“Some art is real.”

Ordinarily, I find Chuck Closterman tedious and irritating. His remembrance of Lou Reed in Grantland, however, is completely fucking spot on.

I love this bit in particular, about Metal Machine Music:

In 1975, Reed released Metal Machine Music, a four-sided 64-minute collection of itchy guitar feedback with no words or melody. In the original liner notes, Reed claimed no one he knew had ever listened to the entire thing, including himself. If you purchased it on vinyl, you eventually realized the fourth side concluded with a “locked groove.” This meant that — if you didn’t manually lift the needle off the record — it would never stop playing (thereby subjecting its listener to an endless, joyless squeal). Basically, he made an album that sounded terrible on purpose and then figured out a way to make it go on forever. It assaulted the people who supported him and exasperated the label that paid him to create it. Now that he’s dead, it’s tempting to argue that the mere existence of Metal Machine Music is cool and subversive, almost as if the only thing that matters was the idea. But it’s not just the idea. It’s not just that Reed thought it would be funny to do this.* It’s not a parody or an urban legend. Metal Machine Music is a real thing. You can hold it. You can drop it on the floor. It’s a tangible document that illustrates the militant fringe of what can be produced with the rudimentary tools of rock and roll, designed by someone who never adequately explained what his original motive was. It’s not merely cool that it exists. It’s amazing that it exists. It’s wonderful, regardless of the notes. And while thousands of lesser mainstream artists could have easily produced an album with similarly unlistenable sounds, only Reed actually did so. Only Reed made this album, sold it to 100,000 people, and moved on to something else entirely.

* Although this was probably part of it.

Lou Reed: Original Heathen

I came to Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground late by some standards, but in the pre-Internet era of the 1980s in South Mississippi, it’s sort of amazing I ever found him at all. My first exposure was via the Jane’s Addiction cover of “Rock and Roll“, which I heard at a party I probably shouldn’t have been at in a “student ghetto” house behind a USM dorm that’s not there anymore (Elam, for any EagleHeathen).

Anyway, the song started, and someone said “you know, there aren’t that many Velvet Underground covers, and there are even fewer good ones.” I didn’t get the reference until a year or so later, when I met my friend John Smith.

That’s not a pseudonym. John was born with a name that would, 20 years later, make him completely un-Google-able but for his brief moment of fame. He came to UA with much better music taste than I’d been able to assemble in Hattiesburg, so it was through John that I first really explored some of the artists who would become ubiquitous for the rest of my life: Dylan, Alex Chilton and Big Star, and most of all Lou and the Velvet Underground.

John and I hit it off pretty quickly, and the music was always a fixture in his smokey dorm room. Loaded hit the turntable, and there, suddenly, was the punch line to the joke set up so many months before behind Elam Arms. The Janes’ version was a reasonable cover, but here was the ur-text, a fully formed protopunk song recorded before I was even born. The penny drops for some of us when we first hear the Velvet Underground; if you’re at all aware of the trends of popular and alternative music since the 1970s, you have no doubt at all that what Brian Eno said is true: not that many people bought Velvet Underground records, but damn near every single one of them started a band. It’s no exaggeration to say that, without Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, modern music would be unrecognizably different.

I was sitting on the ground, outside the “security bubble” of the Marine Corps Marathon finish area on Sunday when I got the news. Lou Reed had died on Sunday, in Long Island. He was 71 years old, which is a hell of a lot longer than I suspect he thought he’d live. I am not one given to grief over celebrities, but I am not too proud to say this hit me hard, harder even than MCA last year. I blinked through tears to read the quickie Rolling Stone obit, and was amazed to see his hometown paper was caught flat-footed; it took the Times almost a full day to deploy the sort of exhaustive obituary for which they’re rightly famous. Someone said “gosh, we’re really gonna lose it when Dylan dies,” and I realized that Reed meant and means more to me than Dylan ever has. I’m having a hard time coming up with many other musicians whose artistic footprint figures as much into my own life as Reed, and it’s a short list indeed — filled mostly, no doubt, with folks who stood on Reed’s shoulders. (Tom Waits will live forever AND I WILL BROOK NO DISSENT.)

The tributes and memories flooded my Twitter feed for much of the next day. Why, of course Neil Gaiman was a fan, and of course he interviewed him years ago, as a working journalist. As it turns out, Sasha Frere-Jones used Reed’s music to propose marriage. Josh Marshall was a fan, too. By Monday, VU bandmate John Cale had weighed in:

“The news I feared the most, pales in comparison to the lump in my throat and the hollow in my stomach,” Cale wrote in a statement. “Two kids have a chance meeting and 47 years later we fight and love the same way – losing either one is incomprehensible. No replacement value, no digital or virtual fill . . . broken now, for all time. Unlike so many with similar stories – we have the best of our fury laid out on vinyl, for the world to catch a glimpse. The laughs we shared just a few weeks ago, will forever remind me of all that was good between us.”

There are only four Velvet Underground albums: 1967’s Velvet Underground & Nico, the blistering followup White Light/White Heat a year later, the self-titled Velvet Underground from 1969, and finally Loaded in 1970. None are long, and all cast long shadows (all 4 rate Rolling Stone’s list of Top 500 Rock Albums). In those four brief records there’s enough gold for a hundred lesser careers — and Lou wasn’t done when he left the Velvet Underground.

In his solo work, he never stopped experimenting — indeed, it’s not unfair to say his solo career embodies the idea that, if you never fail, you’re not trying hard enough. Most of it, aside from the radio hit that included Neil Gaiman’s daughter’s namesake, is less accessible than the VU work, but that doesn’t mean bad. Transformer is an amazing rock and roll record (and includes the aforementioned “Wild Side”). His 1973 effort Berlin is the standard by which soul-crushingly sad albums are judged. Street Hassle‘s title track is a 3-movement poem about down-and-out life in New York, and believe it or not has aged reasonably well. 1989’s New York put him back on the radio, and a year later he reunited with VU partner John Cale to memorialize Andy Warhol with Songs for Drella, which met with broad praise.

There’s little else I can say on the subject not said better elsewhere, so I’ll close this down and apologize for a disjointed entry. Follow a link or two if you’re unfamiliar. Dive deeper if you are. In closing, here’s John Cale performing an on-topic poem with music by Brian Eno:

It’s rare to see a Republican be so completely honest

On the Daily Show, correspondent Aasif Mandvi traveled to North Carolina to discuss their new voter ID law with a local GOP activist and precinct chair, Don Yelton.

What followed was bizarre in its candor. The freakshow starts when he says “well, I’ve been called a bigot before…”

His commentary is so amazing that the Bunscombe County GOP has asked him to resign his position as precinct chair, lest we correctly surmise that he is completely representative of the party.

Wait a minute here. Are you telling me the Mississippi Tea Party might be RACIST?

The GOP’s idiot Taliban is funding a loonybird neo-Confederate to run against Sen. Thad Cochran.

I haven’t kept up with him recently, but he’s been historically considered the less-embarrassing senator from the Magnolia State since Lott was elected to fill Stennis’ seat 1989. (I know nothing of his successor, Roger Wicker, who took the seat in 2007.)

My guess is that Mississippi elects the know-nothing, though.

How Good is AJ?

At no point, really, in Heathen Central’s life as an Alabama fan have we had the sort of lightning-in-a-bottle quarterback that people immediately call a star. There’s been no Johnny Football in crimson. Other SEC schools grabbed showy players like Tim Tebow and Cam Newton, but not us. We probably even envied Tennessee (sssssh!) for Peyton back in the day. But only a little; success at Alabama, when it comes, has always been much more of a team effort than is usually on offer at programs that build their teams around a star QB. No Alabama quarterback has really made a splash in the NFL since, arguably, Kenny Stabler, and even the Snake didn’t get drafted until the second round. (The lion’s share of them aren’t even notable enough for a Wikipedia article.)

It’s not really different now, except it sort of is: AJ McCarron, now in his final year, may well play for his third national title as Alabama’s quarterback this January (he was red shirted for the 2009 season, so he was “on” another title game, too). Nobody else has done that. Few are ever as reliable and error-free as AJ. A stat I’m sure opponents find alarming is that, when you review his career as a starter at Alabama, he’s got just as many championship rings as he has losses. Alabama is 30-2 since AJ took over at the beginning of the 2011 season, and they could very well run the table again this year.

But for some reason, folks keep dismissing his NFL prospects. Grantland takes a look, and finds the arguments wanting.

Adventures In Fuckwittery!

So, imagine you’re engaged. Imagine it’s your responsibility to book the ceremony. Imagine it’s the day of the ceremony. Imagine you forgot to schedule it at the courthouse.


Do you:

a) Flee! or

b) Confess your lackluster performance to your no-doubt long-suffering fiance, and take your lumps? or

c) Call in a (fake) bomb threat to the registration office, assuming your forgetfulness will get erased by the ensuing chaos?

Our hero, sadly, took (c), only to discover that the hoax was easily divined to be exactly that, and that his wedding was in no way imperiled — except for the fact that he’d neglected to schedule it. He’ll get a year in the clink for his trouble.

Shockingly, though, apparently he’s NOT lost the affections of the fiance in question, which suggests she has some of the same problems with judgement that plague our ersatz bomb-thrower.

It’s that time again.


(Incidentally, last year they found this guy. His name is Irvin Carney, and he moved to Cincinnati after graduation. Mr Carney, we should note, continues to hate Tennessee.)

Amazingly, some folks will still insist this isn’t about voter supression

As of this November, Texans must have a photo ID to vote — with their up to date, correct legal name.

Sound innocuous? Sure. Then realize that (a) many women don’t update their driver’s licenses immediately after getting married, because it’s a hassle and (b) women might be a big deal in the next governor’s race down here, on account of Wendy.

It’s not enough to work to disenfranchise the poor, blacks, and others who may not have a state-issued ID; now they’re going after women, too. The is in increasingly dire demographic trouble, so their response is to limit the ability of citizens who dislike their policies to vote. That’s amazing and brazen.

More at MeFi.

Books of 2013, #46: Mo Meta Blues, by Questlove


?uestlove‘s book Mo Meta Blues was already on my radar before Mike wrote about it a few weeks ago, but I’ll admit that having dinner with him (Mike, not Questlove) last week is what made me pick it up on the way out of Raleigh last Friday.

The Roots are a really intriguing act, but this book is fun even if you don’t dig hip-hop, or don’t dig the sort of hip-hop that the Roots do. Ahmir (Questlove’s given name) has had an interesting life so far — he’s the son of successful but not famous musicians — and has a quick wit and a great way with a story that’s often missing in celebrity or musician memoirs. Sure, it starts with the bog-standard growing-up stories, but there’s a depth here that gives it resonance, and not just because much of the music of his youth is also the music of mine. This book’s very self-aware, as is Questlove, and that helps keep the book from getting too full of itself.

There’s really not much I can say more about this, except to note that Quest’s level of fame is sufficient that he has access to his idols, but not so enormous as to really diminish his enthusiasm for these people and their work. That enthusiasm comes through, for example, when he gets to go rollerskating with Prince, among other things.

Yeah, that’s right. Rollerskating with Prince. Now that you this story’s in the book, how can you NOT want to read it?

Books of 2013, #45: Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie

I had better luck here.

Ancillary Justice is Leckie’s first novel, which is sometimes trouble, but didn’t get in the way here at all. AJ is a wide-ranging space opera sort of thing, but with some genuinely inventive worldbuilding that I can’t say much about without being spoilery. It’s a bit of a mystery, and a bit of a quest, and a bit of an exploration of some admittedly well-explored SF ideas (“what is human?”), but the mix is right; Leckie in particular doesn’t let her enthusiasm for her world completely drown the story, which is nice.

This is not to say there aren’t issues here. AJ is getting lots of attention for the way it deals with gender in language. Our narrator spends lots of time conversing in a language not his own, and a key difference between his tongue and the one he frequently speaks is that his own is vastly less gendered. Couple this with the facts that gender in the world(s) of the book is (a) not obvious in most cultures and (b) varies in presentation when it is and (c) not an indicator of position, and Leckie has set the stage for a novel that also tweaks expectations about gender in the reader, or at least that’s what it feels like she’s trying to do.

In my experience, though, shifting between “he” and “she” when referring to the same character is just jarring, and makes it pointlessly more difficult to track the actual story. I said Leckie didn’t let her ideas get in the way, and this is mostly true, but the gender thing here is (while well intentioned) enough of an “aren’t I cute” move that I’d dock her a letter grade even though I’m generally sympathetic to the notion that gender expectations are troublesome, and that gendered language can contribute to that, and all that comes with those ideas.

The politics of Radch space (the dominant human empire, which is quasi-feudal and very corrupt) are also a little twee and precious, but they don’t get in the way of the story here nearly as much as the pronoun trope does.

All that said, I enjoyed it mostly, and was sad to see it end, but not, I think, sad enough to pursue other works in the same universe (online references make it sound like Leckie plans more Radch works).

(Avoid online discussion of this book, even in places like IO9 or Goodreads, if you want to avoid any spoilers at all.)

Books of 2013, #44: Carter Beats the Devil, by Glen David Gold

I’ll just come right out and say it: holy CRAP was I disappointed in this one. In the decade since it hit the streets, Carter has gotten nearly universally good reviews. Everyone loves it. It’s been on my “I should read that” list for a long, long time, so when geek-celeb Wil Wheaton wrote about loving it on his blog a month ago, I finally got around to ordering it from Amazon.

Carter Beats the Devil is one of those “fictional story told with real-life character” books, which sometimes works but usually ends up too clever by half. This one starts well enough, but Gold really kinda runs out of steam about halfway through. It went from a page-turner to a slog, and then stayed there; I found it a chore to finish. Even the “big reveals” towards the end didn’t really pay off for me, anyway.

Anyway, onward.

Books of 2013 #43: 61 Hours, by Lee Child

(SO behind, still.)

Yeah, I know, but I was traveling again. Reacher books just go down easy, which is troublesome as now I’ve only got 4 left. Write like the wind, Lee!

61 Hours is an odd one in that it’s framed, constantly by the titular countdown that we only slowly grow to understand. Reacher, of course, is drawn into a web of intrigue in an isolated small town — which is by no means new for him — but by this point in the series Child’s gotten good enough with characters that they’re a bit better than stock, which is nice for pulp.

Mark this one, as always, for fans only, but I enjoyed it, if for no other reason than the consistently hilarious visual provided by the generally-offscreen antagonist.

The TSA Admits That It Is Useless

I’m sure they meant to redact the document in question, but BoingBoing reports that our boondoggle agency of self-important timewasters has admitted that there is no evidence of terror groups threatening American air travel.

The TSA has a lot of explaining to do, both to members of Congress and to the general public, all of whom were misled as to the threat we face and the justification for the most intrusive searches ever performed on the public at large in the United States in the history of this great nation. The terrorists that the TSA has made the country fear, it admits, do not actually exist.

The NFL is a goddamn racket

MeFi points us to this excellent piece at the Atlantic that points out all the completely indefensible sweetheart deals the NFL gets for, well, no good reason. Taxpayers fund the stadiums. They get an antitrust exemption. They get treated as a nonprofit. The list goes on, and it’s all a load of horseshit.

Let the owners run these teams as a business, subject to the normal rules of businesses, and have them sink or swim on that metric alone. Fuck new stadiums, fuck goofball broadcast deals, and fuck government handouts to millionaire owners. Forever.

The coolest video you’ll see today

SpaceX has been doing tests of a rocket capable of landing vertically (i.e. as opposed to splashdown). In this video, you get to watch a 2,440 foot test flight and subsequent landing from the vantage point of a hovering hexacopter with an HD camera.

To break this down for you even more: this is high-def video of a civilian space vehicle shot from a flying robot. Maybe we do live in the future after all.

In any case, it is very, very cool, and you will not find a better way to spend a minute and a half this morning.

Nile Rodgers’ Bad Day, and A Surprising Source for Great In-Depth Music Conversations

Via this MeFi thread ostensibly about Rodgers accidentally losing, and then (amazingly) recovering his treasured ’59 Strat on a train, we discover this great long and wide-ranging interview with Rodgers, which is part of the shockingly cool Red Bull Music Academy Lectures.

(In the unlikely event you’re a Heathen reader and yet still do not know who Rodgers is: he’s a goddamn giant, and has been a huge influence on popular music since the 1970s. Most famously, he’s one half of the “core” of the band Chic, but he’s also a producer of great renown — for Diana Ross, Debbie Harry, David Bowie, INXS, Duran Duran, Bryan Ferry, B-52s, and, most recently, for Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories.)

Pick up on it.

Dept. of Heh.

So, during Alabama’s predicted beatdown of Kentucky on Saturday, ESPN went to draft analyst Todd McShay to talk about why Alabama’s AJ McCarron wasn’t likely to be a top draft prospect despite his BCS titles and other records.

During McShay’s bit, McCarron was, basically, doing pretty much all the things McShay said he couldn’t do in a 4 play, 80-yard drive down field that took only 1:50 off the clock. The drive:

  • Handoff to Yeldon for 12;
  • 21 yard pass to Yeldon;
  • 27 yard pass to Kent;
  • 20 yard pass to White for the TD.

So, yeah, whatever, McShay.

Maddow sums it up

From here:

In other words, Boehner’s stated position is that the party that won the election should make major concessions to the party that lost the election in exchange for nothing. If the party that won the election balks at this attempted extortion, Republicans will start hurting Americans on purpose.

Dept. of Reaping What You Sow

We just want to point out that, after firing a perfectly good coach and then having a hot couple seasons with Fedora, Southern Miss has had a pretty rough time of it.

Heathen Faithful: “How rough is it?”

Glad you asked! The Golden Buzzards haven’t won a game this year. Sure, they scheduled a ranked Nebraska as well as Arkansas, but their most recent loss came at the hands of otherwise winless C-USA powerhouse Florida International.

No, I’m not making this up.

To find a Southern Miss win, in fact, you have to go back to their last bowl game.

Which was in December.

Of 2011. That’s right: the Eagles lost every contest in 2012.

That’s a long time in college football. I’m sure there ARE some players on the USM squad who played in that game, but given that accomplished Div-I teams are usually comprised of upperclassmen, it’s entirely reasonable to say that almost nobody on the team now knows what winning looks like, and an even smaller number were actually active contributors to a team with more wins than losses.

Bower, for his part, led the team to an unprecedented streak of winning seasons and bowl appearances before being shown the door at the end of the 2007 season because, apparently, that wasn’t good enough. I hate to pick on my hometown school, but I do indeed feel like this is a bed the trustees made for themselves, and I feel no sympathy whatsoever.

Up next for the Eagles: East Carolina (4-1, 2-0 C-USA), North Texas (2-3, 0-1), Marshall (3-2, 1-0), Louisiana Tech (2-4, 1-1), FAU (2-4, 1-3), Middle Tennessee (3-3, 1-1), and UAB (1-4, 0-1). You’d think they could pick up a W from one of these teams, but I sure wouldn’t bet on it.

Today in hilarious things to complain about

Apparently, Frank Sinatra’s widow is upset that Mia Farrow suggested it was possible that Ol’ Blue Eyes fathered her son Ronan.

Generally speaking, it’s kind of skeevy to suggest that the father of record (Woody) is not someone’s father, and that a man married to someone else at the time IS, at least without some sort of obvious evidence.

Let’s go to the tape:


Yup. TOTALLY Woody’s kid, and not Frank’s. I’m SURE of it.


In the 70s and 80s, it was routine to see one-page ads in comic books for snack cakes; they’d take the form of mini-stories usually featuring the hero on the cover of the book, so you’d end up with Spiderman shilling for Hostess, for example.

Don’t you think this is an idea that needs to return? Yeah, me too. So does Brendan Tobin. Turns out, he’s a Breaking Bad fan, too. Enjoy.

Books of 2013, #42: The Revolution was Televised, by Alan Sepinwall

(I’m still catching up.)

If you think about for any amount of time at all, you’ll notice something about TV’s evolution since we GenX types were kids: the broad market has gotten worse (Honey Boo Boo anyone?), and shows in general define success with vastly smaller chunks of a larger market, but there are at any given moment a few shows on the air (now there’s an anachronistic phrase) that push the boundaries of the medium and eschew trite 42-minute stories that return all the pieces, unchanged, to their starting positions before the credits roll.

Look at it this way: In 1978, the Emmy winner for best drama was The Rockford Files, which was a completely legitimate choice. However, Rockford was pretty simplistic, and employed the usual tropes — chief among them was that Jim and his pals were always more or less in exactly the same position at the end of the hour that they were at the start. Continuity was for soap operas, not so-called “serious” TV.

Then something interesting happened: Hill Street Blues. it was the vanguard for a whole new kind of TV show for adults, one that featured solid acting, good writing, real direction, and tossed out the whole idea of the continuity-free world. Episodic TV could — and should! — exploit the sheer expanse of the form; after all, every season had 22 hours to fill. Why not try some longer stories?

Hill Street and St Elsewhere and LA Law and Wiseguy and other shows in the 1980s pushed these boundaries probably as far as they could go on network TV, and then 1990s shows like NYPD Blue pushed them a bit more. . . and then HBO noticed, and let David Chase to The Sopranos, and then the change was mainstream.

Alan Sepinwall’s The Revolution Was Televised, which is compulsively readable if distinctly flawed by a somewhat limited vision, is a study of these changes in quality TV. It takes the form of a chapter-by-chapter analysis of several key programs in the evolution of the modern TV drama, including Hill Street, but with a decided emphasis on the more recent examples. If you find media criticism and analysis at all interesting, this is a great book to pick up. I was disappointed that he didn’t go farther with the idea — Sepinwall mostly ignores broad trends in the medium, one of which is the implied subject of the recently published Difficult Men (why ARE so many of these elite shows centered on horrible people, like Tony Soprano or Walter White or Don Draper or Vic Mackey?). But what’s here is good, and is worth your time.

Books of 2013, #41: The Human Division, by John Scalzi

I’m super behind. Forgive the brevity.

This one’s easy: If you love the Old Man’s War universe, then The Human Division makes a tasty read, but I wouldn’t jump in here as a first venture. This time the shenanigans are mostly political instead of military, but our hero is still one of the genetically enhanced soldier types like those that staffed OMW itself. Lots of wry dialog, plenty of nerdy sarcasm, and a generally rollickin’ good yarn if you like this sort of thing.

My sense is that Scalzi is capable of much more “serious” writing, given his resume (and his work at Whatever). I think I’d like to see him stretch his chops and venture out of this witty-SF category and into a different world, just to see what he could do with a less completely genre work. My guess is that he’d do just fine, which is more than I can say for lots of SF types.

Anyway, a fun book. Enjoy.