January 31, 2011

In Rotation - The Samsung P3

How about something a little different?  Here's what's loaded on mp3 player #3 right now:

Various Artists: The Rough Guide to the Music of Pakistan
AMM: The Crypt
Bill Orcutt: A New Way to Pay Old Debts
Bud Powell: Jazz Giant
Deerhunter: Cryptograms and Halcyon Digest (Japanese Edition)
Cecil Taylor: Conquistador!
Duke Ellington: Masterpieces 1926-1949
Earth: Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light
Guanco +: Attar of Rose; Caves of Holy Light; and Sky Burials
James Blood Ulmer: Black Rock and Odyssey
Sun Ra: Space is the Place
Keith Rowe, Axel Dorner, & Franz Hautzinger: A View from the Window
Keith Rowe, Sachiko M, Toshima: ErstLive 005
Lester Bowie: All the Magic!
Masayuki Takayanagi New Directions Unit: Mass Hysterism In Another Situation
Matthew Herbert: Mahler X Recomposed and One Club
Max Neuhaus: Fontana Mix Feed 1965-68
Miles Davis: On the Corner
Paul Flaherty and Chris Corsano: Full Bottle
William Tyler: Behold the Spirit
Philip Jeck: An Ark for the Listener
Sick City Four: MFT downloads

As indicated above, I have two more mp3 players in rotation.  If I don't get bored with the idea, I'll post the other two somtime in the near future.

January 30, 2011

Sorry, Wrong Question

Seriously, the atheists are on my nerves as much as the fundamentalists are these days.  Below is some crap that I've hashed out before, but it's a scab I can't help but pick.

In Anti-Oedipus, their infamous evisceration of Freud, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari run across the problem of atheism, and connect it to theories of the unconscious shared by Jung and Freud even after their split:
If the unconscious is thought to express itself adequately in myths and religions (taking into account, of course, the work of transformation), there are two ways of reading this adequation, but they have in common the postulate that measures the unconscious against myth, and that from the start substitutes mere expressive forms for the productive formations.  The basic question is never asked, but cast aside: Why return to myth?  Why take it as the model?  [. . .]  What we mean is that, starting from the same postulate, Jung is led to restore the most diffuse and spiritualized religiosity, whereas Freud is confirmed in his most rigorous atheism.  Freud needs to deny the existence of God as much as Jung needs to affirm the essence of the divine, in order to interpret the commonly postulated adequation.  But to render religion unconscious, or the unconscious religious, still amounts to injecting something religious into the unconscious. (Delueze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, pp. 57-58)
Freud is casting the unconscious at the level of the "edifying forces of myths and religions", so the function (D & G's "productive force") of the unconscious is essentially the same either way.  D & G continue
Let us recall Marx's great declaration: he who denies God only does a "secondary thing", for he denies God in order to posit the existence of man, to put man in God's place (the transformation taken into account).  But the person who knows the place of man is entirely elsewhere does not even allow the possibility of a question to subsist concerning "an alien being, a being placed above man and nature": he no longer needs the mediation of myth, he no longer needs to go by way of this mediation - the negation of the existence of God - since he has attained those regions of the autoproduction of the unconscious where the unconscious is no less atheist than orphan - immediately atheist, immediately orphan. (Anti-Oedipus, p. 58)
Removing the human from the framework of myth "orphans" it, cuts it loose . . . and, when myth is re-inserted, it is no longer "natural", but must explain itself.  And again, it is this explanation that is important: the objective fact of God's existence is essentially irrelevant.

"Do you believe in God?"  Sorry, wrong question.  How about "Why do believe/not believe in God?"  That answer is going to get much more to the point.

January 28, 2011

A Pacers Update . . . and It's Not Good

It been fun "reading" Kobe Bryant lately - he has become such a master of saying things without saying things.  For instance, when Jerry West called his Lakers "old" and critiqued their defense, implying that it wasn't getting any better, Kobe's measured response described how the Lakers had a complex team defense in which each player depended on the other, but not before he quietly declaimed "We're ranked like, what, third in the league in defense?".  Translated: "Shut the fuck up, old man, and just do your job.  We're doing ours."

Similarly, when asked if the Pacers were a playoff team after they came into the Staples Center and punched the champs in the mouth back on November 28, Bryant replied "Definitely."  Translated: "Okay, now you have my attention.  I will not overlook you again.  Enjoy your moment in the sun, and look forward to the life of bitter pain you will be living for the foreseeable future."  Indeed, a mere two-and-a-half weeks later, the Lakers came to Conseco and returned the favor 109-94.

And now, we are staring at a 5-15 record over the last twenty games.  Not good.

Back in November, not long after my first Pacers post, the Pacers had beaten the Lakers and the Heat and had given OKC all they could handle.  Only the Jazz (during their hot streak) kicked the Pacers to the curb like the old days.  There was speculation that Indy had turned a corner anchored by the surprising rise of Roy Hibbert.  Now, all that is gone.  Hibbert has disappeared, the team is once again in disarray.  Is this the same old Pacers, too crappy to make the playoffs, not quite crappy enough to climb up to the top of the draft lottery?

The main problem, as alluded to above, is that other teams started to take notice of Hibbert and the Pacers, and both shriveled in the heat of the spotlight.  The Pacers-as-spunky-underdogs could hang with teams who were taking it easy (the Pacers representing the next best thing to a break in their schedule) and maybe steal one at the end.  If they didn't, "well, at least they played them close".  But when they took out the Lakers and the Heat early on, and generally started to look like a team that was on the verge of getting it together, teams stopped taking the night off.  And, lo and behold, the Pacers can't step up and trade punches with good teams that are now paying attention . . . so, back to the bottom of the pack the P drift.

And then, there's Jim O'Brien's odd rotation (discussed with insight and detail, as always, at 8 Points 9 Seconds): with the exception of Danny Granger and Darren Collison, no one knows what his role on the team is supposed to be.  It gets tough to prepare, mentally and otherwise, if you have no idea what you are preparing for.

O'Brien's excuse for the inconsistent rotation is simple: if the guy gets it, he plays.  If he doesn't, he sits.  There is a certain Darwinian logic to that, I suppose, but on a young team short on talent it's not the kind of atmosphere that breeds confidence . . . in fact, I think it's becoming clear that, as much as no longer being taken lightly by opponents, the P's recent issues stem from a crisis of confidence.

So, what do you do?  O'Brien's methods are obviously counterproductive over the short run, and if things don't stabilize soon, then the Pacers can kiss the playoffs goodbye yet again.  The logical course would be to just pick a rotation and ride it as far as it can take you - which, we all know, won't be any further than the first round of the playoffs at the absolute maximum - or just trash one more year auditioning players for next year's big money makeover.  The problem is, trashing yet another year is not an option; it seems that O'Brien best have his rotation set within the next couple weeks at the latest.  Will that actually happen?  I'm afraid it doesn't look likely.

The Pacers are a small-market team horribly devoid of talent.  The reason they are in this place is that they gambled and lost back in the early aughts, and it is only in this off-season that they will finally be out from under the onus of that gamble.  I still harbor a small hope that there are enough spare parts to build a top notch team around one big-time free agent acquisition, but that in itself becomes a problem: what elite player can you get that, all other things being equal (money, championship opportunity, etc.), would actually choose to live in Indianapolis as opposed to, say, Chicago, South Beach, New York, LA, Boston, or even Denver, Portland, New Orleans, or Charlotte?  The Pacers need one really big-time baller on the level of the LBJ's and D Wades and Kobes of the world.  A Howard, D Will, Stoudemire, Durant, Anthony, Griffin or someone of that ilk is what is needed . . . and yes, the Heat aside, I think that one big-time player is all that is needed, because Granger could be back at his all-star level if he is no longer the number one option for the team (as I said before: great as Robin, not so hot as Batman).

But, until then, the Pacers need to improve enough to at least see the path to a championship, even if the free agent market ultimately doesn't pay off for them.  At this point, the Pacers remain so far down they can't see up.  The blue sky has just clouded over.

That'll teach me to write about basketball before Christmas.

January 17, 2011

Bulbous, Yes; Also, a Tin Teardrop

The Captain Beefheart memorials have been outstanding, and there's little need for me to add to them.  But I promised, didn't I?

As with most people, my entryway into the world of Captain Beefheart was through Frank Zappa.  His vocals were featured on "Willie the Pimp" (Hot Rats), and he shared billing with Zappa on a live album called Bongo Fury . . . though, as I found out after listening to Beefheart for only a short while, that was far from a collaborative effort.  As close as I could tell, he was another eccentricity in Zappa's little universe (a universe which, at the time, I found fascinating), so when I read that he had a new album out, I headed over to Sun Records by the Pizza King on 38th Street to pick it up.  That record was 1978's Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller).

Musically speaking, by this time Beefheart had been to the edge, back again, and was heading back out.  His masterwork Troutmaskreplica had been released in '69, followed by the earthier (but still equally out) Lick My Decals Off, Baby in '70.  1972 found Beefheart trying to win an audience by moving back towards the bluesy roots he had shown in his earliest work, without completely abandoning the "speaking in tongues" approach that had been so revolutionary on his two greatest records.  Ted Templeman (Doobie Brothers, Van Halen) was brought in to sand the rough edges off Clear Spot, the most accessible album he had released since his early days.

Unfortunately, this "sell out" didn't quite work, so he fired the Magic Band, and went all in to try to get the stardom he so desperately desired: but alas, his two efforts in '74 lacked not only his well-established avant-garde edge, but also any hint of commercial potential. Unconditionally Guaranteed and Bluejeans and Moonbeams not only failed to find a popular audience, they didn't even match the sales numbers of his previous outside work: Bluejeans in particular is generally judged to be a complete disaster.

After some abortive attempts at recording with a new Magic Band, Beefheart finally came out from the cold with 1978's Shiny Beast.  And that's where the story starts for me.

I read about Shiny Beast in some generic hi-fi mag in the Lapel Public Library.  It was a positive review, speaking of a return to the Captain's musical brilliance of years past.  By that time, I was in full-on Zappa crazy mode, and Zappa had, like, a million freaking albums to buy, but by that point I had picked up most of the titles that were available around town.  Besides, I needed to have a little variety in the record collection.  So, I headed out to Sun Records, picked up the LP, and cued it up on my turntable.  And was immediately revolted.

I knew Beefheart was supposed to be "weird", but I was expecting the kind of weird that I heard on Bongo Fury.  I was expecting Zappa weird.  Instead, I got ragged and oddly-shaped music with lots of odd space and nothing to hold on to.  Most of it sounded like goofy take offs on calliope music to me.  And, worst of all, there was no power-drill style guitar brutality that I so loved on most all of the records I was listening to at the time.  After a couple days listening to the record, "Owed T' Alex" and "Bat Chain Puller" started to slowly dawn on my consciousness (probably because of the guitars), but I still hated the album overall.  Back in the day, when I hated an album, I took it back to the store and got another one.  Besides, I knew that there would be another shipment of Zappa in soon, so maybe I could trade it in and chalk this up to experience.

Now, when I was returning records at the K-Mart, I would take a can opener, put a small but very deep gouge in the record, put it back in its sleeve, and take it back in.  They would always frown at me, but I had a receipt, and I always got another record.  I had never tried to return anything to Sun, but I figured it wouldn't be a problem, since they knew I was a regular customer and that I would be back.  I figured that, this time, instead of gouging the record before returning it, I would just be honest.  So, I roll up on the record store, take the album in, and give it to the hippie behind the counter.  "Anything wrong with it?" he asked.  "No, just not the record I expected.  I just want to trade it in for credit."  Well, that was the wrong answer.  Turns out the whole can opener charade was hardly necessary at K-Mart, but would have served me well here.  The hippie says "Nothing I can do for you man" and turned away without another word, leaving the vinyl sitting on the counter like a stinking pile of shit.  Turns out the hippie did me the biggest favor anyone in a music store has ever done for me.

I took the album back home, and it grew on me.  I never really grew to embrace it like I did the two albums that followed (Doc at the Radar Station and Ice Cream for Crow) - it didn't have the kind of attitude that really attracted me in my hormonal late-teen years - but I did like it.  "Bat Chain Puller" especially I would play over and over again.  I came to appreciate it as an interesting oddity, a nice little eccentricity that I could put on whenever I got sick of being pummeled by fuzzed-out guitars (which was pretty rare in those days).  I still hold it in pretty much that same regard.

As a year passed, I grew fond of Shiny Beast, and I was still hearing about this monstrosity called Troutmaskreplica that Zappa had produced for Beefheart.  I was still in big-time Zappa mode, and this was right around the time of the whole Lather fiasco, so that stuff was leaking out an LP at a time, but I was intrigued by the singular reputation that the Beefheart magnum opus had.  One day, on Christmas break during my freshman year at ND, I was plugging my way through the stacks at Musicland in Mounds Mall with my girlfriend Ruth*, when there it was: the glaring red cover with a trout mask covering the face of some guy wearing a stove pipe hat with a badminton birdie on top.  Troutmaskreplica.  Now, I had no inclination of getting into Beefheart like I was into Zappa, or Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Rush, Aerosmith, etc., before that, but I decided I wanted that album.  Short on cash, I immediately moved the LP into the country music section under Johnny Cash so no one else would buy it, but I could find it again when I came back with the money.  Two days later, I came back to buy the album; but alas, it was gone.  I searched all the way through the country section, all the way through the Beefheart, miscellaneous C, miscellaneous B, Zappa, and anywhere else I thought it would be.  I left, somewhat dejected, with yet another Zappa album.

Turns out my girlfriend Ruth, crafty gal that she was, noted how excited I was when I found the album, and thought it would be a good Christmas prank/present to buy it out from underneath me and give it to me for Christmas.  So, the next day, I was at her parent's house with her, my best pal John, and her twin sister Mavis, and she springs it on me.  I am thrilled to have it, as she is thrilled to have the Kansas album that I gave her for Christmas.  Curious about what I was so excited about, she told me to go ahead and put it on the stereo.  I demurred, knowing that she probably wouldn't like it, but she thought I was just being polite and insisted that I play it.  I unfortunately replied "you won't like it", which she decided was an insult to her open mindedness, musically speaking.  She was right, of course.  And so was I.

Now, Ruth was a very sweet girl with a romantic soul who stayed up late at night listening to Billy Joel records and dreaming of blowing out of her one-horse town for the bright lights of her beloved New York City.  I never questioned her affection for me, but she did think me somewhat the bumpkin and backward in the ways of the world.  She was right, but as the Billy Joel fixation indicates, she wasn't too far ahead of me in that regard.  She also found my arrogance about music somewhat annoying (as it was, is, and probably always will be!), since she considered herself more sophisticated musically . . . which, once again, her love of Billy Joel gives the lie to.

So, she was annoyed.  She told me to put the record on, which I did.  From the very first note, I was transfixed.  Ruth, on the other hand, was furious: "This is the worst music I've ever heard in my life.  This is terrible.  I can't believe I actually paid for this record".  My pal John only said "Holy shit."

And, I've never been the same.

Beefheart also figures in some of my other musical adventures with friends, but this post is already getting long, so I'll let you go to the other site to read about that.

I'm obsessed with music, and I've had all kinds of serious fixations over the years.  They've come and gone and sometimes returned again: for instance, about five years ago, I went on a mini Led Zeppelin kick and realized it may have been almost twenty years since I had put on a Led Zeppelin record.  Or, like my jazz favorites (Coltrane, Ornette, Cecil Taylor, Albert Ayler, Charles Mingus), there's a lot of music I will go for long periods of time without listening to much, then go on little mini-binges where I'll listen to little else for days.  There are bands like Rush and Aerosmith, who evolved into horrible bands even though I still like their early stuff.  Then there's Frank Zappa: he went from being almost my entire daily playlist to being someone whose music I hated.  I'm now back to the point where I like the Mothers and his jazz fusion stuff, but I still hate his "social commentary" from about 1972 on.

Beefheart, on the other hand, has never been far away from my turntable, tape deck, CD player, mp3 player, whatever.  From that very first needle drop on Troutmask at Ruth's house, I have been deeply hooked.  To me, he had it all: soul, poetry, edge, vision.  His output is easily my "desert island" music, no question.  He is simply the best of his era; and I contend his music will outlast everything done in the rock era, including the Rolling Stones and The Beatles.

Goodbye, Captain.

*  Names changed to protect those who don't necessarily want their shit up on the interwebs.

All artwork by Don Van Vliet, a.k.a. Captain Beefheart.  If you are new to the Beefheart phenomenon, check out The Radar Station, an absolutely first-rate fansite, on of the best of its kind on the web.

January 8, 2011

Cloud of Sound; plus, In Rotation

photo Alyssen Davis

I've created a profile on SoundCloud to dump off some of my music for your perusal . . . at this point, nothing that I haven't posted before in other places (including here), but it's a nice little sampler all pulled together in one place.  So far it includes a couple duets I did with Bart Galloway (circa 2009 or so), several Hoosier Pete tracks, several Black Kaspar tracks, and a couple Catkillers tracks dating back as far as '94.

Hopefully, I will get some new stuff going this year.  When I do, that is where the samples will be posted.


*          *          *          *          *

Still in full-tilt Glenn Gould mania.  Beethoven's piano sonatas are still the favorite, & I'm having fun doing compare and contrast between his Bach and his Berg/Schoenberg/Krenek.  Otherwise,

In Rotation:

This Heat: complete
Slint: complete
Mahler: 9th (MTT/San Francisco)
Thin Lizzy: Jailbreak
Rory Gallagher: Deuce
Jeri Southern: Warm
Stan Getz: Quartets
Hoagy Carmichael: Playlist
Sir Richard Bishop: Soundcloud playlist
Das Racist: Shut Up, Man
The Body: All the Waters of the Earth Turn to Blood
Phantom Family Halo: Monoliths & These Flowers Never Die
Captain Beefheart: It Comes to You in a Plain Brown Wrapper
Crime: San Francisco's STILL Doomed
Mark Stewart + Maffia: Mark Stewart + Maffia

and, what the hell?  Let's toss a reading list out as well:

Scott Tennent: Slint's Spiderland (33 1/3 series)
Slajov Zizek: In Defense of Lost Causes & Living In the End Times
Alain Badiou: The Communist Hypothesis
Herman Melville: Bartelby & Benito Cerino
Sigmund Freud: Civiliztion & It's Discontents
Henry David Thoreau: "On the Duty of Civil Disobedience"
Andre Breton: Selected Poems
The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America

not that I've gotten around to all of those yet, but I'll have them all done except the Badiou and the second Zizek book by the weekend.

January 7, 2011

"Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right" . . .

So, someone had the bright idea to "correct" Huck Finn by editing the word "nigger" out of the text . . . the idea being that, because the word showed up so frequently in the book, it was being dropped from school reading lists.  Prof. Alan Gribben makes the following defenses of his decision to alter Twain's classic using more racially sensitive language:

–”Far more controversial than this reuniting of Twain’s boy books will be the editor’s decision to eliminate two racial slurs that have increasingly formed a barrier to these works for teachers, students, and general readers. The editor thus hopes to introduce both books to a wider readership than they can currently enjoy.”
–”We may applaud Twain’s ability as a prominent American literary realist to record the speech of a particular region during a specific historical era, but abusive racial insults that bear distinct connotations of permanent inferiority nonetheless repulse modern-day readers.”
–”I believe that a significant number of school teachers, college instructors, and general readers will welcome the option of an edition of Twain’s fused novels that spares the reader from a racial slur that never seems to lose its vitriol. Despite occasional efforts of rap and hip hop musicians to appropriate the term, and well-meaning but usually futile (from my own experience) endeavors by classroom teachers to inoculate their students against it by using Huckleberry Finn as a springboard to discuss its etymology and cultural history, the n-word remains inarguably the most inflammatory word in the English language.”

Christ, what a bunch of idiots.  Twain is much more than a "prominent American literary realist", and he's up to more than that here.  The language is very specifically a part of that.  Huck Finn is, among other things, about a boy discovering and dealing with his own racism; "nigger" belongs there, and not just because it is an accurate picture of the vernacular.  The word was as dismissive and demeaning then as it is now (even if it didn't face the same approbation), and Twain was very aware of that.  He was a man whose insights and values regarding race are much more in line with our times than with his own: you can be sure if he used the word, he used it for a very specific effect.  And yes, it should make us feel uncomfortable.  It was meant to.

Anyway, I could go on, but my pal Angie's consideration of Huck Finn is much more on point, so you should go there and read it (including the comments).

*          *          *          *          *

"Political correctness" is one of those cudgels that conservatives always beat liberals with - often for good reason, as we see above - so how do they explain away editing their second most sacred text*, the Constitution of the United States of America, during today's ceremonial reading in the House of Representatives?

Oh yeah, that's right, they just skipped over the parts that were later amended . . . you know, cleaning up the mistakes:

“We’re reading the amended version with all amendments that are currently part of the Constitution,” said Kathryn Rexrode, a spokesman for Virginia Republican Rep. Bob Goodlatte, who spearheaded the reading. “It will not include any amendments that were in the original but later amended.”

Like the 18th Amendment, which outlawed booze, and was later repealed by the 21st Amendment.  Or, most interestingly, that pesky "3/5ths Solution" in Article I, Section 2, which makes it clear that only free white men are full citizens of the country.

So, asked Jesse Jackson Jr. from the floor of the House, why aren't we reading the whole Constitution?

"The new Republican majority and their redacted Constitutional reading gives little deference to the long history of improving the Constitution and only seeks an interpretation of our Constitution based on the now, not the historic, broad body of law and struggle that it has taken to get there.  It leaves out the need to continue to refine the Constitution so that we have a more perfect union. ...

Or, in other words, how convenient is it that a bunch of idiots who are always babbling about "the original intent of the founding fathers" choose to gloss over the fact that said intent includes the systematic dehumanization of a race of people?

Yes, we eventually "get it right" (or a lot closer to right than it started out being), but censoring the inconvenient bits of the Constitution is specifically meant to preempt the kind of arguments that people like me have been making against "original intent" to begin with: namely, "original intent" is not a useful requisite to judgement because the document had fundamental flaws at its inception.  The Constitution is a starting place, not a goal.

It reminds me of the heated attacks that the Tea Party was making on (long dead and unable to defend himself) Justice Thurgood Marshall during the Kagan confirmation hearings: essentially, they wanted to paint the court in broad brush strokes of good (Antonin Scalia) and evil (Thurgood Marshall) because of the way Marshall supposedly deviated from the "Founding Father's Original Intent".  Marshall, as was the case with almost every famous African American who crossed the color line in some important venue, never rose to the attacks of his critics, and he wouldn't have risen to this one had he been alive . . . but I always wanted to say on his behalf, "So, let me get this straight: I'm supposed to consider as gospel the wisdom of a bunch of crackers who owned my people, who didn't even consider folk like me fully human?  You expect me to honor the intent of those fools?  How about I weight their intent appropriately in my decision, like maybe . . . oh, let's say 3/5ths to their intent, and the other 2/5ths to all the crap they got wrong.  I think thats more than fair, don't you, whitey?"

I swear to the heavens above, I don't know if these people are complete idiots, or if they think we are complete idiots.  Either way, this must end.
*  Unfortunately, I am not exaggerating here:  there are Christian fundamentalists in the U. S. that consider the Constitution a divinely inspired text, just like the Bible.

January 1, 2011

Happy New Year Everyone

Happy New Year, peeps . . . and I mean that sincerely, no equivocation, no F-bombs, no irony, no shit: Happy New Year to everyone who may be reading these words.

Now, I know there are historical/cultural precedents for where the Western nativity and new year fall on the calender, but I am not down with the specifics. I have, however, always felt the warmth of optimism radiated by the idea that the beginnings of everything (presumably everything good) are in the deepest, darkest days of winter . . . life in death.

People can be real shits sometimes; mostly they can't help it. All we can do is the best we can. All we can expect of others is the best they've got. At the end of the day, it is what it is, and what it is is the material of our tomorrows.

Happy New Year, and be good.