Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.
Sheep in the Box noted in his video that it is wrong to say, “Music’s gone to hell!” And then to justify it compare Bob Dylan to Britney Spears. (For the record, I think Spears is pretty talented. It’s not my kind of music, but that hardly matters.) Sheep said that Dylan should be compared to David Rovics.
It’s a good comparison. They are both folk+ singer-songwriters who are both on the left politically. Of course, I’ve never been especially certain about Dylan’s politics. He’s always seemed too fluid a person to have really static thoughts on the matter. Rovics, on the other hand, is a clear leftist.
He gave an interview back in 2009 when he said a number of things about the US and Israel that would be controversial today — much less then. I agree with pretty much everything he said. But we live in a nation where it is taken as accepted that Israel is Good and any bad thing they do must be due to some justifiable circumstances. Certainly, Israel can’t be held responsible for anything it does!
(I just saw that Intelligence-Squared is having a debate on whether anti-Zionism is antisemitic. That’s very interesting given that all the notable anti-Zionists I know are Jewish. And it’s weird. Jews still die of hate crimes in the US. Yet elites — for example, Bari Weiss — complain that the real antisemitism is people trying to hold Israel accountable for its actions.)
For the Moment
David Rovics is a prolific guy. Most of his work is produced much; it’s just him and a guitar. And he definitely has a lot to say.
He produced a number of albums during the early years of the Iraq War. In 2006, he release Halliburton Boardroom Massacre, which is really good. It reminds me a lot of Bruce Cockburn.
But I’m highlighting the first song off 2005’s For the Moment, “After We Torture Our Prisoners.” I’m using it mostly because it sounds so much like early Dylan. But there’s tons more to listen to. It isn’t necessarily fun but it is good.
Today, we are going to listen to the band Dead Cat Bounce.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve been writing a lot more about business. And most recently, I’ve been writing about commodity trading. It’s in this capacity that I heard the term “dead cat bounce.”
The term refers to a slight bounce back after a security loses a bunch of money. I thought the term was so evocative, there might have been songs written about it. I didn’t find any. Instead, I found a band.
Now, there is currently a DC-based band called Dead Cat Bounce. They appear to be a cover band — but a really good one. There is also an impressive jazz sextet called Dead Cat Bounce that has released a number of albums. I’m not talking about either of these.
Instead, I’m talking about the Irish comedy band, Dead Cat Bounce that was active from around 2008 through 2012. I’m featuring them here because they represent a bit of a problem for me.
Funny, Offensive, or Both?
You see: I find them incredibly funny. But they are also extremely offensive.
Take, for example, their work-in-progress, “Famine: The Musical.” It is subtitled, “Two lovers, one dream, no potatoes.” But don’t misunderstand (because everyone I introduce them to does), they offer very thoughtful social satire.
For example, the characters in “Famine” go to America, “Where the cotton grows high in the south / And it practically harvests itself.” And then there’s this:
We’re all going to America To become policemen We’re all going to America Just like Brendan Gleeson!
Which leads us to the first song of theirs that I heard. It actually made me choke. On the other hand, I felt kind of guilty about it.
Another song that shows their satirical strength as well as their tendency to take it to an uncomfortable level is Overenthusiastic Contraceptive Lady. Just wait until the end.
The final thing to note about these guys (and you don’t see it so much in the songs I’ve linked to here) is that they can really play. They’d be worth listening to even apart from the humor.
Yesterday, I discovered a new band — because I was researching something about commodity trading of all things. (I’m going to feature them tomorrow, so you’ll just have to wait.) They are a comedy band. And while at a festival, the lead singer said, “There’s obviously a lot of philistine out there in the world of musical comedy. Axis of Awesome. Benny from The Axis of Awesome…”
It’s a standard joke. The Axis of Awesome were huge and this band never particularly took off. The joke is that they are really upset about it even though they were friends. Also: The Axis of Awesome is an Australian band, so the venue makes it funnier.
I V vi IV
But it reminded me that Sheep in the Box had mentioned the band. In particular, he mentioned their song “4 Chords.” In it, they do a medley of songs that use the chord progression: I V vi IV.
It’s a very folky progression and it has been used excessively. But it’s very pleasant and people like hearing the same stuff over and over.
This video has over 42 million views. And it’s really well done. It’s not so much the idea but its construction and production. (I love that annoying pitch correction!) And they seem like such nice nerdy boys.
i iv VII III
I’ve seen people do similar things but on a much less ambitious level. You don’t have to be writing music very long before you start noticing that it’s all very much the same. In fact, I’m amazed there isn’t more unintentional plagiarism.
More recently, The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain did a similar medley using the common but must more obscure i iv VII III chord progression.
I really like it, although it does annoy me a bit that they throw in “Hotel California” when it doesn’t have the same progression. It’s similar, but not the same. It does, however, add a nice quasi-bridge that opens it up.
It also ends with an absolutely fabulous fugue that never fails to thrill me.
This morning we have Brett Domino Trio. They’re a kind of a YouTube band, I guess. The thing about this is that they can appear much more popular than they are. For example, they have ten-times as many views as Lisa O’Neill has on her videos. Yet I can see myself going out to see her perform and I can’t them. Then again, I’m old.
Having said that, they are entertaining and have a nice nerdy charm. They mostly do covers and maybe are better thought of as a comedy act. For example, although the song we are going to highlight is performed by three people, in general, there are only two members of the trio. (Also, the lead singer’s name is Rob J Madin, not Brett Domino.)
Interestingly, when I was in college, I put out my work alone as the Late Night Rhythm and Donut Quartet. This is a silly joke that I’ve never gotten past given my series of half-hour videos (only in script form) called “The Post-Postmodern Comedy Hour.” These are the kinds of jokes that make the teller much happier than the listener.
Insane in the Brian
Today, we are going to listen to Brett Domino Trio perform a cover of Cypress Hill’s Insane in the Brain — shockingly a song I know. What makes the cover work really well for me is exactly what makes me not all that interested in the bad generally: its deadpan disdain for the material.
The original tune has the typical pretense we find in rock and rap. And that’s fine. I like that people are willing to go all in on their art. At the same time, there’s little of that for me to really get into. I can take it only as seriously as, well, Brett Domino Trio.
None of which means they don’t kick ass with their version.
I don’t remember what the context was that Sheep introduced Lisa O’Neill, but she’s much more the kind of artist I could become obsessed with. She creates beautiful music that she melds to singing and lyrics that are intelligent, sad, and angry.
The appeal of dark music comes from our knowledge of the nastier sides of life. Nothing ossifies a depression like a friend trying to cheer you up. But nothing helps as much as a friend sharing your pain. And that, I think, explains the appeal of Lisa O’Neill.
That and the fact that her work is gorgeous in its simplicity.
Gormlaith ingen Murchada
We are listening today to “Gormlaith’s Grieving.” It appears to be about the Irish Queen Gormlaith ingen Murchada. History is not my thing. And Irish history is even more not my thing. All the names run together. For example, this is apparently the first reference we have to her death, “The Daughter of Murchad son of Finn, queen of Munster, dies.” I want to run for the hills.
Luckily, Wikipedia helped me out a bit. When she was a teen, Gormlaith was married to Amlaíb Cuarán when he was roughly 50. He died soon after when she was only 20.
She then married Brian Boru who would eventually become High King of Ireland (and could have already been when they married, but probably not).
According to fiction written far after her death, Gormlaith then married Irish King Máel Sechnaill mac Domnaill, who was made King (again) after Boru died. (There is no evidence this marriage ever took place.)
Gormlaith got around a lot. And by “got around,” I mean that she was involved in a lot of diplomacy, given this is what all this is about.
The song takes a more personal approach to Gormlaith. We find her at the funeral Brian Boru in 1014, when she would have been in her mid-50s.
She talks about how her brother and son want to send her away:
Saying I’m bad luck, Brian It’s dangerous lying beside me.
The tone is sad but determined throughout. Early on she says, “I’ve laid down for many men.” I take this to mean that she’s done what she needed to before and that she will continue to do so. Hence the refrain, “I’ll dance from the grave.”
I might be totally wrong about this. I can’t find the lyrics anywhere and I’m not great understanding accents. But it’s a lovely song.
Lisa O’Neill’s website contains a bunch of her videos that are well worth checking out. Here is her playlist from her YouTube channel:
I’m starting with The Hu. They are a Mongolian rock band that uses traditional instruments and throat singing. It was when Sheep in the Box mentioned this band that I realized I would do this series.
But if you want the real reason I’m highlighting them today it’s simple: I’m lazy. My closest work associate is really into throat singing so I sent off a track to her figuring she would find it interesting. So it’s close at hand. Also: I have been ridiculously busy ever since this pandemic struck. (I realize this may be annoying given that many of you can’t work, but I assure you, my life is just different — and probably worse.)
The Hu are a pretty new band — formed back in 2016. And I really have no reason to have never heard of them. One of their videos has over 44 million views. And the one I’m highlighting, “Wolf Totem,” has over 30 million views.
But this is what you all like about me: I’m about as unplugged-in as a person can be. Even when it comes to film, the things I’m excited about are not what other people are. And even then, I’m usually ten years behind the time. Right now I’m obsessing about an obscure film from 2003 called The Ghouls, which was never properly released on disc despite starring the great Timothy Muskatell. But I’m getting sidetracked.
“Wolf Totem” reminds me a lot of The Call. The song is modal — basically just one chord throughout. (The Call normally broke into a more traditional chorus.) The lyrics are a series of declarative statements that are linked by a single idea.
I’ve only read a automatic computer translation of the the lyrics. Even still, they are kind of… fascistic. The first line is, “Let’s kill a lion and race.” And it goes on like that. “Let’s race against the elephant.”
It could all be an environmental song for all I know. But that kind of focus on the natural world is very associated in my mind with fascism. It reminds me that George Orwell said that had Jack London lived, he would have become a fascist. And it’s there in the novels. Or go visit his ranch.
Again: I’m not accusing The Hu of anything here. I’m just noting that I find the (doubtless poor) translation of this song troubling.
I was looking for something to listen to in the background and I came upon a video from a YouTube Channel called Sheep in the Box. It was a response to a video by Thoughty2, “Why is Modern Music so Awful?”
Let me explain. Thoughty2 is one of those anti-SJW conservatives who rant on even as they make little sense. He has kind of a blogging approach to making videos. So he gets one idea and makes a video. In this particular case, he decided that music in the 1960s was great and it’s terrible today.
I should be clear: I’m all for people complaining about whatever they want. There are a lot of things I hate. But making generalizations like “music ain’t as good today” is just silly. And so Sheep in the Box responded — much better than the original video deserved.
Speaking of which: people on YouTube are idiots! Thoughty2’s video has over 9 million views with almost 330,000 likes! And it is just a young man ranting like an old man. Meanwhile, Sheep in the Box’s video has less than 2,000 views! What’s more, Thoughty2 has a higher like/dislike ratio.
(Note that Tantacrul also did an excellent and funny response to Thoughty2 — I choked when he said “Arnold Schoenberg.” It makes a clear argument against Thoughty2 and the research it is based on. It is much more technical. But it doesn’t include all the great music shout-outs, so we won’t be discussing it, great though it is.)
I recommend watching the video:
Recommendations From Sheep in the Box
But I’m interested in something else. In this video, Sheep in the Box mentions a number of really interesting musicians. There is a Klingon rapper, a band of pirates, and a Mongolian rock band that features traditional instruments and throat singing.
So I’m going to find whatever songs I can and present them here over the following days. It should be fun. The truth is, I’m far too focused on weird films to have the time to find out what’s really going on outside my limited view of the music industry.
See you tomorrow!
PS: Check out Sheep in the Box’s channel. The limited stuff I’ve looked at is good. If nothing else, check out the auto-play video on his channel; it’s very funny.
Sheep in the Playlist
When I’m done with this, I’ll put a YouTube playlist together. Here are the articles (it will be added to over the coming days):
Some of my friends are feeling way too cocky about the upcoming November election. They see that tens of thousands of people have died and that the economy is in trouble, and they think Trump cannot survive. What’s more, Trump has clearly screwed this up and more recently he seems like he’s losing his mind.
It does seem like a slam dunk. But both Obama and Bush Jr had low approval ratings at this point and they went on to win re-election. And the opposite is also true. A year out, Bush Sr had almost a 70% approval rating and he lost badly. I have little doubt that if the election were today, Trump would lose in a landslide. In six months? I don’t know.
Roughly speaking, there are two ways this can go. Things could stay bad. The cases could keep mounting and the deaths could continue to climb. The economy could struggle along but more or less stay where it is right now.
If that happens, not only is Trump going down big, so is the entire Republican Party. We could see Mitch McConnell lose his seat in Kentucky. And as much as I do not want to see this happen for my own sake and that of everyone else in the nation, such a defeat would be a silver lining. (But don’t kid yourself: after the Democrats began to heal the economy, the Republicans would come roaring back.)
The other possibility is that things slowly start to get better. In two months, new cases come to a trickle. In 4 months, most people are back at work. And in six months, sports return but with limited seating.
If that happens, people will likely re-elect Trump. They will only see that things are improving; it won’t matter at all that he is the guy responsible for making things so bad. I know: it’s crazy! But this is how people vote.
(I know a lot of my leftist friends are learning this painful lesson. I’ve seen people complaining that most Biden voters are more in agreement with Sanders’ policies. Welcome to the party! Politics really isn’t about policy; it’s about relationships. And if we are ever going to get the kind of power necessary to make systemic change, we need to embrace this.)
The Lynn Vavreck Election
Probably the best scenario is that things do return to normal quickly but we get an election like Lynn Vavreck laid out in The Message Matters. According to her research, an out-party (the Democrats in this case) can beat an incumbent despite strong economic growth if they can make the campaign about something other than the economy.
In general, it’s hard to do this. People care about the economy above all else. Think of it in the most blunt terms: people want to be sure they will have food and a safe place to live. That’s what a strong economy means to them.
I’ve often noted that had Howard Dean won the Democratic primary in 2004, he probably would have won the general election. That’s because he would have made the election about the Iraq War, which was unpopular by then. Instead, the Democrats nominated Kerry, who couldn’t make that case well because he had essentially voted for the war.
Can Biden Vavreck Trump?
If Biden is smart, he will make this election all about corruption. He could also make it about norms and civility. These are things where Trump is extremely vulnerable. Trump can counter, “Hunter Biden,” but I don’t think that plays outside the people who are guaranteed to vote for him.
One of the problems for Hillary Clinton in 2016 was this weird narrative that had been going on since the early 1990s about her being untrustworthy. Vince Foster killed himself just a few months after Bill Clinton took office and already there were claims that Hillary Clinton had him murdered!
Yes, that was all in the right-wing fever swamps, but it was something that accreted so much garbage over the years that mainstream journalist started thinking there must be something there. Either that or that they simply had to cover such nonsense as though it were real. (Also: it’s pure sexism — the idea that women are duplicitous and can’t be trusted.)
Biden doesn’t have that problem. And I think that whatever happens, Uncle Joe will come out like he did in the 2012 vice-presidential debate. You may remember that Paul Ryan was going on about how Obama was stealing money from Medicare to pay for Obamacare. And Biden came back with, “Look, folks, use your common sense. Who do you trust on this?”
I was blown away with that because it accepts the way people think. You don’t have to look at the numbers. You might not like Obama and Biden for a lot of reasons, but you know that they would protect Medicare better than Romney and Ryan would.
Help Joe Biden Win
So I think as long as Biden does not talk about the economy, he stands a good chance of winning. I can’t say more than that because, as Vavreck showed in her book, when this approach works, it leads to extremely close elections.
Of course, there is another possibility. It could be that our current situation is so unusual that none of the political science based on elections after World War II matter. In that case, we don’t know what will happen.
In that case, we need to hope for the best and prepare for the worst. And that means doing what we can to defeat Donald Trump in November. Sign up to make phone calls or send texts, help people get registered to vote and to vote when the time comes, talk to persuadable people, whatever it takes.
Most of all: don’t assume November is in the bag. We really don’t know.
Those then, who resist a confirmation of public order, are the true Artificers of monarchy — not that this is the intention of the generality of them. Yet it would not be difficult to lay the finger upon some of their party who may justly be suspected.
When a man unprincipled in private life desperate in his fortune, bold in his temper, possessed of considerable talents, having the advantage of military habits — despotic in his ordinary demeanor — known to have scoffed in private at the principles of liberty — when such a man is seen to mount the hobby horse of popularity — to join in the cry of danger to liberty — to take every opportunity of embarrassing the General Government and bringing it under suspicion — to flatter and fall in with all the nonsense of the zealots of the day — it may justly be suspected that his object is to throw things into confusion that he may “ride the storm and direct the whirlwind.”
I think a lot of people think of Ramones as a New Wave band rather than a punk band. This is odd, given that New Wave as a thing comes much later.
But okay: Blondie dates back as far, and an argument can be made that they are New Wave. Really though: I don’t even know what New Wave is. Punk is not a form of music, but an attitude toward it. And one could even say that it doesn’t mean all that much because punk was just the embrace of what was always rock: the FUBU of music.
There is no question, however, that Ramones were better able to create perfect pop music gems than any other band of that era — including Blondie. What’s amazing to me is that Ramones never had a top ten hit in the United States. Is it any wonder I complain about pop music? If you can’t love Ramones, then you just don’t like pop music. And if that is the case, why are you even reading this?!
Here is the band back in 1977 at The Rainbow in London, England. The vocals are mixed a little low. They do some of their classic songs off Ramones, Leave Home, and Rocket to Russia.
I recently heard the story of when Mojo Nixon met Don Henley. You see, Nixon had released a great song called, “Don Henley Must Die” on his album Otis. It’s a very funny song and is not nice to the six-time Grammy Award-winning musician. But in 1992, Henley showed up to a Mojo Nixon concert and sang the song with him.
Truly, I don’t give Henley that much credit for this. I know he’s a smart guy so what else is he going to do in response to a song that mocks him for being over-serious? Sure, Donald Trump wouldn’t be able to deal with it. But that’s a low bar.
Professionalism vs Chaos
The story does not, however, mean that the two of them became great friends. The truth is that they personify two trends in art. And it just so happens to be the difference I’m most interested in film, as I discuss at ridiculous length at Psychotronic Review.
Don Henley represents professionalism. And that does not mean that he doesn’t put his soul into his work. But necessarily, professionalism requires that you block a lot of the chaos of the id.
Mojo Nixon represents that id in about as pure a form as you can get while still creating work that people want to consume.
Neither trend is more authentic than the other. You can’t watch Mojo Nixon and miss that he’s performing. In that way it is no different than Henley’s “sensitive music idiot poetry.”
But I want to listen to Mojo Nixon far more than I want to listen to Don Henley. I realize that’s a minority opinion.
There’s an old Woody Allen routine about being selected to be the spokesman for a vodka brand. In it, he consults with his rabbi about the ethics of advertising a product he doesn’t use and finally decides not to do it. Later, he finds his rabbi is the new spokesman for the vodka. It’s a good routine. But a couple of years before that, Bob Dylan told the same joke in his song “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat” off Blonde on Blonde.
I thought we would revisit the song today, since I see that my Bob Dylan page is filled with broken links.
The song is straight 12-bar blues — never wavering from the formula. So as is usually the case with Dylan, the focus is on the lyrics. It takes the form of a man trying to woo a women who wears a leopard-skin pill-box hat. There seems to be some sexual significance to the hat given that at the end he is upset that the doctor is wearing it. It at least seems to imply that with the hat on, the woman is dressed.
I most associate the song with Andrea Martin’s character Edith Prickley on SCTV. In fact, I was probably introduced to the character before I ever heard the song. Of course, she didn’t wear a pillbox hat, but it was close enough. I tend to think the character was based in part on the song.