Saturday, October 31, 2009

October Surprise in NY-23

This is what is known as falling on your sword. From the New York Times:

Dierdre Scozzafava, a Republican, has suspended her campaign for the House and is encouraging supporters to embrace the Conservative Party nominee, Doug Hoffman.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Krugman on Health Care Reform and the Next Few Days

Dr. K states in a clear way what is true, obvious, and important, which of course is what distinguishes him from the usual political pundit.

Everyone in the political class — by which I mean politicians, people in the news media, and so on, basically whoever is in a position to influence the final stage of this legislative marathon — now has to make a choice. The seemingly impossible dream of fundamental health reform is just a few steps away from becoming reality, and each player has to decide whether he or she is going to help it across the finish line or stand in its way.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Nina Simone - My Baby Just Cares For Me (Live @ Montreux)

I guess it's obvious I'm on a Nina Simone kick at the moment, so let's at least vary things by drawing on YouTube today. Here she shows off her formidable piano skills. More or less filtering Nat King Cole through J.S. Bach, she takes a deliberately light Tin Pan Alley tune and turns it into something dazzling.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Bob & Marcia - Young Gifted & Black

To continue in the Nina Simone vein, here's a version of her song "To Be Young, Gifted and Black" by the Jamaican duo Bob and Marcia. Simone is mostly known for her excellent cover versions of songs by other writers, but this is one of her originals, co-written with Weldon Irvine.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Nina Simone - I Loves You, Porgy

This version of "I Loves You, Porgy" is the recording that first brought Nina Simone a wide audience. She recorded another thirty-five years, but I don't know that she ever did anything better. What a voice, what a mind, what a spirit.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Wilbert Harrison - Kansas City

This clip also includes two other numbers, tracing out a sort of story in song. The third one is the "answer" song to "Kansas City," which I had never heard before. The other two are okay, but the gem here is at the beginning: the Big Hit, a number one in 1959.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Tom Watson on Obama's Strategy

Not sure I buy this, but I certainly found it interesting. Tom Watson on his blog suggests that there is a good reason that the Obama administration is raising the temperature in the ongoing conflict with Fox News. He feels that it is not just a sign of irritation, that in fact the response to the malign idiocy of Glenn Beck et al. serves a larger purpose.

Strip away a lot of the noise and heat surrounding the public diss Obama is laying on Fox News, and what you're left with is a classic misdirection. It's Patton's phantom army massing to invade the Pas de Calais. It's Peyton Manning's audibles and play fakes before pounding it into the endzone. It's Lucy holding the football for Charlie Brown.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Wardrobe (The Closet) - Canal+

Ken Levine had this posted on his blog, but I figure there are a few people who read this blog who won't have seen it yet. Canal+ is a French film-making company.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Krugman on China and the US Dollar

The Nobelist explains some important but arcane (to most of us, anyway) issues of international economic policies.

Although there has been a lot of doomsaying about the falling dollar, that decline is actually both natural and desirable. America needs a weaker dollar to help reduce its trade deficit, and it’s getting that weaker dollar as nervous investors, who flocked into the presumed safety of U.S. debt at the peak of the crisis, have started putting their money to work elsewhere.

But China has been keeping its currency pegged to the dollar — which means that a country with a huge trade surplus and a rapidly recovering economy, a country whose currency should be rising in value, is in effect engineering a large devaluation instead.

And that’s a particularly bad thing to do at a time when the world economy remains deeply depressed due to inadequate overall demand.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Wilfred Owen "Dulce et Decorum Est" WW1 Poem Animation

Wilfred Owen, generally considered the best of the English poets who made World War I their subject, has been on my mind for an odd reason: some of the spam I've been getting uses bits of his poetry in the subject line. Welcome to the twenty-first century, I guess. On the other hand, another twenty-first century phenomenon is the spread of homegrown computer animation, such as this example. Owen seems to speak his own poetry. Not perfect, but still pretty cool. And the subject matter is, alas, still relevant.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Firesign Theatre - Mutt 'n' Smutt, Jul 27, 2002

I know there are people who like comedy who don't like the Firesign Theatre. I don't really understand these people. Maybe they don't like FT because, unlike a lot of comedy, you have to really pay attention to get it all. But I find it worthwhile it to do so, and so do enough other people to keep them going.

Here in a Mutt 'n' Smutt episode from their old XM radio show, they prove that even after several decades together, they can still put something together that's funny, sharp, and unmistakably Firesign. (Note: you need RealPlayer installed in order to play this clip.)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

John Renbourn - Lord Franklin

The great English guitarist John Renbourn gives his version of "Lord Franklin" here. It dates back to the nineteenth century, and is based on the true story of the polar explorer Sir John Franklin, who led the ships Erebus and Terror into disaster. The song imagines his wife waiting for his return. All members of the expedition were lost.

It was a well-known song among British folk musicians, and a young Bob Dylan learned it on a visit to England. Writing new words and altering the melody, he created "Bob Dylan's Dream" for his second album. Renbourn, here as a member of the band Pentangle, gives a solemn-but-not-deadly rendition, in some ways emotionally akin to Mississippi John Hurt's "Louis Collins" posted here a few days ago. Our hearts are broken, but what can we do? Sing, I suppose.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Chuck Berry - Anthony Boy

Just for the hell of it, another Chuck Berry song. Again the songwriting is worth noting: like the later "C'est la Vie," which tells a story set in Cajun Louisiana, "Anthony Boy" is set in, and is meant to evoke the flavor of, one of America's ethnic enclaves -- here an Italian-American community in the Northeast. Chuck Berry was and is a sharp-eyed observer of people, and nearly all of his songs are full of telling details about humans and their behavior.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Chuck Berry - Oh Baby Doll

I recently decided that Chuck Berry is a better songwriter than Bruce Springsteen, but don't have the space here to show my mathematical proof for why that's so. But I will point out that "Oh Baby Doll" is a good example of what sort of songwriter Berry is: a storyteller, with a sharp eye for the telling detail. Plus an eye for the audience -- the song was aimed at, and so is about, high-school students. There's also a topical allusion to the movie Baby Doll, the only Tennessee Williams work to have given a name to a type of negligee.

Happy birthday, Chuck.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Friday, October 16, 2009

Krugman on Health Care Reform, the Insurance Industry, and PR Skills

The World Wide Web being what it is, some of you may not know much about the current political struggle in the US to enact health care reform. Paul Krugman here explores the result of the report just issued by the insurance industry, about one of the reform plans being discussed, and how they seem to have misjudged its effect.

Last weekend, the lobbying organization America’s Health Insurance Plans, or AHIP, released a report attacking the reform plan just passed by the Senate Finance Committee. Some news organizations gave the report prominent, uncritical coverage. But health-care experts quickly, and correctly, dismissed it as a hatchet job. And the end result of AHIP’s blunder may be a better bill than we would otherwise have had.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Monty Python with the Roots - Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

On Late Night last night. Pardon the beer commercial, but it's an NBC link and thus unavoidable.

Terry Gilliam is a lovely dancer.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Mississippi John Hurt - Louis Collins

Blood, death, a weeping mother, murder...all sung about so sweetly. Mississippi John Hurt probably wrote "Louis Collins" himself, about an event in his neighborhood. You may never hear a sadder song.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

John McLaughlin - Goodbye Pork Pie Hat

The U.K.'s finest jazz guitarist essays Mingus's ode to Lester Young, in an acoustic guitar (with overdubs) rendition.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Son of Columbus

Because it's Columbus Day, there's stuff out there discussing C. Columbus, Europeans in the Western Hemisphere, etc. Since that's already being covered, let's spotlight one of the most worthy children of Columbus, Ohio, Mr. James Thurber.

If you love comedy but have not yet read Thurber, you owe it to yourself to go find some. Be aware that when sifting through his collected works, not all of it is anywhere near as funny as the best of it is. So start with the best: My Life and Hard Times, which includes probably the best thing he ever wrote, "The Night the Bed Fell." And here's Thurber on his home town: "I have lived in the East for nearly thirty years now, but many of my books prove that I am never very far away from Ohio in my thoughts, and that the clocks that strike in my dreams are often the clocks of Columbus."

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Brook Benton - The Boll Weevil

The Nashville producer and record executive Shelby Singleton died on Wednesday at seventy-seven. He was less well-known than people like Owen Bradley and Billy Sherrill, probably partly because his taste ran more to novelty records than to maintaining sustained careers for his artists. (Unless they had sustained careers making novelty records, such as Ray Stevens or Roger Miller.) His first nationwide success as a producer was with Brook Benton's "The Boll Weevil," a number one hit in 1961.

Friday, October 9, 2009

John Lennon - Mother

I wanted to be sure that I wasn't repeating a post for John Lennon's birthday, but was surprised to find that I hadn't actually done a birthday post for him. So today's offering is "Mother," the opening track from his first "real" solo album. It's pretty well-known, but I chose it because it shows something about Lennon the singer. He had a wide emotional range -- some songs show his power, some his vulnerability. In this song, he shows both. It's also a nice example of the kind of song that Lennon wrote that few others could: it's very slow but very heavy, almost proto-grunge, with the piano leaving lots of space.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Smiley Lewis - I Hear You Knockin'

The original version, before Fats Domino, Gale Storm, Dave Edmunds, et al.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Red Army Chorus - Meadowland

I first remember hearing this song in a version by Jefferson Airplane. They didn't have a hundred people singing it, however, just a single organist. That version always appealed to me, but I like this version better.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Krugman on the Republican Attitude in General

The Nobelist talks about the eternal thirteen-year-old.

To be sure, while celebrating America’s rebuff by the Olympic Committee was puerile, it didn’t do any real harm. But the same principle of spite has determined Republican positions on more serious matters, with potentially serious consequences — in particular, in the debate over health care reform.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Janis Joplin - Trust Me

Saint Janis sings a Bobby Womack song, "Trust Me." Womack, the great R&B/soul singer and songwriter, also contributes acoustic guitar. Joplin's imitators tend to focus on her belting, which does appear in this piece, but tend to ignore the vulnerability, which predominates here. She died of a heroin overdose on this date in 1970.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Gail Collins on American Dreams

Gail Collins is a relative newcomer to the Official Pundit ranks, but is doing fairly well at it. Don't agree with everything she says, but then I don't agree with everything that anyone says. I particularly liked this part:

The White House had a dream of getting Chicago the Olympics. Didn’t work out. At all. And some people feel it was sort of weird for Barack Obama to throw himself into the fight with such ardor. They may have a point. But if the president is going to take a flier on an improbably and possibly delusional quest, I would prefer that it involve lobbying the Olympic committee rather than, say, invading a country.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Peter, Paul & Mary - Mon Vrai Destin

The death of Mary Travers has me listening to some of their stuff, like "Mon Vrai Destin" from their album called simply Album. I like the harmonics on the guitar in the right channel, as well as, always, what they manage to do with three voices. Props to Milt Okun, who was apparently the person who really crafted their sound.

The bells always inform me of my true destiny.

Thursday, October 1, 2009