Friday, August 18, 2017

It's...what now? And I'm Hungover: August 18, 2017: Narratives Are Wires

I like to think there's more time left, but...
Stuff That Happened, August 13 – August 18, 2017
Donald Trump showing his true colors after an unnervingly half-hearted head-fake suffocated the news cycle (and some relevant people noted and responded; developing), but some potentially enormous stories bubbled underneath it all – stuff about the militia movement (and it’s wandering attention span) and some reportedly linked directly to the Russia hack turning himself in, among them. Oh, and the North Korea thing I’ve been freaking out about in these little sidebars? Totally died down, and largely because all of one goddamn moron got distracted. (Related: a long read of interest.)

One article in The Atlantic had a great line about the ongoing evolution of the GOP’s “Southern Strategy,” specifically when it came to coddling actual fucking Nazis: “Trump put away the dog whistle and picked up a bullhorn, in terms of elevating these far-right movements, a long time ago.” And, continuing from there…

…with a hiccup. Steve Bannon is moving out of the White House. I’m not even sure that’s a big deal at this point. Film at 11. (Well, Sunday morning, actually; I want to flesh out some theories). Now, continuing from there…

Anchor Article(s):
“The Lewinsky news made Drudge an instant hero on the right. One lesson was: if you have the dirt, go with it. A second was, if you don’t have it, make it up, since ‘narrative truth’ outweighed ‘factual truth,’ as a former Breitbart write later explained.”
That came out of this book review (And, counterpoint (if any indirect one)).

More to the point I wanted to make, however, Vox plugged another pebble into the ever-growing wall of articles about “what do Trump voters/conservatives think” in the wake of the ungodly mess of Charlottesville. The reporter, Jeff Stein, interviewed “13 Alabama conservatives” and got their responses to Charlottesville and Trump’s response to it. On one level – e.g. the fucking glaring one – you see these voters/people contorting themselves into all kinds of conspiratorial thinking (e.g. fixation on socialism, George Soros financing…oh, everything, and President Barack Obama (see what I did there?) fomenting racial violence…somehow?) and drifting off into extreme vagary when trying to support fiercely-held beliefs (as in, count the number of times you see some variation of “I don’t know for sure” in there).

Thursday, August 17, 2017

New to Me: Margaret Glaspy, Emotions and Math

Selected with the utmost appreciation...
OK, this time, I’m actually going to see this person perform. That’s Sunday. Think I’ll update after.

Margaret Glaspy, Emotions and Math

The Gateway Drug
You & I,” a sly, plucky tune about drawing clear lines between love and a nice fuck-around.

The Backstory
Loved this song from the opening couplet – “Ah, tonight I’m a little too turned on to talk about us/tomorrow, I’ll be too turned off, and won’t give a fuck” – which then steps into the song’s title, but almost as an afterthought. And I love that, too, because that underlines the essential failure to communicate between the titular “You & I.” The same kind of contrasting couplets carry through the song, each of them something the narrator ticks off to her lover to show they’re reading off opposite sides of the same sheet. That, people, is solid writing.

The tune itself is pretty basic – and “good basic,” as in uncluttered, and with a respectable groove - but Glaspy has fun with the arrangement, burying the title (as noted above) and having, for lack of a better word, “chorus verses” (“verses choruses”?) that handle the exposition (e.g., “See, I thought we had some kind of understanding,” etc.). She indulges herself (and she has my gratitude for it) by playing a few bars of intricate, plucked solos that, as I watch her fingers dance like spider’s legs all over the guitar strings in her Tiny Desk Concert, impresses an unwashed simpleton like me (three good tracks in there, btw, including one not mentioned below) . I don’t know; looks like she knows what she’s about up there.

Also, glad the song plays at a lower key. And, yes, I’m still learning how to explain songs. Jesus god, is it hard to find words for these goddamn things.

The Album
The balance of Emotions and Math (both the album and the title track) goes against “You & I,” in that Glaspy typically speaks for the pining party. “You & I” also plays heavier than any other track as well; “Situation” pushes hardest, especially with the sloppy/angry guitar and defiant stance. “Situation” leads into “You & I,” and, with the song after that, “Somebody to Anybody,” Emotions and Math moves closer to its natural tone and tempo – slower (without being quiet), moodier, emotions pushed close to the surface and with the angles to avenues of self-defense clearly calculated (eh? eh? Emotions and Math?).  In that context, “You & I” feels like the victim taking her getting a wee kick out of dishing it out.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Pop Backstory, Volume 9: The Most Popular Songs in America, 1820-1829

No, stay. You'll be less sad. Then again, there's the art...
I had this two-cycle post on John Philip Sousa mapped out, but then realized that the fact he had “absolute pitch” probably counts as the most fascinating thing about him for me (well, this is also useful). OK, yes, he enjoyed massively successful and long career, but he built his legend on the American march and I just couldn’t get excited about that genre, even after several runs at it. In the spirit of “it’s me, not you,” I’ll just confess my shallowness and wrap up this Pop Backstory series with something much simpler.

While researching a variety of different things, I stumbled across a couple things – one a video, the other an entire site – that identified the most popular songs for each year for most of the 19th and 20th centuries; between them, they start in 1820 and carried up to (get this) 2013. Since my interest strained a little with everything up to ragtime, this felt like the most comfortable way I could share what music sounded like during something like the entirely of American history (1820 – 1789 = just 31 lost years).

This post covers 1820 – 1829, and with only one and a half year(s) missing. And, for anyone interested in skipping ahead to find out what was hip all the way up to 1860, here’s the source material. And away we go…

1820Lo, the Gentle Lark (aka, “Bid Me Discourse”), by Henry Bishop
According to his Wikipedia entry (which I trust reasonably, because who’s going to futz with this guy’s bio?), Bishop made his name in the “ballad opera” genre, an English musical form that put popular touches to Italian opera – y’know, so people would watch it. “Lo, the Gentle Lark” came from a ballad opera called “Comedy of Errors” (yes, that one), so lyrics by The Bard. Bishop had another “hit,” “Home, Sweet Home,” but what’s most notable here is that this song came from England – e.g., America had not yet escaped the weight of the Motherland. At any rate, this version linked to above was the cleanest I could find (but there are others).

Monday, August 14, 2017

One Last Pick Through the Bins, Volume 36: Dinosaur Jr., Art and Anger

Only she has a guitar, and she's swingin' it!
As much as I’ve always respected Dinosaur Jr. as a band, most of the people I’ve known liked them more than me. And, if there’s an accidental upside to this entire project, it has forced my attention to the particular components in a song that I like, whether instrumentation (e.g. the piano fixation) or sound (at least a step away from common denominators).

On that subject, I really am working toward a goal of making these posts less about how I found/discovered any given band/act, and more about, y’know, the band. Actually read a thing or two about Dinosaur Jr., and here’s something I found in a Spin magazine bio that came out shortly before 2012's I Bet On Sky:
“’I think I was in the womb, already trying to kill myself,’ he continues. ‘I had the umbilical cord around my neck and I was upside down. I didn’t want to come out. I feel like that must be from a past life. I’ve always felt like a crotchety old guy yelling, “Get off my lawn.”’”
The “he” quoted above was Dinosaur Jr. frontman, J Mascis. He’s a hell of a guitarist, but the thought highlights something about Mascis – e.g., people who say such things are often difficult people. No member of Dinosaur Jr. bore the brunt and/or took greater offense to Mascis’ personality than bassist, Lou Barlow. Barlow would later go on to form Sebadoh, something that reads as an act of self-rescue. If there’s a tragi-comic in the relationship between Barlow and Mascis (and it’s more comic than it should be, but only from the outside), it’s how both men handled their inevitable crack-up. Read Wikipedia’s entry and you get a generic “Barlow was kicked out of the band" - something that happens to just about every band The Spin article, on the other hand, injects blood into that bloodless note:
“During a show in December of 1989, he sabotaged a set by milking feedback during a song that didn’t call for it, taunting his bandmates all the while. It was Mascis who eventually responded, taking a swing with his guitar, and as Murph started to leave the stage, Barlow jumped up on the drum riser, in triumph, ecstatic for having finally provoked a response.”
You see, kids, when two people loathe one another very, very much…

Sunday, August 13, 2017

It's Sunday and I'm Hung Over, August 13, 2017: Charlottesville and Crowded Theaters

Stuff That Happened, August 8 – August 12, 2017
Oh, some stuff, I guess. The situation between North Korea and Donald’s Trump’s loose, raging lips deteriorated far enough for government officials in Guam to pass on reminders about not staring into missile explosions. The FBI also raided the home of former Trump campaign manager and eager, amoral sleaze-merchant, Paul Manafort, but at least those two descriptors show a level of consistency. Congress did nothing, obviously…

Yeah, yeah, a bunch of other stuff happened, but there’s just one thing to talk about.

Anchor Article(s): As comedian Kumail Nanjani pointed out via twitter, “Threat of nuclear war was the second scariest thing about this week,” a comment that referred a full-blown rally by white supremacists, KKK, and affiliated assholes over the past couple of days in Charlottesville, Virginia. All Fascists Eve kicked off the event with a kitschy night-time tiki-torch parade (Nazis still excel at looking stupid), while Fascist Christmas ended with street fights, and one counter-protestors dead and nearly 20 more injured (to emphasize, the good guys) after some pin-prick from Waumee, Ohio, who fell headlong into the stupidest possible purpose in life*, drove his muscle car (compensating) into a knot of protestors.

And, as everyone knows – at least outside the conspiracy right fever swamps – Donald Trump, the President of these once-United States, couldn’t bring himself to condemn Nazis. With that, the softest, slowest pitch of his entire presidency sailed over the plate with Donny Dipshit swinging wildly…

or did he swing wildly? Buckle up, America. We’re about to find out how racist our society really is.

I have a life’s worth of thoughts about racism and history, cowardice and courage swirling around my head this morning; like millions of other Americans, I’ve been restless since I first heard the news. With an eye to keeping these entries short, I only want to touch on two main thoughts: the baffling persistence of white supremacy, generally, and America’s peculiar strain of it.

Friday, August 11, 2017

New to Me: Big Thief, Masterpiece

Ambassador to my community...
As noted above, I almost saw Big Thief earlier this year. Well, factually, I saw them – as in the people in the band – only I didn’t see them play. The opening acts – one, a super sleepy acoustic act from (I think) Seattle and, the other, something like a jam band – exhausted my wife’s patience at least an hour before Big Thief took the stage.

Big Thief, Masterpiece

The Gateway Drug
Masterpiece,” a mid-tempo(?) song built from plunging hooks, thick picking and crashing cymbals.

The Backstory
When I heard “Masterpiece” (the song, not the album), 1) I went onto a playlist immediately after the first couplet (“Years, days, makes no difference to me, babe/You always look exactly the same…to me”), and 2) it felt like the album could go just about anywhere. The line, "there's only so much lettin' go you can ask someone to do," doesn't hurt, either.

Adrianne Lenker, Big Thief’s front-person (lead vocals/guitar), has something like the best possible voice for a song like “Masterpiece” – clear, resolute but with a flutter of anxiety in the way it cracks (I guess? Is that a crack?). The contrast lurks in the song in that weakness that lets the narrator hold onto the dodgy relationship(s), while also holding the whole damned thing together. Lenker mumbles as much as she sings – and to good effect (e.g., bone-weary) – so, for all the times I’ve heard this song (takes counting by tens), I could never sort it out without checking the lyrics. Looks like the songs examines a number of relationship, notably the way one aspects of one relationship bleeds into another, and another, and so on.

It’s a dramatic song, musically, which lends it a little immensity – clunky phrasing is deliberate – so, to start a good habit (e.g., actually naming the band), credit to Buck Meek (other guitar), Max Oleartchik (bass), and James Krivchenia (drums) for providing Lenker’s pipes such a lovely stage.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Programming Note(s)

After some months of grasping at an identity on this site, I finally feel like I’ve found some kind of footing. Now begins the climbing.

First, and mainly, two sets of regular posts will anchor the content: two each week on music (The Bins Project (see right sidebar for what passes for an archive) and the New to Me stuff (example/plug (dammit)) and, going forward, two each week on politics/culture, etc. One will go up on the weekend, and another sometime midweek. Settling on a specific weekday feels like madness due to personal incorrigible disorganization.

That’s the plan, at any rate. (Also, see “personal incorrigible disorganization” and raise that one dram of psychic fragility.)

Careful observers (anyone?) might notice one music feature absent from the above – e.g., the Pop Backstory posts that have gone up fitfully enough to make noticing them something like impossible (also, sample post; probably my favorite). That series I will finish with a slightly leaner concept and mostly out of spite. The first of the last posts in those series should go up this weekend. There’s one more note on that…

I tried to produce Pop Backstory blog-style – e.g., posting and researching simultaneously – and, as I see it, the content suffered for it; the writing alternated between flat and grasping and that’s just unacceptable. I want to retain the research side of it going forward, but post the content differently, whether in a series of posts that I’ll drop the way Netflix drops its series, or in one monster post the way Marvel/Disney drops its latest stupid opus. I’ll cross that bridge when I move on from Pop Backstory, aka, the bastard orphan urchin of this site.

I strongly suspect that I’ll get away from music at some point, maybe say spend a month researching something like “The Deficit,” not least because no one talks about that directly anymore, and what the fuck is up with that?

UPDATE: On a related note, I do hope to become a better twittizen - e.g., instead of joining the daily pile-on, I hope to instead forward articles from sources people aren't seeing everyday, items a couple steps at least outside the 24/7 rapid-fire news cycle to offer a little perspective. That's also the low-key reason I want to post politics (or society) just twice a week instead of daily: some days I feel like slowing down might save us all. Ah, but the daily pile-in: it is The Big Shit, and we are but flies.

OK, programming note complete. There’s a long way to go, obviously, including a lot of work to make archived posts easier to find, maybe making the layout less linear, etc. That may entail moving to a different platform, but, sweet Jesus, I don’t want to move to a new platform.