Friday, January 26, 2018

The Fall

Well, after saying I was going to try to post here once a week - it's been three. Yeah, I know. And what brings me back? The all too constant theme of this blog - another obituary.

A couple, I suppose - last week was Dolores O'Riordan, lead singer from the Cranberries, purveyor of beautiful and moving 90s pop, dying mysteriously in London, aged 46. A sad story - her songs were haunting and powerful, and though I didn't pay much attention to them when they came out, they were work that could hold you. It's a shame.

And then this week - about the only think Mark E Smith had in common with Ms O'Riordan is that they both sang back tot he audience sometimes (she apparently did it early because she as shy.) And they were singers and they died this week, both dying fairly young. Though you'd never know that from Smith - he was 60 - but he looked like he rode those 60 years hard. For a long time, he's looked the part of a dissolute working class British rock star.... Though maybe not always - look at them in 1988, on Tony wilson's show, Brix in ful 80s new wave mode, and Mark - tall, sleek, almost handsome, rocking that purple turtleneck while Wilson pays tribute: "if there was a holy grail, only Mark Smith would be allowed to touch it" -

The years were not kind - but he didn't slack. Working through to the end - this is from last October, confined to a wheelchair, looking very ill, but still raving away like always, compelling and controlling, the center of everything.

The Fall were one of those bands, there were a few, that I heard, when I was young, loved every time I heard them - but didn't, quite, pursue at the time. I don't know why. The Fall, Gang of Four, Wire - post punks all? Maybe. I won't explain it. Tried to make up for it later, but its a daunting proposition with the Fall - lots of records to pick through, and they never really slowed down, putting out new records all through the 00s, always interesting. As it happens, in my dotage, this might be my favorite period/style of music - post-punk, lean, sharp guitars - these bands, PIL, American groups like The Minutemen and Mission of Burma, no wave, early Feelies - which I would expand to include a few groups that pre-date punk (let alone post-punk) - Television, Pere Ubu, Talking Heads, or the punk groups that worked this vein, like Joy Division, the Buzzcocks... (And any style that includes Pere Ubu and Television is going to be my favorite, it is true.)

The Fall were as good as any of them. Propulsive, repetitious riffing, a mix of garage, Krautrock, art rock - Smith ranting over all of it, anchoring the sound, playing around it - almost monotonous, but always rhythmic, with bursts of - otherness.... Vocals like the guitars, then. With the relentless propulsion of the drums and bass in the back - they are endlessly great.

Live Set, 1981:

And still great in the 2000s - here's What About Us? at a festival - "he was dealing out drugs to old ladies" -

I admit - it's hard to parse out what he's raving about a lot of the time, but when you get to the lyrics, they are worthy of the rest - clever, funny, weirdly erudite... Especially how funny they are - jokes and wordplay and mockery - they didn't take themselves to seriously, obviously. What more can you say to something like this? Video to "Eat Yourself Fitter" - words, images, their attempts at dancing - "saw the holy ghost on the screen"...

And so on. I suppose ultimately, though, being who I am, utterly in love with the electric guitar, what caught my ear in the 80s and holds my ear now are the guitars - the riffs - the sound - their propulsive fury. And so to leave you with Brix Smith knocking out one of my favorite riffs ever, Cruiser's Creek, live in 1985 or so...

Monday, January 01, 2018

Nothing Changes on New Year's Day

Happy new year, world!

I can't say I will miss this last one. Personally, it was not as bad as the year before - 2016 felt like hell on earth. But objectively - 2017 was a shit show. Trump as president was as bad as anyone could ask, and though his incompetence tended to suppress the enactment of his bad ideas, the year ended with one of the worst ideas - that tax cut - going through. I don't know how long it will take for that thing to wreck the economy - but if it isn't quickly undone, it will. But on the bright side, we haven't had a nuclear war - yay!

But along side Trump, we've had mass shootings; we've had terrorism mostly from the right, but a few from foreign agents. (The left mostly behaves itself, though - as usual.) The right - the hard right, the racist right - has been out in force all year,and show no signs of going anywhere. Why should they? Trump is a fascist, and has spent most of the year testing how far he can push his authoritarianism, racism, and so on - his followers gleefully competing with him in their own fascist ravings. As policy, it is mostly aimed at immigrants - though the continual attacks on the media, education, political protests and other activism, voting, could always bear fruit.

It is easy to be depressed. But there are reasons for hope. The one tool we have to make things better is the vote (well - there are lots of tools, but that is the one that had direct and immediate consequences.) And this year, the Democrats have tended to smoke the Republicans at the ballot box. The most extreme instance being the election of Doug Jones overRoy Moore in Alabama - yes, the GOP had to run a child molesting fascist nutcase to lose, but they did lose. And though Republicans have won a lot of special elections this year too, they have done so in hard-right districts, and the Democrats have run them very close. In Montana, in Georgia - if this continues, it bodes well. The Democrats have to overcome a massive structural disadvantage to win the house - a strange thing, but gerrymandering and other oddball vote distributions makes that body remarkably undemocratic - but they might be able to do it. Might have to win 5 million or so more votes to break even in the house - but that has happened before and might again.

Politics: I have written more about politics than anything else here,this year,and more than I have in a long time - politics is maddening these days,but it's also vital. It feels like life or death for the republic, sometimes. And it is hard to be optimistic - the last two years haven't just shown that white resentment is hanging on in the country, and can still hold a great deal of power; it's also shown that the system itself doesn't work. The constitution itself at its worst is explicitly racist (most of that is gone, thankfully, but the Electoral college remains), and often practically racist (the senate, by helping exaggerate rural votes is practoically racist, at this point in history at least) - but the bigger problem is that the system, with its checks and balances and diffusion of power gives overwhelming power to minority groups, if they are willing to use it. The American system depends on the good faith of all participants: and the Republicans are not operating in good faith. There is nothing to force them to operate in good faith - they took control of the courts,in an act of shocking bad faith - so there is no counter to any ofthis except the vote,and the system currently requires a massive landslide toward the Democrats to overcome the system.Depressing.

But not hopeless. Or - put plainly - in politics, you can't afford to take things for granted,good or bad, because, in the end, what you do determines what politics is. So I guess, keep at it. Vote, argue, work - what else is there to do?

I have to write something about something else. Alright. This was a momentous year - I moved, which has changed my movie watching options for the worst - I compensated with a fair amount of TV, or at least, with some TV - whole first run TV shows, watched first to last! Ken Burns' on Vietnam; and of course Twin Peaks - the latter of which was more or less awe inspiring and brilliant - obviously better than anything else I saw this year, since I barely saw anything else - but as good as anything I've seen on a screen in years. I also watched a good deal of old TV this year,for the TV Countdown at Wonders in the Dark (including the coming Part 2) - but not enough movies.

And so? I suppose the new year is a time for resolutions - and - well: I wish I had some. Or rather, I wish I had some I felt sure of following through on. But I guess the new year is the time for promises, listing the things you hope you do or will regret not doing - I can play that game. So:

1) I hope to post here again, more than once a week (though I suppose that should really be, at least once a week, as I have fallen well short of that unimpressive standard). I know, I know, blogs are old hat - but I am old hat, so, I would rather write for this than for twitter or something like that. Now - I fear if I deliver on this resolution, it will bring a lot of politics - but that is the world we live in, so...

2) I hope I can get back to a more regular film watching regime. Might not be possible to do my habitual 2 new films a week, plus 2-3 older films somewhere - but I need to get in the habit again of watching films. Probably will - I don't lose that habit for long, usually.

3) I hope I write about films, and other subjects - books, TV, music - here - once in a while. It has been a while since I have made a habit of writing longish posts about arts here, and I don't know if that habit will come back (without external stimulus - I get work done for other people, when I can...)

4) I will try to acknowledge the fact that this is 2018. the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI, and all the stuff that went on around it - so some Great War blogging might be in order. I hope. Reconstruction blogging, too,if I can - 150 years since 1868 - a vital part of the country's history....

5) Finally, a lot of this depends on my ability to write, in general. f that goes well, then, some of it should end up here.

And so - that's enough for now. Happy New Year!

(And here's a holy shit I'm old moment for you: U2, 35 years ago:)