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Metzger Reviews the Neil Young Archives (1963-1972) Blu-ray Box Set
08.17.2009
05:54 pm
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Neil Young Archives, Vol. 1: 1963-1972 on Blu-ray is truly the most impressive hunk of pop culture multi-media I’ve ever seen. A massive and hefty THING, it forever raises the bar for rock gods with deep catalogs and treasure troves of unreleased rarities. Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Led Zeppelin and Prince pay attention, because from now on Archives is the box set by which the others will be judged for some time. It’s an entirely new way of providing deep fan access to an important recording artist’s life’s work, more a multi-media autobiography than mere box set. The user interface forces you to really contemplate Neil Young as you poke around and you become deeply immersed in all things Neil as a result. Obviously that’s the goal and Archives absolutely succeeds on that level.

Young’s attention to audio fidelity is legendary—some of his classic 70s albums have never come out on CD due to his dislike of the way they sounded—and the 24bit/192 KHZ PCM audio possible with the BD format showcases his music as never before. There are some very, very high fidelity audio discs out there, but none of them sound as good as the material on Archives. It is as if one was present in the actual studio (or audience) when the performances were recorded. High quality transfers were made directly from the original analog tapes—or at least with the shortest signal path possible—and it shows. FM radio classics like Cinnamon Girl and The Loner have never sounded better, but on the more intimate folkie material covered in the set, the audiophile qualities of the BD format really shines. The size of the room the songs were recorded in, the space around the voice and guitar, the buzzing vibrations of a single guitar string—all of this is quite audible on Archives. The sound quality is magnificent. I’ll say it again, I’ve never heard better. For sound quality alone it would win the gold medal, but that’s not the half of it. There are a gazillion nooks and crannies on the set.

In terms of the extras, a mass-produced facsimile of a hand-carved leather-covered 237 page color scrapbook is loaded with such amusing ephemera as one of his sports writer father’s columns about then 11-year old Neil’s “chicken business” and contracts Young’s mother signed on behalf of her minor son so he would be paid BMI royalties on his Buffalo Springfield compositions. The cover letter tells Mrs. Young that she should “be very proud of your son. He is not only talented but a young gentleman.” Young’s parents must have kept every notebook and scrap of paper he ever wrote on. Young’s father was convinced of his son’s genius at a young age. I loved reading his account of seeing his son perform in Carnegie Hall in the early 70s and how proud he was. (Hell, I’d be proud if I was Neil Young’s father, wouldn’t you be?). There are scads of handwritten lyrics and reviews cut from endless magazines and newspapers. In terms of the books one usually finds in a major artist box set, this one also goes right to the head of the class. I’ve never seen another even half as good. All in all the packaging is attractive (if not necessarily that durable) and it’s a gorgeous thing to unwrap. It’s a shoe-in for several Grammy awards (not that anyone cares, but still…)

There are 128 tracks, nearly 60 of them never heard before spread across the ten discs. The old metal file cabinet user interface is nothing that innovative, but it’s probably the most appropriate considering the depth and archival purpose of the set. There is a nice looking “timeline” that displays photos, video clips and hidden tracks along the way. The set contains the first release of Young’s 1973 documentary Journey Through The Past and twenty video clips. Some of them are totally wonderful (like Young walking out of a record store with bootlegs of his music, the mind-blowing CSNY live performance, an appearance on The Johnny Cash Show and a 1970 performance at the Finjan Folk Cafe) but this is where my first problem with Archives comes in. The video content, whilst containing several gems, isn’t nearly enough. Not enough to justify the price, the fan expectations and not nearly enough to satisfy the wide open spaces of the storage available on Blu-ray (couldn’t most of this material fit on like TWO Blu-ray disc?). Where, for instance is the amazing BBC “In Concert” performance from 1971 or more of the CSNY performance?

My biggest problem with Archives, though, is not what is or isn’t on the set (Blu-ray owners will get updates from Blue-ray Live as long as their players are hooked up to the Internet, so Young could always add things later as he pleases) rather it’s the list price. This is where I become deeply ambivalent about Archives.

READ ON
Posted by Richard Metzger
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08.17.2009
05:54 pm
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The Bear Rug Fuhrer
08.14.2009
03:04 pm
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A sampling of work here from Israeli artist, Boaz Arad.   According to Arad, the above rug represents (for better or worse), what a Nazi hunter might do if he/she were able to capture the ultimate prize.  The video below Cuisinarts a number of speeches to the point where Hitler’s forced to say, in Hebrew no less, “Greetings, Jerusalem.  I am deeply sorry.”

Posted by Bradley Novicoff
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08.14.2009
03:04 pm
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The First Synthesizer Was Built in 1938
08.13.2009
07:28 pm
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Phil Cirocco is fascinated by vintage analog synthesizers and cheesy soundtracks from vintage sci-fi films. His website, the Novachord Restoration Project details how he lovingly refurbished a 1938 polyphonic synthesizer from Hammond:

The first commercially available synthesizer was designed by the Hammond Organ Company in 1938 and put into full production from 1938 to 1942. The Novachord is a gargantuan, all tube, 72 note polyphonic synthesizer with oscillators, filters, VCAs, envelope generators and even frequency dividers.

I bought my Hammond Novachord around 10/2004 in Connecticut. After chatting with the few brave souls who tried to repair these beasts, I soon realized that replacement of all the passive components was necessary for reliable and stable operation of any Novachord. However, the sheer number of components and it’s complexity, make properly restoring a Novachord a Herculean task.

I’ll say! Here’s the finished product:

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As seen on Jeremey Dyson’s Twitter feed (he’s the off-screen member of The League of Gentlemen)

Posted by Richard Metzger
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08.13.2009
07:28 pm
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Leary And Cleaver In Algeria
08.12.2009
06:48 pm
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After reading Ginia Bellafante‘s NYT review of Lords of The Revolution (last mentioned in these pages here), I’m now even less inclined to spend my 5 hours on the VH1 special.  That being said, Bellafante does single out for praise the installments profiling Timothy Leary and The Black Panthers.  Despite their generational link, though, Leary and the Panthers didn’t always see eye-to-eye. 

After escaping from prison in 1970, Leary found refuge in Algeria with the Panthers’ Eldridge Cleaver, who was himself on the lam for attempted murder.  But rather than receiving Leary as a kindred spirit—and displeased with his drug-touting ways—Eldridge kidnapped Tim and his wife, Rosemary Woodruff…er, placed them under “revolutionary arrest.”  Eldridge eventually freed the pair, but, in the clip above, you can still get a sense of their uneasy Algerian alliance.

 

Posted by Bradley Novicoff
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08.12.2009
06:48 pm
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Dorian Cope: August 11, 1958, The Dockum Sit-In
08.12.2009
01:57 am
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Radical blogger (and wife of Julian) Dorian Cope on this day in history:

Fifty-one years ago today on 11th August 1958, the owner of the Rexall chain of drugstores throughout Kansas walked into Dockum?

Posted by Jason Louv
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08.12.2009
01:57 am
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Freed: Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs
08.11.2009
01:00 pm
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Severely ill and stroke-prone, Last of The Great Train Robbers Ronnnie Biggs was released by British officials into the free light of day last Friday.  After the ‘63 robbery, which involved the mail car hijacking of what would be roughly $70 million in today’s dollars, Biggs and his cohorts were quickly rounded up.  The money wasn’t—the bulk of it has never been recovered.  And after scaling a 30-foot prison wall and skipping off to Rio, it looked like Biggs wouldn’t be, either.  That is until 2001, when craving “a pint of bitter,” Biggs returned to England to resume his sentence. 

Beyond his decades as a fugitive, though, what best cemented Biggs’ outlaw celebrity status back home was his cavorting with The Sex Pistols.  Shortly after their final performance at Winterland, the Pistols flew down to Rio and recorded a couple of tracks with Biggs.  Their “collaborative” results—No One Is Innocent and Belsen Was a Gas—surfaced in both the film and soundtrack for Julien Temple’s The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle, from which a vid of Innocent can be seen below.

 
In The LA Times: Great Train Robbery Outlaw Gains His Release

Posted by Bradley Novicoff
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08.11.2009
01:00 pm
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Super Montage of Dan Meth’s Cartoon Influences
08.08.2009
12:02 pm
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I had a total blast watching this!  Dan Meth says, “When people ask ‘What are your cartoon influences?’, it usually stumps me?

Posted by Tara McGinley
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08.08.2009
12:02 pm
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Sacrificial Virgins Of The Mississippi
08.06.2009
06:07 pm
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Fascinating review by Andrew O’Hehir in today’s Salon of Timothy Pauketat’s, Cahokia: Ancient America’s Great City on the Mississippi.  In it, Pauketat shines a light on a chapter in American history that’s long gone ignored—evaded, even.  Situated east of modern-day St. Louis and larger than London, Cahokia was once a thriving Native American metropolis, complete with plazas and pyramids, before finally succumbing to disease, dissent and destruction.  Well, there was something else:

...it also seems clear that political and religious power in Cahokia revolved around another ancient tradition.  Cahokians performed human sacrifice, as part of some kind of theatrical, community-wide ceremony, on a startlingly large scale unknown in North America above the valley of Mexico.  Simultaneous burials of as many as 53 young women (quite possibly selected for their beauty) have been uncovered beneath Cahokia’s mounds, and in some cases victims were evidently clubbed to death on the edge of a burial pit, and then fell into it.  A few of them weren’t dead yet when they went into the pit—skeletons have been found with their phalanges, or finger bones, digging into the layer of sand beneath them.

As unsavory as that sounds to today’s ears, Pauketat goes on to draw parallels between those sacrifices, and the near-complete erasure undertaken by contemporary scholars who would have most likely dismissed the notion of a Native American city as:

bizarre and self-contradictory.  Scholarly conceptions weren’t all that far away from pop culture depictions: American Indians lived light on the land, mostly in hunter-gatherer societies augmented by minimal subsistence agriculture.  While they may have had “ceremonial centers” along with seasonal villages and hunting and fishing camps, they didn’t live in large or permanent settlements.

Pauketa’s book might serve as a corrective to the old myopic views on Native American possibility, but this ritual sacrifice business seems harder to shake.  Was it just another bread-and-circus solution to curb growing unrest?  Maybe so.  As O’Hehir concludes, “Cahokia forged a new sense of community out of these rituals, one that merged church and state, and Cahokians ‘tolerated the excesses of their leaders,’ as most of us do, as long as the party kept going.”
 
In Salon: Sacrificial Virgins of the Mississippi

Posted by Bradley Novicoff
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08.06.2009
06:07 pm
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LOVE, SEX, FEAR, DEATH: The Process Church of the Final Judgment
08.05.2009
12:15 pm
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Our friends at Feral House and Process Media are co-hosting this event at The Silent Movie Theater in Los Angeles:

Was The Process Church truly “one of the most dangerous Satanic cults in America”? Or were they an intensely creative apocalyptic shadow side to the flower-powered ‘60s and New Age ‘70s? Scores of black-cloaked devotees swept the streets of New York, San Francisco, London, Paris, and other cities selling magazines with titles like “Sex”, “Fear”, “Love” and “Death”, and a theology proposing the reconciliation of Christ and Satan through love. Marianne Faithfull, George Clinton and Mick Jagger participated in Process publications and Funkadelic reproduced Process material in two of their albums. The inside story of this controversial group has at last emerged with Feral House’s LOVE, SEX, FEAR, DEATH by Timothy Wyllie and other former members. Feral House and Process Books present a re-creation of an actual Process Church ?

Posted by Richard Metzger
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08.05.2009
12:15 pm
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Brian Wilson’s Lost Masterpiece Smile: A “New” Old Version
08.04.2009
11:01 am
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Although over the years there have been many, many fan made “reconstructed” (bootleg) versions of what Brian Wilson really intended to do with his lost Beach Boys masterpiece Smile, in 2004 his Brian Wilson Presents Smile album and tour pretty much set the record straight. And if this wasn’t exactly what Wilson had intended back in 1967 (before Mike Love, new fatherhood, mental illness and various other factors buried the project) then at the very least it’s Wilson’s final word on the piece, what he once called his “teenage symphony to God.”

Wilson’s ill-fated Smile, of course, became legendary amongst rock snobs. In 1993 Beach Boys fans discovered just how far along Wilson’s unfinished project got. On the Beach Boys box set, Good Vibrations, author and filmmaker, David Leaf (The Beach Boys and The California Myth, 1978) sequenced a stunning 30 minute selection of Smile outtakes. I can tell you for sure, it was a mind-blowing thing to hear. Elvis Costello described hearing Brian Wilson’s original demo for “Surf’s Up” as like discovering a lost recording of Mozart and I must agree.

What we have here, though, is the so-called “Smile [Purple Chick bootleg]” put together by some Beach Boys fans using mostly original stereo Beach Boys recordings—using Wilson’s 2004 album as a guide—to step by step recreate Smile with these vintage sources. It’s fantastic! They re-edited, pitch shifted and used a few moments from Wilson’s BWPS album to connect the tracks and the results are quite good, a revelation even. Although I am not sold on their remake of Good Vibrations (my brain just refuses to accept it) I have to say that it’s entirely valid. After all it’s what Wilson did himself. Still, I swapped that track out on the CD I made for the car (and you might want to also).

A Good Smile Bootleg

Posted by Richard Metzger
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08.04.2009
11:01 am
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