Albums as Texts: the Misfits, Static Age; Dead Kennedys, Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables (Punk is Undead)

“Come sweet death, one last caress”—the Misfits
Althusser, Louis; On Ideology
the Misfits, Static Age
Dead Kennedys, Fresh Fruit for Rotten Vegetables
Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism

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This is a column about album lyrics as text, not a music history column.  We will analyze album lyrics for meaning, examining with close readings album titles, song titles and close reading of lyrics.  How do social, economic and political moments effect Youth Culture, and how are these interpreted through Youth Culture?  We are looking, reading and listening for the microcosm of the album, and the broader macrocosm of Youth Culture in the 1970’s, 80’s and more recent decades.]

The misfitsWhat kind of television was Glen Danzig of the Misfits watching in ‘70s New York?  Where can I get some?

The Misfits’definition of Ideology is simple: television.  “We are a static age…a T.V. Casualty.”  This televised Ideology could be broadened to include: schooling systems, religious systems, medical/psychiatric systems, family systems and governmental systems.

Louis Althusser begins his writing on Ideology like this, “As Marx say, every child knows that a social formation which did not reproduce the conditions of production at the same time…”  Break it down, now, Althusser:

In Althusser’s fully developed document, On Ideology, he simplifies, “Ideology, then, is for Marx an imaginary assemblage…the pale, empty and inverted reflection of real history.”  Althusser implies that Marx underemphasizes the importance of Ideology in framing, indeed creating, real history.  But what is real history?  He explains, “The Communist Manifesto defines history as the history of class struggles…class societies.”  In a Marxist and post-Marxist understanding, it is the exchange of goods, money and shifting of people across classes that marks real history.
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Albums as Texts: Garbage Gives the Finger (‘90s rock)

“Sex is not the enemy” — Shirley McClain


Garbage, Garbage
Garbage, Version 2.0
Garbage, Beautiful Garbage
Garbage, Bleed Like Me
Garbage, Not Your Kind of People

[This column is about lyrics as text, not a history of music column.  We are listening through close readings for the microcosm of the album and the macrocosm of Youth Culture.]

The band Garbage is the rare group that unerringly creates albums with textual unity.  Headed by Shirley Manson, but backed by drummer and groundbreaking producer Butch Vig— responsible for the enormous sound of Nirvana and the Foo Fighters— Garbage not only creates unified albums every time, but has a meta-arc to their career when considering all the albums together.

The eponymous first album creates the structure and vision— explicated below; Version 2.0 continues this, with even broader pop-rock results, and Beautiful Garbage— though decidedly less successful— follows the same formula.  However, when their record label Almo Sounds was overtaken by Universal Music Group, Garbage was assigned to the Geffen label.  David Geffen is infamous as one of the biggest jerks in the music industry, suing Neil Young in the mid-eighties for not sounding enough like himself.

So Mansion and Vig gave him the finger.
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The Week’s Best Book Reviews: 6/3/14

[In this feature, we highlight a handful of the best book reviews appearing over the weekend in major newspapers. Follow it here.]

Holy crap it’s been a while.  Any-who, now that I’m free to read again, let’s get sharing.


bugjunkNature’s Nether Regions, by Menno Schilthuizen. Reviewed by Tess Taylor (Barnes and Noble Review).

Yup, it’s a book all about the diverse rainbow of animal junks in the world. Read the review.


Rules of Summer, by Shaun Tan. Reviewed by Sarah Harrison Smith (New York Times).

The best kids’ books, to my mind, are the ones people might think are too heavy for children. Seems like a solid indicator that the book is asking children to consider something of more consequence than sharing on the playground. So I love lines like this in a review:

Though boys in the real world play roughly, and like to imagine adventures in which they are the lone survivors of a catastrophe, the dystopian setting of “Rules of Summer” may disturb readers more than they — or their parents — would like.

Tan’s The Arrival is a beautiful picture book that came out years ago and manages to touch on some heavy themes without a single word of text. Also this one’s got demonic rabbit monsters with fuchsia eyes hunting down the world’s children or something. Awesome.


Music at Midnight: The Life and Poetry of George Herbert, by John Drury. Reviewed by Michael Dirda (Washington Post).

There’s actually nothing special about this review of a book that’s basically lit-crit of a relatively obscure poet who died 5 centuries ago. I just really like that Dirda has reached the point where he basically reviews whatever he feels like for WaPo. Good on him. 


Quickly: This Amazon – Hachette thing is getting pretty ugly. Maybe I’d care more if it were somebody else and not Hachette, I have a hard time drumming up any sympathy for the James Patterson factory. British schools aren’t teaching books by American authors anymore, instead are doubling down on the whole dead white (British) man thing, which will surely do wonders for their students’ world views.

Albums as Texts .) METALHEADS

the tower“Metal is tough, metal will sheen,

metal won’t rust when oil and clay…

Must go recycle my precious machinery…

Metal, metal, metal, metal, metal postcard” — Siouxsie from the Banshees

reading: W.B. Yeats, the Tower
Ozzy Osbourne, Diary of a Madman
Motorhead, Ace of Spades
Metallica: Master of Puppets
movie: This is Spinal Tap

[This is not a history of music column.  This column is about lyrics as text, analyzing lyrics for meaning, close reading of album titles, song titles and close reading of lyrics within the microcosm of the album and the broader macrocosm of youth culture in the 1970’s, 80’s and more recent decades.]

No musical analysis, this week.  But analysis of the heaviest poet of all time, inventing themes in the tradition of High Modernism that will preoccupy Metalhead lyricists for the rest of time.  This is an altered state of consciousness from Neo-Liberalism, Yeats poems, metal lyrics. His images and notions have reverberated across metal texts for a century now.

Metallica’s pre- Black Album main statement is through their music: specifically Lars’ drumming evolves the lengthy songs in builds, swells, in directions with vast scope.  Lemmy from Motorhead is a stark realist, concerned with his own temptations and the common outlaw, such as in his song about roadies.  Their first venture from 70’s Punk Music to the Goth-Metal that would obsess them in the 90’s, the Siouxsie and the Banshees song quoted in the paratext above is a song about a class reunion invitation. Like Patti Smith, in my column on her I say Ozzy Osbourne has a non-normative lived experience, mentally, coming through in his lyrics: a drunkenness, both chemically, but also in terms of brain capacity.  Ozzy is my favorite metalhead lyricist until Mastodon, he is so specific in his detail.

W.B. Yates was drunk on cultish, Celtic mysticism.  One of the most complex and influential poet of the early 20th century, the images in Yates’ texts frequently reference this mysticism, a distinctly metal approach to High Modernism.
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Albums as Texts: Less than Jake, Pezcore; Eastern Standard Time, Second Hand (ska-core)

“No Andre the Giants were harmed during the production of this cd… What’da ya think.  What’da ya think” — Eastern Standard Time

Richard Kearney, On Paul Ricoeur: the owl of Minerva
Less than Jake, Pezcore
Eastern Standard Time, Second Hand
the Pietasters, Awesome Mix Tape No. 6

[This column is about lyrics as text, not a history of music column.  We are listening through close readings for the microcosm of the album and the macrocosm of Youth Culture.]

pezcoreI grew up on ska-core, and still love it.  Definitely check out Awesome Mix Tape No. 6 and Second Hand, they are definitive of the genre.

Bit of a tradition of self-apologizing with Ska-core— as though the genre needed defending.  In that vein, here’s this.  Call this column mainstream, if you must; Less than Jake is sorta the biggest hits of ska-core, and Eastern Standard Time is hardly hardcore ska.  There is much more ska in the underground.  But I believe the cream does rise, and this column is about the lyrics.  Keep tuning-in to this address for some much deadlier ska-core lyrics.

Eastern Standard Time’s album has very few lyrics, but it speaks none the less.  Except for three originals, the songs are covers of Jazz and Be-bop classics, so second hand refers to a second-hand use of the songs.  With the clock-related name of the band, this becomes a clever pun, and a definitive moment for the album.  Like many albums in the ‘90s– including intellectual hip-hop– there is a hidden track at the end of the album.  This features an impersonation of Andre the Giant, which speaks to the giant song writers covered on the album.
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The Week’s Best Book Reviews: 4/23/14

[In this feature, we highlight a handful of the best book reviews appearing over the weekend in major newspapers. Follow it here.]


capitalCapital in the Twenty-First Century, by Thomas PikettyReviewed by Daniel Schuchman at the Wall Street Journal.

I’m not sure what the marketing department was thinking when they sent a review copy of this book to the Wall Street Journal. I assume whoever sends out the ARCs just didn’t read it, because it’s the equivalent of sending lamb to be reviewed by a wolf. Among Piketty’s ideas: imposing an 80% tax rate on income over $500,000 in order “to put an end to such incomes,” and further taxing existing wealth at up to 10% annually, which would effectively destroy it. You can just imagine how the Wall Street Journal might respond to such ideas. Schuchman calls the book “a bizarre ideological screed,” and sneers at Piketty for implying a “moral illegitimacy” inherent in the accumulation of wealth. Methinks he doth protest a bit too much, eh? It is great fun, though, to watch two sides so dramatically far apart huffily clash, while simultaneously blinding themselves each to the other’s point of view.


Leaving the Sea, by Ben MarcusReviewed by Stuart Kelly at the Guardian.

I missed this latest Ben Marcus book when it came out. I’ve read Marcus before and found him quite interesting, if not exactly satisfying on a narrative level, like a lot of experimental writers. Kelly sounds positively knocked out by Marcus’s distinct style and these stories, many of which sound more “normal” than the Marcus work I read.


All God’s Dangers, by Theodore RosengartenReviewed by Dwight Garner at the New York Times.

Dwight Garner revisits the nonfiction book that won the 1975 National Book Award (over Woodward and Bernstein, a biography by Robert Caro, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and Studs Terkel’s Working). It’s the oral history of an illiterate share cropper named Ned Cobb. Interesting stuff.


In brief: The NYT has a new feature in which authors “discuss” books. This week some asshole I’ve never heard of shits on T.S. Eliot. At least the NYT still accepts negative reviews. … Salman Rushdie writes about Gabriel Garcia Marquez.“The story begins with a long, graphic torture scene, turns to comedy and reaches an unexpected ending.” I bet it ends with me not finishing the book. … New research says that people get nicer as they age. Except Republicans.

The Week’s Best Book Reviews 4/8/14

[In this feature, we highlight a handful of the best book reviews appearing over the weekend in major newspapers. Follow it here.]


lefthandturnA Left-Hand Turn Around the World, by David Wolman. Reviewed by Maria Popova (Brain Pickings).

This might be a weird admission, but I’ve always wished I was a lefty. I’ve even spent time teaching myself to do things left-handed, though the results are invariably sloppier than my natural right-handed efforts. That aside, this book, which explores the history of left-handed sounds fascinating (Latin for left is sinister? I should have taken Latin in school). If this sounds familiar, it’s because Wolman was recently on an (also fascinating) episode of RadioLab talking about this stuff.


Lost Animals: Extinction and the Photographic Record, by Errol Fuller. Excerpted in Scientific American.

Not a review, strictly speaking, but this book looks pretty neat. The title pretty much explains it: the book is a compendium of documentation of animal species that no longer exist. It’s incredibly fucked up that the human race has managed to wipe out as much life as it has, and books like this are a good starting point for reflecting on all the damage progress leaves in its wake. Old nature photography is mesmerizing in its own right too, and particularly in the cases where, as the author notes, “the fact that photographers often had no idea how important their photos would become. They didn’t necessarily have any insight into the notion that their subject would soon become extinct.”


Frog Music, by Emma Donoghue. Reviewed by Janet Maslin (New York Times).

Donoghue’s last book, Room, at once impressed and infuriated me. It got mostly love around the bookosphere despite, or perhaps due to, its gimmicky narrator. (The story was told from the maladjusted perspective of a 5 year old child of a kidnapped rape victim who had spent his entire life imprisoned in the same small room with his mother.) It doesn’t surprise me then, that without such a crutch there’s not much to like about Donoghue’s latest, which is based on an unsolved murder from the late 19th century. Maslin actually comes right out and says that the “afterword is a more interesting telling of the story.” Ouch.


Quickly: Home Movies might be my favorite TV show off all time (though I think I’ve also said that about Twin Peaks, Arrested Development, and Miami Vice plenty), and I found this write up of the show particularly astute.I still haven’t read anything by Karen Russell, and I’m not sure I want to start here. John Paul Stevens is convinced Shakespeare wasn’t really the author of all that good stuff.

Albums as Texts: The Day the Country Died, by the Subhumans; Horror Epics, by the Exploited (’80s Hardcore)

“Micky Mouse is dead” — the Subhumans

Alan Moore, Watchmen
The Subhumans, The Day the Country Died
The Exploited, Horror Epics
The Ramones, Too Tough to Die

SUBHUMANS[Punk music: what does it mean?  When and where does this turn to hardcore, punk-rock, intellectual hip-hop, grunge, alternative and indie music?  How do social, economic and political moments effect Youth Culture, and how are these interpreted through Youth Culture?  If punk is about tearing down, what remains when all is torn down?  I argue these questions can be answered through a close reading of the best albums in the punk project and the following punk tradition.  We will listen for a close reading of the album as microcosm and the broader macrocosm of Youth Culture in the ‘70s, ‘80s and more recent decades. This column is about lyrics as text, not a history of music column.]

The mid-‘80s were a dark period in the lyrical zeitgeist of the English speaking world.  The very real fear of nuclear destruction at this time is best captured by Alan Moore’s graphic novel Watchmen.  Though the threat-watch color spectrum has mostly replaced notions of a Doomsday Clock, this constant visual motif in the novel of one-minute to midnight– symbolically, doomsday– was a stark reality.  Whether this doomsday would be ecological, nuclear, the gang warfare of Youth Culture, or the best intentions of those trying to save the world–I won’t spoil–read the novel for the greatest climactic gross-out in all of comic-books, a gross-out avoided by the movie.
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Programming note: the end of Book Radar

When I started writing the Book Radar column, almost three years ago, I was working at a bookstore, spending a fair amount of my weekly time paging through catalogs of upcoming releases, and marking the books I was interested in. The column was a natural byproduct of all that casual research.

In the time since, I stopped working at the bookstore and stopped having access to both the catalogs and the spare time to idly flip through them. Instead, I’d pull interesting books from Kirkus, which handily laid out reviews for all the books coming out in the next few weeks. Unfortunately, Kirkus changed their format, and you can no longer sort out upcoming books, and I can’t find a similar website that will let me research a Book Radar column in less than eight hours.

So I’m retiring the Book Radar column, and instead we’ll continue to highlight interesting books in the Week’s Best Book Reviews feature, it’ll just be after they come out. (And no, this isn’t the world’s worst April fool’s joke.)

The Week’s Best Book Reviews 3/26/14

[In this feature, we highlight a handful of the best book reviews appearing over the weekend in major newspapers. Follow it here.]


overwhelmedOverwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, by Brigid Schulte. Reviewed by Jennifer Howard (Washington Post).

Oh man, I wish I was joking in saying I’m too busy to read this book right now. Never in my life have I had so much to do as this spring. Part of me actually loves it, and part of me wants to go live in the woods and eat berries around a campfire for the rest of my days. Much of my consolation though, is knowing that my current busy-ness levels will subside in another month. But what about those of us who are always busy, no matter what our life situation. Why do we do it to ourselves (or why do we construct a society that demands it)? Seems like a decent rumination to base a pop-sociology book on. I’ve added it to my Amazon cart, but I’ll be waiting until I have more free time to actually read it.


Blood Will Out, by Walter Kirn. Interviewed by Walter Kirn (New York Times).

The pretentiousness of someone interviewing themselves is a pretty big turn off for me, especially when they open with wearing fancy clothes and packing up zebra striped undies. But Kirn’s weirdness (he wrote Up in the Air, which became that Clooney movie a few years back), which is plenty evident in this self-interview, led him–apparently out of boredom between books–to befriend a con-man/impostor/murderer who went by Clark Rockefeller. I don’t know, I probably don’t want to read his book about it, but whatever this is is worth a look.


Cycle of Lies, by Juliet Macur. Reviewed by John Horn (Los Angeles Times).

I could give two fucks about the sport of cycling or its athletes’ integrity, but I do very much enjoy the schadenfreude that follows a rich, colossal douchebag’s fall from grace. Lance Armstrong’s downfall was his own hubris and assholishness, and the more books like these (the review also discusses Wheelmen by Reed Abergotti and Vanessa O’Connell) that pile on the denigration of his name, the better.


Quickly: Anyone in DC should try and attend the 826 fundraiser event tomorrow, C4 knows a couple cats who will be there. This book collecting American interpretations of Shakespeare through the years looks fairly interesting. An agent doesn’t like the idea of publishing with Amazon, shocker.