J. Geils is gone. When I tell people that the J. Geils band was my favorite rock act of the '70s, they are somewhat puzzled. And every obit describes them as the band who did 'Centerfold,' indeed their biggest hit by a way. But by the time they got there, in the '80s, they were a pretty different act than 10 years before. I do think of that song as a novelty thing, and like a lot of what they did a lot better. When they started out, they were a great blues and basic rock/soul band.
I was already working on blues harp around when their first album came out ('70; I was 12), and Magic Dick blew me away, let's say. And also he was the featured instrumentalist an an arena-filling rock band. I remember I auditioned later for a band that was doing Kiss covers and suchlike, and Magic Dick was the only possible reason they could even conceive having a harmonica in a group like that. On the other hand, rock harp didn't get that far, and there is no harmonica on 'Centerfold.' This is insane:
They were kind of tasteless at many times - intentionally - in their stage personae and repertoire: Peter Wolf would wear that tux with a dollar sign, and roll through sort of Wolfman-Jack raps on stage which at times...weren't that great. 'First I Look at the Purse' became their theme song, more or less. They presented themselves as a crass American rock band. But I am telling you they could handle blues and soul-type styles as well as any white people ever, and pushed the boundaries of those forms a bit too.
Few bands have ever poured out more energy onstage. I did think of them as America's Rolling Stones. Every album after the first four (J. Geils Band, Morning After, Live: Full House, and Bloodshot) was a very mixed bag, but with really good moments. Dick continued to innovate: over and over he brought sounds out of the harmonica that had never been heard, playing with wah-wah pedals and phase shifters, among other things. They struggled financially through the whole decade, and I think made a conscious decision finally to see how many records they could sell. Can't really blame a band for that.
From The Guardian Books Newsletter, January 26, 2017--Poem of the Week
I would like to feed this child who is dying with slow food, So that time might stand still for him, so that a grandfather Clock might not fall apart in his arms. All of the laziness of air
In our warm temperate climate, all the anxious hands Of young barristers at this morning’s Farmers’ Market, All of this complete snobbery of the gut, might bear down
Upon one dying child. Here is my Euro, child. Here is The olive oil and the stuffed artichoke. Here is the conscience And the conscience money. They stole my land too,
They took my small cottage apart, stone by stone. They surveyed all of us and we nearly died. I am sending, child, Very fast Irish food from my evicted great grandmother. --Thomas McCarthy, 2016
Reading this and seeing mental visions of pictures and faces and memorials, I also saw similarities to Alepo and Syria, and Israel and Palestine -- coffin ships, starving refugees seeking something probably inescapable, and a heritage of a horrid night and day...Pandemonium is the capital of Hell, and when the evil doers sit there and plot against heaven with fallen angels and demons, they'll be singing along with venture capitalists, factory farmers, religious bigots and imperialists throughout history. No one's heritage is clean...we should be better.
So, not being a folk singer, I wrote this article.... We may be the cops of the world but we're really not very good at it. As with so much since the death of Truman, we may mean well but our efforts to make the world a better place end up in an orgy of negative masturbation, doing things that neither feel good nor accomplish anything meaningful.
Wellll, Reasons and Persons is quite brilliant and fun. But first of all, for me personally, the ethical orientation - recycling Sidgwick's utilitarianism, relentless and fantastical emphasis on rationality - is boring and really not actually about human beings. (I'm going to say the same about Christine Korsgaard, for example: ethics for aliens.) And I think that On What Matters is absurdly overrated: his reputation and personal interestingness kind of stupefied people. First of all, this thing where he sent the manuscript to a couple of hundred philosophers, then partially constructed the book as answers to off-text objections, makes for an extremely labored, interminable, and at times bewildering presentation.
Here's how I would state the conclusion: teleological and deontological ethics, Sidgwick and Kant, are not as different as you might think and often yield the same results, etc. It tells you a lot of what you need to know that that makes it a bold, original, epoch-making text in ethics. It's really a kind of unreadable adjustment of the going positions, best at solving little conceptual objections that are very inside baseball. He was a wildly fascinating person, but the reception ('most important book in ethics in a century,' etc) is both wrong and a pretty good sign of where we're at.
Another sign of where we're at is that you just can't say stuff like this, though I would suggest that a lot of people who tried to read On What Matters ended up secretly having these sort of misgivings. Academic philosophy now is characterized by an amazingly stultifying little pecking order; philosophy is thoroughly 'professionalized,' and deference to one's superiors is a condition for getting in the door. Philosophy now is above all careful: I'm sure you don't want to put forward a fallacy, but you really, really don't want to put forward something challenging or even odd, because that's liable to deep-six your career. Basically positions are taken on the basis of safety and expressed in a way that reflects that. I do think it was different in the generation before mine, and if you think Richard Rorty or Arthur Danto would have had trouble saying things like this about someone like Parfit had they thought it, you don't remember. That was fun.
A straightforward economic analysis gets some of the reasons. The academic job market has been so tight for so long that most people's question is just 'how do I have a career?' It takes you 8 years, you've got a shitload of loans, your in-laws still don't understand how you can be doing this. You've got to pay off, so you clutch on by your fingernails and dedicate yourself to cultivating useful mentors, displaying competence, not making a mistake. My feeling is that philosophy is incompatible with reverence or with this sort of professionalism. And I don't think we're in a good era for interesting or original work, with exceptions of course.
george michael was a fine pop singer. but before you make him an symbol of huiman liberation, you should ponder a bit. @OwenJones84, as others, treat him as a gay icon, in part because of 'i want your sex.' now, i say that is a pretty great princey pop song. but owen jones should watch the video, because it's very apparently hetero, softcore porn. not exactly a feminist document either. you'd have to say that it's one of the most impressive heterosexist works by a gay person.
the man was quite closeted, yes? until he was arrested for public sex. now, you can celebrate 'the party' as human liberation. you can, like michael purported to, find anonymous sex profoundly innovative or something, i suppose. i'm going to sortof try to hide my disgust, whether it's straight or gay. maybe the drugs were great too: all part of the human road to freedom. however, i have a funny feeling that george michael was loaded to the gills with addictions and compulsions, which were enslaving. also destructive: look at his touring and recording arc, and you will see a good artist who couldn't make art anymore, so free was he. also, dead. owen, and everyone, if that's the liberation you want or admire or are pursuing, i'll have to leave you to it.
Consider any kind of thing, such that anything of that kind, if there is anything of it, must be 'to be met with in space': e.g. consider the kind 'soap-bubble.' If I say of anything which I am perceiving, 'That is a soap-bubble', I am, it seems to me, certainly implying that there would be no contradiction in asserting that it existed before I perceived it and that it will continue to exist, even if I cease to perceive it. This seems to me to be part of what is meant by saying that it is a real soap-bubble, as distinguished, for instance, from an hallucination of a soap-bubble. Of course, it by no means follows, that if it really is a soap-bubble, it did in fact exist before I perceived it or will continue to exist after I perceive it: soap-bubbles are an example of a kind of 'physical object' and 'thing to be met with in space,' in the case of which it is notorious that particular specimens of the kind often do exist only so long as they are perceived by a particular person. But a thing which I perceive would not be a soap-bubble unless its existence at any given time were logically independent of my perception of it at that time; unless, that is to say, from the proposition, with regard to a particular time, that it existed at that time, it never follows that I perceived it at that time. . . . That is to say, from the proposition with regard to anything which I am perceiving that it is a soap-bubble, there follows the proposition that it is external to my mind. But if, when I say that anything which I perceive is a soap-bubble, I am implying that it is external to my mind, I am, I think, certainly also implying that it is also external to all other minds. . . . I think, therefore, that from any proposition of the form "There's a soap-bubble!' there really does follow the proposition 'There's an external object!' 'There's an object external to all our minds!' (144-45)
by athletes, presidents, sports anchors and so on, ali is being presented as a hero and an example for us all, specifically in virtue of his resistance to the draft. he changed us, showed us what we could be, etc. but let me ask you this: how many americans, in any walk of life, have followed that example, or are capable of following that example, or have tried, or would not capitulate under far less trying circumstances or at far less cost or with far less incentive? if we are not capable - and i would say that barack obama among many others is not - then i think we should shut up about that part, or simply say that in our actual lives he is an example of what not to do, or what we would advise people such as our children not to do. i think we should feel attacked by that example, upbraided, shamed. that he is a hero shows that we are cowards. he may be an example to someone somewhere, but he is not our example.
let me ask you even this: for what principle, or for what people, would you risk your health insurance? reflect and answer that to yourself as frankly as you can. alright then, who are your actual heroes? i fear that, on reflection, it will be clear that your actual heroes are successful bureaucrats. we are pretending to live with commitments and to admire courage, but these are fictions.
geez, what happened? i must say, i think prince compares extremely favorably to michael jackson, for example. also davidbowie. i reviewed his albums early and through the eighties, including at his apex moment, with 'when doves cry' and 'purple rain.' i finally saw him around 2000 at the meadowlands; we were up in the rafters. it was one of the best shows i ever saw: so clean, so propulsive: he was really throwing down the funk with maceo parker and stuff on that tour. he had many great songs; maybe i don't need to do the playlist, even. every few months 'raspberry beret' starts playing on repeat in my mind, e.g. i particularly liked the whole aesthetic of 'kiss': so stripped down to the essence; one of the great pop singles of its era.
now, there were problems too, very often. you don't really want to watch the movie purple rain now, except for kitsch-value and to watch morris day and the time get down. the movie after that (i've repressed the title) was far worse. he wrote some great riffs, but many songs were built on boring, repetitive or unattractive little figures; i think he had a bit too much faith that everything was genius. even listen to '1999': now whistle or hum the riff; it's just boring. and as he went on, his music got less interesting i feel, though i stopped listening at a certain point. but i don't think i would recommend a marathon of all his albums; there's a lot of non-good or just puzzling stuff.
still, as his appearance in baltimore last year and many other things showed, he stayed so much sharper, saner, and more relevant than michael or a lot of other people who reach that level. i don't actually think it's good for anyone to get that level of adulation, and no one quite deserves it anyway. but lord that boy could get it.
michael and prince (and madonna and me) were all born in 1958; the attrition rate is rather disconcerting.
i hope people take this chance to listen beyond the first couple of cuts to merle haggard, especially the early stuff. packages i'd recommend: i'm a lonesome fugitive and swinging doors and the bottle let me down.
also, i think 'the strangers' is the best name for a country band.
over the years i have issued several celebrations of the genius of david bowie. 'corpse' is the latest of his protean shape-shifting personae (wait a second: maybe he did that one in '77?). the times obit says he 'transcended music, art, and fashion.' he certainly transcended music. you can see this because people really really love his music, in spite of how it sounds.
it's fine with me to have musical artists where the point is not the music, but then maybe you could skip the audio retrospective? in bowie's case i don't see how the point could possibly ever have had anything to do with the music, and i will say again that 'space oddity' is the worst pop song ever recorded, without a single redeeming feature, and that that basically sets the tone for the oeuvre. the music was an afterthought, or an accessory, or just some more make-up. the words were meaningless. the tunes were boring or derivative. the values were empty and destructive. the effect on rock music was baleful. but it somehow exuded cultural something-or-other, which was enough. so anyway, celebrate him as a liberatory cultural figure if you absolutely must, but leave it there.
i guess i do want to link up to lou reed. i must hate these people's music because of my homophobia! wait, were they gay, or were they just passing in the 70s as a fashion statement? no, i hate their music because it's tuneless, meaningless dreck that reduces music to a fashion accessory. or, as someone who was less interested than most in their eye shadow, i ended up having to focus on their melodies.
i heard a young woman on cnn with a bowie painted eye saying that he gave her the courage to be who she really was, because that's what he was all about. for real? then who was david bowie, really? i realize that people responded to his various genderings, but i would think of him more as a postmodern shape-shifter; the whole point of, say, bowie or warhol is that there is no authentic person underneath, just a series of manufactured images. i think madonna, for example, did this better, even if she herself would give it up for bowie here. i think her music was a lot more fun: better hooks, better beat; i think there were always interesting gender and religious interventions, whereas i thought that bowie's forays were, even in that comparison, superficial. they were both really helped by being beautiful modely-type people, though, and really the spectacle always swamped the music.
or, maybe i'm just bitter because straight women have been subjecting me to this stuff, groaning ecstatically, since 1972, while i tried to sidle inconspicuously out the door or begged for absolute silence, pleading headache. that is the center of the audience, btw (straight, white, bourgeois females), so if you are judging the cultural meaning of these folks, you should take that into account. i love straight white bourgeois females: really; look at my track record. but they have the absolute worst taste in music of any demographic cohort that has ever existed in the history of the world, by a very long way. (haha! vengeance is mine!) let's say the response to bowie was erotic, not melodic. it's like fabian or something: no he can't sing. does that matter? or it's like marilyn monroe singing 'diamonds are a girl's best friend': oh the performance is transcendently excellent - just mesmerizing - if you're a person like me. now just imagine how excellent the music would be if marilyn started making out with jane russell right there! it gives me the courage to be myself!
anyway, ok ok he did have his moments. and if you give me no other choices, i'll put david on before lou. but, now, let me point out that the rise and fall of ziggy stardust and the spiders from mars was issued the same year as the ann peebles song in this cluster. now, considered just as a piece of popular music - really, seriously - which is better? like who's the better singer, for example? who has the better production, band, arrangements, songs? if you have any hesitation about that, you might want to keep your tastes private; i've got no problem with what you listen to in the privacy of your own home - if you really do put that stuff on voluntarily, which i'm finding a little difficult to imagine - but you might consider the damage to your credibility were such a thing to become public. well, in 1972 ( i was 14) we faced an actual choice about which records to buy. even then, some mistakes struck as me as hard to make.
looking at bowie's outfits, fright wigs, makeup, etc: surely you can't think they've aged very well? but man they looked exactly that ridiculous then. and if you thought that this was the direction that rock music should take at that moment - if you wanted this kind of rococo pseudo-opera to be what was coming out of the radio, you were on the wrong side. he was trying to end, kill rock 'n roll entirely. you know, he's connected to jagger on one end and punk on the other, but when you get right down to it, his aesthetic is the opposite of the rolling stones' or the ramones'. you'd be so much better with alice cooper, say: why wasn't he a profound gender-bending innovator, man of many personae, etc? well, he wasn't pretty, and he used horror films rather than sci-fi, but he not only wore eyeshadow; he fucking rocked, while bowie noodled about with his space-alien bullshit.
retroactively, people seem to think of bowie as a unique figure. but everyone was doing gender and personae in the '70s. oh, we might ponder the village people: that was pretty hilarious and profound work on gender with its parodies of hetmale personae, and they had much better songs than bowie. or i think besides alice, you'd have done better to appoint bryan ferry, or sylvester, for example; i think the music and the costumes were better in all these cases.
bye to lemmy. i interviewed him once (maybe '88?), i think for circus magazine. there was some controversy raging over the satanic influence of metal bands like motorhead and twisted sister on the youth of that day, and that generation has, of course, amounted to a chronic infestation of demons. anyway, he was extremely smart and funny on this, and started with a long description about how he and dee snider sacrificed minority children in his basement; that's how they became rock stars in spite of being lemmy and dee snider. cause of death? the coroner suspects that it was death.
like jim morrison and jimi hendrix, lemmy was a fatal genius-baby who prophesied his own death. only 30 years after he wrote 'killed by death', he's all dead and shit.
so long don covay. what a very great songwriter. perhaps he was not one of the very best soul singers (not a devastating indictment: the top thirty soul singers are among the top 60 singers in the history of popular music), but he was nevertheless a fine recording artist. a big influence on jagger, of course, but also on my man peter wolf, lead singer of my 70s obsession the j. geils band and later an intermittently excellent solo artist.
dc is my home town, as you may know, and i grew up there during the emergence of the formerly alive marion barry. i recall him even as a young pseudo-blackpower leader. i wish i could say something other than that marion barry was a charlatan, a buffoon, and an embarrassment.
now, statistics show that 86.4% of the men who rose to political power during the golden era of patriarchy were in public service for the poontang and blow, so he was not alone in that, and definitely not alone in that in dc. and i can forgive someone for being an addict; i do it all the time. but what i won't forgive marion barry for is coming out of rehab, using the rhetoric of recovery as a way into the terrible problems of dc in, say, the early 90s, and just continuing with the crank and trim all the while. once it became clear that this was the situation, it also became clear that this was about the most repulsive imaginable reflection on barry the person and on my native city: in my world, recovery is sacred, and dc as a whole was in a terrible addiction spiral from the early-70s heroin epidemic to being one of the world centers of crack and hence murder in the barry administration and beyond. for so many people, that recovery thing was obviously life and death on any given day. and yet barry just fed it into his hypocrisy machine and rode it back to some semblance of political power. he really was a metaphor for dc like that, in every dimension from congressional and cabinet and defense contractor to back-alley ghetto: the marble edifice. the seething corruption within.
in 1991, the year his first 8-year run as mayor ended, "the murder capital" hit its top end with 479 homicides in a city of about 800k residents. this was due to the drug industry that was also supplying marion barry. as barry rolled through the district's sex workers, dc generatesd one of the world's worst rates of hiv transmission. you can't blame mb for all this, but you sure can't exonerate him either; he was the problem he portrayed himself as trying to solve.
throughout the barry mayoralty - and before and since, to be fair - the district of columbia had an entirely dysfunctional, useless school system: a famous intractable laughingstock. for example, neither the superintendant nor the mayor knew how many people the school system employed, nor could they generate a plausible number even with years to do so, or a list of employees. don't get me started; i was raised up in the very bowels of the unbelievable idiocy. barry famously created a 'black middle class' in dc and started cleaning up the u-street corridor etc. he created this class by creating tens of thousands of city jobs, and there were thousands of people who owed their jobs to him, which is one reason that he could not be kept away from power. many of these people moved to prince george's county, which is part of why inner-city neighborhoods collapsed in his era. yet even with this mass of employees, or in many cases because of it, the barry administration could not deliver basic city services effectively in any part of the city.
i have been hearing tributes to marion barry's charisma. i never met the man; apparently it was a religio-sexual experience. and yet as marion barry mumbled his way through a speech or a press conference at any stage of his career, his ineluctable personal magneticsm was likewise indetectable. he was briefly inspiring in the early 70s as an alternative to the uncle-tommy-seeming old commissioners who ran the place on behalf of congressional segregationists, such as barry's predecessor walter washington. but man alive other than that it was all drawbacks.
lauren bacall was my all-time screen crush. too frigging sexy to believe. that voice, for god's sake (voice is underrated as a dimension of desire). also i have always...appreciated the mini-bacall: veronica lake. more to scale.
i'd probably prefer to listen to the everly brothers than any other 'mainstream' pop act of their period (well, i'm also very partial to dion and the belmonts). i think the basic thrust was country, and they updated the 'brother harmonies' of people like the louvin brothers. but boy did they have great songs and great voices: the shit is just so so sweet.
the kennedy thing, i have to say, is amazing. yesterday i was listening to another npr show of ecstatic tribute to a great man. so what were his main accomplishments?, asked the interviewer. um, well, the bay of pigs wasn't all his fault: that was one accomplishment. he really understood civil rights deep inside, even though his record on that was...mixed. really he started the vietnam war. but one of his accomplisments was that if he'd lived, he supposedly would have stopped it. ok ok, moonshot and peace corps.
anyway, it soons turns uber-woolly: he was so significant because he was so inspiring to a whole generation. what was supposedly great about kennedy was his charisma, and everyone goes there very quickly: he accomplished charisma. now, in my opinion, either charisma is a supernatural hypnotize-you-at-a-distance-of-miles super-power, or it only means sexiness. i think sexiness was kennedy's real policy accomplishment. probably, one should reflect on who one is following around taking inspiration from, and why. what we're really nostalgic for is our masochistic ecstasy: find a beautiful man and believe whatever he tells you to believe. now, fortunately in the case of kennedy, there were no very definite ideas coming out of that perfect mouth, because when there are definite ideas, this charisma crap is merely dangerous.
many people pride themselves on the rationality of their political approach. where does their whole body's desire to be bathed in charisma fit in with that?
astoundingly, the library of living philosophers volume on arthur danto, under randy auxier's editorship (and with my essay on danto as a writer) appeared the same day he died. the basic format is pieces by various folks (including david carrier, the late denis dutton, george dickie, frank ankersmit, noel carroll, etc) each with a reply from arthur. probably of most enduring interest is the 'philosophical autobiography' that introduces the volume. as in auxier's extremely excellent rorty volume, this turns out to be central to any interpretation of danto's work from now on.
i will have much more to say about arthur danto, i hope. to me he was, among the very large philosophers of his generation (almost all of whom are gone: rawls, rorty, baudrillard, quine, derrida; perhaps habermas and cavell are still with us? i saw joe margolis stalking krakow recently) the one i would take as a model. he had extremely broad interests: unusually broad interests within philosophy, believe it or not (eastern, nitezsche), as well of course as all those wonderful and sometimes amazong excursions into visual arts in relation to everything.
it is as a stylist that i admire him most, by which i also mean to indicate that i wouldn't particularly agree with his philosophy, though it is somewhat characteristic that it might be hard to say what that means, exactly. among philosophers, he has few equals in the twentieth century as a craftsman of english prose (we might mention russell, j.l. austin, quine). really, he plays the damn language like a strad, and in a completely particular way: it's an supple structure of digression upon digression or within digression, erudite tour de force within erudite tdf, shaggy dog story after shaggy dog story. sometimes, one feels that the sum doesn't amount to all one wished, but you will never regret reading anything he wrote, from the most sophisto art theory to the philosophy of history or action to the art criticism. go buy and read the transfiguration of the commonplace.
danto was never my teacher, but i met him on a number of occasions, dined with him here and there and so on. one of my first publications was a kind of literalistic attack on the basic stance of the transfirguration. he sent me a gracious reply. i have written about him on many occasions, notably in six names of beauty. i'm scheduled to teach his book the abuse of beauty starting tomorrow. i told my class thursday, as i often do, that we were about the start reading the greatest living aesthetician, the greatest living philosopher of art. i guess in hindsight that was misleading. i must say he was about the nicest guy you'd ever want to meet: not a given in particular at the topmost reaches of my profession.
bobby bland had that thing that came from way down in his thoat that was kind of scary. you know, he was among the top artists who kept various forms of the blues alive as a current popular music that could fill arenas with black folks in the south, right through the 90s. also a couple of his songs are just my favorite evil grooves ever. 'ain't no love in the heart of the city' will be living on even through the chrysler ads.
there will no doubt be more on george later. for now i just want to say he was the greatest male country singer, by a way. so people who i'd point to as great or paradigm country singers, such as keith whitley and vern gosdin, owed him plenty. he was better than his great contemporaries johnny cash or willie nelson or merle haggard or buck owens, as a singer, in a variety of ways. he had more emotional range and intensity (he was incomparable in that, as everyone who knows anything about this will acknowledge). and also his singing is more central or basic or exemplary of country music than is that of any of the others. the whole idea of what a man does in a country ballad, owes everything to him. it's remarkable that he was teamed with tammy, who of course i think was the greatest female country singer. well conway and loretta were close, but dolly and porter was asymmetrical. he made some great records late, as below. he made some horrendous records like in the 80s, i'm assuming under the influence of coke.