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let’s twift again like we did last summer


alright taylor. first let me drop my little tears. as someone who is very identified with country, i regret the loss. on the other hand, the genre should have nothing but gratitude for her songs, her persona, and her demographic effect. also, the extent to which country song forms are actually distinct from other pop songforms is not all that dramatic. really she's often writing in the same vein as ever, and a mandolin ring would transform it into a country song. also one misgiving overall: i do feel that vocal effects are used excessively. that is one way you signal 'pop' now. i think the emphasis on vocal effects in pop has gone on too long and has run its course. it's not interesting anymore. i think it will make the pop music of 2005-2015 sound pretty dated and kitschy pretty soon. also, taylor just does not need this, or not on so many songs; she's a beautiful singer, often on multiple soaring simultaneous tracks. it does work on some of these songs very well, however; but if i were mixing the album i would de-process vocals throughout.

certain of her very great strengths as a songwriter are well-suited to a country frame; she often wants to tell stories. she still does that on some cuts here. she has also had astonishing moments of writing in personae - an abused boy on 'mean', for example, a 'barbie on the boardwalk, summer of '45' on 'starlight'. i think there's less scope for moves like that on the sort of pop anthems that dominate 1989. and i'm just going to say it: from multiple points of view including dad, i liked the relatively innocent romantic persona that taylor constructed as a country star. i'm not that into what katy and miley portray themselves as getting up to on a given friday.

but if taylor were to continue to sort of portray the small-town high school sweetheart or something, it'd be straight fake at this point. and i do think that her basic project is an autobiography; she really has, i think, sung quite thoughtfully and honestly about her own life at every stage, though of course she is also mythologizing her own life or dramatizing it shamelessly, yet with evident sincerity. this is very much what touches young women and also other people about her music. (like say you've been watching your daughters grow up, move to new york, and stuff.) and she seemingly effortlessly treats her own story as emblematic; you know she wrote '15' when she was 15 (well, maybe 16), '22' when she was 22, and the stories she told in those songs really did take on a funky universality in their specificity, like a good memoir should. (listen back to '15' and realize it really is about her best friend, who has told her own story, and loves that taylor told it.)


[take in the audience response. each girl in that crowd is her.]

so look she's on the cover of every magazine, dating hot pop stars or whatever, jetting around the world. i am going to say that might be a hard story to tell honestly. but i really think that within the parameters of pop music she has done so. the album represents a move to new york (already in process on red) and that represents a stage of life - hers, and others'.

 it's in the lyrics, but it's in the music on multiple levels; everything gathers around this transition. taylor's writing is remarkably sophisticated, and here the styles of music - often leaning on a version of the '80s-revival synths currently in fashion - themselves have an autobiographical force; her music now corresponds to how she lives now. within this frame, many of the greatest strengths come through just fine on 1989. for example, as i've said before, the transitional elements of a taylor swift song - intro, bridge, ending, and so one - are always frigging perfect. also her lyric turns of phrase are consistently better than they need to be, which is especially evident with the pop frame. 'i'm a nightmare dressed like a daydream'. 'boys only want love if it's torture'. 'the monsters turned out to be just trees.' "i can read you like a magazine". "band-aids can't fix bullet holes." often the phrase and thought is almost familiar, but has some element of displacement or reversal. taylor was never a cliche; she has always been a cliche with a twist.

in other words, she writes a perfect pop song, and she does that here over and over. within these parameters there is a wide range of moods. also, even more than usual - and again appropriately to the genre shift - there are earworms galore; it's very head-infesting. 'how you get the girl' has a kind of perfect ethereal lightweight synth-pop thing going that works beautifully with that lighter-than-air soprano. maybe a little echo of ed sheeran, here and elsewhere.

'bad blood' would be another example of the earworm effect, and the basic form is an arena-full of fist-waving taylors chanting the hook. maybe it's partly about katy perry and partly in the style of katy perry, and in general i would say taylor's friendships and musical fanships are inscribed throughout, again as part of the memoir. (something tells me that even with all the love stuff, there's nothing taylor swift cares about more than music.) so apparently she's very close to lorde (what a great witchy yinyang), and lorde's infuence appears again and again, either directly (as on 'i know places') or passed through several stages. it doesn't feel derivative; it feels like taylor has really incorporated the whole thing into her own life and hence style. 'wildest dream' sure owes a lot to lana del rey, but obviously it is taylor not lana (not least on the bridge), and the mood is wistful, not suicidal.

right now i think the strongest songs are, first, "out of the woods", which is a good capsule of the album and just an outstanding piece of song-building.


and i do gravitate to the slowest and most meditative moments. few people can write a pure love song as well as she can ('sad, beautiful, tragic', e.g.). and i give you 'this love', flirting with valentine's-day cliches, but such a beautiful and subtle and also simple melody, and such a beautiful vocal arrangement, with an underlying melancholy. my favorite song is the one that ends the album: 'clean'. you wouldn't think someone could do a compellingly fresh version of 'i'm addicted to your love', but there it is, and it also marks the transition of taylor into someone who, perhaps, has been exposed to things like drugs and drug problems. quietly, it is a masterpiece: "the drought was the very worst, when the flowers that we'd grown together died of thirst...'


they've kept the album off youtube so far pretty effectively. but maybe this is better anyway. all over america, girls are up in their bedrooms working up these songs. this one really gives an intense and beautiful rendition; it's a good representation of the spirit of the song, and of what taylor means.

me on the last album, 2012's 'red'

me on taylor, circa 'speak now'

and again




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an undoubted foundational classic

here i am, teaching plato's republic once again. i will assert flatly that it is the most disgusting book ever written by a famous philosopher. what i would like to do is write a book attacking and refuting and ridiculing it line by line, but publication of such a thing seems unlikely, and it would embroil me in long months of loathing.

really, western political philosophy has had many miserable or evil moments, many lurid or pathetic or desperate attempts to justify oppression of various sorts, from hobbes to hegel to marx, or the pitiable history of the attempts to establish the legitimacy of state power. but plato just goes straight for the extreme caste elitism, lies, eugenics, extreme censorship etc etc, on the basis of a metaphysics of world-hatred. the thing is sort of an amazing intellectual achievement, but it defends every aspect of what came to be modern totalitarianism. the people are animals, and must be broken. that he's doing this in the midst of the first democracy is essential info.

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absorbing viscous lava through our pores

yes, i will be assessing sailor twift's 1989 after a day or two to absorb it (i'll give you something on the new lucinda too). i think when i first hopped on (with my daughter, circa speak now), people were all like "i hate that poppy auto-tuned bullshit!" to which i responded: i can hardly imagine a critic listening attentitively to this album and not coming away impressed. that has been borne out: she is a critical darling, and even brats who hate everything but indie dirge-pop can't frigging help themselves. 

i do have some concerns about the decline of rock criticism, however, perhaps encapsulated by the lead of marlow stern's review in the daily beast. of the best pop songs, stern writes, "Ever present, they absorb the viscous lava of contempo culture through their pores, let it course through their veins ‘til a diffuse plexus of melodies and rhythms form, and then release the bubbly potion onto an unsuspecting audience." dave marsh and greil marcus might have been kind of boring and predictable in their opinions - they might still be - but they didn't write sentences like that, and if they (or we) did, their editors didn't wave them through. maybe it's supposed to be lesterbangsy? lord.

i guess the people i read most in the msm these days are the folks on the guardian: alex petridis (who loved the taylor album) and kitty empire, for example. i do think sasha frere-jones in the new yorker is good, so i'll give the old monocled one that.

alright, so, i started writing rock criticism at the washington star in 1980. i was a copy boy; our critic was on vacation when i started but i got to do records and shows by people like the ramones, clash, bb king. then the star croaked and i went to grad school in baltimore. i wrote for the city paper through the early 80s: hundreds of shows and records. it's funny to think the free-circ urban weekly should be shrouded in nostalgia now; really we did generate a lot of content. i was watching the wire recently, and noticing that rafael alvarez was all over the writing credits; he was all over the cp then. jd considine, who i started reading when he dominated the old baltimore news-american, was in the sun and then the rolling stone publications, so that was a a kind of model, though i'd have to say the actual critical approach was a counter-model.

so in the usual fashion i sent out clips, and soon i was reviewing for a number of mags. record magazine was probably the main outlet; it was a sub-rolling stone put out by the rolling stone dedicated entirely to music. but i guess i sort of knew the rs-type critics and editors of that era (anthony decurtis, for example), mostly at a distance. i reviewed many amazing shows and many turkeys, from donna summer and pat benatar to flipper and the dead boys, run dmc and the fat boys to tammy wynette and chaka khan. i kept almost but not quite reviewing records for rolling stone, but i did have the lead review in record sometimes. prince's purple rain, e.g.. they killed my review of born in the usa for the reasons i came to hate the whole operation: they were always trying to manufacture a consensus or pretend there was one, and soon the critics just didn't have very individual tastes or voices, which is how they wanted it.

my wife at the time, rachael, had a certain wanderlust, and we were always driving across the country or settling temporarily for the summer here and there. i would always pitch the local paper, so for example i wrote up roger miller and barbara mandrell for the albuquerque journal, or did stuff for the weekly out in seattle.

then she managed to drag me to london, which was the height of my little career. there has never been more rock criticism anywhere at any time than london in the '80s, and they had three tabloids the size of the new york daily news of that time every week, entirely devoted to music: sounds, new music express, and melody maker. i took my clips around; just walked into the newsrooms and pitched the editors. i caught on at melody maker, and soon was reviewing a couple of gigs a week, a variety of lps, etc, and doing features and interviews too. i met the nicest person in the world, cyndi lauper,


and the nastiest people, the members of x, for example. i got to see like everyone who played london in '83 and '84, which looking back on it had a lot to recommend it, even though i was pretty ambivalent about the 'synth-pop' then dominant. ( god i hated depeche mode, live or on record, but culture club was excellent, for example.)


[that represents the dominant pop sound of that moment in the uk; i must have seen twenty or thirty groups in this mode, swaying around and playing synthesizers. all the vocalists somehow sounded the same.]

i lost a night in paris where they flew people over to see inxs; me the nme guy ended up in a coke-and-groupie limo discohopping paris adventure with hutchence &co that i basically don't remember. the band rolled us into our hotel at 5 and we both missed our plane back to london.


so then i started turning pretty seriously toward the academic career and writing in that mode, but i did work through the late '80s. i interviewed lemmy for creem, etc. then around 2000, marion winik, disconcerted by my monthly country cd budget, suggested i pitch someone a country column so people would send me free cds. the guys from the balt city paper - russ smith and john strausbaugh - were doing the super-odd rollicking nypress, and i wrote 'the farm report' in the persona of a 300-pound ultra-rightist farmer named crispin sartwell. then blogging...

come to think on it, i might could scan in some clips.

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bonfire of the banalities

i seem to have a lifetime subscription to the new yorker; maybe my mom got it for me in 1996 or something. they come faster than i can burn them. the oct 27 ish shows some of the reasons i try to keep up. fiction by tom hanks, while the movie review pays tribute to spielberg and saving private ryan. a stirring appreciation of billy joel. the lead political piece in talk of the town has been duller this week than last week for 1,497 consecutive weeks, for these are people whose view on anything - and the very sentences in which that view will come to be embodied - you cannot fail to know before they open their word processors. they must spend editorial meetings nodding along and off. this week jelani cobb points out that there aren't that many women and black folks in the senate. ironically, only extremely or chronically white people can even pretend to read the new yorker; it's like every issue is co-edited by tom brocaw and sting (= tom hanks). one of the books reviewed is described as "a fairy tale of middle class loneliness", which is a pretty good description of the magazine overall. 

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spread your legs; here come da genius!

pico iyer in the times book review, arguing once again that geniuses are above the little moral rules or everyday decency that of course ought to govern others. the revival of this really quite stupid modernist hoohah is disturbing in a minor way, and you'd have to think that underlying it is iyer's justification for being an asshole to his kids tonight or whatever. one thing to notice: all the geniuses who transcend the petty irriatations of treating people decently in iyer's thing are men. also, let me just mention that in some cases the assholery may well be one of the main reasons we're thinking that someone is a genius: iyer obviously expects geniuses to be assholes, and it is but a slight shift to start regarding assholes as geniuses. so in virtue of what was steve jobs a genius? maybe writing all that great code and designing all those sleek devices? no that wasn't his role. his role was to be an asshole. oh, lucian freud was a disgusting human being who made disgusting and mindlessly overrated art. but he was a late-breaking modernist genius-asshole so it almost doesn't mater what the paintings look like as long as he was abusing people all day.

"All of us know — we almost expect — that an artist will use up everyone he meets in the hope that the payoff in the public sphere will make up for casualties in the private." wait, all of us know what? i almost fucking expect, excuse me? oh you know i've known some very good artists, writers, thinkers and stuff: do i figure they should be as vicious as they are good or something? i am dating a very good painter, for example. do i expect - or, like iyer's happy victims - want, to be used up, along with everyone else? christ why would i expect that? art is supposed to require casualties, like barrel bombs cause collateral damage, only why that should be is rather mysterious. but then you'll be able to recognize the geniuses by the scorched corpses in their wake. that makes it easier because, um, sometimes it's hard to tell from the work.

the moral impunity of artists is something we added circa 1860 and deleted circa 1960, but which people still yearn for: the genius as sadist, audience as masochist. it is a devastating reflection on the people who think this way, incompatible with even rudimentary good taste, for example. really, i do believe it has led to extreme critical mistakes, as when you fall in love with the persona of a picasso, a joyce, or a wittgenstein, and feel the glow of the morally exempt superhuman who lies behind it. then the objects take on a sadistic aura and you prostrate yourself before them (think of the women who had to be sacrificed to make hemingway's novels, or get picasso past the blue period! the casualties were worth it, though, because if picasso hadn't made women suffer, there would be no art. really this is the way this line of thought tends). this i believe makes it difficult to see the work clearly and place it plausibly into a normal human context which we might co-inhabit. the work, i have to say, is almost unbelievably disappointing relative to the standard, but even if it wasn't....

the worse you are, the better you write. i would like iyer to reflect on whether that is actually borne out in his experience, and i would suggest that he reflect on why he would want to believe something like that. according to iyer, the question of why great artists are fuckwads was already ancient when yeats asked it. i would like to see some evidence of that. in fact show me a clear example of anything of that sort before 1800 and i will be momentarily chastened.

this genius crap needs to be over, and iyer's piece is as good an argument for shooting geniuses on sight as for celebrating them as transhuman god-monsters. actual human beings produced these items, and no argument gets them out of the demand to treat people kindly, or try to keep their promises, or to not rape people, etc. i think you had better paint a lot lot better than freud to justify being freud, or really it doesn't matter how you paint. and insofar as iyer is saying  'i am exempt from decency because i am working on a novel', he is making an argument for pistol-whipping literary novelists, as if we needed another argument.

maybe other professions should take the philip roth-v.s.naipul approach: being an ethics professor isn't an ethics contest! i just had a good theory, but that required abusing 17 people. oops, sorry sweetie but i was out last night with two call girls and an ounce of blow, again. it is the demand of my work! but you will be happy to be a casualty. 



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cheese it, the cops! 2014-10-23 04:03:07

i want to emphasize relentlessly that islam is a beautiful religion of peace. it reminds me of quakerism like that, only more hipster.

still doing time

as you may know, i think most leftists who are left of, say, obama, are post-marxists, whatever they may say: they are still trying to make marx's predictions come true, still trying to read history through his lens. no empirical data can budge or change this at all: it has nothing to do with reality, but with the emotional momentum of a century-and-a-half old quasi-relgion started by a prophet/messiah with the power to foretell the future (admittedly, he asserted that it was scientific, but so did many eschatological preachers of the 19th century).

so here are some aspects of the content. first of all, since we haven't flown as predicted into the commmunist ecstasy at the end of history, we must still be in the phase of capitalism. so we don't even notice that capitalism and socialism have merged: that it's state/corporate economic/political/military power that's the problem. but, it has to be odd for any marxist to think that capitalism has avoided the terminal crisis as the prophet predicted. starting as long as a hundred years ago, marxists referred to the contemporary phase - whatever it was at the time - as late capitalism, a lovely expression of wishful thinking. seems like you'd get embarrassed about that as the decades tick by, and i would have suggested a number of other dialiectical phases: "late late capitalism," "extremely late capitalism", "unbelievably late late capitalism" and so on.

maybe they got too embarrassed by this approach, though they are not folks who are easily embarassed. so now we're in "neoliberal capitalism" or perhaps since we're thirty years past reagan and thatcher, we're in "late neoliberal capitalism." well the power of capital and political/miltary systems connected with it just keeps consolidating, shows no sign whatever of disintegrating: quite the reverse. so this is where climate change comes in: it will provide the terminal crisis of capitalism: it is the realization of prophecy. people, i must say, are sitting home wanting it to be as bad and imminent as possible, and asserting - while brooking absolutely no dissent - that it is as bad and imminent as possible. it's still science, too.

anyway, i have no idea why you'd want to enter into this line of thought, or even how you'd go about making yourself believe stuff like that, but it is very pitiful. the left has just got to got to got to grab something else, or worship a new messiah or something, cause this shit is boring and ridiculous and interminable. 



the notion that obama would appoint a 'messaging expert' as ebola coordinator shows that they don't understand their own problem, which is that they have been unable to distinguish 'messaging' from responding to reality. this is why no one really believes what they're saying, and really, it's why no one has believed any american politician or bureaucrat for some decades now about anything. i think it's a kind of banalized post-modernism, narrative-theory thing. so sometime around 1970, someone pointed out again that there was no external world, only 'narratives' and so on. pretty soon, nike was running ads: 'we are the stories we tell'. it may be that people like obama and bush and clinton really can't tell the difference between the world and a story they are telling. that the story is incredibly self-serving is very hopeful: i can make the world adore and obey me if i can just utter the right phrase. their adoration of me will be their salvation, and then we'll all live in my hopey reality forever. let's focus-group some phraseology and work on 'the narrative', 'the message'. we've got to control the narrative, be more effective in our messaging. then, i think the growth of 'communications' programs and theories and 'strategic communications' exacerbates the effect, and some of the killer clowns who teach in those programs have a straight-up theory on which all communication is an attempt by me to get you to do what i want, and then the only question is, what noises can i make that best accomplish that? all communication is advertising.

in their human-centered, narcissistic, obviously false structure of non-thought, there can be no difference between medicine and messaging.

reality, see, is social, consensual, or 'what your contemporaries let you get away with saying'. then the only question is, what reality can you get people to consent to? unfortunately, the ebola virus is indifferent or impervious to whatever they consent to, as is everything else, even themselves.


for an actual creature in an actual world where something like natural selection operates to lose contact with reality, or to begin to live in its own fantasies and hallucinations, is to flow toward extinction. also, in this particular form, it is to deserve extinction.

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A new peak in Crusader AXE’s productivity


I realized recently that I have made several attempts at the blogging equivalent of the unified field theory, that is, following part I of an essay several days later with part II. I just don't usually do that because I'm lazy and easily distracted. 

But the continuing debacle of policy and politics that has prevailed since Bush and the Rehnquist stole the Supreme Court 14 years ago has hit a point where the outrage meter is pegged out here, and it's easy to remember why I was so pissed off the first time. 

I admit that I consider the Republicans in the House and Senate, the leaders especially, to be lower on the chain of consciousness than sunflowers and slugs. But I have absolutely no clue what the President is doing and why...he's a smart guy. OK, got it; so was Herbert Hoover. He's trying to be Kennedyesque, except most of us who remember John Kennedy and Bobby are members of AARP. Being Kennedyesque today comes off as Mike Dukakis. 

So between them, I'm irked. And, this Ebola Czar nonsense is insane. McCain the Rs have a bad idea -- we need a Czar! Long live th Czar!'; Obama appoints one, and they start screaming "Not that one; another one." Meanwhile, we have a very logical CZAR, the unconfirmed head of the National Health Service. Since nobody in Congress is bothering to pretend to do anything, aren't they recessed? Couldn't Obama appoint him? Or at least make him the CZAR? Nah...too easy. 

Screw these people. 


health and self-defense

when the first nurse fell ill in dallas, cdc & co blamed her for failing to observe their protocol. and they blamed her before they actually knew anything about how she contracted the virus. this, i suggest, is probably the knee-jerk doc approach: blame the nurse. that was only one of many things that pissed the nurses off (one of the other irritations being that the cdc and everytone else appears to be quite cavalier about their lives). then there was a public backlash against that, and they sort of apparently reversed field, saying that nurses are heroes, and then hinting strongly that she violated the protocol. startegic communications at its best.

yesterday, testifying in congress, frieden simply refused to say whether it was the nurses' failure to observe the cdc protocol, or the cdc protocol itself that was at fault. (the other day, sanjay gupta ran through the whole cdc protocol on cnn, getting spattered with bodily fluids on exposed skin.) i think it was scalise who just kept saying 'did she violate the protocol or not?' 'it's raining outside, congressman.' 'yes or no?' 'here's a picture of my dog, congressman.' it was an idiotic display of inability to admit when you're wrong, and a classic defend-my-bureaucracy reaction. that's always irritating and yet pitiful, but here it's liable to be deadly. a decent, open, and truthful bunch of spokespeople and officials is necessary

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