Yes, I confess, there are things I hide (ha!): very early on Friday morning, I will be going to Mexico City for eight days to chase the feathered serpent Quetzalcoatl. This, then, will be my last post of 2005. I'll be back on the 8th; don't forget about me. When I started this blog in May, I was cross-legged in my bedroom, and now it's December; I'm sitting on a couch in my living room. I don't know who reads this save the few commenters and the occasional email exchange, but let me try to gracefully extract myself from the jaws of sentimentality and just say: I appreciate that you're here.
I was going to waste this space for more Dave Berman exegesis; I'm going to wait until seeing two Silver Jews shows in March. Don't recoil yet. Anyway, I'm going to do some loose ends work now; consider this a list of a few things I may not have attended to enough this year for whatever reason.
Music is the Weapon, a 1982 film about Fela Kuti
There are plenty of phenomenal things to hear in Fela's catalog, but what you don't hear are the sounds of his mother being thrown out of a window by the Nigerian police, the depth of the wounds he incurred at the hands of government thugs, and the fact that this was a man who attempted to harness power through music - a tacky or cliched gesture in the relative security/privileged caution of "the west," but a well-worked dream in a country ravaged by corruption and in deep political upheaval. For a man with so many scars, he had a fucking sense of humor: I learn later that the album Expensive Shit is a reference to when police planted a joint on Fela and he swallowed it; he was arrested until they could examine his feces. Brothers in bars, his prison mates offered their own waste as proxy; a rebel, leader, and a magician. Incredible.
Konono No. 1 at Joe's Pub/Amadou & Mariam at Joe's Pub/XTC, Black Sea
Got to see both "hot" "new" African bands this year, which was thrilling. Konono didn't sound as good whistling through the wall of 50 people eating plates of expensive brisket and not dancing, but it was great to witness such uninterrupted intensity, songs halting without warning, mid-pant, furious. It took me a little while to get over the pure shock of hearing Congotronics 1 and the residual guilt/uncertainty about the project of exporting such a sound, but in retrospect, it's really one of the most interesting, well-defined things I had heard this year. (Incidentally, and more on this later, but Congotronics 2 has been quite good to me so far, too.) Amadou & Mariam were charming as all hell; Amadou's playing is the only thing I've heard this year that made me want to pick up the guitar again after a long haitus except for "No Language In Our Lungs" by XTC, a song I had rediscovered after years of half-appreciating Black Sea, an album so ridiculously top-loaded that they could've made it three songs long and I still would've paid $15 for it.
Crazy Titch, "Singalong"
Honestly, if they sold grime records here, I'd buy them. (I did order Kano's Home Sweet Home from Amazon UK. Worth it, obv.) Until then I scour, I scavenge; I pick the bones where they lay. It's not an honorable life, but it's mine. Still, if I abstained, I wouldn't have heard "Singalong." I should say that I realize that this isn't necessarily time capsule grime at any phase, but there is something maddeningly indelibe about it. Okay, let's get past the fact that CRAZY TITCH SHOUTS LIKE THE DAY CARE CENTER IS ON FIRE (a style that Dom Passantino from Stylus has cripplingly referred to as "market trader," which I thought was hilarious). What makes the song is the backdrop: frilly string samples bouncing along on a beat that rocks like a Bar Mitzvah, clarinets winding like garden snakes up your arm. Produced by a team named Imp Batch for fuck's sake. Crazy Titch doesn't do the faux-regal chinstroking rogue thing like Prince Paul sometimes did, but "Singalong" masters the kind of music I've always felt Americans were barred from making: the nipple-squeezing composure of schmaltz matched with cartoonishly unhinged vitriol, like Felix the cat swinging a mace; the fact that the whole thing is a rally for a gang chorus annihilates everything from Oi to campfire rounds.
Dave Queen's piece on the Eagles box set in the Seattle Weekly, Nick Sylvester's riff on S F-J.
I guess it's natural to love what you aren't. I probably got more enjoyment out of reading (and rereading) these pieces than any other music criticism this year (though Nick's is more critic criticism, whoa). Both guys play an insider's game, but one I'm willing to follow up to a certain point, that point being the point at which I develop hilarity-induced stomach pains and require cool towels and mineral water in order to calm myself down.