Sunday, March 30, 2003
Music: Initial count 8080 rated (+13), 899 unrated (+78). Rolling Stone
Guide entries are due end of month, but nowhere near done at this point.
At least tried to catalog what I got in hand, although I wouldn't be
surprised if a few slipped between the cracks.
Again, some of the
records below are previously rated, but listed as I'm collecting notes
for RS work; also previous week's entries will continue to be updated
as I finish entries I started there. How glad I'll be to get this shit
out of the way!
- Dave Edmunds: Rockpile (1971-72, Repertoire). Following
Edmunds departure from Love Sculpture, he knocked off a single, "I Hear
You Knocking" (Dave Bartholomew, Smiley Lewis), which layered Edmunds'
chugging metalic guitar sound paced by a Fats Domino beat. It turned
into a freak hit single. This album was built around that single/sound,
with a couple of Chuck Berry songs most recognizable. This adds six
bonus tracks to the original 1972 album, and the bonus material feels
looser than the rather stilted album. At this point, Edmunds only has
a couple of tricks up his sleeve, and his studio work lacks the polish
he would soon develop. [B]
- Dave Edmunds: Get It (1977, Swan Song). By this point,
Edmunds had produced Brinsley Schwarz and Ducks Deluxe, and was positioned
to pick songs from Nick Lowe and Graham Parker. His guitar still has that
metalic sound, but it's more measured here, and there's a big improvement
in the drummers (four listed, don't know who plays what, but Terry Williams
and Steve Goulding are first rank). Edmunds' retro is pretty firmly
located in rockabilly. The only thing that doesn't really fit this model
is "Where or When," yes, by Rogers and Hart, which is one of those
layered things like it was leftover from Subtle as a Flying Mallet.
- Dave Edmunds: Tracks on Wax 4 (1978, Swan Song). More
of Edmunds speed-rockabilly, although the slightly slower, countryish
songs "A. 1. on the Jukebox" and "What Looks Best on You" (both cowritten
by Edmunds) are perhaps the most distinctive, and "Readers Wives" has
long been a favorite. A-
- Dave Edmunds: Repeat When Necessary (1979, Swan Song).
His best, not only because it has the best songs (n.b., Edmunds didn't
write any, nor did Lowe) but it also has a real band (w/Lowe, Terry
Williams, and Billy Bremner, just like Rockpile). "Girls Talk" (Elvis
C.), "Crawling From the Wreckage" (Graham P.), "The Creature From the
Black Lagoon," and especially "Queen of Hearts" ("it's hard to be a
lover when you say you only do it for fun"). A
- Dave Edmunds Band: Live: I Hear You Rockin' (1987,
Columbia). The songs tend to be among his better ones, plus "The Wanderer,"
which is fine, natch. The sound is a bit dull compared to the Swan Songs.
And the band isn't exactly Rockpile, although for Edmunds' purposes it's
sufficient. Some crowd noise. Ho, hum. B
- Dave Edmunds: Plugged In (1994, Pyramid). Edmunds
only unassisted original here goes "I love music/it's in my brain/I
love music/hope you feel the same." It's better than "Beach Boy Blood,"
a secondhand tribute that can't handle the surf guitar and harmonies
at the same time. Better is "The Claw," a Jerry Reed instrumental.
If you're starting to get the feeling that words aren't our man's
strong suit, go ahead. No real problem with his axmanship, though.
And "Sabre Dance '94," while hardly necessary, delivers the same ole
cheap kick. B
- The Dave Edmunds Anthology (1968-90) (Rhino, 2CD).
Typical Rhino comp, in that it covers everything fairly instead of
cheating and only including the good shit. Starts with six Love
Sculpture cuts: "Summertime", the Khatchaturian and Bizet speedfests,
all of which sound pretty dated by now, although the latter have a
bit of camp value; "In the Land of the Few" is still a pretty decent
piece of prog, something King Crimson wouldn't be embarrassed by.
Then three cuts of Rockpile: the hit "I Hear You Knocking,"
sounds like it was recorded in a phone booth, the Bartholomew rhythm
reigning in the potential excess, which with the moans and cymbals
and reverb and all is pregnant everywhere; Berry's "Promised Land,"
Berry-less; "Down Down Down." Two cuts from Subtle as a Flying
Mallet, Edmunds' one-man-band production for a David Essex
("Rock On") movie, but not the ones I remember. The remaining
nine cuts on the first CD come from Get It and Tracks
on Wax 4, good albums with fast rockabilly: Nick Lowe songs
("Here Comes the Weekend," "I Knew the Bride"), "Juju Man" (cajun
accordion), "Let's Talk About Us" (Jerry Lee Lewis), "Never Been
in Love" (Sam Cooke) -- prime stuff. Second CD continues with
five cuts from Repeat When Necessary, the four I already
called out in my note on that record, plus "Singing the Blues."
Then the delicious Carlene Carter duet from her Musical Shapes
album, "Baby Ride Easy," a country duet (she sings "if your loving
is good" and he sings "and your cooking ain't greasy" and they
sing "hitch up your chuck wagon and we'll ride away"). Then two
Rockpile cuts, about par. The next couple of out-of-print albums
yield good songs, in particular: "From Small Things, Big Things
Come" (Springsteen); "Warmed Over Kisses (Leftover Love)" (with
banjo); "One More Night," an exceptionally striking ballad. But
the fast ones from Information are pretty vapid, and "High
School Nights" is pretty vacant. Still, in its career-spanning
arc, this set is more resume than entertainment: his best albums
are better whole, and the little extras that this salvages are
little indeed. Nice to have. Enlightening. Good booklet. B+
- Dave Edmunds: A Pile of Rock Live (1999, Castle).
Some new covers here, but they're so venerable that it's hard to
be sure he hasn't done them before. Most of his signature songs,
including a "Sabre Dance" that sounds a lot better live than the
original did on speedtape. The sound is not only good, it's just
about exactly his sound -- "Queen of Hearts" and "I Knew
the Bride" and "Crawling From the Wreckage" lose nothing from the
studio albums. The fact that this in no way advances the state of
the art is utterly irrelevant: when has Edmunds ever really been
anything but a performer? And when's the last time he sounded
this great? A-
- London Is the Place for Me: Trinidadian Calypso in London,
1950-1956 (Honest Jons). Calypso developed in Trinidad well
before it was first recorded in the 1910s, honed in competitions
at Carnival where singers vied mainly with their deft wordplay on
the topics of the day. As West Indians migrated to London, they
brought Calypso with them, including one of the biggest Carnival
stars, who went by the name Lord Kitchener. Kitch is featured on
half the cuts in this wonderful set, arriving with the title cut,
and ready to leave again on the finale "Sweet Jamaica." In between
it provides a nifty documentary, with reports on news events like
the coronation and the independence of Ghana, a review of Charlie
Parker, and critiques of life in Black Britain: "one of the things
that's been bugging me/is the food control in London city/they say
you must have a ration book/before you could put on something to
cook/and friends believe me the rations are so small/in a day
or two you can use it all." A-
- Nick Lowe: The Wilderness Years (1974-77, Demon).
Demos, work tapes, cuts from EPs and singles and samplers that Lowe
cut en route to Jesus of Cool aka Pure Pop for Now
People. Two paeans for the Bay City Rollers. A cover of Sandy
Posey's prefeminist wail, "Born a Woman." The Stiff promo "I Love
My Label." Not sure how good this all is, but it does sound better
than my original grade. Maybe better than my new one too. B
- Nick Lowe: Party of One (1990, Reprise). Don't have
the newer Upstart reissue, which has a couple of extra songs tacked
on. This was Lowe's comeback after the series of Columbia albums
ran out of gas. The difference is that the music is so much sharper
that you hardly have to look to realize that Dave Edmunds is back
at the knobs. The only really memorable song is "All Men Are Liars,"
although "I Don't Know Why You Keep Me On" grabs you when you hear
it. But things like "Shting-Shtang" and "Honeygun" are the sort of
primal rock that Lowe mined for "So It Goes" and "Heart of the City,"
and it seems like he can do that at will forever. A-
- Nick Lowe: The Impossible Bird (1994, Upstart).
This starts with "Soulful Wind," which has a typical Lowe bassline,
but then comes in a keyboard thing that smells real bad. Then comes
his original "The Beast in Me," which Johnny Cash has also sung,
with about 30 times the gravity. Then Lowe oversings on a country
cover. What the hell is going on here? The first song with anything
at all going for it is "12-Step Program (To Quit You Babe)," seven
steps into the CD. Doesn't end as bad as it starts, and he still
sings good, but this seems to be his worst misstep. B-
- Nick Lowe: Dig My Mood (1998, Upstart). How come
the first time I heard him sing "I must be getting over you" I heard
it as "I must be getting old"? These records are reminding me of
Bryan Ferry's heartsick decay -- I just read that Ferry's turned
60 and been dumped by yet another woman. "Failed Christian" and
"Lead Me Not" risk religion without losing it all. And the finale,
"Cold Grey Light of Dawn" is, at last, a rousing piece with gospel
touches. Ivory Joe Hunter wrote that one. B-
- Nick Lowe: The Convincer (2001, Yep Roc). The cover
of "Poor Side of Town" reminds me a bit of early Brinsley Schwarz:
not what I'd call progress, but at least that's something listenable.
This is soft, confessional rock, crooning almost. As he says, "I'm a
- Rough & Tough: The Story of Ska 1960-1966
(Sanctuary/Trojan, 2CD). The brightest of all Jamaican music came
from the '60s, the bright period when Jamaican independence dawned,
before bad times and Rastafarianism had something worthy to suffer.
This set duplicates much of the brilliant first CD from the Tougher
Than Tough box, the standard introduction to Jamaican music --
classics like "Forward March" and "Miss Jamaica" and "Guns of
Navarone" and "Phoenix City" and "Dancing Mood" and "007 (Shanty
Town)" -- but over two CDs it's also a case of more is more, and
it actually rolls a lot harder. Even the kitschy "Bonanza Ska,"
embarrassingly based on you-know-what with a little "Lone Ranger"
thrown in for overkill. For example, there's a Roy Richards instrumental
called "Contact" which is pure essence of ska: the classic pumping
rhythm topped with nothing more than an impromptu melody on what
sounds like an accordion. And Jimmy Cliff's "King of Kings" belongs
in the list of classics. Sanctuary has released a lot of classic
Jamaican music lately, and I'm only slowly working my way through
it, but this is as good a place to start as any. A
- Brinsley Schwarz: Nervous on the Road/The New Favourites
of . . . (1972-74, Beat Goes On). The last two Brinsleys
albums, and my goodness how great they sound! Nick Lowe wrote most
of the songs, although I note now that Ian Gomm gets a couple of
credits, including sole for "It's Been So Long," which kicks off
Nervous, and Brinsley hisself gets lead credit for the
closing "Down in the Dive," which was the last hurrah for pub
rock. Lowe never wrote a better soul ballad than "Ever Since You're
Gone," with its resigned beat and lovely sax break. The sax also
shows up on "Small Town, Big City," along with great Bob Andrews
piano ("the small town ain't where my baby wants to settle down . . .
the big city life is what my baby thinks is out of sight"). And "Down
in the Dive," of course. Great covers fit in flawlessly: Chris Kenner's
"I Like It Like That" and "Trying to Live My Live Without You"
("I used to smoke five packs of cigarattes a day/It was
the hardest thing to put them away/I drank four or five bottles of
wine/I had a glass in my hand all the time/Oh breaking those habits
was hard to do/But it's nothing compared with the changes that you
put me through"; song credited to "Williams", evidently Eugene, but
seems to have mostly been associated with Otis Clay and O.V. Wright).
- Donna Summer: Love to Love You Baby (1975, Casablanca).
Produced by Pete Bellotte, who wrote the songs with keyb man Giorgio
Moroder. Summer gets co-credit on the title track only, which is the
only thing that is much good, and back in LP days its 16:48 covered
the only side you'd ever play. Having heard nothing but the cut down
single for many years now, I'm struck by an instrumental bridge that
recalls Pink Floyd. It's still quite a piece, even though it doesn't
move enough to really do much as disco, nor does it really remind one
of Moroder, who was still a ways from getting his shit together.
Summer's singing is minimal there -- it's the moans that count -- but
on the other side she does show some pipes, although the songs don't
deserve them. B
- Donna Summer: A Love Trilogy (1976, Casablanca). The
producer credit is now "Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte," Moroder
gets first credit on the songs (except for he one credited to
Manilow/Anderson), and the music is credited to "Munich Machine" (their
quotes), who had their own album out then. I was on Casablanca's mail
list way back then, so I caught a lot of the cheezy disco of the era --
Munich Machine, Love & Kisses, Meco, Cerrone, Santa Esmeralda, you
name it. It takes a certain sense of aesthetics (not to mention humor)
to be able to stand, let alone adore, this music. The first side was
a 17:57 disco medley that meanders but has some attractive parts. The
second side is lifted by Manilow's "Could It Be Magic," probably
because it has some shape to it, which gives Moroder something to
orchestrate, and Summer's moans are a plus. B
- Donna Summer: Four Seasons of Love (1976, Casablanca).
Hey, a concept album: four seasonal cliches with more substance than I
remembered, and show quite a bit of advance both in Summer as a singer
and in Moroder as a producer. Only Spring/Summer amount to much as disco,
though, and it could've used a hit. B+
- Donna Summer: I Remember Yesterday (1977, Casablanca).
This came out after Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band hit, and
starts off by following suit. It is, of course, no match for the original,
but then the original deserved flattery. The title cut then segues into
"Love's Unkind," her most distinctive song to date -- sounds like girl
group, updated both to disco and to rock harder. The first side was set
up as a seemless mix with the lead cut reprised; I played it a lot back
then, and still like it. On the second side, "Black Lady" is even more
of a straight rock song, foretelling the moves on Bad Girls, but
not as good. But "Can't We Just Sit Down" also discloses Summer's later
fondness for the dull ballad, and the second side with one exception
isn't all that good. The exception is her second hit, "I Feel Love,"
a monster rhythm track where Summer's sighs just add color. The best
stuff here is the best she's done to date; just not enough of it.
- Donna Summer: Once Upon a Time (1977, Casablanca).
Song credits have been scarce on the last couple of albums, but here
Summer's name comes ahead of Moroder and Bellotte: she's more clearly
in charge than ever, and this Cinderella saga is brazenly ambitious,
a double LP, now a 70+ minute CD. This starts off uncertainly, but
within a few second the synths jump in and it finds its beat, and
Act One, the first four songs through "Fairy Tale High" and "Say
Something Nice," just get better and better. Act Two backs off a bit,
the concept requiring some melodrama, but at least the beats keep it
up. Act Three starts with the sassy "If You Got It Flaunt It" ("so
step aside you leeches/I can teach a trick or two"). But that's
followed by a ballad (to be fair, a pretty good one) and another
piece that is better for the story than for the ears. Then, "Dance
Into My Life" seems tentative. It picks up again in Act Four, with
"I Love You" as the standout, and the spoken reprise of "Once Upon
a Time" a nice ending. Too long perhaps -- in the LP era I would
stick to Act One, but CD makes it convenient to run through the
whole thing, which reminds you of its scope and ambition and
considerable degree of accomplishment. I'm not quite prepared to
bump up my long-established grade, but I'm more impressed than
- Donna Summer: Live and More (1978, Casablanca). Disco
was a producers music, and she was just the voice that faked orgasm to
Giorgio Moroder's synths, right? The fact is that she's been struggling
for respect ever since "Love to Love You Baby," and that's the most
obvious explanation for stepping out on stage to prove she can do it
in concert. Actually, this starts off with a bang, shuffling the first
(and possibly best) three songs from Once Upon a Time . . . --
and the excitement here is palpable. She introduces "I Remember Yesterday"
by talking about reaching back in the vaults, and casts "Love's Unkind"
as vintage girl group from the schoolyard -- both of these are jokes,
of course, but knowing ones, and the latter is terrific. Then there's
a big medley that takes off from "The Man I Love," which really does
reach back there; as does "The Way We Were," which risks turning soggy.
But the only real miss here is "Mimi's Song," tear-jerkingly written
for her daughter. Then comes short versions of the first sides of the
first two albums, "I Feel Love," and "Last Dance." And, hey, good news:
the original "More" -- the studio version of "MacArthur Park Suite"
(including "One of a Kind" and "Heaven Knows"?) didn't fit, so we get
"Theme From the Deep" instead. This is far from perfect -- a lot of
crowd, a lot of "thank you," and not everything works, but the sound
is pretty good as these things go. If I'm still as enchanted after a
few more plays, this will need to be bumped up further. B+
- Donna Summer: Bad Girls (1979, Casablanca). Another
double LP turned into a 70+ minute CD. Starts off with "Hot Stuff"
and "Bad Girls," major songs, and straightahead rockers at that.
Continues with "Love Will Always Find," with its stomping beat and
horn riffs, and "Walk Away" -- all these songs are tied together
with the same beat, and it keeps going: "Journey to the Center of
Your Heart" if anything picks up the energy level with exuberant
horns and counterpoint chorus. She finally slows things down for
a stretch of ballads: "On My Honour," "There Will Always Be a
You," "All Through the Night," "My Baby Understands." Actually,
these are pretty decent ballads, although that's certainly not
her strength. The end, of course, closes fast, picking up with
"Our Love" and "Sunset People." A-
- Donna Summer: On the Radio: Greatest Hits (1975-79,
Casablanca). The first of many compilations to come. "On the Radio"
appears first and, in a slightly longer version, last, small tribute
to the reprisals that she used on several albums. "Love to Love You
Baby" and "Try Me, I Know We Can Make It" are in singles versions,
far shorter than the whole sides they filled up on the first two LPs.
Just "I Love You" from Once Upon a Time, but five cuts from
Bad Girls. And 3:54 of "McArthur Park," a rousing disco mix
on top of an atrocious song. Also "Heaven Knows," omitted from the
CD of Live and More. And then there's "No More Tears (Enough
Is Enough)," with Barbra Streisand: hideous intro, but then the disco
kicks in, but it's a long (11:44) cut, and rather piles it on. A-
- Donna Summer: The Dance Collection: A Compilation of Twelve
Inch Singles (1977-79, Casablanca). This came out in 1987,
which is probably when the CD version of Live and More showed
up, since it's noted there that "MacArthur Suite" has been moved to
this CD. These were disco singles, stretched out for dancing. The
8:14 "I Feel Love" is long on its synth rhythm. "With Your Love"
and "Last Dance" originally came from the Thank God It's Friday
soundtrack: the former is a throwaway, but "Last Dance" is a major
song but, but something turns me off this version -- a sort of
symphonic hoakiness? Then there's "MacArthur Park Suite": it's
axiomatic in some circles that Jimmy Webb's song is one of the
three or four most utterly wretched songs in the history of rock,
and almost any version you'd care to point to provides evidence of
some sort. But Summer had a huge hit with it, and we've been stuck
with that ever since (try to find a comp that doesn't have it).
Still, what exactly is so horrible about this version? (I mean,
aside from the song.) Well, there's the ah-hah break, but the
disco that follows is pretty hot, and in this version it stretches
out -- as long as there's no words it's perfectly danceable. Also,
the suite is filled out with pieces of two Summer songs, pretty
good ones ("One of a Kind," "Heaven Knows"). And Summer's own
singing, once you get away from the cake thing, is actually rather
measured (not always true with her). We've lived with the many
subsequent edits so long that we've gotten used to them, but this
long version is in some ways the least painful one. Not that I'm
trying to be a revisionist or anything. Carrying on, "Hot Stuff"
and "Walk Away" are just fine. "Dim All the Lights" has never
struck me as one of the highlights of Bad Girls, but it's
OK too. But the 11:43 "No More Tears," the same cut as on On
the Radio, is de trop, and whatever Barbra Streisand contributes
to it is up to no good. Overall, danceable, of course. Unnecessary
too. Too bad, because she really could've used as functional a
dance album as, say, Madonna's You Can Dance. B+
- Donna Summer: She Works Hard for the Money (1983,
Mercury). In 1980, she sued to get out of her Casablanca contract,
and recorded several albums for Geffen -- The Wanderer (1981),
Donna Summer (1982), Cats Without Claws (1984), All
Systems Go (1987) -- but she also seems to have recorded I'm
a Rainbow in 1981 (released by Polygram in 1996), and this in
1983 on Mercury, so I'm not sure that all this info is straight.
This one was produced and arranged by Michael Omartian, and is her
most straightforward soul/rock album. The title cut is a great one:
"it's a sacrifice working day to day/for little money just tips for
pay." The next two cuts keep up the rhythm, and "Woman" introduces
some funk, courtesy of Ray Parker Jr. "Unconditional Love" goes to
the islands with all the righteousness (if not rigor) of a rasta
("give me your unconditional love/the kind of love I deserve/the
kind I want to return"). Ballad duet with someone named Matthew
Ward called "Love Has a Mind of Its Own," a little over the top.
Fake oriental in "Tokyo," with more Matthew Ward. Last two cuts are
more torchy, but overall everything here is worth listening to. One
of her strongest albums. A-
- Donna Summer: Another Place and Time (1989, Atlantic).
Produced by the braintrust behind Bananarama, Stock/Aitken/Waterman,
this is long on rhythm and short on songs. B
- The Donna Summer Anthology (1975-92, Casablanca, 2 CD).
The first disc is, of course, superb, taking her up through Bad Girls
with narry a false step (not even "MacArthur Park," served up in the 6:25
promo version), although I could use a couple more songs from Once Upon
a Time. The second disc has two more disco monsters from On the
Radio, then tries to make sense of her post-1980 oeuvre. That she
essayed "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" only goes to prove that she's the
ur-Madonna. The cuts from Wanderer are good, from She Works
Hard for the Money great; the rest of it is well sung and rhythmic,
but not all that interesting, let alone special. The first disc is an A;
the second is more like a B, maybe even B-. Since you have to pay for it,
it's not really appropriate to average, but since you don't have to play
the second it doesn't really sink the whole package either. And none of
the other comps really go it any better. A-
- Donna Summer: Endless Summer (1975-95, Casablanca).
Good idea: a single CD career summation. Not, of course, the same things
I would've chosen. The Cole/Clivelles "Melody of Love (Wanna Be Loved)"
was a 1994 single, and the Omartian-produced "Any Way at All" doesn't
seem to come from anywhere else. Nothing from Once Upon a Time,
three cuts from Bad Girls (no surprises). Five cuts from the
'80s, only one ranking among her very best. Often cited as the one
Summer collection to have, but while it's good listening, I wouldn't
put it past On the Radio or the first disc of Anthology.
- Donna Summer: VH-1 Presents: Live and More Encore!
(1999, Epic). Her voice is deeper; I guess that happens. The sound is
a bit darker too -- not bad, but a tad compressed. And the first piece
is "MacArthur Park," maybe to get it out of the way. "I Feel Love" is
knicked by the sound system, "On the Radio" is turned into a singalong,
and someone named Tina Arena is recruited for a brief "No More Tears."
She does a Rod Stewart impression on "Dim All the Lights," then "She
Works Hard for the Money" and "Bad Girls" and "Hot Stuff" -- nothing
here that you need done again. The one new live cut, "My Life," isn't
bad -- seems to come from that Ordinary Girl musical mentioned
in the RS Encyclopedia, and pairing it with "Last Dance," her
movie closer, is not inappropriate. The other two new ones are the
"More": "Love Is the Healer" and "I Will Go With You," two constipated
soul wailers. Superfluous, and annoying. C+
- The Best of Donna Summer (20th Century Masters: The Millennium
Collection (1975-83, Mercury). 51:18, eleven cuts, only two from
the first five albums, only two from the '80s. Pretty canonical, although
I'd be more tempted to feature the disco icon than the diva. Still, if
you missed her, there's works as an introduction, and the last word is
that "she works hard for the money." Indeed. A-
- Tighten Up: Trojan Reggae Classics 1968-74 (Sanctuary/Trojan,
2 CD). Even though this is mostly before Island started breaking reggae
acts in the UK and US, this doesn't strike me as the strongest set of
material possible. One Marley cut, two Toots, two Ken Boothe. "Blood
and Fire," of course, but that's it for Niney. It also seems that there's
even more American covers, and not necessarily better ones: the 2-3-4
songs are "Kansas City," "Spanish Harlem," "A Place in the Sun," and I
could do without all three. Reggae is a distinctive rhythm from ska; I
don't quite know how to describe it, but it replaces the pumping
regularity of ska with something that sort of strolls with a little
hop off the beat. As the '70s unfolded reggae became dominated by
the Rastas, but there's not much evidence of that here -- even known
Rastas don't flaunt it. One good song I hadn't heard before: Johnny
Clarke, "None Shall Escape the Judgement." Of course, that's not all,
but this is mostly for reference. B+
- X-Ray Spex: The Anthology (1977-78,
Sanctuary/Castle, 2 CD). Aside from the Yankees' August blowout of the
Red Sox, my fondest memory of 1978 was snapping up X-Ray Spex as they
unveiled themselves single-by-single: "Oh Bondage Up Yours!," "The Day
the World Turned Day-Glo," "Identity," "Germ Free Adolescents," they
moved from howling punk yelp to shrink-wrapped plastic anthem, the
latter even more radical than the former. Poly Styrene declaimed,
Lora Logic wailed on sax, and the blokes banged on things. From "I'm
a poseur and I don't care/I like to make people stare" to "I wanna
be instamatic/I wanna be a frozen pea/I wanna be dehydrated/in a
consumer society." Johnny Rotten was an aesthete compared to them.
This collects pretty much everything they ever did: their one studio
album expanded to 16 cuts, 10 more rough mixes of the same, and the
trashy sounding live tape from their second gig. Maybe you had to be
there to love every moment of it, but I do. A
Friday, March 28, 2003
There hasn't been much to say lately about the war. The notion that
Iraq would just lie back and enjoy it, of course, is no longer in play.
But once you get past the fantasies, the evidence seems to favor both
pro-war and anti-war interpretations. The basic difference is not the
evidence -- it's how much war you can stand. Those of us who oppose
the war can point to overwhelming, damning evidence of irreversible
damage to all sides, and can assert with certainty that if the war
continues and most likely escalates we can only expect more and more
irreversible destruction. We can also argue with compelling logic
that the cycle of aggression, resistance, and escalation is a hopeless
whorl that will suck all sides into one hell or another, regardless
of whether the aggression ultimately fails, as in Vietnam, or even if
it "succeeds" -- the only U.S. example I can think of here is the
conquest of the many Native American tribes.
I can't speak for the pro-war interpretation, but the media does plenty
of that. I don't doubt that the U.S. is making significant progress toward
completing its conquest of Iraq. I don't doubt that the U.S. will prevail,
at least in the limited sense of securing the ability to go anywhere and
do anything they want in the country. But I also don't have any idea how
much firepower and manpower will ultimately be required to do so, how
many Iraqis will die in the process, or how much of the country will be
viable afterwards. And I don't have any idea how many Iraqis will flock
to support their new U.S. masters. The latter is especially important,
because without significant active Iraqi cooperation U.S. occupation will
be a nightmare. And even then, such cooperation will force a schism within
the Iraqi populace that will long tear at Iraq's social fabric, and which,
if/when Iraq reverts to form, may result in many of our Iraqi "friends"
seeking asylum in the U.S. (Which is where most of our Vietnamese and
Cuban "friends" wound up living.)
Pretty much everyone agrees that one of the side-effects of the Iraq
war will be more terrorism in the U.S. Few people take the time to
recall that, until 2001-09-11, the most destructive terrorist to come
out of the Gulf War was Timothy McVeigh. (Now, of course, the answer
to that quiz is George W. Bush.) I've often said that I think the
threat of Al Qaeda/Arab terrorism is much overrated -- not that there
is no risk, but that the real risk doesn't warrant such desperate
measures as the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and that in fact
the risk could be significantly lessened if the U.S. were to start
to act decently, especially regarding Israel/Palestine. But one
thing I do worry about is how these wars work to generate domestic
right-wing terrorists, and even more so how they reinforce right-wing
tendencies toward racism, militarism, and plain old viciousness. One
thing we see throughout U.S. history is one war leading to another,
often with pronounced swings to the right in the postwar period,
such as the Red Scare after WWI and McCarthyism after WWII. (It
took a few years for the sting of defeat in Vietnam to wear off
and let Reagan in, but in many ways that was the worst.)
Tuesday, March 25, 2003
The war grinds on. The fantasy that expected the Iraqis to roll out the
red carpet for their American liberators has been dashed. Nobody expects
that Iraq will be able to repulse the U.S. invasion, but the level and
form of resistance pretty much guarantees that eventually the U.S. will
leave Iraq without having accomplished anything more notable than the
perverse satisfaction of serving up Saddam's head on some platter.
As I said earlier, the level of resistance will be telling. If you want
a rule of thumb for neocolonialist wars of occupation, it's that once
you can't tell your friends from your enemies in the native population,
you're fucked. At its simplest level, that's because the occupiers get
nervous and make mistakes. The mistakes, in turn, compound, pushing
more and more people from the friendly side to the hostile side. That
in turn reinforces the nervousness, the mistakes, the alienation. In
turn, the resistance gets bolder; as this happens, the occupation digs
in, becoming more brutal, vicious, capricious. The high-minded rhetoric
is exposed as pure hypocrisy, and the occupation becomes more nakedly
about nothing more than power. Such wars become vastly unpopular, and
eventually the occupier has to cut their losses and go home. This is
pretty much what happened in Vietnam, and we're going to be hearing
a lot more about the similarity as this war bogs down.
Still, I think there are a couple of differences from Vietnam. That the
Iraqis don't have the Soviet Union and China resupplying them with bullets
is probably one difference that won't matter much: even without a foreign
sponsor (and don't forget that neighboring Iran and Syria are near the
top of the U.S. hit list), Iraq has learned a thing or two about smuggling
during the sanctions years. That the Iraqis will take refuge in cities
rather than the countryside is another difference, one that might make
them more effective, at least in the sense of amplifying even small acts
of resistance. But on the other hand, the U.S. is different too: there
is a lot of reason to believe that the U.S. military really didn't want
to get into this war, and that American soldiers really don't want to
take the risks associated with policing Iraq. It's also clear that the
U.S. people really didn't want to get into this war, and that opposition
both in the U.S. and abroad will be relentless. It's also the case that
the U.S. economy really cannot afford this kind of war, not just in
direct costs and terrorism risk but because it significantly risks U.S.
business interests all around the world. It's also the case that this
war is going to be very visible -- the whole "embedded press" thing has
already backfired several times.
So, let's face it, the U.S. war against Iraq is a colossal failure.
The only question remaining is how long it will take the U.S. to give
up and get out, and how much destruction the U.S. will leave in its
wake. So remember this: This war did not have to happen. No one who
has died, been injured, been captured, been terrorized by this war
had to suffer. This only happened because of one mad tyrant: George
W. Bush. Even today, if sanity were to suddenly overcome him, all
he'd have to do is cease fire and order the troops home. Every day,
every minute that he does not do this just adds to the grossness of
Sunday, March 23, 2003
Music: Initial count 8067 rated (+23), 821 unrated (-20). Still working
on Rolling Stone Guide material, which is keeping me close to my assigned
artists. What I've wound up doing is keeping notes in the notebook as I
play things (trying as much as possible to clear these things out in one
play, which is probably bad policy, but time is pretty limited), so these
are probably even more fragmentary -- they're certainly more
stream-of-consciousness -- than usual. As I start this week, I'm still
working on Matthew Shipp, but I'll keep those together under last week.
This also involves listening to records that I have already graded,
but I probably haven't written about those in the past anyway. Anyway,
I changed at least three grades on Shipp's records (2 up, 1 down), so
none of these things are permanent anyway.
- DJ Spooky: Optometry (2002, Thirsty Ear). Featuring the
Shipp/Parker/Brown rhythm section, this time with Joe McPhee for color
and bravado, as a DJ album this mines the hard, funky stuff, Shipp's
percussive block chords, Parker's swing, Brown's acoustic drums driving
home the synthetic percussion. DJ rap and vocal sample on 4 ("I like you
Daddy"); 5 (brief spoken intro for funk groove); 9 ("a mind closed up
is like a parachute useless"). On the other hand, cut 12 "Periphique"
is pure Shipp, with its carefully measured lines. But cut 13 "It's a
Mad, Mad, Mad World" closes with hard rhythm again, with McPhee's
saxophone adding useful depth and color rather than counterpoint.
An impressive set. A-
- DJ Spooky: Dubtometry (2003, Thirsty Ear). If last
year's Optometry was one step removed from Matthew Shipp albums
like Nu Bop and Equilibrium, the step being that Shipp
had yielded control of the synths and programming to someone else,
instead of subcontracting to FLAM, this step is that DJ Spooky has
now turned his record over to another plethora of DJs: Lee "Scratch"
Perry and Mad Professor being well known enough to make the front
cover. The DJs, in turn, make hash of Shipp's acoustic sounds, while
jacking the beats up further. This does two things: it actually honors
the basic sound of the building blocks -- that is ultimately what
distinguishes this from countless other dubs; and it keeps the beats
going, which is something that Shipp himself is even today occasionally
remiss at. Not sure that there's anything quasi-brilliant in here, but
the hash sounds terrific. A-
- Holy Modal Rounders: 1 & 2 (1963-64, Fantasy). I
used to have the double LP, but never played it much -- double LPs were
something of a pain. Here they're squeezed onto one CD, with what looks
like a couple of previously unissued cuts. Peter Stampfel on fiddle,
banjo, and unmistakable vocal; Steve Weber on guitar and other vocal.
Most of the songs are public domain (which doesn't necessarily mean
that they got the words right), with five originals (counting one from
Robin Remaily, "Euphoria," one of the best), and a handful of old-timey
(Clarence Ashley, Vernon Dalhart, Dave Macon, Bill Monroe, Stanley Brothers,
Frank Hutchinson) and a blues (Willie McTell). I can remember when this
first seemed weird, then funny; now it sounds like a classic. A
- Holy Modal Rounders: Live in 1965 (1965, HMR). One of
the signs of legend-dom is that folks start going through your garbage for
hints of past genius. The sound here is pretty harsh, with Steve Weber's
guitar so up-front you feel like swatting flies, but it's a whole
lot clearer than those old Bird Eyes albums, and I'd say the
performance is better than Bird at St. Nick's. Sixteen songs,
not counting the ten pieces called "Intro," which is Peter Stampfel
moving things along. These things could get tedious, but unlike Bird
they haven't been overdone yet, and like Bird the occasional flash of
insight is appreciated. B+
- Holy Modal Rounders: Indian War Whoop (1967, ESP). The
group is fleshed out with Sam Sheppard (yeah, that one) on drums, Lee
Crabtree on piano/organ, and some backup-singers. It has zero old-timey
feel, zero folk-feel; mostly intended as a psychedelic thing, which sort
of slips in and out of tune. "A bit too avant," I think Stampfel called
it. Well, the zeros aren't totally true: "The I.W.W. Song" starts to
emerge from the murk, and there are actually coherent lines in "Bay Rum
- The Moral Eeels Eat the Holy Modal Rounders (1969,
Water). The Moral Eels was a band that Stampfel played with while
Weber was out of it, not that Weber is all that into it here. But
the traditional material is giving way to something pseudo-psychedelic,
although dimwitted fare like "My Mind Capsized" and "The STP Song"
anticipates the Ramones and Angry Samoans. "Mobile Line" is one of
the few traditionals; perhaps like in avant-garde jazz it helps to
have a known reference point. The engineers mixed this into two
seamless sides, which suggests that they were more stoned than the
artists. A curiosity at best. B+
- Holy Modal Rounders: Last Round (1979, Adelphi). This is
a very inconsistent album -- part of it is that they veer more toward
jazz here than anywhere else, and the jazzy shit just isn't very good.
"Euphoria," of course, is great, as is Stampfel's "August 1967 (The
Hippies Call It STP)," and Antonia's "If You Want to Be a Bird" is
even better. CD adds "Snappin' Pussy." Where the hell is "Fucking
Sailors in Chinatown"? B+
- Holy Modal Rounders: Too Much Fun (1999, Rounder).
Weber is back, after almost 20 years. The program is fairly simple,
mostly old songs with a few Rounders remakes ("Euphoria" again).
- Holy Modal Rounders & Friends: I Make a Wish for a
Potato (1975-99, Rounder). Rounder seems to be trying to
concoct another Have Moicy! by slipping in solo work from
Michael Hurley and Jeffrey Frederick. Pretty much works, too.
Wonder why they can't keep the old albums in print. A
- Mat Maneri: Sustain (2002, Thirsty Ear). Maneri is
credited with violas here. Joe McPhee gets a "featuring" credit, and
the rhythm section is Parker-Cleaver-Craig Taborn. In Shipp's Blue
Series, but a fairly straight free date, with McPhee a definite
- Ivo Perelman: Bendito of Santa Cruz (1996, Cadence).
Duo with Matthew Shipp, although Perelman dominates and Shipp barely
manages to fill in. Perelman is capable of making some nasty noise,
but more often than not he follows his melodic lines here, and on
occasion (e.g., "Cana Fita") that can be charming. B+
- Hank Thompson: Radio Broadcasts 1952 (1952, Country
Routes). I understand that Thompson's lawyers have force this off the
market. Typically good material. B+
- Hank Thompson: In the Mood for Hank (Jasmine). These
seem to be early '50s radio transcriptions, which according to Hank
World were cut in Thompson's well-equipped home studio for a
transcription service. No discographical information, so it's hard
to tell. Sound seems to be a notch below Hank World, but it
seems that Thompson and his band were so consistent there's rarely
any room to complain. B+
- Hank Thompson & His Brazos Valley Boys: Vintage
Collections (1947-61, Capitol). Another summation of Thompson's
'50s heyday, but this only repeats nine cuts from the previous Capitol
Collectors Series, omitting novelties like "Rockin' in the Congo"
and "Squaws Along the Yukon" in favor of cuts that emphasize his western
swing heritage (including two instrumentals, a good one with Merle Travis,
and a not-so-good one with horns).
- Hank Thompson: Hank World (1954, Bloodshot). These
were transcriptions recorded in Thompson's home studio (sound is very
good) for radio play. Good selection of early material, a few hits,
but mostly obscure. A-
- Dance Ranch/Songs for Rounders (1957-59, Koch). This
collects two LPs, with Merle Travis along on guitar. None of these
are really songs associated with Thompson, which makes it a good
showcase for Thompson's singing and band. Dance Ranch has
two songs that are damaged by backup singers, and four instrumentals
("Beaumont Rag", a polka, and Woody Herman/Artie Shaw ravers). Two
good Travis songs. "Teach 'Em How to Swim" is a jaunty drinking
- The Best of Hank Thompson 1966-1979 (Varese). The
fare is lighter, but he still sings beautifully, and the band still
- Hank Thompson: Seven Decades (Hightone). "Sting in
This Old Bee" is as good as anything you'd hope for 54 years after
"Whoa Sailor." Hank sounds fine, and Lloyd Maines does a dandy job
of producing. The songs don't quite hold up, but "Abdul Abulbul Mir"
is another good one. B+
- When the Sun Goes Down, Vol. 1: Walk Right In (1926-41,
RCA). These four CDs rummage through RCA's back catalogue. This one focuses
on primitive blues with a dash of old-time vaudeville. One thing this
series seems to try to do is to spotlight songs that were later were
doen by rock musicians. Sorry to be pedantic about this, but I'll list
the songs one-by-one for notetaking purposes [brackets are subsequent
versions or derivations noted in booklet].
Although filed under blues, this set is so primal it really predates blues
as well as rock and roll. B+
- Robert Petway, "Catfish Blues" (1941) [Muddy Waters]
- Big Joe Williams, "Baby, Please Don't Go" (1935) [Van Morrison/Them]
- Leadbelly, "Ham an' Eggs" (1940) [Lonnie Donegan]: with Golden Gate
quartet, which gives it a prison gang song feel.
- Big Bill Broonzy, "Mississippi River Blues" (1934)
- Trixie Butler, "Just a Good Woman Through With the Blues" (1936):
black vaudeville veteran.
- Milton Brown & His Musical Brownies, "Garbage Man Blues" (1934):
blackface-style intro, western swing band, but with a jerky washboard
- Bukka White, "The Panama Limited" (1930)
- Tommy Johnson, "Cool Drink of Water Blues" (1928) [Howlin' Wolf]:
"I asked for water and she gave me gasoline."
- Leadbelly, "The Midnight Special" (1940)
- Carter Family, "Worried Man Blues" (1930)
- Amédé Ardoin & Denus McGee, "Les Blues de Voyage" (1934): the famous
black accordionist, probably the first big zydeco star, and a white fiddler,
although the accordion dominates; basically it's the rhythm instrument in
this cajun rhythm track.
- Andrew & Jim Baxter, "KC. Railroad Blues" (1927)
- Rev. J.M. Gates, "Somebody's Been Stealin'" (1928)
- Alberta Hunter, "Beale Street Blues" (1927): W.C. Handy classic, with
Fats Waller on organ.
- Noah Lewis, "Devil in the Wood Pile" (1929)
- Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers, "Walk Right In" (1929) [Rooftops]
- Julius Daniels, "Ninety-Nine Year Blues" (1927)
- Bessie Tucker, "Got Cut All to Pieces" (1928)
- Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers, "Feather Bed" (1928)
- Julius Daniels, "Can't Put a Bridle on That Mule This Morning" (1927)
- DeFord Bailey, "Davidson County Blues" (1928): the first black on the
Grand Ole Opry, this is just a harmonica solo
- Frank Crumit, "Frankie and Johnny" (1927): a white singer, has two CDs
on ASV Living Era, The Gay Caballero and Mountain Greenery;
plays guitar, has a light, jaunty feel, with Hawaiian steel guitar.
- Taskiana Four, "Dixie Bo-Bo" (1927): vocal quartet with piano; not in
AMG, but they have 16 songs on Document DOCD-5347 (1926-28)
- Paul Robeson, "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" (1926): the
opera singer, right?
- Hall Johnson Choir, "St. Louis Blues" (1939): another big vocal deal;
the last four cuts end on a pronounced note of vocal overkill, which has
some quaint curiosity value, but I find these things very overblown.
- When the Sun Goes Down, Vol. 2: The First Time I Met the
Blues (1927-36, RCA). Theme here seems to be early southern
blues, with close to half of the songs recorded in Memphis and others
referring to Memphis or New Orleans. Some overlap with RCA's previous
Wild About My Lovin'.
Again, the songs:
- Victoria Spivey, "Telephoning the Blues" (1929): band includes Red
Allen (trumpet), J.C. Higginbotham (trombone), Luis Russell (piano), who
contribute some unobtrusive polyphony in background.
- Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers, "Viola Lee Blues" (1928) [Grateful Dead]
- Genevieve Davis, "Haven't Got a Dollar to Pay Your House Rent Man"
(1927): again, the chicks get all the jazzmen, but in this case I don't
recognize either singer or band.
- Ishman Bracey, "Saturday Blues" (1928)
- Jim Jackson, "When I Woke Up This Morning She Was Gone" (1928)
- Tommy Johnson, "Canned Heat Blues" (1928)
- Blind Willie McTell, "Statesboro Blues" (1928) [Youngbloods, Taj Mahal]:
famous piece, one of those things that you know you know almost immediately,
but the title doesn't pop up until near the end, which cinches it.
- Memphis Jug Band, "Stealin', Stealin'" (1928) [Grateful Dead, Taj Mahal]:
jug, kazoo, harmonica, guitar; a very famous piece.
- Furry Lewis, "Judge Harsh Blues" (1928): Starts with "good morning judge,"
a line that shows up in a few more songs.
- Edna Winston, "Rent Man Blues" (1927): another jazz band.
- Harris & Harris, "I Don't Care What You Say" (1928)
- Lizzie Miles, "I Hate a Man Like You" (1929): just subdued piano on
this one, by Jelly Roll Morton, who also wrote the song; "just like a
woman/you're always carrying pails/trying to make trouble/gonna get me
in jail/then you can't find no one/to go my bail/lord I hate a man like
you," "walking around/with a switch and a rod/shootin' dice/always
playing cards/while i bring a pane/from the white folks yard/lord I
hate a man like you," "eatin' and drinkin'/sitting at the [???]/bringing
my place/and winking at my friends/when my back is turned/you're like a
rooster at a hen/oh, i hate a man like you."
- Frank Stokes, "'Taint Nobody's Business If I Do - Part 1" (1928)
- Sippie Wallace, "I'm a Mighty Tight Woman" (1929): trumpet, trombone,
and clarinet (Johnny Dodds).
- Jimmie Rodgers, "Blue Yodel #9" (1930): backed by the Louis and Lil
Armstrong; nobody else plays like that.
- Sleepy John Estes, "The Girl I Love, She Got Long, Curly Hair" (1929)
- McCoy & Johnson, "Don't Want No Woman (Have T' Give My Money To)
(1930): aka Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe.
- Memphis Jug Band, "Cocaine Habit Blues" (1930): "take a whiff on me."
- Blind Willie Reynolds, "Married Woman Blues" (1930) [Cream]
- Jimmie Davis, "Red Nightgown Blues" (1932)
- Mississippi Matilda, "Hard Working Woman" (1936): vocal with just two
guitars, Matilda Powell has a high voice with no polish, but the phrasing
here is very touching.
- Bo Carter, "Doubled Up in a Knot" (1936): recorded in New Orleans, but
has much the same Memphis beat, one of the better singers here.
- Daddy Stovepipe & Mississippi Sarah, "If You Want Me, Baby" (1935):
the harmonica part here plays like a circus organ.
- Little Brother Montgomery, "The First Time I Met the Blues" (1936)
[Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton, John Lee Hooker]: piano player.
- Mississippi Sheiks With Bo Carter, "Sales Tax" (1934)
- When the Sun Goes Down, Vol. 3: That's Chicago South Side
(1931-42, RCA). This set of early Chicago acoustic blues is more consistent
and thematic than the first two sets. It also is a step up as pop music.
- Sam Theard, "That's Chicago's South Side" (1938)
- Pete Wheatstraw, "Peetie Wheatstraw" (1931): aka the Devil's Son-in-Law
aka High Sheriff From Hell; plays piano.
- Roosevelt Sykes, "Devil's Island Gin Blues" (1933): piano player,
fast little boogie number.
- Amos Easton, "Sail On, Little Girl, Sail On" (1934)
- Joe Pullum, "Black Gal, What Makes Your Head So Hard?" (1934): with
piano; sings in a falsetto; very striking slow blues.
- Lil Johnson, "I Lost My Baby" (1935)
- Big Bill Broonzy, "Keep Your Hands Off Her" (1935)
- Leroy Carr, "When the Sun Goes Down" (1935): piano player, with
Scrapper Blackwell on guitar; classic song.
- Memphis Minnie, "Selling My Pork Chops" (1935): "I'm selling my pork
chops/but I'm giving my gravy away."
- Pine Top, "Every Day I Have the Blues" (1935)
- Walter Davis, "Sweet Sixteen" (1935)
- Meade Lux Lewis, "Honky Tonk Train Blues" (1936)
- Richard M. Jones, "Trouble in Mind" (1936)
- Merline Johnson, "He Roars Like a Lion" (1937)
- Robert Lee McCoy, "Prowling Night Hawk" (1937)
- Sonny Boy Williamson, "Good Morning School Girl" (1937) [Grateful Dead,
Yardbirds, Van Morrison, Steppenwolf, Eric Clapton, Muddy Waters, Jonny
Lang, Paul Rodgers, Little Richard]: that would be Sonny Boy I.
- Speckled Red, "You Got to Fix It" (1938): Robert Lee McCoy on guitar
(sounds like Tampa Red).
- Washboard Sam, "Bucket's Got a Hole in It" (1938)
- Tommy McClennan, "Bottle It Up and Go" (1939): one of the better guitar
pieces here -- I keep hearing shades of Tampa Red.
- Jazz Gillum, "Key to the Highway" (1940) [Eric Clapton]: Broonzy plays
guitar, Gillum harmonica.
- Tampa Red, "Don't You Lie to Me" (1940)
- Johnny Temple, "What Is That She Got" (1941)
- St. Louis Jimmy, "Going Down Slow" (1941)
- Yank Rachel, "Hobo Blues" (1941)
- Lonnie Johnson, "He's a Jelly Roll Baker" (1942)
- When the Sun Goes Down, Vol. 4: That's All Right (1939-55,
RCA). This starts out in WWII, with one called "Pearl Harbor Blues," and
works up to about 1951 (one Sonny Terry cut from 1955). RCA petered out
as a blues label after WWII, with Tampa Red and Crudup getting a lot of
This seems to be the best of the series, perhaps because it fits most
closely to "the secret history of rock & roll" theme, or maybe just
because the newer material is better recorded and more richly orchestrated --
most of these pieces have three or more players, whereas most of the other
discs are solo/duo. A-
- Doctor Clayton, "Pearl Harbor Blues" (1942): "the Japanese is so
ungrateful/just like a stray dog on the street" -- ungrateful for what?
- Five Breezes, "Buddy Blues" (1940)
- Big Maceo, "Worried Life Blues" (1941) [Ray Charles, Eric Clapton]:
great song, Tampa Red plays guitar.
- Cats & a Fiddle, "I'd Rather Drink Muddy Water" (1939)
- Memphis Slim, "Grinder Man Blues" (1940)
- Pete Johnson & Albert Ammons, "Walkin' the Boogie" (1941)
- Lil Green, "Why Don't You Do Right" (1941) [Julie London]: a real
gem, a slow, measured plaint, "like some other men do/get out of here and
get me some money too." Nice piano, and Broonzy on guitar.
- Robert Lockwood, "Little Boy Blue" (1941)
- Doctor Clayton, "Angels in Harlem" (1946)
- Sunnyland Slim, "Illinois Blues" (1947)
- Eddie Boyd, "Chicago Is Just That Way" (1948)
- Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup, "That's All Right" (1946) [Elvis Presley]:
I've never been big on Crudup, but this is a fine song, and of course the
launching pad for Elvis.
- Henry "Red" Allen, "Get the Mop" (1946): the subtext of this set is
"the secret history of rock and roll," but this is one of the few things
that actually rocks -- a hot piece of jump blues, with Higginbotham on
trombone and Don Stovall on alto sax. The only other pieces of post-WWII
work by Allen that I know are two 1957 albums, clearly in the tradition,
including the great World on a String on RCA, but I've always
heard good things about postwar Allen. Never knew he did anything this
- Jazz Gillum, "Look on Yonder Wall" (1946)
- Roosevelt Sykes Trio, "Anytime Is the Right Time" (1945) [Nappy Brown,
- Tampa Red, "When Things Go Wrong With You" (1949) [Elmore James]:
everybody's done it, but it's impossible to hear it without thinking
of James; but it's Tampa's song (Hudson Whittaker), and James didn't
have to do much to it, other than play his usual guitar and lose the
- Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup, "Dust My Broom" (1949) [Elmore James]: this
is credited to Crudup, but didn't Robert Johnson do something damn close
to this? And doesn't James own it lock, stock and barrel?
- Washboard Sam, "Soap and Water Blues" (1947): with Broonzy, Sykes,
and Willie Sixon; "she's got b.o./she keeps b.o. all the time/and she thinks
soap and water/ooh, lord, lord, is a dog gone crime."
- Piano Red, "Rockin' With Red" (1950)
- Tampa Red, "Sweet Little Angel" (1950): "I asked my baby for a drink/she
bought me a whiskey still."
- Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup, "My Baby Left Me" (1950) [Elvis Presley]
- Johnny Moore Three Blazers, "How Blue Can You Get (Downhearted)" (1949):
Billy Valentine sings and plays piano, copying Charles Brown.
- Piano Red, "Right String, But the Wrong Yo-Yo" (1950) [Carl Perkins]:
Red has to shout to get any volume, but he puts this one over.
- Sonny Terry, "Ride and Roll" (1955): with Stick and Brownie McGhee on
guitars, and Milt Hinton slapping the bass, this kicks up Terry's typical
rhythm. This is the only post-1951 recording here -- RCA lost interest in
the blues, and this was actually released on Groove, so it's not clear
why this is here. Terrific song, of course.
- Little Richard, "Get Rich Quick" (1951): Little Richard's first
recording, a jump blues with trumpet and three saxophones.
- Hank Williams: The Complete Hank Williams (1947-53,
Mercury). At 10 CD, this is more than anyone needs. Still, let's go
through it disc by disc:
- Sterling and MGM Recordings: Chronological, from 1946-11-12
to 1947-07-11, the first 8 on Sterling, the rest on MGM.
- MGM Sessions, Part 2: Chronological, from 1947-07-11 to
- MGM Sessions, Part 3: Chronological, from 1950-01-10 to
1951-06-01. This introduces Hank's Luke the Drifter alias, whose spoken
verses lecture sternly on morality; starts with "Too Many Parties and
Too Many Pals," one of the worst, and closes with "I Dreamed About Mama
Last Night," one of his best. There are also a couple of cuts with wife
Audrey Williams: they sang gospel songs in ragged harmony, somewhat like
the Carter Family, but coarser. Some great songs here: "Nobody's Lonesome
for Me," "Moanin' the Blues," "Howlin' at the Moon," "Hey, Good Lookin',"
- MGM Sessions, Part 4: Chronological, from 1951-07-25 to
1952-09-23. (Died 1953-01-01.) Hank's last year was full of great
songs; his last session produced "Your Cheatin' Heart," "Kaw-Liga,"
and "Take These Chains From My Heart" (the latter written by Fred
Rose/Hy Heath). Others include: "Jambalaya," "Settin' the Woods on
Fire," "I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive," "You Win Again,"
"I Won't Be Home No More." Divorce from Audrey figured into the
latter, along with the final (and perhaps the best) Luke the Drifter
rap, "Please Make Up Your Mind." Married Billie Jean four weeks
after the last session ("I Could Never Be Ashamed of You").
- Montgomery Demos and Radio Performances: This starts off with
three demos from 1939-40, very rough sound. Then two 1942 cuts, one the
very scratchy first cut previously on Original Singles Collection.
Most of the rest are vocal/guitar demos up to 1947.
- Shreveport Radio and Demo Performances: 1949 cuts, just Hank
and guitar, these don't strike me as being particularly notable. Need to
check whether they overlap Alone With His Guitar (also 1949, so
- Shreveport Radio Performances, Part 2: These radio cuts are
with a band, which brightens them up a bit.
- Nashville Demos, Part 1: This ends with an advertisement for a
book on "How to Write Folk and Western Music to Sell," a typical piece of
hucksterism. But that is the point of the demos, which are rough ideas,
carried mostly by Williams' voice, but lacking the polish of finished
product, or even the vigor of the live versions.
- Nashville Demos, Part 2: This really scrapes the bottom of the
barrel. Most of the demos are scratchy, and the "Farmer Jim" tapes are very
poor. There's a long pitch for the March of Dimes, leading into "Help Me
Understand." The rare radio cuts include a "Wild Side of Life."
- Radio, Television and Concert Performances: 16 cuts from the
AFRS Shows, including two raps by Minnie Pearl, mostly good versions of
well known cuts, with useless intros, but there's a "Dear John" (Aubrey
Gass), which I only know from a John Prine record.
Also 5 cuts from Health & Happiness Shows: gospel music;
a duet with Anita Carter; and spoken word "The Apology #2."
- Hank Williams: 40 Greatest Hits (1947-52, Mercury, 2CD).
This has often been cited as the Williams set of choice. Although the
copyright listed is 1978, the CD remastering obviously came later (c. 1990),
and this represents the first attempt to restore Williams' oeuvre to its
pre-overdubbed glory. The 40 songs, of course, are extraordinary.
- Hank Williams: The Original Singles Collection . . . Plus
(1942-52, Polydor, 3CD). This has long been my choice Williams: I find that
the completeness here doesn't detract so much as it sets in relief just
how great Williams' peaks really are. However, until now I never really
noticed that the singles actually run out about half way through the
third CD. The rest, the "Plus," are mostly undubbed demos that were later
dressed up and released as singles, but a few don't even have that excuse.
Since Williams' demos were rarely great -- the difference is not merely
that they lacked band support, it's that Williams knew they were demos
and didn't really put out -- the third CD does drag its tail a bit. But
the first half of it reminds you that he was still peaking up through
his last session (the one that yielded "Your Cheatin' Heart") less than
four months before he died. A+
- Hank Williams: The Ultimate Collection (1947-52, Mercury,
2CD). Another 2CD summation. While 40 Greatest Hits sticks to the
singles, this one samples the box rather broadly, including solo demos,
some Luke the Drifter, and ends with some live cuts, not unlike Rhino's
Charlie Parker set. While Williams and Parker have some parallels, both
as life and as legend, Williams' live cuts are nowhere near as essential,
either as music or as myth. On the other hand, the live "Lovesick Blues"
really rips, and while solo demos in general tend to be lackluster, it's
not that hard to pick a few that hold up. So while it misses a lot (I
still recommend The Original Singles Collection . . . Plus) it
does present a complex, rounded portrait. A+
- Hank Williams: Beyond the Sunset (1950-52, Mercury).
This collects all of Williams' "Luke the Drifter" recordings. Most of
these have spoken sections, which usually feature Hank at his most
prudish offering morals lectures. Exhibit A: "Too Many Parties and
Too Many Pals," where Luke pleads for his fallen daughter. Exhibit
B: "The Funeral," a condescending piece about a dead Negro child
and God's grace. Exhbit C: "No, No Joe," Luke's reprimand to Stalin.
Putting all these strangely dated pieces together seems to compound
the embarrassment. Still, they are unique items, "Just Waitin'" is
one piece of philosophizing that works, and "Ramblin' Man" is quite
a song. B+
Movie: The Quiet American. I haven't read the book, but
one suspects that what interested Graham Greene in this story was the
voluntary exile of the Michael Caine character -- an exile from wife,
from church, from country, from civilization as one might have thought
of it then. Of course, what interests us is the Brendan Fraser character,
the "quiet American," at once hopelessly naive/romantic and sinister in
his devotion to imposing his ideals (or his concepts of those ideals)
on unseemly reality. This reminds us that the notion of proxy war is
not a new one for the U.S. -- indeed, it was hardly new then. Coming
now, of course, it's just all that more resonant. When the regime's
Iraq war propaganda started shifting from self defense against WMD to
Iraqi freedom, my first concept that this would be another Vietnam was
how idealistic rationales were used to cloak real motives, and how the
false promises rendered trap both us and them in a deadly embrace. The
girl here is just such a victim. A-
Saturday, March 22, 2003
Movie: Chicago. We saw that Lord of the Rings thing
just before Oscar time to keep from being too ignorant, but had missed
Moulin Rouge, which turned out to be the best movie of that year,
by a pretty huge margin. This time we've skipped the second Lord of
the Rings installment, but figured we'd have to catch Chicago.
My personal interest in musicals is pretty thin, and I can't say much for
the music per se here, and of course the story-line is beyond ridiculous,
but it's still campy fun. And regardless of who got nominated, Richard
Gere walked off with the show. A-
Finished reading the "Letter from Bagdad" piece in The New Yorker,
which only reinforces the point that the U.S. invasion of Iraq is going
to be resisted and resisted and resisted, and that eventually the U.S.
will get tired of it and leave. At least unless it provokes terrorism
elsewhere, which gives the U.S. excuse to make war on Syria, Iran, Saudi
Arabia, and whoever else is on Ariel Sharon's (err, George W. Bush's)
Another thing that occurs to me is that in all this talk about how the
U.S. is liberating Iraq, the nicely posed pictures of happy Iraqis, etc.,
we're entering a wormhole where the other end is rooted in Vietnam. At
least through the Johnson administration, all we heard about was how we
had to stand by our friends in Vietnam, save them from communism, etc.
Nothing but moral high ground, when in fact -- a fact that became naked
with Henry Kissinger -- the war was about projecting American power.
That's exactly what the war against Iraq is about too, and trying to
wrap it up and palm it off as something else is disingenuous to say
the least. More important, it's a trap: all these friends the U.S. is
recruiting now are going to be liabilities in the future, people who
will wind up wondering why the U.S. double crossed them when the U.S.
never really gives a shit about them anyway.
Friday, March 21, 2003
Spent most of today doing Rolling Stone work: finally wrote up the
piece on Fela Kuti, then dusted off a short one on St Germain. Working
on Matthew Shipp right now, roughly a dozen albums to listen to,
starting with his most abstract avant-garde work. Tough sledding,
although even with he's saddled with Roscoe Mitchell he has a thing
or two to say.
I guess the war is coming along swimmingly: people killed on both
sides, buildings blown up, oil wells set afire, Saddam still smiling
on TV. Numerous antiwar protests yesterday, including a small one
in Wichita, which as much as anything else was an opportunity to
blow off a little steam. While this was good to do, I sort of doubt
that further protests until the situation stabilizes have much point.
In particular, I am saddened at the instances of civil disobedience,
which seem especially pointless, in fact downright self-indulgent.
This is going to be a long haul. There is no chance right now that
the U.S. will change course, and little need to convince anyone else
at this point. On the other hand, it is important to remember that
George W. Bush is responsible for this war, that this war was not
in any way necessary for the safety or security of American citizens,
and that it was done in utter contempt of the United Nations and most
people around the globe. But then we all know that, right?
This is not to say that I think one should clam up. People need to be
reminded of the facts, and we should beware that not only are we in
the midst of a war, we are also in the midst of a very orchestrated
propaganda blitz. However, the one thing that I think people should
be cautious about is predictions about the future. While it was easy
enough to say, before the war, that going into war would result in
many casualties, in much further hatred, in greater incidence of
terrorism, in greater distrust and fear of the U.S. abroad, and
many other things, at this point we might as well let history play
out and second guess if after the facts are in. The fact is that
we never really knew how this would turn out, just as the warmongers
never really knew. Alas, now we'll know all too soon.
Thursday, March 20, 2003
I guess the war is under way now. Life in Wichita is not affected in
any serious way. This is, of course, most Americans' experience of war:
as news, as entertainment, as something that happens far away, something
that you can bemoan or cheer but which doesn't directly affect you. The
immediacy of the media somehow makes us feel personally involved in
events that happen on the far side of the world, like we have a vital
interest there, yet the distance insulates us from the consequences
of actions done in our name.
Didn't finish rooting around my mental cabinets that underpin the
essay from two days ago. Perhaps it's time to write a bit about what
I call "postcapitalism". This is where I think we're headed, mostly
because I don't see anywhere else to go. The age of revolution is
over, in large part because the next step beyond the capitalist
revolution is something that can't really be accomplished violently.
The main thrust of the capitalist revolution was to make it possible
for many free individuals to function independently yet in the same
space. Tribalism, warlordism, feudalism, mercantilism, all of those
archaic forms of political tyranny, were built by excluding multiple
freedoms. (Sure, the tyrant might be free, but even that freedom was
only local, checked by other tyrants.) But as capitalism let more men
act freely (and as revolution let more men be capitalists), political
logic pushed toward political equality, and political organization
moved toward democracy. Indeed, much of the appeal of capitalism
was in how it extended opportunity and power to the previously
excluded. But the real power of capitalism is that it allowed many
individuals and groups to produce independently, and the real charm
of democracy is that it provided a much more stable and much less
exploitative form of security and order than any previous form of
However, capitalism has not been without its problems. In large part
this is because real businessmen (as opposed to hypothetical capitalists)
actively sought to fix or restrict markets, to disempower workers, to
perpetuate a class system through property inheritance, etc. Most of
these problems could be evaded as long as it was possible for free men
to open up new markets. Indeed, America's preeminence among capitalist
nations is largely due to its long-open frontier and relatively open
immigration policies (aided, of course, by copious natural resources
to be exploited). Marx argued that capitalism would ultimately fail
because it would permit capital without limit to drain labor of power,
the resulting impoverishment of the masses erupting in revolution.
That this didn't happen is because democracy served to reinforce the
political power of labor, placing limits on capital. This is, I think,
because the real goal of capitalism is not merely to produce immense
wealth but to secure freedom, and this freedom is only really secure
in a world where no one is excluded.
Aside from the political problem of capitalism, which is that successful
capitalists tend toward oligarchy, there is also an ecological problem.
To a large extent, capitalism has been able to extend its scope because
it has been able to grow, to create new wealth. If there was no new
creation of wealth, political economy would be a zero-sum game: the
only way for one player to increase his stake would be to take away
from some other player. On the other hand, new wealth can coexist with
old wealth, complement it even. This reduces political strain as well
as generating greater total wealth. One major source of this new wealth
has been the discovery of new natural resources, the opening up of new
markets that had previously been closed, etc. However, we live in a
world where there are many physical and environmental constraints
against unlimited growth, and these constraints are starting to be
felt politically. In particular, what happens is that instead of
creating new wealth the powerful concentrate more on cannibalizing
the wealth and freedom of others. We've started to see this today,
in the growing disparity between rich and poor, both in the rich
accumulating more and in the poor becoming further impoverished.
This especially happens where political systems (as in much of the
third world, and ominously in the U.S.) reinforces inequality.
On the other hand, capitalism has thus far made possible an absolute
level of consumption, at least for much of the U.S., Europe, and
Japan, at a level that at least temporarily approaches satiety.
One thing that has long been missing from capitalist economics is
a concept of how much consumption is really enough. But it is
clear that we need such a concept, for two major reasons: 1) that
even now some people have started to throttle their work as a
trade-off against other interests (leisure, family, study, art,
etc.), which is strong indication that at some fundamental level
people want to get beyond a system where they spend most of their
lives working themselves to death; 2) human occupation of the
earth is already approaching or testing the carrying capacity of
the planet in many respects, and as population continues to grow
and more and more people demand access and entrance to the standards
of living of the most advanced nations, this strain will only grow
The transition from capitalism to postcapitalism occurs with the
acceptance of a concept of enough (satiety). One effect of this
is that it starts to become more important to work less than to
produce more. I think this transition has to come about, if for
no other reason than because nothing else really works. That, of
course, is unreasonably optimistic; the corresponding pessimist
argument is that there's never enough, so there's always scarcity,
so there's always envy, so there's always war, so the winners
have to keep the barbarians at the gates. That, plus some primitive
moralistic baggage that came out of periods of real scarcity and
real hostility, is pretty much what the right-wing is all about.
(In Hobbes' early capitalist days this was phrased as the war of
all against all.)
In postcapitalism most of the means of production will remain in
the private sector, people will be able to accumulate property,
and as they do so will have increasingly free options, including
leisure. However, there would be an active public sector as well,
which would not only provide for common resources, public safety,
liberty, and minimal welfare standards (whatever they may be) but
would also work to break up or prevent excessive concentrations of
power (such as monopolies), to adjust economic factors for long-term
stability (e.g., factor pollution costs back in), and to make strategic
investments in cases where the private sector fails. These are all
things that can be evolved from today's capitalism, and while they
reverse the current trend toward oligarchy, they are not intrinsically
destructive of wealth as are revolution, terrorism, banditry, and war.
The last point is a good segue back to war. Again, if you accept the
fact that world resources for supporting human life are finite, and
that it is a good thing to extend opportunity to as many people as
possible to work to contribute to our overall wealth, and to enjoy
the fruits of that wealth, then it should be obvious that anything
that destroys wealth is counterproductive, in fact down right bad.
War is mass destruction of wealth, not just in things but in people
and in environmental damage. And the cost in people is not just those
killed or maimed, but those who spend time both in perpetrating war
and in cleaning up and mending after it; in fact, those who plan for
it, or plan to defend against it. It's all waste, and often much
worse. Similarly, war has deep and profound ties to the psychology
of scarcity, to fear and dread, and to all of the disfunctionality
Wednesday, March 19, 2003
After writing yesterday's entry, didn't know what to do with it.
In this particular rush, it makes one feel very helpless trying
to communicate with anybody. The notion that one's opinion matters
in any way is sorely tested. But rather than try to polish what I
wrote into something publishable -- again, what's the point? --
today I'll just add some explanatory notes. One thing that I find
in my polemical writing is that the need I feel to compress very
complex issues and to carefully balance the arguments tends to
run cryptic. This (I promise) will be looser.
The only news report of significance since yesterday is Saddam Hussein's
rejection of the ultimatum. That is no surprise; it is, in fact, what
you'd expect of someone who thinks of himself as a warrior, which clearly
Saddam does, and just as clearly is his great flaw as a politician.
That he is putting his nation and his people at great risk, and to
do so is part and parcel of his immorality, is both obviously true
and is a judgment based on a standard of morality that is foreign to
him. It should also be noted that almost all of our political and
military folklore runs against that same standard of morality. Where
yesterday I suggested that Iraq should roll over and play dead, and
that Saddam should abdicate, it is easy to imagine how difficult and
how unlikely that is by reversing the roles, by asking what we as
Americans would do if some alien power (from outer space, no doubt;
at least there are a lot of movies that we can reference as case
examples) were to issue such an ultimatum to us.
Consider this, though: in rejecting the ultimatum, Saddam Hussein
passed up a golden opportunity to remake himself as Neville Chamberlain,
to assure "peace for our time" by caving in. Chamberlain is, of course,
reviled for capitulating to Hitler at Munich, which was no doubt easier
for him to do given that all he gave up was Czechoslovakia. Saddam
would have had to put his own hide onto the silver platter.
I also read a report by Robert Fisk in Bagdad, noting that everyday
life continues with little regard and very little imagination of the
imminent war. I don't have any idea what this report beholds. On TV
tonight Bagdad was described as eerily quiet, with more defenses in
It should be obvious that the main point of yesterday's writing is
that both Saddam Hussein and George W. Bush are enemies of peace,
that they are and should be viewed as criminals, and that neither
one in any way justifies the other. It is, of course, Bush's view
that his actions are justified by Saddam Hussein's past and present
behavior, and it is important that we reject this claim.
The second point is that the best way out of this mess is still
peace, and the more firmly and resolutely the people involved practice
peace, the better. Unfortunately, with the U.S. on the warpath, the
brunt of this responsibility falls on the Iraqi people. Admittedly,
there is little reason to be optimistic at this stage. We know for
certain that there will be resistance. We know that Saddam Hussein
and his party do not believe in or practice peace. We know that
jihadists like Osama Bin Laden do not believe in or practice peace.
We also know that when faced with danger, military forces all the
world over, all throughout history, kill and destroy unnecessarily,
often deliberately, sometimes just inadvertently, which feeds a
vicious cycle of resistance and retribution. We also know that
alien occupation armies misunderstand things, communicate poorly,
grow impatient and resentful, get spooked easily, and often with
little provocation resort to force, sometimes viciously. Even if
we accept the proposition that the U.S. has nothing but good
intentions toward the Iraqi people, remaining peaceable is going
to be a tall order. So while it's what I prescribe, it's not what
I expect to happen.
As for the intentions, you tell me. One thing I've noticed is that
over the last 2-3 weeks we hear more and more about how the U.S.
will liberate the Iraqi people. Part of this seems to just be an
attempt to push the argument for war over the top: to set some sort
of requirement that only war can fulfill, as opposed to disarmament
which was clearly being implemented by inspections. But it does
set up some at least rhetorical expectations that can be tested
by peaceable acceptance of occupation, embracing democracy, etc.,
which is part of the rationale for my prescription. If the rhetoric
was different -- e.g., colonial exploitation, settlement -- it
would be much harder to urge acquiescence. But I think that even
Bush recognizes that long-term U.S. occupation of Iraq is not in
the cards: that it is not something that the U.S. can even sustain
the costs to maintain. Given this, it is expected that sooner or
later Iraq and its natural resources will return to local control.
Given this it is better that this happen within the framework of
a democracy which can serve the broad interests of the people
instead of through another exploitative strongman arrangement.
Again, regardless of actual U.S. intentions, the rhetoric du
jour provides an opportunity.
The point about peaceful acquiescence to occupation is also derived
from my reading of the U.S. occupation of Japan, described in John
Dower's book. It's clear to me that the key to the "success" of the
reformation of Japan was that the Japanese people deeply wanted much
of this reformation. I've written several skeptical accounts about
why Iraq is much less likely to embrace similar reform, but the
advantages of doing so are still clear. Iraq has pretty good
prospects to develop if its substantial oil resources cannot be
diverted to war and/or corruption, and the key to doing that is
adopting peace and democracy (i.e., democratic socialism). One
thing we really have no idea about is what the true feelings of
the Iraqi people, but even if we did, the real question is more
like how will they break when the effects of the war and invasion
become manifest. In the case of Japan, the Japanese people up to
the day of surrender would, if polled, no doubt have remained
resolute, but once the Emperor surrendered, their exhaustion and
resignation became manifest, as did their assignation of fault
for the debacle to Japan's militarists. It is likely that some
such effect will appear in Iraq as well -- eight years of war
with Iran, followed by defeat in Kuwait and twelve years of crippling
sanctions, the Iraqi people have much to blame on Saddam Hussein.
Whether they in fact do so is the short-term question; not clear
that they will do so, given that the U.S. is also responsible.
Then there is the longer-term question, whether U.S. occupation
will itself generate resentment to the extent of lengthy guerrilla
resistance, and the answer there may largely depend on how the
short-term question is answered. Which we'll only know once Iraq
sees the destruction of the war and feels the sense of defeat or
liberation as the U.S. occupation moves into place.
Hard even to write this stuff in real time. Reports are now that the
U.S. launched 40+ cruise missiles at targets in Iraq. The operation
is now being called "Iraqi Freedom", consistent with the haughty
rhetoric of past days/weeks.
Tuesday, March 18, 2003
Yesterday, March 17, 2003, is another date that will live in infamy.
On this date, U.S. President George W. Bush rejected the efforts and
council of the United Nations, and the expressed concerns of overwhelming
numbers of people throughout the U.S. and all around the world, and
committed the U.S. to attack, invade, and occupy Iraq, to prosecute or
kill Iraq's government leaders, and to install a new government
favorable to U.S. interests.
That Bush has given Iraq's Saddam Hussein 48 hours to surrender in
order to spare Iraq inestimable destruction is clearly intended to
shift blame for this war to Saddam. While this particular ploy may
have been intended cynically, we must be clear that this war would
not be looming were it not for numerous acts that Saddam and Iraq
have committed, including aggressive wars against Iran and Kuwait,
use of poison gas both against Iran and against the Kurdish minority
within Iraq, and long-term efforts to obtain horrific weapons. We
should also be clear that after a broad U.N. coalition drove Iraq out
of Kuwait and brokered a cease-fire that left Saddam in power, his
government failed to show good faith in implementing the disarmament
specified in the cease-fire and U.N. mandates. Even now, Saddam's
character is put to severe test, where he has within his power one
last chance to put his country's welfare about his own. If he fails
to do so, we must conclude not only that he is a long-standing war
criminal, but that he is the essential cause for this war.
However, the proximate cause for this war lies squarely with the Bush
administration, aided and abetted by the so-called "coalition of the
willing." They are the ones who rejected concerted efforts by Iraq
and the U.N. to complete and verify Iraq's mandated disarmament, who
pushed the new agenda of regime change, and who locked this agenda
into a final ultimatum. In pushing for regime change, Bush continued
and escalated policies of previous U.S. presidents, especially Bill
Clinton, during whose administration the U.S. worked deliberately to
sabotage the inspections process, to promote Iraqi opposition to
Saddam Hussein, to prolong sanctions which inflicted great hardships
on the Iraqi people, to engender much ill will. Especially complicit
in this war is the Republican-led U.S. Congress, which passed a law
in 1998 directing that U.S. policy toward Iraq work toward regime
change, and Democrat President Bill Clinton, who signed that law,
and who repeatedly ordered air strikes against Iraq. But the actual
push to war, the setting of the time table and the issuing of the
ultimatum, was squarely the responsibility of George W. Bush. In
this act, which he was completely free not to do, Bush has placed
his name high on the list of notable war criminals of the last
As I write this, we cannot even remotely predict how this war will
play out, how many people will die or have their lives tragically
transfigured, how much property will be destroyed, how much damage
will be done to the environment, what the long-term effects of this
war will be on the economy and civilization, both regionally and
throughout the world. In lauching his war, Bush is marching blithely
into the unknown, and dragging the world with him. It is generally
believed that U.S. military might is such that it will quickly
be able to subdue resistance from Iraq's depleted and mostly disarmed
military, and that the U.S. will quickly dispose of Saddam Hussein
and his top people. However, it is widely speculated that over the
course of U.S. occupation there will be continuing resistance and
guerrilla warfare to burden the expense of occupation, in the hope
of sending an exasperated occupation army packing. It is expected
that the fury over the war will lead to new acts of terrorism directed
against U.S. citizens and interests elsewhere in the world, possibly
including the U.S. homeland. It is already the case that Bush's
insistence on going to war, along with many other aspects of his
foreign policy, has soured relations between the U.S. and a great
many nations and people of the world, including many traditional
allies, and that this situation will get progressively worse the
longer and nastier the war and occupation goes on.
There is, I think, one hope to minimize the damage that inevitably
comes with this war. This is for the Iraqi people, at least those
who survive the initial onslaught, to roll over and play dead, to
not oppose or resist invasion and occupation, and to play on the
U.S.'s much bruited "good intentions" -- the dubious argument that
the U.S. is invading Iraq to liberate the Iraqi people. To do this
they must not only not resist, they must collaborate to prevent
others from resisting. Moreover, they must adopt the highest principles
of their occupiers: embrace democracy and respect the civil rights of
minorities. They should in fact go further: to denounce war, to refuse
to support a military, to depend on the U.N. for secure borders, and
not to engage in any hostile foreign relations. The reasons for this
are twofold: in the long-run, these are all good things to do; in
the short-run, they remove any real excuse for the U.S. to continue
its occupation, and will hasten the exit of U.S. forces.
It is, of course, possible that the U.S.'s "good intentions" are
cynical and fraudulent. Over the last fifty years, the U.S. has
a very poor record of promoting democracy, and has a very aggressive
record of promoting U.S. business interests. (And in this regard,
Bush has proven to run the most right-wing administration in U.S.
history.) Many of the same people who in the U.S. government promoted
war on Iraq clearly have further names on their lists of enemies --
Syria, Iran, even Saudi Arabia -- and a number of fantastic scenarios
have been talked up. But the aggressive projection of U.S. military
force depends on having enemies that can only be kept at bay by such
force. An Iraq, with no Saddam Hussein, with no military, with no
way to threaten its neighbors, with its own people organized into
a stable, respectful democracy, provides no excuse for occupation.
If those conditions prevail, which is within the power of the Iraqi
people to make happen, even the Bush administration would have to
There are, of course, other things that will be necessary to overcome
the inevitable damage of this war. Presumably the war and occupation
will at least get rid of one set of war criminals: Saddam Hussein and
his crew. The other set of war criminals, the Bush administration in
particular, need to be voted out of office. The consequences of Bush's
foreign policy, even if they luck out and yield a democratic Iraq,
bear extraordinary costs and engender international distrust at the
same time Bush's tax policy bankrupts the U.S. government and
undermines the U.S. dollar while Bush's domestic policies lay workers
off and degrade the environment. But also the world community needs
to come to grips with conflicts in ways that look beyond self-interest
to provide systematic means to peacefully resolve conflicts that might
otherwise turn into injustice and war. That Saddam Hussein was allowed
to turn into a monster, the essential cause of Bush's Iraq war, was
the consequence of a great many failures along the way -- serious
mistakes on the part of nations, including the U.S., who promoted him
politically, who armed him, who encouraged him to wage war with Iran,
and so forth. The U.S. must recognize that it cannot alone solve
conflicts such as these; the many nations of the world must in turn
step up to the responsibility.
I believe that this is in fact the way the world is, unfortunately
too slowly, moving: despite the immense amount of terrorism and war
of the past few years, people all around the world are, in their
hearts, actually moving to a much firmer realization of the need for
peace, order, respect, fairness, and opportunity for all. The worldwide
reaction of shock and horror at the toppling of the World Trade Center
was one expression of this; the worldwide protest against Bush's Iraq
war was another. The only way to have peace is to be peaceable.
Sunday, March 16, 2003
Music: Initial count 8044 rated, 841 unrated. Still buried under the
RS Guide work, stuff piling up without much getting processed.
Looking for a breakthrough this week. (Although right now war seems
more likely.) Actually, many of the new grades are filed under a
previous entry listing the collected works of Fela (with some more
refinement due sooner or later). As I tackle other subjects, sometimes
I go back to previously rated records, and sometimes I rerate them.
- St Germain: Boulevard: New Version: The Complete Series
(1996-2002, Pias). Ludovic Navarre produces, layering Pascal Ohse's
jazz trumpet onto what he at one point describes as "easy listening
underground house music." A little too easy listening, I'd say.
Two bonus cuts pick up the tempo, one a salsa, the other pure
disco, but the former wouldn't have made the cut for Future
World Funk, and the latter wouldn't have scored in 1976. B
- St Germain: Tourist (2000, Blue Note). More jazz
musicians, but still not a lot of jazz. The first track, with its
Marlena Shaw sample, rocks out. The later John Lee hooker sample
is atmospheric. Indeed, most of what follows is atmospheric. B+
- Matthew Shipp: Circular Temple (1990, Infinite Zero).
A trio with bass and drums, working their way through four movements
that can only be described as difficult (as in Cecil Taylor difficult).
The bass is, of course, the brilliant William Parker; drums by Whit
Dickey. Evidently Shipp has always leaned on heavy chords. The
Penguin Guide notes a connection to Andrew Hill as well as Taylor.
Very striking work by all three hands. B+
- Matthew Shipp Quartet: Critical Mass (1994, 213 CD).
With Parker, Dickey, and Mat Maneri, this is a rather abstract,
disjointed work, themed to build a communal temple around a mass.
Maneri's contribution is perhaps the most interesting aspect, in
effect taking the lead role that a horn would normally assume.
Doesn't seem to amount to much. B
- Matthew Shipp/Roscoe Mitchell: 2-Z (1996, Thirsty Ear).
Shipp's half of the duo is thoughtful and forceful; on the other hand,
Mitchell tends toward the unlistenable, at least when he gets loud.
I previously had this graded higher. B-
- Matthew Shipp/Joe Morris: Thesis (1997, Hatology). A
duo with guitarist Joe Morris, a player I'm not very familiar with.
I'm beginning to think that at this point in Shipp's development,
a signature trait is that he works very deliberately, but that also
seems to be the case with Morris, whose delicate one-note lines
weave their way around Shipp's chords. B
- Matthew Shipp Quartet: The Flow of X (1997, Thirsty Ear).
Again, with Parker, Dickey and Maneri. Shipp has a little essay on
"Boxing and Jazz," which reads like semiotics ("a system of symbols
that generates the language of each"). I suspect, however, that there
is a fundamental difference, which is that boxing is more constrained
to one specific goal (physical domination of an opponent), whereas
improvisation can go many ways in addition to many routes. Also, of
course, boxing is more prone to disruption -- an opponent may all
of a sudden reroute you. Considering that aleatory is too chin up
for my taste. As for the music, it gets better when they pick up
the pace, following a rhythm rather than just plotting out symbols.
This only happens a couple of times, on the third cut ("Flow of Y"),
where Parker shows some real swing, and on the finale, which is
what NRG is meant to be. Elsewhere there are good spots for all
(and I'm getting to like Dickey quite a bit), but it's still pretty
- Matthew Shipp: The Multiplication Table (1998, Hatology).
Trio, with Parker and Susie Ibarra on drums. In some ways this is the
best (or anyway the first) good showcase for Shipp's style, in part
because piano trios are rather conventional and in part because Shipp
tackles two Ellington pieces which, as is often the case with avant
jazz, helps by providing a familiar anchor for the improvisations.
Again, Shipp relies mostly on the sharp, percussive chords that are
his trademark. Not quite a breakthrough, but a very strong record.
- Matthew Shipp/Mat Maneri: Gravitational Systems (1998,
Hatology). Another duo. Sometimes I think Shipp is overeducated: a
string of top-notch music schools, plus tutoring from various well
known players. One result of this is that when people describe his
influences, the names that pop up are as likely to come from the
classical modernists as from jazz. Maybe it's just the violin, or
maybe the absence of bass/drums (i.e., rhythm), but this sounds
pretty steeped in modern classicism. Again, it helps to do something
familiar, and "Greensleeves" is at times starkly beautiful. B
- Matthew Shipp/William Parker: DNA (1999, Thirsty Ear).
Piano and bass. In the notes Shipp writes about mature improvisors,
which certainly describes him and Parker. Starts with "When Johnny
Come Marching Home," which Shipps states, deconstructs until it
nearly fades from view, then reconstructs again, while Parker saws
a shifting counterwhine: a simple and attractive example of what
they do. "Amazing Grace" is a brief coda. Between these recognizable
ends everything else is pretty abstract. B+ [Afterthought: in
every other piano/bass record ever recorded, the piano leads and the
bass fills in; I wonder if this isn't the other way around.]
- Matthew Shipp Quartet: Pastoral Composure (2000, Thirsty
Ear). Shipp, Parker, Gerald Cleaver on drums, Roy Campbell on trumpets.
This is Shipp's first set in the Thirsty Ear Blue Series, which will
eventually be a meeting ground for the avant-garde and electronica.
But unlike past Shipp quartets, this one features a horn, and the
other three pieces function much more as a rhythm section. At least
to start out. Once they slow it down it falls back into some of the
old abstraction, and the deconstruction of "Frere Jacques" is pretty
silly. However, the closing two cuts are both different and strong:
"Inner Order" is a gorgeous duet with Parker and Campbell, which more
than anything else leaves me hanging on every Parker note; "XTU" is
Shipp, solo, and for once it all works. A-
- Matthew Shipp's New Orbit (2001, Thirsty Ear). Blue
Series quartet again, with Wadada Leo Smith replacing Roy Campbell.
The net effect is to slow things down, a lot, which brings Parker's
ringing bass effects to the fore. Again, Shipp closes with a solo;
again, it works. B+
- Matthew Shipp String Trio: Expansion, Power, Release
(2001, Hatology). Shipp, Maneri, Parker. With no drummer, we find
Shipp driving the rhythm more, which simplifies the sound and makes
for better music. Maneri is the dominant voice, of course, but this
sounds less classical than much of his work; it's pretty diverse in
- Matthew Shipp: Nu Bop (2002, Thirsty Ear). With Parker
and drummer Guillermo Brown (also from the David S. Ware Quartet),
Daniel Carter on sax and flute, but the big addition here is Chris
Flam, credited with "synths & programming." I had this as a high
A- last year, which is probably where it'll wind up here. The synths
are mostly percussion, which pushes the pace up, where Parker swings,
and Shipp's chords pile darkly on top of the drums. One thing that
I find about Shipp's fast pieces (which for the first time includes
most of this one) is that it forces him to play with the music
instead of depending on him to make the music. While the latter
is often intriguing, it takes some willpower to listen to. This,
on the other hand, is always in your ear. A-
- Matthew Shipp: Songs (2002, Splasc(h)). Solo piano,
no originals, though I'm not sure that I'd call them standards
either, even though most are in some way well known. Shipp seems
to be in deconstructivist mode: state the theme, tear it apart,
put it back together again. Presumably there's some logic to this,
but that tends to go over my head. But given that he works so much
of this down to nubs (fragments), it doesn't have the propulsion
that is usually required to keep me interested in solo piano (cf.
Cecil Taylor), nor does he manage to throw together ingenious
impromptu melody lines (cf. Andrew Hill, or more recently Jason
Moran). Nonetheless, it is sort of what he does, in microcosm.
- Matthew Shipp: Equilibrium (2003, Thirsty Ear). Same
lineup as Nu Bop, except that Khan Jamal (vibes) replaces
Daniel Carter (sax, flute). "Vamp to Vibe" is a pure rhythm track.
"Nebula Theory" is dark atmospherics: in his PSF interview,
Shipp talks about how much he liked David Bowie's Low as a
kid, and this sounds a bit like one of the dark blotches on the
second side, but Bowie never had Parker or Jamal to work with. The
fourth cut, "Cohesion," puts it all together, with relentless beat
and Shipp both reinforcing the beat and playing it out. "World of
the Blue Glass," again, is slow and dark, with Shipp setting the
pace and drums following. Then the pace picks up again, the pattern
of fast/slow/fast/slow. Probably his best album. A-
- Antipop Vs. Matthew Shipp (2003, Thirsty Ear). This is
similar musically to Nu Bop and Equilibrium, including
Daniel Carter on trumpet and Khan Jamal on vibes, but the big change
here is the addition of Beans and Priest from Antipop Consortium,
who do the synths/programming (instead of FLAM) and add vocals. The
music is dense -- "Free Hop" may be a little too dense for my taste,
in fact, with a lot of thrashing marshalled by Shipp's chords. The
raps I still don't have a good feel for. "This is very powerful
music here." B+
- Bunny Wailer: Blackheart Man (1976, Island). First solo
album -- I had this on LP when it first appeared, and didn't think much
of it at the time. Recently reissued, the CD brings out its subtlety
and flow. A-
- Bunny Wailer: The Never Ending Wailers (1993, RAS). This
is a rather contrived project: to effect a pseudo-reunion of the
original Wailers, Bunny digs up some old Marley vocals, former Wailers
Junior Braithwaite and Constantine Walker, Peter Tosh of course, and,
what the hell, introduces son Andrew Tosh. Still, it works better than
it deserves to, recalling the spirit if not capturing the spirit. B+
- Bunny Wailer: Hall of Fame: A Tribute to Bob Marley's 50th
Anniversary (1995, RAS, 2CD). The latest of Bunny's many
efforts to recycle the Wailers and keep Marley's flame. Endlessly
listenable, one of the few such tributes that doesn't send you
scurrying back to the originals. B+
- Bunny Wailer: Dubd'sco: Volumes 1 & 2 (1978, RAS).
Old dub records, warbly and dizzying. B
- David S. Ware Quartet: Corridors & Parallels (2001,
Aum Fidelity). The distinctive thing here is that Matthew Shipp has
switched from piano to synth, which provides a plethora of rhythmic
effects for Ware to play off of. Ware is his usual snarling self,
but the juxtaposition is startlingly new. A-
Some questions have been coming up on the ACLUG discussion list about
adopting open source software in state governments. That reminds me
that I wrote the following letter to ksworks at ksgovernor.com
way back on 2002-11-15. This was when governor elect Kathleen Sebelius
was asking for citizen suggestions on how to save money in the next
state of Kansas budget.
I also added the following to my posting:
Since you're looking for Budget Efficiency Savings, I'd like to
point out that the State of Kansas is currently spending millions
of dollars on closed-source, per-machine-licensed software, which
in many cases could easily be replaced with open-source, free
software. Moreover, the costs of such closed-source software far
exceed the license costs and its inevitable upgrade license costs.
Because the source code to such software is restricted, you have
to buy support and training from its vendors -- a non-competitive
market which can calibrate its prices to the pain of not buying.
Such software also prevents you from making modifications to fix
problems, to add useful features, to eliminate bogus features.
And because only the proprietor has access to the source code,
such software tends to have more defects, which are fixed more
slowly (usually in tandem with the introduction of new defects,
er, features). But even beyond what you pay for licenses, upgrades,
support, training, etc., there are huge hidden costs in time lost,
aggravation, and lost opportunities.
Such closed-source, per-machine-licensed software has in fact
worked so poorly that many thousands of people all around the
world have volunteered their time and brains to build alternative
software around the open-source/free software model. In this
model, the software is distributed as complete source code under
licenses which permit users to install the software on as many
machines as they wish, to modify the software to fit their needs,
and to redistribute their modifications to other users. One of
the most important aspects of this is that free software tends
to be developed by the users of that software, so it meets their
needs rather than the needs of proprietors to maximize their
profits on licenses, support, and upgrades. This has resulted
in thousands of free software programs, including suitable
alternatives for most of the commercial software that Kansas
currently pays for.
I should also point out that these same excessive costs that the
State of Kansas has paid are also suffered by local government
and by most businesses and private citizens in the state. Given
that the free software approach is that when you build a program
to solve a problem, you can then freely deploy it anywhere, it
should be obvious that any efforts that the State of Kansas makes
to free itself from the yoke of closed-source, per-machine-licensed
software will produce benefits that go beyond the budget efficiency
of state government -- they will help government throughout Kansas
do better work for less cost, and will help Kansas industry do the
same. It should also be pointed out that to the extent that state
government in Kansas does the same or similar things as other state
governments, open-source solutions that any state develops will be
reusable by all -- which presents opportunities for collaborative
work that go far beyond our own state boundary and budget.
Still, moving from proprietary software to free software will
require some real leadership from your team. The best example
of why this is the case is the buying process: with proprietary
software companies send sales representatives to your door to
analyze your needs (e.g., measure your budget) and make their
sales pitches (which often include ideas for expanding your
budget), then assuage your doubts by assuring you that their
company stands behind their software and will solve all your
problems (for a price, of course). The effect of this is that
the buyer is passive, inadequately informed, and dependent --
all of which are conducive to spending a lot of money and not
really getting what you want or need. This contrasts starkly
with open-source software, which hardly anyone sells (there's
not a lot of margin on free), and which is normally deployed
only when someone knowledgeable takes the initiative to get and
install and maintain the software. (This happens surprisingly
often, in part because free software doesn't have to be budgeted,
but mostly because it helps people do their jobs better.) In
order for Kansas to shift from mostly buying proprietary software
to mostly using free software, you will need to provide more
effective technical support to help users identify their needs,
qualify the right solutions, and train and maintain them while
breaking the dependency on proprietary vendors.
There is much more that can be added to this, and I'd be happy
to discuss this and try to answer any questions you might have.
One problem with this approach is that a lot of the emphasis here
is on making government (local, as well as state) more efficient
and effective, as opposed to just saving money. And as far as
saving money is concerned, it's more of a long-term proposition
than a short-term one. The actual list that Sebelius came out
with was more along the lines of don't do this or that pork
I think what's actually going to happen is that somewhere some
middle-level state bureaucrats are going to get the open source
bug and start experimenting with open source solutions. I.e.,
they're going to come in through the back door where they can
work around the budget process, rather than come in through
anything like legislation. I imagine that there are actually
some examples of this -- I vaguely remember something about
Fargo, ND. We might be able to nudge that process along a bit,
if anyone can identify some government mandarins who might like
to experiment with open source solutions. The big problem, of
course, is that open source means more DIY, and that's not a
skill or culture that particularly thrives in government. That's
a big part of the reason why I see a need to build some sort
of support infrastructure within government, which isn't an
immediately attractive proposition for budget slashers. So I
don't know exactly where to start, but it would certainly be
a start to learn more about how much money is spent on what
software for what requirements.
Saturday, March 15, 2003
Saw a book in bookstore today: William J. Bennett, Why We Fight: Moral
Clarity and the War on Terrorism. Reminded me of the old Fugs song,
"Kill for Peace." Then I remembered that Tuli Kupferberg wrote the song
way back before irony died. Wendell Berry is right: the only way to have
peace is to be peaceable.
Movie: Punch Drunk Love. Something about a lovesick psychotic
who punches out walls, windows, and the occasional miscreant when he gets
frustrated, pursued by a woman who's got a few screws loose of her own.
And a big side plot about pudding coupons that goes nowhere. Directed by
a guy who's done much better work, but manages to slip in some surprises.
Co-starring Emily Watson, who's appeared in even creepier movies. C+
Friday, March 14, 2003
Good interview piece with John Dower,
Warning from History, in ZNet. Dower wrote Embracing Defeat,
on the post-WWII occupation of Japan, which I read recently. A couple
of points I want to draw out further:
- One thing I was struck by in Dower's book was how pervasively racism
affected everything. The U.S., of course, was very racist in its
view of Japan, which had all sorts of subtle ramifications, but
more importantly the Japanese, a very homogeneous nation, were
extremely racist with regard to everyone else. (Indeed, it seems
clear that racism has been the handmaiden of all modern imperialist
wars -- a point that has been made especially vivid by my recent
reading of Adam Hochschild's King Leopold's Ghost.) The
most relevant consequence of this was that the Japanese hadn't
developed a sense of victimization before their world collapsed
in the debacle of WWII. This was critical in allowing them to
focus responsibility for their fate on their own militarist elite,
as opposed to the conquering U.S. Also, note that the U.S. was
shielded from guilt by its pre-WWII isolationism, which made it
clear that Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor was unprovoked. Iraq,
on the other hand, has a long history of foreign occupation and
exploitation, and can point to countless examples where it has
been done wrong by the U.S., most pointedly in the cruel strategy
of containment that the U.S. has implemented for the last 12
- As Dower points out, most Japanese had a strongly developed sense
of collective identity and self-sacrifice for the common good,
which was both pumped up and exploited by the militarist elites.
To a large extent, this was marshalled as allegiance to Emperor
Hirohito. The U.S. preserved this chain of allegiance, merely
adding itself and a new set of goals to the head of the chain.
If you're familiar with Jared S. Diamond's Guns, Germs and
Steel, you might recognize a similarity in the explanation
as to why certain animals, like horses, could be domesticated,
while others, like zebras, could not. (Horses follow a strict
social hierarchy, so all one has to do to capture a group of
horses is to dominate its previous leader. Zebras have no such
social behavior; they are intrinsically individualists, and of
a rather nasty disposition at that.) By contrast, Iraq has no
sense of common nationality; it is deeply fractured into clans,
which even within a nominal grouping (even the Kurds, who have the
most in common) invariably breaks down to small self-interested
- It is worth noting that the follow-the-leader syndrome even in
Japan did not really apply to the left, which would have preferred
to dispose of the Emperor all together. However, it did freeze and
transfer the allegiance of Japan's conservatives, precluding any
sort of right-wing revolt in the face of a significant move to
the left. (The left approved of the move, if not the Emperor, so
neither end of the political spectrum challenged the U.S. -- at
least until the U.S. went into maniacal cold war mode, and started
to undo reforms, which ironically the conservatives balked at.)
I think one of the lessons of this is that the only direction that
a nation can be steered in is left, toward greater individual
rights and freedoms, greater equality, opportunity, etc. This
all adds up to a lot of problems when we consider the current
prospects of today's U.S., with the most right-wing political
regime in its history, attempting to liberalize and democratize
and demilitarize Iraq. Indeed, one wonders whether Bush's brain
trust has any concept of what is needed, given how staunchly
they are also working to deliberalize and undemocratize the U.S.
- One key element of Japan was its isolation. No other nation was
remotely like it: none shared its language or religion or history.
Iraq, on the other hand, is one of a dozen or so independent Arab
nations, one of several dozen predominantly Muslim nations. The
U.S. was able to dominate the media in Japan, and few outside of
Japan had any real interest in the occupation there. Isolation
was also a function of the times: the world is much more closely,
instantly in fact, connected today. Similarly, the U.S. was the
sole occupation force in Japan, whereas even if Bush fails
absolutely to find allies to support invasion ("the coalition
of the willing [to be bought]"), all sorts of NGOs, at least,
are going to be involved in reconstruction. This is also in large
part a matter of means: the U.S. economic capacity to occupy and
reconstruct a defeated country is now much reduced compared to
post-WWII, regardless of the political will to do so. (Also,
note that Japan was in fact required to pay the U.S. for seven
years of occupation, a fact that they largely hid from their
people. Even if U.S. occupation and reconstruction of Iraq can
be paid for with Iraqi oil, that is one fact that cannot be
kept secret, and will inevitably garner resentment and oppostion.)
Thursday, March 13, 2003
Heavily burdened with RS work; got the Waco Brothers done, not sure
which to do next: Holy Modal Rounders? Hank Thompson? Matthew Shipp?
Bunny Wailer? One of those. Meanwhile, I woke up thinking about SCO,
which makes me think it's time to write something.
In its frivolous billion dollar lawsuit against IBM, Caldera (a/k/a
SCO) has pretty much played out its string of options from a long
series of bad choices going back to times when Caldera and SCO were
independent entities. As someone who has longstanding ties both to
AT&T's Unix organization and to Linux, and who worked for SCO
during the critical period when they cast their fate, I find this
all rather sad, even if not unexpected. Part of the reason for this
is that I spent an awful lot of time while at SCO firing off memos
that proposed a very different path from the one SCO followed. I'd
like to sketch out that path here, not to resuscitate it -- the
window of opportunity has definitively passed -- but to remind us
that other options did exist, even if they seemed impossibly radical
at the time.
SCO as a business collapsed immediately after the Y2K non-event,
which in retrospect suggests that its 1999 revenues were inflated
by Y2K anxiety. 1999 was also the year of the big Linux IPOs, which
at least raised the question of whether Linux would capture large
parts of SCO's operating system business. SCO was a 20-year-old
company, which sold a rather dated port of Unix for Intel IA-32
through VARs, who could save enough on their hardware costs to
cover SCO's typical $1000/machine license fee. In 1995, SCO bought
rights to AT&T's spun-off Unix from Novell, which gave SCO
a second, more modern (SVR4) Unix-on-Intel product (Unixware)
and what was left of the Unix binary licensing scheme, including
a few OEM customers for Unixware itself. (Sun had paid Novell a
one-time fee to get out of per-machine licensing, so that piece
of the Unix revenue stream was lost.)
At the time, SCO was doing about $200 million/year in business,
almost all from per-machine Unix licenses, mostly through VARs.
SCO had at one time had a product called OpenDesktop, which was
meant to compete with Unix workstations, but as workstation
prices dropped, SCO dropped their desktop product and moved
"upstream" to OpenServer. In other words, SCO was addicted to
its $1000/machine price line. When I joined, the company line
was that would pick up data center server business fast enough
that any business that it lost to Linux for low-end servers
wouldn't matter. That was, of course, based on several rather
broad assumptions: that Intel hardware would be significantly
more cost-effective than other Unix servers; that SCO could
develop Unixware to attain levels of performance and reliability
necessary to justify its price margin; and that Linux could not.
It didn't take me very long to figure out that the latter two
assumptions, at least, were pretty shaky. In particular, I worked
as an engineer on virtual memory, specifically on a project to
develop PAE support so that IA-32 machines could use more than
4GB of memory. From that vantage point, I could compare exactly
what Unixware and Linux were doing to support such machines, I
could prove just how much of an advantage Unixware had over
Linux at the time, and I could plot relative progress on both
sides. I was struck both by how fast Linux developers could
move relative to us, but more importantly I could see that once
you move to IA-64 the advantage, which at best mattered to a
trivial number of users, would collapse. Conversely, there were
other points of comparison that already tilted toward Linux, but
more importantly it was impossible to see any long-term technical
advantage that Unixware might have that could not for all practical
purposes be addressed by Linux. And most importantly, the economics
and politics of development were stacked sharply against SCO.
So it quickly became clear to me that Linux was going to eat SCO's
lunch. The question was what if anything SCO as a company could do
to survive. My answer was that if Linux was destined to win, SCO
had to be Linux -- the phrase I used in memo after memo was "jump
out front in the Linux parade." But the real question was how could
SCO make money doing that, and that of course was the rub, because
the winning formula for Linux is not to be sold per-machine, it's
to be put forth as a continuing service. Of course, that's calling
for transforming the company in a way that almost never happens,
but if you'll suspend disbelief for a moment, consider:
- The core service product would be to provide a well qualified,
tunable, maintainable Linux distribution, with updates, notices,
troubleshooting, etc., which is a non-trivial service bundle
which can be efficiently scaled.
- The market would be businesses willing to pay a small premium
dependable, reputable, continuing service of their Linux systems.
- The services would be layered through OEM and VAR channels, which
means that SCO could fulfill the services in the name (with some
manner of customization) of the OEM/VAR or the OEM/VAR could use
SCO technology to fulfill the services themselves.
- The big advantage that SCO would have here is that it starts out
being much larger, with many more resources, than any other Linux
distributor or services company.
- A second advantage that SCO has is that its control of Unix technology
and licensing could have been used to tie its OEMs together and to
promote joint Unix/Linux solutions.
This would, of course, have been very tricky both to implement and to
orchestrate. Putting a Linux distribution together is easy, but putting
a credible, maintainable one tied into a scalable services delivery
system could be a big chunk of work. And the general expectation is
that per-machine-averaged service revenues would drop significantly
from the per-machine licenses they would inevitably replace, which
could only be compensated for by growing the market, and in any case
would risk a nasty revenue dip. To my mind, the key in making this
work was to quickly line up the OEMs, who at the time were showing
a lot of interest but little expertise in Linux, and get them to work
collaboratively to put the services framework into place.
One of the most interesting parts of this puzzle was what to do with
Unix. Sun had previously announced a plan to release the source code
to Solaris (Sun's Unix variant), which SCO blocked. But if SCO could
have renegotiated their Unix binary sublicensing contracts to allow
open sourcing, this could both produce a short-term cash infusion to
smooth out the transition and significantly increase the source code
available for all Unix variants, including Linux. (For example, when
SCO open sourced the cscope program we immediately reaped dozens of
useful changes from Unix licensees.) Unixware itself could not simply
be open sourced due to dependencies on third party code, but an open
source reference version (which would not be competitive with the
current product) would be a step towards forming a collaborative
development community with OEMs. (Since SCO was already unable to put
adequate resources into maintaining Unixware, anything less would
just consign it to the dustbin.)
Whether such an attempt to transform SCO's core business might have
worked is purely a matter of speculation -- it certainly would have
been a tall order, both technically and culturally -- but the path
that SCO in fact took is now merely a matter of history. SCO did
start a Linux development program, but the plan was to bundle Linux
with other products that would be per-machine licensed, and minimal
thought was put into services. Then management cooked up the deal to
sell all of SCO (except their Tarantella albatross) to Caldera,
which had cash from the DR-DOS/Microsoft antitrust suit and had
always aspired to SCO's market. Caldera's Ransom Love initially
talked about open sourcing Unix, but with the acquisition of such
a large money-loser Caldera imploded, clinging to bankrupt products
while deprecating what should have been their Linux future. And
now they're reduced to suing IBM, the company that moved most
boldly into the Linux future; cursing the darkness, where they
might instead have tried to lead the way.
That was an attempt to write a publishable article straight through in
one draft. As such, it leaves a lot of little details out, some of
which should probably be worked back in, others purely footnote
material. A big part of my motivation derived from a longstanding
partisanship towards AT&T Unix, partly rooted in geography and old
friendships with some of the participants, partly distaste for some of
Bill Joy's BSD work (e.g., csh, vi). This, of course, deepened when I
worked for SCO in Murray Hill, NJ. So one of the things that I wanted
to see happen was for Unix, or more specifically at least some of the
work of a large group of talented programmers, survive what seemed to
be the inevitable debacle of commercial Unix. In this regard, I can't
say as I got much encouragement from either side. SCO's Unixware group
mostly felt they were invulnerable -- the organization had, after all,
survived mismanagement from AT&T, USL, and Novell, so they figured
they'd survive SCO as well. On the other hand, as someone who has spent
most of his life working for companies that went bust, I had by then a
pretty good sense of impending disaster. (Maybe too good.) But while
the signs were plain as day, none of them really seemed to register
on my colleagues.
On the other hand, when I would raise the possibility of making pieces
of Unix available to Linux, reactions varied from a big shrug to flat
out rejection. Moreover, public regard for SCO and its management could
hardly be lower. (In particular, I was struck when I asked one of SGI's
architects why they rejected or didn't consider Unixware instead of
Linux for their new Intel machines, and he told me point blank that
he'd never consider doing business with Doug Michaels.) So bridging
the gap between Unixware and Linux was bound to be difficult in any
case. Of course, I suspect that both sides were guilty of home bias.
But while I'm satisfied that Linux is simpler and cleaner and a lot
more portable, I have to wonder how much of the extra cruft that slags
Unixware down is just decrepit bureaucracy, and what a small team of
programmers like Kurt Gollhardt and Steve Baumel might do with their
distinctively non-Linux visions if they weren't constrained by the
business needs of a company like SCO.
Monday, March 10, 2003
Kicking an idea around:
It's worth remembering that it wasn't the terrorists who brought down
the World Trade Center: it was gravity. Gravity has always been the
mortal enemy of tall buildings, a perpetual challenge to engineering
ingenuity. All the terrorists did, or had to do, was to nudge the
equations a bit. Gravity took care of the rest.
The notion that the U.S. is the world's one superpower is similarly
predicated on fair weather. The reason that the U.S. emerged from WWII
so powerfully was economic: that the U.S. built up a powerful economy
which combined natural resources, labor, ingenuity, and distance from
the widespread destruction of the war. But that advantage has been
eroding ever since 1945, to the point where now it is no advantage at
all; if anything, the U.S. has been borrowing on its past reputation,
running up trade deficits and exporting manufacturing jobs in ways
that have been barely covered up by capital flows. One of the things
that the U.S. risks in its bellicosity is that someone will call its
bluff, which is just what's happening with the Iraq debacle: first
France learns to say no, then finds it likes it; now Turkey. Whether
the U.S. can still twist the arms of Angola and Guinea to give it
the barest fig leaf of U.N. legitimacy isn't even clear. But what
is clear is that in going its own way, the U.S. has lost command of
the parade. This is the beginning of the end of the notion that there
even is an American empire anymore: rather, what we are seeing is a
rogue nation puffed into self-importance by its possession of weapons
of mass destruction.
Of course, the loss of America's imperial stature is no great shakes:
if anything, we're better off without it. But the economy is something
else, and this is where the accumulated stresses have started to
fracture. The fact is that the U.S. has shed jobs all through the
expansion of the '90s, which combined with the concentration of
wealth and power in the hands of the investment elite turns any
recession into a major hemorrhage. It almost goes without saying
that the Bush administration is the worst possible antidote to this
The notion that a relatively minor incident of terrorism could topple
something as huge as the US economy, potentially taking its ruling
class and their warrior elites with it, is staggering to behold, but
if it happens most of the credit (or blame) goes to powerful forces
that have until now seemed as transparent as gravity, forces that
have lurked there all along.
Finished reading a novel, Tom Carson's Gilligan's Wake. It's
going to take me a while to gather my thoughts here: let's say, it's
not quite as I imagined it.
Sunday, March 09, 2003
Music: Starting this week, 8037 rated, 810 unrated. Last week was pretty
much a wash-out: only now starting to come out from under the illness and
meds that made me all but comatose. Still accumulating material for the
RS book, with only one piece (James Carter) written.
- Jon Langford and the Sadies: Mayors of the Moon
(2003, Bloodshot). A big advance in songcraft from the first Sadies album,
but that's to be expected with Langford up front. B+
- The Music in My Head, Volume 2 (1975-92, Stern's Africa).
More of the same fanciful, difficult Senegalese rhythms. A-
- Pine Valley Cosmonauts: The Executioner's Last Songs, Vol. 1
(2002, Bloodshot). A benefit for the Illinois Death Penalty Moratorium
Project, guest vocalists tackle murder songs (state or otherwise), with
the Cosmonauts' expert backing and Jon Langford producing. Good show.
- The Rough Guide to Americana (World Music Network). By
which they mean alt-country, more or less, but I'm inclined to dock them
a notch for the name nonetheless. Nothing memorable. B-
- The Sadies: Precious Moments (1998, Bloodshot). A fairly
minor bug engagingly diverse set of alt-ish country-ish rock. You'd think
bands like this would be dime-a-dozen, but I run across them infrequently
enough that they still sound fresh to me. B+
Wednesday, March 05, 2003
Book: Robert D. Kaplan: Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands
a Pagan Ethos (2002, Vintage Books). This is, of course, a
ghastly book. Kaplan's thesis is simple enough: war is a fundamental,
inevitable state of mankind; the only way to prevent war is to wield
power; the essence of morality is the exercise of power to establish
order, thereby keeping war at bay. Kaplan cites various historians
and philosophers to buttress these points, notably Thomas Hobbes,
whose concept of Leviathan pretty much embodies Kaplan's thinking.
Kaplan illustrates this with lists of good guys and bad guys -- Rome
is good, Carthage is bad; Churchill is good, Hitler and Stalin bad.
And he throws in his usual rants against democracy. Sometimes he
tries to apply his principles to foreign policy, where, for instance,
he is interventionist in Bosnia but not in Rwanda (something about
self-interest and global power politics). One wonders how truly
comfortable he is with Bush (pagan enough?), but his philosophical
baggage is certainly friendly to the war machine. (Particularly his
notions of targeting enemy leaders for assassination. Although I do
have to wonder about his ideas for launching virus attacks on enemy
Monday, March 03, 2003
I'm working on some pieces for The Rolling Stone Record & CD
Guide, so I've started to get deluged in material to review. In
particular, the big box of Fela arrived today. It's going to be a
big job to sort all of these out, so let's start a file of notes
- Fela: Koola Lobitos/The '69 L.A. Sessions (1964-69,
MCA). The earliest cuts here, dating from 1964, show Fela trying to
play highlife, but sounding more like calypso. Strange as that sounds,
after a couple of spins they start to make sense, with the jazz
improvs on the horns and the complex rhythms making up for whatever
measure by which Fela falls short of the Trinidadian wordmasters.
However, by the 1969 L.A. Sessions Fela's afrobeat was in full
flower. In "Viva Nigeria", he concludes, "brothers and sisters in
Africa/never should we learn to wage war/ against each other/let
Nigeria be a lesson to all/we have more to learn towards building than
destroying/our people can't afford any more suffering/let's join
hands, Africa/we have nothing to lose/but we love to gain/war is not
the answer/war has never been the answer/and it will never be the
answer/fighting amongst each other/one nation indivisible/long live
Nigeria, fever, Africa." B+
- Fela: Shakara/London Scene (1970-71, MCA). Shakara
starts off prototypically, with a long instrumental vamp with Fela on
keyboards leading into a vocal 3-4 minutes into a 13-minute piece. Second
cut, same as the first. London Scene is harder and grittier, but
a little wearing and none too distinct. A-
- Fela: Roforofo Fight/The Fela Singles (1972-73, MCA).
More instrumental than most, and the music really jumps here. A-
- Fela: Open & Close/Afrodisiac (1971-73, MCA).
Hard to say. But while the songs aren't especially distinct, the grooves
never stop. B+
- Fela: Confusion/Gentlemen (1973-74, MCA). Stretching
out now, "Confusion" warms up for 14 minutes before entering its lyric.
- Fela: Expensive Shit/He Miss Road (1975, MCA).
Another good one, with "It's No Possible" riding on a nice keyboard
- Fela: Monkey Banana/Excuse O (1975, MCA). Relatively
laid back, easy tempos supporting the usual righteousness. Final track
is a particularly strong example of Fela's songspeech backed by chorus,
with a nice keyboard build-up. A-
- Fela: Everything Scatter/Noise for Vendor Mouth (1975, MCA).
Typical sets, nothing really seems to jump out here. B+
- Fela: Yellow Fever/Na Poi (1975-76, MCA). "Yellow Fever"
is another sermon; "Na Poi" (in two versions here) a sex song, but delivered
in the usual cadences and patois, so it doesn't deliver the vicarious thrill
that it might had you been there; "You No Go Die" another sermon. On
further listen, while some of the double entendre of "Na Poi" is too
cute, once the music kicks up it's pretty awesome. A-
- Fela: Ikoyi Blindness/Kalakuta Show (1976, MCA). The
intro vamp to "Ikoyi Blindness" jumps from the start, drops into a pair
of brass figures, then jumps again. The whole record keeps up this level
of interest. A-
- Fela: J.J.D./Unnecessary Begging (1976-77, MCA).
"J.J.D. (Johnny Just Drop)" is a long (23:21) piece; Unnecessary
Begging has two usual sized pieces. Again, the pieces are strong
rhythm tracks with much shorter vocal messages, the usual sharp
rants. Fela's in a very strong groove at this point in his career.
The only thing that diminishes interest in any one set is the
consistency of all the rest. A-
- Fela: Opposite People/Sorrow Tears and Blood (1977, MCA).
Drums, bass, guitar, keyboard, then three minutes in let's have some horns,
then a romping sax solo, more horns, more sax, eventually a sermon, like
the parable of trouser and pant: "If trouser commot [remove] for yansh
[the behind] and pant no dey/All the craw-craw [rash] under your yansh
go show." A-
- Fela: Stalemate/Fear Not for Man (1977, MCA). These
pieces were recorded after Fela's Kalakuta Nation was routed. The first
cut, "Stalemate", is par for the course, but the second, "Don't Worry
About My Mouth O" is based on a delicate figure, but the halts for Fela
to lecture on hygiene and Africanism preclude any groove. Closes with
a nice long instrumental, but overall somewhat disappointing. B
- Fela: Shuffering and Shmiling/No Agreement (1977-78, MCA).
- Fela: Zombie (1976-78, MCA). The title cut is Fela's
taunt of the Nigerian military: "Zombie no think unless you tell them
to think." It starts with vibrant horns and keeps up a ferocious beat,
ending with a dollop of "Taps". Not one to let a point go understated,
the next piece is called "Mister Follow Follow". This concludes with
two previously unreleased live cuts, also quite invigorating. A-
- Fela: Fela With Ginger Baker Live! (1971-78, MCA).
This adds a 16:22 drum duet featuring Ginger Baker and Tony Allen to the
1971 live album with Ginger Baker. While the drum piece is the most
distinctive part of the album, the early live date is solid afrobeat,
with a powerful version of "Black Man's Cry". B+
- Fela: V.I.P./Authority Stealing (1979-80, MCA). Live
set, recorded in Germany, starts with spoken intro by Fela, explaining
that VIP means "vagabonds in power". The sound is a little off on the
live part, and "Authority Stealing" is not one of his stronger pieces,
so while this might be OK on its own, it's not one of the better
- Fela: Upside Down/Music of Many Colours (1976-80, MCA).
In an interesting twist, the vocal to "Upside Down" (8 minutes in) is
sung by long-time companion Sandra, although very much in Fela's style.
It's a sharp, bouncy track. Next is one of Fela's traffic jam metaphors,
"Go Slow", likening being stuck in a Lagos traffic jam to jail. The
second half is a collaboration with vibraphonist Roy Ayers, which
starts off jazzier than the norm, but stretches out and preaches like
the Fela you expect. B+
- Fela: Coffin for Head of State/Unknown Soldier (1979-80,
MCA). Two long pieces, "Coffin" runs 22:40, "Soldier" runs 31:11, which
gives plenty of room to stretch two strong pieces. These pieces follow
the destruction of Fela's Kalakuta Nation, showing an escalation of
Fela's political stridency. A-
- Fela: Original Sufferhead/I.T.T. (1980-81, MCA).
The 21:09 of "Original Sufferhead" is one of Fela's masterpieces.
Whereas similar length pieces in the past were split into two parts,
this one seems to have been a single LP side ("Power Show" on the
other side), and he builds up relentless power with the length.
the 24-minute "I.T.T. (International Thief Thief)" shifts the rant
from Nigeria's military brutality and civil incompetence to global
capitalism. "Power Show" builds to a quick crescendo on saxophone,
then stretches out. A
- Fela: Live in Amsterdam (1984, MCA). Gap in time
here, probably something horrible in between. The live sound isn't
quite as good as the studio, but that seems more evident at the
start than when it gets cranking. And it does get cranking. Live
Fela stretches out even longer: "M.O.P." runs over 37 minutes.
Not regarded as a particularly good album, but "Custom Check Point"
impresses me plenty. B+
- Fela: Army Arrangement (1985, MCA). Two long pieces,
solid, not really spectacular. "Army Arrangement" was also released
by Celluloid in a version remixed by Bill Laswell, and there's always
been a lot of argument about which version is better. (Most arguing
that Laswell ruined the thing, but I have Laswell's version on LP,
and always liked it.) B+
- Fela: Teacher Don't Teach Me Nonsense (1986-89, MCA).
Augments the original 1986 album with a piece from 1989's Beasts of
No Nation. Played this three times without ever really connecting
to it; maybe fatigue setting in. [B/B+]
- Fela: Beasts of No Nation/O.D.O.O. (1989-90, MCA).
Back from two years in jail, "Beasts of No Nation" twists around a
Botha quote. The music is shifty and subtle, the lyric ranging wide,
the vocal much slyer than Fela's usual declamatory style. As I recall,
I didn't think much of the original LP, perhaps because the piece's
28 minutes were broken up into two too-short pieces. "O.D.O.O." is
another long one, 31:53. Sounds more typical, flows well. B+
- Fela: Underground System (1990-92, MCA). Although
Fela didn't die until 1997, this seems to have been his last album.
(The CD also includes "Confusion Break Bones" from the original "ODOO"
album.) The two Underground System pieces are deep political
tracts, engaging pieces. Offhand, "CBB" seems mostly loud. B+
- Fela: The Best Best of Fela Kuti (1972-89, MCA, 2CD).
This cherry picks from "Lady" to "O.D.O.O", usually going with edited
versions or second parts to keep the average time per song down around
13 minutes. Faultless sampler. A
Sunday, March 02, 2003
- Chet Baker in New York (1958, Riverside). Cut with a
quartet, which provides a good showcase for pianist Al Haig; augmented
with Johnny Griffin on three cuts. Nice work. B+
- Uri Caine: Solitaire (2001, Winter & Winter). Solo
piano, not so much here as there. B
- The Rough Guide to Cajun & Zydeco (World Music Network).
Typically solid intro sampler, licensed from Arhoolie and Rounder. Hard to
track down the dates, which must extend at least before 1981. B+
- Wayne Shorter: High Life (1994, Verve). Marcus Miller's
fusion mix here is dull and cloying, leaving little space for Shorter,
who doesn't do much with it even when he gets the chance. C+
- John Zorn: Filmworks: 1986-1990 (Tzadik). Eclectic, of
course. But in a sense, it's what he's really good at. A-
Saturday, March 01, 2003
Book: Bernard Lewis: What Went Wrong? The Clash Between Islam and
Modernity in the Middle East (2002, Perennial). The title is
freighted with ambiguity and clamor, as if it's meant to panic, or maybe
just to cash in on panic. There are, after all, several distinct problems:
one is the difficulties that middle eastern countries have in negotiating
their way through modernity; a second problem is the whether the west is
more or less responsible for the middle east's failures and frustrations
along the way. But while the title is sloppy, the book itself has a tidy
little message: the middle east is in turmoil today because flaws in
their culture, philosophy, and religion (Islam) have undermined their
few belated efforts at modernity, leaving the region hopelessly backward,
sour, and vindictive. And, of course, the ever munificent west has no
blame for this sad outcome.
We can tear this argument apart several different ways. First, Lewis
provides no actual measure of the problem (that is, the lack of modernity
in the middle east). Instead, he offers anecdotes, most of which involve
the Ottomans. It is worth remembering that what was modern during the
Ottoman period was substantially less than what is modern today (e.g.,
transportation and communications technology). Moreover, Lewis' concentration
on culture and religion sweeps aside the question of political factors. It
seems clear now that Ottoman control significantly limited Arab political
response as the west expanded in the 19th century, and that the lack of
established Arab political institutions allowed the west to assert control,
extending the period of Arab political "immaturity." Also, even if democracy
was key to the west's accelerated power, Europe's preferred political form
for the middle east was to establish monarchies, which concentrated wealth
among individuals who reinvested that wealth in the west, preventing any
real capital accumulation in the region. And to the extent that middle
eastern economies were based on export trade (mostly oil), they never
engaged in the sort of protectionism that stimulated the manufacturing
industries in east asia. Also, any middle eastern states who leaned toward
the Soviet Union were effectively quarantined from the west. And then
there is the damage incurred in many middle eastern states from war,
especially in Lebanon and Iraq. These are all things that have weakened
the middle east that have virtually no cultural cause.