Culture, Music

RIP John Prine – See You In Heaven Or Wherever

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I cut my folky teeth singing John Prine songs in bars in Terre Haute, Indiana. I think we knew every song on his first album – the guy had a song for every occasion.

We still sing them around campfires. Here’s a few faves:

Prine planned ahead – here’s his ode to the afterlife – see you there, John!

When I Get To Heaven

Obituary – Rolling Stone

Culture, Music, Video

Godspell – Jesus for Hippies

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Get ready! 2021 marks 50 years of Godspell!

Godspell casts an ethereal Jesus and his all-too-human, multi-gendered disciples as a band of urban hippies.

If you think Christianity has nothing to offer, give Hippie Jesus 103 minutes of your time. Or listen to this playlist of the songs taken from the movies to get the flavor.

Songs from Godspell

It may not save your soul – but it actually gives a glimpse of what Jesus might look like in our world.

The musical is structured as a series of parables from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Eminently singable folk-rock tunes punctuates the teachings and ultimately the trial and death of Jesus – Day By Day was a top-20 hit.

Godspell was composed by Stephen Schwartz with the book by John-Michael Tebelak. The show opened Off-Broadway in 1971, and has since been produced by multiple touring companies and in many revivals.

The musical began as a project by drama students at Carnegie Mellon University and then moved to the Off-Off-Broadway theater La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club in the East Village of Manhattan. The show was then rescored for an Off-Broadway production, which became a long-running success. 

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Culture, Music

Bitches Brew – 50 Years On

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I’ve never cared for the word “bitch.” When I was young, it got used on sports fields to suggest that someone was not being enough of a man (a challenging task at age 15).

Later it became a popular hip-hop epithet that made many great songs unplayable at parties.

Then again, in a parallel universe – it was the first word of one of Miles Davis’s greatest albums.

April 2020 marks fifty years since the release of Bitches Brew, which launched the most experimentally creative portion of Miles’ long career. Jazz fusion greats such as Wayne Shorter, John McLaughlin, Joe Zawinul, and Billy Cobham guested on the double-vinyl set.

For fans of 1970s funk, Bitches Brew is perhaps the seminal work.

Here’s the full album plus a review from the Guardian:

Full Album

Guardian Review

Culture, Music, Video

Heilung – Intriguing and a Bit Disturbing

Heilung

Image: Wikimedia Commons

What do you do when music is intriguing, but the message and imagery are somewhat repulsive? When the visuals are fascinating, but you come away a bit queasy?

No, I’m not talking gangsta rap, although the same issue has occasionally been known to arise (cf Cardi B, my current favorite vocalist…)

I recently watched some videos by a unique ensemble from Northern Europe – Heilung. The band re-imagines prehistoric music, along with a heaping helping of Wagner-cum-Las Vegas grandiosity.

Click here for a compilation video

I was intrigued and amused (not that their videos and music betray the slightest humor or irony).

But after a while it got disturbing.

Stone-Age Techno?

The band re-visions what Stone and Bronze Age musical/ritual performances might have sounded and looked like. Using only materials that would have been available to our ancestors (along with microphones, pickups, etc), they “amplify” sounds from long ago.

Apparently our beloved forebears were into drony voices, slapping bones together, and pounding on anything else they came across. No one “plays” anything – the verb “to play” in all of its senses would be utterly out of place at a Heilung show.

The mix is undeniably engaging, and pushes “trance” music into a new zone – kinda like stone-age down-tempo house. I predict every Pagan band will soon have a veiled female vocalist wailing and banging bones together.

When the vocalists get going in polyrhythmic interplay, all the while pounding on big frame drums, the energy is incredible.

Militarism and Misogyny?

Yet I came away disturbed at an overall tone and imagery that ooze militarism and misogyny without any sense of implicit critique or even awareness.

The band disclaims any political intent or message. But when your performance mimics Wagnerian imagery last idolized by fascists, and you end the night with a bunch of spear-bearing warriors “dancing” around the stage – you might want to make just a mite bit clearer where your true sympathies lie.

Click here for the big spear-waving ending

The on-stage visuals are striking, and their videographer does a great job with angles and close-ups. There’s much pounding, yelling, and pulling of harsh faces.

The male voices are distant ancestors of today’s death-metal guttural groaners, and take their jobs very seriously. The one female vocalist is veiled and unmoving, as if stoically holding all of the pain and mourning of the male ensemble.

Imagery and Messaging

The band would surely deny any connection to fascism or intent to appeal to such elements. Here’s their wikipedia blurb, probably written by their agent:

“Heilung is an experimental folk band made up of members from Denmark, Norway and Germany. Their music is based on texts and runic inscriptions from Germanic peoples of the Bronze Age, Iron Age and Viking Age. Heilung describe their music as “amplified history from early medieval northern Europe”. Their music is usually about Norse deities, jǫtnar, and valkyries. ‘Heilung’ is a German word meaning “healing” in English.”

To pick a nit – last I heard, no scholar believes that runes can be read, pronounced, or that we have access to any ancient tradition of meaning. Modern runic divination is based on intuitive interpretation – well and good, but a flimsy basis for reconstructing lost languages and cultures.

To pick a further nit – is it my imagination, or does the band’s name carry a distinct echo of the salutation used by an infamous political movement of the last century when addressing their Great Leader?

Just askin’.

Male Aggressiveness and Female Passivity

At a broader level, this “reconstruction” of ancestral music and ritual suggests unremitting male aggressiveness accompanied by blindfolded, immobile women.

You can see where someone might read a bit of violence and misogyny into this.

Clearly the manufacturers of Hellblade, a poorly-animated adventure/fight videogame built around incessant threats to the physical well-being of a young woman, felt that the music was a perfect fit for their franchise.

Forget Them?

Is Heilung hopeless? Hard to say. The music is intriguing. Maybe what we’re seeing is just a warm-up for an extended Las Vegas run.

Whatever their goal, they are promoting dangerously ambiguous cultural imagery with no evident awareness of its history or implications.

At the least, I’d like to see some hint that Heilung is aware that our forebears had a sense of humor, that they interacted in ways other than growling and pounding, and that the goal of their rituals might not invariably have been to empower warriors.

Just a suggestion. Give them a look/listen.

Click here for a compilation video

Messianic Addendum

The lead singer apparently has a bit of a messiah complex – he reports that the band’s performances have resulted in numerous miraculous healings!

Messiah Complex Video

Sorry to laugh, folks, but this is a bit distasteful. Music can be healing – but performers are not messiahs.

Nuff said.

*****

activism, Culture, Music, Satires

Funky Nixons – Still Not Crooks!

Funky Nixons now on all streaming services!

Youtube | Spotify

The Funky Nixons – Berkeley’s Finest

Direct Action author Luke Hauser helped launch the infamous Funky Nixons, known in the Bay Area as the House Band of Peoples Park (ie, we played there a lot and provided backup for other performers).

Although Hauser – now a part-time recluse living under assumed names due to unremitting pursuit by international espionage agents – left the band years ago, the rest of the crew persists in their nefarious career, and perform several times a year in the Bay Area.

Streaming income supports this website! Get to it!

Songs include

Screw the Rich

L.A. Driver

Smoke a Joint with Jesus

We Support the Troops

Immigrant Man

Barbara Bush’s Dog

Funky Nixons now on all streaming services!

Youtube | Spotify

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Culture, Music

Duke – In a Sentimental Mood

Time for some world-changing trombone playing!

Written and recorded by Duke Ellington and his orchestra in 1935. Probably Joe “Tricky Sam” Nanton on the trombone.

Solo at 1:58 – and don’t miss the trombone’s heart-wrenching entry just after 2:40:

Someone later put lyrics to Duke’s melody. Here’s Ella’s version from 1957:

All Duke all the time – starting with East St Louis Toodle-oo:

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