It was all very run of the mill: Best of the Pretenders


Many years ago I heard “Precious” and “The Phone Call” side by side and thought I’d discovered the secret of what rock ‘n’ roll singing should sound like. Although she hasn’t recorded an album I care about since the first Clinton was in the White House, I like to say Chrissie Hynde is my favorite vocalist. Most comfortable with a talk-sing meter indifferent to iambs but so intuitive about listener expectations that she understood when to sustain a phrase, Hynde has been imitated by few. Like many first-rate vocalists who write, her stresses come at the beckoning of her melodies. Her band followed nobody — until the deaths of Pete Farndon and James Honeyman-Scott. Even so she recorded Learning to Crawl, one of the great roaring-backs in rock and one of 1984’s quiet blockbusters. With the exception of 1986’s Get Close, produced by Jimmy Iovine and Bob Clearmountain and sounding like it, she recorded no duds, and before you say Packed!, know that this quiet, modest collection addresses (the fear of) commitment without the verities of adult contemporary. That would come with “I’ll Stand By You.”

1. Mystery Achievement
2. Up the Neck
3. Tattooed Love Boys
4. Talk of the Town
5. Brass in Pockets
6. Middle of the Road
7. Hymn to Her
8. Precious
9. Time the Avenger
10. Back on the Chain Gang
11. Chill Factor
12. Message of Love
13. Sense of Purpose
14. Show Me
15. Let’s Make a Pact
16. Night in My Veins
17. Don’t Get Me Wrong
18. Biker Boy
19. My City Was Gone
20. Day After Day
21. 2000 Miles
22. Popstar
23. My Baby
24. Stop Your Sobbing
25. The Phone Call

Best films of 1983 and 1984


I’d include Purple Rain‘s concert sequences and almost every frame of Molly Ringwald’s work in Sixteen Candles, but I couldn’t include the movies in the 1984 list.


The Right Stuff (Philip Kaufman)
L’Argent (Robert Bresson)
Fanny and Alexander (Ingmar Bergman)
Rumblefish (Francis Ford Coppola)
Pauline at the Beach (Eric Rohmer)
Local Hero (Bill Forsythe)
Videodrome (David Cronenberg)
Under Fire (Roger Spottiswoode)
The Ballad of Narayama (Shohei Imamura)
A Christmas Story (Bob Clark)


Once Upon a Time in America (Sergio Leone)
Stop Making Sense (Jonathan Demme)
Ghostbusters (Ivan Reitman)
The Terminator (James Cameron)
The Times of Harvey Milk (Rob Epstein)
Love Streams (John Cassavetes)
Choose Me (Alan Rudolph)
Top Secret! (Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker)
Paris, Texas (Wim Wenders)
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (Steven Spielberg)

Singles 9/30



– HOLD UP. I sure hope Beyonce loves us like we love her.

– I wish my colleagues had loved “Kill a Word” as much as I did.

– Susane Sundfør on a pop dance track is more enticing than I thought, but I’m not sure Röyksopp in 2016 is the answer. Give a Geeneus cast-off and maybe.

Click on links for full review.

Bucie ft. Black Motion – Rejoice (8)
Eric Church ft. Rhiannon Giddens – Kill a Word (7)
Beyonce – Hold Up
Röyksopp ft. Susanne Sundfør – Never Ever (5)
Radwimps – Zen Zen Zense (5)
Red Velvet – Russian Roulette (5)
Tieks ft. Dan Harkna – Sunshine (4)
E-40 ft. Kamaiyah – Petty (3)
Diana Gordon – Woman (3)
Florida Georgia Line ft. Tim McGraw – May We All (3)
Michael Bublé – Nobody But Me (2)
Post Malone ft. Justin Bieber – Deja Vu (2)
Zion & Lennox ft. J. Balvin – Otra Vez (2)
Marshmello – Alone (1)

The élan, the perfect poster boys of conservatism

Do go on, Jonah Goldberg:

So it sounds like Trump was rude, bullying and tacky to the former Miss Universe about her need to lose weight. That doesn’t shock me and I doubt it shocks anybody else. So could he have been nicer about it? Absolutely. But this notion that a beauty pageant winner’s physical appearance isn’t relevant to the organization just strikes me as bizarre. Alicia Machado is not a plausible stand in for all women, nor a perfect poster girl for decrying the scourge of “fat shaming.” Newt Gingrich is right when he says, “you’re not supposed to gain 60 pounds during the year that you’re Miss Universe.”

The son of Lucianne Goldberg, the publisher who encouraged Linda Tripp to record her chats with Monica Lewinsky, indulges in his usual rhetorical flimflam: rhetorical question followed by intensifier that as my students well know is less intense than he thinks. The point isn’t that Donald Trump was a boor, a lout, and dweller in locker rooms of an all too familiar type; for Goldberg it’s that Trump wasn’t nicer. The casualness and lack of self-consciousness with which Goldberg can write, “Alicia Machado is not a plausible stand in for all women” is precisely why “fat shaming” is a “scourge” and why we’re talking about it. To read the rest, Google. I’m not linking to NRO.

Elsewhere, peeking out from his cirrus clouds of melancholy David Brooks pecks sentences that form themselves into words.

This presidential election is a contest between the oldest of the baby boomers.

587 words to go.

Yet Donald Trump, 70, and Hillary Clinton, 68, represent two very different decades in the formation of that generation. Donald Trump became famous as a classic 1980s type, while Hillary Clinton first attained public notice as a classic 1960s type.

It’s interesting, and sad, to see how the promise of those two decades has aged.

Here is what we call in the business the nut graf, so-called because this paragraph was written by a nut.

Trump opened Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan in November 1983. Go-go capitalism had a lot of élan back then. Capitalism had washed away the stagnation of the 1970s. It was defeating the Soviet Union. During the Reagan years, writers celebrated capitalism not only as a wealth-generating engine but also as a moral system, a way to arouse hard work, creativity and trust.

Of course, Trump was always a scuzzy version of the capitalist type. Somehow I got on the guest list of a few of the ’80s-era parties he hosted in the lobby of his skyscraper and would go for sociological entertainment

I would imagine that “somehow” Brooks got on this list because William F. Buckley, Jr. and the other “writers” who gave him his start spent eight years publishing encomia to Ronald Reagan’s feet. “Of course” Trump was a vulgarian, unlike Buckley himself, advocate of tattooing HIV victims and apartheid enthusiast.

Because Brooks dwells in the green rooms of NPR and PBS he pledges his troth to On the Other Hand. After praising the “poetic, aspirational” virtues of Hillary Clinton’s 1969 Wellesley commencement address, he writes:

Clinton can be a devastatingly good counterpuncher, but she lacks the human touch when talking about the nation’s problems, and fails to make an emotional connection.

“She is a woman, after all.”

When asked why she wants to be president or for any positive vision, she devolves into a list of programs. And it is never enough just to list three programs in an answer; she has to pile in an arid hodgepodge of eight or nine. This is pure interest-group liberalism — buying votes with federal money — not an inspiring image of the common good.

Federal programs and collaborations with business are not an inspiring image of the common good; they lack the “élan” of Brooks’ definition of capitalism.

There is no uplift in this race. There is an entire absence, in both campaigns, of any effort to appeal to the higher angels of our nature.


Yes, the world is watching what we do.
Yes, America’s destiny is ours to choose.
So let’s be stronger together.
Looking to the future with courage and confidence.
Building a better tomorrow for our beloved children and our beloved country.
When we do, America will be greater than ever.
Thank you and may God bless the United States of America!

Platitudes and excerpts from self-help books, but I can’t accuse them of lacking uplift.

Ironically, one of the tasks for those who succeed the baby boomers is to restore idealism.

If a reader can parse this sentence, contact my lawyer.

At some point there will have to be a new vocabulary and a restored anthropology, emphasizing love, friendship, faithfulness, solidarity and neighborliness that pushes people toward connection rather than distrus

I appeals to the same reader for help with “restored anthropology.” As for solidarity, friendship, and all the rest, Brooks can buy an example of one candidate’s “vocabulary” for five bucks. Tax free, I think. Just like the go-go eighties would have liked it!

The essence of libertarianism



I’m not sure who believes that just because someone has educated herself about geography and foreign leadership that her ideas must automatically be followed. It’s just that most of us used to think that presidents should have some basic knowledge of facts before they propose policies. The campaign of 2016 has revealed that such qualifications are no longer considered a requirement for the job — at least not by the half of the electorate who claim to be voting for Trump or Johnson.

Let me amend: before George W. Bush we assumed presidents should ave some basic knowledge of facts before they propose policies.

She refers, of course, to Gary Johnson, who weeks after thinking Aleppo was a brand of raspberry gelato couldn’t think yesterday of a single foreign leader he admires. He could’ve gone the true libertarian route and said, “Chris, I admire no foreign leaders; we need to put America first,” but the last clause has an unpleasant ring to it. Wlliam Weld, the vice presidential nominee with an IQ over two figures, helpfully offered “Angela Merkel,” suggesting how a Johnson administration would operate.

Last Friday I wrote about what a libertarian president will mean for the environment. Should Trump lose, the GOP will transmutate in five to eight years into Johnson’s kind of man: they’ll dump the odium against homosexuals and pursue criminal justice reforms while abandoning the poor to the remains of welfare and letting the young minds whom Wall Street will hire come up with newer models for vaporizing the global economy that will make collateral debt obligations and credit default swaps look like Monopoly money.

Libertarianism rewards the atomization of society. There is no society. What remains would realize Margaret Thatcher’s statement that “there is no such thing as society”; instead “there are individual men and women, and there are families.” Libertarianism pats the ignorant man and woman on the back. It encourages indifference to neighbors. Its lips quiver when I take the shirt off my back for the sake of a homeless man and cheers when I endorse politicians who slash social services. Following the logic to their thinking to its inevitable conclusion, libertarians believe the correct subject-verb agreement is “The United States are,” not “the United States is.

‘The Nice Guys’ treats Crowe, Gosling like dull guys


Why Shane Black set The Nice Guys in 1977 instead of 1987 baffles me: it has the torpid rhythm, zombie’s touch for staging violence, and uneven comedy of Beverly Hills Cop 2. A decade after Kiss Kiss Bang Bang became a DVD cult item, the writer-director thinks the physical contrasts between Russell Crowe as a brawny enforcer and Ryan Gosling as a dimwitted private dick are enough to have audiences rolling in the aisles. Instead, The Nice Guys exemplifies why Hollywood can’t film comedies that take less time than drying your clothes using the cold setting.

The plot, such as it is, concerns the mysterious death of Misty Mountains, a decent name for a porn star. When her aunt hires Holland March (Gosling) to investigate, he learns that He’s In Over His Head; Amelia Kutney, see, doesn’t want to be found, and with Jackson Healy (Crowe) she can’t lose. Jackson roughs up Holland (not that he could do much with a PI who lost his sense of smell in a fight years ago). They team up upon figuring out that Things Aren’t What They Seem. Joining them is Holland’s daughter Holly (Angourie Rice), one of those smart aleck Hollywood kids ogled by Black’s camera even as Holland and Jackson defend her chastity. Then the bodies start to pile.

The Nasty Guy‘s peak is a party in the hills where emaciated young actors and actresses in plane-sized collars and bikinis do “crazy” things in hot tubs and dance to “Boogie Wonderland.” Gosling’s peak is an unintended drunken pirouette off a balcony for the sake of impressing a girl. In the time-honored tradition of actors playing dumbfucks, Gosling speaks molasses slow and squints. Black indulges him: after stumbling on a body Gosling does the year’s least convincing double take, not to mention that an Abbott and Costello skit nailed it when Gosling’s grandfather was a boy. He’s too smart an actor and in too trim a shape to play dissolution. Crowe does better – he can do this glowering palooka business without looking at the script. Kim Basinger, unaware that she was cast in a comedy, has a small part as Amelia’s mother.

But the party takes place when there’s almost an hour left in The Nice Guys. Black’s timing is on ‘ludes; he muffs an okay joke about bourbon martinis. He includes a sequence in which smog protestors stage a public sit-in that wouldn’t have been funny in 1977 either (it has the feel of jokes told by aging alcoholic fossils at a Dean Martin celebrity joke). Kiss Kiss Bang Bang wasn’t a giggle-a-minute either, but it got its frisson from casting Robert Downey, Jr. as a heterosexual. I also don’t remember it stooping to such grotesqueries as tossing women through windows either. The Nice Guys plays like a discarded action comedy script with jokes shoehorned in. There’s hardly a fresh thing in it. And the sentiment sticks in the craw. Directors shouldn’t use Gosling and Crowe if the line “It’s not common to find such nice people in this world” is used within five feet of them, ironically or not.

‘The man who claims authority…is an object of distrust and resentment’


“America has always been a country of amateurs where the professional, that is to say, the man who claims authority as a member of an elite which knows the law in some field or other, is an object of distrust and resentment,” W.H. Auden wrote in the middle of the twentieth century during the peak of America’s postwar ascendancy.

He had more to say:

Thanks to the natural resources of the country, ever American, until quite recently, could reasonably look forward to making more money than his father, so that, if he made less, the fault must be his he was either lazy or inefficient. What an American values, therefore, is not the possession of money as such, but his power to make it as as proof of his manhood; once he he has proved himself by making it, it has served its function and can be lost or given away. In no society in history have rich men given away so large a part of their fortunes. A poor American feels guilty at being poor, but less guilty than an American rentier who has inherited wealth but is doing nothing to increase it; what can the latter do but take to drink and psychoanalysis?

This excerpt comes from “Postscript: The Almighty Dollar,” also written in the 1950s. It explains, well, a few things going on with the approval that a certain GOP presidential candidate gets for boasting he pays no taxes.

‘You must change your albums’


Rock critics who are liberals tend — I can’t stress enough the hesitation in that verb — to have tastes I can understand more than liberals who like rock music. The latter tend to like Americana, ignore R&B unless it’s of the cryogenic Leon Bridges kind, and blame their kids for not following hip hop and pop stars. Imagine my relief when bspencer of Lawyers Guns & Money posted this list of Albums That Changed My Life:

Duran Duran–Duran Duran
Stevie Wonder–Musicquarium
The Beastie Boys–Paul’s Boutique
Public Enemy–It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back
Fishbone–Truth and Soul
Redd Kross–Third Eye
Red Hot Chili Peppers–Mother’s Milk
Jane’s Addiction–Nothing’s Shocking
Bryan Ferry–Bete Noire
Arrested Development–3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days in the Life of…

Well. Generally speaking, the sort of person who loves Arrested Development’s debut does not return Duran Duran’s affection, much less their debut’s. Stevie Wonder’s Original Musiquarium I, Jane’s Addiction, and Public Enemy I get; Fishbone and Redd Kross define “idiosyncratic” choices, but they’re honest, for I understand how a young man or woman of a certain age would regard’em as gatekeepers. But Bete Noire! Not Avalon or even Boys + Girls, but the brittle, trebly British and American flop helmed by Madonna’s producer.

Here are ten of mine:

Public Image Ltd. – Second Edition
Peter Gabriel – So
Prince – 1999
Roxy Music – Street Life: 20 Great Hits
Miles Davis – Get Up With It
Journey Into Paradise: The Larry Levan Story
Madonna – Erotica
Rosanne Cash – Rhythm and Romance
Ghostface Killah – Supreme Clientele
Peter Murphy – Deep

Top that.

Against Me! look for some measure of peace

Against Me! – Shape Shift With Me

I know Shape Shift With Me is a singer-songwriter record because the vocals are mixed so that we notice how smart the words are. But lots of singer-songwriter records sound good – too good in many cases. Back when Butch Vig interfered with Against Me! he treated them like a noise-rock act with Sugar in their veins; now Laura Jane Grace and Marc Hudson treat the band like Bob Mould did the nobodies in his post-1994 solo records (the ones on which he didn’t play everything, that is); they treat them, to rewrite one of her new tunes, like some fucking band.

Nevertheless, about half of Against Me!’s seventh album crunches and roars and in places offends like I’m used to. The more original the songs, the more gleeful their purloining of images, lines, and slick tricks from generations of mopes, losers, and misanthropes. “Shallow graves of all dead rarts/I like dark clouds the best,” Laura Jane sings in “Dead Rats,” nodding to ancient Smiths over a mothballed sub-Slayer riff. In “Crash” the hook goes “Another crash. Landing,” like that, with the music stopping in its tracks; meanwhile, the character in the song promises to stay in “your” orbit a while like Harry Nilsson’s spaceman going round and around and around. But Laura Jane is most compelling when she’s burning not yearning. Often the situation’s unpleasant, as when he wants to grab the title character in “Rebecca” by the skull and kiss her (how romantic!). “Norse Truth,” the album’s manifesto, settles into a declamatory mode that a David Johansen or Corin Tucker would recognize except Laura Jane can’t be said to have a light touch: “Tits out for the boys/Hard cocks/hard cunts/line’em up.” As Laura Jane yells, “I wanted you to be more real than all the others,” the arrangement gathers her up, spins around, consuming itself. A meager diet, though. The guitars aren’t loud enough, the rhythm section not interesting enough. This explains why I’m quoting lyrics oftener than is my wont.

Testing the limits of her new identity, Laura Jane is searching for chords and arrangement commensurate with the tumult of the last few years. A song called “Boyfriend” relies on non-diegetic recognition for an otherwise familiar story that Billie Joe Armstrong could have sung during his basket case days/daze. But after 2005’s Searching for a Former Clarity kicked off a helluva streak the muffled, tentative Shape Shift With Me can’t help but disappoint me. Obviously I wish she finds the peace she deserves; finding peace comes before recording albums. She can wipe her ass with what we think of them anyway: “C’mon shape shift with me/What have you got to lose?” she asks in “Norse Truth” but adds, “Ah, fuck it.”

‘Election’ 17 years later and Election 2016


I squirmed watching Election in the late spring of 1999. As sharp as a rapier and in some ways Alexander Payne’s most satisfying film, I understand why it unnerves Maureen O’Connor experiencing it anew in election year 2016:

When I watched the movie in previous years, I responded to the comedic value of Reese Witherspoon’s tightly wound and grimly crazed performance. It wasn’t until this year that I picked up on the brief, but heartbreaking, moments depicting the idealistic teenager’s wounded confusion when she does everything she is supposed to do, but discovers that everyone hates her anyway.

My friend Ryan Maffei, who posted O’Connor’s article on Facebook, tolerated my posts. Below are expanded and revised notes:

1. Payne’s shifting points of views gets him off the hook. Study my screen grab. Note the expressions on the boys. Are we supposed to regard Tracy with their bored contempt? She knows the answers and they don’t. The scene, however, is refracted through Mr. McAllister’s point of view; it’s clear his own boredom with her smarts borders on contempt. While Payne is just smart enough to let the audience know that McCallister’s contempt has a sexual undertone, it’s not clear whether we’re supposed to laugh at what a martinet she imagines her to be in bed or at the quasi-pedophile creep for imagining she’s a martinet in bed.

2. As usual with Payne he has no fucking clue what to do with women: think Kathy Bates in About Schmidt made into a cartoon because she’s fat and horny. But what does Tracy do wrong besides lust for power for its own sake? This is hardly the most mortal of sins. She played by the rules of power that guys like McCallister wrote — and he wants to change them! That’s why she’s sympathetic.

3. Weak for snark but not yet succumbing as he would in About Schmidt and Nebraska, Election is ambiguous Tracy Flick. In a review I wrote for my college paper, I mentioned how moving the scene is where she breaks down in her room after losing the election: her mom comforting her, Tracy devastated that what she’s been taught has failed her. Tracy may or may not be Poppy Bush or a sociopath, but Chris Klein is the dumbfuck manipulated into running.

4. I like(d) Election in part because it can’t control what it unleashes: Thanks to Reese Witherspoon, Tracy Flick is the stereotype that’s humanized by the end of the story while Matthew Broderick is the obsessive teacher we all recognize who took pettiness to, yeah, sociopathic levels. These days the most recognizable type is the little Torquemada of a student government aide who insists he counted all the ballots — and he’s right. He played by the rules that adults made, and his adult teacher wants to change them.

5. Tracy’s a hard worker. I don’t doubt she’ll be a good president based on the standards of high school SGA presidents.

6. No one emerges sympathetic, but it doesn’t mean it has villains; everyone has his or her reasons.

7. I want to watch it again.

Kashif — RIP


For a couple years in the early eighties, the artist once known as Michael Jones bounced and ounced. Figuring out how to synthesize the rubbery bass lines of disco while adding a touch of Zapp-tastic crunch, Kashif would be immortal for writing Evelyn “Champagne” King’s “Love Come Down,” a #1 on the Hot Black Singles and dance charts so omnipresent that you’d be forgiven for thinking it ruled the summer of 1982 (it stopped at #17 on the Billboard Hot 100). He began his career as a journeyman keyboardist and songwriter for Stephanie Mills and Howard Johnson (“So Fine,” a thumper that’s cyborg Ray Parker, Jr. and clean Rick James). The big paychecks came when Arista Records thought he’d be a good match for Whitney Houston; the result was “You Give Good Love,” a gem of wink-wink G-rated lubriciousness.

Kashif never scored a #1 under his own name. A pity: he wrote just as well for himself and was a serviceable singer. The 1983 eponymous debut is one of the many minor masterpieces of post-disco R&B before MIDI and radio commodification gave artists a case of the blands (for which, let us admit, the success of Whitney Houston deserves blame). His first single “I Just Gotta Have You (Lover Turn Me On)” has a tumbler’s grace in the way it maneuvers between poise and pain. “Help Yourself to My Love” consolidated the Kashif sound: syncopating a programmed bass against sparse guitar over which the singer made his point without embellishment; Kashif was a producer who prized space. Four other R&B top tens followed, the biggest of which was 1986’s Meli’sa Morgan duet “Love Changes.” He even got a pop crossover with the Dionne Warwick duet “Reservations For Two,” a maudlin stab at piss elegance. Don’t blame Warwick though — she was as good as her material. Adrift in the era of LaFace and Teddy Riley, Kashif listened as his innovations became the industry standard.

As indelible is a teensy George Benson single called “Inside Love (So Personal),” one of his attempts to repeat the crossover success of “Turn Your Love Around.” The bump ‘n’ grind of acoustic and electronic instruments that was Kashif’s métier is at its peak. Hearing Benson’s licks scratch against that familiar synth bass summons a time and place as surely as Return of the Jedi; Benson’s wordless onomatopoetic opening hook introduces lines as finely etched as Bryan Ferry’s for Avalon, released the previous year: “Using our private light/We plan for the quiet night.”

That Kashif was unable to adapt to the late decade’s tectonic shifts only makes him as human as Kool and the Gang. Or Rick James himself. A smoothie is a smoothie, a nomad who lives or dies by production. But let’s savor Kashif’s slick tricks, so many of which remain staples.

Debate #1 post-mortem

Last night I learned to drink a marvelous gin and Aperol concoction. This morning I learned that if Hillary Clinton looks assured, talks as if she has the facts at her command, and smiles she is smug. “Smug, composed, and not attractive” in the words of Brit Hume, the long-faced basset hound who took over the departed Greta Van Sustern’s FOX News show because he thinks he’s working for a network instead of a support group for imbeciles.

The polls won’t change much, but the debate did more than I could’ve imagined: I doubt any of the six independents watched last night and said, “I’m voting for Trump.” She wasn’t going to persuade Trump-or-die voters, he wasn’t going to peel any of hers off — she just had to make him look moronic to undecideds. “I’m not sure this is any game changer,” Josh Marshall wrote this morning using my favorite jargon. “It simply confirms what a lot of people already know: Trump is not suited to be President. Clinton is competent, prepared and in this exchange buoyant and dynamic.”