i've been reimmersing myself in the work of dwight yoakam, who i think is the greatest country artist of this era. his early stuff ("guitars, cadillacs") was wonderful, though perhaps a trifle too conscious of its own revivalism. on the other hand, in the mid-eighties, anyone trying to record hard honky-tonk for a major label was bound to be conscious that he was making an unusual set of decisions. but i guess what kills me is a series of amazing albums he produced in mid and late 90s, which i regard as among the greatest country records ever made: "this time" (1993), "gone" (1995), "a long way home" (1998), and "tomorrow's sounds today" (2000). it is worth saying that all of this material was made in collaboration with dwight's producer and guitarist, pete anderson. the songwriting and arrangements are incredibly strong, at once perfectly contemporary and entirely traditional: an impossible combination until you hear it coming out of your speakers. of course, dwight is known for reviving the "bakersfield sound" of buck owens and others, but it's important to hear in his vocals his native kentucky and the influence of bluegrass tenors.
this is "one more night," from "gone." some people gravitate toward music that defies genres or synthesizes them. i am drawn to music that exemplifies a style in its purity. there can hardly be a purer country song than this:
i might say that dwight's most recent, "i blame the vain," is a bit disappointing. by comparison with the astronomical standards set by anderson, who apparently has detached (with love, no doubt), the production is sluggish, though the writing remains strong. the previous item, "population me" is excellent, however.
so. tomorrow i am going to give a little talk on american popular music to a group of middle eastern students in harry pohlman's class at dickinson. i threw together a taxonomy, but i would appreciate any help with this in comments, particularly actual important stylistic or genre or format categories i am overlooking so far. obviously this has the greatest possible scope and no specificity.
(African-)American Musical Styles:
Ragtime: Jelly Roll Morton
Blues: W. C. Handy, Robert Johnson, Willie McTell, Bessie Smith, Muddy Waters, B.B. King [Eric Clapton, Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin]
Jazz: Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Bennie Goodman, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis [bop], John Coltrane, Wynton Marsalis
Soul: Sam Cook, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Smokey Robinson, Al Green Funk: James Brown, Parliament/Funkadelic Disco: Chic, Donna Summer Hop Hop: Grandmaster Flash, Run-DMC, Dr. Dre, Atmosphere
Country (bluegrass): Carter Family, Jimmie Rogers, Hank Williams, Bill Monroe, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash, etc bluegrass: Bill Monroe, Flatt and Scruggs, Stanley Brothers, Emmylou Harris honky-tonk: Buck Owens, Dwight Yoakam
Rock (rockabilly, rhythm and blues): Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Beatles folk: Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, John Prine, Bruce Springsteen rockabilly: Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley surf: Dick Dale, Beach Boys heavy metal: Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, [Metallica] southern rock: Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, [Drive-By Truckers] art rock: Yes, Pink Floyd punk: Ramones, Sex Pistols, Clash, Green Day, Blink 182 hardcore: Minor Threat, Black Flag "alternative": Nirvana, Pearl Jam, [Weezer]
[Ska/Rock Steady/Reggae: Toots and the Maytals, Bob Marley, Lee Perry, Augustus Pablo, Lady Saw, Sean Paul etc etc [Alpha Blondy]]
hey i watched the dem youtube debate last night. of course, blowhards passionately bellowing equivocations formulated as a series of cliches. however, the format was great, the questions sharp, the use of video very powerful, as when the lesbian couple asked "can we get married?" then looked at each other with great fun in their eyes. or the question actually from the ground in darfur. hillary is, you gotta say it, very presidential.
The Michael Vick dog fighting case, and the related attention focused on dog fighting and its attendant practices, show one thing very clearly: as a society, we have no idea what we think about animals. In a nutshell, we don't know how much we ought to take them into account, morally, and we don't even know how to figure it out. Don't tell anyone, but I spent much of the other day watching cable news. Every anchor interviewed an official of the Humane Society, and every anchor expressed deep repugnance, especially for the element of Vick's indictment that accused him and his fellows of executing dogs in ways that were apparently designed to be as cruel as possible: by drowning, strangling, or electrocuting them, for instance. One official compared the practice to child pornography. If nothing else, that equation is an attempt to muster the greatest possible moral repugnance. After that, I finally got off the couch to get some lunch, driving past the extensive row of franchises peddling ground cow for my consumption that you'll find on every American highway exit. Now if killing dogs is the equivalent of child pornography, while eating cows is simply a way to put off mowing the lawn, we seem to be conflicted, or perhaps a little less kindly, reeking with self-righteous hypocrisy and deep confusion. Far more generally, we have a set of intuitions, partly driven by our interactions with pets, that many animals can experience pain in a morally significant way, that they can suffer, or be used and degraded. Perhaps the claim they make is somewhat less than that of a human being, but they make a claim. And we have another set of intuitions, driven by our dietary habits or our experience of thumping squirrels and armadillos on the road, that an animal is little more than an inanimate object, and can be used in whatever way a human being sees fit. Now first of all, our moral counting of animals seems to vary with their proximity to ourselves: both their everyday interactions with us and their perceived similarity to us, so that by the time you're done attributing love, loyalty, and inferential reasoning to your dog, you have recognized her as a de facto human being, a member of the family, etc. The process runs both ways, and your dog recognizes you as the leader of her pack. Cows have big sad eyes, but less personality of a sort that arouses our recognition. And these days, unless you're directly involved in the farming and food industry, your interaction with them is limited to the drive-through lane, let's say. As an actual practice, the moral claim of an animal varies by species and tracks our sense of the animal's proximity - cognitive, emotional, physical - to ourselves. About this proximity, we become truly sentimental; we write memoirs with our dogs, talk baby-talk to them, let them lick our faces. But about other species we are as hard-nosed and realistic as we can possibly be; essentially, we do whatever we feel like to them whenever we want. I do not think there is any possible rational justification for this difference. Pigs aren't more stupid or less emotionally complex or less capable of experiencing pain than dogs, but they seem to lack that certain something Well, all except Charlotte's Wilbur). Of course, one might simply rest the problem with dog fighting on its effects on human beings: that is, it is debasing not to the pit bull but to the quarterback to participate. Such an argument, however, merely presupposes all the problems raised above rather than solving them, and the systems by which we are cruel to cows are massively industrial in scale, and would deeply debase us all, if cruelty to animals debased us. If there were an argument for dog fighting, I suspect it would go like this: the dog is bred to fight; we admire its violence and participate in it; it is a primal and even noble enactment of our life here on earth. Perhaps the dog would rather die than lose, like the world's greatest athletes or businessmen. At any rate, this has the same structure as the animal-rights argument: it reads a dog's motivations as though they were human. But it has a different sense of what it means to be human. What we need to figure out is: do animals count and how, not as dwarfish or four-legged or stupid people, but as real things whose existence is, though connected to ours, profoundly external and different? Until we grapple with this, our condemnation of Vick and our tender treatment of Beau the miniature dachshund are equally irrational.
Crispin Sartwell teaches philosophy at Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA.
for some reason i've been thinking a lot about the michael vick case, from a variety of angles. i'll do an animal-rights-issue-type op-ed. but i think you probably need to understand, let's say, the cultural context. one thing is that vick, who's from a hardscrabble virginia background, i would imagine feels that he is, by dog fighting, maintaining a kind of allegiance to the place and circumstances he's from, if you get me. this is a very ghetto-type thing to do. well, we should all have some loyalty to our origins, like dolly singing "tenessee mountain home." vick gets paid large and lives in a media circus where he's supposed to mutter cliches like an old white coach: he has to live the act of the pro athlete: underneath he's still the same guy. that's good. only don't electrocute dogs, asshole. anyway, you see this same dynamic in, let's say, allen iverson, and when it does not eventuate in real prodigies of sadism etc, it is in itself an admirable quality, even if it brings with it entourages and marijuana.
so i'm in possession of a book called celebrities of our time (new york: john lauren, 1924). it consists of interviews by my great grandfather (emma, sam, and jane's great great grandfather) herman bernstein, conducted for the new york times, the new york herald, the new york sun, the new york world, the new york american and our world. it includes interviews with leo tolstoy, sheik ul-islam, bernard shaw, auguste rodin, havelock ellis, alexander kerensky, peter kropotkin (!), leo trotzky (conducted in petrograd in march, 1918), chaim weizmann, albert einstein, woodrow wilson, exchanges of letters with teddy roosevelt.
if you're wondering about the kropotkin interview - also from hb's 1918 trip to russia, it is remarkably conservative, supporting the allied war effort and appealing to democratic-spirited americans to help.
my mom and i were in sheffield, mass. last month and came across in a dusty shelf in the library, a copy of "celebrities of our times" signed by herman bernstein to the library in 1929. looks kinda like my ma's handwriting. he also wrote the definitive refutation of the protocols of the elders of zion, translated tolstoy and many others, and was a conservative journalist for the daily jewish press for many years. also, believe it or not, ambassador to rumania in the reign of (seriously) king zog, where my mom spent a year of her childhood.
As I age (not without a certain panache), I begin to feel the obligation to convey my wisdom to the next generation: to teach lessons learned over a lifetime of suffering, both the suffering I've experienced and the suffering I've inflicted. At fifteen, our Sam is, as we say, becoming a man. And so the moment, the rite of passage, had arrived. I thought long and deep and then delivered the goods. OK, I told him, in one-on-one, you have two basic options: back the dude down, or face him and show him the ball. If you back him down, you can try to spin out and go to the hoop, or shoot a hook or fadeaway. If you face up, you try to get him leaning the wrong way, cross the ball over, and go to the rack. Now I would like to make these into, let's say, management lessons. Maybe you can read them as a profound set of metaphors. But they're not. This is me, telling you, how to play one-on-one basketball. And now that I have reached what I think of as the twilight years, that's what I think was most important in my life. I know a lot about existentialism, card tricks, country music, the Constitution, 17th century Dutch realism, and love. But on all these matters, Sam is on his own; he will succeed or fail without the benefit of my astonishing wisdom. My legacy is exclusively hoops. And Sam's going to have to be satisfied with that because I'm broke. I don't have much to give you, son. But I offer you this. Work incessantly on layups. But try to develop the outside shot; you want to stab in with the dribble and get the dude moving and then step back and go straight up, stroking the j at the apex. At any rate, I'm not sure that I've enjoyed anything in this life as much as basketball. It comes with less emotional baggage than sex, fewer morning-after recriminations than substance abuse, more beauty than modern dance, less cheating than country music, clearer resolutions than philosophy. It's just the pleasure of running around with some actual object in view, a purpose to lend shape to your random gesticulations. Probably you're figuring that someone who feels this way about basketball must have played in college, or at least high school. And someone who boasts about their bball wisdom as I have done and takes to himself the task of passing it to the next generation must really have game. Not at all. I'm 5'7", 49 years old, twenty pounds heavier than necessary. Every time I play, I get some kind of chronic injury that keeps me from playing for the six months that follow. And to be honest, though I had some flash when I was twenty, I had a six-inch vertical and I always missed the shots and lost. But I do know this: Never give up your dribble until you flow directly into a shot. Work on going left. Never call a foul unless you're absolutely mugged; calling fouls is for pussies. My greatest protege was my daughter Emma, now 19, who played point guard for her tiny parochial middle school. The Baltimore Hebrew Congregation day school team finished the season 0-11; I'm trying to recall whether they ever actually scored. But I tortured all my kids on the court until they got bigger than me; then I quit in rage and despair. Hayes reached the point where his strategy was to throw the ball as hard as possible off my shins, check the ball up and then do it again. If we played now, he'd break my ego, leaving me a drooling, twitching idiot, though that would be redundant. But we've got a seven-year-old named Jane and last week we installed a new hoop in the driveway. I'm betting that I can take her to the cleaners, posterize her, give her a facial. She's so cute when she's whining. And as I'm making her whine, I will be conveying to her the lore of her ancestors.
By Crispin Sartwell Last Saturday, hundreds of thousands of people stood gazing at huge flickering images of Al Gore and chanting slogans in unison. Perhaps you regard this as an inspiring spectacle of human unity. Personally, it gives me the willies. I am not a climatologist, but I am an epistemologist, and I know enough to be getting worried about the pressure for unanimity, the cult of personality, the whiff of hysteria, the apocalyptic structure of thought, and the totalitarian implications. In Nashville on 7.7.7, fundamentalist Christians were engaged in "TheCall," a huge collective prayer intended to bring about the rapture; at the same moment in NYC, Madonna and John Mayer were warning us that our sins would be punished. I'd say that we're a culture suddenly obsessed with The End, but we were the same in the 1830s. It mutates, but it's endemic: faith laced with a guilt at having failed in what the faith demands, a premonition that we'll get what we deserve. It is quickly reaching the point at which, through informal practices of ostracism and exile, no one can publicly voice dissent about the reality, nature, scope, or the danger posed by climate change. That is precisely the moment when the science and the politics are likely to become completely irresponsible, as everyone slaps everyone's back for believing the same, and for muttering ever more astonishing dire predictions. Already the rhetoric is revving up to absolute maximum - a kind of shrieking hyperbole - and Gore has taken to calling climate change the worst crisis in human history, the most important issue our species has ever faced, and so on. If it turns out to be nothing of the kind, you can blame the persistence of delusion on the atmosphere of unanimity, which is inimical to human thought. Belief that global warming is the worst crisis our species has ever faced is based on science, while belief that the return of Christ is imminent is based on faith. But for the people gathered before gargantuan Gores, "science" refers at best to some kind of emerging social consensus, and at worst to absolutely nothing, to the merest assertion of a set of authorities. And at any rate, unanimity is inimical to good science, placing your flimsy results beyond practical criticism. We'll never have a clear idea of what's going on without the contributions of skeptics, gadflies, and eccentrics. Now I would have thought that a cult of Al Gore was about as likely as a cult of Orrin Hatch. But there, as they say, you are. Then again, there have been some pretty amazing little gods: ponder beloved leader Kim Il Sung, for example. I don't know why Gore would want to be president of the United States, when he can run a world regulatory regime, an emerging world government arising in response to the worst threat we've ever faced as a species. He's already conducting collective loyalty oaths. On Saturday people literally raised their right hands and took an environmental pledge together. In real Al Gore fashion, it was detailed, interminable, and written in prose flat as a Mercator projection of the world. The astonishing destiny of our planet is, if nothing else, bureaucratic. In a way, Gore proposes to put the whole world on a war footing, as though we faced an alien invasion and so had to band together as a species. Indeed, Live Earth, with its concerts on seven continents, was supposed to be an image of this ideal: a peaceful human unity grounded on mutual concern for and stake in the whole planet. This is liable to have its dark side. And just as when the Bush administration invaded Iraq, let's say, you would do well to think about questions like these: whose power does this serve and (same question from the other side) what freedoms does it curtail? Is the unity real or fictional, momentary or enduring, and what truths does it repress? And what the hell am I doing here, crushed in this crowd, gazing with shining eyes at a huge Al Gore?
yo if you're around philly, me and marion are reading at 7 this evening at the big blue marble bookstore in mt. airy. it'll be our essays on, um, middle aged sex. i knocked the bottom out of the topic.
One reason that students (and many others) have come to believe that
they have these rights is a confusion between education and democracy.
It is in democratic contexts that people have claims to the rights
enumerated in the constitution and other documents at the heart of our
political system – the right to free speech, the right to free
assembly, the right to determine, by vote, the shape of their futures.
Educational institutions, however, are not democratic contexts (even
when the principles of democracy are being taught in them). They are
pedagogical contexts and the imperatives that rule them are the
imperatives of pedagogy – the mastery of materials and the acquiring of
analytical skills. Those imperatives do not recognize the right of free
expression or any other right, except the right to competent
instruction, that is, the right to be instructed by well-trained,
responsible teachers who know their subjects and stick to them and
don’t believe that it is their right to pronounce on anything and
thus stanley fish , today. stanley is my old teacher and one of the sweetest people in the world. but he is so, so wrong about this. at any rate, i'm not even gonna argue. but what i'll do is reply in the guise of my 15-year-old self, who went through this in every possible way. whatever. you will not fucking shut me up. bring your fucking bouncers, your assistant principals, your policemen. i will post what i want where i want. you can pull down the posters or duct-tape me to a chair, but in the long run i will win. and if you keep telling me i can't say what i like, i will blow this school up, figuratively and then literally. i own this place. this is my fucking school; these are my fucking people. i will wear what i like and say what i like. i have no fucking "rights" except those i take. stop me, you fucking fucks.
in a slightly more thoughtful mode: it's true, education isn't democracy, although perhaps you should read some dewey. education, as fish beautifully argues, is sheer totalitarianism.
i told you that this would happen; quting me from 4.26.07: p.s. "this summer you're going to see, in cities all over the country,
americans gazing up at a gigantic flickering image of al gore and
chanting slogans in unison." i didn't then know it'd be the entire world.
A video message from Al Gore is displayed at the Tokyo leg of the Live
Earth series of concerts, at Makuhari Messe, Chiba on July 7, 2007 in
Gore made a live video appearance from
Washington to open the first show on the other side of the world in
Sydney. He took the technology a step further a few hours later,
appearing onstage in Tokyo as a hologram.
warming is the greatest challenge facing our planet, and the gravest
we’ve ever faced,” said Gore, who in his holographic appearance wore
the only suit in sight.
well the insane fantasy epic "the malazan book of the fallen" by steven erikson. it's like, literally, ten times one thousand pages. it portrays a whole world: continents, conquests, hundreds of thousands of years. it's a bit uneven, like i can't read "oh, whiskeyjack" no more (whiskeyjack being a character who dies; but no one is necessarily dead in erikson's world; they may "ascend" or become gods). it's like george r.r. martin in that it's insanely violent and vicious. but where martin uses magic very sparingly, erikson's world is crawling with it: pantheons of gods, cadres of war-mages, crazy insane surreal realms invading the world, etc. ok so the fact that i'm in the fifth volume should tell you that i think it sustains one's atttention, to say the least. there are moments of really brilliant writing and philosophy, and wonderful homorous characters such a kruppe and tehol.
for a long time i've been fascinated by the shakers: their belief, their craft, their truth. me and my mom just went on a week-long road trip to new england, and among other things visited the hancock shaker settlement, with that beautiful round, stone barn. so now i'm reading work and worship among tthe shakers: their craftsmanship and economic order by the great shaker scholar edward deming andrews and faith andrews. through a description of the economy, you get the whole picture. obviously what gets us is the celibacy, which was part and parcel of the real feminism. they believed that god had appeared on earth as a man (jesus) and as a woman (mother ann lee, who had lost four children in infancy). and they believed that our sins originated in sex, which is not...implausible. but there is so much of interest: craft as a form of prayer, working as though you would live a thousand years and as though you would die tomorrow. the living quarters at hancock were heartbreakingly good and beautiful, every artifact was true and perfect.
for a long time i've been interested in the folks who opposed the ratification of the constitution, but somehow i never before read saul cornell's the other founders: anti-federalism and the dissenting tradition in america, 1788-1828. it shows some traces of having been a doctoral dissertation: among other things it is weirdly repetitive. but it is also a groundbreaking study which makes much that was previously obscure quite clear. not all these guys were screaming libertarians or anarchists, but they all thought the constitution threatened american liberties. just to remind you: patrick henry, samuel adams, and george mason opposed the ratification of the constitution.
i also just digitized about six hours of the kendalls, a great hardcountry act who are also out of print, more or less. it's an astonishing oeuvre, first of all on freudian grounds: they were a father/daughter duo (royce and jeannie) who specialized in, um, cheating songs. they were cheating with each other while i guess their spouses looked on in true disbelief, like kathryn harrison's mom. they recorded many kitschy songs, but also many beautiful ones, charting occasionally in the seventies and eighties. titles you might recognize, but probably not: "my baby's gone" (a louvin bros song), "teach me to cheat," "thank god for the radio," "central standard time.") they invented whole, um, genres, for example the football cheating song (""a dallas cowboy and a new orleans saint," "pittsburgh stealers") and cheating gospel ("cheater's prayer," "heaven's just a sin away"). in my view, jeannie is one of the great country singers, both extremely nasal and breathtakingly pure. royce is gone, but jeannie is still around, recording for rounder.
well as i may have indicated, i have obtained a turntable that converts lps into digital files. so i have been dragging boxes out of the attic and rediscovering this and that.
one of the best rock albums ever made is something you never heard of and can't obtain: the eponymous "blue angel" (1980). the singer of this retro band (girl groups, rockabilly etc) was the transcendent cyndi lauper, before she made it big. i interviewed her in london in 1983 for melody maker, as she was touring the multi-platinum "she's so unusual." i told her much i loved blue angel, that i had been listening to it every day for a couple of years. she was so happy to hear this, and i think so sorry that she wasn't still blue angel's singer, that she'd left these boys behind. anyway, she was also the sweetest interview subject ever: so nice, just decent and real, with the heaviest brooklyn accent ever achieved.