And everything went from wrong to right: Best of 2002


1. Kylie Minogue – Love at First Sight
2. Ashanti – Happy
3. P!nk – Don’t Let Me Get Me
4. Alan Jackson – Drive (For Daddy Gene)
5. Tweet ft. Missy Elliott – Oops (Oh My)
6. Nas – Made You Look
7. No Doubt – Hella Good
8. Clipse – Grindin’
9. Aaliyah – More Than a Woman
10. Cam’ron – Oh Boy
11. Jay-Z – Jigga That Nigga
12. The Hives – Hate to Say I Told You So
13. N Sync – Girlfriend
14. Brandy – Full Moon
15. Interpol – Obstacle 1
16. Mekons – Only You and Your Ghost Will Know
17. Toby Keith – Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)
18. Ludacris – Roll Out (My Business)
19. Justin Timberlake – Like I Love You
20. Spoon – The Way We Get By
21. Alanis Morrissette – Hands Clean
22. Eminem – Lose Yourself
23. Pet Shop Boys – Home and Dry
24. Brad Paisley – I’m Gonna Miss Her (The Fishin’ Song
25. Bruce Springsteen – The Rising

Bernie Worrell — RIP

I can’t think of a single player in R&B and rock history who coaxed so many variations on kink, perversity, and ambisexuality from an instrument — from one instrument. His licks were filthy. Sometimes they weren’t licks: squiggles, oscillator improvisations, block synth chords. When Bernie Worrell stepped in front of the keyboards, loose booty would follow. Everyone knows the Minimoogs in “Flashlight,” but the synth line in “(Not Just) Knee Deep” conjures a cartoon planet fueled by underaged foreplay — and, again, that’s just Worrell’s synth part. Today I remember him for his lesser known contributions: to the inexorable gyrations of “Red Hot Mamma”; the ruminative piano part on the same album’s “I’ll Stay”; the fart sounds on the funk metal “Lunchmeataphobia (Think! It Ain’t Illegal Yet!).” He also contributed one of my favorite bits of work-for-hire: the clavinet in Pretenders’ “Don’t Get Me Wrong.”

David Brooks, searcher and settler

With the United Kingdom crumbling and the EU reeling, it’s a comfort to know that David Brooks can bring keenness to the opacity of our political discourse. Here’s a precious thing he wrote called “At the Edge of Inside” published yesterday:

In any organization there are some people who serve at the core. These insiders are in the rooms when the decisions are made. Hillary Clinton, for example, is now at the core of the Democratic Party.

Then there are outsiders. They throw missiles from beyond the walls. They are untouched by internal loyalties and try to take over from without. Donald Trump is a Republican outsider.

But there’s also a third position in any organization: those who are at the edge of the inside. These people are within the organization, but they’re not subsumed by the group think. They work at the boundaries, bridges and entranceways. Senator Lindsey Graham, for example, is sometimes on the edge of the inside of the G.O.P.

Brooks got the ideas from a “pamphlet” written by “a Franciscan priest who lives in Albuquerque.” On the Edge of the Inside” should wow’em at David’s next TED Talks. But he should be careful about mentioning bridges and entranceways. Republicans don’t like to build those. Maybe that’s why Lindsey Graham is on the edge of the inside.

A person at the edge of inside can be the strongest reformer. This person has the loyalty of a faithful insider, but the judgment of the critical outsider. Martin Luther King Jr. had an authentic inner experience of what it meant to be American. This love allowed him to critique America from the values he learned from America. He could be utterly relentless in bringing America back closer to herself precisely because his devotion to American ideals was so fervent.

MLK had an authentic inner experience of what it meant to be black in America, which in late fifties Montgomery and mid sixties Selma meant blacks were treated as if they didn’t belong in America.

The person on the edge of inside is involved in constant change. The true insiders are so deep inside they often get confused by trivia and locked into the status quo. The outsider is throwing bombs and dreaming of far-off transformational revolution. But the person at the doorway is seeing constant comings and goings. As Rohr says, she is involved in a process of perpetual transformation, not a belonging system. She is more interested in being a searcher than a settler.

This sure is a convoluted way of saying, “People changed their seats in the elementary school cafeteria if they saw me coming.”

When people are afraid or defensive, they have no tolerance for the person at the edge of inside. They want purity, rigid loyalty and lock step unity. But now more than ever we need people who have the courage to live on the edge of inside, who love their parties and organizations so much that they can critique them as a brother, operate on them from the inside as a friend and dauntlessly insist that they live up to their truest selves.

Britishes should could have used somebody telling them to live up to their truest selves!

Screenings #20

A month late.

Embrace of the Serpent (Guerra, 2016) 7/10
Sweet Bean (Kawase, 2016) 5/10
The Lobster (anthimos, 2016) 7/10
Sunset Song (Davies, 2016) 7/10
Love & Friendship (Stillman, 2016) 9/10
Weiner (Steinberg-Kriegman, 2016) 5/10
Neon Bull (Mascara, 2016) 7/10
Arabian Nights, Pt. 1 (Gomes, 2015) 6/10
Son of Saul (Nemes, 2015) 7/10
* I’m Not There (Haynes, 2007) 6/10
* Jackie Brown (Tarantino, 1997) 8/10
A Tale of Winter (Rohmer, 1992) 7/10
A Brighter Summer Day (Yang, 1991) 9/10
* The Freshman (Bergman, 1990) 8/10
* Killer of Sheep (Burnett, 1977) 9/10
In the Realm of the Senses (Oshima, 1976) 5/10
Noon Wine (Peckinpah, 1966) 7/10
The Young Girls of Rochefort (Demy, 1966) 7/10
* Charade (Donen, 1963) 7/10
Victim (Deardon, 1961) 7/10
True Confession (Ruggles, 1937) 5/10
Liliom (Borzage, 1930) 6/10

Brexit: UK as ‘neoliberal hell’

Josh Marshall:

…A British exit from the EU would quite likely speed the path for a Scottish exit from the UK and create an increasingly awkward position for Northern Ireland. Even an eventual departure of Wales isn’t totally beyond question. To add to this irony, if Brexit is largely driven by older, economically left-behind working and middle class English (which polls suggest it is), an independent England would be a very, very tory state. So to whatever extent the EU is a neo-liberal hell, post-UK, post-EU England would be one in perpetuity. Only what used to be called the Celtic fringe keeps the UK somewhat anchored in social democracy.

There are various other reasons, Brexit strikes me as a very bad idea. Taken together though it seems like some sort of weird acid trip the British body politic is undergoing producing a flashback to earlier days as a great power.

The last point explains the number of Thatcher and Churchill references by commentators on the American right — as if either long dead personage would have known how to deal with the fallout; as if either conservative might have been this irrational. The Churchill analogy is delicious in other ways, for it was under his watch that the mighty British empire, with the encouragement of pal FDR, sputtered, convulsed, and died.

Good luck, European and British friends. Good luck to us all.

Must be the money: Best of 2001


1. Usher – U Got It Bad
2. Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott – Get Ur Freak On
3. Rufus Wainwright – Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk
4. Stephen Malkmus – Church on White
5. Toby Keith – I Wanna Talk About Me
6. Kylie Minogue – Can’t Get You Out of My Head
7. Mystikal – Danger
8. The Dandy Wrahols – Bohemian Like You
9. Bjork – Hidden Place
10. Maxwell – Lifeline
11. Ginuwine – Differences
12. Aaliyah – Rock the Boat
13. Aerosmith – Jaded
14. Michael Jackson – You Rock My World
15. Bubba Sparxx – Ugly
16. Destiny’s Child – Bootylicious
17. Nelly – Ride Wit Me
18. New Order – Crystal
19. Alan Jackson – Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)
20. Tamia – Stranger in My House
21. Britney Spears – I’m a Slave 4 U
22. Jay-Z – Girls, Girls, Girls
23. Madonna – Don’t Tell Me
24. Lifehouse – Hanging By a Moment
25. Outkast – The Whole World
26. Isley Brothers – Contagious
27. Shakira – Whenever, Wherever
28. N Sync – Gone
29. Tim McGraw – My Next Thirty Years
30. Green Day – Warning
31. Macy Gray – Sweet Baby
32. U2 – Stuck in a Moment
33. Weezer- Hash Pipe
34. Black Box Recorder – Facts of Life
35. Chemical Brothers – It Began in Afrika

‘Embrace of the Serpent’ navigates tension between the exotic and familiar

From Apocalypse Now and The Emerald Forest to Werner Herzog’s pair of jungle boogies Aguirre, The Wrath of God and Fizcarraldo, films set in rain forests invite reviews that ooh and ah over the enigma of humidity and the glamor of turbid tributaries. Joseph Conrad and V.S. Naipaul’s novels were catalysts: for white men traveling up or down rivers of unexplored land led to untapped, uncivilized evil. In Ciro Guerra’s third feature Embrace of the Serpent, an ingenious two-track plot meets at the same place. An admixture of greed and scientific curiosity and panic from the indigenous tribes collapses past and present.

Connecting both tracks is Karamakate (Nilbio Torres), a shaman whose younger self leads Dutch explorer/scientist Theodor von Martius (Jan Bijvoet) up the Amazon in 1909 in search of the yakruna, a plant whose purported healing powers von Martius needs to eliminate a fever. Karamakate has reasons to be wary: Colombian robber barons have pillaged his land, christianizing the tribes in ways that questions notions about who is savage and who civilized. Decades later, Evan (Brionne Davis) hunts for the same plant with an aged but still wary Kaiamakate. Armed with a camera and a beard that’s purest Brooklyn, Evan has a more sophisticated understanding of the tribe’s relationship with topography but is no less singleminded than von Martius. Worse, the older Kaiamakate has severed his own connections to his tribe; he is as obsolete as the pictures in the books that Evan lends him.

Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at last year’s Oscars, Embrace of the Serpent indulges the jungle genre’s penchant for exotic hocus-pocus, leavened, at least, by an avoidance of Noble Savage tropes. The casting of the fierce Torres as a camera object and pained subject helps, in whose face the tensions between adaptation to an encroaching new order and resilience flash in subtle shades. A scene in which a tribal chief steals a compass adduces Guerra’s approach: miscomprehension begins with mistrust and won’t end even if the commodities were a fair trade. David Gallego’s black and white cinematography looks desaturated, as if he were capturing an eastern Polish village instead of a pre-industrial ecosystem. The better to capture the cruelty. von Martius, his translator, and Karamakate stumble on a village ruled by a sadistic Capuchin who whips children to pieces for invoking the devil. Using a beautiful tracking shot shot from the point of view of the invaders, Guerra and Gallego hone in on the whipping, then step quietly to the right to take in the mute, numb horror on the faces of the young onlookers. A parallel moment occurs when the Evan party meets a mad Colombian who’s persuaded a tribe of hooded natives that he’s the Lord Jesus Christ, given to pronouncements like “The only thing sacred in this jungle is me!” Jesus commands them to eat from his body; the Evan party watches as his followers do just that, bite by bite.

While Embrace of the Serpent is well-paced and shows little interest in pretty pictures, the third act ends in familiar territory – unleavened, this time, by the avoidance of Noble Savage tropes. I didn’t laugh at Guerra’s stab at mysticism, but I wish his vision of joining the cosmos didn’t look like a cinematic illustration of Carlos Castañeda. The heart of Embrace of the Serpent takes place in quiet, pained conversations between Evan and Kaiamakate, each aware of the other’s stakes, each gnarled by suspicion.

Embrace of the Serpent is available on DVD.

Best singles of 1996

1. Fugees – Ready or Not
2. Toni Braxton – You’re Makin’ Me High/Let It Flow
3. Pulp – Disco 2000
4. Beck – Where It’s At
5. Ginuwine – Pony
6. Mariah Carey – Always Be My Baby
7. Jay Z – Dead Presidents II
8. Mary J. Blige – Not Gon’ Cry
9. TLC – Diggin’ On You
10. George Michael – Fastlove
11. Aaliyah – If Your Girl Only Knew
12. Nas – Street Dreams
13. Keith Sweat – Nobody
14. Nearly God – Poems
15. R. Kelly – You Remind Me of Something
16. 2Pac featuring K-Ci & JoJo / featuring Dr. Dre and Roger Troutman – How Do U Want It / California Love
17. Pet Shop Boys – Before/The Truck Driver and His Mate
18. Garbage – Stupid Girl
19. Quad City DJs – C’mon N’ Ride It (The Train)
20. Everything But The Girl – Wrong
21. Tony! Toni! Toné! – Let’s Get Down
22. The Artist – Dinner with Dolores
23. Maxwell – Ascension (Don’t Ever Wonder)
24. Underworld – Born Slippy
25. Outkast – Elevators (Me & You)
26. Imperial Teen – You’re One
27. De La Soul – The Bizness
28. Soundgarden – Pretty Noose
29. Pearl Jam – Who You Are
30. Bush – Swallowed
31. Shania Twain – (If You’re Not In It For Love) I’m Outta Here!
32. R. Kelly ft. Isley Bros – Down Low (Nobody Has to Know)
33. R.E.M. – E-Bow the Letter
34. Suede – Trash
35. Gin Blossoms – Until I Hear It From You
36. Ghostface Killah ft. Mary J Blige & Popa Wu – All That I Got Is You
37. En Vogue – Don’t Let Go (Love)
38. MC Lyte ft. Xscape – Keep On Keepin’ On
39. LL Cool J – Loungin’
40. Mobb Deep – Front Lines (Hell on Earth)

Have at it, bro

In a statement announcing he’s changed his mind about not seeking reelection, the junior senator from Florida alluded to his affection for the institution he’s visited less often than a high school senior on a Close Up trip:

“Control of the Senate may very well come down to the race in Florida,” he said. “That means the future of the Supreme Court will be determined by the Florida Senate seat. It means the future of the disastrous Iran nuclear deal will be determined by the Florida Senate seat. It means the direction of our country’s fiscal and economic policies will be determined by this Senate seat. The stakes for our nation could not be higher.”

I suppose this means his attention to legislative matters will sharpen after sixteen years of indolence and scheming.

“In politics, admitting you’ve changed your mind is not something most people like to do,” he said. “But here it goes. I have decided to seek reelection to the United States Senate. I understand my opponents will try to use this decision to score political points against me. Have at it. Because I have never claimed to be perfect, or to have all the answers.”

I know he hated changing his mind about supporting amnesty, but that’s what a chap’s got to do to win the GOP nomination. Which he lost anyway. Donald Trump treated him with less respect than he would a cockroach on a balcony. He laughed at the senator. He smelled a milquetoast with the intellect of a hat rack. Have at it, Donald Trump said. And certainly I remember his affection for gays and lesbians after he could taxonomize them as victims of RADICAL ISLAM WHOA NELLY.

Although I’m aware of polls showing Rubio leading Patrick Murphy and his primary competition, note that he’s three points shy of 50 percent. All his opponents have to do is replay last winter’s footage. Or they can seek the counsel of the Master of Resentment, offering excellent advice and scabrous remarks on Twitter:

I see “Have at it” and quietly add “bro.” Of such stuff hashtags are made.

Bargaining posture: Maren Morris and Garbage

Maren Morris – Hero

“Beware of country producers bearing sequencers,” purists might say from a defensive crouch in Chris Stapleton’s beard. And the song with the sequencer is called “80s Mercedes,” no less. On her major label debut, the Texan hooks up with the fella who’s worked with P!nk, Christina Aguilera, and Daughtry for a series of some of the most delicious electrotwang since Big & Rich. Speaking of “rich,” it’s the name of a whip snapper of a second track that cops the Steve Miller Band for the kind of nyah-nyah hook that’ll delight the jokers and midnight takers at her shows. Wary of introspection but not above a playing the country radio programmer game, Morris errs twice: the raised-on-radio revivalist anthem “My Church” and a blowzy closer called “Once” that might have had a chance at crossover during Liz Phair’s “Why Can’t I” period.

I want to raise a philosophical point, though, about the response to these new female country performers. Whether it’s Chrissie Hynde, Phair, or Polly Jean Harvey, I’m suspicious when male critics praise women with guitars for self-possession; the purported sexual forthrightness of these acts is taken as a sign of their independence. I’m no psychoanalyst, but too many of the male-penned compliments read like valentines. If Miranda Lambert’s gunpowder and lead make her a a three-dimensional woman, then so do Meghan Trainor’s Powerpoint-deep power games and, stick with me a moment, Selena Gomez’s polymorphous lust, encompassing “metaphorical gin and juice” and who’s to say she’s wrong, and I don’t see either on many year end lists.

And if you’re a woman who doesn’t rock forget it — an infuriating proposition. In country music Carrie Underwood’s ancestor Reba McEntire is no less fascinating for projecting an air of self-possession that she’s willing to abjure when the lights are out and the kids are in bed. Sometimes the self-possession scans as confidence about choosing mildewed material; we know plenty of three-dimensional women who hang Franklin Mint plates in the foyer and keep stuffed animals on the rear dash. Writing and singing about tattooed love boys in a Mercedes aren’t themselves totems of singularity. Rather, the confusion between seeing oneself as an object in someone’s fantasy, calling attention to the fact that one is an object, and criticizing the terms of the objectification gives these performers their allure and, yes, those three dimensions. On her last and strongest album Lambert got herself in a real muddle, and while I’m rooting for her the strain of playing the character she’s inhabited since 2005’s “Kerosene” has produced rote anthems and unpersuasive rebel yells. Absorbing male platitudes about women is the devil’s bargain. In 2016 brazenness in women isn’t a rarity, it’s an expectation, a given, especially in a pop landscape where Rihanna and Beyonce have audiences primed to have their notions of performance and authenticity upended in a most Bowie-esque way.

Where Morris ends up after Hero is a mug’s game. Even with the Shane McAnally co-writes I don’t see many performers covering her tunes: they and her charisma are as indivisible as her rubber-ringed vowels are from the snap of busbee‘s strings. But I can imagine Dustin Lynch reading her mind and pretending to be impressed, or Dierks Bentley wondering if it was somewhere on a beach he saw her and not on the Wednesday night she dumped his stank ass.

Garbage – Strange Little Birds

An example of the subject-object muddle discussed before, Shirley Manson was so gleeful about taking her pleasures where she found them that it didn’t matter that the pleasures went no broader than her collection of Curve albums. Rummaging through several generations of saint, sinner, whore, and angel tropes never sounded as novel as they did on Version 2.0, on which Manson shouted and plead like the tropes were the expressions of a self. On Garbage’s best album since 1998, the band rediscover their talent for hooks, and Manson sounds excited to sing them instead of acting like her number was called at the Public deli counter. After a deadly slow opening, they rip into “Empty,” a Loveless rips so devoid of shame that I’m delighted to think Garbage assumes there are kids who (a) buy new Garbage albums (b) buy Garbage albums (c) will hear “Empty” before “What You Want” and use it as a gateway. The generous mix highlights every sparkle in mid tempo mumblers like “If I Lost You” and “Even Though Our Love is Doomed,” perhaps too generously, for the band’s sculpting acumen outpace Manson’s lyrical imagination, which wouldn’t matter if she sang like a third guitar or whooped like a synth arpeggio. The exception is “Night Drive Loneliness,” fan mail recast as yet another rummage sale.

Let’s all meet up in the year 2000: Best of 1995

1. The Notorious B.I.G – Juicy
2. Pulp – Common People
3. Garbage – Happy When It Rains
4. Method Man ft. Mary J. Blige – You’re All I Need to Get By
5. Belly – Seal Our Fate
6. The Pharcyde – Runnin’
7. Skee-Lo – I Wish
8. Monica – Don’t Take It Personal (Just One of Dem Days)
9. TLC – Creep
10. Tricky – Black Steel
11. Elastica – Stutter
12. Bjork – Army of Me
13. Miss Thang – Before You Walk Out of My Life
14. Whitney Houston – Exhale (Shoop Shoop)
15. Ol’ Dirty Bastard – Brooklyn Zoo
16. Edwyn Collins – A Girl Like You
17. Garth Brooks – She’s Every Woman
18. Berri – The Sunshine After the Rain
19. Mariah Carey ft. O.D.B – Fantasy (Bad Boy Remix)
20. Janet Jackson – Runaway
21. The Human League – Tell Me When
22. GZA- Shadowboxin’
23. Everything But the Girl – Missing (Todd Terry Remix)
24. Matthew Sweet – Sick of Myself
25. Redman and Method Man – How High
26. Take That – Back For Good
27. D’Angelo – Brown Sugar
28. Madonna – Bedtime Story

Of arms and men

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Vote the bastards out. Replace them with senators who will present a filibuster-proof majority for President Hillary Clinton’s SCOTUS nominees. Perhaps this new liberal voting bloc will examine the most impolitic and dangerous comma splice in American constitutional history. But please don’t join the GOP in hysteria. Denying “suspected terrorists” of the right – yes, the right, as interpreted by the Roberts Court – to buy arms reminds me of the time when Walter Mondale called Ronald Reagan a sellout because he wanted to meet in arms negotiations with the Soviets. Fritz Mondale – running to the right of Reagan! When will the left realize this never works? At worst we lose another presidential election. At worst we get this bill. And this bill. The sight of Republicans caring about due process for once is of course impressive, but their sudden enthusiasm doesn’t mean a constitutional principle isn’t at stake.