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.

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.

Is Our Environmental Past Prophecy of a Dark Future?

In reading about whaling in the book In the Heart of the Sea, by Nathaniel Philbrick, a great example is made of what happens when human beings destroy nature for economic pursuit.  I’m not talking about the whaleship Essex being sunk by a sperm whale, which is what the book is largely about, the true story that Moby Dick was based on.  I’m talking about how Nantucketers, in their ever increasing greed for more whale oil and their stubbornness in following tradition, built an entire economy that was doomed to eventually collapse.  The real story, which if you are interested in you should read the book, is more complex, but basically Nantucketers over-hunted whales and had to keep going further and further to find them.  Also, because they had such a closed off culture, when it did become apparent to others to seek even new hunting grounds, the Nantucketers could not adapt fast enough.

This is a story that has been seen again and again.  The fur-trade wore itself out from overhunting of beavers.  Almost any American school child knows about how the Buffalo almost became extinct from overhunting.  On a different note, with something like mountaintop removal in places like West Virginia one can see how whole economies rise and fall around something environmentally destructive, leaving a populace with nothing left to show for something other than a small few making a lasting fortune.

I don’t see how one can look at something like the oil industry and climate change and not expect the same to happen on a much larger scale.  This time it will be more than a single species almost driven to extinction, a single region driven through a boom and bust cycle.  While it is true that those species mentioned did manage to rebound somewhat, the ways of life they were based on never did.

As the old quote goes, “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.”  Humans, now more technologically advanced than ever, also have greater destructive powers than ever before.  The game we are playing is much bigger now, but the story is old.  Are we, as a species, truly capable of learning from our past?  Or is the past merely a series of small prophecies of what is to come of our future?

More Posts On the Environment Include: Entertainment Shows Growing Environmental Concerns

Nebraska and Wiseblood

I saw her standin’ on her front lawn
Just twirlin’ her baton 
Me and her went for a ride sir
And ten innocent people died 

From the town of Lincoln, Nebraska
With a sawed off .410 on my lap 
Through to the badlands of Wyoming
I killed everything in my path 

I can’t say that I’m sorry
For the things that we done 
At least for a little while sir
Me and her we had us some fun 

The jury brought in a guilty verdict
And the judge he sentenced me to death 
Midnight in a prison storeroom
With leather straps across my chest 

Sheriff when the man pulls that switch sir
And snaps my poor head back 
You make sure my pretty baby
Is sittin’ right there on my lap 

They declared me unfit to live
Said into that great void my soul’d be hurled 
They wanted to know why I did what I did 
Well sir I guess there’s just a meanness in this world.

Lyrics by Bruce Springsteen

I was looking for songs that had a lyric in them about Wyoming (We are spending the night in Laramie.), and when this came up I was reminded of how much I love the song.  In this song you can not only see the influence of cinema on Springsteen’s words, the song is based on the movie Badlands, which is itself a true story, but the language of writers like Flannery O’Connor.  She writes with the same kind of simple, powerful, haunted, almost Old Testament kind of language.  It’s a fallen world, one where you stumble into meanness just as easily as kindness.  In fact the last line in the song recalls a line at the end of O’Connor’s short story A Good Man is Hard to Find.  (A title which Springsteen later went on to use.) I’ve written about the connection between the two before.

More posts on Flannery O’Connor include: Flannery O’Connor On Mystery

More posts on Bruce Springsteen include:  The Dark Dreams of Bruce Springsteen

This is What You Want, This is What You Get

While watching DVD’s of the show Deadwood, and the special commentary featuring creator David Milch, a show that takes place in an illegal mining town, I came to understand how humans use certain kinds of language to psychologically justify certain orders of business which result in the destruction of nature. This can be found either through the use of vulgarity, to get themselves psyched up to do something which is not natural, or through euphemisms that hide the nature of what they are going to do.  Often you will see a combination of this.

Over the last two days, on tour, I have been reading the brilliant Nathaniel Philbrick book In the Heart of the Sea.  This book is a historical account that tells the story of the waleship Essex, which is the ship that inspired Moby Dick, due to the fact that it was sunk by a sperm whale in the Pacific Ocean.  At the time, the sinking of the ship was said to be as widely known as the sinking of the Titanic.  Melville, who had once been on a whaling vessel himself, used the story of the Essex as the basis for his book.

Most people now, even those that are tried and true hunters, view the killing of whales as nothing other than outright savagery, due to what we now know about whales.  However, even during the time of the Essex, the early 1800’s, those that witnessed the killing of a whale for the first time were often troubled by it.

In order to get the men ready to kill whales the captains and first mates of the ship would use a language, while rowing towards the whales, “that evoked the savagery, excitement, and the almost erotic bloodlust associated with pursuing one of the largest mammals on the planet.”  Here is the passage that the book uses that was spoken by a Nantucket mate (All the more interesting because those from Nantucket were Quakers, who are known in regular life for their pacifism.  A pacifism that would disappear when whales were their quarry.):

Do for heaven’s sake spring.  The boat don’t move.  You’re all asleep; see, see!  There she lies; skote, skote!  I love you, my dear fellows, yes, yes, I do;  I’ll do anything for you, I’ll give you my heart’s blood to drink; only take me up to this whale only this time, for this once, pull.  Oh, St. Peter, St. Jerome, St. Stephen, St. James, St. John, the devil on two sticks; carry me up; O, let me tickle him, let me feel of his ribs.  There, there, go on; O, O, O, most on, most on.  Stand up, Starbuck [harpooner].  Don’t hold your iron that way; put one hand over the end of the pole.  Now, now, look out.  Dart, dart.

When the book talks about the killing of the whale, it is truly horrific.  I am not one that is squeamish about violence, especially violence, no matter how real at the time of the event, that is taking place only in my imagination.  But I found the following passage, especially if you are to read the full account in the book, very troubling:

When the final lance found its mark its mark, the whale would begin to choke on its own blood, its spout transformed into a fifteen-to twenty-foot geyser of gore that prompted the mate to shout, “Chimney’s afire!”  As the blood rained down on them, the men took up the oars and backed furiously away, then paused to watch as the whale went into what was known as its flurry.  Beating the water with its tail, snapping at the air with its jaws – even as it regurgitated large chunks of fish and squid – the creature began to swim in an ever tightening circle.  Then, just as abruptly as the attack had begun with the first thrust of the harpoon, it ended.  The whale fell motionless and silent, a giant black corpse floating fin-up in a slick of its own blood and vomit.  

I highlighted “Chimney’s afire” because it is another use of language to make peace with a horrible act.  This time, unlike the first passage that was especially vulgar for its time, it is a euphemism.  Is the use of “Chimney’s afire” not a ridiculous euphemism for the act at hand?

When we perform mountaintop removal, when we steer the world towards destruction while ignoring climate change, when we kill off endangered species, what are the euphemisms that we use?  How do we justify these acts to ourself so that we can carry them out?

I also just finished the book The Consolations of Philosophy, which examines that in order to be happy, to not be crushed by life’s disappointments, we must have a  realistic view of the world.  In the book, the author is referring on how your outlook leads to how you respond to tragedy and setbacks.  If you have a rosy view of what is going on, you might not be able to handle a setback or tragedy, because you have an unrealistic viewpoint of what the world is like.  Something shocking is even more shocking if you never thought of it in the first place.  If you understand the harsh realities of life, you will still suffer and be sad at these times, but you will at least have the consolation of understanding that you are not suffering alone.  (This is an extreme simplification of what the book says, but bear with me while I make a point.)  I think also, that while one can certainly be active and fight 0r speak outagainst injustice in the world, it is extremely helpful to know exactly what is going on out there.  To solve a problem, I think it helps to know the full ramifications of what one is up against.  It might not always be necessary, but more times than not, especially in the political realm, a sharp view of reality will only aid one in their fight against injustice.

The reason I chose the Public Image Ltd. song above is that it constantly repeats the phrase, “This is What You Want, This is What You Get.”  This is what you wish the world was like, but this is how it really is.

I think this glimpse into whaling and the language used around it can help one identify the modern equivalence of it.  Again, what language are those that destroy the environment using?  What horrible acts are they concealing behind the facade of language?

Posts for Public Image Ltd. Check OutCareering

Posts for Deadwood: Deadwood and United Fruit

Posts for The Consolations of Philosophy: Socrates, Philosophy, and Why What is Popular is Not Always Right



Socrates, Philosophy, and Why What is Popular is Not Always Right

I have commented before that popularity has no connection whatsoever with with what is right, wrong, good, or bad.  I am by no means, by any stretch of the imagination, alone in thinking that.  Often we can feel things to be true often before we know them.  I’m sure many of you have felt that.  Socrates would call this the difference between true opinion and knowledge, the latter being far superior.  I was reading about all of this last night in an excellent book called The Consolations of Philosophy.  The book is by Alain de Botton.

My Dad has long preached to me the benefits of philosophy when trying to figure out an ethical argument.  However, as much as I have tried to read philosophy, it often left me cold and confused.  I have read almost all of Camus’ fiction, yet found The Myth of Sisyphus to be extremely challenging.  I took one or two philosophy classes and while I learned a little, there was much, as there still is, that I don’t know.  My Dad had the benefit of some really great teachers that helped guide him through the impenetrable language that philosophers often communicate in.

However, the book by de Botton is a great way to understand philosophy at a entry level.  He not only describes certain philosophers ideas in an extremely simple straightforward way, but also applies the ideas to problems that all humans suffer with.

In the beginning he uses the life of Socrates, and Socratic dialog, to make you understand that what is popular is not always right.  However, even if many of us know this, he again takes us from that place of true opinion to knowledge through his examination of Socrates.  The whole chapter is worth reading, but here is one example where the writer talks about how we should listen to those that criticize us, but we only let them affect our behavior if we work out with reason if they are right (I have cut out a very small example that don’t make as much sense without reading the rest of the text):

True respectability stems not from the will of the majority but from proper reasoning.  When we are making a ship, it is the verdict of those who construct triremes that should worry us;  and when we are considering ethical matters – how to be happy and courageous and just and good – we should not be intimidated by bad thinking, even if it issues from the lips of teachers of rhetoric, mighty generals and well-dressed aristocrats from Thessalay.  

It sounded elitist, and it was.  Not everyone is worth listening to.  Yet Socrates’ elitism had no trace of snobbery or prejudice.  He might have discriminated in the views he attended to, but the discrimination operated not on the basis of class or money, nor on the basis of military record or nationality, but on the basis of reason, which was – as he stressed – a faculty accessible to all.  

The idea, which is better demonstrated in the entire piece, is that many people have not properly thought through certain issues in any kind of thorough way.  Often things that we take for granted in society, laws or issues of common sense, are the products of tradition and have nothing to do with rigorous thinking about what is best.  Many people go through life without questioning why they are doing something.  So even if an idea or thing is popular, only if it can stand up to thorough reasoning should it be deemed good or right.  Often what is popular or deemed right is nothing more than the result of many people doing what has always been done, without questioning.  Slavery, during Socrates time and in the early history of the U.S., once had popular support.

The one other point that I would like to make, which the author also makes, is that this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t listen to outside criticism, even by those we don’t deem knowledgable about a certain issue.  Again, even a critic might know something is true through “true opinion” and not knowledge.  So we should again listen to criticism, but put it through the rigorous test of reason.




David Mitchell Interview

David Mitchell Interview

One of my favorite writers in recent years has been David Mitchell, who can seemingly do anything or go anywhere.  In some of his novels, epics like Cloud Atlas and The Bone Clocks, he can use many voices, cover different time periods, and make each seem authentic.  Not only is he able to do this, but he is able to connect all of those voices to form a compelling overreaching narrative.  Meanwhile, in something like Black Swan Green, he is able to use a much smaller canvas, in this case a British school kid in the 80’s, and make it just as compelling.  One of the true originals of our time.  The link is a short piece accompanied by a longer video interview.

More Thoughts On Get in the Van by Henry Rollins

I am watching Sons of Anarchy tonight and I just came across the episode where musician and actor Henry Rollins enters playing a white supremacist.  One of my favorite reads of recent years is Rollins’s Get in the Van: On the Road With Black Flag.  Now many of you might assume that I love this book because it documents touring and music, because I am a touring musician.  However, trust me, one of the last things I would want to read while being in a van for eight hours is a book on touring in a van.  There is a darkly comic, vulgar insanity to the prose.  It was written as diary entries, that at least seem to be written without publishing in mind.  Many of the things said in the book are the kinds of things people think, but would never admit to the outside world.  Because of this there is also a strange truth to the book, even if it is not an enlightening one.  In the Leonard Cohen song Going Home, Cohen sings what is a great description of the endgame of art :

I want to write a love song
An anthem of forgiving
A manual for living with defeat

At the time I was reading Rollins’s book I was going through a slightly dark period.  I loved Rollins’s ability to keep moving forward even in the face of constant defeats.  Rollins goes on horribly crushing tours, only to spend his time between them living in a shed with no AC, with only spiders as his company.  Yet despite this he still keeps going further and further out into the wilderness of the self, writing and self-realizing.  It’s like a self help book written by a complete masochist.  I don’t know if the book is inspiring or a darkly absurd comedy, but that its true charm, the straddling of seemingly disparate genres.

Ta-Nehisi Coates Getting Rave Reviews

Ta-nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates – Between the World and Me

I have been a longtime reader of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s blog over at The Atlantic.  Although I occasionally think Coates’s blog is too narrow in scope, there is no doubt Coates is an unusually gifted writer.  (Andrew Sullivan, who wrote alongside Coates at The Atlantic for awhile, was not only able to be an uncompromising advocate for marriage equality, but was also seemingly able to cover an unbelievably wide scope of topics.  I found that having a sense of how Sullivan viewed the wider world actually strengthened his arguments for justice.  Anyway, this is splitting hairs and is a topic for another day.  I would feel amiss if I didn’t say anything, but this is really an argument about format and outcome, and not quality of writing.)  Coates has a curious mind and without a doubt is someone that is always reaching for truth.  Before I found myself reading a lot about the Civil War, Coates own research and exploration of that time period was extremely fascinating.  I am happy to see that his new book, Between the World and Me, is getting rave reviews.  The above piece is not only about the book, but also a look at Coates as a man and writer in general.  It is a well written and interesting piece worth your time.  Also, if you are someone that reads several blogs a day, I would definitely add his blog to your list.