Thursday, September 29, 2005

Paul Anka ~ Rock Swings

Paul Anka's Rock Swings is almost a great album.

The first single, Smells like Teen Spirit, is one of the weaker tracks. Anka treats these songs with an almost reverential seriousness: this isn't the camp, kitsch lounge makeover of rock tunes that you'd expect to hear from a lesser artist (Richard Cheese's one-trick novelty albums spring to mind ~ vaguely amusing the first time but dreadfully dull on repeated listenings). The problem with Smells Like Teen Spirit is that the song, such as it is, just can't bear the weight of Anka's reverence. His perfect enunciation means we can, finally, hear every word of Kurt's cryptic lyric. This is a distinctly mixed blessing:

Hello, hello, hello, how low?.....I'm a mullato, an albino, a mosquito, my libido ....
Hal David it ain't, and it loses the little meaning it possessed when divorced from Cobain's primal, angst-ridden howl.

On the downside: not much of the rest of the album rocks and a few tracks barely even swing: it's hard to imagine anything so quintessentially superfluous as an even blander retread of Lionel Ritchie's execrable Hello; surely one of the most annoyingly anodyne songs in the canon of popular music. There are so many runners and riders jostling for position at the starting gate of the Rock Swings Weak Ballad Derby that the bona fide thoroughbreds (and there are a few) almost get trampled in the crush. Eyes Without a Face, Everybody Hurts, It's a Sin and True clog up the album like a logjam of fatty solids but, even amongst the ballads, a couple of vital signs remain: Anka's poignant rendition of Clapton's Tears in Heaven is a distinct improvement on the original and Soundgarden's Black Hole Sun is sublime.

However, on the upside (and what an upside!) there are some great up-tempo swinging tunes which are reminiscent of Neal Hefti's exciting, upbeat arrangements of Basie and Sinatra in the 60s. Anka's band are tighter than the Sicilian Mafia and Paul sounds as relaxed an in control as Santo Trafficante lounging poolside at the Hotel Nacional, Havana. During the intro to Anka's cover of Bon Jovi's It's My Life you could swear Sinatra is about to burst into "Out of the tree of life, I just picked me a plum..." The song resonates ironically as Anka sings "Frank said it "I did it My Way"" as, of course, Anka penned that very tune for Old Blue Eyes. This sly joke invigorates an otherwise banal song and adds a playful, postmodern layer of gloss to the highly-polished proceedings. Eye of the Tiger, Jump and Wonderwall are all blessed with arrangements which swing harder than the French aristocracy.

Anka doesn't just rework the best songs on this album in a predictable lounge style: he deconstructs them and creates something rich, strange and new. Tears in Heaven, Lovecats and, particularly, Blackhole Sun are imbued with an eerie, ethereal quality: they sound like they've crash-landed on an alien planet, where they've been reverse-engineered and reconstructed by a superior intelligence.

On a recent chat show, Anka, rather disingenuously, replied "no" to the question "has anyone ever done anything like this before?" Anka's Blackhole Sun is little different from Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme's fabulous, and quite possibly superior, version; Mike Flowers Pops were the first to re-interpret Wonderwall in a lounge style and Jamie Cullum and Katie Melua performed a jazz-pop rendition of The Cure's Lovecats at the 2004 Brits awards show. If the project isn't quite as original as he thinks it is, Anka does bring impeccable credentials and a commendable gravitas to the proceedings.

The trouble is this: scrutinising sloppy workmanship with a keen eye is bad enough but bring an electron microscope to the table and the faults stand out bolder than the Hollywood sign from the face of Mount Lee. Blackhole Sun is probably the only song on the album which can lay a legitimate claim to being -- hands down, no contest -- truly great.

Rock Swings is a deceitful doppelganger: neither divine nor diabolical, it's an almost great album which is almost awful. Listening to it provokes a strange admixture of déjà-vu and préjà-vu: it almost sounds like the kind of album you didn't think they made anymore, even though you suspect they never really did, and it almost sounds like a mysterious preview of the kind of album they might make in the future, but probably won't. You're not quite sure whether it's been retro-engineered to sound kitsch or "futro"-engineered to sound hip.

I wish I could claim that every moment of inspiration is subverted by a sublimely dissonant and exquisitely proportionate moment of ineptitude, but, in truth, Rock Swings is undermined by it's own dull proficiency.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Blue Eyes Meets Bed-Stuy

The Hip-Hop/Swing crossover phenomenon continues with Blue Eyes Meets Bed-Stuy, a bootleg "mash-up" from Djs Cappel & Smitty, which posthumously pairs Hoboken hardman Frank Sinatra and Bed-Stuy badass Biggie "Notorious B.I.G." Smalls. Sinatra and Smalls were, ostensibly, kindred spirits: tail-chasing, hard-living gangster wannabes. In truth they had almost nothing in common.

Sinatra was closely involved with wiseguys Sam "OG" Giancana, Frank Costello, Willie Moretti et alia but publicly denied any association whereas Biggie wore his ersatz gangsta credentials like a cheap suit. It may have been "Sinatra's world" but the mob didn't just live in it ~ they were the majority shareholders.

The mob bought into Sinatra but Biggie bought into the mob: his gangsta affectations were filtered through, and abstracted by, the distorting medium of popular culture. Biggie's gangsta persona was inspired by movie Mafiosi, Tony Montana and Frank White, rather than real deal Cosa Nostra.

Ironically the mafia's post-modernist potency ascended in inverse proportion to the organisation's decline. Times change: owning up to mafia associations, philandering and other nefarious activities would have been career death for Sinatra but for Smalls... beefing-up his criminal cv with ever more outrageous transgressions, real or imagined, was always a good career move.

The gangster mythos endemic within hip-hop "culture" is a crassly cannibalised, inanely synthesized and incestuously self-referential fiction. This neophyte culture is based on appropriation and imitation rather than innovation and its appetite for "authenticity" reveals its insecurity. The, seemingly related, killings of Tupac and Biggie could be interpreted as a calculated attempt to "legitimate" the duo's criminal credentials: their deaths sealed their transition from mere Thug Life Mortals to Gangsta Gods and, in the opinion of most uncritical critics, invested their work with ex post facto gravitas.

Blue-Eyes meets Bed-Stuy doesn't work for a number of reasons, but chiefly because Sinatra's stellar talent is subordinated to Biggie's barely-discernable gifts. BEMBS is a bunch of Biggie a capella raps laid over the top of unimaginative loops of, generally, downbeat, second-rate Sinatra tracks. It's clear where this project's "masterminds"' loyalties lie: Capel and Smitty even have the temerity to speed up Sinatra's vocal on Everyday Struggle/A Day In the Life of a Fool and for this crime alone they deserve to be dispatched to Quentin for the electric cure. Even when Old Blue Eyes' buddies, the Kennedys, welshed on the (alleged) deal to go easy on organised crime after the crooner persuaded the mafia to deliver Illinois, Sam Giancana would still have had way too much respect to make Sinatra sound like Edith Piaf. Capel and Smitty commit Egotistical DJ Mistake 101 by assuming everything they steal is malleable grist for their manipulative mill. Wrong: The Chairman of the Board ain't no dj's bitch.

Nevertheless, and despite his peripheral role in the fabric of these mixes, second-rate Sinatra is embarrassingly superior to first-rate Smalls. Sinatra's sepulchral vocals drift in and out of the mix like a sombre Ghost of Christmas Past as Biggy gravely intones lyrical gems such as "Hail Mary full of grace.. smack the bitch in the face." Smalls drones on and on about hip-hop's unholy, unimaginative trinity (Guns, Hos 'N' Money) in his inimitably indecipherable version of Brooklyn braggadocio. Despite occasional moments of inspiration, Biggie 's much-touted verbal dexterity is a myth. It's a savage indictment of the prevailing Climate of Inanity that such a limited talent should be accorded such a prestigious position within popular culture's Pantheon of Immortals.

Dead Wrong/In My Room is a song I wish I could unlisten to: a desire to spring-clean the synapses and disinfect the cerebral cortex seems like the only conceivable response to this litany of atrocities. For some mysterious reason hip-hop's aristocracy, from the Geto Boys to 50 Cent, continue to labour under the misapprehension that we're all itching to take a trip inside the mind of a serial killer. Count me out of your travel itinerary, guys: being trapped inside Ted Bundy's cranium, with only a flash-light and tour guide Biggie for company, makes my alternate holiday destination, the seventh circle of Hell, sound like Bora Bora. At least Capel and Smitty did one thing right: excising the scatalogical preamble to Nasty Boy/For Every Man There's a Woman was a rare editorial triumph.

Sinatra, despite his philandering, whoremongering, boozing, mafia-consorting, mean-spirited dark side, transcended his copious shortcomings and produced art which was, and is, capable of elevating the spirit. Biggie's raps, by contrast, embrace the gutter.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Guilt by Association

I'm way too deep into the "real" to seek solace in the virtual right now. Nonetheless, the recalcitrant contrarian lurking beneath my user-friendly façade figures this is as good a pretext as any for diversifying my time-investment portfolio and squandering a few of the, rapidly-accelerating and ever-diminishing, moments which comprise the remainder of my life on something reassuringly trivial:

Suddenly I’m in a smokey club in Montemarte discussing Derrida/impressing the chicks with a working knowledge of French Symbolism/drinking Absinthe and smoking jazz cigarettes while some impromptu bebop combo on a cartographic tip valiantly attempts to map the mysterious contours of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme.

A slinky piece of homework in Givenchy shades is giving me the Hepburn stare and I’m floating on air, taking flight from the Authenticity Show.

So what’s the story? A kopacasetic Beat Boy meets an apocalyptic It Girl? Sounds like the perfect pitch but U can bet UR bo2m $ the text-messaging teens don't give a sh^t about language. How do you text "Ludwig Wittgenstein" and stay fashionable? This is the Hollywood remake: the last scintilla of original thought has been evicted from the cultural wasteland. Reductio ad absurd dumb movie magic lantern show me the money.

“Imitation is the sincerest form of plagiarism, Homeyz” jokes some sinister Jim Carrey doppelgangbanger in his inimitable Cab Calloway meets Jerry Lewis persona non gratification of the Kyoto Protocolonic irrigation. An Umberto echo resonating around an empty vessel or a resounding tinkle on the ivory trade out of Africalifornia, girls? West coast girls are hip replacemental imitation is generally considered to beyond the pale face down in the gutterly irrelevant in this context messaging environmentally retarded ejaculate for a very important date with destiny creatures of the woodland of the free fall into the moral vacuum cleaner non schtick tock clock struck one we’ll have some funfair lady Godiva scuban missile crisis of “Faith” by George Michaelangelo Dundee city of discovery tempting to check that chick from the sticks and stones may break Fast and Furious starring Vin Diesel engine and tonic for the soul musicalifornia girls are hip replacemental limitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Do You Know the Way to Dr. Dre?

What the world needs now: a Burt Bacharach/Dr. Dre collaboration?

from The Independent

Once the world's smoothest crooner, Burt Bacharach is now collaborating with Dr. Dre and attacking President Bush. He tells John Walsh why he's swapped easy-listening for tough-talking:

Good article but one minor quibble: Burt is the Sultan of Songwriters, not to mention the undisputed Emperor of Easy, but his crooning is only marginally smoother than the use of sandpaper as a facial exfoliant: that's why Dionne, Dusty, Tom, Gene, Perry, Jack et alia were let loose on those melifluous melodies. Burt's exquisitely sophisticated arrangements even made Cilla sound good, though they failed to elevate his own resolutely earthbound vocals. As a songwriter... Burt's natural habitat is more Mount Olympus than Hasbrook Heights but as a crooner... hell, he's just another Icarus in diving boots.

(Still, at least the idea of Burt "attacking" George Bush is an amusing one: "Land of Make Believe" is a Weapon of Melodic Destruction, and we don't need to call in UN weapons inspectors to verify its potency.)

G-Funk (Dre, Snoop, Warren G) is the sound of gangsta rap kickin' back and sharing a Jacuzzi with smooth soul (The Isleys, Marvin Gaye, Teddy Pendergass, Michael McDonald...) but the "Bachman"'s laid-back lounge segues smoothly with the mellow mood.

Septegenarian Burt might not be "street" enough for Dre's hardcore demographic but Casa del ionesco's aging hipster-in-residence can't wait to hear the finished product. Fetch me my carpet slippers, my dressing gown and nice mug of cocoa! Oh, and don't worry about "rolling up a phat one": the only "chronic" in this joint is my angina.

The Do Rights ~ William S. Burroughs


The Do Rights

Breaking News

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Jive Talkin' Pioneers: The House of Blue Lights ~ 1946

Let’s go back, way back, to an old skool classic. And when I say old....
I mean this was the school Methuselah useta play hookey from.

Freddie Slack and Ella Mae Morse were rappin' over swing beats long before Dr. Dre enrolled for pre-med; back before Snoop Dog was a pup. Ol’ Dirty wasn't even as a glint in Poppa Bastard’s eye. Pre-dating P. Diddy’s daddy: we’re talkin’ Grampa Diddy's day, swingers.

Well, what you say, baby? You look ready as Mr.Freddy this black. How ‘bout you and me goin’ spinnin’ at the track?

What’s that, homey? If you think I’m goin’ dancin’ on a dime your clock is tickin’ on the wrong time.

Well, what’s your pleasure, treasure? You call the plays, I’ll dig the ways.

Hey, Daddy O, I’m not so cool as to drop my mood on a square from way back. I’m in there and have to dig life with father. And I mean Father Slack.

Well, baby, your play gives my weight a solid flip. You snap the whip, I’ll make the trip.

Well, lace up your boots and we’ll groove on down, to a knocked down shack on the edge of town. There’s an eight piece combo that just won’t quit. Keep walkin’ till you see a blue light lit. Fall in there and we’ll see some sights at the house, the house, the House of Blue Lights.

We’ll have a time and we’ll cut some rug, while we dig those tunes like they should be dug.

In the Jacuzzi Today

Laura Elena Harring, Friedrich Nietzsche & Angelina Jolie

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Jack Pendarvis reviews books based on one random sentence

from The Believer

The Shorter Columbia Anthology of Traditional Chinese Literature
Victor H. Mair, editor

And murder, needless to say, is the concern of Heaven, not to be taken lightly.
When ace private eye Johnny Fontaine is killed in the line of duty, he’s mighty surprised to find himself at the pearly gates. After all, he’s been known to hit the bottle and make eyes at the ladies. It turns out that Johnny’s trepidation is well founded: there’s one little catch before he can get into Paradise.

Johnny must return to earth for two weeks and perform one completely selfless deed. So far, so good. But nobody warned him about his new incarnation: a lovable if scruffy pooch!

Can Johnny (or “Rover,” as he’s now known) do his good deed—and catch his killer—in time? The Shorter Columbia Anthology of Traditional Chinese Literature is a pleasing mixture of action-adventure and old-fashioned screwball antics. If this reviewer has one complaint, it is that the plot is uncomfortably similar to that of the 1980 classic Oh Heavenly Dog!, starring Chevy Chase.

The Proclaimers: the "500 miles" conundrum and non-traditional romantic combinations

The Proclaimers' song I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles) contains one of the most ambiguous and elliptical lyrics in the canon of popular music:

But I would walk five hundred miles
and I would walk five hundred more
just to be the man who walked a thousand miles
to fall down at your door
The ambiguity is not merely textual but is produced by the interaction of the lyric and The Proclaimer twins' alternate delivery of the first two lines of the chorus (the remaining two lines are delivered jointly). One twin is proposing to walk 500 miles and the other is, seemingly, proposing to match (or possibly even double) his brother's prodigious perambulatory feat. The song, therefore, implies not only that both twins arrive at the destination but also that the walking and, more worryingly, the romancing are shared, rather than individual, endeavours. We must logically conclude that the "man" (rather than "men") who collapses at the door is the Proclaimers' "unified fraternal persona."

The issue is further complicated by each twin's assertion that they will have walked one thousand miles when, it seems, they're planning on sharing the task and only traversing 500 miles each ~ unless the latter Proclaimer twin is proposing to eclipse the former by walking 1000 miles (his 1000 being 500 "more" than his brother ~ in which case we presume he's proposing to start 500 miles behind his brother and to accompany him for the final 500 miles ~ and, thus, amounting to a joint 1500) by contrast with the more conventional interpretation, which suggests that the 500 "more" than his brother's 500 is also 500 (thus totalling a mere 1000 miles between them). Either way, at least one of the twins' "1000 mile" claim is bullshit.

At it's irreducable minimum the song seems to be describing a romantic triangle, yet it's unclear whether the object of the Proclaimer twins' affections is likely to a) expect some kind of crass Darwinian "survival of the fittest" showdown between her (or his) prospective suitors or b) consent to a request for a ménage à trois. The possibilities that the Proclaimers might be required to c) form (or join) a queue or , perish the thought, d) meet with rejection at the end of their journey cannot be discounted ab initio, and textual interpretation alone fails to elucidate the conundrum.

Ashley Pomeroy's analysis (see link) is rigorous but hardly exhaustive: he doesn't consider, for instance, the possibility that the object of the Proclaimers' romantic yearnings may be, in turn, a unified persona comprising seperate constituent personae. If this is indeed the case then the carnal possibilities expand exponentially.

One thing is certain though: any, and all, proposed amorous activity is likely to postponed until the conclusion of a prolonged recovery period after such a gargantuan trek. The Proclaimers' prospective paramour(s) would be well advised to stock up on fluids, high-glycemic/carbo-loaded foodstuffs, warm blankets and saline drips in anticipation of the pair's arrival.

Pomeroy analyses the mathematical conundrums inherent in the lyric and considers a few of the myriad romantic permutations generated by this polymorphously perverse Pandora's Box of Amorous Possibility.

With regard to the plethora of non-traditional romantic combinations implied by the lyric: Pomeroy, tentatively, concludes that close textual analysis favours a "brotherly love" interpretation over the "group sex" hypothesis. Whether his conclusion is warranted is open to debate.

Ashley Pomeroy's thoughts on 500 Miles

Five Families: 200 Vinnies an' a buncha Tonys

from The New York Times

Five Families: Made Men in America
Reviewed by Bryan Burrough

Earlier this year The Times published a front-page article describing an F.B.I. drive to rid the New York waterfronts of Mafia influence. At first glance the story appeared so anachronistic it was jarring. The Mafia? You mean those guys still exist? Given the fact that New York hasn't hosted a decent godfather since Sammy the Bull ratted out John Gotti 14 years ago, one might be forgiven for believing that the world of Italian-American organized crime had gone the way of other crumbling pillars of midcentury American culture, like heavyweight boxing, thoroughbred horse racing and the Democratic Party.

But no. Despite a 25-year onslaught by prosecutors armed with high-tech listening devices and racketeering statutes, despite the fact that so many mobsters have been sent away that not one of New York's infamous "five families" even has an identifiable godfather at the moment, rumors of the Mafia's death appear premature. Still, the mob's influence in the opening years of the 21st century remains a far cry from its glory days, as Selwyn Raab reminds us in his excellent history of the New York Mafia, Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America's Most Powerful Mafia Empires.

For Raab, a veteran reporter who has spent decades chronicling the city's not-so-wiseguys, this book amounts to a kind of lifetime achievement award, granted for long years shouting questions at handcuffed men named Momo and Quack-Quack, studying wiretapped chats at "social clubs" like the Ravenite in Little Italy and trailing the drooling, bathrobe-clad Vincent "Chin" Gigante as he staged his long-running charade of mental incapacitation in the alleys of SoHo.

Mafia nonfiction is not a genre given to rigorous documentation and sound sourcing. What makes Raab so wonderful is that he eschews legend and suspect anecdotage in favor of a Joe Friday-style just-the-facts-ma'am approach. In a 765-page book, not one gangster is "linked" to anything more profound than a keychain. Readers raised on stories of mob ties to this president or that Hollywood chieftain will be disappointed. Frank Sinatra gets two paragraphs tops, Jack Kennedy's Mafia connections barely a clause. But just about everyone who should receive his due does, from Meyer Lansky and Joe Valachi to "Donnie Brasco" and John Gotti.

Therein lies Raab's challenge: organizing the mounds of material he has gathered over the years. This is a book that tells the story of 200 men named Vincent. Everyone else seems to be Tony. By and large, Raab makes things easy to follow with the help of a priceless naming strategy. Rather than repeatedly referring to a mobster as Anthony "Fat Tony" Salerno or simply Salerno -- there must 15 Salernos in this book -- Raab removes the quotation marks on second reference. George Herbert Walker Bush, meet Philip Benny Squint Lombardo.

Raab divides his mass of reportage into three sections: one on Mafia history to 1970; a second on the F.B.I.'s awakening and the use of new RICO laws that culminated in the so-called Commission trial of 1985; and a final section that charts the subsequent fates of each of the five families, or borgatas, as Raab properly terms them. His brisk history reminds us that the Italian-American Mafia's creation was Benito Mussolini's doing; it was Il Duce's crackdown on Sicilian Mafiosi that sent so many of them scrambling for American shores. In quick, deft strokes, Raab explains how the mob was created in 1931 -- by Charles Lucky Luciano -- as a treaty settling the street battles of two Italian outfits.

From there the boldfaced names fly by. Tom Dewey, Frank Costello, Albert Anastasia, Dutch Schultz, Abe Reles -- the gang's all here. Five Families sags a bit as Raab introduces the generation of youngish prosecutors and F.B.I. agents who finally rouse law enforcement from decades of slumber to confront the mob in the late 1970's. But he hits his stride when he reaches the gangsters he knows best, those who presided over the Mafia's decline in the 1980's and 90's. Paul Castellano, John Gotti and Sammy Gravano spring to life for the first time in years, and Raab tells their story with precision and gusto.

The book's finest moments are reserved for Gotti's lesser-known peers, scary third-rate mooks like Anthony Gaspipe Casso of the Luccheses, Carmine the Snake Persico of the Colombos and Joe the Ear Massino of the wheezing Bonannos. Their Shakespearean outer-borough downfalls, heretofore banished to inside pages of The New York Post, bring Macbeth to Maspeth. New York's mob families, it seems, could weather Rudy Guiliani and Donnie Brasco, but they were helpless against their own. When Sammy the Bull trashed omerta by cutting a deal with prosecutors, the floodgates of betrayal swung open, never to be closed. Dozens of Mafiosi squealed before heading off to ranch-house retirements in the Witness Protection Program. When a godfather, Gaspipe Casso, joined the rat parade, the Mafia's fate was sealed.

One's quibbles with Five Families lie chiefly with the inelegant writing; Raab may gather facts like Joe Friday, but he's no threat to Proust. The only thing he loves more than a bloody Mafia hit is the passive voice. And he suffers from an irritating case of explanitis, a malady in which every conceivable reference, from Little Lord Fauntleroy to Crazy Horse, is defined. (Even my 9-year-old knows what "wearing a wire" means.)

In an apparent attempt to buoy its relevance, the book's subtitle refers to the Mafia's ''resurgence.'' This is a stretch. Raab takes 688 pages detailing the New York mob's operatic rise and fall; its supposed resurgence makes up the last 20. One can easily forgive this off-key final aria, however. Five Families is the finest Mafia history we're likely to see for a good long while.

Bryan Burrough is the author of "Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34"

Monday, September 12, 2005

Jed Palmer ~ Lives of the Cannibals: the Spell of the Sexual

from 3 Quarks Daily

They say that spring is the season of love, and they may be right. April's days may be soaked in the hormones and pheromones of a renewed reproductive cycle, and in this we are undoubtedly biology's sensual puppets. But let us firmly agree that we will have no truck with biology here. On the streets of New York, biology is perhaps useful as metaphor, but quite beside the point and ridiculously unsophisticated for our purposes. So we will dispense with eggheaded myopia, and in that spirit we will also reject the modern world's most egregious conceit--love. This cloying trope may be appropriate for the foil covers of paperback novels and the illustrated pages of children's books, but for a teeming metropolis it is a quaint notion, a rumor to sustain the lonely and unattractive.

They say that spring is the season of love, and they may be right, but on the streets of New York, spring is summer's ragged doormat and love is a faintly Midwestern excuse for the gluttonous satisfaction of lust.

Suggested by such details as the curl of a lip and the severe line of a jaw, cruelty is at the heart of sex, though you'd never know it to hear people talk. That cruelty is inextricably woven into the sexual experience disturbs many, largely because it doesn't jibe with the civilized construct of love. But of course the mechanics of sex demand a certain precise violence, and often the quality of our sexual experience is indicated by kabuki-like displays of pain and heartlessness. Despotic New York is, in its concrete miles and Darwinian efficiency, cruel's storied hometown. Just watch the summertime girls on Wall Street and in Times Square as they distribute their weight on nail-thin four-inch heels, and applaud the steel in the eyes (and the pants) of the conquering businessman, whose rigorous assessment of the physical merits of these very same girls is a feat of conscienceless objectification unmatched since stalwart American traders arrived on Africa's Gold Coast. Even the City's visual parameters signal cruelty's central role: Who will be kind in a city without a sky? It speaks to New York's defiant self-sufficiency--to see nothing but what we made with our own hands, to observe the struggle that plays out daily in the rippling heat of our walled streets. It prepares us to fuck.

Flesh & Heat
For a city where sunbathing is essentially limited to fire escapes and rooftops and the odd patch of park, skin is surprisingly ubiquitous. In spite of or in concert with the pronouncements of New York's own fashion vanguard, flesh is the order of the summer season, and, for better or worse, there is a democratic quality to this ritual of exposure. Imperfections of the body are courageously displayed, plumped and framed in elastic and cotton, and to hell with sensible shame for the homely. Our women fear nothing, and no matter your wishes you will witness the shiny rhythms of their flesh. Many visitors make the mistake of assuming that New York's men will not bare their chests, that urban settings don't lend themselves to traditional demonstrations of virility. These naifs are shocked in high summer, when the articulated pecs and corrugating abs hit Seventh Avenue in force. (That a substantial number of these men are gay is of little moment here, and only serves as further testament to the city's simmering carnality.)

There are no secrets in this city, no privacy in the stacked lives of our high-rises and tenements, where we gain sonic (if not visual) access to the perversions and loneliness of our neighbors. New York can reasonably claim the concentrated libidinal force of six million--a deeply conservative estimate, given the total commuting population of the metropolitan area, the relatively low birth rate, and our seniors' migratory tendencies. This vast sensual endowment transforms the city's public space into a hothouse for various strains of latent sex. On subway platforms, where skin candies in seconds, we pace and seethe, preparing to press our glistening flesh against the glistening flesh of strangers. We are accustomed to the tight quarters of this vaginal system, which provides us a durable metaphor for the sublimation of violent desire. Although the train's arrival is a small ecstasy, discreet relief from the pressure of restraint, it's not nearly enough. Anyway, etiquette is a precious gloss here, an exotic curiosity for the foyers of Park Avenue apartments. By the humid height of July we have all but forgotten our modesty, and no longer do we draw the traditional distinctions between bodies. Instead, the perceived intrusions of eyes and limbs subside, and we become a single damp mass. Millions writhing as one.

Gassy fumes of ambition stifle the breath of this city. Without some method of burn-off, some practice to spend its propulsive energy, New York would unmoor itself from the continent and take flight like a lost balloon. Thankfully, the city's sexual black hole siphons ambition from our lungs daily, granting us peace enough to sleep some nights. The same vigor with which we pursue innovation and growth is just as easily blown on the swollen implication of sex, and so in the summertime, on radiant streets and when business is slow, ambition finds its satisfaction in exhibitionistic displays of power and availability. Mincing and posing, we pout for one another, we straighten our backs and expand our chests, and the sport becomes an end in itself. Ambition's casualties--those who are stepped on and surpassed in their attempts to live up to this vertical city--find relief on the same streets, obliterating their professional disappointment with the easy dominance of sexual reduction.

Finally, it must be said that the spell of the sexual finds fuel in death. Confronted with incomprehensible violence, we revert to our simpler selves, manufacturing comfort from the appeasement of our bodies' appetites. There is nothing wrong with this. But we would be wise to monitor our devolution closely. One day we may find ourselves so taken with the reductive ecstasy of the sensual that we have forgotten the creative dynamism it displaced. Considering New York's global stature, this would be a tragic loss, even for those insensible to the city's genius. This tiny patch of islands and shorelines on the East Coast of the United States is a vital asset, worth far more than the product of its sensual economy. It would be a terrible shame to suffocate under the oppressive cover of our lavish fantasy life.

Jed Palmer

Saturday, September 10, 2005

BaSin City Blues

I admit it's been a while since I saw this flick and I was intending renting it on dvd before delivering a definitive review but, truth be told, I'd rather sit through Battlefield Earth, Bridget Jones: the Guantanamo Bay Years or Enya, Paul McCartney & Cirque de Soleil Pay Tribute to Celine Dion than subject myself to this drivel again. I know I'm in a minority of one on this issue but, hey, at least the company is stimulating.

I might as well put my cards on the table right from the get-go: I've never been a fan of the Tarantino school of stylised misanthropy. Strip away the hip, post-modern veneer and the improbable dialogue (I'm no expert but I'll wager a whisky sour to all the beer in Brooklyn that hitmen don't talk like video store geeks) from Tarantino's movies and you could swap what's left for the sad, sado-masochistic fantasies of the average maladjusted post-pubescent and not notice the difference.

Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction's sugar-coated sadism was rendered almost palatable by great soundtracks and a few good lines but Kill Bill 's kitsch "carnage is cool" aesthetic seemed to be predicated solely upon the erroneous assumption that the conjunction of Uma and Ultraviolence is irresistably and undeniably sexy. Even if we concede a frisson of cool to the aforementioned combo, the dismal dovetailing of kung fu and Quentin was always likely to becalm my palpitating heart.

Sin City isn't, strictly speaking, a Tarantino movie but it might as well be. His pernicious influence is all over it like a lovesick john over a hooker. Apparently he directed a bit of it, wrote a bit of it, produced a bit of it...I'm surprised he didn't "star" in a bit of it (maybe he did: I was probably asleep at the time)...Hell, QT's brought his prodigious acting talent to bear on practically every other project he's been involved in: like an altrusitic maiden aunt who can't resist donating her inedible scones to the village fete, Quentin can't be stopped . Trouble is, kleptomaniac Quent diminishes everything he touches.

The "real" director was Robert Rodriguez (Tarantino popped up in, and collaborated on, Rob's Desperado and From Dusk Til Dawn) but Sin City might as well have "Property of Tarantino" tattooed on it's ass: the Ubergeek owns this beeyatch! Don't get me wrong: I'm not proposing locking Rodriguez up in San Quentin and throwing away the key; I'm just interested to know if he's capable of taking a leak sans Quentin!

The movie starts off promisingly: a sexually-charged encounter between a charming hitman and a foxy femme fatale in one of the noirish neighborhoods which comprise BaSin City's nightscape. The live action/animation hybrid looks great (though we've seen this black & white with flashes of colour schtick before in Rumblefish) and I'm starting to give Quent and Rob the benefit of any available doubt.... Dumb move, punk. Dumb move.

Suddenly we're cast adrift in a depressingly depraved and unimaginitively undifferentiated milieu where all women are either 1) street-wise, sadistic hookers, 2) masochistic victims or, and this seems to be BaSin City's core female demographic, 3) sadistic hookers who are really masochistic victims.

The only difference between the "good" guys and the "bad" guys is that the "good" guys only torture, maim and kill other guys whereas the "bad" guys torture, kill, maim (and eat) women and children too. The dialogue is execrable: barely-digested chunks of Chandler, Hammett and Ellroy extracted from the vomit of a sub-literate teenage sociopath.

There are 3 stories here but they are all the same story: knight in decidedly soiled armour seeks the only kind of redemption on offer in Sin City: saving a vulnerable virgin/hooker from death, depravity or a life on the game by torturing/snuffing a pervert.

Sin City indulges in the laziest legerdemain (let's call it "popcorn prestidigitation"): after nothing more than a mundane magician's misdirection (the style over substance trick) we're, presumably, expected to root for the "good" guys as they heroically maim, torture, castrate and kill the "bad" guys. I know we're deep into The Age of Barbarism but the parallels with Abu Ghraib seem a little too acute for my refined taste. Maybe one day, though hopefully not one day soon, I'll get hip to the misanthropic zeitgeist.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Ipod-Phone Hybrid hogs headlines

Good to see the iPod-Phone Hybrid in the news today, but it seems Apple's latest gizmo is already "carving a rep" as an attention-seeking publicity slut.

Not content with:
iPod-Phone Hybrid Launches Tory Leadership Bid
The narcissistic newcomer followed up with:

iPod-Phone Hybrid Pushes New Anti-terror Law

In an unprecedented move Apple chief executive, Steve Jobs, accused the new product of having "ideas above its station" and criticised it for "giving the come-on" to predatory management and marketing companies. "Between you and me, guys, this little tramp is acting like a Coney Island hooker" he confided to the world's press before declaring an intention to keep the upcoming (and, if industry rumours are to be believed, equally frisky) iPod nano "on a tight leash."

Thankfully, a few spare column inches were devoted to the day's real story:

Singapore Ponders A Wigless Future

Find out more at Newzoid! Headlines from Parallel Worlds

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

New Orleans Gumbo: Hot Joints from the Beat Barbecue

Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Piano Roll ~ Eddie Bo

Mos' Scocious ~ Dr. John

Get Out of My Life, Woman ~ Allen Toussaint

Its Your Voodoo Working ~ Charles Sheffield

Hey Mama ~ Wild Tchoupitoulas

Thought for the day

Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice

(A variation on Arthur C. Clarke's "A sufficiently advanced tehnology is indistinguishable from magic")

source: the sideshow

Monday, September 05, 2005

Random Transmissions 3: Dualism: Apollo & Dionysus

The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars... ~ Jack Kerouac

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night... ~ Allen Ginsberg

I see the dynamic of history as an oscillation between the Apollonian and the Dionysian principles, order and energy, which become, at their extremes, fascism or chaos. In sexual terms, this promises eternal conflict between repression and debauchery. We must learn how to make tiny corrections to avoid the uncontrolled swing of the pendulum that, over a generation, swept us from Fifties conformism to Sixties rebellion to Seventies excess and the cataclysm of AIDS. We now live with the smell of funeral pyres ~ Camille Paglia

You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

The Apollonian rules we pass to govern the workplace will never fully control the demonic impulses of the Dionysian night ~ Camille Paglia

The specific idiocy of our time is, sadly, no longer differentiated from its intelligence. It is merged with it. It is no longer uneducated, but is indeed overinformed and has the same reflex vivacity as artificial intelligence. It is the degree Xerox of stupidity which merges with the degree Xerox of intelligence ~ Jean Baudrillard

Vulnerability generates its own entrapments, creating a maelstrom of voracity around itself. Nature abhors a vacuum ~ Camille Paglia

I know my fate. One day there will be associated with my name the recollection of something frightful -- of a crisis like no other before on earth, of the profoundest collision of conscience, of a decision evoked against everything that until then had been believed in, demanded, sanctified. I am not a man I am dynamite ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

Those who restrain desire, do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained ~ William Blake

Dionysus is identification, Apollo objectification. Dionysus is the empathic, the sympathetic emotion transporting us into other people, other places, other times. Apollo is the hard, cold separatism of western personality and categorical thought. Dionysus is energy , ecstasy, hysteria, promiscuity , emotionalism - heedless indiscriminateness of idea or practice. Apollo is obsessivesness, voyeurism, idolatry, fascism - frigidity and aggression of world seeking cathexis... Our brains are split, and brain is split from the body. The quarrel between Apollo and Dionysus is the quarrel between the higher cortex and the older limbic and reptilian brains. Art reflects on and resolves the eternal human dilemma of order versus energy. In the west, Apollo and Dionysis strive for victory. Apollo makes the boundary lines that are civilization but that leads to convention, constraint, oppression. Dionysus is energy unbound, mad, callous, destructive, wasteful. Apollo is law, history, tradition, the dignity and safety of custom and form. Dionysus is the new, exhilarating but rude, sweeping all away to begin again. Apollo is a tyrant, Dionysus a vandal. Every excess breeds its counteraction. So western culture swings from point to point on its complex cycle, pouring forth its lavish tributes of art, word and deed. We have littered the world with grandiose achievements. Our story is vast, lurid, and unending ~ Camille Paglia

One last thought... there is no law in the arena. Many are killed. I hope to see you again, Judah Ben-Hur ~ Sheik Ilderim

Some idea swimming in the blue gelatine of the reptilian brain, seeking out the gossamer-thin difference between the illusion and the real ~ Jean Baudrillard

General Corman: Well, you see Willard... In this war, things get confused out there, power, ideals, the old morality, and practical military necessity. Out there with these natives it must be a temptation to be God. Because there's a conflict in every human heart between the rational and the irrational, between good and evil. The good does not always triumph. Sometimes the dark side overcomes what Lincoln called the better angels of our nature. Every man has got a breaking point. You and I have. Walter Kurtz has reached his.
And very obviously, he has gone insane.

Captain Willard: Yes sir, very much so sir. Obviously insane.

Lucas: Your mission is to proceed up to Nung river in a Navy patrol boat. Pick up Colonel Kurtz' path at Nu Mung Ba, follow it, learn what you can along the way. When you find the colonel, infiltrate his team by whatever means available and terminate the colonel's command.

Willard: Terminate ? The colonel ?

Corman: He's out there operating without any decent restraint. Totally beyond the pale of any acceptable human conduct. And he is still in the field commanding his troops.

Civilian: Terminate with extreme prejudice.

Lucas: You understand captain... , that this operation does not exist, nor will it ever exist.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Carlito's Way

Carlito Brigante: You a gangster now. You on the other side. Whole new ball game. But you can't learn about it in school -- and you can't get a late start.

Pachanga: Carlito, man. Death Valley out here, man. Mira, you know me, I take to the street with any of these motherfuckers, man. But these new kids nowadays, man, they got no respect for human life! They shotgun you, man, just to see you fly up in the air, muchacho. You're better off in jail.
Mira que I don't even go up to the black Harlem no more, man. They're fuckin' crazy up there. Remember Victor?
Carlito: Victor, with the beard...
Pachanga: Victor got shotgunned to death right in front of the High, man. Right in front of fuckin' Patrick Henry High. Y Lalin, you know Lalin.
Carlito: Lalin Miasso, what happened to him?
Pachanga: Lalin is doin' thirty years in Attica, man, thirty years!

Benny Blanco: Hey, my name is Benny Blanco from the Bronx.
Carlito: You know me?
Benny Blanco: Yeah, I know you, you're Carlito Brigante motherfucker to the max, that's who you are!
Carlito: Well, I don't know you. So, I don't owe you, Saso does. My place now, new rules. Everybody pays, okay?

Benny Blanco: I don't know, but there may be some mis-fuckin'-understanding, I don't know man, but maybe you don't remember me, my name is Benny ...
Carlito: Maybe I don't give a shit! Maybe I don't remember the last time I blew my nose either.
Who the fuck are you? I should remember you? What, you think you like me? You ain't like me motherfucker, you a punk. I've been with made people, connected people. Who've you been with? Chain snatching, jive-ass, maricon motherfuckers. Why don't you get out of here and go snatch a purse.

[Benny Blanco is being beat up by Pachanga]
Carlito: Take him in the alley!
Carlito: [voice-over] Dumb move, man. Dumb move. But it's like them old reflexes comin' back.

Harlem Shuffle: Hot Joints from the Beat Barbeque

Live and direct from Casa del ionesco's boomin' system:

Defunkt ~ Razor's Edge ~ thermonuclear jazz-funk maelstrom from Joe Bowie's NYC combo

Liquid Liquid ~ Cavern ~ obscure New York art-funk outfit provide minimalist template for Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five's "White Lines."

Pharoah Sanders (with Leon Thomas) ~ The Creator Has a Masterplan ~ exuberant, soulful, afro-centric jazz masterpiece from the legendary tenor saxophonist

In the Jacuzzi Today

Green Gartside, Naomi Watts & Jacques Derrida

Wild at Heart and weird on top

Marietta is escorting Marcello Santos and two stiff drinks to a table in her backyard.
Marietta: I want you to take care of Sailor, so he won't ever be able to bother my baby again.
Santos: Take care of him?
Marietta: Yes.
Santos: What does take care of him mean?... Do you want me to give him food or some clothing?....

Santos: Shoot Sailor in the head with a gun... Now I'm beginning to get it... You want me to shoot Sailor in the head with a gun.
Marietta: Yes.
Santos: But where in the head?... Not the chin, I hope.
Marietta: No... In the brains... What little I'm sure he has.
Santos: You want me to shoot Sailor in the brains with a gun.
Marietta: Yes.
Santos: Through the forehead?
Marietta: Yes.
Santos: Wrong! It's much better to blow a hole in the back of the head ... right toward the bridge of the nose ... Lots and lots of irreparable damage.

Sailor: It ain't altogether terrible just to let things go along sometimes. Lula, I done a few things in my life I ain't too proud of, but I'll tell ya from now on I ain't gonna do nothin' for no good reason. All I know for sure is there's more'n a few bad ideas runnin' around loose out there.

Lula: (howls) Jesus, honey! ... You better run me back to the hotel, baby... You got me hotter'n Georgia asphalt.
Sailor: Say no more... But go easy on me, sweetheart... Tomorrow we got a lotta drivin' to do. (he takes out a cigarette and laughs) Hotter'n Georgia asphalt?
ECU of match striking and bursting into flames.

An old man, Mr. Reindeer, wearing a tuxedo is sitting on the toilet - his pants down - talking on the bathroom phone. He laughs a long deep smoker's laugh.
Mr. Reindeer: (laughing) Mr. Marcello Santos... Hey there... That was great shit you sent in last month...
Santos: I gotta problem... In fact, I gotta coupl'a problems...
Mr. Reindeer: (laughs again) Gotta coupl'a problems, huh?... For each problem drop a silver dollar through my mail slot... With all particulars... We'll work out "il conto" later...

Mr. Reindeer is just finishing dialing a number on the telephone.
Mr. Reindeer: A coupl'a silver dollars came my way today... I'm sending one of them to you with a paper on the beneficiary ... As usual, you are completely free to fulfill the obligation in any manner you so desire.
He hangs up the phone and starts dialing another number.

Yalloppin' Hounds ~ Romantic Thugz & Rayzd ~ Apparition

Romantic Thugz

This smokin' NYC combo mix street swing, jazz and hip-hop to form "Ghetto Swing Extreme." Dr.Dre meets Count Basie Orchestra, or the Wu Tang Clan jammin' with Duke Ellington. G-Clef Da Mad Komposa and his crew know Cab Calloway and the zoot-suited swing pioneers were the prototype for for today's rap superstars. The Hounds sound tougher than a Bronx street hood but tender like midnight in Manhattan. Harlem Apollo meets the Rainbow Room. Romantic Thugz was the East Coast anthem for the neo-swing generation, the cool New York hipster flipside to Californian cats Big Bad Voodoo Daddy's hedonistic West Coast sound.

G-Clef is a musical visionary: a true pioneer of swing/hip-hop/jazz crossover. Long may he continue to innovate and inspire.

For more info go to

G-Clef's latest genre-defying incarnation is Rayzd. Rayzd incorporate eastern mystical and Japanese Anime/Otaku influences within their musical smorgasbord. I've reviewed their debut album Fear is the Mind Killer here.
Listen to FITMK's Apparition here

Rayzd's new album Just Fade Away: Music of Cowboy Bebop and Other Sounds for the Discerning Otaku is available now from Amazon and other discerning online retailers.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Nobody expects...the Bush administration

If the three defining characteristics of the Spanish Inquisition were "fear, surprise, ruthless efficiency and"... OK, four defining characteristics..."an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope", then the leitmotivs of the Bush administration have been belligerence, sadism, myopia and stupidity. Stop press: we can now add incompetence and impotence to the uniquely charmless mix.

Sadly, I doubt the Bush administration's response (and I've seen corpses with faster reflexes) to this, eminently foreseeable, natural disaster will be to launch a War Against Global Warming or a Crusade Against Climate Change.

They say bad stuff comes in threes: Bush hitting the White House was an even greater disaster for the people of America (and the world) than the planes which hit New York and the hurricane which hit New Orleans (and it's unfortunate environs). I hope this once-great nation, and the extraordinarily vibrant city of New Orleans (like New York), can recover. One thing's for sure: Bush won't.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Chrysta Bell

Chrysta Bell
photo: Dutch Rall

The bewitchingly beautiful Chrysta Bell formerly fronted 8 1/2 Souvenirs, a swing band from Austin, Texas. She is now collaborating with David Lynch on her forthcoming solo album and accompanying music videos.

There was a House in New Orleans

Maybe the Bush administration should read Scientific American.
From the October 2001 issue:
New Orleans is a disaster waiting to happen. The city lies below sea level, in a bowl bordered by levees that fend off Lake Pontchartrain to the north and the Mississippi River to the south and west. And because of a damning confluence of factors, the city is sinking further, putting it at increasing flood risk after even minor storms. The low-lying Mississippi Delta, which buffers the city from the gulf, is also rapidly disappearing. A year from now another 25 to 30 square miles of delta marsh--an area the size of Manhattan--will have vanished. An acre disappears every 24 minutes. Each loss gives a storm surge a clearer path to wash over the delta and pour into the bowl, trapping one million people inside and another million in surrounding communities. Extensive evacuation would be impossible because the surging water would cut off the few escape routes. Scientists at Louisiana State University (L.S.U.), who have modeled hundreds of possible storm tracks on advanced computers, predict that more than 100,000 people could die. The body bags wouldn't go very far.
A direct hit is inevitable.
One might have thought the American government would have stepped up disaster preparation post 9/11. But, of course, the illegal invasion of Iraq cost money and, presumably, justified cutting New Orleans flood control funding by 44 per cent.