Svetlana Gouzenko – Before Igor: My Memories of a Soviet Youth

Vladimir Lenin All-Union Pioneer Organization“For the October Revolution our class produced a small play in which a group of young Pioneers expelled the heroes of Russian fairy tales as ‘non-Soviet elements’.  The curtain opened on this drab little group of Pioneers.  Their appearance brought no response from the audience.  Then the group leader . . . got up and made an introductory speech.  She explained that the old fairy tales, about princes and princesses, exploiters of simple folk, were unfit for Soviet children.  As for fairies and Father Frost [~Father Christmas/Santa Claus], they were simply myths created to fool children.

“After her speech the colorful crowd of ‘non-Soviet elements’ appeared on stage.  A sigh of delight passed through the hall and grew into a wave of applause . . . .

“The Trial began.  Cinderella was dragged before the judges and accused of betraying the working class . . . .  Next came Father Frost, who was accused of climbing down chimneys to spy on people.  One by one we were condemned to exile.  The only exception was Ivan the Fool, because he belonged to the common people and so was no traitor of his class.  He was renamed Ivan the Cunning.”

Svetlana Gouzenko, Before Igor: My Memories of a Soviet Youth (1961)

Gouzenko was the wife of Soviet defector/traitor Igor Sergeyevich Gouzenko, a key figure in the start of the “cold war”.  The passage quoted above sneers at the Pioneers, and sympathizes with betrayers of the working class, but wasn’t that play great?  Children should put it on again.

Bob Dylan – The Bootleg Series Vol. 10: Another Self Portrait

The Bootleg Series Vol. 10: Another Self Portrait (1969–1971)

Bob DylanThe Bootleg Series Vol. 10: Another Self Portrait (1969-1971) Columbia 88883 73488 2 (2013)

Drawing primarily from the years that produced Self Portrait, Dylan, and New Morning, but also touching briefly on The Basement Tapes, Nashville Skyline, and the new material from Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol. II, this tenth edition of the “Bootleg Series” focuses on a crucial turning point in Bob Dylan’s career, when for the first time he was drawing criticism and seemed to be making missteps.  But set that all aside. The first disc of this collection is mostly rather excellent, and stands all on its own.  From this evidence, Dylan had not run out of ideas.  He had plenty.  He was also capable of touching, heartfelt performances.  But somebody, Dylan, his managers, the label…one of them, or bunches of them, seem to have conspired to present Dylan in the worst possible light back at the time of the original releases. This collection give everyone a second bite of the apple, so-to-speak.  It finds Dylan doing something akin to the folk that he made in the early/mid 1960s.  But by the dawn of the 1970s, commercial interests were looking west toward the burgeoning singer-songwriter movement that utilized more ornate studio embellishments than the kind of spare, acoustic folk Dylan was still frequently recording.  This gives the impression that it was (stupidly, in hindsight) decided that Dylan needed to do something else.  So he did.  Dylan’s albums from the era ended up flawed, even dreadful at times.  The songs on the first disc here are demo versions, unreleased outtakes, alternate versions, and a few versions that appear to be the released versions stripped of some or all original overdubs (akin, somewhat, to Willie Nelson‘s Naked Willie).  The latter discs add more of the same, plus some live recordings.  The deluxe edition includes a full disc of “The Complete, Historic ‘Isle of Wight’ Concert, 1969.”  In truth the extra material is of marginal interest.  The best material is on disc one; a single disc edition would actually be the one to get, if it existed.  But all those details aside, this collection is great because it shows how even (or maybe especially) a huge star like Dylan faced pressure to do something “different” even when it was clear that doing more of the same is what would have worked best.  The evidence is right here, and with hindsight thankfully the best of his efforts of the era are now available for all to hear.

Linsey McGoey – The Philanthropy Hustle

Link to an article by Linsey McGoey:

“The Philanthropy Hustle”

Bonus links: “Why Philanthropy Actually Hurts Rather Than Helps Some of the World’s Worst Problems” and “Philanthrocapitalism: A Self-Love Story” and “Bill Gates’s Philanthropic Giving Is a Racket” and “How Corporate Power Converted Wealth Into Philanthropy for Social Control”

Frank Zappa – Hot Rats

Hot Rats

Frank ZappaHot Rats Bizarre RS 6356 (1969)

Often cited as a key example of jazz fusion, I think Hot Rats makes a rather poor representation of the genre.  For the most part, it’s a well-orchestrated affair that leaves precious little room for any significant improvisation.  And after all, it’s improvisation that marks any music as “jazz”.  Zappa, as usual, is really the opposite of what he pretends to be.  This music is sort of a distraction, a cynical ploy that conceals behind a wall of exuberant, nearly psychedelic effects a kind of gutless service to all the lame institutions of the past.  This isn’t the freaks revolting and taking over the world; this is the show that the “great and powerful” Wizard of Oz puts on to help the boring old man control the realm just out of sight.  Or perhaps it is cheap vaudeville to let off some steam so that the machinery of established society keeps churning without exploding.  Either way, the status quo emerges unscathed.

The best offering here is “Gumbo Variations” (as the title implies it’s really built more off Euro-classical tradition than any kind of jazz idiom).  A few players rotate solos and you’re out.  Don “Sugarcane” Harris puts in a nice electrified violin solo, but the song really drags after a while.  Captain Beefheart makes an appearance on “Willie the Pimp”.  Even Beefheart kind of gets lost on the album, scarcely utilized at all.  The album is respectable, but, like most Frank Zappa albums, it just isn’t anything special.

Loretta Lynn – Still Woman Enough

Still Woman Enough: A Memoir

Loretta Lynn with Patsi Bale CoxStill Woman Enough: A Memoir (Thorndike Press, 2002)

Loretta Lynn’s second memoir fills in a few gaps from her first, Coal Miner’s Daughter (1977), and picks up the years since that first book.  This isn’t an autobiography that attempts to chronicle her entire life.  It is episodic, jumping from one story to the next, revealing only as much as Lynn wishes.  At times, that is the biggest limitation of the book.  When she has something nice to say about someone, they are mentioned by name.  When she has something negative to say about a person or band or business, she typically withholds the proper name.  This is somewhat common with country music memoirs (Cash: The Autobiography does a little of the same, for instance).  But the strength of the book is Lynn’s willingness to accept herself as she is without letting shame or embarrassment get in the way — at one point she acknowledges that she doesn’t read well.

The bulk of the book is devoted to explaining her relationship with her husband, known by his nicknames Doolittle and Mooney.  As much as her music creates a persona of an independent woman, she stuck with Doo since her marriage at age thirteen, in spite of his philandering, alcoholism, abusiveness, jealousy, male chauvinism, and general craziness.  She also writes a lot about the rest of her family, including her many children.  There are maybe two pages total devoted to recordings, a larger number devoted to descriptions of live performances, and substantially more to the grind and crazy escapades of touring and being in the cutthroat entertainment industry.

Loretta Lynn’s best quality was her earnestness and total lack of guile.  This shone through her music brilliantly.  This memoir captures that same aspect, though at the same time her naivety comes through too, and it is hard to accept her frequently superficial explanations on a few topics, some of which veer into supernatural explanations.  One such problem is that while she (rightly) takes some credit for being a pioneering businesswoman in the music industry, taking more control over her music than “girl singers” were usually permitted in the misogynist Nashville music machine, she has no grasp whatsoever of broader social forces.  So she never quite gets around to offering any explicit context for how the three decade “golden years” of the working class coincided with her rise to fame.  If you want that analysis you will need to look for a biography.  But she still has plenty of great stories that revolve around her likeable bewilderment.  For instance, she talks about being on a Dean Martin celebrity roast and leaning over during the taping to ask Martin when dinner will be served — she thought the event was really a dinner where celebrities get together and (literally) eat a pot roast.

I was reading this on an airplane and a steward leaned over and asked what it was, then — after saying he admired Loretta Lynn too — jokingly suggested that maybe I should put it in a paper bag so no one could see it.  The cover definitely markets this as a “woman’s” book, the kind promoted on daytime TV.  No doubt, this is driven by emotional responses to difficult life circumstances.  But anyway, it is a decent enough memoir though this will probably only be coherent if you have read her first memoir or have seen the (rather excellent) biopic Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980), which is mentioned many, many times.

Arundhati Roy – Things That Can and Cannot Be Said

Link to an interview with Arundhati Roy by John Cusack:

“Things That Can and Cannot Be Said”

Another part of the interview: “What Shall We Love”


Bonus links: Non-Violence: A History Beyond the Myth and How Nonviolence Protects the State and “If Governments Believe So Much in Nonviolence, They Should Try It” and Socialism and War (“Socialists have always condemned war between nations as barbarous and brutal. But our attitude towards war is fundamentally different from that of the bourgeois pacifists (supporters and advocates of peace) and of the Anarchists. We differ froth the former in that we understand the inevitable connection between wars and the class struggle within the country; we understand that war cannot be abolished unless classes are abolished and Socialism is created; and we also differ in that we fully regard civil wars, i.e., wars waged by the oppressed class against the oppressing class, slaves against slave-owners, serfs against land-owners, and wage-workers against the bourgeoisie, as legitimate, progressive and necessary.”)