Monday, March 30, 2009

Daisey Be-Dazement

I told my friend I was at a loss at how to begin to describe the Mike Daisey monologue I saw Sunday afternoon. I finally just decided to embed a YouTube excerpt above from a show that was protested in 2007, and to repeat below what I told her:

He's like an extremely hyper fat-geek version of Spalding Gray, but with elements of Laurie Anderson and Firesign Theatre thrown in (I don't mean with the latter two that Daisey uses music or audio gimmicks, he just has the same sense of taking banal images and making them seem ominous and apocalyptic that Laurie and FT do). And if you Google him, you'll find a YouTube video of Christian students walking out on his set and a parent pouring water over his organizing notes. Interesting. Makes it brave for him to play seven shows in an evangelical town, but the sellout crowd yesterday was going wild.

Favorite lines (This one a repeated one like the stanza of a song): "What can we do to enable your vision?"

"There were two of me bifurcated at the nose. This half was saying, 'Tell her it doesn't have to be that way. Tell her this is illusory, and all she has to do is stand up and say something.' This half of me is saying, 'Bite your fucking tongue. There is nothing you can do. If you say something, it will simply reinforce her feeling small and powerless, and she'll give you that shrug, and you know you can't bear to see that shrug.' "

"They wanted me to put up a Tesla coil in the main stage after their performances with live rabbits, with each rabbit dressed as Sigmund Freud or Benito Mussolini, wearing little inward-facing vid cams so that their little rabbit faces were projected on giant screens, sporting spontaneous and unexpected relations between the figures of history, as live rabbits often tend to do. When Mussolini died of some plague infesting many of the rabbits, he was dragged off stage. The Village Voice said that this was a metaphor for Mussolini leaving the stage of world history. This is how art is made in America."

"I understood why Ray (Ozzie) wanted to de-featurefy Microsoft Office, but this puts people out of work and makes them feel useless. The way people are given gainful employment is by giving them pointless tasks - repetitive ones in heavy industry, feature-adding ones in the information industry - none of which actually help matters. I would much rather see a simple "Stop All This Shit" click box at the top of Microsoft Word - don't do anything, let me be a fucking typewriter. OK? It won't happen."

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Twitter, I Rebuke Thee!

You knew it was true, and here's the proof from Gaebler: a new Harvard study shows that Twitter use was the main 2008 factor for both the financial meltdown and the business slowdown. And here all these populist know-nothings are wasting their torches on AIG and subprime tranchers. Feh. If you tweet, you are the destructive source of our global downfall, not to mention spawn of Satan. Stop Twitter and Save America!

Saturday, March 28, 2009


Finally rented the Happy-Go-Lucky movie, which I'd been curious about since it was a nominee for best picture at the Golden Globes, and since Sally Hawkins won best actress at the Globes for her role as Poppy. Judges got it right - HGL is a small, indie film, no big concepts to propel it to the top (then again, does No Country for Old Men have any big concepts?), but Hawkins certainly gave the slam dunk as Holly Golightly for the 21st century.

There have been plenty of women with goofy, irrepressible characters in modern film, from Golightly to Amelie to Bridget Jones, but Poppy/Sally moves the genre forward by declaring victory over the forces of deliberate negativism. Sure they're all stereotypes, from the driving instructor who's bottled up enough political rage to become a borderline abuser, to the control-freak sociopath pregnant sister who nags constantly about Poppy's plans for baby and marriage, until she's called on it and declares everyone is attacking her. Funny thing about stereotypes, though -- you know someone like this. Poppy twists poison back in their faces, and never lets her sheer joy flag.

My friend Ruth had a blog item about sorrow and natural processes, and I posted a comment saying that "Plan B is to laugh." That is the undercurrent of this movie - sorrow and darkness are real, but laughter is closer to the natural oscillatory patterns of the universe, so it's bound to win in the end.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Finally got that missing spring blizzard.. mule deer are greatly displeased...

National Weather Service hit this one precisely. Whiteout would begin at precisely 11 a.m., and it did. I-25 was a horror show. Snow will keep up through noon on Friday. These ten deer huddled together on my back ridge, looking for food and half-shelter from the winds.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Hazards of Love and Rock Operas

It was one of those classic mysterioso moments, where I bounced betwixt Target and BestBuy at lunch on Wednesday to see if someone would sell me a copy of The Decemberists' The Hazards of Love for less than $10 (hey, it's a barter economy). I tuned in to the local NPR station, KRCC, and they were playing a recorded live set from SXSW of The Decemberists playing their new rock opera in its entirety. Time to make some real-time comparisons.

The moniker "rock opera" makes me nervous, since it tended to meander into ostentiatiousness in the 1970s. We already had a sillier rock-opera offering in 2009, with Benjy Ferree's overlooked Come Back to the Five and Dime, Bobby Dee, Bobby Dee. The Decemberists have sauntered close to the format, with looser conceptual song-cycles (The Crane Wife) and overextended single-song storytelling (The Tain). But this new one is one of those prelude and reprise and munchkin-orchestra summits, just the thing to make me nervous.

First of all, Harvard Courant, this isn't nearly as close to Jethro Tull as it is to a cross between The Who's Quadrophenia and Neil Young's Greendale. Tull, in both Passion Play and Thick As a Brick, developed operatic mixed-tempo song structures that were closer to some of Todd Rundgren's wilder efforts, usually with a single narrator telling an apocalyptic tale. Colin Meloy gives us assigned characters and parts, reaching to external vocalists Becky Stark and Shara Worden. The reliance on established characters works best when there are dueling tempos, as in 'The Wanting Comes in Waves,' when the structure sounds most like Quadrophenia.

But let's be honest. A Victorian-era tale of a love quadrangle involving woodland sprites and unwanted pregnancies doesn't grab me. When The Decemberists stay looser but brilliant, as in the aforementioned Crane Wife or Picaresque, it holds my interest better. Rest assured, even the apparently dumb moments of this work, like the female chorus of 'Hazards of Love Part 3,' will stick to your synapses even if you demand otherwise. But it revisits the old Tull/Who question: Does the world need more rock operas? (Nevertheless, it's bound to be in Top Ten for 2009.)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Academy Is...

OK, quit laughing. Teenage heart-throb band The Academy Is... hit Colorado Springs last night, performing an all-acoustic set with tour-mates This Providence, and at $10 a ticket, I figured it would be fun. All-ages show at Black Sheep bar, but most of the audience was 14-20. Us old geeks hung out at the bar in back, getting sauced. Above, William Beckett sings 'Pour Yourself a Drink' and 'Rumored Nights'...

Here he sings 'The Fever' and 'Attention'...

And here This Providence sings two songs from their new CD, 'Who Are You Now?' (their label if Fueledbyramen, you have to love it): 'Playing the Villain' as a duo and William Beckett joins them for 'Waste Myself.'

Unfortunately, didn't get any video of opener Evan Taubenfeld, who played at one point for Avril Lavigne. Sure, it's silly, but I'd go see Taylor Swift for the right price. Maybe the Jonas Brothers. Miley Cyrus? Hmmm, maybe I do have some limits. I'll wait til she does the mashup album with Radiohead.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


I was lost in some history of the Panic of 1837 and Martin Van Buren's presidency, and stumbled by accident on the first instance of Deadhead-level groupie behavior in the U.S. - the rabid followers of the Hutchinson Family Singers, four-part harmony (accompanied and a capella) specialists who toured the U.S. in the 1840s. Their excitable political base came from their slow transition to an abolitionist radical protest music group, but their fan base seems to have been deeper than that, as a few slaveowners and hangers-on seemed to be Hutchie-heads.

Their popularity extended to the Civil War, when they set John Greenleaf Whittier's poem 'We Wait Beneath the Furnace Blast' to music, and played it before the Union Army in 1862. But the real heyday appeared to be in the mid- to late 1840s, when Hutchies played a foil to the James Knox Polk "manifest destiny" fanatics by chanting against war with Mexico and slavery compromises. According to David S. Reynolds in his excellent new book Waking Giant, Hutchies included such luminaries as Walt Whitman, Horace Greeley, and Frederick Douglass. Reynolds said that when the Hutchinsons broke into their big hit, 'Get Off the Track!', concert halls would shake with the power of an earthquake. All of this before amplification, mind you. (Scott Gac includes some of the sheet music to their most popular songs in his book, Singing for Freedom.)

As Pete Seeger turns 90 with a huge celebration at Madison Square Garden, we should remember that neither political protest music nor city-to-city groupie followings are anything new. We have all been here before.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Iraq Year Six: 'Occupation is a Crime'

We held an Iraq invasion commemoration on Saturday at noon at Colorado College. Excerpts from speeches by Bill Durland and Bill Sulzman are in the video above, as are songs from Mary Sprunger-Froese playing with Buck Buchanan, and from Heidi Cooper.

In Part 2 above, you can hear speeches by me, Grace Yenne, and Genie Durland.

In the final segment above, Tom Kerwin reads a Martin Luther King quote, Ed Billings gets people ready to march, and folks march and chant from CC to Acacia Park.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Tesla, Dead Dogs, Mike Daisey, and a Boardwalk-Park Place Sweep

Sometimes there are hidden advantages to living in a town where Nikola Tesla performed the bulk of his research - cameo movie appearances, strange cultists on street corners (who left after the local Tesla museum went bankrupt), and now, an appearance by storyteller Mike Daisey. Daisey is a former Microsoft exec and connector of arcane theories that entances everyone who sees him. His new piece, Monopoly!, covers the secret history of the board game, Tesla's work on large-scale electromagnetic fields, and the history of the Tesla-Edison fights that led to far too much animal abuse. Just got a ticket to see Daisey's extemporaneous rambling next Friday.

I've always appreciated storytellers more than standup comics. In the late 1980s, I saw Spalding Gray give a live performance of The Terrors of Pleasure, then saw the movie version of Swimming to Cambodia. Solo monologists can mix humor and terror in a way few standups can, while comic theater groups like Firesign Theatre can reach depths of story-telling only approached by traditionalist theatre venues.

Gray's live monologue explained the Reagan era I had just lived through, in some eerie and intuitive way. When he committed suicide in 2004, I wore my little Spalding Gray button for days on end. I get the feeling that Daisey's piece on Tesla and Disney and Monopoly will connect the dots in a way only approached by Clarissa Explains It All or One Great Big Conspiracy.

A Daisey user's guide to the 21st century would be useful right about now. Market cornering of the Broadway Park Place blue does not seem to do much good in these days of AIG givebacks, but neither does owning all the utilities. Should I follow the advice of Stephen Colbert and Jeanne Moos and bring out the pitchforks and torches? It certainly would feel good to pillory a bunch of big shots. On the other hand, that might be as useless as killing dogs (or elephants) on stage to prove the relative safety of alternating or direct current. Maybe Mike can speak to the role of vengeance, nationalization, capitalist monopolies, and unseen global electromagnetic fields.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Cog Railway to Pikes Peak

67 degrees at the bottom of Ruxton Avenue, 28 degrees at the summit. OK, did Barr Trail, did the train, did the Garden, gotta get some frickin' work done. Wonderful Rocky Mountain spring, though.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Garden of the Gods on Sunday Afternoon

Credits to Lucinda Williams for background music - demo version of "Rarity."

Saturday, March 14, 2009

St Patrick's Day March 2009

No arrests this year, just banners and dancers and drummers and kazoos. Sorry for the shouting.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Mule Deer in the Backyard

Hey! A sign of spring! After a sudden 6 a.m. snow squall today that sent four SUVs careening off Baptist Road.

...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead

Funny thing about ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead. In 1999, they were considered the hope of the Western World, or at least Austin, TX. Then the band signed with Interscope and developed a nerdy interest in ancient civilizations and imaginary spiritual landscapes. Critics charged band co-founder Jason Reece with taking too much bad acid and attempting to sound like early Pink Floyd while ending up more like latter-day Styx. An Anti-Jason Reece club even emerged on MySpace, later the subject of a bruising lawsuit. Everything seemed poised for a ToD meltdown.

Well, the 2009 independent-label return of the band, Century of Self, was actually quite good, and Reece began collaborating with a wonderful group of Austin crazies, Midnight Masses, who provided occasional choral and spiritual support. I went to the Denver show March 9 with some misgivings, but was blown away by a bank for three guitars (four counting bass), dual drums, and dual keyboards. They opted for frenzy, not for overly-pompous orchestration.

Jason was on his best behavior, dragging a wired microphone out into the crowd, while Conrad Keely was shooting full cans of Budweiser before launching into something that might have been a cover of "LA Woman," getting the crowd to chant at a bouncer roughing up someone in back, and calling more than 40 members of the stage crew and support bands to come up on stage and help sing the encore.

Above is a 25-second instrumental madcap clip to give you a taste of the band. A newer number with choral support, 'Isis Unveiled,' is here, and one emphasizing keyboards, 'Bells of Creation,' is here. I also captured 'Far Pavillions' here, and an unknown song which I believe is from the legendary Source Tags and Codes album.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Starving Weirdos and Other 2009 Musical Edge Conditions

Starving Weirdos LIVE in Tilburg at ZXZW

So far this year, Starving Weirdos have released the astonishing "Blue Heron" hand-crafted LP, and the even-more-amazing "Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate" live in Brussels cassette. Above is a 13-minute excerpt from GGPP.

We know that the year in mainstream music already has started out strong, with Bruce, Neko, U2, Antony, A.C., Morrissey, etc. At the same time, the year in improv is starting out riotous, with remarkable new stuff from Pelt, Ashtray Navigations, Astral Social Club, at least nine releases in two months from Sunburned Hand of the Man, and of course, Starving Weirdos. Even if the mainstream music industry melts down with the rest of the global economy in midsummer, handmade recordings will get us through a very healthy (in ideas, if nothing else) 2009.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Clown Time is Over

"Clown time is over.
It's time to take over."
-- Elvis Costello

Since the statute of limitations has long since expired, I feel safe in freely admitting to being an accessory to a crime on April 21, 1981 in Tucson, Ariz. I provided support for throwing a pie in the face of William F. Buckley. (The New York Times report was way off base in blaming the Oddfather Gang - the assault was the work of the Church of the Subgenius.) Unlike the University of Arizona Young Republicans who were ready for blood, Buckley was as gracious as could be, and allowed as how he kinda liked lemon meringue. In fact, he wrote a column a week later saying that SDSU students had baked him three apple pies, and hence "I now have a counterforce capability." (Unfortunately, I could not find this column on line.)

This all came to mind as I realized how much I missed William F. Buckley. The Republicans simply have no members with brains any more, having chased away thinking fellers in a brutal post-election purge. This little fact is often forgotten as Karl Rove and Lou Dobbs ponder why the White House would bother assigning Rahm Emanuel and a secret plumbers' team to challenge the daily wisdom of Rush Limbaugh and other loud-mouthed morons of the talk-radio and cable-TV circuit. (Lou, whose March 4 tirade is not online, was the most paranoid in rejecting any idea that the playground-shouters hollering "Socialism" may have started this mess.)

Karl is sure that (1) Obama wants to use this as a diversionary tactic to avoid talk of the stimulus and bailout; and (2) he wants to associate Limbaugh with the leadership of the Republican Party. Well, Karl, we don't need Emanuel for Task 2. Dobbs himself calls Limbaugh the intellectual leader of the party, and Michael Steele was forced to kiss the Rush Ring and genuflect five times after questioning the wisdom of dittoheads. Obama is responding to the fact that the Limbaugh-Hannity-Coulter-O'Reilly-Savage-Malkin wing cannot argue intelligent terms of debate, but simply scream meaningless terms in louder and louder decibels. The White House is looking for a Buckley equivalent to supply principled debate, rather than the millions of dittoheads saying they want the president to fail.

Luckily, a solution may be on the horizon. Colorado Springs' local conservative folk-music sage, Joe Uveges, gave a wonderful citizens' report on KRCC March 5, praising the value of working together across political divides. Can we nominate Uveges as the new conservative intellectual leader? I have a great slice of pumpkin-butterscotch-ice-cream pie in waiting. As for the dittohead kittens who have lost their mittens, they shall have no pie. We don't listen to clowns any more.

Neko and Bono and Clem, Oh My!

Three solid thumbs up for first week of March, indicative of the solid year 2009 is becoming for music:

Neko Case, "Middle Cyclone" - This just might be my favorite Neko Case album of all, certainly better than "Fox Confessor," since musical arrangements and lyrics are more focused and fascinating. The recurring themes of tornadoes and animal intuition help string all the songs together. As the New York Times mentioned recently, the layering of found-sounds like animal moans and jack-in-the-box hurdy-gurdy tunes just adds to the album's charm (I could do without the crickets at the end, though). Neko's hilarious and chaotic liner notes and art give you the distinct impression she's had more fun with this whirlwind of an album than anything she's done to date.

U2, "No Line on the Horizon" - While it's still not certain if this album will crack the Top Ten of 2009, I refuse to join the legion of Bono-haters out there, if only because this album has so many fun tunes. One of the problems some have with U2 is that the band, similar to Neil Young or David Bowie, likes to take on different personas. If "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" was full-tilt rock, "No Line" is more Phil Spector blue-eyed soul, not that surprising given the UK's new-found interest in soul revivals from the likes of Duffy and Adele. Whether you like the latest instantiation of U2 or not, certain songs like "Unknown Caller" or "Get On Your Boots" are well-crafted enough to rank within the band's best songs ever. And I'll add a particular sacrilege: With 20 years' distance, "Atomic Bomb" and "No Line" stand out as more interesting albums than "Joshua Tree" or "Unforgettable Fire," because the latter are overly-bombastic anthemic visions of excess. However, speaking of excess, here's where I will pick on Bono: Offering five different kinds of limited editions of this album seems pretentious beyond belief. Since it's 2009, I picked up the $9.99 straight-up CD. Sure, a double-vinyl version might be fun, but three different extended CD boxes based on magazines and hard-cover books? I mean, honestly, Bono....

Clem Snide, "Hungry Bird" - Eef Barzelay finally has this Clem Snide identity laid down to the point where it inhabits a mysterious universe made up of equal parts Thom Yorke, David Gray, and John Darnielle. Sort of. If you could believe such a thing. Even when the songs may grow sappy, their intriguing lyrics and song structure make this album stand up to repeated plays better than, say, Andrew Bird's new album. By the way, look for the version of this CD with the bonus EP, the extra songs are worth it. And that raises an important question for Eef - since the album is rather short, why not just stick the EP songs on the end of the CD, and not make the listener participate in this scavenger hunt? Then again, what fun would that be?

May we get many more examples of fun in an otherwise gloomy year!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

A Programming Language for the Rest of Us

Skipper-dee-dee, I was never too sure of this here Linux open-source environment until this character in Germany, Mathias Kettner, comes up with a new programming language for Linux called "Wirbel." Faster than Python he says. "Does not support self inspection out of the box," he says. Oh well, I can't parse my own code at runtime without a cup of French roast. Be bright, feel right, try Wirbel.