Thursday, April 30, 2009

Republican Rebranding - The National Council for a New America

I could link to Mahablog and give a hat tip to James Wolcott, at whose blog I found this, but JW introduces it perfectly, so why bother?

I have long believed that the manipulators, the ones with the deep pockets who set the course, stay out of sight, and that most of the visible Right are true believers. And what I suspect has happened is that sometime in the past eight years the true believers started making the decisions and setting the course. Or else, the plutocrats are so dependent on the support of the true believers they’ve manipulated themselves into a corner. Take your pick.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Harry Nilsson - The Moonbeam Song

This song has a lot in common (in terms of lyrical structure) with another Nilsson-penned song, "Think About Your Troubles" from The Point. A point of view moves from one element to another in a kind of dream landscape, eventually ending up back where it started. Which probably says something about the mind of Mr. N.

A little touch that marks it as truly Harry's song is the use of the word "crap"--if he were crafting a song meant to be one hundred percent sweet it would never have been included. But to put it into an otherwise sweet and dreamy song, that particular blend of ingredients, that's Nilsson as a songwriter.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Robert Johnson - Last Fair Deal Gone Down

Ida Belle, don't you cry this time
Ida Belle, don't you cry this time
If you cry 'bout a nickel, you'll die 'bout a dime...

Monday, April 27, 2009

Monarch Box - Animals

Someone I know is in this video, which is how I found out about it. It's a great example of how if you're going to do creative work, the main thing you need is creativity, not scads of money. Also, now that I think about it, some organizational skills, to get this many people's actions coordinated.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Bea Arthur

When I heard that Bea Arthur had died, this was the clip that came to mind. She's obviously having fun with dialogue that would have been verboten in her TV work. Her scene is only about ninety seconds long, starting at about 1:20.

There's an appreciation with several good clips, as well as links to other appreciations, at The House Next Door.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Four Seasons - I've Got You Under My Skin

It's a cliche that one measure of a good song is how much rearrangement it can take and still work as a song. Like many cliches, it's true. Here's the Four Seasons (before they became Frankie Valli and...) singing Cole Porter.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Captain Sensible - Wot

Happy birthday to the captain, born this date in 1954. I remember watching this clip in the early days of MTV.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Jackson Browne - Sleep's Dark and Silent Gate

I think this is from a series that Graham Nash did on songwriting, which explains the vocal snippet at the beginning.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Bonnie Raitt - Streetlights

I heard a voice come through on my telephone line
Told me that it was your time.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Separated at Birth, Sort Of

I don't know why I never noticed it before.

P.T. Barnum

Rush Limbaugh

"There's a sucker born every minute."
And a good living to be made thereby.

Monday, April 20, 2009

RIP JG Ballard

When I first read JG Ballard, he was considered a science fiction writer, at least in this country. And since I read science fiction, I read his work. To say I was baffled would be an understatement. After reading Asimov's and Heinlein's space operas, a story in which a man falls in love with an opera singer who has the body of a beautiful woman but whose head is an orchid was not exactly, shall we say, what I was expecting. But the strange thing, in retrospect, was that I kept reading. It was obvious that there was something going on that I couldn't figure out, and I could not get the stories out of my head.

Later I learned enough to get a better understanding of his work. The word "surrealism" gets thrown around a lot, but authentic, grounded, hard-core Surrealism was a key element of his work. But there was more. It wasn't until Empire of the Sun was published, as a quasi-fictional memoir of his childhood as a Japanese prisoner of war, that the roots of his view of the universe as a place simultaneously grim, beautiful, and shockingly incoherent came into focus.

His most famous title, it is usually said, was for the short story "Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan." The fact that that story was published in 1970, ten years before Reagan became president, suggests a kind of prescience that Ballard would have disowned. He was not a mystic. He was rooted in reality. He just thought that reality was a lot stranger than most people were willing to admit, and that the best way to show that was to show something that was, in a way, above reality. Which etymologically, is the core meaning of the word "surreal."

Here's the Guardian's obituary.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Again

When I said the other day that "The passing of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick suggests (among other things) that the culture wars of the nineties, which seemed destined to be endless, really are gone," it seemed an unexceptional thing to say. But Patricia Cohen in today's New York Times has an appreciation of EKS in which she views the same situation through a different lens, and I think she's got a point.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Skip James - Devil Got My Woman

Hat tip to Phil Ramone and Danielle Evin and their Dog Ears Music: Volume Sixty-Eight
at Huffington Post.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick

The passing of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick suggests (among other things) that the culture wars of the nineties, which seemed destined to be endless, really are gone. Anyone who studied English lit at an intellectually robust school in those days encountered her work. She pretty much founded the field of queer theory, and like Michel Foucault, a strong influence, used her deep knowledge of two and a half thousand years of Western culture to critique it as thoroughly as possible.

As time passes and her presence becomes less immediate, the work she did will necessarily command less attention. But that work marked a turning point--there's no going back. For those who care about such things enough to have read her work, that matters.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Nothing Ain't Much

Hate to do this twice in a week, but I got nothin'. It's likely, however, that there are other sites on the Web that have material worth looking at.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Socialism in the US?

Personally I don't buy it, if by socialism is meant one of the so-named political doctrines that arose in Europe in the nineteenth century. But I think Harold Meyerson hits the nail on the head:

The young may now disdain Wall Street -- but what do they know of socialism, past and present? Who even speaks of socialism in America today? The answer, of course, is the demagogic right. According to Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck and their ilk, Obama is taking America down the Socialist Road. As Benjamin Sarlin has noted on the Web site the Daily Beast, the talkmeisters of the right have linked a doctrine that never commanded much support in America to a president whose approval rating hovers around 60 percent and much higher than that among the young.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Abigail und Hansel - My Last Good Vein

So where else are you going to get your Abigail und Hansel fix? (Which is sort of a reference to the title of this song, I guess...) Well, you could go to their Myspace page. That'll work, too. But truthfully, twelve minutes of noise rock is not found everywhere.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Nothing is Everything

Sorry, nothing today. Eat some leftover Peeps, if you've got any.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Mamas & The Papas - Dancing Bear

The Paul Taylor Dance Company performed a new work in New York City last month called "Changes," set to music by the Mamas and the Papas. Apparently one of the highlights of the piece is the section that is set to this song.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Derek & The Dominos - It's Too Late

In memory of rock and roll pioneer Chuck Willis, who wrote this song (among others), and died on this date in 1958.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Return of the "Terrorist Fist Jab"

I wonder if Fox News ran this picture of the President of the United States and an American soldier in Iraq. I'm guessing no.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Goodbye to All That -- Newspaper Version

Jeff Jarvis on the current, as in right now, state of the newspaper business, and what the owners need to hear. H/t Huffington Post.

You've had 20 years since the start of the web, 15 years since the creation of the commercial browser and craigslist, a decade since the birth of blogs and Google to understand the changes in the media economy and the new behaviors of the next generation of - as you call them, Mr. Murdoch - net natives. You've had all that time to reinvent your products, services, and organizations for this new world, to take advantage of new opportunities and efficiencies, to retrain not only your staff but your readers and advertisers, to use the power of your megaphones while you still had it to build what would come next. But you didn't.

You blew it.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

David Neiwert on the Link Between Mass Murder and Incendiary Speech

Sometimes the obvious needs pointing out anyway. I wrote about the Knoxville shooting on this blog, but needless to say, it was part of a larger pattern. And the common link is the shooter's immersion in the world of people like Bill O'Reilly and Glen Beck.

We do have serious differences of opinion here. We strongly believe that there's a clear, common-sense connection between the paranoiac fearmongering that has passed for right-wing rhetoric since well before Obama's election (and has become acute since) and violence like that in Pittsburgh, or in Knoxville: horrifying tragedies, in which the sources of the criminal's unambiguous motives are that very same hysterical fearmongering -- whether it's about the evil socialists, stinking immigrants, or conspiring gun-grabbers who've taken over the country since Election Day.

H/t mcjoan at DailyKos.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Random Quote

"A source of unforgettable consolation was the sight of [James] Joyce sitting, arms folded and glasses glinting, in the midst of the Hungarian football team."

Vladimir Nabokov describing the audience at a lecture he gave in Paris in the 1930s, a moment of quasi-surrealism irrupting into reality. From his non-fiction collection Strong Opinions.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

If It's Sunday, It's Frank Rich

Frank Rich asks the same question a lot of people have: why did the head of GM get fired while many of the Wall Street wizards are still in place?

The parallels between G.M. and the likes of Citigroup are uncanny. Much as bloated financial institutions gorged on mortgage-backed derivatives even when the underlying fundamentals made no rational sense, so G.M. doubled down on sure-to-be obsolete S.U.V.’s and trucks to serve a market transitorily enthralled by them. Much as the housing boom’s collapse left the get-rich-quick holders of AAA-rated mortgage derivatives with worthless paper, so the oil price spike left consumers trapped with self-indulgent, wealth-depleting gas guzzlers. In both instances, the customers were not entirely innocent.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Boz Scaggs - I'll Be Long Gone

What the hell, another cut from the same album. This is a song obviously written by someone who was deeply in love with late fifties / early sixties rhythm and blues. When I first heard it I thought it was written by Laura Nyro, who also loved and was deeply influenced by the same kind of music. But it's a B. Scaggs original, and the chorus, once it takes up residence in your head, will never leave.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Boz Scaggs - Waiting For A Train

From his first album in 1969, "Waiting For A Train" shows Boz Scaggs the roots/Americana musician, a creature who got buried in the Silk Degrees avalanche several years later. The wonderful dobro playing is by the wonderful Duane Allman, whose own band put out their first album the same year. At the time it was a big deal that these modern young musicians were playing such an old song -- now the gap between today and 1969 is bigger than the gap between them and the Singing Brakeman.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Marvin Gaye - Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)

Happy birthday to Marvin Gaye, who would have been seventy today. I try to avoid obvious choices when I pick songs, but today can be an exception, because this song is just. so. good. It's the final track on his landmark album What's Going On. (At the end is a coda that links back to the opening track. The single version understandably had that part trimmed, so that people are sometimes surprised when they hear it.)

To my mind, this song is one of those pieces of music that is nearly perfect. The amount of space in the arrangement, how often there is only one or a few instruments playing, is the first thing you notice. But it doesn't mean that it's simple -- there is a lot going on, from the busy bass part that is really the lead instrument, to the slow and dream-like strings that eventually come in. Falsetto vocals veering from unison into harmony, then at one point dropping into the normal range. Congas keeping such a strong rhythm that they make this slow sad song something danceable. A triangle every so often hitting an almost piercing note. And the words, about lives on the edge of despair, of thinking that there may be no reason to hope, of coming close to finally giving up for good. But...not yet. Not yet.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The North Korean Model

While watching the ongoing debate over the financial crisis, I've been struck once again by the insular nature of the right-wing discourse. All rhetorical reference points are contained within a carefully circumscribed (by whom? I can't tell) area, which contains the only allowable items that are allowed into their arguments. If you've been paying attention for the last thirty years or so, you know what those items are, the most prominent in economic discussions being liberalism --> socialism --> communism. What's striking is how comfortable the speakers are within this magical circle, and how proud they are of never stepping outside it. While I was watching all this, something was nagging at the back of my brain, and it finally came around to the front, knocked once, and came in.
What came to mind was a bit from an article I read awhile ago about North Korea. For decades, it was nearly impossible for any Americans to travel there. It isn't easy even today, but it was long nearly impossible. The stories that did come out described a world that seemed unimaginable: a constant relentless barrage of propaganda praising the Great Leader, who loved his people like children and presided over the best place on earth. The people who lived there had to be miserable.
Except they weren't, necessarily. The article I read was by a Western reporter who, when the doors finally opened a crack, went to North Korea. At one point she had the chance to speak to a teenaged girl. The girl was cheerful and open, and could not have been happier. She lived in a land ruled by someone who loved his people like children, and it was in fact the best place on earth. The reporter was shocked, but eventually realized that the girl was the natural result of decades of propaganda: she had never known anything else. She had never been exposed to any other version of reality. As far as the girl knew, what she had been told all her life was the truth.
There is now a significant segment of the current generation of grownups in this country who have been told all their lives that Ronald Reagan was the greatest president who ever lived, that liberals want to destroy America, that military force is the answer to all foreign policy problems, that AIDS is God's punishment for homosexuality, that—you know the list. These people are sincere, calm, and frequently cheerful. They do not have any doubt that they are right. Often nowadays with thirty-something cable-news journalists you can detect real irritation when they are challenged. Their irritation seems to result from a suspicion on their part, not that they might be wrong, but that they are dealing with idiots, who simply do not have a grasp of obvious reality.
This is the world that the right-wing noise machine has created. Like the North Korean girl, and millions of her fellow citizens, there are people in the United States who have spent their entire lives in an environment which is all they have ever known, and more importantly, all they can imagine ever knowing. There is no need to argue the merits of conservatism versus liberalism—for them the issue is settled, was in fact decided long before they were born. FDR made the Great Depression worse. The war in Iraq has been a success. George W. Bush was the object of constant slander. The prison at Guantánamo is necessary. Again, you get the idea.
What to do? I have no magic answer. The one thing I feel sure of is that the post-World-War-Two era of heated but mostly courteous disagreement between right and left is never coming back. The last thirty years have happened, and there is no undoing them. The people who make up Rush Limbaugh's audience are not going to open their minds overnight. Or possibly ever. We are in for a long struggle, and facing that is the necessary first step. The steps that come after that we will probably have to discover as we go.