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S. Gustafson "Holy Roman Emperor" RSS Feed (New Albany, IN USA)
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Passover
Passover
Offered by Great Price Media
Price: $9.13
39 used & new from $3.76

4.0 out of 5 stars God, I miss reverb, June 27, 2010
This review is from: Passover (Audio CD)
There's a recent Neil Young record in which a heckler calls out, "It all sounds the same." Neil answers, "It's all one song." There is a bit of that here as well. Then again, there are too many parochial scenes out there, and both bands and companies shy away from versatility. This is one slice of doomy, distorted psychedelic metal from start to almost the very end. It's like Goth Night at The Fillmore.

Americans don't do "ethereal", so this can't be shoegaze, although it moves in that direction. We fortunately always have the blues in our subconscious to hold us back from the ethereal, and drone rock owes a debt to Memphis Minnie and R. L. Burnside as much as to the Velvet Underground.

The Stoogely drums of Stephanie Bailey keep everything on track here; she's about as close to perfect for the material as you can expect this side of the first sphere of heaven. The lyrics are attractively literate, and Alex Maas intones them with a good blend of matter-of-factness and intensity.

And they're protesting the Iraq war! God bless 'em.


Patti Smith's Horses (33 1/3)
Patti Smith's Horses (33 1/3)
by Philip Shaw
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.64
76 used & new from $4.44

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Probably not the best way to approach a rock and roll record, June 8, 2010
Patti Smith's masterpiece *Horses* is probably more deserving than most rock and roll records of serious academic study, especially given that Smith steeped herself in both high culture and rock history before making it. The best parts of the book are its artistic biography of Smith prior to its release.

On the other hand, the book relies heavily on the "theory" of Jacques Lacan, Julia Kristeva, and other late twentieth century noncemongers, whose melange of Marx and Freud persuaded the academic Left to waste its days in unintelligible, irrelevant indolence for a time. This hurts.

Shaw, for example, makes note of the androgyny of Mapplethorpe's dramatic cover photograph. He's not the first to notice. He relates it quite properly to the dandyism cultivated by French symbolist poets such as Rimbaud and Baudelaire, artists that rank high in Smith's constellation of high culture influences. He goes on to describe the photograph as a statement that the "phallus is no more privileged than any other signifier", which does not appear to be meaningful, much less insightful. I'm not sure it contributes to understanding, even if kicking the privileged phallus is always fun. And he misses entirely the opportunity to compare Mapplethorpe's stark androgyny with the somewhat more baroque androgyny of male artists like David Bowie or Marc Bolan, which would appear to be immediately relevant in the context of Smith's Max's Kansas City days.

The high themes of sexuality and mortality run through the record. A Freudian take on the record is certainly a valid approach given these themes. Shaw's text is quite helpful when it doesn't go adrift in the lotus land of deconstruction. When it does, you can skip ahead a bit without missing anything.


The Lexicographer's Dilemma: The Evolution of 'Proper' English, from Shakespeare to South Park
The Lexicographer's Dilemma: The Evolution of 'Proper' English, from Shakespeare to South Park
by Jack Lynch
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.50
94 used & new from $0.48

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars English and class anxiety, December 31, 2009
The curious thing about the prescriptive tradition of English language punditry is not that it exists. Every widely used written language develops one, because they all exist on a continuum of formal versus colloquial styles. Written language cannot fully express some communication strategies used in spoken language, and therefore needs new ones. No, what makes the English language tradition of stylistic guidance different is the peculiar vehemence and rancor its more recent exponents use in delivering their judgments.

To me, the most interesting point this book makes is to set out the origin of the tradition in class anxiety. When kings were kings and lords were lords, they had no need to be anxious as to whether their usage was "correct" or not. Rather, the rise of a newly literate middle class caused anxiety over appropriate style and grammar to arise. People whose grandparents had no need for reading or writing wanted to be certain that their written text conformed to prestige varieties of English, and thus became consumers of dictionaries, works of instruction on prose models, and style guides. Prof. Lynch, a Samuel Johnson scholar whose previous works include a selection of gems from Johnson's dictionary, is well situated to give an account of this process.

In one standard narrative, "eighteenth century grammarians" are made the villains of this process. This book debunks that narrative. These grammarians were not a pack of self-important schoolmasters enforcing arbitrary decrees with rod and cane. They were, in fact, first rate minds. They included Joseph Priestley, the chemist who caused no end of trouble with his invention of oxygen; and Robert Lowth, a less well known name, but one of the period's profoundest Old Testament scholars. Their stylistic judgments were for the most part founded in observation, and more importantly, presented as stylistic guidance rather than moral judgments. They had no distorted view of the issues they addressed; they merely rejected some colloquial usage as being wrong for a formal style.

The rancor and *ipse dixits* came later. It was not enough to make stylistic judgments as to levels of desired formality. The uses appropriate to a formal style got changed into rules, so that schoolteachers could use them to grade with. This turned them from "formal vs. informal" to "right vs. wrong". This set up an unfortunate dynamic. Attempting to refocus on what was really at stake (whether a piece of prose was appropriate in style for its audience and subject) and to describe the language as an entity continuing to develop -- all of these things were recast as a rise of "permissive" standards, a slack and anarchic upstart that threatened the establishment of Authority and Tradition. This gave English style guidance a political dimension, and as such raised the level of tension beyond anything appropriate to the subject.

Now, more than ever, in an era of buzzwords, TLAs, depersonalizing constructions, inappropriate abstractions, and glittering generalities, we need an intelligent rebirth of an English prescriptive tradition. It's a vital part of informed and critical reading, needed to see past verbal sleight of hand acts. But we need to develop that while recognizing that English does in fact continue to develop, and without losing sight of the actual goals and real issues addressed by this sort of linguistic commentary.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 31, 2010 6:50 AM PST


Holy Bible: King James Version, 1611 Edition
Holy Bible: King James Version, 1611 Edition
by Hendrickson Publishers
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $30.11
80 used & new from $23.39

90 of 96 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not a replica of 1611, May 27, 2009
This is not a replica of the first edition of the Authorised Version / King James Bible from 1611. That Bible was a large (folio) book printed in Black Letter gothic type, which is used here very sparingly.

What this is, instead, is a replica of an 1833 edition containing the original 1611 text, laid out on the page identically, which was originally made by Oxford University Press. The absence of long 's', which was universal in the seventeenth century, shows that this is a nineteenth century reprint. Long 's' here appears consistently in the page superscriptions, and in the Roman type prefatory matter that was in fact reproduced, but not in the text of the Bible itself, which was entirely reset in Roman type for the original of this facsimile.

That said, this is easily worth it in order to get the original pagination and spelling, which were revised substantially in the eighteenth century. It is quite an attractive package even if it is not the 1611 version.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 12, 2014 3:23 PM PDT


Drums of Passion
Drums of Passion
Offered by Route 54 Bargain Outlet
Price: $14.99
23 used & new from $4.02

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An exotica masterpiece, June 13, 2008
This review is from: Drums of Passion (Audio CD)
This is one of the most entertaining recordings ever made. Now, in a historical sense, it probably is an important document for the dissemination of knowledge of world music. And it is also true that Babatunde Olatunji went on to have a quite distinguished and prolific career after making this recording, and that his later recordings may be more authentic in an academic sense.

There is another way of approaching this record, though. Though "world music" the way *we* understand it was somewhat hard to find in the USA in 1959, "exotica" was not. Exotica was a sort of lounge pop jazz that mixed Afro-Cuban rhythms with "Polynesian" style melodies to create tropical atmosphere and mood music for the tiki-bar era. It's a genre associated with Esquivel, Yma Sumac, Arthur Lyman, Martin Denny, Les Baxter, and many more artists from the period. Some of these exotica performances are still campy and entertaining, but the string and pedal steel guitar arrangements can become cloying and embarrassing after a while.

Placed in this context, this record stands head and shoulders above its contemporaries. Afro-Cuban rhythms, of course, come from Nigeria and West Africa. Babatunde Olatunji was well prepared to meet that demand. For the contemporary listener, this recording is obviously better because Olatunji strips out all of the sappy strings and corny arrangements that make 1950s exotica so cringe-worthy.

And leaving aside issues of ever-elusive "authenticity", Babatunde Olatunji was a first class showman and entertainer, and that's the side that makes this recording one of his best known and best liked. Again, with the very basic presentation of his large drum ensemble, his virile and overstated presentation turns up the energy. This is not music to evoke images of lounging in a hammock while hula girls sway. This is for dancing around the sacrificial fire with the witch doctor from a Tarzan movie.

Yes, it sits on the point where exotica ends and world music begins. It's a fine entertainment. The epic track "Shango" is easily worth the price of admission; download it if you get nothing else. It is also one of the best car albums for city driving ever made. Break out the tiki torches and the rum punch, and have a blast.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 3, 2009 8:05 AM PDT


Dictionary of Disagreeable English, Deluxe Edition
Dictionary of Disagreeable English, Deluxe Edition
by Robert Hartwell Fiske
Edition: Hardcover
64 used & new from $0.01

14 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Who is he writing for?, April 13, 2007
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You have to wonder who is the target market for texts like this. Does Mr. Fiske seek to guide writers who wish to write more carefully and clearly? He may not win friends with his habits of labelling the usages he condemns, and therefore the writers who use them, as "idiotic" and "uneducated." A text that brought forth similar counsel in a gentler way might be more helpful to those readers.

Or is this sort of writing a kind of supercilious humor, meant to entertain those who know they know better, for folks who enjoy learning of the usage pratfalls of the high and mighty? The collected examples are good, but they are too few in number to sustain that sort of interest throughout.

The usages condemned are, like most prescriptionist texts, a mixed bag of polysyllabic overreaching, developing senses, and simple misspellings. Most of them are wise counsel; we don't need "to destruct" for "to destroy," and "to consequentialize" for "to punish" is a grating euphemism. There are, of course, a few less defensible choices here, such as his condemnation of "also known as" and its abbreviation "a.k.a."; it may be overused, but is too useful to let go, and too well established to eradicate.

He wastes a good deal of ink condemning dictionaries for including senses and words he condemns. This seems misguided; one function of a dictionary is to serve as a guide for the perplexed. Those who find a new sense or neologism in a dictionary need to know what the writer meant by it, more than they need to learn that the writer was imprudent for using it. A dictionary that failed to do this would fail quite radically.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 22, 2010 7:53 PM PST


The Lady's Banquet, Vol. 1: 'Aires From the Opera Curiously Set'
The Lady's Banquet, Vol. 1: 'Aires From the Opera Curiously Set'
11 used & new from $3.25

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Operatic arias, definitely "curiously set", July 14, 2006
This is a recording of various operatic arias, mostly from Handel and Mancini, with Handel's "Rinaldo" particularly featured, arranged for keyboard so they could be learned and played at home. With this recipe, you'd think you couldn't go wrong: you come to the record expecting something tuneful if not deep.

The arrangements here are by William Babell, about whom Fanny Burney wrote that he acquired "great celebrity" without "the assistance of taste." There are a number of pieces here that would appear to justify Burney's judgment here; for in the perennial war between Musicality and Virtuosity, Music takes a loss here.

The opening number "Vo fa guerra" is a perfect example. Babell embellishes Handel's melody with extensive glissandi, plus some eighteenth century power chords and boogie-woogie harpsichord. It is interesting, a tour de force for Jane Chapman, but it is unlikely to be a classical earworm.

Chapman plays a 1766 Kirckman harpsichord. The instrument is apparently a big concert harpsichord with all the bells and whistles. We know there are several sets of couplers and a crescendo pedal on it, and all of these gimmicks are apparently needed to play Babell's arrangements at their most elaborate. However, Babell's arrangements were not uniformly as showy; and for the pieces that were not so tricked out for display, the more of that stuff that Chapman leaves turned off, the better they sound. If these pieces were intended for domestic music making, an instrument with a less emphatic voice, or perhaps even a spinet, might have been a better choice. (I understand that there is a second volume of these pieces, which is in fact performed on the spinet.)

The performance itself is confident and lively. The programme is enjoyable, and when Babell isn't pulling out all the stops it is as tuneful as you were hoping.


Blind Harry's Wallace
Blind Harry's Wallace
by the Minstrel Henry
Edition: Paperback
24 used & new from $4.97

4.0 out of 5 stars Turbo swords!, June 21, 2006
This review is from: Blind Harry's Wallace (Paperback)
William Hamilton of Gilbertsfield's retelling of Blind Harry's Wallace, which he rewrote into rhyming couplets in the eighteenth century, starts with two strikes against it. This is a long eighteenth century poem, and it's written in rhyming couplets. It nevertheless manages to remain interesting, largely because the subject itself resists Augustan ornament and distancing.

Blind Harry wrote his original epic in the fifteenth century. Hamilton remade it into modern English sprinkled occasionally with Scots words. Most of these are glossed in the margins in this edition; modern readers will not find its story hard to follow. Hamilton is not always faithful to his source; the introduction notes that a supernatural sequence, where Blind Harry had Wallace dreaming a vision of the Virgin Mary, and had his vision interpreted by a priest, has been altered in this retelling to better suit Presbyterian sensibilities. Again, the subject resists Augustan polish, and the occasional inclusion of highfalutin' vocabulary or stock pastoral imagery here only adds a disconcerting bit of cognitive dissonance. On the whole, the verse seems more reminiscent of broadsheet ballads than of Dryden or Pope; as such it's more accomodating to contemporary readers.

The story reads like an over the top novelization of a Dungeons & Dragons adventure. Wallace seems to be portrayed as a turbo Grignr, a Tasmanian Devil of manslaughter; he commits a fresh homicide in almost every chapter, even the ones that aren't about warfare and battle. The Scots are the good guys and the English are the bad guys, so any time Wallace encounters an Englishman, blood is spilt.

The net result is to make the poem a highly entertaining yarn, at least in small doses at a time. It's hard to have much empathy with the hero, but the lurid spectacle of his exploits and downfall is told with enough hyperbole to make up for the one-dimensionality of its characterizations.

The pleasures of fine writing aren't to be found here. It's hard to give the poem much credit as a historical source. The pleasures of sword and sorcery, comic books, and murder ballads are what the poem has to offer; and if you bring appropriate expectations to the work, you may well find it quite entertaining.


Glass: Akhnaten
Glass: Akhnaten
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Acoustic techno, June 12, 2006
This review is from: Glass: Akhnaten (Audio CD)
The very idea of "minimalist" opera seems magically stillborn; fortunately, the orchestration (and no doubt the pageantry) of this piece are lush enough to render meaningless any claims to minimalism. In my opinion, though, it is best not to approach this as you would an ordinary piece of symphonic music. Glass's constant riffing without development no doubt seems simple to many fans of symphonic music; he's all prelude and no fugue. But his method is what it is.

The constant arpeggios and repetitive riffs remind me more of the electronic music of 1984, when this piece had its debut. And if you bring the expectations appropriate for a work from that genre, the work starts to develop a great deal of appeal. This way, you won't be disappointed at the constant looping of minor-chord arpeggio riffs: they're what you expected. The text of the libretto, filled with chants in ancient Egyptian from the Pyramid Texts and the Book of the Dead seems interesting. The performance I remember best is that of David Warrilow, the "Scribe", who serves as narrator. He gets to declaim lines like "Horus of gold, mighty of arm as he smites the Asiatics" in a voice that I find reminiscent of Donald Pleasance.

If this were an electronic future-pop album with stuff like this on it, I'd already be interested. Think of it as acoustic techno, and you won't be disappointed. It also makes a good soundtrack for an afternoon spent playing role-playing games.


Honor: A History
Honor: A History
by James Bowman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $22.06
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22 of 70 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The virtue of the uncivilized, June 6, 2006
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This review is from: Honor: A History (Hardcover)
In current anthropology and sociology, "honor" is a concept that few people of good will would care to defend or wax nostalgic over. For these sciences, honor is a willingness to meet any perceived slight with drastic retaliation. It arises in societies where the protection of law is absent, or alien and hostile: it finds its most extreme manifestation in nomadic and herding societies, where a household's most valuable possession is its herds of animals, and they are liable to being rustled away. In this environment, personal security is contingent on cultivating a reputation for swift and severe revenge.

The opposite of the rule of honor is the rule of law. To be willing to defer revenge or forgive slights in the name of civil peace is the privilege of civilized people. These people have established a community with lawmakers whose legitimacy is uncontested, who are open to petitions to right wrongs, and have the power to enforce their decisions. To the denizen of a society ruled by honor, to defer revenge upon the outcome of some legal process means looking weak and losing reputation.

In my opinion there is too much nostalgia for honor in our popular culture already. Our screen heroes are law enforcement officers who break the laws, gunmen, and mafiosi: men who stand alone, are feared for the violence they can wreak, and who live in a society ruled by an absent, hostile, or indifferent authority. When Mr. Bowman notes the persistence of notions of "honor" among street gangs and similar people, the anthropologist would note that this is the result of making vices illegal: like the herdsman, these people carry around valuable property that is in danger of theft, and have no recourse to a hostile legal system. Law-abiding people find that they can dispense with the idea of honor, and, Mr. Bowman to the contrary, that's a -good- thing. In a civilized, lawful society, where it's more important to get along with your neighbors than to be feared by them, the sense of honor is likely to wither and die: and we're better off without it.

Robert E. Howard wrote that "civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing." Then again, Robert E. Howard's hero was a barbarian.


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