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mixed messages

What to write? Things have gotten so bad in Ferguson, Missouri, which is to say things are as bad as ever for all oppressed Americans, particularly African-Americans, particularly African-American males, that I find myself speechless when it comes to writing here. And I know I speak from a privileged position … I’m an upper-middle-class white man with a great wife and family, living for 40 years in a place that, for better and worse, I am proud of. This weekend, I got to spend some time with the grandson, and this photo pretty much sums up how that went:

japanese restaurant

I spent Sunday afternoon with an old friend I hadn’t seen for awhile. The weather was great, the company was great, the event was great:

august 2014

But all the while, this is happening (I first saw this photo on the Twitter account of Darwin Bond Graham):


How do I come up with blog posts to reflect life at the moment?

music friday, ferguson edition

Thursday, President Obama finally decided to say something about events in Ferguson, Missouri. Among his comments: “I’d like us all to take a step back” … “now is the time for all of us to reflect on what’s happened” … “There is never an excuse for violence against police” … “we’re all part of one American family. We are united in common values” … “now is the time for healing. Now is the time for peace and calm on the streets of Ferguson.”

Yes, I am being selective with my choice of quotes. No, I don’t give a fuck about that. Michael Brown was murdered on Saturday. Ferguson has been under siege for several days … I can’t precisely say we’re seeing the implementation of a police state, when “police” seems inadequate to describe the militarization of so-called peace officers. Five days after the murder, our President pops up to ask us to “take a step back”. It’s a bit late for that, don’t ya think, Prez?

The Clash, “The Guns of Brixton”.

Tom Robinson Band, “Winter of ‘79”.

The Avengers, “The American in Me”.

Nina Simone, “Mississippi Goddam”.

Public Enemy, “Welcome to the Terrordome”.

Body Count, “Cop Killer”.

The thing about the musical selections for this post is that they are un-centered, even unhinged. There may be a rational way to get to the same place, but for the moment of these tracks, rationality is irrelevant. The time comes when a different response is required. In “Guns of Brixton”, the singer says that yes, “the money feels good and your life you like it well”, but as with everyone, “surely your time will come”. Meanwhile, that time has already come for many, and decisions must be made. There is little time for reason when you’re looking down the barrel of a gun. “When the law break in, how you gonna go? Shot down on the pavement, or waiting on death row?”

“Winter of ‘79” describes a time in the future from when the song was written, from the perspective of someone further in the future looking back at the past. The narrator drips nostalgia at first, chastising the “kids who sit and whine”, telling them they “shoulda been there in back in ‘79”. But that fantasy soon gives way to a history lesson, a fake history where someone from the future tells us about 1979, but which is meant to speak to listeners in 1978, and which still rings true today:

That was the year Nan Harris died
And Charlie Jones committed suicide
The world we knew busted open wide
In the winter of '79 …

It was us poor bastards took the chop
When the tubes gone up and the buses stopped
The top folks still come out on top
The government never resigned
The Carib Club was petrol bombed
The National Front was getting awful strong
They done in Dave and Dagenham Ron
In the winter of '79
When all the gay geezers was put inside
And coloured kids was getting crucified

Finally, the singer returns to what amounts to a lesson to those whining kids: “A few of us fought and a few of us died in the winter of '79.”

“Winter of ‘79” came during the late-70s British punk era. “The American in Me” comes from the other side of the Atlantic. The singer here understands what is happening to us: “Ask not what you can do for your country, what's your country been doing to you?” But the country has already succeeded … “It's the American in me that makes me says it's an honor to die in a war that's just a politician’s lie.” To be an American is to already be brainwashed.

Those songs all come from white punks, 1978-80. Whatever privileges they think they had are gone. For African-Americans, the privileges never arrived. Nina Simone begins her classic “Mississippi Goddam” by informing us that she means “every word of it”, and as the song progresses, she stops at one point and remarks, “you thought I was kiddin’ … Everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam.”  She goes from “I can't stand the pressure much longer, somebody say a prayer” to “I don't belong here, I don't belong there, I've even stopped believing in prayer”. She points her finger at those who encourage her to “go slow”, replying with anger, “This whole country is full of lies. You're all gonna die and die like flies. I don't trust you any more.”

Public Enemy takes the situation and makes it their own: “Black to the bone my home is your home, so welcome to the Terrordome”. “How to fight the power?,” they ask, knowing we “cannot run and hide, but it shouldn’t be suicide”. PE gives us their art, give us “something that cha never had”. It’s a “brain game” with a lesson: “Move as a team, never move alone”. But make it your own: “Welcome to the Terrordome”.

Body Count, or more accurately, Ice-T, goes all cartoon on us, as if cartoons are the only way to explain what reality is like. The chorus would be funny, if it wasn’t so true in its ludicrous way:

I'm a cop killer, better you than me
Cop killer, fuck police brutality!
Cop killer, I know your family's grieving
Fuck 'em!
Cop killer, but tonight we get even!

I leave you with Robin Harris in House Party:

throwback thursday, redacted edition

Here's the post I had originally planned for today, with all of the worst parts removed:

Let’s see … for a period when I was a little kid xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx… but it’s good enough for a Throwback Thursday.

Once when our kids were very young, xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx.

More than once, I’ve xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx.

In my mid-20s, I once xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx.

My maternal grandfather xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx. Both of my parents xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx.

The thing I was best at for most of my life was xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx.

A few years ago, someone I knew growing up xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx.

In xxxx, I started xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx.

I still xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx. But now xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx, I realize I can’t be bothered.

I’m xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx.

How’s that for a Throwback Thursday?

the knick, series premiere

I have a regular series on this blog I call “what i watched last week”. It’s a summary of the movies I viewed, and the title seems pretty innocuous. But a critic named Matt Zoller Seitz has me questioning that title. I’ve been reading this fine critic for a long time, long enough that I don’t remember where he was at the beginning. He was a TV critic then, and he worked alongside Alan Sepinwall at The Newark Star-Ledger. There was a blog, The House Next Door, and he wrote for Salon … I forget the chronology. Somewhere along the way he shifted his emphasis to film. He is currently the editor-in-chief at I find his work fascinating, although we don’t always like the same things, as is evidenced by his first book, a study of Wes Anderson. What Seitz is very good at, the thing that makes me wonder about my claim of “watching” movies, is analysis of visual elements in film. He has made many “video essays” that helpfully show by example the points he is making.

In a blog post from March titled “Please, Critics, Write About the Filmmaking”, Seitz threw up a challenge to his fellow critics: “You owe it to your readers to write about form. You owe it to yourself to write about form. You owe it to the filmmakers to write about form.” Earlier, he writes, “We critics of film and TV have a duty to help viewers understand how form and content interact, and how content is expressed through form. The film or TV critic who refuses to write about form in any serious way abdicates that duty, and abets visual illiteracy.”

Seitz is very convincing, and I know I have tried to see things differently than I used to since reading his piece. And while I’m not doing a very good job of it, I’ve also tried to heed this: “If you only have ten sentences to play with, set aside one sentence to make an observation about some aspect of the filmmaking. Otherwise you're not contributing to visual literacy. You're not helping.”

The problem in my case (and I know this sounds like a justification for laziness) is that I tend to visual illiteracy, and I’m not sure how much progress I’m going to make on that front. I understand when Seitz or others draw attention to visuals, and while I’m a sucker for narrative and acting, I do understand form in areas like editing. But …

For a couple of days, there was a Facebook meme, one of those instant IQ tests, and everyone on my feed seemed to take it at once. I was bored, I gave in, I took the test. I was rolling along, getting the right answer for all of the logic problems that filled the beginning of the test (“Which word doesn’t fit? Coffee is to cup, what cake is to … What is half of a quarter of 400?”). But then came the visual problems. “Which shape completes the pattern? Which shape does not fit the others? Select the picture that best fits the white space.” Happily, the test returned to logic problems: “Complete the series: 1-2-4-7-11-16-22-?”

They don’t tell you what you got right and what you got wrong … they just give you an IQ number. I think it’s a scam … I just got a 120 when all I was doing was choosing answers at random so I could gather some of the problems listed above. But when I first took it, I’m pretty sure I got all of them right except for the visual problems, which I only got right if I guessed correctly. And this reminded me of when a friend was in grad school on his way to becoming a psychologist, and he gave me an IQ test. The results were remarkably like the Facebook meme … when my friend handed in his work, his professor looked at my test and said that I’d been dropped on my head as a kid, because I was super smart in everything except the visual questions, where I was dumber than a chimpanzee. (The parts of the brain that affect those kinds of questions are on opposite sides, so if you get dropped, one side takes the blow, then the brain bounces to the other side for a second blow.) I don’t know if any of this is true, or if the science has advanced so far that this is all considered nonsense. But as a description of how I see the world, it felt accurate then and it feels accurate now.

Which is a long-winded way of explaining why visual analysis is so hard for me. I try watching movies or TV shows while keeping Seitz’s thoughts in mind, but 1) I find myself concentrating so hard on the visual elements that I lose track of what is going on in the narrative, and 2) I rarely find anything because my brain doesn’t see it.

Is this all a rationalization on my part? Could be. I know that I’d like to contribute to visual literacy. But I don’t think that’s going to be happening any time soon.

The Knick is a new Cinemax series where every episode is directed by Steven Soderbergh. I like what I’ve seen of his work, especially The Limey and Out of Sight. I am intrigued by this new series in part because I like the idea of a respected person taking on the entire season. And Soderbergh is the perfect subject for “writing about the filmmaking” … besides directing, he is also the cinematographer and editor for his films, using pseudonyms for both of those credits. Seitz, who in addition to everything else is a great follow on Twitter, had a lot to tweet about The Knick and Soderbergh:

Soderbergh's direction on THE KNICK is old-school excellent. Always functional but also efficient in a way that you don't register at first. I love the idea of Soderbergh, his own camera operator, in there with the actors, weaving around and among them, performing with them. Was commiserating with @stevensantos tonight about the breakdown of blocking/graphic intelligence among modern filmmakers. Very few have that feel for how to build a sequence so it ends in a place where a cut produces a laugh or a gasp. Soderbergh gets it, though. My stepdad once told me of the time he watched Jackson Pollock circa 1959 create a giant drip-canvas on a dock at Chelsea Pier. I think I understand the awe in his voice now when I appreciate Soderbergh's direction of THE KNICK. Intuitive, bold, playful. If I had to list the year's best shows right now it'd be between HANNIBAL and THE KNICK, purely for the aesthetic excitement both create. I feel like I'm watching a great musician just fucking COOK, you know? Like, "How does he do that? How is it humanly possible?"

Well, I’ve seen the pilot for The Knick, and outside of an early scene where the drabness of 1900 New York City changed when the camera went indoors and the entire screen seemed to be lit “properly”, I can’t say I noticed much in the way of visual elements. I wish I felt the “aesthetic excitement” Seitz mentions … I believe it exists. But if I had used this post to give a review of The Knick, I’d talk about Clive Owen, and the horribly ugly scenes in the operating room (probably quite accurate regarding 1900 medicine, but holy moly), I’d talk about how the pilot sets up the narrative for the remainder of the season, I’d note that I’m glad they managed to work an African-American character into a key role, even as it felt artificial. I’d say I look forward to the rest of the season. I’d mention that it is already renewed for Season Two. I would note all of those things.

But if I wrote one paragraph or a dozen, I’m not sure I’d do a better job of introducing The Knick than Matt Zoller Seitz did in a few twitter posts.

music friday: 1957 edition

The Crickets, “That’ll Be the Day”. “Four citizens of the sovereign state of Texas.”

Little Richard, “Keep A-Knockin’”. Full house.

The Chantels, “Maybe”. Arlene Smith, “the best female vocalist in the history of Rock 'n Roll”.

Jackie Wilson, “Reet Petite”. Claymation.

Bobby “Blue” Bland, “Farther Up the Road”. Baby, you just wait and see.

Patsy Cline, “Walkin’ After Midnight”.

Chuck Berry, “Rock and Roll Music”. It’s got a back beat, you can’t lose it.

Chuck Willis, “C.C. Rider”. See what you have done.

Wanda Jackson, “Fujiyama Mama”. Well you can talk about me, say that I'm mean. I'll blow your head off baby with nitroglycerine.

Jerry Lee Lewis, “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On”. I go to concerts hoping for moments like this.

[edited to add Spotify playlist]

throw me for a loop: sleater-kinney, august 7, 1998

Sixteen years ago today, I saw Sleater-Kinney live for the first time (I eventually saw them 12 times). It was the first tour with Janet on drums … she had joined the band for their third album, Dig Me Out, which was the album that first won me over. We were all a lot younger then, of course … I was 45, Janet was 32, Corin was 25, and Carrie Brownstein, the most famous of them as I write this in 2014, was only 23 (she looks at least that young in the video below). The show was at the Great American Music Hall. Opening acts were The Rondelles and Deerhoof. Here was the setlist:

  • Heart Factory
  • Dig Me Out
  • Memorize Yr Lines
  • Call the Doctor
  • Banned from the End of the World
  • Turn It On
  • By the Time You're 25
  • I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone
  • One More Hour
  • The End of You
  • God is a Number
  • Little Babies
  • Get Up
  • Words & Guitar
  • Encores: Good Things, Be Yr Mama, Little Mouth

So, “Heart Factory” was the first song I ever heard S-K play live. Here’s a video of them doing that song, from around the time I saw them:

We're manufacturing hearts
We've got the perfect thing
The word on the street
We've got the new love machine
Heart with and on/off switch and a remote control
Now you can program how you feel before you walk out the door

Fucks me up
I'm not just made of parts
And you can break right through
This box you put me into

Well you can leave 'em hot and you can leave 'em cold
And you can give 'em what you want and you can get up and go
And you can take your heart out and you can put it back in
I think we found the way to put the fun back in sin

Fucks me up
I'm not just made of parts
And you can break right through
This box you put me into

It's not like an organ more like a valentine
It's cherry cherry red and it beats on time
We're trying to reduce the heart on heart crime
You bring your heart to us we'll get it purified

Fucks me up
I'm not just made of parts
And you can break right through
This box you put me into

What are you waiting for?

Fucks me up
I'm not just made of parts
And you can break right through
This box you put me into

The last time I saw them, in 2006, they sang four of the songs they had done that first night: “Get Up”, “Good Things”, “Turn It On”, and “Little Mouth”. “Little Mouth”, in fact, was the last song I ever saw them play (barring a reunion). “Good Things" ended the regular set, and it was the appropriate end … why do good things never want to stay, indeed. In their final concert, “Good Things” led off the final encores, followed by “Turn It On” and “One More Hour”, which I had missed in my last show. That’s probably for the best … I would have fallen apart. It’s a song about when Carrie and Corin broke up, long ago:

In one more hour
I will be gone
In one more hour
I'll leave this room
The dress you wore
The pretty shoes
Are things i left
Behind for you

Oh, you've got the darkest eyes

Oh, you've got the darkest eyes

I needed it
(I know it's so hard for you to let it go)

If you could talk
What would you say
For you things were
Just night and day
Take off the dress
Take off the face
I'll hold you close
Before i leave

Oh, you've got the darkest eyes

Oh, you've got the darkest eyes

I needed it
(I know it's so hard for you to let it go
I know it's so hard for you to
Say goodbye
I know you need a little more time)

Don't say another word
About the other girl

Don't say another word
About the other girl

I needed it
(I know it's so hard for you to let it go)

outlander, series premiere

Ronald D. Moore knows what it means to excel in a genre format. His reworking of Battlestar Galactica was one of the finest series of its time, massively ambitious (really, should ambition ever be anything other than massive?) in a way that guaranteed a level of erraticism but also promised that the peaks would be higher than most. It was beloved of critics, it won a Peabody Award … and it won only four Emmys during its run, two for visual effects, one for sound editing, and one for a “featurette”. There were always going to be people who rejected the very idea of watching Battlestar Galactica, either because it was “sci-fi” or because it was based on “that cheesy 70s series” or because it was on the Sci-Fi Channel.

Moore had a number of attempted projects in the years after BSG, but for the most part, they crapped out before actually making it to the screen. But more recently, he’s starting to show up once again. First was Helix, another show on the renamed Syfy … Moore was involved in the creation of the series, but Steven Maeda is the showrunner. Helix is a decent show, worth a second season at the least, but I admit I was drawn to it initially because of Moore’s involvement, and I was disappointed when I realized it wasn’t really “his” series. I talked about this a lot when my wife and I watched Helix, but she smartly tunes out when I go on a droning rant, plus she’s not the sort who notices things like the name of the showrunner … when I mentioned this to her a couple of days ago, Joss Whedon was the only such person she could name, although she did mention Steven Bochco (even there, I think she might have meant Stephen J. Cannell, or maybe I’m misremembering the whole thing). The point is, she knows I loved Battlestar Galactica, knows the extent of the obsession, but doesn’t know the name Ronald D. Moore.

For quite a while now, at least since Helix debuted, I mentioned my excitement about the upcoming Outlander. I was coming at it from the Ron Moore angle … my wife, meanwhile, was looking forward to it because she had read the books. Clearly, this was going to be one of “our” shows, not a “wife show” or a “husband show”.

Imagine my surprise when I went downstairs a few days ago and found her watching the Outlander pilot. Without me. She had gotten a message from a friend who had tipped her off to the presence of the pilot On Demand before its actual premiere on Starz. Hey, I said, what the heck? Why are you watching without me? She was as surprised as I was, for it never occurred to her that I’d want to watch a show like Outlander. It was clearly a “wife show” … based on a series of romance/historical/fantasy novels by Diana Gabaldon. In retrospect, it makes sense … even if she’d heard my various comments in prior months, Ron Moore didn’t mean anything to her, and she didn’t think of this as a Ron Moore series but rather as a series based on those Outlander books.

I tell this long story because I wonder if the same problem that happened with BSG will occur again with this new series. It’s hard to pin down the genre … the first novel won a Best Romance award, but Gabaldon works within multiple genres. As she notes on her website, “I’ve seen it (and the rest of the series) sold—with evident success—as <deep breath> Literature, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Historical NON-fiction (really. Well, they are very accurate), Science Fiction, Fantasy, Mystery, Romance, Military History (no, honest), Gay and Lesbian Fiction, and…Horror.” But there will be people who reject the idea of watching a romance, just as they would avoid sci-fi, just as they would avoid fantasy … let’s just say there are a lot of genres to avoid when it comes to Outlander. In theory, this should give added depth to the stories … in reality, I’m guessing it scares some people off.

Which still leaves the big fan base for the books. Hey, it worked for Game of Thrones. But there is an added dimension, represented by people like me: Fans of Ron Moore. I’m looking forward to the series, and looking forward to the critical and fan reaction to the show. But I’m expecting it to get about as much mainstream attention as, say, Orphan Black, by which I mean, little attention at all.

Whatever … I know it doesn’t really matter. But all of the above was in my mind as I finally sat down to watch the pilot episode (alone). What I found was an intriguing story, gorgeous cinematography, great work by fave composer Bear McCreary, and a strong performance from unknown-to-me Caitriona Balfe as the leading character. (Balfe is the Tricia Helfer of the show, a tall former model whose acting chops surprise those of us who forget that models can act.) Balfe, and her character, Claire, are so important to the show, there’s no sense in calling it an ensemble cast. There is some good acting going on, of course, but unlike Game of Thrones, where every character falls into the category of Supporting Actor, Outlander is Balfe’s for better or worse. So far, it’s all for the better.

I don’t know anything about the books. (My wife made reference to something that happens in the fifth or sixth book and I accused her of spoiling the show.) I am very happy to have a series with a woman at the center. There is so much great TV right now that I’ve abandoned perfectly fine shows just because there isn’t time for them. I’m pretty sure we’ll find time for Outlander.

catching up: manhattan and the honourable woman

Manhattan is a fictionalized tale about the Manhattan Project that resulted in the atomic bomb. It’s a series from WGN America, and to be honest, that’s the most interesting thing about it. WGN is/was a station out of Chicago that went national as a “superstation” in the late-70s. They have only recently begun creating original series … Manhattan is the second. I’ve seen the pilot (which means I’m an episode behind … things happen when your wife is away for a week). I’ll give it a second chance, but there’s not much here so far. The direction by Thomas Schlamme in the pilot was iconic in that Schlamme “walk and talk” way. It’s always nice to see Olivia Williams, although my first impression is that women aren’t going to play a big part in the goings on. That it has taken me a week and a half to come up with a paragraph to say about it tells you just about everything.

The Honourable Woman looks much more promising. It’s a spy thriller created by Hugo Blick, a well-known-in-England TV producer, and there’s a big part for Maggie Gyllenhaal as the titular Woman, which in itself was enough to get me watching. There’s a timely Middle East angle to the plot … it remains to be seen whether this will ultimately be a positive or a negative.

The truth is, this is mostly a placeholder. The one new series I’m really excited about is Outlander, but I’ll save that for a separate post because one, I haven’t watched the pilot yet, and two, there is more than a paragraph to say about it. Suffice to say, it comes from Ron Moore, who since Battlestar Galactica has teased us with interesting but flawed series like Caprica and Helix. I’m expecting Outlander to top those. Also, the show is based on a popular series of novels by Diana Gabaldon, which I haven’t read, but which should create an instant audience.

music friday: elvis' greatest shit

I came across my copy of this bootleg and thought to use it for a Music Friday post. I figured I’d need to spend some time explaining the album, but then I found there’s actually a Wikipedia page for it. So you can check out that page. But I’ll give the short version. Or maybe I’ll let Greil Marcus do it, from his book Dead Elvis: A Chronicle of a Cultural Obsession:

The cover pictured Elvis in his coffin, captioned “FAT DEAD PERSON … Years of bodily self-abuse and drug usage finally took its toll on the famous singer who once thrilled the world with such immortal songs as “Queenie Wahine’s Papaya,” “Yoga Is as Yoga Does,” & “There’s No Room to Rhumba in a Sports Car.” Inside the sleeve was a reproduction of the prescription made out to Elvis by Dr. George Nichopolous, on 15 August 1977 …

Let’s see how many of these classic tunes I can find on YouTube. Well, here’s Side One:

The track listing:

  1. "Old MacDonald Had a Farm"
  2. "Ito Eats"
  3. "There's No Room to Rhumba in a Sports Car"
  4. "Confidence"
  5. "Yoga Is As Yoga Does"
  6. "Song of the Shrimp"
  7. "U.S. Male"
  8. "Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce"
  9. "Signs of the Zodiac"
  10. "The Bullfighter Was a Lady"
  11. "Wolf Call"
  12. "Can't Help Falling in Love (Outtake)"

And Side Two:

  1. "He's Your Uncle, Not Your Dad"
  2. "Scratch My Back Then I'll Scratch Yours"
  3. "The Walls Have Ears"
  4. "Poison Ivy League"
  5. "Beach Boy Blues"
  6. "Dominic the Impotent Bull"
  7. "Queenie Wahine's Papaya"
  8. "Do the Clambake (Medley)"
  9. "Datin'" (duet with child actor Donna Butterworth)
  10. "Are You Lonesome Tonight? (Live)"

If you can’t take all of this greatness at once, here are a couple of individual tracks:

Ito Eats” (from Blue Hawaii)

Queenie Wahine’s Papaya” (from Paradise, Hawaiian Style)

Finally, as proof that I have nothing new to say, I was searching for info on this album, and found that I had posted about it back in 2002:

Elvis' Greatest Shit ranks with the all-time Elvis artifacts, and that means something, of course, because there's so much competition. It's a bootleg filled with really crappy songs from Elvis movies, along with alternate versions of a few good songs in, shall we say, lesser versions. Those of us who think of the King as a great artist NEED to hear this, to remind us all of what he was capable of. It's hard to say what is the most unsettling (it's all funny, that goes without saying, and the humor is cumulative, that is, each song in succession seems to increase the utterly surreal nature of these recordings). Which is harder to bear? The version of the beautiful "Are You Lonesome Tonight" where E slobbers his way through half-remembered lyrics, or the simple existence of an officially-released Elvis song called "Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce"? Perhaps the "best" of this shit is "Dominic the Impotent Bull," which is indeed what the song is about.