Friday, February 29, 2008

William F. Buckley

William F. Buckley, author, television host, and a founder of the modern American conservative movement, passed away Wednesday at age 82.

I'm old enough to remember the days where nearly every major American city had at least two newspapers; usually one was liberal and the other one was conservative. In the St. Louis area, you had the liberal Post-Dispatch, balanced by the conservative views of the Globe-Democrat. By paying attention to both, one could get a pretty good idea of what went on in the world, even if you read almost nothing else. It was through the editorial page of the Globe that I first got to know the ideas of William F. Buckley. When I was older, I would also from time to time watch Firing Line, where Buckley would slouch in his chair on Sunday afternoons, and sporting a most impressive vocabulary, he would rigorously interview the leading thinkers and newsmakers of the day, whether they were on the right or the left.

For over 50 years Buckley gave voice to the American right. He came along at a time when conservatism was at a low ebb, especially in academia, and the public held a more favorable view of liberal ideas due to the shared experiences of the New Deal and World War II. Beginning in 1951 with God And Man At Yale, his attack on campus liberalism, he would go on to author dozens of books critical of liberal thought and government activism, while championing religion, tradition, and unfettered capitalism. He wielded his greatest influence as the founder of National Review, which quickly gained status as America's preeminent journal of conservative opinion. In the magazine's inaugural issue, Buckley issued a statement of purpose: "It stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it."

Buckley's influence would also spread as the host of Firing Line, which ran from 1966 to 1999. During the program's run, nearly every influential political and intellectual figure of the day would come to spar with the host. Buckley made numerous other TV appearances during the period, including his notorious dust-up with Gore Vidal at the 1968 Democratic convention. He also made a run for mayor of New York City in 1965; although he lost badly, he sparkled in debates and was able to use his campaign to bring further visibility to the conservative cause.

Buckley also briefly worked for the CIA in the 50's; he found the job boring. He put some of this experience to work in later years as an author of spy novels. He owned a yacht, enjoyed fine dining and fine living, and was totally unapologetic about his lifestyle of wealth and privilege.

I rarely agreed with Buckley, but I don't think he was the monster some have made him out to be, either. The biggest black mark against his name was his unrepentant support of segregation that was often on display in the early years of National Review, and that he never quite repudiated. To his credit, he stood up to right-wing extremists like the John Birch Society. He supported the decriminalization of marijuana, and came to view George W. Bush's Iraq War as a mistake. Although a friend and admirer of Ronald Reagan, he was often at odds with the populist strain of conservatism which became ascendant in the 80's as a result of the Gipper's influence. Buckley was a royalist at heart; many of his writings showed his skepticism of democracy, if not outright contempt at times. Had Buckley been in charge of the Republican Party, they would have been more formidable intellectually, but they wouldn't have won near as many elections, as the GOP became politically dominant in the 80's and 90's in large part by appealing to those very fringe elements that Buckley wished to distance himself from. Buckley's snobbery was irritating, but his honesty was a welcome quality currently in short supply with the current crop of conservative pundits.

National Review offers a series of glowing tributes to its founder. Rick Perlstein has an excellent post up showing how Buckley could be personable and gracious even with those he disagreed with. Blue Girl got to meet Buckley when he spoke at Wichita State, and she offers her personal recollections. It was also said of Buckley that he was a Catholic above all else, and here he offers some reflections on his faith.

I'm also not going to miss a chance to work in Noam Chomsky if I can help it; here's a clip of Buckley debating Chomsky in 1969. Rush Limbaugh would jump from the top of the Empire State Building before engaging a leftist of Chomsky's stature in honest debate.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A sucker born every minute

Another quick hit. If you head over to E-bay right now and have $495 you can part with, you can buy this handsome portrait of James Madison, complete with his signature and containing this quote:

"We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all of our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government; upon
the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to The TEN COMMANDMENTS OF GOD"

Just one problem. James Madison never said that:

In 1993, the curators of the Madison Papers at the University of Virginia were asked if they could verify the quote. They replied that they could not. Wrote Curators John Stagg and David Mattern, "We did not find anything in our files remotely like the sentiment expressed in the extract you sent us. In addition, the idea is inconsistent with everything we know about Madison's views on religion and government, views which he expressed time and time again in public and in private."

H/T: Positive Liberty.

Today's chuckle

Jeni sent this down the line not long ago; it's likely that several of you have already seen this. Have a good laugh today, as our next subject promises to be somewhat more complicated.

I bought a new Lexus 330 but returned to the dealer the next day
because I couldn't get the radio to work.

The salesman explained that the radio was voice activated. "Nelson,"
the salesman said to the radio.

The Radio replied, "Ricky or Willie?"

"Willie!" he continued and "On The Road Again" came from the speakers.

Then he said, "Ray Charles!", and in an instant "Georgia On My Mind"
replaced Willie Nelson.

I drove away happy, and for the next few days, every time I'd say,
"Beethoven," I'd get beautiful classical music. If I said, "Beatles,"
I'd get one of their awesome songs.

Yesterday, a driver ran a red light and nearly creamed my new Lexus,
but I swerved in time to avoid him. I yelled, "Ass Hole!"
Immediately Hail-to-the-Chief began playing.

I LOVE this car!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Album project: The Allman Brothers Band

The Allman Brothers Band, Idlewild South (1970): The Allman Brothers Band debuted their remarkable blend of rock, jazz, and blues with their self-titled LP released in 1969, containing the classics "Dreams" and "Whipping Post". Duane Allman was already being celebrated as one of the greatest guitarists rock ever produced, a reputation cemented when he teamed up with Eric Clapton on the classic Layla And Other Love Songs, an electric guitar lover's dream. Little brother Gregg was one of the most soulful singers around. Dickey Betts was a solid counterpoint to Duane on guitar, while the lineup was rounded out by Berry Oakley's inventive bass runs and the intricate rhythms created by twin drummers Butch Trucks and Jaimoe Johanson.

Idlewild South, named after the farm outside of Macon, Ga. that the band members lived on, tightened up the band's approach by staying closer to rock than blues. The band was already a must-see live attraction, and radio-friendly tracks like "Revival" and "Midnight Rider" broadened their appeal. The jazzy "In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed" quickly became a live favorite. Hidden gems include "Don't Keep Me Wonderin' " and "Please Call Home", both featuring strong Gregg Allman vocal performances, and their version of "Hoochie Coochie Man", showcasing Berry Oakley on vocals and a driving bass intro.

The Allman Brothers Band, At Fillmore East (1971): The essential document. The Allman Brothers had become favorites of promoter Bill Graham, and played the legendary Fillmore East several times during its existence. Recorded on March 12 and 13, 1971, At Fillmore East captures the Allman Brothers Band at their peak, and is generally regarded as one of the greatest live rock albums of all time.

The LP comprises only seven tracks over 76 minutes of music, yet maintins its intensity from the first note of "Statesboro Blues" to the finale of "Whipping Post". "Statesboro Blues" shows off Duane Allman's stinging slide guitar work. The blues standard "Stormy Monday" features Gregg Allman's soulful vocals and fine instrumental moments from both Allmans and Dickey Betts. "You Don't Love Me" is another blues standard extended into a 19-minute jam. The group rocks out on the instrumental "Hot 'Lanta". "In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed", now a centerpiece of their live show, takes on a jazz/Latin feel and showcases the Allmans at their most virtuosic. The final track, "Whipping Post", becomes a 23-minute tour de force. Opening with Berry Oakley's steamroller bass, the song features Gregg's singing at its most intense. Duane Allman and Betts trade leads around Gregg's organ riffs, while Butch Trucks' and Jaimoe Johanson's drumming evoke the fury of the song's title.

Vintage footage of "In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed" captures the Allman Brothers at the height of their glory.

The Allman Brothers played the Fillmore East's last shows in June 1971. Of that final show, Gregg Allman said that the band was so concentrated on their playing that they lost all track of time, and didn't realize that the next morning had dawned until the side doors were opened, letting the sunlight in. The glory days would be short-lived, though. On October 29, 1971, Duane Allman was killed in a motorcycle accident in Macon, followed a year later by Berry Oakley's death in another motorcycle wreck only three blocks from where Duane lost his life.

The Allman Brothers Band, The Road Goes On Forever (1975); The Millennium Collection (2000): If you're a fan of songs as opposed to jams, these compilations will likely suffice. The Road Goes On Forever covers the Allmans' classic period, featuring the three albums mentioned above plus their most commercially successful recordings, Eat A Peach and Brothers And Sisters. The former is notable for "One Way Out" and "Ain't Wastin' Time No More", while Brothers And Sisters has a more countryish feel, the result of Dickey Betts assuming the main instrumental role in the band and pianist Chuck Leavell coming in as a counterpoint to Betts. That album features the Allman Brothers' best-known moments, the instrumental "Jessica" and their biggest hit, "Ramblin' Man", perhaps the greatest road song of all time. The Millennium Collection strips the band's legacy down to eleven key tracks, adding "Crazy Love" from their forgettable reincarnation in the late 70's.

The Allmans got together again in the late 80's, featuring virtuoso guitarist Warren Haynes (who also leads his own band, Government Mule) alongside Betts. More recently, they added Derek Trucks, Butch's nephew, on guitar. The younger Trucks is widely regarded as one of the best guitarists of his generation. This version of the Allman Brothers Band has recorded solid discs such as Seven Turns, Where It All Begins, and Hittin' The Note, winning over a new generation of fans and coming to be regarded as founding fathers of the jam-band movement.

(Edited 9/28/09.)

Friday, February 22, 2008

Will we ever have national health insurance?

I'll start off, as I often do, by nicking from my fellow bloggers. Posolxstvo has a fine post up at his place where he voices his concerns about national health insurance:

Now, Michael Moore makes a lot of sense as he talks about what we should be doing and all the programs we should have and so on. In a way, I am an extreme social liberal, as I really do believe that our society has an obligation to itself to keep us all afloat. But I am pragmatic as well, and I kept listening to him and wondering "Great idea. Who's going to pay for that?"

On a philosophical level, I've never thought that paying for national health insurance should be that much of a concern. Thomas Jefferson said all those things about the inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that the Founders signed on to, It's always seemed to me that the right to life implies a right to health, otherwise the right to life isn't worth much. A decent society should be able to figure out how to pay for national health care with a minimum of complaint.

Things always work differently in America, though, and in the case of health care, one must factor in the role the insurance companies play in our economy. Insurance companies are a lot like banks in that they take your premiums and invest them in new subdivisions, office parks, and strip malls just like the bank does with your deposits. Without help from an insurance company, Sam Walton would never have become the richest man in the world, as he explained in his autobiography:

Somehow we had a contact at another insurance company, MassMutual, so we went to see them. They agreed to lend us a million dollars, and in turn, we agreed to give them our right arm and left leg. we didn't just pay interest, we had to give them all sorts of stock options in case we did go public. By now they had us over a barrel. I had no choice: we had to have the money. When we went public they made millions and millions on the deal.

My preferred approach to the health insurance problem would be the Medicare For All proposal suggested by Senator Ted Kennedy and others in Congress. The structure of the program is already in place; you just expand Medicare to cover everybody, and the money to pay for it would come from the money currently paid to private insurers for health coverage. Instead of paying Blue Cross/Blue Shield, I'd pay Uncle Sam. Except that as shown above, depriving insurance companies of significant revenues could well lead to serious economic problems, so others seek ways of providing health insurance to everybody while leaving the current private insurance structure more-or-less intact.

This brings us to Jacob Hacker. Hacker has been studying health care issues for years, and has recently unveiled his Health Care For America proposal. Hacker proposes to leave the current employer-based system more-or-less intact for 2/3 of Americans, while devising an insurance pool similar to Medicare to cover those not covered by employer-provided insurance. He claims his proposal will save America $1 trillion over a ten-year period. Some highlights:

Employers would offer health coverage at least as good as Health Care for America, or pay 6 percent of payroll into a national pool to cover their employees.

Individuals would automatically be enrolled, either at their place of work or when they seek care, with a guarantee of coverage from birth until they go on Medicare. Premiums would be capped, with generous subsidies for lower-income families.

The federal government would use the buying power of the large national pool to negotiate lower costs by providers and drug companies.

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama include elements similar to these in their own health care proposals. The biggest difference between Clinton and Obama at this point is that Clinton's plan requires everybody to have insurance, while Obama's does not. I'll rely on Paul Krugman's excellent analysis, seeing as how this post is getting long enough: estimates say that a plan resembling Mrs. Clinton’s would cover almost twice as many of those now uninsured as a plan resembling Mr. Obama’s — at only slightly higher cost.

Let’s talk about how the plans compare.

Both plans require that private insurers offer policies to everyone, regardless of medical history. Both also allow people to buy into government-offered insurance instead.

And both plans seek to make insurance affordable to lower-income Americans. The Clinton plan is, however, more explicit about affordability, promising to limit insurance costs as a percentage of family income. And it also seems to include more funds for subsidies.

But the big difference is mandates: the Clinton plan requires that everyone have insurance; the Obama plan doesn’t.

Every other developed nation on this planet finds a way to provide health insurance to all of its citizens. It is downright criminal that the United States cannot find a way to do the same. I'd prefer to see a government-administered program - it seems to me that it would be cheaper and simpler than hybrid public-private proposals. Such a program probably isn't feasible in America, though, so we shouldn't lose sight of the idea that no matter how health insurance is delivered, it should be available, affordable, and provide decent coverage for all of us.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Album project: Lubbock (on everything)

Terry Allen, Lubbock (on everything) (1978): I have what might be called a love-hate relationship with country music. As much as I've tried to avoid it over the years, it's always been around. Over the years I've managed to pick up an appreciation for some of the stuff. I don't care for most of the material that gets mass-produced in the cubicles and studios down the road from here, and I can't stand to listen to country radio because the assembly-line stuff is all they ever play. To really get to know good country music, you have to get out of Nashville and into the mountains, out in the fields, and in the small towns of rural America. You have to get to places like the flat, dusty plains of West Texas, and get to know artists like Terry Allen.

Terry Allen is not the sort of talent you can pigeonhole. Of his music, he says, "People tell me it's country music, and I ask, 'Which country?' " He went to high school with such outlaw-country luminaries as Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Butch Hancock, and Joe Ely, and although much of his music is comparable to theirs, he has also worked with the Talking Heads' David Byrne. Allen's talents aren't confined to the music field; he's also an accomplished painter and sculptor whose work has been exhibited in many of America's most prestigious museums and galleries.

Allen's exposure to music began at an early age. His father, a veteran minor-league baseball player, settled down in Lubbock after his playing days and converted an abandoned church into a small auditorium where he promoted everything from concerts to pro wrestling. He held R&B dances for the blacks on Friday nights, and country dances for the whites on Saturdays. He also brought artists like Elvis Presley, Little Richard, and Ray Charles to Lubbock for the first time. Of those shows, Allen would say, "These were the first cosmopolitan shows they ever had in Lubbock where you'd find whites, blacks and Hispanics all at the same place." Terry, then a teen-ager, helped sell concessions at the concerts. Allen also received inspiration from his mother, a former honky-tonk pianist who was kicked out of Southern Methodist University in the 20's for playing in an integrated combo. He received the only piano lessons he had from his mother, although he says, "She taught me 'St Louis Blues' and then she said 'you're on your own.'" On top of that, Allen's high-school days were the time that hometown hero Buddy Holly was burning up the charts and proving that it was possible after all to escape Lubbock and get noticed in the world.

Allen left Lubbock as soon as he graduated from high school and enrolled in the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles, where he would receive his BFA. He also began writing songs and performing during this time, working for a while with some of the musicians who would go on to form Little Feat. He built up enough of a reputation around LA that at the end of the 60's he was signed to a major-label recording contract, but little came of it. The label rejected the songs that Allen had written, and when they requested more commercial material, Allen refused. Instead of providing the label with more songs, he sat out the five years of his contract, supporting himself by painting, sculpting, and whatever odd jobs came his way. He also began teaching, and eventually landed a job as professor at California State University - Fresno. Once free of his contract, Allen and a friend formed Fate Records, the label that he still owns and releases music through to this day. His first musical release, Juarez, came in 1975. Juarez is a story of two star-crossed couples who rob their way across the Southwest; Allen also created an art exhibit to accompany the music. Three years later, he would turn to his hometown memories to create a masterpiece, Lubbock (on everything).

Allen hadn't given much thought to Lubbock in the more than 15 years since he left home. But an old high-school acquaintance who was a fellow painter convinced him to return and record there. Back in Lubbock, Allen met up with members of honky-tonker Joe Ely's band, some of whom he also knew from school, and they laid down a classic of outlaw country music. Some of the songs were from the batch that the major label had rejected a decade earlier. Along with those, Allen provided additional tunes that evoked the unique characters and spirit of the West Texas flatlands, mixing them in with some songs about his other favorite subject, art. The result is a wry, rollicking, and often poignant look at some of the things that shaped his youth.

Some of Allen's best songs here turn redneck stereotypes inside-out, like "High Plains Jamboree", about an illicit couple finding furtive love in a cheap motel room, and "Lubbock Woman", about an aging small-town beauty who wears too much makeup but "has a good heart". One of the best is "The Great Joe Bob", a hilarious tale that any fan of country music or football will appreciate. Joe Bob is a high school football star who gets led astray by a loose woman, loses his college scholarship, and winds up in jail for robbing a liquor store. Terry's alma mater Monterey High School marching band plays a few bars of the school song at the end, giving the finish an almost dirge-like quality.

Just as funny are the songs where Allen brings his wry perspective to the world of art, such as "The Collector (and The Art Mob)", "Oui (A French Song)" (actually about a guy who gives up sculpting for the assembly line), and "Truckload of Art", a hilarious tale of an art exhibit that turned over and scattered all over the road as it was being transported from New York to Los Angeles. Allen's at his best, though, when he combines his two inspirations. There's "The Girl Who Danced Oklahoma", about a housewife who escaped her boring life on the plains only to end up dancing naked at an LA art party. One of the best moments on the disc comes at the end of "The Beautiful Waitress", when Allen tries to explain what he does to the girl waiting on him in a local diner:

A waitress asked me what I did
I told her I tried (to make art).
She asked me if I made any money.
I said no...I have to "teach" to do that.
She asked me what I taught and where.
I told her.
She told me that she liked art, but that she
couldn't draw a straight line.
I told her if she could reach for something
and pick it up, she could draw a line that
was straight enough.
She said she wasn't interested in that kind
of drawing... but had always liked horses.
I said I did too, but they were hard to draw.
She said yes that was very true... said she
could do the body okay, but never got the
head, tail, or legs.
I told her she was drawing sausages... not horses.
She said no... they were horses.

Allen also comes up with straight-up rockers like "Amarillo Highway" and "New Delhi Freight Train"; there's also the beautiful "The Thirty Years Waltz", dedicated to his wife (and high school sweetheart), Jo Harvey Allen, an accomplished playwright and actress in her own right. I can't stop before mentioning "FFA", which can't help but remind me of a certain occupant of the White House:

He never done too good
When he's in high school
He never even talked
To a popular girl
He just hung around
Down at the drive-in
Honkin on his horn
An drinkin Pearl
But he's a Future Farmer of America
Blue Jacket pride
Of the FFA
He's the future father
Of some president
Who'll be another pain-in-the-ass
For the U S of A
He'll be another pain-in-the-ass
For the U S of A

This is music that must be heard to be believed; go here for a download. You can also check out this recent performance of "Amarillo Highway".

Allen has released a number of albums over the past three decades in addition to Lubbock, which unfortunately I haven't had a chance to hear. Terry Allen is a true renaissance man who has managed to do what he has wanted to do for most of his adult life; he's an accomplished artist who would rather eat chili in a greasy-spoon diner than hang out at Hollywood wine-and-cheese parties. I like his outlook on life: "No one with access to a convertible, an empty highway and a good radio station should ever need a psychiatrist." Convertibles, empty highways, and good radio stations all seem to be in short supply these days; maybe that's why life seems to be so crazy now.

Here's an excellent interview with Terry Allen for those who'd like to know more about the man.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Blue Covenant

Last year's drought made many of us aware of the scarcity of America's, and the world's, fresh water supplies. Millions of Americans, particularly in the Southeast and West, have recently been experiencing water shortages. Most of the solutions proposed so far have been along the lines of moving water from areas where it is perceived as being abundant to areas of shortage. Thus the West dreams of running a giant pipeline to Canada, and Georgia wants to run a line up to the Chattanooga area to tap the Tennessee River, which basically drew a response of "hell, no" from Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen.

Maude Barlow is an environmental activist who has been thinking about the worldwide water problem. She has already co-authored one book, Blue Gold, on the economics of the water crisis, and she now has followed up with Blue Covenant, about grassroots responses to ensure that all the people of the world have sufficient water resources available to them.

Barlow lays out the challenge in the introduction: "Life requires access to clean water; to deny the right to water is to deny the right to life." Much of Barlow's concern is focused upon the ongoing privatization of water resources in many parts of the world. Several multinational corporations view the water shortages as an opportunity for profit-taking, a version of the phenomenon that Naomi Klein has termed "disaster capitalism".

In an Alternet interview, Barlow explains the reasoning behind the "blue covenant":

Martin Luther King Jr. said, "Legislation won't change the heart, but it will restrain the heartless." We need legislation at every level of our government. It is all well for grass-roots people to do all their wonderful work -- but they shouldn't have to do all the work. We need laws at every level, from municipal up to state to national to international, that protect water ecologically on one hand and protect the notion of a human right and right of the earth, and not a commodity, and that is so fundamental.

That is why I call the book "blue covenant" -- we need a covenant of three parts -- from humans to the earth to stop destroying the lifeblood of the earth, from the rich to the poor (global north to the south) for water justice, not charity -- justice. Water should be a fundamental right for all generations, and no one should be allowed to sell it for profit. We want this right up to the United Nations. It is a struggle at every level. But we just keep going. The fight back around the world is claiming space, but we have to have the weight of law behind us. We have to make, as a society, decisions about what matters. And if we believe that people shouldn't die because they can't afford water, then we have to bring things to bear to make that happen -- we have to change things. If the World Bank has money to give to Suez or Veolia, they've got the money to give to a public agency.

Barlow is co-founder of the Blue Planet Project. Their website has lots of information on the world's water resources and ideas for activism to fight privatization and insure that everyone has access to clean, safe water. It's well worth checking out.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Valentine's Day

If there's someone special in your life, what're ya doin' here??? Go spend the day with your sweetie. The internets will still be here tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Roy Scheider

The Hill notes the passing of actor Roy Scheider, who had major roles in some of the most important movies of the 70's. Scheider died Sunday at age 75.

Scheider was a lean, angular Everyman who nevertheless seemed to rise to assert his authority when the situation demanded it. His breakthrough role came in 1971, when he played a threatening pimp in Klute. Later that year, in The French Connection, he earned his first Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of Buddy Russo, sidekick to Gene Hackman's Popeye Doyle character. He earned a second Oscar nomination in 1979 playing manic choreographer Joe Gideon in All That Jazz.

Scheider will be best remembered, though, for his role of police chief Martin Brody in Jaws, the first great special-effects driven blockbuster. Brody seemed a most unlikely shark-slayer, yet he swallows his fears and does what he has to do in order to protect the citizens of his community. Scheider also gives us one of cinema's classic lines, "You're gonna need a bigger boat".

Our friend VastLeft contributes his own reflections.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Second annual Grammy gripe thread

My general opinion of the Grammy Awards was duly noted last year; no need to rehash that stuff when you can just hyperlink. I'll just throw out some general impressions on a few of the 2008 nominees.

I guess the big story this year was whether Amy Winehouse would get her visa problems cleared up in time to make it to the ceremonies, since we allegedly do not desire that junkies enter our fine country. Winehouse finally got her visa, and they've been saying all weekend that she will perform tonight. I'm as predisposed to dislike Winehouse as the rest of you, but having heard "Rehab" a million times on the radio now, I'm starting to figure that anyone who wants to bring back the Shangri-Las can't be all bad. They tell me that Winehouse is also a fine torch singer, but I can't get past her image to investigate further.

The Foo Fighters are up for a couple of the big awards - I doubt they'll win, but it's good to see them get some recognition, as they're one of the last classic rock bands out there that's selling records. Grammy also attempts to make amends to John Fogerty after ignoring the rock titan for the last 40 years. And "Hey There Delilah", up for Song Of The Year, is one horrible tune.

Apart from that, it's all the usual suspects - Beyonce, Justin Timberlake, Kanye West, and so forth. All undeniably talented, none of them do anything I get excited about. Leave further gripes and observations in comments.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Album project: Crawling through the A's

Alice in Chains, Jar Of Flies (1994): Seattle's Alice In Chains often gets lumped in with the grunge movement that emerged from the city in the early 90's, although their sound comes closer to classic hard rock and heavy metal. Their commercial breakthrough came in 1993 with the release of Dirt, a dark album featuring several tracks dealing with drug addiction, and spawning huge airplay successes with "Down In A Hole" and "Rooster".

The band decided to switch gears in recording a follow-up. Jar Of Flies is a surprising effort that places some of the band's darker concerns in an acoustic format. The title was inspired by a third grade science experiment AIC guitarist Jerry Cantrell participated in. Vocalist Layne Staley described it:

They gave him two jars full of flies. One of the jars they overfed, the other jar they underfed. The one they overfed flourished for a while, then all the flies died from overpopulation. The one they underfed had most of the flies survive all year. I guess there's a message in there somewhere. Evidently that experiment had a big impact on Jerry.

Once again several tracks deal with the topic of drug addiction; heroin in particular was beginning to take its toll on Staley's life. The biggest hit from Jar Of Flies, "No Excuses", is a song about Staley's failed attempt at rehab. "I Stay Away" and the melancholic "Don't Follow" were also big airplay tracks; another standout is the foreboding instrumental "Whale And Wasp". Although marketed as an EP, the disc's running time of nearly 31 minutes is as long as that of many full-length albums back in the pre-CD era. Jar Of Flies became the first EP to reach #1 on the Billboard album chart.

Sadly, Layne Staley's heroin problems only continued to mount, bringing the group's first era to an end after releasing only one more disc, the best-selling Alice In Chains. After the death of his girlfriend in 1996, Staley became a recluse, almost never leaving his condominium and spiraling deeper into the depths of his addiction. Layne Staley was found dead in his condominium on April 19, 2002. An autopsy determined that he had been dead for two weeks when his body was found. The rest of the group has finally begun working again, with vocalist William DuVall, and intends to release a new studio album in 2008.

Aliotta Haynes Jeremiah, Lake Shore Drive (1971): Mitch Aliotta, Skip Haynes and John Jeremiah were fellows from West Allis, Wisconsin who made their way down to Chicago and found work in the city's blues and folk scene. They got the chance to record several albums for independent labels in the early 70's, of which Lake Shore Drive became the best-known. The trio's strengths were its harmony vocals occasionally reminiscent of Crosby, Stills, and Nash, and the dexterous piano playing of John Jeremiah that provided the foundation of many of their songs.

Lake Shore Drive's title track became an underground hit in much of the Midwest, as its continued references to Chicago's great boulevard by its initials caused many to believe that it was a song about an acid trip. Actually, "Lake Shore Drive" is a beautiful homage to Friday night cruising and to the city of Chicago:

And it starts up north from Hollywood, water on the driving side
Concrete mountains rearing up, throwing shadows just about five
Sometimes you can smell the green if your mind is feeling fine
There ain’t no finer place to be, than running Lake Shore Drive
And there’s no peace of mind, or place you see, than riding on Lake Shore Drive
And there ain’t no road just like it
Anywhere I found
Running south on Lake Shore Drive heading into town
Just slicking on by on LSD, Friday night trouble bound

Lake Shore Drive was re-released on CD in 1992; unfortunately, the CD version leaves off one of the LP's finest moments, their medley of Bob Dylan's "Long Time Gone" and Leadbelly's "When I Was A Cowboy". The vinyl version of Lake Shore Drive is well worth tracking down for that cut alone. The CD version includes tracks from other Aliotta Haynes Jeremiah albums in its place.

The picture above is the back cover shot from the LP. To me, it's a classic 70's pose - stoned macho hippies summed up so much of what that decade was all about, especially in my part of the country.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Random blogservations

Via e-mail, I found out about The Breast Cancer Site. On this site they have inspirational stories, research information, and other tidbits of interest to those dealing with breast cancer, their families and friends. A neat feature of this site is a button you can click on to provide free mammograms. It costs you nothing; the site's sponsors make donations based on how many clicks the button gets daily. You might consider making it a habit to visit their site often and click the button in order to help those needing mammograms but are unable to pay for them.


Check out these fine bloggers I've recently started paying attention to: Debo Blue (A Blue State Of Mind), David McMahon (Authorblog), Marc McDonald {Beggars Can Be Choosers), CDM (Complaints Department) and Gledwood (Gledwood). All are interesting, informative, and will provide you much reading pleasure.


Yes, they're playing a football game tomorrow. Although history will likely be made tomorrow, I doubt I'll be watching much of the game. The New England Patriots are a football machine on the verge of completing only the second undefeated season in NFL history, and I've never cared much for the New York Giants. The big story of the postseason has been Eli Manning's stepping out from under his big brother's shadow and establishing himself as a fine quarterback in his own right. Should the Giants pull off the upset, Eli will have his own Super Bowl ring and have that monkey off his back for good. The Giants almost beat the Patriots in their first meeting and they won't be scared of the juggernaut. Thing is, the Patriots realize they almost got beat as well, they'll be ready, and they want to be remembered as great men.

Patriots 31, Giants 21.