Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Deep End on KSFS, 4/26/13: Including a crash-course in Sleater-Kinney

On the SF State radio show I share with Ben and Jeff, I addressed an important social problem of the 2010s: Portlandia fans who have never heard of Sleater-Kinney. We also played Prince, Nirvana, and a bunch of other stuff.

The Deep End - Show 10 - April 26, 2013 by Thedeepend on Mixcloud

Friday, April 26, 2013

All he had to do was nothing

A mind exercise.
What always struck me about Bush and his incompetent cronies is the activist nature of their "wreck everything quickly" administration. All Bush had to do was NOTHING to have a successful presidency. Everything he touched turned (immediately) to shit...and yet he couldn't wait to destroy more. Thank goodness the American people turned on him during the post 2004 "Wind At My Back" "Hand Social Security Over To Wall Street" debacle.
Another take on this monstrous misapplication of undeserved good will.

The Rude One offers a better idea how to spend our tax money.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

I'm going to need to see this, I think

Imagine a cross between the MC5 and Arthur Lee's Vindicator album..

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Brain In A Chair

A sneak preview of the next Granite Countertops album. Life for the last nine months has pretty much proceeded as follows:

Brain in a chair, going nowhere
Stuck in your brain and forgetting to care
Get out of that chair and go get some air
Better start treating your body fair

Eyes glaze as you're turning a phrase
Limbs fold up as you gaze and gaze
So much stress trying to get things done
Brain in a chair ain't having no fun

Mind like a fire, ass like a stone
Can't live on numbers and words alone
So much to remember, so much to forget
And somebody's wrong on the Internet.

Brain in a chair, lost in its lair
Cracks in my shoulders give me a scare
Stiff aching fingers never touch a guitar
Time to go somewhere and let's make it far

Haven't had water for twelve solid hours
Riding the wave of my mental powers
All my biology washed down the drain
Nothing left in this chair but a brain

Brain in a chair, going nowhere
Time to stand up and get out of there
Move your body and set yourself free
Go into the bedroom...turn on the TV.

Way Back In The 1960s

Season 6 of Mad Men presents us with a Don Draper hellbent on undoing any sign of growth we might have seen in him in the previous two seasons. After bottoming out in 1965 with alcoholic blackouts and creepy, destructive sexual power-tripping, he pulled himself together and married a smart, assertive young woman who kept him interested enough that he seemed to be making a real effort to make his second marriage something his first could never be: a real partnership. Fast forward to 1968 and Don is back to his 1960 self, luxuriating in the privileges of the double standard that allow him to pout jealously over his actress wife playing a love scene in a soap opera one minute and mess around with the bored stay-at-home housewife downstairs in the next. Don's pathetic, threadbare hypocrisy is further underlined by the earlier scene where he and Megan are propositioned by another couple; for a minute the Drapers seem to be on the same page. But while Megan's objections seem straightforward enough (it's just plain skeevy and doubly uncomfortable because she has to work with these people!), for Don this kind of flagrant sexual openness is a violation of the twisted code he lives by where a man indulges his appetites in secret and returns to the "good" woman waiting patiently for him at home.

Deliberate Values Dissonance has always been the point of Mad Men. From the beginning, the show has rubbed your face in the conventional wisdom of 50 years ago. The characters are true to their era, but they're seen through the eyes of a present day audience. The brilliance of the show is the way they've played with that: sometimes blatant (Doctors smoke cigarettes! Everyone drinks at work! Sexual harassment is just a perk of success!), and sometimes jarringly subtle. (Wait a minute, is that family really going to just leave all that trash behind in the park? Ummm...I guess they are, all right. Lady Bird Johnson and "Keep America Beautiful" are still a few years away.) This could have been done in such a way that we are allowed to smugly sit back and look down at those poor ignorant fools from a less enlightened past. But instead, we're given a set of deep, complicated antiheroes negotiating their way through a rapidly changing culture, which has made for some of the most fascinating TV we've had in years. We view this world, so different from our present and yet so much the same, through a lens that adds layers of meaning to everything that happens. If a time traveler took a few episodes of Mad Men and showed them to a Sixties audience, they would (once they got over their shock that this overtly risque stuff was actually a TV show) not see the same show that we do. The most obvious example would be the way the men treat the women. Sexism and even misogyny are simply a fact of life for all of these people. They no more question it than a fish would question water. But we get to see the impact of each casual word or act through the eyes of the female characters, most of whom don't even have the language yet to understand what's being perpetrated on them, but they know they don't like it.

At the same time, there are no cartoon villains in this show. We care about these people, no matter how hideously wrong they are, even tragic douchebag Pete Campbell, who got put in his place deliciously by his wife Trudy the week before. (So deliciously that it's easy to forget the poor woman he was caught cheating with, the evidence taking the form of a horrific beating by her husband. If you needed a reminder that we've progressed a little bit on the issue of domestic violence, look no further.) And there are no flawless heroes either. Megan may be guilelessly honest and sincere, but she's made some ruthless moves to get her acting career off the ground. And even Peggy, our viewpoint character if anyone on this show is, had to betray a friendship for the sake of her job last week, and seems to be OK with that in this episode. Temptation, corruption, workplace politics and, of course, (this is a show about advertising, after all) the art of persuasion keep popping back up as recurring themes. Whenever Don or Peggy delivers a great pitch to a client, the thrills are palpable. And when we see Don do a crappy pitch that falls flat (as we have two shows in a row now, though last week's was deliberate and even brilliant in its passive-aggressiveness), it's painful to watch.

The show first caught my radar when my favorite feminist blogger, Amanda Marcotte, started co-hosting a weekly video critique of the show with partner and fellow blogger Marc Faletti called The Orange Couch, which continues to probe brilliantly into the historical context of each episode, and gives you a more enlightening picture of what it's about than those ubiquitous Banana Republic ads.

By the end of last summer, Davis and I had devoured the first four seasons on Netflix. The fifth season came out on DVD just in time for her birthday, and now we're watching the new season in real time. I've seen a few online naysayers who think the show is going downhill. Nonsense. The characters keep surprising us, but I have yet to see any of them do anything that doesn't ring true.

The other subplot (besides Don's increasingly anachronistic "morals") that caught me was the sudden power struggle between Joan and Harry. Talk about your workplace politics! Both of them have a valid point, but the central bone of contention (Joan has more authority as a partner in the company than Harry, but does that mean she has the right to fire Harry's employees without his permission?) is a controversial one, and the combination of power imbalance and gender dynamics just makes the whole thing murkier. I leaned towards taking Harry's side while knowing that doing so undermines Joan's hard-won authority and respect. There are no good answers. (But we also got to see what may be the beginning of an alliance between Joan and Dawn, which has all kinds of possibilities.) Things are bound to get even messier as 1968 progresses, and I don't want to miss it.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Exactly What We Don't Want To Hear

For those of us who knew him even a little, the sudden, unexplained death of Scott Miller last Monday was a nasty punch to the gut. Scott may have been an obscure cult singer-songwriter whose career peaked in the 80s and 90s, but he had not been idle. His recent book, Music: What Happened?, combined music criticism with personal reminiscence, employing the same wit and charm that filled his quirky, infectious songs. And, saddest of all, it looks like he was on the verge of reuniting his early band Game Theory to record some new material when he was taken away.

Scott's music could be glibly classified as "power pop", but his bands would never be mistaken for the late 70s/early 80s wave of skinny-tie bands singing predictable songs about crushes on pretty girls to recycled British Invasion riffs. Every Game Theory or Loud Family album was stuffed with terse, complex, melodic songs that reveled in wordplay without losing their essential warmth. Not the stuff of top 40 hits, and strangely out of time with the aggression of punk or the smoothness of synth-pop, Scott could have ridden the coattails of bands like REM or the Smiths, but the timing wasn't right. (Who can predict these things? A lot of people pretend they can, but in the end all it amounts to is dumb luck, wild guesses and bullshit.) But even if the "heartland indie", "rock of the 80s", and "alternative rock" booms passed him by, Scott always had a hardcore fanbase who loved his unique gifts.

I was always dimly aware of Game Theory, but with so much to pay attention to during the independent music explosion of the 80s, I never made it a priority to check them out. I may have to chalk some of that up to an aversion to more pop-oriented music I had at the time. I felt a need for something more primal and rude. (Less Beatles and Kinks, more Stones and Who, maybe.) I did finally see the light, though, when the Loud Family wound up on the same label (Alias) as my band X-tal, and put out the jaw-droppingly good album Plants And Birds And Rocks And Things. We played a label showcase gig together where I met him for the first time. I don't remember much of our conversation, except that he was an incredibly friendly, upbeat person with a way of putting you at ease. He was the same the other time I met him, when the Loud Family played Terrastock 2 in 1999. Just a genuine, sincere, very cool guy.

His personality came across in everything he did: the songs, the book, or in person. He left behind a wife and two children. He was 53. Strange how, in a week of tragedies and deaths his was the one that affected me most. This was personal. Scott Miller was one of the good ones, and I'm sorry to see him go.

Check out my all-time favorite Loud Family song here. Even with 75% of the lyrics delivered as a spoken-word piece, the tune is ridiculously catchy. The words themselves deserve to be quoted at length; it's the story of a character who spends his life striving to be the quintessential alpha male, only to realize his entire belief system is a ruse. I would love to do a video of this song using nothing but footage of Don Draper in Mad Men:

I used to go out with supermodels
But it didn't make my life okay
I used to be the cold stare, don't care
Stay fresh in the Frigidaire
I just assumed that was a moré*
I didn't spot the setup

I used to get A's in psychology class
But it didn't make my life okay
I used to be the point-blank think tank
What I say or daddy spank
I just assumed that would pay the way
I didn't spot the setup

And I could always be the judge
And bear the grudge
And tell you where you lost it
And I could always be the one
Shade your sun
And steal your fun away
But it didn't make my life okay

BY THE WAY: An untimely death has already garnered Scott some of the attention he deserved more of when he was alive. To catch up with a great artist you may have missed out on, the Loud Family website will get you off to a good start.

*OK, this is driving me slightly nuts. All the lyric websites think he said "amore", but I always assumed it was the singular of "mores" as in cultural values, as in "I just assumed that was the way it was supposed to be." Wordnik claims "the singular is rarely used", but it just seems more right somehow. If only Scott was around to straighten this out...

FURTHER UPDATE: A site has been set up to help out Scott's family. Click here for the Scott Miller Memorial Fund.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Blogging flurry ahead

My endless excuse for my sporadic blogging has always been "since I went back to school, my workload has been so huge I can only do it on occasion". Well, my latest assignment in my Writing For Electronic Media class blog for five consecutive days. Maybe this will build up some momentum!

OK, OK, not exactly five consecutive days. I've got a bunch of drafts piling up that will all spill out on Wednesday and Thursday at this point. Waaaah, work sucks.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Back on the Orange Couch

I've been looking forward to this almost as much as the new episode:

Monday, April 8, 2013

Tramp The Dirt Down

Don't be depressed, don't be downhearted
There's a mighty crisis coming
Peals of thunder, pearls of wisdom
Reagan, Thatcher dead and gone.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The spirit of Confederate treason endures

Raleigh, N.C. — A bill filed by Republican lawmakers would allow North Carolina to declare an official religion, in violation of the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Bill of Rights, and seeks to nullify any federal ruling against Christian prayer by public bodies statewide.

"The Constitution of the United States does not grant the federal government and does not grant the federal courts the power to determine what is or is not constitutional; therefore, by virtue of the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, the power to determine constitutionality and the proper interpretation and proper application of the Constitution is reserved to the states and to the people," the bill states. "Each state in the union is sovereign and may independently determine how that state may make laws respecting an establishment of religion."
Why does North Carolina hate America?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Persecution and Assassination Of Classic Rock As Performed By The Inmates Of The Deep End Under The Direction Of J Neo Marvin And Big Bad Benny

Cross-posted on The Deep End:

On this Friday's Deep End, we'll be including a mini-set of songs from the 60s inspired by Marat/Sade, (full title: The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade), a deranged Brechtian satirical play that became an equally deranged movie that launched the career of Glenda Jackson. A piece taking in subjects like madness, revolution, authoritarianism and decadence was bound to resonate with a wide variety of characters on the 60s rock scene. First we have the classically trained folksinger Judy Collins with a medley of musical numbers from the play itself. The shocking, angry lyrics clash perfectly with the genteel chamber music accompanying them. Then comes "The Red Telephone", by the LA band Love, whose leader Arthur Lee seized on the chant of the mob in the mental hospital, "We're all normal and we want our freedom!" as the climax to his epic song of dread from the band's masterpiece, Forever Changes. Finally, the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band throw out their own soundcollage/anthem, "We Are Normal," which takes a completely different approach to the same quote.

Marat/Sade, worth seeing:

Judy's take on it, as relevant as ever:

Arthur Lee and Love, essential listening:

The Bonzos, the missing link between the Who and Monty Python:

Ray Collins, eternally hanging out

I know our friends the Mod-est Lads will appreciate this. A sweet tribute inadvertently created by Google Street View. More info here. I hope they keep it in circulation a while.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Ear Candle Radio's Top 20 for March 2013

Items of note this month include: a take on Mr. Rogers that justifies the invention of Autotune; a great Belafonte track from Island In The Sun, a movie that should have been better than it turned out to be; a protest-punk number from the 80s San Francisco band MJB; a Joe Meek pop song founded on some rather shaky assumptions; our own label represented here by X-tal and the Granite Countertops; and a cool track from the mysterious Visible Targets, a Seattle band of atypical girls from the early 80s, captured on the first cassette compilation from an obscure zine/label called Sub Pop. Dip deep, darlings!

1. The Who - Dogs - 30 Years Of Maximum R&B
2. Mister Rogers Remixed - Garden of Your Mind - Mister Rogers Remixed
3. Harry Belafonte - Lead Man Holler - Belafonte Sings of the Caribbean
4. The Supremes - Love Is Like An Itching In My Heart - Compact Command Performances: 20 Greatest Hits
5. MJB - Income - How To Abandon Earth
6. Lou Reed - Love Makes You Feel - Lou Reed
7. Bob Marley & The Wailers - Night Shift - Rastaman Vibration
8. Pink Floyd - Main Theme - More
9. Glenda Collins - It's Hard to Believe It - Joe Meek: The Alchemist of Pop: Home Made Hits and Rarities 1959-1966
10. The Soul Syndicate - Harvest Uptown, Famine Downtown - Harvest Uptown, Famine Downtown
11. Siouxsie and the Banshees - 20th Century Boy - Downside Up
12. Kevin Ayers - Stranger In Blue Suede Shoes - Whatevershebringswesing
13. The Granite Countertops - Haystack - Crashing Into The Future
14. X-tal - Union Sunrise - Who Owns Our Dreams
15. Visible Targets - Just For Money - Sub Pop 5 - Cassette 'Zine
16. Shorty Long - Night Fo' Last - Essential Collection
17. Le Tigre - Don't Drink Poison - This Island
18. Ken Nordine - Faces in the Jazzamatazz - The Best of Word Jazz, Vol. 1
19. Heavens To Betsy - Firefly - These Monsters Are Real
20. The Fall - Mike's Love Hexagon - The Real New Fall Album: Formerly 'Country On The Click'