Archive for May, 2011

The Ascent of Man by Jacob Bronowski

May 2, 2011

[Bill L.]

Book review: The Ascent of man by Jacob Bronowski.

Last week on tax day, I was surprised by a book review in the Guardian. Surprised because the review was for a 38 year old book. I was even more surprised because the book was or rather is one of my favourites. The book reviewed is The Ascent of Man by Jacob Bronowski. Back in 1973, it was a joint project between WGBH in Boston and the BBC in London. The book was actually first a 13 part TV series. And the text is almost a verbatim transcript of the TV series. The review noted that the BBC has reissued the book with a new introduction by Richard Dawkins, the noted Humanist, biologist and atheist.

Bronowski was a Jewish-Polish British mathematician and was a contemporary and colleague of many of the theoretical physicists who worked on the Manhattan Project. He died in 1974, a year after the TV series was broadcast.

My reason for this review is to briefly point out, as did the excellent Guardian review, how seminal this TV series and book were and remain. The work a collection of 13 essays on not so much the history of science, but the way in which people have reacted to the science and technology that we all must deal with.

Dr. Bronowski had an inimitable way to explain the most complex things in an interesting, clever and even amusing way. His fame was obviously fleeting as you can imagine. Even so the fact that the book has been reissued is of considerable interest, and apparently not only to me. The Ascent of Man remains important, not only now, or 38 years ago, but in all places in human time and space regarding specific technological advances as they affect people. The book deserves a look or a second look. Because, it was and remains powerful and more importantly modern and relevant, it was and is altogether an excellent work. And it is one of the best books that I have ever read.

bill littlefield

“The Fool” by Warpaint

May 2, 2011

[Bill L.]

Music review

Warpaint, CD: The Fool

Release: Oct 25, 2010

There is, or rather has been, a paucity, of what is now referred to for some reason, and with profuse apologies to Gloria Steinem, “Girl Bands”. I think of The Bangles, The Cranberries and of course Heart, as welcome exceptions. Certainly there are host of “Leading Ladies” with male accompaniment, but oddly not vice versa. And I am at as loss as to why. This whether or not interesting is as the phrase goes “is”.

Whilst trawling the Guardian’s website in December, I noted a rare [for the Guardian] band interview on site video. I listened and watched and I became intrigued. Curiosity is, I believe, key to inquiry and discovery of new music today. But then so it has ever been. It is just easier today than ever before.

The interview was intriguing, not because it was a band of Americans, women actually. It was intriguing not because they were intelligent, lively, witty, thoughtful and articulate, again not surprising, but because they were a quartet of women. This is rare. And I realized I had to learn more about these fascinating people. These people are the band Warpaint. The interview itself was more like an academic seminar with a give and take nature of interesting questions and reposts. All four members participated. The presenter himself was very knowledgeable about the US music scene and also very interesting.

English/British music reviews are almost always [at least by American standards…] well written, or if live, very well presented and not above a “Grand Slam” to get the person/people to make imbeciles of themselves. Always entertaining and always so polite too, we in the USA have a lot to learn from our UK friends here. Alas, in America if you can find a music review in The Times, Village Voice, Rolling Stone, the Phoenix or from LA/San Fran you are very lucky. And then only when the band have “made it big”. One has to say that for a country that prizes enterprise and profit as much as does the USA we seem to be almost Darwinian in our support for such a money making business. Not so the UK Press, Radio & TV. Music reviews of all kinds abound and right now too, and in the internet age are easily accessible. It seems to me that if you appear on a radio or TV and now internet interview, you ought to have something to say, prepared comments, stories or anecdotes. In not, you don’t seem to be too sharp.

Mercifully, this is not the case with Warpaint. They are in it for the music. And what music it is. A hauntingly mildly psychedelic ethereal echoing effect is theirs. The quality of the voices is stunning. I understand now, [for four months actually] the reason for the almost universal acclaim for this band. Our copy of “The Fool” has been out constantly since we got it earlier this year. Undertow, Bees, Elephants and Shadows are songs to delight the ear and mind. Actually, all the tracks are, in my opinion, very well done. The Fool is a very listenable album.  I recommend it highly.

This band has haunted me since early last December. I have written, revised and thought. Listened again, torn up, deleted and rethought. Why? It’s not as if I’m getting paid here. The reason is that the words I had used just weren’t right. I think I’ve finally got it now. So this review has been in the works since before Christmas. As to whether or not it is worth the wait is another thing entirely. I am almost certain that you will enjoy these songs by an unusual band. One last thing, the “Boy Bands” had best watch out. The gals are coming. In fact with Warpaint they are here… Listen.

bill littlefield

“Goodbye Lullaby” by Avril Lavigne

May 2, 2011

[Bill L.]

Music review

Avril Lavigne

Goodbye Lullaby

A friend of mine commented recently that Avril Lavigne is a guilty pleasure of his and I would completely agree.

Even so, who am I to comment on someone else’s loves? I am certainly no sterling example. I am referring to the new CD from Avril Lavigne. I really got the feeling that these songs were banged out hurriedly and I’m really sorry to have to say this because this woman has a noted and remarkable voice. Her debut CD was excellent. And I guess I am an early fan who wanted to hope for more, but to the music.

Simply put; “Everybody hurts” is really good, a real heartbreaker, divorce is a killer. I know and can empathize. Avril really does seem to be in pain. She articulates this pain in “I wish you were here”. This is brilliant as we really can feel her loss and this is as has been said the “old Avril” at her best. It is hard to understand the rest of the album. Maybe the singer is, as are the rest of us divorced people, so stunned that she is not herself, because a part of her has died inside. Maybe the pain is swallowing her alive. Maybe someone is trying to make some fast money off her name and fame? That seems more likely.

“What the hell” is about as bad as this good girl gets. I’m sorry, it is so bad that the less said the better, but, what the hell… The song is everything Lavigne used to be against. It is trite, cheap and tawdry, and that is before one sees the video which alas, is embarrassing at best, appalling at its worst. This woman can and has done so much better that I am at a loss as to why she agreed to do it at all. It was as if someone who hated Avril convinced her to make a video mocking her, which it does.

There has been pleasure in listening to Ms Lavigne in the past. One can hope that there will be in future, with or without guilt.

Bill littlefield