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Uneasy About the Future, Readers Turn to Dystopian Classics

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Dystopian Future Reading
Dystopian Future Reading

It seems I had the same thought as many people.

“The Handmaid’s Tale” is among several classic dystopian novels that seem to be resonating with readers at a moment of heightened anxiety about the state of American democracy. Sales have also risen drastically for George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” and “1984,” which shot to the top of Amazon’s best-seller list this week.

Other novels that today’s readers may not have picked up since high school but have landed on the list this week are Aldous Huxley’s 1932 novel, “Brave New World,” a futuristic dystopian story set in England in 2540; and Sinclair Lewis’s 1935 novel “It Can’t Happen Here,” a satire about a bellicose presidential candidate who runs on a populist platform in the United States but turns out to be a fascist demagogue. On Friday, “It Can’t Happen Here” was No. 9 on Amazon; “Brave New World” was No. 15.

The sudden boom in popularity for classic dystopian novels, which began to pick up just after the election, seems to reflect an organic response from readers who are wary of the authoritarian overtones of some of Mr. Trump’s rhetoric. Interest in “1984” surged this week, set off by a series of comments from Mr. Trump, his press secretary, Sean Spicer, and his adviser Kellyanne Conway, in which they disputed the news media’s portrayal of the crowd size at his inauguration and of his fractious relationship with American intelligence agencies. Their insistence that facts like photographs of the crowd and his public statements were up for interpretation culminated in a stunning exchange that Ms. Conway had on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” when she said that Mr. Spicer had not lied about the crowd size but was offering “alternative facts.”

To many observers, her comment evoked Orwell’s vision of a totalitarian society in which language becomes a political weapon and reality itself is defined by those in power. The remarks prompted a cascade of Twitter messages referencing Orwell and “1984.” According to a Twitter spokesman, the novel was referenced more than 290,000 times on the social network this week. The book began climbing Amazon’s best-seller list, which in turn drove more readers to it, in a sort of algorithm-driven feedback loop. It amounted to a blizzard of free advertising for a 68-year-old novel.

(click here to continue reading Uneasy About the Future, Readers Turn to Dystopian Classics – The New York Times.)

1984 was out of print, but I bought a copy of it from Amazon that will arrive whenever. Of these eight books, I have read several, but it had been years and years. For whatever reason, I have not ever read Sinclair Lewis’s, “It Can’t Happen Here”, nor Czesław Miłosz’s,”The Captive Mind”, nor more than a couple of excerpts of Hannah Arendt’s “The Origin of Totalitarianism”. 

In comments to the above photo of dystopian books on Flickr, I asked what other books I should add to the list,  commenters suggested “We”, by Russian writer Yevgeny Zamyatin, completed in 1921 as well as “The Road” by American writer Cormac McCarthy. Any others you can think of? 

So if I’m grimmer than normal about Trumpism, you’ll know I’ve been reading from this pile…

Written by Seth Anderson

January 28th, 2017 at 12:13 pm

Posted in Books,politics,Suggestions

Tagged with , ,

Sasha Petraske’s Regarding Cocktails Is Worth Owning

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I never went to Milk & Honey, but I’d heard much about it, and its creator, Sasha Petraske. I bought this book in November, and while I haven’t made every cocktail in it (that will take a few more years), the ones I have made have been delicious. I wasn’t able to attend my family’s Thanksgiving bash this year, but Sasha’s Petraske’s recipe for The Bizness and The Bee’s Knees did, and were apparently a great hit.

Cocktails & Dreams
Cocktails & Dreams

Wayne Curtis at the WSJ recommends the book too:

But perhaps it’s best to end this year on a quieter, more reflective note, and there’s actually a cocktail book for that—Sasha Petraske’s understated and impressive “Regarding Cocktails” (Phaidon, 251 pages, $29.95). It’s a book Petraske, the founder of the pioneering Manhattan cocktail bar Milk & Honey, was compiling when he died suddenly last year at the age of 42. The gaps have been filled in by his widow, Georgette Moger-Petraske, and a community of like-minded bartender friends.

The book is filled with a low-key joy and embraces a no-nonsense, non-splashy approach to drink-making, focusing chiefly on adaptations of classic cocktails with few ingredients, such as the martini, daiquiri and sour. Each featured drink is paired with an austere graphic on the opposite page, composed of a pattern of glyphs representing the ratio of various ingredients. The key printed on the accompanying bookmark contains some 120 wee symbols, from absinthe and Demerara rum to ginger beer and white peach purée. I suppose with enough memorization, one might know at a glance what the drink would taste like, much like a trained musician can hear a melody by glancing at sheet music. In any event, it’s calming to just contemplate the graphic.

The book concludes with brief, introspective essays about Petraske. He was famous—and sometimes mocked—for the rules he cast in bronze on the bathroom doors at his bar. These included “No name dropping” and, for women, “If a man you don’t know speaks to you, please lift your chin slightly and ignore him.” He also subscribed to more general rules of living, which invariably revolved around civility. On the subway: “No man should ever sit before every woman who wishes to rest has been offered a seat.” “Regarding Cocktails” is as much about human connection as it is about jiggers and bitters. And Petraske’s sort of civility seems something we all could use more of in the new year. Well, that and a stiff drink.

(click here to continue reading Bid Adieu to 2016 With a Very Strong Drink – WSJ.)

Written by Seth Anderson

December 17th, 2016 at 11:02 am

Posted in Books,Food and Drink,Suggestions

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Fela Kuti Is Perfect For Working Out

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Fela Anikulapo Kuti - complete works 
Fela Anikulapo Kuti – complete works

Songs by Fela Kuti are perfectly suited to listening to while exercising. One queues up Sorrow, Tears and Blood, and maybe Zombie and then International Thief Thief1, and suddenly an hour has passed. Driving, deep rhythms of bass and drums, interwoven with horns, guitar, electric piano, chanting choruses, and so on, and of course, searing politically edged lyrics by Fela Kuti. His lyrical inventions don’t always translate into English, but if you concentrate, you’ll get the gist. Sorrow, Tears and Blood is the Nigerian version of KRS-One’s “Sound of Da Police”, or N.W.A.’s “Fuck The Police”, Junior Murvin’s, “Police and Thieves”, or even the Dead Kennedy’s “Police Truck”.2

That is all…

Footnotes:
  1. aka I.T.T., aka International Telephone and Telegraph []
  2. or Furry Lewis’, “Judge Harsh Blues”, The Clash’s song, “Guns of Brixton”, Prince Buster’s “Judge Dread”, you could go on and on. Suffice to say, the police have been frequently agents of oppression as long as they’ve had the power to []

Written by Seth Anderson

January 4th, 2016 at 11:34 pm

Posted in Music,Suggestions

Tagged with ,

Best Music of 2015, More Or Less

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I’m Real Proud of my Record Collection

Every year I make the attempt to write about the best new-to-me music I’d discovered the previous year, I think I’ve published a post maybe twice since 2003. Part of the problem is that I’m a glutton for music, and thus spend more than I should purchasing new tunes. Often I’ll be interested in some new LP, purchase a copy1 but not listen to it closely for a year or two. 

Anyway, instead of trying to scratch out mini reviews for the hundreds of new albums I added to my library in 2015, here are an arbitrarily selected few, plus a few duds. There are certainly others that I’m accidentally omitting, such is the hazard of working without an editor…

Also, obviously quite a lot of these albums were not first released in 2015, but that isn’t the standard I adhere to, only that these albums were added to my iTunes library this year.

Bob Dylan - 1965-1966 - The Cutting Edge

Albums I Listened To The Most

  • Verckys Et L’Orchestre Veve – Congolese Funk Afrobeat & Psychedelic Rumba 1969-1978 – a great album, worth tracking down if you like to dance.
  • Bob Dylan – The Cutting Edge (1965-1966) – I didn’t splurge on the massive boxset that included even more music later, but 6 discs is a lot of classic Dylan, and mostly good!
  • Baba Commandant & The Mandingo Band – Juguya – another winner, hailing from Burkina Faso in West Africa.
  • Led Zeppelin – reissues of Physical Graffiti, Presence, In Through The Out Door, and Coda. Coda has some of the best new stuff, including the famous recordings with a Bombay Orchestra.
  • Pentangle – Sweet Child – Bert Jansch is a genius, eventually I’ll have every record he ever played on.
  • Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard – Django and Jimmie – some great tunes here, Willie Nelson seems immortal
  • Old Crow Medicine Show – Big Iron World  – OCMS really grew on me this year, as I also had other albums by this band in heavy rotation. Modern string music, folk-rock, bluegrass, who knows. Toe tapping stuff, with clever lyrics.
  • Waterboys – Room to Roam – don’t know how I missed this LP all these years, I really love it

A Love Supreme - John Coltrane

Albums That I Liked

  • The Staple Singers – Uncloudy Day & Will The Circle Be Unbroken
  • Pop Staples – Don’t Lose This
  • Brian Eno & Karl Hyde – High Life
  • Pete Townshend and Ronnie Lane – Rough Mix – Ronnie Lane is a genius
  • Billy Gibbons And The BFG’s – Perfectamundo – Hispanic-bionic boogie
  • John Coltrane – A Love Supreme: The Complete Masters

Bob Dylan - Shadows In The Night

 

Albums I Probably Will Grow To Like

  • Tame Impala – Currents
  • Björk – Vulnicura
  • Steve Earle and the Dukes – Terraplane
  • Meicio Askanasy, José Prates, Ivan De Paula – Tam…Tam…Tam…! Brazilian jazz reissue from 1958.
  • Bob Dylan – Shadows In The Night – crooning tunes actually suit Dylan’s voice these days
  • Funkadelic – first ya gotta Shake the Gate – George Clinton keeps keeping on
  • Grateful Dead – Blues for Allah – occasionally, I do like to listen to the Grateful Dead noodle
  • Wilco – Star Wars
  • The Arcs – Yours, Dreamily – I could get bored with this, but it isn’t bad
  • The Internet – Ego Death – seems promising, but I’ve only had it a month or so
  • Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color – same
  • Richard Thompson – Live at the BBC – box set, some with Linda Thompson.

https://farm1.staticflickr.com/647/23512590601_011cc8154d_n.jpg
 

Albums I Wanted To Like But Did Not

  • Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress – maybe it will just take a while…for this, and the others in this section.
  • Lotion – Nobody’s Cool
  • Modest Mouse – Strangers to Ourselves
  • My Morning Jacket – The Waterfall
  • Van Morrison – Duets: Re-Working The Catalogue – sounds too much like elevator music for my taste. Original versions are all better, by far, so why bother? Money I guess, but I wish I had saved mine.
  • Jack White – Lazaretto 
  • New Kingdom – Paradise Don’t Come Cheap
  • Newsom, Joanna – Divers – come to think of it, I didn’t really groove on Have One on Me either.

Spinning

Albums That I Used To Own, And Now Own Again

  • Hair Original Soundtrack – don’t ask me why, but I did buy this in a moment of weakness. There are actually a few catchy tunes on here, but limited replayability, no?
  • The B-52s – Cosmic Thing – classic from my formative years
  • Devo – Freedom of Choice – another classic from my formative years
  • Bert Jansch & John Renbourn – After the Dance – awesome collaboration with two great guitarists, both sadly deceased as of 2015.
  • Motörhead- No Sleep ’Til Hammersmith – damn, Lemmy died
  • Gregory Isaacs – Night Nurse – classic Reggae LP from circa 1982
  • Sonny Boy Williamson – Don’t Start Me Talkin’ I’ll Tell Everything I Know – classic Chicago blues from the Chess label
  • Poi Dog Pondering – Poi Dog Pondering – I was walking around this summer, and encountered a marquee announcing a 25 year anniversary of some album of Poi Dog Pondering, remembered seeing them play all over Austin back in my callow youth. Cheery pop still has its place.


Footnotes:
  1. I will note that I have zero problems buying used music, especially in the era of compact discs, which means I can find a lot of new-to-me albums for a couple bucks []

Written by Seth Anderson

December 31st, 2015 at 2:05 pm

Posted in Music,Suggestions

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Amazon Associates Linkage Dying Off

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Amazon the Everything Store
Amazon the Everything Store…

I got an email from the Amazon Associates division, reading, in part:

As part of our continuing effort to improve the Associates program’s products and services, we are making some changes to our technology platform. This platform change will require you to replace some older product links, banners, and widgets you currently have hosted on your website as they will no longer be supported after July 31, 2015. Text links are not impacted by this deprecation.

Action Required
We ask that you replace or update the impacted ad units prior to July 31, 2015. The links require the following update that can be facilitated through your CMS (content management system). You may make these replacements at whatever scale you are comfortable with.
– Find and replace ws.amazon.com with ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com
– Find and replace rcm.amazon.com with rcm-na.amazon-adsystem.com

Keep in mind that starting August 1, 2015, any remaining legacy product links (text + image, image-only), banners, and widgets will be served with non-clickable public service announcements that will not send traffic to Amazon, impacting your referring traffic and potential earnings, if not addressed. On September 1, 2015, these legacy ad units will no longer render, thereby creating a broken link on your website.

The thing is, I probably won’t bother. When Amazon decided to kill off the Illiniois affiliates program rather than give the state a taste of the tax revenues, as we’ve discussed previously, I stopped posting as many reviews of Things I Discovered That You Might Like Too. Coincidentally, this was also around the time I became a half-hearted blogger, posting less frequently and decidedly less enthusiasm. My daily traffic plummeted, probably because there are now many alternative blog-like media outlets, places like Gawker and Deadspin and Curbed, and so on – not written by hobbyists and part-timers like myself, but paid writers1.

After a couple of years, Amazon decided that paying taxes to all the state governments was not as big a deal as they had once complained about, and reinstalled the Affiliate program. However, they wouldn’t give me my old affiliate link back, nor would they merge the two accounts I had, so basically I stopped using Amazon links much.

I don’t think I’m going to go back through the thousands of posts I’ve made to correct the Amazon links, they will just become dead links, and I no longer will get a 3% bonus from Amazon if you clicked through one of this blog’s links and purchased something. Possibly, I’ll fix a few, if I happen to run across the post for other reasons; I doubt I’ll create replacements on a global level. I stand to lose dozens or more cents, but there are more important items on my agenda.

Moving on…

Footnotes:
  1. or whatever it is that the Huffington Post model is of exploitation, a model followed by some other sites []

Written by Seth Anderson

June 13th, 2015 at 9:06 am

Bob Dylan Hates Purple Throated Vocalists As Much As I Do

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Trio of musicians
Trio of musicians

Long time readers of this humble blog might remember a discussion or two about singers who over-sing. Artists like Whitney “permanent orgasm” Houston, for instance, who constantly ululate over and around the melody until it makes your ears bleed. There’s probably a better way to describe this style of singing, but I call it purple throated, in homage to the phrase “purple prose”.1

Bob Dylan is many things, but one of my favorite aspects of his persona is his love for music, and his propensity to speak the unvarnished truths about musicians.

Such as in his speech at the MusiCares Person of the Year event yesterday:

Dylan was gracious enough not to identify by name the singer who was the recipient of his sharpest barbs. But he seemed to be referencing Ambrosius, who has had several R&B hits, most notably 2010’s Far Away, sang the national anthem at a 2012 Floyd Mayweather-Manny Cotto fight.

“Critics say I mangle my melodies, render my songs unrecognizable,” he said. “Let me tell you something: I was at a boxing match a few years ago, seeing Floyd Mayweather fight a Puerto Rican guy. And the Puerto Rican national anthem, somebody sang it. And it was beautiful, it was heartfelt, it was moving. After that, it was time for our national anthem, and a very popular soul-singing sister was chosen to sing it. She sang every note. That exists. And some that don’t exist. Talk about mangling a melody. Take a one-syllable word and make it last for 15 minutes.  To me, it was not funny. Mangling lyrics, mangling a melody, mangling a treasured song. No, I get the blame.”

(click here to continue reading Dylan disses Merle Haggard, others, in MusiCares speech.)

If you want to torture your ears, here is the YouTube of that rendition of the US National Anthem, available at the moment.

Dylan also discusses another my favorite songs, Sunday Morning Coming Down. I’m partial to the Kris Kristofferson version, but the Johnny Cash cover is pretty spot-on too.

Dylan recalled reading an interview with Tom T. Hall, the country singer and songwriter noted for story songs like Harper Valley PTA and (Old Dogs, Children And) Watermelon Wine, during a Nashville recording stint many years ago. In the interview, Dylan said, “He was (complaining) about some kind of new song coming in. And he couldn’t understand what these new kinds of songs were that were coming in or what they were about.”

“Now, Tom, he was one of the most pre-eminent songwriters at the time in Nashville. A lot of people were recording his songs, including himself. But he was on a fuss about James Taylor and a song James had called Country Road. Tom was going all off in this interview: ‘Well, James don’t sing nothing about a country road; he just says that he can feel that ole country road. I don’t understand that.”

“Now some might say Tom was a great songwriter, and I’m not going to doubt that. At the time, during his interview, I was actually listening to a song of his on the radio in the recording studio. It was called I Love. And it was talking about all the things he loves. An everyman song. Trying to connect with people. Trying to make you think he’s just like you and you’re just like him. We all love the same things. We’re all in this together.”

“Tom loves little baby ducks. Slow-moving trains and rain. He loves big pickup trucks and little country streams. Sleep without dreams. Bourbon in a glass. Coffee in a cup. Tomatoes on a vine and onions.”

“Now listen, I’m not every going to disparage another songwriter. I’m not gonna do that. I’m not saying that’s a bad song, I’m just saying it might be a little over-cooked.”

Dylan said that Hall and a few other writers had the Nashville scene “sewn up” — until Kris Kristofferson came along and started writing songs like Sunday Morning Comes Down, which Johnny Cash turned into a No. 1 single.

“That one song blew Tom T. Hall’s world apart,” Dylan said. “It might have sent him to the crazy house. God forbid he ever heard one of my songs.”

“If Sunday Morning Coming Down rattled Tom’s cage and sent him into the looney bin, my songs surely would have made him blow his brains out.”

(click here to continue reading Dylan disses Merle Haggard, others, in MusiCares speech.)

Bob Dylan - Shadows In The Night
Bob Dylan – Shadows In The Night

By the way, Bob Dylan’s latest album, Shadows in The Night, is actually pretty good, in a melancholy sort of way. Very down-beat, but in a quiet mood, I like it. I’m guessing I might not have appreciated it as much when I was 17, insistent that every song I heard be guitar-driven, but now that I’ve expanded my musical palette a bit, I can appreciate songs by Frank Sinatra, Irving Berlin, Rodgers and Hammerstein, et al.  Also, Dylan’s voice sounds much better than it did on that lame Christmas album2 released a few years ago.

Footnotes:
  1. In literary criticism, purple prose is prose text that is so extravagant, ornate, or flowery as to break the flow and draw excessive attention to itself. []
  2. Christmas In The Heart []

Written by Seth Anderson

February 7th, 2015 at 11:51 am

Posted in Arts,Music,Suggestions

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Boogie Woogie Box Set

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Boogie Woogie Box Set
Boogie Woogie Box Set

Horrible documentation (like, zero, in fact), but still, 200 jazz and blues tracks on 10 CDs for around $20 US is a pretty good deal if you are into such things (“original masters” btw) . Artists range from  Blind Willie McTell, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Big Joe Turner, Artie Shaw, Louis Jordan, Champion Jack Dupree, and all points in between.

amzn.to/1u5TGo5

I can’t say I’d want to listen to all 200 in sequence, but as part of a shuffled playlist? delightful.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Seth Anderson

August 29th, 2014 at 12:41 pm

Posted in Music,Suggestions

Tagged with , ,

Fela Kuti Vinyl Box Set Curated By Brian Eno

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Fela Anikulapo Kuti - complete works
Fela Anikulapo Kuti – complete works

Since I own these albums already on CD, this box set, while enticing, seems too expensive for me: $30 per LP.  If you are new to the delicious and infectious polyrhythms of Fela Kuti, Tony Allen, et al,  these are excellent albums to start with.

Via Pitchfork’s Evan Minsker

Knitting Factory have released two vinyl box sets reissuing Fela Kuti’s albums—the first was curated by ?uestlove, the second by Ginger Baker. On September 29, they’ll release a third, this one put together by Brian Eno. For Eno’s installment, he picked the albums London Scene (1971), Shakara (1972), Gentleman (1973), Afrodisiac (1973), Zombie (1976), Upside Down (1976), and I.T.T. (1980). It comes with a 12-page booklet with a foreword by Eno, song lyrics, and in-depth commentaries by Afrobeat historian Chris May.

(click here to continue reading Fela Kuti Box Set of Vinyl Reissues, Curated by Brian Eno, Announced | News | Pitchfork.)

Fela Kuti Box Set 3 - Brian Eno

For the same money however, you can purchase 27 Fela Kuti discs instead: The Complete Works Of Fela Anikulapo Kuti on CD

Also here’s Brian Eno discussing how he discovered Fela1 in a record store in London

This is the first in a series of videos presenting the salutations of celebrities on the occasion of what would have been Fela’s 75th birthday. Also on this day, 15th October, Knitting Factory Records are releasing Red Hot + Fela, a compilation album featuring interpretations of Fela songs by a raft of top drawer artists. All profits from this album go towards combatting AIDS.

Brian Eno, producer, thinker, conceptual artist and lifelong Fela fan has contributed this salutory message, talking about how encountering Fela’s music changed his life.

(click here to continue reading ▶ Brian Eno – Thoughts On Fela – YouTube.)

Footnotes:
  1. his music, that is []

Written by Seth Anderson

August 12th, 2014 at 7:53 am

Big Star – Thirteen

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Certain songs penetrate one deeply, and for me, Big Star’s Thirteen is one such song.

Big Star - #1 Record
Big Star – #1 Record

Every time, nearly, that I hear the shimmering background vocals to this song, I get goosebumps, feel a shiver down my spine. Why do certain songs do this? Who the fuck knows, but I kept listening to Thirteen over and over tonight, and I will probably pick the needle up one more time soon as I finish typing the sentence. Ahhh…

The lyrics aren’t what do it for me, they border on silly (Take You To The Dance, and so on), but how they are sung is what gets me. 

“Thirteen” is a song by the American rock band Big Star. Rolling Stone describes it “one of rock’s most beautiful celebrations of adolescence“, and rated it #406 a list of the 500 greatest songs of all time. It was written by Alex Chilton and Chris Bell.

The song was originally featured on the 1972 album #1 Record. It was never released as a single by Big Star.

(click here to continue reading Thirteen (song) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.)

Big Star 

and from Bill Janovitz:

Big Star’s Chris Bell and Alex Chilton wrote some of pop music’s most memorable melodies — memorable for the relatively few listeners who were fortunate to hear them, that is. There are few songs that capture the aching innocence of adolescence as well as the ballad “Thirteen,” and fewer that are as pretty as this song. Often compared to their most immediate influence, the Beatles, Big Star produced some “Here Comes the Sun”-like gems. “Thirteen” is from the Memphis band’s debut, No.1 Record (1972). Over gorgeous folk-pop acoustic guitars, Chilton’s vulnerable-sounding voice shakes with the tentative insecurity of the 13-year-old narrator tenderly trying to gain the affection of his crush:

“Won’t you let me walk you home from school/Won’t you let me meet you at the pool/Maybe Friday I can get tickets to the dance/And I’ll take you, ooh/Won’t you tell your dad ‘Get off my back’/Tell him what we said ’bout “Paint It Black”/Rock & roll is here to stay/Come inside girl, it’s OK/And I’ll shake you/If it’s so, well let me know/If it’s no, well I can go/I won’t make you.”

(click here to continue reading Thirteen – Big Star | Listen, Appearances, Song Review | AllMusic.)

I guess maybe I need a Leslie speaker before I get a Theremin…

Big Star - #1 Record

Chilton’s lyrics are so simple and so clear that they seem effortless. The song has a Zen/haiku-like quality in its concise, yet powerfully evocative form. The music is provided by acoustic guitars and vocals alone — backing vocals run through a rotating Leslie speaker.

There are other awesome songs on this album, by the way, Feel, The Ballad of El Goodo, In the Street, Try Again, Watch the Sunrise, and others, so if you see a copy of Big Star’s #1 Record somewhere, you would be well served to pick up a copy…

Written by Seth Anderson

May 22nd, 2014 at 10:02 pm

Posted in Music,Suggestions

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Sporadic Reviews: Old No. 1 – Guy Clark

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Does this ever happen to you? You’ve owned a piece of music1 in your library for a while, and you like it, but your relationship to the songs is tenuous, ephemeral, noncommittal. And then for whatever reason, you rediscover that particular artifact, and it grips you, forces you to play it over and over, compels you to swirl the songs in your ears. Is it that certain music takes a few plays before it sinks in? Is it a factor of your changing brain? The music is the same, but your response to it has altered, deepened.

Last week, a song came on my iTunes shuffle while I was photostrolling, a song from Guy Clark’s Old No. 1 LP. I had added this album to my library July 15th, 2008, the same day I added Nigeria 70 Lagos Jump, Ry Cooder’s I, Flathead, Alejandro Escovedo’s Real Animal, and had played Old No. 1 a few times since then, but I couldn’t say it was a particular favorite of mine. I had played it five or six times, and particular songs shuffled a few more times than that, but nothing more.

However, last week, that particular song smacked me2 and would not relinquish its hold on my imagination. So I was compelled to listen to it a few times, and then enticed to listen to the entire album multiple times. Great tunes through and through. My favorites are L.A. Freeway, She’s Ain’t Going Nowhere, A Nickel for the FiddlerDesparados Waiting on the Train, Like a Coat From the Cold. Maybe others too. The shaggy-dog story on Texas, 1947, about putting a nickel on the train tracks as a six year-old boy has some great lines, as does That Old Time Feeling. What I’m saying is there are no skippable songs on Guy Clark’s debut album, Old No. 1

Maybe I’m about to start my mid-life crisis, though only if I concede to not living past the age of 120, maybe it is because so many of my formative years were spent in Austin, or maybe because I’m such a fan of Townes Van Zandt, but for whatever reason, I am adding this album to that best albums of 2014 post that I will probably never get around to writing…

Guy Clark Old No 1

Guy Clark pushes a fading, black and white photograph across the table. In it, a man leans against a 1939 Packard, foot propped up on the bumper in the dusty streets of Monahans, Texas. “Jack Prigg” reads the inscription on the back. He’s smiling and sharply dressed in a black suit, a gleam of success in his grin. The image is striking for its sheer contrast to the portrait of Prigg immortalized in Clark’s “Desper­ados Waiting for a Train,” the old, busted oil-driller crying at the kitchen table to broken memories and songs. “Well, that must have been a Sunday,” laughs Clark, looking at the photo as he carefully takes a toke from the last vestiges of a joint and lets loose a rattling cough.

The workshop in the basement of Clark’s west Nashville home collects such memories. His father’s Randall knife sits on the workbench alongside his tools for making guitars. Behind him, shelves of cassettes with handwritten labels display a country songwriters hall of fame. A black and white photo of Townes Van Zandt, his haunted eyes somehow tracking around the room, stares down from the wall. Clark pinches a clump of tobacco and begins rolling a cigarette. The 71-year-old songwriter’s eyes sharpen as he takes in the room, his lips pursed together between the faint stains of yellow on his white mustache and goatee.

“Shit, I’d go back to Texas in a second if I could break even,” he says. “But the music business is here, and if I could just pay back what they’ve given me, or advanced me, I would love to live in Texas. At this point, though, I don’t know. I’m too fucking old to move back, pack all this shit up.”

Clark’s lack of sentimentality is deceiving. What the songwriter submerges in person surfaces in the deeply personal poetry of his songs, from “Desperados Waiting for a Train,” to the elegy for his father in “The Randall Knife,” and the title track of his new album, “My Favorite Picture of You,” an ode to his wife Susanna, who passed away last year after an extended decline from cancer.

Guy and Susanna’s marriage stands as one of the great relationships in music. As strongly devoted as it was tumultuous, their union and the art it produced became the locus for a new community of songwriters that emerged in the Seventies, a wave of scrappy expatriate Texans overtaking Nashville that included Steve Earle, Rodney Crowell, and most notably, Van Zandt, whose lifelong friendships with both Clarks remain inextricable from the couple’s relationship.

Those days feel impossibly far away in the quiet of Clark’s house as he draws slowly on his cigarette.

“If you want good friends, they’re gonna cost you,” he notes as he exhales a thin line of smoke.

(click here to continue reading We Were From Texas: Guy Clark and the high price of inspiration – Music – The Austin Chronicle.)

from Thom Jurek’s review at Allmusic, where I learned that Steve Earle played on this album…3

If only every country songwriter could release a debut album as auspicious and fine as this one. Houston’s Guy Clark, well known to the outlaw movement for his poetic, stripped-to-the-truth songs about ramblers, history, the aged and infirm, the drunken, the lost, and the simple dignity of working people who confront the darkness and joy of life quietly, issued Old #1 when his compadres had already been making waves with his songs. Jerry Jeff Walker had already cut “L.A. Freeway” and other tunes by Clark, as had Gary Stewart, Billy Joe Shaver, and others. But the definitive versions come from Clark himself. On this disc with help from Emmylou Harris, fellow Houstoners (a young) Steve Earle and Rodney Crowell, guitar wizards Chip and Reggie Young, Mickey Raphael on harp, pianist David Briggs, fiddle boss Johnny Gimble, and the angel-voiced Sammi Smith, Clark executed a song cycle that is as intimate and immediate as it is quietly devastating with its vision of brokenness and melancholy, loose wild times, and unforgettable characters.…Old #1 was unequaled in 1975 for the depth of its vision and the largeness of its artistic and empathetic heart; only Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run came close to it in terms of aesthetic merit.

(click here to continue reading Old No. 1 – Guy Clark | Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards | AllMusic.)

I’d rather listen to this album a million times more than having to plod through Born to Run again.

Footnotes:
  1. album, usually, but sometimes a particular song, or artist []
  2. Desperados Waiting for A Train []
  3. Steve’s first known professional recording was with Guy Clark on Guy’s 1975 album Old No. 1. Steve sang back-up vocals (along with Rodney Crowell, Sammy Smith, and Emmylou Harris [“The first time I met Emmylou, she came in to sing on Guy Clark’s first album. She gave me half of her cheeseburger. I wasn’t the same for weeks.”]) on the song Desperados Waiting For A Train. Steve toured with Guy from early ’75 until late ’76. Steve also may have appeared in Robert Altman’s 1975 film, Nashville (he was part of a large crowd scene in Centennial Park, but it’s not clear whether he actually shows up in the film via []

Written by Seth Anderson

April 24th, 2014 at 6:23 pm

Posted in Music,Suggestions

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2013 Year End Music Reviews – Califone – Stitches

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Califone – Stiches

Rating: A-

Chicago1 based indie rock band, lovely stuff. I really should see them live. Sweeping music-scapes, melancholic desert folk. Pitchfork reviewer Steven Hyden calls Stiches, “a downbeat existential western from the early 70s.”

In a certain mental state, perfect music for contemplation and rumination. 

Footnotes:
  1. possibly relocating to Texas, but not relevant []

Written by Seth Anderson

December 16th, 2013 at 8:00 pm

Posted in Music,Suggestions

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David Bowie art exhibit coming to the MCA

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Hunky Dory
Hunky Dory

Cool, we’ll have to go to this…

David Bowie is the Thin White Duke, Ziggy Stardust, Major Tom, as well-known for his five decades of music as for his slippery personas. David Bowie begat the shape-shifting of Madonna, who begat Lady Gaga. David Bowie, who earlier this year released his first album since 2003, is also likely not touring any time soon.

But “David Bowie is” … coming to Chicago.

“David Bowie is,” the blockbuster retrospective on the life and influence of the iconoclastic artist — which closes Sunday at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London — will open at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago in September 2014. Right now, the MCA is the only U.S. stop for the exhibit, which travels to Toronto next month and has drawn more than 300,000 visitors to the V&A since it opened there in March.

The show, which features 300 objects culled from the artist’s personal 75,000-piece archive, will include set designs, video installations, music-video storyboards, handwritten lyrics, photos and, of course, decades of his wardrobes — including pieces from designer Alexander McQueen and Bowie’s legendary Ziggy Stardust tour. The show, which unfolds as a kind of biography, aims to place the singer in a larger context, reflecting on Bowie’s own avant garde influences while pointing toward Bowie’s prescient merging of sound and vision.

…Asked if the MCA would try to recruit Bowie — who has lived in New York City for many years, and become increasingly known for his reclusive, elusive, J.D. Salinger-esque existence — to attend the Chicago opening, Darling said: “Of course. Of course. We will do everything we can, but then, I don’t know …”  

(click here to continue reading David Bowie art exhibit coming to the MCA – Chicago Tribune.)

from the MCA website:

David Bowie is presents the first international retrospective of the extraordinary career of David Bowie—one of the most pioneering and influential performers of our time. More than 300 objects, including handwritten lyrics, original costumes, photography, set designs, album artwork, and rare performance material from the past five decades are brought together from the David Bowie Archive for the first time. The exhibition demonstrates how Bowie’s work has both influenced and been influenced by wider movements in art, design, theater, and contemporary culture and focuses on his creative processes, shifting style, and collaborative work with diverse designers in the fields of fashion, sound, graphics, theatre, and film. The exhibition’s multimedia design introduces advanced sound technology, original animations, and video installations to create an immersive journey through the artistic life of one of the most iconic figures of our time, David Bowie. This exhibition was organized by the V&A Museum in London.

(click here to continue reading David Bowie is | Exhibitions | MCA Chicago.)

Written by Seth Anderson

August 7th, 2013 at 7:51 am

Repo Man: A Lattice of Coincidence

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Sam McPheeters writes a paean to a favorite film of mine, Repo Man. Repo Man has been out of print recently, but now The Criterion Collection has rescued it, and restored it as well. I’m really tempted to get a copy. For many years, the phrase “Let’s get sushi… and not pay!” has been an oft repeated phrase in my monologues.1 Also, “I don’t want no Commies in my car!… No Christians, either!” in my best Harry Dean Stanton Old West voice…

Repo Man, released in early 1984, was the first feature film by a twenty- nine-year-old British UCLA film school graduate named Alex Cox. Even now, the film’s existence seems implausible. It is an apocalypse tale with no doomsday, a punk movie with no concert, a science fiction story with less than ten seconds of aliens. Most of its now classic music was on the far, far edge of American society in 1984. It mines a world of drugs, crime, and capitalist peril for absurdist yuks (when Cox showed the film to his contacts in the real world of Los Angeles auto repossession, they found it to be a diluted version of their much more terrifying jobs). The project, originally envisioned at one-tenth of its final budget, was picked up by Universal Studios. That backing launched the green director into the unfamiliar universe of teamsters and lawyers and the watchful eyes of a studio that could smoosh the project with one phone call.

Criterion Repo Man

Criterion Collection – Repo Man

How a major studio allowed such a vehemently odd movie to exist really is a mystery. Its outlandishness isn’t forced; it’s forceful. This is a film that expands a singular style of humor into an entire worldview, a physics as vast as the Force in Star Wars. But part of the mystery is also that Cox could gather so much talent in one place. Granted full autonomy in his casting, he somehow assembled a flawless ensemble. Emilio Estevez’s Otto is a pitch-perfect mix of blank ambition and obliviousness. Matching this is the world-weary exhaustion—dubbed “the Old West/cadaver look” by a friend of Cox’s—of Harry Dean Stanton’s Bud. Otto is a baby-faced punker initiated into a secretive trade by Bud, who listens to obsolete music, dresses square, and dreams small. Their worldviews collide in the new terrain of early eighties America, an era of subtle but rapid change from the Me Decade to the Greed Decade.

(click here to continue reading Repo Man: A Lattice of Coincidence – From the Current – The Criterion Collection.)

I know I saw the Repo Man film in the theatre, but I don’t know if it was during the first run, or after the soundtrack made a splash. In those old dusty days, before the internet, before cable television, before DVDs and streaming video services, I saw a lot of movies on opening weekend. I do remember it being a mostly empty theatre, but laughing hysterically at the cans of generic food…

Repo Man thrived largely because of its music. The soundtrack not only resurrected the theatrical run, it also stoked interest in the video release. The film had the wonderful serendipity to enter the VHS market during the golden age of video stores. In the mideighties, “cult film” was both an aesthetic and a status facilitated by scarcity. Video connoisseurs of the pre-Internet world foraged through shelves and bins, propelled by word of mouth and employee picks. Even if you managed to catch the infamously edited television version of Repo Man (with “flip you” and “melon farmer” dubbed over saltier insults), you would have had to own a VCR to share the experience with friends. The film bloomed as a phenomenon not just because it had to be sought out but because it delivered on expectations when finally found.

Musically as well, it’s hard to think of another nondocumentary film with the preposterously marvelous timing of Repo Man—Cox had the most vibrant and diverse punk scene in America to work with. And certainly no other film used such good fortune to such novel effect. Consider the cameo by the Circle Jerks. That scene shows one of the mightiest lineups in the first wave of American hardcore—Keith Morris, Greg Hetson, Earl Liberty of Saccharine Trust, and the celebrated drummer Chuck Biscuits—in that incarnation of the band’s only recorded performance, as a drum-machine-backed lounge act.

If you haven’t seen the film in a while, or ever, give it a spin…

Repo Man Poster

Repo Man Poster

Footnotes:
  1. conversations, dialogues, whatever []

Written by Seth Anderson

April 16th, 2013 at 5:03 pm

The Modern Lovers -Roadrunner – Official State Song of Massachusetts

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Some politician wants to make Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lover’s seminal tune, Roadrunner, into the Official State Song. I could agree with that. I remember listening to this song back in the stone age, before CDs, and I always loved it. Maybe because it is so much a descendant of the Velvet Underground sound, or just because it is cool. I had forgotten that John Cale produced the song.

One of these days I’ll be a tourist in Boston…

 

Roadrunner, filmed in Boston, circa 1976

I’ve never been to Massachusetts, but this song evokes what MA is, to me anyway.

From Wikipedia:

Richman’s band The Modern Lovers first recorded “Roadrunner” with producer John Cale (previously of the Velvet Underground) in 1972. This version was first released as single and in 1976 on The Modern Lovers’ long-delayed but highly acclaimed debut album (originally Home of the Hits HH019). Later in 1972, the group recorded two more versions with Kim Fowley, which were released in 1981 on the album, The Original Modern Lovers (Bomp BLP 4021). A live version from 1973 was also later officially released on the album, Live At Longbranch Saloon. The most commercially successful version of the song, credited to Richman as a solo artist, was recorded for Beserkley Records in late 1974, produced by label boss Matthew King Kaufman, featured Jonathan backed by The Greg Kihn Band and released at the time on a single (Beserkley B-34701) with a B-side by the band Earth Quake. Kaufman stated: “To record “Roadrunner” took the 3 minutes 35 seconds for the performance, about another 30 minutes to dump the background vocals on, and another 90 minutes to mix it”. Actually Kaufman was mistaken – this version is listed on the UK release of the single as being 4:40. This version was reissued in 1975 on the album Beserkley Chartbusters Vol. 1(Beserkley JBZ-0044). In the UK, where Richman had received substantial and very positive publicity in the music press, it was released in 1977 as a single (Beserkley BZZ 1), known as “Roadrunner (Once)” and credited to Jonathan Richman, with the Cale-produced “Roadrunner (Twice)” on the B-side, credited to The Modern Lovers, and lasting approximately 4:06. This single reached number 11 in the UK singles chart in August 1977. The differences among all these versions are in the lyrics, the duration, the instrumentation (electric garage rock vs. acoustic rock) and the way Jonathan sings them.

(click here to continue reading Roadrunner (Jonathan Richman song) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.)

and from Rolling Stone:

Jonathan Richman used to describe “Roadrunner,” the best-known song by his band the Modern Lovers, as a “geographical love song.” Now his affection for his home state is on the verge of being institutionalized: there is a movement underway to make the classic song – an ode to the singer’s native Massachusetts as it appeared through his windshield (“Gonna drive past the Stop and Shop with the radio on”) – the state’s official rock song.

Last week, Massachusetts State Representative Marty Walsh filed a bill proposing as much. Jerry Harrison, who joined Talking Heads after the first recorded lineup of the Modern Lovers split, tells Rolling Stone he’s pleased. “I can’t tell you how many congratulatory emails I’ve gotten,” he says.

The push to designate “Roadrunner” as the official rock song of Massachusetts began with Joyce Linehan, a Boston publicist who did A&R for Sub Pop Records and now has a record label with Joe Pernice. She has political connections, too: she worked closely with Elizabeth Warren on her successful campaign for the U.S. Senate.

 

(click here to continue reading Modern Lovers’ ‘Roadrunner’ Proposed as Massachusetts’ Official Rock Song | Music News | Rolling Stone.)

one two three four five six
Roadrunner, roadrunner
Going faster miles an hour
Gonna drive past the Stop ‘n’ Shop
With the radio on

I’m in love with Massachusetts
And the neon when it’s cold outside
And the highway when it’s late at night
Got the radio on
I’m like the roadrunner

Alright
I’m in love with modern moonlight
128 when it’s dark outside
I’m in love with Massachusetts
I’m in love with the radio on
It helps me from being alone late at night
It helps me from being lonely late at night
I don’t feel so bad now in the car
Don’t feel so alone, got the radio on
Like the roadrunner
That’s right

Said welcome to the spirit of 1956
Patient in the bushes next to ’57
The highway is your girlfriend as you go by quick
Suburban trees, suburban speed
And it smells like heaven(thunder)
And I say roadrunner once
Roadrunner twice
I’m in love with rock & roll and I’ll be out all night
Roadrunner
That’s right

Well now
Roadrunner, roadrunner
Going faster miles an hour
Gonna drive to the Stop ‘n’ Shop
With the radio on at night
And me in love with modern moonlight
Me in love with modern rock & roll
Modern girls and modern rock & roll
Don’t feel so alone, got the radio on
Like the roadrunner
O.K., now you sing Modern Lovers

(Radio On!)
I got the AM
(Radio On!)
Got the car, got the AM
(Radio On!)
Got the AM sound, got the
(Radio On!)
Got the rockin’ modern neon sound
(Radio On!)
I got the car from Massachusetts, got the
(Radio On!)
I got the power of Massachusetts when it’s late at night
(Radio On!)
I got the modern sounds of modern Massachusetts
I’ve got the world, got the turnpike, got the
I’ve got the, got the power of the AM
Got the, late at night, (?), rock & roll late at night
The factories and the auto signs got the power of modern sounds
Alright

Right, bye bye!

More reasons to love this song:

Roadrunner is one of the most magical songs in existence. It is a song about what it means to be young, and behind the wheel of an automobile, with the radio on and the night and the highway stretched out before you. It is a paean to the modern world, to the urban landscape, to the Plymouth Roadrunner car, to roadside restaurants, neon lights, suburbia, the highway, the darkness, pine trees and supermarkets. As Greil Marcus put it in his book Lipstick Traces: “Roadrunner was the most obvious song in the world, and the strangest.”

One version of Roadrunner – Roadrunner (Twice) – reached No 11 in the UK charts, but the song’s influence would extend much further. Its first incarnation, Roadrunner (Once), recorded in 1972 and produced by John Cale, but not released until 1976, was described by film director Richard Linklater as “the first punk song”; he placed it on the soundtrack to his film School of Rock. As punk took shape in London, Roadrunner was one of the songs the Sex Pistols covered at their early rehearsals. Another 20 years on and Cornershop would cite it as the inspiration behind their No 1 single Brimful of Asha, and a few years later, Rolling Stone put it at 269 on their list of the 500 greatest songs of all time. Its impact would be felt in other ways, too: musicians playing on this song included keyboard player Jerry Harrison, who would later join Talking Heads, and drummer David Robinson, who went on to join the Cars. Its power was in the simplicity both of its music – a drone of guitar, organ, bass and drums around a simple two-chord structure – and of its message that it’s great to be alive.

(click here to continue reading The car, the radio, the night – and rock’s most thrilling song | Music | The Guardian.)

Written by Seth Anderson

February 21st, 2013 at 12:25 am

Posted in Music,Suggestions

Tagged with , ,

Jungleland: In search of a lost city

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Jungleland cover
jungleland_cover

Sounds fun – exploring without leaving the comfort of my office couch…

The true story Christopher S. Stewart has to tell in “Jungleland” resembles nothing so much as the set-up for one of H. Rider Haggard’s old pulp adventure novels. It’s got a fabled lost city somewhere in the midst of a trackless rainforest, intrepid explorers, stoic guides, assorted dangerous animals and sinister bad guys, and a dash of espionage. Even the local tribesmen get in on the act, issuing forth vague warnings about “forbidden” zones, the voices of the dead, evil spirits and monkey gods.

Stewart, a journalist specializing in war and organized crime, first heard about Ciudad Blanco — the White City, a magnificent ruin rumored to be buried deep in the jungles of the Mosquitia region of Honduras — while reporting on the booming Honduran drug trade in 2008. An American ex-soldier who had been involved in training the Nicaraguan contras told him about the legend while describing Mosquitia as the “shittiest, buggiest shithole jungle in the world.” Stewart was soon obsessed, and in a few months, he was on a plane for Central America.

He was far from the first to heed the call. Explorers ranging from Columbus to Cortes had taken note of the rumors, and the first Catholic bishop of Honduras informed the king of Spain that he’d heard tell of the city from the lips of an “Indian princess;” she said its aristocrats ate from solid gold plates. Charles Lindbergh claimed to have spotted the white ruins of “an amazing ancient metropolis” while flying over Central America, and many other visitors to the region have found artifacts that seem to be the remnants of a sophisticated culture. The most recent and apparently reliable eyewitness account dated back to 1940, when Theodore Morde, a 29-year-old adventurer from Massachusetts, claimed to have stumbled on the city while wandering in the heart of the jungle.

(click here to continue reading “Jungleland”: In search of a lost city – Salon.com.)

Available in a couple weeks, I’ll tell you how it is.

Written by Seth Anderson

December 31st, 2012 at 12:30 am

Posted in Books,Suggestions

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