyone lives on a knife's edge of fear, if they were to lose this job, what could they do? - there is an edge to the whole story, a sense of just how close everyone is to ruin. The film is expressly about that shop around the corner - a quaint, gentle place, the friends and comrades there - but that shelter belies what happens within. Things burn; nothing is what it seems. It is a film about loneliness, the desperate loneliness in the city. Loneliness lies under much of Clara and Kralik's dilemma. They are so alone, they aren't really even at ease with themselves - they function well enough in their daily lives, but they know it is empty, that it leaves them bitter, in fear that they will never know anything else. Their letters are a lifeline - a thread connecting them to something better, not just to another person, but to a better version of themselves. They don't just find a kindred soul in the letters - they find their own better selves. And that too pays off in the end - how out of that profound solitude they have, in fact, found someone, a real person, who connects to the self they want to be - very nice.

And of course, it isn't just them. The shop, and the city itself, is full of all the trouble they have - loneliness and betrayal, no one quite honest with each other, no one quite connecting. But Lubitsch pays this off too. Mr. Matuschek's Christmas dinner with Rudi might be as moving as the actual ending of the film - someone who has lost his home and someone who has left his home connecting in the snow. What community there is is hard bought - but there it is.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Potty Train the Chairman Mao

Well, it is talk like a Pirate day, and I suspect if Pirates were around in the 1980s, they'd have been Butthole Surfers fans - so - this month's (delayed) band of the month is the pride of Texas, the psychedelic freak show that was the Butthole Surfers.

I'm in danger of getting stuck in the 1980s on this series - Husker Du last month, Surfers this month - and I could keep doing this for a while. I can't say exactly that I listened to more music, or bought more music then than since - but I was immersed in music in the late 80s in ways I haven't been since. I saw all these bands (most of them) - some of them quite often. I went to clubs, read magazines and zines, paid attention. This period still feels like the base of my musical experience.

And so the Butthole Surfers. I saw them three times in the late 80s - they were very impressive. The first time was a particularly interesting experience - 1987... I must admit that I had consumed many ardent spirits that evening, and was in something of an ardent spirit myself - it was the end of a semester (I had turned in the last paper of the term that very afternoon), and was in a mood to blow off steam. The Surfers were good for that. I spent most of their show in the pit - which probably should have scared the hell out of me - my friend who was there said he saw a metal pipe being circulated; someone got stabbed later in the evening - but I didn't notice. I had a grand time. (Truth is, mosh pits usually struck me as fairly supportive places - everyone wants to thrash and bang around, all together - if anyone fell, the rest picked them up and went back to thrashing; maybe that depended on the show... it was true for the Surfers anyway.) I do remember the aftereffects of grad school though - I remember standing on the edge of the pit, watching the band and the mass of fans surging around - looking at the films (driver's ed films; surgery films; other stuff, maybe less cringe-worthy), the naked dancer, listening to the wash or racket they were making - thinking - Hey! This is as if Freud's Thanatos Syndrome and Eros Syndrome were combined into one thing! sex and death together! Even sober, that's not such a bad way to put it. Something too about surfing on the waves of sound and scatology - who knows. It was great fun, I can say that - and their particular brand of racket definitely felt like it took stupid well onto the clever side of the line...

So there. I still like them - they made a very satisfying kind of noise: funny (always funny), funny lyrics, funny music, funny (if rather daunting at times) stage show - but some pretty fine music as well. They could write real songs, in a couple different idioms; they did a better job than you might think of combining things - there's a bluesy vibe throughout heir stuff, that doesn't necessarily show up in a lot of the 80s era underground post punk scene; they brought psychedelia back, long jams, Black Sabbath riffs, a bit before that stuff was fashionable again, and they managed to do it in a way that was always funny and usually convincing as straight music. And, especially when they had the two stand up dreamers going, they always rocked like a motherfucker. So - there you go.

Top 10 Songs:

1. Moving to Florida
2. Rocky
3. Gary Floyd
4. Mexican Caravan
5. Pepper
6. Lady Sniff
7. John E. Smoke
8. Ricky
9. Cherub
10. The Lord is a Monkey

And some video: here's their video for Pepper - a "one hit wonder" someone said, which is extremely bizarre to think about, since they were around for ages before this came out, but - perspective, you know. What they were as an underground act in the 80s is almost completely unconnected to what they were as a nearly MTV sanctioned act in the 90s:

As for what they were: here's Psychedelic Jam, 1987, the first tour I saw - naked dancer, films - an experience, and convincing music even. Strange stuff, but the kind of thing that could convince you on the spot - did I mention up there that I had only heard of them before I saw them? had never heard their music, and knew very little except their reputation for being extremely strange and shocking? It's true - they won me on the spot, and that is more to do with the music than the act:

And here - live in 1984, a straightforward, well lit live set - the two stand up drummers, the wild Texas psychedelic squall - Gibby - god knows what he's up to, though it seems to involve several costume changes:

And this is live in Holland, 1985, a particular bit of bad chaos, featuring Moving to Florida, Lady Sniff, and others - Gibby in a dress, Kramer on bass, lots of staggering around in circles in the infernal roar:

And one more - a vintage performance of Cherub:

Friday, September 12, 2014

Friday 10 Again

Yikes - I just noticed this is the second Friday of the month - I owe you a Band of the Month! Well - I forgot that this was the second Friday of the month - I barely remembered it was Friday (and not for the first time this summer) - I am getting old.... So - well - so it goes. Band of the month will be late this month, I guess - I'm not abandoning it in any case...

Unlike Apple and the iPod Classic - shit! Where will I go when mine dies? the design may be old, but 160GB of storage is nothing to sneeze at, and not available anywhere else right now. Oh well: ever onwards! Someday soon, I will have a watch that tells time and plays - a couple songs anyway. Though I'll have to pay some telecom to listen to them... I suppose that's progress.

So this week - just random songs it is:

1. Atoms for Peace - Dropped
2. Boris - Untitled
3. Mars Volta - Roulette Dares (Live)
4. Decembrists - As I Rise
5. Jackie-O-Motherfucker - Bewcastle UK Oct 29 (live)
6. Waterboys - All the Things she Gave Me
7. Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - We Can't Help You
8. Beck - Ramshackle
9. Grant Hart - Run for the Wilderness
10. Badfinger - Midnight Caller

And video? The Mars Volta sounds good.... I'm a sucker for a good bit of guitar wanking, and Omar certainly delivers.

And - let's try Beck:

Friday, September 05, 2014

Love Me Tonight

[This essay written for the Romance countdown at Wonders in the Dark. I posted there a couple days ago - then got distracted from posting here by the anniversary of the Fall of Atlanta. Anyway - here it is.]

Love Me Tonight starts with the ringing of bells, then fades in to shots of Paris, rooftops, streets, the Seine. We see a lone bicyclist, hear the swish of his tires on the street, then see an overhead shot of one street, with a man pushing a wheelbarrow. We hear its wheels; he stops, tosses his tools into the street (clank, clank), and he starts working, pounding a steady rhythm. We cut to an overhead shot of a bum, asleep, snoring. Then to a woman sweeping; to steam whistling from a chimney; to windows opening, a baby crying, to a man with a sawhorse, kids in the street, another man opening a store; women hanging out clothes, flapping them off their balconies; two cobblers sit down to their work, pounding nails (bang: tap/tap - bang: tap/tap); a knife grinder grinds, there's traffic in the streets, there's a woman pounding a rug, a car horn sounds - all of it mixes together, layered on everything else, a symphony of sounds, finished, so to speak, by a woman opening her window and turning on her gramophone, the whole street come together in music. And the camera goes into one room and finds Maurice Chevalier, dressing for the day, trying to shut out the noise, but not able to resist it - give him a second, and he'll be singing along.

And after that? It's all like that - Love me Tonight is a fairy tale, about a tailor who goes to collect a debt from a profligate Vicomte, and meets a princess, locked in a tower, surrounded by (mostly well meaning) jailers - mostly old men, though Myrna Loy is along as a bit of a comic foil; do they fall in love? does he rescue her? does he rescue him? It's hardly a mystery, as the whole film is a vast celebration of music and love, of community and life, and the wonders of film. It's a light, joyous story, and the film - everything - music, dialogue, performances, filmmaking - is as exuberant as the story.

Rouben Mamoulian directs, and he pulls out the stops. It's a trove of cinematic devices - musical and theatrical as well, and all together. The opening sequence with its natural sounds incorporated into music; the "pass-along" songs, especially Isn't it Romantic?; the way dialogue slips into lyrics and back, conversations sung, or half sung, rhymed at any rate; strictly cinematic tricks, like fast motion, slow motion, split screens, 180 degree cutting, animation, double exposure; theatrical tricks like direct address to the audience, use of shadows and mirrors, visual jokes. It's all there, for the joy of it all - but also working, all the time, to pull everyone together - especially the lovers - but everyone. It's a film of choruses, mostly - the streets of Paris, the people Isn't it Romantic passes through, the reprise of Mimi, the ensemble performance of The Son of a Gun is Nothing but a Tailor. Plus a duet or two, and complimentary songs for the lovers when they meet.

Everything in the story brings the lovers together; everything in the filmmaking brings them together; the whole affair works to make sure they fall in love and all is well. Right off the bat - Maurice sings in Paris - Isn't it Romantic? - and the song makes its way across France to Jeannette MacDonald, locked in her tower.

The usual complications arise - he runs her off the road; he charms and annoys her with a song; at the Chateau, the Vicomte has to pass him off as a Baron to keep him around long enough to scare up the money, and Jeannette takes a dislike to him. Myrna Loy tries to take him for herself; Charles Butterworth's count (who imagines himself a suitor for Jeannette) suspects him - but there is no way around it. Everything is against them - or with them - whatever it is. Her maiden aunts weave spells for her:

Cupid - cupid isn't subtle about it:

And Maurice can charm wild animals and wild men - saving a stag, and then sending the hunt away in slow motion, in a scene worthy of Cocteau:

How else could it end?

Though that is not the end. Our lovers come together, kissing in the garden, pledging love - whoever you are, whatever you are, wherever you are - united in their dreams (in song; in bed) - but there is more. He is a tailor - she is a princess - how can they be wed? But that can't be the end either - so if the prince can't ride up and save the princess from her tower, she will ride out and save him.

And that? Might be that. So back to the chateau and the three aunts, sewing, and their tapestry - which just happens to exactly reverse (in gender and angle) the actual end of the film. (Mamoulian doesn't miss much.) But someone rescues someone and everyone is happy, and so are we. It is a marvelous ensemble - the fantastic, inventive filmmaking, the outstanding Rogers and Hart songs, the witty, sexy dialogue, and an inspired cast - it's a joy from start to finish.

Friday in Fender Land

Another Friday is at hand. Here is some music for you....

1. Pink Floyd - Any Colour You Like
2. Audioslave - #1 Zero
3. Modest Mouse - Alone Down There
4. Flipper - Falling
5. The Kills - Pull a U
6. Neutral Milk Hotel - Where You'll Find Me Now
7. Black Sabbath - Sweet Leaf
8. Loren Connors - Onora's Kid
9. Earth - Miami Morning Coming Down
10. The Velvet Underground - Rock and Roll (Live)

Video? I am going off list for the Feelies, because I had a dream last night that I was Glenn Mercer. At least I thought I was Glenn Mercer - over the course of the dream, I think I realized I was actually Bill Million. Or I was in a band that was trying to cover the Feelies, and I wanted to be Glenn Mercer, but realized I was better suited to being Bill Million, and ended up trading my telecaster for a Gibson. In any case, Sooner or Later kept playing in my dream. The record version - a lot slower than this. This would have woken me up, I am sure....

And - speaking of telecasters - Dylan Carlson (Earth) in a recent performance. Not the song on the list, but a particularly nice sense of his sound:

And I suppose, following on the theme, which seems to be mostly Fender playing guitar heroes - here's a live shot of Loren Connors making beautiful and unworldly sounds on a strat:

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

The Fall of Atlanta

Today is the 150th anniversary of the fall of Atlanta, the event, more than any other single event, that marked the end of any chance the Confederacy had to win the Civil War. Militarily, the issue was probably not in doubt - but there was an election in 1864, and Abraham Lincoln stood a chance of losing, enough of a chance that he made serious plans about what to do in case he lost. His opponent was George McClellan, one time self-declared savior of the republic (though to be fair, he was not alone in thinking he was chosen to save the country) - McClellan proved a terrible battlefield general, with no stomach for the war - and politically very squeamish about pushing the war into political realms. But it was a political war, more and more, and the Democratic party, by 1864 was becoming very defeatist, not least because they had no desire to win a war that would free the slaves and make citizens of all black men. McClellan himself didn't go as far as the party did - he was not prepared to abandon the war or the south - but if he won, he would have been hard pressed to continue the war, and in any case, he was not a very forceful leader.

And the voting looked like a close thing, there for awhile. Grant's Virginia campaign was a bloodbath that ended in a siege of Petersburg. Sherman's George campaign brought less bloodshed (as both sides had more room to maneuver, and more inclination to do so), but appeared to be ending in just as much of a stalemate as the east. But the Confederate government saw things differently - they did not see the advantages of dragging out the campaign as far as it would go - they wanted to win a battle and drive the Yankees off... So back in July, they put John B. Hood in command of the Atlanta defenses, under the clear assumption that he would take the battle to the Federals - he did, fighting a series of bloody battles, that he lost, making the outcome inevitable. And on September 2, he set fire to the city and marched away, and Sherman had Atlanta, and fairly won.

There was a lot more killing to come. Hood headed off west and pestered the Union troops in Tennessee for some time - ending in more bloodbaths, at Franklin and Nashville. Lee held on in the east another 6 plus months, but his situation was desperate. Campaigns in the Shenandoah went for the Union. Sheridan in the east and Sherman in the west would eventually go on scorched earth campaigns to try to starve out the Confederate armies (And punish the Confederate civilians). And so on. But there was no changing the ending, really, after Atlanta fell, and Lincoln's reelection became assured. And so, today - it is worth remembering and celebrating.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Another Week in the Books

and a delightful week it's been. A helpful rule to remember - "all" anything, in the computer world, is a dangerous thing; be sure when you change something that you are not changing "all" anything. Just a word of advice....

Okay - Friday - music - randomly selected! And then? a Long Weekend! an extra day to rest from our labors, in honor of all the labor we've been doing! I need it.... And so:

1. Led Zeppelin - Black Dog
2. Linda Ronstadt - Silver Thread and Golden Needles
3. Boredoms - Super Are
4. Loretta Lynn - God Makes No Mistakes
5. 13th Floor Elevators - You Really Got Me (live)
6. Thelonious Monk - Off Minor
7. Wire - On Returning
8. Brian Jonestown Massacre - My Man Std
9. The Kinks - Sunny Afternoon
10. The Stooges - We Will Fall

Now that was a nice random 10 - that would make a nice mix tape.... Okay - what video can we find? Hoping for the weekend, plenty of sunny afternoons to see out the summer...

I think Linda Ronstadt is in order today:

And - here's Monk, live in 1963:

That should put us in a good frame of mind of the weekend! Enjoy!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Fighting the Power

So last Friday, I completely forgot it was Friday - thus missing my one reliable weekly post... sad. Today is different - it is a horrible thing to contemplate, but I have been working 25 years at the same place... and this week, was being feted along with a few hundred other old timers. This ended with a party with a cover band playing oldies (40s to Kool and the Gang) - nothing from 1989, though. You'd think...

So to make up for it - here's a top 10 of songs from 1989 - a number, another summer... top 10 on my compeer anyway...

1. Public Enemy - Fight the Power
2. Pixies - Debaser
3. Dela Soul - Me, Myself and I
4. Beastie Boys - Hey Ladies
5. Throwing Muses - Dizzy
6. Zulus - Gotta Have Faith
7. Pixies - Monkey Goes to Heaven
8. Beasties - High Plains Drifter
9. The Cure - Pictures of You
10. De la Soul - Magic Number

Video? Gotta have this:

Pixies, slicing up eyeballs...

And Beasties, of course:

And live vintage Throwing Muses:

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Chikamatsu Monogatari

[This post is cross-posted at Wonders in the Dark, as part of their Romance countdown. 33 more to go, and 66 already done - so check it out, if you haven't been.]

There's no romance like a doomed romance, and no one does doomed romance like Kenji Mizoguchi. Couples form, usually ill-considered pairings, and they suffer - and suffer and suffer and suffer some more. Though not always together - women suffer more than men, usually for the benefit of men, who go on to better things because of the suffering of a woman; think of The Tale of the Last Chrysanthemum, or Ugetsu, for that matter. But that is something that distinguishes Chikamatsu Monogatari from the rest. It is a tale of doomed romance, and the lovers suffer, they suffer indeed - but they suffer together, and, by Mizoguchi standards, the ending (this isn't exactly a spoiler, since the film is also known as The Tale of Crucified Lovers) is a positively joyous one. They die, yes, but they die together.

It is a convoluted tale, set in 17th century Kyoto, derived from two classic Japanese authors, Chikamatsu and Saikaku. A woman, Osan, is married to a printer - the Great Printer of Kyoto. She has a useless brother who begs money from her, but her husband is a cheapskate; her husband also lusts for a maid, Otama - who pines for Mohei, the printer's best employee; Otama tells Ishun (the printer) that she and Mohei plan to marry, hoping he will leave her alone - it backfires, and he just grows jealous. Mohei, meanwhile, is kind to Osan, who asks him for help for her brother - he is glad to get her money, but he has to embezzle it. A co-worker catches him, and tries to blackmail him - sparking repentance and honesty in Mohei, to everyone's sorrow. He tells the Great Printer - whose natural greed is here augmented by jealousy, and when Otama jumps in saying Mohei did it for her, it all gets worse. Ishun locks up Mohei; the women talk, and when Otama admits to Ishun's lust for her, Osan plans to trap him by hiding in Otama's bed; but Mohei escapes and goes to Otama (he thinks) before Ishun gets there - and they are caught together (Mohei and Osan). Ishun, fearing the disgrace to him from this, tells Osan to kill herself - instead she runs away - with Mohei. And so their fates are sealed.

It is all almost accidental. They do not intend to be involved - to run away together - and certainly not to have an affair: but they are doomed to love, as much as they are doomed lovers. The world conspires to bring them together - misunderstandings, secret motives, social mores conspire to force them out of the house, to travel together, and on the road, they are further harried to the point where they decide to give up and end it all, jumping into Lake Biwa to drown. But here Mohei has to get one last thing off his chest: he says he loves her - he always loved her. Osan is taken aback - as if it had never occurred to her. But you suspect, given her life - her nightmarish family (a horrific set of thieves and no-accounts), her marriage to Ishun (a greedy, selfish, philandering snake) - the revelation that there is a person in the world who loves her - wins her in an instant. She vows to live, to live to love, and they head off together, one step ahead of their pursuers.

But having accepted their love, they follow it all the way. Their life together is a hard one, always on the run, flushed out of one miserable hiding place after another, betrayed by everyone - his father; her brother and mother; random peasants and shopkeepers - but suffering just intensifies their passion. They have each other. Their love may be doomed, but they embrace the doom - every misfortune, every betrayal just raises the stakes on their love - reinforces the idea that all they have in the world is each other. And so they end their days, tied together on horseback, holding hands - free until they cut them down.

As in many stories of doomed love, the lovers are doomed by the world they live in - and as in many of the best (most Mizoguchi; masterpieces like Oliveira's Doomed Love or Francesca, or Murnau's Tabu), this one is as concerned with attacking the evil as it is with the lovers. Mohei and Osan's love story runs alongside an intensely bitter satire against the world they live in. They are surrounded by monsters - everyone around them (except maybe the other women at Ishun's house) is monstrous. Ishun is greedy and cruel, too cheap to give money to his own flesh and blood, raping the help, ruining people for petty offenses; when Osan runs off, all he cares about is saving his reputation and business. Osan's brother is a scoundrel, broke and shameless about everything - ruining his family, faking it as a singer, treating his sister as a bank account. He does exhibit the dubious virtue of honesty - he's quite aware of what a wretch he is, and makes no claims to virtue. Osan's mother plays it a little more politely, but she has no scruples either - she married Osan to Ishun for the money in the first place, and has been pressuring her for money ever since. The peripheral characters aren't any better: Mohei's fellow clerk is a thief, a would be blackmailer, and ready to sell out the boss (and Mohei and Osan along with him) at the hint of a better position elsewhere. Ishun's rival Isan is angling to get Ishun's business - he recruits the clerk to help him ruin Ishun by ruining the lovers, and when he gets what he wants, sells out the faithless clerk without blinking an eye. Then there are the court nobles - playing the great men, but all of them in debt, pawning their belongings to Ishun, then using his misfortunes to get rid of their debts. The poison infects all of society - the women of the house are like a chorus sometimes, against society: why can a man commit adultery and not a woman? why does the woman have no recourse when a man does? and why is the husband ruined along with the wife when she is at fault? Now, the root of all this evil is money - maybe with some sex mixed in. But mostly money. It has poisoned everything - every good thing is corrupted by commerce. Craftsmanship (the printing business) is degraded, utterly subsumed into making money - with Mohei, who does the most work, getting the least out of it; art is corrupt - Osan's brother sings (badly, he as much as says), and his the music teacher grovels and flatters him, since he needs the money. Everything is rotten, except Mohei and Osan's love - nature itself conspires against the lovers. Look at the scene when the authorities arrive at Mohei's father's house - a gorgeous shot, bathed in sunlight - but the light brings their doom.

This film was, according to Tony Rayns at least, something of a job of work for Mizoguchi, not a project he was deeply committed to. That is surprising, looking at it - it is a gorgeous film, as always with Mizoguchi - framing and photography and staging are all superb. The beauty might be a bit more isolated than it is at his best - a string of brilliant moments, with more filler in between - I don't know; maybe. Mizoguchi's standards are very high. I don't think there is any escaping the bitterness of the film - which might be a reflection of his being pushed into making it. But if so, his sense of the corruption of his own art is ably translated into a film about corruption. The anger might even be a bit too on the nose - but that results in some glorious moments of outrage. He gets at these characters in a hurry sometimes - Ishun and his gold:

Or Osan's brother's shameless celebration when he gets the money Osan has raised (at the cost of this whole plot and her ruin, and indeed, the ruin of just about everyone in the story), while his mother takes it all matter of factly - "what's she doing in Osaka?" How much more effectively could a filmmaker convey his contempt for his characters?

Whatever his state of mind, and even if there is less sustained brilliance than in his best work (that's Rayns' view; I'm not sure I see it), there are compensations. We get that bitter satire; and we also get a film where the lovers are purified by their love; we get both together in one work, money's corruption and love's purification poised against each other. And not least, we get a story where the lovers follow through on their love all the way to the bitter end. They are not separated - which is very unusual among Mizoguchi's greatest films. They abandon everything else - all the ugliness and evil in the world, to sink into one another. The worse things become around them, the clearer and stronger their love becomes. It is a corrupt and irredeemable world, and Mizoguchi doesn't pretend it isn't - all there is is love, and love is doomed. There's nothing else in the world worth having - just each other, and they get that, for their short happy lives.