Saturday, April 29, 2017

name that band!

How interesting is your favorite band? I don't mean musically or lyrically, i mean compositionally (oops, another music term), in terms of its members' diversity? Racially, or by age/class/gender/philosophy? How many of your favorites are just a bunch of dusty, old (or young) white guys? Here are the bands that challenge that paradigm. Quiz your friends! Answers below.
1) A band that initially couldn't have been more soporifically homogeneous. Four youngsters of the same pigmentation, gender, sexual orientation, and socio-economic background. It was only after the band broke up and began solo careers that they became interesting: one became an atheistic revolutionary, another an apolitical crooner, another a holy roller, and the fourth a happy-time dickie.
2) An all-white band almost singularly unique for its gender balance and equity, with two men and two women. The lead singer was a she, and the primary songwriter a he.
3) The first major american band to have an integrated, multi-gender lineup, with three black men, two black women, and a couple o' white guys. The women weren't just backup singers either - they played instruments and sang an occasional lead vocal.
4) Not a grand symbol of equality in diversity, as this quartet's singer/songwriter was just as white and male (and pretty nerdy) as two of his bandmates...but they're worthy of mention for that white chick on bass.
5) Founded at a time when black bands and white bands couldn't have been more segregated, this unit was universally embraced for the brilliance of its black singer/songwriter/guitarist...yet many people never realized that the other members of the trio were white.
6) An oh-so-rare rock duo - one he, and one she. She played drums and sang an occasional vocal, he did most everything else.
7) Another XX/XY duo, and this one more balanced - he did most of the songwriting and she did most of the vocals, but they both did both.
8) This quintet's most fascinating feature is that two of their three lead singer/songwriters were women...yet they never became identified as a "girl band" in the public consciousness. Why? Because they took their name from their all-male rhythm section? They're also the only major band in pop history comprised of brits and yanks.

1) The Beatles
2) The Mamas and the Papas
3) Sly and the Family Stone
4) Talking Heads
5) The Jimi Hendrix Experience
6) The White Stripes
7) Ike & Tina Turner
8) Fleetwood Mac

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

"China Beach"

-created by john sacret young, william broyles jr.
What are we to do with you, CHINA BEACH? I so wanted to love you, because (with apologies to TRAPPER JOHN M.D. and AFTERM*A*S*H) you were the heir to M*A*S*H, which was about the Vietnam war in everything but name. You took Vietnam head on, with the setting a military field hospital (again). You were a drama, so i dreamed of you being hard-hitting and searing. The best i can say is that you steadfastly refused to suck...yet just as determinedly refused to be great. You tried, though - fine acting, impressive visuals, competent dialogue, and (as much as possible in mercenary Hollywood) the feeling of a labor of love.
What was the fatal flaw? You didn't have a voice, a clear point of view. All you offered was a general "isn't war bad" message. Is it possible for a show to be great without a distinct voice? Yes, actually - THE WEST WING, one of the three greatest shows ever, had no particular voice, just a hazy, diffuse, nebulous humanism (i know, i just used three words that mean the same thing). But there were two things WEST WING also had - scintillating dialogue and a lightning strike of chemistry. The comparison deepens when you discover that sacret young would become one of the late-era producers of WW. Or perhaps chemistry is CB's fatal flaw...and that's a damn shame, as it's nobody's fault. But the relationships never popped with depth or believeability, so we never fell in love with the characters (which made the final season semi-interminable, because it's devoted to the soap opera aspects of the show). The soldiers never felt quite as coarse as they ought have been, and the uglier realities of war were sometimes rose-tinted.
Were there great elements? Yes! It was quietly one of the greatest feminist shows ever, with female directors and writers, and a central character (dana delaney - TOMBSTONE, EXIT TO EDEN) a woman who enjoyed serial sexual relationships just as much as her male TV peers (and most real people). The commanding officer (concetta tomei - PROVIDENCE, DON'T TELL MOM THE BABYSITTER'S DEAD) is female, and the cast skewed in the estrogenly direction. There was a fully humanized prostitute (marg helgenberger - SPECIES, ERIN BROCKOVICH), who is a fantastic testament to the notion that war doesn't just create fucked-up people - it attracts them. And more than half the women were a far cry from the barbie dolls that network television usually trots out. Ricki lake (HAIRSPRAY, CRY-BABY) in particular, was a brilliant challenge to audiences unaccustomed (or even uncomfortable) with seeing a fat woman as a real person, in lust and love (and abortion). One wonders whether the first season chemistry had the most potential, with a criminally innocent donut dolly (nan woods - IN THE MOOD, ONE MORE SATURDAY NIGHT), and a man-crazy USO performer (chloe webb - SID AND NANCY, SHAMELESS) who has such a jarringly different quality from typical TV characters that i was never sure whether i loved or hated her, or whether she was a brilliant actress or terrible...
After the satiric buffoonery of all command officers in M*A*S*H, CHINA BEACH humanized the brass. It was a nice touch, and actually worked.
The show's only character that one ultimately cares about, is the emotionally-void super-soldier dodger (jeff kober - ALIEN NATION, TANK GIRL). He finishes his tour and takes a vietnamese baby home, but can't survive without the war, and finds himself back "in country" trying to build a hospital. He meets a paraplegic vietnamese woman, and you long for them to find something beautiful. All this makes his ultimate fate as just another mindless born-again all the more heart-rending.
Robert picardo (STAR TREK: VOYAGER, STARGATE: ATLANTIS), michael boatman (HAMBURGER HILL, SPIN CITY), nancy giles (DELTA, I'M NOT RAPPAPORT), troy evans (ACE VENTURA: PET DETECTIVE, ER), meghan gallagher (HILL STREET BLUES, THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW), and ned vaughn (APOLLO 13, THE BEACH BOYS: AN AMERICAN FAMILY) all do fine work, too.
What else? Your theme song "Reflections" was the only great recording diana ross ever did. You were a touch of healing for the national wound that was Vietnam - the war finally got its own show, one the veterans could take pride in. And perhaps best of all, you didn't underplay how war fucks up its participants permanently (including your central character). The audience waits for Hollywood endings, and it generally doesn't happen.
But i actually bent the truth when i said the show never sucked or reached greatness. It was awful twice - the mawkish, clod-footed "Warriors", and "Skylark", which i believe the future producers of TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL must have recorded on Beta max, to watch over and over and over...
But "One Small Step", in which the haunted but irrepressibly upbeat boonie (brian wimmer - TANK GIRL, FLIPPER) gets his leg blown off and finds himself stateside in one recovery hospital after another, is damn-near unqualifiedly brilliant. For a marathon of the show's best, watch this plus the first three episodes of the third season. Just try to resist any temptation to watch the rest of the series, unless "good not great" is good enough.

Friday, April 21, 2017

"Cass County"

-by don henley
If you had told me that one day don would release an album which i would have zero interest in hearing more than once, i wouldn't have believed you. It's a sign of how eagerly i anticipated this one, that i waited an extra year for the "deluxe" edition to drop in price, before hearing the album at all. And let me be clear, it's not awful - if you like mindless country music, give it a spin. But it's the first jarringly un-henley thing don has ever done. All the edge and social relevance are gone. Don't misunderstand...even though the current crop of Nashville's finest are paperweights unfit to hold george or lyle's hat, i find some country tunes and sounds pleasing. No, what sticks in my craw is the way don almost celebrates his newfound apathy. Not that i don't understand the impulse - you could argue that his lifetime of socially relevant lyrics haven't changed one damn thing, so who could begrudge an old fart no longer giving a shit? But if you've got nothing to say, why not just make an album of instrumentals? Or why couldn't you have just recorded your friend timothy b.'s "I'm Not Angry Anymore", which has a similar sentiment but is more musically satisfying (don could even add some of his own lyrics to personalize it)? Most of the CASS COUNTY lyrics are inoffensive, but some are worse. He takes a british stiff upper-lip attitude - no complaining, no bleeding heart humanity, just accept things and shut up. I first noticed this trend on "Get Over It". Yes, many people whine a lot, and some of it is gratuitous, litigious bullshit which shows no appreciation for real suffering. Fair a point. But to extend that to an ethos of indifference, in a world where selfish greed is causing incalculable misery and destruction? Say it ain't so, don. By the time a good song finally appears ("A Younger Man", a kiss-off from an old man to a young woman), i had given up on the album entirely. "Where I am Now" has its merits, too. The trio tune with mick jagger however, feels lifeless, as though the participants just recorded their bits on different continents, never once meeting. Still in all, you've got to respect any artist who refuses to kowtow to their fan base. And kudos for writing a love note to your Texas roots, don. If there's another album in your future, i'll be there.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

benny 1938

Benny goodman's 1938 concert at Carnegie Hall is widely acclaimed as the event that brought jazz into the cultural mainstream. In case you think it was just a white performer lending legitimacy and reaching mass audiences by simply copying his dark-skinned superiors, have a taste. Benny is unearthly, and harry james offers a trumpet solo as good as any i've ever heard...

Friday, April 14, 2017

21st century

The great american question of the 17th century - who ARE these pink-skinned assholes?
The great american question of the 18th century - what loyalty is owed a government that keeps rich men from their profits?
The great american question of the 19th century - what loyalty is owed a government that tolerates racial slavery?
The great american question of the 20th century - what loyalty is owed a government that tolerates gender slavery?
The great american question of the 21st century - what loyalty is owed a government that tolerates POVERTY?

Monday, April 10, 2017

"Weird Things" leftovers

So what about me? This paragon of skeptical rationalism? This guiding light for the unwashed mass of muckbrains? Any "weird things" lurking in my own cerebral closet?
God or ghost? Nay.
Karma or reincarnation? Non.
Tarot or tea leaf? Nyet.
Fate or Friday the 13th? Nein!
Afterlife or astrology? Nahi!!
New Age or numerology? NO NO NO!!!
I have entertained musings about telepathy, telekinesis, and the law of attraction. Unseen connective forces, our brains affecting the universe beyond our bodies, and other such jedi bullshit...for the record, there is NO scientific evidence to back up any of it. And not for lack of serious looking. So i don't drink the kool-aid.
But i sniff the cup probably more than i should.
And i am a bit of a sucker for certain conspiracy theories - JFK, government plots to pull us into wars, the barons of capitalism maneuvering to keep the masses poor and ignorant (capitalism does that by itself just fine, thank you).
That's it, i'm sure there's nothing else...ohhhhhhhhhhh wait. I, um, seriously dabble in the health (and life-extending!) benefits of non-ejaculatory sex. In my last long-term relationship i never came once, and alone i ejaculate one time out of seven. I confess, i even just googled "health benefits non-ejaculatory sex" to see whether science has caught up (that would be a no, not as such). Ah well, taoist non-wet dreams don't die easily...
So that's it, right? Wrong. There's one more skeleton in my credulous closet, far deeper than all the rest.
Are you ready?
When listening to the radio, i generally hit the "scan" button as soon as i hear a song i don't like, or a commercial is played. And when i find a song i like (or at least find acceptable), i sometimes imagine that were i to keep going, there's always one more song coming which i would have loved even more. Even if there's been nothing on continuous scan for five minutes, the moment i stop the search, i imagine that a far superior song starts playing on another station. Not that i'm continually chasing greener sonic pastures. Mostly, i'm relieved to find "acceptable" and stay right there. And i don't actually believe that this "superior song snydrome" has ANY basis in reality. It's more private joke than actual belief. I suppose it's a little echo of murphy's law, plus a parallel to well-earned romantic cynicism. Choose one, and you give up the better one lurking beyond the next bend! How degraded, how sad.
How about you? What weird things do you nurture in the bosom of your private thoughts?
On second thought, maybe keep it to yourself.
Use your judgment.
I'm not saying trust it...but use it as best you can.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

"Skipping Towards Gomorrah"

(the Seven Deadly Sins and the Pursuit of Happiness in America)
-by dan savage
Down with the virtuecrats and scolds! UP WITH PEOPLE!
Or some such.
Columnist and radio host savage goes undercover, investigating each of the "deadly sins", to find out whether the hell-in-a-handbasket alarms raised by the buchanans, bennetts, borks, and o'reillys are so much hot air. They are...and what's worse (for them), astute constitutional and biblical scholarship actually supports the "sinners" over the hypocritical humanity haters.
For greed, he takes a hard-knocks crash course in gambling, and discovers that it's not about money, it's about the need to feel ALIVE in this couch potato culture.
For gluttony, he attends a NAAFA (National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance) convention, where he discovers a good idea gone wayyyyyy overboard, then cleans his supersized plate (including a piece of cake the size of his head) at an infamous Claim Jumper restaurant.
For envy, he rubs elbows with the super-rich at a $500 a day fat camp that treats you harder than an army recruit...and up close finds almost nothing to envy.
For pride, he attends a gay pride parade, and discovers that the moralizing has become just an excuse for a humdinger of a party. He warns idealistic, trusting gay youth (of which he was once one) to take the "gay people are nicer" propaganda with a big grain of salt.
For anger, he goes to gun school in Texas...and while he still decries the idiocy of our hyper-armed society, he also discovers a talent and passion for shooting that outlives his journalistic mandate.
For lust, he digs deep into the thriving swinger subculture, discovering normal people at every the interesting insight that it's the men who persuade the women to try, but the women who keep couples swinging back for more.
For sloth, he indulges in his own once-a-year pot habit, extending time and leaving his worries behind...and unleashes a scathing indictment of our unrelenting, stressed-out culture which creates an unending need for escape mechanisms of every stripe.
Dan's writing style is familiar and friendly, and his insights are far more sane than any of the virtuecrats he takes on (someone's got to point out that falwell and bin laden are philosophically almost indistinguishable, and dan's the man). If the seven deadly sins were rewritten to reflect a higher morality, the only one that dan would fall prey to himself is tribalism (and violent tribalism at that), as he offers unapologetic support for the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan. And when he asserts that no one under eighteen should have sex, i can't help wonder whether he's entirely sincere...surely he must have some glimmer of the irreparable damage we do to our youth by denying them any outlet for their natural sexuality? Is he just protecting himself from virtuecrat backlash on the sexual front, forcing them to deal with him on their own turf (where, it turns out, he's better at their game than they are)? But these are the only quibbles i can muster for this brilliant book. You'll feel like he's your friend...
And you'll probably be right.