June 16, 2017

I Wanna Hole Your Ham

Morning read: all the Beatles songs ranked.

Ranking shmanking, I don't really care about that, but unlike whoever wrote that Rolling Stones list a ways back, Bill Wyman (not *that* BW) has interesting things to say in the capsule reviews of each song. (And basically he's just a better writer.) I found it fun rather than irritating (which I can say about few enough things in this life.) He is more indulgent of John's excesses than he is of Paul's, which is a kind of personality type in a way, one that used to be a bit more common I think, and it's probable that your meter is calibrated differently than his. His #1 is entirely predictable, not that I disagree with it. About a third of these could be #1 to the degree that it matters. (It'd be "I Want to Hold Your Hand" for me, probably, just because.) I think he really underestimates "I Don't Want to Spoil the Party," which is a John highlight for me.

p.s. in re., Bill Wyman, the critic: Bill Wyman, the Rolling Stones bass player, once had his lawyers send a demand to Bill Wyman the critic that he cease and desist using his own name because it was the same as Bill Wyman the bass player's stage name: . It doesn't seem as if that went anywhere, but if I were Bill Wyman I'd have framed that letter or something.

p.p.s., in re IWTHYH: once upon a drunken uber ride the driver asked us what music we wanted him to play. "Beatles" my girlfriend slurred. We had to spell it for him (he genuinely seemed never to have heard of this group) so he could enter it in his app. He asked what our favorite song was. "I Wanna Hole Your Ham" I managed to burble. Somehow he found the correct track. Halfway through it, the guy said, "you know, boss, this is some pretty good shit." I don't think he was putting us on. The Power of Music.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 04:59 PM

June 01, 2017

The Confusion and the Glory

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Like so many of the things we've done over the years, the "Mr T Experience? Nein Danke!" shirt design was a bit of a misfire. A parody of a seemingly ubiquitous anti-nuclear power campaign logo, it seemed funny, slightly mischievous, maybe even almost clever. Once we'd printed them up, though, it soon became apparent that we'd misjudged our audience (or something.) As Aaron succinctly put it: "nobody gets it." (Which was something of a de facto MTX motto. They should put in on my tombstone, really.) Turned out the original wasn't quite as ubiquitous as we'd imagined.

Nevertheless, we persevered in trying to unload them, one by one, to a bemused public. Years and years later, we succeeded in doing so, and turned our attention to other things nobody was going to get. When the band caught a sort of "second wind" in the mid-90s, however, we started to get lots of people coming up at shows and asking if we had any of those "nine dank" shirts. They still didn't get it, generally speaking, but somehow that misfire had become popular as its own discrete thing, completely separate from the thing it was a parody of. Weird phenomenon. So we made more and scattered approximately one zillion of them around the USA and the world. It was one of the more popular designs we'd ever done.

But that was long, long ago. Sounds Radical is doing a limited re-issue of it now. You don't have to get it to get it, just do it now: orders are open through June 12. Celebrate the confusion and the glory.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 08:58 PM

May 16, 2017

Dashiell Hammett, Agatha Christie, Judy Blume, and Van Halen

I've been re-reading The Maltese Falcon (the same Vintage paperback edition I read as a teenager, as it happens.)

I noticed a minor, slightly screwy detail that bothered me a whole lot more (I'm sure) than it would bother most people. (I have reason to believe, after years of complaining about this sort of thing, that I may be the only person who cares about it, in fact.)

In Chapter Seven, Sam Spade tells Brigid O'Shaughnessey an anecdote about a real estate agent in Tacoma, Washington, a digression that has become known as the "Flitcraft Parable." The reason it's in there at all has been a matter of much debate over the years, but that's not what bothered me. What bothered me is that, in the text I was reading, Spade says the events took place in 1942, with his own participation in the tale beginning in 1947.

Now, as a teenager I may not have known (or cared) that The Maltese Falcon was originally serialized in the Black Mask in 1929, and published as a stand-alone book the following year. But now I am well aware of it, and seeing these dates was jarring. The question nagged at me: why the hell does Dashiell Hammett, in 1929, have his character tell an anecdote that takes place in 1942?

Well, he didn't, course. Somewhere along the editorial line, some benighted editor decided it would be a good idea to "update" the text. (Just to make sure I wasn't missing something, I acquired a facsimile printing of the first edition -- the actual first edition costs thousands of dollars - and in it, the anecdote dates to 1922 and 1927, as I guessed it must.) I suspect this change was a misguided attempt to make the text seem "contemporary," less old-timey to its 1972 paperback-buying audience. It's a stupid edit, for a whole lot of reasons. (a) making a book contemporary and up-to-date is by definition a losing battle -- it's out of date the day after it's published anyway; (b) no one is fooled by such alterations into thinking that an internationally famous classic of modern American literature was written yesterday, nor should they be; (c) far from helping the reader in any way, it sows confusion, and in fact if you're a weird semi-autistic type like me it sows actual anxiety; and (d) and most importantly, it is fundamentally dishonest and inaccurate, even if it does serve some legitimate purpose (which, as far as I can tell, it doesn’t.)

But the worst part of it is, there's no way of knowing what has happened to the text and why, or whether anything has happened to it at all. As I said above, I've complained about this before, to the sound of crickets and rolling eyes. Here I am reading an Agatha Christie novel where original dialog referring to W. Somerset Maugham's The Moon and Sixpence was changed to read "a life of the painter Gaugin", a similarly stupid edit that confuses far more than it clears up. They updated the "menstrual technology" in later editions of Are You There God, It's Me Margaret? Sometimes, with these edits, you can see their point (Dr. Doolittle and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory); sometimes you can see the point but it still seems like a bad idea (Huckleberry Finn) or an unintentionally comical one (The N-Word of the Narcissus.) Sometimes, it is outright nefarious: in the eighties, the estate of James Joyce, in what can only be described as an act of literary vandalism, tried to alter the text of Ulysses in what appears to have been an attempt to justify re-starting the copyright clock. And the text of A Separate Peace has evidently (see the first comment to this post on Lark's Vomit") been edited in some school editions to exclude homoerotic intimations, which is just... how was there a book left after that, in the end?

Evidently, this sort of thing goes on all the time, but since there's never an indication that the alterations have been made, there's no way of knowing the extent of it. You just stumble on little examples it here and there when you happen to notice something that seems weird enough to investigate. And hope for the best. And, all the more so I suppose in this day of electronic everything, unless you have a physical first edition, you can't be absolutely certain that you're reading the actual text as published.

But really, everyone is saying, I know: what's the big deal? It's just a couple of dates, and, big picture, so what?

So of course, my thoughts turn to Van Halen.

When I was a kid, the rock band Van Halen was notorious for their outrageous contract rider, which famously insisted that there be no brown M&Ms anywhere in the venue. This was seen as the epitome of Marie Antoinette-level rock star excess, abuse, and entitlement. People who hated Van Halen were quick to mention it as an indictment of their pettiness, their vapidity, their general out-of-touchness. What's the problem with a few brown M&Ms, ya jerks? I never hated Van Halen, particularly, but I admit I saw it that way too. But there was method to the madness, and I'll let David Lee Roth explain:

If they're not following the M&M part of the contract, what else aren't they following? The presence of brown M&Ms was a warning sign that something else could be awry. You don't want the stage to fall down.

And that's how I see the dates 1942 and 1947 in my paperback edition of The Maltese Falcon: as brown M&Ms, basically. In effect, the publisher has (for an unspecified but almost certainly stupid reason) violated the contract, in which they were obligated to present the actual text of the novel as written by the author and originally published, read, and criticized by the public. And while a brown M&M or two may be nothing to get worked up over, the question remains: what else has been altered, left out, elided, bowdlerized? Probably not much, but then again, who knows? There’s no way to check. There is homoerotic content in The Maltese Falcon, after all, and some of it’s not very polite. If they can do it to A Separate Peace, they can do it to anything. Our culture seems to get more censorious by the day, and there's no reason to assume that books are safe. Did I mention I'm semi-autistic and paranoid? No? Well, yeah, I'm also paranoid.

As I've said before, I'd love it if the full editorial history of a given book were made available somewhere, as standard practice, so there would be a way to know what changes have been made, when, and (even better) why. That would dispense with my complaint. I just want a way to know. It could be part of the copyright information at the front of a book, or could be available in an online database. Of course, as my eminently practical girlfriend pointed out, that's an "app" that would have about twelve users. It's not going to happen. So, my reading habit, at least as far as best practices are concerned, just got a whole lot more expensive. It's first editions from here on out. I don't want the stage to fall down, you see.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 08:48 PM

May 03, 2017

Shards Vol. 1 and 2, pins

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The Shards 1+2 pins are in and they are cool. Sounds Rad is sending them out to those who've already ordered the digital albums.

New orders get them too, while supplies last. They're limited though.

Order here.

Notes: Volume 1; Volume 2.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 11:58 PM

Kody

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Dork Gallery here.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 04:00 PM

April 27, 2017

Paul Berman, the New Left, Free Speech, Facebook, Nazis, Suicide Girls, and Me Elizabeth

Morning read.

I dug up this old, much re-read Paul Berman article because of a discussion on Facebook, and instantly got sucked into it again. It's something close to the Platonic ideal of the cultural-political-historical critical essay and it basically knocked me sideways when I first read it in the New Republic sixteen years ago (and in many ways I'm still sideways.) It was later expanded into a book called Power and the Idealists that is well worth your time, if you're at all interested in this stuff, by which I mean our political-cultural milieu, past and present.

It's worth reading for its own sake on on its own topic, but it's also quite strikingly relevant today, as much of the contemporary campus-fueled disagreements about free speech and "social justice" have their roots in the New Left experience he explores.

e.g.:

This aroused a dread, finally, that pointed to the terrors of the past.

It was a fear, in sum, that in World War II, fascism, and more specifically Nazism, had not been defeated after all—a fear that Nazism, by mutating, had continued to thrive into the 1950s and 1960s and onward, always in new disguises. It was a fear that Nazism had grown into a modern system of industrial rationality geared to irrational goals—a Nazism of racial superstitions committing the same massacres as in the past, a Nazism declaiming a language of democracy and freedom that had no more human content than the old-fashioned rhetoric of Lebensraum and Aryan superiority. And so the New Left in its youthful anxiety found its way to an old and mostly expired panic from its parents' generation, and bent over it, and fanned the dead embers, and breathed on them, and watched aghast as the ancient flames leaped up anew.


Much more where that came from. As usual, I'm having trouble resisting quoting it all (and it's long.)

I will add only that, believe it or not, I was approached by Berman's publicist or editor a ways back proposing that I interview him for Suicide Girls, where I was a blogger. He said he'd had a hard time explaining SG to him (didn't we all) but said he described it as a kind of Playboy of the modern era. I was intimidated by the prospect but did some work researching his writing and began to formulate questions, but I was fired by SG before it ever had a chance to happen. If it had, well that would have been something wouldn't it? Hard to imagine those comments.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 05:13 PM

April 26, 2017

Ray

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Dork Gallery.

"Balbum".

Posted by Dr. Frank at 10:03 PM

April 21, 2017

Free Speech Speechifying

I posted this on the Facebook thing:

When a public university incorporates the "rioters' veto" into its de facto policy on doling out selective permission to speak on campus, it amounts to viewpoint discrimination that seems impossible to square with the 1st Amendment, it seems to me. Lawyers, tell me how that's wrong.

The ensuing discussion was extensive, interesting, funny, frustrating, and ultimately pointless of course, but I'm leaving a link to it here in case I ever want to find it and look at it again.

Here's the coda:

Yesterday's discussion of the law and public universities and the 1st Amendment was extensive, interesting, funny, frustrating (and ultimately pointless, of course, like everything). I enjoyed it. Leaving aside the law, and fair or not, the sentiment expressed in the headline of this editorial is the "messaging" that has won. The university and the folks who want to make the world a better place by shutting down speakers and beating up their audience have already lost big in the PR war. And among other takeaways, universities should prepare themselves for pressure to de-fund education. (Which I don't agree with, needless to say, I hope.) They need to get their act together but I doubt they will or even can.
The headline in question is from the NY Post and it reads: If US Campuses Can't Protect Free Speech, They Need New Management.
Posted by Dr. Frank at 02:20 PM

April 19, 2017

We Are All Lena Dunham

BBC wheels out Erica Jong to riff on Girls, and this is one of the things she says, of the characters:

Her heroines have been seen as ‘unlikeable’ – does anybody ever find a male hero ‘unlikeable’? Never! Whether it’s Tony Soprano or Philip Roth’s Zuckerman, or even James Bond, male protagonists are never subjected to such criticism."
If this were ever the case, it's certainly not now. Out here in the real world (i.e., the the internet) "unlikeable" is the standard, unapologetically tautological, go-to critique, not just of characters but of the works which contain them and the writers who wrote them, male, female, or otherwise. Why don't you like it? Because it's UNLIKEABLE. Case closed. Everyone's unlikeable, everyone's characters are unlikeable, everyone's books are unlikeable, and you have to point it all out. "This guy is a jerk" is annoying as a would-be literary critique, even when it concerns characters in books I haven't written. But it is our cultural standard. Check out Goodreads sometime. No, don't.

I am a great admirer of the writing in Girls -- it's among the best writing ever in a TV drama, I think, and some of it has just knocked me flat and sparked actual applause. The moral and aesthetic ambivalence with regard to the characters is its greatest strength. But like it or not, the world doesn't approve of moral and aesthetic ambivalence these days, not matter who you are. Which is to say, we are all Lena Dunham, innit?

Posted by Dr. Frank at 10:40 PM

Genre: Christian/gospel

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My brother spotted this kinda funny genre description on google play and gave it a genuinely funny caption: Psalms about Girls.

I assumed at first that it was our mistake, that we just forgot to change the genre field to "punk/whatever" from what seems to be the default (Christian/gospel). However I checked and that's not the case. Our designated genre is "punk/other". The Orchard (our digital distributor) has big problems with their meta-data and so forth, and this is just another example.

In the case of this genre thing I don't care, and in fact I think it's rather amusing. The big problem, though, remains the product description, which never ever ever ever shows up anywhere, though we dutifully compose and enter one for each and every product. That means that our stuff just appears on places like iTunes and Amazon with a blank space where the product description should be. Not ideal, and quite frustrating. There also appears to be nothing that can be done about it.

Their response to requests for help with this has been thus far to say, in effect, hey buddy it's not our problem if Amazon doesn't display the description field. Take it up with them. (I did... they don't care either.) But the way I look at it, they have ONE JOB. And product descriptions are an integral part of it. I'm not the only person in this situation. It's a common complaint. Something is screwed up in their meta-data fields, such that they don't match up with the retail outlets that they supply. That's somebody's fault and it isn't ours.

Fuckin' Orchard.

That said, it is funny.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 03:34 PM

MTX Shards Volume 2, notes

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Yesterday was the release day for MTX Shards Volume 2. This 2nd volume of the Shards compilation completes the extant MTX digital catalog, volume 1 and 2 containing all the released tracks that were "orphaned" when we re-configured the catalog to reflect the actual records leaving off the bonus tracks, cover songs, and other detritus that had gradually built up on CDs over the years. (Theres's more detail on this situation here.)

It is on all the digital services, but the best place to go is of course Sounds Radical. They've got a cool commemorative pin set to go along with it.

As with Volume 1, I posted song by song virtual "liner" notes on the internet yesterday, and here they are aggregated.

1. We Are the Future People of Tomorrow

This was part of the big batch of songs in consideration for the album that became Love Is Dead. Kevin Army placed it on a lower tier of priority, arguing (correctly I'm sure) that we'd already recently done one rock culture lampoon ("Alternative Is Here to Stay...") and already had the self-referential rock-commentary song slot filled filled (with "Dumb Little Band.") Also it gradually became clear that it didn't quite fit in with the overall theme and "vibe" we were developing. So we held it in reserve and ended up recording this version a couple of years later very quickly and dirtily mid-tour at Fish Tracks in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, for the Joe King-produced comp More Bounce to the Ounce.

Though the target is pseudo-political punk sloganeering in particular, as originally conceived it was more of a sort of folk-song, a la Donovan or someone like that, and I still play it that sometimes way when I do it solo. But I'm quite fond of this arguably rather heavy-handed, anthemic realization of it, and it certainly is apt. To my amazement, not everybody who hears it is able to grasp that it's meant as a parody. (Then again, maybe I'm too easily amazed.) I've been criticized for the incoherent "message" and improper quotation (what, you mean Marx didn't say "all they want is opium in their masses, which sucks"?); as well as praised for my insightful commentary ("good to hear you guys doing a political song.. fuckin' genocide, that's so true, man.") For the record, the original, correct line in verse two is "we fight oppressionism for the revolutioning" but I flubbed it in the studio saying merely "revolution" and we just went with it. As you do.


2. Is There Something I Should Know?

As with most of the non-album covers we recorded this track exists solely because the people who were putting out the Duran Duran covers album gave us $200. I believe this, "Crash," and "Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah" were all stacked into the same session, at Roof Brothers in Oakland, ca. 1996. I have always been fond of the breakdown-outro just because it's so incongruous. Also because it doesn't have those weird, nonsense lyrics on it getting in the way of the rock and roll. But those lyrics, man: they're non-grammatical to the point where it was actually quite challenging to get them to come out of my mouth. Some guy on allmusic says the lyrics ""deal with a difficult romantic relationship in rather obtuse terms." Boy, I'll say. Obtuseness like that doesn't come easy, or cheap. Kevin Army said "I can't believe you made this sound like one of your songs," a comment which cut both ways I'm sure.

Continue reading "MTX Shards Volume 2, notes"
Posted by Dr. Frank at 02:41 PM

April 11, 2017

Even Hitler

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From here.

And speaking of which:

...and on the covers playlist (which is pretty well stocked with "Hitlers" at present) it goes.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 09:48 PM

Sink or Swim

So, our four shows with Teenage Bottlerocket and Nobodys went great and I had a lot of fun doing them. As always, I really enjoyed talking to all the "lifers," i.e. longtime MTX fans, each of whom shared detailed accounts of their history of seeing the band and following its progress, such as it has been, and the significance of particular records and songs in their lives. Always nice to be appreciated, and you could definitely "feel the love", particularly in Phoenix, where we hadn't played in something like thirteen years. Lots of these folks seem to have had some success in indoctrinating their children, as well, some of whom seemed just as excited and engaged as their parents. Which feels odd. Turns out, there is such a thing as an MTX family. Perhaps this is what it felt like to be a member of the Grateful Dead. Not sure.

So thanks to TBR and Nobodys, and everyone who showed up, shared stories, bought me beers.

But this post is a guitar update, mainly. This was the first time I'd played my old, notoriously idiosyncratic, '57 Les Paul Jr. at a show since I had it overhauled, revamped, fixed up, and fine-tuned this past year. This was an experiment to which I committed myself entirely, bringing no back-up guitar (and refusing offers to have other bands' guitars on hand just in case): it was going to be sink or swim. tl;dr: mostly, it swam, and when it did it swam just beautiful.

If you haven't seen it before, here it is, circa 1996:

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The biggest problem of yore had been how difficult it was to keep it in tune from song to song, and, really, to get it in tune in the first place. This difficulty went beyond the familiar second- and third-string funkiness that all guitars have, maybe particularly Gibsons, that is just the nature of the beast. Tuning a guitar is always going to be a compromise and an approximation and you have to deal with the fact that math and the actual physical world don't quite match up perfectly. We live in a fallen world, and so do our guitars. Back in the old days I used to try to compensate for the anomalies and quirks by playing lower chords and notes and bending them up into tune as I went up the neck (a habit that was quite hard to break when I switched to the more reliable Epiphone Coronet as the primary guitar sometime in '97.) Part of this was the pre-tune-a-matic, non-adjustable original stock wrap-around bridge that allowed for no easy intonation adjustments, but the biggest part, I now realize, is the fact that the posts that anchored said bridge had bit by bit over the past six decades been tilting and leaning toward the pickup. This was probably happening ever so slightly in real time as I was playing, and it's why the problem got worse and worse over time. I was totally clueless about this till I noticed it midway through a European tour with the Queers (in which Joe King was relying on my guitar as back-up, for which I'm sorry to this day.) This was the point where the posts finally made contact with the edge of the pickup and the guitar became literally unplayable regardless of tuning. I finished up the tour playing Joe's guitar and never even removed the Junior from its flight case for years and years, when I finally decided to try to get it fixed up. Because I missed it.

Continue reading "Sink or Swim"
Posted by Dr. Frank at 05:34 PM

April 05, 2017

One of Many, Many Hitlers Out There

It's a bit strange to hear people laughing at these lines, as I've played this song thousands of times, but usually in front of audiences who have already heard, memorized, and tattooed these lyrics on their hearts and souls. I like that they have done this, but such punchlines only work the once; after that, the performance is largely ceremonial.

I will say that when I have done it in front of people who haven't heard it before (school groups, fancy literary conferences, Supreme Court Justices, Tesco Vee) it has never failed.

... and on the covers playlist it goes.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 07:15 PM

I Don't Need You Now

A great one from Cydne, and the only time I've ever heard anyone get these chords right:

On the covers playlist it goes. Thanks, C.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 04:30 AM

California Born and Bred

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Posted by Dr. Frank at 01:07 AM

April 04, 2017

It's "hell of," you filthy animal

"Hell of" vs. "hella" pops up again, in Language Log.

The KQED article cited in the comments, btw, misquotes me slightly. I don't claim the "debate", such as it is/was, dates to 1983, only that that is when I first encountered it, when I moved to Berkeley to go to school. But that thing of people sternly correcting the improper usage when people said "hella" (just a quick correction "hell of" inserted into the conversation, or sometimes: "you mean, hell of") really used to happen, and very frequently. No idea when it "goes back to." It's really "hell of," anyhow, to the extent that anything can really be anything.

Either way, it doesn't make my song less funny I don't think.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 05:52 PM

Cover Me Bad

I started a playlist of people covering my songs, found on the internet. I get a kick out of this sort of thing. If you've got one, send it my way...

Posted by Dr. Frank at 03:11 PM

Country Twangin Micro-jammer

I get lots of questions about the song "Thinking of You", how it was recorded, played, etc. Well, I used one of these:

Posted by Dr. Frank at 04:46 AM

March 20, 2017

I Believe in You

Posted by Dr. Frank at 05:39 PM