Tuesday, June 30, 2009


"Dumbocracy: Adventures with the Looney Left, the Ribald Right, and Other American Idiots"
By Marty Beckerman
Disinformation, paperback

Early on in his tenure as a *Rolling Stone* contributing editor, Matt Taibbi was routinely derided as a beggar's Hunter S. Thompson. The charge was harsh, but predictable: Taibbi's semi-regular cutting bromides stood in the towering, wavy-gravy shadows of Thompson's LSD-soaked politi-populist dispatches. The key differences? Taibbi isn't an active user of recreational narcotics, doesn't weave preposterous hallucinations into his venomous punditry, and is more sharp-eyed humorist than journalist proper. The Thompson comparisons probably aren't keeping him up at night, but the author of *Hostile Takeover* might take comfort in knowing that a poor man's Matt Taibbi is out there, making him look better just by drawing breath. His name? Marty Beckerman.

*Dumbocracy*, Beckerman's second book, proceeds from the premise that radical-fringe elements of the two major American political parties can claim one commonality: they're equally batshit insane. The Playboy, New York Press, and Huffington Post contributor seeks to prove this thesis by wading into the fray of various politically-charged events, actions, and gatherings and posing patently asinine questions to anyone within the range of his voice. At an anti-war rally outside the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City, he asks an especially vociferous protester - who chants "No more blood for oil and no more oil in the first place!" - "What if we designed cares powered by Iraqi blood?" only to receive no response. His recommendation to another, at a March 2005 Marriage Equality Rally in Dupont Circle? To appease straights and gays alike, the U.S. should invade Cuba and transform it into a "Tropical Gay Israel." These on-the-scene inquisitions seem designed to cast Beckerman as someone who really, really wants to have his lights knocked out. Occasionally, though, he strikes gold just by being in the right place with the right people at the right time - as at an Aptil 2004 D.C. event protesting violence against abortion clinics:

Katrina and Maddie, a pair of teenage lesbians, distribute posters that that proclaim: "QUEER RIGHTS ARE REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS!"

"What does that *mean*?" I ask. "Gay people can't *reproduce*--at least not without scientists."

"Exactly," chirps one of the girls. "Gay people will *never* have abortions! So I think *everyone* should be gay! So nobody has to argue!"

Indeed, for most of *Dumbocracy*'s 200-page length, it's *that* kind of book: an extrapolation of sardonic, previously published articles into a half-assed pundit's manifesto that isn't as gut-busting as the author believes it is. Beckerman's the sort of guy who thinks cracking wise about Hitler, addressing others as "Jew Bastards," and pretending that Hamas is something "you eat with pita and falafel" while attending a Global Summit for Young Jewish Innovators in Jerusalem is hilarious. Worse: he blows his page-count wad on quotes from oodles of sources and seems to have difficulty wearing his snarky trucker's cap and responsible journalist's fedora at the same time - resulting in long, dry passages where an issue is explored straight-faced, only to be encapped with a lame joke in parenthesis. Someone should really gift Beckerman a copy of Jon Ronson's *Them* as a Passover present.


"The Enemy Within: 2,000 Years of Witch-hunting in the Western World"
By John Demos
Viking, hardback

In modern society, there's nothing especially scandalous about practicing witchcraft. In the eyes of many, it's just another lifestyle choice - a hip, holistic alternative to participating in dowdy old organized religions. Certainly, the 'rents might not be thrilled that the apparent soulmate you're bringing home for dinner is an avowed Wiccan with a back tattoo of the sea-god Neptune - but they're less likely to outright disown you for shacking up with somebody whose ancient VW sports a "My Other Car Is A Broom" bumper sticker.

The world has changed so much that it's easy to forget that, once upon a time, accusations of spell-casting could equal death sentences. In The Enemy Within, historian John Demos explores the literal - and to a lesser extent, figurative - manifestations of witch hunting in microscopic sociological detail.

Demos roots the origins of witch hunting in the Middle Ages, as Christianity rose to prominence and sought to define itself by honing a "God vs. the Devil" dualism. A pre-Age of Reason pattern establishes itself: practicioners of magic, actual or accused, tended to fall under suspicion in periods of great societal upheavel, in towns or villages more often than in urban areas. More often than not, the accused were women the accusers knew well, and the singling out of sorceresses often followed a personal setback, calamity, or crop failure.

In the young American colonies, witch hunting was essentially perpetuated by the settlers' Puritanism, and transformed from a phenomenon based on wrongs-done into something more performance-based. As illustrated in The Crucible - Arthur Miller's acclaimed play, which Demos idenifies as Red Scare parody and defining Salem witch trial simulation rolled into one - trials become spectacles in which accusers are driven into convultions at the mere touch of the accused.

To his credit, Demos stays in scholar-mode throughout, allowing readers to draw our own skeptal inferrences in cases where dots might have been connected - or citing passages from the small mountain of related texts he absorbed prior to sitting down to write this book. It would have been easy - very easy - to dismiss the resulting tortures, convictions, jailings, and executions as the runoff of collective hysteria - or to condemn the visions and beyond-the-grave visitations reported by teenaged accusers in hundreds of New England witch hunts as psychosis taken at face value.

The Enemy Within winds down with a trawl through assorted nineteenth and twentieth century "witch hunts": the anti-labor aftermath of the Haymarket Riots, the Sen. Joseph McCarthy-perpetuated Red Scare, and a notorious child sex-abuse fright that continues to reverberate to this day. But, Inquisition-like horrors aside, what lingers is Demos' droll description of present-day Salem, Mass. "Witchery is the lifeblood of local commerce," he notes, singling out businesses like Witch City Repo Services, the Witch Brew Café, and the Witch Dungeon Museum. Everything, finally, can be reduced to some form of commerce.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Distillery: R. Kelly's "The Demo Tape" mixtape

A few tracks into The Demo Tape, DJ Drama informs us that we're witnessing history in the making. "I think this is a first!" he yells. "An R&B Gangsta Grillz! Floodgates are open!" You've gotta wonder how R. Kelly feels about that. I mean, here's a dude with a house full of gold and platinum face who's more or less the face of contemporary R&B raunch, right? "Trapped in the Closet," you know? "I Believe I Can Fly?" "Feelin' on Yo Booty"? Yet here he is, dropping a free internet mixtape in order to drum up buzz for an upcoming album that's been delayed once or twice (and now due in September), as though he were some unknown, MySpace-spamming punchline rapper lacking significant crew affliations. Of course, with our collective national attention span shrinking by the hour - 07's Double Up was sooooo four centuries ago - a reintroduction is probably in order; until recently, Kells and his legal team were too busy battling child sex abuse charges to focus on recording and releasing new grown'n'sexy jams. But I wish The Demo Tape was more memorable and substantial than it is; this tape is fun and all, but I wasn't able to come up with more than 9 songs I really needed to hear ever again and it doesn't do much more than remind the world that R. Kelly exists! Which may have been the whole point. And DJ Drama: please start editing original vocals out of the tracks you're jacking. It isn't that hard to do, is it?

2. "Kelly's 12 Play Remix": Producer extraordinare The-Dream (Rihanna, Mariah Carey) clearly sees himself as the second coming of Kells, and earlier this year he gave his idol some dap with "Kelly's 12 Play," where he sang about sexing a special lady to Kelly's classic 12 Play album. Given his gargantuan self-regard, it was inevitable that Kells would flip the track for this mixtape. Pull quote: "Makin' your body shake like a horror movie/And then I'll put that ass to sleep." More fright-night imagery, please; it's an interesting direction.

4. "Disrespect My Shorty": Oh, please. A don't-hurt-my-girl-by-accosting-me-in-public plea from the co-author of unrepentent horndog banger "I'm A Flirt"?

5. "Fuck Every Girl": This was inevitable, too. Young Money Entertainment - Lil Wayne plus a bunch of wannabe rappers you've never heard of, basically - imagined "Every Girl" as a dewey, springtime-y ode to perpetual hetero-male arousal where all participants would pretend to be Kanye West; as such, this is right up Kells' alley. "I've got a dick and a half/So ladies don't argue" is a boast for the books, though, Robert? You should never, ever use Auto-tune again. You're better than that, for real.

6. "Best I Ever Had": "She the fucking best/And I'm the fucking best/So we the fucking best/Mixtape!" With my secret Little Orphan Annie decoder ring, I've translated this verse; decoded, it reads "Buy my album when it drops for lyrics of unfuckwithable quality."

7. "Banging The Headboard": Imagine what'd it be like if Kells was your next-door neighbor in a rowhouse! You'd never, ever get any sleep, and his jealous exes and the parents of his underage, undercompensated paramours would constantly be throwing rocks through your window by mistake. Bad times!

8. "Pussy Cry": Man! Being a smooth, suave lothario sure sounds like a lot of hassle: making that body scream, buying bubbly by the crate, organizing shopping sprees, listening attentively, texting incessantly, "talking that freaky shit to you." But hey, Kells is here to do all that stuff for you and make it sound super alluring, even with Auto-Tune. All you have to do is hit play.

13. "Supa Dupa Man": You think Kells ever hits the gym? I don't think he even has to, what with all the round-the-clock, post-nightclub sex he's having.

14. "Tip the Waiter": God only knows what Kells' idea of a fair waitstaff tip is. This song, about patiently trying to coax a honey into his ride and ultimately into his bed, doesn't really clue us in. "Girl, I want some patootie, and I don't mean cash," he explains before launching back into the titular chorus, which feels so superfluous as to be ludicrous.

18. "Chopped & Screwed Remix": You heard right, ladies - play your cards right, and Kells will treat you to breakfast at IHOP. Those pancakes are slammin'.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

An Open Letter to Gucci Mane

Dear Gucci Mane,

What it do, Gucci? What's up? I hope this letter finds you well - cracking open bottles of Kristal, counting money stacks, holed up spitting in a recording booth, or perhaps adding to your no doubt breathtaking stable of candy-paint coated whips. You probably get a lot of letters from fans, and my guess is that most people want or need something from you: to have your baby, to carry your weed, to cop a guest verse, to slip you a homemade mixtape in a by-association bid for regional or Internet fame.

Me, on the other hand, I don't want any of those things! But I think we can help each other out. See, I live with my moms - I'm sort of between careers at the moment - and because I'm, well, I'm more Brokeahantus than blingin' (and yeah, you can steal that! I don't even want any credit, for real), I can't help out with rent or expenses. I can't even buy mom anything for her birthday next month. This is where you come in, because, see, mom fiends for Gucci shit, ya heard? The jackets, the bags, all of that.

And I mean, I don't know your life, but I've always imagined that Gucci Fed-Exes you big-ass care packages on the regular, just out of nowhere, just massive, duct-taped cardboard boxes stuffed with official, non-knockoff Gucci swag. Like, you get back from the studio or tour or whatever and the delivery guy's waiting in the driveway for you, and you give each other pounds, and he's all "Gucci" and you're all "Steve" and he's all "This here's your assemble-at-home Smart Car kit" and then you go "Steve, you on some bullshit, dawg, what you finna do" and then he laughs and says "Naw, man, just fuckin' with you, it's your weekly Gucci payload, initial here." Then y'all hit the strip clubs.

I'm sure you probably dole this stuff out to the women in your life and some of your homies too, because, really, how much Gucci paraphenilia does any one person need? But there have gotta be extras. So can you throw some of the excess in a box and send it to me? Nothing in life is free, and I'm broke, but I figured my advice might be worth a metric Gucci quarter-ton.

You're on your way to maybe becoming Lil Wayne famous, but I Google you from time to time, and you've gotta learn to look more famous. You should walk into a club and right away everybody knows you're somebody, and not just because your entourage could fill a VIP lounge! Like, your name is Gucci Mane; you need a mane, feel me? And I'm not saying you should grow your hair out then get a perm and dye it blonde or even cop a Marilyn Monroe wig, but, maybe an oversized Lion King Simba mane, or an Alex-from-Madagascar mane, or maybe just have an African lion smuggled in, scalp that fucker with a machete, wear its mane like it's yours, blood and viscera and all that. You know? Mane it up, mane it out, make it work for you. And you need more aliases, like how Jay-Z is Hova, or Young, or Young Hov, or Gray Hova, or how Ghostface Killah is Tony Starks, or Iron Man, or Pretty Tony. Mythology! Self-mythology, my homie. People should be calling you "The Gooch"! And "Chris Guccione" and, like, "Vince Ferrito." Also, do you watch Daisy of Love? Kind of a guilty pleasure for me, but you should make a video for "Wasted" with 12 Pack playing you, on some Kanye/"Can't Tell Me Nothing"/Galifianakis/Will Oldham shit, wandering through skate parks with a pack of clowns, lipsyncing to it! MTV would play the fuck out of that! No, no, don't thank me now - thank me with swag. Gucci!

Yours Truly,
Blaine Vancouver
A sorta pithy (but wholly accurate) review of Rusted Shut's new album, Dead.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Friday Night Noise: Swanshit, Yellow Tears.

This Is A Poem About A Poem In And Of Itself

This is a poem about a poem in and of itself,
About words handcuffed to phrases to bastardized
Venacular, arrayed in sober couplets, stanzas,

Compartmentalized as mise-en-scene
Haiku, swallowed and shivering at the arctic
Center of a bone-white sheet, eleven by eight
And a half, lonesome, lachrymorse, a crush
Of ink characters huddling close for warmth

Excuse me. This poem is taking a breather.
Putting on airs, daydreaming. Oh, to be short
Fiction, a novella, the teeny-tiny legal text at
The botton of an Absolut ad! To be truly read,
To signify something unquestionable

And this poem is back to work, Alaskan all
Over again, imperishably impenetrable, female
And male conduits conveying bolts in screws,
Balled fists stuffing trouser pockets, receivers
Fast asleep In hard plastic cradles, oval pills
Rattling in clear orange-brown bottles. This
Poem knows, it knows: you bought in, you
Committed, you hoped for something deeper,
Something truer without being too obvious and
Smug about being true. This poem is someone
Dear to you, who let you down in some way, an
Illusion you projected onto an actual person, who,
After all, was only human. This poem is you.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Dear serious bloggers - er, sorry, vloggers - guess what? Some of us, and maybe we're behind the times here, but we like to actually, like, read interviews with rappers and indie-rock demigods and other quasi stars, you know? Instead of just clicking links and waiting for shit to load and watching video interviews. Just because you have a palm-sized digital camera doesn't mean that you can't transcribe the killer quotes and hot news bites you scoop instead of lazily posting a Vimeo feed or whatever.


From the MAGNET Magazine blog:

David Berman

The Portable February

(Drag City)

Though he’s best known for fronting the late, great Silver Jews, sardonic, cerebral country rock isn’t David Berman’s only talent. He’s also a celebrated poet (see 1996’s dry Actual Air) and cartoonist whose drawings have popped up in the margins of The Baffler and adorned art-gallery walls. The Portable February (Drag City), his first published collection of illustrations, suggests that inkwell Berman isn’t far removed from plectrum Berman; the instruments of creation may differ, but the same bitterly amused tone suffuses both endeavors. February’s 90-plus doodles range from crushingly obvious (the protester holding a sign reading “giants” enclosed by a circle with a line drawn through it, as a giant boot approaches from above) to gleefully inane sketches titled, perhaps, to impart meaning (”The World We Had,” “Irrational 15th Century Battle Scenes”) to oblique cartoons that demand serious interpretive input from the reader. What finally emerges is a bit droll New Yorker, a bit other-dimensional The Far Side and a bit psycho-social Steven, all at once: the anonymous “A Place In New Jersey” wearing its sketchiness all too literally; one animal remarking to another “Premise? I got premise,” when there’s no premise to speak of; a menagerie of rings and trophies; a raving, distended portrait captioned “If you were New Wave in Cincinnati in 1983, I probably haunted you occasionally.” February’s genius lies in how its rudimentary squiggles manage to haunt again and again, each time in a slightly new way.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

IRONY OF THE WEEK: As publications scale back and phase out freelance reviews, my mailbox/inbox is flooded, increasingly, by worthy/interesting albums. Gotta love this economy, man, gotta.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


From today's Orlando Weekly:

Sonic Youth

The Eternal


Sometime between the time NYC Ghosts & Flowers redefined Beat Generation–fellating uselessness and al-Qaida terrorists flew planes into the towers, Sonic Youth – or somebody on Sonic Youth’s management team – had an epiphany: Why not roll out each SY opus as though it were a summer installment in a blockbuster franchise? Put the word on the street in early spring, roll the disc out in June, then launch a huge, momentum-riding tour.

Given that SY excursions mimic hazy, dog-day atmospheres, anyway – heat-exposure prose unspooling into bouts of sweaty, noisy fret-copulation – this gambit made sense. While The Eternal hews to this post–Memorial Day schedule, it pulls the storied sequel trick of shuffling the deck without actually shifting the paradigm: new label (Matador), new sidekick (ex-Pavement member Mark Ibold on bass) and new-and-improved schtick (all three singers harmonize at times). Draped in what appears to be a swirling portal to hell – a John Fahey ass painting, as it happens – Eternal is Sonic Youth’s most self-indulgent album since Flowers. No longer under the corporate-rock whip, they forgo even the appearance of mainstream capitulation, drifting into a water-treading, if enlivened, limbo that shrugs off the (largely) battened-hatch creep of 2004’s Sonic Nurse and 2006’s Rather Ripped. Ripped ended with rote interview-query murmurs, and the punk-lite “Sacred Trickster” kicks Eternal off with one more as Kim Gordon yelps, “What’s it like to be a girl in a band?/I just don’t understand!”

From there, we’re off to SY’s bohemian paradise, all urgent verse-chorus-verse buildups surging into manicured noise-pop gullies. Immediate crowd-pleasers – like the barbed, stinging “Malibu Gas Station,” which perpetuates Gordon’s celeb fetish by drooling over Britney Spears through the paparazzi’s massed camera eye – yield to fare like the drowsy, adoring Thurston Moore ballad “Antenna,” the is-it-stalking-or-caring-too-much? snarl of “What We Know” and the sunnysided “Walkin Blue,” which finds Lee Ranaldo at his most unashamedly hippie yet. Eternal earns its place in your six-disc changer by degrees, and does its next-installment duty just well enough. You’ll laugh, you’ll sigh, you’ll check for Sonic Youth’s next comfort-food ear-flick whenever it’s on the horizon.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009


The pre-edit version of what ran in today's Clevescene:

The Scarcity of Tanks
No Endowments
(Textile/Total Life Society)

Scarcity of Tanks frontman Matthew Wascovich hails from Cleveland, but to ears still ringing from the noisy rock - distinct from "noise rock," thank you very much - of Shellac, the Jesus Lizards, and other Touch & Go-affiliated acts, the group's jazzbo-fied clang and din comes across as decidedly Chicago in feel. Trolley-cable basslines sproooing, saxes squawk, and spincter-tight drum fits combust - while hot-shit chicken-wire guitar riffs snake in and around to tie these 11 anti-songs up into nasty, gristle-stuffed little care packages. "Hedge Over Height" frantically skins its knees on the gritty whiplash of spindled guitars and Uzi-like kitwork, while "March Toward Crash" is a more haphazard creature, borne of scuzz-psych accents and incidental feedback congealed; much of Endowments suggests early Sonic Youth wasted on shrooms, which is no bad thing. But for all the stormy nihilism spun, Wascovich is Scarcity of Tanks' main attraction, intensely overenunciating nightmarish, impressionistic verse like Steve Albini rudely riffling through Lee Ranaldo's poetry journals. "The humans were decimated, but the animals restored," he bemusedly declares on "Motto for the Parked," where sparse instrumental seethe and harmonica whinny puncture near-silence like sabers. He pauses dramatically, as if he were the late Mitch Hedberg allowng space for delayed audience applause, then mutters darkly: "Evolve, or improve the atrophy."