Friday, June 26, 2015

Politics, Music and so On

Happy Friday. It has been Another One of Those Weeks, so this will not be the most interesting of posts... On the other hand, it has been a very interesting, and rather heartening, week in the real world, so....

The big news is that the Moops did not invade Spain - I mean, that it is possible to recognize errors in a text. I mean - that Obamacare is legal as stands, and that a phrase that seems to contradict the clear meaning of the rest of the law, cannot be used to invalidate the law. So says John Roberts, communist. This is a very good thing. Millions of people who have health insurance because of the ACA will continue to have health insurance; the law itself will be embedded into the fabric of the country (isn't that what Obama said somewhere? ah, the hazards of skimming through Twitter for my news...) - thus very difficult to get rid of. It also will probably serve to seal Obama's place among the great presidents - his legacy is going to be hard to parse out, I suppose, but it is going to be a very good on, overall.

And, referring back to last week's news, somewhat surprisingly, the move to get rid of Confederate flags in public places has gained a lot of traction - South Carolina, even, went first (or Nikki Haley went first - the legislature has to approve. This being SC, god knows what they will do.) They were followed by a number of states - by Walmart and NASCAR - and many more. Sometimes, it has to be said, to the point of fucking stupidity - Apple, apparently, decided this meant they should remove Civil War themed games from the App Store. (And from a quote in that article, only games with the Battle Flag are considered offensive - so you can use some other Confederate flag... Good god, that's dumb.) Mostly, though, the responses have been sensible enough - government endorsement of the flag of treason in defense of slavery (any of the flags of that villainous crew, ideally) has to stop. This is hardly the end of the problem, but admitting that it is a problem is certainly a helpful first step.

All right. Two political posts in a row? I am running out of time - I can't be doing this all morning. So I will switch to the usual Friday fare - music - random - etc.

1. Brian Jonestown Massacre - Whoever You Are
2. Richard Thompson - Sally B
3. The Carter Family - Heaven's Radio
4. Pere Ubu - Heartbreak Garage
5. Big Boi - Knowing
6. John Lee Hooker - Black Cat Blues
7. Green River - This Town
8. Picturebooks - Golden Tongues
9. The Melvins Lite - Mr. Ripoff
10. The Saints - New Center of the Universe

And video? Should have put this up last week, but I found it after I posted - Juneteenth Jamboree, by Gladys Bentley.

Friday, June 19, 2015


Today is the 150th anniversary of Juneteenth - June 19, 1865, the day Union troops arrived in Galveston Texas with news that the war was over and the slaves had been freed. General Gordon Granger read a general order announcing their freedom:
The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages.
And there was, indeed, very great rejoicing. Over the years it became an annual celebration - though one that perhaps grew bittersweet over the years. The United States won the Civil War, but the Confederate states won the Reconstruction - removing many rights from the freed blacks, imposing an apartheid regime in the south, that only started to be undone in the 1950s and 1960s. In recent years, Juneteenth has again become an important celebration in some places - a state holiday in Texas even - and we would not go wrong as a country to make it a national holiday. It is an excellent place to mark the end of the Civil War, and the good that came out of the Civil War - a subject that deserves more celebration.

Right now in particular. The shooting at the AME church in Charleston, SC, is a reminder, if we need one, that the Civil War has not really gone away. A white man, an open racist, goes into a Black church and murders 9 people, spouting off as he did it - “I have to do it. You’re raping our women and taking over the country. You have to go.” He seems to have been an over-determined piece of work - racist, drug addled thug, a time bomb waiting to go off - but when he went off, he went off in a Black church pastored by a state senator - whatever he might have been as an individual, his act was political terrorism. Which is nothing new: the south has practiced political terrorism from the day the Civil War ended (of course before that, they practiced terrorism against Blacks for some centuries, though it was all more or less legal), to restore and maintain white supremacy.

There's no escaping it. And this attack is depressingly continuous with all the violence against African Americans - it is continuous with the police murders that have been in the news (Michael Brown and Eric Garvin and Walter Scott and Freddie Gray). It is continuous with the state it occurred in - which still flies the Confederate flag. You can't get around that fact: South Carolina continues to celebrate its role in killing 650,000 plus Americans in defense of slavery and white supremacy - it is a bit disingenuous to lament some free-lancer adding 9 more to the toll, when you do that. Ta-Nehisi Coates sums it up, as he usually does: "The flag that Roof embraced, which many South Carolinians embrace, does not stand in opposition to this act—it endorses it." At some point, even the parts of the United States unhappy with the results of the Civil War will need to accept its outcome.

In the meantime, we can celebrate its outcome. Forget the bad news for a while, and have a happy Juneteenth.

Friday, June 12, 2015

I'll Give you Anything Everything if You Want Thing

This month on band of the month, it is time for some Pink Floyd. The Floyd is an interesting case. For a time, in high school, right about the time The Wall came out - and again for a while in college, right when I started, they were right there among my absolute favorites. Looking back, it makes enough sense - the first bout was driven by The Wall, which is a very high school kind of record. (Look at Walt, in The Squid and the Whale - the fact that no one seems to recognize Hey You - that everyone takes for granted that he wrote it - well - it sounds like adolescent angst; the whole record does.) The college bout was centered on Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You were Here and Animals (someone had a tape we used to listen to - people tend to forget Animals, sometimes) - arty, sophisticated, but fairly conventional collections of songs (maybe not Animals so much) - music made for clever boys wanting music that would make them feel smarter than they were - it does that.

It faded, of course. You discover more music, and start thinking Pink Floyd is not that challenging, not really cleverer than their peers, etc. There are harder bands - more virtuosic bands - more sophisticated bands - lots of more melodic bands, rhythmic bands, rawer bands - sooner or later, maybe you discover jazz or more complicated prog (Soft Machine or Can or Van der Graf Generator or King Crimson - to name some of the bands I came to prefer). Or maybe you just discover Syd Barrett Floyd and find all the later stuff bland and overblown. Me - I came to prefer more contemporary music (U2 and REM and so on) on one side, and rawer AOR (Zep, The Who, etc.) on the other and let the Floyd fade. And then started listening to punk, and older, more underground bands (Velvets, Stooges, etc,), and poor Pink and the boys were lost.... Until I got Piper at the Gates of Dawn, which brought me part of the way back.

More than that really - I was completely convinced by that record - by Barrett. No hesitations. Post-Barrett, they're okay - good songs and all - but nothing I would seek out. But Piper really is a fantastic piece of work. They cover everything there - rock out more than they ever did afterwards, the songs are better, the experimentation more experimental - Syd is a way rawer and inventive musician than the rest of them, a more interesting and expressive singer, writer of smart, funny, cool lyrics - what's not to love? The experimental stuff, the jams, are jarring, ragged weird stuff that sticks with you (Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk, say - the end of Bike...) It made the rest of their career seem a lot blander - nice stuff, but still kind of AOR filler - hearing Have a Cigar, after 10 years, it sounds like glorified Supertramp... right?

I suspect readers by now have figured out how these essays go: if I loved someone in high school, abandoned them in college or afterwards, but have decided to write about them - I must have rediscovered them somewhere along the line. Well - correct you are! hypothetical reader mine. I did. I am writing about them now because they fit in the context of the groups I've been writing about the last few months. Radiohead, Mercury Rev - and bands like Tool, Can, Soft Machine, Van Der Graf Generator, Acid Mothers Temple, At the Drive In/Mars Volta, Captain Beefheart - got me listening to prog, and things like prog, and made me hear it with different ears. I heard Pink Floyd with different ears. Though that's only part of it - it's also true that I started listening to different Floyd, in the early 2000s. My first bout of loving the Floyd was rooted in The Wall, and the second one in the mid-70s records - my first rediscovery of them came from the Syd Barrett stuff - and the second rediscovery came from listening to the early 70s records: Ummagumma, Saucerful of Secrets, Meddle - the apologetically artsy stuff. Careful With that Ax Eugene, Set Your Controls for the Heart of the Sun, One of these Days, Echoes, Let There Be More Light - big epic stuff I didn't listen to in 1980, 82, or 88. Again, though, showing something - music sounds different in different contexts - what you listen to conditions how you hear things. Listening to Tool and Radiohead and Mercury Rev made me hear different things in Pink Floyd, just as listening to REM and the Feelies and the Velvet Underground shaped how I heard the Syd Barrett stuff in the 80s.

So there we are. They are a strange case - I have gone through long stretches of near disdain for them (the Syd stuff excepted) - but other periods where I have nearly worshipped them. For all the fluctuations in my taste, I have been listening to them for 35 years, sometimes obsessively - and keep coming back to them. And can't deny that they have helped form me - maybe I like other prog bands more - but I learned to like that kind of music mostly from Pink Floyd. A lot of bands I love have a lot of Pink Floyd's DNA in them... And I can't deny either that they really do sound magnificent when they get going. I have come to respect their musicianship a great deal - there are few more tastefully beautiful guitarists than David Gilmour, and Nick Mason has grown on me as a great drummer. Barrett really was the star of the band - maybe not as good as Gilmour, but a genuinely inventive player - imaginative, surprising, challenging - the real deal. But really - the rest of them hold their own. I can't pretend there isn't a lot of filler on some of those records, but at their best they are really really wonderful.

And here, then, are their best, as I see it:

1. Bike
2. Comfortably Numb
3. Set The Controls for the Heart of the Sun
4. Lucifer Sam
5. Time
6. Interstellar Overdrive
7. Another Brick in the Wall Part 2
8. Flaming
9. Wish You Were Here
10. Fearless

And on to video. Missing, in a way, from this discussion, are the singles - so here is one, See Emily Play - a lovely, cool song, with a very odd promotional film, some of the more awkward forced whimsy you are likely to see...

And a long filmed performance of Interstellar Overdrive - showing the importance of film and light and so on to their act at the beginning. (All through their career really.) With some excellent representative guitar work from Syd:

Moving ahead - Dave Gilmour joins - here's Let there be more Light, live on French TV:

Setting their controls for the Heart of the Sun (with some great stuff from Mason):

And since it's harder than I thought to find live performances from the mid to late 70s on YouTube, hop ahead to the 80s: here's the video for Another Brick in the Wall, with sinister schoolchildren, Gerald Scarfe designed balloons and cartoons, and lots of bricks and hammers:

And Comfortably Numb, live in 1980:

Friday, June 05, 2015

Friday Random Music (Real World Edition)

Good morning - another simple Friday post, to mark time... It has been One Of Those Weeks - but I will not go into that. Work, you know. My eye-rolling muscles are getting a workout. And my liver. But anyway: here are some songs to contemplate this Friday morning.

1. Pere Ubu - Real world (live)
2. Public enemy - Invisible Man
3. Sleater-Kinney - I wanna be your Joey Ramone
4. Led Zeppelin - When the Levee Breaks
5. Keiji Haino/Yoshida Tatsuya - Avenue D
6. The Raconteurs - Level
7. Luna - Anesthesia
8. Miles Davis - Helen Butte/Mr. Freedom X
9. Richard & Linda Thompson - Shame of Doing Wrong
10. Sugarcubes - Lucky Night

I suppose this is particularly necessary this morning - out in the real world, in real time:

Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie:

And Luna - I could use some anesthesia....