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not a review of baseball: the tenth inning

Not yet, at least. Call it an update. I watched Part One … I squeezed it in somewhere, I forget when, great idea PBS to schedule one of your most touted shows, about baseball, on nights when pennants are being decided. What did I think of Part One? When I sat down to watch TV tonight (the Giants having played a day game), first I watched last night’s Terriers (v.good show, BTW), then watched 30 Rock. OK, I like both of those shows a lot, but the point is, watching Part Two of The Tenth Inning was very low on my list of priorities. Haven’t gotten around to it yet.


perhaps a bit premature, but we can dream, can’t we?

From Joe Sheehan’s worth-the-subscription blog:

Bumgarner appears to be the odd man out for the Giants, who may be setting up a playoff rotation of Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito, Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez. This is a pretty good example of letting contract status and service time get in the way of the baseball. Bumgarner has been better than Zito from the moment he stepped on the roster, and the comparison between Zito and Sanchez isn't even fair. If the Giants slide Zito ahead of anyone, they're hurting their chance to advance.


classic and plain style

My friend Peter Richardson, on the politics of cool:

[M]illions of Americans are more comfortable with plain style. For them, the truth has already been provided (often through revelation), so arguments based on evidence are pointless -- worse than pointless, actually, because they can only move people away from the truth.

The theology behind plain style, I would add, has two political corollaries. First, politicians who accept this received truth are given wide latitude, even when they display little or no control over policy issues, history, geography, language, science, etc. What matters is what's in their hearts. Second, compromises with those who don't accept this received truth degrade it and are therefore unacceptable. …

In short, liberals and conservatives aren't even playing the same language game. Worse, what counts as success in the liberal arena -- a well supported and sophisticated analysis -- is a resounding defeat in the conservative one. This makes reasoned debate, the liberal's strong suit, counterproductive. Compromise, the basis for much workaday politics, is also off the table because conservatives regard it as a spiritual sell-out. If we liberals also renounce polemic, we have little left in our toolkit -- unless we think nightly doses of television satire will sway voters searching for their pitchforks.


bon jovi vs. donovan

As usual, I can’t let this go. The main question in arguments about a Hall of Fame lies in our varying notions of what criteria to follow.

Bon Jovi were, and are, massively popular. They are key figures in the emergence of pop metal. They have stayed true to their basic sound over the years, while also making small moves outside that comfort zone, such as the country version of “Who Says You Can’t Go Home,” which made the top of the country charts.

Still … and I’m trying to be fair, here, but I’m admittedly not a fan … Bon Jovi’s status as Hall of Fame nominees seems to lie first in their popularity, second in their consistency over a long career, and third as exemplars of pop metal. I’d argue that #1 and #3 are variants of the same thing, in that the “pop” in pop metal led to the genre’s popularity (yes, I know that sounds circular) … by removing some of the rough edges of metal and prettifying the visual image, pop metal bands like Bon Jovi were perfect for MTV. And consistency isn’t necessarily a good thing, if it means your eleventh album is as mundane as your fourth.

Donovan is also a first-time nominee. I can’t be trusted here, either, since I was a fan of Donovan in my formative years. I don’t know that Donovan succeeds in any of the three “Bon Jovi” items listed above … he was popular in his prime, but never as much so as Bon Jovi, his consistency was erratic (i.e. he was not particularly consistent), and if he is considered an exemplar of a particular genre (not sure he is), it’s some version of fey hippie folk, which is regarded at least as poorly as pop metal amongst critics.

But Donovan was much more than a fey hippie folkie, not that there’s anything wrong with that (he is said to have been a big influence on Nick Drake). A lot of that image was brought on by Donovan himself, I think … he never shied away from that “Atlantis” feel. But it’s very reductive.

When he first began recording, Donovan was called a Dylan clone, and he was famously dismissed by Dylan himself in Don’t Look Back (I appreciate that there are other readings of that scene, but to me, when Dylan sings “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” while smiling sarcastically at Donovan, dismissal is the best description of what is happening). A listen to Donovan’s first albums, however, shows that he was far more influenced by British folk than by Dylan … of course, everyone was influenced by Dylan at that point, but, to use an obvious example, Donovan recorded several paeans to fellow Scot Bert Jansch over the years. And subsequent Donovan albums showed a much broader range than, say, Bon Jovi would demonstrate. I’d argue that there are at least three clear periods in Donovan’s 60s output, with British Folk being the common strain.

After the initial British Folkie run, Donovan teamed up with Mickie Most for his most productive period. Many of the songs that are still remembered from this time are far from the stereotypical Donovan-as-mellow-folkie. Jazz-pop arrangements, emergent psychedelia (Donovan was a favorite of early FM underground radio DJs), and hot studio musicians (most notably John Paul Jones and, in a couple of instances, Jones’ future Led Zep buddy Jimmy Page), mixed together with a “Swinging London” ambience, resulted in an entirely different kind of music from the days of “Catch the Wind”: “Sunshine Superman,” “Mellow Yellow,” “Hurdy Gurdy Man,” “Barabajagal.” Much of the Mellow Yellow album reflected the London of the times (“Sunny South Kensington”).

Meanwhile, there was the blend of psychedelia and folk that marks what we commonly think of as “Donovan” … A Gift From a Flower to a Garden, a double-LP with hippie-ish lyrics and folkie music, and an entire second album (For Little Ones) filled with fairy tales, is the standard here.

That album was followed up by Barabajagal, arguably his last good album, and one which showed the ways his various approaches were perhaps becoming overwhelming. The British folk was still around, while the title cut, the most rocking song of his career, saw Donovan leading the Jeff Beck Group. But then there was the hippie stuff … “Happiness Runs” was a lovely combination of folk and hippie, but “I Love My Shirt” is Exhibit #1 in what was wrong with that era:

Do you have a shirt that you really love,
One that you feel so groovy in?
You don't even mind if it starts to fade,
That only makes it nicer still.
I love my shirt, I love my shirt,
My shirt is so comfortably lovely.

That these lyrics were set to an irresistible jazz-folk arrangement and sing-a-long chorus only made it worse.

All is forgiven, though, if you go back to Donovan’s greatest song, “Season of the Witch.” Here was the scary side of hippie life, with ominous music (and excellent guitar work by Donovan), as atmospheric as anything the Doors ever recorded:

When I look over my shoulder
What do you think I see?
Some other cat looking over
His shoulder at me
And he's strange, sure is strange
You've got to pick up every stitch
You've got to pick up every stitch, yeah
Beatniks are out to make it rich
Oh no, must be the season of the witch

Donovan continues to make music, although I lost interest after the 60s. But, if we’re talking Hall of Fame, we’ve got an artist who was important in multiple genres, with hits in all of them, who was deeper than his reputation would suggest. Against that, there’s Bon Jovi, mega-popular in one genre, where their reputation is accurate, in a what-you-see-is-what-you-get fashion. I don’t know if I’d put Donovan in the Hall of Fame, but I sure think he has a better case than Bon Jovi.


awards

I was going to vent on one of my semi-regular topics, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, by bitching about this year’s nominees. I was going to focus on Bon Jovi. But two things changed my mind.

First, there’s the infamous video of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog backstage (and onstage) at a Bon Jovi concert. He’s in top form … for my money, it’s second only to the Star Wars Nerds in Triumph history. But you can tell that Bon Jovi are loving it. They are so amiable about being trashed that it’s hard to hate them. Plus, there’s the point where Triumph exactly pegs the pleasures of Bon Jovi: “They don’t suck! They’re actually quite listenable!”

And, as usual, Ann Powers gets it right when she calls this year’s nominees “very much like an iPod playlist.” She means this in a positive sense, and she makes a good case:

I'm glad that the rock hall, by definition devoted to hierarchies, has fully embraced the iPod approach to canonization. That little device and the culture of downloading that it embodies have thoroughly shuffled pop's hierarchies, making this an era of alternate realities, proudly personal value judgments and left-field notions of greatness.

Neither Ann nor Triumph makes any kind of an argument for placing Bon Jovi in a Hall of Fame, at least by my standards … Powers praises the band’s ”consummate craft and dedication to the art of entertainment,” which is a fancy way of saying “they’re actually quite listenable.” Their best albums were good-not-great, there were only a couple of them, and they’ve stuck around forever. If they were baseball players, they’d be fellow New Jersey boy Rick Cerone, who turned one good season into an 18-year career, or another of their Jersey brethren, John “The Count” Montefusco, who was Rookie of the Year, then threw a no-hitter the next season, and ended up pitching in 13 seasons without a lot of distinction. Journeymen, all. Hall of Famers? I think not. But what the heck.

Here is Triumph … apologies for the commercials:

And I should probably add this, which suggests the band wasn’t as pleased with Triumph as it seems from the video (although I think Conan’s just using them to make a point, to be honest):


dexter, season premiere

It picks up exactly where last season left off, and really, where else were they going to start? I’ve suggested in the past that the biggest problem with Dexter is that it doesn’t seem like the kind of show with extra-season staying power. You had Dexter the monster, then you had Dexter the monster who might become human … and there was the problem, because if he stayed a monster there was no real reason to keep the show around, repeating itself, and if he became human, there’s no longer any real point to the show, unless you looked forward to Daddy Dexter and His Happy Family.

So they came up with a third possibility that combines the other two. Dexter brutally murders an anonymous asshole, and Harry pops up to say it was the first human thing Dexter had done since the death of his wife. Dexter’s passionate cry of pain tells us that he is indeed human, and the flashbacks to his first date with Rita remind us of how far he has come. But what does it mean when the most human thing you can do is to murder? You could say Dexter is having its cake and eating it, too (and what does that saying mean, anyway). He is both monster and human.

Past seasons have been carried by Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Carpenter, and whoever they sign up as a Big Bad (John Lithgow got the acclaim, and it was deserved, but I loved Jimmy Smits, as well). It looks like they may skip the Big Bad this season, which is fine if it means more screen time for Hall and Carpenter, but not so fine if it means spending more time with the lesser-interesting secondary characters. Still, I’m encouraged by this premiere, and optimistic about the season ahead. A-.


what i watched last week

I had hoped to include Sharktopus here, but I screwed up the recording, so we won’t get to watch it until later in the week.

Summer Hours. Casually intense look at a family in transition. Excellent acting (and casting, which matters) and an intelligent screenplay make this a movie for grownups. I have to say, it was a bit too languid for me. Even when something happens, director Olivier Assayas refuses to make a big deal of it. The event that is the center of the film happens off camera, which is appropriate. I can’t argue with the approach, which matches the subject matter and, I assume, reflects what Assayas wants to tell us. It all just felt a bit too much like something that was good for me, rather than something that I loved. #48 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 250 films of the 21st century. 7/10.


the last time i tried to talk about this with an obama supporter, she quit talking to me for, well, forever

From the Washington Post:

The Obama administration urged a federal judge early Saturday to dismiss a lawsuit over its targeting of a U.S. citizen for killing overseas, saying that the case would reveal state secrets. …

"The idea that courts should have no role whatsoever in determining the criteria by which the executive branch can kill its own citizens is unacceptable in a democracy," the American Civil Liberties Union and Center for Constitutional Rights said.

"In matters of life and death, no executive should have a blank check," they said. …

The Obama administration has cited the state-secrets argument in at least three cases since taking office - in defense of Bush-era warrantless wiretapping, surveillance of an Islamic charity, and the torture and rendition of CIA prisoners.

From the New York Times:

On Saturday, the A.C.L.U. attorney Jameel Jaffer added: “They're really asking for a blank check.  They want to set secret criteria under which Americans are added to government kill lists and to determine for themselves whether those criteria are satisfied in any particular instance.  It's a truly remarkable proposition, and one that surely would surely have been greeted with alarm had it been made by the last administration. [emphasis added]

The New York Times again, quoting David Rivkin, conservative commentator and lawyer who served in the Reagan and Bush I administrations:

I’m a huge fan of executive power, but if someone came up to you and said the government wants to target you and you can’t even talk about it in court to try to stop it, that’s too harsh even for me.

And the inevitable Glenn Greenwald:

I genuinely didn't think it was possible for any President to concoct an assertion of executive power and secrecy that would be excessive and alarming to David Rivkin, but Barack Obama managed to do that, too.  Obama's now asserting a power so radical -- the right to kill American citizens and do so in total secrecy, beyond even the reach of the courts -- that it's "too harsh even for" one of the most far-right War on Terror cheerleading-lawyers in the nation.  But that power is certainly not "too harsh" for the kind-hearted Constitutional scholar we elected as President, nor for his hordes of all-justifying supporters soon to place themselves to the right of David Rivkin as they explain why this is all perfectly justified. One other thing, as always:  vote Democrat, because the Republicans are scary!


random friday, 1997 edition: sleater-kinney, "words and guitar"

Sleater-Kinney had released two albums as 1997 rolled in. The first gave hints of something special to come, the second, Call the Doctor, began to deliver on those promises. On the title cut, “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone,” the heartbreaking “Good Things” and others, S-K established a template for the next few years: twin vocals, often with separate simultaneous lyrics, Carrie Brownstein’s idiosyncratic guitar riffs, and Corin Tucker’s outlandish voice.

Sometime between Call the Doctor and their third album, Dig Me Out, the band added a new drummer, Janet Weiss. In many ways, Weiss was the most traditional of the three band members. She wasn’t unique, the way Carrie and Corin were. Instead, she was a streamlined Keith Moon, an awesomely powerful drummer who pushed the band’s riot grrrl punk to another level. It’s hard to choose a best album for a band that never released a bad one, but Dig Me Out has a special place in my heart as the first one to include Corin, Carrie, and Janet.

Shuffle play could have tossed out any number of songs from that album, and I would have found something to say, but “Words and Guitar” is particularly important, in that it proclaims the band’s musical heart, loud and, well, not clear, loud and muddy, but good muddy. Carrie leads off with a brief guitar line … as is often the case in S-K songs, she rarely plays solos but she’s always playing lead. Janet starts pounding the drums, Corin lays down the power chords, and she warbles the title: “Words! And! Guitar! I GOT IT! Words! And! Guitar! I WANT IT WAY WAY TOO LOUD!” Then, as she shouts ohs and ahs, Carrie chimes in with a counterpoint lyrics of her own: “Can’t take this away from me, Music is the air I breathe.”

The second verse charges on top of the first. “TAKE TAKE the noise in my head! Come on and TURN TURN it up! I wanna TURN TURN you on!”

Then, an interlude about quiet songs and silky sounds. It doesn’t last long, and we’re back to “Words! And! Guitar!”

The power of Corin’s voice and power chords, pushed by Janet’s drums, is ferocious. Carrie’s vocals and guitar take the song in other directions without ever separating from the core. Three extremely talented musicians, but it must be said, the sum is even greater than the parts. They continued on for four more albums, never falling into a rut, always evolving, until finally they took their final hiatus. I miss them to this day.

Here’s a lo-fi video of them in 1997 … note that when the song is over, you can quit watching, since the last couple of minutes is just the crowd waiting for the band to appear for encores:

If you thought the sound on that was muddy, here is some real sludge. I include this because it gives a feel for what their concerts sounded like. Corin had The Voice, and Carrie had charisma to spare, but I saw them a dozen times and I rarely “heard” them any better than in the following video. What you can hear is Janet … and perhaps this is one of many reasons why I loved her in particular, because when everything else was muddy, the drums were still there.

Finally, I should offer up at least one video with good sound. I don’t let shuffle play choose the same artist more than once in a year, so this is Sleater-Kinney’s only appearance, much as I’d like to include them some more. Here is the official video for “Modern Girl” from their final album, The Woods … it’s a quiet one, if you’ve read this far but avoided the other videos because they’re too noisy: