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.

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)

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.