THE ABSENT

THE ABSENT
THE ABSENT - out now!

CRIPPLED HEARTS

CRIPPLED HEARTS
Out Now - For sale on Amazon and other onlne book sellers

SOLIDARITY WITH THE FLESH EATING MOSAIC AND OTHER POEMS by Raj Dronamraju

SOLIDARITY WITH THE FLESH EATING MOSAIC AND OTHER POEMS by Raj Dronamraju
Out Now

THE RETURN OF THE MAGNIFICENT NINNY AND OTHER POEMS by Raj Dronamraju

THE RETURN OF THE MAGNIFICENT NINNY AND OTHER POEMS by Raj Dronamraju
My first book of poetry available through Amazon and other online booksellers www.rajbooks.com

Sunday, December 21, 2014

MUSIC ROUND-UP DECEMBER PLUS BEST RECORDS OF 2014


D’Angelo and the Vanguard – BLACK MESSIAH

The fourteen years between BLACK MESSIAH and D’Angelo’s slow burning masterpiece VOODOO are immaterial as far as I can see as a guy like D’Angelo lives in his own world of sonic experimentation – both sounds and vocals as vision.  MESSIAH is initially more warmer and organic and more upfront than VOODOO if not as deep or layered aurally.  Not as much an attempt at freeform musical revolution perhaps but a wonderful record regardless with especially exquisite vocals.  Numerous musical moments – The Charade, Til It’s Done (Tutu), Another Life.  One note – Apparently the record was moved up for release from next year because of Michael Brown and other civil rights issues although with the exception of 1,000 Deaths and Til It’s Done, most of the other songs don’t seem to be politically themed at all.  Need to read the lyric sheet I guess.


 Engineers – ALWAYS RETURNING

Line-up changes have removed the guitar based showgaze-y aspects of Engineers’ sound (Perfectly showcased on their best record THREE FACT FADER)  but not the dream-like vibe or the otherworldly sense the vocals give us.  Lone original member Mark Peters brings enough of established Engineers mojo and German electronic music staple Ulrich Schnauss fills in the rest with washes of synthesizer sound like waves alternately lapping and roaring onto a beach.  I could have done without the two instrumentals but otherwise great.  


Also as we are the end of the year here are my picks for best records of the year.  I didn’t hear a lot of great new music this year but what I did hear was excellent and played often.  The good new music I heard this year was often synth based, electronic.  I also dug several future classics by old farts, established acts.
  
Ten Best Records of 2014
Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott – What Have We Become
Morrissey – World Peace is None of Your Business
Wild Beasts – Present Tense
D’Angelo and the Vanguard – Black Messiah
Arthur Beatrice – Working Out
Gardens and Villa - Dunes
Bear in Heaven – Time is Over One Day Old
Bryan Ferry - Avonmore
Phantogram – Voices
Engineers – Always Returning

Honorable Mentions
Bombay Bicycle Club – So Long, See You Tomorrow
Bob Mould – Beauty and Ruin


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A FEW THOUGHTS ABOUT THE FLASH TV SHOW


As the Flash TV show is now on its mid-season break for about a month or so, I thought it would be a good time to give my opinion on it.

And my opinion is I think it’s excellent.  The best live action comic book TV series I’ve seen (which is a relatively small genre I know).

Very simply put - it has made the right choices in what to keep from the comic book and what to change for the benefit of TV to modernize and streamline the narrative in order to reach a TV audience.

First and foremost, the ongoing story arc of Flash’s mother’s murder by Reverse Flash (Not sure yet if it is Eobard Thawne or Professor Zoom) has been handled superbly with their first meeting in battle tonight extremely thrilling.  My opinion – Reverse Flash is Eddie Thawne or one of his ancestors seeking revenge, upset that Iris left him for Barry (It hasn’t happened yet but it most assuredly will).  Professor Wells is either Barry Allen (or Bart Allen) from the future or even more intriguing Vandal Savage.  Savage also had time travelling technology and is the kind of villain to come up with a big plan like this.

In general, the villains have been very good.  Wentworth Miller’s Captain Cold and Nick Tarabay‘s Captain Boomerang were both handled well and I look forward to seeing Gorilla Grodd, Mirror Master, and Killer Frost in future episodes.  The Flash series that ran for one season also had a few good villains but its great flaw was putting The Flash up against rather mundane menaces, a mistake this show has not made yet.  My only word of advice is they should have consistently strong villains. Most have been good but a few of the villains so far such as Girder and Rainbow Raider were third rate.  However, from what I’ve read plenty of good villain to come.

Also if they are in fact planning to spin off Firestorm into his own show, I hope they somehow incorporate the were-hyena story arc from the comic book - that was wild.

To sum up, I am a fan of comic books (It’s been a long time but I am planning on getting back to blogging about comics soon) and The Flash TV show has retained the vibe, mood, and narrative structure of the comics while updating the stories.  I hope it stays this thrilling!      

   

Sunday, December 7, 2014

A FEW THOUGHTS ABOUT BRINSLEY SCHWARZ


Listening to CRUEL TO BE KIND the second volume of Nick Lowe's first band Brinsley Schwarz's live BBC performances.  Brinsley Schwarz is like the Velvet Underground of 70's 80's British singer/songwriters - Ahead of Elvis Costello, Squeeze, Graham Parker but influencing all in sound and songwriting.  In particular two of their records are absolute masterpieces - SILVER PISTOL and NEW FAVORITES OF.  Their version of  "Cruel to be Kind" written by Lowe and fellow band member Ian Gomm was originally supposed to be on their seventh record but they broke up first and Lowe snagged it for his solo career. 

Robert Christgau, the esteemed rock critic, once wrote (and I’m paraphrasing that) Brinsley Schwarz initially came across as England’s answer to country rock with a Hammond organ in place of the pedal steel.  That in itself was a revolutionary bit of instrumental placing. 

However, what really made Brinsley different was Lowe’s songwriting which quickly evolved and pulled the band out of the amiable country influenced jams of the first two records and into a vehicle for top notch pop songwriting.

Their discovery of English pubs as places one could tour and make a career would influence the punk and new wave bands that came later in the 1970’s.  This was a big advance that gave bands a way to reach a greater audience without being played on the radio.

Listening to their charming, unpretentious, catchy music buoyed by Lowe’s clever lyrics and hooky melodies, one sees the whole new wave scene of the 70’s and early 80’s pre-synth pop.  If there was ever a band that lacked commercial success but had massive musical influence, it’s Brinsley Schwarz. 



CAN THE DEMOCRATS WIN BACK THE SOUTH?


Food for thought....

Governorships, senate seats, state legislatures controlled by the Democrats in deep south states

1960 - 100%
2002 - 60%
2014 - 0% (After Mary Landrieu's projected loss in LA senate run-off)

Now there are a number of reasons for this from white racists leaving the Democratic Party over its support of civil rights legislation in the 1960’s to aggressive courting by the Republican party to social issues to the final throwing off Civil War party identification to this president who many white Southerners can’t stand for racial or ideological reasons.

But does this have to be a permanent condition?  Are Democrats from now on permanently marginalized in Dixie?

Maybe not.  It is clear to me that Republicans win in the South because they know how to play up issues that are good for them such as social issues and rejection of convenient government targets such as Obamacare as well as dog whistle racial appeals.  Under this pretence, many Southerners will vote against their own best interests. 

The main failure of Democrats running in red states (whether it be in the South or anywhere else in the USA) is running as faux Republicans.  This might work for awhile, a term or two depending on the weakness of the opposition, but given the choice between a Democrat attempting to appear conservative and a real Republican the voters will choose the Republican.      

While voters were busy voting out Arkansas senator Mark Pryor, a conservative Democrat, in favor of Tom Cotton, a far right wing Republican, they also voted for a raise in the state minimum wage.  This also happened in a few other states as well  - Voting out incumbent Dems but voting for issues more associated with the Dems that were on the ballot.

The way for Democrats to win elections in red states is to do what Republicans do – Talk about the issues that are their strengths not mimicking the other party.  The minimum wage is a good example.  Pryor in Arkansas opposed the idea of a federal minimum wage and was a grudging supporter at best of the state measure that passed.

The notion of America’s poor and lower middle class as “temporarily disadvantaged millionaires” in their own heads is present only because no one rebuts this notion with the idea of positive programs and legislation that can help people in poverty.  Ignore issues where the majority in a state might be split or opposed and focus on economic issue such as minimum wage, equal pay for women, college student loan debt etc.  The Democrats can go a long way to winning governorships, senate seats, and state legislatures in the South and other red areas if they pursue this as their strategy.  


Saturday, December 6, 2014

A FEW THOUGHTS ON THE MURDER OF MICHAEL BROWN


I have held off commenting on the Michael Brown verdict because I wanted to read the grand jury testimony for myself which I finally did.

Here are some problems and overall thoughts that I have....

1.)  How far was Darren Wilson when he shot Brown?  Originally the police said 35 feet.  Subsequent investigation shows that Brown was 148 feet away from Wilson when he was shot.

2.) By his own testimony, Wilson chose not to have non-lethal means of subduing a suspect in his car – He did not like to carry a taser because it was “too bulky” and pepper spray was out of reach he said when Brown reached through the car window .  So the only way to subdue a suspect is deadly force?  Wilson partly blamed his police department for this – Is this normal police procedure?

3.) Brown was shot nine times.  In addition, at least one bullet was dug out of the wall of a nearby house.  How many times did Darren Wilson fire his gun?  Was this absolutely necessary?

4.) Aside from dehumanizing Brown by calling him “it” and “a demon”, Wilson in his testimony said over and over again how Brown was a big man, 6’4.  What he left out was while Wilson is about 40 pounds lighter, they are the exact same height!  Both are 6’4!

5.) We were told Wilson had severe injuries because of Brown.  This was information supposedly leaked by Ferguson PD.  None of that was true.  Wilson had red marks on his face with no swelling which could have been the result of other things. Also scratches on his neck?  According to released medical info, Wilson suffers from Eczema (as do I) the photos on Gawker look more like that.

6.) Brown’s friend, Dorian Johnson, testified Wilson used obscene language and was rude and confrontational from the get go.  This jibes with at least two other people living in the same community who came forward with past Officer Wilson stories.  Remember Officer Wilson did not know about them as suspects in the store robbery at that time at the time he initiated the confrontation.

7.) Officer Wilson originally stopped because they were walking in the middle of the street.  Apparently, according to witnesses, so were a number of other people.  It’s a small road not a freeway.  Why did Officer Wilson just single out these two?

8.) Regarding the store robbery, many unanswered questions – I looked at it again and the full security video shows money being placed on the counter for the cigars.  The altercation between Brown and the storekeeper seems to occur because of something else – Brown reaching over the counter or something the storekeeper says.  In his testimony, Dorian Johnson says while he did not see Brown pay for the cigars, there was some conflict which he didn’t fully grasp (or he was he told to say this in exchange for not being charged with marijuana possession – I think the fix was in from the start)

9.) The storekeeper did not call the police when Brown supposedly stole the cigars.  He was very quick to say this.  Unfortunately, and I saw this when I lived in Los Angeles with Korean shopkeepers, immigrants who come over to the US sometimes absorb pre-existing prejudices against African Americans.  The newsmedia has not covered this story but this guy did have some confrontations with locals in the past. 

10.) The behavior of the prosecutor Bob McCulloch was shameful from his past ties to police organizations (through his family) and prior defense of police brutality to how he presented information to grand jury attacking Brown and not contradicting Wilson when he spoke or properly cross examining him to the victim blaming psychotic news conference immediately following the verdict(Where he basically said Wilson was innocent – I’ve never heard a prosecutor do that before)  to how he released information.  I think the federal government should investigate his behavior

11.) Darren Wilson was paid $500,000 for his interview with George Stephanopolous.  In addition, more than a million dollars were raised on his behalf.  I hope Michael Brown’s family sues him in civil court. 
12.)  While it’s true there was conflicting eye witness testimony, that’s not true on every aspect  http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/newly-released-witness-testimony-tell-us-michael-brown-shooting/  Seems like Darren Wilson was the one who was most inconsistent in his testimony.
In the end, while this is not as clear cut an example of police brutality as other recent cases, I do think the prosecutor’s behavior alone warrants the Department of Justice to get involved.


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

THE ASSOCIATION'S DISCOGRAPHY - AN APPRAISAL


(Awhile ago, I did an overview of the discography of Poco which can be found here -http://rgdinmalaysia.blogspot.com/2014/04/pocos-discography-appraisal.html.  I received good feedback on that so I am going to do the same type of post about The Association)

What I always liked about The Association’s music was the perfect balance.  On one hand it really was an association, a seemingly faceless group with beautiful airy vocals, occasionally one voice taking the lead out of a cloud of ethereal and majestic harmonies.  On the other hand, the music was varied and direct enough that it didn’t float away and leave no further impression.

The varied arrangements of their records coupled with the great songwriting of both band members and outside songwriters made for some truly timeless classic albums.  When they did make some music that was inferior in comparison, it was largely due to a breakdown in  the latter rather than the former.

This is because every Association record sounds great – what with what I said about the vocals, also the use of strings and guitars and various studio touches.  Effortlessly lush in every groove. 

My reflection on the Association’s discography (Listed by preference)

BIRTHDAY
For many years, INSIGHT OUT was my favorite Association album but that changed when I listened to their re-mastered discography with headphones.  BIRTHDAY, their fourth record and the one immediately after INSIGHT, finds the Association grappling with psychedelia in a much more comfortable way than a lot of their peers and it has an absolutely gorgeous sound even now.  Maybe this was because the sunshine pop movement was already halfway there?  There is nothing slyly poppy here.  These are big songs full of giant verse-chorus structures.  Moments of vocal drama are wrung out of every rising chorus, every giant fade-out.  Their best record contains one knockout track after another – Toymaker, Everything That Touches You, Rose Petals, Incense and a Kitten, Barefoot Gentleman, Hear in Here, and Time for Livin’ (which should have been a much bigger hit)....A masterpiece!


INSIGHT OUT
My favorite until moved to second behind BIRTHDAY.  Bolder version of their first two records with better studio craft and more diverse arrangements and instrumentation from traditional radio fare such as Windy and Never My Love to the sitar driven Wantin’ Not Gettin’  to the Gregorian chant enhanced Requiem for the Masses.  Not a bad song here really.  Also a masterpiece.   


THE ASSOCIATION
The group’s self-titled fifth record changes their music up slightly with some small country touches such as a banjo and pedal steel guitar as well as more guitars acoustic and electric.  The lyrics are more reflective of what’s going on and the overall tone is more world weary.  However, this is still The Association and there are plenty of pretty vocal moments and orchestral magnificence.   The songwriting is driving the music here and this is a superb bunch of songs – Dubuque Blues, Goodbye Forever, The Nest, Love Affair.


AND THEN...ALONG COMES THE ASSOCIATION, RENAISSANCE
What’s surprising about the first two Association releases in retrospect is how stripped down they are in comparison to their subsequent records.  It’s the vocals that elevate the music here which is largely guitar, bass, drums, with the odd keyboard.  RENAISSANCE may be ever so slightly stronger songwise (Looking Glass, Pandora’s Golden Heebie Jeebies, Memories of You) but their first one has the monster hits Cherish and Along Comes Mary and a youthful energy that is amazingly down to earth.



STOP YOUR MOTOR
Carrying the light country touches of  THE ASSOCIATION onwards and making a connection to the faceless beauty of early 70’s AM radio, there are many things I like about this record but sentimentality and the smell of product unfortunately start to inhibit the feel of the music.  



THE REST OF THEIR RECORDS (WATERBEDS IN TRINIDAD, GOODBYE COLUMBUS, VARIOUS POST-BAND RELEASES)
WATERBEDS IN TRINIDAD, the last of the original Association releases, shows a group fraying around the edges and consumed by studio overproduction.  There are a few good songs here but overall lifeless and bland.  In between, BIRTHDAY and THE ASSOCIATION, they did the soundtrack for the movie GOODBYE COLUMBUS featuring four songs of which only It’s Gotta’ Be Real is more than just average.  The rest is amiable aural wallpaper – Association instrumentals.    Over the years, various versions of The Association have cut records  consisting of cover versions of sixties hits as well as re-recordings of their own songs.  I’ve never heard any of these records but I imagine they are best avoided.

Probably the most intriguing musical tidbit about the Association is after WATERBEDS, the band recorded another record tentatively titled THE ASSOCIATION BITES BACK.  It was never released although was rumored to have more of a R&B sound as a few leaked tracks to YouTube show.  



Monday, December 1, 2014

WHY I AM OPPOSED TO PLANNED PARENTHOOD


There are scientific reasons why mankind has become hypersexual.  Better healthcare and nutrition means people becoming more sexually active earlier.  Animals even those as advanced as human beings will always have the urge to procreate more often and continue the species if the conditions are right.

But culture has a lot to do with it too and by this I’m primarily talking about America.

Teenagers in America are bombarded with sexual images from now lesser offenders television and advertising to the porn of the Internet.  The exposure to the latter depends on the supervision of parents but that’s increasingly harder in this online society.

I should say before I continue that I support sex education in the schools.  The correct biological information should be given to everyone but it should be removed from advocacy.  Just as abstinence based education has shown to be a complete failure and there is no place for religious dogma in public schools much less sexual education classes , the same is true about encouraging teenagers to have sex.

No one is doing that you say?

Allow me to tell you a story about Planned Parenthood.  When I was a teenager I had a female friend who viewed me as a confidant.  She was quite attractive and dated a lot and revealed to me that she had recently consulted Planned Parenthood as she was considering beginning a sexual relationship with her boyfriend.  Like a lot of teenagers, she did not have strong beliefs on this matter other than a general fear of sex as something unknown and/or something frowned upon by society.

What she told me was Planned Parenthood had not only provided her will all sorts of birth control but had told her that sex was natural and something she should do. 

It seems wrong to me that an outside organization like Planned Parenthood should be allowed to do give advice like that to underage children.   This is not about abortion.  I am pro choice basically and I am aware that abortion is a relatively small part of what Planned Parenthood does.  I am more concerned with this.

If I had a son or a daughter, they would hopefully in an ideal world come to me if they had questions on sexual matters.  I would not shame them but my counsel would be to put off sex at least until they were done with school and in their 20’s.  That may seem terribly old fashioned but studies have shown that those who have sex at an earlier age are more likely to be promiscuous and less stable in their future romantic relationships. Most teenagers are not mentally capable of properly processing a sexual relationship which is why divorce and rape and a whole host of other ills related to the interaction between the sexes are rampant in the West.

You see Planned Parenthood was started by Margret Sanger whose goal (an admirable one) was to provide birth control to poor women.  She is a villain for conservatives who point at her affiliation with the Klu Klux Klan and belief in eugenics and keeping the population of African Americans and immigrants down as well as sterilization and abortion.  Sanger also believed in open marriage and was a bit open sexually even by today’s standards.

That’s all well and good but today’s problem is not so much sexual repression but the opposite – kids exposed to too much too soon.  The internet makes porn part of every kid’s rite of passage (which is not healthy) and in every way kids are encouraged to dress and act like adults.

In the end, adults should make their own decisions about sex, when to have it, who to have it with but young people especially are prone to pressure in this way and  the need adults they feel comfortable talking to.  Families are best or professionals (counsellors) who deal with children but not outside organizations trying to foist their perverse values on people.  

Planned Parenthood feeds the immoral decadence of Western culture, a dying corrupt empire.

Planned Parenthood, leave those kids alone!