Archive for September, 2008

Political Stuntman

Posted in politics on Friday, 2008 by Todd.Levinson.Frank

John McCain is looking more and more like a desperate and dishonest politician willing to pull any stunt to change the subject and grab some headlines in hope that he can save his dwindling chance at power.

He said he was “suspending” his presidential campaign to go back to Washington to deal with the economic crisis and the bailout discussions. But after lying to David Letterman, cancelling his appearance cuz he just had to hop on a plane and head to DC (but then staying in NY and sitting down for an interview with Katie Couric), his campaign changed their story and said he cancelled because “this is not a time for comedy.”

Oh, spare me the drama. Sure the economic crisis is very serious, but “this is not a time for comedy”??? This isn’t Sept.12… and oh by the way, I guess it was okay for The Formerly Honorable Sen. McCain to appear on the Conan O’Brien show on August 29, 2005 after celebrating his birthday with President Bush… that same day Katrina and breached levies were drowning an American city. Was that a “time for comedy”?

By most accounts, McCain’s announcement that he was bringing the presidential campaign circus to Capitol Hill actually served to inject partisanship into the negotiations and kill what everyone thought was a deal on the bailout. Heckuva job there Johnny!

If all this wasn’t bad enough… he didn’t actually suspend his campaign. His advertisements were still running in key swingstates. His campaign offices were still open and running. His surrogates were still all over TV talking him up. And, despite McCain’s stated campaigning hiatus, his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, paid a highly visible visit to memorials in lower Manhattan to those killed on Sept. 11.

Ohh, okay. Suspend the campaign…. but go ahead with the 9/11 photo op. Stay classy McCain/Palin!!

And then there’s this ridiculous stunt about wanting to cancel/postpone the first debate. The rest of us regular working Americans are somehow capable of taking care of our kids in the morning, going to work and attending important meetings during the day, and then doing something else in the evening. To paraphrase Obama, sometimes the President has to handle more than one thing at a time. Come on, Uncle John, just show up to the debate…. after all, it is only against some naive inexperienced celebrity community organizer, right? How hard could it be?

When asked about the debate on the CBS Evening News, McCain responded: “I understand how important this debate is and I’m very hopeful, but I also have to put the country first.” Is anyone buying this horseshit? This is the guy who has missed more Senate votes than anyone. When the latest G.I. Bill was voted on, he put Campaign First and blew off the vote to appear at a high-price fundraising dinner. But now all of a sudden he wants to make this all about him (despite his Country First talk), as if Congress cant function without him. As if the first debate in this crucial Presidential contest is somehow not important to the country.

Back to the bailout negotiations, from the Washington Post’s late Thursday afternoon update by Michael D. Shear and Lori Montgomery:

Sen. John McCain returned to Washington on Thursday after declaring that he has suspended his campaign, but he appeared largely detached from the flurry of negotiations on a $700 billion economic rescue package that appeared to be headed to a successful conclusion.

McCain’s “Straight Talk Air” landed at National Airport just after noon, and McCain’s motorcade sped toward the Senate. But by then, senior Democrats and Republicans were already announcing that a deal in principle had been reached.

“This is the presidential campaign of John McCain undermining what Hank Paulson tells us is essential for the country,” said Democratic Rep. Barney Frank, (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. “This is McCain at the last minute getting House Republicans to undermine the Paulson approach.”

The White House meeting was in part the result of McCain’s stunning pronouncement Wednesday that he would stop campaigning to return to Washington, where he had urged Bush to convene a summit to address the crisis.

… for most of the afternoon, McCain has not visibly been part of the action on the issue. He was not present when House and Senate negotiators emerged from a two-hour meeting to declare success. That announcement was made by Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, Sen. Robert F. Bennett (Utah) and Frank.

McCain, by contrast, spent some time in his office with several Republican colleagues, briefly stopped at Boehner’s office, then left for lunch at the Capitol’s Mansfield Room before returning to his office in the Russell Senate Office Building.

So he doesn’t land until after noon…. Then goes and dicks around the Senate with his boy Joe Lieberman, and then he goes out for lunch? But he doesn’t have the time or inclination to go before the American people and debate Barack Obama and show and tell us why we should trust him to be the leader of the free world?

McCain’s not putting Country First. He’s not showing leadership. He’s just a stuntman in a political theater.

The Replacements Reissues: Can’t Hardly Wait

Posted in music on Tuesday, 2008 by Todd.Levinson.Frank

Today marks the much-anticipated release of Rhino’s remastered and expanded editions of The Replacements four Sire-era albums, Tim, Pleased To Meet Me, Don’t Tell A Soul, and All Shook Down. These new versions feature remastered sound, plus bonus tracks of unreleased demos and alternate versions.

A few months ago, their earlier material (originally released on Twin Tone) was given the same treatment. While Let It Be, from that earlier era, is often held up as their “best” (and I do like that one a lot), I’d say that Tim and Pleased To Meet Me are my favorites. I was working in a record store when Pleased To Meet Me came out and there was a ‘Mats fan there who would play it all the time. It grew on me and I ended up loving the Replacements too… I can’t say enough about how monumental these guys were in influencing a generation of bands from indie rock to and every suburban music-lover inbetween who just wanted to crank up some great tunes and fuck off.

TIM was the band’s last album fueled by the legendary original line-up of lead singer and songwriter Paul Westerberg, Chris Mars (drums) and brothers Bob and Tommy Stinson (guitar and bass, respectively) and their first on a major label, Sire Records. Rhino’s newly remastered and expanded edition features the original 11 tracks plus 6 previously unreleased bonus tracks, including three tracks recorded at a 1985 session with Westerberg’s idol, Alex Chilton, among them an electric outtake of “Can’t Hardly Wait.”

Their fifth full-length and second for a major label, PLEASED TO MEET ME was recorded in Memphis with legendary producer Jim Dickinson. The new remastered/expanded edition from Rhino features the original 11-song classic album from 1987 plus 12 rare bonus tracks, half of them previously unreleased.

These great Replacements reissues are also available on 180-gram virgin vinyl, minus the bonus material. Don’t buy this stuff on Amazon or look for it at Best Buy. Support your local independent record store (while it still exists) and buy your ‘Mats reissues from them.

Bush Urging We Must Act Fast (Again)

Posted in misc.blurbs, politics on Tuesday, 2008 by Todd.Levinson.Frank

This is a great post courtesy of The Rude Pundit:

You know, the Rude Pundit realizes there’s only so many ways to describe a dire situation, but, really, and, c’mon, is it all not a variation on the same tune?

From the statement by President Bush on September 22, 2008 on the current economic crisis and the possible bailout: “Failure to act would have broad consequences far beyond Wall Street.”

From Bush’s speech explaining why he needed war authorization for Iraq, October 7, 2002: “Failure to act would embolden other tyrants, allow terrorists access to new weapons and new resources, and make blackmail a permanent feature of world events.”

2008: “It would threaten small business owners and homeowners on Main Street.”
2002: “He would be in a position to threaten America.”

2008: “Americans are watching to see if Democrats and Republicans, the Congress and the White House, can come together to solve this problem with the urgency it warrants.
2002: “We have an urgent duty to prevent the worst from occurring.”

It’s all lessons from childhood: If you cry wolf often enough, you may just ignore it when that toothsome fucker is carrying away your infants and livestock. You say the sky is falling and it’s not, then next time there better be clouds around your ass.

Financial Crisis: a Look at the Big Bailout

Posted in politics, video on Tuesday, 2008 by Todd.Levinson.Frank

Funny cartoon from Scott Bateman:

Time Capsule 2005: Another Side of the "New Dylans"

Posted in music, time capsules on Saturday, 2008 by Todd.Levinson.Frank

“Time Capsules” is our way of putting some of our favorite albums from particular years into a… little, um, time capsule so music fans can read our reviews of notable releases from various years. We were going to take the actual CD’s and launch them into space in real time capsules, or bury them in the ground so future generations and/or aliens could be sure to find the best CD’s preserved. But that seemed a bit pricey and foolish. Plus, aliens (and/or future generations) aren’t likely to go digging thru the ground looking for stuff, they’ll probably just poke around on the internet. Let’s hope they find this site sooner than later. The following review was written in 2005:

With the release of 2005’s first handful of great records, four of America’s finest singer/songwriters have offered us yet another study of the duality of each of these recording artists: Beck, Bright Eyes, Bruce Springsteen, and Ryan Adams. While all four have at different times (and to various degrees) been cursed with the “new Dylan” label, one of the things they all really have in common is a refusal to be pinned down and labeled again. Perhaps by subconsciously taking a page from Dylan’s book, they’ve each managed to explore their own duality as a means of throwing us curves and proving that sometimes following a muse means making lots of left turns.

Beck has been almost deliberate in presenting his two sides. His albums alternate between his funky playful mix-tape collages and his more somber acoustic folk material. After his wildly eclectic debut Mellow Gold spawned the unlikely hit “Loser” and offered an original mix of both of Beck’s sonic personas, he re-released some earlier recordings: the first a noisey experimental affair, and the second a stripped-down song-oriented set. In 1996 he released what would prove to be his signature recording: Odelay, a masterpiece collaboration with producers the Dust Brothers. True to form, he would then get all somber/acoustic on us with Mutations (1998) before returning to the neon lights and party vibes of Midnite Vultures (1999) and then back to introspection and heartbreak with 2002’s Sea Change. Critics loved it, hailing Sea Change for its mature songwriting and lush sound. But close to a decade after Mellow Gold and Odelay, critics and fans alike wondered if Beck would ever put all of his styles back together again.

Bright Eyes, the “band” that serves as creative vehicle for singer/songwriter Conor Oberst, became a critical and cult success with the release of Lifted, or The Story’s in the Soil Keep Your Ear to the Ground in 2002. With sprawling narratives, stunning/clever/rambling lyrics, and musical diversions that ranged from the stark to the symphonic, Lifted was at times as bloated and pretentious as its title. But it was also brilliant, earning the then-22-year-old Oberst the unenviable and predictably clichéd titles bestowed by the label-happy media of the new century: “alt-folk boy genius of the emo generation.” Yet another “this generation’s Bob Dylan.” Recording since his first demo at age 12, this protégé from Omaha, Nebraska could’ve awoken in the aftermath of such success in danger of crumbling under the weight of the lofty expectations, his own prolific output, or both.

Bruce Springsteen, the veteran hall-of-famer and most rich and famous of this grouping, has been showing us both of his sides for more than 30 years. Signed as an acoustic singer/songwriter and perhaps the first in the long line of New Dylan’s, he shook the comparisons with his wall-of-sound rock classic “Born to Run,” and epic stories like “Jungleland” and “Thunder Road.” He also established himself among rock’s greatest live acts, building his reputation with marathon concerts. His dualities really started surfacing in the 1980’s. After having a hit with “Hungry Heart,” he took a chance and released a brutally stark acoustic album, Nebraska, that was essentially home demos. This was followed by the multi-platinum juggernaut Born in the USA that spawned 7 Top Ten singles and made Springsteen a pop superstar. So, he really started throwing some curves: the quiet Tunnel of Love examined self doubt and his failed first marriage; the arrival of the 1990’s signaled the end of the E Street Band as Bruce simultaneously released Lucky Town and Human Touch in 1992 with a new batch of studio musicians; 1995’s The Ghost of Tom Joad found him back in solo/acoustic mode; after releasing a boxed set of previously unreleased material and a greatest hits disc, he reunited the E Streeters for a tour and then a full-band album The Rising. So, 30 years after Born to Run, “Epic Springsteen, The Boss of Live Rock’n’Roll,” is still battling “Joe Everyman, Acoustic Troubadour of the Dark Lonesome Highway” for creative control. Which Bruce would show up in 2005?

Asking which one will show up has been one of the few constants in the career of Ryan Adams. Would it be the heartbroken country singer with the golden voice or the bratty self-absorbed rocker, so drunk that he breaks his wrist falling off the stage? A detailed look at some of his solo work can be found HERE, but, like the artists mentioned above, Adams has an acute duality that’s evident in his work: the acoustic Heartbreaker, followed by the more upbeat folk-rock of Gold, followed by Demolition, a diverse collection of unreleased tracks and demos. Then the lush and mellow mopey songs of Love is Hell, released concurrently with the disposable guitar-rock of Rock’n’Roll. Despite a few shortcomings, everyone agrees that Adams is an amazingly talented songwriter, perhaps too prolific for his own good. So, like in the case of Beck, people wondered if Ryan could stop messing around and put it all together.

As the sun rose on 2005, all four of these guys were readying new releases. On January 25th, Bright Eyes showed up first, releasing two separate albums at once, just as Springsteen and Adams had once done. That’s always a tough trick to pull off. Bright Eyes succeeds, mostly because the albums, both lyrically driven, are very different in sound and instrumentation. He had originally considered splitting the ambitious Lifted into two separate releases, and by doing so with these new albums, he shows us the stark contrast of his two sides. Digital Ash in a Digital Urn lays a cold and modern electronic foundation for Oberst’s whiny wails (not unlike the Cure’s Robert Smith) and deathly meditations. It’s a solid yet unspectacular effort, but the real gem is it’s acoustic-based companion, I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning. This terrific set of folk tunes won’t help Bright Eyes escape the Dylan comparisons, but it does cement his growing legend as one America’s great young songwriters and recording artists. Wide Awake is just a simple and purely great album, highly recommended along with Lifted.

In March, Beck returned with Guero. The Dust Brothers are back at the production controls, and, at first listen, Guero sounds like Beck has once again followed a gloomy, mellow release with another funkfest. But further spins reveal a well-crafted and deeper album than the throwaway party hits of Midnite Vultures. It’s not quite a true return to his peak form of Odelay, but more like a mature effort that proves Beck can unify his folksinger/songwriter self with his more outgoing mix-tape party host alter-ego.

A month later, Bruce Springsteen left the bombastic Bossman bandleader at home as his solo storyteller incarnation returned with a fine new CD, Devils & Dust. This mostly acoustic 12-tune set alternates between folk ditties, somber narratives, and a couple of formulaic upbeat rockers. Springsteen’s songwriting is in fine form, as his ability to craft stories and characters benefits from Brendan O’Brien’s production and more instrumentation and melody than the quiet, often-droning Tom Joad release. Devils & Dust, while embracing the twangy folk and country sounds of violin and steel guitar mixed with his own effective acoustic guitar work, also finds Springsteen exploring some uncharted territory of his vocal abilities as he employs a high falsetto on a few tracks. By meshing his quiet acoustic sound with some light and catchy rock tunes, Bruce is finding a potent middle ground where his two personas merge into one, or at least cross paths with great results.

Finally, in early May, Ryan Adams released the first of a reported three new albums slated for 2005: Cold Roses, with his band The Cardinals. Wow. This is the one that his fans have been waiting for: a finely crafted double album combining the subtly stellar songwriting of Heartbreaker with the full-band sound and accessibility of Gold. Adams and his band cruise through the 18 tracks as the acoustic, electric, and lap-steel guitars spiral up, intertwine, and cascade down as if they were conjured up by Jerry Garcia himself. The lyrics and titles, complete with references to roses, magnolias, friends, “stranger’s angels,” Cumberland, sweet illusions, and dancing all night, are more reminders of the Grateful Dead. But this is no boring set of trippy instrumental noodlings. There are some great, great songs here.

Packaged like a miniature gatefold LP, this folk-rock throwback features two Ryan trademarks: clever word play (“Let me go, I’m only letting you down” and “Telling me to take it easy but I took a photograph”) and occasional wrist-slitting depression (“I aint afraid of hurt, I’ve had so much it feels just like normal to me now”). But while 2003 found Adams a bit brooding on Love is Hell and full of self-aware mockery on Rock’n’Roll, 2005’s Cold Roses smells of the sweet fulfillment of a great talent who’s finally letting his terrific songs speak for themselves.


As always (if possible), don’t buy these albums at BestBuy, Target or on Amazon. Support your local independent record store (while it still exists) and buy from them.

Frank Zappa Knew It 20 Years Ago: the "Liberal Media" is a Myth

Posted in misc.blurbs, music, politics on Friday, 2008 by Todd.Levinson.Frank

“The concept of a “liberal media bias,” spoon-fed to CNN viewers in talk-show blather and pompous ‘news commentary’ throughout the Reagan years, has at last been exposed for the pitiful manipulation it always was.

‘Liberal’ bias? Suppose a newsperson was some sort of frothing ‘liberal’ – would he get a broadcast job in the first place? Not on CNN. But, suppose he did, and tried to sneak some form of “bias” into a story, do we think he’d last a week? Get serious. Frothing right-wing extremists are, however, prominently displayed and in plentiful supply on CNN.

The license holders for most broadcast outlets (especially the commercial networks) hardly qualify as “liberal” by any stretch of the imagination – and the guys on the board of directors? Gimme a break. This applies to all news outlets – electronic and print. The guy who owns the outlet determines policy and content – that’s why he owns it, so he can control it. This power to mold public opinion is bartered for ‘favors’ among ‘friends’ – it is the essential tool of spin-control”

-Frank Zappa, 1988

McCain’s Empty Double-Talk on the Economic Crisis

Posted in politics on Wednesday, 2008 by Todd.Levinson.Frank

As our economy crumbles and the financial news gets more catastrophic by the day, John McCain continues to spout phony rhetoric in hopes that his soundbites about “fixing Wall Street” might actually resonate with voters.

Of course, as we know, much of the current crisis was enabled by the massive deregulation McCain supported in the late 1990s when it was initially sponsored by then-Sen. Phil Gramm, who is now an economic adviser to his campaign.

But McCain has flip-flopped and is changing his tune on regulation and government involvement. From Michael D. Shear’s article in today’s Washington Post:

A decade ago, Sen. John McCain embraced legislation to broadly deregulate the banking and insurance industries, helping to sweep aside a thicket of rules established over decades in favor of a less restricted financial marketplace that proponents said would result in greater economic growth.

Now, as the Bush administration scrambles to prevent the collapse of the American International Group (AIG), the nation’s largest insurance company, and stabilize a tumultuous Wall Street, the Republican presidential nominee is scrambling to recast himself as a champion of regulation to end “reckless conduct, corruption and unbridled greed” on Wall Street. “Government has a clear responsibility to act in defense of the public interest, and that’s exactly what I intend to do,” a fiery McCain said at a rally in Tampa yesterday.

A little background, from the same article:

[In 1999,] McCain had joined with other Republicans to push through landmark legislation sponsored by then-Sen. Phil Gramm (Tex.), who is now an economic adviser to his campaign. The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act aimed to make the country’s financial institutions competitive by removing the walls between banking, investment and insurance companies.

That bill allowed AIG to participate in the gold rush of a rapidly expanding global banking and investment market. But the legislation also helped pave the way for companies such as AIG and Lehman Brothers to become behemoths laden with bad loans and investments.

As Shear puts it, “McCain now condemns the executives at those companies for pursuing the ambitions that the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act made possible.”

Yesterday, Barack Obama gave a detailed speech that not only criticized McCain on this issue, but offered his vision for solutions to this mess. He also launched a new plain-spoken ad that points to his detailed plan to fix it. Funny, everyone says Obama just gives nice speeches about hope but never offers specifics. And yet here he is saying “please go to my website and read my plan.”

Meanwhile, McCain suggested we should form a commission to study the problem, “like the 9/11 Commission.” What? This sounds like holding a meeting to decide when the next meeting should be. While our major financial institutions are failing, McCain has no clue what to do so he wants to form a commission to maybe try to figure something out and then hopefully implement something or other. Obama’s already studied it and he HAS a plan. But John McCain would rather win an election than fix the economy (that he continues to declare is fundamentally strong).

So McCain threw up (pun intended) his own TV spot that promises to “reform Wall Street” and pass “new rules for fairness and honesty.” In the ad, he also says, “I won’t tolerate a system that puts you and your family at risk. Your savings, your jobs . . . I’ll keep them safe.” Don’t worry, Uncle John will keep you safe. Soon as he wastes a few months appointing a commission and that commission spends a few months studying some stuff and making some recommendations that might get implemented a few months after that.

Of course it wouldn’t be a McCain ad without some lying: McCain says, “My opponent’s only solutions are talk and taxes.” Really? As this whole post and the links within it prove, Obama does have a plan and McCain’s the one who only offers “talk.” And every independent, non-partisan study actually says that Obama will provide more tax relief for the “bottom” 95% of Americans than McCain.

Again, everyone assumes that John McCain is some known, proven leader with a plan and that Barack Obama is just an empty suit who “never offers specifics.” But he does. As for McCain? His senior policy adviser, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, told reporters that there was no need for McCain to be specific right now: “I don’t think it’s imperative at this moment to write down what the plan should be,” he said. “The real issue here is a leadership issue.”

Well, I agree we need real leadership. But I doubt we’ll get it from John McCain. All he’s offered is a bunch of double-talk. “I’m always for less regulation,” he told the Wall Street Journal just 6 months ago. He added: “I’d like to see a lot of the unnecessary government regulations eliminated.”

But NOW, after the deregulation that McCain himself championed has bankrupted our economy, he says “Government has a clear responsibility to act” while he offers vague soundbites about how he will “reform Wall Street” and “keep us safe,” when in fact his only suggestion is to form a commission to study the problem that Obama already has a plan to fix.

The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson got off a good one about McCain: “He’s shocked and outraged that Wall Street’s preening Masters of the Universe threw a drunken toga party and smashed all the furniture — but he helped buy the beer and told the cops to look the other way.”