“Bob radiated a passion for justice, and with joyful fervor he inspired everyone around him to share his belief in, and commitment to working for, a more democratic and just society. Through a long and varied career, Bob took on many roles and causes – but all of the chapters in his remarkable life were connected by his essential decency, kindness and compassion.” Bob Edgar, former Congressman, campaign finance activist, and president of Common Cause, 1943-2013.
In Salon and excerpted from his new book A Perfect Circle, Tony Fletcher chronicles the last days of R.E.M.. There’s a touch of the hagiography that accompanies music books like these — I’m a pretty big R.E.M. fan, but, as I said when the band retired, both Collapse Into Now and Accelerate seem like relatively uninspired U2-style conscious-comeback albums, and, in terms of the last decade, I prefer the band’s more experimental work on Up, Reveal, and Around the Sun. Still, worth a read if you’re at all REM-inclined.
In any case, Margaret Thatcher, 1925-2013. As I said when Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms passed, I’m of the Hunter Thompson on Nixon school when it comes to political obits. Let’s not diminish what Thatcher passionately stood for throughout her life by engaging in ridiculous happy talk at the moment of her death.
This Prime Minister has lot to answer for, from bringing free market absolutism and trickle-down voodoo economics to England, with all the readily preventable inequality it generated, to supporting dictators and tyrants around the world — Pinochet, Botha, the Khmer Rouge — to, of course, the Falklands War.
Much as with Reagan here in America, England still lives under Thatcher’s shadow. To quote today’s Guardian, “her legacy is of public division, private selfishness and a cult of greed, which together shackle far more of the human spirit than they ever set free.” But to her credit, at least Thatcher (a chemist by training) was very vocal about the threat of climate change in the last years of her life.
Update: Salon‘s Alex Pareene has more evidence for the prosecution, including graphs of the rise of inequality and poverty on Thatcher’s watch:
“Britain no longer ‘makes’ much of anything, and when those lost jobs were replaced, they were replaced with low-wage, no-security service industry work…Really, it’s hard to argue with former London mayor Ken Livingstone, who remembered Thatcher on Sky News yesterday: ‘She created today’s housing crisis. She created the banking crisis. And she created the benefits crisis…In actual fact, every real problem we face today is the legacy of the fact that she was fundamentally wrong.’” (Last quote also birddogged by Dangerous Meta.)
On the eve of his new reinterpretation of works by Julius Eastman, The Guardian profiles musician and recombinator Jace Clayton, a.k.a. DJ Rupture, a friend of mine from college and, along with Parks and Recreation creator Mike Schur, author Nell Freudenberger, and star Rashida Jones, one of the more accomplished members of Harvard’s class of ’97. “Boston’s extremely segregated…And musical segregation was indistinguishable from actual segregation.”
Cohen’s original notwithstanding, I’ve always been partial to k.d. lang’s version, and was the version I was thinking of in this part-prescient, part-embarrassing post from November 2008.
Update: The screaming goats’ fifteen minutes continues with a special duet with T-Swift.
Also, just to let you know, I’m working on the traditional annual movie review post, but it probably won’t go live until mid-month, since two of the better-reviewed films of 2012, Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty and Michael Haneke’s Amour, don’t arrive here in the Beltway Styx until 1/11. That also gives me another week to plug a few other holes via Netflix, like last night’s Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (dopey, but not nearly as terribad as I feared) and The Deep Blue Sea (a definite list contender).
In any event, happy 2013 everyone. Since we’ve made it through the Mayan gauntlet and are already living in The Future, it’s all extra time from here on out. Let’s make the most of it! Onward and upward.
Fifty years after his first album, and eleven years after a memorable 9/11 also brought forth Love and Theft, Bob Dylan’s Tempest drops today.
Update: Been settling in with the album tonight, and it’s already my favorite since Time Out of Mind. It’s very dark — Bob’s in full-on Blind Willie apocalyptic mode. This is dead land, this is cactus land. Eliot’s in the captain’s tower & the Titanic sails at dawn.
Speaking of which, what with the 14-minute titular track about the Titanic, “Desolation Row” obviously comes to mind. But there’s a little John Wesley Harding here as well — My early favorites are “Scarlet Town” and “Tin Angel,” the latter very much a frontier tale like “Frankie Lee and Judas Priest” or “Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts,” and the opening track and first single, “Duquesne Whistle,” is much like “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” in that it doesn’t seem to fit the rest of the album. Anyways, a few listens in, I really like it.
NPR’s All Songs Considered gets their hands on “Duquesne Whistle”, the first track from Bob Dylan’s forthcoming Tempest, due out September 11th. True, there is something Basement Tapesy about it upon first listen.
The official site has been keeping up with the various encomiums and remembrances on the web. For my part, here’s the list of my 50 favorite R.E.M. songs that I posted in 2005, along with the R.E.M. archives and reviews of Around the Sun and Accelerate. To be honest, I feel like the band has been flirting with U2-covering-themselves territory on the last two albums, but, as a whole, I’ll stand up for their often-maligned later work — Up in particular.
Growing up in the South in the 80′s and 90′s, R.E.M. was ubiquitous. I remember Life’s Rich Pageant accompanying elementary school hayrides, everyone wearing their “Turn You Inside Out” concert tees to school in 8th grade, and crooning “Losing My Religion” with what passed for my high-school band at GSSM. To many of us down in “South Carolina-ravaged South Carolina,” they — and the nearby Athens, Georgia scene — represented a smart, cosmopolitan, and activist left that was still distinctively rooted in the South. Basically, they proved that being southern and being progressive were by no means mutually exclusive.
When I got to college, R.E.M. let their hair down, shook off the earnest stylings of Out of Time and Automatic for the People and decided to release a Monster. It, along with the Beastie’s Ill Communication, are basically the reasons I spent my early sophomore year shorn. (This was taken a few months later.)
And in November of 2004, a few days after Dubya was re-elected, I caught REM as the Garden, where, for the first and only time, they opened with “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” It summed up the moment, precisely.
It was a terrible day ten years ago, to be sure. But, I’m with Paul Krugman and The Onion. The horrors of that day can’t justifiy away torture, wars-of-choice, or any of the other ugly facets of the the low, dishonest decade that has followed.
“A few days ago I was watching Touch of Evil, Orson Welles’ fevered monument to America’s fear of and fascination with the Border, which opens with that famous three-minute tracking shot…It hit me (weirdly, I guess, but I spent way too much time thinking about sports) that this shot contained everything you needed to know about the U.S.-Mexico soccer rivalry.“
In Grantland, Brian Phillips looks to the border for insights into the US and Mexico soccer teams. To be honest, I’m not really sold on ESPN’s Grantland experiment just yet. Too much of the site exudes the terrible taste and fratgeek sexism of its editor-in-chief, “Sportsguy” Bill Simmons. Frequent contributor Chuck Klosterman is another red flag to me, for the same reasons. Both consider themselves pop culture arbiters and both are compulsively readable but – Simmons on the NBA notwithstanding — they’re also usually irritating and often wrong.
Still, Grantland does publish worthwhile culture pieces now and again — Hua Hsu on Watch the Throne today is another good one. And, speaking of good Watch the Throne commentary, Matt at Fluxblog has a particularly keen observation on it: “Kanye can’t help but project his intense insecurities – he’s emotionally transparent at all times, and it’s part of what makes him such a fascinating and magnetic pop star. Jay-Z, however, is the radical opposite – his every word and movement is focused on controlling your impression of him…In this way, Kanye is analogous to the Marvel Comics model of whiny, introspective, persecuted superheroes [Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Hulk] and Jay-Z is more like DC Comics’ Superman and Batman, who thrive when creators trade on their stoic, iconic qualities.“
They’ve walked away, but not in silence: The Guardian‘s Rob Fitzpatrick checks in on the unfortunate demise of New Order. “There’s no future for New Order. It’s hard to draw a line under everything, but I think we have.”
As breaking over the weekend, the Coens’ next project may well be a look at the sixties folk scene in Greenwich Village, based on the life of Dave Von Ronk — above, with Dylan and Suze Rotolo — and his memoirs, The Mayor of McDougal Street. He shouldn’t overpower the story, but I do hope Jack Rollins get his due.
Notify your next-of-kin: This wheel will explode! Elvis Costello and the Imposter’s Spinning Wheel Tour was in the area this week, and I got the chance to catch my third Elvis show. Here’s the setlist, as half-determined by random spins of Elvis’s big carnival wheel:
I Hope You’re Happy Now | Heart Of The City | Mystery Dance | Uncomplicated | Radio Radio | Spin 1: Pump It Up/Busted | Spin 2: Alison | Spin 3: This Year’s Girl/Party Girl/Girl | Spin 5: Everyday I Write The Book | Spin 4: The Spell That You Cast/Indoor Fireworks/Brilliant Mistake/National Ransom | Spin 6: Roxanne/I Want You | Spin 7: And Your Bird Can Sing | (I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea | Beyond Belief | Waiting for the End of the World | Spin 8: So Like Candy | Don’t Let Me be Misunderstood
Encore 1 (acoustic): A Slow Drag With Josephine | Jimmie Standing in the Rain | Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?
Encore 2: Spin 9: Greenshirt/(Angels Want to Wear My) Red Shoes/Purple Rain | Honey Are You Straight Or Are You Blind? | What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding?
So, as you can see, over thirty songs in there, and Elvis was in his usual top form. I could see “the wheel of songs” being more fun in theory than in practice, if luck hadn’t been such a lady to those of us at Wolf Trap — Granted no “Almost Blue,” “Man Out of Time,” or “Shipbuilding,” but any night you hear Elvis sing “Beyond Belief, “Indoor Fireworks,” “Alison,” “So Like Candy,” and especially “I Want You” (chosen by a contestant on a pick-any-song-you-want joker spin, and bless her for it) is a good night. If the wheel rolls ’round your way, definitely think about going. (Pic via here.)
As part of Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday celebration in the pages of Rolling Stone — the actual date is May 24th — Bono, as one of many artists picking their favorite Dylan songs, sings the praises of the magazine’s namesake. Also of note: Sinead O’Connor on “Idiot Wind”: “The way he delivers the words is fantastic. This voice just snarling, not bothering to hide anything. The rest of us are all busy trying to be nice people, when actually we’re f**king bastards underneath it all – whereas he was quite comfortable letting the bastard hang out. He was way ahead of his time on that. The only people getting close to him now are rappers.“
And Rolling Stone isn’t alone with the encomiums: See also AARP Magazine’s 70th birthday tribute, which includes comment from Maya Angelou, Bill Bradley, Michael Bloomberg, Paul Shaffer, Bruce Dern, and a host of others. For example, here’s Nick Cave:
“I was sitting, on my own, in a bar, in New York — it was the first time I’d ever been to that city — and I went over to the jukebox to have a look at what was on offer. I saw a song, ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’ by Bob Dylan, and thought that that was a great title for a song, so I put it on, and that, as they say, was that. I was knocked down. What I heard seemed so simple, yet so full of ideas — chilling, funny, absurd, perverse, audacious, but heartfelt and mind-bendingly beautiful. I felt like grabbing the guy next to me and saying, ‘Did you hear that song?’ I felt like running out on the street and waving my arms around and yelling, ‘Hey! Has anyone ever heard of Bob Dylan?’ It was like I’d missed the moon landing or something.
So, I started a slow trawl backwards, down the years, through the records, and it was like stepping into Aladdin’s Cave — there it was, oceans of the stuff — all the terrible love and beauty you could ever want to hear.“
Suze Rotolo, author, activist, and Dylan muse, 1943-2011. “‘A Freewheelin’ Time’ is one of the first histories of the folk music years written from a woman’s perspective…it goes beyond gossip to ask a pointed question: How did it feel? Rotolo writes the era mattered because ‘we all had something to say, not something to sell.’“
“I kept dreaming of a world I thought I’d never see. And then, one day, I got in.” The Daft Punk guys release snippets of their upcoming Tron: Legacy score. I have a feeling there’s no way this film can live up to the hype, but these eleven minutes sound pretty darned good.
Like mash-ups? Like graphs? The new Girl Talk album, All Day, gets broken down into its constituent samples in a very handy visual format. Whatever the intellectual property consequences, this definitely puts me in a mood for DJ Hero 2.
What better way to celebrate eleven years of GitM than a ninth cuppa Bob (and my first in three years)? (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8) The freewheeling Bob Dylan continued his never-ending tour Saturday night at George Washington University, and while the haters are hatin’, I knew what I was getting into — Dylan croaking his way through rockabilly versions of his classics — and had a grand ole time. Here’s the setlist:
Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 | Senor (Tales Of Yankee Power) | Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues | Just Like A Woman | Rollin’ And Tumblin’ | Tryin’ To Get To Heaven | Summer Days | Desolation Row | High Water (For Charley Patton) | Simple Twist Of Fate | Highway 61 Revisited | Ain’t Talkin’ | Thunder On The Mountain | Ballad Of A Thin Man
So, if you’re keeping score, that’s a full five tracks from 1965′s Highway 61 Revisited. For me, the highlights of the evening were Ballad of a Thin Man, from that album, and especially Senor, from 1978′s Street Legal — one of my top 10 favorite Dylan songs (and one I missed during Bob’s 2005 Beacon stand.)
As far as the new stuff goes, I’d rather have heard any other Time Out of Mind track over “Tryin’ to Get to Heaven” (well, except “Make You Feel My Love“), and “Ain’t Talkin’,’” off of 2006′s Modern Times sounds to me like Dylan trying a bit too hard to be Dylanesque. That being said, “High Water (for Charley Patton)“, off of 2001′s “Love and Theft (is that album really a decade old now?) sounded as lean, mean, and vital as I’d ever heard it. It’s rough out there, high water everywhere…but it’s good to know Bob’s still keep on keepin’ on regardless.
And, speaking of new albums, R.E.M. has named their upcoming 15th one: Collapse Into Now, due out this Spring. As some who’s come to prefer Around the Sun over Accelerate, here’s hoping it’s more like the former.
“Since then, Dylan has changed, nearly died, been reborn, gone electric, gone Christian, and gone back to his roots. But this recording captures him before all of that has happened, at age 22, eager, in a hurry, and alone in a tiny room on 51st Street in Manhattan.“
Slate columnist and Dylanologist John Dickerson spends some time with The Witmark Demos. “There are secret songs that would never be published and storytelling of a kind he later abandoned. We get to sit in on the sessions where his songwriting evolved, as he takes on the subjects of love, death, and war first from one angle and then another. And some of the songs are beautiful.“
“Bowie always excelled at playing the magic freak: the world-weary, otherworldly outsider who is both adored and condemned for his destabilizing mojo. And because Bowie’s insuperable Bowie-ness glitters too brightly for him to vanish into any one part, a close look at his film and theater roles is a case study in the merits of stunt casting.”
Slate‘s Jessica Winter surveys the film career of David Bowie. Although it skips some memorable turns over the years (Pontius Pilate in Last Temptation, Agent Jeffries in Fire Walk With Me, and, *ahem*, visiting Bret in Flight of the Conchords), it’s worth reading.
“Freddie Mercury was an awe-inspiring performer, so with Sacha in the starring role coupled with Peter’s screenplay and the support of Queen, we have the perfect combination to tell the real story behind their success.” Sacha Baron Cohen signs up to play Freddie Mercury for Peter Morgan, scribe of The Queen, Frost/Nixon, and The Damned United, in a forthcoming Queen biopic. He’s a bit tall, I guess, but otherwise that’s really solid casting.