Greek Fire: Setting Enemies On Fire at Sea and Ancient Flamethrowers


Greek Fire


On the road today, so posting will be slow.   In the meantime, through some internet wormwhole which started with a Game of Thrones article, I stumbled upon Greek Fire.  This was a kind of pitch that was so flammable it could even be used in sea battles.  It was also, unlike other similar weapons, able to be sprayed upon enemies.  In fact, it could even be used in portable flamethrower like devices.  Remember the good old days?  We humans sure were creative!

Shows This Weekend and Books, Music, and Television Worth Checking Out

Shiny ribs Show Page

I’ll be performing back to back shows tonight at Strange Brew in Austin, Tx with Shinyribs.  The first one is sold out and I have a feeling the second one will be as well.  If you want to go, get your tickets now.  Tomorrow we are in the Fort Worth area.  You can get all the details up above.

Yesterday I watched the latest episodes of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and Real Time with Bill Maher.  I also finally viewed Alex Gibney’s Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief.  I was struck by how all three of these programs were more informative than anything on cable news.  They were also more interesting and entertaining as well.  The documentary was a serious piece by an award winning filmmaker, so it it is no surprise there. The other two are comedy shows that talk about current events.  Comedians are still our biggest mainstream truth tellers, even after John Stewart and Stephen Colbert have gone off the air.

I’ve been reading Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose.  It is a murder mystery that takes place in an abbey in 1327.  But it uses the genre of the murder mystery, although with a historical twist, as a jumping off point for discussions on religion and philosophy.  It’s amazing the amount of visual and historical detail he is able to pack in, while still holding the reader’s attention throughout.

Next month features a host of records that I am really excited about.  New records by Darlene Love, New Order, Iron Maiden, and Public Image Ltd. all make appearances.

Paul Westerberg’s Folker

One of my favorite albums is Paul Westerberg’s Folker.  It is, like the title implies, a collection of folk rock songs, some leaning more one way than the other.  It’s the kind of thing that could easily be overlooked by a critic as what makes it great are the details and subtleties inherent in the record.  The melodies are knockouts and as always, Westerberg has a feel for music that is natural;  He is a musician that is able to communicate emotion with everything he does.  This record, like a lot of Westerberg’s stuff, is personal music, much like the music of John Lennon, but even more so.  Where Lennon never stopped reaching for the big moment, Westerberg seems content to reflect on his own life.  The record, while not a concept record in any traditional sense, does seem to tell a story if you pay close enough attention.  He doesn’t break any new ground in a larger sense, he isn’t creating a new genre, but the music is unique as it could only be made by one person in one time and place.  Westerberg was growing older, there are relationship troubles hinted at (though these songs may just be a way of communicating inner turmoil), his dad had recently been sick and passed away, and there is a sense of reflection, of looking back and asking what it all means.

The album begins with a joke in the song Jingle, in which Westerberg sings, “buy it now, buy it”, over and over again.  It’s almost as if he is clearing the air, before he begins digging in the dirt of his own personal life.  There are many ways to interpret that song, which stands in contrast to the rest of the record.  Is he purposely creating the contrast, as a way of exposing what most music is, an excuse for a marketing campaign, compared to what should be, the personal music that follows?  I have my theories, but this is the kind of record that will leave you with your own.  The record ends with two songs, Gun Shy and Folk Star, where Westerberg finally gets back on the rock n roll horse and sings and plays with abandon.  Has the deep reflection of the rest of the record allowed him to return to his normal life, or is it that he can only bare that kind of introspection for so long before even he must look away?

One of my favorite songs on the record is Lookin’ Up In Heaven.  (And there are no bad songs.  In fact the entire album plays almost like one long piece, however, a piece in which all the components are great in and of themselves.)  As on much of the record, Westerberg does a bunch of neat tricks as a songwriter.  He writes something that is personal, but that still leaves room for interpretation, for the listener to relate enough that the songs could be about them.  He is also playful and complex in the emotions conveyed.  Although the song has an overall melancholic feel, there are moments of rebellion, humor, and defiance.  It’s not all one thing and I think many of the best songs are like that, reflecting the complexity that one feels in any situation.  We are so rarely just sad or happy or angry.  One of those emotions might take center stage, but they are rarely acting alone.  They rarely block out all other thought.  Westerberg is also playful with language, using different variations of the line, “I look high again”, to various effect throughout the song.

Another thing that I love about the song is the spoken word lines, “They invited me to stick around, but I told ’em there was another place I had to check out tonight.”  I wrote awhile back, when I posted the lyrics of the song that:

This song always makes me think of Mark Twain and about how he thought the traditional view of heaven was everything that people wanted to avoid in real life.  A quote from Mr. Twain:  “Singing hymns and waving palm branches through all eternity is pretty when you hear about it in the pulpit, but it’s as poor a way to put in valuable time as a body could contrive.”

I hope this song will serve as a window into this record.  It’s something that I never tire of.  In fact, I probably listen to it more than any of his other records, even those with The Replacements.  (Though his Mono, under the Grandpa Boy moniker, is a great blast of guitar rock that is ever present in my life as well.  It’s like the Rolling Stones meet the Ramones in Sun Studios.)  Even it’s lo-fi, low key vibe seem strengths to me years on.  It’s has never dated as there is no studio slickness to call attention to the time period it was created in.  And the melodies are gorgeous, but are kept from being saccharine by Westerberg’s ramshackle playing and raw singing.  (I’ve long felt Westerberg to be one of America’s greatest and most consistent melody writers next to Brian Wilson.)  It is a record that again looks inward, but in the best sense possible.  In Westerberg’s mirror one can also catch a glimmer of themselves.


Reflections On “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief”

I finally got around to watching Alex Gibney’s Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, the HBO documentary about Scientology.  It was everything everyone said it was.  The truth really is stranger than fiction.  I’m not going to do a full review, there have been plenty of others, and the film is still too new in my head to give it any kind of overall analysis.  There are just a few quick points and questions I wanted to address:

  1.  Watching the movie you see an alternative reality, where people believe things that can only be described as batshit insane.  Yet, many of these people are highly functioning members of society.  What widely held beliefs do we hold in our society that appear absolutely ridiculous to those viewing us from afar?  I don’t mean ones that differ from other societies, there are plenty of those, but ones that are provably false, yet a great deal of Americans put faith in them.
  2. Many of the people interviewed, the high ranking former Scientologists, that now have retired from the church, look back upon their former life with disbelief.  If we were to be removed from our current station in life are there things that we would view as absurd?
  3. When something looks and feels like a propagandist rally, it probably is.  There are creepy spectacles where the leader of the modern church, David Miscavige, and Tom Cruise speak to a stadium full of people in tuxedos and ball gowns.  Fireworks go off, people wave flags, inspirational videos are shown.  It looks like a megachurch combined with a political party convention combined with a sports rally.  All of these things are things in which every day America people have to suspend disbelief to participate in.  Sure, a sports rally is largely harmless, but you are essentially pretending that the action on the field somehow matters in your life, which unless you have money on the game, it doesn’t.  I think the other two examples are self-explanatory.

My point is that the church of Scientology is ridiculously absurd.  But at the same time, it is just an exaggerated version of many of the things that inhabit everyday life.  In fact when compared to some of the televangelists that John Oliver recently spoofed, it really isn’t any more absurd.  People in this documentary do horrible things to other people in the name of belief.  So many of the ills of mankind are based on a belief of some kind, but because they are more accepted, are not recognized as absurd.  The prison of belief.  One of the things that makes the documentary so powerful is that it is explicitly about Scientology, but it is also implicitly about the way that people get carried away by belief.  I would bet that even those of us that think we have a realistic view of the world have some pretty ridiculous notions if we look hard enough.  Hopefully this documentary will make people look at their own lives and not just the lives of the freaks on view.  That being said, the things Scientologists believe in are really, really, really fucking insane!

The World Without Humans and Other News

What the World Would Be Like If Humans Had Never Existed

The above article over at Huffington Post is an interesting read that examines a scientific study of what the world would be like if humans had never existed.  It shows how humans have wiped out a lot of diversity in the world, especially large mammals.

The news today is pretty bleak.  At least the above article is informed speculation.  There’s more gun violence.  I read today that this year we have had more mass shootings than days of the year, if you count mass shootings as more than four people being shot at once, and not murdered, which is how the media often counts mass shootings.  And yet we still refuse to have a sensible debate on guns.

The Republican campaign keeps reaching new lows as they debate the fate of babies.  2015 is looking to be the warmest year on record, but many politicians refuse to admit that climate change is happening.  And on and on…

The news today reminds me of a scene in the movie Wild at Heart, where the two main characters, played by Nicholas Cage and Laura Dern, are driving through the desert listening to the radio.  Every station has some horrible bit of news on it, until it reaches an absurd symphony of facts.  The couple finally pulls over, puts on heavy metal, and dances and does karate kicks as the camera pulls away.  They eventually embrace, two kindred spirits in a strange world.  Here is the scene:

The scene is filmed in an absurd way, but there is a lot of truth going on there.

Morrissey to Release Novel and Great Books by Musicians

List of the Lost

List of the Lost Press Release

I’m looking forward to reading Morrissey’s first novel.  It comes out September 24th.  The details are above.

I really enjoyed his Autobiography.  Here are five other books by musicians, in no order, that are worth checking out:

  1.  Bob Dylan – Chronicle
  2. Henry Rollins – Get in the Van: On the Road With Black Flag
  3. Larry Kirwan – Green Suede Shoes: An Irish-American Odyseey
  4. John Lydon – Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs
  5. Lou Reed – Between Thought and Expression: Selected Lyrics of Lou Reed

All of the books, except the Lou Reed book, which is a collection of lyrics with commentary by Reed, would qualify as autobiographies.  However, each one of them is better than the standard autobiography or biography.  Dylan’s is written with the kind of wordplay and imagery that one would expect from Dylan.  Rollin’s is as much about self-realization under duress as it is about music, though of course there is a great deal of music commentary included.  It’s jet black and deeply funny.  Kirwan is not only a musician, but also a playwright.  His book is not only expertly written, but features a great deal of really interesting information on the history and culture of Ireland.  And Lydon’s book is not only an unsentimental look at his past, but includes commentary by other people that were around him at that same time.  Even if they flat out contradict him, he seems not to give a fuck.  He is interested in getting to the truth, and the truth depends on one’s perspective.

Amazing Humpback Whale Footage

The footage above is incredible, as a humpback whale breaches at the Bay of Fundy.  It was shot last Friday.  I’ve long been fascinated by whales, but reading Nathaniel Philbrick’s In the Heart of the Sea has only increased this interest.  I usually only post things I feel I can add some original insight into, but I think this footage speaks for itself.  An article over at Huffington Post has slightly more detail about this amazing footage.

Even as science unlocks more and more of nature’s mysteries, I am still left awestruck by the natural world.  I have been hiking several times in the last month and each time I find myself reflecting on what a strange dreamscape of a world we inhabit.

Andrew Sullivan On Blogging

Andrew Sullivan 2

Andrew Sullivan’s The Dish was, in my humble opinion, the most consistently interesting blog while it operated.  (Sullivan has now retired from blogging.)  I still have yet to see something that rivals it.  I think one reason for this is that Sullivan understood the possibilities of blogging in a way that many did not before him.  I found the following passage tonight, from Sullivan, that hints at what a blog can be and what differentiates it from other forms of writing:

Everything is true, so long as it is not taken to be anything more than it is. And I just want to ask that future readers understand this – so they do not mistake one form of writing for another, so they do not engage in an ignoratio  elenchi.  What I have written here should not be regarded as interchangeable with more considered columns or essays or reviews. Blogging is a different animal. It requires letting go; it demands writing something that you may soon revise or regret or be proud of. It’s more like a performance in a broadcast than a writer in a book or newspaper or magazine (which is why, of course, it can also be so exhausting). I have therefore made mistakes along the way that I may not have made in other, more considered forms of writing; I have hurt the feelings of some people I deeply care about; I have said some things I should never have said, as well as things that gain extra force because they were true in the very moment that they happened. All this is part of life – and blogging comes as close to simply living, with all its errors and joys, misunderstandings and emotions, as writing ever will.

Reflections On Female Singer Songwriters and Women’s Rights On the 95th Anniversary of the Right to Vote

95 years ago today, women gained the right to vote.  Although it is better than before, women still only earn roughly $0.77 for every $1.00 earned by their male counterparts.  Women’s reproductive rights are still under attack by conservative religious groups.

I think you can get a sense of how just a culture is by it treatment of women.  While there are cultures that are far worse than ours, I would nominate any that perform female genital mutilation, for instance, we still have a long way to go.

As a musician, a lot of my heroes are women.  Joni Mitchell’s body of work is as impressive as anyone’s.  Kirsty MacColl, Patti Smith, Sinead O’Connor, Buffy Sainte-Marie, and on and on, have written songs that are poetically profound, that leave most male songwriters in the dust.  Marianne Faithfull, as an interpreter of songs, is the equal of any man.  Yet often critics and writers label them all as female songwriters, or female singers, in a way that imply that they are playing in a different game than the men.  While it is correct to call someone like Mitchell a female songwriter, to say she is a great “female” songwriter is incorrect.  Her work dwarfs all but the very best male songwriters and one can even argue that she is the most unique songwriter from this continent in the last 100 years.  While someone like Dylan combined different forms in unique ways and infused them with a new sense of language, Mitchell almost seems to have created new forms entirely.  There is a reason a lot of the serious jazz guys wanted to play with her.  O’Connor was right about the abuse taking place in the Catholic church and was vilified for being brave enough to say something.  Sainte-Marie was blacklisted by President Johnson for speaking her mind in the American Indian Movement.

Anyone that says women aren’t as capable, intelligent, and brave as men should be laughed at outright.  There are physical biological differences, but even these aren’t definitive.  I’d hate to be thrown in the ring with Ronda Rousey!

Whenever you see something politically that is anti-women, it comes out of the outdated idea of the patriarchy.  But we should be smart enough at this point in history to know that respect shouldn’t be given, it should be earned.  It’s no wonder that some men want to cling to the kind of traditions that bestow power only due to the sex of their birth.  Control is a hard thing to give away.  But an idea is either a good idea or a bad one, based on its own merit and the way it holds up to reason.  With our environment going into the dumps, with endless war, with income inequality exploding haven’t us males done enough damage? I, at least, am ready for new ideas.  If a female can solve those issues, then I say have at it.

It’s far beyond time that we welcomed women as equals in all aspects of our society.  It’s not only the morally correct thing to do and the intelligent thing to do, but with the current state of the world, we are going to need everyone rowing!  So cast aside Medieval religious ideas and barbaric social orders that threaten to drag us under like quicksand.  More now than ever, with problems that are on a global scale, the old order that puts us in groups is going to lead to our demise.  As Kurt Vonnegut once said, when talking about the meaning of life, “We’re here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.”

More Posts On Joni Mitchell Include: The Sire of Sorrow (Job’s Sad Song)






Pages of Gold by Flo Morrissey

Season after season young female pop singers are paraded out, only to eventually disappear like leaves in the fall.  I spend a ridiculous amount of time listening to new records online and Flo Morrissey’s Tomorrow Will Be Beautiful is one of the few that made me pause.  (She is not related to the other famous singing Morrissey.)  I love how her phrasing is relaxed and effortless, emotional sounding, but naturally so.  The production reminds me of a modernized version of 60’s folk pop.  It’s a sweet kind of melancholy that I find attractive in pop music.  The lyrics are functionary, meaning that they support the song without adding anything truly interesting, but they in no way detract from the music and singing in anyway either.  For a singer of only 20, in our age, this is an accomplishment in and of itself.  It’s too early to tell if she is someone that has any kind of career in her, but she has a voice and authenticity that at least seem real.  In it’s own way it reminds me of Judy Collins singing Clouds, of Petula Clark or Cass Elliot.  The lyric writing is again nowhere near that stuff, and I’m not about to claim she has the personality of those singers.  However, I am interested and hoping for the best.