09 January, 2011

Would you say I have a plethora of pinatas?

I'm still vegetating, although my leave is nearly over. I might try to get a picture of myself before I get a shave and a haircut.

Among other things, I've spent this time off driving back and forth between Fort Campbell and Nebraska and edited a third of the book. Clearly posting on the blog hasn't been a high priority.

There was some hubbub recently as Republicans opened the new Congress by reading the Constitution. I genuinely can't see why any Democrat in their right mind would have said anything bad about this. It sounds like a good way to start every Congress, and it would probably be a good idea if the President does it as well after he's sworn in. One of the Democratic complaints - again, where's the sense in this? There's no way to object without looking like a vampire taking a mid-day outdoor shower of holy water where, um, the faucet is shaped like a crucifix - mentioned the 14th amendment, so I read that.

It was quite interesting, as the amendment covers citizenship, apportioning representatives to Congress among the states after disenfranchisement of rebels or felons, and an insistence that the debt of the US government "shall not be questioned." That's a lot to set into a few short paragraphs, but it was done.

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Section 2. Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.
Section 3. No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may, by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.
Section 4. The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.
Section 5. The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Much of this was clearly a reaction to the Civil War, as this amendment was one of the several passed during Reconstruction, and quite a bit of the wording is clearly intended to set down some ground rules. The first section, about citizenship, was clearly directed at giving blacks equal treatment under the law, but given the boom in immigration after the war, I'd suspect the writers wanted to set a few more guidelines down while they had the chance. It must have worked, because seven years after the amendment was passed (in 1868) the Supreme Court ruled that immigration was a federal responsibility. Section 1 also makes that clear, that no state can pass a law abridging federal preeminence in all matters of citizenship. It's a clear show of strength after the Civil War, that the states can't go their own ways, although specifically directed at the treatment of former slaves.

Section 2 covers the number of Representatives per state, discounting males over 21 who have lost the right to vote through "participation in rebellion, or other crime." One assumes the 19th and 26th amendments modified the part about men over 21, but it's interesting that the 14th amendment still reads as written.

Section 3 was definitely aimed at people who fought on the losing side of the war. Especially the last line, about Congress being able to vote to remove the listed restrictions as it sees fit. According to Wikipedia, that source of all truth, Congress restored Robert E. Lee's citizenship in 1975, and Jefferson Davis' three years later.

I can see giving Lee's citizenship back (although the point of any gesture like this is wasted after a hundred years; don't get me started on retroactively promoting George Washington so that he would still outrank General Pershing). Lee was a soldier, arguably just doing his job and happened to be more loyal to his home state than the overall nation. But Jefferson Davis, I don't see any reason why he wasn't executed immediately. Just because he led the attempt to separate from the US, on general principles if nothing else. He was imprisoned and indicted for treason, but bail was posted and he led a quiet life for twenty years before dying. That's civilized, and to America's credit, but you can't tell me the same thing would have happened to any one else at any other point in history.

Section 4 was another one with roots clearly in the war, in refuting claims made by both people in the south whose lives and lands had been ruined, and foreigners that had given financial assistance to them. The south failed to get other nations to join the war on their side, but they tried, and individuals and companies did give aid. And again, the United States government made it clear in no uncertain terms that it decided the terms, including how much money it owed, and no one was going to say otherwise.

Yeah, let's just have a bitter chuckle about that nowadays, shall we?

The first section has also been the source of further problems regarding the issue of citizenship. The list of Wikipedia Supreme Court cases developing the question is interesting. In 1884, they ruled that an Indian who voluntarily quit his tribe did not automatically gain US citizenship. Which makes sense, since as section 2 demonstrates, the Indians were very much on the mind of those who wrote the 14th amendment. Further Supreme Court cases on the matter related to people who were born in the US to foreign nationals of varying types (including Chinese) and how one could go about losing US citizenship.

Exercising citizenship of another country was traditionally considered to be a sign one had voluntarily relinquished US citizenship, and that's a fair way to go. I have no intrinsic problem with American citizens voting and whatnot in foreign nations, but I don't think foreign citizens should vote and whatnot in America. That's a double-standard, yes, so the fair way to decide matters is that you can't be a citizen of any country other than the one you vote and whatnot in. ["voting and whatnot" returns 92,100 results on a Google search. It's probably from one of the Federalist Papers or something.] Being typically contrary, it occurred to me that every Jew on Earth is a citizen of Israel.

So of course the next Supreme Court decision listed in the article on the 14th amendment was Afroyim vs. Rusk, 1967. I didn't even need to f*cking click the link to know what the issue was there. I mean, 1967!!! The year Israel's opponents are always trying to turn things back to? On the off-chance I was slightly wrong, I clicked the link, and sure enough, a naturalized US citizen had moved to Israel after it was established, voted there, and by all the standards of the time, in so doing had given up his US citizenship when he decided later in life to move back to the States. The Court ruled (5-4) that Congress did not have the authority to remove citizenship, no doubt proving that the Zionists rule for all inclined Judenhass paranoiacs.

Gotta admit, I doubt they'd have ruled the same way for, say, a naturalized citizen from East Germany who exercised any rights in West Germany (where, so I understand, they considered East Germans citizens in a similar sense that Israel considered Jews). And I can't see that they'd have been wrong in this case. I like to give Israel as much leeway as possible, but there's still the valid point that one can't be a citizen of multiple countries at the same time. Even if that is the point about serving two masters that Jews have been confronted with for thousands of years.

There's also a built-in way to increase complexities to a mind-boggling degree in section 1, where it says the state shall not deprive any person in its jurisdiction of life, liberty, property or equal protection. I hear you ask "How so?" You shouldn't talk to your computer screen like that. It's creepy.

When two or more persons incorporate as a "corpus", a "body of people", the corporation is legally recognized as a person, with its own rights/duties separate from the individuals who make it up. That's why when you spill scalding hot coffee in your lap, you sue McDonalds and not the kid behind the counter who actually gave you the coffee. That's why when you give British Petroleum an award for safety and the rig you praise blows up a week later, you go on tv and demand they set aside twenty billion dollars to use on whatever you decide, and there's nothing they can do about because... Wait, that wouldn't be constitutional, would it? Never mind.

Anyway, between the amendment's insistence on due process and the sheer volume of legal processes multiplying like agents of HYDRA ("cut off one limb, and two more shall take its place!"), the stage is set for a huge explosion of people on all sides of the legal profession. Couple that with the government's insistance that if they say they don't owe something, there's not much that can change their mind, and we see one of the more hidden results of the Civil War.

Of course an agrarian slave-based society could never conceive of such complicated ideas, much less practice them to great effect over the next hundred and fifty years, so it's not all bad.

This has been a productive leave. As mentioned, I'm a third of the way through the second draft of the book. It took me ten days to get the first 50 pages written, but 27 days to get them edited. This is not encouraging. Yesterday I did chapters 9 and 10 (of 30), but combined they were shorter than any average chapter, so that's not as great an achievement as it sounds. Haven't done anything except finish cleaning my room today - the one I'm not staying in because I'm on leave and not sleeping in the barracks.

I have finally found some copies of Rolling Stones outtakes I've wanted to hear for a long time. They've only made four albums in the last 21 years - but they've done six tours, each of which made hundreds of millions of dollars and was the biggest money-making tour ever up to that point - and I went to see them back in 1994/5, on the Voodoo Lounge tour.

I don't think the Rolling Stones are like the Simpsons or Mad Magazine, that their best era is subjective and based on whenever you first encountered them. Rock music doesn't work that way, because the stuff that lasts is fresher to most people than whatever's contemporary. I've spent my time in Army schools singing classic rock, and songs a lot older than I am are known to people a lot younger. Unless you're a Stones fan, you probably can't name more than a handful of their albums at all, and those will be the expected ones, their early 70's run and their biggest commercial hit in the late 70's. Notice I'm not naming the records. Even if you're a Stones fan, you'd have a hard time naming more than a few songs from any of these albums.

The Stones just don't make good albums. They never have. Their earliest albums were covers of blues songs and Jagger/Richards forcing themselves to be pop tunesmiths. Then the fame and drugs took over, band members came and went, and their career can largely be charted by music trends without much difference in the songs. Glam rock, disco, punk, 80's synthesizers, they did it all and it all had basically the same rock beat, guitar crunch and shouted vocals.

In-between reworking the same old riffs, they put together albums that were a few hit singles - or attempts at same - and filler that they could tour behind. The recording sessions had always been based on whoever showed up, as the liner notes to every album demonstrate. If they need a piano or a bass and the regular player isn't there, someone else fills in. The song-writing has always been prolific, as near as I can tell. I have no real evidence for this, but it seems that they go through dozens of riffs and jams (with lyrics) before they find the ones to keep for the record. And they do have a genius for the catchy riff. They can record a dozen songs, barely distinguishable from each other, and one of them will become a classic. Have you ever noticed how similar the riffs to "Honky Tonk Woman", "Brown Sugar", Tumbling Dice" and "Start Me Up" are?

So Voodoo Lounge was the first Stones album I ever bought, about the time I decided I wanted to go see them perform. I'd been listening to their greatest hits albums (no songs from later than 1969) so there'd be plenty of stuff I'd recognize. In fact, as I remember, they played all but two songs from the album they were nominally promoting, even though they knew damned well we'd be happy with "Paint It Black", a song I know they did not play, but has been my ringtone for the last couple of years. Just throwing that out there. I have no idea if they played "Sympathy for the Devil" or anything, I wouldn't have recognized it if they did.

Anyway, Voodoo Lounge must have been a challenge for the band. In the 70's, Jagger had become a jet-setter and Richards had become an addict. Once they were rich enough and lived far apart enough that it took a lot of effort to get everybody in a room together, the Rolling Stones as an organization became much bigger than anything else. By the 80's, a cleaned-up Richards was re-asserting control, and Jagger was looking to get out.

As the guy who held the show together up front and ran it behind-the-scenes all these years, Mick Jagger saw no reason to be chained to these crusty fogies. The mid-80's had an impressive array of singers from enormous British rock bands who went solo, and usually to great success. [Phil Collins, Sting, George Michael, Robert Plant, Freddie Mercury; the Americans only had Michael Jackson, Don Henley and David Lee Roth] Ever the trend-follower, Mick made his first solo album, full of flash, and went on a solo tour. He even sang at Live Aid, when the Stones didn't even answer the invitation. Stupidly enough, Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood then pulled together to back Bob Dylan for the show, and reportedly were drunk and embarassed everybody with their performance. Point to Mick.

However, although some of his albums have been hits, some haven't, and they've all fallen into the mists of time. Jagger wanted to be an actor and has had about as much luck in that arena, he's been unable to sustain any presence whatsoever outside of the Stones. Lord knows he's tried. Even on his solo tours, he's still singing "Satisfaction" as a pensioner, when he used to say he didn't want to sing it at 30. Still can't get none, can you?

Frankly, I doubt he's suffered much anxiety about saying things like he hoped he wouldn't keep singing the old songs and wiggling his bum. It's what he does for a living, and - again, ever the trend-follower - he was probably just getting mileage out of the 'hope I die before I get old' sentiment we all probably share. It's changed how he has to market his work, and to whom, but Mick Jagger's probably had to survive at least as much soul-sucking oppression with his lifestyle as Richards.

For his part, Keef' is every bit the power-hungry thug (I understand he still threatens people with knives), but much more of a team-player. The guitarist, the bandleader, and probably humbled by his drug experiences, it made a nice contrast to Mick. Keith only went solo to goad his partner. Jagger hadn't had to share power in years, and both partners were sick of each other.

It got to the point where - according to the book I choose to believe - they were ready to announce the Stones' break-up at their induction into the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame. It was the second year the Hall was open (probably deliberately, so they could be one year after the Beatles). 25 years was a long time. But then, rock'n'roll was never about aging gracefully.

So the various fourth or fifth-hand anecdotes go, Jagger and Richards set up a meeting in Barbados to make a final decision on the matter. They went into a room together and started screaming at each other. Within an hour they were splitting a joint and laughing about everything. Simply administering the enormous Rolling Stones empire meant that they would have to associate with each other for the rest of their lives whether or not the band broke up, so they could either do it through layers of expensive lawyers and intermediaries, or keep up the partnership as they'd already done for three decades.

So they called the rest of the Stones to come on down, scheduled a tour, threw together an album and called it a comeback. This album was the last one that had a major hit single in the US, "Mixed Emotions". Then they took a break for three or four years, the longest the band had ever been dormant.

Rock changed in those years. Guns'n'Roses had been the hot new act in '89, opening for the Stones when they played LA. If G'n'R didn't outplay the Stones, they got the publicity when Axl stopped singing at the first of three shows and threatened to quit the band if they didn't stop using heroin. So this was back when rock was in its final phase of coolness (also known as "when I started listening to it", heh). By the time the Stones released the follow up, Voodoo Lounge, G'n'R were bloated by Axl's ego, and the airwaves were ruled by Nirvana, Pearljam and the Chili Peppers. Hip-hop was building up a storm that would shortly break into gangsta rap.

Like most bands of their era, the Stones never expected to have a history. Although hyper-aware of their musical predecessors and their pedigree, they had to be savvy enough to present themselves in that context to a mass audience that has no idea of that history. They had just lost founding member Bill Wyman and replaced him with a hired bass player. This time, they spent a lot of time rehearsing and working on songs before they actually recorded the album, so they knew what effects they wanted.

It's a boring cliche that every new album they release is "the best Stones album since Exile on Main Street". [The first album other than Voodoo Lounge that I've named, but can you name any songs that are on it?] But therein lies the problem, Exile isn't any good either. The songs are riffs and jams, unintellible lyrics performed by whoever showed up that day and produced in a muddy, jarring mix. They recently rereleased the album with seven or eight unreleased songs which are the same bloody thing. If you like that sort of thing, fine.

Really, the Rolling Stones were the first band that had being famous as a legitimate part of their reason for existing. At every point in their history, they've been the sort of people that you'd pay just to see them be, you know, the Rolling Stones, even if they're just getting drunk and watching television [perhaps especially if they're...] The Beatles had quirky characteristics you could identify with, the Stones were more glamorous and decadent, "the beautiful people". You could tell because they were singing blues songs. This is what young Londoners did the generation after the war.

This image carries over into the music. They aren't original by any stretch of the imagination - Keith has said the way he writes a song is to play twenty songs by Buddy Holly and then one of his own will fall out afterward - and they haven't been since their days of pop tunesmiths competing against Lennon/McCartney. As a rock band, they have a distinctive sound, and are very good at what they do, but it's never been very flexible. They know the recording studio inside and out and are by this point as consummately professional as they'll ever get.

They approached Voodoo Lounge as professionals. This time they had lots of practice, so there were plenty of off-the-wall jams and improvisations which were caught on tape. Producer Don Was was trying to urge them in a more basic sound, like Exile, and won a Grammy for another project during the recording so he was much harder to argue against. Mick has always been more concerned with giving the work a modern sound, and the result was nice, muted collection of rocking tunes and ballads. There's a few up-tempo rocking songs, a few nice-if-simple melodic tunes ("New Faces"), a few with lavish radio-friendly production ("Out of Tears", "Love Is Strong"), a few diversions into country jangle ("Sweethearts Together") or island rythms ("Moon Is Up"), and a few songs with naughty words. No dance music, thankfully. No hit single, although they released four of them and they all got radio airplay. Even the ones with naughty words, which surprised the hell out of me. [Unlike G'n'R's "Ain't It Fun" which was released at the same time, the 't' was not muted when I heard "I Go Wild" on the radio.]

There were also hours upon hours of outtakes, and these lacked the (then) modern production values. This is just the Stones playing, early versions of songs that ended up on the album, or songs that never came close. These found their way into the bootleg market a year or so after Voodoo Lounge was over, in the form of multiple boxed sets. This is what I've been downloading tonight and writing my way towards for the last hour.

As near as I can tell, there's the four-disc "Voodoo Stew" - which is what I'm listening to now - and a four-disc "Voodoo Brew", which I have not found a copy of yet. There's also two discs of "Voodoo Residue" I listened to this morning, and there's another disc that's the best of stuff from these other complilations along with a few other unreleased numbers. There's early takes or mixes of the songs that wound up on the album, some of them with Keith singing and others with Mick laying down a barely-audible guide vocal in the background so it's effectively the instrumental track. There's quite a few songs that extend into jams which never made the cut, and quite a few more that are brand new to me. But they're great amounts of fun (mostly), as well as some interesting experiments one wouldn't expect from the Stones.

After Voodoo Lounge, the band didn't take a long hiatus. According to Jagger, his intentions were to start another solo album (why???) but somehow the Stones started work again. The result led to some tense moments between the Glimmer Twins. Mick took control of the songs he had written and Keith took control of his. The tour was the usual extravagent affair, but nothing about it even sounded like they were trying for anything different this time. Jagger finally got around to releasing his solo album - his last to date, except for a "best of" compilation - and it disappeared without a trace. Unless you count Jann Wenner's review in Rolling Stone Magazine how it was the very best thing Mick Jagger has ever done in every single way imaginable.

They added a few unremarkable songs to their 40th anniversary greatest hits compilation, and there was another tour. It wasn't until 2005 that they recorded their next album, and last to date. That one was a major change for the band, in that they dropped most of the extraneous personnel. Most of the songs were the same Stones stuff you either like or don't, but except for the lavish radio-friendly "Streets of Love", virtually all of them were performed with the core Stones members and nobody else. Mick, Keith and Charlie, the remaining founding members and Ronnie, the guitarist who spent twenty years on salary before he became an equal partner in the band are virtually the only players on the album. The hired bassist is on a few, as is the long-time keyboard player and a few of the other familiar names, on a few songs. Most songs are the main four, and a few are the founding three, which is kind of awesome when you think about it.

This tour was filmed by Martin Scorcese for his documentary Shine a Light (named for one of the songs on Exile, but you already knew that, right?). Since then, there's been hints that they're getting ready to go back to work, but it's been five years - I bought the album on the first day we were released towards the end of Basic Training - so you'd expect there to be hints and rumors. They could do more tours, I guess, but it would be harder and harder to find an insurance company, and it's not like they need the money.

If that's the case, I suppose there won't be any more albums of new material since they wouldn't have hit singles anyway. Sure, they've got tons of outtakes that could be used. "Start Me Up" came from just such an album of outtakes, when they were going on tour and needed an album but didn't have time to record one. The fans will be happy, even if they haven't been born yet, but there are probably not any forgotten masterpieces left in the tape vaults.

What is there are hours of "the greatest fucking rock band in the world" (to quote one of the guys in the seats behind us, who showed up drunk and stoned and yelling that for hours) playing. I'm almost done with disc 3 of "Voodoo Stew", listening to the second take of a song called "Honest Man", which is almost as good as the first take. Not a song that appeared on the album, it's hard to see why not, since it's easily as good as some that did. Mick does a vocal needs very little polish, the lyrics are as good as any others he's sang - not that that's any great compliment - the guitars are tight and edgy, and it could easily have replaced "Baby Break It Down" or "Suck on the Jugular" on the album.

[I would also replace "You Got Me Rocking", but the Stones seem to like that one. I don't know why, but it was a single and they've consistently played it live ever since, which is bizarre. Do you think Paul McCartney still fits "The World Tonight" into his setlist? That song was actually a hit, but he's not going to use it to replace a Beatles or Wings number. Ok, that's unfair, Paul has actually released four or five albums since Voodoo Lounge came out, compared to the Stones' two. Paul has also released a few albums of "classical" music and "avant-garde" music in his spare time. And he has more money than Mick and Keith put together.]

There's been other songs that were also enjoyable, and I haven't even tracked down the other 4-disc set of outtakes yet. In some ways, this is a fascinating look at the album as a work-in-progress, a glimpse behind the curtain of creativity that has rarely been equalled in rock history. It's never been confirmed who provided these takes, but given the quantity and quality it must have been someone close to the band. Or someone inside. But thanks to that anonymous leaker.

For the Voodoo Lounge tour, they publicized the live album with an interesting cover song. Glad they finally got to it.

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