Friday, December 30, 2011


Our twentieth century education continues. One might think that a soup-to-nuts accounting of the crimes of National Socialism and Soviet Communism from 1932-1945 would be brutal and at times shocking, and one would be right. The stories of Hitler and Stalin's reigns of terror have to my knowledge never been conflated quite like this before, around a geographical cluster of lands quite rightly called "The Bloodlands" by author Timothy Snyder. "BLOODLANDS - EUROPE BETWEEN HITLER AND STALIN" takes place solely in these countries - Poland, Belarus, the Ukraine, the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and parts of Soviet Russia - to tell a tale of unthinkable genocide that is still dumbfounding to think happened during our parents' and grandparents' lifetimes.

I've read books about the Nazis and about Stalin's evil during the 1930s and 40s, but never with the sort of historical accounting provided here. From the Ukrainian famine and the collectivization disaster of 1932-33 to Stalin's Great Terror, from the Molotov/Ribbentrop pact that doomed the Polish people to the many phases of the Final Solution that killed six million Jews, this book deals solely with systematic mass murder of civilians and P.O.W.s - the defenseless. It does not tell the story of soldiers who died fighting in the war, and Snyder is very careful and very deliberate in his history. He errs whenever possible on the side of caution when using numbers, yet combines broad, thrilling description of mass historical events (the Warsaw ghetto; the Partisan warfare in the forests of Poland; the Treblinka death camp) with excellent individual quotes and citations from victims' diaries, quotes and relatives.

I now can't nor won't think of the countries of The Bloodlands the same way ever again. I always knew that Poland had been doubly screwed by Germany and the Soviet Union, and robbed of virtually all of its Jews - but man, what a history of suffering for a nation that beforehand had been so strong - and actually feared by Stalin. The pact between the Nazis and the Communists that sealed Poland's fate was primarily due to Stalin's complete paranoia that the Poles were coming to get him - with the Japanese due to invade the Soviet Union from the other side. Of course, no such invasions were planned nor forthcoming, but Stalin's Great Terror rooted out anyone and everyone who could even remotely be considered a threat - and shot them dead. Man, woman and child were not immune. It's heartbreaking to see just how easy it was for so many people only 70 years ago to shoot, gas and burn massive numbers of children.

Snyder makes it clear once and for all that the horrors of pre- and intra-World War II were concentrated overwhelmingly in the East. West of the Molotov/Ribbentrop line in Poland, Jews were more likely to have been sent to concentration camps to be worked (often to death) than they were to be outright gassed immediately, particularly early on. East of the line, however, Jews, P.O.W.s, Partisans, Ukrainians and more were typically shot, and thrown into pits. Bullets, not gas, ruled this side of the line, until the Nazis began to perfect the systems they put into place at camps like Treblinka - which is easily the more horrifying part of the book (which is a hard statement to make). Sometimes the killing is so mass and so ugly I have to stop and ask myself, "Wait, who killed those people again - Stalin or Hitler?". Particularly in Poland, Belarus and the Ukraine, where so many completely innocent people were killed by both.

I'm a pretty well-studied guy and an ancient 44 years old to boot, and a ton of this was brand-new information to me. It helps you put the narrative of this era that we've learned in the West - Normandy, the Battle of Britain, Auschwitz - into its proper perspective vis-a-vis the more impactful story of the battles and the killing going on in the East. So while it's not an uplifting read, neither is it a gruesome parade of bodies either. It's a humane, essential work of history that will complement anyone's consciousness and knowledge of the twentieth century.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


It’s the holiday season and you know that means spending $10-$15 a pop at the multiplex to see films you’d normally watch on DVD six months from now. I got myself over to a local theater to see the film adaptation of John Le Carre’s cold war thriller “TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY”. It was previously a 1979 BBC miniseries that I’m pretty sure was shown on American television back then – because I half-remember my dad watching it. The reviews of this new film have been phenomenal, and for the most part, they're spot-on. It’s a movie you don’t see being made too much anymore – the weird, gritty thriller that moves slowly and carefully, and that makes you do a lot of the heavy mental lifting. 
Gary Oldman, who plays the British agent George Smiley, is the center of the film. He’s been farmed out of the MI5, the British secret service, forcefully retired, but he very quickly finds out that a “mole” may be hidden within the MI5. This mole is passing sensitive information to the Soviets, and through a lower-level agent, Smiley starts to unravel the machinations of the betrayal. Needless to say, it goes to the very top. Because it is a spy mystery, I’ll say no more about the plot, but I will warn you to pay attention. Though you can get through the film and figure out the gist of it while missing some of the details, you’ll have a richer experience if you can decipher their cold war spy-speak and piece the outlines of the plot together during the non-talking parts of the film.

Those moments are many. The film perfectly evokes a gray, drab, depressing 1970s-era Britain, with bad clothes, bad hair, bad teeth and shabby apartments. Of course, it’s always overcast or raining. They may have actually filmed this in Romania or Albania or something to capture Britain as it was 40 years ago. Oldman – the same guy who played Sid Vicious in SID & NANCY a mere 25 years ago – is made to look even older than he actually is here. He, like the film, moves slowly and methodically, and never once cracks a smile. The one time he raises his voice, near the end of the film, you’re shocked that he can actually do so. He’ll be nominated for many awards for this performance, and I like his chances.

“TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY” is a fine way to fritter away your money while the in-laws are in town. Barring that, Hedonist Jive recommends a rental in 2012.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


Despite over 20 years of calling myself a libertarian, there's a reason why the name "Ron Paul" almost never comes up, and why I have extremely mixed feelings about his recent success, if that's what you want to call it. I probably would have voted for him in 1988, as I've fruitlessly voted for nearly every loser Libertarian Party candidate since that year, had my free minds/free markets consciousness arrived a couple years earlier. However, I was a wavering Democrat then, and pulled the lever for Michael Dukakis (!). A few years later, when I started devouring libertarian magazines like LIBERTY and REASON and paying visits to San Francisco's one and only libertarian bookstore - now long gone - I quickly gathered enough about the two strains of libertarian thinking to choose my path. I've stayed on that path every since, with some deviations and detours along the way, but very rarely in the direction of Ron Paul and what he represents.

Let's talk about those two key strains of libertarianism, which are both bursting into public consciousness this week with the big media and the Republican establishment freaking out about a potential Ron Paul victory in the Iowa caucus, and with the reemergence of a very old story about Paul's racist, militia-friendly 1990s newsletters. Both strains of libertarianism have a strong degree of overlap, but at some point you're going to need to pick your side if A.) You want to win an election (or don't care) and, B.) If your commitment to libertarian purity doesn't trump your commitment to rationality (or if it does). The two strains can be defined thusly: The Classic Liberal vs. The Paleolibertarian.

The former cares primarily about economic liberty, and secondarily (importantly, but not obsessively) about freedom from government intervention in his individual choices. The classic liberal knows that the freedom and liberty from regulation, excessive taxation and government interference of all kinds is what drives prosperity for all forward, and that markets are the engine of growth and of social evolution. While individual matters are very important - freedom to love whom we want to; freedom to travel unhindered; freedom to take risks with our own health by eating, smoking and drinking what we wish - they don't and shouldn't trump the importance of a smart, rational, and nearly government-free set of economic first principles. 

Of course I'm oversimplifying, and of course not every classic liberal feels precisely the way I do about things. Yet the institutions I admire and follow like the Reason Foundation and Cato Institute are far and away more a part of this libertarian strain than they are its ugly stepbrother, paranoid Paleolibertarianism. This, unfortunately, is where Ron Paul mostly resides, and has always been most comfortable. His is a populist sort of me-first libertarianism that elevates the individual above all else, and is far more concerned with ideological perfection and creating a utopia than it is in a set of principles that might fit into the American mainstream. I can understand where his former ability to lay low and let his underlings write stupid drivel in his name comes from - there was a time when libertarians and our views weren't openly mocked in the media, because no one knew who the hell we were. It was very easy to say obnoxious things to a crowd of hundreds and lay low, because no one cared. They do now.

Paleolibertarians have always defined themselves as "in reaction" and in opposition to everyone else. When blacks, Jews or gays are ascendant in the culture, this is something to be feared. Ron Paul's ridiculous newsletters from the 90s, the ones he disavows now, were part and parcel of the vanguard of this conspiratorial strain since the dawn of the word "libertarian". These are the people trying to sell you gold on late-night TV and in crude magazine ads; who draw up frothing pamphlets about coming catastrophes (AIDS! Race war! Avian flu! The Fed!); who defend lamebrained militia idiots "who just want to be free"; who plan floating paradise cities on the ocean; and who never seem to really care all that much about the practicality of implementing the free market side of the libertarian equation even while espousing it.

The prime movers on the paleo side are the deceased Murray Rothbard; the very much alive Lew Rockwell, "Taki" and, of course, Ron Paul. Even creepy curmudgeon Republican Pat Buchanan is copacetic with this crew. If I spent even ten minutes with any of these guys it would make my skin crawl.

Now let me be clear: Ron Paul potentially winning an election in Iowa is to me good news. It shakes up an ossified establishment and makes them sweat. I love it. The Republican candidates are clearly all simps, and having someone forcefully and clearly make liberty his defining raison d'etre, and to have it actually gain traction, is frankly amazing to me. (Though I suspect he will not actually win that caucus, nor anything else ever again). It's incredible to see his campaign driven not by 70-year-olds like himself, but by twentysomethings who aren't automatically hopping on the Democratic handout bandwagon, or the Republican cultural stupidity train. I love seeing the media squirm, and I love that the word "libertarian" actually is known and respected by thousands more people every single day.

Furthermore, Paul to his immense credit has not backed down from his key themes (end the war, end the Fed, end the drug war etc.) in order to pander to the electorate. If I really believed that he were a true, consistent social liberal/fiscal libertarian whom America could actually rally behind - and not just a former zealot, goldbug & closet troglodyte with absolutely no ability to actually lead a nation that's not already firmly in his corner - well, then he'd be my guy. Another thing about these true-blue libertarians, particularly the paleo kind: they pick their battles poorly, and tend to lose all sense of proportion in judging what truly makes a difference in people's lives.

For instance - I'm moderately in favor of loosening many of the drug restrictions, mandatory minimums and so on. I also don't enjoy seeing overzealous police work and elements of the Constitution subverted by local police departments or individual cops. Yet when compared with the much greater and far more impactful crimes going on in Washington and State Capitols all around this country - the untold waste of tax dollars, human potential and the squandering of opportunities to lift millions more out of poverty - there's no comparison. Yet Paul, and many of his ideological brethren, act as it there is, and scream the loudest when some doltish cop sprays pepper spray on a doltish protester. College kids love this stuff. Hence the "Paulistas". Grown ups (should) know better.

Paul (and I) may want to "end the war now" in Afghanistan, but I'm convinced that there is no such thing as a real-world (meaning one that would actually work) doctrinaire foreign policy that exists on the Left, Right or Libertarian sides of the triangle. Foreign policy is something that develops simultaneously both ideologically and in reaction to what's really going on - who your friends are, what friends you might need; and most importantly - protecting the American people from true harm (a.k.a. defense), even if it means fighting wars in which people on both sides die. I just don't see any nuance in this guy, and don't trust him as a leader.

I see the embrace of Ron Paul by thousands of newcomers as an opportunity, but also as a potential setback for the slice of the political spectrum that I call home. His newsletters are bile, pure and simple, and if he was stupid enough to let a bomb-throwing numbskull like Lew Rockwell write whatever he wanted under his name, then he's too stupid to be president. Brian Doherty at REASON thinks it's not important, and attention to it mars the triumphant narrative he wants in place right now. I believe Doherty sets his sights way too low. Attention to libertarianism now, after years in the wilderness, is a good thing. It's also an opportunity to jettison the baggage that's been accumulating all these years from the cranks, crackpots and angry pamphleteers on the paleolibertarian side, and actually start electing people who can truly resonate with a simple social liberal/fiscal conservative message. That isn't Ron Paul. The struggle, I'm afraid, is not even close to being over, and settling for a terribly flawed messenger does the cause no favors.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Maybe you’ve seen some of the heralded ESPN “30 For 30” sports documentaries from the past couple of years. I haven’t. Every time I try to grab one of them on Tivo, it’s always about auto racing or track & field or golf or something I’d rather slit my wrists than watch. I also keep forgetting that they’re being aired, so I miss all the good ones and learn about them well after everyone’s talked them to death online. In any event – ESPN has been making these high-quality documentaries from a variety of different directors for some time now; I now know what they’re capable of, because I went and bought “SMALL POTATOES: WHO KILLED THE USFL?” on iTunes and watched it the other night. 
The USFL! Man, do I love defunct sports leagues, and those that tried in vain to compete with larger leagues & threatened their way of doing business. I am old enough to have seen sold-out NASL San Jose Earthquakes soccer games in the late 70s, and old enough to have gone to one 1983 Oakland Invaders USFL football game. Not only do I remember the Invaders winning, my dad and I still to this day routinely echo the drunken black man in the stands who heckled one of the Invaders’ wide receivers after he butterfingered a pass, “Maaaan, Stevie Wonder could have caught that ball!”.  The ESPN documentary presents a concise, 1-hour history of this upstart league and how it presented a real challenge to the NFL for a couple of years there. They came out of the gate strong by signing star Georgia running back Herschel Walker out of college, and by adding ESPN exec Chet Simmons as their commissioner. Early on, the league actually was a big hit, playing its games during the NFL’s off-season and securing national TV deals with ABC and ESPN; certain teams caught on like wildfire in their hometowns, selling out big stadiums even during that first year.

The USFL continued to grab Heisman Trophy winners and other underclassman college stars right out of college – Steve Young, Mike Rozier, Doug Flutie, Jim Kelly - and paid them astronomical sums. All the early success went to many in the league’s heads – including New Jersey Generals owner (get ready for it!) Donald Trump. Everyone hates Trump, of course. This documentary unconvincingly sets him up as the fall guy for the entire league, because he brazenly pushed an idea to have the league play during the same season as the NFL, and to sue the NFL for antitrust violations as well. Yet by that time, teams were contracting like crazy. The novelty wore off quickly, and it was still obvious that the NFL was putting the better product onto the field every week, no matter how many anomalous Fluties the USFL was able to grab out of college. As failing sports leagues typically do, this one died fairly quietly and unmourned.

The documentary is a fun look at just what high, albeit unrealistic, hopes everyone had early on as this concept was exceeding expectations, and how many of the USFL’s on-field innovations (especially run-and-gun offenses) made it into the NFL very quickly. If all the 30 For 30s are this good, I’ll just Season Pass all of ‘em. Even the golf crap.

Monday, December 19, 2011


A few things to get out of the way before we start this review. I didn't purchase this book, nor solicit it in any way. It was sent to me for review by its publisher, Crown Archetype. I assigned about a 25% chance to ever reading it once it arrived, and only dove into it as a respite from some much more intense books I'd just finished about the Holocaust and whatnot. Second - the journalist who wrote the book, the book about grunge, is named Mark Yarm. One of those strange coincidences of history, I suppose, that his name is nearly identical to one of the book's "prime movers", Mudhoney's Mark Arm. Finally, there's that word that everyone deservedly hates, "grunge". Yarm apologetically justifies it as a the all-purpose descriptor that, for worse or for better, came to describe heavy punk/metal/glam hybrid music that came from Seattle in the late 80s and early 90s, then allows the oral history participants to dispatch and denigrate it in a number of ways throughout the book. 

Knowing that this book showcases a style of music I truly ceased to listen to almost two decades ago, a style that has not worn particularly well, I hoped at least it would tell some good Mudhoney, Courtney Love & Nirvana drugs & drinking stories. I got that and then some - in fact, once I got rolling with "EVERYBODY LOVES OUR TOWN", I was totally on for the ride and really enjoyed it. Something about the oral history, especially a musical oral history about an era I either experienced firsthand or just missed, can be totally addicting. I've read the NY punk history ("Please Kill Me"); two LA punk histories; the San Francisco punk history; "American Hardcore", and I'm sure a few other oral histories of other scenes that I'm forgetting. This particular book, even with my previous caveats about the Seattle scene's overall musical worth, felt pretty close to home, as I know several of the people in the book personally and had brushed closely against many others during my time as a radio DJ, fanzine dork and frequent show-goer. Kurt Cobain even hung out at my house by happenstance one evening in 1991, which never ceases to impress people at my work or in any all-purpose occasions for scenester braggadocio.

Most of my involvement in this stuff came from having been a big GREEN RIVER fan during my college years. Then the colored-vinyl Sub Pop 45s started coming out – Soundgarden, Blood Circus, Swallow, and the granddaddy of them all, Mudhoney’s “Sweet Young Thing/Touch Me I’m Sick” single. These were all accompanied by over-the-top PR theatrics – everything from the amazing Charles Peterson photos showing Seattle fans of this stuff going bonkers and diving off stages (semi-manipulated by the photographer, as it turns out), to the limited-edition vinyl, to the PR one-sheets themselves. I was squarely an elitist indie-rock dork at the time, with my taste going for the loudest and rawest stuff I could hear. Sub Pop was more than all right for me, and as a 20-year-old with an underdeveloped bullshit detector, I fell right into their trap.

While a college radio DJ at KCSB-FM in Santa Barbara, I remember excitedly talking to Sub Pop head Jonathan Poneman about their upcoming “Singles Club”, a yearly 45s club where you paid up front for a record to be mailed to you each month. He was trying to sell me on the first one from a band called Nirvana, which bummed me out because I hadn’t heard of them yet. “They’re like Cheap Trick meets Kiss, it’s totally awesome, they’re going to be huge”, he said as I gagged on the other end of the line. I was totally a Mudhoney guy, instantly my favorite band from the time that first record came out. Some friends and I travelled to catch their 1988 Northern and Southern California shows with Sonic Youth across 5 different nights, one of which was live on my radio show because I politely asked them to since I knew they had a day off between San Francisco and LA, and they politely concurred. This began a friendship with the band and especially their manager Bob Whittaker that continues to this day, and helped open the door to me meeting some of the other folks quoted liberally throughout this book.

I graduated college in 1989, and some music-obsessed friends and I could think of nothing better than to reward ourselves with a driving trip up to Seattle for a week in June. Once there, we saw a couple live shows with Swallow, Cat Butt and the debut of “Dickless” at the long-gone Vogue club on 1st Avenue. Seattle friends were already then complaining of their town’s oversaturation in media, about “grunge” etc. And this was years before Nirvana-mania, the invention of Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains and all that. But the excitement in the Vogue club that night was real – and jesus, it was just Cat Butt, Swallow and Dickless. Seems like the entire “scene” turned up – there goes Chris Cornell, there’s Mark Arm, there’s Bruce Pavitt etc. – and bodies really were being passed around, hair was flying and all that. Later, I’d see a 4-piece Nirvana open for Vomit Launch and Mudhoney at a tiny club in San Jose, CA; encounter Kurt & Courtney backstage in Los Angeles at a Mudhoney show there, and then almost plow into them in my car as they ran across the street arm-in-arm after the show; and get turned on to “microbrewed beer” by Chris Pugh of Swallow, who schooled me on the concept at the Virginia Inn over my first bottle of Red Hook.

Wait a minute, weren’t we reviewing a book here? Back to “EVERYBODY LOVES OUR TOWN” by Mark Yarm. Yarm sets up Seattle noise/voodoo band The U-Men as the prototypical fount of grunge, which is ridiculous on its face, but which has been repeated so often that it’s more or less true at this point. At any rate they were beloved by many who later went on to start the most celebrated of the Seattle bands, as were The Melvins, so both figure strongly in the early oral history chapters. Then thing really start rolling, and to my surprise, it was all quite interesting and extremely entertaining until the very end. You get Mark Arm admitting to some pretty intense heroin usage (with heretofore widely-unknown OD’s); Cobain’s slow, sad dissolution; some disgusting Cat Butt/L7 tour stories; a bizarre character named John Michael Amerika whom I need to learn more about; the Sub Pop financial implosion; jealousy; drug use; alcoholism; band feuds and best of all – COURTNEY LOVE – in spades. She is absolutely as batty as ever, is quoted multiple times in the present, and always the best chip-on-her-shoulder read in show business.

Rock and roll excess comes as no surprise to any of you, I’m sure, but the further away I am from this lifestyle, the more surprisingly graphic & pathetic the drugs and the drinking-to-stupor appear. I’m still naively surprised that bands I really liked were routinely shooting up before their shows. Of course, Seattle was famous for this even then, both in and out of the rocknroll milieu. Part of the reason I bonded so well with Bob Whittaker and the Mudhoney fellas is because they were such a blast to drink with. I’ll admit that I skipped all parts of this book that dealt with Alice In Chains, but I know there’s a sad junkie story in there somewhere. If you do read this book, do not skip the section on “Candlebox”, a post-Nirvana grunge band whom I have never heard but whom I knew to be popular at the time. Resentful, angry, and still hating each other, the band recounts how badly they were verbally beaten up on in the post-Cobain era by Seattleites and others who saw them as interlopers. It’s as good as any reality TV you’ll watch this week.

In fact that’s a pretty good way to sum up this book – the printed equivalent of some really decent reality TV. I absolutely expected to quit it after a quick brush through a couple of chapters, and there I was, three days later & having read every single word except the Alice in Chains, Mother Love Bone and most of the Pearl Jam stuff. (All right, I admit that’s not a small bit to skip, but I simply could not bring myself to care). What sounded somewhat preposterous when I first got the book – “the grunge book” – ended up being a pretty right-on read. Put on your wack slacks and catch it on the flippity flop right here.

Monday, December 12, 2011


I'm hoping to write a few elaborate reviews of some books I've read of late for ya, but just can't get to that right now. So how about another CD? Here's the final "TWIST AND BURN!" compilation of 80s-90s garage punk that I have made for you - #4 was posted last week, and the other three before that (see the #4 post for links directly to those).

Everything on this one, #5, came directly from a 45rpm single that I bought or was mailed when it came out. Most of these are from 1992-94. One of them, the Demolition Doll Rods 45, I even put out myself along with Past It Records (read more about that here). I think this was, if not a singular time in the development of rock and roll, one of its better and more primal moments. Download this, drag it into iTunes, and let it rip.

Track Listing
1. Out of Sight - TEENGENERATE
2. Yo Heart Mexico - MOTARDS
3. Love Killed My Brain - OBLIVIANS
4. Sleep - THE FALL-OUTS
5. We're The Doll Rods - DEMOLITION DOLL RODS
7. I'll Be In Trouble - DIRT BOMBS
8. I Call Your Name - REGISTRATORS
9. Pop Song - GAUNT
10. You Could Call Me Job - '68 COMEBACK
11. Soledad - MONOSHOCK
14. Pushin' Me Around - TEENGENERATE
15. Wedding Song - CHEATER SLICKS
16. Summer of Cum - JOHNNY HASH
17. Motorcycle Leather Boy - OBLIVIANS
19. Bust Out - THE MAKERS
21. Teenage Heart - REGISTRATORS
22. No Hope - GAUNT
23. No Tickets, No Passes - DEMOLITION DOLL RODS
24. I'm Saving Myself For Nichelle Nichols - DIRT BOMBS
25. Striking a Match in the Year 4007 - MONOSHOCK
26. Where The Rio De Rosa Flows - '68 COMEBACK
27. Satellite - THE MONARCHS
28. Rev It Up/I Got None - SUPERCHARGER
29. Crazy - MOTARDS

Download "TWIST AND BURN! - VOLUME 5" (this is a .zip file)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


I'm sure I've mentioned before that I was a pretty fanatical collector of 45rpm singles in the 80s and early 90s, particularly anything that met my fairly high standards for loud, fast n' raw. Most  traditional "punk" of the era was beyond atrocious, and my allegiance circa 1989-93 was primarily to what we then called garage punk - when it wasn't to weirdo avant-indie bands like the Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 and the Dead C. I put together several compilations for myself about a decade ago once I started transferring my vinyl into digital, including a five-disc series of these 45s I called "TWIST AND BURN!" (sorta unthinkingly after a Devil Dogs track).

I posted two of these on one of my old music blogs, Detailed Twang, a couple years ago (here and here), and another here on The Hedonist Jive last year (here). Here's Number 4. It's a fairly ripsnorting collection of the leading lights on this made-up scene around 1991-93, with a few outliers that I totally dug as well like Claw Hammer and Monoshock. Link to download this one, and the previous three editions, at the bottom.

Track Listing

1. Pink Lunchbox - JOHNNY HASH
3. I'm a Criminal - MOTARDS
4. Primitive Zippo - MONOSHOCK
5. Silver Moon - FIREWORKS
6. Trudge - DOO RAG
7. Poor Robert- CLAW HAMMER
9. Retarded Bill - SUPERSUCKERS
10. Chantilly Rock (And a Pony's Tail) - '68 COMEBACK
11. And Then I Fucked Her - OBLIVIANS
12. Don't Mess Me Up - SUPERCHARGER
13. Good Bad Happy Sad - GAUNT
14. Walk Up The Street - CHEATER SLICKS
15. The Fast Song - MOTARDS
16. G'mme More - BLUE
17. Idol With The Golden Head - THE GORIES
18. Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me & My Monkey - CLAW HAMMER
20. John Henry - BASSHOLES
21. Four Stroke - SUPERSUCKERS
22. All Night Long - '68 COMEBACK
23. Hussy Bowler - DOO RAG
24. Quality of Armor - GAUNT
25. Frustration, Tragedy & Lies - LAZY COWGIRLS
26. Change That Riff - MONOSHOCK
28. One Way Ticket - TEENGENERATE
29. My Love Is Bad - MOTARDS
30. Car Down Again - CLAW HAMMER

Download "TWIST AND BURN! - VOLUME 4" (this is a .zip file)

Monday, December 5, 2011


It's probably important to list the subtitle of this book - "How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong With America" - even though I'd argue that's not really what this is about. I see these book by two REASON magazine editors as more diagnosis than straight-up solution, in that they do an excellent job enumerating what's broken in the US politically - that would be pretty much everything - and also in providing the libertarian, free minds/free markets antidote. All good, and really, outside of a little overemphasis on drug legalization (Nick Gillespie in particular has made this his bugaboo, outside any sense of proportion to its usefulness to society as a whole), I truly agree with everything these guys say. They're unable to provide much of a roadmap for how we get from political sclerosis to a poltical system that replicates society's more general evolution in a libertarian direction. They argue that this revolution needs to come from below, and eventually will. I truly hope we speed the process up, because it looks pretty dire right about now.

That said, this book was a no-brainer for me to read, although I was concerned it would tread too much ground I already knew, having regularly read these guys' work as long as they've been published writers, often daily over at the Reason blog. I've been a REASON subscriber for twenty years and a small-l libertarian for longer. It's the only political philosophy that has even made any sense to me: Allow liberty to be as wide and as all-encompassing as possible without stepping on the liberty of someone else. Simple, straightforward, and a philosophy that brings out the best in humankind while letting competition for ideas and intelligence drive progress rapidly forward. 

Matt Welch and Gillespie argue quite rightly that in virtually all spheres of our lives, individual choice and decision-making rules the day, with groupthink and hive mentality rapidly exiting our lives. The "organization man" is dead, as are private one-size-fits-all labor unions, government-regulated airline travel, TV channels that number in the single digits, everyone drinking the same beer & coffee and so on. The examples are legion, and are spelled out in funny and engaging chapters in this book. People are expressing their individuality and desire for autonomy & dynamic choice more than ever before - in all areas except for in government, where a 2-party system has a lock on discourse and the status quo.

Anyone reading this book while watching our political system as it exists today can't help but agree. The Republican presidential candidates range from bad to worse to abominable, and this is their appalling answer to the worst President in my lifetime, a man so economically tone-deaf he believes the solution to being out of money is to spend more of it. Welch in particular, a guy I actually knew personally while we were college students in Santa Barbara together, loves the theme of "We are so out of money", and uses this phrase in virtually everything he writes, including as a chapter of this book. He's right, you know - and the reckoning is happening all around us while the political class squirms and sits on their withered, gnarled, do-nothing hands. The authors believe that the libertarian-leaning changes in our society and the trend for Americans to either declare themselves independents or to sit out elections entirely is a bellwether for the destruction of the two-party system, and running out of money will do nothing but sharpen the mind and start the revolution from below.

I actually think it will be more simple than that. A politician will eventually come along within either the Democratic or Republican parties who, through both charisma and a well-articulated & consistent ideology, will seize the moment that's already here, and catch the political system up to the 21st century. The core ideals, which I believe that a solid majority of Americans agree with, are limited government in both private markets and public choices. In other words, someone who lets business succeed or fail on its own merits and gets the hell out of the way, while affirming the ideals of the US constitution and letting you choose what you want to smoke and who you want to marry or have sex with. I just wish I knew who this person or persons were - someone believable and trustworthy who could capture the electorate. It's not the doddering Ron Paul, nor the charisma-challenged Gary Johnson, and certainly not any of the other buffoons running for president in 2012.

One thing that sometimes annoys me about Libertarians - including these guys - is how, in the service or defending their economic views (which are considered too aligned with "conservatives"), they almost apologetically pump up their left-leaning social views to compensate (drugs, sex, "police brutality"). Far as I'm concerned, society will take care of the social stuff and already is - the teenagers of today are overwhelmingly gay-friendly, and have grown up in a time of choice and individuality that will make trying on a new identity as easy as changing the bedsheets. Economics is where the two-party system has a crushing stranglehold on our lives and ability to progress as a society, and where the decisions made in Washington, Sacramento and elsewhere have long-term consequences to our lives and livelihoods. Republicans sometimes talk a good game, but I don't believe any of them, since virtually all of them become cogs in the machine once they get a chance to spend your money. This theoretical political movement that I believe will help move us in the right direction may already be here or coming, but it needs to focus on the big problem of the day - our dysfunctional spending policies and the hindering of true competitive capitalism by government. Not on pepper spray or legalized pot dispensaries.

If you happen to be tottering on the edge of a libertarian-leaning ideology and are wondering how to help crystallize your ideas, "THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENTS" will absolutely help focus the mind. It's engaging, fun and a fairly quick read. What it argues sounds radical until you realize just how well-woven its ideals are in our lives today already, in every area except those whom we choose to be governed by.

Friday, December 2, 2011


Here's the sad truth: I majored in English in college many years ago, and was once fairly literate in the history of fiction - the classics, the great works, and all that. Then in the 90s I made the switch to reading only non-fiction books, not out of any real spite for fiction, but just out of a desire to learn more about things that really happened, were happening or that might come to be. I thought about the fact that I just powered through John Steinbeck's 1935 novel "TORTILLA FLAT" last week, and I counted back how many works of fiction I'd read since the dawn of the 21st century. Ouch. I came up with a mere two before this one: Paul Bowles' "The Sheltering Sky" and, uh, "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo". So let's just say I'm working to get back to that younger version of myself, the guy who could escape into a world entirely of the author's making. I sort of miss that. After finally reading only my second Steinbeck (I know!!), I'm also ready to embark on a Steinbeck discovery program to make amends for all the years I frittered away not reading his oeuvre.

Simply put, "TORTILLA FLAT" is a magnificent piece of comedy and literature, in that order, whether you're reading it in high school or in your middle age dotage as I did. It concerns the paisanos - men of Mexican heritage - that lived in the Tortilla Flat section of Monterey, CA in the 1930s. More specifically, it centers on a cluster of friends who spend their days and evenings drinking wine, scheming new ways to steal things so as to drink more wine, and generally not working but still finding new avenues for their "talents" in other areas, such as they are. Danny and his friends are all men imbued with a deep, shame-ridden sense of Catholicism that they invoke on multiple occassions when it serves their nefarious interest in doing so. It's quite obvious, and quite funny, how little respect Steinbeck had for the church. He makes it a place of hypocrisy and fear (surprise!), while never tarring any individual in the book too badly. In fact, everyone in the book, for all their many faults, comes off as quite lovable and good-hearted.

This makes for a jolly book. The cover drawing on my paperback, as above, captures the spirit of the book as good as anything does. Danny, Pilon, Jesus Maria, The Pirate and the rest of their gang are good-natured drunks who steal chickens from people's yards so they can have something to eat, and yet their Catholic guilt constantly eggs them on to even more bad deeds so they can repay earlier problems they've caused. They are in and out of jail, and usually are found dreaming up some spectacularly stupid plan that will allow them to drink more than they already are. Steinbeck paints a picture of Monterey as a close-knit, everyone-knows-everyone sort of place, and it's little wonder he's so beloved down there. I promised myself after reading this that I'll allow myself a trip to the Steinbeck museum in Salinas after I've read at least three more of his major works beyond this one.

"Tortilla Flat" is a fairly short novel, and was apparently the one that put him on the map in 1935 after several tries with novels that didn't sell. It's funny and simple and something that I heartily recommend to anyone.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Sad to say, but at times the atrocities of the twentieth century seem to recede into a bad set of memories until one forces himself to be jarred awake and reminded yet again at how near the Nazi and Stalin eras truly are to the present. My grandfathers may have recently passed away, but both fought in World War II. One fought in the Battle of the Bulge across the killing fields of Belgium, while another helped liberate concentration camps after the war's end. Both men were around, and able to tell these tales, until just a few years ago. But when we let these eras lapse into "history", as they inevitably must, they lose so much of their power to shock us into being better humans and to prevent them from happening again. That's what makes me come back over and over to World War II evil in both books and films. It's a way to reclaim my own humanity from the grotesque crimes committed only 70 years ago, and to try and make sense of how people so much like myself were able to commit and/or tolerate them happening in their midst.

"A FILM UNFINISHED" is not a particularly easy documentary film to watch, but it is a unique and extremely interesting slice of WWII history to learn from. In 1942, the Nazis were only months away from carrying out the final solution in the Warsaw ghetto, where they'd housed thousands of Polish Jews as they determined just when and where they'd kill them. The Germans staged a series of preposterous scenes of "wonderful Jewish life" in the ghetto before the cameras, juxtaposed with much more true scenes of starvation, deprivation, child death and dozens of dead bodies in the streets. The Nazi propagandists would force Jews at gunpoint to dance, to sing, to throw lavish fake parties on sets full of fine china and piles of food, all as a means to say, "Look. Look at these rich selfish Jews who don't care about the suffering in their midst". This was to be a means of showing the German people and the world that the Nazis were treating the walled-off Jews well, but that the Jews could not even treat their own people half as well.

It's pretty barbarous stuff. The Nazis never finished the film before killing virtually everyone in the ghetto. They unwittingly showed far more "real" ghetto life than they'd planned. The starving faces and bodies are heartbreaking. The pain on the faces of the children will make you pause the DVD or stream and have a cold, hard think about things. There are images of the dead pulled from the streets, and dumped naked into pits. This documentary - "A Film Unfinished" - dissects with sparing voiceover what the Nazis were trying to show, what was really happening, and what it all meant. The reels were found in East Germany almost by happenstance during the 1980s, and director Yael Hersonski does an amazing job piecing it all together, almost like a sleuth who has a devastating counter-argument to prove. She succeeds exceedingly well - not that she wouldn't, of course. The lies, egomania and contradictions at the heart of National Socialism were easily refuted even then, albeit at the cost of more than 10 million lives.

Monday, November 28, 2011


The only reason I'm able to review this for you today is because my family all decided to get me Amazon gift certificates at the same time on my birthday, and I in turn went and closed my eyes & plugged my ears, going "la-la-la-la", and spent $80 on what is essentially just five CDs and a book of liner notes. It does come housed in a cool box, halfway between recycled cardboard and wood itself. Dust-To-Digital's JOHN FAHEY box set of his 1958-1965 Fonotone Records recordings is impractical, sure - where am I going to store this thing - and there's no doubt it's for Fahey nuts only. I'm skirting the edge of Fahey mania, but I've long been fascinated with the story of these "lost" recordings from his earliest, bluesiest days. I'm happy I got it, and I'd like to tell you why.

Let me start by acknowledging that there may be more than a few of you wondering who this Fahey cat is and what made him so special. In a nutshell, John Fahey is the premiere "folk" instrumental guitarist of his day and any other day, a man so gifted beyond belief on his instrument that he achieved his desired effect of sounding like a one-man guitar orchestra with a mere ten fingers. It sounded like thirty - at least. He was one of the earliest white collectors - discoverers is more like it - of the 1920s and 30s pre-war blues music that barely anyone outside of black communities had heard before he found it. Names like Charley Patton, Skip James and Mississippi John Hurt were almost completely forgotten before Fahey and his cohorts found them and helped to bring their music onto college campuses and the like in the 60s. Fahey's collector contemporaries did not, unlike Fahey, then translate that love for raw and unvarnished guitar music into an ability to play it that well themselves - and then to take it into another transcendent dimension of experimentation, invention and talent.

I think, as most do, that his best work started with his 1958 LP "The Legend of Blind Joe Death" and continued on various unfolding paths into the early 70s. Everything of Fahey's in these years is worth owning. It bears repeating - none of it has vocals. All guitar instrumentals, only rarely augmented with other experimentation, and then only on a couple of records. So what are these Fonotone recordings, then? Well, Fahey was pals with another legendary cantankerous record collector named Joe Bussard, another fella about whom volumes have been or will be written. Bussard liked to press up his own vinyl recordings of Maryland folk/blues compadres like himself - sometimes even including himself - onto 78rpm records, and then sell them to other collectors through the mail. This became the FONOTONE record label. Fahey recorded multiple sessions for Bussard, often whilst plied with inordinate amounts of alcohol. This box set is the full collection of these sessions, most of which made it onto vinyl or tape at some point, but in editions so small that they've been practically unheard until now.

"YOUR PAST COMES BACK TO HAUNT YOU" has five chronologically-ordered CDs of this material, and to call it a "rough portrait" of Fahey's development as a guitarist would be about right. The liner notes, curated by fellow guitarist and friend Glenn Jones, make it clear that this set was compiled for completists and not as a "best of the early years" sort of thing for dabblers - so you get a few piss-takes, false starts and early versions of songs that went on to be much, much better in the years that followed. Moreover, Disc 2 and 3 "feature" large chunks of time with Fahey in character as an old blind bluesman named Blind Thomas, affecting a "negro" dialect and a drunken demeanor, and - gasp - singing. To say that John Fahey didn't really have the chops for singing would be overly generous. He went fully instrumental for a very good reason, and many of these tracks are worth a few snippets of your time and then very deservedly get the "skip" treatment.

Many of the tracks on the five discs are stabs at material that wound up on his first four records, especially "The Legend of Blind Joe Death". At times, especially on Disc 5, which covers 1962-1965, it's as mesmerizing and complex as anything he ever officially released. Fahey pieces were generally rooted in the old-time blues vernacular, with slide guitar often employed and lots of journeys up and down the frets in pursuit of either rhythm or of a mournful sound. He added his own inventive evocation of classical music on top of this, while never allowing himself to stand in the same place for too long. A legendary iconoclast, John Fahey wouldn't consent to these recordings being reissued until he was long dead. It's been nearly ten years without him, and here we are.

I spent the better part of an evening reading the full liner notes that Jones curated, which come in a jumbo oversized book loaded with old photos, including many from Fahey's childhood that came directly from his mother. I'd give it a hearty "well done". I maintain again that this set is primarily for Fahey nutballs, with the chief reason being that 3-4 of these 5 discs will likely not get played more than twice by virutally everyone who encounters them. They're a "that sure was nice to know" sort of capper on the man's amazing legacy and career - now you've heard his earliest stuff, when he was actually something less than perfect, and you can now die happy and secure for having done so.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


Since not one but two commenters on my previous post indirectly mentioned the "Manly Phrases and Gestures" article from FLESH AND BONES #7 (1988), I went down into my man-cave (the garage), extracted it, scanned it, and am now sharing it for your chortling pleasure. Click on any image to enlarge it.

Friday, November 25, 2011


One of my favorite lost music fanzines from the 80s is FLESH AND BONES, which came out of New Jersey and was published by “Jeffo” and a small circle of friends, far as I can tell. Completely unserious, obsessed with the 70s and low culture, and yet very into the best modern noise/indie bands and into relentlessly mocking hardcore punk, FLESH AND BONES did everything possible to fly the freak flag during the supposedly culturally barren late 80s. Here’s what I wrote about it back on my old Agony Shorthand blog in 2005:

FLESH AND BONES – Outside of Forced Exposure, Motorbooty and Conflict, this is probably the one I enjoyed the most during the time period in discussion. They covered “grunge” before it was grunge, and also took the best potshots at ’81-’82 hardcore punk and at metal wasteoids I’ve ever seen. A lot of the live reviews were just made up fantasies of getting in fistfights at gigs with people like Thurston Moore or Glen Danzig; stagediving to mellow acts like Salem 66; and heckling multiple bands “with a Big Stick wig on” (remember BIG STICK?). The graphics were all hilarious cut & pasted items from other magazines, many of them from the hippie 1960s, as well as a few homegrown comics that were usually quite OK. They also had a few staff photographers who took excellent band shots, usually of the modern acts with the longest, filthiest hair and the lamest clothes (RAGING SLAB seemed to be a favorite). This was not a mag I read as a consumer’s guide, it was one I read because it was always laugh-out-loud funny. Their REDD KROSS interview from 1985 or so still might be my all-time favorite interview, ever.

There are two reasons why I’ve scanned only a handful of chosen pages from this one, as opposed to the whole thing: 1.) Scanning takes forever; and 2.) I don’t want to crease the pages of this too badly by bending them to & fro during the scan process. Okay, it’s really just #1. Keep in mind as you read this that “Dinosaur”, the band, weren’t even called Dinosaur Jr. yet. And the reason the cover’s so off-center is because, well, the cover was off-center. Click on any of the pages to make it larger and more readable. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


If money were no object, and if a career were beside the point, I’d want to enroll in a film studies program at some elite university and spend my days writing a doctorate on 1970s world cinema – with a special emphasis on American cinema. No other era of filmmaking is as exciting to me, though people who pooh-pooh the current crop of filmmakers and look forever backward to the 20s, the 30s, the 60s or the 70s are not seeing the forest for the trees. Great film has been with us for ages, and is still with us. The 1970s, however, were special to me, because it’s when I started watching movies, and the movies I was seeing on our fledgling in-home cable channel were raw, unflinching emotional films that are now considered masterpieces. Those 70s films set the template for what I looked for in a good movie, and led me in the early 1990s to the films of John Cassavetes 

All this probably seems like a weird way to work up to a review of a film that came out in 1984 (Cassavetes’ “LOVE STREAMS”). Yet Cassavetes was so 70s, it doesn’t matter if his films came out in the 60s (“Faces”) or the 80s like this one. The man’s improvisational, experimental films about personal anguish, emotional train wrecks and self-delusion define what a masterful 1970s film is for me. This one, which I finally saw for the first time this past weekend, slots right in with all of the others and is every bit as good. “LOVE STREAMS”, the story goes, was made when Cassavetes was given a diagnosis of six months to live due to various internal ailments. He ultimately died a few years later of cirrhosis of the liver. This immersive, darkly comic film about a brother and sister dangling on the edge of insanity and self-destruction, doesn’t feel like something rushed. It is its own strange avenue in the art of improvisational film, much like Robert Altman’s 1976 “California Split” or Cassavetes’ own 70s films like “Husbands” and “Opening Night”.

If I saw another filmmaker try to copy this style, it would flat-out piss me off. It may be cliché, but it belongs solely in the hands of the masters – and trying to get a watchable, even revelatory film out of something so unstructured is no mean feat. Every time I felt befuddled by some dialog or annoyed by the non-linear nature of “LOVE STREAMS”, I found that another 30 minutes had passed, and I was still totally riveted. The leads in the film are John Cassavetes himself, playing a rich, alcoholic ne’er do well named Robert who dresses in tuxedos at all hours of the day, and cavorts with prostitutes when he’s not running from bad decisions in his past. Gena Rowlands plays his divorcing, fresh-out-of-the-institution sister Sarah, though we don’t know they’re related until at least midway through the 141-minute film. Watching them both in action makes one feel very, very good about your own sanity. They are two sides of the same proverbial coin, which binds them close together in many ways, even though it’s obvious that neither really wants to spend much time with the other.

Both are tremendous in their roles. Rowlands is always amazing, and she essentially plays the same character she did in 1974’s “A Woman Under The Influence” (a film I have seen five times and would gladly watch again tomorrow). Both don’t know how to act around other adults, nor around children – in fact, the two children in this film are heartbreaking, in that each happens to be the unfortunate offspring of one of these two. Even the other adults in this film seem lost and out of sorts at all times – Sarah’s husband, played by Cassavetes ensemble favorite Seymour Cassel – and all the irresponsible young things and the ex-wife of Robert’s, who all seem trapped in hells of their own. “LOVE STREAMS” has never officially come out on DVD in the United States, which is hard to believe at one level (it’s fantastic) and totally understandable on another (it’s difficult and is extremely unlikely to find an audience outside of adventuresome film lovers). I went in expecting to see a lesser Cassavetes work, like the barely-watchable “MINNIE AND MOSKOWITZ”, but would absolutely rank this one among his best. Watch the listings closely for your local endangered art house, or dig deep on the internet to find a copy of this one.

Monday, November 21, 2011


After spending the bulk of the 1980s and 1990s either without a television set or completely uninterested in its non-sports offerings, I settled into a nice little domestic comfort zone this past decade – just me, the wife, our son and the TV. This non-coincidentally coincides with the oft-remarked-upon “new age in television”, in which television programming, led primarily by HBO and secondarily by lesser cable networks, began treating its audience like the adults that they were. At least that’s the argument – though the concomitant rise of reality TV would proclaim the opposite. So scripted TV, then, entered its renaissance period, led by programs like “The Sopranos”, “Six Feet Under” and “The Wire”. This is an argument I concur with, given the new bounty available on television, which has trickled all the way down onto the previous wastelands of ABC and NBC and elsewhere.

So around the early part of last decade, we, and thousands like us, stopped automatically defaulting every open evening to a rented (and now often streamed) film. We watched live or recorded TV shows instead – or in our case, DVDs of TV shows we weren’t paying HBO and Showtime for. This thereby ensured that we had to dodge spoilers every off-season and were always late to every TV-driven cultural trend (like, I could have dressed like Don Draper way earlier if only I’d known I already had AMC as part of my cable package). This year we got all growed up, swallowed hard, and ponied up for an HBO subscription. Now the couch’s mastery of our minds and our asses is complete.

I set a pretty high bar when it comes to TV. I cut TV a little slack as it compares to film – how else would I watch a preposterous show like “The Walking Dead”, or even “Lost” for that matter? – but if I’m not sucked in on the first viewing or two, forget it. I’m out. The only thing that makes me stick around past one lousy episode on anything is the knowledge that I hated “SIX FEET UNDER”’s pilot and was totally ready to walk, only to give it one more chance and have it be the best HBO series not called “The Wire”. Here’s what The Hedonist Jive often spends its time with in 2011 when we should instead be at the computer, typing out more blog posts for our low three-digit readership:

“ENLIGHTENED” – I’ve heard grumblings that this intense black comedy from the damaged mind of Mike White (“Chuck and Buck”) is already on the chopping block, and is HBO viewers’ “least favorite show”. What the hell is wrong with you people? This absurd evisceration of the New Age lifestyle and mindset is the best show playing on TV at this moment, far as I can tell. I like to squirm and to be surprised, and not only is Laura Dern excellent at putting herself in self-made emotional situations that make your skin crawl, the supporting cast that plays off her is excellent. The show effectively captures the tenuous grasp that many adults have on reality, and the difficulty they face in dealing with the world around them. Think of it as a sadder version of “Curb Your Enthusiasm”, full of the same sort of self-delusion & mockery of many things.

"BREAKING BAD” – And this just might be my favorite show ever. I wrote extensively about the show on this blog at the end of Season 3; Season 4 was even more incredible and had a final episode that was one of the most pulse-rushing, grim, laugh-out-loud hours of TV I’ve ever seen. I can’t believe I have to wait until summer for Season 5, the show’s final stand.

“CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM” – Eight seasons and counting, and other than the shooting location (NY instead of LA) and the loss of Cheryl Hines as Larry’s wife, the show has not even imperceptibly shifted in tone, style or humor. You know exactly what you’re going to get in every episode, just not how you’re going to get it. Larry David will make some self-serving and/or buffoonish comments that come back to bite him; Susie Essman will scream at him and call him a “bald prick” or somesuch; Larry will annoy some other celebrity or one of his circle of “friends”; and so on. This past season (8) was as riotous as all the others, particularly the “Palestinian Chicken” episode and the final episodes with Bill Buckner and Michael J. Fox. They even hinted that they’ll be taking this thing to Paris next year - Dieu m'en garde.

“PARKS & RECREATION” – Not on cable! Regular old NBC! A consistently great comedy in the ever-popular “we’re making a documentary” style about a, insular small-town Indiana parks & recreation department and the wacky characters that populate it. It has some big names from stand-up comedy, improv and general comedic acting – Aziz Ansari, Amy Poehler, Chris Pratt – even Rob Lowe, who is outstanding and who has been set up to be funny even before he opens his mouth. Every character has his or her own little world of insecurities or quirks or zingers that they unload on the rest of the cast, and I like it way better than the similar but far too manic “30 Rock”.

“MAD MEN” – It would not be additive for me to write anything about a show that virtually everyone loves, and which shows no signs of slowing down. I got hooked in late, and still haven’t completed this most recent season, but I agree with you that it’s a fantastic show.

“THE WALKING DEAD” – Finally, there’s the zombie show. Since I love “Breaking Bad” and “Mad Men” so much, my hope was that AMC – the network those play on – would come up with a third masterpiece. I tried “Rubicon” – no dice (no one else liked it either, and it was cancelled). Tried “The Killing”, and though it showed promise, it too lost me through overblown to-be-continueds that ended up to be awful red herrings. So my wife talked me into checking out the zombie show, and damn it, I’m totally enjoying watching flesh get torn from bellies, people panicking and running in terror, and the general paranoia and dread that hangs over this show. It’s not particularly well-acted, but neither was “Lost”. Both were saved by great storytelling and a goosebump-raising sci-fi element that feels totally real. I’ll keep watching until I don’t.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


I keep thinking that the Danish director Lars Von Trier, who has been cinematically provoking and thrilling me (and many others) for years now, has a far bigger body of work than he actually does. When you get down to it, he’s got 3 (now 4) major films – all masterpieces in my book: “Breaking The Waves”, “Dancer In The Dark” and “Dogville”. There are a couple of lesser works, some early noodling that I haven’t seen, and “The Kingdom”, a hilarious yet thoroughly annoying “haunted hospital” miniseries he made for Danish TV. To his 3 key aforementioned works, all about tortured, complex females played by actresses rising to their capabilities in the best roles of their lives, we can now add a fourth, “MELANCHOLIA”. Believe every bit of hype you’ve heard about this sweeping, somewhat terrifying film about depression, anxiety and the end of the planet. It’s my top film of the year, with only six weeks left.

First you have to get past the opening ten minutes. Some will not make it. It’s a long, slow-motion artistic rendering of the last moments of the characters’ lives as one planet (Melancholia, which had been hidden behind the sun for millennia, and unknown to astronomers) crashes into another (Earth). Once you’ve suffered a little for Von Trier’s art, the real movie begins. It’s broken into two parts about two sisters, “Justine” and “Claire”, which my wife and I decided were really themed explorations on the manifestation of human depression and human anxiety. Justine, played by Kirsten Dunst, is a beautiful but tortured depressive, about to marry a man who adores her at her brother-in-law’s seaside castle/estate. I read this was filmed in Sweden, but we’re supposed to probably believe that it’s somewhere in the eastern United States. The characters never leave the confines of the estate, at least on film, and no reference to their location is ever made (only to “the village” that they sometimes venture into) – adding to the claustrophobia in what should be an idyllic setting.

Justine can’t handle a wedding, as becomes clear. She gamely tries to smile and go through the motions, but as the night progresses, she exits the festivities for hours at a time – taking baths, hiding, and even having random insanity sex with a boy/man she doesn’t know. Her destructiveness in one evening effectively turns her husband against her – even though he very well should have known what he was getting into – and leaves her jilted and left on the estate with her panicky sister Claire, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg. Along the way, we see the film’s minor characters improvise their way across some of the best acting they’ve ever done – among them Stellan Skarsgard (always one of the best evil guys of our time), Charlotte Rampling and John Hurt. Best of all – best in the entire collection of top-flight performances – is (surprise!) Kiefer Sutherland, who plays Claire’s obscenely rich and extremely annoyed husband John. If he doesn’t sweep every supporting-actor award there is to win in the cinema awards game next spring, there is no justice, no justice at all.

We then shift to the post-wedding aftermath in the section of the film entitled “Claire”. Justine has an intense depression that is literally crippling. She can’t walk, and sleeps all day. Claire, on the other hand, is trying to calm her nerves about the recently-discovered planet Melancholia, which appears to be headed in a collision course for Earth but which “reputable scientists” – and more importantly to her, John – say will instead be a near-miss. Before watching, my wife and I were wondering why this film – which was available on-demand via Amazon before it even hit the theaters last Friday – was listed as a thriller. After the second half of this film, it’s abundantly clear. It is a predicament made believable, horrifying and all too real by intense acting, masterful story-writing and a bare minimum of special effects. I don’t need to give away the ending, as I more or less already did in this review – but it’s something that hasn’t left me all week.

Von Trier is both cruel and sympathetic to his two leads, as is his wont. He seems to bring the most incredible performances out of actresses – Emily Watson, Nicole Kidman, Gainsbourg and Dunst and Bjork for crissakes – and always puts them into crisis and multiple tests of will. In this film, it’s more that he’s playing two different types of mental anguish against each other. There’s the cold indifference of the depressive, vs. the outwardly nervous mania of the anxious. Oh, and planets smashing into each other and the apocalyptic end of civilization. If this all adds up for you as a good night out (or in) at the movies, then by all means, “MELANCHOLIA” is as good a film as has been made since last year’s “BLACK SWAN” and “BLUE VALENTINE”.