Monday, December 31, 2007

Frank Sinatra - One For My Baby

On the cusp of the year, an offering to you. Perhaps the best expression ever of that after-the-crowd-has-left feeling, this was one of Sinatra's signature songs. Don't stay out too late tonight.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

September Song Jimmy Durante 1955

Another version of "September Song" to mark the passing of the year.

For a while, Jimmy Durante was probably the best-known performer of this song. It's easy to see why. It's a song for a man past his prime, and Durante had no vanity about his appearance. And the wistfulness at the heart of the lyric matched something in his personality. The fact that his technical gifts as a singer were nowhere near those of, say, Sinatra, in this case actually reinforce the song's theme. Sure, the backup vocals now seem too sweet by half, but hey, perfection is for some other world, not this one.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Willie Nelson - September Song

It's true that we're nowhere near September, but this song is about approaching the end, which makes it appropriate for December 29th. Written by Maxwell Anderson and Kurt Weill, the song probably owes its existence to Walter Huston, father of John, grandfather of Anjelica.

According to Joshua Logan's memoirs, when Knickerbocker Holiday was in the planning stages, Huston, who had been selected for a lead role, suggested that his character have a song to sing to the ingenue as he made a hopeless play for her love. Maxwell Anderson liked the idea and worked with Weill to create this oft-covered paean to a dwindling life force. Here is Willie Nelson's version from 1978, produced and arranged by Booker T. Jones of Booker T. & the M.G.s, thus proving once again that You Just Never Know.

Friday, December 28, 2007


It's Friday, I'm not qualified to post anything worthwhile on the Bhutto assassination (although that isn't stopping a lot of other bloggers), nothing else comes to mind, so I guess it's cute cats today.

Funny Pictures
moar funny pictures

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Blue Jay Way - The Beatles

Actually this is a continuation of the holiday theme. When I was growing up a regular part of the average Christmas vacation was listening to the newest Beatles album, since one was always released in time for the holidays. Here's a psychedelic-era George song.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Percy Mayfield as interpreted by Mose Allison - Lost Mind

This song is a great example of why there is a cult of Percy Mayfield fans. Utterly cool in the sense of keeping one's pulse low even though it's about a burning love affair, it manages to convince on both counts. I don't have any of Percy Mayfield's own recordings handy, so the cool-in-his-own-way Mose Allison will fill in.

Percy Mayfield (not to be confused with Curtis Mayfield, which is easy to do in conversation since they have not only identical last names but similar-sounding first names) was at one point Ray Charles's favorite songwriter, most notably for creating "Hit The Road Jack." He was not represented in the movie Ray--I guess there was only room for one genius. But he had a true songwriter's gift: he could take the simplest elements and craft something memorable from them. Enjoy.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Blessed Relief

To convey some sense of Zappa's musical breadth, compare the previous clip with this one. This is the original studio recording of this song with someone's homemade video added, but the music--well, it's blessed relief.

Frank Zappa: King Kong (BBC records 1968)

Today is the birthday of one of the heroes of my teen years, Frank Zappa. My feelings about him grew more complicated over the years, as I felt his knee-jerk anti-authoritarianism would sometimes lead him into folly. (An attack on Surgeon General Koop's anti-AIDS efforts? What the hell was that about?) Still, there was no doubt that he was most often on the side of the angels, and the last thing he ever was was a phony. Rare enough in public life in any era, today it is apparently nearly unknown.
And he genuinely loved music, which is rarer than you'd think. Here he is performing a medley on British TV in 1968, with my favorite version of his original band, the Mothers. Enjoy.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Ry Cooder: At The Dark End Of The Street

Great vocals, and a guitar solo that showcases Cooder's slide technique while being carefully restrained. Here he covers the (oft-covered) soul classic from 1966, written by Chips Moman and Dan Penn and originally sung by James Carr. From English TV circa 1976.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Political Outsiders and You

I don't really feel good about linking to Glenn Greenwald three days in a row, but he's on a roll and...I'm not. He's hitting on all cylinders in his analysis of a variety of topics. Here he talks about why the Huckabee, Paul, and Edwards campaigns are treated as jokes or freak shows by the traditional media, no matter how much success they achieve on the ground.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Telecom Immunity vs. Bloggers et. al.

I hate to keep putting up brief posts that basically do nothing but point to Glenn Greenwald's blog, but: 1) I'm not in a position to put up longer posts, and 2) Glenn Greenwald is saying a lot of good things. For example, here he is on the lesson to be learned from yesterday's derailing in the Senate of the telecom immunity/FISA bill:

The most important lesson to learn here is that it is always possible for citizens to influence and disrupt even the most fortified Beltway establishment schemes. When that fails to happen, it's never because it can't be done, because it's impossible, because the deck is too stacked against it, etc. Rather, when there is failure in this regard, it's because the right strategy wasn't discovered, or because not enough pressure was generated, or because there were insufficient tools of persuasion deployed.

Read the whole post here.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Democracy and Democrats

What Atrios said:

We need a Democratic president so that the Republicans and their Blue Dog allies in Congress are finally inspired to take back the executive power grabs that they temporarily thought were necessary for the survival of the nation.

What this will mean in practice is that Democratic president will face a firestorm of "scandal" which will make Monica Madness pale in comparison. The powers that Bush claimed will be turned against a Democratic president and will likely be their undoing.

And this scenario is much better than the alternative.

I think that last sentence is the key point.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Pack Up Your Sorrows

Thomas Pynchon's good friend (and dedicatee of Gravity's Rainbow), Joan Baez's little sister, and Bruce Springsteen's inspiration for his next-to-most-recent album. Probably about 1964.

Friday, December 14, 2007

HRC, consultants, and inevitability

Ezra Klein comments on the significance of "the absence of message within the Clinton campaign. When the rationale for your campaign is that you're the frontrunner with the experience to win, losing your lead in the polls doesn't only put you in second place, it actually shreds the argument for your candidacy. What we're beginning to see here is how underdeveloped the arguments for Clinton were when separated from her aura of inevitability."

I'll vote for HRC if she's the candidate, but if any one of the current Democratic frontrunners is likely to pull a Kerry or Dukakis-style massive droop in the general campaign, it's probably her.

H/t Atrios.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Tanita Tikaram - Twist in My Sobriety

I know Tanita Tikaram is still alive, but Dante Gabriel Rossetti's translation of Villon, "The Ballad of Dead Ladies."

Since there was no post yesterday, two today.

Thanks, my blood wasn't already boiling--part 8

Once again, ladies and gentlemen, Glenn Greenwald.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Teppum (Sad Lisa)

Even Kermit gets sad. But few of us get played like a violin.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Jeff Beck - Cause We've Ended As Lovers/Stratus - 7/28/07

You probably have to be a guitar player to really appreciate some of the things Jeff Beck is doing here. His use of the volume knob is particularly fine--most guitarists (like me) don't even try to do such things. If you watch, you can see that he sometimes uses the little finger of his right hand to create swells, so that instead of a plucked note you get a note that seems to start from nowhere then rises in volume, in a way that sounds a little like a bowed instrument. The first song is by Jeff Beck's old friend Stevie Wonder, and at one point JB throws in a downward-moving lick that he also used when he guested on SW's song "Looking for Another Pure Love." If you're not into such things, well, the first song is pretty and the second one rocks in a fusion-y way.
The bass player is the twenty-one year old Australian phenom Tal Wilkenfeld, who has taken the small but devoted world of electric bass players by storm in the past few months. Listen here and you'll see why.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Gesang der Jünglinge - Karlheinz Stockhausen

Karlheinz Stockhausen died on Wednesday at the age of seventy-nine. He was, among other things, a pioneer in the composition of electronic music, and since nowadays upwards of ninety-five percent of the sounds heard in the most popular of pop music are all electronic, his passing merits a mention. Not that his music sounds the least bit like Britney Spears's backing tracks. To see how unlike, listen to his Gesang der Jünglinge, the first piece of his I ever heard. (Paul McCartney has said that this piece was a big influence on the Beatles in their studio experimentation phase circa 1966-67.) "Gesang der Jünglinge" means "Song of the Youth," the youth in this case being the boys in the fiery furnace from the book of Daniel, from which the text is taken.
It's noted in his obituaries that he made a foolish remark in the aftermath of 9/11, calling the attacks "a work of art," which was seen by many as cold-blooded at best. I thought it was a case of an intellectual ruminating in public, which if you've ever been around ruminating intellectuals you know is an enterprise fraught with pitfalls. Ruminating over the meaning of recent tragedies is something best done by intellectuals in private. He soon apologized. Now he's gone, and in Auden's words in his elegy on Yeats, he has become his admirers. Listen to his music and see what you think.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Woody Allen Explains the Importance of the WGA Strike

Woody Allen explains the importance of the Writers Guild of America (movie and TV writers) strike while simultaneously expressing once again his distaste for laugh tracks.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Roscoe Holcomb - Graveyard Blues

When John Cohen coined the now widely used term "high lonesome sound," he was trying to come up with an adequate description for Roscoe Holcomb's voice. Enjoy.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Dad's Gonna Kill Me - Richard Thompson

This song has actually been out for awhile and has appeared in many different places on the Web, but I came across it again, got reminded of how good it is, and decided to post it. Richard Thompson found out that troops in Iraq would refer to Baghdad as "Dad," and would make the sort of grim joke that is found in the title of this song.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Call Me - Aretha Franklin

This song makes more sense if you know the story behind it. Aretha Franklin was on the street in New York City when she overheard a couple, clearly crazy about each other, talking. One of them was about to catch a plane to someplace far away. The opening lines are what they said to each other.
Aretha Franklin needs no introduction by now. This is one of her less-known chart hits from the 1960s, and proof of just how good even that less-known work is.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Sexy Beast - Don Logan on Airplane

This linked pair of scenes show why Ben Kingsley got so much attention, including an Oscar nomination, for his work in Sexy Beast. In the first part he's the barely-under-control psychopath that he portrays for much of the film; in the second, he's a supremely smooth and facile liar, talking his way out of trouble with a story just plausible enough to free him. It's the breadth of the range within one character that really stands out. And yeah, I know it's an old movie by now, but let's face it, if you're here for the absolute latest in the arts you're not in the right place. But you knew that.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Friday, November 30, 2007

Sorrow Stay - The King's Noyse with Paul O'Dette

John Dowland was a contemporary of Shakespeare whose music was recovered as part of the "early music" revival of the twentieth century. Philip K. Dick was a fan and used the title of one of Dowland's pieces ("Flow my Teares") to form part of one of his own titles. Performed on period instruments, here is a good rendition of one of his works. Can't track down the singer's name--sorry.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Todd Haynes: Using 6 actors to play Dylan in "I'm Not There"

Rather than post another trailer of a film, I've located a clip of the director talking about the new Dylan biopic I'm Not There. If you're a serious Dylan fan, and if you're a Todd Haynes fan (I missed Far from Heaven, loved Velvet Goldmine), you will be in heaven watching this movie. Otherwise, probably not. But it's a great example of one no-shit-real-live-artist-and-not-just-an-entertainer crafting a work of art about another one. Go see it.

One other thing, because it seems relevant: I became a Todd Haynes fan at the moment in Velvet Goldmine when a UFO drops off the infant Oscar Wilde at a doorstep in the middle of the nineteenth century. This in a movie about the glam-rock scene of the 1970s. Simultaneously audacious and utterly apropos (and it wouldn't work if it weren't both), it's a sequence born of a vision rooted in a communal experience but willing to say something previously unsaid in quite that way. And that's how art gets made.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

One Rainy Wish - Jimi Hendrix

This is the side of Jimi Hendrix that was not adopted by generations of heavy metal guitarists. Not even in the power ballads. This music came and then it went, but thanks to the miracle of sound recording we can enjoy it today. Please do so.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Warren Zevon's Hasten Down The Wind - Linda Ronstadt

A little more Warren Zevon, this time as interpreted by Linda Ronstadt. The flip side of his worldly-wise humor (Lawyers, Guns, and Money, for example) was his heartbrokeness, as in this song or in Accidentally Like a Martyr. Enjoy isn't quite the right word, so just soak it in.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Let it Be

One of several alternate versions, with slightly different lyrics, breaks, solo from the album and single.

Paul for some reason thinks he needs to look directly into the camera as much as possible--probably something Jane Asher once told him that he misunderstood but couldn't forget. Billy Preston on a Hammond spinet organ, George on a rosewood Telecaster, John on a Fender Bass 6, Yoko as sphinx. Ringo gets no close-ups.

There will be no sorrow.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Mary Ann - Al Kooper & Mike Bloomfield

This is an old Ray Charles song performed by Mike Bloomfield on guitar and vocals, with Al Kooper on Hammond organ. It's from the Live Adventures album. The contrasting soft/loud sections really goose up the arrangement, and blues disciple Bloomfield as usual tears it up on guitar.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Warren Zevon - Boom Boom Mancini

It would take a while to explain why this is one of my favorite Warren Zevon songs. No time, so here you go.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Summer Daydream - Ralph White

After mentioning Ralph White's proficiency on the kalimba the other day, I then posted a song that didn't really show off that skill. So here's a better choice, off the same album. You can also hear some fretless banjo, played in the frailing style, as well as his usual fiddle, accordion, etc. Enjoy.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Poco - You Better Think Twice

Talk about your blast from the past. The show's theme music and graphics were already dated in 1972, which means this was a typical big network production of the time. So it is presented here strictly as a cultural artifact.

Poco did not hit the big time until about six years later, with Jim Messina (the songwriter and singer in this clip) long gone to a partnership with Kenny Loggins. I was a fan of Poco's earliest work, which was pioneering country rock done at the same time as Gram Parsons-era Flying Burrito Brothers. Both of Poco's first two bass players went on to join the Eagles, which tells you something about influences and relative levels of success, and in fact the Tim who identifies himself in this clip is still with the Eagles today.

In any event, this is a song from one of Poco's early albums, and represents a blend of musical traditions (C&W/rock'n'roll) that at the time was innovative but which eventually would become the new mainstream, at least for country music. Nothing earth-shattering here, but a good song in a nice arrangement with great harmonies.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Navasota River Devil Squirrel 1 & 2 - Ralph White

Ralph White was a founding member of the Bad Livers, the world's first punk/bluegrass band, and served as the multi-instrumentalist of the group, playing mostly fiddle and accordion. In the last few years he has been making solo recordings, overdubbing those two instruments and many others, particularly the kalimba. Often known as the thumb piano, this African instrument is often used in the West to provide very simple bits of musical flavoring. But there are people who can actually play it well, and Ralph White is one of them. Here is the opening track of his most recent CD, Navasota River Devil Squirrel. Enjoy.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Robert Haas - Meditations at Lagunitas

Since I don't want to risk a copyright violation, here is a link to another page with Robert Haas's poem "Meditations at Lagunitas." Enjoy.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Never Again - Richard & Linda Thompson

A minor-key waltz, composed by Richard Thompson and sung by his then-wife Linda. They are of course the parents of singer/songwriter Teddy Thompson. There's a story that at their last public appearance as a duo Richard performed with blood dripping from his bald pate, thanks to the ashtray that his soon-to-be-ex-wife had thrown at him in the dressing room shortly before they went on stage. What does all that have to do with this song? Nothing. Nothing at all.

Friday, November 16, 2007

No Country for Old Men - Trailer

Coin flipping in films for two days in a row. Brutality is a normal part of everyday life, but sometimes it gets out beyond the usual range. Presented for your approval, Joel and Ethan Coen's latest. Blood Simple was twenty-five years ago now, and they're back in Texas again, letting us watch people get killed, again. With age, their approach to violence has become less stylized but no less horrific.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (Heads)

Since there was no post yesterday, double post today. Here's the opening of Tom Stoppard's film version of the play that made his reputation. He still hasn't made a film that's quite as good as any of his stage work, but this isn't bad. Some people, however hard they work, do just have a gift. Stoppard can write dialogue better than just about anyone.

I Was Standing by the Bedside of a Neighbor - Sweet Honey in the Rock

A short clip, truncated for some reason, of the great vocal group. Just to follow up on the audio selection I posted recently, here's a chance to see them as well.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Thanks, my blood wasn't already boiling--part 5


Gary Moore - Still Got The Blues (Live)

I'm not usually a fan of guitar heroics, but this is pretty nice. Gary Moore is a British guitarist who wrote this piece, which is, like (for example) "As The Years Go Passing By," less of a strict blues song than a minor-key, slow-R&B meditation on blues themes. I just got introduced to it today. Enjoy.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Tipitina - Fess & Meters

The music here is very good but not amazing, but so what. It's Professor Longhair on stage with the Meters, a combination I never knew had been caught on video, so if you love New Orleans music that's reason enough to watch.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Tomorrow - Sweet Honey in the Rock

Sweet Honey in the Rock was founded by Bernice Johnson Reagon who, among other things, (1) has a resume as a singer that runs back at least as far as the Freedom Singers during the civil rights era, (2) created and hosted the radio series Wade in the Water, about African American sacred music, and (3) is the mother of the singer Toshi Reagon. For more info, here are her Wikipedia and All Music Guide entries. "Tomorrow" is from the 1986 album The Other Side.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Joe Pass - Solo Jazz Guitar

If you don't play guitar, you'll probably think, "That's pretty." If you play guitar at an average level, you'll think, "How the fuck does he do that?" Enjoy.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Leonard Cohen - Chelsea Hotel#2

Broken hearts--are there any other kind?

Mired in my provincialism, I will note that this song is about a Texan.

Flaco Jimenez

Since I've posted material from Doug Sahm and Don Santiago Jimenez, it's only fitting to add something from Don Santiago's son and Doug's bandmate, Flaco Jimenez. This is some home video from the 1990 Tejano Conjunto Festival in San Antonio, which I think is held in Mission Park on the southside. A beautiful place, if you understand what you're looking at. Why am I not there now? Many reasons, dear reader, many reasons. For one thing, my propensity for rhetorical questions takes up a lot of time. Enjoy.

Monday, November 5, 2007

The Four Seasons - Dawn (Go Away)

Dawn dates from 1962, I think. One of my favorite groups when I was young. The things that are burned into your brain when you're a child never leave. Great arrangement by Crewe and Gaudio, who were yet more disciples of Spector.

The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou-Seu Jorge-Rebel Rebel

I used to play this song in a band a long time ago. Never would have thought it would appear in a wacky film in a solo version by a Brazilian singer/guitarist, in Portuguese no less. Which just goes to show you.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Unchained Melody - Vito and the Salutations

When the big hit movie of the day was Ghost, this song was e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e. Bobby Hatfield's voice was wonderful in that version, but it got so overplayed that I used to turn to this version just for relief. Enjoy.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Sir Douglas Quintet - Nuevo Laredo

This looks like the 1969 version of the band, lip-syncing on a European TV show. Doug was originally from a neighborhood near mine in my home town and was someone I would always hear stories about, so I've always felt some connection to him. This music is so straightforward and pure in the same way that the best blues, reggae, or old country music is. Like a lot of other people, I still miss him.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Bee Movie - Trailer 3

I can't wait for this movie to open--because then all of this relentless, pounding, endless hype will be over and done with forever. Besides, while I love some of these movies, this one looks like all that it has going for it is the return of Jerry Seinfeld. Usually the best gags are in the trailer--I have yet to see anything in any of these trailers that actually made me laugh.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Driver's Seat - Peter Blegvad

Peter Blegvad is getting more recognition these days since his song "Daughter" was featured in the movie Knocked Up, in a cover version by Loudon Wainwright III. Like all the best artists, part of Blegvad's strength is his range. "Daughter" is an authentically sweet but never cloying expression of deep parental love. In contrast, "Driver's Seat" (from the same album as "Daughter," 1995's Just Woke Up) mines a dark but very funny vein.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

It's All Right - The Impressions

Generally I post music that is a little off the beaten track, but this is one that you'll hear in many different settings. Can't help it--I just love it too much.


People just want to create things, you know? And often in response to something that someone else has created. That's all.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Anton Webern

The second of the three pieces for cello and piano from 1914 by Anton Webern. Why? Why not?

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Friday, October 26, 2007

Mississippi John Hurt again

Since there was no post yesterday, there's two today. It's hard to have too much Mississippi John Hurt, so here's an audio-only addendum to the previous post.

Mississippi John Hurt

Another one of my favorite guitar players. The ability of one person to play guitar with such skill that the resulting sounds are as full as those produced by a good piano player is pretty much a lost art, at least compared to a hundred years ago. John Hurt, who may have been a teenager before he saw his first automobile, came from a time when more people knew how to do it. He demonstrates his ability nicely in this clip. Enjoy.

For more info, here are Mississippi John Hurt's All Music Guide and Wikipedia entries.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Randy Newman 'I Think It's Going To Rain Today'

When I hear people talk about Randy Newman as a comedian, I know it means they don't know anything about this song.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A little Bach

J. S. Bach was a master of many forms of music, but his solo keyboard work seems to exist on a plane beyond the rest. Perhaps this is because the only limitations he had to work within for these pieces were his own keyboard technique (considerable) and imagination (apparently boundless). Here is the ending of the first of the six French Suites, as performed on harpsichord by Bradley Brookshire. Enjoy.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Don Santiago Jimenez - Viva Seguin

As it has been for the last forty-three years, I am on light posting. Here for your enjoyment is a song by a musician from my hometown, one of the first real stars of conjunto music. Don Santiago Jimenez was the father of Flaco Jimenez and Santiago Jr., and this recording was probably taken from an original 78 put out in the late forties or early fifties.

My mother was from Seguin, and I have a lot of relatives buried in cemeteries in that area, so this song has a personal resonance for me that, let's face it, it very likely won't for you. But cemeteries are the last thing you'll think of while listening to this--it's dance music. Enjoy.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Pergolesi - Stabat Mater (Dolorosa)

This version of Pergolesi's work is performed with only two voices, as opposed to the usual chorus and soloists. Pergolesi was the subject of a short story by the science fiction author Robert Silverberg. But then you knew that.

Lightnin' Hopkins- Baby Please Don't Go

Mr. Hopkins in his prime. East Texas to the bone.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Michael Clayton - more

Ken Levine has a nice post up on the new film Michael Clayton. I figured I could either leave a long comment there or post something here. This seems like the more appropriate venue for this many words.

Just to focus on the acting:

The look on Clooney's face while he's looking at the horses. (Plus this is a beautiful example of screenwriting without dialogue--if you've been paying attention, you have a very good idea of what's going through his character's mind, and why that look is on his face.)

Tom Wilkinson's timing and his vocal inflection as he says, "What are you?" to Clooney. (And another example of a screenplay as a structure, not just a bunch of good lines and scenes--it's a nothing line, but in context it means a lot. Interestingly, Ian Holm said basically the same thing in Big Night to Stanley Tucci, and to the same effect.)

Tilda Swinton rehearsing her speech, intercut with shots of her actually delivering those words in public. First fear and near-panic, then faux-warmth and sincerity. Wide emotional range, all believable.

Sidney Pollack looking so natural it doesn't look like he's acting. He is. Not much range compared to Swinton, but who cares? He fits the part perfectly.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Blessed Damozel

La lumière tressaillit de son côté, remplie
D'un fort vol d'anges horizontal.
Ses yeux prièrent, elle sourit;

Mais bientôt leur sentier
Devint vague dans les sphères distantes.
Une récitante
Alors, elle jeta ses bras le long
Des barrières d'or.
Et posant son visage entre ses mains,

The final lines from Gabriel Sarrazin's translation of "The Blessed Damozel" by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Claude Debussy used this text for his musical setting of the poem, "La Damoiselle Elue."

Monday, October 15, 2007

Michael Clayton International Trailer (New)

Just saw this. Finally, a movie for grownups. Recommended.

Got A Feelin'--The Mamas And The Papas at Monterey Pop

Tried to post this yesterday but it failed for some reason. The six dense paragraphs of deathless prose which accompanied it have vanished into the ether, so you'll just have to take this as.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Gore Nobel - Answer to Trivia Question

What, are you nuts? It was a joke. Nobody has ever before won an Oscar, Emmy, and Nobel Prize in the same year. And I specified chemistry. For the same person to not only win an Emmy, an Oscar, and the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, but win them all in the same year? For god's sake, that's crazy.

On the other hand, Charles G. Dawes, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1925, and who like Al Gore served as vice president of the US, co-wrote a song that became number one on the pop charts. From Wikipedia:

His 1912 composition "Melody in A Major," became a well-known piano and violin piece, and was played at many official functions as his signature tune. It was transformed into a pop song ("It's All in the Game") in 1951, when Carl Sigman added lyrics. The song was a number one hit in 1958, for Tommy Edwards...and has since become a pop standard recorded hundreds of times by [other] artists.

Which proves something.

Gore Nobel

Al Gore is only the second person ever to win an Emmy, Oscar, and Nobel Prize in the same year. Name the first.

Hint: the Nobel was in chemistry.

UPDATE: The answer tomorrow.

Thursday, October 11, 2007


Two posts yesterday, none today. I'm listening to some Bach solo keyboard music--I suggest you do the same.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Brenda Holloway - Classic Motown Artist

Got a wild hair to post this. It's Brenda Holloway singing "Together 'Til the End of Time." Enjoy.

Things could be worse

Some things just make me happy. Eric Alterman picks up on a passage in Paul Krugman's lastest NYTimes column. Click here to learn more. Then start making chopping motions on your left forearm with your right hand.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner

This was the last film in the Austin Film Society's series Blokes 'n' Birds: British Realist Cinema. Tony Richardson's The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner from 1962 is in many ways a more conservative film, stylistically, than some of its contemporaries. While it tells a story of societal rebellion, there is little of the sort of radical re-thinking of cinematic form found in works like Godard's Breathless of a few years earlier. We know who we're rooting for just as clearly as if we were watching a Frank Capra movie, even if our "hero" is a petty thief doing time in a juvenile detention center. The montage that builds to the film's climax is skillful but not exactly subtle. Still, it's certainly worth watching and has some wonderful moments. Tom Courtenay's silent burning of a pound note stands out. In fact his performance throughout is excellent, and although he's worked steadily since he's rarely had such a substantial role.

And again--there's something about sitting in a large darkened room with other people that just makes movies better. If we lose that, we'll have lost something valuable.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Mahavishnu Orchestra Noonward Race

Here's the deal--I'm stuck on light posting for the immediate future. But for anyone who comes here, I've got to provide some reason for you to come back, so every day I will try to post at least something worth reading, hearing, or seeing. Today it's this.

The Mahavishnu Orchestra was John McLaughlin's "jazz-rock fusion" vehicle in the early seventies. Every member of this group both knew and loved rock and roll as well as jazz, so the mix worked in ways that it frequently did not in other people's hands. Enjoy.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

A joke

Jeez, another day, another post. Okay. Here you go.

Q: How many people from Brooklyn does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: So who the fuck wants to know?

Saturday, October 6, 2007

The Great Albert King

Albert King was one of the great blues electric guitarists. A big influence on Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Mike Bloomfield, and Stevie Ray Vaughan (to mention just a few of the better-known names), he never achieved the prominence of B.B. King (whom he sometimes claimed as a cousin), but within the field was widely respected. One of his later recordings was a duet with Stevie Ray (In Session), and you can find it on At their prices, it's a steal.

Here's the song from which this blog takes its name. It's part of the album that many consider his best, the Stax release Born Under a Bad Sign. The usual Stax folk of 1966-67 (basically Booker T. & the M.G.s along with Isaac Hayes and the Memphis Horns) back him up. Their backing is like fine whiskey--smooth but with a kick. Enjoy, and if you like it track down more of his work.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Hard Luck Story

Since I still have no time for a proper post, here's another audio clip for your streaming pleasure. Like "Sky Song," "Hard Luck Story" is from the first Illinois Speed Press album and was written by Kal David. I chose it because, even though it was written and sung by the same person and is performed by the same musicians on the same album, it sounds nothing like the other song. This sort of stylistic breadth was once fairly normal, but is now pretty rare.

In this selection Kal David pays tribute to his hometown of Chicago. Like Mike Bloomfield and Paul Butterfield, David was a young white guy who began to spend time in the blues clubs of Chicago's largely African-American South Side, and soaked up as much as he could. For most of the last thirty-five years he has mostly focused on the blues, performing with B. B. King among others. If you like this, look him up on YouTube to see more recent work.

Thursday, October 4, 2007


Stuff going on, eating into my time, can't produce. Sorry.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Thanks, my blood wasn't already boiling--part 4

Okay, to be honest, this was so expected that my blood is nowhere close to boiling. But in a better world it would be. Here's the Washington Post on W's veto of the SCHIP bill.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Saturday Night And Sunday Morning

Just saw Saturday Night And Sunday Morning, Albert Finney's first starring role, and it is highly recommended, if you don't mind some fairly thick (to American ears) accents. One of the "Realist" Brit flicks of the late fifties-early sixties (Look Back in Anger, etc.), it seems to really capture the feel of provincial working-class English life, at least as far as this Yank can tell. It's easy to imagine a two-year-old Sid Vicious as one of the extras in a street scene. And one voice-over line provided the Arctic Monkeys with the title of their first album, so at least some Engloids think the film is still vital over forty-five years after its release. Put it in your Netflix queue.
This is also a good spot to mention the Austin film scene, which is a blessing and a boon.
While I was a student here at the University of Texas in the mid-nineties, the UT film department had a schedule that included Hong Kong action flicks, anime, vintage Fellini, then-current Almodovar, etc., etc., etc., each shown a couple of times in a week, then a different schedule the following week. It was a feast, and a cheap one.
And I must commend the Austin Film Society, which is sponsoring the series of films (Blokes 'n' Birds: British Realist Cinema) that includes Saturday Night And Sunday Morning. It's a rare pleasure to live in a town that can support such a cultural entity, which without making a big deal out of it supplies a steady stream of well-chosen and well-presented films in honest-to-god movie theaters, as the good Lord above meant them to be seen. Chale Nafus, who I understand was a sort of mentor to Richard Linklater, selected, wrote program notes for, and presented the films.
Plus--plus--in 1992 or 3, the AFS sponsored Sven Nykvist, who was in the area shooting a Hollywood film, to come in and speak before a showing of Cries and Whispers. So I got to listen to reminiscences about Ingmar Bergman from one of his associates just for the price of a movie ticket. Then I got to see the movie they made. Prit-ty cool.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Sky Song

Taking a cue from one of my favorite bloggers, Undercover Black Man, I've started a Vox blog to be able to present some music for your streaming pleasure. To start off, here's the Illinois Speed Press doing "Sky Song" from their first album.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

It was fifty-two years ago today...

James Dean, Elvis Presley's favorite actor, lived fast, died young, but did not leave a beautiful corpse, due to the traffic accident that took his life on September 30, 1955. He inspired a lovely song by Phil Ochs, a mediocre one by the Eagles, and burned his soul into the souls of millions who are now around retirement age. One of his girl friends gained her greatest fame playing Jerry Seinfeld's mother on TV. Which proves, once again, the truth of the saying sic transit gloria mundi.

Saturday, September 29, 2007


Before Monty Python, before Beyond the Fringe, before those well-known comedians the Beatles, before the Firesign Theatre, there was a comedy group that was a huge influence on all of them, the Goon Show: Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers, and Harry Secombe. The odds are you don't know enough about them, so here's their Wikipedia entry and their official Web page.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Smart Guy

"At the beginning was the non-sequitur."

Friedrich Nietzsche, Aphorism 22, Assorted Opinions and Maxims (1879)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


Full moon tonight. Listen to the Capris singing "There's A Moon Out Tonight."

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Oops 2

It looks like the comment feature was blocked. My bad, the newbie said. Should be okay now.


Damn, this is hard. But I promise I'm working on a post that will be worth reading. In the meantime, go read some Ken Levine.

Monday, September 24, 2007

nada again

I admit, I had no idea that daily posting would seem such a chore. Just so I won't go two days in a row with nothing, here's a link to the site that Bill O'Reilly thinks is filled with pure venom. I don't see that myself, but see for yourself.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Thanks, my blood wasn't already boiling--part 2

From the New York Times once again:

"Insulated from lawsuits by their corporate structures, large private investors in nursing homes have cut jobs and other expenses."

Friday, September 21, 2007

Thanks, my blood wasn't already boiling.

From the New York Times:

"The federal government has told New York State that chemotherapy, which had been covered for illegal immigrants under a Medicaid provision, does not qualify for coverage."

In Memoriam

Jaco Pastorius died twenty years ago today. I no longer remember how I first heard him, but for a brief period it seemed like he was everywhere: a key member of Weather Report, recording with Joni Mitchell and others, doing solo work, on and on. He was that rarest of things, a truly original artist with deep knowledge of those who had gone before. For an electric bassist in 1975 to begin his first solo album with a lightning-fast version of Charlie Parker's "Donna Lee," then in his onstage solos to include a quote from Jimi Hendrix's "Third Stone From the Sun," spoke volumes about who he was and how he saw himself. Here is a clip of a solo performance, and his mastery of technology (in this case, an MXR digital delay) is obvious, as are his hyper-technical skills. But he was also excellent as one element in an ensemble--check out "A Remark You Made" from Weather Report or "Refuge of the Roads" from Joni Mitchell. I never understood people who thought Stanley Clarke was a better bassist. Clarke was amazing, but Jaco seemed able to tap into a different plane of existence altogether. His eventual emotional decline and sad death were, for many of us, a tragedy in the original meaning of the word: a series of events that remind us how fragile are the restraints that keep even the greatest of us successfully living in this world. RIP. With Joe Zawinul now gone, the past slips even further away.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Muddy Waters - I Got My Mojo Working

I'm working on a couple of longer posts, but until then it's dribs and drabs, I'm afraid. But since I have not yet performed the de rigueur blog post linking to YouTube, I must rectify that at once. Here's a link to a piece that includes Mike Bloomfield, one of my favorite guitar players. It's from a PBS all-star blues special, with Muddy Waters taking the lead vocal. Bloomfield gets a solo starting around the three minute mark. There are actually better posts of Bloomfield on YouTube, but I chose this one because here he's surrounded by his heroes (such as Muddy) and friends ( such as Johnny Winter and Dr. John). He really was all about music as a communal activity, which is a fancy term for a very basic human activity. Enjoy.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Yes, in fact the mainstream media have always been that way

"Time magazine probably publishes many facts…but since its founding in the early 1920's I have been on the spot eight or nine times when something that wound up as a news story in Time happened. Not once—not once—did the Time magazine story match what I saw and heard." Robert A. Heinlein

Monday, September 17, 2007


It may well be that the most irrational thing a human being can think is that human beings usually think rationally.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Quote of the Day

If you can keep the rat cornered long enough, eventually it will surrender. From the Politico:

"President Bush plans to choose Michael B. replace Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Republicans close to the process told The Politico. 'It came down to confirmability,' said a former Justice Department official involved in the conversations. " [emphasis added]

Or as the subhead puts it: "White House signals conciliation by backing New York conservative suggested by key Democrats."

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Quote of the Day

The cover of the current issue of the deeply conservative National Review (birthed from the skull of William F. Buckley) features a photo of an Iraqi landscape and in a large font the word Stay. R. J. Eskow writes on Firedoglake:

"In retrospect, it was inevitable: Conservatives have finally articulated a policy position so simple-minded it can be understood by a dog."

Click on the link above for the full post.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Josef Zawinul: A Personal Appreciation

If you want basic info about Joe Zawinul, here are the links to his entries in Wikipedia and All Music Guide, and to his official Web site. He led a fascinating and productive life, and it's worth investigating. But this is about what he meant to me over the years.

It's 1966. There's an instrumental song that's being played on the radio, and while I like it I don’t track it down to buy it. This is not unusual. I'm thirteen, and I expect the world to offer me interesting things on a regular basis. Usually it complies, so if I miss one thing another will be along soon. Years later I learn that the song I heard was called "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy." It was performed by Cannonball Adderley and written by Joe Zawinul.

It's an early morning sometime in 1970. For whatever reason I'm doing something I rarely do before I head off to school, which is to watch the Today show on TV. For whatever reason the people who run the Today show are doing something that they rarely do, which is have a jazz band on to play. I'm an ordinary rock music fan, who's been following the Beatles since they arrived in America, grew excited by the explosion circa 1967 that turned rock'n'roll into rock, and I try to make it a point to have my ears open (for one thing, I own the obligatory Ravi Shankar album). I've also been casually listening to classical music all my life, and it's harmonies, advanced beyond the ability of most rock musicians, provide me with a lot of pleasure. Jazz I know about, but think of as old music for old people. (The links between, say, jazz, boogie-woogie piano, and Chuck Berry's rolling guitar rhythm are completely unknown to me at the time.) I've seen Gary Burton on TV, but he's so young (and white) he could be a rock musician.

Either I've got a few minutes to kill or I'm not going to school that day, because I watch the jazz band, a small combo actually. I've heard the name Cannonball Adderley before, but that's about the extent of my knowledge of the group and what they're doing. I listen, and they play something…different. It's not wild, certainly not a Hendrixian freak-out of the sort that is never shown on that era's network television, but neither is it dull. It's definitely not what I think of as jazz. For one thing, it's neither frantic nor dull. It's very bluesy without being strictly blues, and I can hear the family resemblance to a lot of music I already love in rock'n'roll. For another thing, the piano player is sitting behind what I recognize, thanks to the brochure I'd gotten at a music store, as a Fender-Rhodes electric piano. It too sounds like nothing I've ever really heard before, but it sounds good. It's not tinkly or cheap, or as loud as a rock guitarist, it just sounds…cool. And like a real musical instrument, not a novelty item. At the end of the song, Cannonball Adderley announces that his quintet has just played the title song off their new album Country Preacher, and that it was written by the piano player. Oddly, he is the only white member of the group. A few days later I track down and buy the album. It's not one that my friends are particularly interested in, so it becomes a sort of secret pleasure. Like the best secret pleasures, it very gradually opens a portal into a new world. I listen to it over and over. The country preacher turns out to be the young Reverend Jesse Jackson, and the live recording before a predominantly black audience, which politely but freely lets the musicians know how they feel, begins to tell me about a world I barely know.

So--the man behind the electric piano was Joe Zawinul, who had been born in Vienna nearly forty years earlier, but whose most productive years lay ahead of him. He had come to America in his twenties and quickly established a presence as a reliable sideman. (He learned to speak English mostly from his African-American colleagues. Reading his interviews was fun. "Beethoven was a motherfucker," he'd say, and was probably the only person in the world who could make such a statement without sounding like he was either pandering or being deliberately cute.) As a guest musician, but more importantly as a composer, he had already made the recordings with Miles Davis that would serve as a foundation for the rest of his career. In a Silent Way (1968) and Bitches Brew (1969) marked Davis's first serious forays into the electric work that would bitterly divide old fans, attract millions of new fans (here I raise my hand), and cement his reputation as a musical chameleon of genius. Zawinul wrote the title song for the first album, the first song for the other, and then in 1971 with Davis's longtime sideman of genius started the group Weather Report.

I bought their first album but couldn’t really figure it out. It was simultaneously adventurous and lightweight. Zawinul said later that it took Shorter and himself a while to figure out what the band should be. For the next few years (and indeed throughout the band's life) other bandmembers came and went. As keyboard technology changed Zawinul expanded his sonic palette, adding a ring modulator to his electric piano, then exploring and using each new generation of synthesizers as they came along. The music was good, and sounded not quite like anything else being made. (It's worth pointing out that for all the charges of selling out made by older jazz fans about the so-called fusion musicans, Weather Report, unlike for example Return to Forever or Miles Davis himself, never had a guitar player. If they really wanted to sell out to gain a larger audience, that would have been the route to take. They never took it.) But the music of these years was also rarely as inspired as the Bitches Brew work.

Then bassist Jaco Pastorius joined the band, and suddenly they kicked into overdrive. It was also the era of the first good polyphonic synthesizers (the early Moogs and Arps circa 1968-74 were monophonic—Switched-On Bach was made by overdubbing multiple single-note lines) and the band's sound blossomed into a lush, neo-Ellingtonian aural feast.

When Heavy Weather came out in 1977, it was a revelation. All the excitement that had been found in rock music for the previous decade or so (and to be fair, in such fusioneers as the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Miles Davis himself) was matched by a guitarless quintet that possessed what even the finest rock music did not: musicians who knew their instruments inside and out, subtle and sophisticated chord changes, and a particular kind of slightly off-center song structure. Wayne Shorter in particular had perfected this songwriting style in his years as Miles Davis's principal composer in the mid-1960s. And Zawinul's opening "Birdland" was a genuine hit single, even spawning cover versions, including a vocalese version by Manhattan Transfer.

When the live album 8:30 came out a couple of years later, its version of "Birdland" had a significant difference. The beat had changed and the song was now much more "jazz-like." But in fact the name Birdland came from a club on New York's 52nd Street in the early 1950s, one of the true homelands of real jazz. And the big hit single with its rock beat was actually composed as a tribute to the sort of multi-horn band sound that rock had displaced.

8:30 was drawn mostly from a 1978 tour. I saw one of those shows, and it remains in my mind as one of the best live performances I've ever witnessed. The only rock band that could even approach the sort of harmonic sophistication found in jazz was the jazz-influenced Steely Dan (with whom Shorter had guested on Aja), but their improvisatory skills were not up to jazz standards. As Zawinul said more than once, in Weather Report nobody soloed but everybody soloed. While not strictly true, it was clear what he meant: extended post-Coltrane soloing was out, but since every member was a skilled musician, every member knew each song's structure so well that he could play whatever he wanted at any time, and be trusted to make it fit. In addition, just about every possible way that four musicians could work together was explored. Besides solo segments, at times that night there were sections of improvised harmonic and rhythmic counterpoint (also known as "jazz"), contrasted with unison passages that packed a huge wallop. What I remember from that night is a mix of energy, passion, and skill that I still remember nearly thirty years later. There is a well-known quotation from the novelist John Barth: "My feeling about technique in art is that it has about the same value as technique in lovemaking. Heartfelt ineptitude has its appeal and so does heartless skill; but what you really want is passionate virtuosity." Passionate virtuosity is what we witnessed that night.

Nothing lasts. Jaco Pastorius developed severe mental problems and stopped working with Weather Report several years before his death in 1987. None of their later recordings proved as vital as Heavy Weather, and eventually the band disintegrated. Zawinul started a band with his name and worked steadily, often returning to Europe. He died in his hometown of Vienna last Tuesday, leaving behind several children and a large recorded legacy. And many people whose lives were changed, at least a little, for the better. Here I raise my hand.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Quote of the Day

We take our heroes where we can find them. My hero today is Jeff Garlin of Curb Your Enthusiasm, who has written, directed, and stars in a new movie, I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With. In promoting the film he spoke to the Associated Press, which quoted him as saying:

"It's like an Albert Brooks or Woody Allen movie, only not as good and I star in it."

My kind of guy. Admittedly, the quote makes the most sense if you can remember when Albert Brooks and Woody Allen were making the funniest American movies being released. That was when--how shall I put it?--today's average pro athlete was not yet a gleam in his or her parents' eyes.

As Larry David's manager on Curb, Garlin always hits the perfect relaxed note of enthusiasm for Larry's ideas, an enthusiasm which from his character may be either perfectly genuine (that's a great idea and I support you!) or utterly fake (my money comes from you and I'll support anything you say!)--you can't tell which. It's a nice take on the kind of personality that I assume Garlin has encountered many times in his business, and all the more effective for being so low-key.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


Beginnings. Well...

Beginnings is a non-canonical album by the Allman Brothers Band. Their third album, At Fillmore East, was their commercial breakthrough, and in the wake of its success their record label repackaged their first two low-selling albums (the eponymous debut and Idlewild South) as a two-LP set called Beginnings. Brought to the public's attention anew, the earlier work found a ready audience. So we see that what are called beginnings may in fact be second (or even later) drafts. The fact that you don't have to get things right the first time is a great comfort as one advances through life.

The name of this blog, "Crosscut Saw" comes from a blues song best known in its performance by Albert King, one of the great electric bluesmen. It's rather unlikely that its salacious nature will be reflected in the posts here, but it's a great song, I needed a name, so there you go.

My favorite cultural critic these days is Gore Vidal, which may be due to the fact that he is an erudite, perceptive, and perspicacious analyst of Western society, or may just mean that I share his prejudices. The breadth of his interests is one of the things that I admire about him, and in my own more circumscribed fashion I will try to do something here similar to what he does in his essays: offer commentary on a wide range of cultural matters, attempting a balance of the well- and lesser-known, and offering, with a little luck, a useful perspective not found elsewhere. With a little luck.

In any event, this trial balloon is tugging at its moorings, and it's time to let it loose into the boundless empyrean. Waving farewell to the black-and-white flatland, we lift off and peer hopefully into the future. See you there.