Tuesday, May 31, 2005


Because I'm too busy giving the book its final tweaks to write posts of my own. Here are notes on a feminist hip-hop conference.

Part 1

Part 2

(Besides book-tweaking, I got an interview tomorrow morning with a criminologist to talk about serial killer groupies, and then I gotta watch the Suicide Girls DVD so I can write about it for a sorta-porn magazine, and then I gotta go back to worshipping the new Jaguares album. Which you should be doing, too. Some record stores are still open as I type this. Go buy it. No fucking around.)


Hey, it's about to be June. So here's a partial list of my Album(s) of the Year candidates, so far.

High On Fire, Blessed Black Wings
Fantomas, Suspended Animation
Jaguares, Cronicas De Un Laberinto (comes out today, go get it!)
Nine Inch Nails, With Teeth
Meshuggah, Catch Thirty Three (comes out today, go get it!)
Mike Jones, Who Is Mike Jones?
Burnt Sugar, If You Can't Dazzle Them With Your Brilliance Then Baffle Them With Your Blisluth
Marc Ribot, Spiritual Unity
The Mars Volta, Frances The Mute

Art Ensemble of Chicago, Certain Blacks and Phase One
Frank Wright, Uhura Na Umoja and The Complete ESP-Disk Recordings (that'd be Frank Wright Trio and Your Prayer)
Archie Shepp, Black Gipsy
Alan Shorter, Tes Esat
Clifford Thornton, The Panther And The Lash

I'm sure I've forgotten things, but all these should be in every home with a functioning CD player.


...I've got a blog, so I get to comment on shit what don't really concern me if 'n' when I damn well feel like it. So shall we?

Anthony Miccio wrote a review of the Ying Yang Twins' single "Wait" in the Village Voice. Two female critics, Jessica Hopper and Julianne Shepherd, responded, not all that kindly, to his thoughts. Anthony attempted a rebuttal. (There's also a discussion about the song, and now the foofaraw, on ILM. My comments appear at the tail end of it.)

Here's what I think: Seems to me that (in Shepherd's view, though I actually think Hopper's critique is stronger) the review connects with the ILM/Voice mindset that (can seem like it) combines what blount called "the old 'art has no duty to anything/one but itself' jig" with a snickering, boys' club embrace of sexual ultra-machismo as rebellious fun (rather than implied threat, which is how lots of women, not just overeducated campus-speech-code-happy women, view it).

My take on all this is that it's all about relative public profile. I don't think "Wait" is exactly misogynist, in that it doesn't express hatred or loathing for women. It is a call for rough sex, and said rough sex may not be as consensual as a few half-phrases are clearly intended to convince the (critical) prosecution that it is. So it's a song written by half-literate knuckle-draggers who are happy to be that because that's what's made them their money. And (I'm trusting the rest of the discussion thread on this, because I don't actually own the Twins' album) this is not the first time they've trampled into potentially misogynist territory, and indeed some earlier examples seem to be worse. In this case, I think it's the creepy whispering (with its obscene-phone-call/stalker implications), not the lyrics on their own, that's making (some) women shudder. If these same lyrics were delivered in the usual crunk bark, I don't think the outcry would be as loud.

At the same time, I think the (commercial/pop-cultural) success of the song is helping draw fire, too. The women linked complain that whiteboy critics who embrace this song, and crunk in general, shrug off its offensive aspects partly out of fear of being called racist. Since I've seen it happen many times online (and even in Spin - one of their articles about the 2 Live Crew court case was called "Fear Of A Black Penis," implying that Florida sheriffs/prosecutors were tiny-dicked white men intimidated/threatened by Luther Campbell's pythonlike manhood, and jeez no of course there's nothing racist/patronizing about that bit of projection), I buy that. But I think that if the song wasn't a hit, nobody would give a shit. Exhibit A: Nelly. The outcry over his "Tip Drill" video was relatively short-lived, because "Tip Drill" was not a hit. (Was it even a single in the traditional released-to-radio sense?) Exhibit B (and here's where we leave race behind, sorta): Cannibal Corpse. What do Julianne and Jessica think about "Fucked With A Knife" and/or "Entrails Ripped From A Virgin's Cunt"? Nothing, I suspect. Because Cannibal Corpse play to a fairly small audience/scene, relatively speaking (actually, they probably sell just as many records as the Twins, or damn close, or did at their peak), and (oops, here comes race again) that audience/scene has no hipster cred with whiteboy critics the way crunk (black, culturally "other") does.

Saturday, May 28, 2005


Let’s see if we can’t unpack the layers of dumbness in this story.

First, you’ve got MTV demanding that Nine Inch Nails not perform in front of a big picture of President Bush during the Movie Awards show next week. Because such a gesture would – what? Cause the band, and the network, to be arrested and charged with treason? Get their broadcast license yanked? Probably not.

You wanna know what would happen?

1. Brent Bozell would go on Hannity & Colmes or Scarborough Country (or maybe both) and complain about MTV’s anti-Bush bias.
2. Atrios and Tom Tomorrow and Kos would talk about how great it was to see Trent Reznor “standing up to” the President.
3. Bill O’Reilly would complain about MTV’s anti-Bush bias.
4. Eric Alterman would complain about O’Reilly’s and Hannity’s and Scarborough’s attempts to “censor” Reznor and MTV.

So Nine Inch Nails backs out of the show. And the following will happen:

1. Atrios and Kos will complain about MTV’s “cowardice.”
2. O’Reilly and Hannity will complain about Reznor’s anti-Bush bias.
3. Nine Inch Nails fans will clog music message boards with poorly-spelled and even more poorly typed tirades about MTV, Bush, and the greatness of Trent Reznor.

But here’s the thing: why?

Why did Reznor think it was a good idea to perform in front of a big picture of Bush? I don’t mean “good idea” in the sense of “important political gesture,” though we can get to that in a second. I mean “good idea” in the sense of “adds something to the song.” As near as I can tell, “The Hand That Feeds” (the latest NIN song, the one they were going to perform) has no political meaning, explicit or implicit. It’s just a typically Trent-y rant about dominance and submission. Could be about creeping fascism, could be about unrequited love, could be about dog ownership. He grabbed a cliché – biting the hand that feeds – and built himself a nice little industrial-disco-metal track. Good for him. But attaching it to George W. Bush, or attaching George W. Bush to it, seems wholly dubious. Pointless. Goading, in fact.

I don’t think Trent Reznor’s a very bright guy.

I like his music quite a bit; I think the new album is much better than The Fragile. (It’s about as good as The Fragile would have been if he’d kept just the good songs for that one, instead of putting out a bloated double disc.) But his lyrics are clichéd bullshit, overwrought and emotionally stunted at the same time. So it doesn’t surprise me that the idea of performing “The Hand That Feeds” in front of a big picture of George W. Bush seemed like a good one to him. But it isn’t a good idea. It’s a dumb idea, because I’d be willing to bet that lots of people, like me, never heard a political subtext in the song. They would have gone right on imagining the song to be apolitical until the moment Trent and the boys came out, and George flashed up there. And then they’d all have shut down their brains. Half of them would have begun mindlessly cheering this “radical” gesture, and half of them would have begun baying for Trent’s blood because of this “traitorous” gesture.

So from that moment on, you’ve got half your audience loving you for the wrong reason, and half your audience hating you for the wrong reason. And the actual song (which, again, is pretty good, if a little too indebted to The Rapture) might as well not be coming through the speakers at all. And before anybody starts telling me that polarizing the crowd that way is some kind of Stanley Milgram-esque psych-out that proves Reznor’s brilliance as a provocateur, I say bullshit. Because, again, I’ve read the guy’s lyrics. He’s a bonehead who’s a genius in the recording studio.

So the layers of dumbness at work here are:

1. Trent Reznor is dumb for a) wanting to perform a non-political song in front of a picture of the President on MTV, b) stomping away in a huff when MTV wouldn’t let him, and c) thinking this is any kind of meaningful gesture.
2. MTV is dumb for telling him not to use their airtime to make an ass of himself.
3. The lefty blogs are dumb for bitching out MTV over this.

That's all. Next idiot, step up.

Thursday, May 26, 2005


Sasha Frere-Jones is absolutely right. I am happy to join him in his revolution, in my own small way.

(I have only been asked to four of the "listening sessions" he describes. The first was Tool's Lateralus, which I gave a 7 out of 10 because it sounded like it had been recorded concurrently with its predecessor, five years earlier. The third was Metallica's St. Anger, which I demolished in a 1000-word review that ran in about seventeen alt-weeklies. Somewhere in between, I heard the last Disturbed album at the lead singer's apartment in Chicago, while writing a cover story on them for Alternative Press. I got to listen to it two or three more times over the course of my weekend in Chicago, though, mostly while driving in one bandmember or another's SUV. It was, and remains, a very good album. And I heard Slipknot's Iowa at a "listening party" in some shitty bar in lower Manhattan. It was nearly inaudible over the jabber of two-dozen open-bar-exploiting rock hacks. The inaudibility turned out to be a good thing.)

I mostly review small, indie-label releases. It isn't like blowing off big-time publicists is a major part of my life. But from this day forward, as others before me have said, if called, I will not go.


I wrote a review of Meshuggah's Catch 33 about five or six weeks ago, and sent it off to the Cleveland Scene. It vanished. Now, all of a sudden, here it is in this week's paper.

Does this mean the album has a street date? I sure hope so; it's an astonishing record, guaranteed to make metal fans (and metal-friendly critics) shit themselves with joy, and forget all about the crushing disappointment they felt when they heard the new System of a Down disc.

After checking the Nuclear Blast website, it seems Catch 33 is coming out on Tuesday. Wow; they're doing almost as much publicity for it as Limp Bizkit did for that EP they pinched off the other week. Well, you heard it here: Catch 33 is fucking mind-roasting, and you owe it to yourself to go buy one on Tuesday.

Thursday, May 19, 2005


So the book has a cover (which I'm a little disappointed with, but never mind), and a release date: September 9, 2005. Almost exactly four years after my first book came out. (Street date on that one was September 11, 2001. No, really.)

The manuscript has to be 100 percent finished, edited and author approved by June 6, so I'm gonna be spending the next week or two exchanging versions of chapters with the copy editor, who seemed like a decent enough guy on the phone. I did a quick re-read of some early chapters the other day, and I'm pretty happy with it. There are a few things I need to add, just for the sake of touching on releases that have come out since I turned in the first version, but other than that, it is what it is. Whoever's gonna hate it, is gonna hate it, no matter what I do now. And I already got paid. So fuck, let's just get it on already, right?

I've got two competing ideas for my next book rattling around in my head. The one isn't coming together as quickly as I'd like (usually, when I decide to write a novel, it appears in my brain fully-formed), but the other will require extensive research for historical accuracy. I think I'm up to the homework, so I'm gonna go with the latter, and if the currently semi-shapeless idea starts to sharpen up in my mind, I'll make detailed notes, and that'll be the book after next.

In the meantime, I earned some grocery money by writing about Porcupine Tree this week, so go read that if you want. The new album's good; you should buy it. It'll make you much happier than the new System of a Down disc will. I've only listened to that record once, but it really didn't impress me at all, and I can't imagine myself going back for another helping at the end of the year.

Saturday, May 14, 2005


Here's an amusing little tale of a porn girl who pretended to be Latin when she needed a marketing hook, took on all comers of all colors until the business got bored with her psycho antics, and went White Power when she had nowhere else to go. (Here's an earlier story about her wars with her neighbors, down in Florida.)

In other news, I gave the revised version of my novel to my agent early this week, and now I'm working on a couple of Next Things: notes toward another novel, and a possible anthology of music-related essays. A few of the higher-profile names I asked to contribute said yes right away, which will make the proposal that much more salable. So I'm feeling okay about that project. There probably won't be a ton of money in it, but it'll be fun.

Friday, May 06, 2005



In the last month (first batch April 12, second batch last night) I have bought six CDs by Grand Funk Railroad. I now own the 2002 remastered editions (w/bonus tracks) of On Time, Grand Funk, Closer To Home, Survival, E Pluribus Funk and We're An American Band, plus Live: The 1971 Tour, which I bought a couple of years ago. Unless someone can make a really convincing argument for Phoenix or anything post-WAAB, I think I'm done. But only because the discs I do own seem to contain a lifetime's worth of knuckle-dragging joy.

I'll step right off the ledge with my opening gambit: I prefer Grand Funk's version of "Gimme Shelter" to the Stones' original.

[waits as everyone leaves]

Seriously, that one track, contained on Survival, sort of encapsulates everything great about Grand Funk - the album as a whole is kind of their defining statement. (It's not their best album; I think Closer To Home is. But it's their most unadulteratedly Grand Funk-ian.)

On the Survival cover, the members of the band are clad in loincloths, covered in mud, clutching bones and huddling at the mouth of a cave they're clearly supposed to be living in. (This is a pretty fair approximation of the circumstances critics of the time would have wished upon these three lunks, had they their way. But anyhow.) They're running with the Nugent-ian noble-savage thing, a few years before Terrible Ted would put on his own loincloth, and swing across arena stages on a rope.

The music on Survival, as on every Grand Funk album I own, is as gloriously primitive as the artwork. The mix is crystal-clear, allowing the listener to wallow in the sheer...competence of every recorded moment. For a band no more talented than your average collection of sixteen-year-olds in a suburban garage, these guys sure liked to jam. The bonus tracks on most of these reissues contain extended versions of album cuts - and wow! did they bloat up in concert.

I think it's the dumbness of Grand Funk that makes me like them so much. They distilled American white teenaged Seventies-ness down into a thick, tar-like muck, and spread it everywhere. It's not the hostile dumbness found in, say, NYHC country or Toby Keith, though. It's unthinking fun, with occasional outbursts of semi-coherent philosophizing ("Save The Land").

Make no mistake, though: my newfound enthusiasm for GFR contains not a drop of contempt or irony. I have always preferred the music of 1970-75 (and even the late 1970s) to the music of 1964-69. The Beatles? Pre-Let It Bleed Stones? The Velvet Underground? No thanks; I'll take Black Sabbath, ZZ Top and Grand Funk. (And Blue Öyster Cult and Motörhead and Cactus and Montrose and Free and Bad Company and...and...and...)

Monday, May 02, 2005



I’ve seen all four of what I’d consider the major works of Sam Peckinpah. Two of them, The Wild Bunch and Straw Dogs, are great. On the other hand, I tried to make it through Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia (newly released on DVD) the other day, and by about the halfway point I was ready to saw my own head off. And The Getaway - well, all I can say is that the Alec Baldwin/Kim Basinger remake didn’t do the half-assed original any harm. Some folks like his stuff a lot better than I do, though. Walter Hill loved Bloody Sam so much he made his very own Peckinpah movie, back in 1987: the baroque, blackly hilarious, sweaty, bloody, fucked-up border blast-’em-up Extreme Prejudice, which I watched last night for the first time since catching its theatrical run at 15.

The movie has two main plotlines, which intertwine pretty well. Plot No. 1: Jack Benteen [Nick Nolte] is a Texas Ranger; his best friend from childhood, Cash Bailey [Powers Boothe], is a drug dealer who lives across the Mexican border in Kurtz-ian splendor, strutting among his thuggish banditos in a gleaming white suit and crushing the occasional scorpion in his naked fist, just because he can. (Today’s movies are really missing the ostentatious, context-less displays of macho that substituted for character development in 80s action flicks.) In their constricted, manly way, they both love the same woman, played by Maria Conchita Alonso. Conflict ensues. Plot No. 2: a group of killing-machine veterans, all supposedly dead, travel the world doing the U.S. government’s dirty work, and their latest assignment, they believe, is to take out Cash Bailey, who used to be an informant but who’s turned rogue. (There’s a twist here, but I won’t spoil it, because this movie really is worth a spot on every Netflix queue.) As part of their anti-Bailey efforts, they blow up large sections of Benteen’s home town, which makes him angry. Eventually, though, he travels down to Mexico with them, aiming to get a personal confrontation with Bailey while the soldiers tear the place up.

The supporting cast is sort of an 80s action all-star team. The soldiers are played by, among others, Clancy Brown, William Forsythe, and Michael Ironside. (The guy who played Lamar in Revenge Of The Nerds is in there, too, but if anything, that should be a laudable tribute to his range.) Nolte’s running partner, the local sheriff, is Rip Torn. Cash Bailey’s two main henchmen are “Tiny” Lister and Luis Contreras (you may remember him as a tall, surly supermarket security guard in Repo Man). Forsythe steals most of his scenes, as he so often does (side note: a friend of mine interviewed Forsythe once, and the actor's recollection was that in true Peckinpah spirit, this was the drunkest set he'd ever been on), but this movie really belongs to Powers Boothe.

Boothe’s madness in this movie is brilliant and hilarious. The first time he confronts Nolte in the desert, his white suit shines like the sun. The next time we see him, he’s wearing the same suit, but he’s unshaven and it’s practically pinto-spotted with dirt and sweat. He’s a true sleaze, the centerpiece of Walter Hill’s view of Mexico as a place where no one seemingly could get clean even if they wanted to. Clouds of dust float around greasy, heavily-armed Mexicans, and Boothe lists in the middle of the crowd, tequila bottle in one hand, revolver in the other. His delivery of the sometimes preposterous, other times oddly brilliant dialogue is note-perfect: you never believe he’s anything but an utterly dissipated, depraved scumbag, and yet he’s oddly pitiable even in his psychosis. It’s sort of like he’s channeling his earlier, equally unforgettable work in the 1980 TV movie Guyana Tragedy: The Story Of Jim Jones.

There are a bunch of extremely violent outbursts, including a massive explosion, a bank robbery, and a shotgun-to-the-foot scene that made me wince when I first saw it as a teenager, and did it again this time. But the climactic massacre is where the Wild Bunch comparisons really come into play. Just like the Peckinpah version, there are machine gun nests, blood squibs as far as the eye can see, and bodies tumbling from roof to street in lovely slow motion, all expertly edited so the plot is never lost. At the same time, the duel between Boothe and Nolte over Alonso has an almost Leone-like majesty. This film reveals the extreme difficulty of making a modern-day Western that really works. Walter Hill pulls off what very few other directors could (probably because most wouldn’t even try).

Hill is one of my favorite directors, and I think this might be his best movie. It’s the movie that made me start looking for his name as a factor in whether I’d buy a ticket, or hit the video store, or not. It’s underrated, and too infrequently seen, compared with his better-regarded, better-known movies like 48 Hrs., The Warriors, Southern Comfort or Hard Times, but I think Extreme Prejudice distills everything great about Hill’s cigar-chomping, balls-out approach to filmmaking (and everything he stole from Peckinpah’s few lucid moments). It’s a movie that deserves a reputation beyond folks like me. (And a widescreen DVD release would be nice, too.)