Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Netflix Cancels House Of Cards Amid Kevin Spacey Controversy

From Bleedingcool.com I learned that Netflix has canceled its flagship series House of Cards , fallout from the recent allegations of inappropriate sexual overtures allegedly made by to a  then 14 year old actor Andrew Rapp. Season 6, forthcoming, will be its last.It would appear that we're in for sustained period of all manner of celebrity--movie star, mogul, director, politician, novelist, poet, artist, professor, corporate leader--being exposed as sexual predators and over all creeps. Spacey maintains, so far, that he was too drunk to remember anything inappropriate going on with a 14 year old Andrew Rapp, mentioning that he was drunk and things are hazy, but the damage is done to his career, starting with House of Cards,his Netflix political drama. His character is a man who does anything in his power to achieve his ends. The character , Frank Underwood, has wracked up so many outrages that I was worried this show would go on forever without this fictional being made to pay for his sins. Seems circumstances developing from real life, the realm that, in itself, serves justice in unexpected ways on a time schedule not disclosed to those of us impatient for payback; Spacey has lost his hit show and perhaps his livelihood, at least for a while. How all this pans out in the long run is anyone's guess, although it's a predictable outcome of all these allegations that the media, social, print and broadcast, will move onto other less exploited outrages they can in turn cover with sensational headlines and little sympathy or comprehension.Even as reader attentions are drawn elsewhere, there remains a hope that this is not just another passing controversy and marks a profound change in the culture, which is that sexual abuse will not tolerated by anyone in any corner of our land, by anyone, anywhere. One hopes this evil stops here. So the question becomes whether , after more revelations, exposures and screaming headlines, will this topic be dropped as interest wanes, or are we willing to change the way we treat each other? I am not optimistic.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Best movies of 2017 so far, Part 1

1.Blade Runner 2049
Not a film I anticipated with any great optimism, as Ridley Scott, the director of the first film, a masterpiece recognized only after its unspectacular theatrical performance and the oh-hum reviews, was an erratic director, to be kind. He was very capable of making movies that while boasting an attractive style, would let you down with half baked story lines and conventional Hollywood endings, whether they be     upbeat or bleak by the end of the last reel. Fortunately, smarter judgment prevailed and director Dennis Villeneuve--Sicario, Arrival, Prisoners-- was brought on bard to extend the replicant saga. Fittingly, the film is a luscious, lovingly detailed and poetically blurred vision of a polluted and decimated Los Angeles and western United States, and the enticing and confounding issues that arise from the creation of very human like androids to essentially function and exist as nothing other than a disposable slave class remain with us. The smart matter here is that the right story elements are drawn from the original film,the right characters are brought back to furnish       us with ideas as to how matters have changed over thirty years , the mysteries have deepened more so , and the mysteries remain. BR 2049 has all the issues the lured us in from the original motion picture, but it is its  own majestic,dystopian saga. It is equal parts meditation, philosophical debate, action movie, love story and, above all, a mystery, all the strands perfectly fused together seamlessly. This film is a masterpiece.

2. Wind River
Related imageDirector Taylor Sheridan slowly, ominously unfolds a murder mystery on an Indian reservation in the hard cold winter  of Wyoming , a drama with a muted , slow build, like the most emotionally complex of pieces of music, which  brings together a tracker (Jeremy Renner)_ and an FBI agent (Elizabeth Olson).Less a mystery, actually,than an effectively tooled investigative procedural, the investigators, a pair from realities alienated from each other in thinking and personality --one taciturn,deliberate, the other vocal, questioning, proactive--sift and probe and poke through generations of male culture,both white and Native American and makes you  how the worst aspects of human inclination--seeking power, dominance, submission, exploitation--are made worse tenfold at the local level with the merciless scramble for diminishing resources. Political implications aside, this is a beautifully shot film--snow capped mountains and forests have rarely been photographed this beautifully --and the choice to lens many wide shots to give a scope of the bigness of the land and the harshness of the  weather serves as a poignant contrast 

3.Baby Driver

Writer and director Edgar Wright, we've read, has directed a heist film that is as much a musical as it is a crime comedy. Well, yes, in as much as the title character, actually named Baby Driver, loves to prepare special mix tapes while dancing , highlighted frequently in this film. The steps actor Ansel Elgort executes in these scenes are fairly  elegant indeed, Astaire like to a degree.  Don't let that stir you    off, though, as what Wright creates is in keeping with previous work , which is zany, witty,  subversive of the genre he's working in, but never so busy   with his technical virtuosity that he forgets to bring the fun the audience came for. Our hero is a fantastically gifted getaway  driver indentured to a ruthless crime master .Finding love at last, Baby finds himself attempting some impossible ploys to free himself of teh clutches of his boss so he  can go off and find happiness and some kind of normalcy after a life   of forced criminal activity. Not an  original premise, but it's merely the  starting point    for Wright, he subverts the cliches , veers in another direction other than where you expect him, expands and contracts the minimal plot particulars, and keeps matters moving, moving , moving with a quick but sure sense of how to keep the many balls he has in the air from hitting the floor. Wright also draws fine performances from Jamie Fox, Jon Ham and the ever effusive Kevin Spacey as the harshly ironic crime boss. Expect double, triple and quadruple crosses here as the matters pile on, and expect many a "WTF?" moments and to burst into laughter at unexpected moments. Baby Driver is an exercise in    exhilarating virtuosity.
Director and writer Jim Jarmusch at his best, a seemingly trivial and glancing examination of a Paterson, New Jersey  bus driver also named Paterson whom we get watch as he goes about his day, waking up next to his   wife, clocking into work, driving his route around the downtown area (it seems), listening to rich chunks of fascinatingly inane small talk from his passengers and, most telling, having lunch. Paterson the driver, living in Paterson the city, echos the legacy of Paterson the epic poem by William Carlos Williams, the great American poet and and a Paterson native son. Paterson, the driver,  writes poetry on his lunch break, and in the course of the film viewers have the only film about a poet I remember that showed the writing process in effective movie terms. The poem, in the driver's hand writing, appears on the screen as he composes and we listen to the poem in his voice being created; revisions are made, lines and words crossed out, new phrases are introduced, what begins as seemingly prosaic and ordinary becomes something extraordinary , worh noticing, an idea beautifully expressed and preserved in words. This is the beauty of Jarmusch at  his best, finding rich and resonating veins from the   everyday, bits of modern life uncluttered and made just slightly odd. Humorous, touching, perfectly disarming , this movie is also particularly in small pleasures that are matter of fact,   bits of surprise with no fanfare, one of which    is that the Paterson the driver/character living in a city named Paterson which is also the title of an important American poem is portrayed by Actor Adam Drive. Intended  or by coincidence, I think  that is very, very cool  in a satisfying small way.

Related imageColossal, a fine indy film written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo. The premise is this: a young woman loses her job and boyfriend in NYC and, unable to find work and broke as well, moves back to her home town to stay in her parent's empty house. At the same time, a giant monster begins to destroy Seoul , Korea . The woman realizes after a while that she has a mysterious but very direct connection with the monster destroying a city a half a planet away. Science fiction, romantic comedy and psychological thriller in a well executed fusion of what would conflicting genres, writer and director Vigalondo does not merely mash together disparate kinds of pop culture, but instead weaves them together. Without going into tidbits that would spoil the film, I would just add that the script is as tightly constructed as it is wildly imagined and it requires to suspend our disbelief a little further and, in a more challenging aspect, to suspend it in ways not usually demanded of us as viewers. Think of this: if one's actual life seems to slip, merge, evolve and abruptly change tones, perceptually, from being a comedy, tragedy , romance and soap opera in the course of month, a week, a day, why wouldn't this also hold for a fictional , more fantastical world? Colossal does , I promise, contain all the elements I've mentioned, and they are pertinent to the story being told, but this a narrative with the varied genre restrictions removed. For all that seems fantastic and scary, the players and their situations and how they respond to the changes that happen to them are, (ahem) human, all too human. Odd, quirky and defying genre expectations, this is splendid and engrossing story, with a perfect ending to seemingly unresolvable complications that you didn't see coming. Fine performances by Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis.

6.Wonder Woman
Related imageDirector Patty Jenkins directs with a sure, firm and confident hand, efficiently and effectively establishing the WW mythology as it relates to a re-imagined Greek mythology, the origin story of the young girl who would become the eventual super hero, and the first adventure of Wonder Woman in full costume, in the WW 1 trenches, fighting with the British against the Germans, searching for her foe Ares, the God of War. It works remarkably well, I think.  A wonderful cast featuring wonderful work from Chris Pine and Robin Wright. Gal Adopt as WW, a controversial casting when first announced, is quite good here. Athletic, naive, ironic, fierce in combat sequences and sweetly ironic in the comic parts, she turns in a star-making performance. Gadot hasn't the broadest range as an actress, a fact that led the objections to her being casted in the role of the defining super heroine, but what she does here is akin to what other limited-commodity screen thespians have worked well with, which is to perform splendidly within the limitations. An imaginatively creation of both alternative history and alternative history, stylized grandly but not overbearing, exhibiting recognizable emotion and conviction among the characters yet avoiding preachiness and sentimentality, and above all else, sufficiently, effectively, efficiently action packed,

Poetry as symptom

Ezra Pound, Locked Away | The American Conservative:

This is a fascinating article from the American Conservative, not a publication I normally peruse, let alone read. This article lured me in, the sort of click bait that snags me every time, an essay concerning the treatment of poet, translator, critic and would be culture overlord during his decade long stay in a mental illness ward rather than stand trial for his pro-Fascist broadcasts emanating from Italy during the 2nd World War. Pound even then was a controversial figure, as widely praised as he was condemned by literary tastemakers. Rather than place him on trial for treason, federal prosecutors dropped the hot potato and had him declared him insane, not fit to stand trial for any charges brought against him. Part of what makes this story interesting is the whole issue of who has the power to declare others mentally ill or otherwise unqualified for due process, as well as who has the power to define and enforce standards of normality and deviance.

 The discussions naturally filters into the idea of art being something less than an expression of imagination from which literate populations can benefit and instead be used to demonstrate states of mind that must be removed from the population and, following suit, any conversation about the nature of the nation. The hearing used to determine Pound's sanity accepted testimony from doctors, at the behest of the poet's lawyer, who swore that evidence of Pound's derangement required no further research than to the poetry itself. Only a madman would write this balderdash, and such a mind is the sort to insanely promote the efforts of a national enemy. It is a slippery slope that still concerns all of us who regard access to artists and the unfettered results of their imaginations a right.I encourage a read of this pertinent essay. The issues it raises, beyond the matter of Pound's sanity and resulting malignity , continues to deform the discourse on culture, politics, who gets to influence decisions over the way we collectively assess matters of art and social need through the way language is guided away from any sense of precision separate from a loaded agenda. This matter lingers like a festering wound the lot of us keep  picking the scab  from.

Babbling from the Art Opening;Art, democracy, history

Image result for painters studio
A young painter who is given to creating huge canvases blessed with sub-Cubist line drawings somewhat highlighted with fading coloration that suggest a cross between Robert Motherwell and an anemic Peter Max opined, over drinks, that democracies are anti-art. Where this came from I don’t know, as I wasn’t in her conversation, but it is a topic that I thought about for about an hour, on the way home, my head alive with half-formed ideas needing a keyboard for elaboration. This is among the benefits (or curses) of not drinking, you tend to remember every idea that comes to you. I thought, regarding the comment from our young abstractionist, that the matter of democracies being “anti-art” is less that democracies are anti-artistic than they are resistant to the notion that aesthetic concerns and artistic expression are reserved for a cultivated elite. Democracy rejects this sublimated priesthood on principle, and opens the arena, the galleries so that more who wish to do so may engage in the intuitive/artistic process and keep the activity alive in ways that are new and precisely relevant to the time--this is the only way that the past has any use at all, as it informs the present day activity, and allows itself to be molded to new sets of experiences. 

Art is about opening up perspectives, not closing them down, and that is the democratic spirit at its best. Otherwise, the past is a rigor mortised religion, and history is an excuse for brutal, deathwish nostalgia. One advances into their art with no real concern about making history--their obvious concerns are about making their art, with some idea of what it is they're advancing toward, and what past forms are being modified and moved away from. But the judgment of history--as if History, capital H, were a bearded panel viewing a swimsuit competition--will be delivered piecemeal, over the years, after most of us are dead, and our issues and concerns and agendas are fine dust somewhere. The artist, meantime, concentrates on the work, working as though outside history, creating through some compulsion and irrational belief that the deferred import of the work will be delivered to an audience someday, somehow.

That is an act of faith, by definition. The artist, painter or otherwise, also cast their strokes, with brush or mallet, with the not-so-buried-dread of the possibility that the work will remain unknown, shoved in the closet, lost in the attic, and they will be better known for their day job rather than their manipulation of forms through a rarefied medium. History, for that matter, is not some intelligence that has any idea of what it's going prefer in the long run--the best I can offer is that history is news that stays news, to paraphrase a poet, which implies that the painter who survives the tides and eddies of tastes and fashion and fads will the one whose work has an internalized dynamic that is felt long after the brush is dropped and the breathing stopped. History, however, it comes to be made, and whoever writes it, is a metaphysical dead end the better art makers sidestep, and instead make the punch and panache of their invigorated wits count in the strokes of the brush, the curl of the paint scudding over the surface, the blurring and clarifying of forms, shapes, colors and its lack: painting, coming from the modernist angle that still seems a sound and malleable way of handling the hairier knots on the chain, comes as where the world ends, the limit of what the eye can see, the forms the eye is blind to but the mind, muddle that it is, tries to imagine in a sheer swirl of perception. It is about the essaying forth of projects that strive for a moment of perfection that suddenly dies with the slightest re-cue of temperature, it is always about the attempt to convey a new idea. The articulation of the fresh, original perception may end in inevitable failure, but the connections made along the way, the bringing together of contrary energies made the attempt and its result worth the experience.

This seems to be the material that the shrouded groves of History recalls, the earnest and frenzied striving of artists who are too busy with their work to realize that history may, or may not, finally absolve them of strange rage for paints and brushes.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Flattery gets you half way there

(Michael Drayton, 1563-1631)
How many paltry foolish painted things,
That now in coaches trouble every street,
Shall be forgotten, whom no poet sings,
Ere they be well wrapped in their winding-sheet!
Where I to thee eternity shall give,
When nothing else remaineth of these days,
And queens hereafter shall be glad to live
Upon the alms of thy superfluous praise.
Virgins and matrons, reading these my rhymes,
Shall be so much delighted with thy story
That they shall grieve they lived not in these times,
To have seen thee, their sex’s only glory:
So shalt thou fly above the vulgar throng

Michael Drayton’s ode speaks to posterity, speaking to what he believes is the likelihood that this fair woman will be remembered, gloried and virtually worshipped as womanly perfection in ages yet to come by virtue of his poem. The ladies who now clutter the streets “shall be forgotten” by poets and this miss will be the envy of women of future elegant pretense because Drayton’s directly addressed ideal is “their sex’s only glory”. A harsh judgment, but it plays to vanity and a person’s feeling of being unjustly ignored. There is resentment here to be exploited and Drayton’s technique, effective or not, is a masterful piece of exploitation. It takes a man, after all, to make the world aware of the genius of the woman who has taken his arm in companionship, in romance, in matrimony. The woman is anonymous, a cipher without the right man to make the powers that are innate in her bosom radiate fiercely, proudly, for the world to praise and to cater to. “So shalt thou fly above the vulgar throng,/Still to survive in my immortal song.”

This is to cleverly say that the woman will be remembered forever because of the man’s immortal song, which is also to say that only a man, this man, could have written. Without the man’s words, his voice, the woman being seduced is unknown, without the power he extols in the lyric, which is to say that she is without her own voice, bereft of even a language to command. I rather like the wit and spare and adroit verbal sharpness that mark both of these poems; graceful, preening, softly boasting and flattering the women to whom they are addressed in terms that bestow qualities exceptional , unique, miraculous to behold, these are the testimonies of horn dogs working their way into a woman’s favor. And, perhaps, the respective beds they sleep in. Rather classically, both these quick witted sonnets display less the feeling of spontaneity , of genuine play, than they do the feeling of a well constructed presentation, an argument mulled over, finessed and converted into a poeticized template intended for the means of endearing oneself to women by appealing to their perceived vanity. This makes you consider the old cartoon line when Olive Oyle says to Popeye and Bluto , as they try to woo her , “I bet you say that to all the girls.” The speakers, the wooers, the orators that profess the unqualified beauty , brilliance, charm, grace and sublimity of their objects of affection , deliver their testimonies with it in mind to present themselves in an exceptional light; the sonnets are, in essence, sales pitches, imbuing the speakers with qualities compatible with the ones they’ve ascribed to their ladies dearest without so much as one self-glorified personal pronoun being used in either of these artfully cantilevered proclamations. It’s a subtle argument to be made that requires the most skillful of tongues, that the qualities , the talents that are being attached to the would be betrothed have not been noticed by the the rabble, the masses, those who live a penuric existence, and that only the men who have broached and spoke to the subject of the ladies beauty are intelligent, sensitive, caring, dynamic enough to speak these truths. It is artful indeed, requiring a fine a balance, of knowing when to let one’s voice trail off, to end on a soft syllable, awaiting a response. This is bragging through the flattering of another. The intended audience, I’m sure, is for an audience that considers itself literate and therefore possessed of an elevated sensibility regarding what I think both these verses are about, really, seduction. But we do have the experience , as readers, of getting a vicarious thrill and find ourselves imagining to be the speaker in either poem, no less than small boys imagine themselves to be a super hero with great powers in the fight against immediate evil.

The works seduction both ways, upon the women who are listening and to the readers who are literate and , we might assume, a tad shy and less quicksilver in their effusions of love, honor, grace. It is a way of being that readers, male overall, can fancy themselves as possessing their object of desire (“object” being the operative term) taking ownership of a would-be lover’s (sexual or courtly) self esteem because the virtues outlined in these cleanly articulated metaphors and allusions would not have come to mind and, further , would not have existed had not been for the innately superior senses of the male. Even the women in the poems, the ones who stand apart from others of their own gender, are chattel nonetheless. While I think the function of the sonnets are morally insidious–this is a world where women are lesser beings and have no selfhood, no definition in the absence of men who control them–it is a kick to realize that it is the male of the readership who is also being played with the sweetness of these words, in the words of internet, “owned”.  

By chattel , I mean to say that the women of this historical period, even the ones singled out for plain-tho-generous praise in verse, are considered property. From Merriam Webster’s On Line dictionary ” something (such as a slave, piece of furniture, tool, etc.) that a person owns other than land or buildings.” While I do believe that the real world sensibilities were a saner as regards the treatment of women, but there is the tendency in cultures dominated by the will, wishes, wiles and whinings of men to treat women as if they were accessories, an extension of a man’s personality and little else. In the grander rhetoric of love poems and protestations of virtues bordering on sheer virtuosity, we realize that that the man who seeks to woo may as well be talking to a car salesman as he describes the vehicle he’d like to drive off the lot and bring home where he keeps his other stuff. On occasion I am of the mind that love poems of the period were , in essence, projections of fragile egos confronting a Hobbesian universe where life was nasty, brutish and short. Again, this is a seduction that works in two different directions, to an audience that wishes to think well of itself and the ability of their cultivated readings and wit to make disruptive realities remain at bay, or at least out of mind, and , of course, for the women addressed directly, bluntly and yet with a spare poetry that resembles a truth the subject has denied. A woman can indeed sing the verse for a man and have no real confusion as a result if the situation were our current period, the here and right now. 

It’s a dubious proposition that a woman to man address , at least in what there was of the public sphere, would have done well with a readership , or listenership, as the case may be. Drayton’s verse survives because the word choices travel well through the centuries and the changes in how the culture leans. So yes, a woman may serenade a male with few changes to this lyric, but such was not always the case. I have my doubts Drayton had adaptability on his mind when he wrote his song; the constraints of songwriting likely had more to do with its gender-less brevity. And yes, all seductions need willing partners for their to any kind of dominant/submissive relationship, but we must remember all the same that it is men writing these verses, not women, and that it is a world of moral, aesthetic and philosophical imperatives that are created by generations of male poets. We may turn all of this on its head all we may care to and say a is really y, but that is really knee jerk deconstruction at best.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017


The length of In the Cafe, appearing this week in Slate, would have you think that author Louise Gluck is a monologist. That's not the case, we find; a skilled monologist will have a point or an effect they achieve, more often than not. Gluck's poem long lines are merely that, long, un-inflected, without snap or spice. Instead, we have a droning account of a male friend who happens to be a serial romancer--a sensitive male who absorbs portions of women's lives and energy over a period of time and then leaves them for the next adventure. It's not that this isn't worth writing about, but this is more topic drift development, an exercise in killing time. Gluck doesn't even go through the pretense of trying to make this intriguing as poetry and offers up the stale device of disguising undistinguished prose in irregular line breaks.

Gluck's long-form poetry is part of the disparaged School of Quietude,as Ron Silliman has called it. the conservative conglomeration of professional poets who's careerism controls the major book contracts, literary awards and plum teaching assignments who's market-pleasing style, a gush of self-infatuated musings that prefer to leave the reader hanging in murmuring waves of uncommitted relativism--the sort of work that doesn't move you to think beyond your conventional wisdom but leaves you anxiety-ridden in the decorated fringes of your misery. The attitude, among the worse offenders, seems to be gutless, indecisive, reflective rather than reflexive, passive rather than active in the world. One appreciates stillness and the sharply observed detail independent of an interfering ego, but that is not what Quietude, in the worst of it's the world, is about; the poets seem to be bothered that they were cursed with compositional skills. You read them time and again and come away with the idea that a requirement among this coterie is to speak of themselves in their work as attempting to have an experience. You can feel the shrug since the poet dropping his pen, you can nearly hear the soft swearing under his or her breath about the perception being too hard to convey with wonder, awe, as a miracle in itself. That is to say, complacency wins again and the prospect of changing one's loathsome circumstance is too frightening. One would rather suffer with what they know rather than dare a single footstep in another direction. The worst of this kind of poetry, I've heard, is like a three hour forced tour of your own living room.

Hers is better described, perhaps, as the School of Drone, a kind of outlining of unexceptional incidents involving straw figures wherein a reader suffers what would have been a tolerable three minute on-air NPR essay about a diminutive epiphany stretched egregious lengths. that provoke involuntary teeth grinding. One doesn't really care about Gluck's portrait of a man-in-process; she attempts a neat inversion in maintaining, toward the end, that this man wasn't wasn't a bastard nor a feckless creep. By the time she grapples with her reasons for having sympathy for her comrade's quest for enlightenment, we are out of sympathy with her tale. This becomes the melodrama you switch the channel from.It's cut-rate of D.H.Lawrence, but without the erotic intensity. She does, retain Lawrence's rhetorical bulk. Like him, she sounds like she's trying to talk herself into believing her basic premise as well as the reader, a trait that makes "In the Cafe" a dry lecture that hinges on a vague and brittle point. This poem is the equivalent of the bore at the party who continues to prate although everyone else has gone home and the lights are turned off.

Adding to the despair over this poem's glacial pace is the promise of the first lines, which are bright, with a hint of witty resignation; It's natural to be tired of earth./When you've been dead this long, you'll probably be tired of heaven. It's a perfect set up for a story of every man's quest for the place where he might find contentment in love and spirit. But where there might have been a telling comedy that provides the moral that our expectations undercut what we assume is our virtuous yearnings instead turns into a drab recollection. No time is wasted in weighing down the promise of the first two lines with the leaden grouchiness of the second two:.
You do what you can do in a place
but after awhile you exhaust that place,
so you long for rescue.
This gives the whole game away.I wonder if this would have worked far, far better if Gluck had written this as a short story. The prose -quality of these lines might have bloomed a little more, breathed a little more air, the scenario might have been more compelling. The first lines are terrific and they could have been a poem by themselves, a condensing Gluck seemingly wants nothing to do with. Being succinct has amazing advantages.It provides an ending, a place to land. Gluck and other writers --myself at times--often mistake raw length for more substantial writing. Some writers have the gift to go long and reward the patient reader.Most do not, and few of us are Proust, few of us are Whitman, few of us are early Allan Ginsberg.

Special Edition--Jack DeJohnette

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Considering the line-up on this disc- drummer De Johnette , one of the best· rounded jazz drummers anywhere, alto sexist Arthur Blythe and tenor saxist and bass clarinetist David Murray , and bassist Peter Warren ,you would have thought it would have been a significant breakthrough record, one of those legendary sessions that chart new directions in the art. This ensemble, though, had no intentions of blazing any new trails, as the music stays safely in the boundaries of what we've heard before. the confident tone which he sustains through the wildest stretches of his soloing, an unpredictable style that finds nuance and unexpected inroads in a solo space. Blythe, on the other hand, exploits the alto sax for all it's worth, often changing moods from the whimsical and lyrical, to the soulfully anguished. De Johnette plays solidly under their playing, rumbling like Philly Joe Jones one moment, accentuating hard-rock bass· drums another, and continually fragmenting and piecing back together rhythms as the music flows onward. Bassist Warren seems the odd man Which isn't to say that this record lacks spark. On the contrary, Special Edition is fresh and lively, highlighting first·rate at the hands of Blythe and Murray. Throughout the disc, their instruments join in a variety of harmonic settings the fusion-tinged "One For Eric," the rhythm and blues riff of "Zoot Suit," the ethereal texturing on John Coltrane's tone poem " Indian-and at key points branch out to establish their own personalities. Murray, alternating between tenor sax and bass clarinet, offers a strong, confident tone which he sustains through the wildest stretches of his soloing, an unpredictable style that finds nuance and unexpected inroads in a solo space. Blythe exploits the alto sax for all it's worth, often changing moods from the whimsical and lyrical, to the soulfully anguished. De Johnette plays solidly under their playing, rumbling like Philly Joe Jones one moment, accentuating hard-rock bass· drums another, and continually fragmenting and piecing back together rhythms as the music flows onward. Bassist Warren seems the odd man Which isn't to say that this record lacks spark.  Throughout the disc, their instruments join in a variety of harmonic settings the fusion-tinged "One For Eric," the rhythm and blues riff of "Zoot Suit," the ethereal extemporizing on John Coltrane's tone poem " India"-and at key points branch out to establish their own personalities. Murray, alternating between tenor sax and bass clarinet, offers a strong example of the gravitational allure open-ended improvisation can result in it.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Blade Runner 2049 is a masterpiece

The box office hasn't been promising for Blade Runner 2049, the long-anticipated sequel to Ridley Scott's  1980 science fiction masterpiece Blade Runner. That's entirely unfortunate, because director Denis Villeneuve's take on the story, originally inspired by Philip K. Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, is a sequel in the best and truest sense. Villeneuve works closely with screenwriters  Hampton Fancher, Michael Green and draws upon the right story elements from the first film realization of this dark forecast, the right characters are reprised, the right social issues highlighted again through a bleak, rain and shadow cloaked landscape, both urban and otherwise. It's a simple notion that nearly all artistically and thematically coherent sequels --Godfather 2, Aliens--share: enough material for plot possibility,the justification to continue the story told so far, and the instinct to have the next chapter stands on its own , a work onto itself, not a mere reiteration of melodramatic effects or punchlines from what had worked previously.Ridley Scott never again directed a film as beautiful or as provocative as film Blade Runner, his adaptation of Philip K. Dick's novel "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep". Much has been said of the film's look, an evocation of Los Angeles in a future time, with smart and stylish renditions of classic film noir style. If nothing else, this film does make fine use of the extremes of light and dark, with a muted, earth-toned schema for the matters in between that suggest the competing sediments of rust, dust, soot and chemical pollution, a suitable palette for a thriller set in the future. More than the look, however, is the set of issues the movies manage to cogently engage, from the spiritual ---the rogue androids quest to meet their creator and so extend their lives--to the sociological and philosophical. Immigration, urban cluster fucking, the mashing of cultures, the unprincipled introduction of odious technologies into the consumer marketplace, untried, untested, consequences be damned. He's directed other noteworthy films--The DuelistBlack Hawk DownGladiator, Matchstick Men, and the much more recent efforts Prometheus and The Martian. come to mind--but none of them have the combination of ideas, tone, or visual allure that made Blade Runner a singular work; the odd thing is that it is that rare instance of when an elegantly designed vehicle contains  any number of ideas that are substantial enough for a half-dozen discussion groups and a surfeit of monographs. This follows Philip K.Dick's fascination with how populations are willing to relinquish their humanity--the kind of inventive, curious, adventurous humanity that isn't afraid of hard work, using its brain, or risking death in the cause of finding out more of the world. In his novels technology is seen as the means through which the human being becomes less human by having the burden of having to use his Free Will less and less. As the machines take on more of what was exclusively the domain of flesh and blood, the tragedy that befalls those who've chosen convenience and leisure over a grittier essence doesn't seem tragic at all; it is hard to empathize with the products of pure leisure who haven't a care except for the entertainment of their senses.In the plot, theme, and, especially in the fabulously rendered and supremely controlled visual design which fuses a film-noir sense of bleak anxiety with an unequaled elegance--Blade Runner 2049 is my best film of the year. Yet audiences are not showing up to fill the theater seats. Why? It reasonably is said that 35 years too long for a sequel come out. Much as I think this new film is a splendidly and lyrically executed effort and convincing continuation of the previous film's storyline, it's not ;unlikely that those not intimately involved with the film like we BR aficionados don't have much invested in whether self-aware androids have the right of self-determination or whether Decker was a replicant himself or how a society becomes, less and less subtly, a master-slave society the more of a society's resources are depleted. These aspects were very apparent and powerfully conveyed in Scott's script and visual narrative, but since the film tanked in 1982 at the box office, it's particulars of  a paranoid, dystopic world seemed to be familiar only;y to the dedicated cineastes, there was not the kind of Star Wars (or Game of Thrones) anticipation of what is doing to happen next. What's especially tragic is that the no-show audiences, the current generation of internet content streamers who've little invested in getting deeper into the magnificent , dark murk that is the world inhabiting the darkest recesses of P.K.Dick's steamiest fever dream , are missing out on a film that is full chapter in an ongoing story, the most recent incidents in a fantasy of societal collapse. It's a masterpiece on its own terms, the vision of a particularly sharp and visually astute director, a canny screenplay, and an amazing visualization of a film-noir style, with high contrast light and shadow creating moody, angular atmospherics amid  the decrepit architecture of once great cities surrendering their concrete, steel and glass back to the earth .Not a reboot, not a tricked out and tone deaf "re-imagining", 2049 picks up from where the previous film's storyline stopped thirty years previously. Or rather, the previous tale is revealed as a compelling element after we're already immersed in a new story concerning a second generation "blade runner", agents of the Los Angeles Police Department specializing in the destruction of older, artificially intelligent androids who, because of their sentience have rebelled too often against their wholly human orders, have been targeted for unforgiving elimination. Or, in the film's brutal euphemism, "retired".  It suffices to say that Villeneuve's Blade Runner 2049 is to the original film what The Godfather 2 was to the first Godfather film.  It's a masterpiece in tone, image, mood, atmosphere.

Turn off your radio if you won't open your wallet

Millions of us who declare their absolute and undying love of music . After the declarations come still more hyperbole, which we can characterize as being , collectively, of the sort that music is what makes us human and that without the music and the people who create it, our lives would much worse , emotionally , morally, ethically. So music, along with arts in general, are regarded , en masse, as an essential for the life worth living, an element we cannot live without. I agree with the thinking,but find it ironic that increasing numbers of the consumers who are consuming what they cannot live without without paying for it. Streaming music, the death of record stores, music clubs closing, flat line CD sales, illegal downloading, popular radio narrow casting a slim variety of styles and approaches, nearly all of it market researched and created like the tasteless recipes that make up a Denny's menu, scores of us acquire music without paying a dime to the musicians and songwriters who create it and, even when albums do relatively well in terms of the number of units sold, contract schemes have made it tricky for emerging and even established artists to get the payment they're due. It's not a new story and I'm sure more than a few of us are aware that things are rotten in the distribution of wealth in the recording industry. The tragedy is that we love the music, but we evidently don't feel the musicians who create those soul stirring sounds deserve to be paid.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Whither film critics?

Where have all the film critics gone worries a Facebook buddy, citing the herd mentality that seems to come upon otherwise smart folks when they uniformly declare suspect films as "masterpieces". I see his point, that sometimes we who love the craft and honest appraisal of films-as-art as well as entertainment have reason to be dismayed when the judges seem to go from being a Greek chorus committed to telling the truth to a delusional protagonist to a peanut gallery. Time was when if you wanted to read film critics in different cities around the country, you went to the library and read the out of town papers they might be subscribing to. Now, of course, we have the internet, and each is available, every professional critic nearly, not to mention every blogger, content writer, and social media sycophant. It seems, indeed, that everyone who's review can be used in a promotion has read the same marching orders and commits to keeping the fix in place. Honestly, though, I am wondering how much of this is perception, as the sheer glut and easy access to endless reviews make it seem that that unseen hands are controlling the puppet strings. Really, was there ever a glory day when working critics, as a whole, had amazingly unique and significantly insightful thing s to say about Hollywood fare.

Yes, we had our Manny Farber, James Agee, Pauline Kael, and Andrew Sarris, but I'd wager the majority of the print media critics, the newspaper reviewers, that were very similar in style, argument, and range of views. While the cineastes paid attention to the true stylists and thinkers in the big city papers, the rest of the world remained middle brow and pretty much mundane in their judgments on films, yay or nay. You just didn't seem them altogether at the same time, gathered together around at an open bar. Now everything is online, at your fingertips, and the deluge of opinion, pouring on you like wet cement, can have the effect that the incidental sameness of views can seem the result of a sinister corporate force and a decline in critic intelligence. It's my guess that the ration of smart, interesting critics to the hoi polloi remains the same as it has ever been; I read whole reviews on Rotten Tomatoes more than I should,I suppose, but a fair number of the critics are literate and sharp and brandish a fine prose style, and are capable of making an interesting case for their view. And, to be sure, there's a surfeit of the mediocre opinion mongers with stale views and writing skills as rank as the very backwater that might claim them as local taxpayers.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Aerosmith are rich, clever bastards with their minds in the gutter

Image result for adding machineTruthfully, I used to like Aerosmith quite a bit and still get an adrenaline rush when I hear their best tunes. guitar-centric rock was my preference in the Sports Arena days, but where other bands of the era now bore me and dated themselves badly, AS were pretty much the best at catchy riffs, savage, terse guitar solos, and absurdly clever double -signifying lyrics. These fellas were sex-crazed old coots before they left their teens, and it’s an achievement, if a dubious one, that they managed to make their smutty wordplay the source for inappropriate snickers and wretchedly awful treatment of women for so many years.

The combination of riff -craft and professed cocksmanship was made to order for any frustrated 20-year-old genius yearning to abandon his book learnin' and take up the microphone, center stage, instead.  As you know, my tastes have gravitated, gratefully, towards mainstream jazz and blues over the last thirty-five years--classic Miles, Coltrane, Mel Lewis, Wayne Shorter, Joe Pass, lots of Blue Note, Atlantic, ECM, Pacific Jazz, Verve, Impulse, Fantasy record releases--and rock and roll no longer interests me in large measure. But I still get a charge when a good AS is played--I rather like Tyler's rusty- can- opener screaming, and I believe Joe Perry is one heck of a good chunk-chording guitarist. It helps, I guess, that these guys never got far from some rhythm and blues roots, even if those roots come from the Stones and not Motown or Stax. This may be damning with faint praise, but they were a brilliant expression of a young glandular confusion. 

What makes this art is this band's skill at sounding like they never learned anything fifty feet past the schoolyard and no much else beyond the age of 25. As we age and suffer the sprains, creaks and cancer symptoms, inherited and self-inflicted,  our past gets more gloriously delinquent more we talk about it, and we find ourselves gravitating to those acts of yore who seemed to maintain a genuine scowl and foul attitude.  Nearly any rock band based on rebellion and extreme bouts of immaturity just seems ridiculous after a while--Peter Townsend is lucky enough to have had more ambition in his songwriting with Tommy and Who's Next to have lived down the  dubious distinction of having written the lyric that exclaimed that he would rather die before he got old.  Aerosmith, in turn, still sounds good and rocking as often as not simply because they have mastered their formula. The sound a generation of us newly minted seniors occasionally pined for  remains the audio clue to an idea of integrity and idealism; what is disheartening, if only for a moment, is that this band's skill at sounding 21 and collectively wasted is a matter of professionalism and not an impulse to smash The State. Rock and roll is all about professionalism, which is to say that some  of the alienated and consequently alienating species trying to make their way in the world subsisting on the seeming authenticity of their anger, ire and anxiety has to make sure that they take care of their talent, respect  audiences expectations even as they try to make the curdled masses learn something new and make sure that what they are writing about /singing about/yammering about is framed in choice riffs and frenzied backbeat. 

It is always about professionalism. The MC5 used to have manager John Sinclair, the story goes, turn off the power in the middle of one of their teen club gigs in Detroit to make it seem that the Man was trying to shut down their revolutionary oooopha. The 5 would get the crowd into a frenzy, making noise on the dark stage until the crowd was in a sufficient ranting lather. Sinclair would switch the power back on at that point, and the band would continue, praising the crowd for sticking it to the Pigs. This was pure show business, not actual revolutionary fervor inspired by acne scars and blue balls; I would dare say that it had its own bizarre integrity and was legitimate on terms we are too embarrassed to discuss. In a way, one needs to admire bands like the Stones or Aerosmith for remembering what excited them when they were younger and what kept their fan base loyal.   it's not a matter of rock and roll ceasing to be an authentic trumpet of the troubled young soul once it became a brand; rather, rock and roll have always been a brand once white producers, record company owners, and music publishers got a hold of it early on and geared a greatly tamed version of it to a wide and profitable audience of white teenagers. In any event, whether most of the music being made by Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, and others was a weaker version of what was done originally by Howlin Wolf, Muddy Waters et al. is beside the point. It coalesced, all the same, into a style that perfectly framed an attitude of restlessness among mostly middle-class white teenagers who were excited by the sheer exotica, daring, and the sense of the verboten the music radiated. 

It got named, it got classified, the conventions of its style were defined, and over time, through both record company hype and the endless stream of Consciousness that most white rock critics produced, rock and roll became a brand. It was always a brand once it was removed from the black communities and poor Southern white districts from which it originated. I have no doubt that the artist's intention, in the intervening years, was to produce a revolution in the consciousness of their time with the music, they wrote and performed, but the decision to be a musician was a career choice at the most rudimentary level, a means to make a living or, better yet, to get rich. It is that rare to a non-existent musician who prefers to remain true to whatever vaporous sense of integrity and poor. Even Chuck Berry, in my opinion, is the most important singer-songwriter musician to work in rock and roll--Berry, I believe, created the template with which all other rock and rollers made their careers in music--has described his songwriting style as geared for young white audiences. Berry was a man raised on the music of Ellington and Louie Jardin, strictly old school stuff, and who considered himself a contemporary of Muddy Waters, but he was also An entrepreneur as well, as an artist. He was a working artist who rethought his brand and created a new one; he created something wholly new, a combination of rhythm and blues, country guitar phrasing and narratives that wittily, cleverly, indelibly spoke to a collective experience that had not been previously served. Critics and historians have been correct in callings this music Revolutionary in that it changed the course of music, but it was also a Career change. 

All this, though, does not make what the power of Berry's music--or the music of Dylan, Beatles, Stones, MC5, Bruce or The High Fiving White Guys --false, dishonest, sans value altogether. What I concern myself with is how well the musicians are writing, playing, singing on their albums, with whether they are inspired, being fair to middling', or seem out of ideas, out of breath; it is a useless and vain activity to judge musicians or whole genres of music by how well they/it align themselves with a metaphysical standard of genuine, real, vital art-making. That standard is unknowable, and those pretending they know what it is are improvising at best. This is not a coherent way to enjoy music.      All entrepreneurs are risk-takers, for that matters, so that remains a distinction without a difference. What matters are the products--sorry, even art pieces, visual, musical, dramatic, poetic, are "product" in the strictest sense of the word--from the artists successful in what they set out to do. 

The results are subjective, of course, but art is nothing else than means to provoke a response, gentle or strongly, and all grades in between, and critics are useful in that they can make the discussion of artistic efforts interesting. The only criticism that interests are responses from reviewers who are more than consumer guides--criticism, on its own terms, within its limits, criticism can be as brilliant and enthralling as the art itself. And like the art itself, it can also be dull, boring, stupid, pedestrian. The quality of the critics vary; their function about art, however, is valid. It is a legitimate enterprise. Otherwise, we'd be treating artists like they were priests. 

God forbid.                    

Thursday, October 5, 2017

TOM PETTY, free fallin'

Tom Petty made me think of the “emancipated minor,” an underage teen legally separated from his parents, becoming free to engage in adult activities that would otherwise require parental permission. The teen becomes a legal adult, free to sign contracts, enroll in trade school, rent an apartment, and is solely responsible for the future that awaits him. There were a few of these feral minors around when I worked the carnival circuit in the ’70s during the dread days of summer. I was a college student working midway games for a long shaggy dog story I’d narrate to the end of my days. Meanwhile, I had classes and my parents’ condo to go back to when it was my time to go. They, however, were suddenly adults responsible for their direction, solely at the mercy of their wits, the wisdom of their rash decisions, and the kindness of others who gave a good goddamn.
They liked hard guitar rock, good marijuana, and a job that paid them a living wage for a solid eight hours of work. And there was that wonderful sense that the world had a moral map, simply drawn, with little gray between the extremes of light and dark. There is the Right Thing, and then there is being a Total Dick. No compromise is the game: young hearts, not so much idealistic, as much as expecting everyone to be playing by the same rule book.There was no backing down from this—you followed your path; you moved toward your dreams; and you cut ties to the people, places, and things that fettered a young soul’s determination to create and live a life that made sense. Following suit, the emotional life was the sort that took a heartache and converted it into a worldview, a philosophy of hurt articulated in simple sentences and short, clipped rhymes.
A broken heart, being fired, a flat tire on the turnpike between Sandusky and Stockton, buying a used Van Halen CD and discovering it’s a Shaggs record instead—all these abutments and letdowns and sorry-ass slaps in the face were savored, inspected, kept fresh in memory while one fell into a hard reticence to speak of one’s pain. A code formed, the choruses were bellowed while pounding the dashboard between drags of Marlboro 100s, a car full of young men, and the occasional carnie chick circulating through the twist-and-shout knots and narrow passage of the Grapevine making their way to the last of the Still Spots before The Season was over, smoke, open beer cans, 8-track tapes, and scratched CDs: “Stop draggin’ my heart around,” “You don’t have to feel like a refugee…,” I am free fallin’, and I won’t back down, so fuck off and get  out of the way  because this life is too short to wait in line….
Tom Petty did not wait in line. He got it done. Grounded, responsive, principled from experience, always aware of who pays his bills. This man worked, he felt, he got it done, and then left us, headed into the great wide open. Perhaps we will see his likes again, but you know, the waiting is the hardest part. So get it done, pick up a guitar, play your harmonica, son. Tom Petty wrote songs about standing your ground, being true to the good things within yourself, of being helpful when help was needed, of admitting when he was wrong and taking responsibility for the results of his decisions, he was a man who refused to be a doormat and would tell you to your face, in terms plain-spoken and truthful. Petty was everything the essential spirit of rock ‘n’ roll should be and occasionally still is, a kind of realistic worldview that was neither abstract philosophy nor stale bromides reinforcing a crucifying relativism, but rather a way of seeing precisely what’s at stake, what’s involved in the dramas, transactions, and passions of our time on Earth, and intuitively knowing the best course to take. His were the songs of the trials, tribulations of a life he’s fully engaged in. 
His rock ‘n’ roll was simple, predicated on anthem-like choruses and simple, assertive, thrashing guitar riffs, and a honed backbeat. Tom Petty’s voice relayed his plain-spoken lyrics with a sound that was an emotional storm working itself out, the hurt, and anguish, the acceptance, and the courage and strength to continue to the next day—with the realization that life goes on and that he’s in it and that he has a life that is truly his own, beholden to no authority apart from his consul and the people and values he holds dear. Tom Petty was, I think, everything I had hoped Bob Seger would become: the working journeyman rocker with the common man’s experience expressed brilliantly, movingly, in the terse, unadorned cadence of the best rock ‘n’ roll. Seger, though, caught Springsteen fever and gravitated to bigger arrangements, strained melodrama, and grandiosity dressed in a work shirt. Petty never forgot he was a rocker, never forgot what made rock ‘n’ roll such a powerful medium of self-realization. He wrote about what he knew what he had done, and what he learned. It was a conversation with his fans he never stopped having.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Hefner: Goodbye and good riddance

Image result for pathetic hugh hefnerSo Hugh Hefner is dead and the thinking of many my age, sixty something lets say, is that we ought to praise the Pajama pornographer for defending civil rights, exposing readers of his magazine to many a Nobel-worthy authors and fighting against all manner of authoritarian censorship. As far  as that goes, sure, but  for decades Hefner seemed to be the slimy pipsqueak no one would sit with during lunch period who, in the cruelest irony to the self image of jocks and culture-vultures everywhere, became the standard by which be defined smart and sophisticated masculinity. Praise for his influence as a cultural revolutionary is undone once we realize that he's turned a generation or two of young men into a compulsive, masturbatory yahoos who, over time, hadn't a chance to escape the prison of their arrested development.  Results varied , of course, from the indoctrination into this greasy promoter's school of consumerist Hip, but the effect on our national manner and collective assumptions is that of find yourself at ground zero for the kind of self contentedness you go into doubt, psychic and financial, to get access to. Praising for bringing enlightenment to America only repeats the lie and hides the fact that Hefner's surrounding himself in beautiful and submissive women, great writers, important intellectuals and advancing variously defensible causes was actually subterfuge obscuring the man's  Inner Carnival barker and distracting us from the unvarnished turth that he made us coarser people in the long run. 

Hitler, Mussolini and the early iterations of the Soviet regimes gave untold numbers of artists jobs , but that does not mitigate the calamities those monsters foisted on the world. Hefner, I realize, is different,but the comparison holds to degree. His inclusion of writers, intellectuals and serious musicians into his world was middle brow culture at its worse, a means to lure large swaths of the public,mostly white males with privilege and power and influence, into a seductive consumerist thinking. Hefner may well have advocated for civil rights for blacks, but certainly not equal rights for women. What he actually did to the culture and its habit of mind undoes the good things he might have accomplished only incidental.This attitude is classic objectification, and it's the same deep and fatally seated cosmology that made slavery a morally defensible institution.  He was singularly responsible for instilling in American mainstream the greedy , sociopathic libertarianism of Ayn Rand-- generally anti-government, pro-wealth accumulation, pro subjugation of women as sexual objects. Hitler, Mussolini and the early iterations of the Soviet regimes gave untold numbers of artists jobs , but that does not mitigate the calamities those monsters foisted on the world. Hefner, I realize, is different,but the comparison holds to degree. 

The inclusion of writers, intellectuals and serious musicians into his world was middle brow culture at its worse, a means to lure large swaths of the public,mostly white males with privilege and power and influence, into a seductive consumerist thinking. Hefner may well have advocated for civil rights for black Hefner's influence made him a cultural force whatever his original intentions happen to be. Hedonism maybe as American as apple pie, but decency ,fairness, equal and uncompromised rights are as well,; much that most of the liberal and progressive movement, which evolved from the Civil Rights movement, turned against Hefner and his sensualist libertarian-ism because his over all presentation, his long standing and consistently articulated production of his ideal society, worked mightily against the aims of women achieving rights that are naturally and legally theirs in the first place, not favors awarded them by male masters. It's my thinking that the Playboy philosophy did more than build a media empire. It became an ideology of a kind, a rationale that rather conspicuously worked against the advancement of human and which resulted in a seemingly permanent strain of angry emotional dwarfism that has yet , if ever, to be removed .s, but certainly not equal rights for women. What he actually did to the culture and its habit of mind undoes the good things he might have accomplished only incidently. He was singularly responsible for instilling in American mainstream the greedy , sociopathic libertarianism of Ayn Rand-- generally anti-government, pro-wealth accumulation, pro subjugation of women as sexual objects and breeders of off spring. His Playboy philosophy, if fully implemented, would have been a cruel and narrow path to hoe.cts and breeders of off spring. His Playboy philosophy, if fully implemented, would have been a cruel and narrow path to hoe. Hefner's influence made him a cultural force whatever his original intentions happen to be. Hedonism maybe as American as apple pie, but decency ,fairness, equal and uncompromising rights are as well,; much that most of the liberal and progressive movement, which evolved from the Civil Rights movement, turned against Hefner and his sensualist libertarian-ism because his over all presentation, his long standing and consistently articulated production of his ideal society, worked mightily against the aims of women achieving rights that are naturally and legally theirs in the first place, not favors awarded them by male masters. 

It's my thinking that the Playboy philosophy did more than build a media empire. It became an ideology of a kind, a rationale that rather conspicuously worked against the advancement of human and which resulted in a seemingly permanent strain of angry emotional dwarfism that has yet , if ever, to be removed .Truth is is that Hefner was a relentless self promoter a mere step or two removed from being a pornographer. He essentially dressed up his magazine with classy writers and journalists and he promoted a good number of causes advancing the cause of civil rights and civil liberties, but that was a cynical move to purchase himself a veneer of legitimacy. He was sexist and, I suspect, a misogynist, dehumanizing not just his models but women in general. Men, as well, suffered wounds at the market and image manipulation of this salacious Svengali, instructing generations that one can be sophisticated and cerebral at the same time as they are emotionally stunted, locked into a narcissistic world view that regarded half of the world's population as property. Hefner dehumanized all of us . He was not a great man. He was very successful creep.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Shane Hall

Human Condition-Shane Hall
Songwriter and vocalist extraordinaire Shane Hall is an artist preferring to eschew hard labels as to his style of music and brings to one's players and streaming devices an alluring but slippery set of original songs with his new album Human Condition. Hall, highlighted in the August 2017 issue of the San Diego Troubadour, is often classified --hurriedly, it seems, as a blues artist, but that doesn't quite get at what this musician is up to. Human Condition, while having a conspicuous blues base in the songwriter, isn't a journey through yet another session of twelve and sixteen bar chord progressions with pallid rewrites of the expected blues tropes. Hall is from the tradition, we can say, but he does not restrict himself, instead bring something more inclusively American for the listener:  folk revival, traveling man tales, the swaying call and response  of gospel-inflected work hollers, music that recollects and reconditions the music of the American soul and the wide avenues of its collective heart.  

And pushing this “Americana” mélange forward is Hall’s voice, a versatile, resonating baritone, filtering the traces of Muddy Waters, Hank Williams and, it seems, Van Morrison, voices of individual distinction and grit of personality. Each had assimilated their influences, wedded them with their own experiences, in turn creating new legacies of sound and soul music. Hall does much the same, his voice a harried, gritty plea for relief and love in the opening track. A testimonial of a man’s willingness and patience to shoulder his burden and wait for either a lover or Salvation, this is a simple and simple and powerful paean.  The strumming, galloping guitar of “Shell Life”, stopping and starting with odd emphasis that makes you lean closer to the singer’s entreaties, is a clear tale of someone taking stock of his life; between the desire for the pleasure of the moment and the need to maintain one’s integrity, this is the sad tale of a situation where there is heartbreak and regret whatever the choice happens to be.  Human Condition benefits from the spare, uncluttered arrangements, by Hall, and the clear, gimmick-free production provided by Kris Towne; the varying moods the songs create, from hill music laments to the bittersweet country-blues cadences of “Rare Form”, the songwriting is plainly and effectively showcased. Hall does not undercut his best virtues with the extraneous gesture.

What I’ve found especially appealing is the song ‘Roll”. In an album full of nuanced tales of seeking love, losing faith, resilience, regret and moving on down the road, “Roll” is a straight-ahead celebration of a young man who takes a fancy to a young woman’s beauty and manner. We realize, of course, that this new attraction, this infatuation, may be as ephemeral and fated for the dustbin of memory, but this song is about being in the moment, giving oneself over to the authority of their senses and finding someone sublime and perhaps loving in turn to make the hard journeys worth the shoe leather and heartaches.  The bounces, the chorus grabs you and leads you in a dance of momentary transcendence, and Hall’s voice lightens in texture and hews, it rises to a tone that suggests eyes upraised, not downcast, looking at the stars, in awe of something wonderful, quite wonderful. Finishing the album is the bluesy, funked-up meditation “Lady Cobra”, sulky and slinky, a statement of powerlessness as a prelude to a one night stand; Hall’s protagonist seems aware that he’s getting in over his head, but it’s apparent this young man thinks love is worth the blues.

This the appeal of Human Condition, in the fact, is that Hall does not preach, both lecture nor offer bits of piecemeal philosophy as the experiences are recounted and the tales are told.  He keeps the details precise, the emotions raw yet restrained, the overall personality stoic, but not stiff. His musical variety, the resourcefulness of his voice and the simply and superbly tailored dynamics of his songwriting make Human Condition a refreshingly crisp and tuneful set from a singer-songwriter. Hall transcends the merely confessional and up his game to some artful storytelling.
 (originally appeared in the San Diego Troubadour.Used with kind permission).