Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Station identification

(Just by way of reminding you that this is a music blog too...)

For a week or so, I've been reviewing a few of the billions and billions of versions of "Mbube" (aka "Wimoweh," aka "The Lion Sleeps Tonight") that are conveniently cataloged on YouTube. I'm going to be working with a children's choir in the fall (more on this later), and I'm trying to contextualize this old chestnut for the kids -- and if you don't know, the context is remarkably depressing -- while simultaneously working up my own arrangement (I know, I know).

There's a great moment in Hannah and Her Sisters, where Max von Sydow's character says "If Jesus came back and saw what's going on in his name, he'd never stop throwing up." Somehow I think Solomon Linda (the guy who created "Mbube" in the first place, but who nevertheless died in poverty) would have the same reaction to some of the better-known covers of his baby -- especially when he learned the amount of money that could be made with them. (The Weavers, the Kingston Trio, and the Tokens all had hits with variations of the tune before Linda died in 1962, but I suspect that the real exploitation came with Disney's insipid Lion King movie many years later.)

Of course, no one has ever accused me of being a purist, and I do think there's something interesting about the way this song persists. A few of the renditions I discovered even border on the charming (or at least comical, which can arguably be the same thing).

This one, for instance, may be the very definition of incongruity:

Hmmm. I think I want to hire these stern dudes with the funny robes and hats to sit and stare at IJG audiences too:

Oh my goodness! Here's Dusty Springfield (with the other Springfields), before she got all, you know, sultry:

This one has probably the worst ending ever, but I was inspired by the curly-haired girl in the orange row. She is so into it that she can't help but bop around -- and she clearly doesn't care that no one else is following her lead. That, to me, is the very definition of music:

But this next one is my favorite. I had never heard of Karl Denver before, even though he was apparently "the most famous folksinger in Europe" at the time:

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Turning it around

So I stayed up half the night nursing a meniscal tear (knee: meet handlebars), "typesetting" charts for the upcoming IJG tour, and distractedly getting a kick out of the wee-hour coverage of the Biden VP pick announcement.

First things first: at one point one of the pundits (it may have been David Shuster, though again, I was distracted) tried to make something of the fact that the media scooped the promised text message (as if that wasn't inevitable). Good golly. If said scooping really causes discontent with Obama supporters, then I am truly out of the loop.

Anyway, I have been thinking all week that Biden was a strong, even masterful choice for VP, but as usual, it took Ezra Klein to articulate exactly why:

There was a hope in the early days of the Obama campaign that different would be enough. Different in aesthetics and experience and age and ideas. Different would assert change. Kathleen Sebelius would have represented change. Visually, her and Obama on a stage together would have been the most powerful image of political transformation in decades. But a choice like her presupposed belief. Otherwise, you'd be adorning a cathedral that had no promise of parishioners.

Turned out not to be true. So they needed an arguer. Someone able to make the case that the other guy is wrong, and Obama is right. That's, fundamentally, what Biden represents. Biden doesn't presuppose belief. He's a persuader. Sometimes at great length, sometimes to the point of virtual self parody, but fundamentally, his political style has always been to argue until everyone else agrees.

For progressives, this is encouraging pick. More encouraging than Bayh, or Kaine, or even, in a way, Sebelius. More encouraging than picks who might have been more progressive, but less pugnacious. Elevating Biden suggests that the Obama campaign has decided to have an argument. Not try to win on momentum and inspiration and GOTV, but to engage, and win, an argument about which set of ideas is better for the future of the country. And in Biden, they've engaged at the point of greatest vulnerability and opportunity for Democrats: National security.

Consider this in tandem with the strong "7 Houses" ad, which also came out this week, and in which McCain is taken to task not only for his inability to remember how many houses he has, but for his inability to remember, period. (The announcer subtly reminds voters that McCain is old -- "he lost track, he couldn't remember" is intoned over a backdrop of images / music that could have been lifted out of an ad for a nursing home -- a subject that would be off limits if it were approached more directly.)

I suspect that, taken together, the events of the past few days bear out Randi Rhodes' theory that Obama has been developing a Rope-a-Dope strategy. At the very least, they remind me of one of Obama's great strengths: his ability to respond in the moment to the circumstances that surround him. (Kind of like an expert improviser.)

We'll see where it goes from here.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Just curious

I forget -- when exactly is the secular version of the "Civil Forum on the Presidency" again? Did somebody write it on the calendar somewhere?

You know, the one for all the atheists, agnostics, and other folks who still believe in the separation of church and state?

We could do it at my house, if you want.

Okay, cool. Keep me posted.

Friday, August 15, 2008

A recipe for disaster, maybe

My recent exchange with Darcy (motivated in part by his post on a Fafblog satire), got me thinking about the ways in which the Obama campaign may already be seriously compromised by the 2.0 phenomenon (my term for the version of the candidate that has been most apparent during the post-primary period) and the resultant dissatisfaction from the left. It's a situation Amiri Baraka -- a dude I don't always agree with -- compares to the Weimar Republic pre-Hitler. Anyway: my own comments in the referenced discussion were motivated not by a desire to nay say protest against apparent policy shifts, but to express concerns about a potential "vote drain" that could cost the Democrats this election. Again.

To recap my view: an Obama victory in November is by no means a sure thing. Depending on which polls you read, this could even be another nail-biter, and we all know what that means. Keep in mind too that there are plenty of first-time voters engaged in the process this time around (many of whom were inspired by Obama in the first place) -- folks for whom the role Nader played in 2000 is nothing more than a historical footnote. Given this context, and given my sense that a McCain administration would put us in a world of shit far beyond anything Obama could create even if he were the antichrist -- the goal, as I see it, should not be to simply squeak by: we need to aim for a landslide, so as to minimize the potential for shenanigans. Every vote will tell.

Of course, when we start to get into the nitty gritty of actually figuring out how many liberals or progressives openly intend not to vote for Obama, there's a good possibility that we're talking about a "fringe" phenomenon. Still -- call me crazy, but I think one should never underestimate the power of a fringe. Especially a fringe with laptops. (Jack Abramoff was on the fringe once. Paul Wolfowitz was on the fringe once.)

As I see it, there are two very real and unpredictable fissures on the left. The first should be obvious, and will probably either flare up or peter out come the convention. That's right: I'm talking about the continued disgruntlement of Clinton people. If you thought that issue went away after the meeting in Unity (with its celebratory media coverage), think again. This continued disgruntlement has been wrongly reported as an Obama-Clinton feud (I suppose that makes for a juicier story), but is really much more about the discontent of Clinton supporters (who Clinton, to her credit, seems to be genuinely trying to rein in). The prime mover in this area is the PAC known as People United Means Action, aka "Party Unity My Ass," aka PUMA. They appear to be at least marginally organized, and they really really really want to make something happen in Denver.

Of course there is some suspicion that PUMA is actually a front movement started by Republicans, which may in part explain why they end up on Fox News so frequently. I'm not sure I believe that, actually, but I don't see how the origins of the group makes much difference one way or the other -- the potential to play havoc with the election is fairly high regardless.

In any case, the other fissure is traceable to the progressive backlash against Obama's move to the center on FISA and other issues. To the extent that this is a full-on rejection of the Obama campaign, it does not appear to be nearly as organized a "movement" as the PUMAs. Again, we're probably talking about the fringe -- but it's early, and there is always the possibility of some sort of dovetailing maneuver by the Fall.

Consider Progressives Against Obama, who articulate their unhappiness this way:

This is no time for quibbling about the best way to show opposition to Barack Obama's anti-progressive policies. So, we're not demanding one pure form of opposition to Obama in 2008. We realize that it's a difficult thing for progressives to oppose the Democratic nominee for President, after seven long, disastrous years under Republican George W. Bush.

When we say we that we're progressives against Barack Obama, that means that we're opposing Barack Obama because he's not a progressive candidate, and our opposition comes from a progressive point of view. We do not accept the validity of right wing attacks against Barack Obama, or the bizarre, racist conspiracy theories that come from the evangelical fringe. We are progressives first, and refuse to sacrifice our progressive values for the sake of being either for or against Obama.

Supporting John McCain is not an honest option either. We oppose John McCain because he opposes progressive values.

The following are among the different ways to honestly express progressive opposition to Barack Obama, and we honor them all without seeking fights between these various positions:

* Criticism of Barack Obama, with the intention to vote for one of Obama's progressive opponents - from the Green Party or Ralph Nader, for instance.

* Criticism of Barack Obama, with the intention to vote for no presidential candidate at all.

* Criticism of Barack Obama, while still intending to vote for Obama in the end, campaigning for Obama and giving Obama donations.

* Criticism of Barack Obama, while refraining from campaigning, donating or volunteering for Obama, with the intention of voting for Obama in the end.

* Criticism of the right wing policies that Barack Obama has supported, without any overt criticism of Barack Obama himself.

You choose your own path. What's important is that we oppose the anti-progressive positions that Barack Obama has begun to promote in his ham-handed attempt to triangulate, as the worst Democratic and Republican politicians have done in the past.

Actually, I think this is precisely the time to "quibble" about the best way to protest against Obama's "anti-progressivism." (If not now, when?)

* * * * *

As you might expect, evidence of this fissuring process can be found all over the internets -- much of it haphazard and fractured in a way so typical of online conversations. Consequently, that evidence is also difficult to quantify. Still, it is frustratingly easy to dig through comment threads and turn up remarks like these (for example):

Thanks a lot guys. You finally figured out that Obama is a liar. You guys make me sick. You tore down Clinton because she wouldn’t pander to you. You liked the guy who promised everything. If you had just barely scratched the surface you would have realized he was full of it.

If you really care about this now, join PUMA PAC and work to get Clinton nominated at the convention.

If not, you are all just whiney children. As Obama would say, “Where else are you going to go?”.

This life-long Dem will be voting McCain. Fuck all you faux-gressives. You don’t have any credibility left. (1)

I won’t vote for Obama because my conscience will not allow me to after his vote for the FISA Amendment.

I won’t campaign against him because McCain is much worse.

It is plain to see i have no options in this race.

I will sit this election out, but the fight to repeal FISA goes on. (1)

Public Service Announcement: You don’t need political analysts; just read the news. Singular lines of news suffice at times. You are now in the post-analytic age. Here is a one-liner from a Yahoo! News piece on the recent passage of the Snoops-R-Us bill in the Senate: “Obama ended up voting for the final bill, as did Specter.”

That one sentence tells you all you need to know about where Obama and most Democrats stand on the issue of civil liberties and what political leaders are not willing to do to protect those liberties. Now, that should be enough to make you withdraw your support from Obama’s presidency — if, that is, you still have illusions about the Democrats in general, and Barak Obama in this round of Anybody-But-Bush/McCain.

“What?” says you, “And let McCain win the election?”

To that it must be said: What on earth is the difference when the Democratic presidential nominee, during the election campaign, votes in the same way as a right-wing Republican not just on any bill, but on a bill curtailing people’s civil liberties? (1)

"I will be voting for a third party candidate in November since neither of these two corporate major party candidates are progressive. I think it is very important to remember that 'the lesser of two evils' is still evil." (2)

"Obama is sending true progressives flocking to Nader." (2)

"I was voting for Hillary Clinton but now this is the first time in 44 years, I will vote for a republican." (2)

"Obama lost my vote when he began cheerleading the war in Afghanistan and got on his knees before the right-wing death-squad Cuban community in Florida, telling them the embargo would not be lifted. [...] Obama doesn't get it. I'm voting 3rd party." (2)

(My sources are pretty random, but they also turned up pretty quickly in a google search: 1. this post on the launch of PAO, which appeared on the Repeal FISA site a few weeks ago and 2. this rather unflattering piece on Obama by Adolph Reed, published in the Progressive just before Obama clinched the nomination.)

Then there are (of course) the blogs. For the curious, one particularly rich hub is Just Say No Deal, which has the longest blogroll I've seen in quite some time (it also has a godawful site design). Go ahead, click around. My "favorite" of the linked sites is "Pagan Power," who recently picked up Jesse Jackson's meme and ran a poll asking "would you like to cut off Obama's nuts too"? (Dude, I don't even want to cut off John McCain's nuts. Can we grow up please?)

And so down and down the road we go. Where does it lead? Nobody knows.

Addendum: Perhaps Kris Tiner knows. He just published a compelling thought piece on the broader cultural context for / relevance of the Obama candidacy -- plus a sober assessment of the sort of evil horse shit the left is up against this time around. Go read.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

How could this matter any more than it already does?

When faced with stories like the third one in Olbermann's "Bushed" segment tonight, it's hard not to be reminded of the famous Martin Niemöller poem, or this Sinclair Lewis novel.

Or, I suppose, the Zappa tune with the same name as the Sinclair novel (though the meaning of that tune is ambiguous -- it seems to be about the inevitability of freaks taking over the world, but of course Zappa was much less sanguine than that).

Anyhow, I digress:

On a lighter note, I am discovering that the Countdown website is, like, totally bitchen. Hooray! Guess I no longer have to sit through a million mindless ads for Bare Minerals (was ever a demographic so poorly targeted?).

Sunday, August 10, 2008

RIP Isaac Hayes

Ugh. First Bernie Mac, and now this? What the fuck?

I'd be lying if I said I didn't suspect, with some chagrin, that Hayes will be remembered primarily for the latter phase of his career, and particularly as the epic soul artist who brought us the music from Shaft.

Not that I don't love that music -- even if it did set the template for a lot of cheesy porn soundtracks, and even if it did lay the groundwork for later generations of white comedians who could then counter-exploit the aesthetics of blaxploitation by using its definitive music to make fun of their own lack of cool (everyone from Will Ferrell to Conan O'Brien has toyed with this tiresome trope in some form or other). Obviously that stuff wasn't Hayes' fault.

But it does threaten to overshadow what for me is the mother lode of Hayes' output -- the series of gorgeous tunes he penned (mostly with David Porter, and many for Sam & Dave) for the Stax record label in the 60s. You know the hits, of course -- "Soul Man," "Hold On! I'm Comin'" (with its hilarious provenance -- perhaps one of the more entertaining examples of creative bricolage), "When Something is Wrong With My Baby," "I Thank You," "Wrap it Up" (actually, that last one was a B-side). But digging deeper into the catalog is also rewarding (see below).

Unlike a lot of the other music that ends up in constant rotation / Clear Channel / oldies purgatory, much of this stuff defies exhaustion. These recordings are like little perfectly-constructed perpetual motion machines: they don't wear out. They also demonstrate that just because a piece of music appears simple, logical, and apposite in retrospect -- the sort of thing that makes you exclaim "of course!" upon hearing it -- it does not follow that anybody could have written it. (In some ways, I've been trying to pen something as elegant, true, and basic as "Soul Man" for my entire career, and I haven't even come close.)

Two of my very favorite Hayes/Porter tunes were recorded by a short-lived girl group called the Charmels: "I'll Gladly Take You Back" and "As Long As I've Got You." Fittingly, the swagger of the Sam & Dave tracks is more or less missing from these sides -- and though I love dumb musical bravado as much as the next fan, I find the melancholy that replaces it here truly moving (no doubt the effect is heightened by wonderful vocal performances / horn arrangements).

And of course that melancholy is particularly fitting at this moment.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

For a moment, my heart leapt with joy

I saw the headline and did a double-take:

Coalition move gathers momentum: President's impeachment

I know, I know. (When I first saw the story a day or two ago -- in a version that had the national qualifier in the headline, so there was no mistaking -- I guessed that this confusion was bound to happen.)

Anyway, stupid me.

Thursday, August 07, 2008


Xtingu opines (sans quarter) on the recent Return to Forever concert in Philly.

Dude, you don't have to fucking sell me. I'm already here. You got my money. Stop telling me that I have to hear you live, and let me fucking HEAR YOU LIVE. That means I want to hear you play, not talk.

I wasn't there, but that sounds about right to me...

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

JazzReview.com sez:

The Industrial Jazz Group (IJG) is a group based in Los Angeles with a taste for the very, very atypical. A critic once described the free jazz group as “cerebral, swinging, challengingly complex and unabashedly fun.” Leef, the group’s latest and mostly live production, pretty much embodies that description with some exceptions. One should be cautioned that there is some racy language that some may find objectionable and could even see as distracting from the bottom line here.

Without a doubt, IJG is having a ton of fun with this production. Having never heard any of their previous releases--and they’ve been on the scene for eight years so far--I was both amused and taken aback by the humor and boldness. One can say that this project brings with it some adventurous, tongue-in-cheek, and sometimes oddly phrased presentations that, like them or not, will keep you listening, if for no more reason than curiosity.

There is a brand of professionalism and competence here that one has to appreciate, even if you frown upon some of the unusual arrangements. Leader and pianist Andrew Durkin characterizes his unique creation as “avant garde party music.” That pretty much nails it or, at least, brings the music as close to an accurate classification as you can hope to get. So, listen to tunes like “Ladies and Gentlemen,” “Bongo Non Troppo,” and “The Job Song,” laugh, marvel, and just let it all entertain you. If you like your jazz free, atypical, and more than a little imposing, Leef might be a trip you can take. Just be sure to buckle up.

Nice! Danke, Ronald Jackson.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The truth hurts

Jonathan Alter on Countdown tonight:

"The Democrats hit hard sometimes, but they tend to do it, maybe to their detriment, in a more substantive way."

I fear he's right about substance being detrimental.


Monday, August 04, 2008

La Dolce Vita

The Oregon Jazz Society-based Jazz Scene (primarily a print publication) has a very flattering review of LEEF in their August issue (thus providing some nice promo for our upcoming PNW tour):

If ever there were a perfect band for a Fellini film, this is it. Raucous, intense, whimsical and accomplished, the Industrial Jazz Group is like a carnival for the ears. Leader/composer/pianist Andrew Durkin describes his music as “avant-garde party music,” which is fitting. The music is challenging and, at times, cacophonous, but it’s just accessible enough to be fun. With multiple saxes, trumpets and percussion, this 15-piece L.A. group marches to their own beat, meshing tones and styles, big band swing to classical, Gershwin-esque flourishes with Mingus-like harmonies. This live recording finds the group playing to an Amsterdam audience, who apparently likes the rather bizarre nature of the music. It’s a big soup of a sound but it manages to be somewhat charming in its oddity. Give a listen, if you dare.

Thanks to Kyle O'Brien for the kind words.

Songs don't make people gay. People do.

Clif at the brilliant Sadly, No! (or is that "the brilliant Clif at Sadly, No!"?) links to and skewers this annoying religious article about the Katy Perry song that all the kids are listening to these days (you knew it was bound to happen, right?).

"How long," asks Johnnie Moore, the author of said article, "will all these media moguls be allowed to sit around board room tables and make decisions that alter the healthy development of our nation’s kids?"

Oy. How I wish people would get that self-righteous about the thing that really bothers me about the song: it sucks.

Anyway, my favorite Clif quotes:

"What happened to the good old days when you had to suck cock (or, for the ladies, eat pussy) to become a homosexual?"


"Query: if kissing can make you gay, how come kissing a girl didn’t make me straight?"

Can I get an amen?

(Via Balloon Juice.)