a new low in topical enlightenment

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Issue #63 (September 15, 2010)

Wind River Canyon, Central Wyoming

Photo by Mike Safran

From the Wyoming Desk of Joe Carducci…

Disturbed’s new release, “Asylum”, is apparently their fourth Billboard number 1 in a row which puts them up there with Metallica and Dave Matthews Band according to the NYT. Not that anyone’s really selling albums but the news item treats it humorously since they’ve never heard of Disturbed. Actually they’re a hair or two better than Metallica (in the studio anyway) but nowhere near as good as Megadeth (live or studio). I’ve heard their radio songs on KAZY in Cheyenne and KXTE in Las Vegas over the years and eventually they do distinguish themselves from the mix of l.c.d. commercially programmed hard rock. Disturbed have a sound that’s clenched and turned-in on itself tightly, but they are audibly responsive to it. And each album has a couple of tunes that hang on a real song-idea. They’re from Chicago and that’s probably a bad sign. The last interesting “metal” from there was Trouble, and Tools of Ignorance back in the 80s. Haven’t heard anything yet from the new #1 but here’s my favorite song of theirs from the previous one, “Indestructible”. The song’s called “Divide” and it’s posted here with a lyrics scroll. Aside from the gangsta-like braggadocio they actually are quite provocative in a world where everyone totes some “unity” rap around like worry-beads to paraphrase an old Lester Bangs construction (“James Taylor Marked for Death”, 1971). This song’s ballsy contrarian call to divide brings to mind the central insight of Deena Weinstein’s 1991 book, Heavy Metal - A Cultural Sociology:

“The structural position in which heavy metal functions as a cultural expression makes any vigorous defense of it counterproductive for its own interests.”

Meaning that heavy metal embraces its pariah status and doesn’t reach for middle class validation beyond it. Although the music is so detached from the blues and psychedelia now that it is reaching into goth and country and ambient if only to loot a concept. It also has been fully captured by the recording studio technocracy, which is quite middle class in aspiration at least. The rightly forgotten Kory Clarke of one-time Geffen-foist, Warrior Soul, threw in the towel in the pages of Rip in 1993:

“I was envisioning arena audiences with their fists up going, ‘We are the government!’ and just thinking how incredible that would be. If I was Guns n’ Roses, that‘s the kind of stuff I would do.”

He didn’t understand that metal isn’t legit. It isn’t the government. (see “Divide”). I just wish metal was better than it is, or better yet, half as good as it was. Disturbed is touring, headlining over Avenged Sevenfold who are precisely what happens when audience IQ hits bottom and keeps digging. As bad as Disturbed is they will wipe the floor with AS.


Russell Adams in the WSJ, on Billboard’s new cyber chart to launch next month, “a new ranking for undiscovered artists and a subscription service to help them get noticed by managers, promoters and labels in search of up-and-coming talent.” The “metrics” will go into a new chart called “Dreamseekers.”

It could be that both Billboard and its partner MySpace Music are chasing this dream to avoid the nightmare of the next wave where everyone is wired but listening only to themselves.

I have to say that though Billboard did treat SST fairly well in terms of reviewing Black Flag, or at least Minutemen releases, before they had to, the evolution of their charts did us no favors. There was nothing but the Top 200 album chart with a short tail of “bubbling under”, the Top 100 singles chart, the C&W and R&B charts; don’t remember but I guess they had Classical and Jazz charts too.

In the late seventies I used to look up the album and singles charts to see how the first punk releases on Sire or Elektra were doing. Often you’d see that the first Television album or the second Ramones album were stalling in the second hundred. Successes like Patti Smith or Talking Heads were stalling in the nineties. (We were told in late 1981 that BF’s “Damaged” was under the “bubbling unders”, meaning something like #240.) When Billboard began their Dance chart sometime circa 1980 it was the one end-run around radio’s airplay blockade and Rolling Stone’s rear-guard defense of its platinum gods against the barbarians at the gate (see once again both Lee Abrams, and Jan Wenner). The Dance chart was in part assembled by sales, but it also took play list reports from hip gay clubs in major cities who were playing stuff like The Contortions, Magazine, PiL, Liquid Liquid, etc. Because these kinds of records showed up on that chart the buying policy of mainstream shops and chains would kick in. Depending on their customers they might buy just the top ten from the chart, or the whole list.

Before you knew it all kinds of British bands as well as big city bands were moving their music toward that Dance chart! It was the only break in the dam of the American music Industry, but still it was odd to have former noise bands like Throbbing Gristle, D.A.F., and SPK looking for booty action. I remember being surprised when Chicagoans I knew (Jim Nash, Al Jourgensen, and the Sport of Kings guys) talked about cutting test lacquers of their stuff to play over the best club DJ systems to gauge response. It seemed like some kind of revenge of the audiophile via the gay underground.

Anyway that Dance chart did some damage. We couldn’t get The Minutemen with their grubby ear-surgery funk onto that chart, and though SST triggered the need for new rock charts, these weren’t added until it was too late to help us. The CMJ charts which collated college radio and other non-commercial station airplay were becoming real enough that eventually Billboard added a dozen new Modern Rock-type charts so as to provide information on airplay and sales at the level of independent distribution and non-commercial radio. Actually these charts too were quickly filled up with wannabes and actual major label “indie” styled hopefuls. But again lazy, poorly run record stores and chains used these charts to buy, so instead of collecting information they created it. Don’t worry, Timothy White might have said, the Heisenberg Principle rocks!

One thing we know about the web and 3G networks is that they change everything in a content-version of Moore’s Law which together yields faster and faster delivery of smellier and smellier garbage to you, the former listener of music, now consumer of media. Maybe the new Billboard service instead of playing both sides (established stars and unknowns) against the middle will finally dissolve the stars in an acid bath of amateurs, leaving no money at all to collect for anyone who tries to locate the middle and stand there with an open basket, whether it's an old trade mag founded in 1894 to track billboard advertising in Cincinnati, New York, and Chicago, or last year’s flavor of social network.


Camille Paglia in the Sunday Times takes on Lady Gaga and accuses her of representing “The Death of Sex”. Paglia rather than having second thoughts about her celebration of Madonna -- which Madonna, the weight-lifting can’t-dance Madonna? The Bowie-damaged British-accent Madonna? -- prefers to attack the next pretender to the musical throne. What’s of note here musically is that it hardly matters in this pop world whose song is how good in terms of writing or arranging or engineering. “Poker Face” is better than many a Madonna song, and if you want a persona sufficient to ride these machine-tooled songs you’re probably talking about Britney Spears or Pink. In any case all this girl-pop is superbly engineered by some dude or other.


Simon Reynolds at Book Soup in West Hollywood, Thurs. Sept 16, 7pm.


Jimi Hendrix’s SciFi aspect is the subject of the book, Becoming Jimi Hendrix; authors Steven Roby and Brad Schreiber are at Skylight Books in LA, Fri. Sept 17.


I heard a 1969 Freddy Weller b-side called “Home” the other morning in the car on KCGY. Once in a while on the local morning shift they pull out something pre-Garth Brooks and this was a great choice before the ubiquitous Adrienne Brooks (no relation) takes over mid-days everywhere on country radio. The station was founded in Laramie by UW alum Curt Gowdy. The Weller original essentially recapitulates Freddy’s career in music which included joining Paul Revere and the Raiders on guitar in 1967; he stayed until 1972 but commenced a country music career almost immediately with his new bandmates’ blessings -- L.A.’s rock culture was then C&W-hip and Mark Lindsay produced Weller’s album and Keith Allison plays bass on it. I remember seeing a sweet little send-off that the Raiders gave Weller on their TV show, “Happening 68”; he’d joined to replace Drake Levin (check out clips of the band’s 2009 memorial to Drake here). The Raiders interrupted their daily vaudeville mix of tunes and comedy to explain that Freddy was returning to his first love, C&W, and they quieted down and he played or lip-synced a song from that first solo record. It’s strange because he wasn’t really leaving The Raiders for another three years.

“Home” was the b-side to his cover of “Games People Play” which hit #2 on C&W, so mostly folks who bought the single heard it then. Jim Wilson of the band Mother Superior writes up more about Weller at The Daily Pipe.


Johnny Myers, Hack Reviewer Guy, gives a Mog rundown on Fusion and then a punks-that-could-play list that kind of peters out but has good detail on who could get in the booth with Johnny and do radio. Johnny still has Yohannon-on-the-brain in this blog, but I tell you once Tim peeks down on that Fusion blog he won’t have any trouble with the other one.


Ben Ratliff on ZZ Top in the NYT does a lot with not enough column inches given the band’s longevity and length of discography.


“Ear to the Page”, about book format music releases I believe, was put together by Alan Licht and James Hoff, opens at Center for Book Arts on September 22.


Barry Newman in the WSJ, "In Short Supply: Pinball Wizards Who Can Fix Old Machines".


Tom McCarthy in The Guardian, on Gabriel Josipovici’s book, What Ever Happened to Modernism?

“In cultural terms, we live in a deeply conservative times. Editors at several major publishing houses have to run novels’ synopses past reader focus groups before being allowed to publish them; ‘literary’ festivals feature newsreaders and other media personalities. We shouldn‘t imagine, though, that things were that different in the golden age of modernism. Ulysses was printed, in 1922, on a small, private press in Paris, in a run of 1,000; Kafka’s Metamorphosis, on its small-press publication in 1915, sold 11 copies -- of which 10 were bought by Kafka. Yet can anyone, now, name the successful middlebrow writers of 1922 or 1915? Of course not.”


The list of lost films of the silent era found at the New Zealand Film Archive at oscars.org.


The Sept issue of The New Criterion is an exceptionally good one worth buying for its columns and articles: Conrad Black’s self-interested but still sharp take on the delusional content at the heart of the news media’s existential crisis. James Franklin on The postmodern calculus. Andrew McCarthy on Nicholas von Hoffman’s biography of Saul Alinsky. James Bowman on Christopher Hitchens’ memoir. James Piereson on Columbia and Harvard curriculums. And the editors, Hilton Kramer and Roger Kimball on the Mosque and state.


Michael Skapinker in the FT, "Hawking has not cracked the human mystery."

“Prof Hawking says, we have developed theories that provide adequate explanations of how people behave, such as psychology – or economics. How well does economics describe our behaviour? Not very well. In its classical form, it assumes a level of rational calculation that we often fail to exhibit. The same applies to business, or public policy. People are maddeningly inconsistent. Some trade off current pleasure for future security or health; others do not.

By Prof Hawking’s account, understanding human behaviour is merely a computational problem. If we could make those trillions of calculations, people would cease to be a puzzle. But would they? Could physics and chemistry alone explain why one person invests in risky mining ventures while another squirrels money away in low-interest accounts; why one person is terrified of flying while another races motorbikes? Why one person supports Arsenal, another Tottenham, and a third loathes football altogether? Why I chose to write this article and you to read this far? Whatever else we come to understand, I suspect we humans will remain one of the universe’s true mysteries.”


David Brooks’ column in the NYT last week, "The Genteel Nation", on Americans’ choice of jobs in service and finance vs. the dirty jobs of wealth creation that got us to this point hit a nerve, and these letters are the polite ones from the self-interested altruists of the progressive elite -- a.k.a., the clean fingernail crowd.


Michael Barone in the WSJ, "The End of Chicago’s Daley Dynasty".

“CBS's Bill Plante, when he was a local reporter in Chicago, once asked Daley an unwelcome question. The response, to the bewilderment of national reporters, was, ‘Even in the best of families sometimes you have a bad apple.’ It turned out that Mr. Plante's brother and father were precinct committeemen in the 49th ward.

This was typical of the late mayor, who seemed to have in his head the genealogy of a large percentage of the three million residents of Chicago. Although court decisions have reduced the number of patronage jobs, the current Mayor Daley possesses a similar skill. When he named Michelle Robinson (now Obama) to his staff, he undoubtedly knew her father was a precinct committeeman on the South Side.

For all their detailed knowledge of the city, the Daleys have always thought big. Their great family project has been O'Hare International Airport, named for an Irish-American Medal of Honor recipient whose father provided key testimony against Al Capone and was later gunned down—a paradigmatic Chicago story.”


Rachel Donadio in the NYT, "Chinese Remake the ‘Made in Italy’ Fashion Label ".

“It is a ‘Made in Italy’ problem: Enabled by Italy’s weak institutions and high tolerance for rule-bending, the Chinese have blurred the line between ‘Made in China’ and ‘Made in Italy,’ undermining Italy’s cachet and ability to market its goods exclusively as high end.”


David Pilling in the FT, "Diversity in China is something to celebrate".

“That affront to Cantonese, an earthy language spoken by up to 70m people, was accompanied by a proposal to take Cantonese programming off the air during prime time. Main channels would switch to Putonghua, literally ‘standard speech’, more commonly referred to in English as Mandarin….

Western linguists say that, in fact, there are at least eight Sinitic languages, as different from one another as English is from Portuguese or French.”


Stephen Fidler in the WSJ, "A Weakened Russia Looks to Europe".

“Unless Russia and the EU join forces and develop a strategy for co-development, the report said, ‘their international political influence will most likely be doomed to degradation.’ Without that alliance, the report said, Europe would turn into a ‘monument to its old grandeur,’ while Russia would risk becoming a raw-materials backyard for a rising Asia.”


Jeffrey Goldberg at theatlantic.com, "Fidel to Ahmadinejad: Stop Slandering the Jews".


James Hawes in Prospect has a clever take on burqas and hats but while on the one hand he is valuably reminding us of our recent haberdasher-past as here:

“Only just beyond living memory (say, in the works of Henry James), a posh lass who raises her veil within cigar-smoke range of a man is clearly hinting that she is absolutely bally gagging to slip away and get rural. Arthur Schnitzler, the Viennese playwright of the fin-de-siecle, was aiming for belly-laughs when, in La Ronde, he had a married woman enter her lover’s flat and declare passionately ‘I cannot stay’—while removing her veil. That comic moment from 1900 would play perfectly in Tehran today, though the work itself would be banned, as it was in Germany until 1920. And it was only performed uncut in Britain in 1981. You see, with just a gentle nudge of the timeline, our allegedly profound cultural differences are revealed simply as the disjuncture of a few piffling decades of social change.”

... he doesn’t take his own point serious enough to go further because after all between that 1920 and our modern 1981 perhaps fifty million Europeans were killed, and that doesn’t count the Asiatic contribution which perhaps tripled that count via their use of our modernist project in its Marxist flavor.

The backhanded glory of life along the storyline of Western Civilization is that all those religio-politico killings earned a humanist equilibrium that includes one-part democracy, one-part religion, and one-part constitutional liberty. But now as we trend decadent in our success so short a time past veils and scarves on our females and monstrous body counts, we find ourselves challenged by a pre-modern Islamic civilization. The fact that their own historic body count (feel free to reckon much of slavery’s holocaust in Islam’s tote) hasn’t seemed to earn them civilizational progress argues for the West to treat their religion as it once treated it own when it refused to back out of statecraft after the construction of the Holy Roman Empire. The modern project was at base an attack by new classes of merchants and literati against the royal prerogatives of Pope-sanctioned Kings. And an attack it was and still is. It is strangely worrisome to hear continuing founts of animus for the Vatican or Christian fundamentalists arguing for the coddling of Islam.

Scott Baldauf in the CSM asks "How Koran burning in Florida could play in the Muslim World", when he ought ask how the Mosque’s location will play there, and further how his and others’ first impulse to yield to these unreasonable demands will play there. They have been proven unreasonable by our own progress emerging from our own theocracies. This was achieved nowhere by yielding to the Church’s sensitivities.

Tawfik Hamid, former member of Jamma Islamiya, in the WSJ ("A Muslim Response to Quran Burning") challenges Islamic clerics to issue a fatwa to “clearly state that those who react by carrying out violent acts against non-Muslims are apostates. It should also say that those who attack non-Muslims to seek revenge will not be buried with Muslims and will go to hell forever.” Interesting the emphasis he places. He is talking of course of the likely murder of Christians in Pakistan, say, in retaliation for some act in, say, Florida. Good luck! The New Criterion “Notes & Comments” mentioned above summarizes, “The bottom line is this: Islam is a proselytizing, intolerant religion. Its aim is to institute Sharia as the ‘sole reference point for… ordering the life of the Muslim family, individual, community… and state.’ That is the end. The means are multifarious.”

I’m thinking that what has put a fire under the world of Islam their loss of the illusion that they were at the center of the universe. Communications, jet travel, Israel, Lebanon, Persian Gulf oil, Communism, sixties terrorism, and emigration and immigration have all contributed to smashing that illustion. Now they sense that they are rather a backwater of the world. Without this terror and the threat of it for this thought or that action, or even just the expected unbelief of the unbelievers, there would be massive conversions to Christianity or simple unbelief.

This is why as Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi writes in Foreign Policy ("The Problems of Honor Killings"), “Islamic authorities have often been reluctant at best to condemn the custom of honor killings.” And perhaps why Manya Brachear’s piece in the CT (Muslim teens grow up in shadow of terrorist attacks) misses the point that if 9-11 has alienated Muslim-American kids from what they thought their American lives would be, then it has succeeded and even relieved a tension in those kids parents as in time-honored fashion the immigrant generation seems to lose its children to America. Only here they might be chased back to their religion where they will find a bitter succor and that mechanism of expansion of early Islam will survive and take root even here. And American liberals, who did so much to unveil our own women, tell Muslims when they show up here, Never change.


David Goldman, the former Spengler, at atimes.com notes how easily one Florida pastor might throw the Islamic world into chaos. Troublemaker that he is he suspects that intel agencies might consider such a pastor an asymmetrical warrior:

“Instead of trying to stabilize the Islamic world, suppose - just for the sake of argument - that one or two world powers set out to throw it into chaos. I am not advocating such a strategy, only evaluating its effectiveness….

Russia has more urgent reasons to sow discord in Muslim countries, and centuries of experience in doing so. Simply because America has committed its reputation and resources to stability in the Muslim world, Russia has an interest in promoting the opposite. Russia views the world as a chessboard, in which pressure on the flanks increases its control of the center of the board. Moscow's on-again, off-again deal to supply Iran with an advanced anti-missile system, for example, represents a bargaining chip that it can use with Washington for a variety of purposes.

There is a deeper Russian interest in fostering Muslim weakness, though. Before mid-century the Russian Federation likely will have a Muslim majority. Russia already depends on 12 million guest workers, overwhelmingly from Turkey or from the Turkic republics of the former Soviet Union. Some analysts, for example Stratfor's George Friedman, predict that Turkey will challenge Russia for control of the Caucusus….

Turkey is a hotbed of prospective heresies, often rooted in ethnic substrata that resisted the mainstream Arabic model of Islam. Between 15% and 30% of Turks adhere to the Alevi sect, a nominally Shi'ite sect whose character is hard to define; different scholars attribute influences from Gnosticism, Zoroastrianism, and even Byzantine Christianity.”


Khaled Abu Toameh in the Jerusalem Post on the film, The Great Liberation to be released in Gaza next month. The sequel will practically write itself.


Things are getting a little confusing around all this Mosque business so I thought a Frank Rich re-mix might help. Even when he hasn’t directly addressed the topic, his Sunday NYT columns may be relevant:

“The ‘ground zero mosque,’ as you may well know by now, is not at ground zero. Now that explicit anti-gay animus is an albatross, those who oppose gay civil rights are driven to invent ever loopier rationales for denying those rights, whether in the military or in marriage. The Park51 board is chock-full of Christians and Jews. It’s not a mosque but an Islamic cultural center containing a prayer room. Those opposing same-sex marriage are just as eager to mask their bigotry. This month’s incessant and indiscriminate orgy of Muslim-bashing is a national security disaster….”

Well… maybe not. If the NYT editorial board isn’t careful it might occur to some Florida pastor that were that meteor in Mecca to be blown sky high by Christian fundamentalists he might be rewarded with a pulpit and church right there in Mecca.

Libby Lake, Wyoming

Photo by Joe Carducci

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• The New Vulgate
• Joe Carducci, Chris Collins, James Fotopoulos, Mike Vann Gray, David Lightbourne
• Copyright retained by the writer, artist, or photographer

1 comment:

  1. Gotta love the youtube clips of the Raiders, waxing ELOQUENT about their piece of American musical history! Good stuff.
    Crucial Blast records, out of Wino's Frederick, MD, are putting out really good Metal, but I'm sure you're aware of that.
    Oh, and that film to be screened in Gaza? I'm sure Goebbels is smiling right now in hell.