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Fri, Mar. 16th, 2007, 01:17 am
1977: The Sex Pistols - Never Mind the Bullocks



The Sex Pistols walked a tricky road. Acting like a complete lunatic requires some poise and a lack of self-consciousness. If you're wondering how you look, you look like an idiot - with your middle finger and your rolling around on stage and cursing out the British government... you look insane. You need to not care. You need to be free with your feelings and be willing to let it hang out. You need to be ok with random strangers hocking saliva onto you. See, that's what is dangerous about the Sex Pistols. It isn't what they did, but that they were willing to do it at all. That's why you can do something offensive and stupid and no one will care - or you can have all your concerts in England canceled.

The obvious question, though, is whether the Sex Pistols accomplished anything. Not whether they have influence or not - they obvious have influence. And not whether they left behind any good musical artifacts. Never Mind the Bullocks is one of the catchiest, popiest punk albums ever. I bought it once while I was still in Yeshiva. My friend Aryeh and I went into New York City (the Yeshiva was in Staten Island) and while we were there we stopped in Tower Records. My friend bought... Offspring I think? Or maybe Genesis. I can't remember off-hand. (Maybe he didn't buy anything.) But the Sex Pistols were on sale and so I bought a copy. I smuggled it into Yeshiva, removed the cover from the jewel case, and burnt it. The album I kept hidden under my mattress. I'm sure the scrapes and scratches only made it seem more dangerous at the time. But even then, I understood how good it was. It was an album you could jump around the room while it played - you could bang your head to it - you could point your finger at people and shout at them. It was an album that let you burn things, or protest things. I want to destroy passerbys.

Anyway, it still holds up today.

And let me take this moment to bitch. I generally try to stay out of the cultural battle over punk - the "superword" battle as Frank would call it. I don't feel a need to argue about what punk means, I just enjoy it. If Green Day isn't punk, then it's something else. But I still like it. But here I'm going to drop that cold, intellectual facade for a moment. So bare with me.

FUCK YOU LITTLE TEENY-BOPPER KIDS WHO CLAIM THAT THE SEX PISTOLS AREN'T PUNK. >.<

That's right. I know you think you're all that with your The Clash albums and your Buzzcocks albums and your... oh. Buzzcocks aren't punk anymore? Just Rancid and The Clash? Fine. Why don't you like the Sex Pistols? Because they were "constructed" by the owner of the a store? Because they were a boy band? Well the shop was called SEX and what makes a band of boys unpunk? Because Sid Vicious couldn't play bass? Vicious wasn't even on this album. So give it a break. And you know what else? Johnny Rotten had one of the most punk names ever. You know what else? Joe Strummer was inspired by the Sex Pistols. Know what else? Buzzcocks/Clash/Sex Pistols Anarchy shows are some of the most amazing live sets ever. And I wasn't even there - I only heard the bootlegs. And! And! And!

Ok. No more rants. I just felt it was appropriate, in the spirit of the album and all. I doubt Rotten needs me to fight for him though. Someone who can give the middle finger to the music industry (in the guise of refusing to be inducted to the RockNRoll Hall of Fame), then he doesn't care what some punks on the internet are saying about him. Fact is, Never Mind the Bullocks blew my little teenage mind back in highschool. That's punk enough for me.

Mon, Mar. 12th, 2007, 11:26 pm
1978: Elvis Costello - This Year's Model




Is this project self-destructing? I'm not quite sure why that would matter. As long as it self-destructs in public, it will be fulfilling the missive of the project - which is to attempt to document a year of listening to 1970s albums. Since I stripped this project of rules from the beginning, even a week of empty entries would be faithful. I'm not saying that I intend to leave this hanging for weeks at a time - only that even that would be faithful.

Lemmi start with This Year's Model's cover. Here's a good question. Who is the subject of the cover? First glance suggests it is the man with the black sunglasses and the wiry frame - his hands splayed out, his head crooked to the side, his facial expression suggesting consternation. But the action he's engaged in (his aim is true) is photographing you, the listener. In fact, his left hand is splayed towards you, standing outside the album - and it's your picture. You're this year's model. Or maybe not. It's hard to ignore, in the face of the misogynistic content, that the term Model tends to refer to a very specific profession (think Mary Gaitskil's brilliant Veronica, or Plath's Belljar). Then there's the contradiction of the term "model" to the posture and composure of the photographer (who looks like he'd belong better at a prom, or a highschool).

"See her picture in a thousand places 'cause she's this year's girl / You think you all own little pieces of this year's girl," the implication of ownership has certain tones that the later line "'Cause you don't really give a damn about this year's girl" either compliments or absolutely negates. See, maybe you're wrong about Elvis Costello, because like the cover - it appears to be about him, but really turns out to be about you. It's a trick. You're watching him on the cover, and meanwhile he's taking a picture of you. Even songs that seem to be completely about him ("Little Triggers," his simultaneously catchiest song on the album, and most misogynistic) are a trick to switch perspective on your suddenly. It begins with him singing to a woman: "Little sniggers on your lips. / Little triggers in your grip. / Little triggers. My hand on your hip." but then shifts. "Thinkin' all about those censored sequences, / worryin' about the consequences, / waiting until I come to my senses. / Better put it all in present tenses." Of course, this could be a plead on his part to get the girl into bed. But it could easily be a plead to the listener to come to his own senses, and to stop trying to censor him.

This project is a lot like that album cover. It keeps deferring attention on the album, when really the subject is the project, or me, or you, the reader.

Mon, Mar. 12th, 2007, 01:18 am
300

For a film so preoccupied with being impressive on every scale - from passionate speeches about freedom to enormous charging rhinos, to battle scenes unmatched in modern cinema - my only reaction to 300 is also the most damning. I was unimpressed. Sure, they had enormous elephants (on par with Lord of the Rings!) and Braveheart-esque speeches about (capital-letter) Freedom. They even had enough nudity to fuel a third-world country porn industry for three years. Yet this bounty of eye-candy only made the film seem like that desperate younger kid trying to be friends. He tries everything to impress you, but you're left with the motivation over the presentation.

I've read the original graphic novel by Frank Miller. While I enjoyed the read (it takes about 20 minutes to blow through), it lacked any substance beyond the pretty pictures. As such, I wondered going in how they'd flesh out a quick - mostly visual story - and fit it to a narrative medium. Apparently that was accomplished by throwing in an unnecessary storyline about a Queen trying to convince a council to go to war, and by dragging out the combat scenes. On page, you can let your eyes wander over the gore - and decide how long you wish to stare at the broken bodies and flesh wounds (if at all). During a film, you are forced to watch a scene for as long as the director decides. One way to puff out the story was to let the camera remain on these violent depictions for far longer than necessary. The camera drags over a tree made of bodies for an excruciating minute - showing us the discarded bodies.

Welcome to the generation of the snuff film. At least Passion of the Christ had an arguable purpose (to show a religious scene). Thousands of years after the Spartan battles, can any argument for necessity be made? Can you actually argue that one benefits from seeing this kind of over-the-top bloodshed? As such, the closest film I can compare it to was Dali's 1929 Un Chien Andalou, with its iconic vision of a woman's eye being split open by a razor. In fact, during one of the films numerous endings, I searched through the field of bodies - trying to see if an arrow had pierced any of the character's eyes. So extreme was the films attempts to titilate that I found myself working for the film - trying to strike horror in my heart. But once again, the question of why remains. Why be witness to a fictional event? And were it real, why stay witness to this event?

There's the cool factor, of course. Something responds to men hoisting spears and shouting "Tonight we dine in hell!" Still, that 'coolness' must be mitigated by the ick factor. And I feel dirty having seen the film. Like I exposed myself to something unredeemable, and very junk foodish. It's like eating a pint of ice cream. Delicious, but now I've got a stomach ache.

Thu, Mar. 8th, 2007, 01:01 am
1976: Steve Reich - Music for 18 Musicians

Including classical music (whatever such a term may mean) on a list of best albums of the 70s is not merely disingenuous, but feels like a token choice. Squeezing Reich in between CCR and Elvis Costello is a surefire way to outline how many classical albums are missing from the list. That's what happens with all token choices in lists - they make you aware of how token they actually are.

Actually, because of the last paragraph, I was going to completely skip this album. But then I read an email that film composer Jamshied Sharifi is speaking to my film course: American-Jewish Identity in Film. He is responsible for the soundtrack to brilliant films like: Muppets from Space and Harriet the Spy. (He also scored The Thomas Crown Affair.) And thus, in homage, I decided to give the album a listen and do a post tonight. But I can't promise any interesting insights. The most I know about classical music is that Mahler was a genius, Wagner was a Nazi, and that film Amadeus was about Beethoven (who turns out was a bit of a sleaze).

So tonight's post is a bit of a place filler. Also, I entered this week's Rollingstone prompt. There are three more to go after this, and then they pick the Grand Prize winner. The prompt was: find an unreported trend and report on it. I'll tell you all what I picked on Friday. Night, all.

Wed, Mar. 7th, 2007, 02:35 am
1970: Creedance Clearwater Revival - Cosmo's Factory




Another album I love. Thank you, Pitchfork, for not drowning me in obscure German techno bands. Question about Ramble Tamble; does Eminem borrow one of the riffs in one of his samples? It sounds awfully familiar...

Esquire Magazines, of which I'm a subscriber (J'Accuse? I confess!) recently ran an article about alcohol consumption and writing. The author of the piece drank a shot ever article. The writer progressively got worse/more chaotic/more interesting. I intend to do something similar with music writing - to settle the famous Lester Bangs question. You may not know the question, so I'll offer it for you: Do drugs, alcohol, etc make for more interesting music writing? The author of the Esquire piece framed the question nicely: Do famous authors succeed because of alcoholism, or in spite of it? I'll paraphrase that question once more:

Are you still dancing to architecture if you can't stand up straight? In case you, my faithful (and adulterous) readers want to suggest an album to do this project with, here are the next bunch of albums I intend to do: Elvis Costello, Sex Pistols, Tim Buckley, Marvin Gaye, and Miles Davis. I'm totally open to suggestions for this project, though.

(Travellin' Band sounds like Jerry Lee Lewis, but with fewer burning balls of fire. What's the guy on the cover doing on that bike?)

Another thing. Ever listened to an album you don't think you've ever heard before -- and then you find out that you've heard all these songs before (Lookin' Out My Back Door)? That happened to me when I was thirteen and heard Fleetwood Mac's Rumours for the first time. It also happened when I finally tore through James Taylor's discography. I hazard that when I reach Jackson Brown - something similar will occur. Well, that's what happened when I first heard Cosmo's Factory. I kept my mouth shut at the time, because I was with music elite - and that kind of admitting would've given them the fuel to light that mocking fire of superiority. But here, with a facade of anonymity, I feel comfortable acknowledging that there are many classic albums that I suddenly recognize when I hear them for the first time. It's not deja vu. It's misplaced context.

I bet there was a time a song like "Run Through the Jungle" was a scary song. Like, I bet there was a time Slayer's Reign in Blood was scary (and not scary-good - just scary). Now even cannibalistic Norwegian death-metal bands seem a bit... light. Ya know? Like, not too horrifying. Maybe we've all just gotten jaded. Or maybe it has just become ridiculous.

Tue, Mar. 6th, 2007, 01:43 am
1970: Nick Drake - Bryter Layter




Thanks to Kingfox we're back on track. Just in time for me to find yet another album that I hate myself for missing until now. This is a beautiful, incredible, jazzy piece of godliness, and I'm ashamed to admit I never really got into Nick Drake before. (Lucky, I don't think my friend Paul reads this blog, otherwise he would never let me forget this admission.)

He reminds me of a male-Joni Mitchell (circa Court and Spark) but a little softer. Maybe Sam Beam + Joni? (For those just joining the blog, Joni Mitchell is probably my favorite singer-songwriter. Ever.) His voice is slightly rustic, but the piano playing is what makes it perfect. Sometimes there's a hint of a saxophone in the background, or a slight trumpet line, but the piano is what weaves in and out of his voice. They compliment each other perfectly. It's albums like these that make this project worthwhile. "I could've been a whistle. I could've been a flute."

He does other great things too. Like Simon from yesterday, or Mitchell during the mid-70s, he incorporates many different music structures that seem foreign to his personal experience. Like the gospel choir on "Poor Boy" that turns into a sax midway through the song. I promised near the very beginning of this project that I wouldn't make generalizations about 70s music. But embracing numerous outside influences seems to be a trend in 70s music.

That said, the Rollingstone Prompt this week is to describe a trend. I don't expect to place (they seem to have gotten cold on my style of writing - or just want to give other people a shot) but I'll write it anyway. The practice is good for me.

(Anyone else find Drake looks a little like Eliot Smith on the front cover?)

Also, this is album number 55 on the list. We've almost done half the list, and it's only March. Way, way, way ahead of the game.

Tue, Mar. 6th, 2007, 12:57 am
Slight Problem

Apparently Pitchforkmedia's list went down. If it's not back up by tomorrow, I'm going to start going through the ILX list. If someone happens to have the PFM list, though, post it? Or email it to me?

Sun, Mar. 4th, 2007, 11:42 pm
1972: Paul Simon - Paul Simon




I have been negligent - no updates in four days. That is most sincerely my bad. But I blame it on the appearance of Purim - the holiday when Jews celebrate a Persian genocide attempt upon them, and God (and Queen Esther's) intercession of their behalf. They get completely plastered, eat great food, and dress up in costumes. The most diligent students drink so much alcohol that Hatzolah (the Jewish ambulance service) has to drag them to a Hospital for stomach-pumping. In the past (ie: four-five years ago) I was quite diligent in performing this custom. This year, though, I suddenly don't feel the need to completely black out on the streets of New York. The only thing that has changed from last year was my marriage. I blame Charlotte for my moderation in alcohol consumption.

I did dress in my perennial Purim costume, though. A Dashiki and a dreadlock cap that I tuck my curly black hair into. Yes, I go as a Chabad Rastafarian (this is funnier if you're familiar with Chabad beliefs about their Rebbe and his eternal life). This is fitting, because tonight's album - Paul Simon's Paul Simon - begins with the song "Mother and Child Reunion," with a rasta-kinda-beat. Another Jew adopting the noise of a foreign culture. The next song, "Duncan," is standard Paul Simon song-writing, but this album marks an emergence of Simon's interest in foreign cultures.

I peg his trek as a flirtation with the Other in life. Far more than Leonard Cohen, who mines his own soul for content, or Bob Dylan who looks into the heart of Society like a prophet, Paul Simon is a ambassador to the world. Graceland solidified that depiction, but even here you can hear the roots of his attempts to embrace the Other in his music. Consider this Jewish kid from Cherry Hill, NJ, who writes lyrics like: "A young girl in a parking lot / Was preaching to a crowd / Singin sacred songs and / Reading from the bible / Well I told her I was lost / And she told me all about the pentecost / And I seen that girl as the road to my survival."

What does it mean in response to that stanza when Simon sings, "I know, I know, I know, I know." Who is he reassuring? What does he know? Does he know that he's dancing with an outsider? Does he know that he's mouthing language that isn't naturally his own? Is the "young girl in the parking lot" the Virgil for Simon's journey, or is Simon our own Virgil? Though you can still hear traces of the work he did with Garfunkel on the album, he introduces Dante here. He even looks like an intrepid adventurer on the cover - about to scale Mt. Everest, no doubt.

Who is Julio?

Another reason I've lapsed updating in the last couple days is because I had to get a new Arts & Culture section in the Commentator out. The issue comes out this week, and I've got two music reviews in it (which I'll link to when it launches). Also because I needed to write another piece for the Rollingstone prompt - to promote a new artist. Unfortunately, that was in vain. Rollingstone completely ignored my contribution. So I'll post it here. I really like it, so if someone has an idea of where I can place it, let me know.

by MORDECHAI SHINEFIELD

If the Disney Channel has become Motown Records for the teenpop set, Miley Cyrus makes hits like Diana Ross did - with verve, style and attitude. Save the fact that Cyrus, who performs with the name Hannah Montana on the Disney show of the same name, is only fourteen. Born in Franklin, Tennessee - a town best known for a Civil War battle and retired NASCAR legends - Cyrus has country pedigree. Her father, Billy Ray Cyrus, wrote “Achy Breaky Heart.” On a recent episode of her show, Nashville royalty Dolly Parton guest-starred as her godmother.

The country prodigy pulls her own weight, though. Last year she propelled the Hannah Montana soundtrack to the top of the charts. The album debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 - beating out My Chemical Romance’s emo-opera for the top spot. On the strength of Cyrus’s syrupy melodies and the 8-15 year old tweens that comprise her fanbase, the soundtrack was the year’s 9th best-selling album. When her solo album is debuted on June 18th this year, label Hollywood Records will let her flirt with the kind of mainstream success Disney predicted when they compared her stage presence to Shania Twain - the number one selling female artist of all time.

Cyrus combines her Nashville twang with young Spears-styled bubblegum pop and her father’s country chops (and his sense of the ridiculous). Her husky voice explodes with joy when she sings in her drawl, “Living two lives is kinda weird!” Sometimes she strips down to an acoustic (she plays a Daisy Rock Guitar) and plays confessional rock more suited to MTV. If she can straddle Nashville, TRL and Disney at the same time, she’ll be living in three worlds - which, she’d probably admit, is pretty weird.

Wed, Feb. 28th, 2007, 02:55 am
Marjorie Morningstar



I turned the Marjorie Morningstar stub on Wikipedia into a full article in the last couple days. Check it out here. Feel free to add/edit/comment.

Wed, Feb. 28th, 2007, 02:34 am
1970: Miles Davis - A Tribute to Jack Johnson



The tribute is to the heavy-weight world champion boxer Jack Johnson, not the college-loved Hawaii-born singer-songwriter Jack Johnson (who was actually born in 1975, more years after the release of this album - so I'm not sure why you'd confuse the two). Anyway, the album is like what I'd imagine being hit by a heavy-weight world champion boxer is like. Pow. And then you're lying on the floor. Obviously I'm not lying on the floor now, though I was earlier. What I mean is that it's exciting jazz - pulsating jazz - jazz with movement and style and grace. Look at the front cover, where Davis leans backward in an agile, but emotionally packed pose - fluid but coiled like a snake ready to spring. That what the jazz sounds like. "Float like a butterfly, Sting like a bee." Since I believe the music is intricately related to the theme, here are some facts about Jack Johnson, who is the far more obscure figure than Miles Davis.

  • Called the "Galveston Giant," he was the first black heavyweight champion of the world.
  • In 1901, Joe Choynski, a Jewish boxer, went to teach Johnson how to box. They were both arrested for "engaging in an illegal contest."
  • Johnson won his first title fight in 1903, beating "Denver" Ed Martin for the "Colored Heavyweight Championship."
  • In 1910 a former champion boxer - James J. Jeffries - said, "I am going into this fight for the sole purpose of proving that a white man is better than a Negro." He came out of retirement to prove this.
  • Johnson beat Jeffries in 15 rounds.
  • Jack Johnson could KNOCK you out.

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