1967 – 6 Hour Selection 50 Years On

John Lennon by Richard Avendon 1967

I wanted to do something to mark the 50th anniversary of 1967 – a truly magical, myth-laden, musical year when so much changed, separating old from new and leading to a seismic cultural shift, especially via the recording industry – artists becoming increasingly ambitious, with pop music no longer regarded as throwaway fodder for the kids, but the great artistic statement of the age.

1967 provides the pivot point in my personal mapping of the 20th century – June 1st if I want to narrow it down to a specific date. This was when ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ by The Beatles was released, an album that would soundtrack the psychedelic ‘Summer Of Love’, blowing minds and inspiring countless other artists to up their game, whilst The Beatles’ interest in lysergic acid diethylamide and eastern mysticism, altered not only their own states of consciousness and perception, but, pied piper like, they led a whole generation down the rabbit hole.


*Due to the compilation falling foul of Mixcloud’s agreement in the US regarding the amount of tracks by an individual artist, the podcast is unfortunately not available to stream there. To resolve this we’ve now also uploaded the podcast to the Hear This platform, which can be accessed in the US: https://hearthis.at/hazy-cosmic-jive/1967-6-hour-selection-50-years-on-compiled-by-greg-wilson-2017-192/

However, you won’t find any of the tracks on ‘Sgt. Pepper’s’ in the compilation I’ve put together in tribute to this momental year – the reason being that none of its inclusions were issued as singles. I’d originally thought about approaching this as a selection of my favourite tracks from the year, but whilst I was researching I decided that I’d only feature singles that had made the top 50 of the UK chart during 1967, and in the order in which they appeared. This has resulted in a 6 hour epic, available to stream via Mixcloud.

The 7” singles only format, is in line with my 24 hour Random Influences project, covering the ’60s and the first half of the ’70s,, which is available to stream via Mixcloud:

Whilst, of course, being a subjective selection, I felt that this format would provide a reflective representation of what people were listening to in the UK that year. It meant that I missed out on some tracks that we’re hits in the US, but not here, not least the Jefferson Airplane’s ‘White Rabbit’ and Buffalo Springfield’s ‘For What It’s Worth’, both key US countercultural anthems, plus Soul classics including Jackie Wilson’s ‘(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher And Higher’ (which would be a UK hit thrice over, but in ’69, ’75 and ’87) James Brown’s Funk blueprint ‘Cold Sweat’and Smokey Robinson & The Miracles’ ‘Tears Of A Clown’, hidden away as an album track in ’67, but destined to become a transatlantic #1 hit 3 years on.  Then there’s a whole heap of now Northern Soul classics that were complete obscurities at the time of their release, only to be excavated in the ’70s by obsessive British DJs.



Bad times make great art?

 Worlds of light and shadow: The reproduction of liberalism in Weimar Germany

The claim that good art comes from hard times is the height of delusionally entitled thinking

Bad times make great art. Worlds of light and shadow: The reproduction of liberalism in Weimar Germany

Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” (1927) (Credit: Kino International)

On election night a murmur started just as the last gasp faded, “Well at least we can expect some great art.” At first the sentiment was a fatalistic one-off, a brave face, a shy hope that something good would come from the dark days forecast for the Trump presidency. It didn’t take long for the statement to acquire a predictive tone, eventually a waft of desperation was detectable and, ultimately, shrill fiat.

The art of protest is provocative, no question. It’s often brave, usually fierce, sometimes compelling and occasionally inspirational. But is the appeal of the books, films, poetry, painting, television and sculpture produced in response to tyranny, oligarchic pomposity or a fetishistic prioritization of the bottom line universal or simply reactive? How durable is the art birthed from protest? The following essay is the second in a series for Salon exploring the question Do bad times really inspire great art?

On Nov. 6 of this year, just two days before the presidential election, aging American punks Green Day took the stage at the MTV Europe Music Awards to perform their 2004, Bush II-era modern pop-punk staple, “American Idiot.”

Singer Billie Joe Armstrong snarled in the vague direction of then-presidential hopeful, now president-elect Donald J. Trump, asking the audience of largely Dutch citizens possessing close to zero influence on the American political conversation, “Can you hear the sound of hysteria? The subliminal mind-Trump America.”

Apart from the lyrics not making a lot of sense, it also had no effect whatsoever on the outcome of the election. However well-meaning, Armstrong and Co. would have been just as effective by writing “DO NOT VOTE FOR DONALD TRUMP” on a piece of paper, cramming it in a bottle, and chucking it into the ocean, or by whispering “Trump is bad” into a hole.

The clear lesson: punk is dead. And not only that, but it’s been poisoned, drowned, hanged, beaten, stabbed, killed, re-killed and killed again, like some slobbering Rasputin-ish zombie. So when people claim, desperately, that Trump’s America will somehow lead to a resurgence in angry, politically charged guitar music, it’s all I can do to keep my eyes from rolling out of my head.

* * *

To claim that good art — that is: stuff of considerable aesthetic merit, which is maybe even socially advantageous — comes from hard times is the height of delusionally entitled thinking, as if mass deportations and radicalized violence are all in the service of a piece of music. Of course, even the idea of what qualifies as “good times” must be qualified. Given that Trump won the election, it stands to reason that for a majority of Americans (or at least for a majority of electoral college representatives) the prospect of a Trump presidency is a beneficial thing, which will usher in a new epoch of prosperity and big-league American greatness.

There may be truth, or at least the ring of truth, in the idea that objects of artistic value can be produced under the pressure of hardship. While it may be true that an artist like, say, the late Leonard Cohen was able to mine the fathomless quarries of heartache and longing for his music and poetry, it is also true that Cohen was blessed with socio-economic privilege, both in the form of family inheritances and grants from a liberal Canadian government that supported (and continues to support, in various respects) art and artists. His heart may have been hard, but the times weren’t.

At the cultural level, good art tends to emerge from good times. It’s not even about having a well-managed social welfare state (though that, of course, helps). Rather, it seems to be a matter of liberal attitudes reproducing themselves in certain contexts, leading to greater degrees of freedom and greater gains in artistic production and sophistication.

So forget Green Day for a second. Take, as an example, the Weimar Republic of Germany’s interwar period. It was a short-lived heyday of liberalism and representative democracy, flourishing smack between two periods of staunch authoritarianism: bookended by the post-unification German Empire on one side, and Nazi Germany on the other. It was in this context that some of the twentieth century’s most compelling art was created.

* * *

It’s tricky to even think about Weimar Germany without being ensnared by the sickly succour of cliché. You know: leggy chorus girls high-kicking in all-night cabarets, gays and lesbians fraternizing freely, women in short hair lighting cigarettes while the zippy strains of jaunty jazz wafts hither and yon on in a smoky hall — a populace caught in full thrall of freedom. Fritz Lang’s 1922 film “Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler,” the opening titles of which describe it as “A Picture of the Times,” depicts Berlin’s underworld as equally rococo in its bourgeois elegance, and chaotically debased. As the proprietor of an illegal casino puts it, summing up the free-spirited ethos of the era, “Everything that pleases is allowed.”
Emerging from the horror of the First World War, and the 1918 November Revolution that saw the imperial government sacked, the nation’s consciousness was in a state of jumble and disarray. But it was an exciting  jumble, full of possibility. The philosopher Ernst Block compared Weimar Germany to Periclean Athens of the fifth century BCE: a time of cultural thriving, sovereign self-governance, and increased social and political equality. Germany became a hub for intellectualism, nurturing physicists like Einstein and the critical theorists of the Frankfurt School. Art indulged experimentalism and the avant-garde, united less by common aesthetic tendencies and more by shared socialist values. It was era of Otto Dix, Bertolt Brecht, the Bauhaus group, Arnold Schoenberg and a new, expressionist tendency in cinema.

Robert Weine’s 1919 film “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” embodied the spirit of this new age. It told the story of a small community preyed upon by the maniacal carnival barker Dr. Caligari (Werner Krauss), whose newest attraction is a spooky-looking sleepwalker named Cesare (the great German actor Conrad Veidt). By cover of darkness, Caligari controls Cesare, using him to commit a string of violent crimes. With its highly stylized sets, and comments on the brutality of authority, the film presented a whole alternative vision of the world. Both stylistically and thematically, “Caligari” imagined the splintering of the postwar German psyche, presenting a sense that reality itself had been destabilizing, and was reconstituting itself in jagged lines and oblique curlicues. The movie’s lasting influence is inestimable.

In his landmark work of cultural analysis, “From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film,” film critic Siegfried Kracauer described the “collapse of the old hierarchy of values and conventions” in Weimar-era Germany. “For a brief while,” Kracauer writes, “the German mind had a unique opportunity to overcome hereditary habits and reorganize itself completely. It enjoyed freedom of choice, and the air was full of doctrines trying to captivate it, to lure it into a regrouping of inner attitudes.”

Certainly, German cinema of the era often explicitly figures authoritarian characters attempting to seduce the public: from Weine’s madman Dr. Caligari, to Lang’s huckster Dr. Mabuse. For the reforming national consciousness, authority served as a kind of siren song, luring the public out of the rowdy cabarets and nightclubs and back on the straight and narrow. By the early 1930s, attitudes seemed to be shifting. In Fritz Lang’s classic thriller “M,” from 1931, police sniff out a serial killer in part by trying to determine a psychosexual basis for his crimes. It was at once a strike against the unfettered sexual libertinism of the Berlin cabarets, and a sinister intimation of Nazism, which was notoriously marked by its pseudoscientific quackery about the biological basis of criminality and depravity. The hallmarks of Weimar — its authoritarian disenthrallment, its slackening attitudes toward sexual repression, its intoxicating cosmopolitanism — were curdling.

* * *

Weimar poses a number of compelling questions around the subject of historical and cultural Golden Ages. Such rigidly compartmentalized, epochal thinking leads inevitably to collapse. How, after all, can a “Golden Age” be defined without presuming its emergence from, and collapse back into, periods of relative darkness and doom? It recalls Karl Marx’s thinking on historical stages, outlined in volume one of “Capital,” and the idea that each historical period carries within it the seeds of its successor. And it is force, according to Marx, that serves as “the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one.”

In the case of Weimar, the sense of expanded liberty was undercut in several respects. While the upper and middle classes grew in prosperity, the working poor were afflicted by hyperinflation, and by and large unaffected by new gains made in left-wing modernist painting, cabaret culture and avant-garde cinema. Sexual libertinism bred syphilis outbreaks. Old-stock Germans balked at the moral and aesthetic degeneracy of the new art movements. For such people, Weimar was regarded less like Periclean Athens and more like the ancient African port of Carthage: fit to be sacked, razed, and have its earth salted so that no memory of it could possibly proliferate.

It speaks to a certain historical tendency. To revise Marx, it’s not just that a given society is pregnant with the next one, but that it’s pregnant with resentments and reactions. With Weimar, expanded cultural and political liberalism emerged as a reaction to the authoritarianism of imperial Germany, with the even fiercer authoritarianism and violence of Hitler’s regime emerging as a response to that. Stereotypes of left-leaning artists cavorting in cabarets found their negative image, their doppelgänger, in nationalist thugs roving the streets.

This is not to say that it wasn’t a period of growth and advancement, artistically and otherwise. Rather, it’s a historical reminder that even periods that usher in all manner of artistic and cultural headway need to be relentlessly qualified. It’s not that good times don’t make for good art. It’s that, really, there’s never been such a thing as a distinctly, determinedly, wholly unequivocally “good time.” Even the most shimmering epochs exist in contradiction, conflict and often out-and-out hypocrisy. Like the backdrop of “Caligari,” ours has always been a world of light and shadow. Something to keep in mind as the world stumbles into what’s shaping up to be a new Periclean Golden Age of American Idiocy.

John Semley lives and works in Toronto. He is a books columnist at the Globe & Mail newspaper and the author of “This Is A Book About The Kids In The Hall” (ECW Press).

Elegy for a Year of Death in America

If Nietzsche was right about “what does not kill me,” we’re stronger now. Facing the darkness is the way forward.

Photo Credit: By The original uploader was Nagelfar at English Wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“Peace, peace!” wrote Percy Shelley in the climactic stanza of his great poem about the death of his friend and rival, John Keats. But Shelley’s poem, “Adonaïs,” is not about peace — rather the opposite. If anything, it’s about the strife and anguish from which human life is never free.

He is not dead, he doth not sleep,
He hath awaken’d from the dream of life;
‘Tis we, who lost in stormy visions, keep
With phantoms an unprofitable strife,
And in mad trance, strike with our spirit’s knife
Invulnerable nothings. We decay
Like corpses in a charnel; fear and grief
Convulse us and consume us day by day,
And cold hopes swarm like worms within our living clay.

This is a form of consolation common to poetry and religion, one much in demand over the past 12 months as we have lost David Bowie, Muhammad AliPrince,Leonard Cohen, Alan Rickman, George Michael, Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds (just off the top of my head) and have suffered the not-entirely-metaphorical death of our democracy, which has been sick far longer than any of those people. If you grew up amid Anglo-American pop culture of the 1970s and ’80s, and if you once held a burnished view of American tradition and American possibility — that describes, I think, a large number of people — this has been a tough year. I can’t promise I can make any of it better, but I can assure you that all the emotions we now feel have been felt before. Maybe that counts for something.

Confronting the mortality of famous people is always a way of confronting our own, I suppose, just as the tales of their marriages and divorces and affairs seem to echo and deepen our own histories of relationship success or failure. If you belong to the micro-generation that assumed that most of the people on that list would always be part of our lives, as I do, then 2016 has offered an especially pungent reminder that there is no such thing as “always,” and that our day is coming sooner than we would like. If your year was also not easy for other, more personal reasons (as mine certainly was), that seems to go with the territory.

As a child, I rushed out to the driveway for the newspaper on the morning after Ali’s big Madison Square Garden fight with Joe Frazier, and was crushed to learn that the mighty hero had fallen. A few years after that, Bowie’s late ’70s records offered me my first glimpse into a realm of bohemian adventure that actually existed, in real life and on the same continent where I lived, and not just in books about the 1920s or the 19th century. Add a few more years, and Prince emerged as the perfect distillation of white and black pop, a symbol of racial and cultural liberation sent to free us from the Reagan years. I didn’t learn to appreciate Cohen’s music until adulthood, when (again, along with many other people) I realized that he was not some folk-rock phenomenon constrained by the ’60s but something closer to a modern-day prophet.

Each of them, like the other people on that list, had a long and complicated life with many conflicting currents, and I won’t even try to do justice to that complexity here. But it did not occur to me that I would live to see them all dead, or that those deaths would all occur in a year that had so many other ways to make us mourn for lost time and lost opportunities, so many ways of reminding us that time is fleeting, and to gather our rosebuds while we may.

I didn’t have the same personal relationships with other people on that list, or with others I haven’t mentioned (Edward Albee or Elie Wiesel or George Martin or Gloria Naylor or Maurice White or Mose Allison — we could go on). But you may, and people each of us knows almost certainly do. Someone close to me was really broken up over Alan Rickman, who was one of the greatest screen and stage actors of our time, and I don’t begrudge anyone, gay or otherwise, for perceiving George Michael as a sui generis figure — a Keatsian figure, if ever there was one — who broke new ground in pop music. (“Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1” is simply a great record, so great it seemed to have defeated its creator in some ways.)

I don’t want to dwell too much on the perhaps-terminal decline of American democracy, which this publication and everyone else in the media has been worrying over for the last year and a half, like a dog with an old mutton bone. It’s not as if people who supported the incoming president are incapable of grief and sorrow (although I suspect they are underrepresented in the Bowie and Prince fanbases). But for many of us the inexplicable political events of 2016, which remain difficult to believe, even now that they have happened, are at once the atmosphere, the subtext and the inner meaning of all this death. I was not an especially avid supporter of Hillary Clinton, but for many American women (and men) the perverse tale of how she was denied the presidency yet again in her final campaign is another of this year’s great losses. The vision of a woman president came so close to reality, but remains a dream deferred.

We have a way, as human beings, of staring into the darkness and seeing light. We’re going to need that now. In some ways, what Shelley has to tell us in “Adonaïs” is highly conventional: Whatever you believe awaits us on the other side — something or nothing, heaven or hell — at least the struggles of this life are over. Mourning is essentially a form of self-indulgence; it is we who suffer, not the dead. Shelley wrote that poem, of course, while still amid the mad trance of life, locked in unprofitable strife with phantoms: He had one eye on his dead friend and the other on posterity, and was clearly trying to go head to head with John Milton’s “Lycidas,” written nearly two centuries earlier, the first really famous pastoral elegy for a dead friend in the English tradition.

Weep no more, woeful shepherds, weep no more,
For Lycidas, your sorrow, is not dead,
Sunk though he be beneath the wat’ry floor;
So sinks the day-star in the ocean bed,
And yet anon repairs his drooping head,
And tricks his beams, and with new spangled ore
Flames in the forehead of the morning sky:
So Lycidas sunk low, but mounted high
Through the dear might of him that walk’d the waves …

Milton refers us back to Christian redemption as the reason not to feel depressed about death and loss, or at least he thinks he does. (I’m inclined to argue that he invented Romanticism without meaning to, and was constantly at war with his own faith.) But the idea at work here, that light must come out of darkness and hope can be found amid deep personal despair — the belief in literal or allegorical transcendence — is such a cultural constant across literary and religious traditions that it has to mean something. Admittedly, that “something” might just be that biology drives us onward, and those of us who find ourselves still living while others die make up reasons to keep going, because our brains are over-evolved and we can’t help thinking about these things. Cats and beetles, so far as we can tell, don’t ask themselves these questions.

Friedrich Nietzsche’s famous maxim that “what does not kill me makes me stronger” has been repurposed so much by football coaches and military strategists that its original ambiguity has gotten lost. Like most of the mad German’s pronouncements, that one is double-edged and purposefully unclear. Nietzsche knew from experience, for example, that physical illness does not make you stronger in any ordinary sense. (That passage, in fact, comes from “Twilight of the Idols,” his next-to-last major work.) I take his statement to mean that confronting death and mortality directly, as we draw nearer to our own deaths, fortifies us to better use the hours and days we have left.

Nearly everyone I know is coming out of 2016 beset by deep feelings of grief and loss. If we have been made stronger in that sense, we will be more than strong enough for whatever lies ahead: death or transformation, political or cultural or personal. Walt Whitman was thinking of something like this, in a more optimistic key, in perhaps the greatest of his poems, “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.” He imagines making friends with death, holding hands with death, and even arriving at “a sacred knowledge of death,” as a way of dealing with the assassination of Abraham Lincoln (named in the poem only as “him I loved”), a grievous loss that did not quite kill America and may, for a while, have made it stronger.

And the streets how their throbbings throbb’d, and the cities pent — lo, then and there,
Falling upon them all and among them all, enveloping me with the rest,
Appear’d the cloud, appear’d the long black trail,
And I knew death, its thought, and the sacred knowledge of death.

Then with the knowledge of death as walking one side of me,
And the thought of death close-walking the other side of me,
And I in the middle as with companions, and as holding the hands of companions,
I fled forth to the hiding receiving night that talks not,
Down to the shores of the water, the path by the swamp in the dimness,
To the solemn shadowy cedars and ghostly pines so still.


15 musicians share the art they loved the most in 2016

Be grateful for what was good:

From Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad” to Frank Ocean’s “Blonde,” here’s an art offering to smile about

Be grateful for what was good: 15 musicians share the art they loved the most in 2016
(Credit: Getty/Kevin Winter)

For much of November and December, critical consensus is dominated by analysis of (and debate about) the best art released in a given year. These lists are big business these days: As of Dec. 19, the blog Largehearted Boy — which annually compiles a comprehensive collection of rankings across multiple art forms — counted a staggering 904 online “Best of 2016″ book lists. In other words, at a certain point, keeping track of the best “best of” lists becomes an exercise in futility — or at least information overload.

To make things simpler, Salon decided to ask a handful of musicians to share what 2016-released art — across mediums such as music, movies, TV, books and podcasts — resonated with them the most this year. Although certain items cropped up on several lists, their answers generally varied and reflected the embarrassment of cultural riches that redeemed the year.

1. Laura Ballance, Superchunk/Merge Records co-founder

Most recent release: Merge’s 2016 release calendar

I read “The Underground Railroad” by Colson Whitehead, and am amazed at how it keeps popping back up in my thoughts. Given the rampant killing and imprisonment of black people in modern America, it is a very timely book. Whitehead created surreal versions of South and North Carolina that seem less and less surreal as the convoluted political machinations of today unfold.

2. Allison Crutchfield

Most recent release: “Tourist in This Town” (2016)

I keep coming back to “Shrill” by Lindy West. I was just really affected by this book. I actually felt differently when I finished it. I’m obsessed with her brain.

3. Sadie Dupuis, Speedy Ortiz/sad13

Most recent release: sad13’s “Slugger” (2016)

Megumi Igarashi, who makes art under the name Rokudenashiko (or “good-for-nothing”), is a Japanese artist and sculptor who was arrested and jailed in 2014 for creating artwork featuring the shape of her vulva, a violation of Japanese obscenity laws. She tells that story in “What Is Obscenity? The Story of a Good For Nothing Artist and her Pussy,” an autobiographical and decidedly anti-censorship manga about Rokudenashiko’s career in manko (“pussy”) art, which celebrates the vagina and pushes back against the idea that genitalia is obscene.

The story is interlaced with essays, interviews, criminal justice statistics, legal transcripts from Rokudenashiko’s trials, and photos of her bright and hilarious sculptures, one of which is a 3D-printed rainbow kayak in the same shape as her vulva. “My ideas have infuriated a bunch of small-minded men,” she says, “but the number of people who think it’s fun, silly, happy, and hilarious have also grown.” It’s an in-depth — and also very cute — exploration of sexism, corruption, taboo, and the importance of art and humor as a force of love and acceptance.

4. Kam Franklin, The Suffers

Most recent release: “The Suffers” (2016)

The film “Moonlight” absolutely took my breath away. I found myself attached to each character in a way that I rarely feel with other films. It was simply incredible.

5. Robbie Fulks

Most recent release: “Upland Stories” (2016)

My wife and I sat in the theater smiling ear to ear for almost the entire running time of Richard Linklater’s “Everybody Wants Some!!” Back home afterward, when I tried to imagine how a screenplay, consisting mostly of dialogue and character names, could have been the finished thing’s premeditated blueprint, I was awed and mystified.

This is a comedy grounded not in cleverness or concept, but in a perfectly sunny view of life, and one in which every laugh comes out of character and is sweetly edged by gorgeous production design, period music and impeccable ensemble acting.  Also, a plot with zero conflict — no bullshit to tie your stomach in knots in the second reel. This is one of those movies, like “Breaking Away,” that manages magically to feel just like everyday American life, while improving on it in every detail.

6. Patterson Hood, Drive-By Truckers

Most recent release: “American Band” (2016)

2016 was such a ridiculously terrible year on so many levels. But it did produce some seriously fine works of art. I was blown away by the film “Moonlight” (along with perhaps everyone else who saw it). Loved Springsteen’s autobiography [“Born To Run”] and Bob Mehr’s book on the Replacements [“Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements”]. Adam Johnson’s short story collection, “Fortune Smiles,” was truly one of the greatest things that I have ever read.

Like most everyone else, I was blown away by the albums of Beyoncé [“Lemonade”] and Bowie [“★”], but was also in love with the albums from Solange [“A Seat at the Table”], Hiss Golden Messenger [“Heart Like a Levee”], Angel Olsen [“My Woman”], Radiohead [“A Moon Shaped Pool”] and Cass McCombs [“Mangy Love”]. I pretty much missed the year in television (as I didn’t have a properly working TV) but I’m about to get one and intend to binge-watch Ray McKinnon’s final season of “Rectify,” which I hear is the best yet.

7. Kristin Kontrol

Most recent release: “X-Communicate” (2016)

“Certain Women” felt simple, truthful, and quietly stunning. I love Laura Dern more than water. “Christine” was shocking and leanly executed. Rebecca Hall’s performance was incredible. Knowing the history of the narrative beforehand made it no less compelling. “Nocturnal Animals” is still ruminating in my head. I felt like I was smashed in the head with it, and don’t know [if] that was a good thing, though it certainly was beautiful.

[Music-wise] “Blonde” by Frank Ocean, “Freetown Sound” by Blood Orange, “ANTI” by Rihanna, “The Life of Pablo” by Kanye West, “Views” by Drake, “★” by David Bowie, “A Seat at the Table” by Solange — these were all my favorites this year, because they all sounded incredible. More important, they all made me think and feel. To enable and encourage an experience — be it pure fun [and] enjoyment or something much heavier — that is success.

8. Lydia Loveless

Most recent release: “Real” (2016)

I loved the movie “Sing Street.” I think we all have a tendency to get a bit cynical these days, and watching a movie about a poor, nerdy Irish kid starting a band was enough to move me out of that, if even for a moment. Watching kids make art for the sake of art and find joy in it, with little reward, that’s a feeling I’d like to find again. Plus, it was hilarious!

9. Shirley Manson, Garbage

Most recent release: “Strange Little Birds” (2015)

[The book] “Fight Like A Girl” by Clementine Ford outraged me. It nourished and amused me. And it lit a fire under my ass. What more can you ask from a piece of literature? I’m giving it to everyone I love for Christmas.

10. Jonathan Meiburg, Shearwater

Most recent release:  “Jet Plane and Oxbow” (2016)

An instrumental band called Battle Trance made one of the best records you probably didn’t hear this year, called “Blade of Love.” They’re a tenor sax quartet, but they don’t make the sound you might be thinking of — or they do, but only on the way to sounds you’ve never imagined coming from saxophones. “Blade of Love” is a single, thrilling 40-minute piece, a beautiful and frightening journey that seems to contain almost every kind of feeling you might have about our world right now — all its promise, beauty, darkness, and terror. Seeing them perform it in a small church in New York this year was one of the most transcendent listening experiences I’ve had in a long time, and disquietingly timely.

11. Mitski

Most recent release: “Puberty 2″ (2016)

I was a bad artist and watched close to no new movies this year. But I went to see “Hail, Caesar!” because I was in dire need of a proper night out at the movies, and this seemed like a real movie-y movie that would offer the full popcorn experience. And it did! Also, Alden Ehrenreich is a goddamn star.

12. Tegan Quin, Tegan & Sara

Most recent release:  “Love You to Death” (2016)

Nothing resonated with me more this year than [the podcast] “Two Dope Queens.” I HEART Phoebe Robinson and Jessica Williams! I like podcasts, but this felt different. It fused together some of my favorite things: comedy, politics, women and U2! I anxiously awaited each new episode and was mesmerized each week. I learned so much; I laughed out loud; and I was introduced to so many new writers and comedians. I truly think they have created something deeply funny and also super important. Consider me obsessed. Side note: Phoebe’s book, “You Can’t Touch My Hair,” was also SO funny and beautiful and smart.

13. Tommy Stinson, Bash & Pop/The Replacements

Upcoming release: “Anything Could Happen” (Jan.  20, 2017)

One of my favorite records to come outta 2016 would have to be the new Lydia Loveless record, “Real.” She slipped me a copy of it when we played a show together this past summer. [The record has] really great songs, and she sings her ass off! I recommend this to anyone looking for a great record to give someone as a holiday gift!

14. Matt Sweeney, Chavez

Upcoming release: “Cockfighters” (Jan. 13, 2017)

“Censorship Now!!” by Ian F. Svenonius is a 2016 book that rang my bell hard. It has the joyful fury of ’70s MAD magazine; they weren’t kidding back then, even if it was “satire” for “kids.” The essays in this book had me calling up my friends to remind them that Rome wasn’t burnt in a day.

15. Mish Way, White Lung

Most recent release:  “Paradise” (2016)

J.D. Vance, “Hillbilly Elegy.” Vance grew up in the Bible Belt with a mother who struggled with addiction, and was raised by his grandmother. Through his own life story from poor, white trash to service in the military to Harvard law graduate, Vance tells the story of the Americans that we often just write off. It’s the perfect continuation of Jim Goad’s 1994 book, “The Redneck Manifesto” and, moreover, a compelling story about family and community values, and this conservative pride many people in middle America hold close. I wish everyone, especially now, would read this book.


Annie Zaleski is a Cleveland-based journalist who writes regularly for The A.V. Club, and has also been published by Rolling Stone, Vulture, RBMA, Thrillist and Spin.

The Oakland fire tragedy and the housing crisis in America


7 December 2016

The death toll from last Friday’s fire at a warehouse in Oakland, California stands at 36, with 85 percent of the burnt-out structure having been searched. Among the dead, some of whom have yet to be identified, are young people and artists who made their home in the 86-year-old sprawling two-story structure known as the Ghost Ship. The building was leased to an artists’ collective in the Fruitvale district of the city.

It was the deadliest building fire in the US since a Rhode Island nightclub fire in 2003, which claimed 100 lives. The tragedy has horrified the San Francisco Bay Area and the world, leaving many asking how such an event could take place in 21st century America.

It is unclear at this point whether criminal charges will be filed against the owner of the building, Chor Nar Siu Ng, who owns several other blighted properties in Oakland, or against Derick Ion Almena, who leased the property, lived there with his wife and three children, and ran the artists’ collective. Looking for an individual to blame, the media has launched a campaign against Almena in particular, who lost many people he knew in the blaze.

Authorities have pointed to electrical problems and the lack of basic fire safety provisions in the dilapidated structure. At the root of the tragedy, however, lies the dysfunctional character of American capitalism, including a housing crisis born of poverty, social inequality, and years of neglect by government authorities.

The Bay Area, long known as a haven for artists and students, is now largely unaffordable for workers and young people. Along with the tech boom of the last six years, housing prices have skyrocketed. Warehouses and lofts in San Francisco’s former industrial areas have given way to high-end condos and workspaces to house tech start-ups and their employees. More than 2,000 people are evicted annually in the city.

This has pushed artists and others struggling to find affordable housing to Oakland, across the San Francisco Bay, and beyond. Now these areas are also increasingly unaffordable, with the median cost of available rentals in Oakland standing at $3,000 a month, far beyond what is affordable for most Americans. People living in buildings such as the Ghost Ship are faced with the choice of living in substandard housing or being homeless.

Speaking to CBS, a city councilor from Fruitvale estimated that there are some 200 warehouses in Oakland “that have no papers, no permit, no fire code, nothing.” If occupied, these structures are disasters waiting to happen. And while building inspectors apparently ignore these deathtraps, no measures are taken to alleviate the growing crisis that leads to their use as housing.

The Bay Area’s economy has spawned a small army of billionaires, with 50 of them making it onto the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans in 2016. Oakland itself is increasingly socially polarized, home to the fifth largest cluster of “elite zip codes” in the US, ranked by a combination of high income and education level attained. At the same time, more than 800,000 people in the region live below the poverty line.

The housing crisis in the Bay Area mirrors that of metropolitan areas across the country. The Los Angeles Times reports that more than 20,000 rent-controlled apartments in LA have been taken off the market since 2011 to make way for pricey homes and condos for the wealthy, leading to hundreds of evictions this year.

Evictions are taking place not only in thriving real estate markets like San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles, but also in places like Milwaukee and St. Louis, where deindustrialization and unemployment, combined with wages that do not keep pace with the cost of living, are driving people out of their homes.

According to a report released last year by Harvard University titled “Projecting Trends in Severely Cost-Burdened Renters,” by 2025 nearly 15 million US households will devote more than half of their income to rent. Those unable to keep pace with their rent or mortgage payments will find themselves evicted and possibly homeless.

The federal government has long since abandoned any responsibility for the provision of decent housing, leading to disasters like that in Oakland last week. According to the US Fire Administration, an organization that tracks fire deaths based on media reports, there were 2,290 fire deaths in the US in 2015, many of them in mobile homes or other substandard housing.

The first US national housing legislation, passed in 1937, went beyond providing low-cost public housing and was aimed at improving the lagging economy by funding jobs to build affordable housing. Public housing today has largely ceased to exist, with units sold off to developers to turn a quick profit, and those in need of housing waiting years if not decades for openings to use their Section 8 housing vouchers.

The Obama administration, following the Bush and Clinton administrations before it, has made no pretense of establishing a public works program to address the woeful state of infrastructure in the US—whether in housing, roads, bridges, energy grids or in other vital areas.

President-elect Donald Trump has made clear his attitude toward the housing crisis with his nomination of Ben Carson to run the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Carson, a retired neurosurgeon with no professional housing policy experience, has declared his hostility to the entire concept of public housing and social provision in general, stating: “It really is not compassionate to pat people on the head and say, ‘There you poor little thing, I’m going to take care of all your needs, your health care, your food and your housing, don’t you worry about anything’” (Conservative Political Action Conference, February 26, 2015).

The Socialist Equality Party calls for an immediate halt to foreclosures and evictions and for the provision of billions of dollars to provide decent, low-cost housing to those in need. Housing is a social right that can be assured only by placing the home construction and financing industry under public ownership.

For tragedies like that in Oakland to be averted in the future, public funds must be poured into the construction of new homes for working families. Such a project can be undertaken only under a workers government based on a socialist program, which treats affordable housing as a basic human right, not a privilege reserved for the wealthy.

Kate Randall


RIP CHELSEA FAITH (Oakland warehouse fire)


Chelsea Faith died in the horrible Ghost Ship warehouse fire in Oakland, CA last Friday night.

I’ve known Chelsea since she was a teenager coming to my Moksha Tribe Parties. She was a beautiful, talented, amazing person. Her loss, and the loss of so many friends and kindred souls in that demon fire, diminishes me and the rest of the communal dance community.

Chelsea Faith was an electronic musician based in San Francisco, California. Her passion for dance music history is evident in her work, which takes cues from Detroit techno, Chicago house, and classic rave sounds. A multi-instrumentalist since childhood, Chelsea began experimenting with electronics as a teenager, which lead to playing live techno and house at underground raves in the 2000s. She has been working as a live performer, producer, DJ, and remixer for over a decade, using her gear savvy and innate musicianship to create lush, retro-futurist productions. Cherushii (Chelsea) signed with LA-based dance music tastemakers 100% Silk in 2013, and released her second 12″ for the label “Far Away So Close” in November 2015.



Death toll at least 33 in Oakland warehouse fire

By David Brown
5 December 2016

Just before midnight on Friday, a deadly fire broke out at a dance party in Oakland, California. An estimated 70 people were inside the venue, an old warehouse that had been converted into artist studios known as Ghost Ship.

As of this writing city workers had recovered 33 bodies, but the toll is expected to rise as more of the building is searched. Only seven of the recovered bodies had been identified.

The building itself only had a permit to function as a warehouse, but it was being rented out to an art collective. The interior was subdivided into individual studios on the ground floor and a second floor that could only be reached by a single wooden staircase, where the music was played. The building as whole had only two exits.

A memorial near the fire

The currently confirmed death toll makes this the worst building fire in the United States since 2003, when 100 people died in a night club fire in Rhode Island.

It is not yet clear how the fire started, but it spread quickly through the artists’ studios, cutting off any possible escape for many. By the time the fire was controlled, the roof had collapsed onto the second floor and in several places fell through to the ground.

There were almost no fire safety measures in the building. Oakland Fire Department Operations Chief Mark Hoffman told reporters that the building had no sprinklers and that they had heard no reports of smoke alarms going off. Bob Mule, an artist with a studio in the warehouse, told “NBC News” that he rushed to a fire extinguisher only to find it did not work and then had to flee the flames.

Max Ohr, the creative director of the Satya Yuga art collective that rented the building, told the “Today Show” that he was working the door the night of the fire. After hearing someone report a fire he rushed for an extinguisher but realized it was too late: “The roof had already caught and the flames were coming towards the door at an alarming rate. It took about 15 seconds to go from notification of a fire to completely engulfed.”

Emergency crews outside the warehouse

City officials had received complaints of code violations over an extended period of time, including three so far this year, alleging residential use of the warehouse space and construction without a permit. Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf stated that an inspector was sent to the warehouse on November 17 but was unable to get inside the building to examine it.

Russell Megowan, a former resident of Ghost Ship, told “NBC News” that roughly 20 people lived in the building, drawn by cheap rent.

Even hosting events would have required new permits for the building, but the illegal use of Ghost Ship as a music venue was something of an open secret. Two or three times a month they would host parties on their second floor. Sometimes the location would be promoted openly, while at other times it would be announced the day of the show.

Schaaf announced Sunday that the Alameda County District Attorney was launching a criminal investigation of the fire, but provided no details on whether it would focus on the fire itself or also address questions of negligence on the part of the landlord or city officials.

Ghost Ship stage

The use of antiquated and unsafe industrial buildings for housing and entertainment is driven by soaring property values. The median rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Oakland jumped 19 percent from a year ago to $2,700 in February 2016. The median income for renters in Oakland is only $3,000 a month. This creates a large gray market for informal housing and arts venues.

Landlords see no profit in bringing old buildings up to code, or even maintaining them, when they would make far more holding the land until they can sell it to a developer who would just tear the old building down. For their part tenants are hesitant to demand safety measures that would see them evicted, or result in their rent being increased.

According to tax documents, the 4,000 sq.-ft. warehouse was assessed as being worth only $43,000 in 2015. By comparison, individual artist studios in the area rent for more than that each year. Just a few blocks away from the Ghost Ship, an old cotton mill built in 1917 and closed in 1954 was converted into 74 live/work loft apartments in 2006. Each unit in the refurbished building rents for roughly $2,500 a month.




I lost many friends in this terrible fire.  I’ve known Chelsea Faith since she was a teenager coming to my Moksha Tribe Parties. She was a beautiful, talented, amazing person. Her loss, and the loss of so many friends and kindred souls in that demon fire, diminishes me and the rest of the communal dance community.  I’m grief-stricken.