Friday, December 9, 2011

Davey's Holiday Camp

Welcome back, friends, and may I say, with some amazement - 337 views from Russia on December 8th? Whatever the reason, Da Zvidanya!! Hope everyone will get warm and cozy and enjoy this new installment...

Champagne and Sleeping Bags
After the initial surge of confronting Wall Street, the Occupy movement has now caused similar demonstrations in over 1000 cities. Now it's...well, it's hard to say what's happening with the movement. Its makeup, its vibe, its environment has done some shifting, and - depressingly - the criticism of it has had time to solidify into a seemingly universal sneer.
It should come as no surprise that with such large groups of people, there will invariably be all sorts of irregularities, up to and including crime. The opportunists will be there, the deranged, and those who have no great conviction about the matter at hand but who have nothing better to do. And yes, the message will vary, and encompass not just the original grievance but an array of complaints and critiques across a range of topics. It would be bad, though, if that original voice of rebellion were drowned in all the attendant hoopla. What does that voice say?
It says that our system is bought and paid for, and its theft is all the worse because of our lofty national rhetoric about "striving" and "achievement" and so forth. The apologists for the system continue to trumpet the line about hard work and effort paying off, and yes, it still does in many cases. But in the last 30 years, there have been ever more people who've been adversely affected, if not ruined, by the sweet setup enjoyed between their so-called "representatives" and the deeply entrenched world of high finance.
The narrative from the Far Right (perhaps "narrative" isn't the right word for their bombast: it's too coherent and connotes rational thought) is simple: These occupiers are packs of unwashed slackers and whiners who delight in leaving their Marxist lecture halls to assemble in great throngs, the better to vilify capitalism and demand everyone's assets be put into a big pile for equitable distribution while, presumably, "The Internationale" blares away in the background. It pains me to have to repeat the fact - right there for anyone who wishes to see it - that these groups are made up of people from literally all walks of life. Like it or not, they are the American People. Why is it that those two words are up for grabs and applicable only when they suit a speaker's need? No. These people are the country.
For god's sake, is anyone surprised that people would finally hear that magic statistic one time too many and snap? Yes, it's not up for debate - 1% of this vast country controls 40% of its wealth. For comparison, during the Reagan years, the numbers were 12% controlling 25%. Doesn't take a math whiz to see where it's heading.
So...if you're talking about 1%, then what does that leave? I'm a product of public schools, but to me it leaves, yes, 99% - hence the signs - the signs carried by the people who are mocked every hour of every day by the Far Right (the only Right we have any more, apparently) screamers. And oh, the passionate pronouncements the screamers do make! It's not enough to rip the occupiers, no - now comes the defense of the 1%. I couldn't believe it the first time I heard it, but it's a drumbeat now. "The poor 1%." Why, they got there through "merit, achievement and excellence," according to the profoundly delusional Sean Hannity. They're the "job creators," the "wealth creators," and how dare we hold these benevolent deities up for examination?! One pair of b-list drive-time jocks from Houston even read a portion of one of Margaret Thatcher's darwinist rants the other morning.
It all makes sense.
When money is the god and bedrock of your country, as is the case with America, then bankers and corporate heads are the de facto priests, and are afforded our deference, if not reverence. (Along those lines, I'd posit that if the "mainstream media," aka those poor three tired-assed network news stations are truly the house organs for the diabolical government, then Fox & its ilk are the mouthpiece for our proud, true corporatocracy).
I use the word "deference," and by that I mean corporate welfare, selective application of environmental and labor standards, bailouts, tax loopholes and shelters and the newest sweet perk: the debauched Supreme Court ruling that corporations have the status of individuals and thus may shower the political machine with ever-greater truckloads of money. (It's not enough, perhaps, that there are five lobbyists from the financial world for every U.S. congressperson). That is why the people in the streets are there. It's not for the reasons mentioned earlier. But when you've got a fixer like Rush Limbaugh speaking in not just sweeping generalities but also of fearsome extremes - a tactic he long ago honed to perfection - then everyone else presumes the right, no, the duty to bitch and vilify as well.
Did those young anointed on the Wall Street balcony, swilling champagne and laughing about the poor dupes below think their balloon will go on forever? They need to realize that it probably won't, and that they shouldn't be so cavalier in their flaunting. The cops are wound up and tense in all this, as they're realing this isn't Chicago '68 or Seattle '99...this thing has legs, and it's worldwide to boot. The critics fume that it should be a protest, not an encampment...go home! Go back to work, you creeps! Fine. File the movement under civil disobedience, then, or peaceful resistance, or just plain-old resistance (something with a fine tradition in this great land).

Just don't expect it to go away.

Denis Johnson's Tree of Smoke
I have to relate the following with some chagrin.
As I considered the book options for this post I had several to choose from. I'd picked up a copy of Tree of Smoke a while back because of the critical love heaped on it, and I was dying to crack it open. It's a hefty one, not just some airy little confection meant to be consumed over a few evenings. This book was an event, dammit, meant to turn heads and creep into psyches and I knew that. Some part of me said that getting this post done in any reasonable time frame would be compromised by starting the book, yet I did it anyway. I don't regret it. I'll give you a taste then send you out to read it for yourself, and try not to do this to you again.

The jacket.
We open in the innocent days of 1963, although that innocence has received a blow: JFK has just been shot. A small garrison village in the Philippines is abuzz with the news, yet it's not enough to interrupt the rhythms of a pretty easy lifestyle for those there. We move forward into 1964, where a Vietminh named Trung shepherds together local mountain boys into some sort of suitable recruit for the coming struggle. "Do they claim victories?" he asks rhetorically of the American advisors and their endless coterie of colleagues, ex-pats and hangers-on. "Let them. The invaders are fighting the ocean. No matter how many waves they beat down, the ocean of our resolve is always there." One more year further on and we meet zealous young CIA operative William "Skip" Sands, who's posted temporarily with the Philippine Army and is acclimating to the Asian climate and the threads which are slowly knitting themselves together.
He's been entrusted with a cache of file cards that are covered with great amounts of information, collected over years and covering great swaths of people and countryside...a "tree of smoke." He's been given this trove by his uncle, Colonel Francis Sands, a man known simply by his rank and his capacities for alcohol and theatrical, florid pronouncements. The Colonel's preoccupations are the nature of beauty, the duties of every red-blooded American in increasingly perilous times, and a looming crisis he envisions: "It's a covert World War Three. It's Armageddon by proxy," he says. "It's a contest between good and evil, and its true ground is the heart of every human...sometimes I wonder if it isn't the goddamn Alamo." His feverish riffs arc outward into the infinite, then back down into the teeming streets of Manila and Saigon, and he's inwardly proud that Skip wants to take ownership of his trunks of file cards, his collection of minutiae assembled toward whatever purpose. "So what's the point?" he asks, wondering where his and Skip's Alamo will be. 'The point is Vietnam. The point is Vietnam. The point is Vietnam."

We're into 1966 by now, and meet a young seaman named Bill Houston who likes to call his brother James back in the States, the better to lord his worldly status over his family. He's in a Honolulu bar, drinking away an afternoon when the War intrudes in the form of a fried recent vet, a man fresh from a tour with the Third Marines. Mentally and physically dishevelled, he spins tales from the bush that curl the hair of Houston's small group, and  a later drunken stroll by the group occasions this comment from a passing admiral who hopes they're having a "...hell of a time," because "hard times are coming for assholes like you."
It's testament to Johnson's craft that the reader realizes, from time to time, that Vietnam has still not blown up into the nightmare it's due to become: we're there with these characters as they see the picture assemble in the jungles and hills, in the increasing tension in the cities and the helicopter-swarmed rice paddies.
James Houston, now enlisted in the Army, sits in the chow hall questioning his choice and makes the acquaintance of a black sergeant who's back from a tour, a Congressional Medal of Honor ribbon on his class-B shirt. "Nothing to worry about," he tells James. "By the time The Thing eats you, you all emptied up, you ain't thinking. Nothing but jazz happening." Such is an example of Johnson's pitch-perfect dialogue. The colonel erupts in the wonderful jargon of the intel community, the priests and the recruits and the villagers have it. It flows like water.
Trung reappears, now having to sneak furtively into the South to see friends and comrades, and creeps amid "...blossom and rot, smoldering charcoal, frying food...the distant roar of jets and the drumming of helicopter gunships - " this place "where theories burned to cinders, where questions of morality became matters of fact."

James reaches his unit and discovers the perils and pleasures of the Ville, where the music, women and beer share the same cheapness, while Skip is intrigued by a proposal of the Colonel's...a little disinformation campaign, and why not? Skip hearkens back to a thing he'd heard some time before - "We're on the cutting edge of reality itself. Right where it turns into a dream."
What better way to describe our 10-year adventure in Southeast Asia? Johnson writes with the magnetic pull, the clarity of focus, the gentle lilt of pacing and the instinctive feel of a true character like few writers working today in English.
For my money, only Don DeLillo is better at such  rich unfoldings, and now that I've produced a few words about this book I can relax, soak in it, and absorb its spellbinding (re) creation...

Birth of an Icon
In 1971 Clint Eastwood was a fairly accomplished actor, with a television series (Rawhide), clutch of Italian-made Westerns and a few Hollywood feature films to his credit.
His profile changed almost overnight with the release of Dirty Harry, a film that introduced a sardonic new cop, a bitter loner almost swallowed up in cynicism, if not despair. It was the beginning of the second phase of his career, and his status as a superstar.

The film opens, literally, staring down the barrel of a high-powered rifle held by a man atop a roof. He's focused in on a girl who's swimming in a rooftop pool several buildings over, and with one shot she's dead, a body in a spreading stain of red. Detective Harry Callahan appears on the scene, eyes coldly impassive behind shades. The city's (San Francisco) police chief and mayor inspect the note Callahan finds at the scene from the killer, who calls himself Scorpio. The mayor wants Harry's report, and advises caution, as opposed to a previous encounter where the inspector addressed a perp with a bullet.
He gets attitude instead, and a zinger: "When a naked man is chasing a woman through an alley with nothing but a butcher knife and a hard-on, I figure he's not out collecting for the Red Cross." We're definitely out of the cop movie bush league, and this is reinforced by a fanastically original moment, up next. Harry sits in a diner, and over his shoulder we see a bank robbery in progress. After requesting that the counterman call the police dispatch, he raises a hot dog to his mouth, at which point the alarm and screams can be heard. A peeved Harry walks over, extracts a cannon from a body holster (chewing the while) and disables the getaway vehicle with a thunderclap round. He walks though the ensuing chaos, past the spray of a fire hydrant, then over to one of the wounded robbers who lies bleeding on the sidewalk, and delivers an iconic query: "I know what you're thinking..." he teases out, "...did he fire six shots, or only five?" before ending with the question the man must ask himself - "Do I feel lucky?"
Harry's most recent partner is out of the picture, so he's given a "college-boy" replacement, a young Reni Santoni as Chico Gonzales. "Why 'Dirty Harry'?" he asks one of the fellows at the station, and is told "'Cause he hates everyone," to which Callahan adds "...especially Spics." The department tries to buy time to meet Scorpio's demands, but the killer doesn't want to wait.
Andy Robinson is fantastic as the shaggy-maned Scorpio, a maniac with possibly no precedent in mainstream film. Maybe Robert Mitchum in Night of the Hunter comes close, but that character was merely cold - calculating, cruel even. Scorpio has the coldness, but also a glint of joyful madness in his eyes and feral smile - he's truly nuts, and by extension, his crimes will have a smooth gloss of the amoral about them.

Siegel continues to upend the traditional cop narrative, first as Harry peeps in on an amorous couple (and loses Scorpio's trail in the process), then contemptfully badgers a potential suicide to either jump or quit wasting everyone's time. Scorpio delights in this cat-and-mouse game, yet after a sequence where Callahan manages to wound the killer, the tables are turned when the detective tracks him to his hovel in the city's Kezar Stadium and there, extract a most painful confession. As if to distance himself completely from protocol, Harry is livid when told that the rifle collected during the search of Scorpio's place is inadmissable, and declares "...the law's crazy!"

At the dawn of the '70s, Americans, rocked by the upheaval of the previous decade, were becoming used to the idea of crumbling, dangerous inner cities and an attendant rise in crime. Nothern California had even seen someone calling themselves the Zodiac Killer terrorize the region with a string of unassociated killings beginning in 1968.
The idea of a "serial" killer was being born, including such elements as teasing letters to the press and the random, brutal nature of the killings. The movie is very much of its time, and ends as Callahan corners Scorpio after thwarting his abduction of a school bus full of children. There, at the edge of a lake, he repeats his query of earlier, but as a wide-eyed Scorpio goes for his gun, Harry kills him with one booming round. As he opens his wallet to remove his SFPD badge and throw it into the lake, an antihero is born, and cinema will never be the same.
The movie was the seventh film under the aegis of Eastwood's production company Malpaso, and it shares a few elements with that company's first film, 1968's Coogan's Bluff, which served as a template of sorts for Dirty Harry. Siegel produced and directed it as well, and it also features music by Lalo Schifrin and even a close-up squint/glower as Eastwood's Coogan stares down a pack of thugs.
Coogan is a maverick who's sent to the big city to extradite a violent criminal, and he runs afoul of the department repeatedly as he pursues his quarry. Yet Bluff was also a movie of its time, and it compels Eastwood's horny character to zero in on a female social worker, and wade through a discotheque and swarms of jubilant hippies. "He's not an animal," it's said of the young criminal Ringerman, something Harry Callahan would definitely take issue with.
Although it became a series with each installment further diluting the dank inner mystery of Eastwood's character, there's no denying the dizzying power of this appearance, his first.

Stabbed Through the Heart: Black Flag's Aural Assault

l. to r. - Rollins, Ginn, Roessler, Stevenson
 In Los Angeles, Manhattan Beach sits between El Segundo and Hermosa Beach. The town's Mira Costa High School was - in the mid '70s - home to a group of kids that included Keith Morris, Greg and Raymond Ginn, Bill Stevenson, Ron Reyes and Milo Aukerman. In Hermosa Beach were Dez Cadena (his dad and Stevenson's were friends) and Gary McDaniel. From this group emerged one of the most bracingly energetic, confrontational and influential bands in the history of American hardcore.

In the summer of '76, while the country was preparing a massive bicentennial party for itself, Morris and the Ginn Brothers began to get together and rehearse as a small combo. Keith took the role of vocalist, while Greg picked up guitar and Raymond, who'd taken to using "Pettibon" as a surname, contributed some rudimentary bass. The guys called themselves Panic, and as Raymond began moving more toward an interest in graphic design they went though a couple more tentative bassists before landing Gary McDaniel, who adopted the name Chuck Dukowski, a handle that seemed to have an appealing Everyman quality.
He, Morris, Ginn and drummer Brian Migdol then entered a startup recording outfit called Media Art Studios in January 1978. They pressed 300 copies of a four-song, 7" EP named for its lead track, "Nervous Breakdown," but more importantly, changed the band's name to avoid conflict with an existing act. The new name held mystery, tension and even menace, and seemed perfect: Black Flag.
The record's first two songs, the raw and cathartic "Nervous Breakdown" and "Fix Me" came easily enough, dealing as they do with pressure and anger, then the stakes are upped with "I've Had It," as Morris sums up his situation with "I'm--going--to explode, I've had it!!--" before wrapping up with the brief nugget "Wasted," itself as much an itemization of the partiers' creed as Morris's taste for kicks.

In keeping subject matter personal (as opposed to addressing politics, religion, the environment or corporate America - targets of much of '80s hardcore), the band were able to give full vent to feelings of alienation and general ennui, yet they set themselves up as a lightning rod for their equally disaffected audience, a situation that over time led to a cycle of often explosive negativity, and even violence.
Gigging around town, Black Flag were part of a growing underground scene that included acts as disparate as X, the Germs, the Weirdos, Channel 3, the Dickies and even Hispanic bands the Plugz and the Zeros. Their ranks were soon swelled by Saccharine Trust, Oingo Boingo, TSOL, Red Cross (later Redd Kross), a pre-Bangles Bangs and - critically - the Descendents, with Mira Costa alums Milo Aukerman and Bill Stevenson.
In a scene that encompassed Greater L.A., Ventura County's Oxnard, Orange County and even spilled over southward into San Diego, there were bound to be factions, alliances and rivalries, and these scenes often clashed. The bands stood out strongly, regardless of their followers' activities, and gave ferocious performances.
A new drummer was recruited to replace Migdol. Roberto Valverde was Colombian, and his precision and focus soon led to his nickname, "Robo." Another change was in store as rehearsals began for the next record. Keith Morris was tiring of the pace Ginn set for the band, and was increasingly (by his own admission) unable to perform because of drugs and alcohol. He was out, not without acrimony, and Ron Reyes stepped in as replacement.
It's him that goes back to Media Arts in November '79 and April '80 with Ginn, Dukowski and Valverde to record a follow-up. Ginn had gone to Greg Shaw's Bomp! Records to release the first EP, but delays caused him to locate a pressing plant and begin a label of his own. Named for a business he'd started for himself and which now provided a little seed money, SST Records was born.
After "Nervous Breakdown" appeared as SST 001, an EP by San Pedro's superb Minutemen, "Paranoid Time" appeared as SST 002, and this new Black Flag collection, "Jealous Again," was to be SST 003. The boys had honed their sound to a concise, coiled strike, as shown right out of the gate with the title track, a snarling howl against an oppressive girlfriend. Short, sharp "Revenge" is followed by the wakeup call "White Minority." Reyes's savage delivery (once he overcame a fear of the studio) replicates his onstage attack, as an extremely physical, prowling stage-diving maniac, and is on full display on "No Values" and especially the last track, "You Bet We've Got Something Personal Against You," a broadside aimed directly at the departed Morris (who'd been using some Flag material in his new band the Circle Jerks). The 12" sleeve features Pettibon art, and gets at a strange, disquieting psychic tension.
In the break between the two recording dates the band appears in Penelope Spheeris's fascinating documentary of the L.A. punk/hardcore scene, The Decline of Western Civilization, a film that's definitely worth seeing for its interviews, insights and amazing period footage. The band got heavier yet with Dez Cadena's arrival in June 1980 as vocalist. Ginn took this opportunity to have the band do a one-off single for Hollywood indie Posh Boy. The result was a bared-teeth version of "Louie Louie," which featured Cadena offering "...the pain that's in my heart - just shows I'm not very smart - who needs love, when you've got a gun? - who needs love, to have any fun?" The flip was an early essaying of a new track called "Damaged I" The single gave Ginn the opportunity to record a proper guitar freakout, and he'd now increasingly let the bass/drums provide rhythm while he laid on jagged, vamping, atonal riffs as they came to him. The band's sound was being forged.
After playing out with the new lineup and recording SST 004, the Minutemen LP The Punch Line, it was back to the studio for what was planned as the first full-length LP. Cadena screams himself hoarse on "Machine," then spits out the anti-work "Clocked In," and bilious "Six Pack." He winds to a howl then, and after bellowing "Authority...bullshit..." declares "...I know what I'm doing - it may be wrong, but I've gotta get it done," in the flailing "Heard it Before." He widens his crosshairs on "American Waste," a lashing out at a society seemingly going nowhere. Frustratingly, only the "Six Pack" EP resulted, after which Cadena left. Finally, however, after three vocalists, each building on the intensity of his predecessor, the stage was set for the fourth and final vocalist, the one who'd cement their reputation at the time, and for the ages.

Henry Garfield was the 20 year-old manager of the Georgetown Haagen-Dazs ice cream shop in Washington, D.C.
He'd cut an EP with his band State of Alert on Ian Mackaye's fledgling Dischord label, and he was a huge fan of Black Flag. He'd met them as they trekked eastward in 1980, and when they returned the following year he met up with them again, flush with admiration after a correspondence begun during their previous D.C appearance. In short order he joined the band, and by the end of the tour he'd learned their stage rhythms, sold his stuff and moved west. Ginn had a handle on a willing label (MCA subsidiary Unicorn) who also had a recording setup available. The band entered that facility in August 1981, armed with a number of new songs. Some were already in demo form, and had been cut by all three former singers (indeed, "Gimme Gimme Gimme" stretched all the way back to Keith Morris's tenure).
For the sessions, Cadena contributed rhythm guitar, thus giving the band a two-pronged guitar attack. The record itself instantly hit a nerve for its unblinking reach. Opening blast "Rise Above" is followed by "Spray Paint," a song that's very appropriate given the willingness of fans to festoon area walls with the groups four-bars logo. A new take of "Six Pack" is faster, feral. A Dukowski/Robo intro anchors the anguish and despair of "What I See." After Henry punches up "TV Party," we get the howl, complete with blistering Ginn solo, of "Thirsty and Miserable." Dez piece "Police Story" is foursquare anti-police, for increasingly good reason. "Gimme Gimme Gimme," with its whipcrack snare intro is perfect period hardcore, and it sets up a deep(er) turn in the record.
Henry's ensnared on "Depression," pleading "...keep - me alive" on "Room 13." Next, "Damaged II" is a companion piece to the earlier Dez workout. Slow, ponderous, yet quickening bass opens "No More," once again highlighting the rhythm section. Rollins provides a glimpse of a post-mayhem "Padded Cell," and "Life of Pain" offers a preview of the band's developing style...pulsing, tempo-shifting, relentless, dissonant, hypnotic in its delivery. "Nobody gets close," snarls Rollins, " one dares." This he seals with album closer "Damaged I," and he's got the number by the throat. "My name's Henry, and you're in here with me now," he plays out in a merciless, animalistic declaration. And where Cadena simply seemed to have gone a bit unhinged through his reading, muttering "fuck damage..:" Rollins barks "No one comes in. Stay out."
The net effect was a surfeit of naked power, doled out over a forceful sonic palette, yet in the aftermath of its completion - when the band should've been touring and shoring up their hard-won gains - Unicorn pulled the rug from under their feet. In the midst of the band's self-distribution of the initial run of 25,000 copies, Unicorn began spluttering forth a story about content and suitability, and slapping an "anti-family" label on the record jacket. After a further step which enjoined the band from making any further recordings as Black Flag, Unicorn entered a two-year period wherein they effectively tied Ginn's hands (even while issuing several releases as Unicorn product, including an interview disc and a "Thirsty and Miserable"/"Life of Pain" 7"). Ginn responded with two releases of his own. First was Everything Went Black, a collection of demos and outtakes from the pre-Rollins years, followed by The First Four Years, which assembled the EPs to date and added the "Louie Louie" single, as well as a couple of superb Cadena session tracks.
It's not really appropriate to call these "stopgaps," especially as they provided a vigorous summing up of the band's work to date, and were a way to have all the energy in one place. There's be one last EP to clear the decks while waiting for Unicorn to fold up and implode under its own ineptitude: "TV Party," released in July '82. The title track has no agenda, makes no judgement or statement, and is simply a brief recounting of a night spent soaking up television and beer - until the TV breaks down. Brief, dumb and done. By December '83 Rollins, Ginn and a newly available (from the Descendents) Bill Stevenson were ready to get back to recording. Dukowski and Cadena were gone as was Robo, who'd been nabbed for an immigration violation, so the next thing would feature just the three.

By March 1984 hardcore had branched away from its primal scenescape of nothern and southern California, Chicago, D.C., New York and Boston. The second SoCal wave included bands like D.I., Fear, Social Distortion and the Adolescents. Ginn's label was recording Saccharine Trust, Meat Puppets, the Stains and the Dicks. Black Flag, and other bands like labelmates the Minutemen, Bay Area commandos Dead Kennedys and Minneapolis's Husker Du were building grassroots fan bases for themselves, as well as giving great impetus to a growing phenomenon - the DIY (do it yourself) movement, which simply held that no one need wait around to start a band, or 'zine (another growing trend) or label. Therein lay the truest gift, the truest legacy of punk/hardcore, a music increasingly labeled as "indie."
Pettibon launched the first classic of several with the LP jacket illustration for My War, released in March '84. Over a stark blue field with the band's name in black block letters, he depicts a boxing glove, knife clutched in its grip, behind which laughs a seeming cartoon Hitler. If the cover's jarring, its only a taste of the shock awaiting a first listen.
Rollins unlimbers a vicious blast with the title track, a superheated cry of paranoia and rage. He's no less distraught on "Can't Decide" and "Beat My Head Against the Wall," wherein he declares "Living in the's - such a lame dream..." Caustic and concentrated, "I Love You" and "Forever Time" introduce "The Swinging Man," a song veiled pitilessly in the imagery of the hanged. This side is merely is a petit-four compared to the three room-clearing dirges of Side Two, all of which clock in at over six minutes, each of them delivered at a funereal pace with a cumulative aim of, one supposes, separating the true Flag fan from the dilettante. This is war on their subgenre, war on those fans, the lot. Truly, as one SST magazine ad had it, "ugly music for ugly times."
In June the band got a new bassist (Ginn had performed bass duties on My War under the name Dale Nixon) in the person of Kira Roessler, a UCLA student who's also played a bit with Cadena's DC3. She came on in time for an interesting experiment: an LP comprised of spoken-word and instrumental tracks. At the time, there hadn't been much in the way of spoken-word recording from the underground...maybe only Lenny Bruce, perhaps some of the Kerouac/Steve Allen TV stuff. The subgenre's influence, especially as Jello Biafra turned it into an album-length manifesto, lay ahead, so it's interesting that Rollins was able to get some of his writings onto the recording called Family Man. The record opens with the brutal title track, a spoken piece envisioning a tidy suburban world turned upside down. One of his readings was recorded for "Salt on a Slug," and we get "Shed Reading (Rattus Norvegicus)" from a four-legged point of view. "Armageddon Man" is 9'13" of jazz-fusion, ably helped along by Bill Stevenson, who'd soon be making such explorations again with the Descendents. A suite of such jams closes Side Two of this fairly engaging platter. Onward, then, to a long-player that got back to the heart of the matter, the first from the arguably classic lineup of Ginn, Rollins, Stevenson and Roessler.
Recorded during the same sessions as Family ManSlip It In was another provocation intended to further thin the herd. Rollins gleefully trades off lines with, apparently, Roessler, who answers his taunts with "slip it in..." before the whole scorching track ends in an ambiguous, apparently post-coital gasp of exultation. After the paean "Black Coffee" The band serves up an anxious "Wound Up" ("I get so wound up - I feel so let down...") before another nod to "Rat's Eyes." Six-minute "Obliteration" offers another complex Ginn composition on the way to the maelstrom "My Ghetto."
It's an uneven recording perhaps, but contains some fantastic moments nevertheless. An August show recorded in San Francisco found the band in fine form and reaching back across the years into their deep catalogue. It was released as Live '84. (No recording could do justice to the actual live show, however, which was punishingly loud).
In March '85 both Black Flag and the Minutemen had an available moment together, so the two bands - including the latter's D. Boon, Mike Watt and George Hurley - converged in the studio. Bill Stevenson co-produced with Ginn, and the results are the "Minuteflag" EP and Black Flag's purest distillation of their energetic peak, Loose Nut, released in May.

The title track comes out of the speakers in a thundering stomp - overlaid with some complementary Ginn dissonance over the top - and his (again, ambiguous) fever dream of a rampaging cock. There's a blinding solo, and except for the tempo the number is textbook heavy metal. Ginn penned the next two songs as well, starting with an impressionistic examination of betrayal, loss and psychic damage called "Bastard in Love" ("punish - your future, to spite - your heart sinks further with each of your lies). He solos again, and it's a raw-edged wonder of controlled fury.
The chugging "Annihilate This Week" returns again to the theme (if a later piece of artwork is any indication) to the blotting out of the world through absorption of drugs and sex. It's past exhortation, past condemnation, and by now the band have blurred all boundaries in the particular emotional spectrum they're increasingly bound by. Again, a solo squalls and bucks through the mix. Kira and Bill power the driving "Best One Yet," followed by the lament "Sinking." By now, Rollins had taken to living in a finished outbuilding on the Ginn family property (which he referred to as "the shed," much to Ginn's later derision), and so here offers up this bit of unsparing torment: " hurts to be alone...dead quiet...and I'm sinking all the while." A solo winds up the track and seals the wound tightly.
Stevenson wrote closer "Now She's Black," again with a searing intro, again dispelling any thoughts of metal's surface concerns the second Rollins opens his mouth - "She's black...everything I see, takes me back - she's black..." after which follows a definitely Sabbath-flavored conclusion. It's an exhausting, exhilirating ride, not to be equalled.
There was one other batch of tunes from the March sessions, a group of four instrumentals that Ginn packaged as The Process of Weeding Out, and which included a scathing screed from him on the back jacket. Where Rollins's provocation had largely been directed at indifferent or hostile audiences, Ginn's words were more directly and defiantly anti-authority, anti-cop, anti-hassle. Touring Loose Nut provided material for another live album, drawn from an August '85 Portland show and entitled Who's Got the 10 1/2?.  

The last album proper contains tracks from three different sessions spread over October '84 - March '85. After the high-water mark of Loose NutIn My Head can be seen as Flag Baroque, more mood than conviction. It's even more metallic than its predecessor, opening with the gargantuan riff of "Paralyzed." Rollins twists himself further into knots with "The Crazy Girl" ("my target - is your eyes" he repeats) and "Black Love." He ladles out general animosity with "Drinking and Driving," "Retired at 21" and "Society's Tease" before apparently handing off the baton with "It's All Up to You." (The "I Can See You" EP, unreleased 'til '89, also dates from these sessions).
By 1986 Greg Ginn had been pouring himself into the band for ten years, and it had all gotten to be too much. Rollins had long since been the visual focal point of the act, and the two were quickly becoming unable to stand each other. Raymond Pettibon, who'd perhaps believed (rightfully so) that his work could provide for him a breakout, felt like little more than an imagery mill, especially given such affronts as the chopping up of an old flyer to provide the jacket artwork for Loose Nut. Hardcore itself was ending its first glorious era, so maybe it was time to pack it in.
Rollins's diaries abruptly stop at this point, and one further release, another comp entitled Wasted...Again seems like little more than a cash-in. Brighter days did lay ahead for all involved, most notably Rollins, who parlayed his visibility into a durable multimedia brand.
Obviously, also, the music remains - a record of one band as it evolves from excitable kids to powerhouse punk leviathan to jagged, frayed commentators, and it will never be forgotten.

In a Changing World, One Constant
Venerable weekly The Economist was founded in 1843 by Scottish businessman James Wilson, and its aim was laid down at the outset: to enjoin "a severe contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress." Fair enough. Its 13-point prospectus itemized the magazine's interests as free trade, other political and fiscal issues, markets, issues of legal interest and other topics, which have expanded over time to incorporate cultural and arts themes.
A recent sample issue serves up the magazine's typical far-ranging selection of stories, and begins with The World This Week, a sampling of hot current concerns in capsule form. The Leaders segment examines Greece and its relationship with the euro (one of several Greece pieces this issue), an argument for the temporary nationalization of Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant, Brazil as a comer in petroleum exploration, and a profile of Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. 
The U.S. comes up for discussion next, in a piece called "America's Missing Middle," which finds gridlock and partisan intransigence and wonders at the post-2012 power structure in D.C. The GOP is held under a harsh light and found to pack of foot self-shooters (not really news to U.S. readers) in danger of being co-opted wholesale by the Tea Party. The conclusion is that barring a solution to inter-party shoving, four more years of Obama may be the result. Speaking of the President, his newest executive order is examined, with its sharp prod toward addressing the medication shortage no gripping the States. At the state level, the talk is of embattled Arizona representative Russell Pearce and the challenger to that recently recalled official, Jerry Lewis, while Herman Cain (who'd still not dropped out) faced the storm of his scandal. American culture is examined by way of the true depths of the housing bust, yet the magazine seems shocked that a murderer - in this case Telly Hankton, behind bars for a string of killings - could influence events even from inside prison walls.
There's a neat story on the economic impact of artists and other creative types on the regions they live in. Looking outward, the International section has an extremely interesting piece about the ever-growing Wikipedia and the challenges it currently faces, the environmental danger to pilgrimage sits like Mecca and the Ganges, and even Julian Assange's ongoing travails. Furthermore, each region of the world is examined in turn, and we're provided stories as diverse as the plight of the Bedouin (over 240K in Greater Israel and the West Bank alone, with millions scattered elsewhere), the increasing controversy surrounding Daniel Ortega, and the popularity of a bitingly satirical Iranian progam called Parazit (Static), carried over the Voice of America network, of all things.
Business, Finance and Economy and Science and Technology all contain interesting segments, such as the Vikings' use of a mineral called Iceland spar for its refractive properties, as an aid to navigation called "sunstones." In the magazine's home country we read of controversies surrounding match-fixing in the near-sacred commonwealth sport cricket, and the UK's dominance in not the marketing of reality shows, but the marketing of the format of those shows (Who knew there were 44 national versions of Britain's Got Talent, 22 of Wife Swap, or 32 of Master Chef ?).

A roundup of books includes a new van Gogh biography, the current Joan Didion memoir, and a new popular-science book, Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw's The Quantum Universe: Everything That Can Happen Does Happen. 
A telling detail may be found at the issue's end, in obituaries for Dennis Ritchie and John McCarthy, two pioneers in programming language whose work still impacts the IT realm. The magazine (half owned by The Financial Times, a bedrock UK newspaper) espouses a progressive bent, and decries corruption and ill-advised national adventurism, yet it's no slave to dogma, and has in the past supported political figures or movements which would seem to be at odds with its core sensibilities.
Having said all this, The Economist has come under fire for its editorial anonymity, its emphasis on analysis (as opposed to real-time or investigative journalism) and the homogeneity of its staff. While these criticisms are perhaps legitimate to some extent, the title still furnishes the reader with an indepth overview of the week past, and of the world beyong that reader's particular corner.
We need such information if we truly wish to be well-informed, and I speak here especially for my homeland, America, which as recently as November 2010 saw the last regular print issue of the standby U.S. News and World Report. Regards, then, to The Economist for its longevity and its mission.
Long may it run.

Cable-era Comfort Food
The age of video - once it got well and truly underway by the early '80s - was particularly well-suited to attractive packaging, and especially box sets. Those box sets weren't limited to movie trilogies and the like, either: series like I Love Lucy and The Twilight Zone were offered as sets, as were documentary collections like World at War and the That's Entertainment films.

Japery for the ages.
These days there's a good chance that you'll find at least one of your favorites available as a DVD box set. It's become expected, and now people can load up on Seinfeld, Six Feet Under and Friends for anytime viewing. Video, coming as it does from physical media or a NetFlix account or a Hulu stop or simply from over the television, has made filmed content ubiquitous, omnipresent, and ever-ready. The go-to stop for old episodes of favorites is largely TV Land, source of the familiar, the tried-and-true.

It was launched on April 29th, 1996 and originally affiliated with Nick at Nite, appearing as a blast from the past with shows like Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie. The station broke off as an independent in 2006, and continues to maintain a mix of vintage shows, albeit one that's skewing ever younger, containing as it does shows like The Nanny and Everybody Loves Raymond. In any event, it's simply carrying on what cable TV has does from the start, and that's make old shows available in number and all day, every day.
Therein lies my critique, and I hope I won't come off like a putz for spelling out the obvious.
Television was once a fairly special thing, and it punctuated our days with anticipation for a new episode of a favorite program. There was that half-hour, or hour (or sporting event or holiday special). The show gave us a bit of excitement, of seasoning to our routine, then we went about our business until next time. If all those episodes are instantly within reach, though, what's the effect of that availability?
I've sat though portions of various marathons, poured myself onto a couch for several successive helpings of a box set, and sometimes that can be fun, but what can you really say about ingesting five straight hours of The Andy Griffith Show? It seems like the promise, the potential thrill of a box set or a day of Bonanza just doesn't deliver in the end.
Television has always consumed frightful amounts of its audience's time, and back-to-back portions of the stuff just amplify that loss. Maybe I'm a dork or a fretful wuss for giving this too much thought, but it just seems that we've sucked out a little of the magic of all those old shows.
Who knows.

On last comment: some august organ or other - was it Us magazine? - sorry, I didn't get it for sure - has come to the conclusion that the (mildly diverting) Jennifer Aniston is, yes, The Hottest Woman of All Time. Amazing. This chicklet couldn't shine Ava Gardner's shoes. Or Marilyn Monroe's. Or Audrey Hepburn's, or Sophia Loren's...but you get the point.

As ever, my thanks for your interest!!!

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