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by Christian John Wikane

22 Jul 2009

Photo by Amy Driscoll

Two years after Beth Arentsen debuted her solo album, Sap (2007), the NYC-based singer-songwriter is preparing a follow-up EP entitled Nicer. The six-song set, produced by Arentsen with Lenae Harris and mixed by Eric Yoder, will drop next month and feature all new original material, including “Gossip Queen”, “Earthquake”, and “He Knows (My Heart)”.

This summer, Arentsen has debuted many of the new songs in a series of concerts held throughout New York entitled HopeStock: Music to Bailout Your Soul. Presented by Nona Hendryx and Spirit Sings, the next HopeStock show is slated for Sunday, July 26th at S.O.B.‘s in lower Manhattan and will feature a roster of artists that includes Arentsen, along with Maya Azucena, Bobby Long, iLLspoKinN (of Spokinn Movement), and a special appearance by Nona Hendryx with her band of Gypsies. At the show, Arentsen will also reunite with her former bass player in P-1, Tim Deuchler, along with her trio members Lenae Harris (cello) and Brian Wolfe (drums).

Later in August, Beth Arentsen will open for Ari Hest at Comcast Songwriters in the Park in Red Bank, NJ.

In this clip, Arentsen sings “He Knows (My Heart)” from a recent, sold-out appearance at Joe’s Pub in NYC.

For more information, visit

by Omar Kholeif

22 Jul 2009

It is undeniable that Jeff Buckley’s posthumous legacy has turned the little-known avant-garde artist into something of a pop legend. Indeed, his record label’s persistent desire to churn out Buckley infused live song collections is almost unparalleled. With no less than nine releases since his death, the hunger to consume all things produced by the late musician has become a point of obsession for some of his followers. Now, with the release of Grace Around the World, another series of performances and a DVD can be added to the already overflowing collection of so-called “rarities”.

In this, the listener is privy to some of the first live recreations of Grace, which (despite my reservations), turned out to be as enthralling and devastating as the original work itself. It is obvious from listening to this material that Buckley was an artist consumed entirely with his own image and performance. On this, the original tracks extend into long, free-flowing productions, which suggest that Buckley was more preoccupied with experimenting than promoting a mainstream musical persona.

by Bill Gibron

22 Jul 2009

With time comes perspective. With time comes greater understanding and wisdom. When you’re young, you don’t fully appreciate subtext and thematic resonance. When you’re building your own personal aesthetic, elements like context and creative boundaries are in their infancy, incapable of being readily comprehended and accepted. Back in the late ‘80s, a certain champion of independent cinema announced the arrival of a raw and gritty “war” film entitled Combat Shock. Best known for its hilarious horror comedy splatterfests like The Toxic Avenger and Class of Nuke ‘Em High, adolescent fans anticipated another raucous ripper, a genre gem made up of 60% rude attitude and 40% crude arterial spray. What they got instead was a dark and deadly serious look at a Vietnam veteran at the end of his rope. The only “shocking” for these seemingly disappointed Troma geeks was the level of unfiltered truth being hurled at the camera.

For you see, Buddy Giovinazzo’s urban grit masterwork remains a wholly unsettling experience. After the sudden massacre of an entire village, GI Frankie Dunlan (Buddy’s brother Rick) kills a Vietnamese girl. He is captured and sent to a POW camp. There, he is tortured for information. Later, he takes up residence in a VA hospital, but is still terrified of the nightmares he has surrounding the war. Now he’s an unemployed drifter, a married man with a pregnant wife and a mutant baby (the result of Frankie’s exposure to Agent Orange). With street hood Paco owning his very soul, there is very little hope for the failing family. Even a phone call to his once influential dad earns Frankie nothing but bad news. With his flashbacks getting more heated and the possibility of eviction on the horizon, our hero is not sure what to do - that is, until he happens to come into possession of a handgun.

Made before Oliver Stone’s apologetic Platoon and containing an entire squadron of squalor, Combat Shock - or as it was originally conceived, American Nightmare - is a brilliant, brazen denouncement of how our nation treated its returning war “heroes”, and a prophetic statement of how little things would change over the next three decades. Delivering a ‘day in the life’ portrait of poverty and pain so devastating that it just might lead you to the same suicidal conclusions haunting its main character, this is starkness as a soiled symphony. Sure, there seems to be obvious nods to David Lynch’s Eraserhead and Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, but Buddy Giovinazzo is not paying homage. Instead, he’s exploring the same urban and interpersonal horrors that stain both of those ‘70s classics, and doing so in a far ballsier manner than his far more famous celluloid brethren.

Combat Shock is clearly meant to be a political statement, albeit one wrapped up in the neo-realistic filth of a NYC crumbling into decay. There has never been a movie this fetid, this streaked with the stains of a million displaced and dour people. From the desolate apartment which Frankie calls home to the bombed out buildings that resemble the ruins of a defeated nation, Giovinazzo turns the Big Apple into one incredibly sour fruit. Even worse, he turns Frankie into the kind of hopeless case that no amount of government aid can help. With the constantly howling freak child in the crib and an angry, emasculating wife in his bed, our lead is less a man and more like a combination of quasi-human pieces. Held together with spit and sickness, Combat Shock ideas were always meant to be a slap in the face. Frankly, Troma fans didn’t expect it to sting so badly.

And that’s part of the film’s mythology - and misinterpretation. Back when Uncle Lloyd and the gang were seeking ways to market their films to the widest audience possible, Giovinazzo’s original 16mm American Nightmare was cut in order to conform to both ratings requirements and perceived commercial appeal. To this day, few have seen the longer version of the film and that’s a shame. Presented as part of the Tromasterpiece Collection of Combat Shock, Nightmare itself is quite amazing. It’s as disturbing and dark as the released take, but thanks to the added time (about ten more minutes overall), Giovinazzo has a chance to elaborate on all the possibilities he’s introduced. There’s more war both at home and in the battlefield, and a greater feeling of metropolitan alienation. We get more drugs, more death, more despair.

But that’s not all the new two disc DVD has to offer. Giovinazzo (now an expatriate living in Germany) is joined by controversial auteur Jörg Buttgereit for a commentary track that’s part trip back in time, part anecdotal evidence of Combat Shock‘s endearing genius. Our director has an answer and a story for everything, from the obvious allusions to one Henry Spencer to the unquestioned influence of the No Wave band Suicide (and the song “Frankie Teardrop”) on the movie. Buttgereit acts more like a fanboy, reflecting on elements of the film that he simply adores. This is carried over to the second part of the package, where many famous filmmakers (including John Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer McNaughton, William Maniac Lustig, and Roy Document of the Dead Fumkes, among many others) extrapolate on how influential - and unfairly marginalized - Giovinazzo and his movie truly are.

Perhaps The Manson Family‘s Jim Van Bebber says it best when he describes Buddy’s brother Rick as being ‘Travis Bickle without all the pretense’, and it’s a feeling expanded upon by the brand new interviews with the men behind and in front of the camera. Looking nothing like their former selves, the Giovinazzos describe their early career as musicians (we see music videos for their band, as well as several startling short films) and speculate on how well Combat Shock holds up some 25 years later. They also explain some of the reactions they’ve had both then and now. Fleshing out said retrospective is a look at some of the locations. A few stand in sharp contrast to their former filthy selves. Others, sadly, have remained exactly the same (or horrifically, much worse). With trailers and the aforementioned copy of American Nightmare in tow, this is about as definitive as the digital format gets.

And we are dealing with a movie that definitely deserves it. Combat Shock may be a bad memory for anyone coming to the Troma title hoping for the standard bile, boobs, and beasts. It’s definitely more like The Bicycle Thief than Bloodsucking Freaks. In fact, if you are looking for a film that tells the true story about what life was like for returning veterans in the ‘70s, if you want all the pain and political posturing, unresolved emotions and lingering social failings, this is the film to seek out. Somewhere in the great halls of misbegotten movies stands a pedestal waiting for Buddy Giovinazzo’s Combat Shock. It’s a true American original, a portrait painted in the scum, sweat, and the fears of both its subject and its supporters. Time does have a tendency to play tricks on you. It can alter even the most concrete of critical snubs. A quarter of century ago, few found this film exceptional. Today, it stands as one of the ‘80s independent best.

by Lara Killian

21 Jul 2009


Not unlike a pile of reanimated zombie corpses, Jane Austen’s works, themes and characters are being resuscitated all over the place. Hacked up, monster-mashed together with more contemporary sensibilities that mix gore, B-movie violence, and possibly romance, Austen’s works are finally blunt-stitched back together in a manner befitting Dr. Frankenstein’s monster. (Authors take note: that one’s mine).

Following hot on the heels of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (also available in a “deluxe heirloom edition” with “30% more zombies”), Quirk Classics has just announced the next hybrid Austen tale: Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. Though the book is available for pre-order, it won’t be released until 15 September 2009.


In a similar vein (so to speak) and capitalizing on the current wave of the vampire fiction craze, Mr Darcy, Vampyre is due out August 1. 

Next we’ll have Jane Bites Back, due in 2010, plus The Immortal Jane Austen, apparently the first in a series about Jane herself as a vampire hunter.

It turns out you can beat a dead horse.

Credit where credit is due: Quirk Classics has outdone themselves with a Youtube trailer for S&S&SM.

And you thought Austen was a one-trick pony.

by Rob Horning

21 Jul 2009

At The Week Brad DeLong has an essay about the current jobless recovery, which appears to be a repeat of the denouement of the previous few downturns. Why jobless recoveries all of a sudden? DeLong argues that it has to do with a change in how employers regard labor as more fungible now.

Manufacturing firms used to think that their most important asset was skilled workers. Hence they hung onto them, “hoarding labor” in recessions. And they especially did not want to let go of their prime productive asset when the recovery began. Skilled workers were the franchise. Now, by contrast, it looks as though firms think that their workers are much more disposable—that it’s their brands or their machines or their procedures and organizations that are key assets. They still want to keep their workers happy in general, they just don’t care as much about these particular workers.

A few thoughts on this:

1. This would seem to fly in the face of the various paeans to the “skill-biased technological change” that is presumed to responsible for growing income inequality. That thesis presumes that changes in technology have made an individual’s skills more valuable and capable of being leveraged more efficiently. What if technological change in the aggregate disempowers labor by deskilling it (as Marx generally assumed)? As a result, it’s easier to find and train workers capable of filling positions, and easier to offer them only part-time work. If workers are wise, they will start hoarding information about the procedures in their office and try to make themselves indispensable, even though this is sure to gum up productivity. Perhaps this is the form modern labor actions will take—employee resistance to codifying their function, to standardizing procedures, to training others, to cooperating with the process of making themselves replaceable.

2. No wonder people have suddenly begun worrying so much about their “personal brand”—brand equity has become more important to a firm, conceptually, than loyalty to employees. Employees, to make themselves less expendable, may also need to work to integrate themselves with a company’s brand, to merge the personal with corporate brand if possible, make them inseparable. The personal brand becomes far more important, too, in a labor market full of otherwise interchangeable parts. And with globalization and companies emphasizing their own flexibility rather than a paternalistic approach to workers—no more company men, or lifelong job security—we all can expect to be returned to the labor market repeatedly. So we will begin to need something more than a resume, something more comprehensive, like a personal brand. Depressing.

3. (added on 23 July) If this weren’t already the case before, we now have more incentive to work on polishing our personal brand than improving our skills.

//Mixed media

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// Short Ends and Leader

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