Note: This is a verbatim re-post of the world’s weirdest review of a 2011 Cake cd which I now claim is the world’s weirdest review of “Welcome to Dopeland” a film by Len Dell’Amico, I caught recently in Menlo Park and met the director. I should re-visit this and link to Dell’Amico’s video for “Throwing Stones”…
Maybe there is something wrong with my brain that I would even endeavor to write a post about Gang of Four, Cake, Oliver Sacks, the Grateful Dead and national security. There is something wrong with me; I am taking albuterol sulfate through an inhaler to clear my lungs; I am congested and low energy; my fever is negligible. I am supposedly resting. I am procrastinating both my laundry and my tax preparation. If I had a really high fever perhaps I could use that as an excuse for making obtuse statements. I have used the cough syrup defense before, to limited effect.
I tivoed two late night shows last night to try to catch performances by two favorite bands, Cake and Gang of Four. The news of the 8.9 magnitude earthquake in Japan pre-empted the Cake broadcast, although I found it elsewhere, “Sick of You,” from “Showroom of Compassion”.
Whatever else it is, this post is the world’s worst review of Cake’s new cd, which I like quite a bit. Ironically, Cake’s performance contract used to specify that the opening acts would feature “no hippie bands”.
I am pretty weak on Gang of Four, although there is much respect and space enough and time to catch up. One thing I noted is the replacement of Hugo Burnham on drums with a younger chap named Mark Heaney. I met Hugo a couple time because as an A&R man for Quincy Jones‘ Qwest Records (Warner) he signed Godschild which included my cousin Craig Ruda on bass. Later, when Hugo started a management company named Huge and Jolly, he worked with a local favorite band, Deathray (which included, by the way, two leaving members of Cake). But before meeting Hugo, I was not familiar with Gang of Four.
The shot above is from what I thought to be an excellent performance of a new song “You’ll Never Pay For The Farm” from a new set called Content. A quick asussment online reveals that Jon Pareles among others agree that Gang of Four is still relevant. Not to digress too far afield, but gleaning the wiki on GOF confirmed my recollection that they were down with Mekons at Leeds; Mekons being another group of Brits making still-relevant music if slightly below the limelight.
While flying through the commercials to find my way to the music part of the show (and not to dismiss funny moments with Adam Sandler and Glee member Chris Colfer, 20) I slowed to notice a new film based on an essay by Oliver Sacks, “The Last Hippie” about a music fan with, one would guess, some sort of neurological or brain disorder (presumably more remarkable than a headache from too much coughing up phlegm). The story is not from the recent “Musicophilia” tome, but from an earlier set of essays “An Anthropologist on Mars”; it’s 33 pages from that 1996 book. The movie (and trailer) features bits of the Grateful Dead and visions of album covers from their catalog and heyday.
My first thought (second, after “Hey I should use my illness as an excuse to put off taxes — maybe I should blog for an hour before I start my day”) was to make my post about Michael McFaul, the 48-year-old National Security Advisor and Stanford graduate who I met two or three times years ago. How is that? It seems that before the Rhodes scholarship,the Phd., and his appointments on faculty (in an endowed chair) and at the Hoover Institute, McFaul also was a Deadhead. I recall going to my first Dead show, at the Greek Theater in Berkeley, in 1982, with he, K., and my blind date, a hip (or hippy) looking classmate of mine named J. K. and Michael dated, while J. and I never got past that one night. Anyhow I have been impressed that the Billings, MT, native has climbed so quickly in national politics and I for one believe that whatever doors of wisdom and perception the Dead helped him (and all of us) pass through are an aid to him as he advises our president on important matters like whether to drop bombs on people. (And I don’t feel too bad outing him, McFaul, in this matter; presumably my version of his social life and mindset can be confirmed or he has been outed long ago by dozens of his Stanford peers from his undergrad days).
This also calls to mind “I Am Charlotte Simmons” the Tom Wolfe book about the antics our young elite during their Future World Leader incubations, researched in part during the author’s residency at Stanford; McFaul was from a previous generation, of course. A more normal person would have let the Cake or Gang of Four stuff displace the McFaul gossip idea, I admit. But I am a hack, cough cough. (But not a Colfer). And I want to juxtapose “McFaul” and “deathray” for the record, if only ironically.
Edit to add, May 31, 2011: Peter Baker of The New York Times reported Sunday that Obama will name Michael McFaul as Ambassador to Russia. I am downgrading the significance of my mini-scooplet outing “McFaul the Deadhead” based on the fact that it is widely reported that Obama key advisor David Axelrod is a big Deadhead. The entirety of my point is that I do beleive that exposure to the arts, and appreciation of the arts can hone one’s judgement on many important issues. Whatever McFaul’s understanding of the work of Garcia, Weir et al, however deep into the scene he got, he is a brilliant guy and a great American and I obviously wish him the best in his endeavors towards a better world, or world peace or whatever the brief apt description or goal of his job is.
edita, October 10, 2012: not sure this brings it full circle or further gobs up the wheels but I have meanwhile become a fan of a quirkly little movie, with legs, called “Welcome to Dopeland” by Len Dell’Amico the videographer of the Grateful Dead; it’s a cautionary tale about nanotechnology but like many great monster movies, it can be a metaphor for many other things, hence its trippy power:
a couple years later: I re-edited this to add the unfortunate news that Len Dell’amico is suing the Dead and other parties (Rhino, et al) because they promised him a back-end for his work but they say it was work-for-hire and they are all square. I was gonna name check him apropos of the political power unleashed by close readings of the Dead message (after, for instance, McNally, 2003) and say that his movie was political allegory, but I am imagining that this dispute at least for the time being makes him more of a pariah.