Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Green Day's Kerplunk turns 25

25 years ago today, on January 17, 1992, an obscure band called Green Day released their second album, Kerplunk (or at least the version we're familiar with — a shorter version was released a month earlier).

The production of Kerplunk, which was released by the indie label Lookout! Records, was weak. But the songwriting had already reached the level of excellence that would be exposed to the world two years later on their commercial breakthrough, Dookie.

This becomes especially clear if you listen to the versions of "Welcome to Paradise" on both albums. Unsurprisingly, the Kerplunk version lacks the polish of the Dookie version. But the fact that one of the best songs from Dookie had already appeared on Kerplunk shows that this band was pretty great from early on.




"Christie Road" is a nice break from the band's usual fare: introspective and mid-tempo — at least for a little while . . .




"2,000 Light Years Away" is an energetic but poignant pop-punk love song:

Monday, January 16, 2017

James Baldwin on race in America, 1965

James Baldwin, debating William F. Buckley, Jr., in 1965:

40 years ago, when I was born, the question of having to deal with what is unspoken by the subjugated, what is never said to the master — of ever having to deal with this reality, was a very remote possibility. It was in no one’s mind. When I was growing up, I was taught in American history books that Africa had no history, and neither did I — that I was a savage, about whom the less said the better, who had been saved by Europe and brought to America. And of course, I believed it. I didn’t have much choice. Those were the only books there were. Everyone else seemed to agree.
If you walk out of Harlem, ride out of Harlem, downtown, the world agrees: what you see is much bigger, cleaner, whiter, richer, safer than where you are. . . . Their children look happy, safe. You’re not. And you go back home, and it would seem that, of course, that it’s an act of God, that this is true: that you belong where white people have put you. . . .

One of the great things that the white world does not know, but that I think I do know, is that black people are just like everybody else. One has used the myth of Negro and the myth of color to pretend and to assume that you were dealing . . . with something exotic, bizarre, and . . . unknown. Alas, it is not true. We are also mercenaries, dictators, murderers, liars — we are human too. . . .

What is dangerous here is the turning away from . . . anything any white American says. The reason for the political hesitation, in spite of the Johnson landslide, is that one has been betrayed by American politicians for so long. Of course, I am a grown man, and perhaps I can be reasoned with. I certainly hope I can be. But I don’t know, and neither does Martin Luther King, none of us know how to deal with those other people whom the white world has so long ignored, who don’t believe anything the white world says, and don’t entirely believe anything I or Martin is saying.
And one can’t blame them. You watch what has happened to them in less than 20 years. It seems to me that the City of New York, for example . . . [is] able . . . to reconstruct itself, tear down buildings and raise great new ones downtown . . . and has done nothing whatever except build housing projects in the ghetto for the Negroes. . . .

Until the moment comes when . . . we the American people are able to accept the fact . . . that on that continent we are trying to forge a new identity for which we need each other, and that I am not a ward of America, I am not an object of missionary charity, I am one of the people who built the country — until this moment, there is scarcely any hope for the American dream, because the people who are denied participation in it, by their very presence, will wreck it. And if that happens, it is a very grave moment for the West.

That excerpt starts at 30:14 in this video:

Friday, January 6, 2017

Tori Amos's Little Earthquakes turns 25



(Photo by Rob Verhost/Redferns via Rolling Stone.)


Tori Amos released her first solo album, Little Earthquakes, on January 6, 1992 — 25 years ago today.

Although she's an American, the album was released only in the UK at first; the US version was delayed until late February. Apparently the thinking was that she might not be as appealing to Americans. The concern was unnecessary.

It's hard to express what a brilliant artist Tori Amos is. She does three things and is stellar at each one: songwriting (alternating between frankly confessional and slyly cryptic), singing (at its most mellifluous on this album but capable of being much more raw) and piano playing (classically trained but with pop and jazz sensibilities).

Whether or not Little Earthquakes is her best album, it's at least the essential starting point for approaching her sprawling 25-year body of work.

Rolling Stone's "track-by-track guide to Little Earthquakes" includes extensive quotes from her on the long process of self-realization that led to creating her solo debut after leaving an unsuccessful band.

"Coming out of beating myself up about the choices I had made, I just rolled up my sleeves and grasped at all of the poetry that had ever meant anything to me," Amos says. "From Rimbaud to Baudelaire, e.e. cummings, Emily Dickinson, and also the visual artists. I surrounded myself with the stories and the thinkers that formed me, not what those that had the power to push the button wanted me to be formed with."

"Silent All These Years" is quintessential early Tori Amos — the rare songwriter who can pull off rhyming a whole phrase with itself:
So you found a girl who thinks really deep thoughts
What's so amazing about really deep thoughts?
The sudden feeling of uplift and release in the bridge ("years go by...") is exhilarating.



(Live solo.)


In "Precious Things," she delves into themes of Christianity, gender, beauty, sexuality, and humiliation, over a relentlessly driving rhythm.



(Live solo.)


In "Crucify," Tori, whose father was a minister, again addresses Christianity ("Got enough guilt to start my own religion"):



(Very different live version.)


"Winter" is the emotional centerpiece of the album — an almost startlingly intimate ballad.



(Live solo.)


Near the end of Little Earthquakes, in "Me and a Gun" (the least musically interesting but most lyrically arresting song on the album), Tori leaves her piano aside and recounts her harrowing experience of being raped. She explained in an interview:
In the song I say it was "Me and a Gun," but it wasn't a gun. It was a knife he had. And the idea was to take me to his friends and cut me up, and he kept telling me that, for hours. And if he hadn't needed more drugs, I would have been just one more news report where you see the parents grieving for their daughter.

And I was singing hymns, as I say in the song, because he told me to. I sang to stay alive. Yet I survived that torture, which left me urinating all over myself and left me paralyzed for years. That's what that night was all about, mutilation, more than violation through sex.

I really do feel as though I was psychologically mutilated that night, and that now I'm trying to put the pieces back together again. Through love, not hatred. And through my music. My strength has been to open again, to life, and my victory is the fact that, despite it all, I kept alive my vulnerability.



Continuing the theme of "vulnerability," she sings in "China":
Sometimes, I think you want me to touch you
How can I, when you build the great wall around you?
Few albums keep vulnerability alive as beautifully and daringly as Little Earthquakes.