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