How do you mark the beginning of Summer? Summer Solstice, the 21st of June? It’s already been hot for a month, you scarcely even notice. Me, I mark it with the opening of the Redwood Drive-In, which started playing movies again this week. In honor of that, I want to play some Summer music. I was going to play some surf music, but my mood this morning turned me against it. I’ll get to the fun-on-the-beach type stuff later, perhaps on the official beginning of Summer. Let’s kick things off with a minor chord instead. First, John Fahey turns Gershwin’s most famous tune, the drowsy and lyrical Summertime into a jangling, jarring, and ominous death-march. Second, an elaborate arrangement of one of the oldest known folk-songs, Sumer is Icumen In, accompanies a literal death-march in the film 1973 horror film The Wicker Man.
May 31, 2009
May 29, 2009
I first posted this over at GaragePunk.com, so I figured why not put it here too:
It is typical of Marxism to view art and culture as a epiphenomena (“superstructure” I believe is the correct jargon) of economics. The first Marxist art critic was Marx himself, writing in “A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy”:
. . . is Achilles possible side by side with powder and lead? Or is the Iliad at all compatible with the printing press and the steam press? Does not singing and reciting and the muses necessarily go out of existence with the appearance of the printer’s bar, and do not, therefore, disappear the prerequisites of epic poetry?
I find it somewhat strange that the Iliad should not be compatible with the invention that made it available to millions for the first time, but the Homeric epic was originally the creature of an oral culture, so something is inevitably lost in translation. At any rate, though I reject economic determinism as a species of scientism, there is something to be said for looking at economic relations vis-a-vis the art forms associated with them, or looking at the medium as well as the message.
So what does this have to do with Rock and Roll. Well, Camille Paglia has written about it, connecting Rock with Romanticism, yet without that movement’s typically reactionary take on technology. She sees it (as a subspecies of pop music generally) as having a kind of therapeutic function in industrial capitalism:
Nature’s clock ticks behind technology’s facade. Try as we will to perfect society’s gleaming latticework of metal and microfiber, we are hostage to our stubborn bodies, which still pulse to primeval rhythms.
Modern culture has been obsessed with speed since the invention of the steam-powered locomotive in the early 19th century. Our sense of space has progressively contracted and collapsed because of our ability to cross huge distances with magical effortlessness. Many chronic stress-related medical complaints are certainly aggravated by this headlong pace, which has disrupted our physical perception of time.
My theory is that the massive rise of rhythmically intense pop music over the past 70 years is partly due to our urgent need to reset our inner clocks to match this new world. Similarly, the modern pornography industry serves an important function in reorienting our high tech consciousness toward our baseline identity in the fleshly and the organic. Love poets in the lascivious carpe diem tradition have always known time is transient, written in the human body, which blooms only to decay.
-Camille Paglia, “Rock Around the Clock”, Forbes 11/30/98
Paglia celebrates Rock and other pop-culture phenomena. But where she sees “an important function” a Marxist would likely see incorporation into an insidious system (“the rhythm of the iron system” in Adorno’s words) and a conservative, it almost goes without saying, sees decadence and degeneration. Rock and Roll is both primitive and capitalistic (by this I mean a market phenomenon, which is not necessarily the same thing as what we often mean by “Capitalism”), which is why old-school (pre-1960’s) Marxists and conservatives have united in abhorring it. Defenders of State Capitalism (to say nothing of the creators of the music themselves) have not necessarily seen it that way. Roger Kimball, co-founder of the Neoconservative cultural magazine The New Criterion , updating the late Allan Bloom’s critique, writes ““rock music is a potent weapon in the arsenal of emotional anarchy.” As an anarchist, and a despiser of neoconservative politics more generally, I can think of no higher praise. And economist Tyler Cowen’s In Praise of Commercial Culture looks at the anti-authoritarianism that inherently makes it suspect in the eyes of the state (not that we really need any intellectuals to point this out for us):
Just as Savonarola was one of the most perceptive viewers of Florentine art, so were the Soviet apparatchiks among the most perceptive analysts of rock. They understood that rock was pro-capitalist, pro-individualist, consumerist, and opposed to socialism and state control.
Of course anybody is free to like whatever music they happen to like, but I think that Rock and Roll is the most natural aesthetic corollary to libertarianism and anarchism.
May 28, 2009
This is a demo recording of Buddy Holly and drummer Jerry Allison performing Bo Diddley’s song “Mona”. It was recorded in a small studio in Clovis, New Mexico, where Roy Orbison (who is also from West Texas) also recorded. (I have had the pleasure of seeing this studio when I worked briefly in the small southern New Mexico town of Clovis.) It’s a bit rough yes, but it’s a great version with acoustic guitar. It’s a pity this did not become a single. The slow parts are intriguing, showing what the Bo Diddley beat could become if it were slowed down.
May 27, 2009
The other day after watching the movie Ghostbusters for the first time in many years, I thought to myself, “It’s highly unlikely that the character Egon Spengler was named after Austrian expressionist painter Egon Schiele and German historian Oswald Spengler, but that would be pretty awesome.” Turns out, he was named after Spengler, though the name “Egon” came from a high-school classmate of actor Harold Ramis.
May 26, 2009
Listening to the career of Julius Caesar on the History of Rome Podcast has me wondering if anybody has done a thorough historical study on the role of what we would today call “propaganda” or even “public relations” in the politics of the ancient world (Caesar was obviously a master of PR and “image management”) and the maintenance of the legitimacy of states. I could probably find one pretty easy on Amazon or something, but um, I don’t really feel like it right now. Happy Memorial Day everybody (I mean, happy Revisionist History Day).
May 25, 2009
David Swanson’s additional article explains how the Impeachment process is possible and necessary even after the guilty perp leaves office, and how they can be used for prosecution of crimes.
May 24, 2009
Hey kids! Did you know that a new album by the Meat Puppets came out this month? Whaddya mean, “who the hell are the Meat Puppets?” Only the finest Country/Punk/Psychedelic/Hard Rock trio to ever come from Arizona, that’s who! They started out in the early 1980’s on the notorious SST label as a hardcore band with such eccentricities as covering Bob Nolan’s “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” and having a guitarist who could really play. On Meat Puppets II they incorporated more country elements into their sound, and by 1985 they had completely alienated the punk crowd by creating an honest-to-god masterpiece in Up On the Sun, the only album I know of that is simultaneously funky, twangy, and trippy. Now, no Meat Puppets song should be taken as representative of their work as a whole, but “Up on the Sun” shows the band at their mellow best.
May 20, 2009
I’ve always had a problem with the History channel. At first, it was basically the World War II channel, but now we mainly get alterations of shows on UFOs and shows designed to take advantage of the release of any big movie release even tangentially related to history. Apparently though, the History channel is way better in other countries, as Americans undoubtedly can’t handle the truth.
Speaking of which, Jeff Riggenbach has a new book out on American revisionist history, which will be appearing on Anti-War.com.
May 18, 2009
I don’t know about you, but when I’m out driving and a police car is behind me, I get nervous, even though I’m pretty sure I’ve done nothing wrong. Pretty sure, that is. And I’m white! This anxiety is widespread, I’m sure, but it is not natural, and it should not be acceptable. Thomas L. Knapp’s latest commentary at Center for a Stateless Society (by the way, they’re having a fundraiser) asks a disturbing question: “How do you know you’re living in a police state?” A quick and easy way to tell:
Are you comforted by the knowledge that the police are out on patrol, fighting crime? Or do you start to worry — do you get that tight feeling down in your gut, expecting to be pulled over at any moment for some offense that you don’t — probably can’t — know you’ve committed?
Also, Lew Rockwell has a funny and incisive take on Nancy Pelosi’s recent troubles with the foreign-policy wing of the police state.
May 17, 2009
Alright people, today we got a real sweet jam for ya: Hikky Burr by Bill Cosby. Yes, that Bill Cosby. In 1969 he hooked up with ubiquitous producer Quincy Jones and a number of jazz sidemen (including Modern Jazz Quartet and Thelonius Monk vibraphonist Milt Jackson!) to make this bit of inspired lunacy. Around my household shouts of “Hicky Burrrrr, uh hikky, hikky brrrr!” are spontaneously exchanged like a secret handshake. I’d say more about the song, but I’m pretty hungover today and really it’s kind of beyond words, know what I mean? Dig.
(Hat tip to Funky 16 Corners for this jam.)