Thursday, July 20, 2017

As the Gyre Widened….

This was written just a few days after Trump’s inauguration, and hasn’t been changed since except for the heading. A lot has happened since then, but the partisan invective hasn’t changed a bit…

The numbers game: Millions turned out yesterday for the Women's march. And Trump claimed that he set a new record for attendance at his inauguration, despite publication of pictures showing otherwise.

I've seen claims that those pictures of the Obama and Trump crowds weren’t really taken at the same time of day. But even if that's the case, Trump is clearly delusional if he thinks he set a record. No surprise; he was delusional in November when he claimed Clinton's lead in the popular vote was only on account of millions of illegal aliens being allowed to vote.

The Women’s March clearly drew millions, not only in Washington but around the country and even the world. That makes it the greatest political outpouring in decades, surpassing even the reaction to the Kent State massacre in 1970. Other supposedly populist movements have been pitiful by comparison. Remember the Occupy movement? Their demonstrations drew a few thousand people at most. It has been the same lately with Black Lives Matter   compare its media shots to those of the Women’s March:

Moreover, the Women’s March seems to have been almost entirely peaceful (although there was some vulgar and even nasty language) in contrast to the violent demonstrations the day before that were the work of self-styled anarchists (the “Black Bloc) who seem to think they can save the world by trashing Starbucks. The same fanatics tried to hitch a ride on the Occupy movement:

And in a revival of Radical Chic, some on the Left have sneered on the Women’s March as a betrayal of the True Faith and True Cause of the violent radicals:

But the reborn women’s movement, and other opponents of Trump, should beware of falling into the same trap as the Trumpistas. There is a growing narrative that Trump’s was elected only because of either intervention by Russia or voter suppression. Soon after the election, there were reports like this one in Forbes that it was more a failure of Democrats to support Clinton than of grass-roots enthusiasm for Trump (Remember that polls consistenly showed a lack of enthusiasm for both.):

Only, since then, it has become a matter of faith among some liberal activists that black voters hadn’t just stayed home, but that millions of them had been blocked from voting. An exposé in Rolling Stone suggested that as many as 7.2 million had been struck from the rolls in a conspiracy launched in 2013 by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach:

Apparently none of the fact check organizations has addressed the question of whether that many voters have actually been suppressed, but Snopes was dubious of another claim that 300,000 had been turned away from the polls in Wisconsin:

Another conspiracy theory is that FBI Director James Comey had been out to get the Clintons ever since Whitewater, and that his announcements about closing and reopening and then reclosing the e-mails case weren’t a matter of fumbling but of a deliberate plan to throw the election to Trump (who is keeping him on):

When Comey found nothing warranting prosecution in July, the liberal media praised him, but when he went on the Weiner hunt in October they did a 180, just as he did again a few days later – well, you might call his switcheroos a 360. But if it was all part of the plan, could some conspiracy theorist now “reveal” that Obama, who had appointed him in the first place, was part of that plan? Obama had reason to be upset with his secretary of state for relying on Sidney Blumenthal as an advisor; Blumenthal supported her on the campaign to get rid of Libya’s dictator Muammar Qaddafi – which didn’t turn out any better, alas, than Bush II’s “liberation” of Iraq from Saddam Hussein… and which led to Benghazi (Obama was surely  also upset with Clinton for doing a 180 and denouncing the Trans Pacific Partnership.):

Obama can certainly let his umbrage get the better of him. Letting a U.N. resolution against Israel go through last year after ordering a veto every year before that was clearly motivated by his distaste for Benjamin Netanyahu, who had lent his support to the Republicans after they invited him to speak before Congress. Mind you, I think it’s wrong for Israel to build more settlements on the West Bank, and even annex it. But the logic behind the veto has always been that it is hypocritical of the U.N. to condemn only Israel, while ignoring the abuses of other countries, such as Sudan for its ethnic cleansing in Darfur. As for banning immigrants from Cuba who don’t have permission to leave, that’s obviously just a last-minute move to stick it to Trump for opposing Mexican immigration (Mexico itself may have been sending a message by extraditing El Chapo the day before Trump’s inauguration.). Mind you again, I have nothing against diplomatic relations with Cuba; we have relations with plenty of other autocratic regimes.

We all know that Trump is an easy target for satire. Saturday Night Live has been skewering him mercilessly. But that sort of thing is nothing new. It has also made fun of Hillary Clinton, and back in the day it took on Bill Clinton in a number of sketches – including a series called Tales of the Arkansas Highway Patrol.

But on the night after the inauguration, the Beck Bennett and Anzi Ansari stepped out of character to berate Trump. And one of the SNL writers, Katie Rich, made a tasteless tweet that his 10-year old son Barron would become “this country’s first homeschool shooter.” If Trump had tweeted about Malia and Sasha Obama in the same vein, Rich would doubtless have been outraged. In this case, right-wingers took her on – but so did Chelsea Clinton. Rich later deleted the tweet; she lost her job with SNL and apologized a few days later.

And then there was Brian Todd of CNN, who seems to have thought it was cool to speculate about how the Democrats could retain the White House if Trump, Mike Pence and Paul Ryan were all assassinated. That caused a firestorm in right wing circles, but then Fox News analyst Liz Trotta had pulled the same stunt on Obama in 2008. At least she apologized, as did Rich; Trump has never apologized for anything, from making fun of a reporter with a disability to groping women.

Then there are the accusations of reverse racism on the part of progressives. I’m not going to single out the black radicals who demonize white cops, because a lot of blacks live with bad cops… and even die at their hands. But what about this guy?

And then there was this woman who really went over the top:

I’m worried about what Trump might do with the nukes myself. But the viral meme on the Left isn’t just about that. There’s a narrative that everybody who voted for Trump, and even that everybody who lives in “flyover country,” especially the South, must be a hard-core racist or even a Nazi -- and that the KKK is more powerful today than it was in the 1920s, when lynchings were at an all-time high and white mobs engaged in mass murders of blacks. A couple of years ago, Anonymous posted a phony exposé of prominent Southern politicians as KKK members.

Well, I have a lot of cousins down South, and I never hear any hate speech from them – one even admits having African DNA, though she doesn’t know how she got it; some ancestor of hers must have “passed.” Some of my kin praised the movie Glory, hardly a paean to the Lost Cause of the Confederacy. One cousin in Georgia I knew remarked to me at a family reunion that she’d refused to support another cousin running for sheriff because he wouldn’t appeal to the black vote; she thought that was stupid – and she was old enough to have grown up at a time when blacks weren’t allowed to vote. As for Southern whites in general, well… have you see anything in the news about them turning out by the thousands to support Dylan Roof?

But it isn’t just white folks in the South or the Middle West who are coming under fire from ideologues  on the Left. There’s a backlash against La La Land, Damien Chazelle’s musical that has won a raft of Golden Globe awards and Oscar nominations. There had already been complaints (“Oscars So White”) about black movies being ignored at awards time; this year, Fences and Hidden Figures are among the contenders, Whatever… Geoff Nelson is among those condemning La La Land as a racist exercise in nostalgia for white supremacy, and finds it ironic that supposedly liberal white folks are enjoying it. The rave reviews and huge box office, it seems, couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the film’s innovative song and dance numbers.

Speaking of numbers, Nelson assumes, as he must, that whites (especially Trump voters) in a recent poll who think life for them was better in the 1950’s than today must be nostalgic only for white supremacy – as opposed to, say, a time before the decline in traditional jobs and stagnation in pay. But it doesn’t occur to him that the fact that 62% of black voters think life is better for them today than in the 1950’s runs counter to the meme that things are worse than ever for them now. A new documentary, The 13th, for example, makes a case that mass incarceration is the fruit of a master plan by Nixon, Bill Clinton and plutocratic profiteers -- including Walmart as well as private prison operators -- to restore slavery (So how come Obama had nothing to say about this?):

Back on Jan, 13, I posted here about a call for boycotting any and all books published by Simon and Schuster because it had published an autobiography by Milos Yiannopoulos, a Breitbart News editor accused (among other things) of having orchestrated a campaign of racist abuse, including death threats, against Leslie Jones, one of the stars of the reboot of Ghostbusters. She struck back and got him banned from Twitter. Yiannopoulos has also drawn protests at colleges where right wing groups invite him to speak, and left wing groups try to have him banned. But those behind the boycott of Simon & Schuster talk as if they think all the other authors there are somehow responsible for him, and must thus suffer the consequences – even if he himself doesn’t.

Well, liberals are at least above making death threats. Or are they? CNN reported a while back about a Republican elector targeted by the quixotic campaign of Clinton supporters who thought they could change the outcome of the election by getting Trump electors to switch their votes. I saw Michael Banerian interviewed on CNN; he showed off stacks of mail, much of which he said was abusive, as well as saying that his life had been threatened. A Detroit News account offered further details:

Then there’s Rosie O’Donnell, who a week before the inauguration, called on Obama to declare martial law to keep Trump from taking office:

And Rachel Maddow of MSNBC, who told Bravo – perhaps in jest – that if she interviewed Trump, her first question would be whether he’d throw her in an internment camp:

But more disturbing is the fact that ordinary people are so polarized by what passes for political discourse since the divisive 2016 campaign and election is that they won’t even talk to each other – there isn’t any discourse:

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Angelo Badalamenti: an Appreciation

 With the return of Twin Peaks, it's high time to republish this essay, which appeared elsewhere when it was first written in 2008 and has been greatly expanded and updated for its appearance here. -- J.J.P.

“Few know Angelo Badalamenti by name. Probably even fewer by face,” Eunnie Park wrote in the Dec. 5, 2004 Bergen Record, for which she interviewed him on the occasion of the U.S. release of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s A Very Long Engagement (2002). “But millions know him by sound.”

If Badalamenti still isn’t a household name, it must be largely because – unlike John Williams or Howard Shore – he hasn’t done any scores for blockbuster movies like the Stars Wars or The Lord of the Rings. Well, Stalingrad (2013) was a blockbuster in Russia, but not here... Just as important, however is the fact that his work is so eclectic.

One John Williams score is pretty much like any other John Williams score – although there are exceptions, as witness Catch Me If You Can. Badalamenti’s are so far ranging that casual listeners might not realize that the same man composed the music for Twin Peaks, The City of Lost Children, Holy Smoke, The Beach, Secretary and A Very Long Engagement.
It was with “Mysteries of Love” and his incidental music for Lynch’s 1986 Blue Velvet that Badalamenti first came to wide notice, and only with Twin Peaks four years later that he gained some measure of popular success. If we didn’t know better, we might think that he had been a young composer at the time, like Jon Brion when he produced his precocious orchestral score for Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia.

But in fact, Angelo Badalamenti was nearly 49 when he began working with Lynch. He had been a professional composer for more than 20 years, with dozens of songs and two movie scores to his credit. His pre-Lynch music is rather hard to find now, and while he worked in a number of genres  – light pop, country, soul, even electronic  – none of it seems anything like his post-Lynch work.

“My (musical) world is a little bit dark. . . a little bit off-center,” he said after Twin Peaks (1990-91) had put him on the musical map even more than Blue Velvet. “I think of it as tragically beautiful. That is how I would describe what I love best: tragically beautiful.”

The story of how Badalamenti met Lynch in connection with Blue Velvet – first as a voice coach for Isabella Rosselini, then as a composer  – has been told a number of times. Here’s one of his tellings:

This led to “Mysteries of Love,” a song he wrote for the movie after Lynch couldn’t get rights to another song he wanted. It was sung by a new discovery – Julee Cruise, previously a talent scout:

And that in turn led to Industrial Symphony No. 1 (1990), doubtless the strangest musical stage show ever, as witness this production number with Cruise:

Then came Twin Peaks, as Badalamenti explains:

Cruise had already been collaborating with Badalamenti and Lynch (who wrote the quirky lyrics) on an album, Floating into the Night (1989), which became a cult hit. She appeared several times on Twin Peaks, the oddball 1990-91 TV series about a small town and its secrets that Lynch co-produced with Mark Frost. Several songs from the album were used on the show, for which Badalamenti composed the incidental music, and one of them, “Falling,” was adapted as its opening theme:

Twin Peaks was known for its weird situations and weird characters, like the dwarf played by Michael J. Anderson, who dances at the end of a dream sequence to a jazzy piece titled (what else?) “Dance of the Dream Man:”

A strange spin-off from Twin Peaks was “Black Lodge,” a song Badalamenti wrote for the thrash metal band Anthrax that appears in their album Sound of White Noise (1993). The Black Lodge was an evil cult in the TV series, and Badalamenti and the band wanted to catch its essence. The opening bars are stylistic riffs from the series:

Another collaboration, much later, was Booth and the Bad Angel (1996), with Tim Booth, the British rocker then with a band called James, who had admired Badalamenti from afar and spent years trying to hook up with him. Again, there’s a Twin Peaks feel – but the good side of the town – to “Fall in Love with Me.” Here’s Booth’s music video, which might have been set in the Double R Diner from the show:

Born in Brooklyn in 1937, Badalamenti grew up in a household of both opera and jazz fans (His father was an opera lover and his older brother a jazz trumpeter) and that is probably why classical and jazz-pop influences are often combined in his work, as in “Moving Through Time,” one of the tracks for the 1992 movie prequel to Twin Peaks, Fire Walk with Me:

But long before he met Lynch, he had collaborated with Frank Stanton and others on dozens of songs under the name Andy Badale. That came about because PBS had broadcast a Christmas operetta he had composed for Dyker Heights High School, where he was teaching in 1965. Although they are hard to find on YouTube, there are examples of his work from this period. A number “Badale” songs were commissions for, or at least sold to, major jazz, soul and country artists – including Nina Simone, Melba Moore, George Benson, Mel Tillis, Pam Austin, Roberta Flack, Barbara Mason and Nancy Wilson. The clip below is of a song he wrote for Wilson but is performed here by a lesser known pop singer, Stormy Wynters:

And here’s Simone performing his “I Hold No Grudge:”

It was as Badale that Badalamenti composed his first movie soundtrack for Gordon’s War, a 1973 black film directed by Ossie Davis, who had intended to hire a “brother” for the score, but liked what he was hearing from the white Brooklynite (who kidded that because his ancestors were from Sicily, he was likely a “cousin”); here is “Hot Wheels” from that score:

Other film credits as Andy Badale included Across the Great Divide (1974) and Law and Disorder (1976). It was a year after he came out as Badalamenti for Blue Velvet that he did a little side step, getting into one of his odder partnerships – with Norman Mailer, for a movie version of Tough Guys Don’t Dance, based on his 1984 novel. It was a flop at the time, but later became a cult classic. Mel Tellis performed a song written by Mailer for that one:

During his Andy Badale days, Badalamenti’s work also included collaborations with Jean Jacques Perrey, French pioneer of electronic music. Back then, electronic music was a novelty, a stunt  – as in “switched on” classics and new works like “E.V.A.,” which originally appeared in a Perrey album called Moog Indigo (1970), and is credited here only to Perrey, although Badale shares credit in the album notes:

In 1999, he composed an opening theme, “Bloody Boy,” for Arlington Road that is just as techno, but no longer just a novelty or a stunt: a piece that starts off deceptively soft but builds to a percussive crescendo in a style Stravinsky might have embraced if Stravinsky had ever composed electronic music. Here it segues at 3:37 into a piece called “Neon Reprise” by the British techno band Lunatic Calm:

“Bloody Boy” is just one example of how Badalamenti has transformed electronic music from a novelty to an art form. Another example is “Bizarre City,” from the score for The Beach:

In the same score there’s this lush orchestral theme, “Swim to Island,” that is reminiscent of vintage Miklos Rosza:

But “Beached,” a variation of the same theme in collaboration with British techno band Orbital, turns it into something quite else:

Badalamenti’s latest venture into techno is in collaboration with Lasse Martinussen and Johan Caroe on some of the tracks for The Gold Coast (2015), such as:

But in other works, he can be quite traditional. The opening title theme of The Comfort of Strangers (1990) is another example of Badalamenti at his most classical – and in this case his most Italian:

Badalamenti has composed a lot in familiar classical styles, but some of his classical pieces are quite offbeat, notably “Irvin’s Birthday” (Irvin is the brain in an aquarium) for The City of Lost Children (1995) – one of the oddest and most hypnotically charming science fiction movies of all time (now seen as part of the steampunk subgenre), produced by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro:

Another track from that movie honors Tchaikovsky in both the music itself and its title, “The Opium Prince.” One can imagine it as a rediscovered theme from The Nutcracker:

The City of Lost Children led to a continuing relationship with Jeunet, who on his own directed the acclaimed Amélie and A Very Long Engagement (2004) and commissioned Badalamenti to score the  latter. Linked below is the moving finale of A Very Long Engagement, the story of a woman who – against all odds – has found her lover, a soldier who went missing under fire during World War I. Manech has been through hell, and doesn’t even remember her. But we can sense that he’ll fall in love with Mathilde again, and it is the score that makes us certain of that:

The Jeunet connection led to collabofration with another French directors, Nicole Garcia for L’Adversaire (The Adversary, 2002):

You wouldn’t expect to find classical music in a video game, but that’s just what Badalamenti contributed to Fahrenheit, an X-box game released in 2005. Here are two tracks from that which have been posted online:

Yet Badalamenti’s range also extends to his country-influenced “Laurens Walking” for The Straight Story (1999):

Or the light love theme for the romantic comedy Cousins (1989):

Then there are the songs. Besides Anthrax and Booth, Badalamenti has collaborated with other singers since Julie Cruise. One is Marianne Faithful, the veteran British rocker turned chanteuse with whom he worked on A Secret Life (1995), an album thematically similar to Cruise’s Floating into the Night. Here’s a clip of “Who Will Take My Dreams Away” from The City of Lost Children:

“The Stars Line Up” is from A Secret Life:

An unfinished Badalamenti project is an album with Delores O’Riordan, late of Cranberry, with whom he had already collaborated on songs for Evilenko (2004), a film (based on a true story) about the hunt for a child murderer in Soviet Russia. Here is O’Riordan’s “Angels Go to Heaven:”

In an entirely different vein, he worked with Siouxsie Sioux, formerly of the Banshees, on “Careless Love,” a song in a Kurt Weill vein for The Edge of Love (2008), a biopic about Dylan Thomas. She performed it again when Badalamenti was honored in 2009 at the World Soundtrack Awards.

And for Holy Smoke (1989) he produced a folk music chorus and a song for Annie Lennox:

One of the things that Badalamenti does best is to recreate pop classic forms from an ironic or nostalgic point of view – something akin, I think, to what Khachaturian and Ravel did with the Viennese waltz in “Masquerade” and “La Valse.” Mulholland Drive (2001), for example, opens with a piece titled simply “Jitterbug,” and while the musical genre is instantly recognizable, it is somehow different, like nothing composed and played in the thirties or forties:

Here’s his take on the classic tango for Holy Smoke:

And his off-center version of 1930’s jazz piano in “Fats Revisited” (Fats Waller was a legendary jazz pianist) for Lost Highway (1997):

Badalamenti has also worked in a genre known as “film noir jazz,” with the opening theme for Fire, Walk With Me (1992): very slow, very moody:

But he has played about with a lot of other forms of jazz, as in “Red Bats with Teeth,” a disturbing piece played by a severely disturbed jazz saxophonist in Lost Highway:

For one supernatural thriller, Witch Hunt (1994), it was jazz again. But for another, The Wicker Man (2006), Badalamenti composed a score reminiscent of his music for Twin Peaks:

Yet one could still expect the unexpected from Badalamenti, as witness 44-Inch Chest (2010), which had to with gangsters but sure didn’t sound like it:

In addition to film scores and songs, Badalament’s works include “The Flame and the Arrow,” the theme for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics:

Yet another of his was the creation of a suite based on his introduction for the TV interview series Inside the Actors Studio:

But the score for Fyodor Bondarchuk’s Stalingrad has to be his most ambitious ever. In an interview in 2014 for Film Music magazine, Badalamenti said he had never asked Bondarchuk why he had sought him out, but thought it might have been because of A Very Long Engagement or the Russian flavor of some of his music for Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive. Whatever, he was drawn to the challenge:

It’s always a real pleasure to work with a full orchestra. And that was the right choice for this film. I really looked forward to the challenge of “Stalingrad.” The sheer amount of score that we spotted and the number of cues was a bit daunting. There’s 1hr15min of score and 36 cues in the final film.

Here’s the main theme:

And here’s how it’s used in a breathtaking scene of Russian troops charging through fire to attack German positions. It’s in a tradition of Russian filmmaking that dates back to Sergei Eisenstein (and composer Sergei Prokofiev) but with the all-out effects of Hollywood:

Badalamenti, who turned 80 March 22, is being heard again, with the debut on Showtime of the new Twin Peaks miniseries…