April 2003 Notebook
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Tuesday, April 29, 2003

When Paul Krugman first appeared before the public eye, he was a snotty smartass economist, and the main point of virtually everything he wrote was to prove how much smarter he was than everyone else. So it's been interesting to watch him mature over the years, especially since the Bush inaugural in 2001. Krugman quickly dashed off a book about Bush's tax cut called Fuzzy Math which is still a remarkably sane and succinct reposte (not that he couldn't think of a lot more to say about the subject since the book was published). Today I'm reading a NY Times column Krugman wrote called Matters of Emphasis, and his points are perfectly straightforward. For example:

First, why is our compassion so selective? In 2001 the World Health Organization -- the same organization we now count on to protect us from SARS -- called for a program to fight infectious diseases in poor countries, arguing that it would save the lives of millions of people every year. The U.S. share of the expenses would have been about $10 billion per year -- a small fraction of what we will spend on war and occupation. Yet the Bush administration contemptuously dismissed the proposal.

Or consider one of America's first major postwar acts of diplomacy: blocking a plan to send U.N. peacekeepers to Ivory Coast (a former French colony) to enforce a truce in a vicious civil war. The U.S. complains that it will cost too much. And that must be true -- we wouldn't let innocent people die just to spite the French, would we?

So it seems that our deep concern for the Iraqi people doesn't extend to suffering people elsewhere. I guess it's just a matter of emphasis. A cynic might point out, however, that saving lives peacefully doesn't offer any occasion to stage a victory parade.

Krugman goes on to point out how the cycle of loudly trumpeted administration pronouncements and muted retractions are leading Americans to believe falsehoods. For example:

For example, in September Mr. Bush cited an International Atomic Energy Agency report that he said showed that Saddam was only months from having nuclear weapons. "I don't know what more evidence we need," he said. In fact, the report said no such thing -- and for a few hours the lead story on MSNBC's Web site bore the headline "White House: Bush Misstated Report on Iraq." Then the story vanished -- not just from the top of the page, but from the site.

Finally, he asks "And we are a democracy -- aren't we?"

Monday, April 28, 2003

A while back I read George Scialabba's review of Paul Berman's Terror and Liberalism. Berman's book had been getting a lot of hype in the semi-left press, so I was pleased to see that this is one of the most useful critiques that I've seen. (While I haven't read the book I've read more than my fill of Berman, including a book review in the N.Y. Times yesterday where he buttressed his pro-war, pro-imperialism stance by selectively applauding two recent tortured-logic pro-war books, by Jean Bethke Elshtain and Richard Falk.) However, I think that Scialabba's account is weaker than it ought to be on two accounts. The first is his casual acceptance of the anti-Soviet critique, which is not a matter of much immediate import. I want to write more about that later, but for now let me just note that when I was growing up the first encyclopedia that I looked at had three columns under "Politics," each contrasting a distinct political philosophy: democracy, fascism, and communism. The next edition reduced the discussion to two: democracy, totalitarianism. There are conceits in each approach -- the former makes democracy seem to be the rational alternative between two violently opposed extremisms, but the latter merges all extremism into an indistinct pot of evil. It should be noted that fascism per se had largely died out by then -- not that the world was freed from right-wing dictatorships, but most of the active ones were military-based, and most of them were card carrying members of the US's Cold War against Communism. On the other hand, the concept of totalitarianism was a clever way to tar the Communists with the sins of the Fascists. But more than that, it implied a form of absolute, totalistic government control over everyday life that has only ever been realized in fiction, such as Orwell's 1984 -- a prospect that ominously threatens to choke off all possible opposition, and as such is seen (especially by Berman) as justifying extreme means to prevent or dislodge it.

And that leads to the second issue: is totalitarianism even possible? I think not. And more importantly, I think that it is less and less possible over time -- that if there ever had been a prospect that such a system might be implemented, that prospects was in the past, is far less likely now, and is virtually inconceivable in the future. Sure, thinking this is one thing and proving it is another. I'm not sure how the best way to prove it might be. Historically we can look at real world examples of so-called totalitarian systems: Iraq is often trotted out as one of the most extreme, so it's interesting to look at how it fell apart (admittedly, with a little push from the US); and the Soviet Union is the classic example. One thing both regime had in common was their "minders" for foreign visitors. There's an obvious problem with that, which is that as the number of foreign visitors increases, the costs of minding them and processing the information increase as well, perhaps disproportionately. In a garrisoned state that may not be much of a problem, because hardly anyone gets in, but the more any state (regardless of its totalitarian impulses) also wants to benefit from the technological advances of the world at large, the more travel, the more interaction, etc., is involved. Similarly, the skills to run a modern state/economy, the education that is needed, etc., all detract from the ability of the powers to control things. And that is pretty much what we've seen in Iraq and in the Soviet Union, especially as power started to fall apart.

One can also approach this more theoretically. Power has always been based on the willingness of others to submit. In the simplest of scenarios this submission may simply be the result of fear, and there have certainly been instances of that, especially in small and contained societies. Still, even where fear is the determining factor, several things can diminish its effectiveness:

  • Escape: this one's obvious.
  • Scale and distance: the larger and more widely spread a state is, the harder it is for the tyrant to keep track of everything and everyone; the use of intermediaries reduces the effective presence of the tyrant, and redistributes the tyrant's power.
  • Skills dependency: the more complex a society and its technology becomes, the more the tyrant is at the mercy of his servants.
  • Resistance: this is the inefficiency that is added to every action where the actor is unable or unwilling to perform as directed; because resistance is normal it is hard to tell when it is deliberate, and indeed it tends to set new norms for behavior.
  • Revolt: this is the rupture when the normal chain of command breaks down into disobedience; note that the threat of revolt is itself a limit to power.
  • Rejection (probably not the right word): where outsiders refuse to deal with the tyrant because they disapprove of him.

I think that it's arguable that all of these factors are on the increase. This is especially true in nations where there is growing demand for and expectations of the benefits of modern technology and interactions with the rest of the world. This directly establishes skills dependencies, and further pushes regimes toward education, which makes one more aware of the rest of the world and makes that world more accessible. Population growth also undermines tyranny, at least by increasing the need for intermediaries. To the extent that the world community can effectively lobby for greater freedom within nations, this increases the strains that undermine tyranny. (On the other hand, the threat of forced regime change, with its attendant foreign occupation, is perhaps the single most effective way to keep tyrannies in power: compare, for example, the Soviet Union, which voluntarily disbanded, to Iraq, which was overthrown by a foreign power.)

So if the case has been made that totalitarianism is an impossibility in the modern world, what does that mean for political policy? For one thing, it means that there is never a need for war to prevent a "totalitarian" regime from establishing itself, since it can never really establish itself. It also means that the most effective weapons against tyrannies are those which broaden the distribution of power and knowledge and skill throughout the nation -- and again, this is not done by inflicting punishment but by doing whatever can be done to open the nation up.

Sunday, April 27, 2003

Music: Initial count 8204 rated (+39), 895 unrated (+21). The Rolling Stone Record Guide work is done, although I still have a pile of John McLaughlin CDs for an entry that got cut. So for the first time in weeks, I'm starting to listen to some stuff for the hell of it. Two little changes, below and henceforth, are that I'm now giving the release dates in brackets as well as the recording dates. The other is that since this is after all a notebook, and since that approach has worked reasonably well for the RS work, I'll open an entry here when I start to listen to a record; those entries start with no grade, then maybe add a tentative grade/range in brackets, then ultimately wind up with a settled grade.

  • Uri Caine: Rio (2001, Winter & Winter). This has one of those tourist feels -- gringo pianist meets a lot of maraccas wielding natives. The gringo, of course, is one of our great pianists, and the opportunity to hear him at some length, as on "Akalanguiade" here, is to be relished. But the Brazillian ambiance itself doesn't do much more than the show for the tourists down at the resort. B
  • Daniel Carter + Reuben Radding: Luminiscence (2003, Aum Fidelity). Alto sax and bass duet. Most of this is very subdued and rather pretty, with Carter etching out little solos in counterpoint to Radding's bass. The finale, "Occurrences, Places, Entities and the Sea," does turn back toward avant-garde territory -- the tone grates a bit, but even here it tends to slows down, devolving into long hums. Carter has been a continual source of amazement lately, and while I suspect that his lead credit here is alphabetical -- the bass seems to be the lead instrument in much of this -- this is the first item I've heard in his name. B+
  • The Clean: Anthology (1981-96 [2003], Merge, 2 CD). A new wave band from New Zealand, their earliest work was collected on 1988's Compilation, where it sounded just fine. A 1990 album called Vehicle sounded just fine too. This recycles most of those two. On "Point That Thing Somewhere Else" they offer a long, simple instrumental, which is flat out stolen from the Velvet Underground. "Beatnik" has an organ pumping out something Doug Sahm would have approved of. "Getting Older" starts to put this together -- the VU guitars, some multitrack echo effects. By the time the first disc ends, with "At the Bottom," the instrumentals have beefed up to Feelies dimensions. "Psychedelic Ranger" is an outtake from Modern Rock, a lyric that sounds at first like Russian on top of a cartoonish melody -- reminds me a bit of Kevin Ayers, but both funkier and cornier. "Late Last Night" is another Velvets rip. "Ludwig" is just fake German with marching boots. The last album isn't well regarded, but the drop-off is minor here. Mostly because they never seemed to have much going for themselves, other than the Velvets groove, which makes them the prototype for alt-to-come. B+
  • Al Green: The Love Songs Collection (1967-2002 [2003], The Right Stuff/Hi). Ten of these 17 songs are also on the 15-cut Greatest Hits -- the five songs from the latter that didn't make the cut are: "Tired of Being Alone," "I Can't Get Next to You," "Look What You Done for Me," "Full of Fire," "Belle." The seven new cuts are: "I'm Glad You're Mine" (I'm Still in Love With You), "Wait Here" (Truth n' Time), "For the Good Times" (I'm Still in Love With You), "What Is This Feeling" (Let's Stay Together), "Guilty" (1967, Back Up Train), "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart" (Let's Stay Together), "Put It on Paper" (2002, duet on Ann Nesby's Put It on Paper). So only two of these cuts are things that I don't know. The first, "Guilty," was cut in 1967 and belatedly released as a single in 1972 by Bell. It is attributed to R. Williams, which doesn't nail it down for me. The other, "Put It on Paper," is sung by Ann Nesby (of Sounds of Blackness) in overbearing gospel style, with Green and other backing singers chipping in. It's not bad either, but the rationale for both songs is given in the booklet: "Culled from the breadth of Al Green's thirty-five-year recording career, these seventeen recordings . . . " OK, drop those two ringers and you're left with 15 cuts from 1972-1978, a six-year career. Drop "Wait Here" from Truth n' Time and you've got 14 cuts in four years max. A-
  • Al Green: Green Is Blues (1970, Right Stuff/Hi). Raw talent, but the overdone covers (e.g., "My Girl," "Get Back") aren't handled with anything approaching his future aplomb, but their ornate hookiness dwarfs lesser known material, also not handled with future aplomb. Adding more Beatles/Berry is more the same. Minor at the time, but raw talent is still something to behold. B+
  • Al Green: Gets Next to You (1970, Right Stuff/Hi). The bonuses: "Ride, Sally Ride" stomps like Wilson Pickett, "True Love" shows true Otis Redding grit, and "I'll Be Standing By" sounds a bit like, well, Al Green. Of the album proper, "Tired of Being Alone" is Green's first truly great song, and the album, even though it begs comparison to his peers (Cooke, Redding, Pickett) it's full of promise. A-
  • Al Green: Let's Stay Together (1972 [2003], Right Stuff/Hi). This kicks off with the title cut, and what you really notice there is just how loose Green is, and how loose Willie Mitchell's groove is. And while nothing else matches that hit, the filler is mostly sublime. "Old Time Lovin" isn't much of a song, but Green makes it work. "It Ain't No Fun to Me" closes out strong. Two bonus tracks: "Eli's Game" (), "Listen" (). A
  • Al Green: I'm Still in Love With You (1972 [2003], Right Stuff/Hi). This was the first Al Green album I ever heard -- I was curious, and a friend named Carol O'Halloran recommended this one as her favorite. So this is the one that I first fell in love with. The grit of Green's early albums is gone here -- he's just as smooth as can be, and the songs take their own good time to develop. Just a perfect album. Ah, first love. A+
  • John Hardee: Hardee's Partee (1946-49 [2002], Ocium). Subtitled "The Forgotten Texas Tenor." I ran across Hardee name as the writer of one of the throwback pieces on James Carter's first album, which seemed like a reference worth pursuing. Hardee's work, at least under his own name, is concentrated in this 1946-49 period, which has just become accessible under European copyright laws. (You don't expect Americans to remember their own history, now do you?) This starts off with a balad, "Tired," with beautiful tone, then does something a little more upbeat, "Blue Skies." While most of the work here is measured -- late swing with little bebop influence but a little more honky tonk -- his "River Edge Rock" is a romp in the honking tenor tradition. The cuts with Tiny Grimes Swingtet are up-tempo jams ("C Jam Blues," "Flying Home," "Tiny's Boogie Woogie"). Two vocal cuts -- one sung by Trummy Young, the other by Hardee -- neither good nor bad. Hardee is prominent on all cuts, regardless of whose name they were recorded under (Tiny Grimnes, Billy Kyle, Billy Taylor). He sounds minor to me, more like Don Byas (tone) and Illinois Jacquet (phrasing) and Arnett Cobb (just about everything) than someone who really stands on his own, but this period is fascinating, not just for swing-to-bop but perhaps even more so for swing-to-r&b, and this is worth a listen in that context. And it's pretty enjoyable on its own. Good notes and discography. A-
  • The Isley Brothers: 3 + 3 (1973 [2003], Epic/Legacy). Starts off with "That Lady" ("who's that lady?"), one of the great singles of the period -- quasi-latin beat, funky synth geared up for a lengthy instrumental in the middle. "Listen to the Music" is another first-rate piece. "Sunshine" is another bright one. "Summer Breeze" is muddled up in "the jasmine of my mind," but nobody else could lift such tripe (or be foolish enough to try), and Ernie's guitar solo carries you through. A-
  • Medeski, Martin & Wood: Friday Night in the Universe (1994 [1995], Gramavision). They developed into a pretty good funk band, but this relatively early effort doesn't clearly resolve itself -- some organ funk, some piano, some things that might be worth salvaging (there's a best-of on the shelf here somewhere). B
  • William Parker: Testimony (1994 [1995], Zero In). Weighing in over 78 minutes, this is bound to be too long -- I mean, the occasional bass solo can be nice, but anything approaching 10 minutes is likely to challenge our attention spans, and anything in excess of an hour is bound to be ridiculous. But here we go: "Sonic Animation" (22:58, mostly arco, it actually has a sort of hypnotic effect, gently sawing back and forth around an inscrutable melody; so far, so good); "Testimony" (11:22, dedicated to Beb Guerin, an unfamiliar French bassist who has worked with Dave Burrell, Grachan Moncur III, Sonny Sharrock, Archie Shepp, Clifford Thornton; carefully picked out, with some clicks for percussive contrast; the piece is well settled in the lower register, thoughtful, vibrant); "Light #3" (3:51, by contrast this piece is very high-pitched, so much so that the instrument can generate very little volume); "Dedication" (15:38, "for Charles Clark -- 1945-1969; for Albert Stinson -- 1945-1969"; again, mostly bowed, highly concentrated and thoughtful; toward the end this runs through several series of swaying, sawing sequences); "The 2nd Set" (24:09; gee, that slipped by fast). Not what I'd call difficult at all -- eminently listenable, often interesting, occasionally fascinating. B+
  • William Parker: Compassion Seizes Bed-Stuy (1995 [1996], Homestead). Top of front cover, beside "William Parker", has the words "In Order to Survive." Explains inside: "The music on this CD is the third part of a sound trilogy. The first part 'In Order to Survive' is music for sextet. The second part 'Testimony' is music for solo bass. They all speak about embracing and making a commitment to life in its highest partial. . . . It is through poetry and vision that life is discovered; discovered, and then altered. The premise was to start a human revolution. To bring dreams closer to present day reality. The music called Jazz is less than 100 years old; too young to repeat itself. We as a society have only progressed technically during these years. There is a lack of respect for life that is called style. Driven by greed, selfishness, and arrogance. We still practice capitalism, imperialism, racism, and sexism. These concepts are the main reasons for the deterioration of America. What has trickled down is mass ignorance, lack of concern and severe blindness mixed with inflated egos. There is a total loss of memory as to how America was born. That is, by the genocide of the Native Americans. How can we ever make that one right?" Quartet: Parker (bass), Susie Ibarra (drums), Rob Brown (alto sax), Cooper Moore (piano). Songs (all credited to Parker): 1. "Compassion" (10:38, starts with bass, the other instruments -- Brown last -- inching into play); 2. "Malcolm's Smile" (8:44, notable effort from Moore on piano, along with smeared lines from Brown); 3. "For Robeson" (5:41); 4. "Holiday for Hypocrites" (8:10, excellent piano here); 5. "Testimony of the Last Flower" (0:37); 6. "Dejenos en Paz" (8:05, this is coming along nicely, much activity by all); 7. "Unrestricted (for Julius Hemphill)" (5:42); 8. "Goggles" (10:53, a much more orderly piece, with piano comping behind sax, at least until Parker takes a bass solo); 9. "The Eye of the Window" (9:59, Browns pulls out his Coltrane chops, which are slightly at odds with the more avant band). Verdict: I still have a lot more Parker to get to, but this relatively early set seems masterful to me. A-
  • Rhythm Love and Soul (1958-81 [2003], Shout! Entertainment, 3 CD). Produced by Richard Foos -- an original founder of reissue giant Rhino Records -- along with Garson Foos and T.J. Lubinsky. Comes in an old-fashioned box, with three separate CD packages, the plastic insert, and the tall format booklet. Maybe half the songs are by giants capable of sustaining their own compilations (and at least one, James Brown, has managed to sustain a 4-CD box). But the other half are fluke hits by minor artists, and while they are all listed as singles, no effort has been made to justify them by chart position. It's possible that even I don't have 1/3 of them. Some go back to the late doo-wop era (Platters, Flamingos, Drifters), and a couple drift into the disco era, but most are 1963-74. A
  • The Rough Guide to Global Dance ([2000], World Music Network). Smadj: "Isotropie" (Tunisia/France); Jazzanova: "Caravelle" (Germany); Tony Allen: "Get Together" (Nigeria); Frédéric Galliano presents the African Divas: "Kafo Fité" (France/Africa); Sidestepper: "Maine" (UK/Colombia); Suba: "Samba Do Gringo Paulista" (Brazil); TJ Rehmi: "The Fusionist" (UK/India); Tosca: "Boss on the Boat" (Austria); Idiot Savant: "Butter 6/4" (Denmark); Montefiori Cocktail: "Gypsy Woman" (Italy); Marcos Valle: "Bahia Blue" (Brazil); Jephté Guilllaume: "The Prayer/Acroostic Mix" (US/Haiti). B+
  • The Rough Guide to Salsa ([2000], World Music Network). Yolando Rayo: "Salsa Con Sabor" (Colombia); La Misma Gente: "El Perfume de Paris" (Colombia); Ibrahim Ferrer: "Qué Bueno Baila Usted" (Cuba); Jimmy Bosch: "La Cacharra" (Puerto Rico); Africando: "Africando" (Senegal, Puerto Rico, Benin: latin rhythms have long played an important role in Senegal, so this afro-salsa conglomeration is a natural, and it flows almost indistinguishably from the preceding); Plena Libre: "Mañana por la Mañana" (Puerto Rico); Nava: "Cuando Se Ama" (Puerto Rico); Johnny Polanco y Su Conjunto Amistad: "La Receta" (New York/Puerto Rico); Orquesta Guayacán: "Vas a Llorar" (Colombia); Leo Vanelli: "Porque Duele" (Panama); Truco & Zaperoko: "Vamonos Pa'l Carnaval" (Puerto Rico); Septeto Nacional Ignacio Piñeiro: "La Chica de la Calle Madrid" (Cuba); Conjunto Casino: "Esta en Candela Mi Son" (Cuba); Jose Alberto "El Canario": "La Flor de la Canela" (Dominican). Hard to comment individually. This seems to be uniformly first rate, but salsa still strikes me as too compressed -- the rhythm is fast, the horns pound, it all just sort of pushes together. As samplers go, this is I'm sure first rate. But it's not compelling enough to put it over the top. B+
  • Archie Shepp: Attica Blues (1972 [2003], Impulse). The title track is an urgent, furious piece of gospel -- his big band of jazz vanguardists (some of the more famous names are Clifford Thornton, Marion Brown, Leroy Jenkins, Lakshinarayana Shankar, and Beaver Harris) provides a vibrant undertow to the vocal fury. Then we get 18 seconds of William Kunstler, reading William G. Harris' "Invocation." "Steam Part 1" is more of a hymn. A second "Invocation to Mr. Parker" is narrated by Bartholomew Gray, with Marion Brown on flute and percussion and Jimmy Garrison on bass. A second part to "Steam" then wafts in, with Brown's vamboo flute, Shepp's sax, the violins, Cornell Dupree's guitar, and Jimmy Garrison on bass; then finally the vocal by Joe Lee Wilson resumes. Second side opens with "Blues for Brother George Jackson." Kunstler does another narration. "Quiet Dawn" closes on a slightly elegiac note -- the awkward vocals on top of a calm, rolling piece of considerable musical strength. Shepp's record represents an interesting juncture between the jazz avant-garde and populist soul music (presumably what Gil Scott-Heron was trying to do, although I've never bought into that). A-
  • The Essential Sly & the Family Stone (1967-75 [2003], Epic/Legacy, 2 CD). The usual Rx here is Greatest Hits, which reduced four good albums to one great one, and There's a Riot Goin' On, which was both very different and needed no reduction. Optional was Fresh, another real good one. Later sets that tried to tie everything together, such as Anthology, inevitably wound up weaker than the sum of their parts. But with two discs to fill, this set comes close to following the traditional formula. The first disc has all 12 cuts from Greatest Hits, plus 2 from A Whole New Thing: "Underdog" (), "I Cannot Make It" (); 1 from Dance to the Music: "Are You Ready?" (); 1 from Life: "Love City" (); and 2 from Stand!: "Don't Call Me Nigger, Whitey" (quid pro quo: "don't call me whitey, nigger," but dig that bass), "Somebody's Watching You" (ordinary). The second disc starts with Riot, omitting only three songs: "Africa Talks to You" (), "Time" (), "Spaced Cowboy" (). Then it includes about half of Fresh, omitting: "Let Me Have It All" (), "Thankful N' Thoughtful" (), "I Don't Know (Satisfaction)" (), "Keep on Dancin'" (), "Que Sera, Sera" (a major omission). Sly went to pot after that, so Finally, we get 2 cuts from Small Talk, 1 from High on You, and 0 from Heard Ya Missed Me, Well I'm Back. Nor did they go after either of the Warner Bros. albums. I still think the old standbys are the best way to go, but this lends greater unity to Sly's career, and that's worth thinking about. A-
  • Lucinda Williams: World Without Tears (2003, Lost Highway). Her writing is as economical as ever, and the production is fastidious. Her singing is still rough and fractured (and it seems more so each time out), and her main squeezes these days are her guitars. But I'm not sure how much thought (as opposed to brains and talent, no problems there) has really gone into these bleak little short stories. For one thing, it's not true that "everything's wrong," and her examples are so stereotyped as to be dismissable. But most of this is fine, really. A-

Saturday, April 26, 2003

The following is an old (September 24, 1979) letter from the Village Voice, written by Laura Tillem in response to an essay by Ellen Willis (whose rejoinder follows). This came up because Laura will be giving a little speech at a town hall type meeting tomorrow, and even though some of the terminology here is a little old-fashioned, quite a bit of the substance is still germaine.

Dear Editor,

Ellen Willis implies that the only reason some Jews are ant-Zionist is that they feel sorrier for the Palestinians than for the Jews. ["The Myth of the Powerful Jew," Voice, September 3]. Well, a better reason is that it's a losing strategy, both for the Jews and for the Jewish tradition.

Sometimes I feel like Hitler did succeed in wiping out the Jews, because the ones he couldn't kill he turned into nationalist. What he really hated about the Jews was their internationalism, their lack of chauvinism. Their position made them almost immune to certain kinds of bullshit, particularly the complex of ideas bound up with "patriotism." Their internationalism was a beacon toward the future and a threat to all repressive society.

But now we have Zionism, the ultimate assimilationist trip. We have a country just like everybody else has a country. We have militaristic values, just like everybody else. We hope that no one will think us mysterious anymore. We are no longer the ones who identify with many places and are "loyal" to none. If we we're going to lay down our lives for something it will be for a country, like ordinary people.

You can argue that the role of the critical outsider was groovy but led to a lot of death for Jews. It wasn't safe. Well it ought to be clear by now that Zionism isn't safe either. As Willis shows, the Jews don't have shit for power. Anti-Semitism is on the rise everywhere it's ever existed. Israel's most powerful friends hate Jews. If things get so bad here that we have to flee, Israel is not going to be a safe haven. It isn't even a safe haven now.

The point is, bourgeois solutions are no good for the Jews. We have as much right as anybody, more right, to be wrong-headed and selfish, that's not the point. As Willis sees, as long as capitalism or other forms of hierarchical society are around, the contradictions of the class struggle will never leave the Jews alone. It's true that seeking a revolutionary solution is scary, but the bourgeois solution always looks easier, by definition. Part of the revolutionary solution is struggling against the anti-Semitism in the Arab world for the right o the Jews now in Israel to live in safety and respect in a secular (non-exclusive) state. Is that really a worse bet than struggling against the forces of socialism for the right of the Jews to have a theocratic republic in the middle of somebody else's home? Have the Jews traded in a unique tradition for some goyische concept that won't make us safe?

 Laura Tillem
Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts

Ellen Willis replies: I agree that Jewish nationalism has done more to point up the ironies of the Jewish situation than to resolve them, and that Jewish oppression will end only with a radical transformation of the social order. But I feel that Tillem does not address political reality. The question is not whether to establish a Jewish state -- that question was overtaken by events -- but whether the state that exists should be allowed to survive. Israel is a living historical, social, cultural entity. Abolishing it against the will -- and the military resistance -- of its inhabitants would entail incalculable destruction and misery that a two-state settlement could avoid. And though Israel is not a safe haven, an unsafe haven is a lot better than none.

Tillem's laudable distaste for national chauvinism is, I think, beside the point. Israel's autonomy is not being challenged by internationalists but by nationalists who want exactly what the Israelis have -- a state of their own. Yasir Arafat has made clear that he envisions this state as distinctively Arab, which means that Jews would once again be a marginal minority. Nor do I know of any socialist state that is less chauvinistic or exclusive than its capitalist fellows. I believe that genuine internationalism will be possible only when there is some practical prospect of ending material scarcity. Under present conditions, for Israel to renounce nationalism might set a noble moral example, but its only practical effect would be to inflict still more suffering on Jews.

Finally, I must (again) protest the labeling of Israel as "theocratic." Despite the political power of the religious bloc, Israeli law and the Israeli government are basically secular.

Laura suggested that I should omit Willis' reply, but while it is historically dated -- would Willis deny today that Israel is a theocracy? -- it shows some instincts that are worthy of note. First, Willis' assertion that the issue of a Jewish state was "overtaken by events" makes two assumptions that we might not really want to make: that any state where the majority of citizens are Jewish must be a Jewish state, and that once there a Jewish state has been established it cannot be changed without destruction of its Jewish citizenry. The obvious alternative would be a secular democratic state with guarantees for the personal rights of all citizens. That Israel failed to establish such a state after the UK abandoned their mandate hardly means that there is no reason for them to do so at any time in the future.

Friday, April 25, 2003

This from an article in the Guardian by George Monbiot:

Only one means of containing the US remains. It is deadly and, if correctly deployed, insuperable. It rests within the hands of the people of the United Kingdom.

Were it not for a monumental economic distortion, the US economy would, by now, have all but collapsed. It is not quite a West African basket case, but the size of the deficits and debts incurred by its profligacy would, by any conventional measure, suggest that it was in serious trouble. It survives only because conventional measures do not apply: the rest of the world has granted it an unnatural lease of life.

Almost 70% of the world's currency reserves -- the money that nations use to finance international trade and protect themselves against financial speculators -- takes the form of US dollars. The dollar is used for this purpose because it is relatively stable, it is produced by a nation with a major share of world trade, and certain commodities, in particular oil, are denominated in it, which means that dollars are required to buy them.

The US does very well from this arrangement. In order to earn dollars, other nations must provide goods and services to the US. When commodities are valued in dollars, the US needs do no more than print pieces of green paper to obtain them: it acquires them, in effect, for free. Once earned, other nations' dollar reserves must be invested back into the American economy. This inflow helps the US to finance its massive deficit.

The only serious threat to the dollar's international dominance at the moment is the euro. Next year, when the European Union acquires 10 new members, its gross domestic product will be roughly the same as that of the US, and its population 60% bigger. If the euro is adopted by all the members of the union, which suffers from none of the major underlying crises afflicting the US economy, it will begin to look like a more stable and more attractive investment than the dollar. Only one further development would then be required to unseat the dollar as the pre-eminent global currency: nations would need to start trading oil in euros.

Until last week, this was already beginning to happen. In November 2000, Saddam Hussein insisted that Iraq's oil be bought in euros. When the value of the euro rose, the country's revenues increased accordingly. As the analyst William Clark has suggested, the economic threat this represented might have been one of the reasons why the US government was so anxious to evict Saddam. But it may be unable to resist the greater danger.

I've read several variations on this -- not so much as a program for resisting US power, although more people than ever will see some need to do so -- but as a general weakness in the US economy. In the 1980s there was a lot of talk about how US domestic assets -- companies, real estate -- were being bought up by Europe and Japan as a way of recycling the US balance of payments deficits. The worry then was more about direct loss of control (e.g., Sony's media purchases). Although such purchases get less press these days, they've never really halted, and some of the largest (e.g., Daimler-Benz purchasing Chrysler, which had previously purchased American Motors) happening recently. But at this point capital has been so globalized that it's unlikely that any big company in the US (except for the small handful of privately held ones) doesn't have a substantial block of non-US stockholders. Similarly, US corporations have vast foreign investments, and have largely escaped taxation here by not repatriating profits.

It's hard to say just how vulnerable this system really is. It has long been perpetuated because it's been convenient for the international capitalist class to keep the US in business. That's only likely to change if capitalists find that it would be advantageous to themselves to change. But clearly, the new round of tax cuts, defense build-ups, economic fears, and booming deficits in the US make the dollar a less attractive investment. But it's also certainly true that if the dollar cracks investor panic will break it, and nobody's really going to see that coming until it hits us broadside. As it stands, Bush's economic policy is somewhere between extremely risky and suicidal.

Sunday, April 20, 2003

Music: Initial count 8165 rated (+17), 874 unrated (+10). I've started this entry a bit early: this will, I swear, be the last week of the Rolling Stone Record Guide work, with only five entries left -- Ani DiFranco, George Jones, Pet Shop Boys, Lou Reed, Loudon Wainwright III -- but between them them have over 100 CDs (my modest Jones collection, at 33, is obviously far from complete). Anyhow, I wanted to keep these together rather than have them wrap across two weeks, so here it is. Hopefully, this will go so fast that I'll be able to finally get to some new stuff, not to mention the new old stuff that's been piling up lately.

  • Ani DiFranco (1990, Righteous Babe). This is very primitive, and she's nowhere near ready for prime time, but she's got a way with words that will server her well. Her guitar, though, is barely a prop, and the most striking piece here is the one where she puts it down and just spits out her poetry. "Lost Woman Song" is about crossing picket lines to enter an abortion clinic. "Rush Hour" is a striking song, the minimal guitar for once adding to it. B+
  • Ani DiFranco: Not So Soft (1991, Righteous Babe). The first thing I'm noticing is that she's singing better, although maybe that just means that she's more used to the microphone. "Not So Soft" is just poetry -- no guitar. On the other hand, she picks up a drum on "Roll With It," to good effect ("she says my ass hurts/when i sit down/she says my feet hurt/when i'm standing around/i think my body/is as restless as my mind/and i'm not gonna roll with it this time"). "Gratitude" ("but i don't come and go/like a pop song/you can play incessantly/and then forget once it's gone/you can't write me off/and can't write me off/and you don't/turn me on"). "The Whole Night" ("we can touch/touch our girl cheeks/and we can old hands/like paper dolls/we can try/try each other on/in the privacy/within new york city's walls/we can kiss/kiss goodnight/and we can go home wondering/what would it be like if/if i did not have a boyfriend/and we could spend/the whole night/i am waking up/in her bed/i sing 1st avenue/the open window said/ . . . /i am/headed for the kitchen/i am/thinking of her fingers/as i walk"). Moves forward a bit musically, although the singing seems a little more forced/mannered. Lyrically, it's more out. Not quite there, but she's got something. B+
  • Ani DiFranco: Imperfectly (1992, Righteous Babe). Starts with a great song, "What If No One's Watching" ("but what/what if no one's watching/what if when we're dead/we are just dead/what if there's no time to lose/what if there's things we gotta do/things that need to be said"), and the sound jumps up several quantum levels, with drums and bass and Ani's fiercest guitar attack to date. "Fixing Her Hair" starts with a guitar instrumental, and has a little mandolin in the background as she sings. "In or Out" ("it's Mr. DiFranco to you"; "i've got spots/i've got stripes too"; "to me what's mor eimportant/is the person that i bring/not just getting to the same restaurant/and eating the same thing") -- oft cited as her out-bisexual sound. "Every State Line" ("every state line/there's a new set of laws/and every police man/comes equipped with extended claws/there's a thousand shades of white/and a thousand shades of black/but the same rule always applies/smile pretty and watch your back"; "he said baby do you like to fool around/baby do you like to be touched/i said maybe some other time/fuck you very much") -- this is sung acapella, with some vocal overdubs; reminds me of Janis Joplin's "Mercedes Benz" -- very different song, but same presence. "Circle of Light" picks up a little trumpet. "If It Isn't Her" (just guitar, quirky, "i have been playing/too many of them boy-girl games/she says honey you are safe here/this is a girl-girl thing"). "Good Bad Ugly." "I'm No Heroine" ("i just hope somewhere/some woman hears my music/and it helps her through her day"). "Coming Up" (multitracked voice, "this country is too large/and whoever's in charge up there/had better take the elevator down/and put more than change/in our cup or else we/are coming/up"). "Make Them Apologize" (guitar and drums). A-
  • Ani DiFranco: Puddle Dive (1993, Righteous Babe). Cover is tinted yellow, fake-colored; Ani is head-shaved, at least up to a scarf/band with disordered hair behind it. The effect is to look racially ambiguous. Booklet has lyrics, but hand-lettered, harder to read, so I'll probably quote less. "Names and Dates and Times" kicks off hard, with Andy Stochansky on drums, others on harmonica, bass, accordion. "Willing to Fight" ("you got to look outside your eyes/you got to think outside your brain/you got to walk outside your life/to where the neighborhood changes"). "Egos Like Hairdos" ("we've got egos like hairdos/they're diferent every day/depending on how we slept the night before/depending on the demons that are at our door"). "Back Around" is if anything a jazz piece. "My IQ" has a little background organ, which Ani ad libs over ("i've got highways for stretch marks/see where i've grown"; "for every lie i unlearn/i learn something new"). "Used to You" (lyric refers to "take a puddle dive", what does that mean?). "Pick Your Nose" ("all these plastic people/got plastic surgery"; "how come i can pick my ears/but not my nose/who made up that rule anyway/how can you say that's the way it is"). "God's Country" picks up a little harmonica. A-
  • Ani DiFranco: Like I Said (Songs 1990-91) (1993, Righteous Babe). Her first two albums were so lo-fi, her guitar barely a prop, it's not surprising that she figured she could do them better now that she's learned a bit about the studio and can afford a little help. "Not So Soft," which was just recited on the second album, is now sung over percussion. "Roll With It" has, uh, horns, or maybe a synth doing horns, or maybe a sample. B+
  • Ani DiFranco: Out of Range (1994, Righteous Babe). Booklets are getting harder to ready. Looks like this is almost all done with three-piece band (drums, bass, Ani). "Letter to a John" has to do with lap-dancing. "Face Up and Sing" is one that really jumps out. (Yes, not paying enough attention as I'm playing this -- got, like, other work to do too.) Haven't been getting a real strong feel on this record. One thing is that the music is much more complex and subtle than ever before, which has the effect of toning down the raw attack. The finale, "The Diner," is good. Christgau comments that he thinks she's "distracted by piano, accordion, even horns from her lithe sound." Could be, or could just be that I haven't paid enough attention in this rush round. But I previously had this at B+, and haven't heard anything to suggest that that's not right. B+
  • Ani DiFranco: Not a Pretty Girl (1995, Righteous Babe). Again, with time limited this has been slipping by while I've been doing other things. The songs tend to be slower, but the music is still distinctive. A-
  • Ani DiFranco: Dilate (1996, Righteous Babe). First song is a ballad, "Untouchable Face," which goes "so fuck you/and your untouchable face/fuck you/for existing in the first place/and who am i/that i should be vying for your touch/who am i/bet you can't even tell me that much." Ah, love. The next prominent use of "fuck" is in "Napoleon," as in "you're a fucking Napoleon." "Shameless" works up a hard funk groove; fierce words, too, but the music is the most striking. "Going Down" is mostly a drum piece, and I think they're synthetic. A-
  • Ani DiFranco: More Joy, Less Shame (1996, Righteous Babe, EP). Four remixes of "Joyful Girl" (from Dilate), one of "Shameless" (also from Dilate), and a live take of "Both Hands" (from Ani DiFranco). Cover picture shows her in a dress (a first, I think), looking dark and fuzzy. The first "danger and uncertainty mix" is yer basic trip hop track. The other mixes are less distinct, and none are distinctly Ani. The "bathtub mix" of "Shameless" is done with a little girl voice and a beat that I'm only guessing qualifies as drum & bass. It loses all of the immediacy of the original, without quite elevating itself to pure confection. B
  • Ani DiFranco: Living in Clip (1997, Righteous Babe, 2 CD). The three-piece band: bass and drums and chick singer/guitarist. She won her crowd over with almost constant touring, and she brings enough extra to the stage to put the whole package over. Some of these songs are old enough that she's learned some new tricks on them; others are merely familiar. Big cheer on the line from "I'm No Heroine." Big reinterpretation on "Amazing Grace." Is "Out of Range" just guitar, or is she playing so loud that you can't hear the drums? The booklet is a photo album. A-
  • Ani DiFranco: Little Plastic Castle (1998, Righteous Babe). The title cut starts off with horns -- a sort of Mexican riff, sounds great, actually -- and when she sings "you are by far the cutest" the intonation isn't what you expect from Ani; it sounds, well, carefully measured, drawn just right, like she's becoming a chanteuse. "Fuel" is full of wondrous things, "now that lynching is frowned upon/and we've moved on to the electric chair," "i wonder who's gonna be president, tweedle dum or tweedle dummer?" "Gravel" is more typical. "Deep Dish" brings the horns back, in something that sounds a wee bit like a cha-cha -- whatever, it's a hoot. "Pulse," a long piece with its trance drums and Jon Hassell's subdued trumpet, closes the affair elegantly. She's been moving toward fancier music for years, but such music always runs the risk of losing what made her distinctive in the first place -- above all, her attack. Still, this works remarkably well. A-
  • Ani DiFranco: Up Up Up Up Up Up (1999, Righteous Babe). "'Tis of Thee" is a pointed ballad, about class. B+
  • Ani DiFranco: To the Teeth (1999, Righteous Babe). "Freakshow" may make me recant and concede that she's a punk -- "you need a lot of love and compliance." The bass is jazzy, but the rhythm has a dash of hardcore ska, and the vocals are, well, punk. "Going Once" is a jazz ballad -- at first she sounds like a coy interpreter, but that straightens out quickly enough. Even get a rap on "Swing" (Corey Parker does the rap, while Maceo Parker blows). B+
  • Ani DiFranco: Swing Set (2000, Righteous Babe, EP). The "Swing" remixes are good. The cover of "Do Re Mi" is a revelation; Dylan's "Hurricane" is more of a mess, and I've already forgotten about the Phil Ochs song. B+
  • Ani DiFranco: Revelling / Reckoning (2001, Righteous Babe, 2 CD). This is a sprawling mess, but at first blush it has some music of interest; harder to tell about the lyrics, none of which really jump out. The first disc, Revelling, uses a lot of horns and tends to be funky, but that's only part of it. To my mind, the most attractive thing is the instrumental at the end, "Beautiful Night." It would take a lot more effort to sort it all out, and it's not immediately clear that it would be worthwhile to do so. Which isn't the same as saying that she's washed up or anything like that -- it's just too damn obscure, and that has never been her problem before. Reckoning is a long, slow side of ballads. "Your Next Bold Move" is anticapitalist critique ("what a waste of thumbs that are opposable/to make machines that are disposable/and sell them to seagulls flying in circles/around one big right wing"), but the counterstrategizing isn't necessarily up to snuff ("yes, the left wing was broken long ago/by the slingshot of cointelpro/and now it's so hard to have faith in/anything"). In "Sick of Me" she sings, "how sick of me/must you be/by now . . . i took to the stage/with my outrage/in the bad old days/when you were the make-me-mad guy/but the songs/they come out more slowly/now that i am the bad guy/and i say, i'm sorry i'm so crazy/i am astounded by your patience/and you say, believe it or not, baby/the joy you bring me/still outweighs it." B
  • Ani DiFranco: Evolve (2003, Righteous Babe). With its die-cut slipcase and generous booklet, this is a nice piece of packaging. When I read the lyrics to the first song I'm duly impressed, but then I recall that I just heard the song and didn't recognize any of them. What does that mean? "Here for Now" is the first thing I've heard that really jumps out for me, but the best thing about it is the horn line, then the jumpy rhythm. The guitar instrumental on "Second Intermission" is very nicely figured. (Is this a pattern, that her best pieces will henceforth be instrumentals?) "Serpentine" is a long political diatribe -- actually, it a protest song. B
  • Utah Phillips & Ani DiFranco: The Past Didn't Go Anywhere (1996, Righteous Babe). The music here is mechanical sounding drums and strummed guitar, on top of which Phillips tells his stories. Although he also gets taped and looped to generate a little forced repetition. "Folk songs are boring . . . we're going to sing this damn song together, boring or not." "Nevada City, California" -- "I'm now the ostensible owner of a new age bookstore in Nevada City, California . . . no matter how new age you get, old age is gonna kick your ass." Mesmerizing story in "Korea," about deserting and watching Marian Anderson sing for Koreans in a bombed out theatre. "Anarchy" (). "Candidacy" (no music, just words, announcing that he's running for President as an anarchist candidate on the Sloth and Indolence Party ticket). "Bum on the Rod" (just a little piano, vs. the bum on the plush). "Enormously Wealthy" ("that's dumb"); "Mess With People" (drums, stories about daughter and cockroaches). A-
  • Ani DiFranco & Utah Phillips: Fellow Workers (1999, Righteous Babe). Less techno-folk fusion, more war stories. Or rather, labor stories, but that's tough enough. Mother Jones, Joe Hill, "America was built on the backs of draft dodgers." Some singalongs. B+
  • The Best of George Jones (The Millennium Collection) (1955-62 [2000], Mercury). This 12-cut cheapo weighs out at 30:51, which would normally be criminal, but with the marginal exception of "Family Bible" everything else here is so archetypally magnificent that only the most gluttonous of experts will fail to be satisifed. Consider his first hit, "Why Baby Why" -- poor cuckolded George, complaining, "you're running wild/kicking up your heels/leaving me at home/with a handful of bills"; then he screws up his pride and plots revenge (of sorts), "I'm going honky tonkin'/get as tight as i can/and maybe then/you'll appreciate a good man"; not that he does, nor that it works, for "I caught you honky tonkin' with my best friend/the thing to do was leave you/but I should have left then/now I'm too old to leave you but I still get sore/when you come home a feeling for the knob on the door." Of course, anyone who knows anything about Jones knows this isn't just irony working here, it's stupendous bullshit, but has anyone ever managed to sing with more sheer conviction than Jones? And then it's one astonishing song after another: "Just One More," "Don't Stop the Music," "Too Much Water," "Color of the Blues," "Treasure of Love," "White Lightning," "Who Shot Sam," "Window Up Above," "Tender Years," "Achin' Breakin' Heart." Wow. A
  • George Jones: Cup of Loneliness: The Classic Mercury Years (1955-59 [1994], Mercury, 2 CD). The first disc is outstanding, starting with "No Money in This Deal" and "Why Baby Why" and closing with the J.P. Richardson classics, "White Lightning" and "Who Shot Sam"; things like "Too Much Water," "Tall Tall Trees," "Cup of Loneliness," and "I'm Gonna Burn Your Playhouse Down" are still etched in my mind, but it would be great to hear them again. The second disc is less chock full of hits, but is full of beautiful country fare, like "Out of Control" ("a life ain't worth living, when it's out of control"). A
  • George Jones: Hank, Bob & Me: The Songs of Hank Williams, Sr. & Bob Wills (1962 [2003], Fuel 2000). Fourteen cuts from Jones' two 1962 tribute albums -- not at many cuts as would fit, but I never was all that impressed with Jones' take on Bob Wills (the breakdown is 8-6 in favor of Williams). Hank Williams, of course, is a closer fit -- Jones is one of the few guys who can challenge Williams' command of high, lonesome misery, although it always seems like more of an act with Jones: he's just too robust to really be so pathetic. "Take These Chains From My Heart" certainly could've been written for Jones. B+
  • George Jones & Melba Montgomery: Vintage Collections (1963-64 [1995], Capitol). "We Must Have Been Out of Our Minds" was a #3 hit, a classic duet. "Let's Invite Them Over" went #17, and that's another story: about mate-swapping, in fact. "What's in Our Heart" went to #20; "Please Be My Love" to #31; "Multiply the Heartaches" to #25. Montgomery was a raw singer, with a deep country accent, and a relatively deep voice, which Jones could sing over, under, or all around. Pappy Daily produced, and there's a lot of bluegrass here -- "Rollin' in My Sweet Baby's Arms," "Blue Moon of Kentucky." "Flame in My Heart" is a real good Jones song. A-
  • The Best of George Jones (1955-1967) (1955-67 [1991], Rhino). A
  • George Jones: A Picture of Me / Nothing Ever Hurt Me (1972-73 [1998], Koch). Two Epic albums, produced by Billy Sherrill. A Picture of Me is wall-to-wall ballads. Nothing Ever Hurt Me starts to pick up the pace a bit, with the title cut and "You're Looking at a Happy Man" classic up-tempo Jones fare, but it too settles into a long string of ballads. Jones is, of course, a great balladeer, and most of this is impeccably solid work. A-
  • George Jones: The Battle / Memories of Us (1975-76 [1998], Koch). Two more Epic albums. "The Battle" is the occasion for some fancy producing, the lament of a thug who melts when faced with his enemies tears. More ballads, but "The Nightime (And My Baby)" is faster, as is the excellent "I'll Come Back." From "Billy Ray Wrote a Song": "well we did a lot of thinking/most of my thoughts were wrong." "I Still Sing the Old Songs" is a prayerful "south will rise again" song, heavy chorus, rather perversely touching. "Touch of Wildnerness" is string-laden, a little heavy. "What I Do Best" is one of his best pathetic songs: "they say every man has given talents/but if hurtin' is a talent then I know that I've been blessed/oh, missing you just seems to come so natural/and I guess I finally found what I do best." After another real slow one, "Have You Seen My Chicken" is an oddball barnyard piece, albeit not a great one, although the production touches are clever. Overall, lots of ballads, a few others. The Battle is pretty good; Memories of Us less so. B+
  • George Jones: All-Time Greatest Hits, Volume 1 (1977, Epic). "Produced by Billy Sherrill" is your first clue -- these are remakes. Chronologically, the original singles were: "Why Baby Why" (1955-10-29, Starday), "White Lightnin'" (1959-03-09, Mercury), "The Window Up Above" (1960-11-07, Mercury), "Tender Years" (1961-06-10, ), "She Thinks I Still Care" (1962-04-14), "The Race Is On" (1964-09-26), "Walk Through This World With Me" (1967-01-21), "I'll Share My World With You" (1969-03-29), "She's Mine" (1969-11-15). That leaves "My Favorite Lies" unaccounted for (appeared on a Hollywood album, reissued by Rounder, also on a King compilation). Great songs, of course, but if you want a rule of thumb, the further the song goes back, the weaker these versions are compared to the originals (cf. "Why Baby Why"). On the other hand, they're not without interest: Sherrill's arrangements are relatively spare, and Jones has developed even further as a singer. This "The Window Up Above," in particular, is definitive. This was a quickie back then, and at ten cuts it seems real cheap right now. B+
  • George Jones & Tammy Wynette: Greatest Hits (1972-77 [1989], Epic). Both of them were world class singers, and being married, one assumed the sex appeal. This has three #1 singles ("We're Gonna Hold On," "Golden Ring," and "Near You") -- side note: from 1971-75, Jones had two #1 and 10 top-ten singles in his own name, vs. three #1 and 8 top-ten with Tammy -- but the most interesting things are a pair of novelties, "(We're Not) The Jet Set" (later on John Prine's duets album) and "God's Gonna Get'Cha," both funny, the latter riotous. On the other hand, "Southern California" is pretty fake-tearjerky, and "Let's Build a World Together" is just icky. I rather doubt that any of Jones' female duets worked all that well, perhaps because he never seemed like the sort of guy who'd care enough about being a husband to bring any commitment to it (that line about loving her like a child loves his mother is perhaps a little too revealing). The Melba Montgomery duets sort of worked because she could be as corny and comical as he was. The only reason these work as well as they do is because Tammy's as full of shit as George is. It wasn't a match made in heaven, but it sold a lot of records for Epic. Note that all 10 cuts are repeated on 16 Biggest Hits. B+
  • George Jones & Tammy Wynette: Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 (1972-80 [1992], Epic). The hits were mostly disposed of in Vol. 1; of what's left only two were singles, and those were released well after the fact, in 1980 ("Two Story House" hit #2, "A Pair of Old Sneakers" one of Jones' transcendent ballads. "Something to Brag About" is another funny little Bobby Braddock song. "Someone I Used to Know" is a recycled classic. Braddock's "Did You Ever" is another one, one innuendo after another. Only the finale, "The World Needs a Memory," seems spurious. A-
  • George Jones & Tammy Wynette: Super Hits (1971-80 [1995], Epic). Five cuts from Vol. 1, five from Vol. 2; not the best five in either case, but far from the worst five. Which overall makes it better than Vol. 1 and pretty even with Vol. 2. Which means that to be at all consistent the grade pretty much has to be the same. A-
  • George Jones & Tammy Wynette: 16 Biggest Hits (1971-80 [1999], Epic/Legacy). With the two volumes of Greatest Hits weighing in at 10 short cuts each, this is almost a bargain. This has all 10 cuts from the first, but just three from the second, plus three more cuts: "There's Power in Our Love" (so-so), "Keep the Change" (troubled, skillful), "Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms" (well, sure). So while it obviates the first, the (imho superior) second still has a lot to offer. A-
  • George Jones: My Very Special Guests (1978-79, Epic). A quickie duets album, barely 30 minutes including recycled "Bartender's Blues," a James Taylor song/duet that was a hit the year before. I've never viewed Jones much as an interpretive singer, but "Nite Life" (with Waylon Jennings) is pretty sharp work. "I Gotta Get Drunk" (with Willie Nelson) is less interesting, perhaps because it's easier to knock off. Johnny Paycheck on "Proud Mary" is similarly lightweight. But "Stranger in the House," with promising country neophyte Elvis Costello, is impressive, not least for the guest's contrastingly simple voice. More fun with Dr. Hook and the Staples. B+
  • George Jones: I Am What I Am (1980 [2000], Epic/Legacy). One of his best, led off with "He Stopped Loving Her Today," with 3-4 other first-rate songs ("I've Aged Twenty Years in Five," "If Drinkin' Don't Kill Me (Her Memory Will)," "His Lovin' Her Is Gettin' in My Way," "I'm the One She Missed Him With Today." In this company, "Good Hearted Woman" and "Bone Dry" are just quallity filler. Four bonus cuts. Pretty good ones. A-
  • George Jones: Anniversary: Ten Years of Hits (1972-82 [1982], Epic). This originally came out in 1982 as a 2-LP set, and as such this is where I got to know George Jones first. It is, of course, all Billy Sherrill-produced, but with Sherrill the earlier the better. This is actually rather samey -- lots of ballads, strings, mopey songs. But its evenness is elevated by Jones singing, which is always superb. A line from "Good Ones and Bad Ones": "a good one will love you till death you do part/and a bad one will make sure you go first." No yabba-dabba-do, but this hardly needs it. A
  • George Jones: First Time Live! (1987, Epic). Claimed to be the first live country LP ever, not that that's much of a claim in its own right. (Ernest Tubb's great Live 1965 came out much later, and of course more older shows have been uncovered.) This of course is fairly lightweight -- a pretty short set (although Jones has been known to make shorter appearances), leading off with a thing called "No Show Jones," and cutting through familiar material. "The Window Up Above" has never sounded better, and the closing "She's My Rock" is quite solid. Sound is good. Some patter and crowd noise. B
  • George Jones: Super Hits (1972-85 [1987], Epic). Ten cut cheapie: the 1977 remakes of "White Lightnin'," "Why Baby Why," and "The Window Up Above," plus seven Epic hits that are so obvious I won't bother listing them. It's all great, but he hardly needs such concision. A-
  • George Jones: Super Hits, Vol. 2 (1972-88 [1993], Epic). Another ten cut cheapie. One more remake, "She Thinks I Still Care." The other cuts are less obvious, but "Still Doin' Time" is one of his best, and "Radio Lover" is another. A-
  • George Jones: 16 Biggest Hits (1972-88 [1998], Epic/Legacy). First two are good, from good albums, but there's a whole lot of Billy Sherrill in what follows -- "The Door" is one of his most overwrought productions. On the other hand, "He Stopped Loving Her Today" is every bit as overwrought, and it's magnificent, so go figure. The strings keep coming until "She's My Rock." The Elvis/Fred Flintstone thing, "The King Is Dead," is pretty good. "Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes," is, like, not really George's problem, now is it? There's a lot of junk here. I suspect that a random number generator could pick a better set of Epic-era Jones, but I'm less sure that Billy Sherrill could. [Postscript: played it again, and this time I recognized everything; and while I still think that "Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes" is beneath him -- a clever little piece that should belong to someone not capable of filling those shoes -- Jones' singing on all this Sherrill dreck is magnificent, indeed that seems to be the point of dreck and all.] A-
  • George Jones: Love Songs (1972-86 [2003], Epic/Legacy). The Willie Nelson entry in this ill-conceived series is downright awful. However, anything that starts with "A Picture of Me (Without You)" and ends with "He Stopped Loving Her Today" has to be a good deal better than that. But note that neither of those are happy-ever-afters. But while heartbreak, futility, and resignation are most of what Jones has to say about love, he's usually willing to try harder, and he can wax eloquent. "I Always Get Lucky With You" is a terrific song here. "Loving You Could Never Be Better" has a tiny bass and bare drums, the song carried by Jones' voice until it picks up in a crescendo: an astonishing piece. Nothing here really disappoints, and while the music and arrangements are rarely notable, Jones sings through them with majestic conviction. And in the finale the music finally rises to his level, and he tops it anyway. B+
  • George Jones: One Man Woman (1989, Epic). Title song is well known/good; so is the Elvis Presley/Fred Flintstone one. Even better is "Radio Lover" -- sounds rather familiar, but it originated here. "Just Out of Reach" is classic. "Writing on the Wall" is quite good. Solid all around album. B+
  • The Spirit of Country: The Essential George Jones (1955-88 [1994], Epic/Legacy, 2 CD). Career-spanning, at least until that career up and left Epic. Two singles from Starday, five from Mercury, three from United Artists, five from Musicor -- those fifteen, which overlaps Rhino's The Best of George Jones quite a bit, were all produced by Pappy Daily. The rest of the cuts come from Epic, and were produced by Billy Sherrill. The usual breakdown between the two is that Daily let Jones be his honky tonk self, while Sherrill tried to turn him countrypolitan. The facts are a little messier. Daily cuts like "The Window Up Above" and "Tender Years" are flooded with backing choruses, but Jones simply blows them away. And on "A Good Year for the Roses," Daily adds strings to the choruses, but Jones had by then developed into a phenomenal baladeer. Two cuts with Tammy on the first disc, "The Ceremony," perfunctory, and "We're Gonna Hold On" (already?), but also some good ballads. The second disc starts with "The Door" -- not my favorite, but an ambitious piece. Three more songs with Tammy, from "Golden Ring" to "Two Story House." James Taylor's help on "Bartender's Blues" just steadies Jones, who brings it home. "Her Name Is" has a clever little guitar frill to signify blanks to be filled in later. "He Stopped Loving Her Today," not merely magnificent, but perhaps the best use of strings ever in country music. Nothing special with Johnny Paycheck, but reminds me that I liked Double Trouble more than my B rating might suggest -- while the album was mostly routine rockers, I would've picked "When You're Ugly Like Us" (or maybe "Along Came Jones"). "If Drinkin' Don't Kill Me (Her Memory Will)" is perhaps an overdone drinking trope, but "Still Doin' Time" ("in a honky tonk prison") comes from the same vein, and it's one of his great ones. The Merle Haggard duet on a Willie Nelson song is good, of course. But "I Always Get Lucky With You" is flat-out beautiful, even if you feel like beating the strings down with a stick. Who's bright idea was it to get Ray Charles to sing "I Didn't See a Thing"? Cute novelty piece -- seems to me that there should be more like that. First disc is near-definitive; second is typical. A
  • George Jones: Walls Can Fall (1992, MCA). Sez Robert Christgau: "His problem wasn't authenticity -- it was Billy Sherrill." This one's produced by Emory Gordy Jr. Kicks off with the uppity "I Don't Need Your Rocking Chair." "Walls Can Fall" is a good ballad; "Don't Send Me No Angels" ("cause I got my own") is even better. "Drive Me to Drink" is equally good. "Wrong's What I Do Best" may be the best thing on the album. The last four songs are all good. Clearly one thing here is that someone (Jones credits Renee Bell) took some time to find much better than average songs. (And the only real familiar ones are "There's the Door" and "The Bottle Let Me Down.") Secondly, there's two fiddles but no orchestra here. Closes with "Finally Friday" ("it's finally Friday/I'm out of control/ . . . /let the good times roll"). A-
  • George Jones: High-Tech Redneck (1993, MCA). Produced by Buddy Cannon and Norro Wilson. Title cut is an OK upbeat number. Following are a few of those ballads, of which "The Love in Your Eyes" is pretty good. "Silent Partners" is good. More ballads. The Sammy Kershaw duet "Never Bit a Bullet Like This" is a slightly annoying rocker. B
  • George Jones & Tammy Wynette: One (1995, MCA). "One" is an overorchestrated ballad, but "It's an Old Love Thing" is a kick once you get past its fictions, and Jones gets in a little growl that'll catch you aback. "What Ever Happened to Us" is another slow one. More ballads, then "If Got Met You" ("she wouldn't like you . . . five minutes of your bull/and she'd unleash her wrath"). Merle Haggard's "Solid as a Rock" is another solid one: "we built our love to last/like ol' Henry Ford builds cars." At this stage there's no real chemistry here, but they're such pros that they make this look easy. The ballads are artful, and the novelties blow them away. And this is about as unmistakbaly country-sounding a record as was released in the '90s. B+
  • George Jones: It Don't Get Any Better Than This (1998, MCA). Produced by Buddy Cannon and Norro Wilson. Starts off with another good ballad, "Wild Irish Rose," with a spoken bit. "Small Y'all" uses Jones' jokester drawl for some clever moralizing. "Over You" is a Bobby Braddock ballad, worked heavily, milked for all it's worth. "It Don't Get Any Better Than This" has brief vocal turns from Cash, Nelson, Hag, Waylon, and Bobby Bare, on top of hoedown fiddle. "Smack Dab"'s protagonist has better things to do than answer the President's call. "Don't Touch Me" is an average ballad. "Got to Get to Louisiana" adds some spice, with a T. Graham Brown vocal. "When Did You Stop Lovin' Me" is a better ballad. "No Future for Me in Our Past" is another pretty good ballad. Too bad the last cut, "I Can Live Forever," goes to heaven -- swatched in eternal strings. Probably his best since Walls Can Fall. Close call. B+
  • The Best of George Jones Volume 2: The '90s (The Millennium Collection) (1991-98 [2002], MCA Nashville). These twelve cuts only run 36:35, not much longer than Vol. 1, which picked twelve from 1955-62. Three cuts from Walls Can Fall -- his best from the period. Three from High Tech Redneck -- probably the worst, but I can't complain about "The Love in Your Eyes." This leans a bit on guest vocalists -- Sammy Kershaw on "Never Bit a Bullet Like This," Tammy Wynette on "One," everyone who's anyone on "It Don't Get Any Better Than This," and a whole generation still trying to get there on "I Don't Need Your Rockin' Chair." "Love Bug" is a bright remake from The Bradley Barn Sessions. "Honky Tonk Song" reprises a few good lines from "She Drives Me to Drink." I would've picked this a bit differently, but the reconstructed, sobered-up and dried-out Jones of the '90s has been at least as consistent as, oh, Alan Jackson in his prime. The competing The George Jones Collection (which I haven't heard) also has just 12 songs, including eight duplicates with this one, and at least one of the missing ("Wild Irish Rose") is missed here. B+
  • George Jones: Cold Hard Truth (1999, Asylum). Consider a couple of lines from "Choices": I've had choices since the day I was born/there were voices that told me right from wrong/if I had listened i wouldn't be here today/living and dying with the choices that I've made." Sounds like George's key to longevity was a lifetime of booze and battery and cocaine and crap, doesn't it? I mean, those are the choices that he made. And consider the moral relativism of "Sinners & Saints": "the only thing different in sinners and saints/one is forgiven and the other one ain't." He pitches woo in "The Real Deal," ("he ain't nothing but a cheap thrill/he can't love you like I will"), and you scratch your head. Of course, he sounds utterly sincere -- he's not merely a good liar, he reveals truth as unselfconsciously as a monarch who always finds the red carpet magically appear with every step. "You Never Know Just How Good You've Got It": what a great song, and did you notice that little growl that he slips in like it was nothing, when you know damn good and well that no one else could do it? A-
  • George Jones: Live With the Possum (1999, Asylum). Pretty much a rerun of the 1987 First Time Live, starting with "No Show Jones," featuring a medley, etc. Jones is as confused as ever intersong, and the crowd is more hepped than ever. The instrumental "Orange Blossom Special" is the sort of filler live albums often skip over. The finale "He Stopped Loving Her Today" is gorgeous, but the crowd interferes. In fact, the adulatory crowd is the dominant presence here. In a courtroom we'd just stipulate that fact and move on to real matters. B-
  • George Jones: The Rock: Stone Cold Country 2001 (2001, Bandit/BNA). New label, and two new producers as well as Emory Gordy Jr. "The Rock" is prototypical Jones fare -- beleaguered long-supportive husband ("your rock") finally gives up and rolls on. "Beer Run" is a duet with Garth Brooks. "50,000 Names" a slobbery war dead memoir, beautiful, of course. Nothing great here, but Jones can elevate even average trash, so as long as he can keep the rotten meat at bay it seems like he'll be able to do this forever. B+
  • Pet Shop Boys: Please (1986, EMI America). Album: #3 UK, #7 US. "Two Divided by Zero" (good concept, unexceptional music); "West End Girls" (their big hit); "Opportunities (Let's Make Lots of Money)" (a single, supposedly an anti-Thatcher satire, but you could turn it into a Reagan campaign commercial); "Love Comes Quickly" (another single); "Suburbia" (another single); "Tonight Is Forever" (); "Violence" (); "I Want a Lover" (); "Later Tonight" (); "Why Don't We Live Together" (). A-
  • Pet Shop Boys: Disco (1986, EMI America). Album: #15 UK, #95 US. "In the Night" (Arthur Baker remix, first appeared here; this sounds pretty indistinct to me); "Suburbia" (Julian Mendelsohn remix of early single); "Opportunities" (Ron Dean Miller and the Latin Rascals remix); "Paninaro" (Pet Shop Boys and David Jacob remix, first appeared here; something about Versace); "Love Comes Quickly" (Shep Pettibone remix); "West End Girls" (Shep Pettibone remix). The good songs are still good. But the whole series is kind of dubious, and it has to get better than this to matter. B
  • Pet Shop Boys: Actually (1987, EMI America). Album: #2 UK, #25 US. "One More Chance" (); "What Have I Done to Deserve This?" (Dusty Springfield); "Shopping" (); "Rent" (); "Hit Music" (); "It Couldn't Happen Here" (music by Ennio Morricone, beautiful, clever piece); "It's a Sin" (); "I Want to Wake Up" (); "Heart" (); "King's Cross" (). A
  • Pet Shop Boys: Actually / Further Listening 1987-1988 (1987-88 [2001], Parlophone, 2 CD). In the further listening, "You Know Where You Went Wrong" is a very good one -- lots of things happening there. Great disco mix of "It's a Sin" -- the thunderclaps and swoops and all. The later cuts include two mixes of "Always on My Mind," from Introspective. A-
  • Pet Shop Boys: Introspective (1988, EMI America). Album: #2 UK, #34 US. Songs: "Left to My Own Devices" (one of their major songs; disco beat, with synths climbing and falling; ends in a little thunderstorm; "I was faced with a choice at a difficult age/would I write a book? or should I take to the stage?/but in the back of my head I heard distant feet/Che Guevara and Debussy to a disco beat"); "I Want a Dog" (nice piano figure on synth beat); "Domino Dancing" (seems like an extended piece); "I'm Not Scared" (sounds like live crowd noise at end); "Always on My Mind/In My House" (Elvis Presley hit, recorded for 10th anniversary of death tribute, although not necessarily meant as a tribute; "In My House" is a little rap over beats; this version is very extended); "It's Alright" (another superb single). Only six cuts (ranging from 6:15 to 9:24), four of which were singles. A
  • Pet Shop Boys: Introspective / Further Listening 1988-1989 (1988-89 [2001], Parlophone, 2 CD). See above for first disc. The rough demo for "Domino Dancing" is interesting. The piece caled "The Sound of the Atom Splitting" is a little short on melody, with some complex synth background, lots of rhythm and a little noise. Then comes "What Keeps Mankind Alive?" -- the Weill/Brecht classic. This cover, at least, is not a savage deconstruction. "Losing My Mind (Disco Mix)" kicks off with some very good synth music. "Nothing Has Been Proved (Demo for Dusty)" has some nice synth experiments. Alternates to "Left to My Own Devices" and "It's Alright" are superb. A-
  • Pet Shop Boys: Behavior (1990, EMI America). Album: #2 UK, #45 US. Studer: It is a very serious album in which, for one thing, AIDS weighs more heavily over the proceedings than ever before." Songs: "Being Boring" ("we were always hoping that/looking back/we could always rely on friends"); "This Must Be the Place I Waited Years to Leave" (much going on in the rhythm track here, but none of the string synths); "To Face the Truth" (again, the rhythm dominates, the pace measured, the vocal exceptionally pretty; "it hurts too much to face the truth"); "How Can You Expect to Be Taken Seriously?" (a bit faster, a little guitar wrapped around "seriously"); "Only the Wind" ("the storm blows itself out"); "My October Symphony" (starts with some "ooh-ooh-ooh" highlights); "So Hard" (starts off with a keyb figure; "why/don't we try/not to break our hearts/and make it so hard for ourselves?"); "Nervously" (a little warbly synth as Tennant tiptoes into the song; one of their most beautiful intros; second verse adds a little thicker synth, with a little guitar; keeps building, in small increments, with some drum shots toward the end, and a trailing dabble of synth); "The End of the World" ("it's just a boy or a girl/it's not the end of the world"); "Jealousy" (some swoosh in the background, a modest rhythm track, picks up a melodic hook with "where've you been/who've you seen"; it then gradually adds layers of music and drama). Lots of people have knocked this album -- see it as a letdown after the first three (plus whatever), but I pegged it as their best to date, and the best of the year. And I still swear that anyone who thinks "Being Boring" is boring is in fact the boring one. What this album does do is to cut down on the disco glitz; I think that means that they're moving on from being dancemeisters to becoming songwriters. But they also make some real progress rhythmically, relying more on the syndrums and getting more mileage out of them. Sure, my grade here is idiosyncratic -- this is neither perfect nor overwhelming. But I find it totally persuasive. A+
  • Pet Shop Boys: Behavior / Further Listening 1990-1991 (1990-91 [2001], Parlophone, 2 CD). See above for first disc. The extended versions of first side classics are the easiest to get, and I suspect that I could listen to "Being Boring" extended to any length. The remix to "Where the Streets Have No Name" is powerfully hepped up. The intro to "Jealousy" has horns and crap, then backs off and starts to retool. Two versions of "DJ Culture": I think I like the second ("seven-inch mix") better. A-
  • Pet Shop Boys: Discography: The Complete Singles Collection (1985-91 [1991], EMI America).
    1. "West End Girls" (1985-10, UK #1): "in a western town/in a dead end world/the east end boys/and west end girls."
    2. "Love comes quickly" (1986-03, #19): "love comes quickly/whatever you do/you can't stop falling." Slower, elegiac, guitar, falsetto.
    3. "Opportunities (let's make lots of money)" (1986-05, #11): "I've got the brains/you've got the looks/let's make lots of money." "If you've got the inclination/I have got the crime." Some metallic percussion. Wayne Studer: "Interestingly, it's the only PSB single that turned out to be a bigger hit in the U.S. than in the U.K."
    4. "Suburbia" (1986-09, #8): "let's take a ride/with the dogs tonight/in suburbia." More metallic percussion, tire skids, crashing sounds.
    5. "It's a sin" (1987-06, #1): instantly recognizable synth riffs, crashing sound effects.
    6. "What have I done to deserve this?" (1987-08, #2): Dusty Springfield
    7. "Rent" (1987-10, #8): "I love you/you pay my rent."
    8. "Always on my mind" (1987-11, #1): Elvis cover, done as anti-Elvis as possible.
    9. "Heart" (1988-03, #1):
    10. "Domino dancing" (1988-09, #7): "watch them all fall down."
    11. "Left to my own devices" (1988-11, #4): "Che Guevara and Debussy to a disco beat."
    12. "It's alright" (1989-06, #5): "I hope it's going to be alright/I hope the music plays forever." Sounds exceptionally disco as it kicks off.
    13. "So hard" (1990-09, #4):
    14. "Being boring" (1990-11, #20):
    15. "Where the streets have no name (I can't take my eyes off you)" (1991-03, #4): a U2 song, but the "I can't take my eyes off you" line, is that in U2? Sounds like Frankie Valli, to me.
    16. "Jealousy" (1991-05, #12): one of the prettiest, most elegant things they've ever done.
    17. "DJ Culture" (1991-10, #13): written about Gulf War. Quote from Tennant: "The essence of the song is in the first place insincerity -- about George Bush who acted like he was Winston Churchill. He referred to World War II and, as a matter of fact, he sampled things Churchill said, just like artists do with records from the past. That is why it is called 'DJ Culture'."
    18. "Was it worth it?" (released after album, #24): "yes, it's worth living for." Sometimes viewed as Tennant's "coming out" song.
    A+
  • Pet Shop Boys: Very (1993, Capitol). Album #1 UK, #20 US. Actually, my copy is the UK release on Parlophone. I bought this while I was working in the UK, and it really defines that period for me. My favorite record of 1993, but a big margin. "Can You Forgive Her" ("then you wake up and remember that you can't forget/she's made you some kind of laughing stock/because you dance to disco and you don't like rock"); "I Wouldn't Normally Do This Kind of Thing" (a love song, surprising in its straightforwardness); "Liberation" (another love song); "A Different Point of View" (the music jumps right out here; "if I'd say black was white, you'd say it was grey/but in spit eof being treated this way/I still dream of you all night and day"; this makes three straight love songs which are essential gender-neutral); "Dreaming of the Queen" (it's impossible not to think of AIDS here, even with negligible awareness of Princess Diana, who as I recall was very concerned about the disease; Diana's line "that there are no more lovers left alive" can be read a couple of ways; relatively dense, slow music for this album, underlying the dreaminess of the scenario); "Yesterday, When I Was Mad" (a real fast one); "The Theatre" ("it's another world here/the streets are gleaming/I was even dreaming/that they're paved with gold . . . "while you pretend not to notice/all the years we've been here/we're the bums you step over/as you leave the theatre."); "One and One Make Five" (); "To Speak Is a Sin" (); "Young Offender" (); "One in a Million" (); "Go West" () "Postscript" (brief hidden track, appears a minute after the nominal end). A+
  • Pet Shop Boys: Disco 2 (1994, EMI). Album: #6 UK, #75 US.
  • Pet Shop Boys: Alternative (1995). Album: #2 UK, #103 US.
  • Pet Shop Boys: Bilingual (1996) Album: #4 UK, #39 US. "Discoteca" (); "Single" (the mix moves straight into this, which is set off with a heavy shuffle drum track; "single/bilingual," not much more to the lyrics); "Metamorphosis" (works off some horns, with a disco chick vocal -- "I wanna know ya/I wanna know" -- before Tennant comes in; details of coming of gay age); "Electricity" ("discotheque/sexolettes"); "Se A Vida E (That's the Way Life Is)" (a bright love song, with a big smile; "throw those skeletons out of your closet/and come outside"); "It Always Comes as a Surprise" (); "A Red Letter Day" (starts off a bit like "Go West"); "Up Against It" (); "The Survivors" (); "Before" (a fairly ordinary piece); "To Step Aside" (); "Saturday Night Forever" ().
  • Pet Shop Boys: Nightlife (1999). Album: #7 UK, #84 US. "For Your Own Good" (); "Closer to Heaven" (); "I Don't Know What You Want But I Can't Give It Any More" (a single; their basic easy dance beat, synth orchestration, long rhythmic title coda); "Happiness Is an Option" (whispered vocal, sampled female backgrounds, "it is not easy," "happiness is not an option," "talk it over"; George Clinton shares writing credit); "You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You're Drunk" (); "Vampires" (); "Radiophonic" (); "The Only One" (); "Boy Strange" (); "In Denial" (sort of a choral effect); "New York City Boy" (another single, they bring out the grade A beat; "New York city boy" is done Village People style); "Footsteps" (good lyric, big choral effects). B+
  • Pet Shop Boys: Release (2002, Sanctuary). Album: #7 UK, #73 US. This has more of a guitar sound, with Johnny Marr guesting, Tennant playing more guitar, and Lowe deploying guitar samples. "Home and Dry" (the lead single); "I Get Along" ("without you very well"); "Birthday Boy" (); "London" (); "E-mail" ("send me an email that says i love you"); "The Samurai in Autumn" (one of the better ones, mostly because of the synth buzzing in and out); "Love Is a Catastrophe" (); "Here" (); "The Night I Fell in Love" (this is the Eminem/Stan song, a great one, in part because the beat is an easy one); "You Choose" (). B+
  • Pet Shop Boys: Disco 3 (2003, Sanctuary). Album: #36 UK, #188 US. "Time on My Hands" (); "Positive Role Model" (seems like a better song than most of Release); "Try It (I'm in Love With a Married Man" (cover of a 1983 dance-club hit written by Bobby O., but with Tennant singing takes on a gay air); "Somebody Else's Business" (); "If Looks Could Kill" (); "Sexy Northemer" (). A-
  • Lou Reed: Transformer (1972 [2002], RCA/BMG Heritage). This was controversial at the time, especially among critics who still remembered the Velvets. Sez Christgau: "All that's left of this great singer and songwriter is his sly intelligence, and sometimes I'm not sure about that." I came to this record working my way backwards from Rock n Roll Animal and Berlin, and hadn't gotten to the Velvets yet, so I didn't have much in the way of preconceptions. So while it is true that Reed had by 1972 lost most of his Velvets' voice, he actually hasn't lost that much more of it in the 30 years since, so this is basically his solo career voice. It's also, on average, a better set of songs than put together into any single album until, I dunno, Street Hassle or The Bells or no later than The Blue Mask. "Hangin' 'Round" is very good; "Perfect Day" and "Satellite of Love" and "Wagon Wheel" and "New York Telephone Conservation" are pretty decent, and "Goodnight Ladies" is a nice way to end. And "Walk on the Wild Side," his first (and probably only) hit, is something unique, all the way down to David Bowie's sax outro. The two bonus cuts are rough demos to "Hangin' 'Round" and "Perfect Day": they don't amount to much, but are nice to have. A-
  • Lou Reed: Berlin (1973, RCA). This was my favorite record for a couple of years in the mid-'70s, so while I haven't played it in 10-15 years, maybe longer, it is deeply embedded in my head. In fact, when Between Thought and Consciousness (the box set) came out, I thought that the Berlin pieces sounded terrific. On the other hand, many Velvets-aware critics hated this when it came out. For one thing, Reed's voice is very coarse here, especially at the start. For another, Bob Ezrin's production is rather heavy handed -- for that you can start with the drums, but there's also the piano, the strings, the choruses, all sorts of studio shit that Reed never used before and almost never has since. Still, "Men of Good Fortune" sounds really awesome here.
  • Lou Reed: Rock n Roll Animal (1974 [2000], RCA). This live set opens with a long guitar intro by Steve Hunter or Dick Wagner, before resolving into "Sweet Jane." Four of the original five cuts were Velvets pieces; the exception was "Lady Day," from Berlin. This edition adds two more Berlin songs: "How Do You Think It Feels" and "Caroline Says I." The heavy guitars are the biggest change, but the Velvets material holds up well under such arena treatment. Note, however, that Reed now sings "other people, like us, we gotta work." The two added cuts don't add much, although "Lady Day" is strong work. But the main attraction is the revved up Velvets pieces -- the long, worked-out drama of "Heroin," the frentic "White Light / White Heat," the rousing "Rock and Roll." A-
  • Lou Reed: Live (1975, RCA). Leftovers from Rock n Roll Animal, long on Transformer material, short on Velvets (just "I'm Waiting for the Man"). Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner wield the guitars again. Again, most of the interest is how the Velvets pieces scale up to arena rock, and a big part of that is that they do. The Transformer material is smaller by almost any standard, which makes this album smaller too. B
  • Lou Reed: Sally Can't Dance (1974 [2001], RCA/Buddha). After "Walk on the Wild Side" and Rock n Roll Animal, Reed had gained his first serious measure of fame (tinged with infamy, of course), and as such he was pointed to crack a bestselling album. This was it, more or less. The bad-mouthing of Reed's solo career caught up with me this time, and I this was the Lou Reed album I hated. Still, this time around I have to credit it with brightness. The themes are recycled -- "ooh isn't it nice/when you find your heart's made out of ice." Steve Katz produced, and the obvious thing is the horns -- great gobs of horns. "Animal Language" and "Kill Your Sons" aren't half-bad, and "Ennui" is actually quite becoming. But nothing else is particularly memorable -- neither the opening, horn-laden "Ride Sally Ride" nor the closing, horn-laced single "Sally Can't Dance," both so sketchy they make Berlin seem fully realized. Three bonus cuts: "Billy" (gently strummed with some nice sax, a plus); "Good Taste" (and slick guitars); and the single of "Sally Can't Dance" (funky on the way out). Maybe it's not so bad afterall. B
  • Walk on the Wild Side: The Best of Lou Reed (1972-76 [1977], RCA). Songs: "Satellite of Love" (in the early going this sounds much like a late Velvets song, worthy, then it transmutes with the choruses, which were probably David Bowie's idea); "Wild Child" (from the first album, which explains the Velvets form and sound); "I Love You" (also from first album); "How Do You Think It Feels" (heavy hitter from Berlin); "Walk on the Wild Side" (of course); "Sweet Jane" (live with Hunter/Wagner); "White Light/White Heat" (ditto); "Sally Can't Dance" (not the hornsiest track); "Nowhere at All" (minor cut from Coney Island Baby); "Coney Island Baby" (major cut from Coney Island Baby). B+
  • Different Times: Lou Reed in the '70s (1972-76 [1996], RCA). Songs (= also in Walk on the Wild Side, the 1977 comp; + not in the predecessor): "I Can't Stand It" (+); "Love Makes You Feel" (+); "Lisa Says" (+, from 1st album); "Walk on the Wild Side" (=); "Perfect Day" (+); "Vicious" (+); "Berlin" (+); "Satellite of Love" (=); "Caroline Says I" (+); "Sad Song" (+); "Caroline Says II" (+); "Sweet Jane" (=, with intro); "Kill Your Sons" (+); "Sally Can't Dance" (=); "A Gift" (+); "She's My Best Friend" (+); "Coney Island Baby" (=). That makes 5 repeats, 12 different songs. Still leans heavily on Transformer (4 cuts) and Berlin (4 cuts). A-
  • Lou Reed: Street Hassle (1978, Arista). This was much touted as a comeback album at the time. Indeed, it has a distinct sound, hard and dark and choppy. The title sequences runs 11:00, starting with a long violin vamp, and ending with a nice bit of "Slipaway." "I Wanna Be Black" is more chutzpah than jive. "Shooting Star" is good trashy. B
  • Lou Reed: The Bells (1979 (2000), Buddha). "Stupid Man" isn't stupid enough, and "Disco Mystic" is neither disco nor mystic enough. And the one thing that "I Want to Boogie With You" isn't is a boogie. What all three share is densely plodding music, capped by Don Cherry's trumpet. "Looking for Love" races on Marty Fogel's sax, another dense one, a bit faster. And it just sort of keeps running on like that. The much-bruited jazziness of the music isn't very jazzy -- the instrumental density works against it, and Don Cherry isn't the sort of player who can overcome all that noise on his own. B
  • Lou Reed: Growing Up in Public (1980, Arista). Michael Fonfara not only gets co-producer credit, he gets co-writer credit on all songs. "My Old Man" sounds like truth -- "I didn't even want to look like my old man/I didn't want to seem like my old man." "Smiles" is about his mother's imparted advice, which is never to smile. "Think It Over" is a guarded marriage proposal. "Teach the Gifted Children" is a riff on "Take Me to the River." None of these are really great, and some are clumsy, it's certainly his most engaging album in quite a while. B
  • Lou Reed: Rock and Roll Diary 1967-1980 (1967-80 [1993], Arista). The dates mean that this starts with purloined ancient sides from the Velvet Underground -- eight of them, in fact, although "White Light/White Heat" comes in short at 2:44, but we get all 9:44 of "Heroin." That covers 4 of 14 years. The other decade is good for seven cuts, starting with yet another "Walk on the Wild Side" and ending with the 11:00 "Street Hassle." In between are one cut from Berlin, one from Rock and Roll Heart ("Temporary Thing"), one from The Bells ("All Through the Night"), and two from Growing Up in Public ("So Alone" and "Keep Away") -- none exceptional. B
  • Lou Reed: The Blue Mask (1982, RCA). Reed had been coming back since Street Hassle, but this was the one that actually worked. The songs were a bit better than Growing Up in Public, but the real difference was in the music, especially in the guitars. For one thing, this is the first album where Reed is really in love with his axe; for another, he brought in Robert Quine to help out and keep him inspired. "The Blue Mask" and "Waves of Fear" and "Heavenly Arms" are guitar romps that rival anything that Tom Verlaine ever put on disc. "Average Man" is a terrific song, and "The Day John Kennedy Died" is another. A
  • Lou Reed: Legendary Hearts (1983, RCA). Same group, less pyrotechnical on guitar, but even better songs. "Don't Talk to Me About Work," for instance. A+
  • Loudon Wainwright III: Album III (1972, Columbia). Two earlier albums on Atlantic are out of print -- for a while they were combined on Rhino Handmade, but that seems to be gone too, or at least they were too cheap to send me a copy. They were called Loudon Wainwright III and Album II, so when he moved to Columbia they thought about it for 30 seconds or so and came up with this title. This also had a hit single (#12), "Dead Skunk," which is the last hit single I'm aware of. "Red Guitar" laments a red guitar that he destroyed ("Kate, she said, you are a fool"; "I bought myself a blond guitar/I had it for just three days/some junkie stole my blond guitar/God works in mysterious ways"). "East Indian Princess" steals liberally from Chuck Berry's "Sweet Little Sixteen" ("safe as a cow/in a Calcutta street"). "B Side" ("this hive of mine/I call it home/there is no place/like comb sweet comb"). He does "Smokey Joe's Cafe" straight enough. "Say That You Love Me" is a pretty good closer. B+
  • Loudon Wainwright III: Attempted Mustache (1973 [1998], Columbia/Legacy). Starts with "The Swimming Song," best known in the McGarrigles version. Sounds like he can afford a band this time. "A.M. World" ("it's calculated and it's cold/they love my ass I go first class/who needs a heart of gold"). "Bell Bottom Pants" is a slow one. "Liza" was written to Minnelli, who LWIII claims to have had a crush on in 2nd grade, when he was briefly living in Beverly Hills ("some chips grow to be great blocks"). "I Am the Way" retools a Woody Guthrie tune, done live with crowd laughs, just the way Jesus would have done it ("I can walk on the water and I can raise the dead/it's easy, I'm the way . . . don't tell nobody but I kissed Magdalene/I said 'Mary it's O.K., I'm the way"). "Down Drinking in the Bar" is a future standard; it's his stock-in-trade, but not exceptionally interesting here. "The Man Who Couldn't Cry" is another good song. "Come a Long Way" is Kate's song -- too good for Loudon, but the change of voice is nice. The differences between the songwriters are that Loudon not only goes for the cheap laugh, he goes for the cheap riff which sets it off. "Dilated to Meet You" welcomes his son into the world ("even though there's trouble/even though there's fuss/we really think you'll like it here/we hope that you'll like us"). A-
  • Loudon Wainwright III: Unrequited (1975 [1998], Columbia/Legacy). One side of studio cuts, the other culled from a live gig at the Bottom Line. He was separated from Kate, embattled with his manager and label. The studio side has solid songs with growing studio command: "Sweet Nothings" (), "The Lowly Tourist" (), "Kings and Queens" (), "Kick in the Head" (), "Whatever Happened to Us" ("you told me that I came too soon/but it was you who came too late"), "Crime of Passion" (music stretches out, with horns even), "Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder" (with Kate & Anna backing; "I always knew you were important to me/but now I know that you were a necessity/otherwise I start to go insane"; "the joke's on me/I found out the hard way/you were my better half"). The live cuts were looser and funnier: "On the Rocks" ("on Park Avenue South/I punched my baby on the mouth/in the back of a checkered taxi cab/our love is on the rocks"), "Guru" ("down in southern California/there's a guru that's a guruing there"; "they're proselytizing and it's mesmerizing and they're making moolah every day"), "Mr. Guilty" ("I'm the one/the no good bum/who did it all to you"), "The Untitled" (aka "The Hardy Boys at the Y," the original title dropped for fear of lawsuit from the F.W. Dixon estate; this is the required love song), "Unrequited to the Nth Degree" ("for all you hootenany freaks"), "Old Friend" (), "Rufus Is a Tit Man" ("come on momma/come on and open up your shirt/yeah, you got the goods momma/give the boy a squirt"). From Wainwright's 1998 notes, "Please note how at the end of that I graciously thank my audience only to be rewarded with screams for 'Dead Skunk'." The bonus cuts include a boogie-woogie, fiddle-laced version of "Rufus," a song co-written by Kate A
  • Loudon Wainwright III: A Live One (1976-68 [1979], Rounder). Two dull songs at the start, then "Whatever Happened to Us," which he mangles and mocks in the end. "Natural Disaster" is another of his love/hate songs. "Suicide Song" is duller than that. He does a Van Morrison aside on "Kings and Queens," then tackles "Down Drinking at the Bar." How come the only song that he really sounds excited by is "Clockwork's Chartreuse"? ("I'll kill your mother/you kill my wife . . . let's burn down McDonalds/let's go whole hog.") B Loudon Wainwright III: Fame and Wealth (1983, Rounder). He's been busted down to the folk circuit -- that's what he gets for not taking another 15 minutes to write another "Dead Skunk." The songs seem solid enough -- "Five Years Old" is about his daughter getting older. "Westchester County" is a terrific song -- oh, to be young and rich again! ("We were richer than most/I don't mean to boast/but I swam in a country club pool.") B
  • Loudon Wainwright III: I'm Alright (1984, Rounder). Cut in England with some first rate musicians (Richard Thompson, the great unrelated bassist Danny Thompson, Tony Coe on clarinet). "I'm Alright" ("without you") is a good, incorrigible song. "Screaming Issue," cowritten by Terre Roche, sounds like another baby being born. "Animal Song" -- references to Orwell. "Daddy Take a Nap" ("daddy gets grumpy, gotta take a nap"; with jazz horns). "Career Moves" ("I must have broken a million G strings"; "again and again/ about unhappy love/over and over/unhappy love"). B+
  • Loudon Wainwright III: More Love Songs (1986, Rounder). "Hard Day on the Planet" ("I want to go on vacation/till the pressure lets up/but they keep hijacking airplanes and blowing them up"). "Synchronicity" is about a couple of women Wainwright hit on, who turned out to be lesbians. "Your Mother and I" is quite lovely ("your mother and I are living apart/I know that sounds stupid, but we weren't very smart"). "The Home Stretch" ("full of male models/not all of them are gay"). "The Acid Song" ("think twice before dropping acid/hold out for mushrooms instead"). "Unhappy Anniversary" ("we fell in love and we fell out/both times there was no net"; note horns and fiddles). B+
  • Loudon Wainwright III: Therapy (1989, Silvertone). Didn't catch the title song. "T.S.D.H.A.V." ("this song don't have a video"). B
  • Loudon Wainwright III: History (1992, Charisma). "Hitting You" (doesn't work). "I'd Rather Be Lonely" ("you're still living with me/but I'd rather be lonely"; nice fiddle). "Talkin New Bob Dylan" ("songs from the Westchester county delta country"). "So Many Songs" ("my songs about you are all about me"). B+
  • Loudon Wainwright III: Career Moves (1993, Virgin). A live album, which both functions as a retrospective and showcases his often-comedic performance -- all those acting lessons must be good for something. Twenty-four cuts, 73 minutes. A
  • Loudon Wainwright III: Grown Man (1995, Virgin). The booklet only gives you some of the lyrics, the choices hard to figure. "IWIWAL" is one that's missing -- easily the funniest thing on the album. One that's printed is "Just a John," which starts, "I'm like my daddy I'm much the same/he loved to play that cheatin' game/takin my mother for a ride/always having' something on the side." I guess that counts for introspection in Westchester. "Father Daughter Dialogue" was written by him, but dueted with daughter Martha: "dearest daddy with your songs/do you hope to right your wrongs?" A-
  • Loudon Wainwright III: Little Ship (1998, Charisma). Without checking closely, it looks like Loudon's been building up a fairly steady coterie of sessionfolk -- John Leventhal, Tony Garnier, Shawn Pelton, Rick DePofi, Brian Mitchell, none of these names mean anything to me, but they can make quite a bit of noise, which turns Wainwright's ultrapersonal songs into power anthems or something like that, and I don't find the excess attractive. If he's got something to say, why hide it behind walls of sound? "Breakfast in Bed" has banks of strings, including one name I do recognize (John Patitucci on bass). Other songs have horns, including trumpeter Chris Botti. "Mr. Ambivalent" ("you'll wind up with nothing/because you want it all"). "OGM" is a pained ballad. "Our Own War" is a painful ballad, with Shawn Colvin adding illusion. "So Damn Happy" is a simple song ("the sad thing is that I'm so damn happy"), with little more than percussion -- best thing I've heard so far. "Primrose Hill" is an easygoing ballad, gently strumming guitar, rather contentless. "Underwear" is a cappella. "The World" ("is a terrible place . . . the world is a crappy hole . . . the world is a sandwich of shite . . . wooo!"). "What Are Families For?" ("but dad is dead he's off the hook", slowish, sparse, sarcastic). "Bein' a Dad" ("isn't so bad"). "Little Ship" ("our relationship is just a little ship"). "A Song" (). The instrumental excess that I initially complained of faded subsided, ut I still find these songs rather uninteresting. B
  • Loudon Wainwright III: Social Studies (1999, Hannibal). These are relatively topical songs that Wainwright wrote on commission during the '90s, mostly for NPR. "Tonya's Twists" is about figure skater Harding. "O.J." is about the Juice, although it has more to say about Johnnie Cochran. "Y2K" ("if you want to blame some one/blame Bill Gates"). "Bad Man" ("hey everybody we're having a war . . . still some folks don't understand/why we kill good people just to get a bad man . . . now we're knocking on Saddam's door/let's get one thing understood/that Saddam is no damn good"). "Our Boy Bill" attacks Clinton, and "Jesse Don't Like It" attacks (or makes fun of) Helms. I'm finding these more than a little annoying. B-
  • Loudon Wainwright III: Last Man on Earth (2001, Red House). In general, the songs are more detailed, much of which comes from the death of his mother. "Missing You" is about his mother. "Living Alone" is about himself. "White Winos" is about both of them, conversing over white wine, their struggles with the man who was husband and father a bond. "Fresh Fossils" takes note of sandprints. "I'm Not Gonna Cry" comes close. "Surviving Twin" is about his father and how he became him. "Donations" considers his own mortality, and what to do with the remains. "Graveyard" is a place of contemplation. "Last Man on Earth" takes reckoning of his own age (53 now), talking about how old fashioned he's become, how he don't have a cell phone or a computer, how he don't drive a SUV, how he's just a grumpy, middle aged crazy. A-
  • Loudon Wainwright III: BBC Sessions (1971-93 [1998], Fuel 2000). Recorded over a long stretch, mostly familiar songs, all done simply, which is usually for the best with Wainwright. B+

Saturday, April 19, 2003

James A. Hull, my father's "baby brother," wrote a monumentally stupid letter that The Eagle published today:

"Looting" is a term some use for what is happening in Iraq. In reality, what we are seeing is the dividing up of the "spoils of war." Throughout history, the spoils of war have gone to the victors. Because the pictures we see on TV clearly show that the spoils are going to the people of Iraq, we can safely say that the people of Iraq are the winners of this war!

Then again, instead of labeling these as acts of looting, we might say that the people simply are taking back what was theirs in the first place.

Uncle James manages to get his letters published in The Eagle 6-10 times a year. (Don't know how many he writes, but it seems like he's a lot more likely to get published than I am.) Most of those letters insist that what this country needs is more capital punishment. He has been "researching" that subject for years now, and claims that the U.S. economy wanes when we move away from capital punishment, and booms when we embrace it. He spent most of his adult life in the Air Force as a mechanic, including a tour in Vietnam where his only experience of war was keeping the aircraft flying so they could deliver their daily rations of bombs, napalm, and Agent Orange. So it's fair to say that one thing he truly believes in is the U.S. government's right to kill people they don't like. It's also likely that he has a real romantic view of war -- that not only does he approve of war, that he sorta misses the good old days when victorious soldiers could rape and pillage on their own. (He is, after all, on record defending the U.S.A.F. against sexual misconduct charges.)

Thursday, April 17, 2003

Interesting piece in Salon interviewing three Gulf War Marine vets turned writers. Consider this quote from Gabe Hudson: "I think it's worth our time to consider John Allen Muhammad, the sniper who terrorized the Washington, D.C. area, and the guy who shot his three professors at the University of Arizona [Robert Stewart Flores], and Timothy McVeigh, when we consider the potential psychological toll of serving in modern war. Now it's not for me to say there's a direct correlation between their horrible acts and their service in Desert Storm, but I do think it's a connection that deserves serious consideration. There's a huge psychological toll that modern warfare takes on soldiers, despite the fact that the media and the White House try to gloss over these wars as sterile and 'clean.' There are many Gulf War vets who saw and participated in horrible acts, or witnessed their aftermath, and the lingering psychological effects have still not been addressed by the Veterans Administration."

From Joel Turnipseed, who founded and sold a software company between his Gulf War service and the present: "Anyone who's worked on a software project knows how hard it is to get everything right. Modeling human processes -- even the simplest of them -- is amazingly difficult. To think you're going to do anything as chaotic as fighting a war and having it follow your plans, it's idiotic."

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Reading in TomDispatch about the burning library in Baghdad, I finally felt I had two cents to offer, so dashed off the following:

The more I read about how archaeologists and other scholars warned the US military about the very real risks that invasion and occupation posed to the libraries and museums of Iraq, the more clear it is why those warnings were ignored: they came from people who disapproved of the war. One of the major problems with this war was that it wasn't something, like Pearl Harbor or even 9/11, that happened and panicked the US into action; it was a program that was concocted inside the government and hard-sold to the public. And one of the most telling effects of the hard-sell is that the people who were selling it, so convinced were they that it was the right thing to do, put blinders on themselves to any argument, no matter how reasoned, not to proceed with their program. And since warnings about dire consequences were reasons not to do it, they were ignored. This is, I think, what happens when someone falls so in love with their ideas that they are unwilling to subject them to critical analysis. And when they crack the whip so hard to force their dreams on a world that turned out to be very skeptical. It is worth noting that this simplistic hard-sell approach to what are often very complex problems has become endemic in US political discourse, and that it has largely driven open, consensus-building discussions underground. It has also led to a preoccupation with winning arguments over solving problems, and the especially insidious tactic of winning arguments by "creating facts on the ground." The libraries and museums of Baghdad are the tragic results of this deterioration of political discourse, and by no means the only ones. The Bush Administration seems to have realized that the only way they could proceed with their war would be to discount or ignore its probable consequences, just as they realized that they would have to lie about why they wanted this war. And now that they've succeeded, it will take all of the arrogance and blindness they can summon to deny what they have wrought. Unless we can manage to break out of their psychology, we're bound for a lot more tragedy.

Monday, April 14, 2003

Back on Saturday we had a little antiwar demonstration here in Wichita: a group of about 40 people met at the corner of Rock/13th, then marched a couple of blocks to a park, where a mike was set up and there were various speakers plus an open mike period and a few songs. One thing I was struck by was that virtually everyone had a sign, and that during the speeches most of the people lined up along the street to show off their signs. I don't mean to criticize the people who came, but I find this a bit unusual -- it suggests to me that people who like to hold signs were represented way disproportionately. There's nothing wrong with this -- indeed, it's good to remind passers by that support for this war is far from unanimous -- but it's a far cry from being a potentially effective movement.

I don't know what the real answer is. My own predilection is to try to do more things that are educational -- history, politics, economics, ethics. Another thing might be to take to political organization. For a while the environmental movement used to spotlight a set of congressmen dubbed the Dirty Dozen, and the ability to nail someone like Wayne Aspinall gave the movement some real impetus. Everyday media would be another project. I've seen signs that try to link up what's happening in the economy with Bush's war/terrorism obsession, but that needs to be spelled out, especially in terms that business can relate to. We're in for a long haul now, and just registering protest isn't going to stop anything.


Watching some Iraqi politicos on TV the other day, it occurs to me that one difference between Afghanistan and Iraq may be that the caliber of natives may be much higher in Iraq. By this, I mostly mean that the US will be dealing much more with people who know how to deal with Americans. It may be as simple as that they speak better English, but in general there's a big increase in sophistication and knowledge and understanding. It's impossible to say how much of a difference that will make, but it's clear that anything like Afghanistan would be even worse in Iraq, so this has the chance to be a bit different. The other advantage that Iraq has is that it has the raw and human resources to, theoretically, build a viable economy. On the other hand, between Iraq's wars against Iran and Kuwait, and the US wars against Iran, the long period of economic sanctions and other depredations by the Baath party leaders and their predecessors, an astonishing amount of improverishment has been inflicted on Iraq, and overcoming that will be a huge task. There is also the question of Iraq's debts, which with interest are large enough to be unmeetable. (It's been proposed that much or all of the debts incurred by Sadaam Hussein should be written off as "odious" debts -- the idea there is that anyone who loaned Saddam money deserves to lose it.) The question of whether the US is going to hand Iraq some sort of bill for the costs of destroying it, to the best of my knowledge, hasn't even been raised, but that's often been the case (e.g., for the US occupation of Japan).

On the other hand, watching Iraqi mobs looting, and hearing the reports of revenge killings and accidental killings and all that, it sure doesn't look good. I don't know what the extent of looting damage actually is, but it merely adds to the considerable damage inflicted by the warfare, primarily by the US military. And again, since the US has no business being there, this all goes on the US tab. The sacking of the museums is particularly appalling, but when you look at what has happened to government offices, the palaces, etc., it becomes clear that a vast amount of our ability to ever understand and eventually manage Iraq has vanished with it. It's already being admitted now that we will never get an accurate death toll -- among other things this means that there will always be disputes over numbers, which will make it all the harder to reconcile anything in the future, but it also means that we will never fully be able to map out this destruction in human terms. One thing I would dearly like to see is a systematic international (neutral) attempt to assess the physical and human damage that this war has inflicted.

Sunday, April 13, 2003

Music: Initial count 8148 rated (+38), 864 unrated (-19). Started this a bit early, since last week's entry is now deeply varied, the big Willie Nelson thing is done, and I'm starting out with more things, undecided just what to do next. Also moved the previously incomplete Buck 65 up from two weeks back.

  • Quannum Spectrum (1999, Quannum Projects). A label comp, of interest at the moment because of two cuts from Blackalicious: "One of a Kind" (typical flash rap with counter-chorus, good piece), "Jada's Vengeance" (typical rhythm, with a little choral glitz). Good piece by Divine Styler and DJ Shadow. The Quannum propaganda is a bit distracting, and not much here is real distinctive, but it has the sort of solid anonymity that befits the communistic ethos of primo underground rap, and that's cool. B+
  • Blackalicious: A2G (1999, Quannum Projects). An EP, six cuts. Hey, I've heard "A to G" before -- think it was on Quannum Spectrum, love it. This group has two guys: Chief Xcel (Xavier Mosley) and Gift of Gab (T.J. Parker), who got together in Sacramento.
    1. "A to G": Rollicking rhythm, for each letter they chart out a set of words starting with that letter. At "G" turns into a Gift of Gab-fest.
    2. "Clockwork": "my job description/a rap technician/from sunup to sundown/and it's clockwork"; "do you understand [can't make this out]". Beats, fast raps, scratches.
    3. "Rock the Spot": "the Gift of Gab don't stop"; the "we came to rock the spot" chorus sounds like P-Funk.
    4. "Back to the Essence":
    5. "Deception": this has a cadence out of (what?) some nursery rhyme or something (can't really place it), "his first single was an overnight success", it's really a moral story about fame and (self?)-deception; different voice than usual; really brilliant piece, wish I had the lyrics.
    6. "Making Progress": "can't receive a paycheck if you don't do work"; "by any means necessary we'll be free at last".
    7. "Alphabet Aerobics": with Cut Chemist. Another piece too fast to really catch what's going on.
    Short, fast; too fast in fact to really grab, but some real smart shit here. A-
  • Blackalicious: Nia (2000, Quannum Projects). Title comes from Swahili word for "purpose" (i.e., it's not an acronym or something that would normally be all-caps). This repeats "A to G," "Deception," and "Making Progress" from A2G. Hard to write about this, so let's take some songs:
    1. "Searching"
    2. "The Fabulous Ones"
    3. "Do This My Way"
    4. "Deception"
    5. "A to G"
    6. "Cliff Hanger": more than 5 minutes, after a shout of "whole house freeze," this comes to a stop then breaks into a speech, "we must understand that for black people the question of community is not a question of geography, it is a question of color . . . wherever you go the first place you go is to your people . . . we got brothers in africa, we got brothers in cuba . . ."
    7. "Shallow Days": "but that won't sell because we got to keep it real";
    8. "Ego Trip by Nikki Giovanni"
    9. "You Didn't Know That Though"
    10. "If I May"
    11. "Dream Seasons"
    12. "Trouble (Eve of Destruction)": "MCs are in"
    13. "Smithzonian Institute of Rhyme": this is the one with the "by lateef and blackalicious we keep it fat, delicious" chant.
    14. "As the World Turns"
    15. "Reanimation"
    16. "Beyonder"
    17. "Making Progress"
    18. "Sleep": "The hazy days go to nights returning on and on/the eye in the sky that don't lie be watching all y'all."
    19. "Finding"
    A
  • Blackalicious: Blazing Arrow (2002, MCA). "Blazing Arrow" is built around the Harry Nilsson ("Me and My Arrow") sample. "Sky Is Falling" has a choral hook which comes from some ultrafamous piece of classical music, Beethoven I think. "First in Flight" features Gil Scott-Heron. "Chemical Calisthenics," with Cut Chemist, digs into a lot of chemical formulations.
    1. "Introduction: Bow and Fire"
    2. "Blazing Arrow"
    3. "Sky Is Falling": which one of the B-boys (you know, Bach, Beethoven, . . . ) does that chorus come from?
    4. "First in Flight" (w/Gil Scott-Heron)
    5. "Green Light: Now Begin"
    6. "4000 Miles"
    7. "Nowhere Fast"
    8. "Paragraph President" (w/De La Soul): Includes a De La Soul sample. "It's Going Down" (w/Lateef the Truth Speaker)
    9. "Make You Feel That Way"
    10. "Brain Washers" (w/Ben Harper)
    11. "Chemical Calisthenics" (w/Cut Chemist)
    12. "Aural Pleasure" (w/Jaguar Wright)
    13. "Passion" (w/Rakaa/DJ Babu)
    14. "Purest Love"
    15. "Release Pt. 1, 2 and 3" (w/Saul Williams/Lyrics Born)
    16. "Day One"
    A-
  • John Cale, Tony Conrad, Angus MacLise, La Monte Young, Marian Zazeela: Inside the Dream Syndicate: Volume 1: Day of Niagara (1965, Table of the Elements). This is the shit that Cale was doing with La Monte Young before the Velvet Underground -- something we've heard about forever, but never actually heard. Cale plays viola, Conrad plays violin, MacLise is credited with percussion, Young and Zazeela with vocals. First few minutes don't give you any of the latter, just an electronic drone, then eventually a little tapping. C-
  • John Cale: Vintage Violence (1970, Columbia/Legacy). Expanded edition 2001, with two bonus tracks, of which "The Wall" is a piece of warbly instrumental minimalism similar to his '60s avant-garde works. "Amsterdam" is the one song that always hooked me, probably because I had a crush on a Dutch girl at the time. It is also the odd song out -- a slow ballad, with lesser instrumentation. Cale's music is based on piano/guitar, where the piano sounds more like a clavichord. B+
  • John Cale: The Island Years (1974-75, Island Chronicles, 2 CD). First disc has all of Fear, an extra track ("Sylvia Said") that appeared as the B-side to "The Man Who Couldn't Afford to Orgy," two previously unreleased tracks from the Slow Dazzle sessions, and the first five cuts from Slow Dazzle. The second disc finishes Slow Dazzle, has all of Helen of Troy (including the semi-suppressed "Leaving It Up to You" and "Coral Moon," the substitute track on later copies), and "Mary Lou" (which appeared first on Guts, a 1977 compilation that was released in the U.S. instead of Helen of Troy). This has the effect of splitting the best of the three albums, Slow Dazzle, but all three are good records. On Fear, the best pieces were the screaming start, "Fear Is a Man's Best Friend," and the 8:04 guitar-heavy "Gun" -- both threatening. "Sylvia Said" is much more in the vein of Cale's earlier albums, a ballad with piano and a lot of violin. Nice piece. The Slow Dazzle outtakes aren't lost gems, nor atrocities -- they're just outtakes. On Slow Dazzle, "Mr. Wilson" is the darkest Beach Boys tribute ever; "Taking It All Away" is just barely subviolent; same for "Dirtyass Rock 'n' Roll," which both increases the threat level and pulls punches a bit. The other two songs keep up the mood. The second disc starts with "Heartbreak Hotel," a screaming version. "Guts" is another simmering, raving piece of madness, starting with, "the bugger in the short sleeves fucked my wife." "The Jeweler" is another of those pieces Cale did with the Velvets where he speaks a grim story over background synth. Helen of Troy starts with "My Maria," a strong upbeat piece with backing chorus. "Engine" is another proto-violent piece, a lot of gnashing of teeth, groans, pounding. "Save Us" is another good bass line. "Cable Hogue" is perhaps the prettiest song from this period. "I Keep a Close Watch" is another ballad, with triumphant horns. Then there's "Pablo Picasso," from the Modern Lovers album that Cale produced and Warners (I think it was) didn't release: great song, heavier version. Then the controversy: "Leaving It All Up to You" caused so much controversy that Island (UK) pulled the album and replaced the song with the mild "Coral Moon," while Island (US) never released the album. But when Island (US) did finally release another Cale album, Guts, it showed up. What's so controversial? His rage where he blurts out "you fascist"? The line, "I know we could all feel safe like Sharon Tate"? The rage, the screams, the threats? Actually, it seems rather mild compared to, oh, Flipper and Husker Du, but they came ten years hence. Next is the Jimmy Reed blues, "Baby, What You Want Me to Do?" -- another heavy treatment. "Sudden Death" is another dense, claustrophobic song. I've always associated these albums with Eno, who plays synth (evidently, "Gun" was built by Eno filtering Manzanera's guitar through the thing), but Cale is listed as producer, and there's more than a little continuity with Cale's previous work. In particular, the one thing that seems most distinctive about Cale is his ability to build his songs around both piano and guitar. The main difference from Cale's earlier song albums is that the music is denser/harder, which may have nudged the songs to be a bit more adventurous. This package ties things together nicely. A-
  • John Cale: Artificial Intelligence (1985, Beggars Banquet). As much as I like Cale's Island (or more properly Eno) albums, I can't recall liking anything that he did later. This actually starts sounding quite good. "Dying on the Vine" has a repeated rhythm figure, not too fast, with chorded organ and Cale's deep vocals, quite striking. "The Sleeper" has a looser, lighter feel. "Vigilante Lover" reveals the long lost Cale scream, reminiscent of "Leaving It Up to You" -- slower, but the violence is more than a hint (listen as he slurs "you-ur place"). "Fade Away Tomorrow" is one that works with the slight bad taste of form over substance: a more pop rhythm, a slighter song, backing vocals, like he was shooting for a single. "Black Rose" is simpler, barely there. "Satellite Walk" is another good rhythm ("let's dance," but don't take that too seriously), but slight pop. B+
  • John Cale: Seducing Down the Door (1970-90, Rhino, 2 CD). Starts with a piece from the Terry Riley collaboration, Church of Anthrax, denser than Riley's usual minimalism. Then two good cuts from Vintage Violence: "Big White Cloud," with its thick piano chords, and the slow ballad "Amsterdam," a personal favorite. "Days of Steam" was an instrumental from The Academy in Peril, a clever arrangement of piano and first what sounds like viola, then some fast riffs with what sounds like synthesized kazoo and maraccas. "Temper" was an outtake from the same session, just piano, not really monotonous enough for minimalism but roughly in that neck of the woods. I think it's terrific. "Dixieland and Dixie" was a 1971 unreleased with Lowell George and Jim Keltner, a fine song. The next three cuts come from Paris 1919, his finest song album: "Child's Christmas in Wales," "Paris 1919," "Andalucia." Terrific stuff, with Cale on harmonium, guitar, and viola. Two cuts from Fear -- "Fear Is a Man's Best Friend" ("life and death are things you just do when you're bored"; note how the guitar/bass breaks up as Cale's voice does) and "Gun," Phil Manzanera's guitar extravaganza. Four cuts from Slow Dazzle mixed with four from Helen of Troy, where "I Keep a Close Watch" (a ballad with synth horns), "The Jeweler" (a Velvets-like storyline), and "Coral Moon" (a mild ballad) the unobvious ones. Three tracks from the bootleg EP Animal Justice, a Chuck Berry cover, "Jack the Ripper," and "Hedda Gabler" -- none too memorable. Then "Walkin' the Dog" (Rufus Thomas) from Sabotage/Live, similar to but not as good as the Jimmy Reed cover on Helen of Troy. Two cuts from Honi Soit, the hard-rocking "Dead or Alive" and "Strange Times in Casablanca," a hard rhythm but stretched out, with swoops of sound and Cale's typical snarls. Three cuts from Music for a New Society, "Taking Your Life in Your Hands" (slow and thin), "Thoughtless Kind" (same, but with some synth effects thrown in, and a big of laughing), "Chinese Envoy" (slow and exotic, sort of); there is throughout these pieces a mix of string sounds, somewhat bent, but only the latter cut has much interest. Title cut from Caribbean Sunset, on Ze/Island, with Eno back -- similar (i.e., slow), percussion on "boobams" which gives sort of a gallopping sound. John Cale Comes Alive provides two cuts: "Waiting for the Man" (the VU song, with snappy drumming and Cale's terroristic vocals), and "Ooh La La" (an entertaining trifle). Two cuts from Artificial Intelligence: "Everytime the Dogs Bark" (confusing) and "Dying on the Vine" (good rhythm/synth background, nice measured piece). "The Soul of Carmen Miranda" was a rather dull collaboration with Eno, from Words for the Dying. Then two pieces from Eno's Wrong Way Up and Lou Reed's Songs for Drella, good stuff, but perhaps better considered among the partners' works. The first CD is high A-, the second maybe a B. B+
  • John Cale: Fragments of a Rainy Season (1992, Hannibal). I think this was cut live, with just Cale and piano. It covers a lot of Cale songs from all over, starting with "A Child's Christmas in Wales" and "Dying on the Vine," which roughly brackets his career. (Yes, claps.) Actually, he switches to guitar on "Ship of Fools," then back to piano later. Inevitably a little dull, and the strong early interest starts to wane as it drags on (or maybe that's just the Dylan Thomas lyric?). B
  • John Cale: Eat/Kiss: Music for the Films of Andy Warhol (1995, Hannibal). Althought he films hail from the '60s, Cale's music was composed in 1994 for the Andy Warhol Museum, and performed in France with Sterling Morrison, Moe Tucker, and others. However, this recording seems to have come along later, sometime in 1995. The pieces are untitled, and the documentation is sparse. There are some nice things here -- nothing that really blows you away, but nice things. There's an interesting piece that has Cale speaking over measured mood music, spinning a tale not far removed from "The Gift." B+
  • John Cale: Sun Blindness Music: Inside the Dream Syndicate, Volume I (1965, Table of the Elements).
    1. Sun Blindness Music (42:42): Cale (vox continental organ), 1967-10-28. This holds notes for long periods of time, shifts subtly, sometimes adds a little overtone of distortion, and carries on. The organ tone itself is rather unpleasant, and of course it lasts fucking forever.
    2. Summer Heat (11:06): Cale (guitar), August 1965. As a guitar piece, this is far less alien -- highly amplified riffs, metallic enough to sound like they were beat out on tuned tin cans or oil drums or something. I like this piece quite a lot.
    3. The Second Fortress (10:36): Cale (electronic sounds), late 1967/early 1968. Little synth waves with minimal modulation, they come and go but don't do much.
    Real mixed bag here, the long organ piece being one of those things that is sort of amusing but can get old a lot faster than it gets over with. But it's conceptually clever (if not necessarily brilliant), and the guitar thing is fun, and the last thing is more than tolerable. I think that means we cop out: B
  • John Cale: Dream Interpretation: Inside the Dream Syndicate, Volume II (1965-69, Table of the Elements).
    1. Dream Interpretation (20.33): Cale (viola) and Tony Conrad (violin), 1969-02-06. Long series of drones, the strings being fed through amps with various distortion added. Can't say that it does much for me one way or another.
    2. Ex-Cathedra (5:03): Cale (vox continental organ), late 1967/early 1968. Nice little warble to the organ, above a slower, steady pulse, with some higher register improv. Slows down around 4:20, shimmers a bit, then dampens down a bit further. Rather nice.
    3. [untitled] for piano (12:28): Cale (piano), early/mid 1960s. Doesn't sound like piano, even prepared, unless maybe he's tinkering with it from the ass end. Don't know what's going on here.
    4. Carousel (2:32): Cale (electronic sounds), late 1967/early 1968. Sorry, wasn't paying attention (or was still trying to figure out which end of the piano he was torturing).
    5. A Midnight Rain of Green Wrens at the World's Tallest Building (3:19): Cale (viola), Conrad (violin). Missed this one too.
    6. Hot Scoria (9:21): Cale (guitar), Angus MacLise (cimbalom), 1964- or 1965-03-02. This is where it occurred to me that something different was going on (sounded like guitar). What is a cimbalom? A Hungarian instrument developed in 19th century as a sort of reverse piano -- rather plunky, for fast folk music. Sort of like playing the strings inside a piano box. I rather like this piece -- the strings maintain both rhythm and resonance, and complement each other.
    Hard to judge overall. B
  • John Cale: Stainless Gamelan (1965-68, Table of the Elements).
    1. Stainless Steel Gamelan (10:30): Cale and Sterling Morrison (cembalet/fretless guitar), mid 1960s. A cembalet is a portable, amplified cembalo or harpsichord, which plucks the end of a flat reed with the key, which is then picked up and amplified. This actually has more of a percussion sound; the guitar is less evident. Minimalist, but nice sound.
    2. At About This Time Mozart Was Dead and Joseph Conrad Was Sailing the Seven Seas Learning English (26:27): Cale (wollensak), Cale and Morrison (viola, guitar), May 1967. A wollensak is what? a tape deck? a microphone? I'm not sure. There's clearly some feedback going on here. And a low warbly sound, which sounds a bit like it's underwater. This then evolves through lots of toy electronic sounds. Rather amusing. Actually, I'm getting to where I really like this piece -- best thing I've heard in this series so far.
    3. Terry's Cha-Cha (8:20): Cale (wollensak), Angus MacLise (hand drums, tambourine), Terry Jennings (soprano saxophone), May 1967. Sort of like something by Evan Parker and Han Bennink when they were teenagers; the ineptness is endearing, as Jennings improvs over the cha-cha beat. But there's something else, something organ-like, so maybe the wollensak is a keyboard of some sort? Love it.
    4. After the Locust (4:18): Cale (electric piano), Tony Conrad (thunder machine), circa 1968. More pianoish, but it slipped by fairly fast when I was busy doing something else. Certainly not bad.
    5. Big Apple Express (5:45): Cale (viola, tape), New York Fire Department (vocal), early/mid 1960s. Easy-going noise, not the usual heavy viola drone.
    This definitely has some good stuff, probably the best in the series. B+
  • The Essential Willie Nelson (1961-2002, Columbia/Legacy, 2 CD). The first serious attempt at a career-spanning compilation. The first four songs are Nelson's versions of big hits for others -- pretty minimal, but great songs. Then comes a single, "I Never Cared for You" (1964, Monument), unfamiliar, very good. Two of the three RCA cuts are singles that didn't make RCA's Essential Willie Nelson or RCA Country Legends, and they're good 'uns -- "Good Times" is one of those very idiosyncratic songs that only make sense from Nelson. Two good Atlantic albums are represented with one cut each, but then Red Headed Stranger only gets one cut too. The rest of the first disc, including three cuts from Stardust, is hard to argue with -- which isn't to say that it's what I would've picked. The second disc has some things I could do without: the Julio Iglesias duet, "City of New Orleans," the Ray Charles, "The Highwayman," and everything from the '90s but the closer, where Steven Tyler tries to sing like Tex Ritter then, failing that, rocks on out. But I'm getting to where I can almost take the Iglesias as vaudeville comedy, the Charles isn't that bad, nor is "Graceland," and I suppose I could tell myself that "Mendocino County Line" is the least worst thing on Great Divide. That leaves "Slow Dancing" with U2, which I've only heard once now, so I haven't had time to think of an excuse for it yet. But still, the 41 cuts here do make some kind of statement about what Willie Nelson has meant over the 43 years it covers, and while there's a heck of a lot more that could have been included, and that should be heard, this just goes to show what a wonder Willie is. A
  • Pink Floyd: London '66-'67 (See for Miles). This is just two cuts, less than 30 minutes: 16:46 of "Interstellar Overdrive," the big psychedelic space jam from the first album, and 11:50 of "Nick's Boogie," which presumably has something to do with drummer Nick Mason. While the former is advertised as "definitive," it's actually a little squeaky in the middle, but this sort of off-kilter improvisation doesn't do much damage. The latter piece is less melody and more rhythm, which means not much of the former and not much of the latter either, but again I find it agreeable. B+
  • Pink Floyd: The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967, Capitol). The LP was organized with each side starting off with one of their long space operas, followed by a set of oddball Syd Barrett songs. "Astronomy Domine" leads off, shorter than I recalled. I find "Matilda Mother" sounding a lot like the Who -- in fact, a later Who, maybe a Tommy Who? "Pow R. Toc H." was the first of their experiments in sound effects. "Interstellar Overdrive" is the great space opera. The following songs are the ones I best remember, ending with the marvelous "Bike." I think this is one of the masterpieces of '60s British rock. A
  • Pink Floyd: A Saucerful of Secrets (1968, Capitol). No credits information in the booklet, so it's not clear whether Syd Barrett has left (he wrote "Jugband Blues," the closer) or David Gilmour has arrived. (There are pictures but I don't know any of these guys well enough to ID them; I even have trouble matching faces from picture to picture. One picture has five faces. One has only one: that on the page with Barrett's song. So my guess is that Barrett was still officially a member, but Gilmour was probably on hand.) One thing that I can ID is that it's mostly Waters singing, which gives it a consistency with later, better known albums. "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun" is another fine space opera. "Corporal Clegg" sounds like a madcap Beatles outtake, maybe from the white album. Wright's "See Saw" points toward some of the far ranging instrumental work of later albums like Ummagumma, but "Jugband Blues" is pure Barrett. Transitional, or perhaps collapsing, but an interesting record. A-
  • Pink Floyd: Echoes (1967-94, Capitol, 2 CD). Starts with "Astronomy Domine" and ends with "Bike," just like the best side of their first album. The two non-album singles, "See Emily Play" and "Arnold Layne" are also in the set, but the organization is far from chronological. The jump from "See Emily Play" to "The Happiest Days of Our Lives" (from The Wall) is substantial but interesting. After another Wall piece it then skips back to "Echoes" (from Meddle, which is musically equivalent to Dark Side of the Moon. This then segues seemlessly through several other pieces, winding up with "The Great Gig in the Sky" (from Dark Side), before the string snaps with "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun." Then comes "Money," standing like a single alone. Then a cut from Division Bell, "Sheep" from Animals, then an impressive David Gilmour piece, "Sorrow," from A Momentary Lapse of Reason. Pretty solid side. OK, second disc: starts off with "Shine On You Crazy Diamond," a great piece from Wish You Were Here. This moves along smoothly, although the end of "When the Tigers Broke Free" gets a little histrionic. "Arnold Layne" is a very Barrett-sounding single, about a transvestite. Pretty good. Then "Wish You Were Here," "Jugband Blues" (a Barrett song from the 2nd album), "High Hopes" (from Division Bell), and the magnificent "Bike." I'm delighted by this whole thing. A
  • Pink Floyd: Ummagumma (1969, Capitol, 2 CD). As I recall, for the studio CD each of the four (Barrett is definitely gone now) got a quarter of the pie to do his own thing. (Kind of like ELP's Works.) Richard Wright's set starts with heavy modernist piano, then freaks out with synthesized bird sounds. Bassist Roger Waters starts off with bird sounds too, something called "Grantchester Meadows," with a mild vocal, then expands the synthesis with "Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered in a Cave and Grooving With a Pict." Guitarist David Gilmour starts with nice guitar which gradually distorts and bends into various drones. Finally, percussionist Nick Mason has a drum-heavy set, ending with a little synthesizer. These pieces are all somewhat interesting, but none are any where near compelling. The live CD tackles the space operas -- "Astronomy Domine," "Careful With That Axe, Eugene," "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun," "A Saucerful of Secrets." These are all long instrumentals, good pieces with a lot of atmosphere. B
  • Pink Floyd: Music From the Film More (1969, Capitol). Gee, more bird sounds. "Crying Song" is pretty heavy. "Up the Khyber" is an interesting piece of music. "Green Is the Colour" isn't much of a ballad. "Cymbaline" sounds like a small Pink Floyd song. About half of these pieces are song, the other half instrumentals. Nothing terrible, but not at lot of real interest either. B-
  • Pink Floyd: Atom Heart Mother (1970, Capitol). The first side suite starts with classical horns, adds a choir doing something like baroque vocalese, and meanders a lot. Aside from Mason's drumming here and there, and some nice licks by Gilmour, I think it's a load of crap. The other side starts with some songs: Waters' "If" is very slight, but Wright's "Summer '68" brings back those god damn horns. Finally, there's "Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast," which makes you wonder what Barrett must've gone through to be the acid casualty of the group; although the small snippets of music aren't all that bad. C-
  • Pink Floyd: Meddle (1971, Capitol). This is where they start to find the formula that serves them so well on their next few albums, but that is mostly on the second side "Echoes." The first side kicks off with "One of These Days," which is sort of the missing link between the early space operas and the harder kicking pieces on, oh, Wish You Were Here. Waters' bass drives it, and Mason of course, with Gilmour improvising on top. "A Pillow of Winds" starts with Wright's synthed atmospherics, then one of those delicate, fey Waters vocals. Nice. The side closes with "Seamus," a blues replete with howling wolves. B+
  • Pink Floyd: Works (1967-73, Capitol). A 1983 attempt at a comp, reaching back to the early singles "Arnold Layne" and "See Emily Play," and forward to "Brain Damage" from Dark Side of the Moon. The little snip from Ummagumma fits in nicely, but the last two pieces kind of bland out. Like so many comps that try to span disparate stretches of music it seems a little arbitrary, but has educational value. B+
  • Pink Floyd: Relics (1967-71, Capitol). Singles and cuts from the first two albums, and maybe a bit more ("Circus Minor" comes from More; what about "Riding My Time"?). This is the third or fourth time I've heard "Arnold Layne," the lead cut here, in the last couple of days, and it's growing on me -- more so than the other, more famous pre-album hit "See Emily Play." "Paintbox" is a new one for me, a 1967 title credited to Wright, which would make it a single or B-side or out-take: it's got an interesting period feel, a sort of psychedelic jumpiness. "Julia Dream" is another unknown, a Waters title from 1968, a rather lovely piece. "Careful With That Axe, Eugene" is a familiar 1968 title, but this version omits the screams from Ummagumma's live one, leaving a lovely instrumental. "Cirrus Minor" and "The Nile Song" come from More; the former starts with bird sounds and nice organ, while the latter is possibly their hardest rocker. "Riding My Time" is a Waters song from 1971, which I haven't found another release for: minor piece, but I like the horns. Then it closes with the magnificent "Bike." Booklet has photos of some strange musical contraptions; could use some better discography. Still, this early effort at compiling Pink Floyd's early miscellany is remarkably good. A-
  • Pink Floyd: Obscured by Clouds (1972, Capitol). Another soundtrack, this for a film called La Vallée. Much of this is indifferently atmospheric, but "Childhood's End" is a song, and actually one of the best standalone songs they did in the early '70s. "Burning Bridges" is a less successful, but not unappealing song. The instrumental "Mudmen" is also relatively strong, a precursor to what they were so successful with in later albums. B-
  • Pink Floyd: Dark Side of the Moon (1973, Capitol). Back when I was in St. Louis I used to put a stack of LPs on every night at bedtime, and this was the last one, the one I fell asleep to every night. So it's probably imprinted on my brain at a level far beyond consciousness. Admittedly, Waters' lyrics aren't the sort of thing that one goes around singing, but the music just washes over you, builds and roils and fills with wonder and delight. I know people who are bored stiff by this record; there's a backlash against its ubiquitous popularity, against its insularity, against its lack of a good beat. And I don't know how long it's been since I've heard this -- got an early, pre-remastered CD (i.e., pre-1994), but I doubt that I've played that more than twice since I got it (been busy, you know). So I had some doubts this time, but still I do so love it. Think I'll play it again. A+
  • Pink Floyd: Wish You Were Here (1975, Capitol). This follows up their hit with their best concept, which is a set of anti-business pieces ("Welcome to the Machine," "Have a Cigar") wrapped around an elegy for Syd Barrett ("Wish You Were Here," "Shine On You Crazy Diamond"). It is their toughest album, both lyrically and musically, at least of the Waters era. A
  • Pink Floyd: Animals (1977, Capitol). With its bleak industrial art and Orwellian analogs, this was Waters' most starkly political album, but it was also the consummation of Pink Floyd's status as arena rockers. This rocked harder than they ever had before, and more than ever the signature sound was David Gilmour's guitar. A-
  • Pink Floyd: The Wall (1979, Capitol, 2 CD). "We don't need no education/we don't need no thought control/no dark sarcasm in the classroom/teachers leave the kids alone." That's the theme piece, sung in a sort of kiddie chorus. There are other pieces of pretty good music, including "Mother" and "Hey You" and "Comfortably Numb," but the second disc breaks into a Weill-esque clamor, and the whole thing isn't all that easy to follow. B
  • Pink Floyd: The Wall Live 1980-1981: Is There Anybody Out There? (1980-81, Columbia, 2 CD). The live mix makes for more drama, or is that melodrama? The booklet has good phots and interesting reminiscences from all, including Waters on spitting on a fan in Montreal, and Wright on his frustrations with Waters. Interesting reading. The sound has less definition and more noise, and the crowd has its plusses and minuses. Some of the pieces sound a bit sharper, especially "Run Like Hell," with an introduction and some furious playing. The Weillian thing sounds cluttered, but so it does on the studio version. Not a lot of difference between the two versions overall, but I can imagine growing tired of both. B
  • Pink Floyd: The Final Cut (1983, Columbia). Subtitled "a requiem for the post war dream," this was written by Roger Waters and performed without Richard Wright, but with various sessionmen, especially Michael Kamen. I'm a sucker for the sax on "The Gunners Dream," but that's the first moment where the music moves me at all, and that's -- what? -- the fifth cut, not a good sign. Given that the lyricist has been estranged from the band for several years, I guess it's not all that surprising that they're out of touch. The songs are barely recited. "Get Your Filthy Hands Off My Desert" is at least short and to the point. Gilmour and Mason get to play a bit in "The Fletcher Memorial Home." "Not Now John" is rough and ready. "Two Suns in the Sunset" starts with nice Gilmour guitar. At the end of the dream, "we are all equal in the end." Bored, too, for this is a record with only the faintest heart of music, which is a matter of some concern. Only one cut from this made it to Echoes: "The Fletcher Memorial Home." C+
  • Pink Floyd: A Momentary Lapse of Reason (1987, Columbia). Still a trio, only now Waters is out and Wright is back. But Mason and Wright have no writing credits -- just Gilmour and a few others, including producer Bob Ezrin. That kicks up the intensity of the music quite a bit. "The Dogs of War" packs more punch than anything on The Final Cut, with "the dogs of war don't negotiate/the dogs of war won't capitulate/they will take and you will give/and you must die, so that they may live." Co-written by "A. Moore," whoever that is. "Sorrow" is relatively good -- turns out it's on Echoes too. The other cut on Echoes is "Learning to Fly" -- the second cut. C+
  • Pink Floyd: The Division Bell (1994, Columbia). Three cuts survived on Echoes: "Marooned," "Keep Talking," and the closer "High Hopes." The intro "Cluster One" is a delicate instrumental, credited to Wright/Gilmour, with little more than Wright's synth and Gilmour's guitar -- very refreshing after the previous two albums. "What Do You Want From Me" is a Gilmour piece, a little heavy. "Marooned" is another Wright/Gilmour instrumental, good enough to slip in anywhere in Pink Floyd's oeuvre. Wright's "Wearing the Inside Out" sounds much like a Pink Floyd song, a good deal more measured than Gilmour's typical work. Gilmour's "Take It Back," for instance. The rest of the songs are Gilmours, except "Keep Talking" (Gilmour/Wright). The best of "High Hopes," again a rather measured pace. The best things here are the Wright/Gilmour instrumentals. B-
  • Pink Floyd: Live: Delicate Sound of Thunder (1988, Columbia, 2 CD). The post-Waters band run through 2 CDs worth of oldies, mostly pointless. Gilmour's post-Waters "The Dogs of War" actually comes off better, the dullness of live sound cutting down on the archness of the studio version. Or maybe they're just trying to sound like the band did when they had their commercial breakthrough? After all, this is only profit-taking. B-
  • Pink Floyd: A Collection of Great Dance Songs (1971-81, Capitol). One from Meddle, one from Dark Side, two from Wish You Were Here, one from Animals, one from The Wall. The pieces generally make more sense in their album context, and the albums are mostly worth owning separately, but the overall sound is relatively consistent. B+

Saturday, April 12, 2003

Michael Neumann wrote a piece in Counterpunch where he proposes that the antiwar movement should push the U.S. to switch from an alliance with Israel to an alliance with the Palestinians. He points out:

Only one fundamental shift in US policy can both undo the damage being done, and rapidly address America's security concerns. Proposing this shift is the only way the left can address the real concerns of the American people. The left needs to demand, as it should have demanded a long time ago, that the US switch sides in the Israel/Palestine conflict. This means that the US should ally itself with the Palestinians and with the Muslim world, against Israel, to secure prompt, unconditional and complete Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories.

"Against" means "against", not "not with". It implies a commitment to meet Israeli intransigence with increasingly severe responses, as severe as the United Nations will endorse. A posture of benign neutrality would hardly, in the post-911 sense, 'change everything', but switching sides would undoubtedly do so. No one needs shout "no war for oil": changing sides would bring no war and oil. It would also instantly reconcile the US with the UN and with its estranged European allies. The war on terror would fight itself; anti-Americanism would go out of fashion in Islam. The civil rights of Arabs and Muslims in America would no longer be an issue. There would be no problem with the US having an inconsistent position on weapons of mass destruction. Even without pure intentions, even without consciousness-raising, the US would recoup everything it has lost since 9-11. Last and least, the clash of civilizations would become an illusion: suddenly it would transpire that Muslims are not really that much more upset about skin on MTV than half the American population.

OK, this has some logic to it. There are, of course, reasons why no one in power now would go for it, and it's unlikely to be a ticket to power for any U.S. politician unless there's a significant change in certain public opinions first. Maybe that's why Neumann is pitching this to the left, but clearly this would make more sense for the sort of liberal intellectuals who think that just because something is a good idea means they can impose it on the world -- e.g., guys like Michael Ignatief who already buy the idea that U.S. omnipower is at least in theory a good thing for the world. Or maybe he could find some desperate politician who'd be willing to risk it. (By far the most intriguing prospect would be someone Jewish who could then play it against type, much like JFK ran against public funding for Catholic schools, and who after all would be better inoculated, not to mention more desperate, than Joe Lieberman?) Otherwise, it's just an idea that won't work because there's no one credible to work it.

This situation, of course, could change if the following ideas start to be widely accepted in the U.S.:

  • That Israel, as it currently exists and operates, is not a real democracy, because it denies citizenship and civil rights to people under its physical control. (For much the same reason that South Africa was not a real democracy as long as apartheid was law.)

  • That U.S. strategic interests do not depend on Israel, and are in fact undermined by Israel. In particular, the argument that the U.S. needs Israel to fight communism has been obsolete since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Also, the argument that the U.S. needs Israel to contain unfriendly Arabic countries is belied by the fact that the U.S. has fought two wars in Iraq with no Israeli help (in fact, that Israel was told to keep out of those wars, because had it entered it would have been a liability).

Speaking of which, let me trot out my own ideas on how best to solve the Israel/Palestine problem. The assumptions here are that the U.S. is willing to do what it takes to bring peace and justice to the region (by far the most far-fetched of assumptions); that Israel would rather give up occupied Palestine (yielding two states) than to secularize itself and give Palestinians full civil rights; that Israel will not accept back any significant number of Palestinian refugees; that the Palestinians will peacefully agree to what I'm about to propose; and that the neighboring Arab countries will also be agreeable. I am also assuming that Israel's de facto pre-1967 borders will suffice as the future boundary between Israel and Palestine, although this could ultimately be changed by agreement of all parties. OK? The steps are:

  1. The first thing is to provide for regional security, which is to eliminate the prospect of war and to significantly reduce the prospect of subversion between states in the region. In the past this issue has always been secondary to the issue of Palestinian rights, which Israel has refused to compromise on, so the only way to solve this problem independently of solving the Palestinian rights problem is as follows: The U.S. signs defensive agreements with each and every Arab state that Israel might consider to be a potential enemy (minimally, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt) which guarantee that the U.S. will defend those states in the event of unprovoked attack by Israel, including that the U.S. will respond with nuclear weapons if requested in the event Israel attacks with nuclear weapons. The U.S. will also have the right to monitor borders (on the Arab side) and other sensitive places to determine whether any Arab state is engaging in provocation (which may include support of terrorists inside Israel/Palestine). Once these agreements are signed, the U.S. will also stop all major arms shipments (including jet aircraft, helicopters, and tanks) to Israel, since Israel will no longer need such weapons for its defense. Note that Israel does not have to be a party to these agreements, since Israel is unlikely to want to attack the U.S., which would be the practical effect of attacking a neighboring country.

  2. The U.S. would then petition the U.N. to establish a set of public criteria that can be used to determine when the people of Palestine have established independence with adequate guarantees of civil and human rights, a timetable by which it is expected that independence can be implemented, and a schedule of remedies (presumably economic sanctions but not military intervention) that are recommended if Israel does not comply. This would specify borders (pre-1967), representation for the Palestinian people, civil rights within Palestine, arbitration of possible disputes like water rights, secure transportation between Gaza and the West Bank, disposition of Israeli settlements, security and extradition agreements. Again, note that this can be specified without agreement or even input by Israel, although compliance is ultimately up to Israel (admittedly, under worldwide pressure from threat of sanctions). These criteria can be amended by mutual agreement between Israel and Palestine. (My personal view is that independent Palestine should be a secular democracy with full and equal citizenship for all inhabitants, and that Jewish settlers should have the choice of staying in Palestine as Palestinian citizens under Palestinian law or returning to Israel.)

  3. That leaves the festering problem of what to do about the rest of the Palestinian refugees. Here's what I recommend. First of all, it should be noted that both Jews and Palestinians have through many tragedies been denied the homelands of their ancestors. Since we cannot undo those tragedies, the best compensation that we can offer would be to grant them a special privilege, which is to allow them to live anywhere they choose. However, we cannot just uniformly grant that, but what we can do is to provide a framework where any country that recognizes those tragedies can open its doors to both groups (or possibly just one, and possibly limited to some number per year or total, at each nation's judgment). Secondly, there should be established a fund to help people of those groups (with special emphasis on those still living in U.N. refugee camps) to establish normal lives. Participation in this program would not be enforced; this does not require Israel to admit Palestinians, nor Palestine to admit Jews. But the U.S. should attempt both to set a positive example in accepting substantial numbers of both groups.

I doubt that what I'm proposing is very far removed from what Neumann has proposed. Both recognize that Israel on its own is unlikely to do anything significant to achieve a fair peace in the region, and that its very unwillingness has made it a poor ally for the U.S. -- indeed, that everything that the U.S. does in the middle east is tainted by Israel's behavior. Both also recognize that there are significant differences in the ideological goals of the U.S. and Israel -- that the U.S. is a secular society open to people of all religions, whereas Israel is explicitly a Jewish state, which leads it to discriminate against non-Jews -- and that those differences work against America's message to the world. So while these proposals represent radical changes in U.S. policy, they are squarely in alignment with U.S. interests and aspirations for the world.

As for whether they have a chance in hell of being tried, I think we need to look closely at what it is that ties the U.S. and Israel together today. Unfortunately, the most influential bind at present is probably the hardest to tackle: the nature of the U.S. political system is such that single-interest groups get disproportionate influence. Historically, this has allowed the Zionist lobby to exercise an extraordinary amount of influence, especially over Congress, and this lobby has basically turned into an organ of Israeli foreign policy. And more recently, the politically powerful right-wing Christian fundamentalists have developed into big fans of the Israeli right -- don't know for sure what the real attraction is, whether it's racism, bigotry, authoritarianism, or some bizarre longing for apocalypse. Both of these make it disproportionately difficult for U.S. politicians to take any position that does not serve Israel. But another more immediate political problem comes from the very neo-conservatives who drove us into war in Iraq: these people are obsessed with power, and they belive in flaunting that power in order to force results to their choosing. Many of those people have extensive ties with Israel, and see Israel as an exemplar of how the U.S. should be exercising its power. Aside from political pressure groups, there are other likely problems. In particular, the way we currently define and fight terrorism doesn't consider any mitigating factors due to legitimate grievances, nor provide good non-violent ways to redress those grievances. Also, U.S. wars in the region have produced a great deal of death and suffering, which generates lots of resentment and in many Arabs' eyes brands the U.S. as hypocrites.

But if it were tried, would it work? It seems pretty clear that the Arabs would accept this. Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia made a very clear proposal that if Israel would withdraw to its pre-1967 boundaries, leaving an independent Palestine, that all Arab nations would recognize and live peaceably with Israel, and that proposal was accepted by all of the necessary Arab states. The defense proposal just validates current Arab practice, where clearly no Arab state actually wants to tangle with Israel. (Egypt and Jordan have peace treaties with Israel; Syria and Lebanon do not, in deference to the primacy of a solution for the Palestinians.) The Palestinian Authority has at various points offered to accept even less territory, but has not agreed on refugees, but once you split the question up, settling territory with Israel and refugees with the rest of the world this should become much easier to do. The biggest problem with the Palestinians will be in controlling the internal political differences, especially the fringe groups most actively engaged in violence. But real isolation from Israel, combined with democracy, civil rights, and procedures for redressing grievances, should make a big difference, and should go hand in hand with a significant infusion of capital to rebuild a very heavily damaged region. As for as the Israelis are concerned, I feel that they're being held hostage to their political rhetoric, especially from the right-wing and their insistence both on settling Arab lands and on using their power to suppress every aspect of Palestinian life. On the other hand, there has long been major support in opinion polls for a two-state solution, and they are clearly paying a huge economic price to maintain their war economy. Whether they would continue that course in face of isolation and economic sanctions is impossible to predict, but in a similar situation South Africa voluntarily made a transition that was, if anything, more radical than what I'm proposing here. So while they might continue to fight, there's some hope that they will in fact be reasonable people and give up their infatuation with their own hard-won power. And if they do so, the world should be grateful, for such power has served us ill over the years, and only promises to make for even worse tragedies in the future.

Friday, April 11, 2003

There was a period back in the Afghanistan war when the Northern Alliance started reeling off a quick series of victories -- not so much that they were defeating the Taliban in confrontations as that the Taliban was high-tailing it out of the cities, allowing Herat, Kabul, and Kandahar to fall in quick succession. The hawks then made haste to trumpet their victory and to dump on anyone who had doubted the US in this war. Back then, I referred to those few weeks as "the feel good days of the war." Well, we had something like that in Iraq, too, except that use of the plural now seems unwarranted. So mark it on your calendar, Wednesday, April 9, 2003, was the feel good day of the Iraq war. The collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime has proceeded apace, but there seems to be much less to feel good about. One big thing was the killing of the bigwig shia collaborators that the US started to promote, combined with the unwillingness of other shia bigwigs to collaborate. One of the problems with this is that it suggests that the US, as always, is looking for religious leaders to control the people -- which in turn threatens to roll back the one thing Saddam had going for his regime, which was that it was strongly secular. The fact is, you want to introduce something resembling liberal democracy in Iraq, you have to promote secularism. (Of course, given the contempt that Bush has for liberal democracy in the US, it's hard to believe that he really wants that.)

Bigger still is the whole looting thing, as well as mob reprisals against Baath leaders, which threaten to turn into the much predicted Iraqi-on-Iraqi warfare. The looting itself basically means that what infrastructure the US somehow managed not to destroy will be taken down by Iraqi mobs. The likelihood that those mobs are anything other than just isolated hoodlums is small, but collectively the damage that they inflict is likely to be huge. And given how unlikely it is that the US, its allies, and the rest of the world who were so blatantly disregarded in this whole affair, are to actually pay for anything resembling real reconstruction, this is just digging an ever deeper hole. While right now, given that their is still armed (if not necessarily organized) resistance to the US, it's hard to see how the US could keep order even if it wants to (which is to say the least a mixed proposition), but failure to do so is already setting the US up as responsible for the looting, and adding to the already huge responsibility that the US bears for the current and future misery of the Iraqi people. And when the US does start to enforce order, what is bound to happen? More dead Iraqis. And who's responsible for that? The US. If this had just happened out of the blue, I might be a bit sympathetic, but this is exactly what we had predicted as the inevitable given the US course of action.

So happy last Wednesday. That's very likely to be the last one for a long time now.

Wednesday, April 09, 2003

When Laura proposed making a sign "Bush Murders Journalists" I thought of Michael Kelly, but reports yesterday were that US forces had attacked two installations in Baghdad well known to house journalists, killing at least three journalists, including one from Al Jazeera. My own take on this is: Killing Journalists Won't Save Bush From Truth. And just remember: the truth is that nobody in Iraq had to die -- this is only happening because George W. Bush and his neocon megalomaniacs have started this war for their own insane ideological conceits.


There was a report yesterday that a Jewish cemetery in Wichita has been vandalized -- 40 headstones tipped over, some broken. There wasn't any grafitti or messages left. According to the Eagle, something very similar had happened in the same cemetery at the same time of year in 1993; also it seems like graveyard vandalism is not infrequent in these parts. Still, I find this very disturbing. Whether it's a hate crime or in any way symptomatic of the belligerency and hatred that permeates our society hasn't been established -- one thing I can attest to, having grown up here, is that it's possible that the vandals had absolutely no concept of what this signifies in the context of Jewish history -- but it is ipso facto a crime of callousness and disrespect. Lots of fools have asserted that all these things could be cured with love, but I'd settle for a little respect. And anyone who doesn't respect the dead has a long ways to go to become a civil human being.


From Gideon Levy in Haaretz:

Those who trample human rights in Israel are having a field day: Look at the behavior of the Americans in Iraq, they say. Every time troops open fire at a checkpoint, every killing of a civilian, every picture of siege and plight, leads to merriment here. The United States, the cradle of democracy, the leader of the free world, is behaving like us.

According to one report, "IDF officers find it difficult to stop smiling" when they hear the reports of the war in Iraq. From now on, no one will be able to criticize their conduct in the territories. The New York Times reported that Israel even hastened to suggest that the United States learn from its experience in the use of tanks, helicopters and bulldozers in the center of cities and refugee camps.

Similar delight has also gripped those wishing to curb the media in Israel: Look at how America is censoring the images of the war in its media - no coffins and no prisoners, how the media has volunteered enthusiastically to enlist in the war effort. And how they fired the courageous reporter Peter Arnett, without so much as batting an eyelash, for expressing his opinions on enemy television.

Levy goes on to argue that America is a wretched model, both in its domestic and foreign policy: "A country that launches a war at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars when it lacks the ability to care for millions of homeless people and poor children cannot consider itself enlightened or a liberator." He also predicts, "As soon as the United States starts to become mired in the occupation, today's enlightened soldiers will become tomorrow's inhuman troops. They will lose the remnants of their moral image and will kill, destroy and abuse. The children huggers will become the children persecutors, the food distributors will turn into agents of starvation, the wound healers will block ambulances at checkpoints, the liberators will become jailors. Humiliating the occupied and stripping them of their rights will become the norm. . . . If there is one lesson Israel can impart to the Americans, it is that every occupation is appalling, that it tramples the occupied and corrupts the occupier."

One reason why people make predictions about the future is that they test their understanding of the present. But the plain fact is, nobody knows what's going to happen in the future. Possibilities are myriad, but as time goes by they collapse into history and we're stuck with that. Levy has in fact an awful lot of fairly relevant history from which to make his predictions, and of course we're not just talking about Israel, even though that no doubt dominates his thinking. I'm tempted to assert that one difference between the US in Iraq and Israel in Palestine is that we don't intend to stay -- but I don't really know that, either: the US didn't intend to stay in Japan either, but the official occupation lasted 7 years, and the US retained political and economic dominance long after that; note that the US still, 57 years after WWII, has troops in Germany and Japan; note that the US has repeatedly interfered with and many times invaded supposedly independent countries, especially in the Caribbean and Central America; and note that the US has business interests and personnel in virtually every country around the world, and that these are often interests cited for US foreign policy, even though they are of negligible everyday concern inside the US. Another distinction I'm tempted to make is that while Israel is narrowly nationalist and discriminatory against non-Jews, the US is open, assimilationist, and generally respectful of all ethnic and religious groups -- but note that the particular people who've formulated the policy that drove the US war on Iraq show none of those traits, and that it's not unfair to describe the Christian fanatics who back them as Crusaders.


I have to admit that I found myself enjoying the video of Iraqis dancing on Saddam Hussein's statues. The rest of the day's news is harder to evaluate, and nothing that's happened gives me any second thoughts about the fundamental evilness of the Bush War. In particular, I don't think that any American opponent of this war expected Saddam Hussein's government to hold out against the American war machine. Nor do we feel any sympathy or remorse for Saddam Hussein himself or his government. On the other hand, the practice and effects of this war have proven to be as horrible as expected -- of course, it feels even worse, since no matter how well you may have conceived of it, the actual events hit you far more viscerally.

Still, even though much has happened, we still have very little real understanding of what has happened, let alone what it will all mean. Another thing that we predicted was that this would be a nest of lies and blatant propaganda, and while that much is certainly true, it will take quite a while for honest people to sort this out. It is, of course, clear that the lens that we are looking through in the US is far different from what people in other countries are seeing.

Monday, April 07, 2003

I've been reading a book by Gerard Colby "with" Charlotte Dennett, Thy Will Be Done: The Conquest of the Amazon: Nelson Rockefeller and Evangelism in the Age of Oil (1995). Consider this deep background, although the main effect so far (I'm almost 300 pages in) has been to remind me that the present age of unbridled hubris, not to mention imperialism, show by the US is not unprecedented: if anything, the US was even more cavalier in its efforts to topple foreign regimes and promote business favors as policy then than now. Also notable was the use of evangelism to attack native cultures, and the eagnerness of protestant missionaries to take part in imperialist activities. (Note the gathering storm of fundamentalist missionaries in Kuwait, preparing to unleash Jesus on the heathen muslims of Iraq. Note also that while US missionaries in Lebanon and Syria in the 19th century were responsible for much of the good will in the region that the US has subsequently wasted, that was largely because they were liberal protestants, and because they limited their proselytizing to christian Arabs.)

But what I want to register here is a quote from p. 274, on bigger cold war issues. This was from 1955, when Nelson Rockefeller was an advisor to President Eisenhower working on cold war strategy and "psychological warfare."

To prevent the Soviets' publicly owned and subsidized socialist enterprises from competing "unfairly" against privately owned profit-seeking enterprises, the arms race would offer "the prospect of inducing strains in the Soviet economy." There would be "the added virtue of offering the type of production competition [high technology, capital intensive] that is comparatively most costly for the USSR to match."

An arms race just might bankrupt the Soviet Union, or at least cripple its capacity to compete in world markets with Western private corporations. And an arms race was bound to curtail production of consumer goods, continuing consumer frustrations and fears that increased the strength of conservatives in the Soviet military; any plans by Krushchev to dismantle Stalin's garrison state and introduce democratic reforms would have to give way before the perceived threat of imminent nuclear war. The United States, on the other hand, could "afford to survive" through an arms race. To rally the nation behind its new arms race, the report called for a presidential initiative in "explaining to the people of the United States the gravity of the world situation."

The right wing likes to give Ronald Reagan credit for triumph over the Soviet Union (or the Evil Empire, as they liked to call it), but it's pretty clear that it was Mikhail Gorbachev who decided to call off the arms race, recognizing not only that the Soviet Union couldn't keep up, but that it was both draining resources that should be rededicated to improving everyday lives and that it was reinforcing the militarist security state that weighed so heavily on the freedom and welfare of the people. But this quote reminds us that Reaganism predated Reagan by thirty years, much as Reagan's Contras merely revived the CIA's shenanigans from the '50s -- the very acts that got us into Vietnam and Iran, among other disasters.

Anyone familiar with business planning will immediately recognize this formulation of the arms race as what's called a "barrier to entry." This is a standard strategy of rich and powerful corporations to deter competition by making it seem impossibly expensive to compete. In terms of arms, I think this has always been obvious, but what this quote reveals to me is that one reason for the arms race was to forestall and hamper potential Russian competition against US companies in non-miitary industries. When you think about it, Russia did have a potential advantage over the US for many categories of industrial goods, based on its low labor costs, broad education for skills development, and ability to marshall capital cheaply (e.g., they wouldn't have to pay much heed to the capitalists). When you're talking about selling goods to the third world, those advantages could be significant. But Rockefeller et al. realized that if the US has an economy 4-5 times the size of the Soviet Union, it could afford to waste 5% of that on an arms race that the Soviets couldn't possibly keep up with, even if it pushed the Soviets to spend 20% of their GDP. As we've clearly seen from the economic growth of Japan and Germany, even the US's arms spending has been a significant tax on economic growth and public welfare -- what happened to Russia from 1955 to 1989 was far more damaging.


Someone passed on a Jay Leno line: "Did you know 'Iraq' is Arabic for 'Vietnam'?" Still, I wonder how all of these Vietnam analogies are going over, given that so few Americans know much if anything about Vietnam. Pink did a song a couple of years ago that went, "this is my Vietnam." No such luck, Pink dear: this is your Vietnam.

The biggest difference between Vietnam and Iraq is that in Vietnam we were defending a fraud, whereas now we're attacking a phantom. The latter, of course, is easier: it's much easier to demonize Saddam Hussein than it was to make Ngo Dinh Diem, trained and deployed and propped up by the CIA, look like a patriot. Don't feel like going into this deeper, but I suspect that being the aggressor is going to be harder to sustain: as long as we could make it look like we were defending friendly Vietnamese from communist aggression it was easier to make the case that staying was a virtue, regardless of how much self-delusion it took. On the other hand, at some point Saddam will presumably be taken out of the picture, in which case what enemy sustains our need make war? (Maybe that's why they kept Osama Bin Laden at large.)

One thing that may or may not be a difference is transference of the face of the face of the enemy. Clearly, this happened in Vietnam, where Ho Chi Minh was able to build up resistance, first against France, then Japan, then France again, and fit the U.S. (despite all our happy face propaganda) into the pattern. Resistance in Iraq is less focused -- at least some of it is squarely anti-Saddam -- but the U.S. has a few strikes against it: our coalition partners in the U.K., who ruled Iraq from 1918 to 1932 (or 1956, depending on who you ask), our good friends in Israel, and 12 years of bombing and sanctions that the U.S. was largely responsible for. Every little good deed that so impresses the U.S. press will be judged in Iraq against this backdrop.

So while there are similarities between Iraq and Vietnam, there are differences as well. What they do have in common is the inevitable resistance of people against foreign occupiers, and the contempt that U.S. leaders have both for dealing honestly with their own citizens and for the people of the other countries that they try to bully and in fits of rage destroy.


Reading Joshua Micah Marshall's Washington Monthly article Practice to Deceive, which, perhaps beside the point, suggests to me that the appropriate name for those folks who've brought us the war in Iraq is neocon. You can't call them conservatives, because they're not interested in conserving anything -- they're astonishingly wreckless, in fact. And right-wingers don't convey the flavor either, since so many of their opponents are also on the right-wing of the political scale, if indeed they register at all, but more importantly because so many of them are one-time (and perhaps future-time) liberals. And fascists, well for one thing they're not populist enough for that, they're not exactly racist, and they're not even good nationalists -- unless you consider the willingness of nominally American ideologues to squander American lives to perpetuate a system of Israeli settlements to be some kind of nationalism. But neocon does imply two things: they're a new force, and they're cons, as proven by how far they will lie and deceive in order to raise havoc.

Sunday, April 06, 2003

Music: Initial count 8110 rated (+30), 883 unrated (-16). RS work should be on home stretch now, although the remaining artists will take a lot of work, doubtless more than this week: Blackalicious, Buck 65, John Cale, Ani DiFranco, George Jones, John McLaughlin, Willie Nelson, Pet Shop Boys, Pink Floyd, Lou Reed, Loudon Wainwright III.

  • Mose Allison: The Sage of Tippo (1962-68, 32 Jazz, 2 CD). Four Atlantic albums on 2 CDs, this provides a broad swatch of Allison, including quite a bit of his piano as well as the vocals. One reason that I pulled this out was the notion that Willie Nelson might have more to do with someone like Allison than the usual country influences, but that doesn't hold a lot of water: although the voices aren't miles apart, Mose affects the hipster more, and tends to improvise (or at least modulate) in ways that recall people like Jimmy Scott, whereas Nelson's phrasing is much subtler. Good song: "Jus Like Livin" ("whatever happened to real life"). Possibly too much here, but second disc is better than the first, and the second half of that, the album I've Been Doin' Some Thinkin', is the best part of that. Thinkin' is good. B+
  • Laura Cantrell: When the Roses Bloom Again (2002, Diesel Only). I have her filed as country, but I she could pass in Branson any better than I can. But she only wrote three songs here, which is a real country trait. And A.P. Carter wrote (or at least copyrighted) the title cut; can't argue with that. This is a very appealing sort of countryish folkrock, smartly done, beautifully sung. "Conqueror's Song" caught me short a couple of times. In my haste I may be underrating this. (Got it from the library and it's due back.) B+
  • Jon Dee Graham: Escape From Monster Island (1997, New West). Played in a roots rock band called the True Believers -- but I never heard of them. Sings with a hoarse whisper, reminiscent of Sean Tyla -- but I suppose you never heard of him. This was his first solo album, a decade after the True Believers disbanded. The time seems to have let him get his shit together: the songs are uncommonly strong, with many distinctive lines. The guitar has quite a bite, too. This is more/less what standard issue rock and roll should sound like; many are called, but few actually seem to be able to pull it off. So, yes, I'm impressed. Just not sure how important it is. B+
  • The Highwaymen: Super Hits (1985-90, Columbia). This is not so much a supergroup as an occasional excuse to get together and crank out a little surplus product. The pleasure, of course, comes from hearing two of the most unmistakable voices in country together: Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson. That means the deep heavy voice must be Waylon Jennings, and the other guy must Kris Kristofferson. This ten cut cheapo excerpts from two albums, five cuts from each. Of course, they didn't work too hard on these: Cash wrote two ("Big River" may be the best thing here), and Jennings one ("Angels Love Bad Men"). "The Twentieth Century Is Almost Over" is almost camp, and Cash's "Songs That Made a Difference" is pushing it. "We're All in Your Corner" is the yuckiest. "Desperados Waiting for a Train" is automatic. B
  • The Highwaymen: The Road Goes on Forever (1995, Liberty). They traded in Chips Moman for Don Was, which not only sharpens up the instrumentation quite a bit, it gives them a consultant who's hip enough to pick songs from guys like Steve Earle and Robert Earl Keen. Starting with Earle's "The Devil's Right Head," then Billy Joe Shaver's "Live Forever," then Kevin Welch's "Everyone Gets Crazy," then . . . well, you get the idea. They take turns on the vocals, sing the choruses together. Doesn't seem as distinctive as the earlier shit. B+
  • Waylon Jennings: Dreaming My Dreams (1974-75, Buddha). I've always liked the idea of Waylon better than the reality, but this starts out OK, until the line "I'm sick and tired of waking up sick and tired" came past and sent me back to the booklet: song is "High Time (You Quit Your Low Down Ways)," by Billy Ray Reynods, and the guitarists include Merle Watson. Then comes a great Roger Miller song, "I've Been a Long Time Leaving (But I'll Be A Long Time Gone)" -- slightly skewed as sort of a cajun two-step, Jennings' low voice distinct from Miller's high lonesome. Then there's a funny/stupid song about cowboys, but the ballads aren't so great. Then there's "Bob Wills Is Still the King" -- somehow didn't know Jennings wrote that one -- but it's done live, so the crowd adds bombast and distraction, and it gets confused at the end. Two more pseudo-cowboy songs for a bonus encore, the latter by Billy Joe Shaver. Not bad. B+
  • Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Jessi Colter, Tompall Glaser: Wanted! The Outlaws (1978, RCA). This always smelled like it was just cashing in on the outlaw country hype, but it was a big hit, and in effect it cemented the hype into a certified phenomenon. Nelson's solo cuts probably date back to his RCA tenure, which ended in 1972. (At least "Me and Paul" and "Yesterday's Wine" were on his 1972 album of the latter name; their outlaw credentials are summed up in the advice, "almost busted in Laredo/but for reasons I'd rather not disclose/but if you're staying in a motel there and leave/just don't leave nothing in your clothes.") Jennings gets top billing, probably because he was still RCA's artist. Colter and Glaser spread the demographics a bit and added a little color. Colter's two cuts are good, and Glaser manages to handle Jimmie Rodgers and Shel Silverstein, but this is really a Waylon & Willie affair, with "My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys" and the live "Good Hearted Woman." It sounded fine back then, but hardly momentous. The 1996 edition just about doubles the length. Waylon's "Slow Movin' Outlaws" is a big plus, but the other recovered "Lost" songs, including a lot of Colter, don't add much. Better is the "New" cut, where Waylon & Willie do Steve Earle's "Nowhere Road." B+
  • Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson: Waylon and Willie (1978, Buddha). Starts off with "Mama Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys," a #1 hit. Some useful documentation on the reissues, admitting that some of the material was old and overdubbed. "If You Can Touch Her At All," for instance, a 1973 recording with overdubs; Willie sings it, and it's pretty good. The rest of the record just sort of flows by, more Waylon than Willie, not bad but not much better. B
  • Waylon Jennings/Willie Nelson: WWII (1982, Buddha). "The Dock of the Bay" is nice, but feels a little fussy. Tom T. Hall's classic "The Year That Clayton Delaney Died" sounds terrific. Another high point is Nelson's "Write Your Own Songs" (can't find the lyrics in Nelson's book, why is that?). Closer is a Guy Clark thing, "The Old Mother's Locket Trick," mostly spoken. Talented guys, mostly slumming. A pair of dog tags on the back of the booklet, one says: Waylon Jennings/"Willie's laid back"/That's lazy back home. B
  • The Rough Guide to Ali Hassan Kuban (1989-2001, World Music Network). Born in Egypt in 1929, up the Nile towards Aswan, in the heart of the ancient Nubia which he took to not just as his homeland but as his muse, Kuban's music suggests deep African rather than Arabic roots. But he wasn't folkloric -- his groups featured accordion and saxophone, and much of the omnipresent rhythm comes from congas. But the vocals have a workmanlike quality of someone who's been doing this a long time, which he has for all we know -- he was sixty when he was "discovered" and invited to Germany to record. This set adds two previously unreleased live recordings to its digest of four albums, and one, "Henna," is an eye-opener: a lot of things going on there, and some could impress as jazz. A-
  • Jackie McLean: Jacknife (1965, Blue Note). Charles Toliver wrote and plays trumpet on two cuts. Lee Morgan plays on two others, and both Toliver and Morgan team up for Morgan's "Soft Blue." Toliver's "On the Nile" is most remarkable, a middle eastern theme where the rhythm is blocked out, chopped up, and stretched, with a pronounced Coltrane inspiration. "Jacknife" is harried bebop. Morgan is spectacular on "Climax"; less so on his own "Soft Blue". Welcome addition. I think this was the centerpiece of an old Blue Note 2-LP that I once had, my intro to McLean, one of the true greats. B+
  • Mighty Terror: Pan Poetry (Ice). Fitzgerald Cornelious Henry, he shows up in the London Is the Place for Me set, so I dug this vaguely remembered set out of the nether shelves. The one thing Ice never gives us is dates, but it's likely that these cuts come from the 1960s. The sound seems a little iffy, and the early cuts tentative, but there are some terrific pieces later on: "Dora Pork Fat," "Calypsonians," "Yankee Woman Ain't Cooking Sweet" -- "Yankee women don't season meat -- That's the reason they don't cook sweet/And yankee women don't wash their rice/And when they cooking for human, they want top price/They can't shake their waist/So when you want sweet food in the rain or the shine, Trinidad women anytime." A-
  • Willie Nelson: Face of a Fighter (2001, Delta Blue, 2CD). When I ordered this, I was thinking of an LP with the same title of 1961 tracks released in 1978 on Lone Star, which Christgau gave an A- to. Don't know what the hell this set is. The cover picture shows an old Willie, but the songs must be early, probably early '60s. Twelfth song on disc one is "You'll Always Have Someone," possibly my pick for his greatest ever song; then "One Step Beyond" and on the second CD "Touch Me," a 1962 single, and "Half a Man," a 1965 Liberty single, but recorded in 1962. (The Complete Liberty Recordings has a very good discography for this period, but not all of these songs show up there.) Lots of good music here, but the lack of discogrpahy, the split of roughly one disc's worth of music over two, inconsistency in sound, etc., and the fact that most (all?) of this is available elsewhere suggests docking it a couple of notches. B+
  • Willie Nelson: I Let My Mind Wander (1961, Kingfisher). The paper that comes with this CD tells you nothing, but Christgau identifies these as "oft-recycled" 1961 Pamper demos, and they mostly overlap the Face of a Fighter tracks. Again, we have a cover photo of a much older Willie, so you can't credit them with being honesty. Still, the songs are wonderful, and the sound is better than Face. A-
  • Willie Nelson: The Early Years (1961-63, Scotti Bros.). Another useless booklet, which ranges from Nelson's birth to induction in Country Music Hall of Fame but only offers one line on songs in this set. That's where 1962 comes from, although "Everything But You" was unreleased as of the Rhino anthology, probably a Pamper demo from 1961. I figured these to come from the Liberty recordings, but the overlap with the Complete Liberty Recordings is pretty minimal, so again this points to Pamper. Again, these are good songs, and Willie was a very good singer from the very beginning. The little latin thing on "Some Other Time" is delightful. B+
  • Willie Nelson: Crazy: The Demo Sessions (1960-66, Sugar Hill). More Pamper demos, recently released by a company which at least has half a clue about what it's doing and what the significance of these recordings is (as opposed to a way to get Nelson in your catalogue cheap). Still, the documentation isn't as good as one would want: in particular, the 1960-66 date was the whole period when Nelson worked for Pamper, but they don't have specific dates; similarly, they give a list of musicians that worked sometime or other, but not who worked when. Eight of 16 performances (7 of 16 songs) were previously unreleased. It's noted that these songs came from a tape discovered in 1994, which means what? All recorded at the same time, or collated at some particular time? When? Of one song the booklet says, "After hearing this rocking demo, Faron Young cut 'Things to Remember' for Capitol on June 19, 1961." Does that put the dates back to 1961? Eight songs are cut solo, eight with a studio band. (Booklet only documents 15 songs, but #16 is a medley, including "Half a Man," done with piano and guitar, and just gorgeous.) B+
  • Willie Nelson: Country Willie: His Own Songs (1965, Buddha). By the time Nelson got to RCA, he had released 20 singles and three LPs (one on Aura and two on Liberty), but he was better known as a songwriter -- "Hello Walls" (Faron Young), "Funny How Time Slips Away" (Billy Walker), "Nite Life" (Ray Price), "Crazy" (Patsy Cline, but missing here). So the first thing RCA does is have Nelson cut new versions of his own songs. This is very low-key, minimal bands, just a little steel guitar for sweetening. But this is Nelson's genius, and it's hard to find fault here. The closing "Within Your Crowd" pricked my attention. A
  • Country Favorites Willie Nelson Style (1966, Buddha). After first recording his own songs, this one covers others. (Don't have a credits list, but I recognize at least three Bob Wills songs, as well as "I Love You Because" and "Heartaches by Number" and "Making Believe.") "Go On Home" sounds like pretty good Nelson. This still seems to be pretty solid. B+
  • Oh Boy Classics Presents Willie Nelson (2000, Oh Boy). No discographical information. All the pictures show old Willie, but the songs are all early, all Tree Publishing, i.e. Pamper era. A third of these are things that show up everywhere. One of the others that impresses me is "More Than One Way to Cry." B+
  • Willie Nelson: Broken Promises (1960-66, Proper, 2 CD). This easily takes the prize for Pamper Demos, which is presumably what we're talking about here. With 40 songs, this is by far the most extensive set. The famous songs are missing -- no "Crazy," "Hello Walls," etc. -- but demos like "You'll Always Have Someone" and "Face of a Fighter" are here (no "I Let My Mind Wander," though). Booklet has a good biographical essay on Nelson, but no discographical info. A-
  • The Essential Willie Nelson (1965-72, RCA). A broad selection of Nelson's RCA recordings, the best of which came from Country Willie before Chet Atkins unleashed the strings. Again, the key thing here seems to be that Nelson was singer with an exceptionally light and modest touch, working in a genre where the obvious vocal giants had long been Hank Williams and George Jones, so it's not hard to see that Nelson would've been less than fully appreciated at the time. Again, almost all of the songs are ballads; again, that's a far cry from the honky tonk and barn burners of yore. The few covers are delicate too, "Waltz Across Texas" perhaps the best. The only thing I don't much care for is "Phases, Stages, Circles, Cycles and Scenes," the last recorded, perhaps indicative of at least one strain in Nelson's '70s work -- the strain that overreached and underachieved. A-
  • Willie Nelson: RCA Country Legends (1967-72, RCA/BMG Heritage). Another generation of RCA reissues, the concept here being to knock the cut count down from 20 to 16. Another concept is that the front cover has a picture of old bearded Willie, even though the back cover has the same picture as Essential -- a concession to the silly idea that no one would recognize him othewise. Nelson recorded something like 13 albums for RCA over eight years, only two of which are in print in anything like their canonical form, so there should be a lot of material to choose from. However, this set goes further, with 12 (of 16) cuts listed as "previously unissued in the U.S." And only one of the other four is on Essential, a big change from the Bill Monroe, which dropped cuts but didn't add a thing. Most of these cuts come from 1972, just before Nelson left RCA for Atlantic and left Nashville for Austin, so some of these are rough drafts for Phases and Stages. B
  • Willie Nelson: Nite Life: Greatest Hits & Rare Tracks (1959-71, Rhino). I've had this since it came out in 1990, and it defines early Nelson for me -- it may even make the early Nelson resonate so strongly that it overshadows his more famous later work. "Man With the Blues" was even pre-Nashville. Liberty singles and album cuts of his bit songwriting songs, a few RCA songs, and "Me and Paul," the 1971 cut that I knew from the later album of the same name. Plus a couple of previously unreleaseds -- "You'll Always Have Someone" (what a great song), "Everything But You." The golden age of Rhino, and even then this stood out. A+
  • Willie Nelson: Shotgun Willie (1973, Atlantic). Produced by Arif Mardin, in New York, with some help from Jerry Wexler, and some extras from David Briggs in Nashville. Horns on "Shotgun Willie." Organ on "Whiskey River." From "Sad Songs and Waltzes": "Well it's a good thing I'm not a star/you don't know how lucky you are." Good remake of "Local Memory," but the strings get the best of "Slow Down Old World." Two Bob Wills songs, a little mannered. Two Leon Russell songs, a lot mannered. B
  • Willie Nelson: Phases and Stages (1974, Atlantic). Produced by Jerry Wexler, recorded in Muscle Shoals. Nelson always claimed that "Nashville was the roughest," and this was his escape. Had he not been from Texas, and had he not written those Nashville hits, it would've been possible to treat Nelson as another one of those circa-1970 singer-songwriter -- he seems to have more in common with people like Joni Mitchell and Randy Newman than he does with George Jones or Conway Twitty or Loretta Lynn. I never thought much of "Phases and Stages," the refrain that cycles around 4-5 times here, but this has two real good songs, "I Still Can't Believe You're Gone" and "It's Not Supposed to Be That Way," slow ballads with little more than strings for instrumentation. That's pretty remarkable. A-
  • Willie Nelson: Red Headed Stranger (1975, Columbia/Legacy). When Nelson signed with Columbia he was given much more creative freedom (complete control?), and this is what he came up with. This was his big breakthrough (went #1?). It's a concept album, the story of a preacher who, finding out that he wife was unfaithful, kills her and her companion. He then leaves town, wanders, meets another lady who takes a liking to his horse, kills her too. Later he hooks up with another woman, who redeems him, or at least seems to have survived the story. This caught a lot of hype and a little flack way back then -- many critics deemed it a masterpiece, but as Christgau wrote, "all I hear is that he's redeemed by another woman there--if she leaves him, he'll kill her too." Never having been one to hang on every word, this will take a while to digest. Meanwhile, note that the remastered Legacy edition (2000) has four bonus tracks, which are neither here nor there. The music has things to recommend it, and the message is oblique enough that you can ignore it and enjoy this. But it's hard to imagine falling in love with it without atttributing some mythology to it that doesn't quite seem to be there. When Nelson did this, nobody really knew what he was up to; Phases and Stages seemed to be a precursor, but where was he going? Turns out, of course, he never really went anywhere. Whatever Willie Nelson ultimately is, it's not pretty certain that he is not a storyteller, which is I think one reason not to invest too much significance in this at best rough sketch. But it's the music that keeps growing on me, so what the hell. A-
  • Willie Nelson: The Sound in Your Mind (1976, Columbia). Well, this one's pretty easy. The CD version is totally budget -- didn't even bother to list who wrote which songs, which for the most part wasn't Nelson. Good singer, of course, not that you can tell from "Amazing Grace." Not much here, not even the cranked up medley of his supple old songs. B-
  • Willie Nelson: To Lefty From Willie (1977, Columbia). More quickie product, suggesting that the big concept album was just a fluke. These are, of course, great songs. And Nelson is, can there be any doubt, a great singer. But nobody but nobody could sing Lefty like Lefty. (Listen to George Jones' Cup of Loneliness -- the only songs he pulls up lame on are Lefty's.) One thing that helps are the pieces that are not overly familiar (e.g., "Railroad Lady"). B
  • Willie Nelson: Stardust (1978, Columbia/Legacy). Nelson's "roots" album turns out to be Hoagy Carmichael, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Kurt Weill, Duke Ellington. This knocked folks for a loop back then, and it's still one of the best vocal standards albums ever. A
  • Willie Nelson: Willie and Family Live (1978, Columbia, 2CD). That bane of the record industry, the live double. Couldn't even fit this one on one CD. But he's got a band (or family) that he wants to show off, and he's got a songbook too. Johnny Paycheck shows up to shove his job. Nelson plays "A Song for You" solo, with aplomb, then picks up the band for "Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms" (which I associate with Leon Russell although I know he got it from Flatt & Scruggs). B+
  • Willie Nelson Sings Kristofferson (1979, Columbia). I don't think I've ever heard any of Kristofferson's albums, although I've obviously heard other people do these songs. I'm finding this rather likable. Not sure it won't wind up higher. B
  • Willie Nelson/Leon Rusell: One for the Road (1979, Columbia). Originally a double-LP, this was the first of a landslide of duet albums. Pretty eclectic set of non-originals: "I Saw the Light" (pretty good), "Heartbreak Hotel" (well), "Trouble in Mind" (huh), "Don't Fence Me In" (don't), "The Wild Side of Life" (not so wild), "Sioux City Sue" (jazzy, credit Leon), "You Are My Sunshine" (jazzy, blame Leon), "Danny Boy" (solemn), "Always" (nice), "Summertime" (stately), "Because of You" (turgid), "Am I Blue" (blue), "Tenderly" (swimming in goo), "That Lucky Old Sun" (good), "Stormy Weather" (better), "One for My Baby" (devout). Anyone allergic to Leon's voice needn't fret; it's not totally absent, but Nelson gets all the leads. The second half or so is slower, at which point Leon's keybs become more prominent, especially their churchliness. Some good stuff here, some not so good. B-
  • Willie Nelson/Ray Price: San Antonio Rose (1979, Columbia). Nelson did several duets with major country stars of the '50s -- by far the best of the many duets he was releasing from 1979-1985. And this, unlike the Russell above, finds Nelson and Price trading vocals, on a more/less evenly divided songbook. Price sponsored Nelson when the latter hit Nashville, both in his songwriting business and by hiring Nelson to play bass. One thing a bit odd here is that the time often slips, some sort of jazzy undertow, especially on "Night Life" and "Funny How Time Slips Away." B+
  • Willie Nelson & Family: Honeysuckle Rose (1980, Columbia). Movie soundtrack -- don't recall seeing the movie. Some songs are listed with other names: Johnny Gimble, Jody Payne, Dyan Cannon, Hank Cochran, Kenneth Threadgill, Amy Irving, Emmylou Lewis, Jeannie Seely. These are cut live, or at least with crowd noises. One good non-Nelson is Hank Cochran doing "I Don't Do Windows," and Cochran also has a piece in "Make the World Go Away." The live cuts diminish Nelson, and there's a lot of stuff that probably makes more sense in the movie, such as the tentative (but moving) solo take on "A Song For You." Mixed bag, what can you say? B
  • Willie Nelson: Somewhere Over the Rainbow (1981, Columbia). Another set of Stardust -- "Mona Lisa," "Exactly Like You," "Who's Sorry Now." Johnny Gimble, a guy who knows his western swing, plays fiddle, and "Who's Sorry Now" is especially jazzed up. "Over the Rainbow" is quite nice. "In My Mother's Eyes" a little off, but it's one song I don't know. Fats Waller's "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter" is naturally jazzy, lots of fiddle, a snappy break, but Freddie Powers' vocal sounds like a little pseudo-blackface. Two observations: 1) the songs don't seem so central to Nelson's own work; 2) the western swing prism tends to take over, sometimes oversimplistically. B+
  • Willie Nelson: Greatest Hits (& Some That Will Be) (1975-81, Columbia). The three future hits are good enough to fit in, but only the not-really-new "Good Hearted Woman" is a hit (or was, on RCA). About the only thing that this set proves is that whatever it was that Nelson's been doing on Columbia, he hasn't been making hits. There's good stuff here -- "Georgia on My Mind" stands out, the Lefty songs are good, the live "Whiskey River" rocks, "Uncloudy Day" is an inspirational singalong, "Faded Love" with Ray Price. But the good stuff is really all over the place, and doesn't necessarily gain stature or depth by proximity
  • Willie Nelson: Always on My Mind (1982, Columbia). Chips Moman is on hand, which explains some of the song selection, but "Do Right Woman, Do Right Man" belongs to Gram Parsons and Aretha Franklin, and Nelson's gift is too subtle to play in that league. The two big '60s rock hits are sure death: "A Whiter Shade of Pale" might've seemed like a good idea, but its churchliness is too stout for Nelson, and "Bridge Over Troubled Water" is even worse. The title cut is grand, but damn little else impresses: Nelson has never oversung so much. C+
  • Willie Nelson: In the Jailhouse Now / Brand on My Heart (1982-85, DCC). The best of Nelson's honky tonk duets, a real good one with Webb Pierce, and a very great one with Hank Snow. A
  • Willie Nelson: Old Friends / Funny How Time Slips Away (1982-85, Koch). I always thought of the Ray Price/Webb Pierce/Hank Snow/Faron Young duets as a unit -- Nelson with the elder generation -- so I was a little surprised to see the Roger Miller duet show up here, paired with the Faron Young. Miller was much more of a contemporary -- actually three years younger than Nelson, although he got to Nashville a bit earlier, and got his first breaks from Ray Price, like Nelson. The Miller set is also distinctive in that Miller wrote all of the songs, not that they're the novelties people associate with Miller: "Husbands & Wives," "When a House Is Not a Home," "Invitation to the Blues," good songs. But while I love Miller, the real gems here are two beautiful songs at the end which Nelson sings on his own, "When Two Worlds Collide" and "I'll Pick Up My Heart (And Go Home)." The Faron Young set are all duets, and Faron only has one writing credit -- not surprising when you consider how many songs Nelson fed him: "Three Days," "Half a Man," "Hello Walls," "She's Not For You," "Funny How Time Slips Away," and more. Young sounds like he's past his shelf date, at least until "Live Fast, Love Hard, Die Young," where he really peps up. But Nelson is really on home turf with this songbook, and his own songs are superb. However, Don Gibson's "Sweet Dreams" is a bit rough on both of them. A-
  • Willie Nelson: Me and Paul (1985, DCC). The title cut dates back to 1971, but it's looser than ever here. The three Billy Joe Shaver songs are cornier than Nelson's own, but they're good songs, and "I Been to Georgia on a Fast Train" kicks things off nicely. I should check to see how far back the rest of Nelson's songs go -- they feel like his old ones. One of his best albums, and he probably didn't put more than a couple of days thought into it. A-
  • Willie Nelson: Half Nelson (1985, Columbia). Ten songs, ten duets, ten different artists. Merle Haggard, "Pancho and Lefty" (part of a good album); Lacy J. Dalton, "Slow Movin' Outlaw" (only lady here, which seems to be a conceptual flaw); Neil Young, "Are There Any More Real Cowboys" (fine); Hank Williams, "I Told a Lie to My Heart" (from the grave, and sounds like it); Mel Tillis, "Texas on a Saturday Night" (live, but where's the brawl?); Ray Charles, "Seven Spanish Angels" (negligible); Julio Iglesias, "To All the Girls I've Love Before" (smarmy, awful); Santana, "They All Went to Mexico" (at least he doesn't try to sing, but it's amusing enough to make you wonder what a full set of Tex-Mex would sound like); Leon Russell, "Honky Tonk Women" (no stretch); George Jones, "Half a Man" (great song, great singer, why isn't it better?). B-
  • Willie Nelson: What a Wonderful World (1988, Columbia). Another set of standards, following Stardust and Somewhere Over the Rainbow: "Spanish Eyes" (with Julio Iglesias, but OK anyway); "Moon River" (slow); "Some Enchanted Evening" (slower); "What a Wonderful World" (what a crock); "South of the Border" (nice Mexican feel); "Ole Buttermilk Sky" (nice cowboy feel); "The Song From Moulin Rouge" (nothing); "To Each His Own" (sort of pretty); "Twilight Time" (eloquent); "Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive" (out on a positive note). These seem to be mostly '50s songs, removed in several dimensions from the jazz standards of Nelson's previous albums. Not much to say one way or another. B
  • The Very Best of Willie Nelson (1974-89, Columbia/Legacy, 2 CD). At fifteen cuts per CD, this isn't crammed. But seven cuts in it seems to be flowing better than previous best-ofs, and two cuts caught my attention while I was doing something else: "All of Me," the old jazz standard, from the brilliant Stardust, and "Last Thing I Needed First Thing This Morning," from the awful Always on My Mind. There's a duet with Dolly Parton that I missed, and the first disc closes with with "Pancho and Lefty." The second disc is a little messier. The Iglesias duo is unavoidable. There's a 1974 duet licensed from Atlantic with Tracy Nelson, "After the Fire Is Gone," which seems harsh, and there's two Outlaws cuts from BMG. Steve Goodman's "City of New Orleans" strikes me as too loud, too forced. Closes with the great "Uncloudy Day." It's really hard to evaluate things like this: Nelson's been all over the map for Columbia, and figuring out how to sum that up without appearing scatterbrained is, if not impossible, real tough for the sort of people who concoct compilations like this (i.e., marketing people). B+
  • Willie Nelson: 16 Biggest Hits (1975-89, Columbia/Legacy). The PR guy tells me this budget series is meant for truck stops. I bought it a while back when I rented a car in Utah and discovered it had a CD player, but I hadn't brought any CDs along, and it was just fine for a few days in the car, wandering around the desert. The sticker boasts 12 #1 hits, and it's safe to say that everything here is everywhere else too.
  • Willie Nelson: Love Songs (1978-88, Columbia/Legacy). Label desperately in search of a concept. Only one Nelson original; only three songs I remember hearing this week, although I could've blocked others out, or more likely just didn't notice them. No point beating on "What a Wonderful World," "Always on My Mind," "Unchained Melody," "Some Enchanted Evening" again, other than to ask the rhetorical what kind of love songs are these? That leaves: "Something" (first Beatles cover I've heard, hopefully the last); "I Can't Begin to Tell You"; "To Each His Own" (beyond ripe); "My Own Peculiar Way" (schlock strings); "If My World Didn't Have You" (piled on even thicker); "Wind Beneath My Wings" (just awful). Maybe they should've called this series Drowned in Strings? Frankly, I would've picked the murderous "Red Headed Stranger" before any of this schlock. D+
  • Willie Nelson: Across the Borderline (1993, Columbia). This has the air of commercial desperation, like he finally has to try again. Bring in superstar producer Don Was. Search as far and wide for songs as Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel, John Hiatt, and Willie Dixon. Bring in guest stars. Simon's "American Tune" is given a rigorous reading. Bonnie Raitt duets on "Getting Over You." Bring in Mark O'Connor for some fiddle on Hiatt's "Most Unoriginal Sin." Sinead O'Connor adds her voice to Gabriel's "Don't Give Up." For "Heartland" Nelson duets with his co-writer, Bob Dylan -- sounds very adenoidal. "Across the Borderline" is a nice ballad, written by Hiatt and Ry Cooder. Then comes Simon's "Graceland," produced to spec by Simon. Lyle Lovett's "Farther Down the Line" at least sounds more like country -- good piano, nice steel and fiddle, first-rate vocal. "Valentine" is Nelson's own, one of the few songs here that seems right for him. Dylan's "What Was It You Wanted" is darkly produced. Willie Dixon's "I Love the Life I Live" is more jive than blues, but it's just shuck compared to the way Muddy sings it. Lovett's "If I Were the Man You Wanted" is pretty simple; filler here, not bad, but not much. Nelson's "She's Not for You" was written in 1962, back when Wilson wrote great songs; it's done very delicately. Nelson's "Still Is Still Moving to Me" is new; it always sounds like Dire Straits to me. So, fancy record, terrific sound, first-rate musicians, pretty good songs, what's not to like? Well, it just feels kind of empty, artificial. You could say the same thing about Was's Dylan album, but Dylan fit a little better, and it'd been so long since Dylan did anything decent we cut him a little slack. Maybe we should here too: one difference is that this is a much more sociable album, which is appropriate given that Willie's a much more sociable guy. But cut him too much slack and he's liable to do it again. (Actually, he's not likely to anyway -- too much work. But as a confirmation of Nelson's superstardom, especially after all that IRS nastiness, it's sort of impressive.) B+
  • Willie Nelson: Revolutions of Time . . . The Journey (1975-93, Columbia/Legacy, 3 CD). The box set treatment. Relatively good booklet. First CD, Pilgrimage, is a pretty good best-of: starts with two cuts from Red Headed Stranger, two Lefty songs sandwiched around "Uncloudy Day," two from Stardust, and live cuts, including a "Mr. Record Man" harkening back "40-50 years ago." This tails off a bit at the end, but is pretty solid. The second CD, Sojourns, is a set of duos and collaborations. The cuts from the honky tonk duos are, of course, quite good, although "Old Friends" wouldn't have been my choice from the Roger Miller set. And you can count Merle and George in with the older generation. The pieces with Dolly, Waylon, and Kris are also OK. But the rest of the stuff from Half Nelson is pretty awful (excepting the Neil Young). Then there's the Dylan piece from Across the Borderline, which I find more than a little annoying, although it's harder to say just what is so wrong about it. The third CD, Exodus, picks up Nelson's solo work from 1981, including a slew of albums that are out of print now. "Harbor Lights" is one of the better post-Stardust standards. "Write Your Own Songs" is refreshingly nasty: "so just lay on your ass and get richer/or write your own songs." Two good cuts from Me and Paul, both old. "My Own Peculiar Way" sounds a lot better here than on Love Songs. Another good one is "Nothing I Can Do About It Now," by B.N. Chapman, who also wrote "Ain't Necessarily So." So while this CD is a mixed bag, it's got some interesting stuff, and pretty decent listening. Bumped up a notch to: B+
  • Willie Nelson: Moonlight Becomes You (1994, Justice). More stardust. Plain band: piano, bass, drums, couple of guitars, Johnny Gimble on fiddle. Simple arrangements. Seems like Nelson could knock off albums like this by the dozen, but the three Columbia sets of standards are all distinctive and excepting Stardust more forced (hell, weirder) than this one. Quite consistently nice. B+
  • Willie Nelson: Spirit (1996, Island). New label, maybe he should make a little effort. Well, he wrote twelve new songs, and reprises 18 seconds of the first at the end. The band is down to four -- guitar, guitar, sister Bobbie on piano, Johnny Gimble on fiddle: no bass, no drums, no real need to keep let alone impose a beat. In some sense Ringo Starr could've made Across the Borderline, but only Willie Nelson could make an album like this. A-
  • Willie Nelson: Teatro (1998, Island). Another big guest producer: Daniel Lanois. Starts with a nice little hispanic instrumental, mostly guitar. Nice shuffle on "These Lonely Nights." That's one of the new non-Nelson titles, but most of the Nelsons have '60s copyrights. The best known of the old ones, "Three Days," is done with what sounds like congas (credits don't list congas, but Brad Mehldau is listed on piano and vibes). Daniel Lanois is credited with "Les Paul" on most of these cuts -- what does that mean? I assumed it was a guitar, but many of these cuts, e.g. the instrumental "Annie" at the end, sounds like they have synth percussion. Nice, attractive record, with a latin feel. B+
  • Willie Nelson: Night and Day (1999, Pedernales). This is a mere instrumental album -- nice arrangements, but it's not even set up as a platform for improvisation, which is pretty much de rigeur to be considered as jazz. But the arrangement to "All the Things You Are" is just gorgeous, then "Sweet Georgia Brown" picks up the pace a bit. A-
  • Willie Nelson with Curtis Potter: Six Hours at Pedernales (1994, Step One). This is one of Nelson's slapdash jams with an old and otherwise little known friend. Potter sings quite a bit, taking a few leads, but Nelson takes most. The music starts off very jazzy, and keeps up a loose feel throughout, delving more into ballads toward the end. Potter has a nice rich voice, which Nelson complements superbly. Nice record. B+
  • Willie Nelson and the Offenders: Me and the Drummer (2000, Luck). Offhand, sounds like "Me and Paul," doesn't it? Nelson didn't write the title tune, but by now he can pick Willie songs as well as he can write 'em. But Nelson wrote the rest of 'em, mostly decades ago, and they're recorded with much the same straightforwardness as the Pamper demos. Extraordinary: "You Couldn't Cross the Street to Say Good-bye." And "What a Way to Live" is the perfect closer. Amen. A-
  • Willie Nelson: Milk Cow Blues (2000, Island). Pure concept: classic blues songs plus five classic Nelson songs arranged as blues, guest vocalists. But the guests divide neatly into a B-team (Francine Reed, Jonny Lang, Susan Tedeschi) and an A-team (Dr. John, B.B. King). So, what can you say? The A-team's good. There's some decent stuff here. But Nelson isn't really a blues guy -- the rhythm's too tight for him, and while he can sing (especially his own tunes) impressively, this isn't very distinctive or interesting, even though it's fine for background (as evidence by the fact that I just heard it while writing other shit and didn't really notice anything past "Crazy," although I sort of recall from past listens that B.B. cuts some nice guitar somewhere). B
  • Willie Nelson & Friends: Stars and Guitars (2002, Lost Highway). Friends? Sheryl Crow, Toby Keith, Rob Thomas (Matchbox 20?), Bill Evans (the fusion saxophonist, as opposed to the banjo player, the dead pianist, or Yusef Lateef), Lee Ann Womack, Jon Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora (Bon Jovi), Ray Price, Ryan Adams, Hank Williams III, Keith Richards, Norah Jones, Aaron Neville, Brian McKnight, Patty Griffin, Matchbox 20, Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris. (Parens for those I had to look up.) "Night Life" (Price) is quite good. "Dead Flowers" is better than "Honky Tonk Women" would've been. Neville sings "Stardust" like a joke falsetto Little Richard. McKnight on "Don't Fade Away" is also awful. "For What It's Worth" (yes, the Steve Stills song, with Crow and Evans) is, well, gosh, what can you say? Matchbox 20 tackles "Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys" -- hey, where's Toby Keith when you really need him? Then Vince Gill's intro to "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain" is just beautiful, but Emmylou's piece does nothing, and Ryan Adams on "The Harder They Come" is another head scratcher. That leaves Willie to save the show, but all he comes up with is "On the Road Again" and "Move It On Over." The crowd loves everything here, but I find it, well, not quite appalling so much as just plain sad. And not sad so much for Nelson, who towers above such proceedings even as he scarcely notices them, but sad that something this slight seems to mean something. C+
  • Willie Nelson: The Great Divide (2002, Lost Highway). OK, just screwed up a bit: this one came out in Jan. 2002, well before Stars & Guitars in Nov. 2002. The latter has three songs from here, with their corresponding guest stars. Gee, too bad Kid Rock couldn't make the concert. (And too bad Brian McKnight could.) I guess this could be Nelson's finest heavy metal album, but even by those standards the duet with Sheryl Crow, "Be There for You," is a plodding piece of crap. The title cut is lighter and better, and "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)" is a decent but irrelevant rocker. Don't know what else to say here. Bernie Taupin wrote a couple of the lyrics? The production, by Matt Serletic, pulls out all the stops. (I hadn't heard of Serletic, but past credits include: Aerosmith, Beenie Man, Collective Soul, Celine Dion, Matchbox 20, Patty Smyth, Superjesus.) C
  • William Parker Quartet: O'Neal's Porch (2000, Aum Fidelity). The first three pieces here are just spectacular: twin horns (Rob Brown on alto sax and Lewis Barnes on trumpet) soaring and swooping over propulsive rhythm. The fourth, "Rise," is more difficult, the horns breaking up and opening up some space for the bassist to show off. "Song for Jesus" starts with a slow gospel theme, with drummer Hamid Drake decorating. "Leaf" and "Moon" get a bit dicey, where the two horns tend to go their own ways, but the energy level never flags, and the bass and drums (when you can hear them) are always doing something interesting. A-
  • Matthew Shipp Duo With William Parker: Zo (1994, Thirsty Ear). This may be the best example I've heard of Shipp in pure avant-garde mode -- the piano is much more rhythmic than most of his early work, and he's continuously engaged with Parker, who is, well, little short of awesome. Can't say that I get enough of this "Summertime" to make my mix tape, but the three "Zo" pieces are very engaging. A-
  • Bunny Wailer: Communication (2000, Solomonic). We know that the world doesn't lack things for Bunny to protest, but is Bunny up to the task? Sure sounds like it. However specious Bunny's aspiration to Bob Marley's "crown" might be, there can be little doubting that he's the patron saint of Jah Rasta, nor that his early song "Struggle" has a lot to teach Muslims about Jihad. But what's surprising about this disc is that while his core beliefs stay fixed, his dancehall keeps evolving, the mark of a guy who keeps his eyes and ears open. "The Peoples Cup" may be reiteration of his hard-earned verities, but "Almighty Is a Rappa" (forty lines beginning "with the word") is hip and hop. And he keeps it going, "Healp Us Jah," "Bear the Cross," "Ethiopia." "Fiya Red" is something different, stripped to raw African rhythm, for yet another Wailer sermon. And what about "Disarmament Speech"? It's a text from Hailie Selassie spoken gravely over rhythm, but reflects severely on the US today. A-

Friday, April 04, 2003

There's a report today that Israel rounded up all of the men in a Palestinian town, Tulkarm, put them on trucks and dumped them out of town. Supposedly they they searched for terrorists, explosives, etc. But the exercise of moving that many people sounds more like they're developing some metrics for what they call "transfer," or worse.

Also reports of trials in a crackdown on dissidents in Cuba. This week's New Yorker has a remarkably stupid piece by Hendrik Hertzberg which argues that the Cuban crackdown is an unintended side-effect of US preoccupation with Iraq. But that's not what's stupid about the piece. Try this on for size:

Whatever else can be said about the war against the Iraqi dictatorship that began on March 19th, it cannot be said that the Anglo-American invaders have pursued anything remotely resembling a policy of killing civilians deliberately. And, so far, they have gone to great tactical and technological lengths to avoid doing it inadvertently, too.
Well, whatever else can be said about that war, one thing that is absolutely certain is that the US invasion was going to result in the killing of civilians -- no other outcome was possible, and the people who were responsible for launching that war knew that. Since that war was launched deliberately, it's a pretty far stretch to say that the killing of civilians that the war guaranteed was not itself deliberate.

Still, I think we also have to ask just what intentions have to do with it. Admittedly, in US criminal law intentions do make for the difference between 1st and 2nd degree murder (unless, that is, one is already engaged in perpetrating a crime, which the US arguably is). But by far the more important thing is to look at the actual consequences of the actions, not the intentions. Intentions, after all, are subjective, often nebulous, poorly remembered, and mostly inaccessible. But dead bodies are something else: they can be established with such overwhelming certainty that we call them facts. If a given policy results in the ascertainable facts of the deaths of civilians then it is quite reasonable to describe those facts as a crime. And if a given policy was optional, and was reasonably expected to produce those facts, we have to conclude that the people who formulated and implemented that policy are in fact criminals. That is overwhelmingly the case here. The best you can give them credit for is not committing even grosser crimes. (Of course, until the US leaves Iraq there is still a great likelihood that they will in fact do just that.)


Just saw an advertisement on AMG which noted that "2003 declared Year of the Blues by U.S. Senate". How appropriate. Last time I can remember the blues making a declaration on the Senate was Andrew Tibbs' "Bilbo Is Dead."

Thursday, April 03, 2003

Edwin Starr died today: "War, what's it good for? Absolutely nothing!" Heart attack. Laura tells me that the lead editorial in the Wall Street Journal yesterday was titled "War, What's It Good For?" Of course, they had lots of lame excuses.


Went to bookstore last night, and saw two new Iraq books. Both were about the rise of Babylon and the prophecies of apocalypse in the Book of Revelation. Can't give you details or theory, because the Hull Family of Revelations Scholars ended with my father. I do recall my grandfather telling me that he thought the founding of the state of Israel was probably a sign that the revelations and their apocalypse were coming true. In A Peace to End All Peace, David Fromkin writes that one of Lloyd George's main reasons for the Balfour Declaration was the realization of biblical prophecy. I can't think of a more insane basis for political policy, but then the policy itself has had more than its share of insanity. And it's worth some pondering just how attractive Zionism was in the first third of the 20th century to antisemites. You also have to wonder why so many Christian fanatics have come to embrace Zionism lately. And you have to wonder what our most fanatical of Christian Presidents really has rattling around in his tiny mind.

For what little it's worth, my own final contribution to the family's multigenerational obsession with the Book of Revelations is that I've always thought that it was the sick joke at the end that gave up the lie of the whole book. (Kind of like the ending of Fight Club.)


Also picked up the White Stripes and Libertines CDs, at Best Buy, for $10 each. This after passing up the White Stripes for $17 elsewhere. Don't know when I'll find time to play them, but I hear they're good or great or something like that. But they're also desperate to sell, and my pricing analysis is holding up well.

Speaking of which, Airtran has dropped Wichita-Atlanta flights as well as dropping the Wichita-Chicago route. The City of Wichita had paid Airtran several million dollars to open those routes, since air travel pricing to Wichita had been so monopolistic that many air travellers find it cheaper to drive to Kansas City or Oklahoma City than to fly from here. I've always thought that a much better solution to this problem would be to create a new, locally owned airline, which would use Wichita as a hub. After all, you'd think that the "Air Capital of the World" would have enough talent to run a regional airline. And I'd raise the capital by selling stock very broadly to the community, in effect making for a community-owned business. One thing about community-owned businesses is that they're real unlikely to pick up and move. For example, you never hear any rumors about the Green Bay Packers wanting to move from Green Bay to any of the hundreds of larger markets. The reason for this is that virtually everyone in Green Bay owns a piece of the Packers.

Conversely, the local airplane companies, which were all initially founded by Wichitans but have now been sold to outsiders, have all been threatening to leave as a way of forcing pay cuts, layoffs, and government bailouts. The latest is Boeing's demand that Kansas raise $500 million else it will take its next generation airliner work elsewhere. Boeing has also been claiming that its totally insane $10 billion tanker lease deal will mean 1000 jobs in Wichita, which has the local politicans lobbying for the deal, even though Boeing has already laid off way more than 1000 workers here. Overall, aviation manufacturing layoffs in Wichita are over 10,000 now. The economy here is totally in the toilet, the victim not just of war and terrorism but of capital mobility and political corruption as well.

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

How interesting it is that the top front page story in the paper this morning was the one about the cute U.S. Private turned POW -- although she was actually just MIA, since Iraq had in her case failed to violate the Geneva Conventions and show her picture on TV where her POW status might be verified -- who was liberated by US Special Forces, who found her in a building with no other POWs. Ditto for TV last night, where retired Generals who probably couldn't name a Private for their lives (in any case they couldn't get her name straight) were praising the story. What interests me about this is not that they couldn't find any better news to talk about, let alone anything more important, but that in putting this story so heavily into play they're humanizing the war -- they're putting faces and stories of real people into harm's way, instead of consigning them to the realm of impersonal statistics. This, of course, isn't what actually happens in war: war is utterly dehumanizing; if anything, rigorous training in separating actions which kill and maim from people who get killed and maimed. And while this humanizing is being done for one of "our" side -- and therefore shouldn't necessarily entail any sympathy for that other side -- it's still a fact that lots of "our" side are going to wind up dead or maimed, and that's going to be factored into the costs of this war.

If you go back to the total war of WWII, the US as well as all of the other combatants sacrificed their own soldiers almost indiscriminately. One things that reminds us of this is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a monument to dead soldiers who we cared so little about that we don't even know their names. As you may recall, there were no Unknown Soldiers in Vietnam -- there were MIA, but each and every time we found a body, we took the time to figure out who it was, and in fact a lot of effort was spent in Vietnam to do just that. That was a big change, because once you care enough to track down the names and notify the families of the soldiers you sent to war, you start to think twice before you waste them indiscriminately. That's a trend, which ultimately portends the end of war, and I believe that trend is continuing. Especially now that, unlike in Vietnam, the draft has ended and everyone in the US military is their because they chose to be -- and hardly any of those who chose to join the military did so because they wanted to let crazy warmongers throw their lives away for frivolous reasons.

The Russians are another example: astonishing numbers were sacrificed to repel Nazi Germany, but by the time the Russians got into Afghanistan they were nowhere near so ready to just get killed for someone's political games. Russia fought an extremely defensive war in Afghanistan, which is why they lost -- we certainly know better than to overestimate the Mujahadeen nowadays, don't we? The Russians lost because it wasn't worth the price to win, because a big part of that price would have been lots of their lives to accomplish damn near nothing -- certainly nothing as important as returning in one piece to their families and country.

So what makes us think that a country which finds itself doting over dear Private Lynch has the stomach to pacify Iraq?


I recently subscribed to Tom's Dispatch, an email service/web site, which is providing a measured and useful set of updates on the war and its media. (Among other things, it saves me from doing a lot of scrounging on my own, so I can get some real work done.) Here's a quote that's worth saving:

It used to be that the hard "realists" of the right attacked the left for utopianism, for imposing dreams of perfect worlds on a very imperfect Earth. That is, in fact, exactly what we're dealing with here. Men with utopian dreams -- of world domination admittedly -- about to impose them, very imperfectly, even idiotically, on a world that, for all its hideous imperfections is far too good for them.


Mar 2003 May 2003