#Writing #MusicMonday: Moonxine by Jahzzar

Cover[This post was supposed to go up on January 25th, but didn’t due to the Great Laptop Failure of 2016.]

I realize that I share a lot of Jahzzar’s music, but in my defense, he puts out more new music than I can keep up with, when added up with his rather extensive back catalog. Plus, he’s really good, so there’s rarely reason not to share.

Moonxine is, I think, one of his older works that I happened to start listening to after the new year, and it fit in just about perfectly with the previous Writing Music Monday album, Sparks by Chill Carrier.

Where Sparks was very upbeat, Moonxine is more reserved and contemplative. (Jahzzar has it marked as sad, but I disagree. Except for the track Part VII, which certainly has a melancholy feel. But that’s part of the overall contemplative mood of the album, I think.)

And what I mean about them fitting together nicely is this: I had them in a playlist, one after the other, along with lots of other stuff. And every time I got to listening without paying attention closely, I never, not once, felt the slight jar of the usual transition between albums and artists. The mood of Sparks segued pretty much perfectly into Moonxine, in spite of the fact that the two artists are really quite different, musically.

It’s very synth, in that “proceeds from the ’80s better than what actually proceeded from the ’80s” way that I particularly like. And, as stated, feels contemplative. Just the sort of thing to write to, if you don’t want overbearing drive, but something that hangs back and encourages you to think through the words you’re putting down.

Download Moonxine free from Better With Music.

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Moonxine by Jahzzar is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

#Writing #Music Monday: Leaving Paradise by Kammerer

Cover[Note: I am flailing with NaNoWriMo right now, so I may not have time to rant about it, but I no longer think anybody—musician or user—should have anything at all to do with Jamendo. With their new redesign — the second in three years — they have also begun a policy of lying to their users. Outright lying. They deserve to go out of business, and the artists who use the site should flee to other services, including BandCamp, the Internet Archive, and self-hosting using the free and open source CASH Music software. So while this album was originally posted on Jamendo, I won’t link there.]

More calming, relaxed “chillout” music from Swedish composer Kammerer (or however it is properly spelled; there are at least three variations on the A). This is an earlier work, and meant to be summertime, poolside background music.

Not much to say about it, except that it’s quite good, as is most of Kammerer’s work; that it’s Attribution-only licensed, meaning you can do what you like with the music, including using it in a Youtube video without asking permission from anybody so long as you give attribution, and that it makes excellent background music for writing.

Kammerer himself says:

Some simple summerchillloungegroovestuff for the sunny ppl.

Download Leaving Paradise by Kammerer from the Internet Archive.

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Leaving Paradise by Kammerer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

“One-Eyed Dragon” by Cedar Sanderson

One-Eyed Dragon coverAs “One-Eyed Dragon” is a short-ish story, I don’t want to say too much about it.

It takes place in an unnamed Japanese village at an indefinite point in the past. We follow a tattoo artist who has lived there a short time, and is all but shunned by the villagers for reasons only ever hinted at. A small, mysterious lady comes into his shop and asks for an unusual tattoo. And that’s about all I can say without detracting from the delight that this story offers.

Sanderson’s writing is quiet, and she sets up all the elements of her story with perfect subtlety, all but effortlessly (to the eye of the reader, that is), so well that it makes this particular writer just a little jealous.

The other point that stood out for me is how well she evokes historical Japan. It’s not overt, just implied through detail and character interaction, but it is very effective and came off believably, though I’m not an expert in Japanese history. The only possible quibble is a reference to an artist with an obviously Chinese name (a real historical figure, as it happens, though Sanderson has distanced her story just a tiny bit by altering the spelling of the name), yet no mention is made by the character mentioning him that he is Chinese rather than Japanese. That an educated Japanese man would know about Chinese art does not a surprise, but that he would not make a distinction between the two cultures felt wrong to me. But again, I’m not an expert in Japanese culture or history, and the quibble is excruciatingly minor.

Even including that, I can’t recommend this story highly enough. It is lovely, just lovely.

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This review of “One-Eyed Dragon” by D. Jason Fleming is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Spot the fallacy

I’ve been spending a lot of time absorbing various lectures and books available on the Mises Institute site. It’s a great resource, but… you’ve really got to be careful when they talk about history, especially the Civil War (and, to a slightly lesser extent, World War II).

Usually, though, they at least attempt to make their arguments coherent. Thomas J. DiLorenzo, who is a very engaging lecturer, generally brings out a great many unknown or little-known facts about the Civil War. But then he’ll do something that makes the listener (or reader) pull back and treat everything he’s said as suspect. His relentless refusal to call the Civil War anything but “the war to prevent Southern secession” is one example.

Here, from his latest book Organized Crime: The Unvarnished Truth About Government, is another. See if you can spot the gigantic, enormous, blinking neon problem with it:

The population of the United States in 1861 was about one-tenth of what it was in the early twenty-first century. Standardizing for today’s population, the number of Southerners who perished as a result of the total war that was waged on them would be the equivalent of 3.5 million deaths. That would make the Lincoln regime significantly worse than the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia. If the new estimates of some 450,000 Southern deaths comes to be accepted, then the Lincoln regime would be more than twice as bad as the Pol Pot and North Korean communists and four times worse than the Vietnamese communists in terms of democide.

There’s actually a lot wrong with this. But what struck me immediately was this: What is DiLorenzo’s rationale for adjusting Civil War deaths to the population of the US today?

When you compare numbers, if you “standardize”, you do it to try to get closer to a true comparison. The US population right now is over 300 million. Cambodia’s population at the time Pol Pot took power was about 3 million. The way to make a comparison is not to inflate the number of the man you hate (and make no mistake, DiLorenzo hates Lincoln) to make him look worse. Generally, in comparisons between two countries, you turn the numbers into a percentage.

Pol Pot’s regime killed approximately 33% of Cambodia’s population in less than a decade.

Lincoln, even accepting every other dubious premise that DiLorenzo fudges, can claim (using DiLorenzo’s worst numbers and ascribing all of them solely to Lincoln) 1.5% of his country’s population.

But the problem is, that doesn’t make Lincoln look worse. So that’s not what DiLorenzo did.

If the Mises Institute wants to shed its reputation for harboring loons and closet racists, they’ve got to stop endorsing crap like this. DiLorenzo can be, and frequently is, a very good historian. Even on Lincoln. But when his hate overwhelms and he stoops to cheap shots like this to validate his hate, he does himself no favors.

Big Bosoms and Square Jaws: The Biography of Russ Meyer, King of the Sex Film by Jimmy McDonough

[Four stars out of five]

Russ Meyer was an American original. A bombastic, maniacally focused man, he tore through the culture making movies that gave censorship boards, and then the MPAA, screaming fits. Because they also keyed into the male psyche of the era, and because he was an entrepreneur who not only worked hard but, for a time at least, understood deeply the business he was in, he made money. A lot of it.

The studios came calling, checkbook in hand, and Meyer signed on happily. Two movies later, one hit and one flop, he quit and went back to making movies his way: cheap, lurid, and paced like a wildcat rollercoaster.

Then the market for what he wanted to make dried up and, unwilling or unable to make anything else, he lived on the profits his self-owned films made on the home video market, while he tinkered away endlessly on his “autobiography”, and succumbed to the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease.

This is an important book. Jimmy McDonough has done a shitload* of original research, and he did it at just about the last possible moment. Published in 2006, I was struck, reading it in 2013, how every major figure interviewed in it is now dead. From Richard Zanuck to David Friedman, from Tura Satana to Roger Ebert, almost everybody who was there and who talked is now gone. For that reason alone, this book will forever be a resource to anyone interested in the exploitation film business, and the film business generally, in the 1960s and ’70s.

So before I go off on the book’s flaws and problems, understand that they largely don’t matter. You want to read this book. Perhaps you need to read it. And you should, despite any of the quibbles and nitpicks that follow.

First, McDonough is a fan of Russ Meyer. In itself, this is not a problem. With a personality like Meyer’s, the biographer almost has to be sympathetic if he hopes to understand his subject with no condescension or dismissiveness. But it distracts the reader at times. For example, McDonough summarizes each of Meyer’s movies’ plots, but it’s ridiculously obvious which ones he likes and which he doesn’t. Expressing this directly — which he does — is fine. But his summary of the plot of Cherry, Harry, and Raquel only tells the reader about Harry, without even explaining why it doesn’t mention the other two title characters, and that’s not fine.

Second, McDonough is an over-educated Ivy League hipster coastal snobbish asshole. Or, at the very least, he writes like one. “The Eighties,” he writes, “a crap decade.” And he specifies: “Ronald Reagan, Huey Lewis and the News, Top Gun — need I say more? If you were unfortunate enough to be around, it seemed like ten years that didn’t happen at all.”

Glib, flippant, and wholly devoid of substance. What if you disagree with him? Well, then you’re just not cool, and therefore don’t matter. Certainly not enough for him to bother constructing an actual argument to support his poseurhood.

This sort of posturing, all fallacy and attitude, never fails to irritate me. So, just for the hell of it, I pause the review to deal with it.

Ronald Reagan? A President who, for all his faults, knew how the hell to end a recession, took no crap from unionized bullies, deliberately worded speeches to give hope to imprisoned political dissidents and offend our enemies — who was clear about who our enemies were fer crissake! — and (with help) drove communism into the ground face first. Need you say more? No, no, it’s very clear that your education was so bereft of substance that you got your knowledge of Reagan from aged issues of Mother Jones and the occasional Saturday Night Live sketch, and you think you’re soooooooooooo much smarter than those stupid rubes in flyover country because of it.

Huey Lewis and the News? Seriously? I’ve never met anyone who hates them. They’re fun, bright, upbeat, clever, and never took themselves so seriously that they felt they had to lecture the rest of the planet on the proper opinions to have and feelings to feel. Were they the deepest, most musically complex band ever? Nope. But so what?

Top Gun, admittedly, is not the greatest film ever made. But that’s not why he loathes it and feels it represents all he hates about the Eighties. It was popular. It was patriotic. And it dared to show the US military as something better than a pack of mouth-breathing baby-killing rednecks. Unforgivable, in McDonough’s puerile worldview.

As for ten years that didn’t happen at all, this is curious. Consider:

The crap economy of the ’70s, after a brief recession, came roaring back, put America on top again, and set the stage for the internet revolution in the ’90s.

Soulless disco died, and synthesized music became something truly artistic. Vangelis became a recognized name, Brad Fidel came on the scene, and New Wave hit the overculture.

Movies stopped looking grainy, dirty, and bleak, and were allowed to have hopeful, happy endings again. Nihilism stopped getting a free pass.

And oh yeah, one more teeny, tiny little detail. COMMUNISM FELL! A totalitarian ideology that held more than half the world’s population in bondage collapsed, freeing many who had been under it’s Big Brother surveillance, bringing them to freedom, letting them, for the first time in decades, speak their minds and get rich if they could.

Yeah. What a fucking horrible decade. No wonder McDonough hates it.

(End rant. Mostly.)

Russ Meyer’s last movie was released in 1979, even though he lived another 25 years. He could, in other circumstances, have kept making flick for at least another ten. So, in his personal case, you could argue that the ’80s sucked.

But that’s only partly the fault of the times he lived in. The times changed, what people were looking for in films (and home movies) changed, and Meyer did not change with them. Indeed, going by the evidence McDonough himself provides, Meyer did not want to change, perhaps even could not change. “Adaptable” is not a word that any part of this biography brings to mind. McDonough barely acknowledges this, choosing instead to indulge in his own enmity for a decade that was far better than he will ever admit.

A third problem with McDonough’s work is extremely trivial, but might be seen as evidence of sloppiness on the author’s part. Perhaps it is confined only to trivialities like the one I’m about to explain, or perhaps it is indicative of more. I can’t say, as this was the only one that stood out for me.

There is a moment in the story where Meyer feels that one of his old (and dearly trusted) friends has betrayed him, and worse, in a cowardly way. His way of breaking the friendship off was to send the former friend a yellow feather.

Reading that, I immediately got the reference and laughed, seeing that Meyer had (typically) gotten the idea right, but the details wrong. There is a book (and at least two films based on it) called The Four Feathers (it’s public domain, you can download it from Gutenberg or Feedbooks or Munseys). It’s a great story about a Brit who, just before his regiment is to ship out for duty, resigns. This is taken by his friends and his fiance for an act of cowardice, and they each send him a white feather. The rest of the story concerns what he does to earn the right to return each feather to its sender, four acts of spectacular courage and daring.

But then McDonough “explains” it. He refers to an “obscure” British movie called “The Three Feathers”, has the protagonist run away during battle, and his friends give him yellow feathers.

Relaying what actually happened, and Meyer’s and his friends’ recollections of the film and story, that’s good. Not checking to make sure that you are getting the facts straight? Not so good.

Could it be just this one trivial detail? It could. (It comes up one more time in the book, just as wrong there as the first time.)

Am I willing to trust that McDonough was not this sloppy elsewhere? Alas, since he has convinced me that he’s a preening hipster, and therefore insufferable, I am afraid not.

Be that as it may, and apart from his personal quirks (and Meyer’s), the book is a good read, informative, and full of original research that, now, cannot be replicated. It should be on any film lover’s to-read list, as long as there are a few grains of salt to go along with it.


* (If I did not use appropriate vulgarity in this review, the ghost of Russ Meyer might curse me with ugly women for the rest of my life! 😉 ) [back]

1980s Paranoia

The ’80s were awesome. After the grimy soulless despair of the 1970s, the ’80s were a cultural second wind for America.

But, as with anything, there were countercurrents.

For instance, there was a lot of paranoia in 1980s pop music. A lot.

Some of it was blatant, like one-hit-wonder Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me”:

Some only a little less so, taking an outside point of view, as in Hall & Oates’s “Private Eyes”:

Then we get into the creepy “I’m a stalker” songs, like “Every Breath You Take” from Police:

Or Rod Stewart’s “Infatuation”:

Sometimes the paranoia wasn’t in the song, but in the video, as with Yes’s “Owner Of A Lonely Heart”:

Sometimes the paranoia was Aussie flavored, as when Men At Work kept asking “Who Can It Be Now?”:

Other times, it was New Wave, like Animotion’s “Obsession”:

Heck, even “I love you just the way you are” Billy Joel got into the act, putting us all under “Pressure”:

All of that, and I didn’t even go into the nuclear war paranoia.

And yet, even so, the ’80s were awesome. I mean, how many of the above songs are bad, or even bland? I rest my case.

1979: A Snapshot of Hell

You lie in bed staring at the ceiling fan creaking round and round. You get up, go to the window.

1979, you think. Shit. I’m still only in 1979.

Wait, you’re not there. You’re here in 2013, reading my blog and wondering why I began with a cheesy reference to a classic film.

“Jason,” you say, “what is your beef with the 1970s?”

Well, my friend, let’s look at the aforementioned 1979 a bit, shall we? Through the magic of cinema.

Great, you say? 1979 gave us so many world classics, you say? Like the already-referenced Apocalypse Now, as well as Alien, Tarkovsky’s Stalker, and several more to boot?

Yeah, sure. There were several classics that year. But the classics are not the temperature of the culture at any given time. Sometimes, they are. Other times, it’s far more helpful to look at the non-classics. The mid-range movies that were just trying to make a buck by fitting into the culture, to serve some profitable segment of it.

So, to begin your descent into the hell of the end of the ’70s, I give you C.H.O.M.P.S..

I mean, Hanna-Barbera — 1970s Hanna-Barbera! — in partnership with American International Pictures? Right at the tail end of AIP’s death rattle? Even if you knew nothing else about it, there is just no formula by which a good movie results from that partnership, right? Then you watch the trailer, and it’s even more joyless and inane than you imagined.

Next up, The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh:

Dr. J, Meadowlark Lemon (you’re old if that name has any meaning for you, I’m afraid), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jonathan Winters, and Stockard Channing all in the same film? About a disco-dancing basketball team saved by … astrology!?

Yes. Yes, indeed. Welcome to Hell, ladies and gentleman. The Hell named 1979. If you didn’t believe me with C.H.O.M.P.S., you now begin to understand true horror.

Oh, but there’s more!

How about Patrick Swayze and Marcia Brady and Scott Baio and Horschack in a disco rollerskating movie? I’ve got just the flick for you — Skatetown U.S.A.:

In an early sign of hope for the world at large, that one died at the box office, coming out two months after Disco Demolition Night. Even so, gaze into that abyss and try not to be unsettled.

What about a serious science fictionish film about genetic engineering with an all-star cast? Those never turn out badly! Then try out Goldengirl, featuring enough people you know to make you wonder why in hell you never heard of it:

Yeah, watching the trailer, you now know why you never heard of it. Seriously, what dark secrets did the producers have on Robert Culp and James Coburn?

Satire, you say? A fun, wacky, goofy comedy? They can’t possibly mess that up, right? I mean, this is right in that sweet spot between Kentucky Fried Movie and Airplane!, so it was almost a golden age! Mel Brooks was still funny in 1979, at least intermittently. So, the trailer for Americathon should be fun and amusing, and not soul-sucking at all, yes?


The French! you think. The French are always to be relied on for wacky hijinks! And babes! Sure, their comedies may be juvenile, but still funny, like the Three Stooges… and… Jerry Lewis… maybe?

Well, at least the French babes were all babe-ish. Le gendarme et les extra-terrestres does appear to have a few things going for it — babes, scenery — but man, did you laugh even once? (You have some consolation, however, if you’re a real francophile: right around ’79, nearly everybody in the French film industry was making at least some hard core porn. I’ll wait while you go searching for your favorites, to make a list of their dirty films.)

Still, there must be something redeeming about non-classic 1979 cinema…

Kung-fu! There were still chopsocky flicks in ’79 (outside of Hong Kong, you mean), and it’s very, very hard to mess up a kung-fu actioner, right? Especially with an all-star cast including Christopher Lee, Donald Pleasance, John Huston(!!!), and Barbara Bach!

OK, I admit, that one makes me actually want to see Jaguar Lives!, but I’m not fooled into thinking that it’s “good”, even by Kung Fu Theater standards.

And so, we turn, at last, to Nocturna:

John Carradine as a bedentured Dracula. Megahot Eurasian actress as his granddaughter. (No, seriously, she’s mega-hot — does she look almost 40 to you in the trailer? Because she was.) Lots and lots and lots of disco.

But I admit it: this one looks like fun. Bad, with awful music, but fun.

Oh, 1979, we hardly knew ye.

And for that, we are eternally thankful.