When I get to the bottom I go back to the top of the post

For some reason this weekend I've thought of a whole slew of topics about which to write. I have three different drafts saved with ideas for future posts, involving science, secrets, SF, and also stupid artists.

But the one I'm going to write about today involves music, and musicians. Specifically, musicians playing other musicians music. Otherwise known as a cover song, it poses an interesting concept for the music fan.

I bought a bunch of cassette tapes, and today I'm dubbing some LPs and mp3s to tape, so that I may listen to them in my car, in which the CD player is broken, and only has a working deck. I'm using 90 minute tapes, which is perfect for one LP per side. The mp3s are much more flexible, but I'm taking the opportunity to dub collections of 7" singles, and various disparate recordings, so that I can have some ready made playlists available for my commute.

While it is perhaps to cliche to discuss the art of the mix tape after such romanticized popular culture depictions like High Fidelity, it certainly exists. You only have to listen to a poorly made tape or mix to figure it out. Although the skill necessary to punch clunky cassette deck buttons in the proper sequence is now retro-chic thanks to the ease of the CD-burn, (I remember when MiniDiscs were considered awesomely new), there are also levels to think about, the importance of track timing so that one does not record over leader strip at the beginning and end of a side, the difference between side A and side B (aesthetically), and of course, the always important placement of thematic tracks to segue the mood.

But maybe this is just an attempt for the music fan to consider him/herself half as artistic in the playing of the song as the artist that originally recorded it. A bit of idolization and repetition, perhaps. As my father and grandfather have said, the only thing they can play is the radio.

But what makes a musician attempt to play another musicians song? Of course, it is nothing new for an artist to record a song not written by him/herself; the singer/songwriter is a pretty new phenomenon in the history of recorded music. But to record a new version of a song that was already popularized by another artist... why? Maybe to gain some fame from the recording of a recognizable track. Surely hiphop and DJ remix genres have benefited from this aspect as much as anyone else, almost to the extent that it resembles the fan's mix tape. Oh, Will Smith likes Stevie Wonder? How artistic!

Not so long ago I wrote about Softcell's cover of Gloria Jones' original recording of "Tainted Love". While their version of the song has again been covered by many groups, I speculated that their cover had some historical significance because of the timeliness of their release during the outbreak of AIDS, as did the original release during a pivotal year in the fight for racial civil rights. This makes the cover very interesting, and evocative.

I think there are two main justifications for covering a song, and thereby deeming it a "good cover".

1- To try to play the song as well or better than the original recording, as an homage to the original.

An example of this is of all-cover bands. These are bands that like the original band enough to celebrate their music by forming a group solely devoted to playing that group's oeuvre. Whether or not they succeed or their attempts are even enjoyable, are up to the listener.

2- To try and artistically interpret the song, making one's own take on the song and thereby deepening the artistic value of the piece, or updating it for a new era/style.

Softcell's "Tainted Love" would fall into this category. Hiphop also scores big here, with samples from the soul era, or even covers of early rap like the numerous re-makes and re-hashings of Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick's "La Di Da Di".

While I was making some tapes, I thought about a particular manner of this song remaking, when the lyrics are changed ever so slightly. I think I noted in the post on Softcell how Gloria Jones' line, "I've given you all a girl can give," is changed by Marc Almond to "I've given you all a boy can give." Now, of course it would make more sense for Almond to say "boy" than "girl" because of his anatomy. But, as history would have it, it also gives a large amount of significance to the re-recording because of his sexuality, the sexuality depicted throughout the entire album, and the cultural links between all of these back in 1981.

When dubbing a copy of Siouxsie and the Banshee's 1978 album, The Scream, I was struck by their cover of "Helter Skelter". Of course, the sound is already quite different than the Beatles' original version, although it contains a lot of the same manic energy as the original, perhaps the sort of manic energy that would drive borderline psychotics like Charles Manson to predict the coming race-war apocalypse. (Conspiracy note: The Beatles come to America in 1964, the same year as Gloria Jones' "Tainted Love" was released.)

But anyway, the lyrics are all the same, except for the second time through the chorus, Siouxsie Sioux, rather than "You may be a lover but you ain't no dancer," sings "You may be a lover but you ain't no fucking dancer."

Now, what is the significance of this change in the song? Is it just part of the aesthetic of the punk movement, a big middle finger up in the air to the sort of people who liked the Beatles? But then why cover the song at all? Or is it that in 1978, ten years after the release of the White Album, things had not gotten better than 1968, but had gotten worse, so that this was not a whimsical reminisce of the "60s" but a rebirth of that manic energy that was somewhat, although perhaps in an un-dead sense, alive in those days?

Or maybe it's nothing but a coincidence. After all, Cake's cover of Gloria Gaynor's disco hit "I Will Survive" changes the lyric, "I would have changed that stupid lock," to "I would have changed my fucking lock." And I have no reason to find anything significant about that.

That's the thing about history and culture. Any significance is merely what you happen to find. And with that, I will go back to making significant progress in my mix tapes.


The Kind of Day

Today was totally the drink-a-beer-in-the-after-work-shower kind of day. After talking off my mud stained clothes and boots, I went to the fridge and withdrew the beer that I had been envisioning since about 11:30 this morning. It looked like this:

I twisted the cap off and flicked it into the recycle bin, and then turned and walked into the bathroom to turn on the water and draw the shower curtain. Then I took my first sip; it was a long draw, draining the neck of the bottle, and I felt my muscles begin to relax.

A lot of people place a lot of importance upon beer quality. I've tried a lot of these so-called quality beers, and they are good. But I really like the taste of certain, more economical brews. Miller High Life is one of them. Union made, and economically priced--served cold, it is a beverage a hard worker can feel good about imbibing.

This first-sip-description may sound like it came from a beer commercial, but frankly, it was that good. Idealized good. If the folks at Miller had approached me at that moment, standing naked in front of my warming shower, and asked me to write and star in a commercial for them, I would have done it. I would have done it because people deserve to know how much I was enjoying this beer at this time.

I got in the shower, and let the water run over me, through my hair, and down my back, washing off the dirt from the trench I dug today. I picked up the beer, which I had set on the small table next to the tub, and took another swing, enjoying the cold malty flavor as it washed into my stomach.

This sip was even more idyllic. The humidity from the shower caused cold lines of condensation to fog off the bottom of the bottle, wafting down through the steams of water. The foam bounced up the bottle as I tilted it back upright and away from my lips, and I could just hear the faint fizz of carbonation above the sound of the shower nozzle.

As I renewed my body through the miracle of indoor plumbing, I finished the entire beer. I'm not sure if I let the shower last as long as the beer, or whether I savored the beer until the shower was complete. After the last dregs had dripped into me, I let the water from the shower rinse the bottle so that it could be eventually recycled. I would have left the empty bottle on the table next to the tub as a milestone or shrine of my experience, but I knew my lover and housemate would not have appreciated that, so I took it back to the kitchen where it belonged.

I was relaxed, and ready for an evening.


Re-heating a Cold War

This little article details how the Russian military is souping itself back up, heating its leftovers and stirring up trouble. It continues the speculation in my little post on Iran and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, about how Asia is not laying low, as the War on Terror may have us believe.

Not that I think the Cold War is going to reheat, but I think that when Americans talk and think about Asia they only think about the Middle East, and maybe Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran. The fact is Asia is huge, there are a lot of people there, and most of them are not content to let America run the world. Considering how the Project for a New American Century (the hardcore neocon crowd, look it up, it's an interesting conspiracy in itself) have dropped the ball with their "New Pearl Harbor" that was supposed to steel American ideology towards global dominance, I would say an increasing conflict with Asia will not be our finest hour either.

Basically it looks like trouble, from which no country will probably end up really doing much better. Instability is bad for most parties and peoples--not that stability is always better. But, while it happens we might as well take our historical lessons where we can, so that they tragedy of history is not a total loss. Most people probably won't take it to heart though.

But if you might, fair reader, listen: "Terrorism" is a flash in the pan. Not a harmless flash in the pan, because it can certainly cause damage, and not a simple flash either, because it is a tactic near impossible to defeat. But, what lasting conflict encompasses is always economics. Ideology is transitory: fleeting and fickle. Powerful, sure, but large groups of people with always come back to the oikos. Economy, that is. Guns, butter, rice, toasters. Will a billion Chinese people simply go without their cars? Will a nation spanning 14 time zones simply ignore their military as a economic stimulus? Will the countries holding petroleum reserves refuse to control the buying and selling of it? No, no, no. Terrorists will terrorize, but without the big armies, there will be no one for them to rebel against.

Watch, and learn. States, armies, banners will rise and fall again and again, and the stock market will love it (and hate it).



Hooray for Us!

Wow, you sure can't keep up a blog working the construction the way you can while working an office job!

Just a quick stop in to keep whoever is reading this blog reading it.... and therein...


Thanks to our analytics website, sitemeter.com, I can tell you these facts about the first quadruple digit
digital visit
to our site:

Hit number 1,000 is from Gladwyne, Pennsylvania, where s/he surfs the Interdome on a Mac via the friendly folks at Verizon Internet Services!

S/he visited the site on August 14th, at 12:22pm EDT, and viewed five different pages, for a total time on the site of at least one minute!

S/he came across us after search Google for "share 'in a roman mood' 'human sexual response' ", and was led to our post, "Human Pentameter Response," in which we oh so pointedly analyzed the meter of a song by the little known but excellent post-punk band, Human Sexual Response.

Unfortunately, I didn't actually share the album I was discussing, so our 1,000th customer probably left our site to sunnier parts of the Interdome, in a more than a little disappointed state of mind, just like many others of you probably have!

So thanks for stopping by, face/nameless Pennsylvanian! Hopefully you will randomly hit upon us via a massive and relatively arbitrary search engine again!

And many more!


A History of Violence

Just a short post today, linking to a much longer essay.

I got this link from Broshaq, who posted it on his blog, "Liquid Crack Repository." I'm just going to echo the link with a few comments of my own.

The link is to an article on Truthdig that is a quite long summation of a study conducted jointly with The Nation, entitled “The Other War: Iraq Vets Bear Witness,” about the horrible atrocities perpetrated by American troops upon Iraqi civilians.

It's quite horrible, as one might expect. The gist of it is, there are many horrible killings, tortures, and violences that go uninvestigated or unreported, and are pretty much status quo for American troops in Iraq.

It is easy to say things regarding this report. "The war is awful, lost, and needs to be stopped now." "War is hell." "We are alienating the civilians rather than helping them, and training terrorists." "Colonialism, Colonialism, Colonialism." All of which are important things to say.

But what I want to say, because it was the particular conclusion that struck me first after the initial horror wore off is about how history will look at this. America looks like an oppressive, occupying power, and no amount of apologizing about how were were fighting for freedom or against terrorism or for democracy can balance this out. This shit looks like fucking Kristalnacht, and it is impossible to see it any other way.

After recounting one of the more benign stories about property invasion and unwarranted arrest, one of the soldiers said, “I just remember thinking to myself, I just brought terror to someone else under the American flag, and that’s just not what I joined the Army to do.” This is what we are going to see from this whenever we look back on this war. Americans flew halfway around the globe to terrorize people, purportedly for their ideals. We are the fascists now, pure and simple, no metaphor, no compare and contrast. Our soldiers, under some misconceived notion of promoting security, break into houses at night, destroy property, shoot innocent people for effect, scare children, and carry their parents away to be lost in prison. How is this a tactic of fighting terrorism? It is terrorism.

I only hope that the people who argued that this war was a good thing (which includes a large amount of people who are now so against it) have a hell to go to worse than the one that they caused. But I know they don't.