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by Michael Edler

28 Jan 2009

Brutal. Even for a die hard Midwesterner like myself, January weather in Chicago has been brutal this year. So brutal that I find myself wrestling with the winds and bitters of Chicago sidewalks to make my weekly treks to local record stores. Falling over sheets of ice, dirty salty air, and a need to walk hunched to avoid all but the sidewalk just in front of my next fearless step. Yep. It’s been this bad.

I have found myself dodging some current releases in order to refresh my record collection of some lost, classic American songwriting. Today’s picks were a pair of purely American originals. Tom Waits and The Band tell stories we’ve all heard before, but each give us perspective and point of view demonstrating a rich palette of Americana. I speak to albums from each artist/group: Tom Waits Franks Wild Years (sic) and The Band The Band.


Tom Waits, Franks Wild Years

Tom Waits’ 1987 release is the music he co-wrote with his wife Kathleen Brennan. The songs became the basis for the play of the same name; performed in1986 by Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company. The album is pure Tom Waits and I’m shocked I have never spent the time listening to the entirety of the album. It is a record that demonstrates Waits’ flexibility as a songwriter. A song like “Hang on St. Christopher” is a staple in the Waits’ catalogue, but experiments on the two versions of “Straight to the Top” demonstrate musical moxie that harkens back to Leonard Cohen and Irving Berlin more than anything contemporary to Waits. Typical of Waits’ albums, he borrows from his previous albums in songs like the previously named “Hang on St. Christopher” and “Telephone Call from Istanbul” that fit in line with some of his previous experiments in 1986’s album Rain Dogs (incidentally, the title of the album is a nod to an early song of the same name on his 1983 release Swordfishtrombones), but gently massaging his listener in different experimental directions in the songs “I’ll Take New York” and “Blow Wind Blow”. Franks Wild Years is a masterful touch from one of America’s greatest songwriters to ever grace us with his presence. Truly, a man who can write a song like “Straight to Vegas” and then three songs later (and on the same side of the record) share a song like “Cold Cold Ground” where Tom laments “Take the weathervane rooster / Throw rocks at his head / Stop talking to the neighbors / Til we all go dead / Beware of my temper / And the dog I’ve found / Break all the windows in the cold, cold ground.” shows dexterity that is pure talent, shockingly beautiful in its execution.



The Band, The Band

I always have found it interesting that The Band’s second, self-titled album was a more commercially and financially accepted album on its release date than compared to their previous album, 1968’s Music From the Big Pink. The Band is a little more evenly arranged. There is a definite sense that Robbie Robertson (that’s J.R. Robertson to you and me) had a vision to the development of the track’s order and subsequent arrangement. However, I have always been more emotionally drawn to Music From the Big Pink because of exactly why The Band’s second album is so credited; because Big Pink is so uneven and spontaneous. With this being said, The Band is a beautiful collection of songs that paints a visionary tale of Americana. The first track “Across the Great Divide” sets the album in motion. Robertson’s invitation to “Grab your hat, and take that ride” calls out the listener to sit back and ride through the backroads of Americana.  The pace is continued through Reconstruction Dixie in “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”, continued in the songs “Up on Cripple Creek” and “Look Out Cleveland”. Each demonstrates narratives about the people and events that shaped the complicated history of America. As I listen to the album for the first time in a long while, I am reminded in how well The Band told the Oral History of an America forgotten at the end of the commercially successful “Summer of Love”.


So that was my weekly venture to the record stacks of Dave Records on Clark and Wellington in Chicago. Without a doubt, bitterly cold days are not the norm around Chicago, but I’ll remind those who regret setting up their shacks in the Midwest that the cold days do not prevent us from heading out, grabbing some records, and returning home to some nice beers, a bump of the volume, and hockey on the TV to remind us Januarys are a state of mind around these parts.

by Diepiriye Kuku

27 Jan 2009

The 2008 remake of the 1951 film The Day the Earth Stood Still was rich in contemporary and relevant social criticism despite the regurgitating an apocalypse narrative and re-hashing Keanu Reeves as another prophetic savior. Even the ditsy, airheads Bill and Ted managed save the world. Yet, unlike most films within the apocalyptic sci-fi genre- the set of films, comics, etc. that assume humanity almost destroys itself before realizing any greater (public) good- this film’s alien has no intention of destroying the earth. Humanity is already well on the job!

Prejudice and polarization are the greatest threats to democracy. America is highly polarized, threatening to re-order the world in its wake. This is the backdrop of this film and, critically, increasingly the evening news. Naturally, the aliens land in Manhattan. Yet rather than seeing “the city” focus as typical American chauvinism- it’s true and exhausting that MOST Hollywood films take place in either New York or LA- this film ran the Jesus narrative to a tee! Many believe that Prophets only descend when and where there is total moral decrepitude. In fact, a devout, practicing Muslim friend from Mali once explained to me that this clarifies why there had been no African equivalents of Jesus or Muhammad. No better place to represent humanity’s worst than where so many global narratives of hate converge: The Twin Towers and Wall Street! It is now clear that greed, anger and stupidity enabled both the construction and destruction of these icons.

The Day the Earth Stood Still  was unrelenting in its critique of humanity’s arrogance in assuming that we’re alone in the universe, the presumption that the planet belongs to us, and the supposition of dominance/sub-ordinance in any and all inter-cultural encounters. This critique was maintained throughout the film, yet came to a head with plenty poignant points of dialogue: “Do you speak for the entire human race?” the alien Klaatu, portrayed by Reeves, asks the US Secretary of Defense Regina Jackson. She replies: “I represent the President of the United States.” Luckily, realizing that not all viewers would see the sheer arrogance and truthfulness of this response, the director played to the peanut gallery and cast Kathy Bates in the role. She was certainly miserable!

This film was a critical commentary on cultural imperialism and chauvinism, challenging humanity to refocus on what binds us rather than divides because this allows us to reconcile despite any conflict. Exactly like the latest Harry Potter, Spiderman and Batman flicks, the conflict posed in The Day the Earth Stood Still, i.e. humanity’s destruction, is resolved through reconciliation- the two main characters agree to forgive themselves and one another, thereby causing Keanu Reeves/The One/Jesus, to save us. This time the Obama narrative was unmistakable. Like the little boy who thought that Keanu should have been killed, by the end, the little tanned, bi-racial, curly haired boy is the greatest advocate for tolerance and understanding in order to save us all.

by PopMatters Staff

27 Jan 2009

New albums out this week that are available in full on for streaming…

by PopMatters Staff

27 Jan 2009

Colin Munroe performs “Will I Stay” with Wale, who scored big with critics, including us, last year with The Mixtape About Nothing. Munroe’s debut album, Don’t Think Less of Me, will be releasing this spring Universal Motown. This video is the latest in live recordings of his free mixtape, Colin Munroe is the Unsung Hero, which you can pick up here.

And here’s a few of Munroe’s previous videos…

I Want Those Flashing Lights (Kanye West Remix)

World of Pain

Piano Lessons

by Rob Horning

27 Jan 2009

In Wired, writer Steven Levy admits that when he fails to update Twitter and the other social networks he participates in, he feels guilty. He loves the voyeuristic aspects of these services—“I’m fascinated by the quirks and preferences my “friends” reveal through comments, status reports, and alerts”—but feels his pleasure in this requires him to reveal more of his own life. Hence, he posts and inadvertently exposes more than he means to about himself: “Still, no matter how innocuous your individual tweets, the aggregate ends up being the foundation of a scary-deep self-portrait. It’s like a psychographic version of strip poker—I’m disrobing, 140 characters at a time.”

Twitter boosters claim that it’s very natural to get into a flow of sharing, and admittedly it seems as though such sharing could conceivably promote some kind of laudable openness, a communal intimacy never before available to humankind. Or maybe such sharing is a perfected version of earlier forms of communal knowledge—you can get the small-town recognition without the mean-spiritedness. (Call it participatory surveillance.)

But when I conducted my Twitter experiment I found that I didn’t want to share. Mainly, I didn’t want to posture. And I didn’t really want to follow anybody. (Why would I want more small talk from people?) Nonetheless I wanted to participate. So in my latest attempt to Twitter, I tried to address my reluctance through a series of distancing techniques, writing bogus quotations of what I thought skeptics might say about me or about anyone pontificating recklessly online. Anytime I was filled with self-doubt or thought of a cynical rebuttal to something I had written earlier or had thought about writing, I tried to articulate it as a criticism of someone else and post it to Twitter. Or if I read a really good put-down, I’d appropriate it and modify it to fit my format. But in practice, this quickly threatened to become a “scary-deep self-portrait,” a waste of perfectly useful self-loathing. Moreover, I wasn’t sure what I was trying to accomplish by this, so I knocked it off. It was “creepy,” and it’s probably even creepier that I am writing about it here.

Nicholas Carr, in an astute commentary on Levy’s article, suggests that when Levy feels weird about sharing, he is experiencing not guilt but shame.

Though he never names it, what Levy is really talking about here is shame. And the shame comes from something deeper than just self-exposure, though that’s certainly part of it. There’s an arrogance to sharing the details of one’s life in public with strangers—it’s the arrogance of power, the assumption that such details somehow deserve to be broadly aired. And as for the people, those strangers, on the receiving end of the disclosures, they suffer, through their desire to hear the details, to hungrily listen in, a kind of debasement.

That pretty much captures how I feel when I am thinking about posting to Twitter: a unsettling mix of arrogance and cravenness. As Carr had suggested in an earlier post, that moment is like self-consciousness squared. And at the same time, brevity becomes the soul of smugness.

I wonder whether those young enough to take social networks for granted experience these feelings, or if they lack the subject position from which to even recognize them, name them, understand that there are alternatives. It may be a meaningless matter for them; they have missed the social opportunity for a certain kind of privacy the same way I was born too late to discover whether I had any natural aptitude with horses. They disappeared from everyday life, and so may privacy as people my age have known it. Still, it seems that with all the tools for projecting our identity online, identity becomes that much more fragile. The apotheosis of social networks seems to be a generalized anomie, millions of people shouting into a deafening wind of discourse, everyone of them friends with all the rest.

//Mixed media

Indie Horror Month 2015: 'Dark Echo'

// Moving Pixels

"Dark Echo drops you into a pitch back maze and then renders your core tools of navigation into something quite life threatening.

READ the article