Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Charon vs. The Dentist

The ROM didn't retire because he wanted to have places to be at 8:00 a.m. But before he made his decision to step down, he had made a dental appointment for 8:00 a.m. this morning to make up for the appointment he missed the day after Charon, the car he named after the vehicle that transports souls to the afterlife in Greek mythology, broke down in the HOV lane of I-85.

He could have changed the appointment, but decided to stick with it because of some fuzzy logic regarding discipline and commitment.  So after a restless night (he only got a few hours sleep because he was so worried about sleeping through the clock radio and not waking up on time), the alarm went off at the appalling hour of  6:30 a.m. After breakfast and the amount of oral hygiene appropriate before a dental appointment, he got in Charon to head off to the dentist.

Except Charon wouldn't start.  Turn the key and . . . nothing.  Try again - nothing.  Make sure the car was in park - nothing.  Step outside and get back in for another go at it - nothing. He suspected a dead battery, but had no idea why it had died.  It seemed to the ROM that for some unfathomable reason Charon simply did not want him to ever get to the dentist again.

It was at that point that he thought of the still incomplete application on his desk for AAA roadside assistance.

He waited an hour until the nearest towing company finally opened, but when he got through to them, they were booked until after lunch.  The next call to the next closest wrecker worked out better, although they wanted an astronomical $167 to tow him the half mile or so from the house to his preferred service station.  But  at least they were available to come by within the hour, and when they finally did show up 90 minutes later and saw Charon siting atop the steep driveway, they said they'd have to come back with a dolly and trailer for an additional $89.  But the ROM was in no position to negotiate, and wound up paying a total of $256 to get his car to the repair shop.

As he suspected, it turned out that Charon's battery was dead, and he learned that the reason it died was a faulty diode in the alternator.  A new battery, a new alternator, and $750 later, Charon was repaired. He walked the half mile to pick her back up from the shop rather than spend still more money on an Uber.

But driving back he decided that as long as he was in auto maintenance mode, he'd get the oil changed.  Another $42 spent.

The ROM rescheduled his dentist appointment for their next available opening, which wasn't until mid-September.  However, he made the appointment for 2:00 p.m. rather than the dreadful hour of 8:00 a.m.  

But he wonders what Charon is going to do in September to keep him from ever getting to the dentist again.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

This Is Not This Heat and Bradford Cox at The Earl, Atlanta, July 29, 2019

This is not This Is Not This Heat eating dinner.  This is This Is Not This Heat not eating dinner.
The Music Desk has been fortunate to have caught several outstanding shows already this year.  If, simply for the matter of expediency, we set aside the performances at Big Ears, those outstanding shows include DBUK at The Earl, Nels Cline at The Bakery, Kishi Bashi at The Georgia Theater, and Julia Holter at Aisle 5, among others.  

We can add to that list, maybe even top that list, with last night's show featuring Bradford Cox and This Is Not This Heat at the venerable Earl.  Cox opened.

For the uninitiated, Marietta, Georgia's Bradford Cox is the frontperson for the bands Deerhunter and Atlas Sound, as well as a solo performer.  We had no idea of what to expect from him last night, but never would have guessed that he would open the show with two other musicians playing a largely improvised set of experimental music while mostly squatting over various small percussion instruments, a vintage synth, and a bass guitar. What sounded at first like Steve Reich minimalism quickly grew into what only could be called maximalism, as in everything that could possibly be thrown into the mix.  

Again for the benefit of the uninitiated, that sounds nothing like either Deerhunter or Atlas Sound, but we loved it and it was well received by the packed house at The Earl.  At times, it was reminiscent of some of Thor Harris' recent work, but the overall sound was denser and more improvisational than Thor & Friends' compositions.  There's no telling if this is a new direction for Cox or just a one-off experiment, something that he simply wanted to try his hand at and having now done it will next move on to other things.  That's part of the fun of being a Bradford Cox fan - you never know what you'll get but you're always sure it will be interesting.

Last night marks the second time this year we've seen This Is Not This Heat (we said it's been a good year).  We caught them last March in Knoxville at the Big Ears Festival and although that was a great show, sandwiched as it was between jazz masters Carla Bley and Makaya McCracken, it didn't get the full recognition it deserved. We don't think we've even gotten around to "unpacking" the experience yet.

This Is Not This Heat is the name taken by the reunion of the '70s band This Heat.  Originally a trio, the two surviving members have recruited several younger musicians to perform their songs live and are now touring as a sextet consisting of two drummers, two guitarists, and two multi-instrumentalists on bass, oboe, keys, and guitar.

This Heat were always ahead of their time.  In the 1970s, they were playing music that we would call "post-punk" today but before the punk sound had even peaked.  Their experimental, confrontational, and politically charged songs set This Heat apart from the rest of the punk scene, and they are today widely considered a link between early 1970s music styles such as prog and krautrock and later experimental genres such as industrial music and post-rock.  Their music has been described as "an impressive procession of tangential shards that encompass tape collages, Middle Eastern motifs, barbaric vocal clamoring, and occasional pointy-jagged-atonal guitar passages" (  Here's 24-Track Loop, which they played near the end of their set last night, from their 1978 eponymous LP.

No two songs during last night's set sounded alike.  At times their sound was reminiscent of the pioneering German prog band Can, at times they sounded like free jazz or even the kind of groove-based jazz of Medeski Martin & Wood, and at times their sound was clearly the blueprint for later post-punk bands like Gang of Four.  In short, they sounded like nothing that came before or after them yet at the same time they were clearly pioneers for much of the cutting edge in experimental rock music for the next 20 to 30 years.  We're not sure if we or the rest of the world has fully caught up to them, even now.

Here are some excerpts from last night's show, featuring brief, random excerpts from Twilight Furniture, Independence, and the set's closer, Health and Efficiency.

The Earl was at full capacity - although we never saw a "Sold Out" announcement, we think they reached the limit at the door before or shortly after the show started.  We were front and center of the stage for the set - best spot in the house, other than having to contend with two videographers who kept crawling in front of and over us and even onto the stage (it's amazing the sense of privilege  holding a camera gives to some men).

Having seen This Heat earlier at Big Ears, we had a better idea of what to expect and as a result we enjoyed the show even more the second time around.  Given that and the opening Bradford Cox performance, this had to be one of the Shows of the Year for 2019.

Monday, July 29, 2019

ROM Watches Entire 4-Game Red Sox-Yankees Series So That You Don't Have To

There's nothing like a four-game Boston-New York series to get the blood flowing in a Red Sox fan, and that's especially true this year when the World Series champion Sox are hardly playing like repeat contenders.  It's not even a given that they'll make the playoffs this year.  Many, many pundits have all sorts of reasons why the team has so disastrously collapsed, so this retired old man won't offer any theories of his own (cough, relief pitching, cough) and leave that to others.  

But this retired old man always has an eye out for low-cost entertainment - something, anything, to fill the days and pass the nights without spending money.  Twelve to 15 basic-cable hours of the intense rivalry between Boston and New York more than fits the bill. 

The series was nothing short of a triumph for Boston.  No, they didn't sweep all four games, but they did win the first three games and win those games decisively.  Here's a quick rundown/victory lap:

July 25: Boston 19, New York 3

Probably the best win of them all: the first of four games, the biggest margin of victory in the series, the most runs Boston has ever scored against the Yankees in any game in their long history, and it all happened on my birthday.  Thanks, guys.

July 26: Boston 10, New York 5

Andrew Cashner pitched 6.2 innings, scored 6 strike-outs, and earned only 3 runs.

July 27: Boston 9, New York 5

One less run than the night before (ten less than two nights before), but still more than enough to beat the Yankees.

July 28: New York 9, Boston 6

Nobody realistically expected a sweep, except possibly a sweep in the other direction like the debacle earlier this year in London.  But the Sox still played well and scored 6 runs in a losing effort.  Three out of four ain't bad, and a huge improvement to the outlook for the rest of the Red Sox' season.  Maybe they'll make the playoffs after all.

That was a nice way to end last week, gave the Sports Desk something to do for four consecutive days, and kept the ROM of the streets and let him save his money.  One day at a time.  There's always something.


Sunday, July 28, 2019

Molly Rankin

Molly Rankin with Alvvays at Shaky Knees, 2018
Now you know: Before she started the Toronto band Alvvays, Nova Scotia's Molly Rankin recorded a very twee solo EP that sounded a lot like London's Allo Darlin'.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Dreaming of the Masters

It is assumed at this point that the reader has carefully listened to last week's posting of Discipline 27-II and has absorbed all the cosmic teachings and profound universal truths revealed in that song.  Therefore, it's further assumed that the reader is now ready for the next lesson and can now delve one level deeper into the astro-mystery by experiencing this live version of the composition, for some reason here called I Roam the Cosmos

I Roam the Cosmos, aka D27-II, should not be confused with We Roam the Cosmos, an entirely different Sun Ra composition. Both were rarely performed live - the massive, 850-page Campbell-Trent Sun Ra discography contains only two references to I Roam - a Voice of America mono tape recording from a 1973 performance at Carnegie Hall and an audience recording of a 1974 performance at Hunter College. 

This recently released live version was recorded in June or July of 1972 with a pair of microphones on opposite sides of the stage. It's far from a high-fidelity recording, but considering the simple set-up, it's still quite good, the stereo separation is remarkable, and the raw cosmic soul of the Sun Ra-June Tyson duet is undeniable. 

The performance took place at Slugs' Saloon, a Lower East Side jazz club on East 3rd Street. The area was known as Alphabet City, i.e, the neighborhood around Avenues A, B, C, and D, the only streets in Manhattan with single-letter names.  Despite the grittiness of the neighborhood, Slugs' had a reputation as a musician's bar, a place where the cutting edge of the avant garde could regularly be heard, and prominent jazz musicians, including Sonny Rollins, Albert Ayler, and Ornette Coleman, among many others, have all played there. Salvador Dali once dropped in for a visit.  From March 1966 through late 1967, Sun Ra and His Astro-Infinity Arkestra played regular Monday night gigs there and continued to play the venue irregularly thereafter.  It's been said that Sun Ra did not play short sets, and performances reportedly started at 9:00 and would last until 4:00 a.m.

Although now gentrified and quite safe, the Slugs' location first hosted a Ukrainian restaurant and later a bar that served as a meeting point for drug dealers.  It opened as Slugs' Saloon in 1964, "slugs" being a reference to the "terrestrial three-brained beings" mentioned in the book Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson by George Gurdjieff. Due to New York City regulations, the word "saloon" had to be dropped from the name and the venue was later called "Slugs' in the Far East," due to its easterly location in the East Village, but everyone still knew it as "Slugs' Saloon."  Rossy's Bakery, a cake shop and cafe, is now operating at the Slugs' location.

Rossy's Bakery at 243 E. 3rd St. in Manhattan, former site of Slugs' Saloon (Google street view)
Despite the grittiness of the neighborhood, a vibrant scene had developed at Slugs' out-of-the-way location. But those were tough, crime-filled years in New York City and Slugs' was a rough joint in a bad neighborhood: on February 19, 1972, the great jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan was shot dead at the bar by his common-law wife and booking manager, Helen More. The demise of the neighborhood and the notoriety of the Morgan incident eventually caused the club to be shut down in late 1972.

The band here is essentially the same as on last week's studio version of D27-II.  I Roam the Cosmos starts out with a brief solo statement from Danny Davis on alto sax, followed by the incomparable June Tyson singing the newly composed Astro Black over the D27-II groove. Soon after, Ra and Tyson engage in call-and-response declamations as the Arkestra sustains the D27-II rhythm for close to an hour, punctuated by occasional choruses of horns. Ra intones cosmic philosophy, conjures enlightenment, offers myths, and delivers dire forecasts, with Tyson echoing and dramatizing each invocation. Alternately mystic and braggadocious, and switching identities while staying in the first person, Ra brings up race, music, outer space, and doing the impossible (“Give up your death for me!” he demands at one point), with Tyson echoing virtually every word. Meanwhile, the Arkestra maintains the two-chord vamp with Kwame Hadi and Akh Tal Ebah providing running commentary on trumpet and flugelhorn, respectively.

It's notable that Sun Ra's famous quote, "At first there was nothing and then nothing turned itself inside out and became something," is not invoked here, although it is heard on the 1973 Concert for the Comet Kohoutek version of D27-II, called Outer Space E.M. (Emergency)

Another 1972 Sun Ra album, Universe in Blue, also contains performances recorded at Slugs', and in 2008 the label Transparency released a six-CD set, Live At Slugs' Saloon, of material separate from that on Universe.  Although the latter has several different versions of D27-II, none are titled I Roam the Cosmos although, interestingly, one track is titled At First There Was Nothing.  But the Live At Slug's Saloon recordings are reportedly on mono tape (we haven't heard them, but they are of notoriously low quality) while this recording is in stereo, and none of the tracks listed on Live At Slugs' appear to be 51 minutes long; it would take up an entire CD if it were, and each disc has four to seven cuts.

We'll admit it's a bit long and can get a little tedious at times, but it's a faithful document of a live performance of Discipline 27-II and Ra’s stream-of-consciousness preaching is simultaneously terrifying and laugh-out-loud funny. And it was recorded late one night at the very same bar where Lee Morgan had just been shot to death mere months earlier.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Wish Fulfillment

All that the ROM really wanted for his birthday yesterday was for the Red Sox not to lose to the Yankees.  Not at Fenway at least.  It's been a rough year for the World Series champs, and they're certainly not playing like they're going to be repeat champions, if they even make it to the playoffs at all this season.  And then their first home game against arch-rival New York just so happened to fall on his birthday last night.

The Red Sox came through and delivered on his wish and beat the Yankees by a final score of 19-3, their largest run total against New York in the history of the franchise.

Thanks, Boston, that's all that we wanted. 

That's all we wanted from the Red Sox, that is.  We also wanted a new video game to play.  Back on July 6, we noted that according to the very detailed in-game statistics, we were 19% of the way through Metal Gears Solid V.  In the 20 days since then, we've only managed to complete another 4%  of the game for a total of 23% complete.  We've been stuck on Mission 16 for a week now, unable to complete the challenging battle with four elite, supernatural soldiers guarding a supply truck.  

It's not fun when you can't win and we've found ourselves actively avoiding the game.  And when we think about it, even if we do finally figure out how to complete Mission 16, there's still another full 78% of the game ahead of us, and the battles will only get more challenging and more intense.  It's become a chore, a burden, to play.  Many of the side missions are starting to feel very similar to one another and even the main missions all have a very formal, repetitive format to them. We feel like we're just grinding through a near-endless series of difficult if not quite impossible missions and we need a break, a change of pace, so that we can enjoy game playing again.

So yesterday, on his birthday, the ROM downloaded a copy of Far Cry 5. It's set in Montana and you play as a stranded deputy battling a white-supremacist death cult (the game  doesn't actually admit the cult members are white supremacists, but it's Montana and they're all white and you do the math).  After the Red Sox victory, the ROM played the game for about two hours, and it's a nice change of pace from the grim, military atmosphere of MGSV.

So, we got our birthday wishes - a decisive, record-setting Red Sox victory and a new video game to enjoy.  See?  Getting old doesn't have to be a drag.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

ROM Celebrates Another Birthday

This is the day of your ego,
A personal celebration just for one.
This is the era of yourself . . . 
Twenty-five days into retirement, the Retired Old Man (ROM) finds himself at yet another birthday, his 65th.

Self-delusion is an interesting thing.  Although he had long considered the age of 30 to be "old," when he finally turned 30 he redefined "old" as 40.  And then later as 50 on his 40th birthday.

On his 50th birthday, he finally conceded to "middle-aged," but held on to a vain belief that he looked and came off as "young for his age."  Confusion set in at 60 as, not allowing him to think of himself as "old," he didn't know how to classify himself.

Today, he (I) turned 65.  Mandatory retirement age in some professions.  At long last eligible for Medicare and Social Security, that most tenuous of safety net in American culture.  What hair he has left is gray, he can't keep weight off, and where did he leave his glasses?

It's actually liberating to finally acknowledge you're old.  No one expects very much of you when you're old, so anything even remotely tech- or culture-savvy is a pleasant surprise to folks.  It's almost like being a precocious child again - you're praised for being able to walk to the store for groceries by yourself until you're about 12 or so, and then again after you're 65.  In the years in between it's no big thing - at least that much is expected of you - but in the years outside those bookends, it impresses people.  When you're old, women aren't expected to be attracted to you, so it's not a blow to the ego when heads don't turn as you walk by.  Staying home and puttering about the house becomes a symbol of success ("he can afford not to work") and not of failure ("he can't find work in this economy?").

The British post-punk band The Au Pairs recorded (That's When) It's Worth It in 1982, when I was 28. At some point or another during almost every birthday since then, I've heard Lesley Woods singing "This is the day of your ego" in my head.  
"It's difficult making it without faking it one way or another.  You got to wade through your ego and confess. You got to stop being so repressed before you may discover you could make it for real.  That's when it's worth it."
But now that the ROM finally acknowledges that yes, he's no longer young, the song takes on new meaning for him.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

ROM Watches Entire Day of Mueller Testimony So That You Don't Have To

Damn, that was painful.  Physically and psychologically painful.  

With nothing else to do today, this Retired Old Man (ROM) decided to spend the whole day watching the two back-to-back hearings of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller before Congress.  I mean, what else are we going to do?

In fact, we're especially well suited for the task.  Not only do we have the interest and the available time, but we've actually read the report.  No, not every word of every page  of the 448-page report, that would be ridiculous, but the report's laid out very logically and it's easy to skim past pages and pages discussing precedent and policies and focus on the findings themselves.  Also, the report is copiously footnoted and no one needs to read all the footnotes (it isn't Infinite Jest).  Given that it's heavily redacted, we were able to get through the report in less than 8 hours.

So Mueller said nothing today that we hadn't already read - that Russia engaged in sweeping and systematic interference in the 2016 election; that although the Trump campaign directly benefited from the interference and even aided and abetted in the interference, that assistance did not, in Mueller's opinion, rise to the level of "conspiracy" as defined by the law (and there is no statutory definition of "collusion"); that Trump and his administration actively interfered with Mueller's investigation and attempted to obstruct justice, citing at least 10 specific examples of obstruction; that it is DOJ policy that criminal charges cannot be brought against a sitting President while he is in office, so that it is up to Congress to decide what to do with Mueller's findings (e.g., impeachment, censure, or nothing). 

Democrats on both the morning Judiciary Committee hearing and the afternoon Intelligence Committee hearing tried to get Mueller to say more or be more explicit on which option he thought Congress should pursue, but Mueller refused to opine on anything and just kept reiterating that everything he had to say was in his report.  Republicans on both Committees kept trying to trick him into admitting that he and his staff were biased and prejudicial and out to get Trump (the old "witch-hunt" accusation), and Mueller refused to concede their point.

But the pain was in the slow, halting manner of Mueller's testimony.  He kept asking for questions to be repeated, he seemed to not remember what was in his own report without first looking it up, he had trouble hearing questions, and he generally appeared, well, not completely competent. At one point, he seemed to be searching and unable to recall the word "conspiracy."  It was a shocking and disappointing performance, and although by the end of the day he had succeeded in not letting Democrats embellish or Republicans dismiss his report, he didn't do much to enhance his reputation or credibility.

It was also painful to watch blustering Republican congressmen airing conspiracy theories and trying to get Mueller to agree to outlandish accusations, and try to make up for their lack of credibility or logic with volume, emotion, and faux outrage (Fox outrage?).

But it was also physically painful to sit indoors in front of a t.v. from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on a beautiful summer day watching this.   After the testimony was finally over, we went outside and took a nice, 3-mile-plus walk along the Beltline trail to get some fresh air and our blood circulating again.

From the very beginning of his testimony, Mueller made it clear that the report was not a full and complete exoneration of the president as Trump has claimed, which might have been a surprise for those inside the right-wing bubble who only get their news from the president's Tweets.  But given the partisan times, very few, if any, conservatives are going to reconsider the case against the president, and very few, if any, progressives are going to dismiss the investigation as a partisan with hunt.

Nothing changes, and that's probably the most painful part of all.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Notes on Retirement

Just a quick update regarding state of mind as we head into Week 4 of retirement:
  • We can already feel ourselves changing, largely for the good.  A lot of anger is falling away, like leaves falling from a tree in the autumn.  We weren't happy with our job for the past five or so years and were subject to at least a dozen little micro-aggressions each week.  As a result, we were carrying around a lot of pent-up frustration and anger, which often expressed itself at inappropriate times (are there ever appropriate times?).  But now all that is receding into the past, and we can feel the anger leaving our body like one feels a fever break or a headache fade away.  

  • We find ourselves living much more in the present, as the Zen masters would advise.  For once in our life, we're not putting something off until the weekend, or looking forward to the next holiday or the next vacation.  We're not planning for the next job or the next career position, and we're no longer anticipating a future retirement.  There's little reason that anything we want to do can't be done today, so we're not engaging in much long-term planning or day-dreaming about the future.  Here, now is all we need to attend to and we're not experiencing it as some sort of philosophical ideal but as a matter-of-fact reality of our daily life.

We spent a lot of time today moving furniture around the house and re-arranging rooms.  It seems the rest of our life is going to be played out in this pile of bricks on a hill, and the house is no longer just a place to store our possessions and for us to crash on weekends.  So we're realizing that a great place to read would be on the living room sofa, if only the lamp table from the den was there to provide light. We're realizing that the futon/settee in the guest room would make a great seat for relaxing in the study, and that the only reason our zafus and zabutons were in the study is because they had been displaced by the futon in the guest room.   So as there's no time like the present (since the only time is the present), we moved it all around today.  

It's surprising how heavy tatami mats are.  We were sweating after we had finally moved everything around (and vacuumed a shocking amount of accumulated cat hair from behind each piece of furniture) and needed a nap.  And with no more time constraints, there was no reason not to nap when we were through.

So the days pass by and we take care of things as and when needed.  That's a pretty Zen way of living, we think.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Julia Holter at Aisle 5, Atlanta - July 21, 2019

As surprising as it seems, Julia Holter had not performed in Atlanta before last night.  She's been producing great music for at least 10 years now, but for some reason or another, her tours have never brought her to the ATL.  That oversight was rectified last night at Aisle 5.

Before getting into it, opening support was provided by L.A. ambient artist Ana Roxanne, whose name always sounded like the word "anorexic" whenever it was said on stage.  Her stage banter sounded like a cry for help, like she was saying "Hi, I'm Anorexic."

But joking aside, she's a great artist and performed a wonderful set of meditative ambiance that had the entire audience spellbound and quietly attentive.  Here's a sample:

She closed her set with a slowed-down version of Smoky Robinson's already leisurely paced Ooh, Baby Baby, which was almost unrecognizable in Roxanne's ambient format until she got to the iconic title line.

That was a nice way to start the show, but Julia Holter's ensemble took the evening to a whole other dimension.  Words really aren't adequate to describe the complex beauty of her ambitious art rock.  The music was at times cacophonous and discordant, at times it sounded like a baroque string ensemble, and at other times it sounded orchestral and triumphant.  Most of the time was spent on the full spectrum of sound between those points.  

Honestly, we really don't have the words to describe her music, so we'll let it speak for itself in just a minute. but first we'll just note that Holter, on keyboards and vocals, fronted a sextet that included violin, trumpet, a second keyboard, bass, and drums.  All were superb musicians, and the complex compositions were obviously well rehearsed, but Sarah Belle Reid especially deserves credit for her outstanding work pushing the boundaries of the expression that's possible from a trumpet and flugelhorn.

The club was full and the audience was clearly appreciative of the chance to finally hear Holter live, and gave her music their quiet attention as well as the thunderous applause that it deserved.

Most of the songs were from Holter's outstanding 2018 LP Aviary, and she closed the set with I Shall Love 2 from that album.  The song takes its time building from the very simplest, but still captivating, opening to the surprising and ecstatic choral crescendo that climaxes the song.

And lest we leave you with the impression that is what Holter's set sounded like for any more than that one song, here's another video from her KEXP performance of another piece, Chaitius, also from the Aviary LP, that ranges from baroque strings, to Bjorkian orchestration, to jazz lounge, to triumphant pop, all in the course of one very well composed and coherent song.

We're not likely to hear a more ambitiously artistic set of music this year.  By the end of the evening, we were thoroughly entertained as well as artistically uplifted.  

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Fifty years ago today, while we were camped out in a bayou in Louisiana watching on a portable t.v., Neil Armstrong piloted the Apollo 11 lunar module, nicknamed The Eagle, to the surface of the Moon.  At 4:17 in the afternoon, he and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin became the first human beings to land on another world.  At the time of the landing, the Moon and the two astronauts were 244,391 miles from the Earth. 

The third member of the crew, Michael Collins, continued to orbit the Moon in the command module Columbia. Alone in Columbia for twenty-one and a half hours, Collins maintained an orbit ranging from 62 to 76 miles, and when he was on the far side of the 2,160-mile diameter Moon, he was at least 2,222 miles away from the nearest human being, with no radio contact with Earth or his crewmates and a 2,100 mile-wide ball of rock between him and every other human who ever lived.

Think about that next time you feel isolated.

Also, today is yesterday was the day that was written about 33 years ago.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

This Song Can Change Your Life

Our Friday-night Dreaming of the Masters series got bumped last night for our review of the Man Man show at Terminal West the night before.  Besides, trying to re-brand Old School Saturdays as Fallback Fridays was an obvious contrivance, so herein we're starting a new tradition, Sun Ra Saturdays.

What better place to start than Discipline 27-II, possibly the most concise and explicit exposition of Sun Ra's philosophy and outlook ever recorded? Beginning with the gently swaying theme introduced at the start of the composition to the mesmerizing, long call-and-response performance by Sun Ra and his singers, notably the criminally under-recognized June Tyson, the song creates an almost hypnotic effect over its 24 minutes. 

If you ever wondered what "the deal" was with Sun Ra and his cult-like legions of followers, this song is it.  We're totally sincere when we say that if you give it a chance, this song can literally change your life.

Sun Ra and the Arkestra employ koan-like aphorisms such as "I gave up everything I never had" and "You're on the other side of the end of time" in an attempt to explain what can't properly be put into words.  To be sure, there are a lot of words in this piece, but you have to be hear the Arkestra articulate them to understand what's revealed in this song, all the profound cosmic truths and existential insights.  The closing section, which encourages us to transcend the ego by laughing at ourselves, has a particularly Zen-like quality and brings the composition to a joyous end as everyone in the Arkestra literally breaks down laughing.

Interestingly, the famous Sun Ra maxim, "At first there was nothing, and then nothing turned itself inside out and became something," is not heard in this version of Disciple 27-II, although it is stated in some live recordings of  the piece.  

Discipline 27-II was recorded in October 1972 during the same Chicago sessions that produced Sun Ra's legendary Space Is the Place LP.  The recordings featured the largest Arkestra line-up ever recorded in a studio, featuring Sun Ra on keyboards and vocal dramatizations, and the "space ethnic voices" of June Tyson, Ruth Wright, Cheryl Banks, and Judith Holton. 

The sizable reed section consisted of John Gilmore (tenor sax), Marshall Allen (alto sax and flute), Danny Davis (alto sax, flute and alto clarinet), Larry Northington (alto sax), Pat Patrick (tenor sax, baritone sax, flute and electric bass), Danny Ray Thompson (baritone sax, flute, and something called a libflecto), and Eloe Omoe (bass clarinet and flute). 

The brass instruments were by Akh Tal Ebah (trumpet, flugelhorn, and a mellophone equipped with a contrabassoon reed) and Kwame Hadi (trumpet). 

Drums and percussion were provided by Lex Humphries, Aye Aton, Harry Richards, Alzo Wright, Atakatune, Russell Branch and almost everyone else in the band.

We know that asking for 24 minutes is a lot of time for just one thing in these short-attention-span days, but we promise that if you give this piece your full attention, you will not only be entertained but more than rewarded.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Man Man at Terminal West, Atlanta, July 18, 2019

Before last night, we had seen the oddball Philly band Man Man once before. At the urging of an acquaintance, we caught their set at the 2014 edition of Atlanta's Shaky Knees festival. the year it was held at the misbegotten Atlantic Station. We remembered that we really enjoyed the set and thought that it was all madcap fun, but somehow we couldn't recall a single specific thing about it.

We're having the same reaction to last night's show - it was a great, raucous set full of crazy shenanigans and off-the-wall antics, but so much of it was simply so bizarre that each successive WTF moment made you immediately forget the one that had just preceded it.  Which is to say, we've already forgotten about three quarters of what happened on stage last night. 

Before the memories are lost forever we need to start warehousing them now, storing what we can recall before they drift off into the foggy recesses of amnesia.  It's either that or start covering ourselves with tattoos like the protagonist of Memento.

Here's what we do remember about last night:
  • During only the second song of the set, the band stopped playing instruments and literally were just screaming at the audience, who were screaming right back at the band.
  • Front man Honus Honus bleating like a goat and encouraging the audience to bleat along, which we did.
  • Band and audience all holding their keys aloft and jangling them.
  • Honus using a bullhorn with a spotlight to showcase the absurd dancing of the sax player.
  • Honus holding up a portrait of Iggy Pop while singing something about having to find our own inner Iggy.
  • A totally unironic and heartfelt rendition of their popular song Hold On, with pop-singing opener Rebecca Black belting out a guest verse.
If Hold On sounds familiar to you, HBO used it for the Season 1 trailer of their Sarah Jessica Parker/Thomas Haden Church comedy series, Divorce

  • Honus holding a plastic skeleton aloft over the audience's head only to toss it into the throng to allow it to "crowd surf" and having it come back in several pieces. 
  • The word "butthole" taped in small type to Honus' electric piano.
  • The number 666 painted on a statue of an owl in invisible ink that could only be seen when illuminated by black light. 
  • During one song and one song only, Honus wearing a long coat with something written on the back of it about a neighbor's wife getting eaten by an alligator or something, sort of like Melania's "I really don't care, do you?" coat, but the quote was too long and Honus was moving around too much for us to ever read the whole thing.
  • A gradual person-by-person exit from the stage to close the encore, which our sharp-eared musicologist friend says was reminiscent of Haydn's Farewell Symphony.
But despite the catalog above, the set wasn't merely a series of madcap skits and high-jinks.  Musically, Man Man plays driving piano-centric, woozily psychedelic pop-rock, with as many as three horns backing Honus Honus' gruff vocals.  It brought to mind at times everyone from Dr. John to Frank Zappa to Captain Beefheart to Leon Russell, with many, many points in between.  And as anarchic and outrageous as things got at times, much of the songwriting was pleasingly accessible and enjoyable - these would have been great songs even without all the on-stage madness.

The audience, needless to say, was enthralled, and Honus worked us into a frenzy.  We're normally somewhat restrained at shows, but last night's set had us dancing in place, jumping up and down, and hollering aloud.  We were at the very front of the stage and at one point Honus knelt down in front of us and sang a verse while cradling our face with one hand and looking directly into our eyes.  Earlier, he playfully tapped our sharp-eared musicologist friend on the head with a drumstick. But we weren't being singled out - he somehow interacted in one way or another with everyone he could possibly reach.

For the record, Man Man is touring as a sextet, with Honus and the drummer out in front of four multi-instrumentalists taking turns on bass, guitar, reeds, brass, percussion, backing vocals, and choreography. 

It was another fun night with Man Man, we'll remember that much.  It's probably the best show we won't remember.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Court documents related to hush money payments arranged by President Dumbledorf Pumpernickel's former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen were unsealed today.

The documents reportedly include a description of an Oct. 8, 2016 phone call Cohen received from Trump’s campaign communications chief Hope Hicks, during which "Trump joined the call." Federal investigators believe the call was related to an effort to keep porn star Stormy Daniels from going public with her claims of having had sex with Trump a decade earlier.

Hicks was interviewed by the FBI about the phone calls with Cohen, the documents indicate.

The filing by federal prosecutors in New York came a day after the judge in Cohen’s criminal case ordered their release, saying that the end of a probe into those payments meant they should be made public.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

All Your Favorite Indie Bands Are Now Jam Bands

Oh Sees at Variety Playhouse, September 2017
For well over a decade now, Oh Sees (aka Thee Oh Sees, The OCs, OCS, etc.) have been one of the best bands around, certainly the best band from the California Republic.  

From at least 2005 until about 2015, they prolifically released consistently fine albums of their trademark, fast-paced Oh Sees' sound.  Their psychobilly- influenced punk rock was always instantly recognizable as Thee Oh Sees, but it always sounded fresh and never felt formulaic.  

But sometime around 2015 or so, frontman John Dwyer decided he wanted to change things up a bit, so in addition to even more permutations of the band name, they started including elements of 60s acid rock, krautrock, metal, prog, whatever came to Dwyer's stream-of-consciousness mind.  The resulting sound was still recognizable as Oh Sees once you realized it was them, but they wouldn't have been your first guess in a blindfold test.

"Long guitars solos are boring," was a maxim of the punk movement since at least the late 70s, but instead of avoiding them, Dwyer started leaning in and exploring them.  For example, here's the spare Nervous Tech from 2016's An Odd Entrances.

Their latest LP, Face Stabber, takes this trend even further, including a 21-minute track called Henchlock that sounds like it could have been recorded in 1969 (had Dwyer and the Oh Sees been around then).  It's one of the most psychedelic pieces of music we've heard in a long time, and despite its length, it's so well composed and moves so logically from one passage to the next, that it feels like only half that length (still a long song though). But basically, it's primarily an extended guitar odyssey, the very thing punk had once rejected.  Had this come over the airwaves and played on our FM radio back in the 60s, it would have rendered Hendrix, Pink Floyd, and the whole Haight-Ashbury/Summer of Love sound obsolete.  It would have ruled.

One of the best bands around, improbably and almost impossibly,  somehow just got even better.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Donald Trump Is A Piece of Shit

Sorry, but that is the polite version. Don't get us started on how we really feel.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Unpacking Big Ears - What We Saw At The Museum

Did we ever finish with the Big Ears 2019 retrospective?  We don't think so.

Per our plan, we spent a good deal on the last day, Sunday, at the Knoxville Museum of Art. 

It was far from the largest art collection we've ever seen, but it had a fine selection of work.  They had a Chuck Close painting and the work below, an upside-down replica on the Mona Lisa composed entirely of spools of colored thread hanging on strings, and which could only be rightly viewed by looking through a glass ball.

There was also a sound installation by musician and artist Tim Story called The Roedelius Cells.  We saw Story later that night performing with ambient master Harold Budd, but for this installation Story had several quiet selections of the music of electronic pioneer Hans-Joachim Roedelius playing from several speakers arranged in a circle.  The audience was invited to wander around the circle and hear the different pitches and harmonies as one walked from one speaker to the other, allowing the ear to absorb parts of one composition against the backdrop of another.  A meditative and calming experience.

Here are some scenes from a large mural depicting the history of Tennessee music.

The main event at the Knoxville Museum, though, was a performance of work by the avant-garde composer Alvin Lucier.  Much of his work is difficult to describe and there were parts where we simply did not understand what was happening, and other parts that explored overtones and harmonic interference patterns.  Listen to the changes in the sound even after the musicians stop playing.

Lucier, who is 88 years old, was present and even contributed to one piece, although it was one of the ones we couldn't understand but involved something about Lucier slowly walking through the room with some sort of transmitter in hand, apparently sending out some sort of bird-song signal to a receiver, or something like that.  Bonus points to Lucier for wearing a Black Lives Matter sweatshirt.

Several noted musicians in their own right were part of the ensemble performing Lucier's music, including Stephen O’Malley of the drone metal band SunnO))) (left) and experimental innovator Oren Ambarchi (center).

So that was an enlightening and entertaining three hours of so on a Sunday afternoon, and it says a lot about the overall quality of the Big Ears programming that we didn't even get around to talking about this until some four months after the festival was complete.