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Archive for August, 2012

SOUNDTRACK: RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS-“Magic Johnson” (1989).

Just before the Red Hot Chili Peppers totally took off and became stadium stars, they released Mother’s Milk.  It was a commercialized realization of their three earlier more raw sounding funk rock records.  It was one of my favorite records of the late 80s.

Since Flea is interviewed in this issue of Grantland, and since he’s still a fan of the Lakers, it seemed like a good time to mention this song.

It opens with some martial drums (from then new drummer Chad Smith) and band chanting about M A G I C.  The lyrics are sung very quickly (I’m not even sure what they say half the time).  About 80 seconds in some wild guitar work burst forth, but it’s largely a chanted song of bass and drums.  There’ s a brief jam at the end where Flea shows off some great basswork and John Frusciante gets to do his thing again.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard it played anywhere (maybe at Lakers games?), so here’s a chance to hear it:

[READ: May 8, 2012] Grantland 3

One thing is for sure, Grantland loves it some basketball.  Basketball is the most widely covered sport in the published Grantlands so far. (The first issue even looked like one).  Since basketball is such a pop culture-referencing sport it actually works pretty well as a subject–with lots of different angles–especially given the state of the NBA lately.  Some other things on the Grantland staff’s minds include–the dangers of football and inadequacy of helmets to protect kids and Tim frickin Tebow (still!).  I don’t think an issue has past without talking about him yet.  I realize that’s a function of the time of these publications but… ew!

Nevertheless, the writing remains exciting and interesting, even for a non-sports guy like me.

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CHEECH & CHONG-“Basketball Jones featuring Tyrone Shoelaces” (1974).

When I was a kid this was a favorite song on the Cheech & Chong’s Greatest Hit album (although not quite as good as “Earache My Eye”).  Anyone who grew up in the 70s and early 80s should know the teeny tiny voice singing “bassetball jones, I gotta bassetball jones…i got a bassetball jones oh baby ooooo.”

This song is pretty simple and straightforward–a young boy gets a basketball and he loves it and keeps it with him everywhere he goes.  And he becomes the best basketball player ever.  There’s more or less one or two verses and then an ever-increasing choir of voices sings the chorus.  The joke is about 30 seconds long but the song last for over three minutes, growing bigger and more epic.  Tyrone brags about his awesome skills (I can dunk with my nose) all the way through. There’s also a pretty great guitar solo from George Harrison!

I never knew that there was a cartoon for the song–it was made to promote the album Los Cochinos, and was shown before films in the theater! and was included in a Robert Altman film!!.  The cartoon was created by Paul Gruwell, and now you can watch it here:

[READ: August 20, 2012] “The Art of a Basketball”

The last story I read in Grantland was okay, but I didn’t have very high hopes for another one.  And when Mullen described a room as “like the lair of some mad villain from a Spiderman movie” I didn’t think I’d be enjoying this one much either.  But this story proved to be pretty interesting.

The premise is that the main character has his degree in art and he make a living touching up paintings that have eroded over the years.  As the story opens he is restoring the color to chipped sections of a $12 million Cezanne (is that even a job?).  Anyhow, he messes up the Cezanne (d’oh) and is fired.  He messed it up because he was unfocused–he just broke up with his girlfriend and that was all he could think about.  She is an artist (she says so at every opportunity) and he found her pretentious and really not very good.  And she found him very negative–they should have broken up ages ago, clearly.  Anyhow, he is fired and gets a job in Providence at CAMP.  He’s now working on Contemporary art which he doesn’t respect at all (some serious art bashing in this section!).

His first assignment is to fix up Jay Winthrop’s Water Ball from 1981 (not a real installation).  The piece of art is a basketball floating in water.  It had developed black gunk on the ball and his job was to clean it (I of course wondered how the water stayed in there for 30 years).  He created his own solvent which removed the black, bit also some of the coloring of the ball.  Now he was in deep shit. His only choice was to replace the ball without anyone knowing.  But it turns out the ball was not just a regular old 1981 championship ball (on ebay for $500) but a 1981 Championship ball with Dr. J’s signature on it (they weren’t in the playoffs that year)–a factory error valued at $5,000.  The narrator is already in huge debt, but he needs the job.  What is he going to do? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PINK FLOYD-Alan’s Psychedelic Christmas (1970).

I’ve always loved Pink Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother.  I have no recollection of how I stumbled upon this live bootleg, but when I saw that it contained one of the few live recordings of “Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast” I had to give it a listen.

So this show is from 1970 and was recorded in Sheffield just before Christmas (Nick Mason evidently introduced the show while wearing a Santa Claus suit).  The sound quality is pretty good given that it is 40 some years old.  There’s a bunch of hiss, and the quieter talking bits are hard to understand, but the music sounds fine.

So the show opens with “Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast” and what is so silly (and I assume funny to watch (a little less funny on bootleg) is that the band made and ate breakfast on stage.  As Collectors Music reviews writes: “This is the only known live recording of ‘Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast’ but also hosts an amazing performance by the band which included them making morning tea on stage which is audible. Just like most of their earlier performances, the performance of “Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast” slightly differs from the album version due to some nice jamming done by the band, especially Gilmour with his delay pedal.” As I said, some of the audio is static and hard to make out in this song–the band is conversing during their tea, but who knows what they are saying.  And who know what is o the radio.

Then the band gets down to business.  One of things I love about this period Floyd which is so different from their later work is that the played really long spacey jams often with very few lyrics.  So we get a 12-minute version of “The Embryo” (the only available studio version is a very short one on Works which is quite a shame as the song is really good).  A 14-minute workout of “Fat Old Sun” which is usually only about 5 minutes.

There’s a great version of “Careful with that Axe Eugene” and “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” (15 and 12 minutes respectively).

Then in a killer version of “Saucerful of Secrets,” just as they get to the end, there’s a power failure (at least according to the song title).  The band is rocking out just hitting the climax when suddenly all you can hear are un-miked drums.  Ha. After a couple of minutes, power comes back and they pick up from just before where they left off.

Then the band launches into a full 31-minute version of “Atom Heart Mother” complete with horns and choir  of voices.  It sounds quite good (the horns seem a little sketchy but that might be expected with such staccato music).

The set ends and the band needs an encore.  Apparently they couldn’t remember anything else because they just re-do the last few minutes of “Atom Heart Mother” again.

One of the things that cracks me up about these shows in the 70s in England, is that the audience is so polite. Their applause sounds like a classical theater rather than a rock show.  And with a bootleg you know they didn’t try to make the audience sound bigger than they are.

The whole package is a fun trip.

[READ: August 17, 2012] Welcome to the Monkey House

So this book is Vonnegut’s second collection of short stories.  But there’s a twist.  This collection contains all of the short stories from Canary in a Cat House except one. It also contains many of the stories he had written since then as well as stories not collected in Canary.  So you get basically 18 years worth of stories here.  And it’s interesting to see how much he has changed over those years (during which he wrote 5 novels, but not yet Slaughterhouse Five).

Since I read Canary a little while ago (see comments about the stories here), I knew that his 50’s era stories were influenced by WWII.  So it’s interesting to see how his stories from the 690s are not.  They deal more with day to day things and, of course, abstract concepts about humanity, although politics do enter the picture again once Kennedy is elected .

  • Where I Live (1964)

This was a good story to open with because it shows the then-later-period Vonnegut’s mindset and location.  This story is about Barnstable Village on Cape Cod (where I assume Vonnegut lived since there are a number of stories set on the Cape).  This is a very casually written story about an encyclopedia salesman who goes to the local library and sees that their two encyclopedias are from 1910 and 1938.  I enjoyed this line: “He said that many important things had happened since 1938, naming among others, penicillin and Hitler’s invasion of Poland.”  He is told to talk to the library directors who are at the yacht club.  I love the attitude that Vonnegut creates around the village which “has a policy of never accepting anything.  As a happy consequence, it changes about as fast as the rules of chess.” For really, this story is about the Village more than the encyclopedia salesman, and it’s an interesting look at people who move into a new place and want it to never change. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KISS-Alive III (1993).

Kiss put out Alive! after just three albums.  Alive II also came out after three albums.  Alive III has 14 albums between it and Alive II (if you count the solo albums as 4).  I guess poor sales and poorly attended concerts don’t really suggest live albums.  But Revenge revitalized them somewhat so it was time for a new one–their first with no makeup!  And it’s a pretty good one.

But it’s also like Kiss has forgotten all about being Kiss.  There’s no “You wanted the best, you got the best, the hottest band in the world…Kiss” (which would have been untrue at the time anyhow, but since when has that stopped Kiss?)  The tracklisting is pretty darn good though.  For Alive II, the band didn’t want to repeat any tracks from Alive! (that’s such an endearing thing to say about the band with 400 repackaged hits records).  Since there are tons of records since Alive II, you’d assume Alive III was all 80s songs.  But that’s not the case.  There are a few inevitable duplicates (how could there not be–all their biggest hits were from the 70s), but I’m surprised they didn’t throw more current stuff on the disc.

It opens with “Creatures of the Night” a great heavy version.  Then they go way back to “Deuce” which is a cool surprise.  Since this was the tour for Revenge, you’d think there might be more songs from it, but there’s only three: “I Just Wanna” “Unholy” and “Domino.”  “I Just Wanna” was perfectly crafted for Paul to banter with the audience and get them to sing “I just wanna fuck” (which was edited from the album I understand).  And in this live setting “Unholy” sounds great.

“Heaven’s on Fire” works well live, even if I don’t really like the song–but the band can really ham it up here.  The big surprise has got to be “Watching You,” a totally unexpected song form the past.  And even if it was on Alive!, this version is quite different (no Peter Criss cowbell).  I don’t think much of “Domino” anyhow (well, the music is great but the lyrics, ick), but in this version Gene just seems kind of bored.

Another surprise comes in “I Was Made for Lovin’ You”  true it’s one of Kiss; biggest hits but they often try to distance themselves from the “disco” era.  Nevertheless this version sounds revitalized.  And since there were no live albums in the 80s, there’s no official live recordings of it.  “I Still Love You” is another great chance for Paul to shine.  “I Love It Loud” sounds great (although the harmonies get a little sketchy at times.  But it’s weird to hear “Rock N Roll All Nite” in the middle of the set instead of at the end.  It’s also odd to start off this song with “It ain’t bullshit when you say rock and roll all nite and party every day.”   The intro to “Detroit Rock City” is also very strange “It doesn’t matter where you’re born ,it doesn’t matter where you come from, it matters where your head is at. This one;s called Detroit Rock City.”  Huh.

There’s not much you can do with a dreadful song like “Lick It Up,” and ad-libbing “I wanna lick you” doesn’t make it any better.  The disc ends with “God Gave Rock n Roll to You II,” which I don’t like, but which sounds good live, a lot of energy.  And it wraps up with a very odd thing–a guitar solo version of the Star Spangled Banner.  It doesn’t compare to Alive! or Alive II, but Alive III is a good live album from a good live band.

[READ: August 15, 2012] “From the Pencil Zone”

This is a review of the microscripts of Robert Walser, an author whom I have never heard of.  Walser was born in Switzerland in 1878 and he published several shorts and several novels (which were admired by Kafka!).

As the market for shorts dried up, so did his career, and he moved into smaller and smaller places.  Accordingly, his handwriting grew smaller and smaller, too.  Eventually he cheeked himself into a series of mental institutions.

Walser’s early novels dealt with everyday life, like the “young boyish man” who wants to become a bookshop proprietor in The Tanners.  The character (whose name we don’t learn for a long time) is effusive, praising the job to the heavens as a divine calling!  And lo he is given the job.  A week later he declares, “the entire book trade is nothing less than ghastly.”  Wasler himself had a multifaceted career: butler, inventor’s assistant, clerk, journalist.  But he was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia and is responsible for this quotable quote: “I’m not here to write.  I’m here to be mad.”

After Walser died, people discovered a treasure trove of 526 pages of “microscripts.”  The writing was so small that these 526 pages, when written in book form came to six VOLUMES of books.  They were released as Aus dem Bleistifsebiet (From the Pencil Zone).  Galchen’s review here is for the short one volume New Directions collection called Robert Walser: Microscripts.  Interestingly, most of the stories have no title and some seem unfinished.  New Directions (and Harper’s) include images of this man’s microscopic writings (all done in pencil of course).  He wrote in Kurrent, a widely used script at the time which was a version of medieval shorthand and which dramatically reduced the number of strokes per character.  His letters were often one or two millimeters tall.  He was able to fit six stories on a postcard received from a newspaper editor. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN-“Für Elise”

I didn’t know a lot of the music mentioned in this book, but like most people, I know and enjoy “Für Elise.”  It’s an interesting choice of music to end such a crazy chaotic story, although I suppose there are some less than peaceful moments ion the song too.  It’s a shame Bast never gets to play it.

I find the most engaging moments to be when the lone high note comes before the reintroduction of the initial melody.  The middle, minor key section that sounds kind of menacing is also neat–a big switch from the delicate opening.

Why not take 3 minutes and enjoy it now:

[READ: Week of August 20, 2012] JR Week 10

The end is here.  After endlessly interrupted conversations, the book has actually hit a period.

As the last week ended, Bast was being dropped off at the hospital by Coen.  And the bulk of the end of the book takes place in the hospital.  There are many similarities between this book and a big 60s/70s comedy romp, and here is another one–all the characters seems to pile into one location for a big finale.  (Technically the finale happens at Bast’s house, but you get the idea). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PHISH-Live Bait Vol 3 (2010).

This selection of free Phish songs is notable because of a couple of items.

  1. All of the songs were recorded at the Worcester Centrum in Worcester, MA.  Although the first three songs were recorded in 1993, the fourth song was recorded in 1997 and the final track was recorded in 1991.
  2. The first three songs were recorded on New Year’s Eve–technically on New Year’s Day.  The first track actually counts down the seconds until midnight, when the band bursts into Auld Lang Syne
  3. Probably the biggest deal of all: the band plays a version of “Runaway Jim” that lasts 58 minutes and 48 seconds.  That’s right, nearly an hour on one song.  I think if I went to see them live and they did that I’d be pissed, but it sounds great on this recording.  “Runaway Jim” is not one of my favorite songs, but this extended jam is really good–they break into several different sections and it doesn’t feel like a long version of this song so much as a bunch of different jams thrown together.  At one point it almost seems like the band thought they began with “Weekapaug Groove,” but they push back against that.  I’m very curious to know what happened after that song was over, but the end of the disc takes on an early recording of “Llama, ” a song I like quite a lot.

This is yet another great addition to the free Live Phish pantheon of music–I mean, an hour version of one song, how cool!

[READ: August 1, 2012] “Volumes of Knowledge”

Encyclopedias date back thousands of years–Pliny the elder tried to write everything he knew in Historia Naturalis and a Chinese emperor created a similar book Emperor’s Mirror in 220 A.D.  But the art and craft of creating books that contain all the world’s knowledge flourished in the 1700s.  Increased wealth and education in the French bourgeois, a flood of information and a decline of interest in religion all led to the desire to learn more.  The printing press helped to disseminate the information.

It was Denis Diderot, a French enlightenment polymath who best explained the concept of the encyclopedia:

the purpose of an encyclopedia is to collect knowledge disseminated around the globe; to set forth its general system to the men with whom we live, and transmit it to those who will come after us, so that the work of preceding centuries will not become useless to the centuries to come; and so that our offspring, becoming better instructed, will at the same time become more virtuous and happy, and that we should not die without having rendered a service to the human race in the future years to come.

But Diderot recognized the limits of a one-author encyclopedia: “I do not believe it is given to a single man to known all that can be known.”   From 1751 to 1772 he and his assistants edited more than 70,000 articles from 140 authors to create his first Encyclopedie.  Of course having many authors had drawbacks–differences in style, length and quality.  But Diderot shied away from nothing and in many locations the book was banned.  Some of the ideas in the book shook the very foundation of accepted ideas.  And many of the authors hoped to change the world.  Diderot himself even hoped to usurp religion with his knowledge: “It is not enough for us to know more than Christians, we must show them we are better.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DEER TICK among the Honey Buckets–“Main Street” (2012).

NPR created a bunch of Field Recordings at Sasquatch.  I picked this one primarily because it featured Deer Tick front man John McCauley singing front of a bunch of porta potties.

I actually don’t know much about Deer Tick, so I don’t know if they normally sound folky or what.  But this song, in its acoustic setting is very good.  John McCauley’s voice works great here.  There’s even a nice shout out to MCA.

There’s not a ton to it, and this alone won’t make me a fan, but I’ll certainly check out more by them.  It’s also a nice video to watch, especially for the amusing encore.

[READ: August 1, 2012] “The Use of Myth in History”

Most of the articles in Colonial Williamsburg have to do with, well, Colonial Williamsburg.  This one, however, talks about myths that we as Americans have created and continue to believe, from colonial times to more days.

The article opens by explaining that Patrick Henry’s famous “give me liberty or give me death” speech was written down forty-two years after the fact by William Wirt.  And he wrote it down from memory, so who knows what words Henry actually spoke.  But no doubt Wird got the gist right.  So the Henry speech is a myth–not necessarily wrong but not exactly true either.

Klein explains that some historians would like to remove the myths from history and focus only on the facts, but stories like Henry’s are so popular, so ingrained in our memories, that removing them would do more damage than the beloved myths do.  Indeed, some historians believe that myths are very important.  Micheal Gerson wrote, “We know that myths are not the same as lies” and John Thorn said “Historians have an obligation to embrace myth as the people’s history”

Klein writes that America’s mythology was largely created by writers from the early 1800s.  Pressure was building towards the War of 1812 and they needed support.  The mythology was designed to get people to forget about the ugly Revolutionary War.  And so stories were created just in time for the birth of public education in America to disseminate the stories.  And so mythological stories like George Washington and the cherry tree or the midnight ride of Paul Revere or Plymouth Rock or even Pocahontas became enshrined in textbooks.  Now, most myths are based on facts, but the truths were embellished and made more romantic and given a moral.  So, yes Patrick Henry did give a speech, the Pilgrims settled in Plymouth and Paul Revere did ride into the countryside to warn of the British invasion. but probably not exactly as we think they did.  So nineteenth century writers made George Washington the symbol of our country–a unifying power to embody a nation. (more…)

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