• Blackshirts Come In Red, White And Blue


    blackshirts 3

    In fairness to Italy’s proto-fascist street thugs, they brought a fashion sense that has resonated through the ages with club-hoppers, swell deviants, clothing designers, self-admiring auteurs and various cultural sheeple all around the world. They looked smart, even if they weren’t.

    America’s new militant and militarized would-be fascist bullies favor polyester and Ban-Lon when the insurrectionism is casual; sporting goods camouflage or vintage store mufti when the occasion calls for dress-up. A firearm is the di rigueur accessory for virtually every occasion.

    Fashion distinctions aside (the Italians win this one hand’s down) the objectives are much the same: intimidation, thuggish pressure, the leveraging of mob insurrection, and brutish defiance of civic and democratic process.

    The ultra-right radicalism that first seeped into, and finally absorbed Republican politics entirely is moving into its street phase. I mean, what sort of seditious, rightist authoritarian movement worth its salt doesn’t have a paramilitary?

    The Southern Poverty Law Center recently released a report prompted by the latest cluster of rightist thuggery, some of it deadly, focusing on the Cliven Bundy Ranch anti-fed Hootenanny, which drew a ragtag platoon of rightist fruitcakes looking for an OK Coral finale, or pretending too, anyhow.

    A certain kind of legerdemain occurs in the anti-government dumbass brain, transforming a scofflaw like Cliven Bundy refusing to pay his grazing fees, and trespassing his bovines on taxpayer-owned land into a combination of William Wallace and Ethan Allen fighting the British with cow pies. When the feds stood down rather than risk a gory mess, it was a giant boost to the goofy egos of the Guns and Ammo set, even though The Bureau of Land Management ain’t the 81st Airborne exactly, if ya know what I mean.

    Bundy’s argument seems to boil down to: “I don’t have to pay to graze my cattle because the federal government can’t own land you see,” he and others of his ilk, including several elected Republicans suspended in some pre-America Anti-Federalist amber.

    Shortly thereafter, Jerad and Amanda Miller, who had been dishonorably discharged from the Bundy Bunch for insufficient sanity (Imagine!) killed a couple of Nevada cops in the name of the revolution. Around the same time, Richard Marx, a “sovereign citizen” (I believe the technical term is fuckhead) went on a guns and explosives binge in a Georgia courthouse, doing so in order to save the country from death panels and fluoridation no doubt. The shame of having Marx as a name in Georgia may be a legitimate psychiatric defense in those parts.

    Strong powers of observation no longer a sought after quality in the journalism hiring process apparently, it isn’t terribly surprising such incidents of murder, illegality and insurrection remain too subtle for the mainstream press to report as anything other than individual, isolated incidents. I’ll be the first to admit the rightist coconuts ought to get better organized. They have to present a more coherent message if Politico and the New York Times are going to find a Narrative they can hang their feathered caps on.

    Which brings me to America’s real Blackshirts: The National Rifle Association.

    Now eons away from being a gun safety or even gun advocacy organization, the NRA is now a wholly owned subsidiary of the far-right, an adjunct of an extremist cause proliferating the message of more guns in the street, and of violence as the settler of American disputes.

    The potent combination of guns, radical ideology and the anti-rational is coercive, and intended to be. Furthermore, claiming gun saturation makes citizens safer, or that people have the right to gun other people down in public if they feel threatened (Stand Your Ground laws) besides being unsound and anti-rational is a menace to public safety. Indeed, combined with the right’s ideological hostility, often crossing into dehumanization outright, of the poor, the “takers,” immigrants and the racially stereotyped, if allowed to proliferate it holds the potential, if not to be as grossly perilous as claims for superior races or weeding out abnormality and racial impurity, but to be extremely dangerous, and certainly grossly perilous to racial segments of the population (Hello, George Zimmerman).

    The NRA both pushes around Republican politicians and serves them at the same time, sharing ideologically extremist beliefs as they do, and compatible absolutism and fanaticism. Regarding them as an armed wing of the GOP or street presence of the American right isn’t much of a stretch now. Showing up at every anti-government rally, protest, incident or standoff with guns displayed prominently isn’t intended to communicate an advocacy message, but a threat and a warning.

    The mutual gratification from the GOP’s and NRA’s reciprocal massaging of one another’s sphincters with their pistol barrels is most shamelessly on display in the states, where Republican-controlled governments now enact promiscuous gun laws that guarantee the bully boys can bring their guns to the streets with them, or wherever fellow citizens gather or go about their daily business. Having their kind of people waving their guns around in the street isn’t something way in the back of either organization’s mind, do you think?

    If you can’t interpret this gun-infusion into the public domain as stark political intimidation sold with a wink and a sneer as the usual gun worship, I’m genuinely sorry to hear it. Folks with considerably more cosmopolitan sangfroid than I perhaps, may look at chronic rabies sufferer Wayne LaPierre’s kamikaze splats in front of a microphone following every mass shooting that happens, as far too preposterous to make a difference, except that every single gun reform measure dies in its tracks. I don’t find the menace or the implicit threats or the weapons at the ready if necessary references to be especially subliminal, but maybe I’m just an excitable boy.

    Yes, it wouldn’t take much real force to brush back this collection of fatsos and bozos should they ever live the dream (I’m convinced they’re thoroughly chickenshit) but even if the public doesn’t take the “pry it out of my cold, dead hands” imagery literally, it’s implanted in the national psyche, and serves its purpose as psychological bullying. It’s not that subtle an advertisement that rightist goons on behalf of the extremist Republican cause are there, only for the mobilization.

    Am I going too far with this? Maybe. But at the very least, thousands of the irascible, semi-hinged, and ideologically aswoon in the hinterlands hear what is coming out of their radio hosts, NRA mouthpieces and even elected officials about rising up and Second Amendment remedies, they couldn’t be expected to feel other than somewhat bullish about the potency and legitimacy of guns in the streets intimidation. Killing, and threatening the lives of abortion doctors on behalf of “life” is a clue to the potential there.

    On the bright side, fashionistas continue to do it the Italian way.

  • Ginger & Eno: Two Fine Docs

    Eno movie

    One would be hard pressed in extremis to find two personalities, musical or otherwise, who are more dichotomous than the serene musician/non musician, producer and creative entity that is Brian Eno, and the man who is the most talented drummer in the history of rock music, and among the best drummers in music entirely, the mercurial Ginger Baker.

    What unites them by a microscopic thread are relatively recent documentaries about them that are at once revealing and analytical.

    Brian Eno – 1971 – 1977: The Man Who Fell To Earth, directed by Ed Haynes, closely and comprehensively studies the early phase of Eno’s career in music, his most fecund period as a rock musician, the period when his explorations of ambient music, electronica and more fully realized avant-garde projects began to blossom.

    Like no small number of British musicians, Eno gravitated to music from art school, where he prepared for a career in painting. His entry into music was sideways, and serendipitous, called upon initially for his expertise and facility with machines, from tape recorders or other recording devices, to anything capable of creating, amplifying or manipulating sound.

    It was not only the peculiar sounds Eno could coax from a synthesizer, but his resourceful methods for altering and transforming the sound of other instruments in the band, as well as the sound of the band as a whole, that resulted in his full membership in the legendary art-rock group Roxy Music, and that made him integral to the band’s early identity.

    The concept of Roxy Music is attributed almost entirely by contemporaneous participants as well as by rock historians to singer Bryan Ferry, but the uniqueness of the early sound deservedly is credited to Eno. One virtue of this documentary is to remind us what a refreshing kick in the head Roxy Music was, and how delicious a conceptual project it was when realized on albums and the performance stage. Of course, Eno and Ferry, literally brought more charisma to the band than it could handle, and was the principal reason for Eno’s departure after only three albums.

    The documentary is exhaustive when it comes to Eno’s early projects, devoting time to each of the Roxy albums to which Eno was a contributor, as well as to each of the solo albums he recorded afterwards during an extraordinary six-year period. Here Come the Warm Jets was the first, and the debut of Eno’s peculiar, abstruse lyrics combined with his sonic marvels, combined with collaborators’ instrumental snap, crackle and pop. It was unique, and indicative of the work to follow.

    Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy was the second.  It was even odder, even more eccentric lyrically, and musically more reliant than before on synthesizers and accoutrements of the variously electronic.

    During this period Eno engaged in several adventurous collaborations, the most interesting and the most stunning his work with guitar innovator Robert Fripp on the albums No Pussyfooting and Evening Star. The title of the former is a nod to Fripp’s invented system of pedals used for altering his guitar notes while he played them. The system would come to be known as Frippertronics. Fripp’s guitar system was paired with Eno’s own tape loop system to produce a repetition that changed very incrementally, creating a sustained but incidentally evolving melody.

    While there is a fraternal relationship to the work of experimentalists Steve Reich and Philip Glass, the result, again, is unlike anything. Fripp and Eno build another musical world, one of cold, weirdly ethereal, mesmerizingly beautiful strangeness.

    Which leads to Another Green World, considered by many to be Eno’s greatest achievement as a rock musician and sonic impresario. It is his most conceptually unified and seamless, his finest combination perhaps of the idiosyncratic and musically pleasing. It is widely regarded as his most influential work for contemporaries and future musicians as well, and a pioneering work in the ambient/electronica field.

    While Eno would record another rock-oriented album, Before And After Science, he was evolving, as the film so adeptly details, into a more adventurous creator, though in other directions from rock, delving deeper into what is for all intents and purposes his own musical creation, Ambient music. Ambient, as conceived by Eno is intended to exist in the foreground or in the background, according to the listener’s wish, seductively lulling and beautiful or easily ignored, residing in the recesses. Most of his work for the next couple of decades would fall into the Ambient category.

    The album Discreet Music, a favorite of mine, was the first issued on Eno’s own record label, Obscure Records, founded to disseminate the work of worthy composers under exposed to a larger public, one of the more noteworthy Gavin Bryars, whose The Sinking Of The Titanic and Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet were to become classics. Discreet Music is a work of gorgeous minimalism, a polished and perfected application of Eno’s looping system with tape recorders, beauty made from technology if you will. One side is a typically slowly evolving repetitive suite, the other Eno’s treatment of Pachelbel’s Canon, which lives up, and more, to the description achingly beautiful.

    One of the wonderful collateral benefits of the documentary is the attention paid, and the introduction to the music of many musicians and composers besides Eno: John Cage, Terry Riley, Moebious, Roedilius, Phil Manzanera, Jon Hassell, Harold Budd, The Winkies, Tangerine Dream, Cluster and Harmonia to name some.

    Famously collaborating on Bowie’s Low, Eno became omnipresent in the studio for decades, among the acts he produced: Talking Heads, Devo, U2, Laurie Anderson, Toto, Robert Wyatt, David Byrne, Coldplay, Depeche Mode, Icehouse, Massive Attack, Ultravox, James, and yes, many, many more. He created the Windows ’95 start up sound for Microsoft, though we’ll try not to hold it against him.

    I’ll leave it to the film to describe Eno’s infatuation with Cybernetics, and its application to his music, as well as Oblique Strategies, the card system for breaking through a blocked creative process, also utilized by Eno and his collaborators, invented by Eno and artist Peter Schmidt.

    There’s much less to say about Beware Of Mr. Baker, a considerably more straightforward account, but a no less galvanizing personality at its center, not entirely in a good way. Besides being a monster drummer, Ginger Baker could be a plain monster, notorious as much for being a bastard and unreconstructed drug addict as for being arguably, the world’s greatest drummer.

    The film is formed around director Jay Bulger’s conversations with Baker conducted at Baker’s home in South Africa, Baker’s wife and family seemingly as wary of Baker as of the filming itself. Whether necessary to prove the point or not, that one indeed should beware of Mr. Baker, Baker assaults the director at one point. No hyperbole in the title I’m afraid.

    But the commentary from fellow musicians, music critics, friends and enemies throughout the film makes for a rounded depiction.

    Unlike Eno, who became a musician, Baker was essentially born one. Preternaturally gifted, as he would say, he intrinsically understood time. The film follows a more or less chronological biographical and career timeline, Baker’s orneriness and contrariness and creative restlessness such a constant, formal flourishes hardly seemed necessary.

    Certainly central to the film, as it was to Baker’s career was his time in Cream. Never before, or since has such individual virtuosity with the three essential rock instruments of drums, bass and guitar been collected into one performing unit. As much as Clapton may now be known by younger generations only as a classic rock geezer, Eric Clapton in his prime was, after Hendrix, the most astounding guitarist in rock music. Jack Bruce was an equal on bass, and perhaps the most musically adventurous of all three. And then Baker, whose drumming skills and drumming instincts no one could even approach.

    The most exciting element of the film is the archival footage of Cream performances, displaying what a virtuosic and thrilling juggernaut the band was. Clapton’s and Bruce’s recollections of Cream, and their observations on Baker, both musician and man, and even friend, are compelling too.

    Along with the inside story of Baker’s tumultuous stints with Blind Faith and Ginger Baker’s Air Force, the film documents Baker’s exploration and embrace of African music, including his personal and professional relationship with Afrobeat pioneer and political activist Fela Kuti. Baker’s relationship with Africa and African music is perhaps his only lasting relationship, and certainly considerably less fraught than the others, though no relationship, interpersonal or otherwise could avoid his contrariness.

    The wives, the girlfriends, the disaffected children, the estranged musicians, the bountiful drugs and the musical glories are all here. But more significantly, the film offers an evocative, even essential slice of rock history, and a searching, intelligent biography of an indisputable musical legend.


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