Licky as trips: Galore

Amazing what a comp album can do. Stuck in the mephitic ooze of host album Disintegration, “Fascination Street,” “Pictures of You,” and “Lullaby” barely emit a glow; played end to end on Galore, the greatest hits released by The Cure in 1997, they’re expert histrionic pop, flipsides to the euphoria of “Catch” and “Why Can’t I Be You.” Even non-entity “Lovesong” lives. It gets better from there: the Madchester guitar thump of “Never Enough,” the horn-crazed remix of “Close to Me,” the twelve-string goodness of “Friday I’m in Love,” and, best, “High,” in which Robert Smith’s wordplay gets licky as trips as he eulogizes how she purrs and growls over thick bass riffs that Peter Hook never stumbled on.

As big as those singles were on pop and college radio in 1992, I knew even then they represented the end of something. By the time “A Letter to Elise” was released Pearl Jam and the Chili Peppers were already scouring radio clean of oddities like this, and The Cure sounded quaint (the following spring fellow triumvirs New Order and Depeche Mode released in tandem their own followups to breakthroughs). I guess that’s why, boxy production aside, “Mint Car” and “The 13th,” off 1996’s Wild Mood Swings, sound better than I remember (I reviewed the album for my college paper and could barely suppress the snickers). All it’s missing is “This Twilight Garden,” a B-side that is the aural equivalent of a tulip garden in early afternoon sun.

Galore concludes with “Wrong Number,” the first solo Smith songwriting credit since 1985. I doubt the indentured servants in the band would have sent such a brazen wakeup call to an influence — David Bowie in this case, who, abetted by guitarist Reeves Gabrels and bassist Mark Plati, both of whom assist Smith in shaping his track, released his own youth-embracing jungle nod Earthling earlier that year. As the track dissolves in overlapping shards of sound, Smith is left mumbling dumb catch phrases. What a valedictory for the love cat — if he’d been content with this saucer of milk.

The rage of the luxury yacht crowd

Digby tries to figure out what pisses off corporations so much about Obama:

But the fury of the super rich conservatives is a little more baffling. After all, the stock market is doing well. Corporations are making record profits. Income inequality is at record highs, which is great for the luxury yacht crowd. It’s not as if the elite wealthy are suffering under Barack Obama. Even assuming that Mitt Romney would give them even more goodies, that should be a choice between two positives, not a situation demanding no-holds-barred warfare and intense existential rage.

The rage of the Left against the Bush Administration was understandable: with at least one trumped-up war on false pretexts, unprecedented politicization of government offices, rampant lawbreaking, massive new impositions on civil liberties, rollbacks of protections for the environment, women’s rights and the social safety net, the drowning of an entire American city, the attempt to privatize social security, and finally the deregulation-induced crashing of the world’s economy, it’s no surprise the Left felt its back was up against the wall. But the same can’t be said of Obama and the moneyed Right.

What is it, after all, that the Koch brothers could buy under a Romney regime that they can’t buy under an Obama presidency? What threat to them and their purchasing is the ability of teachers to collectively bargain in Wisconsin? Whence this fury?

Wall Street commodities traders and heads of the big banks are upset the president denounces their practices on occasion? Are they stupid enough not to realize the wink-and-nudge games going on?

Blood makes noise: Coriolanus

Playing Voldemort has done wonders for Ralph Fiennes’ acting. No longer burdened with projecting warmth, for which he has neither talent nor forbearance, he can concentrate on the lethal hatred he can squeeze out of his impenetrable blue eyes. Making his directorial debut in John Logan’s adaptation of Coriolanus, Fiennes emphasizes the lacquered, oblong surfaces of his bald head, a relic of the hours spent playing He Who Must Not Be Named in the Harry Potter multiverse. Coriolanus, “not schooled in graceful language,” excels only at spilling blood, beside which the pleasures of the hearth like wife Virgilia (Jessica Chastain) and a son pales, not when he boasts Virgilia (Vanessa Redgrave), a mother whose own monomania is her ecstatic tally of the wounds on Coriolanus’ body, of the men he’s killed for Rome’s sake.

The texture of pre-millennial CNN footage of Srebrenica or Kosovo suffuses this update, in which Fiennes in camouflage fatigues and beret, evoking memories of General Mladić, kills everything in sight, shrugging off wounds like an Avenger. Or like praise from his countrymen. A patrician warrior so proud that he cannot stomach flattery, Corialanus is sickened when reminded of what he knows already; the love of the people, with their bad breath and sickly miens, disgusts him. The paradox that Shakespeare explores is how a man this duty-bound subverts the Republic to which he has devoted his life. He could be a model — a statue worthy of veneration — if politics repelled him less. Fiennes and Logan’s movie understands this. “Must I with base tongue give my noble heart/A lie that it must bear?” Coriolanus cries during one anguished moment.

Easily his finest acting since Quiz Show, Fiennes honors Shakespeare’s conception: he offers no concessions, does not soften Corialanus’ unpleasantness (the famous insult “Triton of the minnows” becomes as intimate as a sonnet). Although Chastain is wan and wilted in the manner of other young actresses cast in modern Shakespearean adaptations (e.g. Irene Jacob in Othello, Julia Stiles in Hamlet), Vanessa Redgrave brings such demotic ease to the verse that her lyric power is astounding in its purity; you understand why she dresses Coriolanus’ wounds and not his wife, why the consuls regard her as a last resort when their would-be hero joins forces with their worst enemy. Brian Cox and Gerard Butler are fine in smaller roles.

The film falters after Coriolanus’ exile; it stops when he tries to find his bearings in Aufidius’ camp. Fiennes’ good instincts for editing wilt. But the shrewdness with which Fiennes stages Coriolanus’ death — it presages what will befall the Republic when another putative icon named Julius Caesar is assassinated — made me wish for Shakespeare movies this alive and so attuned to historical crisscrosses.

“Who should be the next to die”

Let the games begin: the NYT’s comprehensive account of how Obama decides who dies. Thanks to a “legalistic” mind that can both shade and obscure nuance, Obama’s managed to fulfill a few public pledges while still killing more terrorists, keeping black sites open for rendition, and withholding Miranda rights from suspects for as long as possible. An excerpt:

A phalanx of retired generals and admirals stood behind Mr. Obama on the second day of his presidency, providing martial cover as he signed several executive orders to make good on campaign pledges. Brutal interrogation techniques were banned, he declared. And the prison at Guantánamo Bay would be closed.

What the new president did not say was that the orders contained a few subtle loopholes. They reflected a still unfamiliar Barack Obama, a realist who, unlike some of his fervent supporters, was never carried away by his own rhetoric. Instead, he was already putting his lawyerly mind to carving out the maximum amount of maneuvering room to fight terrorism as he saw fit.

It was a pattern that would be seen repeatedly, from his response to Republican complaints that he wanted to read terrorists their rights, to his acceptance of the C.I.A.’s method for counting civilian casualties in drone strikes.

The day before the executive orders were issued, the C.I.A.’s top lawyer, John A. Rizzo, had called the White House in a panic. The order prohibited the agency from operating detention facilities, closing once and for all the secret overseas “black sites” where interrogators had brutalized terrorist suspects.

“The way this is written, you are going to take us out of the rendition business,” Mr. Rizzo told Gregory B. Craig, Mr. Obama’s White House counsel, referring to the much-criticized practice of grabbing a terrorist suspect abroad and delivering him to another country for interrogation or trial. The problem, Mr. Rizzo explained, was that the C.I.A. sometimes held such suspects for a day or two while awaiting a flight. The order appeared to outlaw that.

Mr. Craig assured him that the new president had no intention of ending rendition — only its abuse, which could lead to American complicity in torture abroad. So a new definition of “detention facility” was inserted, excluding places used to hold people “on a short-term, transitory basis.” Problem solved — and no messy public explanation damped Mr. Obama’s celebration.

“Pragmatism over ideology,” his campaign national security team had advised in a memo in March 2008. It was counsel that only reinforced the president’s instincts.

Acoustic whimsy: Ram

I tend to prefer Paul McCartney writing daft songs abetted by million-dollar production. When left on his own to make homespun sugar his whimsy is insufferable because inescapable (that’s when you miss John and Geore, never mind Ringo). So I’ve ignored Ram for years — I could afford to, thanks to the efforts of my good friend Alex to include more than half the album alongside twenty other tracks in a CD-R he burned in 2001. Next to the likes of, say, “Daytime Nighttime Suffering” songs like “Smile Away” sounded of a piece. He was also smart enough to omit “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey.” Few things excite me in rockcrit than infuriating the sententious, smug likes of Jon Landau and Dave Marsh and while I’m glad the Admiral Halsey part Killed The Sixties Dream it doesn’t mean I have to relive the bad weed trip.

Jayson Green’s review is strong enough to make me reconsider.

Female trouble: Pariah

Although like most coming-out movies the imaginative conceptions are hardly compensatory once the autobiographical material is consumed, Pariah is worth watching for the milieu and the wide-awake performance of young Adepero Oduye (the title is its most histrionic element).  A straight A high school senior who dabbles in poetry, Alike (Oduye) has been comfortable with her sexuality long enough to frequent lesbian bars with best pal Laura (Pernell Walker); in the movie’s first and best sequence writer-director Dee Rees makes the audience share Alike’s sensual abandon at one of these clubs. We so rarely watch a film in which a middle class black American home is sketched with something approaching verisimilitude that the stiff exchanges between Alike’s warring parents – a frustrated striver and employee at a health clinic (Kim Wayans) and a taciturn police detective (Charles Parnell) – matter less than Lee’s attention to nuance, such as the wine the mom drinks with dinner (Dad would rather drink beer) and how Lee’s younger sister acts more excited about Alike’s private life than Alike herself. The scenes between Parnell and Oduye are the film’s heart: a rational man who wants to believe the fiction he wrote about his daughter’s life collides against her own fiction.

“I think of incarceration as pretty harsh”

I’m with Ta-Nehisi Coates on the sentencing of Dharun Ravi:

Jail is pretty awful. A ten year bid would have almost certainly subjected to the constant threat of violence. I can’t really see what good that would do. The criminal justice system can’t really make people “good.” It can’t exact vengeance upon slime-balls. And it can’t make Ravi and his supporters introspective at all. One of the problems of suicide it’s that it leaves the living groping for answers. I don’t a lengthy jail bid would have supplied any

And from one of his comments:

I guess I’m not sure he ever should have gone to jail in the first place. Basically, he tried to spy on a dude, and then invited some friends in a (failed) attempt to do the same. He did this, in part, because he was repulsed by his friends sexuality.

I guess my question is this–Should you go to jail for that? Perhaps this my jaded impression of jails, but I think of incarceration as pretty harsh. It’s not the time you serve–it’s proximity to other people (guards and prisoners) who are living in a place of systemic violence. If jail were merely confinement, I’d feel differently. But in America other things come with that confinement.

For anyone who’s been in jail one day is chilling enough.

You better treat her right: Donna Summer in 1983

After her disco career crested, Donna Summer recorded an amalgam of New Wave and Teutonic dance-trance called The Wanderer, on which she sounded confident and in control. It’s not in print, a situation that might change with Summer’s death and the dissemination of Dave Marsh’s ecstatic 1980 Rolling Stone review. 1982’s eponymous album, completed after Geffen Records shelved I’m a Rainbow, bore all the signs of clawing at air: the only track with a  Summer songwriting credit shares space with a standard (“Lush Life”), a Vangelis-Jon Anderson distillation of every seventies self-empowerment fad  (“State of Independence”), a Springsteen donation (“Protection”), and a decent top ten pop single cowritten by the album’s producer Quincy Jones called “Love is in Control (Finger on the Trigger).” It’s gotten a few reappraisals since, one of which is by Slant Magazine‘s Eric Henderson that I wish I could find. To my ears it’s a middling success; my favorite track happens to be the one on which Summer injected songwriting, “Love is Just a Breath Away.”

For She Works Hard For The Money Summer got her best sales since 1979’s Bad Girls: top ten album and title single, the latter of which could lay claim to sharing with “Every Breath You Take” the Summer Song of 1983 award. But in the wake of Donna Summer and I’m a Rainbow‘s rediscoveries it’s been forgotten in recent years. There’s a hint of desperation to the thing, as if everyone knew what was at stake if the album wasn’t a hit, but that makes the artist’s contributions more impressive: every song bears a Summer songwriting credit and aesthetic fingerprint. For a blockbuster album it boasts a lot of Songs About Issues. Fortunately producer-songwriter  Michael Omartian brought the beats, which are squarely of the Flashdance syndrum variety, and the guitars, which are impressive: lots of counterpoint and unexpected fills. The reason why “She Works Hard For the Money” was so huge in 1983 had to do with how it was a product of the rock-disco hybrid that still sold records yet was a lesson in how to turn a formula on its tiny head. I get a sense that Omartian and Summer hugged themselves with relief after nailing the thing. How many songs of this ilk show such empathy for the poor — an empathy as dependent on the commitment of the beat as they are to the lyrics, which are among Summer’s best:

Twenty-eight years have come and gone
And she’s seen a lot of tears
Of the ones who come in
They really seem to need her there

It’s a sacrifice working day to day
For little money just tips for pay
But it’s worth it all
To hear them say that they care

On one hand it’s easy to giggle at the privilege of a star as rich as Summer presuming that the maid’s satisfaction comes from knowing that “they” — the Sunset People whom Sumner depicted in her 1979 opus — need her. On the other hand Summer restrains her vocal until she lets’er rip in the last two lines as if to say, it’s worth it all to say that she cares. In 1983, the year before we confirmed our approval of Morning in America, Summer dared to outline the complexity of master and servant in a consumer economy.

She Works Hard For the Money presents an artist noticing the world outside the recording studio with the zeal of the converted. She offers a redundant paen to “Women” (what was the title track then?) and an excellent if attenuated ode to the homeless with call and response vocals called “Stop, Look and Listen.” She writes a song called “Tokyo” about meeting a man, “something very strange,” in the Imperial Hotel who claims to be a spy; it’s a real “Ian Fleming mystery,” the synths chirp. It’s worthy of the flaneur ethos immortalized in Bowie’s Lodger. The most eye-opening track is “Unconditional Love,” a collaboration with Musical “Pass the Dutchie” Youth in which Summer affects “island” patois as if Lionel Richie wouldn’t do the same a few months later. She even reconfigures Jesus as the Iconoclast For All Seasons in “He’s a Rebel,” faster than light and walking a miracle mile. Omartian and Jay Gradon’s guitars are clipped and hard, a match for Summmer without outpacing her.

The album’s opus is the self-written “I Do Believe I Fell in Love,” whose electric piano follows a chordal pattern endemic to lots of early eighties El Lay confessional moments but Summer, belting at the top of her register, administers a jolt of eros. The odd point is the middle eight, in which she and Omartian pile multitracked Summer over Summer in an effect as eerie as period Kate Bush; the triumph is the outro, a return to her roots in arpeggiated electronics, bolstered now by piano and drums as Summer repeats the chorus as if willing herself to believe a sentiment she has nevertheless transfigured into pure agape. An appropriate end to an album that is as close to a song cycle about a contemporary woman as the eighties could conceive.

Professional regret

On Dr. Robert L. Spitzer:

Dr. Spitzer was then a junior member of on an American Psychiatric Association committee helping to rewrite the field’s diagnostic manual, and he promptly organized a symposium to discuss the place of homosexuality.

That kicked off a series of bitter debates, pitting Dr. Spitzer against a pair of influential senior psychiatrists who would not budge. In the end, the psychiatric association in 1973 sided with Dr. Spitzer, deciding to drop homosexuality from its manual and replace it with his alternative, “sexual orientation disturbance,” to identify people whose sexual orientation, gay or straight, caused them distress.

The arcane language notwithstanding, homosexuality was no longer a “disorder.” Dr. Spitzer achieved a civil rights breakthrough in record time.

“I wouldn’t say that Robert Spitzer became a household name among the broader gay movement, but the declassification of homosexuality was widely celebrated as a victory,” said Ronald Bayer of the Center for the History and Ethics of Public Health at Columbia. “ ‘Sick No More’ was a headline in some gay newspapers.”

Thirty years later Spitzer wrote a study arguing that homosexuality could be “cured” if the patient wants to be.

Now he has apologized at last.