Thursday, March 30, 2006

HACKING AWAY AGAIN

This week in the Cleveland Scene: Municipal Waste. I admit these guys took awhile to win me over, but now, when one of their tracks pops up on my iPod, I let it pummel me with a smile on my face.

Last week I wrote about God Forbid (yes, again) and reviewed the new From First To Last album.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

BIG SCIENCE

So...midgets. Little people, if you like. Like most folks of average height or above (I'm 6'2"), I'm somewhat fascinated by them. Not as much as some other people I know, for whom the only thing with more inherent comedy value than a little person is a monkey wearing clothes, but somewhat. Well, the other night I was watching a reality show on the Discovery Channel about a family of little people and their teenaged son's difficulties in becoming social with females. It made me wonder about how, exactly, we're wired w/r/t sexual attraction.

I have this theory that back before there was much intercontinental travel, all the people in various parts of the world pretty much looked like each other. Africans looked like Africans, with slight regional variations; Scandinavians looked like Scandinavians, with even slighter regional variations; South American Indians the same; etc., etc., etc. So it seems logical to me that human beings back then would have been hard-wired to find people who looked like them sexually attractive, because otherwise the race would die out. No fucking, no new members of the tribe.

So it seems to me, evolution being a slow process and all, that a fairly large element of that hard-wiring is probably still in our brains. Isn't it? Or has it been scrubbed away by a few centuries of human migration and consequent interbreeding between populations of various regions? I think there's a little bit of both going on. I'll use myself as an example - I am, as I said, about 6'2". I am blond (though my hair's gradually getting darker as the years go on), with blue eyes. My wife is pretty much the opposite of me, physically - she's 5'3", with dark brown hair and brown eyes and olive/cinnamon skin.

Though I've found women of almost every ethnicity sexually attractive at one point or another, from giggling Japanese girls to the imperious black beauties of NYC, from Audrey Tautou to Salma Hayek, I've never been very into blond girls. So am I an aberration for disregarding my own physical type when it comes to sexuality, or am I the norm? And if I am the norm, when and how, evolutionarily speaking, did that become the norm?

And to bring this around to little people: are they hard-wired to find other little people sexually attractive, thus propagating the little-person gene? Or is it a crapshoot - could a little person find him/herself only attracted to tall/normal-sized people?

I have no answers, because I've done no research. This is just something that popped into my head the other day. I'm considering tracking down an anthropologist or someone who can help me figure it out.

Monday, March 27, 2006

EVERY LITTLE BIT HELPS

This Bloomberg piece mentions my book. Sure, he gets my [first] name wrong, but he gets the book's title right, and that's what really matters.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

MEN IN BLACK

I have a conflicted relationship with Johnny Cash. I suspect many others do, too. On the one hand, I gotta love the guy – I’m an American, and it’s pretty much the law; has been since the first volume of American Recordings came out. (Even though only the second volume in that series, Unchained, was anything really special.) On the other hand, as I’ve already started to admit, his latter-day output was pretty deadly at times. No one should sing “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Ever. Period.

But can you fuck with most of the earlier stuff people know him best for? I submit that you cannot. The live version of “Cocaine Blues” from Folsom Prison is one of the most aggressive and harrowing musical performances I’ve ever heard, in any genre. And “Sunday Morning Coming Down” is simply beautiful.

I just got a three-CD set of Cash’s Sun recordings in the mail from Time-Life this week. The box, compiled and liner-noted by Colin Escott (who put together a superlative Hank Williams triple disc last year) advertises itself as featuring the rawest versions of these songs available – so, in some cases, backing vocals and strings that were tacked on after the initial session have been shaved away, revealing the songs as simple guitar-guitar-bass rumbles. And in that form, they’re astonishing. Stark, convulsively alive, and almost impossible to stop listening to once you’ve begun, these 61 songs are a chunk of on-the-fly brilliance up there with the Hot Five sides or the BYG sessions of August 1969. There are classics identified with Cash – “Cry, Cry, Cry,” “Hey Porter,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “I Walk The Line,” “Guess Things Happen That Way,” and a shitload more – but there are also takes on canonical cuts like “I Forgot To Remember To Forget,” “Hey, Good Lookin’” and “Rock Island Line,” among others. What’s more, they posit Cash as someone who emerged into the world virtually fully formed. His image as a stoic, somewhat gloomy and haunted man was in place from the first note he rumbled into the microphone.

Similarly, Roy Orbison was who he was almost from the dawn of his career. Sure, there were a couple of upbeat rockabilly-esque tunes early on (“Ooby Dooby,” “Go, Go, Go”) at Sun, but by the time he landed at Monument, he had found his path to glory. Where Cash was stripped down, his monochromatic wardrobe indicating his artistic single-mindedness, Orbison was a high priest of torment, and dressed the part. I recently wrote that most emo bands were singing the same old lovelorn lyrics that have been on offer in pop music from Frankie Lymon to Ian Curtis, but Roy Orbison took teenaged torment to a level perhaps imagined by, but utterly out of reach of, all peers and putative competitors. His frankly unearthly voice – again, the opposite of Cash’s nearly subterranean rumble – inflated his lyrics to operatic scale. The Essential Roy Orbison, 40 tracks on two CDs out this week from Sony/Legacy, gathers all most will ever need from the guy, and listening back to his classic singles is a breathtaking experience. If teenagers from time immemorial have believed their love problems to be unlike those experienced by anyone before or since, they have their eternal anthem in his track "Crying." At the climax, when Roy Orbison sings, “Yes, now you’re gone/And from this moment on/I’ll be crying,” with the strings rising almost to a roar behind him, it’s like the fucking Apocalypse. Cash was manly restraint, but Orbison was equally masculine in his florid ecstasies of agony. And while both men worked with producer Rick Rubin, Orbison got the better results. The last song on Disc Two of The Essential Roy Orbison is “Life Fades Away,” from the soundtrack to the movie Less Than Zero. Co-written by Orbison and third-generation dark rocker Glenn Danzig, it’s got all the soaring strings and thundering drums and acoustic-guitar-the-size-of-a-building of the classic Monument sides, along with a lyric that takes off from doomed love, incorporates a little “Seasons In The Sun” I’m-dying-now-but-remember-our-love weeping, and winds up as sort of the ultimate Roy Orbison track because it’s so clearly aware of all the ones that led up to it. And when he, by then middle-aged, hits the incredible high notes on the song’s final chorus, if chills don’t run up and down your body, check your pulse.

So yeah – Johnny Cash, American icon, noble guy, cooler than a very cool thing, yeah. But it’s that very coolness, that far-from-effortless fa├žade, that makes his work something I only listen to once every few years. Roy Orbison, on the other hand, tore open his chest and exposed his bleeding heart on every one of his classic singles (okay, maybe not “Workin’ For The Man”), and that kind of lush, grandly quixotic statement seems to me somehow even more quintessentially American, and something I’m much more likely to wallow in on a regular basis.

Monday, March 20, 2006

PUNCHING ABOVE MY WEIGHT

I've been doing interviews for a column in Global Rhythm which, until now, has consisted of folks answering the same questions every month - a standard format into which we slot one unlucky volunteer after another. I decided that was boring (and most of the people we asked to do it thought it sounded boring, apparently, because we got way more refusals than acceptances). So I decided to do two things: 1) broaden the scope beyond "world music people" and 2) tailor each month's questions to that month's subject. You know, like a real interview. Last week, I sat down for an hour with Ryuichi Sakamoto, and this morning I spent about 45 minutes on the phone with Christopher Hitchens.

The conversation with Sakamoto was utterly fascinating. He's a smart, funny guy who's almost as hyper-productive as Bill Laswell (the first person I interviewed for the column since starting here) and who totally disregards the traditional division between high art and crass commercialism - he recently composed a ringtone for a cell-phone company, though I forget which one. We talked about globalism, whether technology and high-speed information transfer is good or bad for native cultures, and lots of other subjects.

Hitchens was just as interesting. I disagree with him on Iraq, but I told him in advance I wasn't going to bring that up. I wanted to interview Christopher Hitchens the world traveler and literary critic, and that's what I got. We talked religion (he's against it, for those who don't know, and is currently working on a book that will remind everyone who may have forgotten just how strongly against it he is), literature, and music (just a little). And he told me a very funny story about asking Suge Knight to pose for a picture with his (Hitchens') teenaged son.

Other folks I'm trying to track down: Gustavo Santaolalla, Chris Hedges, Ousmane Sembene, and William Vollmann. Sembene and Santaolalla seem the most likely at this point.

Monday, March 13, 2006

OLBERMANN

Keith Olbermann is my favorite TV journalist. I'll go further - Keith Olbermann is the only TV journalist currently on the air who doesn't make me weep for humanity on a regular basis. (I want Hillary Clinton to announce unequivocally that she's not going to run for President, in the hope that the news will cause Tim Russert and Chris Matthews to hold hands and run off the roof of NBC headquarters in a suicide pact.)

Anyway, Saturday night, Olbermann was interviewed by the Man Without Qualities himself, Brian Lamb, on C-SPAN's Q&A program. I missed it, and I bet you did, too. Here's the transcript.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

DIRTY HIPPIE!

I've started publishing CD reviews in Relix. I don't think their stuff is online, so here is everything I contribute to the upcoming April/May 06 issue (Zappa cover):

PEARLS AND BRASS
The Indian Tower Drag City
The power trio is rock's platonic ideal, stripping the music to guitar, bass and drums and excising preening, non-instrumentalist frontmen. ZZ Top, Grand Funk Railroad and the James Gang worked like hard boppers, transcending the blues they revered. Pearls and Brass labors mightily, but falls short. Heavy isn't just about loud guitars, which they've got; it's mostly about rhythm, which they ain't got. Drummer Josh Martin flails like a headbanger, never swinging half as hard as Don Brewer, never mind Frank Beard. The mix disappoints, too: Randy Huth's got gnarled riffs aplenty, but his guitar and Joel Winter's bass are a muddy wall, not separate and complementary, GF style. Steady gigging and better engineering, respectively, can fix each of these problems. Better luck next time.

VERNON REID & MASQUE
Other True Self Favored Nations
Living Colour forced adventurous rock fans to swallow hard and ignore Corey Glover's hambone post-soul vocals if they wanted to feast on Vernon Reid's Robert-Fripp-meets-Greg-Ginn riffage. This brainy, assured instrumental album is the long-awaited payoff for their sacrifice. Covers of Depeche Mode's "Enjoy the Silence" and Radiohead's "The National Anthem" find Reid pushing vocal melodies through masochistic amps; deeper in he takes on Tony Williams' "Wildlife," eulogizing the jazz-rock pioneer in shades of blue flame. The originals are the real keepers, though: among others, "Flatbush and Church Revisited" lays gritty hard-rock snarl over a convincing reggae rhythm from the always airtight backing band and the stomping "Mind of My Mind" could be an outtake from his old band's underrated Time's Up...

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

WHAT, NO "BOB GEORGE"?

Got the new Ultimate Prince compilation in the mail today. I'm hardly a huge Prince fan, but even for me, in no sense does this live up to its title. Here's the track listing...

Disc 1
I Wanna Be Your Lover
Uptown
Controversy
1999
Delirious
When Doves Cry
I Would Die 4 U
Purple Rain
Sign O' The Times
I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man
Alphabet St.
Diamonds And Pearls
Gett Off
Money Don't Matter 2 Night
7
Nothing Compares 2 U
My Name Is Prince

Disc 2
Let's Go Crazy (Special Dance Mix)
Little Red Corvette (Dance Remix)
Let's Work (Dance Remix)
Pop Life (Fresh Dance Mix)
She's Always In My Hair (12" Version)
Raspberry Beret (12" Version)
Kiss (Extended Version)
U Got The Look (Long Look)
Hot Thing (Extended Remix)
Thieves In The Temple (Remix)
Cream (N.P.G. Mix)

Now, I know no legit Prince best-of is gonna include "Le Grind," "Cindy C" or "Bob George," but there's so many other songs ("Sexy MF," "Housequake," the regular version of "Kiss," "It's Gonna Be A Beautiful Night," "Baby I'm A Star")I'd rather have seen on here, and these remixes are just crap. I wish they'd just remaster the back catalog - then I could buy a really great-sounding CD of Sign 'O' The Times and one of the Black Album, and be done with the guy once and for all. At least this was free.

Friday, March 03, 2006

I THINK I JUST SOILED MYSELF

Slayer to tour U.S. with Mastodon, Lamb of God, Children of Bodom.

Oh, and Emperor are doing two nights in NYC in July.

In non-pants-shittingly-great news, I wrote about Bleeding Through for the Cleveland Scene this week.