Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Music at Reverb Nation....

I've just created a page at the Reverb Nation site for a sampling of some music I've recorded in the past 10+ years.  Tracks come from all three Many Bright Things albums, the In The Summer Of The Mushroom Honey album, and elsewhere.  I also added two videos from the multi-part video project by Oren Darling - "Three Miles South of Distant" - which features additional music.

The tracks are streaming audio and require no downloading.  There are space limitations which result in time limitations which result in some tracks cutting out before they should, but a Google search for any of these titles will take you to music blogs where all the complete albums are available for free downloads; think of this site then as a kind of musical sampler plate.

I'll continue to add odds and ends at the site so check back every so often and see what's new.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Tax Loopholes for Billionaires....

I've always liked Clinton's former Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich.  I remember making a mental note of it when Jello Biafra told me he was a fan too.  Today on his website, Reich published the piece I've pasted below, "The Challenge of Closing Tax Loopholes For Billionaires."

Who could be opposed to closing a tax loophole that allows hedge-fund and private equity managers to treat their earnings as capital gains – and pay a rate of only 15 percent rather than the 35 percent applied to ordinary income?

Answer: Some of the nation’s most prominent and wealthiest private asset managers, such as Paul Allen and Henry Kravis, who, along with hordes of lobbyists, are determined to keep the loophole wide open.

The House has already tried three times to close it only to have the Senate cave in because of campaign donations from these and other financiers who benefit from it.

But the measure will be brought up again in the next few weeks, and this time the result could be different. Few senators want to be overtly seen as favoring Wall Street. And tax revenues are needed to help pay for extensions of popular tax cuts, such as the college tax credit that reduces college costs for tens of thousands of poor and middle class families. Closing this particular loophole would net some $20 billion.

It’s not as if these investment fund managers are worth a $20 billion subsidy. Nonetheless they argue that if they have to pay at the normal rate they’ll be discouraged from investing in innovative companies and startups. But if such investments are worthwhile they shouldn’t need to be subsidized. Besides, in the years leading up to the crash of 2008, hedge-fund and private equity fund managers weren’t exactly models of public service. Many speculated in ways that destabilized the whole financial system.

Nor are these fund managers especially deserving, as compared to poor and middle-class families that need a tax break to send their kids to college. Nor are they particularly needy. Last year, the 25 most successful hedge-fund managers earned a billion dollars each. One of them earned 4 billion dollars. (Paul Allen’s personal yacht holds two luxury submarines and a helicopter. Henry Kravis is one of the wealthiest people in the world.)

Several of these private investment fund managers, by the way, have taken a lead in the national drive to cut the federal budget deficit. The senior chairman and co-founder of the Blackstone Group, one of the largest private equity funds, is Peter G. Peterson, who never tires of telling the nation it faces economic ruin if deficits aren’t brought under control. Curiously, I have not heard Peterson advocate closing this tax loophole as one way to further the cause of fiscal responsibility.

Closing tax loopholes for billionaires may seem like a no-brainer, especially at a time when the nation is cutting back spending on the middle class — slashing budgets that fund child care, public schools, and public universities. Tens of thousands of teachers are getting pink slips.

But you can expect a huge fight.

There is also a moral issue here. Call me old fashioned but I just think it’s wrong that a single hedge fund manager earns a billion dollars, when a billion dollars would pay the salaries of about 20,000 teachers.

Robert Reich
May 23, 2010

Saturday, May 22, 2010

To paraphrase Justin Halpern....

"A country's only as good as its dumbest leader. If one wins a Nobel Prize but the other gets robbed by a hooker, you fail."

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Democrats and Republicans....



"I am a member of no organized political party. I am a Democrat." - Will Rogers

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Albums of Magic and Beauty #3... Realization

Johnny Rivers Realization (US 1968)

I've loved the album for as long as I can remember. It's one of those records that has a particularly fragile front cover - the purple seems to come off if you rub it even slightly making really mint covers, forty-plus years later, very hard to find. Every time I find one, I buy it, resulting in a small section in my record racks devoted to Realization preservation.

There are two versions on CD, one the album alone, and another that takes advantage of CD length to include a second LP as bonus. It took a while, but I sought out the single LP version for the same reason I don't want "bonus tracks" popping up at the end of Sgt. Pepper.

This was the LP's first single, released before the album and climbed to #14 on the US Billboard charts. Try as I might, I could not find a video for it that didn't sort of suck.  Just hit play and then look away from the monitor until it's over.

I always get a kick out of the Sgt. Pepper reference since that album was the soundtrack of that summer more than any other single record has ever been the soundtrack of an extended moment (even though it had no singles released from it and wasn't on many jukeboxes).

Writing for the All Music Guide web site, James Chrispell and Bruce Eder provide a really nice succinct description:

Not a concept album, but a song cycle depicting life in southern California in the late '60s, Realization is a fine cycle to catch a ride on. It's also a serious surprise -- when psychedelia reared its head in 1967, the results were frequently disastrous for those performers who'd been specializing in straight-ahead rock and roll, and few had rocked harder or more straight-ahead than Johnny Rivers. Instead of jumping on a bandwagon that had nothing to do with where he was musically, he hijacked the sounds of psychedelic rock -- much as the Temptations did at Motown -- and took it where he was going. Acting as his own producer for the first time, Rivers opened up a slightly gentler side to his work that's equally valid and a lot more interesting, if not quite as exciting as his rock & roll classics. After a few sonic digressions as a lead-in, "Hey Joe" gets going, carrying listeners into Rivers' gorgeous rendition of James Hendricks' "Look to Your Soul." His own achingly beautiful "The Way We Live" follows, and then comes Hendricks' "Summer Rain," which turned into Rivers' last big hit of the 1960s. And then he has the temerity to take "A Whiter Shade of Pale" and make it prettier and harder -- but less spacy -- than the Procol Harum original; from there he plunges into blue-eyed soul on "Brother, Where Are You." The surprises continue right through to the rather delicate, introspective reading of "Positively Fourth Street" at the close, Rivers succeeding in evoking a vast array of thoughts and emotions. For his trouble, helped by the two hits, he was rewarded with a Top Five charting album, and one that has continued to find new admirers across the decades.

River's take on "Hey Joe" (background on the song as well as over 1,500 cover versions listed here) is unique for it's optimistic psychedelia - instead of "shooting his old lady" Joe finds enlightenment.  Standout versions of "Look To Your Soul" and "The Way We Live" are a perfect lead in to "Summer Rain."

Track after track the album maintains a specific tone - a blend of a wistful melancholy with a trace of confusion that is directly tethered to a gradually emerging post-psychedelic culture.

Somewhere along the way I found a picture sleeve 45 released before the album, "Look To Your Soul" with "Something Strange" on the b-side. Rivers is pictured on the front, in a poncho and peace sign medallion in a dark and slightly fuzzy photo.  The labels credit the tracks as "From the album The Realization of Mr. Beelzebub."

In Chronicles, the first volume of his autobiography, Bob Dylan picks River's cover of "Positively 4th Street" that closes Realization as his favorite cover of any of his songs. Whether he would have said the same thing five minutes later aside, Realization remains an album of some magic and beauty.

*You should be able to download the album here, courtesy of Psychedelic Lion.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Albums of Magic and Beauty... Redux: Death, Dying and Rock’n’Roll

George Harrison’s wonderful posthumous album, Brainwashed, helped move rock and roll into the uncharted waters of the 21st Century.

I can remember sitting in a Catholic grade school classroom and the voice of the Parish Priest booming out of the public address speaker high up on the wall in the front of the room. The voice, sounding like I imagined the voice of God might sound liken said that, "under no conditions, will beetle haircuts be permitted."

I had no idea what he was talking about, none of us did, but anything that could put that little edge in God’s voice seemed like it might be worth checking out.

A little later, in February 1964, I remember sitting in my living room and, with my sisters and mom and dad, watching The Beatles’s debut performance on The Ed Sullivan Show.

This is not about nostalgia; it is about continuity and memory.

For many people my age the life cycles of The Beatles taught us something about aging and, yeah (yeah, yeah), dying. When Brian Epstein succumbed to “misadventure” it was the moment, collectively, we learned that people really could die. But, where Lennon’s death was a reminder that we could die, Harrison’s is the unsettling reminder that we will.

The memory of hearing John Lennon’s Double Fantasy in the days right after his death in December 1980 is caught up with the sense of tragedy that Lennon’s senseless murder evokes. Listening to George Harrison’s Brainwashed the inevitable comparisons between these two records have some important limitations.

On the album’s official web site, Rolling Stone editor Anthony DeCurtis wrote:

There can be no question about the depth of Harrison's spiritual convictions, and Brainwashed makes that clear yet again. In his final years, Harrison confronted the imminence of his death, and that experience provides the foundation of this album, though not in a luridly explicit, confessional way. It's more like the events of his last years lent an inevitable gravity to issues Harrison had pondered for decades. When mortality stopped being a philosophical problem, but could be felt every moment in the beat of his pulse, these are the songs that George Harrison wrote.

Unlike Double Fantasy, Brainwashed is written by a man who knows his time is almost gone. That sense of immanent departure clings to every track here like little wisps of smoke from an incense censor.

Pop music hasn’t been exclusively “youth music” for quite some time, and as pop music sensibilities intersect and merge with the personal and political realities of adult life we get new kinds of albums that have no real precedent in rock & roll. Lou Reed’s 1992 album, Magic and Loss, structured like a novel in 14 chapters, confronted and examined the powerful feelings brought on by the loss of close friends to cancer. Warren Zevon's The Wind (2003) was released two weeks before his death from lung cancer.

What if all this talk of death and dying is not morbid and depressing? What if one of the core reasons that art is essential for the health and well being of a culture is in its ability to explore things like this and report its finding back to us in albums like these?

I expect to hear some claims that this is not the proper subject matter for a rock and roll record, that rock “works best from the neck down,” and so on.  But this is blue sky stuff. When we were twenty and making this music we kind of thought we’d live forever. As we headed into thirty and saw the bodies of those who’d fallen prematurely we thought “live fast, die young, leave an attractive corpse.” Now, as we slam into fifty at high speed we’re mostly thinking, “Hey, sixty’s not that old.”

There was a MTV interview that replayed in the day after George’s death. Both George and Ravi Shankar were on the program and you could sense that each of them found some comfort in the others presence. There was a guitar case sitting in the studio and the program’s host (whose name escapes me now) mistook it for Harrison’s and asked if he’d play something. Always gracious, George agreed and played 3 or 4 tunes. The one song that sticks out from his impromptu solo acoustic set was "Any Road," the opening song on Brainwashed.

I’ve always been a sucker for records with strong opening tracks and the reason I’ve been raving over this since I first heard it is at least in part because of how good this opener is. About half way through George sets up the album’s balance between self-deprecating observation and Zen advice:

I’ve been traveling on a wing and a prayer / By the skin of my teeth by the breadth of a hair / Traveling where the four winds blow / With the sun on my face – in the ice and the snow / But oooeeee it’s a game / Sometimes you’re cool, sometimes you’re lame / Ah yeah it’s somewhere / And if you don’t know where you’re going / Any road will take you there.

Besides having some of George’s best songwriting in years, this is a fantastic slide guitar album. What guitar fans will notice here is that Harrison’s slide style has moved into a more Ry Cooder-sounding direction than on any of his previous albums. His use of Indian micro-tonal scales is still present on tracks like "Marwa Blues" and the album’s title track, but there’s more of a blues-based character to his slide playing on the rest of the album than I think I’ve ever heard from him before.

Aware of his approaching death, most of the lyrics here are automatically given layers of extra meaning, and lines like these from "Rising Sun" gently return to the album’s central theme: But in the rising sun you can feel your life begin / Universe at play inside your DNA / You’re a billion years old today / Oh the rising sun and the place it’s coming from / Is inside of you….

The album was completed by Harrison’s son, Dhani, and ELO-founder and former Traveling Wilbury, Jeff Lynn. Lynn is notorious for a heavy-handed production style that borders on the obnoxious, but under Dhani’s supervision and with specific instructions left by George for Jeff to please not overdo it, the production is mostly sparse and to the point.

The album’s closer, the title track "Brainwashed," is also the album’s crown jewel. It sounds both like an extension of "Beware of Darkness" and also has a lyrical flair that reminds me quite a lot of a vintage Bob Dylan song (Dylan and Harrison had collaborated on a number of occasions and I was always dreaming that a full length project might one day show up). There is an unmistakable Dylan cadence to lines like:

They brainwashed my great uncle
Brainwashed my cousin Bob
They even got my grandma when she was
working for the mob
Brainwash you while you’re sleeping
While in your traffic jam
Brainwash you while you’re weeping
While still a baby in your pram
Brainwashed by the military
Brainwashed under duress
Brainwashed by the media
You’re brainwashed by the press
Brainwashed by computer
Brainwashed by mobile phones
Brainwashed by the satellite
Brainwashed to the bone

A cadence that switches back to pure Harrison on choruses like:

God God God
Your nature is eternity
God God God
You are Existence, Knowledge, Bliss

Frozen in time back in 1964 into his role as “the quiet one” I still miss George, his dry British humor and his understated guitar playing. Perhaps there is some solace to be found in the quotation that adorns the center of the CD booklet.

“There never was a time when you or I did not exist. Nor will there be any future when we shall cease to be.”  (Krishna to Arjuna in the Bhagavad-Gita)