David Byrne has a wonderful four-song EP for download benefiting Amnesty International highlighted by an amazing live version of My Life in the Bush of Ghosts' "Help Me Somebody," converting a song based on samples to a live vocal jam. There's also a superior version of "One Fine Day," from his still-percolating 2008 album with Brian Eno. Here's Byrne's email in full:
Some time ago Amnesty International asked if I might do "something"
for that organization this year- (in previous years I had done one of
my tour dates as a benefit for them). Amnesty has such an amazing and
consistent track record of speaking out and helping to illuminate
courageous people who might otherwise not be heard from so the answer
It was decided to record some songs from my current tour for them to
be sold as a download with the proceeds going to Amnesty. As there are
no physical costs with digital distribution this means more of the
sales percentage actually goes to where it's supposed to. So, thank you
for supporting a great organization and I hope you like these
The tour isn't over yet. It has been exhilarating for all the
musicians, singers, dancers and the crew as well- so we all voted to
keep rolling on through summer 09. On these live shows I decided to use
the connection of Brian Eno- as a collaborator, producer or musician-
as the thread that links some material from the past with a group of
songs done last year. Most of the time music listeners are blissfully
unaware of the contributions of a record producer, and sometimes even
of which musicians who play on a record as well...so the Eno linking
device might not be as self evident as I imagine. However, the device
also allowed me to include a fair number of songs in the live set that
people are somewhat familiar with, which wasn't exactly accidental.
For me, there is are rhythmic and structural links between the older
material and the new- though there are lyrical and melodic differences
too that I, at least, can hear. Those musical parallels help the live
show maintain some kind of musical thematic unity- they help the show
from becoming a random hodge podge of songs. I've even heard someone
say to us backstage that they felt the show tells a story. They didn't
elaborate as to what kind of story.
My favorite music right now is the new album by De La Soul, Are You In?: Nike+ Original Run--a new take on rap-rock-techno in 45 bracing minutes, with production by Detroit's Young RJ and Chicago duo Flosstradamus, with the latter mixing the results into one continuous track.
This is also De La's first album since 2004's The Grind Date (on Sanctuary Urban), and first new material since the new songs spiking their 2006 rarities comp Impossible: Mission TV Series: PT. 1, released on their own AOI Records label.
The reason you haven't heard about it is because the new album is actually an iTunes exclusive released by Nike, the latest in the company's series of "running mixes" by artists such as LCD Soundsystem, Aesop Rock, A-Trak, and Crystal Method. De La are on record claiming the mix is hardly just, or even, a "poster for Nike," and they're right: It's more like a shoe than a poster for shoes--a Nike product, straight up.
Am I the only De La Soul fan who finds this sad? Forget Nike for a minute, a company that could make sweatshops a thing of the past if it wanted to, and obviously doesn't want to. Are You In? (as in "R-U-N," get it?) says something about the music industry De La Soul has fled. "The objective of a record label is just selling records," said Dave Jolicoeur in an interview with Avertising Age. "I think they
could almost care less about the creative aspect of it. So this is
cool, you've got a company that creates."
In 20 years, will there even be record companies? Or just artists sponsored by corporations selling other things?
And what about the people who write about artists? As the wave of layoffs reaches my doorstep (my fiancee, my book editor, and a good friend all lost their jobs in recent weeks), I note that my best pay for writing about music comes from eMusic, an online store that doesn't run pans. Maybe one day I'll simply review the new De La Soul for Nike directly, to be published on their website.
People who think the corporatization of everything is as natural as the weather probably don't feel that corporations have fucked us with this economic collapse. But they have fucked us. Not just in their hold on government, which gave us the current crises, but in their hold on business thinking itself. Talk to anyone in any field, and you'll hear about business after business becoming more "corporate"--i.e. stupider, more centralized, less efficient, less fair, and more prone to "self-destruction"--though the "selves" getting destroyed are never the ones on top, who are rewarded.
"A lot of the general tone in journalism right now is that of martyrology... 'We were doing our job. Making the world safe for democracy. And
all of a sudden, terra firma shifted, new technology. Who knew that the
Internet was going to overwhelm us?'
"I would buy that if I wasn't in
journalism for the years that immediately preceded the Internet, because
I took the third buyout from the Baltimore Sun. I was about reporter
number 80 or 90 who left, in 1995. Long before the Internet had had its
impact. ... Those buyouts happened when the Baltimore
Sun was earning 37 percent profits...
"We now know this,
because it's in bankruptcy, and the books are open. Thirty-seven percent profits.
All that R&D money that was supposed to go in to make newspapers
more essential, more viable, more able to explain the complexities of
the world. It went to shareholders in the Tribune Company. Or the L.A.
Times Mirror Company before that. And ultimately, when the Internet did
hit, they had an inferior product, that was not essential enough that
they could charge online for it.
"I mean, the guys who are
running newspapers, over the last 20 or 30 years, have to be singular
in the manner in which they destroyed their own industry. It's
even more profound than Detroit making Chevy Vegas and Pacers and
Gremlins and believing that no self-respecting American would buy a
Japanese car in 1973. It's analogous up to a point, except it's
not analogous in that a Nissan is a pretty good car, and a Toyota is a
pretty good car. The Internet, while it's great for commentary and
froth, doesn't do very much first-generation reporting at all... The economic model can't sustain that kind of
reporting. And to lose to that, because you didn't-- They had contempt
for their own product...
"For 20 years, they
looked upon the copy as being the stuff that went around the ads. The
ads were the God. And then all of a sudden the ads were not there, and
the copy, they had had contempt for. They had actually
I covered the events of that week for MN Indy, yet hadn't witnessed most of what's in the film, which outlines a long, slow, but seemingly planned and certain overreaction by police and paramilitaries to a small group of vandals--bringing the full force of tear gas and arrest down on legal marchers, bystanders, and unlucky reporters. The documentary tells this story without any narration or framing devices outside of a few subtitles.
I have to add that I was wary: I don't agree with director Chris Strouth, a friend of mine, that the purpose of political protest, avowed or subconscious, is to persuade the people being protested. (He expressed this ideas last week on MPR.) Something similar was pointed out by an audience member at the Q&A after the screening, but not before the exchange degenerated into shouting and ranting from the floor--had the hecklers never encountered a public speaker with whom they disagree?
The point to make here is that these shouters weren't responding to the film, but to the director's remarks: At no point does Strouth put anyone onscreen discussing the efficacy of protest. The fact that people of differing views respond so strongly and approvingly to Unconvention is a sign of its beauty. At an hour and a half, with footage from a slew of different DIY video journalists (including The Uptake), the movie feels raw, unprocessed, and complex--with an eye toward every possible irony. We put together the whole in our minds, and make them up while we're doing it.
Unconvention is also just a starting point, and makes no claim to be the last word. Among the things striking me that week that aren't onscreen was just how deserted downtown St. Paul was (partly, I imagine, as a result of Labor Day Weekend, partly because citizens were truly led to believe that the great bomb-throwing conspiracy was descending, partly by elaborate security design). I also think any historian of the moment should point out that the confrontations with police on Monday involved a break-away protest from the much larger and apparently uncinematic legal one--and discussions of efficacy should make that distinction. Yet the movie wasn't about that conversation, which should come later. Maybe it should come tonight:
In the late 1980s, my friend Rick Vorndran made me a tape of a record he bought while in England, the Shop Assistants' Will Anything Happen. The 1986 Chrysalis Records album by the relatively obscure Edinburgh, Scotland, band remains one of my favorites of all time, a thing of enduring power and beauty. On 100th listen, it still sounds vulnerable, gorgeously noisy, and built to chill (notice how the chorus becomes climax and coda on "I Don't Want to Be Friends with You" above). They're a secret link between the Jesus and Mary Chain roar and Riot Grrrl rage, the Pastels' tenderness and Slumber Party daze, Cocteau Twins glisten and Stereolab drive, something new under the Velvet Underground sun.
Shop Assistants friends and fans the Vaselines recently got a deluxe reissue treatment on Sub Pop, and it's high time "the Shoppies" got something similar (since they've been covered by Matador's Fucked Up, maybe that label would be game). They were so much better than their contemporaries, I think, at least on the evidence of their hard-to-find recordings, and yet so much less heard and known--and I've always wondered why.
Until we get a proper complete-discography double-CD, here's a recommended make-it-yourself chronological compilation, with info about where to buy or download each set of songs. The most surprising thing about putting this together was that every single track was worth it:
From Buba and the Shop Assistants, Something to Do (November 1983, Villa 21, 002) 7-inch, downloadable here at Shelflife:
1. Something to Do 2. Dreaming Backwards
From The Shop Assistants, a.k.a. Shopping Parade EP (June/August 1985, Subway, SUBWAY 01, Subway Organization) 7-inch, all different versions of songs than on album, downloadable here at Phoenix Hairpins:
3. All Day Long 4. Switzerland 5. All That Ever Mattered 6. It's Up to You
If I could find it, this would be where I put the "rough mix" version
of "Safety Net," from an unreleased demo tape, which I read about here at Down With Tractors (with more here at Westway). Hope he re-ups that track!
7. Safety Net (rough mix)
From Peel Sessions (October 21, 1985), downloadable at Hopeless:
8. Safety Net 9. Almost Made It 10. Somewhere in China 11. All That Ever Mattered
From Safety Net (February, 1986, AGARR 1/AGARR 112, 53rd & 3rd Records) 7-inch/12-inch, from Anthology 1985-1986, downloadable at eMusic:
12. Safety Net 13. Almost Made It 14. Somewhere in China
From Peel Sessions, June 12, 1986, downloadable at Hopeless:
15. Fixed Grin 16. I Don't Wanna Be Friends with You 17. Ace of Spades [Motorhead cover] 18. Before I Wake
I Don't Wanna Be Friends With You (September 1986, Blue Guitar, AZUR2/AZURX2) 7-inch/12-inch, downloadable here at Phoenix Hairpins:
19. I Don't Wanna Be Friends With You [not different than the album version, but included here for flow] 20. Looking Back 21. All Day Long (Slow Version) [a.k.a. Long Version]
CD 2: 1986-1990
From the 2008 CD reissue of Will Anything Happen (also simply known as The Shop Assistants) (November 1986, Blue Guitar, AZLP2/ZAZLP2), LP/Cassette, also on Chrysalis Records/EMI, reissue on Cherry Red Records available for purchase at Amazon:
1. I Don't Want to Be Friends With You [same as single version except for the tweaked title] 2. All Day Long 3. Before I Wake 4. Caledonia Rd. 5. All That Ever Mattered 6. Fixed Grin 7. Somewhere in China [different version than on Safety Net single] 8. Train from Kansas City [Shangri-Las cover] 9. Home Again 10. Seems to Be 11. After Dark 12. All of the Time 13. What a Way to Die [Pleasure Seekers cover] 14. Nature Lover
From NME's C86 compilation cassette, downloadable here at Aquarium Drunkard:
15. It's Up to You
From You Trip Me Up flexidisc (January 1990, FLX886, Avalanche Records), downloadable here at Pukekos. Note significant lineup shift for these still-wonderful final releases, with the departure of lead vocalist Alex, bassist and second vocalist Sarah moving over to lead vocals, drummer Laura moving over to bass, and Margarita joining on drums with a full drum kit instead of Laura's usual upright bass and snare:
16. You Trip Me Up [Jesus and Mary Chain cover] 17. The Other One
From Here It Comes (January 1990, Avalanche Records, AGAP001C/AGAP001B), CD single, with "Here It Comes" and "I'd Rather Be With You" downloadable here at I Could Die Tomorrow, and the other two apparently downloadable here, though I'm going off my own CD copy, which is track-downable:
18. Here It Comes 19. I'd Rather Be With You 20. Look Out 21. Too Much Adrenalin
From Big E Power (May 1990, Avalanche Records, AGAP003/AGAP003MC/AGAP003T/AGAP003CD), various formats, including CD single, with first "Big E Power" and "One More Time" downloadable here at I Could Die Tomorrow, and "She Said" downloadable here at Chocolate Bobka, though I can't find the live "Big E Power" online anywhere yet (I'm going off my own copy of the CD, which is track-downable):
22. Big E Power 23. She Said [Beatles cover] 24. One More Time 25. Big E Power [live]
"They hardly ever do police work," writes Bowden of the policeman and his partner years ago. "[T]hey are working full-time for the narcos. This is his real home for almost twenty years, a second Mexico that does not exist officialy and that co-exists seamlessly with the government." For much of his life, the commander spent most of his waking hours transporting kidnap victims, guarding them, torturing them (often in safehouses surrounded by cop cars), killing them, and disposing of the bodies, which numbered in the hundreds.
"We are not monsters," he tells Bowden. "We have education, we have feelings. I would leave torturing someone, go home and have dinner with my family, and then return. You shut off parts of your mind. It is a kind of work, you follow orders." (Read the beginning of the article for free at Anderson Cooper.)
"This isn't some ugly conspiracy by corrupt American presidents," he said in 2006. "This is what's called realpolitik. Tolerating the existence of a narco-state in Mexico is preferable to having an economic collapse in Mexico. Successive presidents have looked at the facts and made the same decision... The effort of the border patrol to stop illegal immigration is also simply for show, because if we really bottled up Mexico and a half million people a year couldn't come north, the economy would collapse."
Here and in Afghanistan, the president needs to start hearing the voices of reason on ending drug prohibition. Bowden is one of them.
Matos hips me to the fact, pointed out to him by Eric Weisbard, that Google Book Search now has what appears to be a complete run of Billboard from 1942 on. Just what I want: More research materials! But no, this is a great and wonderful thing, especially the Google map identifying places mentioned in the magazine--there's usually at least one dot per issue in Minnesota.
It's been a year since my last roundup up non-blog writing, so here's the beautiful backlog. If you want to read what I've written here at complicatedfun.com over the same period, browse the archive to the right.
Nathan Amundson, a.k.a. Rivulets, writes to inform me that not only does the solo Morrissey need no compiling, contrary to my hasty preview, but he's been compiled to death--with more than 10 best-ofs listed on Allmusic alone. "What Morrissey needs is a definitive box set. Which can never happen until he's done, and he doesn't seem done yet." Overconfidence in my (obviously) casual fandom wasn't my worst sin: I somehow missed the "compilations" tab while checking his discography at Allmusic. As partial penance, I offer parts one and two of a very rich 2002 Morrissey interview with Dave Fanning on 2FM Ireland, probably news only to fans as casual as I. (But so long as I'm linking audio, download a recently posted 28-minute interview with the Minutemen's D. Boon at Corndogs.org.)
Also, Jake Rudh emails to announce his official Morrissey afterparty at the 7th St. Entry Monday night, free and 18+, with Morrissey prizes, music, and a large screen showing your favorite Smiths and Moz videos: