Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Marc Bloch

I am thoroughly enjoying the introduction of The Historian's Craft by Marc Bloch.

"Let us guard," he writes, "against the stripping of our science [by which he, unfortunately, means history] of its share of poetry. Let us also beware of the inclination, which I have detected in some, to be ashamed of this poetic quality. It would be sheer folly to suppose that history, because it appeals strongly to the emotions, is less capable of satisfying the intellect."

"Christianity is a religion of historians. Other religious systems have been able to found their beliefs and their rites on a mythology nearly outside human time. For sacred books, the Christians have books of history, and their liturgies commemorate, together with episodes from the terrestrial life of a God, the annals of the church and the lives of the saints. Christianity is historical in another and, perhaps, even deeper sense. The destiny of humankind, placed between the Fall and the Judgment, appears to its eyes as a long adventure, of which each life, each individual pilgrimage, is in its turn a reflection. It is in time and, therefore, in history that the drama of Sin and Redemption, the central axis of all Christian thought, is unfolded."

Bloch cofounded the Annales school of history in France with Lucien Febvre, and he was instrumental in the social history revolution in professional history. I strongly dislike social history, so I imagine that my enjoyment of the book will alter as the book continues, but the introduction is great.

The book, by the way, is famously unfinished--unfinished because its author was tortured and executed by the Nazis for his work in the French Resistance.

Monday, September 27, 2010

I'm brewing a pot of coffee at 11 PM and scrounging for junk food. Now I'm a student again.

Wish me luck. It's actually kind of exhilarating, or it would be if I could stop thinking about work at 7 AM.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Humbert Humbert and Understanding

"The leap from disgust to understanding is a big one, but moving from understanding to liking feels the most natural thing in the world."

Chris wrote this in the comments of a post Jon wrote over at the sad bear a few days ago about a Clockwork Orange.

Jon specifically talked about the tendency of audiences to think Stanley Kubrick was celebrating Alex, the protagonist. After tying in Dexter and suggesting that making a serial killer likable is not really a great feat, he concludes, "What's great is to demonstrate that the fact that the worst about us can seem likable should be shocking."

This is quite good. It's not so weird that we like terrible things or people. Anti-heroes are old hack, really. What would be really great today would be an effective reminder that this should be shocking, that Dexter, for example, should be more shocking than it is.

Tony then drew the natural connection to Lolita and the frighteningly charming Humbert Humbert, which led to Chris' comment, which in turn led to this post.

Chris is completely right, you know. Understanding involves a recognition of shared humanity, so to condemn something you understand is to condemn yourself. And most of us would rather excuse than condemn ourselves, so we almost instinctively excuse what we understand.

Thus the desire not to understand evil is common in places and generally unspoken, but sometimes quite explicit. Some even think that one must not--must not!--understand evil. The most strident of moral condemnation usually relies on not understanding, and there's a kind of chosen ignorance at the core of hatred. If you want to condemn and to hate, in other words, you have to keep understanding at bay.

This may be one reason why the academic humanities tend to be liberal or pluralistic or amoral (rather than immoral). If the goal is to understand (as it certainly is with history), and if you cannot easily keep any distance between understanding and approval, then it's simply natural to excuse or explain away pretty much everything. Letting understanding and approval drift into one indistinguishable blur is easy.

But of course this doesn't really work much better than self-prescribed ignorance, does it? Just about everything under the sun is understandable, but there's plenty that's simply inexcusable. Humbert Humbert, for instance.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Can you hear me? I'm beating on your wall

[The Walkmen + Japandroids + Dan Mangan @ Clubhouse Music Venue, Tempe 09/17/10]

Chase says everything in Arizona is in a strip mall. That's not quite true. Sometimes it seems like it is though.

Take last Friday night. Sam and I were driving through Tempe in his once-Tabor-owned beast to the Clubhouse Music Venue. Perhaps I'm spoiled by the provincial authentic venues of Tucson, which are situated where you'd expect them: in the heart of the town city's nightlife. But I experienced a kind of cognitive dissonance when I realized the Walkmen and Japandroids would be playing smack-dab in the middle of a strip mall--between Los Favoritos Taco Shop, a sports bar, a 7-11, and an Army recruiting center. Sam said, "Oh there it is" and clearly there it was: "The Clubhouse" in big red letters. But I told him, no, this was not it, because it could not be. It was, of course, it.

Inside was better than expected and essentially split into two halves. The back half was dominated by a huge semi-circle bar facing away from the stage (so that, when leaning against the bar, you face the stage, if that makes sense). The windows to the parking lot were 100% blacked out, which helped me ignore the whole strip-mall business. And it was pretty dark inside, which for whatever reason seemed appropriate.


A few minutes after 8 PM a bearded fellow in a plaid shirt with an acoustic guitar walked on stage. He was accompanied by three other fellows playing electric guitar, stand-up bass, and drums. But, I thought, Japandroids are a lo-fi punk duo, not an acoustic/folk/rock band. The mystery bearded fellow and his friends immediately launched into an enjoyably rollicking, slightly bluesy, folk-influenced rock.

I should clarify that the electric guitarist, too, sported a beard and a plaid shirt, but while the acoustic guitarist had a fresh-faced college-kid look, the electric guitarist looked like he'd spent his fair share of days in dive bars. Also, he was perhaps the second-most compelling guitarist I've seen live (next to Nels Cline): seriously fantastic though surprisingly business-like, considering most eyes were glued to him when he'd start riffing. The acoustic-guitar-playing bearded fellow sang with a straightforward baritone tinged by the occasional bluesy-guttural.

It was probably three songs before this beard revealed that he was Dan Mangan, and a middle-aged lady in the crowd informed Sam that he was a solo act with a backing band. Well, we enjoyed the whole band thoroughly, though both of us had a premonition that his studio stuff would be a letdown--me because the trendiness made me cautious, Sam perhaps because the Dodos previewed the "awesome-acoustic-guitar-live-rocker, hum-ho-so-so live acoustic rock album" earlier this summer. And indeed Nice, Nice, Very Nice is just good, not great. Though it turns out the Canadians think better.

Check out this old, pre-sweet-guitarist live version of "Road Regrets"  or this recent performance of "Post-War Blues" (guitarist showcased for about forty seconds starting a minute in).


What to say about Japandroids? They are, in fact, a lo-fi punk duo. The lead guitarist had a fan (the air-blowing kind, not the music-loving kind) positioned so as to blow his hair when he leaned into the mike to sing. He spent about half the show straddling the drum monitor. He played a lot of power chords. The brief smile and goofy wave of acknowledgment that endearingly followed each song rather made up for the pretension, though.

Halfway through the set Sam said, "They're like a battering ram. They just keep playing til you like them." That was when they were playing "Rockers East Vancouver," which I rather enjoyed, if only because the power chords are noticeably spaced in a way that makes it clear that he's actually playing something. Of course, they kept playing until you no longer remembered what it was you briefly liked. They closed with "Young Hearts Spark Fire." Sam said, "Haven't they played this song before? Like four or five times?" But seriously.

The young hearts in attendance were indeed sparking fire. I noted a disproportionate number of sixteen-year-old boys having a great time. They formed a moderate mosh-pit, and often thrust their fists in the air. I noted that not one of said fists lacked a black X. And clearly these souls wanted to worry not about dying but about those sunshine girls.


If I were to create a hierarchy of shows, it would go something like this: disappointing, adequate/good, excellent, world-historical (Hegel joke!) spectacular. Both shows I saw this summer, for example (Thao and Mirah, the Dodos and the New Pornographers), would probably register in high reaches of adequate/good category, with all of them save Mirah almost edging into excellent.

The last clearly excellent show I saw was probably Wilco and Grizzly Bear at Centennial Hall in the summer of 2009. And I have only been to two truly spectacular shows: Sufjan at Calvin College in Grand Rapids in the spring of 2007, Andrew Bird and Grizzly Bear at the MusicNOW festival in Cincinatti in the spring of 2008 (Sigur Rós in the fall of 2009 comes very close, though).

I'm not quite ready to say the Walkmen were spectacular. But I'm almost ready.

This was clearly the best crowd I've been a part of in Arizona. Tons of enthusiasm and energy, quite a bit of dancing, and some singing/shouting along to older material. The video embedded below reflects that.

For the life of me I cannot recall which song the Walkmen opened with. I want to say "Canadian Girl." I do know their second song was "Angela Surf City," which got things going, followed quickly by "In the New Year," which made it a party.

Sam says he hasn't wanted to dance so much at a show, and I have to concur. I dance move around much more than most people at most shows, but here I was pretty much out of control for about the whole show.

They played "Victory" and "Postcards from Tiny Islands" directly after those three, and then I lost track. "On the Water" and "Little House of Savages" and "All my Great Designs" and "We've Been Had" and "Woe is Me" and "Another One Goes By" and a lot more. The opening guitar lines of "Juveniles" and "Blue as Your Blood" set me rocking out to a new pitch. Couldn't stop singing, "You're one of us / or one of them" and "Black is the color of your eyes / Spanish is the language of your touch." Naturally they did not play "Stranded" or "Red Moon," both of which strongly depend on gorgeous horn arrangements.

They made us work for the encore. We worked.

Lead guitarist Paul Maroon came out with lead singer Hamilton Leithauser, and the two played an intimate version of an intimate song, "New Country." I thought that one song might be it, and it would have been a beautiful ending. But the rest of the band came out!

We danced angrily. We shouted "YOU'VE GOTTA NERVE" and "CAN'T YOU HEAR ME / I'M.... BEATING ON YOUR WALL!!!" Only caps and italics and underlining and red color and larger font and three (3) exclamation marks can really convey how out-of-control I/we was/were. I accidentally punched a nice, portly fellow in the shoulder. He immediately forgave me, for the rage of the crowd now was paradoxically quite good-natured. I probably flung sweat over everyone around, which might have been distressing were not the whole night blessed with the spittle of Hamilton Leithauser. We sang "now I go out alone if I go out at all."

The encore went on for two more songs I thoroughly enjoyed and yet have forgotten. C'est la vie, as people who wish they spoke French say. I soaked my shirt from collar to crotch, and I stomped my feet into useless clubs.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

For the third time I have tried and utterly failed to understand Hegel. For someone like me... it's frustrating. And as I'm studying 19th-century German intellectual history--doubly so. Maybe it'll be easier in the original language? Harhar.

On a more pleasant note, I'll put up some thoughts on the show Sam and I went to in Tempe on Friday night. It was right up there with the absolute best shows I've ever seen.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Bad News for Tucson Music

The Rialto might file bankruptcy this week.

This would be a serious blow to the Tucson music scene, as the Rialto is the only mid-to-large venue in town consistently bringing in decent bands. Club Congress and Plush do a good job with the smaller artists (see you Wednesday Tallest Man!), but if you're going to attract more than a hundred or so people and less than a thousand you need the Rialto.

I don't love the Rialto. The actual venue is pretty blah. Bands play in a big concrete box, basically, though the lobby has a nice old-theater feel to it. And their signature murals are great too. But the bottom line is that they bring in bands like the New Pornographers, the National, and Spoon. No other Tucson venue can or likely would do that.

Then again, if the last couple years have taught us anything, the perceived effects of bankruptcy can be pretty minimal... if we could only get some money thrown this way...

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Why am I soft in the middle?

Sam just sent me this. Sweaty, spontaneous dance parties at the Friendly Dump, sweaty wedding receptions past and future, and Sam shouting "ba-na-na-na!" Good times.