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July 26, 2009

A Song for Sunday #22

Filed under: A Song for Sunday,Music — rmangum @ 4:44 pm

brothers_portraitToday’s song is I Wonder If I Care As Much by the Everly Brothers. This aching ballad was the B-side to “Bye Bye Love”, their second single after “Wake Little Suzie” in 1957. The brothers’ voices could not be more in synch in this tune which shows their country background (one can imagine a number of classic honky tonk singers singing it) with its haunting steel guitar accompaniment.

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July 19, 2009

A Song for Sunday #21

Filed under: A Song for Sunday,Music — rmangum @ 8:26 pm
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I must apologize for being negligent on the Sunday posts as of late. I’ve been in the middle of a big move and have been working more hours (not to mention some extracurricular activities on the weekend I need not divulge here). Anyway, to make up for it I’ve decided to put up a fourteen minute and forty second composition by guitarist Nels Cline, actually a rather short suite for guitar from his 2001 album Destroy All Nels Cline called As in Life. There are five sections: 1) “Carlion Call”, the trumpet-like opener (yes, it’s “Carlion” and not “Clarion”, for some reason), 2) “Prenatal”, a section of atmospheric sound, 3) “Sidewalk University”, a soft jazz guitar ballad, 4) “Can’t”, a Sonic Youth-style rave-up, and 5) a recapitulation of the opening section.

nels_cline

Cline is one of the finest musicians around, and perhaps the only innovative guitarist in Jazz/Rock fusion since Sonny Sharrock and John McLaughlin, who welds undeniable chops to an indie aesthetic sensibility. These qualities got him drafted as a guitarist for the band Wilco, who he’s been working with for several years now while still pursuing great solo work. Oh, and by the way, if you are at all interested in Free Jazz, do yourself a big favor and seek out his 1999 album with drummer Gregg Bendian Interstellar Space Revisited: the Music of John Coltrane. It will blow your fucking mind.

July 8, 2009

The Death of a Technocrat

Filed under: Dylanalia,State,U.S.A,War — rmangum @ 3:26 am
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How much do I know
To talk out of turn
You might say that I’m young
You might say I’m unlearned
But there’s one thing I know
Though I’m younger than you
Even Jesus would never
Forgive what you do

-Bob Dylan

The hand that signed the paper felled a city
-Dylan Thomas

robert-mcnamaraSynchronicity: My girlfriend had never seen The Fog of War, the fascinating Errol Morris documentary portrait of Robert McNamara as he reflects over his life as a statistical analysis expert during World War II, as the head (briefly) of Ford Motors, as Kennedy’s Secretary of Defense during the Cuban missile crisis and the early days of Vietnam, and as head of the World Bank. We got the film from Netflix more than a week ago, but were away last week for the Shakespeare festival in Southern Utah, and only got a chance to watch it last night. McNamara was already into his eighties when it was filmed, and Jane marveled at how much younger he seemed, how lucid and animated. “Is he still alive?” she asked me. “I’m actually not sure,” I admitted. Well, he was. Until yesterday.

Superficially, McNamara’s career boasts a string of successes beyond belief. He was known in the early, pre-Vietnam years as a “whiz kid”, a genius technocrat out of Harvard Business who made cars safer and bombs deadlier with his mastery of numbers, his gift of analysis. Closer inspection shows someone who engineered a series of blunders as he moved from one institution he had no experiential knowledge of to another. He gave Ford the Edsel, and helped bring America its most traumatic and divisive war of the modern era. But he was blind to the source of his failures because of his ideological commitment to abstract planning, number-manipulation, and managerialism. I’ve been thinking a lot about these things lately as a result of reading Kevin Carson’s Organization Theory. I had to stifle a guffaw when I heard McNamara boast about how he transformed Ford Motors by bringing in his carpetbagging comrades from business schools. You see, Ford had fewer than 10 college graduates among its managers and directors (remember that this is the company which virtually invented the whole industry- and without the help of Harvard!): I’m sure Carson would have a laugh at that one too. McNamara is the “Man of System” famously written of by Adam Smith and (in a more mean-spirited vein) much of Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War” fits him like a “T” as well: “You that hide behind walls/you that hide behind desks”; “You play with my world/like its your little toy”.  In these aspects McNamara’s career is an exemplary one for the twentieth century (“I could pick a better century out of a hat!” says a character in the movie Sabrina- the one with Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn, not the one with Greg Kinnear). For further analysis of McNamara along these lines I suggest John Ralston Saul’s Voltaire’s Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West, a book I don’t entirely agree with but well worth reading nonetheless. And of course, The Fog of War. Watching it, even a committed anarchist such as myself must feel some sympathy with the man, who on the one hand has genuinely tried to do good in the world and cannot understand why he has wrought evil, and on the other has the candor to admit that he is a war criminal- or would be, if his side lost.

I have not read any of the mainstream obituaries. I’m sure most will be politic. Many will be laudatory. Lew Rockwell.com was characteristically, and I think justly, acerbic:

Robert Strange McNamara, a brilliant bureaucrat and important member of the US power elite, has died at 93. A key planner of  the terror bombing of civilians in WWII and of the terrorist war on Vietnam, he later continued his service to the empire as head of the World Bank.

and:

If the prosecution of war criminals by the United States was ever taken seriously, McNamara would have been one of the leading candidates for the gallows. Instead, as we have been informed, the man died peacefully in his sleep, further evidence that, indeed, there is no justice in our world.

Is this a bit much? I don’t think so. Bernie Madoff just got the proverbial 99 years (or whatever) and would have been strung up and pummeled with stones like Mussolini if let loose amid the angry mob- and yet he never killed anybody, but merely proved the old saw about fools and their money. McNamara on the other hand- well, just watch the video. So I’ll leave off with another Dylan quote from “Masters of War”, even though I don’t think McNamara was a master of anything.

And I hope that you die
And your death’ll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I’ll watch while you’re lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I’ll stand o’er your grave
‘Til I’m sure that you’re dead

July 5, 2009

A Song for Sunday #20

Filed under: A Song for Sunday,Music — rmangum @ 6:15 pm
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Chet_Baker- But Not for Me was the first song I ever heard by Chet Baker, and I immediately rushed out to buy a CD (this was before iTunes and all that). Of course “My Funny Valentine” is Baker’s biggest hit, but this is my personal favorite, although his version of “On the Sunny Side of the Street” comes close. “But Not for Me” is one of the less-celebrated and less often performed Gershwin tunes, but it has all the marks of a great Jazz song, with smart lyrics wedded to an elegant tune.

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