I do not dispute the assertion made somewhere early in Hit Hard that Aerosmith is "America's number one rock and roll band." They are far from being AI do not dispute the assertion made somewhere early in Hit Hard that Aerosmith is "America's number one rock and roll band." They are far from being America's best band, did not produce anything important, nor did they have any integrity to speak of. However, they were constant. Aerosmith provided power anthems and jock jams for multiple generations - on the strength of material that was perennially new (one generation had "Dream On," another "Angel," and another "Cryin'" (and so on, I expect)). While the other big names in classic rock existed only in the form of old hits from yesteryear, on constant heavy rotation on oldies stations for thirty solid years (see: Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, and Lynyrd Skynyrd), Aerosmith was tangible: They were on (contemporary) FM radio, on MTV, on the covers of magazines, had t-shirts at the mall... Hell, you could go see them on tour or on Saturday Night Live. And it was always new* music - not some nostalgic recap of 70s glory days. And they played consistently priapic, bone-headed blues rock. Everyone - from the most jaded punk rocker or hipster to the lamest conservative baby boomer - has a soft spot for good old fashioned, bone-headed blues rock with a ghoulish-yet-flamboyant frontman and a gaggle of ugly dudes in clown clothes playing a bunch of fucking guitar solos. It's when we let our defenses down for a brief moment and settle into some primordial resting state. Or something.
I've never thought much about Aerosmith though, despite the fact they are one of my most precious guilty pleasures. The constancy that defines them makes them also somewhat invisible - at least as far as people go. I was aware of Joey Kramer, though. He and Tom Hamilton (the tall, pleasant looking bass player) seemed nice. Like the Mike Nesmith and Peter Tork to Steven Tyler's and Joe Perry's Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones. I was pretty interested, from the get-go, in what this unassuming, cheerful-looking man would have to say about his life in a vapid, libidinous, arena rock circus show. I know why it was hard for Mike and Peter to be Monkees (it wasn't living in the shadow of Davy and Mickey - Peter and Mike were marginally creative people and just hip enough to detest the stink of what that manufactured "band" said about the state of art in America). What must one of the "nice ones" in this cultural travesty have to say? Come on, you've got to be interested too.
It turns out: not much. I'm not certain Joey Kramer even goes on record as saying he likes Aerosmith's music (though he must). I'm not sure Joey Kramer actually knows how to explain what he likes about music. This isn't a bad thing. For a lot of people (see: a lot of Aerosmith fans), music isn't something to be enthusiastic about or exult in. For them, music is just something that's always around, like scenery. And while it's to be appreciated, it is not necessarily worth close investigation. I think Joey Kramer is probably one of those people. Again, it isn't a bad thing. It's one of humanity's common permutations. I say all this because Joey Kramer - like me - probably hasn't done a lot of active thinking about Aerosmith himself. I feel like he just kind of went along with it and had fun. After all, it scored him tons of drugs and sexual gratification and he owns multiple Italian sports cars.
So this book isn't really about Aerosmith. After I got past that little expectational setback, I found I really didn't mind letting Joey Kramer unpack all his psychological baggage on me. (That's what this book is actually about: Joey Kramer's psychological baggage. Joey had a mean dad and a terrible mother. He was a poor student and fucked around a LOT. Not cool fuck around, though. Like, playing in cover bands and getting hepatitis because you're a fuckup who lives in squalor fuck around. He was in a series of abusive relationships. And he had to learn about them in order to resolve them. And now he's discovered inner peace and wants to tell you about it.)**
I mean, why not hear Joey Kramer out? He's the nice one, for God's sake! You've spent your whole post-pubscent life listening to Aerosmith. You can repay the man this small courtesy. No, the book is not what you thought it would be about - and it's badly (well, maybe not badly - more like very modestly and simply) written. But you can take two or three evenings out of your busy life to hear Joey Kramer out. That's all I'm saying.
...Okay, that might not have been the most rousing recommendation. And it is, after all, very badly (no, modestly) written. And it isn't any more interesting than hearing your overweight, born-again Christian cousin tell his story about what changed his life. But let's say you've already got the book. Or see it for a dollar somewhere. Go ahead and read it. What'll it hurt? Again, don't you sort of owe the drummer from Aerosmith a few hours of your time?
* Note I do not say "original" or "innovative" or even "topical." I say "new." **Oops, I spoiled it....more
The author's singular obsession with mushrooms probably threw up a barrier he couldn't get over to discussSomeone get Earl Lee some mushrooms. Please!
The author's singular obsession with mushrooms probably threw up a barrier he couldn't get over to discuss the stated purpose of the book: sacred foods and the cults of the dead. I have the utmost confidence in the subject itself. There's no doubt psychoactive/psychedelic plants play a part in religious practices. Picture a shaman in your mind: You probably imagine religious rites involving peyote, alcohol, or something smoky in a sweat lodge. And you can reimagine the shaman in different parts of the world easily enough. Central America, India, Africa. Considering the ancient and classical (and even medieval) Mediterranean world was as primitive at one time as the pre-Columbian American Indians, it would be arrogant on our part to think classical Egyptians, Greeks, Semites, and early Christians didn't go through the same phase.
The Catholic Church's medieval obsession with holy relics says SOMETHING about how earlier Christians held (at least some of) the dead in supernatural awe. It isn't even an outrageous assumption that bodily relics could constitute some form of "sacred food" (as in the example of water used to wash the corpse of a saint being used to dilute wine at a certain convent).
However, the insinuation that EVERYTHING - like, IN THE WORLD, MAN - is a thinly veiled reference to psychedelic mushrooms stretches credibility past it's breaking point. I do not doubt certain conditions led to the growth of ergot, mold, and fungus on human bodies or that someone discovering the same might pop it in his mouth to test it out ( humans do these things). But I cannot believe the practices of human burial around the eastern rim of the Mediterranean were based on creating this environment and cultivating hallucinogens. I also question how widespread the practice of spiking alcohol with decaying human remains may have been - I seriously doubt it was as everyday and mainstream as the author suggests. Again, I'm not saying these things didn't happen; I just doubt they happened at the rate suggested by the author.
And finally, Lee sees mushrooms in everything. He sees them in cave art and coinage and even Thor's hammer. Mushroom-headed people in 30,000 year old cave paintings make sense only if you allow for deer and buffalo apparently made out of taffy (a better explanation is the stylistical sensibilities of Stone Age art). The stylized Mjölnir worn as a pendant does look a little like an upside-down mushroom - but it also looks like an upside-down hammer... or an anchor (or the swinging blade from Edgar Allan Poe's "The Pit and the Pendulum" or the inverted shape of Boba Fett's visor). (My theory? The Mjölnir pendant actually represents Mjölnir, even if crudely.) Why did the author neglect to tie in the Smurf village and the back cover of Tori Amos's Little Earthquakes? They depict mushrooms; surely they're in on the arcane knowledge of the cult.
Sheesh. Bad scholarship, faulty logic. This is a subject that could benefit from academic study but the author instead gives us something like Chariots of the Gods....more
The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee holds up remarkably well for a work of general nonfiction firmly rooted in scientific disciplines, most notaThe Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee holds up remarkably well for a work of general nonfiction firmly rooted in scientific disciplines, most notably physical anthropology. Jared Diamond cemented his status of educator-to-the-masses with his superb Guns, Germs, and Steel (of which there is some overlap in this book).
Diamond's work is not only broadening the scope with which we look at anthropology and world history but perhaps the discipline of history itself. The modern student of history has shed much of the hero-worship of earlier eras' organization of history curricula in favor of a more social appreciation. The importance of battles and "great men" has been steadily downgraded over the past half century. Diamond shows us how science itself may one day be the focal point of how we approach many historical topics. The transition from primitive people to agricultural to industrial to technological societies was influenced more by written language, pathology, and introduced species that came along with migratory human groups than any principal figures or single events. Diamond has the rare gifts of interdisciplinary expertise across a staggering spectrum of academic areas and an intelligence receptive and creative enough to see the human story's multifacetedness and organize it into such clear lessons communicable to general readers.
I think Guns, Germs, and Steel has broader appeal. But The Third Chimpanzee may actually be the superior work. Only two things prevented me from giving it the highest possible marks: (1) A pessimism pervades the latter chapters and (2) I found his chapter on drug abuse to miss the psychological nature of chemical addiction almost completely.*
*I think Diamond's theory on a biological origin for risky behavior involving chemicals is probably near the mark. But he only describes the biological origin. While Diamond reluctantly concedes that chemical abuse today takes the form of self-medication, he seems to be either naive about its profusion or lacking the candor to talk about how humans are thralls to our chemical susceptibility. He's either unaware or unable to confront the reality that we are are rarely using drugs for anything so noble as broadcasting intelligible signals of our virility as predator/rival deterrent - his thesis for biological origin. ...more
I've always been conflicted over how to reconcile the God(s) of the Pentateuch, priests, and prophets with the (seemingly much different, gentler) GodI've always been conflicted over how to reconcile the God(s) of the Pentateuch, priests, and prophets with the (seemingly much different, gentler) God(s) of Psalms, Proverbs, and Jesus. I've been particularly perplexed by the capricious God of Genesis since I was a child. To be blunt, the God of Genesis does not seem rational by human-based psychological measures - nor against later accounts of God in the Old and New Testaments. The beneficiaries of the celebrated patriarchal covenants at the base of the West's and Near East's family of Abrahimic religions are not awarded on the merits of any virtue. The cosmic grants they received are not conditional on responsible behavior going forward. This is the origin of discord I've experienced with Christianity since learning the basics of critical thinking and which still, to a not inconsiderable extent, creates problems for my ever-developing set of beliefs.
I've found a lot of answers in history, cultural anthropology, and the other standard features of a quality education. I feel like I'm able to place biblical stories in the cultural, literary, scientific, and rhetorical contexts they belong. In doing so, I've addressed some of the most nagging concerns about that "irrationality" of the Old Testament God.
But even as I've found a way to contextualize and synthesize a working whole, I understand that I am no closer to reconciling myself with the hundreds of millions of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim faithful who live in this world with me. To most, the ideas of biblical inerrancy and the impossible mission of applying (often self-conflicting) Bronze and Iron Age instructions (directed to small, homogenous, illiterate, pre-industrial populations) to a modern, large, heterogenous, technological, educated and rich world are unimpeachably sacrosanct. It's frustrating in the extreme to practice humanity in a world that squanders untold fortunes and human lives in denial of itself.
Each time I have been blessed with the discovery of answers, kindred spirits, and institutions who are "going at it the right way" my spirit is rewarded with a surge of energy and my worldview expands as a consequence. I'm fortunate to belong to a church that engages in a lot of investigation and exegesis. I am fortunate to find others of similar disposition nearly everywhere I go. It makes the daily gauntlet of living in such a mean world less alienating. So it was with enthusiasm that I read The Genesis of Ethics - a book one of my coworkers recommended.
Rabbi Visotzky confronts the same issues I have with the Abrihimic first family of Genesis: namely the arbitrarily no-strings-attached position into which God appears to enter into the covenant. Someone recently said to me that she assumed Abraham and Sarah were good people - otherwise, well... The truth is that - by recent human standards of morality, dating back to at least medieval times (but definitely the Enlightenment) - they're terrible people. And God, both by associations and the motives given by the narrator of Genesis, isn't exactly glorified under the lamp of close moral scrutiny, here, either. But it isn't blasphemy to work through this cognitive dissonance. The Rabbi Visotsky can defend this kind of exegesis exercise as part of a millennias-old midrash tradition. And I'm thrilled the tradition exists and is alive today.
However, a couple of things sabotaged the book for me. Just as I've confessed visceral dislike for the Genesis-people-as-dudes, I'm not sure I like Visotsky so much. He strikes me as a product of the late-boomer/proto-gen-x, Manhattanite, yuppie crowd, awash in self-satisfied 80's "me generation" egotism and materialism. He's also gross. When he talks about Sarah and Abraham's likely frosty sex life, he mentions the moistness of Sarah's vagina and the flaccidness of Abraham's penis. This is actually a typical Visotsky observation. I was more turned off by it than, presumably, Abraham himself was. A lesser complaint: Visotsky literally sexual-psychoanalyzes the biggest sacred cows of Abrahimic faith, exposing himself to charges of the most abject blasphemy imaginable but never questions the report that Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac exceeded contemporary lifespans by 300-400%? Dude.
Kudos to Visotsky though for tackling the tough subjects and calling rape what it is. As we all know, it comes up regularly in Genesis. Kudos to writing a challenging book that doesn't answer those tough questions but illustrates the value of the process of questioning itself as a disciplinary method. Should probably give it four stars, but see preceding paragraph: Gross conjecture on patriarchal/matriarchal nether regions....more
This 33 1/3 series is really a mixed bag. Some selections careen down esoteric pathways, taking readers on a spirit journey - like Jonathan Lethem's sThis 33 1/3 series is really a mixed bag. Some selections careen down esoteric pathways, taking readers on a spirit journey - like Jonathan Lethem's solipsistic treatment of Fear of Music. Others maliciously try to wick away every vestige of magic and mystery from our most beloved records and turn them into the flaccid subject of too-long freshman term papers - like this volume here.
I think it's incredible that Rick Rubin coaxed Reign in Blood from four guys who were nobly, but aimlessly toiling in the muck of Show No Mercy and Hell Awaits. How curious that a big time producer teased out the Slayer of Reign in Blood and Seasons in the Abyss. That is colossally interesting. But you know what isn't? Where Kerry King went to middle school. What kind of car Tom Araya drove. And every other pointless shit detail of the humdrum suburban tableaux that was Young Slayer circa: 1980.
And, you know what? Everybody loves Slayer (at least the Slayer of Reign in Blood). That's what makes Reign in Blood an enigma. And it's what also makes soliciting marginal D list rock celebrities like the-dude-from-Sum-41 and the-dude-from-Every-Time-I-Die and a fucking Tori Amos comment about bleeding vulvas and the Taliban, accessed on the god damned Internet completely valueless. Getting a bunch of unlikely contributors like Michael McKean and Sarah Vowell to talk about They Might Be Giants makes sense - because it shows what diverse types like They Might Be Giants. But everyone likes Slayer (at least the Slayer of Reign in Blood), so what value does a bunch of unnecessary interviews with utterly uninteresting rock dudes add? Shit. Zip. Nada.
And I have to echo someone else's comment: Referencing how Slayer has never ::quote:: "made a bad album" (technically true, but barely) does nothing to enhance a discussion of Reign in Blood. Even generous appreciation of South of Heaven and Seasons in the Abyss has to admit they're only an admirable display of taking the downward slope from Reign in Blood with grace. Being honest, it's all down hill from Reign in Blood. And by the time we get to those albums from the 2000s, Slayer's (understandably) pretty far down the mountain and vanishing into the distance.
If this volume does anything, it's show how there are actually flaws in Reign in Blood. The lyrics, for example: pretty terrible. The perils of being flippant with holocaust imagery. I knew those warts were in there (in fact, the whole SS fetish has bothered me for, oh, 25 years or so...). Thanks rock-biographer, for calling them to my attention without giving me something new to ponder over to compensate me for my trouble.
Thinking about this volume of 33 1/3? Skip it....more
It should be noted at the outset that The Footloose American is an un-madcap, not-gonzo, anti-romp through South America. I think this should be estabIt should be noted at the outset that The Footloose American is an un-madcap, not-gonzo, anti-romp through South America. I think this should be established clearly, up-front. The book is, instead, the clear-headed, balanced reflection of a youngish American journalist, comfortably past the granola/Guevara-worshipping phase of middle-class wanderlust. Brian Kevin is out there gathering intel that - I like to think - all Americans would value - a fact finding mission that isn't simply designed to support preconceived notions or romanticize a "simpler" way of life still being lived a short distance from North American shores.
Like another reviewer, I am not keen on giving the book's tone or content away. But I need to point out something interesting about the author's gradual conclusion. It isn't surprising that Kevin eventually grows a callus against the aforementioned granola/backpacking/hostel crawling subspecies of middle-class Western bohemian types. It's more unexpected when he begins to react negatively - even viscerally - to many of the locals he encounters. For some reason, American gen-Xers and millennials tend to excuse all manner of bad behavior from other cultures, even foreign governments. However, my personal observation is that city people exhibit common behaviors, universally shared independent of cultural signifiers. So do country people. When the author imbedded with medical aid workers in Paraguay and met willfully ignorant hicks, he reacted the way any rational person would - with exasperation. Two things were happening, actually. It is only natural to pass judgment on a husband who will give his pregnant wife a black eye (or the wife who tries to cover for the husband). It's only natural to express frustration over the rural family who refuses medical care for their dying child because of the irrational perception that merely admitting the child is in need is somehow a sign of weakness or shame. It's also only natural to feel beaten down by protracted exposure to hopelessness.
Though I have not read Hunter Thompson's dispatches from South America - the pre-gonzo stage of his career to which the book is dedicated - it seems Kevin and Thompson each confronted the same grinding despair after so many weeks through so many thousands of miles of South American hinterland. Both men came away with as much material about (US) American identity as the South American experience. Bookstores and cable television are each saturated with exotic travelogues which perpetuate so many common errors. The establishment pablum of, say, Anthony Bourdain doesn't serve any purpose except to inspire late night cravings for spicy food and Asian beer. Books like The Footloose American, on the other hand, actually serve to elevate the conversation. A totally worthwhile read....more
With the unusually high ticket price and hysterically esoteric subject matter, Lifted is one of those books one picks up, not on impulse, but with anWith the unusually high ticket price and hysterically esoteric subject matter, Lifted is one of those books one picks up, not on impulse, but with an incredulous, what the heck is going on here? curiosity. One just has to see what this is about. The cultural history of the elevator: indeed!
And, dang, if Lifted isn't a fine little book, full of genuine insights into the transformation of the urban environment and ourselves (from two Independent vantage points: Western Europe and North America), viewed through the novel lens of the passenger elevator....more
True to it's title, E. E. Cummings: A Life shows the life of America's first modernist in all its banality. Readers gravitate toward biography partlyTrue to it's title, E. E. Cummings: A Life shows the life of America's first modernist in all its banality. Readers gravitate toward biography partly for this precise reason: it reassures us that our lives are not so different than those of our favorite personalities by demonstrating how their lives were not so different from our own. In many ways, Cummings needs this kind of treatment, because he was not only the first American modernist, he was - arguably - the only American modernist. His apparent descent from outer space and fleeting time on the scene creates an enigma that isn't explained by the two or three poems we're treated to as undergrads. Understanding his pseudo-Brahmin roots (replete with childhood melodrama) and romantic failures only serve to enhance our understanding of Cummings's poetry.
Of course, between those two existential bookends comes the e. e. cummings we all know and love. Cummings had a notoriously Good Time as an itinerant ambulance driver in Paris during the first World War. But while he could be lumped in with other Americans of his approximate generation who enjoyed themselves immensely in Europe (Dos Passos, Hemingway, etc.), this only represented a time for Cummings. And unlike so many bohemian/academic junketeers who went to the Soviet Union in the 1920s, Cummings evaded the seduction of the pink siren of utopianism.
And like so many others of his approximate generation, Cummings practiced free love. But here his biographer makes her first in a series of salient observations. Unlike the libertines, Cummings understood relationships to be an emotional contract freely entered into by consenting parties. He did not (with a few occasional exceptions, of course - Cummings did, after all, have some riotous Good Times under the influence of alcohol and comely companionship) undertake sex casually. He was not a creature of one night stands. He believed that his partners - by virtue of the consent that consummated the relationship - were free to go as soon as they wished. But this was more like a standard prenuptial agreement Cummings carried with him than the abandon of "free love." And it means that when Cummings's partners tired of him - especially if they tired of him before he tired of them - Cummings was deeply wounded.
This, along with the moving chapter on Cummings's eventual reunification with his only daughter, could tempt more licentious biographers to psychoanalyze the man. Cummings's poems are - after all - virtual invitations to speculate on the artist's id. I admire Cheever's bold choice to ignore this path. It would have undoubtedly led A Life into a cul-de-sac.
But back to the original sentence. Cummings was America's only modernist. Why? The answer cannot be that the times were not ripe for modernists. Europe produced them like a factory (Marcel Duchamp, Yves Klein (albeit a little later), the Italian futurists) - and many of them came to America! Why, then, did America not produce her own? And why did Cummings, being the prototype, fail to thrive? The answer lies in the fact that America itself was the problem. Cummings was beloved within certain circles. Clearly, liberal arts colleges were his stock-in-trade. But Cummings ran afoul of his Greenwich Village neighbors with his conservative politics and anti-semitism. And during the Depression and post-war years, America didn't seem to want Cummings at his most candid. (It wanted him at his most statuesque.) The author puts it well toward the end of the book:
"Cummings's (book) sales are a barometer of the national mood. In confident times his poems are beloved. Their questioning, their humor, and their rule-breaking formalism seem to gibe with a democracy ready to ask hard questions and make fun of itself. In precarious times, readers seem to want an older, more assured poet, someone who speaks with authority rather than scoffs at it."
I believe we still live in that America. It has changed since Cummings's time. Modern students easily confuse cummings's syntax and meter as informalities, rather than the dense, experimental forms they are. This mistake is made because the lowercase "i" is no longer a character, but a manifestation of the new communication (which is a mixture of knee-jerk (ABC Family-fied) civil disobedience and dangerous contempt for intellectualism). Modern students are in danger of misunderstanding modernism for anarchy. Cheever's biography clearly shows how Cummings was anything other than undisciplined and casual. The irony is that the people who read it aren't the ones in need of the demonstration....more
"Napalm" as a word is practically as disgusting as a deforming medical abnormality or repellent skin conditon/sexually transmitted disease. Neverthele"Napalm" as a word is practically as disgusting as a deforming medical abnormality or repellent skin conditon/sexually transmitted disease. Nevertheless, the author gives readers a fair and sophisticated view of one of the post-war years' ultimate pariahs.
The utility of fire as a weapon is investigated from its classical-heroic history in ancient and medieval times through the engineering problems it solves. (An incendiary device is economical, especially for purposes of delivery. Since incendiary bombs start fires, using their targets for fuel, they do not have to bring their fuel with them. This keeps weight and cost down and makes assembly and storage simple. Hydrocarbon gelled incendiary bombs use contents that stay a liquid, even for a short time after impact. This allows the contents to bounce off walls, splash around corners, and run into cracks and penetrate sub levels. As grim as the subject is, incendiary gelled bombs are an engineering triumph, allowing remote strikes to be made into spaces it might otherwise require a squad of vulnerable soldiers to penetrate.)
During the course of the narrative, Napalm takes us down unexpected anecdotal avenues (an army plan to use bats (yes, bats) to be fitted with delayed detonation suicide vests as a way to deliver incendiaries across wide areas in remote locations. (Fire bombs work great in densely populated areas and industrial targets; not so well in farm country. The bat bomb sought to fill in the tactical gap.)).
Naturally the weapons' use in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam are given detailed histories.
But where Napalm really succeeds is explaining the protest movement's logic, the counter argument by the defense industry, and the legal basis and challenges under various non-use protocols. The legal basis provides some of the most thought provoking material to be found in the book - bordering on a review of ethics - perhaps the most refreshing discussion of the law of war I've ever come across in a neatly packed presentation written in plain language.
Professional reviews stress the non-political tone the author maintains throughout the book. While our knee-jerk presumption that napalm is bad isn't challenged much, the author's impartiality and genuine quest to understand his subject spins off a lot of fun koans to consider. Neer shows how - like everything, really - things are never as straight-forward as they might seem....more
The narrative of Cabeza de Vaca is short enough to read every few years. I've read two translations (and bogged down in the original 16th century Spa
The narrative of Cabeza de Vaca is short enough to read every few years. I've read two translations (and bogged down in the original 16th century Spanish original) and now believe it's a good idea to read a couple of different scholars' take on connotation and nuance.
Though on the surface the narrative seems to be a thrilling survival story (a la raft of the Medusa, Endurance), the real point of interest is how Cabeza de Vaca interpreted his perceived ability to perform miracles, on cue, in God's name. Cabeza de Vaca believes he raised the dead. Before this, he was a mid level bureaucrat.
Cabeza de Vaca's translators (and at least one biographer I've read) put his head in different places on this. Some would have him be a delusional manic depressive with a messiah complex. Others would have him merely be a dutiful instrument for God.
The fun is comparing a couple of versions and trying to get to know him. It's a little harder than it would seem, though. The narrative wasn't written with an aim to be widely published. It was written as a report to the Spanish king. There's no plausible assumption that Cabeza de Vaca is reliable - he was writing partly to save his own hide. So it's really a lot like a puzzle. One that can be worked different ways. ...more