Archive for November, 2008

  • Rob Spectre
  • 30
  • Nov
  • 08

For me, Christmas music time starts the day after Halloween, but in deference to the Scrooges that serve as my intimate circle of colleagues and friends I don’t pull out the ear buds until after Thanksgiving.  For the irascible sort that an irascible sort would surround himself with, the holidays are equated more with the kind of savage materialism we bore witness to this weekend.  Such an event should not be celebrated they say, least of all in song.

Curmudgeons they may be, but they do have ample reason to complain.  The salesmen Santas and the sizzling credit cards, the lines at the checkout counters and the awkward family dinners could be rightly all they see during the end of December.  The broken angels of our modernity hark all over their holiday spirit.

While I remain unable to muster a persuasive argument to turn the hearts of Grinches, what they cannot deny is that a lot of Christmas comps kick ass.  Christmas time in my humble home never sounds like a sad sack layaway aisle at Target.  Real Christmas music is large and ambitious and dynamic and powerful, and is uniquely suited to be rendered in popular music.

To help solve your holiday blues, I’ve put together a list of the essential records needed to drive that cold winter away.

1) The Vandals – Oi to the World

Regarded by many to be the finest record The Vandals put out, Oi to the World is a Christmas album I listen to year round.  Largely the production of Vandals guitarist Warren Fitzgerald, the tongue-and-check homage to the holidays was released in the midst of drummer Josh Freese’s rocket-ride to the most popular drummer in rock and roll.  Mostly a set of brilliant holiday inspired original compositions, the record contains such classic Christmas tunes as “My First X-mas (As A Woman)” and “Christmas Time for My Penis.”  Their rendition of “Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies” knows no current equal by any ensemble in any age while the tale of Trevor and Hajji in the record’s title track is one of the great unity anthems of our time.

2) Shawn Lee’s Ping-Pong Orchestra – Funky Treats From Santa’s Bag

My big find this year for Christmas music was this often overlooked experimental latin funk/jazz collection of Christmas covers that bring new definition to the musical concept of fusion.  The brainchild of Wichita native Shawn Lee, Funky Treats includes an interpretation of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” that brings to mind immediately “House of the Rising Sun” and a funktacular “Carol of the Bells” quite unlike any ever put to wax.  The tutelage of Jeff Buckley is thoroughly present with a Christmas album that is unafraid to experiment with no sacrifice to pretension.  A booty-shaker through and through.

3) Nettwerk Records – A Winter’s Night

By the far the superior of the Nettwerk Christmas comps, A Winter’s Night is the go-to record for a lo-fi, family safe audience that also requires music that doesn’t suck.  Contained herein are the killer medley arrangement of the “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “We Three Kings” with Barenaked Ladies and Sarah McLachlan as well as McLachlan’s own Christmas classic “Song for a Winter’s Night.”  Further gems are found with The Clumsy Lovers picking up the obscure holiday novelty followup to “Snoopy vs. The Red Baron” and “All I Want” by the Weepies.  Additional comic value is added by the comp’s only low point: the ridiculous pairing of Chantal Kreviazuk with Avril Lavigne on “O’ Holy Night.”  With little similarity in either natural ability or training, it seems the common thread that compelled Nettwerk put these two women in a duet was the exceptionally uncommon spelling each woman’s name.

4) A Very Special Christmas Volumes 1, 3, 5

One should only watch even numbered Star Trek movies and, inversely, listen to odd numbered Very Special Christmas comps.  A six volume set of benefit albums supporting the Special Olympics, this Very Special series feature all-star lineups performing home-run arrangements – so long as you only listen to every other one.  The first installment includes Run-D.M.C’s anthem for Christmas in the 80’s “Christmas in Hollis,” Sting’s brilliant vocal piece “Gabriel’s Message,” and the epic U2 track “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).”  Volumes Three and Five have unmissable appearances by Blues Traveler, Smashing Pumpkins, Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds, and an “Ave Maria” by none other than Chris Cornell.  Nevermind the Debbie Gibson/Bon Jovi fronted trainwreck of Volume Two or the well-intentioned but ultimately uneven Very Special Live – were the series limited to these three, Very Special Christmas would rate as the best compilation series of all time.

5) Reverend Horton Heat – We Three Kings

The rockabilly giant nails this authentic, energetic martini-driven collection of Christmas standards.  We Three Kings is the Reverend’s latest and hopefully not last studio record coming at the tail end of exactly two decades in the crazy ride that’s showbiz.  The affair is much of what one would imagine: Gretch-heavy instrumentals dripping with reverb sprinkled into a buffet of oozing South Texas swing.  But what makes this album a Christmas essential are the expectations it defies.  “We Three Kings” is unapologetically bop while “Silver Bells” may never been wrought with blues this genuine.  By comparison, the pair of Christmas offerings from fellow rockabilly luminary Brian Setzer seem like Nutrasweet in a season made for sweet teeth.

6) Joey Ramone – Christmas Spirit… In My House

In the very small club of posthumously released Christmas EPs, the title must belong to the one released on a holiday no punk felt much like celebrating.  Released a year after Joey Ramone died, the Christmas Spirit EP served as the holiday companion to Joey’s simultaneously released solo record Don’t Worry About Me.  Sharing the full length’s title track and the best cover of Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” a man will ever record, this Christmas record deserves consideration greater than the gravity of circumstance it bears.  If anything, the elevated status of its author suddenly enjoys is a liability.  Christmas Spirit is a Christmas essential in the same way that Rocket to Russia is a high school essential. There is a reminder in the music of Joey Ramone that this too shall pass, that greater days are ahead.  It’s music that screams “don’t worry about me.”

If there is ever a time of year when punks need that message most, it is Christmas.

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  • Rob Spectre
  • 28
  • Nov
  • 08

Even before the dawn arrived on America’s shores, her citizens were lined up in front of Wal-mart and Best Buy and Target and Toys R’ Us to participate in the post-modern commercial orgy of the Thanksgiving season.  Dubbed “Black Friday” by the profiteers who manufactured it, the day after Thanksgiving is the kind of spectacularly crass ritual that only this day and age could birth.  Temporary savings tempt idolators to mob the big box retailers en masse with the kind of one-of-a-kind savings that diehard shoppers would kill for.

This 2008, they finally did.

Photo: Lone Primate

Photo: Lone Primate

Three people died in two separate incidents today.  In southern California, members of “rival groups” opened fire at each other in the midst of a savings confrontation at Toys R’ Us.  Police alluded to the murders being collateral damage from a gang conflict that found its way into the holiday shopping season.  The other, more disturbing incident was the product of pure greed when a temporary maintenance worker was trampled to death by a 5am rush of shoppers.

Jdimyati Damour approached the front door that was beginning to pop off its hinges as a psychotic mob clamored for entry.  The crowd knocked him to the ground, crushing and twisting the door’s metal frame and Damour’s mortal body.  The suburban New York mass of crazed shoppers tore down a door and a man to compete for flat screen TVs with one-time pricing of $798 or The Incredible Hulk on DVD for a bargain $9.

The eyewitness account is precisely as mortifying as the headline:

“When they were saying they had to leave, that an employee got killed, people were yelling ‘I’ve been on line since yesterday morning,’” she said. “They kept shopping.”

While hostages are still held in Mumbai in the latest front to open in this war on terror, while Americans boys and girls fight and die in Fallujah, and while hospitals in Gaza beg for the diesel to power their respirators and X-ray machines, we are killing each other in Wal-mart.  We are murdering ourselves and our moral leadership for an extra 20% off.  A shopping fatality during any time would scream and point at a fundamental value vacuum in our society.

That a shopping fatality died during these times in a world suffering this much suggests a willful ignorance so vile as to suggest an institutional inhumanity.  It suggests our very way of life is animal.

Jdimyati Damour died today so someone else could buy a blender on the cheap.  He was 34 years old.

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  • Hala V. Furst
  • 27
  • Nov
  • 08

When I was graduating from high school and moving on to college, I developed a habit of falling asleep watching Mystery Science Theatre 3000. I’m not proud of it, but there it is. Every night I would drift off to the dulcet tones of Mike and the ‘Bots. There was something comforting about the absurdity of a man and his robots, united against the travails of space, forced to watch horrible B-Movies as part of a mad experiment. It was comforting because I too felt like my life was heading into the abyss, running headlong towards the frozen unknown of the University of Minnesota. It felt absurd to be leaving my home, my family, all my friends. But I had to do it, or risk never knowing what I could be beyond the boundaries of Wichita, Kansas. And MST3K helped me get there.

Now, back in the ‘Ta, I sit in my parents living room watching the Thanksgiving version of Night of the Blood Beast. The trajectory of my life has ricocheted me from Kansas, to Minnesota, to Rhode Island, with stop-offs in California, Maine, and much of Western Europe. But nothing I’ve seen in my travels is as piss-your-pants funny as watching a grown man wrestle with a diminutive robot over the existential question: stuffing or potatoes? Never having been much of a Thanksgiving food fan myself, I personally feel strongly towards potatoes, for their non-Thanksgiving utility. But on a buzz of tryptophan, chardonnay, and central heating, I’m feeling gregarious towards stuffing. I’m not inviting it to my wedding or anything, but I’ll give it a place at the table. The point is, with my father snoring on the couch, my mother making stupid puns beside him, and crappy B-movies on the new flat-screen, I’m officially home for the holidays.

So what is it that makes home, home? Why is it that I ran as hard and as fast as I could from this one-horse, one-cable company, one-newspaper, one movie-theater-owner town, and still find myself longing for the big skies and wide-open highways of my childhood? To go to sleep in my tiny twin bed, to feel my feet hit the edge of the mattress in a way that is rare for a woman of all of five feet tall. Where things are clean and tidy, except for the accumulated clutter of letters, books, briefs, and all the pleasant detritus of a middle-age marriage. Where everywhere I turn I see my face, in a variety of ages, shapes, sizes, degrees of happiness, but always treasured. These are the things that make my home, home. These are the things that draw me back here, not just in place but in spirit, to a time when I felt what it was like to be safe and certain, to be loved and able to love fearlessly. Here I had a net, into which I could safely fall. I had to leave to know how important that was. And I know I can’t come back, at least, not forever.

So perhaps my ramblings are not the most revelatory for this most ordinary of holidays. But home is an ordinary and extraordinary place. I know that for many, home is not the place you grew up, home is a place you’ve created and cultivated. Either way, it doesn’t matter.  Home is just the name we would call ourselves, if we were a place instead of a person. It isn’t always pretty, and it isn’t always happy. But hopefully for all of us it is a place where we can laugh, and sleep, and dream the dreams of childhood, full of bad special effects and sarcastic robots.

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  • Rob Spectre
  • 26
  • Nov
  • 08

If the attending heads of state for the G20 summit were any indication, 20 January couldn’t come soon enough.  Lining up to pose for a photo, the leaders of our global economy assembled and greeted each other.  They shook hands and smiled in a sorely needed gesture of solidarity as the world navigates its first economic crisis as one.  They shook hands and bid welcome to everybody but one -- the President of these United States.

Respect is just the latest casualty of the Bush administration.  Its twilight seemingly neverending, the house of cards he built collapsed conveniently in the last year of his presidency, rendering perhaps the lamest duck to exit the Oval pond ever.  The Bush administration in effect ended last January, the focus shifting to the promise of tomorrow as the first primary contests were underway.  While the influence of any American president is quick to fade in that last year, never in modern memory had one been this marginalized this early.

The G20 aren’t the only folks who have lost fully their taste of treating George W. Bush as anything more than he deserves. The least successful leader this country has had in the last century suffers from singular disapproval from quarters both public and private.  Largely, his own party and indeed his own administration seems to be joining the American people in their desire to disassociate.

If Republicans were quietly keeping their distance during the campaign season, in its ruinous aftermath they seem to be running in a flagrant dead sprint.  With Black Friday looming -- the single most important day of this critical Christmas for retail -- everybody seems to be speaking except for the commander-in-chief.  Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson announced a new nearly trillion dollar money printing plan without so much as a peep from the White House.  Another $800 billion dollars is a tough sell and the Bush administration seems intent to keep the name “Bush” as far away from the pitch as possible.

When Dubya arrived at the Clinton White House, they were welcomed by a mess of suspicious pardons and the “W” missing from every keyboard.  That kind of cold welcome is unlikely to be waiting for the next guy.  In fact, before bailing out Citigroup it seems Bush called President-elect Barack Obama to coordinate the announcement of his economic team as a one-two punch.  Knowing his time is already up, Bush seems intent on winning at least one positive distinction -- the president who made his passing the easiest.

This Thanksgiving week the only presidential action Bush has taken was the pardon of a turkey.  If the irony was lost to this gobbler of a presidency, it surely will not be lost to history.

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  • Rob Spectre
  • 25
  • Nov
  • 08
  1. “Hey, is that guy peeing?”
    “Hey, is that his penis?”
    “Hey, is that guy pouring his beer on the peeing guy’s head?”
    “Hey. Let’s keep walking.”
  2. Looking for quality blog content, he took my picture and asked how I came up with the design of my haircut. I really need to come up with a better answer than “by accident.”
  3. The homeless woman cooed with delight as she shuffled past us, licking and talking to the rat that was trying desperately to escape her iron grip.
    It would be nice if I could eat lunch one fucking time outside in this town without regretting it.
  4. “Nice! The news said a ton of people were at that protest.” the SMS read.
    “Yeah. This would have been great a month ago.” read the reply.
  5. As he talked to the cop, he paused mid-sentence to apply another rag to the gaping wound on the back of his head.
    The gay couple beside me whispered quietly, “Oh my god. He is never going to get that stain out of his collar.”
  6. The bouncer handed me back my driver’s license with a smile. “Hope you’re having fun in America.
  7. Passing a lemonade stand on the walk from the rail to my house, I passed a lemonade stand selling big cups of freshly squeezed for five cents. On a sunny Friday afternoon with a cool breeze, I had a fine cup of lemonade after a solid day’s work. In November.
    Ever so often, San Francisco does get it right.
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