Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Every Song on Every Rush Album Worth Listening to, Blurbed


2112

  • 2112 – Huh. This is only the second time I've listened to this song. Last time, the first time, I thought it was hella soft and non-rocking. This rocks adequately and is a fine accompaniment to doing a lot of dishes. Think they got the horns and some of the chords from Quadrophenia.
  • A Passage to Bangkok – Why did bands in the 70s/80s think that mentioning "the Orient" merited the "Oriental" note sequence?
  • The Twilight Zone – Wait. Is this actually about The Twilight Zone? Neat. Man, tho: even the rockers on this album have a lot of acoustic guitar
  • Tears – Everybody gets a ballad, I guess.
  • Something for Nothing – This rocks a lot. I suspect if I listened to the words, I'd get kinda frustrated, tho.

Fly by Night
  • Anthem – Front and center in the "fuck Rush; this guy is an Ayn Rand douche", this song actually rocks pretty hard, and the words are eminently easy to ignore. Goes on a little long, tho.
  • Best I Can – Excellent example of the 70s tendency for working-class aspiration-rock anthems. Something for the 17-year-old to yell along to!
  • Beneath, Between & Behind – Third straight example of killer Alex Lifeson riffage. At this point, you could be excused for thinking the band was actually centered around him. Restless drums and Neil Peart's least subtle cymbal work ever. Maybe the first Rush tune to feature a real breakdown part.
  • By-Tor and the Snow Dog – Impossibly diluted Hobbit shit song; lengthy guitar-noise freakout depicting a swordfight; maybe my favorite Rush song of all time. Totally fun stop/start technical part around four and a half minutes in. Had listened to it a dozen times before realizing that Prince By-Tor, who loses the fight to the Snow Dog, was actually the bad guy, as I'd assumed a guy who was a "Prince" had to be the good guy. In retrospect, probably the beginning of my class consciousness.
  • Fly by Night – If you've ever cried on a Greyhound, this song is meaningful to you.
  • Making Memories – Well, they can't all be winners.
  • Rivendell – Neil: put down the Tolkein. Alex: for fuck's sake, man: your guitars should be electric, not acoustic.
  • In the End – Somewhat self-conscious attempt to write another anthem forgets that the riff in an anthem should sound better when you play it on the electric than when you did on the acoustic. (Also forgets that the main riff sounded better in the title track than it does here.)

A Farewell to Kings

  • A Farewell to Kings – How many parts does a song need, anyway? Yeesh. More good chiming/ringing chords from Alex, but we're only three albums in and Geddy's shrillness and the overall treble levels here are starting to make me anxious.
  • Xanadu – Some synth curls and textures and long parts with no singing soothe. A great example of the tradition of classic heavy rock songs about things they make you read in high school English (see also: For Whom the Bell Tolls, Rime of the Ancient Mariner, One).
  • Closer to the Heart – One of the big radio staples of my wasted adolescent bus rides and insomnia sessions, and also maybe the best counterexample to the argument that all Rush lyrics are scary will-to-power fantasies: "mold a new reality / closer to the heart" makes everybody feel better! I had the tabulature for the solo in this one, and spent dozens of hours trying to reproduce it on an acoustic guitar, with ... limited success.
  • Cinderella Man – Not sure I've ever heard this before. Maybe the most Rush-song Rush song ever. Lot of complicated stereo panning reminding me of the iron rule of classic rock: the more time a producer spends changing up stereo effects during a song, the more forgettable the song is.
  • Madrigal – Hobbit-ass English folk song inexplicably scored with mostly synths.
  • Cygnus X-1 – Rush: "What if we just did a ten-minute song that started with five minutes of instrumental evocations of a rocketship before we started singing?" Me: "Why start singing? That shit was excellent before."

Caress of Steel

  • Bastille Day – Whoa, extra-thick guitar tones! Like mediocre BBQ sauce, or one guy trying to sound like both guys in the MC5 at the same time. I have a depressing feeling this one might be Rush's "punk" album. Song is pretty tuff, tho.
  • I Think I'm Going Bald – Novelty song. K. Apparently Rush wanted to go for a heavy boogie kind of thing. It actually goes a little better than you'd think.
  • Lakeside Park – Okay, there's definitely something going on with this record: this is a vaguely dancey song, the third distinct rock style in three songs. Can imagine roller-skating to this mid-tempo rock-ballad, with the disco ball flashing sparkles of light everywhere.
  • The Necromancer – Starting off with down-tuned mumbly voiceover, then it's impossible to pay attention until the Big Rock Moves start about four and a half minutes in, but, man. Am I really supposed to care about who's "gazing into his prisms" no matter how good Geddy Lee's Robert Plant impression has gotten? Anyway, at about the seven-minute mark, you get some primo Hawkwind stuff, if what you always wanted was "Hawkwind, but more disciplined". Only lasts about a minute and a half, tho. (And at nine and a half in, we get a full-on Sweet Jane rip that takes us on home. Can somebody get me a cab the hell out of here?)
  • The Fountain of Lamneth – This is just under twenty minutes long and no matter how many parts there are in it, there is nothing in here for me.

Grace Under Pressure

  • Distant Early Warning – Here we go; this is pretty much the Rush I remember most clearly from early radio listening: atmospheric, keyboardy, melodic, frequently dull.
  • Afterimage – Is this a Big Country outtake? (Mechanical reggae riffs are not my especial favorite thing.)
  • Red Sector A – Cold War paranoia and electronic drums. Can't win 'em all.
  • The Enemy Within – More jittery Police worship Ice-T had it right, tho.
  • The Body Electric – The funk faked. (For a while, then back to the standard-issue cold pop-rock.)
  • Kid Gloves – Boy, all of these songs sound exactly the same. I will say Lifeson's solo is a welcome slash of interest here.
  • Red Lenses – Yet more identical tempos and textures. Yet more yelping vocals without much in the way of a hook or reason to pay attention.
  • Between the Wheels – Fun little fake-out at the beginning where it seems like this may be different than the rest of the record. Doesn't last long.

Hemispheres

  • Hemispheres – Now this is more like it. Back to actual dynamics, including speeding up and slowing down every so often. Not what I'd call memorable, but more immediately engaging.
  • Circumstances – "Hey, kids! Do you like Rush radio hits? Well, would you like a song that sounds like a radio hit with no hooks?"
  • The Trees – I gather the lyrics to this are somewhat notorious. I can't really make them out. Otherwise, it's a fun, playful, even goofy little rocker.
  • La Villa Strangiato – By now, I'm a little tired of the long-Rush-song-with-a-million-parts-and-changes trope. Especially because the band seems to have systematically confused "skittering hi-hat work" with "interesting" and "lots" with "good", but this is fine, expansive, second-tier Rush. Best of their bad songs? Worst of their good songs? Somewhere in there.

Hold Your Fire

  • Force Ten – Samples, synth washes, electro-drums, Geddy again exploring funk bass moves: we are very officially in the 80s, friends. For Rush, though, this song is fast, and it's hard and it's so focused it actually feels mean and Alex is soloing and filling his face off, even if he's mixed so far in the background you can't actually hear it.
  • Time Stand Still – Up-tempo ballad with R.E.M. guitar and Aimee Mann vocal hooks? I have to say, Rush getting over the Police and moving on to other bands did wonders for them.
  • Open Secrets – By now, Rush can mesh their desires to play with textures without forgetting to have dynamic songs. Doesn't make all of those songs interesting, but it does keep them varied.
  • Second Nature – Little post-Talking-Heads drumming squiggles in here, and Geddy just might be humping a fretless bass, but everything except the vocal line sounds like they forgot to finish writing the song.
  • Prime Mover – I think this song forgot to happen?
  • Lock and Key – More parts piled up where a coherent whole usually goes.
  • Hold Your Fire – A little forgettable, but here, all the parts actually fit together, and all the weird variety makes for an intriguing whole instead of a mish-mash. Also by now the consistently amiable lyrical musings on topics like "people can be kinda mean and they should knock it off" and "I like art, it makes me feel better sometimes" has really grown on me.
  • Turn the Page – Again with the funk moves -- not really this band's strength, but this is probably the catchiest chorus on the record, if you're into the whole "enjoyable melody" thing. Some unforgivable synth fills towards the end, though, and at 5 minutes, this is about 2 minutes longer than anybody wants
  • Tai Shan – Synth approximations of bamboo flute. No.
  • High Water – Another solid album cut, with lots of experimento-drum, fun pushing-ahead parts, restful hanging-in-place parts...not bad. Not a lot of ideas here, but good execution.

Moving Pictures

  • Tom Sawyer – As a baby metalhead, in a huge jean jacket and mullet, headphones on and headbanging on the bus, I met a lot of older men who wanted to talk to me. They all seemed to work in restaurants. They all seemed to love Rush in general and this song in particular. It's a good song.
  • Red Barchetta – A really really boring song except for the breakdown bridge bits, which stomp all over the place. (Car songs always suck.)
  • YYZ – Vaguely fusiony technical beatdown? No vocals? Sense of humor about the whole thing (song is named after and music is based on the Morse Code name for the Toronto airport)? Yes please! This is almost certainly by any objective measure the best Rush song qua Rush song; nobody ever needs to hear it more than once, is the only problem.
  • Limelight – A lot of rock stars write self-pitying songs about being rock stars. This might be the least bad self-pitying song about being a rock star. And it is at least a fun thing to listen to, with stop-start bits, some really squinty guitar sounds, and just enough faux-Shakespearean language to fire up the base.
  • The Camera Eye – Squelchy-good synth moves open this up, and it's hard to imagine being much more into it. It's never quite as good as that again, but this is like being on a train: moving fast and in somebody else's control the whole time.
  • Witch Hunt – Sometimes after you dunk a basketball, you fall down getting back on defense.
  • Vital Signs – Semi-reggae here sending bad, bad signals for the future.

Permanent Waves

  • The Spirit of Radio – Great song, even with the cod-reggae breakdown and the sly "radio will play this because DJs will see themselves in it". Vocals are slightly too high in the mix. I'll always love this song for all the times my English punk friend would sing it drunkenly to me at the bar; the power of music is real, people.
  • Freewill – I have heard this song hundreds of times; I never, ever remember anything but the chorus. Which is too bad: the verse riff is extremely good, even when the vocal lines are just doubling it. I also like Lifeson's guitar solo, which uses his free will to spatter all over the place in a very messy way in an otherwise too-restrained tune.
  • Jacob's Ladder – I have nothing to say about this song.
  • Entre Nous – It's a degree of difficulty move to make your chorus the most challenging part of a song. That doesn't mean anybody has to like it. (I like it. A little.)
  • Different Strings – Filler.
  • Natural Science – Long, technical album-ender. Where have I heard this before? (And why this time is the cymbal sound so harsh and awful?)

Rush

  • Finding My Way – Except for Geddy's way-too-Robert-Planty "oooh yeah"s, this song rules.
  • Need Some Love – "I need it quick and I need it now" and my hand reaches out and turns the volume down.
  • Take a Friend – I'm a sucker for amiable tunes about friendship. This isn't great, but how can you be mad about it?
  • Here Again – Please go away. (We all have our own opinions about Rush, but my opinion is that "long blues songs" are not what I am here for.) (The solo is, howevs, tasty.) (If that's your kind of thing.)
  • What You're Doing – ...is listening to a slightly boogie-inflected Rush. How you feel about this is up to you.
  • In the Mood – "Well hey now baby" mutes song instantly. Seriously, if you want Rush to prove it can be as stupid and shitty as Kiss, this is your song. (Also "I Think I'm Going Bald".)
  • Before and After – Man, this is a really horny record.
  • Working Man – Minority opinion here, but I've never been sure this isn't the best Rush song. If nothing else, it proves that there's such a thing as exactly the right amount too slow. Beautiful. (It also proves that a sick breakdown is always appropriate, but you probably knew that.)

Power Windows

  • The Big Money – Airy synth chords (that you can barely tell from the heavily effected guitar); electronic drums; tricky technical parts under very generic synthy pop. Clearly, we are in the presence of the 80s. and, like so much 80s Rush, it feels like they forgot something: in this case, a vocal melody. The fade-out is, however, terrific.
  • Grand Designs – Tepid lyrical mashup of Spirit of Radio and Closer to the Heart in a song that otherwise reads as "we have a 32-track recorder and scraps left over from 45 songs, so we better put all the scraps together into one song".
  • Manhattan Project – About two and a half minutes in, there's an up-tempo part that is a lot of fun. It lasts about thirty seconds, and happens again about 3:45 in.
  • Marathon – It sure is.
  • Territories – Another six minutes of multiple parts standing in for having ideas, textures replacing dynamics, and pointless breaks thrown in because saying "No" is never the mark of good art.
  • Middletown Dreams – Almost enough hooks and energy to make an actual pop song!
  • Emotion Detector – Actual parts growing organically and meaningfully from one to the next! It lasts about a minute.
  • Mystic Rhythms – Yet more clashing clanging bullshit.

Signals

  • Subdivisions – I discovered this song about six months ago. It fairly reliably makes me tear up at my desk. It is proof that Rush can hit the pop mark when things work right, even with a million parts and everything else. (It's also proof that mixing the vocals a little lower and toning down the shrieking is a good move for the band, one that actually enhances the emotional urgency.)
  • The Analog Kid – Like Subdivisions without the transplendence.
  • Chemistry – Amiable pop-rocker with a neato guitar solo.
  • Digital Man – Like The Analog Kid with one or two more breakdowns.
  • The Weapon – This song is just fine!
  • New World Man – If you thought Tom Sawyer rocked too hard and needed to be toned down into a straight reggae-influenced pop song with some Closer to the Heart melodies, you were exactly correct. This is a classic Rush rehash, something like the band covering themselves, and it's essentially perfect.
  • Losing It – So shy I barely noticed it was there. Then it wasn't.
  • Countdown – What's a Rush album without a mini-epic? Not this Rush album, that's for sure.


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Tuesday, November 15, 2016

National Lampoon: Missing White House Tapes

When I was a young kid, like most young kids, I had a dad. And like most dads, he had a lot of things I wasn't allowed to touch: a stereo receiver; a turntable; a wooden orange crate of records; a reel-to-reel tape deck.

Obviously, most of my early memories of being left alone revolve around playing my dad's records.

For some reason, I gravitated to a couple covers.

And that's why, at somewhere in the neighborhood of 10, in 1984 in a shitty rented house in Kansas, I started wallowing in unbelievably weeded-out in-jokes about Nixon and Watergate. (A couple Doonesbury compilation paperbacks lying around the house helped me understand what the jokes were about, as did living in a fiercely pro-Geraldine-Ferraro house, in a fiercely pro-Reagan state in a virulently pro-Reagan country.) Mainly, of course, what allowed me to crack the code was listening to the records again and again, just burning them into my brain by the unsubtle magic of repetition.

And by so relentlessly placing myself into these bracing winds from the 70s, I think I grew a unique insight into our current situation, as terrifying and awful as it is, because this current situation is a tragedy, based closely on an earlier farce.

Which brings me back to the National Lampoon album, Missing White House Tapes. That's what I want to talk about right now: that farce (not the farce my parents endured, nor the tragedy we're preparing to weather now). In particular, I want to talk about Side Two. (Side One is ... interesting, but you have to smoke a LOT of weed to appreciate its highly abstract, formalized audio-collage work, and some of the references are absolutely incomprehensible unless you lived through the actual period. Some great dick jokes -- appropriate for trying to abuse Dick Nixon -- though.) So. Side Two. You can listen here (start at 17:22):

It's a masterpiece of the comedy album form: simulating the experience of half-idly flipping channels but always returning to the central show that's on, which is network TV coverage of the Impeachment Day Parade. Complete with stuffed shirt network weenies narrating the events, fatuously. Interludes include a wonderful Sesame Street parody pitting bumbling buffoon "Big Dick" and his greedy, ravenous friend The Shredder Monster as they try to explain the difference between 9 (original tapes) and 7 (turned over tapes), and between "lying" and "misspeaking yourself" and "falsehoods and inoperative statements" and "taking responsibility and taking the blame" and "withholding evidence and protecting the presidency". It's a wonderment that results in a chipper, chirpy public-television voice teaching the children to say "Shit. Shit! Big Dick! Is full! Of shit!"

A lesson that has resonated every day since 1984, and should reverberate more and more powerfully and awfully in the days to come.

Anyway, my goal here is not to liveblog my sixth listen to this album in the past four days. Merely to urge you and yours to listen to it, because it clearly lays out a sick, stunted, depressed best-case scenario for our immediate future.

I'll leave you with a quote from our network TV puppets, watching the floats go by in the Impeachment Day Parade:

WALLACE GLADSTONE: Barbara, I know for you, there were many moving moments, if you'll pardon the alliteration (chuckles). Perhaps you'd care to describe one or two of them to our viewers.
BARBARA MERKIN: Well, the strangling of the bald eagle was IT for me.
WALLACE: It was thrilling. Of course, the effigy-burning... And now, here's a contingent of our heroic POWs, many of whom spent years in prison in Hanoi courageously resisting the persistent efforts of their North Vietnamese captors to brainwash them into thinking that the United States is run by a tiny clique of criminals, dominated by powerful business interests, bankrolled by huge, monopolistic corporations, working hand in glove with the CIA in a campaign of intrigue at home and abroad.
BARBARA: Jesus, why did they bother?
WALLACE: Oh, I don't know, Barbara.
...
WALLACE: Well, that's about it for America's day of shame. The president has been officially impeached, and the eternal microphone has been switched on as the CIA brass band plays Wiretaps. But, Barbara, this is not only an historic moment, it's also a personal one. What has impeachment meant to the little people? The ordinary, simple people? You, for example, Barbara.
BARBARA: Well, Wallace, I just don't think the American people should in any way be ashamed of this tragic occurrence. Although a bunch of bleeding-heart do-gooders have used constitutional force to do away with our beloved president, this country is still founded on the age-old traditional values of bribery, violence, and assassination. And just because there are a few good apples in the barrel, doesn't mean that the vast majority aren't rotten through and through.
WALLACE: Okay, good thinking, Barbara.

Anyway, as we sink back into the 70s I think a lot about declaring certain statements inoperative, about tiny cliques of criminals, about strangling bald eagles at parades for Impeachment Day. I think about my dad's records, and talking to him in quotes from the dumb records we loved. I think about the last conversation I had with him, not long before he took his life. I think about the 70s, about where we were, about where we are, about the ways it's hard to tell the difference, and the ways it's easy. About the ways things are broken and the ways we might yet fix them. Some of them, anyway. And I miss my dad.

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Sunday, October 23, 2016

Open Up and See (a review of THIS MOTHER FOREVER, a single by Fucked Up)

Fucked Up has since spring of 2010 figured to me as something like COMPLETELY UNSTOPPABLE FORCE OF MUSICAL GREATNESS. I started with a copy of Epics in Minutes that didn't work for me, much, but Hidden World and Chemistry of Common Life thrilled me: loud pounding rock with big hooks, mysterious lyrics that touch on all my favorite themes, a cool visual identity with a sigil symbolizing the band, consistent album covers, weird names for the band members—basically, Fucked Up was a Blue Őyster Cult for people who wanted easier music and a more complicated relationship with the spectacle. Naturally, I was completely invited and fulfilled by all this: the powerful music and the thoughtful packaging.

When David Comes to Life came out, it brought all of the above, plus songs I knew instantly, production that buckled my knees, and that strange magic of chords / melody that puts tears in my eyes involuntarily. (See also: Dead Moon (frequently); Andrew Cashen / Sabrina Ellis (occasionally); a few others (extremely rarely).) It was, and is, one of the great rock records. The band had perfected its moves: speed, shouting, fast repetition.

Then, they got weird. They'd been doing long-song EP releases, based on the Chinese Zodiac (no, really), in which they moved away from their mastery of short/simple rock songs with punk vocals, and began experimenting with overwhelming with scale, not just volume. I started with Year of the Pig, an 18-minute tune with essentially one part, played loud, played soft, played over and over again. The sheer size of the song gave the band a new kind of intensity, ebbing and flowing, not just hitting it and quitting it, and the rhythm almost ... swung. To put it a slightly different way, Fucked Up here stopped being BŐC and started being Hawkwind. And it was very, very good.

They were adding new tricks: length, droning, quietness, new instrumentation, playing slow. Year of the Hare consolidated those new tricks, at least on the B-side, "California Cold"; on the A-side, they took a long, coherent song and gave it the William Burroughs random-cut-up-and-shuffle-and-reassemble treatment, for no reason I have been able to understand. When I can piece together the actual song behind this treatment, it appears to be about as good as Pig.

Then, they ran out of songs: Glass Boys just never clicked with me. When it's playing, it seems fine, and I have convinced myself half a dozen times that the songs were finally sticking in my head, but it never lasts. Then, they ran out of tricks: This Mother Forever is the same thing as Hare, a good/great song (more of the same) occluded by production / presentation moves like "let's not start the song for the first minute-fifteen of its fifteen-minute runtime" and "let's fade it out about 45 seconds before it actually ends". That said, the noodly guitar / feedback / soundscape that opens the song is atmospheric and pleasant; the louder groovy (again) psychedelic part that goes another 30 seconds is a lot of fun; and when the vocals kick in at around 5:45 ...

The band clearly needs the listener to take seriously its attempts at inversion and appropriation, trying to make you think about gender roles and the standard voice heard in a song.

I am the feather
and you are the breeze
I am the lock
and you are the keys
The end of the rope
with all ties severed
you are my hope
this mother forever
I am the dung
and you are the beetle
I am the thread
you are the needle
...

But there's two problems. First, Fucked Up appears to have written the same lyrics about a half-dozen times, so these lines feel pretty familiar. Second, this time around, the alchemical themes and revolutionary fervor just completely fall flat, due mostly to a chanted vocal that keeps resolving into the exact cadence of the nursery rhyme that runs

Here is the church
Here is the steeple
Open it up
And see all the people

In any case, it's new Fucked Up, and I'd rather have new Fucked Up than not have Fucked Up. I've listened to it a dozen times, and I'll listen to it dozens more. I hope their thematic repetitiveness eases up in the way their musical repetitiveness has, and I hope their musical boredom moves past the cut-up technique soon. Until then, I'll keep listening to this.

There's a B-side: it's 30 minutes long, and "features Nunavut singer Tanya Tagaq", and it mostly taught me I don't like throat singing, so I haven't played it after the first run-through.

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Thursday, October 13, 2016

Two Problems with Bob Dylan's Nobel Prize for Literature

  1. The elevation and sanctification of the strange and pernicious middlebrow belief that "songwriting" is essentially and importantly the writing of lyrics, or, to put it slightly differently, that the important and meaningful parts of songs are their words. The best way to dispel this one is to dive into this cover of "Outlaw Blues" by Thin White Rope, in which the guitar lines that come in after "I feel just like Jesse James" manage to convey that sentiment (cocky strutting) and "I got a woman in Jackson" (randy as fuck howling) substantially better than the words do (which is itself well). In rock and roll, it's almost always the guitars that get the best words.
  2. A parallel misapprehension about songwriting: that it is fundamentally an individual act, and that the players of songs are somehow secondary or subordinate. An easy way to correct this misapprehension would be to start your own fucking band, which would quickly revise your mental model of songwriting through the tool of practical experience.

If you're into easier, less rewarding modes, you could correct both of these mistaken notions simultaneously by reading historical accounts of the process of recording Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone", probably as responsible for the award as any other single song:

Tom Wilson invited Al Kooper to stop by the next day's session simply to watch, but he had far bigger plans. "Taking no chances, I arrived an hour early and well enough ahead of the crowd to establish my cover," he wrote in his 1998 book Backstage Passes and Backstabbing Bastards. "I walked into the studio with my guitar case, unpacked, tuned up, plugged in, and sat there trying my hardest to look like I belonged." Soon enough, [British blues player Mike] Bloomfield walked in and began practicing. "[He] commenced to play some of the most incredible guitar I'd ever heard," Kooper wrote. "And he was just warming up! I was in over my head. I embarrassedly unplugged [his guitar], packed up, went into the control room, and sat there pretending to be a reporter from Sing Out! magazine."

With Kooper in the control room, the same group from the previous day launched into "Like a Rolling Stone," though with Paul Griffin moving from organ to piano. Kooper knew so little about the organ that he didn't even know how to turn it on, but he was desperate to play on a Dylan song and when a distracted Wilson didn't give him a firm "no" he walked into the studio, sat down at the instrument and was delighted to see Griffin hadn't turned it off. "Imagine this," Kooper wrote in his book. "There is no music to read. The song is over five minutes long, the band is so loud I can't even hear the organ, and I'm not familiar with the instrument to begin with. But the tape is rolling, and that is Bob-fucking-Dylan over there singing, so this had better be me sitting here playing something."

Wilson may have been shocked when he saw what was happening, but Dylan dug Kooper's sound and asked for the organ to be turned up. "You can hear how I waited until the chord was played by the rest of the band before committing myself to play in the verses," Kooper wrote. "I'm always an eighth note behind everyone else, making sure of the chord before touching the keys." The unique style of playing not only gave the song a signature component, but it also introduced Dylan to a musical collaborator he would return to time and time again in the coming years.

In "Like a Rolling Stone", the organ is an unmistakeable carrier of meaning, and it was an accidental, improvisatory addition. Occluding these facts is one consequence of Dylan's Nobel.

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Thursday, October 06, 2016

Knock Knock (a review of MARKED FOR DEATH, a record by Emma Ruth Rundle)


"Knock knock."

"Who's there?"

"Better."

"Better who?"

"Better record than Emma Ruth Rundle's new one, Marked for Death."

"Fuck you, you don't exist, so you can't be knocking.  I hereby banish you to the realm of non-existence."


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Saturday, February 27, 2016

Blue Őyster Cult Sandy Pearlman Mixtape I: for the Byrds

The sound is dense, but not obviously and impressively complicated. That is, it is very coherent. It works because of its unity, not out of an accumulation of contrasting effects such as volume changes or syncopation. (48)
Crawdaddy I 10, July-August 1967, The Byrds p. 48-50

Consider these: The Byrds, The Velvet Underground, The Mothers of Invention, Love. Not a random choice among them. Because they are all groups with their own great world systems. I mean each group has its own comprehensive way of doing things, of looking at and organizing them. Often all we can recognize are the final results—this or that song—and in (21) so doing, we forget that this or that implicates some comprehensive view behind it. Not that everybody has a great world system. Not everybody is a philosopher. But for those who do, it can determine such diverse matters as album covers1, wardrobe2, haircuts3, half-time banter4, appearance of the instruments5, group athletics6, etc.

[...]

But all of these [examples] are really instances of the taste for order. Even the nihilistic stuff. That certain longing they reveal is a longing for order. Actually it gets harder and harder to imagine something nihilistic. I mean, what would it be like?8 If you do songs about perversion, drugs and popular ideas about disorder, then you are summing up an alternative, that which you happen to find tasty. And tastes change. And then what you have found tasty may even become generally palatable. And then what? Rock's great world systems are sets of alternative arrangements—or at least visions—of the world. Idealized arrangements, according to the tastes of whoever made them. They are sort of perfect—because they don't matter. Irrelevancy can always set you free and guarantee your privacy. Despite the fact that rock is big business, why should anybody care about what goes on? Unless you were really smart you would have to toil at making it as important as something else: politics say. That people do care is, then, very nice. Simple altruism probably. But most who care are still on the outside. And those on the inside, the ones who make the rock, don't care enough. That audience of theirs is so young, (23) so impressionable, and yet they'll say anything at all. Simple irresponsibility probably. Or maybe they're just self-consciously irrelevant.
Crawdaddy I 11, October 1967, Science Fiction p. 20-24

But suddenly that previously mentioned specter rears up. A really awesome monster, it comes on rushing like Diz-Busters7 with too much iron in its bloodstream and zero invisibility.
Crawdaddy I 12, January 1968, Doors and Kinks p. 21-25, 36-38

Now, about Marcel Duchamp we've gotta say this (at this time 'cause it also bears): his ready-made looms large in the potentiality of objects. It's well known that this person's self-conscious placement of an ordinary urinal in the midst of a pretty fancy 20th century art show simultaneously created an extraordinary art historical urinal and added the artist's intention to the dimensions within which objects could be manipulated. But his use of this ready-made was questionable. The art show wasn't its rightful spot. It was out of place / out of phase. So Marcel Duchamp wound up a very nasty comedian, i.e. both funny and disturbing. Setting a pattern. And, in fact, it's only been recently that the presence of a ready-made (anyone at all, anywhere at all) has become blatantly hackneyed enough to prove not always hilarious, not always scary, but sometimes just potentially comforting. R. Meltzer's term "academic beauty," encompassing such truck as Steve Noonan, Tim Buckley, Simon and Garfunkle (sic), The Bee-Gees and Pearls Before Swine, implicates this newer style for the ready-made: the formal one of modular component. Ready-mades can be taken from anywhere and plugged in anywhere. Their neutrality is violated only by the intention of their manipulators (and this intention, of course, controls where they wind up). Something becomes a ready-made when your manipulative intention takes it from one context to another. When it is intentionally recontextualized. And when these new and old contexts are equivalent, then the ready-made could seem comfortable and comforting. (In phase.) Back to the academically beautiful, and we note that the ideal for this stuff's words is most of the poetry we had to learn in the 7th through 12th grades. Perhaps that explains its high dullness potential. [...] I mean, I mean that the academically beautiful is obvious clichés. (41)
Crawdaddy I 13, February 1968, Van Dyke Parks p. 41-43

1. Album Covers


2. Wardrobe

3. Haircuts

4. Half-Time Banter

"I'd like to thank my friends here who gave me this little whip. It's really lovely, I'll keep it and cherish it forever."

5. Appearance of the Instruments

6. Group Athletics

7. Diz-Busters
This mysterious phrase graced a terrific song on the band's second album (and became the name of my first car, The Seventh Screaming Diz-Buster, a name I told at least one person [who promptly mocked the shit out of me]). There are a few extant theories about its meaning:
Albert has revealed that "diz" refers to the cleft of the penis, and that "duster's dust" refers to sperm. But the concept of diz-buster is left ambiguous. The definition of "something that can make one ejaculate" most plausibly applies to a reading that these seven diz-busters are evil, paranormal sex sirens, woman beings without a conscious [sic], the number seven bringing in a biblical element to the lyric as well. But this track could also be one of Sandy's biker songs, diz-buster referring to the result of a long, vibrating Harley ride (and then, mamas and old ladies often joke about the orgasmic qualities of a good ride). Indeed, many lines in the song could have one believe that the diz-buster is a bike (there is mention of cast iron, the mirror's face, rigid arms, routes, all suggesting this interpretation), especially in (Lucifer) light of the fact that females, female pronouns, or sexual ideas are never mentioned in the song.

Joe sheds more light on his approach to this track's lyric. "I had a tendency where I would take a Sandy Pearlman lyric and shape it. Those guys would use a Sandy Pearlman or Richard Meltzer lyric just the way they wrote it. But I always felt that structure was important in music, the structure of the lyric. So I ended up changing around the lines, not changing any of the words per se, but changing the order of the lines, which I also definitely did in Astronomy. And same with 7 Screaming Diz-Busters. Like I say, I wrote pretty much most of the music on our organ, which was in the living room of the house we rented. I would just get up in the morning and start banging on the organ, and came up with that, while Donald and Albert added in sort of the jam section." (47-48)
[from] Martin Popoff, Blue Őyster Cult: Secrets Revealed!

8. Longing for Order, Imagining Nihilism
Sandy Pearlman told me that at the last [Black Sabbath show] he attended, nobody in the audience could even stand up, barely managed to applaud, and bodies were sprawled everywhere. [...] A graphic tragic survey of the littered battlefield of the contemporary concert, with pitiful panoramas of passed-out pukes and other alliterative gimmicks. (237)
[from] Lester Bangs, Mainlines, Blood Feasts, and Bad Taste, "Bring Your Mother to the Gas Chamber", p. 222-242

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Friday, February 26, 2016

The More Jobs We Do with These Guys the More They Squeeze Us

2 of the most enduring sub-genres of crime: cop drama and heist thriller.


Cold open. Inside a car MICHAEL BELMONT (Chiwetel Ejiofor) discusses some details about the next heist he and his team will hit. A foreshadowing occurs in this first shot. Tight, dark, and with barely any information on the screen, it gives the feeling of being lost and afraid or at least of being somewhere you shouldn't be. It's not movie-lighting dark, it's is something wrong with the screen dark.

Michael's talking with brothers RUSSELL WELCH (Norman Reedus) and GABE WELCH (Aaron Paul). They'll need 2 more for the job: MARCUS (Anthony Mackie) and FRANCO (Clifton Collins, Jr.). There's a collective apprehension about doing another job with Russian mafia gangster IRINA (Kate Winslet).

Then the opening credits.

Triple 9 (2016, John Hillcoat) understands how to focus on the dangerous atmosphere of its group of 5 bank robbers, and it seems to play out so well because it just sticks to the facts. There are never any distractions from the plot. And Triple 9 is all about plot. Although the action sequences give the film its character. Before the opening credits have finished, the crew has already geared up for their job. The opening First City Bank 3rd & Peachtree bank robbery with the exploding red dye packs brings a lot of energy with it, and there's momentum to back it up. Crime thriller. The movie hits the bullseye, I'm telling you. The way it works within the genre, it's never misguided.

The ensemble cast is terrific. The best part about the cast is that they're featured just enough to become tapestry, and then attention is always on to something else. To cut to the chase, everyone except Marcus' partner CHRIS ALLEN (Casey Affleck) is corrupt and none of them are likeable except Chris and Michael. So Triple 9 sets up Atlanta, GA as a crime-ridden ghetto warzone between the police, Russian mob, and Mara Salvatrucha 13 Mexican street gang.

Michael is almost too likeable. He worked for Blackwater in Iraq years ago where he met Russell and they worked special ops. He was married to and had a child together with a gorgeous hot model Russian woman, ELENA (Gail Gadot) who's sister is Irina. He's the leader of the crew. He's the badass and the smart one. And his only care is his son, whom he shares joint custody of with Elena.

Marcus is Anthony Mackie at his most loathsome. Smoking Black & Milds, driving with his pistol on his lap, and full of nothing but hate and a short temper, his every action feels calculated to make us hate this cop. Same with Franco. But that's another thing that gives the movie its modern edge. We sympathize more for Chris because of what he's up against all around him; and it's his own partner who he need fear most.

Like I said, the rest of the characters are scumbags and lowlifes. But, my favorite actor himself Woody Harrelson as DET. JEFF ALLEN, uncle to Chris Allen, is one of the strongest supporting roles in Triple 9. Jeff smokes joints like some cops smoke cigarettes, lives alone in a living room strewn with empty bottles and trash, and is consumed by his profession. He heads the special crimes division and fights what he calls "the demon." Hell no does he look like he has any business being a cop, he's psycho. But Triple 9 lacks the traditional moral boundaries, and Jeff comes off as the good guy, having adjusted to the responsibilities of being a cop the only way he knows how with what he's up against. The scene at the bar when he's wasted and slurs the provocation: "hey any of you motherfuckers strapped right now?" lets us know what he's about. He's not good anymore, but one time he was. Maybe I like Jeff because I know the Hank Quinlan in him.

I can't believe I can still say this, but Triple 9 is realistic. It rushes through the tense days desperate to see out the final outcome of the high stakes involved, yet doesn't shift into overly melodramatic, political, or character development timesucks like this genre has often suffered from. And the tone always feels like impending doom (the wall to wall low atonal metallic electronic drone score is great), like everything's going to go wrong, but through most of the movie we're watching how expertly proficient the cops and the robbers perform their missions. And it's fresh.

Another of the big set pieces, the projects raid is the obligatory shootout, but god it's so good. That leads to the Homeland Security Holding heist following immediately after. Also what's that they use in the heists, a taser cannon? That's awesome. All the action sequences feel like someone really knows what they're doing, giving them the attention and skill to make them good. Another great chase in itself is Jeff's speeding pursuit through traffic to the 999.

Again Triple 9 is really about Det. Jeffrey Allen. At the end, with some flecks of blood splatter on his face, that last shot, when the camera freezes on him and then slowly zooms in for a few seconds, I ask myself: why was he in that cop car instead of calling it in? I don't know, but it stays with me. That's some Hank Quinlan.

--Dregs

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