Still Misunderestimated After All These Years

Film: W — I was truly expecting a mess like director Oliver Stone’s previous Natural Born Killers or at least a losing proposition like The Doors. But the director’s mercurial talents — at their best he can be as good as it gets these days in cinema — have actually come up with a still to some degree flawed winner. Certainly the film’s timing would lead one to believe that this silver screen treatment of our soon to be ex-President is a bit of agitprop. Instead what you get in a quite engaging and at times laugh-inducing look at a man who, by the film’s end, it’s hard not to at least feel empathy for if not even like, not dissimilar to the aftereffect of reading my friend Robert Draper’s Bush bio Dead Certain. Some on the left may cry “heresy,” but misunderestimating George W. — or any political bete noir — is a dangerous game to play. Better to know and understand thy adversary: all the better to battle and defeat them and be vigilant against the forces of history, society and psychology that bring people like Bush into places of power. But it will still be easier to chuckle knowingly at this movie after January when he’s gone.

CD: All Rebel Rockers by Michael Franti & Spearhead — Some loyal readers took me to task after my wrap-up of 2007’s music for not mentioning Franti, who I pointed out to them did not have a new album release that year. And then promised to make sure that I wouldn’t ignore his next, even though for all Franti’s laudable musical, political and enlightened progressive ambitions, the man who would be Marley had not yet caught my ear as firmly as I would like him to. But by going for Black Uhuru rather than Marley & The Wailers on his sixth studio album by hiring producers and über-riddim section Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, Franti has finally begun to close the gap between his quite admirable aspirations and his recorded accomplishments. All Rebel Rockers lives up to its title by dint of a mighty groove as well as songs that are less politically explicit and more of a spirit, managing to — as Marley did — inspire and inform with love and infectiously alluring music. He finally masters true rock steady Jamaican reggae authenticity and inject it with his American hip-hop (and more) background to make what I believe is his watershed disc, with more at this same level and likely higher to follow, I imagine. This is one of those albums that plays better each time I hear it — and makes you want to do so — and I suspect that in a few weeks when I summarize 2008, I could be well inclined to call this CD one of the year’s definitive albums.

Bookazine: No Depression #76, edited by Grant Alden and Peter Blackstock — The alternative country/Americana magazine that folded earlier this year returns as a quarterly trade paperback journal that they call a “bookazine,” published by the University of Texas Press. Its debut looking at prospects in the next generation of American roots music suffers from the same textual dryness that sometimes plagued the magazine. But the editors’ devotion to their mission is laudable, and anyone who follows real American music will appreciate the continuance of its significant voice of advocacy.

From The Progressive Populist, December 15, 2008

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