The Ra arrived on Earth 100 years ago today. One of the most inventive and amazing people in the history of American music, Sun Ra managed to balance experimental noise with a band that still swung. In a sense he was on his own trajectory, not only in his own mind, with his religious writings and space talk, but in the history of music, as he avoided the rock fusion of post-Bitches Brew Miles Davis while also not following Coltrane and Pharaoh Sanders into their version of noise free jazz. Noise the
Ra made, but it was always very much his noise.
Scott and I have been pushing the new Wussy album hard. And really, you haven’t purchased it yet? How about solving that problem now.
If you don’t take our word for it, check out this very long Charles Taylor discussion of the band in the new LA Review of Books. Evidently and deservedly, Wussy is becoming the cause celebre of cultural critics in 2014. An excerpt about what the band represents to Taylor:
The gulf I’m taking about is the alienation felt by those of us who watch our contemporaries give themselves over to conformity and deadness in their political and cultural responses. It’s seeing friends with whom you once enjoyed sharing movies or books or music become parents and abdicate any emotional or aesthetic response beyond assuming the role of cultural watchdog. It’s listening to Lolita praised as a useful book because it reminds us to be on the lookout for pedophiles, who seldom look like monsters. It’s spending evenings in which entire conversations are given to home repair or property values. It’s the underlying edge of condescension used to address anyone who hasn’t bought a house or had kids, as if we couldn’t possibly know what being an adult really meant.
Life past 50, maybe past 40, sometimes feels like a continual affirmation of Adorno’s claim that, in the modern age, the subjective and the objective have switched places. Received wisdom passes itself off as an unflinching acceptance of the way things are, while questioning the precepts of work, sex, marriage, art, and politics is dismissed as an expression of adolescent discontent. For me, nothing embodies that dead, unquestioning response as much as NPR, the great progressive soporific, its reporting and commentary all delivered in the calm, Xanax tones that reassure us no problem is too big that it can’t be grasped, and likely solved, simply by assuming the proper civilized and reasoned attitude.
To be fair, no argument for cultural engagement can fail to take into account an economic reality so predatory that most people often have only enough energy to get through their day. You can’t blame folks who are knocking themselves out just to pay the rent for not having time to explore new things. And if the glut that the digital age has fostered — in everything from the availability of political opinion and news sources to the ease of accessing music, books, movies — doesn’t make people abandon all hope of staying up to date, it too often turns keeping up into a sucker’s game of hopping from thing to thing without absorbing anything, or even finding something worth paying attention to. Even without that glut, it’s inevitable that as we get older, whether we’re living mainstream lives or not, we may feel out of tune with the culture, may choose to delve more deeply into what’s given us pleasure in the past, to decide what it is that sustains us. It might be Raymond Chandler or Norman Mailer or Marianne Moore over David Foster Wallace; Howard Hawks or Godard over Wes Anderson; the Beatles or the Velvet Underground or Big Star or Glenn Gould over Arcade Fire or Drake. The trouble comes when people reject the culture without doing the work of engaging with it. Most often, that happens with music.
Music continues to be the prime cultural vehicle each generation uses to identify itself. It’s also the means each generation uses, no matter how hypocritically, to proclaim its superiority over succeeding generations. Nothing has ever summed up that attitude like the installment of Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury that ran in Sunday papers on August 26, 1979, in which Mark, the radical DJ, is ordered by his station manager to play more disco. “Let’s start out with the Village People’s ‘YMCA’ and Donna Summer’s ‘Bad Girls,’” he says, “two exciting testaments to the social sensibilities of disco. One of them is about meeting adolescent homosexuals in a public gymnasium, and the other is a celebration of prostitution.” A strip to make William Bennett or Donald Wildmon smile. Trudeau is telling us that the drugs and sex he and his contemporaries engaged in was about changing the world. This new stuff? It’s just hookers and queers cruising the showers.
What does Taylor suggest to overcome this gulf, this rejection of modern sounds to the cheap lazy nostalgia of our 20s? This:
This song by the great Jewish guitarist Marc Ribot
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(who I saw play in New York in January and oh my god) goes out to scumbag anti-Semitic blog trolls who would be better off gagging themselves everywhere. It comes off his Rootless Cosmopolitans album which is really great.
Today marks the 44th anniversary of the National Guard murders of 4 students at Kent State University in Ohio who were protesting Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia. Horrible events spawn new cultural phenomena. In this case, Devo. Jerry Casale was among the protestors that day and explains its impact upon him and his philosophy of the world:
VR: Going back to your early days. You were present at the Kent State shootings in 1970. How did that day affect you?
JC: Whatever I would say, would probably not all touch upon the significance or gravity of the situation at this point of time? It may sound trite or glib. All I can tell you is that it completely and utterly changed my life. I was white hippie boy and than I saw exit wounds from M1 rifles out of the backs of two people I knew. Two of the four people who were killed, Jeffrey Miller and Allison Krause, were my friends. We were all running our asses off from these motherf&*$#ers. It was total utter bullshit. Live ammunition and gasmasks – none of us knew, none of us could have imagined. They shot into a crowd that was running. I sopped being a hippie and I started to develop the idea of devolution. I got real, real pissed off.
VR: Does Neil young’s “Ohio” strike close to your heart?
JC: Of course. It was strange that the first person that we met, as Devo emerged, was Neil Young. He asked us to be in his movie, Human Highway. It was so strange – San Francisco in 1977. Talk about life being karmic, small and cyclical – it’s absolutely true. In fact I just a got a call from a person organizing a 30th Anniversary thing. Noam Chomsky will be there and I may go talk there if I can get away. I still remember it so crystal clear like a dream you will never forget…….. or a nightmare. I still remember every moment. It kind of went in slow motion like a car accident.
VR: You said that the Kent State shooting sort of served as a catalyst for your theory of Devolution, which spawned Devo.
JC: Absolutely. Until then I was a hippie. I thought that the world is essentially good. If people were evil, there was justice and that the law mattered. All of those silly naïve things. I saw the depths of the horrors and lies and the evil. In the paper that evening, the Akron Beacon Journal, said that students were running around armed and that officers had been hurt. So deputy sheriffs went out and deputized citizens. They drove around with shotguns and there was martial law for ten days. 7 PM curfew. It was open season the students. We lived in fear. Helicopters surrounding the city with hourly rotating runs out to the West Side and back downtown. All first amendment rights are suspended at the instance when the governor gives the order. All of the class action suits by the parents of the slain students were all dismissed out of court because once the governor announced martial law, they had no right to assemble.
Because I like soulless music I don’t have to think about, I love smooth jazz. Those relaxing vapid sounds really sum up a Friday night. And nothing screams relaxing
and smooth like Charles Gayle.
To build on Scott’s post about last night’s Wussy show in Albany, it was awesome. I think Wussy is now an official LGM-approved band, along with Drive-By Truckers, Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, and of course the late great Warren Zevon (anyone I’m missing here?). Since we have kind of a sizable readership, I see no reason not to use it for good. And the definition of good is promoting a band that sums up everything that is great about rock and roll. It’s been a long time since I was a big booster of a band that no one has heard of. There were maybe 40 people there last night and the band seemed genuinely surprised it was so many. A couple of clips. Probably the best material I’ve seen from Wussy online is this performance for KEXP at SXSW a couple of years ago. It’s promoting their last album, Strawberry, which you should buy. Sound is excellent, really gives you a sense of the band.
I listened to the new album today (I feel so hip having an album a month before it’s official release!). It is of course typically very good. They played about half of it last night. My favorite song so far is actually one they did not play, “Halloween.” However, a high quality YouTube clip exists of it so this is the kind of excellent material you are going to get when you buy the album next month.
That’s a quality song right there.
Really, for all this publicity, Scott and I should get to request some of our favorites next time they are around.
…Also, if you’ve never read the classic Christgau writeup of Wussy, and they are also his favorite band, do so.
Happy Opening Day. For that, here’s two of the best songs ever written about an individual baseball player. First, there is Buddy Johnson’s “Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball?”
Count Basie had a hit with this the next year that I think is the most famous versions, but I’m going with the original here.
Second is Tom Russell’s “The Kid from Spavinaw,” about Mickey Mantle. Of course, it’s incredibly depressing like most of the rest of American folk music.
Not that this is any more depressing than the 2014 Mariners.
In related news, I’m not entirely sure we need a feature film based on the life of R.A. Dickey.
Prosecutors are treating the lyrics as persuasive evidence of guilt. “Just because you put your confession to music doesn’t give you a free pass,” former Los Angeles County prosecutor Alan Jackson tells the Times. In a court case, a confession is often the closest thing to ironclad proof.
Rap lyrics themselves may be viewed as criminal. Two Pittsburgh men made a rap video deemed so hostile to police that they were convicted of issuing terrorist threats.
I imagine prosecutors have more to go on than rap lyrics alone, but it’s easy to see how, in these cases, rap is the new hoodie—a symbol of black male aggression. Rap is frequently viewed as threatening; listening to it is taken as a form of misbehavior to be corrected. Witness the case of Michael Dunn, the Florida man who murdered seventeen-year-old Jordan Davis and shot at Davis’s friends after they refused to turn down the “rap crap” they were blasting in their car. Dunn believed the teens were a danger to him. Would he have felt the same way had they been listening to the Beach Boys?
Well of course not. The Beach Boys were white and thus good boys with some bad fantasies maybe. But the black men, they are a threat to white women.
Of course I have no way to know whether the individual at the heart of this case is guilty or not. But his rap lyrics are beyond irrelevant.
Still, someone get Tipper Gore on Line 1, there is a threat to our nation’s youth on the march.
If you saw the Drive-by Truckers last night at the House of Blues in Boston, well, consider yourself unlucky enough to have been in my presence. It was a pretty great show as always, although the one downside of seeing a band touring to support a new album is that they play most of it, including the tunes that maybe aren’t as strong or that don’t translate as well live. As for the album, I’d say it’s decent. Like the last couple, it has a few really good songs. Cooley’s contributions are much stronger than the last two, but Hood’s aren’t quite his best work as a whole. One of the stronger cuts is “Made Up English Oceans,” which also led off last night’s show.
The set list:
1. Made Up English Oceans
2. When He’s Gone
3. Marry Me
4. Do It Yourself
5. Pulaski, Tennessee
6. Sink Hole
7. Uncle Frank
8. Pauline Hawkins
9. Shit Shots Count
10. Lookout Mountain
11. Primer Coat
12. The Part Of Him
13. Til He’s Dead Or Rises
14. The Night G.G. Allin Came To Town
15. Where The Devil Don’t Stay
16. Puttin’ People On The Moon
17. Hearing Jimmy Loud
18. Hell No, I Ain’t Happy
19. Birthday Boy
20. Girls Who Smoke
21. Zip City
22. Ronnie and Neil
23. Shut Up and Get On The Plane
24. Grand Canyon
This was the 8th time I’ve seen them and Do It Yourself is an old song, but this was the first time I’d heard it live. So that takes one off that list, although I’ve still never managed to see a live version of 72 or Space City or Birmingham. This was also the first show that I didn’t get to hear Women Without Whiskey, but such things happen when touring behind a brand new album.
Been too busy to really post today, but I can at least say this. You should be listening to Wussy.
Have you ever wondered what that inveterate old racist crank William F. Buckley thought about The Beatles? Luckily, now you can find out. From September 13, 1964:
The Beatles are not merely awful; I would consider it sacrilegious to say anything less than that they are god awful. They are so unbelievably horribly, so appallingly unmusical, so dogmatically insensitive to the magic of the art that they qualify as crowned heads of anti-music, even as the imposter popes went down in history as “anti-popes.”
I love the Avignon papacy more every day.