At Home He's a Tourist

He fills his head with culture/ He gives himself an ulcer.

Saturday, March 29, 2003

Robert Christgau Word of the Day

brou·ha·ha n. An uproar; a hubbub. (

Joe Ely Honky Tonk Masquerade [MCA, 1978]

You know all that brouhaha about Texas music? Here's a record that bears it out for more than two songs at a time. Ely's emotional openness seems neither sentimental nor contrived. He balls the jack with irrefutable glee and sings the lonesome ones so high and hard he makes the next room sound 500 miles away. With Butch Hancock sharing the writing, there are maybe two less-than-memorable songs on the entire album. There's great (Lousiana?) accordion, apt (Mexican?) horns, and lots of (Lubbock!) rock and roll. In short, there hasn't been anything like this since Gram Parsons was around to make Grievous Angel, or do I mean Gilded Palace of Sin? A (

Friday, March 28, 2003

I can't stop buying used CDs. Tonight at the local Hastings I picked up Kate Bush's The Sensual World and Japanese lounge-pop duo Pizzicato Five's latest disc The Sound of Music. Is there a 12-step program for me?

Tomorrow is a "young adults cookout" at the home of one of our parishioners. While I'm down there in Lubbock I need to make a booze run; I ain't got nothing except half a fifth (a tenth?) of Bushmills. Reading about Lisieux in a travel guide to France made me interested in the region's famous apple brandy, Calvados, which I've never tried. I wonder if I can get a reasonably priced bottle here.

Why am I reading tourist literature? By the year's end I'll have accumulated two weeks of vacation and I'm already trying to decide how I want to spend it. As time slips out of my fingers more and more quickly I want some memorable experiences I can hold on to. I guess most people accomplish this through erecting the usual milestones of love, marriage, procreation, and child rearing. For me, it's travel that gives weight to the past. The lazy flow of routine evaporates without residue, but I still remember vividly a sweaty hike up a Taiwanese mountain to visit a syncretist Chinese temple, or lost wanderings through the cobbled, convoluted streets of old Quebec City, or the maddening drone of millions of cicadas on a hot summer evening in the Smoky Mountains. I haven't been to Europe and, given my ancestry and my interest in the language, France seems like a good choice. It would be interesting to follow the path of Joan of Arc's career from Domremy-la-Pucelle through Chinon, Orleans, and Reims to the spot of her martyrdom in Rouen. I might even be enough of a closet Catholic to visit Lourdes and Lisieux.

Somewhat along those lines, I haven't heard anything good about Ronald Maxwell's film "Gods and Generals," which is disappointing because I know he has a Joan of Arc biopic in the works and I think the Maid of Lorraine needs competent cinematic representation. Besson's The Messenger was post-modern trash (though it had some great battle scenes), the silent version is deadly dull, and (from what I've read) the one starring Ingrid Bergman isn't anything special. I actually thought the CBS miniseries was pretty good, though it was limited by budget constraints and by some hokey scriptwriting. Leelee Sobieski was a perfect casting decision, I thought. Even my admiration for Ms. Sobieski won't make me see "Here on Earth," though.

Today's Christgau word isn't very difficult, but I wanted to continue the West Texas theme by throwing in a review of Bob Wills, the inventor of western swing and a native of Turkey, Texas, a hamlet nestled in the caprock about an hour from here. In a few weeks Turkey will be hosting a huge Bob Wills festival, which L., who grew up in nearby Quitaque, says is a "redneck Woodstock."

e·clec·tic adj. 1. Selecting or employing individual elements from a variety of sources, systems, or styles; 2. Made up of or combining elements from a variety of sources. (

Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys Anthology 1935-1973 [Rhino, 1991]

Newcomers may be put off by Wills's opportunistic omnivorousness. As a popularizer of what he considered Texas fiddle music, he felt no more loyal to country, which didn't mean much in the '30s anyway, than the early black songsters did to blues. An entertainer who assumed, correctly, that his audience liked everything he did--folk, hillbilly, blues, swing, and let us not forget pop--his format was the pop format of the time, the big band. Plus fiddle and pedal steel, and also plus fellow frontman Tommy Duncan, a congenial equivalent to the generic boy singers of swing. He's almost sublimely relaxed--the country meeting the city without the usual anxious excitement. The classic Wills is just plain Anthology, a Columbia double-LP turned Sony Special Products CD, which collects 24 cuts where the two separately available CDs in this package each offer 16. But these are a tad longer on sheer song quality. Volume 1 duplicates five Sony tracks, Volume 2--which finally convinces me that Wills's post-Columbia work wasn't busy and tuckered out--zero. Wills's eclecticism was tremendously ambitious, but it was never pretentious. And sometimes unpretentiousness is its own reward. A (

The April edition of Choice came out recently. When I find a favorable review of a book that looks appropriate for our library, I try to find other reviews (Jn. 8:17). It's a problem though when the reviews are contradictory, particularly when they disagree on exactly the same aspects of the book. For instance, Choice says of an introductory art book that the presentation is "beautiful," Library Journal says "the reproductions are not crisp." Choice praises its "unique arrangement," LJ says "the most damning feature is the jumble of essays and timelines."

Thursday, March 27, 2003

Robert Christgau Word of the Day

Di·as·po·ra n.

1. The dispersion of Jews outside of Israel from the sixth century B.C., when they were exiled to Babylonia, until the present time.

2. The body of Jews or Jewish communities outside Palestine or modern Israel.

3. A dispersion of a people from their original homeland. The community formed by such a people: “the glutinous dish known throughout the [West African] diaspora as... fufu” (Jonell Nash).

4. A dispersion of an originally homogeneous entity, such as a language or culture: “the diaspora of English into several mutually incomprehensible languages” (Randolph Quirk).


Flatlanders More a Legend Than a Band [Rounder, 1990]

In 1972, Joe Ely, Butch Hancock, and leader Jimmie Dale Gilmore--drumless psychedelic cowboys returned to Lubbock from Europe and San Francisco and Austin--recorded in Nashville for Shelby Singleton, and even an eccentric like the owner of the Sun catalogue and "Harper Valley P.T.A." must have considered them weird. With a musical saw for theremin effects, their wide-open spaceyness was released eight-track only, and soon a subway troubadour and an architect and a disciple of Guru Mararaji had disappeared back into the diaspora. In cowpunk/neofolk/psychedelic-revival retrospect, they're neotraditionalists who find small comfort in the past, responding guilelessly and unnostalgically to the facts of displacement in a global village that includes among its precincts the high Texas plains. They're at home. And they're lost anyway. A-

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Robert Christgau Word of the Day

thren·o·dy n. A poem or song of mourning or lamentation

Beastie Boys Ill Communication [Grand Royal, 1994]

Another you-gotta-believe record, just like Check Your Head--only less so, thank God, whose appearances herein are frequent and auspicious. Although once again it's short on dynamite, at least it starts with a bang. Two bangs, actually, one hip hop and one hardcore--their loyalty to their roots closely resembles an enlightened acceptance of their limitations. With each boy having evolved into his own particular man, the rhymes are rich and the synthesis is complex. You-gotta-love the way the ecological paean/threnody emits from a machine that crosses a vocoder and the p.a. at a taco drive-through, but their collective spiritual gains peak in the instrumentals, which instead of tripping up the Meters evoke the unschooled funk of a prerap garage band. If they've never run across Mer-Da's Long Burn the Fire, on Janus, maybe I could tape them one? A- (

Johnny Marr releases his first solo album. (En francais.)

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

I've been playing a lot of PS2 RPG's lately: no sooner had I finished "Kingdom Hearts" than I started on "Final Fantasy X." This little regression is just as well since the whole "growing up" thing hasn't really worked out for me anyway. I'm finding the games more engrossing than movies right now, although I did finally get around to seeing one of the Netflix discs gathering dust in my living room: "Camila." The cheap color film and mediocre cinematography made it look like an 80s made-for-TV movie, but the story was an interesting true drama about an Argentinian priest who had an affair with a high-society woman. Give it a B-.

On Sunday I discovered Ralph's Records on 82nd Street in Lubbock. Spent too much on used CDs again--all of them, strangely, in the "B" section, to wit: Beastie Boys Ill Communication, their jazziest work, full of hep riffs on flute, double bass, and organ; Blondie, The Platinum Collection; The Beatles, Magical Mystery Tour; and Kate Bush, The Dreaming. Speaking of which, it's time for the second installment of...

Robert Christgau's Word of the Day

refulgence n : the quality of being bright and sending out rays of light

Kate Bush: The Dreaming [EMI America, 1982]

The most impressive Fripp/Gabriel-style art-rock album of the postpunk refulgence makes lines like "I love life" and "Some say knowledge is something that you never have" say something. Part of the reason is that Bush is flaky enough to seek the higher plane in "a hired plane," although as you might expect the resulting analysis often crumbles under scrutiny. It also helps that the emotional range of her singing sometimes approaches its physical range, although when it doesn't you'd best duck. But the revelation is the dense, demanding music, which gets the folk exoticism of current art-rock fashion out of mandolins and uillean pipes and didgeridoos rather than clumsy polyrhythms, and goes for pop outreach with hooks rather than clumsy polyrhythms. B+


Four months here and I still haven't found anyone I can spend my free time with. It may behoove me to visit one of the Baptist megachurches in Lubbock, as much as I would dislike it.

Monday, March 24, 2003

Good news, rock fans and vocabulary builders! Biblioblog is proud to introduce a new feature, "Robert Christgau's Word of the Day." Not only is the self-proclaimed "Dean of American Rock Critics" witty and insightful, but his bite-sized record reviews are chock full of rich verbiage. Each entry in the series will give the dictionary definition of the word and the Consumer Guide review in which it is found. Kids, if you're studying for your SATs, stop by to boost your verbal score and improve your knowledge of rock history.

And the inaugural entry is...

per·i·stal·sis The wavelike muscular contractions of the alimentary canal or other tubular structures by which contents are forced onward toward the opening.

Fugs 4, Rounders Score [ESP-Disk', 1975]

Previously unreleased (Holy Modal) Rounders oldies (the original "Romping Through the Swamp") plus a mid-'60s best-of on the original rock-poets, with ample room for the musical genius of Tuli Kupferberg--including "Morning, Morning" in a version far lovelier than Spyder Turner's and the peristaltic "Caca Rocka," a/k/a "Pay Toilet Blues." The musicianship will offend the fastidious and loses even me at times. But there's a sense in which the halting drone of these sessions, vaguely reminiscent of the early Velvets, is more appropriate to the Fugs' secondhand rock than all the classy folkies they later patched on. B+