Monday, December 31, 2012

Why we never watch the Sunday talk shows

Crooks & Liars does an admirable job of skewering Tom Brokaw's inanity.

It's been said, and I agree, that you can't tell people what to think, but you can tell people what to think about. When I was a likkle youth, I thought that the conversation on these round table news-talk programs was way over my head; now I realize that no, these people are in fact catastrophically stupid.

Fiscal Waterslide

Don't be afraid, it's gonna be fun!


Saturday, December 29, 2012


The news of Ray Collins' passing reminded us of one of our favorite doo-wop love songs of all time. Please note, despite what the title says, this was written by Ray, not Frank:

A relaxed, amiable, unambitious guy with a golden voice who could sing it sweet or sarcastic and helped breathe life into the Mothers Of Invention. (In fact, he was the one who hired Zappa in the first place. Imagine: "I know this guitar player...")

Also: I must add this was the first song I ever learned to play on the piano.

Mia D'Bruzzi interviewed: the teaser

A brief taste of a much-longer interview:

New year, new music

As Neo and Davis wash off the academia for a month and settle into the winter break, we are pleased to announce that there will be several new Ear Candle releases coming up soon:

Zwanzig Kilometer Stau, the debut album of electronic moods and melodies by Dr. Spaceman

Aranka, the fourth album of psychedelic instrumentals by The Experimental Bunnies (built from a Christmas 2011 session with a five-piece lineup of J Neo Marvin, Davis Jones, Junko Suzuki Parsons, Mark Parsons, and Ben Furstenberg and named in honor of a neighbor who vanished mysteriously)

and for those who miss the songwriting side of our works, Neo and Davis are working on a new album by The Granite Countertops, with the likely title Planets Don't Twinkle.

Watch for these in 2013! 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

"Make them talk"

Also, it would be fun to hear what they had to say if they were forced to speak.

Misogyny FAIL

When haters overreach, decent people notice. Backlashes get backlashed, and we inch toward social change.

Second Amendment solutions

The Bastard speaks, you listen.
Here is my proposal... call it "Second Amendment strict constructionism to make Conservatives lose their shit: If you want a gun, you must be a member of a well regulated militia, and not a nutbag Turner Diaries LARPer bullshit militia. You would have to register your gun, and show up for periodic (monthly or quarterly) muster, receiving training, safety instruction, and an evaluation of your fitness to bear that weapon. No regulation, no arms. It's as simple as that. Having no regulation of arms is the unconstitutional position... "conservative" distortions notwithstanding.
A man of God responds to the tragedy:
"We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools," Huckabee said on Fox News, discussing the murder spree that took the lives of 20 children and 6 adults in Newtown, CT that morning. "Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?"
Our Absentee Father who art allegedly in Heaven was unavailable for comment.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Picking the news apart for school

Took me two days to finish this take-home final in Broadcast News class. Here it is.

1) This answer concerns war coverage.  Be sure to label the answers a) and b).

a) Watch a broadcast report (either television or online) of a conflict in the Middle East.  Did you find it too graphic? Explain why and be specific. Also, make two references in your answer to Arielle Emmett's article, "Too Graphic?

The irony of this question is that, to answer it effectively, one is forced to actively seek out gruesome images in order to ask whether they are “too graphic” in the first place. It may be the case that Middle Eastern conflicts are a good bet for finding such footage, but there are no guarantees in an ever-shifting news landscape. The most reliable source I know of for both detailed analysis of Middle East issues and a marked lack of squeamishness in depicting human suffering is Al Jazeera. However, though developments in both Gaza and Syria, as well as land mine removal in South Sudan, were all among the top stories on the network on Saturday, Dec. 8, on this particular viewing we were treated to much insight but a dearth of gore.

Success, if you want to call it that, was achieved in a piece on religious violence in Rakhine State in Myanmar. (Yes, South Asia is not even close to the Middle East, but for this question I am forced to go with what is available.) In this story on the violent breakdown in relations between the local Buddhist and Muslim communities, several images of mutilated bodies flashed on the screen, followed immediately by testimonies from tearful, traumatized survivors who lost their families in the fighting. In this case, I found the graphic nature of the images, when combined with the interviews, to be appropriate in delivering the emotional impact of the destruction of human lives for the sake of competing belief systems as an authoritarian regime continues to benefit from the divisions between its citizens. Emmett’s article deals with the conflict between the need to tell the whole truth (quoting photographer Patrick Farrell on Haiti: “You could write a million times that there are 100,000 dead…but if you don’t see it for yourself…it just won’t register”) and the need to respect people’s privacy and dignity (Haitian school principal Payen-Jean Baptiste’s highly critical response that such images are “humiliating”). In my own opinion, the use of these devastating images may be necessary to convey the truth of a story in many cases, but without an accompanying context that analyzes the issues and explains the causes, effects, and possible solutions to these dire events, the viewer comes away no wiser: a mere voyeur left shocked, morbidly entertained, and easily manipulated by propaganda. In this case, Al Jazeera did provide the necessary context, which I appreciated.

b) In Deborah Lynn Jaramillo's article, "The Spectacle of War," she writes in-depth of the complicated methods used by news organizations to cover wars. She poses the question: What purpose does war coverage serve and how do strategies of representation figure into the larger aims? Answer this question using her article for reference.

We would all like to think that the purpose of war coverage is to inform the public and explain the issues, but in practice, as Jaramillo argues, wartime media all too often operate in thrall to nationalistic myths and turn harsh realities into stirring romantic narratives. Jaramillo’s article applies Debord’s concept of “the spectacle” to the depiction of war on TV, also taking in Henry Giroux, who updates the idea by acknowledging the role of militarism in what he calls “the spectacle of terrorism”. War is mediated by ostensibly independent media that are not so much under the control of the military as motivated by a desire for profit and a need for access to the people and events they are covering.

After the Vietnam War, during which the news media often operated in a relatively independent and occasionally critical fashion, the Pentagon took a more active stance in preventing the free movement of journalists in war zones. First barring journalists outright from the Grenada invasion, then creating the “pool system” during the Panama invasion, the military used both force and co-optation to change the nature of televised war from hard journalism to flag-waving hagiography. Techniques from high-concept filmmaking are used to make war entertaining to viewers, and we root for our “team” (God, country, “the troops”) as if we are at a football game. The shift in attitude from news as a required public service to news as profit-generating splashy entertainment, the growth of media consolidation in recent decades, and a more media-savvy military industrial complex have created a situation where it is no longer necessary for governments to use an iron hand to compel the press or TV to do their bidding when the profit motive will do the job for them. In this atmosphere, it is easy to understand why so few people questioned the flimsy motivations for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and how large percentages of the American public still remain so poorly informed about issues that are crucial to their own well-being.

2) Explain what Reese and Shoemaker describe in "Studying Influences on Media Content," as media reality and social reality.  In your opinion, how close do the media come to representing an objective reality?  Give two examples from local or national news broadcast outlets. Be sure to note which outlets you used. If a network or local TV newscast, write down time of day as well.

Reese and Shoemaker use the term “social reality” instead of “objective reality,” arguing that objectivity is an elusive concept that is nearly meaningless when it comes to dealing with the perceptions of individuals. Instead, they compare “media reality” (reality as portrayed by media outlets) with “social reality” (“our best guess about what is actually going on the world”, based on data from a diverse and complex mixture of sources) to raise questions on how events are portrayed. They make a point of distinguishing between the “qualitative attributes of media content” and quantitative data; though it may be more difficult to measure how stories are told than to simply plot out the amount of times a subject is covered on a spreadsheet (a favorite tactic of conservative media critics who crunch numbers to prove “bias”), looking at media coverage in this way is highly revealing.

While Fox News Channel may seem like an easy target, the network is watched religiously by a large segment of the population and must be held at least partially responsible for how they see the world. Watching Mike Huckabee’s program at 5 PM on Dec. 8, it wasn’t hard to see the narrative being presented. Huckabee’s guest was William Marsh, head of a “small business” called American Bar Products (a Pennsylvania steel manufacturer…how “small” is his business, really?) who relayed a sad tale of how his taxes were excessively high and how “the coercive power of the federal government” was a “moral issue” that was “damaging small businesses” like his. “America is a unique place”, he went on to say. It is “the only nation in the history of man” formed on the idea that government should serve its citizens. Unfortunately, the government of this unique, singular nation “is no longer for the citizen.” The audience cheered every word and gazed attentively during the reaction shots. Now, one could grant that it may be inconvenient for Marsh’s corporation to endure a tax increase and to have to pay for his employees’ medical insurance, but is it really crippling his ability to do business? Perhaps he should support his claims by releasing all of his accounting records to the public so that we might fully understand his pain. (A quick Google search reveals that Marsh, unsurprisingly, has made a virtual second career of appearing on various conservative news outlets and Tea Party events to lament government regulations and taxes and denigrate the education and intelligence of his own employees.) One watches a segment such as this and gets an instant dose of a media reality in which we are living in a nightmarish dystopia where downtrodden CEOs of small businesses can’t catch a break. The tone is relentless, constantly angry, and strangely sentimental. Viewers attempting to think clearly and critically about what they’re watching may find themselves becoming almost physically exhausted while sifting through the torrent of desperate assertions being fired out from the screen, until the only choice is to either give in and believe or grab the remote in disgust.

Fox is a special case of course, a network devoted to adrenalized, passionate conservative propaganda. But any news outlet has some measure of disconnect between “media reality” and “social reality”, simply due to the necessities of storytelling. A journalist must have an angle, and a story must have a point, but the creation of a narrative can lead to more subtle distortions. Tuning in ABC World News at 5:30, the top story was a “new NFL tragedy”. A football player was charged with manslaughter after a drunken car crash that killed one of his teammates. Certainly, this was an unfortunate event, but what struck me most was the emphasis that this was “the second NFL player involved in a fatal incident”, referring to Jovan Belcher’s killing of his girlfriend and subsequent suicide the week before. One might want to point out that one of these incidents was an alcohol-related accident and the other was a murder/suicide that leaves behind an orphaned child; are these somehow equivalent because football players were involved? Should we question the network’s respect for the dead when they refer repeatedly to both events as “tragedies for the NFL”, as if the NFL has suffered more than the late Kassandra Perkins?

3) Give one example of celebrity news that, in your opinion, is genuine news and why. In your answer, cite two concepts from Steve Barkin's article, "Celebrity News."  Discussions in class referenced Comedy Central's "Daily Show" and whether or not it can be used as a news source.  Does it fall under Celebrity News or News/Information and why or why not?

If there is a recent story that qualifies as both celebrity news and genuine news, I would say it is the phenomenon of PSY and his runaway hit song and video “Gangnam Style.” For a South Korean rapper to break through to US audiences and reach the number one spot on the Billboard charts is unprecedented, and reflects  a change in our own popular culture, suggesting that Americans might not be so provincial that we are incapable of enjoying something in another language after all. It doesn’t hurt that it’s a catchy pop song, the video is irresistible fun and the lyrics are actually a sharp satirical poke at class differences and upwardly mobile pretensions in the artist’s hometown. The difference between the surface impression of a campy bit of high-energy kitsch and the actual intent of the artist make the story more interesting when you delve deeper, and the new “scandal” about PSY’s previous guest appearance on a song by a Korean metal band with extremely inflammatory lyrics about American torture policies raises questions of its own. (Now that he’s big in America, do Americans expect a foreign artist to be loyal to the US? Does the fact that PSY recently made a public apology show what happens when a local star is suddenly thrust into the role of international diplomat? Does anyone in this country even remember the incident that sparked the song in which two Korean schoolgirls were killed by an American military vehicle?) All of this adds up to a case of celebrity that is itself newsworthy. Writers like Neil Postman, as quoted by Barkin, certainly have a point when they argue that Americans are as well-entertained as they are ill-informed; nevertheless, a closer look at the complicated relationship between citizens and popular culture reveals far more than a simplistic narrative about “poor brainwashed ignorant sheep” ever will. There is no question that, as Barkin painstakingly chronicles, the spread of celebrity news and celebrity journalists is ultimately money-driven, but this doesn’t mean that popular culture isn’t capable of telling us a lot about ourselves and others about us.

Regarding Stewart and The Daily Show, I think the question sets up a false dichotomy. In my opinion, the show is neither News/Information nor Celebrity News, but satire that deals with the press and the political scene in a mock-news format. Jon Stewart is a celebrity, and when he interviews celebrities on his show he may touch on celebrity news to an extent, but The Daily Show is no more “celebrity news” than a sketch comedy show like Saturday Night Live or a talk show like Letterman. Celebrity news shows like Entertainment Tonight may be delivered with irreverence, but they take the concept of “celebrity” itself very seriously. The Daily Show is a comedy, and therefore another genre altogether. One may as well ask whether a banana is an apple or an orange.

4) In about 200 words, sum up the important points from the article "Forgive Me Now, Fire Me Later: Mass Communication Students' Ethics Gap Concerning School and Journalism." (Need to include methodology.)

The article starts from the premise that students are more outraged by plagiarism in the media than by plagiarism in their own coursework. The authors conducted a survey of students at a Midwestern university for six consecutive semesters that not only tracked overall student attitudes toward plagiarism, but also tracked possible changes in attitudes over different points in their education. (e.g. do freshmen feel differently than seniors?) Students overall were indeed more concerned about and demanded more severe punishments for journalists inventing sources and fabricating quotes than for their fellow students doing the same. Students who worked in student media during their term in school showed increased concern for and expected punishment for dishonesty in both the academic and professional arenas. Students with media internships took a harsher stance against dishonesty in journalism (most noticeably among students whose internships were specifically in journalism) but only showed a slight increase in concern for cheating in school.  Oddly, students with no internship experience at all had a higher degree of concern for academic dishonesty than those with non-journalism-related internships. The gap between degrees of concern for academic vs. journalistic dishonesty was far exceeded by the gap between recommended punishments for the two types of offenses; 60% of all students surveyed felt that a plagiarizing journalist should be fired, but only 5% felt a plagiarizing student should be expelled. Students, it appears, are considerably more apt to forgive their peers’ transgressions than those committed by supposed professionals.

5) There are two, unrelated, parts to this answer:

a) In "60 Minutes and the News Magazine," why was the program considered so revolutionary?  What was Don Hewitt's role? How did "60 Minutes" forge new pathways for news programs? You may also use notes from class lecture.

The impact of 60 Minutes was its thorough rethinking of the possibilities of TV news programming, for better or worse. Veteran producer Don Hewitt created the show after seeing his own job gradually marginalized by CBS president Fred Friendly and needing a breakthrough if his career was to continue. What Hewitt did was to conceive a new format for a documentary series, modeled after the then-popular Life magazine, which combined serious news, lighter fare, and stunning photography. The new show was to be a “TV magazine” with three stories per episode and a staff of star reporter/anchors who played central roles in the stories they delivered. The prevailing sentiment had been that news was an unglamorous necessity, the vegetables you had to eat because they were good for you. 60 Minutes upended that paradigm by presenting news stories as entertaining narratives with drama, structure, conflict, and resolution, and the experiment paid off, becoming the highest-rated show on TV by 1978 and continuing to this day.

The success of 60 Minutes led to competing newsmagazine shows like 20/20 and Dateline, but it could be argued that the show’s greatest influence was that it demonstrated that TV news could be profitable, which has caused networks to expect higher ratings from all of their news shows and influence their formats accordingly. 24-hour cable news networks like CNN show a great deal of influence from the show as well. (Would Ted Turner have even considered investing in such a thing without the precedent set by 60 Minutes?)

Perhaps one of the most insidious influences the show had may be the “sting interviews” that Mike Wallace and others were famous for, in which the producers would record some unscrupulous character being drawn into a compromising position before the star reporter made a surprise appearance in a sort of non-comedy version of Candid Camera. We could trace a thread from these segments not only to the current pervasive phenomenon of reality TV (an early example, Cops, could plausibly be pitched as “Mike Wallace with a badge”), but also to the likes of right-wing would-be journalist James O’Keefe, whose staged video hoaxes may seem too absurd to take seriously, but had the very real effect of helping to destroy the community advocacy organization ACORN and attempting to wreak similar damage on Planned Parenthood. Again, 60 Minutes has often engaged in some admirable journalism, but the framing of news as entertaining, well-packaged, streamlined storytelling invariably creates a “media reality” that does not always match “social reality”, and has set a precedent for far less responsible actors.

b) What is the meaning of Cultural Chaos in terms of news in a globalized world, according to Brian McNair's study?

The term “cultural chaos” as used by McNair, though never explicitly defined in this excerpt from his book, seems to refer to the recent climate of decentralization and diversity of news sources beyond the old Cold War West vs. East paradigm. He begins with a jaundiced review of standard Marxist cultural theory critiques, arguing that Western culture was not merely imposed on the rest of the world but actively sought by people in other countries, and that resistance to Western influences was merely a mask for elite-run authoritarian regimes to hide their own repressive policies behind. All of this strikes me as little more than one glib generalization being countered by another, but as the article progresses, McNair touches on some interesting points, many of which have been covered from many angles in this class already. The advent of 24-hour cable news spearheaded by CNN and followed by BBC News 24 and many others transformed news into what he refers to as “a flow medium,” unfolding constantly rather than confined to scheduled one-hour reports. Technical developments from cable to satellite to the internet have enabled a station to become a truly global voice, reaching anywhere that viewers are allowed access. The big development McNair points to is the international success of Al Jazeera, a breakthrough for non-Anglophone media in the global media market. McNair points to this as a sign that the world is moving in a direction toward more diverse voices in journalism and a vibrant, exciting media future fueled by increased competition for a global market. One caveat to McNair’s optimistic prognosis is that it may require more faith in the vagaries of international capitalism, and, while he has a fine time debunking a straw man caricature of “cultural imperialism,” he may not be considering the full implications of his one-world vision. If the market alone determines how information is distributed on a global scale, and the market is a multinational one that cannot be subject to any oversight or regulation, what prevents one or two powerful corporations from taking over all available outlets? A more encouraging alternate view is one of a genuine “cultural chaos” in which a multitude of independent “narrowcasters” are exposed to small but widely scattered worldwide audiences because they offer journalistic content that the big conglomerates cannot.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Monday, December 3, 2012

The scenes with Claude Bessey were the shining exception

When The Decline Of Western Civilization first came out I thought it was deliberately edited in order to slander the whole punk scene. Interview the stupidest kids you can find and claim they represented something other than the rapid de-evolution of what was once something promising. Now people watch it and think they're getting an insight into what it was all about.

Of course, this was L.A. I came out of the original Santa Cruz scene, which was a mixture of college radicals, geeky record collectors and all-around oddballs.

Neurons On The Go

Remixed and compressed to give it a little more oomph. Opening track from the upcoming Experimental Bunnies album Aranka, predominantly recorded on Christmas, 2011. If there's a "War On Christmas", the Experimental Bunnies have already won.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Poetic justice

It may be the free market itself that ultimately kills Fox News.


An XKCD that might make you cry a little.

Isn't it strange how some artists can be more emotionally expressive with stick figures than others can with a supposedly "naturalistic" drawing style?

Ear Candle Radio's Top 20: November 2012

Two songs by the Mountain Goats, two songs by the much-underrated and thoroughly fantastic Mighty Ballistics Hi-Power (how's that reissue coming along, boys?), one from Ear Candle's newest signing, the mysterious Dr. Spaceman (full downloadable album coming soon!), an appearance by our excellent parodist pals the Mod-est Lads, the best Beatles cover of this century so far (even if it was actually recorded in the 70s) by Noh Mercy, Neil Young's mighty new stomping masterpiece, and more deep catalog goodness, in an atmosphere where truck-driving anthems, swirly Goth psychedelia, and a Bonzos-related piece of brilliance (featuring a bass sax pretending to be a tuba) all live together in one happy sonic family. Tune in to our station for a taste of a better world!

1. Dave Dudley - Six Days On The Road - T.L. 1960-1964 Classic Country
2. Siouxsie and the Banshees - Swimming Horses - Hyaena
3. Roger Ruskin Spear - When Yuba Plays The Rumba On The Tuba Down In Cuba - Unusual
4. Vital Disorders - Tough Times - Vital Disorders EP
5. John Lee Hooker - John L's House Rent Boogie - The Best of John Lee Hooker
6. Workdogs - Gun Shot Blues - Masters of the Working Blues: Greatest Live on the Radio
7. Dr. Spaceman - Tap Into The New - Zwanzig Kilometer Stau
8. Jon Langford - Sentimental Marching Song - Skull Orchard Revisited
9. Wild Flag - Racehorse - Wild Flag
10. Nervous Norvous - Transfusion - Lux and Ivy's Favorites Volume One
11. Neil Young with Crazy Horse - Walk Like A Giant - Psychedelic Pill
12. The Mountain Goats - Resonant Bell World - Beautiful Rat Sunset
13. The Mod-Est Lads - She Could Be In The Beatles - Trouser Load of Love
14. Mighty Ballistics Hi-Power - Black Gold - Matchless
15. Suicide - Power Au Go-Go - American Supreme
16. Noh Mercy - Girl - Noh Mercy
17. The Mountain Goats - Short Song About The 10 Freeway - Bitter Melon Farm
18. The Misunderstood - I Can Take You To The Sun - Acid Drops, Spacedust & Flying Saucers
19. Mighty Ballistics Hi-Power - Privilege - Here Come The Blues
20. The Loud Family - Spot the Setup - Plants and Birds and Rocks and Things

Friday, November 30, 2012

Chris Knox sighting!

An old Tall Dwarfs song just came on the iPod and the girl asked me, "so what's happening with Chris Knox lately? Have you heard anything about his progress?" I hadn't looked in a while but a search turns up this surprise performance of an old Toy Love song backed by a young Kiwi band called the Rackets. Check the smile on the great man's face! Feel the love in that room!

Kick-Ass Rainbow

View from my cubicle during a lull in this week's crap weather.

"Not to be nasty, but is that considered music?"

There's a whole meme now of "old people react to dubstep" Youtube videos, but I like this one best. Grandpa's really trying hard to keep an open mind here.

Fun Fun Fun!

I can't post something by the Bad Brains without giving equal time to the Big Boys. (Read your punk history if you don't know why.) Also, this is a nice reminder that, however much we love to make fun of Texas politicians and ignoramuses, it's important to remember that the state of Texas has also given us some of the most soulful people around.

UPDATE: More good readin' on the subject (plus videos!) can be found here, courtesy of Lisa.

Character development vs. non-stop gags

This piece does a good job of explaining why I both love and hate 30 Rock. On the one hand, hugely flawed and shallow, on the other hand, when they are actually funny, few things are funnier. Thanks to my video production class, I discovered its main competition when it started out, and it all made a lot more sense. Does anyone else find Aaron Sorkin's Big Anvilicious Wit-Of-The-Staircase Speeches as insufferable as I do? Apparently, the audience did, and they went for the more cynical alternative. (One big and rather telling difference: Studio 60's show-within-a-show comes off as a better version of Saturday Night Live, while it's clear that 30 Rock's is meant to be a godawful piece of unfunny, uninspired hackwork.) Also, Tina Fey, even when she is trying so hard to play a loathsome, unpleasant character, is so disarmingly cute that it's no wonder the show took off.

Also, it must be mentioned that our newest Ear Candle artist, Dr. Spaceman, got his stage name from the recurring character in 30 Rock.

I'm A Man Who Is As Warm As You By Day/Who Downs The Boiling Hot Coffee In One Go

The Large Wicked Hair-Challenged Bastard links to this fascinating analysis of "Gangnam Style".

I think sometimes we look at things like this through our smug Western eyes and put them in the "fun tacky foreign pop" box so we can appreciate it ironically, and don't consider that they're quite consciously cracking a big satirical joke for their own audience.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

A piece of wisdom from our hearts

(These incomprehensible lyrics are actually really good. I know HR eventually turned out to be an insane asshole, but my God, the Bad Brains sure were something when they first showed up.)

I make decision with precision
Lost inside this manned collision
Just to see that what is to be
Perfectly my fantasy

I came to know with now dismay
That in this world we all must pay
Pay to write, pay to play
Pay to cum, pay to fight

And all in time,
With just our minds
We soon will find
What's left behind

Not long ago when things were slow
We all got by with what we know
The end is near. Hearts filled with fear
Don't want to listen to what they hear

And so it's now we choose to fight
To stick up for our bloody right
The right to sing, the right to dance
The right is ours... We'll take the chance

A peace together
A piece apart
A piece of wisdom
From our hearts

Monday, November 19, 2012

And I say "ha ha ha ha ha ha ha, ho ho ho ho ho ho ho..."

What do you get when you combine the media mastery of Clear Channel with the financial wizardry of Bain Capital? Sweet, sweet schadenfreude!

My day is now officially made.

Side note: Not that Brian Wilson. And not that one, either.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Sour grapes are served

Ain't no analysis like a Rude Pundit analysis 'cause a Rude Pundit analysis gets right to the point...rudely!

Alternately, you can blame the ideological media barons:

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

High crimes and treason

If we can stop talking about David Petraeus and his penis for a minute, there is an actual military scandal that is not getting much play in the media.

Consider this: during two highly controversial wars begun by an administration with a record of being less than forthcoming about any of its activities, military records have been destroyed with no paper trail and no backup available. This means that investigators and historians will never be able to research many of the questionable actions taken during this time. If we want to be concerned about potential “conspiracies”, cover-ups, and military corruption, isn’t this a rather more pertinent news story than the fact that our Military Industrial Complex is riddled with groupies?

This story merits a lot more attention, and now is as good a time as any, when legislators like Darryl Issa are holding highly-publicized, politically-motivated investigations of the Obama administration at every opportunity. I don’t find it unreasonable to apply words like “high crimes and treason” to this issue. There are certainly enough unanswered questions here to justify bringing in Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and others for questioning, unless we feel that our public servants should not be held accountable for their actions. (Or does that only apply to Democrats?)

Saturday, November 10, 2012

I'm glad I left, now I'm that much more sure

Very well put together session chronicle. Whoever did this forgot to mention the lead singer's name for some reason. Passive aggressiveness against one of the most hated men in pop music?

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Criswell predicts!

If and when Obama wins today, I predict the spin on the Republican side will be "See, this is what happens when you nominate a Massachusetts liberal like Romney" and a new "grassroots movement" will emerge, filled with "new" ideas that will have nothing to do with the Tea Party (who's that?) even though it will be filled with all of the exact same people, only even more rabid. The media will be captivated by this BRAND NEW, UNPRECEDENTED right wing populist movement and its bright new ideas and vibrant new personalities. Rick Santorum will become the moderate voice of the GOP and be voted Presidential nominee in 2016.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Ear Candle Radio's Top 20: October 2012

1. Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band - On Tomorrow - Strictly Personal
2. The Revolutionaries - Street Fighting Dub - Top Ranking Dub
3. John Cale - Hello, There - Vintage Violence
4. Johnny K Killen & The Dynamics - I Don't Need Help - Eccentric Soul: The Deep City Label
5. The Fall - Kurious Oranj - I Am Kurious Oranj
6. Devo - Wiggly World - Duty Now For The Future
7. The Weirdos - Jungle Rock - Destroy All Music
8. Tobi Vail/Pussy Riot Oly - Free Pussy Riot - Free Pussy Riot
9. Richard & Linda Thompson - For Shame Of Doing Wrong (6 June 1982 San Francisco) - Shoot Out The Lights
10. Marson Ramos - Today is Halloween - Today Is Halloween
11. Heartless Bastards - All This Time - All This Time
12. ESG - Dance - A South Bronx Story
13. Curtis Mayfield - Hard Times - There's No Place Like America Today
14. Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band - Sweet Sweet Bulbs - Trout Mask Replica
15. The Sweet Bones - The Wall Talks Back (J Neo Marvin dub mix) - BCST 125
16. Pearls Before Swine - These Things Too - These Things Too
17. Noh Mercy - Girl - Noh Mercy
18. Karen Mantler - Arnold's Dead - Farewell
19. John Trudell - Rich Man's War - AKA Grafitti Man
20. IanSchultz - Track 11 - Silly Noisy Spacey Stuff

We're adding new songs every week and constantly moving the playlist around to keep it fresh! Thanks for listening!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Lesley Gore resurfaces with an important message for November.

Complete History Of The Soviet Union, Arranged To The Melody Of Tetris

Our pals the Mod-Est Lads turned us on to this piece of pure awesome:
A Complete History Of The Soviet Union Through The Eyes Of A Humble Worker, Arranged To The Melody Of Tetris.

Music by "Pig With The Face Of A Boy"


Photographed by TIM JORDAN
Costumes by LUCY NEWHOLM
Production assistant NICOLA LINCÉ
Special thanks to JAMES LAMONT and REMY LAMONT
Additional sound effects:
Produced by CHRIS LINCÉ and DAN WOODS for Xylophone Productions

Directed, animated, and edited by CHRIS LINCÉ

WINNER - BEST ANIMATION - Super Shorts International Film Festival 2010
WINNER - LOW BUDGET AWARD - Super Shorts International Film Festival 2010

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Monday, October 8, 2012

Nina Paley ruffles more feathers

Where do you go after making a brilliant animation feature that unpacks the misogynistic assumptions in Hindu mythology, pissing off an army of humorless fundamentalist dopes in the process? How about something less controversial like, uh...the history of Israel?

(Trigger warning: Cartoonish depictions of extreme violence and genocide.) Scroll down for an explanation of "who's killing who", because, as Nina says, "you can't tell the players without a pogrom."

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Hey, it's still up!

Haven't done a thing with my Xtranormal account in years, but I see that our dramatic reading of the lyrics of "Wagons And Boys" by The Blame and "Let Me Plant One On You" by the Granite Countertops remains intact. Enjoy!

For comparison, here's the official video:

No video for the other, but here's the song:

Mr. Postman, look and see

This weekend's required reading includes this absolutely choice excerpt from an essay by the late Neil Postman, "The Bias Of Language, The Bias Of Pictures", borrowed from the book How To Watch TV News.
...even when attempting to use purely descriptive language, a journalist cannot avoid expressing an attitude about what he or she is saying. For example, here is the opening sentence of an anchor’s report about national examinations: “For the first time in the nation’s history, high-level education policymakers have designed the elements for a national examination system similar to the one advocated by President Bush.”

This sentence certainly looks like it is pure description although it is filled with ambiguities. Is this the first time is our history that this has been done? Or only the first time that high-level education policymakers have done it? Or is it the first time something has been designed that is similar to what the President has advocated? But let us put those questions aside. (After all, there are limits to how analytical one ought to be.) Instead, we might concentrate on such words as “high-level,” “policymakers,” and “designed.” Speaking for ourselves, we are by no means sure that we know what a “high-level policymaker” is, although it sounds awfully impressive. It is certainly better then a “low-level policymaker,” although how one would distinguish between the two is a bit of a mystery. Come to think of it, a low-level “policymaker” must be pretty good, too, since anyone who makes policy must be important.

It comes as no surprise, therefore, that what was done was “designed.” To design something usually implies careful thought, preparation, organization, and coherence. People design buildings, bridges, and furniture. If your experience has been anything like ours, you will know that reports are almost never designed; they are usually “thrown together,” and it is quite a compliment to say that a report was designed.

The journalist who paid this compliment was certainly entitled to do it even though he may not have been aware of what he was doing. He probably thought he had made a simple description, avoiding any words that would imply favor or disfavor. But if so, he was defeated in his effort because language tends to be emotion-laden. Because it is people who do the talking, the talk almost always includes a feeling, an attitude, a judgment. In a sense, every language contains the history of a people’s feelings about the world. Our words are baskets of emotion. Smart journalists, of course know this. And so do smart audiences. Smart audiences don’t blame anyone for this state of affairs. They are, however, prepared for it.
UPDATE: I added a few more paragraph divisions that weren't there originally, just for the sake of readability.

What I've been busy with (Special debate edition)

The blogging, inconsistent as it's always been, has definitely fallen by the wayside in recent months due to my heavy workload at both my current job and the university. But it's not as though I haven't been writing. So to remedy the dullness of this page, I'll be posting some of the work I've been up to at school.

Here's a brief essay I turned in for extra credit for "News On Radio And Television" class (BECA 460):
Watch the Presidential Debate on Wednesday night (10/3).
In 500 words (typewritten, no hand-written corrections accepted) give your analysis of how one television network covered the event.  Was it fair?  Did their critique fall on the side of objective or subjective coverage?  Why or why not?
This is what I gave them:
I watched the first presidential debate on KGO-TV (ABC) for this exercise. The program was hosted by Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos. After the debate itself, Sawyer and Stephanopoulos were joined by Matthew Dowd and Donna Brazile, with former Obama economic advisor Austin Goolsbee and former McCain/Palin campaign advisor Nicolle Wallace on remote feed.

First, I was struck by Sawyer’s giddy demeanor throughout. She appeared to be covering the event as entertainment news, gushing over the candidates’ families appearing with them onstage while complaining that the debate featured “a lot of numbers” and giggling continuously throughout the discussion. (Is she always like this?) In contrast, Stephanopoulos managed to maintain some semblance of basic professionalism in his role as cohost.

A consensus was reached very quickly by the panel: Romney had “won” the debate, Obama seemed distracted, and debate moderator Jim Lehrer let himself be overrun by the candidates. What I saw happening in the debate was a little different. Obama would try to address a previous statement of Romney’s and Romney would claim that he had never said such a thing and accuse Obama of misquoting him. It was a strange dance, and the President occasionally looked flustered. I hope he is better prepared next time.

Other commentators were brought in. Jake Tapper saw a lackluster Obama, and loved Romney’s “zingers” and “policies”. (Goolsbee, on the other hand, thought Obama’s best moment was when he challenged Romney about these policies that he refused to elaborate on: “What are your secret plans?”) David Muir was impressed by Romney’s anecdotes. Brazile also said that she thought it was “great” that the candidates talked about women. (Apparently, telling a story about a woman you talked to at a campaign stop counts as addressing women’s issues.) George Will thought that Romney scored with his attack on the Independent Payment Advisory Board, which would supposedly “ration” healthcare. Will’s assertion was, of course, not challenged, presumably because to do so would not have been “objective”.

The post-mortem discussion was focused on how well the candidates performed, rather than analyzing what they were saying. Words like “fair” or “subjective” vs. “objective” are hard for me to apply here. What I saw was a group of professional pundits whose main commitment was to maintaining a narrative about the race being “close”. They needed Romney to look good last night in order to maintain that suspenseful, entertaining narrative. The actual impact of their respective policies and the truth of their statements were trivial compared to the all-important horse race.

Sawyer announced that the network would do some fact-checking, and brought on correspondent Jonathan Karl, who critiqued one statement by each candidate and pronounced both “mostly fiction”. I wondered why we were treated to a misleadingly tokenistic ritual of “fact-checking” here; would a detailed examination of Romney’s higher levels of dishonesty in the course of this campaign violate their sense of “balance”? I Googled Mr. Karl and found an article on the Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting website that asserts that Karl got his start in journalism through the Collegiate Network, a conservative group that supports right-leaning college journalists and assists them in their postgraduate careers. That would seem to take care of the objectivity question.
(What I left out) In conclusion, ABC is even worse than I even imagined. And WTF is Diane Sawyer's problem?

But where do the candidates stand on Big Jim Sullivan's "Sitar Beat" album?

Monday, October 1, 2012

Ear Candle Radio's Top 20: September 2012

So as I was saying, we are back and bopping, and the new playlist is developing while university work continues to kick our asses. We are slipping new delights into our randomly shuffling stream to tide you over, never fear! Oh, the places you'll go...

1. PJ Harvey - 50 Ft Queenie - Rid Of Me
2. Phil Ochs - Cops of the World - Phil Ochs in Concert
3. Can - Dead Pigeon Suite - The Lost Tapes
4. Steve Hillage - Meditation of the Snake - Fish Rising
5. KXP - 18 Hours (Of Love) - K-X-P
6. John Lennon - Do The Oz - Plastic Ono Band
7. Vivian Girls - You're My Guy - Everything Goes Wrong
8. Peter Green - Bottoms Up - The End of the Game
9. MC5 - The American Ruse - Back In The USA
10. Kalo Kawongolo / Seke Molenga - Masanga - African Roots
11. Dr. Spaceman - Staying Home - Zwanzig Kilometer Stau
12. Warren Smith - Ubangi Stomp - Rockin' Bones: 1950s Punk and Rockabilly
13. Silvia Parra MamaCoatl - Food Is A Weapon - Border Crossing Diosa
14. Fat Daddy Holmes - Where Yo Is - Chicken Rock
15. Dead Famous People - Barlow's House - Lost Person's Area
16. Gil Scott-Heron - Explanations - Moving Target
17. The Spinners - Living A Little, Laughing A Little - The Very Best Of The Spinners
18. The Zombies - Care Of Cell 44 - Odessey and Oracle
19. Leonard Cohen - Banjo - Old Ideas
20. Public Image Limited - One Drop - This Is PiL

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Ear Candle Radio's Top 20: August 2012

Yes, we are back, and assembling a new playlist teaspoon by teaspoon, while our incredible music library entertains you on random shuffle setting.

1. Suicide - American Mean - American Supreme
2. Angel Corpus Christi - Amateur Alchemist - Angel Does X-tal - EP
3. Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band - Between My Head And The Sky - Between My Head And The Sky
4. The New Age Steppers - Got To Get Away - Action Battlefield
5. The Firesign Theatre - Poop's Principles - Dear Friends
6. The Units - The Mission is Bitchin' - The Early Years of the Units 1977-1983
7. Them - Could You, Would You - The Story Of Them
8. Society of Rockets - The Great Experiment - Future Factory
9. The Royal Guardsmen - OM - The Return Of The Red Baron
10. PJ Harvey - The Words That Maketh Murder - Let England Shake
11. Moon Duo - Love On The Sea (Radio Edit) - Yeti 7
12. Leonard Cohen - I'm Your Man - The Essential Leonard Cohen
13. KXP - Mehu Moments - K-X-P
14. Karen Mantler - Arnold's Dead - Farewell
15. Jah Wobble's Invaders Of The Heart - Rising Above Bedlam - Rising Above Bedlam
16. J Neo Marvin & the Content Providers - We Are Alive - Freedom Fried
17. Grass Widow - Uncertain Memory - Past Time
18. The Experimental Bunnies - Bunnies On Fire - Bunnies On Fire
19. Dylan Champagne - Baby in a Bear Suit - Love Songs of the Apocalypse Vol. 1
20. Curtis Mayfield - Hard Times - There's No Place Like America Today

Tune in! We have great things in store.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

"A chef who cooked up some mean meals"

A long documentary on the much-missed Gil Scott Heron. A little out of sync in places, but stay with it. It is very much worth it.

Monday, August 6, 2012


Monday, July 30, 2012

Vintage X-tal videos!

A special treat: we just posted two videos of X-tal from 1991 on YouTube. Produced by the band and put together by X-tal guitarist Jimmy Broustis and original Bedlam Rovers lead singer Lil' Mike, these were the only "official" videos made by the band in their lifespan. Unfortunately, their label at the time did not share the band's enthusiasm and these have remained underground until now. It's a time capsule!

X-TAL and their fellow travelers:
J Neo Marvin: Vocals and guitar
Jimmy Broustis: Guitar
Allison Moseley: Bass
Mick Freeman: Drums and vocals
Carrie Bradley: Violin on White Rat
Jeremy O'Doughaill: Mandolin on White Rat (not in video)
Mitzi Waltz: Ex-bassist (visible in a few shots in White Rat video)
Early D and Pat Thomas: Guest actors in White Rat video

Lil' Mike fills in some details:
wow...this video is legal drinking age! the original was made by Jimmy & I at Artists' Television Access on Valencia in a lil'' VHS dubbing room and we drove around collecting the footage on an 8mm video camera...then a buncha copies were dubbed in SF at some SOMA dubbing house by this was dubbed off a an old 2nd or 3rd generation VHS copy ... lotsa clips taken from extinct clubs...Mick's double drum shot ala Song Remains The Same was actually the mirror behind the stage at the ol' Oasis... the rehersal footage of course with the Bulimia Banquet graffiti was in the basement of the Chameleon...Earl & Pat Thomas clip was shot in my backyard on Harrison across from the ol' Army St projects, i think it was supposed to be Jamaica or Haiti or something...the last closing shot with Mitzi Waltz grabbin' the mic was onstage at the Kennel Club...

Where are the sober adults?

An analysis well worth reading, although those who need it the most will probably just get offended at being picked on by meanie liberals. As for the sober adults, I think most of them now constitute the right wing of the Democratic Party, which is yet another reason this country can't get anything worthwhile done.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Man Without Qualities

Excellent article in The Stranger about the strange, goofy man running for President this year.

Try watching a Romney speech sometime. "Robotic" isn't the right word, really. The man exhibits a peculiar discomfort badly covered by breathlessly fake enthusiasm. He's like a cross between Richie Rich and Willy Loman. You can just smell the flop sweat.

If the silos of money Republican donors are pouring into this campaign actually succeed in electing a candidate nobody likes, I will be surprised. I don't think even Citizens United can save his sorry ass. He makes George W. Bush seem poised and dignified in comparison.

Franken salutes Davis

Warning: You may need to fast forward a bit at the start to avoid hearing Joe Lieberman's hideous voice.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

A subliterate bunch of guys

Since Mitt Romney made that wonderfully enlightened comment about how he (unlike that other guy whose father came from a more-recently-liberated former British colony than our own) truly understands our shared Anglo-Saxon heritage with the UK, I tried... best... find John's own original version of this Mountain Goats classic on YouTube...

...but to no avail.

And I had thought this song was relatively obscure! Gentlemen, I commend you all for your excellent taste.

Since the Mountain Goats' definitive version is nowhere to be found, here's something else that will put a chill up your spine:

Pissing off the right people (and others as well)

Phil Nugent writes a thought-provoking obit for Alexander Cockburn, including some delicious barbs aimed at also-departed former colleague and rival Christopher Hitchens. (The link to Cockburn's own obit for Hitchens is worth following, and I think he got it right, and I admit to having once been one of those anarcho-fanboys who bought that damned Mother Teresa book.)

Cockburn was a smart, funny, provocative and sometimes just-plain-wrong curmudgeon, but always an essential read, and his old Press Clips column in the Village Voice was the unsung ancestor to all those snarky lefty news-deconstructing blogs I can't face the day without. Someone (I'm not holding my breath expecting the current Voice owners to do it) needs to compile those columns in book form.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

For those who are so sure...

an armed bystander would have "solved the problem"...
And yet I am led to understand that one person, who just happened to be carrying a piece would have calmly and with great presence of mind taken out the shooter just like he was Jason Bourne or whoever that guy is that Bruce Willis plays in those shitty Die Hard movies. Better yet, what if there were two or even three Jason Bourne-wannabes returning fire? Awesome! But how exactly would the brave hero in row thirty-two know that the guy in row twelve, who was also busy blasting away in the noise and the chaos, wasn’t James Holmes' wingman? Then the guy in row twenty-one sees the guy in thirty-two shooting at the guy in twelve and he has to make the decision which one is the bad guy … or maybe both. Then the police bust in and the whole thing looks like Reservoir Dogs but with more collateral damage.

You get the idea.
Yes, we do.

Mad Women (late to the party, we know)

We've been embarking on an intensified pop culture crash course here at Chez Ear Candle, catching up with every episode of Mad Men so far. At this point we're addicted. The show is packed with subtext and sociology, dealing with issues of misogyny, racism, addiction, class privilege, and more, in the context of an unexpectedly distant past. ("Unexpectedly" at least for people of a certain age: it's fascinating to see a portrait of a time you remember and realize how exotic and alien it looks from this temporal vantage point.) We get a view of the Sixties that avoids the usual cliches and raises the question, "how far have we come, really?"

All this plus great writing and acting, and complex characters who we feel for, even when they behave horribly.

Which brings us to this cool video from a couple years back. Hat tip to Amanda at Pandagon. Enjoy.

Mad Men: Set Me Free from Pop Culture Pirate on Vimeo.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

4th of July post

Disclaimer: Despite my undying love for Emma Goldman, I don't share the same cockeyed optimism that the elimination of all laws will make life better for everyone. In the real world, the rule of law is crucial to protect the powerless from the powerful, not to say that said rule of law is not often used for the opposite purpose. Other than that, yeah.

A New Declaration of Independence

By Emma Goldman

Published in Mother Earth, Vol. IV, no. 5, July 1909.

When, in the course of human development, existing institutions prove inadequate to the needs of man, when they serve merely to enslave, rob, and oppress mankind, the people have the eternal right to rebel against, and overthrow, these institutions.

The mere fact that these forces--inimical to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness--are legalized by statute laws, sanctified by divine rights, and enforced by political power, in no way justifies their continued existence.

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all human beings, irrespective of race, color, or sex, are born with the equal right to share at the table of life; that to secure this right, there must be established among men economic, social, and political freedom; we hold further that government exists but to maintain special privilege and property rights; that it coerces man into submission and therefore robs him of dignity, self-respect, and life.

The history of the American kings of capital and authority is the history of repeated crimes, injustice, oppression, outrage, and abuse, all aiming at the suppression of individual liberties and the exploitation of the people. A vast country, rich enough to supply all her children with all possible comforts, and insure well-being to all, is in the hands of a few, while the nameless millions are at the mercy of ruthless wealth gatherers, unscrupulous lawmakers, and corrupt politicians. Sturdy sons of America are forced to tramp the country in a fruitless search for bread, and many of her daughters are driven into the street, while thousands of tender children are daily sacrificed on the altar of Mammon. The reign of these kings is holding mankind in slavery, perpetuating poverty and disease, maintaining crime and corruption; it is fettering the spirit of liberty, throttling the voice of justice, and degrading and oppressing humanity. It is engaged in continual war and slaughter, devastating the country and destroying the best and finest qualities of man; it nurtures superstition and ignorance, sows prejudice and strife, and turns the human family into a camp of Ishmaelites.

We, therefore, the liberty-loving men and women, realizing the great injustice and brutality of this state of affairs, earnestly and boldly do hereby declare, That each and every individual is and ought to be free to own himself and to enjoy the full fruit of his labor; that man is absolved from all allegiance to the kings of authority and capital; that he has, by the very fact of his being, free access to the land and all means of production, and entire liberty of disposing of the fruits of his efforts; that each and every individual has the unquestionable and unabridgeable right of free and voluntary association with other equally sovereign individuals for economic, political, social, and all other purposes, and that to achieve this end man must emancipate himself from the sacredness of property, the respect for man-made law, the fear of the Church, the cowardice of public opinion, the stupid arrogance of national, racial, religious, and sex superiority, and from the narrow puritanical conception of human life. And for the support of this Declaration, and with a firm reliance on the harmonious blending of man's social and individual tendencies, the lovers of liberty joyfully consecrate their uncompromising devotion, their energy and intelligence, their solidarity and their lives.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Why "democrat" is such a dirty word to these's not just the opposing party

Found this thought-provoking Alternet article about how the "new feudalism" is rooted in the old South.
For most of our history, American economics, culture and politics have been dominated by a New England-based Yankee aristocracy that was rooted in Puritan communitarian values, educated at the Ivies and marinated in an ethic of noblesse oblige (the conviction that those who possess wealth and power are morally bound to use it for the betterment of society). While they've done their share of damage to the notion of democracy in the name of profit (as all financial elites inevitably do), this group has, for the most part, tempered its predatory instincts with a code that valued mass education and human rights; held up public service as both a duty and an honor; and imbued them with the belief that once you made your nut, you had a moral duty to do something positive with it for the betterment of mankind. Your own legacy depended on this.

Among the presidents, this strain gave us both Roosevelts, Woodrow Wilson, John F. Kennedy, and Poppy Bush -- nerdy, wonky intellectuals who, for all their faults, at least took the business of good government seriously. Among financial elites, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet still both partake strongly of this traditional view of wealth as power to be used for good. Even if we don't like their specific choices, the core impulse to improve the world is a good one -- and one that's been conspicuously absent in other aristocratic cultures.

Which brings us to that other great historical American nobility -- the plantation aristocracy of the lowland South, which has been notable throughout its 400-year history for its utter lack of civic interest, its hostility to the very ideas of democracy and human rights, its love of hierarchy, its fear of technology and progress, its reliance on brutality and violence to maintain “order,” and its outright celebration of inequality as an order divinely ordained by God.
Add to all of this a constant barrage of spin portraying the Confederate traitor position as a stand for "freedom" and "liberty", and it's easy to see why people are so mind-bogglingly stupid and confused. We live in interesting times.

The entire article is a must-read. Welcome to Plantation America.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

New form, new content

The long-neglected J Neo Marvin website has just been given a spiffy new makeover. The new site is much easier to edit, so expect frequent updates.

Friday, June 22, 2012

5 Songs: Through The Door Into Angst And Out Again

Davis Jones picks out the new Soundcloud spotlight, lulling us with a calmly ominous track from our newest artist, the mysterious Dr. Spaceman, before hitting us with some tough tracks.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Angel Does X-tal

Angel Corpus Christi's new EP of X-tal covers is out now as a digital release. Fill your mp3 player with these brilliantly whimsical reimaginings of songs by J Neo Marvin and his former comrades. Ear Candle Productions salutes our friends for keeping the music alive.

Get it here or here.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Amateur Alchemist

Angel Corpus Christi's X-tal covers project keeps humming along with this intoxicating ditty about intoxication.

Friday, June 8, 2012

And all the people were singin', they went, "La la la la la la"....

The recent loss of Levon Helm prompted me to watch this documentary on the making of The Band's second, self-titled, album last night. If you haven't seen anything in the Classic Albums series, they are well worth your time, especially compared to the Under Review series, which tends to range from moderately interesting to tediously mediocre. The cool thing about the Classic Albums docs is that, rather than alternating tantalizingly brief clips of the actual artists and padding the rest of the movie with critics pontificating about records (which can be interesting, but I can already do that myself), you always get some scenes of an engineer, producer or artist sitting at a mixing board, bringing tracks up and down, and pointing out cool details and talking about the actual process of making said records, which I find a lot more fun and enlightening. (Granted, I'm not always as keen on all of their choices of what to spotlight.)

The first two Band albums really can't be faulted: great examples of the ethic of putting a bunch of people in a room, giving them complete freedom to try anything out and pressing the record button. The little bits on the recording process are the exact sort of thing that excites me. The music is rich, emotional, and just weird enough to avoid the cliches of the legions of wannabe "authentic, rustic, and soulful" roots-rock AOR bands that sprouted like weeds in their wake. But there's always this big damn stinky elephant slumbering in the corner of the room when you put on "the brown album".

"The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" is a beautiful, complex song that can make you cry. You can take it as the story of an everyman character named Virgil Caine, swept up and destroyed by a particularly nasty and traumatic war while he tries to hold on to the same notion of patriotic pride that got him in the fix he is in. Family and friends wiped out, home devastated, and all he got for his efforts was a fleeting glimpse of Robert E. Lee. There's a subtext there that clearly resonated with a generation growing up with a decade of the Vietnam War looming over their heads, which is probably why Joan Baez was inspired to cut her own hit version of the song. There's also an undercurrent, much-discussed by The Band themselves, of attempted healing and empathy on behalf of an angry Boomer counterculture who, in the wake of the Civil Rights struggle, often detested all things Southern. If we are to have an impact on Virgil Caine, we must understand where he's coming from.

But a singer or songwriter's intentions are one thing, while the audience's response can be quite another. My own Kentucky-born dad, who normally wouldn't have crossed the street to spit on Joan Baez, loved her cover of "Old Dixie". To him, it was an anthem for the eternally aggrieved Southerner, forever oppressed by those damn Yankees. (And yes, Kentucky never actually seceded from the union, but that's a whole 'nother can of worms...I will say I was shocked to learn this fact in school because it sure as hell was never pointed out at home.) It didn't help that Baez took what was originally a mournful funeral dirge and turned it into a bouncy pop song which undiscerning ears could easily fold into the Lost Cause narrative, a surprising bit of accidental signification from such a normally politically conscious singer.

"The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" presents a South with no black people and no slavery, just tragic, honorable white farmers suffering from losing a war. In itself, that's not an issue; the song tells a particular story from a particular point of view and no one song can take in the whole sweep of history. And I certainly don't have a clue how the story of those other impoverished Southern farmers of a different hue could have been honestly and naturally worked into the fabric of this song. All the same, their absence helps give the song meanings it was never meant to have. And so, as ever, we get played.

Again my mind goes to my just-finished Critical Study Of Popular Culture class at SFSU. The day we were meant to cover how race awareness impacts media, our lecturer started class with a disclaimer: "I don't feel I have the authority to address racism in the US, because I grew up in Canada, where those dynamics of race relations are very different." Four out of five members of The Band, of course, developed their love of Americana from the perspective of Canadians on the outside looking in. It's not surprising that Robbie Robertson would be deeply affected by meeting Southerners who talked about how "the South's gonna rise again" without fully comprehending all that that would imply. Meanwhile, the one American of the group, Arkansas-born Levon Helm, sings the song with such bottomless dignity and heart that Virgil's sad tale comes alive for you. Helm was by all accounts an absolutely beautiful guy, tapped into the deep cultures of both the black and the white South, nowhere even close to a racist. In fact, Helm was a perfect example of the sort of salt-of-the-earth white Southerner who fought racism and ignorance and brought black and white people closer together through the power of shared musical traditions, right up there with Steve Cropper and the also recently departed Duck Dunn. I acknowledge all of this wholeheartedly and am always deeply moved whenever I hear "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down", but it still bugs the hell out of me.

Oh, and on the subject of the South rising again, can we finally admit that they already have done so, and have been essentially running the whole damn country for the last 40-plus years?

UPDATE: It's only fair to let the boys speak for themselves:

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Friday, June 1, 2012

So Good It Hurts: The Unwritten Book!

The fun and informative 33 1/3 series of pocket-sized paperbacks, each focusing on a classic album, recently put out a call for new proposals. I submitted one for one of the greatest records ever made, crossing my fingers. Well, the short list is in and my proposal is not among them. Since they picked 94 out of 471 submissions, it was, of course, a crapshoot, but I'm proud to have been in the running.

Noentheless, I am inordinately pleased with my proposal, so here it is:

Your professional CV/resume, including full contact details (see file “SGIH-CV”; everything else is here)  

A draft annotated table of contents for the book and an approximate date of completion:

Tracks In History, Like Piss In The Snow

The introduction, setting the scene, who the Mekons are, why they matter, why this album rates the particular focus it does. To be further expanded/cut/refined from the draft enclosed.

The Ripples Whisper Warnings

Dissecting the first three songs: “I’m Not Here (1967)”, “Ghosts Of American Astronauts”, and “Road To Florida”. Ominous portent wrapped in the dreamy ideals of the Sixties. The first song speaks surreally of rock star hedonism and a counterculture absorbed in druggy self-reflection while the old guard continues with their atrocities; the second song contrasts the wonder of space exploration with the practice of using it as another tool of nationalism, militarism and cold-warring superpower exceptionalism; the third traces the sad demise of Band pianist Richard Manuel and the overall strangeness of the state of Florida---the 80s Miami Vice phenomenon must be dealt with as well. (“They send narcotics agents to catch a falling star”)

Like A Funeral March

Taking apart the cover art. Each Mekon is represented by a Day Of The Dead skeleton that also represents an aspect of a song or source. Bandmember mini-bios, a semiotic picking apart of the representations of each “skelly”, tracing of running themes (pirates, psychiatry, Robin Hood, astronauts, mutineers, libertines, blood, Nixon, etc.) as they speak to the UK and US in 1988. Personal testimonies of fans.

Now Your Body’s Up For Sale

Dissecting songs 4-6: “Johnny Miner”, “Dora”, and “Poxy Lips”. A cover of a working class ballad by Ed Pickford given a haunting circus-dub feel; a complex feminist ballad that takes in the assumptions behind the thrills of Wuthering Heights, the misogynistic blinders inseparable from Freudian psychoanalysis, and a portrait of a dominatrix between assignments; a rollicking two-step that quotes pirate Black Bart, alludes to Huysmans’ Against Nature and possibly reflects the AIDS crisis of the 80s.

See The Man Is Writing

How this multilayered, allusive material is actually created. The collective process of the Mekons’ songwriting and recording as described from fresh interviews and archival accounts. The contributions of “deputy Mekons” like Dick Taylor, Rob Worby and Brendan Croker.

Those Shapes And Symbols

Dissecting songs 7-9: “Fletcher Christian”, “Fantastic Voyage”, and “Robin Hood”. A ballad of the lonely desolation of the mutineer; 80s sex and drugs hedonism (the incessant cult of the tragic junkie commented on in “this is meant to be a painkiller, but it’s so good it hurts”) over a thudding Bo Diddley rhythm; and an Afro-pop flavored rebel song filled with allusions to the past and direct references to the Thatcher regime, the miners’ strike, and the Falklands War, plus titillating bisexual in-jokes. (This time, hedonism is an aspect of resistance, not a distraction from crisis: “Soft the scene so formed for joy/oh, curse the tyrants that destroy!”)

Looking Up At The Twinkling Stars

The state of mainstream rock, “modern” rock, indie rock, punk rock in the late 80s. The imminent Rough Trade bankruptcy, the calm before the 90s alt-rock storm, how a cult band negotiates the vagaries of the music business. What is “authenticity”? Why do we care?

Where’s My Baby Face?

Dissecting songs 10-13: “Heart Of Stone”, “Maverick”, “Vengeance”, and “Revenge”. A Rolling Stones cover, delivered straight with a twist; disconnected images of motion/action/frantic desperation with fleeting glances in the mirror; a more desolate but still resolute rebel song (“I’ll never rest and I’ll never forget”); a bonus track in the form of a souped up country song of revenge.
There’s A Mighty Crisis Coming

What came next: the promise of the A&M deal and Rock & Roll, the collapse, the curse, a second journey into the experimental wilderness, solo careers, a renaissance in the new millennium. Why the Mekons endure. We’ll do some dancing here!

These are the proposed contents. I am shooting for a completion time of around December 2012, with further edits and feedback in the following months.

A draft introduction/opening chapter for the book, of around 2,000 words:

This book is a detective story. We will dig through the dustbins of history to find clues to what makes this set of songs tick. What do they say about the distant past, about the time they were recorded, about right now? So Good It Hurts is a seance where you never know which departed spirit will speak next. Better yet, it’s a happy, drunken, rambunctious seance in the company of a dozen of your best new friends. The apparitions may be twisted and scary at times, but the jokes will have you on your knees in joyful convulsions.

The story so far:

The Mekons stumbled into life as the ultimate expression of punk ideals, a group of art school pals who imposed more rules on themselves than the Dogme 95 filmmakers. There would be no promo pictures, no records, no singling out of individual stars, no separation between the band and its audience. Some of these rules were thrown out immediately at the first opportunity; others linger on to this day, however mutated. Dark as the subjects of the songs may get, Mekons gigs are buoyant, ecstatic and side-splitting. The members of the band never stop affectionately ribbing each other and teasing the crowd. The nonstop banter between the goofy, fast-quipping Jon Langford and the beatifically snide Sally Timms never grows tired.

While the collective personality of the band (fiercely intelligent, humorously self-deprecating, and embracing their own human foibles) has stayed consistent for decades, the Mekons’ first incarnation was strikingly different from what they ultimately became. Two lead vocalists, Andy Corrigan and Mark “Chalkie” White, bellowed and shrieked in strained, expressive, unmelodic voices, sometimes in unison, sometimes one or the other singing solo, sometimes trading lines. To this day, I have difficulty telling them apart. (I think it’s Chalkie who takes the lead on their first classic single, “Where Were You?”) Two long-term members, Tom Greenhalgh and Kevin Lycett, slashed away on guitars in a sloppy, spirited, Gang Of Four style. The bass position was held first by future Delta 5 founder Ros Allen, then by Mary Jenner, who also contributed some sawing violin to some early records, paving the way for Susie Honeyman later on. And what about Jon Langford, now the most high-profile member, the assumed leader of a leaderless band? He was the drummer, barely recognizable in early photos with a scruffy moptop and a twinkle in his eye.

This was the group that emerged in the avalanche of independent British post-punk singles that followed the Buzzcocks’ Spiral Scratch, first with the scrappy Clash satire “Never Been In A Riot”, followed by a song that, if they had never done anything afterward, would be cherished as one of the all-time most beloved punk 45s.

“Where Were You?” is one of those great musical epiphanies, a simple song with a simple sentiment, delivered with the power of accidental genius. In a ridiculously long intro, one guitar slams out a brilliantly dumb riff of open E and A chords while Langford’s drum pattern builds and builds until POW, the band bursts out of the gate, riding the riff, gradually accelerating as the singer, defiant and assertive but almost on the verge of tears, relays in a few lines the feeling of waiting in a bar and being stood up by a woman who wasn’t as serious about him as he’d hoped. Neither a rage against the machine or a formulaic love song, it was just a human moment that said what it had to say in the most contagious way possible, then fizzled out like a toy whose battery had just run down.

This was the Mekons that rode a modest underground hit into their first major label contract (not their last) with Virgin, who released an album in 1980 with a cover featuring a chimpanzee at a typewriter, The Quality Of Mercy Is Not Strnen. The content was twelve songs very much in the spirit of “Where Were You?” Catchy, chaotic songs that fall together and fall apart, deconstructing relationships and working class life with humor, angst, and energy. It’s an underrated classic of the post-punk era and a joy to hear. The Mekons hated and immediately disavowed it, claiming that Virgin’s input was stifling and the album was overproduced. Around the same time, the live punk circuit had become so dangerous and violent that the band, echoing the route taken by other contemporaries such as Alternative TV and Wire, took a hard left turn into obscure experimental territory to shake off the boneheads in the crowd.

Cutting down on live performance and recording on the cheap with a rapidly-shifting membership, the group sporadically released weird, opaque albums like Devils, Rats and Piggies and The Mekons Story, where their fragile, barely together songs had been allowed to fall to pieces and were displayed proudly in all their fragmentary disarray. The initial goal of forming the ultimate anti-band appeared to have been achieved by these lo-fi collections of broken, halting, obscure vignettes. There are moments of shocking beauty to found on these albums (Chalkie’s heart-stopping acapella scream “The Building”, the lonesome dub of “Another One”, the drunken fractured rockabilly stomp of “Institution”) but this was difficult stuff, unformed embryos of sound that took real effort for the listener to delve into and uncover their rewards.

What happened next was the last thing anyone expected. An album called Fear And Whiskey appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, credited to a band called the Mekons who were almost unrecognizable. The vocals were familiar; we knew Tom Greenhalgh’s voice from “After 6”, a highlight of Quality Of Mercy. But now the voice sat on top of a solid, reggae-influenced rhythm section, a keening, prominent violin and layers of guitars, all slathered with reverb. There was a folkish flavor that gradually revealed itself to be closer to country music, but there was little or no attempt to emulate the hot licks of the master musicians of Nashville. The lyrics retained the themes of lovelorn regret, wartorn landscapes, working class resistance, and drunken fatalism, but with a new coherence and power. They wore cowboy hats and covered Hank Williams. Darkness and doubt just followed them about. It’s hard to be human on the lost highway, when you just wanted to say “fall in love with me” and “it’ll be all right.” This was the first flowering of the Mekons’ maturity. They were back. And while they may not have pulled crowds as big as the ones that clamored to see the Pogues, they fed the same itch for human contact that wasn’t being scratched by the sleek pop of the early 80s.

A number of elements came together to bring this new Mekons into being. A friend of the band, convinced that their lyrics and sensibility were simpatico with older forms, made them tapes of essential American country-western sounds that caught their imagination and filled them with new ideas to twist to their own ends. Politically active friends like Dutch anarchists the Ex and UK activists putting on benefits for the Miners’ Strike started begging the disorganized band to get together and play some live shows, which led them to seek out some firm rhythmic ground. Former Graham Parker & The Rumour drummer Steve Goulding (whose deft touch and feel for reggae enriched Parker’s attempts in that area as well as Elvis Costello’s “Watching The Detectives”) was joined by former Damned guitarist Lu Edmonds on bass, as well as new members Susie Honeyman on violin and Rolling Stones/Pretty Things founder Dick Taylor as fourth guitarist. With their original lead singers gone, Greenhalgh (most of the time), Langford, and Kevin Lycett took turns fronting the band on guitar and vocals.

Fear And Whiskey was a breakthrough album, but the oppressive sadness of it all can be so forbidding that one is tempted to turn to something more upbeat like Joy Division. The next album, Edge Of The World, worked its way deeper into the tissues of roots music, and introduced two more new members, singer Sally Timms and accordionist/vocalist Rico Bell, as well as ongoing guest slide guitarist Brendan Croker. This time, with five strong vocal personalities, added instrumental color, and more evident humor in the lyrics, the dark clouds began to lift somewhat, and the band’s growing strengths became clearer. With increased touring, the word got out about what a crazy, delightful live act the Mekons were, and their cult following in the US began to take off in earnest. Another incredible album, Honky Tonkin’, solidified their reputation. This was a band that created something completely their own from the most unlikely influences, harnessing the energy and creativity of a ridiculously large group of characters. All of this in the service of songs that dealt with the bitter truths of now, while tossing in a capsule education and peppering the results with zany jokes and irresistible tunes.

Which brings us to 1988. Mekons fans are a devoted lot, and we do love to debate the merits of each of their records. The aforementioned “Alt-Country Trilogy” is beloved by just about everyone, and the roots reboot of Fear And Whiskey is often pointed to in particular. 1989’s Mekons Rock And Roll, the product of the band’s second major label deal is bright, loud, filled with glorious songs, and thanks to the power of A&M’s promo department, is many people’s first Mekons album, which gives it special status in many eyes. There is, however, another album that sits in between these that doesn’t get mentioned as often, that I would argue is the best one of all.

For the Mekons in 1988, the next step was to expand. So Good It Hurts folds in genres from dub to zydeco with an even broader swipe at history, literature, and cultural theory, making a thicker, more complex stew than ever that remains at its heart a fun, rollicking party record. In this funhouse mirror view of the myths and obsessions of Western culture, nothing is sacred or free from scrutiny--least of all, the eternal tropes of sex, drugs and rock and roll.

The 12 songs (13 if you count added B-side “Revenge”, a cruel, torchy Sally Timms vehicle where she makes some poor fool regret he ever crossed her) are packed with sounds and signifiers. While Honky Tonkin’ actually included bibliographical notes for each song, So Good It Hurts’ inner sleeve on the vinyl (reconstructed in the CD booklet) is a collage of out-of-sequence lyrics, random quotations, and silly or pensive band photos, scattered sloppily across a bright red background like pages from an overstuffed notebook blown away by the wind.

The quotations feel as much a part of the album as the guitars, commenting, corroborating, contradicting. Visions of hedonistic abandon collide with passages from Theodor Adorno’s despondent book of essays Minima Moralia: Reflections From Damaged Life. (More on him later.) The life of historical pirate Black Bart intersects with decadent fictional aesthete Des Esseintes and the AIDS epidemic of the 80s in a careening accordion-driven stomp. Female roles are viewed through the lenses of Freud, Bronte, and a London dominatrix, while elsewhere, we get a taste of how Mick Jagger’s lyrics would sound coming from a woman’s mouth. Hope and hopelessness embrace for the last dance before closing time; the beleaguered-yet-jolly fiddle-led protest of “Vengeance” is underscored by a quote from Reagan’s Secretary Of The Interior, James Watt, “I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns.”

So Good It Hurts serves up a dark vision to match the waning days of the Reagan/Thatcher era, but it’s a bracing one. This is music to be immersed in, songs to howl drunkenly at the top of your lungs with your fellow pirates and mutineers. It’s a lively tale, this to tell. Give it a taste; it’s worth bottling.

Your analysis of the most relevant competing books already published about the artist in question or the scene surrounding that artist – and how your book will differ:

Surprisingly for such a literary-minded cult band, there is not a lot of what I would call comparable work out there. There are two Mekons-themed books:

Mekons United (1/4 Stick): A companion piece to the band’s collective art show. It is a compilation of writings, some critical pieces, a lot of fiction (including a long excerpt from the group-written “unfinished novel”, Living In Sin), lyric quotations and miscellaneous musings on the environment the Mekons sprang from. The book is as provocative, heady and somewhat rambling as you might expect from an “official Mekons book”, profusely illustrated with stunning paintings, drawings and other visual works that suggest the founding members’ art school education was not in vain.

Hello Cruel World (Verse Chorus Press): A small, attractive hard cover book of lyrics from Fear And Whiskey to Journey To The End Of Night. Includes photos and more artwork. Gives you a nice overview of the band’s strong lyrical abilities. I provided the title and other suggestions and am credited as “editorial consultant”.

Probably the closest thing to a Mekons-related 33 1/3 type book is Jon Langford’s Skull Orchard (Verse Chorus Press), a book full of Langford’s own artwork, background information on the songs of his autobiographical solo album of the same name, writings from his brother and photos by his father that all stitch together a picture of his Welsh upbringing and the source of all the references and in-jokes in the lyrics. There is some similarity to what I aim to do, but there are obvious differences, number one being that Skull Orchard is a book put together by the artist himself, suitable for the personal nature of the album. The Mekons’ music is usually filled with deep meaning and emotion, but it is created through a very different process more akin to collages or automatic writing than your typical singer-songwriter’s act of personal expression. (Part of my goal is to find out and reveal more about how this process works.)

One model for what I’m going for is the approach of Greil Marcus, particularly in his book In The Fascist Bathroom aka Ranters And Crowd Pleasers, which also happens to include a few short articles on the Mekons that are some of the best writing I’ve ever read on the band. However, I also plan to interview band members and others in their circle to obtain some real horse’s mouth viewpoints and not rely strictly on the put-it-on-the-stereo-with-a-stack-of-books-and-let-your-mind-run-wild reveries that Marcus does so brilliantly, though I certainly will be doing my share of that as well.

Up to 1,000 words on which book, or parts of books, already published in the series you would aim to emulate on some level:

Forever Changes by Andrew Hultkrans is a favorite, being a book that probes the Zeitgeist of a period in history via a less popular album of the time. I’m inspired by the way he looks in less-obvious places, like the history of Gnosticism, to dig out aspects of Arthur Lee’s gnomic lyrics. Hultkrans probes the darker sides of the 60s and shows not just how, but why, Lee was influenced by Marat/Sade. A fascinating book on a fascinating album.

Pet Sounds by Jim Fusilli is by nature a more sentimental book, which is appropriate for the brilliant sentimentalist that is Brian Wilson, but I enjoy the way he describes the musical elements and how they connect, even when I strongly disagree with some of his final judgements. (Surely there is room for both “Barbara Ann” and “God Only Knows” in the pantheon.)

The Who Sell Out by John Dougan, like Hultktrans’ book, is great for zeroing in on important non-musical background information, with his capsule histories of pop art and pirate radio, both of which are crucial to really get the point of this album.

Double Nickels On The Dime by Michael T. Fournier may be the most dogeared volume in my 33 1/3 collection, due to its wonderfully detailed song descriptions. Fournier misses nothing in his parsing of the Minutemen’s song constructions and lyrical references. And getting the participation of a larger-than-life force of nature like Mike Watt adds so much more. I hope to obtain as much funny, in-depth enlightenment from Jon Langford and his colleagues.

Another Green World by Geeta Dayal deserves a mention for the passage, “Many years ago, Eno coined a term he called ‘scenius’ to describe how large groups of people, not simply lone misunderstood geniuses, generate creativity. ‘Scenius stands for the intelligence and the intuition of a whole cultural scene,’ Eno has said, ‘It is the communal form of the concept of the genius.’” This touches on another of the themes I want to deal with in So Good It Hurts: how a group of people can create a piece collectively that has all the perceived mark of an “auteur”: a unity of sound, theme and feeling that seems to come from one great mind. One of my most burning questions I wish to resolve in the process of writing this book is “how in the world does that work?”

Possible blurb and extra fun quotes:

Where do you go next when you began as the ultimate anti-band, started writing great catchy punk songs in spite of yourselves, turned into a lo-fi art project to jettison the boneheads in your audience, and ended up accidentally inventing alt-country? For the Mekons in 1988, the answer was to expand. So Good It Hurts folds in genres from dub to zydeco with an even broader swipe at history, literature, and cultural theory, making a thicker, more complex stew than ever that remains at its heart a fun, rollicking party record.

"In an honest service there is thin commons, low wages, and hard labor; in this, plenty and satiety, pleasure and ease, liberty and power; and who would not balance creditor on this side, when all the hazard that is run for it, at worst, is only a sour look or two at choking. No, a merry life and a short one, shall be my motto." -Bartholomew "Black Bart" Roberts (Johnson, 244)

When the ship finally docked in the West Indies a third victim of the same captain ‘carried his shirt, stained with the blood which had flowed from his wounds, to one of the magistrates of the island and applied to him for redress’. But the slaves on the ship were bound for the magistrate’s plantation and he was deaf to his pleas. The Royal AfricanCompany’s own chief surgeon, conducting a survey of conditions aboard ships off West Africa in 1725, wrote that ‘tyrannical oppression and want of necessities of life’ were ‘epidemical’ -”If A Pirate I Must Be--The True Story Of Black Bart, King Of The Caribbean Pirates” by Richard Sanders