Thursday, February 26, 2009

Fuck The Poor! 80's Style!

Oh yay, the best 80's nostalgia moment yet: Angry white people! Just look at them all!

Let's back up a moment. I used to own a home. We bought a house in Georgia in 1995, when I came into a little bit of money. It was a nice one, too--3 bed, 2 bath, big garage, 3 acres of land, all for a mere $100K. It was tough keeping up with the mortgage--we could afford it, but there wasn't much money for eating out or other luxuries. But it was worth it just to have a place you could call your own.

Well, eventually, we decided to move out to L.A., and sold the place after just two years. Most of the money got eaten up by the move, and the tough times finding real employment in the new town, and at any rate, $100K won't buy you a crack house in L.A., so it was back to renting. When you're young, renting is cool. Something breaks down, you just call the landlord and they fix it. But when you get into your 30's, this isn't so cool anymore. Now, I'd prefer to pay the plumber myself and be broke for a month, rather than having to go to the landlord, hat in hand, and say "could you please have someone fix our sink?" like a little kid. Renting sucks.

At various times along the way, we looked into the possibility of buying a house, but the money just wasn't there. And as our incomes went up, the price of houses went up along with it, keeping tantalizingly out of reach. We talked to real estate agents. Every time, they tried to get us into one of these adjustable-rate mortgages. They assured us it would work for us, but we looked at the numbers and it just didn't add up the way the agents were trying to tell us it would. So we sucked it up, and kept renting.

This is the part of the story where I'm supposed to start ranting about how badly we're being fucked over now that the government is trying to help people out who are defaulting on their mortgages, but I just don't feel that way. Letting someone get kicked out on the street isn't going to make me have a house. It just seems like a question of basic decency that the government should do something to help these people out, even without taking into account the idea of trying to put a floor under this downward spiral in the larger economy. I'm not saying this to prove how much better I am than the angry renters, it's just what I believe.

It's easy for a politician to fan the flames of resentment, and that's pretty much what conservative politicians have always done. But true leadership is not based on resentment. Good policy doesn't rise from pure resentment.

Of course, it also needs to be said that these same angry people are the ones that stuck by W as he ran the deficit sky-high, so they clearly don't have an absolute principle against government spending or debt. Which leaves two possible conclusions. Either (a) they simply have an absolute principle against spending money to actually help Americans in need, or (b) they really have no principles at all, other than keeping Republicans in power, like rooting for a sports team.

One other thing:

Sales of Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” have almost tripled over the first seven weeks of this year compared with sales for the same period in 2008. This continues a strong trend after bookstore sales reached an all-time annual high in 2008 of about 200,000 copies sold.

To which I say: Hahahahahhaha!!!! Seriously, anyone who buys that book in protest deserves the punishment of reading it.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


A documentary film consisting entirely of footage of Havana nightlife c. 1961. Amazing music and some terrific noirish cinematography. Part 2 is here. The whole thing lasts about 13 minutes.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Fisking Dumb Music Writing

Hello Obama, goodbye meaningful music
Young, Democrat presidents usually inspire lame pop trends

This is such an incredibly wrong-headed piece. Wouldn't really be that bad as a post on some guy's blog, but when something like this takes up space in an actual news organization's website, it makes me cringe. Where to begin?

During the past few years, countless artists have vehemently despised George Bush, while voicing support for Obama. In the U.K., the Guardian noted “You could construct a decent box-set of anti-Bush songs… covering ground from Bright Eyes to Eminem, Pink to Public Enemy, Jay-Z to Elbow.”

All of which begs the question: what’s next? If history is any indicator, expect dance music. Lots of it. Lady Gaga seems to have lobbed the first volley in what might be the biggest dance music blitz since the disco era.

I guess we could start with the obvious canard that "dance music" is the opposite of "good music" or "meaningful music." But that's fish in a barrell. Instead, let's examine the premise about music during the Bush administration. You probably could fill a couple albums with anti-Bush songs (strange that he cites Public Enemy, who peaked midway through the Clinton years, instead of Green Day), but does anyone really feel like the last 8 years have been any kind of golden age for music, especially in the broadly-defined mainstream? That's a bit nutty.

Dance music can be lots of fun, but the periods when it dominated the pop charts have historically been dreadful. With the economic crisis growing grimmer daily, these times cry out for thoughtful music. Pop music is usually at its best when artists challenge the status quo and another period of non-stop dance songs will definitely make the music industry even more irrelevant.

Anyone have any idea what this paragraph means? The country is in deep shit, and anytime the country is in deep shit, we get good music, so it's a shame that we're going to be getting lousy music for the next (hopefully) 8 years?

The pop charts of the past 50 years bear this out (and we’re talking about music known by zillions here, not under-the-radar hipster stuff). Early rock ’n’ roll made a political statement because it represented a rebellion against the repressive Eisenhower era. Few of us are old enough to remember John F. Kennedy, but the optimism brought about by his election is thought to have inspired the Twist craze. You don’t remember the Twist? OK, neither do I. But Chubby Checker’s cover version of Hank Ballard’s song got to No. 1. Twice.

Soon other artists began to twist the night away, like Sam Cooke, Joey Dee and even Bobby Darin (a Kennedy supporter). More dance crazes followed. It doesn’t take a musical scholar to deduct all of this wasn’t as “artistically significant” as what came after.

The big problem here is that 50's rock n roll--Elvis, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Big Joe Turner, Jerry Lee Lewis, the whole shebang--is dance music. Go watch Hairspray (the John Waters original, not the awful Broadway adaptation), listen to the music on that soundtrack, and tell me rock n roll was dead during those years. Or tell me that that music was less "culturally relevent" than Chuck Berry and Little Richard.

When the country soured on Lyndon Johnson’s policies and social unrest was everywhere, artists like Bob Dylan stepped up with protest songs that defined an era.

And LBJ, the man who signed the voting rights act and created Medicare, becomes a Republican in the service of this hack writer's thesis. I suppose that's fair--to the youth at the time, LBJ was pretty much defined by Vietnam--but I can't resist pointing out that Dylan had given up "protest songs" well before the Johnson Administration began their escalation in Vietnam.

You can guess where he goes next, linking the rise of disco to Jimmy Carter, which more or less makes sense (remember, "we’re talking about music known by zillions here, not under-the-radar hipster stuff"). But then we get this:

That’s what happened a few years later when Ronald Reagan got elected. Bruce Springsteen responded with “Nebraska” and “Born in the U.S.A.,” two albums that chronicled the plight of people who weren’t helped by Reaganomics. Punk rock also became more of a force, especially the Los Angeles hardcore scene, which often seemed driven by anti-Reagan vitriol. The same could be said about rap.

OK, putting aside the point that Born in the USA is a piece of shit (I like Nebraska, though), punk rock actually became LESS popular in the 80's. In the late 70's, you couldn't hear much punk on the radio, but people had at least heard of The Sex Pistols and The Clash. Early 80's hardcore went almost entirely unnoticed by the mainstream, pretty much defining "under-the-radar hipster stuff." And hip hop was largely ignored until pretty late in the Reagan administration. But wait, it gets better.

Although people remember the 1980s for escapist MTV videos, there was more going on than new wave, hair metal and Madonna. Springsteen, of course, was arguably the biggest rock star of the decade, but the political climate also pushed John Mellencamp and Don Henley into becoming socially conscious artists. As for new artists, there were Bruce Hornsby and Tracy Chapman, who topped the charts with politically driven singles, and Suzanne Vega and 10,000 Maniacs who also scored substantial topical hits.

You're not exactly winning me over, pal. I don't think anyone's gonna mourn the loss of another era of Don Henley and Bruce Hornsby. Which brings us to the biggest problem: the second term of Reagan into Bush 41 was probably the worst period of mainstream music in recent memory, and people like Henley, Hornsby and Springsteen (along with Steve Winwood, Phil Collins, Richard Marx, John Waite and Sting) were the main reason.

Grunge and alternative music hit its heyday during the early years of Bill Clinton’s administration, but it broke commercially before he was ever elected. In other words, all that youthful angst and dissatisfaction came out of the first Bush presidency (like father, like son).

And this is where the whole thing falls apart, because, in spite of this guy's backbending rationalization, that brief period when the radio was actually listenable started right around 1993 (enough time for "Smells Like Teen Spirit" to get some company on the playlists) and ended right around 1999 with the rise of the three-headed monster of bad taste that was Korn/Limp Bizkit/Kid Rock. And it was right about then, if anyone cares, that the former Mouseketeers took over the pop charts. At the dawn of the age of Bush. So this is bullshit:

When Clinton got elected, we once again got a giddy dance pop explosion, which this time took a few years but started around 1995 (remember La Bouche?) and culminated with lots of former Mousketeers becoming pop sensations. It all fit the mood of the times, but few people would call this music brilliant, much less innovative.

What we need now are mainstream artists brave enough to be as outspoken as they were during the previous administration’s reign. Who’ll sing about “the countless confused, accused and misused,” like Dylan did in 1964? “Just Dance” doesn’t speak to the nation’s malaise. But something like Henley’s “The End of the Innocence” might. Or Chapman’s “Talkin’ Bout a Revolution.”

And for the record, no, I don't remember La Bouche. And I've never heard Lady Gaga. But I'm pretty sure I would like either of them better than whomever the next Don Henley turns out to be.

Songs I Used To Think Were Awesome, Part 5

Pat Benetar hit her peak of popularity as I was in the early stages of puberty, and I can probably blame her for my attraction to strong, dominant women. I still think she's pretty damn hot, with those cat-like features and her general femme fatale vibe. This song, a sort of PSA about child abuse, used to scare me when I was a kid.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

My Opinion!

Watched Joss Whedon's new series Doll House, starring Eliza Dushku, Friday night. It's really, really bad. It's a stupid concept to begin with--Dushku plays Echo, one of a squadron of girls whose memories have been erased so that any number of new personalities, with abilities tailor-fitted to specific missions, can be uploaded into their brains--but it's one that could work as a decent set-up for a genre show, and it has Whedon's favorite theme of women emerging from patriarchal control built in. But what emerges, at least in the pilot, bears none of Whedon's style or personality. There was a scene leaked last year that showed Echo confronting a representative from the Doll House, where he tells her he wants to "be straight" with her, and she replies "You've been pretty friggin' bendy so far." Depending on your take on Whedon, you might think that's genius or idiotic, but either way, you can recognize it as a writer's unique voice. There is nothing in the pilot that aired on Friday to suggest that this was written by anyone but a hack writers' room. It's especially dispiriting after Dr. Horrible's Sing-A-Long Blog, which feels like the most uniquely personal project the guy has produced yet. I'm not sure whether he just lost control of Doll House to studio hacks, but it does seem like the guy is having a lot of troubles over the years dealing with Fox, when he could probably get full control over his shit if he'd do a show for the SciFi Channel or something. Dude's like an battered woman.

I'm not really sure what to make of this first glimpse of Tarantino's WWII movie. Is it a "real" war movie? Is it a movie about war movies? The basic plot outlined in this trailer sounds like the movie that a 12-year-old kid obsessed with WWII movies would want to see (I have been that kid--I think I watched A Bridge To Far about a dozen times on HBO). One poster on the CHUD message board made a point about the uncomfortable way in which this trailer dehumanizes the enemy (Nazis being the one villain you can get away with dehumanizing). A bit troubling in these times, but I reckon given QT's record we can at least expect a more entertaining film than recent, idealogicaly suspect films like 300, The Dark Knight or Wanted. At any rate, I'm told that the Basterds mission is actually just one of many subplots in the script, so you probably can't get much of an idea of the final movie from this teaser. I do like Brad Pitt's accent, as if Col. Sanders had started a Kentucky Fried Nazi franchise. AH WAHLNT MAH SCALPS!

And here's the teaser for Tales of The Black Freighter, to be released on a seperate DVD as a supplement to Watchmen. I dunno, it looks...OK. Tales of the Black Freighter, on its own, is a pretty cool EC Comics-style zombie pirate story, but it loses most of its signifigance when removed from the larger story of Watchmen. This is the one reason why I still kinda mourn Gilliam's take on Watchmen--it would have been a mess, but I'm sure he would have worked some of The Black Freighter in there. Enh.

Friday night, we met some friends for dinner at Clearman's North Woods Inn in San Gabriel. I've wondered about this place for a long time, every time I drive past it to go to Bahooka (or sometimes Hometown Buffet). It looks like a log cabin lodge, complete with fake snow on the roof, and it's right next to another restaurant that looks like a big tugboat or something, and a little mall full of crafts stores. Since the last time I went by, it seems they tore down The Galley and put up a big Lowes' or something, then gutted the mall and moved the Galley in there. It's sad, but that's the world we live in. Anyway, Clearman's is incredibly huge inside, with sawdust on the floor and woodsy things everywhere. Gets an A for atmosphere. They give you a basket of peanuts on the table, and instruct you to throw the shells on the floor! You know this was a place that kids beg to go to (in fact, the original location is in Anaheim, so probably served as a dinner spot for many Disneyland trips). It's seriously overpriced, but it's pretty fun. The thing they're most famous for is this garlic cheese bread, which they bring around as soon as you sit down, but it's so disgusting. The bread is soggy from the grease. I imagine the people that love this stuff have fond memories of eating there as a kid. The other weird thing about the menu is "the two salads." They bring you two big wooden bowls full of salad. One just has lettuce with a thin coat of some sort of blue cheese or ranch dressing. The other just has red cabbage marinated in red wine vinegar. I eventually figured out that if you combine the two in your salad bowl, it's pretty good. I don't expect I'll be going back there any time soon, but it was a fun meal.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Songs of the Season, Part 2

It's a rainy day, and I'm off from work. Sipping hot coffee as the raindrops slide down my windows, with no desire to do anything at all.

Monday, February 09, 2009

It Came From Florida - White Witch

Vintage early 70's rock from the Sunshine State! I assume this is the same band that Lester Bangs reviewed in 1972 (see Pscychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung), but this is their second album, two years later, and they've been listening to a LOT of Bowie. "Class of 2000" has got to be the most hilarious Bowie rip-off I've ever heard. There should be a Pebbles/Bloodstains-type compilation of this genre. I bet there are dozens of bad Bowie rip-offs out there recorded by local bands around 1974. Anyway, this should make you nostalgic for the year 2000, and all those wacky fads like mind-whips and roadtrips to Saturn, and naming your child Chapes. The only problem here is that that song is so awesome that anything else I upload will seem weak in comparison, but I think "Slick Witch" comes pretty close. This seems pretty easy to find--I got it off of eBay for six smackerinos (and used the photo that the guy had uploaded). Shout out to the Florida Rocks Again podcast, where I first heard this song.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

The Rock n Roll Daddy Has Done Passed On: Lux Interior, 1948-2009

Let's take a moment to remember Lux Interior, rock-n-roll madman and leader of one of the holiest bands in my personal pantheon, The Cramps.

When these obscure punk rockers die, you always find out all this surprising information. Like how old the guy was. I had inferred from things he'd said in interviews that he was older than most of his peers in the punk scene, and had spent a lot of time fucking around and slacking before starting the band, but who knew he was 60? If he had started the band when he was 18, they would have been one of the original '66 garage rock bands! The other mystery that I've wondered about for years was Lux's relationship with Ivy Rorschach, the band's guitarist and co-founder. Were they lovers? Husband and wife? We saw an interview with them once, and Bobbie informed me that Lux was obviously gay, and Ivy a fag hag. Turns out they've been married for 20 years.

The story goes that Lux picked Ivy up hitchhiking in Sacramento in the early 70's. I've never seen them make any reference to any sexual or romantic relationship in any of the interviews I've read, but they always made it clear that they were immediate soulmates, and spent the next several years collecting old records--rockabilly, garage rock, fuzztone psychedelia, rhythm and blues, and whatever other weird shit came across their path--along with EC comics, horror movies, 3-D cameras and the rest of the cultural flotsam and jetsom you find in thrift stores, eventually travelling across the country on the trail of old vinyl, making their pilgrimage to Graceland, and finally ending up in New York. Starting a band seemed to be an outgrowth of their crate digging, and they hooked up with some like-minded freaks. Lux wanted to sing, Ivy wanted to play guitar. Brian Gregory also wanted to play guitar, and since he'd actually picked one up in the past, suggested that Ivy play bass. She would have none of it, so they just decided to proceed with two guitars and no bass. In the early days, they had another girl playing drums. They began playing at Max's Kansas City in 1977 (you can hear one of their earliest shows captured on the How To Make A Monster collection), and several of their gigs in that first year were opening for The Ramones. The idea of a Ramones/Cramps double bill makes me green want to spend the rest of my life researching time travel.

I actually heard The Cramps pretty early, in 1979 or 1980, when they used to show the video for "Garbage Man" on Video Concert Hall. It made an impression on me, but I couldn't quite figure it out. It was an elusive video--I think I only saw it twice. I remember referring to it as "jungle music," a genre that, in my mind, also included "Come Together" (which was, in my mind, an Aerosmith song, since I didn't know shit about The Beatles). In that song, you can hear the basics of the Cramps' sound. One guitar is playing something that sounds like rockabilly, the other is farting fuzz chords like an exceptionally lo-fi garage rock record. People talk about The Cramps as an amalgam of rockabilly and garage, which is more or less true, but they also charicature those genres, exagerating the aspects that attract them. There are no records from the 50's or 60's that sound like The Cramps. No rockabilly crooner hiccups as much as Lux does on "I Can't Hardly Stand It," no garage band had guitars as thick and sludgy as those on "T.V. Set."

I'm not sure if it was because I had heard that song, but when I started getting into punk, The Cramps were one of the first bands I went apeshit over. This was a while later, maybe around 1983, and I started with their then-current live EP Smell of Female (love that title!). It's a great record (I have particularly nostalgic associations with "The Most Exalted Potentate of Love" and "Call of the Wighat"), but it was a mere prelude to the insanity that I was shortly exposed to via Bad Music For Bad People and Songs Our Lord Taught Us. These two records (they overlap by two songs) are pretty much the heart of the band's catalog. Songs, their first album, is a masterpiece of grunged-out psychobilly, beginning with the thump of voodoo drums on "T.V. Set" and continuing through the stipper grind of "I Was a Teenage Werewolf," the fuzzed-out fog of "Sunglasses After Dark" and the self-descriptive "Zombie Dance," all interspersed with high-speed rockers like "Rockin' on the Moon," "Mad Mad Daddy" and "Tear it Up." Bad Music, being a collection of singles, b-sides and album cuts, is not quite as dark or as thematically unified, but makes a great party album, and contains some of Lux's best moments. Like these:

She Said (YouTube link, embedding disabled)
I Can't Hardly Stand It:

Their second album, Psychedelic Jungle, is more of a drugged-out wall of sludge (I don't want to say "psychedelic," which makes me think of something like Sgt. Pepper or Odessy and Oracle, which this is definitely not) on tunes like "Don't Eat Stuff Off the Sidewalk," "I Can't Find My Mind" or the drugsploitation classic "Beautiful Gardens." But once I'd gotten ahold of that one and the Gravest Hits EP, there was nothing else out there, and the search for more Cramps became frustrating. There was another singles collection called Off The Bone, but it was all the same songs. One day I flipped out for a moment when I found a new record in the Cramps section of the bin at the Ft. Pierce Record Bar, only to realize someone had mis-filed a Condemned to Death album. Then, on a trip down to Ft. Lauderdale/Miami, in Open Records, suddenly a new Cramps record was there--a 12" single called Can Your Pussy Do The Dog. I snatched it up, and later in the day ended up at Yesterday and Today Records, where they had a 7" version of the same single. I was a little bummed at first--a Cramps 7" would be even cooler to own than a Cramps 12"--but hey, mine had an extra song, so that's more important. "Can Your Pussy Do The Dog" is one of their best songs, but I find the two songs on the B-side interesting, because they're a rare example of The Cramps not indulging in any schtick, just playing a couple songs they think are good tunes. Here's "Georgie Lee Brown."

You can find both of those songs as bonus tracks on A Date With Elvis, btw, which actually has some of their best tunes: "People Ain't No Good," "Cornfed Dames" (which has some of Ivy's best guitar work), and this one, "(Hot Pool of) Womanneed."

This is one of Lux's best vocal performances, as he combines Elvis-like rockabilly croonin' with a southern evangelist preaching style. You can picture him in a rhinestone suit, wiping sweat off his brow, preaching the gospel of lust to the masses. After this album, I kind of wrote them off. I heard bits of Stay Sick and Look Mom, No Head (both came out while I was in college), and they seemed like a band out of ideas. I'm sure I'd have liked them if they were the first Cramps records I'd heard, but as it was, I couldn't really get there. I had a chance to go see them in Athens, but I think Jonathan Richman was playing the same night, and I chose him instead. I wish I had had a chance to experience them live, but I blew it. Whatchagonnado. They did seem to have some life left in them, though, as I learned when I came across this song from their last album, The Fiends of Dope Island, with the incredible title "Elvis Fucking Christ."

Like I said, the band was sort of an outgrowth of their record collecting (you should really find a copy of RE/Search's Incredibly Strange Music volume, which has something like 20 pages of interview with Lux and Ivy, wherein they just discuss their record collection), and well over half their songs were covers or, in some cases, what we might call "mash-ups", like "Sunglasses After Dark," which may or may not take it's lyrics from a rockabilly song of the same title, but attaches them to a Link Wray instrumental. It pays to hunt down the originals, since so many of them (their take on Hasil Adkins' "She Said" is a notable exception) are much better than The Cramps' versions (eg, "Strychnine," "Green Fuz", "Love Me"). At some point, there was a three-volume compilation called Songs the Cramps Taught Us out there. Google it. My introduction was an album that I actually bought the same day as that 12", called Rockabilly Psychosis and the Garage Disease. It's a weird collection, as the first side is a bunch of old garage and rockabilly songs (4 out of 6 were covered by The Cramps), and the b-side is all newer (80's) psychobilly bands. The Cramps themselves are represented on a very obscure track from a studio session they did in Memphis as the backing band for Jimmy Dickinson (James Luther Dickinson). You can even hear Lux doing backing vocals!

Jimmy Dickinson w/The Cramps - Red Headed Woman

Friday, February 06, 2009

Your Monthly Political Post

Now that liberals are out of the defensive crouch, we can start being a little critical of each other again. And no better place to start than this stimulus package. Now, I'm not really against the package per se, but I'm a little alarmed at how completely it's being embraced by people on the left. I don't necessarily mean the package itself, but the idea that it's this huge, important thing that's going to save us all, and that Republicans, by delaying it, are causing massive wreckage to America.

I guess I'm beating around the bush a bit here, so here's what I'm getting at. I'm pretty much in favor of this bill. From what I can see, most of it is just shit we should have been spending money on over the last 20 years or so. But I don't think it's going to do much to improve the economy or get us out of this recession. I don't see any real evidence that it will. I do think it looks like a more effective method than the tax cuts Republicans want, but I worry that we're setting ourselves up for some major headaches if the economy doesn't turn around.

On the other hand, just from a political standpoint, I'm not sure what choice Obama has. If the economy doesn't turn around in the next two years, he's in for a world of pain, so it's in his best interest to put everything on the table. I just hope he knows what he's doing. The last time we trusted a president to know what he was doing with a project this big, it didn't work out so well.

Of course, having said all that, The Daily Show did some great work with this one:

And, this doesn't really have anything directly to do with the subject, but I just find it hilarious:

You hear people equate people like Limbaugh and Coulter with the looneys on the left, but can you imagine a situation where a democratic congressman would have to apologize to Michael Moore or Keith Olberman?

Don't worry, actual funny content coming this weekend...

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Bacon-Wrapped Hotdog Is Over

Korean Tacos, Dude. Korean. Tacos.

This just sums up everything I love about this crazy city. It's the melting pot wrapped up in a corn tortilla, culinary miscegenation of the hottest kind. I need to eat one, like, yesterday.