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Archive for the ‘Insurgent Summer’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: CRASS-Christ: The Bootleg (1989).

I had heard about Crass as being a political force to be reckoned with–they formed an anarchist commune that worked with other artists and on behalf of political causes.  So why not start with a CD that says on the cover: “Suggested Retail Price $4.98.”

So I bought this CD before hearing anything else by them.  It’s a live recording from 5.2.1984, and it’s a noisy muddled mess.  You can hear occasional words in the noise (although most of the clearest things are soundbites from the likes of Thatcher and other politicians).  These surround the songs which are mostly just noisy distorted guitars (more because of the sound quality of the recording I believe).

I’ve obviously never seen Crass, but this bootleg suggests that they were a visceral force (there’s so much screaming!).  There are a few moments of clarity where you can hear their anti-establishment lyrics, but for the most part this is a terrible place to discover Crass.

I suppose if you know the band, it’s a worthy addition, but I have to assume the proper albums sound better and make more of an impact.

[READ: Week of July 9, 2010] Letters of Insurgents [Sophia’s Fifth Letter]

This week’s reading comes from Sophia.  Her letter was nearly 80 pages long, so we get her POV exclusively.

Sophia’s tone has changed yet again. This time, it’s summed up when she dismisses Yarostan’s comparison of her life in the garage (and more about that soon) with his experiences during Magarna:

The only similarity between your experiences during the Magarna uprising and my experiences in the garage is that they both began at the same time.  But I’ll let you be the judge of the similarities and the differences; you’ve scolded me enough for my comparisons and contrasts (338).

Sophia opens with two surprises: she was just in jail and Tina has left their house.  [The way it’s worded: she is “no longer with us” (331) was rather a tease.] (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKDEAD KENNEDYS-Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables (1980).

Punks often marry politics to their music.  And none moreso than the Dead Kennedys.  I found out about them around the Frankenchrist album, but it’s this one that introduced Jello Biafra to the world.

What I loved about the Dead Kennedys is that they set out to offend everyone–unless you actually listened to their lyrics. The first track, “Kill the Poor” seems like it a horrifying encouragement to do just that, but if you read the lyrics: “Efficiency and progress is ours once more/Now that we have the Neutron bomb/It’s nice and quick and clean and gets things done/Away with excess enemy/But no less value to property/No sense in war but perfect sense at home.”   As was recently commented, Dick Cheney may have seen the sarcasm there.

“Let’s Lynch the Landlord” is a song that Sophia and Yarostan could get behind: “I tell them ‘turn on the water’/I tell ’em ‘turn on the heat’/Tells me ‘All you ever do is complain’/Then they search the place when I’m not here.”

The biggest track of the disc was “Holiday in Cambodia,” a song so catchy that Dockers actually asked to use it in a commercial (!).  Cause nothing sells jeans like: “Play ethnicky jazz/To parade your snazz/On your five grand stereo/Braggin’ that you know/How the niggers feel cold/And the slums got so much soul.”

The thing that I especially liked about the DKs was that although they played hardcore (some brutally fast and crazily short songs), they didn’t limit themselevs to just that.  They had actual guitar riffs, they tinkered with styles and genres (surf and rockabilly among others), and they even slowed things down from time to time (all the better to hear the lyrics).

Even if the band disintegrated into lawsuits, it’s fair to say that they inspired plenty of kids to take an interest in what was going on around them.

Pol Pot.

[READ: Week of June 25, 2010] Letters of Insurgents [Yarostan’s Fifth Letter]

Because Sophia’s letter is very long, this week it’s only Yarostan’s letter for Insurgent Summer.  It opens with Yara annoyed about the tone of Sophia’s letters and her surprise that Yarostan is so quick to want to open the latest one.   But indeed, Yarostan feels compelled to apologize for “the way I treated your earlier letters.  I did treat you as an outsider, as a person with whom I couldn’t communicate about my present situation.  I was wrong” (283).  [It’s very nice of him to admit that he was wrong].  But that doesn’t mean that he is going to lighten up in his discussions with Sophia: “it seems to me that …critical appreciation is not an expression of hostility but is at the very basis of communication and friendship” (285).  Mirna also chimes in (with rather high praise):

Sophia is a born troublemaker, just like Jan and Yara.  She shares Jan’s recklessness as well as his courage.  I’m glad for her sake that she was taken away from here even if her emigration caused her some pain.  There’s no room here for people like that.  If she’d stayed she would have disappeared years ago in a prison or concentration camp (283). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BILLY BRAGG-Talking to the Taxman About Poetry (1986).

I’ve liked Billy for ages now.  I’ve seen him live a few times, and I’ve always loved that his accent is so prominent when he sings.  Over the years he has become somewhat less overtly political, but he is still a man of issues and causes.

This is Billy Bragg’s second full length.  He was still primarily a man with a voice and a guitar at this stage.  His melodies are strong, and since there’s no other instrumentation, all that’s left to talk about is the lyrics.

“Greetings to the New Brunette” is an adorable love song, followed closely by the anti-marriage “The Marriage”: “If I share my bed with you Must I also share my life Love is just a moment of giving And marriage is when we admit our parents were right.” (which doesn’t quite jibe with Sophia, but it’s close.

But really what you come to Billy Bragg for is the politics.  LIke in “Ideology”:  The voices of the people Are falling on deaf ears Our politicians all become careerists They must declare their interests  But not their company cars  Is there more to a seat in parliament  Then sitting on your arse.”

He also covers a public domain song which I wondered how well it would fit here.  “There is Power in a Union” seems like it’s saying the right thing, but some of the characters here would disagree about the end: There is power in a factory, power in the land Power in the hands of a worker But it all amounts to nothing if together we don’t stand There is power in a Union.”

This album also features the great track, “Help Save the Youth of America.”

Over the years Billy would expand his sound (he even worked with Wilco on two discs), but he always sings for the people.

[READ: Week of July 2, 2010] Letters of Insurgents [Fourth Letters]

As I’ve been going along in the story, I began to wonder if the two letter writers were going to be rehashing the same arguments in each letter.  I had confidence in Perlman that the story would be interesting (it sure had been so far), but I couldn’t imagine how he would keep it original, especially since Yarostan was in jail for so long–he has no information except secondhand.

This week’s reading gave two examples of how he’d do it:  Jasna comes to visit Yarostan and she updates everyone about what had happened to all of their fellow workers, and Sophia reveals a horrible situation in which she hits rock bottom–a real physical bottom, not a philosophical one. (more…)

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Hello Insurgents,

I’m on vacation this week and have yet to finalize my post.  But I fully intend to get it here shortly.  Thanks

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SOUNDTRACK: CHUMBAWAMBA-Anarchy (1994).

Long before Chumbawamba were Tubthumping up the charts, they were a bunch of squatting anarchists.  In fact their history as a collective is fascinating  in and of itself (they had even started a record label called Agit-Prop).

This album was their sixth, and the cover was not the only controversial thing about it.  It opens with the supremely catchy “Give the Anarchist a Cigarette” which features the delightfully sing a long: “Nothing ever burns down by itself/ Ever fire needs a little bit of help.”

From this disc on (their previous albums were a mish mash of samples and dance beats) they set about writing catchy electronic rock songs.  Simple beats that you could dance to, but with subversive lyrics up the wazoo.  They tackled Homophobia: “homophobia the worst disease you can’t love who you want to love in times like these.”  It’s an a capella track with an arr. trad. melody and (like “Tubthumping”) it was also set in a pub:  “In the pubs and clubs and burger bars, breeding pens for pigs Alcohol, testosterone, and ignorance and fists.”

I’ve enjoyed this disc for as long as I’ve had it.  It’s a catchy mix of different styles with a surprisingly strong sounding multi-voiced chorus.  (For all of Chumbawamba’s ups and downs, their harmonies have always been spot on).

The disc also features a number of 30 second snippets of TV (one is called “D’oh”) and commercials.  Songs also reference The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, as well as local politics and general awareness: “open your eyes, time to wake up, enough is enough is enough is enough” (from the song “Enough is Enough,” which is decidedly not a cover of the disco hit).

Because I have the sense of humor of a five-year old, I have always loved the lyrics of the wholly danceable “Mouthful of Shit” “Can’t hear you ’cause your mouth’s full of shit, do something about it. ” Also like “Tubthumping,” it features a solo female vocal coming out of the din, delicately singing, “You think you’re Gods gift, you’re a liar.  I wouldn’t piss on you if you were on fire.”  It’s fun to sing along to, just be mindful of where you are when yo do it!

[READ: Week of June 25, 2010] Letters of Insurgents [Third Letters]

The hardest thing about writing up posts about this book is trying to limit my quotes!  There are so many good ones, and ones that so encapsulate what I want to say that it just seems easier to use his words.  So, Insurgent Summer readers, I apologize for all of the blocks.  Fredy writes too well not  to share it.

And so begins the third letters: (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GREEN DAY-21st Century Breakdown (2009).

Like most people who like Green Day, I’ve been a fan since Dookie.  They were incredibly poppy (although they wrote great punk riffs) and they sang about weird, kind of subversive things.  And they got huge really fast.  Of course since then they have become one of the most commercially successful bands in America (including having their song picked for the ending scene of the Seinfeld montage–jeez).

And yet….

And yet, American Idiot, their previous album was one of  the most anti-establishment records of the last twenty years. (True it’s not hard to be Anti-Bush if you’re a punk band, but wow.)  And yet, it was a concept album and even a rock opera of sorts.  And it still sold millions.

And now American Idiot has been made into a freaking Broadway Musical.  And yet, how many Broadway shows (or top twenty albums for that matter) have lyrics like “The insurgency will rise when the blood’s been sacrificed.  Don’t be blinded by the lies in your eyes”

And so Green Day confounds me.  And yet, if I were younger and cared more about “keeping it real” I think they’d confuse me even more because although musically they have sold out (if you want to call it that), lyrically Billie Joe is still pretty true to his punk roots.  And, of course, even the punkest bands seem to go commercial eventually (Combat Rock anyone?)

Of all the Green Day CD’s I think I like this least.  And yet I really applaud them for writing an album that so easily translates to Broadway (not an easy feat in itself) (this disc would make better Broadway than American Idiot).  I think I dislike this disc not because it’s so unpunk, but because I think musically it’s really obvious (and although I like musicals, I prefer classic musicals to contemporary ones).  And yet, most of Green Day’s music is pretty obvious.  I guess I prefer my obvious music to have a harder egde.

And yet Act III is full of some really great aggressive punk songs: “Horseshoes and Handgrenades” is just fantastic.  And in Act II, “Peacemaker has a great construction, all spaghetti Western and whatnot.  And in the first act, the title song has multiple parts that all work well together.  It’s a pretty sophisticated song.  And who can fault Billie Joe for expanding his songwriting skills?  Like the Tin Pan Alleyesque opening of “¿Viva La Gloria? (Little Girl).”

In interviews, Billie Joe comes across as a maturing artist who is influenced by more diverse styles of music.  I always wonder what the other two guys think.  Should your name still be Tre Cool if you’re no longer writing songs about getting high and masturbating?

And yet…and yet…ad astra.

[READ: Week of June 18, 2010] Letters of Insurgents [Second Letters]

There’s been a lot of discussion over at Insurgent Summer (and here) about the first week’s reading.  Very exciting!  And with so much revealed and so many accusations flying this week, no doubt more will continue.

Many people have been wondering exactly what Yarostan could have meant in first letter when he said he barely remembered Sophia.  When he replies in this letter, he claims that “I now remember you as if I had been with you only yesterday” (29).  There are two ways to take this: first, as a positive; however, it can also be read as the way I take it: Oh, RIGHT, you’re THAT person, still.  And this is pretty well confirmed by the second paragraph: “I admit that I once shared the illusion your letter celebrates” (29). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: STEREOLAB-Transient Random Noise Bursts with Announcements (1993).

Stereolab are a bizarre band.  They make bubbly electronic music, with all sorts of bleeps and whirls and buzzes.  They even describe their music as space age pop.   Their album cover art is overexposed or simply silk screened.  (This is a hi-fi needle getting dropped on an LP).  The back cover looks like it’s a hi-fi test record.

This disc is a bit less electronic than future releases.  It’s more guitar drone (appropriate circa 1991, frankly).  When the songs start, Latetia Sadler’s voice is angelic and beautiful.  Delicate and sweet.  And you sort of realize that you don’t quite understand what she’s singing.  Because the song is in French!  No kidding.

And then you get to “Jenny Ondioline.” It’s 18 minutes of droning guitars and noises.  It has several parts (the song actually stops at one point and at another it plays a sample from “Channel Recognition Phasing and Balance.”  And if you listen carefully to the lyric, you’ll hear:

I don’t care if the fascists have to win
I don’t care democracy’s being fucked
I don’t care socialism’s full of sin
The immutable system is so corrupt
What is exciting is the triumph as the new nation.

A little later on the disc, on “Crest,” there’s more subversive songwriting.

If there’s been a way to build it
There’ll be a way to destroy it
Things are not all that out of control.

This is all done by those sweet, yet alien-sounding vocals.  When she’s not singing in French, Sadler sings in a fascinatingly broken English, emPHAsizing the wrong sylLABes.

Although I think my favorite moment comes in “Golden Ball” when the CD skips like a vinyl record.  It’s surreal.  Electropop and Marxism: perfect together.

[READ: Week of June 11, 2010] Letters of Insurgents [First Letters]

And so begins Insurgent Summer.

This is the first week of my second Summer Reading Book series.  I’d never heard of this book before getting the invitation to read.  But when the book was described as 800+ pages of letters between insurgents, well, how could I pass that up?

And that is indeed what you get here: Yarostan (Vochek) has not spoken to Sophia (Nachalo) in twenty years.  And he writes to her to her because she had written to him twelve years earlier (when he was in prison).  He writes back to bring her up to date on his life and to find out what’s going on with her. (more…)

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