Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Songs of the Season, Part 3

The Beatles - Here Comes the Sun

Pink Floyd - Flaming

Pink Floyd - The Gnome

R.E.M. - Green Grow the Rushes

R.E.M. - The Flowers of Guatemala

XTC - Summer's Cauldron/Grass

And since I couldn't find it on YouTube:
Robyn Hitchcock - Acid Bath

Great Summer music is hard to get your head around, because there's so much of it, so many musical moods that I associate with Summer. Almost anything that sounds good sounds good in the summertime. But Spring has, in my mind, a very specific sound: jangly, chimey guitars. So above is a canon of songs that I associate with the arrival of Spring, green grass, blooming flowers, and the rebirth of the world from the symbolic death of winter (and, this week, my own rebirth from the symbolic death of the worst fucking flu I can remember having. Spring is not without its own hazards, though, as I emerge from my flu into an atmosphere so full of sadistic pollen that I can barely stick my head out my back door without feeling as though I'm being kicked in the sinuses by crazed football hooligans).

If Spring has an official theme song, it must be George Harrison's "Here Comes the Sun," which welcomes the season in a way appropriate to Spring's temperament: not a mad rush of release like Alice Cooper's welcome to the Summer, but a sort of joyous relief: "It's been a long and lonely Winter...it seems like years since it's been here." So maybe it's that song that made me associate the sound of jangly, chiming guitars with the arrival of Spring.

Pink Floyd's first album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, was named after a chapter in Kenneth Graham's The Wind and the Willows. Appropriate, since the opening paragraphs of Graham's book are perhaps the most evocative celebration of the arrival of Spring in English literature, and the album contains some of the Spring-iest songs I've ever heard. Songs like "Flaming" just sound so organic--all those weird noises propelling the song along, like the sounds of birds and insects chirping, of worms burrowing beneath you, squirrels running around in the bushes, wind blowing through the trees. It just sounds ALIVE. "The Gnome," a goofy Tolkien-meets-eath-hippy tune, carries on the theme of marveling at nature in dorky lines like "Look at the sky, look at the river, isn't it good?"

The quintessential Spring band is REM, especially in their Reckoning period. Neither of these songs are actually from Reckoning, but they both have thoset jangly Peter Buck guitar arpeggios, The Sound That Made Athens Famous. I don't know how "Green Grow the Rushes" manages to sound so lush, green and organic, but it makes me think of an entire world being slowly covered in kudzu. "Flowers of Guatemala" is a song they rarely perform live. I saw them start to perform it on the Pageant tour, but just as they were reaching the climactic guitar solo some kid ran up on stage and touched Peter Buck's guitar, causing him to throw it down and walk off stage in frustration in the middle of the song! Anyhow, both of these songs sound like songs about blooming flowers and growing grass, but I later found out that "Flowers" is actually about mass graves left by CIA-backed death squads in Guatemala, and "Rushes" is about, I dunno, the Iran-Contra hearings or some shit.

The XTC songs here are, I guess, explicitly Summer songs, but I'm gonna call them Spring songs anyway, especially "Grass", which (obvious double-entendre aside) is all about enjoying the outdoors. If you haven't listened to this album in a long time, give it a spin. There are some great songs you probably forgot even existed.

My favorite song of this genre is this Robyn Hitchcock song from Black Snake Diamond Roll, which is listed as "Acid Bird" on the album cover and "Acid Bath" on the label (I went with the latter, because I think it's a cooler title). I got on a huge Robyn Hitchcock kick for a few years starting in '87, but really haven't listened to him in years. That tingly guitar sounds like little effervescent bubbles popping in my head.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Dork Stuff

I intended to get a few posts up this weekend, but then I came down with a nasty flu. I've actually called in sick to work three days in a row, which I never do. I'll post some more stuff when I get up and runnning but for now:

1. You can hear Bobbie publicly humiliate me on the Dork Forest Podcast.

2. Colbert attempts to out-dork Neil Gaiman!

3. For my own dorkness, I guess I should finally get around to talking about the Watchmen movie. It's not the Watchmen movie I would have wanted to see--I'd rather have had a director with real vision (and the jury is no longer out on this--calling Zach Snyder a "visionary director" is just false advertising) take the book, tear it apart and put their own interpretations of the ideas up on the screen. BUT. Accepting this movie for the movie that it is, I think it's a pretty good one. I have major, MAJOR issues with it, but I think it works.

Basically, what Snyder has done is take the book and make it into a relatively accessible movie, preserving pretty much all of the important ideas, but in a form that can appeal to a much wider audience than the book can realistically reach. This is no mean feat, if you think about how hard it is to get literary ideas into a movie (watch the adaptation of The Great Gatsby to see what I mean). Snyder may not be a visionary, but as a craftsman he really pulled off a hell of a job here.

As for the major complaint: the violence. Regardless of what Snyder says, inserting Evil Dead-level gore throughout the film does not make it more "shocking." It looks kinda silly, in fact. It's more cartoonish, not less. And then, at the one point where the audience really needs to see the bodycount, to FEEL the bodycount, after the destruction, we don't get it. No slow pan over the dead bodies in the streets. If you're trying to be true to the comic (and that really seems like Snyder's primary aim), then that's a total failure.

Beyond that, there are just a lot of things that come off cheesier on screen than they do in a comic book. Hard not to make those comparisons. And serious overuse of music cues. It's absurd how long Snyder stuck with "All Along the Watchtower" just to get the image of Night Owl and Rorschach walking through the snow to synch up with "Two riders were approaching and the wind began to howl." Wes Anderson he ain't. OK, you can argue that he's using the language of modern Hollywood filmmaking to make a point, in the same way that Moore used the language of superhero comics to make a point, but I'd say "Well, what was that point, exactly?", but then I suppose you could say "Well, what was Moore's point?" and I'd be like "I dunno...stuff."

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Best and the Brightest

Hey, did you know that teachers don't get merit pay? That's right, teachers get paid the same whether they do a good job or a terrible job. And forget about getting a teacher fired! No matter how bad a job they do, it's next to impossible to get rid of them. That's because they work for the government, so they have no accountability. If they worked for private enterprises, you can bet that there would be consequences for doing a bad job. Like maybe getting a few million dollars in bonuses.

So why do the same people who get pissed off at what they see as sweetheart deals for the workers that we pretend we think are doing the most important job in our country defend the same for the people who brought about not only the destruction of their own company, but perhaps of the economy as a whole? I'm guessing it's this weird Randian view that people who make more money must be more important. But I just don't see the evidence. These guys fucked up, BAD, and not only aren't getting fired for it, but are getting a reward? And people like Jim Manzi maintain that if we need to keep them in their job at all costs, because nobody else could possibly do it? Look, these guys aren't brain surgeons or rocket scientists. They're not working on a cancer treatment or a new alternative energy source (I can't help but notice that I don't hear people in those fields threatening to "Go Galt"). They're not the best and the brightest, and by all evidence they're not even good at what they do do. And this at a time when financial institutions are folding, and the job market is flooded with laid off financial executives, so demand for such employees is lower. That's what we capitalists call "the market." So fuck 'em.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Jimminy Fallon I Question His Whiteness

Public Enemy, with The Roots as backing band, playing a funktified, horn-heavy version of "Bring the Noise." This performance just might justify handing Late Night over to the most unfunny guy since Zeppo Marx. I can't help but notice Flav sporting some Kellogg's swag. Could it be that the company that found it embarrassing to be associated with Michael Phelps is now being endorsed by Flavor Flav?

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Gummint

One old friend updated her Facebook status last week to read "...is happy that the dealer finally found my car, which they towed to the dealership yesterday." That's right--she had them tow her car, and then they lost it. A whole car. We can all think of dozens of incidents like this, where we've encountered unbelievable incompetence in the private sector, but for some reason it's always the incompetence of The Gummint that people get all worried about. No doubt the government is less efficient than the private sector, but they make up for it by not having any real incentive to screw you over (the government's inefficiency is a function of the safeguards against corruption built into the sytstem). Hey, I'm not saying "Trust The Government", but they do have their place, and I find my satisfaction with them to be about equal to my satisfaction with any private enterprise. I wonder how many residents of the Superdome would have been terrified of the phrase "I'm from the government and I'm hear to help."

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Stop Daylight Savings Time!

Here's a movement we can all get behind! By the way, in case you're waiting with baited breath for my snarky assessment of Watchmen: The Movie!, I skipped it due to being incredibly tired (felt like I had the flu, but no symptoms other than being tired).

I really hate that last post, by the way. It has no real point, and what point it does have makes no sense, but it was in my head and I felt like I had to get it out. Is there a word for this? Some sort of blog-related neurosis, wherein I can't rest unless every idiotic thought I have is posted on the web?

Friday, March 06, 2009

The Clock Is Ticking

Like every nerd in the world, I'm going to see Watchmen this weekend (probably tomorrow). I'm looking forward to it, but more than anything I'm looking forward to having it behind me. Not just this particular movie, but this whole cycle that began 10 years ago with the run up to The Phantom Menace, all these movies that I feel obligated to give a shit about because they're things that I really gave a shit about at some point in my childhood/adolescence. Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, King Kong, all the major comic book films. You could probably even throw the Matrix and Kill Bill films in there. I'm just sick of it, sick of the whole pattern of anticipation, arguing about stupid shit like organic web-shooters on the internet, deciding whether to avoid spoilers, having to read Harry Knowles' inappropriate elipses, the whole stupid internet culture based around these movies--I'm just glad it's over. And it really does feel like this is it, this is the last movie of this cycle. There's no reason to really feel that way--I know there are plenty more Big Geek Properties coming out--but it does seem like none of them will be quite in the same league. Which is good.

We never did get Guillermo Del Toro's At the Mountains of Madness, though, did we?

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Wacky Pedia

First line of the "Pavement Discography" entry on Wikipedia: "Pavement is the best band of all time, literally. " Oh, those zany indie rock Wiki updaters! I like how they did it on the Pavement Discography page instead of the main Pavement page, hoping to slip under the radar.

Now that I got your attention with silliness, a couple good political pieces from this week to counter some of the more hysterical ideas coming from the right wing at this moment. From Obsidian Wings, a very funny takedown of a story about a lawyer who says she's going to "go John Galt" and try to earn less than $250K so as to avoid a higher marginal tax rate.

Wow. That is...just mind boggling. Allow me to explain the concept of marginal tax rates to our would-be Jane Galt (and her admirers, like Tennessee law professor (I'm as incredulous as you) Glenn Reynolds). The marginal tax rate structure means that you pay a certain rate for money earned within certain dollar amount brackets. So, to simplify with hypothetical rates: you pay zero income taxes on dollars 0-20,000, then you pay 15% on dollars 20,001-50,000, you pay 25% on dollars 50,000-100,000 and so on. You don't pay a higher rate on all of your dollars just because some of your dollars make it into a higher tax bracket. Only those dollars above the given threshold are subject to that rate.

The tax rate on earnings above $250,000 is presently 35% (lowered from 39.6% by Bush). Obama is proposing to restore that rate to the Clinton-era level of 39.6%. What this means is that for a married couple earning $300,000 (after above the line deductions), the dollars that they make above the $250,000 threshold would be taxed at 39.6% rather than 35%. But all earnings below the $250,000 would still be taxed at the same tiered rates as before! You don't pay 39.6% on all of your earnings simply because you surpassed that level!

The lack of reasoning and math skills involved in this position is dizzying. There's actually a much funnier assessment of this at Pandagon, but I thought I'd link to the more serious one first.

Next, John Cole at Balloon Juice produced this useful graph:

The 2010 proposed rate of 39.60% = socialism.
The 2002-2008 rates of 35.00% = capitalist nirvana.
The 39.6% rate of the 1990’s = socialism.
Everything else = down the memory hole.

That Obama fellow sure is soaking the rich, isn’t he?

Honestly, I'm pretty agnostic about a lot of what Barry is doing in this bailout/stimulus. Even I'm getting a bit queazy over the amount of cash he's throwing around. But some of the hyperbole from the right is just absurd. Oh yeah, and here's a great bit of relevent snark from Marc Cooper re: The L.A. Times.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Spittin' Wicked Randomness, Vol XXX1

Monday, March 02, 2009

Songs of the Season, Part 3

Weather was nice and warm this weekend, even a little hot on Sunday, and I was considering a post about Spring songs, but it seemed a little too early for that. Bobbie's dad emailed some photos of his house all covered with snow, and I became envious. I do wish I was back in Georgia, enjoying the most substantial snow they've had in years. But I also know that the thrill of snow quickly gives way to the irritation of ice and slush and piercing cold. This Replacements classic really captures both ends of it--the lyrics tell a story of frustration and frostbite waiting outside in the middle of winter, but the chiming chords and Paul Westerberg's delivery also manage to open your heart in the same way that the beauty of wintertime can. There were a few performances of this song from Westerberg's early 00's acoustic tours. I actually like this incomplete version, surrounded by a small crowd who all sing the song in harmony with him.