Thursday, January 25, 2007

Condoleezza Rice's Twitter account

I like this.

Pavement and The Fall

I work at an office and I have two stacks of CDs on my desk right now, a stack of Pavement CDs and a stack of The Fall CDs. I want to understand the bodies of work better. Especially The Fall. It's the audio equivalent of In Search of Lost Time.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Cancer as an Evolutionary Disease

Fascinating article on cancer and evolution by Carl Zimmer.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Re-visit: "Little Johnny Jewel" by Television

Re-visits are posts I will be writing from time to time where I will revisit a record or CD from my musical past and try to hear it anew.

"Little Johnny Jewel" by Television, released 1975, Ork Records #81975
written by Tom Verlaine, published by Double Exposure Music Inc.

(7" 45, Part one of the song on one side and part two on the other)

I feel a sense of menace as the song begins. Each pluck, twang, and drumbeat is clearly audible. there's lots of white space. The song doesn't invite you in, it makes you come to it, makes you understand it on its own terms. Assertive, proud honeyed guitars.

Really this is creation ex nihilo. It surely must have been ignored at the time of its release -- it didn't fit in with the styles of the time. Even releasing it in two parts on both sides of a 45 must have been unheard-of. Verlaine famously gave as his musical influences 1960's jazzer Albert Ayler, the Rolling Stones' "19th Nervous Breakdown," 20th century classical composer Maurice Ravel, and the Twilight Zone theme.

Now little Johnny jewel
oh he's so cool
He have no decision
He's just trying to television
Oh some thought this was sad
And others thought it mad

I like the little quaver in Verlaine's voice when singing "mad" and "display" and the guitar trill during the line "the rush, the roar," it conveys the noisy grey skies over Kennedy.

The record holds up amazingly. No revisionism needed. It's taken up residence in my head lo these 30 years and hearing the real thing doesn't disappoint me.

After some gathering tension the guitar solo starts. Guitar solos later went out of favor in the punk scene when musicianship and its display was disparaged. The high part of the solo is just audible at the very end of the 45's A-side. Pause to turn it over as I think "this still blows me away." The B-side starts with the last words sung on side A, "and lose his senses" and the solo begins again. Beautiful drumming by Billy Ficca, my sometimes CBGBs buddy in those days.

The guitars call to mind a noisy flock of birds in some Bowery tree. They're unafraid to express emotion in the guitar playing (when the lyrics are so guarded). The solo is the real heart of this song.

The main theme is restated after the solo ends, there's one more verse of lyrics, some more scratchy guitar and the song ends. Who is this guy Little Johnny Jewel anyway? Some gangster they knew in those days? or is he Verlaine himself?

The 45 comes out of an uncompromising place, done truly for the art of music with no reservations and no concessions to commercial or popular taste.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Emergency Sex

I just finished Emergency Sex by Kenneth Cain, Heidi Postlewait, and Andrew Thomson. OK, it was the title that first caught my eye (at Borders - it was in the Travel section). It's a triple memoir by three UN workers who worked in all the 1990's hot spots -- Cambodia, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Rwanda, and Liberia. There are chilling descriptions of the genocides and atrocities in Rwanda, Bosnia and Liberia.

This book changed how I see US (and world community) intervention -- the authors see it as almost purely positive. They are bitterly critical of the American decision to precipitately leave Somalia and not to intervene in Rwanda, and credit our interventions in Haiti and Bosnia with doing a lot of good. The overall tenor of the reporting in the American media is "we always screw things up." It's interesting to hear another view from people who saw these events first hand.

I don't want to give the impression that Emergency Sex is a dry political tract. It's a personal memoir of three friends. Their time in Cambodia, the book's first section, is recalled as almost an idyll, with just a little violence to spice things up.

An afterword talks about the controversy attending the book's hardcover publication. The book reveals UN officials taking kickbacks. The two authors who still worked at the UN were threatened with dismissal; they sued and got their jobs back.

Highly recommended.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Julian Cope and Armand Schaubroeck

I've added Julian Cope's Album of the Month to the links - well worth clicking on. He reviews one album per month and they're not the ones everyone else is reviewing. This month it's the Austrian band Sturmpercht and their 2006 release Geister Im Waldgebirg. But for me the best thing on Julian's site is his touching musical memoir about Armand Schaubroeck. Armand is one of the primitives of rock music. His music is truly weird and actually, not that good by objective standards, but Julian senses, and describes, what's truly wonderful about it.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Children of Men

Thoughtful takedown of Children of Men from Keith Uhlich in Slant Magazine. I thought the first 45 minutes were brilliant. The last 30 or so minutes reminded me of the end of The Blues Brothers where they smash up all the police cars. Quiet menace is much more scary than a shoot-em-up. The movie has definite "narrative deficiencies."