Saturday, May 31, 2008

Bob Weir - Looks Like Rain

Bob Weir was stretching his songwriting muscles during the time he wrote this song and several others that became part of his regular repertoire. Here he has crafted a full-blown romantic ballad, with lyrics (by John Perry Barlow) about that old standby, Love Gone Bad. Each verse is about a thousand bars long--that's the kind of thing you write when you're stretching your songwriting muscles. Not to say it's a bad song (why post it if it were?). But maybe a few years later he would have done it a little differently.

The pedal steel guitar is by Weir's colleague Jerry Garcia.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Thanks, my blood wasn't already boiling--part 16

Glenn Greenwald knocks it out of the park again.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Information, News, and the Internet

Haven't finished this article yet, but it's good, and in light of the ongoing discussion about how the Internet is changing the dissemination of news, this passage stood out:

I would argue that news has always been an artifact and that it never corresponded exactly to what actually happened. We take today's front page as a mirror of yesterday's events, but it was made up yesterday evening—literally, by "make-up" editors, who designed page one according to arbitrary conventions: lead story on the far right column, off-lead on the left, soft news inside or below the fold, features set off by special kinds of headlines. Typographical design orients the reader and shapes the meaning of the news. News itself takes the form of narratives composed by professionals according to conventions that they picked up in the course of their training—the "inverted pyramid" mode of exposition, the "color" lead, the code for "high" and "the highest" sources, and so on. News is not what happened but a story about what happened.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Sydney Pollack R.I.P.

The film world has a lot of soulless hacks on the one hand and pretentious jerks on the other. A few people manage to do work on a regular basis that is neither hackwork nor wanking. Now there's one fewer.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Van Dyke Parks - The All Golden

The first Van Dyke Parks song I ever heard. Listening to it again I was reminded that his most recent relatively high-profile work was the orchestral arrangements for Joanna Newsom's Ÿs. The ability to craft an arrangement for orchestra is not exactly common among rock musicians, but then V.D. is not exactly a common rock musician. It would take too long to list his many accomplishments here, so look them up on AllMusic Guide and Wikipedia. His solo career has followed a path like no other. This is from his album Song Cycle from 1968.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Doc Watson - Deep River Blues - The Text

For some reason YouTube and Blogger are not playing nice again. So when I post from YouTube everything works okay, but when I try to edit the post and add text or tags Blogger says it's seeing HTML errors. Not in what I've added but in the material supplied by YouTube. So I exit without saving. Then when I look at the post the supposed erroneous HTML works perfectly. The same thing happened with the recent icanhascheezburger post. So, a problem, but not my fault. Sigh. But it means I can't add text or tags to that post.

At any rate, the Doc Watson clip below looks like it's from the sixties. His career in the world at large began as part of the folk revival early in that decade. I once lived just a few miles from his home, but didn't realize it until afterwards, so missed any chance to meet him.

Seen him play twice. His taste is omnivorous--the second time one of his songs was "Nights in White Satin." Here he plays, with his usual flawless dexterity, an arrangement of an old country standard.

Doc Watson - Deep River Blues

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Telecom Amnesty and Lobbyists - Glenn Greenwald Explains

It's amazing what you can find in the public record if you actually look. Since people like Tim Russert seem to feel that research consists solely of sitting alone in a room with a powerful person feeding you info, something like this, a case of actually finding and then analyzing information, kind of stands out.

Friday, May 23, 2008

R.E.M. - Camera

When R.E.M. started out they gave interviews in which they sneered at bloated rock gods (and well they should). Now that they are bloated rock gods themselves, it's good to remember that at one time they made songs that sounded not quite like anyone else.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Peter Paul And Mary on The Jack Benny Program

Continuing from yesterday's post, here's more of Peter, Paul, and Mary on Jack Benny's TV show. And to contrast with yesterday's clip, here they're on his turf, doing a comedy routine.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Blowing in The Wind - Peter, Paul and Mary

An artifact from 1963.

What I find most fascinating about this clip is the staging and camera work. In 1963 that feeling that we are backstage, among the lights and props, would have been very unusual on a TV show. And the camera shot that we get for the first time at about forty-five seconds in, with Paul's face in the left foreground, would have been extremely rare then. It's an odd and very gentle kind of culture clash, with Greenwich Village quasi-intellectuals appearing on a show run by a man who started in vaudeville before World War I. is, in the end, show biz. They are lip-synching, not performing live. And they're there because they had a big hit record. Draw your own conclusions. Me, I'm not sure.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Breaking Story - Chickens Seen Heading Home to Roost

Frank Rich on the current state of the Republican campaign in general.

Just look at Mr. Rove. Some Democrats are outraged that he is now employed as a pundit by Newsweek and The Wall Street Journal as well as Fox News. Instead of complaining, they should be thrilled that Mr. Rove keeps inviting Republican complacency by constantly locating silver linings in the party’s bad news. His ubiquitous TV presence as a thinly veiled McCain surrogate has the added virtue of wrapping the Republican ticket in a daily and suffocating Bush bearhug, since Mr. Rove is far more synonymous with his former boss than Mr. Obama is with his former pastor.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Back Street Girl by The Rolling Stones

It's a shame that since the departure of Brian Jones the Stones have been much less musically adventurous, however good they may have been in other ways. Doubt if these days they'd release a song with a harmonium solo.

Friday, May 16, 2008

LOLCAT Bible Teh Ceiling Cat Prayer

The varieties of religious experience, as William James pointed out, are manifold and multitudinous. Spiritual expression finds an infinite number of forms. And as new religious traditions appear, they are often variations of established ones. Here is an example of religion as it continues to, you should pardon the expression, evolve. (h/t Kristy)

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Abigail und Hansel - The Holler

Twenty-first century-noise rock.

When I was in school in the nineties, postmodernism was one of the zeitgeist's more prominent conceptual elements. At first I didn't quite get that it wasn't about chaos, that it was trickier than that. If in the far past we mostly lived in villages, with everyone sharing the same type of food, same type of music, same type of clothing, etc. etc. etc., then postmodernism was more like living in Manhattan, in which people are still living in villages, it's just that they are cheek-by-jowl with each other, and frequently interwoven, and blend without ever really losing their separate identities. So this song is a very pretty sing-a-long (that sounds as if it could have been recorded by Alan Lomax), with distorted electric guitar. Neither predominates, and their coexistence is either incongruous or inevitable. Maybe both.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Carter Family - The Little Log Hut In The Lane

Listening to this song recently, I realized that this must be where the bluegrass band Old and in the Way got their name.

This song is from the first era of the Carter Family, when they were still a husband & wife & in-law/cousin trio. Maybelle's bass-string soloing on the guitar is featured prominently.

Happy Cows - sheep escape

The most popular video on YouTube that features cows.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Anonymous 4 - Miro genere

This piece was written over six hundred years ago. This recording, of four women singing a capella, is a little more recent.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Big Star - Thirteen

One of my relatives turns thirteen next month. For most people that's one of the best times in their lives, and one of the worst. Then years later they can look back and write a song about it.

The cultural references in this song are so tied to a time and place (the USA in 1966) that it's probably hard to get the exact nuances. But the key point, expressed in subtle lyrics and beautiful music, is that at some point we begin to grasp the bittersweet nature of life, and to see just how bitter it can be, and just how sweet.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Traffic - Hole in my Shoe

An English band in the late sixties puts out a song with a Mellotron part. Who knew?

For some reason this version is both sped up and extended--the bridge is repeated at the end. Why? Your guess is as good as mine.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

P. Seeger, B.J. Reagon, J. Ritchie - O Mary, Don't You Weep

I post this just to indicate how much experience Bernice Johnson Reagon has in the progressive politics/music community. A while back I posted a song by Sweet Honey in the Rock, a group she founded. Here she is in the sixties with Uncle Pete and fellow folk revivalist Jean Ritchie.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Digby in Nixonland

The redoubtable Digby has a review of a new book about America's cultural divide and its roots in the sixties. Like Digby, I lived through those times, and the book Nixonland looks like that rare thing: not just a fresh take on a familiar subject, but something of substance.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Steely Dan - Babylon Sisters (Live)

I never really got this song as a piece of music (as opposed to the lyrics) until I heard this version. It's all about the tension and release, I guess. Which mean it's one of those slow songs that you really need to listen to kind of loud.

The tempo is slow, but with a certain amount of tension, befitting the lyrics, which seem to be about a middle-aged man's anxieties about his relationship with a much younger girlfriend (I think--this is Steely Dan, after all). Then on the "Shake it" lines you finally get the release. At least, that's how I see it now. Maybe next week it'll be different.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Peter Laughner - Cinderella Backstreet

Another song written and performed by Peter Laughner. This is a solo performance, with Laughner singing and playing a twelve-string acoustic guitar, tuned down a whole-step (a detail for all you guitar freaks).

Sometimes I play this recording for people, and get a kind of, "Yeah, it's nice, but what's the big deal?," sort of response. Listen to it closely (and as with the last one, allow for the fact that this is an amateur recording). This is a well-crafted song and a masterful performance, with an attention to detail masked by a smooth and seemingly casual surface. Playing single notes under the line, "An ear for the one-note tune," may be something of a cliche, but it's a detail that would be unthinkable for a lot of performers. And the way he delivers the final lines in the last verse ("Denise she did my eyes...") is a lesson in how to deliver emotionally intense lyrics. Basically, you have to actually mean them.

This song, and Peter Laughner, deserve more attention than I'm able to give him here. There's a lot of information about him available on the Web, of varying value. It says something that his estate probably earned its biggest paycheck when Guns 'n' Roses covered one of his songs. Which just goes to show you.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Elvis Presley: Peace in the Valley

The precise center of an overwhelming cultural force, he was originally a Southern boy with very little money who loved his mama, his daddy, and Jesus.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Peter Laughner - Dear Richard

Peter Laughner was, among other things, one of the founders of Rocket from the Tombs, the band in the YouTube clip I posted on Monday. He's not in the clip. He died in 1977, well before he turned thirty, and for those so inclined, became another one of the doomed Byronic heroes that populate so much of the history of rock and roll. I first heard of him from someone who had known him, and who saw nothing romantic or glamorous in his death, just tragedy.

His songs continue to be performed. Here's one that is not among his best-known, but is a good example of his gifts: intelligent and skilled songwriting, engaged and expressive singing, masterful but not showboat-y lead guitar, and absolute commitment. As with so much of his recorded work, it's basically an amateur recording, so allow for that when you listen. (Note: he takes the second guitar solo.)

Here's his AllMusic entry for more detail.