Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The 13th sign

What's an Ophiucus?

Apparently, in addition to being one of the 88 major constellations, it's also the 13th sign of the Zodiac. I had no idea there were 13 Zodiacal signs until I googled the word 'Ophiucus', but there you go. I haven't paid much attention to astrology since I stopped reading Sydney Omarr, which happened around the same time I stopped believing in the Easter Bunny.

And what inspired my curiosity? Why, a single by a (French?) group of the same name, who recorded the remarkable single depicted above sometime in the very early 1970s. The A-side, Canadian Bar, is nothing to write home about, but the B-side is another matter entirely. Cette Chanson Vient d'Autrefois (This Song Comes From the Past, according to iGoogle's translating tool) will please anyone who's ever contemplatively grooved to the quieter moments of Spacemen 3. It's a bit like Transparent Radiation, which of course is a wonderful thing to be a bit like.

Apparently, an Ophiucus album was released on Barclay in 1972. Clearly something I need to acquire.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Unbearable Darkness of Being a Citizen of the 'Free World'

Been gone for a while. I know you missed me, and I plan to return to post more frequently. In other self-improvement news, I also plan on learning how to turn water into wine and how to weave straw into gold. Handy skills, those.

I imagine that life in the early 20th century is similar in many respects to life in the early years of the Dark Ages or the Reformation. We can perceive what's happening, but forces beyond our control are driving things inexorably in the wrong direction, and there's little if anything we can do to stop it. Climate change, the gutting of constitutional law, torture and war crimes, the death of the labour movement and the transformation of the United States from ostensibly democratic republic into corporate-fascist state, anti-immigrant xenophobia, porno scanners, the criminalisation of dissent...yeah. I'm not a happy camper. Hopefully things will perk up in a few centuries.

That said, here are two worthwhile links: one to donate towards Bradley Manning's defense fund; the other to donate to Wikileaks.

Fight the power, people. Fight the power.

Meanwhile, I'm happy to report my fantasy baseball team finished third this season, happy to welcome Rich Harden back to the Oakland Athletics (hopefully as a long reliever), and happy to report that Cee-Lo Green's LP, The Killer, was beyond a doubt the best album of 2010. So all is not lost. Yet.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Get Your Lie Straight

If you enjoy late sixties/early seventies soul, R&B, or funk, you absolutely, positively must acquire a copy of this CD. Compiled by my friend Alec Palao for the BGP label, Get Your Lie Straight collects almost two dozen tracks released by Oakland's Galaxy label. I'd been familiar with the sides Little Johnny Taylor cut for Galaxy, but was woefully under-informed about the rest of the label's output.

Turns out Galaxy was run out of a warehouse at 1281 30th St, in the heart of historic West Oakland. Owned by Fantasy Records bigwig Saul Zaentz (I bet he still can't dance!), the label leased records from outside the Bay Area but also released plenty of local stuff, including amazing cuts by Rodger Collins, future Tower of Power vocalist Lenny Williams, and Richmond's Debonaires.

I've been searching for a copy of Collins classic single, Foxy Girls in Oakland, for a while--I'm especially keen on acquiring the French picture sleeve, which features a remarkable snap of the man himself in best JB-style action pose.

The song is as good as you'd expect and an essential part of any good collection of Oaktown sounds, and can now be acquired for a reasonable price as part of this compilation. It's taken me far too long to discover Get Your Lie Straight--the disc was issued in 2004!--but it's going to be a turntable favourite (so to speak) from here on out.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Vito Marcantonio for President

Apologies for the lack of updates, friends. However, after watching Representative Alan Grayson introduce the War is Making You Poor Act (H.R. 5353) on the House floor on May 20, I've been inspired to post this picture of one of the great American political heroes of the 20th century: Representative Vito Marcantonio.

Marcantonio was elected to represent New York's 20th Congressional District in 1934 as a Republican in the Fiorella LaGuardia mould; he moved to the American Labor Party ticket in 1938 and was elected for a further six terms.

Marcantonio was a true progressive who always voted in the best interests of working people (he was a tireless defender of the pro-labour Wagner Act and opponent of the 'pro-slavery' Taft-Hartley Act), whilst also being a vocal supporter of civil rights legislation decades before it was politically feasible. Though it's easy to consider him as a patsy for the Communist Party, Marconantonio fought tooth and nail against blacklisting and HUAC.

We live in a time when very few left-wing politicians are willing to stand on principle. Alan Grayson and Dennis Kucinich are our two current heroes in the House, but whenever I listen to them, I think of Vito Marcantonio. If you've never read his book, I Vote My Conscience, there are plenty of second-hand copies available online for a dollar or two.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Wish me luck

I've been playing fantasy baseball for many, many years now. I've only won my league once (thanks, Rod Beck), but I just attended this year's draft, and this is the fellow I'm hoping will carry me back to glory (not to mention the traditional Yoo-Hoo shower).

This is Andrew McCutchen, 23-year old outfielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates. I have been assured by my crack scouting staff that he's going to be a mega-star...starting, perhaps, this season!

Of course, this being my fantasy baseball team, it'll probably all come down to how well my #6 starter pitches.

Yep, that's ol' Methuselah himself, Jamie Moyer, who'll be backing up my regular rotation of Chris Carpenter, Dan Haren, Kyle Lohse, Homer Bailey, and Bud Norris. Don't worry, though...I've got Stephen Strasburg down on the farm and I'm working on signing Pedro Martinez, too.

There's nothing like a new fantasy baseball season, when hope springs eternal and my astute decision to spend too much on McCutchen and Jason Motte is destined to pay huge dividends by season's end. Yah.

Play ball! I'll be back with something film-y or music-y soon enough.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Le Schpountz

Do you remember where you were when you first heard The Beatles or The Sex Pistols? How about when JFK was shot? The moon landing? The day you realized Sarah Palin really could become President? Well, I recently had one of those moments when everything changes. I discovered Fernandel.

Fernandel was a hugely popular French screen comic of the 1930s and '40s, but--perhaps due to the fact that he looked like the result of a midnight tryst between Rondo Hatton and a horse--he remains virtually unknown to Anglophone film fans. In fact, other than a thankless cameo in Michael Todd's bloated Around the World in 80 Days and Paris Holiday, a lame Bob Hope film no-one's ever seen, Fernandel never made an English-language film.

Turner Classic Movies recently aired Le Schpountz, one of five films the actor made with director Marcel Pagnol, and it's a revelation. Fernandel plays Irenee Fabre, a backwoods son of a shopkeeper whose dreams of cinema stardom apparently come to fruition when a film crew needs to borrow a saucepan from the family store. Bored and in need of distraction, the crew sign Irenee to a blatantly phony contract (he gets a bonus for performing in temperatures above 45 Celsius, or if he develops leprosy whilst working on their film)--but their clueless mark takes it absolutely seriously, and is soon wreaking havoc on the back-lots of a Parisian studio.

It's a delightful film, but it wouldn't be anything special without Fernandel, who seems almost as adept at straight drama as at broad comedy. More, please, TCM!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

GSH no longer MIA

I just found out there's a new Gil Scott-Heron album coming out on February 22. The wife and I have been fans of his for a long time; we saw Gil perform a couple of times in the early '80s, right before he descended into the Hell of drug addiction. I honestly thought the drugs were going to destroy him but it looks like he's beaten them...perhaps this means there's still hope for Sly Stone.

I challenge anyone to watch these videos and remain unmoved. The man is a genius, and I don't use that word lightly. Join me in two weeks in purchasing his new LP, I'm New Here, on XL Recordings.

There's a more substantial film post in the works, so keep checking back!

[Photo taken by avantgardener4 and labeled for reuse on Flickr]

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Off topic

Regular readers know this blog is primarily about music. Well, music and film. And, sometimes, politics. Oh, and budgerigars. But I'm taking a diversion today into treacherously deep waters: the novels of Henry Williamson.

Who, you might ask? Well, you can look him up on Wikipedia or visit the Henry Williamson society, but in short, he was a twentieth-century writer who wrote popular tracts on nature and the English countryside. He's probably best remembered today for his story Tarka the Otter, a book that has remained in print since its first publication in 1927.

This being Pickled Bologna, of course, we're more interested in the books Williamson wrote that have long been out of print. The man was prodigious in his output, completing over 50 books in his lifetime (A relative piker in comparison to his fellow south Londoner, Edgar Wallace, I admit. Incidentally, both he and Wallace lived within walking distance of the gorgeous Hilly Fields in Lewisham--if you've never visited, go! And don't forget to tell Nick Nicely the news!), but the crown jewels of his career were the fifteen volumes constituting a series entitled A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight.

I went through a World War I history phase a year or two back, and at some point stumbled across a reference to the Chronicle. Intrigued and impressed with the weightiness of it all (fifteen full length novels! Now that's entertainment!), I determined to dip my toe into the waters. I tracked down a copy of The Power of the Dead, the 11th volume of the Chronicle, read it, and was instantly hooked--even though I read it out of sequence, which is something I'm generally loath to do.

With an able assist from my parents, I've since managed to acquire an additional seven volumes, have read the first three, and am currently deep into the fourth, How Dear Is Life. The novels are autobiographical, and are renowned for their depictions of the horrors of World War I, but offer rewards far afield from gritty depictions of the battlefield (which don't become a factor until volume 4 anyway). Set in the southernmost suburbs of London, at a time when they were still rural and quite distinct from the Big Smoke itself, the novels relate the story of the Maddison family, with the focus on Philip Maddison, a young man who comes of age during the nineteen-teens. Maddison is, of course, Williamson himself, and the author adeptly recreates the wonders of his childhood and the discomforts of his adolescence and young adulthood, whilst suffusing the books with vivid details of the physical world in which his characters exist.

Imagine, if you will, Thomas Hardy co-writing a book with Charles Dickens, with Hardy toning down Dickens penchant for caricature, whilst still allowing for the richness of character detail we associate with the former boot-blacker. Replace the dark city-scapes and threatening remotes of Copperfield and Twist with the verdant countryside of Return of the Native, squint, and you've almost got A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight.

Though Williamson was a member of the British Union of Fascists in the late 1930s, the Chronicle--written in the 1950s and '60s--actually reflect his pre-Mosleyite socialist roots. Williamson was clearly at odds with his family's old-fashioned Tory politics, and the books display his apparent sympathy for the working-classes and the women's suffrage movement. To read these books now is to relive the final passing of the Victorian era. The Chronicle remains a vital document detailing the arrival of a more hopeful and progressive time, though I'm sure as the series progresses further into its heart of darkness--the trenches of the Western Front--that the brightness and promise of Philip Maddison's life will be dimmed by the harsh taint of reality.

Unfortunately, none of these books are currently in print--but if you have the wherewithal and patience to search for them in used bookstores or at a non-Amazon online site such as Abebooks, you will be richly rewarded. A blurb on the back of How Dear Is Life (my copy cost five shillings when published in paperback by Panther Books in 1963) says the Chronicle is 'one of the few truly great achievements in twentieth-century fiction', and considerations of advertising hyperbole aside, I have to agree.

One final aside: these books would adapt easily to television. There's a hell of a mini-series in here if the BBC were willing to make the investment.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Velvet Not So Underground

I'm sure you're familiar with the lazy old 'only a hundred people listened to The Velvet Underground in 1966, but each of them formed an important punk-era band' maxim. There's a nugget of truth in there--heck, a generous, plus-size nugget--but I'm here today to tell you that the Velvets were, despite their reputation as no-hope musical terrorists, also influential during their lifetime. They obviously didn't burrow their way into pop culture consciousness for another ten-plus years, but someone other than Jonathan Richman was listening to them in their heyday...and here's the proof.

Exhibit A: The Baskerville Hounds, a Cleveland, Ohio band who released their single Hold Me b/w Here I Come Miami on the Avco Embassy label in 1968. Produced by one James M. Testa (surely not the same James M. Testa who contributed liner notes to Screeching Weasel's 1996 LP Weasel Mania??), the single peaked at number 88 on the pop charts--and that was it for The Baskerville Hounds, who never had another sniff at the big time.Hold Me is a P.J. Proby song, executed nicely by the Hounds in a big, brash, garage-pop style that probably sounded dated to Cream and Hendrix-addled hipsters in 1968. There's a rather nice, Reedesque solo on it courtesy guitarist Lawrence Meese, but it's the B-side where the real magic happens (or the Velvets influence becomes glaringly obvious, take your pick). As Here I Come Miami begins, it sounds like it's going to be a rather routine Route 66 rip-off, but at the end of the first verse the distinctive guitar riff from There She Goes Again puts in an appearance--and then reappears a further five times before the end of the song. If the Hounds hadn't stolen this riff, I wouldn't have noticed the guitar solo on the A-side, but it's obvious that someone close to the band had listened to The Velvet Underground and Nico LP more than few times. I strongly recommend you track down a copy of the single (thus cleverly distracting you from searching for the Hounds 1967 Dot LP, which I want. Hands off!): there's probably one on Ebay right now, though it probably doesn't come with this incredibly cool if incredibly ugly picture sleeve.

Exhibit B: Harumi, a supposedly Japanese band (or person, I'm not exactly sure) who released a double LP on Verve Forecast in 1968. I say supposedly because, group photo of several Asian gentlemen in traditional Japanese garb aside, the album is sung in American-accented English and was recorded in New York by Tom Wilson...the same Tom Wilson who also produced White Light/White Heat in 1968. Whoever Harumi is or was, the album is really quite good, with the first disc comprised of shorter, poppier tracks and the second disc devoted to two long 'experimental' suites. Disc 2, side 2 is the one we're interested in today, though: entitled Samurai Memories, it's a nineteen-minute dead ringer for WL/WH's The Gift, with mumbled spoken word passages accompanied by an insistent beat propelled by percussion and trumpet. Did Harumi hear the second Velvets album on their own time, or did Wilson introduce them to it in the studio? We'll probably never know, but hear it they most certainly did. There's a bootleg reissue of the Harumi LP available on a label whose name I won't mention, but stick to the original gatefold vinyl and you won't be disappointed.

There are probably more Velvets influenced tracks from the 1966-70 period out there. If you know of any, please share them with me--and if I run across more, I'll be sure to mention them here.

Monday, January 4, 2010


The United States currently claims that the governments of Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria all sponsor and support terrorism. Whatever that is.

Here's something I just read.

From pages 311-313 of The Hidden Hand: Britain, America, and Cold War Secret Intelligence, by Richard J. Aldrich, Overlook Press 2002:

Matters reached a crisis point on 11 April 1955, toward the end of the First Taiwan Straits Crisis. Against the background of growing artillery barrages between Taiwan and mainland China, Taiwan's secret service arranged the bombing of an Air India airliner, The Kashmir Princess, carrying Chinese communist journalists to the neutralist Bandung Conference of Asian leaders in Indonesia. The bomb was planted when the plane refueled at Hong Kong and the plane exploded and plunged into the sea as it approached the Indonesian coast. All passengers and crew were killed...they [the Chinese government] asserted the device was a small time bomb supplied by the United States.

Beijing insisted that the raids provided evidence that [head saboteur] Chou Chu had received his training in explosives from Taiwan and had 'escaped...under cover and aid of the United States'.

How true were Beijing's accusations? Files declassified in 1999 show that the Prime Minister, Anthony Eden, was told in October 1955 that the Hong Kong Special Branch was in no doubt that evidence it had procured independently proved that Chou Chu had indeed been recruited by Taiwan's Secret Service. After the crash he had boasted of his actions to four separate witnesses...

Just something to keep in mind next time some patsy tries to set fire to his shoe or his underpants--and your government tells you to step up for a virtual strip search.

I'm turning into a regular Samuel Pepys, aren't I? Just don't call me Alex Jones...

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Best Thing I Listened to in 2010

Okay, so I'm cheating a bit, but how did I live without this album for the last several decades?

I think it's probably the cover: the divine Miss Evie Sands looks like she's cycling her way over to the hay wain for a bit of clog dancing and some Steeleye Span karaoke. As it turns out, this Brooklyn-born lass was actually on the way to the sessions for this album, which features the original and stunning version of Any Way That You Want Me and another dozen bonzer tracks. There's a particularly meretricious cover of Take Me For a Little While and a bunch of other great blue-eyed country soul, all brilliantly arranged and brightly produced by the legendary Chip Taylor and the not so legendary Al Gorgoni, who on the basis of this work alone deserves to be elevated to Godlike Genius status. And now to track down Evie's earlier ABC and Blue Cat can still order the Rev-Ola Records reissue of Any Way That You Want Me from the label at

There'll be a longer musical post along in a week or a bit, but I couldn't let this disc go unmentioned.

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I am a semi-aquatic marine mammal who enjoys eating fish and krill, as well as taking long underwater swims