Friday, May 29, 2009

Shifting the terms of the debate for a minute

While our ruling class labors to make us complacent and comfortable with the unacceptable, perhaps these thoughts from the late David Foster Wallace deserve another look:

What if we chose to accept the fact that every few years, despite all reasonable precautions, some hundreds or thousands of us may die in the sort of ghastly terrorist attack that a democratic republic cannot 100-percent protect itself from without subverting the very principles that make it worth protecting?

Is this thought experiment monstrous? Would it be monstrous to refer to the 40,000-plus domestic highway deaths we accept each year because the mobility and autonomy of the car are evidently worth that high price?
Go read the whole article. Despite the writer (one of these days---maybe when I retire!---I will sit down for a few years and read Infinite Jest), it's not very long. But the questions Foster Wallace dared to raise are worth asking. What kind of people do we want to be? Where do we balance our perceived "safety" and our integrity? Does "America" actually mean something, or is it just a country stolen from its rightful owners that thinks too highly of itself? The right wing in this country loves to talk about "courage"; here's a new frame for discussing the subject.

UPDATE: Look who's agreeing now. Wonder how long till Rush Limbaugh starts dusting off the old "Betray-us" jokes?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

99 bottles of something unspeakable on the wall

Seymour Hersh was talking about this stuff years ago, but it got swept under the rug pretty quickly.

Now it's coming out, whether the current administration likes it or not. I have relatives in Afghanistan right now, and I understand the urge to avoid inflaming international anger at Americans, but guess what? That ship has already sailed, and trying to pretend these crimes never happened isn't exactly going to make the world love us again. The only way out is to confront this directly. The depraved specimens who engineered all this are not only walking free, but they get to spout their opinions on TV as if they are wise, venerable policy experts, rather than the twisted monsters that they are. If we ever hope to be readmitted into the civilized world, a full accounting of the deeds of these vile pseudo-Christian pseudo-patriots is way past due.

Should the photos be released? Yes, but under carefully controlled conditions. Every time Dick Cheney or any of his devoted media enablers appears on TV, a slideshow of these incriminating shots should be displayed on the screen as long as they are speaking. Then the viewers will be able to interpret their remarks in the proper context.

But wait...there's more, courtesy of Sadly No! How they deal with this in other countries. Why's it so hard to get it in the "land of the free"?

UPDATING AGAIN: Fred at Slacktivist despairs for the state of Christianity in America. Funny how every one of these blog comment threads always ends up hijacked by someone breathlessly spouting, "But what if there was a ticking time bomb?" Once again, TV has done its job well. Me, I'm with David Foster Wallace in the post above.

(Here's the source of the subject line, written in 2001. It already felt back then like bad things were coming. Not from our "enemies", but from "us". Sometimes I don't like being proven right.)

"You're either on the bus or you're off of the bus!"
The driver's voice crackles through the speakers
As the highway to Hell unfolds like a yellow brick road
We're checking the map as we quell our reservations
With biker crank and Prozac
99 bottles of something unspeakable on the wall
Take one down...pass it around.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Songs about being bored: still not boring after all these years

Another video recommended by Ian below. Now that the classic Lawrence Welk rendition of "Sister Ray" has been pulled from Youtube, it's good that someone else is getting cute with the found footage. Enjoy.

Feel free to fill the comments with your thoughts about the Smothers Brothers' TV show, strictly for symmetry's sake.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Seen Your Video: The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, Season 3, Disc 1

We return to our ongoing reexamination of mainstream America's uneasy-yet-lucrative relationship with late-60s/early-70s counterculture with a variety show that ruffled so many feathers in its time that after repeated instances of censorship, CBS ultimately canceled the show mid-season in 1969 despite its popularity. In these days of premium cable, The Simpsons, South Park, even the decades-past-its-prime Saturday Night Live (or The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, for that matter), it's hard to imagine a world where the Smothers Brothers could be considered dangerous. Nevertheless, they were, which in itself is sufficient reason to check them out.

I only have vague memories of this show at the time it was broadcast. As a kid, I was sent off to bed on Sunday night before it came on, but I recall hearing it from the other room as my parents watched it, and I must have seen at least a few episodes, because I remember the video for Mason Williams' "Classical Gas" and some of the "Pat Paulsen for President" sketches. I swear I remember seeing the segment where a pre-hippie George Carlin does his "Indian Sergeant" routine; I got some serious deja vu when he went into the "leaping into the gorge" bit. But overall, I think we were usually protected from this stuff at the time. So most of this DVD is fresh to me. Which naturally makes it a prime candidate for Netflix, and a subject for this blog.

The Smothers Brothers themselves tend to be the best thing about these shows most of the time. Tom's non-sequitur-spewing idiot savant and Dick's authoritarian straight man were a hilarious combination. Their music wasn't half bad, either, an outgrowth of (and spot-on satire of) the poppier end of the early 60s folk revival that I am already on record as having a weakness for. They nailed the conflict of sibling rivalry while simultaneously turning the genetic empathy of siblings into impeccable comic timing. Every stutter (and fiendish attempt to destroy decorum) from Tom, every pause (and moment of irritation followed by attempt to smooth things over with the world outside) from Dick turns even the dumbest jokes into something provocative and side-splitting. The funniest parts of their routines happen between the words.

The show itself is an odd (and quintessentially '60s) mixture of variety show conventions (silly dancers, Nelson Riddle Orchestra; corny sketch comedy) and envelope-pushing commentary. Each of the four episodes offered on this DVD has its share of "WOW" and "WTF?" moments. At the time these shows were taped, the brothers' TV show was in its third year, and they began filming in the aftermath of the Democratic Party clusterfuck/police riot in Chicago, a rash of political assassinations, international unrest, and the first inkling that the so-called summer of love had been overly optimistic and some ugly stuff was coming. In that context, showbiz-as-usual wasn't enough.

The first show of the fall was one of their most controversial, as the now-older brothers let us know immediately in the introduction. The highlight of the episode is a long segment featuring Harry Belafonte where, after joining the Smothers Bros. in a version of Nina Simone's "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free", then delivering a smoldering solo love ballad, he jumps into a medley of his great calypso hits while footage of the Chicago Democratic Convention flickers behind him on the chroma key. It starts off jolly and snide, as images of clashing politicians are juxtaposed with Belafonte's buoyant party songs, then veers into pathos and discomfort as footage of cops and demonstrators becomes more violent while Belafonte twists "Mama Look A Boo Boo" into a Greek chorus: "My country can't be ugly so!" By the time he alludes to another hit, "Matilda", by suggesting Matilda should just stay in Venezuela and spare herself from what's going on here, all pretense of light ironic comment has been jettisoned and you realize everyone involved with the show had put everything they had into Making A Statement. It's an effective "the world's gone mad" moment, and more evidence that Harry Belafonte is a national treasure we should appreciate now while he's still with us.

Of course, no one saw this at the time, because CBS cut the segment after the aforementioned smoldering love ballad, leaving Tom Smothers (the more politically active of the two despite his airhead comedy persona) particularly livid, as we see in an audience Q & A piece they hastily put together to fill the empty space in the show. (Which, in a ridiculous bit of irony, was in turn cut out to make room for an extended ad for the Nixon campaign!) Immediately, it's clear that the brothers' days on network TV are numbered.

In the meantime, we get a weird time capsule of a transitional period in American pop culture. The next show gives us another veteran of the same comedy circuit that gave us the Smothers, Bob Newhart (I will admit, I was quite fond of his 70s sitcom, where he played a psychiatrist and was married to the delectable Suzanne Pleshette), and the cast of the musical "Hair". What a thing that was to watch; you start off going, "God, what an embarrassing showtune bastardization of hippies", and end up forced to admit what a stirring song "Let The Sunshine In" really is. We also get a glimpse of a young dark-haired Kenny Rogers (we also catch a few glimpses of a young, dark-haired Steve Martin here; he was one of the show's main writers) fronting the First Edition; unfortunately it's the kitsch of "But You Know I love You" and not the faux-psychedelic camp of "Just Dropped In To See What Condition My Condition Was In", which would have been fun..

Show 3 features George Carlin (R.I.P. you magnificent misanthropic old bastard) and the Doors, who are caught in their uncomfortable Soft Parade phase, first awkwardly running through "Wild Child", which never gets as primal as it wants to be, and later showcasing their hit single at the time, "Touch Me", a Robbie Krieger composition that sounds like a good song if you don't pay attention too closely. (Am I too harsh here? OK, it's a catchy tune, but the lyrics don't seem to go together from line to line. Something about a promise being made, a demand to know what "she"---a third party distinct from the "you" being sung to?---said, then all that's dropped in favor of some vague sweet nothings about heaven stopping the rain and stars falling from the sky. Sounds sultry and romantic, but it doesn't add up or mean anything. And yeah, lots of Doors songs make very little sense, but there's a big difference between crazed surrealism and undistinguished bland goo.) Jim Morrison has a great voice, but he misses crucial cues and looks and sounds bored as hell with what he's doing. The guest sax player upstages the band at the end of the song. Krieger clearly has a black eye during the performance, supposedly from a car accident, but it's hard not to speculate that he and Morrison got in a scuffle. It is an intriguing look at a fascinating band slogging through one of their worst periods.

The last of the four episodes raises loads of questions. This one is clearly cut to ribbons, but the brothers offer no comment on this whatsoever, compared to the Belafonte incident. First off, the introduction mentions a musical guest called "Hedge And Donna", who we never see. (I had to Google them; turns out they were a sweet-voiced, obscure folk duo of their day who were also an interracial married couple. Did the network actually cut them out because they felt TV audiences weren't ready for a black woman and a white man as a couple and musical act? And if so, why weren't they restored to their rightful place on this DVD? Weird, huh?)

Second, the main guest on the show was an impressionist named David Frye, whose first appearance in the episode begins with him impersonating William F. Buckley. Suddenly, before he actually does anything funny, there is a sloppy cut to him taking a bow, and we move on to the next part of the show. No comment in the bonus features. WHAT THE HELL JUST HAPPENED? Did Frye cross some sort of line? Did he actually do something humorous, perhaps? (Even now, I would welcome any appropriately snarky trashing of the pompous ass who who gave us the National Review, and whose most famous quotation, "standing athwart history yelling STOP" was a reference to stopping the civil rights movement in particular. Such a principled fellow.) From the evidence of what was left behind, that would certainly be welcome, since based on what we get to see here, Frye suffered from the flaw of many impressionists: he could create perfect imitations of his targets, but he couldn't come up with anything funny or interesting for them to say.

The show's staff of writers, many of whom went on to bigger and better things, should have taken up the slack here, but when we watch the Emmy-award-winning sketch, "A Fable For Our Time", the most stunning thing about it is how UN-funny it is. Sure, Frye gets to do Johnson, Humphrey, Wallace, and Nixon, and he does them all really well, but none of the lines the writers provide for them are the least bit cutting or amusing. Comedy is a fleeting thing for sure, especially 40-odd years on, but considering how hilarious the Smothers Brothers could be when left to their own devices, it's odd that they achieved industry recognition (bittersweetly, they got the award AFTER the show was shitcanned by the network) for one of their least funny sketches. (But then, it was sort of political, albeit in a SAFE way compared to other stuff they did, so maybe their peers were awarding them for other work that they dared not acknowledge at the time, like some sort of "referred pain" theory of humor?) Or maybe the writers got the Emmy for the bit in the same show that featured Liberace and a traffic cop; that was actually funny.

Well, from this taste, the Smothers Brothers were brilliant comedians, their show was an uneven but valiant effort with many great moments, and CBS were cowards to let them go when they did. We have more volumes of this series in the Netflix queue, but we have many other diverse things we want to see before we indulge further. We'll return to this particular time capsule later.

Contort yourself two times

It's like the last eight years never happened:

According to today’s left, the answer is yes: Barack Obama is America. And opposition to Barack Obama or any of his policies is therefore, by definition, anti-American.

George W. Who? Never heard of the man.

It’s amazing how these people can turn on a dime.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

We stirred up some concoction

Here we take our characters from the previous movie, strip them of all their worldly possessions (and clothes), strand them outside of some sort of nightmarish stadium (or is it supposed to be a playground ride?) and have them act out the lyrics to "Outside The Blue Room", a Blame song whose lyrics were spontaneously written by Davis Jones and J Neo Marvin just outside of one particular blue room.

Dig the sexy dance moves. Xtranormal does not allow you too many options, but the ones they do offer are pretty amusing. (The cheesy surf music is also theirs. Sticks in your head after a while.)

Friday, May 15, 2009

"Don't blame me, I voted for Cindy Sheehan"

The ever-witty TBogg sums up the latest distraction all too perfectly:

...the endless harping on what she knew and when she knew it is exactly the distraction that previous party in power wants.

By Monday, people will believe that Pelosi herself was doing the waterboarding and only then will Republicans admit that it is torture.

The US government engaged in torture, period, and all the weasel words and blame-shifting don't obscure that basic point one bit, unless you are deliberately choosing not to hear it. I am willing to see Nancy Pelosi investigated for her complicity on the issue only after Cheney, Bush, Rumsfeld, Woo, Bybee, Ashcroft, Gonzales, et al are securely behind bars. Let us keep our priorities straight, shall we?

UPDATE: Let's not pretend we don't all know exactly why they did this is the first place.

UPDATE AGAIN: The Rude Pundit raises a very good point: this is the CIA we're talking about.

Oh and Barack, I don't know what the hell you think you are doing, but I suggest you stop and remember why exactly you are where you are now. The mandate you have is not a mandate to keep the likes of Richard Cohen happy. Get a grip. Thank you.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Now you're talking

This is what we should do. Stop paying our credit cards. Demand a cap of 10% interest, and don't pay one penny to the credit card companies until Congress gets up off their lazy corrupt asses and passes a law making it illegal for anyone, credit card companies included, to charge anyone more than 10% interest on any loan, charge, or other financial transaction bearing interest.

Want a big laugh? The Republicans keep saying the Democrats are "socialists." The Democrats are closer to being made-men in the mob than to being socialists. Socialists actually do something for the people once in awhile, instead of just shoveling all the money into the coffers of the corporations.

Full rant here. Hat tip to Avedon at The Sideshow.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Pulled back and forth toys

I noticed a lot of bloggers have been having fun making xtranormal movies, usually by putting idiotic wingnut manifestos in the mouths of these cute/creepy animated characters.

I thought I'd try something a little different. So, here is a dramatization of the lyrics of two songs by The Blame, "Wagons And Boys" and "Let Me Plant One On You". Tell me what you think.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Dance me very tenderly and dance me very long

Our final video of the Conspiracy Of Beards' April trip to New York shows the boys belting their hearts out on "Dance Me To The End Of Love" and ruling the dance floor at a loft party in Williamsburg in the wee wee hours. Special thanks to Allison for wielding the video camera while Neo was busy singing.

Read about it here.

That's why you want to be there

Daryl Henline leads a quintet of Beards in the backyard of Brooklyn's Stain Bar in an exquisite small-group arrangement of Leonard Cohen's immortal "Suzanne".

Read about it here.

Those were the reasons and that was New York

The Conspiracy Of Beards singing "Chelsea Hotel #2" on the PATH train back to New York after they appeared at WFMU in Jersey City. Video shot on the fly by J Neo Marvin, who says it was pretty noisy, which is why it took a couple of lines for everybody to get going. At the end you can hear the conductor berate him for filming the moment: "You can't take pictures here!" Party-pooper.

Read more about it here.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

What America really wants and most politicians are too scared to support

Elizabeth Kucinich lays down the law

Can we get this bill passed, like, yesterday, already?

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Seen Your Video: Tinariwen: Live In London

This is one case where you are better off watching all the extras before you get to the main feature. To get the full impact of this rocking little band from the north of Africa, you need to know exactly where they're coming from, which makes the bonus mini-documentaries and interview footage essential.

Tinariwen and their sternly charismatic leader Ibrahim Ag Alhabib are inseparable from the Tuareg people from which they come, a group of nomads with an ancient culture whose territory crosses the borders of Algeria, Mali, and Niger as they cling fiercely to their own independent identity. The damage left behind by colonialism is clear: when the territory called "French West Africa" was carved into various independent nations, the borders were drawn with little or no regard for the ancestral lands of all the different ethnic groups of the region. (And this is no isolated case: the nation called "Iraq" was created in a similar fashion by England drawing arbitrary lines on a map, leaving the Kurds in a similar position to the Tuaregs, for instance.) So the French leave, and an oddly-shaped nation called "Mali" is established, stretching from the Niger River where the ancient "Mali Empire" was centered, clear up to a broad swath of the Sahara, where the Tuareg population lives.

So the question comes up: what is a nation? What is a national identity? Is it ethnicity? Is it a shared philosophy? Is it an alliance between peoples for mutual advancement and benefit? Or is it just a piece of real estate to be ruled by the strongest strongman who can hold it? Sorry, folks, you're on your own and good luck answering those questions; your old European conquerors have washed their hands of you. Here, have some foreign aid. Hope it gets to the right places. (And thanks for the natural resources, we'll be sure the general gets his payment.) Oh, I see that corruption and war are plaguing your people. Well, it must be proof of your innate primitive depravity. Surely we, your former Great White Fathers, couldn't have had anything to do with this mess, could we? And so it goes, the whole sordid story of third world struggle. It's a big subject, worth more thought and debate than this little blog post can contain by itself...

The young displaced Tuaregs that grew up to form Tinariwen, while directly affected by this state of affairs, grew up with more immediate concerns. Driven from his home after his father was assassinated by the Malian army in 1963, Ibrahim eventually found himself on his own doing odd jobs and trying to survive in Algeria, ultimately, along with a whole generation of stateless, exiled young Tuaregs like him, going to Libya for military training as part of Moammar Khadafy's campaign to support the Tuareg insurrection in Mali. Ah yes, Khadafy. Benevolent supporter of liberation struggles or petty imperialist puppet-master in his own right? You decide.

It would all be just another story of the endless cycle of ethnic wars in the third world, if not for Ibrahim's chance encounter with an Arab musician in Algeria who teaches him guitar, eventually selling him his instrument. The young guerilla and his comrades spend their downtime during the civil war brewing tea in the desert while they jam and write new songs that build on their traditional music with lyrics that address their own experience and express the feelings and views of their community. Something powerful grows out of these little sessions: a loose-knit band evolves, recording their own low-fi cassettes that spread like wildfire among the Tuareg people, capturing and feeding their spirits and communicating them to others. After the conflict is resolved, the music lives on. Tinariwen's guitars have an impact that reaches farther than their guns ever did. Eventually an English record producer named Justin Adams makes the trek out to the desert to put together their first studio recording, and the band becomes an international cult sensation.

The music itself is hypnotic and thrilling, slightly reminiscent of the bluesy droning sounds of Ali Farka Toure, only with a strong Berber influence that shows in the more Arabic-flavored melody lines. A whole fleet of electric guitars, a marvelously extroverted left-handed bassist, and one phenomenal hand drummer holding down the beat. On most songs, two or three band members (including a spry old man and a beatific woman) clap hands, sing backups, and break into spontaneous dances when they are moved to do so.

Various members take turns singing and playing lead guitar, but every time Ibrahim steps forward, the charisma level rises. His voice is just that much more deep and magnetic, and his guitar is just that much more biting. He comes across not as a domineering boss, but as first among equals, the guy with the X factor that everyone else looks up to. And with his wild mane of hair and his wry, haunted expression that tells you he's seen things you don't even want to ask him about, he cannot help but be the focal point. Yet he also has an air of quiet, centered dignity, like a warrior who has found a better way to defend and represent his community. Now when people hear the word "Tuareg", instead of thinking of some marginal group of oppressed desert rebels (or going "huh"?), thousands more of them will think of a band with a percolating, prickly groove that they can't get out of their heads. And while that won't solve the problems of the world by itself, it's a step in the right direction towards reveling in the amazing things human beings in faraway corners of the world can do. Once insurgents, Tinariwen are now diplomats. Buy their records and make them some money.

Friday, May 1, 2009

You need a mess of help to stand alone

If you have a curiosity about the Beach Boys and Brian Wilson, you've probably heard the name Jack Rieley before. Rieley had a brief fling as manager, collaborator and creative consultant for the troubled band in the early 70s, and gets both the credit and the blame for attempting to upgrade their image for the post-hippie counterculture, shepherding the group through three albums, Surf's Up, So Tough/Carl And The Passions, and Holland. Surf's Up was far and away the best of the three, while the other two were messy but interesting, and all three were the last attempt by the band at creating something weighty and relevant before settling into the tug-of-war between safe nostalgia and drug-drenched naivete that followed. (The former, represented by Mike Love, winning out while Brian Wilson eventually triumphed as a solo artist basically paying tribute to his own illustrious past. Sadly, his two brilliant brothers didn't last long enough to savor the moment. Oh, what Carl would have done with the reconstructed Smile album!)

Anyway, Rieley has not been served well by history. His contributions have been belittled as superficial manipulations of a clueless band, shallow gestures to ingratiate them with the political Zeitgeist of the day. Well, there might be some truth to that, but reading his own words on the preserved mailing list exchanges below, one gets another picture: one of a true fan, perhaps one of the most passionate Beach Boys fans ever, who had the guts to convince them, for at least a few years, that they had more to offer than they had been giving, and it was time for them to take the role as one of the great bands of the rock era that was alive and relevant to the time they were in here and now. Maybe that was a ludicrous idea. Considering Mike Love's response to Rieley's challenge was to pen "Student Demonstration Time", maybe this band was too square a peg for such a round hole. But Love also managed to come up with "Don't Go Near The Water" (a good song that's hit the Ear Candle Radio playlist more than once), and "California Saga" has its moments too. (For me as a kid hearing these records and knowing zilch about what went on behind the scenes, it seemed perfectly appropriate for the sun-and-surf-loving Beach Boys to be writing about ecology...still does, really.) Certainly, the group was on to something that could have gone further, if they had had the courage to see it through. The failure of the Rieley era sealed the fate of the Beach Boys and Brian Wilson even more surely than the capsizing of the Smile project.

If anything, Rieley's greatest gift to the band was his strong support and cultivation of Carl Wilson: appointing him the band's musical director, helping him write songs (the three they co-wrote are some of the best things the band ever did in the 70s), and enlisting his help to finish the work that Brian could not; it was Carl Wilson and Jack Rieley that made the song "Surf's Up" happen, and "Surf's Up" is to the Beach Boys what "A Day In The Life" was to the Beatles: a huge once-in-a-lifetime achievement that stands outside the rest of their catalog. So if Rieley had done nothing but sifted through the Smile tapes and goaded the Beach Boys into making something presentable out of "Surf's Up", that would be enough.

But Rieley is the forgotten man in the Beach Boys story, and his own silence has contributed to that. That, and his own lyrics for songs by all three Wilson brothers, which aimed for Van Dyke Parks surrealism, sometimes piled on the metaphors to the point of sounding creaky and overwrought on songs like "Steamboat". But we don't come to the Beach Boys for lyrics, do we? Rieley's lyrics, for all their hippie-babble tendencies, were eminently singable (and never as embarrassing as Mike Love's efforts). "Feel Flows", a virtual Carl Wilson solo recording (aside from Charles Lloyd's sax and flute overdubs), turns Rieley's word salad into something truly cosmic, and is the best thing either of them ever did.

Here is a rare opportunity to get a bit of the story in the elusive Rieley's own words. For a brief while, he contributed some thoughts and memories to an online Beach Boys mailing list, and it's interesting to read the story from his perspective. Jack Rieley is nothing if not highly opinionated, and gushes with praise for anyone with the last name Wilson and does not hide his disdain for the other members of the band. He doesn't go into it much here, but another factor in the equation was Rieley's sexuality. Being openly gay while Mike Love made no bones about his homophobia was never going to bode well for a long-term business and creative relationship with such a conflicted and dysfunctional family-based rock band. (Meanwhile, Davis has insisted while watching live Beach Boys footage that Mike Love is totally gay himself based on his there may be some defensive closet-case projection involved. I have also read that Love gay-baited Sean O'Hagan of the High Llamas when he tried to collaborate with the Beach Boys years later; clearly Love's got some issues) Rieley did the smart thing and moved on, and since then, while book after book on the troubled Brian and his relatives/bandmates has come out over the years, he has kept his own counsel. But here, he spills his guts ever so briefly, and we get another side of the story:

Jack Rieley, Part 1

Jack Rieley, Part 2

It's worth a read, as is the O'Hagan story, which provides a portrait of how fiercely committed to lameness the Beach Boys became by the '90s, as O'Hagan points the finger at producer Joe Thomas (an ex-wrestler and "adult contemporary" label owner who worked with both the group and Brian Wilson solo) as a specialist in "right-wing country artists" who was given control because Brian's wife liked him. Apparently, you can't blame Mike Love for every wrong move the band makes, tempting as it is. Oddly, Bruce Johnston comes across much better here than in Rieley's account.

Key Rieley quote (trying to explain why the Beach Boys could not achieve the critical credibility and commercial success that the Beatles did):

The Beatles were focused, strategic, professional and well led during the years of their mounting ascendancy in critical and commercial acclaim. John Lennon and Paul McCartney, the creators, spoke the same "line" as did George Harrison and Ringo Starr. There was true career direction, which the group followed carefully.

During that same period The Beach Boys were divided, unprofessional and horrendously led. Brian Wilson, the creator, had the respect of his brothers but not of the others in his band nor of their manager. The brothers spoke one "line" while Love, Jardine, an emerging Johnston and Murry Wilson spouted another. There was no career direction to speak of and chaos reigned.

A thought-provoking explanation of why some bands "work" and some don't. It's food for thought, monsters.

Ear Candle Radio's Top 20: April 2009

The recently passed country legend Porter Wagoner tops this month's charts with his haunting, almost-psychedelic ballad of empathy for the mentally ill. Neo used to watch the Porter Wagoner TV show as a child (for those of you who don't know, this was the guy who discovered Dolly Parton) and he says, frankly, he didn't know he had one like this in him. We found this song on a compilation of some of (the late) Lux Interior and Ivy Rorshach's favorite songs; those Cramps had impeccable taste. (Again, while we're on the subject: Ivy, when you recover from your grief, we would love to hear you do a solo album of Link Wray-style instrumentals. We'd play it constantly!)

Other new acquisitions rear their heads on this month's chart. When our pal Matthew Grasso came to stay with us recently, he brought another CD of his music we hadn't heard before, and this piece by one of his instructors at the SF Conservatory Of Music stood out; it's a neat little piece which Matthew executes with his usual subtlety and skill. We also have a classic from the jive-talking jazz wizard Slim Gaillard, the hard-to-find first single by New Zealand's romantic Verlaines, and a great extended comedy routine from Eddie Izzard where he illustrates a very important point: Never. Heckle. Eddie. Izzard.

Of course, longtime Ear Candle Radio listeners know how much we love Arthur Lee, and this month we're happy to see him represented, not only by a coolly sinister track from Forever Changes, but by some of his lesser-known later gems: a long, delicious acid-guitar freakout from Love and a bouncy, crunchy philosophical ballad from his first solo album. Another one of our heroes, Yoko Ono, contributes a blasting punk-thrash anti-war number with Sean Lennon on guitar; an old friend, Angel Corpus-Christi, covers Robert De Niro and banters with Alan Vega; MC5 tear the roof off with one of our favorite Fred Sonic Smith songs; and Lavel Moore gives us a heartfelt statement from the newest installment of the Eccentric Soul Series. This volume, The Young Disciples, compiles records made by an East St. Louis youth organization that reached out to at-risk youth in the ghetto four decades ago by teaching them music and coaching them to make passionate soul records. We sure could use more programs like that today!

As always, it's our listeners and their feedback that keep us enthusiastic about our radio station. Thank you all, and keep listening!

1. Porter Wagoner - The Rubber Room - The Rubber Room
2. Arthur Lee - Everybody's Gotta Live - Vindicator
3. Slim Gaillard - Chicken Rhythm - Vout For Voutoreenees
4. Matthew Grasso - Raguette (Bogdanovic) - Music For The Extended 7-String Guitar
5. Love - Love Is More Than Words (or Better Late Than Never) - Out Here
6. Brian Eno & John Cale - Spinning Away - Wrong Way Up
7. Yoko Ono/IMA - Warzone - Rising
8. Eleventh Dream Day - The Raft - El Moodio
9. The Pastels - Kitted Out - Truckload Of Trouble
10. Bush Tetras - Funky (Instrumental) - Boom in the Night
11. The Verlaines - Death and the Maiden - Juvenilia
12. The Rutles - Blue Suede Schubert - The Rutles
13. MC5 - Over And Over - The Big Bang! Best Of The MC5
14. Love - A House Is Not A Motel - Forever Changes
15. LaVel Moore - The World Is Changing - Eccentric Soul: The Young Disciples
16. Eddie Izzard - Great Escape - Dress To Kill
17. Angel Corpus Christi - Theme From Taxi Driver/NY NY - I Love New York
18. Robert Wyatt - Gharbzadegi - Old Rottenhat
19. The Music Magicians - Convertibles And Headbands - The American Song-poem Anthology: Do You Know The Difference Between Big Wood And Brush
20. The Minutemen - Mr. Robot's Holy Orders - Double Nickels on the Dime