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.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Karl Rove on Sarah Palin

From Talking Points Memo.

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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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.)