Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The World's Greatest Rock Band

Well, technically, it's the "world's greatest acid-funk-rock-soul-ambiant-trip-hop-tribal-speed metal" band. But my point is that you, most likely, have never heard this group on LP, CD or live. You need to seriously work on fixing that.

Miles Davis and his final great band, 1973-75. The quartet of mindblowing albums include the studio classic Get Up With It, and the live albums Dark Magus, Agharta, and Pangaea. By this point, Miles had long forsaken traditional jazz music, and with the influence of Jimi Hendrix, Sly Stone, and James Brown, returned from the great beyond with wild, furious, funky music from the distant future. And after these final four triumphs, Miles would disappear for six years...burned out? tired out? who knows? This is Miles' most enigmatic, and most thrilling, period.

On these albums, younger ears can recognize everything from The Chemical Brother to Public Enemy to Radiohead to Sonic Youth Red Hot Chili Peppers to Roots-era Sepultura and even Metallica's St. Anger. Everything sampled and remixed by the world's top DJ's, of course. Truly, music far beyond its time. In a lot of ways, we still haven't caught up. But the youth generation of the '90s and 2000's are catching up.

Thankfully, it's far easier to get your hands on these albums today. Two of these albums were only released in Japan back in the 1970's, but they have been remastered and restored to CD in the last few years. And many bootlegs of live performances exist. Oh, please please please put more of these shows out on CD. Heck, scour through the old tapes and bring it to us on LP! I don't know about you, but I can't get enough.

Also, it goes without saying that the above photos would make fantastic posters. There has to be a lot of killer photos lying around somewhere. This era of Miles Davis' career remains largely overlooked. If you know what's good for you, you'll do something about that.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Herbie Hancock - Sextant (1973)

I actually stumbled onto this album a few months ago at the Uptown Cheapo Records. Having really no idea what it was, or where it fit into Herbie Hancock's career, I passed it up, only to see it quickly disappear. For whatever reason, I just wasn't in the mood that day. Now, of course, this style of highly abstract, surreal, off-the-cuff electric jazz is all I can stand to listen to. My current obsession over Miles Davis's 1974 album Get Up With It, for example.

I've long been a great fan of Herbie, and I was also thrilled to see him win the Grammy for Best Album last year. He seems to have a knack for creating very diverse and adventurous music, while still seeming commercial and accessible. He surely learned from Miles those early excursions into the dark side during the late '60s.

It's also certain that Herbie never went into the depths of the darkness like Miles had done. But Miles was the trailblazer, furiously, almost fearlessly digging out strange, exciting music that proved to be decades ahead of its time. Herbie surely followed his own abstract path in the early '70s, but he never pushed himself as far, never dove as deep into the waters, into that inhuman realm where all creative energy resides.

I'd have to say this album, Sextant, is the most far out of Herbie's career. This comes from his fertile electrified jazz period, which would soon be refined into the funk masterpiece Headhunters. But Headhunters, while fantastic (it's just about the greatest funk album ever made), feels very safe. There's none of the sense of danger, the darkness, that Miles was increasingly forging with On the Corner, Big Fun, Get Up With It. But Miles was on his own obsessive pursuit into genius or madness or whatever realm lies beyond the reach of mortal men.

Anyway, I'm rambling a little. I'm only trying to assemble all of these pieces together and understand the music of the era. I'm trying to understand why such crazed, adventurous, alien music is never found today. In 2009, "safe" means formulaic fakery. It means mindless Ken and Barbie dolls mouthing along to the computer recording. What's the use? Is our culture so fearful, so clamped down, so repressive? Is this dark, mysterious, surreal, psychedelic music so dangerous to the social order? This adds fuel to the fire of my conviction that all creativity resides beyond ourselves. The bravest souls, the ones we call "genius," dive deepest into that realm, somewhere through the Bell Non-Local Space, to hear the music of Dimension X, or perhaps the mind of God Himself.

It's hard to say. Wherever that realm of inspiration lies, precious few have dared to explore it, face it with open eyes. I think Miles Davis did that throughout the 1970's. I think Herbie also did this on Sextant. He couldn't swim deep for very long, but he did bring back these jewels. He couldn't dive as deeply, for as long, as Miles. But, then, nobody could. Today, nobody is even interested in knowing this realm even exists. As a consequence, fundamentalism and God-lessness rule our discourse.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

We're Lucky to Have Him

Sullivan is, ironically, one of President Obama's smartest defenders. And he makes the case for Obama's pragmatism very effectively. This is what re-jumbling the American political paradigm looks like, kids. And we are very, very lucky to have Obama in charge. I don't think there's a single figure in Washington who could possibly succeed; meeting our many challenges requires us to completely change the very icons and rules of our politics. "Conservative," "Liberal," "Moderate." We have to redefine everything, and finally lead ourselves out of Nixonland.

I don't believe anyone but Obama can do this. Everyone, both parties, is too invested in the old rules of the game. They like playing that game. But the game no longer works for us, and it hasn't worked for a very long time.

The Economist: End The Drug War

Now the conservative magazine The Economist is stating the very obvious.

Having spent the better part of last week in Bogota, Colombia, I can see the effects of the American Empire's absurd little "drug wars." These policies have only succeeded in crippling Latin American nations, leaving them trapped in endless cycles of corruption and violence. And, yes, it is very true that Bogota has improved greatly in the past decade. But it will never break free from its crippling poverty, or violence from terrorist thugs like FARC, as long as drug prohibition is in place. As long as we - and I mean the United States - continue the drug wars, there will be a massive underground economy, a global subsidy, for all intents and purposes. The vast sums of money from the illicit drug trade will forever destabilize Latin America.

Oh, and have I mentioned that I have friends and loved ones in Bogota? I've got a dog in this fight. I don't have a shred of respect for poisons like cocaine or heroin, and I damn well don't respect the sorry losers who are stupid enough to consume them. My beef is with the criminal syndicates and terrorists who profit immensely from the drug war's subsidies.

That's really what we're doing here, kids. We're propping up the prices of these poisons. And it all goes into the hands of killers and thugs. I don't know about you, but I'd sure as hell like to the the profit out of this little game. The United States already learned this lesson with alcohol Prohibition in the 1930's. So what's the hold-up? What are we waiting for?

John Mellencamp on the Music Business

I was greatly impressed with his writings on the state of the music industry. It almost makes me want to grab his recent albums and see what he's been up to. I always liked him, even if I learned to hate "Jack and Diane" when I was still in grade school.

Running Out of Water in Mexico

This is a crisis for the whole world. Just you wait until the world's inland glaciers have completely melted. Why are we not seriously dealing with this? Is it just another crisis, like global warming, that we keep out of mind and put off for the future?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Miles Davis Vienna 1973

Dark, heavy, chaotic, and far beyond anything of its time. It's almost as though Miles wanted to connect to the rock 'n roll kids, and overshot them by 30 years. True, not for everyone, but there's a mark of mad genius present in Miles electric period of the 1970s that has never really been addressed. Or matched. I can't name one single band, of any style, that comes close to this level of intensity.

Love him or hate him, the man poured everything out on his music. There's a recklessness in this music, a desperation. What is he searching for? What is he expressing? And does the aggressive, desperate energy emerge from Miles' search, or his need to share with the rest of us? How much did the extreme critical backlash contribute to his mad pursuit? We're in the realm of the Mad Prophet.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Miles Davis 1971

Electric Mayhem. I'm really big on Miles Davis electric period right now, thanks to a recent purchase of "Get Up With It" on vinyl lp. There's probably no segment in pop music history as intractable and controversial. Either you are completely convinced "Electric" Miles Davis is a genius decades ahead of his time....or he's completely bonkers. The issue will probably never be settled, since it's taken a generation for his dark, heavy jazz-rock-funk-ambient-metal-whatever it is to find an audience.

I'm sure old school jazz fans were aghast at the sight of this, from the man who gave the world Kind of Blue and Sketches of Spain. But I say this rocks. This is the wildest heaviest music ever conceived in our time. And it's probably going to take another 30 years for that to really sink in.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

10 Deregulatory Steps to Financial Meltdown

This is a long read, but very, very thorough essay lays the collapse of the global economy at the feet of 30 years of aggressive deregulation for Wall Street. "Let the market govern itself" has been the mantra for a generation, and at long last, the reckless greed has brought the entire house down on our heads.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

End the Drug Wars

This isn't likely to happen anytime soon, or even in our lifetimes. There are far too many powerful interests who profit from Prohibition, from the politicians to law enforcement to the prison-industrial complex. It's perfect for scolds and self-serving moralizers and holier-than-thou types who condemn the pot smokers while sipping martinis. It's perfect for demagogues who wish to marginalize or disenfranchise certain segments of the population. And the illicit drug trade, the vast and immensely profitable underground market, remains an important source of revenue for governments that secretly fund activities that the public would never approve.

Given all that, it's encouraging whenever any serious discussion on Prohibition arises. The Economist is to be thanked for saying what, frankly, needs to be said:

Next week ministers from around the world gather in Vienna to set international drug policy for the next decade. Like first-world-war generals, many will claim that all that is needed is more of the same. In fact the war on drugs has been a disaster, creating failed states in the developing world even as addiction has flourished in the rich world. By any sensible measure, this 100-year struggle has been illiberal, murderous and pointless. That is why The Economist continues to believe that the least bad policy is to legalise drugs.

Clearly, we have immense problems and challenges from the use and abuse of alcohol and tobacco. But compared to the problems of narco-trafficking? The rise of dangerous, powerfully violent drug cartels? Urban gangs waging turf wars? These things occur for one reason only: money. It's all about the money. If the Colombian drug cartels thought they could make more money opening White Castles, trust me, they'd skip to it in a heartbeat. They don't deal in the global drug trade because they're evil. They don't twirl their mustaches and tie maidens to railroad tracks. They're only in it for the money.

End Prohibition, and you immediately make all that money disappear. Poof. When's the last time you ever heard of anyone who was bootlegging booze?

As I've said, there are far too many political actors who are invested in the status quo. For them, Prohibition works and it works very well. But for the rest of us - the ones who have to live with the violence, terrorism, and bloodshed - this isn't working at all. It's not worth having your nightclub bombed or your neighborhood shot up, so you can pretend that Junior isn't getting pot, or some bloated talk radio host isn't becoming a heroin junkie. Wake up and smell the coffee and sugar. This isn't working. It's not making a damn bit of difference.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009


Wow. I do believe the Democrats have learned to fight back. And the funny thing about this widget is that they can keep adding to it.

More fuel for the fire, and more popcorn for the rest of us. I haven't had this much fun watching a breakup since the Berlin Wall came crashing down.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Made Their Myth, Now They're Trapped

There's this line from a Mudhoney song, "Made his myth, now he's trapped," that I think perfectly captures the current situation with the Republican Party. Its modern incarnation was forged by the backlash from the Civil Rights Era, and Nixon brought that discontent home to the GOP to become the majority party for a generation. Now we're seeing the final fallout of that generation - racist, anti-intellectual, paranoid - in its final throes, and younger generations emerge. Republicans have become the Archie Bunkers of America. The problem for them is that Archie Bunker is now a museum piece.

We're not living in the days of the Southern Strategy. We're living in the days of hip-hop, global culture, and Barack Obama. The rest of the world has moved on, and this leaves the GOP trapped. As they become increasingly isolated, the GOP becomes trapped by that hardcore base that first helped bring them to power all those years ago. But this base is an anachronism, and not really offensive anymore. They're pretty much a sad joke. I can't even muster the energy to get upset at Rush Limbaugh anymore. The man is a clown, a colossal fucking moron, and this fact is obvious to pretty much anyone my age who has their heads screwed on straight. It makes about as much sense to rip on Limbaugh as it does to rip on...oh, I dunno...Vanilla Ice. Yeah, that's it.

It's funny that even 15 years ago, this wasn't the broad consensus. But I think our generation had to grow up and come of age. Now we're old enough to start taking politics seriously, with retiring parents on one end, and new children on the other. So it's natural that the Hip-Hop Generation is becoming more and more the mainstream American view. The election of Obama is a watershed for this shift. It really is the generational paradigm shift in American politics.

I'm sure there are some smart people in the Republican Party who know this. They aren't all circus clowns or manipulative Mr. Burns types. But they can't join the rest of us here in the 21st Century without losing that hardcore base, a base which has defined them for 40 years. And there's no way, realistically, to discard that many voters and still win elections. The closet cases and dittoheads are necessary to keep the elections close. But Republicans can no longer win with them, and as the years go by, that core base will keep the rest of us away, far away. There's no way in hell any GOP candidate on the national level wins the Black vote, or the Latino vote, or the Youth vote, or the Womens vote.

I'm thinking about this, and I keep coming back to the same conclusion. It's not just that the GOP needs to lose a couple more election cycles before they get their acts together. I think it's a matter of seeing the Southern Strategy Generation to the grave. You literally will have to wait until the Dobsons and Robertsons and Limbaughs and their ilk have passed. Once the baby boomers start to diminish, then eventually you could see a reemergence of the Republican Party, along new lines and new demographics.

Of course, I could always be wrong. Americans are good people by their nature, but they don't pay much attention to things, and they can be very easily manipulated. Good heavens, this nation lost its mind for five years after 9/11. Another national tragedy on that scale, and anything is game. And the authoritarians who gave us Bush/Cheney will remain ready to swoop in and wreak havok. But I don't think anything like that is about to happen. The longer trends for our nation is more tolerant, more open, more cosmopolitan. More Hip-Hop, and less Limbaugh.

There's somebody near the top of the hierarchy at the GOP who knows this. Who knows, maybe even poor, picked-upon Michael Steele has figured this out. But it's a tragic realization, knowing that there really are no options for changing course, for avoiding the consequences of this little political Faustian bargain. And maybe that's why Steele feels content to publicly grovel at Limbaugh's feet. What's the use? Either way, they're losers. The Republicans have made their myth; now they're trapped.

Deep Thought

When did the Republican Party turn into the Apple Dumpling Gang? Have they all become heroin junkies now?