Wednesday, December 31, 2008

One More Great 2008 Song

"White Winter Hymnal" by The Fleet Foxes surely deserves to make the list.

I have to thank Dave and Raina for collectively pointing me toward this song. As you may know, I don't generally pay a lot of attention to lyrics. It's just not how I listen to music. But these are really amazing:

I was following the pack
all swallowed in their coats
with scarves of red tied ’round their throats
to keep their little heads
from fallin’ in the snow
and I turned ’round and there you go
and Michael you will fall
and turn the white snow red as strawberries in summertime.

Raina commented that "It’s an Imagist poem or a Russian fairytale. I’m not sure which. Maybe both." But here's my interpretation.

The song tells two different stories, depending on how you read it. If you read it as you would read prose, following the words as they spell out a narrative, you get a simple tableaux of contemporary suburban winter. A nervous soccer mom is taking her turn walking the neighborhood children to elementary school. She keeps a close eye on them, making sure they walk in a steady, single file, but when she turns her back for a moment, perhaps to say good morning to the crossing guard, one of the more rambunctious boys begins horseplaying on the icey sidewalk, and she hollers, perhaps a little too harshly, a warning: "Michael, you're going to fall down and bust your head open!"

But if you read it as you would poetry, taking each word or phrase for the images it contains and adding them all up, there is another story underneath, one of children (or at least people) being killed by wolves. It's short on specifics, but that ancient fear of wolves that our medieval European ancestors passed down to us through fairytales is potent enough to be conjured through a few words or images.

I like that video, too. It reinforces the feeling of ancient myth without breaking any of the song's mystery, and I'm always a sucker for stop-motion animation.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Single of the Week - Circle Jerks

Circle Jerks - Wild in the Street

Oh yeah, these were supposed to be punk singles. Well here's one. This is my all-time favorite punk song. Well, second favorite--nothing can touch "Lights Out". But this comes close. Listening to this can probably give you a much better understanding of why the punk rock that came out of America from about 1980-84 is my favorite music. A short, scrappy blast of teenage frustration and summertime release. I love the song so much that I couldn't resist buying this one-sided single, despite already having this song on both the Posh Hits and Rodney on the ROQ compilations (although my copy of Rodney is really too scratched to count). This is apparently the earliest recording by the Circle Jerks. According to the Posh Hits liner notes:

It was "Wild in the Studio" for the recording session with a very drunk singer Keith Morris. He finally put down his vocal tracks 6 minths later, during a period of medically-enforced abstinence, but by then the band had moved on to do Group Sex and another label.

They would later re-record this song as the title track to their second LP, but that version is twice as long and half as good.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Single of the Week - Pee Wee Herman

Pee Wee Herman - Surfin' Bird

When we do "Surfin' Bird," that song has an incredible effect on people. Even with an unresponsive crowd, when Lux starts that crazy "Papa Oom Mau Mau," some of the audience starts singing it, others are mouthng it silently and they start to look like they're in a trance. Then they all just bust loose, and it looks like a snakepit-like this writhing thing. This happens everywhere, in any country-it happened in Mexico. Language confines your experiences so much-maybe something gets released by letting out these nonsense sounds. Or maybe it's a particular sound or mantra that does it...Our version was the theme song of the Communist party radio program in Italy for several years!

-Ivy Rorschach of The Cramps

If aliens came down to Earth and asked me "what is this "rock-n-roll" that people keep talking about?" I'd play them the original version of "Surfin Bird" by The Trashmen. Well, it's not that original--it's based on "Bird's the Word" and "Papa Oom Mow Mow", both by The Rivingtons. But The Trashmen take it way, way out. As far as I'm concerned, it's the perfect rock-n-roll song: 3 minutes of crazy energy that you can dance to, a manic flurry of release. The fact that it's been covered by The Ramones AND The Cramps doesn't hurt its case either. And of course, you can add Pee Wee Herman to that list with this single, from the film Back to the Beach. It's actually a pretty fun movie, getting Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello back together to spoof their own Beach Party series. Aside from Paul Rubens' big scene, it has Fishbone backing up Annette, and Dick Dale dueling with Stevie Ray Vaughn on "Pipeline".

Monday, December 22, 2008

Nancy Grace is an Idiot

I'm having to watch this Kaylee Anthony coverage on CNN, which means that you have to read my material on it, and how annoying Nancy Grace is. First of all, she keeps referring to Casey Anthony as "The Tot-Mom," which ain't even a fucking word. And she just jumps on people's shit over anything. Are you watching this? She seems to think it's signifigant that Casey Anthony declined to speak to her clergy when she supposedly thought her daughter had been abducted. If my kid gets abducted, the last thing I want to do is to listen to some preacher try to get me to join his church, and give me shit for being a single mother, and ask me if Kaylee had any younger brothers he could date. I mean, don't get me wrong, I know she did it, I just found that line of reasoning ridiculous.

And then she talks to this Leonard Padilla clown. Look man, at some point in your life, you need to make a choice. You can be a person on TV that people take seriously, or you can wear a cowboy hat. You must choose, brother. For most of us, if we're not employed in the rustlin' arts, we give up the cowboy hat around the time we turn 11.

And that's not even getting into Joe Piscopo. What the fuck is he doing on there?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Musical Miscegenation

The Memphis Seven - Gruntmeat Blues

This is a fascinating collection. I guess it's out of print, but you can download the whole thing from Amazon for 33 bucks. It's the sensible alternative to the Anthology of American Folk Music! In fact, I like this collection better, because it traces the development of American music over 25 years, telling the story of America in the process. The music consists of country, blues, gospel and other folk styles from Columbia Records and subsidiary labels like Vocallion and the great Okeh. The black and white music begins on opposite sides of the room in the late 20's, with Appalachian fiddlers and Atlanta gospel preachers seeming to have little in common. But as the discs go by, the two begin slowly moving toward each other, and toward American music as we now know it. It's a perfect encapsulation of the journey laid out in Nick Tosches' Country, of the long process of musical and cultural miscegenation that defines who we are as a country. Which brings me to "Grutnmeat Blues." "Gruntmeat Blues" comes near the end of the last disc, when things are starting to sound like what we would come to know as rock-n-roll (the song was recorded in 1947, 20 years after "Lowdown Blues" on the first disc). It's a great, greasy glob of raw rhythm and blues (or early rock-n-roll), but what kills me is that steel guitar solo right next to the honkin' sax break. Everything you know tells you it shouldn't be there--steel guitar is common on country records, but extremely rare on black records (Tosches cites Freddie Roulette's Sweet Funky Steel as a notable exception, and Robert Randolph rocks the fuck out of one)--but there it is.
In a few weeks, I'm going to be teaching an American Culture class to advanced ESL students. This is going to be a hell of a challenge--for the other classes, I had a book with lesson plans to work out of every day. For this one, I'm pretty much on my own, and I'm going to need to basically compose the whole 6-week class myself. But I'm going to do a unit on American music, and I plan to use it to illustrate how different cultures interact in America. And I think I'm going to use Kareem Salama as an example. Kareem is a Muslim country singer from Oklahoma.
This brings to mind one of Kareem's songs, "Generous Peace" - perhaps the first time Ancient Arabic poetry has made its way into country music. Kareem translated a verse by eighth-century poet Imam Shafi'ee for the song. In the poem, Shafi'ee responds to the increasing anger of others by increasing his tolerance, saying, "For I am like incense, the more you burn me, the more fragrant I become." Kareem was inspired by the idea of burning incense, since as it burns "it just keeps giving out a more beautiful smell."
I just love how this form of music that developed here can accommodate people of every culture, ever-changing and morphing but never becoming anything other than American. It's what the melting pot means.

EDIT: OK, I didn't notice until after I posted it that that video has a bunch of what looks like radical propaganda which I may or may not agree with, and which I doubt Kareem Salama (who strikes me as having fairly conservative American views) would agree with.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Facebook: The Death of the Internet

People like to talk about the Internet like it's this lawless frontier where there are no rules, but it's not really true. There is one very important rule which, until recently, everyone followed: don't be boring. Be entertaining. It's just common courtesy: if you write something on the Internet, you should at least try to make it interesting. And now Facebook is destroying that covenant.

I like the idea of Facebook, being able to keep up with all these people I apparently went to either high school or college with, but when you read through those status updates, and you have to read shit like "Abner Fucklefou is peeling potatoes" or "Nancy Mitcherdorf is going to bed," you just want to track these people down and demand your time back. Look, I lead a pretty boring life. My average night is cooking Hamburger Helper and watching TV. But I have the common decency to pretend that I'm interesting on the Internet.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Single of the Week - Beastie Boys

Beastie Boys - Peanut Butter and Jelly

For a while, I was working at this MRI facility in Santa Monica. Part of my job was delivering films around town, and since nobody was really watching me, I was able to spend a lot of time in the various record stores on the West Side. Around the time Hello Nasty came out, I went into the one on Pico near Bundy (can't remember the name, I think they had a plastic RCA dog out front?) to browse around. I ended up picking up a copy of SPIN with a Beastie Boys cover story. The guy behind the counter tried to sell me the "Intergalactic" 45 for a buck. "Jukebox exclusive, very rare" he told me. But I only had the money for the magazine, and I was pretty eager to read it, so I passed, and came back for it the next day. When I reminded the guy, he asked how much he had told me, and when I said "a dollar," he looked kinda sad, like since then he had realized that people were paying a lot more for it. The instrumental on the B-side is no great shakes, but I don't think you can find it anywhere else.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Songs of 2008

I'm gonna try to hear a few more things before attempting a list of my favorite albums of the year, but here are my favorite songs from 2008.

The Drive-By Truckers - "A Ghost to Most" This song is a real step up in the artistry of Mike Cooley, who I frankly didn't think could get any better. (In fact, if he hadn't written this song, I would probably have put another Cooley song in this spot. Probably "Lisa's Birthday.") I've never been good at interpreting abstract lyrics, but the narrator seems to be a soldier dying in Iraq. Doesn't matter, because it's the melody, imagery and internal rhymes that really make this a masterpiece.

Be Your Own Pet - "Black Hole" and "The Kelly Affair" I can't decide between these two fake-ass garage/punk songs. "Black Hole" is a hilarious piss-take on punk teen rage (a lot like Redd Kross' "Kill Someone You Hate"--which makes sense, it was produced by RK's Stephen McDonald), but how can I not love a song about my favorite movie? For kids today, the punk records that seemed like revolutionary documents to my generation are just bits of kitsch, like old scifi movies and disco fashions. They don't give a shit about distinguishing authenicity from poseurhood. And they are much better off for it.

King Kahn and the Shrines - "Land of the Freak" Most of King Kahn's album is snazzy garage rock that mostly appeals to fetishists like me, but on this song, they up their game and throw crazy blasts of guitar and sax skronk over what already sounds like an Otis Reding record buzzing on three cups of Peet's Coffee. Psychotic, Chaotic and Patriotic.

R.E.M. - "Living Well is the Best Revenge" First off, it's the best song they've recorded since "At My Most Beautiful," but you could probably say the same about almost every song on Accelerate. Second, it rocks. If you think about most of R.E.M.'s rockin' songs, they tend to sound like a band playing at rocking rather than actually rocking. Think of "I Could Turn You Inside Out," "Wake Up Bomb,"or any of the harder songs off Monster or Pageant, they're all good songs, but they feel a bit restrained (except maybe a few seconds in "Just a Touch"). But "Living Well" bristles with electricity from Buck's first arpeggio. It really sounds like they're into it. Third, it's the rare song that just captured the moment of it's release. "The future's ours, and you won't even rate a footnote!" It's the thrill and urgency of this year packed into 3 minutes. And fourth, it's just nice to have Athens' Finest making good music again. And don't forget, Athens' Other Finest are back this year too.

Toby Keith - "Have I Got a Present For You" How awesome is this song? I think the fact that I picked it over "Little Dealer Boy" speaks for itself.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

This just kills me. Newsweek runs a cover story called "The Religious Case for Gay Marriage." Of course, all the usual evangelical idiots express how offended they are that someone else is interpreting the Bible differently from them. But here's the hilarious part:

In addition to contesting Newsweek’s specific scriptural arguments, some social conservatives took issue with the basic premise of the magazine’s story: that conservative opposition to same-sex marriage is based on specific biblical instructions.

“I see it as an attempt to caricature and reduce to a cartoon the social conservative belief in the efficacy of traditional marriage, and try to reduce it to some formulaic, scriptural literalism,” said Ralph Reed, the former executive director of the Christian Coalition. “There’s more of a practical, sociological foundation for why we seek to affirm marriage as an institution than I think is generally understood by those who want to legalize same-sex marriage.”

Though Reed said he had respect for Newsweek, he said this week’s cover story was based on a “false assumption”: “We’re not trying to take the Bible and put a bill number on it and legislate it.”

Land pointed to campaigns for anti-same-sex marriage referenda around the country as evidence that biblical instructions were not necessarily the main impetus behind social conservative opposition to same-sex marriage.

“The arguments that are used are often not biblical arguments. They are secular arguments, arguing about marriage as being a civic and a social institution, and that societies have a right to define marriage,” Land said. Broadening the definition of marriage could “shatter” the social role married couples have traditionally played, he said.

In an e-mail to Politico, Maggie Gallagher, the president of the National Organization for Marriage, took a similar line, calling marriage “the one necessary adult relation in society – the way we bring together male and female to bring the next generation to life in a way that connects those children in love to their own mother and father.”

So basically, "The Bible does too say no gay marriage, and that's not what we're basing it on." The very idea that there is any logic to banning gay marriage that doesn't come from the Bible is absurd. Oh, sure, they always talk about "preserving traditional marriage," but I have yet to hear a single person explain exactly how hetero marriages are negatively impacted by the existence of gay marriages. And that's obviously because there is no way in which hetero marriages are negatively impacted by the existence of gay marriages. The only conceivable reason to be against gay marriage is because you want to impose your religious beliefs on other people. It's a clear violation of the First Amendment. For that matter, why is it still illegal to buy alcohol on Sundays in most of the Deep South? That's obviously a law that has no basis in anything but asserting the primacy of one religion. I tell you, if I were rich, I'd get together with a bunch of my rich California and New York friends and pour a shitload of money into state initiatives overthrowing that law in Georgia and the other red states. See how they like it. And I'm sure people would go for it, too. Most people don't get any benefit from gay marriages, but if you start asking even those devout Baptists why they let the gummint tell them they can't make a beer run on football day? Shit...

I Want This Poster

Very nice. Do an eBay search for Pan Am Poster, these things are beautiful.

Single of the Week - Queen

Just because that cover is so awesome. I like how the image binds the two titles together. Queen aren't really one of my favorites, but you have to admit, they're unique. I guess I'm a little ambivalent when their over-the-top hysterics are applied to prog rock, power ballads and faux showtunes, but attach that sensibility to a heavy metal anthem, and I'm all over it. From Wikipedia:

To release this song, Queen staged a bicycle race with 65[citation needed] naked girls. A clip from this race was used as the single cover. The video was originally banned, and the video had to be re-edited with colour added to censor out any offensive imagery. The song is famed for its 'bicycle bell solo', which fans would often replicate live at Queen concerts with their own such bells.

I remember reading about this event in a magazine long before I had ever heard Queen (I bought the magazine because it had KISS--the only rock band I had heard of at the time--on the cover. Always wear a helmet.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Spittin' Wicked Randomness, Vol. XXiX

New content up at Headliner. I guess I'm gonna keep that as just my blog for anything related to comedy.

If you haven't seen it, Prop 8: The Musical.

Atlas Shrugged updated for the current financial crisis. Possibly unfair to her awful philosophical ideas, but dead-on for her atrocious writing.

And Paul Benedict, who played Mr. Bentley, the English neighbor on The Jeffersons, has died. I used to love The Jeffersons, and I specifically remember trying to imitate Mr. Bentley's bouncy walk (it turns out to be kind of exhausting to walk that way). This line in the obituary seemed really weird: "Benedict's oversized jaw and angular features were partly attributed to acromegaly, a pituitary disorder that was first diagnosed by an endocrinologist who saw Benedict in a theatrical production." And RIP Forrest Ackerman.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Songs I Used To Think Were Awesome, Part 1

Ya know, that is pretty awesome. Extra nerd points for this song.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Single of the Week - Curtis Mayfield

Curtis Mayfield - Kung Fu

This is the B-side to "Right on for the Darkness." I don't think this song is in print on any CD. Not one of Curtis' best (although the A-side is, check it out), but you know we love kung fu songs around here.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Comedy is Queer 12/7/08

Come show your displeasure with Prop 8 by listening to a bunch of queers tell jokes and downing a couple drinks!