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white riot, age 50 version

White riot - I wanna riot White riot - a riot of my own White riot - I wanna riot White riot - a riot of my own -- The Clash, "White Riot"
Got some good DVDs in the mail today. Two of them are a pair, volumes one and two of something called The American Folk Blues Festival 1962-1966. Lotsa wonderful stuff here, from German teevee (!), Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, T-Bone Walker and the like. Given the current jabber about the blues, mostly because of Martin Scorsese's blues documentary series, I feel like a part of the zeitgeist watching these tunes. And I'm currently reading Everything But the Burden: What White People Are Taking from Black Culture, edited by Greg Tate, and I just gave yet another version of my Elvis lecture the other day, wherein I argue that whites stole from blacks but Elvis was reflecting his "authentic" roots and is thus the wrong person to pick on when demonstrating how whites stole from blacks. And the first essay in the Tate anthology is titled "Eminem: The New White Negro." And it's safe to say I've been thinking a lot about the myriad ways even good-hearted white folks like, say, me, take from black culture.

And I'm watching these old blues guys, back when they weren't quite so old, playing in front of white Germans, and I've loved the blues ever since I can remember, but it wasn't often that I thought of the blues as "mine." And I want something that is mine, it's part of the reason I'm so attached to Bruce Springsteen, he is "ours," but even Bruce doesn't quite get at what I need, except perhaps when he released Darkness on the Edge of Town and I was working in the factory and "Badlands" was like a theme song for me.

The other DVD I got is called The Essential Clash, and I'm realizing that punk rock 1977-1979 was "mine," that this is what I was looking for, esp. the British bands like the Clash, who were indeed my very favorite of all punk bands. Watching these old videos reminds me, as always, what a dynamic live performer Joe Strummer was. But I'm also reminded that there was a few years when I could hear music that spoke to me in that special way the blues spoke to black folks back in the day, the way E-40 speaks to my son Neal. And there's no question about it, the Clash (and punk in general) is a very white music. What can I say? I'm a white boy myself, to the extent I'm going to essentialize experience, then late-70s punk is "me" in ways other music is not.

Of course, I've lived 20+ years since then ... why don't I still have music that is mine? I don't have an easy answer, except that my favorite kind of music (noisy rock and roll) is mostly a young person's music, and I'm no longer young. What really grabs me now is probably good pop music, stuff that works as ear candy without demanding you "identify" with it. Even the non-pop I love, like Sleater-Kinney, is noise-rock, not electronica or hip-hop or whatever. But good pop tunes, those always work, even if they embarrass us down the road.

If I was the nostalgic type, though, I'd be wiping the tears from my eyes right now, watching the Clash and thinking about when music and I had a specific connection.

The ice age is coming, the sun is zooming in
Engines stop running, the wheat is growing thin
A nuclear error, but I have no fear
Cuz London is drowning and I, I live by the river
-- The Clash, "London Calling"

game one

I don't want a bunch of close games ... I can't take it. But of course I'll take a Giants win, even a close one. Beautiful day, great shutout pitching by Jason Schmidt, one win down, ten to go. A nice start. I guess we're getting blase ... I don't have much more to say, we expect the Giants to win these games.

behind the cutting edge

I've got some stuff to say, but first I want to quote some guy who said something I wish I'd said. It's sounds a bit like a cliche, so I wouldn't be surprised if this is one of those sayings everyone but me has already heard. But it's the truth, in any event:

"The simple fact is that every time [Alison] Krauss opens her mouth to sing, angels stop what they're doing and take notes."
My problem is, I'm no longer on the cutting edge. OK, I never was, but I at least used to be current with my passions. Nowadays, I'm six months behind on movies because I watch far more on DVD or HDTV than I do in a theatre; I'm six years behind on books because ... well, because I don't read enough of them; I'm six seasons behind on great teevee because I've only had HBO for a few months.

And television, in particular, is too much of the moment. No one wants to talk about last year's teevee show. Buffy obsessed me for years, but it's not on anymore, and so it's no longer an obsession.

So I want to write about some of the things I've been experiencing, but they're all 1) popular culture, and 2) not current. So I'm living in the past, and no one wants to hear about it.

I could start with Alison Krauss, since the DVD I picked up today is actually only a coupla months old. Of course, the concert it presents is more than a year old, as is the live CD that was the original document of these shows. Beyond that, no one reading this blog gives a shit about Alison Krauss, to the best of my knowledge. I've been a fan since Now That I've Found You in '95, which puts me ahead of the Oh Brother crowd but behind the true Alison connoisseurs. The problem with Krauss ... well, people who don't care for her think there's lots of problems, I only have the one ... is that she loves and needs her band, Union Station, and she's v.egalitarian about it, but the simple fact is, without Alison Krauss' singing, no one but bluegrass fanatics would hear any of this music. The dobro player is brilliant, the entire band is full of excellent musicianship, but Alison Krauss' voice is all that raises the music to the next level. She's otherworldly. She may need her band, but we need her. (And watching her, you are left to wonder where her voice came from. She looks pretty tiny, and she barely moves when she sings, but her voice is as big as a country Timi Yuro.)

As for the DVD, it looks superb, but the CD is probably cheaper. Sound is great, though, better than the CD, I assume, if you have 5.1 or DTS.

Meanwhile, I watched Full Metal Jacket again today because it was on INHD and I was just happy to have something in HD that was reasonably interesting. Having said that, I am not exactly the biggest Kubrick fan around ... as I have said before on this blog, I find Kubrick to be staggeringly overrated, and seeing the IMDB fans ranking Full Metal Jacket as the 97th-best movie of all time ... well, like I say, I think Kubrick himself is overrated, and I think he has other movies that are better than FMJ. Lee Ermey is funny as the drill instructor, even though I'm sure he's supposed to be scary. The movie hints at profundity but never delivers, and that would be my one-line critique of almost the entire Kubrick oeuvre. Kubrick's movies are so portentous that you sit there thinking they must be about something ... they aren't about anything, but the buildup is so severe I think people in the audience force themselves to believe the man is a genius and they concoct meaning where none exists. His movies are about BIG stuff, like depersonalization, but the details are fuzzy, and Kubrick's complete lack of humanism makes for some glossy emptiness. He's like a writer who expresses the fundamental boredom of life by writing a boring novel, then claiming he's touched reality: Kubrick makes movies with cyphers instead of people, conceptual characters instead of human beings, and then waits for us to admire his anti-human brilliance. But there's nothing human to grab onto, so why bother? It might have been ok in 1968 to watch 2001 and say "I get it, the computer is more human than the people." But it's the same message in Clockwork Orange (everyone who isn't Alex is non-human), Barry Lyndon (a movie so dead it's like a coffee-table book with "actors"), FMJ ... ok, I get it!

Finally, there's The Corner. This HBO mini-series from 2000 is quite simply one of the greatest pieces of television I have ever seen. But it's three years old, who cares, right? If it was a novel, we could be talking about it for the next hundred years, but as a teevee show, it's yesterday's news. So I'll just say it casts an unblinking eye at the drug culture without demonizing the addicts (like Sid and Nancy, but few others I can think of), it forces us to care about human beings we'd do everything in our power to ignore if they walked past us on the street (Kubrick would never think of anything so mundane as caring about humans), and it features, in the midst of several excellent acting jobs, an utterly heartbreaking job by T.K. Carter as a junkie who still remembers everything about being right, and knows he'll never get back there again. The haunted look in Carter's eyes is existential.

So this weekend, people will go to see the newest movies, and they should, and people will watch the latest episodes of their favorite teevee shows, and they should, and some of us will be at Pac Bell Park, and you KNOW we should ... but at some point, if you haven't ever seen it, all of those people need to get those Corner DVDs and settle in for a few hours. You won't find anything more powerful.

psychological cost

My friend Charlie has a piece on the band Enon in the Phoenix New Times, wherein he makes the following comment:

Whatever else you want to say about the Recording Industry Association of America's strategy in suing its target market, at least it has the virtue of restoring the psychological cost of music consumption. Time was, you had to labor long and hard to decide which record to take home. A mistake could ruin your day, week or month. But the process of deliberation and the gap between purchases made the music you liked sound sweeter. The triumphs took the form of albums you bought, hesitantly, for the singles, only to discover that other songs were even better. In destroying this simple pleasure, the rise of file sharing and its legal substitutes has irrevocably changed our feelings about music.
I can't say I agree with Charlie's "no pain, no gain" theory of music appreciation. Well, I think I see where he's coming from ... it's similar to something I mused over awhile back, wondering if I took my kids on too many excursions to the ballpark when they were young. Maybe if you've got 10,000 songs on your hard drive, you don't appreciate that one really good song as much as you would when that one really good song is the only thing you've got.

But let's break down what he's saying here. "You had to labor long and hard to decide which record to take home." When I was a kid, you could play the record in the store before you decided whether or not to buy it; that was part of the long and hard labor. Me, I've always been a sucker for critics' commentary, so part of my long and hard labor is to read the reviews of writers like Charlie that I respect. All I'm saying is that I understand about the long and hard labor. But I don't see how things are different now. I think "I'd like some new tunes" ... I decide to put in some long and hard labor deciding which tunes I'll get ... I download a bunch of stuff and listen to it ... at the end, I find that the one song that first got my attention isn't as good as three other songs on the same album, and with that simple pleasure in mind, I buy the album. How is this bad, or even different, from the long and hard labor of the past?

Ah, here it is: "A mistake could ruin your day, week or month." I remember those days v.well. But I can't say I miss them. Now, you make a mistake, you erase it from your hard drive. When you finally spend your hard-earned money, you have a lot better sense that you're not making a mistake with your purchase. That's a GOOD thing.

Me, I don't want to suffer a psychological cost as a price for enjoying music. I just want to enjoy it. Tools that make enjoyment easier are alright with me.


The new television season has started, and pardon me for not being v.excited.

I like teevee; I usually have lots of shows that I watch. But this season promises to be an odd one for me, for a variety of reasons, some good, some bad.

To get the obvious thing out of the way: there's no more Buffy.

This leaves me with only two standard network shows that I watch with regularity. NYPD Blue has been around forever. It's the show Robin and I have stuck with for the duration. The current acting ensemble is the best in the show's long history. But it's mostly a habit show, as in I have the habit of watching it. There's nothing new to be done there. Last night's season premiere was OK ... the HD was gorgeous, I have to say ... it's still a good show, and that's worth something, but I haven't got anything else to say about it.

West Wing began the post-Sorkin era tonight. I wasn't even gonna watch this season, although my logic was warped: on the one hand, I like Aaron Sorkin, so if he's gone, why watch, but on the other hand, I didn't think the show was very good last year when Sorkin was still in charge, so maybe he had to leave. Anyway, I joined a lot of fans in playing "how is WW different without Sorkin" tonight. Not as much snappy dialogue, but the plot required more somber acting, so that wasn't a big deal. I have a fear the show will become more soap-opera-y, but I don't know why. Basically, it's the same show but probably not as good. It looked good in HD, if not as good as Blue.

It's also fun to watch teevee shows with Robin. And therein lies the biggest rub of all. Because, even though I don't see any new network shows that look must-see, there are plenty of other shows I look forward to. Most are on HBO: The Wire is the bestest show, and I missed Season One but they're gonna start re-running it beginning Friday, so I can catch up, and that will be great. Sopranos is about to start re-running Season Four, which is the one I haven't seen yet. Then there's Dead Like Me on Showtime, which isn't that good and its season is almost finished, but it's been good enough to keep my attention, at least. The Shield will start up again sometime on FX. There's no lack of shows.

But the part where you share the weekly experience with another person ... one of my favorite parts about watching serial television ... well, as long as Robin refuses to watch cable networks, I'm stuck watching The Wire by myself, and The Sopranos by myself, and The Shield by myself, and Dead Like Me (which Robin would probably like more than I do) by myself, and basically all of the best shows I watch, I watch by myself.

And Robin shouldn't watch those shows if she doesn't want to ... I could say she'd like some of them, I think she'd love The Wire, but it's really none of my business, and I consider myself lucky for even having the opportunity to watch them at all. By myself.

So the first post-Buffy season is upon us, and I have a feeling our days of watching teevee together are fading into the distance as well.

And now I have to finish this post, because it's about time to watch Jon Stewart. By myself.

bruce's life, disc 5

This one's a lesser disc in the context of the set. Once again, the best stuff is the lowest-fi, the best quality is the lesser material. The only time the video/sound quality matches the performance comes when Bruce shows up for Dave Letterman's last show on NBC. He joins the World's Most Dangerous Band for a raucous "Glory Days," ending the song atop Paul Shaffer's piano.

The best material comes from the Other Band tour, 25 minutes of footage from the first of the two legendary benefit shows at the Meadowlands that closed off the tour (the Letterman stint came the night after this show). He played everything that night ... "I Ain't Got No Home" to open, "This Hard Land," the Louvin Brothers' "Satan's Jewel Crown." The first song from this show to appear on the DVD is "Leap of Faith," which is the song during which Bruce would enter the audience during that tour. This time he gets kinda overwhelmed by the fans, and when they finally roll him back on stage, he's missing one of his boots! People throw their shoes to him ... finally a woman comes on stage and puts his boot back on for him, then kisses him, then rolls on top of him ... she's having fun!

Meanwhile, the concert continues with all the standards from the early 90s, along with "Because the Night" and "Who'll Stop the Rain" and a billion others. The DVD picks it up when Southside Johnny and Little Steven come on stage for "It's Been a Long Time." The Miami Horns have joined the show as well, and up comes "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out," and just before the lines about the Big Man joining the band, out walks Clarence, who hasn't been on a stage with Bruce in a v.long time. They finish the song, the crowd cheers and cheers and cheers ... they love Clarence.

Finally, the DVD jumps ahead to "Havin' a Party," and a party it is ... who the hell knows who all those people are on the stage, there's the Other Band, there's Patti and Soozie, and Steve and Southside, there's women and children that I assume are related to other people on stage. It's a terrific performance from a classic concert, marred only by the low-fi quality of the video and sound, which seems to be recorded off some fan's camcorder.

Other than the above highlights, there's lots of Other Band footage, including a nice job with "Book of Dreams" (an outtake from the MTV Plugged show), there's a bunch of awards ceremonies where Bruce wins stuff for "Streets of Philadelphia," and there's a coupla pieces from Bruce in Germany with the band that appears on that weird "Hungry Heart" video.

Next up: the Tom Joad era.

happy birthday bruce!

We struggle here but all our love's in vain
And these eyes that once filled me with your beauty
Now fill me with pain
And the light that once entered here
Is banished from me
And this darkness is all baby that my heart sees

And though the world is filled
With the grace and beauty of God's hand
Oh I wish I were blind
When I see you with your man