Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Ethno-auto-comedy...: Comedy: Abbott and Costello, "Who's On First"; George Carlin, The George Carlin Collection; Woody Allen, Standup Comic

Today's entry--and I'm coming down to the last few tapes here--is probably not as interesting to historians of the mixtape, since they aren't at all mixtapes. Historians of me, however, will probably cite this blog post to explain my sense of humor. This... not my sense of humor, though I do kind of love it. If you've never heard "Who's on First?", the famous sketch itself involves Abbott identifying baseball players by their ridiculous names; and Costello thinking that Abbott is refusing to answer. And it's only about 8 minutes long, so you might as well go listen to it.

So I rarely listened to this tape and don't think I ever tried to force it on anyone.

And this is probably my dad's, so I'm not sure why I have it.

George Carlin is closer to my sense of humor. This collection from 1984 includes stuff from Carlin's 1970s bits: "Occupation Foole" and "Class Clown" and "Goofy Shit." Which is to say, this is not his later, more political, more satiric stuff. (I once saw him perform live; and though I can't remember any of his jokes that made me laugh, he carved into my memory the arch-political line, "Republicans want live babies so they can make dead soldiers.")

Though even here Carlin is super sharp in his observations and gets a lot of mileage out of dialogue, inhabiting the characters quickly and fully. Most of the stuff I remember is related to his childhood--playing the dozens, trying to stump the priest with arcane theological questions. Though, again, whenever I am invited to board a plane, I remember his line:
Get on the plane? Fuck you, I'm getting in the plane.

Now this is my sense of humor; and this is a collection of stand-up bits that I am sure I have subjected other people to. (Honestly: probably I played this for girlfriends. Heck, this should've been first date stuff. "If you don't like this, we're probably not going to work out.")

I grew up on Woody Allen movies and discovered his writing later and his stand-up even later. It's common wisdom that his movies have shown a lot of variation, from the madcap antics of Bananas and (oh god, how I love) Love and Death* to the character-heavy work of Annie Hall (which still has some madcap to it) and Blue Jasmine (sans antics); but his writing and his stand-up seemed pretty consistent to me, and pretty consistently absurd.

For instance, "The Moose" is a long story about how Allen goes hunting, shoots a moose, but fails to kill it; so he takes it to a costume party, where it loses best costume to a Jewish couple in a moose costume, and so on.

A lot of this stand-up is like that and utterly unlike the observational and personal stand-up that I like now. But I will say that I tried to read one of Allen's stories to my girlfriend a while ago, and I laughed so hard that I couldn't get through it. I'm not sure that I'd find it so funny if I were first exposed to it now; but I think this work formed part of my sense of humor.

*If only for one line: when Woody Allen comes in with an enormously long box for Diane Keaton and says, "You know those earrings you always wanted? The long ones?"

Monday, January 26, 2015

Ethno-birthday-music...: Mike Pace's 18 Songs for Ben's 18th Birthday

Mixtapes are cheap but personal, since all you have to do is buy the tape--and not always even that. It's the perfect birthday present for teenagers. What do teens give each other now?

Probably not mixtapes with Less Than Joke and Lagwagon. Maybe Zoinks! and Dick Dale, if those teens are awesome.

  1. Less Than Jake, "Automatic"
  2. Sleepasaurus, "Uncool"
  3. Lifetime, "The Gym is Neutral Territory"
  4. Not Available, "Little Green Car"
  5. Slapstick, "74 Fullerton"
  6. Blink, "Ben Wah Balls"
  7. Heft, "Rap Sucks"
  8. Diesel Boy, "Titty Twister"
  9. The Queers, "No Tit"
  10. Lagwagon, "Brown-Eyed Girl"
  11. Zoinks!, "Dirty Underwear"
  12. Against All Authority, "Centerfold"
  13. Dick Dale, "Hava Nagila"
  14. Wax, "California"
  15. Shift, "Dress Up"
  16. Strung Out, "Firecracker"
  17. Millencolin, "Bullion"
  18. Mighty Mighty Bosstones, "Wallet"

I don't know what else to say about this. Sure, by this time, when I've already gotten three-to-four years' worth of mixtapes, there's some overlap and repeats in songs; and there's some bands that I always enjoyed seeing more songs from.

For instance, you've probably noticed Lagwagon come up a lot; and I might have gone to see Lagwagon play a show largely because of these tapes. I'm not sure, though.

My clearest show-going memory is actually my first punk show at the sadly defunct Wetlands, where we saw the Swingin' Udders in 1995. Oh man, here's a picture from that show from Getty; though, if you think that picture is good, you should see the photos I took from that show. Next time I talk about going home, remind me to pull out my photos and go through them. Heck, I only got rid of my Swingin' Udders t-shirt a few years ago.

As if I knew I would do this blog post series--or just can't ever throw anything away--I saved the stickers that fell off the tape's sides. And what is this?

Mike, did you steal this from the high school radio station and tape over a PSA for SUNY?

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Library of America Story of the Week Read-Along 261: W. C. Heinz, The Ghost of the Gridiron (#261)

W. C. Heinz, "The Ghost of the Gridiron" (1958) from The Top of His Game: The Best Sportswriting of W. C. Heinz:

As someone who isn't very interested in football--not even with the current Deflategate going on, with the scandal about the Patriots using under-inflated balls for easy gripping--I still found this an interesting profile of Red Grange. Part of that is the easy conversationalism of W. C. Heinz.

For instance, check out that first page, that rocky shore upon which so many articles break. But here, Heinz has such a fluid control over the flow and the ultimate themes that he will hit on

  1. I saw a film of Red when I was young.
  2. I'm sure I saw lots of educational films.
  3. I only remember Grange, looking huge.
  4. Grange has no memory of that film, and finds the whole celebrity thing off-putting
It's pretty great in the way that Heinz makes himself a stand-in for all the spectators, allowing Grange to be great, but also allowing Grange to separate himself a bit from that greatness.

(It's the sort of control that allows Heinz to say in one chapter that lots of writers tried to figure out what made Grange so great, but never could--and then in the next, offer up some of the attributes that made him great.)

Which is kind of a big theme of the piece, and the other part that makes this essay so easy to read: Grange is an interesting guy, who talks about how what he did wasn't all that important. Sure, he popularized football and made a lot of money and stuff--but it's not like he had to work on it or could teach it or like he's a doctor or scientist. (After so many athletes thanking God for their win, it's nice to see a great athlete have some perspective on where his games fall in the greater scheme of things.) And it's not like he did it alone: he's the one who got attention, but he had blockers and a coach and a whole team behind him.

Which is why the end has a certain single melancholy turn, when we learn that Grange has let go of all his memorabilia--which isn't the melancholy turn. After all, he did all this great stuff, but it wasn't really all that much about him or reflective of his worth, so no wonder he doesn't care about a ball with his initials. But at the end, he lets a little glimmer of nostalgia come through with his desire for a shirt from the team. Or maybe it's not so melancholy, after all: after his greatness is gone, Grange doesn't want a reminder that he was once great, but that he was once part of something bigger than him.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Shower Awkward Comics #27: What's next, a Three Stooges reference?

The particular Laurel and Hardy movie I'm thinking of is The Bullfighters, which ends with this image.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Ethno-religious-musical...: Jason Kohn's Untitled 1 (The Saint)

You may have noticed that these mixtapes are not being presented in chronological order. What order are they being presented in? The order in which I thought they would be most interesting and/or the order in which I grab them off the shelf. So far we've seen my love of 50s classics; my high school friends' taste in late punk; and some widely disparate mixes from some girlfriends. Today, we see the evolution of one high school friend's tastes in college.

Though "evolution" sounds wrong to me, since it implies some sort of progress, as if Lagwagon was something to be outgrown. And, in fact, though there's some serious change from Jason's high school to college mixes, we can even see some continuity, at least in the packaging.

That is, Jason kept up the strong theme-work that went into choosing a title--or in this case, a cover image--and the names of the sides. This mix is untitled, but for the purpose of this exercise, I'm calling it The Saint because this was the cover:

...and these are the tape's sides' names: A:


Honestly, "saint" might be underplaying the religiosity of this theme. Where is this picture from? Brazil, possibly? Anyway, as noticeable as this statue is, the theme doesn't go into the song choice, anymore than Rabbi Shubert Sings was full of Jewish songs. In fact, the songs are less religious than they are... meditative.

Side A:

  1. Al Green, "Take Me to the River"
  2. My Drug Hell, "Girl at the Bus Stop"
  3. Fantastic Plastic Machine, "L'aventure Francaise"
  4. Air, "Kelly Watch the Stars"
  5. Massive Attack, "Teardrop"
  6. Sean Lennon, "Into the Sun"
  7. Cornelius, "Starfruit Surfrider"
  8. Neutral Milk Hotel, "Song Against Sex"
  9. Brian Jonestown Massacre, "Wasting Away"
  10. Dimitri from Paris, "Sacre Francais"
  11. Sea and Cake, "Nature Boy"

Side B:

  1. Uilab, "St. Elmo's Fire (Red Corona)"
  2. Esquivel, "Sentimental Journey"
  3. Cornershop, "Sleep on the Left Side"
  4. Spiritualized, "I Want You"
  5. Air, "Ce Matin La"
  6. Momus, "Space Jews"
  7. Patric Samson, "Basta"
  8. Sweet Robots Against the Machine, "Hello Baby"
  9. Halo Benders, "Love Travels Faster"
  10. Dutronc au Casino, "Et Moi, Et Moi, Et Moi"
  11. Johnny Dorelli, "Arriva la bomba"
  12. Cornelius, "2010"
  13. Fantastic Plastic Machine, "Steppin' Out"
Honestly, Neutral Milk Hotel might've been a religious moment for me; but a lot of this music tends towards the electronic side. (Spiritualized is actually classified as "space rock" by Wikipedia.) Air, Massive Attack, Cornelius, Dimitri from Paris, Fantastic Plastic Machine--that's all on the electronic side of things.

(To talk about with a therapist or neurologist: why do I keep trying to spatialize these genres? Notice, I keep talking about "sides", as if I could push some songs to one genre side or another.)

This tape also shows a turn towards Euro-pop, like Johnny Dorelli (Italy), Jacques Dutronc (France), Esquivel! (Mexico, which for the purposes of genre is considered a part of Euro-pop), etc. 

Or maybe we could put it this way: this mix tape shows a definite turn towards European pop, both mid-century/1960s space-age classics and modern electronica.

Still, as much as I listened to this tape frequently, the only bands I ever spent money on are Neutral Milk Hotel and... No, I guess that's it, since all the Air and Massive Attack I ever listened to was borrowed from friends. For a while Neutral Milk Hotel was a band that I played a lot; and it still is to today my favorite example of a band whose name you have to repeat several times before anyone will believe what you're saying.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Ethno-historico-music...: Mixes from Girlfriends: Jess's A Very Random Medley and Hannah's One Side of the Story*

I feel no compunction about naming my high school friends who gave me mixes, largely because our tastes did then coincide (and possibly do now?). Sure, some of this stuff might be embarrassing, but it's like old high school photo embarrassment: deep down, under the embarrassment, you know it's all in good fun. Or you could just be a narcissist like me and revel in the attention, whether good or bad.

But I don't feel so cavalier about mixes from girlfriends. Let's be clear: there's some good music here, which is why I kept them in my car. But there's also a lot of feeling here, which is perhaps best captured by the footnote appended to the title of Hannah's mix, which is all about how there's no meaning here and any attempt to find meaning will be punished with laughter. Which is to say, these mixes drip with feeling.

Which seems like a good time to talk about how I asked Jess out, which was (oh god) in a mix tape, where I recorded myself asking her out. Mind, this asking out took place after weeks if not months of holding hands at drama club. (The unofficial motto of our drama club oughta been "Drama club: where kids go to touch other kids.") So no matter how much feeling there is in these mixes, know that my mixes to them were probably even more sentimental.

How cute is that moment where Jess (high school girlfriend) started to write some songs and then remembered that I already have them. (Thanks, Reservoir Dogs soundtrack. Probably I put those songs on some mix I gave her.) And the apology about putting the Eagles: "You may hate Eagles--and everything else!--sorry!"

And the note (blurry here) attached to "All Out of Love" -- "is this on other tape?" Which raises the question: where is my other mix tape?

Can you believe, this was probably the first time I heard John Lennon's "Imagine"? Though Harry Chapin I heard a lot, since he was one of my parents' favorites. It's a pretty different mix from what I got from my high school friends.

And on its own side of the spectrum--so, not really a spectrum, then--is college girlfriend Hannah's mix, which is its own thing. (I can also say, Hannah was the first person in real life who I heard say "shits and giggles," which never made sense to me as a phrase.)

So there's a lot here that's only in my library because of this mix, like Korn and Smashing Pumpkins, neither of which I usually listen to. And then there are the other songs that are only in my library because of this mix, but which I would listen to all day if I could, like Eartha Kitt singing "C'est si bon."

Also, I think this copy of No Doubt's "Ex-Girlfriend" was coped from the radio, so it's intro and outro are covered up by some DJ, which is maybe not the way Gwen Stefani wanted the song to be heard, but is an interesting historical document. Can you copy things from the radio to mix CD these days? If not, kids, you're missing a great resource for weirdness.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Library of America Story of the Week Read-Along 260: Fred Travis, "The Evicted" (#260)

Fred Travis, "The Evicted" (1961) from Reporting Civil Rights: American Journalism 1941–1973:

This is from 50+ years ago, but so much of it rings contemporary: black citizens, exercising their Constitutional right to vote, get blacklisted, evicted, and otherwise financially punished by the white people who are trying to keep things nice and white. Maybe I'm being overly pessimistic, but it's just another example of a story that goes on today, with people saying that they have nothing against black people (several southern landowners here use other language than that), they're just trying to keep their own rights.

And the LoA headnote describes the outcome of this court case as bittersweet, but it mostly seems bitter: the white people who broke the law got off with a promise that they wouldn't, cross their heart, infringe on other people's rights again. And the black defendants got to exercise the vote, which should never have been put into jeopardy in the first place. (And might not have been if Hoover had been a little more pro-active with his FBI; instead, it took a DOJ investigator going out and doing fieldwork.)

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Ethno-music-historical...: Nick Steffen's Birthday Mix

I want to start with this picture of the tape itself since I wrote that line on the side. (The tip-off here: the mix is "to me." Thanks, close-reading skills!) I want to start with that because after Mike's and Jason's mixes, you might be under the mis-apprehension that all my friends had nice hand-writing. Well, I didn't.

Also, I never thought I'd be blogging obsessively about these mixes, so I never wrote down things like dates or thoughts at the time. If only I kept up my diary! But no, my inconsistent diaries from high school were mostly focused on girls. Hey, maybe I'll run a series of autobiographical pieces on my diaries in the future!

(Ugh, that sounds terrible.)

Side A:
  1. Screeching Weasel - Get Off My Back 
  2. - / First Day of Summer 
  3. - / You'll Be in my Dreams
  4. Clockwise - Keep it Together
  5. Texas is the Reason - Back and to the Left
  6. Lifetime - Irony is for Suckers 
  7. - / Boy's No Good
  8. Sleepasaurus - Beautiful Girl 
  9. - / Ten Again
  10. J. Church - Simple Gesture 
  11. - / Parts Unknown
  12. Propagandhi - Apparently I'm a PC Fascist
  13. - / (Liquid) Meat is Still Murder
  14. Less Than Jake - Happy Man
  15. - / 9th @ Pine
  16. Warzone - The Sound of Revolution
  17. Clockwise - She was
  18. No Redeeming Social Value - Old E
  19. - / Your Boyfriend
Side B:
  1. Chisel - It's Alright...
  2. Irony of Lightfoot - Sounds Like a Plan
  3. Ignite - Embrace
  4. - / Holding On
  5. By the Grace of God - November's Lie
  6. - / Fissures
  7. Sick of it All - Good Looking Out
  8. - / Us vs. Them
  9. Warzone - Free at Last
  10. Lickety Split - Purge
  11. New Bomb Turks - Professional Againster
  12. Me First and the Gimme Gimmes - Uptown Girl
  13. Serpico - Bullet Theory
  14. Promise Ring - Picture Postcard
  15. Sleepasaurus - April Showers
  16. Guilt - Untitled
  17. Lifetime - The Gym Is...
  18. Chain of Strength - True Til Death
Amazing how many songs you can fit on one cassette. Again, Mike, Jason, and Nick show some overlap in bands; and also some diversity in music genres. Well, I mean, if Lifetime and New Bomb Turks can be considered to be pretty far apart. 

Also, let's take a moment to bask in the warm glowing warming glow of Propagandhi's song titles. We've seen "Ska Sucks" and "The Only Good Fascist is a Very Dead Fascist"; and here we've got "Apparently I'm a PC Fascist" and '"(Liquid) Meat is Still Murder," which, what does that even mean? I'm also a big fan of their other song (titles), like "Resisting Tyrannical Government" and "And We Thought Nation States Were a Bad Idea." I don't even know those songs, but geez, what titles those Canadian punks thought of.

I also want to point out Lifetime's song "The Gym is Neutral Territory," which is a clear reference to West Side Story, not my favorite musical at the time. (I fell in love with West Side Story later, when I was in college and in France.) But when I was a senior and the literary editor of the literary magazine (under the managing editorship of... Jason Kohn), Mike Pace wrote a story (or was it an auto-biographical piece for our non-fiction magazine?) with that as the title. I balked at the obvious reference to Lifetime's song, but since the story was related to the gym, I came around.

So now the question is, do I still have copies of those magazines?

Monday, January 12, 2015

Ethno-music-auto-bio...: Two non-mixes (that are kind of mixes): Goodfellas soundtrack and Best of Louisiana Music Sampler

I'm guessing that I stole the Goodfellas soundtrack from my brother, which seems fitting, since he's also the one who probably showed me the movie at first. It's a great soundtrack, with its own Wikipedia page; and it leans heavily on historical classics. Or do these songs seem classic me just because of how often I listened to them?

  1. "Rags to Riches" - Tony Bennett 
  2. "Sincerely" - The Moonglows 
  3. "Speedoo" - The Cadillacs 
  4. "Stardust" - Billy Ward and His Dominoes 
  5. "Look in My Eyes" - The Chantels 
  6. "Life Is but a Dream" - The Harptones 
  7. "Remember (Walking in the Sand)" - The Shangri-Las 
  8. "Baby, I Love You" - Aretha Franklin 
  9. "Beyond the Sea" - Bobby Darin 
  10. "Sunshine of Your Love" - Cream 
  11. "Mannish Boy" - Muddy Waters 
  12. "Layla (Piano Exit)" - Derek and the Dominos

All I know is The Shangri-las's "Remember (Walking in the Sand)" and Bobby Darin's "Beyond the Sea" are songs I can't even remember not knowing. Considering that the movie came out in 1990, there clearly must've been a time before I knew these songs, but it feels like an impossibility or a Zen koan, along the lines of "What was your face before you were born?":

"How did you love Bobby Darin's 'Beyond the Sea' before you heard it?"

(Note: Though it's true some of my feelings for "Beyond the Sea" trace back to The X-Files episode "Beyond the Sea," which is really an exceptional bit of TV. If you want to hear more on that, Kumail Nanjiani speaks of it here.)

There was a time when I could count on one hand the CDs and tapes that I actually bought. Which back then meant that I just listened to other people's copies, not that I was downloading them illegally. Reality check for my friends in their 20s: I bought this tape before I had an email address.

Or at least, that's what I think; I bought this (bought it!) when my parents took me to New Orleans during... some later year in high school. Senior year, maybe? Maybe there was a photographic conference?

I don't know, I was really drunk on that trip.

No, I wasn't drunk. In fact, after hearing about the usual debauch of Mardi Gras, it was strange to go there with my parents the week after MG. There were beads, but they were mostly shattered bits plastic strewed from broken strings all over the street. And all the callers outside the topless and strip bars mostly didn't try to tempt us. 

I had beignets at Cafe du Monde, though, and I saw some swamp life before it arrived on TLC and the History Channel. (Back then, the innocent History Channel was the Nazis Nazis Nazis! Channel.) I bought a book on voodoo, but that goes without saying.

And I also really enjoyed the music, so I bought this at some tchotchke shop.
  1. Hey Pocky Away - The Meters 
  2. Second Line Part 1 - Stop, Inc. 
  3. Zydeco Hee Haw - Boozoo Chavis 
  4. Hell Yes I Cheated - Johnny Adams
  5. Ruler of My Heart - Irma Thomas 
  6. Sure Enough It's You - Walter Wolfman Washington 
  7. No It Ain't My Fault - Olympia Brass Band 
  8. Sweet Lorraine - Alton Carson & Magnificent Seventh's 
  9. Zydeco Gris Gris - Beausoleil 
  10. Grand Mamou - Waylon Thibodeaux 
  11. Jambalaya - Waylon Thibodeaux 
  12. Have a Little Talk with Jesus - Zion Harmonizers 
  13. Bourbon St. Parade - Magnificent Seventh's 
  14. Revenge Lover - Jude Taylor 
  15. Zydeco Boogaloo - Fernest Arceneaux 
  16. Dance Cajun Dance - Cajun Playboys 
  17. Brother Moses Smote the Water - Zion Harmonizers
It's still available for sale, apparently, but I'm not sure I can recommend it. But that's not because I don't like it, but because I'm a sucker for zydeco. It turns out that I love smart lyrics best, like Elvis Costello and Tom Waits songs; but slightly under that, I love songs whose words I can't possibly decipher. Zydeco gris gris, indeed.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Library of America Story of the Week Read-Along 259: Jack London, The White Silence (#259)

Jack London, "The White Silence" (1899) from Jack London: Novels & Stories:

Confession: I almost didn't finish this story. About halfway through--when the Malamute Kid, Mason, and Mason's native wife are mushing through the wilderness--I felt I'd rather be eating than reading about people being cold in the awe-inspiring majesty of all that white silence, and yes, I think I will have tuna fish tonight, but what about the bread?

Not that the story started off boring, it just, well, if you've read Jack London before, you know that he can write about setting a lot. Which is nice if you're reading your first story about the arctic. If you feel like me, and feel like bailing on the story, DON'T. I'm not saying that it ends particularly well or that the story has aged well. But from about the halfway point, things start happening.

Or rather, one thing happens and it throws the simple journey story into complete disarray. Which is like a tiny master class in writing: character wants something (to travel from the wilderness to civilization) but can't for some reason--or rather, reasons, as the obstacles rise: food running out, dogs turning savage, and finally, large tree. (Oh, but don't forget those savage dogs and the dwindling supplies. Just because a bigger obstacle threatens the characters, doesn't mean the little ones go away.)

It's also a useful example for writers to look out because the stakes don't get raised all that much in the traditional way. Or rather: the real stakes become apparent only later on. At first, we might worry that this party of three is going to die, but that's it: they aren't bringing the vaccine to a dying town or carrying an amulet that will save the world.

And by the end, there's still a danger that they will all die (well, except for the one who does die); but the stakes for the Malamute Kid have changed a bit: it's not about survival or even what he'll do for survival, but what's the right thing for him to do in the situation and whether he'll be strong enough morally to do it. It's really interesting how London presents this horrible physical challenge of violence, cold, and hunger--and then completely redirects us towards this other challenge.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Ethno-music...: Another punk-style mix: "How's the Water?"

"How's the Water?" is another Mike Pace mix; and I think "How's the Water?" must be a reference to a funny video we made for English class once. But that's just a guess. Mike, any help?

The music selection here is a lot of 90s punk-ish bands, with punk ska influences and some harder outliers. Hopefully you can make out the bands (and the little arrow that Mike had to draw to show that he mis-wrote songs 9 and 10 on side B).

Although I'm not writing out all these bands and songs, I do want to highlight some fun bands that I still listen to now, like Rocket from the Crypt and Bouncing Souls and Blink (which is Blink 182). Also, check out the John Spencer Blues Explosion and that hard opening to side B, with Snapcase, Earth Crisis, and Roarshach, which are not light fun bands. It takes some skill to go from Earth Crisis's "New Ethic" to The Queers's "Ursula Finally Has Tits."