Thursday, July 30, 2009

Why don't hipsters dance?

If somebody can provide me with a logical answer, I will come over to your house and cook you dinner. This is not a novel observation and something I have kvetched about thousands of times in the past, but last night really hammered the point home for me.

At the Magnolia Electric Co. show at Bottom of the Hill, the second to last song they played was a kick-ass cover of Warren Zevon's "Lawyers Guns & Money." Not only was it a recognizable cover, it was easily one of the most rocking songs of the night. Check out a video of the same song from an earlier show in Austin*:

For most people, that is a formula for dancing, toe tapping, mild head-bobbing, etc. But as I was jumping up and down and pumping my fist, I happened to notice that the crowd around me looked like the extras in a "Saved By The Bell" episode when Zach Morris calls a time-out.

Like I said, this is definitely nothing new. I wasn't even close to surprised, but I never seem to not be disappointed when I go to high energy show and the hipster throngs are doing their best to not move.

Is it lack of appreciation? Probably not. Fear of accidentally touching somebody else during the dancing and thereby suffering the indignity of human contact? Maybe. I think it could have most to do with the fear of looking uncool** by allowing the world to see just how bad they are at dancing. I guess I can somewhat sympathize with that because my dancing looks like a full-body dry heave. I have no idea how I haven't ended up on youtube by now with a ton of snarky hipsters making fun of me in the comments section like my good buddy Cameron Gunn.

*By the way, doesn't the guitarist look like a wampa from "Empire Stirkes Back"?
**This is a hipster's number one fear in life.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

How does food policy relate to health care?

Check out this editorial on Civil Eats. Paula Crossfield argues that all this health care hullabaloo really misses the mark. While liberals and conservatives are arguing about socialism and single payer systems and all this other crap that we can't understand from the proposed bill anyway, nobody has bothered to ask what's making us sick in the first place.

Why are people unhealthy? For those who see our food system as the magic bullet, the answer is pretty obvious. And while the food system is the number one contributor, bad urban planning is a big part (see Public Space). And Crossfield makes a great point about how financially dependent we are on The System and how that hurts our overall health.

Higher education is so expensive now that workers are bound to their workplace because of massive debt, feeling compelled to overwork in order to keep their health insurance, and therefore are too exhausted to cook. It’s all related.

The greatest strength of Crossfield's article is that she points out Obama's greatest weakness so far*: his inability to get the lobbyists out of Washington. Definitely no small task, but his pre-election rhetoric on this point was pretty strong. All you have to do to figure out why which politicians are aligning themselves on which sides of this issue is to follow the money. You will inevitably find ties to the business interests that have a stake in the outcome.

To fix health care--to fix our lives--we need big changes. We can do everything we can on a local and personal level, but it would be nice to see Washington working with us on this rather than against us. For that, Washington is going to have some major surgery of its own. Let's see if Dr. Obama will really follow through on his diagnosis and cut out the tumor known as special interest lobbying.

*Keep in mind we're not even a year into his Presidency.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

First great movie about the second Iraq War.

A quote at the beginning of "The Hurt Locker" says it all: "War is a drug." Of course if you watch the preview above, you know it's not just referring to our bombastic and bellicose government leaders or the Military-Industrial Complex.

"The Hurt Locker" is about what it takes to survive in an Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit (EOD bomb squad) in the middle of the war which has had more need for a bomb squad than any other in history. Jeremy Renner plays the bomb defuser with a reckless streak, and his survival instincts are to throw caution to the wind and dive in head-first. To him, human emotions like fear, doubt, caution, prudence and the desire for self-presevation will just get you killed.

I have to give Renner credit because I honestly thought he was a terrible actor before this movie. He plays it perfectly, though, and pulls off the cowboy act without descending into farce. This probably has something to do with Kathryn Bigelow's direction and because of the crew's focus on realism. The script comes from a journalist who was actually embedded with an EOD crew in 2004. Most of the Iraqis are played by Iraqi refugees who escaped across the Jordan border during the war. Renner, who trained with EOD for the movie, said that shooting in Jordan added to the authenticity.
There were two by fours with nails being dropped from two-story buildings that hit me in the helmet and they were throwing rocks... we got shot at a few times while we were filming," Renner said. "When you see it, you're gonna feel like you've been in war."
I certainly can't claim to know what it's like in Baghdad, but I definitely felt like this helped me imagine what it might be like. It also became that much harder to imagine why we would put a bunch of kids in harm's way to fight a war against an invisible idealogy like terrorism. For the bomb squad, they never actually see an enemy army or an objective to accomplish to win the war. The IEDs are just a bunch of crude wires connected to things that will get them killed.

Defusing the bomb neither accomplishes an objective nor makes the United States any safer. It simply allows the EOD to live another day and continue defusing more bombs--to get another fix. War really is a drug.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Who should fill in for The Beastie Boys at Outside Lands?

But first, I just want to say thank you to Tom Watson (from Kansas City) for getting me to believe the impossible could actually happen--even if it was just for a little while.

So....Adam Yauch has the cancer, which leaves a headline spot open at Outside Lands. It will be interesting to see who they have to back up the Brinks truck for to take their place.

1. This isn't life threatening, but get well soon, MCA.

2. It seems like so many people are getting cancer these days, even kids I went to college or high school with. I would have bet my life savings that cancer rates were increasing at an unprecedented rate and I would have told you it was because of the chemicals they intentionally or unintentionally put in our food, water, and air. But according to, new incidents of cancer have been decreasing since the early '90's. Shows what I know.

3. The Outside Lands twitter page has asked for suggestions on who to add. I'm glad I'm not the person who has the responsibility of signing a major artist to a festival and just over a month to do it, but it's nice that they're looking to the fans for input. So, who ya got?

I would say to get some cool up and coming band or somebody with local history, but this is the headliner of a $90/day festival, so they're going to have to get someone with a Name to compliment DMB and Pearl Jam. I just hope it's something just a little unexpected. So far, the lineup is pretty insipid and designed to appeal to the broadest audience possible.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

My favorite 17 albums of the year so far


Tuesday was the All-Star Game, so we must be halfway through the year. And that means it's the time of making lists about the first half of the year.

DDoff Daily posted his albums of the year so far, so I feel obligated to give my five devoted readers the same royal treatment*. I used criteria that is entirely objective, so this is pretty much a factual, undisputed ranking and probably the only list worth reading**. Oh, and I'd appreciate if you commented with your list of favorites, which if you're a hipster, will include Animal Collective at #1.

And without further ado.....

17. We Were Promised Jetpacks - "These Four Walls" I've heard these guys will be the biggest thing to come out of Scotland since the janitor from the Simpsons. I don't know if they're even half as good as Frightened Rabbit but it certainly seems that the heavy, crescendo-ing drums and guitars and soaring vocals are resonating with me. I guess early U2's influence has finally crossed The North Channel.

16. Grizzly Bear - "Veckatimest" The best of the hipster pop of the year. Maybe a little overblown but still pretty catchy.

15. Wilco - "Wilco (The Album)" I love Wilco a whole lot but this album just hasn't hooked me yet. Still, there are some great tracks on this album. My guess is that it will either have grown on me by the end of the year and make it to the top 10, or it will join the giant scrap heap of discarded latter efforts of great bands.

14. Neko Case - "Middle Cyclone" Solid effort from Neko. Doesn't quite measure up to her early work, but the songs are good live. Too bad her nerdy banter isn't included on the album.

13. Patterson Hood - "Murdering Oscar (and other love songs)" A solo release from the Drive-By Truckers front man more than 10 years in the making, this record has some nice balads and whatnot. Hood is quite the lyricist and the songs come off as much more personal and [slightly] less dark than what he puts on Truckers albums.

12. Iron & Wine - "Around the Well" Should this even count since most of the songs aren't new? I don't really care, this is still the best baby-making music around. I seriously wish that I had this in my repertoire to lure girls back to my rape cave, I mean dorm room, instead of the ubiquitous "Have you heard the latest "1x1" > "Rock" > "I'm Not Alone" from the latest Paolo Soleri run? It's pretty h3tty."

11. Son Volt - "American Central Dust" Solid alt-country. Son Volt is somehow still an under the radar band despite great talent. Jay Farrar must look at Wilco playing huge venues and wish death upon Tweedy every night.

10. Pink Mountaintops - "Closer To Heaven" Listening to this all the way through for the first time as I write, I'm thinking that this might actually be one of my favorite albums of the year. Like its mother band, Black Mountain, it's just the right mix of hard psychadelic rock and Candaianness. Unlike BM, it's a little bit lighter and easy to listen to.

9. Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears - "Tell 'Em What Your Name Is!" Hard to believe that people are still making old music this good. This "garage soul" band from Austin sounds like it could have been made in the 70s. Joe says he wants to be the Black Elvis, but I'll be content if he continues to the be the modern James Brown.

8. Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit - "Self-Titled" I can't sing this guy's praises enough. I'm sure it was tough to get the boot from the Drive-By Truckers following his divorce from bassist Shonna Tucker. He has had to start from scratch and play smaller half-full clubs while Patterson Hood is being interviewed on CNN and the Truckers are selling out bigger venues and joining forces with The Hold Steady. Isbell is an incredible guitarist and lyricist, though, so I think he'll be just fine.*** This is his second album and he shows that "Sirens of the Ditch" was no fluke.

7. Danger Mouse & Sparklehorse - "Dark Night of the Soul" This really doesn't sound like anything else, which is a good thing. Check out the story behind this album:

It's a friendly collaboration that turned out to be a match made in limbo. Sparklehorse's Mark Linkous and Gnarls Barkley's Danger Mouse wrote a set of comely, haunted songs for alt-rock heavies (Black Francis, Julian Casablancas, James Mercer, Wayne Coyne, Iggy Pop) to be sold with a coffee-table book of darkly ironic photos by director David Lynch (who also lent his keep-your-day-job warble to two songs). But EMI inexplicably shelved the album. In response, the Horse and the Mouse came up with a sneakily Borgesian stunt, commodifying their music's very absence by selling blank CD-Rs online, with Lynch's book.

6. Ryan Bingham - "Roadhouse Sun" I'm not sure if I like this album for itself as much as I like that it reminds me of the show I saw at Hotel Utah, which has probably been my favorite live performance of the year. Bingham's Texas/New Mexico sound is both different and familiar at the same time. I can play his music for just about any type of fan and they all seem to enjoy it. This is music that has some sort of universal appeal.

5. Various Artists - "Dark Was The Night" Again, maybe this album shouldn't count but this is a double album that has probably gotten more plays around my house than any other. Just look at the artist list and tell me this isn't a great album. And if you downloaded this AIDS benefit album from the Internet, you better not eat before sundown at Yom Kippur this year.

4. The Decemberists - "Hazards of Love" You have to love the amitious effort from Colin Meloy here. Not too many people can pull off the rock opera. I saw him perform the whole thing from start to finish with a straight face, and I am here to tell you that this album kicks ass like no other folksy, pseudo-19th century rock epic has before it.

3. Phoenix - "Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix" I'm almost a little embarrassed to say how much I like this French electro-pop, but this has become my new cooking music. What can I say? A guy can't listen to roots music all day, every day.

2. Justin Townes Earle - "Midnight at the Movies" Your grandpappy's country music. Earle is making music that nobody else that I know of is making today. Son of Steve, named after Townes Van Zandt, these songs come from somebody who knows the blues. Good to know that kicking crack hasn't affected his song writing ability.

1. Magnolia Electric Co. - "Josephine" Alt-countryish master Jason Molina's first album since the band's bassist died in a tragic gardening accident****. Soulful vocals, good guitar work, country should come as no surprise that I love this music.

*Plus, DDoff likes that hippity-hop music, so I knew my list would look completely different from his.
**Actually, I just picked the 15 albums I've listened to the most--or upon making this list, wish I'd listened to the most.
***Check out the video below from his solo-ish performance at Cafe du Nord last year.
****It may have actually been an apartment fire in Oakland.

Monday, July 13, 2009

See "Food Inc." for free and a great profile of an urban farmer

Will Allen, the ultimate urban farmer and a truly larger than life figure, was profiled in last week's New York Times Magazine. It's a great read and indirectly poses an important question: Can the good food movement be sustained without some sort of subsidy, whether it be in the form of private grant or government pay?

Michael Pollan, when I saw him speak at the Herbst Theater (click here for video), argued that no food system has ever been successful without some sort of subsidy. That's why some have argued it's important that we redirect our government emphasis on commodity crops like corn and wheat and soybeans and reward more complex systems that grow a variety of plants, such as vegetables.

My grandmother told me that she would love if it were economically viable to grow something else besides GMO corn*. Is there any reason the Farm Bill won't pay Will Allen a dime and would discontinue paying my grandparents if they planted a row of broccoli next to the corn?

*Whether it is realistic for octogenarians in South Central Kansas to switch to organic farming at this point is a question better left for another day.

Free Screening of 'Food, Inc.'


Still haven't seen Food, Inc.? Your procrastination is paying off, for once. Catch a free screening of the startling film -- sponsored nationwide by the burrito chain Chipotle -- on Thursday, July 16, at Embarcadero Center Cinema (One Embarcadero Center) at 7:30 p.m. Get there super early to guarantee yourself a seat; you know how people can be when it comes to free things.

More info on Chipotle's screenings is here, and to get in the spirit before you go to the theater, read SFoodie Editor John Birdsall's conversation with Food, Inc. director Robert Kenner.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Why is English the language of rock and roll?

I first started thinking about this at a Jens Lekman show last month. What would possess a person born in Sweden to sing in a second language? I started to think about other foreign musicians like France's Phoenix, Germany's The Scorpions, or Peter, Bjorn and John, also of Sweden. Why would all of these people not choose to sing in their native tongues? It worked for Autobahn, didn't it?

There are notable exceptions, but for the most part modern music--the vast majority of which is derived from from rock and roll--is sung in English. The French have even gone as far to establish quotas of how much francophone rock must be played on the radio.

There are, I think, some obvious reasons why music is so often sung in English*.

1. Rock and roll was invented here. If you are a foreign musician and you're into rock and roll, then you probably grew up listening to music by English-speaking artists. Singing in English would be a natural progression if you happen to be proficient in English. Which brings me to my next reason.

2. English is the most common second language in the world. If you were going to write lyrics in a dialect that is not your own, chances are it's going to be English. And because so many people understand English, your market appeal is that much wider than if you were going to sing in a language like Swedish.**

I guess those two reasons could just about explain it, but then I start thinking about how hard it is to write a song in the first place***. It seems like it would be 10 times harder to write a song in a language you weren't as familiar with. Music is already such a personal art form that it's hard enough to express yourself in a first language.

I would be terrified of coming off like a cheesy foreigner writing a song in Spanish or something. Imagine if Manu Chau had translated "Me Gustas Tu" into English before recording it. I doubt all the white kids at festivals would be singing along with the lyrics the likes of "I like marijuana, I like you, I like airplanes, I like you, I like your kitchen, I like you."

Furthermore, we can look at other periods of time when a certain type of music developed from a certain language. Opera began in Italian but quickly spread throughout the rest of Europe. Wagner didn't write his operas in Italian. Why is that?

So, all you not scared of leaving comments, why is English the language of rock and roll?

*Of course, as a blogger, I have done no serious research whatsoever and these reasons can be taken as pure xenophobic speculation.
**Sigur Ros is one band I can think of that sings in a Nordic language and has achieved commercial success. Wait, does Bjork sing in Icelandic? I guess that would make Icelandic the language of pretentious art rock.
***Or maybe it's not? Just like at Phish's lyrics and the success they have achieved. Maybe getting a good sound is even more important.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

More movies


I don't need to say much else because I don't want to ruin anything and so much else will be written about it this summer, but I saw "Bruno" last night and my throat still hurts from laughing so much. Funniest movie I've seen in a long time.


A genius dies

Yesterday, July 6, somebody far more important than Michael Jackson died: Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense during the Vietnam War. He came off as pretty much a typical shithead politician while in office a la Condy Rice or Donald Rumsfield but later in life was in this absolutely amazing documentary called "The Fog of War." The whole thing is him talking about public policy and reflecting on his life. The guy has an incredible mind. Rent the movie. It won the Acadmeny Award for Documentary Feature.

Robert Strange McNamara (June 9, 1916 – July 6, 2009) was an American business executive and the eighth Secretary of Defense. McNamara served as Defense Secretary for Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson from 1961 to 1968. Following that he served as President of the World Bank from 1968 until 1981. McNamara was responsible for the institution of systems analysis in public policy, which developed into the discipline known today as policy analysis.[4]

The two best trailers I saw during the latest movie binge:

"The Cove" - It's "Man on Wire" meets "Sharkwater"

"It Might Get Loud" - Jimmy Page, Jack White, and The Edge. Can't wait for this one.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Double Feature Sunday: Woody Allen and Food Politics

Is "Food Inc." a movie for the average person?

"Food Inc." is the new documentary
* about the way we produce and eat food in America and the latest attack on Nutritional-Industrial Complex. It basically takes Michael Pollan's and Eric Schlosser's writings and reduces them to an easily consumable 90-minute documentary.

Being familiar with just about all the stories in the film, I found it easy to follow and still found myself outraged at the actions of the government and the corporations who are most responsible for our Western diet and all the diseases that come along with it: cancer, obesity, and whathaveyou.

Towards the end, I started wondering if they weren't trying to present too much information or spending too little time on certain aspects. I found myself wanting to hear more about the court cases Monsanto brought against farmers, more from Joel Salatin, or more about what people can do to get involved. I was a little surprised the letters C-S-A weren't mentioned even once.

So I was left wondering if it's a movie that is perfect for elucidating the average viewer who eats at McDonald's and buys groceries at Wal-Mart or if it was simply another sermon to the converted to make us high-fallutin' liberals feel better about spending half our income on fancy food. I honestly don't have a good feel for what the answer to that question is.

And maybe I don't have a great answer to that because so far it has made barely more than a million dollars at a mere 83 theaters** (compare that with 4300 for Michael Bay's latest defecation on celluloid). It still has yet to hit one major outpost in the Corn Belt that I know of, Kansas City. I suspect, though, that the movie is probably intentionally enjoying a slow release so word of mouth buzz can spread. Its $2,900 average per theater puts it way ahead of mainstream movies like "My Sister's Keeper" and "Year One."

So it's proably going to take more time to see if this movie will have any crossover appeal or if it will get lumped in with all the other indie documentaries like "King Corn." I do know that some farmers near where I grew up weren't that impressed. I feel like farmers are the real heroes of the film, but I can see how my grandparents, who grow commodity crops in Pratt, KS, would get upset that Big City-types think that they know what's best for folks on the farm.

So if you've seen the movie, now would be a good time to tell me what you think. And please see if you can't get a somebody who isn't converted to go see the movie and report back.

*Follow link for trailer.

"Whatever Works"[insert pun about how well or not well you think the movie works]

Discolure: I am complete Woody Allen apologist. I may recognize the occasional fault in some of his films but I have enjoyed every single one of them on one level or another.

After seeing the man himself in the stands at the marathon Wimbledon final on Sunday, it was a no-brainer to see "Whatever Works" last night.

There are so many things I love about Woody Allen but almost above all, I love that he continues to work no matter what. Even if he were to acknowledge the existence of writer's block, you wouldn't be able to tell because he would still release one or two movies that year.

I love that no matter what else is going on in the world, I can count on that familiar smile coming to my face as a black screen with plain white type appears, old-timey jazz starts playing and I am informed that Jack Rollins and Charles Joffe were executive producers of the movie I'm about to see (even though Charles Joffe is dead), and I'm about to find out some more universal truths about love, death, and the human condition.

I love that though so many themes and plotlines tend to show up again and again, each film seems to be a different statement from the director about himself. Is the initial tone of this film so much more angry because Woody is pissed about what's going in the world? Is he getting cranky in his old age or is it just because he wanted to write a character who would be easier for Larry David to play? Is there any way his overall theme of telling everyone to stop being so damn judgmental is not influenced by everyone in the world judging him for choosing to ignore society and fall in love with the most unlikely of brides?

I suspect many will deride the movie for not being funny enough, for the characters being a little too caricatured, or for the narration direct to the audience just not working. I don't think Larry David is going to ever be successful at not playing himself, but he definitely excelled in the role as Boris. All of the characters were well cast as well and by the closing credits, they had somehow gone from caricatures to dynamic characters.

For a Woody Allen apologist, this was classic latter-day Woody. In the end, I laughed; I learned something; I didn't feel like I wasted $11.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Food Safety First - Send Bill Marler Packin' to DC!

It’s time to get serious about food safety.

The USDA has yet to appoint the Under Secretary for Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) – and it’s time that we had a real reformer at the USDA.

Every year in the U.S. an estimated 76 million people get sick with food borne illnesses and 5,000 die. One person who knows this fact better than anybody else in the country is food safety lawyer Bill Marler.

You may remember him as the generous patron who offered to pay for author Michael Pollan’s visit to Washington State University after his best-selling book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, had been removed from the freshman reading program. But Marler’s been known as a leading advocate for food safety for nearly two decades.

In 1993, Marler served as the lead attorney in the famous Jack in the Box E.coli outbreak. Since then, he’s led the charge in protecting the rights of consumers against unsafe practices by major corporations.

As someone who’s been on the front lines of America’s food safety crisis for nearly 20 years, he has seen first hand the devastation that can be left in the wake of poor food safety practices. We believe that Marler understands the problems that create food safety outbreaks and knows the solutions. He believes that inspection is an important process that not only protects consumers but could save farmers, hospitals and businesses money as well. He understands the importance of regionalizing our food system to build more processing plants that will create a safer food supply and real jobs for rural America.

Known as a fair and fierce opponent, Marler is the perfect candidate to help reform America’s bankrupt food safety system from the ground up. As unprecedented food safety legislation winds its way through Congress that will redefine the Food and Drug Administration’s role in keeping America’s food safe, it’s important that the USDA has an individual with a strong commitment to food safety and consumer health. Bill Marler is that candidate.

Write to President Obama and Secretary Vilsack today
and ask them to appoint Bill Marler as the next Under Secretary for food safety at the USDA.

It’s time that America leads the way in having the safest food possible. Bill Marler can make that happen.

Click here to send Bill Marler to the USDA
and make our nation’s food supply more safe.

Sustainably yours,

Food Democracy Now!

If you'd like to see Food Democracy Now!'s grassroots work continue, please consider donating as little as $10 or $25. We appreciate your support!

Please write President Obama and Secretary Vilsack today!

You can cut and paste the below letter and send it to President Obama at the link below
and email Secretary Vilsack at the email below.


Send Comments to the White House
Email Secretary Vilsack:

Sample Letter

Dear President Obama and Secretary Vilsack

In an age of record food safety outbreaks, it’s important that America has a reformer on the frontlines in the effort to rebuild our nation’s broken food safety system. In just the past few weeks, U.S. consumers have had to contend with E.coli O157:H7 found in Nestle Toll House cookie dough and a massive new E.coli outbreak in over 421,000 pounds of beef.

On June 24 the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) issued a Class 1 recall for primal cuts of beef from the JBS Swift Beef Company in Greeley, Colorado. According to the FSIS website, this recall has a high health risk to American consumers and at a time when they should be relaxing and enjoying the festivities of our nation’s Independence Day, mothers and cooks will have to worry if their children or loved ones could get sick from eating tainted meat on the 4th of July.

It’s time to put this to an end.

I believe it’s important that America leads the way in food safety for the 21st century and support our nation’s leading food safety attorney, Bill Marler, being selected to lead the way as the next Under Secretary of the FSIS.

America can no longer afford to appease an industry that has made our food less safe and continues to put lives at risk because of convenience or profit. Please show us that you care about our nation’s consumers and children by nominating Bill Marler to become the next head of the FSIS.


[Your name
city & state here]