Velocity Girl: Emily Remler, 1957-1990

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Emily Remler would be turning 63 this year, but she is not because she died in Sydney, Australia on May 4, 1990. This year marks 30 since one of the most promising young musicians of the 1980s was lost, at the very cusp of a new decade in which she would have surely figured prominently. It’s impossible to calculate what was lost from her death, but much was gained from her life. Remler is one of the greatest guitar players there ever were, of any gender, but her unique status among female musicians of her era earns her degree of influence and infamy to which few others quite compare.

Put most simply, one might say that Remler was to the world of jazz what Amy Winehouse was to pop music: a phenom who fell at the height of her powers, for similar reasons. Emily Remler, a Virgo, was born into a Jewish family in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey on September 18, 1957. Her fate may have been written into the stars, seriously. 1957 was one of the most important years in the evolution of jazz music, with almost every major artist of the era doing some of their most important work. It was, for example, the year that John Coltrane spent much of working at the Five Spot under Thelonious Monk, which directly precipitated the “sheets of sound” concept that would animate his subsequent work.

She also happened to grow up in just the right city, at just the right time for someone who might aspire to a career in jazz. Rudy Van Gelder, arguably the greatest recording engineer of all-time, was not even ten miles away in Hackensack, where he recorded essential titles for Blue Note, Prestige, Riverside and other labels in a custom studio he’d built at his parents’ house in 1946. Van Gelder built a bigger and better studio at his own home in 1959, when Remler was 2. The location? Englewood Cliffs. Every jazz fan owns multiple albums that were recorded there.

The town has a little over 5,000 people now, as opposed to the 2,913 counted in the 1960 census. That number doubled in the 1960s, reaching a peak of 5,938 in 1970, and it’s lost about 10% of their population since then. One of those lost was Emily Remler, who moved to Boston to attend the Berklee College of Music. She’d started playing guitar at age ten, drawing early inspiration from rock artists like Jimi Hendrix. It was the fertile Berklee scene that cultivated her taste for jazz. She immersed herself in the tradition of Charlie Christian, Wes Montgomery, Grant Green, Joe Pass, Tal Farlow. One assumes that, given her early love for rock, she’d have also been familiar with Sister Rosetta Tharpe, whom most would consider the most important female guitarist of her time, as well as Nancy Wilson, the iconic lead guitarist of Heart who crafted some of the most duplicated riffs of the ‘70s.

She would also have known about Mary Osborne (1921-1992), who was perhaps the first woman to make a name nationally for playing guitar, in any genre, let alone jazz, and belongs in the same conversation. Osbourne was affiliated with a number of with several other luminous ladies of the business, including Marian McPartland, Mary Lou Williams and Billie Holiday, in addition to men like Dizzy Gillespie, Stuff Smith, Joe Venuti, Papa Jo Jones, Art Tatum and Thelonious Monk. She released at least three albums under her own name, while making guest spots on other records. One notable example would be “The Mighty Two”, a drum-battle record from 1962 by Louis Bellson and Gene Krupa.

As a white woman from North Dakota, she started working in territory bands as a pre-teen, clocking thousands of hours in playing experience by the time she was old enough to drink. She saw Charlie Christian in person, a rare honor, since he died in 1942. She was established in the New York jazz scene in time to witness the birth of bebop firsthand, mixing band gigs and studio work there and in Chicago, Philly and Los Angeles for decades. She continued working well into her late-60s, ultimately passing away just a couple years after Remler. (I have no idea if they ever met, but I would assume so.)

Remler was 24 when she recorded her first album “Firefly” (1981). Like many of her early albums, it found her with an ad-hoc unit hired by her label, Concord Records. The group included bassist Bob Maize, veteran drummer Jake Hanna and legendary pianist Hank Jones, a first-ballot hall-of-famer by any standard. Remler never had a serious regular unit during most of her career; she was always presented as essentially a solo artist, and not much effort was made to get her formally linked-up in the public mind with comparable talent of that era. She played with many talented musicians, but rarely was she ever in setting that seemed truly worthy of her.

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Remler was married once, to pianist Monty Alexander from 1981 to 1984. It’s unclear why they broke up, and that doesn’t really matter. She was also romantically-linked with fellow guitarist Larry Coryell, the “Godfather of Fusion” with whom she recorded the sublime duet album “Together” in 1985. In terms of the study of jazz guitar technique, it’s an essential recording, and a touchstone in both their individual careers. It’s probably his most accessible title of the time, and a great introduction to Remler, who was named “Guitarist of the Year” by Down Beat that same year.

She spent a considerable stint touring the world with bossa nova pioneer Astrud Gilberto, then went back to running her own small groups. A smattering of sumptuous bootlegs available on YouTube find her also playing in the company of folks like Monika Dannerlein and John Abercromie. Perhaps the best of this material may be found in two sets recorded a couple years apart at the Musicians’ Institute in Michigan. The trios are rounded out by a bassist and drummer from the faculty, a fresh group with fresh material. The second session, in particular, is indispensable; Remler seems to stretch out far more than she does in most other settings. (In the first, probably recorded in 1984, you can see her playing her first guitar, a Gibson ES-330 that she got from her older brother)

All but one of Remler’s seven official albums were made for Concord Jazz, which is unfortunate. They did good work, but the production comes off just a touch antiseptic in those first years of “DDD” sound. A lot of the low end of Remler’s guitar is suppressed in the mix, and the bass players come off consistently muted. (The Musicians’ Institute session, for example, paints a much fuller picture of how her sound actually sounded.) The same music, if recorded under auspices of Verve, Impulse or Blue Note, would have packed dramatically more sonic punch, and those labels’ superior marketing budgets would have meant more commercial success and a bigger public profile, which might have helped stave off some of the artist’s darker moments. Plus, her legacy would have benefited immeasurably from association with such brands. She would have been a particularly nice fit at ECM Records, for example.

The exact circumstances of Emily Remler’s death remain unclear, 30 years later. Technically, she died of heart failure, likely exacerbated by drug use. She had suffered from heroin addiction for years prior, and some reports suggest dilaudid, as well. Remler’s chaotic personal life gave way to occasional depressive episodes, but nothing has ever emerged to suggest that her death was anything a terrible accident. The fact is that she never got nearly as much coverage as she deserved, while a combination of bad luck and worse choices means that much of her story will always be a matter of pure speculation.

She died at a time when jazz music was just beginning to emerge from creative hibernation, right before the CD market (which was always largely driven by jazz, due to the Sony connection) really took flight, and the nostalgic appeal of the culture helped subsidize an entire generation of new stars. Had she lived, Remler would have surely figured prominently in that resurgence. She would have been a regular on the exploding jazz festival market, made the covers of all the magazines and seen huge new sales growth, regardless of what label she was on. But there would have definitely been a bidding war, and it’s entirely possible that she’d have ended up going mainstream, signing with one of the firms that were buying up jazz labels throughout the decade.

The story of a white Jewish girl from New Jersey becoming one of the top-ranked guitar players in the world would have had great appeal to the media, not just because of her ethnicity, and gender, but also the fact that she wrote most of her own songs, in a genre built around the endless flogging of standards. That music would have appealed to a growing market for jazz fusion, crossing over into jam rock.  The early ‘90s was defined by a renewed focus on female musicians in multiple genres, particularly in rock and roll. Remler would’ve been a star in an era populated by women like Kim Gordon, Liz Phair and PJ Harvey, an icon without even trying to be one. Had she lived, Emily Remler would’ve been the only jazz musician to show up on MTV in the ‘90s.

For years, people openly wondered if women could be great guitar players. The cognoscenti know that question was answered 60 years ago, and everyone knows it now. Remler was the crucial link between those generations of female guitarists. When the light had almost gone out completely, as far as popular awareness, Remler carried the torch until her body gave out, at which point that torch fell to ladies who may have never even heard of her, but who could be considered kindred spirits.

Nowadays, the list of prominent—indeed, dominant—female guitarists is nearly endless: Tash Sultana, Anna Calvi, Sharon Van Etten, Mackenzie Scott (aka Torres), Kelley Deal and, of course, the great Liz Cooper, who has emerged in just the last couple of years to become the current standard-bearer within that particular subset. Mary Halvorson has led most jazz polls over the last few years, making her the nominal heir to Remler’s legacy, while somehow catering to the mainstream and avant-garde in almost seamless fashion. Where once this was a subject of serious scholarly inquiry, we have thankfully progressed to a point where such discussions will never be necessary again, and the too-short life and shorter career of Emily Remler was a crucial step in our advancing to this point.

Ultimately, when looking back in consideration of someone readily acknowledged as a jazz icon, the most obvious takeaway is that her contributions transcend any particular genre. Remler was rooted in the jazz tradition, but took creative leaps at seemingly every opportunity, such that she’s very much in the tradition of the rock and folk musicians she admired as a kid. At its most extreme, the work touched on elements of electric blues, or even prog-rock. The enormity of her skillset, coupled with the scope of her influences, meant she could have thrived in any musical environment she chose for herself as her 30s progressed into her 40s and beyond. But that never happened, and it really sucks. It really, REALLY sucks.

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Notes on Press Freedom and the Special Election in Montana

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The folks defending Greg Gianforte for assaulting that reporter should remember that 79 journalists died on the job last year, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least 18 of whom were murdered, often in broad daylight, and almost always without legal repercussions. We’ve already seen the deaths of ten journalists in seven countries so far this year, and that number is sure to increase.

We’ve had a mayor downstate openly boast about pointing a machine gun loaded with blanks at reporters last week, and one of Trump’s staff joked about him using a sword against the White House press corp–a ceremonial sword gifted from a country that has no freedom of the press whatsoever. There’s nothing funny about any of it, especially given his documented connections to a foreign government that has itself been implicated in the murders of several journalists in recent years.

Our president has referred to the media as “the enemy of the people”, mocked a handicapped journalist on the campaign trail, had reporters physically removed from his events, and openly suggested to his then-FBI director having others locked up for reporting on his own abuses of power, which is a real thing that has happened multiple times in this country over the years.

On local and state levels, countless journalists have been attacked, stalked, doxxed and threatened, including right here in my own hometown. Numerous journalists sit behind bars all over the world for doing their job, and several outlets have had to shut down because of attrition due to violence.

I don’t know much about Gianforte or his opponent, Rob Quist and I won’t pretend to have any special insight about the internal politics of their state, but this contest is now a national issue, with direct implications for the entire industry. If Gianforte wins, the voters of Montana will be on-record as having signed off on a dangerous dynamic that undermines our democracy and the people’s ability to get the information they need to make informed decisions about their lives–and they know it.

Personally, I’ve been slapped, punched, spit on, threatened, shot at with BB guns, had knives and guns pulled on me–and that’s just from exes, LOL. But seriously, I don’t begrudge any of the heat I’ve gotten, because I work a particularly ruthless and hyperbolic style that entails saying extremely controversial things about extremely dangerous people. If anything tragic ever happens to me, it will probably be at least somewhat my fault. But my concern is for the decent, impartial working journalists who walk the straight and narrow path and do their best to call it right down the middle–the kind of people who will still give those scumbags the benefit of the doubt, despite everything.

This escalating trend of violence and intimidation against journalists here and around the world needs to stop. Voters in Montana need to make a firm stand, today, right now. If they don’t, the consequences could be truly horrifying. And if you think I’m making mountains our of molehills, I’ve got two words for you: “Charlie Hebdo”…

French, Licked: the Certain Uncertainly of May 7

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Having just heard about the tragic passing of Corrine Erhel, a French socialist politician who suffered a fatal heart attack while stumping for Emmanuel Macron on Cinco de Mayo, one’s first instinct is to view her death as a tragic omen for the cause she died in support of. With the final round of France’s national elections wrapping up May 7, the reasonable possibility of an upset win by Marine LePen and her National Front (FN) means that Erhel, who was only 50, may go down as merely the first to perish in the wake of a vote whose results will likely be cataclysmic for her country, no matter who wins.

While superstition is ultimately just that, it’s tempting to indulge such sentiment, given the recent sequence of events. Erhel’s death was immediately preceded by news of—believe it or not—massive hacking of Macron’s emails, the leaking of which was smartly timed to coincide with the legally mandated two-day period of silence before the vote. It’s an interesting quirk of their parliamentary system, one that would be intolerable in the United States, whose politicians can hardly be compelled to shut up, even when they’re asleep.

And they are certainly asleep, figuratively if not necessarily literally, although there can be little doubt that any number of our leading politicians are so heavily pilled-up that they need help tying their own shoes and neckties, to say nothing of reading the legislation being foisted upon them on an almost weekly basis early on in the Trump Era. Indeed, when the president’s controversial (to say the least) health-care plan passed earlier this week, by the narrowest of margins, despite ample partisan cushion, it was attended almost immediately by reports that some members of Congress had not bothered to read the very legislation that their historical reputations are now intractably tethered to. At least one of them actually admitted this on television, which strikes me as something other than the behavior of someone who is acting in their right mind.

The elections in France are being touted as a critical indicator of the trajectory of western politics in the new reality, and while it’s easy enough the parallels to events in the US in Europe, it’s worth remembering that the French are famously unpredictable. After all, the idea of the National Front getting anywhere near the runoff was openly scoffed at, as recently as a month ago. No one in proper political circles would’ve guessed that the hard-right, with all their bluster and bully tactics, would be capable of finishing as strongly as they did, let alone that their momentum would only continue in the interregnum. The LePen family has been flirting with fanaticism for years, with the father put out to pasture by his own daughter, who herself has struggled to achieve even basic credibility.

The struggle is real—at least, it was. Now she’s so credible that the political establishment is having night-sweats all weekend. Tensions are high, and so are the figureheads; in café society, the SSRIs are flowing free like fine wine, with blood soon to follow, perhaps. After watching the police torched with Molotov cocktails on May Day, it’s hard to conceive of any scenario in which the nation is not at least partially in flames within days. If Macron wins, as currently projected, the FN and its adherents will likely respond with violence. If LePen wins, violence is guaranteed. No matter who wins, the majority of French citizens will be not only dissatisfied, but terrified for the future of their country. This is not their first rodeo. They are firmly aware of the worst-case scenario. Good luck to them!

Bromancing the Stone: Roger Stone dishes on Trump, Florida and political combat

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“They may call me a dirty trickster. I’m a real partisan; I’ve got sharp elbows. But there’s on thing that isn’t in my bag of tricks: treason.” Roger Stone has never backed away from a fight; indeed, he almost relishes starting them. Stone has been a human melee weapon, wielded to great effect in some of the biggest political brawls of the past half-century, dating back to his earliest years in the crucible that was the Nixon White House.

“1968 and 2016 were very similar, in many ways,” he says. “Just as leaders, Donald Trump and Nixon are similar. They’re both really pragmatists, neither is an ideologue, they’re both essentially populists with conservative instincts. … Both of them are very persistent, both of them had to come back from disaster.” The opposition is praying for further disaster, and they may well get their wish. To that end, Stone is one of several Trump affiliates under investigation for their dealings with various foreign nationals whose efforts helped facilitate Trump’s victory.

Stone’s newest book, “The Making of the President 2016: How Donald Trump Orchestrated a Revolution” (Skyhorse Publishing) lifts its title from the seminal series written every four years between 1960 and 1980 by journalist Theodore H. White (1915-1986), a quintessential DC Beltway insider who is, no doubt, spinning in his grave as we speak. One can’t help but view this choice as high-level trolling of the first order, which is his forte.

The subtitle is cunningly phrased, as every conceivable meaning of the words “orchestrated” and “revolution” seem to fit in this case. Speaking of which, Stone’s book notes the crucial role of one revolution—that waged in the Democratic primary by Bernie Sanders—in helping foreshadow the future president’s. “In many ways, Trump and Bernie, they’re riding the same wave. Donald’s voters think these trade deals have fucked America, and Bernie’s voters think these trade deals have fucked America. … And also, new voters: Both Trump and Bernie Sanders attract new voters in the primaries. It’s just more people upset about the so-called ‘rigged system’. Bernie rags constantly about the corruption and the power of Wall Street; so does Trump. So I think they’re very similar.”

This similarity was noted early on, and was key to Trump’s victory, according to Stone. “In order to win, Trump had to win three of ten Sanders voters, and he did.” Despite being a nominal frontrunner, Hillary Clinton was burdened with a top-heavy hierarchical campaign, largely disconnected from political reality. For all her billions spent, that money was squandered on failed strategies and poor logistics, reaching a peak as Trump barnstormed battleground states in the closing days, while Hillary had already begun taking victory laps. The Clintons expended so much time and energy fending off the Sanders insurgency that they never really got a handle on what awaited them in the general.

“I think they made the exact same mistake as did Jimmy Carter,” says Stone, who worked for Ronald Reagan in 1980. “The Clintons misunderstood Trump’s appeal. They didn’t think that his simple messaging would be credible; they didn’t understand that Trump talks more like average people than elites. The underestimated both his skill as a candidate, they underestimated his skill as a communicator, and they underestimated his ability to land a punch.”

When Trump first declared for president in 2015, there was almost no one who thought the man had any chance at all—except for Stone, who had raised the very possibility as early as 1988, when he arranged a meeting between Trump and his earliest political benefactor, Richard Nixon. “It certainly seemed possible to me, but let’s recognize that I’m a professional political operative, and I had at that point nine individual presidential campaigns in which I’m playing a senior role as experience. Plus I’ve known Donald Trump for 39 years; I have a very keen knowledge of his management style, his style on the stump, so I understand a lot of the basis of his appeal. … Trump is a giant, and he ran against a lot of career politicians who were essentially pygmies.”

As usual, Florida was a decisive factor in the election, and Stone expects that to continue in 2018. “Florida has proven once again to be the ultimate purple state. It truly is a state that’s always competitive in a presidential race, and less competitive, leaning slightly Republican, in a non-presidential race. The Democrats in Florida, because they have been out of power in the legislature so long, and because they have (generally-speaking) not done well in local offices, they really have no bench. They are yet to come up with a candidate who is a viable candidate for governor. It’s WAY too early to try to determine how Trump’s candidacy will impact the Florida electorate; it’s an entirely open question. Trump could be exceedingly popular, if he sticks to his agenda and gets things done by the mid-terms, or he could be unpopular, theoretically, for any number of reasons. But in politics, a year is a lifetime.”

Speaking of Florida, 2018 will be the first year in nearly three decades in which the shadow of Jeb Bush will not be blanketing the states political landscape, and by Stone’s reckoning, you can thank Trump for putting our former governor into permanent retirement. “If Jeb had stayed in the race, and there had been another debate, Trump was prepared to say, ‘Jeb, the [FDLE] had over 22 individual tips about the 9/11 hijackers training in Sarasota; you seem to have done nothing with that information. Don’t you think you could have stopped the attack on America if you had actually done something?’ That was coming, and I think Jeb knew it was coming, and of course that’s all documentable. Only Trump would’ve had the courage to do something like that.”

Today, at 64, Stone is prepping for what may be his biggest fight to date, waged on behalf of his good friend, President Donald J. Trump, whose election was somewhat controversial, to say the least. Although Stone has not officially worked for Trump since last fall, he remains very much in the mix, as far as the president’s wider circle of advisors and adjutants. Indeed, the fact is that the very idea of Donald Trump as POTUS originates in the always-fertile mind of Roger Stone, who never stops thinking of new angles and novel approaches to shaking up the political status quo. Of course, a lot of folks really wish he would stop, but after last year, that seems unlikely.

Whereas most folks tend to get all shy and introspective when talk of subpoenas begins, Stone is embracing his opportunity to face off with congressional Democrats before a live, mainstream audience. Having served in the White House under presidents Nixon and Reagan, Stone is by no means a stranger in Beltway circles, but his appearance at the Capitol will mark, for many national observers, their initial introduction to a man that, without whom, everything would be different today.

Stone has still not appeared before Congress at press-time, but he has made no secret of his enthusiasm. “They dragged my name through the mud in a public hearing. Several statements made by members were just flatly incorrect, others were chronologically out of order, and still others were written in such a pejorative way that I must have the opportunity to take that language and re-tell it my way, and then bitch-slap the member for his partisanship. … Here’s my proposal: Waive your congressional immunity, so I may sue you, and we’ll let a judge and jury decide if you have slimed me. And you know they won’t do that.”

sheltonhull@gmail.com

March 28, 2017

 

Album review: “Flight of the Vultures” (Parsons/Buckner/Barlow)

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“Flight of the Vultures” is a snapshot of a band in ecstasis, a showcase for three jazz masters at the height of their creative powers. Trumpeter Longineu Parsons, who just recently earned his doctorate from the University of Florida, is joined by longtime collaborator Von Barlow and bassist Lawrence Buckner on a searing set of nine tunes, of which all but one are original compositions. Barlow and Buckner are well-known to local audiences from their longtime residency at the Casbah in Avondale on Sunday nights; with tenor saxophonist Eric Riehm, they comprised one of the best jazz groups working anywhere in the world.

The album starts out hot with Parsons’ own “Hannibal’s March part II”, then gets downright searing on the classic Coltrane tune “Mr. P.C.”, named for the late great bassist Paul Chambers (who played alongside Trane in the Miles Davis quintet of the 1950s). Barlow’s ride cymbal carries through into “Flute Song”, which leads into “Forward”. Buckner’s adept handling of the upright bass is featured prominently here, laying down a fantastically funky backdrop for Barlow’s tom-toms and the inimitable flute-work of the leader—shrill trills that chill and thrill as thoroughly as when you see him live, as I did at Jazzland Café just a few days ago.

From there, the band moves into their “Orgasma Suite”. Wilhelm Reich would be proud. 20 minutes of slow rising, brooding backbeats, building to a boil behind and the piercing wail of arguably the most underrated trumpeter of his generation. The recording is perfect, evocatively atmospheric; you can practically hear the shadows in the room. The last two tracks “Deeply” and “Searching”, sound like their titles, and make a fine aperitif after the stiff fluidity of the rest of the set. Overall, of my favorite albums by three of my favorite people. Good stuff…

http://tribaldisorder.com/ 

Sweet Theories: Pocket of Lollipops are the flavor of every month

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Franco Carmelino/Pocket of Lollipops/Rickolus/J Chat/Vowls/Jayel

Jack Rabbits, Saturday, February 11; $10

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Maintaining a successful band is hard. Being married is harder. Doing both simultaneously usually ends in disaster, but Pocket of Lollipops has made it look easy for years now. Singer/guitarist Maitesojune Urrechaga and vocalist/drummer Tony Kapel are no strangers to Northeast Florida audiences, nor are they strangers to each other. The band is a true labor of love from two people who love the labor—and odds are beyond decent that you’ll love it, too.

They’re playing Jack Rabbits in support of their third album, 2016’s Thanks Theo, the follow-up to their universally accepted Letters to Larrup EP and one of the best albums of the year that was. So thanks, Theo, whoever you are. The band’s sound can confound even the most descriptive scribe, but there’s one word that formulates first: “Fun”. It’s jangly, propulsive pop, laced with joy and good humor, like ice cream for your ears. With a name like “Pocket of Lollipops”, that could mean almost anything, but for the Miami-based duo, it’s a rare case of truth in advertising.

It’s not just that they sound like candy; they sound like candy that you bought earlier and put in your pocket, then forgot it was there while you went about your business—work, a concert, rioting, whatever—and it melted a little bit in your pocket. You forgot it was there, until you got home later; you felt the bulge and reached in, with the kind of mortal terror one only gets when there is melted candy in the pocket of your favorite pants. But it turns out that the candy was wrapped up so well that your pockets are completely clean, and you’ve got this warm, kinda gooey mass of sugar and pectin that still retains the essence of its original shape, and instead of stressing about ruined pants, you fall asleep with candy in your mouth—and no one dares wake you up, because it’s just too cute. Real talk. (For me, it’s blue raspberry Blow Pops, but to each their own.)

Likewise, upon first listen, you might think you’re being assaulted with random noise generated by the diddling of dilettantes, but you quickly learn that the chaos is organized better than the Strategy of Tension. At first glance, you might think they’re insane, and they may very well be, but they know exactly what they’re doing. Do you? Nope. Okay, then.

11703058_10153143254734317_5703198835468273890_nsheltonhull@gmail.com

Southern Discomfort: Idle Bloom brings the new Nashville sound back to Duval County

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The last time Idle Bloom was in town, working the Shantytown, they were known as Fancytramp, and their CDs were covered with glitter. Two years and one name-change later, and the band returns in support of the ten-song debut album Little Deaths, which isn’t even officially released until the 17th. The Nashville-based quartet delivers a fresh variation on that now-ubiquitous indie sound, which has allowed them to thrive in one of the world’s most competitive music scenes.

“Technically speaking, Fancytramp is a different band, just has two of the same members,” writes bassist Katie Banyay, by way of correction. Singer/guitarist Olivia Scibelli leads the group through a torrent of tightly arranged fuzzbox fantasia, alongside second guitarist Callan Dwan, harmonizing over top with bassist Banyay while drummer Weston Sparks pushes the pulse forward like an offensive lineman in Flying Wedge formation. The band has grown closer and more confident during their hiatus; now they’re coming for theirs, and failure seems unlikely.

“‘Idle Bloom’ comes from a poem by Caroline Clive called I Watched The HeavensWe had the name and [Fancytramp’s] last show set up, but needed a new drummer. So Weston Sparks was suggested to play with us from a friend. We clicked instantly and he was such a trooper. He learned an entire Fancytramp set that he’d never play again! Soon after, we found a second guitar player and began as what was truly the beginning of Idle Bloom. The lineup has switched around some with Gavin Schriver being added recently.”

Issued through the Fraternity As Vanity label (FV008), Little Deaths meets and well exceeds the promise of their 2015 single Fare Fumo, a split 7” with Churchyard, yet another fine Nashville band (whose self-titled album from 2015 is a steal at $5). “Little Deaths differs from the EP (Some Paranoia), mainly by two things: I think it has a bigger sound and was planned out more thoroughly,” writes Banyay.

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”With Some Paranoia we had the intention of it being a full length. It was recorded in our friend Shibby’s grandma’s basement. We were all anxious to release something. It was very ambitious of us to want to start off with a full length, so once we had all of the songs finished, we chose the best performances from that session and turned it into an EP. The songs we didn’t add to Some Paranoia, we ended up rerecording with Kyle Gilbride (plus other songs, one recorded with Joe McMahan) and those are on Little Deaths. So we had all this extra time to rework the songs and figure out exactly what we wanted our sound to be. I’m really proud of all the hard work and time we put into this album.”

Joining them at Rain Dogs will be Terror Pigeon (one of the greatest band names ever), Totally KAROL, from Tallahassee, and Ruffians, who could be called local legends about as surely as anyone working today. Bonus: Free t-shirts from promoter Big Dunn, auteur of the infamous “Smoke Meowt” line, which completely took on a life of its own last year. He’ll be starting his birthday month out in style—and so will you, if you get one of them dang shirts, for realsies.

 

sheltonhull@gmail.com

Friends of Flint: Kemetic Empire leading water-drive

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The ongoing water crisis in Flint, Michigan has quickly captured the attention of the entire country, and pushback has been coming far and wide. Graphic pictures of brown water, laced with lead and other toxic contaminants, sparked immediate national outrage, to the point that President Obama declared a state of emergency for the entire city of 100,000-plus people, of whom over 9,000 children have already tested positive for lead exposure.

Activists and citizen groups have been collecting drinking water for the people of Flint, with their efforts being bolstered by celebrities like Meek Mill, Pearl Jam, Cher, Diddy, Mark Wahlberg and Michael Moore (whose classic film “Roger and Me” introduced Flint to a national audience in the 1980s. Some are donating water directly, while many others (like Jimmy Fallon) are providing cash to buy water.

Northeast Florida has plenty of water to spare, of course, and some of it will be heading to Flint this Friday, January 29, in a caravan being organized by the Kemetic Empire and Urban Geo-Ponics. Diallo Sekou co-founded these organizations several years ago to help highlight the political and economic disparities affecting the urban areas of Jacksonville, while drawing attention to the practical solutions being developed in response.

For him and his colleagues, the situation in Flint only reinforces concepts that he and his colleagues have been stressing locally for quite some time. “The community has to play a more important and vital role when it comes to day to day business of their lives,” says Sekou. “For poor people there are several issues affecting us all. starting with our own self-interest and not wanting to operate as a collective to change these types of conditions. Ownership and control of our areas is the key to shifting the paradigm.”

Water and supplies can be dropped off at the Ethio Discount Store on Main Street and 16th, or people can call Sekou or Ishmael Muhammad directly. All donations are tax-deductible.

https://www.facebook.com/events/1693550497589311/1693558050921889/

http://www.thekemeticempire.com/operation-flint-get-clean-water-to-the-people/

https://www.gofundme.com/dyy8spt8

Nixon in the Rear-View: Three newish books offer three fresh perspectives on our 37th President

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The Greatest Comeback: How Richard Nixon Rose From Defeat to Create the New Majority, by Pat Buchanan. New York: Crown Forum/Random House. 392 pp, illustrated.

Nixon’s Secrets: The Rise, Fall and Untold Truth about the President, Watergate and the Pardon, by Roger Stone, with Mike Colapietro. New York; Skyhorse Publishing. 661 pp, illustrated.

Pat and Dick: The Nixons, an Intimate Portrait of a Marriage, by Will Swift. New York: Threshold Editions/Simon & Schuster. 447 pp, illustrated.

Nixon ad

The year 2014 was an important one for the friends, family and fans of America’s infamous 37th president, who died 20 years ago this April. August 8th marked the 40-year anniversary of Nixon’s resignation, followed by his dramatic exit from office the following day. It was the beginning of a long journey back into America’s good graces, a process that continues to this day. This country and the entire world have changed a lot since his death, and time has rendered a different judgment of Nixon than the one rendered in his lifetime, as old information combines with new developments to clarify old perceptions.

These anniversaries have triggered a small flood of Nixonalia into the marketplace, and each project wrestles with a central problem: Richard Nixon is not a man who can be spoken of objectively. The nature of his work forces all those who study it to make their own decision at so many different points. Let’s keep it real: His enemies called him “Tricky Dick”, and even his allies would concede how utterly appropriate the nickname was—more so than maybe any president since Andrew Jackson, aka “Old Hickory”. HBO released “Nixon: In His Own Words”, an excellent 75-minute mashup of audio clips and video footage spanning the scope of his career. It’s an ideal introduction to one of the great character studies of the entire 20th century.

Richard Milhous Nixon cut one of the most unique swaths through our nation’s political history, and that influence persists today, a generation after he took leave of this dimension. As President Obama lurches toward the anticlimactic end of his administration, recent scandals have proven that, despite whatever early pretensions he may have had to the legacy of JFK, history will regard him as the closest thing we’ve had to Nixon since Nixon himself—a cold-blooded pragmatist, driven by inner tensions that he can hardly articulate.

Each of the three books tends to center on specific aspects of Nixon’s story, and will be of varying appeal, depending on the reader’s views of the subject. Two of the authors can be considered partisans: Buchanan and Stone were both recruited and trained in part by Nixon himself, and both went on to work for Reagan, as well.

But just as Nixon’s worst enemies would allow for the man’s obvious ability, his key supporters will readily own up to his major flaws—and, seen in its totality, the Nixon Legacy seems like something that could have never gone any differently than it did. Although Nixon himself would later own up to his many mistakes, it is unlikely that, given the opportunity, he would have never corrected them, because Richard Nixon was, by all accounts, pathologically incapable of admitting weakness. The whole debacle involving the infamous “Nixon Tapes” is a case in point. Even as his presidency was lurching, slowly and painfully toward its inevitable conclusion, he retained the power to save his presidency by simply burning the tapes.

Of course, veteran GOP operative Roger Stone, who started working for Nixon while barely out of his teens, posits that Nixon was set up for scandal by his own underlings, through a combination of incompetence and outright corruption, and that even he may not have known exactly what was up until the end. By the time his resignation was a fait accompli, the old man (who aged prematurely, like they all do) had already pivoted into plotting his post-presidency career. Stone argues that the affable ax-man Gerald Ford was selected to replace Spiro Agnew with a mind toward the pardon that he would eventually grant the fallen Nixon; he further argues that Nixon secured that pardon essentially through blackmail—specifically, his knowledge of Ford’s crucial role in whitewashing what became the Warren Commission Report. And that is the axis around which his narrative rotates.

Only in recent years has it become common knowledge that many of the people closest to the situation—Bobby Kennedy, Jackie Kennedy, Ted Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and even Fidel Castro—had all privately admitted extreme skepticism of the commission’s findings. Note that the latter three frequently turn up in conspiracy theories related to the real architects of the assassination; for what it’s worth, Stone fixes the blame squarely on LBJ, as he wrote in his previous book, and one may assume that his views were influenced heavily by Nixon’s own.

During his presidency, Nixon was known for making frequent references to “the Bay of Pigs situation”, particularly as the Watergate investigation began to pick up steam. Although he never spoke to the point directly, it was always widely believed that the phrase was a reference to the murder of JFK, but Stone makes this theory explicit: In his telling, Nixon as Vice-President was deputized by Eisenhower to plot the removal of Fidel Castro, in conjunction with the CIA and members of the mafia who’d been alienated by the Cuban regime. This effort, called “Operation 40”, led directly to the ridiculous failed assassination plots run by Bobby Kennedy under his brother, which then led directly to the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion, which many (including Stone) led directly to the tragedy in Dallas in November 1963. (Add Stone’s name, also, to the list of writers who have alleged that other assassination plots had been in the works prior to November 1963.)

What made all this relevant to Nixon’s interests is that A) JFK was, at one point, a friend of his, and, having survived attempts on his own life over the years, he was deeply disturbed by the idea of any president being killed; and B) Nixon knew that several of the people thought to be involved in the murder plot—including people like Frank Sturgis, Felix Rodriguez, Santo Trafficante, Johnny Roselli and the infamous E. Howard Hunt, who confessed membership in the conspiracy shortly before his own death—were veterans of Nixon’s Operation 40, and as such he knew he could’ve been implicated in the conspiracy himself, even though he presumably was not. The fact that Hunt and Sturgis both went on to be part of the original Watergate burglary team is a historical anomaly that, in Stone’s telling, led directly to the Plumbers’ apparent failure, and the end of their boss’ tenure.

Stone’s book “Nixon’s Secrets” is probably the most must-read of the three books. It’s loaded with insider dirt, rendered by an author whose dirty-tricks credentials are rock-solid. Stone’s book is kind of a throwback to this writer’s personal favorite Nixon book, Anthony Summers’ infamous biography The Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon (2000), a tome crafted and marketed as an epic takedown that, as so often with aspects of Nixon’s blowback, backfired.

In a country that glorifies gangsters and anti-heroes of all stripes, it makes perfect sense that Richard Nixon is arguably more popular now that he was at any point in his life, and his fan-base is built heavily around people who weren’t even alive during his presidency. Their views of that era are colored by their living memory of all the (for lack of a better word) shenanigans that have transpired in the 40 years since Nixon’s resignation: the Iran hostage crisis, Reagan getting shot, Iran-Contra, Whitewater, Lewinsky, the Drug War, the Patriot Act, two attacks on the World Trade Center, two Iraq wars and countless skirmishes and incidents elsewhere, leading up to things like the NSA and TSA today. It is frankly hypocritical for Americans to pretend that the 1970s elite consensus regarding Nixon remains valid in today’s world, given the men we elected to succeed him as president. At least half of those six may have eclipsed Nixon, in terms of pure ruthlessness, and maybe all of them.

For today’s GOP to attack President Obama for using Nixonian tactics—which he does, no doubt—creates the kind of bitter, cynical historical irony that only Nixon could appreciate. And when one considers that the three most successful presidents since Nixon (Reagan, Clinton, Obama), all basically came up from nothing, with fathers who were either absent or insufficient, and all grew up with chips on their shoulders that they carried into the White House with them, along with the attendant defense mechanisms, creating a psychological component that directly influenced their own presidencies (for better or for worse) it could well be argued that we are still living in the Age of Nixon, because they all worked variations on a theme that he established in the larger narrative of the presidency as an institution. The only difference between he and them is that (as every Nixon scholar seems to agree) Nixon was never able to check his darker impulses, which eventually consumed him. But then again, Nixon never had Nixon’s example to draw upon.

As time has passed, and the principals on all sides have grown older, passed on and left their (always selective) memories behind, Nixon’s controversial run has come to be seen in a broader context. This process was initiated by Nixon himself during the David Frost interviews in 1977, his Oxford Union gig in 1978 and the publication of his memoirs that same year. While Nixon did not invent the concept of “revisionist history”, he was without question the all-time master of its use in American politics, and the broader culture. It’s hard to think of another public figure in our nation’s history whose posthumous reputation is more different than their reputation in life, and certainly not in a positive way. Again, this was probably Nixon’s plan all along. Only he could have understood what honest observers would now concede: that the historical value of keeping the White House Tapes would transcend the disastrous short-term effect that it had on his presidency.

Even after he resigned he left behind the framework for what would become a winning coalition for Reagan and Bush that later gave his party 12 more years of power—or 20, if one counts George W. Bush, a very different type of Republican, no doubt. Buchanan’s book goes into great detail on the process of triangulating between two parties that were both in transitional phases; he shows how, at all points in the 1960s, Nixon was working toward an end-game that most of his peers were unable to figure out until it was basically over. Nixon was consistently ahead of the curve when it came to almost everything, except his own career; he consistently sacrificed his short-term interests in favor of long-term legacy concerns, culminating with the fateful and fatal decision not to destroy his tapes, and it’s only now, long after his death, that we can appreciate that calculation

Time has leveled a sort of equilibrium to Nixon’s legacy, in that casual observers will remember him mostly for perceived misdeeds that history has given context to, in not exactly validation. On matters like Alger Hiss, the escalation of war in Indochina, the Pentagon Papers and even the Oval Office tapes themselves, time has led more people to believe Nixon simply made the least-disastrous choice in a number of lose-lose situations that were often not of his doing.

The present era of global chaos makes some nostalgic for the man who engaged Communists in China and Russia, reached out to Arab moderates while strengthening America’s relationship with Israel and managed to pass a wave of progressive social policies while ratcheting up the war on drugs. Nixon had a special kind of hustle that we will likely never see again on any level of the business, and that in my opinion is to our permanent disadvantage.

Hillary Clinton (who might not have met her husband, at least not have met her husband, had the two young rising Democratic stars not shared a common enemy in Nixon, but that’s another story) once defined the difference between politicians and statesmen thusly: A politician thinks of the next election, while a statesman thinks of the next generation. Nixon was both, in spades, but 40 years after his final disgrace, more and more Americans are coming to recognize that his disgrace was not really not that disgraceful after all.

Swift notes that Pat Nixon always suspected that her husband’s undoing may have related to willful shenanigans by members of the Watergate burglary team acting at cross-purposes—a hypothesis that Stone makes extensive effort to verify in Nixon’s Secrets. He implicates Alexander Butterfield, who installed Nixon’s taping system and then revealed its existence to Congress—unprovoked, in his telling—while also calling out the incompetence of key functionaries like Bob Haldeman, John Erlichmann and John Mitchell, who were all key to Nixon’s political rebirth but whose personal flaws contributed to their boss’ undoing, and their own eventual imprisonment.

Stone reserves special venom for John Dean, whom he places at the center of a conspiracy to undermine the president for self-serving ends, and whose own multiple versions of the story are painstaking elucidated. Their feud has only burned hotter since the book’s release; it would make an interesting debate. Stone also hits Alexander Haig, while alleging that he was among the sources for former Navy intelligence operative Bob Woodward, whose seminal reporting on the scandal was, in Stone’s telling, largely specious, if not transparently false. He flatly rejects the idea of Mark Felt being Deep Throat, suggesting the character was merely a composite of several people.

Stone has obviously given a lot of thought to Watergate and related matters, and his views are useful addendums to the established narrative. (Stone and Dean had a brief, but vitriolic verbal battle at the Austin Book Festival; their dispute may ultimately have to be settled in court.) Stone’s next book, due later this year, focuses on the Clintons, and promises to be potentially even more explosive than Nixon’s Secrets. And with a potential run for US Senate in the works for 2016, with Hillary Clinton seeking the presidency in the same year, there is no reason for him to hold anything back, and no reason to think he’d even consider it. Because, after all, he is a Nixon man.

Nixon-smell

Shifting Into Summer: john Shannon’s newest project debuts in Florida

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The Shift

Jack Rabbits

Thursday, June 11

“7th Direction” is an impressive debut EP from The Shift, a New York-based trio whose show at Jack Rabbits this Thursday comes at the end of their first-ever swing through the Sunshine State, amidst a tour that’s taking them from coast to coast. “The tour has been great,” says lead singer/guitarist John Shannon, writing in from the road. “Our starter went out on our van the other day in Alabama but luckily there was a bowling alley with a bar across the street from the mechanic.”

I’ve known Mr. Shannon for nearly a decade, having met through mutual friends at his old Brooklyn loft back in 2006. Our party watched “An Inconvenient Truth” at the Sunshine Theatre one night, with Questlove’s afro partially blocking the view. I first saw him perform a couple nights later, at Manhattan’s venerable Jazz Gallery, playing guitar in the sextet backing ace cellist Dana Leong; it remains one of the ten best jazz sets I’ve ever witnessed, anywhere. He was then leading his jazz group Waking Vision Trio, which put out a couple of excellent albums a decade ago.

From that first initial meeting through the week spent pacing the circles he runs in, he made an immediate and impactful impression on me, not just as a person, but as one of the most prodigious musical talents in a dense, dynamic scene that was then just beginning to be branded as the borough we know and love (and kind of envy) today. His current group, which includes bassist Ben Geis and drummer MJ Lambert, is his newest and most polished vehicle on a musical journey that has already taken him around the country, more than once.

Born in Pittsburgh in 1980, John Shannon’s released three albums under his own name: “American Mystic” (2008), “Songs of the Desert River” (2010) and “Time Was A Lie” (2012). Critics have compared his work to masters like Tim Buckley, Nick Drake and Paul Simon; the albums have earned praise in places like Rolling Stone, Minor 7th and Time Out NY. His credits include sideman work with Bob Reynolds, Ben Harper, John Mayer, James Maddox, Lauryn Hill and Hiromi Urehara; he’s also recorded with Gary Go and Sonya Kitchell, whom he also backed on tour, as well as composed music for the FX show “Louie”.

In many ways, The Shift represents the present culmination of careers cultivated throughout the 21st century, a syncretic smash-up of the members’ traditional training, processed through years of long nights working club gigs in one of the most competitive commercial markets in the world. The album was recorded in less than a week, using a mixing board in Brooklyn that had once been used by George Martin to record the Beatles. Shannon writes the lyrics, while his colleagues build the music together.

The New York of their generation is simply not a place where you can last for long unless you’re good, and all three have put in practically a decade, ample time earn the confidence that comes through so clearly on the album. Shannon’s voice evokes nothing so much as mid-70s Robert Plant, while the clean, crisp tonality of the instruments gives it a prog-rock flavor, with the kind of tight, dextrous articulation that one would expect from three alumni of the Berklee School of Music—a school so prestigious that using the word “prestigious” to describe it is practically a cliché in music journalism. “It’s kind of a microcosm of the future music business when you’re there that seems to than move out into the real world—at least it has for me,”  says Shannon, who randomly encounters fellow alumni on a regular basis in his travels.

“If you know you have something strong, unique and a band willing to persevere,” notes Shannon, “you end up in more of a relationship/competition with time than with other bands. If you can use that inevitable pressure involved in the process of getting recognized to be more creative, resourceful and alive, then you are already winning.”

http://shiftwithus.com/

https://www.facebook.com/shiftwithus

http://www.johnshannonmusic.com/

https://www.facebook.com/john.shannon.9047

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Shannon_(musician)

All GUTS, All Glory: Alachua’s finest femmes, planting their flag in Duval’s urban core.

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Summer Goodman/GUTS/Mouth Mouth/Flat Land

Underbelly–Wednesday, April 1

Courtesy Medusa Productions

Back when I was a college freshman, attending the University of Florida, way back in the Year Of Our Lord 1995 (it wasn’t that long ago, really, but it feels that way sometimes), the best band in Gainesville was called the Crustaceans, but there was nothing crabby about their sound. It was a trio playing guitar, bass and drums; they switched instruments and lead vocal duties repeatedly during their sets, seamlessly. They were a garage band in the true mattresses-on-the walls, un-ironic-clove-cigarette-smoking kind of way.  Their leader was Samantha Jones, already a local legend long before I’d ever palmed my first bottle of Boone’s Farm.

Samantha Jones was the very first girl I ever met with a tattoo on her arm—just ponder that, for a moment—and her energy lit up the room like Magneto running through airport security. From those first bars, at those first bars, her voice installed itself in my permanent Top 5, all-time, anywhere. Her swag was prototypical, and now, with a quarter-century’s experience in upwards of a dozen bands, all of which were good, she is an established leader in the Gainesville community.

Jones married her colleague in Crustaceans, became a mother, massage therapist and yoga teacher, but she still wields a voice more soothing than shiatsu, and she has aged even less over those years than I have. All the while, Jones maintained her presence in the music scene; her band Cassette recorded several nice things for Bakery Outlet Records and played the old Lomax Lodge back in the John Peyton era. The Crustaceans were my introduction to the deep and dense indie-rock scene here in Florida, the first music I bought from people I actually knew, the first of thousands in almost every conceivable medium—but I lost their recordings 12 years ago, and have never been able to replace them, which irks me to no end. (But it’s ok, because I memorized it all.)

But the good news is that my the singer/guitarist for my favorite Gainesville band back then, in 1995, is also the singer/guitarist for my favorite band working that region today—the fabulous female foursome GUTS, whose debut in Duval County debut happens at Underbelly during the First Wednesday ArtWalk, as part of a free show that also includes Flat Land, Mouth Mouth and Summer Goodman, all of which can be counted among the new generation of indie acts rising out of the Sunshine State.

Jones and her colleagues—bassist Kara Smith, guitarist Rebecca Butler and drummer Kentucky Ultraviolet—are touring in support of their debut album “Lucky All Over”, released last December. Their sound is spare, a sensory delight, all shimmering guitars and multi-part harmonies, anchored by one of the signature voices of the modern era. If Jones’ singing sounds like others you’ve heard, bear in mind that she was first—and, if the new stuff is any indication, she will also be the last. It’s happy, refreshing music, rendered in fine detail, translucent and stocky at once, like Rapidograph on vellum. The video for “Sugar”, recorded at Medusa Studios last year, was my introduction to their work. It’s still my favorite track, but songs like “Lucky” and “There’s a Chill” are standouts, as well.

The Duval connection was formalized just recently when Tomboi worked a bill with GUTS at A Space on March 1. Their singer, Alex E. Michael has a resume similar to Jones’, in that pretty much every band she’s in is really good, from Tomboi today to Ritual Union, Wild Life Society and the legendary Fruit Machine. When Jones noted on Facebook that “Tomboi’s gonna be the NEXT BIG THING, mark my words”, that’s about as close to definitive as an endorsement gets in this region.

Such is Alex E’s reputation that Underbelly’s tasked her with running their new gimmick for ArtWalk, where they’re always busy, by default, like most venues around The Elbow tends to be. It starts with open-mic for singers, poets, magicians etc. earlier in the evening, followed by a free keg at 9 and featured band thereabouts, with free admission throughout. The venue, the night and the audience are all ideal for GUTS’ arrival in the River City. The only April Fools are those who miss this show.

Notes on the 2015 Elections in Duval County

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#kayfabe

It’s good to hear that so many took advantage of the early-voting. Analysts have been projecting the usual pathetic turnout for this spring’s elections, and with fewer than three in ten registered voters projected to show up, it’s pretty much impossible to get anything better than politics-as-usual. I didn’t early-vote; I always prefer voting on Election Day. I love the ritual of getting a coffee, then standing in line talking to fellow voters, listening in on conversations, etc.

That said, I’m writing this on Monday, the 23rd of March, the day before Election Day. Assorted friends and readers have inquired about my thoughts on the election, but aside from occasional posts on social media, I have mostly refrained from writing about these elections at all. I’ve probably done less writing about this election than any since 1996, on any level, and that was not by accident. After running for City Council myself, four years ago, and pulling about 1,300 votes in a district with 41,000-plus voters, the experience changed my perspective on how the business works. Is politics corrupt? Of course–deeply, madly, inextricably so. But while we can go on all day about the failures of elected officials and the weakness of new candidates, the bitter reality is that it is the people themselves who are the weak link. Their laziness and passivity creates the broader context in which our leaders can underperform because, deep down, they know they can get away with it. They know the people have neither the courage nor the character to facilitate change, no matter what they say. So, I figured, why bother covering a rigged game–especially when no one wants to get into the exact nature of the rigging, and there is no possibility of being paid for it, anyway? Nah. Let the elite play politics, and let the people pretend to care, and the beat goes on and the beat goes on…

With the first round of elections coming tomorrow, a number of the more interesting candidates this year will be eliminated, because fresh thinking is not really appreciated here. Indeed, we’ve seen a number of instances in which the harshest reactions have come directly at those trying to think outside the proverbial box in which political orthodoxy is housed, fortified like the bunker under the old courthouse. For the amusement of the handful of you reading this, and for the sake of promoting my appearance on WBOB AM600‘s Election Day wrap-up show (Tuesday night, 7-9pm), I offer here a rough glance at the people I’ll probably be voting for tomorrow, and why. These are not endorsements, nor recommendations; I refrain from all that. I have no dogs in these fights; I cannot conceive of any way that any result in any of these races will impact on my life, but that is certainly not true for the vast majority of Jacksonville’s citizens, many of whose lives and livelihoods depends on the decisions these people make, or fail to make. You can view the full slate of candidates online, and all the special-interest groups have made their endorsements as well. And so…

Mayor: Bill Bishop (R). Alvin Brown has been an excellent mayor in his first term, in my opinion, but he’s had a very hard time making that case effectively in this campaign. Despite his overall success, his handlers have manipulated him into a series of disastrous political mistakes (most notably the HRO debacle) that are the only reason he’s had any competition at all. If he’d done things even slightly differently, he’d be cruising like Delaney in 1999 or Peyton in 2007. Instead, he’s fighting for his career against two other strong candidates, Bishop and Curry. I’m voting for Bishop not because of anything he says, because it doesn’t matter what any of them say; they will do what they’re told, and what that will be is beyond my pay-grade. I like the way he’s run a new-style campaign, embracing disparate elements of the electorate in a way that presented a real threat to the local leadership of both major parties, both of which are played-out, mediocre and ineffective. The fact that Democrats and Republican elites basically joined forces to try and shut down Bishop, by any means necessary (including all kinds of dirty tricks that we’ll just not mention), speaks to his potential, as does the fact that nothing has managed to slow his momentum over the past couple of months. Lenny Curry is a nice guy, but he’s a functionary, not a leader; he represents a bunch of bad people who pushed him into launching a fusillade of negative mailers that did him no favors. Brown deserves to be reelected, and when he makes the run-off he’ll probably get my vote. But if he is to be defeated, Bill Bishop is the credible alternative.

Sheriff: Ken Jefferson (D). The dirty secret here is that local Democrats are so weak, Jefferson will probably lose, but through no fault of his own. He pulled good numbers against outgoing sheriff John Rutherford in 2011, despite local Dems assiduously underfunding him, for reasons probably more about tactical incompetence that any kind of bigotry. All seven candidates are talented veterans of the department, and in theory any of them would be good at the job, but Jefferson’s media skills will be useful in representing an organization that will probably be under continual FBI investigation for the rest of this decade. Rutherford has endorsed Greg Anderson, but Jimmy Holderfield looks strong. The real question of the 2015 elections is why Rutherford didn’t run for mayor himself, but I’m sure he had his reasons. There are lots of issues that needed discussion in this particular race, and many questions that needed answering. But all of us in local media made the spontaneous and unrelated decision to stand down on all of it, by popular mandate of the audience. In fact, this is probably the last time I will ever mention the police department in print, in any capacity. It’s just not something to be discussed, and maybe that’s for the better.

Property Appraiser and Tax Collector are crucial positions in city government, and the fact that those spots will be won outright by longtime professional politicians (Jerry Holland and Michael Corrigan), Republicans who had no opposition at all, says all you need to know about how this city works, not to mention how the Democratic Party fails to work. You would think there’d at least be some kind of quid-pro-quo for laying and conceding such key spots to the opposition, but that’s not how they do things. They just lay down, because winning has not been a consideration for them for an entire generation. Brown’s victory in 2011 had nothing to do with his party; it was about his own skillful manipulation of a fractured Republican base (because the only real priority in 2011 was stopping Audrey Moran, for reasons that make no sense, but which I’m sure Bill Bishop can empathize with these days) and his ability to win support of a handful of wealthy powerbrokers.

City Council Districts:

1: Joyce Morgan (D). I’ve often noted–in all seriousness–that our city would immediately and dramatically improve if all our elected officials were fired and replaced with local news anchors. This is a chance to prove that.

2: Lisa King (D)

3: I don’t care. When I say that about these council races, it’s not to be taken as an insult to the candidates. It’s just that I’m not a fan of the city council, in general, and I think their collective role in local politics over the past decade or more has been overwhelmingly negative. So, in certain cases, I happily support people whom I think would be great councilfolk, but by and large I don’t think it matters.

4: Ramon Day (D). One of the most talented candidates running this year, on any level. If he loses, that’s an embarrassment to the city–which, of course, means he will probably lose.

5: I don’t care. Lori Boyer (R) runs unopposed.

6: I don’t care.

7: James Eddy (D). Eddy is one of the many candidates who have expressed support for an inclusive HRO, and one of the few who isn’t lying when he says that. But it’s all academic, since the HRO is most likely dead forever. This is what happens when you don’t stand up to bullies.

8: I don’t care. In this singular case, I say that because there are several good candidates, so it’s almost impossible for voters in District 8 to make a bad choice, which speaks well of a community that doesn’t get a lot of good publicity.

9: Glorious Johnson (D)

10: I don’t care.

11: I don’t care. Danny Becton (R) runs unopposed, so it’s whatever.

12: Abner Davis (D)

13: I don’t care. Bill Gulliford (R) runs unopposed.

14: Jason Tetlak (D). Incumbent Jim Love beat me in 2011, but that’s fine. He’s a good guy, a skilled politician and he will surely stomp Tetlak tomorrow–which is too bad. Tetlak brought it on himself by refusing outside contributions; he probably thought that would endear him to the electorate, but he was wrong. The last either party wants is for someone to succeed who is not on the take, so wrecking him was important. He has a future in politics, but it doesn’t start tomorrow.

City Council At-Large Districts:

1: Anna Brosche (R). A lot of people hate incumbent Kimberly Daniels, which I find ridiculous, but whatever. It’s another case in which progressive interests are best-served by voting Republican, because the Democrats are just so caught up in their losing-on-purpose gimmick that the real political debate in this city now occurs among factions of the increasingly (and refreshingly) fractious GOP.

2: John Crescimbeni (D). Controversial? Yep. But it doesn’t matter. The incumbent will walk away with this election, and has a strong chance of being mayor someday, unless someone pays him not to run. Whoever wins the mayor’s race will need to put a priority on keeping him happy, for their own sake.

3: Tommy Hazouri (D). Mincy Pollock is cool, and I had a couple of friends who tried and failed to run for this spot. But at the end of the day, you don’t vote against Tommy Hazouri; the mere thought is laughable.

4: I don’t care. But the LGBT community endorses Juanita Powell-Williams (D) over Greg Anderson (R), and so that’s good enough for me. This is a good place to make a note: The LGBT community has been ruthlessly used, abused, exploited and extorted by all sides, such that their own political power is shadow of what it could have been. Blame starts with the leadership, who chose personal gain over protecting the interests of their constituents. The HRO debacle was largely of their making–first, by allowing transgenders to be thrown under the bus, in hopes of getting a watered-down version passed, and second by actually believing that a watered-down HRO was going to pass. All it did was show the trans community that their own political leaders view them as a separate class within the constituency, and that their rights were a secondary concern. It also showed the bigots and hatemongers that the LGBT community could be bullied into submission. The mayor double-crossed them, and now they have no actual champion, which sucks.

5: Michelle Tappouni (R). Ju’Coby Pittman (D) is a longtime family friend, but Tappouni is a personal friend, so that’s that. Good luck to everyone, candidates and voters alike–you’ll need it!

Notes on Lobo Marino

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Lobo Marino/Joseph Shuck/Jesse Carole Montoya/Swamp Trees/Charlie Hunt—Rain Dogs, 1045 Park St.

Friday, January 30, 8pm; $5

Spirit Animals

Lobo Marino, and their subcontinental drift.

“Lobo Marino” means “Sea Lion” in Spanish—in this case, specifically, the Pacific Sea Lion. Hailing from historic Richmond, VA, Lobo Marino’s national bonafides were certified through relentless touring over the past couple of years, much of which has been documented across the full spectrum of social media. The thermodynamic duo of Laney Sullivan and Jameson Price have certainly built a solid following—wide-ranging, diverse and loyal—in a very short time, and that is largely due to their usage of technology, which stands in stark contrast to their own personal austerity.

My favorite album of theirs is “Fields” (2013), their second, which is built around field recordings made while on the road in places like Cheffcouan, Morocco; Albujaras, Spain; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Chicago; Butte, Montana; Geyserville, CA. It’s truly one of the most singularly unique albums recorded in the 21st century so far—an absolutely essential document. For Lobo Marino, travel is not a means to an end—it is the end, and that is a crucial component of their brand.

Their Tumblr page, for example, is largely devoted to photographs of the various places they’ve slept while on the road, none of which are five-star hotels, and very few of which are even hotels at all. Guest rooms, living rooms, band rooms, barns; offices, couches, floors, tents; garages, farms, hostels, sometimes even their own vehicle. (While in Jacksonville, the band crashed in Antique Animals’ music room.) It’s a funny, fascinating look at the interior life of a working musician in the modern era, and the logistics involved in carving out a niche in this crowded, competitive marketplace. Hopefully they collect all those pictures for a book someday.

They’ve already established a semi-regular presence in Northeast Florida, having previously performed at Burro Bar and Bold Bean. They’ll be playing three local gigs this week, starting with a two-night stand January 28 & 29) as part of Ananda Kula’s “Audio Ananda” concert series on Wednesday and Thursday. Lobo Marino headlines a stacked bill at Rain Dogs on Friday night that includes two of the region’s top singer-songrwriters, Antique Animals frontman Joe Shuck and the delightful Jesse Carole Montoya, as well as fellow Richmond band Swamp Trees and rising star Charlie Hunt. Both settings make for an ideal matching of artist, audience, and aesthetics. Theirs is a breezy, esoteric sound—music for meditation, and maybe astral projection, heavy on harmony, dense with drone and dulcimer. It’s safe to say that no other group anywhere sounds quite like them, nor could any, if they tried. Singer Sullivan and percussionist Price lean toward older, unusual instruments that don’t get as much use in the usual indie-rock toolkit.

Lobo Marino’s newest video is for “Holy River”, the lead track from their fourth album, 2014’s “City of Light”. The Indian influences insinuated throughout the album reflect the couple’s longtime love for the subcontinent, its culture and its music, which only increased after going there a couple years ago. It was recorded at the Satchidananda Ashram-Yogaville in Buckingham, VA, with some sounds recorded in India; all proceeds from online sales go toward their friend’s Vagdevi Children’s Art School, which uses music and arts to help lift children out of unfortunate circumstances.

It’s the best record yet from a band that always makes great records, and it was recorded six months ago. Lord only knows how good the next one will be, but you can be damn sure that it will be epic. The band’s sound has expanded dramatically from their experimental indie-folk roots in their five years together, but they had already grown into their mature song by the first time they worked Duval. “City of Light” points the way forward toward even greater creative evolution. “Radhe Radhe” takes the form to its apogee over nine minutes; it’s like an Indian field holler with bass drum (which Price plays Mo Tucker-style), hand-claps and harmonium. It may be cliché to call it “trance-inducing”, but not if it’s true. Buy it, and play it loud, and then do it again.

http://www.lobomarinomusic.com/

http://lobomarino.bandcamp.com/

http://lobomarinomusic.tumblr.com/

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCnTTybYkHtPRBs6TteohYEA

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Lobo-Marino/124201317615541

https://twitter.com/lobomarinomusic

http://www.reverbnation.com/lobomarino

http://www.bhadrakali-association.com/

http://www.ananda-kula.com/

https://www.facebook.com/anandakulayoga

https://www.facebook.com/events/324076084457277/

Will Ebola Claim the Obama Presidency?

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For months, as the Ebola virus spread precipitously throughout Africa, American citizens have engaged in the usual rampant speculation that accompanies modern pandemics. Questions were asked about how the disease is spread, how it can be contained and, most importantly, whether nor not the United States was in any danger of it spreading to these shores.

At every step, the official response from medical professionals was dismissive, to the point of smugness. No, they said: Ebola will not come to America. And then they said the odds were simply way too low for anyone to consider. We were told all this assiduously, by men and women whose primacy as experts rendered them incapable of being credibly second-guessed. Whether it was the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, or our own Department of Health and Human Services, the pushback against public concern was delivered with the same self-satisfied certainty once used to anoint Wall Street CEOs as “masters of the universe”—and we know how well that worked out.

But now, with the first diagnosis of Ebola on these shores, with everyone that person contacted now in quarantine, and with an NBC crew on its way back in quarantine after their own cameraman tested positive for Ebola, one thing that should be obvious is that the experts were wrong—dead wrong, about almost everything—and that their failure means innocent people are going to die.

A man with Ebola lied his way onto a plane that carried him—and the virus—from Liberia to Dallas, where he then contacted multiple people before showing symptoms himself. Multiple airline officials failed to stop him from getting into the US, even after being warned of what to look for and how to proceed. At that point, doctors in Dallas failed to diagnose him, and the CDC only got involved because people close to the patient made the call, not hospital staff. Even now, with the man’s condition a national story, his family sits in quarantine, along with their neighbors in their apartment building. The man’s contagious vomit was pressure-washed by cleaning crews without proper safety equipment, and his soiled linens remained sitting at home in a plastic bag as this is being written. As with the airlines, established safety protocols were not followed, to devastating effect.

Right now is probably not the time to be thinking in terms of accountability. These failed experts are still the best at what they do, and the priority must remain on containing the disease and doing everything possible to help those already affected. However, when this current outbreak is over, a lot of people are going to lose their jobs, and one of them might be the President of the United States himself. Right-wing conservatives whispering about impeaching Obama have been handed an early Christmas present: Every Ebola diagnosis within US borders makes it easier to advance the case for impeaching a president whose own personal failings made a bad situation much, much worse.

Obama’s sorry handling of the Ebola debacle has been somewhat consistent with his handling of pretty much everything this year, and it doesn’t take a conspiracy theorist to wonder if maybe there’s something seriously wrong with him. After all, this is the same president who referred to ISIS as “the JV squad” while they were building critical mass in Iraq and gaining a foothold in Syria, and then admitted on-camera that “We don’t have a strategy yet” to deal with them. This is the same president whose underlings allegedly threatened the family of James Foley for being open to paying ransom for him—and then, after he was murdered on video, Obama offered half-hearted condolences with no tie on, minutes before running off to play golf. This is the same president whose Secret Service has been compromised more times than his own principles, with no real consequences.

This is the same president who recently saluted a Marine guarding his helicopter while holding coffee in his right hand, and whose advocates complained about the resulting controversy, which only occurred because the White House released the video themselves. It’s not about the salute; it’s about how one of the most successful politicians of the post-war era has suddenly forgotten how politics works. It’s hard to say what would be worse: that he didn’t know how that would look, and how people would react, or that he didn’t care. Further, not one member of his staff intervened to block the release of the video, and none of them seemed to care at all about its practical effect on the election. He was elected because he wasn’t George W. Bush, and now, five years later, that’s all he’s got.

At the very least, it comes at the worst possible time for congressional Democrats, who already face serious losses in a tight, contentious mid-term election season that culminates just a month from now. Part of any president’s job is to be the leader of their party, and in that regard Obama may go down as one of the absolute worst presidents of the past century, in terms of the brutally negative effect his presence has had on the fortunes of his party, which controlled both houses of congress at the time he took office in 2009. Since then, Obama’s greatest political legacy has been to empower the most reactionary elements of his opposition, which has cakewalked into dozens, if not hundreds of elected offices on local, state and national levels from coast to coast, driven largely by reflexive hatred and fear of a president who, amidst all this, has never offered any real resistance.

If Republicans are able to maintain their control of the US House, and somehow manage to take control of the Senate, there will be nothing to stop them from at least trying to impeach Obama. Nothing, that is, except their own fear, which is legitimate. It’s quite possible that voters will be thrown off by the ugliness of it all, and might retaliate by voting out the principal aggressors and rallying behind the Democratic nominee (presumably Hillary Clinton) in 2016. Of course, the last president impeached was Bill Clinton, whose successor was a Bush. That could easily happen again—assuming that there’s anyone left to actually vote in 2016. As always, time will tell.

 

sheltonhull@gmail.com

October 2, 2014

 

The Semiotics of Dress: Angela Corey for Governor? Maybe…

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Angela Corey, as painted by George Zimmerman

Angela Corey, as painted by George Zimmerman

October 1 was arguably the most important day in Angela Corey’s political career, and future historians of the state may see it as a watershed moment, for reasons we cannot really grasp at present. Angela Corey took the podium following the announcement of Michael Dunn’s guilty verdict in the first-degree murder of Jordan Davis, a conviction she failed to obtain earlier this year.

First Coast News cut their coverage of the presser just as the Q&A session had begun, while WJXT sustained their feed. She looked almost like a different person, in that moment, which makes sense. Any professional of any type can appreciate the feeling that comes after the successful resolution of a long-term, intensive high-stakes project, and can easily recognize that look on another’s face when they are in that moment. All the more so for Angela Corey, who hasn’t had a lot of those moments as our State Attorney. She took power amidst the proverbial firestorm of controversy, much of which was not her fault, and has steadily stoked those flames into a conflagration that many assumed would’ve consumed her fully by now. Without reaching for the obvious Phoenix reference, let’s just say that it appears the exact opposite has been the case. And the question now becomes: What next?

In her green blazer, her turquoise-and black scarf, gold earrings and a phat gold chain with a cross at the end, the city’s lead prosecutor could’ve passed for Iggy Azalea’s mom—and that is a good thing, in terms of politics. No velvet ropes at any bougie nightspot from South Beach to the South Bronx would impede her progress in an outfit like that, no more than the glass-ceilings have so far.

If clothes make the man, then even more so for women, and the message of Angela Corey’s clothes was simple: Even after botching the Zimmerman case and failing once to nail Michael Dunn for the murder of Jordan Davis, and with many observers predicting another public humiliation for her office, Corey dressed like someone who was absolutely certain of victory. And certainty is something we see very little in Florida politics.

If Michael Dunn is Corey’s first major trophy, one expects to see more. Whether she has found vindication in the public eye, or simply earned temporary respite from criticism that will never really go away, depends on what she wants to do. Any plans she has for her own future remain publicly unstated; if anyone knows, they’re not letting on. But Corey’s performance today raised an interesting possibility, one that many Floridians would surely find horrifying: Angela Corey could be governor someday.

Florida has never had a female governor, and Florida Republicans have never nominated a woman to hold that position. Democrats, of course, failed to get Alex Sink over in 2010, which has in all likelihood cooled the party on any effort to make history again, for the near future. Indeed, poor Nan Rich got steamrolled by the famously former Republican Charlie Crist, who refused to even debate her. Andrew Cuomo did the same against Zephyr Teachout in New York, and in both cases their state parties essentially went along with that. Whether anyone cares to admit it or not, at no point did Nan Rich ever have any chance whatsoever to be the Democratic nominee, that was plainly obvious six months before the election even happened.

Nan Rich was humiliated, and even if that wasn’t directly attributable to gender bias, it damn sure looks that way. One rarely heard Republicans ask if Florida was ready for a female governor, in part because they knew the momentum for gender equality in state politics belongs to them—a delicious irony that will pay off huge over the next decade or two. Whomever Florida’s first female governor is, she will almost certainly be a Republican—and it might very well be Angela Corey.

Getting the Dunn verdict gives her immediate credibility in the African-American community, which recognizes that Dunn was already set to die in prison on the other charges, but that Corey personally put her own career at risk to “do the right thing” for Jordan Davis’ parents and give them a rare symbolic victory in this bloody year for black youth. It doesn’t negate the damage done by the Marissa Alexander case, but the ball is really in Governor Scott’s court on that. If Corey didn’t get a few photos with Davis’ family and the crowds of black women cheering the verdict outside the courthouse, that would represent a huge missed opportunity.

The Alexander case illustrates that, ironically, Corey’s biggest political weakness right now remains her support among women, in particular the longstanding perception that she soft on issues related to violence against women and children. Given that this particular problem is only going to escalate in the years ahead, she would do well to get out in front on the issue and establish a record of action that can hyped when the time is right. (Her views on DCF, in particular, would be useful.)

Corey’s traditional law-and-order bonafides should be sufficient to keep her competitive in any GOP primary, especially if she continues to rack up high-profile convictions, so there will be plenty of room for her to appeal to elements of a progressive base whose own interests will be more or less ignored for the rest of this decade. The abysmal turnout for this year’s primary merely formalizes the widespread apathy and disgust that the majority of Florida voters already have with the leadership (such as it is) of both parties—a power vacuum ripe for filling. But, again, by whom?

Putting gender issues aside, the reality is that Northeast Florida has not held the top position in state government since Haydon Burns retired in January 1967. Several of Jacksonville’s subsequent mayors were at least discussed, Democrats and Republicans alike, but none were ever nominated. The election of Alvin Brown raised some hope of breaking that drought in this decade, and making even more history in the process, but he’s so far failed to build what could have been a very formidable statewide organization. Between Occupy and the HRO, he had the opportunity to establish himself as the logical successor to whomever wins in 2014, but instead he’s been occupied by defending his spot against opposition he should have simply neutralized from the get-go.

If Brown wins reelection and governs as the forward-leaning centrist his core supporters expect him to be, the governorship is entirely within his grasp. The I-4 corridor has had its run, and South Florida’s traditional dominance in the post-Consolidation era is weaker now that it’s ever been; it would be flat-out stupid for the north not to exploit that vulnerability while it exists. But if he stumbles, or just has no interest, it is imperative that Northeast Florida have someone ready to roll when the time is right. Regardless of who it is, Florida’s next decade should begin with Duval firmly in control. Time, as it does, will clarify these things, but right now Corey’s looking golden. And if the idea of Angela Corey being governor of Florida frightens you, good. You should be afraid—especially if you’re her opponent!

Governor Scott: Pardon Marissa Alexander

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When a judge recently denied Marissa Alexander’s request for a Stand Your Ground hearing, for the second time, the die was cast for her retrial. Odds are decent that she may be sent back to jail, even under terms of a plea deal. While the sentence may not be as severe, those who believe she had no business being locked up to begin with, and whose efforts forced the state’s hand once already, are unlikely to take any satisfaction in that. And so the cycle of acrimony will rotate further.

As it stands, the only person capable of breaking this cycle also happens to be the person who would benefit most from doing so. Ms. Alexander’s mistakes have presented Governor Scott with an opportunity to demonstrate real leadership, and also to show off a compassionate side that not enough people get to see in politics. With one stroke of his pen—well, several strokes—Governor Scott can end this controversy for good by pardoning Marissa Alexander.

Scott’s critics would likely denounce it as an election-year stunt, and he should let them do so, because a pardon could well prove decisive in the governor’s race. It is surprising that Charlie Crist has not made this into more of an issue, and Scott should take the initiative to take that option away from him entirely. With Alexander on his side, Scott could potentially take an unprecedented share of the African-American vote from his Democratic challenger. At the same time, it offers some hope of maybe mitigating what are likely to be substantial losses among female voters. If Scott loses in November, it will be largely due to Crist’s support among women, and there is nothing he can do about that—but if he pardoned the state’s most well-known victim of domestic violence, that would be a good start.

Some would argue that such action interferes with the rule of law, but others would argue that it actually reinforces the rule of law. Bear in mind, Ms. Alexander already spent time behind bars on a conviction that was overturned; the governor is entirely within his rights to say the lady has been through enough, and there is nothing to be gained from spending more money prosecuting her. There can be no serious question of the governor’s commitment to law-and-order, and even those who would object to a pardon on those grounds are NOT going to vote for Charlie Crist.

There is a practical side to all this, as well: pardoning Ms. Alexander would eliminate a major distraction, and it would clear out a cloud that would otherwise hang over his second term. If she is imprisoned again, her supporters may believe that the whole game was rigged against her from the start—and that is a case that already carries weight in national media. Ending this case would remove a big source of negative publicity for all of Florida, while generating large amounts of positive hype for himself, and even die-hard opponents would be happy that it’s over.

Rick Scott is arguably the most controversial governor in America, but in this election year he has shown himself repeatedly to be capable of acting counterintuitively in the public interest, and willing to wager political capital to do the right thing. To pardon Marissa Alexander would be the most dramatic example of that yet. Not only would it be the kind of bold, decisive action that voters respond favorably to, it has the added benefit of humanity. He and he alone can decide whether Ms. Alexander will get to watch her children grow up; morally, and politically, does he really have any choice?

Becca Stevens: On Her Way

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Riverside Fine Arts Series presents: Becca Stevens

Monday, April 27, 7:30 pm

Underbelly, 113 E. Bay St.

$20

For nearly a decade, the Riverside Fine Arts Series has presented some of the most interesting musicians Northeast Florida has hosted in that time. Most of those concerts have occurred in Riverside, at the historic Church of the Good Shepherd, one of the best places in Florida to catch a show. (The Turtle Island String Quartet’s performance some years back remains a personal favorite.)

That process has proceeded full-speed into 2014. Enter Becca Stevens, hailing from Winston-Salem, NC, by way of New York City. Classically-trained in guitar at North Carolina School of the Arts (c/o 2002), she earned a BFA in vocal jazz and composition at the New School for Jazz (c/o 2007) before going pro. Even out of school, Stevens copped credits quickly, in combos led by pianists Taylor Eigsti and fellow New School alumnus Brad Mehldau (who, incidentally, was born in Jacksonville).

By her count, she’s recorded about 25 songs so far. “I have been writing songs since I can remember,” Stevens writes via email from the road, where she’s currently on tour, “and I’ve recorded a lot of original music with artists and bands other than my own, as well as original material that was never officially released.”

Her solo debut, “Tea Bye Sea”, was released independently in 2008. “Weightless” (Sunnyside) followed three years later, bringing her into mainstream focus for the first time. Speaking to NPR that year, Kurt Elling cited her among his five favorite jazz vocalists. A new album is slated for later this year: “I just finished mixing the upcoming album. I’m in the process of trying to find a label for it. If that doesn’t pan out, I’ll release it on my own.”

“When we perform live, the music tends to be heavier, bigger, and higher energy than how it was recorded on ‘Weightless’,” she says. “My approach is always changing in little ways as I am as an artist. Also, we are playing mostly new material now, from our upcoming release. This new material tends more towards a heavier rock/pop sound, and is a little more danceable and less moody than the songs from ‘Weightless’.

Stevens is probably best-known to casual fans as the vocalist for Travis Sullivan’s Bjorkestra, an 18-piece supergroup of New York musicians—who’ve worked for artists ranging from Clark Terry and Ray Charles to Jessica Simpson and Arcade Fire—assembled to perform his original big-band arrangements of Bjork songs. Their 2008 album “Enjoy” was, and remains, an instant classic.

It’s hard to accurately describe music that crosses over so many boundaries; even the artist has some difficulty categorizing the dozens of songs she’s written so far. “I’d say it floats somewhere between pop, Appalachian folk, jazz, rock, and world music,” she writes. “The arrangements are intricate and vocal/harmony driven. The compositions are intimate but accessible, through-composed, and from the heart!”

Stevens currently leads her own band, which she founded in 2005; the group includes Liam Robinson (accordion, piano, vocals), Chris Tordini (acoustic bass, vocals) and Jordan Perlson (drums & percussion). Tordini and Robinson have been in her band since day one, whereas Perlson’s “only” been there five years. It’s a band comprised of friends, who have come up in the business and evolved into their mature style together, which lends a real tightness to the live sets, even as the music itself can be downright laconic.

Stevens is contributing strongly to a rebooting of how jazz is perceived by audiences for whom the music is more often considered a fixed entity, in stasis and currently inaccessible, geographically and aesthetically. It’s no coincidence that Underbelly will also be at the epicenter of the “Jazz After Dark” activities at the jazz festival in May; Stevens’ own band and the Bjorkestra are both prime examples of the kind of acts that should be booked at the festival itself in the future. As for Stevens’ own future, all systems are go. “I’d like to stay on the track that i’m currently on!” she writes. “I’d like to also continue collaborating with likeminded artists outside the music I play with my bandmates. I see myself making music until I can’t make music anymore.”

Having started very early, Stevens (a 15-year veteran) is presently a leading light among the new generation of genre-smashing jazz/pop hybrid female vocalists, several of whom—including Sophie Milman and Esperanza Spalding—have also worked Jacksonville in partnership with RFAS. Although they have worked Miami before, this will be the Becca Stevens Band’s first appearance here in Jacksonville. It will also mark Underbelly’s first time hosting the RFAS. Both those firsts are well worth repeating, as often as possible.

http://www.riversidefinearts.org/concert-series/becca-stevens-band/

http://www.youtube.com/user/beccastevensband

https://www.facebook.com/beccastevensmusic

 

sheltonhull@gmail.com

April 25, 2014

Notes on the Girls Rock Jacksonville Volunteer Showcase (CoRK, 12/15) and “The Punk Singer” (Sun-Ray Cinema, 12/23)

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Girls Rock Jax benefit show—CoRK, December 15

“The Punk Singer”—Sun Ray Cinema, December 23

(One of my favorite concert flyers this year…)

The expansion of the Girls Rock Camp’s global brand into Jacksonville two years ago has been, without question, one of the most important local cultural development of the past decade—the proverbial “gift that keeps on giving”, if you’re a music fan. As Girls Rock Jacksonville prepares to enter its third year, with its third camp coming in summer 2014, the process of preparation has begun, and that includes two events scheduled for mid-December at CoRK (12/15) and Sun-Ray Cinema (12/23).

The first is a Girls Rock Jax fundraising event slated for Friday, Dec. 15 at CoRK, which has been on a heckuva run this year. (A number of their resident artists will be just returning from a triumphant group effort at Art Basel Miami Beach, dubbed the ‘#baselinvasion”; a number of Northeast Florida’s top talents were represented there, at the country’s biggest art festival.) The GRJ funder will feature five bands comprised of GRJ volunteers and volunteers, as well as a silent auction with gimmicks and swag provided by local creative talents like Christina Abercrombie, Alicia Canessa, Cherri Czajkowski, Crystal Floyd, Sarah Humphreys and Karen Kurycki, as well as affiliated local businesses, including: Bold Bean Coffee Roasters, Burro Bags, The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, Dead Tank Records / Distribution, Deep Search Records, Dig Foods, Hawthorn Salon, Intuition Ale Works, M.A.D. Nails, Original Fuzz, Orion | Allen Photography, Sun-Ray Cinema, Sweet Theory Baking Co. and That Poor Girl.

Swag for the auction, provided by Dead Tank…

The first Girls Rock camps started in the Pacific Northwest, and have from the start been largely inspired by the Riot Grrrl movement that began in that region a quarter-century ago. Riot Grrrl, to an even larger extent than the alternative rock scene of the era, in general, marked the first time that girls were positioned front-and-center in multiple bands, in a truly egalitarian way, speaking directly to matters of relevance in their demographic—and they were good, too.

Of course, a central figure in that movement has been Kathleen Hanna—writer, activist, wife of King Ad-Rock and lead singer of Bikini Kill, Le Tigre and the Julie Ruin—one of the most influential women of the 21st century. You can see that all over American culture, to this day, and in ways that are not just latent or nostalgia-based, but active, kinetic and compelling in the present. The network of Girls Rock camps around the world is just the most obvious example.

Hanna with Jabberjaw, circa 1993 or ’94…

A new documentary called “The Punk Singer” tells Hanna’s story in greater detail than ever before, largely in her own words, Jacksonville will be one of the select cities hosting a screening of it at Sun-Ray Cinema, in historic Five Points, on Sunday afternoon, December 23. I’ll proudly note that I was first to call attention to its availability when I saw a posting about it on Facebook, but Tim Massett is the man for connecting with the filmmakers and putting in the legwork to make it happen.

(Kathleen Hanna with the author, Burrito Gallery, November 2011)

Although Hanna herself will not be on hand for the film screening, she’ll be there in spirit. Her affinity for the River City is already a matter of record. I was honored to sit with her, Adee Roberson, Andrew Coulon, Duncan Fristoe and the delightful Mark Creegan for a panel discussion on zines (“The Personal Is Political”) at the Jacksonville Public Library in November 2011. That was followed by a presentation by Hanna herself, and a Q&A session with an audience largely comprised of the city up-and-coming young ladies; after that, everyone adjourned to Burrito Gallery for lunch. Many of those girls ended up being involved in the launch of Girls Rock Jacksonville the following July.

(Flyer for the NYC screenings…)

“The Punk Singer” was released theatrically by IFC Films on November 29, with some 19 screenings in ten states; the screening at Sun-Ray will be the very first one in the state of Florida. (The film will also be showing at the Hippodrome in Gainesville on January 24, 2014.)      As a bonus, the screening will be preceded by a performance of songs associated with the film’s subject, as rendered by a group of girls drawn together specifically for the occasion from the ranks of GRJ volunteers. Drummer Summer Wood is probably best-known for her work with Rice, and now with Four Families. Singer/guitarist/keyboardist Alex E. Michael has led some of the city’s most dynamic bands of the past few years, including Wild Life Society and Ritual Union, in addition to her own solo work. She and singer Bethany Buckner were once half of the legendary Fruit Machine, which during its too-short run was, quite simply, one of the best all-girls bands ever, anywhere.

According to the official “Girls Rock Camp Alliance” website, GRJ is just one of 44 Girls Rock camps in eight different countries, with more forthcoming. The volunteers who’ve organized and run the past two GRJ camps include some of the most talented artists and musicians working the region today, women whose own individual achievements are already a matter of public record. Together, they have created something even greater than the sum of its already-valuable parts. They have nurtured, empowered and mentored these young ladies like they were their own sisters, daughters and friends—which they often are, in many cases.

            Girls Rock, as a concept, was born at Portland State University in 2001, and quickly spread to cities around the world. The girlsrockcamp.org website offers a glimpse at Portland’s organization ten years on, fully-formed and self-actualized, with ample merchandise to ensure a steady influx of capital. What began, like ours, as a weekly summer camp has expanded into a full-time Girls Rock Institute, with a camp for women, its own Rock Camp Studio, and hundreds of pupils per year; they have received nearly a quarter-million dollars in sponsorship, including a $40,000 donation from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. Instructors’ educational experiences have been codified into a book, and an excellent documentary feature was filmed at the 2005 camp. The Portlandians even formed 16 Records to market and distribute music related to the project from talent like Dolly Ranchers, Jack Queen, The Haggard and Pom Pom Meltdown. (Note especially the splendid singer Marisa Anderson, who doubles on keyboards and lap-steel guitar.) No doubt, interest in this material will only increase as these ladies further establish themselves in the industry; the earliest campers are now in their mid-20s, so that process is already well-underway.

For the uninitiated, the GRJ camp is a one-week camp for girls aged 9-16, usually running from late July into early August. Attendees are provided hands-on instruction in a wide range of artistic disciplines—singing, instruments, DJing, arts and crafts, flyer- and zine-making—related to the skills needed for success as a professional musician. Having the lessons administered to girls by girls, by actual working musicians and longtime vets of the scene. The inaugural camp, in 2012, drew 29 campers and 40 volunteers. Camp sessions are run at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, and each year’s camp ends with the girls forming their own bands to play a showcase concert at the historic Florida Theatre on Saturday afternoon. (Hopefully, future concerts will be recorded and marketed for fans, parents, etc.)

A cursory glance at the concert listings in Northeast Florida on any given week is a testament to the skills being brought to bear for the GRJ project—and that’s just the volunteers. At this rate, it will be just a few couple more years before GRJ attendees are themselves sharing space with their teachers—on the stage, on the page, online and in the firmament of what is already known as one of the most dynamic, emerging music scenes in the world today. And you can help!

 

sheltonhull@gmail.com

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Tony Allen: an Autobiography of the Master Drummer of Afrobeat, by Tony Allen and Michael E. Veal. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. 192 pp, illustrated.

“There would be no Afrobeat without Tony Allen,” said the late great Fela Kuti (1938-1997), leader of the Africa 70—originally Koola Lobitos, later the Nigeria 80. Together he and Allen rose together from their early years in Nigeria’s ‘Highlife” scene to the peaks of global prominence, together they built one of the hardest-hitting and smoothest-swinging big-bands of all time—a band as tight as Ellington’s or Benny Goodman’s, yet as expansive in sound as the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis group–and that’s only speaking as far as the jazz aspects of it. There are infinite other angles, as the reader likely knows already.

As weird as Sun Ra and as socially-relevant as James Brown, Fela’s music has only grown in popularity since his death, and the most indispensable component of his singular sound was his drummer, Tony Allen, whose memoir was published last month. His co-author, Michael E. Veal, previously wrote a well-received biography of Fela, so he entered the project already prepared and predisposed to tell Allen’s story with the fidelity it merits.

Tony Oladipo Allen was born in Nigeria’s capital city of Lagos on August 12, 1940—well, that’s what Wikipedia says; Allen declares his birthday as July 20 on page 21. The book’s first 40-plus pages covers that early phase in his career before he linked up with Fela. Both men were highly influenced by jazz, and some of my favorite stuff in the book comes from this early session, where Allen describes the evolution of his own inimitable drum style in the context of drummers who came before—giants like Gene Krupa, Art Blakey, Philly Joe Jones, Elvin Jones and Max Roach. This section also covers serves as a nice overview of what the Nigerian music scene was like before Fela’s crew became the dominant band of that era, in the process bringing Nigerian culture into the mainstream for the first time. The pages are peppered with long-forgotten names, and in that sense the authors have really done a service, not just for musicologists but for their country.

His career as a professional musician began around 1960. One of his earliest serious gig was drumming for Sivor Lawson and the Cool Cats when they opened for Louis Armstrong in 1960; he notes the great impression left his Pops’ drummer, Danny Barcelona (1929-2007), who became one of his first of his many friends working in western music. Allen himself would later become a major player in the fusion of African and Euro-American musical concepts, starting with the infamous Fela recordings with Ginger Baker, the former drummer for Cream. Baker lived in Nigeria for the first half of the 1970s, and his collaboration with Allen and Africa 70 became one of the great “percussion discussions” ever put to wax; their 16-minute drum battle (from 1978) is appended to the CD reissue of Fela’s album Live! (Capitol/EMI, 1971).

Personally, my first experience with Tony Allen’s solo material came via the World Music section of the Jacksonville Public Library, downtown. There was a compilation CD of music from Nigeria, and one of the tracks remains my favorite of his: “Get Together”, whose locomotive beat, fat bass lines and vocal harmonies—understated, but resonant—offered an ideal introduction to the man’s work. I still put it on mixes and such, a decade later.

Casual fans may recall the song “Heat”, by Common, an instant-classic from his Like Water For Chocolate album (MCA, 2000); was built around a beat J. Dilla sampled from Allen’s “Asiko”, track one on 1999’s Black Voices.

As it turns out, Allen’s experience extends well before and after his tenure (1968-79) with Africa 70, and this book really helps flesh out that history. The concert in Berlin that yielded the drum battle with Baker in 1978 was also Allen’s last as a member of Africa 70. By that point, the band had undergone significant trauma, much of it focused on the leader himself, who had made powerful enemies with his brazen critiques of Nigeria’s military dictatorship. Only by coincidence was Allen not at Fela’s home (known as the “Kalakuta Republic”) when it was raided by a thousand soldiers of the Nigerian military in 1977; it one of the most brutal examples of state-sponsored suppression of art in the post-war era. Fela was nearly beaten to death, his life only spared by an officer’s intervention, but the compound was burned to the ground along with his studio, his instruments and master-tapes. Worst of all, Fela’s mother was defenestrated through of a second-story window, causing fatal injuries, and one of the soldiers shit on her face afterwards. Neither Fela nor his music were ever the same again, and neither would Tony Allen.

Allen’s final break with Fela comes on page 127, and the remaining 58 pages covers the years after, as the author became an ambassador of Afrobeat and a touring act in great demand around the world. His solo work displays the same inimitable rhythms he pioneered with Fela, but the music itself is quite different; Allen long ago began to fuse his native sounds with the emergent aesthetic of hip-hop resulting in some of the most compelling music of the past 30 years.

There’s really very little, if anything, to complain about here, but for exactitude’s sake, a few quick points. First, this book would’ve benefitted from a few sparse footnotes, offering biographical details of some of the artists Allen mentions in the text. Many of the names will be familiar to casual fans, but a lot of them will be unknown and obscure even to obsessive fans of Afrobeat; in some cases, there is literally no information available about them at all. The book walks us back through the rise and evolution of the music, but footnotes would’ve helped flesh out the narrative and situate Allen’s work more comfortably in its broader context. To that end, while the book has a decent selected discography also could’ve used a sessionography—although that, too, is a minor complaint, since that information is available online, for anyone who might be interested.

All in all, Allen and Veal have combined to tell one of the most remarkable stories of the last 40 years of music history. They have also managed to flesh out the history of a man who has never quite been recognized for the vastness of his influence. Ultimately, Tony Allen deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as legends like Clyde Stubblefield, Al Jackson Jr. and Bernard Purdie—a true innovator, and master of a sound that would simply not exist without his efforts. That is a fact, and hopefully it will become even more apparent as time goes by.

Book review: “The Squared Circle”

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The Squared Circle: Life, Death and Professional Wrestling, by David Shoemaker, aka “The Masked Man”. New York: Gotham Books/Penguin. 386pp, ill.

David Shoemaker’s The Squared Circle is only the latest entry into a literary market already well-saturated with books about professional wrestling. Most of these books have been hagiographical scribblings by ghostwriters, passing themselves off as memoir; these books are useful, given their access to the subject at hand, but they often fail to pass muster in terms of actual readability. Others have been written by outsiders, by fans and nominal wrestling “journalists”, some of whom are legit, while others are hacks who lucked into a small-press book deal.

Shoemaker’s book, however, is something of an anomaly within the genre—a full-length, hardcover book about wrestling published by a major imprint (or, at least, a subsidiary thereof) and handled with the sort of care that makes clear that, however bizarre and ridiculous pro-wrestling can be, the author retains real passion for a business that, frankly, makes no sense to the average person. In entertainment terms, pro-wrestling may be the ultimate niche market.

“This is a book about dead wrestlers,” he writes in the introduction, as if he’s offering the reader a spoiler alert for a pre-taped wrestling show that you personally attended. That is, there is no way to tell the story of professional wrestling over the past 30 years with any kind of historical accuracy without directly addressing the unprecedented wave of premature death that has befallen the business in that time, starting with that of David Von Erich in February 1984 and culminating with what the wrestling media now euphemizes as the “Benoit Family Tragedy” in June 2007.

Writing as “The Masked Man”, Shoemaker has done some of the most interesting writing about pro-wrestling in recent years, working mostly for Grantland and Deadspin. This book is not an anthology of that material; it’s rather takes a fresh look at a subject that has already been covered extensively from almost every conceivable angle. The fact that he manages to consistently generate new original insights speaks to his skill as a writer and, more important, his almost-intuitive grasp of what makes the business click. Shoemaker is at his best when explaining why certain characters resonated with fans as well as they did, breaking down their inner motivations and our own subconscious affinity with their message. Basically, he writes like someone who actually respects pro-wrestling; imagine that!

To say that The Squared Circle is a page-turner would be a gross understatement. Making the point more finely, it’s one of the more interesting wrestling books ever written by a non-wrestler. It has a good bit of new material that even seasoned fans will be unfamiliar with, but much of the stories spin around plots well-ingrained in the memories of casual fans from the ‘80s and ‘90s boom periods. Even so, Shoemaker renders all his information in a peppy, easy-to-digest style that, in itself, offers an object lesson in how the wrestling business has managed to achieve a new level of mainstream appeal that, while not as lucrative as in previous eras, is far more pervasive in the long-term, as well as the tragic price that so many stars paid for their success.

November 27, 2013

sheltonhull@gmail.com

Interview with Maitejosune Urrechaga, from Pocket of Lollipops

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Pocket Of Lollipops/Lake Disney/Legs

Burro Bar, 100 E. Adams St.

Friday, November 29; $5

Pocket of Lollipops have quickly made a name for themselves since springing fully-formed from the burgeoning Miami scene a couple years ago. Their music reflects their shared interests in art and fashion, as well as their shared experiences living in a cultural hub. The band is a duo, consisting of singer/guitarist Maitejosune Urrechaga and her husband, drummer Tony Kapel. There is a very kinetic sound, jangly and propulsive; the music practically vibrates, like a wino with the shakes or a kid about to meet their hero.

Opening for Pocket of Lollipops at Burro Bar will be Legs, from Orlando, and Jacksonville’s own Lake Disney, one of the many interesting new local bands of 2013. The band was formed as a trio of electronics (Greg Price and John Lackey) and bass guitar (Kareem Ghori, aka “Special K”), set in a Joy Division/Nick Cave sort of mold, but they’ve rapidly breaking that mold, with epic house-party jams that can last for hours.

Even with the holiday season approaching, and a couple really busy weeks ahead (including performances at Art Basel Miami), I was able to ask some questions of Urrechaga, who was kind enough to respond…

SDH: What does the name “Pocket of Lollipops” mean to you, in the context of the band.

MU: Multi-flavor, the options are endless. We can even be a surprise flavor.

SDH: How did you end up getting booked at Burro Bar? Who did you deal with?

MU: James Arthur Bayer III, we played with him at the Loft last time we were in Jacksonville and he reached out to us this past summer so we set something up. He runs the records label “Infintesmal”.

SDH: How would you describe the band’s aesthetic? What is Pocket of Lollipops about?

MU: When the natural and the dream collide. We are punk kids at heart with a love for the avant-garde. I would say we are the kind of aliens you can talk to and don’t have to fear. Or when you find a unicorn on your bike ride home. We do have a specific aesthetic for how we represent our material. Most of it is DIY; I like touching all the shirts, records etc. I will silk screening some of my drawings for t-shirt designs or for our current vinyl.

Sometimes I make things for our shows to give to everyone. It really depends on the setting and how we are feeling. We also like working with other artists. It is cool to see how they represent you. We currently released our video “Open Pirate”, artist Christopher Ian Macfarlane created it. All we told him was we wanted his style of work, and that I wanted an image of a goat, his family had to be in it someplace, I also told him what the song was about but told him that did not have to be in it at all. So we let him have loads of creative freedom. I love the new video. We also did a fan video for “Shelby Apples” like 2 years ago and fans had to take a mask we made download it and draw on them and video tape themselves. We enjoy that interaction with people.

SDH: How many tracks has the band recorded, all together?

MU: 23-25 tracks for sure. We may have one or two random tracks recorded on special cd’s that we give out at shows or sometimes we give free downloads of things we haven’t released if you win a prize from us. We are really into doing one of kind things.

SDH: What are your songs about?

MU: Some are about the education system/parents. Others are about parties. Running around abandoned train stations; Tony and I still do a lot of that stuff any second we can. Some is about dumb conversations you have with people.

SDH: Is there any one song that, for you, epitomizes the sound of Pocket Of Lollipops?

MU: Tony thinks it is “Sewing Circle”, but I think “Angry Kittens”. I think our fans would say “Shelby Apples”or “Cute Chaos”

SDH: How does the songwriting process play out? Is the band a full-on partnership, or does one of you act as the nominal “leader” of the group?

MU: We are both leaders at different time. I write the bass lines and organizes parts, then I share them with tony then he plays drums and I listen to what he does a bit and vice versa, Then I add lyrics that both of us come up with. Usually the ones I can’t sing are the ones he can sing perfect. After we write the song tony composes some digital violins, space sounds, etc. I just tell him some sounds I like and he just writes things. Eventually one of the digital tracks works with the song we are putting together. If it doesn’t work we save it and use it later. IT is a partnership almost all the time, unless we disagree then I just fight for what I want. I usually win, or he lets me win.

SDH: How long have you been married? How did you meet? Does your marriage pre-date the band?

MU: We got married on 11-11-01 I have a crazy thing with numbers. We meet at a third grade bake sale, but became friends later on high school. Yes, the marriage pre-dates the band, the band started in 2009.

SDH: Being in a band is a challenge, and being married is a challenge…

MU: I like challenges.

SDH: What kind of equipment do you use?

MU: Tony plays a Gretsch Drum set and I play an Acoustic 450 Bass/Combo. I use tons of pedals to create different distortion and other effects. All the extra sounds Tony makes are done on a Mac Computer with synths.

SDH: How long are your sets usually?

MU: 25-30 min…for a bar. For a gallery, sometimes we do 45 minutes-2hours. It really depends on the space and if we are playing with other people.

SDH: What artists have inspired your approach to music?

MU: My approach to music is more how I approach art; I take things I like and start to put pieces together. Tony and I are inspired by so many artists it would be really hard to pick one out. For example, Bjork for the way she can come out in some random outfit, or Brian Wilson how he was a studio nazi, or how Radio Head could sell their cd for whatever they wanted, the rule breakers or makers, whatever you wanna called them. But we are drawn to those who did what they wanted.

SDH: What’s been your favorite music to listen to this year?

MU: Julie Ruin, I just got into and I am enjoying that. Echo and the Bunnymen, Television, Pink Floyd, The Unicorns, Versus, Unrest and Dr. Dre.

SDH: What Basel-related stuff are you guys doing?

MU: We are playing for an opening party for one of the fairs. And I have an art show for a fair that is not a fair, and we are playing it also.

SDH: As a Miami-based artist and musician, what does Basel mean to you, in terms of business? Is it something locals look forward to?

MU: Yes and no. We complain about it and rest before it and always say we won’t do anything that year, and then you feel its presence, and you start saying yes to things, and it’s cool, ‘cuz so many things are going on, and you want to try and see all of it also.

SDH: Do you guys make your living fully through your art and music? Is that something the artists and musicians in your scene are able to do?

MU: Maybe a handful…they may take up an odd job here and there, but some are. But it is a hustle. Tony the other half of Lollipops(my husband) just quit his day job so one of us can put more time into everything we are doing. I also teach high school art for the public school system somehow–I just don’t tell everyone.

SDH: Which is more stressful: being a working musician or being an art teacher?

MU: I tend to look at things pretty positive. I think they both feed off of each other right now. I like going to work with kids; they have a great energy, and it feeds for good lyrics. I would say the stress is when i have a show and I am up till late, and somehow I make it to work the next day ‘cuz i don’t want to be a slack teacher ‘cuz of my other career, and vice versa. I do know a stress: one time we played at some crazy house party, and out of nowhere i saw students in the crowd. That was my two worlds combining. I was not prepared for that.

SDH: Does your status as a musician help you relate to the students?

MU: Yes. They love it. They always ask me why i don’t play our songs in class, ‘cuz i play music all the time with our lessons. I tell them I am there to teach art, not gain new fans.

SDH: What are your plans for 2014, personally and professionally? What do you wish to accomplish next?

MU: We have an artist/music residency in Rhode Island at the end of June at the AS220 Building, so we will also set up a little mini tour on the way. We are releasing another video. Working on a SXSW bill. Making new drawings and songs. Tony is writing another novel, which lends to our lyrical layout. Maybe figure out a way to make it overseas. Make more music and tour some more. I like visiting new places.

http://www.pocketoflollipops.com/

https://www.facebook.com/pocketoflollipops

https://www.facebook.com/LAKEDISNEYBAND

http://lllegs.bandcamp.com/

https://www.facebook.com/events/595166023874725/605833002808027

[Update: Here’s the video of their set at Burro Bar on the 29th–any video sloppiness is my fault entirely…]

#HateMail!

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Here’s the kind of thing I get to mess with sometimes. I dissed Obama online earlier today, at length, and someone sent me this a few minutes ago:

“Shelton, I never expected to see the day that I would find that your curious mind and unique perspective on the world and issues would degenerate to the point that you would not welcome commentary, expect only to be listened to, not challenged and when your ideas are countered determine that the action of so doing is liberal condescending Baby Boomer input. That is just so cliche. I have always viewed your commentary with an open mind even when I didn’t always agree and respected the difference in views but you went off the rails today and it wasn’t cool or edgy, beginning with the scummy white folks surrounding Obama remark to be followed by an uncalled for insult on entire nation of America and the very many fine, courageous, selfless and giving people who make this nation great. For those of us who have had people in wars to protect our country and freedoms as well as those who have lost their lives or loved ones doing so is an unforgivable insult to the good hearts of people who suffered much to give you the freedom to spin your opinions and yarns as openly as you do. I lost all respect for you today and for me that is a sad, sad thing. As someone who has read your work for years and someone you confided in in the past (and have clearly forgotten about) I truly believe that you have lost your balance and perspective. That is not meant as an insult but perhaps just enough of a comment to cause you to step back and rethink. What I read today was ugly pretending at creative commentary. I have always though better of you than that. I don’t expect a response and frankly at this point am not interested in one. What a shame you don’t understand how lucky you are to be an American and the suffering it took in order for you to live as free and openly in opinion as you do. Hurts my heart.”

My response: “Hmm, let’s see… 1) You’re disappointed in me–patronizing tone, and implies that your approval is a valuable prize that, once rescinded, should make me sad. But it does not. 2) Use of the word “degenerate” implies that my style no longer meets your approval. 3) Suggesting that I went “off the rails” implies that your opinion predominates, but it does not. 4) Being “cool or edgy” was not my intent, so I’m not sure where that comes from. 5) I stand by the “scummy white folks” remark, but I’ll amend it to note that he has some scummy black people around him, too–just not usually in position of real authority. 6) I stand by the “cowardly president for a cowardly nation” remark; just my opinion. 7) You seem to feel that I’ve never had friends of loved ones in the military; that is not the case. You also seem to think that I don’t know about the role our troops have played in winning the freedoms we enjoy today; this is consistent with your overall theme, and is another one of those condescending boomer cliches we were talking about. Your having lost all respect for me in the course of an hour’s worth of Facebook chatter begs the question of how much respect you ever had for me to begin with–but I’ll not ask that, because I don’t care. 9) Your suggestion that I “clearly forgotten” about our previous conversations is, again, consistent with your overall theme. 10) Your suggestion that I “have lost balance and perspective” implies that you are in a position to evaluate me, based on whatever your professional qualifications may be. 11) Was what you ready ugly? Of course–we were talking about Obama, lol! 12) If you weren’t interested in a response, you wouldn’t have wasted a moment of this lovely Friday evening doubling-down on remarks that you already knew I took offense to. 13) Your telling me that I do not understand my privileged position as an American citizen, or its history or my ancestors’ history would be a blatant insult, even if that information wasn’t taught at grade-school level. Everything you’ve said here involves talking to down to people, implying that you’re smarter and more sophisticated than anyone else in the conversation, and that anyone who disagrees with you is worth of your hand-wringing pity. That is not the case at all. 14) If your heart hurts, see your doctor; it has nothing to do with me. Good day to you.”

Millcent Martin: Mavericky!

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I’d never heard of Millicent Martin until just a few days ago, when I found myself looking for old David Frost stuff on YouTube after his death earlier this week. Miss Martin has had a long career, but may be best-known for singing satirical songs on Frost’s short-lived but groundbreaking public-affairs show “That Was the Week That Was” (aka “TW3”), which kinda presages not only much of the British comedy boom of that decade, but virtually pioneered the use of comedy as a means of direct engagement with the political process via mainstream television.

The show was entire unique, starting with its opening theme–a swinging swath of British bop (which sounds a lot like West Coast stuff) popular enough to market as its own studio album… 

The lyrics were reworked for new episodes, to encompass the news of the day. The quality of the writing seems uniformly strong, in particular the poetry and song-lyrics, all of which is smoothly articulated by the singer, if not always the panelists. It’s a tricky enough matter in America these days, let alone in the BBC structure of 50 years ago. TW3 was the beginning of Frost’s lifelong push to establish himself in the newest, freshest broadcast formats; he went on to co-found the infamous TV-am network, and he was working for al-Jazeera at the time of his death. To see TW3 at its most bold, brash and biting, check Millicent Martin in the lead on “Mississippi”, which ruthlessly lampoons America’s racial climate at that time.

1963 saw the show’s peak, and its subsequent demise, just a month after the murder of JFK–a crime that stirred the cast to cold, sober sanctimony in the darkest moment yet for their generation. After some reflective words from the panel, Martin adds her voice, singing “In the Summer Of His Years” in honor of the fallen president…

By year’s end, the show would be off the air, but not before yielding another masterpiece from Millicent Martin, who duets with herself in split-screen for a run of rollicking vocalese on “Goodbye”, from the show’s finale. Those who saw the show then never forgot, while those who weren’t around–like myself–get to experience it anew…

Notes on recent podcasts…

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One of my goals this year, especially during the hiatus from print journalism earlier this year, was to put more time into electronic media–specifically, the wild world of podcasting. Like most of you, I’ve been listening to them avidly; for the record, my two favorites are both pro-wrestling related, of course: The Steve Austin Show, and The Art of Wrestling with Colt Cabana. Both shows have been highly entertaining, and I dare say, inspirational to my own efforts.

However, my output in the podcasting business has kinda sucked ass so far, in large part because I lack the discipline of Messers Austin and Cabana. My own podcast, “the HullCast“, has been sporadic; I’ve only done a few episodes on the existing platform over the years. I have no idea how to edit sound, and I’ve procrastinated on making the crucial hardware/software/bandwidth investments needed to get it all going at full-speed. (Also, I’ve not designed a logo yet; I had a very nice artist in mind, but I guess she thought I was kidding about the whole “commissioning a logo for my podcast” thing.) So, instead and supplementary to that stuff, I’ve spent a bit of time doing guest-shots on other people’s podcasts, and here are a couple quick notes on the ones I’ve been involved with recently.

The Side Hustle Podcast is the brainchild of my good friend Walter Gant; it spun off from “The List FM” podcast (currently on hiatus), which he was a regular on, and I an occasional guest. Walt’s day-job is taking to bigger and better places (namely, Orlando), and it appears that he’ll be passing the torch to me after his departure. So, preparatory to that, I did a guest shot on August 16. This episode also features regular panelists Cody Barksdale, Sarah Hatfield and Willis LeRoy.

The Pretend Radio podcast is run by my friend Devin Clark, and its focus tends to be on the world of stand-up comedy. I’ve been a guest on his show a couple times, which is interesting because I’m not a comedian (although I’ve been accused of it on occasion). Chris Buck is always there with me, as well, and the most recent episode (recorded August 4) also included the delightful Kris Niblock. (We are billed as “Kris Niblock and friends”, which is hilarious in many ways.)

The Ali B Variety show is hosted by Alicia Bertine, one of the most interesting and inspirational people I’ve ever had the opportunity to know. She touches on a variety of topics, including health and wellness, politics and affairs of the heart. She was kind enough to invite me on the show on August 13; we mainly discussed cancer and birth defects, and their relationship to the use of depleted uranium in Iraq, as well as our shared disdain for genetically-modified foods. It sounds really heavy, but it’s actually pretty funny–indeed, probably funnier than the stuff I did on the other two shows, which was supposed to be funny. That says something about me, but I don’t know what. Again, when I find the link to that show, I’ll put it here.

Random thoughts on blood & guts, and Syria… [NSFW]

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I’ve been a journalist, as I care to define it (getting paid for it, albeit not that much) for about 16 years or so, but that was mostly music and whatnot. In that time, I was never really squeamish about blood and guts; I had no particular desire to see it, but it didn’t bother me much when I did. Part of that was probably culture; I grew up seeing fights, bleeding, people who’d been shot or otherwise injured violently. I was a wrestling fan, so I was weaned on the bloodbaths that often typified the southern territories of my youth; I also watched stuff like “Faces of Death”, and the various websites catering to those interests, which disturbed me, but never enough to just avoid it.

From a professional standpoint, it wasn’t an issue until September 28, 2000–the day that Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount (aka al-Aqsa Mosque, aka Haram al-Sharif), in a political move that led immediately to the Second Palestinian intifada. It was a nasty, brutal conflict that I never saw up-close, but wrote about extensively–that work entailed parsing the visual data, which was both copious and exceptionally awful to see: Bombed-out Israeli buses with dismembered dead bodies still in their seats, left there for the media to understand why Likud was ascendant; old Palestinian women with their chests torn open like Thanksgiving turkeys come wishbone time; children shot to death on-camera. I’ll never forget the image of a young man who’d been allegedly hit with something big enough to bisect his skull from crown to cuspids; it was, for me, the visual embodiment of yet another needless war.

Those images were made somewhat tolerable by the context: Those depicted were often combatants, or at least innocents who could be credibly categorized as “collateral damage”. But 9/11 was something different–a mass-murder of entirely innocent people, carried out in real-time in a manner that was impossible for the general public to ignore, in America or everywhere else. Our nation was instantly plunged into a collective PTSD-type state, with the inconsistency and reckless behavior one might expect of that condition–not just the wars, but the overall character of our nation and its sphere of influence. America got a lot more cold, callous and ruthlessly violent at that point, and it remains that way to this day. The new war brought new methods, which coupled with the proliferation of communications technology meant an unprecedented amount of human carnage visited upon casual consumers of mass-media. That process really began–or at least peaked–with the killing of Daniel Pearl, a reporter whose head was chopped off by the terrorists he was attempting to investigate. His murder, along with many others (Margaret Hassan, Nicholas Berg, etc.), were videotaped by the killers and disseminated through the internet; never had it been easier to watch people die on-camera. The effect was chilling.

I watched all this stuff, and rarely flinched. But over the past few years, my ability to watch such things has curtailed dramatically. I can think of several reasons for that, none of which are of any particular relevance at this moment. The point is that I mostly avoided such material, even when there was a journalistic imperative. For example, there are tons of photos documenting the immediate aftermath of the Haitian earthquake from a few years ago, none of which I’ve really looked at. I tried, but kids crushed in rubble was too much to even attempt to look at. Those tendencies have persisted, almost without exception until a few hours ago, when I started looking at reports about the alleged poison-gas attack in Syria.

Courtesy Associated Press

 

Putting aside discussion of the actual conflict (about which there is plenty to say, and plenty to see all over the web), as well as the wide discrepancy in the estimates of those killed (which range from 600-1,300, last I checked), I’ll note that i spent a good couple hours just looking at pictures of the people killed and injured by whatever it was that was dropped on them. Most of them were children, many of whom died with their eyes still open, and not much visual sign of any trouble, aside from blue lips and blank expressions. They almost looked like drowsy kids daydreaming in the summer heat, which is probably exactly what they were before they were murdered by the hundreds. It was hard to even look, at first; the cursor danced swiftly from top to bottom, allowing me to take in outlines without real detail, until it gradually became more tolerable. Eventually, I got to the business of scrutinizing the faces of the dead to see if they gave any casual indication of what had happened to them. The blue lips suggested hypoxia, rapid oxygen deprivation, which could come from drowning, suffocation, asphyxiation or strangulation. But they weren’t wet, they had been gathered in the open air, not inside a building, and there were no external markings to indicate any trauma of any obvious kind. Also, their eyes were clear; they weren’t jaundiced or bloodshot, and there were no broken blood-vessels, like there would be if someone had been strangled.

I sat there for a good while, trying to think of how all those people could be killed so fast, leaving corpses that looked like that, without using some type of banned chemical or biological agent on unarmed civilians, and it was only after I’d satisfied myself as to the likelihood of what happened–which would be a war-crime, enough to merit the immediate execution of anyone involved on any level of its formulation or implementation–that I became even slightly comfortable with having made myself look at those pictures. It helped that, eventually, I was able to stop thinking about myself, and start thinking about the victims, and their silenced voices. Always a good idea…

Courtesy RT