Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Band - The Genetic Method (including Auld Lang Syne)

Garth Hudson leads us into the new year. Auld Lang Syne doesn't start until about six minutes into the track.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Grateful Dead - That's It For The Other One

So, I was wrong: here's one more sad song. not to mention another Dead song. It's about Cowboy Neal at the wheel, and how he had to die.

It's the first track on Anthem of the Sun, and I always liked the fact that it breaks the rule for an opening song -- instead of being a big blaring attention getter, it starts with a note on the organ, then a beat later a quiet voice starts singing "The other day they waited..." as the rest of the band falls in. Having an unspecified "they" do nothing more dynamic than wait is taking a risk with your opening line. A lot of bands wouldn't take that kind of risk.

The full title is "That's It For The Other One: Cryptical Envelopment/Quadlibet For Tender Feet/The Faster We Go, The Rounder We Get/We Leave The Castle." In case you're ever asked as a contestant on Jeopardy.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Roches - Runs In The Family

I'm beginning to think that it runs in the family.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Grateful Dead - St Stephen

If you know the song, this version has obviously been edited. Still, it's video from the Tom Constanten era of the Dead, which is pretty rare, so it's worth checking out. And the bachelor-pad ambiance of the Playboy After Dark TV show is, nearly forty years later, almost cute.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Eartha Kitt RIP

Among the online articles about Eartha Kitt, I've yet to see one that points out her most famous political act: criticizing the Vietnam War at its height while she was inside the White House. It cost her, too -- she performed mostly in Europe for several years after.

From Wikipedia: In 1968, however, Kitt encountered a substantial professional setback after she made anti-war statements during a White House luncheon. It was reported that she made First Lady Lady Bird Johnson cry. The public reaction to Kitt's statements was much more extreme, both for and against her statements. Professionally exiled from the U.S., she devoted her energies to overseas performances.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Harold Pinter RIP

Either you love Harold Pinter's work or you don't get it, as far as I can tell. He was a student of language, and his works are often rigorous studies of how language is used to communicate, to obfuscate, and frequently both. But that rigor was like the structure of a Bach fugue: it was the underpinning of work that still evoked a strange joy and a sense of spontaneity. His subtlety was often cloaked in "plain language," which of course was actually anything but. This late and very brief work still carries his characteristic flavor.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Ray Stevens - Santa Claus Is Watching You

Following his smash hit Ahab the Arab, Ray Stevens released this Christmas-themed song, which features the return of Clyde the camel.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Barbra Streisand - I Wonder As I Wander

This song came out of the folk revival in the 1950s-60s. The credited composer, John Jacob Niles, claimed to have learned it from a woman in North Carolina, but this version was recorded in about as different a social milieu as you could find from that origin. Nowadays the key changes in this version get on my nerves, but otherwise I like it. That minor-key melody, and the overall feeling of being alone in the dark, make it unusual among holiday standards.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Nick Drake - Riverman

There's a lot going on in the world, a lot going on with me, but for today I'll just step aside and put something up for pure pleasure.

This is probably the first Nick Drake I ever heard. I like the way each verse ends on a major chord, then shifts to the minor of that chord when the next verse begins.

This video looks as if it may have been shot in and around Nick's home town of Oxford.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Flying Burrito Brothers - To Love Somebody

Today is Robin Gibb's birthday, and since he's listed as co-composer of this song, that's reason enough to play it. The one and only Gram Parsons sings lead.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Bette Midler - The Rose

One more sad song and then it's back to our regular programming, such as it is.

I'm always a little surprised when people think this song is pure mush. It's actually more like the very end of No Country for Old Men, although I think that ending worked better in the book than in the movie. The sheriff tells us two dreams, both of which suggest that not all is lost, but they don't suggest much beyond that. In short, there's no point in relying on something that isn't there. The point of course is that the world is a hard place, and we're lucky to have any hope at all. This song is not quite that grim, but it's about hope for the future, not about present happiness.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Beatles - In My Life

There are places I'll remember
All my life, though some have changed.
Some forever, not for better--
Some have gone, and some remain.
All these places have their moments,
With lovers and friends I still can recall.
Some are dead and some are living--
In my life, I've loved them all.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Judy Collins - Liverpool Lullaby

Another song from the same album as "Tom Thumb's Blues," posted a few days ago, and therefore another song I first heard on the same trip. There is also a Jacques Brel song on that album, and I guess the reason the album made the impact on me that it did is because it was the first time I'd heard the kind of music that Jacques Brel exemplified: deceptively sweet music underpinning frequently acidic words. Take this song -- slow, soothing music, wrapped around the story of a small boy whose father beats him. The whole album is pretty much like that, but I guess a lot of people can't get past the flutes and violins.

Just found out today that this song was written by the first human being to ever earn a graduate degree in computer science. Go figure.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Bob Dylan - As I Went Out One Morning

By my reckoning, this song dates from Bob Dylan's fourth self-reinvention, in 1968. Since that was forty years ago, there have been several since.

Listening to it a few minutes ago, I realized that the musical hook is in Charlie McCoy's bass line, which is more than a little unusual, but the unusual is what you expect from Dylan at his best (yes, that hook was probably McCoy's idea, but it's Dylan's album -- it made it onto the record because Dylan wanted it there).

I will award an old-fashioned Marvel Comics no-prize to anyone who can tell me what the song is about, and why American founding father Tom Paine is in it.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Judy Collins - Tom Thumb's Blues

Still remember where I was when I first heard this song, one of those magical mornings that can come when you're a teen waking up in an unfamiliar place, but feeling safe. It was my first time hearing these words since I'd never heard Bob Dylan's original version. Now I prefer Dylan's version, although I still like the quasi-chamber-music arrangement here. A lot has been written by now about the experiments in music that were taking place in 1966, and this performance of this song is very much a product of that time.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Friday, December 12, 2008

The End of the World

My brother died, and to distract myself I started reading the news. Way deep down inside me, some primitive part of me was puzzled by the fact that the most important thing that had happened was nowhere mentioned in the things I was reading. That reminded me of this song.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The D Word

It's been a while since I've said, "What Digby said." Time to rectify that. Here's D on why the financial meltdown is happening, expressed as usual with concision.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Your One-Stop Dumb Joke Stop

The ants are my friends, they're blowing in the wind.

H/t to member of an e-mail list I'm on

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Beatles - Across The Universe

So I woke up and got ready to go to work at the job I'd held a little over a year. This was always hard, for reasons it would take a while to explain, so I won't here. I turned on the TV while I made breakfast and soon realized that all, all, every single bit of the talk was about him, which seemed beyond strange. Sure, he'd come out of retirement a few weeks before, but why did that matter so much that it had all but taken over the airwaves? Soon I realized that he was dead, but had no idea how. I called a friend just to find out, who gave me the details. I went to work, and it was the kind of environment where no one was really interested in such things, which made me lonely. But there was nothing to do.

This song showed his range, and of the four versions that have been released over the years is my favorite.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Cadillac Records

Don't often go to films their first weekend, but this seemed worth the trip. Put it this way: if you have Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter, Chuck Berry, and Etta James in your music collection, you want to see this movie. Like any biopic, you can quibble with some of the details (e.g., Little Walter did not die in Muddy's house, Muddy's first trip to England was in 1959, etc.), but overall it's very good.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Flying Lotus - RadioHead Reckoner Remix

Like all true hip-hop fans, I get tha 411 straight from tha source: the New Yorker magazine, which began pushing hip-hop back in 1927. And if u believe that, have I got a bridge 4 u...

In any event, I do know a little about hip-hop, and my favorites aren't the rappers so much as the slightly insane producers, like Prince Paul. Taking sounds from as wide a range of sources as possible and turning them into an artifact that is more than a random assemblage of samples is an art, and there aren't many people who can do it well. It's easier to just take one old song and start rapping on top of it. (We will mention no diddy-ly names, as Ned Flanders might say.)

There aren't many people who do this kind of innovative work well enough to make you go "Wow." But thanks to the New Yorker I now know of one more. Flying Lotus here takes a recent Radiohead track and works his magic. And I like magic.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Forrest J Ackerman 1916-2008

If you are, as the common saying goes, of a certain age, and grew up in a certain culture feeling a bit of a geek, the odds are good that you were drawn to science fiction, fantasy, and horror. As in your growing up you learned the names of the giants of these fields -- Asimov, Tolkien, Stoker, to pick three representative examples -- you eventually learned another name, a fan who had gotten there before you. Forrest J Ackerman wrote some stories and served as an editor and agent, but mostly he was the world's biggest fantasy (to use the broadest term) fan in the world. This clip explains. (Apologies for the sound quality.)

Friday, December 5, 2008

Sonny Boy Williamson

Happy one hundred and ninth birthday to Sonny Boy Williamson, aka Sonny Boy Williamson II, aka Rice Miller. Unfortunately he died in 1965, but not before (1) recording a lot of wonderful music, (2) rehearsing with the musicians later known as the Band, shortly before he died (and whose drummer Levon Helm, like Sonny Boy, was from the Helena Arkansas area), (3) inspiring Bob Dylan's performance on the song "Pledging my Time," and (4) inspiring this performance by Al Kooper and Carlos Santana. And after you listen to this song, you should go listen to some Sonny Boy Williamson himself, because it's even better.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Odetta RIP

One of the giants of the folk revival of the late fifties-early sixties is gone. Odetta always stood out simply by virtue of being one of the few actual African-Americans in a mostly white group of performers who were heavily influenced by African-American music. This is the first song of hers I ever remember really absorbing.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Lambert, Hendricks & Ross - Cloudburst

Heard this song recently, in a different version, which reminded me how much I like Lambert, Hendricks & Ross. Joni Mitchell recorded two of the songs off the album from which this song comes. Annie Ross appeared in a movie directed by Robert Altman and Jon Hendricks appeared in a movie that starred Woody Harrelson. What does it all mean? As usual, I'm clueless. But it's a good song.

Monday, December 1, 2008

A Voice Goes Quiet

It's always a little disheartening to only learn of the existence of a worthwhile human being when that person passes away. But if they were here at all, then some gratitude is called for.

H/t Atrios.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Beethoven - Quartet in A Minor op. 132 I. Allegro -- The Italian Quartet

Since I didn't post yesterday, it's a two-fer today. Enjoy.

Wolcott on the Real World

James Wolcott usually adopts a, shall we say, airy tone about matters great and small. But when he does get serious, he's always worth reading. For those of us from blue-collar backgrounds, this incident carries a special resonance.

Friday, November 28, 2008

A Voice in the Wilderness, Kinda

"Black Friday," indeed. Paul Krugman is, as usual, at least one step ahead of the people who are actually in charge of making the big decisions about our economy.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

Have a great day. Even if you're not in the USA, even if you don't have turkey today, think of something in your life for which you're thankful and have a great day -- it's non-denominational.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

William Kristol, Self-Made Man

This is a story that deserves to be better known.

I remember back in the late '90s when Ira Katznelson, an eminent political scientist at Columbia, came to deliver a guest lecture to an economic philosophy class I was taking. It was a great lecture, made more so by the fact that the class was only about ten or twelve students and we got got ask all kinds of questions and got a lot of great, provocative answers. Anyhow, Prof. Katznelson described a lunch he had with Irving Kristol back either during the first Bush administration. The talk turned to William Kristol, then Dan Quayle's chief of staff, and how he got his start in politics. Irving recalled how he talked to his friend Harvey Mansfield at Harvard, who secured William a place there as both an undergrad and graduate student; how he talked to Pat Moynihan, then Nixon's domestic policy adviser, and got William an internship at The White House; how he talked to friends at the RNC and secured a job for William after he got his Harvard Ph.D.; and how he arranged with still more friends for William to teach at UPenn and the Kennedy School of Government. With that, Prof. Katznelson recalled, he then asked Irving what he thought of affirmative action. "I oppose it", Irving replied. "It subverts meritocracy."

Hat tip to DHinMI at DailyKos.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Know Your Current Events Civics

So how well do you know the basics of US government and history? Take the quiz.

H/t to BarbinMD @ DailyKos.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Emru Townsend

Some people are just born to make a difference. I never met Emru Townsend, who spent his entire life in Montreal, but am on an e-mail list on which he was one of the most popular members. Apparently that was par for the course: he was a member of many communities, virtual and meat-world, and made friends in all of them. (His enthusiasms were often those of the eighties-era bright teenager that he once was: gaming, computers, anime, etc.) He was a published writer, which expanded the reach of his many enthusiasms. When someone is intelligent, energetic, knowledgeable, and considerate, that is a powerful combination.

Below is a list of several online tributes to Emru, compiled by his sister. Please read them.

The Chronicle.

The Mirror:


Cartoon Brew (with links to others)

PC World


Eyestrain Productions

There are some more blogs and articles and there are quite a few if
you go to Google News and do a quick search.


Emru Townsend was diagnosed with leukemia last year, and was advised to seek a bone marrow transplant as quickly as possible. His friends said that it was characteristic of Emru that, on finding out that his African-Caribbean ancestry meant that it would be much harder to find a donor, due to the under-representation of that group in the bone marrow donor registry, he began to campaign for greater awareness of the registry program. He knew that it probably would not make a substantial difference in his own case, but that it would improve the lives of others in the future.

Emru Townsend died earlier this month. He had eventually found a bone marrow donor, but the disease had progressed too far. He leaves behind his son, his wife, his sister, other family members, a seemingly endless group of friends, and, thanks to his presence in it, a slightly better world.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

November 22, 1968

The Beatles' eponymous double LP, usually known as the White Album because of its cover design, came out forty years ago today. Time sure flies when you're having fun.

To mark the occasion, here's the second song, with a snippet of the first (a jet landing) at the beginning just to show that nothing in this world is perfect.

I once saw Siouxsie and the Banshees play this song live, and it's worth noting that they used almost exactly the same arrangement. No surprise--this may be one of the best song arrangements you'll ever hear. Every part adds something to the overall effect. And there are a lot of parts, but the song never feels cluttered.

Friday, November 21, 2008

November 21, 1963

I was surprised to see that the speech he gave at Brooks Air Force Base was only about nine minutes long. When I was ten years old, leaning against a lamp post and watching him deliver it, the speech seemed to last a million years. I remember that the wind, which you can see in this clip blowing the flags almost straight out, was moving his hair around. When it was all over my father took my brother and me back home, having done his duty as he saw it, taking his children to see the president of the United States. The next day on the schoolyard after lunch some of the children who had gone home to eat, and been around the TV or radio, said that he had been shot. On some deep level, it still makes no sense to me at all. Perhaps that's the point.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Carrie Fisher in Shampoo

Watched this movie again recently, I suppose because it takes place mostly on election day, when a crucial changeover from a president who had become increasingly unpopular takes place. Not that I think the parallels hold up otherwise.

I'd forgotten that the movie (set in 1968, made in 1975) was Carrie Fisher's debut. It may be the saddest comedy ever made.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Life in the Music Biz

Peter Holsapple, alternative rock icon/fixture/whatever, tells true tales about songwriting in the NY Times, either on an irregular schedule or else on a schedule that I haven't figured out. Today he explains what it's like to pour your heart out, as well as your time and energy, and get, basically, bupkus. Or in other words, what the music business is like for most people most of the time.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Sir Douglas Quintet - I'm Glad For Your Sake (But I'm Sorry For Mine)

Doug Sahm's life came to an end nine years ago today. To celebrate his life and career, here is one of his re-creations of the rhythm and blues that he played as a teenager.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Don Gibson, Songwriter

The great country music songwriter Don Gibson died five years ago today. The best-known version of one of his songs is probably Ray Charles's version of "I Can't Stop Loving You," although Patsy Cline's recording of "Sweet Dreams" is up there too. Here's one of my favorite versions of "Oh, Lonesome Me."

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Your Weekly Address from the President-Elect

I love the twenty-first century. The traditional weekly radio address, broadcast every Saturday, becomes a weekly video available to anyone with an Internet connection, at any time.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Deep Thought. No, Really.

The world would be a very different place if stupid people could not be dangerous.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Economic Disaster and the Way Out - Krugman

FWIW, what I like most about Krugman is that under all that erudition seems to be a plain-spoken, sensible, and even kind human being. Here he explains what sort of strategy (as opposed to tactics) in dealing with the economic crisis is most likely to yield results.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Mitch Mitchell RIP

Mitch Mitchell, who died yesterday, was an indispensable member of the trio in which Jimi Hendrix first came to public prominence. Like Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones, he was an English jazz freak who moved into the more popular rock and roll realm. His skill as a drummer made it possible for him to provide a counterpoint to Hendrix's guitar playing that few could have matched.

Here is an example of his driving power and dexterity; while here he shows with equal dexterity how, unlike most of the famous rock-era drummers, he could play softly without disappearing into thin air.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A "Post-Racial" America

I would love to believe that Obama's election signaled a post-racial America, and in some parts of the country this may be true -- but not everywhere. A New York Times reporter spoke to some political science professors, and then some Southern voters, about what's going on in some parts of the South.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Zakaria on Republican Foreign Policy

Since I generally more or less disagree with Fareed Zakaria, it's only fair to note the occasion when I think he's right.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Frank Rich Explains The Latest Things

So what just happened?

The festive scenes of liberation that Dick Cheney had once imagined for Iraq were finally taking place — in cities all over America.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

James Booker 1939-1983

The great -- make that astounding -- New Orleans piano player James Booker died twenty-five years ago today. I've posted some of his music before, but it's hard to have too much Booker. So here's some more.

I was already planning this post when I stumbled across Sal Nunziato's appreciation of Booker, which definitely deserves a link.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Why Rahm?

Tom Watson on why Rahm Emanuel is a good choice for Obama's White House chief of staff. Not sure I agree, but he makes an interesting, and well-informed, point.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Fox News: Palin didn't know Africa was a continent

Hat tip to Undercover Black Man and to ksh01 at DailyKos. And to give credit where credit is due, this is coming from Fox. News. Channel. Maybe it's not a newfound sign of attempted impartiality on the part of Fox so much as it is a shot fired in the civil war among the Republicans, with Fox taking the anti-Palin side, but I'll take it either way.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Why We Fight

Hat tip to Al Giordano at The Field. I posted the full version of this song back in August, so I'm happy to see it being used in this way.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Whither the Republicans?

I think, as usual, Krugman nails it.

Why don't more political commentators say things like this? The answer, my friend, is biblical: there is none so blind as he [or she] who will not see. And their incentive for not seeing is simple -- it makes their lives easier. Krugman will be described by some on the Right as "hate-filled" for saying these things. Other political commmentators don't want to feel that heat, so they don't say such things. Interestingly, they also seem to keep themselves from even thinking such things.


Sunday, November 2, 2008

Goodbye Hank Hill

King of the Hill Shuts Down

Many years ago a man who grew up in London told me that most Americans didn't really get Andy Capp, because they didn't know anything about Cockneys. At the time Andy Capp was funny (like I said, this was years ago) but a little impenetrable. Pigeons? Dog racing? Living on the dole and sleeping on the couch all day? What was all that about? This man said he'd known a lot of people whose lives were like Andy Capp's, so he knew the character was not really exaggerated.

Which brings me to Hank Hill. When King of the Hill first came on the air I was living far from my homeland, and couldn't watch the show because it made me so homesick. It's so well done in general that it probably wasn't necessary for viewers around the globe to know how accurate its evocation of ordinary Texans was, but for those of us who knew, it mattered that this collection of lovable dimwits was drawn with such precision and detail. Goodbye Hank, and thank you Mike Judge.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Studs Terkel RIP

Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Studs Terkel, Chronicler of the American Everyman, Is Dead at 96

"Mr. Terkel was a Pulitzer prize-winning author whose searching interviews with ordinary Americans helped establish oral history as an important historical genre."

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Why Palin was Picked

I love old-fashioned journalism, the kind where a reporter goes out and does some actual research (i.e., the kind which someone like Tom Brokaw hasn't done in decades). Here is the best article I've read explaining how Sarah Palin got into the position she's in, and it relies on actual reporting.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Digby on Noonan

Every so often I must stand up and utter the words that are spoken frequently by better bloggers than I:

What digby said

Note: this is a long post, but if like me you've been following the career of Peggy Noonan for the last few decades, it's worth it.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Randy Newman - A Few Words in Defense of Our Country

So I know this is nearly two years old, but I heard it again last night and decided it was worth posting. Mr. Newman talks about what the Bush administration has done to America's standing in the world.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Steve Cropper

Happy birthday to Steve Cropper, one of the essential elements of the Stax Records hit factory in the sixties. Here he is in a relatively recent concert appearance.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Krugman on the Party of the Working Class

One of the things I admire about Krugman is that he's the kind of person who, after winning a Nobel Prize last week, got right back to work and produced this slightly wonky (as in policy wonk) column.

But policy wonks are the people who actually care if their numbers add up, which is why so many politicians don't like them. Policy wonks think reality is more important than rhetoric. Sort of like the old Robin Williams line: "Reality--what a concept." When making crucial decisions about the fate of millions of people, taking reality into account--wow. What a concept.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

McCain and Bush, Together Forever

Frank Rich again gathers up some key points and puts them together in a way that no one else quite has.
(And note the Brokeback Mountain allusion in the headline -- I didn't get it until after I'd read the article.)

Saturday, October 18, 2008

RIP Levi Stubbs

There are a lot of tributes to Levi Stubbs out there now. All I can do is offer two things. The first is this, which burned itself into my brain at an early age. And I will be forever grateful for that. The second is this video, in which Billy Bragg, through the combination of his deep love of music and great songwriting ability (not to mention his very English accent), makes a heartfelt point about how human emotion crosses cultural boundaries in unexpected ways.

With the money from her accident
She bought herself a mobile home
So at least she could get some enjoyment
Out of being alone
No one could say that she was left up on the shelf
It's you and me against the world kid she mumbled to herself

When the world falls apart some things stay in place
Levi Stubbs' tears run down his face

She ran away from home in her mother's best coat
She was married before she was even entitled to vote
And her husband was one of those blokes
The sort that only laughs at his own jokes
The sort a war takes away
And when there wasn't a war he left anyway

When the world falls apart some things stay in place
Levi Stubbs' tears run down his face

Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong
Are here to make right everything that's wrong
Holland and Holland and Lamont Dozier too
Are here to make it all okay for you

One dark night he came home from the sea
And put a hole in her body where no hole should be
It hurt her more to see him walking out the door
And though they stitched her back together they left her heart in pieces on the floor

When the world falls apart some things stay in place
She takes off the Four Tops tape and puts it back in its case
When the world falls apart some things stay in place
Levi Stubbs' tears...

Friday, October 17, 2008

Freddie King - Hide Away

Recorded many times, but this is the original version. Ted Nugent even crafted a whole song out of one of the licks in the middle. And for people of a certain age, the Peter Gunn bass line (which is used as another one of the bits in the middle) was one of the first things to learn on guitar.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Edie Adams RIP

Jeez, dead people two days in a row. Sorry, but they both matter, at least in my world. Edie Adams was, among other things, the widow of the unique Ernie Kovacs, although her own career began before, and went on long after, her work with him. The fact that she appeared with both classic-era comics and Cheech and Chong tells you something about her -- she was always a little off-center, even for a comedienne. Here's more.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Neal Hefti RIP

Dead at eighty-five.

All together now: Na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na BATMAN!

Hat tip to the blog "If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger, There'd Be a Whole Lot of Dead Copycats."

Monday, October 13, 2008


Congratulations to one of the frequent linkees from this blog, and someone I've admired for years. I was not expecting this but couldn't be happier:

Paul Krugman Wins Economics Nobel

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Matt Zoller Seitz on Bill Melendez

What I miss most about academia is good criticism. Everything else is easy to find in the rest of the world.

There are people who think that all critics are simply destructive. These people are idiots. There are people who think that criticism is the real thing, and that Emily Bronte was a moron compared to F.R. Leavis. These people are idiots.

Good critics, as has been pointed out many times, are the true amateurs, a word that comes from the Latin word for love. Good critics love what they write about, but are no more starry-eyed than someone in a long-term relationship: they see the flaws, but they're sticking around anyway. And they stick around because they know there's something worthwhile going on.

Here's the best example of good criticism I've come across recently. Matt Zoller Seitz blogs regularly at The House Next Door, where he posted this appreciation of Bill Melendez.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Uncle Dave Macon - Jordan Is A Hard Road To Travel

Happy birthday to Uncle Dave Macon, who is 137 138 years old today. Or would be if he hadn't died in 1952. Here he is with his band in 1927.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Right Lurches Rightward

More analysis of the Right, this time by Eve Fairbanks in the Washington Post. She looks at the current freshman House Republicans, and what they mean for the future.

What will the Republican Party's new guard look like? The answer lies in that most extreme and uncompromising of numbers: zero. The new guard is fiercely stubborn, gutsily insubordinate, drama-loving and -- compared with the 82-percent-for-compromise old guard -- unadulteratedly ideological. And it could take the GOP off an even higher cliff than the one the party lurched off two years ago.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Friday, October 3, 2008

Krugman on the Economy, Again

Here's the money quote for me:

How bad is it? Normally sober people are sounding apocalyptic. On Thursday, the bond trader and blogger John Jansen declared that current conditions are “the financial equivalent of the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution,” while Joel Prakken of Macroeconomic Advisers says that the economy seems to be on “the edge of the abyss.”

Read it here.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Mountain - Blood Of The Sun - NY 1970

Like the recent Blue Cheer post, this is an example of heavy metal before the term existed. The bassist, Felix Pappalardi, was a music biz heavyweight who had decided to become a working musician on the side. Among other things he had produced Cream's breakthrough album, Disraeli Gears. Here in some amateur footage, he's just a member of the band, while Leslie West claims early guitar god status.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Bailout and its Discontents

Following up on yesterday's post, here is Sirota again on how things look after the populist pushback of Monday.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Bailout

This post is now a couple of days old and has been superseded by the actual vote, but it's an excellent overview of the problems with the bailout bill which was defeated in the US House yesterday.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Fey as Palin

You've probably already seen it somewhere, but damn it's good, so what the hell.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

RIP Paul Newman

When I've thought of Paul Newman in the last few years I thought of the little scene that takes place in this clip between about 1:00 and 2:00. His character is an old gangster talking to a boy whom he's known since birth, and to whom he's been like a grandfather. He's trying to decide if the boy knows too much about a murder, and whether the boy is going to have to be killed. The blend of authentic sweetness and real evil that Newman shows here blew me away when I first saw it.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Marty Robbins - Big Iron

Happy birthday to Marty Robbins, born on this day in 1925, gone too soon in 1982. The lyrics to this song mark it as a cultural artifact from its era: it's an old-fashioned cowboy movie in words.

What still holds me is his voice, which is about as pure and natural-sounding as a human voice can get. Other people agree with that assessment. According to Wikipedia, "The Who's 2006 album Endless Wire includes the song 'God Speaks of Marty Robbins.' The song's composer, Pete Townshend, explains that the song is about God's deciding to create the universe just so he can hear some music, 'and most of all, one of his best creations, Marty Robbins.'"

The background vocals are by the Glaser Brothers, and the musicians are the cream of Nashville circa 1960, including (I believe) Grady Martin on guitar.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Muddy Waters - 40 Days & 40 Nights

It's only forty days until the election, which put this song into heavy rotation in my head. Now it moves from my head to this post. You may well ask, but what do this song's lyrics have to do with the election? And my answer would be, um, ah, well...Muddy Waters and Barack Obama both lived on the South Side of Chicago--does that count?

Okay, there's no real connection, but it's a great song, so enjoy it for that.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

UBM on B Clinton

Undercover Black Man has a nice explication of Bill Clinton's lukewarm support of Obama.

Monday, September 22, 2008

What Krugman Said

As usual, when I want to try to understand a macroeconomic issue, I turn to Paul Krugman.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Corey Harris - Honeysuckle

Corey Harris was born in 1969, and plays music heavily influenced by people who were born about eighty years before that. Maybe it's true that the blues will never die.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Blue Cheer - Summertime Blues

This looks like a typical lip-sync job from Germany's Beat Club TV show, but hey, it's really them, the classic lineup of the band doing their best-known song. Granted, it was written by someone else, and they pretty much lifted the Who's arrangement (although the Who did not release a recorded version until 1970, they had been performing it live for several years before then), but when I was fifteen this blew me away. In the same way that people point to Jackie Brenson's "Rocket 88" as the first rock and roll song, before that term was adopted, this was heavy metal before the term existed.

Friday, September 19, 2008

It's Cass Elliott's Birthday

Today would have been Cass Elliott's sixty-seventh birthday. Maybe her family will be celebrating the occasion. If you think of her just as one of the more singular personalities from "the sixties," here's a nice piece of evidence that she was a real live musician, and not just a personality. (Although God knows she was also that.)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Norman Whitfield RIP

One of the great songwriter/producers of the 1960s and 1970s is gone. I've heard that this song actually derives far more from the work of Roger Penzabene than it does from either Barrett Strong or Norman Whitfield, who were the other two credited co-composers, but what the hell, it's a beautiful example of a Whitfield production. He knew how to keep things simple when that was required, as in the beautiful opening section. And he may well have pushed David Ruffin to deliver the fully committed lead vocal. The way the line "And crying eases the pain" is delivered is something very special. Or maybe it was all Ruffin. But then Whitfield knew enough to keep out of the way, another hallmark of an excellent producer.

Damn, this is the third RIP I've done in a week. People are dropping like flies. Stop it!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Rick Wright RIP

There must be hundreds of blogs at least that today have essentially the same post as this one, but what the hell. Now that Richard Wright has gone to the great gig in the sky, here is his song by that title.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Your Financial Markets at Work

Today's "Abbreviated Pundit Round-up" at DailyKos offers an excellent set of articles on the current turmoil in the financial markets.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

RIP David Foster Wallace

I have to admit up front that I have little familiarity with his work, but I knew enough about him to know that this is sad news.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Ain't It Fun by Rocket From The Tombs featuring Peter Laughner

I've posted at least one song by Peter Laughner in the past, and hey, here's another. RFTT was the immediate precursor to Pere Ubu, and contained a few of the same members.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Vladimir Nabokov discusses "Lolita" part 1 of 2

I had no idea that this was on YouTube until I read about it on James Wolcott's blog. I'm enough of a Nabokov geek that I read not just his fiction but also his books of lectures, so I was thrilled. Perhaps not surprisingly, his personal manner seems more like an Oxbridge don than anything else, but you certainly wouldn't think "Russian emigre." But he was. In the century of exiles, he was an exemplar.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Frank Rich Explains It All, Again

Best headline I've seen in a newspaper recently: Palin and McCain’s Shotgun Marriage. And since it's Frank Rich, the article is great too.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Gil Scott-Heron - A Lovely Day

If you are a progressive, then you believe that political struggle is not an end in itself. Its purpose is to make it possible for ordinary people to live decent lives, to have dignity, and to enjoy the good things that life has to offer everyone. Here's an explanation.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Happy Birthday Buddy Miles

Today would have been the sixty-second birthday of Buddy Miles. Here he is in the Band of Gypsys with Jimi Hendrix (and Billy Cox), at one of the Fillmore East shows that produced the BOG album. Buddy was not a prolific songwriter, but he could deliver the goods when he did write. "Them Changes" is probably the best-known of his compositions.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Media Coverage of National Politics, Again (updated)

Frank Rich, as is his wont, makes some salient points.

UPDATE: This is interesting: Massive police raids on suspected protestors in Minneapolis.

The media coverage angle? Apparently there has been no coverage of this in the traditional media.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Michael Jackson Turns Fifty

In commemorating the half-century mark for the one-time four-foot-tall lead singer of the Jackson Five, it seems like a good idea to avoid any of the obvious choices. At the height of his popularity twenty-five years ago, he was such a dominant force that even someone like Miles Davis honored his influence by recording his music. Therefore we have this live version of "Human Nature."

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Obama at his High School Graduation

When I hear people hinting that Barack Obama secretly hates white people, I think of this picture. It's Obama at his high school graduation, with the grandparents who helped raise him.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Michelle Lee - Knowing When To Leave

A song by Burt Bacharach and Hal David that came to mind after watching Bill Clinton recently.

I voted for Bill Clinton twice. If there were no 22nd Amendment and he were running for a fifth term, I'd be voting for him this year. But that isn't the case. He had two full terms and then moved on. Senator Clinton, although she came close, is not the nominee, and so the access to presidential decision-making that he would have had if she were elected will not be his. I'm not really joking when I say, I feel his pain. But it's time to move on.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Miles Davis - Fall

Happy birthday to Wayne Shorter, who turns seventy-five today. Here is one of my favorites of the many compositions that he crafted for his friend and bandleader Miles Davis in the 1960s.

As in so many of his songs, the underlying structure is rather long and not easily discernable, but the music never sounds awkward or forced. In fact it could easily fit into a "smooth jazz" playlist (God help us). Shorter has now outlived many of his colleagues (such as Davis and, last year, Joe Zawinul) and suffered more than his share of personal tragedy. Still he remains out there, a model of unshowy brilliance.

Photo: Tom Beetz

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Birthday Greetings from Joe Cocker

This has been all over the Web, but sorry, I gotta post it anyway, cause it's so good.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

They Might be Giants - Birdhouse in Your Soul

One of my favorite songs of the last twenty years. Hat tip to Atrios for linking to this vid and reminding me of it.

The nerdy quality of TMBG that gets the most notice is the quirkiness. Less noticed is another nerdy quality, that of being deeply knowledgeable about some topic. In this case, songwriting. These guys know what they're doing.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Wendy Carlos - Brandenburg Concerto #3: III - Allegro

Yesterday marked the third anniversary of the death of Bob Moog, creator of the eponymous synthesizer. While not the first synthesizer, it was the first to become well-known to the general public.

A big factor in that wider recognition was the 1968 release of Switched-On Bach. Here's the closing track from that album, which demonstrated once and for all that all those whirs and beeps could be used to actually make music.

It's worth pointing out that at the time, the Moog synthesizer could only play one note at a time, had no way of controlling the volume with the keys, and had no electronic memory for settings. Therefore what you hear in this track is the result of many hours of work, playing each part separately, changing all the parameters to get a different sound for the next part, and finally creating the crescendos in the final mix. That Carlos could produce a result that has all the sense of spontaneity found in the best music is remarkable.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Louis Armstrong & Jack Teagarden - Rockin' Chair

Happy birthday, Jack Teagarden, who among other things seemed to have some cool friends.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Jimi Hendrix - Red House

I only got to see him play once, forty years ago this month. One of the things I can remember is that he played this song, probably in a version not much different from this one. Here it sounds like he's playing his usual Strat, but when I saw him he took off the Strat and played a Les Paul for this song, probably in a kind of homage to the humbucker-playing bluesmen he admired like Albert King. (If you think a Strat looks funny upside-down, you should see a Les Paul.) He stood on the wooden stage of the auditorium and knocked it out, aided by the same two Englishmen you hear on this version.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Great Shift Begins

I link to this article by David Broder not because of its content, which is largely unobjectionable, but because of what it represents. It's the first substantial article I've seen in the traditional media that treats the Obama campaign in a manner that does not reflect the usual Republican framing--Obama is elitist, his campaign is either naifs or thugs, all that crap. And the fact that its author is Broder, "dean of the DC press corps," is significant.

What I think it means, and why I use the term "the great shift," is that the Beltway elite is coming to terms with the possibility of an Obama victory and is beginning to hedge its bets. Count on it, if Obama wins, people like Broder will do their best to convince us that they never liked Bush and were always secretly against him. But what it really means is that proximity to power is the only thing they care about, and they always want to stand beside the winner no matter what. And having actual principles that you care about is only for the little people.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Elvis Presley - Tomorrow Is A Long Time

Bob Dylan wrote it. Odetta recorded it. Elvis Presley heard Odetta's version and decided he wanted to record it. Bob Dylan said that it was his favorite version of someone recording one of his songs.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Muddy Waters - Mopper's Blues

Although it's Muddy Waters we're listening to here, this post is actually to honor the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Big Bill Broonzy, who passed from this vale of tears on August 15, 1958. When that event occurred, Muddy Waters recorded several Broonzy numbers in homage. This was one, and it's a beautiful example of how simple lyrics can also be subtle. Basically the line "happiest man in town" is said ironically every time. But the songwriter plays it straight, and never tips his hand. It's easy to see how a white southerner of the time could have listened to it and never caught the double meaning.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Count Basie Orchestra and Some Boogie-Woogie

I only got to see Basie once, but it was one of the best shows I ever saw. If you love music, this clip may help explain why.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Isaac Hayes RIP

A lot of the attention that's been focused on the career of Isaac Hayes centers on the work that made him famous, which is understandable. But he'd been successful in the music business for several years before he achieved that fame. As a songwriter, arranger, and producer at the famous Stax studios in Memphis, working alongside people like Booker T and the MGs, he was responsible for a lot of good music and a number of hit songs. Here are Sam and Dave singing "Soul Man," written by Hayes and his regular songwriting partner David Porter.

Should have posted this yesterday, but that would have meant three posts in a row about dead people, which isn't much fun.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Health Care in the US

Paul Krugman discusses the possibility of changing the health care system in the US.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Bernie Mac RIP

Hate to publish two elegies in a row (let alone for two Chicago natives who spent a lot of time on that city's South Side), but the only other option would be to not mark the passing of Bernie Mac, and I can't do that.

What I loved most about him was his absolute mastery of the standup form: like an old-fashioned trade guild member, he had started young, spent years practicing his craft, and by the time most of us caught up with him had his skills in his bones. He could stand on a stage and appear utterly relaxed, as if he really was just talking about his life to some friends--but he was totally in control. Watch some of his YouTube clips: when he gets a big laugh, he waits until just the right moment before going on with his next line. At that moment, while the audience is laughing, he is paying close attention to them, like a hunter watching prey, but he looks totally relaxed, usually looking down and to the side as if he were thinking of something else--because if he didn't look totally relaxed then it would spoil the effect. And Bernie Mac is not going to do that.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Michael Bloomfield as Remembered by his Brother

If you've read this blog over time, you know that I'm a fan of Mike Bloomfield. He was a guitar-playing contemporary of Hendrix and Clapton and was considered by many at the time to be their equal, but unlike them did not become a huge star. He died in 1981.

Here is an interview with his brother, conducted this year. It contains a number of good anecdotes, as well as the kind of insight into Michael's personality that could only come from someone who knew him well. There's also a priceless photo of him at his bar mitzvah.

Here is what I think is the nut graf:

I'd like to end by saying that there is no person on earth that I'd rather hang with than Michael. If you took J.D. Salinger and added a pinch of Bukowski, a dash of Terry Southern and a sprinkle of Oscar Levant – you would have an approximation of what he was like. A wit like Lenny Bruce and the persona of a gangster with a rose tattoo.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Spam Poetry

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curlew horizontal rain

angel burglarproof mockup? curlew, hugging hillel.
amatory len johann furtive curlew cogent, shibboleth
alumina diachronic hugging munch six.

megahertz clytemnestra blush

anatomy burglarproof annul? curlew, munch intramolecular.

curlew perfectible.

Yes, the text above is really from real spam. Maybe authentic surrealism needed to wait for the digital revolution before it could reach its apotheosis.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Paul Simon - American Tune

In 1973 it felt like America was being torn apart. We had an unpopular war overseas, violence at home, and a level of tension in national politics that seemed like it could be the beginning of another civil war. There were a lot of cultural manifestations--whether in music, movies, writings, or some other form--that addressed those issues, and tried to articulate how people felt about it all. Here's one of those manifestations. Paul Simon is writing from the point of view of a young man, and none of those big issues are mentioned explicitly, but the song is really about nothing else. Now it's thirty-five years later, and...well, words fail me. But sometimes I think about this song.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Simon & Garfunkel - America

In 1968 it felt like America was being torn apart. We had an unpopular war overseas, violence at home, and a level of tension in national politics that seemed like it could be the beginning of another civil war. There were a lot of cultural manifestations--whether in music, movies, writings, or some other form--that addressed those issues, and tried to articulate how people felt about it all. Here's one of those manifestations. Paul Simon is writing from the point of view of a young couple, and none of those big issues are mentioned explicitly, but the song is really about nothing else. Now it's forty years later, and...well, words fail me. But sometimes I think about this song.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Jimi Hendrix - Hear My Train A Comin'

"Hear My Train A Comin'" exists in several versions, none of which were released during Hendrix's life. This one was recorded live at the Atlanta Pop Festival, July 4, 1970. With only three musicians and no overdubbing, this recording provides an excellent opportunity to focus on the guitar playing, and it bears scrutiny.
One of the commentators on the DVD of Monterey Pop points out that one of Hendrix's strengths was his sheer comfort with the guitar. This is no small thing, and not at all common even with many very good guitar players. Playing guitar is not really a natural thing—if it were, more people could do it—and playing it well requires a large investment of time and energy. Hendrix made himself unpopular in the army by sleeping with his guitar, and even late in his short life would reportedly wake up, put on a guitar, and then go make breakfast. Through constant exposure to the guitar, making it almost an extension of his body, he had reached a level of ease with the instrument that few could match. Combined with his unusually large hands and, needless to say, deep, deep, deep musical ability, that level of ease meant that whatever he could think of musically, he could do.
This performance is actually pretty loose—it ends rather abruptly—but if you play guitar, the level of virtuosity is apparent throughout. At one point, Hendrix is playing some very quiet notes with rapid use of the whammy bar. It may not sound like much, but actually playing such a passage and making it musical is not easy. He makes it sound easy.
The song itself is of the same musical family as "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)," deeply rooted in the blues without actually being a twelve-bar blues. Hendrix plays with verse lengths, possibly like Lightnin' Hopkins or John Lee Hooker deciding at each moment what he's going to do next, relying on the other musicians to be paying close enough attention to follow along. They are, and nearly forty years later so are we.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Patton Oswalt Explains How it All Works

Patton Oswalt has always truck me as a very sharp guy who enjoys masquerading as a doofus. This proves it.

(Hat tip to the Vanity Fair Culture & Celebrity blog.)

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Newberry Consort - Puis qu'aultrement-Marchez là dureau

A historical artifact in more ways than one. This is one of the first MP3s I ever created, about ten years ago. It's from a CD called Villon to Rabelais, early modern French music complete with countertenor. Not to mention counterpoint.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


I wrote this post Sunday night, then had misgivings about posting it. I should have done so. For what it's worth, here it is.

The church shootings yesterday had a particular resonance for me. I've passed that church many times, as it was, for over six years, on the route between my home and work. It's part of a "religion row"--that stretch of Kingston Pike has quite a few houses of worship, including mainstream Protestant denominations, at least one synagogue, and of course Southern Baptists (it's the south, after all). The possibility that the Unitarian Universalist church was chosen at random from among that group is close to zero. In coming days we will learn more, but after living in Knoxville for so long I am willing to venture a guess as to the reason people were murdered in a church. If I am wrong, then I will apologize in this same venue.

The likeliest explanation is that the shooter is a Christian fundamentalist who thought he was doing God's work, by killing people who were doing the work of Satan. The UUC is among the most openly liberal of churches: their tradition of principled opposition to oppression goes back to the days of abolition, before the Civil War, and in the sixties they were for civil rights and against the Vietnam War. Today they support gay rights, among other issues.

Knoxville is in an area where Christian fundamentalism has always been strong, and over the last thirty years has gotten even stronger. It's the sort of place where openly supporting reproductive rights can get someone fired, and where teachers of intro biology classes at the University of Tennessee don't even bother to talk about evolution, since it would bog the class down in endless arguments between the instructor and many, perhaps most, of the students. The area where Eric Robert Rudolph, who murdered three people and injured 150 others with the bombs he planted at abortion clinics and the Atlanta Olympics, hid is less than a hundred miles away. The people who clandestinely fed, clothed, and sheltered him, because they thought he was a hero, have a lot of ideological kin in East Tennessee.

One concomitant of openly expressed hatred of "the other" is murder. Always. Whether in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, in the Balkans in the nineties, in Cambodia in the seventies, in Armenia during World War I, famously in Germany during World War II--and of course there are many other examples--once a group of your fellow human beings become defined as evil, and your group believes that part of being a good person is to hate them, then at some point there will be murders.

In this country there is now such open hatred by some people on the Christian right for those who are different from them, that they feel that plain murder is acceptable. It is for them a rational act, and in fact the kind of thing a "good" person may even have a duty to do. But these people are, as the old saw has it, the tip of the iceberg. They are buoyed up by the much larger majority--those who will not in the short term pick up a shotgun and start shooting at strangers in a church, but who will make excuses for the ones who do, and then go back to their churches and listen again to words telling them that they are doing the work of the Almighty Lord; and that those who believe that abortion should be legal, those who believe that men and women who prefer sex with their own kind should be able to live openly, and those who believe that tolerance is God's law, are in fact the agents of Satan, and deserve whatever they get. And that it is a sign of being a good person to say such things openly.

The man who murdered the churchgoers in Knoxville was, it will be said, a lunatic. But a true madman comes out of nowhere. If it turns out that this man had some other motive for his actions then, as I said, I will apologize here. But if I'm right, and his motive was to do God's work, then he definitely did not come from nowhere. He came from the heart of the USA in 2008.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Fair and Balanced

The report released yesterday, about the Department of Justice's illegal consideration of political factors when hiring, made the top of the (Web) page on most news sites. I was curious to see what Fox News had to say about it, so I took a look. Entering the word "Goodling" in the Search box, I turned up an article from...last May. No mention of Monica Goodling since then. Nothing yesterday.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Current State of the Economy, Again

So when I said yesterday that the Times has one good political columnist, I forgot about Paul Krugman.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Obama Overseas - Frank Rich Explains It All to You

It's nice that the New York Times still has one sane and reasonable political columnist. It says something sad about the NYT's recent standards that in order to find one they had to promote him from the rank of theater critic.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Radiohead - The Tourist

YouTube and Blogger are again not cooperating, so my post with a subtitled Joe Cocker is blocked. It will either never show up or get posted as many times as I tried to post it before I realized things weren't working. In the's a song that's been rattling around my brain recently, which is as good a reason to post as any.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Mandatory Cat Snail Blogging

more cat pictures

Sorry about the light posts two days in a row--been busy.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Why Obama Matters

I hope Tom Watson doesn't mind my using this image, especially since I use it as a teaser to steer you to this post on his website, where he explains it beautifully. He was a diehard Hillary supporter, which makes his words all the more meaningful.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Monday, July 21, 2008

John Lee Hooker in a Nutshell

One of my favorite websites for info about music & movies etc. is the Onion AV Club, an adjunct of well-known fake news site The Onion. Unlike the Onion, they are actually devoted to disseminating true facts (as well as opinions). Currently they're running a series that is basically old blues artists 101, so if you've heard, for example, the name Bukka White and wanted to learn more about him without seining Google's yield of possibly useful information, here's a good place to go. The current article is on John Lee Hooker, but there are links from there to all of the previously published entries.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Finding the Mainstream in American Politics

Glenn Greenwald is almost always good, but sometimes he's very good. Today he writes about what constitutes mainstream political views in the US, particularly in regards to Middle East policy.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Netroots Nation: The "Competition"

Lo, how the mighty have fallen. The once-feared Grover Norquist and Michelle Malkin are reduced to following liberals around, begging for attention.

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Flying Burrito Brothers - Sin City

So I said I'd have a full week of posts of Jerry Garcia playing pedal steel guitar. So I didn't make it--here it is the seventh day and I'm wimping out. Eventually I realized that I could either post a song that wasn't really that much different from an earlier post (e.g., yet another song from the first New Riders of the Purple Sage album) or start spending money doing research on areas of Garcia's recorded pedal steel work that I didn't already know (e.g., Brewer and Shipley). The first would offend my bloggy integrity (insert laughter here) and the second would cost money. So in lieu of more Garcia, here is something else in the same vein of early psychedelic country rock.

"Sin City" is from the first Flying Burrito Brothers album, The Gilded Palace of Sin. That album is sometimes called the ur-text of all True, founding members Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman had as members of the Byrds appeared on Sweetheart of the Rodeo, but that album was actually, despite the Byrds' early forays into what would later be called psychedelia, basically rather traditional. It was just unusual for hippies to play such music in public. But Gilded Palace was something else: a deliberate blend of traditional country music and R-O-C-K rock. In this particular song, the music is pretty straight country, but the lyrics are a surreal vision of impending cultural apocalypse. Which, in 1969, didn't seem so far-fetched. And as with the earlier Garcia postings, here Sneaky Pete Kleinow's pedal steel guitar serves to both bow to tradition and point to an unknown future.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

David Crosby - Laughing

This is my favorite Jerry-Garcia-plays-pedal-steel-guitar song. From David Crosby's first solo album, it features a cast of thousands, including what sounds like Phil Lesh on bass and Joni Mitchell on background vocals.

It's a slow and somber song, as befits its subject matter, the unexpected death of a loved one. Garcia plays in a decidedly non-traditional style--long lines and sustained notes provide cohesion for the song as a whole. It's a good example of what a selfless musician Garcia could be, playing what's best for the song and no more. The result is a mournful magic that few soloists could match.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Crosby, Still, Nash & Young - Teach Your Children

So here's the Jerry Garcia pedal steel guitar performance that is by far the best-known, although probably most people have no idea that it's Garcia. As elements in the West Coast hippie musician Rat Pack, members of the Dead and CSNY spent time together, swapping licks and God knows what else. When it came time to add a pedal steel to one of Graham Nash's songs, Garcia was the obvious choice, and the result has been a radio staple ever since.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

New Riders Of The Purple Sage - Henry

Might as well make it a full week. Here's another example of Jerry Garcia playing pedal steel guitar, this one again from the first New Riders album. "Henry" was the song most likely to be played on the hippie radio stations, being about marijuana smuggling and all. If "Dirty Business" was a song with more-or-less traditional lyrical subject matter that featured hippie-fied pedal-steel guitar, "Henry" reverses that structure. Like "Dire Wolf," here Garcia plays in a style that would not be out of place in a Nashville (or Bakersfield) recording from the early 1960s. He doesn't take the solo (which is by David Nelson on a Telecaster) but provides fills throughout, and gets a nice little demi-solo on the outro.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Grateful Dead - Candyman

What the hell, let's just keep going with this thread for a little while. Here's Jerry Garcia on pedal steel guitar again, on a song from the Grateful Dead album American Beauty. It's sometimes noted that it's the only Dead album that does not have an electric guitar solo by Garcia. That's true, but it does have this pedal steel solo. In earlier posts I talked about how Garcia sometimes played the instrument in a very traditional style, and sometimes went off into psychedelic space. Here he kind of splits the difference while playing long slow lines in this long slow song.

In a side note, this is also one of the songs that first taught me to love the sound of the Hammond organ, as guest Howard Wales comes in at the third verse, playing the drawbars as well as the keys, adding a rich flavor to the overall mix.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

New Riders Of The Purple Sage - Dirty Business

Continuing from yesterday, with another post of Jerry Garcia playing pedal steel guitar. Today it's a selection from the first New Riders of the Purple Sage album.

Garcia was a full member of the group, but was gone by the second album, as the NRPS made the transition from Bay Area bar band to nationally touring unit. It was clear they were going to require more time and energy than he could spare from the Dead. But on this album he is a mainstay of the group's sound, playing both traditional-sounding parts and more psychedelic sonic seasonings.

Here we get something of both. The pedal steel is played through both a wah-wah pedal and a distorted guitar amp, lending a decidedly non-traditional sound to what is, ironically, a rather traditional song, a kind of cowboy movie in verse.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Grateful Dead - Dire Wolf

For a year or two around 1970 Jerry Garcia seriously worked on his pedal steel guitar playing, and recorded a number of songs where that was his main instrument. On this song he gets as close as he ever did to playing the instrument in a traditional fashion. Not so coincidentally, this song was the most 1950s-country-sounding that the Dead ever wrote and recorded.

Notice how Garcia weaves in and out of the vocal line throughout, in addition to the sparkling solo. That solo builds to a sequence using high notes that few instruments besides a pedal steel can pound into your brain quite so effectively.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Songwriting 101

In the New York Times, of all places, there is an ongoing series in which songwriters talk about songwriting. Here Peter Holsapple, American post-punk icon, explains his approach to writing the bridge of a song.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Age of Reagan

It's not often I link to Richard Cohen of the Washington Post, but this time I think he nails it. A taste:

In "The Age of Reagan," Princeton historian Sean Wilentz posits that Reagan was the transformative president of our times. I don't know about that. But I do know that in the recent primary debates, Republican after Republican invoked Reagan the way Democrats once did Roosevelt, and they vowed, knock on wood, to be a similar kind of president. If they meant what they said, that would mean no energy plan worth its name and, worse, chirpy assurances to the American people that all would be well.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Fox News vs. Journalism

David Carr of the New York Times writes about his experiences with Fox News. In the Times, reality is finally acknowledged. H/t to Huffington Post.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Hertzberg on Helms

As with the passing of William F. Buckley, Jr., earlier this year, the fact that Jesse Helms is no longer among the living deserves some comment. Hendrik Hertzberg provides it. You'll have to click the link at the end to get to the best part. (Can't remember where I first came across this, so I can't provide the appropriate hat tip.)

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Carter Family - Will My Mother Know Me There

Since for many of us in the US this holiday weekend includes a visit with family members, here is a song by a family, about family.

In addition, this is one of the Carter Family songs where A.P. adds his voice to the mix. Together with his wife and sister-in-law he creates a contrapuntal blend that somehow conveys in sound a sense of family. And if you know that A.P. and Sarah were divorced a few years later, well, that's like many families too.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Metropolis Restored

Every so often the past gets rewritten. The great silent film Metropolis had lost about 20% of its footage, and that material was believed lost forever. Now it has been found.

(H/t to Tom Sutpen at the "If Charlie Parker was a Gunslinger" blog.)

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Gil Evans - Remember

I love chords beyond the usual major, minor, and seventh. That means I love Gil Evans.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Who - The Song Is Over

Some songs are relatively straightforward: they start in one place and explore that patch of musical ground for a while, and then they end. Most songs are like that, in fact, and it works well. But there are other songs that start in one place musically, then go somewhere else, then somewhere else after that, etc. It's harder to pull off, and the hardest thing of all is to have the changes so seamless that a casual listener never thinks about how many times the song is changing. Here's the Who from 1971.