The sad, sad truth the dirty lowdown: the best of Boz Scaggs

A smooth motherfucker, Boz Scaggs took the eighties off as Silk Degrees kept selling, eventually settling on a quintuple platinum cert. The thick froggy catch in his voice compensates for an anonymous but considerable guitar prowess and a recessive personality that trusted on songcraft; he could’ve been the lead singer for Toto — the band whose members contributed to so many of his records — and no one would have noticed.

My selections lean toward the supper club disco catalogue. As heretical as it may sound, I prefer 1980’s Middle Man to Silk Degrees: the fuller, rather gauche rock sound pushes Scaggs into uncomfortable places, and in some tracks he’s practically braying. But if the Bryan Ferry of Avalon said he studied Middle Man I’d believe him. A downtown record, with songs like “Simone” and “Isn’t It Time” twinkling like bulbs lighting Washington Square. Every record since his heyday except Other Voices is worth a listen; Robert Christgau is a fan of his last couple. They’re fine (I admire the cover of “Small Town Talk”), but the peak of his autumn years is 1994’s Some Change, which sports a warmth resulting as much from the mix as Scaggs’ thickening burr — his most natural mode. Often on the blues-leaning material he came off like a closeted gay man impressing buddies with how mean he could be toward women.

1. Jojo
2. Lido Shufffle
3. Harbor Lights
4. Loan me a Dime
5. Dinah Flo
6. Lowdown
7. Simone
8. We’re All Alone
9. A Clue
10. You’ve Got Some Imagination
11. Some Change
12. Hard Times
13. Sierra
14. You Make It So Hard (To Say No)
15. Small Town Talk

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Crawling back to him: remembering Tom Petty

Between bouts of Kelela and Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, I’ve listened to a lot of Tom Petty the last eight days. Perhaps too much listening – I missed my deadline to contribut to The Singles Jukebox’s Petty tribute. Among a fine miscellany, two blurbs stood out. First Anthony Easton, writing about the title track to Southerhn Accents, covered by Johnny Cash in the mid nineties:

I wonder whether the oranges in Orlando would be picked by someone less pale than Petty. Whether the drunk tank would be as hospitable if he weren’t white — or to someone who is quite local, whether all the accents of the south are as laconic as Petty’s. He had the Stars and Bars decorating the tour for this album, and he apologized for that oversight (and oversight is a politeness) more than a decade later.

All of that said, maybe the most southern thing about the song is that the South is constructed as a narrative of nostalgia. That one always seeks to return to a South, if one is white, if one can afford that desire. It is a song that was written, in a grand historicised style, by a man from Florida who was living in Los Angeles. It is about the idea of Florida as a metonym of the South, of the South as a metonym for this swamp of nostalgia that can only be written about outside of the actual, material swamp.

For Anais Mathers, writing about “American Girl” means also reckoning with ghosts:

I could tell you about being eight years old and seeing Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers with my parents at the old Miami Arena in 1995, long since torn down for a newer, shinier building. I could tell you about how my dad let me climb onto his shoulders when they played “American Girl.” I could tell you how I waved my arms in the air while my dad sang along in thickly accented English. I could tell you about how Tom Petty records often played in our house not just because it was good music but because it was some of the music my dad listened to in order to learn English when he came to the US; Tom was clearer than most. I could tell you how I tried to keep my eyes open in the backseat of the car on the drive home as my dad hummed.

I could tell you about being a college freshman in Gainesville, Florida, sitting on the floor of some guy’s dorm with him as we mixed vodka with Gatorade. I could tell you about how hot it was that night and how his AC window unit was doing us no favors. I could tell you how we listened to the Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ self titled album and when we got to “American Girl”, when it got to the end, this guy told me about how the song was about a girl who jumped off her balcony in the same dorm we were sitting in and swan dived right into traffic on 441. I could tell you how he was pretty annoyed that I was more interested in hearing about this urban legend (the dorms didn’t even have balconies!) than I was in hooking up.

“Crawling Back to You” was my song. I got Wildflowers as a Christmas present from an aunt whose approximations of my taste, demonstrated when she got me Poison’s Open Up and Say…Ahh! in 1988, had been variable over the years. Opening with a theremin that heralds a piano ticking out the top line, “Crawling Back to You” has a Petty “so tired of being tired,” resigned to being abject.

This would have been the start of what I’d have written.

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Droppin’ coffee pots: Eminem

Rough notes on watching Eminem’s “The Storm (Freestyle).”

1. The rasp heightened the urgency, the disgust. Its strength is in Eminem’s enjambments and, to quote my friend Raymond Cummings, its pauses. Watching him in his hoodie, the way the years and drug abuse have hollowed cheek muscles, I’m back in 2002, believing not that Eminem is an actor but stirred by the intensity that Marshall Mathers, hired because he’s Eminem, poured into 8 Mile‘s Rabbit.

2. Although I wish beats and noise and samples accompanied the words, which are by themselves as predictably pointed as anything on a liberal blog, the immediacy is the point. I get it. Most Em fans don’t read Lawyers Guns and Money.

3. He used “piece of shit” in a song about the president. Kodak Black would’ve gotten headlines too if he’d done it — maybe more; he hasn’t gone multi-platinum several times over. The world expects “outrage” from Marshall Mathers.

4. Nevertheless, he used “piece of shit” in a song about the president.

5. Eminem might have instead directed his wrath at Trump’s fans, many of whom have bought Eminem’s records; this would’ve been a genuine fuck-you gesture. After all, it’s not as if Eminem hasn’t insulted women and gays already.

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Some things will never change: the best of the Meat Puppets

These unwashed burnouts produced a methamphetamined acoustic punk in the eighties for which I can only think of The Feelies circa The Good Earth as an analogue (these days I hear the influence in The Men and not much else). So many of their tunes use the fiercely strummed electric rhythm riff, closely miked harmonies, and rubbery bass that distinguishing periods in Meat Puppets music is like distinguishing “early” from “late” Eric Rohmer. Give them this: when Kurt Cobain provided them with a considerable financial windfall in 1993, they could afford a better engineer but changed not a note. “Backwater” remains a deserved crossover hit, an addled churn through familiar tropes that persuaded a half million Americans to buy Too High to Die and mumble, “Some things will never change.” Always through their best material the brothers Kirkwood harmonize as if they just learned how to.

My acquaintance with the Meat Puppets stops after 1994, and I’m spotty about their uproarious Motel-6 ZZ Top phase; no doubt I missed undiscovered beauties. Consensus gathers ’round Meat Puppets II — too inchoate for my ears. Up on the Sun is where the Kirkwoods roll on the river, imagining swimmin’ holes where they can smoke the best dope and daydream about girls.

1. Up on the Sun
2. Lake of Fire
3. Away
4. Backwater
5. I’m a Mindless Idiot
6. Magic Toy Missing
7. Aurora Borealis
8. Sexy Music
9. Meltdown
10. Swimming Ground
11. Plateau
12. I Am a Machine
13. Tumblin’ Tumbleweeds
14. Bad Love
15. Lost

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‘Henry Kissinger does not want to pay 116 percent increase in his premiums’

In which the president shows his strategic genius again:

President Trump pointed to the premium hikes a guest of his at the White House Tuesday was facing as his reason to “do something” about the Affordable Care Act — a move that may come in an executive order as soon as this week.

Never mind that the guest Trump cited was former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who is 94 years old and thus eligible for Medicare. It is unlikely that Kissinger is getting his insurance from Obamacare’s individual market, yet Trump claimed that he did not want to “pay 116 percent increase in his premiums.”

“Now, we’re going to have to do something with Obamacare because it’s failing. Henry Kissinger does not want to pay 116 percent increase in his premiums, but that’s what’s happening,” Trump said, after hinting at what the “something” he will sign “probably this week” will do.

It will “go a long way, to take care of many of the people that have been so badly hurt on health care,” Trump said.

He’s right, though: give Kissinger cyanide pill instead of his morning Lipitor.

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Latino problem? What Latino problem?

This section of the following Washington Post article could’ve been published in spring 2013 when sage political elites thought the GOP had no choice, after Barack Obama convincingly beat Willard Romney, but to follow this “autopsy report”:

Trump’s hostile rhetoric and actions toward Latinos, Republican strategists say, could not only undercut candidates in competitive 2018 races and make the White House harder to retain in 2020 but also further tarnish a GOP brand that party leaders have struggled for years to sell to skeptical Latino voters.

“A whole generation of minority voters is essentially hearing the GOP tell them, ‘We don’t like you,’ ” said Doug Heye, a former communications director for the Republican National Committee. “That might not have sunk the GOP against a flawed candidate like Hillary Clinton, but the demographics are moving into a direction where this will be political suicide.”

A half dozen paragraphs later, I see this about the Virginia governor’s race:

In Virginia, which will elect a new governor next month, Trump waded into the campaign by endorsing GOP candidate Ed Gillespie in a tweet — which also charged that Democrat Ralph Northam supports the MS-13 street gang — all while Gillespie is airing TV ads that seek to tie Northam, Virginia’s lieutenant governor, to the violent gang, whose membership is mostly Latino.

Claims in the ad have been labeled misleading by nonpartisan fact-checkers and racist by immigration advocates. At issue is a tiebreaking vote Northam cast in the state Senate against a bill that would have banned sanctuary cities. But Virginia does not have any such municipalities, a fact Gillespie has acknowledged.

Replace MS-13 with Willie Horton and you’ve got a reprise of the juvenile racism in which the GOP has trafficked since the Reagan-Bush era. Yet what’s remarkable about the WaPo article is how it doesn’t frames the Gillespie campaign and Trump’s grunting about DACA as symptoms of the same pathology. I’m convinced that my senator, the Plankton with a Hairpiece, would run an anti-Cuban ad if his handlers thought it would guarantee Panhandle votes.

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She showed me a beach, gave me a peach: the best of LL Cool J

For a full decade, James Todd Smith followed a pattern: chastened by the commercial performance of his last album (Walking Like a Panther, 14 Shots to the Dome, Phenomenon), he’d recalibrate and try something else: more ballads if necessary, more jams. This makes him an artist of frustrating unevenness; it’s possible that Radio and Mama Said Knock You Out will remain his touchstones because he stuck with one producer. Thanks to his mercenary instincts, he adapted to the Puff Daddy and Neptunes era and later, to the world’s shock, scored two huge hits with Jennifer Lopez deep into the 2000s. Then his luck ran out, and his decision to co-star in 1992’s Toys made sense: he could land an acting gig on any cable show.

Until that point, LL walked like a panther, leaving an imprint with soft paws. His 1996 comp All World is all time. He invented the rap slow jam (“I Need Love”). He invented Rick Rubin. He invented cuteness in hip hop. He invented the rap comeback — at least twice! Were he pull off another one, who would be shocked?

1. Going Back to Cali
2. Rock the Bells
3. Mama Said Knock You Out
4. I’m That Type of Guy
5. Doin’ It
6. The Boomin’ System
7. Control Myself ft. Jennifer Lopez
8. Mr. Good Bar
9. I Can’t Live Without My Radio
10. 6 Minutes of Pleasure
11. Father
12. I’m Bad
13. Around the Way Girl
14. Back Seat of My Jeep
15. You Can’t Dance

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I had a crap gin and tonic, it wounded me: the best of Stephen Malkmus

Carrying himself as an elegant bachelor wounded by crap gin and tonics, Stephen Malkmus was the ideal rock aesthete. A Stockton prince damaged by John Ashbery’s The Double Dream of Spring. A Fall fan who loved soloing like Jerry Garcia. A Casanova who approached romance as if it were a plugged, tuned guitar: with caution but with awareness of the talents he brought, ready to be played as much as wanting to play.

I won’t love him like I did through the summer of 2001 — the manner has hardened into mannerism — but if CD-Rs still existed I’d burn the following, as mighty a play list as any Pavement.

1. Church on White
2. Gardenia
3. Freeze the Saints
4. The Hook
5. Vanessa From Queens
6. Post-Paint Boy
7. Lariat
8. Pencil Riot
9. Stick Figures in Love
10. Fractions and Feelings
11. Vague Spaces
12. Tigers
13. Real Emotional Trash
14. The Janitor Revealed
15. Pink India

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Cubans and whiteness

Erik Loomis wrote about the elasticity of whiteness — how it came to encompass Jews and the Irish after WWII and now, I’m aware, certain Latinos.

The reason I feel that way is that the makeup of Latino immigrant communities largely includes people who are either Afro-Latino or heavily indigenous. If you look at Ted Cruz, sure, he’s a white guy. By and large, the upper class in most Latin American nations are light-skinned and while the U.S. is pretty unique in its one-drop rule of race (why wasn’t Barack Obama considered our 44th white president?), skin color absolutely matters in these nations, but it exists more on a continuum than an absolute divide. So if our view of Latinos is wealthy Cuban-Americans, yes, Latinos could easily be white. But that’s not who these large majority of these people are.

Denial and mild paranoia define Cuban attitudes toward race. While Jim Crow didn’t exist in cities, social racism applied in Cuba. Respectable families didn’t allow their sons and daughters to date, much less marry, those people with obviously black skin. When images of Havana popped up on TV in the eighties and nineties my grandmother would sigh, mourning what Fidel had wrought; those images had black Cubans, often badly or skimpily dressed. Thanks to its wars in Angola and elsewhere, the Castro regime allowed thousands of Africans to emigrate to the island. Although I have no statistics, I suspect the size of the Afro-Cuban population was perhaps a bit larger than in 1960, compensating for the immigrants of my grandmother’s generation. On arrival to South Florida, these Cubans dealt with separate water fountains and major department stores refusing to allow black men and women to try on clothes. A city as stratified on racial lines as Miami reinforces received ideas about class and protest. At the height of the Elian Gonzalez embarrassment in spring 2000, callers to Cuban radio and, I regret to write, a few relatives reminded anyone within earshot that “unlike blacks” Cubans “don’t break their own store windows” when “we don’t get our way.”

I’m careful about the quotation marks because I want to preserve exactly what was said. Put aside the incoherence of comparing a group of overwhelmingly white emigrants (or exiles) who despite a grim half decade received, as part of their status as Cold War victims, sufficient largesse from the federal government to recover quickly and rise through power structures in a Jim Crow town fast enough to become three of the five indicted Watergate burglars and dominate presidential politics for a half century (and if you want explanations behind the rise and concomitant fall of Cuban and black Miamians, respectively, read Marvin Dunn’s seminal book). Blacks were what the Cuban exile professional class were not. As the Civil Rights Act destroyed the old order, this same class took the lower management jobs that would’ve gone to these newly enfranchised blacks: janitors, superintendents, store managers, expediters in hotel kitchens. When they leapt from promotion to promotion through their industry, good humor, and the support of the federal government, it’s all too easy to point to the people whose place in the county power structure you have inadvertently usurped and call them shiftless. Whiteness implies industry, thrift, bootstrap pulling. When you have digested this theory, congratulating yourself for color blindness is the next step.

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Pour your misery down on me: the best of Garbage

When Garbage debuted in 1995, listening was easy, making fun of them the second easiest. With members of two no name bands and a lead singer who played nominal keyboards in failed Buzz Bin act Silverfish, Garbage had all the looks of a vanity project by a drummer/producer with cash and money. Maybe this was true. The result was a year of increasingly successful singles and no breakthrough for Tricky, theoretically creating deeper trip hop. 1998’s Version 2.0 should’ve flopped; instead, it matched its predecessor’s sales and bettered it in every way: the lead singer, rummaging through several decades of female lead singer tropes, gained confidence; the hooks, processed through several thousand dollars of aural gewgaws, were more insistent. Version 2.0 remains my favorite album that year, the sharpest corner of a triptych of college radio-identified women (Polly Jean Harvey and Courtney Love) having fun with the stereotypes projected on them. The end finally came in 2001 when Beautiful Garbage came mousse-free. Fans had to wait until 2016’s Strange Little Birds, a killer return to form. The less they strained for originality, the stronger the material.

1. Only Happy When It Rains
2. Special
3. I Think I’m Paranoid
4. Stupid Girl
5. Push
6. As Heaven is Wide
7. Empty
8. Vow
9. Hammering in My Head
10. Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go)
11. The Trick is to Keep Breathing
12. Night Drive Loneliness
13. Why Do You Love Me
14. Queer
15. Magnetized

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Singles 10/6

Every few weeks around this joint a single rips the hinges off my little shelter like the whirring wonder of “Akanamali” did last weekend; it’s our second favorite single of 2017. It compensates for our staff’s having to mourn over American pop radio’s refusal to come near a track called “Disco Tits” no matter how splendid.

Click on links for full reviews.

Sun-EL Musician ft. Samthing Soweto – Akanamali (8)
Tove Lo – Disco Tits (7)
Jason Derulo – If I’m Lucky (6)
Jorja Smith x Preditah – On My Mind (6)
BTS – DNA (6)
Linkin Park – One More Light (6)
iLoveMakonnen ft. Rae Sremmurd – Love (5)
Megan McKenna – High Heeled Shoes (5)
Beck – Up All Night (5)
Garth Brooks – Ask Me How I Know (5)
Yandel ft. Wisin – Como Antes (4)
Niall Horan – Too Much to Ask (4)

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Repealing the Second Amendment? Yes.

When writing about guns, commentators appeal to credibility and emotion by alluding to their pasts. Even yours truly will and did. Hunter dad. Hunter cousins, whose kids adore hunting too; they all go to Central Florida every fall, an excuse to hang out more than to endure chiggers and humidity. Although I’ve fired a .22 several times, I don’t own a gun — too damn loud. Besides, I have no illusions about saving myself or family, and I’m in excellent shape. How much of a chance does the average overweight American stand? “Protecting my family” carries an implicit sexism too. Guns don’t kill people — people with guns kill people, accidentally or intentionally.

After Sandy Hook, Newtown, Aurora, and Pulse, I too supported compromises with the realities of the Second Amendment. Background checks. Locks. Banning assault rifles. It didn’t matter. Second Amendment fans, not all of whom conservatives, were correct: these measures wouldn’t have stopped the scale of the assault nor the intention. As proof that the gun debate crosses ideological barriers, I agreed with Bret Stephens, Wall Street journal refugee and climate science denier, and his NYT column calling for, get this, the repeal of the Second Amendment. He’s also had it with the compromises. On first reading I missed his point. He doesn’t call for the confiscation of guns nor criminalizing their use; he wants the stripping away of constitutional protections for owning them, in the same way that nothing in the Bill of Rights says that owning a car is a fundamental right. The point isn’t to prevent more Las Vegases and Newtowns; it’s to stop the quiet horrors that don’t make daily newspapers. Suicides. The drunk, infuriated husband shooting a wife or girlfriend. Children reaching for Grandma’s purse, finding a pistol, and shooting themselves. Stephens:

From a law-and-order standpoint, more guns means more murder. “States with higher rates of gun ownership had disproportionately large numbers of deaths from firearm-related homicides,” noted one exhaustive 2013 study in the American Journal of Public Health.

From a personal-safety standpoint, more guns means less safety. The F.B.I. counted a total of 268 “justifiable homicides” by private citizens involving firearms in 2015; that is, felons killed in the course of committing a felony. Yet that same year, there were 489 “unintentional firearms deaths” in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Between 77 and 141 of those killed were children.

From a national-security standpoint, the Amendment’s suggestion that a “well-regulated militia” is “necessary to the security of a free State,” is quaint. The Minutemen that will deter Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un are based in missile silos in Minot, N.D., not farmhouses in Lexington, Mass.

From a personal liberty standpoint, the idea that an armed citizenry is the ultimate check on the ambitions and encroachments of government power is curious. The Whiskey Rebellion of the 1790s, the New York draft riots of 1863, the coal miners’ rebellion of 1921, the Brink’s robbery of 1981 — does any serious conservative think of these as great moments in Second Amendment activism?

A sapient portion of Stephens’ essay concentrates on the ignorance of liberals. Few people I talk to on the anti-gun side know shit about guns whereas everyone on the pro-gun side, including my family, can distinguish semi-automatic from automatic weapons and can recite legislation and case law. This situation reminds me of what Robert La Follette used to tell Progressives at the turn of the century regarding tariffs: stop ceding knowledge to the other side; memorize their arguments; learn the boring facts. Yet at the moment every politician who wants Sensible Legislation outlawing bump stocks, this week’s bete noire, like an idiot on television.

I’m just as silly because it ain’t happening. I’m aware of legal precedents. But, yes, repeal the Second Amendment. We’ve repealed silly, dangerous amendments once already.

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