Thursday, March 02, 2017

Five covers of Tom Waits you need in your life right now! It will blow your mind in the most amazing way possible!!!

Number four actually gave me chills!!!

Yes that is click bait. I mean, yeah, listening number four on this list gives me fucking chills. Listening to a Tom Waits song always give me chills.

But if just one person is conned into listening to a single Waits song, then the end most certainly justifies even the most irritating means.

And we do need more of the sheer glory that is Tom Waits in our lives. For fuck's sake, Donald Trump is running rampant, the latest climate science is terrifying and the Western Sydney Wanderers are struggling to hold on sixth in the fucking A-League (and don't even mention what allegedly passes for the Wanderers' Asian Champions League campaign).

These, of course, are not simply "Tom Waits songs". They are five great covers I stumbled across while trawling YouTube.

It seems to me that ii is a basic, self-evident truth that Tom Waits is an incredible songwriter. I mean some things are just a fucking given, even in this strange age of alternative facts.

However, I am forced to accept, though I do not pretend to understand, that Tom Waits famed ultra-gravelly voice is something of an "acquired taste" and the voice can put-off for some from enjoying the remarkable storytelling and song-writing craftsmanship of which Waits is one of the greatest practitioners.

Waits voice is actually a tool to express emotion and serve the story telling. There is a sense that Waits just sounds like a Cookie Monster impersonator (or vice versa) , and, yeah, he sometimes does. But his voice is actually quite versatile and used in range of ways, including a sort of falsetto.

A recent New York Times article described Waits' voice, in a somewhat breathlessly OTT way, as:
An instrument of subtle melodic grace and brutal rhythmic power, his voice breeds metaphors as much as it delivers unmistakable sounds. It’s a worn leather bag, a broken chair, a lost dog that has just found his owner, a day without rain, a children’s choir with strep throat and the purest producer of deep feeling I’ve encountered. The last one isn’t a metaphor, I realize. 
More prosaically, Waits has a falsetto and a basso, a holler and a croon. It’s a voice that can take in the full breadth of human experience, on songs like “A Little Rain” or “Last Leaf,” managing, in its gentleness, to find new ways, through story and through image, to put the listener elsewhere, to put them deep inside a song.
Personally, I think as good an example as any as to the value of Waits' voice is his beautifully sweet song to the love of his life, who he was soon married -- 1980's "Jersey Girl". It is a song whose sweetness threatens to  overpower but for the way Waits' voice grounds it, brings the soaring sentiment of love down to Earth.

The beauty of its sentiment is contrasted with the harshness his voice, making it even more moving -- a man whose voice suggests suffering losing himself in the joy of finding true love, itself a love grounded in the very real urban landscape of New Jersey.

(Bruce Springsteen famously made the song a concert standard, and he also knows how to deliver a song like this with just enough dirt to carry it. An example of what happens when you fail to moderate its sweet core is Bon Jovi's horrific cover, which you can check out for purposes of scientific research.)

But... regardless... there are plenty of ways to skin a tale of a broken heart, and these covers all present Waits songs with vocals that serve the stories without grating any poor sensitive eardrums.

On his 2007 Orphans triple album of previously unrecorded tracks, Tom Waits divided his music into the broad categories of "brawlers", "bawlers" and "bastards". Three of these five tracks fall clearly into the "bawlers" category ("Alice", "Hold On" and "New Year's Eve"), which is probably the one on which Waits has most built his songwriting reputation. These are tales of heartache as people ground down by society struggle to find a way to keep on going.

One of the tracks fits pretty clearly into the "brawlers" basket -- "Bad As Me", a raucous tale of joyful sinners from his 2011 album of the same name.

And the other doesn't really fit exactly into these categories. "Clap Hands" is from Waits classic 1985 album Rain Dogs, his album inspired by living in New York, in which he presents the city's streets are overflowing with drunks and weirdos in a surreal dream-scape. The song, and the rendition below (second on the list), captures that pretty well.

Full playlist


'And so a secret kiss brings madness with the bliss...' 

That line has always struck me. This is beautiful rendition of a song filled with a bittersweet melancholy.

At the start, Evan Ivey, who I know nothing else about, says the song "saved my life". I don't know what prompted her claim, but she is not alone. You can read a moving account by blogger William Henry Prince in which he explains in detail how a Tom Waits song did, in fact, save his life.

There is also a Reddit discussion of people discussing how listening to Waits saved their lives, and I can believe it. Waits certainly makes me want to save this world from the rapidly developing eco-holocaust coz what is the point of achieving something as glorious as Tom Waits' output only for it to be destroyed along with the rest of human civilisation? You can hear Waits' equally spine-tingling original.

Clap Hands

'Said steam, steam, a hundred bad dreams, going up to Harlem with a pistol in his jeans...'

The Dirty Diary's YouTube account has some similarly great versions of other Tom Waits songs, as well as some other impressive dirty blues all recorded in his home. This is not a million miles from the original, but still a stunning effort and, like all five tracks, probably more immediately accessible to someone not already a Waits fan. Hear the original.

Hold On

Down by the Riverside motel
It's ten below and falling
By a ninety-nine cent store
She closed her eyes and started swaying
But it's so hard to dance that way
When it's cold and there's no music...
I have to admit, I did not expect to like to like this as much as I do. The three acts combining for the cover -- Burroughs,  Hi Ho Silver and The Native Siblings -- all seem the kinda middle-class indie kid music that brings out a savage allergic reaction in me that often comes close to requiring hospitalisation.

But... and I don't know anything else about these acts... this is an affecting take on one of Waits' best  heart-wrenching "story" songs. Hear Waits' original.

New Year's Eve

'The stars looked like diamonds, then came the sirens. And everyone started to cuss...'

I had never heard of Madison Ward and the Mama Bear -- a son-and-mother folk duo -- before this very solid cover of a track from Tom Waits 2011 Bad as Me album. It is a story song in a similar vein to  "Hold On" and, in a just world, would be to New Year's Eve what The Pogue's "Fairy Tale of New York" is to Christmas.

It is great cover by an act that, listening to some more from them, definitely seem worth following. And, as I said at the start, their cover gives me chills. Hear the original.

Bad As Me

I'm the one with the gun
Most likely to run
I'm the car in the weeds
If you cut me I'll bleed
You're the same kind of bad as me
FUCK I LOVE SHOVELS AND ROPE! My love of Shovels and Rope rivals my love of Tom Waits, and if you've made it this far into this post you'll grasp how big that praise is for me. I could rant a lot about Shovels and Rope, but that is a topic for another blog post (like this one).

I'll just note their combination of deeply affecting harmonies with the dirt and sweat of rock'n'roll, served up as a raw, dirt stained duo is second to none, performance wise. And here... they dedicate themselves to Tom Waits and produce an energetic, electric cover worthy of The Great Man himself. You can hear the original here.

Friday, February 17, 2017

'Give me a drink!'

'Son of bitch! Get me a drink!'

This truly is a song for our times.

I think here Nathaniel Rateliff from the wonderful soulful R&B combo Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats speaks for all of us right now. I dare say anyone who tried watching Donald Trump's latest surrealist performance art/press conference, caught up on the latest climate science, or even just had the misfortune of watching the ridiculous so-called performance the Western Sydney Wanderers put on to lose 2-0 at home to the Central Coast Mariners, for fuck's sake.

Jesus fuck, get me another drink.

Monday, February 06, 2017

Banning gingers from power? Tough, but fair

This is a tough call.

This placard appeared at Sydney's refugee rights demonstration on February 5, called in response to bickering between the Orange Freak and the Australian government over a deal to illegally traffic desperate human beings from the isolated, offshore, torture camps Australia holds them in to the United States of America, where brown people are, like, not exactly fucking loved right now.

It makes a controversial point. In the interests of full disclosure, I am obliged to point out I am, actually, one of them.

I am a ginger. A ranga. One of "the Orange People". A carrot-topped possessor of some fire-crotched Fanta pants. (Actually... maybe just pretend I didn't refer to my own crotch on this blog and we'll all sleep better at night.)

This is a sensitive issue for me. A life-long history of savage bigotry, of the sort it is hard to bring myself to even describe... but... and a trigger warning to victims of gingerphobia... but it includes a childhood in which ... god this is hard... but it includes a childhood in which I was repeatedly called "Bluey".

This despite the fact that I was, and indeed am, demonstrably not "blue" in any way. My hair colour is clearly orange, of the sort popularly called "red".

Too little research has been carried out into the long-term affects of such demonstratably false nicknames being applied to innocent children, too young to comprehend the social context... but I can only assume my long record of sustained adult (and teenage, let's be honest) alcohol abuse must at root be tied back to this false characterisation of my hair colour.

My point is... the rise of Donald Trump has brought with it a terrifying rise in hate. For instance, the very day after he won the elections, I personally witnessed a clear cut example of Trump-fuelled hate right here in Sydney!

Yes! An angry Mexican abused me just coz I'm orange!

He saw me, came right up and angrily pointed his finger as he almost spat out the phrase, "Your people!"

My first response, when I got over the shock, was like, "Hey dude! #NotAllGingers, yeah? Like #GingerLivesMatter!"

But then... once I calmed down and thought it through... I was forced to admit the prick had a point.

And so does that placard.

Because there is something us Orange People don't talk about much, even among ourselves. And it is that we have always known, deep down, if we are willing to admit it, that a ginger would destroy the planet.

It is just one of those things. Of course it would be a fucking ranga.

We are just broken somewhere deep inside.Whether from the schoolyard abuse or some deep flaw in the DNA that produces the deformity that is red hair... I cannot say. But yeah. A fucking ranga. Just fucking had to be.

That protest placard is a tough call, yes, but fair. Ban all orange people from holding any office now. Except maybe in Scotland, otherwise they'd never find enough bastards to fill their devolved parliament.

Down by the Riverside motel
It's ten below and falling
By a ninety-nine cent store
She closed her eyes and started swaying
But it's so hard to dance that way
When it's cold and there's no music
Oh, your old hometown's so far away
But inside your head there's a record that's playing
This bears no relation to the rest of the post, it is just you can't get enough Tom Waits.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

What does January 26 actually represent? Let's ask a country singer

January 26 is a controversial date in Australia, an occasion of great yearly celebrations as "Australia Day" marking the official start of the European invasion and subsequent genocide. 

But I simply don't care who I offend, I am going to use the occasion to lay down some hard truths whether people want to hear them or not. Mainly that Kev Carmody is a country singer and all you bloody idiots who think "country music is right-wing" or "so uncool" can get fucked.

Kev Carmody is an Aboriginal country and folk singer who is both very definitely not right wing and also very definitely very fucking cool.

Best known to wider audiences for writing and singing "From Little things Big things Grow" with Paul Kelly (about the historic Gurunji strike that opened the way for Aboriginal peoples to win some land rights), Carmody has been singing his country about Aboriginal oppression and resistance and just general struggles of life in the best country folk tradition for 30 years now.  It builds on a much longer and deeper Aboriginal country music tradition over the past few decades.

"Australia Day" is as good a day to listen to him as ever. More accurately labelled Invasion Day, there  are a lot more to the day than BBQs, beaches and flag draped bogans. There are protests on the streets -- like this one in Melbourne, which drew tens of thousands:

About 5000 marching to mark Invasion Day in Melbourne's CBD. (Photo via Nick Fredman on Facebook.

Unsurprisingly, there is growing controversy over January 26, including a push to change the date for a national celebration so it no longer marks the start of the wholesale theft of Aboriginal land and destruction of their culture.

Fremantle council's decision this year to cancel "Australia Day" fireworks, in recognition of the sorrow and anger the date causes, predictably led to right-wing meltdowns. Because more than 200 years of genocide and dispossession is one thing, but for god's sake, if you can't have a huge celebration with fireworks on the date that officially marks the start of the invasion and unprecedented catastrophe for the land's original inhabitants.then it is political correctness gone made.

What is wrong with Australia Day is captured perfectly by Kev Carmody's songs below. The first, from his 1987 debut, is on the theft and hypocrisy carried about by the invaders.

"River of Tears", a devastating true story where police murdered an innocent Black man David Gundy in his home in Sydney, shows the oppression and violence against the original inhabitants of the land have not ended. Hundreds of Black people have died in recent decades at the hands of police, and not one cop has ever been brought to justice.

"Cannot Buy My Soul" marks the ongoing resistance -- also seen in protests on the streets in m any cities today.

In 1788 down Sydney Cove
The first boat-people land
Said sorry boys our gain’s your loss
We gonna steal your land
And if you break our new British laws
For sure you’re gonna hang
Or work your life like convicts
With chains on your neck and hands

Terrorists dressed in uniformUnder the protection of their lawTerrorise blacks in dawns of fear
They come smashin’ through your doorYou’re not safe out there on freedom street
You’re not safe inside the "can"For their shotguns and their stunt gasThey’re licenced to drop you where you stand

For 200 years us blacks are beaten down here too long on the doleMy dignity I’m losing here and mentally I’m oldThere’s a system here that nails us ain’t we left out in the coldThey took our life and liberty friend but they couldn’t buy our soul

Friday, December 30, 2016

So 2016 is killing astronomers too

Vera Rubin discovers some stuff no one can actually see.

This year has involved a lot of deaths of a lot of people, which has clearly never happened before.

To be fair, we are talking some real giants, I mean we've lost Muhammad Ali, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Merle Haggard and probably even some others. It looks like the death toll of well-known-and-loved people from various entertainment fields will just keep growing until 12:01am, January 1, 2017 clicks over ... assuming this is in fact due to some sort of Witch's Curse and not just the natural attrition of a generation of post-WWII entertainers from the '60s, '70s and '80s passing on and becoming the repository for a collective grief over a social era being destroyed by neoliberalism while civlisation is threatened by twin horrors of climate change and the disturbing rise of the far right.

But more than just gay icon George Michael, bi--open-minded-and-questioning icon David Bowie and "all sexual preferences in the Known Universe" icon Prince who passed away. Vera Rubin, an insanely smart woman who revolutionised our entire understanding of the universe also left us. The astronomer, who discovered dark matter and died Christmas Day aged 88.

Sure 88 is not a bad age to go, but I am sure Rubin's death caused much grief for her family, friends and the POOR FUCKING JOURNALISTS tasked with WRITING ARTICLES, like AT CHRISTMAS, about DARK MATTER.

Some journalists got off easy, getting to write pieces about Carrie Fisher, filled with a variety of the sassy quotes she helpfully provided through her colourful life and with the opportunity for some cool "cinnamon bun" retro images. Or they got to write about George Michael, with the clear-cut excuse to play "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" unironically for the first time since the journo was in primary school, coz like it was "research"!

Others were tasked with explaining dark matter in short news pieces, forced to desperately try to think back to year 11 Physics and reassuring themselves they must know SOMETHING about this shit and thinking "OK let's start with matter... that is easy... matter is... SHIT what does matter mean, what does Wikipedia say? [furious typing] Right... so matter is 'everything'! Well that's easy! Everything is everywhere! And therefore dark matter is...

"What, he invisible part of everything??? WHAT THE FUCK! HOW CAN YOU BE THE INVISIBLE PART OF EVERYTHING??? Jesus... and this invisible shit no one can see or properly makes galaxies spin as fast as they do???? WHY THE FUCK COULD VERA RUBIN HAVE NOT DIED *NEXT* WEEK WHEN I'M ON FUCKING LEAVE!"

The answer seems to be basically dark matter, and for that matter dark energy and probably anything else the physics community deems"dark" (like there is a competing theory called "dark fluid" and something else called "dark flow" that no amount of re-reading its Wikipedia entry makes it make any more sense to me), exist to make mathematical equations work that wouldn't otherwise, at lest that is what I have gathered from a couple of SBS documentaries I was mostly paying attention for.

Still...  Vera Rubin seemed pretty cool.

'I'm not bragging or complaining, I'm just talking to myself man to man...' This has nothing to do astronomy, it is just I wrote an angry rant about Jacobin Magazine and Merle Haggard, which was the highlight of my year.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

There are poor-hating hypocrites and then there is Bronwyn Bishop.

Brownyn Bishop thinks dole bludgers are flying helicopters to their drug dealers, or something.

Huffington Post reports:
Former MP Bronwyn Bishop, who was forced to resign as Speaker of the House of Representatives after using taxpayer funds to take expensive helicopter rides, claims "many" people with depression are "rorting" the welfare system, and are "drug addicts".
Yes Bronwyn Bishop, whose "own abuse of the parliamentary expense system was so egregious that it spawned its own '-gate' suffix in Choppergate". Brownwyn Bishop, who:
...was forced to resign as Speaker in 2015, after she chartered a $5200 helicopter flight from Melbourne to Geelong -- which would have been a 90 minute road trip in her Commonwealth car, also paid for by the taxpayer -- for a Liberal party function ...
She also famously billed the taxpayer $88,000 for a 15-day official visit to Europe in 2015, and nearly $43,000 for an 11-day trip to Asia.
Leaving aside the surely self-evident point that Bronwyn Bishop manages to slander an entire group of people without any recourse while simultaneously stigmatising people who use and abuse intoxicants while proposing stripping them of their only source of funds in a move that probably wouldn't help them or society too much... it is worth noting Brownyn Bishop's achievement here.

This is a country with a very long tradition of politicians with six figure salaries, almost unending perks and gold-plated pensions cynically bashing welfare recipients while slashing taxes for the rich. After all, Bishop was just echoing similar comments by ex-PM and loyal backbencher Tony Abbott, who made repealing a mild tax on mining companies a centre-piece of his campaign for power.

There is nothing new about some cynical pollie going bludger-bashing with ridiculous ill-though out logic in a bid to set different sections of the working class against each other, score some cheap points and -- most importantly -- get the Murdoch press tabloids and shock jocks off their backs because if they DIDN'T say this shit, the screeching would be about THEM. It is basic self-defence for a major party politician to bash the defenceless before the right-wing media bashes them for not bashing the defenceless.

That is all to be expected, it is how our political system functions. Murdoch mags and shock jock screechers wail, and politicians join in on harmonies.

So far so "Australia Is The Greatest Country In the World Or It Would Be If Not For All the Bloody Bludgers and Bleeding Heart Pollies Wasting Our Hard Earned Tax Dollars, Christ Some Of Us Actually Work For A Living (TM)". 

No, what is impressive about Bronwyn Bishop's intervention is the hypocrisy is so insanely intense that it manages to be unavoidable. And if there is something the mainstream media of all stripes like to do, it is avoid political hypocrisy, if only because otherwise they'd talk about nothing else and there'd be no time left for the cricket scores.

It takes some extreme bullshit for the stench to be even noted. Others in her position would take their parliamentary pension and just shut the fuck up. Not Bronwyn Bishop. Fair play, I suppose.

'You tell me anyone without a job should go out and die...' Brownyn Bishop's comments are hardly new, but fucking evil enough to drive me to post a song by anarchist industrial band iNsuRge, who I haven't listened to since about 1997.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

OK 2016 wasn't great but don't panic, Tony Abbott's on a crusade to promote Western civilisation

'So the really great thing about Western civilisation up until 1955,...'
Many treat this year like it has little to commend it, and OK it is has been a bit of a bumpy ride, sure, but it is important to look at the positives. There was one development, in particular, I firmly believe history will record as of profound historic importance. A huge turning point for humanity.

I refer to the day it was announced that Tony Abbott had been appointed director of a new think tank to "promote" Western civilisation. On October 4, in a rare piece of good news, The Guardian reported:
Tony Abbott has been appointed a director of a new centre for western civilisation – a thinktank which he says aims “to promote a more widespread study and understanding of the western canon.”
If nothing else, this should end Western civilisation pretty quickly. And not before time, or we could face World War III or another season of The Farmer Wants A Wife.  Don't forget, there was no bigger "promoter" of Tony Abbott's prime ministership than Tony Abbott. Western civilisation looks as doomed as the 2014 federal budget and Prince Philip's now-retracted knighthood.

Those worrywarts concerned about a Trump presidency potentially bringing on a nuclear war... it is hard to see Western civilisation staggering on long enough for that even to be a factor. I am not sure when the former Prime Minister and onion lobbyist takes up his position, but if it is January 1, we might not even make it Trump's Jan. 20 inauguration.

There was thunder, there was lightning
Then the stars went out
And the moon fell from the sky
It rained mackerel, it rained trout
And the great day of wrath has come
And here's mud in your big red eye
And the poker's in the fire
And the locusts take the sky
Well, the earth died screaming
While I lay dreaming