Friday, May 27, 2016

Long weekend Friday Ten

Memorial Day weekend is here, with actual seasonal weather! Hooray! fire up that grill! My weekend is getting an early start, so I don't have much to add here - enjoy it... Don't forget to remember those who've gone, and especially those who've gone serving their country, and maybe especially those who went saving our country from division and freeing the slaves - don't forget Decoration Day.

And with that - some random songs to consider...

1. Wire - Smash
2. Jacques Brel - Vesoul
3. Slits - Enemy Numero Uno
4. Kinks - Superman
5. Mono - Gone
6. 13th Floor Elevators - Kingdom of Heaven
7. Nina Simone - My Baby Just Cares for Me
8. Battles - Futura
9. Boris - Window Shopping
10. Nick Cave & Bad Seeds - God is in the House

Video? first - in case I don't get back in here before the holiday - here is Odetta singing the Battle Hymn of the Republic:

And some some singer-songwiriter goodness, starting with Jacques Brel:

And - here's Nina Simone:

And Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, on Jules Holland:

Friday, May 20, 2016

Let Us Not Talk Falsely Now

This essay has been a while in coming. It is time to address one of the Big Boys of American Music, that I have not yet addressed - the (other) pride of Minnesota (actually, the fourth pride of Minnesota post in this series, since I got to Husker Du and the Mats a couple years back), Mr. Bob Dylan.

It's been a while in coming because Dylan is a hard one to write about - I imagine for anyone, but definitely for me. I like old Bob - always have; I respect old Bob, always have, maybe do now more than ever - and he is obviously one of the great artists of the last 60 years - but it's still hard sometimes for me to get my head around him. He isn't obvious to me - even now - his virtues are elusive, sometimes. Or what should I say? I always heard Dylan on the radio, and always liked him - I knew how important he was almost from the start, and how good he was - I've always listened to him, and, I suppose you could say, taken him for granted. I guess it's that for some reason he never made that personal connection to me most of the bands in this series have - I can't come up with stories about listening to Dylan the way I can for almost everyone else. I always liked him, but there were never times when he took over my head for a while, again - the way everyone else here has. I've written similar things about some of the others - Bowie for example - but with Bowie, there was a jump, a point where I kind of sat down and listened, and kind of reevaluated him, upwards. Dylan - has just always been this major figure I agreed with everyone else when they said how good he was. I don't know if that makes any sense. Especially since you listen to the songs and of course he's one of the great ones. That's what makes it hard to write about him - as far back as I've cared about Dylan at all, I've known how good he was, never doubted it. It probably would be easier to write about him if I dismissed him, even just had a spell where I thought Dylan was overrated - but I haven't. I suppose he is overrated if you say he's as good as the Beatles or Stones, but otherwise, no. So -

Leave it then. Let's get to the good stuff. Because there is no denying his genius: as a writer at least, though he is not slouch as a songwriter, and though he is not what you would call a singer - he is most definitely a voice. But it is the words that make him what he is. I sometimes come across people who doubt the Bob - who try to show he wasn't so good after all - they are incorrect. They might complain about some aspect of his writing - the obscurity and obliqueness of some of his songs - but they complain about those things by ignoring the songs that are nothing like that: that get to the point and fast. What's obscure about Hurricane or the Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll? But plain or obscure, conventional or experimental - he was always sharp, dazzling, surprising and careful. The words make him what he is, the words and how he uses them. It's there in those piles of words, lines, images in the early songs - in the clear, direct statement of songs like the Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll - in the meandering narratives of 70s songs, from Desire or Blood on the Tracks. He uses words to make music - the way they clash and throng, jammed together out of time, their mysterious pauses and transitions, repetitions, all the poetic tricks he uses - rhymes and internal rhymes and alliterations and assonance - While preachers preach of evil fates/Teachers teach that knowledge waits... lay slain by a cane... (or those three tables, also in ...Hattie Carroll...) - they all add up. However they read on the page, he always wrote these words to be sung - or performed, anyway - they are rhythmic and propulsive, ragged (usually), fitted to his voice. It's as if the words were a musical instrument.

Musically, he is not as dazzling, but he is always interesting. He gets a nice sense of propulsion in his music quite soon - the early acoustic songs usually roll along pretty well, and when he went electric, he did it in style. Right out of the gate, Subterranean Homesick Blues, fast and straight and no looking back. You feel like you've stepped onto a fast train, rattling along, steady and relentless.... He picked good collaborators for his music, and all through his career, the backgrounds remain as interesting as his voice - moments spring out at you - the piano and sleazy horns in Rainy Day Women, organ on Like a Rolling Stone, the drumming on Tangled up in Blue or all Along the Watchtower, the violin haunting Hurricane (indeed all of Desire) - making the songs, always fitting them, adding to them, pulling them away, surprising you.

And finally - it's impossible to overstate just how important Bob Dylan has been as an artist. Some many artists came directly in his path - so many I have written about - Lou Reed, The Byrds, Bruce Springsteen, Nick Cave; and he had profound influence on almost all rock songwriters after - the Beatles and the Stones were shaped by him, and everyone after. He raised the stakes for songwriters - issued a kind of challenge to them, to make the words matter, and carve out your own space in your words. It's obviously something that was around before him - blues and country songwriters always worked with similar material, and greatly influenced him - though that was just one mode he worked with. He shifted things - bringing in ideas from modern poetry (subject matter and devices) - bringing in (and adapting) longer narrative forms - bringing in a lot of things. His voice is everywhere in rock and roll.

And so we come to the list: not easy, but that's not new. This is made more troublesome by the fact that while I have a decent collection of Dylan records, he's been at it for almost 60 years, putting out a pretty steady stream of music for that whole time. That's another reason to put this essay off - all that work, all that unexplored work.... But that's can't be helped (except by waiting a couple more years to do this.) So here you go:

1. It's Alright Ma (Im Only Bleeding)
2. Tangled Up In Blue
3. Subterranean Homesick Blues
4. The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
5. Hurricane
6. All Along the Watchtower
7. Rainy Day Women #12 & 35
8. Like a Rolling Stone
9. Buckets of Rain
10. It's All Over Now Baby Blue

Here he is in 1964 - Blowing in the Wind:

It's All Right Ma - another of those acoustic songs that rocks harder than any metal and punk you might come up with:

Electric Bob, not working on Maggie's farm no more:

One of the great music videos (I hope this one's legal, and sticks around, so this post won't look like the Prince post from last month, which is all blank YouTube links now...):

Dylan in 84 with Mick Taylor, Ian McLagan, etc. - Mick takes a pretty epic guitar solo here as well, a nice touch - one fo the most underrated guitar players in the business:

Latter day Bob, tangled up in blue - 2014:

And leave with - Bob's Christian phase? whatever - this kicks ass:

Friday, May 13, 2016

Post Sox Friday 10

Had a very late night last night, thanks to the Red Sox (4th game in a row with double digit runs! which includes games against both Sonny Gray and Dallas Keuchel! Plus Good David Price, the 1 run, 12 Ks variety, not the one with the 6.75 ERA), so this will be one of those minimalist Friday 10 things.

HAve a good weekend!

1. Gang of Four - It was Never Going to Turn Out too Good
2. Gang of Four - Ether - yes, it is random; well - no one ever complained about 2 gang of four songs in a row.
3. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Slowly Goes the Night
4. Ruins - Komnigriss
5. Lightning Bolt - No Rest for the Obsessed
6. Dungen - Err Skall Att Trivas
7. Carter Family - Wildwood Flower
8. Jack White - Take Me With You When You Go
9. Nick Cave and Warren Ellis - the Boy
10. Joy Division - Ice Age

Well - that certainly came out well. Some video? Gang of four, comeback edition:

A later generation of the Carter family playing Wildwood Flower:

Here's Joy Division:

Friday, May 06, 2016

Friday Music, Randomly

Friday again, and I don't have a lot to say. I guess Donald Trump is now assured the Republican nomination, with Cruz and Kasich dropping out. They must be so proud, though I don't know what they don't like about Trump - he's got the core of republicanism down cold: racism and misogyny and tax cuts on the rich - that's American conservatism to the bone. He seems to have won because he gave the racists and misogynists exactly what they wanted to hear, in so many words, and because he's a TV star, and knows what the cameras are for. well - they can have him. I remain optimistic that once he's being voted on by the general public, not by the racist misogynists in the GOP, he will lost badly. One hopes.

Anyway - let's do some random music - iTunes appears to be restless today...

1. Big Kids - I'm Bored
2. Matthew Sweet - Don't Go
3. Interpol - Always Malaise (The Man I Am)
4. Lotte Lenya & The Three Admirals - Alabama Song
5. The Flaming Lips - Feeling Yourself Disintegrate
6. fIREHOSE - 4.29.92
7. At The Drive In - Arcarsenal
8. Xiu Xiu - 20,000 Deaths for Eidelyn Gonzalez, 20,000 Deaths for Jamie Peterson
9. Hank Williams - Your Cheatin' Heart
10. Mercury Rev - Queen of Swans

Video? Let's try the Big Kids - an obscurity I have thanks to a Mojo collection - a neat piece of retro rockin'...

I posted Bowie doing Brecht/Weill last week - here's Lottle Lenya:

And - let's end with Omar and Cedric and company, back in the day - Arcarsenal live:

Sunday, May 01, 2016

On Bernie Sanders' Success

Happy May Day! In past, I have used this as a chance to post musical videos and jokes about witches, communists and morris dancers, but this year, with Bernie Sanders, Socialist, running for president, and doing very well, thank you very much, I might try something more.

It seems, in the last couple weeks, that Sanders' campaign is starting to run down. He was never really going to win, I suppose - but he made a nice run of it, and has been relevant all along. The race has gotten uglier as it has gone along, but it's only May now, and there is plenty of time for the Democrats to get their act together and get on with the business of winning elections. The presidency, of course - though maybe just as important, maybe more, Senate and House races. The senate is in range - the house, probably not - but getting the Senate takes a lot of pressure off, allows a Democratic president to fill up the Supreme Court, move the country left (or at least, sane) there, generally force more stuff through. There is a lot of whining on the "left" about the horror or Hillary Clinton, neoliberal as the candidate, but I still hope that's just a fringe, dimwits looking for clicks, you know...

Because too much lamenting over Sanders' failure is not justified in the least. First - because he hardly failed. He didn't win the nomination, but it's hard to see how that was ever in the cards. But assuming he's smart enough to know that - he has succeeded brilliantly in getting his policies into the public eye. He has made Socialism respectable - made it possible to talk about socialism, socialist policies, and to call them socialist. (Even if most of them are just good liberal positions - tax the rich, help the poor, use government money to put people to work and keep the roads and trains and bridges functioning, don’t invade every country we disagree with, and pay for medical care and education for everyone.) He has gotten votes for those things - he has injected leftist ideas into the conversation - not the moronic kind of "conversation" dimwits like Walker Bragman (maybe the dumbest thing on the internet this week - which tells you how stupid some of the internet has become, if that's in question) babble about, but the actual things actual politicians actually talk about. We shall see how much of it makes it into the Democratic platform, and see how well Clinton (if she wins, which she should) sticks to them, either with some legislative support or without it, but it is there.

And this is the thing: Sanders likes to talk about revolutions, but that's just rhetoric, for all the Salon writers pretending to be confused. When he decided to run, as a Democrat, he made it clear that he is, in fact, smarter than that - revolution is for the choir; but better platforms, better down ticket candidates, more public pressure for liberal policies, that is where the action is. And for all the wailing and gnashing of teeth among the (alleged) Bernie true believers, all the Democrats in disarray nonsense being published - it's working. It's not just Bernie - in the past few years, we've seen the Occupy Wall Street movement, the election of people like Elizabeth Warren, Sharrod Brown and such, the emergence of Sanders himself as a national figure, the movement for a $15 minimum wage, along with a significant number of liberal social victories. Not much of this has made inroads as Federal law (since the Democrats lost the house in 2010 - before that, real progress was made), but it has made significant progress in states and cities. Minimum wages have gone up; tipped minimum wages have been eliminated; social policies have changed for the better in many cities, as well as Federally, thanks to the Supreme Court recognizing obvious truth. And it's important to remember that egregiously regressive laws, like North Carolina or Mississippi and so on, are, more often than not, defensive laws passed to try to hold back pressure from above and below. The Supreme court has joined the 21st century in some areas; and many cities, even in the Old Confederacy, are passing laws to raise minimum wages, to protect gay, lesbian, transgender rights - thus causing the states to try to reverse history again.

All of this makes it easy to get discouraged, I won't deny it. You look at Trump, running more or less explicitly as a fascist, certainly making white supremacy the one true issue of his campaign, and it is discouraging. Look at North Carolina (and a parade of other states) trying to stop their own cities from treating people decently, and it is easy to forget that these things come because their own cities are turning on them. But in the end, if change comes, it comes the way it always comes - by people voting for it. It's fun to talk about electing Bernie Sanders - but it's far more important to elect more liberal liberals to more offices. To take over city governments, state governments (though as always, the states are the most regressive forces in the country; you want a revolution? abolish states), get people into the house and the senate, and then you can change. And personally I think Bernie Sanders, running as he did, and succeeding as he did, has made it easier to do that - has legitimized the liberal side of Democratic politics, created an audience and a constituency for leftier politicians, policies and all the rest. Whining about how the establishment won again underestimates how much he has done to change the establishment - and underestimates by far the importance of simply voting to move the establishment.

Because when you get to the nitty gritty of it - if Democrats and liberals and progressives and socialists want to move the country (and the party) left, they do it by voting. Get 74% participations, and the Democrats will dominate government for the foreseeable future. Get that participation in every election, and it will move the Democratic party left as well. And moving the party is more important than electing one man. So - vote, people! Vote for Democrats! vote for the most liberal Democrat in the primary (if that's your thing), but for the love of god and the democracy, vote for the Democrat in the general. And if that means Hillary Clinton, well - that works for me. And anyway, the tea baggers all thing she's a communist anyway, so - who am I to doubt them?

All right. That said - may day is a day for jokes and music about commies, witches and morris dancers -and celebration of all things red. Not a good day on the soccer front, with Liverpool getting smoked - what can you do?

David Bowie singing Brecht?

Maybe Prince doing Red House with Maceo Parker (enjoy it while you can - Prince songs go fast off YouTube):

And don't forget Black Phillip, this may day!