It’s been a month since I put up any new music, and I’ve discovered several albums that are worth adding to the list. Let’s start with Nick Cave’s cover of “Cosmic Dancer” by T. Rex from the upcoming all-star tribute album titled, AngelHeaded Hipster set to be released on September 4, 2020. It will be a double album with 26 tracks featuring U2, Elton John, Joan Jett, Perry Farrell, Sean Lennon, Lucinda Williams, and more!…
Near the end of a book I was reading recently was this description of a familiar political leader:
He was impervious to advice. He listened but did not absorb the opinions of others. If critics persisted (according to one of his senior staff members) ‘he would break into short-tempered fits of enraged agitation’. He brushed aside uncongenial facts so habitually that his staff began to filter out intelligence of the worst complexion. He displayed in all this not a shred of self-criticism. When things went wrong he blamed others’.
Characterizing his subject as sulky, vindictive, intolerant and irascible, the author goes on to cite his subject’s poor powers of leadership which were masked with a self-constructed myth of infallibility. Add a few more equally unpleasant traits such as bullying, endless lying and bullshitting, a complete absence of empathy and a demand for loyalty from others which goes unreturned and we have a fairly complete picture of Donald Trump, right? Indeed. But the the excerpt is from Why the Allies Won by historian Richard Overy, published in 1995, and the subject is Adolf Hitler.
Now obviously Trump is no Hitler. For one thing, Hitler wrote a book, Mein Kampf. Trump, who has the attention span of a gnat and can’t even sit still long enough to read the President’s Daily Brief (with potentially disastrous consequences) has likely never even read a book cover to cover much less written one (having a book ghost written for you doesn’t count).
More significantly, there is no evidence that Trump harbors a megalomaniacal desire to conquer the world; in fact he has more of a penchant for retreating from commitments abroad and betraying allies – Kurds and Afghans so far, and probably our NATO allies too given half a chance. And whilst Trump is monstrously incompetent, narcissistic and vile (among other things), there is no evidence that he is an actual monster capable of acts of unspeakable evil. Fortunately for us, Trump is constrained by his own enormous limitations, principally his own monumental stupidity; for example, he is still unable to accept the deadliness of the coronavirus pandemic even after everything that’s happened.
There really isn’t much doubt about this and it has been amply demonstrated both publicly before our eyes and in myriad accounts from those who have had to deal with him. He has some smarts, of course, but they’re confined to a gift for relentless self-promotion combined with an uncanny ability to manipulate the media and to exploit the vulnerable by drawing out their very worst instincts.
Second his ambitions, thank the Lord, seem to be limited to getting re-elected and, as Max Boot writes, “..the rallies and the ratings“. His ineptitude protects us from his worst authoritarian instincts but also carries with it devastating consequences for the nation in the face of a deadly pandemic.
All the caveats aside, however, the similarities between the two men’s character traits are unmistakable. Trump’s demonstrated lack of empathy even for the people on whom he is depending for re-election echo Hitler’s studied unconcern for his people suffering privation and under constant bombing, or his soldiers later in the war sustaining one crushing defeat after another.
One more trait they share is a gross overestimation of their own abilities. Hitler thought he was a better general than his field marshals whilst Trump thought he could actually function as president of his nation. Both were wrong. For Germany it brought catastrophe but then a better future. Will America salvage something good also from our own ongoing catastrophe? The jury is still out on that one.
Some recent polls show Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic is approved by 55-60% of Americans. That is simply insane. Here’s why.
A New York Times article succinctly summarized the administration’s early inaction and mistakes regarding the looming public health disaster:
A series of missteps and lost opportunities dogged the nation’s response.
Among them: a failure to take the pandemic seriously even as it engulfed China, a deeply flawed effort to provide broad testing for the virus that left the country blind to the extent of the crisis, and a dire shortage of masks and protective gear to protect doctors and nurses on the front lines, as well as ventilators to keep the critically ill alive.
‘This could have been stopped by implementing testing and surveillance much earlier — for example, when the first imported cases were identified,’ said Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Columbia University in New York.
This despite warnings by the intelligence community in early January of the seriousness of the spreading virus in China, not to mention numerous and urgent red flags raised on both the possibility of pandemic and our lack of preparedness to meet it. That lack of preparedness was caused primarily by the administration’s own self-inflicted wounds such as dismantling the National Security Council Directorate for Global Health and Security and Bio-Defense established under President Obama which would have been laser focused and vocal on the emerging crisis in Wuhan, had it still been around, and the idiotic unraveling of our network of public health liaison officials in China established and buttressed in both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations which likely prevented the alarm being raised even earlier.
And then of course there’s the testing debacle which has made us a laughing stock for our incompetence and contributed materially to the fact that we now have more infections than any other country and are heading to a best case scenario of between 100,000 to 200,00 deaths from COVID-19.
But the greatest of Trump’s sins was the fact that thanks to his efforts to downplay the deadly threat posed by the virus we lost valuable time – two precious months of inertia and fumbles in fact – which combined with other missteps has ensured that while South Korea will be the exemplar of how to handle a pandemic, we will be at the other end of the scale, an example of what not to do. And how many scores of thousands of preventable deaths we will we suffer as a result?
Through it all, Trump has bombarded the American public with a mountain of lies and bullshit – a cascade that continues unabated, interspersed with blaming everyone and their mother for his disastrous handling of the pandemic whilst congratulating himself on a job well done. And now, somehow, he’s able to swing from saying on February 26th that we only have fifteen cases and that “..soon it will be down to close to zero..” to congratulating himself that there will only be 100,000 or 200,000 dead Americans when this thing is over.
I get that in times of crisis Americans tend to rally round the flag and the president. But history will not be kind to Donald Trump in his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic no matter what he does from this point (in contrast to many of our state governors and local officials who stepped up to fill the void of absent federal leadership). And neither should we.
There’s nothing better than listening to music while you are sheltering in place, so I have put together a few video tracks of my favorite albums that have been released this year.
I learned of Porridge Radio a few weeks ago, and I have been listening to them via YouTube because before the pandemic when I was able to go to Easy Street Records in West Seattle or Sonic Boom Records in Ballard, neither store had any of their music in stock. I guess I will have to order it and have it delivered.
Anyway, here is how Alexis Petridis describes “Lilac” in his review of their album Every Bad for The Guardian.
Lilac, meanwhile, turns that emotional journey on its head. This time around, Margolin repeats: “I don’t want to get bitter, I want us to get better, I want us to be kinder to ourselves and to each other.” What looks like a self-help platitude on paper slowly builds up a power at odds with its sentiment, becoming increasingly frenzied and raw-throated, in a way that completely undercuts any optimism. By the end of the song, it sounds confoundingly like a threat.
This tension of opposites is a recurring theme, not just in Margolin’s ability to destabilise a lyric with her voice, but in the words themselves. They’re big on inconsistency – “I don’t know what I want, but I know what I want” – and frequently sound like frantic internal dialogues that capture a very twentysomething brand of angst, where the realisation that you’re now an adult crashes against uncertainty about whether you’re doing adulthood correctly.
This next one is by Destroyer, a band, or basically a guy named Dan Bejar who I discovered from reading this Pitchfork review of his latest album, Have We Met.
In the extraordinary “Kinda Dark,” he delivers his apocalyptic verses in a distracted whisper over subdued electronic scenery. When the drums hit and the electric guitar attacks out of nowhere, it feels genuinely startling: the appearance of the looming threat he’s been slowly backing away from the whole time.
This sense of unease spans the record, making uptempo songs like the glittery “It Just Doesn’t Happen” and the soaring “Crimson Tide” sound like dispatches from a doomed adventure. Other songs exist in the cloud of smoke that’s left behind.
I first heard this new “supergroup” Bonny Light Horseman while wandering around Sonic Boom Records a couple months ago. The band members are Eric D. Johnson, Anaïs Mitchell, and Josh Kaufman – all of whom I am not that familiar with, but I guess many people are because they are SUPER. I was struck by the clarity of their sound and their perfect vocal harmonies, so I bought their eponymously titled debut album. The video is from a live performance and it sounds very muck like it does on the album. No Depression wrote this about it:
That winter [of 2018], they made the trek to Dreamland Recording in Woodstock, New York, for another quick session to finish what they hoped would be enough for a record. “When we went to Woodstock, we knew we were trying to finish a record, and I think the question became, how to record in a way that felt of-a-piece with the Berlin stuff in an environment that was so different,” Mitchell says. They had a blast over the course of two days, again standing close to one another, playing live without headphones, and joined by Michael Lewis (bass, saxophone) and JT Bates (drums, percussion), as well as engineer Bella Blasco and mixer D. James Goodwin. That live sound results in an intimate, but atmospheric vibe that permeates every song on the album. These sessions took on that same sense of immediacy the band felt in Berlin, particularly with songs like “Deep in Love” and “The Roving,” two of the album’s standouts.
This last one is by another singer I learned about this year while reading No Depression reviews. Her name is Kyshona Armstrong. Here’s a snippet from the review.
Kyshona Armstrong honed her craft in the state mental hospital. Not as an inmate, but as a teacher. She broadened her musical healing abilities in prisons and also in schools, working with children diagnosed with emotional behavior disorders.
The singer, who records under her first name, has said that she never wanted to be in the spotlight. Armstrong had aspirations to be a psychologist, but a music scholarship opened up new possibilities for her in the field of musical therapy. She eventually realized that her message could do good from the stage as well.
On the title cut, Kyshona urges people within the sound of her voice to start their activism by the simple act of listening: “I know you wanna help / but you’re deaf to the mission / Even when you see the hand I’m dealt / You pretend it’s my decision.”
Quick Escape does a lot of Pearl Jammy stuff – big soaring chorus, more guitar histrionics – but sets them against an atmosphere that’s authentically spacey and strange, as again befits lyrics that have taken on an entirely unwitting kind of currency. If you’re going to release a song about the human race facing such catastrophe that escaping to another planet feels appealing, now is probably the moment to do it.
That’s all for this week. I’ll try and do this more often – maybe every couple of weeks or so.