Friday, December 08, 2017

Band Review: UFO

I came to UFO by a different path.

I have watched "That Metal Show" with my sisters, but I was not with Julie when she was listening to a radio interview with host Eddie Trunk, who named UFO as his favorite band. (Or maybe it was his favorite unknown band, because otherwise I would think it was KISS.)

She asked me if I had ever heard of them. I hadn't, but if finding out that there is an unfamiliar classic rock band that comes recommended from someone who knows music isn't a reason to check out a band, I don't know what is. And then their catalog was so large I had to spread out the listening over a few months while continuing to review other bands.

UFO is an English rock band that formed in August 1969. A part of me thinks it would be cool if I had discovered them two years later, so it would be a 50-year retrospective, but there's always a possibility to do something else then --- maybe review a new album or a live show.

For all their longevity I am pretty sure that I had not heard them previously, but there are things that are familiar. They very much sound like 70s rock -- not dated, but I can hear similarities from their contemporaries, and from some bands that came later but were influenced by UFO.

It is not just that they sound like similar bands, because I can hear the band pulling from other sources as well. There is a noticeable blues influence that I appreciate.

That variety between songs led to some additional mystery when Spotify threw in some really techno songs; did UFO experiment that much? One of the titles referenced Lovecraft, but lots of rockers do that. Finally, after figuring out the right search, that appears to be UFO!, with an exclamation point.

Once I was pretty sure which tracks were UFO and which were UFO!, two things added to UFO's familiarity.

Many of the song titles made me think of other songs, but then when I listened, they were different. Beyond that, UFO's most recent album, The Salentino Cuts, covers songs by other bands, ranging from Bill Withers to John Mellencamp. That gave a new view to how the band fits into the larger world of rock, its history and its present.

Glad to have checked them out.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Band Review: Bruce Guynn & Big Rain

Bruce Guynn & Big Rain are a California crossover band, blending country with rock and blues.

They have an impressive touring history, including going to China and tours for troops.

They would probably be enjoyable at an outdoor concert on a warm day.

None of those statements are negative, but they don't indicate any particularly strong impressions either.

The music is mellow. There is nothing wrong with that, but nothing really stood out to me either. Maybe that's because it is more country, but being more country could have easily made me hate it, and that didn't happen either.

There is just a teeny bit of irritation at finding their own pages self-describing as "Heroes of Crossover Rock", and how the tribulation they have faced would break other bands. That seems like they should be a little less forgettable. They could at least have written a short summary of the tribulation to give some context.

I find them fine, but not compelling.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Thoughts from Black History Month 2017

This will be a little random, but there are bits and pieces here that I want to get out.

I mentioned being torn between Maya Angelou and Gwendolyn Brooks for poetry. I would never even have known about Gwendolyn Brooks, except for a pinned tweet from Mikki Kendall:

"We are each other's harvest; we are each other's business; we are each other's magnitude and bond." - Gwendolyn Brooks

Regular readers should not have any trouble figuring out why that quote resonated with me. Also, based on that statement, the point I am going to make shouldn't even be surprising, but I was touched by the kindness in Brooks' poetry. There was a sensitivity and empathy for the lives of people in her poems, for circumstances mundane and tragic. Supplemental interviews and reminisces corroborated that aspect of Brooks. I value her kindness and compassion, and the value she could see while looking at "each other".

Initially I wasn't enjoying The People Could Fly that much. Many of the tales were familiar, and I had kind of wanted them to be more magical. Near the end, though, there was a true story of a man who ferried escaping slaves across the Ohio river until the time that he went seeking his own freedom, and that was fascinating. Then the last story was the title tale, "The People Could Fly". It was so magical and moving and heartbreaking. So if you start the book, and it's dragging for you (which if you read a lot of folklore is a real possibility), don't give up; at least read the last section.

I wrote yesterday that 1948 was the official start of Apartheid and the Khama marriage, but it was also the publication year for Cry the Beloved Country. It was so much more familiar than I expected it to be.

Things that I have learned since being a high school and college student against Apartheid have shown me that I didn't know that much about it then. Beyond that, most of what I have studied has been near the end. Of course it would look different seeing things near the beginning. There were two things that particularly struck me, and I guess that's where the familiarity came in.

Paton was inspired by what he saw around him, of course, and his attempts to help, but he was also inspired by The Grapes of Wrath. He read it on a vacation, which he needed because he was burned out, and there's something to remember there for people who want to do good. Regardless, I saw that he was inspired by Steinbeck and thought, "Okay." I read about the worn out land, overgrazed and dry and children dying from lack of milk, and people leaving their homes in the hope of some chance to survive that contained a lot of empty promises, and then I understood differently. Of course it inspired him!

And maybe it discouraged him too, because all over different parts of the world we keep having the same problems, but then maybe you remember that you are not alone in caring about it.

I wondered other things too, like if some of the formality built into the language and customs made it harder to have necessary conversations. I suspect that there is more than I understand about the correlation between not valuing people and destroying the land. I was grateful to find helpful people.

There was a bus strike going on in the city, due to a fare hike that would be insupportable for those who relied most on the buses. Car pools were organized, but a lot of people took long walks. (Yes, there was a familiarity there, but for something that was still coming on our side.) And there were people who would offer rides to those walking.

I never heard much about white South African resistance to Apartheid. (I heard rationalization about how the news made it sound worse, which was really disturbing.) You would hope there would be people who didn't approve, and it is good to see that was true too. It doesn't undo all the people who wanted it, or were afraid to let it go, but it's something. I'll take hope where I can find it.

There was one other thing about South Africa, getting back to that fraught relationship with Great Britain that was being explained as context for the opposition to the Khama marriage.

I am a big fan of L.M. Montgomery. Rilla of Ingleside is set during WWI. The family's housekeeper reveres Lord Kitchener and relies on him utterly. All I ever thought of from that is that there was a high ranking military guy, probably from the peerage, who died while WWI was still in progress. In that South African background, I learned that he was also responsible for concentration camps during the 2nd Boer War. Wives and children of the Dutch South Africans were imprisoned under horrible conditions, resulting in thousands of deaths. That's literal: 4177 women, 22074 children, and 1676 men, who would be mainly those too old to be combatants.

Susan's admiration was treated as a joke, without the text otherwise commenting on the merits of Kitchener. I can't help but suspect that there were many older Canadians who relied on him, and then wonder if part of their faith in him came from how abominably he treated the Boers.

It was a bit of a shock. It probably shouldn't be, because at this point I shouldn't be naive enough to be shocked if a "war hero" has some atrocities on the record. Without excusing anything about Apartheid, the tension with Great Britain becomes understandable. Also, one begins to see the difficulty in condemning human rights abuses when your own hands are dirty.

But that brings us back to the Khamas, and I already wrote a lot about them. Through different posts I also said quite a bit about Hidden Figures; maybe I tend to write more about things I've watched. That will lead us into next week, because I watched a lot of stuff that relates. Only some of it happened in February, but that goes perfectly with the reading.

I guess the final thought should be that this was really more of a Black History Year than month. Maybe my studies are just becoming more integrated. That sounds better than terrible disorganization.

Related posts (besides Monday and Tuesday):

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

How dare they?

Between the movie and two books, I got pretty caught up in the story of Ruth and Seretse Khama.

It was interesting to view the story through three different pairs of eyes. Generally it didn't make a lot of difference. I believe Michael Dutfield gave more information on the history of the Bamangwato tribe, while Susan Williams gave a better sense of how the rest of the world was viewing the conflict, and the general African presence in London.

The London information was interesting, not only because it gave the impression of a diverse and vital community that I had never heard of, but also because as some of those participants went on to lead other countries on the continent, it becomes not just a story of one city at one time but many countries over many years. That also showed Seretse Khama to be uniquely forward thinking in his efforts to train future leaders and establish stable succession processes.

There was one other way the two authors diverged, and that was on the reason for British interference. Some months have gone by now, so my memory may be fuzzy, but for all three sources it was a question of South Africa's relationship with Great Britain, already a fraught one.

If I recall correctly, the film just focused on stability, Dutfield mentioned concerns that losing British influence over South Africa would make their racism worse, while Williams focused on British concerns about South African uranium deposits.

Just for background, though minority rule had been the case in South Africa for many years, and was becoming further codified all through the 40s, Apartheid became official in 1948. That is also the year in which Ruth and Seretse married.

Racism has such a long history of fearing the unions of white women and Black men that it should not be at all surprising that South Africa had a problem with it, but that it should be the case in the royal marriage of a country just above them and sharing borders felt like a threat; something that could give their own residents ideas.

The South African factions that would have been happy to completely cast aside the British relationship were gaining popularity. Nationalism and racism have always had a natural affinity anyway.

To Dutfield's credit, I am sure that when any South African influence was admitted, the government official doing the admitting would be more likely to credit the desire to help the people of color in South Africa than fears of price gouging on uranium or fears of communists getting their hands on South African uranium. (To be fair, the South African nationalists tended to hate communists also.)

I can't help but think it was more about the uranium. It's hard to demonstrate that their careful treatment of South Africa did much to ameliorate Apartheid anyway. Regardless, Britain didn't like admitting any South African influence on the British government's opposition, first to the marriage of Ruth and Seretse, and then to Seretse taking his place as chief and king. Interfering with the sovereignty of one country at the behest of a third country for racist reasons is not a good look for any government.

I can sympathize with worrying about the long-term effects of damaging diplomatic ties with a country. If there were true worries about Apartheid, and worrying that taking a stand would do more harm than good, I can totally sympathize with that. I'm not denying that the decisions of various government officials didn't make a certain sense.

What angered me (and led to this post's title) was the utter indignation that so many of these officials demonstrated. How dare these two single people who are in love get married? How dare a legitimate ruler want to take his throne? We told them not to!

That's something that comes up again and again with women and with people of color -- with anyone lower on the power structure -- how dare they be so insolent? Where is their gratitude?

How dare they?

Monday, December 04, 2017

An accidental Black History Month

In February, I wrote how post-election there was some necessary reading that was causing me to get a late start on my Black History reading.

I am finishing up with the last book (though that list did expand) now, but I realized at one point that I had done some pretty good reading pertaining to Black history along the way. Things aren't always completely intentional, even if they are guided.

(It's kind of like that time that I was really behind on my 2014 Native American Heritage Month reading, so just I let all of those videos count, pushing the intended list out 2015.)

Here's what happened. I did not put Hidden Figures: The Untold True Story of Four African-American Women Who Helped Win the Space Race, by Margot Lee Shetterly, on the original 2017 list, because there were a lot of holds on the book and I thought I would have moved on by the time I got to it. I finished it April 2nd. That was later than I originally intended, but sometimes things work out.

Then we watched A United Kingdom, a movie about the marriage of Ruth and Seretse Khama. Seretse was heir to the throne Bechuanaland, but when he married a white woman he met while studying in England, the British government tried to stop the marriage, then his ascension. He did end up renouncing the throne, but they also changed from a protectorate with a king to a parliamentary republic, Botswana. Seretse Khama was the first president.

That was a very interesting story, and I read two books about it: Colour Bar: The Triumph of Seretse Khama and His Nation by Susan Williams and A Marriage of Inconvenience: The Persecution of Ruth & Seretse Khama by Michael Dutfied.

Much of the interference came from pressure from South Africa, which I will get into in another post, but one of the books that I own and have not read was Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton. It was mentioned as a book the Khamas admired, so adding that to the reading was easy.

Because of something I was working on, I also checked out The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales by Virginia Hamilton.

That's about when I realized I was building up a kind of list. The first time I observed Black History Month it was with just four books, even though I have expanded what I do some. I thought about what I was missing.

I had read some Luke Cage comics because the series was getting so much buzz: Luke Cage, Iron Fist & the Heroes For Hire, Vol 2 and Luke Cage: Avenger. I really wanted more about when Luke and Danny were working with Colleen and Misty, but that's okay. I learned some stuff, and now from just a brief picture I really love Ignatz, so that will be something else to check out.

I had not read any poetry yet, but when I had picked Maya Angelou, I felt a pang about remembering that I wanted to get to Gwendolyn Brooks. I read her Selected Poems. I also read The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, because I am reading more children's books now, and this one is culturally significant as a Caldecott Medal winner and the first full color picture book to feature a Black protagonist.

Altogether that felt pretty good. Yes, the books that I was meaning to get to have a year delay, but by the time I accepted that it was much less than a year. And, this happens. Right now I am not reading my intended books for Native American Heritage Month yet, and November just passed, but I am in the middle of my second online course on aboriginal issues, because sometimes things come up, and it works out.

(Also, one of my intended books, that I have had in the plans for months, made some end of the year book honors and now has many holds.)

The other thing that I appreciate is that for all my specific plans, even what is not carefully planned tends to be pretty good. There have been so many unintended books, or maybe they are intended, but not with a lot of notice, and they interact with each other and contribute to the whole in ways that are important. So I stick with it, even if I always feel somewhat behind and disorganized.

Also there was some watching, which is going to be its own post.

And also, I read Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee. I read it because of what I was reading, and things it made me wonder, but I don't know that it counts.

Related posts:

Friday, December 01, 2017

Band Review: Blue Flamez

I am now reviewing my last indigenous rapper for the year. A few things about this are significant for me.

We are out of November, though just barely. He is also not from the Mic article like the other six. Instead, he was from this article:

That's right; Blue Flamez is an Oregonian, and that is one reason I wanted to save him for last -- not only to crown my Native American Heritage Month listening, but also because that makes him my 500th band reviewed. I can see doing 500 more.

One thing that the article notes is the optimism of Blue Flamez' work. It does feel like there is less use of minor keys, where it is a subtle difference but the sound does not pull downward the way a lot of rap does.

The sound may be influenced by a sense of place, though I can't be sure. I nonetheless appreciate the decision to stay local, which is not always easy.

Also, after having reviewed many defunct bands, I appreciate the immediacy here. There is recent, current music.

I appreciate the nerd vibe on "Beam Me Up". "King Without A Crown" may be the most important track, but I really liked "We Come Correct", which has a sense of vibrancy and a strong hook.

It looks like there was at least one Portland date over the summer, but I did not see any current touring information.