Tuesday, December 30, 2008

RIP Freddie Hubbard

For what it's worth (probably not much), "Daphne's Dream City" (the first song I wrote for the IJG, and also the first tune we recorded, and also the first track on our first album) was based (to a pretty shameless degree) on Hubbard's "Prophet Jennings."

The sad beauty of that Hubbard track still gets me. Seems fitting to play it again now.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Sampling the Smorgasbord, no. 2: Cosmos: War of the Planets (1977)

Hard to believe this was a contemporary of Star Wars:

A bit hit-or-miss, but the good bits are good indeed (i.e., bad indeed; i.e., "good" indeed; i.e., ... oh, whatever).

Some highlights include:

1. The opening -- everything up through the credits in the above clip (though you should do yourself a favor and skip the rest of the above clip). Particularly entertaining: the over-reaction of the crew when they avoid a head-on collision with an asteroid.

2. The costumes -- skin-tight to the max (cameltoe alert!), accompanied by ridiculous headgear. How bad is the headgear? James Dean could not have made it look cool. (But how I would love to incorporate a look like that into the IJG costumery!)

3. The bad guy -- one of the most pompous and condescending robots I've ever seen in a sci-fi flick -- made all the more delicious by the fact that he actually refers to the human astronauts as "earthlings." You can cut the metallic, blinking-eye sarcasm with a knife. (Alas, there is no YouTube-ified footage.)

4. The screenplay -- in places, it's basically a string of unintentional non-sequitors.

5. The score -- I'm just guessing here, and it's just a hunch, but the music sounds like it was vaguely it was influenced by Wendy Carlos. Just vaguely, mind you.

6. A vampire! (Yeah, you read that right.)

Anyway. At some point I really need to untangle the above-mentioned "good" / "bad" knot, n'est-ce pas? Cuz I often find myself (perhaps more and more lately) defending the sort of cultural artifacts that, in the eyes and ears of other folks, are typically dismissed as "kitsch."

For now: I do think there can be something retrospectively artistic about something that was initially created without a whole lotta artistry. Which suggests that art isn't always about intentions. Hmmm, I'll chew on that for a while.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Reverse sleigh ride... from hell!

(This is right down the street from us.)

Sleigh ride... from hell!

So I was fighting the urge to gently tease my fellow Northwesterners for going into lockdown every time there are a few measly inches of snow -- compared to the great storms of my New Jersey childhood, the "severe weather" we're currently having on the upper left coast seems sort of wimpy.

But then I read about stuff like this:

From the news report:

A third charter bus with the group did not go down the hill after witnesses at the scene ran out and warned the driver to stop, and its passengers were all safe.

Witnesses said the third bus probably would have pushed the first one over the wall if it had come down the hill and lost control, as the first two did.

So I guess I'll skip it.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The White-on-Yellow Album

A new review of LEEF can be found here (scroll down a little), c/o our old friend Joe Taylor.

Did I mention how this album makes for a great stocking stuffer? Aside from the many ways to purchase it online, it is also now available in a brick and mortar context at this Rhino Records (thanks, Tany.)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Razzleberry dressing, anyone?

While we're at it, I loves me some Mr. Magoo:

This cartoon scared the shit out of me when I was a kid -- no idea why. Now I find it creepy but entertaining.

Sampling the Smorgasbord, no. 1: Teenagers from Space (1959)

And you people wonder why I love this stuff. From the previously mentioned collection:

In this sequence alone:

1. The possible coining of the phrase "Those crazy kids!"

2. The cheesiest "monster" I have ever seen (a silhouette of a lobster (!) -- did anyone find this scary in 1959?).

3. The most hilarious "monster" sound I have ever heard (it seems vaguely muppet-esque to me). Note to self: must sample.

4. An overly angry alien demeanor (more evidence of this can be found in part one). Why so angry, Mr. Alien? Especially given that you are superior and all?

I have no idea what any of this really has to do with the "teenagers" referred to in the title, unless perhaps the fact that the alien protagonist (Derek, the guy who kills the lobster-monster in the above clip) rebels against the norms of the extra-terrestrial society he comes from. But based on the title, I was expecting some kind of sci-fi Annette Funicello / Frankie Avalon flick.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the skeletons -- lots of skeletons. The aliens have a powerful ray gun that can convert flesh-and-blood beings into piles of bones instantaneously -- and so, as one of the original tag lines put it, this movie features "thrill-crazed space kids blasting the flesh off humans!"

In all, well worth the 20 cents.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Give us some money

So sue me. The dub quality here is pretty piss-poor, but this is my favorite unsung rock band, doing one of my favorite unsung Christmas songs.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Saturday, December 13, 2008

'Tis the season to buy stuff, part two

"Grow your own" and "nutcracker" -- a series of words I never imagined I'd see strung together someday.

But the fact is, we're growing our own nutcracker as I type.

So far, the operative word in the "Can grow up to 600% its size!" advertising blurb (in the upper right hand corner of the package) is "can." (Note that the wise Grow Your Own marketing scribe did not use the word "will.")

My favorite bit, though, is on the back of the package. In tiny text, we get the following disclaimer: "This toy is in no way intended to represent living people. Any resemblance is purely coincidental and not intended to harm anyone."

To which I can only ask: huh?

Anyway, get yours here.

The M word

It's raining, trying to snow.

My ankle is severely twisted, after I stupidly decided to go for a run last night and misjudged the circumference of a pothole (not surprising, since it was rainy and dark).

I can't stand or walk except by hopping on my left leg.

Apparently 40 brings you many things -- but not wisdom. And alas, the fool was right:

Thou shouldst not have been old before thou hadst been wise.

Anyway, is it any wonder that this concatenation of circumstances has put me in mind of a certain well-loved film:

* * * * *

And speaking of well-loved, Amanda over at Pandagon has one of the best blog-obituaries of the late great Bettie Page, who died earlier this week (RIP):

I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I don’t see the appeal, from the playful look in her eyes in most pictures, to her refreshing lack of shame, to the way she squares her shoulders, and of course her kitschy style that seamlessly adapted itself to punk rock reimagination decades later. She is very rock and roll, compared to Marilyn Monroe, who was very bachelor pad.


I have no doubts about why she’s popular at all. The image overload has diminished the power of her image, but for a lot of the kind of rock music loving weirdos who felt alienated from the standard cheesecake middle American version of sexuality---Playboy, Hooters, blond bimbos who all but say, “You want to put what where? *giggle*"---the Bettie Page pin-up pictures offered something genuinely fun. She’s not playing stupid in these pictures, and it’s genuinely hot. She’s naughty without seeming to have an ounce of guilt to her. They cater to the fantasies of men who want something more interesting than cheesecake. But it was women (well, women like me and a lot of women I know) who put her popularity over the top. I suspect a lot of women see her picture for the first time and think, shit, I can actually be sexy without getting breast implants, dyeing my hair blond, and adopting a cloying posture. For real. Not the consolation prize sexy, where you’re not the hot cheerleader but you’ll do. Genuinely sexy, sexy in a way that Hooters and sterile Playboy spreads doesn’t even come close to reaching.

Did I mention, by the way, that the IJG may soon be picking up a burlesque show gig?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


In all the hand-wringing about Obama's supposed "move to the center," why oh why have more people not asked the fundamental question: which "center" are you talking about?

Welcome to the new center: post-partisan progressivism. "We're all Keynesians now," Richard Nixon once famously announced. And now the catastrophic failures of conservatism have set the stage for a new era of progressive reform. The election gave Obama a mandate and a majority for progressive reform: an end to the war in Iraq, health care for all, investment in new energy and education. He doesn't seem to have backed off on any of his major commitments yet. And the economic crisis is forcing an ever bolder response, driving the entire "center" to the left.

The first rule of critical discourse: define your terms. Thank you, Robert Borosage!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Sometimes you can see the steam coming out of his ears

Alright, here I go again.

Why do I get so mad at the TV people? And why in particular do I get maddest at the very TV people whose hearts I know are in the right place, and with whom I tend to agree, politically?

Cue Keith Olbermann's show last night, and his opening report, on the (apparently insane) governor of Illinois. There were two moments that irritated me about this thing. The first can be found at around 2:40 in the following vid:

To wit: Obama, in footage from an exchange with the press, responds to the Blagojevich nonsense, but declines to go into any detail. Olbermann (back in the studio, of course) interjects:

Olbermann outburst number 1: "Oh, no, not four more years of not commenting on ongoing investigations, not that crap, that's not change we can believe in. Surely there's something the president-elect could say about his involvement without compromising Mr. Fitzgerald's efforts."

[Cue to footage of Obama doing exactly that]

Olbermann outburst number 2: "Now, was that so hard?"

Let me get this straight. Olbermann, reading from a teleprompter, knew, before making outburst number 1, that outburst number 2 would be following a few seconds later?

He knew, in other words, that outburst number 2 effectively made outburst number 1 irrelevant? He knew, while he was insisting that Obama "say something about his own involvement without compromising Mr. Fitzgerald's efforts," that Obama had already said something about his own involvement without compromising Mr. Fitzgerald's efforts?

What the fuck?

Later, Olbermann interviewed Jonathan Alter:

And here we have irritating moment number 2: a glimpse of the sort of power trip that comes from manufacturing drama out of thin air. It starts when Olbermann pursues the Obama connection (or non-connection):

"Well, to that point, eleven minutes into a nightly news broadcast tonight was the headline 'Barack Obama's First Scandal,' and it was eleven minutes into one of the British news casts, ITV. As much of an oversimplification as it is, and as much as it's contradicted by what Blagojevich said on those tapes, is there a risk of the implication sticking to the president-elect that this is his first political scandal?"

Okay, I have to ask: when a broadcaster gets into "is there a risk of the implication sticking" territory, specifically concerning an implication that has not yet stuck, how exactly is that different from the classic politician's gambit of deftly raising questions about an opponent -- especially guilt-by-association type questions -- without ever coming out and accusing them of anything? Isn't it the same dynamic? Plant the seed, and then step aside while it grows (or dies) -- never thinking about or owning your own responsibility in the process?

If the "Obama involvement" angle was discredited from the get-go (and Fitzgerald himself insisted that it was), why even raise it here? Until and unless new, contradictory evidence emerges, I have to ask, again: what the fuck?

It's amazing to me how much of what passes for news these days is actually the anticipation of news. So much of what journalists (especially broadcast journalists) do is wrapped up in the pseudo-science of making predictions. In part, that's the ruthlessness of the media-industrial complex's bottom line: you have to have enough "stuff" to fill up the hour, and if you don't actually have all the data on a story by air time (but you know you're dealing with a big story), you want people to continue to believe that you are "the most trusted name in news" or whatever. So you have to convincingly extemporize your way through the subject. You want to appear authoritative, right? You don't want to appear to be as clueless as the people watching at home, do you?

(Incidentally, note to networks: my ability to trust you is inversely related to the number of times you tell me that you're trustworthy. If you have to tell me you're cutting through the bull, I'm sorry, but I'm going to think you're bullshitting me.)

At what point does this mania for prediction help to create the news? At what point is the media getting in the business of self-fulfilling prophecy? Not out of a vindictiveness toward any one politician or party, but just because it has become standard operating procedure?

Look: Obama should not be protected from media critique. (Duh! Of course.) But these broadcasters need to get a new game. Because four more years of this shit is not change I can believe in.

Here it goes again

Okay, talk about crazy. Recently, for the first time in, like, ever, a venue saw fit to contact me about doing a New Year's Eve gig.

New Year's Eve with the IJG? Is that really how you want to start 2009?

I must admit, I accepted more out of curiosity than anything else. Would anybody want to usher in the New Year in such a sacrilegious way? Would we be able to capitalize on the buzz created by the show we did here in Portland last September? Would I find enough local players to fill out the band on such short notice? Could I get away with covering "Have a Hap-Hap-Happy New Year" from Rudolph's Shiny New Year? Would my Mom (visiting from out of town for the holidays) be horrified by the big band version of the IJG, which she has never before heard in person?

So many questions. Maybe I'll see you there for the answers:

The Industrial Jazz Group (the mostly PDX edition) on New Year's Eve, right here in Portland, 6-8 PM, at Mississippi Pizza. (Which is, incidentally, a much cooler place than it sounds. It features pretty prominently in this video.)

More info soon.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Ah, crap, this blog is becoming a list of other people's links

Ah, well.

The latest: "Fifty Years of Popular Songs Condensed into Single Sentences" (McSweeney's, of course).

Hint: there's a theme.

My favorite is the one for Radiohead's "Creep": "I'm filled with self-loathing, and, though outwardly I hate everything you represent, I want to do it with you."

Hey, that's kind of catchy!

The role of Vitamin D in beta-cell function

A PhD dance.

Something tells me I would have enjoyed grad school more if there had been less political backbiting and more of this sort of thing...

Two tickets to paradise

Just bought this as a 40th birthday present for myself. Less than 20 cents per film: priceless.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Who says jazz is dead?

Somehow in the heat of the campaign I completely missed these McCain-Palin vids set to music by pianist Henry Hey:

Very "John Somebody", right? How about this one:

Talk about making something out of nothing.

Via David Valdez.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Friday, November 28, 2008

What Thanksgiving means to me

Homemade raspberry chiffon pie, and the coolest, most beautiful little family in the world.

He saw it coming

More Friday morning economic meltdown humor, this time from the incomparable Louis CK.

"I agree with that. I find my funds to be grossly insufficient!"


Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thank you

I have many things to be thankful for, but here's one I wasn't expecting -- after seven years, our first album, Hardcore, is now officially sold out. As in I have to order more.

If you count promo freebies, that's around one hundred sales a year. Not exactly Thriller, but it's a start.

I'll try to have more ready in time for Christmas... cuz, you know, I'm sure there will be a clamor.

Anyway, thanks, IJG fans! (And non-fans who bought the album by mistake...)

I did not choose la meme, la meme chose me

I'm generally not one to participate in these internet pass-arounds, but getting tagged by two people I respect in the space of a few weeks seemed to be a bit of an omen, so I figured I'd give in for a change.

Here are the rules. And here they are in a more recent permutation. Like David, I ended up going with the magic number eight.

What follows is incredibly boring -- though, on the flip side, it's not as bombastic as my usual posting fare. I tried to stay away from anything having to do with my so-called art, cuz I figured that if you read this blog you get enough of that already.

1. In high school, I was known as either "Andy" or "Durk." Some friends from that period of my life still refer to me that way, and I'm happy to let them (but if you weren't there, I generally discourage it). I don't know where those nicknames came from (I was always "Andrew" before high school). But I probably let them flourish because I thought they would help me attract girls somehow. (Boy was I wrong.)

2. When I was in junior high, my best friend was an Indian kid named Ajay Sharma. Our idea of fun was to throw rocks at each other, across a busy street, at rush hour. Many years later, in college, I was in an anti-fraternity called "Monkey Pus" -- a gang of first-year hooligans who basically wanted very little to do with the mainstream educational experience -- and one of our many truancy-oriented pastimes was to play pool as if it were basketball, attempting to throw the balls into the pockets instead of knocking them in with a cue. (Amazingly, no one ever got hurt.)

3. When I was a Boy Scout, I once got lost on Bear Mountain. This was in the context of a hiking trip. I have always had a problem with authority, and I disliked everything about being a Boy Scout, except for the fact that it provided me with a foil (enabling me to cultivate certain habits of resistance that I have found essential to survival in the adult world). Anyway, on this particular trip, a comrade and I decided to break away from the group, and we spent the better part of a day wandering around in the wilderness. We were finally reunited with our Scoutmaster just before sunset (and just as true panic was setting in).

4. In my worst nightmare ever, an evil magic Play Doh Fun Factory Extruder worked in reverse, sucking people and things through its tiny aperture, and converting them into a single nondescript lump of clay.

5. When I was in first grade, my mom -- bless her heart, she was a single mother trying to raise two kids on a budget -- always played barber to my brother and I. This was in the mid 70's, but Mom's idea of an appropriate hairstyle for male children was "so last decade": the tried-and-true crew cut. Perhaps this is where I developed an early appreciation for incongruity. In any case, I picked up the nickname "Peach Fuzz," because most of my classmates had true Eight is Enough manes, while my hair was always extremely short.

6. I can't stand organized sports, either as a participant or an observer. I'm sure this is at least in part because of my relationship with my father, who is a sports fanatic. (See also: my problem with authority, above.) To me, the idea of developing an affection for a specific team, following the exploits of a given player, or maintaining a knowledge of the stats and obscure rules of the game -- all of this seems like an absurd way to spend one's time. I have never understood the romance of it. Which is not to say I dislike physical activity or the thrill of casual athletics. But I can't help but experience any organized sporting activity through the ironic frame of the "Block that kick!" bit from "Revolution no. 9." It all seems vaguely fascist to me.

7. I have a hard time relaxing, in the sense of just kicking back and enjoying some activity not directly related (in my own mind, anyway) to what I consider "work." Related: I'm a pacer. Particularly when I'm writing, reading, or listening to music, I find it hard to sit still. So I walk around a lot. To some extent this has more to do with certain physical realities (limitations) -- chronic back pain, restless legs -- than a short attention span. Which is not to say I don't have a short attention span.

8. I once put a close friend through what I can only imagine was an extremely awkward kind of hell, by forcing his superior to force him to fire me from an office job that he had helped me get in the first place. Why did I let this happen? I was too lazy, distracted, and bored to take the damned job seriously. Sometimes I wonder if I'm ever going to grow up.

* * * * *

Alright, thanks to Matt and David for the tagging. I can't actually bring myself to pass the game along to anyone else (as I said, I'm no good at this sort of thing). But hell, since you got this far, I'd be happy to read your own list of random nonsense if you are so inclined to write it down. So consider yourself tagged if you want to be.

(Photo credit.)

Monday, November 24, 2008

It's all about you

John Cole:

Obama Announces His Economic Team

And while I have little clue who most of them are, I feel duty bound as a blogger to express my shock that his choices are not progressive/moderate/conservative enough, and I will do my best to write a hysterical 2,000 word post saying that if he would only listen to me, things would be better. Also, I will, without irony, note that he is appointing too many Clinton re-treads, failing to acknowledge that if Obama had not won, Clinton would have, and probably would have appointed more… Clinton people. Finally, I will whinge incessantly that I was misled during the election. I thought he would be much more progressive/moderate/conservative than he is acting now, and I wish I had voted for the alternative (the crazy old man McCain).

Why oh why will he just not listen to me?

'Tis the season to buy stuff

I wish I had come up with the idea for this T-Shirt.

Did I mention that it makes a perfect gift for the composer in your life?


Wait, I've got one. How's this:

"On Sale: Free Jazz"

The Frogman Cometh

No, not Clarence. (Though he's amazing enough to deserve a post all his own.)

I'm talking about L. Frank Baum's Frogman, recently encountered (or rediscovered, actually), as Thandie and I make our way through the crazy-ass Oz books:

The Frogman wakened first on this morning, and after going to the tree where Cayke slept and finding her still wrapped in slumber, he decided to take a little walk and seek some breakfast. Coming to the edge of the grove, he observed half a mile away a pretty yellow house that was surrounded by a yellow picket fence, so he walked toward this house and on entering the yard found a Winkie woman picking up sticks with which to build a fire to cook her morning meal.

"For goodness sake!" she exclaimed on seeing the Frogman. "What are you doing out of your frog-pond?"

"I am traveling in search of a jeweled gold dishpan, my good woman," he replied with an air of great dignity.

"You won't find it here, then," said she."Our dishpans are tin, and they're good enough for anybody. So go back to your pond and leave me alone." She spoke rather crossly and with a lack of respect that greatly annoyed the Frogman.

"Allow me to tell you, madam," said he, "that although I am a frog, I am the Greatest and Wisest Frog in all the world. I may add that I possess much more wisdom than any Winkie--man or woman--in this land. Wherever I go, people fall on their knees before me and render homage to the Great Frogman! No one else knows so much as I; no one else is so grand, so magnificent!"

"If you know so much," she retorted, "why don't you know where your dishpan is instead of chasing around the country after it?"

"Presently," he answered, "I am going where it is, but just now I am traveling and have had no breakfast. Therefore I honor you by asking you for something to eat."

"Oho! The Great Frogman is hungry as any tramp, is he? Then pick up these sticks and help me to build the fire," said the woman contemptuously.

"Me! The Great Frogman pick up sticks?" he exclaimed in horror. "In the Yip Country where I am more honored and powerful than any King could be, people weep with joy when I ask them to feed me."

"Then that's the place to go for your breakfast," declared the woman.

"I fear you do not realize my importance," urged the Frogman. "Exceeding wisdom renders me superior to menial duties."

"It's a great wonder to me," remarked the woman, carrying her sticks to the house, "that your wisdom doesn't inform you that you'll get no breakfast here." And she went in and slammed the door behind her.

Ah, L. Frank Baum. Where else in children's literature do you get explorations of transexuality, feminism, plastic surgery, amputation...

They just don't make them like that anymore. And as I ponder ways to adapt the IJG show for a children's audience (if that's even possible) -- over and against the Dora-the-Explorer-ish shout-fest pablum that passes for kids' entertainment these days -- Baum is certainly a model.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Beautiful lacunae

Sometimes, when you are making a piece of art (or whatever), there are gaps. And sometimes half the fun of the art-making process is allowing those gaps to be filled in by other people (after figuring out 1. which gaps to offer up for that purpose, and 2. which gaps you had better fill in your own damn self).

Some artists will have none of that. Surrounded by an army of "assistants" whose job is to help them complete a given piece, they nevertheless leave very little to the talents of these collaborators:

Hidden details whenever possible. References to my children (from youngest to oldest as follows): Evie, Winsor, Chandler and Merritt. References to my anniversary date, the number 52, the number 82, and the number 5282 (for fun, notice how many times this appears in my major published works). Hidden N's throughout -- preferably thirty N's, commemorating one N for each year since the events happened.

Never have I seen the word "fun" used in such an odd, incongruous way. What this overdetermined art practice really is? Bloody hell boring.

But maybe I'm speaking with the bias of a big band leader (h/t to DJA for the interview from which this excerpt comes):

FJO: So what does it mean to be writing for people who are themselves already decision makers on that level?

MS: It means that a lot of times they come up with really great ideas that I end up adopting. In the case of Frank, it means that a lot of times, instead of writing an introduction to a piece, I let him just come up with it. He's improvising it and it sets up the music differently every time. Sometimes I say, "I don't know what to write here." Frank will figure it out, and he'll make it great every time.

When I first brought Concert in the Garden to the band, it was just horrible. It was called Quasi Catu, because it was based on this maracatu Brazilian rhythm. I'm telling you, it was a piece of dreck, and I was so panicked. We were rehearsing at Hunter College and there was this little organ, and I was playing this melody on the organ and the guys were taking a break. Ingrid was sitting there diddling on her horn, and I said, "Ingrid, why does this sound so good here and it just sounds like crap in the band?" And she said, "You know, that sounds like accordion; you should get Gary Versace to play that. We should call him and have him play on this." I was like, "That's a great idea." So she's thinking like a composer, but outside of my box. I was thinking, "I have this big band. I have to write for this big band." But we called up Gary, and he could do the concert. Suddenly it gave me a whole new way to write because he's got the high tessitura. He can play high and soft forever. A flute can't do that. A trumpet can't do that. Nobody in the band could. A piano can play high, but it decays immediately. So here the accordion can go eeeee super high and just go forever, and it gets this whole kind of ethnic sound going. I fell in love with it. So now I always write for that, but it wasn't my idea.

FJO: And Gary Versace is now a regular member of the band.

MS: Yeah. So, you know, they all come up with ideas. When we had that gig at Visiones—we played there for five years—I would bring pieces in, not knowing exactly what I wanted. But playing them every week, [the musicians] started developing a way of phrasing—especially Keith O'Quinn on lead trombone, Tony Kadleck on lead trumpet, and George Flynn on bass trombone. These are not guys I'm always giving solos to. They're good soloists, but they're incredible lead players. And they would do these things with articulating notes—releasing, crescendoing—and the whole section would then start following them. When I started hearing how they phrase, then when I would come home and write my next piece, I would write to that. You know, I'd say, "Oh wow, yeah, I'm gonna do that and write sforzando-piano-crescendo here." It was because of this collection of people, playing it their own way, collectively influencing each other, finding a collective way of phrasing without talking about it. There are so many layers of my music that I would have never found if I'd always been writing for a different group. Just by doing it, they made me write a certain way. And I would imagine that my writing and their playing it over the years has helped them find things in their own music, too. So we've changed each other. It's the reason I don't think I can ever end the band; it's an organism now. It's not a collection of people. It's an old shoe that your foot fits perfectly in. You don't ever want to throw it away. But it's also almost like a living thing on its own. I can't put [another] collection of musicians together and get the same breadth out of the music as what they do. They're just exquisite.

I call this sort of thing the Ellington dynamic, and it's one of the main reasons I identify as a jazz composer.

(Photo credit: "Lacuna" by franz84j.)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Heard moments ago

Stephanie Miller, re: Sarah Palin's (potential) book deal:

"Do you think we'll see any punctuation in the book, or will it just be like one of her regular sentences?"

Monday, November 17, 2008

Cyber-style is revealing

George Bush used AOL.

Obama doesn't use emoticons.

And there you have it, in a nutshell.


Trust me, kid, Jebus doesn't want to hear your crappy voice

For those in need of a late-night dada fix:

My music classes go a little bit like that. (The kids call me "Durk" too.)

E.g.: "What? You say you can't play that chromatic scale? Better make yourself do it, motherfucker!"

Geez Louise.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The little house I used to live in

Via Secondtino, this rather cool video of an attempt (by Dutch designer Piet Schreuders) to digitally recreate Laurel-and-Hardy-era downtown Culver City.

The setting in the clip is minutes from where we lived during our last four years in southern California. We meandered down those very streets many times. And from our current vantage point, all the way up the coast, the filmic history / mythology that suffuses not only Culver City, but all of LA, is indeed compelling. So I get why a European would be fascinated enough to want to undertake this project.

Of course, when that history / mythology was right in front of me all the time I found it irritating beyond belief.

I considered myself an avid film buff before moving to LA. My last job before heading off to grad school (back in 1995) was working in the AV department of a local library -- and one of the perks of that job was that I had direct access to a pretty extensive collection of the very flicks that are usually included in the typical "canon." I watched most of them -- hundreds of movies -- during the year I had that job. (I had to geek it up, of course, by forcing myself to take notes on most of what I saw.)

And I brought that enthusiasm with me to USC. I took every film class I could. I took advantage of the school's impressive film library (which was, needless to say, much more extensive than my old job's), back when doing so as a non-cinema major was pretty hassle-free. And I'll admit it: I naively thought it was the coolest thing in the world that there was a building on campus named after George Lucas.

And then, at some point, I slowly but ineluctably became impatient with the whole culture. I grew tired of getting stuck in traffic at random because some film production had decided to take over an entire city block (or more). I grew tired of randomly but repeatedly meeting people who were "in the business," each of whom was driven by that "special idea" that would be the "next big thing." (I grew tired, in other words, of dodging pitches.) I grew tired of the way Hollywood -- a concept more complex than the stereotype, but certainly rooted in it -- put its style-over-substance stamp on everything. (I'm sure the academic star system is a national phenomenon, but to me it made perfect sense that such a thing would thrive at a place like USC.)

And because I found less and less to like about the way movies are made, or the people who make them, I (unfairly, I admit) found myself generally unable to enjoy the art form at all anymore.

Crazy, huh?

In a weird way, maybe it was a good phase for me to go through -- it ultimately (and radically) helped me affirm my commitment to the ear (not the eye) as the superior human sense organ.

And all is not lost: now that I've escaped from LA, I'm happy to report that I'm slowly learning to dig film again. Of course, now I'm getting off on stupid shit like War of the Colossal Beast and The Crawling Eye. But it's a start, right?

Anyway, context is everything.

* * * * *

BTW, this is awesome:

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Because someone has to make the art

It is difficult
to get the news from poems,
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there.

-- William Carlos Williams

Monday, November 10, 2008

More wages, more profanity

Via Balloon Juice, Joe "Blowhard" Scarborough drops the F-bomb:

Turns out jazz musicians aren't the only foul-mouthed citizens of this fair country.

John Cole provides his typical spot-on analysis:

There are several really funny things about this story. The first is the way Scarborough blurted it out- it was casual, as if he has more than a passing acquaintance with the f-word himself. Someone who really did get his panties in a knot when people used curse words would not be able to effortlessly blurt that out as he did in that clip.

Second, it points out how twisted the inside the beltway priorities still are- these knuckleheads are talking off camera, all aghast that Emanuel has told people to fuck off, and think this is somehow a great sin. It is truly bizarre for a number of reasons, especially for folks who worship “average” and “ordinary” Americans. Average and ordinary Americans use profane language. Go to a sporting event. Watch a movie not made by Disney. Go to the mall. Spend thirty seconds within a hundred yards of any military unit anywhere (I remember some cadences we sang during PT that would make Andrew Dice Clay blush). Or a police department. Or a fire department. People swear. You may not like it, but it is what it is.

Actually, I do like it. But I'm, you know, depraved (or something).

Friday, November 07, 2008

Barack the President

Sorry, I couldn't resist just one more play on that stupid "Joe the Plumber" meme.

Anyway, yes. America is officially the hippest country on earth. Now if we can only do something about all of these damned problems...

Alas, my post-election thoughts remain mostly scattered (unlike last time, when anger and grief compelled me to make an orderly list). At least I can admit that I cried a few times on Tuesday and Wednesday. Sappy, I know. Not that I was surprised -- I've been surreptitiously convinced that this was in the bag for about a month -- rather, the mistiness was generated by the sheer, incontrovertible fact of the thing.

Obviously, now the hard part begins. And I'm sure I'm not the only one who noticed that while the country went apeshit Tuesday night, Obama himself appeared more somber than ever. (Didn't catch it? Check out this behind-the-scenes Flickr set, especially the part where the reports of victory start coming in. The dude doesn't even crack a smile.) The actual business of governance (I suspect) is going to make the triathlon that was the campaign look like a fun run.

* * * * *

In any case, can I dare to hope, for the record, that we begin to see a new kind of political discourse emerge (even if only in parallel to what already exists) as a result of this election? That wasn't explicitly on anybody's platform, I know (how could it have been?), but we shouldn't forget the deleterious role played by the media in recent years -- which I think boils down to the Fourth Estate's seemingly endless fascination with narrative for its own sake.

One of the things that caught my attention about the Obama operation, from the very beginning, was that it seemed to eschew this phenomenon. One example: as it got better at winning elections, the campaign developed a remarkable capacity for confounding the professional chattering class. Again and again, the people who framed politics for a living failed to find the right frame for Obama. And whatever was really going on behind the scenes, the President-elect and his staff made that failure seem inevitable, gently demonstrating that while the folks on the Tee Vee (or wherever) were, in principle, playing an important role, at the same time they were just guessing too.

The Obsidian Wings blogger Publius hinted at his own experience with this sort of thing in the wake of Obama's infomercial:

Remind me to stop doubting the Obama campaign. I can't seem to stop it -- the doubt comes [start melody] regularrrr like seeeeeasons. The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and each day publius doth worry about something stupid. Today's worry was that the ad was overkill, that it was unnecessary, etc. It literally bothered me all day long.

But then I watched it -- and I honestly thought it was great, and even sincerely moving at times (I'm basically a sucker for stories about his mother). Like everything else they do, it was pitch perfect. It wasn't focusing on Obama (as I feared it would), but upon the struggles of working families and how an Obama administration would address them. I didn't hear the word McCain once.

So I'm done doubting. I'm done saying Axelrod needs to do this or that. My measly pundit powers pale in comparison. I'm like a rope on the Goodyear Blimp.

How I wish more high-profile public commentators -- in the blogosphere, sure, but especially on cable news and talk radio -- would own this kind of self-criticism (or even develop this kind of self-awareness), regardless of their political affiliations. Instead, so many of them have seemed less motivated by an interest in actual facts than by a desire to have us view them as fact checkers (for instance). At times watching the news this election season was like watching a political version of To Catch a Predator, where the subtext was always the host's fascination with him or herself.

For that matter, at times watching the news this election season was (shudder) like watching a campaign reporter watching porn (and worse: being implicated in that watching):

It occurred to me, as I sat there watching, that jacking off in a hotel room was not unlike the larger experience of campaign reporting. You watch two performers. You kind of like it when one of them gets humiliated. You know they’re professionals, so you don’t feel much sympathy for them. You wish you could participate, but instead you watch with a hidden envy and feel vaguely ashamed for watching. You think you could probably do as good a job or better. You sometimes get a glimpse, intentionally or not, of society’s hidden desires and fears. You watch the porn week after week, the scenes almost always the same, none of them too memorable. The best ones get sent around the Internet.

The bottom line was that savvy voters had to learn how to distinguish between the news and the story that was being told about the news, because there was often a very wide gap between the two. Of course, this is not an argument that the media should stop scrutinizing politicians -- far from it. But scrutiny should be thoughtful and rigorous, driven by a desire for truth. Whatever else I saw on the air this election season, I didn't see a whole lot of anything I could recognize as truth. Not without digging through layers and layers of mediation first.

So, maybe this is sappy too, but what about media change we can believe in? No more hankering for conflict that needs to be resolved. (If the conflict is there, fine. But don't amp up something silly just because you need a story.) And while we're at it: no more theme songs. No more forced neologisms or ready-made catchphrases (tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse). No more branding or logos. No more discussing ratings on-air. No more photogenic, snarky hosts. No more simply repackaging shit that I can already see on YouTube. No more freaking holographs.


Okay, okay, maybe I'm just burned out. Maybe there is a place for all of that stuff. But not, I beg of you, at the expense of straight news. Sweet christ on a cracker, is Jim Lehrer the only one doing (more or less) straight news these days?

* * * * *

And what about this idea: maybe, with an Obama presidency, we can actually reboot America as a meritocracy?

Let's face it, most of the politicians who have come down the pike in my lifetime have been mediocre in that sad and stereotypically American way. With a few notable exceptions, there was an underlying ethical laziness, based at least in part on an underlying physical / material / psychic comfort (not to stray too far into psychohistory, but I have always found it interesting that some of our best presidents have lacked certain of these comforts -- e.g., FDR was paralyzed, Lincoln suffered from depression). Whatever good they did, the balance was usually tilted toward power in the end.

Watching from the safety of the sidelines through the 80s, 90s, and double aughts, I was of course fully versed in the political apathy of my generation. My running internal commentary was typically along the lines of the idea that shit, I could do better than that... but why on earth would I want to? It was a dead-end cynicism born out of more than just a recognition of deep corruption -- it came from a sense that the system existed primarily to perpetuate itself. Talent and intellect were nice but ultimately didn't matter because there was no real payoff -- material or otherwise -- for possessing those qualities.

With Obama, for the first time I feel like I'm witnessing a balanced politician, whose intellect, integrity and interest in "the public good" seems to match his huge ambitions and his (let's face it) highly political nature. Watching him work is strangely humbling, yet at the same time he's the first politician who has -- for me, anyway -- actually made the idea of participating in politics appealing. It isn't really about him, in other words -- it's about the new pathways and synapses that are opening up as a result of this election. That impulse to participate, which I would bet is pretty pronounced in most of the Americans who voted for Obama, gives the lie to the paranoid right-wing view of him as a smooth-talking demagogue (a paranoid view that, by the way, completely confuses servitude with service). And real change is only going to happen if that impulse is realized.

Perhaps the McCain campaign recognized these things too and tried to exploit them to populist effect by elevating everyman bumpkins like Palin and "Joe the Plumber" to national prominence. If so, they missed the point. Democracy, while best suited to a bottom-up model of grass-roots type organizing -- something Obama has stressed from the beginning -- shouldn't be about simply allowing the lowest common denominator to ride roughshod over the national agenda. The price for participation? Excellence.

Which, of course, reminds me of this Zappa quote from the late 80s:

You celebrate mediocrity, you get mediocrity. People who could have achieved more won't, because they know that all they have to do is be "that" and they too can sell millions and make millions and have people love them because they're merely mediocre. Few people who do anything excellent are ever heard of. You know why? Because excellence, pure excellence, terrifies the fuck out of Americans because they have been bred to appreciate the success of the mediocre. People don't like to be reminded that lurking somewhere there are people who can do some shit that you can't do. They can think a way you can't think, they can dance a way you can't dance. They are excellent. You aren't excellent. Most Americans aren't excellent, they're only OK. And so to keep them happy as a labor force, you say, "OK, let's take this mediocre chump," and we say, "He is terrific!" All the other mediocre chumps say, "Yeah, that's right and that gives me hope, because one day as mediocre and chumpish as I am I can..." It's smart labor relations. An MBA decision. That is the orientation of most entertainment, politics, and religion. So considering how firmly entrenched all that is right now, you think it's going to turn around? Not without a genetic mutation it's not!

Let's hope the national mutation is here at long last.

[This last pic: footsteps seen at the PDX Obama headquarters.]

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The vote's in the mail

This being the first national election I've participated in since moving to Portland two years ago, it' also just sinking in for me that Oregon is the only state in the union that requires a vote-by-mail system.

So I have no dramatic stories of waiting hours in line to cast my vote (good thing too, because it rained like a motherfucker yesterday). The whole process was about as humdrum and routine as you could imagine: you get a ballot delivered to you in the mail, you fill it in, and you mail it back (or drop it off, if you prefer). We were done with the whole thing last week.

Given Rachel Maddow's argument that the long lines at polling places amount to a new kind of poll tax, the rest of y'all might seriously consider following Oregon's lead on this.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Let the joyous news be spread

Paul Simon was right: "Sometimes even music cannot substitute for tears."

But this comes close:

Eight long years. It's still amazing to me that there are people who didn't anticipate Bush's glib willingness to beat this country to within an inch of its life. Look: he came very close to completely destroying this crazy, beautiful place, and all of the positive things it has stood for.

But as Ezra Klein wrote earlier today:

If you can say anything good of the financial crisis, it's that it has sealed Bush's historical fate. There will be no revisionism, no credible reconstruction of his legacy. He has been worse than a bad president: He has harnessed the power of America to do genuine evil under his watch. On Iraq, on global warming, on famine, on nuclear non-proliferation, and on much else, America has not been the last, best hope of mankind, but instead, a contributor to the very forces that threaten the health and welfare of countless human beings. I have no particular opinion on whether Bush meant well, or is a good man in private. Nor am I particularly interested in those questions. As a president, he has been monstrous, responsible for the needless deaths of, at least, tens of thousands. As one of those rare individuals who had the opportunity -- indeed, the power -- to do great good, he has been negligent in a fashion that's borderline sociopathic. He left a world largely united in its contempt for America and a country largely united in its revulsion for him. History will, and should, judge him harshly.

That's great for history, though perhaps a little frustrating for those of us who have been judging Bush harshly for a long time.

A prediction

There are going to be a whole lot of babies born nine months from tonight.

More later. But for the time being: fuck-to-the-hell-yeah.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

RIP Yma Sumac

Xtingu (aka the IJG's Jill Knapp) has a solid appreciation here.

As I get older, I find myself on a somewhat desperate search for more and more remarkable music. I like a lot of what's out there, but I count myself lucky if I discover, in any given year, a handful of artists whose music compels me to take advantage of my CD player's auto-repeat functionality. Sumac was one of that rarefied crowd (for me) in 2006. And I'm still in awe.

If you've never heard her, be warned that you will probably either love her (as I do) or think she's just awful. This is not the music of moderation.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Songs of the times

Okay, as a sort of antidote to all the political stuff, here comes a YouTube link dump. (Note that not all the visuals here are terribly interesting.)

I've been thinking of these two tunes a lot lately:

And, in honor of Halloween, several versions of "Casting My Spell On You." First, the definitive Johnny Otis / Marci Lee rendition:

Next, the Talismen, with a young Jimmy Page (synced with some video of the band performing a different tune):

And this version by Roy Orbison, which modulates between cheesy and funky (so of course I like it):

And no Halloween would be complete without the immortal Screamin Jay Hawkins' "I Put a Spell On You" (this one was recorded live on the late lamented Night Music show (so yes, that's David Sanborn in the band)):

And let's round things out with a brief Nina Simone version of that same tune:

Have a scary day, everyone.

Keep your laws off my happy

I don't have to tell you this, but there's more going on with this election than just a race for the presidency. I have already mentioned the importance of bringing in a filibuster-proof majority. But there are also a number of important propositions that need your attention, depending on where you live.

In California, there is the truly distracting and misinformed Prop 8, which, if passed, would outlaw same-sex marriage -- which, you may recall, only recently became available in the state in the first place. (Such a reversal would be even more distressing given that California is one of the few places in the country where same-sex marriage is currently legal.)

The idea of outlawing any kind of marriage -- or, for that matter, outlawing any private, personal ritual engaged in by two or more consenting adults -- is so odd and crazy to me that I dearly hope this initiative is smashed into tiny, irredeemable bits.

I can't help it. To the common, annoying conservative response to the idea of same-sex marriage -- "What's next, marrying animals? Har har!" -- the best I can come up with is "Why not?" In other words, if I'm not immediately involved or affected, why should I care, one way or the other?

Cue John Stuart Mill (who was right about everything, remember):

The only part of the conduct of anyone, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.

Give that man a cigar!

Note that Mill's concept of liberty is based on the notion of "harms." He can see no reason why individuals or consenting adults shouldn't be able to do what they want as long as no harm comes to other people or society at large. All I would add is that the harm has to be legit. The problem with opponents of same-sex marriage is that they perceive harms where there simply are none.

Anyone who has spent any time around kids will recognize the dynamic here. When kids start interacting socially, you quickly learn that there are both perceived harms and actual harms. Sure, there are times when kids truly (often physically) interfere in one another's business -- producing actual harm. But often schoolyard or classroom conflagrations erupt because Kid A thinks Kid B made a funny face at him, or called him a name, or what-have-you. Often the offending act never actually took place, or is being misperceived for something else (maybe Kid A is just hungry).

Maturity is at least in part about recognizing and understanding this distinction. Maturity is at least in part about recognizing and understanding when the actions of others have no bearing on your life even if they are not the actions you would choose for yourself.

And now cue the robo-kids shilling for Prop 8:

Cute, huh? My favorite part is this right here:

Based on past experience, those who oppose same-sex marriage on religious grounds will be increasingly labeled as intolerant.

And they shouldn't be so labeled because... why, again?

I mean, what definition of "intolerant" are these folks working with? If discriminating isn't being intolerant, what is?

Or are we really being asked to be tolerant of intolerance?

Strike it down, my ex-state mates!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

When "giving a shit about the other 300,000,000+ people with whom you share this country" becomes "socialism"

Hilzoy gets at this stuff better than I could.

First, from the Fox report she cites:

As supporters shouted out “Socialist!” at the mention of Barack Obama’s name Sarah Palin clearly laid out the analogy without mentioning it outright—even comparing his economic plan to other countries “where people are not free.”

Classic. Put the image in people's heads -- I don't know which countries Palin is talking about, but the blanks get filled in so damned easily, don't they? -- without taking responsibility for it (so that you can backpedal later by saying: "I never meant Stalin, or Hitler" (or whoever)).

Unlike Palin, Hilzoy is specific:

I would really like to know what Sarah Palin thinks is an appropriate use of the government's power to tax. Maybe she is opposed to all taxes, and regards even those taxes required to provide for the national defense as confiscation or theft. Or maybe she thinks there's something sacrosanct about the levels of taxation we have now -- that all the money the government now takes is money it can take legitimately, without engaging in theft or redistribution, but any increase in taxes counts as socialist confiscation, and anyone who advocates such changes shows that s/he believes that all our property is owned collectively. That would explain why she thinks that while Bush's tax cuts did not count as redistributing wealth in favor of the rich, repealing those tax cuts on people making over $250,000 a year counts as redistributing wealth in favor of the remaining 95% of the population. But it would also be an idiotic thing to believe.

Look: socialism is a word that has a meaning. It means public control of the means of production. It does not mean taxing the top bracket at 39%. Likewise, "collective ownership" has a meaning, and it does not mean the situation that obtains when the government can repeal tax cuts for the top 5% of the population.

I assume that if Sarah Palin had a decent argument against Obama's policies, she'd make it. Trying to cast Obama as a socialist is just laughable -- almost as laughable as the idea that this line of attack will appeal to anyone outside the Republican Party's lunatic fringe.

Like Larry David, I can't wait for this shit to be over.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

You're stuck in a ditch and you don't even know it

Now here's a humdinger of a title: "Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments."

That there is a paper that gets name-checked in this Salon piece on... well... er... let's just call it poor judgment in the context of politics.

Hey, it's scary stuff:

People who lack the knowledge or wisdom to perform well are often unaware of this fact. That is, the same incompetence that leads them to make wrong choices also deprives them of the savvy necessary to recognize competence, be it their own or anyone else's.


* Incompetent individuals tend to overestimate their own level of skill.
* Incompetent individuals fail to recognize genuine skill in others.
* Incompetent individuals fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy.

This seems to confirm the suspicion that there are folks with whom you just cannot have a reasoned argument (cue YouTube video of unhinged McCain supporters). Except (these folks would point out, if only they were smart enough) we could be the ones who are overestimating our ability to understand the situation rationally. (As if!) And so on, infinity, forever and ever, the end.

Ain't the human psyche a weird and wacky thing? Sort of puts the burden of proof on the religious folks, doesn't it?

Via. Photo by davitydave.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


I dunno, I guess it hit the spot today. Maybe next week I'll hate it.

One common (and fair) critique of Oliver Stone is that he's a bit heavy-handed -- cartoonish characters, obvious visual metaphors to underscore "really important parts of the story," melodramatic uses of music, and so on. For much of his career, that style has been a hindrance, because the stories Stone likes to tell -- especially the political dramas -- generally seem to require a more nuanced and thoughtful narrative approach (though not necessarily a kinder one).

What's different about W. is that Stone has (at long last?) found the perfect subject matter for his filmmaking schtick. I mean, with a group of people this single-minded and shallow in real life, the conventional narrative wisdom -- flesh out those characters, young screenwriters! -- seems misplaced. Which is why I think Peter Rainer (for instance) misses the point when he argues that the film "offers up not a single new insight into Bush or his presidency."

Huh? Maybe I'm just burned out, but at this point I'm less interested in insight than I am in subpoenas. For me, it all seems so freaking obvious by now. There's no mystery or complexity, just bad people behaving badly: that's why they call it the banality of evil.

Which is not to say we shouldn't study and analyze the misdeeds of this administration. Just that I don't expect to be surprised by anything that is revealed when the documents start to be declassified. And also that cinema is a poor vehicle for that kind of analysis. So sure, people will complain that W. lacks historical authenticity, or even historical completeness. Events are embellished, moved around, fudged with abandon. Entire scandals are skipped over or mentioned fleetingly (the most glaring omission is Katrina). But think of it this way: what if, instead of exploring what is already well-known, W. merely aspires to re-tell this story through a cinematically-induced lens of scary drunk paranoia?

I mean, we don't need Oliver Stone to teach us about what has happened in this country in the last eight years. We already know what has happened in this country in the last eight years. What I was looking for from this film, and what it delivered, was a sense of vindication, and a dramatic anticipation of closure, finally. Half-assed, stupid, and mean, W. may not be a great presidential biopic, but it's a representative presidential epitaph.

* * * * *

By the way, if you're canvassing for Obama in the remaining days of this campaign (as you certainly should!), be careful, and be safe. There are some real angry folks out there, as Tim explains.

On the other hand, we can't afford to let up now. Even if you think your state is pretty much "in the tank" for Obama (as they say) -- canvassing helps to (among other things) confirm that support. That confirmation then enables the campaign to redirect its resources to trouble spots. Canvassing also helps ensure the success of down-ticket Democrats (remember that without a solid Democratic majority, an Obama administration won't be able to get much done next year).

We canvassed for a bit on Saturday -- made it a sort of family affair -- and I can say that the hardest part is knocking on that first door, and getting over the initial hump of talking to a complete stranger about something so personal as politics. Once you get past that, the rest is gravy.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Tour tales no. 4: "Jazz-Pop Jerkoff"

Yep, it's another one of these goddamned things. Audio is from the same show as "The Bee Dance": so that would be Cory Wright, Lee Elderton, Evan Francis, Ward Baxter, Mary-Sue Tobin, Mieke Bruggeman (reeds); Dan Rosenboom, Steph Richards, Ian Carroll, Nelson Bell (brass); Dan Schnelle, Oliver Newell (rhythm section); Jill Knapp, Tany Ling (vox), and me (compositions and scowling).

Also like "The Bee Dance," this is a revised (and much improved) version of a tune that we premiered in March.

What is a "jazz-pop jerkoff"? Beats me. I suppose it's a metaphor for the inevitable intersection of the "art music" and "music industry" worlds. None of us is immune to this intersection, really -- even of the most "serious" (i.e., thoughtful, committed, talented) musicians still have to deal with the whole publicity / marketing / business side of things. That's such a common observation these days (not so much when I was growing up) that it hardly bears repeating. But that doesn't make the situation any less absurd. And we all know how I love absurdity.

Stock footage (as usual) c/o the amazing Internet Archive. This time I found some cool snippets from 1. a burlesque short, 2. an "educational" film called "Junior Prom," and 3. a brief documentary about the famous Victor record plant in Camden, New Jersey. (Where my Dad grew up, incidentally.)

There's a word that I wanted to leave you with... hmm... what was it again?

Oh, yeah: "enjoy"! (No, those aren't random quotation marks.)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Not even close

So now that the dirty, insidious political strategy that has served Republicans so well for so long is finally backfiring, suddenly David Frum and his ilk have decided that we need a more upstanding, honorable political discourse?

Where was Frum's public advocacy for "grown-up, intelligent" politics during the Swift Boat Vets nonsense? (Ironically, even John McCain spoke out against that one.) Now that the GOP is hemorrhaging votes -- in part because of a Democratic candidate who has, whatever else you think of him, epitomized cool-headed, erudite, civil discourse -- suddenly Frum is doing his "little best" to make sure everyone speaks more, uh, substantively?

Give me a break. Rachel is right, of course: in the political arena, there is room, on all sides, for all flavors of communication. Mature adults know what is off-limits. Rachel could have called the segment "Get the Old People" instead of "Grand Old Panic" -- but she didn't, because, well, she's a decent human being. But she also understands that satire and comedy -- you knew I was going to say this, right? -- are absolutely essential components of a healthy political discourse.

What's really going on here: Republicans are cutting their losses, and already planning for 2012. Frum and others are going to blame this defeat -- if McCain is defeated -- on the campaign itself, not on any fundamental ideological crisis in the party. All that blinking is hiding an exquisite capacity for self-delusion.


No shit, Senator McCain? You've heard people say "kill him" and "off with his head," about you, at an Obama rally? Really?

This campaign is absurd. (Note that McCain, like Frum, is a blinker.)

The relevant part is about 6 minutes in.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Tour tales no. 3: The groups all live together

From time to time people approach me with the following question: "Dude, what the hell possessed you to want to start a big-band (of sorts)? I mean, why a big band? Isn't it hard enough just trying to play something that resembles jazz in this day and age? Why not make your life at least marginally easier, and go for a quintet? A quartet? Hell, you play piano: why not a power trio? So, you know: what the fuck?!"

I'm paraphrasing, of course.

You may already be imagining my answer to this question. Perhaps you can see me leaning back in my chair, putting on my "serious face," stroking my goatee thoughtfully, and intoning these words: "The big band is the one and only vehicle for my peculiar artistic vision. It is the only means by which I can say what I want to say. In short, I have no choice."

As Borat would say: not! Even if I had the chutzpah to hold forth as such with a straight face, the real answer would be that there is nothing about what I do (or what I want to do) that has convinced me that I was destined to write for a big band. It was all, as I've suggested before, an accident. A happy accident, to be sure, but an accident all the same. And while I've discovered that this configuration of musicians can make some pretty unique and cool sounds, and while I am long since officially addicted, I'm simultaneously suspicious that I keep the IJG together at least in part because I genuinely like the people that it attracts. These suspicions began when I realized that putting the group on the road is getting to be a little bit like going on a vacation. An exhausting and expensive vacation, yes, but a vacation nonetheless.

All of which is fortunate, cuz during the recent week-long PNW tour we decided to save a little money by housing eight IJG members (Schnelle, Newell, Francis, Wright, Ling, Richards, Rosenboom, Carroll) here at Casa de Durkin-Robinson instead of in a local hotel. That's in addition to the three people, two cats, and one dog who already call CdDR home. (Jill and Matt were originally going to crash here too, but ended up staying elsewhere because of cat allergies and a Burning Man-induced need for privacy and comfort. Everyone else in this version of the group was PDX-based).

Phew! It was probably madness on my part to suggest this accommodation plan. It's true that one of the things that attracted me to CdDR in the first place was the possibility that I could eventually convert portions of it into a studio / rehearsal / IJG cottage industry space. So I always imagined that it would be filled with musicians from time to time. It's also true that we have much more room here than we could have ever afforded in LA. But our previous record for house guests was seven -- and that only seemed possible at the time because many of those folks were sharing beds. In terms of sleeping arrangements, at least, if seven was a stretch, eight was way more than enough.

But in addition to the space issue, there was the typical problem of trying to integrate tour logistics (and logic) with my cost-cutting measures. Using CdDR as a home base for the IJG would save me the enormous headache of six nights' worth of hotel fees, yes, but it would also mean driving back here after each gig (except for the Portland gig itself, all of the shows on this tour were between 2 and 3 hours from PDX). That made for some pretty late nights and a whole lotta driving. (On the flip side, it also made for some pretty leisurely days.)

Anyway, the whole slumber party aspect of the tour could have gone a lot of different ways, but in the end it was a truly beautiful thing. What makes this even more surprising for me personally is that in general I'm not terribly comfortable in large groups. You would think that one of the qualities of leading a big band is that you'd have to be a bit of an extrovert, but in general, my personality has always skewed toward the "socially awkward" side of things. (Which may help explain why I turned to writing (of all kinds) in the first place.) To paraphrase Zappa: most of the time, socializing is, for me, like exercise.

But with the IJG, more and more, I have as much fun hanging out with the group as I do playing any of the gigs. So for me the memory of this tour will be as much about well-lubricated late-night political discussions, or viewings of Batman (you know the one), or impromptu art projects, as it will be about "The Bee Dance" (for instance).

(We interrupt this post to share two of the aforementioned impromptu art projects: "Dan Schnelle," by Steph Richards; and "Steph Richards," by Dan Schnelle. Apparently I'm not the only dadaist in the group.)

Of course, the success of this housing arrangement was made possible at least in part by the fact that some members of the group have the uncanny ability to fall asleep pretty much wherever they happen to be, whenever they like. (How I wish I could do that.) And it was also facilitated to a large degree by my amazing wife -- the best wife in the world, I'm quite sure -- who probably didn't realize what she was getting into when I talked her into letting the band stay here, but who handled the high traffic, late nights, and extra cooking with seemingly boundless reserves of aplomb.

The bottom line was that everybody was chill.

I recall a fragment of a conversation -- I think it was immediately after our last hit, in Yakima, as we were driving around looking for coffee and gas to fuel our 3-hour ride home. Dan Rosenboom and Steph Richards both remarked how unusual it was to work with a group in which the members all got along so well. They suggested that this feature of the IJG experience is attributable to the music, as if the music caused the camaraderie. From my perspective the scenario is just the opposite. The music is the way it is because of the camaraderie. That's the hard-to-explain root source of the "IJG sound." (I have always made clear that I cannot write in a vacuum; lucky for me the group chemistry provides me with all the inspiration I need whenever it comes time to put the dots on paper.)

I suppose I recognize this because there have been past lineups that haven't delivered 100% on the chemistry side of things. Once in a while we have had folks fleetingly join the group who may have been truly stellar players in any other context, but who just didn't "get" what we were doing, at least in part because they didn't pick up on the social vibe. It wasn't a big deal, really -- just evidence that making music is about much more than the technical side of things. And that the IJG will never be a hired-gun, repertory-type big band.

Anyway, over eight years (or however long we've been together) I guess you develop a sense for the necessary dynamic, and the result is that the current broader IJG network -- which is in fact much bigger than a mere 16 people, and includes our beloved Calartians-who-can't-always-tour, east coast folks, PDX newbies, and so on -- has become much more of what I would have to call an extended family of sorts. If I may be so bold.

Alright, this installment of the tour narrative is getting impossibly maudlin, so I'll sign off for now. Up next: the video for one of our other new tunes: "Jazz-Pop Jerkoff." (I'm one. Are you one?)

(photo credits: 1, 6: Ling. 2, 3, 4, 5: Durkin)