The Art of Literary Seduction

Does it get any hotter than this? Surely not. Mind you this was written in Norway nearly a century ago:

She manages so as to arrive late in the evening; all is quiet at Maaneland when she reaches there. See, Axel has already begun haymaking, the grass is cut near the house, and some of the hay already in. And then she reckons out that Oline, being old, will be sleeping in the little room, and Axel lying out in the hayshed, just as she herself had done. She goes to the door she knows so well, breathless as a thief, and calls softly: "Axel!"

"What's that?" asks Axel all at once.

"Nay, 'tis only me," says Barbro, and steps in. "You couldn't house me for the night?" she says.

Axel looks at her and is slow to think, and sits there in his underclothes, looking at her. "So 'tis you," says he. "And where'll you be going?"

"Why, depends first of all if you've need of help to the summer work," says she.

Axel thinks over that, and says: "Aren't you going to stay where you were, then?"

"Nay; I've finished at the Lensmand's."

"I might be needing help, true enough, for the summer," said Axel.
"But what's it mean, anyway, you wanting to come back?"

"Nay, never mind me," says Barbro, putting it off. "I'll go on again tomorrow. Go to Sellanraa and cross the hills. I've a place there."

"You've fixed up with some one there?"


"I might be needing summer help myself," says Axel again.

Barbro is wet through; she has other clothes in her sack, and must change. "Don't mind about me," says Axel, and moves a bit toward the door, no more.

Barbro takes off her wet clothes, they talking the while, and Axel turning his head pretty often towards her. "Now you'd better go out just a bit," says she.

"Out?" says he. And indeed 'twas no weather to go out in. He stands there, seeing her more and more stripped; 'tis hard to keep his eyes away; and Barbro is so thoughtless, she might well have put on dry things bit by bit as she took oft the wet, but no. Her shift is thin and clings to her; she unfastens a button at one shoulder, and turns aside, 'tis nothing new for her. Axel dead silent then, and he sees how she makes but a touch or two with her hands and washes the last of her clothes from her. 'Twas splendidly done, to his mind. And there she stands, so utterly thoughtless of her….

A while after, they lay talking together. Ay, he had need of help for the summer, no doubt about that.

"They said something that way," says Barbro.

Knut Hamsun - Growth of the Soil, 1917


Bedheaded's favorite 25+++ records of the aughts

Because no one demanded it, here is a list of my favorite albums of the last decade. It's extremely hard for me to rank anything, and at this point the honorable mentions are just ridiculous, but anyway, we move on. It's highly likely I've forgotten something. For artists whose work in the decade merits numerous mentions (Destroyer, Spoon, White Stripes, etc.) I've decided to just mention my favorite. The ranking from #10 on down becomes increasingly subjective.

1. Elliott Smith - Figure 8
2. Destroyer - Your Blues
3. Neko Case - Blacklisted
4. Joanna Newsom - Ys
5. Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton - Knives Don't Have Your Back
6. Jens Lekman - When I Said I Wanted to Be Your Dog
7. PJ Harvey - Stories from the City, Stories From the Sea
8. Antony and the Johnsons - I Am A Bird Now
9. Dungen - Ta Det Lugnt
10. Cat Power - You Are Free
11. Devendra Banhart - Cripple Crow
12. Radar Bros. - And the Surrounding Mountains
13. Sonic Youth - Murray Street
14. Björk - Vespertine
15. Radiohead - Kid A
16. Songs: Ohia - Magnolia Electric Co.
17. Goldfrapp - Felt Mountain
18. The Movies - In One Era Out the Other
19. Sparklehorse - It's a Wonderful Life
20. Interpol - Turn on the Bright Lights
21. Air - 10,000 Hz Legend
22. Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
23. Low - The Great Destroyer
24. The White Stripes - Elephant
25. Beck - Sea Change

Honorable Mentions (because ranking anything after 25 seems totally ridiculous) in alphabetical order:

Arcade Fire - Funeral
Archer Prewitt - Wilderness
The Black Heart Procession - Three
Black Mountain - In the Future
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - BMRC
Boredoms - Vision Creation Newsun
Richard Buckner - The Hill
Bill Callahan - Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle
Comets on Fire - Blue Cathedral
Crooked Fingers - Crooked Fingers
Doves - Kingdom of Rust
Earth - Hibernaculum
Feist - Let It Die
Field Music - Field Music
The Flaming Lips - Embryonic
Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes
Jose Gonzalez - Veneer
Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest
Guided By Voices - Isolation Drills
Justice - †
Lambchop - Aw Cmon/No You Cmon
Madvillain - Madvillainy
MF Doom - MM Food
MGMT - Oracular Spectacular
Modest Mouse - The Moon and Antarctica
The New Pornographers - Twin Cinema
AC Newman - The Slow Wonder
Okkervil River - The Stage Names
Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Portishead - Third
The Shins - Chutes Too Narrow
Sigur Rós - ( )
Slumber Party - Psychedelicate
Swearing At Motorists - More Songs from the Mellow Struggle
Richard Swift - The Atlantic Ocean
TV on the Radio - Return to Cookie Mountain
Unwound - Leaves Turn Inside You
Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
Brian Wilson - SMiLE
Wolves in the Throne Room - Two Hunters
Yo La Tengo - And then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out



Crosby & Nash

Crosby & Nash: Graham Nash / David Crosby (1972)

There have been many musicians that I have taken for granted, only to blithely stumble into their catalog and realize I had been missing out. A recent example is Crosby & Nash, famously 2/3rds (or ½) of CSN and sometimes Y. I would not have known that they recorded as a duo if I had not read Shakey, the notoriously controversial biography of Neil Young. Neil’s involvement with CSN provides some of the most hilarious material in the book. Noting the outrageous circumstances of David Crosby’s life, it’s amusing that he comes out looking pretty good by the end of the book in comparison to Stephen Stills, who, it must be said, refused to be interviewed for the book. Along the same lines, Graham Nash, often derided for the saccharine nature of his songs, is revealed to be quite a mensch, for lack of a better word, never afraid to criticize Young, though I laughed when he recounted being at a meeting with the group and not being able to protest one of Young’s many attempts to manipulate CSN in order to further his own career (see for example the “Living with War” tour) because he was too high on acid and couldn’t say anything.

Anyway, reading the book led me to look up more information about CSN, and while stumbling around in Wikipedia I discovered that the two recorded as a duo. After searching my, ahem, resources, I obtained a copy, and was quite impressed with what I heard.

The record starts off with “Southbound Train”, which bears a strong resemblance to the sound of Neil’s Harvest, a smash hit just a few months earlier in ’72. This is a Nash composition, and while lyrically it borders on nonsense, it’s a pleasant slice of laconic Laurel Canyon country rock. Immediately afterwards is Crosby’s “Whole Cloth”, providing a dramatic contrast to the opening number.

At this point I think it’s appropriate to discuss what’s become for me a mild obsession with David Crosby. Before reading Shakey, my knowledge of him was about the same as the typical classic rock listener: I knew he was the first letter of CSN, that he had been a Byrd, and that he was a prodigious drug user in his time; I vaguely recall watching MTV and seeing that he had been arrested by the Feds, most likely on one of his yachts, and that like Keith Richards, the mere fact that he still breathed in spite of his lifestyle was quite an accomplishment. In other words, he was a living classic-rock punch line. The reputation, though earned, is hardly fair. Crosby’s cadre of heavy friends – Young; Joni Mitchell; and Bob Dylan, who recounts bringing Crosby along to accept an honorary doctorate in his first edition of Chronicles (Crosby wore his cape, and consoled Dylan afterwards saying, essentially, “fuck ‘em”) – can be credited more to the fact that Crosby was in fact a phenomenal musician than the fact that he was, admittedly, the life of the party.

For those doubting that appraisal of Crosby, “Whole Cloth” provides an excellent rebuttal. To call the song minimal would be an understatement. It is the pop song equivalent of poetic blank verse: no chorus or bridge, hardly any chord changes, sparse, almost jazz-inflected instrumental backing. If you listen to this song in the context of the half-known Crosby described above, “Whole Cloth” comes off as pretentious lite jazz; remove that context, and it’s really remarkable. First off, Crosby really has an amazing voice. It is a soulful near-baritone, and he is skilled in using it to make even the simplest notes sound virtuosic. He was never the guitarist that Young or Stills were, yet, true to his folk roots, he does just enough with the instrument to carry along the simple acrobatics he performs vocally. Even though he barely plays any chords in the song, the chords he does play sound to my ears quite complicated, as though he stretched his fingers to the point that he found the melodically dissonant chords possible. The lyrics are elliptical, but to me, it sounds as though he’s looking back on the musical era he and his friends helped develop – the “Summer of Love” was just some 5 years past, and CSN’s high-water-mark Déjà Vu was a mere 3 years old. Seen this way, “Whole Cloth” can be interpreted as another self-important baby boomer looking on his past glories with undue admiration, but with lyrics like the following, there’s definitely more to appreciate than what can be scraped off the surface:

Old man, can you make a mirror for me?
It's got to be clearer than air for me
'Cause you see I can't see me, no
And I always thought that I meant what I said
But you know that lately I've read - We were lying
All of us lying, Just makin' 'it up, yeah
Cuttin' it out of whole cloth, yeah

The next track, “Blacknotes”, finds Nash abandoning his pop-rock tendencies and getting in on the elliptical tone-poem game. At a shade over 50 seconds, it presents a simple recipe for creating a song: just put your fingers on the black keys, sing some words, and that’s it. Nash’s “Stranger’s Room” is more like him: the same Harvest-esque lope as “Southbound Train”, but this time with the kind of show-stopping chorus Crosby & Nash made famous in their better-known jobs. One gets another chance to appreciate how appealing their combined voices sound in Crosby’s “Where Will I Be?”, just as introspective and simple lyrically as “Whole Cloth,” but this time featuring virtuosic humming in place of where one would normally expect a bridge or a chorus. Listening to the record recently, Crosby’s compositions reminded me of Cat Power’s Moon Pix, with its game-like wordplay and jazzy, almost meter-less inflection.

“Page 43” acts more like a pop song than Crosby’s previous numbers, ending with the kind of hippie-friendly message he would later be derided for:

Pass it 'round one more time
I think I'll have a swallow of wine
Life is fine
Even with the ups and downs
And you should have a sip of it
Else you'll find
It's passed you by

“Frozen Smiles”, a Nash composition, seems to contradict the libertine message of the previous song, and prefigures Nash’s role as a sober, admonishing critic of the excesses he saw lay waste to his colleagues later in life:

So my advice to you is not to take advice
From the dealers who are handing out the cards
Take your life into your own hand
Just have faith in who you are
And all your goodness that I'm forced to disregard
Because you make it much to hard.

“Games” and “Girl to be On My Mind” are both agreeable songs that I want to skip over in order to start talking about Crosby’s final show-stopper, “The Wall Song”. First off, it ably demonstrates Crosby’s skill in adapting the most mundane image and turning it into an excavation of his own fractured worldview. It bears an interesting resemblance to an earlier Crosby composition: “Mind Gardens”, from the Byrds’ Younger than Yesterday, though not as instrumentally adventurous (it does, however, feature backing from Grateful Dead mainstays Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh, and Bill Kreutzmann), Like "Mind Gardens," it seems to travel a psychic landscape, arriving at the metaphorical wall of consciousness, and ending with a riddle:

You are walking
You’ve always been walking
Stumbling half-blinded
And dry as the wind
That strafes you and leaves you
To lie in the sand
And the wall stretches endless beside you to nowhere
This wall that you've been trying to cross for years
This fence made of fears
No one hears

You see a door
Ah, such a great open door
You know that your eyes tellin' lies
Still you chance
A shambling run, a ridiculous dance
Like a scarecrow that's hung up to dry on a fencepole
And there's a space like vacuum waiting inside you
For you to get through
To the blue

You scent the water
Fresh clean grass, food and water
Your breath is scraping your brain into dust
Your rusty old engine is ready to bust
You cannot believe it that they would not trust you
The door is wavering
Is that your eyes?
Are they still telling lies?
What are lies?

Heavy stuff.

The album ends with Nash’s finest contribution, and its most successful in terms of revenue: “Immigration Man”, which peaked at #36 on the Billboard chart. Here Nash does what he did best in CSN: creates a huge, singalong-worthy chorus. I especially the sarcasm in the lines “Here I am with my immigration form, / it's big enough to keep me warm / when a cold wind's coming,” as well as the rhythm that seems to mimic the image of running from overzealous immigration agents – running, of course, while high on grass through some sun-dappled field in Laurel Canyon.

In sum, I think Crosby & Nash’s Graham Nash/David Crosby is an unjustly forgotten gem, much like the two men themselves: overshadowed by their more well-regarded friends. The Rolling Stone review at the time tends towards praise with faint damnation:
“Neither David Crosby, another original Byrd, nor Graham Nash has ever gotten anywhere near as offensive as Stills at his worst. But then, neither Crosby nor Nash has the capacity to catch fire, as Stills is always threatening to do. These two guys are expert harmony singers, but they swing toward the sweet, light side, and a little sugar generally goes a long way….Without Stills or Young along, the problem should be even more obvious, but it's just not. The Nash-Crosby LP is no milestone, but it is something more than merely pleasant in several places.”

I believe it serves as a sturdy document of the psychedelic afterglow of the early-seventies Laurel Canyon scene, and provides a roadmap for the soft-rock decade to come. Though the pop world may have forgotten them, they still soldier on: Crosby & Nash still tour as a duo, and they even have a website (http://www.crosbynash.com/) where one finds that they performed a get-out-the-vote concert with the likes of Tenacious D and the Beastie Boys.

From Graham Nash/David Crosby, Atlantic, 1972



As I write this, the bailout plan has failed in the House, and the Dow immediately took a nosedive. If certain sources are to believed, a great deal of Republican representatives voted "Nay" at the last minute simply because they took issue with Nancy Pelosi's speech. Who said five-year-olds couldn't serve in Congress?

There's a part of me that wants to believe that the doom forecasted if a bailout isn't reached is nothing more than a scare tactic. At the same time, I sure as hell don't want to lose my job, my house, etc. if they turn out to be right. I'm not much of a post-Keynesian economist, but at the same time, no one else I know is either (well, I did meet one guy in a bar who was, in fact, a post-Keynesian economist, but at any rate). So I'm getting a little worried about the fact that "popular sentiment" seems to be the sole reason why it has been so hard to reach some kind of agreement on a solution.

Look, I'm as wary of "Wall Street" (I use the dread quotes because at this point, Wall Street has become as much of a straw man as "The Terrorists", "The Jews", "The Man", etc) as the next guy. Certainly, the idea that such monumental stupidity can simply be wiped away by the Government strikes me as more than a little unfair. The question is: what happens if we do nothing, to say little of doing the wrong thing? Even the Treasury isn't sure if this thing is really going to work.

As I have followed the happenings of the crisis, I have come to the conclusion that a number of (*cough* Republican *cough*) congressmen decided that, in the wake of an election season that many have predicted will see a number of them lose their seats to Democrats, the only way to survive the blue tide was to strap on their everyman-waders and oppose "handouts to the fat-cats on Wall Street". No doubt a great number of these politicians' constituents have called them and told them they expect just such a stance from their elected officials, but it strikes me as more than a little ironic. I mean, doesn't it blow your mind that when you turn on the news you see Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and Barney Frank bending over backwards to hand in legislation that the Bush Administration is practically begging for, veto-proof majority or none? What neat symmetry that suddenly an army of grey-faced old GOP hacks can suddenly align themselves against the one man who single-handedly torpedoed their job security in a way no other politician ever could and at the same time claim that it's the damned democrats who are trying to give away the farm to those "fat-cats on Wall Street", many of whom could be solidly counted on to vote "deregulate or die" GOP every other November? The mind reels from the vertigo of it all.

Let's not forget the recent timeline for this particular clusterfuck: noted former POW John McCain took a bold stance and "suspended his campaign" to, ahem, help solve the economic crisis", the attention devoted to which would mean he would be unable to debate Barack Obama. So during that suspension, in which he still ran ads, spoke at a major forum, gave interviews to all major networks, and allowed his band of flacks to continue spreading their disinformation campaign wherever anyone cared to hear it, a bailout was tentatively agreed to by both parties in the Senate, the House Dems, and somewhat begrudgingly, the House GOP. Apparently, McCain said little more than "know that I'm with you" to the House GOP, and here we are today, another agreement supposedly reached, the subsequent vote failed, and if you believe in nosediving line graphs, total economic armageddon that much closer to reality.

I really know next to nothing about the economy, but being a big fan of analogies, I see the bailout this way: Say you were a doctor, and you had a patient who smoked 3 packs a day his entire life. Unsurprisingly, he has near-terminal cancer. As a doctor, do you say "fuck off Joe Camel, you should have known those things would kill you", or do you operate and try to save his life, knowing that if you do, he's probably going to go right back to smoking?

Doctors have to take an oath swearing to "first do no harm". What oaths must our elected officials follow?


Did you hear about Barack Obama?

Disclaimer: the following is intended to be a work of satire, which is a form of fiction, and a branch of comedy, so it's supposed to be funny, and none of it is true.* However, since I know that someone will find this page by Googling some kind of ridiculous nonsense, may I humbly direct the incredulous to http://www.fightthesmears.com. Thank you.

Hey man.


Did you hear?


Did you hear about Barack Obama?

You mean Barack Hussein Obama?


What? About the fact that he was born in a missile silo in Iran?


About the fact that he is Saddam Hussein's 3rd cousin?


About the fact that his wife is the illegitimate love child of Louis Farrakhan and Oprah?

No, not that. That's totally true by the way.

Hmm. Is it that he's a brainwashed sleeper cell agent programmed to convert the United States to Islam?

No, but I haven't heard him deny that.

Is he an android?


A zombie?

I don't think so.

Well what? What about Barack Obama?

You're not gonna believe this, dude.


For real.

I'm listening, what?

OK, get this. Barack Obama...he's from CHICAGO.

Wait, what?

Barack Obama is from Chicago.


Totally, dude.

How do you know that? Did Hannity and Combs say that?

No dude, it was the top headline of the Chicago Tribune for like an entire day.

No way.

Way, dude.


Total way.

That blows my mind. Whoa.

Yeah, I know. Can you believe it?


Yeah. This is big.

I'll say. Chicago?

Yeah. Well, he says he was born in Hawaii, but he works as a politician in Chicago. You know who's from Chicago?


Al Capone.

Whoa, really?

You know who else?


Rod Blagojevich.


And Richard Daley.

Oh, wow.

And George Ryan.

Whoa, George Ryan is in jail. Was he a democrat?

Well, no, he was a republican.


You know what else about Chicago? They have a machine there. A POLITICAL machine.

Wow. This is big, right?

Hell yeah it's big. Bigger than Jeremiah Wright.

Hey, he's from Chicago too, right?

Hell yeah he was.

Just like Barack Hussein Obama.


Man. Has anyone ever been elected president from Chicago?

No. The closest was Adlai Stevenson, who was from Bloomington, which is between Chicago and Springfield, which is totally as bad if not worse than Chicago. But Stevenson had the misfortune of running against Dwight Eisenhower. Twice.

I heard that.

That and the fact that the last democrat to serve as president was Harry Truman, and Truman was one of the least popular presidents ever, and is regarded as one of the worst presidents ever, like in history.

Oh. Has there ever been a president less popular and perceived as more of a failure than Truman?

Well, um, there's George W. Bush.

Oh yeah, right.


Hey, wasn't Abraham Lincoln from Illinois?

Uh, yeah. Well, he was born in Kentucky, but he spent most of his life in Illinois.

And wasn't he a lawyer?


And a state representative?


And wasn't he a congressman before he became president?

Yeah. Well, in the House, anyway.





Is this the best we've got?

Until someone comes out with a video of Obama performing some voodoo blood ceremony, I'm afraid it is.

Wow. John McCain is totally screwed, right?

Afraid so, dude. Afraid so.


Did you hear that John McCain called his wife a cunt in public once?

No way.

Way, dude, way.

*Except for the fact that Barack Obama is from Illinois, as was Adlai Stevenson and Abraham Lincoln, and the fact that John McCain called his wife a cunt.