Thursday, May 24, 2007

An Earful of M & N's, and coupla O's

I hit this great alphabetical run of songs starting a ways into the M’s of my iTunes library:

Measuring Cups (Andrew Bird) My daughter turned me on to this guy. Sings, plays violin, guitar, and whistles as if his last name were literal. This tune doesn’t feature his whistling, alas, but if you go to his web site, there’s video. It’s a tweet. Plus, he’s a great lyricist.

Message In A Bottle (Police) What a great idea for a song. If you haven’t heard it in a while, the propulsive speed of it may surprise you. And if you’ve never seen Sting do it live, he usually does a slow, solo version, and the chorus turns the crowd into one gigantic choir.

Missed The Boat (Modest Mouse) One of the catchiest songs I've heard in years. You get the big chiming rhythm guitar and the wiggly, fluid lead, one of which is Johnny Marr, formerly of The Smiths—I had no idea he’d joined the band. I’ve always admired the songwriting, but not the singing, of Isaac Brock. He sounds pretty good on this. And the guy can write. A great anthem for corporate drones, or for a fecklessly failing government.

Mistaken For Strangers (The National) Do you know this band? The big sound and song structures remind me of Coldplay and, every once in awhile, Simple Minds. But the singer’s like the love child of Mark Knopfler and that guy from Crash Test Dummies. He’s a mumbler and doesn’t have much range, but the lyrics are full of odd details. This is from a CD called “Boxer.” The drummer is mighty.

Money (Pink Floyd) How did this song become a radio hit at six-and-a-half minutes and with a word that had to be bleeped? By kicking ass, that’s how.

Morning Glory (Chrissie Hynde, a cover of a Tim Buckley song) From the anthology “Bleecker Street: Greenwich Village In The ‘60s,” full of contemporary artists interpreting folkies of the era. This is a weird one. It seems allegorical, and the particulars of the story aren’t really clear, but the feeling comes through. What’s the feeling? I guess I’d call it loneliness.

Muskrat Love (America) Well, a glitch along the way. I listened to it anyway, and thought, I guess it’s whimsical, but what the hell? Acquired during a Sound Card project. And, just now, thrown in the trash.

Mustang Sally (Wilson Pickett) I should do a list of my favorite singers. I’m pretty sure Wilson Pickett would make the top ten.

My Back Pages (Marshall Crenshaw covering Bob Dylan) Not my fave Dylan song, but I love this arrangement of it. Jonah, at age four, asked me how somebody could be “so much older then” but be “younger than that now”? So I had to explain how the more you know, the less you know. My dad didn't have to explain that to me until I was 14. Kids these days.

My Favorite Mistake (Sheryl Crow) What a great piece of writing. “When you go, all I know is, it’s the perfect ending / To the bad day I was just beginning.” If art is clear thinking about mixed emotions, Sheryl is a bona fide artist. She may be too strident about toilet paper, but her songs are no shit.

My Sharona (The Knack) OK, I admit, I like it. It makes me think back to when Winona Ryder was sublime, dancing in a convenience store, a rare moment of exuberance in a movie that took its title literally and avoided reality for fear of its bite.

Myxomatosis - Judge, Jury, & Executioner (Radiohead) We conclude the M’s with this blast of polyrhythmic synthy-cism. I never know what Tom Yorke’s singing about, but I never doubt that he does.

Nettie Moore (Bob Dylan) This is probably my fave from “Modern Times.” It thumps right along, and Bob keeps going and going. Some of his phrasings are just superhuman.

No Count Blues (Sarah Vaughan) Sissy’s amazing scat vs. a muted trumpet. You can smell the cigarette smoke.

No Regrets (Tom Rush) One of the great, lesser-known singer-songwriters of the ‘60s and ‘70s, with one of the great, lesser-known, end-of-the-affair songs ever. I could have done without the big production, but the song can’t be denied.

Oh You (Greg Brown) “With your heart-shaped rocks and your rocky heart / With your worn-out shoes and your eagerness to start / With your mother’s burden and your father’s stare / With your pretty dresses and your ragged underwear / Oh you...” Nobody piles up lists in a song like Greg Brown. This is on “Milk of the Moon,” recent enough that he probably wrote it for Iris Dement.

Ol’ Man River (Screamin’ Jay Hawkins) Well, he was no Paul Robeson. If hearing sad songs comically trashed is your thing, this one’s for you. Screamin’ Jay autographed my draft card at the premiere of Jim Jarmusch’s “Mystery Train.” Then my wallet got stolen. Man, I coulda sold that draft card on eBay for at least a buck-fifty.

Old Man (Neil Young) An absolutely unique artist in American music, and quite a guy. Who else was laying a banjo into a pop song back in, what, 1972? Or for that matter, singing about an old man? I remember listening to the Harvest album over and over while making leather belts to sell at head shops. Then we'd switch to Harry Chapin or It's A Beautiful Day. Then we'd run out of pot.

Open (Bruce Cockburn) Speaking of Old Man, shortly after my 50th birthday, I saw Bruce Cockburn live in upstate New York, and he opened with this. Glorious.

Our House (Crosby, Stills & Nash) One of the great cohabitation songs, written by Graham Nash for Joni Mitchell, so they say. I love the internal rhymes and the la-la-la.

Our House (Madness) Less a song than a music video, but I’d forgotten how catchy it is. Jonah loves to riff on it in a British accent. "Owah the middle of my tush, Owah House...with some flowahs on a bush, Owah House...with the cats in the yahd..." He gets the two songs confused. The kid has no sense of rock history.

Over The Rainbow (Judy Garland) End with a broken heart.

The floor is now open for great iTunes mix lists. Don’t cheat!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Tony Gets His Button

I feel compelled to say three things about The Sopranos:

1. It really is a Greco-Roman myth. The characters embody attributes of human consciousness that are universal, undeniable, horrifying, touching, and self-revealing, which is why they stick with you and make you wonder about them, as if they existed not just in your imagination but in life. They feel more real than many people you actually meet. I never dreamed I’d say that about a TV show.

2. It still has the capacity to shock, after seven seasons of brutality and venality. Anyone who watched the last episode knows what I mean. The big event, only seven minutes in, makes you catch your breath, even though it feels inevitable. In this sense, it’s more real than the news. The Virginia Tech murders were horrible, and I’m not trying to diminish their importance or impact. But my gut response to that carnage was somewhere between knee-jerk revulsion and “ain’t that America,” followed by muted empathy (and then, as media vultures made a mockery of it all, disgust and ennui). We look at the absurd images of the killer and can only wonder why so little was done, how the same society that denied him decent mental health care could so blithely supply him with guns and armor-piercing bullets. It happened out there, and we’re still safe here. But we see in Tony Soprano the primal, practical, dead-eyed sociopath we all could be, if the circumstances of his life had been handed down to us. What a shock, as he knocks out the window of a wrecked car, decides not to call 911, and finishes off a piece of grim business. And it is business. But it’s also personal. It’s revenge. It’s defiance of fate. It’s mythic, a god eating his children. And it’s hands-on. The violence isn’t shied away from, but it isn’t glorified, either. At rock-bottom, the show is deeply moral. It never flinches.

3. The freedom of its storytelling is astounding. Nobody (not even David Chase) could have predicted, back when the show was in its infancy, that its final season would find Tony in the Nevada desert, high on peyote and having a laughing, crying epiphany as he stares into the sun. “I get it!” he cries. I don’t, exactly (is he still lit up by his roulette experience?—“same principle as the solar system”—or has he just grokked the whole Christopher situation in some druggie way?), but I feel the evanescence of his exultation. Drugs have done pretty well by Tony, but he’s still “Comfortably Numb,” as the brilliant music cues have suggested. And we know no epiphany of his will lead to model citizenry or a happy ending. Even as the show takes a breath, with all that slow, expansive quiet stretching off under the desert sky, we can feel the story closing in, ratcheting down, closing off all heroic possibilities.

Plus, Sarah Shahi. Oh, my word. Chalk another one up for the dark, diminutive deities of drama. If this doesn’t launch her out of TV into movie stardom, I don’t know what will. When she brought out the peyote buttons, I could see some of what was coming: Tony would puke, and then have the eyes of his eyes briefly opened. But man, how beautifully the actors played it. Watching her watch the roulette wheel brought the whole stoner phase of my life back like the smell of an old girlfriend’s hair. If you’ve ever done psychotropics, you know how true to life that whole sequence was. And if you haven’t, I bet you still know, which is all the more amazing.

When they first drift into the casino and Tony stares at that slot-machine image of the devil, I had a thought. It’s way too cheap an idea for this show, but not for me, Alice In Wonderlandkind that I am:

What if Tony actually did die last season, and this whole season is him in Hell? So Hell is just being comfortably numb, killing your friends, cheating on your wife, going to funerals, hanging out in casinos, and still having to deal with the mundane details of your job—dumping asbestos in a pristine marshland, for instance, and haggling over a rival boss’s percentage. Hell is just life, except you don’t get out.

OK, they won’t pull that on us. What’s the end? I told Bighead Needleman that the father-son arc must be fulfilled, so A.J. either dies, does something that causes Tony’s death, or somehow gets drawn into the life, becoming the new Christopher. If A.J. kills Tony and ends up blind, we’ll know which myth we’re in. Otherwise, we should probably retreat to Goldfinch’s and look up Zeus and Hera. Somewhere in the stories about them is the story of Tony and Carmela. This one can't possibly end well. Predictions?

Thank heavens for smart, creative, thought-provoking entertainment. Without Jon Stewart and Tony Soprano, how would I have survived these ghastly first few years of the new millennium? Lame as it sounds, and essentially lucky as I know myself to be, sometimes I think they’re all that’s kept me sane.

Ciao, Christophuh.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Mendacity of Show, Litany of Woe

Four years ago this week, an unelected president strode across an aircraft carrier in an unearned Navy flight suit for an expensive photo op beneath a banner proclaiming “Mission Accomplished.” I’m trying to think if I’ve ever witnessed a more insulting, absurd image of a U.S. president. Hoover with his fat-cat cronies during the Depression? Pretty bad. Nixon’s V-for-victory exit from office? Cartoonish enough to laugh at, and good riddance. Carter's interview in Playboy magazine? Foolish, but he seemed human. Bush the first’s Japanese vomit? At least it was vomit of necessity, not choice. Reagan fumbling his way through a remark about trees causing air pollution? OK, he was already losing it. Clinton’s “I did not have sex...” posturing? Doesn’t even come (so to speak) close.

The fake flyboy strut. It’s like an x-ray of Bush’s psyche. Who do we see? A privileged juvenile delinquent acting out in a mendacious show-off stunt to prove himself half the man Daddy was. It’s as undeveloped an idea of leadership, masculinity, and adulthood as I’ve ever seen.

And the media served it to us like ice cream. And a lot of people slurped it right up. If you ever want a clear picture of just how bad American journalism has gotten in the 21st century, look back at the response to the Mission Accomplished moment. It’s horrifying. The right-wing media practically creamed its Sans-a-belt slacks. And few in the mainstream press held Bush to account.

Since that clueless display (remember, we paid for the aircraft carrier to turn around so the shoreline wouldn't show?), think of what has taken place:

Iraqi Army disbanded, left to its own devices (mostly IEDs) to create the insurgency

Weapons storage facilities left unguarded, emptied by insurgents

Unsecured borders allowing thousands of jihadists, mercenaries, and fun-loving terrorists into Iraq

Oh, and the denial that the White House had anything to do with that Mission Accomplished banner...
and then the retraction of the denial when expense reports showed that Karl Rove’s office paid for it

U.S. soldiers in combat without proper equipment, armor, etc.--and now with less training than ever

Rumsfeld’s “you go to war with the army you have”

No WMD’s after all--ooops, my bad!

Turns out Wolfowitz was wrong about oil money paying for reconstruction, too

Fallujah becomes a template for how NOT to take a city

The rise of Muktada al-Sadr and other fundamentalist elements

U.S.-soldiers-rape-Iraqi-civilians case

Alberto Gonzales murky torture-condoning memo
Abu Ghraib
Rumsfeld "forgot to bring" chain-of-command chart to Abu Ghraib hearings
Scapegoating of grunts for the scandal

Scott McFuckingClellan

Richard Perle and other administration war profiteers resign due to conflict of interest

No-bid contract scandal
Billions in reconstruction money go missing
Huge cost overruns by Halliburton, KBR, and other contractors found to be misappropriating funds
Pentagon hiring private soldiers of fortune who earn vastly more than U.S. military salaries

Denial of CIA black sites in Europe and Asia...
and retraction of denial!

Dick Cheney, ever the brilliant analyst: “The insurgency is in its last throes”

Dissenting voices in administration (Richard Clarke, Colin Powell, etc.) silenced or marginalized
Dissenting military commanders (e.g., Zinni, Shinseki) fired or sidelined
George Tenet and J. Paul Bremer bought off with Medal of Freedom

Fake stories planted in the press to make Jessica Lynch a hero
Fake stories planted to make Pat Tillman a Christian martyr and Bush loyalist
Fake journalists planted in press briefings

Fake Maliki government by 2007 has failed to secure a single province

Govt report finds DOD's Douglas Feith developed bogus intelligence to link Iraq and al Qaeda

Condi Rice, having ignored pre-9/ll intelligence about Osama, fails upward into Sec. of State job

Continued denials from Cheney et al. that it’s a civil war...
and finally a recognition that it’s a civil war

Iraq Study Group convened
Iraq Study Group recommendations ignored
The surge
McCain and others walk Baghdad in body armor with huge security detail and proclaim the streets safe
Iraqi parliament bombed

Taliban resurgent in under-resourced war in Afghanistan

New study shows seven out of eight “finished” reconstruction projects either relapsing into unusable state or still awaiting equipment, construction, etc.

Saudi Arabia and other Mideast allies begin to defy U.S., with Prince Bandar about as reliable as Chalabi was in lead-up to war

Military allies (what few we had) peeling off and pulling out

Pushing toward 3500 American dead
Tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians killed

J. Walter Reed scandal
Tours of duty extended
Repeat tours increased
Veteran disability benefits slashed

Prisoners held for years without charge or legal recourse

Osama still at large

And Bush talking shit about Iran

I consulted no published lists to arrive at this godawful pile of national shame. It’s not ordered or comprehensive, just what I could pull off the top of my head as a reader of the news. I’m sure there are many other events that should be listed here. Feel free to contribute.

Fine, throw in the election (see note on the fake Maliki government) or Saddam (whose botched execution compounded our international PR problem). Why put lipstick on a warthog?

When I go down that list, I feel fury boiling up. I’m just so disgusted by these short-sighted, greedy ideologues who looked at the post-9/ll world and decided it was a ticket to empire, while lacking the imagination, skill, and integrity to manage even the first fraction of the effort. Killing, maiming, spending us into oblivion, all the while ignoring the needs of our own citizens. Think of all we might have done here if if not for the time, money, and energy spent there. And for what?

My friend Kristin says, don’t hate them, because then you’re at their level. You have to love Bush and Cheney and Rove, she says. You have to hope for their evolution as human beings.

I know she's right. But all I seem capable of is loathing and despair. I hate what’s been done to my country, by my country, in the name of my country. It’s going to take years and years to undo it. And they’re not through yet.