Thursday, December 31, 2015

Requiem for a mustache




I know I'm a couple of days late on Lemmy, but it seems like a decent way to top off the year's blogging. He and the Ramones had kind of a mutual admiration society going. I guess they can do some catching up now.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Final Songs: You


Album: Monster by R.E.M.
Let the sun beat through the clouds,
Let me kiss you on the mouth.
All my childhood toys with chew marks in your smile.
Let me hold your syrup close to mine.
Let me watch you, Hollywood and Vine.
And I want you like the movies, touch me now.
I love you crazy, just keep on.
I love you madly, just keep watch.
You wipe my lips,
You turn me on.
My attentions are turned to you.

Did I dream you were a tourist
in the Arizona sun?
I can see you there with luna moths
and watermelon gum.
I woke up in the sleeping bag,
With nowhere else to run.
You're standing in the bathroom
telling me its all in fun.
I love you crazy, just keep on.
I love you madly, just keep watch.
You wipe my lips,
You turn me on.
My attentions are turned to you.

I can whisper in your ear.
I can write a calendar year
I can wing around your Saturn smile, shout at the moon
I walked the tension wire line.
And I learned to disrespect the signs.
And I want you like a Pisces rising, even though
I love you crazy, just keep on.
I love you madly, just keep watch.
You wipe my lips,
You turn me on.
My attentions are turned to you.
To do this feature properly I feel requires me to make the actual recording available to the reader. The most straightforward way to do that is to embed video. In that, I'm limited to what's available on the major video sharing services. (Generally YouTube in this function, although if you're a regular reader you know I have nothing against Vimeo or Dailymotion.)

My general rule is that I prefer videos in name only, the music only accompanied by the album cover or another still image. At maximum, I'll take a video of the artist playing onstage or in the studio. Reason being I'm trying to get at the song's meaning here, both the lyrics within the song and the song itself within the context of the album and the artist's output. Elaborate visuals, from either an official or fan-made video, feel like an attempt to overrule me.

In this case I was faced with a Hobson's choice: use the video seen above or scrap the entry. Most of the other tracks on Monster have minimal videos posted online, but "You" is only represented by a fan video syncing the music to scenes from An American Tragedy, one of the Monty Clift films to get a shout-out from the Clash in "Right Profile." I almost did give up in disgust - at the complications to my own task, not the YouTuber's fine efforts - but on second thought figured I'd take a look to see what "paivalr" was thinking. The movie stars Clift and Elizabeth Taylor, one of the first Hollywood child stars to graduate to adult sex symbol, but not the last. And while I haven't seen the film, the scenes provided do match the loopy/obsessive romanticism/lust on display in the song, particularly its first verse.

Monster is often referred to as R.E.M.'s grunge album, sometimes called so with contempt, as if the boys were trend-hopping in a desperate attempt to stay relevant. But that's not quite accurate. It's a harder than usual album for them, showing a heavier than usual punk influence without necessarily sounding like punk rock. In essence it's the kind of album they might have made in the early eighties had they not been busy becoming R.E.M. It also falls in a tradition of rock albums that proudly bear the marks of the studio: muttered asides between musicians, erratic amp feedback. As with David Bowie's Scary Monsters and The Pixies' Surfer Rosa, you can practically see the dingy corridor where the engineer goes for a smoke break.

Much of the album does fit in with the alternative rock of the nineties, which is fair enough because the "alternative" genre, dodgy as it may be, was pretty much invented by R.E.M. Or rather they fell so obviously outside the lines of the classic rock/new wave dichotomy it was pretty much inevitable that if they caught on a new box would be made to put them in. Monster also calls back to eighties FM rock at several points.

"You" goes back a little further, though. It's more their adoption of early seventies hard rock songs, specifically Blue Oyster Cult. BOC are to some extent a simpatico source for R.E.M. Among pioneering hard rock/metal bands they were notable for being New York hipsters, a number of their songs co-written by Patti Smith. But the gusto with which R.E.M. grab onto the style here is surprising. The song evokes lava lamps to such an extent for me that I'm always shocked to find they're not mentioned in the lyrics. (I don't think there's an actual sitar here, but Peter Buck makes a game attempt at calling one up.)

The verses vary and broaden the lyrical focus. The first zeros in on physical passion ("Let me kiss you on the mouth") and the glamorous images associated with it. ("And I want you like the movies," okay, that's another point in favor of pulling Clift and Taylor into the frame.)

The second verse nods to dreams and then looks outward to physical surroundings. Some of the objects turned up seem incongruous in a love song, e.g. watermelon gum. Of course dreams are filled with incongruities as well.

In the third verse there's another glance at the lover before floating off into the ether. We hear of a trip around the planets, but when Stipe gets to Pisces he trails off and jumps into the final chorus. His suggestion that signs are there to be ignored is not the first time in the band's output that Michael Stipe has shown signs of being a gnostic.

After Monster, the original lineup of R.E.M. would get together for one more album, the rather more Arcadian New Adventures in Hi-Fi. It's an equally gripping work, but in a different mode. Between the two there was, perhaps, a little time to rest. "You" in particular sounds like they're running around, tuckering themselves out for the nap ahead.


Sunday, December 27, 2015

Things to do

Will be busy with a few things this week. For one thing Christmas business goes on for me past December 25th, so there's some work to be done there.

Also, it looks like my last Final Songs entry was in November. That certainly will never do. It is, as some have pointed out to me, a little more time consuming that the old Friday Random Tens. Still, I have one planned for probably before the end of the year. It's just a matter of getting it down in pixels.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Absence

Earlier tonight I took a little stroll. We have two Chinese restaurants nearby. Well, more general interest Asian, but they serve Chinese dishes among other.Neither of them were open. Some other restaurants were, but not those.

It's not like there are no Jews in the neighborhood. There are, or at least a large population of maile hat enthusiasts.

In conclusion, life is weird.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Real good grass



I've listened to this song a few times now. It's unmistakably country, but also has some definite late sixties markers. (The big, echoing drum, for one.)

Also, there is no denying it. The idea of grass, such a humble plant, avenging evil just by growing appeals to me.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Huh

Let's examine a popular emoticon.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

By my count that's ten characters, which in itself isn't so hard. But they're punctuation marks that, in some cases, are kind of hard to find on a keyboard.

Kind of a lot of trouble to go through when you're communicating that you don't give a shit, but feel free, I guess.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Holiday hopes and dreams

"The Magic of Christmas" (U-Arts Stop Motion) from Robert Lyons on Vimeo.

Here's a good baseline for Christmas wishes. May your day be at least as good as this, maybe somewhat better. See? That's realistic.

Friday, December 18, 2015

I'm walkin' yes indeed and I'm talkin' 'bout you and me

David Robert Mitchell's It Follows is a horror movie. It's meant to be scary and it succeeds. Still, if there's such a thing as a typical horror movie this isn't it.

The film takes place in an affluent-looking suburb of the not-so-affluent Detroit. It's not stated outright but my guess would be Grosse Pointe.

Maika Monroe, who looks something like a younger Reese Witherspoon, plays Jay, a college student home for one on break. She meets a strong silent type who calls himself Hugh, is taken with him, and goes out on a date with the boy. When he starts acting strangely at the movies they go back to his car and have sex. She passes out - with a little help from Hugh and chloroform - and when she comes to he's tied her up. He explains that he's passed on something to her that will always be following her. This thing could look like anybody, and will strike without warning, so she always has to be on guard.

The fact that the central premise involves a venereal boogeyman is primarily interesting for the somewhat comical jockeying it provokes among the male characters. She can pass the curse along the same way she got it, and at least a couple of guys think "worth it!" But there's a dizzy paranoia here that never quite lets go.

Part of this has to do with the way It Follows is filmed. The camera is almost always moving and most shots are some distance from the characters, who frequently aren't onscreen when they're speaking. Take a drink every time you see a close-up of someone's face and you'll get a buzz going. Do the same in the average feature film and you'll die of alcohol poisoning. The cumulative effect is that the viewer is always searching people out and reassessing them, just like Jay has to.

Mitchell has a painter's eye. The look and the feel of the movie exemplify suburban surrealism. Not really in the David Lynch sense. Where Lynch's films tend to suggest a curdled 1950s, this suburb is more timeless. It's like Eric Fischl's paintings come to life.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Hungry beak



Greetings. It rained all day and much of the night. That meant that all day it was wet, in a way you could feel when you went out and for a while when you got back in.

Which isn't necessarily bad. It got me thinking about water and how much life revolves around it. And this clip shows some of that. I believe the bird is a kingfisher, but am willing to listen to alternate characterizations.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Dali's cookbook



I just learned of the existence of  Dali's cookbook a couple of days ago. It seems to be an odd thing. (Quelle surprise.) There seem to be two kinds of recipes in it, from the excerpts I've read. First, things that sound like they might be tasty but are so ridiculously high maintenance you probably won't put yourself through the trouble. Then there's the "You expect people to eat that?" class of recipe.

I get the feeling that there were many pranks embedded in Dali's life and work. This may be one of them, but who knows for sure?

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Other Ones, a review

The following is a review I wrote some time ago for another site. This site was trying to get reviews/recommendations together for Hugo-eligible works. The idea was to have other works in mind to counter another Puppygate-style attempted takeover of the awards.

Well, it's been two months, about, since that site has put up any new reviews. My guess is that the project has been quietly aborted, perhaps because it might give the Sad/Rabid Puppies more attention. In any case, while I certainly don't want to see the Hugos fall into disrepute, I'm not sure it's my place to save them.

On the other hand, I do want to get word of this work out. It's a somewhat near-future post-disaster science fiction novel by Carola Dibbell, who's married to Robert Christgau and is an accomplished rock writer in her own right. Regardless of any awards it wins, loses, or isn't considered for, this is a book that deserves to be read. So here goes.
______________

The Only Ones by Carola Dibbell
Eligible for Best Novel and available for purchase here http://www.twodollarradio.com/collections/all-books/products/the-only-ones?variant=1051732105

Motherhood is a difficult and thankless job. Sometimes it can be a rewarding one.

Children don’t appreciate the sacrifices their children make for them. On the other hand, parents often don’t even know what their kids are going through.

For all the lip service that is paid toward the importance of the family, actual families are left to fend for themselves in a world that doesn’t care about their survival.

Love is love, and doesn’t care if you approve of it.

These are all true statements, but to varying degrees they are guilt-inducing, anxious, or ground down into banality by thoughtless repetition. We don’t think about them most of the time. If we’re reading for pleasure—and I can testify that most of my own reading goes toward this goal—the plight of impoverished families, “traditional” and otherwise, isn’t the most likely candidate.

So the challenge is to make all these truths new, to make us approach them from a new angle. In The Only Ones, Carola Dibbell proves herself up to that challenge.

The story takes place in the back half of the twenty-first century. The young Inez Kissena Fardo, a product of some monstrously abusive foster homes, gets by through foraging ruins in Queens for things that might be valuable enough for resale. It’s hazardous work, and most who perform it don’t live long, because this not-too-distant future is ravaged by killer pandemics. The world is still reeling from The Big One, Mumbai, and lots of deadly little ones. 

Inez, known as “I.”, is a Sylvain hardy, immune to all the devastating new viruses, and to just about everything else as well. This is another source of income for her, selling hair, teeth, urine, whatever to people who hope to contract her immunity.

The staff of “the Farm,” a necessarily furtive fertility clinic, offers her a new way to make some money. Through Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT), the content of her cell can be placed in an egg that’s been emptied of the egg-donor’s genetic information, thus making the product of the egg a copy of the somatic cell donor. The mother gets to be the mother of a child that’s someone else, but one who will be spilled from the world’s new viruses.

The mother, a headstrong and traumatized woman named Rini, backs out. The one surviving “viable” now belongs to I. Herein lies the heart of the novel.

Survivor Ani is a charming fictional creation, in herself but perhaps more importantly in what she brings out in I. It’s the new parent’s daily ritual of feeding the baby, keeping them out of harm’s way, and teaching them, but put in a new context. I has to play it cagy, to make a show of avoiding contamination because if it were found out that both she and Ani were immune it would raise too many questions. Also complicating things is the fact that the culture, to the extent there still is such a thing, regards clones as a sci-fi menace. Ani being in broad outlines a clone herself, this stirs emotional reactions in I. Ani develops into a pain in the ass as she nears adolescence, but this has to be seen in light of her not getting to know who she is as well.

Dibbell has lived in New York for quite some time, and The Only Ones is a very New York novel. Paradoxically so, as much of New York is gone and I has to remain in one kind of hiding or another. But the city is all over the rhythms of her speech, grammatically dodgy but somehow erudite.

There is much to embrace in The Only Ones. The way it makes the plague-ridden future tangible in just a few well-placed details. The characterization of Rauden Sachs, the hard drinking scientist who becomes an important part of I’s life, albeit definitely nothing like a husband or father. But its greatest achievement may be the pulpy thrill it brings to the story of a single mother trying to make ends meet.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Space

This week I've been reading Samuel Delany's Nova. It cane a few years before Dhalgren, which I read a few years ago, and has a similar hero.

The story concerns a minstrel named "the Mouse" working aboard an interstellar ship helmed by Lorq Von Ray. Von Ray is sometimes called a pirate but in some ways seems more like a commercial sailor. He's in a turf war against a family called the Reds, which also involves him in an old love triangle where the other angles seem kind of incestuous.

The writing in all this is very information dense. I have a hard time picturing the reader who gets everything Delany is going for. Once you warm to it, though, the weirdness is engaging. There's a sequence where the other characters explain to the Mouse, who's a Gypsy and also the only Earth native on board, the elegant science behind Tarot reading. It feels like a descendant of Melville's bizarre cetology tangents in Moby Dick.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

You'll never gain weight from a doughnut hole

Look here and here for updates on a wacky Providence kerfuffle.

Okay, now here's my thing. If I'd been there at the time there's a good chance I would have told the young barista not to go there. We're all grownups here. No reason to assume that just because someone is on the police department they must have a problem with black people.

Except. Except. She made a rather unassuming, entirely unthreatening gesture of writing #blacklivesmatter on a coffee cup. Suddenly there's a push to get her fired? Led by a...colorful media personality with ties to the department. I mean, this must have gotten out somehow. Somebody chose to make it a vendetta.

So on the other hand, you can't really assume they don't have a problem with black people either.

Also, the "dancing cop" act may have been cute at first, but at some point these antics made traffic go slower than if there were no traffic at all, which could be annoying.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

___



As a friend and I were saying earlier this evening, it's not the biggest surprise in the world that Scott Weiland died relatively young. He's the one with the polka dot silk shirt. In fact he showed self-destructive tendencies far enough back so that his living and creating as long as he did counts as a kind of triumph, if only against himself.

Not a singer who always got a lot of respect, but I liked him.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Thought up

Have I written about this before? I feel like I might have, but it's been so long I might as well go back to it. There's a webpage that randomly assigns Oblique Strategies a la Brian Eno. Since I often feel like my thought patterns could use a gentle shaker, this is a handy resource for me. Also the actual decks cost an arm and a leg due to rarity, so it's good in this case to have the basics available for free.

I may have been reminded of the Oblique Strategies by Chris O'Leary's awesome blog Pushing Ahead of the Dame, which has done a beyond encyclopedic job digging into all of David Bowie's songs and recordings. He's currently close to the "end" (scare-quoted because DB has another album coming out in January, so it's more like arriving at the present). Bowie worked with Eno on the Berlin trilogy and then Outside and similar randomizing elements were consulted. My creative needs aren't exactly the same, but you never know when you can apply something.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

It begins

For the first time this year I saw a pack of wild carolers. Wassailers, if you prefer. All togged up Victorian-like, too. The men in top hats and frock coats, the women wearing hoop skirts. Of course they had Christmas in the 1970s too. Maybe within 100 years we'll see Christmas Carolers in disco dresses and leisure suits.

Monday, November 30, 2015

"Never mind"


Somehow this song came back to me because I remembered having no idea what it was about. The title sounded like "bucket of tea" to me. I vaguely knew the Who were English and somehow even as a child I'd already picked up on tea being a British thing. But drinking it from a bucket just sounded nasty.

Later I learned about the soul band Booker T & the MGs. So was it "my Booker T"? That didn't fit the lyrics at all.


The above picture illustrates what a bucket-T actually is. I can see getting enthusiastic about it. And yeah, would be hard to fit another passenger in there.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Let's talk some more about Dick

Laura Miller takes a look here at Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle and Amazon's streaming series based on it. I don't know how that can work, truthfully. The book at the end suggests that its own reality is even more complex and bizarre than the reader has even been led to believe, but I'm not sure you can explore that over multiple seasons - which obviously they'd want to do - without killing the golden goose. Plus apparently there's a resistance force added to the show, which seems counter to the point.

Dick also shows up as a character in this novel I'm reading, Pandemonium by Daryl Gregory. It's about an America where demonic possession has become semi-common since the 1950s. Dick might be himself pretending to be possessed, or he might be VALIS, a demon that claims to have been keeping him alive since 1982. He's not a major character, but it's an interesting wrinkle. The book is an odd melange of 1990s cultural obsessions, like the OJ trial and Sinead O'Connor, who is actually a character (and exorcist) but slightly renamed. As to how well the novel works overall, I'm holding off until I finish it to say. 

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Final Songs: Riot Act


Album: Get Happy!! by Elvis Costello & the Attractions
Forever doesn't mean forever anymore
I said forever
But it doesn't look like I'm gonna be around much anymore
When the heat gets sub-tropical
And the talk gets so topical

Riot act - you can read me the riot act
You can make me a matter of fact
Or a villain in a million
A slip of the tongue is gonna keep me civilian

Why do you talk such stupid nonsense
When my mind could rest much easier
Instead of all this dumb dumb insolence
I would be happier with amnesia

They say forget her
Now it looks like you're either gonna be before me or against me
I got your letter
Now they say I don't care for the colour that it paints me
Trying to be so bad is bad enough
Don't make me laugh by talking tough
Don't put your heart out on your sleeve
When your remarks are off the cuff

Riot act - you can read me the riot act
You can make me a matter of fact
Or a villain in a million
A slip of the tongue is gonna keep me civilian

Riot act - you can read me the riot act
You can make me
First off, happy Thanksgiving (US) everyone! But as perhaps you can tell, we do things a little differently around here.

In 1979 Elvis Costello was riding pretty high. After a few years of having his songs rejected by producers and publishers, he'd put together three respected albums with the help of his backing band the Attractions and producer Nick Lowe. (The former actually didn't join him until his second album, but proved to be a good fit.) Acclaim was turning into sales, and there seemed little to stop him joining Bruce Springsteen as the future of rock 'n' roll.

In March an incident happened in Columbus, Ohio that did threaten to shut down the carnival. To sum up he had a drunken run-in with blues rock singer Bonnie Bramlett, one in which some unfortunate racial epithets were thrown around. By him.

In the long run this fracas seems to say very little about Elvis Costello as a man and if anything less about him as a musician. Quite a few were under the impression that was the real Elvis - or the real Declan, if you prefer - and suddenly he was being reevaluated, his stock corrected downward.

The next year came Get Happy!!, complete with two exclamation points, which is a stranger choice than one or three. This was very much a soul throwback album, with recording sounds and cover art suggestive of something just brought out of the Motown vaults. Or even more likely, the Stax vaults. "Motel Matches" even sounds like it could be a Ray Charles song. The right mix of dim and cynical could find this to be a phony bit of ass-covering. Really, though, Elvis had been a lover of American R&B since childhood, so it was inevitable that this would come out in some form. This is not a record you make as a cynical career move. If the Columbus incident had triggered it, that's only to the extent that the warm and gritty sounds found on those old 45s stood him well in times of turmoil.

Turmoil is the real subject of "Riot Act." Turmoil brought by change. "Forever doesn't mean forever anymore." Maybe the word "forever" is just a promise made to and by children, one that adults learn to read as "six weeks or so." Everything that matters is subject to end someday. This includes bands. It includes love affairs and marriages. Ultimately life as well.

And usually when things end, they end in recrimination. Somebody has to be at fault. Someone has to be the villain in a million. Costello had hinted this before with "Blame it on Cain - "It's nobody's fault but we need somebody to burn." Now with life moving at a faster and louder pace he was pretty much shouting it from the rooftops.

The song may be about dissolution, but the band is totally there for him. Steve Nieve is especially impressive on this one, through overdubs projecting the dual personality of dignified pianist and organ rocking Pied Piper. But the unrelated rhythm section of Bruce Thomas and Pete Thomas do sterling work here too. They help Costello turn what could have been an unbearably bitter final note into a joyful one.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Estrangement


Saint Joan of the Stockyards (3:10 min) from Vladimir Rovinsky on Vimeo.

I've been reading this book I got ultra-cheap a while back at a library sale: Bertolt Brecht: His Life, His Art, and His Times by Frederic Ewen. It;s a fairly heavy book - about 500 pages before you get to the appendix, notes, and index - but I've found it unputdownable.

It's probably inevitable that Brecht's reputation rises and falls with the political tide and is at times shunned by people who don't share his political leanings, since that was the subject of so much of his work. Still, he was a working writer and not just a professional Communist agitator. As I've been reading I've seen more about his curiosity and penchant for experiment. His initial ventures into poetry were influenced by his medical studies. By the time he left Germany he was starting to absorb the influence of Japanese Noh drama as well.

Again, though, there was always going to be some fraction. The play excerpted in the video above is Saint Joan of the Stockyards, his reinterpretation of the Joan of Arc story. In Germany at the time it didn't play in theaters, only getting a partial reading on radio. It was 1932. Other stuff was starting to happen, about which you may have heard.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Self on the shelf



"Holy shit! What have you fucking lunatics done to my head? And you call yourselves professionals!"

Friday, November 20, 2015

Rhody showing

These two paintings are from a Providence-based artist named Julie Gearan. The cook picture is cropped somewhat, which is a shame. The full-length version is on her website but wasn't downloadable.

There's a tension in a lot of her work between the Flemish-style classicism of her rendering and the contemporary subjects. Subtly sometimes, but they are modern. Note the female Pierrot's cigarette and slapdash makeup. Sure she's not the only one this could be said about, but she's gotten very interesting results.

Gearan also painted the official portrait of former Governor Lincoln Chafee. You can find it online if you look. It's such a work of classical grandeur that it may have played a role in convincing him he should run for President. Oh well.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Wet night

Earlier in the night I got off the bus and a couple of young ladies were looking for Apsara's, an Asian restaurant. The driver didn't know where it was, but I told them truthfully that they'd gone a few blocks too far. By bus or foot they'd have to turn back. The skies were clear then.

More recently I was sitting here and heard the wind, which rattled the window panes once in a while. Then I noticed the sound of water in there too. So we got a sudden rain... I woulds say "rainstorm." Much too calm for that. But we are getting something of a downpour. I got up and looked out the window. Not the one exactly in my apartment, but out in the hall. I looked out and found it good.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Caws for alarm


Crows have the ability to recognize and remember specific human faces. from Justin Gabaldon on Vimeo.

This is very short, but I think, rather funny. Aside from the well-rendered crow I think the best part is the way the intertitle sets up the scene. Like, maybe the guy runs because there's a bit more of a story here than we know about.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Workaround

Here's a blog post I found to be quite interesting, from an author on how he deals with having aphantasia. Aphantasia is the inability to see things in one's mind's eye, essentially imaginative agnosia. As a diagnosis it's quite recent, only officially being named this year, and it's somewhat controversial still as well. The idea has been floating around for some time though.

Now to be clear aphantasia is not a condition I can claim to have. For example, say to me "black winged butterfly typing on a Smith-Corona" and I have no problem picturing it, or hearing the butterfly's friends ask if using a typewriter is some kind of hipster affectation and it says, "Listen, you do you and I'll do me." But the mind's eye seems so central to fiction writing especially that I was curious about how an author can work without really having access to it. And an underlying question is what you need to be an artist in any field, what you can do without, and how do you balance it out.

Anyway, Hickey has practical ideas about his own work and it's a thought provoking piece as well.

Friday, November 13, 2015

This blog post will self destruct in five seconds

Not sure what arrangement, if any, made this possible, but the whole first season of Mission Impossible seems to be on the video hosting service Dailymotion now.

The first season of MI was different from the rest of the sixties/seventies series and it's largely failed revival in the eighties. In all of those, the cast was led by Peter Graves as Jim Phelps, who by the eighties episodes was cast as a father figure. The first season, on the other hand, had Steven Hill in the lead as Daniel Briggs. The reasons this didn't last are detailed below.

When he started in movies in the fifties, Hill had been one of the moody man's man actors produced by the Actor's Studio, kind of like Marlon Brando but without Brando's obvious-in-retrospect sexual ambiguity. His early appearances on TV drama followed the same script, Hill appearing as a determined man of action. In later years he'd settle gracefully into old age, paunchier but gentler. His last major acting role - the man being alive but long inactive as of this writing - was as District Attorney Adam Schiff on the first ten seasons of Law & Order. While his time on most episodes was limited, he could be the highlight of most of them just by shrugging and sighing for three minutes.

His year on Mission Impossible sees him at a midpoint between the tough guy actor he'd been in youth and the decent old grump he'd eventually become. It also marked a temporary end to his career as an actor. Hill's name at birth had been "Solomon Krakovsky" and he was of Russian Jewish heritage. Lots of people are Jewish, and there are lots of kinds of Jews. In the mid sixties he was becoming very serious and deeply observant about his Judaism. One result of this was that he was refusing to work on the Sabbath, i.e. Saturday. To the studio, this was valuable shooting time and highly inconvenient for the lead actor to absent himself on that day. There was also some tension between him and Martin Landau, who had a more easygoing relationship to his faith and didn't like being questioned on it. And on top of that, Hill was starting to look a little rumpled and dad-ish, not necessarily the man the network wanted as the face of its sleek modern spy drama.

And yet. One can sympathize with the decision to replace Hill at the end of season one, on account of his being a pain in the tuchus. But the fact remains that as Impossible Missions Force coordinator Dan Briggs, Hill is fascinating to watch.Graves, an all-American cowboyish actor, would play Jim Phelps as a cloak-and-dagger action hero, a more focused Matt Helm who saved the martinis for after work.

Briggs, though, is something else again. He walks through, not seeking attention, approaching each job as just that: a job. There's a chance to jump into another role here and there, and Briggs lights up with enthusiasm at these times. But by nature he holds himself in check. In other words, Hill actually is credible as a bureaucrat. While there's not much background provided for the character, you can imagine him as a postal inspector who found that he could work around guns and surveillance equipment and not mind it.

The show has other assets as well. It's interesting to see the way TV engaged in and avoided the Cold War simultaneously. There's a heady romance to its nighttime airstrip takeoffs and get-to-know-each-other meetings. And Landau and Barbara Bain, already married for years, have great flirtatious chemistry as Rollin Hand and Cinnamon Carter.

Hill as Briggs, though, is the great thing the show couldn't hold onto.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Final Songs: Stacked Crooked

Album: Twin Cinema by The New Pornographers
I counted on my private Altamont
Trusted it all along, but now I'm on my way
We left the house, your fingers in my mouth
Stacked crooked all along, but now I'm on my way
Stacked crooked all along, but now I'm on my way

Way
Ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh
Ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh
Ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh

The folks left me the red light of the hours
I tried to imagine it, I couldn't imagine it
The vantage falling from the ivory tower
I tried to imagine it, I couldn't imagine it

You clicked and tossed your cryptic crossword locks
You then abandoned talks and now it's hard to say
Why we would wait in smoke and mirror states
Stacked crooked all along, but now I'm on my way
Stacked crooked all along, but now I'm on my way

Way
Ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh
Ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh
Ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh

The folks left me the red light of the hours
I tried to imagine it, I couldn't imagine it
The vantage falling from the ivory tower
I tried to imagine it, I couldn't imagine it

Do not, do not deny me, deny my right to feel
Do not, do not deny me my Achilles' heel
Do not, do not deny my attention to detail
Do not, do not deny me, the clicking of the heels

Do not, do not deny me, deny my right to feel
Do not, do not deny me my Achilles' heel
Do not, do not deny my attention to detail
Do not, do not deny me, the clicking of the heels
I wanted to do this song next, but found it kind of daunting. Listen to it and you may understand why I wanted to talk about it. This is a very swooping, exhilarating song.

As to why I find it a stiff challenge, well, there would appear to be a lot of word salad in the lyrics. A number of phrases you could pick out and say, "Sounds cool. What's it mean?" So I remind myself that I never signed on to be a word-for-word translator, thank God, and I move forward.

In truth, I think the opacity is somewhat deliberate. I get the feeling that as a songwriter, Carl Newman tries to recapture the feeling of how nominally adult pop music sounds to children. The backseat on a family road trip while an 8 track - or some equivalent - plays in front. And in that position you hear lyrics about, say, infidelity or drug use that might go over your head. But that doesn't mean the song loses you, just because you're carried along by the music.

Newman does a good job of recreating this sensation, and does so partly writing in an esoteric mode that most adults won't always follow either. He knows what he's talking about, his wife does, maybe a couple of band members. The New Pornographers' other songwriter Dan Bejar does this as well, but adds a dash more sleaze.

That said, the first line does mention a "private Altamont," which certainly sounds rather ominous. Most of us, given our druthers, would rather have a private Woodstock. You know, like Snoopy has. But while the Rolling Stones were taken aback by their experiences at the Altamont Speedway, which exposed them as fatally naive in some ways, this guy is actually counting on the disaster that befalls him.

Then comes a fall from the ivory tower, seemingly accomplished just so he can find out what it's like to fall. His Achilles heel, his mortal weakness, is something he accounts for with his attention to detail. Or so he claims and may think. Buried somewhere in here is a song about deliberate self destruction.

Or maybe "buried" is the wrong word. Maybe it's borne along by the buoyant melody. It doesn't feel that heavy. There may, however, be an eerie feeling mixed in with the fun.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Groovy sounds

Late this morning or early this afternoon - think it was technically still morning - I was walking from place to place in a residential neighborhood that had some trees in it. From above I heard a bird calling. It had kind of a harsh, raspy sound. I couldn't see the bird, it had found someplace to hide. I don't know what species it was, either. But I enjoy these bird calls that aren't traditionally pretty or musical. They sound like an avian sufficiently self possessed to do its own thing.

Friday, November 6, 2015

To think about

The other night I sat up in bed and I started thinking.

I believe the greatest thing in life to be true self development. 
At once I can hear cries of "egoism", "individuality", "lack of altruism" arising from all sides.But wait until I have explained what I mean by "true" self development... to find the true use of one's powers and use them, and this, I believe, is the greatest thing in life. 
At first sight this may appear platitudinous; but how many people are there who will give the same careful thought, the same discriminating sense of proportion and balance, to the finding out of their own potencies as they will give, let us say, to the potencies of a recipe for a new cocktail? 
Not everyone has the same powers... but every person who is capable of mental development must carry, within himself or herself, a power of some kind... it is in the discovery of this power that true intelligence is shown; and it is in the fostering and proper development of it that happiness lies. 
By "happiness" I do not mean worldly success or outside approval, though it would be priggish to deny that both these things are most agreeable. I mean the inner consciousness, the inner conviction that one is doing well the thing that one is best fitted to do by nature. 
It is a much better thing to be a good carpenter than a bad artist... 
Several parties have been given in recent times which have been described as "freak" parties, and at one of thse each guest had to appear as someone else. Where is the "freakishness" in this? 
In these days of standardised faces, standardised clothes, standardized voices, I think the real "freak" party would be the one at which all were forced to appear as their own idea of themselves. 
It is this lack ofo personality, this entire absence of any knowledge of what "personality" really means, which is at the bottom of nearly all the bad work which is done today. 
Just as every girls wants to look like every other young girl and every grandmother wants to be mistaken for her own granddaughter, so most workmen are content... to turn out "sections" which will fit into any "whole" and artists are pleased and flattered to be called "another so and so." 
Yet should not everyone be burningly anxious to be himself or herself because of an intense and intimate conviction that no one else can be that "self"? Can one imagine Shakespeare or Beethoven being flattered at being acclaimed "another" anyone at all? Were they not the creators of Shakespeare and Beethoven and as such unique and unrepeatable? 
Because the world cannot be populated by Titans, and because the smallest is as necessary to the greatest in every well proportioned scheme, then, no matter how small the place to be filled, the person who is called upon to fill it should be convinced that it is a better place by the mere fact of his presence and his work; that it is he himself and not another person who is a necessity there.
But before I could grab pen and paper and write all this down, I remembered that Edith Sitwell had written every word about eighty years previously. Scooped again!

Why do so few of us realize aur potential, or anything like it, really? Thee are lots of reasons, I'm sure, but prime among them is this abandonment of the duty to be yourself

This lack seems to cut across the eras. And while you could find much more than one reason for this, the fact that self development is given so little weight is chief among them.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

To tide you over: an old joke

Q: How many mice does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: Just two, but I don't know how they got in there.

As I recall from hearing it the first time, it's funnier if you tell it deadpan.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Forest of the dead

Made an abortive trip to the library tonight. I'd been planning to finish the book I was reading, probably return it tonight, and do some writing as well.

A few problems made themselves apparent. It was busy, which in and of itself is a good thing, but made table space a little harder to come by. I found that I had a book with me but not the one I was planning to read.

There was also a guy in the foyer loudly breaking up with his girlfriend on the phone. Maybe "breaking up with his girlfriend" isn't the right phrase. For one thing I didn't hear the name he was using and don't want to make assumptions. Also it sounded like she (if she was a she) had already shacked up with another guy, which made the "breaking up" part somewhat unnecessary. The key point for me was the "loud" bit, which was obviously the point. He was making a play for sympathy and didn't see how the library might not have been the best place for this approach. And the library staff were too timid to deal with it, or maybe not paid enough.

All in all it seemed like I might be able to get more done at home.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Final Songs: The Overload


A gentle collapsing/The removal of the insides
Album:Remain in Light by Talking Heads
A terrible signal
Too weak to even recognize
A gentle collapsing
The removal of the insides

I'm touched by your pleas
I value these moments
We're order than we realize
...in someone's eyes

A frequent returning
And leaving unnoticed
A condition of mercy
A change in the weather

A view to remember
The center is missing
They question how the future lies
...in someone's eyes
The gentle collapsing
Of every surface
We travel on the quiet road
...the overload

So I'd been thinking a couple of weeks about where next to go with "Final Songs", what would be a good song to sink my teeth into. It occurred to me that I hadn't done anything with Talking Heads. Then earlier today I was listening to one of Charlie Lewis' archived shows on WFMU and this song played. My fate was sealed.

Remain in Light represents the culmination of the band's working partnership with Brian Eno, whom we've covered here before and - who knows? - may do so again. Having produced their previous two albums (More Songs About Buildings and Food, Fear of Music) he'd show that he got them in a way that most producers wouldn't. Of course even among the four of them Talking Heads were a volatile set of personalities, so it's not too surprising that the relationship fell apart at some point. What is surprising is that the acrimony that was building didn't really show up on vinyl.

Which isn't to say that there's no tension in the music. The rhythms and textures from other parts of the world work their way in aggressively. Listening to this music can feel like being flown in the middle of the night to what your hosts say is another country but that you suspect is another planet.

It's also a political disc, although not in an obvious, didactic way. David Byrne starts off the album shouting as a paranoid "government man" (on "Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On") and another song ("Listening Wind") takes at least an empathetic look at an African terrorist trying to drive Western colonialists out of his land.

On the album's last song, "The Overload", the alien approach to music continues, but in a different way. This does not sound like the funk and African/Caribbean pop that's informed so much of the album up to this point. What does it sound like? Well, your mind dissolving for starters. The story most often told is that Byrne wrote the song after hearing about Manchester postpunk band Joy Division. That's right, hearing about them, but not having actually heard any of their music. The result isn't actually that far off from the real thing, but it does give the band room to improvise, being themselves but in a new role. Byrne doesn't really sound anything like Ian Curtis here. What he does sound is tired and lost.

And there seems to be a political aspect to this song as well. "I'm touched by your pleas. I value these moments." These two lines contain a disturbing juxtaposition. Someone is pleading with him, for mercy, one guesses. ("A condition of mercy." One wonders what condition he's demanding.) Yet he waxes sentimental about valuing the moment. It's the kind of romanticizing that one can apply to one's worst acts after the fact, rendering them more palatable.

So is "The Overload" about torture? It certainly does fit with the title, as torture victims are "overloaded" with pain and fear. It would be reductive, I think, to say it's about that and only that. But the song does intertwine certain signifiers of the act with a vibe that's meditative and, in its dark way, kind of peaceful.

Talking Heads go goth? Oh, it's way more disturbing than that.


Thursday, October 29, 2015

Paws and reflect


The Butterfly from Valerie Bobadilla on Vimeo.

Regardless of where you are, what you're doing, what time of day it is, I trust that this very short film will bring something to your day. The animator says it's in memory of her own cat. Well, how could it not be?

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Coming attractions

Hm. This is one of those nights where I'm getting a late start, so I can't really do a substantive post. Happens sometimes.

Because I haven't done a Final Songs in a little over a week (I think) that doesn't mean I've stopped doing them. I'm weighing what the next one will be. Hopefully in the next few days.

Other than that, I'll just be improvising, man.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Holo

Okay, Foxx I can kind of see. He was known for his jokes and stories. Given the available options I'd prefer to listen to the jokes on old Redd Foxx records/YouTube clips than go spend an arm and a leg on the temporary illusion that he's still alive, but it's your night out.

Andy Kaufman, though? His act was irreproducible by definition. The point of his comedy wasn't the jokes he told, because he didn't really tell any. It wasn't even stunts like doing his laundry on stage, at least not in themselves. It was that his mind was always working, and you never knew what it would come up with. Not really something you can get from what is essentially a 3D video recording.

My one hope is that he might have ordered all this as a prank thirty odd years ago. I don't know, maybe he was reading a lot of William Gibson.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Ruffled

I read an article about this band in the arts section of one of the free local interest magazines you see lying around here and there. Truth to tell whatever curiosity the story aroused in me was of the very idle kind. And yet, it was enough for me to do some websurfing looking for their music. I found a few songs that really wowed me. And not just the fact that one member looks like a scaled-down Dwayne Johnson.

This is sort of an atypical performance in that it's 75% a capella* but it captures a lot of their charm.

* Yeah, I know, either you're pregnant or your not.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Something in the air

So today after work I was walking from my workplace to the bus stop. I walk through this spot on the sidewalk, slightly shaded. Feel something, well, lot's of little somethings, hitting my face and hair. Is this water? No, it's not wet. Dust or dirt? Not quite.

No, Virginia, what's spraying me is a bunch of flies. Tiny flies, probably just hatched. The thing is, though, they're persistent. They follow you. For many minutes after that I have to scratch my head and pat down my clothes to make sure they're not still on me. The feeling of discomfort didn't completely go away for over an hour, after I'd also run my head under the tap at home. So next time I'm not crossing the street until I'm well past that house.

But it makes me wonder. What are the people on that property doing that there's a huge cloud of young flies hovering over the sidewalk in front? Should I be searching the missing persons reports?

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Take off, you hoser

First the bad news. In the recent Swiss elections, many seats were gained by a party that thought these were the right images to represent their cause.


Gee, guys, what are you trying to say? Presenting animals of a certain color as ipso facto evil seems like it could have broader implications, but I can't put my finger on it.

The good news, aside from me not living anywhere near Switzerland right now, is that Stephen Harper got his ass booted out of Ottawa. The list of Tea Party wet dreams his government supported and sometimes managed to pass is a long one.I'm sure it made some outside observers conclude that Canada is just a huge, cold Arizona without Mexicans. Not so. Harper and the right wing of the Tories were very good at rigging the system.

As to Justin Trudeau, who knows? I know my grandmother couldn't stand his dad, which on a personal level I could sort of see. The future's uncertain. For now I'll settle for evildoers being punished, or at least shushed.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

October update

When I came home tonight the radiator was on. That's a first since, if I'm remembering/guessing right, April. Except in April the heat came on for short runs, a few minutes here, a few minutes there. This seems like it's going to go all night. It's cold out is what I'm saying.

Awesome thing? Soon be able to put wet clothes on the bar and pick then up an hour later feeling toasty warm.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Final Songs: Death is a Star

Album:Combat Rock by The Clash
And I was gripped by that deadly phantom
I followed him through hard jungles
As he stalked through the back lots
Strangling through the night shades

Oh, the thief of life
Moved onwards and outwards to love

In a one-stop only motel
A storm bangs on the cheapest room
The phantom slips in to spill blood
Even on the sweetest honeymoon

The killer of love
Caught the last, late Niagara bus

By chance or escaping from misery
By suddenness or in answer to pain
Smoking in the dark cinema
See the bad go down again

And the clouds are high in Spanish mountains
And a Ford roars through the night full of rain

The killer's blood flows
But he loads his gun again

Can make a grown man cry like a girl
To see the guns dying at sunset

In vain, lovers claimed
That they never had met

Smoking in the dark cinema
See the bad go down again

We see James Bond when he's on the job. Playing baccarat, bedding beautiful (if sometimes treacherous) women, fighting goons who exist only to ambush him and be vanquished: it's all in a day's work, and his work is what he loves. Yet he must have downtime. Between missions, 007 hangs around London in jeans and a sweatshirt. He washes his shirts in a near-empty laundromat. Drinks things he doesn't have to explain to the bartender. And sometimes late at night he goes up to the roof and stares at the cars driving down the street, the few pedestrians still out and about.

Combat Rock was a commercial peak for the Clash, especially in the US. "Rock the Casbah", "Should I Stay or Should I Go", and to a lesser extent, "Straight to Hell" were all radio hits. The band finally got the call to be musical guest on Saturday Night Live, on an episode hosted by Ron Howard. At least from the outside, life was good.

Within the band, not so good. The creative partnership at the heart of the Clash was breaking down seemingly beyond repair. Drummer Topper Headon would be dismissed from the band for drug problems soon after the album's release, and co-leader Mick Jones wouldn't last much longer. Combat Rock is the last recording with anything like the original lineup. When the band name, at least, came back in 1985 with an album called Cut the Crap, Joe Strummer might as well have been wearing a self-written "kick me" sign.

But if the Clash were in a way coming to the end of the road, they weren't going out with a whimper. Okay, yeah, technically they were. But what a whimper!

"Death is a Star" is as good a proof as any of the Clash's versatility. Their music was most often characterized as punk rock, of course. Since London Calling, and arguably before, it was really rock 'n' roll made by punks, or just music made by punks. Still this was something else. With a subdued string section that came from who-knows-where and a piano solo that was wild and unassuming at the same time, "Death is a Star" stood at the intersection of jazz and easy listening.

Good music for a movie soundtrack, and the lyrics send it in that direction. There's a reference to "dark cinema" and that film noir standby, a car pushing through the rainy night. The nod to Niagara falls may be inspired by Niagara, a noir shot in color and featuring Marilyn Monroe vamping it up in one of her first starring roles. The whole thing is wrapped up with "Can make a grown man cry like a girl/To see the guns dying at sunset." The Clash, trust, are not ones to mouth such an absurdly macho sentiment without tongue firmly in cheek.

This is something of a strange musical experience. After the 3-disc experimental odyssey of Sandinista! the band were under pressure to produce a "normal" Clash album, and while the phrase doesn't mean all that much where they're concerned they did manage an album of more radio-friendly material. Here, though, they stop doing that. Maybe they knew that, in a way, time was running out. Maybe it was time to switch to other priorities. Like, say, scoring James Bond movies that could only exist in their dreams.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Get ready to catch that glass


// TURNOPHONE pt.1 // from Egoless on Vimeo.

This clip isn't exactly what I was looking for. Only because there was no way I could have known this exact thing was out there to look for. Glad I found it, though. What I appreciate is that while this musical setup could play itself, theoretically, the inventor shows some compositional initiative by switching it up here and there.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Baseball busting

Not too long ago I was walking up a residential street and I saw that someone had left a cabinet out, one with glass doors. Inside were a couple of shelves of books and a note telling passers-by to help themselves. Guess the owner wanted to unload a few. I saw one that interested me, a Nero Wolfe collection called Three Men Out, so I took it.

Over the last couple of days I've been reading the three novellas in it. Today I got to the last one, "This Won't Kill You." It takes place during a fictionalized World Series between the Giants - still a New York team at the time - and the Boston Red Sox. Not to give too much away, but the Sox wind up winning. But there's skulduggery afoot that causes them to win. But no one on the Red Sox themselves is involved with it. But still.

I just couldn't help but notice that Boston wins the championship in the story about half a century before they beat the curse in real life. And yet there's one hell of an asterisk attached to the victory. Makes me think Rex Stout was doing some teasing.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Final Songs: All the Way...

Album:Witching Hour by Ladytron
...They heard the sound of the snow falling
They left the house, and started running
They ran past the street where they fluffed their lines
Where chemistries slowly redesigned
All the way, the calender froze on even number
Cat caught the tones of the cold corner
All the way, they could see it going
All the way, east temperature, Fahrenheit sanction
A transparent sound, mapping distraction
All the way, it would be forever
All the way

All the way, they heard the sound of the snow falling
They left the house and started running
I will let you know when it's time to be leaving
Don't want the same ghost for company this evening
You come here, and I disappear
Somehow I see something I fear
Maybe we'll make someones souvenir
All the way, they heard the sound of the snow falling...
We are leaving the realm of unambiguous answers here. Just by way of warning.

On one level, what could possibly be wrong with this scenario? There's a "they", who could be either a family or a couple. However many people they are, they hear the sound of snow and are gripped with a childlike exuberance. They run out to frolic.

Isn't snow usually pretty much silent, though? Rain, you can almost certainly hear. Snow, because the structure of the flakes muffles the impact when they land, doesn't make much of a sound.

A calendar freezing, whether it's on an even numbered date or not, signifies time stopping. It's an uncanny event, either magical or dreadful depending on how you see it. Or you could say it's both.

Witching Hour could easily be called "Ladytron Reach Peak Ladytron". If you associate the band with eerie synth music, gently disturbing lyrics, and the vocals of a possessed baby doll (Helen Marnie) and seen-it-all Nico type (Mira Aroyo), this is the purest distillation. Their subsequent works manage to make some changes without feeling compromised, but this is still the essential. If you want one album to represent what they're about, Witching Hour is it.

Located at the end... Well in some editions the real end is about nine minutes of silence. That means something too. But the final song is "All the Way..." The words in the title refer to bringing things to their logical endpoint. The ellipses, which are officially part of the title, imply that even Ladytron don't know what comes after.

The electronic gurgle, the way the volume picks up between verses, all this sounds like a party at a skating rink. Do any listening and you'll find how dark and surreal the good times are. On a very wintry album, the final song can be read as a celebration of winter, albeit perhaps of a nuclear kind. (Don't want to keep company with the same ghost? Don't worry, there are more to come.) In the end it's been scary, but you can't say it hasn't also been fun.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

"Sod the spelling"


Feef from Hippy Parents on Vimeo.

Simon Burrowes is his name, according to the caption under the video at Vimeo. I don't think I got every word, being basically American even though I had North Country grandparents. I like what I hear, though. Amazing what some people can make poetry out of.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The quotable curmudgeon

Sometimes a truth goes unspoken for so long that when someone points it out, regardless of how well or poorly, you just kind of have to say, "At last, someone fucking said it." So it is with Alex Beam's quesstioning of the propaganda so often heard on behalf of the new Golden Age of TV. I'm not sure if his reasons are quite the same as mine. To wit, mine begin with the fact that so much of TV connoisseurship is based on class anxiety and all out class snobbery. Watching "quality shows" on cable or better yet, streaming services and then gabbing about them with anyone who'll listen reassures everyone involved that they're at least middle class, even if they're not.

Worse, TV is being called on to educate and edify that portion of the populace who tune into the prestige stuff. The dirty little secret is that watching television is still an essentially passive activity. If you want to watch it intelligently, you also have to do other things that might be harder. Read a book for example. And this all involves developing a critical perspective too, which is usually lacking.

Keeping all this in mind, I find it especially amusing that Beam is writing for the Boston Globe, which publishes the TV writing of Matthew Gilbert. As a critic Gilbert seems convinced that if he just guides a few more viewers away from 2 Broke Girls and toward Transparent, he will save Western Civilization. A task made all the more Sisyphean by the fact that the premise is so illusory.

Moving further back in time I also like Mark Greif's "Against Exercise", This was published about eleven years ago and reprinted in the next year's The Best American Essays volume, which also has a nice Jonathan Lethem piece on a subway stop near where he grew up..

But I digress. Here's some of the meat.
It may be a comfort to remember when one of your parents' acquaintances dies that he did not eat well or failed to take up running. The nonexerciser is lumped in with other unfortunates whom we socially discount. Their lives are worth a percentage of our own, through their own neglect. Their value is compromised by the failure to assure the fullest form of possible physical existence. The nonexerciser joins all the unfit: the slow, the elderly, the poor, and the hopelss. "Don't you want to live?" we say. No answer of theirs could satisfy us.
While some are paranoid about government regulations, I suspect the true nanny state is within..

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Small change got rained on*

One thing I've noticed recently is that I'm more likely to get the wrong amount of change. Not intentional short changing, mind you. It could be too much or too little, but coins especially are likely to get screwed up.

This is weird, since modern cash registers are specialized computers that can easily do the math for you, but really old registers with springs and bells could do the same. But cashiers so often don't use these tools. Regardless of how much money you give them, they enter the exact price into the register and then when they see that's not what they're getting, try to do the subtraction in their heads. Well, I can do simple math pretty quickly in my head, but not everyone can.

I used to think they were just being dense, but now I see where it comes from. In a lot of stores and eateries, I notice that nobody uses cash for anything. A coffee, a pack of batteries or gum, everything gets put on credit. It's going to get worse once more people adopt wallet apps on their phones. And of course people who charge do pay the exact amount.

Charging everything throughout your day can certainly lead you into trouble/ Hope all these people know what they're doing.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Putting the brrrr in October

It's interesting how this year the change of seasons has lined up almost exactly with the transition from one month to the next. Summer seemed to be hanging on for just about all of September. Especially during the day, but at night it was still quite warm and humid. Come October first, though, and we have raw days and downright cold nights. Quite a bit of rain, too, although Joaquin seems to have headed elsewhere.

For me at least there's a measure of relief. It no longer feels suicidal to walk down the street wearing more than one layer. Others may feel differently.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Final Songs: God's Song (That's Why I Love Mankind)

Album: Sail Away by Randy Newman
Cain slew Abel, Seth knew not why
For if the children of Israel suppose to multiply
Why must any of the children die?
So he asked the Lord and the Lord said
"Man means nothing he means less to me
Than the lowliest cactus flower or the humblest yucca tree
He chases round this desert 'cause he thinks that's where I'll be
That's why I love mankind"
I recoil in horror from the foulness of thee
From the squalor and the filth and the misery
How we laugh up here in Heaven, prayers you offer me
That's why I love mankind
The Christians and the Jews were having a jamboree
The Buddhists and the Hindus joined on satellite TV
They picked their four greatest priests
And they began to speak
They said "Lord the plague is on the world
Lord no man is free
The temples that we built to you have tumbled into the sea
Lord, if you won't take care of us
Won't you please please let us be?"
And the Lord said
And the Lord said
"I burn down your cities, how blind you must be
I take from you, your children and you say how blessed are we
You all must be crazy to put your faith in me
That's why I love mankind, you really need me
That's why I love mankind"


There's a certain thread in Jewish literature of doubt, of guardedness in the face of the Divine, often expressed in sarcasm. Some would trace this all the way back to the Book of Job. Certainly Stanley Elkin's novel The Living End with its coddled prima donna God, is a more recent example. In these works, the Man Upstairs can appear kind of a dick.

So it is with Randy Newman's "God's Song (That's Why I Love Mankind)". His people cry out at the murder of Abel and His response is, essentially, LOL. In the second half of the song - the line between verse and chorus is blurred here - He indicates that his love for us is tied to the amount of abuse we foolishly take.

But there's a little more nuance to it than that. "God's Song" is a companion piece to "He Gives Us All His Love", also on Sail Away. That song is a more amiable view of a creator we can talk to and lean on, one who looks down benevolently on "babies crying" and "old folks dying." But of course this doesn't mean that babies aren't going to die, or that oldsters won't die. It just gives us some company. Both "He Gives Us All His Love" and "God's Song" are intimate numbers, a man at his piano. Newman sings them both with a collapsed soulfulness, sounding too tired to grieve so determined to find some humor in the situation.

So is God kindly? Sadistic? A little of both? Or maybe just more worn down than he lets on. In his final statement on the album Newman lets you know that the joke is on all of us, not just you. There is some comfort in that.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Out of sight

So, the lunar eclipse. Kind of exciting. I have to admit, I was sort of out of the lunar loop, so I didn't know it was happening until it started. The owner of the cafe I was playing cards in told everyone about it, so we went out to take a couple of looks between hands. The blur around what was left of the moon at first was a pretty good indicator that something was up. 30-40 minutes later there was just a dark orange smudge where the moon would usually be. Cool scene, and not one you see very often, which is why it drew a crowd I guess.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Saturday sniffles

Well, not just Saturday. Allergy season is back, so there's the attendant sneezing, runny nose, and so on etcetera.I have some OTC medicine to hep deal with it, but I don't want to be too dependent  Taking a bill when necessary, then

Should be another Final Songs coming up soon.

EDIT: Holy shit, that was not coherent at all. Little bit of a drowsy effect from the medication I did take, I think. I made a small spelling edit but otherwise will leave this one the way it is, just because it's so hard to believe.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

I've not felt it

Tonight I watched the pilot episode of The Muppets, the new ABC comedy series starring... Well, that part's obvious, isn't it? Can't say I recommend it.

In the main it follows Kermit the Frog in his job as producer of Up Late with Miss Piggy,, a talk show starring his now ex-girlfriend. Here we already have two problems.

First, the concept is an obvious mix of well-regarded single camera sitcoms: a mockumentary (like The Office) that goes backstage at a talk show (like The Larry Sanders Show) and focuses on a beleaguered authority figure (like 30 Rock). Not necessarily bad in itself, but indicative of an identity crisis. Whether the crisis comes from the creators or network interference I know not.

Also, the idea of Kermit getting out of a serious relationship with Miss Piggy - and getting into one with a network executive who's also a pig - is misguided. Watch the old Muppet Show and it's pretty clear that she's mostly after him because of his status and he's too smart to get involved with her in that way. They've never had to work for audiences as a serious couple.

The main problem, though, is that it's just off. Kermit doesn't feel like himself, and neither does Fozzie Bear. Gonzo is defanged, even though technically he can get away with more outrageous stuff. Only the members of  Dr, Teeth and the Electric Mayhem show their old signs of life. Zoot waking up in a writer's meeting and introducing himself like he's at an AA meeting until Floyd cuts him off actually made me laugh, God help me. Too little did.

As a parody of variety shows, The Muppet Show was self-aware. This one is self-aware about being self-aware, with the glib assumption that we're all self-aware now. A lot of the charm is lost.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Going to the dogs

But suddenly something struck Maria's side so hard that she yelped and stumbled. It was Bingo, who had come unnoticed into the kitchen and now planted himself between the astonished Maria and the cage. She recovered at once, and ignoring Bingo, she rushed the cage again. But Bingo barked with great authority, a shout of a bark, and again he slammed himself into Maria. Amazed, she stopped, and then, as dogs will do when circumstances seem too puzzling, she simply left the scene, withdrawing to the far side of the room to see what would happen next. There she stayed. Then all of us were quiet in the half-lit room, Bingo trembling with emotion and panting hard as he faced Maria watchfully, Maria overwhelmed by this unexpected turn of events, me shamed by my own dog, and the mice and parakeets exhausted and still. Bingo stayed where he was as guardian until Maria left the room. Then I reached my hand to him apologetically. Quietly, humbly, he touched my fingers very delicately with his tongue.
For context, Bingo wanted to mate with Maria, which is why his actions when she was menacing the smaller pets surprised the author.

The author is Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, an anthropologist who observed the dogs living with her and her husband and recorded the results in The Hidden Life of Dogs. I know her from an animal column she writes for The Boston Globe. She's been criticized for anthropomorphizing dogs as depicting them with thoughts and feelings, but her case that they have such is pretty airtight.

The book is not wall-to-wall heartwarming and tender moments. Some of it is disturbing as well as sad. But overall there is something touching about it, not least in Thomas's attempts to reach out and understand.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Final Songs: Good Night

Album: The Beatles (informally but universally known as the White Album) by the Beatles


Now it's time to say good night
Good night, sleep tight
Now the sun turns out his light
Good night, sleep tight
Dream sweet dreams for me (Dream sweet)
Dream sweet dreams for you

Close your eyes and I'll close mine
Good night, sleep tight
Now the moon begins to shine
Good night, sleep tight
Dream sweet dreams for me (Dream sweet)
Dream sweet dreams for you

Mmmmmm
Mmmmmm
Mmmmmmmmmm

Close your eyes and I'll close mine
Good night, sleep tight
Now the sun turns out his light
Good night, sleep tight
Dream sweet dreams for me (Dream sweet)
Dream sweet dreams for you

Good night, good night, everybody
Everybody everywhere
Good night

"Are they serious?"

By late 1968, the Beatles had only been in the public consciousness for about five years, but it's safe to say that they'd had an adventurous recording history. At the beginning were souped-up rock 'n' roll songs that sounded live-in-studio even if they weren't. Eventually in came more ornate sounds and heady lyrics on the concept album Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band and the Magical Mystery Tour soundtrack. So, an established track record for challenging their audience and their role as pop stars.

Yet The Beatles was different. The front cover was a jokey concept art piece, declaring the idea of "The Beatles" without showing the Fab Four themselves, or any imagery associated with them, or for that matter anything at all. The back revealed song titles that sounded facetious ("Back in the USSR", "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey") or plain at least more esoteric than normal ("While My Guitar Gently Weeps"), Fans could be forgiven for asking if this were all an elaborate joke.

Of course it wasn't just that. The music was still important, and they were still quite able to excel in producing it. But the Beatles themselves had their own questions. Nobody would have them all answered by the album's end.

"Good Night" begins with a sedate swoop of strings, soon joined by woodwinds and angelic backing singers. While the Beatles had done classical music pastiches in the past (Paul's "Eleanor Rigby" for one) this was something different. It was more the orchestral schmaltz associated with TV variety shows and easy listening albums. You might picture the singer as a man with pomaded hair, the bow tie loosened on his tuxedo.

Or, once you hear that it's Ringo Starr, maybe not. Ringo is the one familiar element in the song, at least familiar in the Beatles context. The other Beatles don't play on it, although John Lennon did help with the arrangements.

And this song comes from John. He wrote it as a lullaby for his five year old son Julian. The fact that he wrote it for his elder son, the one he had with unlucky first wife Cynthia, and with whom he'd have a fraught relationship for the rest of his life, adds an extra layer of poignancy to the song.

On the other hand, the fact that it follows the Dadaist tape experiment "Revolution 9" right at the end makes it more surreal. Following Stockhausen/Cage alienation with Nelson Riddle sentiment doesn't bring things back to normal. It makes you question whether normal exists.

So how much of this is a joke? The question may never be answered.

Friday, September 18, 2015

A thought

Possibly another Final Songs around the corner. I'm thinking over some candidates.

I've come to appreciate unfiltered people over the years. Not unsocialized people, but people who don't sugarcoat their opinions. You can trust them, and they make the world a more interesting place.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Test of the West

So this summer I've borrowed quite a few movies from the library, usually watching them on Friday night. My picks have been by instinct and curiosity. They haven't always worked out. Giallo might be an interesting subgenre, but I had to bail on Dario Argento's The Bird with the Crystal Plumage because the plot was just too imbecilic. (A serial killer is butchering women in Rome. What do we do? Let's send in an American novelist who doesn't really know the city or the language!)

That's just to assure you that I don't like absolutely everything. But The Furies actually is quite worth seeing. It's a Western directed by Anthony Mann, who'd mostly done noir crime dramas up to that point. That probably counts for something.

The film stars Barbara Stanwyck as Vance Jeffords. She looks up to her father, a legendary rancher named TC Jeffords, played by Walter Huston. He's got a big personality and does seem to have a way with cattle.

It's also pretty obvious that he's broke. He's made a habit of paying for everything with "TC notes", which are really just fancy IOUs. It's also unclear how much of this land is rightfully his. There's an extended family of Mexican's living on the estate, who claim that they belong here and don't seem crazy. A rival family also say that TC stole some of his land from them.

So TC's fortune is on shaky ground. And since Vance has a friend among the Mexicans and falls in love/hate with the scion of the rival family, the father/daughter relationship is also precarious.

The Furies, shot in black and white, uses its far West landscape in moody, Gothic ways. It's also concise, telling a fairly epic story in under two hours. The corn content on this one is pretty low.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Outside baseball

I just want to assure the people of Pawtucket that a bunch of Providence natives don't want the PawSox to move either. I talked to a woman in a protest group this evening about the effect a stadium would have on the neighborhood. Plus Providence is a mixture of physically small as a city and also hilly. Like, all hills. Not really ideal baseball park territory.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Li'l devil


Doktor Faust | Doctor Faustus (1938) from Msumofpuppetry on Vimeo.

Do't think I have waking time to put up the post I originally meant to. Another night, perhaps? I can give you this moment of Zen, as it were. It's backstage at a Slovenian puppet production of Faust. These people are some dedicated pros. The puppets are lovely too. Unless you have a phobia about puppets, in which case I'm sorry.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Final Songs: Taking Tiger Mountain

Hello and welcome to our new feature, Final Songs.

First, a word about Friday Random Ten. What happened to it? Well, the idea sort of lost its freshness for me. Or the format at least. I've wanted for a while to start a new project, looking at music in a slightly more in-depth way. And since I'm making some necessary changes in life now, it seemed like a good time to change this as well.

Final Songs has to do with endings, as you might guess. In particular, songs that end albums. What does/did the artist want you as a listener to come away thinking of at the end of the whole thing.

Of course, this question relies on the existence of albums, which is to say long-players that are meant to exist as a unit. A lot of LPs from the late forties till sometime in the sixties are loose aggregations of singles with some extra material, a circumstance that has returned in force in the digital era. Still, there are still musicians who keep the idea of an album sequence in their mind, so we may deal with them at some point.

Album: Taking Tiger Mountain (by Strategy) by Brian Eno

We climbed and we climbed,
Oh, how we climbed
My, how we climbed
Over the stars to [the] top

[Of] Tiger Mountain
Forcing the lines through the snow.
Okay, let's do this.

As you can see from the above, the lyrics are pretty brief. And the vocals don't start until 2:36, almost halfway through the song. The title track to Eno's Here Come the Warm Jets, also an album ender, had brought the vocals in even later. Even in his early solo career, when he'd done more in the semi-pop song format, Eno didn't really consider himself a singer/songwriter, it seems.

The musical bedding here is guitar and piano, no percussion to speak of,, but some wind effects. After a wild ride of an album, it's relatively sedate. You could almost call it mellow. But theres' some thing about this circular melody that can put you on edge.

And again, there are the vocals. Despite coming in late, they have time to repeat themselves a few times. Repeated fragments about climbing, and "forcing the lines" in the peak's snow covering. Which is sort of an ominous wording. The album as a whole is loosely inspired by the revolutionary dramas that Mao had allowed in China. The words here could suggest a revolutionary act (of violence?) but they sound more resigned that excited. The revolution can get to be a drag.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

... than curse the darkness

Joel Hodgson seems to have a few Facebook voters after my own heart. If I had to pick one MST3K episode that stood out above all the others, it would likely be Eegah!The low-stakes Johnson era caveman caper brought out the best in Best Brains. Also has some of Joel's best philosophical musings, seen below.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Shonen Knife cover the Carpenters and for a brief, shining moment all is right with the world



Love both the guitar playing and the way her accent makes the lyrics sound new. Wonder what these three are up to now.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Jobsworth

You're saying it's not a film about the technology, it's a film about values, and Jobs comes back to values several times. You very sharply highlight how his early, rebellious values about controlling a large system don't necessarily mesh with his later values about protecting his own large system. As a person who covers Apple frequently, that’s fascinating. It's almost like, I think about it so much that I stop thinking about it.
It was to me one of the most striking things about him and his growth. Even though he thinks he didn't grow out of those countercultural values, I think he took certain affectations from the counterculture and left some of the more deep-seated values, both from the counterculture, and frankly from his "search for enlightenment," quote-unquote, behind.
And I think he didn't really fully appreciate that he had left that behind. He starts out doing blue boxes with Woz, right? And yet by the end he's going after the guys at Gizmodo. Who you'd think actually had that same kind of renegade blue box spirit that he celebrated himself and liked to believe that Apple still represented. It’s the idea of this plucky startup. Apple wasn't a plucky startup anymore! And he never was able to reconcile himself with that idea.
It's an interesting interview and there's a good chance that I'll see Gibney's Steve Jobs documentary at some point. How much weight I actually give to the Citizen Kane aspect of Jobs' life is another story..

The Apple vision is a seductive one from an aesthetic point of view. In a way this has only become more true over time. In the eighties they stood out from the pack because they had a piece of fruit in their logo and because of Steve Wozniak's involvement in the US Festival, one of the first attempts at building a branded Woodstock. Their line of personalized - or seemingly so - software and gizmos would take time to develop.

It's also true that the results of this vision haven't entirely been benign. There's been a decay in the whole idea of shared physical space, as "bricks and mortar" locations for businesses are considered atavistic and people in public gaze into their devices to avoid acknowledging each other's existences. To say nothing of how much the "sharing economy" looks to be a fancy name for letting proles fight over a shrinking number of tables scraps while the table groans with food.

But how much of this is down to the foible's of Jobs' personality? I don't know. The truth is that even the CEO of a very powerful company doesn't reset the course of society by himself. Others have to invest in the idea, directly and indirectly. A lot of people who already had money chose to use it to certain ends.

In other words, you can hate the player, but what really counts is how the game has been gamed.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Friday Random Heads, Ten Tails

Another movie night. This time No Country For Old Men. Where Josh Brolin is a fairly clever mouse who might have a chance if Javier Bardem's Chigurh was anything like an ordinary cat. He isn't, of course, and you can pretty much predict the end in the beginning. It's so well told though that it remains fascinating watching throughout.


1. Simon & Garfunkel - Voices of Old People
2. Nancy Wilson & Cannonball Adderley - The Old Country
3. David Bowie - Lady Stardust
4. The New Pornographers - Bones of an Idol
5. Nellie McKay - Won't U Please B Nice
6. The Magnetic Fields - In My Car
7. XTC - Rocket from a Bottle
8. Mose Allison - Groovin' High
9. The Ramones - Rock 'n' Roll Hight School
10. Pink Martini - Pana Cand Ne Tu Iubeam