Friday, May 29, 2015

Music for the End of May

Good morning, again. These years when Memorial Day comes early always throw me for a loop - here it is, the last Friday of May, but not a long weekend! Something seems off.

Anyway - May is almost done; it has been very warm this week - normal weather for this time of year, I guess. That is something to be grateful for - normal weather is not very normal anymore. Someone always seems to be getting what Texas is getting - the worst X in Y years... For those inclined to think about the coming apocalypse - 2015 is shaping up to be the warmest year on record - after 2014 was the warmest year on record last year. Ah, plenty to worry about!

All right - I'm not going to solve global warming here. So - music it is!

1. Bill Frisell - Reflections from the Moon
2. Sun Ra - Rocket Number Nine
3. Kinks - (Wish I could Fly Like) Superman
4. The Melvins - Goin' Blind
5. Neil Young - Pocahontas
6. Serge Gainsbourg - Je T'aime... Moi Non Plus
7. Bruce Springsteen - Incident on 57th Street
8. Gomez - These 3 Sins
9. Chic - Everybody Dance
10. The Beatles - Something

Video: if the weather gets too bad - we could go to Venus, maybe - here's the current version of the Sun Ra Arkestra, last year at Glastonbury:

I want to fly but I can't even swim:

I suppose there is another option:

Monday, May 25, 2015

Decoration Day

Happy Memorial Day!

As I am wont to do, I am inclined to think about the origins of holidays on holidays. This one began in the wake of the Civil War - officialy in the north in 1868; less officially, and at various times and places in the south in 1866 or so. And one of the first instances came in Charleston, South Carolina, where a large number of freed slaves (mainly) gathered to pay tribute to the Union soldiers who had died at the Hampton Park Race Course, which had been used as a prison camp during the war. The dead had been buried there - the freedmen cleaned and landscaped the grounds and gathered for a ceremony on May 1, 1865, to honor the Martyrs of the Race Course. There may or may not have been any direct connection between that and the commemorations to come, but it set the patterns - parades, memorialization of the war dead - and I suppose an attempt to claim the holiday for a political purpose. In this case a good purpose - the end of slavery and preservation of the union. But in coming years, the south would try to claim it as a celebration of the "lost cause".

Over the years, the original significance of the day has been replaced by a more general day of remembrance for the war dead - we do have more wars to remember now. That is a good thing to remember - but it is good, too, to go back to the origins. I admit too that I feel this more strongly on Decoration Day (and Armistice Day) than most holidays - the Civil War is, really, the foundational moment of the United States. We existed for 87 odd years before that, but the Civil War is what defined us (or at least, defined us as something worth being.) We live with its effects more than we live with the effects of any other event in our history, even now. Which links it to Armistice Day - since WWI had this impact on the rest of the world. everything since - bigger or smaller - flows from the Great War, as it flows from the Civil War in this country. And so - keep in mind where this came from, and maybe, the cause behind it.

Here, then, is Orson Welles, explaining and reciting The Battle Hymn of the Republic:

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Music of a Long Weekend

Friday! a long weekend! a long weekend that's already starting for most of the people I work with, but not for me! bit of poor planning there. All right - I want to get some real material up here - make some use here of all the Ivan the Terrible stuff I did for class; answer Dennis Cozzalio's latest quiz (which is a - holy Crap! - a month overdue already!) - write about history (started reading about Andrew Johnson, America's worst ever president - who was, at the same time, a very fascinating character) - etc. Some of that will come! it isn't just talk! But today it is talk...

So music:

1. Karen Dalton - How did the Feeling Feel to You
2. Smokey Robinson & the Miracles - I You Can Wait
3. Fleetwood Mac - The Sun is Shining
4. Nick Cave & Bad Seeds - Deanna
5. Arcade Fire - Flashbulb Eyes
6. Devandra Banhart - The Spirit is Near
7. The Kills - Damned if She Do
8. AC/DC - Shake a Leg
9. Beatles - Her Majesty
10. The Low Anthem - To Ohio

And some Video - let's start with Karen Dalton - different song (It Hurts me Too), but something. The Karen Dalton track is from one of those Mojo compilations - something I didn't know existed until now. But now that I do - this is some good stuff.

I wonder if Devandra Banhart is a fan? (This is also a different song than iTunes tossed up, but you take what you can get.)

And finally - I think Peter Green tends to get the attention (with good reason, as Peter Green is one of the Great guitar players of rock), but Jeremy Spencer is no slouch, and nice to see him still playing (2009 or so):

Friday, May 15, 2015

I'm A Reasonable Man Get Off My Case

A week late, but here's May's Band of the Month - sticking with the late 90s early 00s theme for the moment. Sooner or later in this series, we're going to get to bands that don't have much biographical significance to me - and that's probably the case this month. I like Radiohead, obviously - that's why they're here - but I just like them. It took a while - I remember Creep coming out, remember thinking they sounded like 85 other generic 90s bands, though they could turn a phrase... Then forgot they existed for a few years, then discovered, to my shock, that they were extremely popular and widely loved by people who loved music. It was an amazing fact, I thought - though I was almost completely innocent of ever having heard them (other than Creep.) People I knew would have long earnest and intense discussions (ie, arguments) about them, whether Kid A was brilliant or some kind of terrible betrayal - and it felt like they were talking a foreign language. And then, for reasons I can't begin to remember, I got one of their records - Amnesiac it was - and discovered that they were quite good. So I got others, liked them, and accepted the fact that I was a Radiohead fan.

It still feels a bit alien to me somehow - listening to them makes me feel like a college kid in the 90s. I wasn't a college kid in the 90s, but I feel very confident that I would have loved them if I had been. This is particularly true of OK Computer and the Bends - I like their sources (I hear U2 and the Smiths in there, very strongly, and the lingering ghost of David Bowie and Pink Floyd), but it still feels very far from me. But - if I were 10 or 15 years younger - I know this would have filled me with exaltation and wonder. But I'm not - and maybe more odd than anything, the records of theirs I really love are the electronic ones - Kid A and Amnesiac - maybe because they have moved far enough from their sources to just sound like themselves - maybe because Thom Yorke has stopped trying to emote, and sounds less whiny - maybe just because I love the rhythm tracks on those records. I don't know, and I guess it doesn't matter. They are great, hypnotic records, full of great compelling songs.

Not that there aren't great songs on their other records - before and after really - and everything they do sounds fantastic. The early records have more guitar, and sometimes quite magnificent guitar (what Jonny Greenwood can make come out of a guitar is sometimes a thing of wonder) - all of them are exquisitely constructed tracks. And though Yorke's lyrics don't always convince me, when he's on - "when I am king you will first against the wall, with your opinion which is of no consequence at all" - "laugh until my head comes off, swallow til I burst" - "I wish I was special, you're so fucking special" - he nails it, can't deny it. So it goes, and I keep getting the new records and listening to the old ones, and though I can't help wondering what I would have thought if I had been 17 when OK Computer came out.

And here are 10 songs:

1. Idioteque
2. Subterranean Homesick Alien
3. Packt Like Sardines in a Crushed Tin Box
4. Paranoid Android
5. National Anthem
6. Creep
7. A Punch up at a wedding
8. Bones
9. I Might be Wrong
10. Optimistic

And here are some videos - we'll start with Creep, live in 94 - a song that holds up pretty well, over the years.

Idioteque, 2012:

Subterrainean Homesick Alien:

And Electioneering, to let Jonny show off a bit:

Paranoid Android (which I imagine is obligatory) - from Austin City Limits:

Finally - here's a cover of Packt like sardines (etc.) by a band I might be getting to eventually (Punch Brothers) - which does illustrate jjst how good these songs are:

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Film Preservation Blogathon

Just want to drop a quick link in here for the Film Preservation Blogathon running this year at Ferdy on Films, This Island Rod and Wonders in the Dark. I am coming out of my Ivan the Terrible induced isolation, so don't have a lot to say just now - but you can find plenty to read, and can donate to a good cause - the National Film Preservation Foundation. Enjoy!

The theme of this year's blogathon is Science Fiction film - Ivan the Terrible is NOT a science fiction film, though shots like this might give you that impression...

Friday, May 08, 2015

Friday Random Ten

Tjis week should be Band of the Month week, but I am behind on things, and so will have to wait a week. It's coming, but not until Ivan is done.

Anyway - songs, before heading out into another excellent spring Day, VE day, 70 years along... Random 10:

1. Jack White - Entitlement
2. Neutral Milk Hotel - Oh Comely
3. Frank Zappa - Let's Make the Water Turn Black
4. Chicago - Beginnings (live)
5. Stooges - Slide (Slidin' the Blues)
6. Flying Burrito Brothers - Wheels
7. Six Organs of Admittance - Anesthesia
8. Wilco - Art of Almost
9. John McLaughlin - don't Let the Dragon Et Your Mother
10. Deerhoof - I did Crimes for You

Video? little Jack White maybe to start:

And Neutral Milk Hotel:

And end with Wilco, with Nels off the leash:

Thursday, May 07, 2015


Today is another aniversary from 100 years ago - the Sinking of the Lusitania. The Lusitania was a British passenger liner running between New York and Liverpool, still making runs in 1915, despite the increased danger from German submarines. The Germans wee. at this point in the war, beginning to carry out unlimited submarine warfare - that is, they were beginning to attack British ships on sight, from under water, with torpedoes - rather than surfacing and attempting to evacuate the ships first. They made no secret of this - before the Lusitania left New York, they circulated a warning, pointing out that England was a war zone, and they had the right to attack ships near England, and would - that passengers traveled at their own risks. But passengers traveled, including a lot of Americans - and when the Germans sank it, 218 Americans died, of the 1198 total casualties. It caused a sensation - the British condemned the attack roundly; the Americans too, and edged toward war - and certainly turned against the Germans. The Germans, for their part, while defending their actions, abandoned unlimited submarine warfare for two years - they only resumed in in 1917, when the war was starting to go against them. It didn't help - in 1917, the Americans were having none of it, and came into the war not long after. The sinking of the Lusitania, then, did finally lose the war for Germany (the US's involvement went far toward breaking the stalemate) - though it took a few years to come to pass.

That is probably all for the best, but you have to feel some sympathy for them. They claimed at the time that the Lusitania was a legitimate target, carrying armaments - and it was. Which makes it not entirely untrue to say that the passengers were being used as human shields - the morality gets muddy there. The morality of naval warfare - blockades and submarine warfare - is pretty murky anyway. The British blockades the Germans for the whole war - and went a long way toward starving them out. Causing serious ongoing suffering in the civilian population. But the British did this with surface ships - they had a huge navy that could cut off trade with Germany without using submarines. The Germans lacked the surface fleet, but they had submarines, which were very effective against shipping - though the nature of submarine warfare makes it impossible to wage without killing people. Surface ships can turn back freighters - a large surface navy can stop shipping without always sinking it, can drive off any military escorts and so on - submarines can't do that. They can only sink ships. They can't surface to engage with ships - a few destroyers can rout a submarine. So waging a blockade with subs is a murderous affair - immediately murderous: killing people instantly and terrifyingly, rather than starving them slowly, the British way.

But it points to something else - that 20th century warfare was becoming total war - wars are always won and lost through logistics, but this is all the more obvious in the 20th century, with heavy industrialization, with larger populations, concentrated in cities that have to bring their food from somewhere else. And with the industrialization of warfare itself, creating an insatiable appetite for machines of killing. Commerce becomes all the more important - commerce and industry - and they become legitimate targets for attack, with all the civilian casualties that come with it. This would only grow more important as time passed, as air power became more important - it would justify the use of strategic bombing in WWII. That's a topic for another day - but in the end, it would end up killing millions (maybe) of civilians, without really making any dent in anyone's war making capabilities. Not in absolute terms, and not in comparison with what submarines (and conventional blockades) would accomplish.

Finally - here is Winsor McKay's animated film on the sinking of the Lusitania, a fine piece of wartime propaganda by a great filmmaker:

Friday, May 01, 2015

Walpurgisnacht & May Day

Happy May Day, ladies and gentlemen! It is a happy May day, this year - we have an actualy sort-of socialist to vote for! Bernie Sanders, senator from Vermont, is running for president, as a Democrat. Now - I don't have any illusions that he is going to win - though I don't know how much that matters. If he's there to keep bringing up economic matters, it can't hurt. And it's nice to have someone to vote for in the primaries that I can vote for without reservation. I am no fan of Hillary Clinton - she and Bill have always come off as trimmers, willing to give up anything for an inch of advantage for themselves - it's hard to imagine her holding the line on as much as Obama has been able to keep from the GOP. But in the end, that doesn't matter in the least - in the general election I will vote for a Democrat, the nominated Democrat, even if it's Martin O'Malley. Parties matter infinitely more than the candidate, especially in these days - with an extremely partisan political climate, and one party openly pursuing class and often race warfare. Not that I'm ever tempted to vote for Republicans, but now, it is imperative that people vote for Democrats, until the Republicans are broken, and change their positions.

That's a topic for another day, I suppose. Today - I'm just happy there's a candidate for president whose politics make sense to me. And is a Vermonter! Go Bernie!

Now - for music - my Russian culture class is into the 20th century, and this week talked about Mikhail Bulgakov and Master and Margarita, and thus I am thinking more of Walpurgisnacht than May Day proper. And so, in honor of professor Woland and co. (and the fact that the book managed to make it into the mainstream of international pop culture within a year of its eventual publication) - here is a top 10 songs about the devil:

1. Rolling Stones - Sympathy for the Devil
2. Beck - Devil's Haircut
3. Robert Johnson - Me and the Devil Blues
4. Van Halen - Running with the Devil
5. James Blood Ullmer - Devil's Got to Burn
6. Throwing Muses - Devil's Roof
7. Brian Jonestown Massacre - The Devil May Care (Mom & Dad Don't)
8. Nick Cave - Up Jumped the Devil
9. Grateful Dead - Friend of the Devil
10. Modest Mouse - This Devil's Workday

And video? well - here's footage of the Stones working it out. With a camera rolling around the studio maned by mad Frenchmen, I imagine.

And I suppose any Walpurgisnacht tribute needs the Sabs:

And finally - we need some witches for Witch Night, so here's some live Eagles for you. I'm sure there's a great clamor for live Eagles from my readers...