Monday, May 30, 2011

90's Hit Parade #61

Pizzicato Five - Twiggy Twiggy

A tribute to the androgynous icon of the mod 60's from a great Japanese pop group. The beat is samba or bossa nova (I'll admit, I don't really know the difference), but with a big, upbeat sound. You could almost swear it was the theme song to some lost, Italian James Bond spoof. Guitarier live version here.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

90's Hit Parade #62

Digital Underground - Doowutchyalike

What's great about this song is how it totally captures the spirit of pre-Run DMC hip hop without aping the sound. It fits perfectly in with the sound of 1990, even as it makes you feel the heat of a summer night block party c. 1981. And yes, it's a hotter track than "Humpty Dance" (which is still a great track). It is strange how "Humpty Dance" endures, though. I would never have expected that track to be a cultural staple (at least among white folks) 20 years later, when most people have long forgotten "Mama Said Knock You Out."

Monday, May 23, 2011


Wednesday, May 25, Ice House Annex, 8:00 pm

Friday, May 20, 2011

90's Hit Parade #63

Bis - I'm a Slut

If there's one band from the 90's that I think should get more attention, it's Bis. Man, they're so great! On their early records, they play Ramones-y punk rock with amazing youthful energy and cheer, and a hint of 80's new wave and disco. It's like a new generation of punk rockers erasing all the anti-disco sentiment from the scene. Then, this evolved into practice, because by the time 1999 rolled around and they released the AMAZING Social Dancing, they were able to actually reproduce that 80's disco sound, but play it with that same youthful happy-punk energy. So go out and buy you some Bis!

I was considering the earlier track "Kill Yr Boyfriend," and I think the two songs should be considered together. "Kill Yr Boyfriend" is a pretty basic punk rock attack on guys who are "beating you all the time" and "crap in bed." "I'm a Slut" attacks a more subtle expression of patriarchy, a guy whose overbearing jealousy makes a relationship impossible:

why can't i wear makeup tonite?
don't really think my t-shirts too tight
going out, can't let me out your sight
can i see my friends without a fight?

In the chorus, she sings "You tell me I deserve this/cuz I'm a slut/and I provoke you to do/these things to me." I don't think she means he literally told her that, but that his actions are telling her that, and the character in the song accepts it:

tell me when i talk i am a flirt
i agree, i prefer the long skirt
how nice of you to let me not work
i'll do anything to make you not hurt

That's a pretty strong social critique, but what's really impressive is how much the song makes you want to dance around the room like a spaz.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

90's Hit Parade #64

The O'Blivions - Vietnam War Blues

There were a ton of these neo-garage rock bands in the 90's (still are, probably), and most of them were pretty lame. This is one of the exceptions, some seriously deranged garage skronk of the highest caliber. First time I heard this song, my first impression was that it sounded like Pussy Galore doing the kind of straight-ahead rock n roll song that they (somewhat frustratingly) never did. Proof of the greatness of this recording is that most of the live versions on YouTube don't sound nearly as mangled as the studio recording, but the one above is a good approximation. Play it loud, muthafuckas!

Addendum: I have a vague memory of seeing these guys live in Athens, so vague that I'm not sure it actually happened. I just barely remember being out for a night on the town, and ending up at some very small club, and seeing these guys open with this song. I'm honestly not sure whether alcohol made my memory too cloudy or if I just dreamed the whole thing.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Our Mr. Sun (1956)

I saw this movie at least once a year in science class growing up. I'm sure some of the science was a bit outdated--it was 20 years old at the time! I never realized that this was a Frank Capra joint--he wrote, directed and produced it for television. It was part of a series, and I know I saw at least one other film in the series (Hemo the Magnificent, 1957). I also didn't realize that Ol' Father Time was voiced by Lionel Barrymore--it was his last film! Hell, I never realized that the writer was Eddie Albert from Green Acres! It's on Netflix, or you can watch it at (I still haven't warmed to watching movies or TV shows on the computer, so I opt for Netflix).

Funny how some of these things stick with you over time. The incredible scale of solar flares blew my mind as a kid. For some reason, I always remembered this little dramatization of a solar flare interrupting radio waves:

My favorite part was always the attempt to explain photosynthesis, with this hilarious li'l character representing choloroform:

But this time I was even more impressed by this magician character who is used to explain nuclear fusion. Just look at the character they give this guy, and the amazing stretchy poses:

Weird thing: it gets strangely God-y at the end. I never really noticed it as a kid, it seemed perfectly natural (hard to see much difference between the place you're forced to go Monday through Friday and the place you're forced to go Sunday), and it isn't really anything pushy, but it's kinda weird. This is the opening shot, by the way:

Friday, May 13, 2011

Do I Really Need to Come Up With a Title For Every God Damn Thing I Post?

So, Andrew Sullivan has been trying to work out the relative success or failure of "Romneycare," the Massachusetts state health care reform bill passed by Republican governor Mitt Romney that is remarkably similar to the one passed on a national level by Congress a couple years ago, and which now hangs around Romney's neck like an albatross as he enters the Republican primary. Pure anecdote, of course, but this email from a reader in Mass. provides, I think, some useful insight. He starts by noting multiple polls that show majority (although far from overwhelming) support for the plan, then goes into a personal story. Here's what I see as the most relevant quote:

Stories like this are why people like Romneycare, even if they complain about it. As Obamacare becomes law and situations like this become known, it is difficult for me to imagine a groundswell for throwing children like my daughter into the fire.

This is pretty much what I hear when I talk to people from the UK or Canada. You will frequently hear them bitch about their country's screwed up system, but you will almost never (again, within my purely anecdotal experience) hear a Brit say that they prefer the US system. Yet, to those opposed to any government involvement in the health care system, all they hear are the complaints.

My point here is that it's very easy to point out the problems with Obamacare, or with the pre-Obamacare status quo. That doesn't really get at the argument. What we should be doing is comparing the costs to the benefits of any system. And it's easy to see why that's not popular on either side of the aisle. If the debate can be broken down to "health care is a human right" or "socialized medicine is slavery," then one side can potentially be shown to be "correct." We would all love to be able to be unambiguously proven right. Hell, I'd even love to be unambiguously proven wrong. If government-sponsored health care reform can be definitively shown to be ineffective or unfair, it'd be a load off my mind, and we could move on to some other issue. But the issue is simply not so black and white. It's good and bad, constructive and destructive, all at the same time, and we have to weigh the pros and cons to get to a real understanding of it. Just like any other issue (or most issues--I still haven't heard anything resembling a rational argument against gay marriage or marijuana legalization, but you get the idea).

90's Hit Parade #65

Tom Waits - Such a Scream/All Stripped Down

In 1992/93, Tom Waits finished up his stint at Island Records with a pair of albums that seemed to complete the musical journey he had been on for the length of his career, moving toward weirder and more dissonant sounds over the course of 20 years. The two albums are very different: 1993's The Black Rider, the soundtrack for an opera on which Waits had collaborated with Robert Williams and William S. Burroughs, brought Waits as far into his Bertolt Brecht-influenced cabaret sound as he would ever go, while indulging in all sorts of strange, dark sonic experiments. 1992's Bone Machine, by contrast, goes deep into blues and gospel sounds, even harking back to the earlier forms of work songs, field hollers and spirituals, all presented in a deeply noisy and harsh style that can only be called Waits-esque. Bone Machine is the sound of Tom Waits boiled down to a thick, intense reduction, a pure, the very essence of Waits.

My two favorite songs on Bone Machine are back to back, almost a medley, and I think of them as inseparable. "Such a Scream" is about as raucous as Tom ever got, all nasty blues and almost Pussy Galore-level noise. "All Stripped Down" has an odd lo-fi sound, and reminds me of some of the stranger tracks from Exile on Mainstreet (eg, "Just Wanna See His Face"). It sounds like something you'd hear at a storefront gospel church.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

90's Hit Parade #66

In March of 1997, I packed up all our stuff in a Ryder truck and headed west towards Los Angeles. I stuck a cassette in the tape deck and listened to this song, from the then-newish album New Adventures in Hi Fi. It was an obvious choice for its Hollywood imagery, its specific invocation of Mullholand Drive, but most of all for Stipe's refrain: "I'm not scared/I'm outa here." As I drove across the country (took us 5 days), Comet Hale-Boppe was in the sky, and in the hour or so that I was still driving after the sun went down I could see it just over the western horizon, leading me on. (Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, an apocalyptic cult called Heaven's Gate was preparing to commit mass suicide in hopes of catching a ride from interstellar pilgrims they believed were hidden in the comet.) That's the image that always enters my mind when I hear this song, one of my very favorite songs of REM's career. Here's a couple other late-90's REM tracks I like a lot:

Yeah, this is one of the greatest "I'm gonna win your heart," "to dream the impossible dream" songs ever written. Michael just pours so much passion and emotion into that chorus!

This is maybe the last (so far) truly GREAT REM song (although you could make a strong case for "Living Well is the Best Revenge"). I'm not sure I'm really capable of writing well about REM songs. I have a hard time figuring out what it is I like about them, or at least putting it in words, and I fear I might be puncturing the magic by over analyzing them, so let's just leave it at that.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Ideology vs. Thought

Ron Paul discusses his position on abortion. Ron Paul believes that:

The fetus has legal rights—inheritance, a right not to be injured or aborted by unwise medical treatment, violence, or accidents. Ignoring these rights is arbitrary and places relative rights on a small, living human being. The only issue that should be debated is the moral one: whether or not a fetus has any right to life. Scientifically, there’s no debate over whether the fetus is alive and human—if not killed, it matures into an adult human being. It is that simple. So the time line of when we consider a fetus “human” is arbitrary after conception, in my mind....

If you were to ask someone like Amanda Marcotte to unpack this statement a bit, she'd probably conclude that the problem is that Ron Paul doesn't believe women are people. I see a different problem. Ron Paul is, above all else, an ideologue, and the one thing an ideologue simply cannot stand is ambiguity. Now, I think he's correct that "the time line of when we consider a fetus "human" is arbitrary." To me, that's an argument for stepping back and saying the government should stay out of this decision as much as possible. I guess I should back up a bit. I think most reasonable people would agree that, at 8 months, you've pretty much got a baby in there, and an abortion would be morally unacceptable (although on rare occasions medically necessary). And most reasonable people would look at the photo below and conclude that at 6 weeks, what you have is a lump of cells. It may technically be "human life," but it's not a person:

So yes, if you, for example, were to strike a truce by outlawing third trimester abortions with an exception for serious health issues (which would outlaw an exceedingly small number of abortions anyway), you are making an arbitrary call. That is, you're admitting that we don't really know when a fetus stops being a lump of cells and starts being a small person, so I'm not going to make that decision for anyone else.

Or let's look at it another way. I think we can all agree that protecting human life is a moral priority. But outlawing abortion isn't only protection of a human life. It's also forced childbirth. It's a violation of an individual's autonomy over their own body. Is Ron Paul really unable to see women as having autonomy over their own bodies? I posit that the problem is that Ron Paul is unable to accept that a fetus could be a human life AND part of a women's body. By God, it has to be one or the other! Just like a union has to be either an essential protection for laborers or an impediment to reform, and downloading music off the internet has to be either a moral act (because music wants to be free!) or theft from the musician. I don't object to any of these positions existing, but nobody really wants to talk about shit in politics right now. They just want to yell at each other. Which I suppose is why kids still buy Che Guevara T-shirts, and Republicans still worship Reagan. It's not about their actual positions (it's become a cliche to point out that Reagan would practically be a democrat today, and the Cuban revolution did not exactly put liberal principals into place), it's about being that young revolutionary with fiery eyes, or that stoic cowboy demanding the fall of the Berlin Wall. It's much cooler than sitting down and talking shit out, coming up with a compromise, which is what democracy is really about.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Why Don't We Redistribute GPA's?

Did you see this one? Interview college students who believe in income redistribution of some kind, and ask them if they also think GPA's should be redistributed. If they can't think of a logical argument for doing one and not doing the other, then they're HYPOCRITES! GOTCHA! Yeah, I'm a little underwhelmed by the logic of this argument too. You're not obligated to explain why you have different opinions on two topics that have nothing to do with each other. "Are you ok with people eating pies? Well, how about eating babies? HYPOCRITE!"

The obvious answer, if we really need to do this, is that the entire POINT of a GPA is assessing accomplishment. That's maybe a secondary purpose of income, but the primary purpose of income is to allow one to purchase food, and thus not, you know, DIE.

xpostfactoid gives this argument a lot more thought than it deserves, and comes up with a lot of answers, but this one is, I think, the most relevant, not only to this argument but to just about any argument about economic politics in America:

3. Income redistribution in the U.S. is very moderate. No one who makes a lot of money has cause to complain that the state is depriving him or her of the fruits of labor. And by multiple measures of national well-being, humans thrive best in societies that invest in commonwealth, that is, do their utmost to provide the conditions for a decent life to all and to moderate without eliminating disparities of wealth.

Seriously, does anyone even think of programs like Medicare, Social Security, Unemployment Insurance and Food Stamps as "income redistribution?"

90's Hit Parade #67

Spiritualized - Electricity

Do I even need to say much about this song? The title pretty much tells you all you need to know. It's like a Yardbirds rave-up souped up with crackling punk rock energy and noise. The above version fades out about 30 seconds before it's over, full but unembedable version with the full feedback jam here. There's some nice live versions on YouTube as well.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

90's Hit Parade #68

2Pac w/Dr. Dre - California Lovin'

When Dre dropped The Chronic back, was it '92? Seems like it should have been later. Anyway, I didn't really take to it at first, and as it ended up being a hugely influential album (pretty much defining the sound of popular hip hop over the following years), I started resenting it more and more. In '92, the period that I consider hip hop's golden age was still going strong. The best rap records had hard, fast funk beats and James Brown samples, and the rappers would just grab those beats like a dog goin' to work on a bone, and spit out unbelievable tongue twisters and word play over them. Then, on the opposite end of the spectrum, you had crews like A Tribe Called Quest, that were sampling jazz records and getting this ultra-mellow sound. I loved both of these extremes, but The Chronic, with it's laid back Parliament-derived sound, seemed like a mushy middle, and that's where everything seemed to be ending up.

I was wrong of course. Dre's G-Funk sound may not be either PE or ATCQ, but it's its own thing, perfect for warm summer nights and hot days tending the grill. My favorite Dre track from this era is not from The Chronic, though. It's this 2Pac single, all vocoder and poplockin' synths, sampled or maybe just ripped off from Ronnie Hudson & the Street People's 80's funk jam "West Coast Poplock" and set to a hydraulic bounce of a beat. 2Pac released this single when he got out of prison, and it just feels like a goddamn party. Nobody's trying to overexert themselves, they're just having a good time. I guess that's what annoyed me about this stuff at the time, but it's what I love about it now. It's all about home state pride, but I love what they're proud of: it's "the Sunshine State where the bomb-ass hemp be/The state where you never find the dance floor empty." "California knows how to party" indeed.