Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Whatcha Readin’ and Listenin’ To Wednesday: November 26, 2008

After binging on Gabriel-era Genesis last week—I’ve still got the second disc of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway in my car as I finish up the box set—I’ve returned to a more typical wider mix of things this week.

I love the fact that much of the metal I’m hearing this week owes so much to classic progressive rock. The influences are clear when you listen to something like Mastodon right after early 1970s Genesis. (Mastodon’s Bill Kelliher has said that the band’s forthcoming Crack the Skye will lean even more strongly on the band’s progressive roots.)

I’ll be traveling the rest of the week. Happy Thanksgiving to all!


The World Without Us, Alan Weisman: After seeing the History Channel special “Life After People” earlier this year, this similar book caught my eye at the bookstore. It’s not as good as I’d hoped but raises awareness of the enduring nature of plastics, among other things. Also fun are details about which animals would thrive and which ones would struggle without us around.

Acacia, Book One: The War with the Mein, David Anthony Durham: Akin to George R.R. Martin’s epic Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series, this novel weaves a tale of historical political enmity and personal ambition into high fantasy. It’s good enough that I’ll be looking for Book Two: The Other Lands to come out sometime next year.

Listening To:

Mastodon, Blood Mountain
Dream Theater, Systematic Chaos
Genesis, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
The Power Station, s/t
Tool, 10,000 Days
Scott Weiland, 12 Bar Blues

Friday, November 21, 2008

Musical Roots

So Paul McCartney is now saying that The Beatles might finally release “Carnival of Light,” the much-hyped, fourteen minute avant garde audio experiment from early 1967.

The track wasn’t good enough to include in the Anthology set, which should tell us something. The “new” songs there, the embarrassingly mixed “Free as a Bird” and “Real Love,” were mind-numbingly bland and served as a warning that we’ve already heard the best of The Beatles.

But because anything John, Paul, George, and Ringo touched in the 1960s has a mythical aura, fans say this "Carnival of Light"—with its lack of rhythm and melody and random shouts like “Barcelona!” and “electricity!”—proves The Beatles were improvisational pioneers. Just as “Helter Skelter” anticipated heavy metal and the “White Album” laid the foundations for progressive rock, so they say, this song shows how much psychedelic and art music owes to the Fab Four.

Don’t be surprised if Paul also starts pushing to release these other “missing” Beatles tracks that had a huge influence on future music:

“Staircase to Paradise”: This missing Beatles track built up from an acoustic guitar intro to a dramatic crescendo of riff-heavy electric guitar and pounding drums, providing the template for hard rock bands from England.

“Remainin’ Alive": With its disco beat—years before we even knew what a disco beat was—this hidden single (which the band cryptically recorded under the name “The Beatle-Gees”) revolutionized dance music in the late 1970s.

“Every Inhale You Take”: A simple yet elegant song, the likes of which other bands couldn’t achieve until the mid-1980s.

“The Odor Resembles Adolescent Spirit”: The Beatles were so groundbreaking that they invented alternative rock before rock itself has solidified. Whiny, angst-heavy lyrics and distorted electric sounds from Liverpool wouldn’t take off again until two decades later in Seattle.

“Sensual Back": The Beatles not only invented pop, but apparently also hip-hop. And wow, they could dance. Only in recent years has another skinny white guy been able to parallel their work.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Whatcha Readin’ and Listenin’ To Wednesday: November 19, 2008

Usually I split my time among many visual and audio inputs. In addition to two or three books going at any given time, I flip between CDs rather frequently.

Not this week.

My attention since last Wednesday has been solely on one box set: the just released Genesis set covering the Peter Gabriel years. Five albums are here—Trespass, Nursery Cryme, Foxtrot, Selling England by the Pound, and the two-disc concept album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway—as is a bonus disk of non-album tracks, including four previously unreleased bits from 1970.

Being a huge fan of the classical Genesis lineup (before Peter Gabriel and Steve Hackett left the band), I’ve loved hearing the remixed albums. Making my way through them chronologically has been a voyage of rediscovery.

And it has accomplished something nearly impossible: It has focused my attention on only one group for an entire week.

Listening To:

Genesis, 1970-1975 Box Set

Friday, November 14, 2008

Don’t Believe Everything You Read

Remember that “news” reporting about a McCain policy adviser who leaked that Sarah Palin thought Africa was a country—not a continent?

Remember how it fed into our beliefs about her lack of Palin’s intellectual heft, reinforced by the way she sounded in media soundbites more like Frances McDormand from Fargo than a traditional politician?

Psychologists call this the “confirmation bias.” It’s a fundamental human tendency to interpret new information so as to confirm one’s existing beliefs—and to discount data that contradict these beliefs. Whether we know what it’s called, we all do it.

Thankfully, we have the impartial, unprejudiced, fact-checking media to keep us as close to objectivity as possible, right??


It turns out that the Africa story—and several other comments and observations from this McCain adviser—were, well … made up.

Yup. News outlets from MSNBC to The New Republic, from The Los Angeles Times to Fox News, fell prey to a simple scam whereby nonexistent McCain adviser "Martin Eisenstadt" offered up juicy tidbits, and reporters bit right in.

The race to be the first to a “story” crushed what was left of journalistic integrity.

Passing on rumor and hearsay as truth—especially when it fits into one’s preexisting notions—is one of the things that pisses me off most about political bloggers. And this story shows mainstream media isn’t immune.

If there’s anything we can learn from this case, it’s this: Think twice before passing on what you hear as “the truth.”

And if by some chance this whole “it’s a hoax” thing turns out, in turn, to be another hoax, let’s all give up and move away.

Let’s go to Africa. I hear it’s a nice country.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Whatcha Readin’ and Listenin’ To Wednesday: November 12, 2008

I appreciate your response to this new feature. It’s been great to see what’s getting your attention, and it’s given me a few ideas for future readings and listenings. Don’t worry—this Wednesday thing will not supplant all other posts here; despite a crazy couple of weeks, I’ll have a “traditional” rant post up later this week.

I’ve finally wrapped up Thomas Friedman’s Hot, Flat, and Crowded. (Trust me, listening to a book read over 17 CDs is no easy feat.) A couple of books have had me spending ample time tiring my eyes, as you’ll see below, but it’s a musical highlight I’ll share with you this week.

For more years than I care to count, I’ve admired and respected the music of Steve Hackett, so much so that I planned a trip to London a few years ago around the chance to see his triumphant acoustic concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall.

Hackett was the lead guitarist in Genesis back in the classic days of the band—when Peter Gabriel sang, before pop trumped progressive for the group’s soul. His catalog since he left the band in 1977 has included some aural brilliance, including one of my featured CDs this week, Spectral Mornings (1979). The title track, in particular, is a moving instrumental piece that this week—like in many occasions before—brought tears to my ears upon a focused listen.

I don’t care what flavor of music you enjoy the most—pop, rock, classical, metal, you name it—get this song from iTunes. Then grab a glass of your favorite wine, turn the lights down, breathe deeply, and bask in the pure emotion he brings out of his guitar.


The Road, Cormac McCarthy: I bought this a while back when it first came out in paperback. But I only just got around to reading it, spurred on by a blurb about the forthcoming movie adaptation, starring Viggo Mortensen. The last time I saw a movie without having read the book upon which it was based (The Golden Compass, based on Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights) I vowed to read the book first. It’s sparsely written and dark—it is McCarthy, after all—but hard to put down.

Death By Black Hole and Other Cosmic Quandaries, Neil deGrasse Tyson: The most publicity-savvy astronomer of our generation explores aspects of space and our place in it—including what would happen to you if you fell into a black hole. Often repetitive, but greatly entertaining.

Listening To:

Steve Hackett, Spectral Mornings
Finger Eleven, The Greyest of Blue Skies
Frameshift, Unweaving the Rainbow
Anthrax, Persistence of Time
Don Henley, Building the Perfect Beast
The Who, Who’s Next

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Whatcha Readin’ and Listenin’ To Wednesday

It’s a new feature on this site—and a tribute to one of my favorite bloggers—even if a day late.

Ray over at The Metal Minute is taking a well deserved blogging break to take care of higher priorities, something I greatly respect.

To honor his choice—and to keep alive one of his most entertaining “audience participation” features—today I begin a weekly series both to let you know what I’m reading and listening to and to find out what’s getting your attention. Sometimes I’ll offer my reasons for jumping into these books and CDs as well as insights on the choices to spur some of your own.

This week, I’m finishing up my long listen to my first full-length, unabridged audiobook, Thomas Friedman’s Hot, Flat, and Crowded. This follow-up to the impressive The World Is Flat presents the unique challenges presented by the interaction effects among global climate change, globalization, and demographics but also offers suggestions for making our way out of this mess. I’ve been slow to come around to the topic of global climate change—finding it easier to hide my head in the sand than give it any serious thought—so I’ve found his research and ideas particularly intriguing.

On the music front, I’m still in the Halloween mood, so my car’s six-CD changer retains some of the holiday mood music.

Reading (or having read to me):

Hot, Flat, and Crowded, Thomas Friedman (on CD)

Roma Eterna, Robert Silverberg: A fun alternative history of how the world might have developed during the past two millennia if Christianity had not spread through the Roman Empire and the mighty empire had not fallen.

Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious, Gerd Gigerenzer: All about the power of thoughts that we don’t even know we have.

Um … : Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What They Mean, Michael Erard: Why do people fumble for the right word? Are verbal fillers like “um” and “uh” signs of unprofessional speaking? Erard addresses these and other questions in a book that makes “um” much more interesting than it has a right to be.

Listening To:

Tiamat, Amanethes
Nine Inch Nails, The Fragile
Iron Maiden, The Number of the Beast
Rush, 2112
Soundtrack, Underworld
Soundtrack, The Crow
Genesis, A Trick of the Tail
Eagles of Death Metal, Death By Sexy