Posts Tagged ‘Gil Scott-Heron’

The result of the recent presidential election resembles nothing in the history of the United States. It looks more like the final convulsions of the ruling white elites in Rhodesia and South Africa. This resemblance doesn’t help me sleep at night.

his-back-to-the-wall
Lucky has his back to the wall.

Barack Obama, whom I admire, urged the nation to keep an open mind about our new commander-in-chief. Keep an open mind about a man who does not read. A man who has never had a pet. A man who has bragged about not wasting any time raising his own children. Has he ever played with his kids? What music does he like? (I know what he’d say: “Only the best!”) He is the fattest man to hold the office since William Howard Taft got stuck in his bathtub.

Note: William Howard Taft never got stuck in his bathtub; that story was invented years after his death. But he did own a custom-built bathtub that four non-Tafts could sit in.

Each half of our politically divided country voted for a candidate that made the other half want to kick a hole in a stained glass window. From here to eternity, will each side spend its years in power dismantling the work of the other? I am so flabbergasted by this election that I am reduced to quoting Sting, God help me:

“We all sink or we all float. We are all in the same big boat.”

In the alternate universe that has inexplicably ejected me, Hillary Clinton is right now selecting experienced, serious, boring people to help her run the government. In the universe where I’ve landed like Dorothy and Toto in their windblown house, our new leader is picking weirdos with no experience in what they’ve been picked for. That worked well during Hurricane Katrina so I won’t spend another second worrying about it.

“The revolution will not be televised,” Gil Scott-Heron told us. He was wrong. “But it will put you in the driver’s seat.” Maybe. But what is the nature of the man who is now behind the wheel?

No more politics.

Let’s talk about…chess!

Bone-crunching industrial thud machine Magnus Carlsen holds world championship with move so awesome that the planet increased its rotation and now the day is an hour shorter
In case you haven’t been keeping up with current events, Magnus Carlsen won the last game of the championship against Sergey Karjakin by sacrificing his queen, motherfuckers. When has that ever happened in championship chess? How about never! Not in 130 years!

No one has ever won the world championship on the last move in the last game by saying Oh I don’t need this thing anymore and then sacrificing the strongest piece on the board. The 13-year-old Bobby Fischer sacrificed his queen for a rook, two bishops, and a pawn in 1956 in what was later called “The Game of the Century,” and yeah it was stunning but it wasn’t the world championship, was it? It was not!

Are you getting this now? Do you understand that less than a month after reality shifted on November 8, reality shifted AGAIN this week, or do I have to come over there and clap your heads together like chalkboard erasers?

I have to reach into another sport to find something comparable. Travel with me now to the 1960 World Series, when the Pittsburgh Pirates, losing to the New York Yankees in game 7, came back IN THE BOTTOM OF THE NINTH thanks to Bill Mazeroski’s homerun – the only World Series to end with a homerun.

But Carlsen is even more amazing than Maz because Carlsen ONLY NEEDED A DRAW in that game to keep his title. He could’ve played it safe. He chose not to. You can bet your ass and six of your goats that this is why Magnus Carlsen is a champion and Run-DMSteve is an idiot blogger.

doh
A blunder by Emma gives Sailor the win!

I’m back, my friends. Thanks for sticking around, all three of you. I was immersed in an eight-week novel-writing class, faced another emergency in Antique Parent Land, endured my worst Thanksgiving in 36 years, and played with my dog. Details to come, along with more of the forgettable musical opinions you crave.

I hope you’re all well and following your dreams instead of that person who got the restraining order against you. Happy holidays!

Random Pick of the Day
Hillary Clinton.

Sorry.

Random Pick of the Day
Sonny Rollins, Saxophone Colossus (1956)
This milestone in postwar jazz whacks you in the head and throws you up on the roof with the Frisbees. It’s usually seen as a showcase for Rollins and his tenor sax, but the whole quartet is spectacular, particularly Tommy Flanagan on piano and Max Roach on drums. Max Roach must have had a Max Roach clone playing alongside him to lay down all those grooves.

I don’t know how to judge the bass player, Doug Watkins. I can only assume that Sonny, Tommy, and Max wouldn’t have let Doug join in their reindeer games unless he was spectacular, too.

This brilliant set was recorded in one fucking day in Hackensack, New Jersey.

 

MTV went on the air in 1981 and immediately rewrote the musical map. It’s easy to see how round-the-clock music videos made stars of talented people with outlandish personalities, like Michael Jackson and Madonna. I thought it would be more interesting to see what MTV did for a band with loads of talent but no personality. That band would be Dire Straits.

You probably remember their first album, released in 1978, if only for their Top 10 single “Sultans of Swing.” Guitarist Mark Knopfler wrote offbeat songs in an observational style somewhere between Bruce Springsteen and Bob Seger; he and his bandmates could play pop, jazz, and country. Their follow-up, Communiqué (1979), was less of the same, but it established the Dire Straits pattern:

  • The good songs were on the odd-numbered albums.
  • All of their albums sold well in their native UK.
  • Dire Straits made hard rock for people who liked soft rock. If you wanted something tougher than The Doobie Brothers or more authentic than Steely Dan, Dire Straits was the band for you.

Dire Straits’ third album, Making Movies (1980), was easily the band’s best and one of the best albums of the decade. And I say this as someone who doesn’t like soft rock or Knopfler’s voice. “Skateway” and “Romeo and Juliet” are lovely and haunting, and as for “Les Boys,” how often do you stumble across a song about German transvestites?

That ain’t workin’…that’s the way you do it
Because Dire Straits had a profitable history, their label, Warner Bros., was willing to bankroll a venture into the New World of music videos. And they didn’t just slap something together to fill the sudden demand for content, either. The videos for “Skateway” and “Romeo and Juliet,” particularly the former, remain stylish and interesting 30 years later.

Dire Straits was still selling records and MTV was still running their videos in 1985 when they released Brothers in Arms. This was the band’s commercial blockbuster (though the album runs out of gas well before it’s over), and I’m convinced they had MTV to thank. Their big hit, “Money For Nothing,” was perfect for MTV. It had a killer guitar line, you could pick up all the words on the first listen, it was an anti-MTV song for the snobs in the audience, and the insanely popular Sting sang the falsetto “I want my MTV” to the tune of The Police’s “Don’t Stand So Close to Me.” (In my mind, attaching Sting to a project means burn before listening, but in 1985 he was a god.)

The “Money for Nothing” video is as fun as it ever was; the computer animation looks like the distant past’s vision of the far future. You just have to overlook the matching 20 Minute Workout sweat bands the boys are wearing.

Success isn’t just being in the right place at the right time. Even if the planets line up for you, you have to recognize that they’ve done so. And you must possess the skill and the desire to produce a positive outcome. Even though the Dire Straits express ran right off the rails after Brothers in Arms, let’s give them credit. When opportunity knocked, they gave her a big old smooch.

Now look at them yo-yo’s: A few of Dire Straits’ contemporaries
Elvis Costello debuted about the same time as Dire Straits, with My Aim Is True (1977). But Costello was unable to use MTV the way Dire Straits did. (Whether he wanted to is another question.) By 1981 he’d released five albums on four labels and the four of them together didn’t have the resources of Warner Bros. His biggest hit, “Veronica” (in collaboration with Paul McCartney), was six years off. His early albums had a smallish following and he had an undeserved punk reputation.

Costello is far more talented than Knopfler, which is saying a lot. Lots of people are better than Coldplay. Not many are better than Mark Knopfler. Costello’s songs were too angry and angular to fit in the sanitized environment of the early MTV. Plus you can’t categorize Elvis Costello. That to me is a virtue but I don’t run my own network.

The B-52s
Regular readers and people who put up with me socially know that I love this band. They produced two dance-club faves in 1979 and ’80: The B-52s and Wild Planet. Like Costello, their only Top 10 hits, “Love Shack” and “Roam,” were years away.

In 1981 The B-52s were too weird for MTV, which is a weird concept now. When Special D and I saw them in 2007, people brought their grandchildren. Warner Bros. was behind The B-52s but apparently they saw no need to pay for fancy videos early on, even though this is the band that gave us “Rock Lobster,” the greatest song ever recorded.

The Talking Heads
The Talking Heads had four albums in play by 1981, but like The B-52s they were viewed as weird. (Here’s how to tell the difference between the two bands: Talking Heads are Rene Magritte. The B-52s are an inebriated Norman Rockwell.)

Talking Heads’ sole foray into the top of the charts, “Burning Down the House,” appeared in 1983. That song had an elaborate – and boring – video. The most interesting artists sometimes made the least-interesting videos. Talking Heads were one example; David Bowie was another.

The Pretenders
A tough woman singing about sex? Not in 1981!

The Allies
The Allies were a Seattle band that made their own video and won MTV’s “Basement Tapes” competition in 1982. “Emma Peel” is a little creaky now but was amazing then, given its backwoods origins. Also, I was almost in it. Unfortunately, the band lacked the material to follow up on this success, even though they sound very similar to our next contestants, The Romantics.

The Romantics
The Romantics are a rare example of a band that succeeded despite MTV. These power poppers had a hit in 1980 with “That’s What I Like About You.” The video was the laziest kind, a performance, and frankly, these guys are not visually appetizing. The Romantics had another hit in 1983, “Talking In Your Sleep,” but the video, in true MTV tradition, is too stupid to be believed. (If you don’t believe anything could be that stupid, watch the first 25 seconds.)

That’s my idiosyncratic tour of the protoplasmic MTV. Money for nothin’…chicks for free.

Goodbye: Gil Scott-Heron, 1949-2011
I wish MTV had existed in an earlier time. They wouldn’t have touched Gil Scott-Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” with a barge pole, but what a video that song would’ve made! Rest in peace.