Some Jazz Albums

Lists are really the bane of a reviewers existence. Not only can you spend your whole day compiling lists of best so and so, and then defending why Artist X should be on the list but not Artist Y, but then some other reviewer drops a slightly different list of greatest Jazz albums, for instance. A morass of conflicting opinions and options. David Remnick of the New Yorker contributes his top 100 Jazz albums which would be a pretty excellent place to start a music library with.

While finishing “Bird-Watcher,” a Profile of the jazz broadcaster and expert Phil Schaap, I thought it might be useful to compile a list of a hundred essential jazz albums, more as a guide for the uninitiated than as a source of quarrelling for the collector. First, I asked Schaap to assemble the list, but, after a couple of false starts, he balked. Such attempts, he said, have been going on for a long time, but “who remembers the lists and do they really succeed in driving people to the source?” Add to that, he said, “the dilemma of the current situation,” in which music is often bought and downloaded from dubious sources. Schaap bemoaned the loss of authoritative discographies and the “troubles” of the digital age, particularly the loss of informative aids like liner notes and booklets. In the end, he provided a few basic titles from Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Miles Davis, and other classics and admitted to a “pyrrhic victory.”

What follows is a list compiled with the help of my New Yorker colleague Richard Brody. These hundred titles are meant to provide a broad sampling of jazz classics and wonders across the music’s century-long history. Early New Orleans jazz, swing, bebop, cool jazz, modal jazz, hard bop, free jazz, third stream, and fusion are all represented, though not equally. We have tried not to overdo it with expensive boxed sets and obscure imports; sometimes it couldn’t be helped. We have also tried to strike a balance between healthy samplings of the innovative giants (Armstrong, Ellington, Parker, Davis, Coltrane, etc.) and the greater range of talents and performances.

[From Online Only: 100 Essential Jazz Albums: Online Only: The New Yorker]

I won’t bother with all one hundred, but here a few of my favorites on this list

“The Complete Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings” (Louis Armstrong)

“The Essential Bessie Smith” (Bessie Smith)

“Money Jungle” (Duke Ellington, Charlie Mingus, Max Roach)

“The Classic Early Recordings in Chronological Order” (Django Reinhardt, Stephane Grappelli)

“Handful of Keys” (Fats Waller)

“Bird: The Complete Charlie Parker on Verve” (Charlie Parker)

“The Complete RCA Victor Recordings: 1947-1949” (Dizzy Gillespie)

“Bitches Brew” (Miles Davis)

"A Love Supreme" (John Coltrane)

"Mingus Ah Um" (Charles Mingus)

"Saxophone Colossus" (Sonny Rollins)

"The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings" (John Coltrane)

"The Köln Concert" (Keith Jarrett)

Chuck Berry is Cool

“Johnny B. Goode: His Complete ’50s Chess Recordings” (Chuck Berry)

Can’t go wrong picking up some Chuck Berry, iffen you don’t already have some. The blueprint of a thousand songs is chorded on these tracks, and even fifty years later, they still sound good.

Chuck Berry didn’t invent rock and roll, but he may very well have invented rock’n’roll. His songs fueled and inspired the likes of Buddy Holly, the Beach Boys, the Beatles, the Who, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones, and just about anybody in his wake who picked up an electric guitar. In the invaluable rock doc Hail! Hail! Rock’n’Roll, we watch in awe has Berry puts Keith Richards in his place with just a single angry glare, and watch in double-awe as Richards takes it. After all, the Stones guitarist, like countless other musicians of his generation, knows he owes virtually everything to Berry, and has admitted as much, so he gives deference where deference is due.

Berry’s as worthy of hagiography as any rock legend, but he’s not yet ready for a eulogy. In fact, Berry’s 50-plus year career has been marked by one constant– forward motion. Indeed, Berry’s far too stubborn a man to ever give inertia the chance to slow him down, and he still spends a considerable amount of time on stage for an octogenarian. As far as the studio goes, however, Berry hasn’t released a new album since 1979, and even then his songwriting had been in steady decline since the early 60s. His last (and sole number one!) hit, a live version of the juvenile novelty “My Ding-a-Ling”, was released in 1972.

One perverse but still appropriate way to view Berry’s erratic (or non-existent) output over the past three or so decades is as further validation of the enduring strength of the first decade of his recording career, especially the productive, world-changing last five years of the 1950s collected on the self-explanatory Johnny B. Goode: His Complete ’50s Chess Recordings. It was on Chicago’s Chess imprint that Berry would change the blueprint of popular music, and it’s on this 4xCD collection that we can revisit the fruits of his labor.

[Click to read more of Chuck Berry: Johnny B. Goode: His Complete ’50s Chess Recordings: Pitchfork Record Review]

If you want a smaller sampler of Berry, check out the Great 28.

“The Great Twenty-Eight” (Chuck Berry)

Jack Black Gets Rich Kid Blues

“Consolers Of The Lonely” (Warner Brothers)

Somewhat over-written review of the new Raconteurs new album, yet I ordered a copy anyway. I thought a few of the songs on Broken Boy Soldiers are great (Intimate Secretary and Store Bought Bones especially).

At the very least, this bubbling blend of bizarro blues, rustic progressive rock, fractured pop and bludgeoning guitars is a finger in the eye to anyone that dared call the band a mere power-pop trifle, proof that the Raconteurs are a rock & roll band, but it’s not just the sound of the record that’s defiant. There’s the very nature of the album’s release, how it was announced to the world a week before its release when it then appeared in all format in all retail outfits simultaneously, there’s the obstinately olde-fashioned look of the artwork, how the group is decked out like minstrels at a turn-of-the century carnival, or at least out of Dylan’s Masked And Anonymous.

…And this is indeed concept in plural, how cult hero Terry Reid is used as a touchstone for the band’s progressive blues-rock via a blazing cover of “Rich Kid Blues,” or how there’s an evocation of the old weird America in all the albums rambling centerpieces or how half of the record fights against pop brevity, while all of it is a deathblow against the idea that the Raconteurs are power-pop sissies. Sometimes, the group hits against that notion with a bluesy bluster

[From The Allmusic Blog » Jack White Gets The Rich Kids Blues on The Raconteurs Consolers of the Lonely]

Glancing around, reviews seem to be mixed (too hasty seems to be a common refrain), but hey, music is ultimately disposable pleasure. Reusable pleasure, sure, but it t’aint changing the world. I’m happy that Jack White takes risks.

Update: like this album nearly as much as the first. Check it out.

Why We Are Liberals

“Why We’re Liberals: A Political Handbook for Post-Bush America” (Eric Alterman)

Eric Alterman has a new book coming out, Why We Are Liberals. Worth looking into, if not reading.

I’m told by friends that Amazon,, Powell’s, etc., have started shipping out Why We’re Liberals, and its official pub date is Monday. There is a review in this week’s New York Times Book Review which believe it or not, criticizes me from my left. There’s also one in The New York Observer, which are the only two I’ve seen. Both are more critical than positive. But both are serious and respectful of the endeavor, and so for now, at least, I’m not going to whine about them.

[From Media Matters – I’ll go back to black … ]

With a bonus Tom Tomorrow cartoon cover.

Thanks to the machinations of the right, there is no dirtier word in American politics today than “liberal”—yet public opinion polls consistently show that the majority of Americans hold liberal views on everything from health care to foreign policy. In this feisty, accessible primer, bestselling author Eric Alterman sets out to restore liberalism to its rightful honored place in our political life as the politics of America’s everyday citizens.

In Why We’re Liberals Alterman examines liberalism’s development and demonstrates how its partisans have come to represent not just the mainstream, but also the majority of Americans today. In a crisply argued though extensively documented counterattack on right-wing spin and misinformation, Alterman briskly disposes of such canards as “Liberals Hate God” and “Liberals Are Soft on Terrorism,” reclaiming liberalism from the false definitions foisted upon it by the right and repeated everywhere else. Why We’re Liberals brings clarity and perspective to what has often been a one-sided debate for nothing less than the heart and soul of America. Why We’re Liberals is the perfect election-year book for all of those ready to fight back against the conservative mud-slinging machine and claim their voice in the political debate

Johnny Greenwood is the Controller

“Jonny Greenwood Is the Controller” (Sanctuary Records)

err, composer

There may be no scarcer commodity in modern Hollywood than a distinctive and original film score. Most soundtracks lean so heavily on a few preprocessed musical devices—those synthetic swells of strings and cymbals, urging us to swoon in tandem with the cheerleader in love—that when a composer adopts a more personal language the effect is revelatory: an entire dimension of the film experience is liberated from cliché. So it is with Paul Thomas Anderson’s movie “There Will Be Blood,” which has an unearthly, beautiful score by the young English composer Jonny Greenwood. The early scenes show, in painstaking detail, a maverick oilman assembling a network of wells at the turn of the last century. Filmgoers who find themselves falling into a claustrophobic trance during these sequences may be inclined to credit the director, who, indeed, has forged some indelible images. But, as Orson Welles once said of Bernard Herrmann’s contribution to “Citizen Kane,” the music does fifty per cent of the work.

[Click to read more of Welling Up: Musical Events: The New Yorker]

I’ll admit that I don’t always pay close attention to film scores. Mostly because there isn’t much going on that interests my ears, maybe because I am a blockhead. I have yet to see There Will Be Blood, but I will see it once it arrives via Netflix. After reading Alex Ross’ paean to Jonny Greenwood, I’ll also be paying close attention to the music

The movie opens with a shot of dry, bare Western hills. Then we see a man prospecting for silver at the bottom of a shaft. He blasts the hole deeper with dynamite, falls and breaks his leg, and, with a titanic struggle, draws himself back up. Finally, we see him lying on the floor of an assay office, his leg in a splint, signing for the earnings that will enable him to drill for oil. The sequence is almost entirely wordless, but it is framed by music, much of it dense and dissonant. At the very beginning, you hear a chord of twelve notes played by a smoldering mass of string instruments. After seven measures, the strings begin sliding along various trajectories toward the note F-sharp. This music comes from a Greenwood piece called “Popcorn Superhet Receiver,” and, although it wasn’t composed for the film, it supplies a precise metaphor for the central character. The coalescence of a wide range of notes into a monomaniacal unison may tell us most of what we need to know about the crushed soul of the future tycoon Daniel Plainview.

As Plainview signs his name, another monster chord blossoms, in the violins and violas. This one is superimposed on C-major harmony in the bass, resulting in a less abrasive, more dreamlike atmosphere. The cellos play staggered glissandos—crying, sighing downward slides. Disembodied major triads rise through the harmonic haze, like mirages on the barren terrain outside Plainview’s shaft. The music is at once terrifying and enrapturing, alien and intimate.

As the movie goes on, Greenwood writes rugged open-interval motifs, which evoke the vastness of the land; mechanically churning Bartókian ostinatos, announcing the arrival of Plainview’s crew; primitivist drumming to propel an apocalyptic scene in which a derrick catches fire; and long-limbed, sadly ecstatic, Messiaen-like melodies to suggest the emotional isolation of Plainview’s ill-fated son. It’s hard to think of a recent Hollywood production in which music plays such an active role. (Unfortunately, Greenwood was judged ineligible for an Academy Award nomination, because the soundtrack contains too much preëxisting music.) When, in the closing scenes, Plainview evolves into an obscenely wealthy ghoul, Greenwood’s score retreats toward silence. In its stead, after a bloody final shot, the robust finale of Brahms’s Violin Concerto ironically fills the air: it sounds more like a radio blaring in an empty house than like music played for human beings.

– Ooops, I forgot to include a link to the soundtrack CD. Doh! Also available on a track-by-track basis.

“There Will Be Blood” (Wea/Atlantic/Nonesuch)


“Cow (Reaktion Books – Animal)” (Hannah Velten)

My public kvetch must have worked, as I received a copy of the promised book today. Looks like a very interesting read, actually.

From Amazon:

“The book”s design and illustrations are beautiful, which means, I suspect, that Cow will be probably bought most often as a gift–for country lovers, perhaps. . . . Velten has a passion for her subject and it comes across. Her account is sweeping but precisely detailed and subtly persuasive. . . . Look hard at cows and you learn about humans. Fascinating and delightful.”

From the milk we drink in the morning, to the leather shoes we slip on for the day, to the steak we savor at dinner, our daily lives are thoroughly bound up with cows. Yet there is a far more complex story behind this seemingly benign creature, which Hannah Velten explores here, plumbing the rich trove of myth, fact, and legend surrounding these familar animals.

From the plowing field to the rodeo to the temple, Velten tracks the constantly changing social relationship between man and cattle, beginning with the domestication of aurochs around 9000 BCE. From there, Cow launches into a fascinating story of religious fanaticism, scientific exploits, and the economic transformations engendered by the trade of the numerous products derived from the animal. She explores in engaging detail how despite cattle’s prominence at two ends of a wide spectrum: Hinduism venerates the cow as one of the most sacred members of the animal kingdom, while beef is a prized staple of the American diet. Thought provoking and informative, Cow restores this oft-overlooked animal to the nobility it richly deserves.

If you happen to see it at a bookstore, my photo is on page 92, and my credit on page 204.

Oh, and since I’m flipping through the book as a prelude to reading it, and postponing returning to work, here’s page 69 (and part of page 68 for context):

The Spanish herdsman, Ambrosio, who is used to the ‘pride and the nimble rage of a young bull from Coruña’, takes charge of a herd of twelve Simmental dairy cows in Switzerland. He is unable to admire the cows, but:…he couldn’t deny that these overbred bodies had something reassuringly decent about them, it might well be dull, but the warmth they radiated, their incessaqnt inner activity, their endless ruminating, digesting, multiplying, lactating, producing-even-while-they-slept, all that impressed Ambrosio in spite of himself. Sometimes their uninterrupted productivity seemed positively god-like to him, and he learned to respect it.

The cow symbolizes maternal nourishment because of her ability to provide milk. In effect, she is the Mother of humans, and by inference also of the gods. Her milking ability is her passport to greatness. There is nothing more to her: milk is her raison d’être, as simply put by the American poet Ogden Nash (1902-1971):
The cow is of the bovine ilk;
One end is moo, the other, milk.

Gram Parsons and The Flying Burrito Brothers

“Gram Parsons Archive, Vol. 1: Live at the Avalon Ballroom 1969” (Gram Parsons, Flying Burrito Brothers)

Excellent. I’ve long been partial to Cosmic American music, discovering it first through Uncle Tupelo and Michelle Shocked, then working my way backwards in time to Gram Parsons, Dylan’s John Wesley Harding, The Band’s first few albums, and others. Being a musical historian in the age of re-releasing frenzy does have advantages.

Live at the Avalon Ballroom is the rock equivalent of the Jackson Pollock discovered at a flea market, or the first-edition William Faulkner found in the dollar bin at a used book store. These recordings of the Flying Burrito Brothers’ two shows in San Francisco in April 1969 were long buried in the Grateful Dead vaults (which many listeners speak of in the same terms explorers once used for El Dorado) until Dave Prinz, the co-founder of Amoeba Records, tracked them down and worked for more than a year to secure permissions from the Dead’s soundman, Owsley “Bear” Stanley. Prinz compiled the recordings into a 2xCD set (one for each show) and released them on the newly launched Amoeba Records label– its second release, in fact. The title, Archives Volume 1: Live at the Avalon Ballroom 1969, teases with the tacit promise of a second volume– more buried treasure.

For Parsons fans, this constitutes a major event– perhaps more anticipated than even Rhino’s long-awaited reissue of his two solo albums in 2006– not only because it contains numerous unheard covers, but primarily because Parsons didn’t leave a whole lot of live material behind when he died in 1973. Even the supposedly “live” medley from Grievous Angel was just a studio re-creation, and the real live recordings that survive are marred by poor sound quality or, in some cases, poor performances. Live documents of Parsons’ short tenure with the original Flying Burrito Brothers line-up are even scarcer. What makes Live at the Avalon Ballroom so special is that the performance is just as good as the sound quality. As professional hanger-on Pamela “Burrito Sister” Des Barres writes in the liners, “I have literally been waiting for this album for decades.”

[Click to read more about Gram Parsons : Gram Parsons Archives Volume 1: Gram Parsons with the Flying Burrito Brothers Live at the Avalon Ballroom 1969: Pitchfork Record Review]

Grammatical Errors
Parsons died too young.

Works of Igor Stravinsky

“Works of Igor Stravinsky” (Sony Classics)

Pretty reasonably priced set, I might pick it up.

With Works of Igor Stravinsky, Sony/BMG is offering Sony Classics’ massive Stravinsky box of 22 CDs, which once retailed at a faint-inducing price tag, for less than one-sixth of the original cost. Certainly more of these will get around than the old “Recorded Legacy” box did; so prohibitively expensive, such boxes would sit at the counter of finer classical music stores for years as a never-purchased luxury item. In the new edition, you don’t get much aside from the same 22 CDs in cardboard sleeves and a paper-thin booklet, which contains a highly generalized, four-page-long appreciation of Stravinsky’s artistry and as close to the most basic projection of the recording data as one can imagine.

Aside from the marketing angle, Sony/BMG’s Works of Igor Stravinsky has all the vicissitudes of the original Sony Classical set, apart from the old set’s monolithic dimensions. No other composer born in the 1880s — unless you count Leopold Stokowski as a “composer” — left behind a more extensive body of recordings than Stravinsky. Stravinsky didn’t make his first recording until he was 43 years old, only picking up conducting as an avocation a couple of years after that. The vast majority of Stravinsky’s recordings were made for CBS Masterworks starting in 1957 — when he was 75 years old — and extending to 1967, when he made his last public appearances, and Works of Igor Stravinsky includes, in one way or another, some 90 percent of the music Stravinsky is known to have composed. Save the inclusion of both the Firebird Ballet and its corresponding suite, alternate incarnations of works are not found here; the dreaded, posthumously discovered Sonata in F sharp minor for piano is likewise lacking, but so are several of Stravinsky’s other piano pieces and the Three Pieces for String Quartet.

[From allmusic [Works of Igor Stravinsky]]

Bound to be some good stuff here, $33 bucks for 22 discs sounds like a good cost-per-minute ratio. 433 tracks.

Pentangle Box Set

Not my most favorite British folk band (prefer Fairport Convention for instance), but Bert Jansch is an excellent, evocative acoustic guitarist.

Time Has Come 1967 - 1973
“Time Has Come 1967 – 1973” (Pentangle) : News : Pentangle 40th Anniversary Box Set To Be Released On Castle

Pentangle were a ‘60s British folk/jazz ‘supergroup’ that were simultaneously stars of the underground and darlings of the mainstream, gracing the Fillmore East one month and Carnegie Hall the next. The band was formed in 1966 by hip young guitar slingers Bert Jansch and John Renbourn, already leading lights of the folk scene at the time. With folk chanteuse Jacqui McShee on vocals and a rhythm section consisting of Danny Tompson on bass and Terry Cox on drums, the group mastered a breathtaking repertoire that encompassed the traditional ballads, blues, jazz, pop, and re-workings of rock oldies….

Spanning 1967-1973 they recorded six albums, toured and broadcasted extensively.

This lavish and definitive 40th anniversary box set covers the six year career of Pentangle. The Time Has Come features the best of the band’s album tracks, singles and B-sides – newly re-mastered, achieving the best sound to date – alongside no less than 20 previously unreleased tracks. Among the many rarities is a track from their very first recording session (1967); live concert and television performances; studio outtakes from The Pentangle (1968) and Reflection (1971); BBC radio session tracks newly in stereo and previously unheard film soundtrack work. This set features a 56 page booklet filled with extensive liner notes along with unseen photos and rare memorabilia.


Some ass news from the UK

African Queen: The Real Life of the Hottentot Venus
“African Queen: The Real Life of the Hottentot Venus” (Rachel Holmes)

The more things change….

Flesh made fantasy
Rachel Holmes on the Hottentot Venus – a South African showgirl with an irresistible ass.

The body of Saartjie Baartman, better known as the Hottentot Venus, has had greater influence on the iconography of the female body in European art and visual culture than any other African woman of the colonial era. Saartjie, a South African showgirl in the early 19th century, was a small, beautiful woman, with an irresistible bottom. Of a build unremarkable in an African context, to some western European eyes she was extraordinary. Today, she is celebrated as bootylicious.

Billed as the Hottentot Venus, Saartjie first performed in Piccadilly on September 24 1810. Dressed in a figure-hugging body stocking, beadwork, feathers and face-paint, she danced, sang and played African and European folk songs on her ramkie, forerunner to the tin-can guitar. Slung over her costume was a voluminous fur cloak (kaross). Enveloping her from neck to feet, it was an African version of the corn-gold tresses of Botticelli’s Venus – and every inch of its luxuriant, curled hair was equally suggestive.

To London audiences, she was a fantasy made flesh, uniting the imaginary force of two powerful myths: Hottentot and Venus. The latter invoked a cultural tradition of lust and love; the former signified all that was strange, disturbing and – possibly – sexually deviant. Almost overnight, London was overtaken by Saartjie mania. Within a week, she went from being an anonymous immigrant to one of the city’s most talked-about celebrities. Her image became ubiquitous: it was reproduced on bright posters and penny prints, and she became the favoured subject of caricaturists and cartoonists.

and here is a factoid not discussed much in history books of Georgian England:

Bottoms were big in late-Georgian England. From low to high culture, Britain was a nation obsessed by buttocks, bums, arses, posteriors, rumps – and with every metaphor, joke or pun that could be squeezed from this fundamental distraction. Georgian England both celebrated and deplored excess, grossness, bawdiness and the uncontainable. In Rowlandson’s cartoon, amply proportioned white Englishwomen are depicted trying to plump up their already big bottoms in imitation of Saartjie, who loftily presides over them all.

Saartjie’s instant celebrity owed much to a coincidence between the Georgian fascination with bottoms, the size of the derrière of Lord Grenville, and the British tradition of visual satire. The aristocratic Grenville family were famed for their huge bums. The nation was rife with speculation that Grenville would become prime minister and his Whig coalition – known as the broad-bottoms or the bottomites – take over parliament. An engraving by William Heath depicts Grenville dressed as the Hottentot Venus. In another, by George Cruikshank from 1816, Saartjie’s profile is compared with that of the Prince Regent.

I wonder if Ms. Baartman makes an appearance in Pynchon’s Gravities Rainbow?

Rock Snob

Had a lot of fun yesterday consuming the

Rock Snob Dictionary

in one sitting. Well, I did jump up a few times and add tunes to my new iTunes playlist, Rock Snobs. I guess I am bonafide, as the playlist has several days worth of material already, and I’m not done adding yet.

A few excerpts from the book at posted at Fun stuff.

At last! An A-to-Z reference guide for readers who want to learn the cryptic language of Rock Snobs, those arcana-obsessed people who speak of “Rickenbacker guitars” and “Gram Parsons.”

We’ve all been there–trapped in a conversation with smarty-pants music fiends who natter on about “the MC5” or “Eno” or “the Hammond B3,” not wanting to let on that we haven’t the slightest idea what they’re talking about. Well, fret no more! The Rock Snob’s Dictionary is here to define every single sacred totem of rock fandom’s know-it-all fraternity, from to Zimmy. (That’s what Rock Snobs call Bob Dylan, by the way.)

Haven’t managed to see Cocksucker Blues nor Eat the Document, yet. Though apparently, some of the footage from Eat the Document made its way into

No Direction Home

Leary’s Long Acid Trip

Neal Pollack writes an interesting book review of Robert Greenfield’s Timothy Leary bio.

Timothy Leary: A Biography
“Timothy Leary: A Biography” (Robert Greenfield)

AlterNet: Neal Pollack: DrugReporter: Timothy Leary’s Long Acid Trip : …

Leary’s life was one of those rare American ones with a second act. After the 1970s he moved to Beverly Hills, went on a political minstrel-show lecture tour with G. Gordon Liddy, snorted coke in the Playboy Mansion with Hugh Hefner and hung out at the Viper Room. He also developed some of the earliest interactive computer games. What lessons are we to learn from such a life? Obviously, the specifics don’t apply to us ordinary mortals. And we certainly don’t want to follow Leary’s lead in terms of family life. As Greenfield painstakingly details, he was a serially bad husband and an even worse father. Leary’s careerism, while quintessentially American, was corrosive and destructive, another warning siren against the false promises of celebrity-obsessed modernity.

Yet his life contained surprising pockets of peace, extraordinary grace notes. When Leary’s famous commune in Millbrook, New York, wasn’t being raided by local authorities or invaded by trashy jet-setting hipsters, people achieved transcendence there, or at least had a lot of fun. As Greenfield writes, “When Charlie Mingus heard the tap in the sink yowling, followed by banging noises, he took out his bass and began playing counterpoint.” Of all the crazy scenes in the book, that’s the one I would have most liked to see, though I also enjoyed the one where Leary’s wife attempts a seduction of Jerry Brown in order to blackmail Leary out of prison.

While I find Leary’s writing bloated, self-absorbed and, let’s face it, hippy-dippy and dated, Pinchbeck makes a far more persuasive, modern case for psychedelics.

Breaking Open the Head: A Psychedelic Journey into the Heart of Contemporary Shamanism
Breaking Open the Head

is The Doors of Perception written from a skeptical East Village perspective. Pinchbeck’s latest book, 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl, expands on his thesis, arguing that psychedelics may be opening a portal to a transformation of consciousness that has the potential to change the world forever. I can’t say whether I believe that or not, and I certainly hope the Phoenix Suns win an NBA title before this evolution happens, but Pinchbeck’s skeptical, analytic reportorial approach to the subject appeals to my brain far more than Leary’s musty counterculture rhetoric.

errr, umm, yes. I am of the generation of whom Leary is only known via his actions and words, and he seems like nothing more than a loud-mouthed charlatan. Without Leary’s self-aggrandizement and nose-thumbing at authorities, perhaps certain substances might still be available through legal channels. Perhaps not, but from my perspective, Leary did nothing but bring negative attention to the whole mind-expansion community, with dire results. The psychedelic class of drugs is not for most people to explore, haphazardly. Leary wanted everyone to take them, and everyone shouldn’t.

Still, interesting reading, and I’ll add these books to my ‘summer reading’ list (which is now 3 stacks tall).

More Pollack here

Clash News I did Not Know

Made in Medina
Rachid Taha

This album, my only exposure to Mr. Taha, is quite good. Spectacular, in fact.

Salon’s Thomas Bartlett writes:

Rachid Taha

This is the Algerian rock/pop/rai star Rachid Taha’s cover of the Clash’s “Rock the Casbah” — the verses translated into Arabic, the choruses left in English, and the whole thing decorated with the standard trappings of Arabic pop. It’s an intensely charged cover, not a simple tribute, complicated as it is by Taha’s belief that Strummer and Co. got their unacknowledged inspiration for the song from his ’80s French band Carte de Séjour, which they heard after Taha himself gave them a tape in 1981

and from Calabash Music

Rachid Taha, a man that knows the inside story! Never mind the war on terrorism, what about the war on fear, complacency, ignorance, racism, poverty and lies. That’s a struggle that Rachid Taha has been fighting for the past two decades and more, ever since he was a tear-away punk immigrant from Algeria gobbing metaphorically and no doubt literally at the good burghers of Lyon in France.

His band, Carte de Sejour (the French for ‘residence permit’), proved that rock power, punk attitude and Arabic roots could get along famously if mentored by a passionate, razor-sharp and mouthy soul like Taha. Being proudly North African on the one hand and truly rebellious on the other has always meant struggle on many fronts and Rachid Taha has spent his whole career lobbing musical molotovs at the latent and, as recent event have proved, not so latent racism of the French in the form of classic songs like ‘Voile Voile’ and ‘Douce France’ whilst berating his fellow North Africans for lack of ambition, obsession with tradition, cabaret complacency and enslavement to rai.

Harry Reid – Italian Hater, or just racist

I’ve been engrossed in Gus Russo’s book about the Chicago mob, The Outfit

The Outfit (Gus Russo)
“The Outfit” (Gus Russo)

Written in journalistic fashion (copious amounts of research, broadly described events, but no flights of purple prose), the book repeatedly sketches how upperworld corruption was an essential part of The Outfit’s business operation. Bold face names like Tom Pendergast and his protege, Harry Truman, guys like Richard Nixon, Joe (and Jack) Kennedy, various Chicago mayors (Daley the elder, Cermak, etc.), movie moguls like Louis B. Mayer and Harry Cohn, and so on all pop up as equal partners in various criminal schemes.

Surprisingly though, was a minor tidbit about Harry Reid while Gaming Commisioner in Nevada (pgs 347-349 in the paperback edition). Apparently, in the late 1950’s, after Nevada had been turned from a sleepy, two-bit cowboy town into a Rat Pack mecca by ambitious gangsters, the Mormon power-brokers decided that Italians were not to be welcomed anymore. Hence, in 1959 the Gaming Control Act which encouraged licensing to ‘savory characters’ only. However, in the first year of the act, licenses were approved for several convicted WASP bookies, gamblers, tax cheats, bribers, and murderers (such as Charles “Babe” Baron, twice arrested for murder). Italians need not apply – even squeaky clean ones like the gourmet chef, Joseph Pignatello.

Soon the Board instituted

the infamous Black Book, which listed “unsavory characters” who not only could never be licensed, but were barred for life from setting foot in a Las Vegas casino. The introductory remarks noted that the list had been devised so that certain individuals “not discredit the gaming industry”. Discredit gambling? This is the same pastime that the board’s Mormon dogma prohibits and labels immoral. All those listed were so included without formal notification, hearing, or appeal. And the reasons for their inclusion could be mere hearsay. Of the initial eleven placed in the Black Book, eight were Italian, and most had been implicated or convicted in the same sorts of crimes as the WASPs who were licensed:bootlegging and bookmaking.

…Over the years, 62 percent of those placed in the Black Book have been Italian, dwarfing the numbers of the runners-up, Anglo-Saxons (15 percent)…“The mere Italian sound of a man’s name generated considerable suspicion.” In a candid moment, board chairman Harry Reid once said, “The reasons for their being singled out are not important as far as we’re concerned.”

Does this even matter? Somehow, to me, it does. Granted, politicians are as frequently racist, ignorant, jerk-offs as the rest of us, but I dream of leaders who have higher standards then the norm. I had halfway allowed myself to respect Harry Reid, especially after recent comments like:

in May of 2005 when he said of George W. Bush, “The man’s father is a wonderful human being. I think this guy is a loser.”

Oh well, throw him back on the heap. I’m done with him.

Perhaps I’m just sympathetic to profiling, having been searched so many times at airports (12 straight times at one point, though that’s better now, I guess I’ve been taken off the list, knock on wood-like object), attacked by drunken frat boys, or whatever. I still cling to my idealism, regardless of how delusional it is. Blame the hillbilly heroin my doctor recently proscribed for back pain….