Productive Distractions (aka Those Damn Pages)

It’s a good bet that, if I haven’t posted for awhile, I’ve been reading more than usual. For me, usual is constantly, and I have been reading more than constantly, whatever the adverb for that is. Much of my reading has concerned music, and I’d recommend pretty much all of it.

Mott

Ian Hunter’s long-unavailable Diary of a Rock and Roll Star has recently been released by Omnibus in a new edition. I’d long wanted to read it, but either couldn’t find or afford a used copy.  Finally in my grip, it lived up to my sustained high expectations–it even surprised me. Hunter’s frequently very funny: picture the writer and singer of “Sea Diver” sweeping up a minefield of cat-grunt in his flat before he catches his flight to the U.S. He’s very insightful: about the early-Seventies U. S. landscape, about the record biz, about stardom, about band chemistry. He’s got a killer eye: when action slows, his detailed observation of his surroundings can frequently make relative stasis stimulating. And–particularly if you picture him behind glitter, guitar and shades–he’s charmingly mature (his wife was frequently present, so there’s that, but even so he convincingly view groupies as an annoyance and at one point weaponizes them in a prank on the group’s roadies). It’s a real compliment to his talent as a journalist (of sorts) that, despite the fact that he references his bowel movements–travel sucks!–as often as substance indulgence, its pages move the reader forward pretty contagiously.

Most relevant to this blog, it clears my bar for music books: a) it sent me straight back to Mott’s music (I’m still stuck on it even though I finished the book weeks ago), and b) it cost me money–I sprang (rather impulsively, since I duplicated much I already owned) for both the new early-Mott Mental Train six-disc box set and (rather thoughtlessly, since I had digital copies of each, and since…CDs) CD copies of Mott and All the Young Dudes. I’m a hopeless victim of consumerism, but at least I’m celebrating art while in those chains. I could be a bit more stoopid….

 

abdurraqib_7200_cvr_blurb

It’s really too early for me to write about the above sure-to-be-classic because I am still in its thrall. I love Abdurraqib’s two previous books, one a collection of poetry (The Crown Ain’t Worth Much), the other a collection of essays (They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us), both of which showcase the author’s unique skill at not only absorbing and expressing the very particular fears and pain of being a person of color in these United States right now, but also revealing how his fellow artists do the same. Few current writers explain more viscerally how great music opens out, explains, challenges, and buffers the world its audience lives in–he’s one of the best music writers alive (the terms “reviewer” or “critic” don’t do him justice). This is a stray thought I haven’t wrestled fully enough with, but in some ways he is the literary point person for the relatively new strain of openly emotional, frequently depressive wave of r & b, dance, and rap that I associate with Khalid, The Internet, and Ben LaMar Gay, to name just a few. It’s quite possible this subgenre’s been named and I just haven’t caught up, but its emergence is absolutely unsurprising, given the world as Abdurraqib describes it.

ANYHOW, in Go Ahead in The Rain, which stands strong as a ATCQ primer on its most basic level, Abdurraqib extends the above strengths even further. If you’ve ever cared about how the members of your favorite band cared about each other, how they managed to work together and pool their distinctly different talents to create lasting art, those moments and bands will be conjured as you read. If you’ve ever gravitated to and held on to a band like a life-preserver when you feared your world would swamp you, you’ll be transported back to those crises. If you ever took a band’s dissolution personally–if you ever felt a break-up like a gut-punch, and if you ever knew such a phenomenon meant more than just what it was–you’ll feel much less than a fanboy/girl after this (that is, if you ever did). But don’t get the impression from the nostalgic tint and past tense verbs of that sentence-spew that Go Ahead in The Rain is a lament for the better days (and beats and rhymes) long gone. The presence in the world of Tribe’s last album, We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service, released with shocking timeliness in November of 2016, will hover in the reader’s mind (if s/he knows it, of course, but if s/he doesn’t–what the fuck???) through the first three-quarters of the book, and when it touches down in Abdurraqib’s pages–well, I had to gather myself a bit before I proceeded. Note: fans of the author will not be surprise that the ghost of Leonard Cohen wafts into these proceedings.

It’s tangentially related, but don’t expect Abdurraqib to condemn so-called “mumble rap.” If you’ve read his past work, it’s hard to imagine you would, but this book’s title might make you wonder. What he does have to say about that subgenre is as eloquent and redemptive as anything I’ve read on the subject. It’s common sense, really, but they say such a thing has taken wing.

Go Ahead in The Rain is a damn good book. A great one. Mine was a library copy–I finished it, returned it, and went and bought a copy to keep and re-read. That’s my review, really.

May2019-OFC

Don’t ask me why I took me until this year for me to subscribe to The Wire because it’s right up my (but possibly not your) alley. I have read shared articles from the London-based magazine for years, most of which I’ve enjoyed, but was never moved to actually do the deep dive. To put it simply, The Wire is very seriously devoted to music that’s experimental or otherwise very much out of the ol’ main stream. Also put simply, it overwhelms me. Some of my few readers may wonder how I stay on top of what I already struggle to stay on top of; this invaluable resources always immediately reminds me that too much exciting music is being made for anyone to stay on top of–ever.

To the point of this entry, though, the current issue features spectacularly informative articles about two acts (for lack of a better word) I already loved but clearly needed to know more about: the First Nations artists Tanya Tagaq (article by Phil England) and A Tribe Called Red (article by Marcus Boon). Each piece provided thrilling revelations: I have Tagaq’s recently-published memoir, Split Tooth, on the way, and I’ve repeat-played the two ATCR albums I didn’t even know about several times this week. In addition, tucked away in the ATCR piece was a reference to the “Cypress Hill-influenced” Native American rap group piquantly named Snotty Nose Rez Kids. Turns out this relatively new crew has two very fucking good records out, with a 2018 single on Apple Music portending a third. Then there’s Jeremy Dutcher, basically an Indian classical musician hollering back at old wax cylinder recordings. If you don’t read The Wire and you’re a seeker, best get on board. It’s pretty cheap if you go digital, but it would be worth the price if you wanted a hard copy.

Sample a playlist of First Nations brilliance.

 

 

“Weaponize Your Sound”: Best Albums of ’19, 25% through the Briar Patch

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All I had to do was bitch about 2019 and it stepped to me–almost immediately. Top 25s in particular are getting a lot of replay.

Bold-faced entries represent older music, which I usually separate into a dedicated list later. Notable: some very emotionally intense desert blues up in here, and it parallels some shit coming down at the source; some really talkative rap records striking deep; my reading as always effects my musical perceptions–I just finished Dave Cullen’s Parkland.

  1. Little Simz: Grey Area
  2. Eric Dolphy: Musical Prophet
  3. Quelle Chris: Guns
  4. Burnt Sugar: 20th Anniversary Mixtapes—Groiddest Schizznits, Vols. 1-3
  5. Dave: PSYCHODRAMA
  6. Royal Trux: White Stuff
  7. 2 Chainz: Rap or Go to the League
  8. Harriet Tubman: The Terror End of Beauty
  9. The Coathangers: The Devil You Know
  10. Various Artists: All the Young Droogs–60 Juvenile Delinquent Wrecks
  11. Mdou Moctar: Ilana (The Creator)
  12. Ben Lamar Gay: Confetti in the Sky Like Fireworks
  13. Usted Saami: God is Not a Terrorist
  14. Robert Forster: Inferno
  15. Heroes are Gang Leaders: The Amiri Baraka Sessions
  16. Yugen Blakrok: Anima Mysterium
  17. James Brandon Lewis: An Unruly Manifesto
  18. Kel Assouf: Black Tenere
  19. The Comet is Coming: Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery
  20. Aesop Rock & TOBACCO: Malibu Ken
  21. Zeal & Ardor: Live in London
  22. Joe McPhee / John Butcher: At the Hill of James Magee
  23. Various Artists: Weaponize Your Sound
  24. Helado Negro: This is How You Smile
  25. Ahmed Ag Kaedy: Akaline Kidal
  26. Various Artists: Live at Raul’s
  27. Solange: When I Get Home
  28. Tanya Tagaq: Snowblind
  29. Branford Marsalis Quartet: The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul
  30. Steve Earle: Guy
  31. Rosie Flores: A Simple Case of The Blues
  32. Jenny Lewis: On the Line
  33. Silkroad Assassins: State of Ruin
  34. Various Artists: Rhapsody in Bronze (featuring Cousin Joe, James Booker, and Snooks Eaglin)
  35. Angel-Ho: Death Becomes Her
  36. DKV and Joe McPhee: The Fire Each Time
  37. Various Artists: Travailler, C’est Trop Dur–The Lyrical Legacy of Caesar Vincent
  38. Que Vola: Que Vola
  39. Sir Shina Peters and His Internation Stars: Sewele
  40. Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba: Miri
  41. People Under the Stairs: Sincerely, The P
  42. Powder: Powder in Space (DJ Mix)
  43. Hama: Houmeissa
  44. Ill Considered: 5
  45. Leyla McCalla: Capitalist Blues
  46. M’dou Moctar: Blue Stage Session
  47. CZARFACE & Ghostface Killah: Czarface Meets Ghostface
  48. Matthew Shipp Trio: Signature
  49. Angel Bat Dawid: The Oracle
  50. Better Oblivion Community Center: Better Oblivion Community Center
  51. Alfredo Rodriguez and Pedrito Martinez: Duologue
  52. Bad Bunny: X 100PRE
  53. The Clifford Thornton Memorial Quartet (featuring Joe McPhee): Sweet Oranges
  54. Our Native Daughters: Songs of Our Native Daughters
  55. Bob Mould: Sunshine Rock
  56. Ty Segall: Deforming Lobes
  57. The Specials: Encore
  58. Meat Puppets: Dusty Notes
  59. Mekons: Deserted
  60. Greg Ward and Rogue Parade: Stomping Off from Greenwood

Kicking My Legs

The other day, I found myself in a disconsolate mood.

This is not usual. I am temperamentally optimistic, which I used to think was my Midwestern heritage but now realize is primarily a function of my white male privilege (why shouldn’t I be expecting the day to go well for me when I wake up every morning?) and secondarily the by-product of my obsession with art and learning (I can be reasonably assured that every conscious day I live will bring me at least one moment of aesthetic or gnostic thrill, and I can live on one for hours).

But on this day I was down. For one–though I can usually keep the relentless ugliness of these times at bay by reminding myself that they are nothing new, it’s just that the mask is all the way down (so why should I start moping now?)–the sordid litany of the Cohen hearings had so penetrated my defenses I had come to feel like Washizu Taketoki at the end of Throne of Blood. For another, I had just had a miserable experience with my Stephens class, and having a miserable experiences when I am teaching–it is an action I love, no matter how difficult it may be–is foreign to me. I happen to be teaching a second-semester composition class that is mostly made up of freshmen who failed composition first semester–several of them who failed my class. This in itself is no problem; with three decades of high school experience with struggling learners, I am probably the best person on campus for this job. Things is, with this particular group, simple attendance and work completion is a struggle (remember: we’re talking college here), and it’s an 8 a.m. class, so enthusiasm for the education process is occasionally wispy in nature. In this case, I had prepared a lesson that I felt was very high-interest, exceptionally stimulating, and inarguably relevant to my class’ concern–and, out of 16 students registered at that point, five showed up. Five. I know what you teachers out there are thinking: Perfect! Small group–a more intimate, direct, and collaborative experience!  Yeah, well, cool and all, but I prepared the lesson for sixteen, and there’s the matter of the role it was not going to play in the success of 69% of my students’ upcoming papers. Not to mention that I like larger classes; I thrive off the gathered energy, and the possibilities of accidental inspiration and enlightenment are far greater. Thus, I scrapped the lesson and held writing conferences for the hardy humans who showed up. Useful, yes, but nothing fresh, fun, challenging, and interactive. (I know you’re wanting the deets, but they are too painful to recall; suffice it to say that it involved Dusty Springfield.)

I’d dismissed the class and was pouting at the computer (recording attendance, as it happened). I was literally shaking my head and contemplating harikari, and decided, of course, to take one last look at Facebook (when the bombs start falling on the first day of World War III, we will all be recording our statuses). I’d almost forgotten that, as one of the two songs I share every morning and have shared every morning for close to a decade for no discernible reason, with the hearings immediately swirling in my head upon having awakened, I’d posted the above video clip from the Bob Dylan documentary Don’t Look Back. “Even the President of the Yew-Nited States / One day must have to stand naked!”: really? That’s too easy, Phil.  Be that as it may, I absently clicked on the link, dimly aware that I still had the data projector on, its volume turned about halfway up.

As Uncle Bob’s screed rolled out–it’s damn near long as the Gettysburg Address!–I twisted out a grimace at the phrase “There is no sense in trying!” and reminded myself of my old-time idol’s cynicism. I am not really a cynic, but that line actually sounded pretty good to me and made me feel even worse. However, the song (I hope you do not need me to tell you this) is not only an astoundingly detailed catalogue of American failings imaginatively and skillfully written (though “propaganda all is phony” is a wince-inducing glitch), it’s not even completely cynical. “…[H]e not busy being born / is busy dying!”? “…[I]t is not he or she or them or it / That you belong to!”? “Although the masters make the rules / For the wise men and the fools / I got nothing, Ma, to live up to!”? And does he stick the landing!

My eyes collide head-on with stuffed
Graveyards, false gods, I scuff
At pettiness which plays so rough
Walk upside-down inside handcuffs
Kick my legs to crash it off
Say okay, I have had enough, what else can you show me?

And if my thought-dreams could be seen
They’d probably put my head in a guillotine
But it’s alright, Ma, it’s life, and life only!

Yep, those lines are anything but cynical. They’re motivating, liberating, life-affirming, and definitively sans bullshit. As I listened to them for the umpteenth time, my short hairs rose to attention, my heart leapt, my blood warmed, my grimace warped into a defiant smile. I was still shaking my head, but in amazement. And it was cool to hear it in the open air of the classroom…

Another teacher was holding court in my room after my class, and, in my hypnotic state, I hadn’t noticed that some of her students had rolled in, seated themselves, and were apparently remaining silent out of respect for my meditation. The vibration of those final words–“it’s life and life only”–deteriorated into our space, followed by about 15 seconds of silence, and one of the students said, “Did you like that?”

I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant; these days, you can’t be. But I blurted out instantly in response, “Oh yes. For me, that is the rock. If I’m barely treading water, that’s what I’m reaching for, and what I’m gonna stand on. It’s worked for me for years, since I was 17–still does 40 years later. So…did you like it?”

I inhaled sharply, awaiting potential injury.

She answered, “Yeah. That was amazing.”

“Truth,” I smiled–and bolted out of there, knowing that, if I lingered, the resulting conversation would overlap into my department head’s allotted time. But I’d crashed the cuffs off, and skipped out of the building full ready to be shown more.

 

Quiet Dog

I’m still struggling with what to do with this blog. I flit from idea to idea; I get discouraged because I feel I’m just doing it as an exercise (what’s wrong with that?), and get frustrated because I not only get bored with formats too easily, but also frequently feel my spigot twist violently shut and hear voices telling me I’ve got nothing to say: “You’re just a kind of aggregator!” (What’s wrong with that?)

Anyhow, well, here’s some things I can report from recently.

I had a headphone experience with the New York Dolls’ debut. I’ve listened to that disc a million times, but it really popped out the chicken skin this time ’round. I’m usually the first to roll my eyes when I hear someone (usually around my age) says there isn’t good music anymore, but it’s this shit that makes me wonder (for a few minutes). If anyone or any band is saying this much right now, it’s not being said with so much thrilling musical hell breaking loose all around it. If anyone or any band is loosing this thick a slab of musical hell right now, they ain’t saying near as much. “I’m talkin’ ’bout your overview,” indeed–David’s words must resonate with any conscious adult walking around in this world, and the noise Johnny wrenches from his axe testifies to his resulting dislocation.

I bitched about the mildness of 2019’s best records and got my comeuppance. It’s all coincidence, but March’s music came in like a lioness, and delivered quite a litter. I was really craving a undeniable, catchy, beatwise classic, and I got at least one of those, though its classic status will depend on how many other people feel the same way. To wit:

Little Simz: Grey Area (“Lady Don’t Tek No” division–this is my “undeniable, catchy, beatwise classic, although it tails off a bit on the back end)

Royal Trux: White Stuff (“Rock and Roll Never Gives Up” division)

James Brandon Lewis: An Unruly Manifesto (“Call & Response” division)

2 Chainz: Rap or Go to the League (“Ball is Life” division)

Rosie Flores: A Simple Case of the Blues (“Doing the Work” division)

Dave: PSYCHODRAMA (“Rap Opera” division)

Robert Forster: Inferno (“Old Friends” division)

…and I haven’t even absorbed the new Solange yet.

My life was enriched by a couple Toms. Specifically, Tom Moon, the admirable and indefatigable author of 1000 Records to Hear Before You Die (published in 2008), and Tom Hull, a fellow Midwesterner who quietly, reliably, intelligently and astonishingly keeps record nerds country-wide abreast of a truckload of new records each month that they might want to familiarize themselves with. They are men after my own heart because they strive to listen to the most promising example of damn near everything, the music lovers’ equivalent to diners who’d never order the same thing from the same menu twice if they could help it. Aren’t you suspicious of anyone who just likes one thing? For some reason looking for more reading to add to my already mountainous pile, I realized I hadn’t really looked carefully at the last half of Moon’s book. Many hours later, I had a bulging-at-the-seams Apple Music playlist of mostly international releases like this gem from the Andes:

Mr. Hull was so kind to reference this blog in his monthly Streamnotes report–to my delight (mainly because I was able to pay him back for his many hot and accurate tips) I’d encouraged him to listen to a few items he liked. Here’s a neat thing he pushed me towards:

I suggest that my readers make themselves familiar with both these Tom cats and you’ll seldom lack for anything substantial to feed your ears. And here is a Spotify playlist derived from Moon’s book to back me up.

My wife and I had a Hank Williams jam on a Saturday night. On the way to and back from a dinner at one of our favorite restaurants–one hour round-trip–Nicole and I indulged in a Hillbilly Shakespeare yell-along. Hank’s the country version of Sam Phillips’ comment about Howlin’ Wolf: his music is where the soul of man never dies. Nicole: “Somehow I know the lyrics to all of these songs.” Indeed. It is near mystical. The next day, she beckoned her Facebook friends to share their favorite Hank songs, and we were surprised to find that he is not as well-known and thoroughly absorbed by our population as we thought, another sign of the apocalypse. One of my very favorites (Hiram liked to talk to his heart):

I found out 504 Records is still releasing music. 504 Records is an itsy-bitsy New Orleans label that, in my experience, has never released an uninteresting record. Its focus is local–and why not? New Orleans music is inexhaustible. Whenever I’m in the Crescent City, I head to the French Market, where there is one-count ’em-one music kiosk that always offers 504 stock. The “new” release contains very rare and fascinating recordings by local hero Cousin Joe, James Booker (“The Bayou Maharajah”), and jack-of-all-pickin’ guitar ace Snooks Eaglin. It is nicely titled Rhapsody in Bronze, if you can’t access the French Market you can order it pretty much JUST from Louisiana Music Factory, and…here’s a sample:

Annnnnnnd–guess who’s back? That’s right! The Meat Puppets (on record)…

…and Ian Hunter (on the page–his 1972 tour diary’s seen a new edition published).

Ian

 

 

 

 

Best Rekkids of ’19 – End of Febru-weary Edition

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Behold–a rather tentative list of 30 pretty damn decent releases from the 2019th year of our lord (is that right? asks the history-challenged heathen). I would not say that, so far, our musical high priests have laid a cornucopial spread before our weary, hungry, hopeful selves; I would say, however, that plenty of interesting stuff is at your fingertips. The following are in rough order of how much enjoyment I’ve gained from and willing repetition I’ve applied to each long-player. Certain of my regular prejudices are in play: Joe McPhee is a genius and a saint to me, musically and personally, and in his 79th year (50 or so of them as a devoted free-playing jazz multi-instrumentalist and happy noise-maker) he shows no signs of slowing down or having passed his sell-by date–I love all three of his new records, including all six discs of his “Nation Time!”-keyed live collaboration with DKV (that’s Hamid Drake, Ken Kessler, and Ken Vandermark); I come alive at the sound of a Tuareg guitar, no matter how familiar or how augmented by Western intrusion; I am certain Yugen Blakrok needs more recognition and I will bend over backwards to see that, at least within my very circumscribed social range, she gets it; I have a very soft spot for the hoarier artist. But I’d almost argue that those strong prejudices, built from high expectations, might just make me more likely than most to recognize why records therein don’t really cut it. Almost.

Also, I am being very strict about releases being from 2019. If I am not, I will get my wrists slapped.

If anything really obvious is missing (Sharon Van Etten, Future, Gary Clark, Jr.) it might well be assumed that I am immune to its spells.

Finally, I am including new releases of material recorded in bygone days (rather than listing those separately) because pickings are just that slim. So far. [Ex Hex, Mekons, Jamila Woods, Lost Bayou Ramblers, Royal Trux (Royal Trux?), Quelle Chris, hell, ol’ dead Marvin Gaye each have one in tha chamba for future firing.]

After the list is a YouTube playlist where you can test-drive some of the stuff if it’s unfamiliar to you.

  1. Harriet Tubman: The Terror End of Beauty
  2. DKV and Joe McPhee: The Fire Each Time
  3. Yugen Blakrok: Anima Mysterium
  4. Heroes are Gang Leaders: The Amiri Baraka Sessions
  5. Various Artists: All the Young Droogs–60 Juvenile Delinquent Wrecks
  6. Various Artists: Travailler, C’est Trop Dure–The Lyrical Legacy of Caesar Vincent
  7. Que Vola: Que Vola
  8. Kel Assouf: Black Tenere
  9. Aesop Rock & TOBACCO: Malibu Ken
  10. Sir Shina Peters and His Internation Stars: Sewele
  11. Eric Dolphy: Musical Prophet
  12. Usted Saami: God is Not a Terrorist
  13. Joe McPhee / John Butcher: At the Hill of James Magee
  14. Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba: Miri
  15. People Under the Stairs: Sincerely, The P
  16. Powder: Powder in Space (DJ Mix)
  17. Hama: Houmeissa
  18. Bob Mould: Sunshine Rock
  19. Ill Considered: 5
  20. M’dou Moctar: Blue Stage Session
  21. CZARFACE & Ghostface Killah: Czarface Meets Ghostface
  22. Greg Ward and Rogue Parade: Stomping Off from Greenwood
  23. Matthew Shipp Trio: Signature
  24. Angel Bat Dawid: The Oracle
  25. Better Oblivion Community Center: Better Oblivion Community Center
  26. Alfredo Rodriguez and Pedrito Martinez: Duologue
  27. Bad Bunny: X 100PRE
  28. The Clifford Thornton Memorial Quartet (featuring Joe McPhee): Sweet Oranges
  29. Our Native Daughters: Songs of Our Native Daughters
  30. The Specials: Encore

A note on the playlist: two-three full albums are included (one of them a three-disker) because single tracks were not available, so you may want to be prepared to click past them after an initial taste. Or you may not…

 

 

Thoughts on GREEN BOOK, Yugen Blakrok, and The Stanley Brothers

Nicole and I took a tiny road trip to Fulton (a frequent getaway for us), mainly to eat some exquisite gumbo and po’ boys at Fontenot’s, but also to take a chance on the Oscar-nominated Green Book. I’m just being honest–we don’t go to many mainstream movies these days, and not because we’re high-toned snobs. We’re both tired of simple explanations in these complicated times, and so many of the films that hit the multiplexes have precisely that to offer. Perhaps not explanations, exactly; more accurately, they’re hawking simple, comforting reflections of who we are. Our lives are too short for those. HOWEVER, I’d only heard of Don Shirley in passing (Nicole not at all), we both love pretty much everything we have seen Mahershala Ali do, and good ol’ Viggo is pretty reliable, so we thought, “How bad can it be?” Our answer was not that bad.

We’d purposely not done much research into either Shirley or the movie. Stuff does slip in over one’s transom: I was aware of some critical disagreement over the handling of racial issues, but often that’s a sign of something good, and I knew Shirley’s family wasn’t happy about the facts–but, um, it’s a movie. Well, that’s what I said to myself, but I ended up being a little bothered myself. Thoughts:

The lead performances were pretty great (though I did not get the impression Ali was a supporting actor–that designation tells me much). The aloofness and self-possession Ali brings to the role of Shirley ensures we do not see him as a monolithic black man, and Mortenson infuses Tony Lip with a childlike spontaneity–it’s only after witnessing him win a hot dog-eating contest with about 10 seconds of preparation that we can buy him taking a job driving Shirley after having just put two Negro-besmirched drinking glasses in the trash. I did feel, however, that at about the 3/4ths mark, both actors let their grip slip on their control over their respective characters and turn them into something broader–a sign of a fledgling dramatic director at the helm, perhaps.

I was also was a shade disappointed by how quickly the film scurried past the revelation that Shirley was possibly gay or bisexual. Really, no conversations about that? No mixed feelings? Maybe Shirley’s only too happy to put that back in its container, and Tony’s only too happy to not have to talk about it (think about his early letters home to his wife). But I do like how we are provided enough insight into Shirley’s intense loneliness by that point to understand why he would risk same-sex-intimacy-while-black in the Deep South. Fortunately, he has white muscle to rescue him (over and over again).

Finally, I was a bit curious about the depiction of the Macon, Georgia, police department as being racially integrated in 1961, and about Shirley being able to magically play Little Richard-styled piano with feeling at a moment’s notice. Did the Celtics ever barnstorm as far south as Birmingham? I just read two books by and about people who’d know and would have recalled it in their writing, but I don’t remember them doing so. But, hello, these films don’t have to be completely factual!!! Still….

However, taking it for what it was–a mainstream film about an inspirational professional relationship between a black man and a white man, portrayed by two excellent actors–we ultimately felt it was not a waste of time. It’s good stuff for right now, assuming the people who need to see it actually do see it (and do they ever?). For both Nicole and me, it piqued our interest enough to listen to Shirley’s Orpheus in the Underworld–humorously referenced in the film–on the way home (the YouTube copy’s been ripped from forest-fire vinyl, but it’s not impossible to track down on CD–I know, I did) and enjoy it thoroughly.

 

In other news, my favorite rap album of 2019 was released Friday: South African MC Yugen Blakrok’s Anima Mysterium. Her debut release, Return of the Astro-Goth, and her appearance on the Kendrick Lamar’s Black Panther companion were both very promising, and this modestly makes good on that promise. Blakrok parses African history, mythology and iconography (of Africa and elsewhere), and the cosmos to offer a critique of our present and a forecast of our future. Needless to say from that claim (if it isn’t just gobbledy-gook), she’d be categorized as an abstract rapper, and, until she finds catchier and thunkier beats and varies her cadence more regularly, that’s going to be a fair assessment. But her adeptness with meter, figurative language, and rhyme is special; you can’t hear it by staring at these words from Mysterium‘s “Carbon Form,” but check back to the video track after you’ve let these sink in:

Cosmic breath, I’m air element, find strength in the mental
The thought behind the rhyme’s consequential
The flow’s decked in space boots, leaping over lunar tombs
Write lyrics in runes and play the Muse
Inspire Fate to paint predestination’s landscapes
For the awakened, imaginations are stargates
Whistle, I’m listening – Pilgrim of the House of the Wind, I’m the emissary
Hearing voices in the breeze observing airy commentary
Asleep in howling deserts with thorn trees in bloom
Until the spell breaks, I’m wolf to the full moon
And wild as the monsoon, glassy eyes like crushed minerals
The pattern’s troublesome – planet’s crying rivers of literals
Wooden tears flaking into fragments and splintering
Buried in the earth where dark secrets lie whispering
That the end has not yet come to the place where dreams rest at
I look at self, facing the mirror, nothing’s reflected
Black stone carbon, I’m stardust
Bizarre, trust – quiet, part-mime invade the mind like archons
My jargon’s a headache to decipher, never idle
The heavy burden’s only light work to bright disciples
And I’m sky bound, messenger like Malachi
Cardinal offspring of Capricorn and Gemini
Born from a sandstorm, whirlwinds in my burning eyes
Slayed a beast with seven tongues, electrifying
So I vibrate in coded synergy, linguistics my Achilles heel
Wade in stellar waters deep, a mystic whistling in the reeds
That cosmic breath, that air element that finds strength in the mental
Make all doubts of the mind inconsequential

As much as she does limit herself with a favorite cadence, there is a cool, defiant, but almost deadpan quality to her delivery that I find spookily addictive. For those in search of a new and unique voice in hip hop, I strongly suggest that, should the above samplings agree with you, you indulge in and support her art.

 

Of late, I have been deeply enjoying David Blight’s massive biography Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom. One extremely powerful achievement of Blight’s is intensifying our understanding of the degree with which Biblical stories informed Douglass’ abolitionist and natural rights philosophies. In a development pretty typical of the way I zing and zoing from lit to music, I found myself drawn unavoidably to The Stanley Brothers’ King and Starday recordings, where the bluegrass legends tap, better than in any other period of their recording career, the Bible and Christianity in general as sources for extremely moving, often frighteningly intense performances. I am not a Christian at all, nor will I ever be, but the political and personal power of gospel anecdotes warms my blood and stimulates my brain on a regular basis. It’s a testament to the consistent excellence of these recordings (roughly ’58-’61) that they broke Brazilian pop’s seven-day grip on my attention.

For an excellent look into the story behind “Rank Strangers,” check out what Mr. Gary Combs has to share on his spiritual blog.

 

 

Three Lists (which The Blogger Sheepishly Submits)

Posting every other day has been the hardest of the five-six resolutions I cornily made for myself (I’m doing great on the others). Life has happened, and you can’t push that river. Perhaps I should post just when I want to and I have something urgent to communicate? Yes, and that would be today.

TEN OF MY “FAVORITE ALBUMS OF ALL-TIME”

Recently I asked my Facebook friends the impossible: name your favorite album of all-time. I led with my choice (Professor Longhair’s Crawfish Fiesta, which I’ve definitely played more than any other over the past 15 years) and instantly regretted it, not because it isn’t sublime, but someone else listed something more important. So, here aren’t my 10 favorite albums of all-time, in order; here are 10 records I’d list as my very favorite record, based on number of lifetime plays, significance to my development as a human, sparked joy, and facility in connecting me with other humans. I steadfastly avoided trying to have a politically correct representative list; these are the ones my heart reaches for, instantly.

The Minutemen, Double Nickels on the Dime

Professor Longhair, Crawfish Fiesta

Bob Dylan, Highway 61 Revisited

Howlin’ Wolf

The Flying Burrito Brothers: The Gilded Palace of Sin

Lucinda Williams

Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys: Basin Street Blues–The Tiffany Transcriptions, Volume 3

The Best of Doug Sahm & The Sir Douglas Quintet 1968-1975

The Clash: London Calling

Having a Good Time with Huey “Piano” Smith and The Clowns

 

MY TEN FAVORITE ALBUMS OF 2019

I don’t know about you, but the offerings thus far have been slim compared to last January. I will stretch to 10, nonetheless, though I may have to lean on reissues of older stuff. There is no serious priority order–it’s too early, and some of these may not end up making my Top 100 in the end. Also: a deep bow of amazement to the ageless Joe McPhee, who’s the star of no less than three of these; an acknowledgement that I have only sampled the glam comp below via YouTube searches; a thank you to my young friend Lucas Fagen, who convinced me that I was not too old and trap-rattle-addled to return to, and enjoy, Bad Bunny; and my apologies if some of these are kinda-’18. I remain needing serious convincing regarding Sharon Van Etten (Remind Me Tomorrow is an “up” album for her???).

Heroes are Gang Leaders: The Amiri Baraka Sessions

Various Artists: Travailler, C’est Trop Dure–The Lyrical Legacy of Caesar Vincent

Greg Ward and Rogue Parade: Stomping Off from Greenwood

Usted Saami: God is Not a Terrorist

Joe McPhee / John Butcher: At the Hill of James Magee

DVK and Joe McPhee: The Fire Each Time

The Clifford Thornton Memorial Quartet: Sweet Oranges

Sir Shina Peter and His Internation Stars: Sewele

Various Artists: All the Young Droogs–60 Juvenile Delinquent Wrecks

Bad Bunny: X 100PRE

 

TEN GREAT BRAZILIAN ALBUMS THAT PAAL NILSSEN LOVE AND CATALYTIC SOUND HAVE LED ME TO (SO FAR)

I ordered and received a CD recently from the fascinating experimental music label Catalytic Sound (Sweet Oranges, above), and within was a neat little ‘zine-styled “quarterly” with poetry and other neat stuff–especially master free drummer Paal Nilssen-Love’s list of his 100 favorite Brazilian records. Nilssen-Love’s made many sojourns to Brazil in the recent past, and he’s clearly a sharp, indefatigable crate-digger (that describes his drumming, too). What blew my mind is, though I really love Brazilian music, I’d only heard of 10 or so of them, and didn’t own many. Thus–and this is a reason I haven’t posted recently–I’ve been on a grail quest of my own, using his list as a road map. I’ve heard at least 20 of the records he’s listed since Friday; these are my favorites, and I only have 60-70 to go!

Pedro Santos: Krishnanda

Alessandra Leao: Dois Cordoes

Underground Samba Lapa

Ile Aiye: Canto Negro

O Som Sagrado de Wilson Das Neves

Clara Nunes: Esperanca

Tim Maia: Racional, Volumes 1 and 2

Moacir Santos: Coisas

Grupo Fundo De Quintal: Samba E No Fundo Do Quintal

Elis Regina: Samba, Eu Canto Assim