Freedom from Blog

Don't call it a comeback . . . .

Monday, January 20, 2014

Sweater weather

Since the tenacious one is posting again, maybe I should stick a toe back in the water? Also, this blog will be nine years old this year? Is that right?
Looking back over the paltry content from the last few years, I saw this post, about how I really can't wear sweaters any more. What follows may be filed under "cool story, bro".
It's almost the end of January, and I haven't worn a sweater all season. I did wear a sweater vest for a few days when it was actually very cold here. But I'm not sure I actually own a real, live 'sweater' at this point. I have a couple fleece North Face things, which might count, but I haven't put either on this winter, including on the Thanksgiving trip to Michigan.
Now, I do wear hoodies a fair amount. But an actual sweater--especially, like, a wool sweater--no deal. And I used to wear turtleneck sweaters back in college. Cannot even imagine.

2013: My Year in Music Geekdom

Time passes slowly up here in the daylight
We stare straight ahead and try so hard to stay right
Like the red rose of summer that blooms in the day
Time passes slowly and fades away

 ~ Dylan

There's a tap on my window
There's a ring at my door
And I'll answer in Tennessee time

 ~ Valerie June

Has it been a year? It has. And here we are. As much as #3 and I have lost touch with actual blogging, I'd hate, after eight (!) years, to abandon my annual ritual of middle-aged, middlebrow, music geekery. (See 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006) Over the last few, as "the crazy" built, crested, crashed, and ebbed, I've done some personal stock-taking here too. So I can happily report that 2013 was a refreshingly boring year, generally devoid of drama and full of paternal joy. Transitory? Probably. Illusory? Nope. What did I accomplish? Milestones. (So close to "millstones.") Grew a scruffy beard, ran a half-marathon, painted some rooms, did a conference, got better at knotting ponytails, figured out how to cook that Vietnamese pineapple-catfish soup I'd been missing--all that bucket list stuff.

Listened to some good music too. Lots of vintage: Dylan, the Band, Sam Cooke, J.J. Cale (RIP), Dr. John, Etta James, Nina Simone, Mavis Staples, Howlin' Wolf. The more I know, the more I don't know. As for the new, well done, 2013. I suspect I'll be listening to some of these records for years. (But which ones?)

1) Bob Dylan, Another Self-Portrait. A bit of a cheat, since this was recorded from 1969-71, alternate takes and lost songs from the time of Dylan's most hated classic-era album, Self-Portrait, and its more amiable follow-up, New Morning. This two-CD recreation transcends, however, especially Disc 1. Dylan gives us ancient folk songs ("Pretty Saro," "Copper Kettle," surely the most lovely songs ever written about freeholder suffrage and the Whiskey Rebellion, respectively), gorgeously obscure covers ("Spanish Is the Loving Tongue," "Annie's Gonna Sing Her Song," and "This Evening So Soon"), and definitive versions of his own classics ("When I Paint My Masterpiece," "Time Passes Slowly #1," and "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight"). I think I listened to this first thing in the morning, every morning, for two months. Lang always wanted me to play "All the Tired Horses" over again for a sing-a-long before she went to school.

2) Phosphorescent, Muchacho. Confession: I had never heard of this band before Paste Magazine named this their favorite record of the year. Yeah, right, I thought. Better than Vampire Weekend? Actually, yes, says this bandwagon jumper. A stunningly beautiful album that goes amazingly well with my afternoon beer mug of Darjeeling. Think early 70s Neil Young, sitting on a Mexican bar stool, sharing beers and fears with Vic Chesnutt (RIP) and Bon Iver. For a sample, check out the haunting "Song for Zula."

3) Vampire Weekend, Modern Vampires of the City. Save Kanye, probably the most critically beloved album of the year, and rightly so. Impossibly catchy, musically adventurous, lyrically inventive, indie rock. Nothing more I can say that hasn't been said better elsewhere. Three albums in, they're the real deal.

4) Valerie June, Pushin' Against A Stone. The newcomer of the year. If you loved the O Brother soundtrack, but wished it were (a) blacker, (b) sexier, and (c) co-written, produced, and accompanied by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, then this is for you.

5) Steve Earle, The Low Highway. I'm pretty much in the tank for anything Earle does at this point, and for much of this year, no record caught my mood better than this one. A deceptively simple record about love, resilience, defiance, and remembrance, Earle finds new treasures while riding old roads. And threatens violence to Wall Mart ("Burnin' It Down"). What's not to love?

6) Jason Isbell, Southeastern. Back when he was with the Drive By Truckers, Isbell wrote "Goddamn Lonely Love," which should be on the jukebox of every self-disrespecting dive bar in America but probably isn't on any. His solo work has been good but not quite great, until now. For pure singer-songwriter virtuosity, this is a tour de force. "Elephant," "Cover Me Up," "Traveling Alone," "Live Oak," "Songs That She Sang in the Shower," and "Relatively Easy" are perfect, character-driven, heartrending vignettes.

7) Patty Griffin, American Kid and Silver Bell. A quietly impressive year for Griffin, with one new album (AK) and the long-overdue release of a "lost" gem from 2000 (SB). Unfortunately, as effortless as her Americana craftsmanship can seem, the rock cognoscenti have started taking her for granted. Bastards.

8) Ron Sexsmith, Forever Endeavour. On the subject of "taken for granted," did anyone notice this record? Not a false note from one of the best songwriters alive. Melancholy beauty from that sweet spot between Roy Orbison and Paul McCartney.

9) the National, Trouble Will Find Me. It must have been a great year in new music if this brooding epic finished #9 on my list.

10) Deer Tick, Negativity. Not their best, but lots of good moments, including "The Rock," "The Dream's In the Ditch," and "In Our Time."

What did I leave off? Plenty. I really like and respect that Haim CD, but it's not my natural musical niche. Same for Bill Calahan's Dream River. And I was disappointed by Arcade Fire's polarizing, but much loved, Reflektor. They do a credible David Bowie meets LCD Soundsystem impersonation, but the whole thing, especially over two CDs, is just too abstract and electronic for me. What's up for 2014? Listening to the controversial new Springsteen (his Rattle & Hum), and going back catalog on some vintage Neil Young, Aretha, and CCR. Timeless. As 2013 fades away, I'll close with a few lines I hope pass slowly. May we meet again in 2015, smarter, stronger, saner. Try hard to stay right.

With the luxury of hindsight
The past becomes so clear
As I look out on the twilight
My days have become years
It's strange, as people we're prone to dwell
On things that we can't undo
And we're liable to wander down
If only avenue

~ Ron Sexsmith

You see, the moon is bright in that treetop night
I see the shadows that we cast in the cold, clean light
My feet are gold. My heart is white
And we race out on the desert plains all night

~ Phosphorescent

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty

I'm really late to this debate, but I finally saw ZD30 last weekend, and, as much as I liked the movie from a cinematic standpoint, in IMHO the movie is pretty unambiguously pro-torture. The film's heroine, "Maya," was not just an observer of torture early in the film, she became an active part of the torture team. Although she eventually finds clues to UBL via other means, she never renounces that initial outlook. The main torturer is presented sympathetically, and he is Maya's main confidant throughout the story. The clear implication of the film is that torture was only abandoned because of weasly politics, hence the cut to footage of candidate Obama denouncing it--his only appearance in the film, which otherwise seeks to erase his pivotal role in (a) re-prioritizing the hunt for UBL, and (b) making the final call at great political risk. Finally, when the key players have their meeting on assessing the odds that UBL is the mystery man in the compound--the scene where everyone else says 60% and Maya says 100%--the intel folks make it clear that there are no direct sources on the ground because we gave up torturing. Eh? How's that logic supposed to work? Were we sending the tortured back out into the field as double agents? Methinks not.

Maybe I missed something, but the pro-torture slant of ZD30 didn't seem that ambiguous to me. One other minor gripe: the scene where Maya's friend and station chief lets the suicide bomber inside the American outpost and gets herself and a bunch of other people killed was way overplayed. The woman was jumping up and down with joy at the arrival and grinning like a little girls at Christmas. I kept expecting her to say "goody, goody!" as the car drove in. For all its "feminist" bona fides, I found this depiction a bit insulting. Since most of the actual participants in this event were killed, this must have been a speculative imagining, but it did not seem to me a credible one.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Hacked! Spam! How in the heck . . . ?

So when my GMail account got hacked, and I became an unwilling spambot . . . the spammers appear to have sent spam to every email I have ever used. That includes an email account with Blogspot that enables me to post by email. (Which, admittedly, I haven't done in a long time.) That explains the spam post, which I am now going to try to delete.

Update: Spam post deleted. 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Hall of Fame, Walk of Shame

In honor of this weekend's Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction, I got curious about who's in and who's out. Not that my talentless opinion matters, but bitching and list-making are our true national pastimes. So here are my top-10 outs who should be ins and top-10 ins who should be outs. As you'll see, I don't have much quarrel with early inductions, from 1986-2009. But the recent crops (2010-13) seem almost random, when you compare who's still standing outside. The numbers next to the unjust outs are the years eligible and the times nominated.

Stupid snubs:
1) Warren Zevon (18/0): You gotta be kidding me that he's never even been nominated. One of the smartest songwriters ever--"Lawyers, Guns and Money," "Poor Poor Pitiful Me," "My Ride's Here"--and had a huge hit with "Werewolves of London." He's added more classic tunes to the great American songbook than half the artists in the Hall.
2) Big Star (15/0): a primary influence on REM, the Replacements, Whiskeytown, and Wilco, four of the best bands ever. And all three of Big Star's 70s studio albums are on Rolling Stone's list of 500 best albums ever, and they're all ranked way too low.
3) Lucinda Williams (8/0): arguably the best woman rock songwriter of the last 30 years, and one of the best songwriters period. Lucinda Williams (1988) and Car Wheels on a Gravel Road (1998) are perfect records.
4) the Replacements (6/0): the sine qua non of 80s indie rock.
5) Gram Parsons (20/3): seems likely to eventually make it, but come on.
6) Eurythmics (6/0): really? No love for Annie Lennox? Sweet dreams are not made of this.
7) the Cure (9/1): not necessarily my favorite band or genre (goth), but they defined an entire genre in post-80s rock & roll and were expert musicians and song-smiths. Classic songs and big hits, lots of them.
8) Husker Du (6/0): once again, not a lot of establishment love for 80s indie-rock
9) the Jam (10/0): see # 8
10) Steve Earle (2/0): Still early. I understand this snub--intellectually. But not in my gut. He's making better records right now than anyone on the schlub list made ever. See #1, #3, #8.

(HM: the Cars, Nick Cave, Cheap Trick, Dire Straits, Nick Drake, Peter Gabriel, Emmylou Harris, the Smiths, T. Rex, X)

Unworthy schlubs:
1) Heart (2013): they're an OK band, with some good songs in the 70s, and some awful 80s hair metal that almost nullify the earlier work. Just not in a league with the artists above.
2) Donna Summer (2013): disco queen, hits, yawn.
3) Rush (2013): my first concert, in high school. Again, not a bad band--good musicians (for Canadians!), horrible, horrible pseudo-intellectual Randian lyrics/politics. Making prog-metal almost listenable is not a reason to put them in the Hall.
4) Donovan (2012): ewwwww.
5) Neil Diamond (2011): shmaltsy pop-rock for which I have occasional respect.
6) ABBA (2010): please, let Disco die.
7) Genesis (2010): borderline. I understand this--intellectually. But not in my gut.
8) Sex Pistols (2006): yeah, yeah, yeah, invented punk music, one epoch-defining classic album, etc. But really only one album. And does anyone want to listen to it after they're 18?
9) the Bee Gees (1997): see #6
10) Frank Zappa (1995): genius? sure, but how many people actually listened to this? Or liked it?

I left off this list the artists I didn't know (who is Laura Nyro?), especially from the 50s and early 60s, along with the genres I don't much understand (funk, rap, etc.). There are also a few bands that I never liked much (Van Halen, Run-DMC, Metallica) whose induction I totally get and respect. So I limit the latter list to music I've heard, lived through, and even enjoyed on occasion. Can you do better?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Move Along

That photo is from April 2003, downtown Chicago, as Chicago's finest prepared to meet the (largely non-existent) mobs of anti-IRAQWAR protesters. I took this picture. I remember those days. I was there. (I was not, on that day, a protester. I was there for MPSA.)

The 10th anniversary of this disastrous war is a sad occasion. I predicted that the war would go badly, and it did. Largely in ways that I predicted. I take little satisfaction in that. There's no satisfaction to be had when so many died, were maimed, displaced, etc. Whether removing Saddam Hussein was "worth it", I guess we'll never be able to ask the 100,000+ dead Iraqis. Maybe they would've accepted their own deaths for Hussein's? We'll never know.

What I am saddest about is that . . . our country has gone mad, and I don't see a path to bring it back. Whether it's the impeachment of Bill Clinton, or the GWOT, or irrational fears about Obama . . . . Madness. March it is, so March Madness. But it's been 20 years and counting. Is there hope yet?

This one is from March 2003 and is from a brief protest at CWRU--students laying down in Euclid Avenue, and, in this case, being dragged off the road. Curat Lex will remember this.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Pope Frances!

Congrats, Frances. I had no idea you were even nominated! You must have made a big impression in your brief stint as a Mississippi Papist. Can they put a child seat in the popemobile?

A week ago I predicted to a group of colleagues that the Cardinals would look for "the Marco Rubio of Popes": a modestly more diverse face (hence, Latin American) for the same old reactionary policies. My more knowledgeable former-Catholics seemed to think it was going back to Italy. Ha! It's so rare I get a prediction right that I'm recording it here. (Wish I had done it a week ago, but oh well.)

FWIW, based on my vast wealth of understanding of all things papist (i.e., a few short articles from the last 24 hours), I suspect Bergoglio will be an exceptionally good pick, at least from the Romanist standpoint. He seems to exude a charm and humility Ratzinger never had, and he's got some decent populist bona fides on economic issues. Meanwhile, he's pretty hard right on all that sex stuff, which makes the old boys tingle with repressed excitement. They could have done a lot worse. Says the Presbyterian Democrat.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Brief Thoughts on Looper

Am I the last person to see this film? The best sci fi movie I've seen since Minority Report. I'm really surprised this didn't get more critical props here at the end of year awards orgy. It's an original take on an old and simple question: if you had a time machine, would you go back and kill Hitler? Except it's not actually Hitler, but instead some future Hitler. And the bigger question is what it would do to you to try.

There are dozens of ways they could have screwed this up, especially by following the usual cliches of sci fi noir. But there's a refreshing lightness here, setting much of the action in a farmhouse and corn field, as if this were Field of Dreams gone disastrously wrong. And the acting is impeccable, especially Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the young "looper" (a hit man given the task of executing people sent back from the future so as to conceal all evidence of their deaths) who will eventually become the old Bruce Willis. Who would have thought JGL, most famous as the kid from 3rd Rock From the Sun, could have become the young Willis with so much tough guy cool and so few seams? I also loved the inversion of the Back To The Future rule about not meeting your "other" self during time travel. Let's just put them in a diner for a tense (and armed) conversation slash stand-off. Great identity questions here. If you met your future/past self, who would "you" be? And would you like yourself, or recognize a common interest? Are these two men the same people, or does time erode our identities and make us into entirely new people? Plus, it kicks ass as an action flick. All around, just loved this film.

Update: Forgot to mention, but Looper also comes across as something of a critique of Ayn Rand/Ron Paul. In the near recent future, when economic inequality has exploded, vagabonds wander begging through cities and cornfields, the government seems nonexistent, organized crime has become rampant, and everyone trades with gold and silver bullion that they horde rather than bank, the natural result is the rise of a bloodthirsty, mutant dictator. Sounds about right.