“Better call on evolution” or, Our Cultural Koyaanisqatsi (Revisited)

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Don’t you remember, back in the ’70s (or early ’80s), learning about people banning or burning books and thinking, even as a grade schooler, that this represented an ancient, embarrassing point in our ostensible development as a nation?

I do.

And as we come to learn, as we grow and bear witness, the more things change the more they stay the same.

Did you happen to catch this?

I did.

And I’m equal parts embarrassed and appalled. (Quick recap: some backward opportunist named Scott Beason, already a Tea Party loving, immigrant hating imbecile, is now throwing his hat into the ring. As in ring of fire. As in: let’s ban books! Click on the link above to read more, if you can stomach it.)

I find myself asking, only somewhat rhetorically: Again?

We have to go through this again?

We have to actually entertain the idea that anyone, in the United States, circa 2014, can get mileage out of this type of ignorant fear-mongering?

The answer, of course, is: of course.

And, as always, I do hate the player, but I mostly hate the game. This being America, each and every huckster can sell their snake oil; if people aren’t willing to buy it, they won’t survive. But as we see, again and again, there are always people willing to buy it. Lots of people. Especially people in certain states. Like Alabama.

If there was anything approximating a mature or informed discourse amongst these folks, or if our MSM was capable (or willing) to advance something resembling reality, there might be the possibility, however remote, of pointing out to these misguided, willfully ignorant cretins that the types of things they advocate (like banning books and supporting a single religion) are not only un-American –literally– but more than slightly resemble the exact practices –literally– of the Taliban we are allegedly fighting against overseas.

But there’s no hope. And that will never happen.

Of course Upton Sinclair understood this over a century ago, when he nailed our appetite for self-destruction, for all time: It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.

5/25/2010:

ON THIS DAY:

On May 25, 1925, John T. Scopes was indicted in Tennessee for teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution.

I always enjoy the chance to invoke the incomparable Bill Hicks.

And of course, I relish any opportunity to break out my favorite image ever:

But it’s not all that funny, really. I mean, we laugh because there is much to laugh at. You have to laugh at these simpletons who want to “bring our country back”, meaning the good old days when blacks and women knew their place, homosexuals dared not show their faces in public and the bible held firmer sway over a greater portion of the populace. Presumably these same tea baggers and bigots don’t want to also bring back cars without air conditioning and houses without running water, smallpox without vaccine and surgery without anesthetics and a few dozen other of our least favorite things from a time when the world was a whiter shade of pale.

And it’s not at all difficult to connect the dots between the type of magical thinking employed by the bible thumpers and the Ayn Rand-obsessed Libertarian lunatics (how perfect –and appalling– a commentary on the cultural Koyaanisqatsi we are currently struggling through that the son of the Libertarian’s savior is named after the most humorless and phlegmatic popular novelist of the 20th Century. Painfully popular. And imperceptive. (And influential. Right Alan? Atlas shrugged; Jesus wept.) Indeed, the only redeeming thing I can think about Ayn Rand is that she partially inspired one of Rush’s great early albums.

It’s times like this that I wish we actually had a Democrat in The White House.

Just kidding. Sort of.

I mean, if there wasn’t a better teaching moment than right now, when has there ever been? Between the ongoing Wall Street debacle (and the toothless “reform”) and the state our the-only-thing-better-than-less-regulation-is-no-regulation former administration left our country in, we are presented with the ultimate, ugly fruit of that mentality, the BP debacle. Or should I say, the still far-from-resolved BP debacle? Actual regulation on the disgustingly rapacious financial, housing and oil industries would have easily obviated all of the recent catastrophes. Catastrophes that we will spend generations paying for. Put another way: the only people who have gotten rich in any of these three arenas are the people who depend upon other peoples’ misfortune to make a profit. And, of course, there are large segments of our country fired up and ready to march defending these sociopath’s unfettered right to exploit and destroy.

See, the thing about teaching moments is that people need to be teachable; they need to be capable of being taught. And a distressing number of Americans right now have already determined that everything they need to know is contained within the (literal) words of the bible, or is best expressed by the (backwards and demonstrably untrue) proposition that there’s nothing the government can do that the free market can’t do better.

Yet, as depressing as it might be to consider how far we have to go, it’s helpful to think about the distance we’ve travelled. Take a look at the recent CNN poll, indicating that 8 of 10 Americans have no problems with gay people openly serving in the military. Could you have even fathomed this possibility back in November, 2004? (That, you may recall, was just after the G.O.P. successfully cock-rocked the vote, whipping up the Red and Blue state hysteria concerning all-things-homosexual. It seems safe to suggest that this disgusting –and disgustingly effective– strategy has finally reached its expiration date, and in our lifetimes we’ll look back in disbelief at how gullible, intolerant and imbecilic we were around the turn of the century. The way most of us today regard our legacy toward civil rights. Right Rand?

So there has been progress. And the good thing about evolution is that no matter how slow it might be, it is inevitable. Although, I wonder if the recent paradigm shift regarding gay rights has less to do with enlightened acculturation and more to do with the fact that in the last six years we’ve gradually discovered every priest and Republican politician is queer as Charles Haley. Just kidding. Sort of.

Therefore on a day that we remember the struggle to teach evolution even as we struggle to teach ourselves how to evolve, I’ll abjure originality and invoke a tune entitled…Evolution. Assessing this great song from the great Cat Power’s great album You Are Free (which I opined was the 4th best album of the past decade), I offered the following thoughts:

But in the end, “Evolution” is the ideal song to close out the set. More, it’s one of the best closing songs on any album, ever. More, it may just be the song of the decade: thematically it is elegiac but in its yearning, deeply human resolve, it is inevitably inspiring. Another duet with Eddie Vedder, I am unable to express the heights this tone poem attains. Just piano and two voices, one sounding like the other’s shadow, Vedder echoes, encourages and reinforces Marshall’s fragile invocation of witness and perseverance. The pair go through the lyrics one time, pause and recite them a second time, ending with a subdued but urgent call to arms, repeating the words “Better make your mind up quick”. They are talking to themselves and, one slowly realizes, addressing anyone else who might be listening.

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RUSH HOUR

4/18/2003: today is the day mein froinds!

Rush is officially inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame tonight.

I’ve written quite a bit about one of my favorite bands, most recently HERE and, in chronological order, HERE, (a deep dive into 2112) HERE (a deep dive into Moving Pictures) and HERE, (a deep dive into Permanent Waves) and they are appreciated several times in this long piece HERE! (a look at the best progressive rock songs of all time).

Here are some tidbits that make a case for their greatness, and elucidate why this coronation is sorely overdue:

Based on any number of criteria, including albums sold, influence cited (recall the range of artists who stood up to be counted in the excellent documentary Beyond the Lighted Stage), and by virtue of creating one of the seminal albums of the modern era, Moving Pictures, Rush has always been a no brainer. And that has long been the sticking point: brains have never been the strong suit of the style-over-substance crowd holding the keys to the proverbial kingdom.

There are few folks who can claim, at least with any credibility, that Lee, Lifeson and Peart are not amongst the most musically proficient players in rock history. Indeed, their craftsmanship was too often used against them, especially in the early days. Like certain bands that prospered in a certain decade, they made too much music. The so-called critics who did—or do—refuse to acknowledge the compositional brilliance and execution of tracks like “La Villa Strangiato” or “Xanadu” are not unlike the clueless emperor in Amadeus, who complained that there were simply too many notes.

One consistent and irrefutable observation of prog-rock bands is that there is little or no levity. The bands seldom smile, have no sense of humor, and don’t even put their faces on album covers! If ever a band could be credited with not taking itself too seriously, it’s Rush. Anyone who has been to a concert, heard an interview, or read any lyrics (at least post-1980) understands that Rush has self-effacing wit to spare, and are downright silly compared to virtually any other prog-rock band (and by silly we mean the intentional sort). If recent, visual evidence is necessary, get a load of THIS. These guys are amazing human beings and, after four decades, they still clearly love each other.

And for all the ridicule some of Peart’s lyrics rightly receive (The Necromancer! Snow Dog!), his body of work stands proudly alongside anyone (yes, anyone) who has put ink to paper in the service of pop songs. Peart’s lyrics took a “quantum leap forward” as the band’s first decade wound down and if he, understandably, cringes at some of the words he wrote during his mustachioed years, he can—and should—remain quite proud of the poetry he produced for the aforementioned “holier” trinity . (In fact, for the balance of the ‘80s Peart’s lyrics were seldom less than impressive and more than occasionally incredible).

Perhaps the best way to measure, and appreciate Rush’s credentials is to consider how far they came from where they started. Like an athlete honing skills each season, Rush evinced remarkable improvement each year, leading to those “all-star” years commencing with 1980’s Permanent Waves. Afterward, as much as any act, Rush capably bridged the chasm between prog-rock’s flameout and the onset of MTV. (To see where they went in less than a decade, check THIS and then THIS.)

In the final analysis, most bands—for better or worse—conjure up a time or mood or era (if they are even capable of doing that much). Even bands that have staggered past their expiration dates (say, The Rolling Stones) are more like drunken grandfathers out after last call. Rush, as much as any rock band, represents the eternal present tense. They adapted, and evolved in real time, reflecting the issues, sounds and styles of their day. And one reason, aside from merely making excellent music, that they endure, and remain so popular is that their audience has grown with them—in most senses of the word. Rush has mirrored, and described that journey, so they are never a nostalgia trip; it’s very much about the here and now.

From 1974 through 2013, and counting: Rush went from good to very good to great to as perfect as a band can be to, arguably, very good and good (your mileage may vary). Put yet another way, and perhaps the most important way: Rush has never been less than good. By all accounts they have never turned in a live performance that was less than competent (you don’t attract—and retain—lifelong fans unless you show, every night, that you care).

Regardless of whether the results, Moving Pictures aside, produce universal consensus, there is this bottom line: somewhere along the line Rush reached a different stage wherein they are the only band they can measure themselves against. This is something exceedingly few bands, in the history of rock music, can ever claim.

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Time Stand Still: Why Rush Belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

First things first. Just because Rush is finally getting inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it doesn’t mean that institution is not still problematic for reasons too numerous—and obvious—to require elaboration (Hint: Look who’s not in. Now look at who is in. Draw some conclusions).

Put another way, it’s not necessarily the bands, like Rush, that have thus far been denied so much as so many of the middling acts that have been admitted that made this particular delay such an affront.

Based on any number of criteria, including albums sold, influence cited (recall the range of artists who stood up to be counted in the excellent documentary Beyond the Lighted Stage), and by virtue of creating one of the seminal albums of the modern era, Moving Pictures, Rush has always been a no-brainer. And that has long been the sticking point: brains have never been the strong suit of the style-over-substance crowd holding the keys to the proverbial kingdom.

Rush’s induction will spare us the spectacle of so many uncool and cast out acolytes storming the Hall like By-Tor on Bastille Day. Think of all the time and energy this simple act of justice has freed up now that veterans of the chat-room wars no longer have to rail against the power windows that be.

Full disclosure: I once wrote a college paper analyzing the Utopian impulse in Rush’s late-‘70s albums (the “Holy Trinity” that comprised 2112, A Farewell to Kings and Hemispheres, which was in turn followed by the holier trinity that includes Permanent Waves, Moving Pictures and Signals). (See “Emotional Feedback on a Timeless Wavelength: Rush’s ‘Permanent Waves”, and “Drag the Dream Into Existence: Reassessing Rush’s Masterpiece”.)

Assuming there will be haters and party-poopers who reserve the right to protest any kudos coming Rush’s way, let’s evaluate the evidence. There are so many angles to attack this from, that fact alone makes a fairly credible case. For starters, Rush tops a very short list of bands that have managed to stick together for 40 years.

Conversely and, for my money, compellingly, had Rush happened to be a short-lived band that put out Moving Pictures bookended by Permanent Waves and Signals—before a tragic toboggan incident claimed Geddy Lee’s life—Rush would have been first ballot material. Certain acts do themselves no favors by sticking around, just as certain acts get idolized all out of proportion based on a furious combination of potential, wistfulness and what-ifs (Exhibit A: Nirvana).

True, for most objective fans, it has been a long series of inconsistent efforts since (insert album here). For this writer, the last album that fully satisfied was 1989’s Presto. On the other hand, there are people not even born in the ‘80s who have jumped on the bandwagon upon hearing one of the albums released during the last quarter-century.

Their most recent effort, 2012’s Clockwork Angels has generated the most positive press the band has received in ages, proof positive that they can have a meaningful impact even as they approach sexagenarian status. The point being, Rush has continued to create new work and convert new fans over the course of multiple decades. In terms of longevity and relevance, this fact is more than slightly astounding, and all but a rock ‘n’ roll anomaly.

Perhaps instead of listing more of the pros, we could consider the alleged cons, many of which apply to prog-rock bands in general and are, not surprisingly, epitomized by Rush.

There are few folks who can claim, at least with any credibility, that Lee, Lifeson and Peart are not amongst the most musically proficient players in rock history. Indeed, their craftsmanship was too often used against them, especially in the early days. Like certain bands that prospered in a certain decade, they made too much music. The so-called critics who did—or do—refuse to acknowledge the compositional brilliance and execution of tracks like “La Villa Strangiato” or “Xanadu” are not unlike the clueless emperor in Amadeus, who complained that there were simply too many notes.

One consistent and irrefutable observation of prog-rock bands is that there is little or no levity. The bands seldom smile, have no sense of humor, and don’t even put their faces on album covers! If ever a band could be credited with not taking itself too seriously, it’s Rush. Anyone who has been to a concert, heard an interview, or read any lyrics (at least post-1980) understands that Rush has self-effacing wit to spare, and are downright silly compared to virtually any other prog-rock band (and by silly we mean the intentional sort).

Incidentally, and ironically, U2 take themselves much more seriously (and are much more insufferable) than any prog-rock sourpuss—with the possible exception of ELP. Naturally, Bono and the boys are worshipped by Rolling Stone, the same publication that until 2008 couldn’t be bothered to put Rush on a single cover.

But… Ayn Rand!

Okay. For the first few albums after Peart assumed writing duties (Fly By Night through 2112) the lyrics range from earnest to embarrassing, but it’s the fleet fortune hunt with Rand that, somewhat justifiably, dogged the band forever after. Acknowledging “the genius of Ayn Rand” in the liner notes is never going to win over many literate or discerning listeners (much less critics), so Rush became guilty by self-inflicted association.

Never mind that the accusations of being reactionary (misguided) or fascist (ludicrous) did not sensibly apply to a song cycle based on a future without music. Indeed, Peart & Co. have spent decades pointing out (quite credibly) that the material of 2112 had everything to do with artistic freedom and avoiding compromise, and less than a little to do with politics or social statements.

And for all the ridicule some of Peart’s lyrics rightly receive (The Necromancer! Snow Dog!), his body of work stands proudly alongside anyone (yes, anyone) who has put ink to paper in the service of pop songs. Peart’s lyrics took a “quantum leap forward” as the band’s first decade wound down and if he, understandably, cringes at some of the words he wrote during his mustachioed years, he can—and should—remain quite proud of the poetry he produced for the aforementioned “holier” trinity . (In fact, for the balance of the ‘80s Peart’s lyrics were seldom less than impressive and more than occasionally incredible).

Let’s go to the audio tape: Never mind the fact that the songs flat out kill, the words alone on efforts like “Free Will” and “Natural Science” stand alongside just about anything anyone has written in the last 33 years. His love of language (the puns-upon-puns in the album’s title and corresponding cover art are a feat that would be duplicated to delightful effect for Moving Pictures) was finally met with material that upped the ante and forced him to dig deeper. As one decade ended Rush had already made history: as another one commenced they were fully prepared to produce work that remains resilient—and relevant.

But…that voice!

Okay. Even if one concedes that the music and the lyrics are top-notch, there is still Geddy Lee’s voice to get around. It seems to be a love/hate proposition (not unlike what many people experience with Neil Young and Tom Waits, to name two of the more popular polarizers in rock circles). Is it that upper register that throughout the ‘70s often escalated to a shriek what repels people (especially women)? Is there something to be said about a band whose songs and attitude could not be less “alpha male”, and whose singer sounds like a woman, having the smallest female fan base of any prog-rock entity?

Perhaps the best way to measure, and appreciate Rush’s credentials is to consider how far they came from where they started. Like an athlete honing skills each season, Rush evinced remarkable improvement each year, leading to those “all-star” years commencing with 1980’s Permanent Waves. Afterward, as much as any act, Rush capably bridged the chasm between prog-rock’s flameout and the onset of MTV.

Discussion of Rush’s catalog calls to mind the way entirely too many people talk when (or if) they talk about jazz: strong opinions abound, and it’s soon revealed that the dissenter has listened to little (if any) of the work in question. For every skeptic who employs some or all of the objections listed above, it’s seldom acknowledged that the same band singing about necromancers and the Tobes of Hades went on to address decidedly un-prog issues ranging from AIDS (“Nobody’s Hero”), to bullying (“Subdivisions”), to suicide (“The Pass”). In fact, it may be the persistent positivity (of the band; of its material) that rankles the cynics and naysayers more than anything else.

In the final analysis, most bands—for better or worse—conjure up a time or mood or era (if they are even capable of doing that much). Even bands that have staggered past their expiration dates (say, The Rolling Stones) are more like drunken grandfathers out after last call. Rush, as much as any rock band, represents the eternal present tense. They adapted, and evolved in real time, reflecting the issues, sounds and styles of their day. And one reason, aside from merely making excellent music, that they endure, and remain so popular is that their audience has grown with them—in most senses of the word. Rush has mirrored, and described that journey, so they are never a nostalgia trip; it’s very much about the here and now.

From 1974 through 2013, and counting: Rush went from good to very good to great to as perfect as a band can be to, arguably, very good and good (your mileage may vary). Put yet another way, and perhaps the most important way: Rush has never been less than good. By all accounts they have never turned in a live performance that was less than competent (you don’t attract—and retain—lifelong fans unless you show, every night, that you care).

Regardless of whether the results, Moving Pictures aside, produce universal consensus, there is this bottom line: somewhere along the line Rush reached a different stage wherein they are the only band they can measure themselves against. This is something exceedingly few bands, in the history of rock music, can ever claim.

http://www.popmatters.com/pm/column/170071-time-stand-still-why-rush-belongs-in-the-rock-and-roll-hall-of-fame/

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2/1/12

2/1/12.

2112.

Get it?

Since none of us will be around a century from now to celebrate the official day all planets of the solar federation may rest easily with the knowledge that control has been assumed, today seems an appropriate occasion to bust out the air guitars.

I have tangled happily, lovingly, with this album’s legacy in the past. A full analysis can be found here. (But be careful, reading that could lead you here, which might in turn lead you here and down the rabbit hole you go…)

Highlights (or, depending upon your tolerance of ancient school prog-rock with a capital Pretense, low-lights) below:

It’s difficult to imagine how music might have sounded in the ‘70s and, by extension, today, if Rush had not made 2112. If Rush had never made 2112, they certainly would never have had the opportunity to make their masterpiece, Moving Pictures. While few bands can boast about creating two genre-defining statements, the reality—almost impossible to believe today—is that Rush almost never got the chance to make the first one.

Considering the first, 2112, led to the next, Moving Pictures, it makes plenty of sense for Eagle Rock’s Classic Albums to focus on both as the alpha and omega of Rush’s slow (and in hindsight, inevitable) ascension to superstardom. Rock fans and Rush fanatics could, and perhaps should, immediately ask why each album does not merit its own feature. It’s a fair question, and the simple answer is that they do. But the 50-minutes of bonus material mitigates the concerns and, in a sense, each album is ultimately given about an hour of loving examination.

For anyone not familiar with the Classic Albums series, the segments feature interviews and input from actual band members, which makes them equal parts compelling and imperative acquisitions for casual as well as hardcore fans. This one begins, appropriately, at the beginning, when bassist/singer Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson are teenagers in the Great White North, emulating late ‘60s legends like Cream and Led Zeppelin. Along with original drummer John Rutsey (who later left the band due to health reasons, which were exacerbated by concerns of an exhaustive touring schedule), the band released their eponymous debut on their own label, and it may have disappeared into the Great White Nowhere, except a disc jockey in Cleveland (that great rock and roll city!) began playing it. After Rutsey exited, stage left, the band fortuitously auditioned an unknown Neil Peart, who became principal lyricist and eventually established himself as the premier drummer on the planet.

Rush’s follow-up, Fly By Night, fared well but their ambitious third album, Caress of Steel sold poorly. After an endless and thoroughly depressing series of gigs, which they not so fondly referred to as the “down the tubes” tour, there was genuine concern that their label might drop them. At this point, as Lifeson recalls, “there were one of two directions (to go): give in to the pressure or go for it.” The band all agreed that despite admonishments (and/or insistence) that they create a commercial-minded, radio-friendly effort, they were going to do it their way and feel good about it, no matter what the outcome.

After putting the finishing touches on their fourth album the band, and producer Terry Brown, strongly suspected that they’d captured something special. They were right. 2112 went straight to #1 in Canada and broke into the Top 75 in the US. Just over halfway into the decade, when many of the old guard progressive rock bands were out of ideas or on hiatus, Rush delivered one of the genre’s definitive anthems. 2112 is a harder edged music combining the proficiency of their influences with an aggression that captured the actual urgency attending the sessions. This album sounded—and still sounds—at once familiar and forward-looking, putting Rush somewhere on the sonic spectrum in between Led Zeppelin’s adventurous, riff-laden workouts and Pink Floyd’s deliberate, almost chilly precision.

The band, and Brown, reminisces about the music, how it was created, and the way(s) it was received. The rock media, which had not paid Rush much attention, now took notice and generally found the Ayn-Rand inspired storyline (the multi-track suite, filling up all of side one, updates Rand’s early novel Anthem and places the narrative in a dystopian future where music has been outlawed and long forgotten) unfashionably right-wing — an indictment the band found perplexing, and continues to be amused about. In these interviews, each member (particularly Peart, who wrote the lyrics and undoubtedly regrets his youthful shout-out, in the liner notes, to Rand’s “genius”) makes a convincing case that the inspiration had everything to do with artistic freedom and avoiding compromise, and less than a little to do with politics or social statements. Of course, plenty of pundits (then, now) find Rush –in general—and prog rock –in particular—pretentious, but the sentiment informing this particular album has more in common with the much celebrated punk rock ethos, with the added bonus that the band are actually quite capable musicians.

Curiously, the songs “Tears” and “Lessons” are skipped, although some welcome time is spent on the lighthearted ode to herb, “A Passage To Bangkok”. Likewise, the dated but not quite embarrassing “Twilight Zone” (which manages, all these years later, to sound almost charming in its way) is discussed while actual clips from the episodes referenced in the verses are shown. 2112 remains important as much for what it enabled as for what it did: it is no exaggeration to claim that we would never have gotten to Moving Pictures without it. The band agrees with the assessment that 2112 was the effort where they found their sound which they perfected over the course of their next several albums.

2112 remains the album that made possible what Rush would become, and it inspired both peers and pretenders to emulate their purpose and passion, if not their scarves and kimonos.

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The 25 Best Progressive Rock Songs of All Time: Part Four

10. The Who, “Underture”

The Who were not a prog-rock band. While both Tommy and The Who Sell Out could—and should—be considered crucial touchstones that helped pave the way, Pete Townshend’s feet were always rooted too firmly on terra firma to do anything other than what he was doing, which was quite brilliant thank you very much. Nevertheless, the all-instrumental “Underture” which, along with the album-opening “Overture”, bookends the first two sides of Tommy, is in many ways a blueprint for what other bands would build on. It is rather unlike anything else in The Who’s catalog, both in terms of length and style. Moon and Entwistle are in typically torrential form (Moon’s playing on this track managed to prompt kudos from jazz legend Elvin Jones), and Townshend employs acoustic guitar dynamics he never equaled (or needed to) again. If a slash-and-burn could conceivably be described as subtle, that is what The Who accomplish on “Underture”: it is propulsive and furious, yet dark and exquisite. It would be impossible, and pointless, to try and pick a single song from a writer as prolific and influential as Townshend, but these ten minutes might represent the most undistorted evidence of his compositional genius and infectious imagination.

9. Pink Floyd, “Time”

There is a simple reason Dark Side of the Moon is one of the most talked-about and beloved albums in rock history: it is one of the best albums in rock history. Enough said, sort of. People tend to forget, if understandably, that it’s not as though Floyd waltzed into Abbey Road Studios with the knowledge that they were about to create a masterwork. Dark Side was the natural and inevitable progression of a path the band had been on since 1968, and many of the ideas and imagery they render so perfectly had already appeared, in brief snatches and bursts, on previous work. For this album Roger Waters finally figured out how to write meaningful, penetrating lyrics with an economy of words and maximum emotional import (few, if any in rock have improved upon his style). The band was focused and each individual track received their full attention as they explored the themes of madness, money and faith in modern society.

The track that manages to incorporate all these concerns and still address, seemingly everything, is “Time”. The verses, sung with harsh authority by Gilmour, assess (and assail) the concerns and tribulations that preoccupy each of us, while the choruses (rendered as mellow counterpoint by Rick Wright) are crooned, lulling you to sleep, kind of like life will do if you are not paying attention. Special mention must be made of Gilmour’s guitar solo: perhaps it will only sound slightly hysterical to suggest that it, almost impossibly, conjures up so much of the pain and profundity that comprises the human condition; if you close your eyes you can hear the messy miracle of Guns, Germs and Steel. Or maybe it’s just the cold steel rail.

8. King Crimson, “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic”

First they borrowed Jon Anderson (to sing on Lizard); then they inherited Bill Bruford once the great drummer bowed out of Yes. But nothing Yes—or King Crimson for that matter—had done to this point could have anticipated “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic” (the title alone an eccentric ode to the creative path less traveled). Most of the work made during the prog-rock era can be described to some extent, especially when it is categorically dismissed as pretentious noodling. But this song (actually part one of two, and while part two is magnificent in its own way, that riff-laden workout is much more straightforward than the kitchen-sink sensibility of part one) is a high water mark for the ideas, artistry and inspiration that define the best music of this time. As ever, Robert Fripp’s guitar guides the journey, downshifting from proto-grunge shrieking to jangling melodicism. But it’s the exotic violin contributions from David Cross and the tumultuous percussion stylings of Jamie Muir that take this track to that other place.

The song travels from placid to ominous (the languid, building menace of Fripp’s entry manages to almost be frightening), and then, after the bird calls and an invocation of the Far East, the ultimate postmodern touch: urgent, scarcely audible voices (from a radio? movie?) are looped and spliced, becoming gibberish that somehow makes perfect sense. As the song winds down, courtesy of Muir’s ethereal glockenspiel, a gentle chime (like a grandfather clock) washes over and out, and you are left wondering what hit you.

7. Jethro Tull, “Thick As A Brick”

Jethro Tull were on top of the world (and the charts) in 1972 when Thick As A Brick became the first pop album comprised of one continuous song to reach a widespread audience. The concept may have been audacious, but the music is miraculous: this is among the handful of holy grails for prog-rock fanatics, no questions asked. Put as simply—and starkly—as possible, many beautiful babies were thrown out with the bath water by hidebound critics who were content to sniffingly dismiss the more ambitious (pretentious!) works that certain bands were putting out as a matter of course in the early-to-mid ‘70s. If Aqualung doubled down on the “concept album” concept, Thick As A Brick functioned as a New Testament of sorts, signifying what was now possible in rock music.

Even with the side-long songs that became almost obligatory during this era, nobody else had the wherewithal to dedicate a full forty-five minutes to the development and execution of one uninterrupted song (and Tull did it twice). Frontman/mastermind Ian Anderson had already proven he could write a hit and create controversial work that got radio play; now he was putting his flute in the ground and throwing his cod-piece in the ring, and there are maybe a handful of lyricists who matched his output in terms of sustained quality and variety during this decade.

6. Rush, “2112”

Just over halfway into the decade, when many of the old guard progressive rock bands were out of ideas or on hiatus, Rush delivered one of the genre’s definitive anthems. 2112 is a harder edged music combining the proficiency of their influences with an aggression that captured the actual urgency attending the sessions. This album sounded—and still sounds—at once familiar and forward-looking, putting Rush somewhere on the sonic spectrum in between Led Zeppelin’s adventurous, riff-laden workouts and Pink Floyd’s deliberate, almost chilly precision.

The rock media, which had not paid Rush much attention, now took notice and generally found the Ayn-Rand inspired storyline (the multi-track suite, filling up all of side one, updates Rand’s early novel Anthem and places the narrative in a dystopian future where music has been outlawed and long forgotten) unfashionably right-wing — an indictment the band found perplexing, and continues to be amused about. In these interviews, each member (particularly Peart, who wrote the lyrics and undoubtedly regrets his youthful shout-out, in the liner notes, to Rand’s “genius”) makes a convincing case that the inspiration had everything to do with artistic freedom and avoiding compromise, and less than a little to do with politics or social statements. Of course, plenty of pundits (then, now) find Rush –in general—and prog rock –in particular—pretentious, but the sentiment informing this particular album has more in common with the much celebrated punk rock ethos, with the added bonus that the band are actually quite capable musicians. “2112” remains the album that made possible what Rush would become, and it inspired both peers and pretenders to emulate their purpose and passion, if not their scarves and kimonos.

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Rush: 2112 & Moving Pictures (Classic Albums Series)

The Album Rush Was Meant To Make (Both of Them)

It’s difficult to imagine how music might have sounded in the ‘70s and, by extension, today, if Rush had not made 2112. If Rush had never made 2112, they certainly would never have had the opportunity to make their masterpiece, Moving Pictures. While few bands can boast about creating two genre-defining statements, the reality—almost impossible to believe today—is that Rush almost never got the chance to make the first one.

Considering the first, 2112, led to the next, Moving Pictures, it makes plenty of sense for Eagle Rock’s Classic Albums to focus on both as the alpha and omega of Rush’s slow (and in hindsight, inevitable) ascension to superstardom. Rock fans and Rush fanatics could, and perhaps should, immediately ask why each album does not merit its own feature. It’s a fair question, and the simple answer is that they do. But the 50-minutes of bonus material mitigates the concerns and, in a sense, each album is ultimately given about an hour of loving examination.

For anyone not familiar with the Classic Albums series, the segments feature interviews and input from actual band members, which makes them equal parts compelling and imperative acquisitions for casual as well as hardcore fans. This one begins, appropriately, at the beginning, when bassist/singer Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson are teenagers in the Great White North, emulating late ‘60s legends like Cream and Led Zeppelin. Along with original drummer John Rutsey (who later left the band due to health reasons, which were exacerbated by concerns of an exhaustive touring schedule), the band released their eponymous debut on their own label, and it may have disappeared into the Great White Nowhere, except a disc jockey in Cleveland (that great rock and roll city!) began playing it. After Rutsey exited, stage left, the band fortuitously auditioned an unknown Neil Peart, who became principal lyricist and eventually established himself as the premier drummer on the planet.

Rush’s follow-up, Fly By Night, fared well but their ambitious third album, Caress of Steel sold poorly. After an endless and thoroughly depressing series of gigs, which they not so fondly referred to as the “down the tubes” tour, there was genuine concern that their label might drop them. At this point, as Lifeson recalls, “there were one of two directions (to go): give in to the pressure or go for it.” The band all agreed that despite admonishments (and/or insistence) that they create a commercial-minded, radio-friendly effort, they were going to do it their way and feel good about it, no matter what the outcome.

 

After putting the finishing touches on their fourth album the band, and producer Terry Brown, strongly suspected that they’d captured something special. They were right. 2112 went straight to #1 in Canada and broke into the Top 75 in the US. Just over halfway into the decade, when many of the old guard progressive rock bands were out of ideas or on hiatus, Rush delivered one of the genre’s definitive anthems. 2112 is a harder edged music combining the proficiency of their influences with an aggression that captured the actual urgency attending the sessions. This album sounded—and still sounds—at once familiar and forward-looking, putting Rush somewhere on the sonic spectrum in between Led Zeppelin’s adventurous, riff-laden workouts and Pink Floyd’s deliberate, almost chilly precision.

The band, and Brown, reminisces about the music, how it was created, and the way(s) it was received. The rock media, which had not paid Rush much attention, now took notice and generally found the Ayn-Rand inspired storyline (the multi-track suite, filling up all of side one, updates Rand’s early novel Anthem and places the narrative in a dystopian future where music has been outlawed and long forgotten) unfashionably right-wing — an indictment the band found perplexing, and continues to be amused about. In these interviews, each member (particularly Peart, who wrote the lyrics and undoubtedly regrets his youthful shout-out, in the liner notes, to Rand’s “genius”) makes a convincing case that the inspiration had everything to do with artistic freedom and avoiding compromise, and less than a little to do with politics or social statements. Of course, plenty of pundits (then, now) find Rush –in general—and prog rock –in particular—pretentious, but the sentiment informing this particular album has more in common with the much celebrated punk rock ethos, with the added bonus that the band are actually quite capable musicians.

Curiously, the songs “Tears” and “Lessons” are skipped, although some welcome time is spent on the lighthearted ode to herb, “A Passage To Bangkok”. Likewise, the dated but not quite embarrassing “Twilight Zone” (which manages, all these years later, to sound almost charming in its way) is discussed while actual clips from the episodes referenced in the verses are shown. 2112 remains important as much for what it enabled as for what it did: it is no exaggeration to claim that we would never have gotten to Moving Pictures without it. The band agrees with the assessment that 2112 was the effort where they found their sound which they perfected over the course of their next several albums.

While Rush improved with every year (and new release), disco, punk and new wave were ascendant, and virtually all of the old prog rock bands took their eight balls and went home. To Rush’s considerable credit, they were acutely aware of these new developments (the ugly, the bad and especially the good), and eager to incorporate them into their ever-evolving sound. Moving Pictures then, in so many ways, is the opposite of 2112. It is, without any question, not merely Rush’s masterpiece but one of those rare albums that epitomizes an era. It represents a culmination and a progression: the peak of their development to that point and a blueprint for their subsequent work. More, it is a template of sorts for the way certain rock albums were made in the early ‘80s.

Moving Pictures is the first (and, most fans would concede, the last) time the band produced a record that fulfills not only the band’s purpose and potential, but stands on its own as the consummate Rush album, and one of the consummate rock albums. There is not a second of wasted or ill-spent space to be found: each moment contributes to the individual songs, which add up to an ideally programmed and cohesive statement. It is impossible to imagine an alternate running order; it flows but does not ebb and never builds to a climax because the entire album functions as a continuous epiphany. 

Of course, one of the few words more loaded and problematic than perfect is timeless. Moving Pictures definitely sounds like it was made in the early ‘80s (the opening seconds of “Tom Sawyer” practically scream “meet the new boss!” and the new boss, circa 1981, was a synthesizer), but manages to sound unsullied and exhilarating thirty years later. And not for nothing does it represent the first time Rush’s music was fully accessible. For instance, there is no getting around the fact that Geddy Lee’s vocals are…more restrained. Throughout Moving Pictures his upper register (lovingly or loathingly referred to as his “shriek”) is conspicuously not a factor in the equation. Coincidentally or not, it is the songs on this album that even professed haters of the band can tolerate and acknowledge.

For the millions of converted, Moving Pictures is Sui generis; one of the pivotal components belonging on any Mount Rushmore of modern rock. Why? Is is the fact that, despite a very solid second half, the first four songs comprise one of the ultimate side ones (remember those?) in all of popular music? Is it the way these songs were, arguably, the first by Rush you could imagine listening to in your car, during the day, with other people present? Is it because this was the first time everything connected, from the music and lyrics to the cover art to the scarcely believable fact that several of the songs could (and did!) receive significant radio play? Is it because, at long last, after making so many albums—no matter how unique and convincing—Moving Pictures indicates the first time there was no discernible influence of other bands? All of these questions can unequivocally be answered in the affirmative. After Moving Pictures Rush was, finally, a band that other band would begin to emulate and envy.

After all this time, the songs themselves make the strongest case for their significance. “Red Barchetta”, an adrenaline rush set to music, is less about lyrics (inspired by Richard S. Foster’s short story “A Nice Morning Drive”) than about feeling. This track exemplifies the band’s evolution and increased confidence: they are now able to harness and convey the same type of emotion and effect that they’d spent entire albums sides developing, and condense it into six minutes. As much as any of the tracks on Moving Pictures, “Red Barchetta” is one you can imagine the nerds, jocks and stoners (to sardonically choose three random stereotypes) all breaking out the air guitars for. And yet the themes of individual autonomy and freedom still resonate from 2112 (indeed, that dystopia of a world without music is now a world without cars…the horror!).

“YYZ” (which anyone not already in the know can discover is the Toronto airport code and is pronounced Y Y Zed) remains a fixture in Rush’s live set. This instrumental is likely the song that initially caused scales to fall from the eyes of sleeping listeners and critics. Little, if anything the band had done to this point could have caused anyone to anticipate this one: Peart and Lee bring the funk while Lifeson brings the noise, making this perhaps the most pure distillation of the band’s unparalleled musical chops.

“Limelight” captures Peart’s reaction to people beginning to show up at his house, and following the band around before and after shows (something he was too prescient by half about, not guessing this phenomenon was about to become a more intense and full-time adventure going forward). Lifeson refers to his solo on this song as one of his favorites; he is able to invoke the alienation and loneliness of the lyrics, and it is a somber yet searing tour de force.

Then, of course, there is “Tom Sawyer”; their signature song, and the surprise hit that put them over. Part of the appeal, in addition to the irresistible music, is the lyrics. By name-checking Mark Twain’s famous rebel and giving him a cold-war sensibility, Rush were now officially adults making music that could resonate with a younger as well as mature audience. They also pulled off the improbable trick of creating a successful, if inscrutable song after being criticized for making too-obvious and obscure music.

As a rallying cry for individualism that has more to do with resistance than cynicism, “Tom Sawyer” (with enduring lines like “his mind is not for rent/to any god or government”) is in many regards the penultimate ‘80s statement. The astute observation that “changes aren’t permanent, but change is” could also aptly summarize the four-decade trajectory of the band. Rush remains humble, if a tad incredulous about the success of “Tom Sawyer”. According to Peart, “we still think it’s a wonderful thing that such a bizarre song would be so popular!”

While the entire second side of Moving Pictures is skipped over, it’s hard to quibble with what is presented. Plus, the aforementioned bonus material is going to be catnip for the more passionate fans. Each member talks in detail about their influences and their impressions of their band mates (not surprisingly for a band that has soldiered on through four decades, there is ample love and respect to go around).

There’s extended footage of the band playing along to the original tracks, which illustrates that the boys have hardly lost a step. A bonus-bonus is the inclusion of (yet another) new Neil Peart solo, which begs only one question: how does he (still) do it? Let’s face it: watching your heroes reenact some of their finest moments is a dream come true, and this feature more than delivers the goods. Rush is the type of band that has cultivated a loyal following, and most if not all of them need little enticement to pick up this DVD. The real value of this release may be the education (and enjoyment) it stands to offer folks who are late to the game, or are interested in learning more about a band –and two albums—that figure prominently in the history of rock music.

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He knows changes aren’t permanent, but change is…

Catch the mystery, catch the drift.

Is this guy the Energizer Bunny or what?

Holy shit but the licks keep coming.

I had the extreme pleasure of reviewing the new edition of the Classic Albums series which focuses on both 2112 and Moving Pictures. (Curious on a personal level, as I myself focused on those two albums this summer in preparation for a larger project, of which more…eventually).

Anyway, among the astoundingly generous 50 minutes of bonus material is (ho hum) yet another new Neil Peart drum solo. My critical appraisal is thus: are you fucking kidding me?

This dude has more integrity in his eye lint than most musicians half his age. And this is after having been a universally worshipped legend for four decades. Whether you like his band or his music, or if you don’t like drum solos (and for the most part, I’d argue we could largely do without them), you should still check this out:

Catch the spirit, catch the spit.

More (possibly much, much more) on this to come, sooner and later. And never forget my friends: love and life are deep.

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One Nation Under A Groove or, Burn, Baby! BURN!

Another great moment in American douchebaggery!

Despite the fact that we’re on somewhat of a losing streak in recent years (thanks, Wall Street!), one of the reasons America remains a place so many people want to live is that we do so many things so very well. That whole Constitution thing is pretty swell. The Bill of Rights turned out to be pretty righteous, wouldn’t you agree? And despite our occasional internecine struggles, it’s mostly been a family affair; we are all in this together. We’ve kept it real as one nation under a groove: the black, the white, the red and the brown, the purple and yellow, as that statesman and patriot Wonder Mike once put it.

We keep it real, which isn’t to say that we are not immune from being real wrong. Our mistakes are indelible stains on our history, no matter how hard some of us endeavor to deny or conceal them.

Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose, eh?

In February, 1942, Executive Order 9066 was issued. That is, the infamous presidential/executive order that, validated by America’s state of war, gave a president (FDR) the power to consign various ethnic groups (see: the Japanese) to internment camps. Not too coincidentally, the individuals targeted happened to be Americans belonging to the ancestry the U.S. was concurrently fighting in WW II (the aforementioned Japanese, as well as Germans and Italians). Over 100,000 Japanese-Americans were spirited away to these camps. Not unlike the concentration camps, one thinks about this period in history and thinks (hopes?) it was far back in our past. Considering the 20th Century was already half-over puts it in immediate, and painful, perspective. About sixty years ago, millions of Jews were being slaughtered in Germany and tens of thousands of Japanese-Americans were being forcibly sent to internment camps. Less than two generations. On good days, we look at this and say “how could it have happened?”. On other days, we look at Guantanamo and it’s difficult to feel too proud of the progress we’ve supposedly made. 

 

This picture has haunted me ever since I first saw it, over a decade ago.

A Japanese family, en route to an internment camp. Neither defiant nor indignant (they could not afford to be), they are quite obviously eager to illustrate their solidarity. Acquiescence. Approbation. The miniature American flags, the victory signs, the smiles. The fear behind those forced gestures. (Not forced because they were fake, but because they were obligatory; imperative as the bare minimum to ensure that the worst was not automatically assumed.) Look closely at how the father sets the tone: he understands the score. Smile, this is your life. The kids are either too old to protest (the older daughter) or too young to fake it (the son). But it’s the young girl in the middle (middle of the picture, middle child in the family) that conveys the intolerable hypocrisy and inhumanity of the situation: she is the only one without a smile on her face or a flag in her hand. She is old enough to understand, but young enough to be understandably petulant about her circumstances. No matter her age, she knows this unwilling exodus is unnatural, unacceptable. And her face (more than a million subsequent words decrying the conditions that led to this embarrassing moment in U.S. history) is able to convey the very human cost of counterproductive policies begat by hysteria.

Never again, one thinks, looking at that picture. It was unfortunate, but that was half a century ago, we’ve evolved into e-mail and instant communication across the globe, certainly we shan’t act that rashly again. Surely we’ve seen enough of this appalling history to ensure that it’s never repeated. Obviously we have made amends and are stronger, as a nation, for what we commissioned in the name of national security. Clearly we could never dive into the deep end again, indulging the uglier side of our collective sensibility. Fortunately we’ve come a long way since the dark ages of our (parents’) infancy.

Haven’t we…

Which brings us to this Quran burning crusade.

Fortunately, it looks like even the most reprehensible ringleaders of anti-Muslim sentiment (see: Sarah Palin) have declared this activity an “unnecessary provocation.” Which begs the question: how far over the edge (and/or desperate for an audience –and cash) are you if you manage to make Sarah Palin sound like a sane voice of restraint? We’ll have plenty of politicians on both side of ideological fence taking an opportunity to talk tough (into cameras) and remind us about American values which, apparently, don’t extend to mosques (that aren’t really mosques) being constructed on Ground Zero (even though it’s not really at Ground Zero).

Personally, I’m grateful to this “pastor” and the cretins who will put fire to paper on 9/11 in order to prove a point. Because, unbeknownst to these imbeciles, the point they are making is that, as those commercials used to say, a mind is a terrible thing to waste. And while we can’t (or shouldn’t) waste too much time trying to convert the willfully ignorant to enlightenment, we can (and should) keep a wary eye on these very un-American activities. How ironic, by the way, is that? As ever, the people most vocal (and ostensibly concerned) about conduct contrary to America know the least about our history, including the intent of those immigrants (!) who wrote the documents they believe they are defending. If you want to strain the metaphor, it might not be unreasonable to suggest that when anyone burns another person’s bible, they are indeed setting ablaze our Constitution.

These folks, who, we know roam our nation in greater numbers than we might have imagined, (and are so easily whipped into a frenzy by their masters), are more than a little behind the evolutionary curve. While Fox News gets their Fascist on, and Rush gorges his fat ass on profitable cynicism, these has-beens and never-will-be’s (the bigots, the uneducated, the willfully ignorant, the impotent imbeciles, as well as the doctors, lawyers, teachers and parents) find the voice that never answers them in church, or at the office, or in their cars, or in the bedroom or –worst of all– in their own dark and empty heads when the lights go out.

One on hand, you have to laugh at these simpletons who want to “bring our country back”, meaning the good old days when blacks and women knew their place, homosexuals dared not show their faces in public and the bible held firmer sway over a greater portion of the populace. Presumably these same tea baggers  don’t want to also bring back cars without air conditioning and houses without running water, smallpox without vaccine and surgery without anesthetics and a few dozen other of our least favorite things from a time when the world was a whiter shade of pale.

And it’s not at all difficult to connect the dots between the type of magical thinking employed by the bible thumpers and the Ayn Rand-obsessed Libertarian lunatics (how perfect –and appalling– a commentary on the cultural Koyaanisqatsi we are currently struggling through that the son of the Libertarians’ savior is named after the most humorless and phlegmatic popular novelist of the 20th Century. Painfully popular. And imperceptive. (And influential. Right Alan? Atlas shrugged; Jesus wept.) Indeed, the only redeeming thing I can think about Ayn Rand is that she partially inspired one of Rush’s great early albums.

The part that is not funny, of course, is that this is still happening on our watch. As a nation we are deciding what we tolerate and what we will stomach. It’s useful to know how much work is left to be done, and bigots burning bibles is a reminder that we need to get busy. The last few months leave little question that it will be harder (now, later) to whitewash –pun intended– these regrettable instances. They have been scattered through American history like a resilient rash: those times we remained idle while darker hearts strangled our collective souls.

Well, what are you going to do about it, Whitey?

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“Better call on evolution” or, Our Cultural Koyaanisqatsi

ON THIS DAY:

On May 25, 1925, John T. Scopes was indicted in Tennessee for teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution.

I always enjoy the chance to invoke the incomparable Bill Hicks.

And of course, I relish any opportunity to break out my favorite image ever:

But it’s not all that funny, really. I mean, we laugh because there is much to laugh at. You have to laugh at these simpletons who want to “bring our country back”, meaning the good old days when blacks and women knew their place, homosexuals dared not show their faces in public and the bible held firmer sway over a greater portion of the populace. Presumably these same tea baggers and bigots don’t want to also bring back cars without air conditioning and houses without running water, smallpox without vaccine and surgery without anesthetics and a few dozen other of our least favorite things from a time when the world was a whiter shade of pale.

And it’s not at all difficult to connect the dots between the type of magical thinking employed by the bible thumpers and the Ayn Rand-obsessed Libertarian lunatics (how perfect –and appalling– a commentary on the cultural Koyaanisqatsi we are currently struggling through that the son of the Libertarian’s savior is named after the most humorless and phlegmatic popular novelist of the 20th Century. Painfully popular. And imperceptive. (And influential. Right Alan? Atlas shrugged; Jesus wept.) Indeed, the only redeeming thing I can think about Ayn Rand is that she partially inspired one of Rush’s great early albums.

It’s times like this that I wish we actually had a Democrat in The White House.

Just kidding. Sort of.

I mean, if there wasn’t a better teaching moment than right now, when has there ever been? Between the ongoing Wall Street debacle (and the toothless “reform”) and the state our the-only-thing-better-than-less-regulation-is-no-regulation former administration left our country in, we are presented with the ultimate, ugly fruit of that mentality, the BP debacle. Or should I say, the still far-from-resolved BP debacle? Actual regulation on the disgustingly rapacious financial, housing and oil industries would have easily obviated all of the recent catastrophes. Catastrophes that we will spend generations paying for. Put another way: the only people who have gotten rich in any of these three arenas are the people who depend upon other peoples’ misfortune to make a profit. And, of course, there are large segments of our country fired up and ready to march defending these sociopath’s unfettered right to exploit and destroy.

See, the thing about teaching moments is that people need to be teachable; they need to be capable of being taught. And a distressing number of Americans right now have already determined that everything they need to know is contained within the (literal) words of the bible, or is best expressed by the (backwards and demonstrably untrue) proposition that there’s nothing the government can do that the free market can’t do better.

Yet, as depressing as it might be to consider how far we have to go, it’s helpful to think about the distance we’ve travelled. Take a look at the recent CNN poll, indicating that 8 of 10 Americans have no problems with gay people openly serving in the military. Could you have even fathomed this possibility back in November, 2004? (That, you may recall, was just after the G.O.P. successfully cock-rocked the vote, whipping up the Red and Blue state hysteria concerning all-things-homosexual. It seems safe to suggest that this disgusting –and disgustingly effective– strategy has finally reached its expiration date, and in our lifetimes we’ll look back in disbelief at how gullible, intolerant and imbecilic we were around the turn of the century. The way most of us today regard our legacy toward civil rights. Right Rand?

So there has been progress. And the good thing about evolution is that no matter how slow it might be, it is inevitable. Although, I wonder if the recent paradigm shift regarding gay rights has less to do with enlightened acculturation and more to do with the fact that in the last six years we’ve gradually discovered every priest and Republican politician is queer as Charles Haley. Just kidding. Sort of.

Therefore on a day that we remember the struggle to teach evolution even as we struggle to teach ourselves how to evolve, I’ll abjure originality and invoke a tune entitled…Evolution. Assessing this great song from the great Cat Power’s great album You Are Free (which I opined was the 4th best album of the past decade), I offered the following thoughts:

But in the end, “Evolution” is the ideal song to close out the set. More, it’s one of the best closing songs on any album, ever. More, it may just be the song of the decade: thematically it is elegiac but in its yearning, deeply human resolve, it is inevitably inspiring. Another duet with Eddie Vedder, I am unable to express the heights this tone poem attains. Just piano and two voices, one sounding like the other’s shadow, Vedder echoes, encourages and reinforces Marshall’s fragile invocation of witness and perseverance. The pair go through the lyrics one time, pause and recite them a second time, ending with a subdued but urgent call to arms, repeating the words “Better make your mind up quick”. They are talking to themselves and, one slowly realizes, addressing anyone else who might be listening.

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