Thursday, December 31, 2009

Drama Review: Avatar (2009)

First, I must say I am stunned. Not necessarily by James Cameron's Avatar, but by the fact that I managed to find any time to see a 160 minute-long movie! I got to finish 2009 by partaking in a bit of "film history." Sort of. I'm still reeling. And, yes, I will say that Avatar was visually stunning, if not a whole lot else. The plot was functional enough, better than average sci-fi, but the dialogue was mostly cookie-cutter, dotted with tough-guy one-liners.

To his credit, James Cameron does have a good director's sense of human emotion in the characters, and fortunately the CGI (or "CG") technology has caught up to his sci-fi vision. Did I say "human emotion?" Why, yes I did. But the creatures I am referring to, of course, are the distinctly non-human blue Na'vi aliens, all of whom are 10-foot tall, part ape, part tiger, and part Krishna.

I often hate CGI. I put up with it in some movies, like The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Those movies did very well with CGI and the trick-camera effects so that it wasn't too fake-looking. But a lot of CGI is irritatingly insubstantial. The animated characters generally don't appear as if they're actually interacting with anyone or anything in three-dimensional space.

Avatar avoids that. The blue aliens are enjoyable to watch. They emote convincingly. My favorite parts of the film, however, were the depictions of the alien flora and fauna of the distant moon Pandora. Everything was phosphorescent and seemed primeval, like psychedelic matte paintings out of a dinosaur book. And the fact that the movie was in 3D demonstrates Cameron's confidence that the film would not look fake. Of course, my friend and I opted out of seeing it in IMAX 3D. That might have been just too much.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

My Heart and the Real World

D. Boon (April 1, 1958-December 22, 1985). Singer, poet, painter, thinker, political activist, straight shooter, and of course a real-life guitar hero. Every time Dec. 22nd rolls around, I think about D. Boon. The last Minutemen show I saw was at the L.A. Street Scene, maybe just a few weeks before D. Boon died. I'll never forget him, bobbing and bouncing around the stage wearing multiple layers of clothes, always putting his heart into his music. A true mind-opener. Thinking a lot about him today.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Transcendental Journey With Carl Sagan in "A Glorious Dawn"

More synchronicity. Two days ago, I watched an episode of Cosmos on hulu. Cosmos had been, I now realize, enormously influential on my thinking in life. I watched it as a kid when it first ran on PBS, and Carl Sagan's insightful awe at the universe just-as-it-is filtered deep into my way of viewing things. That and the Vangelis-like spacey soundtrack. Awe is the answer. Anyway, just today a friend coincidentally posted this video of Carl Sagan taking us on a transcendental journey through space, earth, and the imagination. With a beat. It's the zeitgeist. Oh, yeah!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Feliĉa Akto de Rajtoj Tago!

Today is Bill of Rights Day, a day of recognition established by FDR to honor the anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights. And what would a constitutional celebration be without some controversy? And what would life be without some synchronicity?

Yesterday, quite by chance, I came across a wikipedia article on Esperanto, the international language invented by L.L. Zamenhof in 1887. I was looking up something seemingly unrelated, and there it was.

Today, I googled "Bill of Rights Day," and--Behold!--there appears to be a somewhat minor controversy in that Google is honoring December 15th as Zamenhof's birthday and not as Bill of Rights Day. Some folks are upset that is decorated with the green flag of Esperanto and not the parchment of our freedoms.

Anyway, until yesterday I had never heard of L.L. Zamenhof. And here is his name jumping out at me from my googled list of news articles! A long time ago, I kept a journal of the weird coincidences like this that I was noticing in my day-to-day affairs. Call it Jungian synchronicity or Michael Shermer's more skeptical idea of patternicity, but it always has a strange quasi-mystical feel when it happens.

That is why today I am wishing you "Feliĉa Akto de Rajtoj Tago!" That's "Happy Bill of Rights Day" in Esperanto, of course. (I used an online Esperanto Translator program, so I have no idea if this is correct.) Now go out and exercise your freedom of speech in the language of your choice!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Crass Across The Universe

Penny Rimbaud (Jeremy Ratter) of Crass received an award from John Lennon in a Beatles art contest on the British music show Ready Steady Go! Did Greil Marcus include this in Lipstick Traces? Serendipitously great.

Monday, November 30, 2009

When We're Aware

I am revisiting some Buddhist literature I've accumulated over the years. Much wisdom for living. Here is something I could ponder for the rest of my days, again from The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma (North Point Press 1989):

"When we're deluded, there's a world to escape. When we're aware, there's nothing to escape."

Monday, November 23, 2009

A "Page" From the Book of Jansch

Jimmy Page was certainly, er, inspired by Bert Jansch's rendition of this traditional Irish tune ("Blackwaterside" or "Down by Blackwaterside"). In fact, most agree he lifted Jansch's sublime fingerpicked melody for "Black Mountain Side." Honestly, it doesn't make me love Zeppelin's song (or Zeppelin) any less. But here's Jansch performing the original (from the 1970s?). I had the blessing of seeing Jansch perform many years back, but damn! I'll never be able to fingerpick like that.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Thus Spake Bodhidharma

From The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma (North Point Press 1989):

"People who see that their mind is the buddha don't need to shave their head. Laymen are buddhas too. Unless they see their nature, people who shave their head are simply fanatics."

Monday, October 26, 2009

Cult Video Interlude, Part 5: "The Bliss of Debt"

In this clip, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (renamed "Osho" before his death) justifies "selling bliss" to the poor saps who cannot appreciate that which they cannot pay for. Such sophistry mixed with his obvious charisma and skillful verbal delivery apparently kept his luxury motor pool fully stocked. It also kept him in glittering glam-suits and high-backed chairs like something out of Lost in Space (and check out his gold watch). Hey, if people bought what he was offering while he was so openly solicitous about it, then caveat emptor! It astounds me that Osho's been dead almost 20 years, but the followers are still there, here, everywhere! I mean, can you argue with success? Of course you can! But even I find myself sort of mesmerized by the guy. OK, next?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Cult Video Interlude, Part 4: "It Was My Pleasure"

Meet James Arthur Ray. He's one of the many self-help gurus out there who seem to have made a lot of money telling other people how they can make a lot of money. The message seems to be: "You can get rich with your mind, but you'll have to put in a lot of effort!" I always wonder, which is it? Do I just use my mind and a mystical "secret" (like The Secret)? Or do I put in effort?

The reason this person is up here as part of a "cult" series, is that he recently led a "sweat lodge" for about 50 people in Sedona, Arizona, in which (at last counting) three people ended up dead after Ray reportedly actively discouraged them from getting up and leaving when the heat of the lodge became too intense. As human beings lay injured and dying, say eyewitnesses, Ray left the scene. This is why skepticism can save lives!

I only made it to about three and a half minutes into this video. He tells some tiresome tale about how a manager at a restaurant taught him the meaning of life by repeating the quotidian phrase: "It was my pleasure." How these "gurus" drain thousands of dollars out of other people by finding faux profundity in the utterly mundane is the only marvel here. I guess it's showbiz, if something so unentertaining counts as showbiz. But I'll continue to avoid Ray and his ilk. It will be my pleasure!

UPDATE 10/25/09: After the incident described above, a skeptic sits through a free James Arthur Ray seminar and lives to write about it here.

UPDATE 2/11/10: Ben Radford goes into more detail here about the possible perils of sweating too much.

Cult Video Interlude, Part 3: "An Uncomfortably Intimate Evening...for Jesus!"

Have you ever found yourself watching the Trinity Broadcasting Network, perhaps late at night when you can't sleep? And have you ever been mesmerized not only by the high weirdness emanating from Benny Hinn or the station's perpetual hosts, Paul and Jan Crouch, but also by the soul-draining blandness of the station's many singers and entertainers? Well, then maybe you have set eyes on the swarthy phenom who goes by the name "Carman." I once did. But I did not focus enough on his dull interview anymore than to allow its narcotic effect push me into sleep. He's something like a cross between George Clooney and Jimmy Swaggart with a strange bit of Nick Cave's face. He apparently does "story songs," in which he narrates overworked tales of Christ's judgment. In this video, Carman has an uncomfortably intimate evening with a "male witch" named, ahem, "Isaac Horowitz." Yes, that's really the name. (The only thing left out of Carman's freakish rant is him yelling "Christ killer!") The two of them spar over whose spiritual gobbledy-goop is better, while the 80s-ish mishmash of pop goes on and on for a 6+ minute-long cringefest. If you make it to the end, you deserve honorary salvation!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Cult Video Interlude, Part 2: "Atheists From Outer Space"

Sometime back in the early 1990s, I was walking through the fair city of Santa Monica with some friends, when we came across a flier taped to a lamppost. It said, "UFO Abductee Speaks!" or some such thing, right above a photo of a flying saucer from a 50s sci-fi flick. The venue was the Santa Monica Public Library. So, we all headed over there on the appointed evening and joined others to hear the story of the abductee. The auditorium was about a third full. We were greeted by a young, pony-tailed Frenchman who apologized that the abductee, a man who went by the name "Rael", could not make it to speak for himself. He then showed us a video explaining the story of Rael's close encounter with an advanced race of space aliens in the early 1970s. It also told of the aliens' creation of humans in a lab. Once I realized this was only a cult proselytizing event, I was sorely disappointed.

Anyway, here is Rael making an appeal during last year's "Blasphemy Challenge" phenomenon on the youtube. He claims the Raelian Movement as the "most important atheist organization in the world." Perhaps he's right. It is certainly the most imaginative atheist organization, even though Rael just happened to have his "revelation" a few short years after the release of 2001: A Space Odyssey, which dealt with the engineering of human evolution by space aliens. Coink-i-dink?

I do recall the Raelians wanted to build an embassy for the space aliens in Israel. I think their use of a swastika tucked into the Star of David may, uh, be a stumbling block in that endeavor.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Cult Video Interlude, Part 1: "Eyes Wide Open"

Here is Marshall "Do" Applewhite, talking directly to his followers and would-be followers and, evidently, to us today. Watch as Do spontaneously gives this Heaven's Gate initiation video the cumbersome title: Planet Earth: About to Be Recycled (Your Only Chance to Survive or Evacuate is to Leave With Us). (Punctuation provided by yours truly.) I would rather title this video: Trust Me, I Rarely Blink.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Preview of The American Book of the Dead

Henry Baum has written a new novel, The American Book of the Dead. If you haven't read his previous novels, Oscar Caliber Gun and North of Sunset, I recommend you do that with great alacrity. Get them here and here. (FULL DISCLOSURE: He's a friend of mine.) An...interview...with him and preview of the new book has been posted on the youtube.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Spiritual Interlude: Forrest Church, R.I.P.

Years ago I taught U.S. history. In reading about the deism (and unitarian proclivities) of many of our nation's founders, particularly Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Thomas Paine, I became curious to know about this somewhat mysterious denomination called Unitarianism that Jefferson was supposed to sympathize with. I was looking up histories of it in the public library and stumbled across the books of The Rev. Forrest Church, who had been the minister at All Souls Church in NYC for years and years.

He seemed to know a lot about U.S. history and could convey it passionately and clearly. I took to his writing. His book God and Other Famous Liberals aimed to recapture notions of God, the flag, and family values for the left and liberalism. Church argued convincingly that "God" can be a liberating and non-sectarian notion, while liberation itself can be patriotic. His dad was the Democratic senator Frank Church from Idaho, who similarly wrote a book defending Second Amendment rights from a liberal standpoint (esp. for women). Anyway, I recommend God and Other Famous Liberals, as well as Forrest Church's edited compilation of founding documents relating to the separation of church and state. As I write this, I notice that the Beacon Press edition of The Jefferson Bible is within arm's reach, with an introduction by Church.

All this is why I am sad to learn he died three days ago. But I am not surprised. I knew he had been suffering from cancer. He wrote a book about confronting death, and had a healthy agnosticism about the life hereafter. Life before death is what's truly meaningful, and it was a comfort sometimes to know there was a man-of-the-cloth who bothered to articulate that.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Beer Isn't Good For You

Finally, somebody posted some Unit 3 with Venus. This song "Beer" has gone through my mind many times since I last heard it some 25+ years ago. When asked "What does it mean to be a punk?" Venus just says "I don't know. I just like it." That's a good punk answer. Also a good kid answer. Pretty much a novelty act, but a fine performance on the kid's part. A very Darby-like intro.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Atahualpa Rock!

About the same time that Die Kreuzen was putting out October File, another band was making metal in Ecuador. This is so great on so many levels.

Die Kreuzen's Echo-And-Gloom

I recently found the promo materials that came with the used lp I bought of Die Kreuzen's October File. It was one of my favorites in 1986. It's art-death-metal, industrialized echo-and-gloom, and hardcore all in one gloriously grayscaled package.

A not-so-gloomy pic of the band:

And a review written by none other than Steve Albini:

Nice to see that the awesome and underrated Slovenly were on Albini's radar:

Incidentally, the one time I saw Die Kreuzen was at the Anti-Club on a bill with Slovenly in, I believe, 1987. A strange match-up, but exemplary of the blessedly scattered direction that punk bands took post-hardcore and post-post-punk. They were a great live band.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Punks in Space

In space, no one can hear you sing along with Leather, Bristles, Studs, and Acne.

Posted using ShareThis

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Health Care Reform is People! It's People!

With all the hysteria about Obama supposedly wanting to euthanize the elderly and institute National Socialism in the U.S., it occured to me that the screaming anti-reformists on the healthcare issue may need a propaganda film to help raise consciousness and galvanize their movement. Fortunately for them, that film already exists:

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Tribute Bands I'd Like to See

In the spirit of Rain (a tribute to the Beatles) and The Atomic Punks (Van Halen tribute band) and Wild Child (a tribute to The Doors), I present to you my ideas for tribute bands. This is the kind of inspired thought I get at 4 a.m., with the afterthought of that terrible, terrible scene in What We Do Is Secret in which neo-hardcore band The Bronx performs as a 1980-era Black Flag playing "Police Story." Just awful. I could not suspend my disbelief after that whatsoever. But I digress. If the following bands were done right, it would be golden:

Salad Days (a tribute to Minor Threat). Runner-up names were Bottled Violence, Filler, Guilty of Being White, and Minor Threat (named after the song "Minor Threat").

Punk Is Dead (a tribute to Crass). Runner-up names were Big M.A.N., The Demo(n)crats, Christ the Band, and, of course, White Punks on Hope.

Atrocity Exhibition (a tribute to Joy Division). Runner-up names were Candidate, Passover, Heart and Soul, Here Are The Young Men, and Warsaw Revisited. (Note: I have had a dream for many, many years of forming a reggae band that plays all Joy Division songs. It would work, I tell you! You heard it here first.)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Sky Saxon is Really Dead

In the mid-80s, I discovered Greg Shaw's Cavern Club in Hollywood when he booked my band Blue Garden Blue to open for The Unclaimed there. I guess he considered us a part of the Paisley Underground scene, which we really weren't. We did, however, self-consciously adopt elements of what was, at that time, a twenty-year old look and style. We wore short paisley-esque ties and black boots and played a garage-type of post-punk that also tapped into The Kinks, Hard Day's Night-era Beatles, Love, and The Seeds. We were simpatico, it seemed.

It was through that experience at the Cavern Club in 1985 that I began to go to the club to see different bands from time to time. One night, I went with my friends to see Yard Trauma and Sky Saxon. I knew The Seeds, I dug The Seeds. What I saw on stage was not exactly The Seeds but Sky Saxon solo. Here was a skinny, scraggly, loosely-garbed Saxon, mumbling into the microphone between songs and lettin' loose when the music played. I didn't recognize a lot of the tunes, except for "Pushin' Too Hard" and a few others. (I can't recall who was his backing band. It could have been Yard Trauma themselves.) I enjoyed it. It was memorable. I got the sense that Saxon was somewhere else, mentally. Impenetrable.

I have no idea if that aptly gets at who he was offstage. It's only an impression from my teen years. Maybe he was still into Father Yod at the time and had his mind-antenna pointed to the center of the cosmos. Or to Laurel Canyon. I don't know. But I'm glad I got to see him when he was probably the exact age I am now, being free and creative.

Sky Saxon, sadly, is really dead.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Rush to Judgment: "Fly by Night" (1974)

This is the first Rush song I ever heard. I think I turned 12 when my dad gave me a Radio Shack tape recorder, before anyone in my household even thought about the efficiency or practicality of a tape deck. With that tape recorder, I made incredibly low-fi recordings of the radio: I would place the recorder on the floor with the stereo headphones close to the built-in mic, turn up the volume, and record KLOS (local L.A. rock station, now defunct) or KROQ (circa 1980, still gasping and wheezing with life in 2009). I remember recording Rush's "Fly by Night" that way, on the same cassette that included the Ramones' "Beat on the Brat" and Brian Eno's "America is Waiting."

I listened to that tape over and over again, the same as I would do over the next couple of years, using the same headphone-duping "technology," with Rodney on the ROQ. I thought Rush's song ruled, perhaps even more so than the Ramones. I didn't differentiate at that age between "punk" or "prog" or "new wave" or "rock." Whatever sounded good to me was fine. Thinking back on it, that probably explains a lot of my musical taste today.

So, here is a clip of Rush circa '74 playing that song. Mentioning Rush in casual conversation about rock can conjure up a chortle or two, as if saying "Rush" is shorthand for "over-the-top nonsense." Well, songs like "The Trees" certainly give them that reputation. But seriously, "Fly by Night" is a great song. In 3 minutes and 19 seconds or so, Rush had melody, swing, punch, Rickenbacker bass grittiness, and, of course, chops galore. They didn't overdo anything here.

So I will go on record right now as a Rush enthusiast. They had several great songs and albums, up to and including 1981's Moving Pictures (a masterpiece). Hell, even some of their synth-washed 80s stuff is fairly decent, though I don't choose to listen to it. "Fly by Night" is 180 degrees from this, but I love it just the same. When I heard the Sun City Girls' cover of this song on the great Midnight Cowboys From Ipanema, I took it as sincere and liked it, whatever the Bishop brothers may have actually intended. It works for me.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Crime at San Quentin

Doing their public service, Crime played for the cons at the California State Prison, San Quentin. Though the copyright is from 1984, I don't know what year this performance actually took place. It's from Target Video, the good people who brought you such performances as The Cramps at Napa State Mental Hospital.

I appreciate how the prisoners proudly hold up fliers with the band's "crime" logo, giving new meaning to the term audience participation. It is a mystery how the woman appears toward the end, dancing languidly to the beat with seemingly no barrier between herself and the men. I wonder how they pulled that off?

The song, incidentally, is Crime's "Piss on Your Dog." Dig their white socks.

Friday, May 29, 2009

How I Put My Knowledge of Discordian Trivia to No Good Use...And Became a High Priest!

NOTE: I took an online quiz about Discordianism. The result below is embedded text from a site linked from here, which is in turn linked from the site of the late Robert Anton Wilson (pictured to the left). (Amazing what one reading of Illuminatus! and the Cosmic Trigger years ago can do!) Since everyone who wants to be a pope can be one in the Discordian religion, I wonder if "High Priest/ess" ranks higher than that.


Your result for The Discordian Test...

High Priest/ess

You scored 88.

You have passed three degrees of 23, the magick number 69, Discordian. As Pope I initiate you into the Fourth Degree of the PARATHEO-ANAMETAMYSTIKHOOD OF ERIS ESOTERIC, or POEE. Henceforth, you shall be addressed as a High Priest/ess, until such time as you get your Shit Together and graduate to the Next Degree.

Take The Discordian Test

Monday, May 18, 2009

Clockwork Orange People

Yesterday, I overheard a snippet of conversation from a small group of about four young, white, ostensibly middle class males standing on the street together. They were late teens or early-twentysomethings with short hair and scruffy faces, a couple of whom had skateboards.

One of them said, "There are two kinds of people in the world, Scarface people and Clockwork Orange people. I am a Clockwork Orange person."

Ladies and gentlemen, the ultraviolence is now so integrated into popular culture that young men delineate the world between narco-gangster violence and nihilo-dandy gangster violence. But it's all gangster, all the time. This is the Grand Theft Auto generation talking. What could this guy have possibly meant? I do see a strange connection between the two films (not assuming he was referring to Anthony Burgess's novel). Both describe post-Communist renegades of capitalist society: one a refugee from Castro's totalitarian "Caribbean people's paradise," and the other a Russian-damaged thug for Beethoven (an icon of the West). I wish now I had asked the guy if he'd ever listened to The Adicts or Mad Parade, since they were obviously Clockwork Orange people, too. I think he might have appreciated it. Or he might have shot me.

Friday, May 15, 2009

"Can't Decide"

Many, many weeks ago, an overwhelming landslide of three votes came in to answer the survey question: Which is the best Greg Ginn guitar solo? I picked my three favorites, excluding anything from the Black Flag instrumental records. Of "Rise Above," "Jealous Again," and "Can't Decide," it is the third in that list that won the most votes (two!). The only other vote was for None of the Above.

Briefly, "Can't Decide" is such a great song, my favorite from either Side A or Side B of the My War album. The song structure is a twist on the verse-chorus format of the traditional rock-pop song, with a blisteringly atonal solo following each chorus. It's a "hit song" from the alternate universe of truly listenable, muscular rock.

As atonal as Ginn's fretwork is, however, I could hum along with his solos. They are compact and fit in the right places but then go way out into the stratosphere at the right moments, too, especially when juxtaposed to the tightly wound chords of most of Black Flag's songs. I think this reveals an underlying harmolodic quality to his playing. It's always been there. I've always noticed it. But it wasn't until listening to Ornette Coleman years after I'd been headbanging to Black Flag that I learned the terms to describe just what was so bold and advanced about Ginn's guitar-playing compared to most other punk rock players.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Richard Pinhas at Highways (2007)

While thinking about Heldon, I remembered this show by Richard Pinhas in my hometown almost two years ago. Thanks to JB for buying me a ticket, I was able to see it. Some blessed music fanatic posted this youtube video a couple days later. Weird, because I could have sworn this show was last year. Time is just stretching into increasingly strange shapes as I get older. Anyway, sit back and--if you have thirty minutes or so set aside for spacing out--enjoy this clip. The hand-held camera does get less shaky after the introduction.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Further Vindication of Rollins

Recently, I felt the need to defend the honor of Henry Rollins in the face of criticism that he "ruined" Black Flag. Well, as if he needed further vindication, I now want to point out how great Rollins is as a DJ. That sounded rather fawning. But it's true. I had listened to his "Harmony in My Head" program on the now-defunct 103.1 FM radio station here in Los Angeles and sang its praises. By myself. While stuck in traffic. But it was indeed a great show.

Through the show, I was introduced to the music of Daniel A.I.U. Higgs and High on Fire, as well as the Bad Brains' amazing Black Dots record. Then he would throw a wonderful curve ball and play something I love like Fela Kuti or the entire first side of Here Come the Warm Jets. Just a great what'll-he-think-of-next kind of show. He published many of his early playlists (with commentary) in the Fanatics series of books, where I learned that he loves the music of King Sunny Ade as much as I do.

Now that "Indie 103" has been interred in the radio graveyard, Santa Monica's KCRW has taken Rollins in and given him his own show, following the same autonomous format of what he had before. I didn't realize that until this past Saturday, when my wife had KCRW on and I heard the recorded muezzin's call to prayer that was the signature beginning to Rollins's self-styled "sonic jihad" of "Harmony in My Head." The show that followed was a great show devoted to post-punk. Over the course of two hours, Rollins's playlist reminded me of the immensely creative period of the late 70s/early 80s that often also goes by the overbroad genre-title "New Wave." It was like stumbling across Andrea Enthal's great midnight show on KPFK circa 1981.

Here's the playlist from April 25, 2009, and there's not a weak moment in the whole thing:

01. Neu! - Super / Neu! 2
02. David Bowie - Art Decade / Low
03. Iggy Pop - Funtime / The Idiot
04. Public Image Ltd. – Careering / Second Edition
05. Magazine – Recoil / Real Life
06. DEVO - Mechanical Man (Booji Boy Version) / Greatest Misses
07. Pere Ubu - Nonalignment Pact / The Modern Dance
08. The Normal - Warm Leatherette / single
09. Gang Of Four - Damaged Goods / Entertainment!
10. The Slits - Typical Girls / Cut
11. The Pop Group - Words Disobey Me / Y
12. Joy Division – Interzone / Unknown Pleasures
13. The Fall - Bingo Masters Break-Out / The Fall Box Set CD #01.
14. Glaxo Babies - Who Killed Bruce Lee / Dreams Interrupted
15. This Heat – Sleep / Deceit
16. Wire - Being Sucked In Again / Chairs Missing
17. Cabaret Voltaire - Do the Mussolini (Head Kick) / The Original Sound Of Sheffield
18. Young Marble Giants - Music For Evenings / Colossal Youth
19. The Swell Maps - Steven Does / A Trip To Marineville
20. Spizz - Cold City / Where's Captain Kirk?
21. Family Fodder - Savoir Faire / Savoir Faire: The Best Of
22. Passage – Fear / Pindrop
23. Dum Dum Dum - Dum Dum Dum / Messthetics Greatest Hits
24. Ludus – My Cherry Is In Sherry / The Seduction
25. Crisis – Frustration / Holocaust Hymns
26. Scritti Politti – Bibbly-O-Tek / Early
27. The Cravats – Precinct / Land Of The Giants
28. The Pseudo Existors - Beyond The Zone / Stamp Out Normality
29. Desperate Bicycles – Handlebars / single
30. The Sound – Skeletons / From The Lion’s Mouth
31. Suicide - Ghost Rider / Suicide

Friday, April 24, 2009

Giving Up Victory and Defeat

Victory breeds hatred,
The defeated live in pain.
Happily the peaceful live,
Giving up victory and defeat.
— Dhp. 201

The above is a verse from the Dhammapada (sayings of Shakyamuni Buddha) that I came across today, prompted by my own musings about Buddhism yesterday. Wise words.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Guru Guru "Electric Junk" (1971)

These guys would have so been on SST if they'd been born later. Is this a Saint Vitus rehearsal I'm watching?

AFTERTHOUGHT: Maybe more like a Das Damen rehearsal.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Einstürzende Neubauten's "Autobahn"

I remember taping this onto VHS back in 1984 (?) from Night Flight/USA Network and then showing it to my mom and my sister to "freak them out." The "you-tube" has everything! I've never really been a big fan of Einstürzende Neubauten (never bought their records), but this video is pretty awesome, and it's fun to watch them bang around on a construction site, or wherever they are. Blixa's "guitar solo" rocks. (Oh, and it's not to be confused with the song with the same name by Kraftwerk.)

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Dream Journal: Lying to Michael Gira

I was staying at an expensive hotel near the ocean. It was a white, wooden structure, but showed its wear. At one point, I spoke to [cousin] who lived there. I asked her if she wanted to go to Peet's to get some coffee. She was with a friend. She said to me, "Oh, Peet's won't let me buy coffee since I drunk-dialed them a few weeks ago."

I asked if I could call and smooth things over. Maybe they'd let her in again. Then a dog entered the room. It was a skinny white dog, like an undernourished retriever. I followed it out of the room.

It led me to a grassy grotto next to the hotel. There was jazz music playing in the background. There was a series of tall tables, maybe four of them. You could stand or lean against them because there were no chairs. I followed the dog over to a tall man with long, stringy hair. His face was dirty. I recognized him as Michael Gira of the Swans, though he actually didn't look like Gira very much.

I asked him if that was his dog. He said, "Yes." Then he stuck his hand out for a handshake and said, "My name is Warden."

"You're the singer from the Swans, right?" I asked.

"Yes, I am." He smiled.

For some reason, I felt I needed to buddy-up to him. I said, "I really liked your last album." In my mind, I pictured a black-and-white album cover. I thought their last album was from a few years ago. I knew I was lying. In reality, I didn't like their last album at all, and it wasn't from a few years ago, anyway. His smile disappeared. I knew that he knew I was lying.

Then I looked away, looking for the dog. About fifteen feet away, I saw this scrawny, mangey brown-and-white dog with long rabbit-like ears. I wondered how the dog had transformed itself like that.

AFTERTHOUGHT: I just realized why he didn't really look like Gira, had stringy hair, and called himself "Warden." It's because he actually looked like Ward Churchill! He's the guy who called the workers in the Twin Towers on 9/11 "little Eichmanns" and who just won his case against U. of Colorado.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Baroque Improvisation, Darkness, and the Blues

Yesterday, my sister and brother-in-law gave me a ticket to join them at Disney Hall for a concert of Handel and Haydn. I felt run-down and exhausted and fighting some very minor cold, but I agreed to go. I love Handel's music, and this was his "Organ Concerto in D Minor," no less. That meant I'd be able to hear the massive Disney Hall organ again. Last spring, I saw Terry Riley's organ recital there, which was a great trip through the many Riley worlds and the many stops of this deliberately Fantasia-like instrument.

The pleasant surprise was that Handel wrote improvisational sections into the score of the organ concerto. In the book Improvisation, free-music guitarist Derek Bailey described this wonderful but lesser-known feature of baroque music. "In all styles of baroque, whatever period, whatever country, improvisation was always present, integrated into both the melodic and harmonic fabric of the music...[t]o decorate, to supplement, to vary, to embellish, to improve...." (Bailey, p. 21, emphasis in the original). As the conductor Bernard Labadie explained in the pre-show chat, Handel quite sincerely notated portions as "ad lib" for the organ.

And the fifteen-minute concerto did not disappoint. The French-Canadian organist, Richard Paré, performed well, adding--I swear--the most subtle blues chords at certain points. It caused momentary dissonance, which is not a criticism in the slightest. That's the beauty of improvisation. This might be only a subjective and "unprofessional" view of the music, but I like to think that Paré explores whatever connections exist between blues tonality and ancient music. Perhaps he does this inadvertently.

Haydn's "Violin Concerto in C" gave me a renewed appreciation of the sound of the bow against the strings. As my brother-in-law pointed out, every seat in Disney Hall affords good acoustics, but our seats were, nonetheless, really good. Every slight sound from those four violin strings was clear.

The second half of the program was Haydn's "The Seven Last Words of Our Savior on the Cross," which featured an actor reading the New Testament verses that describe Jesus's last moments. Labadie explained beforehand that Haydn's piece was composed for a certain church in Spain that would bring the lights down completely within the sanctuary save one chandelier during the performance. For similar effect, he had Disney Hall bring down all the house lights. The only illumination came from the musicians' music stands and the legally-required emergency footlights leading us to the exits (in case of disaster). I wondered why more classical concerts aren't presented in darkness like this.

With the reverie of the darkness and the music, I am proud of myself for remaining awake through most of hour-long piece. I was moved by William Christian's reading (aptly named!), but just got too comfortable not to give in to sleep. The applause woke me up. I felt no guilt.

Work Cited:
Bailey, Derek. Improvisation. New York: Da Capo, 1992.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Rollins and the Ruination

Recently I came across this 2001 interview with Jack Grisham of the original TSOL in which he touts Black Flag as a great band but at the same time clarifies that only “pre-Henry” Flag was any good. “Early Black Flag -- I f***in' loved 'em,” he says, “I think Henry [Rollins] ruined 'em.” I have encountered this sentiment elsewhere, and it puzzles me.

What, exactly, did Rollins do wrong? Grisham offers no explanation except that the Keith Morris Flag was his Flag. He “f***in’ loved ‘em” and that’s that. Perhaps he's simply confusing Rollins's Black Flag tenure with the later machismo-core of the Rollins Band. I don't know.

I saw Black Flag in the more experimental Kira-era, and they certainly delivered the goods. Besides, Greg Ginn himself tapped Rollins to replace Dez, didn't he? Plucking Rollins from the D.C. scene wasn’t the act of some mersh-minded manager cobbling together a radio-friendly supergroup. And Dez's throat was hurting.

So, Grisham should cut Rollins some slack. Damaged, My War, and Slip It In are amazing albums, despite Flag’s less-than-impressive later releases. The hair-waving duo of Rollins and Ginn was pure rock chemistry onstage. Mixed with Dukowski's neck-snapping bass presence and Dez's deceptively aggro hippy style, the Rollins five-piece phase captured on Damaged is anything but a ruination of the band. More like a fulfillment.

Maybe Grisham is just sensitive about what happened to his own band. After releasing the brilliant Beneath the Shadows, TSOL dumped him—or he bolted—so that they could eventually become a hair band. So, Grisham knows firsthand what it’s like to be the original and better lead singer in a band, but that’s no reason for him to project the “TSOL tragedy” onto Rollins.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Charlemagne Palestine's "Schlingen-Blängen" in L.A., March 16

Before yesterday's concert by Charlemagne Palestine at the First Congregational Church of Los Angeles, my wife read in the L.A. Times that he was planning a two or three-hour long "Armageddon." Sounded good to me.

"I don't know if I'll last that long," she said with a laugh.

I had my own covert doubts that I'd last through a three-hour drone, especially with a sitter watching our kid. So, I said, "Let's see how it goes."

A note on the venue: The church is a huge, vaulted, Gothic structure that serves this Protestant congregation. Its reflection in the multi-paneled glass of the Superior Court on Commonwealth is a local happy accident of architecture. But the real curiosity is the pipe organ on which Palestine played. It's the largest in any church in the world. I've been to one of their weekly Thursday afternoon recitals, so I knew the sound would be big.

We were amazed at how many pipes were visible in different areas of the sanctuary. Sitting about three-quarters of the way to the altar area, we could see pipes in four places. Turning toward the back, however, revealed the largest pipes in the rear of the sanctuary. Yes, it would be big. As we entered the church, a guy was handing out earplugs like Halloween candy. Oh yes, it would be big.

I expected Palestine to have more of his "family" with him, the totemic stuffed animals that I'd seen pictured in the Monday Evening Concerts brochure. I only saw a couple of teddy bears off to the side of the keyboard. With fewer of the expected theatrics, the music became its own ritual.

The piece he played was "Schlingen-Blängen," which I'd heard before on the CD of the same name. It's a nonsense Teutonic-sounding name, a bit similar in principle to the namers of Häagen-Dazs ice cream. It's a nonsense word, but people trust a Scandinavian-sounding ice cream. Palestine's naming, though, was more of a jibe at the self-importance of much modern (or post-modern) new music.

After a brief greeting from a church representative (who warned us that Palestine would likely blow an organ fuse), Palestine started the show by pulling out one or two stops on the organ, letting out a faint tonal chord (reminiscent of the "Schlongo!!!daLUVdrone" CD performance). Over the next 20 to 25 minutes, the one chord built tones upon itself as Palestine pulled out more and more stops, intermittently musing over the smorgasbord of a keyboard and gently pressing notes here and there. As I looked up into the ceiling of the church, I could hear overtone washes emitting from the chord. Within these sounds, unleashed by Palestine's shamanistic efforts, the overtones floated through the church like ghosts.

At one point, I could swear that the higher-pitched reverberations sounded like strummed harps. An angelic sound for a holy place.

In time, he added lower and lower tones, until after 40 or so minutes, the higher pitched ringing was joined by deep, flapping reverberations. The flanged effect was immense, and I could picture the vibrations beating against the stone walls and columns like waves of water.

Twice, Palestine got up from the seat of the organ in the apse of the church. He wandered off through a door to the side, then emerged and drifted down the central aisle through the church's nave. The sound continued as he moved. Palestine appeared to just be enjoying the sound from different angles. Why not hear your own creation in this amazing space? That's the advantage of making drone music.

After an hour or so, he leaned his head on his arm, draped across the keyboard. His hat fell off. I actually thought, he could be having a heart attack. Did he pass out? The dissonance produced by all those depressed keys and dozens of pulled-out stops was now deafening, but for my earplugs. I don't think he blew a fuse, but he pushed the organ to its limit. Oh, and no, he did not have a heart attack.

The concert ended shortly after with a silence, and then a short, quiet piece. No three-hour Armageddon. Not even two hours. Was it his mischievous way of undercutting our expectations? Or was he thinking of the recording being made? More likely, the spirit just didn't move him to go any longer. At least he left me wanting more. He finally took off his hat and received a standing ovation. But his open-armed gesture to the pipes and to the church-space itself revealed his gracious attitude of collaboration with architecture.

The show was recorded, so be on the lookout for the CD.

NOTE April 1, 2009: My friend VC noted the title "Schlingen-Blängen" is Jerry Lewis Yiddish.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Spiritual Interlude: "Beyond Theism" with Bishop Spong

I've heard of Episcopal Bishop Spong for a long time, usually in a negative light from orthodox Christians. I read his book Why Christianity Must Change or Die many years ago and had a neutral reaction to it. He proposes a Christianity without God, or at least without any supernatural notion of God. John Dewey also tried to formulate a religious language that replaced theological terms with humanistic terms in A Common Faith. It's a noble effort, but does it mean anything? To me, it has seemed somewhat pointless.

But I looked Spong up on Youtube recently to get an idea of what he's like as a speaker. I actually enjoyed this clip quite a bit; it struck a chord in me and seemed like a genuine expression of a non-dogmatic Christianity:

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Oh Dear

Yesterday, I mentioned my new blog to [a beloved family member]. Her immediate response was to say:

"Oh dear."

I threatened to write about her response on my blog, which made her laugh.

So, here it is.