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Several potential posts I'm working on, which you may see or may never see.

1. A point-counterpoint of the extremes in my attitude towards politics. 10 items in all, plus further musings and slip-slidings. For a taste, here are numbers 1 and 2.

Odd number. (1) Politics is a social space that allows for people to say things that are more stupid and destructive than what they allow themselves to say in almost all other spaces.

Even number. (2) Politics is a means by which the most vulnerable and targeted people in society can organize to defend themselves and gain some social power. (Obviously, it's also the means by which other people can target and rip off the most vulnerable. Those vulnerable people themselves can't actually organize and defend each other unless they gain allies and advocates among the less vulnerable. In fact, it's these latter who do most of the organizing and defending.)
2. Kind of bouncing off this first post, my psychologically creating the conditions under which I might actually engage in politics per se.

(1) Don't assume we have to dumb ourselves down to (a) sway voters, (b) pressure our enemies, (c) get along with our allies.

So, let's say, as a working premise, that we can and should speak and act honestly and thoughtfully, and if colleagues claim that strategy and tactics demand we don't, the burden of proof should be on them. Don't fall for tones of voice that sound "realistic" and "knowing."

This argument is with myself as much as it's with the world.

(2) Joy. There needs to be joy and satisfaction not just in the outcome and the sense of trying to do the right thing (neither of these joys being very available e.g. when we're losing or when we're flailing and confused); there needs to be joy in the doing, joy every day or at least every week. This reverts back to the previous point. The joy of thinking, the joy of discovery: these are always available if we want them and for me they're necessities, not luxuries. But also, for me, they ultimately — thinking, discovering — need a community. This isn't just because ideas get better when discussed and argued over. For me, ideas need to be shared or the whole process rots. Maybe that's because, in my head, the audience I imagine for my words is even worse than the one that's actually out there. Nonetheless, out there there's obviously a malfunction, a train wreck, a breakdown...
3. For a brief period, mid 1977 to mid 1978, I was writing poetry. I'd barely ever read the stuff, barely read anyone's poetry, not counting Shakespeare and Emily Dickinson, and not counting song lyrics (the latter being a pretty sizable amount of "not counting") — to the extent of knowing traditions of poetry were there but barely knowing what they were. I approached the enterprise with alienation and adventure: this was someone else's dinner table, but I could somehow leap the process, start in the neighborhood of my own rocks and foothills. I was using as my workbook Kenneth Koch's books on teaching the writing of poetry to kids and old agers (Wishes, Lies, And Dreams and Rose Where Did You Get That Red and I Never Told Anybody). I worked hard at not falling into being "writerly" or "poetic." —Harold Bloom and Mark Sinker to thread, but note that poetry and poets definitely weren't my touchstones: this came at a time when I was running away from my music obsession, and trying to evade my calling as a critic. I emphatically did find my poetic voice, one like no other. And then I stopped. More accurately, music called, and songs, and criticism, "poetry" somehow briefly installed on the path.

4. Bob Dylan really did deserve that Nobel prize, but there's a point-counterpoint here, too. The first point is that if the Nobel people really did want to open the floodgates to American song, allow for songs to come rushing in, Dylan is a gutless choice, the songwriter who's the anomaly with the billboard sign "A Poet, Not Just A Songwriter" rising up to the sky above him. Whereas the true obvious worthy recipient, the living master and genius who nonetheless doesn't safely push the Respectability button or the High Art And Literature button, is Chuck Berry. And once you've got Chuck you've opened those gates to everybody from field hollers and nursery rhymes to Brill Building to Jay-Z, hicks and hacks and streetcorners, truly breaching the cellophane that separates low and high and medium.

But the counterpoint here is that if you take songwriting for granted, and the breach as long done, Chuck is a rather staid choice, obvious indeed as an accepted classic — whereas Dylan is the danger guy still,* the one who explodes everything, simply wipes out the limitations of what you can do with words, draws on everyone and invites you to overthrow them all, no limitations on ambition, yet try it yourself and you're more likely to blow off your own hands than to produce much of value.

And then, this not on the subject of whether or not he's prizeworthy, we need to take account of the content of a lot of those exploding words. Dylan as much as Lou and Iggy (not to mention the more decorous Leonard Cohen and Paul Simon) effectively inserts into popular song the idea of self-destruction as a form of social protest. If you put together my critiques in "The Autobiography Of Bob Dylan"** and my "PBS" essays in the first two issues of Why Music Sucks, what you get is that we — indie-alternative, the supposed underground, the rock critics, our set of Musical Marginal Intellectuals — let self-destruction stand in the place of social analysis. Or let it validate the social analysis, let it make the analysis feel real whether or not the analysis was actually any good. And of course this applies in spades to the Academic Left. (This isn't Dylan's fault, it's in our culture without Dylan anyway, and I wouldn't say that you should think of self-destruction as the main legacy or message of Dylan, what the guy's about in full, and of course he pushes against the self-destruction too — he's an overload of messages, that's a feature — just there's this whole extolled "poet" thing that manages to sidestep huge hunks of what the poetry actually says and does.)

*I mean, I don't think of what he's doing now in the 2000s as danger-guy stuff (though maybe if I knew it better I would). 1965 and 1966 are the key danger-guy years, and they're still there, as it were — still here — haven't been assimilated.

**And here (or here if Google books switches up as it sometimes does and makes the other two go blank).
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The girl wearing the raincoat is running to catch up with her mom who is already in the house. The girl is going to the store to get candy, then she is going home. The girl is screaming in the park for her mom because she wants her mom to take her home. She is yelling for Daddy and Grandpa. She is screaming and looking for her whole family. Mom said she could play outside all day. Even in the dark?

She is screaming because she is happy. It's her birthday. She was surprised she got an X-box. She is screaming because there was a fire. The box has something she likes. There is a fire on the bed. They gave her a prize.

The coyote misses his mom. He is looking for food. He is looking out for his family. He is really hungry, hasn't eaten for days. He ate food off the floor. There is chicken. He's taking a bath.

My pokey slipped off the rock and fell on his tail and broke his leg.

This is a street. This is where the cars went and there is a hole. It is not a good thing. You can fall in it. You can get stuck and stay down there and be scared. Cars fall in it. People are running and have to take the bus. They went in another car that is not stuck.

The square in the center is where the street broke. When the green lights up, the cars can go. The car gets broken when it hits the hole.

The boy and girl are whispering. They are saying, "I'm not your friend. I'm going somewhere else. She's ugly. She's bullying somebody." They're being rude. They're being happy. They're blaming people.

They are telling a secret. She is telling him not to be this other person's friend. The boy is telling the girl, "I'm still your friend." They are telling secrets about their other friends. He is telling a secret about his grandma. She is telling a secret about your cousin.

The cheetahs are touching each other. Cheetahs have to eat people. They are looking for people. They are trying to hide so they can eat people. The cheetah's hand is on the other cheetah. She says to chase someone and eat him. Maybe this cheetah is the girl and this cheetah is the boy.

The zebra is hugging the other zebra. The cheetah is hugging her baby. The zebras are looking for their friends. The cheetah cub is hugging the other cheetah to help him look for food. Oh! They're cousins. They play together. They're saying, "Roar, you're my friend." "Roar, you're my cousin." "I'm going to the animal shop." "Where are the zebras so I can eat them?" The animals are looking for their friends. They are waiting for play time.

The girl is walking to the tree to climb it. Big tree. The girl is trying to feel if it's soft or not soft. Does the tree have limbs that will help you climb it? In a forest, she is grown up. The tree is like a giant's leg.

That tree is too big to climb. But she can climb by the ridges. She is going to bang her head and get sent to jail. The girl is trying to climb the tree because she got something stuck up there. She was playing soccer with her friend. It's time for her to learn how to climb. She is almost a teenager and then she can be happy.

--by Frank Kogan (sorta). 2015.
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Why It Is Fine For Me To Scratch The Curtains
A 12-Point Manifesto
By Zaza

1. I appreciate that you have provided me with a scratching post with an equally scratchable base, but, while rough and resilient, neither of these has nearly the responsiveness and sensitivity of the ever-movable curtains.

2. Also, my claws can get stuck in the curtains, which gives me the chance to swing, momentarily, providing me needed exercise.

3. Note that it is another inhabitant of this apartment, not I, who expresses opinions on my need for exercise.

4. And I'm not the one who has so far neglected to take me in to have my claws trimmed.

5. Also note that I'm usually very good about the rule that says when two humans are on the bed at the same time I have to stay off.

6. But about this bed thing: when I'm already on the bed, and there are no humans on the bed, or there is only one human on the bed, and then one or more other humans also get on the bed so that the total number of humans on the bed is now two, I don't see why I, rather than one of them, should have to get off the bed. I didn't willfully create this violation.

7. But I let you shoo me off anyway.

8. And bringing out the spray bottle really wasn't called for.

9. It is a cliché of cat manifestos to refer to the inadequate size of a litter box, so I'm not even going to mention it.

10. When I sit on a pile of papers or envelopes, I am simply acclimating them to the apartment, so I wouldn't call them relevant to this particular conversation.

11. And if Frank hadn't left the t-shirt on the floor I wouldn't have considered sitting on it.

12. Therefore, I am right to scratch the curtains.

As attested by Zaza on July 9, 2014.
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As some of you know, I've performed in a number of rock bands, though my first group was a folk trio. We were high-schoolers playing a student dance, doing rousing sea chanteys and battle anthems in a headlong, banjo-picking style. We excited the crowd. (I was in elementary school, age 11 or 12, when I first came up with the idea; can't say I had much of a clue yet what would excite an eventual high-school crowd.)

In early 1967, just when I'd turned 13, John Lennon quit the Beatles to form a band with me. I had two intense, emotional melodies that became hit songs. We toured the country, playing smaller halls, despite Lennon's fame. The small venues fit the sparer, more emotional music I had in mind. The two melodies did in fact exist; I remember one of them still, though I'm not sure it's all that intense and emotional anymore. Neither of the melodies ever got any words or became real songs. The only actual song of mine up to that point was a funny one called "Out on the Autostrada" that I’d composed at age 10 on a trip from Rome to Sicily. Its lyrics, in their entirety, were "Out on the Autostrada/We put some ham in their chowder," auto pronounced "ow-toe" in the Italian way, chowder pronounced "chow-duh" in the Boston way.

I don't distinctly remember the bands I put together right after the Lennon one. I'm sure there were many. I do remember that at age 16 I briefly had a band with Grace Slick. Grace was a goddess to me at the time, though a very scary one. Lots of male rock stars were up on my wall. She was the only woman among them. I was in awe of her and completely infatuated but very intimidated too. "Either go away or go all the way in" really unnerved me. She was beautiful, but I don't know how much I was attracted to her. I almost never have sex fantasies about stars, anyway. I prefer people I know. I had a masturbation daydream about Grace, once, that eventually succeeded, but it was work. I kept picturing her hard unblinking stare; I didn't know if she'd relent to actually liking me. Maybe if I were to meet the real Grace — loud, emotional ex-drunk that she's supposed to be — my fantasy life with her would improve.

After the Grace band, I was the star )
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The performer speaks easily, giving interviews in English, but careful, too. Not spilling her guts, or spilling the beans, either, should she have any in her big backpocket. She watches a dance rehearsal clip, along with the interviewer, confesses that she hates that it shows her without makeup. She continues speaking, a level tone, describes the effect of YouTube, "Even though music has no language and has the power to break any walls," she says, "YouTube and the Internet have definitely made it easier for people to check our music out and look at our videos." You notice that she's speaking not only in complete sentences, but that she's forming them fully, subordinate clauses and all. "More than I can do, on my feet," you say to yourself. The interview continues, the thoughts steady, though rarely rising above platitudes. She explains that for the fans these days it's not just about listening to and feeling the songs, but about expressing themselves just as the performers do. So the group makes sure that among the dance moves, there are some that are easy enough for the fans to copy.

You yourself track her on YouTube, see her on the reality show, in her own language talking faster but more pensively, posing and answering questions in soliloquy, you watching the subtitles, she wondering if in five years, when the contract is up, would she re-sign. What if the energy isn't there? Her words are fast but the thought comes slow. She doesn't know. Would she have the spirit to start over?

Then the real thing, onstage )
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In the midst of our convo about the cartoonish Girl's Day video, I thought of this, my all-time favorite Freaky Trigger thread:

Teen News*

The thread thoroughly refutes Tom's contention that he's never managed to make his writing feel like pop.

*In the Freaky Trigger post, the first two links are real, the rest Kat's inventions.
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On one level I suppose all of this is very funny, but if you look past the surface violence and simple abusiveness to the person at the center it's not funny at all. The reason it's not is the aforementioned ambivalence. Jungle war with bike gangs is one thing, but it gets a little more complicated when those of us who love being around that war (at least vicariously) have to stop to consider why and what we're loving. Because one of the things we're loving is self-hate, and another may well be a human being committing suicide. Here's a quote from a review of Iggy's new live show in the British rock weekly Sounds: "Iggy's a dancer and more, a hyper-active packet of muscle and sinew straight out of Michelangelo's wet dreams... who leaps and claws at air, audience and mike stand in an unsurpassable display that spells one thing—MEAT." Ignoring the florid prose, I'd like to ask the guy who wrote that how he would like to be thought of as a piece of meat, how he thinks the meat feels. Or if he thinks it feels at all. Yeah, Iggy's got a fantastic body; it's so fantastic he's crying in every nerve to explode out of it into some unimaginable freedom. It's as if someone writhing in torment has made that writing into a kind of poetry, and we watch in awe of such beautiful writhing, so impressed that we perhaps forget what inspired it in the first place.
--Lester Bangs, "Iggy Pop: Blowtorch In Bondage," Village Voice, 28 March 1977

I remember, not well, someone having written, probably in the early '70s, maybe a letter to the editor, maybe it was to Creem, and someone wrote maybe a brief reply to the letter, maybe unsigned, maybe it was Lester who wrote the reply. The writer was lamenting the absence of Buddy Holly. If Buddy had lived, he'd be doing great things, said the letter, said the writer. And the reply was No! If Buddy had lived he'd being playing Vegas just like any other oldie living off his past, his work no longer mattering except as a walking corpse of a reminder that it once had mattered.

So Lester. He never totally got his shit together, not just chemically but intellectually. But he didn't give up. If he asked a question, the question didn't disappear, didn't get a glib answer from him and then evaporate or hang around like a vague fart, a mist of buzzwords answered by another mist of buzzwords. The questions gnawed at him, repeated, didn't leave him alone.

If he'd lived, I think it would have made a difference. I don't know what his follow-through would have been — he could get lost in an enthusiasm of words and anguish — but I know there would have been one. Maybe it'd just end up as Lester's filibuster. But the questions would ride him, would at least fight to stay addressed. And this is where Lester is different from all my colleagues. I complain from time to time that rock critics, music critics, people in my rockwrite/musicwrite/wrong world, don't know how to sustain an intellectual conversation. My complaints don't help anybody, since whatever the message is in my own writing, the idea that there's a joy in discovery, in unearthing the unknown, that you interact with what's in front of you, with the everyday, and see a new world each time you look, each time you act, but only by thinking, testing, challenging, re-wording and re-phrasing — this message doesn't get across, doesn't get felt, I guess. There's a basic unshakable dysfunction and incompetence in my world, which amounts to dishonesty, a pretense of thought without actual thinking.

Don't know that Lester really knew how either, but given that the conversation, the questions, wouldn't leave him, I imagine he'd have given it a shot.
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 photo Ken Emerson Always Magic In The Air.jpg

Some mumbling in the bleachers to the effect that Pitchfork's list of their 60 favorite music books won't direct you to the work by T.W. Adorno you'll most need, or to the bio of Jimmy Durante you'll most want (the only one I've read is Schnozzola by Gene Fowler, which I found quite entertaining, though fundamentally anecdotal). But youff must be served! In any event, many books on the list I've yet to read myself, and some are by people I've never heard of, so it surely serves a purpose.

Tom's been posting cover pics of some of his own faves that didn't make the list, and Tal tossed in a gem of his own; I'm joining in, will add several over the next days or months, favorite authors as yet unpictured.

Ken Emerson was my first rock critic hero, before Nelson, before Meltzer, before Christgau. Wrote about the Dead, about the Yardbirds, about the Stones, about Bowie, but also about one shots, nobodies, and ex-somebodies I'd never heard of. "Without the Zombies, rock would be no different, just poorer." Emerson uncovered the artistry of entertainers and craftsmen who didn't officially matter in the counterculture '60s: pros in cubicles and scruffy kids imitating the previous big thing. So he brought me a world that was way more populated than I'd realized.

Hats old and new )
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Like me,* Tom Ewing asked people to list the best thing they wrote all year, and his list has only a couple of overlaps with mine.


*If you missed my request the first time, I encourage you to add your choice in the comments here or back at the original post. I was asking for your one best or favorite from your own writing about music this year and the best or your favorite of someone else's. Add links, if possible.
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In the comments (or if in Tumblr, reblog), please name the single best or your single favorite thing you wrote about music (etc.) this year.

Also, please name the single best or your single favorite thing that someone else wrote about music this year.

(I haven't yet figured out how I'll answer this, so you'll have to go to the comments to see my answer too.)

If possible, provide links.
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Just posted this on the ilX Rolling Music Writers' Thread in response to some unthought-through statements from Matos and Weingarten:

I doubt that someone who hasn't "earned" the right to use the first person has earned the right to bore us with adjectives and genre designations either. Someone who falls asleep at my use of the first person isn't interested in my ideas anyway, whether I'm in the first person or not. To go back to my analogy [upthread], the phrase "guitar band" is a red flag for me these days, indicating that I'm likely to dislike what I hear. But the problem isn't with guitars themselves; guitars don't kill music, musicians kill music, and if you had the same guys playing keyboards or xylophones they'd probably be just as dreary. "Electric guitar" meant electric excitement in '66, it means drudgery now. But there's plenty of electric guitar excitement in music today - great stuttering Keith Richards-style guitar chords at the start of Martina McBride's "Wrong Baby Wrong Baby Wrong," for instance - it just doesn't usually come packaged with "guitar band" on the label.

red flag )
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From Luc's blog:

Picking up a copy of Thomas Nashe's The Unfortunate Traveller or George Ade's Fables in Slang or Chester Himes's Blind Man With a Pistol and leafing through it for five minutes helps restore my writing style when it has gone stale.

So, what works for you when your writing goes stale? (Basically, I've tried everything, and nothing works for me when my writing goes stale; I just have to write through it and try not to let my own staleness shut me down. Reading other writers in their freshness just makes me feel that I'm worse in comparison. I do read Otis Ferguson to try to restore myself to good humor, however.)


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