Monday, December 17, 2012

Clams Have Feelings Too

The Decline
1999, Fat Wreck Chords
produced by Fat Mike?
Fat Mike - vocals, bass
Eric Melvin - guitar
Eric Smelly - drums
El Hefe - guitar, trumpet
Lars Nylander - trombone

If this isn't the best punk rock EP of all time, it is certainly the most epic.  After putting out the Fuck the Kids 7" EP earlier in the '90s that tried to recapture the old school sloppy '80s hardcore sound, NoFX decided to go the complete opposite direction and record one super long song.  The 2 minutes or less tracks on Fuck the Kids (1996) and later on Surfer (2001) were written by Fat Mike in 2 minutes or less and recorded by the band without rehearsal in one take.  In comparison, The Decline took time and consideration to write, practice, record and perfect, culminating in 3 trips to the studio, and 4 remasterings before it was finally finished.

This is the Thick as a Brick of punk rock.  The EP is one track, 18 minutes and 19 seconds long.  Only Crass wrote a punk song longer when they released Yes Sir, I Will at 20 minutes in 1983.  However, Fat Mike stated they got the idea from the Subhumans song From the Cradle to the Grave.  

The band rocks out to lyrical themes of the decline of values and constitutional rights in favor of capitalism, complacency and conformity.  There are horn parts, including a trombone solo by Lars Nylander from Skankin' Pickle.  Fat Mike called this song a "total nightmare", and they almost never play it live.

This is worth listening to just for curiosity's sake.  Fans of NoFX probably consider it a must own, especially on vinyl.  There is an extra b-side track on the vinyl version.  I agree with the note on the back sleeve of the album that states not to pay more than $11.00.  It is one track, regardless of how long it is.  iTunes charges $7.99, which I think is still too high.  You can probably pick it up for around $5 or less on Amazon or eBay. The limited edition clear vinyl pressing goes for around $1000 when put up for auction, which is insane.  

Friday, December 14, 2012

Bought and Sold Out in the USA

No Doubt
Tragic Kingdom
1995, Trauma
produced by Matthew Wilder

Gwen Stefani - vocals
Eric Stefani - keyboards
Tom Dumont - guitar
Tony Kanal - bass
Adrian Young - drums
Phil Jordan - trumpet
Gabrial McNair - trombone
Stephen Bradley - trumpet

  • Just a Girl/ Different People
  • Spiderwebs/ Sailin' On/ Just a Girl
  • Don't Speak/ Greener Pastures/ Hey You
  • Excuse Me, Mr. 
  • Happy Now?/ Oi to the World
  • Sunday Morning/ Oi to the World/ By the Way
  • Hey You
There are a few things to say about this album.  Say what you want about Gwen Stefani and No Doubt recently, but this particular album that started their pop career is very very well done.  The number of chart topping singles alone give a clue as to the response to the album.  What is popular on the radio in relation to actual talent can be debated, but sometimes pop music gets it right.

Part of the success of this particular album is the involvement of founding member Eric Stefani.  Gwen Stefani's older brother did most of the writing.  He left the band during the recording of the album, and eventually made a career of animation, most famously on the Simpsons.  His break with the group has been described as being very Brian Wilson-like, complete with depression and creative control issues.  

This album is a great example of the beginning of the end of Ska music as a genre in pop music.  No Doubt would never be the same again, as Eric Stefani was no longer in the band.  They would continue to blend their pop punk sound with other genres like hip hop and funk, but could not keep themselves from sounding like a gimmick band.  

This is the only No Doubt album I own, and there is a reason.  

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Drawing in Miniature

When people ask me if I have any hobbies, I usually hem and haw and end up saying things like, "I read a lot", or "not really, but I play softball".  What I don't say is probably closer to the truth, that I really don't have any hobbies, and I'm pretty boring.  The real truth is that I like to draw, but I don't believe I'm good or talented enough for this interest to qualify as a hobby, or even a very good skill.

I like to draw things small scale.  Some call this thumbnail sketching, which is a practice used by real artists to conceptualize for larger scale drawings, designs, and compositions.  I haven't really ever expanded my thumbnails into bigger things, because I don't have any real talent, and the smaller scale hides this fact pretty well.

Mythologies have always fascinated me.  Greek mythology specifically, because there is so much recorded information that has been retained over the centuries.  Compared to Norse and Egyptian, and Assyrian mythologies, the Greek mythologies much more depth because of all of these preserved sources.

I put many hours of time and research into a project meant to creating an illustrated genealogy for Greek myth.  It turned out to be a bigger project than I had intended.  The website proved to be invaluable.  Below are some photos.

three 30"x20" panels equal a 90"x20" tree. it's long
left panel
center panel

these pictures give pretty good, clear detail. I tried so hard to get a clear detailed picture of all three panels today, but its so long that I couldn't get a clear, clean shot. All illustrations are done in pencil and ink, colored with pencils and ink, on inch and half circles cut out of bristol. They are mounted on black presentation board. I put too much detail into these to completely describe it here and do it justice, if I don't say so myself.  But here is are a few close up examples: 

 The first picture is from the central pane. I used silver and gold ink to display the names of each character, which are all done with the Greek spellings. As you can see, there are symbols also which denote certain types of deities. Gaia and Ouranos both have a symbol for the Protogenoi, the first gods. I used an Alpha/Omega combo. Next to Kronos is the symbol I used for the Titans, which is a symbol used in astrology for the planet Uranus, the father of the Titans. The Olympians are wreathed in a representation of an olive branch.

After this project, I started to put together similar trees for Norse mythologies, and recently, Egyptian mythologies. These have proven to be more difficult, as there is less information compiled that makes any discernible sense. Below is my smaller Egyptian tree, extrapolated from several sources of Egyptian mythology, some of it creative fill in the blanks, and connections that may not be fact. But I did my best to organize the missing pieces.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Science Fiction Rocks

Sci-Fi Crimes
2009, Epic
produced by Brian Virtue

Pete Loeffler - guitars, vocals
Sam Loeffler - drums
Dean Bernardini - bass

  • Jars/ The Clincher/ This Circus
  • Letter From a Thief
  • Shameful Metaphors
This group is from the Chicago area, a power trio, much like Alkaline Trio, only less macabre and punky, and more metal.  This band falls into the category of bands like the Who, Motorhead, and Cream that have a sound so big, it is difficult to believe it comes from only three people.

This album has a theme, which is evident from the cover art and title.  Although not every track is about aliens and spaaaaace, they still all have a weird other-worldly vibe to them that ties the whole album together, which is in itself pretty impressive.  So, strap on your aluminum foil helmets, and prepare to phone home.  This album is good from beginning to end.  

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

I am a Bold Deciever

Back to cool folk music, I chose one from 17th century Ireland.

Whiskey in the Jar was made famous, initially, outside of Ireland by the Dubliners in 1967.  This traditional song, also known as Kilgary Mountain, was also recorded by The Limeliters, Darby O'Gill, The Seekers, Peter Paul and Mary, the Grateful Dead, U2, Belle and Sebastian, Simple Minds, and most famously by Thin Lizzy, and Metallica.

The song dates back to the 17th century and probably inspired The Beggar's Opera by John Gay.  The lyrics sometimes change depending on who is singing it, as is true of most folk songs hundreds of years old, but essentially it is the same song.  The ballad follows a highwayman that robs an aristocrat (or high ranking military man.  this doesn't really matter, he's an important man with tons of money and power), but the thief is betrayed by his mistress and is jailed.  Below are the words, based mostly on the Thin Lizzy version, because it makes way more sense.

As I was going' over the far famed Kerry mountains
I saw Captain Farrell and his money he was counting
I first produced my pistol and I then produced my rapier
I said stand or deliver for I am a bold deciever

Musha ring dum a do dum a da.
Whack for my daddy-o, 
Whack for my daddy-o
There's whiskey in the jar-o

I took all of his money and it was a pretty penny.
I took all of his money and I brought it home to Molly
She swore that she loved me, never would she leave me
But the devil take that woman,
for you know she tricked me easy


I went up to my chamber, all for to take a slumber
I dreamt of gold and jewels And I never knew the danger, 
for about six or maybe seven, in walked Captain Farrell.
I produced my pistols, for she took my rapier,
and I shot him with both barrels.


Now some men like the fishing and some men like the fowling,
And some men like to hear the cannon ball a roaring.
Me? I like sleeping especially in my Molly's chamber.  
But here I am in prison, here I am with ball and chain.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Lets Pretend the Last Four Didn't Happen

Blues Traveler
Suzie Cracks the Whip
2012, 429 Records
produced by SAM and Sluggo

John Popper - vocals, harmonica
Chan Kinchla - guitars
Tad Kinchla - bass
Brendan Hill - drums
Ben Wilson - pianos, organ, keyboards

  • You Don't Have to Love Me

To see all the other Blues Traveler albums go here, and here...

Finally, Blues Traveler comes back with a record that doesn't suck.  It seems that John Popper is over his post-Bobby Sheehan grief, at least enough to stop writing depressing, introspective, crappy songs and comes back with an album full of singable tunes.  Writing with the great Ron Sexsmith has seemed to unlock the John Popper we used to know, the hearty harpoon player of old.  We saw a glimmer of this in Truth be Told, and North Hollywood Shootout, but this album goes the distance.  You can hear pieces of Traveler's and Thieves and Save his Soul in this album and it brings hope that the band has finally come back to stay.

Also, it appears that Ben Wilson has finally found his place in the group and has stopped enabling the miserable, pussified, emo John Popper monster and has contributed some good stuff.  I'm sure part of this resurgence has to do with the collaboration with SAM and Sluggo, producers famous for work with Metro Station, and Coheed and Cambria.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Extended Play: Part Two

Awhile back I expressed my love for the Extended Play album format.  I think the reason this appeals to me is the same reason it has begun to make a comeback, or a mainstream appearance: it is an exercise in band marketing.  An EP is based on the 45 record, basically it is half a record, 30 minutes or less.  This format is a good way to introduce a new band's sound, introduce a new direction for an already established band, or give fans a little something extra with a new single.  Given the digital file format slowly killing the traditional idea of the LP album, the shortened EP may be the future of music publishing.

One Day as a Lion
One Day as a Lion.  
2008, ANTI-
produced by Mario C

Zach de la Rocha - vocals, keyboards
Jon Theodore - drums

This project brings together Zach dela Rocha, of Rage Against the Machine fame, with Jon Theodore, the one time drummer of the Mars Volta, and Mario C, famous for producing a few Beastie Boys albums.  I call it a project instead of an actual band, because, even though they talk about it like it will be a long term career move, this has been the only release since their inception.  The drum and simple keyboard sound matches well with the politically charged hip hop from everyone's favorite rebel rapper.

Gary Clark, Jr.  
Bright Lights EP  
2011, Warner Brothers
produced by Bob Cavallo and Gary Clark, Jr.

This is an example of an EP that showcases a new talent.  Gary Clark, Jr plays the blues, in the style of Stevie Ray Vaughn and Lenny Kravits.  Bright Lights is a four track demo, half electric, half acoustic.  This gives us a little window into Gary Clark, Jr's talent with a promise of a full length album with more rocking blues.

ZZ Top
2012, Universal Republic
produced by Rick Rubin

Billy Gibbons - vocals, guitar, piano
Dusty Hill - bass
Frank Beard - drums

From the Texas powerhouse trio ZZ Top, comes a four song release, their first since 2003, produced by the legendary Rick Rubin.  The first track, Gotsta Get Paid is essentially a cover of the hip hop song 25 Lighters by Fat Pat.  The album attempts to bring ZZ Top back to the blues.  It reminds me of their older sound when they recorded versions of Blue Jean Blues and Dust my Broom.  Basically, Rubin has done it again by bringing a legend back to their roots.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Batman Returns to the Trilogy Meter

Remember this?

I wrote about film trilogies awhile back, focusing on Transformers, and the third and final movie in the series by Michael Bay.  According to me, the Transformers trilogy meter would have a bar much like the first Superman, Jurrassic Park, or X-men, the second bar would look like Jaws 2, and the third bar would look like Rocky 3, or the Lord of the Rings.

I saw the last Christopher Nolan Batman movie the other day.  Definitely not represented on the graphic above, the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy would mirror the Star Wars meter almost exactly.  
The trilogy follows the rules of a three act play perfectly.

The first act introduces characters, sets the stage for the other acts, and has an event that sets the rest of the story into motion.  In a New Hope, the event is the Death Star rescue, which culminates in the Death Star explosion.  In Batman Begins, the event is the attempted destruction of Gotham by the League of Shadows, which is foiled by the Batman.

The second act of a three act play, the middle of the story, sometimes called the rising action, and often the darkest of the three acts, finds the hero in distress.  The hero will come up against an obstacle and will end with the hero at his lowest point.  In Empire Strikes Back, Han Solo is frozen in carbonite, and Luke loses a hand after confronting his father and losing.  In The Dark Knight, Batman is challenged by his greatest nemesis, loses the girl he most cares about, and becomes a symbolic villain as opposed to the symbolic hero that he set out to be.

In the third act, the play reaches climax, resolutions are found, and the action falls to a close.  In Star Wars, the rebellion prevails, and Darth Vader turns back from the dark side.  In Rises, Batman once again becomes the symbol of heroism, hope, and justice, the League of Shadows is defeated again, and Gotham is pulled back from the darkness.

Up until now, Star Wars had been the poster franchise for the perfect film in three acts.  Unlike The Lord of the Rings which is based on books already written as a trilogy, and Back to the Future, which are essentially the same movie three times, Star Wars, is a unique story written as a three act screen play.  I believe that now it can share that distinction with Nolan's Batman.  Like Star Wars, it is a perfect example of what a film trilogy ought to be.

Megan Fox has nothing to do with this post

Saturday, August 11, 2012

On my fascination with insects

I find insects and arachnids pretty fascinating, especially insects of the suborder apocrita (ants, bees, wasps). Even though I find these things pretty cool, they still can scare the crap out of me. I had this idea a long time ago about writing some sort of world building epic based on insects and war, basically because I remember the Army Ants toy line from the 80s, but then the movies A Bugs Life and Antz came out, and kind of killed the dream. But, sometimes I find myself reading about certain types of these insects and trying to fit them into the fictional world I created when I was 12.

Yesterday, I freaked out when I found the largest wasp looking things ever. They were the size of my thumb and they were everywhere. I took pictures.

I looked it up when I got home, and it turns out it is a wasp from the tribe Gorytini, and the genus Sphecius. The Cicada Killer Wasp is mostly harmless, which doesn't make its one to two inch size any less terrifying.

One of the pictures I took clearly shows the giant wasp holding onto a cicada. This particular wasp hunts cicadas and uses them to breed more wasps. So, I basically captured a Cicada Killer Wasp preparing to use a cicada to make more Cicada Killer Wasps. This is a pretty cool thing to witness, even though at the time, I couldn't fully appreciate it.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Folk Goes to the Dark Side

This has nothing to do with Star Wars, although, plenty has been said of how this epic science fiction film is contemporary folk lore. The title is really about folk songs with themes or horror, crime, and in this case, murder.  

The murder ballad is a legitimate sub-genre of folk music, and has permeated and influenced other genres as well. Before the internet and 24 hour news agencies, folk music ballads borrowed from real events, often written shortly after the event itself. Francis James Child anthologized a 305 of them in 1882. The Twa Sisters is one of the oldest, dating back to 1656, but it is thought that some of these date back to the 1400s.

Contemporary examples would be The Toadies's 1994 song Possum Kingdom, Nebraska by Bruce Springsteen, and Johnny Cash's Delia's Gone. Nick Cave also released an album in 1996 called Murder Ballads which had a mix of traditional and original tunes, much like Cold as the Clay by Greg Graffin.

The story of Omie Wise is a great example of this. Based on the real-life relationship between a Naomi Wise, and Jonathan Lewis and subsequent unsolved murder of Naomi in North Carolina in 1808.

This song had been made popular by Doc Watson, but also recorded by Pentangle, Greg Graffin, Dock Boggs, and Shirley Collins. Another famous murder ballad, Pretty Polly, has very similar themes, Dylan's Ballad of Hollis Brown is based on it. The lyrics are as follows: 

Come listen to my story, I'll tell you no lies, how John Lewis did murder a little Omie Wise,
He asked her to meet him at Adams's spring, said he'd bring her money and other fine things,
So fool-like she met him at Adams's spring, no money he brought her nor other fine things

John Lewis, John Lewis, won't you tell me your mind, do you intend to marry me or leave me behind?
Little Omie, Little Omie, I will tell you my mind, my plan is to drown you and leave you behind,
Have mercy on my baby and spare me my life, I'll go home as a beggar and never be your wife

He hugged her and he kissed her and turned her around and threw her in deep water where he knew that she would drown,

It was on one Thursday morning the rain came pouring down and they searched for Omie's body but it
Nowhere could be found,

Two boys went a fishin' one fine summer day and they saw little Omie's body go floating away

They called for John Lewis to come to that place so he could see her body and they could see his face,

though he made no confession they threw him in jail, no friend nor relation would go on his bail

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Blues Behind Bars

BB King
Live in Cook County Jail
1971, MCA
produced by Bill Szymczyk

BB King - Lucille, vocals
Wilbert Freeman - bass
Sonny Freeman - drums
John Browning - trumpet
Louis Hubert - tenor sax
Booker Walker - alto sax
Ron Levy - piano

Apparently known as "the Chairman of the Board of Blues Guitarists", BB King kills it in this performance at Cook County Jail in Chicago.  Another fine live album recorded with the incarcerated (Live from Folsom Prison and at San Quentin both by Johnny Cash), BB King rolls out a few classic tracks, and even "goes back a little further".

I read a review that Jon Landau wrote in 1971 on this album.  And I've come to the conclusion that Landau is an idiot.  His least favorite part of the album is the best part (Someday Baby) and pretty much highlights how much Landau doesn't understand the blues.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Chicks Can Rock

Dead Sara
Dead Sara
2012, DIY
Emily Armstrong - vocals, guitars
Siouxsie Medley - guitars, vocals
Sean Friday - drums
Chris Null - bass

singles -
  • Weatherman
  • We are What you Say
I love this album. I would go as far as to say it is the best hard rock album of the year. Not only is it good, but the band is also not signed to a label. This band, fronted by two women (guitars and vocals) and backed up by an all male rhythm section (bass and drums) rocks the roof off with tracks like the Weatherman, Lemon Scent, and We are What you Say. I discovered them right after a DJ for my favorite radio station discovered them and started playing their single.  

The sound is a blend of hard rock and punk, much like Paramour and Garbage. On top of this, the band has been endorsed by the legendary Grace Slick, who stated that Emily Armstrong was the female singer whom she admired most. Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters (and Nirvana too) said this band should be the next biggest band in the world. Those are some pretty big endorsements, but this band certainly lives up to them.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Not Welcome Here

I have one of those cases for CDs. It has only my punk rock music in it. There was a time where I moved around often, and decided that I couldn't stand carting around all of these hard plastic CD cases, one for each CD. So, I put many CDs into CD wallet cases and threw out the individual plastic cases. This particular CD case has only punk music in it, everything from Anti-flag to X-Ray Spex.

This post though is all about Bad Religion. I love this band, and I don't think they get enough credit for a pretty excellent career. Greg Graffin (the singer), Brett Gurewitz (Mr. Brett), and Jay Bentley (the bass player) started the band in 1979 in high school. Mr Brett started Epitaph as a DIY record label and grew it into one of the most successful indie labels of all time. One of the albums I wish I had, but don't, is Suffer, and since I don't own it, it won't appear here.

Bad Religion
How Could Hell be any Worse?
1982, Epitaph

Greg Graffin - vocals
Brett Gurewitz - guitar
Jay Bentley - bass
Pete Finestone - drums
Jay Ziskrout - drums

This is Bad Religion's debut album, recorded and distributed by their own record company, Epitaph, one of the most successful DIY labels ever. This album has the sound and feel of earlier American Hardcore groups like Black Flag and Bad Brains, however, Greg Graffin's pedantic vocal and the subject material are unique. Over time, the sound becomes more refined, but the Bad Religion sound has its beginnings here. This is the last recording with original drummer Jay Ziskrout, and has a guest appearance by Greg Hetson from the Circle Jerks. He would join the band full time in 1985. Fuck Armeggedon... this is Hell and We're all Gonna Die are the most famous tracks. Sublime covered We're all Gonna Die on their 1992 album 40oz to Freedom.  

Bad Religion
Recipe for Hate
1993, Epitaph
produced by Bad Religion

Greg Graffin - vocals
Brett Gurewitz - guitar
Greg Hetson - guitar
Jay Bentley - bass
Bobby Schayer - drums

  • American Jesus
  • Struck a Nerve
A lot of people credit Green Day and The Offspring with bringing punk to the mainstream, where it has clowned around ever since in cookie-cutter mediocrity, like most pop music. I disagree, however. This album came out a year before, scored radio hits and MTV play. Really the credit should go to Nirvana, but no one likes to call them a punk band.  Not only is this my favorite Bad Religion album, it ranked number 14 on Billboard's Heatseeker and features Eddie Vedder as a guest vocalist for a verse on Watch it Die, and a back-up for Greg Graffin on American Jesus. It would take Bad Religion until 2002 (Process of Belief) to make an album this good.  Every track is good, nothing to skip over, except the last "hidden track" Stealth, which is just weird-ass gobbly-gook and noise anyway. Some would argue that Bad Religion doesn't really count for culture revival, since they were making music since 1981 and never really left the scene. But this is a departure from early '80s American Hardcore, and British Punk. Plus it went mainstream for the first time.

Bad Religion
Process of Belief
2002, Epitaph
produced by Mr. Brett and Greg Graffin

Greg Graffin - vocals
Brett Gurewitz -guitar
Greg Hetson - guitar
Brian Baker - guitar
Jay Bentley - bass
Brooks Wackerman - drums

  • Sorrow/ Who We Are
  • Broken
  • The Defense
  • SuperSonic
This is the first Bad Religion album I bought, shortly after seeing the video for Sorrow and shortly before I saw them at the Avalon in Boston with Less Than Jake and Hot Water Music. This is the first album with Brett Gurewitz since 1994, and the first album ever with new drummer Brooks Wackerman from Suicidal Tendencies and the Vandals. It also marks the band's return to their own label Epitaph after spending 8 years on Epic and Atlantic. It's fast paced, loud, melodic... a call back to earlier '90s stuff.  My favorite track is Evangeline. This album marks the second coming of a band that had been around since the early '80s and had drifted into irrelevance, and it does a great job of reinvigorating and reinventing a classic group.  

Bad Religion.  
Empire Strikes First
2004, Epitaph
produced by Mr. Brett and Greg Graffin

  • Los Angeles is Burning/ Empire Strikes First
Aside from the We're all Gonna Die Sublime cover, and sometimes 21st Century Digital Boy, Bad Religion was never heard on radio. However, with this album, I started hearing their stuff all over the place.  Lakers games played Los Angeles is Burning, Empire Strikes First was played on ESPN during commercial spots for the Yankees. They blew up for a moment in 2004. This album is a great follow up to Process of Belief. If this was the beginning of their career, these two albums would make the band instant legends.

Bad Religion
New Maps of Hell
2007, Epitaph
produced by Joe Barresi
  • Honest Goodbye
  • New Dark Ages
This album at first glance appears like a sappy nostalgic trip to the past. The name and the artwork are both throwbacks to How Could Hell be any Worse in celebration of the 25th anniversary. This third release since the 2002 reboot continued mainstream popularity by contributing to downloadable content for the video game RockBand and debuted at number 35 on Billboard's 200. In my opinion the last two albums were better.    

Bad Religion  
The Dissent of Man
2010, Epitaph
produced by Joe Barresi

  • The Devil in Stitches
  • Cyanide
  • Wrong Way Kids
This album is great, and more than makes up for New Maps of Hell. I love Wrong Way Kids, and the video has fan involvement, relying on fan submissions featured in the video, much like Dirty Little Secret by All American Rejects. Bad Religion's music relies on themes of religion, and politics unlike any other punk band. Greg Graffin's lyrics are intelligent, and thought provoking, and although his writing style is better suited to folk music, it makes Bad Religion's sound unique and easy to identify. I hope this band continues to produce solid punk rock albums in the future.  

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Roy's Bluz

Roy Buchanan
1975, Polydor
produced by Jay Reich Jr

Roy Buchanan - guitars, vocals
Billy Price - vocals
John Harrison - bass
Byrd Foster - drums
Malcom Lukens - keyboards

Roy Buchanan is the best and most tragic guitar player no one ever heard of.  A master of the telecaster, his sound is unique and astounding.  This album is live, as its name suggests, and is a must listen for anyone curious about this particular guitarist.  Buchanan battled with alcoholism, and ended up hanging himself in jail after an arrest for public intoxication.  Details are pretty sketchy.  He was 48.  His guitar playing has been called a clinic; gritty, beautiful tonality.  This is certainly someone that deserves to be better known.  Oh, and he named his guitar Nancy.  If you enjoy the blues as much as I do, this is a must listen.  

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Got a Revolution!

Jefferson Airplane
1969, RCA
produced by Al Schmitt

Grace Slick - vocals, piano, organ
Paul Kantner - guitar, vocals
Marty Balin - vocals
Jorma Kaukonen - guitars, vocals
Jack Cassady - bass
Spencer Dryden - drums

  • Volunteers
I like this band.  Mostly known for their second album, Surrealistic Pillow, this album proves to be a strong studio record, complete with catchy melodies, and thinly veiled lyrics.  The album overtly expresses the late '60s, early '70s protest spirit, including utopian sentiments of anarchy, and ecology.  This would also be the last album before the band begins to implode, beginning with Marty Balin and Spencer Dryden departing in 1971.  Jeff Tamarkin muses in the liner notes of Bless Its Pointed Little Head that the perceptible tension in the band at the time was harnessed on stage allowing for incredible sounds and stage presence. This album is an example.  Honestly, no one should have been surprised.  A band with three lead singers all with huge egos couldn't possibly coexist. 

Nicky Hopkins guest appears, performing with the band famously at Woodstock.  Jerry Garcia guest appears on pedal steel guitar, an instrument that he would give up as he thought it messed with his guitar playing.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

American (history) Lies

I'll just leave this here.  It's from, which is a blog that loves to publish articles in the form of listed items...  usually the 5 or 10 or whatever number of some nerdy theme.  Sometimes they publish interesting things, like this article about the Monkey Sphere.

The specific article I want to talk a little bit about today though, is titled the 6 Ridiculous Lies You Believe about the Founding of America.  The title is a little misleading, as the 6 items are actually more about the 6 lies we (Americans) believe about American Indians, the discovery of America, and Pilgrims, not so much about the founding of the United States of America.  Either way, this article can be placed in the history category and highlights some of the same sorts of things Howard Zinn, and James Loewen have been talking about for years.

This of course is more of the same in a recurring theme around here, the misinterpretation of facts used to prop up the status quo, oppression, etc.  When I hear people (politicians, talking heads, media,  angry protesters, etc) talking about old school American values, founding fathers, and what this country should stand for, I think back to things like this article.  If people are unaware of the real truths behind the history of the "new world" what else have we been lead to believe about the rest of our collective history?  Also, Vikings!  Who doesn't like Vikings?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Even the Old School has an Old School

Lately, I've been listening to folk music more than normal.  By folk music, I don't necessarily mean stuff like Leonard Cohen, Lou Reed, Michelle Shocked, or even newer contemporary stuff like Flogging Molly, and Mumford and Sons, although I have been listening to those too.  I mean folk music by the earliest definition.

I mean traditional folk ballads, stuff that predates my grandparents.  I like it when contemporary artists cover tunes like these, from both British and American folk culture.  Bruce Springsteen did it on his Seeger Sessions album.  Flogging Molly and the Dropkick Murphys cover at least one or more traditional songs on each of their albums.  Even Greg Graffin from Bad Religion recorded an album filled with folk covers.

I enjoy these bits of music past.  I like Fairport Convention, Steel-eye Span, the Dubliners, etc.  This post will be the first of many that will highlight a famous traditional folk ballad.  Since today is Mother's Day, I decided to begin with this song:

Mrs. McGrath

Oh, Missis McGrath, the sergeant said,
Would you like to make a soldier out of your son, Ted?
With a scarlet coat, and a three-cocked hat,
Now Missis McGrath, wouldn't you like that?

Wid yer too-ri-aa, fol de diddle aa

Oh Mrs. McGrath lived by the seashore
For the space of seven long years or more;
Till she saw a big ship sail into the bay,
Here's my son, Ted, wisha, clear the way!

Wid yer too-ri-aa, fol de diddle aa

Oh, Captain, dear, where have ye been
Have you been in the Mediterranean?
Will ye tell me the news of my son, Ted?
Is the poor boy livin', or is he dead?

Wid yer too-ri-aa, fol de diddle aa

Ah, well up comes Ted without any legs
An in their place he had two wooden pegs,
She kissed him a dozen times or two,
Saying, Holy Moses, 'tisn't you.

Wid yer too-ri-aa, fol de diddle aa


Oh then were ye drunk, or were ye blind
That ye left your two fine legs behind?
Or was it walkin' upon the sea
Wore your two fine legs from the knees away?

Wid yer too-ri-aa, fol de diddle aa


Oh, I wasn't drunk and I wasn't blind
But I left my two fine legs behind.

For a cannon ball, on the fifth of May,
Took my two fine legs from the knees away.

Wid yer too-ri-aa, fol de diddle aa

Oh, Teddy, me boy, the old widow cried,
Yer two fine legs were yer mammy's pride,
Them stumps of a tree wouldn't do at all,
Why didn't ye run from the big cannon ball?

Wid yer too-ri-aa, fol de diddle aa

All foreign wars I do proclaim
Between Don John and the King of Spain
And by herrins I'll make them rue the time
That they swept the legs from a child of mine.

Wid yer too-ri-aa, fol de diddle aa

This particular song is about, basically, an Irish son who joins the King's Navy (British King), during the Napoleonic Wars in the early 19th century.  The song focuses on the mother of the sailor and how foreign wars affect the homeland.  The power of the song lays in its ability to paint together the emotion of reunion, and celebration of life, with the despair and horror, and trauma of armed conflict, and how difficult that can be to share even with loved ones.  These themes can be seen in later contemporary work by Dylan (John Brown), and Steve Goodman (Ballad of Penny Evans) and I'm sure in others.  

This particular song, although it predates the 20th century, became a political statement and protest anthem during the Easter Rising in Ireland in 1916 at the height of World War One.  Folk music would continue to be used for protest culminating during Vietnam conflict and beyond.  

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Biting the Hand

Fuck the South: An Open Letter                                                    also see:

I read this today.  It was published in 2004, but seems to be still relevant.

It is an open letter to the Southern States of the United States.  From how the letter is written, I'm assuming that not only is the writer addressing the former Confederate States of America (Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, and Tennessee), but also states that are recently known as Red States, a term used lately to divide the country along political lines.

Although the language is harsh and juvenile (the writer uses the word asshole 7 times, fuck 42 times, and manages to sprinkle the letter with several dicks, asses, and goddamns) the rant is focused on some facts that conveniently some critics of the government have forgotten.

I find this sort of thing interesting, not just because I'm sick of hearing "right wing", "moral majority", "traditional family values", sound byte loving, revisionist history fanatics talk down to me, but because I hadn't really tied these current political issues to the civil war.

The letter begins by stating the nation ought to turn its back on the southern (red) states as they constantly point to the rest of the nation as unamerican, godless, and arrogant.  The writer points out that a majority of the founding fathers that the red states love to bring up in support of traditional family values, the right to bear arms, and proof that government doesn't need tax money, are from northern east coast blue states.  The writer doesn't name names.  But I will.

Benjamin Franklin, and Gouverneur Morris were from Pennsylvania, John Adams, his cousin Sam Adams, and John Hancock were all from Massachusetts.  Alexander Hamilton was from New York.   Ethan Allen was from New Hampshire and Vermont.  Also, of the 56 delegates that signed the Declaration of Independence, 39 were from northern states (if you count Delaware and Maryland...  if you don't, it's still 30, which is still a majority).  The president of the Congress was John Hancock (from Massachusetts).  The Constitution was signed by 40 guys, 27 from blue states (including MD and DE).  True, there are an awful lot of Virginians who helped shape the United States, and held presidential office, but to think blue states had little to do with founding the country is absurd.

Family Values has been coming up constantly for decades in political rhetoric.  Often this term is used to try and restrain and oppress the "gay liberal agenda" which doesn't really exist.  People want basic civil liberties which are being denied due to ignorance and hate and "traditional family values" is the club by which homosexuals are oppressed.  The letter points out that the very arguments of protecting marriage come back to bite red states.  If marriage is so sacred and gay marriage threatens to ruin traditional marriage, explain how Massachusetts, the first state to legalize gay marriage, has the lowest divorce rate?  I checked this out, no other state is even close.

If "thou shall not kill" counts as a family value, then murder rates should be examined, as the writer did in the letter.  I found this, which is way more up to date than the study the writer used for his letter.  The murder rate for the region labeled "the South" was 5.6 in 2010, which is 1.2 points above fellow red state region the Midwest, and 1.4 points above the Northeast and West (blue states).  Individually, Louisiana has the highest murder rate at 11.2, no one else comes anywhere close, the next state on the list is Maryland with 7.4 and Mississippi and Missouri both at 7.0.  In contrast, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont have rates of 3.2, 1.0, and 1.1 respectively.

Taken in Tennessee
Now...  the letter addresses church going god fearing southerners.  I looked up attendance rates for church by state just to make sure, because it would be hilarious if southern states had a smaller percentage of church goers than Vermont.  But the truth is, the top 10 church going states are red states, and the bottom ten are blue states.  Louisiana has 56% going to church, coming in at number 4.  I guess they take communion and sing hymns between murders.

The part of this letter that I think needs to be shared are the parts about federal money.  The writer vulgarly points out that, while small government types love to complain about hard earned money taken for taxes each year, red states providing the least tax money get back the most.  Basically, the leftist, socialist states (blue) provide for the less fortunate states (red) who, instead of being humble and thanking their blue state brethren, complain.  This trend is documented by Dean and Donald Lacy in their paper “Taxing, Spending, Red States, and Blue States: The Political Economy of Redistribution in the US Federal System” (Ohio State, 2006), and in “Why Do Red States Vote Republican While Blue States Pay the Bills? Federal Spending and Electoral Votes, 1984-2008″ (Dartmouth, 2008), and by Paul Rosenburg in "Red State Moochers: Federal Taxes Favor those Who Complain the Most about Federal Taxes" (Daily Kos, 2010).
I do not think this letter is written from the same viewpoint of the typical right wing American who doesn't want to pay taxes and believes that privatization is the answer to everything (which is essentially a plea of greed), but from a proud American who is fed up with being taken for granted, and therefore decides that it is time for half the country to start pulling their own weight and paying for things on their own.  This idea of Americans as self reliant is a myth, no one can go it alone.  Perhaps misinformation about where tax money comes from and where it goes is to blame for perpetuating that myth.  Is a wake up call in order?  "Pay for your own STOP signs" indeed.

I kind of hope the South does rise again, so the blue states can watch them secede, and then not ask them back.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Repairing the NBA

I love basketball. I like the pace of the game, I like the team oriented aspect, the athleticism, the strategies used. However, the business aspect of the professional sport has changed basketball.  Expansion has diluted talent. The talent is spread out over 30 teams with plenty of subpar players gaining contracts to fill out rosters. How does Brian Scalabrine still have a contract? Free Agency has made it nearly impossible to keep a team together long enough to gel, putting money over team loyalty, and competition.

If you look back at the 1980s, largely called the best decade for the NBA, there were only 23 teams until 1988 when Miami, Orlando, Charlotte, and Minnesota entered the league. Only one of those expansion teams has won a title, basically being useless franchises that drained talent away from the others. The only reason to have franchises in these cities would be to make money in these markets. Wouldn't it be easier to promote an already existing franchise close to these cities, rather than cannibalize the nearest existing market, dilute the talent pool, and then piss off all your new fans in the new market when this new team is perpetually terrible? Instead of having an awful Charlotte team in Charlotte, why not market the already existing Wizards and Hawks who are close by, and already have a history and identity?

Any way, this post is much like this post I already wrote. And also I read Bill Simmons, who has been saying stuff about how the NBA could help itself for quite some time, most obviously in his The Book of Basketball. Steve Kerr recently wrote an article too about changing the draft age requirement, and how much this ought to solve several issues with younger players. I also have a few ideas, some stolen from Simmons.

1.  Collapse bad franchises.

The NBA will never do this. They are so concerned with keeping markets in every viable city possible that they would rather leave poorly managed franchises where they are and open brand new ones in new cities. Sometimes teams move cities. Like when Seattle lost their franchise and Oklahoma City received the Zombie Sonics in the shadiest business deal in sports since the Celtics stole Larry Bird. The reason the '80s were so successful, with Magic and Bird and young Jordan, and Isiah Thomas was due to fewer teams with a higher concentration of talent, and superstars being happy where they were.

Why would well paid athletes want to leave the cities where they made names for themselves and have a huge fanbase during their prime? This is a huge trend recently with Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, and soon Dwight Howard leaving teams in their prime to go to another city to play with other superstars. The stars of the '80s would never do that. However, there are now 7 more teams in the league to compete for star players, so instead of having two or three star players on a team, some franchises are lucky to have one.

Some fans can't understand why the Celtics of the '50s and 60's can be considered special, since they competed against other teams with 6 hall of famers. Doesn't seem fair, until you consider that the NBA in the 50's and 60's fluctuated between 14 and 8 teams for that 20 year span. Every team had multiple star players. and the Celtics hardly had a monopoly on the best talent in the league. Imagine what current rosters would look like with only roster spots for 100 players instead of 450. Lebron would have never left Cleveland, the odds of him already playing with three or four other stars would have been very high.
This could be the Lakers vs the Bulls
I thought about what sorts of moves the league could make in order to collapse things for the good of competition. I decided that if a team has ever won a championship, the franchise deserves to be allowed to stick around, no matter how long it's been. The team at one point earned a spot in League history by winning a title. Therefore, the Celtics, Lakers, Pistons, Hawks (in St Louis), 76ers, Knicks, Kings (as Royals in Rochester), Warriors, Bucks, Wizards (as Bullets), Trailblazers, Thunder (as Sonics in Seatle), Bulls, Rockets, Spurs, Heat, and Mavericks are all protected. In addition, the other 3 ABA teams ought to be protected also, if for any other reason than they represent the merger, and were already saved once from being folded (unlike the unlucky Kentucky Colonels and Spirits of St Louis). That brings the league to 20 teams. A good league size would be an even 24, 12 teams per conference. So, the league would have to look to close 6 teams.

With this said, Charlotte should be folded. They already had a chance with the Hornets franchise, and now the Bobcats are looking to be the worst team in league history. They have no significant history for fans to be proud of and loyal to. The last expansion team ought to be the first to close.

Minnesota should be folded, along with the Toronto Raptors. Both these teams can't entice good players to come play there, and quickly lose the good players they get in drafts to free agency. They are small markets with cold weather and no history of winning. Boston has trouble selling itself to free agents and it's the most winningest franchise ever. Fold both these teams and market the regions to closer franchises, like Milwaukee and Detroit.

The Utah Jazz had the best chance to win titles in the '90s and could not get past Jordan and the Bulls, understandably. But before and since the Malone/Stockton era, the Jazz have been non contenders. When the Utah franchise folds, the Jazz name needs to go back to New Orleans where it belongs.

Florida is a pretty big place with many lucrative sports markets including Miami, Tampa, Tampa Bay, Orlando, etc. However, I've noticed the fan bases for sports not named Football are not very reliable. Heat fans, for instance, arrive late to games and leave early; and that team is successful. The Orlando Magic ought to be folded. They went to the finals twice since their inception, and both times failed to win a title. They possessed two of the biggest (literally) stars in the game since Wilt Chamberlain and were unable to keep them from leaving for other teams (Shaq went to the Lakers, and although he hasn't left yet, I'm predicting Dwight Howard is on another team next season). Florida seems to be barely capable of handling one franchise in each sport (aside from football), and the Heat market should be extended to all of Florida. Plus, Atlanta is pretty close by.

The Clippers need to be closed, sacrificed for the betterment of the league. I know they have significant history in the league, but aside from longevity, this franchise has done nothing but move three times (Buffalo, San Diego, Los Angeles) and the franchise mismanagement is legendary.  

2.  Do something to make pre-season more interesting.

Pre seasons are super fun, if you're the sports equivalent of a nerd. For everyone else, it's boring. Especially in basketball, where the fanbase is pretty sure who the starting lineup will be during the real season, and although it is like a mini tryout for fringe players to try and get a roster spot, most of the spots are already guaranteed. The competition is light, most of the stars don't play more than half their normal minutes, and wins and losses are meaningless. The only good use of the pre season is giving rookies and young talent time to play and develop, and letting fantasy nerds get a look at things.

That all being said, I have a few ideas to make things more interesting, develop young talent, and bring in more revenue (which is really what the NBA is excited about).

A: play pre-season games in other places.

there are plenty of local schools with gyms
When the NBA collapses those franchises, they're going to need to start promoting another team from another city in its place in order to keep the market. The NBA already knows how good exhibition games are at selling the game. There is a reason there are so many Celtics fans in Eastern Europe. Cultivating larger fanbases is easy when you showcase your games in other neighborhoods.

Some teams already do this. The Celtics, for example, play games in Hartford, CT, and Manchester, NH. I propose doing this more and in other cities. Expand the NBA market to other places, play for the small town fans who can't travel to the big cities or afford regular season tickets along with travel expenses, etc. The NBA talks often of giving back to the communities. This is a very public way to show that commitment.

B: Tournament.

I borrowed this idea from Bill Simmons. The teams can play their pre-season games in those neighboring cities, showcasing their stars, and developing new talent and building team chemistry. However, pre-season is still pretty boring. So...  at the end, one city will host a pre-season NCAA style tournament. Host cities should be cities without an NBA franchise (like St Lious, Las Vegas, Charlotte, Kansas City, etc) in order to showcase the NBA in those markets.

Single elimination means one win moves a team on, and the losing team is done. This will go by pretty quickly. The NCAA tournament lasts a few weeks and includes 64 teams. The NBA only will have 24 teams, so it could last a few days. 24 teams is a weird number for a single elimination tournament, but I'm sure NBA people could figure out how to make it work, maybe give byes to last season's Finals contenders or something. This is a good way to end a pre-season and gear up for opening day. Stars don't have to play, and the young players get exposed to a play-off style atmosphere.

The problem with this is how to get teams interested and eager to play well enough to make the tournament not a joke. The All-Star Game has the same problem. My solution: the winner will actually win something.

The team that wins the tournament would secure the All-Star Game for their city and will host the weekend in the upcoming February. Right now, cities have to lobby to get the All-Star Game, which brings business and tourism to the host city. That's a pretty good incentive without making the tournament super competitive. And since cities like Las Vegas, without a franchise, will be allowed to host the pre-season tournament, they won't be attempting to take the All-Star hosting duties away from an NBA franchise.

3.  Expand the NBDL

Right now, there are two other professional leagues that use extensive, successful farm system minor leagues and one other professional sport that uses the NCAA as their farm system. The NBA has been having issues with young players not living up to potential and ending their careers prematurely, having not developed in ways the league had hoped. A lot of this has to do with poor development early on. There isn't much incentive to stay in college when there can be so much money to be made as a pro.

The NBDL was a step in the right direction, but cannot seem to be profitable or create quality fanbases with strong, sound label recognition. There are some players recently who have come out of the NBDL, developed enough to be quality players in the NBA, but not enough.

More money needs to be funneled into the NBDL in order to advertise, expand, and attract television deals. The NBDL should expand while the NBA itself collapses, in order to give each franchise its own minor league system. Currently, the Lakers are the only NBA franchise that owns its own NBDL franchise, more teams need to invest to give the minor league permanency. Not only is a minor league franchise a good way to develop new talent, like baseball, it also gives a place to rehab injuries, and it puts the NBA in smaller markets. Those 6 cities that lost their franchises several paragraphs ago would all be good places for NBDL franchises. Once again, expanding the NBA market without diluting the NBA talent.