Thursday, September 18, 2008

Couldn't have said it better myself.

The last word about this silly, annoying person. Definitive quote:

"I think Palin, trying to come off as a potential national and global leader, seemed instead like the HR representative who's summoned America into the conference room to do a presentation on the bosses' new, crappy, drastically diminished health-care plan."


DVD of the week: Music Scene: The Best Of 1969-1970, Volume 2

(Note: Yes, it has not escaped our attention that lately, due to circumstances beyond our control, our "weeks" for this feature are looking more like months. I'm not changing the name, though.)

A time capsule of what mainstream TV considered to be cutting edge at the end of the 60s, The Music Scene was one of two short-lived 45 minute shows that occupied a 90 minute slot from 1969 to 1970. The show that followed it, The New People, was a painfully earnest drama about a group of hippies who crash-land on a faraway island and their attempts to create a society together. This was the season where the networks, possibly reacting to films like Easy Rider, decided it was time to reach out to the maturing baby boomer market with "relevant" TV shows. The mainstreaming, formatting, and watering down of 60s counterculture started here. But it hadn't quite set in yet, which is what makes a lot of this collection interesting.

My most vivid memory of the show is the Pete Seeger segment that shows up here. I was 12, the whole family was gathered around the TV, my dad was drinking as usual. Seeger comes on, strumming a 12-string guitar on a catwalk with an audience full of kids on either side of him, and launches into a singalong: "If you love your Uncle Sam/Bring 'em home, bring 'em home/Support our boys in Viet Nam/Bring 'em home, bring 'em home". The kids immediately pick up the chorus, and the room is full of voices chanting "Bring 'em home". It was one of those Zeitgeist-shifting moments. My dad was livid that something this unpatriotic was being broadcast into our living room. He wouldn't shut up for the rest of the evening. I was quietly enjoying the provocation. It's a shame that these days Seeger may be best remembered as the square who tried to take an axe to the power cable at Dylan's electric set at Newport, because the old guy has an honorable record of sticking his neck out for good causes. Seeing this affable, avuncular figure casually pull off something so subversive was a nice reminder of that brief moment when we sort of almost actually had a "liberal media".

Other notes:

1) Whatever happened to David Steinberg? As I watched him do his shtick, it seemed clearer that Dennis Miller totally copped his style, except a) Steinberg's obscure references tended to actually be from classical music or literature (How big a target market is out there for Lawrence Durrell jokes?) rather than being the end result of sitting in front of a TV for 20+ years, and b) Steinberg is actually charming.

2) Great to see James Brown in his prime, but why is his entire band sitting in chairs? It's to their credit that they can do so and remain so funky. Maybe James insisted on being the tallest one in the shot.

3) How weird was Neil Diamond in his heyday? What the hell are the lyrics to "Holly Holy" about? Catchy pop songs portentiously delivered in a husky baritone, with totally surreal word-salad's like he was the Jim Morrison your mom could like.

4) The Everly Brothers just rule, period. Bo Diddley is awesome. Chuck Berry is brilliant even when he's phoning it in.

5) Mama Cass Elliot seems like a real sweetheart.

6) The Johnny Cash footage looks and sounds like it had been soaking in a bucket of water for a month. Cash is his pilled-up, dangerous, charismatic self here all the same.

7) I'm still looking for an explanation for Bobby Sherman's career.

8) Creedence blow everyone off the stage doing "The Night Time Is The Right Time". Too bad they didn't do "Fortunate Son" as well, instead of a lame lip-sync of "Down On The Corner".

9) Buffy Ste. Marie looks scared out of her wits as she warbles "The Universal Soldier", a song I've never liked. (Dumping on draftees is not my idea of helping the cause.)

10) There's a running joke where a trenchcoated guy with a camera walks into the frame and snaps a picture whenever anyone says something halfway liberal. People were starting to become aware of gummint spying even then. There's nothing new under the sun.

11) John Sebastian, you were cool in the Lovin' Spoonful, but jeez, stop trying so hard to be cute, will you?

12) By the end of the show's run, Steinberg becomes noticeably more cynical about the show's lack of popularity. He was probably getting angry memos from network executives before each shooting. The final episode, where he gleefully lets Groucho Marx upstage him the entire time, is one giant "aw, fuck it" shrug.

13) I almost forgot Tony Bennett, who gets a lot of screen time and seems to represent the "older generation" at its most open-minded. Unlike his main rival, Frank Sinatra, who was revered almost as much for being a larger-than-life, nasty, power-abusing piece of work as for being the titanic singer that he was, Bennett comes off as a genuinely sweet guy. He's certainly a good sport when he has to sing "I Gotta Be Me" to a roomful of showroom dummies.

UPDATE: Edited slightly for general coherence.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Moving up in the world

Ear Candle Productions got a shoutout in Re-Search's blog, linking to the live Meri St. Mary video, our selection of Slits videos, and two songs by The Blame, Get Out!, and Democracy. Welcome to our world, new visitors. Thanks, Vale.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

A strange convergence between second wave feminism and British satirical art rock

One of the oddest songs the late great Bonzo Dog Band ever recorded (in a career full of odd ones) was the final track on their second album, The Doughnut In Granny's Greenhouse, "11 Mustachioed Daughters". In it, the Bonzos suddenly abandoned their psychedelic music hall slapstick tendencies in favor of something more along the lines of Exuma The Obeah Man: heavy percussion, dread sound effects, repetitive chanting, and Vivian Stanshall gleefully babbling faux-Satanic incantations like a foppish Aleister Crowley wannabe. (And just to remind you that it's still the Bonzos, the final fadeout features an American voice---probably temporary bassist Joel Druckman, who never got proper credit for his contributions to the album---repeating over and over, "I don't remember too good, but I think John Wayne was in it...")

Druckman is not the only one left out of the credits, because an odd thing happens during the song's bridge. Suddenly a woman's voice bursts in, loudly declaiming, "AND BELLADONNA TO MAKE YOUR EYES...", while Stanshall responds "LIKE...A...BEAST!" They continue trading lines, and then she's gone again. Who was that masked woman with the stentorian voice?

Well, if this history of the Bonzos is to be believed, said woman is none other than the legendary feminist writer Germaine Greer, which makes sense since Greer and Stanshall were an item for a while, and posed together in several amusing photos at the time. The claim comes from Ginger Geezer, the Vivian Stanshall tribute site put together by his widow, so it may be credible. I wonder how many Germaine Greer fans and/or critics (and there's much to both admire and criticize her about, which would require a whole 'nother post) know about her Bonzo Dog Band cameo? I think it's a pretty cool thing to have on your resume, myself.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Criswell predicts!

I just put this up as a comment at Sadly No, but I think it deserves its own post:

I really think the Republicans are deliberately throwing the election this time around, and that big business has already lined up behind Obama. The Republicans do best when they're sitting on the sidelines complaining while the Democrats tie themselves in knots with their own compromises. The feces-flinging during the Obama administration will make the Clinton years look like a Teletubbies episode in comparison. All of our legitimate complaints about Obama (oh yes, we will have much to complain about, make no mistake) will be drowned out by the nonstop Stupidfest the right and the "liberal" media will be serving up come 2009. Get ready for the garbage avalanche. It's inevitable.

Tell ya what, though. Even if Barack Obama compromises his principles and lets the Democratic base down in the name of "centrism" in too many areas, he still stands a good chance of being the best president this country has had in the last 50 years. Am I voting for the guy? Hell yeah.

Trumpets fly through my memory

The three Aislers Set albums still stand tall since the band that played them dissipated and the woman who masterminded them left town. "Attraction Action Reaction", from the third, How I Learned To Write Backwards, just came on the iPod while we were taking our evening walk, and I was reminded all over again how much I loved this band. At their live shows, when they reached the instrumental break of this song, bandleader Amy Linton would suddenly pick up her trumpet and blast out the poignant horn melody, fingering the notes with her left hand while still picking out a dizzy, dissonant arpeggio on her 12-string guitar with her right hand. I saw her do this at least three times and was dumbfounded each time she pulled it off. Uncanny. A far cry from when I interviewed Amy back in 2000 and she swore she was too nervous to ever play trumpet on stage. A few years later, no such fear. Amy's been relatively quiet lately, but she could drop another genius pop nugget on us at any moment when we least expect it. You never know.

My old Australian acquaintances the Cannanes have also been known to bust out the occasional trumpet on their records, (check out the wonderful song, "Frightening Thing", both the classic and rare single on K Records and the weird dub mix that opens their album Arty Barbecue) but as far as I have witnessed, Stephen O'Neill sticks to the guitar at live shows. I recall one show at the Bottom Of The Hill where Fran Gibson was entertaining the audience in her deadpan, Australian-accented voice, telling the story of someone who came up to her after a set and told her that she looked like she should be sitting at a desk when she sings, presumably because Fran has never been one to move much on stage.

"A desk!" she repeated, warming to the idea. "That would be good. Then I could pull things out of the drawers during the songs, like..." She paused, unsure where she was going with this.

"Trumpets!" I shouted spontaneously.

"Yes! Trumpets!" she agreed. Now that I am far less inclined to get outrageously drunk at live shows, I find myself cringing at some of my inappropriate audience antics in the past. But that one still makes me smile.