Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Review: “Just Like A Daydream,” various artists

Some years after Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and all the Original Rock’n’Rollers (call it AE, After Elvis), poured their signal into the British Isles, Anglo-American music ran in close sync from the Beatles through punk, new wave, and, on either sides of the Pond, the new wave of British heavy metal (NWOBHM) and soi-disant hair metal.

This loose coupling (less popular trends like progressive rock were already Pond-assymmetric ) loosened further in the late ’80s. The already successful kraut rock-influenced Depeche Mode* became the premier British act in 1990 when “Violator” outgrew the American art f-g market. America's bellwether was folky, twangy R.E.M., at once a lot less gay than Depeche Mode (no equivalent to “People Are People”) and a lot more (having an actual gay man in the band).

In Britain, shoegaze was kicked off with:
  • 1988 My Bloody Valentine, “Isn’t Anything”
  • 1990 Ride, “Nowhere”
  • 1991 My Bloody Valentine, “Loveless”
I dated a guy in 1993 who introduced me to shoegaze: both went nowhere (ha!). Hair metal had gone over the Warrant cliff, Nirvana had kicked off grunge (1991), R.E.M. had not yet been dethroned by “Monster,” and rap began making regular inroads to the hit charts.

Critics loved to hate shoegaze, preferring instead the cheerful “misogyny” and violence of gangster rap, madly waving the Flag of Irony while also hating on hair metal (perfect). Rap, of course, is not Ironic but Heroic, but being a critic means never having to let reality stand you up so long as you have a curtain of words to hide behind.

A big hole exists for musicianship beyond the pentatonic scale and relentless improv.: jazz fusion; progressive rock; the Medieval tune-resurrecting; erudite folkies; even motion-picture soundtracks are still overwhelmingly orchestral. Shoegaze was accused of many things: class warfare; misogyny (emphasis on high art, distorted guitars and performance); misandry (a lush, emotional, wimmin-y sound); racism (it's not rap!). But shoegaze mostly was an attempt to fill that damned hole.

Enter this American shoegaze compilation. Most of the songs are indeed drenched in the echo, delay and reverb pedal effects that gave the genre its name. Malory’s lead track starts with almost a cliché of delay, but pretty. Secret Shine creates a dramatic sweep that makes me hang on for the next line. Glowfriends and The Flower Beds tender pop tunes; the former almost too Pop for this collection. In Civilian Clothing contributes a stand-out anti-love song. Finally, The Fauns provide a lush soundscape that melts into Sunlight Ascending’s six minute instrumental dreamscape.

It’s good stuff. All I could wish for would be a lyrics sheet. Track list:
  1. Malory, “Just Be”
  2. The Morning Paper, “Making You Up”
  3. Airiel, “Cinnamon”
  4. The Brother Kite, “The Finest Kind”
  5. Brief Candles, “National Dream Registry”
  6. Tears Run Rings, “Mind the Wires”
  7. Crash City Saints, “Panic Queen”
  8. Secret Shine, “Oblivion”
  9. The Joy Bus, “Something Wrong Inside”
  10. Je Suis Animal, “Sparkle Spit”
  11. Glowfriends, “Sensible”
  12. The Flower Beds, “Mean to Me”
  13. Panda Riot, “Flowers at Night”
  14. Soundpool, “Do What You Love”
  15. In Civilian Clothing, “Current Therapist”
  16. Thrushes, “Aidan Quinn”
  17. The Fauns, “Lovestruck”
  18. Sunlight Ascending, “Out of This Place”
* Rumor claims industrial metal band KMFDM was named for “Kill Mother F-cking Depeche Mode,” but was never verified.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

“Jodorowsky’s Dune,” a documentary

Jodorowsky’s Dune
Frank Pavich, director/producer

“What is the goal of life? It’s to create yourself a soul.”

Trouble at the first words, the quote above refuses humanity to anyone unwilling to put in the effort to “make” a soul. The hidden lie, of course, is: which totalitarian regime judges what work is soulful? And such is needed; something as ad omnibus as the pre-Revolutionary Roman Church which, after all, threw in the soul gratis with the flesh but held a proprietary accompt over how you treated it.

I have not seen El Topo or The Holy Mountain by Alejandro Jodorowsky but I will, because I wish to see what his Dune might have been like. That being said, any person who pauses to think should thank their lucky stars that Jodorowsky was stopped before he could make this film and destroy dozens of lives and untold wealth in the desert of Algiers.

Simply put: no man who could do what Jodorowsky did to his own son should have any position of authority ever. Those old silent films were not worth running cattle off of cliffs to their deaths; this film would have been no different.

Lots of charming stories are told by the would-be crew, most are quite entertaining and informative, painting Jodorowsky as an even more driven Steve Jobs. H.R. Giger sounds like a precocious prepubescent boy with a frog in his throat here; this dashes one’s expectations of a gravel-voiced necromantic cyberneticist but a surprising disconnect between a non-performing artist and his work is hardly new, just as Nicolas Winding Refn’s raging paranoia is not shocking but still unpleasant.

Indeed, as quirky as Jodorowsky is, with his expressive hands and onomatopoeia, the most threatening figures in this documentary are the rabid fanboys. Refn quietly seethes over the damage done by Star Wars and the “megabucks blockbuster structure,” ignoring that Jaws started that two years prior. Some blame the same big American film corporations that funded 2001: A Space Odyssey and Star Trek: The Motion Picture, both science fiction films with oddly spiritual takes, as out to destroy higher consciousness once and for all.

(Oddly, no one blames Michel Seydoux, who had never produced any film, let alone with a Chilean megalomaniac, before 1973, the year Seydoux distributed The Holy Mountain in Europe and offered, and failed, to fund said maniac’s next.)

The fanboys cite Frank Herbert’s spice “melange” as a consciousness-expanding drug, which makes some sense since Jodorowsky’s idea was to recreate ’60s LSD visions as drug-free cinema. But they also compare Arrakis, or Dune, to Afghanistan as a place of supreme geopolitical importance. What else do they get wrong?

In story, sandworms exude melange and are only found on Arrakis. Melange offers man life extension, expanded consciousness and awareness, and precognition. Only precognition allows safe use of the faster-than-light Holtzman drive. Thus melange alone creates the entire Galactic economy. The water of life, another sandworm product, offers access to past lives but it too becomes another control battle.

For Herbert, the spice of Dune is a hydraulic despotism, a lens to concentrate and examine political power, which is the core of Dune: a comparatively mature contemplation of power, its benefits and costs, its ultimate goals. I say “comparatively” because it is the sin of critics who know nothing of Renaissance England to babble about how William Shakespeare understood power and politics, who knew nothing of the sort. Shakespeare lived not too long after Agincourt, when men at arms did all the fighting as a disorganized mob, when authority end law extended as far as your mailed fist or naked voice could project. (When you read a Shakespearean king and his words suddenly shift into hyperdrive, the tingle up your spine is exactly this projection.)

Herbert began Dune as a novel about Liet-Kynes and desert ecologies, but by publication in 1965 (by Chiltons!) the true subject was power and CHOAM, his feo-totalitarian cartel earning most of its profits from spice, was explicitly based on OPEC (prescience indeed). Religion in Dune is taken seriously but never literally, as expression of human will, faith and drive. In Herbert, as in Heinlein, expanded consciousness leads only to philosophy on how and when to use governing force. Hippie visions need not apply.

David Lynch’s Dune was quite faithful to the book but inspires hostility from Jodorowsky and others, who come looking for religious ecstasy and get nothing but Machiavellian philosophy (the original maligned Republican). The friend who recommended Herbert’s novel to Jodorowsky may not have known how ill-fit the two minds were. Jodorowsky follows Strindberg, Lynch an American magical realism; Lynch frets the novel’s politics less. (Or perhaps magical naturalism: consider the ear in Blue Velvet: a call to adventure in the hero’s journey to the underworld, where nothing is supernatural at all but the world is still a strange and dangerous place.)

The fanboys also natter on how this unmade film influenced others. Some are honest and direct: Dan O’Bannon, post-Jodo, hired Giger to design the Xenomorph for Alien. But how many other films did this affect? They mention the Terminator’s computer readout vision as a legacy of the unmade Dune’s storyboards, but by 1973 we had already seen Westworld through Yul Brynner’s infrared vision. How many people saw Jodo’s storyboard books? How many were made when only two still exist?

As I watch, at some point, El Topo, I will not like it. Messianic, religio-political Latin/Catholic visions always leave me cold. But I hope to be fascinated at least once as I was by this documentary.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Robert Heinlein, the Authorized Biography

Robert A. Heinlein: in dialogue with his century: vol 1, 1907-1948: learning curve
William H. Patterson Jr
New York

Any reader of Mr Heinlein’s has been served pieces of the Old Man’s mind already; Mr Patterson’s magisterial work, so far, finally shows us the whole man, the author, his friends and his times and makes the picture whole. I learned a lot.

I was not previously aware that western Missouri had been depopulated by the Union army during the Civil War. The Heinleins were not bred Southerners, but post-war immigrants from far north of the Mason-Dixon line.

Mr Heinlein’s difficult history at Annapolis is fascinating, but only a part of a rather brittle young man’s slow, painful education in human failings. Mr. Patterson’s work here is complete and interesting, and I have only a few quibbles with some of his interpretations. It is also at the Academy that we read Heinlein’s voice for the first time: simple, direct, powerful, missing only the stories.

I was aware the Old Man was on the Left in the Depression, but the depth of his involvement here is nearly alarming. The Old Man seemed to be born sneering at “red Fascists” (Communists, to you) and “black reactionaries,” but was surprisingly devout in his devotion to Edward Bellamy and H. G. Wells‘ Socialist visions of The Good Life.

We learn much about his second wife Leslyn, as large a figure as Lt. Virginia Gerstenfeld, ending volume one by suffering with the Old Man in his painful divorce from the former and then (we know in advance) happy marriage to the latter.

Isaac Asimov dismissed Heinlein’s politics as uxorious, an Upton Sinclair Progressive with Democrat Leslyn, then a stern conservative with Republican Ginny. But the Old Man was always a fervent Jacksonian, disgusted at the thought of wasting American lives in a useless war for the British against Germany, whether in 1916 or 1939, then driving himself sick (Leslyn did the same) serving his country after Pearl Harbor (which battle gains fascinating depth here).

He advocated a world government to manage the post-Hiroshima threats and would always regard atomic weapons with a bitter heart. He was fascinated by general semantics throughout his life. His first, unpublished novel followed social credit theories before he decided that the theory threatened private property and thus individual autonomy, a Heinleinian non-starter. He mined that book for the rest of his life.

Mr Patterson does not bother to “explicate” the Old Man’s crystal-clear short stories and (with few exceptions) novels, he simply details Robert’s life and the people he shared it with. We learn little about “where the stories come from” that we hadn’t already read in Expanded Universe. But just as we hear an utterly familiar voice in Annapolis, so too is Our Hero unmistakably Robert A. Heinlein ab initio. Time may chasten him, people may force him to abandon positions untenable, but the Old Man is One throughout. Mr Patterson could not fake that inimitable voice. I thank him for letting it speak again, and placing again a pearl of great price in its proper setting.

Friday, July 04, 2014

“Visit secluded Shangri-La”

Title: Lost Horizon
Author: James Hilton
Date: 1933
Publisher: Macmillan & Co.
Place: London

I am not surprised to learn that Franklin Roosevelt adored this novel, naming both an aircraft carrier and his weekend getaway digs Shangri-La, and less so that his successor, Dwight Eisenhower, immediately changed the latter’s name to Camp David. (CV-38 vanished even sooner.)

Another found manuscript adventure story with a taste of meditative Utopia and post-Great War ennui, Lost Horizon became a success only after Hilton’s Goodbye, Mr. Chips did. Both are specimens of the novel of sentiment, which may be called the romance novel only without the latter’s nominal goals. Not for nothing was Frank Capra chosen to film it.

Hilton’s small novel (61,000 words) charms us still, nailed to its perch and period by its opening line:
Cigars had burned low, and we were beginning to sample the disillusionment that usually afflicts old school friends who have met again as men and found themselves with less in common than they had believed they had.

This disappointed presence is dated and constant, but minimal.

The ending is a bit muddled. One imagines that Hilton did not want to write the murder of an escapee, and, of course, given the format, he needed someone to escape with the tale. He doesn’t quite pull it off, but it hardly mars the book as a whole.

Monday, May 12, 2014

The X-Persons

I am not linking to this:

www.esquire.com blogs culture overthinking-the-x-men

but I hate it. Mr Thompson says, more or less,  “Don’t overthink the X-Men. Let me overthink the X-Men, because you don’t get how racist and heteronormative they are.” Gruesome pablum.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

David Brin, Charlie Stross: only a virtuous people

David Brin pushes the Democratic party line. He mentions the ill-behaved Left, but never pushes them back. He is a scared little boy who does not with to thwart the kleptocratic, anti-republican longings in his own party:
  • "When faced with American public defection from elite preferences outcomes on certain policy issues that involve many difficult tradeoffs of the kind that democracies, with much jostling and argument, are supposed to work out among many different groups, Friedman extols the example of … China’s political system, because it’s both enlightened and autocratic?"
  • "To Krugman — and, apparently, to most Obama-supporting Democrats — there’s no such thing as legitimate opposition."
  • SF Protesters to Obama: Please Be a Dictator!
  • Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., Barack Obama should simply rule by decree, issuing executive orders for everything. He then slammed Tea Party Republicans for refusing to cooperate with Obama, and compared them to criminals.
  • Washington proposes a Reich Flight Tax: "Mr. Schumer would surely bridle at having his exit-tax policy compared to that of the Nazis, as would Mr. Boehner, so let me be clear: The Reichsfluchsteuer was originally imposed not by the Nazis, but, rather, on December 8, 1931, by the pre-Hitler, centrist government of Heinrich Brüning, who had a doctoral degree in economics."
  • Jacob Heilbrunn, "Is It Time To Abolish Congress?"
  • MSNBC's Ed Schultz said President Obama should "put the boot on the neck of BP" and act like a "dictator" in his Oval Office address tonight.
  • "It’s hard to come up with new ways to describe the Obama administration’s improvisational approach to the Affordable Care Act’s troubled health insurance exchanges."
Linked from the fever swamps found over here. This is simply a panic piece which hopes you've never noticed that the Far Left and the Far Right wrap around. Brin and Stross seem to think Democracy is awesome, especially when it intrudes into every part  of your life. Sensible people know better.

In the meantime, I would like to leave you with the wise words of a man Messrs Brin and Stross would undoubtedly despise: "Let me add, that only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters."

Well, now you see what the people above think of you.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Trust, the MSM and abortion

This is hilarious. Dave Weigel (a liberal “conservative” for the MSM) admits reporters are overwhelmingly Democratic (we knew that, 85%) but keeps saying that Amanda Marcotte (classic Limbaugh feminazi) and William Saletan (reliably Progressive technical writer) “covered” the grand jury report. Said report reads like the Grand Guignol, but let us see how Marcotte “covered” it (link at that article):
  • “Abortion provider Dr. Kermit Gosnell and some of his staff members have been charged with eight counts of murder”
  • “It was a little hard to find reliable information on Gosnell in the sea of anti-choice hysterics online”
  • “Until more information is available, I would advise caution on jumping to conclusions about the charges of murder on the seven babies.”
  • “The accusation resemble a fairly routine accusation leveled by anti-choicers at doctors”
  • “it's possible that Gosnell is guilty of the charges, but one should take the history of this particular claim into account before jumping to conclusions.”
  • “Gosnell ran a crappy clinic”
  • “pro-choice community exerts quite a bit of effort trying to improve the quality of abortion care”
  • “That shady abortion providers get patients at all is something we can safely blame the anti-choice movement for”
I like the word “safely” there. And finally this bit deserves quotation in full:
These particular charges involve late-term abortion, and all I could think upon reading the news story was, "I wish these women could have gone to Dr. George Tiller," because he was renowned for the quality of care provided at his Kansas clinic. But sadly, that wasn't even an option, even for those who could afford it, as Dr. Tiller's life was taken by an anti-choice extremist in 2009.
This is not journalism, this is inoculation: the careful, planned release of information designed to minimize the effect upon your side and maximize the damage to the other. Note the bringing up of Tiller: his murderer was convicted and imprisoned immediately. Gosnell was allowed to continue his horror show without even visits from the department of public health for years. Somehow, a solitary killer (and would-be terrorist with a previous conviction, how the hell was he on parole?), denounced as a coward and criminal by Operation Rescue, is worse than a storefront multiple murderer operating with government complicity.
Most doctors in this country are pro-choice, and many would like to provide abortion, but as Slate 's Emily Bazelon demonstrated in the New York Times , the stigma of doing so makes it that much harder to do
Yes, Amanda, and between journalism and erasing the visible signs of that stigma, we can see which you prefer.

Hat tip to Instapundit.