The Green Revolution

No, not that one. This one:

The Green Revolution refers to a transformative 20th-century agricultural project that utilized plant genetics, modern irrigation systems, and chemical fertilizers and pesticides to increase food production and reduce poverty and hunger in developing countries. The Green Revolution began in Mexico, where scientists developed a hybrid wheat variety that dramatically expanded yields. Following its introduction, hunger and malnutrition there dropped significantly.

The model was subsequently extended to Asia, Latin America, and later Africa to increase food production for growing populations without consuming significantly more land. Over time, however, the techniques and policies of the Green Revolution were questioned as they led to inequality and environmental degradation.

Ahem. Such language. But being mindful of these transformations is important, especially as we seem to be on the verge of several others happening simultaneously and at terrific speed. For instance, which kind of battery will follow lithium-ion? In early 2023, we heard about iron-air batteries that use a water-based electrolyte and store energy using reverse rusting. Now, that’s the sexy tech we need. Companies are being funded and manufacturing facilities built. The storage needs changing, not to mention the problematic issues around mining lithium, are driving this ongoing series of shifts. Like the earlier Green revolution, it’s less important to cheer these development as good or bad but rather to see them in a kind of continuum and consider how each new standard performs under these changing market conditions. Yes, market – the economics as well as the social and physical constraints.

Climate tech is on-again, off-again as we get jaded accustomed to shiny new things, seek improvements and various strategies win out. But as the pressure continues to push costs down and use up, the newer green revolution can usher in a more stable form of societal improvements for everyone.

That, we should expect.

Video: the great Arthur Blythe (Thanks D!), with Bob Stewart on Tuba, doncha know.

Righteous Anger

Pete Seeger (1919-2014) proved that there is such a thing and much can be accomplished by it.

I’ve been fortunate to get to know one of Seeger’s many folk offsprings (folksprings?) and glimpse into that dwindling window of that time when idealism seized the form (for a while) of speaking to hearts and minds through lyrics. From The Weavers to the Occupy Movement, Seeger spent his life at the forefront of the most patriotic American tradition: rabble-rousing resistance.

Rouse yourself.

International Thief Thief

Courtesy of a ne’er-do-well compatriot, I’ve recently gotten a turntable back up and running chez green. One of the newly re-found favorites never replaced on cd, along with Lush Life, is a modest collection of Fela Kuti records. Great story-teller and general tell-like-it-is-er, if you don’t know about him, do some checking around. This is a good one, with many, or some, of his wives singing backup, depending on who you choose to believe. But here he calls out AIG, WTO and even named the song after ITT. “Confusion. Corruption. Inflation.”

Well well.

Everything That Happens

Speaking of the immediate, I spent some time with this music recently – it’s the perfect to antidote to the shallow wondering and lack of civic-mindedness that seems to pervade but which has no actual power behind it.
Thanks, AC.

Friday Reading on Monday

Is taking a picture of yourself everyday for a year a worthy project? Depends on a couple of things, of course, and one’s ability to determine what those things are.

What if one of those days was today? What’s the picture of… alive or dead? This is beginning to sound all motivational Monday so I’ll spare you and present instead a bit of the great rock critic, Lester Bangs. If you can’t feel it from this, put the camera down and call the doctor on yourself.

A Reasonable guide to Horrible Noise
by Lester Bangs

Christgau calls it “skronk.” I have always opted for the more obvious “horrible noise.” Guitars and human voices are primary vectors, though just about every other musical instrument has been employed over the years, as well as smashed crockery (e.g, first Pere Ubu album, “Sentimental Journey”), scraped garbage-can lids and bongolated oil drums (early Stooges), not to mention phono cartridges, toothpicks, pipe cleaners, etc. (John Cage, Variations II). You probably can’t stand it, but this stuff has its adherents (like me) and esthetic (if you want to call it that).

Look at it this way: there are many here among us for whom the life force is best represented by the livid twitching of one tortured nerve, or even a full-scale anxiety attack. I do not subscribe to this point of view 100%, but I understand it, have lived it. Thus the shriek, the caterwaul, the chainsaw gnarlgnashing, the yowl and the whizz that decapitates may be reheard by the adventurous or emotionally damaged as mellifluous bursts of unarguable affirmation. And one could, if so inclined, take it even further than that: in his essential book The Tuning of the World, under the heading “Sacred Noise and Secular Silence,” composer R. Murray Schafer reports that during the Middle Ages to which we are after all now returning “a certain type of noise, which we may now call Sacred Noise, was not only absent from the lists of proscripted sounds which societies from time to time drew up, but was, in fact, quite deliberately invoked as a break from the tedium of tranquillity.” Or, as Han Shan also did once advise one of his Zen acolytes at Kyoto in lieu of canewhipping the whelp, “If you’re feeling uptight and truly would prefer to sail into the mystic, just chuglug two quarts of coffee and throw on side one of the first Clash album (Eng. edition) at ten, full treble, no bass.” Any more koans you need answered, refer ’em to Wild Man Fischer.

The point of all this, of course, is that hideous racket is liberating: to “go with the flow,” as Jerry Brown put it in his book Thoughts (City Lights, 1975), is always a wiser course of action than planting oneself directly in the path of the Seventh Avenue express, itself best portrayed on record by “Sister Ray” and the first New York dolls album. I am also firmly convinced that one reason for the popularity of rap music, like disco and punk before it, is that it’s so utterly annoying to those of use whose cup of blare it isn’t; more than once its fans have walked up to a doorless telephone booth I was occupying, set their mammoth radios down on the sidewalk five inches from my feet, and stood there smiling at me. They didn’t want to use the phone, but I find it hard to begrudge them such gleeful rudeness; how could I, after walking all over the city with my also highly audible cassette player emitting free jazz, Metal Machine Music, PiL’s “Theme,”  Miles Davis’s “Rated X” and Iannis Xenakis’s Electro-Acoustic Music, part one of which the composer described as sound paintings of the bombing of Greece? So fair is fair, even given the differences in taste.

Which also extends into questions of set and setting. Once I was eating lunch with two friends near St. Mark’s Place, and a familiar sound started coming out of the jukebox. It took me a few seconds to recognize it, but that voice was unmistakable: “Hey,” I said, “it’s Lydia and the Jerks doing ‘Orphans’!” One friend laughed: “Well folks, enjoy your meals!” But she hadn’t noticed it until I’d brought it to her attention, and in context it didn’t sound all that more yakkety than the Beatles’ “Helter Skelter,” which immediately preceded it. Then of course there is the whole question of Muzak and whether digestion really is improved by the theme from Dr. Zhivago. Or whether heavy metal and punk are essentially the same sound, or disco and punk equally oppressive. but then, when Patti Smith reviewed in Creem back in ’75, she said she liked it precisely because it was oppressive, with which I at least partially concur. Everybody has their little peculiarities, as evidenced by the fact that some people actually like to listen to the radio! So perhaps I can best bear witness to my own by listing a few of the Gehennas of wretched squawl which have made me most aware that I am alive over the years:

The Stooges, “L.A. Blues,” Fun house (Elektra): After assaulting us for half an hour with six songs
including the bulleted-boar tenor sax of Steve Mackay, the Ann Arbor visionaries let the whole thing explode and melt all over itself in this arrhythmic 1970 offering, replete with igneous feedback blankets, Mackay blowing his brains out and disappearing forever, and the man called Pop mewling, snarling, sighing, and licking his paws.

The Germs, “Forming” / “Live” (What? single): It was all downhill for Darby and Co. after this 1978
debut. They could not yet play the rather standard-issue Ramonesclone headbangisms of their album, so they had to toddle along a guitar and rhythm track that sounded like Malt-o-Meal being trailed from dining room to TV set, while Darb puled burble whose chorus you could tell he had reached whenever he repeated the words “Pull my trigger / I’m bigger than…”

A Taste of DNA (American Clave EP, 1981): The lead instrument in the new, improved DNA is neither Arto Lindsay’s slamming and scrapings of the electric twelve-string guitar he never plays chords on nor his laconically imploding epiglottis. It is Tim Wright’s bass, which ain’t even bereft of melody. and Ikue Mori cuts Sonny Murray in my book. Sure wish Ayler was alive to play with these folks (don’t laugh; Ornette almost played on “Radio Ethiopia”) – he played “skronk” (the word sounds like something straight from his bell) if anybody ever did.

The Sounds of the Junkyard (Folkways): Recorded live, of course, and quite a bit more soothing than you would expect, though with titles like “Burning Out an Old Car” you know it can’t miss.

Yoko Ono, “Don’t worry Kyoko, Mummy’s Only Looking for a Hand in the Snow” (flip of John’s “Cold Turkey” single, and side two of Live Peace in Toronto LP, Apple, 1969-70): Interesting not only for John’s churning blues-unto-feedback guitar riff and how far ahead of her time Yoko was vocally(though dig Patty Waters’s “Black Is the Color” on ESP-Disk in early sixties) but for lyrical correspondence with Lydia Lunch’s “Orphan’s,” featured on Teenage Jesus and the Jerks (Migraine EP, 1980): If, as Christgau says, “Arto is the king of skronk,” then Lydia’s slide guitar work certainly qualifies her as queen. guys in my sixth-grade neighborhood used to entertain themselves by tying the head of a cat to one hot-rod fender and its tail to another and driving the cars apart slowly, which sounded a lot like part of this. Unless it’s for Catholic-school beatings by nuns, nostalgia doesn’t account for Lydia’s passionate “Baby Doll” wailing. If you only want to try one, make it this – nothing more deathly shrill has ever been recorded.

Jad Fair, The Zombies of Mora-Tau (Armageddon EP, 1980): Jad is half of 1/2 Japanese, and with his brother David made a 1/2 J. three record set that I still haven’t been able to listen to all the way through. A previous EP containing such highlights as “School of Love” was great, but this might even be better for the way Jad integrates atonal air-raid guitar with sub-Jonathan Richman white-burba-infantilismus vocals that as they natter tunelessly onward actually tell little stories (“And I said, ‘Dr. Frankenstein, you must die,’ and I shot him” and you hear the gun KABLOOIE!). This may be a whole new songwriting genre, or at least one terminal of the Lou Reed “I walked to the chair / Then I sat in it” school of lyrics.

Lou Reed: Metal Machine Music (RCA 1975): Don’t see this around much anymore, but it sure caused a ruckus when he sprang it on Transformer / Sally Can’t Dance rocky horror fans: a two-record, hour-long set of shrieking feedback run through various pieces of high-tech equipment. Sounded great in midwestern suburbs, but kinda unnecessary in NYC.

Blue Cheer, Vincebus Eruptum (Philips, 1968): These guys may well have been the first heavy metal band, but what counts here is not whether Leigh Stephens birthed that macho grunt before Mark Farmer (both stole it from Hendrix) but that Stephen’s sub-sub-sub-sub-Hendrix guitar overdubs stumbled around each other so ineptly they verged on a truly bracing atonality.

The Mars EP (Infidelity, 1980): With Teenage Jesus, DNA, and the Contortions, this group was
featured on the watershed No New York LP (You mean you don’t own a copy? What are you, sick or something?). But for my money this piece of beyond-lyrics, often  beyond-discernible-instrumentation psychotic noise is their absolute masterpiece – despite John Gavanti, their version of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, which I have never been able to listen to all the way through. This is not “industrial” but human music, and so what if said humans sound like they’re in a bad way? You are too. As it grinds and grieves and grovels, you cannot deny that they certainly plow what they sow. best cut: “Scorn.” Best rumor: Somebody dropped the original tapes, produced by Arto Lindsay, in water. And accidentally, at that.

-Village Voice, 30 September – 6 October 1981

Buying Vinyl?

Three articles, via.

A picture is taking shape that reports on the death of vinyl were greatly exaggerated. This introduces a snag in the continual dwindling to pixelated electrons the shape and feel of music delivery. As we are a musical people, said format seemed to have been on a Moore’s Law trajectory toward consisting of little more than nothing at all on your hand-held device. Whoops.

More than one hundred years after the invention of the gramophone, twenty years after major labels tried to kill records with compact discs, and ten years after Napster incited the age of digital music, vinyl is making a comeback. Seemingly impervious to the widespread decline of physical formats, records are selling better today than they have in more than a decade.

The idea/reality that the snag forms around the concept of an artifact is where the situation becomes a little more than symbolic. If the cool factor extends to the enjoyment people get out of something, say listening to music, there are bound to be corollaries in all sorts of directions – if people are willing to admit such preferences to themselves. This would include but not be limited to walking, cooking, face to face communication, growing vegetables, raising goats, making cheese, painting pictures, playing actual sports and/or instruments. You get the idea.

It takes a little more to own and maintain a decent turntable; records are relatively expensive to make and copying them requires some type of re-recording. Of course, you can’t bring it on the bus with you or out for a jog. Digital vs. vinyl are not mutually exclusive; they simply decimate one another in certain categories of comparison. And then you begin to tally seemingly secondary traits like longevity and aesthetic appeal, not to mention a music business desperate for a dependable profit stream, i.e., morphing their product back into something tangible, well… the field could suddenly appear slightly, surprisingly, tilted.

So a preference beyond that merely for ease, speed and or even free should not be dismissed as novelty. Not that we’ll necessarily take it, but buying vinyl does at least mark a route to greater sustainability, if by nothing beyond emphasizing a preference for the scenic route, so to speak, exactly because of, rather than despite, what the activity entails.

A recent, deeply confirming anecdote: I thought it was curious when our bass player told me a few weeks ago that the label that put out his other band’s last cd, on which they had profited by next-to nothing, was releasing it on vinyl this spring. Time to check the status on my stylus.


If we were truly the musical people that we think we are, there would be a growing discography based on the notion of a people who gorge themselves endlessly, yet are profoundly undernourished. But invariably, time from time someone leaves a door unlatched and a few bars or whole measure drifts out that is recognizable – how we have conditioned ourselves to think that we’re open to different ideas when that isn’t actually the case at all; that we’re already overtaxed with things to do and think about when we actually ask quite little of ourselves; how ‘the whole thing’ (whatever it is) is just too complicated when it’s often quite simple and only the onus of our choices which we find too troublesome to delve into.

The column this week touched on this idea in a very indirect way, via a coincidental example of an eco-themed art show. It’s greatly true that if you just keep in mind what it is that you’re doing, most situations tend to be navigable, that one included. In a timely NYT follow up (kidding), this article presents much the same take on a coincidental example, a review of a show by the recipient of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum’s Hugo Boss Prize.

When an artist uses her art to advance a political cause, how are we to judge the result? Should we evaluate the project by applying artistic standards or on the basis of its political or moral argument?

Consider Emily Jacir, who employs conventional devices of conceptualism and performance art to call attention to the plight of the Palestinian people.

This particular example of her work has a tertiary component that makes it even more suspect, but the point holds that even and especially with sympathetic subject matter, the basic premise of ‘art as means’ remains problematic.

However tragic and deplorable Mr. Zuaiter’s story may be, Ms. Jacir’s exhibition does not bring him to life sufficiently enough to elicit a strong emotional response. You may agree or disagree with her political goals and her use of the art exhibition system to further them. But the problem is with her unexceptional artistry, not her politics.

Just so.

and sometimes (Red)

A friend directed one of the music videos, here.  The whole enterprise is premised toward shedding light on the absurd reality that tens of thousands of people are living with a greatly treatable disease, suffusing a very substantive cause with music and performances.

I wasn’t crazy about the early incarnations [years ago?] of the campaign that paired the cause with a credit card – we’ve got to get away from the tacked-on ‘feel good’ messaging that appeals to getting some direct benefit (feeling good) from doing the right thing while maintaining a comfortable separation from the work that is needed to affect actual progress. But this digital magazine looks more like the ‘take this hope, make something lasting and give it away” I have espoused elsewhere. More like this, please.

Unrelated but also, this is 10 levels of awesome.