Archive for the ‘thoughts’ Category

A Retrospective on What Shaped My Views on Race – Part I

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2020

Without recounting specific moments of my life, I would like to point to some people who have shaped how one white male’s perspective on race has landed where it currently is.
Here are some ideas/works/videos that shaped me in my earlier days as well as some current videos that have recently affected me.

James Baldwin was brilliant. I was lucky to read Notes of a Native Son and Nobody Knows My Name: More Notes of a Native Son while in college and, for obvious reasons, recently picked up his texts again.

“The country will not change until it reexamines itself and discovers what it really means by freedom. In the meantime, generations keep being born, bitterness is increased by incompetence, pride, and folly, and the world shrinks around us.
It is a terrible, an inexorable law that one cannot deny the humanity of another without diminishing one’s own: in the face of one’s victim, one sees oneself. Walk through the streets of Harlem and see what we, this nation, have become.”

“What it comes to, finally, is that the nation has spent a large part of its time and energy looking away from the principal facts of its life. This failure to look reality in the face diminishes a nation as it diminishes a person, and it can only be described as unmanly. And in exactly the same way that the South imagines that it ‘knows’ the Negro, the North imagines that it has set him free. Both camps are deluded. Human freedom is a complex, difficult –and private– thing. If we can liken life, for a moment, to a furnace, then freedom is the fire which burns away illusion. Any honest examination of the national life proves how far we are from the standard of human freedom with which we began. The recovery of this standard demands of everyone who loves this country a hard look at himself, for the greatest achievements must begin somewhere, and they always begin with the person. If we are not capable of this examination, we may yet become one of the most distinguished and monumental failures in the history of nations.”

— both excerpts are from Nobody Knows My Name: More Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin 1961

Here’s a terrific 1965 debate between James Baldwin and William F. Buckley Jr. held at Cambridge University on the question: “Is the American Dream at the expense of the American Negro?”
It is an hour-long. Baldwin begins his argument around the 15-minute mark, Buckley begins his retort around minute-39.

The 1968 film adaptation of Lorraine Hansberry’s renowned play A Raisin in the Sun provides context as to how fleeting, or non-existent, opportunities were/are for minority households to improve their circumstances:

Continuing with the theater, Athol Fugard’s “Master Harold”… and the boys (the production premiered in 1982, but is set in 1950) is a powerfully-written play about a white South African boy and his relationship with black employees of his mother’s business and household who had a very active role in raising “Master Harold.”
The play illustrates the ugliness of racism and how it’s able to boil inside someone impressionable and become a privileged person’s last-ditch effort to clutch onto some backwards, convoluted form of ill-perceived superiority.

This scene from The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 had a profound effect on me. When asked by a foreign reporter about the Black Panthers’ violent measures, Angela Davis does a great job at explaining how her entire life has been encircled by state-sponsored violence.

Angela Davis echoes many points made by Malcolm X and if you’re not well-versed in his speeches and what he stood for, please take some time to deep dive his work.
Or, at minimum, enjoy Spike Lee’s direction and Denzel Washington’s portrayal as Malcolm X in the film by the same name (1992):

Speaking of Spike Lee, in 1999, at sixteen years-old, I first saw Do the Right Thing (1989).

To briefly summarize what the film is about– it follows Spike Lee’s character, “Mookie,” who works in an Italian-owned pizzeria in a predominantly black neighborhood in Brooklyn. Lee does an excellent job introducing the large, dynamic cast while positioning dominoes we all know are bound to fall. The film’s tragedy is initially brought on by civilian stubbornness, cemented by police brutality, and concludes with public rage.

Here are some thoughts from Roger Ebert’s book entitled The Great Movies about Do the Right Thing
“Spike Lee had done an almost impossible thing. He’d made a movie about race in America that empathized with all the participants. He didn’t draw lines or take sides, but simply looked with sadness at one racial flashpoint that stood for many others.”

———[spoiler alert]———

“On and on, around and around, black and white, fear and suspicion breed and grow. Because we know all of the people [the characters] have spent all day on the street, we feel as much grief as anger. Radio Raheem is dead [video of that scene]. And Sal, who has watched the neighborhood’s kids grow up for twenty-five years and fed them with his pizza, stands in the ruins of his store. A pizzeria does not equal a human life, but its loss is great to Sal, because it represents a rejection of the meaning of his own life, and Spike Lee knows that–feels bad for Sal and gives him a touching final scene with Mookie in which the unspoken subtext might be: Why can’t we eat pizza, and raise our families, and run our businesses, and work at our jobs, and not let racism colonize our minds with suspicion?”

“None of these people are perfect. But Lee makes it possible for us to understand their feelings; his empathy is crucial to the film, because if you can’t try to understand how the other person feels, you’re captive inside the box yourself. Thoughtless people have accused Lee over the years of being an angry filmmaker. He has much to be angry about, but I don’t find it in his work. The wonder of Do the Right Thing is that he is so fair. Those who found this film an incitement to violence are saying much about themselves and nothing useful about the movie. Its predominate emotion is sadness.”

Spike Lee recycled the “Racist Rant” tool first used in Do the Right Thing once again in 25th Hour (2002).
Both implementations of this tool illustrate just how ugly conversations, perspectives, ideologies, etc. are when racism is the principal factor.

Since we’ve made it to Edward Norton, might as well give a nod to American History X (1998) and how that film depicts the philosophical circle of a white man who went from youthful optimism to a garden-variety prejudice that paved his way to becoming a leader of a hate group only to experience just how wrong and hypocritical organizations based on hate are.
This film completes this philosophical arc while exposing the dangers and fallacies of extreme beliefs + briefly touching on systemic racism:

John Singleton’s Boyz N’ The Hood (1991) was released a few years after Do the Right Thing as Hollywood discovered there was actually a market for heartfelt, thoughtful, and profound stories from a minority perspective instead of recycling the same blaxploitation films of the 70s and 80s.

Documentary filmmaking made giant strides in the 1990s. One of the most successful documentary films to date is Hoop Dreams (1994).

When I was in middle school, my brother returned home from Blockbuster with Hoop Dreams in hand. We watched it together and I remember thinking that, though it was slower than Hollywood productions, it was my first non-Ken Burns documentary and I could feel its importance.
Much like the two main focuses of the film –high school athletes Arthur Agee and William Gates– I also had dreams of becoming a professional athlete. That was the most obvious similarity as the differences between the circumstances surrounding these young men in inner-city Chicago and my suburban setting were stark. It injected perspective and gratitude in me at a young age.

Once again, here’s Ebert’s thoughts on Hoop Dreams:

“No screenwriter would dare write this story; it is drama and melodrama, packaged with outrage and moments that make you want to cry. Hoop Dreams (1994) has the form of a sports documentary, but along the way it becomes a revealing and heartbreaking story about life in America. When the filmmakers began, they planned to make a thirty-minute film about eighth graders being recruited from inner-city playgrounds to play for suburban schools. Their film eventually encompassed six years, involved 250 hours of footage, and found a reversal of fortunes the could not possibly have anticipated.”

“The sports stories develop headlong suspense, but the real heart of the film involves the scenes filmed in homes, playgrounds, and churches in the inner city.”

Speaking of sports documentaries and Ken Burns, Burns’s Jack Johnson: Unforgivable Blackness provided a look at the most celebrated African-American during the Jim Crow era:

Of course it’s easy to reference the many comedians who have absolutely nailed race and race relations in the United States. Names like Pryor, Murphy, Rock, Chappelle, and many others repeatedly create stand-up specials, bits, shows, movies, and so much more to add both levity and poignancy to our everyday dialogue.

With that in mind, allow me to bring up an often overlooked comic strip and subsequent animated series entitled The Boondocks. Aaron McGruder created the comic strip in 1996 and it was adapted for television in 2005. The Boondocks welcomed controversy and created outstanding criticism of popular black culture, black media (specifically BET), as well as all politics.
The series is definitely told from the perspective of someone who desperately wishes for everyone in our society to wake up, sharpen up, and become more proactive and resolute.

You’d need an awful lot of context, but the episode that poses the scenario of “what if Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t die from his assassination, but instead remained in a coma until he awoke thirty years later– how would the remainder of his life play out?” is a bitingly critical episode. And it still stays with me.
The entire episode is worth watching, but if you’re limited on time, here’s an animated two and a half minute speech delivered by a hypothetical Dr. MLK Jr. after being put through the grinder of contemporary society.

Of course, even though I saw this show a little late in my life, The Wire is exemplary in showing “the other side of the coin” than your stereotypical cops & robbers or generic Hollywood-stylized look at crime and the criminal justice system.
The Wire presents what life is like for those born into extremely difficult situations and it goes to great lengths, as far as following characters from public education system and onto how they end up in the streets, falling into a career/lifestyle of crime, or finding their way out.

It would be a mistake to not include this monumental TV show and its brilliant, sprawling, and realistic narrative ecosystem.

Last year, I resumed writing for this site by posting a review of The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019).

The highlight/meat of that review:

“Though the film is about a man’s quest to reclaim what once belonged to his family, the film doesn’t linger too long or incessantly draw from the well of ‘gentrification as the villain.’ Sure, the film includes roles that are very much in line with illustrating just how shitty gentrification is, most obviously a very easy-to-dislike realtor as well as some malcontent techies, but TLBMiSF does an exceptional job of balancing gentrification themes with the challenges Jimmie and Monty, the two main characters, face within their own community.

This culminates in the third act when Jimmie declares that ‘people aren’t ONE thing’ which leads to Monty protesting moments later that [very loose paraphrasing here] ‘people are born into systems and walls. That these walls are what hold people back and that we all need to break through and break free from all the shit and uselessness we’re all born into.’

People are not one thing.
Regardless of circumstances, people should not blindly and willfully perpetuate exactly what they were born into.”

These are just a few examples of how African-Americans and their stories have shaped how I view race.
Even with all of the above, I have yet to even mention sports figures like Jackie Robinson, Bob Gibson, Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, and many others as well as the countless musicians –Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Nina Simone, Max Roach, Charles Mingus, James Brown, Curtis Mayfield, Ray Charles, Sammy Davis Jr., Lightin’ Hopkins, Muddy Waters, Jimi Hendrix to name a few– who have also influenced me.

The point is– even if you are far removed from any type of diversity or meaningful relationship with someone outside your own race– race, and specifically African-American culture has been ever-present in the books we read, the music we listen to, the films we watch, the sports we participate in, and essentially most things Americans enjoy.
Though I’ve become more politically moderate as I’ve aged, I have difficulty understanding those that can’t see the obvious value and merit in the above perspectives.

For all of my lengthy chatter on the matter, please click on the link to see Langston Hughes succinctly hit the nail on the head in his short poem “Theme for English B.”

Onto what is presently in front of every American.
The 10-minute video of George Floyd’s death.
The video is harrowing.
With a knee on Floyd’s neck and hands deep in his pockets, Officer Chauvin displays a cruel nonchalance and unaffectedness that I’ve never previously seen. No novel, no film has depicted such callousness for human life.
The American public has seen videos such as the billy clubbed abuse administered to Rodney King, a fatally choked out Eric Garner, tragic shootings of far too many–and all of those videos are damning of law enforcement– yet the footage of George Floyd’s death shows an officer so calm and deliberate while ending a citizen’s life.
This isn’t an insecure and frightened cop incorrectly assuming that someone he pulled over may be drawing a firearm (which isn’t forgivable/excusable but a least it doesn’t seem calculated– rather, it fits the actions of one who is easily frightened and doesn’t have the stomach for law enforcement), this is an officer who relentlessly and unmercifully positions his bodyweight and knee on the neck of a man for nearly nine minutes as the victim pleads sixteen times for air before tragically taking his final painful breaths.

Like with any situation involving law enforcement (and I mean any situation– from the most innocuous traffic ticket to a complex conspiracy investigation), there are questions. It’s been reported that the cops were originally called by a convenience store employee because Mr. Floyd allegedly attempted to use a counterfeit $20 dollar bill to pay for cigarettes.

I recommend this New York Times video that does a pretty good job at addressing the obvious questions like how did a disagreement over a $20 bill lead to a 911 call and end with a tragic murder?

Officer Chauvin is unfazed and unconcerned. This is speculation, but it seems as though Chauvin’s attitude is #1 – he, Floyd, shouldn’t have used (or allegedly used) counterfeit money, #2 – he should have cooperated, followed commands, and peacefully entered the squad car, and #3 – since he didn’t peacefully submit to entering the squad car, Chauvin is going to pin him to the ground until the medics arrive.

In a very, very loose world (or in the America depicted in most of the works above– John Singleton’s Boyz N The Hood, Spike Lee’s many films, James Baldwin’s America, etc), maybe this type of thought process and interpretation of what happened might hold water in a court of law. But the videos obviously show, beyond a shadow of any doubt, that the methods used were so extreme, needless, cruel, and without regard for human life.

And now the country is in the understandable state that it is in.
I admittedly haven’t spent a ton of time researching and analyzing all the different types of protests, marches, demonstrations, and unfortunate riots. That acknowledged, there does seem to be a mixed bag of peaceful protests/demonstrations as well as destructive riots.

I’m uncomfortable even attempting to judge what constitutes an “acceptable/understandable” riot or release valve for a distressed community and differentiating that with what appears to be bored kids trying to get away with playing the role of malcontent anarchists.

It seems as though Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms of Atlanta has had enough of kids “playing” the part of civil justice soldiers and participating in this summer’s riots as though they were attending a music festival.
(Please watched the hyperlinked video if you haven’t already. That video is unable to be embedded).

Here’s another intelligent woman in Harlem fed up with rioters who seem to suffer more from FOMO than grief, anger, or rage with societal injustice (explicit language).

One of the more appropriate things I’ve seen shared on social media was an updated repost of Juxtapoz’s write up on Arthur Jafa’s short film entitled Love Is The Message, The Message Is Death.

I remember when this originally came out in 2017. It was powerful then; it’s powerful now. The film moves through seven-plus minutes of representations of Black America and pairs it with the Kanye West gospel track, “Ultralight Beam”.
One can’t help but feel those images. Juxtapoz accurately labels the piece as “bodies in various states of elation and despair.” Accurate.
Being swung in and around this time machine through Black America is nothing if not emotional.

Clearly, we have an enormous problem. Even if you’re a staunch conservative, here’s George W. Bush’s statement admitting as much.
Now comes the hard part, what to do about it?
That will be a more difficult post to write, but it’s forthcoming.

Election Season is Almost Over – Part II

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

My brother posted the best argument about this election (and our government) that I’ve heard so far this season:

Both candidates are guaranteed to expand the powers of the executive branch, as most presidents have done since Washington. With every power grab, they decrease the power of the house and senate, and consequently reduce your voice in how you are governed.

So now we are forced to choose between the candidate that has a track record for sprinting toward expanding executive power (Obama), and the one that ham-handedly compromises his way there (Romney). I’m not saying that the USA will be a dictatorship in the next five, ten, or twenty years, but you can rest assured that both of these candidates and their successors will work to decrease your political, social, or economic freedoms in some way or another. They will do this in the name of “protecting and serving” you, the underprivileged, the elderly, the children, small business, big business, the economy, etc. Throughout history, all forms of government eventually break down into some form of tyranny, using every crisis as an excuse to increase the number of their citizens’ rights they can breach with impunity.

The best analogy I can come up with is that we (the citizens of the USA) are married to an addict (our power-craving, two-party system). It should be stupid for us to react with any amount of shock or disbelief when our government wants to limit our freedoms, take more of our money, or force us to act against our own best interests. Like an addict, they will promise us change, but continue on their own course, until that course ultimately destroys them and everyone tied to them.

I’ll probably chicken out and vote for Romney, hoping against hope that the USA won’t arrive at its inevitable destination of overwhelmingly oppressive executive powers in my lifetime. But the disciplined, courageous, and moral choice given our current political situation seems to be to vote for Obama and other politicians like him and give in to all their wishes, giving the addict what he craves most so that he is forced to destroy himself under the weight of his own addiction so that this evil can be dealt with sooner in my lifetime rather than later in my children’s.

Though it reads like the words of an alarmist, it’s far better than any of the other junk that has been, and will be, plastered all over our social media and news sites for the next two weeks.

My thoughts aren’t congruent with those above, but it is refreshing to hear a voice that sounds human, concerned, and without any blatant disdain or snarky insults hurled towards one side or the other. Even more refreshing, is that without any cute photoshopped memes packed with the stomach-turning snark and vision-narrowing disdain, I’m compelled to think and thoughtfully weigh these ideas instead of irritatingly dismiss them.

Thanks Jon.


Also, earlier today I stumbled onto the P.E. Hewitt Jazz Ensemble and haven’t stopped listening to them. My initial thoughts were how the rhythm section sounds much more like rock than jazz.


A strong review found here, had this to say:

The overall effect — helped along by buoyant, dreamy vocals from soprano Sonia Valldeparas and alto Nina Scheller, in addition to drummer Rick Hearns’s energetic, sometimes rock-like propulsion — feels like the flowering of a new style of cosmic/ ethno/ jazz /pop, one not heard before or since.

 All in all, new tunes, a worthwhile thought about politics, and an evening without having to watch the Cardinals lose to the Giants.

Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot…

Friday, December 30th, 2011

Those are about the only words I know from the New Year’s anthem, Auld Lang Syne.  Here are some other songs that emphasize the importance of a new year.

Medley from Akron/Family that I’ve celebrated the new year with for consecutive years now:

Listen to first part here- Sun Will Shine (Warmth of the Sunship Version). 2nd part below.

[audio:|titles=11 Last Year]

Their website is great. Check it out: akron/family. More to come on those guys later.

A New Year’s track from The Walkmen that I enjoy:

[audio:|titles=04 In The New Year]

And the closing track from the latest Tom Waits album Bad As Me-


Closing things out with the classic anthem is Jimi-

[audio:|titles=01 Auld Lang Syne]

Thanks for reading, have a great New Year.


Developmental Days

Sunday, December 18th, 2011

In Greg Kot’s Wilco: Learning How to Die, he articulates what so many people can’t seem to do in regards to “alt-country.”

To a new generation of listeners, Uncle Tupelo (Jeff Tweedy’s first major band) may as well have been pioneers; their blend of folk, country, mountain soul, punk, and Crazy Horse-style classic rock had little to do with the arena-ready alternative rock of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Stone Temple Pilots– Rather than dimming their appeal, however, the sense that Tupelo had emerged from a deep American tradition only enhanced their status as “serious” artists within a core group of committed fans, writers, and record labels.

Farrar and Tweedy were among the latest wave of rock ‘n’ roll kids inspired by hard-core country’s enduring virtues: a stripped-down instrumental attack, devastatingly direct lyricism, whiskey-and-cigarette-fueled emotion– Compared with the music coming out of 1990s Nashville in the guise of suburban cowboys and cowgirls such as Garth Brooks and Shania Twain who mimicked the mainstream rock and pop of the 1970s, the bands and record labels lumped into the alt-country bin sounded like the second coming of Hank Sr. and White Lightning-era George Jones.

Tupelo was far from radio-format country or rock.

These “hardcore country virtues” of “devastatingly direct lyricism” and “whiskey-and-cigarette-fueled emotion” resonate in the music I listen to today. Most notably Clay Nightingale, The Tumbleweeds, Micah P Hinson, as well as Okkervil River’s debut album Don’t Fall In Love With Everyone You See.

Though much of what I listen to shares elements with the above description, my introduction to this sound was in a reverse chronology because I  started with Wilco’s “progressive/modern” albums  Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and  A  Ghost is Born  in the fall of 2004. Following the gradual takeover those albums did to me, I backtracked through their discography and eventually landed on Uncle Tupelo’s work.

If you have been keeping Tupelo at bay (like I know some have), I’ve picked out some stand out tracks that might pull you into their work.

No Depression  (1990)
One of the many songs about loss, isolation, and reliance on a bottle-  Flatness

[audio:|titles=Uncle Tupelo_No Depression_10_Flatness]

Whiskey Bottle  lyrics.
[audio:|titles=04 Whiskey Bottle]

This trouble Farrar describes as “seeing one too many dollar sign smiles” and “people chasing money and money getting away” makes you understand why he’d prefer a bottle and his guitar.

Still Feel Gone  (1991)
Again, the reiteration of how cheap other people can make life feel-  Nothing

[audio:|titles=Uncle Tupelo_Still Feel Gone_04_Nothing]

Still Be Around  lyrics.

[audio:|titles=09 Still Be Around]

After hearing tracks like Still Be Around  and Whiskey Bottle, it’s easy to see how the critics from the early 1990s believed that Farrar was the richer, deeper songwriter. But the first murmurings of Tweedy’s talent even coming close to Farrar surfaced after much praise from the single Gun.

[audio:|titles=08 Gun]

March 16-20, 1992  (1992)
March  provided covers of old traditionals like the Tweedy’s take on I Wish My Baby Was Born-

[audio:|titles=Uncle Tupelo_March 16-20_ 1992_09_I Wish My Baby Was Born]

and Farrar’s rendition of  Moonshiner (below) as well as originals.

[audio:|titles=14 Moonshiner]

When the rock labels were hoping that Uncle Tupelo would keep following the evolution of tracks like Gun and hopefully produce something that could contend on the alternative radio markets alongside Nirvana and Pearl Jam, Uncle Tupelo decided to, as manager Tony Margherita was quoted as saying in Kot’s book, say a “big ‘fuck you’ to the rock scene, and we knew it would cost us.” And Farrar went on to say “This should insulate us from that industry bullshit, people looking for the next Nirvana.”

I particularly like these quotes (and the decision to make March) because how many times have you discussed whether or not an artist owns  their music and controls  their artistic direction and such? To a small degree, Tweedy has made some minor concessions to labels/industry, but Farrar on the other hand has NEVER wavered. This album is a great example of talented, yet broke, artists disregarding industry trends and maintaining a steadfast commitment to making honest, truthful work.

A few originals from March:  Tweedy’s Black Eye

[audio:|titles=13 Black Eye]

and Farrar’s political Criminalslyrics.

[audio:|titles=Uncle Tupelo_March 16-20_ 1992_04_Criminals]

March  was followed up by Tweedy and Farrar’s final collaboration and is considered to be their most complete album, Anodyne (1993).  The album features the differing perspectives and foreshadows what is to come.
Farrar’s Slatelyrics.

[audio:|titles=Uncle Tupelo_Anodyne_01_Slate]

and Tweedy’s call for togetherness in The  Long Cut.

[audio:|titles=18 The Long Cut]

Farrar’s attitude continues with the title track as well as Fifteen Keys lyrics.
Anodyne  lyrics.
[audio:|titles=Uncle Tupelo_Anodyne_09_Fifteen Keys]

While Tweedy attempts to poke humor at the once serious tones of condemnation in We’ve Been Had.
[audio:|titles=Uncle Tupelo_Anodyne_08_We’ve Been Had]

After a childhood together and over 8 years playing music in tandem, Farrar stated he could no longer work with Tweedy. When Margherita tried to talk Farrar down about breaking up citing artistic potential and commercial success, Kot writes:

For Farrar none of that mattered. “Commercial success wasn’t the reason that we started the band,” he says, “so that wasn’t any reason to keep it going forward. That’s the wrong reason to start a band, and the wrong reason to continue a band. It had run its course.”

So they broke up with Farrar creating Son Volt and Tweedy rounding the remainding Tupelo members and forging ahead with Wilco.

Also  Wilco: Learning How to Die  includes over 50 pages hating on the entertainment industry featuring text such as “Corporate consolidation had narrowed the pipeline to radio to the point where any hint of individuality had all but been expunged from the airwaves” as well as-

A band’s worth was determined no longer by its artistic reach, its potential to create music of lasting significance, but how rapidly it could find a huge audience. It didn’t matter whether that audience was seduced by a designer fashion line, an acting role in a Hollywood movie, a tie-in with a video game, or, perchance, a compact disc as long as the corporate shareholders got their quarterly dose of good news.

I’ll finish this post with Tupelo covering The Soft Boys’ I Wanna Destroy You.

[audio:|titles=Uncle Tupelo_Still Feel Gone_15_I Wanna Destroy You]

It was interesting to have Yankee Hotel Foxtrot  and A Ghost Is Born  be  my first experiences of Tweedy’s songwriting only to become more familiar with  earlier Wilco albums like Being There  and eventually coming to know Tweedy’s foundation with Uncle Tupelo. It’s not an uncommon feeling to wish you could have seen the beginnings of a great band/artist, which is why it is important to stay connected and support the artists you enjoy, especially  when they are still “small-time.”

Next we’ll look at the evolution of Tweedy as well as others who may have followed in similar steps.

Three Quick Tracks

Monday, November 7th, 2011

To follow the DFW excerpts, I thought I’d post three quick tracks I’d been meaning to put out for awhile now.

This first track is from the “hardcore Latin funk” band Brownout.


Based out of Austin, I wish I’d been able to hear them live before I skipped town.

Though the video is nothing special (not a Scarface fan), the song serves as one of Dylan Jones’s favorite pre-gaming traditions and you should try throwing it on while working up the energy to get your weekend started. I’m pretty sure it’ll succeed.

Next is a Madlib produced, M.E.D. mic’d song about African-American and Latino people working toward unity.


Easily one of my favorite hip-hop videos I’ve seen in years.

And closing out the trio is a hard-to-find track from native-Texan turned Anglophile (lives, records, and performs mostly in England)  Micah P Hinson.


Though I was unable to find a worthwhile video (sorry), the song should be interesting enough.  The creative use and layering of strings, distortion, multiple percussionists, etc. is where I’d like more musicians focusing their attention.

Micah P Hinson’s music had previously been much more naked than this track. His newer, larger sound in this case is a success. I can’t wait to hear more from him.

More DFW coming soon.

Two-year Das Racist Recap

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

It can be difficult to talk hip-hop because so much of it tip-toes the half-step freefall into garbage.

Das Racist  utilizes their strengths of cultural references and humorous slackerdom. Paired with unique music and refreshing, non-sterile rhymes, Das Racist has proven to be a contemporary leader.

Most internet literate folks have heard Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.  But 2010 provided the releases Shut Up, Dude (March)  and Sit Down, Man (Sept).  And “Ek Shaneesh” (from Shut Up, Dude)  illustrates perfectly who these guys are.


“I am a pick-up truck. I am America. I am America. I am a pick-up truck.”

Honest, observant and bluntly hilarious, these guys are what contemporary hip-hop should be. After generations of recycled braggadocio, Das Racist brings a fresh, observant, careless air to a music that was formerly self-centered and boring.

One of my favorites from Sit Down, Man.


And if you’d like to put their pop-culture knowledge to the test, enjoy “Shorty Said”


With all this rollover hype from 2010, I was skeptical of their September 13, 2011 release, Relax.

And though the album is not “break doors down” great, it’s pretty damn good. Here are my two favorite tracks:


“You probably think this song is about you, you vain.” Who raps about Carly Simon? These guys do.

Though “Power” has a guest rapper who throws out the obligatory language about genitalia and such, the other 90% of the song hits perfectly.

And “The Trick” settles things down with an anthem of satisfaction-

[audio:|titles=Das Racist_Relax_13_The Trick]

these things happen…

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

A year ago, I was living in a shoddy East Austin apartment stilted above a garage with two exceptional people. From October 2010 till I shipped out earlier this year in May, we had a good stretch. Shit jobs, late nights, frozen pipes, putting bets on the house and drinks on the arm… pretty much doing everything we possibly could to distract ourselves from what loomed ahead.

During this time my roommates, Jon and Dylan, found time to record the album Trout. To open this magnificent record, Jon asked me to read some lines from Charles Bukowski’s “The Laughing Heart” (three lines were kept).

Since the album is a collection of folks purposely focused on goofing around, Jon thought it’d be humorous to give the opening some tongue-in-cheek weight. Poetry was decided the best way to go about it.

[audio:|titles=01 Brown Trout (1)]
Here’s Tom Waits providing us with his complete (and much better) reading:


“That’s a beauty you know?”

Sometimes an album/artist will have a similar tone or feel as a novel/author. For instance, years ago while reading Hubert Selby Jr. (Last Exit to Brooklyn,  Requiem for a Dream)  and listening to as much Lou Reed as I could, the two became partnered. Velvet Underground will always be my soundtrack to Selby’s literature.

And there are times when Waits’s sound feels like the musical brother of Bukowski’s print.

So you can imagine what kind of topsy-turvy world I awoke to the morning this ad began running on Hulu.


These things are foreseeable but disappointing nonetheless. Bukowski probably didn’t wear denim a single day of his adult life.

Also, oddly featured in the ad was a  table boat.

Believable Women

Saturday, October 1st, 2011

When dealing with matters of love, family, intimacy and the like, I can’t take many male singer-songwriters seriously. Most of the time, I simply don’t believe them. In regards to some muzak that I’ve been unfortunately unable to escape, do I really believe that all they, the male singer-songwriters, want in life is to share banana pancakes with their wife in the morning?

And lines like “Times Square can’t shine as bright as you” make me believe the author should focus on writing Hallmark cards instead of music.  Also, what kind of person lovingly compares their partner to Times Square? There’s a fraudulence about these songs that end up cheapening real intimate moments.

The weight of the responsibility for such cheap moments doesn’t lie solely on the muzak, but it isn’t improving anything either.  No matter.

What does matter is honesty. Honest work includes imperfections in the artists themselves, their relationships and the world at large. Ignoring this unignorable part of life shouldn’t be tolerated.

Yet, I hear many people give these males with guitars passes for being “more intelligent” than your other (read: female) pop-stars because they might be more hands on with their music or… god knows what else.

Getting away from the prevalent and negative, here are some women whose words are forthright and emotions aren’t suspect.

Alynda lee Sygarra

of Hurray for the Riff Raff

Too Much of a Good Thing

HftRR are based out of New Orleans and I was fortunate enough to see them three times in the short time I lived in Austin. Though she’s small in stature and her voice soft, when Alynda is on stage, the audience silences themselves paying her their undivided attention. Her demeanor doesn’t demand that at all, the audience is just that responsive. That intrigued by her. The rooms are anxious to listen.

The next track appropriates a few of my favorite Daniel Johnston lines.
Is That You?

[audio:|titles=Is That You?]

A song that I haven’t stopped singing for over a year now-
Slow Walk

[audio:|titles=Hurray for the Riff Raff_Young Blood Blues_02_Slow Walk]

A favorite among my friends-

[audio:|titles=Hurray for the Riff Raff_It Don’t Mean I Don’t Love You_02_Daniella]

Nina Nastasia


In mid 2004, I was given an mp3 CD with albums I had missed from Animal Collective, Wilco, TV on the Radio and Nina Nastasia. Being the most scaled down and bare-boned music on that disc, she interested me immediately.

Her voice gives an indication that she’s too familiar with Life. How it can be drudging, frustrating, doleful and all around sad. Yet she provides hope for those searching, finding that place and/or person that can temporarily cure you of the enormous, incurable world issues that continually lurk overhead and homogeneous people that prod you day-to-day.

Though she was mic’d the time I saw her, she didn’t need it. Casually backing away she projected a volume that gripped ribs and suspended breath. With the drummer not present, she simply strummed two chords and told this moving story icing me with “It’s your life to make a wreck.”
Late Night

[audio:|titles=08 Late Night]

It’s hard not to say “playful” about this next song.
It’s a Dog’s Life

[audio:|titles=05 A dog’s life]

I know this isn’t the Muzak that you’d hear walking into retail store or while reluctantly sitting in a Chili’s pounding ridiculous amounts of chips and salsa to take your mind off of being in a Chili’s, but how do you respond to someone whose favorite music is muzak?  On a lighter note.
Judy’s in the Sandbox

[audio:|titles=03 Judy’s in the sandbox]

“A dance we weave beneath our skin
I keep you in me where the breath had been”
Counting Up Your Bones

[audio:|titles=04 Counting Up Your Bones]

Jolie Holland

Jolie Holland is lovely. She’s only the second person I’ve ever described as such. For instance:
The Littlest Birds Sing the Prettiest Songs

[audio:|titles=09 The Littlest Birds]

She’ll say a little–
Do You? and Damn Shame

[audio:|titles=08 do you_]

[audio:|titles=10 damn shame]

And she’ll say a lot,

Mexican Blue

But you’ll believe her either way.

Emiliana Torrini

Holding this unique fatalistic, yet cute, personality Emiliana Torrini provides a different tone. She’s sharp, dark, and attractive.
Thinking Out Loud

[audio:|titles=01 thinking out loud (track 11)]

If there was a different approach used in the production, this song could’ve crept its way into the top 40. I’m not at all unhappy about how it turned out though.

[audio:|titles=21 heart stopper]


The women of Broken Social Scene were so important that I have to include at least one of their solo tracks. Here’s my favorite from Emily Haines.
Our Hell

[audio:|titles=01 Our Hell]

And because I’ve ALWAYS dug Keely Smith’s voice.
The Lip

[audio:|titles=06 The Lip]

And because I love funk, here is my favorite female funk track-
Carrie Riley & The Fascinations
Super Cool

[audio:|titles=04 Super Cool]

Women can tell stories that men cannot. Their perspective on relationships, life… anything is rarely presented in a manner that doesn’t come off like a cover-girl-pop harlot. And when a woman like Nora Jones, Feist, Regina Spektor, Alicia Keys, or anyone who isn’t garbage-pop does surface, her work is contorted to fit the tastes of 12-year-olds in an attempt to compete commercially. (See Liz Phair or compare  all of the above’s pre-breakthrough to post-breakthrough albums to verify.)

The industry does make it slightly harder to find adult women who make music for other adults. But we’ve got to keep looking, hope this helps.



Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

In the past few years, the philly music-scene has been producing innovative music by really cool people. Dr. Dog, Man Man, and The Extraordinaires all have a sound that counters the disco-pop-rock sound that is “in” these days, and we all should benefit from their work.

In the summer of ’06, my St. Louisan circle of friends introduced me to Dr. Dog. I wasn’t sold at first because of the cute band name and because I was skeptical of anything that sounded too throwback and not forward-sounding enough. Example, “Oh No”

[audio:|titles=03 Oh No]

Now, this is a song that I like now, but in 2006, it sounded like the above description. But any criticism of Dr. Dog sounding as though they were reaching back to an older period ended once I heard “The Girl”  in 2007-

[audio:|titles=04 The Girl]

It’s important to note that Dr. Dog shares vocal responsibilities with the guitarist Scott McMicken (the two previous songs were McMicken’s) and bassist Toby Leaman.

Here are three Leaman tracks:

“Die, Die, Die”

[audio:|titles=10 Die Die Die]

The Pretender

“The Ark”

[audio:|titles=06 The Ark]

Earlier this year they released  Shame, Shame. Next up…

Man Man was thrown into our consciousness by some girl JoMunto (one of my St. Louis pals) had a class with. Apparently, she approached Munto and told him that he looks like Honus Honus (which he does), the frontman of Man Man. As these things go, Munto did a little research and found he liked these crazy-ass men-children.

To date, they’ve provided the best  Take-Away Show:,4324

“Gold Teeth” utilizes a technique that hits a nerve with me. It’s when the melody is slowed down, but the percussion/rhythm is amped up. This begins to take place at 4:05 minutes into the song and finishes it out.

Gold Teeth

Another example of this device is used on Wilco’s “Via Chicago.”

“Spider Cider” shows off their rambunctiousness that is contagiousness when watching them live.

[audio:|titles=09 Spider Cider]

“Van Helsing Boombox” is one of those radio-friendly tracks that you’re happy never made it to the radio.

[audio:|titles=10 Van Helsing Boom Box]

“Ice Dogs” incorporates some tempo and melody changes that do not happen enough in today’s popular music where the danceability of a song determines the quality of a song.

[audio:|titles=13 Ice Dogs]

And on to the band that you may not have heard of, THE EXTRAORDINAIRES.

Any praise that I can muster up for any one band will be lauded onto these guys. If I could be any band’s next door neighbor (and it actually be a possibility), it’d be these guys. Young, involved in all things philycoool, they hand-make books that are partnered with their albums…  simply put, they’re cooler than anyone I know. Led by the Purdy brothers, these guys are smart, entertaining, goofy as hell, and they have this careless aire that is also shared by Man Man. Both bands legitimately seem like they don’t give a shit about the music industry. All the bands that come out of LA (and most from Brooklyn) always seem to be trying to “out fashion” one another, but these Philly bands don’t care about any of that. They’re not trying to piggy-back any emerging style that is making its way to ipod or hybrid car commercials and they continue making music that really doesn’t pigeon-hole them.

This track became my drinking buddies’ anthem, “The Warehouse Song”

[audio:|titles=12 The Warehouse Song]

These songs are straightforward, but good nonetheless. “Neighborhood Watch”

[audio:|titles=01 Neighborhood Watch]

A dark-humored children’s story. “Hi-Five the Cactus”

[audio:|titles=16 Hi-Five the Cactus]

And a song about a relationship from an insecure male’s perspective, “Seeds of Jealousy”

[audio:|titles=06 Seeds of Jealousy]

The Extraordinaires have a new album out, and unfortunately, I’ve yet to purchase it. In the next week or so, I will have it.

Those three bands provide huge reasons why I’d like to live in Philadelphia, PA. Maybe it’ll happen, maybe it won’t, but if any of these bands come through your city, you should go see them. Enjoy the philly roof-tops-

Tupac’s Conflicted

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

As a mid-90s kid consumed by entertainment and media, Tupac Shakur was inescapable. I saw his movies, ceased my channel surfing when crossing his music videos, and owned a few of his albums. All Eyez On Me went 9x Platinum and most of my 7th grade peers knew a line or two from it. Plus, I’d bet “California Love” is still played at high-school dances or any gathering that includes a lame DJ.


You know the headlines– the ridiculous east/west conflict, the charade with Notorious BIG, Suge Knight, etc. My favorite part of his legacy is the attacks levied by politicians who wanted to appear as though they were doing something while actually doing nothing. Tupac, Ice-T and a few others were key figures in the crusade against violence infused lyrics, especially imagery that included violence against cops within pop-music (mainly metal and rap). But, as Spike Lee points out, James Cameron can make a film where Mr. Universe rolls through a police station killing over a dozen police officers and no politician will have an issue with it. However, if a rapper happens to talk about killing a uniformed man, there’ll be hell to pay (i.e.the creation of silly parental advisory labels).

After digesting much of the respectable hip-hop and some of the commercial rap that has been in the air since Tupac’s murder, his views about women still stand out to me. I’ve never heard a more specific and telling portrait of someone’s mother than Tupac’s “Dear Mama.”


And a terribly dated “Brenda’s Got a Baby” took melodrama and social awareness to heights that have yet to be surpassed. This track makes you believe that Tupac could have held as much compassion as a Women’s Studies professor.


Hopefully that frustratingly long outro will never be surpassed either.

Later in his career, he tosses aside the sympathy and compassion to provide us with a justification for his industry’s objectification of an entire gender “Wonda Why They Call U Bitch.”


The person who Tupac references at the end of the song, C. Delores Tucker, led a remarkable life. She was a committed humanitarian which made her a huge opponent of gangsta rap for obvious reasons (promotion of violence and reckless sex, etc). Unfortunately, she tried to go after rap music the same way Tipper Gore did metal and Dan Quayle did rap. They all should’ve realized, no matter how much you hate it, you can’t defeat commercial success.

So, there it is. When Public Enemy is topping the charts with Fight the Power, Tupac throws on his “social injustice” hat. Later when “Thug Life” was the yellow-brick road, he was the Wiz. Tupac’s conflicted.