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)

Friday, October 10, 2008

Perspective, part 2

Ta-Nehisi Coates has some, too:

The saddest thing about many Republicans isn't just that they disagree with liberals on race--it's they are largely ignorant on race. When the McCain campaign cast the spell of diabolical jingoism, they have no idea of the forces they are toying with. We remember Martin Luther King's murder as a sad and tragic event. Less remembered is the fact that ground-work for King's murder was seeded, not simply by rank white supremacy, but by people who slandered King as a communist.

This was not some notion bandied about by conspiracy theorist, but an accusation proffered by men who were the pillars of the modern Republican Party [...] These men didn't kill Martin Luther King, but they contributed to an atmosphere of nationalism, white supremacy and cheap unreflective patriotism that ultimately got a lot of people killed. [...]

This is the ghost that McCain Campaign is summoning. This is the Ring Of Power that they want to wield. The Muslim charge, the "Hussein" thing is nothing more than today's red-baiting, and it is what it was then--a cover for racists. You may say I'm overreacting, and I really hope you're right. [...] But if some shit pops off, the thug and thug-mongers will not be able to throw up their hands and say "How could I have known?" Ignorance will not save them. Their stupidity is a scourge on us all.


Via Sullivan.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008


Eric Martin has some:

It is incontrovertible that Obama has no formal relationship with Ayers. Ayers is not an official advisor, informal advisor, confidant or, in the parlance of the day, a pal. Contrast Ayers' non-relation to Obama with that of, say, Henry Kissinger. As Campos recounts, "Kissinger is honorary co-chair of McCain's New York campaign, and a foreign policy adviser to McCain himself."

Now let's compare some of the terrorist activities of, on the one hand, non-advisor, non-related William Ayers and, on the other hand, official adviser and honorary co-chair Henry Kissinger. Ayers:

...[A]s a member of the Weather Underground, [Ayers] set off several bombs that did some serious property damage. None of the bombings Ayers was involved with killed anyone, but several years later other members of the group took part in an armed robbery in which two police officers and a guard were killed.


An abbreviated list of the events that have made it dangerous for Kissinger to travel overseas, because of the possibility he would be arrested as a war criminal, include: covertly sabotaging Vietnam peace talks in 1968 in order to help get Richard Nixon elected; playing a key role in convincing Nixon to launch illegal wars in Laos and Cambodia (the latter action helped create the conditions that led to the Cambodian genocide); helping to plan the overthrow of Chile's democratically elected government, which included numerous assassinations funded by the CIA (again, all this in direct violation of international law); and helping to facilitate the Indonesian invasion of East Timor, which may have killed as many as 200,000 civilians.

Kissinger appears to have had every bit as much contempt for the law as Ayers, with the difference being that his brand of contempt led to millions of deaths.

Read it all.

Quote of the evening, part 3

Matt Taibbi, describing Sarah Palin's convention speech:

"It was like watching Gidget address the Reichstag."

c/o John Cole.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Quote of the evening, part 2

"Nothing aloof about that right hook."

That one is c/o Andrew Sullivan, re: Obama's (second) mention (in a debate) of the McCain Iran "joke" version of "Barbara Ann." (And by the way, as a doo-wop fan, I feel compelled to point out that this tune was originally recorded by the Regents, not the Beach Boys. So calling it "the Beach Boys song" is a little misleading. But of course that's neither here nor there.)

Anyway, did you notice how the aforementioned right hook came a few seconds after Obama had managed to disarm McCain?

Obama: Now, Sen. McCain suggests that somehow, you know, I'm green behind the ears and, you know, I'm just spouting off, and he's somber and responsible.

McCain (grinning uncomfortably): Thank you very much.

Obama: Sen. McCain, this is the guy who sang, "Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran," who called for the annihilation of North Korea. That I don't think is an example of "speaking softly."

And McCain visibly drooped.

What does "green behind the ears" mean, exactly? Beats me. But I hope we can put to rest the conventional pundit wisdom about Obama not being tough enough to win this.

Quote of the evening

Chris Matthews, post-debate: "John McCain, when he smiles, has a somewhat menacing quality."

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Political creativity

More tour tales soon, I swear. In the meantime, John Cole at Balloon Juice posted this, and I grinned:

The question is: what's the genre? Is it a "negative ad"? An "anti-negative" ad? I'm not sure I'd describe it as "sarcastic," as Cole does -- to me, it's comical and satirical, but in a winking and, yes, "hopeful" way. The subtext seems to be: "C'mon, you're smarter than this." It never wades into the self-defeatism of full-on snark. Unlike some other ads I've seen.

In the wake of the first prez debate, there are calls for Obama to get meaner. (That McCain will get meaner is pretty much a given.) But I think injecting a little creativity into the communications process can go a long way. We -- or most of us -- are better than the bullshit.

Friday, October 03, 2008

I wish I spoke Spanish

That way I could have a better understanding of this review of LEEF, just published in the Argentine jazz webzine El Intruso.

Still and all, the google translator turned up this paragraph, which will have to go into my personal hall of fame:

Andrew Durkin, who despite having a doctorate in English literature are self pseudo-intellectual, not designed this maze called the Industrial Jazz Group for ridicule or leave us hanging from a branch like a chimp or for us to eat the boogers in the fetal position while we admire his and spark insight. On the contrary, it invites us to immerse ourselves in this sea of complications in the spirit of that sharpens the wit from a playful perspective. And I see no evil.


Anyway, big thanks to Sergio Piccirilli for giving this poor bastard of a record some attention and love.