Monday, June 23, 2008

George Carlin RIP

"I look at it this way... For centuries now, man has done everything he can to destroy, defile, and interfere with nature: clear-cutting forests, strip-mining mountains, poisoning the atmosphere, over-fishing the oceans, polluting the rivers and lakes, destroying wetlands and aquifers... so when nature strikes back, and smacks him on the head and kicks him in the nuts, I enjoy that. I have absolutely no sympathy for human beings whatsoever. None. And no matter what kind of problem humans are facing, whether it's natural or man-made, I always hope it gets worse."

George Carlin said that in 2005. It has a lot of resonance with me. A lot of Carlin’s material does. His knack for slicing open the absurdities of human existence and American culture and mores in particular was second to none – not even his legendary pal Lenny Bruce. Everything and everybody was a target at which he had no hesitancy in taking aim, and I doubt there’s anyone who didn’t find themselves in the crosshairs, at least in a general sense, once or twice. I’m not sure it would have been nearly as effective had he not had the humility to readily confess he himself was just as guilty of many of the absurdities he so keenly dissected.

I consider myself a pretty misanthropic guy, and you’re unlikely to find anyone who knows me that would disagree. One of the more impressive things about Carlin to me was that he consistently managed to make me uncomfortable. He made the extremity of my beliefs about our culture and society look mundane in comparison.

This is what it’s all about, folks. Nothing is ever going to get better without someone throwing your inadequacies, absurdities, laziness, lack of engagement, and lack of compassion right back in your face and making you squirm. Trying is good. Carlin made you try harder.

The man is dead. He died yesterday at the age of 71. Thankfully, for once, there’s someone out there ready to have a good shot at filling the void. It’s my hope that, in time, Lewis Black might surpass Carlin as Carlin did Lenny Bruce. But there’s no question those are some pretty big giants shoulders to stand on.

If it turns out there is an Invisible Man in the Sky, I’d sure be interested in finding out who wins the slugfest. I know who I’d put my money on.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Dog Days

I just wanted to let my 5 or 6 loyal readers know that posts are likely to be a little thin the next couple of months. Between Alejandro Escovedo’s new one Real Animal next week and Brian Wilson’s That Lucky Old Sun in September there’s really not a whole lot being released that I give a shit about. Courtney Love’s latest crime against humanity is due sometime in “spring/summer 2008” and you better believe I’ll be on that like a hobo on a dead junkie, but otherwise this summer just doesn’t look that promising for interesting releases good, bad or in between. At least releases interesting to me.

I’ll try and get the Alejandro review up before I leave town on the 28th (it’s already been reviewed from The Austin Chronicle to Rolling Stone so my opinion isn’t likely to have much impact anyway), write up the occasional noteworthy show I catch, note the inevitable RIPs, and certainly find a nugget or two of offensive cultural goings on to rant about, but that’s likely to be it ‘til September when things pick up again. Or maybe I’ll actually go see a movie and write about that.

Anyway, before I get too far off track, expect posts here at Cultural Senescence to succumb to the dog days of the Texas summer, as so much else has over time.

Notwithstanding slavery, The Indian Wars, Jim Crow, Japanese internment camps, institutionalized racism, sexism, and homophobia, the current administration, the last seven presidents (at least), and The Jonas Brothers try to remember that the old USA isn’t that bad a place to live and enjoy your Independence Day. With a little help… Well, a lot of help, it might be a great place to live one day.

Before you fall under the misapprehension that I’m softening in my old age bear in mind that I’m not holding my fucking breath.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Cure, 65 Days of Static - 6/9/08 - Toyota Center - Houston, TX

First, let me dispense with 65 Days of Static. They sucked. Tight? Professional? Sure. They played four songs in their half hour set, all of them long (obviously), self-indulgent instrumentals that didn’t go anywhere. Eight or nine minutes of waiting for an actual song to start before realizing you had just heard the song. Four times. Who listens to this shit?

Although The Cure has literally never let me down in terms of live performance, I had some trepidation about this tour. The line up was a more stripped down version of the band than any since their earliest days – Robert Smith on vocals and guitar, Porl Thompson on guitar, Simon Gallup on bass, and Jason Cooper on drums. Given that The Cure has relied so heavily on keyboards to fill out their sound in the past I was pretty certain the performance quality would suffer for their lack.

This didn’t prove to be the case. Robert Smith is nothing if not adaptable. While some of the songs did sound thin, the new arrangements allowing for guitar or bass to cover keyboard melodies worked surprisingly well and lent them a rawness and urgency that is unusual for this band. If you’re 100% dedicated to the more ethereal presentations of The Cure then this was not the show for you. Even typically keyboard heavy songs like “Hot Hot Hot”, “Just Like Heaven” and “Plainsong” worked well in this guitar heavy configuration – something I would have never expected.

Playing for three hours the band stuck primarily to material from Head on the Door and beyond through their main set and first encore, especially Head on the Door and Disintegration, pulling only four songs from their forthcoming record amidst a smattering of songs, both well known and obscure, from from Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Wish, Bloodflowers, Wild Mood Swings, and The Cure. They did reach all the way back to Pornography to pull out a stunningly effective “100 Years” – Smith may have just gotten really good at faking it, but he sure as hell sounded as angry as he was 25 years ago when that song was recorded.

That Smith still has a fire burning in him was, to me at least, reinforced by the (audience pleasing, I’ll grant) raw power of their second encore. Consisting of songs from The Cure’s earliest days – “Boys Don’t Cry”, a brilliant combination of “Jumping Someone Else’s Train” and the rarely heard live “Grinding Halt”, and “Killing an Arab” – this mini set really kicked things up a notch. In spite of the fact that three of the four are de rigueur crowd pleasers, the band imbued them with an energy that hearkened back to the days when Robert Smith’s vision for The Cure was one of a punk band, and they truly tore up the stage with them. We listened to Seventeen Second’s “A Forest”, the third encore and last song of the night, as we were leaving and it sounded every bit as good as everything that had come before.

It was difficult to get a feel for the new material on just one live listen, but they sounded good enough to intrigue me and fill me with hope that the upcoming album will be a dramatic improvement over the disappointment of 2004’s The Cure.

My one complaint – Jason Cooper on drums. While competent, he displays none of the creativity of Boris Williams. He doesn’t hit nearly as hard and depends way too much on electronic drums. In a band as reliant on heavy rhythms as The Cure he is, in my opinion, a real liability.

Overall, however, The Cure have done it for me again. Of the many reasons I love this band their live performance is way up there on the list. It’s not many a stadium act that can keep me entertained and at times enraptured for three hours. It’s not many a stadium act that can maintain the kind of focus and energy The Cure bring to the table and never look like they’re phoning it in for three hours. In fact, I can’t think of another. Not too bad for four old guys.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Bo Diddley RIP

Bo Diddley died today at 79 after surviving a stroke and a heart attack last year. All I've been able to find out is "heart failure".

What the fuck can I say about this? I guess just this - Thank you, Bo. May your destination be as kind and inspirational to you as you were to us.