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Congrats to Sasha and Jen!

April 7th, 2009 | Comments Off | Posted in Personal

As of this weekend, my brother is engaged to his awesome girlfriend fiancée. I could not be more excited for both of them, or more stoked about having a new sister.

When he told me, all I could think about was a conversation he and I had in Istanbul in the summer of 2006.  We were sitting near the Blue Mosque at a cafe, and he was talking about his new girlfriend in a way I’d never seen him talk about a girl before.  I thought to myself, “He’s toast. He is definitely going to marry this girl.”

Way to go, dude!

South by Southwest Awards ’09

March 25th, 2009 | Comments Off | Posted in Entertainment, Music, Personal, Photos

This is the last SXSW post for a while, I swear, but it’s the only one that really matters. Ladies and gentlemen, it is my great honor to present to you the second annual (last year’s awards are here and here) SXSW awards, which I am hereby affectionately dubbing “The Rutty Swesties.” Get it? Too bad. Let’s begin with…

Best Suprise

Monotonix (Tel Aviv, Israel)

Holy moly. I’m not even sure if I’m that into these guys’ tunes, but you cannot help but be completely hypnotized by their antics. They seriously spent more time crowd surfing or climbing up the walls than standing on the stage, and most of the time they were playing their instruments on top of the crowd.  Did I mention the fifteen minute drum solo while they changed an amp that they blew in the middle of the show? I’ve pretty much never seen anything like this, and what a way to close out the trip.  If only they did fire tricks… OH WAIT:

The “I Can’t See These Guys Enough” Award

Gil Mantera’s Party Dream (Youngstown, OH)

Two clinically insane geniuses who strip down to their banana hammocks while simultaneously dancing their asses off, playing the shit out of matching Lucite guitars, and blowing everyone’s minds with their incredibly catchy electro-pop (which is drenched in vocoder vocals, brain-crushing hooks, and Stevie Nicks covers). Just go with it.


Runners up: Marnie Stern, Still’ Flyin

Most Overrated

Vivian Girls

My take on the Vivian Girls record was that it was highly mediocre, so I was sure there was a reason these ladies were getting so much attention.  I figured the live show was the key, and I really wanted to see what they were all about.  Turns out they are all about: being somewhat cute, wearing short shorts, and not being able to play their instruments (or faking as such, which is even worse).  I’ll take Marnie Stern’s sick chops any day of the week over this derivative slop.

Worst of the Worst

Kevin Devine and the Goddamn Band

THEY ARE CALLED KEVIN DEVINE AND THE GODDAMN BAND.

Best Show of the Festival

Titus Andronicus

The Titus Andronicus debut The Airing of Grievances is an odd and invigorating combination of erudite wordplay and punk rock sensibility; these guys have no problem quoting a few lines from an existentialist philosopher and then closing a song by screaming “Fuck you!” at the top of their lungs.  It’s weird, and kinda great. But walking into a show after hearing an album like that, it’s tough to know if you are going to get the punks or the professors.  About five seconds into their set, it was clear that the punks had come out to play.  The setting was perfect: no stage, just a cleared out corner of a parking lot at a backyard barbecue. The crowd was stocked with uber-hipsters and gutterpunks alike, and everyone in attendance was treated to a simple, unpretentious, and completely furious ass-rocking.  Kudos to you, Titus Andronicus.  You win SXSW.

Runners up: Mojo Nixon, Monotonix

Technical awards:

  • Most Likely to Die in a Horrific Stagediving Accident: Ami Shalev of Monotonix (Tel Aviv, Israel)
  • The “Nastiest Chops” Award: Marnie Stern (New York, NY)
  • The “Prima Donna” Award for longest and fussiest soundcheck: The Rosebuds (Raleigh, NC)
  • The “Please Don’t Ever Hang It Up, I Don’t Care HOW Fat You Get” Award: Mojo Nixon (Chapel Hill, NC)
  • Shortest Shorts: Hutch Harris of The Thermals (Portland, OR)
  • The “Nice Job Pissing Off The Meatheads In Front of Me” Award: HEALTH (Los Angeles, CA)
  • Most Judy Garland T-Shirts Per Capita: Abe Vigoda (Los Angeles, CA)
  • Most Brew Grooves Jammed: Still Flyin’ (San Francisco, CA)

And if you think I am going on about Marnie Stern’s chops too much, suck on this:

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A Family History Lesson

March 9th, 2009 | Comments Off | Posted in Entertainment, Personal, Politics

Last week, I signed my family up for Geni, which is a great site that allows you to create a family tree for free (here’s mine), and then use that family tree as a small social networking site; like a mini Facebook, just for your family. Building out my family tree inspired me to finally get around to digitizing the tape recording I have of my (paternal) grandmother Rosie’s testimony before the House Unamerican Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1952. For those of you that care about such details, the cassette tape recording I have was copied from another cassette tape, which itself was recorded from a vinyl pressing which had been handed down since 1952. Needless to say, it wasn’t in great shape. I converted the tape to digital using my M-Audio box, and then ran it through a few noise reduction filters, and the resulting WAV and MP3 sound much better than my copy of the tape ever did, which is great.

A little bit of background here for the few of you who may not have heard me ramble on about this at length: in 1952, my grandmother was a forty-seven-year-old immigration and civil rights attorney practicing in Los Angeles. She was indeed an active member of the Communist party, and did extensive work with the LA chapter of the National Lawyers Guild and worked cases for the Los Angeles Committee for the Protection of the Foreign Born. She was a communist until the day she died, which was soon after I was born.  The tape is a bit of a family heirloom and a pretty amazing piece of living history, so it’s great to finally have it saved as an MP3 and be able to share it here.

A page from the HUAC report entitled "Communist Legal Subversion: The Role of the Communist Lawyer"

However, even after the cleanup work I did, there were still a few parts of the tape that were unintelligible, so I went looking for a transcript of the audio. It took me a few hours of digging, but I eventually found the full archive of HUAC papers on archive.org. As it turns out, the printed copies of all the HUAC hearings, reports, and findings are all available at the Boston Public Library, but they’ve been scanned and posted online thanks to the Internet Archive.  Further investigation turned up a number of reports referencing Rosie’s name (see the image right for a page from one report entitled “Communist Legal Subversion: The Role of the Communist Lawyer“), transcripts of her serving as counsel for other people brought before the committee, the transcript of her second testimony in 1963 (of which my father and I were unaware) regarding her trips to Cuba, and most rewardingly, the full content of HUAC’s 1952 investigations into “Communist activities among professional groups in the Los Angeles area”, which contains the transcript of our recording. This was particularly exciting, mainly because I have heard the tape many times since I was a child, and now I can finally understand certain parts of the audio (especially the parts at the end during which everyone is talking over each other and arguing about book burnings).  Regardless, here’s one of my Grandmother’s better diatribes, and then the link to the audio.

Mrs. Rosenberg. There will come a time in this country when there
is no climate of fear and coercion and hysteria, and people will of their
own free will declare with pride and with honor as the Puritans said
they would be glad to — to declare their faith, but not under compulsion,
and not because there will be a subpoena over my head or a blacklist,
and not if the result will be loyalty oaths. This is precisely what has hap-
pened in civilizations that you’ve asked that question — the Puritans
were proud of their faith, the Jews were proud, too, and yet when
they were faced with Torquemada and with Hitler, what would you have
expected, sir, that they should rise up and say they are Jews? If that
cost of that would be their heads? Today the cost of declaring one’s
faith — which I say you have no right to ask me about — is a blacklist and
a subpoena and a loyalty oath and book burnings. This has been the
result of the force and violence of this committee.

Testimony of Rose Rosenberg before HUAC, October 1, 1952

One particularly fascinating part of the tape which I was never able to make out before is an aside from Rep. Donald Jackson of California, who is obviously frustrated and throws in a jab that seems to be apropos of nothing, but is quite telling:

Mrs. Rosenberg. In Oklahoma books were burned, and do you know
what the American Library Association said?

Mr. Jackson. Is this in answer to the question asked by counsel?
If there weren’t so many witches who left their brooms and tall hats
around, we would not have so much work to do.

Pretty amazing (and shameless) stuff.

Additionally, while I was searching for information on the HUAC hearings, I came across the website for a book written by Eric Etheridge called Breach of Peace, which contains photos and information about the 328 freedom riders who converged on Jackson, Mississippi in 1961, and there was a “Rose Schorr Rosenberg” listed there. A quick call to my father confirmed that Grandma did, in fact, go on a freedom ride in 1961, and when I contacted Mr. Etheridge, he sent me a link to the Mississipi Department of Archives & History, which has digitized all the records of the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission.

Rose S. Rosenberg - arrested July 15, 1961 in Jackson, MS for Breach of Peace

There, I found numerous photos and files referencing Rosie, including her mug shot taken on July 15, 1961 (shown right; also appears in the aforementioned Breach of Peace), the police report of her arrest, and a number of documents and fascinating articles, including ones showing that the DA in Jackson was working with the the folks over at HUAC in attempting to use her communist ties to discredit the riders. There was even one article written by Bob Novak which paints the entire civil rights movement as having sold its soul to the far left (sound familiar?), and another AP article which mentions my grandmother and her traveling companion Jean Pestana by name, the title of which was “Jackson Cops Link 2 Riders to Red Groups“.

I’m pretty excited by how much I found, and always suprised by how much information is available on the internet. I’ve asked my brother to dig out Rosie’s memoirs so that I can scan and digitize them for preservation, and maybe learn a bit more about what happened to her in Mississipi (she was issued a $200 fine and 4 months in jail, but I’m unaware at this point how much time she actually served).  I’m also working on an audio project that will contain discussion of the tape by my family members with portions of the tape cut in. I think it will make for a compelling story.

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The Pitchfork 500 Analysis: Chapter II

February 2nd, 2009 | Comments | Posted in Music, Personal

For everyone who missed it, see Chapter I here.

Jake and Jesse’s
Review(s) of the Pitchfork 500
Chapter 2: 1980-1982


I’ll paste Jesse’s list in here first. Also keep in mind that Jesse and I did not share our lists with each other until they were completed. Here goes:

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The Pitchfork 500 Analysis: Chapter I

January 16th, 2009 | Comments | Posted in Music, Personal, Site Info

As many of you know, I received the Pitchfork 500 from my parents as a Hanukkah gift, and it has since sparked a number of reactions from my various friends, ranging from grudging respect (John Collins) to genuine irritation (Stromberg). Soon after I started perusing the book, I had the idea of listening to every song while reading the associated blurb, so I decided to do just that. When I told my friends about my plan, Jesse, in particular, was intrigued, and last week he purchased the book himself and decided to do the same thing. Which brings us to yesterday, when I received the following email:

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