Thursday, December 28, 2006


2006 was a year in which I went full-bore on my music blog AGONY SHORTHAND until September, and then totally petered out, "retiring" for all of one month before starting Detailed Twang up a few months ago. The last couple of years I've made year-end lists of my favorite musical discoveries of the annum - check out 2005's and then check out 2004's if you're interested - and I figured I'd end 2006 by doing the same, this time with film included (I wish I could add books but I had time to maybe read about 5 or 6 all year. How about beers?). Where possible, I've included a link to something I might have originally written about the item in question. Enjoy, and see you in 2007.

MUSIC - TOP 20 OF 2006 (includes reissues)

1. WOODEN SHJIPS : “Shrinking Moon For You” 10”EP (pictured above)
2. WOODEN SHJIPS : “Dance, California / Clouds Over Earthquake” 45
3. NOTHING PEOPLE : “Problems” 7”EP
4. SIBYLLE BAIER : “Colour Green” CD
5. DELTA 5 : "Singles and Sessions 1979-81" CD
7. CHEVEU : “Dog / Make My Day” 45
8. PISSED JEANS : “Don’t Need To Smoke To Make Myself Disappear/Love Clown” 45
10. SKYGREEN LEOPARDS : “Disciples of California” CD
11. CLOROX GIRLS : "Novacaine" 7"EP
12. "MESSTHETICS #101 – 1977-81 DIY FROM LONDON" compilation CD
13. ANGRY ANGLES : “Apparent/Transparent” 7”EP
14. TIME FLYS : “Reality Is A Rock Band” 7”EP
15. BULLWACKIES’ ALL-STARS : “Dub Unlimited” CD
17. CHEVEU : “Clara Venus / Superhero” 45
18. "TETE DE BEBE" compilation LP
19. FRUSTRATION : “Wait” 7”EP
20. THE TOUCH-ME-NOTS : “Hey, Television” 7”EP

FILMS - TOP 10 OF 2006

Wednesday, December 27, 2006


IKE TURNER was one of those guitarists that you just knew who it was when he fired it up & let go – that high-pitched, upper-register, “biiiiiing” that he played on nearly every song was his signature, and it made for some pretty wild-ass early rock & roll as well. This collection of his various bands’ instrumentals from the 50s and 60s is chock-full of his patented whammy bar action, all overlaid on superb R&B-flavored rave-ups that are among the hallmarks of instrumental rock and roll. Most of the 1954-65 work is done with his band THE KINGS OF RHYTHM, with a few tracks originally credited to “ICKY RENRUT”, which got past me the first time I saw a song under that nom de plume on a comp, but duh, Renrut is Turner spelled backwards. They tackle some country, some barrelhouse-flavored jump blues, but mostly it’s packed with soulful, vivacious R&B that would fit in well at pretty much any party you chose to spin it at. The only bum note on the whole thing is the instrumental version of “It’s Gonna Work Out Fine”, the great IKE & TINA hit, because it actually substitutes a saxophone to replace Tina’s spoken call-and-response vocals, and it sounds flat-out ridiculous whether you’ve heard the original or not. But it’s a totally inspired package from ACE RECORDS otherwise, and one you might want to think about adding to your hipshakers collection if you haven’t already.

Friday, December 22, 2006


I have a long personal history with being immersed the world of American professional sports, a history not always congruent with my other passion for underground music. There was a point in my life where I forced myself to choose: sports dork or music dork? I chose the latter, and for most of the late 80s and almost all of the 90s I barely paid attention to even my local teams and certainly never read the sports page. This followed a period of off-the-charts baseball obsession from about 1977 on, as well as being a San Francisco 49ers season ticket holder during “the glory days” of Montana/Clark/Rice/Young etc. Until about 1999 or so, I hadn’t felt the call of the armchair athletic in many years – that is, until I re-discovered hockey and the NHL. I say re-discovered because like many patriotic ‘Mericans, I got deep into the NHL following the 1980 Olympics “Miracle on Ice”, in which we vanquished the Ruskies and created at least two awful subsequent filmed melodramas that I know of, but I lost that again after a couple of years for baseball and football fever.

But about 7 years ago, I found that hockey, especially on the West Coast, is sort of an insider’s club, one with the same sort of chip of its shoulder that underground/garage/outsider rock has. Naturally that sense of insecure superiority worked for me, as oxymoronic as that sounds. Hockey fans out here, myself included, perpetually carp on how poorly our sport is covered, how it has a total East Coast/Canadian bias when it is covered, and how everyone thinks it’s just a bunch of toothless skating goons bashing into each other, when it’s in actuality the most graceful and exciting sport known to man, one with almost total action and more dramatic highs & lows than anything else. I think that sense of insecurity helps to deepen fans’ allegiance to the sport, and I’ve found the parallels with the way me & my pals approach music strikingly familiar. In fact, the number of underground music freaks who’d cite hockey as their favorite sport is likely far higher per capita than if a similar survey were done with non-freaks. It’s true, just trust me on this anecdotal fact.

I don’t have time or enough interest to follow any more than 2 sports faithfully, because I believe that if you’re going to “follow” a sport, you need to go deep. Therefore I’m all over the NHL and Major League Baseball, but I bet I couldn’t name any more than 6 or 7 active NFL players right now. I picked a good time to get into the NHL and my hometown team, the San Jose Sharks, because they’re just about the hottest thing going in the sport – ESPN says so! In my six years of Sharks/NHL freakdom (six because there was that one year they went on strike, the one year I paid some attention to my family), they’ve missed the playoffs just once and are arguably the team with the biggest “upside” for the next 5 years or so in the whole of the game. I should probably give a shout-out to my friend Danny P, who is singularly responsible in coaching me from mild, slow-burning fandom into full-blown maniacal fandom. Back in the eighties if I’d expressed this sort of enthusiasm for a sport to a hottie punk chick or some dude in a band I’d run the risk of being called a JOCK, god forbid – but now I’m a boring dad, and I don’t care! Come with me. Come with me into the light, and watch an NHL game on TV this week. Come be a sports dork with me.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


It was 1985. I was 17. I was given a dorm room at UC-Santa Barbara and a new roommate from deep in the Inland Empire, Canyon Country to be exact. This guy proved to be quite a piece of work. When he learned that there was - gasp- a gay guy amongst us on the dorm floor, he took it upon himself to write a charming note that said "No fags use this stall, I don't want AIDS", and taped it in the communal bathroom. He and his pal would pour several bottles of liquid paper into a bag on a Friday night, and then violently huff it until they drooped over, while the rest of us sat in shocked silence while nursing our Meister Brau cans. Ah yes, to be young again. This particular nihilist also turned me onto one of my favorite records ever, the DREAM SYNDICATE's "The Days of Wine and Roses", which had come out a few years before but which I'd only read about and seen in stores (it somehow seemed to miss the orbit of my teenage college radio station, which was probably a little too stuck on English post-punk to notice the dozens of incredible American bands making noise at the time). I think I can forgive just about anything he ever did - including the time he wouldn't let me walk within 5 feet of "his side" of the room because I had a cold, or when he would open our door by putting his hand under his shirt to protect himself from germs - because he gave me the gift of knowing about this singular masterpiece.

I think it's probably fair to say that I've spun this record more than any single disc outside of the FLESH EATERS' "A Minute To Pray, A Second To Die". From the thumping single snare intro to “Tell Me When It’s Over” to the abrupt static-sharp end to the feedback swirl of the title track, “The Days of Wine and Roses” is rootsy American indie rock’s shining moment of the 80s. The album traffics heavily in multiple VELVET UNDERGROUND-isms, from choppy guitar to targeted feedback whine to complete & utter lyric lifts like the opening to “When You Smile”. Back in the early/mid 80s you’d hear a lot of talk about how the nascent indie bands of the day, particularly many the ones from LA, were heavily influenced by 60s acts like The Byrds, the Stones and some of the harder psych bands, and actually this sound was often dubbed “college rock” due to its frequent play on American college radio. But I always figured that tag was applied to safer, more genteel acts like R.E.M. or THE THREE O’CLOCK, and a band like the Dream Syndicate, with a real hard edge and squalling sound, only got that tag because their key influences were so obviously 60s-based as well. Anyway, this album busted the band into the hearts of many, and it wasn’t long before you found rock-n-rollers the world over pining for guitar god Karl Precoda or for winsome bass player Kendra Smith (who unfortunately left the band after this record). Europeans in particular ate it up, as they so often do, sometimes years before Americans rightly figure it out.

I was playing the expanded CD of this recently and I had a few thoughts. First, that opening single snare on the all-time classic “Tell Me When It’s Over”, the one that precedes the shredding psych guitar line that defines the song? Which is all of one second long? It’s TOTALLY MUTED on the CD. It’s lame! On the LP it was loud, hard, and in your face – here it’s almost gone. What a bummer way to start the listening party, but at least it's only a second. Other than that, though, the CD sounds just like the record, which is to say pretty goddamn great. They were kind enough to tack on most of the band’s debut 12”EP on their own “Down There” Records (the “green EP”), as well as some revealing rehearsal takes + the lost 45 from Steve Wynn’s early solo act 15 MINUTES. Like for instance, the song “That’s What You Always Say”, easily one of this amazing album’s top songs, gets 4 different versions going back in time to that weirdo, drum-machine-driven 15 Minutes single, and every time it was recorded it just got better, and it’s great to hear it taking shape in reverse order. The LP version, of course, was by far the best. Those EP tracks actually sound really stark and demo-ish in comparison to the LP, and while that's often a compliment, this time it's not. If they'd broken up after that first EP they'd be thought of as just another pretty good paisley/roots/garage act of the day, like NAKED PREY or solo RUSS TOLMAN, but "Wine and Roses" is just full-tilt overdrive on everything that made them so wonderful. I anticipate it being among my Top 10 favorite albums until the day I die, and I hope you get a chance to appreciate it as much as I do if you don't already.

Monday, December 18, 2006


For those of us who felt in 2003 that the US/UK invasion of Iraq was - on balance - the right thing to do, 2006 has been a particularly humbling year. I had the utmost in confidence at the time that the militaries involved had it in them to bring that country out of the religious stone ages and into a secular-ish quasi-democracy, albeit one that would probably have to install or would beg for a strongman leader sooner or later. I overestimated the ability of our military to fight a true 21st century war - through no fault of the men & women on the ground - and severely underestimated how strongly the religious hatreds underneath the hand of Saddam were boiling, and just how violently evil the Shi'ites and Sunnis could be to each other when the kettle top was lifted. It sucks to be wrong, you know what I mean?

This war's led me to question my mislayed confidence in this particular branch of the government being able to run itself like a smart, streamlined, flexible organization, when I've never believed in the innate ability of any of the other branches of government to do so. It's led me also to harden my resolve against the nihilistic violence and fanatical zealotry of modern-day radical Islam, and to remember to never make common cause with its apologists, no matter how badly this war muddies the waters for what is essentially an assault on civilization itself. I honestly have no idea on how to stop 50-100 sectarian kidnappings, murders and drill-to-skull tortures every day. More troops, less troops, no troops, tough talk or appeasement - it all sounds bad, and the fundamental issues that we're fighting for don't resolve themselves in any case.

I continue to believe that we undertook this war with the best of intentions, but the United States and United Kingdom suffered from hubris, from a Cold War-era military mentality, and from structural blinders that I myself also had at the time. It's a mistake I won't make again.

Friday, December 15, 2006


This is more correctly dubbed as being from OSSIE HIBBERT & THE REVOLUTIONARIES, with Ossie being the producer and crazed mixing board mad scientist. I howl alone and in utter shame at discovering this one, one of the best dub LPs of all time, just this year. I’ll put this right next to my other three big ones, the IMPACT ALL-STARS’ posthumous collection “Forward The Bass”, AUGUSTUS PABLO’s “King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown” and the amazing “SCIENTIST MEETS THE ROOTS RADICS” for lowdown, dirty echo-heavy dub greatness. This one from 1975 has a very consistent and seamless vibe throughout each track, which reflects the fact that this was conceptualized and created as a dub album, rather than a collection of B-side versions. The drums, deftly handled by the legendary Sly Dunbar, totally cook and crackle all over the corridors of perception, thanks to Hibbert’s forward-thinking sense of production space. Like, it’s not a radical dub record by any means, it’s just a great set of original rocksteady rhythms that have been repurposed and torn inside-out for spacey, slow-groove appeal. The CD also contains a plethora of bonus tracks, some with some cool DJs ranting over the dub in a non-obnoxious manner. It’s clear that some crazy dub was being created in the Channel One studios during this time, and the Revolutionaries were pretty much the house band. (Another excellent collection of versions from this era, many featuring the band in a non-headlining role, is “MAXFIELD AVENUE BREAKDOWN – DUBS AND INSTRUMENTALS 1974-79”). Seriously, I know that there are some folks out there who may want to know how to dip a toe in the wacky world of 70s Jamaican dub; if you’re one of them, this is probably as, uh, “crucial” an album as you’re going to get, and I have no qualms about recommending this as anyone’s first dub album. I wish it had been mine.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


Just out now are the next couple of chapters in Chuck Warner’s fantastic archival series of wildly obscure British punk-influenced DIY singles and comp tracks from 1977-81, “MESSTHETICS”. Chuck and the Hyped2Death label have pretty much owned this scene from the day he first espied the linkages between strange, low-budget rock/noise/art heroes like Beyond The Implode, The Door & The Window, the Desperate Bicycles and Animals & Men, and when historians look back at when the common threads of these weirdo groups began to be catalogued, they’ll give props to Warner the same way Lenny Kaye gets credit for reviving 60s garage/punk with the first NUGGETS series. I’m still a little in the dark about exactly what this particular volume represents (I will review MESSTHETICS #102, a second volume, sometime later this month). It’s certainly only super-rare, way out of print, wacko, homemade, small-scale stuff from London and its surrounding counties, but is it mostly uncollected until now? I’m far too lazy to go look at all my MESSTHETICS CDs to find out, but I think that the grand majority of these tracks are making their first modern appearance here. Some are actually demos or are marked unreleased, most notably a muted early version of my favorite HOMOSEXUALS track, ”Touch Technique”, yet besides theirs, most tracks are from the vaguest of the vague.

At one point I made a personal comp of the best tracks from the first seven MESSTHETICS volumes, and only one here made the cut, the skeletal & bouncy template song “I Don’t Want To Work for British Airways” by the SCISSOR FITS. Right after that one on this CD is a real whopper, though, “Machine Gun” by THE RICH & FAMOUS, a relatively slick scorcher about a Norwegian female terrorist (!). It’s the best thing on here, and I’ve been playing it to death. Another winner is “Ghosts (The Subway Strummer)” by KAREL FIALKA, who seems to have had the same sort of mystical psych/pop eye that drove his countrymen THE SOFT BOYS and BEYOND THE IMPLODE to medium glory. What’s really special about this particular compilation, though, is how big & bold these formerly lo-fi masters sound. The mixing is off-the-charts fantastic, and everything, even the tinniest, low-press, no P/S, water-damaged 45 from 1979 sounds like it could have been recorded yesterday. It also contains 5 mp3s at the end that wouldn’t fit, and wasn’t I surprised to learn that I didn’t have to do cartwheels to get these extras to play in my car this morning – they just rolled right on with the others. 27 tracks, rarely a duffer among them, and yet another reason to trust the Hyped2Death empire with the contents of your wallet.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


VIRGINIA POSTREL has been one of my favorite writers and cultural commentators for many years now; she clearly and unapologetically says many of the things I’ve been thinking but can’t quite muster up the conviction or reason to say. Her latest column in the ATLANTIC MONTHLY demolishes many of the flimsy arguments against chain stores, which have always struck me as being far more about the aesthetics of the complainer than the true harm/costs that come from the stores themselves. It’s always been fun for me to watch the way a particular kind of San Franciscan reacts to a local business that all of a sudden does really well – growing, say, from one store to two to three, to opening branches in other cities, to becoming a national phenomenon. Examples include WILLIAMS-SONOMA, JAMBA JUICE and even AMOEBA MUSIC. It’s all well & good when it’s your favorite store/restaurant, but when the unwashed hoards start appreciating the same things you do, look out everyone: hypocrisy is coming. This phenomenon is not unique to chain stores, as we all know, it’s ingrained in many music freaks and even in beer snobs. Maybe it’s a human thing. Still, it’s nice to have our biases systematically unwound from time to time – good on ya, Virginia!

Monday, December 11, 2006


I remember making jokes about a decade ago, when the government started going after cigarette smokers (and their revenues) with a vengeance, that it was only a matter of time before they started going after cheeseburgers and fried chicken-eaters. Maybe some of you saw the slippery slope better than I did, because I honestly never thought that government would honestly feel that regulating fatty foods was part of their mandate. As you may have heard, New York City thinks that it is. Take a look at this recent editorial, and watch the dominoes begin to fall. Because no one knows what to put into your body better than your local government does, right?

Friday, December 08, 2006


I don’t know about you, but I’ve been scooping up as many Jamaican 60s/70s comps as money allows of late. I’ve found through my past two blogs – this one and the other one – that whenever I write about dub or ska or rocksteady my traffic numbers fall precipitously, and the only people who care to comment are Luc and Tom, both Belgians of some renown (Luc’s the guy behind BATARANG and A MILLION MILES FROM NOWHERE and has superlative taste; Tom is probably the person most responsible for getting me deep into dub vis-à-vis some great writing in his 1990s ‘zine BAZOOKA). That’s okay, we know that many of you are tainted by college-days Bob Marley bongouts going on the dorm room next to you, but I’d like to maybe offer up at least one fantastic compilation that’ll set you on the path toward the righteous and true.

It’s called “STUDIO ONE SCORCHER”, and it’s a collection of instrumentals from Coxsone Dodd and the crew recording in-house at Kingston’s Studio One, primarily in the 60s. Many of these smokers - most rooted in ska and faster rocksteady tempos, some barely leaning into early reggae (and which therefore slow down the pace considerably) – have been sampled and re-sampled over and over again to make dubs and as the backbeat for tons of Jamaican music since. While listening I had a lot of fleeting “I know this one” moments, but it was just the horn line or maybe a passage that I knew from some other 45. There’s one in particular that’s among the wildest tracks I’ve ever heard – “Shockers Rock” by Tommy McCook, Richard Ace, The Skatalites & Disco Height - wow. This has this crazy middle eastern horn line that slithers into a very fast ska rhythm, and is just one of those songs that would proceed absolute chaos on the dance floor, like doing the the hora at a drunken Jewish wedding. There are other tracks by SOUND DIMENSION, SOUL VENDORS and JACKIE MITTOO – all “backing band” legends of their time – that panic nearly as frantically. The more contemplative ones near the end of the CD are also quite good, and bring the ship in to port quite well. I know there’s a second volume of these out now, and it’s for sure on my wish list. Highly, highly recommended.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


I’ve barely written about film or movies or cinema before in my life, only a 1992 article on seventies films for an old fanzine I did + whatever you’ve seen on this here site the past month. I watch a lot of ‘em, though. I’m a parent, and often the post-8pm, a.k.a. bedtime, ritual involves popping a DVD into the drive and sinking into the couch. You know, that’s not a whole lot different than the 8pm ritual before we had a kid, come to think. In any event, I even got out of the doghouse and into the arthouse a few times the past three weeks as well – here are a few that I watched, with the added bonus of my Entertainment Weekly-style “grades”:

ART SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL – Everyone said this would be lame, and they were right. Just what happened to Terry Zwigoff, the excellent director of “Crumb” and “Ghost World”? First he gave us the weak “Bad Santa”, a movie I only remember for a fantastic t-shirt at the end of the flick that said “Shit Happens When You Party Naked”, and then this boring, disjointed, sappy/pseudo-romantic weirdo comedy. The preview, showing some of the stereotypical late-teenage art school freaks that populate the film (unfortunately as very minor characters in seconds-long skits), was definitely as much as anyone needed to see of this one. C-.

THE QUEEN – Can you image a director thinking to himself – “Hmm, let’s make a fictionalized film about the complex relationship between Queen Elizabeth and Tony Blair in the week following Princess Diana’s death” – and then delivering 90 minutes’ worth of great acting and solid entertainment? It happened, folks. Helen Mirren’s every bit as good as you’ve heard, and while this film’s nothing more than a cinematic face in the crowd overall, it’s still well worth seeing. B.

BORAT – I guess if I were cool I’d be helping to lead the Borat backlash right about now, but I’m not cool. I just like to laff. I first got acquainted with this character in 2000 while visiting some friends in the UK, who showed us a PAL-format tape of Britain’s “Ali G Show”, featuring this fake moonbat Kazakhstani reporter interviewing proper Englishmen & women. Now that he’s taken America with this totally uncouth, offensive-on-multiple-fronts film, I have to applaud, because everyone in the theater, including me, was doing the boffo belly laugh for the entire length of the film. There are so many small laughs that pile up on each other. My favorite small laugh – when Borat tries to bond about music with some tough urban black kids in an Atlanta ghetto, and asks them if they’d ever heard “Corky Bushkin” and then sings some ridiculous made-up nonsensical Kazakh song. I actually threw my head back for that one. It’s not “the greatest comedy of all time”, as some have said, but if you put it in your personal Top 50 I’d totally understand. A-.

THE PUFFY CHAIR – Part of the recent nouveau-realist vogue of “talking indies” (much like Andrew Bujalski’s excellent “Funny Ha Ha” and sub-par “Mutual Appreciation”), a style notable for non-professional, only moderately decent-looking actors & actresses; Cassavetes-style improvised dialogue, and frustrating twentysomething ennui and angst bordering on the clinical and self-destructive. This film from earlier in the year is quite a hoot, a weirdo road movie that comes across more as a tragedy than a comedy. 3 characters, a boyfriend/girlfriend team in the midst of some serious relationship issues + the guy’s granola/hippie brother, embark on an Atlantic coast trip to pick up a La-Z-Boy they bought on eBay. Chaos ensues. Feelings are hurt, then massaged, then hurt again. Very much worth a Netflix DVD rental, which is where you’ll find this. B.

FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION – I’m done with Christopher Guest movies in the theater after this moderately middling comedy, which is really a fake-umentary targeted at fogies of my parents’ generation, and plays accordingly. I didn’t think “Mighty Wind” was all that either, and this one’s less funny than that one was. C.

I AM A SEX ADDICT – This one played far more like an uproarious laugher than I expected given the subject matter, and it is as strange & offbeat – but yet still totally quick-paced and relatively linear – a comedy as you’ll find anywhere. I really dug it. It’s a first-person retelling of the director’s problems with sex addiction, starring him and a trio of women who play his ex-wives and girlfriends. It’s also quite tragic in parts – and a bit annoying that just about every woman who plays his ex-wives or prostitutes is a total knockout, including this real-life pornstar named Rebecca Lord – yet I applaud Caveh Zahedi for something so wildly confessional and funny at the same time. Rent this one - it’s a low-budget, very offbeat winner. B+.

Monday, December 04, 2006


I’d argue that this 45 from 1967 is something of a medium-sized disaster, and a black mark on the Stones’ legacy that stands out like an ugly, money-grubbing stepchild. Ostensibly the band’s first true step into “flower power” psychedelia, both sides of this single have always come off to my ears as a totally opportunistic stab at bonding (and selling records to) the burgeoning hippie generation. The subsequent album “Their Satanic Majesties Request”, while full of watery sitars and groovy sounds, is more experimental and carnival-like, and stands as a pretty solid record to this day. But I just laff when I hear this one. The tuff Rolling Stones of "Between The Buttons" earlier in the year, and especially of "Beggars' Banquet" the next year are nowhere on this put-your-hands-together-with-the-groovy-children interlude. The most cringeworthy line of all comes in "Dandelion" toward the end, with Jagger in high-pitched pied piper mode: "Little girls and boys come out to play/Bring your dandelions to blow away...". And get this - the Stones even invited John & Paul from the Beatles to sing "love, love, love" backup on the A-side too! Yuk! I guess I'd have a better Hindenburg-esque disaster story to tell here if the single had totally bombed, but it went to #8 in the UK and cracked the Top 50 in the US. Tim Ellison, with all due respect, if you're not already logged into the comments box working up a frothing defense, I'll be more than surprised.

Friday, December 01, 2006


My easy pick for documentary of the year is filmmaker Marshall Curry’s “STREET FIGHT”, a fascinating and at times infuriating story of the 2002 mayor’s race in Newark, NJ. Maybe you’ve heard mention of this one – it was nominated for an Academy award earlier in the year and got tons of frothing press at the time – and it just came out on DVD. It’s as great as I’d heard, maybe the single best doc I’ve watched since “CAPTURING THE FREIDMANS”. It’s about an upstart black politician & Newark city councilman named Cory Booker who’s running for mayor against the 16-year incumbent Sharpe James, and what happens when he actually gets close enough to the entrenched James to potentially win. It rips off any naïve veil that might have existed on the state of urban politics and elections, and just how far an incumbent can go to abuse the privilege of office to hold onto his post. One learns that an incumbent mayor in a big city can still, in the 21st century, manipulate every single government-run agency (most notably the police force) to ensure that his opponent can’t gain the upper hand, and how well that seems to sit with many people within the community – particularly those (developers, unions, civic groups) who’ve grown accustomed to patronage and handouts over the years. The film also shines a particular light what can happen in cities where two black candidates run against each other, and how, as has happened in Detroit over the years, one candidate (usually the one with the largest amount of white support) gets virulently “Uncle Tom”ed by the other.

Like the much-praised Barack Obama, Cory Booker is a well-spoken, energetic, moderate fresh face. Marshall Curry, a political junkie, says in the DVD extras that his brother told him he “had to meet this guy Booker”, so he came across the Hudson to Newark and found that the guy his brother was raving about seemed like the real deal. So he decided to make a film about Booker’s run for mayor, and ended up getting a lot more than he’d likely expected, including physical harassment and intimidation from Sharpe James’ supporters and from kingpin Sharpe James himself. James calls Booker “white” and even “Jewish” at various points in the film, and though the film tries at times to point to why James still commanded support within Newark (it wasn’t all patronage – even me, living on the west coast of the US, had read about Newark’s resurgence & sparkling new performing arts center in recent years), he’s a pretty hard sell once you get to “know” him in this film. That said, I won’t dismiss him out of hand, no matter how hard the film hues to Booker. We had a mayor in San Francisco a few years ago named Willie Brown who was also a scandal-plagued kingmaker, full of ethical holes & smoke-filled backroom promises, and who was a first-rate jerk to boot. He also got it done, and did more to improve this city in 8 years than any of his predecessors since the 1970s (I still didn’t like him much, but have to applaud many of the results). Cory Booker is/was a very seductive personality & an upstanding individual through and through, but at the end of the day, there are many ways to run a big city effectively.

In 1 hour & 20 minutes you’ve been through the wringer with these guys, and it’s a terrific ride, even if you’re not all that enraptured with politics the way dorks like me sometimes can be. And watch out for Curry – this guy can edit a film exceptionally well, and I hope he continues making docs this compelling for the foreseeable future.

Thursday, November 30, 2006


Another notch in a long and seemingly endless line of first-rate dub discoveries for my ever-widening belt. This LP-only treasure from the ROOTS RADICS, one of the 1970s' and early 80s' most smoking backing groups and instrumental warriors in their own right, is exceptional tricked-out deep dub. These 1982 recordings are each dedicated to various island movers & shakers of the day, mostly toasters or DJs from what I can gather, and were recorded at both Channel One in Kingston and at King Tubby's not far away. There is a real mystical and hazy quality to the better half of these, with distant echoes from the Jamaican studio netherworld, and eerie, disembodied voices circling the bass. Maybe the best one is track #1, "Dedication To Dean Frazer & Nambo", which I can't seem to stop listening to. I guess most of the mixwork is being done to early 80s reggae 45s/12", but it's so spacy and streched-out it could be reworks of some ethereal roots music from nearly a decade before. Terrific stuff, very worthy of a CD reissue for sure.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


A stellar example of genius existing where you least expect it, or perhaps a totem of how interconnected the world is now that a fantastic, well-informed trio such as the NOTHING PEOPLE could burst forth from the farming town of Orland, CA, miles from pretty much nowhere except their own imaginations. Hate to cop straight from the single’s liner notes, but they’re compared to both DEBRIS and THE TWINKEYS, two excellent exemplars of making do in smaller metropolitan or rural locales, and that’s just spot-on. I don’t know how old these gentlemen are but they’d have to be closing in on 50 to have such a killer & raw 1975-76 space punk sound this well-informed and –developed. Or maybe they’re in their twenties, and are what they call “naturals”- in which case this is only the opening salvo in what I hope will be a long career filled with riches for both performers and audience. “4 Miles High”, one of the four outstanding mind-erasers on this 7”, sounds lifted straight from CHROME’s “Half Machine Lip Moves”, and just sputters out & fades into nothingness like so many of that great record’s “songs”. These guys are a true heir to everything MONOSHOCK were at their best, and then some. I’d call it the best record this year not by the WOODEN SHJIPS, and I implore you to purchase it while they’re still around.

Monday, November 27, 2006


This cat GREG ASHLEY is talked about in some circles like he’s got this killer psychedelic band or something, when everyone else knows it’s just THE GRIS GRIS – so what’s the big deal, right? But that’s okay, because eight years ago when he was a tot, he & his Texas pals had a pretty ripping teenage punker band called THE STRATE COATS, very much in the ultra-energy Supercharger/Teengenerate vein so popular w/ the punks of the day. The 8 songs on this 33rpm single, which are all “unearthed” demos, maybe took some lessons from the aforementioned, but puked them back up in a most pleasing manner. Super reckless but yet still real real tight (the way you like it), and every song’s a sub-2 minute scorcher. “Swingin Strate Coat” in particular is a panicked instrumental R&B rave-up that would’ve made sense as both the show opener and the closing room-clearer. I think it’s outstanding, and a good signpost for the whole excellent EP. And get this – the cover has them taking a pretend pee-pee! And the drummer wore goofy white sunglasses – indoors! File this next to THE BRIDES and the MOTARDS and then get on the good foot.

Friday, November 24, 2006


I've been getting schooled by these TROJAN BOX SETS for well over 6 years now, ever since I bought the dub & rocksteady ones and realized what a fertile representation of the whole of Jamaican music these sets are. I mean, there are very few Jamaican artists of the 60s-early 80s who are not covered on these cheapo ($15-$20) 3xCD boxes, so you really are getting the cream of the crop in ska, roots, dub, "rude boy" etc. when you snag one of these. I wasn't sure what I was in for by the title "MOD REGGAE", but I figured it would be faster, danceable, 60s ska with some righteous porkpie soul sprinkled in as well. Thankfully I wasn't far off - I've learned enough about the genre by now that when I saw JOHN HOLT s classic "Ali Baba" and THE SKATALITES' "Lucky Seven" both on Disc One that the tune selector had his nuts on straight.

Mod reggae, if you believe the liners, is 1960s reggae that was favored by the posing mods of London not in the 60s, no, in the eighties. What??!? For the British DJs who put this together, a movement of kids who came together to dance, not make music themselves, is powerful enough to warrant its own soundtrack - much like the bizarre "Northern Soul" phenomenon. I'm glad these kids picked mostly winners, though - the 50 songs on this set include some of the rawest, monophonic 45rpm ska I've ever heard, some killer instrumentals, various LEE PERRY solo and production efforts, and the odd soul ballad or two that you can quickly skip over. There are at least 5-6 tracks on the set that have zero reggae-ish sound to them, and could very well pass as British or American soul singles of the time (these Stax/Motown clones are the least interesting items on here). All told, the box is a lot like the "SKINHEAD REGGAE" and "RUDE BOY" sets - songs that coelesce around some made-up theme and yet work exceptionally well together anyway. I say buy one, why don't ya.

Thursday, November 23, 2006


ROBERT ALTMAN’s death this week comes right at the time that I was preparing to post a big thing on his “THREE WOMEN”, one of my all-time favorite films. In fact two of my Top 10 films ever are from Altman, with the other being “NASHVILLE” – and I’d make a case for “McCABE AND MRS. MILLER” being near the top as well. His 1970s work is absolutely peerless, and I say this as someone who still has yet to see some of his more acclaimed 70s films, like “M.A.S.H.”, “CALIFORNIA SPLIT” and “IMAGES”. The ones I have seen, though – including the creepy and hilarious “A WEDDING” – are as rich & complex and ground-breaking as film can be while still being a total blast of bizarro entertainment. What Altman was able to bring out of his casts – especially Shelly Duvall & Sissy Spacek in “Three Women”, or Warren Beatty in “McCabe” – were quirky & masterful performances that are so great they continue to be studied and written about to this day. He also was the first director that I know of to make a multi-dimensional, interlocking-story film with an ensemble cast like “Nashville”, a formula he repeated quite well in the early 90s with “THE PLAYER”. This formula is now copied many times over on TV shows like "The Wire" and "Six Feet Under", and by directors far & wide. I missed most of his films from the past 15 years because they were reviewed so poorly, but the aforementioned “The Player” and “GOSFORD PARK” had flashes of the early, 70s-style brilliance, and are definitely worth seeing on their own. I don’t typically write obituaries because they usually maudlin & full of fake “we will miss him so much”/”we have suffered such a loss” sentimentality, but Altman was truly one of the greats. I’ll write that thing on “THREE WOMEN” later, after I’ve watched the recent Criterion Collection DVD again.

Monday, November 20, 2006


Word among the community of Neilmaniacs, among whom I feel safe yet not a permanant part of, is that this brand new NEIL YOUNG live CD from 1970 is the first of several retro live offerings set to come out in coming years. For a guy who's kept so much of his legacy under defiant wraps for so long, Neil's obviously starting to soften a bit -which makes the kids (and the olde-timers) quite happy. This set is only a mere six songs from the post-"Everybody Knows This is Nowhere" era, which is sorta strange - I mean yeah, two are loooong, dirty, exceptionally loud Crazy Horse jams ("Cowgirl In The Sand" and "Down By The River"), but even so the whole thing only clocks in somewhere under 40 minutes. Guitarist Danny Whitten is on fire on the latter in particular, just an all-time scorcher to begin with, and in some stretched-out, near-improv parts it's better than on the album for sure. Another winner is the song "Wonderin'", which I've heard on bootlegs in acoustic form and on Neil's 1980-ish rockabilly record as a, well, rockabilly song, but never as a Crazy Horse-style jammer. Since I've already told you half of the 6-song lineup, there's no reason to hide the rest: "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere" (marginal), "Winterlong" (OK) and "Come On Baby Let's Go Downtown" (fantastic). It's a cool document that sounds like a professional but raunchy live record, so if this one's been in circulation as a boot before (I honestly wouldn't know) then I can promise you this version's better. I could have totally used another 40 minutes, though.

Sunday, November 19, 2006


Hey, I'm not gonna get all "You Tube" on all y'all on this site, but now that I've figured out, 6 months after everyone else, how to embed a video, wow - check out this fantastic 1972 clip of the STONES doing my 3rd all-time favorite song of theirs, "Loving Cup".......fine stuff!

Friday, November 17, 2006


There are some that will make the case that Americans are currently living in their second golden age of television, with the first being, I don’t know, the late 50s/early 60s? After years of sneering at prime-time television, I find that I’m in the same boat as many others in all of a sudden having at least 4 or 5 shows I’m watching either weekly (thank you TiVo) or on DVD. Leading the way, of course, are the HBO shows – many of which (“Deadwood”, “Extras”, “Big Love”, “Rome”) I’ve never even seen, since I don’t pay for HBO. A couple weeks ago my wife and I watched the final episode of the fifth (and final) season of HBO’s “SIX FEET UNDER” – and amazingly, I was able to steer clear of any and all spoilers this entire year, so everything that happened hit me like it hit those of you who watched it the night it aired many months ago.

I resisted admitting this for a couple years, but I’m ready to say that “SIX FEET UNDER” is/was my very favorite of all the HBO shows, including “THE SOPRANOS” (I’m only now working on Season 1 of “THE WIRE”, so verdict’s out on that one but leading indicators are excellent). It is probably the best friggin’ soap opera of all time, and it most certainly was a soap opera. When I watched the first episode of Season 1 long ago, 60-some-odd episodes ago, I was ready to stop the investment in time right then and there. Did you see this one? The one with the fake commercials for funeral products? Awful. But they rebounded so quickly, and enveloped me into the characters’ lives so fast, that by mid-season 1 I was totally hooked. We’d watch 3 hour-long episodes at a time fairly often, but it was more common to watch one at a time, and give each episode time to sink in after much discussion & speculation.

Initially the character that grabbed me the most was Claire, but she quickly became so annoyingly over-the-top & hateful to her whole family that five years later she was my least-favorite character. I don’t think it was the actress’s (Lauren Ambrose) fault; this is the character they wrote for her, and she played her lines really well and with “feeling”. But I don’t believe anyone could be so flippant and condescending ALL the time, with only momentary flashes of humility. So I gravitated to the Nate/Brenda story, and then when the character of Billy was introduced – the incestuous, bipolar, dangerous freak Billy woo hoo! I was stoked that so many of those early episodes included Billy freak-outs, and when he came back from the asylum as a kinder, gentler Billy, he was no less compelling. Great – and 100% believable – character.

At the end I wasn’t sure what they were going to do with everybody. Was Brenda going to die during childbirth? Would David flip out over the guy who kidnapped and almost killed him? Would Claire marry the Republican dude? Hey, I’m not gonna spoil it for you if you haven’t seen it. But “SIX FEET UNDER” was seriously one of the all-time high-water marks of American television, certainly movie-quality, week-in, week-out. And for once, proclamations about truly great American TV are something that are starting to not sound so ridiculous when spoken or typed, which is something that had never happened in my lifetime until right about now.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


Sunday night I ventured across the San Francisco Bay to Oakland, CA’s BUDGET ROCK SHOWCASE at the intimate Stork Club. Whilst there, with earplugs thrust deeply into the nether regions of my ear canals, I contemplated the state of my hearing after roughly 23 years of extremely punishing rock shows. To be honest, 10-15 years ago, the thought of wearing earplugs at a show was quite possibly the lamest thing imaginable for me. I don’t quite know why I took such a hardline, keeping-your-hearing-is-for-wimps stance, but I must have been inoculated with a “if it’s too loud, you’re too old, motherfucker!!” stance early on in my rock fandom. So here I am livin' large with the plugs – and when I was at The Stork on Sunday, with even the between-band DJ music being played at ear-splitting volume, the plugs stayed in. Deep. Real deep. How did I get to this point? A few lowlights:

December 1985Fender’s Ballroom, Long Beach CA – My friend Tom and I drove nearly 3 hours to see THE DICKIES and THE WEIRDOS, along with awful melodic hardcore acts M.I.A. and THE ASEXUALS. Not only was Fender’s one of the most violent punk clubs in the history of the planet – a notorious hub for white-boy gang activity, much of which was on display this evening, even with this fairly tranquil bill, the show was so damagingly loud that on the long drive home I couldn’t even understand what Tom was saying, nor make out the songs on the tape deck. Until the next morning, I heard a terrible “crackle” sound in my ears every time he spoke or anyone spoke. My first clue that exposure to insanely loud rock music might be a problem.

Sometime in 1988Raji’s, Los Angeles, CA – I attended PUSSY GALORE’s first-ever west coast show. After openers TAD and THEE FORGIVEN, I inched up to the front of the stage, right by the monitors and amps and the three guitarists. You can guess what came next. A total, absolute maelstrom of sound, which literally pinned me to the back of the club – in the sense that I couldn’t take the noise in the main room, so I stood back by the kitchen, next to the cubbyhole where I earlier went to pick up my cheeseburger. My ears were a total mess afterward, even standing where I was for most of the show. The thought that Raji’s would have had a plastic jar of free brightly-colored earplugs sitting on the bar for patrons to take would have been laughable. No one worried about such trifles in the eighties!

Sometime in 1995The Purple Onion, San Francisco – This fairly short-lived glammy/garage act called DURA-DELINQUENT were playing at subhuman volumes when I decided that enough was enough. I espied an aforementioned jar of earplugs and shoved a pair in, and was profoundly pissed off at myself for having to do so & at the band for making it so. The muffled sounds & dimmed amplification just ruined a central piece of the clubgoing experience for me, which was most likely a masochistic urge to be pummeled by loud and aggressive music, an urge I no doubt share(d) with many.

Sometime in 2005The Hemlock Tavern, San Francisco – After dabbling with earplugs in & out of the years, I succumbed last year at an A-FRAMES show and made it a regular and normal part of every showgoing experience, at least those in which loud rock plays a role. I’ve taught myself how to position them just so, so that the precipice between enjoyment of loud music & out-and-out ear damage is not crossed, though at times I still have to adjust ‘em so the balance works to my advantage. If you spot some dork tinkering with yellow foam in his ears at an upcoming show, there’s a mighty good chance it’s me – or one of the many other late thirtysomethings who’ve heeded the obvious, and are acting to save themselves from that one final show that’ll tip them over into permanent tinnitus. And you whippersnappers out there, take advantage of the riches now offered at your shows that those of us in the trenches in the 80s never got – free earplugs and free cold water (!). Next they’ll be having the shows over & done by 11pm – sign me up!

Monday, November 13, 2006


This French film from earlier in the year was one that got some jaw-dropping critical notice & one that I'd had my eye on renting for a while. A remake of a great American underground 70s film called "Fingers" (which starred a young, intense and wild-eyed Harvey Keitel), "THE BEAT THAT MY HEART SKIPPED" came off as decent enough but a little underwhelming. I think it might have something to do with smirking star Romain Duris, who is supposed to be this would-be thug who roughs up real-estate squatters in Paris, but comes off instead like an effete and arty nightlife hound. He's torn between two legacies - that of his concert-pianist mother, who provided him him some (not all) of her musical gift, and that of his hoodlum, lecherous Dad. Though there's some good tension between the two DNA-provided worlds, I don't think Duris pulls off the unbalance quite the way Keitel did. His choice to follow one instead of the other has some pretty tragic consequences, which frankly I didn't see coming at all.

I like that the story's core is the same as in "Fingers", but so much of it has changed, including the addition of a "two years later" postscript. Emmanuelle Devos, who was so great in "Read My Lips", was barely present in this one, which is too bad because when I read about this film I got the sense that she was one of the two stars. That must've been some other movie. I guess I'd recommend "The Beat That my Heart Skipped" as a rental only, and then one only if you've seen everything else that's halfway decent. Then you might wanna consider watching this, OK?

Friday, November 10, 2006


How excited were you to see "deluxe edition" reissues of the first two STOOGES records last year, with completely new add-on material/outakes from each of those two legendary records? I was pretty psyched. Sure, I've heard a bunch of that 7xCD (!) "FUNHOUSE SESSIONS" box set that Rhino put out a while back, and I always felt that someone with some patience ought to sit down and cull the wheat from the chaff and create the definitive "alternate versions" CD of the thing. Well, someone did. Moreover, they also pulled out a bunch of alternate versions from the first album and wow - they are fantastic (and revealing). Let's talk about it some.

The second disc in the 2-CD pack for "The Stooges" has got some what-might-have-been versions that are truly paint-peeling. I'm smitten primarily with a version of "I Wanna Be Your Dog" with a more subdued Iggy vocal that could have easily been the one they chose for track #2 on the album - but hey, I'm glad they didn't, even though this one's fantastic. There's also a nearly 8 minute version of "Ann" that takes that killer riff that closes the song and pummels it into the mud for five extra glorious minutes (!), and a great "No Fun" that's almost seven minutes, full of absolute ear-shredding Ron Ashton guitar damage. Most of these 10 tracks that weren't chosen for prime time were axed with fairly good reason, but on this two-disc set in particular this extra material is totally balls-out & wonderful, to a song. Still looking for takes 7 and 12 of "We Will Fall"? Well, you'll have to keep looking, because thank god they did not fill the need to include that one, the nadir of the band's early career, on this CD.

The "Funhouse" stuff is also wild and whooping, particularly the long & rambunctious two takes on "Funhouse" itself toward the end of the bonus stuff. Iggy experiments with differently-timed screams and cro-magnon hollers throughout, and what's great about this stuff is just how improvised so much of what became the final product was. I mean, I've heard these two albums as many times as any records in my entire life - they are aural bibles to me and to so many others - but a lot of the timing of each solo or drum pattern or war whoop was obviously left to the spirit of the moment at the end of the day, something that becomes apparant when listening to the different takes. The 2 tracks on this that didn't make "Funhouse" - "Slidin' The Blues" and "Lost in the Future" - are total throwaways. If one of these replaced, say, "1970" or "LA Blues" - my my, what a different and less-fulfilling world we would be living in today.

Anyway, I'm giving these things my unequivocal endorsement, for what it's worth. All three Stooges records have now been given the gold standard treatment, and I guess that means it's time to close the books on 'em, unless there's another set of "Iguana Chronicles" set to come forth - hey, some good ones this time!

Monday, November 06, 2006


This brand new CD from these San Franciscan wandering minstrels is easily one of my favorite left-field music picks of 2006. I'd only heard the SKYGREEN LEOPARDS once before, on a great single track called "Julie-Anne, Patron of Thieves" available on some mp3 blog. Big-textured folk-pop sounds, and an approach that paralleled a strange country-folk cross between BIG STAR and THE CLEAN - well, that's for me, partner. And this new one's even better. Some folks will probably get some yuks out of comparing this to the GRATEFUL DEAD, but not me. Surely the band would take it as a compliment of sorts, since "Disciples of California" is mining late 60s San Francisco in much the same way as THE SADIES' "Favorite Colours" record does, except the Leopards make prettier sounds. Very pretty. You know "Morpha Too" and "I'm In Love With A Girl" by Big Star? Picture a more uptempo album of that, crossed with very jangly California country/folk sounds and just a general sense of wanderin' and driftin'. I could certainly do without all the jesus talk, but I suppose that's getting to be de rigeur for a certain type of musician, whether he's religious or not. It's a really fine record, and I hope you go buy one on my say-so.

Friday, November 03, 2006


Sure, everyone's got a wiseacre opinion on politics & is probably willing to tell you all about it. Me included. Instead of hectoring my wife with how-you-should-vote-this-year lectures, which she loves and follows to a T every chance she gets, I figured I'd thrown down my 8 simple rules for you to take to the polling place next week - that is, if you're an American and if you plan to vote. I've only missed one election in the 21 years I've been allowed to cast a ballot - for Goleta Water Board in 1987 - and I'm still pretty pissed at myself for skipping that one.

These are the standards I use to manage & guide my epic decisions every year, and if I had my way, you would too. Take a look and let me know if I missed any!

1. WHEN IN DOUBT, VOTE NO. - This is perhaps my most fundamental rule. If I can't be convinced in fairly short order that an initiative is worth supporting, it probably has been obfuscated to death, and I know I'll ultimately regret the eventual price tag or societal costs. Better the status quo in most cases, and maybe next time the man will think a little harder about what he needs to win you & me over.

2. IF IT SOUNDS TOO EXPENSIVE, IT PROBABLY IS. - Particularly with bond measures, and anything that purports to be "for the children". Almost always a "no" - which is not to say all bond measures, just the ones that get really fuzzy on true costs and benefits, which is pretty much all of them.

3. SPEND A HALF-HOUR WITH THAT BOOK THEY SEND YOU. - And not in the parking lot next to the polling place on the day-of. It's not fun nor pretty, but if you know where you stand on most core principles, you're probably already able to make these yes/no decisions pretty quickly, right?

4. LOOK AT WHO'S ENDORSING IF YOU'RE ON THE FENCE. - I don't know, that's sort of the final tie-breaker for me. Try not to get fooled by bogus "taxpayer" groups, because they're often neither your protector nor your friend. And if a giant union is behind it, watch your wallet (nothing against big unions, of course - if we were in 1935).

5. DON'T BE AFRAID OF A THIRD-PARTY CANDIDATE - BUT DON'T BE FOOLISH, EITHER. - I tend to vote Libertarian a lot of the time, knowing full well they'll never come close and would probably be total moonbats if they ever actually made it into office, but as many of Ralph Nader's 2000 election voters will tell you, there's a time and a place for the protest vote, and a time to take your lumps & go lesser-of-two-evils.

6. ALWAYS VOTE NO ON SYMBOLIC MEASURES. - Like "it is the resolution of the people of San Francisco that the city stands opposed to global warming". The amount of money and effort spent to get meaningless feel-good crap on the ballot is preposterous, and I always vote no on these even if I'm behind the sentiment. Apparently next week the people of San Francisco are planning on impeaching Bush and Cheney - how about that?

7. THROW AWAY ALL MAILINGS, AND TUNE OUT THE TV. - Because their commercials lie and distort. The aforementioned book will tell you all you truly need to know, and when it doesn't, vote "no".

8. DON'T OVERREACT TO CLAIMS AGAINST YOUR PRIVACY - NO ONE REALLY CARES. - The fetish over privacy in a lot of ballot initiatives is staggering to me, in an age where the generation behind me puts their entire lives & interests online. I think increasingly, the amount of people that truly have a legitimate claim on their privacy are a mile wide and an inch deep. I joined the ACLU at one point in my life and left soon thereafter, because the paranoia of the people in the meetings bordered on the absurd. Twenty years from now these debates about privacy rights will look archaic, because increasingly - we don't have any, and people without something to hide honestly don't care all that much.

Hopefully I've given you something to make your blood boil, or better yet, a list of maxims to cut out and put on the fridge! Thanks for reading!

Monday, October 30, 2006


Now that I’ve got a bambino there’s less time to just skedaddle to see a film, any film, the way I used to, but I try to stay abreast of current releases as best I can, and if we miss the good ones, they’re on NetFlix and in the house a few months later. Though I’ve hardly seen a fraction of the films released this year, I think I can say that 2006 has been a pretty weak year for film, just as 2005 was before it. I have seen a mere three this year that I’d recommend to anyone, not counting “American Hardcore”, a film I’d recommend, but to very few if you know what I mean. Still in the NetFlix queue or awaiting theatrical release that might join this list: “Street Fight”, “The Beat That My Heart Skipped”, “I Am a Sex Addict”, “The Puffy Chair” and “Little Children” – all which look great & hopefully are. Here’s what I want you to see in lieu of these:

1. UNITED 93 – This film is a masterpiece. I have never been more affected by a film, except perhaps the first time I saw “Apocalypse Now” in the late 70s or when I saw “Scenes From a Marriage” during my engagement – it is seriously that gripping. Everything you felt as September 11th, 2001 unwound itself will come back just as powerfully, and it’s icing on the cake that many of the “actors” in this film are actual FAA personnel playing themselves, reliving that day for the cameras. Everything they do, and everything that the people of the doomed flight do and say, is so natural and believable that you have to remind yourself that you’re not watching a reality show or a hidden camera that was recovered from the wreckage. There’s no fanfare or soaring music when Todd Beamer tells his fellow passengers “let’s roll” – in fact, he tosses it off carelessly & as part of a larger sentence – which is probably the way it happened in real life. This is truly a masterful achievement, and if you loved director Paul Greengrass’s “Bloody Sunday” as I did, well – this one’s even better.

2. BRICK – At the end of this suburban high school potboiler noir, I just had a huge laugh, like, “what the hell did we just see??”. Huge points to the director for immense creativity – grafting all the cliché language and mannerisms of 1940s noir films onto a film set in the most sterile & soulless Southern California high school imaginable (as opposed to, say, New York at night or swinging Paris). You have to rewind the DVD over and over to get what these sleuthing shamuses are saying, but it’s worth it, as it’s usually ridiculously funny once you mentally translate the hardboiled vocabulary of noir films into real English. It’s also a pretty good whodunit as well. We need more films that take absurd risks like this one.

3. THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP – Saw this in the theater a few weeks ago, having been dumbfounded by director Michael Gondry’s previous film “The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”. While not quite as jarring or well-acted as that one, “The Science of Sleep” is still a funny and ultimately tragic film of fantastical mental illness and thwarted romance. I am a fan of everything I’ve seen Gael Garcia-Bernal in, and he’s on camera in just about every frame of this one – and naturally he’s great. Remember how everyone got so hyped-up about “Being John Malkovich” because it was soooo weird and different? This is at least 100 times more unique and crazed as that exceptionally mediocre film, and is touching and genuinely sad to boot. It’s like “Adaptation” – strange and unlike much you’ve seen before, but understandable and connected to real emotions that you’ll recognize. I dug it.

Thursday, October 26, 2006


I’ve pretty much been a proud atheist since the age of 9, which is when my father told me he didn’t believe in god and would never practice religion. That just sounded so right to me, and so in tune with the non-spiritual, non-magical realities of the world I’d experienced to date, that I never looked back. I was also brought up in as secular a household as one can imagine, save for a sole Sunday when my mom, in an attempt, I believe, to integrate into the local (Sacramento, CA) community, took my sister & I to the neighborhood Catholic (!) church. I say (!) because our forebears are true-blue Connecticut Yankee/WASPs. Her attempt to church us lasted just that one morning, at which point she retreated and it was never a concern again. In college I joined the campus atheist society, which was really two geeks with chips on their shoulders & who were at cultlike & dogmatic as the hardest-core Pentecostals or whatever. I quit after two meetings. Throughout my adulthood and until the past few years, I’ve defended the religious and the believers from the attacks of those who would stereotype and marginalize them, primarily from those on the Left who squawked incessantly like paranoid Chicken Littles about “the religious right”, and who made it a point to include anyone who’d set foot in a church in that category. “Religion has been such a force for good in the world, despite what I might think about it”, I’d say, along with the other familiar trope, “20th-century religions are essentially about peace and tolerance; the days of the Inquisition are over”.

In 2006, with all due respect, I’m less convinced about the benignity of religion than ever. My defensive responses to those who criticize Christian proselytizers, Jewish paradise-builders and especially Islamic murderers are fewer and more far-between than they used to be. Part of the reason I’m waking up, as many quietly secular atheists are, is surely the increased use of suicide bombing of innocents in the name of religion & martyrdom, which is so sickening and depraved it stamps out all reason, moderation & inquiry – and which is surely part of its appeal to those who employ it. It has forced me to look more critically at the myths and fairy tales mankind has told itself throughout time to ward off fear of death and discomfort, and what I see looks more and more preposterous – and often dangerous – every time I look. SAM HARRIS, too, has decided to speak up, for fear of being overwhelmed with guilt and shame for not having done so. His 2005 book “The End of Faith” posits that we only have less than a generation’s worth of time to wean world society off the suffocating succor of religion, lest we find ourselves on the brink of nuclear annihilation by scripture-quoting lunatics. Heady stuff, but very difficult for me to refute in light of the evidence and modern trends. His policy in advancing his point of view is pretty scorched-earth. First, he carefully takes apart the tenets of religious belief, which is not difficult. I actually laughed out loud at the absurdity of some of the arguments for the existence of an all-knowing, all-seeing creator, myths we’re all aware of but too cowed to approach in the manner of critical, skeptical inquiry which they deserve. I won’t go into detail, but Harris is withering, much as Bertrand Russell and Christopher Hitchens and other famous atheists have been when tackling the same subject, and when I read their arguments I can’t help but applaud at their unapologetic eloquence in saying what I think and what I believe needs to be said. His several pages quoting verbatim what the Koran says must be done to unbelievers and infidels is terrifying, and should be required reading for anyone who ever asked the simpleton question, “Why do they hate us?”

Harris believes that even benign “faith” and anything short of active hostility toward all religion is dangerous. I see his point, but I can’t say that I’m enthusiastic in joining him full-bore in the crusade. I think it has more to do with my own live-and-let-live, non-confrontational makeup than anything else; I can’t honestly stand in front of a true believer and ask them refute their faith by the power of my more superior logic, anymore than I’d slap a drink out of someone’s hand at a straight-edge show. I have met and I know dozens of loving and good and intelligent people whose ability to believe in their supposed creator runs the gamut from outwardly-professed belief to agnosticism. I do not believe that their moderate religiosity is keeping them from opposing immoderate religiosity in all its forms – particularly the cult of the martyr or jihadi. Sure, I’d rather they gave up the comfort of the fairy tale and join me on the other side, but we probably agree on far more than we disagree about.

One quirk of Harris’ book that really made me think was his exploration of a non-religious spirituality in the last third of the book. While this section is the least persuasive and the most lacking in a coherent argument, I am with Harris in that there is a “spiritual” dimension in humanity that doesn’t rely on believing the creationist myths that have been handed to us. For Harris, this spirituality and ability to shape the contours of his own mind is revealed in meditation, believe it or not, and in pushing the mind in directions that don’t come naturally. I too believe that we can naturally do more than we typically do with the immensely powerful brains we’ve been given, and that what can be found in so doing can in fact have a “spiritual” dimension to it. Those – not me – who look to non-creationist Eastern philosophies and to yoga & similar disciplines are & have been doing this for eons, with professed results that border on the transcendent. I believe them, but personally lack the need for spiritual guidance at this point. Maybe when the fear of death really kicks in, or when something happens that tests my inherent reliance on reason and logic, I’ll reach like so many others for the easy comfort and illogical answers found in organized religion. I hope, though, that I reach for this book and others with its heft instead, and then get by with the complex wits given to each of us, which are solely our responsibilities to master and bring to their fullest potential without crutches and self-placed handicaps.

Monday, October 23, 2006


I knew that seeing this film would be something I wouldn’t be able to restrain myself from writing about. So much for my self-imposed hermetic exile from music writing – it lasted all of one month. My personal ties to hardcore are those of the relative latecomer. In 1981, when this was all exploding across the US, I was 13-14 years old. For some kids – I always think of Lou Barlow and J.Mascis from DEEP WOUND – that was fine, they started participating and sneaking away from their parents for the surefire comfort of the pit at an exceptionally young age. Not me. Now, a couple years later I listened to the Maximum Rock and Roll radio show and a similar local college radio (KFJC) show called “Vinyl Rites” every single week, and got to hear all the great bands of ’82-’83 as their 45s and comps were first coming out (though I remember digging SIN 34, M.D.C. and a lot of dopey English punk the most), but the first hardcore show I saw was a 1985 Dead Kennedys/7 Seconds/Whipping Boy show, followed shortly thereafter by a Circle Jerks/Wasted Youth gig. Also saw the Bad Brains, D.R.I., Aggression and a crapload of crappy HC/punk bands around 1985-86, but nothing that was as remotely cool as seeing Black Flag with Dez on vocals; Minor Threat; Die Kreuzen; or Negative Approach. I missed it. Ah well. By 1986 I was totally obsessed and immersed in the hardcore of 4-5 years’ previous & was a bonafide punk rock record collector, but I always knew I’d missed the boat by a couple of years.

That aside, when I watched this film I somewhat perversely felt like I was re-living something I’d gone through. That’s probably because I threw myself so heartily into the 1981-84 mindset, bands, fanzines etc. that I’d unwittingly made myself an expert on the scene without actually having gone through it firsthand. Therefore, just as I felt when I was watching the MINUTEMEN documentary “We Jam Econo”, it really didn’t matter how great the film was or wasn’t, there was just such a constant barrage of reference points (I met that guy once! I had that record! Wow, I remember him! My cousin was at that show! etc.), most of which had been filed away back in my cranium, that it was a joy to let them loose in a flood again. “AMERICAN HARDCORE”, fortunately, is a pretty solid film through and through. While the story it tells is as scattershot and anarchic as the music it profiles, that’s also a strength, as it keeps you on your toes for nearly 2 hours, ready to devour every pearl of moronic wisdom from the all-grown-up hardcore elders.

I read the oral history/non-fiction book this film was based on, and this keeps very much in that spirit of breaking the hardcore punk “outbreak” scene by scene. Overlording everything is Los Angeles, and Black Flag in particular – which makes me happy, since that also fits my personal view of how punk rock became hardcore (the ‘Flag led the way and converted the nation on aggression, speed and force), and because LA arguably gave more incredible rock music to the world in the first half of the eighties than the rest of the United States combined. The other linchpin of the film are the BAD BRAINS, and that jives with my recollections from ‘zines and the radio shows – they were adored, and when you watch the live clips in this film it’s clear why. (The Target Video of a 1982 San Francisco show of theirs is a must-see if you can find it). Some assorted highlights and lowlights:

-- The realization (and I forget which guy makes this point) that hardcore punk probably truly was the first strain of rock music that was not reliant on black music (blues, R&B etc.) for its beat, tempo and structure. A 100% Caucasian music – for whatever that’s worth.

-- The lack of attention or even derision paid to New York City hardcore, which had by far the worst bands of this era, and came at it way late to boot. The book paid way too much attention to this scene; the movie does not repeat the mistake.

-- Watching the meatheads from SS DECONTROL and NEGATIVE FX hold court on straight edge livin’ while acting like bruising lower-class jock goons. The singer of the latter wore a Bruins hockey jersey on stage and called up his “Boston Crew” to sing with him – what a dork!

-- Brief footage of SSD and GANG GREEN after they’d gone metal (’85-’86), particularly the Tin Pan Alley-meets-hair farmer outfits being worn by SSD at their last show, which are amazing, and the full-blown skateboard ramp Gang Green took onstage with them

-- The inanities spewed by Vic Bondi from Chicago band Articles of Faith (who were awful). The guy has this practiced set of “quotables” he throws out, as if he’d been practicing them in front of the mirror for weeks. Sure enough, many of these made it into the film’s preview – but I still don’t buy this guy as a true representative of anything.

-- The contrasting claims by Steve DePace from FLIPPER and Moby (!) about whether or not Moby spent any time fronting Flipper. This is the sort of low-stakes controversy I was not familiar with and naturally would love to learn more about – pretty great that full-time member DePace has no idea what Moby’s talking about, though.

The other thing that struck me was what the ravages of time have done to the hardest of the hardcore. Chris Doherty from GANG GREEN, who was a notorious celebrator of alcohol, can barely rasp out his words and unfortunately looked sick; others who were known to have routinely answered the “party with me, punker” call in the 80s look nearly as bad. I’m no teetotaler, but I couldn’t help but notice how contrastingly healthy and vibrant-looking the fortysomething Ian McKaye and Henry Rollins were – two guys who, to the best of my knowledge, haven’t touched a drop in three decades. It makes a drinker think, doesn’t it? I’ll bet former straight-edger “Springa” from SS DECONTROL has had a few since ’81, though.

It’s really something to have a sustained mental vision of these folks that I spent an inordinate amount of time listening to, reading about, and thinking about, only to see them 20-25 years older and, in some rare cases, wiser. It’s why I’ll always go see a film like this about bands I enjoyed in my relative youth, and if your ears can tolerate nearly two hours of intense, righteous, blazing hardcore punk & lots of blabberin’ about it, then this is a film for you too.

Friday, October 20, 2006


We got an email from some fellas who are starting a new print fanzine called THE ZAP GUN, and figured you should know about it. Here’s what they told us:

For many many years Ryan Wells and I (Scott Soriano) have been talking about doing a print zine. For a few months in those many many years we actually worked on on and then quit for some reason or another. A few months ago we decided to give it a go. This time we actually have stuff in motion. This time we actually have a name for it. This time it is gonna get done.

With that we announce The Zap Gun. Some time this winter you will see a brand new print zine featuring interviews with Pink Reason, Home Blitz, the Not Not Fun Records people, and other; an updated article on late 70s San Francisco art punk; an A Frames Euro tour diary; lots of reviews, cartoons, and more.

Because we both consume a huge amount of records and reviews need to be timely, we have created a web site that will run the reviews (which will also see print). The site is Right now there are reviews up of recent records by Hank IV, Bear Proof Suit, Billy Bao, Coughs, Deep Sleep, Dead Moon, Hue Blanc's Joyless Ones, Imaginary Icons, The Kids, Jay Reatard, and more.

And that is about it. If you feel you have something to contribute feel free to contact us. We might say No but we will be very nice about it, kinda like how your boss lets you sit on his lap when he talks about his raise instead of yours.

Oh my god you guys that is soooo gross! That web site again is linked right here: ZAP GUN.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


Okay, I will tell you. I called it quits just last month, September 2006, with a music-only blog called Agony Shorthand that I'd nurtured like a young suckling lamb for over 3 years. I reckoned I'd probably start something up again in fairly short order focusing on "the written word", 'cuz that's just how I roll. I wasn't sure if I'd be unveiling my long-schemed "political rant blog", my "amateur film scholar" blog, my "militant atheist" blog, or just some total redux of the thing I'd done previously - a buncha blah blah blah about my record collection. So I decided it made sense to do it all, and a little more too.

Implicit in all this is the cleared-eyed realization that, on "the Internet", when you specialize, you tend to bring in targeted, dedicated traffic, and a lot more of it than when you generalize. I know I personally have found blogs that recount the day's events and the passing fancy of the moment to be beyond boring. This'll only have a little bit of that. No, my goal here is simply to have a repository for stuff I want to write about, which could take any form but will likely be centered on culture, the arts, societal stuff - but not my family, my breakfast or my navel. With Agony Shorthand I sort of hamstrung myself into a bind in which any given film or book review would've stuck out like a sore thumb, but there were times when I just wanted to tell you about it so goddamn much that I had to instead place my rant into a special place deep within my belly, where it would fester and grow tumors. I didn't enjoy that, so here's DETAILED TWANG.

"Detailed Twang", by the way, is the name of a record by the crude British uber-D.I.Y. band THE DOOR AND THE WINDOW. That's your (and my) first clue that this blog will probably continue to feature its fair share of music writing. The rut I got into with my last one was setting the self-perpetuating expectation that content would be updated nearly every day, which to my chagrin & sometime frustration, I pushed myself to do in spite of having, like you, a real life away from the computer. I can say now that that won't be the case here, but who the hell knows. I might post some music here, maybe a video or two, might even put some digital coupons on the site so you can go shopping later. I hope you enjoy the good times here, and come back to see us next Monday, when the party really gets rolling.