The Silence and the Violence of Rain

Unsaid

The surprise thunderstorm draped
our town in linen. Even the mansard roofs
softened, and the businessmen
on the Square stopped to spy
blouses of rain
fall off the old opera house.
But mostly—
the miracle of lightning
quieted us.
That split second of light and heat
leaving the scent of old newspapers and salt.

By Dave Malone

It’s an absolute downpour in Austin right now.  Hence the poem about rain.

The Silence and the Violence of Rain

Police Kill More Americans In March Than In Entire UK Since 1900

More Americans Killed By Police In March Than In UK Since 1900

I mean, read the article.  That statistic really says it all.  The United Kingdom has gone through The Troubles in that time period.  Two World Wars took place in that time period just across the channel, with bombing taking place in England, which one would imagine would raise suspicion.  England has its own problems with immigration.  I’m sure many of you have heard of the National Front, of soccer hooligans, of many problems.  What I’m trying to say is that it isn’t like the UK is a land of peace and tranquility.  Yet somehow their police don’t kill people at the rate ours do.

I give a lot of grief to police here at this blog.  Just on my way home from Florida on the last tour I ran into an exceptionally kind one who let me off for speeding without a ticket.  I don’t believe all police are bad.  I’m not saying this to balance my argument or to extend an olive branch.  I think we have a problem here, but I think it is complex and it is better to acknowledge that complexity rather than to just say police are bad.  It has to do with our culture, our history, our unique racial problems that go back to the origins of this country, our politicians, our military industrial and prison complexes, and so many other factors.  But as a country we must find the result unacceptable.  It’s time to start asking some hard questions and beyond time to make changes.

Hat tip to JR 

Peaky Blinders Review

Peaky Blinders Review

The above article is review of the Netflix show Peaky Blinders that I think is pretty much right on the money.  The article acknowledges that although there is really nothing new at the core of the show, the execution of everything, from the acting to the sets, succeed in making it worth watching.  There are some minor quibbles I have with the soundtrack at certain points, as stylized shots with modern songs playing glamorize the violence sometimes in ways that aren’t needed.  (It would be far better if the violence was always portrayed as horrific and brutal as it would fit the themes of the show better.  Most of the violence on this show is portrayed in a barbarous way, but occasionally it does dip into Guy Ritchie territory, which seems out of place.)  There are also moments of coincidence that can briefly take you out of the action as they expose the seems of the writing.  The article above compares the show to Deadwood, and I think that is a fair comparison thematically, although this show doesn’t even come close to matching the writing of Deadwood.  (Deadwood is the best show of modern times, with writing on par with the best of literature.)

However, these things aside, I do like Peaky Blinders.  It is an extremely entertaining show.  I do think the acting, the set design, the costumes, and the cinematography are top notch.  I do think, especially in the first season, that it has themes and ideas that takes it beyond mere entertainment.  The way that society perpetuates violence is interestingly addressed.  The violence that these working class men carry out is partially the result of the violence that they were forced carry out during the war.  The show seems to be saying that violence, once introduced to society, is a cancer that we are stuck with, long after the fighting of war is over.  The ruling class sends these men to do horrible things in the trenches, only to condemn them when they bring their new “skill set” home.

Anyway, I more than commenting on it myself I wanted to point you in the direction of the above article, because I do think the writer, despite a few minor quibbles, does a good job of conveying the merits of this show.  (I think Tom Hardy’s performance in Season 2 is one of hat season’s highlights.)  I myself will look forward to watching Season 3 whenever that comes out.

Addition:  I don’t exactly mean to criticize something by comparing it to Guy Ritchie.  Although there is no doubt that some of the things he has done are shite (Sherlock Holmes movies!), some of his early films are at least fun entertainment, that have their own style and energy.  I don’t mind things being just entertainment.  My point is that in this show, the more choreographed moments of violence do not fit the overall mood, and it takes me outside the world of the show, a world of which I find myself fully immersed in for the most part.  

Nationalism On the Rise In Europe

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Nationalism On the Rise In Europe

The above link is an interesting article about the rise of nationalism in Europe.  There is no doubt that the murders in France, and other acts of violence by Muslims, have helped give nationalism a footing.  However, it also goes into detail about how certain conservative economic policies, that are hurting the working class and poor, are also helping to bring about this change.

Thoughts On French Attacks

I’ve been paying attention to the horrible tragedy in France.  I have been to France several times have had many great memories there.  My last trip there, to Paris and La Rochelle, was especially meaningful to me.  The best thing about the French seems to be their zest for life combined with a deep need for meaningful culture.  So to see this culture attacked, especially when being committed by those those at the opposite end of the cultural spectrum, is completely senseless.  I have trouble, even now, even coming up with words to describe what has happened.  On one hand you have French culture, a culture that searches for the truth wherever it may be, is expansive in ideas, and is filled with the vibrancy of life.  Then you have Radical Islam which is dogmatic, close minded, and death obsessed.  It is clear to me which culture is worth preserving.

France has a much higher Muslim percentage than the US.  The majority of Muslims live in peace side by side with their French neighbors.  In Paris I often saw Muslims integrated in society in ways that seemed hopeful.  France also never made one feel like they were entering a police state at the airports the way the US does.  I hope that the French will retain their zest for life and their openness to the new in the face of this attack.

Batshit Insane Vol. 5: Straight Outta Compton

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Anyone that knows this record doesn’t need me to explain why I included it.  However, I see this as a great comedy record.  Like many comedies it takes horrible realities to such extremes that it exposes truth, while at the same time making you laugh at the absurdity.  Lets take the famous, or infamous, song Fuck tha Police:

You’d rather see me in the pen
Then me and Lorenzo rollin in the Benzo
Beat tha police outta shape
And when I’m finished, bring the yellow tape

Those four lines both expose truth and take violence to a comedic extreme at the same time.  It’s the fact that many white people would rather see black males in prison than driving around in a Mercedes Benz.  And then in the next two lines Ice Cube is bragging about beating a cop to death with maniacal glee.  So it is truth hidden in the guise of absurdity.  (And unfortunately this song still seems relevant to our daily headlines.)

For all of this records violence and insanity, I have a hard time taking it too seriously removed decades from its release.  Ice Cube is in children’s movies and Dr. Dre is a respected CEO.  I think of it along the lines of something like George Carlin’s Life is Worth Losing, where he talks about some of darkest subjects ever and twists them until they become funny.  But while Carlin is making you laugh, he is again making you see truths that evade us in everyday conversation.  (It’s not as smart as Carlin is, but then no one really is.)  Unfortunately many of the groups that were influenced by this seemed to lack NWA’s knowing sense of humor.  For all this records absurd violence and gritty reality, there is the sense that they are having fun.  And it is precisely that fun that makes this record fire on all cylinders for me.  They’ve driven straight over the edge, and are having a laugh in free fall.

For the first week of 2015 I am writing pieces about records that I can only describe as “batshit insane”.  These are brilliant albums that are so dark they cross the threshold into a knowing comedy.  If you want to understand exactly what I mean in more detail read the first paragraph from the start of this series:

I love records that one can only describe as sounding “batshit insane”.  Where the artist seems as if they are out-crazying the din and the whirlwind of the Great Void.  Albums that trump death, even if the artists are alive and the albums don’t even have death as a central theme because, even if it is subconsciously, they know it is out there and they seem not to give a shit.  I am reminded of the character at the end of Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle who dies, “lying on my back, grinning horribly, and thumbing my nose at You Know Who.”  I also think of George Carlin, putting on a show making the batshit insanity of this world hilarious, and then ending his set by standing on one leg with his arms outstretched, daring to be smited.  These are albums where artistic fear is not only not present, it almost seems as if the artists are daring you not to like them.  Albums like this make me laugh out loud and warm my heart to its very foundation.  I could be having the worst day possible and when I put one of these records on I think, “Thank God they are out there.”  I wanted to write about several of these records to start 2015 out on the right foot.  My goal is to post at least one record a day for the next week.  I’m just having fun, like a child skipping through a field.

Batshit Insane Vol. 3: BXI

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BXI – Boris and Ian Astbury – This EP brings out the best of both Cult lead singer Ian Asthbury and Japanese metal gods Boris.  Whenever I think of this music, I think of the shot of the older Conan in Conan the Barbarian, sitting on his throne like some kind of decadent Viking king:

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The EP features three originals with Astbury on lead vocals and one cover version of The Cult song Rain, with the petite female Japanese guitarist Wata on vocals.  The music is heavy, but artier and more damaged than most metal.  Astbury continues his lyrical fascination with Native American spirit imagery, which is strange coming from an Englishman, but that somehow always works in his favor.

The music sounds tired, but not in the way that that word would typically be applied to music.  It is decadent and world weary, like a warrior that has gone too far and crossed the final borderline, overly satiated on bloodlust and sex.  There is nothing left to do now but sing a death song while crossing the threshold.  There is a strange violent beauty to this music.  The sound of one defeated only because there is nothing left to conquer.

For the first week of 2015 I am writing pieces about records that I can only describe as “batshit insane”.  These are brilliant albums that are so dark they cross the threshold into a knowing comedy.  If you want to understand exactly what I mean in more detail read the first paragraph from the start of this series:

I love records that one can only describe as sounding “batshit insane”.  Where the artist seems as if they are out-crazying the din and the whirlwind of the Great Void.  Albums that trump death, even if the artists are alive and the albums don’t even have death as a central theme because, even if it is subconsciously, they know it is out there and they seem not to give a shit.  I am reminded of the character at the end of Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle who dies, “lying on my back, grinning horribly, and thumbing my nose at You Know Who.”  I also think of George Carlin, putting on a show making the batshit insanity of this world hilarious, and then ending his set by standing on one leg with his arms outstretched, daring to be smited.  These are albums where artistic fear is not only not present, it almost seems as if the artists are daring you not to like them.  Albums like this make me laugh out loud and warm my heart to its very foundation.  I could be having the worst day possible and when I put one of these records on I think, “Thank God they are out there.”  I wanted to write about several of these records to start 2015 out on the right foot.  My goal is to post at least one record a day for the next week.  I’m just having fun, like a child skipping through a field.

Insane Violence and The Bible On Film

DF-04525 - Moses (Christian Bale) charges into a fierce battle.

The more I think about Ridley Scott’s Exodus:  Gods and Kings, the more I like it.  It is a ridiculously violent film, an epic spectacle, and the actors find new and entertaining ways to chew up scenery.  (It would have been an even better movie if it had been rated R.  Though to be honest, other than not showing people getting limbs hacked off in battles and nudity, the movie pushes the barriers of PG-13 to the limit.  We’re talking about a movie where scores of people get eaten by crocodiles, so many that the river runs red with blood.)  All of those things that I stated merely make the movie entertaining.  What makes it brilliant is that this is a movie that brings the insanely ridiculous violence of the Old Testament front and center.

One of my favorite quotes is the Hannah Arendt quote, “the horrible can not only be ludicrous, but outright funny.”  The Old Testament is so ingrained in our culture that even though we acknowledge the violence in it, and the fact that much of this violence comes from a wrathful God, that I don’t think it registers with most people in a visceral way how absurd it is.  Floods, plagues, mass murder, and a woman being turned into a pillar of salt are just the tip of the iceberg.  We know this stuff.  Even those like myself, that didn’t grow up going to church, know all of these stories.  But how often do we reflect upon how batshit insane they all are.  Ridley Scott did.  He made a movie out of part of the Old Testament and he put the batshit insane right up front.  No other movie that I can think of takes the violence of the Old Testament and presents it as such a ridiculously depraved spectacle.  Which, whether you believe in the Old Testament or not, is hard to deny.  Like the Hannah Arendt quote above, this movie is often so horribly violent that it becomes a comedy.  Even if Ridley Scott changes some parts of the story, he tries to find natural causes for most of the plagues for instance, he is getting the essence correct.  I mean, he didn’t make up the plague where all of the Egyptian first born children are killed.

A lot of the reviews for this movie have talked about how Scott got this or that wrong, or that he made it too much of a spectacle, or whatever.  No, Ridley Scott basically just showed what was there without all of the self seriousness of most religious films.  Again, I’m not saying that he didn’t take certain artistic liberties with the story, only that he does so in a way which actually highlights things that are already there.  He helps show us a story that we’ve heard a million times in a way that doesn’t allow us to ignore what is going on.  I would imagine that most of those that really didn’t like this movie already have preconceived notions as to what the story is about.  This movie is basically showing us that we are telling millions of children a year a story full of the most depraved violence.  And it has a good laugh at it.  The comedy of the divine.  I mean certain scenes from this could almost be in a Monty Python movie.

This movie does the opposite of what another famously violent religious movie does.  That movie  The Passion of the Christ is also insanely violent, but what it does is actually obscure what is important in the Christ story through that violence.  That movie focuses mostly on the violence that was directed at Christ leading up to his death.  But there is nothing special about his death.  I guarantee that someone is meeting just as horrible a fate as he did in some third world shithole right now.  Christ wasn’t even the only one crucified that day!  This isn’t the fantastic violence of an angry God.  This is an extreme version of the day to day violence of mankind.  In focusing on this kind of violence it actually helps one to ignore what was spectacular about the story of Christ.  The fantastic part of his story is that he rose from the dead.  But that still isn’t what I’m talking about.  Whether or not you believe Christ was the son of God, or that he rose from the dead is still, in my mind, not what is most important in his story.  Christ spent a good deal of his life teaching people what they should be doing.  They should be loving each other and not worrying about earthly possessions and treating the lesser amongst us with kindness.  That is what makes his story exceptional.  And he did that at a time when the world was even more barbaric and depraved than it is now.  Right now someone is probably being executed as we speak, in a horribly painful way, in an Arab country for drawing a comic book about Muhammad or something equally as ridiculous.  So again, dwelling on the whole crucifixion thing, longer than the love and kindness in his teachings, is kind of ass backwards the way I see it.

So you have two violent movies that tell stories from the Bible.  One highlights the absurdity of violence, while the other uses violence to distract from a message of love.  Do you have to guess which one made more money and got more critical acclaim?

Random Thoughts During Exodus: Gods and Kings

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Exodus: Gods and Kings Review

About a week ago I stated that a negative review, of which I have linked to above, made me want to go see Ridley Scott’s new movie, Exodus: Gods and Kings.  The reviewer was trying to slag the film, but instead made it sound so over-the-top that it looked like fun.  What follows below is not my own review of the film.  Whether or not you like this movie depends on how much you love batshit insanity, actors that chew up the scenery, and ridiculous spectacle.  I love all those things in films, so I loved this one.  However, if those things aren’t your deal, then you might not like it.  Here are ten thoughts while watching Exodus: Gods and Kings:

(I should add that there are some spoilers, but given that most of you know the story of Moses, I don’t think that this will ruin the movie for you.)

1.  Unless a planet explodes in a sci-fi movie, there have never been more random human and animal deaths onscreen.

2.  God is played as a petulant psychopathic child.  If you think of all the smiting he does in the Old Testament, it is kind of fitting!

3.  You don’t hire Christian Bale unless at some point he is going to scream with incredible intensity.  He delivers, many many times.  At least twice for every dollar that I spent.  I got my money’s worth.  Even when he isn’t screaming, he plays Moses with a quiet intensity that lets you know another insane outburst is coming.

4.  I don’t think that a river full of giant crocodiles eating thousands of people is in the Bible, but it sure is an entertaining addition.

5.  I know some people were complaining that most of the main characters were cast as white.  However, there is really no male in the film that doesn’t resort to senseless bloodshed at some point, not even God, especially not God, so maybe it’s best to sit this one out on the protest front.

6.  Do people really believe that this story happened?  If so they have lost their minds.  This story is about as realistic as Conan the Barbarian.

7.  The Hebrews cannot fight the Egyptians face to face because they lack superior numbers.  Because of this they resort to attacking the Egyptian people by blowing up their food supply, etc.  In a sense the Hebrews are “terrorizing” the Egyptian populace.

8.  Moses gets a victory bang at the end when he is reunited with his hot wife.

9.  Why would anyone want to worship a god that kills every first born child, including many babies?  Even Moses ain’t down with that.

10.  Is someone cooking a dog in the background?

Extra credit:  The sharks eating a dead horse in the Red Sea after the big action sequence is over was totally unnecessary, and yet totally welcome.

My friends and I were laughing the entire way through this movie, but more with it than at it.  I got the sense Ridley Scott, who is a really intelligent guy, knew what he was doing.  This movie, as insane as it was, was not without ideas.  If you really think about many of the stories in the Old Testament, you can’t deny that they are full of completely insane over-the-top violence.  Even if the movie changed certain things, which it most certainly did, it did do a great job of showing that aspect of the Bible.  If you want to see a movie that doesn’t neglect Old Testament vengeance, game on!

Everyone is Gonna Lose

The Romans threw the Christians to the lions
The Christians gave Hitler the Jews
The Jews hit the Arabs with rockets
The Arabs bombed a middle school
The kids who survived will grow up angry
And find a new scapegoat to abuse
Meanwhile the owners divvy up the spoils
And now everyone is gonna lose

People worship strange gods and superstitions
But even god gets left behind when money is at hand
Money is really just a way to get power
And power is just a way to impose one’s will on another man
Man often thinks he’ll be around forever
But forever’s not that long I hate to break the news
We could have been kind, but we were selfish
And now everyone is gonna lose

There’s a dream over yonder
Over the bend, can you hear the trumpets sound?
It’s place of mystery and wonder
We tell ourselves instead of living in the now

We should all be in this thing together
But we form groups and then make each other choose
If we keep up this way of thinking
Everyone is gonna lose

Me, Christmas Day 2014