Saturday, August 29, 2009

Songs of the Season, Part 15

A repost from the archives, because I think it's perfect for this weather:

I remember this one really hot day in Florida, when Jason and I were driving around listening to The Stooges' "Dirt," and Jason said "This song has so much mood to it. Maybe it's the heat." There's something about those really, seriously hot days that makes you want to listen to slow, hazy music that matches the way you feel, like you barely want to move. And lately, for me, that song has been Beck's "Earthquake Weather" (which has become my favorite Beck song, hands down).

All the elements of that song come together to make it perfect for extremely hot weather. That phased-out guitar at the beginning seems to imitate the heat waves you can see coming off the road, and it gives the whole thing a hazy sound. Then the beat comes in, and it's this nice, slow, head-bobbing beat. The lyrics seem to hint at dog days--"The days go slow." All the instruments--the soaring guitar notes over the chorus, the funky keyboard over the bridge--have some kind of treated sound that removes their edges and makes them sound as if they're melting in the sun. You just want to sink into the vinyl of your car seat.

The title does, in a round-about way, refer to hot weather, though I wouldn't have known it until recently. Some folks around here seem to believe that earthquakes are more likely in hot weather, as evidenced by this exchange I heard at the office last summer:

"It's so hot."
"You know what I think every time it gets this hot?"
"Shake and bake."
"Yup, shake and bake."
"Oh, I hope not."

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Of Healthcare and Fascism

It is time that we pointed out to the neo-conservatives that democracy has never been subverted from the left but always from the right. No democracy has fallen to communism, without an [invading] army; many democracies have fallen to fascism, from within. The Reaganites on the floor were exactly those who in Germany gave the Nazis their main strength and who in France collaborated with them and sustained Vichy.

-Henry Fairlie

Contra Rush Limbaugh, history’s actual fascists were not primarily known for their anti-smoking policies or generous social welfare programs. Fascism celebrated violence, anti-rationalism and hysterical devotion to an authoritarian leader.

-David Frum

There are plenty of good arguments against a liberal approach to healthcare reform, and there are some people making them out there. It's a shame that those rational voices on the right are being drowned out by an angry mob whose beef is clearly not anything to do with healthcare reform. I mean, it's easier for us in terms of making arguments, but it's probably bad for America, democracy, and above all conservatism.

The term "fascism" is starting to get thrown around a lot on the right. This is a group of people (I'm talking about the ones who show up at townhall meetings to yell about "President" OHitler or whatever--I'm sure there are a few Ron Paul libertarians mixed in there, but it's clear that most of these people were the 30% of America who remained die-hard Bush supporters to the end), militaristic authoritarians who support giving the president unlimited powers of surveillance, detention (without Habeus rights), rendition and torture, yet they think providing access to healthcare for all citizens is the road to fascism. I think libertarians who believe the two things are comparable are pretty loopy, but being able to hold that the former is compatible with democracy and the latter is equivalent to fascism is outright insanity.

But returning to the two quotes at the top of this post, there is a bit of historical mythology that even I had previously bought into, and this weird "debate" has allowed the sun to shine its revealing light on it. The narrative goes something like this: a country has a healthy democracy, and over time this democracy sets up a series of social welfare programs. Each of these programs increases the dependency of it's citizens on the government, until eventually, when an authoritarian regime takes over, the citizens are powerless to resist it. Anyone that tries will be denied their healthcare, their government paycheck, or any number of social services, just as if they had failed to get the Mark of the Beast placed on their forehead.

As far as I can tell, THIS HAS NEVER HAPPENED. The European democracies that have much more active social welfare programs than the U.S. will ever enact, whatever their problems, have remained liberal democracies. The communist regimes in the Soviet Union and China were authoritarian and oppressive from the start. Governments don't become authoritarian (probably a better word to use than fascist) through active social welfare programs. They become authoritarian through a movement that seeks to turn the government into an authoritarian one, through precisely the kinds of programs that the Bush administration enacted (and the Obama administration seems far too reluctant to reverse), combined with an aggressive, authoritarian, us-vs.-them rhetoric.

And I would love to get back to having serious, rational debates about the pros and cons of, for instance, government involvement in healthcare. But until this homegrown fascist movement is entirely discredited, such a debate is of secondary importance.

EDIT: Have to post this clip of Reagan, 50 years ago, predicting that if we enacted Medicare, we'd soon be living in some combination of Logan's Run, Soylent Green and Footloose.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Purchased at Don's Music Yard Sale

Don at Don's Music had a yardsale at his store Saturday. I got this great shotglass.

Get it? BODY English? Oh brother, this glass'll make you the life of the party, I tell ya!

There were actually four of these dice swizzle sticks, but I dropped one. They're actually made of glass. But maybe it's better this way. Now it's like the other swizzle sticks, so it doesn't feel so alone.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Hurt Locker (Kathrine Bigelow, 2009)

Spoilers Ahead.

I don't think anyone doubted Katherine Bigelow's action chops, established in the 80's on films like Near Dark and Point Break. Those roots can be seen throughout The Hurt Locker, a taut drama that follows a bomb squad in Iraq, which both employs and subverts many of the tropes of 80's action films. The two main characters, Sgt. Stanhope and Sgt. James, are straight out of a buddy cop flick: James, the swaggering adrenalin junkie who plays by his own rules is the classic action hero, with Stanhope as his straight-laced, by-the-book foil. (Look at the moment leading to the climactic street battle,where Stanhope reluctantly follows James--straight out of an 80's action flick!) In a typical action film, we'd immediately find ourselves cheering for Sgt. James, and it's a testimony to how well Bigelow has conveyed the seriousness of the situation that very early on, we find ourselves sympathizing with Sgt. Stanhope, the one who seems to take the situation seriously.

The Hurt Locker is a drama about people whose lives take place in a constant stream of action/suspense scenes. Every single day, these guys have to defuse a bomb, and once in a while, one of them gets blown up. That's just the world they live in. The third character, Specialist Owen Eldridge, is going mad with the stress, obsessing over his own mortality. So you have three characters: One who wants to live (Stanhope), one who (it seems) wants to die just to end the suspense (Eldridge), and one who doesn't give a shit (James). Or is that the right way to put it? Sgt. James seems to only feel alive when he's taking absurd risks with his life. In the brief view of his life on the homefront, we get a picture of how disorienting "normal" life can be for a soldier. At one point, an officer asks him what the best way to defuse a bomb is, and he answers "the way that doesn't get you killed." To Sgt. James, life in a warzone is clear and uncomplicated. Each choice you make comes with the question, "what will keep me alive?" Absent that mandate, it becomes unclear how to even make a choice. If there are no breakfast cereals that will blow you up, how do you know which one to choose?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Jimmy Dickinson, 1941-2009

Jimmy Dickinson w/The Cramps - Red Headed Woman (from Rockabilly Psychosis and the Garage Disease compilation):

James Luther Dickinson - All Out of Blue (from Jungle Jim and the Voodoo Tiger):

Legendary Memphis musician and producer James Luther Dickinson has died. More here. I'll leave the eulogizing to folks who know his career better than I, but here's a couple great tunes.

(If you're thinking "wow, what a pointless post," you're right, but I happened to have these two songs at the ready, and I really want to push that Animal Colective video off the page because it's interfering with my links.)

Monday, August 17, 2009

Melvin Gibbs' Elevated Entity

Melvin Gibbs' Elevated Entity - Macumba

I heard about Melvin Gibbs' new album on NPR, so I had to come up with some sort of mnemonic device to remember his name. I pictured White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs looking somewhat uncomfortable as Melvin Van Peebles put his arm around his shoulder to pose for a photo. But then I forgot my mnemonic. Actually, I remembered Gibbs, but couldn't remember Melvin. Somehow, Bruce Gibbs sounded right, from wich I tried to reconstruct my mnemonic and ended up with Robert Gibbs turning into The Hulk, which started me laughing in public and looking crazy. But OK, the music. Hip hop based on various forms of African, Brazillian and Caribean percussion. Been linstening to it nonstop. I always wish there were more stuff like this, but I also sort of wish the songs were as strong as the concept. I think this record gets the sound more "right" than, say, MIA's' Kaya, but Kaya is lit up from inside by an intense and distinct personality, which informs every aspect of the music. Gibbs' music seems kind of faceles by comparison.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Movie Orgy

Hooray for Joe Dante and the New Beverly for giving us slackers who missed our first once-in-a-lifetime chance to see Joe Dante's Movie Orgy a second once-in-a-lifetime chance. If you ever get a chance to see it, go! It's an amazing evening: nearly 5 hours of clips from B-movies, TV shows, commercials and serials from the 60's on back, edited together with precise comic timing. There were so many great moments, so many pieces of lost cultural flotsam and jetsam, it's overwhelming. There's the insane JD exploitation flick Speed Crazy, a bizarre ad campaign for Bufferin, lots of weird racist and sexist bits from old movies and TV shows, but the thing that most stuck with me was a clip from an old kid's show called Andy's Gang, a godawful show that is, in it's own way, more surreal than anything on Yo Gabba Gabba.

And that clip isn't even as weird as the one they showed!