Friday, November 28, 2008

Single of the Week - Victor Lundberg

Victor Lundberg - An Open Letter to my Teenage Son
Victor Lundberg - My Buddy Carl

I posted this one a while back, but I'll repost it since the week is almost over with no single. Don't neglect the B-Side, with a twist ending that will MAKE YOUR BLOOD RUN COLD!!!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Reasons To Be Thankful

Seeing these stories all together is...comically overwhelming.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Life Images

Two masked stand-ins half clad in black while photographed against black backdrop will appear invisible from the waist up for sight gag created by comic Ernie Kovacs for a guest appearnace on Perry Como's TV show.

From the Life Magazine Photo Archives. More Kovacs here.

Research scientist Dr. Reese T. Jones (R), adjusting electodes monitoring a volunteer's brain response to sound during experiment at Langley-Porter Institute using controlled dosage of marijuana.

Cambridge housewife Barbara Dunlap, under the effect of LSD-25, during an experiment conducted by Intl. Fed. for Internal Freedom.

Life Goes To A County Fair
Semi-nude "Gypsy" dancer performing the "hootchie kootch" in front of band on stage during "Chez Paree" show in carnival at the Greenbrier Valley Fair. (Lots of great carnie pictures.)

Silhouette at twilight of gigantic sculptured rendition of a Russian robot w. hand raised in a salute next to unident. bldg.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Recent Reading: Nick Tosches and John T. Edge

Words such as realism, neoclassicism, minimalism and dada are intellectual niceties, terms invented to describe esthetics. Each has a definition easily rote-learned; each has a clear, sensible origin...But words such as juke, jazz, honky-tonk and rock-n-roll are elusive. None of them was invented for the purpose of art; each seems to have it's own pneuma, from which the art evolved, like dark, primeval word magick. Ancient black men say they quit playing the blues because it's the devil's music. Pale, white preachers yell against the sinfulness of rock-n-roll. And it's not impossible that the word juke, first encountered among the blacks of Florida and coastal Georgia, late in the last century, has the same source as the Wolof word dzug, which means to lead an evil, wicked life.

-Nick Tosches, Country: The Twisted Roots of Rock 'n' Roll

I hadn't been reading much this year. Fell out of the habit when I was teaching night classes, and then couldn't get myself back on the ball. After a few months without digesting much pulp, I found a copy of Nick Tosches' book Country, and went through it lickety-split.

Country is a strange book. It's nothing like a definitive history of country, or even of the roots of rock music in country. Instead, it's a meandering, idiosyncratic book of impressionist history. Not that it's not rigorous--the bulk of the book is meticulously researched--but it's a book that insists, with immovable conviction, on discussing everything that interests it's author, and nothing that doesn't. What you end up with is a book that, through its very style, conveys the twisted roots to which its title alludes. A chapter that seems to be a chronological catalog of every independent label in America suddenly starts telling the story of Hank Williams, another chapter chronicling the tradition of "dirty" country songs takes 4 pages to talk about Roy Acuff's gospel hit "The Great Speckled Bird." There are chapters on the history of yodeling, the emergence of rockabilly (which will make you scared to death of Jerry Lee Lewis), and minstrel performer Emmett Miller, whose singing style may have influenced Jimmy Rodgers. One chapter traces a rockabilly song ("Black Jack David" by Warren Smith) back through English ballads and folk traditions to the myth of Orpheus.

The central chapter, bearing the inflammatory title "Cowboys and Niggers", is a long view of the interaction of country music with black music and culture. This history of musical miscegenation has defined American music of the 20th Century, despite the general perception of country as a segregated white music. It's a story of fiddlin' slaves, black cowboys, blackface minstrels, the common ancestry of blues slide guitar and country steel guitar, Freddie Roulette (whose steel guitar soul album album Sweet Funky Steel is now on my want list) and Charlie Parker jamming with Ray Price, a story that continues today, right up to last week when I heard a new country song called "Get Your Drink On" playing at a BBQ joint in Pasadena.

In between these chapters are odd pieces of short fiction that may or may not be based in fact, often concerning unidentified country singers, and in each case igniting deep curiosity in the reader. That sense of mystery is the driving force behind the crate-digging impulse, the desire to always find the next record, the next piece of information, to seek out the source of it all. And while Tosches creates an occult sense of history, with strange links between the past and the present (the book begins with a man named John Lydon arriving in America from England--in 1607), and throws in a healthy dose of heresy (in the space of two sentences, Tosches manages to dismiss the influence of Maybelle Carter's guitar playing (my scholarship is too shallow to defend it, but this is like saying Jimmy Page wasn't that important) and dis Altman's Nashville), the most important measure of a book like this is how many records it puts you on the trail of, and right now it has me sniffing for the Americana gumbo of James Luther Dickinson's Dixie Fried, the ancient country blues of Henry Thomas (whom I just realized did one of my favorite tracks from The Anthology of American Folk Music), and minstrel yodeler Emmett Miller (a chief obsession of Tosches, Miller is given three chapters in the book). I already managed to find Luis Russell's "The (New) Call of the Freaks."

At about the same time, I finally bought a book I've been meaning to get for years now. John T. Edge's The Southern Belly isn't really a guidebook for good eats through the South. It's more like a guided tour, one that spends more time profiling the personalities and families behind the various restaurants, BBQ shacks, lunch counters and fish stands than describing their food. I was going back and forth between this and Country, and the flavor this combination produces is the essence of the South. There is a strange cognitive dissonance produced by Edge's profile of Lester Maddox, the segregationist governor of Georgia who got his start selling fried chicken and biscuits. He comes off more as a lovable eccentric than an evil hatemonger. Maybe the two aren't mutually exclusive. Maybe that's the essence of Southern Culture right there.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

So How You Been?

Well, we ended up not going to the Prop 8 protest, because other things came up. Specifically, we got a phone call from Stephen around 2 am the morning before telling us he was being evacuated. Seems he was woken up by sirens in the middle of the night, and after a few minutes he got up to look out the window and saw a giant wall of flame coming down the hills across the street. So he and his roommate had to grab their valuables (computers and V.A. paperwork) and come crash on our couch. They let them back in by Saturday afternoon, and their apartment was OK (other than being covered in ash). Another apartment in the same complex burnt down.

Locust St. (the best mp3 blog on the web) has been posting a series on recordings from the earliest years of the 20th Century. A lot of these are minstrel songs, some of which (obviously) are pretty horrifying by today's standards. Go here to get Mary Irwin performing "Bully of the Town" from 1907 (you'll have to scroll down a bit), which...well, I can't really top this description:

May Irwin's 1907 record "Bully of the Town" is minstrelsy at its most surreal. A century on, the track (an enormous hit for Victor Records at the time) seems an obscene absurdity--a middle-aged white woman singing, in a genteel soprano, "I'm a Tennessee nigger" and going on about fetching her razor and cutting down her rival. It would be as if Bette Midler had covered the Geto Boys' "Mind Playin' Tricks On Me."

Check out the rest of the series. Great writing, very rarely-heard music.

Moriarty has a very long interview (more like a conversation, really) with Spike Jonze about his adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are, which is apparently still on track and scheduled for next October. This line just killed me:

Spike Jonze: At that screening you went to, there was something that was really interesting. This lady was our age and she brought a kid, or a couple kids, I don’t know, but she said that the book was something her parents got for her. She was like “When our parents got it for us, they didn’t really know what it meant. But we knew what it meant.” And I think somehow that book, and also Maurice’s work just taps into feelings kids have.

That's so right-on, isn't it? I mean, I think about all the similar storybooks that I read as a child, that everyone read. Why does this one book (aside from Dr. Seuss) stand out, FOR EVERYONE. Everyone feels this way about that book, that's only a few pages long and doesn't really have much of a story. Why? I think this cover art suggests why:

There are different printings with slightly different covers, but I'm pretty sure that's the one I remember from my childhood. It's not an action picture of the wild rumpus. It's not a picture of Max. It's just this one monster sleeping as a boat goes by. And it just makes you want to know more. It sticks in your mind in the way that only an unanswered question can. The book is very simple, but it's almost too simple. Even as a kid, you have to wonder what it means, because why would it exist if it didn't mean something? Why do I keep looking at it? Why do I keep reading it every night?

Single of the Week - Jerry Reed

Jerry Reed - Another Puff

Picked this up at the PCC Flea Market a couple weeks ago. Admittedly, I thought it would be about pot, but songs about trying to quit cigarettes are cooler than pot songs.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Whistler and his Jug Band

Whistler and his Jug Band - Low Down Blues (1927)

Can someone please explain what the fuck is going on on this record? I guess I shouldn't be so surprised that you can bend notes like that blowing a jug, but what is that theremin-sounding instrument? If I were guessing, I'd say it was someone playing a saw, but liner notes list guitar, fiddle, mandolin, jug and NOSE WHISTLE. The latter is played by Whistler himself (he also sings and plays guitar on this track, real name Buford Threlkeld). Found on this nifty compilation.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Punk Single of the Week - Hose

Hose - Mobo
Hose - Girls/Zoo

Rick Rubin's punk band. This is the first thing ever released on Def Jam records! The A-side is a pretty cool Flipper rip-off, the B is a pair of noisy piss-takes. "Girls" is not the song on License to Ill, but then again, maybe the Beastie's were taking off on the idea. For some reason, I have it in my mind that "Zoo" is a Simon and Garfunkle song.

As you can see, the cool thing about this was that it (a) literally came in a brown paper bag, and (b) didn't have a label--they carved the song titles and artwork right into the vinyl (as was the custom prior to 1900)! I remember, after getting into the Beastie Boys, looking at this record and noticing Rick Rubin's name on the label and wondering if it was the same guy. I guess I didn't notice that it was on Def Jam! I also recall a Beastie Boys article in SPIN, where they were talking about their hardcore records. There was a line like, "Rubin was also in a punk band, but, Ad Rock points out, 'they sucked.'" Although I actually think this record is a hell of a lot better than Pollywog Stew.

Friday, November 07, 2008

King Khan and the Shrines

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Hallowe'en 2008

OK, enough politics! I still haven't posted about Halloween. Which was a great one. If we'd been able to get a few more people to go with us, it might be the all-time best, but as it stands, I'll have to give it second place to Evil Dead at the Egyptian in '01.

I posted the pics--I was Crazy Racist Republican and Bobbie was a rollerderby queen. Getting Bobbie across Farifax on the skates was actually the scariest part of the night.

The event, of course, was The Tingler at the Silent Movie Theater. Packed house, lots of people in costume. One guy had a perfect Rorschach outfit (well, the blotches didn't move, but other than that it was perfect). We sat next to a couple dressed as Eraserhead and The Girl in the Radiator, complete with Eraserhead baby. As we were taking our seats, they were showing an old children's halloween safety film from the early 70's. I kinda think I may have seen it when I was a kid. Then they showed this incredible dental hygiene film called The Haunted Mouth, filmed entirely in horror style. It starts with a trip through a spooky mansion, ending in a room where the invisible narrator rocks in a chair and introduces himself as "Plaque. B.Plaque. The B stands for Bacterial." (God, I just had to go to Google to figure out whether plaque has a c in it.) The narrator desvribes all the evil he does to teeth. Then he's like "I'll even give you a sproting chance. I'll tell you everything you need to do to get rid of me...AND YOU STILL WON'T DO IT!" The voice wasn't exactly doing Vincent Price, but that seemed to be the general inspiration. I kept thinking I recognized the voice, but couldn't place it. At the end, the credits revealed that it was Caesar Romero.

Next was the cartoon Skeleton Frolic, and finally The Tingler. Now, I think this is the third time I've seen The Tingler. I saw it a while back on TV, and it completely pissed me off, just because the basic premise (a giant slug that feeds off your fear, but you can kill it by screaming, and it lives in everyone's spine, but nobody's ever seen it) is so fucking stupid. I saw it on TV again last year, with no expectations, and was better able to appreciate the sheer loopiness of it. But The Tingler is not a movie to be watched on TV. It's an experiential work of art, one meant to be seen with a live audience. And boy, does it work. I couldn't even tell you for sure whether they had the Percepto working. Everyone was screaming, so who knows which ones, if any, got buzzed? But the movie is designed so that, during the climax, Vincent Price is directly interracting with the audience, egging them on. The movie was not only filmed (well, exterior shots anyway) at the same theater we were sitting in, but it actually had two characters based on the original owners of the theater. Really a strange experience.

Oh, and they had these huge cupcakes, although I thought they had a little too much icing.


Wednesday, November 05, 2008


Obviously, this was a pretty great campaign for the art of word-slingin'. Obama lead the league, of course, with a veritable shitload of great speeches. Hillary tore the roof off the Democratic convention. McCain was pretty great on three occasions: his acceptance speech at the convention, that national service conference, and his concession speech last night. I really wish that guy had shown up more often. But for my money, this was the best moment in oratory, and it wasn't even a campaign speech:

Worst? Well, you can't beat Sarah, but the one that really had me screaming at the TV was Guilliani at the convention claiming that "on the most important decision of our time, the surge, John McCain was right and Barack Obama was wrong." It was an idiotic thing to say, because of course the first thing anyone hearing that thinks is "no, the surge wasn't the most important decision of our time, it was the decision to go into Iraq in the fucking first place was, and Obama got it right, and McCain got it wrong, you stupid motherfucker!" Or is that just me?

But I also got to give a shout out to Huckabee's WTF? school desk story. Has anyone really died defending our freedoms since WWII? No offense to the veterans of Korea, Vietnam and Iraq, we all appreciate their sacrifice, but they're not ensuring we have the right

The Aftermath

The sense of elation I feel this morning is tempered by a deep disapointment in my home state of Florida and my adopted state of California, both of which have passed anti-gay ballot measures (along with Arizona and Arkansas). California's Prop 8 is particularly dispiriting for a number of reasons. The main reason is that it's a constitutional ammendment, which will make it very hard to undo. It's also, for the first time, a striking down of existing marriages. Think about that. A wafer-thin majority of Californians voted to dissolve legal marriages between hundreds (thousands?) of loving couples. And when you look at the map of how people voted, it's even more disapointing: voters out in the sticks where no gay people live basically killed it. People living in the city, interacting with gay people every day, were all for it.

On the plus side, California still has civil unions. And I guess that's what it will have to be for now. On a practical level, that's basically the same thing, but it's still disapointing to know that most of the country still thinks like this.

And what's so frustrating is that I know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that 10 years from now, not only will gay marriage be fully accepted, but people will be wondering what the big deal was, and these people campaigning against it will look like the same kind of backwards knuckleheads that were against desegregation. Why do these people insist on being on the wrong side of history? Well, here's some words of encouragement from Andrew Sullivan:

But some perspective from someone who has fought this fight as long and as personally as anyone in this country. Twenty years ago, equality of gay couples was a mere idea. Forty years ago, it was a pipe-dream.

In the long arc of inclusion, we will miss our goals along the way from time to time. Today, we have full marriage rights in two states, we have many civil marriages in California that will remain in place as examples of who gay people really are, we have civil unions in many more places, and marriage rights in other parts of the world, as beacons to America. And this is a civil rights movement. It goes forward and it is forced back. The battle to end miscegenation took centuries. These are the rhythms of progress. Sometimes losing, and being shown to lose, shifts something in the minds of those watching as a small group is punished for daring to dream of full civil equality. In this battle we have already had far more defeats than victories. But each time, we have come closer to our goal. And in the hearts and minds and souls of so many, we have changed consciousness for ever.

Even more upsetting is the failure of Prop 5, a beyond-reasonable attempt to ease prison overcrowding by moving non-violent drug offenders into rehab programs instead of jail. Why this is even controversial is beyond me. I'm starting to think that the line about Pennsylvania being Alabama between it's two big cities could just as easily apply to this state. (On a positive note, Prop 5's evil mirror image, the draconian Prop 6, also failed.)

But let's look at the bright side. In California, we passed Prop 2 (by a pretty decisive margin), a bill which brings the standards of animal confinement up to what should be considered the bare minimum for a civilized society. High-speed rail and non-partisan redistricting also passed, as did the city and county initiatives for improving our transportation infrastructure and allowing the construction of more low-income housing.

And in the rest of the country, lots of good news as well. Massachusetts decriminalized posession of under an ounce of pot. Michigan approved medical marijuana. Anti-abortion measures were defeated across the country, most notably a ban on all abortions in South Dakota and an attempt to define a fetus as a person in Colorado, as well as the partental notification initiative in California. So it seems like a progressive agenda is catching on with Americans. They're just still hung up on the gay thing.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

How I Feel Right Now

Anything I write in this state of mind will be embarassing by tomorow.

Let's Do This

Monday, November 03, 2008


No on Prop 8

Punk Single of the Week: The Residents

The Residents - Satisfaction
The Residents - Loser = Weed

The Residents, the world's weirdest band, released the Third Reich and Roll LP in 1976. The album consists of two side-long suites of fucked up covers of 60's hits. Their cover of the Stones' "Satisfaction" doesn't appear on the album, but was released as a single at about the same time. Probably the noisiest thing they've ever recorded. The Residents take the frustration expressed in the Stones' original, and amp it up to homicidal psychosis. I picture the singer (possibly resembling the gorilla on the artwork) clenching his teeth, turning cartoon red, and finally turning into The Hulk, an effect emphasized as the vocals go further into the red, becoming indecipherable noises.

I prefer the B-Side, personally. "Loser = Weed" is maybe my favorite Residents song (although there's tough competition from "Godsong," "Moisture" and their cover of Zappa's "King Kong") for the way it completely ignores any accepted concept of how to write a pop song. I should point out that it's not actually an "equals" sign, but an "is congruent to" sign, which isn't on my keyboard. My friend Dan told me that he once spent the better part of an acid trip listening to that ending over and over, trying to figure out the lyrics.

This isn't the very rare 1976 issue, but a much easier-to-find repressing from 1978. The REALLY collectable Residents single is the Residents Play the Beatles/Beatles Play the Residents 7". A copy of that one recently went for $255 on eBay. Oh, how I covet it!

Some CD pressings of Third Reich and Roll contain both singles as bonus tracks. Here's an amazing video The Residents made for an edit of some of the tracks from TRaR:

The video was filmed in color, in a warehouse where everything was black and white. You have to be careful--some VHS anthologies of Residents videos cheaped out and reproduced it on black and white stock. Don't be ripped off! Get it on DVD so you can see it in glorious color that happens to be black and white!

Sunday, November 02, 2008


Saturday, November 01, 2008

Vote on November 4th

I was going to lay out all the arguments for voting for Obama, but really, just think about waking up November 5th to President McCain. Can you imagine anything more depressing? So instead, here's my endorsements for the local and state initiatives. If it seems obnoxious for a guy with a blog that 5 people read to be making "endorsements," then just consider this a post about how I'm voting.

First, a few qualifiers. I consider a "no" vote pretty much the default position on these initiatives. If I'm not really sure, I usually vote no (or sometimes skip them altogether). A lot of these are bond measures, where the state or city raises money through the sale of bonds, which have to be paid back with interest and end up costing more than it would cost to just put it in the budget. Particularly now, with the looming financial crisis and the state already having budget troubles, it seems to me we should think twice even about perfectly good ideas like funding children's hospitals. On the other hand, if it's funding a long-term investment in infrastructure, it could be well worth the money. It takes wealth to create wealth. Anyway, I'm not giving any endorsement one way or the other on State Measures 3 (Children's Hospital Bond), 9 (some victims' rights thing), or 12 (Veterans' Bond), or L.A. Community College Dirstirct Measure J, LAUSD Measure Q, or L.A. measure B. I'm not even sure how I'm going to vote on those.

The Yes Votes:
Prop 1A invests in a high-speed rail system, a sound, long-term infrastructure investment. The only argument the opponents seem able to come up with is that the state will take the money and the project might never get done. Not an entirely unsubstantiated argument--I'm sure we can all think of government projects that end up being money pits, but the vast majority of public works projects do somehow manage to get completed.

Prop 2 establishes humane standards for confining farm animals. If you know me, you know I'm not a radical on this issue at all. I eat a lot of meat (probably too much). But the standards this law establishes are the bare minimum that a civilized society ought to agree to for the treatment of living creatures, and the timeline is more than reasonable.

Prop 5 moves more nonviolent drug offenders into rehab programs rather than jail, which is always a good thing.

County Measure R increases our sales tax by one half a cent to fund rail and invest in transportation infrastructure. No bonds, long term gain.

City Measure A establishes a $36 annual tax per property parcel to pay for gang and youth violence intervention programs.

The No Votes:

Prop 4 establishes a waiting period and parental notification before a minor gets an abortion. I suppose this is the most reasonable anti-abortion law imaginable, but I don't see any compelling reason for it. And an identical measure has already been voted down.

Prop 6 seems like an unnecessary law that increases mandatory minimum sentences and spends a lot of money.

Prop 8 is a constitutional ammendment to ban gay marriage. If you vote for it, you're stupid.

The Undecided Votes:

Props 7 and 10 sound great. There has, of course, been a great deal of money spent against prop 7, including some coming from respectable environmental groups like the Sierra Club. A lot of people on the left are coming out against these two bills, but the reasons they give seem rather vague to me. If you have any input, please leave it in the comments.

And Prop 11 sounds very contrived, but LA Weekly, Marc Cooper, and the League of Women Voters all like it. Help me out on this one, if you can.

This Fucking Guy...

Jesus, he just won't stop!

The White House is working to enact a wide array of federal regulations, many of which would weaken government rules aimed at protecting consumers and the environment, before President Bush leaves office in January.

The new rules would be among the most controversial deregulatory steps of the Bush era and could be difficult for his successor to undo. Some would ease or lift constraints on private industry, including power plants, mines and farms.

You almost have to admire him. Most people wuold be resting on their laurels, confident that they had already achieved the title of Worst President in History. Bush just keeps getting worse and worse.

I got a lot of shit from Bobbie about the last post. If I wasn't clear, I was always against the Iraq war. But I was trying to be open-minded about it at the time. I still don't think there was anything morally wrong with the basic idea of removing an illegitimate ruler (which I believe Saddam was) from power, which Bobbie and I argued about for maybe half an hour last night. I just thought it was a bad idea.