Wednesday, May 24, 2017

My 20 favorite Soundgarden songs

In the week since the death of Chris Cornell, the great singer/songwriter/guitarist of Soundgarden, I’ve listened to the band’s last four albums straight through: Badmotorfinger (1991), Superunknown (1994), Down on the Upside (1996), and King Animal (2012).

I knew I’d be reminded of old favorites and hits, and that I’d rediscover some more obscure songs I’d forgotten. And yet I still felt overwhelmed by the ocean of extraordinary material — relentlessly innovative and challenging, often jagged and angular, mostly heavy and dark, occasionally with gentle or bright spots, but never tranquil, always disturbed and searching for something better.

So here are my 20 favorite Soundgarden songs, with the first letter of the album each song is from in parentheses, e.g. Badmotorfinger = (B). (And yes, I did listen to some of their other songs, but I found that all their highlights are from these four albums; their earlier work feels unripe, not like the band we love.)

I have to say, this makes a pretty great playlist — the equivalent of a double album, with the two discs being 1-10 and 11-20.

1. Outshined (B)

2. The Day I Tried to Live (S)

3. Spoonman (S)

4. Black Hole Sun (S)

5. Somewhere (B)

6. Fell on Black Days (S)

7. Slaves and Bulldozers (B)

8. Burden in My Hand (D)

9. My Wave (S)

10. Bones of Birds (K)

11. Superunknown (S)

12. Mind Riot (B)

13. Rusty Cage (B)

14. Been Away Too Long (K)

15. Pretty Noose (D)

16. Jesus Christ Pose (B)

17. Dusty (D)

18. Head Down (S)

19. Taree (K)

20. Black Saturday (K)


“I’ve always liked depressing music because a lot of times listening to it when you’re down can actually make you feel less depressed.” — Chris Cornell





(Photo of Chris Cornell by Marina Coelho.)

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Why the terrorists hate us

Within the last couple years, ISIS or people associated with it have apparently attacked a pop concert in Manchester, England, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, and a rock concert in Paris, France.

These are not the kinds of attacks you'd carry out if your goal were to protest US foreign policy. France's very public opposition to the Iraq War didn't gain it any points with terrorists.

This is what you'd do if you hated great Western countries for our freedom. There is no way to appease the mass murderers' demands without giving up our whole culture.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The problem with social criticism

So much "social criticism" that's considered brilliant when phrased at the societal level ("our lives have become increasingly purposeless and devoid of meaning because ____") would seem like a clear symptom of depression if it were phrased at the individual level ("lately my life feels pointless and meaningless because ____").

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Annie Hall

Annie Hall was released 40 years ago today, on April 20, 1977.

A friend of mine once said he found the movie so sad it's difficult to watch. And I can understand that — it has an understated but heart-breaking pathos. But it's also probably brought more joy to more people than any other Woody Allen movie.

Woody Allen has said he doesn't think this is one of his outstanding movies. And it's not my favorite movie of his either. But when he dies, it'll be the first movie mentioned in every obituary. It was nominated for all five Academy Awards (best picture, director, actor, actress, and screenplay), and won all of them except best actor. It was also the only time Woody Allen has won best director out of over 40 movies.

There's so much to say about this movie's innovative techniques (subtitles of the characters' thoughts, split screens to show how the two main characters live in different worlds, animation, etc.); witty and insightful dialogue; affecting performances by Diane Keaton and Woody Allen; nice minor roles for Christopher Walken, Shelley Duvall, Carol Kane, and Paul Simon; and one great line by a young Jeff Goldblum.

But for now I'll just say that I lurve this movie, I luff it, it's transplendent, it's too wonderful for words.

The trailer:




The first meeting:




The Christopher Walken scene:




The subtitle scene (the "15 years" line refers to how long Woody Allen's character has been in therapy):




Diane Keaton accepting her Oscar:

Monday, April 17, 2017

The problem with talking about cultural appropriation

Even if what gets called "cultural appropriation" is often bad, calling it "cultural appropriation" doesn't explain what's bad about it. On the contrary, labeling something "cultural appropriation" distracts from any other criticism that might have been made of that thing, because once the attention-getting phrase "cultural appropriation" is invoked, all the attention turns to debating whether cultural appropriation is inherently bad. And the idea that it's inherently bad is pretty easily refuted, so the object of criticism gets off easy. Meanwhile, the kinds of people who are drawn to the "cultural appropriation" critique have spent their time and energy on what will ultimately be a losing argument (because the consequences of consistently rejecting cultural appropriation would never be accepted). They could've spent that time and energy putting forward a more powerful critique, but they didn't, and now that time and energy — finite resources — are lost.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Happy 50th birthday to Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins!

As I turn 36, I'm thinking of someone else born on St. Patrick's Day: Billy Corgan, who turns 50 today.

It's hard to know what to say about Billy Corgan. Any words would seem inadequate to describe someone whose music has loomed so large in my life. The idea of growing up and being in the 1990s without the Smashing Pumpkins is inconceivable; to think of myself in an alternate universe in which I had never heard their music is virtually impossible, because the word "myself" would no longer seem to apply. Billy Corgan, and especially his inimitable way with melody, has colored so much of my life that if you asked what it feels like to be me, I don't know that I could come up with words more accurate than listening to a Smashing Pumpkins song. To paraphrase Mendelssohn, it is not that the music is too indefinite or hazy to be put into words, but that any words would be too vague to express music so precisely definite.

As a singer/songwriter/guitarist, Billy Corgan is not just great. He's life-changing.

I shall be free!


Saturday, February 11, 2017

Whitney Houston died 5 years ago today.

Whitney Houston died 5 years ago, in 2012, at the tragic age of 48.

I'm not really a big fan of hers, but I love this song. I love how everything about it is just a little too much: the song is a bit too exciting, her voice is slightly too expressive and sensuous, the video is excessively colorful, and the whole thing is just too perfect an encapsulation of '80s pop. It would all be a little embarrassing, if it weren't so undeniably joyous and uplifting.


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Green Day's Kerplunk turns 25

25 years ago today, on January 17, 1992, an obscure band called Green Day released their second album, Kerplunk (or at least the version we're familiar with — a shorter version was released a month earlier).

The production of Kerplunk, which was released by the indie label Lookout! Records, was weak. But the songwriting had already reached the level of excellence that would be exposed to the world two years later on their commercial breakthrough, Dookie.

This becomes especially clear if you listen to the versions of "Welcome to Paradise" on both albums. Unsurprisingly, the Kerplunk version lacks the polish of the Dookie version. But the fact that one of the best songs from Dookie had already appeared on Kerplunk shows that this band was pretty great from early on.




"Christie Road" is a nice break from the band's usual fare: introspective and mid-tempo — at least for a little while . . .




"2,000 Light Years Away" is an energetic but poignant pop-punk love song: