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.
i want to say that i am definitely opposed to the cult of personality: one of the saddest symptoms of human patheticness: you're just begging to be subordinated, and your dearest aspiration is to labor under obvious delusions. like this is just pitiful. also i am opposed to authoritarianism for any purposes whatever. it's worth remarking, though, that it was never plausible to equate chavez with the miserable dictators with whom he often associated. i think he was repeatedly and more or less fairly elected (though 'fairly' has to be qualified by his domination of the media). that makes a difference.
He has taken on many of Mr. Chávez’s vocal patterns and speech rhythms, and has eagerly repeated the slogan “I am Chávez” to crowds of supporters. He has mimicked the president’s favorite themes — belittling the political opposition and warning of mysterious plots to destabilize the country, even implying that the United States was behind Mr. Chávez’s cancer.
He has also adopted the president’s clothes, walking beside his coffin in an enormous procession on Wednesday wearing a windbreaker with the national colors of yellow, blue and red, as Mr. Chávez often did.
show some pride, little bitch. just to drive that nail, they'll display his corpse 'forever.' the idea of your body as an icon or sculpture of itself raises amazing questions about representation. one good aspect: it makes it permanently possible to rape hugo chavez, at least in a certain sense, and it adds tremendous symbolic weight to what would otherwise be a mere personal peccadillo. hugo will live forever, but he will never not be dead. looking good, asshole.
in honor of the late james buchanan: my refutation of his argument for the necessity of state power. as a free bonus feature you get my (then-)little daughter running about behind me trying to mess up my video because it's taking my attention!
one thing i notice about all the year-end death round-ups is that a very high percentage of the people who are mentioned were in the music biz. i think that's an index of the degree wo which music is something that is central to our national identity.
awww, dave brubek is no more. you know, of all the jazz pianists of that generation - oh man, let's say bill evans, horace silver, phineas newborn, oscar peterson, etc etc - i'll take thelonious monk, especially the earlier stuff, as in the material collected on blue monk. in fact, the title track on that shows what i love. monk is central to what became the bop idiom, but he is completely engaged in many aspects of the tradition. that track is first of all a kind of anthology of blues-oriented piano styles: monk always said stride, but also boogie-woogie, barrelhouse; james johnson, fats waller, roosevelt sykes, pete johnson, maybe professor longhair, even; anyway, there is certainly new orleans on board too. and then he's also putting into play the styles of duke ellington and count basie. ok he venerates these things, but he breaks them apart in a thousand ways, deconstructs them. and with all that, the reading is witty; it's funnny. it's not a museum: he puts the whole tradition into play: he fucks around with them, but even just messing he shows new implications all over the place. the dissonances he runs through on material like that are stunning, really: just amazingly intuitive, wrong but right, dissonant but melodic; i'm trying to think my way into whole different chords on the harmonica on this sort of basis. i guess stravinsky might be an analogy. when he backs off the dissonance, as on the ellington record, he's still brilliant, but the inimitable element is tempered. a lot of these players were always trying to blow you away with how fast they were, or in general how shocking the technical ability: they were almost like liszt or something. (well, not silver or brubek, e.g.) that is not the point at all with monk; in fact i think he's actually specifically refraining from that, and when he does hit it, it's all the more impressive and it emerges organically in the composition/improvisation. he's a subtractionist somewhat in the mode of davis, with whom he did record. but i'd rather listen to monk.
that's basie leaning on the piano; wish i knew what he was thinking. he's both emulating basie and tearing him up. basie is the very essence of swing, and one thing that's so right about monk is that he also never did not swing. like i hate to say a lot of those bop players in my opinion lost their way in technical fireworks, and lost both the blues base and the swing time. i mean by the time you get to 'fusion,' it just don't move. but monk swings; that's what that funny laid-back, in-the-cut kind of time meant. here's the more virtuosic thing i mean.