23 December 2012

22 December 2012

2012 List

By no means complete or comprehensive...

A New Messiah. A new Persian Empire. Addictive Entertainment. Advanced Technology disaster. Airplane crash. Anarchy. Antibiotic resistant bacteria. Armageddon. Automotive accident. Avalanche. Aztlan or Reconquista Uprising.

Bank closure or failure, or mandated bank holiday. Becoming a refugee. Becoming lost in the megalopolis. Becoming lost in the wilderness. Biblical flood. Biblical plagues. Black hole appearance. Blackout. Blizzard. Brownout.

Celestial object impact or near miss. Chemical/Biological war or attack. Civil war. Coronal Mass Ejection. Communication restrictions. Crime wave. Crop failures.

Dam failure or collapse. Dangerous wildlife confrontation. Dark matter or anti-matter incident. Drought. Dust bowl.

Earth Core Cooling. Earth orbit shift. Earthquake. Eco-system collapse. Electro Magnetic Pulse. Electro Magnetic Pulse from solar activity. Environmental disaster. Epidemic. Ethnic war. Evidence of extraterrestrials. Extraterrestrial biological contamination.

Fire storm. Flood. Food shortages or price increases. Forest fire/wild fire. Fuel shortages or price increases.

Gamma ray burst from neutron star collision. Global cooling or Ice Age. Global nuclear war. Global warming. Gold or precious metal recall. Gold or precious metal restrictions. Government Tyranny. Grand Alignment induced tectonic activity. Gulf Stream shutdown.

Hail. Hazmat incident. Heat wave. Hostile extraterrestrials. House or apartment or building fire. Hurricane. Hypercane.

Ice Storm. Infrastructure collapse or failures. Invasion of the U.S..

Lahar. Landslide or mudslide. Large scale JIT delivery failures. Limited nuclear war or attack. Limnic eruption. Local major accident involving aircraft, auto, rail or building. Local major crime. Local or regional gun grab. Loss of job.

Magnetic pole shift. Major conventional war. Major economic depression. Major nuclear power plant incident. Martial Law. Massive tectonic activity. Medical emergency. Mega Tsunami - La Palma, West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Mega Volcano - Yellowstone Caldera. Methane Hydrate release.

National bankruptcy or default. Nationwide or global economic breakdown. Nemesis induced Oort Cloud meteorite rain. New colonial activity - France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Germany, Japan, China, Russia, UK, Brazil, Venezuela, etc.. New, more restrictive assault weapons ban. New World Order.

Out of control bio-genetics or bio-technology or Nano-technology or robotics. Overpopulation. Ozone layer depletion.

Pandemic. Peaceful extraterrestrials. Peak oil. Personal financial breakdown. Personal or family catastrophic illness. Pestilence. Pyroclastic flow.

Racial war. Rainforest deforestation. Rampant inflation. Rapid population decline. Refugees. Regional climate change. Released or escaped dangerous zoo animals. Religious war. Resource war. Rogue military activity. Rotational pole shift. Runaway genetically-modified food plant failure or cross contamination.

Sand or dust storms, or haboob. Sea level drop. Sea level rise. The Second Coming. Severe lightning. Shipwrecked or marooned. Shortages of goods and services for a variety of reasons. Sinkholes. Social breakdown. Solar radiation increase or decrease. State bankruptcy or default. Strikes or boycotts or embargoes or price controls. Sub-atomic particle research accident. Superstorm.

Tailings pond failure or collapse. Terrorism in about a thousand different forms. The Anti-Christ. Tornado. Total gun ban. Train wreck. Travel restrictions. Tsunami.

United Nations or One World Government. U.S. coup. U.S. revolution. Utilities failures.

Vehicle breakdown. Volcano.

Water shortages. Weapons restrictions. Weather Modification attack. When all the furnaces explode. When all the furnaces explode, again.  Widespread civil unrest or riots. Wild animal rampage.

^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^

Please excuse any redundancies in the list above, of which there are quite a few. Likewise with other errors. The above is not my own -- I didn't compile it, and made only slight alterations.

But relatedly, there's this by Giovanni Tiso over at his Bat, Bean, Beam blog, which has been the home of some favorite reading lately. Worth checking in on, in case you weren't already familiar.

21 December 2012

Some Last, Tangential Notes of Drummage (Lightweight Milkcrate Edition)

Simon with his own drummage selections mentions Hamilton Bohannon. Coincidentally Bohannon had crossed my mind as a possible candidate at one point, or at least deserving of an honorable mention, even if things did get fairly spotty after his first couple of albums. But this brings a few other things to mind...

Right, so back during the "midschool" days, I used to be a big hip-hop head. But over the course of the 1990s, he music moved on and I eventually moved on, too. By "moving on," morelike I did what a lot of other hedz did -- moving backwards. I started tracing beats and grooves back to their sampled source material, abandoning the refurb'ed for the original models. But I didn't become a fanatical beatdigger or collector type. I knew far too many people who who owned about 8000 rekkids, and advised me to buy about as many, just because this, that, or the other joint just because it "has a break on it." Nope, my shelf space is limited to something within reason, what I have is a pain in the ass to move already, and I'd prefer not to weigh or clutter things up for 20-second scatterlings spread throughout a warehouse's-worth of LPs. A market of reissues was there to supply the demands and desires of people like myself; most of it in the form of limited-edition pirate editions of obscure LPs of old. So I didn't go the purist or zealot route -- and so I'd sometimes resort to buying "crate-saver" discs for DJing purposes, or stuck to those albums that I knew would give me the maximum payoff for my invested time and money.*

I could go on forever with breaks-related drummage yadda, but who cares? Here's a few best-bang-for-the-buck jawns from over the years...

When someone says "that Skull Snaps break," they're usually talking about the one everyone's heard a thousand times -- the one from "It's a New Day." Damn thing has been sampled so many times that by about 1992 it had already become the pro-forma, generic hip-hop break. Which I guess is somewhat appropriate, seeing how the break comes off of the only album -- circa 1974 -- that the Skull Snaps ever released. The band works a range of tempos and styles on the thing; and it's fairly solid throughout, leaning heavily into the beat on most of the cuts.

Reputedly, Nico Gomez wasn't actually from South America, but rather Belgian by way of South American lineage. Or that's what the internet's now telling me. All I knew when I first bought this thing -- Ritual -- many years ago and that a good portion of it turned out to be a monster of frenzied Latin-esque percussion. Was apparently released in the early '70s, even though it sounds very '60s due to the all the fuzzed-out guitar and quasi-pop stylings. Psychedelic shingaling, cranked up to eleven. Some mid-tempo stuff that's pretty nice, the only dud being a sore-thumb cover of (ugh) "El Condor Pasa." Not without its kitschy trimmings at times, but the rhythm section makes up for it. The title cut is a soundtrack for a b-boy breakdance battle on its own.

Demon Fuzz: Another one-shot, to my knowledge. Whole thing's like some post-psych/proto-prog take on Afrobeat; very much following in the wake of Santana's "Soul Sacrifice." The first track starts off with a heavy, lumbering, almost doomy guitar riff that seems like it wandered in from an adjoining studio -- like maybe a studio where Black Sabb were recording one of their first two albums, by the sound of it. The vocals that turn up on a couple of tracks suggest an Anglo outift, but the depth and ferocity of the groove very much indicates otherwise. Searching now, I see that some information about the group has appeared in recent years. Apparently they were active in London in the late-'60s/early '70s, comprised of immigrant musicians. Having emigrated from I'm not sure, because no one seems to know or say -- judging by the credits on the back sleeve, one assumes Jamaica and Africa. Whatever the case, very nice.

* * * *

19 December 2012

On: Location (Slight Return)

Quite surprised to see this one turn up on this year's list of films to be inducted into the U.S. Library of Congress's National Film Registry. Seeing how the same list includes such titled as Breakfast at Tiffany's, The Matrix, Slacker, The Times of Harvey Milk, and A Christmas Story.

But The Spook Who Sat By The Door was hands-down the most unusual and interesting film to see release in connection with the whole cinematic 'blaxploitation' genre. And I suppose its inclusion in the Registry is notable when take into account the words of Librarian James Billington, when he said of the qualifying criteria: "These films are not selected as the 'best' American films of all time, but rather as works of enduring importance to American culture. They reflect who we are as a people and as a nation."

I was recently prompted to think of the film again after coming across some grabs from the thing when I bumped into the site Chicago Screenshots. Which is a little amusing, since the bulk of the film was actually filmed down on the much narrower streets of nearby Gary, Indiana; with Chicago mostly providing a lot establishing shots. But some sequences were filmed in the city proper. Like the one above that's the last of the bunch, which has the figures standing on the CTA River North platform at Chicago Ave & Franklin. Which was my stop when I was freelancing at an educational-publishing production house a few years ago. In the 1980s, the neighborhood became an art-gallery district. Just to the east of the platform would be the edge of the Moody Bible Institute campus, with the city's ritzy "Magnificent Mile" shopping district just beyond that. But to the west, where the characters are looking? Cabrini Green, which was about four blocks away.

And then -- relatedly -- there was this, which was rightfully added to the Registry nine years ago. File both under: Films that were directly about "who we are as a people and as a nation," by way of being (among other things) indirectly about Vietnam, at a time when the topic of Vietnam was regarded as a very vorboten, highly-concentrated toxin by almost everyone in the entertainment industry.

18 December 2012

E Unibus Pluram

(Or: The Common Culture, in No Particular Order)

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Credit roll: Odds |||| Evens

Öyvind Fahlström, Mao-Hope March, NYC, 1966. Thanks to Grupa O.K. for the reminder.

16 December 2012

When the Bomb Drops

In response to Simon's drummage thing, something about a favorite thing from and a least-favorite decade -- a bit about D.C. go-go music for '80s blog.

Also appropriate I suppose, seeing how the passing of Chuck Brown was among this past year's more notable musical RIPs.

* * * * *

A couple of related items I came across while writing...

1)  A 1985 article from The Face on the go-go scene, written by David Toop relayed here. A couple of interesting quote from the thing that align with my own points...

"Surely, this is just hard funk? Well, yes and no. It's those bass drum body shots, booming over 40, 60, or 90 minutes without a break, that make for the subtle difference.

"Though Go-Go, like New York's Hip-Hop, is the grandchild of The Meters' second-line rhythms,...it has produced its own distinctive relationship between the kick drum and the snare, overlaying it with a unique blend of elements...

"The commitment to live performance is total. ...The members of E.U. raise their voices in derision against drum machines and sequencers, mocking the idea of pressing a button and then hearing the machine play on as you walk away from it. ...Players like E.U.'s Shorty Tim, Trouble Funk's T-Bone and Chick Brown's Mack Cery seem to possess endless reserves of stamina. It was the Godfather of Go-Go, Chuck Brown, who started the idea of keeping the beat going through the whole set."

And later, quoting Maxx Kidd, chief of D.C. go-go label T.T.E.D. Records:

"...'They started creating it from the playgrounds, from the rec centers, from the garages, from alleys. The kids would get anything from trash can to a hand-me-down conga. ...It was almost like they said, "Fuck society and fuck that Top 40 radio. They're not doing anything for us but look what we're doing for ourselves." They took a lot of pride in that. The next thing you know they couldn't afford to go to the big concerts. They couldn't afford to go to the clubs that were bringing the national acts or the so-called classy local acts.'"

Which in its own parallels what some have said about the origins of hip-hop in the late '70s and early '80 -- about how, as far as making music went, a DJ sound system and a microphone were default street-level alternatives to funding cuts to music programs in public schools.

2)  Also, a documentary about the music circa 1990 that I found on Youtube. It looks like someone at Dangerous Minds was kind enough to corral the links for all six part of the film.

14 December 2012

Throw That Beat in the Trashcan

Taking a break from the drummage faves to mention an un-fave...

I'll admit that as a teen I feel into the stereotypical Beatles/Stones dichotomy trap, favoring the former over the latter. Over the years I've made slight and sporadic attempts at offsetting the short shrift that I gave the Stones. And lately, likewise with the group that was considered (for a time, at least) the Stones's UK rivals -- the Pretty Things.

Perhaps on account of being one of the most inappropriately-named bands in rock, the Pretty Things never made any significant blip on U.S. shores. But this is the tune what pulled me in:

Baron Saturday being Baron Samedi, the Haitian vodou loa of death; the ancestral spirit presiding over the afterworld. Which would explain the percussion breakdown/tangent/flurry towards the end of the tune -- it's supposed to be the group's approximation of vodou ceremonial drumming

Don't get me wrong -- I love everything about this song. That is, I love everything about it EXCEPT for the percussion break. It's clumsy, ill-fitting, and might very well be the worst rock'n'roll faux-ethnomusicological jaunt ever committed to tape.*  I usually find myself wandering out of the room when that part comes along, leaving for just long enough for it to be over.

^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^

At any rate, for those who might be lost and not sure what all this drummage banter is about: Simon Reynold's been culling the results from the throwdown (be they in bloggal or direct correspondence mode) over at his primary venue. Part one is here, and part two is here.

As an aside on the topic: I all but fell over when I saw that Kudwo Eshun had cited the Duke/Mingus/Roach Money Jungle album, which has been a favorite of mine. It's an intriguing one too, considering the difficult chemistry between the participants. (Ellington having fired Mingus from his band years earlier. But being the one that had to coax Mingus into returning to the studio in the middle of the Money Jungle session, after Mingus had packed up his bass and headed for the elevator because he couldn't stand working with Roach.)

When I was young, I pretty much hated drum solos in rock. I equated it with prog-y indulgence & such -- a tedious, insufferable breakage of form. And I didn't much care for for them when I first started listening to jazz in early adulthood. It took a few years before that changed -- of getting what the whole point of the solo was, in terms of the whole aesthetic point of "shifting and twisting the rhythmic center of the song" (or whatever) all over the place. Finally hearing some of Max Roach's work was what finally got that notion across to me.

Also: Drummage props due to Pere Lebrun and to (once again) ATTT.

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* (Okay, I realize that's a harsh and unfair exaggeration. But, anyway...)

First-Degree Batterie

Alex Niven chimes in, offering the equation of "Drumming in pop: shittier = better." As far as rock is concerned, I admit I favor that aesthetic; or I do about half the time. Which brings to mind another favorite of mine, quite different from the prior nominees...

In their day, the Velvet Underground were reputedly considered by many to be the most wretched band in existence. Or they were as far as most people were concerned. A fair amount of this had to do with their art-damaged experimentalism, which many considered an offense to the ear. But there were also charges of gross musical incompetence, and many of those allegation of ineptitude were directed at drummer Maureen Tucker.

The above is anatypical VU number, which may be why I've always liked it so much. An instrumental outtake belatedly made available to the public in 1986, it's as raw as the vocal version of the tune that had circulated in bootleg form, if not a little moreso. But definitely faster and more crazed. It's a raging garage banger, or the incessant sound of banging inside of a garage, a pounding that rattles all the tools off the walls. Brute, merciless sonic minimalism of the most wonderfully primitive sort. Reed's rhythm guitar, Cale's bass -- the entire band is banging away in strictly percussive mode, an engine firing on all pistons, save for the occasional sidestep of Sterling Morrison's yakkety blues-tinged soloing. All with maximal fuzz-tonage. But it's the drumming -- there, in the center, the swollen heart of the thing pounding furiously and tirelessly away -- that always puts a smile on my face, all but makes me laugh with idiot glee sometimes.

But I guess it could be argued that the idea of a chugga-chugga musical-combo-as-(strictly)rhythm-unit was pretty much what rock'n'roll was all about in the first place. Case in point:

...The original version of the tune "Bo Diddley" (the one w/o the "Hey...,") having been perhaps be one of the greatest rock'n'roll records ever, or at least the best rock'n'roll drum song ever recorded.

And maybe one could split minimalistic musicological hairs and argue that the above are contrasts in centrifugal versus centripetal force. Dunno. Whatever.


13 December 2012

Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Skins

(Or: Drunmmage, Sample-Ready Crescent City Breakbeat Edition)

As I've probably made clear here before, when it comes to certain strains of music, I have my prejudices -- a subjective region-specific bias. The South factors into this in a big way, in which the city of New Orleans figures heavily.*  It's pretty much where funk -- the sound, and most notions attached to it -- hails from. Bearing that in mind, if it's drums you're looking for then there's the larger chunk of The Meters' discography to scratch that itch a myriad times over:

Beyond that, another thing that grabbed my ear (and etc.) many years ago were deep-grooving jazz tracks and albums that -- as it turned out -- shared a common element. That element being the part played by New Orleans-born drummer Idris Muhammad.

Admittedly, I never had much luck getting into Muhammad's 1970s CTI albums as bandleader. But other than that -- as a sideman he has a discog running through the 1960s and early '70s that's a first-rate treasure trove. Aside from playing on over half a dozen Lou Donaldson joints and also backing a number of other CTI labelmates, he also laid down kitwork behind Charles Earland, Grant Green, Houston Person, Gene Ammons, Melvin Sparks, Leon Spencer Jr., and a host of others. The groove that Muhammad lays down is often deeply New Orleans -- with deep traces of the distinct N.O. bottom-heavy swing, as well as the slight asymmetrical accents and contrapunction that gives the beat its roll and punch. But whereas the standard N.O. style of the era usually meant leaning heavily into the beat and striking the kit hard, Muhammad's sound was usually much more understated -- more quiet, paring back on the punch and the volume, letting the beat speak for itself without pushing it into the foreground...

Stylistically, the two above are a study in contrasts; with the second demonstrating just how subtly on-point Muhammad could be. But then there's the sessions he did with Grant Green and Rusty Bryant, where he gave it the full wallop...

12 December 2012

Skin Damage

Early root reggae would be another area that's quite rich for a batteria-related throwdown. A number of very strong session drummer who helped write the books of reggae riddims. For years, Sly Dunbar was the one who got much of the credit. Leroy 'Horsemouth' Wallace was a fave for a number of folk. The above was always a favorite of mine, with Carlton Barrett behind the kit. Rightfully regarded by many as one of the top dub tracks of all time, it was one of several reversions that Pablo did of Jacob Miller's "Baby, I Love You So." Perhaps too obvious a choice, but definitely a killer drum track.

As far as Leroy Wallace goes -- his and Noel Alphonso's work on Horace Andy's In The Light was another one I always dug. Best heard on the dub version of the album.

Meanwhile, it looks like Airport Through The Trees pops up with the first of his own contributions, devoted to "Drummage 1960s," a good bit of which consists of material from the R&B and jazz canons. So I may take that as a green light.

Holiday for Skins

It's that season, once again. The season when the venues of various decades-blogs' contributors erupt in a friendly competition of musical whatsis. Two years ago it was guitar riffs, last year it was guitar solos. And now it appears that Simon has called it for this year -- drummage.

As much as I enjoyed contributing to last year's community throwdown, I might have to sit this one out -- merely spectate. It's at times like this that I realize that my "rock" enthusiasm isn't what it could be, and perhaps never was, because I'm hard-pressed to think of any candidates that I'd nominate for this thing.

Jazz? That's another matter entirely. Funk breakbeats and tracks? That would take a while -- in fact, I wouldn't know where to begin.

But the topic reminds of a related oddity we had around the university/community radio station where I had a show for about 5 years. When I'd work the late-morning slot, it meant that my shift butt-ended with the format change-over in which the Classical crew came in and took over. That is, providing the DJ showed up for his or her shift. Which was a constant problem, because the classical DJs were the station's worst when it came to being chronically late or not showing up at all. Which of course left the preceding DJ stuck in the booth and on the airwaves, manning the helm under a station manager or format chief could make it in to take over. Which resulted in my being late for my office gig many times; with other DJs being late for class, if not missing it completely. Naturally, this didn't go over well. After a while, it became common among DJs in the Rock format to retaliate against the situation by wrecking the Classical slot they were forced to fill -- picking the worst discs out of the Classical bins and spinning them in their entirety. Yeahyeah, I know I know...not the most mature or professional thing to do. But the rationale was: if the Classical division didn't care about its format and its listeners, why should anyone else?

At any rate, this one was a unanimous favorite for such occasions...

Which was an entire disc of former Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo banging the kit along with Vivaldi. Yep.

10 December 2012

09 December 2012

08 December 2012

The Unshaven Bride (or: Marcel Duchamp vs. the Mona Lisa Overdrive)

The work above probably needs no introduction. Marcel Duchamp’s L.H.O.O.Q., in which the French Dadaist drew a moustache and goatee on the Mona Lisa, inscribing a cheeky pun beneath the image. As modern art jokes go, it's the most widely known.

The piece is an example of one of Duchamp's "Readymades," or – more specifically – it belongs to a subcategory of same which Duchamp called "rectified" Readymades, on account that they involved some minor addition or alteration on the artist's part. It's also a piece that is usually cited in relation to a couple of general, overarching generalization that are commonly made about Duchamp’s work – survey-level Intro to Art History clichés that are often and endlessly repeated; with each amounting to a problematic oversimplification.

The first of these being: By putting his Readymades on display, Duchamp said that anything could be art. Well, yes and no. He did and he didn't. It was really more of a theoretical question than a flat declaration. More a hypothesis than a prescript, more of an ideal than a charter or project. The second usually come up in relation to the work above, regarding it as an épater–le-bourgeois masterstroke; as a first-order avant-gardist attack on the classical canon, if not on art and notions of beauty in general. This second point also seems a bit inadequate, if only because it reduces the work to a mere act of petty vandalism, or some offhanded prank – effectively making it no different from a bored schoolboy idly defacing illustrations in a history book.

But as far as the Western canon is concerned, it’s an easy and fair enough assumption. Mainly because there’s no reason that the Mona Lisa couldn’t serve as a representative (or in this case, prospective effigy) for the canon, the painting’s iconic status being what it is. For instance, here's the Victorian über-aesthete Walter Pater waxing effusive in his 1873 book The Renaissance, singling the painting out as an exceptional work by Da Vinci:

"Hers is the head upon which all 'the ends of the world are come,' and the eyelids are a little weary. It is a beauty wrought out from within upon the flesh, the deposit, little cell by cell, of strange thoughts and fantastic reveries and exquisite passions. Set it for a moment beside one of those white Greek goddesses or beautiful women of antiquity, and how would they be troubled by this beauty, into which the soul with all its maladies has passed! All the thoughts and experience of the world have etched and moulded there,...

"She is older than the rocks among which she sits; like the vampire, she has been dead many times, and learned the secrets of the grave; and has been a diver in deep seas, and keeps their fallen day about her; and trafficked for strange webs with Eastern merchants, and, as Leda, was the mother of Helen of Troy, and, as Saint Anne, the mother of Mary; and all this has been to her but as the sound of lyres and flutes, and lives only in the delicacy with which it has molded the changing lineaments, and tinged the eyelids and the hands."

For Pater, the painting wasn't so much a portrait of its sitter, but rather an embodiment of the essence of timeless, archetypal femininity. Which may or may not have had something to do with why Duchamp added the sniggering pun of a title beneath the image, commenting on the nature of the woman's (undepicted) badonk.1

* * * * * *

Despite whatever case Vasari or Walter Pater might've made for it, Da Vinci's Mona Lisa didn't always top the list of the artist's masterpieces, as far as critical and popular consensus was concerned. Sure, it was ranked among the artist's Greatest Hits, but it didn’t hold the same iconic status that it’s held in popular culture over the past century. That degree of notoriety and ubiquity didn't come until 1911, when the painting was stolen from the Louvre.

Whatever the painting's place in the art historical canon at the time, it was still considered the Museum’s most valuable possession. So naturally the theft was a huge scandal, one that immediately called in question the laxity of security at the museum (which itself quickly led to the resignation of the Museum's director). Police posted “MISSING”-styled posters that sported a photographic reproduction of the painting throughout the streets of Paris. The press offered constant updates on investigation, reporting loads of ill-founded speculation about the painting's whereabouts and the possible motives for the theft. French newspapers competed in offering the highest reward for the return of the painting, with one publication going so far as to consult a clairvoyant on the case. Law enforcement agencies the world over eventually took part in the investigation, pursuing an ever-escalating swirl of rumors and bogus leads.

Conspiracy theories made the rounds. Some thought the thief must've been German, others suspected an Italian; but the majority suspected that the heist was done at the bidding of some American tycoon, with financier J. P. Morgan being everyone’s favorite candidate. Still others thought the whole thing a hoax, a distraction staged by authorities to get the public’s collective mind off of the threat of an impending world war.

If the disappearance of the painting had been an orchestrated ruse, then it seems that it must’ve worked. In the months that that followed, the Mona Lisa became an international fixation, if not a household celebrity, a pop-culture sensation. Songs were written about the painting (and about the woman depicted therein), fanciful tales were spun, thousands of likenesses appeared in publication and on commercial products, and many thousands more postcards were printed. The way people talked about the Mona Lisa sometimes, one might’ve thought the incident involved the kidnapping of an actual person rather than the theft of an artwork.

The painting was finally recovered in the autumn of 1913, eighteen months after it vanished, when authorities received a report of someone offering to unload the painting on a art dealer in Florence. This led the to the hotel room of Vincenzo Peruggia, an Italian immigrant carpenter who’d been living in Paris for several years, and who had been doing miscellaneous handyman work at the Louvre. There they found the painting, which Peruggia had removed from its frame during the theft, carefully rolled up and tucked away beneath the false bottom of a homemade trunk.

04 December 2012


After a some years had passed and with the benefit of hindsight, it was unanimously agreed that it was an early and significant salvo in what would become a never-ending war against "twee."

03 December 2012

The Slightly-Ajar University

This I'd never heard of before. Or if I'd encountered mention of it previously, I quickly forgot about it. The BBC news clip above naturally makes the thing look like a put-on, or some sort of absurdist, era-specific comedy sketch -- a place where every course of study is ultimately just a course in Pataphysics.

Artist John Latham turns up briefly in the clip above. According to this, other "faculty" of the Anti-University (which apparently lasted barely a year) included Cornelius Cardew, R. D. Laing, Yoko Ono, Alexander Trochhi, and a number of other countercultural luminaries of the day.

{ Technical note: Rough, pre-broadcast audio on the clip, complete with miscued overlaps and with the voiceover appearing in one channel only. }

28 November 2012


Apparently they were part of some subgenre that briefly came and went, and their first and only album was an attempt to conform to some trend that had a lot to do with fetishizing (or perhaps only obsessively shopping for) shoes.

Post-breakup, the frontman would have a prolific career of befuddling and bedazzling the world with the eclecticism of his output.

27 November 2012

Contractual Obligation Interlude, II

Unsurprising that the group would call it a day after this, their swansong single. As many critics have pointed out, the A side mostly sounded like a slight and somewhat tired retread of their debut, "Insert Text Here."

24 November 2012

20 November 2012

Someone Else's System

"Every so often, if you ride Moscow’s crowded subways, you notice that the commuters around you include a dog - a stray dog, on its own, just using the handy underground Metro to beat the traffic and get from A to B. Yes, some of Moscow’s stray dogs have figured out how to use the city’s immense and complex subway system, getting on and off at their regular stops. The human commuters around them are so accustomed to it that they rarely seem to notice. 'In Moscow there are all sorts of stray dogs, but...there are no stupid dogs,' Dr. Andrey Poyarkov, a biologist who has studied Moscow’s strays for 30 years, told ABC News. As many as 35,000 stray dogs live in Russia’s capital city. They can be found everywhere, from markets to construction sites to underground passageways, scrounging for food and trying to survive. Taking the subway is just one of many tactics the strays have come up with for surviving in the manmade wilderness around them."

via || by way of

19 November 2012

The Motorik Hauntological Dance Society

Some archival choreography from Adam Curtis.

Further Tales from the Rural Electrification Files

Of course, Les Paul gets all the credit for having invented the electric guitar; which is true if you're talking about the electric guitar as we know it -- the common solid-bodied variety. But as to who first had the idea of rigging a standard acoustic idea with juice and amplifier, accounts differ. Charlie Christian wasn't the first to pick up an electrically amplified acoustic model, but history has him down as being the person to popularize it; as the one who proved that it could serve as a lead instrument in a large ensemble.

For those who might not know him, Charlie Christian was a guitarist who notably worked with jazz swingster Benny Goodman. During the height of the swing craze, Goodman’s manager John Hammond talked him into taking the bold step of "integrating" his band. To this end, Hammond brought in the talents of other artists he managed or had worked with – Fletcher Henderson, Count Basie, Lionel Hampton, Cootie Williams, and eventually Christian. Hammond had come across Christian in Oklahoma City as he traveling throughout the Midwest looking for fresh talent. He was supposedly skeptical about the novelty of the electric guitar that Christian was playing, but was wowed by the kid's sound and technique. Hammond not only thought it work in a loud ensemble like Goodman’s, but the also thought Christian possessed exception skills as an improviser.

18 November 2012

Crushed by the Tumblin' Tide (or: Newport vs. the Rural Electrification Act)

Yeah, I haven't posted a link in a forever to anything I’ve contributed to any of the decades blogs (see the 'Elsewhere' header, right of this column) because – honestly – it's been a forever since I’ve written anything for them. I'm not the only one, because posting on the things experienced a major slow-down after the beginning of this year. Not sure why the other primary contributors mostly went silent, but one can suspect the usual reasons – continual distractions that leave drafts unfinished or ideas abandoned or in development limbo, writer's block, other more pressing priorities, and what-have-you. Shame, that – especially seeing how the things received a few honorary accolades in some quarters last December as some of the best reading on the intertoobs.

I had a few stalled drafts for things, myself. At one point I was working on something drawn from personal experience, having to due with the number of bluegrass music festivals I was dragged to as a child in the early years of the 1970s, mixed in with some relevant anecdotes from my time spent living in Nashville a few years later. Thematically, the thing was going to hinge on the brief and marginal "Bluegrass Revival" that took place for a few years in the early '70s. Something something something about it being perhaps the final twilight flickering of the folk-music which had begun many decades earlier, and what had a history that was previously tied to major societal shifts that bracketed the Second World War; a history that very complicated, if only because it had once had a deep cultural resonance.

All of which is why the thing stalled. As you can probably guess, it was bordering on becoming a huge, sprawling mess. And if not a mess, then certain something unfit for a blog post, an Exhibit A example of tl;dr-ness.

But just before the posting traffic tapered off over at the decades blogs, one of my last contributions was to the friendly competition of the "Geetar solo" spree of tag-team posting. I've never been much of an expert or enthusiast for such stuff, but I managed to throw a couple of favorites into the mix. There were plenty of behind-the-scenes e-mails being exchanged on the topic while the thing was going on. At one point, in an exchange of messages with Simon, I cited the full version of Chambers Brothers' "Time Has Come Today" as a longstanding personal favorite; even tho’ it probably doesn’t -- save for the cheeky segue into "The Little Drummer Boy" at one point – count as a guitar solo proper, but is really more of an extended rhythmic "jam." And I was intrigued a few weeks later that he cited the song some weeks later, offering it as what might be his choice of "The Last Song I'd Want to Hear Before Dying." I doubt that I helped jog his memory about the tune or anything like that, but I thought it a canny coincidence.

So, right: A definitive psych-garage classic writ large and in longhand. There’s the extended borderline freak-out type, drenched in reverb and washes, almost cataclysmic in its heaviness, flirting with outright structurelessness in a way that (going by way of contemporaries) sounds more akin to something off the first Red Crayola LP than something by, say, Cream or Love. There's the way it yanks the listener's head through a relentless series of sonically simulated spatio-temporal expansions and compressions. Not to mention the wryly mocking bit about "And my soul has been psychedelicized," over a track that prefigured Stand! and There's a Riot Goin' On, as well as the "acid soul" sound that would come down the turnpike thanks to Norman Whitfield's work at Motown, as well as Funkadelic's navigations through the maggot-brained consciousness of Nixonian America.

And atop all that, I've always been quite taken by the vocal and the lyrics. It starts out as a blues, but ultimately it’s deeply gospel. The live performance captured in the clip above fully demonstrates that aspect of the song – how the band chugs and churns through the endlessly unfurling break, with the song building in density and intensity as it progresses, becoming something like a fiery tent revival canticle that guides those in attendance on a tour through all nine circles of Dante’s hell before finally -- in its closing moment -- reemerging from the substrata into the light of day/redemption.

17 November 2012

Easy to Assemble

'Sparsamkeit ist geil,'
The magnate sez.
In the end, it's merely
a choice of lifestyle.


16 November 2012

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