Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Deep Thoughts: About New Beck, Old Wars, John Prine And How To Give A Dirty Santorum

As a boy I wanted to be Sherlock Holmes when I grew up, but now I’m thinking I wanna be Nigel Godrich. Seriously, the “it” boy producer’s life is most people’s idea of a rock ’n’ roll fantasy camp. Just take a look at his day planner for the last couple of years. Monday: Give Paul McCartney edge. Tuesday: Dial back Thom Yorke’s edge. Wednesday: Make Beck a man.

Ironically, it’s the latter who suffers the greatest cred deficit these days. Some say Beck jumped the shark back at Midnite Vultures. Others lost faith when they found out he was a member of the same outer space cult as Tom Cruise.

But The Information, Beck’s latest, renders all that moot. Think Paul’s Boutique meets The White Album — a sprawling, mesmerizing amalgam of dots nobody else would’ve thought to connect. I hear bits of Neu!, Art Ensemble of Chicago, Serge Gainsbourg’s proto-rap masterwork “Requiem Pour Un Con” and even old Beck, all filtered through the most modern of sound filters and down digital trapdoors where they bounce around endlessly in the pomo hall of mirrors that is Beck’ Hanson's soul, or at the very least an incredible simulation of one. The results are as arresting and ambitious as anything he’s released to date.

Only time will tell if this goes in one ear and out the other a month after purchase, never to be returned to the CD changer, as was the case with Guero. But this much is already clear: Beck would give his left testicle, and the vintage Adidas shell-toe (also left) he keeps it in, to write a song as timeless and indelible as John Prine’s ode to “Sam Stone,” which maps a Vietnam vet’s postwar descent into the abyss, from blind patriotism to PTSD to heroin. (I know this because, well, I just know these things, but also because Beck takes a weak stab at addressing war in a shoulda-been-left-off song called “Soldier Jane.”)

People have been trying to get me into Prine for years, but he always struck me as one of those things that was “good for you” but didn’t taste good—like broccoli or condoms. But last week NPR’s American Routes devoted a whole show to the man, and you know what? All of a sudden I’m likin’ the taste of broccoli and condoms.

You’ve heard “Sam Stone” even if the title doesn’t ring a bell. It’s the song that goes, “There’s a hole in Daddy’s arm where all the money goes/ Jesus Christ died for nothing I suppose.”

Which got me to thinking: When the Vietnam vets came home, they became victims. When the Iraq War vets came home, they became activists—running for office as Democrats or starting anti-Swift Boater 527s like VoteVets.org.

This is progress.

VoteVets is a group of Iraq vets delivering karmic comeuppance to war-pig GOP congressmen who talk the war-on-terror talk out of one side of their mouth and vote to kill funding for state-of-the-art body armor out of the other. VoteVets has a devastatingly effective TV ad demonstrating the difference between the Vietnam-era flak vest issued to our boys in Baghdad, which modern arms turn to swiss cheese, and the latest body armor that stops bullets dead—before they kill and maim. The ad ends with an Iraq War vet explaining [insert name of war-pig congressman here] voted against funding modern body armor.

Last week VoteVets.org took the fight to Pennsylvania, targeting our pal Rick Santorum, another cynical chickenhawk who voted to sell out the troops under cover of Senatorial procedural bullshit. Pardon my French, but fuck. These. People. All together now, let us sing: There’s a hole in the nation’s arm where all the money goes, and our boys in Baghdad are dying a death of a thousand tax cuts, I suppose.

Gitmo Jukebox

Just Like War, Torture Is Over If You Want It


Like STDs or race relations, torture is the great unspeakable. Nobody will talk about it. Not your friends or your family, not your congressman or Fox News and certainly not our president. He won’t even use the T-word—he calls it “alternative interrogation” like it’s something you’d see on the midway at Lollapalooza. Well, you can call rape “a forced backrub with benefits,” but it’s still rape.

Perhaps the least heinous of all reported U.S. torture techniques was the blasting of Eminem and Dr. Dre at teeth-rattling volume into the virgin ears of hog-tied Muslim detainees—for 20 days at a time in midnight-dark dungeons.

There’s a company called BMI that, among other things, tracks how many times artists get played on the radio, in bars or even by cover bands. Those radio stations and nightclubs have to pay BMI a performance royalty—it’s a small fee for each play, literally nickels and dimes—but with big artists it really adds up. BMI is a stickler for enforcing the rules. If your corner bar doesn’t pay up, the plug gets pulled on the jukebox. I’ve seen it happen.

So, I called up BMI to make sure what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. I told them about the Human Rights Watch report documenting the Slim Shady treatment and asked if the government is paying out performance royalties for these marathon S&M listening parties. After all, 20 days in a row adds up to a lot of Benjamins for Dre and Em when you consider there are hundreds of terror detainees, some as young as 15 at the time of incarceration. And if the feds aren’t paying up, is BMI gonna pull the plug on the Kabul jukebox or what?

I get a call back from BMI’s spokesperson Robbin Ahrold. Like all spokespeople, he’s a most agreeable fellow, adept at reinforcing the illusion that he’s helping you even when he’s stonewalling.


“Well, to be honest, we’ve never been asked a question like this. I’m not sure how to even find the answer,” he says, sounding sincere. He assures me he’ll get back to me before deadline because, hey, he’s kinda curious about this himself.Turns out “kinda curious” is BMI-speak for “not so much.” He doesn’t get back to me.

I try the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the folks who jealously guard the retail integrity and profit potential of major label music—even if that means suing moms and kids for piracy. I get the RIAA’s spokesperson Amanda Hunter and give her my spiel. Well, as you can imagine, it went over like a fart in church. She’ll have to get back to me, she says. An hour later she emails:

“The RIAA doesn’t have a role in the collection and distribution of royalties, so no one here has any knowledge of when royalties are collected or distributed. We are a trade association, based in D.C., and we handle antipiracy, legislative activity and litigation.”

Not to be dissuaded, I write back:

“I’m not so sure this isn’t a piracy issue. I mean, I haven’t seen any receipts. Have you folks? How do we know that the Eminem and Dr. Dre tracks in question weren’t illegally downloaded by some GI?”

Apparently tired of playing along, she writes back:

“We are not connected to this story in any way. Good luck, Amanda.”

I’m sorry Amanda, but you’re wrong. We’re all connected to this story. That’s the horrible point I’m trying to make. When America tortures people, you torture people. So, in the words of the bard, how does it feel, Amanda?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Mystery Tramps


New Morning For Dylan Or I Hate Paris In The Fall

Hi, kids. Welcome back! You can leave your summer book reports on The Stranger and the cruel meaninglessness of existence so-why-even-bother? -- in 800 words or less -- on my desk after class. And be forewarned, anyone still pronouncing the author’s name like “anus” is simply not going to pass this class.

On a happier note, I have a fun assignment for you today: Compare and contrast the new Bob Dylan album Modern Times with the new Paris Hilton album, which is called … wait for it … Paris.

Why all those frowns? What’s that, you say? Dylan is old and in the way and smells like Vincent Price and sounds like cancer? You poor babies—what a small pillow you have to dream on. Here, I’ll get us started.

Hip irony would almost certainly dictate that we champion Paris over Dylan—that we find something au courant and zeitgeist-defining in her puddle-deep shallowness and that, conversely, we somehow find something passe and antiquated in Dylan’s depth.

Well, fuck hip irony. Sure, it’s never been hard to dismiss the cult of Dylan as a geeky sausage-party circle- jerk for overread fiftysomethings who just can’t admit it’s o-v-e-r, but at least he has a cult. I’m not sure Paris Hilton even has a fan base outside the stalkerazzi that devour her as omnivorously as they once devoured Dylan.

As Dorothy Parker once said, “If you want to know what God thinks of money, look at the people he gives it to.” Maybe that’ll be Paris' great contribution to humanity—a redeeming act that’ll explain to future generations why we ever gave a shit­­—and close out the long overdue tab on her 15 minutes. She’ll be remembered as the once-living proof that money can’t buy everything.

Anyone expecting Paris to be anything more than a six-figure karaoke party we get to overhear from the wrong side of the velvet rope will be sorely disappointed. Hilton wanted to be a pop star because, best she can tell, it’s one more thing her money can buy. Dylan taught himself to sing for his supper, because otherwise it was just one more thing he couldn’t buy. With a voice like his, most other people would have gone hungry.

Paris' Capri-thin pipes have been fattened like foie gras and given the finest airbrushing money can buy—double-tracked, pitch-corrected and laid into the mix at flattering angles in the same way right-swept bangs can distract from a problem nose. Like her “hot” couture wardrobe, the songs have all been bought from the biggest design houses for her to try on, accessorize and be seen in. Does this reggae jawn make my ass look big? I am so hot in this Rod Stewart song!

Dylan too spent a lot of time on his vocals on Modern Times, finding surprising reserves of emotion and expressiveness in that smoke-wrecked instrument. Unlike Hilton, Dylan got his songs the old-fashioned way—he earned them.

Busy being born, busy dying and now busy being reborn. He’s seen it all at least twice. Those lines in his face? There are entire novels in each and every one—which is why Modern Times will fit comfortably next to Love and Theft and Time out of Mind on the library shelf where they stock uncommonly good late-period trilogies by American masters.

Already Paris is fading, like an old newspaper, to be remembered, if at all, for it's bottle-blonde ambition, bikini-waxed soul and for setting back the cause of cluelessness at least 20 years—just when it was beginning to make some real strides.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Salty Dogs: M. Ward And The Pirates Of Doom



Blood, Sweat And Come: Folk Music Takes No Prisoners

Illustration by Alex Fine

Folk music gets a bad rap, having long ago been relegated to the leafy retreats of crunchy granola ninnies in white socks and Birkenstocks, where its rough-hewn hymnals were gutted by time and the ’60s, and reduced to politically correct acoustica, liberal bromides and impotent protest. What’s missing from most people’s assumptions about folk music is the blood, sweat and come, not to mention the staggering body counts, laments for lost limbs, dead wives, drowned babies and hard rains. And that's just the happy songs.

Velveteen folk-rocker M. Ward is self-schooled in all things past, and smart enough to know those who ignore history are doomed to remix it. A sad-eyed troubadour in the hang-dawg tradition of Nick Drake and Tim Buckley, Ward teases high emotion out of low-key compositions, coloring his records with the sepia-toned crackle and hiss of old rural blues recordings, drifty dustbowl sadness and the submarine murk of vintage echo.

He’s an exceedingly dexterous fingerstyle guitarist and an alchemical interpreter able to transmute shit into gold—check out his transformation of Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” from big-’80s pomp to dreamy folkadelia on 2003’s Transfiguration of Vincent.

As a songwriter, Ward spreads his wings wider with every outing, but until now his compositions have yet to transcend sensibility. They’re all vibe and swoon—arresting in the moment, but oddly forgettable beyond the bewitching atmospherics. Ward’s yet to write anything that would be half as special in the hands of another artist who didn’t share his rich old-soul vocal timbre or knack for reverb.

No matter. Sometimes beauty is its own reward. Ward’s fourth LP—in addition to curating last year’s I Am the Resurrection: A Tribute to John Fahey or producing Jenny Lewis With the Watson Twins’ Rabbit Fur Coat—the wishfully titled Post-War, drops this week. It’s pretty, twittering music you usually have to see stars and little birdies to hear. This is the sound of 21st-century porch music, like a Woody Guthrie song about flying saucers or watching an old flickering silent movie on your iPod.

The darkest corner of folk is arguably the pirate song, the wheezing besotted sea chanteys barked by brutal men in cruel circumstance. Johnny Depp’s Pirates of the Caribbean franchise has revived popular interest in the swashbuckling exploits of the OGs of the seven seas.

Enter Hal Willner, a Philadelphia native and musical coordinator of Saturday Night Live since 1981. Willner has made a career of corralling high-cred contemporary talent to reanimate old, weird musics in ambitiously themed tribute albums. For the pirate-themed Rogue’s Gallery, Willner assembled an impressive roster of A-list Jolly Rogers—Bono, Lou Reed, Lucinda Williams, a surprisingly nonannoying Sting—along with semiregular cast of not-ready-for-prime-time players such as Van Dyke Parks, Nick Cave, Mary Margaret O’Hara and Kate McGarrigle (along with Loudon and Rufus Wainwright).

Lending an air of unpredictability to a 43-song double disc are wild cards such as Pere Ubu’s David Thomas, the actor John C. Reilly and Hunter S. Thompson illustrator (and no stranger to high-seas decadence) Ralph Steadman. The resulting Rogue’s Gallery is a sprawling, artsy song cycle, as unpredictable as a raging noreaster, weirder than 15 men on a dead man’s chest, with a heaping helping of rum, sodomy and the lash.

Dead Flowers: Syd, Arthur & The Acid-Minded Professor


Chalk it up to karmic coincidence that the deaths of Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett and Love’s Arthur Lee—two of ’60s psychedelia’s most beloved and drug-damaged souls—should bookend the recent publication of Robert Greenfield’s Timothy Leary: A Biography.

Though Leary has been dead 10 years, Greenfield wakes his trippy ghost and, à la A Christmas Carol, forces it to confront the damning facts of his past: his reckless acid-for-all advocacy (Leary never really bothered to point out that, um, maybe children and the mentally unstable should not take LSD); his snake-oil charm and countercultural carpetbagging (from stoner Harvard prof to gun-toting revolutionary in just 10 years!); and the shameful neglect of his children (he died estranged from his son; his equally estranged daughter killed herself in 1990 while facing attempted murder charges).

In fairness to Leary and other neural cosmonauts of the early ’60s, they were venturing into uncharted waters, often navigating under the influence of one of the most powerful drugs known to man.

His mistakes, in many ways, formed the cultural learning curve of drug-taking. Because there was always someone there to clean up his messes—lotus-eating heiresses, a string of soon-to-be ex-wives literally tripping their tits off—he never had to accept responsibility or even learn from them. Which may explain why he never seemed to grasp what was painfully obvious to even the most sympathetic observer of the drug scene: Some people simply should never, ever trip.

Syd Barrett, who died last month from diabetic complications, was one of those people. The van Gogh of early rock music, Barrett cut off his mind to spite his face, still swallowing acid by the handful even as his increasingly deranged behavior dislocated him from his bandmates and, for that matter, everybody else back on planet Earth.

Most of his genius escaped recording, though it did beam directly into the illuminated skulls of the Britpop vanguard, frugging stoned and immaculate at London underground clubs like the UFO where Barrett worked out early Floyd’s deathless outer-space-blues-Hobbit-hole-folk-trot.

By the time Floyd’s debut The Piper at the Gates of Dawn came out in 1967, Barrett’s wick was already burnt. By the beginning of 1968 he’d been fired by his own band. There were a couple of hard-to-listen-to but unforgettable solo records, painstakingly pieced together by his former bandmates from the intermittent moments of lucidity and focus they could get out of Barrett by that point. The Madcap Laughs and Barrett still sound as haunted and frayed as the man who mused aloud in his last song for Pink Floyd, “I’m wondering who could be writing this song.” After that he retired to his mother’s basement in Cambridge, never to be heard from again.

Love’s Arthur Lee was another cracked actor who shattered himself in an acid bath. He pushed against the barriers of race (a black man making white pop), convention (an inveterate Sunset Boulevard dandy, his trademark for a time was to wear only one shoe) and art (1967’s Forever Changes remains a 20th-century pop landmark).

But by the end of the ’60s he was pretty much finished as a recording artist, spending the next 25 years drinking and drugging away whatever was left of his tattered reputation. A five-year prison sentence made him sober and humble, and upon his release a few years back he toured Forever Changes, with string and horn sections, to global acclaim.

But soon enough he was back to his old bad self and was eventually fired by his own backing band. Word came in the spring that he was sick. Lee died Aug. 3 of leukemia. Damn.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Karma Police, Arrest This Blonde


A Bush Twin Claps Thom Yorke's Eraser.

The cosmic bargain, shook on long ago, clearly states you can't pick your parents or your fans. This partly explains why Thom Yorke, so famously tormented by Radiohead's dizzying ascendancy, has been trying to thin the herd with increasingly inscrutable sounds and arrangements, constantly second-guessing the band's instinct for anthems with arty and invariably electronic detours.

The intent, aside from making some strikingly original music, was to scare off the sheep like a boozy fratboy trying to intimidate a blind date with high speed and fast turns. Except when Yorke finally pulls up to the curb, she doesn't want to get out. In fact, there are more waiting at the curb to get on board.

How else to explain the widely reported presence of one of the Bush twins at a Radiohead concert at Madison Square Garden last month? It's unclear whether it was Jenna or Babs, and really, it doesn't matter. They're basically interchangeable babia majora that came of age during the Republican happy hour, mute to the public imagination aside from the occasional party foul or middle finger to the paparazzi from the back of the limo.

The extent of the compromise between what the diehard fans want and what Radiohead is giving these days seems like peanuts compared to the Bush twins' concession: The coolest band in the world at the moment hates their dad and everything he stands for with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns. After all, Hail to the Thief wasn't named for the Hamburglar.

So what to take from this? A grrl-power rebellion in the house of Bush? Maybe. But it's far more likely that going to Radiohead was just what the Prada-and-proud gang of dipshits at whatever A-list Upper West Side watering hole was doing after happy hour. If true, little girl Bush seems to have inherited her father's blind arrogance.

Wisely, the band was kept in the dark until the show was over. Still, I'd give anything to see Yorke react to a Bush in the sixth row. Actually, scratch that—it probably would've ended with Yorke being put to sleep by the guys in dark suits and earpieces.

There's a moment on The Eraser, Yorke's just-out solo album, where you can imagine the singer in his dressing room, being told the daughter of the most powerful and hated man in the universe is in the sixth row. "Well this is fucked up, fuck-ed up," he sings on "Black Swan," dragging the second syllable of "fucked" and giving it a sing-songy lilt that doesn't translate well to print, but you get the picture.

Produced by longtime Radiohead knob-twiddler Nigel Godrich and hatched on Yorke's laptop during downtime, The Eraser largely eschews six-string rockism in favor of noirish glitch electronica. It remains unclear why the songs here didn't just become an even-more-electronic-than-usual Radiohead record, which is basically what it sounds like.

A trial balloon for an eventual solo career? Yorke getting his blip-hop on one last time before the rumored return to straightforward verse-chorus-verse rock? Or maybe the guy just wants to share some ear doodles from his laptop without all the hyperventilating hubbub and unreasonable expectations that greet each new Radiohead album.

If The Eraser proves anything, it's that Thom Yorke doesn't make Radiohead. His Oxford rocker chums are the cape that hides the zipper on the back of his Superman costume. And what will he do without them the next time a Bush twin crash-lands on his planet like a hunk of kryptonite?

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Wake Me Up When The 80's Are Over (Again)



Gettin' Your Hot Chip All Up In My Brightblack Morning Light


Back in the early mid-80s that today's hep cats so lovingly fetishize and cloyingly recycle, there were two kinds of bands. Those that looked forward and those that looked back. The forward-lookers were going for the shock of the new, of course, while the backward-lookers opted for the comfort of the past. The forward-lookers were usually British, had pouffy hair and billowy pastel clothes that snapped and zippered in weird places and all of them seemed to get their names from either A Clockwork Orange or Barbarella-- Duran Duran, Heaven 17, Ultravox. These techno-popsters waved their synthesizers at the backward-lookers like a crucifix in Dracula's face -- and as per the metaphor, the backward-lookers hissed and retreated back into the coffin of rock history, aka the psychedelic 60's.

The backwards-looking bands were mostly American, had shitty hair, wore untucked thrift-store shirts, and they all seemed to get their name from the bottom of a hash pipe: The Rain Parade, Clay Allison, Opal. I really loved the former -- even more as it evolved into the latter two. Lodged in Northern California -- and adept at conjuring baroque, wistfully haunted psych-pop with a slight country inflection -- Opal would, by the end of the 80's, become Mazzy Star.

I remind you of that moment because the overlapping releases of Hot Chip's The Warning and Brightblack Morning Light's self-titled debut reminds me of that moment -- when the choice was old soul cotton or new synthetic blends. Back then, it meant war or at least fisticuffs and heated name-calling. These days, it seems we can all get along. The synth is no longer a four-letter word to rockists -- thanks to Eno, Neu! and Devo -- and dance music has swallowed whole psychedelic-rock's pagan trance-induction mechanisms: infinite reverb, eternal repetition, and transcendental signal manipulation. After all, the trippiest music these days can be heard in dance clubs, not the parking lot of Widespread Panic shows.


Living in a hippie hole somewhere in the aromatic cannabis orchards of Northern California, Brightblack Morning Light are firmly in the tradition of Opal/Mazzy Star -- rubbery Rhodes clangor, tremolo-ripple bass, woozy slide guitar, sex-fogged vocals and whole lot of crystal blue persuasion -- but with a much more adventurous approach to rhythm, poly- or otherwise. In fact, perhaps in a bid to keep the non-high from getting bored, Brightblack sometimes employs the neat trick of making the drums play twice as fast as the rest of the song, giving the proceedings a disembodied dub vibe. Think a Calder mobile, or Ladies and Gentlemen -era Spiritualized with a mesmerizing boy-meets-girl harmonic convergence replacing Jason Pierce's tinny warble. Wonderfully dreamy, blissed-out stuff.

Hot Chip's debut,Come On Strong, was, to my ears, just one more reason to steer clear of the pansy divisions of skinny white dudes in checkered Vans, sleeveless T's and goggly aviators. Hot Chip hails from the absolutely fabulous side of London and the new album has its share of shit-eating Giorgio Moroder redux, the kind that makes me curse aloud the day the kids ever found those Spandau Ballet records and got blinded by science. Elsewhere, though, Hot Chip is headfuckingly psychedelic, sounding like 99 Luftballoons popped, chopped and snorted through a straw of tweaked ambient and gurgling techno. And sometimes, when the deceptively tuneful and disarmingly heart-on-sleeves vocals come to the fore, as on say, "Colours", Hot Chip seem as accessible as the people-pleasing Postal Service's freeze-dried electro-pop. And they probably won't even get beaten up for it. Pity.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Death To The Pixies!

All Good Monkeys Go To Heaven

A word of warning: This is gonna be one of those columns where I go on and on about my little monkey shines with famous alt-rock personalities. Millions of people love it when I do that, but others seem to get very, very angry about it, stomp their feet and write mean letters that hurt my feelings. If that sounds like you, stop reading right now. I'm serious. I don't want to even see you in the second paragraph.

Set the Wayback Machine to 1988. I'm a college DJ stranded in the middle of Pennsyltucky. Entranced by the naked boob on the cover of Surfer Rosa, I slap it on the turntable and-they had me by the first 20 seconds of "Where Is My Mind?" and never really let go.

Shortly thereafter I got a gig working for a Pennsyltucky daily. They asked me one day if I wanted to interview some guy named Black Francis from the Pixies. Would I? Man, this was a dream come true. I could finally learn the WTF of lyrics like, "He bought me a soda, he bought me a soda/ And he tried to molest me in the parking lot."

When I got him on the phone, he was no doubt bone-tired from endless touring and weary of answering stupid fanboy questions. He insisted I call him Charles and pretty much refused to give me a straight answer to any question. "Who cares?" he'd say. "We just try to make cool rock music." I remember thinking: what a dick.

The next Pixie I met was Kim Deal, around 1994. The Breeders had just broken huge, and somebody had given Kim's sister Kelley a copy of my band the Psyclone Rangers' debut album. Kelley listed one of the songs as one of her 10 favorites that year in Rolling Stone's end-of-the-year wrap-up.

So I get her on the phone and we hit it off, and she invites me and the band to come hang out backstage at the Philly stop of Lollapalooza. I don't remember much except it was hot and muddy and famous back there. The Psyclone Rangers were about to record our next album down in Memphis. We had a song we wanted that patented Deal-sister vocal on, and Kelley quickly agreed to sing on it.

The night before she was supposed to fly down she called to say she was too sick to leave town. She sounded pretty out of it. Boy, were we bummed. Was it something we said or did? A few days later, when she got busted for receiving a FedEx envelope full of heroin, we put two and two together.

Fast-forward a year. The Psyclone Rangers are in L.A. playing a special pre-album-release club show for all the music-biz poohbahs. The kid who ran our label always bragged he was friends with Pixies guitarist Joey Santiago and drummer Dave Lovering. Yeah, right! Prove it, we'd always say. That night he did.

Apres-gig we're sitting backstage, and who walks in but the guitar player and the drummer from the Pixies, all smiles and compliments. The Pixies had long since split by then, and Santiago had formed a then-trendy cocktail act called the Martinis. To be honest, it was kind of a letdown: The guys from the Pixies don't have anything better to do than hang out with chumps like us?

Fast forward a decade. Following Nirvana's sincere flattery and inspired theft, an entire generation of commercial alt-rock hits built on the Pixies patented song-writing template of lulling verses and volcanic choruses are already in the Where Are They Now? file. Black Francis has become Frank Black, releasing a steady string of increasingly irrelevant solo albums. The Breeders career went up the nose and in the arm of the Deal sisters. The Pixies guitarist went MIA into domesticity and the drummer gave up music to become...wait for it...a magician.

All of which is painstakingly detailed in Fool The World(St.Martin's Griffin), the just-out he said/she said Pixies bio. Told George Plimpton-style, all in quotes, it reads like a 300-page Spin article and will answer every stupid fanboy question Black Francis stopped answering in 1988. Even more compelling is a soon-to-be released documentary called quietLoudquiet, which sort of turns the reunion tour into reality show. The camera follows them everywhere, including the bathroom. Old dramas like the Kim Deal/Black Francis rivalry seem like ancient history, replaced by more current and pressing concerns, like Deal's struggle with sobriety and the drummer's mid-tour meltdown in the wake of his father's sudden death by cancer.
A coupla years ago, my roommate from college calls me up one day to say the Pixies are getting back together. "Just when I stopped caring," I said. That wasn't entirely true. I giddily went to reunion show and contrary to what people who weren't there the first time around said, they were as good as they ever were. The classic songs seem immune to the ravages of age, and besides the Pixies strange allure was never based on the hormones and hair of youth -- unlike, say, a band like the Strokes who already seem a bit past it. These days they are all fatter and balder, but, having settled or set aside the irreconcilable differences of the past, and worked through the addiction-rehab-divorce craziness of middle age, they are also wiser.

Something else happened while they were away. This cult band with its weird, noisy songs about UFOs, incest and bone machines became more famous in death than they ever were in life. They've become part of the great collective alt-rock unconscious -- like the Cure or the first Violent Femmes record. Surfer Rosa is on every punky bar jukebox. Jocks crank "Wave of Mutilation" as they race by in Daddy's car, flipping-off the nerds. And every chick bass player worth her salt has played "Gigantic" until her tits practically fell off. When I saw the Pixies last year, 20,000 people sang along with every word of "Where Is My Mind?" Judging by the median age of the crowd, most were still in short pants when the song first came out. It would seem that the Pixies have become, dare I say it, folk music.

I suppose we all learned something along the way: Kim can't be around alcohol; Black Francis needs to lay off the buffets; the guitarist looks a lot cooler with no hair and the drummer needs to finalize his divorce from Vicadin. For me, it's that Black Francis was right all along. All that soap opera jive? What does it really matter in the end? Especially when the only thing worth remembering is this: If man is five, then the Devil is six and God is seven. Or to put it another way, the Pixies were just four kids from Boston trying to make cool rock music whose monkey died and went to heaven.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

WAR OF DISTORTION
Mr. Young Goes To Washington


When Stephen Colbert hosted the White House Correspondents Dinner -- the annual D.C. puppet show where reporters play pattycake with the Prez -- he rode the Trojan Horse of Truthiness right up to the President's table and unleashed its hidden contents: a disinfecting dose of reality-based reality, thinly-coated with irony for easier digestion, though impossible to swallow for those weaned on Fox News comfort food. Speaking truth to power at point blank-range, Colbert's barbs essentially added up to: The emperor has no clothes, and all of you, the Fourth Estate, have become nothing more than royal dressers. No wonder Colbert's performance was greeted with pin-drop silence and muzzled in the coverage of the event. It is a sad day for the Republic when the job of truth-telling falls to the clowns.

Increasingly, rock music is stepping into the breach, bridging the yawning chasm between what is real and what is permitted. There was a time when I would have thought the protest song had outlived its usefulness. Turns out no generation gets the protest songs it wants, it gets the protest songs it needs. What's that you say? Preaching to the choir? Well, look around, son -- there ain't, no choir. That all changes with Neil Young's Living With War, wherein Young employs a massive power-to-the-people choir to recite his words, themselves essentially articles of impeachment that Neil stacks on an electric chair of metallic folk-punk. This is Neil, the righteous electric warrior, rockin' in the free world. Like Colbert's performance, Living With War essentially points out that our Dear Leader is stark ravin' nekkid, cataloguing the bald-faced lies that led us into quagmire, keep us divided and afraid and the resulting slow-but-steady amputation of the national soul. If the congressional Dems don't have the balls to say it, our hairy Canadian friend will: It is time for us to wake-up from our long national nightmare.

Coming on the heels of a major concert movie/album release, and written and recorded in three weeks in March and rushed out to the Internet and CD sellers this week, Living With War is blog rock -- or more accurately, rock as blog. Brash, raw and immediate. And to make sure his point is not lost on the common man, Young dresses these songs up in his best distressed-jeans freedom-rock -- think Rust Never Sleep's garage-punk crunch -- and reclaims the flag, mom, apple pie, truth, justice and the American Way from the war pigs. But the most powerful moment is when that big, soulful choir does "America The Beautiful" -- sounding fierce, wounded, and saddened but resolute. It contains multitudes: you can hear New Orleans drowning, you can hear the towers falling, and bombs bursting in air over Baghdad.

"We are the silent majority now, and we haven't done a damn thing," Young told the New York Times recently. "We've stood by and watched this happen. But there's more of us than there is of them, and we have to do something. When people start talking and see they can get away with it, it's going to happen everywhere. It's going to be a landslide, it's going to be a tidal wave. This is just the tip of it."

As fucked as things are, there is reason to believe we've finally reached the tipping point. Thankfully our forefathers were very wise men who wove into the fabric or our democracy hidden mechanisms to stop the slimy creep of fascism, like salt on a slug. One of them is free speech. Don't laugh, it can stop tanks dead in their tracks.

(Illustration by Alex Fine, poster by Frank Kozik)

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Amazing Grace

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN
WE SHALL OVERCOME:THE SEEGER SESSIONS


It's no accident that you don't really know what Pete Seeger did. That he's truly larger than life, an American original, the kind that walk out of storybooks, like Paul Bunyan or Johnny Appleseed, but more real. That he more or less singlehandedly carried the burden of pure roll-up-your-sleeves and speak-truth-to-power lefty populism, social justice and humanitarian conscience on his back for the better part of the 20th Century, with amazing grace and without complaint. For his trouble he's been tarred and feathered, beaten and blacklisted, and officially written out of history text books.

In the hunched autumn of his life -- he's now 87 -- he's wandered in the same off-the-radar wilderness of hush puppy gentility that Jimmy Carter's been exiled to, where nobody really listens and no good deed goes unpunished. For reasons that remain unclear, Jesus Christ is considered a savior and guys like Pete Seeger are considered fools -- well-meaning possibly but unrealistic granola-munching ninnies just the same -- even though their morality and politics are exactly the same. Maybe some day, when the Matrix is finally unplugged, the scales will fall from our eyes.

Sure he can be stick-in-the-mud and a fuss budget about interpretation, and it's true he did get fightin' mad when Dylan went electric. Boy, if Seeger had a hammer that day, well, thinks would be a lot different. Still, that was a long time ago and a galaxy far, far away. It's time for Americana's Obi-wan to pass his burden to a younger Jedi. On We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, The Boss, bless his heart, puts a lotta elbow grease into spit shinin' a legacy tarnished by neglect, and Seeger's songbook -- which he would be the first to admit is really America's songbook, he's just the wizardly shepherd -- cleans up real nice, and the mantel fits the Boss like an old pair of jeans, the kind that make his ass look good to women of Certain Age.

Assembling a non-E Street magic band of jolly folkateers, the Boss mans the captain's wheel, barking out orders, making up arrangements on the fly -- all the songs recorded live literally in the living room, no rehearsal, just hit "record" and let's go -- and steers his wooden ship towards the same rockets red glare twilight so palpable on Wilco/Billy Bragg's Mermaid Avenue series. The result is easily the best Springsteen album, E-Street Band or no E-Street band, since Nebraska. The problem heretofore was that there was only two kinds of Bruce: Springsteen that's good for you and Springsteen that feels good -- jugband or "Jungleland.". There was either the big rolling chromewheelfuelinjected rock n' roll hot rod of the E-Street band or there were these solemn folk records, the musical equivalent of the Boss riding one of those old-timey bicycles with the big fuckin' front tire. Problem is, people in Jersey think those bikes are gay.

The unintended irony is that despite The Boss' efforts to the contrary, those big arena-rockin' bar band anthems are the folk music -- you know, music for folks -- and the folkie records are kinda for highbrows and elites. At best those records and shows are endured, if not flat-out ignored by your 700 Level sittin' working man, who waits patiently for another brewski-hoistin' E-Street album or tour. The Seeger Sessions will change all that. It's fuckin' hoot: Dixieland stomps, blue grass highs, mountain rags, porchfront hoedowns, pass the jug-a-wine gang-yell singalongs. It's gonna sound great up on lawn seats, where we will join arm in arm, beers-in-hand and sway. And on this much we will agree: That we think we're so clever classless and free, but we're still fuckin' peasants as far as we can see. Still, we shall overcome. Someday.

Monday, April 10, 2006

At The Twilight's Last Gleaming


The Lonesome Crowded Death Of Grandaddy And All Who Sailed With It

The posthumous album by Grandaddy opens with the forlorn voice of a child simultaneously invoking the album's title and asking the question innocents invariably ask in the wake of a divorce, fire, flood, hurricane, towering inferno, earthquake or Poseidon adventure: What Ever Happened To The Family Cat? Trust me kid, you don't want to know.

As you have no doubt heard by now, this will be the final Grandaddy album and, really, that should come as no surprise. Most bands have a shelf life of ten years tops -- five in obscurity trying to get your attention, and another five trying desperately not to squander it. By then, the ultimatums of long-suffering significant others, accruing debt, mounting substance abuse issues and internecine in-the-van squabbling conspire to break the back of even the strongest rock steeds. Bands like Grandaddy are in a war of attrition with the Fame Machine, and invariably the Machine wins -- not least of all because it does not have to contend with personal debt, screaming girlfriends and passive aggressive drummers that hog the van-porn and the shotgun seat. So be it.

Grandaddy served it's purpose well, messengering home soft bulletins about the collateral damage incurred in the Tectonic shift of centuries: the prevailing po-faced melancholy of living in a disposable technocracy, where khaki cubicle drones dream of electric sheep under Ikea lights, and todays' iPod is tomorrows space junk.To do so, they borrowed liberally: The Pixies' angular rockism; Stereolab's jangling Moog vistas; Neil Young's shivery, high-lonesome yelp; ELO's syncretic symphonic whoosh. And somehow they made it all fit like a snug North Face fleece. Everyone who already loves Grandaddy is gonna love this album because, really, the music hasn't changed much since 2000's solar-powered classic, The Sophtware Slump -- but the stakes have.
Weep not for the lonesome, crowded death of Grandaddy, dear reader, weep for yourselves, and let us bury our brothers in arms in echoing halls of lasting praise and glory. Future generations will one day disinter all our palaver, which will have long since been buried under miles of binary code at the bottom of the Internet, and they will listen to the totems Grandaddy left behind the same way we look at those Easter Island statues. And then, truly, the grizzly bears of Grandaddy will at long last be regarded as the American idols.
Grandaddy may not get there with us but they have seen the promised land: A home where the buffalo roam, where never is heard a discouraging word, the skies are not cloudy and grey, and wireless is free and plentiful.In G-daddy's absence, any number of Americana bands that were previously pulling up the rear will now vie to walk point. I nominate Seattle's Band Of Horses, whose Everything All The Time These dropped a few weeks back -- typically, with all the fanfare and cultural impact of a teardrop exploding in the Pacific. These guys are hardly the first band to walk through the desert on a horse with no name, but by gawd do they nail the sad-eyed grandeur of that whole Cosmic Americana thing -- like a fine puree of Mercury Rev, Lips, G-daddy, My Morning Jacket Built To Spill -- which, for reasons that remain damnably unclear, works like musical Viagra on British critics but seems to have about the same impact on statesiders as a dog shown a card trick.

Play it at your Grandaddy wake, and will the last Americana band to be played on the radio please bring the flag.

(Artwork By Alex Fine)

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Cosmic Americana


THE FLAMING LIPS
At War With The Mystics
(Warner Bros.)

Having become sentient in the mid-70s, somewhere in the middle of that that vast mountainous Pennsyltucky between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, I had a front row seat to one of the places where the 60's went to die: the hinterlands. While more cosmopolitan zip codes were sampling disco, cocaine, Members Only jackets and punk, all I could see growing up was ex-greaser shitkickers in dirty bellbottoms, Greg Brady haircuts, faded Dark Side of The Moon T-shirts and knocked-up girlfriends in peasant dresses billowing with pre-natal pulchritude, blasting Zep, Floyd and Yes in souped-up Camaros as they raced off to yet another keggar in the woods. I have it on good authority that the Flaming Lips grew up under similar circumstances in Oklahoma city. And much of their early career sounds like a band failing wonderfully to recreate their older brother's classic rock album collection -- without the pedigree, chops, major label magnanimity or luck of being at the right place at the right time that helped make so much of that music unforgettable. By the early 90s, they had discovered syrupy melody and radio-ready precision only complimented their appetite for noise and whimsy. By the late 90s, they had fully copped to their love of gatefold prog-rock, which was only then recovering a measure of respectability after years of punk's libelous whispering campaign. By the 21s Century, the Lips had fully embraced electronica, J-pop and pumping house music, and ingeniously grafted the best elements of those musics to recreate their tangerine dreams. They drove in this direction pretty much until the wheels came off with relatively recently with a series of increasingly pointless re-mix EPs that finally wrung all the seemingly bottomless flava out of 2002's uniformly excellent Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots. The new At War With The Mystics -- how's that for a zeitgeist-capturing title? -- finds the Lips re-calibrating the ratios of clicks/buzzes/BPMs to classic hesher-rock, striking a balance that older rockist fans will more pleasing all the while retaining the gravity-defying superpowers that point-and-click production techniques afford mere mortal guitar-bands. As such, At War With The Mystics should please all facets of the Lips surging constituency: the ex-ravers that have seen the light; indie-rockers in search of father figures; aging acid casualties still trying to go furthur; and the people that choose music for commercials. I'll spare you the requisite adjective orgies about specific songs -- the whole album is currently streaming over at flaminglips.com -- but barring the occasional lapse into previously-chewed scenery, and the inclusion of the weak-ass "Mr. Ambulance Driver", this is yet another reason to believe that the Flaming Lips' psychedelic hot air balloon is still the most reliable transport to book when you wanna go somewhere over the rainbow.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Come On Feel The Rage



DISCUSSED: IRISH GIRLFRIENDS; THE IRA; RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE; MUMIA; PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN; THE END OF DEMOCRACY; AND JUST HOW AWESOME IS THIS PHOTO OF BRIAN JONES?
Five years and three girlfriends ago, Rage Against the Machine was on the FOP shitlist for staging a Free Mumia concert at the Meadowlands. Mumia, as you may have heard, was convicted of killing officer Daniel Faulkner. None of that hubub was much on my radar back then. But my gal at the time, well, she was pretty hardcore Irish, Up The Ra! and all that. Her aunt was a tough-but-sweet old broad that was up to her elbows in The Troubles, if you know what I mean. Let's just say that some of the proceeds from those beef n' brews she threw might have wound up putting butter and guns on the table in Belfast. Suffice it to say that Faulkner was an Irish martyr in the eyes of her family.

One day she came by my place and told me she was breaking up with me because I had Rage Against The Machine's Evil Empire CD in my apartment. Still in the wrapper mind you.
"I didn't buy it, it got sent to me," I protested. She had a great ass.
"Why don't you get rid of it then?"
"I might have to write about it some day."
"It came out four years ago. If you loved me you would get rid of it."

She was kidding, but only by half. Truth be told she never really looked at me the same after that. Long story short, she left and Rage stayed. All these girlfriends later, I didn't get around to listening to it until I saw The Party's Over. Directed by Donovan Leitch and hosted by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, The Party's Over, isn't very good, in fact it's a rather anemic dollar-short-day-late stab at x-raying the blackened heart of American democracy. But there are two must-see moments that justify the rental fee. The first is a lot of never-seen footage of rioters clashing with cops in the streets of Philadelphia during the 2000 Republican convention. (Watch it again, and after everything that came after, tell me you don't see it all differently.) From here the film cuts to the LA cops igniting a bloody riot when they shutdown an incendiary street performance by Rage Against the Machine outside the Democratic National Convention a few weeks later. Rage had thousands in the streets. That was the last time an American rock band scared the shit out of the powers that be.


I put on Evil Empire and the shoe still fits, it stomps out of the speakers like a Hendrixian bull in the Columbine china shop of Clinton's America. When Evil Empire came out in 1996, it just sounded like shrill sloganeering to me. After all, our guy was in the White House, he may have a little of the devil in him, but it's the devil we know. Sure there's injustices great and small, but we have peace, prosperity, Stereolab and the Internet stocks are gonna make us all independently wealthy. All of us.
That was, as Karl Rove likes to say, a pre-9/11 mentality. Listening to Evil Empire now, it sounds to me like rumbling war drums foretelling the great clash of civilizations. I feel the rage. I hate rap-rock as much as you, but really, it's come to this: the sky is really falling. Mister we could use a band like Rage Against The Machine again. A band that scares the shit out of the powers that be, a band that pounds lies into dust with their bare hands. A fist that slams on the table and rattles the chess pieces. A band that brings the huddled masses into the streets, a band that must be stopped. And no, I'm not just talking about Audioslave.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Patsy inClined

Neko Case And Jenny Lewis Got Nothin' On Patsy Montana

As of 2005, Patsy Cline's 12 Greatest Hits sold 10 million copies. Not bad for a ghost. She got on a plane to Kansas City in 1963 -- just a couple years into her newfound fame as the sweetheart of the Nashville rodeo -- and never came back, disappearing into the ether of immortality like Amelia Earhart in spurs. Her ghost has been haunting American music ever since, and any vaguely countryish thrush will have to suffer comparisons. Just ask KD Lang. Still, Patsy Cline didn't come from nothing. Her colorized visage has become iconic: inky black locks, ruby lips, ultra-brite smile lighting up a moonpie face, decked out in full-on cowgirl regalia like Bob Wills with boobs.

But that's actually the spitting image of Patsy Montana, the artist formerly known as Rubeye Blevins, who struck out on her own after a stint in the Montana Cowgirls, and sold a million copies of her self-penned "I Want To Be A Cowboy's Sweetheart" in 1935.
Admittedly, as a singer, Montana's got nothing on Cline, and as a songwriter, well, let's just say she's no Willie Nelson, but her yodelin' yarn of barnyard romance was like opium to to the poor and huddled masses of the Depression, clustered around the wireless in tarpaper shacks.
It certainly was to teenaged Virginia Patterson Hensley, jerking sodas at' Gaunt's Drugstore in one-horse Winchester Virginia, trying to escape the clutches of her lecherous father and dreaming of the promised land of country music stardom. Not for nothing would she later change her name to Patsy Cline.
All these years later, the twangy heartbreak dreamscapes of the singing cowgirl still enchant -- after all, we're still depressed, and still clustering around the wireless. And the torch-song has been passed to succeeding generations, from Loretta Lynn to Linda Ronstadt to Nora Jones. In alt-country circles, Patsy Cline casts a shadow of influence rivaled only by Billie Holiday. It is here, on the edges of that enduring moonlit cowgirl silhouette, that exceptional new releases by Neko Case and Jenny Lewis work their corn-fed magic. Heretofore, both were, in some quarters, better known for their involvement in other bands -- Case blares the New Pornographers' immaculate rhapsodies, Lewis' voice is the pleasant breeze that flies Rilo Kiley's indie-pop kite -- but that will soon change.

Fox Confessor Brings The Flood, is the fifth album from Case in nearly twice as many years, and it marks her emergence as a major player. Long praised for her leather-lungs, clarion tone -- like God's private car alarm, some have opined -- and take-exactly-no-shit-from-anybody chutzpah, Case reveals herself to also be a cunning linguist. Some have taken issue with the album's elliptical ambiguities and animal kingdom allegories, but I think they push her whole act into wholly original territory, an intriguing x-factor that sets off the relative familiarity of the settings: spare desert-blown Americana from the Calexico/Giant Sand savants, deep-bottom guitar twang from the Sadies, the Band's Garth Hudson's spectral organ and piano, and miles and miles of reverb. But it is Case's voice that pulls this train through the tunnel, over and over again.

On Rabbit Fur Coat, Jenny Lewis's crystalline timbre cuts through a fog of reverb like a searchlight. Backed by the bewitching Watson Twins, Lewis seems to be walking out of a scene from the Shining on the cover. Nobody gets axe murdered in the course of the album, except perhaps the future of Rilo Kiley. This becomes apparent on the rapturous cover of the Traveling Willbury's "Handle Me With Care" where she is joined by nouveau Willbury's Conor Oberst, Ben Gibbard and M. Ward. Puts the "hoot" in hootenanny, it does.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Pussy Galore




Cat Power Purrs! Destroyer Kills!


The only drag about living in the Information Age is that there are no miracles, just miraculous statistical anomolies otherwise known as coincidence. True story -- happened on November 21st , 2002, 35 miles south of Birmingham, Alabama, according to the New York Times -- two sisters decided to make unannounced visits to each other's houses, at exactly the same time. They both died in a head-on crash -- with each other. Tragic? Sure. Freakish? You bet. Impossible? Statistically speaking, nothing is impossible. There are enough people now living on Earth that anything can and eventually will happen.

Consider that the average person will have a "million-to-one" coincidence happen to them every three years. Most of them will be pretty meaningless, nearly all of it will pass without notice or remembrance. But every now and then, lightning will strike twice. I am talking about the new Destroyer and Cat Power albums, of course. Released within weeks of each other, Cat Power's The Greatest and Destroyer's Rubies finds two infamously inscrutable artists, whose careers heretofore have been unrelated, making big, beautifully understated records that run into each by accident. Both walk away without a scratch. Coincidence? Absolutely.

What binds these two is a borderline artistic personality: blurry, unstable self-images moodswinging in and out of recognizability. Are they who they sing they are? For Destroyer this is a parlor game, for Cat Power it's closer to a plea for medication. Destroyer is essentially Dan Bejar, inscrutable weird-beard Vancouver pop-savant, perhaps better known for contributing the best songs on New Pornographer's albums. Every Destroyer album seems to have amnesia about the one that came before -- it could be shambling, pretzel-twist indie-pop; could be guitar-less synth-pap or it could be classic-rock burlesque. But each can be counted on for any number of things: nimble playing, verbal jousting, eviscerating wit, rug-pulling plot twists, absurd putdowns, ridiculous assertions, outrageous dares, unnanswered prayers, curses and imprecations, tasty licks and a few killer hooks. If ever there was a songwriter who writes for the critics it's Bejar. And the funny thing is critics give themselves hemoroids trying to explain the why and the what-it-all-means, but with Bejar that's besides the point. Mostly, he's just fucking with you. And still they soft-shoe around their typewriters like Vaudville hams, desperately trying to pull the Titanic out of a tophat. Bejar chuckles at their tongue-tied folly and shrugs. "I'm just another West Coast maximalist exploring the blues, ignoring the news" he sings on the new album as if daring them to drop it in the review, before pirating the ghost ship of Neil Young's "Down By The River".

On The Greatest, Cat Power is just another Southern folk-blues minimalist exploring R&B who makes the news when she gets spooked and cancels a tour. Cat Power is, of course, the lovely Chan Marshall, 10 years into an acclaimed career as indie's most spellbinding, yet easily freaked folkie. Her new album finds her working with a cast of Memphis soul session legends, guys with names like Teenie and Flick who've backed up the likes of Al Green, Booker T. and Aretha Franklin. She recorded in Ardent studios, birthplace of Big Star's Sister Lovers, the Rosetta Stone of artily damaged mope-rock, but this time out she never sounds mopey or damaged, having traded her Ophelia-with-a-guitar persona for Dusty In Memphis's white go-go boots. If it sounds like a mid-career stab at being a grown-up, she wears it well. Sure, grown-ups can be a little drifty and dull at times, but they don't flub their lines and they finish their songs like the vegetables on their plate.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Nerds Do It Longer

Stars of Track and Field Still F*ck Like Champs


Boy-o-boy, did Joey Sweeney get his underoos in a bunch when I mentioned that a new Belle & Sebastian album was cause for "a legion of cardigan-clad Millhouses to raise their skinny arms to heaven like antennae." Speaking like a man who's taken all the lockeroom towel-snapping he was gonna take for one lifetime, he told me to get my gang together and meet his gang on the playground for a badminton death match. I don't know if you've ever seen Sweeney's shuttlecock, but needless to say I was concerned. Dude's been workin' out.

I only mention this because the new Belle & Sebastian, The Life Pursuit, sounds like a band that's not gonna take any more shit off anyone. To me, it marks the final triumph of "twee" over "lad". Twee, for those that don't mark key points in their lives by the semi-obscure Scottish b-sides you were listening to at the time, is a Brit euphemism, a babytalk mispronunciation of the word "sweet", and usually refers to something unbearably precious. The term actually dates back to the dawn of the 20th Century and was usually used in the pejorative, but in the mid-80s, a gaggle of jangly Glaswegian indie-poppers adopted the term as a badge of honor. Lad, or laddishness, has the same Maxim mag raison d'tre in England as it does here: get drunk, screw something, preferably a female, and barring that, come last call, kick the shit out of someone, preferably smaller than you.

Twee verus lad is basically the latest skirmish in the mods-versus-the-rockers war that's been going on since the 60s. The haircuts may change, but the battle rages on. Ten years ago, when Belle & Sebastian released their Tigermilk debut, grunge was still, literally, all the rage. Rap-rock was ascendent. Scott Stapp, Fred Durst, Scott Weiland were the new alpha dawgs of rock, each destined for a bone of stardom they would all choke on eventually. They did it all for the nookie.

While lads went out night after night and drank, drugged or fucked themselves into ass-clown status, the twee kids in Belle and Sebastian took care of themselves. They wore a scarf when it was cold. They got a good night's sleep. They wore a mac in the rain. They wrote and recorded songs with the dutiful regularity of homework and the giddy invention of a science fair project. Or so goes the preciously crafted image. Truth is, twee kids like sex, do drugs, and even get drunk from time to time. Even Joey Sweeney.

Jocks may do it harder, but nerds do it longer. If rock n' roll really is just high school with money, longevity is the revenge of the nerds -- it's like money in the bank. You ever been to a high school reunion? Ever notice how all the quarterbacks and the cheerleaders all seem to have peaked long ago, how they've all morphed into middle class suburban shlubs or wide-assed soccer moms? They don't know Belle & Sebastian from Wallace and Gromit. And all the nerds from back in the day, where are they? They wouldn't be caught dead here. They have long since evolved into something too cool for school reunions. And while Scott Weiland is fronting a Gun's N' Roses tribute band, Scott Stapp is literally crying for a reporter from Rolling Stone, and Fred Durst is making cellphone cam porn tapes, Belle & Sebastian are on top of their game, sounding younger than yesterday, still making pure pop for now people.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

The Art Is Deceitful Above All Things

(Painting by Killer Luka)

JT Leroy Is A Great Literary Hoax, But A Mediocre Rock N' Roll Swindle


I have a distant cousin who once punked his parents into believing he'd been going to college, when in fact he had been pocketing the tuition dough and playing video games at the mall -- for four years! That his parents were divorced and lived states away from each other and the college helped facilitate the deception. He tearfully confessed on the eve of his supposed graduation. There was a big party planned: catering tent, live band, folks flying in from all over the country. What a mess. When I told a friend, he said: "It's like he deserves some kind of medal...or prison sentence."

I had a similar reaction when it was revealed recently that the person who wrote Sarah and The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things is not a teenaged-rentboy-turned-celebrated-belletrist after all. Turns out JT Leroy is the nom de plume of Laura Albert, a middle-aged mom with rock star dreams. Because LeRoy's work always skirted the fringes of memoir, it was his lurid backstory that authenticated the power of the prose: a tender-aged white trash West Virginian, forced to dress like a girl and sold into prostitution by his beloved lot lizard mom, winds up a HIV-positive self-lacerating basket case in San Francisco, faxing off early drafts of his private hell to his literary mentors from public restrooms in between turning tricks. His abuse so profound, his connection to reality now so tenuous and hallucinatory, LeRoy emerges this street-urchin seer, a gutter poet looking up at the stars. Cue deafening applause on the left and right coasts.

To further burnish this mythology, Albert invested enormous amounts of time and energy courting celebrities and media gate-keepers that could further le cause LeRoy, plying their sympathies with exotic gifts, marathon late-night calls and endless emails. The A-list of the dearly decieved is fairly glittering: Dave Eggers, Bono, Zadie Smith, Madonna, Tom Waits, Lou Reed, Carrie Fisher, Yoko Ono, Vanity Fair, Bloomsbury Press, Da Capo books, the New York Times (which ultimately unmasked him/her after first glowingly profiling him, then hiring him, then firing him after he refused to prove he was who he said he was). Weep not for them, dear reader, they knew the risks. Barring the questionable morality of masquerading as HIV-positive, Albert was well within her rights as an artist. Art uses tiny lies to tell larger truths -- it is short for artifice, after all. In time, the less-than-flattering truths revealed about those who flocked moth-like to JT LeRoy's flame and basked in the backlight of his reflected glory may transcend the bleak revelations of the books themselves.

Albert was able to spin the critic's buzz and celebrity connections into a best-selling JT Leroy brand, inking two movie deals, securing high-profile writing and editing gigs, and promoting a line of merchandise. Recently LeRoy rolled out his latest franchise: a mediocre rock band called Thistle LLC. LeRoy writes the lyrics, Albert handles vocals and her husband plays guitar. Thistle specializes in the kind of spiky, chick-fronted riff-rock that Amy Rigby already nailed to perfection on "Dancing With Joey Ramone". To put it in local terms, minus the JT LeRoy imprimatur, Thistle would at best rate an anonymous Tuesday night support slot at the Khyber. Maybe a Wednesday, but definitely not a Thursday.

As for the, quality of the Albert's prose I will say this: she writes lyrically of barbarous sodomy. But I suspect there will be some critical evaluation, and the halo will dim, or perhaps go out altogether. Surely some if not all that high-handed praise was a leg-up to a deeply-troubled and dying 16-year-old boy writing his way out of darkness, not a thirtysomething women writing her way into the limelight.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Time Takes A Cigarette


Discussed:
Aladdin Sane (30th Anniversary Two-CD Edition)









Detroit circa 1973 more or less WAS A Clockwork Orange, a post-apocalyptic urban dystopia minus the funny Brit accents but with added ultra-violence and racial strife. Bowie channeled the Motor City vibe from the safety of four-star hotel rooms, envisioning a plotless rock opera of leather-clad bully boys and pimped-out thuggery where panic strutted around on platform shoes and you just know somebody was gonna get slapped. Back then Bowie held a cracked mirror up to rock 'n' roll and reflected it back as art, trading glittering extraterrestrial personas like spangled jumpsuits, each more garish, cokeheaded and alienated than the last. Aladdin Sane climbed out of the same crash-landed saucer as Ziggy Stardust and--with Mick Ronson's phasers-set-for-kill guitars chauffeuring--promptly limousined himself across America on a search-and-destroy mission against the ordinary. Bowie could be such a bitch, and everyone who turned up at those shows had a gay old time. Perched midway between queeny Brechtian cabaret, white-faced Kabuki theater and throbbing cock-rock burlesque, Aladdin Sane was originally intended as B-movie filler to capitalize on Ziggy's rock-star ascendancy. But in the intervening 33 years it has ripened into a bell-bottomed glam classic.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

This Record Is Illegal




Donna Summer
This Needs to Be Your Style
IRRITANT RECORDS

First thing you need to know is that this has nothing to do with disco diva Donna Summer, but is instead an identity-theft/media prank on the scale of the Negativland/U2 showdown in the '90s. The first hint is the cover, which features a grainy black and white photo of what appears to be a satanic ritual but upon closer inspection is actually some dirtball metal band apres-gig, wringing the sweat out of their T-shirts and getting high in their graffiti-scarred dressing room. The second giveaway comes when you press "play" and out comes what can best be described as the aural paroxysms of an epileptic Mac with a bellyful of Kazaa. This black-market release, currently the must-have of the Wire set, is the handiwork of Williamsburg audio guerilla Jason Forrest. Part recombinant point-and-click blip-hop, part mutated monster mash-up, This Needs to Be Your Style is a mesmerizing and often disorienting reminder that songs and sounds get stolen every day and secreted away to the digital chop-shops of Brooklyn and London only to be tossed back into the cyber slipstream in a kind of catch-and-release program. There are enough hot-wired samples here--J. Geils Band, the Pretenders, U2, Supertramp--to get Forrest sued back to the Stone Age. My guess is that when the RIAA goon squad shows up at his downmarket Williamsburg flat with a can of whup-ass, they're gonna kick down the door and find a guy who looks like Badly Drawn Boy, a lump of Moroccan hash the size of a bowling ball and a Mac iBook with a belt in its mouth. Then, most likely, they'll pump their shotguns while yelling "Run, boy!" and give him 30 paces to make it look like he was trying to get away before they shoot him in the head.

Furry Blooze


Discussed:

Furry Lewis
Good Morning Judge
FAT POSSUM

Sometimes, as the saying goes, having a little luck is the best plan. Furry Lewis was never much for planning, and luck was a luxury he could rarely afford. From the age of 12, he spent the better part of his life as a street sweeper in Memphis or working medicine shows, where charlatans sold snake oil to gullible yokels. When Furry was 17, he lost his leg hoppin' freight trains. Legend has it that a friend came to the hospital and Furry told him, "It ain't so bad. I can see the ice cream factory from here." Like most post-World War II Delta mojo men, Furry was just a generation or two out of forty-acres-and-a-mule. Life--with its "whites only" water fountains and back-of-the-bus mandates--was an open wound, and the blues was the salve. Furry played a sort of droning porch-lit trance-blues, prodded by rocking-chair toe-tap rhythms and flyswatter beats, nearly all of which, like most good blues, start with "I woke up this morning ... " Furry's may have been a flea-bitten hound dog of a life, but good God almighty he was alive and glad to be, and nobody--not the judge who locked him up or the doctor who sawed his leg off, not even Jesus Christ himself--could take that away.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Brit Papa

dp
LET US NOW PRAISE RAY DAVIES
Before we get started do yourself a favor: cue up "Waterloo Sunset" by the Kinks. Ah, don't you feel better already? Music in the left speaker, vocals in the right -- totally old school. That twinkling strum of brotherly guitar and gently piddling snare, those drowsy sha-la-las drifting upwards while the bass line tumbles downwards, and the comforting sentiment that even the shittiest day on Earth ends with a glimpse-of-paradise sunset. That, my friend, is the sound of your father's Brit-pop. They don't make singles like that anymore -- Damon Albarn has long since stopped even trying. Sadly the Gallagher brothers haven't.

As a Modish a young man, back when London was swinging and shagadelic , he authentically articulated the quiet desperation of middle-aged English milquetoasts straight-jacketed in Cardigan sweaters and stuck at the crossroads of fat wives, cold tea and limp biscuits; the fashion slavery of Carnaby Street dandies; the lazy, summery noontides of stoned Victoriana, where nobody is all that concerned that London Bridge is falling down and, hey, what was in that marmalade anyway? He also wrote "Lola" and then married Chrissie Hynde only to have her leave him for, of all people, the lead singer of Simple Minds. The Kinks more or less puttered out at the dawn of MTV, although they've never officially pulled the plug. In a recent BBC interview he all but predicted a future Kinks reunion, assuming his brother Dave continues to recover from a recent debilitating stroke. He also revealed that his brother is now living with him. To appreciate the irony of this, you should know that the Brothers Davies are notorious for being at each other's throats since they were kids, sticking knitting needles into their guitar amps. I say screw the Kinks reunion -- at this point, they'll never do better than evoke the weakest song on Kinks Chronicles One -- give 'em a TV show.

Curiously, as the teenage wasteland of the 60s aged into middle-aged waistbands, Davies' had relatively little to say about it, choosing instead to transmute the story of his youth into books and theater. Now he's finally weighing in: "Is there life after breakfast?" he asks on Other People's Lives, his gem-studded solo debut, out this month on V-2. Well, yes, once you take your pills and drink your tea, he concludes. Cold comfort, I know, but it will happen to you and it will happen to me. In recent years, Davies has become a habitue of the Big Easy. He was strolling through the French Quarter last year when he was shot in the leg after giving chase to the man who had just mugged his girlfriend -- no doubt intending to give the young rapskallion a jolly good rogering. America's always been a secret unrequited love of Davies: he loves her; she shoots him. But if the Kinks hadn't been banned from the U.S. for bad behavior for four years back in the mid 60s, during what was indisputably the band's peak, the Kinks could have been at least as big as John The Baptist.

The Walls Have Ears



"A paranoid is someone who knows a little of what's going on." --William Burroughs

First they came for the terrorists, and I did not speak out, for I was not a terrorist. Then they came for the protesters, and I did not speak out, for I was not a protester. Then they came for Google, and I did not speak out because I was not a search engine.
Then they came for me...

In the last month, the following changes in the Land of the Free have come to light: the latest software update of iTunes, version 6.0.2, secretly installs spyware on your computer that tells Apple what you you're playing on your computer; the Justice Department successfully subpoenaed the search queries of millions of computer users -- quite possibly you or me -- from Microsoft, AOL and and Yahoo (which we only learned of because of Google's well-publicized refusal to cooperate); the Pentagon has been collecting extensive dossiers on any American citizen involved in anti-war groups within protesting distance of military installations, in the name of force protection; the NSA has been conducting a massive domestic data mining operation, monitoring the phone calls, emails and web use of American citizens in the dogged pursuit of evildoers.

The Preznit is currently in campaign mode to dumb the debate down to: you're either for spying on Americans or for the terrorists, which side are you on, Son? Well, since you asked, Sir, I'm for the Constitution, which, unlike the Bible, I take literally. It has this wonderful little passage called the Fourth Amendment, which explicitly affirms: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

For 217 years, American presidents have taken office by solemnly swearing "to preserve, protect and defend" -- not the American people, but something bigger, something even more precious and vulnerable -- "the Constitution of the United States." To even say as much out loud these days is to risk being shouted down by a pack of rabid right wing attack dogs barking in unison: Why don't you just have Osama's baby, already!

Which is why the folks at Against The War On Terror (www.againstwot.com) advocate rejecting the very nomenclature that the President uses to frame the current debate on national security. By even walking onto that linguistic playing field, we lose, they say. The Neocons are at the wheel and the Dems are just backseat drivers, annoyingly pointing over Dad's shoulder and getting their hands smacked away by Karl Rove. The Right wing will continue to pervert every election into another dreadful season of 9/11 Fear Factor and cling to their vaunted permanent majority until We The People shift the paradigm.

Terrorism is not an enemy, it's a tactic; this is not a war, it's criminal matter. A serious global criminal matter, perhaps, but a criminal matter nonetheless. And we will prosecute this criminal matter with all due diligence, make all necessary homeland safeguards (more emphasis on securing ports and nuclear power plants, less on castrating the First and Fourth Amendments) and establish a vast global dragnet via international cooperation. I can't help but wonder if we had taken this approach from, say, Afghanistan onwards, we'd have Osama in Supermax lockdown by now instead of getting our asses shot off in Iraq.

Lastly, we will NOT make this a non-stop pageant of fear to cynically manipulate the American people into trading real liberty for the illusion of security. Because that would be un-American. For it is then and only then, when that terrible compromise is brooked by a frightened nation -- that the terrorists will have truly won.

Top 5 Of The Moment


THE INVISIBLE MAN

Now out on DVD, HBO's The Life and Death of Peter Sellers is, like the titular changeling himself, by turns fascinating, tragic, trippy, ingenious and a little corny, but in a sweet way. Like Sellers' existential quick-change act of a life, Geoffrey Rush's performance is one of those nested Russian dolls: Unscrew Inspector Clouseau and you find Dr. Strangelove, and inside of him is Chance the Gardener, and finally, just when you think you've gotten down to Peter Sellers, there's ... nothing. He was a cipher, quite literally the man who wasn't there, which made for a remarkable cinematic legacy but a less than wonderful life.

PEE-WEE'S PLAYHOUSE ON DVD

Without a doubt Paul Reubens' impish, supernaturally jolly man-boy in a tiny sharkskin suit was a candidate for Ritalin, but the kaleidoscopic kitsch of his TV show was easily the best thing to happen to childhood since the invention of recess. Sure, Reubens comes with baggage. But parents can use his post-Playhouse transgressions as a teaching moment to explain the cruel and destructive hypocrisy of red state Puritanism. I mean, busting guys for spanking the monkey in a porno theater is like giving out speeding tickets at the Indy 500. What does it prove? Who wins here other than the usher on wet-mop duty that night? Certainly not the children. Besides, don't all adults lead lives of quiet masturbation?



BRIAN WILSON'S SMILE, LIVE AT CARNEGIE HALL AS HEARD ON NPR

There's been boatloads written about this ill-fated album, so I'll spare you the highfalutin chatter. But the blissfully ignorant should know a few basic facts: Smile was essentially the Beach Boys' Sgt. Pepper, the big psychedelic leap from pop to high art, and Brian Wilson more or less went insane trying to finish it in 1967. In the wake of all the overheated hype before an album that never came out--Smile will change music as we know it! Smile will cure lepers and the common cold!--a cult of Wilsonian obsessives sprung up as musicians and superfans tried to connect the dots and piece together a completed album from the bootlegs of outtakes that have leaked out over the years. Like the mysterious leopard found frozen to death near the summit of the mountain in Hemingway's The Snows of Kilimanjaro, everyone wanted to know how Brian got that high and what exactly he was looking for up there. The Smile tapes sat more or less untouched in the vaults of Capitol Records for nearly 40 years, until Wilson--now reasonably healthy and reenergized by the belated global acclaim for Pet Sounds--decided to finish it. This year's resulting Smile is, despite occasional forays into rubber-chicken dinner-theater arrangements and unnecessary add-ons, nothing short of a miracle. This concert performance of Smile is even better than the studio version, with Wilson in fine voice, surrounded by an exceptionally fluent band of new-school L.A. power-pop scenesters who manage to cloak him in a Disneyesque bubble of sound, replicating the sunbeam glories of those Beach Boys harmonies and recreating this teenage symphony to God down to the last ornate sonic detail. Sail on, sailor. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4182988

OSCILLOCOCCINUM: NATURES'S NO. 1 FLU MEDICINE

I don't know how to pronounce it either, but it's a goddamn miracle drug--er, miracle homeopathic remedy. (But "oscillococcinum" doesn't quite roll off the tongue, which makes me think those homeopaths just don't understand show biz the way the pharmaceutical industry drug dealers do.) Got this nagging head cold frickin' weeks ago after visiting my sister in Charleston, S.C., over Thanksgiving. I love my sister and her kids, but let's call a spade a spade: They're little walking germ incubators, typhoid Tommies in tennis shoes. So I come back to Philly sick and decide to tough it out sans antibiotics, trying to do my share to save the planet from the drug-resistant superbug I've been told is looming, blob-like, in the collective bloodstream of the human race, just waiting for the day it will kill us all. After two weeks of rubbing my nostrils raw with Kleenex, I say screw the human race, give me my z-pack. Run through that, feel a little better, then worse. Apparently it's viral, not bacterial. Heh heh. Somebody recommends oscillococcinum, which are these little pixie sticks of curative powder you sprinkle on your tongue every six hours. These little globules go inside and have a Batman-style fight with the germs and--biff ! bang! pow!--I am cured. Turns out some of my best friends are homeopaths. Not that there's anything wrong with that.


LOOKING DEATH IN THE EYE AND GIVING IT A HUG

I hate to bum you out amid all the holiday and New Year's tidings of comfort and joy, but pencil this in alongside Warren Zevon's deathbed dictum to "enjoy every sandwich" on your to-do list. My cousin's husband Matt--39 years old, father of three, blond, J. Crew handsome, clean- living nonsmoking sweetheart of a guy, with more good karma in the cosmic bank than he'll ever get a chance to spend--was feeling sick for weeks and finally went to the doctor. To make a long and terrible story short: He's got inoperable pancreatic cancer. The doctors give him two months to live, a year if he's lucky. Pancreatic is the worst--even when it's operable, the survival rate is something unbearably grim. Now here's the silver lining: Matt says he gonna beat it, he's gonna be the poster boy, the new Lance Armstrong, and I'm gonna believe him until he proves me wrong.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Pet Soundz

DISCUSSED: Animal Collective's Feels

Back in college-which was longer ago than I care to admit, so let's just say some time after the earth cooled but before the Internet-I lived in an old Victorian house that the college owned and subdivided into separate apartments.
It was a gathering house for all the freaks and geeks who didn't quite blend in with the frat-boy-cheerleader-chug-a-lug-date-rape ethos of the main campus. Across the hall my neighbors had set up a de facto commune-some of the guys living there weren't even enrolled-of 24/7 hacky-sack drum-circling and druggy bird-dogging. They all had sophomoric nicknames-Andy Crack, Stinker, Wild Bill, Bleep-and they all looked like they lived underwater.

Almost nobody knew how to play an instrument, but these guys were gonna start a band. "Whatever you say, Hippie Pants," I thought to myself. They were gonna call themselves the Gooney Birds after the sheet of primo blotter they'd scored at a recent Dead show. While I went to classes, these guys woodshedded day and night, nourished only by an Evian bottle filled to the brim with liquid LSD.

By the end of the semester the bottle was empty and these guys were making some of the most jaw-droppingly mesmerizing folk-based psych I'd ever heard. They sounded like the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey looks. Fuck me, I thought. It's like they mutated a couple steps up the food chain.

I can't help but think something similar happened to the men of Animal Collective during their formative years. They've known each other since high school. They all have sophomoric nicknames: Panda Bear, Avey Tare, Geologist, Deaken. They never show their faces in photographs, preferring to don lurid Halloween masks. From the sound of things, I wouldn't be surprised to learn they too had a private stock of that Evian elixir when they first took up instruments.

Six albums into their career, Animal Collective have become a cause celebre among the freak-folk meritocracy, creating some of the most stunningly original and indescribably otherworldly music since, well, the acid hit the punk rock some time around the Meat Puppets' Up on the Sun and Hüsker Dü's Flip Your Wig.

Let's face it-when it comes to rock music, that's when pure WTF innovation pretty much ended. Everything after, including just about all of the '90s, was music that wore its debts to the canon on its sleeve. (Grunge = Black Sabbath + Beatles. Discuss.) Even wild cards like Beck were decanting old wine into new glasses.

Truth is, celebrated freak-folkers-the box of rain that lazy journos like to corral Animal Collective into-are merely performing the old trick of reviving discarded and discredited fashions. By which I mean not so much the ridiculous Renaissance Faire wardrobes its scenesters don, but the hairy-fairy '60s Brit psych-folk of Donovan and the Incredible String Band they've resuscitated.

When it comes to pedigree, Animal Collective cover their paw tracks with six degrees of sonic separation, mutating sound over and over again until it sounds quite ordinary-if you live on Neptune.

And they have two great tricks that can't be easily dismissed: First, they somehow make music that continues to morph even when it's set in stone on CD. (I've listened to the new Feels about 18 times, and I swear to God not one nanosecond of it ever sounds the same twice.) Second, their unwavering refusal to be serious is what makes them so profound.

Extraordinary Renditions

(Illustration by Alex Fine)

WE HAVE WAYS OF MAKING YOU TALK

I remember thinking shortly after the planes hit the World Trade Center that we really need to start making more friends in low places.
I was thinking along the lines of old-school shaken-not-stirred James Bond intrigue: an assassin's blow dart, silent but deadly, hitting Mr. X in the neck from behind the cloakroom curtain. Maybe a tricked-out Jag that shoots out an oil slick on the treacherous mountain passes of Monaco, sending the terrorists giving chase to a fiery death below. Worst case, we storm Osama's cave at Tora Bora, get medieval on his ass, keep our feelers out for the rest of his goons and get on with the frickin' 21st century. Admittedly, I was a little naive.

Then came the Abu Ghraib torture pics, which looked like stills from some Aleister Crowley black magik ritual: hooded seminaked prisoners wearing electrodes and dancing on top of car batteries, gay sex pyramids, water torture, genital humiliation, anal rape threats, contusions and weeping and gnashing of teeth-and other scenarios too perverse to comprehend without extensive Googling of the occult and the darkest reaches of pornography.

Secret CIA dungeons around the globe. NSA spying on Americans. Pentagon spying on antiwar protesters. And here I thought the war on terror was about defending truth, justice and the American way.

Now comes news that we're torturing hogtied terror suspects in Kabul and Gitmo with marathon lashings of Eminem and Dr. Dre at teeth-rattling volume.

This is from Human Rights Watch: "Benyam Mohammad, an Ethiopian-born Guantánamo detainee who grew up in Britain, said he was held at the 'dark prison' in 2004 and described his experience to his attorney in English: 'It was pitch black, no lights on in the rooms for most of the time ... They hung me up. I was allowed a few hours of sleep on the second day, then hung up again, this time for two days. My legs had swollen. My wrists and hands had gone numb ... There was loud music, [Eminem's] "Slim Shady" and Dr. Dre for 20 days ... [Then] they changed the sounds to horrible ghost laughter and Halloween sounds. [At one point I was] chained to the rails for a fortnight ... The CIA worked on people, including me, day and night ... Plenty lost their minds. I could hear people knocking their heads against the walls and the doors, screaming their heads off.'"

Neither Em nor Dre has, to my knowledge, responded to the report, released a few days before Christmas. Both men apparently have more pressing matters to attend to: Em's finally set a date to get remarried to his ex-wife, and Dre's still gonna put a cap in Ja Rule's bitch ass.

I checked some of the Dre and Em messageboards to see if the fans had any comment. Over at DaShadyBoard, Gayme_Over started a torture thread with: "Fans of Eminem and Dr. Dre would never tell you that they are tortured by listening to rap music for days at a time." M.O.B Soldja countered with: "You are a fuckin idiot." To which Gayme_Over replied: "Go suck a dick fagget ... u a bitch nigga!" And from there it just turned into a heated debate about who exactly was gonna be whose bitch. End of discussion.

Folks, I can't help but think a dark hood has been pulled over the head of America, and we're too lost in the matrix of our own bullshit to even notice. We walk around like we're Luke Skywalker when in fact we've become a nation of Darth Vaders. Or in the wise words of Obi-Wan Kenobi: only a master of evil. Stop the Death Star-I wanna get off.