Monthly Archives: July 2005

Chris Sorrentino's Trance

On Tuesday night I moseyed on down to The Booksmith for the reading by Chris Sorrentino of his new book Trance, a wide-angle look at the SLA/Patricia Hearst case. Sorrentino said he pretty much concentrated on those aspects that interested or amused him most. He read a scene of Hearst’s father going down to the supermarket, musing on the SLA’s demand that he fork over lots of money to feed the poor (which he did).

I asked Sorrentino what he thought about the spate of books that have come out in recent years on the late sixties/early seventies (on Hearst and the Weathermen). He said that he thought it was probably a pretty reasonable time for younger people to be interested in the history of American radicalism, and that now enough time had passed that we could start to remove the sentimental aspects of earlier histories.

Update: Here’s a funny little story by Michael Scharf on Sorrentino’s visit to Portland (a few days after SF, I believe).

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Elliot Sharp & band @ Cafe du Nord, 25-July-2005

Tonight was a ‘blues jam’ with Elliot Sharp, Henry Kaiser, Shelley Doty, John Haynes and Miles Boizen down at Cafe du Nord. I caught half the first set and all of the second. Good stuff. “Crossroad Blues” “Do the Doo” “I’m Glad” and more, with a little improv cacaphony thrown in, and some gnarly guitar.

"We Jam Econo" on the Minutemen

I got to see the documentary “We Jam Econo” on the early 80s band the Minutemen (d. Boon, Mike Watt, George Hurley) tonight at Yerba Buena Center (it’s on all week to July 28, so check it out!). Consists of interviews, most notably with Watt, interspersed with live footage of the band from various shows. It’s an inspiring blast of the DIY spirit, three smart guys who cared and fought and created.

“It’s so much different now – the culture for music, and if you’re a young person, so much easier to be in a band. It’s so funny when people talk about the ‘good old days,’ you know? Because in a lot of ways they were lame-ass…. Nowadays you’re kept in your place more by your mind, more by the herd mentality, than actually having the materials and wherewithal to do things.” – Mike Watt in the film.

Keith Schieron, the film’s producer, was on hand after the screening to answer some questions. He said a DVD release should be out later this year or early next, and it will have two discs with a lot of extras (like the Minutemen videos, three live shows, more interview material). Sounds awesome – a must-have!

Update: A bit more on the Minutemen: funny enough, a NYT op-ed piece by Sarah Vowell ran on Saturday, July 23, that touches on We Jam Econo. Here’s the link to “Lock and Load”:

Then there’s the story of their album “Double Nickels on the Dime,” a jab at Sammy Hagar’s “I Can’t Drive 55.” Watt recalls, “We said, ‘Well, we’ll drive 55 and be crazy with the music instead of crazy with the cars.'”

And more: I saw the Minutemen play a couple times on the east coast in 1985. The first time was at a club in New Haven, in April that year. I remember seeing some guys starting to set up the instruments for the Minutemen’s set, and for some reason it took us quite a while to realize that it was d. Boon and George Hurley out there doing the setup. Boon had shaved his hair, while George had the classic look with the long front locks hanging down. I think it was Thurston Moore in the film who recalls that George kept drumsticks in stuck into his socks, and that image came right back into my mind. The show was good, but I don’t remember lots of details. I do remember Boon handing out bumper stickers that said something like “U.S. out of Central America” and he told us to stick them on any Cadillacs we came across.

Then I saw them again in October at Irving Plaza in NYC. This was a big show; the place was packed. It sticks in my mind as one of the more joyous rock shows I ever went to; the crowd was in love with them, and they were having great fun. Boon and Watt were together musically and I seem to remember a few spots where they’d lean on each other physically during the show, just seeming like a dual pillar of strength.

It was an awful blow when we heard soon after that Boon was dead.

Visual Intelligence – Donald D. Hoffman (1998)

Visual Intelligence is subtitled ‘How We Create What We See’ and in it Hoffman sets down a tentative set of ‘rules’ that humans use to interpret the visual input from our eyes. These rules work in combination to build up lines, shapes, colors, 3-d placement and more. You can try some of the visual illusions that help to show how the rules can allow us to be ‘tricked’ in many ways, such that your sense of what you’re seeing is not what is really there…

In the final chapters, Hoffman argues that we do the same thing with the input from our other senses as we do with the visual input; we create representations that are well-adapted to our survival. And he goes further, to say that our representations, while they must be taken seriously, are not necessarily a guide to what is ‘really’ out there…

I believe these are important points. Clearly we only pick up on certain spectrums of all that is ‘out there’ while other organisms are able to to pick up different spectrums, and may have very different (but also effective) rules for interpreting the input. Given this, can we really take seriously the idea that we are somehow close to understanding the universe? I’d say it would be foolish to think so.

Jared Diamond @ Long Now, 15-July-2005

Jared Diamond, UCLA professor and author of Guns, Germs and Steel and more recently Collapse spoke at the Long Now gathering tonight. I haven’t read the book, but I got the sense that he covered his main points in the talk (I thought GG&S was on target), with tales of Easter Island collapse and Japanese re-forestation.

Most interesting to me were his points about the difficulties that a society might have in responding to a threatening problem. Beyond simply anticipating or identifying it, he said two important points were: 1) whether the elite (rich) of the society are exposed to the problem or if they’ve insulated themselves and 2) whether the society has the capability to question and re-assess its own core values. Diamond says he is ‘cautiously optimistic’ – certainly there are reasons for hope that we can make it through a period of great change in terms of the basic resources (especially energy) that we have available to us on this planet.

End of the Century – the Ramones story

Watched the DVD of this Ramones documentary over the past couple nights. I was into the Ramones in the late seventies, as kids we liked blasting some Ramones and bouncing around in the basement. The doc is a combination of interviews and live footage, and it shows the tough slog that life in the band became after the first four records.

I didn’t know that Dee Dee, who comes off as a rather child-like goof, wrote so many songs for the band. He also seems the most human, in that he finally left the band and tried something else, even if it was a very ill-advised ‘rap’ record in 1989.

Johnny on the other hand was a very strange man. Keeping his bowl cut through to the very end, insisting on the Ramones ‘style’ he seems incredibly joy-less. One emotion that came through was some resentment about the UK punks who made news with the gobbing and piercings, but scared off the record business from punk just at the time when the Ramones just might have had some pop hits.

I wished there had been a bit more from Joey (did he ever get another girlfriend after Johnny ‘took’ his gal Linda?). We don’t get to hear Linda’s side of the story either.

But in any case a fitting examination of a band that made it’s own way, through the good and the bad.

Got my iPod

I finally broke down this weekend and bought an iPod. For me it’s more of a backup device than a ‘carry around,’ I still appreciate the simple nature of the product. One friend who hasn’t been in San Francisco for a year or so commented on how it seemed that iPod use on the Muni has simply exploded.

My question is what does it mean when most people would prefer to be in their own musical world when they’re out in public? (Or else they’re having poor quality cell phone conversations).