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.