March 2003 Notebook
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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. A-
  • 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 Mess." B
  • 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). A
  • 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. B+
  • 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 ever. B+
  • 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. A-
  • 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 his crime.

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 Blues". B
  • 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). A-
  • 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 plus. B+
  • 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). A
  • 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 song. B+
  • The Best of Hank Thompson 1966-1979 (Varese). The fare is lighter, but he still sings beautifully, and the band still swings. A-
  • 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].
    1. Robert Petway, "Catfish Blues" (1941) [Muddy Waters]
    2. Big Joe Williams, "Baby, Please Don't Go" (1935) [Van Morrison/Them]
    3. Leadbelly, "Ham an' Eggs" (1940) [Lonnie Donegan]: with Golden Gate quartet, which gives it a prison gang song feel.
    4. Big Bill Broonzy, "Mississippi River Blues" (1934)
    5. Trixie Butler, "Just a Good Woman Through With the Blues" (1936): black vaudeville veteran.
    6. Milton Brown & His Musical Brownies, "Garbage Man Blues" (1934): blackface-style intro, western swing band, but with a jerky washboard rhythm.
    7. Bukka White, "The Panama Limited" (1930)
    8. Tommy Johnson, "Cool Drink of Water Blues" (1928) [Howlin' Wolf]: "I asked for water and she gave me gasoline."
    9. Leadbelly, "The Midnight Special" (1940)
    10. Carter Family, "Worried Man Blues" (1930)
    11. 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.
    12. Andrew & Jim Baxter, "KC. Railroad Blues" (1927)
    13. Rev. J.M. Gates, "Somebody's Been Stealin'" (1928)
    14. Alberta Hunter, "Beale Street Blues" (1927): W.C. Handy classic, with Fats Waller on organ.
    15. Noah Lewis, "Devil in the Wood Pile" (1929)
    16. Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers, "Walk Right In" (1929) [Rooftops]
    17. Julius Daniels, "Ninety-Nine Year Blues" (1927)
    18. Bessie Tucker, "Got Cut All to Pieces" (1928)
    19. Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers, "Feather Bed" (1928)
    20. Julius Daniels, "Can't Put a Bridle on That Mule This Morning" (1927)
    21. DeFord Bailey, "Davidson County Blues" (1928): the first black on the Grand Ole Opry, this is just a harmonica solo
    22. 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.
    23. Taskiana Four, "Dixie Bo-Bo" (1927): vocal quartet with piano; not in AMG, but they have 16 songs on Document DOCD-5347 (1926-28)
    24. Paul Robeson, "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" (1926): the opera singer, right?
    25. 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.
    Although filed under blues, this set is so primal it really predates blues as well as rock and roll. B+
  • 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:
    1. 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.
    2. Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers, "Viola Lee Blues" (1928) [Grateful Dead]
    3. 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.
    4. Ishman Bracey, "Saturday Blues" (1928)
    5. Jim Jackson, "When I Woke Up This Morning She Was Gone" (1928)
    6. Tommy Johnson, "Canned Heat Blues" (1928)
    7. 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.
    8. Memphis Jug Band, "Stealin', Stealin'" (1928) [Grateful Dead, Taj Mahal]: jug, kazoo, harmonica, guitar; a very famous piece.
    9. Furry Lewis, "Judge Harsh Blues" (1928): Starts with "good morning judge," a line that shows up in a few more songs.
    10. Edna Winston, "Rent Man Blues" (1927): another jazz band.
    11. Harris & Harris, "I Don't Care What You Say" (1928)
    12. 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."
    13. Frank Stokes, "'Taint Nobody's Business If I Do - Part 1" (1928)
    14. Sippie Wallace, "I'm a Mighty Tight Woman" (1929): trumpet, trombone, and clarinet (Johnny Dodds).
    15. Jimmie Rodgers, "Blue Yodel #9" (1930): backed by the Louis and Lil Armstrong; nobody else plays like that.
    16. Sleepy John Estes, "The Girl I Love, She Got Long, Curly Hair" (1929) [Led Zeppelin]
    17. McCoy & Johnson, "Don't Want No Woman (Have T' Give My Money To) (1930): aka Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe.
    18. Memphis Jug Band, "Cocaine Habit Blues" (1930): "take a whiff on me."
    19. Blind Willie Reynolds, "Married Woman Blues" (1930) [Cream]
    20. Jimmie Davis, "Red Nightgown Blues" (1932)
    21. 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.
    22. 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.
    23. Daddy Stovepipe & Mississippi Sarah, "If You Want Me, Baby" (1935): the harmonica part here plays like a circus organ.
    24. Little Brother Montgomery, "The First Time I Met the Blues" (1936) [Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton, John Lee Hooker]: piano player.
    25. Mississippi Sheiks With Bo Carter, "Sales Tax" (1934)
    B+
  • 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. Songs:
    1. Sam Theard, "That's Chicago's South Side" (1938)
    2. Pete Wheatstraw, "Peetie Wheatstraw" (1931): aka the Devil's Son-in-Law aka High Sheriff From Hell; plays piano.
    3. Roosevelt Sykes, "Devil's Island Gin Blues" (1933): piano player, fast little boogie number.
    4. Amos Easton, "Sail On, Little Girl, Sail On" (1934)
    5. Joe Pullum, "Black Gal, What Makes Your Head So Hard?" (1934): with piano; sings in a falsetto; very striking slow blues.
    6. Lil Johnson, "I Lost My Baby" (1935)
    7. Big Bill Broonzy, "Keep Your Hands Off Her" (1935)
    8. Leroy Carr, "When the Sun Goes Down" (1935): piano player, with Scrapper Blackwell on guitar; classic song.
    9. Memphis Minnie, "Selling My Pork Chops" (1935): "I'm selling my pork chops/but I'm giving my gravy away."
    10. Pine Top, "Every Day I Have the Blues" (1935)
    11. Walter Davis, "Sweet Sixteen" (1935)
    12. Meade Lux Lewis, "Honky Tonk Train Blues" (1936)
    13. Richard M. Jones, "Trouble in Mind" (1936)
    14. Merline Johnson, "He Roars Like a Lion" (1937)
    15. Robert Lee McCoy, "Prowling Night Hawk" (1937)
    16. 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.
    17. Speckled Red, "You Got to Fix It" (1938): Robert Lee McCoy on guitar (sounds like Tampa Red).
    18. Washboard Sam, "Bucket's Got a Hole in It" (1938)
    19. Tommy McClennan, "Bottle It Up and Go" (1939): one of the better guitar pieces here -- I keep hearing shades of Tampa Red.
    20. Jazz Gillum, "Key to the Highway" (1940) [Eric Clapton]: Broonzy plays guitar, Gillum harmonica.
    21. Tampa Red, "Don't You Lie to Me" (1940)
    22. Johnny Temple, "What Is That She Got" (1941)
    23. St. Louis Jimmy, "Going Down Slow" (1941)
    24. Yank Rachel, "Hobo Blues" (1941)
    25. Lonnie Johnson, "He's a Jelly Roll Baker" (1942)
    A-
  • 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 action here. Songs:
    1. Doctor Clayton, "Pearl Harbor Blues" (1942): "the Japanese is so ungrateful/just like a stray dog on the street" -- ungrateful for what?
    2. Five Breezes, "Buddy Blues" (1940)
    3. Big Maceo, "Worried Life Blues" (1941) [Ray Charles, Eric Clapton]: great song, Tampa Red plays guitar.
    4. Cats & a Fiddle, "I'd Rather Drink Muddy Water" (1939)
    5. Memphis Slim, "Grinder Man Blues" (1940)
    6. Pete Johnson & Albert Ammons, "Walkin' the Boogie" (1941)
    7. 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.
    8. Robert Lockwood, "Little Boy Blue" (1941)
    9. Doctor Clayton, "Angels in Harlem" (1946)
    10. Sunnyland Slim, "Illinois Blues" (1947)
    11. Eddie Boyd, "Chicago Is Just That Way" (1948)
    12. 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.
    13. 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 hot, though.
    14. Jazz Gillum, "Look on Yonder Wall" (1946)
    15. Roosevelt Sykes Trio, "Anytime Is the Right Time" (1945) [Nappy Brown, Ray Charles]:
    16. 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 kazoo.
    17. 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?
    18. 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."
    19. Piano Red, "Rockin' With Red" (1950)
    20. Tampa Red, "Sweet Little Angel" (1950): "I asked my baby for a drink/she bought me a whiskey still."
    21. Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup, "My Baby Left Me" (1950) [Elvis Presley]
    22. Johnny Moore Three Blazers, "How Blue Can You Get (Downhearted)" (1949): Billy Valentine sings and plays piano, copying Charles Brown.
    23. 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.
    24. 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.
    25. Little Richard, "Get Rich Quick" (1951): Little Richard's first recording, a jump blues with trumpet and three saxophones.
    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-
  • 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:
    1. Sterling and MGM Recordings: Chronological, from 1946-11-12 to 1947-07-11, the first 8 on Sterling, the rest on MGM.
    2. MGM Sessions, Part 2: Chronological, from 1947-07-11 to 1950-01-09.
    3. 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'," "Ramblin' Man."
    4. 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").
    5. 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.
    6. 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 probably yes).
    7. Shreveport Radio Performances, Part 2: These radio cuts are with a band, which brightens them up a bit.
    8. 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.
    9. 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."
    10. 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. A
  • 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) enemies list.

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 political economy.

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 worse.

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 that generates.

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 place.

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 century.

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 pull out.

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 symbolic. B+
  • 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. A-
  • 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 fact. A-
  • 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. B+
  • 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.

Hi,

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.

I also added the following to my posting:

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 barrel project.

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:

  1. 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 years.

  2. 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 groups.

  3. 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.

  4. 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 scenario.

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. A-
  • 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 computer systems.)

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 here.

  • 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. A-
  • Fela: Expensive Shit/He Miss Road (1975, MCA). Another good one, with "It's No Possible" riding on a nice keyboard riff. B+
  • 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). A-
  • 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 albums. B
  • 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

Music:

  • 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.


Feb 2003 Apr 2003