Monday, January 30, 2023

Tom Verlaine, RIP

Side 1 of Marquee Moon is my favorite side of rock music. There is nothing else in the rock canon that sounds remotely like it, or sounds as good. 

Friday, January 27, 2023

Nightmare Alley

There's a sucker born every minute, and whether by the laws of economics or predator-prey dynamics, there's also a steady supply of grifters to satisfy the demand: Trump, Holmes, SBF, Santos, to name only the latest crop.

Grifters and their marks (the suckers) figure prominently in many noire novels and movies, and William Lindsay Gresham's sordidly fantastic 1946 novel Nightmare Alley features one of the best literary grifters ever: Stanton Carlisle. 

Nightmare Alley traces Stan's path from the gritty carny tent to expensive private séances where, as the Reverend Carlisle, he summons spirits for the naive and vulnerable well-to-do. Stan's ascent illustrates all the talents a successful grifter needs to have: an ability to identify the most gullible and eager marks, whether in the carny audience or among the well-heeled dinner-party guests; enough talent for magic to pull off increasingly elaborate illusions and sleights; and a real gift for gab. The last of these talents is the most important of all, serving multiple purposes: to ingratiate the marks while all the time keeping them distracted from the real game at hand; to identify and exploit a personal weakness or trauma, creating an emotional stake in the grift; and to weasel out of jams when a cop or a skeptical mark calls your bluff.

Along Stan's journey, the reader is treated to a fine cast of characters, including the women in Stan's life– grifters and marks alike– and to writing in the best hard-boiled style, punctuated by booze-driven stream of consciousness soliloquies. Extended flashbacks and memories fill in the personal histories of a couple of characters, most notably Stan Carlisle. His Oedipal longing and resentments are fodder for his psychologist, lover, and eventual partner-in-grift Lilith Ritter. You'd think Stan might be a little more savvy than to fall for this femme fatale– but then, maybe there's a mark inside every grifter.

This being noire, it's not a spoiler to reveal that Stan's ascent will inevitably lead to a hard fall. You might say he had it coming; but for the gods or spirits who govern Gresham's universe, justice has got nothing to do with it.

Sunday, January 15, 2023


Jordan Peele's latest film is further evidence of his greatness, even if this shaggy dog of a story is not totally great. It is certainly worth watching: funny, at times scary, and full of amusing social commentary that ranges from broad to pretty clever. It lacks the punch and discipline of Get Out, but like that film it does feature Daniel Kaluuya, who is fantastic. In a movie where the cloud-like alien invader will eat you if it catches you looking it in the eye, a fellow like Kaluuya with eyeballs that nearly jump right out of his head is at a distinct disadvantage. Peele plays that for all it is worth, with darkened scenes in which Kaluuya's dark skin nearly disappears, his bug-eyes all aglow. 

Horses play a role here, and I felt the movie could have made more of them. Horses are, after all, the most alien of animals that humans regularly commune with. Note to self: EVs are great, but a horse is better during those times when an evil alien is using some kind of electromagnetic pulse to shut down all electrical devices. 


Saturday, January 14, 2023

Can Music Be Perfect? Vol. 101

Lately it seems like I've been listening to at least one Oscar Peterson YouTube every night. There's a surprising number of them out there. All of a sudden he is my favorite musician. Peterson knew his Bach, and you can hear it in this 1964 version of C Jam Blues, as he passes the counterpoint between left and right hands. But always rooted in the blues, and always swinging. Swinging is underappreciated. Supported by his classic trio-mates, Ed Thigpen and Ray Brown.

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Can Music Be Perfect? The First 100

1. San Jose Jazz Festival 2011
2. The Pogues, Rum Sodomy & the Lash 
3. DeBarge/ Andy Bey 
4. Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock 
5. Wussy, This Will Not End Well 
6. Louis Armstrong Plays WC Handy 
7. Adele, Rolling in the Deep 
8. Bob Wills, Stay a Little Longer 
9. The Flamingos, I Only Have Eyes for You 
10. Aretha Franklin 
11. Keith Whitley, I’m Over You 
12. Lisa Stansfield, Affection 
13. Peter Stampfel, Goldfinger 
14. The Ravens, Don’t Mention My Name 
15. CCR, Fortunate Son 
16. Pet Shop Boys, Rent 
17. Luther Vandross, A House is Not a Home 
18. Frank Sinatra, One for My Baby 
19. Domus, Faure Piano Quartet No. 1 
20. Randy Travis, Reasons I Cheat 
21. Willie Colon, The Hustler 
22. Joni Mitchell, Free Man in Paris 
23. Willie Colon/ Ruben Blades 
24. Bootsy Collins, Psychoticbumpschool 
25. The Byrds, So You Want to Be… 
26. Randy Newman, Marie 
27. Marty Robbins, El Paso 
28. Duke Ellington and Johnny Hodges 
29. Ray Charles, You Don’t Know Me 
30. Quincy Jones, Hicky Burr 
31. Lucinda Williams, Joy 
32. Alexi Kenney and friends, Dohnanyi Serenade 
33. Duke Ellington, Jazz Party 
34. Stevie Wonder, Bird of Beauty 
35. Ella Fitzgerald, What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve? 
36. Horace Parlan, Dexi 
37. James Carter, Round Midnight 
38. OutKast, Gasoline dreams 
39. Anthony Braxton, You Stepped Out of a Dream 
40. Caetano Veloso, Voce e Linda 
41. La Quatuor Signum Joue Haydn, Haydn Quartet. 77(1) 
42. Spanish Harlem Orchestra, Pa’ Gozar 
43. Benny Carter, On Green Dolphin Street 
44. Gladys Knight & the Pips, Midnight Train 
45. Stevie Wonder, You Haven’t Done Nothin’ 
46. The Housemartins, The Light is Always Green 
47. Nirvana, Smells Like Teen Spirit 
48. Amy Rigby, The Trouble with Jeanie 
49. Murray Perahia, Bach English Suite No. 2 
50. David Murray Octet, India 
51. Miles Davis, Right Off 
52. Dusty Springfield, Breakfast in Bed 
53. James Brown, Papa Don’t Take No Mess 
54. Men of Robert Shaw Chorale, Tom’s Gone to Hilo 
55. Billie Holiday, I’ll Never Be the Same 
56. Beach Boys, I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times 
57. Ray Kane, Pauoa Liko Ka Lehua 
58. Gal e Caetano, Minha Senhora 
59. Prince, Partyup 
60. Kate Tempest, The Beigeness 
61. Oumou Sangara, Iyo Djeli 
62. Louis Jordan, School Days 
63. New Order, Weirdo 
64. Bee Gees, More Than a Woman 
65. Ligeti, Mysteries of the Macabre 
66. Flying Burrito Bros. and Aretha, Do Right Woman 
67. Ella Fitzgerald, I Wish I Were in Love Again 
68. Guarneri Quartet, Beethoven Rasumovsky 
69. Count Basie and Sarah Vaughan, You Go To My Head 
70. Duke Ellington, Wig Wise 
71. McCoy Tyner, Atlantis 
72. Biggie, Things Done Changed 
73. Mostly Other People Do the Killing, Obelisk (For Dave Holland) 
74. Moraíto - Sor Bulería 
75. Stevie Wonder, Tuesday Heartbreak 
76. Cuong Vu Trio Meets Pat Metheny, Acid Kiss 
77. Noura Mint Seymali, Arbina 
78. Billie Holiday, Me Myself and I 
79. Charles Mingus, Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love 
80. Stan Getz, Só Danço Samba 
81. Kanye West, We Major 
82. Tribe Called Quest, Scenario 
83. Riton & Kah-Lo, Ginger 
84. Jungle Brothers, Doin’ Our Own Dang 
85. Allison Miller’s Boom Tic Boom, Congratulations and Condolences 
86. Go-Betweens, Darlinghurst Nights 
87. Los Lobos, Don’t Worry Baby 
88. Rudresh Mahanthappa and Indo-Pak Coalition, You Talk Too Much 
89. Murray Allen Carrington Power Trio, Perfection 
90. Sly and the Family Stone, Stand! 
91. Courtney Barnett, Elevator Operator 
92. Sousa, The Stars and Stripes Forever - "The President's Own" U.S. Marine Band 
93. Billie Eilish, bad guy 
94. Al Green, Let’s Stay Together 
95. Carsie Blanton, Harbor 
96. Chic, Good Times 
97. Annie Ross, I've Grown Accustomed to Your Face 
98. David Murray, All the Things You Are 
99. Safri Boys, Paar Linghhade 
100. Alexi Kenney, X Suite (Wiancko)

Can Music Be Perfect? Vol. 100

The centenary of this series calls for a bit of nepotism. The artist does not believe in perfection, I believe. But he and his friend Paul Wiancko get close enough for my standards. Don't miss him if he visits a concert hall near you...

Sunday, January 8, 2023

Escaping the Malthusian Trap

An awesome visualization from Kieran Healy. Makes you wonder what happened in the 18th Century? Could it be... hmm... capitalism? I also want to see the 20th Century using a logarithmic scale. Thankfully he provides a link to the code.

Russell Banks, RIP

Two of his novels have really stuck with me: Cloudsplitter and Lost Memory of Skin. Different as they are in theme, what both books share are humanizing portraits of deeply flawed, troubled, complex men, and an accompanying exploration of what it means to lead a moral life. I have sometimes wanted to read some of his other books, such as The Sweet Hereafter, but the movie version was devastating enough. Banks did not flinch at the sad or the ugly.