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 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 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


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


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.