Friday, November 20, 2015

Friday Calls for Music

Hello again. I will try to be fairly brief today, though it's tempting to rave a while. It's been a week since ISIS attacked Paris - vicious pointless mass murder, but I guess that goes without saying. It is hard to say much about it without being pulled into the political aftershocks - which have been very, very depressing. I don't know how, but in this country at least, this attack by Vicious Extremists on random civilians has led, largely to a clamor to stop helping the random civilians trying to flee the same vicious extremists. Why are American's trying to stop Syrian refugees from coming here? That is such a profoundly wrong approach. It's cowardly (strange how quickly Awericans - especially conservatives - are to give up their freedom, their willingness to help others, etc., when something bad happens somewhere); it's cruel and spiteful - punishing the people who ISIS hurts the most for ISIS' crimes; and it's astonishingly bad politics. ISIS claims for legitimacy are based in the idea that whatever they do, they are better for Sunni Moslems than Americans and Europeans (etc.) ever are - and turning those refugees away is like saying, Yes They Are.

That's not getting into the general anti-Islamic politics being trotted out - closing Mosques? discriminating against Moslem immigrants? Databases and ID cards? Concentration camps? I don't know how many of these ideas have widespread support - Donald Trump and some other high profile republicans are supporting (at least floating, as possible solutions) some of these things. Some of the others seem to come from random minor state officials - so who knows. (The Mayor of Roanoke! That's the prize winner: Via George Takei's informed (to put it lightly) response. This, by the way, really gets under my skin: "it appears that the threat of harm to America from Isis now is just as real and serious as that from our enemies then" says the mayor of Roanoke. "Then" by the way would be December of 1941 - when Imperial Japan attacked the US, sinking a good part of our Pacific battleship fleet, while embarking on the conquest of Burma, Singapore and Indonesia, the Philippines and much of Southeast Asia; and when - as of December 11 - Nazi Germany declared war on the U.S. So - ISIS poses a threat as "serious" as Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany together? This stuff used to drive me crazy in the run up to our invasion of Iraq in 2003 - comparisons of Saddam Hussein to Hitler - however nasty a dictator Hussein was, he had a country that was already shattered and held together by a thread (and that only nominally) - Hitler had Germany, the most powerful country in Europe. Etc.... That all aside from the fact that FDR was dead wrong to intern Japanese Americans during WWII. ISIS is not Japan. They aren't even Iraq.)

See? I can get sucked deep into political crap if I want. I don't want. I will stop. Let us hope that music helps:

1. Robert Johnson - Phonograph Blues
2. Nirvana - Frances Farmer will Have her Revenge on Seattle
3. Fairport Convention - Sloth
4. Pogues - Sally MacLennane
5. Miho Hatari - Sweet Samsara Part II
6. Radiohead - Airbag
7. Robert Wyatt - Hasta Siempre Comandante
8. Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - Cinnamon and Lesbians
9. Leo Kottke - Airproofing
10. Slapp Happy/Henry Cow - Excerpt from the Messiah

Video: here's Malkmus and the Jicks, channeling a bit of the Allman Brothers in Paris:

And always good to hear the Pogues:

Friday, November 13, 2015

Take Some Time and Learn How to Play

Here we are, second Friday of November, Band of the Month Friday - another Friday the 13th (what's that - three this year?), but I don't know if that means anything, except this is one of the more unlucky and self-destructive bands in this series.... I give you - The Byrds. What shall I say about the Byrds? Staples on the radio when I was growing up, though never in the first rank of classic artists; a band easy to hear as a kind of glorified cover band, easy listening act - with a couple songs that stood out. Songs that did, it has to be said, cut through the dross.... That impression (formed from 70s radio) started to come apart in the 80s, when suddenly they were one of the most influential bands in the world - REM and all those southern/psychedelic/jangle/country-folk bands that came in REM's wake changed that - though it wasn't really until the late 80s, when I got my hands on the box set they put out about that time that I finally got them, for real. I had my hands on the box set - I didn't own it - but I taped most of it - and proceeded to listen to the cassette obsessively for the next few years. All that happened just about the time I started listening to jazz instead of rock - they were one of the survivors.... When I went back to buying rock records, I eventually got around to buying most of their records - though somehow, that was never quite as satisfying as the box set.

There are fairly clear reasons for that: I said they were unlucky and self-destructive - whichever one it is. They were loaded with talent - Roger McGuinn, Chris Hillman, Gene Clark, David Crosby - all very good, all, I suspect, a bit on the difficult side - or maybe, bloody impossible. Clark quit, and Crosby got thrown out (for being an asshole, with an ego the size of the Washington monument? - see the video below), they started bringing in other people, who were, frankly, just as good - Gram Parsons notably, though they threw him out before they finished any records. It's that, directly, that made the box better than their records - the presence of songs like Triad, and Parsons' versions of songs like The Christian Life, 100 Years From Today and so on.

But Parsons wasn't their only recruit - there was also, about the same time, Clarence White: and come to think of it, I have to change what I said. It wasn't that their actual, released records were less satisfying than the unreleased stuff on the box - it's that their earlier (and middle) releases were less interesting than the live records they put out with White on board. Untitled, Live at the Fillmore (which I think was released somewhere in the 90s) - those records were something else again. Because of White (and Gene Parsons, who gives them a different sound, rhythmically) mainly - McGuinn, who might not have been the best technical guitarist, but always one of the most distinctive and inventive - had someone alongside him even better. What they do, 12 string and modified telecaster, twisting around their songs - the details and decorations and flourishes, all of it in perfect time - my goodness.

Which brings us back around - there are a lot of guitar bands in this world, but I'm not sure there has ever been a band as single minded in their devotion to the sounds of guitars. When you start listening to it you hear it all through their career - their early records put the drums so far down in the mix you can barely hear them, but you can always hear the guitars - especially McGuinn, that insistent Rickenbacker sound, but the other guys get their due. The early version of the band gives the vocals almost equal billing with the guitars - kind of. But really - listen to the way the guitar come in over the vocals on songs like I See You, or - most notably - Eight Miles High: pretty as the harmonies are, the guitars just lay waste to them.

And, right from the beginning, they weren't just a guitar band - they were a band that was up to something with those guitars. Lots of bands were playing around with 12 strings, Rickenbackers, jangle in all its forms in 65-66 - but no one else was pushing those instruments like McGuinn and company. (And listen to the rhythms behind McGuinn, on those old songs: harsh, chunky chords - buried a bit - but Eight Miles High, particularly, is a tour de force, all the way down. They were paying attention to the rhythms all along, they just bury it so far down in the mix you almost can't hear it; when you can, it's prime.) The solos, the sound, the extremity of it - pulling in those jazz riffs, the dense clusters of notes, pulled of Coltrane records, in 1966... The other early guitar wankers were all playing blues - Clapton? Green? Beck? Page? Hendrix? - McGuinn though is in there working through bluegrass sounds, stealing jazz bits - all of it clean and pretty. It is brilliant stuff. And then Clarence White joins, and they push it further, and White has chops, the ability to play things that are hard to even imagine. The sounds - 1:35-36 of Rock and Roll Star on Live at the Fillmore - that bend - just put that on a loop... though I can find something, maybe not that good, but something similar on every song he played on. They work in country, they master it, they work out how to blend all these influences, all these sounds so that every song is surprising and fascinating.... I - I love the early Byrds, and they are hugely influential, especially over groups I like.... But the Clarence White version of the band is mind-blowing. (Though, I confess, prone to pointless noodling - long jams that are half given over to bass solos? que? you have Clarence White and Roger McGuinn, and you're letting someone play a bass solo? Thankfully, they left most of that off the records - but you can find it on YouTube - it's not as bad as I make it sound, but - I'm not looking up Byrds' videos to see drum and bass solos.)

All right then. So let's get this top 10 down. There is no point in distinguishing between originals and covers - one of their features is a way of making every song completely their own. Those Dylan songs - lots of people were covering Dylan, but they were a vehicle for the 12 strings, really. They sounded like something completely original when the Byrds played them. And of course, in case you haven't already figured it out - the lyrics aren't all that important (though not irrelevant - I got cats and teeth and hair for sale.... see your soul to the company who are waiting there to sell plasticware... and their indisputably good taste in outside lyricists, all those Dylan songs, Parsons, songs, Lowell George songs...) - the guitars, baby:

1. Eight Miles High (from the opening bass riff on, with McGuinn coming in - damn fine stuff.)
2. So You Want to Be a Rock and Roll Star (though the version on Live at the Fillmore is the recording of theirs I would take to a desert island; that one thing Clarence White does, in the middle...)
3. Lover of the Bayou
4. Truck Stop Girl
5. Mr. Tambourine Man
6. 5D (Fifth Dimension)
7. Bad Night at the Whiskey
8. The Christian Life (the Parsons version)
9. Triad
10. Buckaroo (Clarence White workout covering Buck Owens)

And some video, though video is maddening hard to find - especially video that does justice to what they could sound like. Still - we can try. Here, then, is Turn! Turn! Turn! - live, early:

McGuinn and Gene Clark, in 1978, just the two of them, acoustic guitar and that Ricky. McGuinn starts slow, but works his way into it, those intricate, strange riffs, cutting against the pretty harmonies - nice:

The late edition of the band, live on German TV, doing So You Want to be a Rock and Roll Star:

Live on Playboy after Dark - You Ain't Going Nowhere and This Wheel's On Fire - some neat guitar bits in there, though it's hard to see much through the dancing girls at the Hef's. There are some nice shots, though, where you can see Clarence manipulating his B-bender - pushing down the neck to operate it....

A bit of Clarence White, just noodling - apparently backstage in Boston:

And here's David Crosby - telling stories and singing Triad:

Can't help myself - another noted guitar band playing 8 Miles High - feedback takes the place of that gorgeous 12-string, but they make the guitar bits work:

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Armistice Day, With Robert Graves

Today is Armistice Day, a holiday established to mark the end of the Great War, the War to End All Wars. We shouldn't forget the most important message of this day: Never Again. It's a message the world has failed utterly to understand. We Americans, who for a time seemed to keep it in mind, except when we were attacked, have forgotten it, fighting a number of wars for no purpose and to no good end. Vietnam and the Second Iraq war were particularly disastrous - killing thousands, causing immense domestic strife and harm, having ongoing repercussions. (Though oddly, 40 years along, Vietnam's legacy isn't quite so bad - we get along with them now. We had the decency to lose, I suppose, and somehow were able to get past that loss, and move toward decent relations with Southeast Asia. Though that just tends to indicate that the war was a waste - we would have ended up friends anyway, maybe. When you look at the devastation that war brought - to Vietnam, to Cambodia - and the amount of harm it did to us, the ways it stranded Johnson's political achievements, delivering the country to Nixon and evil - it is a horrible thing.) And Iraq? we're back to talking about boots on the ground in the Middle East - insanity... Though here - blaming George Bush and co. is well justified - they took bad things and made them far worse - but in so many ways, the ongoing strife in the middle east is just a reminder that 11/11/18 was just a ceasefire in one theater of the Great War. The war didn't really stop in the middle east - it kept going, the results of the war warping and twisting around each other, and forming new conflicts, which go on to this day.


It's important, then, to remember that today is a sad day - a day of mourning for the men sacrificed in war, for what war did to them. A day of atonement for all the young men we have killed (all us countries.)

So - from one who was there, Robert Graves. First, an arty video set to the poem, The Assault Heroic:

And then - getting to the point in a hurry: the Dead Boche:

And text: The Assault Heroic:

Down in the mud I lay,
Tired out by my long day
Of five damned days and nights,
Five sleepless days and nights, ...
Dream-snatched, and set me where
The dungeon of Despair
Looms over Desolate Sea,
Frowning and threatening me
With aspect high and steep—
A most malignant keep.
My foes that lay within
Shouted and made a din,
Hooted and grinned and cried:
"Today we've killed your pride;
Today your ardour ends.
We've murdered all your friends;
We've undermined by stealth
Your happiness and your health.
We've taken away your hope;
Now you may droop and mope
To misery and to Death."
But with my spear of Faith,
Stout as an oaken rafter,
With my round shield of laughter,
With my sharp, tongue-like sword
That speaks a bitter word,
I stood beneath the wall
And there defied them all.
The stones they cast I caught
And alchemized with thought
Into such lumps of gold
As dreaming misers hold.
The boiling oil they threw
Fell in a shower of dew,
Refreshing me; the spears
Flew harmless by my ears,
Struck quivering in the sod;
There, like the prophet's rod,
Put leaves out, took firm root,
And bore me instant fruit.
My foes were all astounded,
Dumbstricken and confounded,
Gaping in a long row;
They dared not thrust nor throw.
Thus, then, I climbed a steep
Buttress and won the keep,
And laughed and proudly blew
My horn, "Stand to! Stand to!
Wake up, sir! Here's a new
Attack! Stand to! Stand to!"

A Dead Boche:

TO you who'd read my songs of War
And only hear of blood and fame,
I'll say (you've heard it said before)
"War's Hell!" and if you doubt the same,
Today I found in Mametz Wood
A certain cure for lust of blood:
Where, propped against a shattered trunk,
In a great mess of things unclean,
Sat a dead Boche; he scowled and stunk
With clothes and face a sodden green,
Big-bellied, spectacled, crop-haired,
Dribbling black blood from nose and beard.

Friday, November 06, 2015

This Week in Grifting

Another Friday, another working week done, fall well underway, though you wouldn't know it in balmy Boston. The world Series is done - the Royals winning quickly, 5 games, though a couple of those games went long enough to make it seem longer. Close and well fought. Not exactly surprising - the Royal's starters showed up, the Mets' defense was a problem - the Ryals' offense did what id did, but did it better than usual. Once Escobar started hitting, they didn't have any holes - 9 guys who hit line drives and run hard - you have to be very good to get past that. Interesting, possibly meaningless fact, that the only game the Mets won is the one they started by dropping one of the Royals on his butt. Lots of squawking about that, but you have to throw inside.

God enough. Speaking of catastrophic brain injuries, Ben Carson continues his book tour, making a fool of himself. This week he topped most of the nonsense by saying that Joseph built the pyramids in Egypt to store grain - mockery ensues. Meanwhile, his "autobiography" seems to come up a bit short on the factuality front - not that anyone cares. It does seem the level of attention to the poor man is rising - people are asking, wait - just how crazy is he? Which might indicate that the money boys in the GOP are moving to neutralize the insanity as they line up to push Marco Rubio to glory - could be. But there's no indication that Ben Carson has any interest in being president - his operation is a transparent grift, more so than any of the rest of them - it's all about moving units. So he's doing what he needs to do...

Though this latest bit with the pyramids - most of the Republican field seems more interested in the TV deals they can get from running than in winning: when Ted Cruz suggested that the lines of Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh should host their debates, it sounded about right. The debates are like job interviews, and most of them (probably all) are more interested in getting work on Fox than in the White House. But Carson, maybe, seems to be aiming as much for H2 as Fox - maybe he can team up with Scott Walker to look for giant templar pirates from outer space!

Anyway. We will need some music to recover from thinking about Ben Carson for even this amount of time. Whatever else he is, he seems to be just about the most cynical person in America - which is saying something when he;s running against Donald Trump. But - unlike any of the other GOP candidates, Carson is, in fact, good at something, successful at something - besides lying and running the long con, I mean, though he's good at that. It's kind of sad that he has fallen to this.


1. Cream - Badge
2. Jane's Addiction - Broken People
3. Sensational Alex Harvey Band - Hole in her Stocking
4. Lightning Bolt - Over the River and through the Woods
5. The Who - Getting in Tune
6. Janelle Monae - Sir Greendown
7. Built to Spill - Untrustable Part 2 (About Someone Else)
8. Diane Cluck - All I Bring You is Love
9. Modest Mouse - Satin in a Coffin
10. Television - Adventure

Video? Thanksgiving is coming, so here's some Lightning Bolt with that old holiday classic, over the river and through the woods:

And maybe Built to Spill: