Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Ryan Bingham

"the legitimate heir to the hard traveling deep knowing likes of Woody Guthrie and Hank Williams"
-Terry Allen on Ryan Bingham

Living on his own since his mid-teens, Ryan Bingham decided to hang up his bull-riding life on the rodeo circuit for a career in music. The result is a rising star who won an Oscar this year for his song "The Weary Kind" from the film Crazy Heart.

Bingham's third major label release Junky Star was released today on Lost Highway Records. While I haven't heard the album in its entirety, I did happen to catch Bingham last night on David Letterman singing a song from the new album and it is absolutely amazing. I love this guy!

Sunday, August 29, 2010


It's one thing to make a great low-budget video, but it's quite another when the song for that particular video is really good and gets stuck in your head. The band Wavves have achieved a coup with their song/video entitled "Post Acid."

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Pat Tillman

Pat Tillman was a professional football player for the Arizona Cardinals when the World Trade Center Towers fell on 9/11. Profoundly affected by the events of that day, Tillman finished out the season and enlisted in the Army in May of 2002, thus walking away from his $3.6 million contract to enlist in the Army. He would become the most well-known active soldier in the military and the Bush administration often invoked his name to promote the war on terror.

Two years later, Tillman was killed in Afghanistan as the result of friendly fire, but that information was withheld in order to spin a more heroic tale for the media to latch on to. As that story began to unravel and the Tillman family's demand for answers grew louder, a disturbing cover-up would come to light with many unanswered questions that have yet to be resolved to this day.

Yet the cover-up is only one facet of this whole story; the second one being Pat Tillman himself. In Jon Krakauer's excellent book Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey Of Pat Tillman, Krakauer describes, in the wake of Tillman's death, the misguided attempts to define who he really was:
Unencumbered by biographical insight, people felt emboldened to invent all manner of personae for Tillman after his passing. Most of these renderings were based on little more than rumor and fantasy. The right-wing harridan Ann Coulter claimed him as an exlemplar of Republican political values. The left-wing editorial cartoonist Ted Rall denigrated him in a four-panel comic strip as an "idiot" who joined the Army to "kill Arabs."

A documentary film about the Tillman affair -The Tillman Story- was released last week will be released this coming Friday, September 3; and where government misconduct shouldn't be a surprise to anyone, to those unfamiliar with Pat Tillman, his extraordinary life certainly will be.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Soul Train

I know it's hard to think about Christmas in the midst of another brutal summer, but it is right around the corner and if you really want to get that music geek in your life a special gift, look no further than the August 31 release of "The Best of Soul Train" 3-DVD boxed set.

Soul Train ran from 1971 to 2006 and it was, in my opinion, the greatest musical television show in history. When I was a kid, at the conclusion of my Saturday morning buffet of cartoons, I would stare at the tv transfixed by this show, hosted by the smooth baritone-voice of Don Cornelius, that showcased some of the best musical artists of the time as well as dance moves that were beyond compare. Occasionally, there were even attempts by yours truly to mimic the dance moves with about as much success as a whale has in the desert.

If you are otherwise unfamiliar with Soul Train, indulge yourself with a ride on the "hippest trip in America."

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Francis Bean Cobain

Francis Bean Cobain(aka Fiddle Tim) recently had a showing of her art at La Luz de Jesus Gallery in Los Angeles entitled "Scumfuck." When Interview asked what her mother thinks of her art, Cobain replied "That's like me asking, 'What does your mom think of your interview questions.' It's irrelevant to the work." Being that this is the first time I've heard her opinions or viewed her creative output, I must say that I am very impressed on both counts.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Greg Mortenson

I spend a great deal of time criticizing President Obama for turning his back on the reconciliation towards the Muslim world that was such a big part of his platform while he was still a candidate running for office. His support of the controversial mosque two blocks away from Ground Zero, however, is deserving of praise given that a recent poll shows that 71% of Americans are against it. He could have jumped on the bandwagon and exploited it for political gain the way so many other politicians are doing, yet he chose to rise above the madness that is gripping our country on this issue.

And while so many people continue to lump Islam and terrorism in the same category, the biggest threat for most Muslims continues to be terrorism by a small minority of Muslims who pervert the religion for their own gain.

Greg Mortenson is an American humanitarian who builds schools for girls in Afghanistan and Pakistan often in very dangerous areas. There's a lot to be learned from Mortenson in regards to moderate Islam and the more fanatical elements. His work is very important and if anyone is deserving of the Nobel Peace Prize, it's this guy.

I try to write and post videos based on my short attention span - the shorter the better, I say. The video below, however, is pretty long, but I highly recommend it if this topic interests you in any way.

Sunday, August 8, 2010


Restrepo is not an anti-war film or a pro-war film, nor does it have liberal or conservative leanings. It is simply a documentary about what life is like, day in and day out, for a group of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. Directed by Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger, Restrepo is about as close up as close up can be and, at times, every bit as intense as Saving Private Ryan.

Friday, August 6, 2010


There's very little in the rap world that really impresses me these days. I unfairly compare all rappers to 2Pac so, in my mind, they all pretty much fall short of my expectations. There's a rapper, however, out of New Orleans by the name of Curren$y whose latest album Pilot Talk is pretty amazing. The background music and beats create a very smooth and breezy atmosphere that works really well with Curren$y's flow.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Mosque

"The Ground Zero mosque is all about conquest and thus an assertion of Islamist triumphalism which we should not tolerate. It is simply grotesque to erect a mosque at the site of the most visible and powerful symbol of the horrible consequences of radical Islamist ideology."
-Newt Gingrich

The proposed building of a mosque two blocks away from ground zero in New York City is creating a controversy that highlights the paranoia that many in this country refuse to let go of. There are approximately 1 billion muslims in the world today and the group responsible for these attacks - al-qaida - represents way less than 1% of the total muslim population. It's the equivalent of refusing the construction of catholic churches around the site of the Oklahoma City federal building that was bombed in 1995 because the perpetrator - Timothy McVeigh - was a catholic. There are 800,000 muslims living in New York City. How many of those have carried out attacks on New York so far? Would it kill anyone to educate themselves about topics that affect our world rather than cave-in to this anti-muslim paranoia witch hunt that is suffocating civil debate?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Blaze Foley

With the likes of Roky Erickson, Willie Nelson, Daniel Johnston, Townes Van Zandt, etc., I doubt that there is a city with more per capita "oddballs" strewn out across its musical highway than Austin, Texas. And, yet, one of this town's biggest oddballs - Blaze Foley - is also, oddly enough, its most obscure one.

Perpetually homeless, sometimes sleeping under pool tables in bars, Foley was shot and killed in Austin in 1989 while allegedly trying to defend his friend Concho January from Concho's own son.

His songs have been covered by Merle Haggard and John Prine while Lucinda Williams and Townes Van Zandt have each written songs about him.

Earlier this month, Fat Possum Records released Blaze Foley: The Dawg Years and it is an excellent compilation of Foley's unique folk blues.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Fog of Racial Paranoia

"From now on, the Republicans are never going to get more than 10 to 20 percent of the Negro vote and they don't need any more than that. The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That's where the votes are."
-Kevin Phillips(political strategist to Richard Nixon)

The above quote came from a 1970 interview in the New York Times and, yet, 40 years later, the far right wing elements of the Republican Party are still utilizing this tactic in its attempt to paint President Obama and anyone associated with him as a racist to discredit his presidency.

Their latest target is Agricultural Department official, Shirley Sherrod, who is being reviled as a racist after this video was posted by the conservative website biggovernment.com -

What the video failed to mention was that she was recounting a story that took place some 24 years ago regarding a moral crossroads she had come to in regards to her own racial views. Instead, the video was edited to make it look like this was an official from the Obama administration who wasn't going to help out "whitey" when in fact, the white farmer in question, Roger Spooner, came out today in defense of Sherrod and said that he would have lost his farm without her help.

The repeated charges of racism against Obama are laughable. Look at this guy's Cabinet for chrissakes:

racism |ˈrāˌsizəm|
the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, esp. so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.

As ridiculous as the racism charges are against Obama, it's even more ridiculous considering that these charges are often coming from the most racially insensitive people you have ever seen(Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, etc.). It's absolutely comical. And I'm not saying the Republican Party as a whole is racist, but it is absolutely, 100% guilty of pandering to racist elements in order to win elections.

And, yet, the worse thing to come out of this nonsense is the fact that Sherrod was fired and Obama claims he had nothing to do with it. Whether you believe him or not, and I don't, he has all the power in the world to not only reinstate her, but to issue her an apology for rushing to judgement.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


Director Christopher Nolan's Inception is a frustratingly brilliant film. At a length of 2 hours and 40 minutes, it surprisingly held my attention which is nothing short of miraculous considering my attention span. This film, however, is like a puzzle with a million pieces. I know it works. I'm just not sure I'm going to figure out exactly how it works after a second viewing and I'm quite sure I don't have the patience for a go at it after that. Having said that, I still highly encourage you to go see this film. I'm absolutely confident that there are many of you out there who will be far better at sifting through the many, many layers of this film than I was.

Merle Haggard

One of the most important country music recordings in history is Johnny Cash's live performance at San Quentin prison entitled At San Quentin. The recording was one of many shows he did there. Several years after a 1959 concert performed at San Quentin, country music legend, Merle Haggard, told Cash that he enjoyed that particular show. When Cash replied that he didn't remember him being on the lineup that day, Merle responded simply that he was in the audience as a prisoner that day.

While Johnny Cash was romanticizing the outlaw lifestyle in his songs, Merle Haggard was living it. And while Hollywood was tripping over itself to bring Cash's life story to the big screen, Haggard's is a far more complex and compelling tale and one that should be told. Hopefully, Merle will get his due someday.

For the time being, though, PBS will premiere: Merle Haggard: Learning to Live with Myself this Wednesday, July 21 at 8pm(CST). For those of you who are otherwise unfamiliar with Haggard, and even those who consider themselves fans, I highly recommend you watch this documentary on Wednesday.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Lightning Bolt

Last weekend, I finally got to see one of my favorite bands - Lightning Bolt - thoroughly redeeming myself from their last stop in Austin.

Three years ago, they played at Emo's. It was a ticketless show. I had to make a sudden trip to Louisiana and returned the night of the show, speeding like a mad man in hopes of making it on time, which I did, but to a sold out show. I was utterly deflated, which led me to Plan B - I tried to sneak in through a gate in the back and was instantly thrown out by a really large man who wasn't in the best of moods.

Looking back on it now, I realize that it just wasn't meant to be for me to see Lightning Bolt that night. In addition to the misguided ticketless show idea, they also performed a stageless show(which they are known for) in the middle of the crowd. This is a good idea for a house party, but not the best of ideas for a concert venue as the only people who can really see the show are those who are in the immediate circle surrounding the band.

Last Saturday night's show at Mohawks was far different. I had a ticket in hand and the band finally decided to utilize a stage much to my delight. Lightning Bolt's sound can be best described as an all-out sonic assault to the ears fueled by bassist Brian Gibson and my absolute favorite drummer in the world - Brain Chippendale. Excellent show!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Books and Foals

The Books are an experimental two-piece band formed in New York City in 1999. Their sound is basically strings, often distorted, mixed with random audio clips. Nothing else really sounds like them. Their debut album Thought for Food was released in 2002, but the first album I heard was its 2003 follow up The Lemon of Pink and it still remains one of my favorite albums to this day. The Books sound, however, doesn't really differ from one album to the next with the exception of their latest album The Way Out which is funkier and more upbeat and their best album since The Lemon of Pink.

Another album that has really been growing on me lately is Total Life Forever by the English 5-piece band Foals. I can't put my finger on who or what they sound like, but I like it nonetheless.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Rolling Stone Bombshell

What many may see as a stupid move on General Stanley McChrystal's part regarding his comments to Rolling Stone magazine in which he degrades the Obama administration, I see as a calculated attempt to get the hell out of a dead end situation in Afghanistan. McChrystal can't possibly be so misguided as to think that hanging out with a Rolling Stone reporter for a lengthy period of time while talking shit about his boss - the President of the United States - will be "off the record." Not surprisingly, McChrystal was fired today and I can't help but think that he has to be relieved.

The timeline that Obama has set for leaving Afghanistan is July of 2011. We are not currently winning this war and things are not going to drastically change for the better in the span of a year. This timeline is foolish. McChrystal knows this timeline is foolish. General David Petraeus, who has replaced McChrystal, certainly has to believe that this timeline is foolish. When outrage ensued over Afghan president Hamid Karzai's threat to join the Taliban, you need to realize that Afghanis won't have much choice once U.S. troops pull out. If you are trying to win the "hearts and minds" of the Afghan population, this timeline is not only a noose around their loyalties to American forces, but a death sentence as well.

The silver lining in all of this is that Petraeus is Obama's last realistic option in Afghanistan which will hopefully give him leverage. Petraeus understands Afghanistan and Middle East issues just as well if not better, in my opinion, than McChrystal. In March, Patraeus said that the perception of U.S. favoritism towards Israel was becoming a liability for the advancement of our interests abroad. An obvious statement, but one that is rarely uttered from such a high ranking military official. Needless to say, I like Petraeus.

I don't blame McChrystal for saying the things he said about Obama given the situation in Afghanistan. Hopefully, this will be a wakeup call for an administration that is quickly unraveling while justifiably being perceived by the public as disengaged and elitist.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Baby Snakes and Bruce Bickford

Baby Snakes is a film documenting Frank Zappa's 1977 Halloween concert at New York City's Palladium Theater. I saw it for the first time the other night and, even though I like Zappa, this documentary clocked in at just under 3 hours which made me want to punch my television set. It was way too long and I could care less about backstage hijinks. It did, however, make me realize two things that I'm very thankful for: 1)Frank Zappa is an amazing guitarist, which is even more frustrating considering he plays it all of ten minutes throughout the entire film; and 2)the most wonderful thing about this whole documentary is, hands down, the spotlight it shines on artist Bruce Bickford. My anger at the length of this film was tempered by the need to find out more about Bickford, which led me to a 2004 documentary film about his life entitled Monster Road.

Egos are quite a pet peeve of mine and there couldn't be a bigger gulf in egos as there is between watching Zappa's in Baby Snakes and Bickford's lack of one in Monster Road. I would argue that Bickford is one of the most important visual artists of our lifetime and yet, as the film points out, the guy can't find work. You would think that some current musical artist would seek him out to do a video but, then again, what else should you expect? The non-egotistical of the world don't exactly market themselves very well because, well, they don't have an ego.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Russell Brand

"My life is a series of embarrassing incidents strung together by telling people about those embarrassing incidents."
-Russell Brand

I've never seen Forgetting Sarah Marshall nor have I seen Russell Brand's latest movie Get Him To The Greek. I bought Russell Brand In New York City on dvd and was a bit disappointed, yet every time I see this guy as a guest on late night talk shows, he absolutely shines. The guy intrigues me so much that I purchased his latest book "My Booky Wook: A Memoir of Sex, Drugs, and Stand-Up."

If you're looking for high comedy, this isn't the book for you. Reading "My Booky Wook" is what I imagine a priest feels like in a confessional booth upon hearing the most lurid tales of debauchery he has come across. Russell Brand is a man of many vices, and while most people would bristle at the thought of airing their own personal dirty laundry, Brand not only airs his, but he dissects it as well in a very impressive manner. Jail; drug rehab; sex addiction rehab; mental issues - Mr. Brand has his demons and, yet, he makes light of them at his own expense while holding a mirror to society's own hypocrisies.

Russell Brand has all the potential in the world to become the next Lenny Bruce. Whether he will or not remains to be seen, but I really like this guy and I highly recommend this book.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Ariel Pink

Ariel Pink's latest album Before Today has been getting great reviews which is completely confusing to me because his previous work pretty much got overlooked. Pitchfork.com gave Before Today a 9.0 rating while giving his far better 2004 album The Doldrums a 5.0 rating.
And that's the trouble with The Doldrums, and the reasoning behind this conflicted rating. The album is not so much Ariel Pink's creation as it is Ariel Pink himself, a real-time observation of his brain synapses at work. His nerves are either firing at Einstein levels or misfiring like harlequin babies, and in fairness, I'm hardly the staff brain surgeon.
-Nick Sylvester, October 25, 2004

This isn't a knock against Ariel Pink so much as it is a knock against critics who find his latest album more appealing. Before Today is The Doldrums lite. I'm happy for Ariel Pink in that critics are finally giving him his due, but if you fell in love with The Doldrums first, I can't imagine that you are blown away by this album because I'm not. Anyone who thinks this new album is his best, I must challenge you to a duel.

Monday, May 31, 2010

The Terrorist State of Israel

The flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza that is being talked about in the above video didn't make it to its intended destination because the Israeli Navy attacked the ships this morning killing 19 people.* We're not talking about nineteen combatants in war or terrorists - the Israeli military killed nineteen humanitarian aid workers in international waters, no less. World condemnation of Israel has been swift. Of course, President Obama's response has been predictably cautious. Yet when it comes to the defense of Israel, Obama is anything but cautious as he successfully lobbied Congress recently to give Israel 205 million dollars to build a missile defense system. We're not talking about a poor country here. Israel is a developed nation - let them build their own fucking defense system. Meanwhile, Obama can't issue one word in support of humanitarian aid for Palestinians who are desperately poor??? What a fucking joke this administration is.
*Right now, the death toll is at 10. I've seen various figures on the casualties. Nineteen, however, is not a definitive number yet.

Friday, May 28, 2010

M.I.A. vs. Hirschberg

A recent, not so flattering New York Times Magazine cover story about M.I.A. written by Lynn Hirschberg has infuriated M.I.A. so much that she tweeted "917.834.3158 CALL ME IF YOU WANNA TALK TO ME ABOUT THE N Y T TRUTH ISSUE, ill b taking calls all day bitches." It turns out that the cell number actually belonged to Hirschberg who herself is now infuriated over M.I.A. giving it out. "It's a fairly unethical thing to do," Hirschberg said.

What I find to be slightly unethical is schmoozing up to someone you are interviewing with the hidden agenda of tearing them down. Point in case:

Unity holds no allure for Maya — she thrives on conflict, real or imagined. “I kind of want to be an outsider,” she said, eating a truffle-flavored French fry.

That sentence alone leaves me with doubts regarding Hirschberg's intentions and integrity as a reporter. Regardless, it is valid to ask of someone, who considers herself an outsider and anti-establishment, why exactly she married into the establishment(she married Ben Bronfman, son of the Warner Music Group chief executive and Seagram’s heir Edgar Bronfman Jr.) and now lives in Beverly Hills, but Hirschberg never debates the issues she has with M.I.A., instead preferring to deceptively ensnare her in a hypocritical web of perceived lies that she can publish without challenge. M.I.A. also claimed that her father was a revolutionary for the Tamil Tigers which the article seems to dismiss as fabricated. If this information about her father is indeed fabricated, that would be pretty damning to her credibility but, again, Hirschberg never takes M.I.A. to task on this issue. That, to me, is suspicious and I would say, in regards to this article, give M.I.A. the benefit of the doubt first and let her tell her side of the story before you spout that she's a poser.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Janelle Monae

The current soul universe, for me, has revolved around two individuals - Lauryn Hill(despite her lengthy absence) and Erykah Badu. That said, it wasn't enough for me to pull the trigger on a $107 ticket to see Badu live in Houston at the Verizon Wireless Theater on June 13.

That, however, changed upon hearing Janelle Monae's fantastic new album The ArchAndroid(Monae is opening for Badu in Houston). The ArchAndroid isn't a soul album so much as it is a stew of many different genres and influences that never sounds forced.

One hundred and seven dollars is still quite a chunk to pay to those greedy bastards at Ticketmaster, but after listening to The ArchAndroid, that pill is a lot easier to swallow now.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Shelby Lynne

I can't imagine a better, more intimate setting to hear music in Austin than St. David's Episcopal Church. The Cactus Cafe is a close second, but the high wooden ceilings, dim lighting, acoustics, as well as the view of downtown from behind the small stage all make for a great listening experience at the downtown church.

Tonight's main attraction was the soulful, country-blues of Shelby Lynne and she didn't disappoint. Like her younger sister, Allison Moorer, Lynne rarely gets the recognition she deserves because she doesn't fit a particular niche, but she can write the blues with the best of them because she's lived it. Her father was an abusive alcoholic who eventually killed her mother before turning the gun on himself when Shelby was growing up in Alabama. "You can't write a real record and fake it," Lynne said tonight between songs. "I couldn't fake it if I tried. I've lived this." She certainly has and she conveys it well.

Her latest album Tears, Lies, and Alibis was released last month and though it's her 11th album, it's the first one on her own label, EVERSO records.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


"Art used to embody something meaningful enough to be relevant beyond the time in which it was made, but collectors today are attracted to art that 'holds a mirror to our times' and are too impatient to hang on to the work long enough to see if it contains any 'timeless' rewards. Experts say that the art that sells most easily at auction has a 'kind of immediate appeal' or 'wow factor.'
-Sarah Thornton(Seven Days In The Art World)

The most mysterious and well-known artist of our times, Banksy, has directed a splendid documentary or mocumentary, of which I'll place my bets on the latter.

Exit Through The Gift Shop begins as a documentary about street artists that has been filmed throughout the years by enthusiast Thierry Guetta. Guetta eventually becomes so involved that he decides to become a sort of amateur street artist himself. It all goes to his head and he decides to show his work to the public, but first he convinces his street art pals to hype the show which they "grudgingly" agree to. Thus the fix(or buzz) is in. Suddenly, Guetta's work is on the cover of LA Weekly and his art is selling for millions. A prank has been pulled on the unsuspecting art collectors, dealers, hipsters, and whatnot.

As this unfolds, Banksy and others are degrading this guy as a terrible artist and Guetta plays the part perfectly of the buffoon whose "genius" has all gone to his head. Many in the crowd at the movie theater(especially the obnoxious idiots next to me) are appalled at Guetta's work. Banksy has thus pulled off his second prank, albeit a subtle one, and proves that he is far more than just hype - Banksy is truly one of the most relevant artists of our time. Excellent movie!

Friday, May 14, 2010


M.I.A.'s third album is slated to be released on July 13 and the first and only single from the album that I have heard so far is a track entitled "Born Free." While it is nowhere close to being one of my favorite M.I.A. songs, the track has been stuck in my head for days as the result of her sampling a song entitled "Ghost Rider" from one of the truly great, yet completely misunderstood, albums in the history of music - Suicide's self-titled masterpiece which was released in 1977.

New York City in the 1970's was on the verge of bankruptcy and was viewed by the world as the epicenter of crime and social disorder. The 1981 film Escape From New York, written in the mid-70s by its director, John Carpenter, is an apocalyptic tale in which New York City is converted into a maximum security prison. It was very symbolic of the chaotic concrete jungle that New York City was descending into and it is within this context that Suicide's confrontational, self-titled album should be heard.

Formed in 1971, Suicide consisted of vocalist Alan Vega along with Martin Rev, who created the unique Suicide sound with synthesizers and drum machines. Though they had been playing for many years, their first studio album Suicide wouldn't be released until 1977. It's not that hard to imagine, upon listening to it, the reasoning behind the reluctance to put this album out. It is the soundtrack to the hellhole that New York City was at the time. It's a stressful album. It's the schizophrenic homeless guy that you're desperately trying to avoid eye contact with. It's that gut feeling that you may not make it home once you get off at your bus stop. Suicide is not for the faint of heart.

To this day, when I put that record on, it gets an immediate reaction(usually negative) from people who are otherwise unfamiliar with the band which, I imagine, is exactly what Vega and Rev were shooting for. This band genuinely frightened or angered people when they took to the stage. "We started getting booed as soon as we came onstage. Just from the way we looked they started giving us hell already," recalled Vega who would often brandish a six-foot motorcycle chain while on stage. New York City was a very uncomfortable place at that time and Suicide reflected Vega and Rev's dystopian view.

The other reaction from those hearing Suicide for the first time is the utter disbelief at the time period in which this record was made. They were playing these songs nearly forty years ago and yet it sounds incredibly modern.

Regardless of M.I.A.'s use of this song, Suicide will never be mainstream, but Suicide was never meant to be mainstream. Originality is often the bane of mainstream acceptance and, luckily, there are a handful of artists like Suicide who refuse to play by the rules.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Ian Curtis

Having only two studio albums under your belt is hardly enough to justify a band as being one of the greatest ever, but not every band is as powerful as Manchester, England's Joy Division. May 18 will mark the 30th anniversary of the death of it's lead singer, Ian Curtis, who hung himself on the eve of the band's first ever tour of the United States. Where musical success would seem like a dream for most, to Curtis it quickly descended into a nightmare.

Married at 19 and working as a civil servant to help the disabled secure employment, Curtis would form Joy Division at the age of 21 with fellow members: Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook, and Stephen Morris. A year later, in January of 1979, as Curtis graced the cover of New Musical Express magazine, he was simultaneously diagnosed with epilepsy. Five months later would see the release of their debut album - Unknown Pleasures - which was declared an "opaque manifesto" and "one of the best debut LPs of the year" by Melody Maker.

As the buzz on Joy Division reached a fever, so did Curtis' grand mal epileptic seizures while performing on stage. The medication given to treat his epilepsy created wild mood swings. The timing couldn't have been crueler. It is even rumored that some people went to Joy Division concerts to see the "freak show" which seems, to me, to be the subject of his song "Atrocity Exhibition":

Asylums with doors open wide
Where people had paid to see inside
For entertainment they watch his body twist
Behind his eyes he says, I still exist

This is the way, step inside
This is the way, step inside
This is the way, step inside
This is the way, step inside

In arenas he kills for a prize
Wins a minute to add to his life
But the sickness is drowned by cries for more
Pray to God, make it quick, watch him fall

The seizures during performances would leave him in tears. At one particular show, Joy Division used a stand-in for Curtis as his deteriorating health made it impossible for him to perform. It ended in a riot. Along with a crumbling marriage, the fear of his health overshadowing his music must have been more than he could handle. It's hard to imagine that someone who wrote as though he had lived a hundred lifetimes was actually only 23-years-old when he committed suicide.

Two months after his death saw the release of Joy Division's final album - Closer - which New Musical Express hailed as 1980's album of the year. Besides the brilliant music that Ian Curtis left behind lies the fact that all of this madness and creativity existed in such an incredibly short time span and yet its impact is, undoubtedly, eternal.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Kick Ass!

Kick Ass - I had this film pegged as a sort of cute kids become superheroes who kick some adult butt all the while saying cutsie things for a good, wholesome laugh. Soooooo, why was this film Rated R? I had to find out. Well, this movie went above and beyond my expectations. Kick Ass is the nerdy superhero alter-ego of Dave Lizewski played by actor Aaron Johnson. When you go to see a movie entitled Batman, you expect Batman to be the badass of the show. Same for Superman. Well, Kick Ass is nowhere close. The character known as Hit-Girl, played by Chole Moretz, ABSOLUTELY steals the show. This pint-sized, potty-mouthed, vigilante is one of the most memorable characters I've seen in quite some time. Step aside Uma Thurman, Hit-Girl is the real deal! Excellent movie!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Pop Tarts

An ascendant star in the entertainment industry is eventually going to be met with some sort of backlash. And is there any star in the universe bigger than Lady Gaga at this point? Hardly. Why it took as long as it did is a mystery to me, but earlier this month, M.I.A. took off the gloves in regards to the whole Lady Gaga phenomenon:
"People say we're similar, that we mix all these things in the pot and spit them out differently, but she spits it out exactly the same! None of the music's reflective of how weird she wants to be or thinks she is. She's the industry's last stab at making itself important - saying, 'You need our money behind you, the endorsements, the stadiums.' Respect to her, she's keeping a hundred thousand people in work, but my belief is: Do it yourself."

I would argue that you do need the industry's money behind you. Does anyone honestly believe that Lady Gaga would have moved up the music food chain as fast as she did without it? Would M.I.A. have broke into the mainstream without signing to Interscope Records? Possible, yes, but highly unlikely.

My issue with Lady Gaga is that I'm just not into her music. Her video for "Telephone" is one of the most absurd product placement vehicles I've ever seen. And I realize that sex sells, but trying to court controversy through sexuality is somewhat boring to me. What can you honestly do for shock value that Madonna hasn't already covered? I suppose I should give her points for not being a manufactured pop star in the same vein as Brittany Spears but, again, I'm just not into her music. With that said, I must add that, in defense of Lady Gaga, I don't exactly fit Gaga demographics. This music isn't made for me. I'm older. I want an artist's soul or anger to bleed out of my speakers. I want authenticity. Entertainment and shock value are not enough for me anymore.

But should I really be mining the pop landscape for the next Bob Dylan? No, but I've come pretty damn close to it in Marina and the Diamonds, a 24-year-old solo act whose real name is Marina Lambrini Diamandis(the Diamonds, she says, are her fans). And while it's unfair to compare Marina to Bob Dylan, she does possess the same "beyond her years" wisdom that Dylan did in the 60's - a hyper-awareness of cultural expectations and values against the reality of everyday life. There's a depth to her music that requires much more than the drive-through listening experience that has come to define the internet generation. Will Marina ever be as big as Lady Gaga? Absolutely not. She refuses to play the role that is required of her in this genre of music and, for that, she should be bigger than Lady Gaga. Marina is the reluctant middle finger of pop music.

Marina and the Diamonds' The Family Jewels will be released in America on May 25, 2010

The Trial of Syed Fahad Hashmi

In 2004, Syed Fahad Hashmi allowed a friend of his, Mohammed Junaid Babar, to stay at his apartment for two weeks. The contents of Babar's luggage, which was stored at Hashmi's apartment, were raincoats and waterproof socks. Babar eventually handed this suitcase containing "military equipment" off to a high ranking Al-Qaida operative. The U.S. government claims that Hashmi knew the contents of the luggage and their destination, therefore he knowingly aided terrorists. Who would've guessed that Al-Qaida operatives, who have laptops, GPS systems, and other such modern devices - have a devil of a time getting their hands on raincoats.

Despite the fact that he is not accused of any direct connection with Al-Qaida, Hashmi faces 70 years in prison and is currently locked up in the Special Housing Unit at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Lower Manhattan where he has been housed since 2007. According to Slate writer, Jeanne Theoharis(Hashmi was a student of hers at Brooklyn College), Hashimi's conditions are deplorable:
Hashmi is allowed contact only with his lawyers and his immediate family—one visit by one family member every other week for one and a half hours. His cell is electronically monitored 24 hours a day, so he showers and relieves himself in view of the camera. He cannot receive or send mail except with his immediate family. He cannot talk to other prisoners through the walls or take part in group prayer. He is allowed one hour of exercise a day, in a solitary cage without fresh air. These conditions have degraded his health—in pre-trial hearings, he appears increasingly withdrawn and less focused—and have interfered with his ability to participate in his own defense.

How fair will Hashimi's trial be? Well, consider that most of the evidence against Hashimi cannot be viewed by him or revealed by his attorney, Sean Maher. Why? Because much of the evidence is "sensitive" and could threaten national security. Therefore, Hasimi can't argue in his own defense. But who cares, right? His name is Syed Fahad Hasmi and he's a Muslim - he must be guilty.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Tracey Thorn

Most musicians, whether they want to admit it or not, would kill for an international #1 hit single that makes them tons of money. The downside, however, is that it can sometimes define your career and overshadow your other musical achievements.

In 1995, the remixed version of the song "Missing" by the pop duo Everything But The Girl was released and went on to achieve huge commercial success, but it was only one piece of the musical puzzle for EBTG's Tracey Thorn whose first band, Marine Girls, would adopt the DIY aesthetic of the early 80's post-punk era and create a lounge-y accoustic sound that was as unique then as it is today.

What does this all have to do with the present? Well, Tracey Thorn's latest album Love And Its Opposite will be released next month on Strange Feeling Records and if it comes anywhere close to Marine Girls or Thorne's hugely underrated first solo album A Distant Shore(1982), it will be worth listening to.

Sunday, April 11, 2010


"I'm listening to Billy Joe Shaver/And I'm reading James Joyce
Some people tell me I got the blood of the land in my voice."
-Bob Dylan("I Feel A Change Comin' On")

In 2007, one of the most underrated country musicians ever, Billie Joe Shaver, was on his way to a gig in Houston when he decided to stop off at a bar in Lorena. While inside, Shaver said that a man by the name of Billy Coker pulled a knife and asked him to go outside. "I wanted to scare him...beat him to the punch. I feared he was going to kill me," Shaver said. So they went outside and Billy Joe shot Coker in the face with a 22-caliber pistol. Coker lived but the bullet is still lodged in his neck. During the trial in Waco last week, of which Shaver was found not guilty, the prosecutor asked Shaver if he was jealous because Coker was talking to his wife Wanda. "I get more women than a passenger train can haul. I'm not jealous," replied Shaver.

In the courtroom to support his pal was none other than Willie Nelson who is in a bit of a pickle himself. While Billy Joe's trial was going on, North Carolina prosecutor, Dewey Hudson, gave a press conference stating that substances seized from Willie's tour bus back in January are being tested at the state lab in Raleigh. This isn't the first time that "substances" have been seized from Willie's bus. In 2006, Louisiana state police found 1 1/2 lbs. of marijuana and about three ounces of "narcotic mushrooms."

The genre of music that Wille and Billy Joe fall under is often termed "outlaw country." Need I say more?

Monday, March 29, 2010


Erykah Badu is stirring up controversy with her latest video entitled "Window Seat" in which she pulls up in Dealy Plaza - the site of the JFK assassination - and strips naked. A shot rings out and she falls to the ground while blue ink seeps from her head.

According to The Dallas Morning News, city of Dallas spokesman Frank Librio says that Badu should have gotten a permit before filming it. "All commercial film/video or photo shoot projects must be permitted through the City of Dallas Office of Special Events/Film Coordinators," Librio said in a written statement. "The production company that produced this video never contacted the city to seek the proper permits. This is known as 'guerrilla filming' where production companies circumvent the proper permitting procedures and usually shoot these scenes in one take, knowing that if they are discovered they would face arrest and/or penalties."

The Dallas Morning News also reported that Lindalyn Adams, a longtime civic volunteer, is horrified. "I don’t understand how someone who lives here, who is a resident of this city, could do such a thing,” she said of Badu.

a)If Badu's "guerrilla filming" has the city of Dallas upset, I'm guessing they haven't looked at youtube lately.

b)Bad taste??? There's an "x" that marks the spot in the middle of the street where this guy's brains splattered. People take pictures on this "x" while nearly getting hit by oncoming traffic.

c)The city of Dallas is still sensitive to this? Why?? It was damn near half a century ago. Did the whole city of Dallas get together in 1963 and decide that they needed to knock that uppity yank President from his perch? Let it go. Plus, this guy banged Marilyn Monroe while shooting up amphetamines in the White House as he hung out with his pal Frank Sinatra. Don't feel bad for JKF. This guy had a good run. The party's got to end some time.

d)This song is the jam!!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Runaways

When it comes down to bands or artists being portrayed on film, there are very few movies that do a commendable job. Documentaries, in my opinion, seem to fill that niche better. The Runaways based on the actual teenage, all-girl rock band out of L.A., however, is that rare exception.

Formed in late 1975, by rhythm guitarist Joan Jett and drummer Sandy West, the Runaways would eventually include lead guitarist Lita Ford, bassist Ann Boleyn, and lead singer Cherie Curie. And as far as their influence goes, I would have to say that it speaks for itself - I mean, how many girl-fronted rock groups can you name prior to The Runaways?

I highly recommend this film. The acting all around was stellar, but none better than Michael Shannon's portrayal of the sleazy, teen-exploiting manager of the Runaways - Kim Fowley. The Runaways finally get their due.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

SXSW Day 4

After missing Marina and the Diamonds on Thursday night, I finally got the chance to see her at some tent downtown. She was great and I still think this talented young lady is going to be a star. The death of Alex Chilton left a void in my schedule last night as I had planned to see Big Star at Antone's. I read that many artists wound up doing a tribute show in honor of Chilton at Antone's instead. I wound up going to see Jeff the Brotherhood - yes, again - at Mohawks and the show was outrageously good. That band is something else. Another great South by Southwest! I'm exhausted. Can't wait for next year.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

SXSW Day 3

I'm hungover from the night before and I just can't get moving to go see any day shows. I basically loaf around my apartment until night time and then head downtown to the Dirty Dog Bar to see Hole. I get there at 9pm and Hole doesn't go on until 1am. Leaving is not an option because the place is starting to get full. The bands I had to sift through before Hole were absolutely atrocious, except for Foxy Shazam who went on right before Hole. Wow. I doubt you will find a more entertaining frontman than this guy among the bazillion bands that are here in Austin right now. Bantering between songs tends to get on my nerves, but with Foxy Shazam, you wanted more. The buildup for Hole was wild. Sound guys couldn't seem to get anything right all night. The security at the Dirty Dog were on pins and needles. You would have thought Obama was about to arrive. The young lady next to me asks if I'm here for the spectacle of it all. Yes, I am. I need this. I can't take another overhyped, uninteresting band or artist from Brooklyn. Brooklyn this. Brooklyn that. Courtney Love is interesting whether you like her or not and she's written some damn good songs even if she couldn't remember how to play some of them last night. Her set was still great and, when it was over, she crowd surfed all the way to the back bar and ordered a drink.

Friday, March 19, 2010

SXSW Day 2

I start the day at Club Deville hoping to catch Vivian Girls and Liars before I make my way to see Roky Erickson at Threadgills. It looks like its going to be a scheduling conflict. I stick around and see Surfer Blood which really wasn't my cup of tea. Realizing that Vivian Girls and Liars aren't going to work out with my schedule, I head over to Emo's Annex thinking that Jeff the Brotherhood are playing there, which they were, but they had already played. I stuck around for a few songs by Besnard Lakes and realized I had to start making my way to Threadgills. A friend calls and says Jeff the Brotherhood are playing miles away, so I hoof it hoping if I walk fast enough I can make it...not a chance. I stop a guy in a purple Impala and ask him if he can run me up there which he does and I get to see Jeff the Brotherhood at Pie Guy's Pizza. They are either hungover or uninspired. There's no energy whatsoever in the band or the crowd. Friends drop me off at Threadgills and I get to see the great J Mascis' new band, Sweet Apple. They were awesome as was their frontman, John Petkovick. Following Sweet Apple was the true star of the show, Roky Erickson, who was backed by fellow Austinites Okkervil River. It was an excellent show, of course. I then head over to Lambert's to see Marina and the Diamonds. I'm there way too early and I have to sit through bands I'm really not interested in. Same friends who dropped me off at Threadgills show and say they are going to see Stone Temple Pilots around the corner at the Austin Music Hall. Marina and the Diamonds doesn't go on for another couple of hours so why not. Why not? It's the Austin Music Hall - my least favorite venue in Austin. The show was packed and STP were entertaining, none the less. I head back over to Lamberts only to find that they are only letting people with badges into the show. Fuck. The only thing left to see with the night winding down to a close is Roky Erickson once again at La Zona Rosa which is also around the corner. I enter La Zona Rosa wondering why so many people are here to listen to a Kinks cover band. Probably because the singer is Kinks' lead singer, Ray Davies. Pretty awesome. Okkervil River takes a long time with sound check. However, the show is still great and thus ends Day 2 of South by Southwest.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Alex Chilton R.I.P.

One of my biggest thrills for this South by Southwest season was the chance of seeing Big Star at Antone's this upcoming Saturday night and, yet, I get on the internet tonight only to find out that lead singer, Alex Chilton, died today at the age of 59. A huge loss for the music world. Very, very sad.

SXSW Day 1

Are you sick of tight pants/hipster/pseudo-intellectual/neon-colored/pitchfork-approved music? Look no further than the best new band of this decade who is the straw that should break the back of indie crap music - yes, the one and only Jeff the Brotherhood who is, without a doubt, the best new band of this young decade. And let me also say that (the) Tony Castles are another band that should be way bigger than they are. SXSW Day 1...huuuuuge success!!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

SXSW 2010: The PCJ Guide

My favorite time of the year is upon us once again and I've painstakingly sorted through bands and showcases and what have you to come up with what I believe will be pretty decent shows for this 2010 edition of South by Southwest here in Austin, Texas.

I believe the two best new bands coming to Austin next week are JEFF the Brotherhood(www.myspace.com/jakeandjamin) and (the) Tony Castles(www.myspace.com/thetonycastles). Fortunately, they are both playing together at the same place on Wednesday night.

RSVP: info@imposemagazine.com
The Austin Imposition
The Longbranch Inn(1133 E. 11th St.
Wednesday, March 17
Curated by Famous Class

Turbo Fruits - 1 am
JEFF The Brotherhood - 12:15 am
Darlings - 11:30 pm
Tony Castles - 10:45 pm
Sisters - 10 pm
Grooms - 9:15 pm
The Beets - 8:30 pm
Graffiti Monsters - 8 pm
Insound SXSW 2010 Party
Thursday, March 18th (Noon-6pm) 21+
Club Deville (900 Red River Rd.) | FREE

Vivian Girls
Small Black
Surfer Blood
Wed., 3/17
-Wanda Jackson@Beauty Bar/Palm Door(401 Sabine St.) - 8:30pm
-Lions of Tsavo@Mohawk(912 Red River) - 7:20pm
-Flying Lotus@The Phoenix(409 Colorado St) - 1:00am
-Madlib@Speakeasy Cabaret(412 Congress Ave) -12:00am
-The Yellow Dogs@Wave(408 E 6th St) - 8:00pm
Thurs., 3/18
-This Moment In Black History@Apparition Skateboards(119 E. North Loop) - 4pm
-Young Prisms, Ty Segall@Beauty Bar(617 E 7th St) - 1:40pm, 2:30pm
-Marina & the Diamonds@Lamberts(401 W 2nd St) - 12:00am
-Nicole Atkins feat. Future Clouds and Radar@La Zona Rosa(612 W 4th St) - 7:30pm
-Roky Erickson w/Okkervil River@La Zona Rosa(612 W 4th St) - 12:30am
-Invincible@Victory Grill(1104 E 11th St) - 12:00am
Fri., 3/19
-This Moment In Black History@Plush(617 Red River St) - 3pm
-Quasi, Shearwater, Liars@Antones(213 W 5th St) - 11pm,12am, 1am
-The Coathangers, Tyvek@Beauty Bar(617 E 7th St) - 11:20pm, 1:00am
-Shelby Lynne@Buffalo Billiards(201 E 6th St) - 1:00am
-JEFF the brotherhood@Club 1808(1808 E 12th St) - 12:30am
-Jakob Dylan and Three Legs(feat. Neko Case and Kelly Hogan)@Day Stage Cafe Austin Convention Center(500 E Cesar Chavez St) - 5:10pm
-Hole@Dirty Dog Bar(505 E 6th St) - 1am
-Les Savy Fav@Galaxy Room Backyard(508 E 6th St) - 1:00am
-Pearl Harbor, Memory Tapes, Washed Out@Klub Krucial(614 E 6th St) - 9:00 pm, 12:00am, 1:00am
-Demolished Thoughts(feat. Thurston Moore and J. Mascis)@Red 7(611 E 7th St) - 1:15am
-Justin Townes Earle@Red Eye Fly(715 Red River St) - 10:00pm
-Minus The Bear@Rusty Spurs(405 E 7th St) - 1:00am
Sat., 3/20
-Vivian Girls, Tyvek, Woven Bones@Cheer Up Charlies(1104 E 6th St) - 1pm
-Big Star@Antones(213 W 5th St) - 12:30am
-Circa Survive@Stubbs(801 Red River St) - 11:00pm

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Jeff The Brotherhood

While rummaging through cyberspace tonight, I came across a band I'd never heard of before whose debut album Heavy Days came out last year and, I must say, it's pretty solid. Jeff The Brotherhood consists of brothers Jake and Jamin Orral and they create a mighty racket for a two-piece. They are playing a ton of shows for south by southwest and I'm pretty sure they will leave an indelible impression on Austin once they leave.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Mark Linkous R.I.P.

In February of 2007, I drove to Dallas to see Mark Linkous(aka Sparklehorse) live at the Gypsy Tea Room. He didn't tour much and his battles with depression were well documented, so it was in the back of my mind that this may be his last full tour and my last chance to see him live. And it was. Mark Linkous committed suicide yesterday at the age of 47, according to his family.

During that concert, I noticed a teenage girl in gothic attire at the bar, drawing furiously on cocktail napkins with a marker. She would walk up to complete strangers and hand them her art and then walk off without saying a word. She may not have been Van Gogh, but the spontaneity and desire to hand you her work made it every bit as engaging. I was struck by the contrast between this girl who had to show you her art and the man on stage who had no other choice but to show you his.

While many people may see defeat in Linkous' suicide, even he admitted that he would have lost his mind a long time ago had it not been for music, and that, in the end, is Mark Linkous' triumph.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Lindi Ortega

I don't know what it is with me and pop music lately, but I seem to be more and more entranced with that perfect radio-friendly song that gets stuck in your head and won't let go. The Wilco album I loved so much from last year was oozing with it. And it's not as though I've had a long-standing hatred of pop music and am just now finally coming around to it - some of my favorite punk bands are extremely pop oriented(i.e., The Misfits, Buzzcocks). Pop is often maligned with soulless, manufactured stars who need to project an image of round-the-clock horniness in order to sell records. Pop, however, is far more universal than that and a good song is a good song.

Lindi Ortega is a Canadian songwriter who has written one of those pop gems that is stuck in my head currently. "Dying of Another Broken Heart" is a 2008 song from her Drifter EP(I know, I'm two years behind). Ortega sounds like a poppier version of Dolly Parton and she will begin recording her first full-length album for her new label Cherrytree Records next month.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Battle of Algiers

Terrorism. Torture. Occupation. The tension between Islam and the West. There is not a more relevant film for this post 9/11 world we live in than director Gillo Pontecorvo's The Battle of Algiers. And, yet, this film was made forty-four years ago in 1966.

The Battle of Algiers documents the Algerian War of Independence against French colonial rule between 1954 and 1960. It depends heavily on non-actors of Algerian descent which director Pontecorvo demanded as a necessity in the "smell of truth" for his film. And it works. Ennio Morricone's score is, at times, so maddening that it provoked anxiety within me. Even though that's not very difficult to do - Morricone's soundtrack for this film works. The bombing scenes are so real that you can't help but wonder if actors were actually hurt in the process.

The film also does a great job of exploring the logic of violence from both the Algerian perspective as well as the French perspective, so much so that the film was criticized for portraying French Colonel Mathieu as too elegant and noble. The Battle of Algiers is an excellent and well-rounded film that is a necessity in understanding the world around us today.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Marina and the Diamonds

It's not often that you will find me singing the praises of European pop music, but when it's dripping with the cynicism and sarcasm found in Marina and the Diamonds' latest song "Hollywood," it's hard not to pay attention.

There's not a whole lot of information in webland about Marina and the Diamonds but, apparently, it's the solo project of 24-year-old Marina Lambrini Diamandis. Her debut album The Family Jewels will be released on February 22, 2010. This young lady is going to be a star.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Allison Moorer

I don't wish emotional suffering on anyone, but when someone can channel that suffering into their music, it's often a beautiful thing no matter how uncomfortable it may make the listener feel. With Allison Moorer's latest album Crows, there's no hidden meanings or layers to unpeel - her sadness is on full display throughout the album's thirteen tracks. And though Moorer is generally regarded as a country singer, Crows doesn't feel like a particularly country album, but it is a beautiful listen none the less.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Casual Victim Pile

One of the biggest independent record labels around today is Matador Records based out of New York City. I had no idea that Matador's co-owner, Gerard Cosloy, actually lived here in Austin until the news broke last year that his house in Austin had been destroyed by a fire. During his four-year stay here, he's been checking out the local underground music scene and decided to put out a compilation of the bands he thought needed to be heard. The result is Casual Victim Pile and it is, in my opinion, the first great record of this decade. The nineteen bands on this compilation are all playing Beerland this weekend and it has all the makings of being a historic chapter in the Austin music scene.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

...And The Godfather

One of the most iconic songs in the history of music is Gil Scott-Heron's 1971 classic The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.

Considered by many as "the Godfather of rap," I associate him more with poetry slams than I do with rap music. He's more Saul Williams than he is Lil' Wayne, but that's just me.

And, as 2010 is shaping up to be the year of the comeback, count Gil Scott-Heron as one who is poised to make a big comeback with his first album in thirteen years entitled I'm New Here due out next month on XL Recordings. If the new album is anything like his new song "Me And The Devil," 2010 will be a great year for "the Godfather."

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Confessions of a Pro-Choicer

As a teenager, the politics of the abortion debate was unformed like a lump of clay in my mind. I was religious at the time, but ideology in any direction wasn't exactly a strong component in my thought processes. During this time, a close friend of mine approached me with tears in her eyes and a revelation that she was pregnant. "My parents are going to kill me," she said. She asked me if I would loan her the money for an abortion which I did without hesitation. She was sincerely terrified and that was all I needed to make my decision.

The transition, for me, from redneck to college graduate was profound. I went from never having read a book to never being able to put one down. I shed my southern baptist skin and became an atheist who challenged everything, or so I thought.

Life, to me, is not exactly the miracle that so many make it out to be. Any two morons can have sex and create a life or lives that contribute more to the decay of this planet than the actual improvement of it. All you have to do is turn on your tv or pick up a newspaper or just walk outside your door to see living proof of it. And though I'm aware and sensitive to the multitude of social ills that plague this planet, I can honestly say that my efforts to alleviate them are minimal at best.

To say that I am pro-choice is an understatement, but a recent article in The New York Times Magazine by Annie Murphy Paul has not only challenged my way of thinking, but it has exposed a deficiency in what I thought was my greatest strength - challenging conventional wisdom and "group-think" mentalities to form my own unbiased opinion. But I never challenged the abortion debate because I've always believed that scientific evidence trumps religious faith any day of the week. When does life begin? Conception? 1 week? 1 month? Actual birth? I don't know and I really don't care because how much consciousness does one possess in the womb of its mother anyway? The article, however, has a twist as it follows a doctor by the name of Kanwaljeet Anand who was a medical resident in a neonatal care unit twenty-five years ago:
...his tiny patients, many of them preterm infants, were often wheeled out of the ward and into an operating room. He soon learned what to expect on their return. The babies came back in terrible shape: their skin was gray, their breathing shallow, their pulses weak. Anand spent hours stabilizing their vital signs, increasing their oxygen supply and administering insulin to balance thier blood sugar.

"What's going on in there to make these babies so stressed?" Anand wondered. Breaking with hospital practice, he wrangled permission to follow his patients into the O.R. "That's when I discovered that the babies were not getting anesthesia," he recalled recently. Infants undergoing major surgery were receiving only a paralytic to keep them still. Anand's encounter with this practice occurred at John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, England, but it was common almost everywhere. Doctors were convinced that newborns' nervous systems were too immature to sense pain, and that the dangers of anesthesia exceeded any potential benefits.*

That last sentence floored me. Does logic not dictate that its better to err on the side of caution when dealing with a life form's capacity to feel pain? Anand would try to understand this issue further by conducting a series of clinical trials in which he found that "operations performed under minimal or no anesthesia produced a 'massive stress response' in newborn babies, releasing a flood of fight-or-flight hormones like adrenaline and cortisol." Anand's curiosity grew and, as the neonatal intensive care unit's technology improved, the ages of the pretern infants he cared for grew younger and he would find that "even the most premature babies grimaced when pricked by a needle."

The anti-abortion movement has, of late, rallied around fetal pain to champion their cause and I find it incredibly difficult, even in my pro-choice mentality, to argue against their case. I assumed that the medical and scientific community would not assume who does and does not feel pain. I was wrong. And in the legal framework of deciding when life begins in the abortion debate - ironically, it just might be science that assists the anti-abortion movement rather than faith.

*"The First Ache," by Annie Murphy Paul. The New York Times Magazine, February 10, 2008

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus

One of the more amazing aspects of Terry Gilliam's latest film The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, besides being a beautiful visual spectacle, is the fact that even though its star, Heath Ledger, died a third of the way through production, Gilliam creatively works it to where you don't even notice it. Besides that, I had a really tough time following what was actually going on in this movie. And even though Imaginarium will forever be known as Heath Ledger's last role, musician Tom Waits upstaged everyone with his role as the devil and, being the Waits fan that I am, that was worth the price of admission alone.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The King and the Queen

In 2001, Jack White of the White Stripes dedicated his breakthrough album White Blood Cells to country singer Loretta Lynn. A few years later, he would convince the 69-year-old Lynn to make an album in which he would play bandleader and producer. The result was Van Lear Rose - a country music classic that showcased Lynn's obvious talent and gave credence to White as one of the more influential musicians in recent time. With the success of Van Lear Rose under his belt, it's hard not to get excited about his latest project in the making in which he plays producer and bandleader once again. The legend he will be working with this time around is none other than the "queen of rockabilly" herself - Wanda Jackson - who has been hailed as the "sweet, little lady with the nasty voice." I saw her a few years back at the Continental Club and, at 72-years-old, she still sounds great.

And as 2010 should be a big comeback year for Wanda Jackson, the same should hold true for the "king of psychedelic rock" and one of my musical heroes - Roky Erickson - as he will be teaming up with the band Okkervil River to record original music for a new album entitled True Love Cast Out All Evil due out this April. The songs on this album were selected from sixty unreleased Erickson songs. Okkervil River frontman, Will Sheff, had this to say about the new album:
[These tracks went] unreleased due to decades plagued by the kind of personal tragedies that would destroy someone less resilient. There were songs written during business setbacks including the Elevators' painful break-up, songs written by Roky while he was incarcerated at Rusk, and a great deal of songs that reminded me of the sense of optimism and romanticism that I think sustained Roky through his worst years and ultimately reunited him, a few years ago, with his son Jegar and his first wife Dana ... The quality of the material we ended up with was exhilarating.

If you want to know more about the musical icon that is Roky Erickson, you should check out You're Gonna Miss Me which is, in my opinion, one of the best musical documentaries around.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Hoodwinked: An Interview with John Perkins

I am a skeptic. I don't subscribe to most conspiracy theories because they are what they are - theories. And these theories are often promoted by individuals whose expertise is nothing more than a mistrust of government.

John Perkins is not a conspiracy theorist. He is a man confessing his real-life role in the destruction of third-world countries as an "economic hit man" for hire on behalf of U.S. corporations.

In his book Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, he claims that, as an economic hit man, he would identify resource-rich countries and then personally coerce them into taking massive loans from the World Bank for infrastructure projects that would be built by U.S. corporations for the "benefit" of that particular country. When a country defaulted on these particular loans, which never actually benefitted them as promised, John Perkins would go in and tell them that they had nothing to worry about - we will turn a blind eye to your debt problems if you sell us your resources at a cheaper price; drop environmental and labor laws; agree to never impose tariffs on U.S. goods; etc., etc.

Why do so many in our world live in abject poverty while so few live in comfort? John Perkins, in my opinion, is living proof of that answer.

In his latest book Hoodwinked, he explains why the world's financial markets crashed and what we can do to change it. He agreed to an interview with PopCultureJihad.

PopCultureJihad: What do big corporations stand to gain from a bad economy? It seems to me that they would be the ones fighting hardest to maintain a stable economy. Did the system fail corporations as well?

John Perkins: It's more about the people who run the corporations than the actual corporation itself. Unfortunately, most of the executives of the top corporations these days don't really care about the long-term interests of the corporation. The emphasis is now on the short-term and executives making a huge amount of money for themselves.

PopCultureJihad: Does libertarianism as an ideology make you uneasy? Is the notion of unregulated capitalism a dead concept now after this latest financial crash?

John Perkins: The idea of unregulated capitalism is terrifying to me. We have that today. When I was in business school back in the 60's, we were told that there would never be another recession like the one we just had - the laws and regulations that were put into place after the Depression would protect us against those kinds of problems in the future. And it was probably true back then, but in subsequent years - primarily beginning in 1980 when Reagan took over, but with every president after that including the democrats - regulations were removed and it made it possible for these modern-day robber barons to come along and drive us into this recession. We can look at the first hundred years of the history of the United States, no corporation got a charter unless they could prove that they would administer in the public interest. A charter lasted, on average, about ten years and then the corporation had to prove that it was administering in the public interest or it didn't get another charter. I really think we need to go back to something like that.

PopCultureJihad: You speak highly of former president Theodore Roosevelt as someone who took on big corporations and busted monopolies. Would a Teddy Roosevelt survive in today's political climate with so many powerful lobbyists and special interests influencing government?

John Perkins: I don't know whether a Theodore Roosevelt or a Franklin Roosevelt could do what they did back then today. It's impossible to know that. Unfortunately, I don't think Obama has the same character that they had or the same ability to do that, perhaps, but I'm not really sure that he could in this climate. Corporations have become so powerful and, as you mentioned, lobbyists - there's roughly 35,000 in Washington alone. And even if a president could be elected and didn't take any money from corporations - Congressman Ron Paul being an example of someone who doesn't take corporate money - they would still have to deal with a Congress that takes a lot of money from corporations; they would still have to deal with all these lobbyists - so it would be very, very difficult.

PopCultureJihad: Do you think the economy is improving?

John Perkins: I think the economy is improving for the very wealthy and they're investing back into the economy so, from that standpoint, yes. However, bankruptcies this last year were up 32% over last year and unemployment is at the highest level its been at in a quarter of a century. Home foreclosures continue to rise. These are signs that the economy is not improving, so we've almost got two economies, and this has been true in developing nations for a very long time, where you've got the "official" economy - the GNP(gross national product) - and then you've got the economy that really impacts the average joe. That economy is not going so well, while the official economy, the one that we measure with GNP, seems to be starting to recover. We need to recognize that we are dealing with two different economies here and one is very sick and the other appears to be healthy. In the long run, none of us is going to make it through this unless there are drastic changes in the system. We cannot continue the way we're going. Just look at the numbers - less than 5% of the world's population lives in the United States and we consume more than 25% of the world's resources. That's a failure. It's not a model that can be replicated in India or Africa or Latin America or anywhere else or you would have to have another five more planets to make that happen. And at the same time, while these 5% are consuming so many resources, roughly half the world's population is living in poverty and starving. That's a failed model. We have to turn it around. We've got to do something different.

PopCultureJihad: You state in your book that Ecuador's president, Rafael Correa, publicly proclaimed that Ecuador was not obligated to pay its national debt because the loans, he said, had been signed by unelected military dictators who were coerced by the World Bank, IMF, CIA, as well as people like yourself who were former economic hit men; therefore, his country did not have to honor them. Who ultimately decides whether or not Ecuador has to repay these loans and who would enforce it if they continue to refuse?

John Perkins: Well, that's an open-ended question. Just last week, Iceland also announced that they shouldn't pay their loans back either. We'll see what happens. Argentina has refused at one time and some other countries have as well and the repercussions have not been very serious. I think Rafael Correa is on the right track. He says that these loans were accepted by a military dictatorship - and I remember that very, very well - and the people never agreed to them. The members of the military junta made lots of money and they left the country. They're gone now. The country really didn't benefit from these loans, but a few wealthy families did. I suspect, in the end, there will be a compromise so, maybe, Ecuador will end up paying 25% of what is owed or something like that.

PopCultureJihad: You say that "paying more for products made by companies that are socially and environmentally responsible is always an investment in the future." With people struggling to make ends meet, do you really think people are going to be able or willing to pay more for products that are socially and environmentally friendly?

John Perkins: Well, I'm not sure they have to pay more, first of all. Nike's not cheap. Nike products are very expensive and they are socially irresponsible. You may pay more for a car that's more fuel-efficient but, in the long run, you save on oil. Overall, if all the costs are truly incorporated in terms of human cost and environmental impact - you come out better with products that are socially and environmentally friendly.

You can find out more about John Perkins through his website: johnperkins.org
You can also follow him on twitter at: economic_hitman