Swans (Redux) . . .

Okay, just one more post about Swans, champeens of the Secret Bands Project. One thing that I don’t think I clearly elucidated in descibing their music was the fact that, for most of their career, they had two very dramatically different lead singers, at the same time: Jarboe and Michael Gira. Both of them were (or are, rather) fantastic, and I can’t think of any other band that had two front people who sang so differently and gave such different sounds to the music they produced . . . but yet managed to still maintain a coherent, definable sound. The more I listen to them lately, the better I feel about my choice: they were a truly brilliant band, doing things that nobody else has done anywhere as well as they did. I also edited my recommended listening list for them (see post below, tweaking it based on reactions to repeated listening, dropping a couple of songs, adding a song or two for balance). Alright. That’s all. They’re great, buy their records. You’ll be glad you did.

Bzzzzztttt . . .

I’ve only gotten maybe three or four haircuts since leaving Doane Stuart nearly two years ago, letting my hair grow in for the first time in a long, long time. Today I finally got sick of it: the combination of my natural curliness emerging with summer humidity and the inevitable effects of age on the hairline and top of the skull hair thickness had me getting perilously close to Bozo hair. So I went and got it all cut off tonight. My one concession from past practice: I had them use a number four clipper instead of a number two, so it’s not quite as short as I wore it for most of the ’90s.

Interesting Web Site . . .

. . . particularly for those of us blessed with the green eye gene: The Green Eye Project. Gotta love that press release about green eyes being an aphrodisiac! Although, more pragmatically, I actually found this more interesting:

“Around our vast globe, green eyes can exist in almost any ethnic group that has been exposed to another, very different, culture during some time in its past. One could in fact say, that in the new world and the old, the true meeting of cultures can be found in the eyes of their people. Where the Moors once visited France and Spain, and were visited in turn, the green eye emerges. Where the English once set very large foot prints in Africa, green eyes emerge. Where the Chinese, the Mongolian, and the Russian lands meet, green eyes emerge. In countries such as Brazil, where they believe that their multiculturalism and mixed blood lines are their strength, green eyes are far from rare, and exist in the most unimaginable color combinations of skin and hair and facial features. But the key point that can be taken from this work is the acknowledgment that whenever there has been some point in a country or culture’s history where they have interacted, whether commercially, colonially, or competitively, with a group of people physically unlike themselves, the green gene was sown.”

I suppose my green eyes are the most visible vestige of my mom’s Native American roots. I didn’t pass ’em on to Katelin, though, although her eyes are an unusual shade of blue, so maybe the gene didn’t die without a fight.

Rant: Fear of White Radio

Man, it’s really time that somebody pushed the bullshit button on the Beastie Boys . . . and on the rock radio stations that play their music.

I was dial surfing while driving around a coupla days ago and stopped on the local “Modern Rock” station right around the time that they were doing their daily Top Five countdown.

Four of the songs were what you’d expect: Disturbed or Staind or bands that sound like Disturbed or Staind.

The fifth song, however, was the new single by the Beastie Boys . . . and, like most of their songs, it was a simplistic, one-note, one-beat, lowest common denominator “old school” rap song, with those terrible, terrible, terrible Beastie voices yelling at each other on top of the rudimentary musical bed.

I’ve cited Limp Bizkit’s Fred Durst as the worst singer in popular music history, but the Beasties are definitely nipping at his heels . . . and there’s three of them, which makes it that much worse. What are the odds of getting three singers with such annoying voices in a single band, and then having that band get popular?

I’ll have to check the back of my Lotto ticket to come up with an appropriate figure.

Now . . . I could have listened to that “modern rock” station all day, and would I have heard any other old school rap songs, or any other contemporary rap or hip hop music?

Maybe another Beastie Boys song or two. And maybe (just maybe) an Eminem number.

But nothing else.

So why were the Beastie Boys (and maybe, just maybe, Eminem) being played there?

Because they’re white.

Period.

End of discussion.

Outkast or Jay-Z or any of the many Wu Tang members or Public Enemy or Doctor Dre (without Eminem as his radio mouthpiece) or any other African-American rap/hip-hop artist could put out that exact same Beastie Boys song . . . and it would not get played on Modern Rock Radio.

Of course, none of those artists would put out that exact same Beastie Boys song, because they’re all operating at a production, composing and performing level far, far above where the Beasties operate, not relying on the cliche of “old school beats” to justify (and hide) their rudimentary skills. The music they make is too rich, too varied and too technically sophisticated for the Beasties.

So does that mean that Modern Rock Radio is racist in its programming?

I think it is.

“But,” I hear you say, rising to corporate rock radio’s defense, “They play Lenny Kravitz! How can they be racist?”

They play Lenny Kravitz because he plays what the average, white rock radio listener would consider to be “white music,” exploiting the Jimi Hendrix/Thin Lizzy loophole to commercial rock radio acceptability.

Remember the Public Enemy song “Fear of A Black Planet”? It had a little riff in the middle that boiled racial anxiety down to a simple expression of math and genetics:

“Black man, black woman: black baby.

White man, white woman: white baby.

White man, black woman: black baby.

Black man, white woman: black baby.”

Modern rock radio (“white radio”) follows a similar model:

“White artist, white music: white radio.

Black artist, white music: white radio.

White artist, black music: white radio.

Black artist, black music: black radio.”

So if you’re an African-American artist making music that the average, white rock radio listener (or programming director) would consider to be “black music,” then there’s no place for you on modern rock radio, and apparently you can only appear on pop, R&B or rap demographic radio stations.

Of course, I know there’s not really any such thing as “white music” and “black music,” so I’m using shorthand there, but I think you get the jist of the point I’m trying to make: that there’s clearly a double standard being applied to programming decisions being made on modern rock radio today, and there has been for many years.

And the terrible, substandard Beastie Boys are the living, breathing embodiment of its worst practices. If they’re all you know about contemporary rap, then you’re doing yourself an amazing disservice as far as exposure to quality music goes. As are the radio stations who serve them to you aside your daily doses of Staind and Disturbed.

So, people, please, listen . . .

THE! EMPEROR! HAS! NO! CLOTHES!

I suggest you call your local Modern Rock Radio station the next time you hear them play the Beastie Boys and request “Fear of A Black Planet” by Public Enemy . . . then make them explain to you why they can’t or won’t play that song.

It should be an interesting rationalization, I would think.

Swans

I’ve been listening to a lot of Swans since naming them the champeen of the Secret Bands Project. I’m enjoying the new luxury of having enough memory on a computer to be able to load songs into the machine to make play lists for easy entertainment while I’m typing. Going through my entire Swans collection, here’s what I picked for my Definitive Master Mix (including some key solo and side project works), in case you’re thinking about exploring them yourself. The list is roughly in chronological order. There are a few albums and EPs that aren’t represented at all here: Swans EP, Cop, Young God EP, The Burning World (from the studio) plus several live albums (Omniscience, Kill the Child, Public Castration is a Good Idea, Real Love, Feel Good Now, Anonymous Bodies in an Empty Room). It’s not that there aren’t good songs on those records, it’s just that the depth of quality in the Swans canon is such that to pick one song from each of those records just for completeness’ sake, while knocking off a better song from a better album, seems like a wrong-minded way to make a recommendation. But if you want to know the best tracks on those records, I have ’em all, so I can steer you right.

“Thank You” (from Filth, 1983)

“Fool” (from Greed, 1986)

“Stupid Child” (from Greed, 1986)

“Time is Money (Bastard)” (single, 1986)

“A Screw” (single, 1986)

“A Hanging” (from Holy Money, 1986)

“New Mind” (from Children of God, 1987)

“Like A Drug” (from Children of God, 1987)

“Trust Me” (from Children of God, 1987)

“Love Will Tear Us Apart (Jarboe Version)” (single, 1987)

“Blood on Your Hands” (from the Skin album Blood, Women, Roses, 1987)

“Black Eyed Dog” (from the World of Skin album, Ten Songs for Another World, 1990)

“Better Than You” (from White Light from the Mouth of Infinity, 1991)

“Failure” (from White Light from the Mouth of Infinity, 1991)

“Red” (from Jarboe’s solo album, 13 Masks, 1992)

“Love of Life” (from Love of Life, 1992)

“The Other Side of the World” (from Love of Life, 1992)

“Blind” (from Michael Gira’s solo album, Drainland, 1995)

“I Am The Sun” (from The Great Annihilator, 1995)

“Celebrity Lifestyle” (from The Great Annihilator, 1995)

“Mother/Father” (from The Great Annihilator, 1995)

“Mind/Body/Light/Sound” (from The Great Annihilator, 1995)

“The Great Annihilator” (from The Great Annihilator, 1995)

“Volcano” (from Soundtracks for the Blind, 1996)

Swans did a great job with a CD reissue series a few years back, so many of these things are readily available from either Swans own official website or the Young God Records web site or The Living Jarboe site, along with plenty of excellent post-Swans work from the principals. Go! Shop! Listen! Learn!

Comics

As in the newspaper kind, not the graphic novel kind. I’m a lifelong fan and aficianado of daily comic strips, and read them diligently, thoroughly, every day. It’s a fine art form, almost Zen-like (when it’s done well) in its simplicity and in its unrelenting requirement for distilling complex or complicated or entertaining situations into three or four tightly-scripted frames, every day. Who needs confusing koans when you’ve got the comics page?

I have a beef, though, with something that many, many comics pages are doing these days, coast to coast: taking up valuable strip space with “Classic Peanuts.” Yep, it was an amazingly influential strip in its day, and its characters are probably more indelibly printed on the public’s collective psyche than any other. Yep, Charles Schulz is worthy of admiration and continued respect from readers of the comics page. Yep, some of the old strips that are being recycled are pretty good ones (although some . . . aren’t).

But . . . Charles Schulz was adamant that no one was going to inherit and draw his strip, and good for him in that regard. However, having made such a decision, it seems that his death should have marked the end of “Peanuts” as a feature in future papers . . . if for no other reason than to allow some other up and coming artist the strip space that “Peanuts” re-runs continue to occupy. Would Schulz have even gotten his chance in the newspapers if, in 1950, editors decided to run “Classic Katzenjammer Kids” after Harold Knerr died in 1949, or “Classic Krazy Kat” after George Herriman died in 1944? What future “Peanuts” are we keeping off of the comics pages by continue to recycle old “Peanuts” strips? I guess we’ll never know.

Now, before some of you smarty-pants write to me to tell me that some older strips did continue to run after their creators died, note well that in every case I’m aware of, they ran with new material written and drawn by new artists. “Gasoline Alley,” “Blondie,” “Popeye” and countless other strips have been passed down from artist to artist over the years . . . but, again, while the strip name remained the same, there was still new blood on the comics pages, even if you had to be a comics geek to note the change in creator.

But in each of those cases, the new artists allowed the strips to grow in new directions. That’s not going to happen with “Classic Peanuts.” “Gasoline Alley” as written and drawn by Jim Scancarelli is a very different beast than it was when drawn and written by Frank King, Dick Moores or Bill Perry. Even going back to my opening example of “Classic Katzenjammer Kids” . . . that one was originally created by Rudolph Dirks, who lost the rights to the strip’s name to the Hearst newspaper syndicate, leading to a nearly half-century period in which “The Original Katzenjammer Kids” (by Knerr) competed against “The Captain and the Kids” (by Dirks), nationwide. The characters remain alive to this day, drawn by Hy Eisman, who also keeps “Popeye” in the papers. With new material, mind you, not recycled material.

Are the new “Katzenjammer Kids” and “Popeye” strips of the same quality as some of the “Classic Peanuts” strips? No, probably not . . . but at least they’re new, and somehow that seems far preferable to me than endless nostalgia.

And, gee, I guess while I’m ranting about the comics page, two other observations:

1. Johnny Hart gets a lot of press for using his strip, “B.C.,” as a platform for his particularly intolerant religious views. Frankly, I don’t have a problem with that, per se, but what I do have a problem with is the fact that they are woefully, painfully, horribly unfunny, unengaging, repetitive, redundant, dull, drab, tired and stale, written from the sort of comics ethos that one might have found in Eisenhower era gentlemen’s magazines. I mean, in 2004, do we really need (or want) a strip with a characters called “The Fat Broad” and “The Cute Chick” running every day, with an occasional Native American character named Conahanty who speaks in Tonto-esque fractured grammar? I certainly don’t want the P.C. police ransacking the comics page, but, jeez, would anybody still be reading or running B.C. if those who share Hart’s religious views weren’t championing the strip? I’d love to see a well-drawn, provocative strip on the comics page that addresses issues of faith and fundamentalism in a thoughtful way, but “B.C.” sure isn’t it. And, of course, we’ll never see it as long as “Classic Peanuts” and “Johnny Hart Recycles B.C.’s Only Five Jokes” continue to take up comics space.

2. Why do we keep letting Berke Breathed back onto the comics page? “Bloom County,” in its heyday, was a brilliant strip with brilliant characters. Breathed walked away from it to produce the Sunday only “Outland,” which was (I think) originally intended to follow new directions with the Ronald Ann character, but eventually grew into “Bloom County Lite, Once a Week” as various characters from the mother strip reappeared. And then Breathed walked away from that. But, golly gee, he’s back again with “Opus,” another weekly strip that (to date) has gone pretty much nowhere of note. Sure, it’s densely drawn, but in the couple of months since its return, I haven’t seen much to interest me . . . I’m already way tired of Breathed’s stock images of Opus cuddled up with voluptuous silicone/collagen fantasy babes, for instance. Plus, weekly strips just don’t do it for me, since plot advancement moves way too slowly (see “Prince Valiant” for the ultimate example of that), leading strip writers to create a lot of standalone situations that don’t go anywhere. That’s okay for a strip that runs daily as well (sometimes plot lines advance through the week, then the Sunday strip is its own standalone vignette), but it gets stale on a once-a-week-only basis. I figger we’ll see a return of Bill the Cat in six months or so, and then a year or so after that Breathed will give up again. Makes me appreciate Waterston and Larson’s walking-away all that much more: they left, and they meant it. I can’t help but think that Breathed returns when his bank account indicates it’s time to do so.

Goodness. That was more writiting than I expected to do this morning.

Happy Mother’s Day, to all those who bear that honorable title. Time to go wake up Marcia and get ready for brunch. Mmmmm . . . waffles . . .

The New Machine(s) . . .

. . . arrived last night from Dell. Yes, I bought two: one for my office, one for Katelin’s use (so if she trashes it, it doesn’t wipe me out too). I’ve got my machine up and running, and managed to get most of the important stuff that I needed transfered from the old machine, despite not having a functioning CD burner. Still gotta see if I can convert my Quicken data into MS Money, and still haven’t been able to get logged onto the USNA ’86 website to maintain it, but otherwise, a reasonably smooth installation. First song played on the new computer: “Dickie Davies Eyes” by Half Man Half Biscuit. A classic snarkfest of a song: “And all the people who you romantically like to still believe are alive, are dead. So I’ll wipe my snot on the arm of your chair as you put another Roger Dean poster on the wall.” I’m gonna shoot to have both computers unpacked and functional by weekend’s end. If all goes well, I should probably be able to start the “Under the Radar” competition next week. Fingers crossed.

Computing (And the lack thereof . . . )

I’ve been able to achieve some level of offline stability on the crashed and burned home computer, and am tenuously, tremulously trying to rebuild firewall, privacy and virus protections so that I can get it internet acceptable again. I had to reload Windows 98SE, and have lost drivers that I had installed since the last time I installed the OS, and since the online support for 98SE drivers is not what it was once, I’m finally sucked into accepting the forced obsolecence of my machine (only the second one I’ve owned since spring 1993, since I’m generally pretty good at mothering them along, updating and upgrading as needed).

So . . . I purchased a new machine this morning from Dell. It’ll be a little while before it arrives and I’ve got it up and running, so I’m going to try to do poetry writing by hand (amazing how hard that is when you’re used to having word processing software, and instant access to online thesauruses and rhyming dictionaries and references for obscure literary references, etc.), then post them from the office machine.

I can’t, however, devote the time needed to do the “Under the Radar” competition from work, so I’m gonna have to postpone it again until the new machine comes. Sorry to those of you who could give two rips about my poetry and are here for the music stuff. It’ll happen . . . just it’ll be a little while before it does.

Keep checking in, please.