Pitchfork's Top Albums of 1909

From my replica Sears Catalog from 1909, check out this bogglingly weird selection of records available for order (click picture for much larger image).

There’s a whole section of ‘Laughing Songs’, for example, including a little number called ‘And Then I Laughed’. If laughing stories are more up your alley than laughing songs, you’re in luck: there’s a wide selection of ‘The Famous Uncle Josh Weatherby’s Laughing Stories.”

Also contains: jarring racism. Interestingly, the Dutch get the brunt of this almost as much as blacks do.

For more fun with the replica Sears Catalog, check out the Harris 20th Century Railroad Attachment.

Friday song: Born In The Wrong Time

(This time on a Sunday, for no particular reason.)

When I was much younger, I used to assume that the existence of any album I liked was essentially predetermined, as though god had decided ‘Let there be Rocket To Russia’. As I got older, I began to realize that a lot of these records were subject to the vagaries of adult lives and adult flakiness. Maybe a record like Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors was bound to happen. But what about all the little fly-by-night bands that dot the history of music… what if the weather is bad and the drummer decides not to bother making the drive to the recording session? What if the 19 year-old guitarist gets in a fight with the 20 year-old bassist?

Consider this fraught back story: band forms in 1978; bassist quits shortly thereafter; band breaks up later in 1979; band reforms in 1980 with a new bassist. In 1981, band decides to do an album only to discover that the small number of sound engineers in their native New Zealand all uniformly dislike their sound. Band records two EPs and a single on a friend’s four track before breaking up again in 1982. In either ’82 or ’83, the band’s guitarist and drummer — two brothers — get together to produce a few home recordings which they release under the name The Great Unwashed, a joke on their original name The Clean. In 1984, the brothers put together a band to back the new material, which includes the original bassist, now playing guitar. This lineup releases a new EP of material called Singles before breaking up again later that year.

Somewhat surprising, then, that with all this breaking-up and getting-back-together and brothers moving back and forth between Christchurch, Auckland and Dunedin, the band’s fleeting side project produced a song with the kind of perfect craftsmanship of ‘Born In The Wrong Time’ (written and sung by the original bassist, Peter Gutteridge). Not even two and a half minutes long, it nevertheless manages to create a really striking and sobering mood around an imaginative choice of subject matter:

Born In The Wrong Time — The Great Unwashed


Personal story regarding The Clean: In 1989, the ever-ambitious Krafty arranged for a then-unknown Galaxie 500 to play at our high school (footage here). Later that year, the Clean reformed to do a reunion tour. This seemed like the only chance we’d ever get to see our heroes, but the Clean were playing at a bar in Boston that was impossible to get into with a fake ID (thank you, Michael Dukakis). Luckily, the booking agent for the Clean show was the same guy who had booked the Galaxie show and ‘owed a favor’ to Krafty. So, we called him up and were told, “Sure, just show up to the sound check and we’ll work it out.” Well, when we came to show, the booking agent wound up telling the doormen that we were the road crew for the Clean. This still cracks me up: the idea that three strapping men from New Zealand in their late 20s would hire two scrawny teenagers — clearly from the Boston area —  to carry their gear around on tour… but, hey, whatever works.

By the way, while doing ‘research’ for this post, I wound up inadvertently googling people who feel that they’ve been born in the wrong time. Check out assorted metaphysical whimpering here, here and here. My favorite is the helpful respondent who suggest going to Renaissance Fairs in the last link as a therapeutic solution.


Lately I’m getting more and more emails that contain a quick line of conciliatory auto-blather at the bottom like this:

Is this a new “thing”? (Yes, I’m squinting and making quote-mark signs in the air right now). What could possibly be the value in this? Imagine extending this same convention to spoken conversation:

“Hey, I’m ordering food– you guys want anything? Please do not hesitate to ask me if there are any questions or queries regarding the preceding question.”

“No, Dan– we’re fine.”

“Alright, back in a few minutes then. Please do not hesitate to ask me if there are–”


America's Game

I’m deeply enjoying the 2010 NBA playoffs these days, and have noticed that most of the Czech guys who I play basketball with every Tuesday have a meticulous knowledge of NBA players and teams. This is interesting when you think about the fact that basketball is the only truly American game, having been invented by a Phys-Ed teacher in Springfield, MA in 1891. Compare this to baseball, a game touted as “America’s Game” that draws on European games for its rules and boasts of a “World Series” that Czechs wouldn’t be caught dead watching. (You can catch NBA playoff games on TV in specialty sports bars in Prague, and NFL is also a mainstay. Hockey, meanwhile, is considerably more popular here than it is in the U.S., probably on par with Canadian enthusiasm. Baseball, on the other hand, is an absolute blackout: no World Series, no nothing).

The speed with which the Peach Basket Game gained popularity is always striking to me, but never more so than when I show my design students a movie called The Man With A Movie Camera, an 1929 avant-garde piece of Soviet film by Dziga Vertov that captures everyday events in an aggressively abstract and non-linear manner. There’s an artsy montage of people playing sports where you see a group of Russian women engaged in some incredibly dated- and weird-looking athletic activity that you suddenly realize — wow! — is basketball. The story of how basketball permeated this nascent cultural iron curtain in the first 38 years of its existence is a job for another blog far less lazy than this one, but let’s just say it surprises me a little every time I see the film.

(Blurry Soviet female basketball scrum from The Man With A Movie Camera)

So, while I acknowledge that the sport has achieved great heights, I have a few suggestions and scenarios that I think would add interesting wrinkles:

  • Halloween pageants where teams dress up in the spirit of their team name. How much better would, say, a random Utah / San Antonio game be if involved a cultural showdown where ‘jazzmen’ maneuver against cowboys clanking around in spurs and full regalia?
  • The option to suddenly punt the basketball through upright goal posts positioned 10 yards behind the basket for 3 points
  • My plan to dress NBA coaches in players’ uniforms, following the example of baseball (further discussed here)
  • Port-a-potties positioned along the court. This came to mind when I thought about the fact that no one ever has to pee during our hour and half Tuesday pick-up games. Obviously, the reason is that we’re all running like antelopes and sweating out all the water in our bodies. But what if athletic activity massively increased – rather than decreased – the need to go? Imagine the drama and ensuing recrimination as certain players desperately peel off for ‘pit stops’ during key moments in the action, as in a marathon
  • Something involving leg warmers, berets and mimes that I haven’t fully worked out yet.

Czech product marketing update

My father was visiting last week. It took his discerning eye to draw our attention to the name of our current toilet paper brand, which I hadn’t noticed before:

Happyend, a German brand. No word yet on the specific terms of this guarantee.

Meanwhile, Mr. Clean has become Mr. Proper:

Same guy, but over here his fastidious nature extends to moral issues as well.

For more fun in this vein, see Sick/Barf.

Friday song: The Clown

Around the time that Charles Mingus was having his psychologist write the liner notes for his albums, he released The Clown, whose title track centers around a made-up-on-the-fly story narrated by Jean Shepherd (the same guy responsible for A Christmas Story). Musicians are forever bitching about how their listeners don’t really ‘get’ them, but Mingus is the only guy I can think of to creatively channel this resentment– in this case, into a story about a clown (‘a real happy guy’) who martyrs himself to the cruel appetites of his audience:

The Clown’ by Charles Mingus

I saw a documentary about Mingus once where they related an anecdote about a time that his band was playing in a San Francisco bar. Mingus, a notorious rage-o-holic, got pissed off because the audience kept chattering and not paying attention to the band, so he eventually proposed that the band and audience ‘trade fours’: they would play for four bars, then stop so the audience could talk for four bars. Of course, the audience got ate this up and got really into it– which is I suppose a tiny real life analogy to the storyline of ‘The Clown’.

Runnin' With The Dio

Yesterday, we lost one of the great voices of 80s metal– and popularizer of the “Il Cornuto” devil sign– Ronnie James Dio. I thought it would appropriate to lay him to rest with a passage from that Christian screed The Devil’s Disciples that I blogged on a few weeks ago. In this section, the perpetually horrified author cites Dio in a passage about the tendency of “Devil-worshiping groups” to “add and drop members left and right, changing and transforming the bands they leave, and enter into even greater strongholds of satanic strength”. As he recounts the monstrous shapeshifting of Rainbow and Black Sabbath, he offers up this defacto obituary :

A pompous little leather-lunged singer named Ronnie James Dio joined Blackmore’s new outfit, using his strong songwriting ability to pen songs about the mystic power of pyramids, witches, warlocks and werewolves. After quitting Rainbow with four albums under his belt, Dio replaced the disgusting Ozzy Osbourne as Black Sabbath’s lead vocalist. The name of the album he debuted on: “Heaven and Hell.”

[note: in the writing of Jeffrey Godwin, this is supposed to be a big ‘aha! moment, where the artist’s obvious satanism is shown to be right in front of our noses]

Here are some quotes directly from Dio:

“At least I understand something about the occult, which is more than I can say about certain bands use pentagrams and upside down crosses as their emblems…”

“In order to write logically and sensible about a subject, you have to learn about it. I’m INFORMED about the darker side of our lives…”

Who’s doing the informing? Dio is not Ronnie James’ name…


His last name is actually Padovana. Dio means “god” in Italian. This guy calls himself and his band God!

Note that despite Godwin’s obvious revulsion towards Dio on the last point, it is conspicuous that he acknowledges Dio’s “strong songwriting ability”. Compare this to his more characteristic tone of contempt for the rest of Black Sabbath: “It seems impossible that such a ragtag bunch of misfits and weirdos could sell ten records to their relatives, much less millions of albums over a 15 year span.” Well, then.

The Siberian Basketball Diaries, Part Eleven

[ed note: the following is an excerpt from the travel journal of my old high school friend Andrej Mucic. In 2005, Andrej bicycled over 7,000 miles through Siberia to raise money for the American Anti-Slavery Group. Previous installments start here.

In this– the final installment– Andrej comments on the political kertuffles taking place just as he’s leaving Moscow.]


Subject:  The Warriors
Date:  8/31/05

Remember the cult film classic “The Warriors?” That’s what the Moscow political scene has turned into. And your humble narrator was right in the middle of it, but I missed the oppurtunity to rumble alongside my friends in the National Bolshevick Party, by just one day.

Sunday I participated in a demonstration in front of KGB headquarters calling for the release of 39 NBP political prisoners. Here’s them in the can:

What suprised me most about this rally was the large number of young people present. In the West, there is a media assumption that all neo-Soviet forces in Russia are angry old people demanding free sausage. This could not be further from the truth. The appalling economic and political situation in the Motherland has radicalized people that were not even adults at the time of the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

The demonstration went well. Afterwards, me and three party activists went for a walk. They included:




They took me on a fascinating tour of the city. We eventually arrived at the site of their First Bunker, and there we sat down in a beautiful little park and drank beers, ate pickles and talked. I am very impressed with these people. In a land of almost universal apathy and political inaction, the NBP is an island of patriotism and optimism.

That night as I was saying goodbye to the lovely Natasha on the subway, she invited me to a meeting they were having the next day. I told her that I was leaving tommorrow and that I could not make it. I’m lying. What I really said was, “I’m a friend of the Party, I am not a Member.” I really regret not going, because that meeting was stormed by soccer hooligan street-thugs, known as the Gladiators, loyal to President Putin. Oh how I wish I’d been there to break a few heads. The weapons on choice are baseball bats and flag poles, both of which I feel very comfortable with. Here’s an article that describes the event and the way in which Putin deals with political opponents.