Strawberry Fields Forever - Nothing is real

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

We're in the future now...

I have always looked back at the most glorious episodes in American history wistfully, wondering why leaders of such character, why moments of such gravity must stay locked to the past. No longer.

Barack Hussein Obama is the President of the United States of America. A man, who in Aaron Sorkin's most fevered dreams would dismiss as too unrealistic, is in fact, the President of the United States of America. 80 years after Martin Luther King Jr. was born, and 200 years after the the birth of Abraham Lincoln - both of them heroes of mine, we inaugurated Barack Hussein Obama.

I keep on wanting to write this, to repeat this, in the hope that writing it one more time will cause the unreality of the moment to either dissipate or coalesce. That this would happen, and that it would happen because he was the best for the job, because he ran the best campaign I have witnessed for President, because he earned it - I don't know if I should cry or shout U.S.A.!, U.S.A.!

We aren't living Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream today, we're now living in that future that we always knew would come.. someday.

I'm so glad I'm alive to see this!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Yes we ARE

Yesterday was in balance a good day for this nation, and frankly, by extension this world.

True, it wasn't a perfect day - the cause of equality took a hit in my state of California, a convicted felon may yet be reelected by the citizens of the state of Alaska to name two imperfections - but in balance, it was good.

We finally are coming close to the day when President Bush and Vice President Cheney will skitter off into the dark shadows of history, but the messes they and their party created will be with us for a long time.

There's a lot of work to be done.

However, yesterday we moved beyond simply asserting that 'yes we can'.

We CAN do an awful lot. Most people CAN run a marathon. Most people CAN live better lives. Most people CAN achieve nearly anything they set their minds to.

Potential is one thing, but we have moved beyond mere potential.

We DID elect the first African American President of the United States. On January 20th, he WILL move into a house built with slave labor. This in itself is momentous.

But as I said, we have so much to do, but I contend, with this election, we ARE on the path.

Even with setbacks to equality like the likely passage of Proposition 8, it is hard not to be encouraged that it was only 8 years ago that a very similar measure passed by a whopping 20 point margin. Even taking into account that the turnout was significantly higher in this election, that's still a stunning shift in the population towards equality.

This doesn't take away the horrible realization that a majority of the voters have decided to nullify EXISTING marriages - to have a majority explicitly oppress a minority - but it does tell me that equality will win - it's just an issue of when.

Progress rarely happens in a straight line, as yesterday demonstrated, but it's also clear that progress IS happening.

"Yes we can" is morphing into "Yes We Are"

I'm so proud to be an American.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

Holding my breath hoping for Obama, the failure of CA Prop 8, and the necessary numbers in Congress in order to actually enact positive change.

Expect me to pass out from lack of oxygen before polls close in the West Coast. (thankfully I already voted)

Monday, May 19, 2008

Tryanny of the majority

I wrote a bit in the last post about the "tyranny of the majority". Of course, this was one of the principle concerns of the framers of the Constitution, and explains why much of the Constitution is by design anti-democratic (note the small 'd').

In 2004 I watched the Republican (note the big 'R') machine win on issues including attacking minorities - specifically homosexuals, and putting up initiatives across the states specifically designed to restrict the rights of homosexuals. There are cases where politics is the genuine disagreement between two sides wherein both sides have a valid point - this is not one of those. While I grant that there may be some minority within the homosexual population wherein their sexual orientation is a choice - and I suppose at gunpoint I could probably "decide" to override my own heterosexual identity, in the vast majority of cases, it is simply not a choice.

Frankly, even were it to be a choice, there is no reasonable argument for restricting the freedoms of those who are homosexual. Fundamentally the only reason this is an issue at all is because a segment of the population's private religious beliefs dictate it, and because others are personally uncomfortable with homosexuals. Republicans used these excuses in 2004, and I'm fed up with it. People used the same (or even flimsier) excuses against people with black skin (and sometimes still do). Realistically there will always be a segment of the population whose religious beliefs dictate these tendencies - and while it's their right to believe what they wish to, it is NOT their right to oppress others with them.

Even more so, for those who fundamentally are uncomfortable with those who are different, I have little to no sympathy nor patience anymore. I believe in plurality and tolerance, but I'm fed up with being tolerant of ignorance and childishness. (note: I am NOT comparing religious beliefs to ignorance and childishness, these are two separate groups of people I am referring to)

I have a friend who I am in contact with at times (and I don't name names here because I feel it is fundamentally unfair to reveal persons identities and beliefs/etc to the world that don't choose to do so themselves) and I had a "conversation" with him last night. I found out that somehow he believes that Barack Obama is somehow a secret Muslim, but also a follower of a radical White-hating Christian. Don't ask me how that is possible to hold both of those beliefs, I tried to suss it out of him, and it didn't work. He then tried to explain a bunch of incoherent ramblings about illegal immigrants and how Obama would take away all rights. I tried to explain how Obama is a former constitutional law professor, and actually knows the Constitution and rattled off how many rights have been eviscerated or outright lost under this administration. Then he started shouting racial slurs, and at that point I realized it was pointless to continue the call - I simply hung up. The guy is not evil, but he is fundamentally uncomfortable with the idea of a "black president". That's his right, and it's my right to stop trying to win him over and work like crazy to elect Obama president and force him to confront his childish fears.

(for the record, I did NOT want to engage in any sort of political discussion, I had called to see how he was and how his children are)

Just as there are wackos on the left that don't listen to reason, there are wackos everywhere who don't listen to reason, and I just don't have the energy to try to convince those who are simply looking for excuses to justify their prejudices. Sometimes a society progresses by quiet persuasion over many years, and sometimes it has to be forced upon those who are fundamentally scared of people who are different. I thank the California Supreme Court (and earlier the State Legislature who passed a bill doing the same twice earlier) for having the courage to try to force the issue.

I thank Barack Obama and his supporters for having the courage to try to force another issue - that a "black president" is not something to be feared - especially when he has the potential to be a great president.

I didn't vote for Obama because he has dark skin; I voted for him because I felt he could be a great President. However, after that conversation, I am glad I did additionally because my friends' children will have a shot of moving beyond the prejudices of their father.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

All you need is love?

This last week the Supreme Court of California (indirectly) took a step forward at erasing one of the last second-class citizen groups left in society by ruling that California must recognize so-called "gay marriage" if they are to recognize marriage at all. It should come as no surprise at all that I am very much in favor of this ruling.

I do recognize the argument that the voters themselves voted less than 8 years ago and resoundingly voted to deny marriage rights to homosexuals, and that this is seen by many as social engineering by the judiciary. Frankly, I don't care about either. This was also the way that schools were desegregated, among a slew of the other social progresses occurred over the last century or so. On the topic of the voters, I am very much a democrat (in this case note the small d), but I am also a big believer in the ideas and ideals behind the federal Constitution. One of its guiding principles was that to protect the minority from the "tyranny of the majority." In this case, the majority would deny rights to a minority - rights that really do not impact much, if at all on the majority. It's pretty clear that "gay marriage" in Massachusetts hasn't exactly destroyed all "heterosexual marriages" since its inception, nor is there any reason to believe it will.

However, this is a bit more personal to me than simply abstract ideas about extending freedom to minority groups. I remember a time, several years ago when I was talking to a good friend, and I commented to him that I thought he could be a good father someday. A few weeks later, he confided in me that my comments had stuck with him because he was coming to terms with his own sexual orientation, and that he was in fact gay.

At that moment a slew of thoughts dawned on me. First of all, I was touched that he would feel that he would be able to tell me this. Second of all, I was somewhat relieved to realize that I did not have a childish negative reaction - that he was still the same friend he was before regardless of his sexual orientation. Third of all, I realized how my comments must have stung a bit. He was admitting to himself that he was a member of a minority, a minority that in society had no hope of ever achieving the relatively simple goal of having a family - of getting married and having children. I have to admit, I felt really bad about what I had said earlier even if I meant it to be a positive comment when I said it.

There's still a long way to go, but it greatly encourages me today that my friend, and everyone who shares his sexual orientation may be one step closer to being able to have the opportunity to live out the dreams and aspirations that we all have.

In 1776 Thomas Jefferson wrote in our founding document: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness"

I think we are one step closer to this goal. This was a good week for California.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Is hope audacious?

I've had several thoughts percolating around my head as I've watched the Democratic primary process unfold.

I suppose for most of the time, I had leaned towards supporting Senator Obama, but I had my doubts. Specifically, I wasn't clear on if he could be an effective President or even run an effective campaign. Lately, my doubts are growing dimmer and dimmer.

This lessening of doubt is caused by more than just being caught up in Obama-mania. Clearly the man has an element of a cultural phenomenon, and it really wouldn't surprise me if that very fact is reason why there is some resistance to his candidacy. Indeed, I have friends, who I imagine would gladly support Obama if it weren't for this near messianic image the media and many of Obama's supporters hold for Obama. In a way, I understand this reasoning. This support is ephemeral, promises nothing concrete, and ultimately not enough to really lessen either of my doubts.

On policy points, he also doesn't completely win me over. Indeed, I think I prefer Clinton's general approach to health care reform over Obama's more cautious approach. I think Obama's is smarter for a general election since it isn't mandates based for adults, but that difference will have an impact in actual policy. I do appreciate that he was against the Iraq invasion from the start, and I do think it speaks to his judgment greatly, but even that isn't enough since I don't really count Clinton's vote against her given the circumstances.

The guy is probably the best speaker we've had as serious challenger for the President since JFK, but even then - that's not enough. Though I have to admit, it is an awe-inspiring experience to watch him on the stump. Given his background, given his rhetoric, given his standards, he almost feels like an Aaron Sorkin protagonist come to life - although I think even Aaron Sorkin would find such a perfect combination to be a bit contrived. Again, I need a President to do more than simply speak well. Reagan could speak well too (though not AS good).

I think what it comes down to, is that he may be The Real Deal. For a long time, I've been waiting for someone to figure out how to break through the barriers keeping back progress in the U.S. since the civil rights era ended in the mid 1960s.

President Carter tried, and while I think he's an amazing human being, ultimately was ineffective as a commander in chief.

President Clinton was able to hold back the tide a bit, and given the environment in the 1990s, that was no easy feat. He helped though, and really, a turn back to those years wouldn't be the worst possible thing.

The problem is though that both were ultimately stymied and defeated from making real progress by the conventions of our political realities.

Carter didn't understand the nature of power in Washington and the realities of how hard it is to rally a nation to your side to do the difficult things necessary to enact real progress.

Clinton didn't really try very hard for big change after being so horrifically defeated by the Health Care reform attempt and then the Republicans ascending into power in Congress in 1994.

Despite my background in Political Science, which tries to to tell me that nothing ever changes, I don't believe that must be true. Change can and does happen throughout history, but it usually requires ignoring or rewriting the rules.

Before 2000, I watched a good friend attempt to put together a long-shot attempt to encourage a little-known Senator for Minnesota to run for President who actually knew something about defeating the system's long odds - Paul Wellstone.

He was a short, pugnacious, incredibly earnest Senator elected twice despite some incredible odds. When his opponents blanketed him with millions of dollars of negative ads accusing him of being "embarrassingly liberal", Senator Wellstone adopted that very phrase as a campaign slogan. He combated the entrenched interests attempting to defeat him with a grass-roots organization that worked door to door to defeat the odds. He changed the rules - and he won. He fought for the issues that almost no one else had the courage to do and though he was only one voice in the Senate, it was a beacon of hope.

Ultimately, he didn't run for President in 2000, and horribly, he died shortly before election night in 2002 in a plane accident.

However, the movement started that tried to get him to run, the movement that desired a candidate, a message, a power that was truly of the people, didn't die. In 2003, after courageously standing against the Bush administration's march to war when everyone else in the Democratic party was terrified to speak up, Howard Dean quickly found the people flocking to him. His courage was soon met with the then nascent net-roots, and suddenly he didn't need to worry about corporate donations - he had the people to donate. He had the people to be his army, to carry his message.

Unfortunately, either the candidate wasn't the correct one or the time wasn't quite right - for whatever actual reason (and no, it wasn't "the scream"), he didn't make it in 2004. (though on a side note, I really do appreciate the work he has done as the DNC chair - indeed, I'm REALLY glad he's there now)

However, now 4 years later we see the newest, and purest manifestation of this force in Barack Obama. Unlike Howard Dean though, there seems to be a real method here. While his detractors may minimize Obama's experience - it is exactly his experience that is now in my view his greatest factor erasing my doubt. His experience is that of a community organizer. In this new political reality being formed, that is EXACTLY the experience, and frame of mind needed. It is also exactly a perfect marriage with this new force in politics that has been forming.

His campaign is radically decentralized. His support is broad and fervent and built from the ground and then up. Everyone involved is personally invested. His donors are small, and insanely numerous. That makes him far more robust going into a general election.

Republicans since the 1970s have been perfecting a cynical variation of grass-roots supporting wherein a few people are able to generate support for a narrow set of issues by tapping into mailing lists, and more recent talk radio and other outlets and think tanks that they have developed. The liberals have had no such apparatus realistically.

Maybe we don't even need it now.

The community organizing background showed Obama how to enact change by flooding the avenues of power with the sheer force of numbers of energy. This is our antidote. It is also why he could be far more effective at both winning the election and effecting the change we so badly need.

Clinton was defeated with this machine in 1994 during the Health Care debate, and Kerry was slaughtered by it in 2004. However, now we may have an army ready to respond door to door, person to person. That's even more powerful than "Harry and Louise" to hear it from an actual neighbor. The entrenched powers are strong, but I don't believe they can hold up against a grass-roots organization of concerned, impassioned citizens numbering in the tens of millions.

It's important to realize, we already see evidence of this in his very campaign. The turnout he has been getting is nothing short of shocking. The crowded arenas, the volunteers, the increasing coalitions he is winning with, the independent and Republican support, the youth vote, the disaffected voters being pulled into the process, the over 400,000 donors - it's all concrete evidence that Barack Obama may really be The Real Deal finally. Obama has the best shot at harnessing this to truly effect the change we need because he understands it best from his experience.

Is this still a gamble? Of course it is... but I don't think it's a bad one at all.

I still like Senator Clinton, and I still believe she can be a good President, but I'm really starting to think that a President Obama may be the true game-changing agent of true progress that I have hoped for as long as I have cared about what happens to my nation.

It has hurt like crazy to see what damage has been inflicted upon this nation by the current administration, and turning back the worst of the damage would be good - but moving past the rules of the game that allowed for it, to push beyond the fear and division - that would be the start of justice.

I still think Clinton has the edge in this race, and I will support her gladly, but I really am hoping for Obama to win it. It's finally time to dare to hope again.

Oh yeah, to answer the blog title - no, I don't think it is particularly audacious - it's logical.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Limitless undying love which shines around me like a million suns...

I don't have too much to say in this blog, except to say the recent transmission of "Across The Universe" to Polaris is beyond any realm of the word awesome.

I remember watching an early episode of the X-Files in which a Senator character talks about the music on the gold record included on the Voyager (or V-ger depending on how hard-core a Star Trek fan you are) spacecraft - including the piece by Bach and how creepy it was to hear that same music played back on speakers "magically" when an apparent UFO visit befell Agent Mulder later in the same episode. Imagine how much more calming it would be if it were instead the calming sound of John Lennon singing "nothing's gonna change my world".

Come to think of it, aren't we just challenging any potential hostile aliens to prove us wrong by boasting so proudly that nothing is going to change our world?

I'd also like to know what exact version of the song is being broadcast (I couldn't find out in any of the press releases I have read, but I would *GUESS* the orchestrated version from the Let it Be LP is the most likely candidate). I also find it odd they would call it the 40th anniversary of the song (which is true, it was recorded exactly 40 years ago), while it wasn't released in any form until 1969.

Anyway, these questions and legitimate concerns of tempting any potential future alien overlords with overconfidence, this is still supremely cool.

Oh yeah, occasionally, I cite a source.

Update: Apparently they used the so-called "Wildlife" version of Across The Universe over the more common version from the "Let it Be" LP. It's the one with the "Apple Scruffs" backing vocal somewhat audible and the entire thing sped up a bit.

Still, this no way diminishes how cool it all is.

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It's been a long, long, long time...

Well, since apparently I am posting again, I should probably do a quick recap of the last half a year or so in the oh-so music/film world.

In Rainbows - Radiohead

Radiohead is not an easy band to like which is part of why their strong following is frankly puzzling to me. They record challenging music (well, at least they have since OK Computer), yet they remain popular. This album no doubt was helped by a brilliant stunt by the band in their famous decision to release it online at a "name your price"-point that could literally be 0 dollars (or pounds). It was a gutsy decision in way, though I suppose given how insanely unpopular the major recording labels (and the RIAA) are, it probably wasn't THAT gutsy. Anyway, it's good that they apparently made a mint on the plan - even I paid (more than I thought I was) for the digital download - which WAS good old mp3 (though unfortunately encoded at an inadequate 160kbit/sec, but that's another story). Indeed, most likely they made more just in that digital download than they would have possibly made by "properly" releasing their record through a major label. (ironically, EMI records, their former company was the first of the major labels to adopt DRM-free policies, but again, that's another story) However, despite how good it was that this stunt worked, it's even better that the album itself is really good. It's not as catchy and anthemic as The Bends, nor is it as complicated, obtuse, and overall challenging as Kid-A (and I consider those 2 albums their best) - but it's actually probably not far behind either. The album has been analyzed by countless critics - the bottom line is I like a great deal of the songs on it and I find it in heavy rotation. Had Memory Almost Full and Sky Blue Sky also not been out last year, In Rainbows would likely have been my favorite. (or it that favourite?)

Grade: B+

I do film reviews on occasion, but there are too many backlogged ones, so I will be brief(er)

Judd Apatow's films continue to be wonderful. Superbad and Knocked Up are wildly different comedies, but both equally great. Even Walk Hard, while not quite living up to the sheer level of genius of The Rutles, was a good deal of fun.

Ratatouille continued Pixar's streak of thus far not having released an even mediocre film. It may not be the studio's best film (which I would argue is a 3-way tie between Toy Story 2, Finding Nemo and The Incredibles), but really this may not have been far off.

The Darjeeling Limited continued Wes Anderson's even more incredible record than Pixar. It isn't Rushmore, but it's another addition to that man's wonderful cinematic world.

Also, let me just say that Juno is worthy of the hype - it's worth checking out.

I may be forgetting a film or two, but those are the ones from last year that I really enjoyed.

In terms of television, The Colbert Report and The Daily Show continue to be excellent even with the Writer's Strike, which I hope either ends soon, or I hope that the studios themselves end.

The Office (US) continues to be a series that's extremely worthy of its pedigree. (frankly, I think it's FUNNIER than the UK original - though that series had a lot more pathos)

And the series I had my doubts about originally, Battlestar Galactica continues to amaze me. Given his history on Star Trek The Next Generation, Star Trek Deep Space Nine, and now Battlestar Galactica, at this point I think Ron Moore can do no wrong (much like how I feel about Pixar and Wes Anderson for that matter).

Well, that should pretty much catch me up on those fronts.

And again, if you live in the 22 states voting on Tuesday (and are eligible) remember to vote!

Friday, February 01, 2008

Everybody's talking and no one says a word...

Well, here we are once again - at (or near) the start of a new year, and at the eve (at least in the State of California) of yet another Presidential election season. The New York and LA Times have had their say on who they prefer. Senators galore, elder statesmen and stateswomen, as well as Oprah have had their say. Now, it's time for the endorsement that truly matters - the publisher of a primarily Beatles-themed blog that gets an average of .01 readers per day: me.
I have only been able to vote in 2 different Presidential elections (I missed the age cut-off by a cruel 3 months in 1996). However, this may be the first time in a primary in which my vote is both not primarily or even largely defined by a desire to stop a particular candidate I don't like, or as in the case of 2004, largely symbolic. (a sample size of two is excellent to draw historical conclusions after all)
Really, this year the dilemma for a registered Democrat is that we have two excellent candidates, each with the full capacity to be an excellent President - not simply better than the current President, and having two viable choices is rough in that we have to choose.
Hillary Clinton is smart, shows deep understanding of the issues and more importantly a deep understanding of how to govern effectively - I have no doubt that she would be an excellent President.
However, I am not planning on voting for her on Tuesday. I plan to vote for Barrack Obama. He too shows a deep understanding for the issues, but demonstrates a strong possibility for a transformative leadership that can reshape our nation for the better. The word change is bandied around so much right now by every candidate, including Obama, that the word has largely lost its meaning. Change is one thing. George W. Bush represented change as well. Indeed, this nation has been on a radically different track since he took office. Change is a neutral word implying simply a difference. We don't need change, we need to move forward. When I look at Hillary Clinton I see a person who can reign back the excesses of the Bush administration and put us back on the track that her husband led us on. Fundamentally that makes her conservative (in the dictionary definition) in my book. When I look at Barack Obama, I don't see an agent of change, but rather the potential for actual progress. The analogies comparing him to JFK are not unfounded. There were doubts about both men's experience to lead, and there was an undeniable charisma to both men. JFK was hardly a perfect President, and in reality history may never be able to look upon his record in a real manner due to his assassination - but what IS clear was he was a visionary that could dare this nation to dream great dreams and then achieve them. I see this potential with Barack Obama.
Already Obama has been quietly working to diffuse the horrible violence in his father's homeland of Kenya (while in the middle of campaigning mind you!). Already Obama has shown courage and leadership on difficult issues such as his stand on the War in Iraq, and a clearer stand in ethics and campaign reform. Let me be clear, while the pressure was no where near what it was on sitting Senators in the U.S. Congress to vote for the war, it was still a courageous position for him to take back in 2002. He also demonstrated frankly better judgment than my own. At the start of the war, I was on the fence because I held out some degree of hope that maybe despite really flimsy pretenses, that we could do good for the Iraqi people. I misjudged the abject wretchedness of the Bush administration, yet Obama did not.
That said, Barack is not without his flaws. While clearly his words were twisted during the interview in which he supposedly praised Republican policies and ideas (he in fact claimed that Reagan was a transformative leader, and that Republicans have been a party of ideas - neither claim actually meaning he thinks either are good), he clearly at the very least, chose his words poorly. I also despise the nastiness that both his and Clintons' campaign have resorted to at times - though I must admit that overall it has not gone beyond the pale, and in the end, I'm very glad to see that Obama CAN survive the firestorm - he will need to in the general election.
I need to once again reiterate, I really do like both candidates, and I think either would be an excellent President. What really surprises and even shocks me is that there are DEMOCRATS who actively dislike one or the other and will refuse to support the other. The level of vitriol may not equal the Republican vitriol between supporters of their various candidates, but it is still undue. I would rather not have another Clinton in the White House for no other reason than it would mean at the least 32 years straight of a Bush or Clinton being President or Vice President - but that's not enough of a reason not to vote for Clinton. I also get that Obama may actually get knocked for the hype and praise on his campaign by the so-called media. Once again, I could care less.
In the end, especially in a primary, one should simply vote for the person they most want to be President. Strategic voting, concerns over electability, anything else is in my view rather silly. As a person who has a degree in Political Science, I am pretty well convinced that there is little if any science in Politics. It may be necessary to become pragmatic in a general election since the choices are locked, but in a primary no such compromises are necessary. In the end, if people vote for someone, then he or she is electable.
Anyway, in the end, I plan to vote for Barack Obama. If you too have the privilege of voting on this upcoming Tuesday or another day, I do recommend you do your research. Read up on him and Hillary Clinton - even read up on the Republicans. You should watch the debates, view speeches, and on your election day, vote for the person you most want to the President of the United States. I know I will be proudly doing so this Tuesday when I vote for Barack Obama.

Does this post mean more will follow? It may.

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Monday, June 04, 2007

I am an American aquarium drinker...

Memory Almost Full may be the album I was most looking forward to this year, it wasn't the only one. Thanks to my friend Matteen - Wilco has been on my radar (or is it sonar) for the last several years. He first introduced me to (likely) their most well known album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot - which was likely a mistake. Don't get me wrong, it's a good album - and certainly a lot more interesting and adventurous than most albums of their contemporaries or even a lot of the bands I truly love - but it's not really the album I would try to introduce Wilco with. For that purpose, I would likely go with Being There or (my favorite album of theirs) Summerteeth. Yankee though has more than its share of incredible moments - especially the aching beauty of "Radio Cure".
While I may have a few small "Reservations" (yeah, the pun is intended) about the LP, the film made of the making of the album is really quite remarkable. Of course, I'm referring to "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart", and I highly recommend it for anyone who either already likes Wilco, or thinks they might want to give them a try. If you're in the former camp and (somehow) haven't seen the film yet - do so. You will like it. It's very much like watching "Let It Be" for me, but with a happier ending, and with a band that I don't quite care as much about. However, much like "Let It Be", on a musical front one is treated to alternate arrangements that usually are inferior to the final incarnations, but are always fascinating and frankly rather good on their own. For the uninitiated to Wilco, you get (rather great) live versions of their earlier works intercut throughout the film showing the band capable of "rocking out" a lot more than their records normally suggest.
However, while "Let it Be" showed a band struggling to be a band, and falling apart at the collective weight of their expectations, ambivilance and individual egos - this film is more about a struggle for a band to stay true to itself despite the overwhelming pressures of an increasingly corporatized record business, health issues for their band-leader Tweedy, and a few ego clashes. (which were shown amazingly even-handedly even though the aftermath of the album was the firing of one of the two involved in the clashes) However, much like "Let It Be", there is some really wonderful music involved in it all. There's no rooftop concert, but at the end of the this film, you know the band has won in its struggle, has released their "biggest" album up to that point, and will do quite well.

Grade for "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart" - B+

(Yankee Hotel Foxtrot would probably be a B)

Now, since I referenced this at the start, I should also talk about Wilco's new album, "Sky Blue Sky" which came out recently. I'm not entirely sure what to make of this - except that I know I like the album. From the standpoint of analysis, I am not sure if they are retreating to the safer sounds of their earlier albums like U2 did with "All That You Can't Leave Behind", or if they are boldly turning a new step forward like the Rolling Stones with "Beggar's Banquet", Dylan's "John Wesley Harding" or even the Beatles' self-titled double album. Maybe in the end, all of these "retreats" towards earlier sounds are the same, and its one's own opinion of the result which colors whether we see the moves as bold or weak. In this case though, I see the move as neither.
Unless the band wanted to try to push the boundaries of popular music like Radiohead did with "Kid-A", or try for an entirely different genre, it wasn't clear where Wilco could go from "A Ghost Is Born". Instead, in terms of sound and lyrics, it seems like the bizarre offspring of "Being There" and "A Ghost Is Born" - the lyrics are almost as obtuse and ambiguous as "A Ghost Is Born", but the sound is far more organic. Also, the guitar work on several songs really is wonderful. "On And On And On" is a truly beautiful song about a son comforting his widowed father, and most of the rest of the album is good as well - but nothing else matches that emotional impact. Only "Shake It Off" really begs to be skipped.
Much like "Memory Almost Full", I have listened to this album more than enough times to feel confident in my view that the album is very good, and had "Memory Almost Full" not been in this year's releases, may have been a contender this year.

Grade: B+

Sunday, June 03, 2007

And in the end of the end...?

I honestly didn't expect 2 years after hearing Chaos and Creation in the Backyard to hear another new LP from Sir Paul. What can I say? Sometimes I really like being surprised.

Given that just about everyone has heard (and reviewed) this album even though it isn't out until this Tuesday, I will simply add my voice to the collective chorus - Paul McCartney may have lost his gift... of making frustratingly uneven albums filled with incredible melodies but truly wretched lyrics. This album marks one decade of him releasing truly great albums that I love without reservation.
I know Dylan has the recognition today for being the reformed 60s master who once again is releasing material as good as anything in his career - but really, Paul deserves the same recognition. True, as much as I love Flaming Pie (1997), Run Devil Run (1999), Driving Rain (2001), Chaos And Creation in the Backyard (2005), and now Memory Almost Full (2007) - I'll be the first to say his work with the Beatles was still superior. However, compare those 5 albums to ANY other period in his solo career, and there's no contest.
Ironically, this decade of album making has probably been his worst in terms of album sales (though I can't say that with certainty) - but he no longer seems to care all that much. His efforts from the late 70s (ie: Back To The Egg) or early to mid-80s clearly try to latch onto the latest musical fads in order to keep himself in the so-called mainstream of musical culture. After that, from Flowers In The Dirt through Off The Ground he seems to be going through the motions of trying to sound like a former Beatle. Note: I happen to love a LOT of the music created in this era, but it really sounds to me like him trying to conform to what he thinks others want him to be.
True, Flaming Pie is also quite consciously an album that celebrates his Beatles roots - yet, the album has a real feeling of joy and silliness that was largely missing on his earlier works. I really get the feeling that he is recording the album for himself, and anyone else who happens to like what he likes. At the very least, I really hope he didn't record "Really Love You" with the hope that a song with the lyric "I need you heart baby, hopping on a plate" was going to burn up the billboard charts.
Of course, Flaming Pie also had another factor which significantly distinguished it from his earlier works - a real sense of pain. Listen to "Somedays" and try not to hear his fear for losing Linda to cancer. Sometimes great art comes from chaos and pain - "Hey Jude" was written to comfort a 5-year old Julian Lennon whose parents were divorcing, and up until "Flaming Pie", Paul seemed to be living an awfully good life.
Run Devil Run was recorded in the aftermath of Linda's death - and if anyone listens to his incredible cover of "No Other Baby" you can hear how much he misses her. As much as I love his earlier solo efforts, rarely did he ever pull off that kind of emotion convincingly.
In 2001, he released Driving Rain, which wasn't as good as Flaming Pie (which I consider the high-water mark of his post-Beatles work), but the raw emotion is still there. "Lonely Road" and "Heather" especially show his still raw pain at the loss of Linda, and the excitement of his (then) new love.
Chaos and Creation In the Backyard continued these trends and he released probably the moodiest album of his catalog. The man who recorded "Silly Love Songs" could now pull off a song like "Riding To Vanity Fair"! The album grows on one a lot, but I couldn't help but feel a little bit like the album was heavily influenced by its producer who told Paul how he (Paul) should sound like. Paul's rockier, and sillier tendencies were very much in check, for better or worse.
What precedes just brings me to up to the new album, Memory Almost Full. Technically about half of the album pre-dates Chaos and Creation, but much like Beck's The Information (which mostly predated Geuro, yet was released afterwards), I can't figure out why on Earth Paul shelved the project in favor of Chaos and Creation. I love Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, but as I said above, it doesn't really feel like a full-fledged Paul McCartney album - for better or worse, Memory Almost Full does.

Silliness? Check
Attempt to recapture his Abbey Road medley mojo? Check
An attempt at at least one loud rocker? Check
At least one song extolling him not caring what anyone else says about himself? Check

This may sound like a recipe for disaster, but really, it's glorious. With only 2 exceptions, this album is magnificent. (the two being "You Tell Me" and "Gratitude" - both tracks can be skipped) His silliness is mostly related to the opening track (which should have NEVER been a single) which is basically a mood-setter for the album with simple lyrics and whistling. As an opening cut - it's wonderful.
"Ever Present Past" is much more logical as a single - with some downright interesting lyrics. (when did Paul get good at lyrics!?!?)
"See Your Sunshine" has a beautiful melody, some trademark Paul bass work, and ultimately a really sweet song for his young daughter.
Of course, the album really doesn't come alive until track 4, where "Only Mama Knows" kicks in. By that I mean it really kicks in. After a false orchestral opening the track comes roaring in with some of the most determined guitar tracks that Paul has EVER put on record. There's an anger to his vocal, and a great deal of ambiguity to what the lyrics mean (is he really angry at Linda for leaving him alive after she died??) - but man if this isn't an incredible song. The idea that Paul should avoid trying to write hard rock songs in his 60s is insane. As long as he can pull songs like this off, he should do whatever on Earth he pleases.
Of course, "You Tell Me" kicks in and is the first clunker on the album. Thankfully there are few clunkers.
Next up is the truly silly "Mr. Belamy" - and what glorious silliness it is. This is another one of the ideas that clearly wouldn't have made it past the producer on Chaos and Creation, but the idea of writing a song about a cat stuck up a tree - from the perspective of the cat somehow really works. It's quirky, with odd instrumental flourishes, but somehow Paul can manage it without it ending up being a joke on him. In a way, this song feels like a sequel to his song "Back on my Feet" - the song about an old curmudgeon who knows he will die alone and doesn't really care because he lives life on his own terms. In this case the cat is steadfast in his desire to be alone and work on his plans and doesn't need anyone else. (As some in comments have pointed out - Paul has denied that this song is in fact about a cat - despite that it's hard to heard the song any other way for me)
"Gratitude" is another song best skipped - it's not really bad, but not as good as what precedes it or what follows.
Next up is the song-cycle. It's not really a medley, since the songs basically just have no breaks between them. Saying this is a medley is like saying that The Beatles (aka "The White Album") is a medley. Of course, most of the songs are on a common theme - a rough story of Paul's life. He starts off with a spirited defense of his age - and again I can see the idea of comparing himself to old clothing being rejected on Chaos - and it's too bad. The song has a great drive to it, and a real wit to the lyrics that was largely missing from Chaos.
Then there's "That Was Me" - which starts off as a nice recap of his life with oblique references to his youth and times with the Beatles - but gets interesting in the later half when he starts screaming the lyrics ala "Oh! Darling". He's nearly 65, and his voice can still manage that!
Next up is "Feet in the Clouds" another nice song about fighting the conventions and expectations - another defense of himself. It wouldn't work all that well, except for how he somehow twists the song with an odd twist on a Brian Wilson-esque harmony with himself singing through a vocoder playing against himself. It sounds really wonderful and saves the song entirely.
Then there's "House of Wax", which truth be told, I like less than most who review the album. The song is good, the lyrics interesting, and the guitar work is inspired, but it doesn't really feel like it fits in the so-called medley. It's good - but in my view not the highlight of the album.
Then there's "The End of the End". Here's another song with Paul explicitly talking about his mortality - and him audaciously trying comparing himself to his own song "The End" with one of his most famous lyrics - "and in the end, the love you make is equal to the love you take". Scarily, this new song holds up even with such expectations. This song is truly beautiful.
To cap out the album there's "Nod Your Head" - a very silly false ending to the album. I must agree that there should be a bit of a silence gap between "End of the End" and this, but I rather like this silly bit of noise. The lyrics are extremely silly, and appropriate for once.

Anyway, overall, this album doesn't quite unseat "Flaming Pie" from my position as favorite solo album by Paul, but it's a good competition. I can't imagine any other album coming out this year being this good - and yes, I will be picking up the deluxe edition on Tuesday. I want Paul to keep on making albums that remind us that the genius that was one-half of the greatest song-writing pair in history is still alive and well.

Grade: A

(note: I've listened to the album a few dozen times at this point, so I feel pretty secure in my evaluation at this point)