Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Stream the new Pixies album, "Indie Cindy"

The Pixies (minus Kim Deal) will release their first album in thirteen years, "Indie Cindy," on April 29.

Curious listeners can now stream the album in its entirety at NPR's website.

Friday, April 18, 2014

"Magic A is Magic A" and other elements in the Periodic Table of Storytelling

Earlier today I came across "'The Periodic Table of Storytelling' Reveals the Elements of Telling a Good Story" at openculture.com

According to the article, the table's creator, James Harris, "has taken all the tropes, archetypes and clich├ęs found in movies (not to mention TV, comic books, literature, video and even professional wrestling) and synthesized them into an elegantly realized chart."

This interactive version of the table allows the reader to peruse 176 tropes in detail. For example, the "Magic A is Magic A" trope has a lengthy main entry, a three-sentence analysis ("This trope is one of the primary advantages some media types have [over] others. Anime and manga, literature, and webcomics usually decide how the magic system works before they even start, and move on from there. Live action are usually much worse about this, and end up fumbling and falling into New Powers as the Plot Demands more."), a "laconic" analysis ("Made-up elements behave consistently"), a "playing with" tab which demonstrates different applications of the trope, quotes about the trope, and last but not least, a discussion board

The same exhaustive treatment exists for 175 other tropes, including "Deus ex Machina," "Obstructive Bureaucrat," and "Star-Crossed Lovers." Whatever your favored format(s), The Periodic Table of Storytelling is both a great resource and a window into the rich variety of narratives available to 21st Century storytellers. 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Great guitar solos, #7: Buckethead meets Bernie Worrell and Les Claypool

Buckethead turns 45 today. 

Though perhaps best known to the general public for his mask and unique headgear, Bucket is an exceptionally versatile musician with sizzling guitar chops. 

In two decades on the music scene, he has collaborated with Mike Patton (Faith No More), Iggy Pop, and Bootsy Collins, and ably manned the lead guitar post in a Guns 'n' Roses re-boot. He has created a sprawling catalog of experimental solo releases which incorporate multiple genres, from metal to funk to hip-hop to electronica to moody instrumental ballads to jam rock and even hints of new age music. And when the moment is right, Bucket can transform himself into a robotic dancer.

The video below from Bonnaroo features Buckethead in big company:  the fearsome Primus rhythm section (Les Claypool on bass, Brain on drums) and Bernie Worrell, the emeritus keyboardist from Parliament-Funkadelic. Buckethead is capable of dizzyingly fast shred guitar, but here he lays down a molten, blues-based jam over a deep pocket, an example of the heady blend of technique and feeling Buckethead can draw on. In whatever context(s) he chooses to pursue, Buckethead will continue to generate original music and wicked fretboard work for many years to come.    

      
***

Other Truth and Beauty guitar hero essays:

Click here for "Eddie Van Halen's 'Fair Warning':  an Appreciation"

                                    here for "The Second Coming:  Stevie Ray Vaughan," a first-hand                                                                  account of Vaughan's final concert


here for "It was 70 years ago today:  an appreciation of Jimi Hendrix"
                       
  here for "Link Wray's 'Rumble'"     
                  
here for "Great Guitar Solos, #1:  Eddie Hazel (Funkadelic)"

here for "Great Guitar Solos, #2:  Frank Zappa"

here for "Great Guitar Solos, #3:  Hiram Bullock" 

here for "Great Guitar Solos, #4: Dweezil Zappa Nails 'Eruption'"

here for "Great Guitar Solos, #5:  Alvin Lee"

 here for "Great Guitar Solos, #6: Neil Young's 'Hey Hey, My My'"

and here for "Shut Up 'N Play Yer Guitar - The Six-String Wizardry of Frank Zappa, Part II"

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

21st Century Republicans, Part IV

"Even as science, technology, and the human race evolve, vocal sectors of the GOP remain stuck in reverse—and proud of it. To capture this bizarre phenomena in real time, I am christening a semi-regular new series—'21st Century Republicans'—where I will share surreal GOP episodes of bigotry, misogyny, or hostility to science and reason."

-21st Century Republicans, the mission statement





Since Part III of "21st Century Republicans" came out three weeks ago, the crazy has continued apace. While the civilized world embraces the strides made by our gay, lesbian, and transgender brothers and sisters these past few momentous years, GOP reactionaries (including Governor Rick Perry, pictured above) maintain an unhealthy fixation on the things other people do with their genitals.

"Susanne Atanus, Who Blames Gay Rights For Tornadoes, Wins GOP Nomination For Congress"

"NC GOP candidate tells 6th grader: Gay marriage is like 'man marrying a dog'"

"Watch: 'Obama May Well Be A Homosexual' Says GOP Candidate For Governor"

While South Dakota's Phil Jensen openly advocated for legalizing discrimination, Republican State Senator Dale Schultz attacked Wisconsin Republicans for discriminating against minorities on the sly:

"Wisconsin Republican Legislator Tears Into His Own Party For Voter Suppression"

"As his own party pushed through the Wisconsin Senate the latest in a series of measures to make it harder to vote in the state, Sen. Dale Schultz (R) blasted the efforts as 'trying to suppress the vote' last week."

"....It’s just, I think, sad when a political party — my political party — has so lost faith in its ideas that it’s pouring all of its energy into election mechanics...it ought to be abundantly clear to everybody in this state that there is no massive voter fraud. The only thing that we do have in this state is we have long lines of people who want to vote. And it seems to me that we should be doing everything we can to make it easier, to help these people get their votes counted. And that we should be pitching as political parties our ideas for improving things in the future, rather than mucking around in the mechanics and making it more confrontational at the voting sites and trying to suppress the vote."


While Dale Schultz was being a responsible legislator, his Republican colleague Scott Fitzgerald was engaged in crass cronyism: 

"In a Sunday editorial, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel noted that the connection between Fitzgerald and his brother’s insurance lobbying 'looks suspicious and smacks of special interest politics.'

"'This is a matter of fairness for people facing grave illness,' the editorial added. 'Whatever his motivations, Fitzgerald is singlehandedly blocking a bill that most of his colleagues support and that could help people — probably some of his own constituents. He should allow the bill to come to the floor.'"


Idaho Republicans endangered air and water quality in a fit of ideological pique:


"Idaho House Committee Passes Bill To Get Rid Of All EPA Regulations"

Despite rhetorical efforts from Republican GOP puppetmasters to pretend otherwise, the GOP's hostility to women continued to leak out. 

"[Republican Senator Mitch] McConnell fundraiser: Wives owe their husbands sex even if they're not in the mood"

"'Dirty Old Man' Judge Wants To Tell Women Lawyers What To Wear"

"A [Republican] male federal judge in Nebraska is getting attention for writing a blog post Tuesday about 'how young women lawyers dress.'

"'I have three rules that young women lawyers should follow when considering how to dress for court,' U.S. District Court Richard Kopf wrote on his personal blog. '1. You can’t win. Men are both pigs and prudes. Get over it. 2. It is not about you. That goes double when you are appearing in front of a jury. 3. Think about the female law clerks. If they are likely to label you, like Jane Curtin, an ignorant slut behind your back, tone it down.'"

"Pat Robertson Says Woman’s Atheism Caused by Rape or Demonic Possession"
"A 2010 video of Michigan's likely Republican Senate candidate surfaced on Equal Pay Day on Tuesday. The video shows Land, then Michigan's secretary of state, telling an audience that women aren’t actually interested in fighting for equal pay."

"....'Well, we all like to be paid more and that's great, but the reality is that women have a different lifestyle,' Land said at the 2010 Senior Women's Club event. 'They have kids. They have to take them to get dentist appointments, doctors appointments, all those kinds of things. And they're more interested in flexibility in a job than pay.'"

"Adviser to Texas GOP’s Greg Abbott: No 'evidence' that women are 'significant thinkers'"
To be continued.  
p.s. email GOP episodes of bigotry, misogyny, or hostility to science and reason to benbowdan@gmail.com 

***

Friday, April 4, 2014

David Letterman retires

Many years ago I happened on "The Late Shift: Letterman, Leno, & the Network Battle for the Night," a book about the behind-the-scenes maneuvering for Johnny Carson's coveted Tonight Show seat. 

The major takeaway was that Jay Leno's chirpy, non-threatening personality and bland, by-the-book interviewing style won him the favor of advertisers, who appear to have made the decision for NBC's executive eunuchs.

Fortunately for us, Letterman dusted himself off, moved his quirky, no-bullshit approach from NBC to CBS, and ultimately outlasted Leno. Last night Letterman announced his retirement.  

Letterman won't be off the air until 2015, but now is as good a time as any to take a quick look at some highlights of America's ballsiest, most offbeat late night host.


***

"Late Night with David Letterman" began in 1982. That same year, professional provocateur Andy Kaufmanone of Letterman's regular guestsfaced off against Jerry Lawler, who (Kaufman claimed) had injured him in a televised wrestling match a few months earlier.  



Crispin Glover may've been the most bizarre Letterman guest ever in this 1987 appearance.



Letterman has distinguished himself from other talk show hosts by testing many of his guests rather than merely going through the predictable rituals of mutual admiration. Some of his interviewees have pushed back, including Madonna, who gave as good as she got in this free-flowing 1994 interview.



In 2009, unbeknownst to viewersand Letterman himselfJoaquin Phoenix affected the role of a borderline catatonic as part of an ongoing series of media stunts which he chronicled in the documentary "I'm Still Here." Rather than hold Phoenix's hand through the interview to minimize the discomfort of the moment, Dave responded with the acerbic gusto that has always set him apart from his peers. (Phoenix later explained in a return interview that he had come on the show hoping for "a beat down," and was happy that Dave had obliged.)       


In 2014, Letterman's show lacks the edge it once had, but he has had a helluva runthe longest career in late night history. Few television entertainers can lay claim to three decades of keeping it real.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

First and last sentences

I like first sentences to snap.

But I'm not religious about it. I'm resistant to hard-and-fast rules about creative processes and much more focused on creating interesting subject matter, a clear, readable narrative flow, and a last sentence that pulls the threads tight or leaves the reader with a lasting impression.

And yet. 

The other day I saw "Lists of the Best Sentences — Opening, Closing, and Otherwise — in English-Language Novels" at openculture.com, and found myself pulled in.  

Included in the piece were links to The American Scholar's ten best sentences22 authors' favorite first lines, as well as the 100 best firstand lastlines in fiction, according to the American Book Review.   
Though I haven't read these books in years, the opening sentences in Anna Karenina, Lolita, Ulysses, Waiting for the Barbarians, and Moby Dick had a familiar sparkle and impressed me all over again with their staying power (particularly "Call me Ishmael" from Moby Dick, a three-word sentence which has lasted over 160 years). 

I can't say I was converted to the cult of the opening line, but reviewing these beautiful and timeless sentences was pleasurable, and it did give me something to think about.       

Sunday, March 30, 2014

My new blog.

I started "Truth and Beauty" two years ago on May 26, inspired by a friend's blog and looking for a way to maintain a lifeline to my readers. Most of my online (public) writing at the time consisted of lengthy, heavily-researched features for Kotorimagazine.com. Since I was shifting gears to work on a novel, I knew time-consuming research pieces would be few and far between, creating gaps in my online presence. Starting a blog allowed me to put content out into the world on a regular basis with short-form writing, something I'd previously been allergic to.

Even so, I intended to stick to topical content. I generally don't want "Truth and Beauty" to be about my life; I won't do a post about what I ate for breakfast, my personal relationships, or life challenges because these things aren't interesting to 99% of my readership. For the 1% (family and friends), I've created "The Benbow Blog," which will be less topical and more personal.    

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Patti Smith: The Real Deal

I first came to appreciate Patti Smith five years ago through her debut release, "Horses," a seminal album from the golden age of rock music that had somehow eluded me. 

From the opening line ("Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine") I was hooked. I loved the way the opening track transitioned from a simple ballad to raunchy, fly-away rock, and ultimately to "Gloria." The rest of "Horses" was blessed with reggae inflections, soft, spare piano backing hypnotic verse, shades of punk and the street poetry of Lou Reed, and the undistilled rebel spirit of rock 'n' roll.  

For several years, "Horses" was my sole reference point for Patti Smith. Smith the human being was a blank slate until her National Book Award-winning autobiography "Just Kids" came out in 2010. I didn't jump at first, since I had already read more than my share of rock biographies, but when it became clear that "Just Kids" wasn't about shooting, snorting, and backstage antics, I bought a copy. As I read, I was intrigued by the number of timeless artists Smith rubbed elbows with in Manhattan in the late '60s and early-to-mid '70s and the Chelsea Hotel anecdotes, including an episode where a young Johnny Winter (who turned 70 last month) paced around a room nervously with superstitions of his imminent passing after the successive deaths of JimiJanis, and the Lizard King.

Though some artists are reluctant to discuss their roots, giving the false impression that they possessed magical powers from an early age, Smith's book went into detail about her influences, from Dylan to Jim Morrison to Arthur Rimbaud to Jackson Pollock. It was clear that she was first and foremost a fan and practitioner of art in multiple mediums; gaining notoriety in music was almost accidental.    

Smith's relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe was the heart of "Just Kids." They were
lovers and creative partners who met in Manhattan, young people scraping by on a shoestring budget hoping to make it, vibrating off the rich cultural milieu they'd stepped into. Intertwined with their romance was a deep, enduring friendship. According to Smith, when their physical relationship ended (because Mapplethorpe had come out), there was no major blowup or dramatic distancing. They adjusted to the change in status and remained lifelong friends until Mapplethorpe died of complications from AIDS in 1989.

"Just Kids" gave me a good feeling about Patti Smith the person; the casual interview below (courtesy of dangerous minds.net) from 2009 built on and filled out this instinct. I don't always concern myself with who great artists are or were on a personal level—I'm still in awe of Jimmy Page, though he voted for Margaret Thatcher—but strength of character helps (Hendrix's sweet, humble nature elevated his accomplishments in my mind). Where many great artists are disconnected because they're too deep in their imagination or in a state of arrested development due to the perks that come with their exulted status, Patti Smith comes off as a mensch—a thoughtful, unpretentious person who happens to be famous. Bill Kelly elicits her motivations for coming to New York as a young woman and her life once she got there, in addition to her transformations from drawing to writing to performance recitation to fronting a rock band.


All of the above, plus Smith's closeness to her family, her political conscience (e.g. her outspoken views on the shocking criminality of the Bush Administration at 10:45 of Part II), and her raw and incandescent stage presence shine in "Dream of Life," a full-length documentary from 2008. 


Rather than use the film as a marketing vehicle, with a formulaic linear narrative, "Dream of Life" director Steven Sebring provides a quick synopsis of Patti Smith's life in the beginning, and then follows her around with a camera, free-form like. 

Smith is a personable companion whose values and sensibility are out in the open. The little girl inside the 60-something woman comes out through her curiosity, her free-spiritedness, her interface with the world around her. She lived in the unsexy city of Detroit for 16 years and spends much of the movie in a modest room cluttered with knickknacks and keepsakes, rather than vacuum-sealed in a mansion. As her story unfolds organically, more artistic (and life) influences are name-checked, including the Beats, Walt Whitman, Edgar Allen Poe, Mickey Spillane, Sylvia Plath, Charles Baudelaire, and Hank Williams, Sr.

Above all, Smith has deep bonds with her parents and her children, holds the memory of the departed close to her heart, and always seems aware of who she is and where she came fromshe is a heady artist who remains, refreshingly, forever earthbound.

A sunset in Golden Gate Park








































A few years back on a Monday holiday, I had the opportunity to explore Golden Gate Park from front to back. 

After passing through Sharon Meadow, past the Music Concourse and the Japanese Tea Garden, taking my time walking along the water's edge on Stow Lake, and resting amid the tranquility of the casting pools, I headed northwest, where I crossed a golf course into some treecover.

As pine needles crunched underfoot I looked up to the top of the hill and saw the sun setting overhead. 

This photo is part of "Random San Francisco," a photo essay with 46 images which cover multiple neighborhoods and range from ornate architecture to street scenes to vistas to murals.

Monday, March 17, 2014

21st Century Republicans, Part III

"Even as science, technology, and the human race evolve, vocal sectors of the Republican
Party remain stuck in reverse—and proud of it. To capture this bizarre phenomena in real

time, I am christening a semi-regular new series—'21st Century Republicans'—where I will share surreal GOP episodes of bigotry, misogyny, or hostility to science and reason."

-21st Century Republicans, Part I



Part III of 21st Century Republicans wrote itself. It seems that long overdue social change and a mild-mannered black president continue to drive Republican reactionaries to fits of rage. Here is last week's sample of hate and bile from the GOP, the gift that keeps on giving.

Ann Coulter At CPAC: Democrats Want Immigration Reform for "Warm Bodies, More Votes"

Ann Coulter likens U.S. demographic shift to ‘being raped,’ blames Democrats

"...arch conservative pundit Ann Coulter likened the shift in U.S. demographics to 'being raped' as a room full of attendees of the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference guffawed and applauded."

FRC Hot Mic: Boykin Jokes about Jews, Says Obama Supports Al Qaeda, Sends Them Subliminal Messages

"The Family Research Council’s executive vice president, Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin (retired), was caught on a 'hot mic' following a panel yesterday at the National Security Action Summit, which was held just down the street from the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Boykin could be heard, in an awkward attempt at humor, telling a reporter from Israel that 'Jews are the problem' and the 'cause of all the problems in the world.' Boykin told another reporter that President Obama identifies with and supports Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood and uses subliminal messages to express this support."

GOP Gov. Bobby Jindal: Racism Wouldn’t Exist If Minorities Would Just Act Like White People (VIDEO)

Michele Bachmann: U.S. not ready for female president




"Phyllis Schlafly has latched onto the news from December that the Marine Corps is delaying its toughened pull-up requirement for women, part of the preparation for allowing women to serve in combat roles.

"The delay does not mean that the Marines have lowered the strength standard for people going into combat, but don’t tell that to Schlafly. In her radio commentary on Friday, the Eagle Forum founder declared that 'women in combat are a danger to themselves and also to the rest of the unit' because 'lowering our strength standards sends a message to the world that our military is not as strong as it used to be, and that it’s more important to appease the feminists than to ensure the strength of our forces.'”

Fox Contributor Angela McGlowan Tries To Link Missing Malaysian Airliner To Obama Foreign Policy

Austin Ruse Says Left-Wing University Professors 'Should All Be Taken Out And Shot'


"While filling in today for American Family Radio host Sandy Rios, Austin Ruse commented on the media frenzy surrounding a Duke University freshman who announced that she is a porn actress.

"Ruse, who leads the ultraconservative Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (C-Fam), promptly blamed the college’s women’s studies department and said that 'the hard left, human-hating people that run modern universities' should 'all be taken out and shot.'"


WATCH: Front-Runner in GOP Senate Primary Says Planned Parenthood Wants to Kill Newborns

"According to North Carolina GOP Senate candidate Greg Brannon, Planned Parenthood has a secret plan to legalize the killing of newborn babies as old as three months. Brannon, a Rand Paul-backed obstetrician who is a front-runner for the GOP nomination, made the allegations at a November fundraiser for Hand of Hope, a chain of crisis pregnancy centers he operates in North Carolina."

"As Brian reported last week, Mat Staver is very upset that Rajiv Shah, a Hindu USAID official, was allowed to deliver the keynote address at the National Prayer Breakfast last month, saying it was proof of Obama's 'insensitivity to Christianity.'

"On today's 'Faith and Freedom' radio program, Staver and co-host Matt Barber continued to complain about it, with Barber asserting that the National Prayer Breakfast organizers never should have agreed to allow an 'anti-Christian speaker' to speak at the event even if it meant that Obama would not attend because, by refusing to attend, it would demonstrate to everyone that 'President Obama clearly hates Christianity' and reveal that he 'does not respect religious freedom.'"

Pat Robertson: God shut off D.C. power as a ‘fun’ way to punish Dems for climate lies

"Television preacher Pat Robertson on Thursday explained that God had caused a brief power outage in Washington, D.C. to mock Senate Democrats who held a late-night discussion about climate change.

"The office of the Architect of the Capitol said on Wednesday that high winds had caused a power surge that temporarily shutdown the building’s exterior lights.

"Robertson opened his 700 Club show the next morning by connecting the power outage to the Democrat’s Monday all-night Senate session that brought attention to climate change."


Michigan ‘rape insurance’ law goes into effect

"Michigan residents who buy health coverage in the private marketplace after Thursday will not have access to abortion coverage, even if a pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.

"On that day, a new state law goes into effect that prohibits insurance companies from covering abortion services unless customers purchase separate add-ons – called riders – to their insurance plans ahead of time.

"No insurance companies will be offering those riders to new customers in the private marketplace after Thursday, according to the state’s Department of Insurance and Financial Services."

"....As Rachel [Maddow] explained on last night’s show:

“'Your insurance cannot even cover you getting an abortion if you got pregnant because you were raped. That’s why the law’s opponents are calling it the "rape insurance" bill. No one plans on having an unplanned pregnancy, but if you want to make sure your abortion is covered in case you get raped, you now have to buy special standalone coverage for that in Michigan – if you can find it.

“'If you have been getting your health insurance through your job, maybe there’s a possibility that your insurance company might start offering that coverage so you can plan ahead for an abortion and pay extra now. But if you’ve been buying health insurance on your own, maybe you got new individual coverage as part of Obamacare, then no insurance company will sell you this new special coverage. None. Not one company.'

“'They’re not offering specific abortion coverage to individuals at any price. So Michigan law now says that buying separate abortion insurance is the only way you can have your abortion covered by insurance if you need one. But also that coverage is not available for purchase in the state.'”

GOP Presidential Hopeful Mike Huckabee Says Abortion Will Lead to Euthanizing Old Folks

Fischer: Feminists Have A 'Fundamental Level Of Insecurity' About Their Own Femininity 

"It is no surprise that Bryan Fischer is not much of a fan of the 'Ban Bossy' campaign, saying on his radio broadcast today that the problem with feminists is that they want to be like men because they are insecure about their own femininity and therefore refuse to acquiesce to the role prescribed for them by God in the Bible.

"Feminists, Fischer said, have 'some kind of fundamental level of insecurity about their own nature, about their femininity, some kind of insecurity about being a woman.'

"'We don't need women trying to be like men,'" he added. 'We need more women whose ambition in life is to be a woman.'"


Michele Bachmann Claims Gay People Have 'Bullied The American People'

Bryan Fischer: Gay Rights Will Doom America

"Christian conservative Bryan Fischer on Thursday declared that the world will plunge 'into a moral abyss of darkness' if gay rights prevail in America.

...“'America's future is going to be determined by one thing and one thing only. And that is whether the forces of light or darkness will prevail in the battle over special rights based on sexually deviant behavior.'

“'Every advance of the homosexual agenda comes at the expense of religious liberty.'

"Fischer said that Americans want to believe that 'sodomy and liberty” can coexist 'but it is impossible,' because 'everywhere that Big Gay gains ground, Christ is forced into retreat.'

“'If the forces of sexual deviancy prevail, I submit that every part of our culture will be corrupted,' Fischer warned. 'It will be contaminated beyond repair and America, instead of leading the world, will plunge the world into a moral abyss of darkness and depravity.'”

"A new study, of sorts, by PornHub shows that the southern US states watch the most gay porn of any region of the country.

"The research also finds that Mississippi, Louisiana and Georgia are the top gay-porn watchers of all 50 states."

To be continued.  

p.s. feel free to email GOP episodes of bigotry, misogyny, or hostility to science and reason to benbowdan@gmail.com 

***

Other political writing by Dan Benbow:

"Reasonable Doubt: 50 questions for lone gunman theorists"

"Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Road to the Mountaintop"




"The Master of Low Expectations: 666 Reasons Sentient Citizens are Still Celebrating the Long Overdue Departure of George W. Bush"

"Off the Books: The Outsourcing of American Foreign Policy, Part I -- A Roll of the Dice" features an interview with powerhouse historian Peter Dale Scott, in reference to his book "The Road to 9/11: Wealth, Empire, and the Future of America"

"Off the Books: The Outsourcing of American Foreign Policy, Part II -- Operation Blowback"