Thank you thank you thank you: Best of 1973


Mott the Hoople – Mott
Sly and the Family Stone – Fresh
Roxy Music – Stranded
Al Green – Call Me
John Prine – Sweet Revenge
David Bowie – Aladdin Sane
The New York Dolls – The New York Dolls
John Cale – Paris 1919
Marvin Gaye – Let’s Get It On
Bryan Ferry – These Foolish Things
Stooges – Raw Power
Willie Nelson – Shotgun Willie
James Brown – The Payback
Brian Eno – Here Come the Warm Jets
Stevie Wonder – Innervisions
Steely Dan – Countdown to Ecstasy
Led Zeppelin – Houses of the Holy
Spinners – Spinners
Isley Brothers – 3 + 3
Genesis – Selling England by the Pound
Neil Young – Time Fades Away
Merle Haggard – I Love Dixie Blues
Al Green – Livin’ for You
Daryl Hall and John Oates – Abandoned Luncheonette
Paul McCartney and Wings – Band on the Run

‘It’s never too late to learn from experience’

The GOP Master of Ceremonies has written his latest attempt at cogitation.

Lately I’ve been thinking about experience.

A lie. David Brooks doesn’t think. Besides, how does one “think about” experience?

Donald Trump lacks political experience, and the ineptitude caused by his inexperience is evident every day.

Throat clearing — the equivalent of reading, “My summer in Rome was definitely a great time” in the student narratives I assign.

On the other hand, Hillary Clinton is nothing if not experienced. Her ship is running smoothly, and yet as her reaction to the email scandal shows once again, there’s often a whiff of inhumanity about her campaign that inspires distrust.

The ship runs smoothly despite that whiff. Before modern times sailors couldn’t use precious fresh water on baths, hence the whiff.

So I’ve been thinking that it’s not enough to be experienced. The people in public life we really admire turn experience into graciousness.

The graciousness of Dick Cheney, the sweetness of Tom DeLay, the magnanimity of Newt Gingrich.

What follows is the usual Brooksian list of names he may have read somewhere, maybe heard about them while being driven to the NPR studios (Lincoln, MLK, Jr., Mandela, the usual). He even squeezes in a Keats quote.

Such people have a gentle strength. They are aggressive and kind, free of sharp elbows, comfortable revealing and being abashed by their transgressions.

Martin Luther King lacked for sharp elbows? Did you call LBJ for comment, David?

But back to Hillary:

Hillary Clinton has experience, but does not seem to have been transformed by it. Amid the email scandal she is repeating the same mistakes she made during the Rose Law Firm scandal two decades ago. Her posture is still brittle, stonewalling and dissembling. Clinton scandals are all the same. There’s an act of unseemly but not felonious behavior, then the futile drawn-out withholding of information, and forever after the unwillingness to ever come clean.

Clinton scandals are all the same. There’s a rush to publication of stories whose leads are buried, then the futile drawn-out presentation of both-sides-do-it and worrying about the Appearance of Illegality.

If you treat the world as a friendly and hopeful place, as a web of relationships, you’ll look for the good news in people and not the bad.

A University of Chicago graduate wrote this sentence in a motley of letters for New York Times publication.

It’s tough to surrender control, but like the rest of us, Hillary Clinton gets to decide what sort of leader she wants to be. America is desperate for a little uplift, for a leader who shows that she trusts her fellow citizens. It’s never too late to learn from experience.

So facile a thinker is Brooks that he can’t figure out how Hillary’s meticulous preparation, leaden delivery, and administrative venality make her human. But it’s never too late to read your own columns.

Singles 8/26


– As you can see, a solid week. Lady Leshurr grimes like it’s 2003, Nada Rose and Tiwa Savage spit rhymes like they just invented them. Isaiah Rasahd barely sneaked in.

– I direct P!nk fans to her Chesney collaboration, closer to a cameo, really. She up and steals the thing.

Click on links for full reviews.

Nadia Rose – Skwod (7)
Tiwa Savage ft. Dr. SID – If I Start to Talk (7)
Banks – Fuck With Myself (7)
Isaiah Rashad – Free Lunch (7)
Lady Leshurr ft. Wiley – Where Are You Now? (7)
HyunA – How’s This? (6)
Anitta ft. Maluma – Sim Ou Não (5)
Fei – Fantasy (5)
Kari Faux – Fantasy (5)
Kenny Chesney ft. P!nk – Setting the World on Fire (4)
Jagwar Ma – OB1 (4)
Biffy Clyro – Animal Style (4)
Jon Pardi – Head Over Boots (3)

Grounded: landline use during tropical storms


Phone service was scratchy in the first few hours after Hurricane Andrew made landfall, but if you were out of power for as long as many people were (my parents were lucky: only ten days) you could at least count on the land line working. The thing wasn’t even called a “landline.” During the days of expensive Motorola beauties that looked like flat irons, you were only screwed if your cordless phone required electricity. When Hurricane Wilma, our last major hurricane, hit in October 2005, many of us had cell phones and landlines; Apple would debut the first smart phone exactly two years later. The worst that could happen was running out of gas for the car and generator.

As survivors of Super Storm Sandy made clear, a hurricane during the Smart Phone Era could mess things up real good.

“I think we’re more vulnerable [in terms of communications] than we were 24 years ago,” said Norcross, who anchored the WTVJ newscast for 23 hours straight during Andrew and is now a hurricane specialist for The Weather Channel. “I remember after Andrew there were a lot of people with wrecked homes but the phone line was still working in the kitchen.”

During Andrew, Norcross’ reports were simulcast on radio. Now, for many people, the battery-powered transistor radio is little more than a nostalgic relic. Television stations also have switched from analog to digital systems and battery-powered digital TVs aren’t as readily available as the small analog models were.

Society has become dependent on devices from cellphones to tablets and laptops that need a charge to keep working — and electrical grids are often the first to go during major storms. That impact is compounded by the fact that so many people have cut the cord and use only cellphones in their homes rather than landlines, which are usually more reliable during storms.

A Florida Public Service Commission report from December 2015 said Florida residents and businesses had 3.3 million traditional phone lines last year, down from 3.8 million the previous year and 6.1 million in 2011. The most recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Health Interview Survey found that 47 percent of U.S. households are now cellphone only, compared with 20 percent in 2009 and just 3 percent in 2003.

There hasn’t been a major hurricane in the United States since 2005 — the year of hurricanes Katrina and Wilma — although there have been storms that caused extensive flooding. As a result, the cellphone network hasn’t really been put to a test during the era of mobile phone proliferation. “It is a large, unexplored area,” said Norcross.

In the weeks after Andrew, payphones exploded in use; for thousands of Floridians in south Dade, it was the only way to communicate. Every time Buzzfeed or something runs an article with poorly controlled smugness wondering why anyone but drug deals would still use payphones, I must remind myself that the white lib demographic clicks on those articles.

I pay for a landline: twenty bucks a month.

I will compose in fancy rhyme: Best of 1974

Or: the triumph of British art school alumni.

Roxy Music – Country Life
Joni Mitchell – Court and Spark
Brian Eno – Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)
Steely Dan – Pretzel Logic
Neil Young – On the Beach
George Jones – The Grand Tour
John Cale – Fear
Miles Davis – Get Up With It
Linda Ronstadt – Heart Like a Wheel
Funkadelic – Standing on the Verge of Getting It On
Velvet Underground – 1969 Velvet Underground Live
Merle Haggard – If We Make It Through December
David Bowie – Diamond Dogs
Van Morrison – Veedon Fleece
Can – Soon Over Babaluma
Stevie Wonder – Fulfillingness’ First Finale
Randy Newman – Good Old Boys
The Isley Brothers – Live It Up
Robert Palmer – Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley
New York Dolls – In Too Much Too Soon
Lou Reed – Rock n Roll Animal
Leonard Cohen – New Skin for the Old Ceremony
Bob Dylan – Planet Waves
Dolly Parton – Jolene
Bob Marley & The Wailers – Natty Dread
Nilsson – Pussy Cats
Richard and Linda Thompson – I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight
Gram Parsons – Grievous Angel

Fairness, geographical precision distinguish property drama ‘Little Men’


So immersive is a good friendship that its depths and contours aren’t obvious until its dissolution. Adolescent boys are less likely to plumb its depths. In Little Men, Jake and Tony’s friendship is borne of conflict: after Jake’s dad Brian (Greg Kinnear) inherits a Brooklyn apartment, he struggles with the guilt of having to evict Tony’s mom Leonor Calvelli (Paulina Garcia), owner of a ground floor dress shop. As the tension between the families intensifies, so does their bond.

Little Men was co-written and directed by Ira Sachs, who in films like Keep the Lights On and Love is Strange demonstrated how tight living spaces impinge on human relations. Just as impressive is the confidence with which he limns the limits of male relationships. The Mutt and Jeff chemistry of Jake and Tony has its own rules: the former, a reticent painter; the latter an aspiring actor whose thick Nu Yawkese suggests he should study Ratzo Rizzo’s speech patterns. Like children in Henry James fiction, their shared dream (i.e. attending Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School together) elbows out the coarseness of adult squabbling. With his thick unruly hair and lank arms that are as likely to get thrown across Jake’s shoulders as they are to cushion his head, Michael Barbieri is a terrific Tony, a kid who talks tough but hides neither his ambition nor sweetness. No less watchable is Theo Taplitz as Jake, the furtive glances at his buddy suggesting he may not be aware of the friendship’s full implications.

Never far from Sachs’ mind and camera is the nexus of class and race. Chileans who’ve gotten by because Brian’s father never charged them full rent, the Calvellis watch Brooklyn change into an extension of Manhattan; like the real New Yorkers populating In Jackson Heights, the extraordinary Frederick Wiseman documentary released a year ago, they’ve played by the rules but watch the rich discard the rules. “With the neighborhood changing…it’s a very old-fashioned store,” Brian’s sister explains to her sister in law, as if it’s a defense. Brian is an actor, on the evidence of a brief eavesdropping into a rehearsal for The Seagull a fair one (like Kinnear himself. He’s not that successful or anything,” Jake informs Tony). His wife Kathy (Jennifer Ehle) supports him. She’s in conflict resolution, a plot wrinkle too on-the-nose for a film this observant. Mondays she’s off. “I need a day to get myself organized.” “That’s right. Your day off,” Leonor will say later with quiet irony. Leonora can never take Mondays off. But they all live in New York City in 2015, where the tectonics of income are in a continuous tumult. To support themselves the Jardines must triple Leonor’s rent, thus guaranteeing that she will never take Mondays off. That’s Brooklyn in 2016. Every day another family disappears off the New York grid, who knows where; if it’s not the Calvellis it’ll be the Jardines’ turn. When all are guilty none are, Hannah Arendt wrote.

At a compact eighty minutes, Little Men has no time to dawdle. Sachs trusts the audience to get his point, such as the observation that to relax the Jardines drink wine and Leonor smokes continuously — indoors! (It’s another class distinction). Although Mr. Calvelli disappeared a cigarette expedition for Leonor, we see Sachs favorite Alfred Molina, whose proximity to Leonor is never explained other than providing occasional legal counsel. Does it matter? At all times his camera minds its manners. Brian, who is far from a bad man, gets a private moment early in the film where he quietly breaks down, awash with emotion inspired by a dead man who as Leonor avers may not have liked him much; the camera observes Kinnear with discretion from behind an eave. Discretion and mindfulness in a filmmaker are not virtues to sneeze at. Sachs doesn’t make “exciting” films, but their fairness, geographical precision, and attention to gesture are hallmarks of Hirokazu Koreeda and Jia Zhangke; not for him the received gestures learned in the Sundance lab. Points, however, deducted for the icky score, set to images of the boys skateboarding around Brooklyn as if to say, Ah, golden youth. This is the only recent movie in which a boy’s response to a girl who rejected him is, “Thank you for being honest.” He’s probably relieved. Many of us were — even those of us who turned out straight. The rest of us are relieved that Little Men is one of the year’s best.

Little Men is playing at Cosford Cinema.

When I rolled with the punches I got knocked on the ground: Best of 1975

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An unfuckwithable top ten. Neil Young never threw together a trebly-er and dumber and smarter collection of guitar pop; Roxy Music pared down its filigrees to a weird hybrid of country and disco that was good enough for their only top forty hit in America; Funkadelic gave the impression that its most streamlined album was live; Dylan was ten times more affectionate hating his ex-wife than loving her; Bowie and the Isleys muddling and muddying politics and sex and rhythm guitars; and above it all Brian Eno, envisaging a terrarium where we hide from conflicts under silt. A quiet storm indeed.

Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Zuma
Roxy Music – Siren
Funkadelic – Let’s Take It to the Stage
Bob Dylan – Blood on the Tracks
Miles Davis – Agharta
The Isley Brothers – The Heat Is On
Joni Mitchell – The Hissing of Summer Lawns
David Bowie – Young Americans
Neil Young – Tonight’s the Night
Brian Eno – Another Green World
Led Zeppelin – Physical Graffiti
Fleetwood Mac – Fleetwood Mac
Allen Toussaint – Southern Nights
Smokey Robinson – A Quiet Storm
Gary Stewart – Out Of Hand
Steely Dan- Katy Lied
John Cale – Slow Dazzle
Gilberto Gil and Jorge Ben – Gil e Jorge
Bob Dylan and the Band – The Basement Tapes
Wings – Venus and Mars
Elton John – Rock of the Westies
Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here
Al Green – Al Green Is Love
Patti Smith – Horses
Merle Haggard – Keep Movin’ On
Bee Gees – Main Course

The Williard Hotel standard of journalism


While he waited for his generals in chief to get off their blue asses and chase the Confederate armies, Abraham Lincoln had his own battles. Too much of his time as presidency was taken by federal office seekers. For hours they’d hang out in the White House corridors, reminding him that a cousin Harold had contributed to Lincoln’s minority 1860 victory. Secretary of State William Seward handled them too — indeed, every Cabinet officer did.

Fifteen years later, when presidents could still take an evening stroll with a cigar down Pennsylvania Avenue, Ulysses Grant would hang out in the lobby of the Willard Hotel. Although “lobbyist” had been in use since the 1830s — I’ve seen it in Trollope novels written decades later — Grant popularized its use in America. During the Gilded Era, senators like Roscoe Conkling insisted on controlling patronage for their states. It took popular revulsion at the murder of James Garfield to spook Congress into passing (and former on-the-take expert Chester Arthur to sign) the Pendleton Act, which took steps towards creating a non-partisan civil service class immune from political pressure. One way of getting around it for years was appointing a campaign manager to postmaster general, in charge of federal patronage. Think of Jim Farley, the FDR apparatchik whom the president conned into thinking he was going to endorse him for president in 1940.

So about the Clinton Foundation and those meetings. I assume meetings and exchanges of favors, explicit and implicit, happen. If this is corruption, it’s of the venal kind. I’m not fond of Matthew Yglesias, but his essay casts a cold eye on what the AP’s purportedly meticulous reporting, reliant on passive voice constructions and assumptions presented as facts. Here is his bit on Mohammed Yunus, the Nobel laureate named in the story:

I have no particular knowledge of Yunus, Grameen Bank, or the general prospects of microcredit as a philanthropic venture. I can tell you, however, that Yunus not only won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize but has also been honored with a Presidential Medal of Freedom and a Congressional Gold Medal. In 2008 he was No. 2 on Foreign Policy’s list of the “top 100 global thinkers,” and Ted Turner put him on the board of the UN Foundation. He’s received the World Food Prize, the International Simon Bolivar Prize, and the Prince of Asturias Award for Concord.

In other words, he’s a renowned and beloved figure throughout the West, not some moneybags getting help from the State Department in exchange for cash. On the level of pure politics, of course, this is exactly the problem with the Clinton Foundation. Its existence turns the banal into a potential conflict of interest, and shutting it down is the right call. But the fact remains that this is a fantastically banal anecdote.

I suspect “Clinton Foundation” will join “Benghazi,” “Vince Foster,” and “Whitewater” as a bat signal to conservatives who nod their heads knowingly and Ny-Quil for the rest of us.

I’m a fool when love’s at stake: Best of 1976


Garrulous, as intimate as a letter written on hotel stationary, Hejira is inexhaustible, often my favorite Joni Mitchell album. Garrulous, as intimate as a room full of revelers blowing smoke in your face, Songs in the Key of Life is my least favorite major phase Stevie Wonder. I skip around a lot. But facts are facts: it has a lot of songs, several of which would be anyone else’s diamonds and a couple of which are on the extra 45 RPM EP mixed as a 33 1/3 called A Something’s Extra (if you dislike “All Day Sucker” there’s the door). When I found my parents’ copy in 1996, the EP was pristine. It hadn’t been played once.

Joni Mitchell – Hejira
Aerosmith – Rocks
David Bowie – Station to Station
Boz Scaggs – Silk Degrees
Stevie Wonder – Songs in the Key of Life
The Modern Lovers – The Modern Lovers
Rolling Stones – Black and Blue
ABBA – Arrival
Miles Davis – Pangaea
Bryan Ferry – Let’s Stick Together
Led Zeppelin – Presence
Richard & Linda Thompson – Pour Down Like Silver
George Jones – Alone Again
Lou Reed – Coney Island Baby
Joan Armatrading – Joan Armatrading
Marvin Gaye – I Want You
Steely Dan – The Royal Scam
Dr Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band – Dr Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band
Thin Lizzy – Jailbreak
The Ramones – The Ramones
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Donna Summer – A Love Trilogy

It’s him that I need: Best of 1977


The best Isley Brothers album, the last good Dolly album for more than a decade, two of my favorite Bowie albums, two of my favorite Bowie-produced albums, punk spiraling and scratching in all directions.

David Bowie – Low
Fleetwood Mac – Rumours
Wire – Pink Flag
The Clash – The Clash
Iggy Pop – The Idiot
Linda Ronstadt – Simple Dreams
Earth, Wind & Fire – All ‘n All
Miles Davis – Dark Magus
David Bowie – “Heroes”
Al Green – The Belle Album
The Isley Brothers – Go For Your Guns
Television – Marquee Moon
Donna Summer – I Remember Yesterday
Peter Gabriel – Peter Gabriel
Rufus – Ask Rufus
Sex Pistols – Never Mind the Bullocks
Steely Dan – Aja
Kraftwerk – Trans-Europe Express
Ultravox – Ultravox!
Talking Heads – Talking Heads: ’77
Parliament – Funkentelechy Vs. the Placebo Syndrome
Ramones – Rocket to Russia
Bob Marley – Exodus
Ornette Coleman – Dancing in Your Head
Iggy Pop – Lust For Life
Dolly Parton – New Harvest – First Gathering

The pain in the ass of being pure at heart: Frank Ocean

Frank Ocean – Blonde

He’s one of the good guys. Since 2012 he’s been trying to write music commensurate with the urgency and force of his Notepad confession, only to discover that being semi famous means the audience views the art through the lens of the biography as if Frank Ocean were patron Sean Carter. This phenomenon can have an anesthetizing effect: songs with undeveloped melodies get a pass, mediocre singing confused with honesty. On his second official release in two days, Frank Ocean shows little interest in connecting. Because days are weeks in the internet hypercycle, listeners should have had a chance by now to form an opinion: Facebook needs you, folks.

“Less morose, more present,” he sings, intentions muddled, on one of Blonde‘s least memorable tracks – supplication or erroneous statement of fact? At its best Blonde exploits our unease if not boredom. Over swelling backing vocals and the tinkle of a piano, Ocean commemorates a love so devastating that it hollowed out life: “It’s all downhill from here.” Planet earth is blue and there’s nothing I can do is Blonde‘s unspoken message. Not so far from the decades of fiction and Hollywood film in which homosexual love ended badly. The first two thirds of opener “Nike” shows an Ocean electronically distorted to sound like an ages-dead blues crooner summoned with a ouija board to testify about the wages of greed. From Robert Johnson to PJ Harvey those who summon the blues regard the form as prayer while still reveling in the sin — or at least the memory of sin. Ocean’s one of the few practitioners who eschews pleasure; it’s possible that’s why he leaves me unmoved (2011’s Nostalgia, Ultra had a song called “There Will Be Tears”).

With cases like Blonde I’ve found “Hamlet and Its Critics” a lodestar. Obsolete for decades and quietly renounced by the author himself (in 2016 we would call it expert trolling), T.S. Eliot’s essay lambasts Shakespeare’s most famous play for never finding the object that corresponds to the emotion expressed in the text. “We must simply admit that here Shakespeare tackled a problem which proved too much for him,” Eliot wrote. “Why he attempted it at all is an insoluble puzzle; under compulsion of what experience he attempted to express the inexpressibly horrible, we cannot ever know.” To expose his material to sunshine he employs the likes of Kendrick Lamar and Andre 3000, but, in a stroke of singer-songwriter control, subsumes them. The result is a midtempo crawl beholden to a private argot of heartbreak. “Maybe I’m a fool.” “Two kids in a swimmin’ pool.” “I don’t relate to my peers.” These phrases and clauses come from “Siegfried.” By themselves they have an Imagistic resonance; stuck in a sequence of unforgiving woe, the track dissolves.

An avatar who’s helped thousands of young men accept the questioning of their sexuality, Ocean is still testing the volatility of his own aesthetic mixture. An affinity for the genteel yawp of Bon Iver and the skeletal confessions of Waxahatchee doesn’t make him college rock, though; Ann Powers and Jason King have posited Meshell Ndegeocello as a influence, and I hear it. Without knowing a scrap about his life, I’d say on the evidence that Ocean hasn’t yet made the inevitable transition from the heartache of unrequited same sex love to checking out guys’ asses and abs. Based on the evidence of the music, pleasure itself arouses his suspicions; it could be that suspicion is an arousal. He knows the dark without knowing the possibilities of what you can do in the dark. To be one acquainted with the night, he should reckon with the light. When I hear the lines “showed me love/glory from above,” I assume they’re not about his beloved peeing on him – I want that kind of carnality. Maybe collaborators and samples stimulate his most inspired work. Until the next visual album, however, Blonde too often reminds me of what Eliot called Hamlet‘s biggest flaw: “We should have to understand things which [he] did not understand himself.”

Watching the world spin round: Best of 1978

I regard my sixth, seventh, and eighth albums as an ambient trilogy, ideal for barbeques and dates. Alas, Here, My Dear has had a sinister influence on R&B singer-songwriters beguiled by the squelchy grooves that won’t oblige listeners by producing hooks. Sheer vocal charisma carries the album at least a quarter of the time, and if it’s an album I’m glad to see welcomed into the canon it’s still an album I want admired. The rest follow descending order of preference. I’ve loved Blondie’s blockbuster since buying a cheap tape copy in the mid ’90s, where it and Stevie Wonder’s Original Musiquarium Vol. 1 became my go-to albums when I forgot to pack new shit. And if my readers still haven’t heard Bryan Ferry and Waddy Wachtel in Montreux battling over whether coke widens emotional distances or coaxes out heretofore unknown depths, well, here’s your chance to hear the studio rock Station to Station.

Blondie – Parallel Lines
Funkadelic – One Nation Under a Groove
Talking Heads – More Songs About Buildings and Food
The Rolling Stones – Some Girls
X-Ray Spex – Germfree Adolescents
Marvin Gaye – Here, My Dear
Willie Nelson – Stardust
Brian Eno – Before and After Science
Bryan Ferry – The Bride Stripped Bare
The Isley Brothers – Showdown
Van Halen – Van Halen
ABBA – The Album
Elvis Costello and the Attractions – This Year’s Model
The Jacksons – Destiny
Big Star – Third/Sister Lovers
Wire – Chairs Missing
The Cars – The Cars
Norma Jean – Norma Jean
Van Morrison – Wavelength
Warren Zevon – Excitable Boy
Chaka Khan – Chaka
The Clash – Give’Em Enough Rope
Devo – Are We Not Men? We Are Devo!
Maze – Golden Time of Day
Neil Young – Comes a Time
Television – Adventure
Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band – Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller)
Steve Reich – Music for 18 Musicians