Monday, May 29, 2006

For your listening pleasure, here are two soldiers' stories delivered without rose-colored romanticism. I could never stand the nauseating portrayals of militarymen in film, with low camera angles and corny rallying cries it just doesn't resonate with me. What really turns my head are tales of soldiers, ordinary everymen, who conquer their feelings of homesickness and self-doubt in order to complete their missions. These are the qualities I love, not the 2D cutouts populating the silver screen, but real stories of internal conflict and emotional ascension.

Tom Waits - Shore Leave

Mr. Waits loves to write about rain almost as much as he loves to write about sailors. Anyone familiar with Tom knows his voice, that dirty growl of a voice. There is nothing mythic about the protagonist in this song. While on shore leave he strolls around town playing billiards with a midget, buying cards "with girls on the back" and talks baseball with the locals. That's when the chorus comes in and Waits goes from speaking to pleading, he's lonely, plain and simple. He wanted us to think he was cool, without worry, but the truth comes out, his lover is waiting back home for him and he's unable to communicate with her. The agony of separation is revealed through his damaged voice.

Billy Bragg & Wilco - When the Roses Bloom Again

This second song is originally Woody Guthrie's version of a traditional tune. Listen to the trembling swell of the organ and notice how it mirrors Tweedy's singing, his voice seems as though it's ready to fail him at any moment just mustering the energy to make it to the next verse. Another song about two lovers torn apart by war, the first scene is of the pair walking alongside a river with the roses in full bloom. It is beautiful, yet they both know he'll be leaving for battle tomorrow. The soldier comforts his love by reminding her that he'll return when the roses bloom again. Next we see him he's in the heat of combat, gunshots are being fired from every side and there is nothing but chaos encircling him. He is hit with a bullet and shouts to his fellow soldiers, begging for someone to carry him to the river where the roses are in full bloom so he can say his last goodbyes to his true love. Despite being rose-filled this song never becomes rosy.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

There's a certain charm to really bad poetry. I don't know about you but I take the same vicious pleasure out of reading 10th grade poetry, with its ubiquitous themes of suicide, heartbreak and sexual trepidation, as I do watching Plan 9 From Outer Space. Campy movies and clumsy poetry both contain an innocence and a purity of vision that goes unseen by the artist. In many black and white Sci-fi movies of the 1950s as well as every teenage girl's doodle bedecked diary, the artist overextends him or herself in an attempt to convey the weight of their message. This struggle between talentless naivete and the uncontrollable urge to say something Great (with a captial "G") makes these works profoundly arresting. And it is for that reason, coupled with the bizarre need to reveal one's warts to the world, that I unveil one of my beloved failures. Enjoy.

Second Sight

Once I dreamed that I could see
My future life in front of me
Like watching a broadway show
I waited to see the direction my life would go
Constructing an intertwined plot from threads
I could see who I followed and who I lead
Watching friends and relatives leave
Noticing the lost souls I could have retrieved
The crucial knowledge which leaked from my brain
I saw it condense and fall like drops of rain
However the closeness I found
Was the one element in me bound
Somehow pushing away the fears
Drying the shed tears throughout the years
Another trip to this place in my mind, I will make
For this I am sure there will be no mistake

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

First there was
Cindy Sheehan's t-shirt arrest, then we learned the NSA could track reporters' phone calls. Now, they're blocking dissenting voices from entering the country. Political dynamo/Glitch-pop diva, M.I.A., has been "locked out" of the United States. Despite M.I.A. having lived in America in the past her visa has been denied by immigration due to unspecified reasons. One can only presume it's due to her incendiary lyrics and/or the fact that her dad's Arul Pragasam, Shri Lankan paramilitary guerrilla. They tried derailing the peace train with Cat Stevens, but can they silence the bucky done gun? We'll have to wait and find out.

Thought you had a bad weekend? Check this out. Remember my youngest brother, Tyler, from a few posts ago? Well he is quite the outdoorsman, at least he thinks he is. He was putzing around on his moped at our cottage located about an hour and fifteen minutes north from Green Bay. Be it a snowmobile, ATV or - as was the case this weekend - moped, Tyler loves being a show-off. As he zoomed up and down the shoddy back roads he came across his archnemesis, the elderly. In an act of defiance that he was sure would piss them off he gunned it. His plan: pop a wheelie and sustain it for about "a mile" all the while passing back and forth in front of the couple who would probably suffer a combination of a heart attack, stroke and a few aneurysms at how cool Tyler's wheelie was. Unfortunately, the moped is one step up from being a powerwheels toy, so as Tyler executed his wheelie the bike couldn't hold him up sending him skipping across the gravel road sans motor bike. Notice the Nelly-esque band-aid right under his eye. Very 1998. Gathering his wits about him, Tyler pulled himself up, dusted the pebbles and grime from his clothes and waved with a casual smirk at the scowling onlookers before straddling the moped and sputtering away.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

"We have within reach, now, the attainment of almost every dream of mankind."
-- Gene Roddenberry

1949. How young we were back then; so innocent, so simple, so monochromatic. Looking back, it appears as though those times are long gone, who could have predicted the mess we'd eventually get ourselves into? Try, one of the smartest men to have ever lived. It will take you about 10-15 minutes to read Einstein's essay "Why Socialism?" but afterward you'll see he understood more than theoretical physics, he could editorialize about social organization and modernity. What I found truly fascinating was when Einstein touched on how we are composite creatures, making us a tad confusing as well as a tad confused. Not only are we self-contained individuals, or islands as some have said, but we also crave social stimulation. Our behavior is then informed, in large part, by that abstract concept encasing us all - society.

It is important to identify which half of human nature a particular society nurishes. If the answer is social participation, as is the case with many Scandinavian countries, then the population tends to exhibit more compassion for one another and embrace sweeping social programs such as universal health care and welfare. If the answer is individual detachment, as I believe America has done, then the population tends to exhibit aggressive behavior without much concern for their neighbors let alone people from different socio-economic backgrounds, religions or political inclinations.

This all brings me back to something I posted a few days ago. True Majority Action made an easy-to-understand video breaking down just how much money America devotes to the Pentagon, $400 billion per year. Every social program we have is hacked apart in order to increase the flow of capital to the military. With every feature of society making concessions for a single program, its no wonder that many people feel outraged, apathetic or hopeless. How we spend and what we spend it on should be as diverse as the people who live here, instead the framework of society is narrowing around just one characteristic, leaving many without a voice.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Which was the last story you remember hearing about in the news?

Border Security?
Gay Marriage?
Sudanese Genocide?

My guess is that unless you've gone out of your way it's been awhile since you've been updated on the atrocities being committed and the eruptive atmosphere which provoked the conflict in the Sudan. Baring this in mind, its not surprising to learn there are large oil reserves beneath the Darfur area; in fact, 563 million barrels per day worth. Internally, 4 million people have been displaced, and drilling currently has begun in that very region. Why, oh why, has the liberal media omitted this from the national conversation?

To learn more check out this article: War of the Future: Oil Drives the Genocide in Darfur

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

What does the military industrial complex and oreo cookies have to do with each other? To find out click here.

I just got back from a great hole-in-the-wall music shop in downtown Green Bay where I picked up Springsteen's latest We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, Wilco's live album Kicking Television: Live in Chicago and Thin Lizzy's - a surpassingly underappreciated band - Jailbreak. Overall, I'm looking forward to listening to the Boss' disc the most. His previous release, Devils and Dust, was decent but petered out after the title track. I expect it to do for Pete Seeger and traditional folk standards what Wilco and Billy Bragg did for Woody Guthrie with 1998's thoroughly enjoyable Mermaid Avenue, that is, make what seems like musty relics into something dazzling, approachable and relevant. I'll be sure to post my thoughts after I've had time to fully digest it.

Monday, May 15, 2006

"Some painters transform the sun into a yellow spot, others transform a yellow spot into the sun."

-- Pablo Picasso

The Nels Cline Singers - Lowered Boom

Don't know about you but my imagination isn't that good. There's no way I can conceive what Hendrix would have sounded and looked like to the acid-addled audiences of the 1960s, going from Herman's Hermits to the distorted guitar crunch of Blue Cheer and Jimi Hendrix in a few short years. Fast forwarding twenty years we get bands like Sonic Youth and The Jesus and Mary Chain. Noisy, challenging, esoteric. This brings up the age old question of the cerebral vs. the commerical. Hendrix had it right, while others proceding him have been hit and miss, many missing more often than hitting. Dream Theater is a technically talented prog rock band whose songcraftmanship amounts to about nill. Pretentious, bloated, humorless. While alternative jazz guitarist and new Wilco member, Nels Cline, seems to know how to walk the line. Judging from his early forays into free jazz, Nels wasn't the likeliest of fits for Jeff Tweedy's forward-looking, yet comparably tame, Chicago outfit. It will be interesting to hear how much creative control he is allowed and if Nels can help prop up modern indie rock's most appealing voice.

Nels Cline is rooted in John Coltrane's school of interpretation. Both reimagine a conventional piece of music by scrambling it into something thrilling, making the old new. See: My Favorite Things. Nels even gave a nod to the long shadow Trane casts over all experimental jazz musicians, by covering the Saint's album Interstellar Space - that's right Nels covered an entire Coltrane album. Fifty-nine minutes and seven seconds of guitar and percussion with nary another instrument in sight, this is not for the musically timid. Take a listen none the less, it's quite the sonic journey.

John McLaughlin, Miles Davis' jammate during his fusion years, is Cline's final major touchstone with the past. Exhibiting much of McLaughlin's shrill tone and jaunty riffing, Nels blends that with pop sensibilities as is evident with his work in Deerhoof. For a better understanding of McLaughlin's sound, which is actually quite important in order to understand eleventy-seven percent of what's going on in music today, go buy - or steal - A Tribute to Jack Johnson (the boxer, not the effete singer/songwriter of the same name) and On the Corner both by Miles Davis.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Ain't he cute? This is my brother, Tyler, he just turned the ripe old age of 15 yesterday. There he is proudly displaying his cotton candy pink birthday cake - only real men have cotton candy pink birthday cakes. In case you were wondering, he is the man behind the uber-popular Wisconsin Pics photo blog, conveniently linked at the right of your screen. Beyond a breathless command and deep understanding of photography, he enjoys wood-working, ATVs, hunting, fishing, archery, snowmobiling, and playing bass guitar in The Sirens of Los Alamos. Best of all, ladies, he's single. Some of his favorite links of all time are:

So, Tyler, as your older bro all the advice I can give is: always strive to be the best but always be happy with who you are, the less you talk the more you say, and never, ever drink the bong water.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

"Opinion is that exercise of the human will which helps us to make a decision without information."
-- John Erskine

I was looking through the archives at Media Matters, just to see what I may have missed by way of loony ring-wing commentary, and I found this guy, Glenn Beck. For those of you who have never heard of him, he's CNN's latest acquisition/public embarrassment. This radio-blowhard-turned-cable-news-info-monkey is of course an unabashed conservative in pursuit of Rush's ratings crown, but he's also so much less. At first I didn't think too much of Beck, he displayed all of the usual affectations symptomatic of the punditsphere: thinnly veiled racism; outlandish, unsupported allegations cloaked in opinion; sinister humor about as subtle and funny as a sledgehammer to the face. None of this was very surprising. However, what I stumbled across that did surprise the bejesus out of me is this, Beck attempting to recast his own hateful statements regarding Katrina and 9-11 victims (and quite badly at that, as far as world-class backpedalers go, he's probably in league with Jon Lovitz's "Liar" character from SNL). What's really bad news for Beck is he's not that interesting, and its for this reason that the plug is going to be pulled faster than he can say "Ahmadinedjad". Americans can forgive bigotry, sexism and wild finger-pointing - in fact we're willing to embrace all three - just as long as we're entertained.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

I'm back! It's been a long week, but I'm glad to be posting again. How about another one of those art puzzles? This is a good one.

A group of terrorists overtake the Met in New York City. They call the President and explain they are holding two paintings hostage. The first painting gives moderate joy to a great many people, the second painting gives great joy to a tiny group of people. The terrorists say they are going to set fire to one of the two paintings and it is the President who must choose which painting they are to destroy. If the President doesn't make a choice they will destroy both. Which painting would you save and why?