Criticism as solidarity

October 25, 2016 § Leave a comment

This comes from the guidelines for reviewers for Interface journal:

.1. Helpful criticism (criticism as solidarity)

Our job as reviewers and editors is generally in trying to help people who are making an effort in a direction that we share to some degree, to develop their ideas more clearly, with more insight and in ways that are more helpful to the movements we work with as researchers, theorists, writers etc. The most helpful comments are neither those which gloss over real problems in an article nor those which condemn without showing how things could be done better; they are those which identify difficulties, explain (gently) why they are difficulties, and suggest alternative approaches.

I wish more reviewers, editors, writers and people commenting on papers presented in seminars would keep this advice in mind. The fact that so many of them don’t reinforces my suspicion that in fact we don’t “share” “a direction”, even though there is often an implicit or explicit assumption that we do.


Good comments on Dig!

October 18, 2016 § Leave a comment


“Fast and louche” Chris Roberts, The Guardian 25/06/05

Anton Newcombe, hot-headed heartbeat of the Brian Jonestown Massacre, swans through a door, intent on making a grand rock-god exit. On roller-skates. What he wants to do is swagger. What he does is stagger, tumbling flat on his ass on the kerb. “I am the son of God,” he declares, another time, “tell them to wear white and come when I call.” Enthused by this concept, he pawns his guitar to fund a photo shoot, complete with disciples, that same day. A genuinely puzzled passer-by asks, “Are you guys members of a cult, or just shooting a video?” When arrested onstage for kicking an audience member in the head, Anton yells to camera, “They’re gonna kill me. And this is a wonderful day to die!” His manager, the last word in long-suffering, sighs, “I walked into a MASH unit.”

Meanwhile, Anton’s Portland, Oregon, home-town friends-turned-rivals, the Dandy Warhols, sign sensible deals and score sizeable hits. They’re “the most well-adjusted band in America”, and borrow the BJM’s cooler, sleazier crash-pad for their own photo shoots. Even when busted for dope on their tour bus in France, they’re let off in exchange for four T-shirts. “We’re a lucky band,” says the guitarist, “and they are not a lucky band.” “We even kept the cannabis,” adds singer Courtney Taylor’s voiceover.

Ondi Timoner’s hilarious, tragic, absurdly realistic seven-year labour of love and fear…makes Spinal Tap seem subdued and is by far the most engaging and insightful of the recent wave of rockumentaries. Timoner whittled it down from 2,000 hours of footage, finishing it, in tears, after two all-night editing sessions three days before her first son was born. “I didn’t mean to suggest that the Dandys are sell-outs, or that Anton’s a hero. I allowed it to speak for itself.”

[Anton] Newcombe, with his high IQ and quick wits, believes in his own genius: he’s charismatic, loopy, spontaneous, bossy. He’s fascinated by Jesus, Hitler and Charles Manson. His father, an alcoholic schizophrenic, committed suicide during filming. Anton self-destructs at every opportunity. By contrast, the Dandy Warhols who, to an extent, cop his riffs and attitude, have an eye for the main chance. They love everything Anton stands (or keels over) for, but flog a kind of pre-watershed version, playing along with the record company’s big-budget video designs and touring doggedly. They’re also better-looking, and use their intimidating cool to subvert rather than subside. The movie makes Anton look crazy and Courtney look calculating. Yet it’s so weighted in the former’s favour that it’s a miracle Timoner persuaded the latter to narrate the arch voiceover (“It was so retro. And so the future.”).

“When I first met the Dandys I thought they were magic treasure, like wood elves who’d crept out of the forest or something. But they saw BJM living the rock’n’roll life the way they’d always pictured it from reading Stones biographies. The difference being that their 60s icons were famous first, then did a lot of drugs. So these Portland guys all become caricatures. I think the film debunks the rock’n’roll mystique. I’d be travelling with the bands and it’d be horrific, a vacuum of humanity,” Timoner shudders.

Dig! isn’t just a howlingly funny documentary including the immortal cry, “You broke my sitar, motherfucker!” It’s a painfully perceptive film about neurosis, egomania and the clash between common sense and uncommon self-love in any would-be rock star’s head. Its volume reaches up to 11, but it digs deep.

“I am not a movie!” Sylvie Simmons, The Guardian 10/06/05

The simplistic interpretation would be that one band is about art while the other has sold out. But what it really points out is that the music business, at least in its current setup, will screw musicians one way or another: by involvement, or neglect, or both. And that these two charismatic, driven frontmen – one presented as grounded and realistic, the other as a mad genius and egotistical jerk – are remarkably alike. In fact, in some shots they look almost interchangeable.

Asked what he thought of, or if he recognised, the Anton shown on screen, he says: “Well I didn’t see the same film that you’ve seen. I’ve never bothered to watch it. What insight did you gain from watching an edit of a film that’s a sub-edit? I am not a fucking film. You saw some things that have been publicly exhaled. So what? That’s just one small aspect of a personality. One fucking fingernail in a pantheon of a fist. I am not a curiosity. I am really intelligent and I can prove it. I was tested in kindergarten with a 180 IQ and I know that I’m a lot smarter than that, and most of the time I have to basically be focused so that other people can understand what it is that I’m trying to say. It’s not my egocentric view. I have ideas. Good ones, too. I am not a movie, for better or for worse. But I have very real opinions about it, specifically including where I’ve been done wrong. I’m not afraid of the fucking truth. The fact is this is not the truth.”

Meaning? “Look at the box. It says ‘written by Ondi’. How do you write a documentary? You don’t. I’m not taking issue with any particular pixel or frame or sequence, but taken out of context, I can cut your words with this tape and make you say anything I want to say. It’s just lies – lies that were written into the narration. Courtney read a script. They were not his words. It’s fascinating. Do you know what Courtney thinks? Shall I speak for Courtney? ‘This is a life mistake.’ As if we just hopped into a U-boat and sunk a cruise liner, you know? He said, ‘You know how it all began and we’d all be friends for ever? This wrecked my life, but who cares?’ But I think these people will nada their nadas to nada until there’s nada. It’s strictly biological – they will destroy themselves.”

One of the many bones of contention Newcombe has with Dig! is that, with all its talk of him being a “musical genius” (or, as Courtney Taylor puts it, “brilliant monster”), there’s little besides some shambolic live footage to show that the 37-year-old is anything other than seriously disturbed. But his band, since its formation 15 years ago, has recorded 15 albums. This year alone BJM will release an album, an EP and a two-CD retrospective, as well as any number of internet downloads.

He plays me a few new songs; they’re good. Never Become Emotionally Attached to Man, Woman, Beast or Child, is hypnotic, jangly, the Beatles via the Byrds; Seer is like a psychedelic Phil Spector. Newcombe repeats himself, more quietly this time. “I am not a fucking film. I’m alive. I’m complete.”

Steve Morrison blues guitarist

October 17, 2016 § Leave a comment


I saw Steve Morrison play last night at Shortlands Tavern in Bromley. He’s awesome. Just him, an unusual electric guitar (his website says it’s a Fender Bullet) and a home-made stomp box, his right thumb and foot thudding out the bass-line and rhythm while his other fingers work out continuous riffs and slide magic.


October 13, 2016 § Leave a comment

Notes on the history of the Indian left

October 13, 2016 § Leave a comment

By 1991, the Indian left found itself in utter disarray. The restoration of capitalism in the bureaucratized workers’ states and the Indian government’s pro-China reaction to the Tiananmen Square violence weakened their political position. While relatively left trade unions still had strength, left parties, in sheer numerical and parliamentary terms, had very limited responses.

The largest left party — the Communist Part of Indian (Marxist)(CPI(M)) — supported neoliberal policies when they were in power in West Bengal, and were voted out in 2011. Worse, they drastically lost touch with their traditional base.

Meanwhile, the number of workers led by the Central Trade Unions(CTUs) shrank. Between 1991 and 2006, almost nine hundred thousand jobs in the nationalized sector disappeared. Compounding this, India has not delivered a meaningful increase in the number of private‑sector jobs either. The National Sample Survey Office data on jobs in 2011 showed that between 2004–5 and 2009–10, only one million jobs were added. Meanwhile, the economy was growing at a record average of 8.43 percent annually, and, shockingly, 55 million people joined the labor force.

On activist money-related decision-making

October 11, 2016 § Leave a comment

[The] list of things that are important to you…tends to get bigger in middle age, when it might include many of the appurtenances of a middle-class lifestyle, including a comfortable house in a safe neighborhood, a college fund for your kids, a retirement fund for you and the ability to take care of your parents should they need help. All this, by the way, has nothing to do with selling out, and everything to do with common sense, meeting your obligations to yourselves and others and not being a burden on your loved ones. It also has to do with building the kind of happy, stable life that fosters a sustainable and productive activist career.


Of course you can make choices, lots of choices. You can buy a small house or a co-op, instead of a big house with a big mortgage and big heating bills. You can drive an old car, or not use a car at all. You can have one kid, or no kids, instead of two kids. And you can ask that kid to attend a state college for a couple of years before transferring into the Ivy League. These kinds of compromises are recommended by the authors of two excellent books on money management, The Millionaire Next Door and Rich Dad, Poor Dad. Every activist should read them. (Hillary Rettig, 2006, The Lifelong Activist: How to Change the World Without Losing Your Way page 41)

see also

“blues after hours” ELMORE JAMES british blues movement research #1

October 11, 2016 § Leave a comment

jkm>27/5/07>I’ve been wanting an Elmore James CD in my collection for awhile. I’m debating between the Rhino release of The Sky Is Crying: The History Of Elmore James, and Whose Muddy Shoes, with all his Chess sides.
I assume that sound quality is inconsistent but I have most of the Chess 50th Anniversary CDs and they sound pretty good for the most part. Hence my interest in the Chess CD.


signothetimes53>27/5/07>The Chess “Whose Muddy Shoes” is essential stuff, though it does not feature the raw, distorted slide guitar that Elmore recorded prior to recording for Chess. “Sky Is Crying” is decent, but there are better compilations out there.
If you can find it, you should start with “Classic Early Recordings, 1951-1956” box set, now OOP, issued on Ace in the U.K. It is Elmore at his loudest, rawest, most electric best.
Easy to find, and, my second choice, is the recently issued (in 2005) “Blues After Hours” also on Ace. What makes this compilation so special?
Someone at Ace found some master tapes of a bunch of Elmore’s early recordings that are audibly superior to anything previously issued. I’ve been listening to Elmore since 1970, and I thought it was just hype when this CD was issued that it was sonically a “revelation”….but I bought it anyway, and was startled at how someone really did find some tapes that were spectacularly better than any other issues of this material.

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