WordsDay: Literature

The consolations of literature…

 

Life is a jest; and all things show it/ I though so once; but now I know it. – John Gay

It’s just words, folks, just words…. – Donald Trump

John Gay (image courtesy Wikimedia)

John Gay (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Friends ask me with some regularity why it is that I spend so much of my free time reading and contemplating and writing about literature. I forswore writing about politics several years ago. (I think it was about 2010 that I gave up trying to say anything useful on the topic. I may have let slip the odd veiled or not-so-veiled reference in the essays I write about literature, but my active days as a critic of this, that, or the other political activity or politician are over.)

Great days – or if the Chinese curse is more apt, interesting days – are upon us, however, and while I can and do find comfort at times in Lord Byron’s flippancy:

I would to heaven that I were so much clay,
As I am blood, bone, marrow, passion, feeling—
Because at least the past were passed away—
And for the future—(but I write this reeling,
Having got drunk exceedingly today,
So that I seem to stand upon the ceiling)
I say—the future is a serious matter—
And so—for God’s sake—hock and soda water!

I find that as I contemplate the changes likely to be wrought in my country with the election of the author of one of the epigraphs that begin this essay, that I must find more – and healthier – consolations than the one the 6th Baron of Newstead Abbey proposes.

And so I turn to literature.  Continue reading

Love is not a victory march: Saturday Video Roundup

My favorite versions of the greatest pop song ever written – goodbye, Leonard

2016 took Leonard Cohen, one of popular music’s true iconic geniuses, from us this week. I have said before that I think “Hallelujah” is perhaps the greatest popular song in history, and as evidence I would simply note that it has been covered countless times by an array of brilliant musicians. And nobody, I have learned, recognizes and respects musical genius like another musician.

Today for SVR we offer you some of the very best takes on that amazing song. Some you have probably heard. Some are likely new to you. All are the soul of reverence for one of the most compelling talents who ever walked among us.

We start with Jeff Buckley. Most people I know regard this as the definitive version of the song.

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Election Day. #HopeTuesday. TunesDay.

Three videos for Election Day. Who do we want to be?

Some years ago Sean Kelly of The Samples penned what has to be the election day anthem. It acknowledges what we all know, it notes the reasons we have to abandon hope, and still it insists that we carry on.

It’s Election Day 2016. What choice will you make about the world you want to live in?

Carry on. (Lyrics below.)

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Polyphonica Crimson S review: Scholars and Rogues’ new Anime Binge feature (updated)

Music played from the heart can tame a wild spirit, which you can then use to protect or kill people for you. Spoilers ahead.

I’ve been watching anime since before I knew what anime was, starting with Star Blazers and Robotech on US television when I was a kid. Ever since college, though, when I was “officially” introduced to anime via subtitled versions of Ranma 1/2, Tenchi Muyo, Bubblegum Crisis, et al, I’ve watched and generally enjoyed anime. Now that I’m in my 40s, my kids have joined me in watching anime, and thus far they’ve enjoyed what they’ve seen.

Given how much time I spend watching anime these days (sometimes you just need a few hours of pure escapism), I decided a while back that I wanted to start writing reviews on anime I’ve been watching. Anime that was fun or not, anime that was binge worthy or not, anime I couldn’t watch past the first episode or two because it was so lame, and so on. I’ve also invited my fellow anime watching Scrogues to contribute their own Anime Binge reviews as well if they are so inclined. If you have feedback for making Anime Binge better or you want to go deeper into the anime I reviewed, please comment and I’ll see what I can in the next review. Continue reading

Music

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame can eat every dick in the bag

With each passing year, the R&RHoF further distances itself from any pretense at credibility. Artists who haven’t gotten the call should be proud.

It’s that time of year again, when the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (aka, the Mistake by the Lake, part 2) reminds us of the depth of their corruption and irrelevance.

That’s right – the annual list of nominees is out. Let’s have a look, shall we?

Category 1: Wait – you mean these people aren’t in already?

  • ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA (ELO) – Should have happened years ago.
  • JOAN BAEZ – Hugely important for that branch of the R&R tree.
  • MC5 – I can’t believe the committee is even acknowledging the existence of a band with such utter lack of commercial appeal.
  • PEARL JAM – I’m not a big fan, but absolutely worthy.
  • THE CARS – I’d have bet the farm they were already members in good standing. How in the hell have they not made it in by 2016?
  • THE ZOMBIES – Again, I’m stunned they’re just now being put forward.
  • YES – Fucking Yes isn’t in yet? Oh well, at least Rock pioneers like Madonna have been duly enshrined.

Category 2: Really? Okay, I guess.

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S&R Honors: Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan and the Nobel Prize: a personal view (S&R Honors)

Bob Dylan’s award feels like a sop to a generation many of whose finest artistic talents took a popular art form (the rock song) and raised it to unheard of heights of artistry in both musical expression and lyrical content.

Part 2 of a series.

“Life is more or less a lie, but then again, that’s exactly the way we want it to be.” – Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan by Martin Sharp (image courtesy Dangerous Minds)

Bob Dylan by Martin Sharp (image courtesy Dangerous Minds)

Bob Dylan has won the Nobel Prize for Literature and I have been struggling with how I feel about that. Like many, my first response on being told the news was astonishment. It felt to me momentarily as if it were 1967 again when The Times of London gave a full page, serious, and respectful review to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and in an editorial in that same newspaper William Rees-Mogg, less than a month later, excoriated the British criminal justice system for its heavy handed treatment of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards to maximum sentences for a minor drug bust in a now classic editorial titled “Who Breaks a Butterfly on a Wheel?

It felt, then, like the counter culture was winning, that finally, to use a truly quaint term, “the establishment” was seeing the world as my g-g-generation saw it. Mick and Keith should be set free by “The Man” to make more music and Sgt. Pepper was great art.

As another of my heroes of those days said famously a couple of years later, all their received wisdom, their rules, their culture, didn’t “…mean shit to a tree.”

Zeitgeist is a helluva drug, isn’t it? Continue reading

Nobel Committee gives Bob Dylan the wrong prize

Dylan is one of the greatest artists of his time. But his genius wasn’t about Literature.

Part 1 of a series.

The Nobel Committee today awarded American folk icon Bob Dylan its annual prize for Literature. Not surprisingly, reactions have been mixed.

I’m a bit torn myself. There is no questioning at all the immensity of Dylan’s artistic accomplishments, and there’s perhaps even less argument to be had over the influence he has wielded not only over popular music, but over the larger culture. It is simply impossible to imagine what the US would look like today had he never been born, but we can start by considering his role in the anti-war movement of the ’60s. In truth, you could look at his centrality to the revolts that eventually led to the end of that war and make a case that he deserved the Peace Prize.

And what about the who’s who of musical artists who followed in his steps? A very small catalog of those who owe their souls to Dylan would include these names, and if there’s nobody on here that you love and admire you just don’t like music. Continue reading

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The Slants (and the Redskins): what’s in (an offensive) name?

SCOTUS takes on the First Amendment case of The Slants, a band crying foul over a U.S. patent office refusal to trademark its name

by Amber Healy

the-slants-2105-press-shot-b-1The Supreme Court of the United States will hear the case of The Slants, the Portland, Ore., pop band that has spent the better part of the past six years trying to trademark its name.

It’s unlikely the court will hear the case before 2017, with a decision to come without prior notice months later, but it’s a huge win for the band to make it this far.

If you’re late to this dance-pop party, here’s a little recap. Continue reading

Monorail to the Future: reasserting the American Dream for #HopeTuesday

With the 1962 World’s Fair, Seattle asserted itself as the city that invented the future. Seattle Center, home to the Space Needle, Key Arena, the Pacific Science Center and other Jetsonesque architectural wonders, gave us a stunning Mid-Century Modern vision of our presumed technotopian future. In 2000 the EMP Museum opened, inserting a postmodern generational overlay in the form of Frank Gehry’s gripping postmodern architectural style. Ever upward, ever forward.

For #HopeTuesday today, I offer you a metaphor. Let’s rekindle our dream of a clean, sustainable, prosperous future with opportunity for all – a true and attainable American dream. I took this shot of the World’s Fair monorail, which connects the EMP and Seattle Center with downtown, in November of 2013. What could possibly be more optimistic, more hopeful, for Americans than a train destined for a technological Utopia?

Monorail, EMP Museum and Seattle Center

Monorail, EMP Museum and Seattle Center

Happy Birthday to Jeffrey Dean Foster (Saturday Video Roundup)

We live in an era, sadly, where all too often our greatest talents never find the sort of broad audience their genius deserves. Once upon a time, back in the age of mass media and record labels committed to artist development, back before the Internet nichified music almost to death, back then Jeffrey Dean Foster would have been a massive star. Way too famous for a guy like me to have even met him, probably.

But that’s no reason for us not to appreciate him, is it? Let’s celebrate his day by listening to a few of his tunes. We’ll begin with my favorite Foster tune ever, “Summer of the Son of Sam,” which earned the highest praise I have for an artist: I wish I had written it.


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ArtSunday

Leiber and Stoller: behind the music

Jerry Leiber is gone now but Mike Stoller is still with us. And thankfully, we have Hound Dog – the story of one of pop music’s greatest songwriting teams told in their own words.

Hound Dog: the Leiber and Stoller Autobiography [with David Ritz] (image courtesy Wikimedia)

“…we were… part of the rhythm and blues and rock and roll revolution…. we found ourselves by sheer coincidence or exceptionally good fortune, smack dab in the middle of the action.” – Mike Stoller

My Aunt Mary Ann, my mother’s youngest sister, was only eight years older than me. What that meant was that she was a teenager in the later 1950’s. Like any teenager of the period, she had a portable record player and a huge stack of 45’s. I spent every visit to my grandmother’s house when I was six-seven-eight listening to those records. I heard Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Duane Eddy, The Drifters, The Coasters, and, of course, Elvis.

I don’t know how many other kids my age were falling madly in love with rock and roll and rhythm and blues. But I did, and I’ve never fallen out.

So when a friend of mine surprised me with Hound Dog: The Leiber and Stoller Autobiography as a birthday present, it was like being that second grader all over again. Continue reading

WordsDay: Literature

I love Beach Music: the heart of darkness

Rick Simmons’ Beach Music sequel is part oral history, part encomium, part bullshit – but it all works.

“I didn’t like ‘Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie.…'” – Jay Proctor, Jay and the Techniques

So my sister gave me this book for my birthday….

Carolina Beach Music: The New Wave by Rick Simmons (image courtesy Goodreads)

Somehow, my sister has the impression that I might like the fusion of R&B, soul, rock, and dance pop that is known in the Southeast as “Beach Music.” Well, I love music, so she was half right. For anyone who grew up in the Carolinas over the last 60 years or so (both North and South, though perhaps SC has the greater claim to the genre since they have all the relevant beaches name checked in beach music songs [chiefly Ocean Drive and Myrtle Beach]), Beach Music (and it really should be capitalized, I suppose), is a regional genre that, while well past its peak, persists even now. Its roots lie in classic R&B, though it has incorporated elements of rock, soul, and dance pop in its long history.

Rick Simmons, a historian at Louisiana Tech (and a native South Carolinian) has written two books on the genre, Carolina Beach Music: The Classic Years and Carolina Beach Music: The New Wave. My sister’s birthday gift this year was a copy of the latter, so I’m going to talk about that here. But first, as I am wont to do, I’ll share an anecdote…. Continue reading

Appreciating a wildly unappreciated band: MMMBop, bitches (Saturday Video Roundup)

When they first hit in 1997 with “MMMBop,” I remember Hanson being dismissed by my music intelligentsia friends as some kind of put-up job, a prefab kiddie novelty act. Thing is, it wasn’t true. At all. The brothers Hanson – Taylor, Isaac and Zac – were legit talented, their shiny, radio-friendly sound underpinned by a rich sense of Chicago R&B rhythm and Gospel-inflected harmony. (It’s fun trying to write in hipster-reviewer speak, init? Hey, I’ve been telling you for years I ain’t no reviewer.)

Now, nearly two decades on, they’re better than ever. Let’s kick today’s #SVR with a recent acoustic performance of that hit, one that strips down to the naked essence of a worthy pop gem.

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Dotsun Moon, A Swan's Song

CD review: Dotsun Moon’s “A Swan’s Song” illuminates the soul of a band in transition

Rich Flierl may be at the mercy of circumstances, but new CD makes clear his rage to grow and innovate. Let’s hope A Swan’s Song isn’t.

Dotsun Moon, A Swan's Song

Dotsun Moon, A Swan’s Song

Dotsun Moon was rolling in the wake of 2011’s outstanding 4am, but a couple years later singer Mary Ognibene departed the band, leaving songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Rich Flierl wondering what to do next. An extended search for a worthy replacement proved difficult – understandable, given how perfectly Ognibene’s talents meshed with Flierl’s dark, brooding vision. 4am wandered the borderlands between trip-hop, shoegaze and the lush, cinematic alt.Americana we might associate with The Lost Patrol and The Blueflowers. (Flierl describes it as “DreamBeat Noir,” which is as good a tag as anything I can come up with.) It was a seductive amalgam, and it’s hard to imagine easily replacing any element of the collaboration.

Flierl auditioned a number of singers, but no one really panned out.  Continue reading