Sunday, March 30, 2008

Footnotes to the previous post

In explaining Napalm Death to my children, I had to back up and explain John Peel, shortwave broadcasting, alternative music, etc. Peelie's autobiography is out, with the cover photo looking exactly like my college radio days:

(Maggie agrees: not only does Peel resemble our college-radio-pal John, but the woman in the back (presumably his wife Sheila) bears more than a passing resemblance to M.)

From the Wiki article on John Peel:

I've always imagined I'd die by driving into the back of a truck while trying to read the name on a cassette, and people would say, 'He would have wanted to go that way.' Well, I want them to know that I wouldn't.

Edited (8 April) to add: and someone on BookMooch was good enough to send me a copy. Of the hardcover first. Via Air Mail. From England. I guess I know what I'm reading next.

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Sweet Zombie Jesus, that was horrible

Back when I was doing college radio, there was always a race going on to see who could find the most extreme music, in any number of dimensions: the best, the 'rockingest', the most obscure, the loudest, the most literary, the most atonal, the coolest, the noisiest. Whatever the dimension, there was always an endless series of one-upmanship going on: "You call that 'X'??? Here, listen to THIS, I'll show you 'X'. " (Lou Reed's "Metal Machine Music" was of course the trump card in any number of these discussions.)

Even after I left college radio behind, I still kept up: every week I would listen to the BBC's John Peel to find out what was new. (Of course, now Peelie has left us, and I'm now officially clueless. But I did play the game for a very long time. And I still miss Peelie.)

Around 1987, John Peel's World Service show brought us Napalm Death, and the entire genre they spawned of "grindcore".

Loud, fast, difficult to listen to. Which meant it was perfect, for what it was. St. Anselm's Ontological Argument for the Existence of Grindcore: "Postulate the existence of a genre louder and faster than which no other music can be conceived. Such a genre must exist, and must be worshipped."

And after listening to 1987-vintage Napalm Death, it was hard to imagine how rock could get harder, louder, or faster. So for the last 20 years, Napalm Death has been my specimen example for the genus of "hard rock".

And twenty years later, Napalm Death finally played here. An all-new lineup, but, still, here they are. My long-suffering wife refused to go with me. My teenaged daughter adamently refused to accompany me. So I went all on my lonesome.

Northern Lights is just a club in a strip mall. (What's hilarious is that next door to Northern Lights is the Northway Church, the local advertise-on-television Mega-church: Saturday night, there's one set of worshippers, and Sunday morning a different set of worshippers fills the same parking lot. Because, ya know, we each worship in our own way.) I'd guess the crowd was about 300? Mostly young men, of course, but a very visible contingent of women. The dress code ran almost entirely to 'black'. I counted four mohawk hair-dos. And I was probably the only un-tattooed person in the place.

(It's probably a topic for a different post to discuss how charming it is that audiences self-select. I didn't know that there WERE 300 grindcore fans in the area - and yet, here they were, all conveniently assembled in one place.)

So I saw a couple of the warmup acts ('Straightline Stitch' and '36 Crazyfists', from Alaska), and the headliners ('Devil Driver'). Napalm Death was not quite as loud as Sonic Youth - still my reference standard for "LOUD" (and come to think of it, I don't know if my hearing has recovered from that, even yet....) - but it was not for lack of trying. I kept touching my earplugs to make sure that they were seated - and touching them would break the seal, and let me know that, yes, they had been seated - the noise was, yes, simply loud enough that I thought my earplugs must have failed.

During the stage patter, Barney Greenway, Napalm Death's current singer, talked about the band now being 27 years old, and referenced 1987's "Scum" - which I was holding in my hand, as I had brought it along in hope of an autograph. (I was chatting with one guy who pointed out that the album was older than HE was.) My moment of fame.


In your mind
Nothing but fear
You can't face life
Or believe death's near
A vision of life
On television screens
An existance created
From empty dreams
Hide behind T.V.
Hide behind life
You should be living
But you only survive
Life holds nothing
But pain and death
Don't look for love
There is none left

What's remarkable is how conservative the genre is: Napalm Death played stuff off their new album, AND material from 1987's premiere "Scum" - and it did NOT sound like there was 20-some years of progress between the two. And the headliners clearly owe their style to ND, but have not moved the goalposts very far past their progenitors.

Hearing "Scum" played live made me smile. They play Binghamton tonight, but I still can't talk my family* into going with me.

*Amended to add:

Well, the 11-year-old is game - she's always up for about any adventure, and agrees that Napalm Death is funny - but I don't think the club would let her in.


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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Fun Facts: Maxfield Parrish's "Daybreak"

This young woman, in Parrish's "Morning"

was also the model for the reclining girl in 1922's "Daybreak"

Her name was Kitty Owen.
And her grandfather was William Jennings Bryan.

Her mother - Bryan's daughter Ruth Bryan Owen - was a prominent feminist, and was later elected to Congress in 1928, and has a fascinating biography herself. Ruth Bryan Owen was the mother of four (two with the first husband, two with Maj. Owen), but if "Kitty" Owen is also known as "Helen Rudd Brown" (noted as "daughter of Ruth Bryan Owen"), then she ran for Congress herself, in 1958 and 1960 (and lost).

According to
Helen Rudd Brown - either the girl in "Daybreak", or, more likely, her half-sister - was still living in 2003.

(This family gets more interesting the deeper one looks:

WJ Bryan's wife was a lawyer herself.
Not only was RB Owen the first woman Representative from the deep South, but FDR appointed her as America's first woman Ambassador. Ruth Bryan apparently dropped out of college in 1903 to marry and raise a family; was divorced in 1909, and only married Major Reginald Owen (a Brit, no less) in 1910 - so either the girl in the picture was about 11 years old, or she took her stepfather's name.)

Here's a photo of Eleanor Roosevelt and RB Owen:

Anyway, let's take a moment to reflect upon Parrish's masterpiece, "Daybreak":

This was considered to be fine art in 1922, and it was the most popular art print of the 20th century (the figure "one for every four American homes" is commonly cited) - but let's note that over eighty-five years later, in today's climate of panic, it counts as kiddie-pr0n: the naked girl is Parrish's daughter Jean, who was all of eleven years old. Parrish couldn't have sold this to the American public in the 21st century; he'd be lucky to talk his way out of jail just for having painted it.

Times change.

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