Nixon’s Vietnam Treason

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Nixon’s Vietnam Treason

It seems that is confirmed, by George Will and other sources, that Nixon committed an act of Treason concerning the Vietnam War.  During his first election he contacted the leaders of South Vietnam, when he was still a private citizen, and sabotaged peace talks to make his election chances more favorable.  That is the simple version.  Maybe this was really big news and I missed it somehow, as Will’s article came out last year.  But if not, why wasn’t this much bigger news?  We spend weeks on crashed planes, but not weeks on elected Presidents who have committed treason?  I realize Nixon has been dead awhile, but this seems the kind of thing that society could learn a lot from.

The Walking Dead Season Finale (Spoilers Involved)

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I really enjoyed the season finale of The Walking Dead, which I finally caught today on Amazon as I don’t have cable.  I think it tied up what was an excellent season on all fronts and left us, as viewers, wanting more, which is exactly what a TV show that has more to go should do.

What I love about The Walking Dead is that first and foremost it is entertainment of the highest order.  It creates a largely believable alternative world and gets us wrapped up emotionally in what goes on there.  Anyone that loves the show will tell you that it keeps you on the edge of your seat.  The characters, for the most part, are well written, with their own interior lives.  You care about these people and what becomes of them.  It is exciting and it is emotional.  I would watch the show for these reasons alone.

What makes The Walking Dead even better, and keeps me thinking about it after viewing it is over, is the intelligence that lies behind the entertainment.  Music should be great music first, television should be great television first.  That is the first order of any art form.  If it can do even more than that, that is what sets the greats aside.

There are many ways that you can interpret this show.  Here is just one way you can interpret this season.  I’m not saying this is an original interpretation, or that if I had more time to think about it that I wouldn’t think of a better one.  The fact that it posts up ideas without definitive conclusions is the mark of a good drama.  This is not our world.  It allows us to reflect upon it, but there isn’t necessarily a right or wrong way to interpret it.  It is complex and complexity in entertainment is a good thing.

The zombies pose a threat to people.  Different people respond to this threat differently.  Some become inhuman themselves, and some, like the citizens of Alexandria, respond to it by almost ignoring it.  They are safe behind their walls and are haven’t had to adapt in any great way to the new world and the threats that are a part of it.  The Grimes gang, meanwhile, have had to  live among the terrors of the world.  They have a realistic viewpoint of what is going on, even if what is going on throughout the season is in danger of making them lose their humanity.

In the season finale it looked as if events were going to prove the Grimes gang correct, even if they essentially have been all along.  Rick and his people were even considering killing certain members of Alexandria for the good of the whole.  It looked as if this was going to be needed.  Meanwhile the citizens of Alexandria were mostly content to keep living in their bubble, even if there was literally “wolves” at their door.  (I would argue that the people of Alexandria aren’t really doves in the political sense, but delusional.  Doves will still go to war when necessary, they just try to make it a last resort.  Though like any political group there are variations.  Compared to those of Terminus or the Governor, the Grimes gang are doves.  For the sake of not making this article incredibly long, lets just keep the political tags somewhat simplified.)

The season finale was called Conquer.  It looked as if Rick and his gang were going to have to use violence to conquer Alexandria.  Often in real world events there are hawks and doves.  There are people that believe in peace and people that believe that violence is a way to achieve and end.  It looked like the show was setting things up to make the doves of this scenario and episode look foolish while the hawks looked like they were right.

However, the Grimes gang was able to peacefully take over Alexandria not through violence, but because of their compassion.  Yes the episode ended with an act of violence, but this was directed by one of the members of Alexandria, even though Rick carried it out.  But all of the main characters demonstrated that they had held on to their humanity at the end, and this at least left the viewer with the impression that they were going to be the leaders of this new society.  At the same time, they were able to bring the members of Alexandria to understand the world that they were facing and bring them closer to their world view.

What the writers of this episode seemed to be saying was that although we must be willing to look at the world as it really is, it is essentially holding onto our compassion in the face of threats that will allow people to build a better world.  Many of the people that have resorted to nothing but brute violence in this show may survive awhile, but they are not as strong as people that also possess compassion for others.  So far they have all been wiped out eventually.  Meanwhile those that completely ignore real world threats will essentially find their time coming to an unpleasant end as well.  Although different people, in reality, can argue that the show is taking one side or the other, as it is interpretive, this is how I interpreted this episode.  I am also fully aware that this is only a midpoint in the series as a whole, and that anything may change based on further episodes.

However, I think, even if you philosophically disagree with different ideas on the show, this is an interesting point to contemplate.  One must face the world as it really is, even the worst of it, but trying to hold onto one’s compassion is essential even in the face of the darker truths of the world.

One of the really great things about this series is that if you read about it on the internet, there are a whole host of different ways to interpret different plot points and story arcs.  Again, I think fiction that gets people thinking in different ways is always a good thing.  

How Technology Affects Art

I’ve been thinking lately about how technology affects the quality of art being made.  Now art is not monolithic.  Just because digital recording became the norm doesn’t mean that analog gear isn’t still used.  Just because photography was invented obviously doesn’t mean that there stopped being painters.  But I am talking about trends in general.

I have mentioned numerous times that I have spent a lot of time listening to The Cure lately.  I want to use two of their songs as an example.  I am going to post YouTubes, but it would be much better if you could listen to higher quality recordings to really get the details.  First I want you to listen to Play For Today from their album Seventeen Seconds, which at the time was a low budget recording (However you are listening, I would recommend headphones):

Now I want you to listen to a song called Sleep When I’m Dead from their album 4:13 Dream album.  This is a song that was written much earlier in their career, in what many fans feel was the best period of their career.  I purposely picked this song because it was written at an earlier period.  Although there are probably reasons this didn’t make a record, I wanted to get the argument that Robert Smith isn’t as good of a song writer as he used to be out of the way.  I’m not trying to talk about taste in writing or performance, merely the technology to capture each song.  (I personally like all periods of The Cure, though I have slight preferences for some.)  Anyway, here is the song:

Now it is impossible to know what creative decisions went into recording each song.  However, what is going on in each song is part of a bigger trend in music, so that I don’t think you can just base the sound of each recording to the taste of the artist.  I would also imagine that the budget was much bigger for Sleep When I’m Dead, given the fact that The Cure has gone on to be a band that can play stadiums.

On the earlier song there is much more clarity to the way it sounds.  Each instrument is discernible no matter how loud or quiet they are in the mix.  There is also much more depth of field.  When things get it seems like they are farther away.  In a lot of modern recordings when things get quieter, part of the instruments seem lost in a way that does not happen naturally in reality.  The newer song has less clarity and less depth of field, despite probably having a bigger budget for recording.  This is also despite the fact that technology has progressed.  I’m not doing this to knock later period Cure.  Too many times fans of any band develop sentimental attachments to artists that don’t allow them to view their newer work clearly.  I personally prefer the older song out of the two, but I am happy to hear any new material by an artist that I like.  Plus, there are newer songs by The Cure that I prefer to certain older ones.  It just comes down to the material itself.  However, I feel that the way the earlier material was recorded gives it a better chance of flight.  It has more sonic ambience and atmosphere in just the recording itself.

Anyway, I’m using music, but this really could apply to many art forms.  Although there are certain movies that look great when they are filmed digitally, there is something about the way film looks, which is a longer and more expensive process, that often wins out on average.  It always, at the end of the day, comes down to the choices that each individual artist makes and how they use a medium that matters most.

Technology often makes things easier and less expensive.  This is good because it allows more people to express themselves.  The downside to technology is that sometimes less of what is made, as a percentage, reaches a certain level of quality.  It is easier to record than ever before, which means more recordings are being made.  This is a good thing.  However, even average quality recordings of earlier time periods usually have a higher standard that average quality recordings today.

I’m not trying to make a point necessarily.  There are people on both sides of the argument.  Both have valid points.  I only am trying to get you to think about how technology can affect art both good and bad.  Technology in art, as it does in life, can often make things better and worse at the same time.

Sunday Thoughts…

I need to go canvassing for a political group in a little, so posting will be slow today, at least until tonight.  Overall it has been a good weekend.  The Shinyribs band had an extremely fun gig at the Cottonwood in Houston, Texas.  I saw the excellent film Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter last night.  Although I might not catch it till tomorrow, I am really looking forward to The Walking Dead season finale that premiers tonight.  (I don’t have cable.)  I am enjoying the new Cribs record, For All My Sisters, that just came out.  I also have been diving deeper into catalog of the band The Cure.  Most casual listeners probably have a view of The Cure that is crystalized by their late 80’s and early 90’s singles, but their catalog is really diverse and experimental, while somehow always maintaining an identity.  I unfortunately haven’t had much time for reading this weekend unfortunately, but so it goes.  I am working on A Feast of Snakes by Harry Crews and Dante’s The Inferno.

Although the world can sometimes squeeze my skull, especially the latest antics by the batshit insane modern Republican Party, overall there is an endlessly fascinating amount of things to dive into.  My work week is kind of backwards from most people, as I usually am working when most others are relaxing.  If you are having a lazy Sunday, even if you have completely different tastes than me, have fun exploring…

The Drums You Have Heard 1,000 Times

One six second drum loop has been sampled and used in countless records.  In 1969 a band called the Winstons cut a song called Amen, Brother.  A part of that track has been used in everything from old school hip hop, a David Bowie song, and commercials.  Knowing this raises interesting questions about intellectual property.  The above video tells the partial history of this break beat.  The video is fairly interesting despite the announcer speaking in a Stephen Hawking monotone voice.  Probably the quote I find the most interesting is, and this is a paraphrase:  A whole subculture has been created out of six seconds in 1969.

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter First Response

Tonight I saw the excellent new movie Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter.  It is going to be a little while before I can write a review, as the movie defies easy description and categorization.  I was pleasantly surprised that the creators of the movies, the Zellner brothers, were at the screening and did a Q & A after.  I had no idea that they were from Austin or that they would be there.  I think anyone that enjoys seeing something unique and dreamlike at the movie theater would like this film.  Although one could draw comparisons to other directors and films that came before it, it was its own thing.  It was an art-house film, but one that had a story captivating enough that I think even a certain percentage of people that aren’t interested in those kind of films could be swept up in.  However, it was interpretive and requires the viewer to think, unlike a great deal of mass entertainment. Anyway, I will write more at some point.  I really liked the film and wanted to get something up about it.  I didn’t want my silence, since I posted I was going to see it, to be taken as dislike.

For All My Sisters Review

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I really like the new Cribs album For All My Sisters a lot.  It’s pop music in the best sense.  Pop music as played by rock band.  Despite the fact that the band is from England, there is something California about their new record.  If not for the accents on the vocals, there is something about this record that can be traced on a musical family tree back to certain elements of Weezer and even the Beach Boys.  I’m not saying that is intentional, or that there aren’t stylistic differences, only that there is a melodic sense that is somehow sunny and often melancholy a the same time.

The album is produced by Ric Ocasek who also produced Weezer’s Blue and Green albums, and also their excellent new album Everything Will Be Alright In the End.  As I said, there are definitely some melodic moments that recall Weezer, although The Cribs have been delivering great melodies since the start of their career.  However, while Weezer, for the most part, have an easy mass appeal, despite their idiosyncrasies, The Cribs new album is more cryptic.  Despite being melodic, the guitars are more jagged, more angular.  Even their extremely melodic vocal hooks are more elusive, less singsongy.  This is rock n roll pop music filtered through British post-punk.

One of the things that Ric Ocasek does time and time again is get great guitar tones.  He does this without doing anything seemingly complex.  Aside from a couple of synth parts and extra backup vocals, there is almost nothing on this album that the three piece Cribs could not reproduce live.  Hearing a guitar overdub that plays something different than the main guitar line is rare.  Mostly it just sounds like one guitar part doubled.  If you listen to this album, the Weezer albums, or even the Bad Brains God of Love, Ocasek is able to create deep textures through guitar distortion.  He is able to take something incredibly simple and turn it into an aural painting.  Where guitars can often sound flat, he creates an incredible amount of depth, a warm swimming pool that the listener can pleasurably dive into.  This is a big deal, especially for a three piece band.

Despite the album being full of hooks, there is not anything as instantly memorable as earlier Cribs records.  There is no song that has a chorus as memorable as the song We Share the Same Skies, for instance.  This doesn’t necessarily work against it, as the album holds up on repeated plays.  The album is enjoyable on the first listen, but it is definitely a grower.  I know that I have said several times that is is incredibly melodic, and it is true that the album has very glossy production, but there is a slight sense of artiness here, just below the surface, that keeps the album from being swallowed too easily.

If I had to criticize anything, it would be that the lyrics haven’t really opened themselves up to me yet.  That’s not to say that they are bad or unintelligent.  They do not get in the way of my enjoyment either.  It’s just that, despite the album having a classic rock mix, the vocals are not buried like they are on many other indie rock records, the vocals seem part of the music more than the centerpiece.

The Cribs have consistently been at that crossroad where indie, pop, rock, and post-punk collide.  I am partial to this kind of music, but I think anyone that likes to hear guitar oriented rock music with great melodies would like this as well.  They are not doing anything groundbreaking, but they put the ingredients together in a unique way that gives them their own sound and personality.  The fact that they do have their own personality does mean they are able to expand the form on the margins, and that alone is worth something.