Golden Rush: Trampled Under the Impulse of Hypergamy

February 1, 2011

Charlie Chaplin always played his iconic role of the ‘Tramp’ with a degree of self-deprecation. Whereas most Hollywood comedies have rewarded the central underdog both romantically and monetarily, the majority of Chaplin’s films – including The Circus and City Lights – depict the Tramp as a romantic outcast in the end. But in his 1925 rags-to-riches caper The Gold Rush, the Tramp actually gets the girl, Georgia, by appealing to a feminine impulse typically glossed over in cinema: female hypergamy.

Hypergamy is defined as the desire amongst women to pair up with men of superior strength, status, prowess and wealth, the last of which is finally attained by the Tramp at the climax of his Alaskan adventure. The romantic saga unleashed upon Georgia’s arrival embodies hypergamy at its most extreme. First we have the Tramp, a naive and awkward pantomime of man/boy traits, whose openheartedness makes him easy prey to the emotional clutches of womankind. Then there’s Georgia, the bob-haired beauty whose frontal charms mask an undercurrent of sadism. Lastly, there’s Jack, the burly lout who serves as Georgia’s suitor.

Initially, Georgia takes amusement in the Tramp’s infatuation with her, and leads him on by smugly accepting his New Years invitation. Her compunctions surface after a second twist in her schemes, where she calls for a belated drop-by to that snubbed New Years Eve party, only to discover the heartfelt efforts in which the Tramp had partaken in preparation for that evening. She’s further shaken when a love note she wrote for Jack is redistributed as means for a cruel, misleading prank against our lovelorn Tramp. There are some lines that even bad boys aren’t allowed to cross.

In a typical romantic comedy, the proverbial last straw for the heroine would prompt her final turnaround – away from the villainous ‘other guy’, and right into the arms of our leading man – but not in the world of Chaplin. Our Tramp doesn’t get the girl until the closing moment, and only because of his newfound wealth, which ultimately renders him a magnet for female hypergamy.

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Les McCann: The Openness of Layers

January 28, 2011

Les McCann Invitation to Openness. Atlantic; 1971
Les
McCann Layers. Atlantic; 1974

Newly-electrified American pianist Les McCann employed Latin percussion and woodwinds for the lengthy workouts of his 1971 release, Invitation to Openness. Side one is solely comprised of “The Lovers”, a twenty-six minute jam in G-major where the oboe lines of Yusef Lateef shine before the wah-wah interjections of guitarist David Spinozza. “Beaux J. Poo Boo” makes for a feisty rhythmic showcase, with the fluid fills of drummer Alphonse Mouzon trading off with the handiwork of percussionist Ralph McDonald. McCann himself finally takes center stage on “Poo Pye McGoochie (and his friends)”, pinching out cosmic lines of synth that would tickle Zawinul or Hancock with envy.

McCann opted for a tighter approach on his 1974 release, Layers, which scaled back the jams to focus more exclusively on his compositions and keyboard playing. Though the two sides of the original LP were subtitled “Songs from Boston” and “Songs from My Childhood”, the music actually alternates between two reoccurring themes across both sides.

Coming first is the tranquil “Sometimes I Cry”, a Rhodes sketch thematically bested by the rising tides of “Soaring (at Dawn)”; later recapitulated on the flipside with “Lets Play” and “Soaring (at Sunset)”. Dividing that softness is a heavier theme unveiled on this album’s key-stacked centerpiece, “The Dunbar High School Marching Band”, which soars atop a chromatic riff that recirculates in the funkified “Harlem Buck Dance Strut” and the cosmified “It Never Stopped In My Home Town”.

The cover to Layers depicting the eye of a speaker glowing red at the core – is a most befitting visual accompaniment to the music contained within.

The Mysterious Travels of Weather Report

January 21, 2011

Weather ReportWeather Report. Columbia; 1971
Weather Report
Mysterious Traveller. Columbia; 1974

Weather Report – the everlasting jazz/rock congregate led by Miles graduates Joe Zawinul (keyboards) and Wayne Shorter (saxophone) – commenced in 1971 to further mine the fluid atmospherics which they’d pioneered with their benefactor on In a Silent Way. With Czech bassist Miroslav Vitouš, Brazilian percussionist Airto Moreira and stateside drumming extraordinaire Alphonse Mouzon onboard, Weather Report takes measurable strides towards idiomatic unification.

“Umbrellas” bursts open with a primal Mouzon thrust that’s swiftly intercepted by the fuzzy strings of Vitouš. The bulk of the tune, however, finds the rhythm section muffled behind Airto’s tambourine spray and Zawinul’s springy sound-drops. Shorter takes the lead on “Seventh Arrow”, veering from soprano filigree on the first half to alto blasts towards the end; all revved by the manic bashing of Mouzon, with Zawinul growing ever-dissonant in the final seconds. Bookending side one are Zawinul’s initial forays into synthesized serenity: the icy, echo-laden “Milky Way” and the warmer diffusion of “Orange Lady”. Highlighting the flipside is the Miles-centric “Waterfall”, in which the Rhodes flakes of Zawinul conjure a glowing, fluid imagery akin to the Kilimanjaro/Silent Way sessions.

Following the half-live I Sing the Body Electric (1972) and funkified jamming of Sweetnighter (1973), Weather Report triumphantly hit their stride with Mysterious Traveller (1974), on which the Zawinul/Shorter frontline were now augmented by Alphonso Johnson (bass), Ishmael Wilburn (drums) and a then-fiftysomething Brazilian percussionist, Dom Um Romão. Zawinul had extended himself to an array of instruments – including kalimba, melodica, tamboura, clay drum and tack piano – that are tempting to decipher from the numerous layers of “Nubian Sundance”, a dense and lively extravaganza drawing from all corners: part folkloric fanfare; part Olympian anthem.

Zawinul’s quirkier side reigns on “Cucumber Slumber”, in which springy, trebly knob emissions pierce and jab from all ends of the speaker, replete with the crafty-handed underpinnings of Johnson. The art of ‘silent construction’ is beheld on the final track, “Jungle Book”, where motifs collide from the recesses of space – ocarina, sitar, tabla – to ensnarl a faint line of vocalese; alternately thrown afoot by a guitar/flute figure in a brisk G/F tonality. Best of all, however, is the slow glow of “Scarlet Woman”, in which the soprano spurts of Shorter flare like a crimson frock amidst the dark, lucid backdrops of Zawinul, weaving a most seductive sonic impression.

Scarlet Vision: One Man’s Descent into Psychological Blindness

January 18, 2011

The old adage that nice guys finish last has rarely been acknowledged in popular film or song. Entertainment reflects an idealized worldview, and the things which women profess in their rational daily states reflect ideals which don’t factor into the irrational state of passion. Simply put, safe and practical ‘nice guys’ don’t invoke the nature of passion that dark and edgy ‘bad boys’ do. Only since the close of the 20th century – when men’s esteem coach F.J. Shark observed how “nice guys are always on the shopping lists when going into the social marketplace, but they’re never in the shopping carts when coming out” (1) – have lifestyle experts admitted that women do indeed prefer bad boys. Yet a film released back at the close of the Second World War defied public delusions, albeit ominously.

In Fritz Lang’s 1945 film noir Scarlet Street, the meek, middle-aged Christopher Cross summons his inner-White Knight upon seeing a young woman, Kitty, enscuffled below a streetlight. While becoming acquainted, he swiftly falls for her, only to be swindled, for Kitty is not the angel that Christopher envisioned. Yet he grants her even further leeway, only to reap vehement scorn, which finally drives him over the edge.

In the modern parlance of MGTOW (Men Going Their Own Way), Christopher would be viewed as a ‘mangina’: a typical nice guy who supplicates to women (2). His romanticized view of women is so ingrained that he falls in love at whim and deludes himself amidst the pratfalls. Consequently, women use him up immeasurably. Not only is there Kitty, the nubile harlot who usurps Christopher’s professional credits at her pimp’s behest; there’s also Adele, Christopher’s scolding, unappreciative battleaxe of a wife. Sadly, Christopher’s initial good intentions beget mental and financial fallout, as proof to the old adage.

Both these women direct their passions elsewhere, and their choices expose the feminine psyche with bluntness rare to film. Masculine virtue in the eyes of Kitty is embodied in the man who functions as her pimp, Johnny. Smarmy and scheming up to his timely disposal, we first witness Johnny doubling as Kitty’s street-corner assailant. Adele, meanwhile, is stuck on her presumably deceased first husband, for whom reverence is bestowed with blindness to fact. But upon finding that he and Adele are finished, Christopher lapses in a heartbeat and proposes to Kitty. There’s a name for doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results each time, and indeed it becomes Christopher.

As one who favors objectivism over existentialism, I won’t excuse Christopher for his bad choices. In no way do I see him as some poor, hapless man who got swept into the darkened vortex of fate; just a man whose lack of dignity and restraint had the severest of consequence. Like most men, he was ill-trained in his handlings of the ‘fairer’ (sic) sex. And like most people, he’d been subconsciously hoodwinked by the ill-begotten notion of selflessness, which rendered him defenseless amidst the self-seeking women in his life. Christopher had no concept of rational self-interest, and thereby failed it when he put his identity, finances and liberty at stake – by surrendering credit on his paintings, stealing money from his place of employment, and ultimately plunging an ice-pick into Kitty.

Nice guys are typically ascribed as seeing the world through rose colored lenses. With Christopher Cross, such delusions spawned a lethal case of scarlet vision.

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Chick Corea: A Crystal Fiesta

January 16, 2011

Return to ForeverReturn to Forever. ECM-1022; 1972

The premiere of Chick Corea’s Return to Forever set cross-cultural strides, with his signature Rhodes work woven into the recently imported samba style, courtesy of expat Brazilian newlyweds Airto Moreira (percussion) and Flora Purim (vocals). With four-string wunderkind Stanley Clarke and woodwindist Joe Farrell in tow, this international quintet graced their debut platter with two sonic undertakings of utmost expansion.

On their twelve-minute ‘treble’ (a title-sake piece to an eponymous album) Corea formulates a Rhodes pattern over Moreira’s indigenous brushstrokes, whereupon Farrell’s butterfly flutes and Purim’s heavenly vocalese color the landscape. They crank the heat on the second half, where Purim yelps and moans over some boiling filigree, cooked by the fluid fingers of Clarke and Corea.

The mammoth “Sometime Ago – La Fiesta” is a slow riser, with seven minutes of light twiddling serving as prelude to the seaside ambiance of “Sometime”, on which Purim, Farrell, and Corea entwine over an ever-foreboding bassline. Clarke then wipes the floor with Farrell on “Fiesta”, where samba jubilance is swept into a modulated fever.

Bisecting those sonic castles are the album’s two pearls: the lilting Purim showcase “What Game Shall We Play Today” and the Farrell/Corea sedative “Crystal Silence”; the former alight in sensual contours, and the latter adrift in rhythmless, Rhodes/sax moonlight.

The Glowing Ring of Burton

January 7, 2011

The Gary Burton Quintet (w/ Eberhard Weber)Ring. ECM 1042; 1974.

American vibes-man Gary Burton crafted an angular/autumny set of sound sketches on Ring, backed by German double-bassist Eberhard Weber and six-string wunderkind Pat Metheny. The opening “Melevia” weaves the glowing, luminous tones of Burton’s vibraphone with Metheny’s light, legato fretwork, fusing a pastel sonic impressionism. Elsewhere, the jagged meters and punctual rhythms of “Unfinished Symphony” unveils a fiery contrast between Weber’s ostinatos and the Burton/Metheny filigree. Drummer Bob Moses shines on the short and twisted “Intrude”, alternating cymbal spray with martial figures, replete with the double-tracked, oddly sinister interjections of Metheny. Highlighting this set is the vibes-lifted rendition of Weber’s signature piece, “The Colours of Chloë”, where the whole ensemble rises amidst sweeping tempos and shifting high-chords, careening to the ultimate climax.

Trumpet Blast: The Global Elephant Wars

November 23, 2010

Nothing can stop their thunderous feet, gargantuan mass and bellowing trunks. Storming through the columns, they topple chandeliers, steamroll furniture, bulldoze staircases, and ultimately set the mansion ablaze; whilst an entrapped and terrified Ruth helplessly scrambles to the second floor of the crumbling structure.

This harrowing climax to Paramount’s big screen adaptation of novelist Digby George Gerahty’s Elephant Walk dramatized the fears which still afflict many African villagers: the elephant menace. Branded as crop destroyers and human settlement encroachers, the African elephant – one of the most beloved fixtures of zoos and wildlife mythology throughout the Western world – is being hunted to endangerment upon its own very soil. Prodded by an Eastern black market for ivory, free-roaming elephant populations have fallen to such dangerous lows that international lobbyists have waged an elephant conservation campaign. And like most Americans who admire these large, wonderful creatures in zoos and on television, my first reaction to this conflict is simple: I’m in favor of anything it takes to rescue the elephant!

So where do the opposing factions stand in this whole elephant debate? Leading the elephant conservation movement is CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) who – addressing the African elephanticide, which cut the elephant population from 1.2 million down to 600,000 between 1979 and 1989 – formally classified elephants throughout most of Africa under their Appendix I category in 1990, which declares them a threatened species. In the southern part of the continent, however, the countries of Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe have their elephants listed under Appendix II, which allows for capacity limits to be set upon their elephant populations (1). Debate over the method of culling – in which elephants are rounded by helicopter and lethally darted – has re-arisen in South Africa after a fifteen year moratorium, as elephant populations have doubled beyond that countries 7,500 capacity. Sounding off on such a proposal, Animal Rights Africa (AFA) spokeswoman Michele Pickover has tersely stated the following:

1000s upon 1000s of elephants will be killed every year in the southern African region – it will open a floodgate of killing – a literal “final solution” that will, in effect, be impossible to stop (2).

While such predictions may be extreme, one should compare elephant capacity quotas to human density concerns when questioning whether culling could ever become a morally viable option. After all, could the extermination of an x-number of humans be possibly justified in overly populated towns and cities?

To their credit, South Africa’s policymaking board on wildlife affairs, SANParks, has emphatically dispelled rumors of any looming elephanticide. SANParks chief executive, Dr. David Mabunda, issued a summer 2010 memo stating how they’ve “long ditched the notion of carrying capacity… because [it’s] a concept borrowed from agriculture [that is] inconsistent with progressive wildlife population management strategies” (3). But as Mike Cadman of the animal welfare lobby IFAW has pointed out, SANParks maintains a loosely defined “precautionary principle”, which actually condones culling as a last resort for stemming elephant densities if methods such as immuno-contraception and translocation don’t succeed. Sadly, efforts to route elephants from South Africa into neighboring Mozambique have shown ineffectual, whilst contraception has only been effective amongst smaller herds (4). Ultimately, while much of this debate is shrouded in vagueness and vehemence, a bleak certainty pervades: the issue of sanctioned elephant culling has no foreseeable end.

With all this talk of concentrated densities, one might ask whether elephants could be translocated further northward to such elephant-barren countries as Niger and Chad. Depletion in these upper landlocked nations, however, is down to an even greater evil: poaching. In a 2006 NPR interview, explorer Mike Fay of the National Geographic Society horrifically recalled a surveying assignment in Chad where he stumbled upon “100 dead elephants near an elephant preserve, killed for their ivory tusks” (5). Despite the international crackdown on the ivory trade, poaching has persisted, spurred by a greedy Asian market and abetted by CITES constant wavering on their 1989 ivory ban. As the conservationist Born Free Foundation has pointed out, CITES 1997 capitulation to traders in the Appendix II nations effectively sanctioned the killing of more than 6,000 elephants over the ensuing year (6). Even with CITES 2000 proclamation of “no more trade”, Appendix II loopholes regarding stockpiles and non-commercial carvings have further fueled the ivory market. Emboldened by CITES leniency, Tanzania and Zambia have recently lobbied for inclusion in the Appendix II nations (7).

From the perspective of poor African villagers, the lure of poaching is understandable. As with other illicit trades, the evil is rooted not so much in the supplier as the buyer, because the latter sets the value on which the market stands. When small ivory Buddha heads sell for an equivalent of $1,125 on China’s black market (8), the willingness to supply is just a coin’s throw away, for the money from a single elephant kill could easily surpass the annual earnings of an entire village. In light of this monetary dilemma, questionable strategies like the trophy hunting program enacted in Zimbabwe by the rural development council CAMPFIRE – in which illegal slaughter is circumvented by the sale of high-priced, selective hunting licenses, which in turn fund communal development programs (9) – may just be a necessary stopgap: killing creatures in order to conserve their species.

Here in America, there are those who say that we should simply allow foreign cultures to handle their own affairs, but I believe that Americanization is a just imprint upon any nation accepting our assistance. And who’s to say that the internal doings of one nation won’t impact us all? As any scientist would explain, elephants play a crucial role in their ecosystem: converting woodlands into grasslands; drilling waterholes from riverbeds; forging fire-breaking pathways; and enriching agriculture through the seed dispersal of their digestive tracts (10). If one thing leads to another, the loss of the largest land mammal could unleash an ecological maelstrom upon all creatures under the sun.

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With a trumpet blast, the circus turned to spectacle as an agitated elephant lashed at his trainer and violently proceeded towards the walls of the tent. As crowds of families stood in panic, Clark braced Lois’ hand and told her to hang tight; he was calling for security and would only be gone for a moment. And in the blink of an eye, a man in a red cape flew into the heart of danger and lifted the elephant above his head. A few seconds more and they were peacefully flying a mile high in the sky. Minutes later, Superman had the elephant happily reacquainted with its relatives in the wide, open parklands of Africa.

The preceding vignette could have likely redeemed Superman IV, the parting jinx to Christopher Reeve’s run as the Man of Steel. I was certainly taken by a super-powered daydream whilst viewing YouTube clips of Tyke the elephant’s horrific final hour. But beyond the realm of fantasy, the power to save our fellow species is already in our possession. It’s contained in the human rationale.

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Cherish the Maximal Trilustrum

October 6, 2010

A frequent question occurs amongst young musical aficionados when comparing the meager last two decades to rock’s halcyon days of the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s: will there ever be a fourth awakening? But when it comes to great music spawned from the golden goose of rock, I suggest that people not seek more, for there’s already a preexisting lifetime supply.

There won’t be another Zeppelin, Stones, Who, Dylan or Beatles (note: the OP’s* picks) because the creative cycle of rock music – which sparked in the late 1950s, swelled during the mid 1960s, matured during the late 1960s and early 1970s, thrived into the early 1980s, and climaxed in the wee years of MTV – has long-concluded. It had all wrapped up by 1985, when rock’s cross-generational elite assembled for their curtain call at Live Aid. Everything that’s emerged since that proverbial impasse has been nothing but a diluted rehash or mongrel melange of rock’s former glories.

This generation may lack the objectivity to see it clearly, but in two-hundred years time, when they look back upon the rock era of the 20th century, the 1990s will be universally condemned as the heinous decay of a once almighty art-form.

I once read a quote attributed to a member of the Moody Blues which, to paraphrase, stated how the 1970s embodied an artistic renaissance in the annals of music, the likes of which only comes around every five-hundred years. Most of us here may have just missed it, but our proximity to rock’s golden time-frame makes it our duty to preserve the musical riches of the Maximal Trilustrum (1967/68-1982/83) for the people who’ll have ‘really’ missed it: those born centuries after that fabled era of honor.

So instead of just crying “more, more, more”, one needs to delve beyond the surface of the Maximal Trilustrum and immerse in its lifetime supply of riches. You might just decide that rock variations of the twelve musical notes sound most satisfying when sprung from the Maximal Trilustrum, and even the thirty year life-cycle of rock as a whole. Considering how busy the Maximal Trilustrum has kept me, I can proudly say that I’m not mourning rock’s subsequent dissolution, having long-acknowledged the latter as a done deal already.

*Originally posted on the rateyourmusic discussion forums.

Now they got me talking…

September 29, 2010

Someone on the RYM message boards asked a pointed question: what is your least favorite type of music fan? That one got me waxing so philosophical that I figured my input would be too heated for that forum, so I’m putting it here instead.

The Worst Types of Music ‘Fans’

1) Misintegrationists – people whose interests fall into one end of the musical spectrum (Christgauian generalism, The Petty Principle) yet spend the majority of their time attempting to coerce people who inhabit other ends of the spectrum (the Gitlin school, the Maximal Trilustrum) with evasive, loaded canards about how the contrasting values are ‘factually’ inferior, typically by means of moral relativism and post-structuralist disingenuity.

2) The “Five’s The Limit” Crowd – people who arbitrarily dismiss a group/performer after their third, fourth, or fifth album, deeming everything subsequent to be somehow tainted, or a product of “selling out”: a neo-Marxist anti-concept which betrays another line of incoherency. Such arguments do nothing to address the quality of the music itself on those later releases – like whether or not the songwriting well had run dry. What these ‘fans’ are really saying is that the newer material can’t compete with the historical baggage of those earlier releases; baggage which has since become subconsciously ingrained.

3) The Musical Politics of Identity crowd – people who need to label themselves through allegiance to some regimented musical identity in order to feel secure (Metalheads, PowDer PLopsters, Shoegum Br[sh]it PLopsters). Such people are typically disinterested in music for music’s sake, for they’re primarily obsessed with idiomatic citations – a reductionist process which swiftly eroded the artistry of rock following the close of the Maximal Trilustrum.

4) The “Anti-Hegemony” crowd – another post-structuralist conceit: allege the suffering of some supposedly ‘oppressed’ group of people, and adopt that ‘suffering’ as an ideology of principle; the victimology complex which perpetuates the neo-Marxist paradigm itself, of which anti-maximal Christgauians are but one bastard byproduct. Jazz rock/fusion has been a target of misplaced zeal from this indoctrinated crowd, because its idiomatic breadth and cross-cultural resonance supersedes the anti-maximalist wish to pin jazz down to a subterranean, martyrized existence; as if stalwarts from the jazz age never sought to harness their broadest potential appeal in the first place.

Some things won’t be coming back

September 25, 2010

Faint cries for a relapse into The Worst Deca[y]de In Human History in a “recreations” thread elsewhere* prompted the following commentary from yours truly:

Methinks that any ’90s revival will come and go with all the retrogressive hoopla that’s likely to swarm the 20th anniversary of Nerdvana’s relic Nevermind frisbee next year. Most people who avoided it all the first time around won’t want to relive it, and the generation for whom that hollowed era serves as wee romanticism – those alive yet too young to have participated at the time – will comprise a small flame due to the low birthrates of the 1987-1992 era. The whole ’90s aesthetic quagmire really overstayed itself into the noughties anyway, and the public has quite obviously had enough. Just look at the recent mass turn towards wedge silhouetted fashions, all in spite of the hack Yahoo punditry’s cries to keep flogging the grunge-addled boho afflictions of yore.

As to the above comment* about the ’80s being the ‘in’ decade of late, it should be noted that this new-found reverence for The Style Decade has finally arisen nearly a decade after the cultural punditry had anticipated so. I remember thinking back in 2003 that 1980s sensibilities wouldn’t be renewed until people stopped labeling them with the revisionary brushstroke of “the 80s”. Considering how few people have noticed the debt that Rihanna’s influential strides of late owe to the New Romantic era, my predictions were on the money.

Furthermore, given how aesthetic cycles have slowed since rock music reached its evolutionary impasse following Live Aid, the old adage that “fashion moves in twenty year cycles” has become antiquated. These days, fashion moves in thirty to thirty-five year cycles. Not every period becomes classic, however. For all the reasons outlined above and many, many more, the ’90s/early noughties are most likely to go down the same way as the early 1950s: that uneventful pre-rock crooner era which, for decades since, has been but a blank spot on the cultural time-line.