Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Jon, Jon, Jon...

Ok, I've held back. The last few weeks have given us all such fodder for some rage against the political/media machines, and I've been restraining myself for the sake of good Spring vibes.

But now I'm going to cut loose just a little bit and unleash on one of my fave commentators. (side note: why 'commentator'? why not just 'commenter'?) Mr. Jon Stewart, who has consistently been there to skewer the Stupid - left, right and center - let a big ol' grapefruit of a ball drop last night.

He had Newt Gingrich as a guest on The Daily Show. Yes, that Newt Gingrich: former Speaker of the House, Clinton Nemesis, author of the Contract On America (What? it's Contract With America? C'mon, when you hire a hit man to grease some guy, you don't call it a contract with said guy, you call it a contract ON him), architect of the Neocon Revolution. And I'm thinking: "Yes! Now, in light of all the things that have been happening lately - the economy, the war, the food crisis, the back room approval of torture - you can get in some really good jabs, maybe even land a knockdown or two." And he set it up pretty well, showing a clip of Justice Antonin Scalia insisting, with a straight face, that 'torture' isn't 'punishment' (as, get this, part of his "charm offensive." I have lived too long.)

And what do they talk about? Obama's former minister.


I know, I know - these things are vetted and scripted, or at least outlined. But this was the best outline you could get Gingrich to agree to as he's hawking his new co-authored novel about WWII? Really??

It's not that I don't have my problems with Reverend Wright, who seems extra special self-serving these days. It's not that I don't think it's fair for a Republican to kick the Democrats while they scuffle and scorn. It's not that I don't already have a HUGE issue with this sense among progressives that watching satire on TV is some kind of substitute for real activism. But Jon, if you're gonna hold a satire party and invite a pig, don't forget the meat fork.

The thing that may be bothering me most is that a lot of people would consider me a wing nut for thinking that the fact (fact, people, there's evidence, and they all admitted it) that the Vice President, Secretary of Defense, National Security Advisor and a room full of others, with the President's knowledge, got together and mapped out/approved of processes of torture - I'm sorry, "extreme methods" - that would be conducted by American Soldiers might be, oh, I don't know, MORE IMPORTANT than Bittergate, and who does what shots in what bars, and who eats what kind of cheesesteaks.

Yet there it is, all over the "liberal media": proof, time and again, that accountability, analysis and critical thinking are not part of the game.

Work with me folks. I think it's time to rewrite the rule book.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Record Store Update

Ok, rather than go on a political rant* (and, oh yes, I've got one in me today) I'm going to follow up on the Record Store Day post I made last week.

Saturday turned out to be fairly magnificent, weather-wise; and even though I was heartlessly blown off by my tennis partner du jour, I wasn't going to let that get me down. Took a long and beautiful walk through the 'boken, ending up at Tunes, my favored local music shop. Picked up a couple new releases I was looking for, then strolled to the back to check out the budget offerings. Greeted there by great news! Tunes has vastly expanded their vinyl selection, which used to be almost 100% new, audiophile-centric stuff. Which is fine and dandy, but now they have rows and rows of used stuff on the cheap. WAY better, people, at least for my purposes.

SO - I picked up some jazz, some classical, and some 80s pop. During the browse, I was taken by the band playing on the store speakers, so I picked that up too (The Dodos, a San Francisco folk-meets-art-rock group, very good - the disc is called "Visiter".) And, as if that weren't enough, they were selling these new-but-vintage-looking beer glasses up front: I got 4 pint glasses, complete with ice bucket and a dozen coasters, all graced with the "Old Style" logo (On Wisconsin!) for - wait for it- 10 bucks. Most satisfying.

Eventually, I went into town for a double feature and drinks with Sherin at the MoMA Jazz Score Film Festival. Saw Paris Blues (star-studded - Paul Newman, Sidney Poitier, Joanne Woodward - with great Duke Ellington & Louis Armstrong music, if a little cheesey. Plus, Diahann Carroll = yum) And...
Anatomy of a Murder (more Duke Ellington soundtrack action, written specifially for the movie this time. Very dated in some ways - hello 1950s sexual politics - but much funnier than I'd remembered, with first rate work from James Stewart, Ben Gazzara, Lee Remick and George C. Scott, and a remarkable performance as the judge from Joseph N. Welch, who hardly ever acted at all, having been a real-life lawyer. And not just any lawyer - this was the guy who faced down Joseph McCarthy in the Army/McCarthy hearings, and who nailed the Red Baiter for good with "Have you no sense of decency, sir; at long last, have you left no sense of decency?" Cool!)

Fast forward to yesterday evening: again, a gorgeous New York Spring evening. I had some time between work and meeting J.P and the boys at the Riviera for the Sox game (gotta love the Red Sox bar in New York), so I sat in beautiful and blooming Madison Square Park reading a music mag. You know how 'fulfilling' that trip to the record store on Saturday was? Well, remember: this is one of those appetites that increases with feeding. Looking over the reviews, I found myself intensely craving the new Portishead and Roots discs, and reissues from Otis Redding (stereo and mono mixes! plus live material!!) and Carole King. So, you know, just since I had some extra time, and since I was going to the Village anyway, I strolled down to another record store I know. There I found good news for my wallet, but bad news for civilization:

Yep. Disc-O-Rama has bitten the dust. (Please forgive the crappy camera-phone image.) Now, this was not one of those classic music shops. The clerks were snobby and surly - which is to be expected, surely, but it's usually accompanied by some serious taste and/or knowledge. That wasn't the case here. I mean, the guy who owned the place had some game, but he was hardly ever there, and even when he was he never wanted to talk to anybody. And the people who just plain worked there weren't much help either. Still, it was a place I'd gone to since I moved to the city, from way back before easy downloads were possible, even before easy CD burning was possible. They were always good for $10 CDs, even of new releases, even when the giant box stores were in full vigor.


And let this be a warning to us all - support those local independent record stores!!

*Earth Day and the Pennsylvania Primary were also a warning to us all, people. Damn, I hope you are paying attention out there. Lots of people aren't.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Body Sushi

Ok, I was scanning the interweb for some more information on Aliza Svartz, the Yale student who created a performance art piece that claimed to involve inseminating herself then intentionally inducing miscarriages by eating legal 'abortifacient herbs'. She wasn't really doing any such thing, it turns out. Or maybe she was; she likes to keep the question open. I'll be happy to engage you if you want, but my brief overall take: it was definitely a clever way to stir up some controversy by tweaking a bunch of the right wing's hot buttons: 'those elitist Ivy Leaguers,' 'liberal sluts,' 'wanton abortionists,' 'Godless East Coasters,' not to mention 'performance artists' in general, and successfully provocative - while disingenuously pretending not to be - but I'm not seeing it having done a whole lot to draw attention to real right-to-choice issues. Though maybe I'm wrong; I so often am.

Anway, while I was perusing the world wide grid, I found this little tidbit about Body Sushi, or nyotaimori, in Minneapolis. Yup, that'd be eating sushi using an (almost) naked body as a plate.

My first thought was of some of my peeps in the good ol' Midwest. "Well dang, I'd figure to see that kind of thing in New York or San Francisco (aka Barack Hussein Osama bin Laden Godless Bittertown Radical Feminazi Hippie Food Co-op Homoville), but out here in Minnesota?!" And then I had one of those little "can this be an ok sort of sex positive thing, or do I automatically need to get upset about body objectification and such?" inner monologues. The fact that (unlike in most places where Body Sushi happens, which overwhelmingly favor female models - to the extent that I coudn't find a single male image in my search) this Minneapolis nyotaimori-torium has both men and women as human platters helps me, um, swallow it.

So, whadya think? Most of you would agree that if you want to eat sushi or sardines or ice cream off your spouse's, lover's or roommate's naked bod in the privacy of your home (not that there's any such thing as privacy anymore, but that's another box of wine), that's a right granted you by the deity of your choice. How 'bout spending a bucketload of money to eat raw fish off a well-paid model in a restaurant? (And I personally find it amusing that the establishment in this particular article is called 'Temple') How about the notion of reinforcing racial stereotypes (the exotic sexualized 'otherness' of Japan, and Asia in general)? Is that diluted/assuaged by the fact that the models at Temple appear to be Midwesterners? Just don't try to claim that this is primarily a 'high end dining' experience, not a sexual one, or you'll get laughed out of the discussion.

Just some more stuff to make you go "hmm..."

Happy Patriots' Day

It's a pretty New England-specific thing (and really seems to mean a lot more in Boston than anywhere else) but I think that Patriots' Day deserves a shoutout.

It's most renowned for being the day that the Boston Marathon happens - congratulations to Robert Cheruiot (four's a charm!) and Dire Tune! And it's exciting to Red Sox fans because they play a game that starts in the morning. I'm tapping this out at 1:23, and the Sox are already leading the Rangers 8-0 in the 6th. (You almost have to feel sorry for those poor Rangers. This may be long-term repercussions from when George W. Bush ran the club.) But I think it's also a good reminder that patriotism does NOT mean blind acceptance or following of the government; that America's foundation was built on dissent and rebellion, religious freedom (emphatically not fundamentalism) and independent thought.

At least, that's how I see it.

So, given that, here's a brief excerpt from a pretty rad interview with F. Murray Abraham in today's Gothamist (I encourage you to read the whole thing):

Speaking of casting, weren’t you supposed to be in the current revival of The American Dream and The Sandbox?

I was scheduled to do it with Edward [Albee] but I just simply couldn’t do one more play without making some money. You know, I’m only making about $425 a week here and I have some big expenses. Very big. And I have to make some movie money. I had done three plays in a row and I had to beg off so I could do a movie. He was very understanding and we’re friends but I simply couldn’t. I’m leaving shortly to do another movie; I have to do these movies to support this theater habit.

So you’re an actor with this incredible reputation and a body of work that speaks for itself, here you are in an Off Broadway play with a famous writer and incredible cast, and you’re being paid peanuts. Has the pay scale just gotten worse and worse over the years?

Yeah, it has. It’s just one of those things. But working people across America have been paid less and less over the years. And while that’s happening we have these heads of corporations who are destroying corporations while making billions of dollars. What’s going on? Is this democracy? Something’s wrong here. It’s bullshit, man. It’s got to stop. It’s got to change. I don’t know who or what that change is but we have to do something. I mean, the idea that you believe – as the God I play believes – that you are the only source of truth and integrity and reality, then that gives you the right to torture people and do any damn thing you want because you’re above the law. That’s what the Nazis did; they said it was there divine right. And we’re behaving like Nazis. That’s not America, that’s not the America my two brothers died for in defense of their country. It’s bullshit.

Ain't it, though?

Friday, April 18, 2008

Record Store Day!

Well, it's tomorrow, not today, but I reckoned you could do with some advance notice.

Some of us have had the discussion: is it ok to download/share music? My short answer: yes, IF you keep funneling a commensurate amount of money to musicians/artists, and remember ani difranco's caveat/warning that it's "never as good as the real thing."

One handy excuse to do some of the real thing comes in the form of Record Store Day, tomorrow, 19 April, 2008. Put together by a group of indie record/cd store owners, it's an attempt to shine the light (and rain the bucks) on the nigh-unto-holy tradition of small/independent purveyors of music/life soundtracks to those who pay attention. This day was brought to my attention by this New York Times article, which is pretty good, if, you know, Timesy.

SO - go to your friendly neighborhood music store, grill the guys who work there, and reward them for their efforts. Let the games begin: Clash vs. Sex Pistols; Death Cab... vs. Postal Service; CD vs. Vinyl; invent better games of your own. I'll take a few minutes from what promises to be a GORGEOUS day and visit the Tunes in Hoboken (which for some reason is not officially affiliated with Record Store Day, possibly because they don't have a website. Don't know why they haven't bothered with that, but will still go there tomorrow. After all, it's 'my' record store.) Probably get the new R.E.M. even though those guys are filthy rich and don't need any more of my $, because the record totally fucking rocks. And I'll pick up something by a more deserving/needing-of-the-money artist as well. Maybe Tapes 'n Tapes, who are gigging in Williamsburg tomorrow night. (Hmmm... might we want to catch that gig after our big fat double feature?)

Oh, and by the way: Clash; Postal Service; CD and Vinyl is kind of a wash: Vinyl sounds better WHEN IT'S NEW, but gets all scratchy with time unless you are so careful as not to be practical. LPs are effin heavy, but the big format is way better for cover art - the great underlamented loss of the current era of musical devolution (LPs > CDs > MP3s) Ok, I grant that the intertubes offer some pretty nifty graphic options, but we lost something important when we lost the big ol' record covers.

SO - I present, not a claim for 'the best' cover or anything like that, but a golden example of bitchen album art:

There's the front of this unbelievably brilliant achievement in jazz fusion from one of the best combos ever assembled for that purpose. Don't judge a record by its cover, but I'd say this cover conveys the contents pretty well.

And, so you can see how they worked together in ye olde foldout:

I couldn't find the amazing late 60s soulful revolutionary jazz hipster prose poem liner notes by Ralph Gleason online, but, you know what? Just track down the album (in any format) and read them for yourself: have a look, dim the lights, light the candles, pour the wine and settle on in for the evening.

Thursday, April 17, 2008


And not the Rap Goddess this time. No, this time M.I.A. refers to me, being absent from this forum. And I have no time to fill in the blanks right now either, people, but rest assured that I'll be back. There's plenty to share.

For now, and for no good reason, here's my niece dressed up like a cow.