Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Lyrics of the Day: In Honor of Ms. Williams' New Record

Lucinda Williams' new record, West showed up in my mailbox yesterday. This is a powerful album, featuring the pain and rage we're used to hearing from Williams, who said in a recent interview with the Baltimore Sun,"I was addicted to bad boys...It was almost a drug in itself. I had to get past it."
Robert Christgau, hasn't really brought out the love for Lucinda since his review of "Car Wheels on a Gravel Road," and finds some of the songs on the album "dull" and washouts (He thus dismisses "Learning How to Live," which as far as melody goes, is more like the pop songs on Christgau's favorite early Lucinda records than anything else on the record).

Rather than being dull, I think these songs echo the emotional honesty and sometimes deceptive simplicity that characterized her first records. That simplicity, along with the lessons of experience, delivers some of the greatest break-up songs ever penned. One of them is "Wrap My Head Around That": 9 minutes of fed-up near-rapping beginning with the lines "you told me you loved me/you said you wanna be with me/you looked right into my eyes/said I'm not like those other guys" and then turns to a rebuke along the lines of a pop-Henry James:

I know what I think I saw
and what I thought I seen
and what was coming and what was going and everything in between
and what I thought I heard you say
and what you really said
and what I thought you thought I thought was actuallly in your head
and what you meant to tell me and what I meant to say
and what I said you said I said
and what went the other way
I know what you did to me
and I know what we did
and who did to what to who
and who the hell were you tryin to kid?
I know more than you think I know, more than you think about
and know and think you know and think you've got it all figured out
I know I'm missin something or something's missing here and there
and all over and over around and up and everywhere
and you're just all up in it
look out your zipper's gonna break
out popped your little party favor
and you just take the cake
I can't believe I believed you when I found out where you're at
and finding out why you're too much
And trying to wrap my head around that

"West" is about going through it and getting past it, and the getting past it is important. While there is sadness on the record, it's not the bottomless well that was "Essence." I identify with Williams in her effort to kick an addiction to dangerous men and embrace a more serious and honest relationship. I imagine that a lot of women, single or coupled, will hear something similar here.
She sings of the wish to be healed by another love in "Unsuffer Me," a profound exploration of the rebound: unbound my feet/untie my wrist/come into my world of loneliness/and wickedness/and bitterness/unlock my love.

She sings of a quest for the "man she loves" someday coming along in "Where is My Love": Is my love in Birmingham?/ Making honey from the bees?/overjoyed to be my man/and rolling up his flannel sleeves?

She undoes both those fantasies with "Rescue" : He can't rescue you/can't pull the demons from your hair/can't lower you from your sleepy bier/He can't protect you/from the powers that will be/the hours of insanity/he can't protect you. He can't change you/change the summers of your beauty/the thunderstorms within your purity/he can't change you. He can't carry you/past the door of every danger/every foe and every stranger/he can't carry you.

Beyond what I hear in her songs, what little I know of Lucinda Williams' real life comes through shreds of gossip from my friends-of-friends in the Minneapolis music scene along with whatever articles published about her reveal.
Here, she announces that she's moved on from her toxic relationships past and looks at the world from a newly grown-up perspective. She told the Sun that during the making of West, she'd met "the Love of her life."...."Some people find that when they're 19 or 20," Williams says. "It took me a bit longer."

In honor of going through it to get past it, here are two sets of lyrics.

First, the words to a great break-up song on the new album

Come On:

I'm so over you
You don't even have a clue
All you did was make me blue
You didn't even make me
Come on

You're so self-involved
You're in some kind of fog
You're hung up on your hog
You didn't even make me
Come On.

You think you're in hot demand
But you don't where to put your hand
Let me tell you where you stand
You didn't even make me
Come on.

Dealing with this old fire (?)
Shut up, I'm not inspired
All I'm feeling now is tired.
You didn't even make me
Come on.

You weren't even worth it
I'm sorry I ever flirted
The effort wasn't even concerted
You didn't even make me
Come on.

All you do is talk the talk
You can't back it up with your walk
You can't light my fire, so fuck off
You didn't even make me
Come on.

and second, because I've been recently re-appreciating the breathless enthusiasm of her first album of original songs, 1988's "Lucinda Williams."

I Just Wanted To See You So Bad:

I drove my car in the middle of the night
I just wanted to see you so bad
The road was dark but the stars were bright
I just wanted to see you so bad
It didn't matter what my friends would say
I was gonna see you anyway
I just wanted to see you so bad
I just wanted to see you so bad
You were staying in a big hotel
I just wanted to see you so bad
I didn't know you very well
I just wanted to see you so bad
We'd always talked on the telephone
But I'd never been with you all alone
I just wanted to see you so bad
I just wanted to see you so bad
I got off on the seventh floor
I just wanted to see you so bad
I couldn't have asked for anything more
I just wanted to see you so bad
I saw your face so clear and bright
I must have been crazy but it sure felt right
I just wanted to see you so bad
I just wanted to see you so bad
I just wanted to see you so bad
I just wanted to see you so bad

Monday, February 19, 2007

Corporate Media Spins Corporate Media News So Fast I Can't See It Straight

I was just checking through some headlines to see what might have happened in the world while I was nonchalantly switching back and forth between preparing a lecture on 17th century New England and preparing for tomorrow night's book group, and this fascinating headline caught my eye. According to the New York Times, the competition between XM and Sirius Satellite radio has been "costly."

I did a double-take. Competition costly? Didn't the NYT's top mergers & acquisitions reporter take intro to economics at some point? Hadn't he heard that competition makes prices go down, while monopoly makes prices go up?
(Apparently, I'm not the only one who did a double-take. When I first started writing this blog entry, the article was titled: "A Proposed Merger Would End Satellite Radio’s Costly Rivalry", but an hour later had been changed, taking the word "coslty" out. )

Then, when I read the article, I realized that the cost he was talking about wasn't for consumers, but for the businesses in question, who had been forced to compete with each other, which was costing THEM money. After all it's they and their investors who are reading the NYT, right? Perhaps when you consider it from this point of view, it made sense that the only views quoted at any length in the article were the owners and lawyers of the companies involved. Don't worry, the companies say, this won't reduce choice for listeners.

The companies said yesterday that their $13 billion merger — called Project Big Sky by MX — would give consumers a broader range of programming, while eliminating overlapping stations that focus on genres of music. At the same time, they said, they could cut duplicated costs in sales and marketing

Let's take this logic further. Think of how such mergers might eliminate so many advertising, sales and marketing costs for ANY companies in competition with each other. The Gap, Nike and other big clothing companies could save so much money if they didn't have to pay competitive prices to the celebrities who market their sneakers and pants...What if, instead of each company buying different ads, they could pool their resources and just pay for ONE big ad? Isn't a merger really sort of like when two friends from college move in together to split such expenses as the phone and tequila bills?
The only voice in disagreement with the merger in the article is mentioned, not quoted at length, and no one responds critically to the bizarre economic "arguments" cited above. For example, The National Association of Broadcasters is the only named one of a group of "critics" who are "lining up." Instead of discussing actual critiques of media consolidation, such as the results of Benton Foundation, which asks, "Does Bigger Media Equal Better Media" and responds in the negative, the paper suggests quotes a flippant remark about Howard Stern as the main reason for not granting a monopoly to Sirius.
It is notable that the main critic of the satellite network is a much bigger radio competitor. While the Sirius/XM merger is disturbing, the bigger concern when it comes to media consolidation is still the very people who are opposed to the merger: broadcasters like the Clear Channel. Satellite radio, even if these two companies were to merge, will still be relatively small in comparison. Thus, the spin has an extra "english," suggesting that these two companies are underdogs, who need to need to combine in order to successfully compete with the really big dog media monopoly broadcasters, who do make it hard for them to operate.
I was actually beginning to find this persuasive until I looked at this side-to-side comparison of the two radios and checked their huge lists of corporate partners along with thre preponderance of corporate media shows in their talk programming....not to mention the bio of Sirius CEO, the former #2 at Viacom, Mel Karmazin.
As ARomeo puts it on his world music central", while satellite radio has provided an alternative to big corporate broadcasters, it is not as independent as college or local radio stations because corproate "gatekeepers" are ultimately in charge of the programming on the satellite stations.
It's hard not to see this "cost-saving" merger as setting a very bad precedent for the future of American media.

* spelling problems explained here: Some of you have noticed that from time to time I miss typos in my blog. Here's why. Ever since the ethernet card gave out on my desktop computer, I've been writing everything on a rather small laptop. Sometimes I just don't see what's on the screen very well. sigh. Thanks for catching the slips and tipping me off.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

A Victory

My buddy Stein over at The Pagan Science Monitor celebrates the "retirement" of Chief Illiniwek at the University of Illinois with a parallel universe in which Jewish mascots dance at halftime shows.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Interest Rates, Inflation and The Housing Bubble

I'm no economist, but I know a few things, and one of the things I know is that when the higher-ups in charge of interest rates are worried about inflation, it usually means a coming contraction (whether of credit or currency in the olden days) that will send the economy into a recession. As Dr. Dollar Dollars and Sense puts it, inflation is usually the worry of owners (and creditors) while inflationary cycles might actually empower workers.

With inflation rising (albeit slowly, and still relatively mild at around 4.2%), some business sectors will no doubt begin clamoring for tighter monetary policies that sacrifice job-creation and wage growth by slowing the economy growth. But these fears of inflation are probably misplaced. A moderate rate of inflation is conducive to the growth of real investment, and in the context of a decades-long squeeze on workers' wage share, there is room to expand employment without setting off a wage-price spiral. What workers need is not greater fiscal and monetary austerity, but rather a revival of a Keynesian program of "employment targeting" that would sustain full employment and empower workers to push for higher wages. It's not likely, however, that the owners of capital and their political allies would sit idly by were such a program to be enacted.

So, when I saw the news item that Bernanke at the Federal Reserve would hold interest rates or even increase them, I thought, hmm...the housing bubble is going to keep making that hisssssing sound.
Am I wrong? What does this all mean?
I welcome your comments.....

Friday, February 09, 2007

What Reason is there to be Hopeful?

As the coffee started to kick in, I finally left Chowhound for Counterpunch, where John V. Walsh has broken down the numbers for us on the senate. He says that the Senate could filibuster the spending bill on the issue of "surge" funding with one courageous senator (say, Ted Kennedy or Russ Feingold) and 41 supporeters.

Right now there are 18 sitting Senators who voted against the war in 2002. And there are 13 more who voted for the war and now say they regret it. That comes to 31 nominally antiwar Senators.(2) In addition there are 4 new Senators, Barak Obama among them, who claim to be against the war. That brings the count to 35 of the necessary 41, leaving only 6 more needed. And the Democrats now have 51 seats, with at least one or two Republican antiwar Senators to boot. So it would take only 41 out of 51 who claim to be against the war to actually end the war. If they are not lying about their anti-war position, let them stand up and be counted. For example, Hillary Clinton, who is not among those who regret their vote in 2002, were to be one of a handful who refused to vote for cloture, what would happen to her chances in 2008? Let her and others who claim to be against the war go on record for or against the filibuster.

But instead of that bold action, we have this back and forth about a non-binding resolution. I'm sure the Democrats argue that if they were to deny funding, they would not be re-elected because they'd be seen as "unpatriotic" and not supporting the troops. Some pollstell a different story. In the House, the Progressive Caucusis putting forward legislation to bring the troops home and defund the war, but their efforts over the past few years have been unsuccessful. Is there reason to hope that this year will be different?

On the one hand: Most polls say that Americans want the troops out. The daily reports about the US plans to attack Iran continue to frighten.
However, I remain depressed, disappointed, and am beginning to despair. When I checked the New York Times website, the most-blogged article concerned the fracas over two bloggers involved w/ John Edwards campaign, and the most searched term for today's newspaper was....Anna Nicole Smith.
Speaking of which, I guess it's time for me to read some history and go to the gym.