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A Hard Week On the Planet | The Nation

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Eric Alterman

Eric Alterman

Well-chosen words on music, movies and politics, with the occasional special guest.

A Hard Week On the Planet

I've got a new "Think Again" column called "A Hard Week On the Planet," which tries to get at what we still know to be true about global warming, despite all the noise and scandal that's been associated with some of the science involved, here.

Alter-reviews:

Dave Alvin live by Eric 

I caught an acoustic show by Dave Alvin at City Winery this week. It was an enormous pleasure in every respect. Dave Alvin ranks about as high as anyone these days on the great-but-unfamous scale. His recent work with the Guilty Women, and his production of the tribute album to his late close friend and bandmember Chris Gaffney were two of favorite albums not just of last year, and but of the past few years. This show, the opening one of the tour, was a rather shaggy dog affair, with Alvin repeatedly promising to have things down by the time they reach Birmingham in two weeks. This actually made it more of a pleasure, as it contributed to the coziness--the show took place on the day of yet another global-warming-disproving snowstorm--and the musicianship of Dave himself and the amazing Cindy Cashdollar (Can that really be her name?) on what I think was peddle steel, and Christy McWilson singing duets, backups and main vocals, well, trust me. Alvin writes songs, like those of say, Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams, that feel as if they've been around for centuries (and certainly as if they should be). He didn't play his masterpiece, "Border Radio" nor his un-rock 'n roll song "American Music," and the only Blasters song I recognized was the encore, "Marie, Marie." But the rest of it, a mixture of Alvin originals and the kind of songs that feel like standards once they've been revived by musicians with the right balance of fun and reverance (and of course, eclecticism), well, people, when it works, even sloppily, it's why I/we spend so much time on music in this place, and what makes life worth living in hard times. 

I had not made it to City Winery before because I'm old and live uptown, but what a terrific place! Great sound, excellent food (from famous local places) a wine list that goes into the stratosphere but doesn't have to, and a warm, unpretentious place to hear music. All with a decent cover. I shouldn't say this, but all of a sudden I miss The equally warm and well-booked (but overcrowded, and with terrible food) Bottom Line a whole lot less. If you're in the city, take a look at the calendar here, and if you live in DC, you can catch Dave tonight at The Birchmere, where the vibe will be just as warm, but the food well, sorry, that's what you get for living there instead of here. Here's the rest of Dave's tour. Also, check out the work of Mr. Gaffney, who belongs right alongside Dave on that list. His masterpiece, in my opinion, is the second Hacienda Brothers Album, "What's Wrong With Right?" but as Robert Zimmerman would say, "It's all good."

What follows are by Sal:

Johnny Cash - American VI: Ain't No Grave

Yet another posthumous collection of Rick Rubin produced, Johnny Cash outtakes can be found on American VI: Ain't No Grave." Who needs it, right? We all do! As a matter of fact, this last (?) volume could be the best yet. At just barely over 30 minutes long, the sadness and exhaustion in Cash's voice is so moving, it may have been difficult to listen to much more. Covering Sheryl Crow's "Redemption Day" is no more ridiculous and no less genius than covering Soundgarden and Nine Inch Nails, and we have the brilliant Rick Rubin to thank for that. But it's Kris Kristofferson's "For The Good Times" where Johnny Cash will leave you limp. This CD is a must.

Josh Charles - Love, Work & Money

The debut from newcomer Josh Charles, Love, Work, & Money has been a long time coming for this wildly talented young piano player, who was born in California, lived in Kansas City, currenty resides in New York, but has nothing but New Orleans in his blood. His chops on the piano will bring to mind his heroes James Booker and Dr. John, but on Love, Work, & Money, Charles shows he can get his groove on, while not abandoning the song. Some great work here from this great young artist.

Neil Diamond - Hot August Night: NYC

Neil Diamond's now legendary 1972 release Hot August Night captures the singer in all his glitz and glory. I've always loved early Neil, especially the Bang Masters, which is still inexplicably unavailable on a legitimately released CD, but I never cared for this big and bombastic live album. Then, I finally got to see the man, one hot August night in NYC, and though my mind hasn't changed about the record, the performance did make me realize why so many went ga-ga over the 1972 souvenir.

Almost 40 years later, that recent NY night has been captured on Hot August Night: NYC. Everything is here. The early greats like "Cherry, Cherry," "Kentucky Woman" and "I'm A Believer." The schmaltz like "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" and "Love On The Rocks." The douche-chill inducing "Forever In Blue Jeans" and "Song Sung Blue." And the brilliant songs like "Solitary Man," "Girl, You'll Be A Woman Soon," "Done Too Soon" and "Brooklyn Roads" that make Neil Diamond one of the greatest songwriters of all time.

I don't know if I would recommend the live versions of any of these songs over the originals, but Hot August Night: NYC is a great document, especially if you caught any of the shows.

Sal Nunziatowww.burnwoodtonite.blogspot.com

The Mail:

Name: Michael Green

Hometown: Las Vegas, NV

Your column about Zinn struck a chord with me. I first read A People's History in the mid-1980s as a beginning graduate student and, in the courses for which I was a TA, referred to him as "Happy Howie" because he was so unrelievedly critical of the American past. But it was an important and interesting antidote to the celebratory version that so many students--and those who no longer were students-- had been exposed to.

Fast-forward two decades. My graduate adviser, Eric Foner (who also wrote a fine remembrance of Zinn for The Nation), published Give Me Liberty, a textbook that I assigned (and continue to assign) in my U.S. survey. A returning student came up to me and said, "Wow, I never learned this stuff in high school." And I thought to myself, we're still fighting this battle.

As to the journalism involved, I am reminded of Edward R. Murrow wondering if his bosses would have felt that, had he reported on Jesus, he should have gotten a comment from Judas. I wouldn't put Zinn in the former's class. Horowitz, though, might be a different matter...

Name: Barb Goldstein

Hometown: Albany/Brooklyn, NY

Well, I'm quitting NPR. That Horowitz thing was repugnant. Why didn't they ask Glenn Beck? Oh, wait, he doesnt read. Immaterial: there were dozens of historians who could have written a good or even a critical obit. But that guy? A shonde. Professor Zinn was my mother's first cousin. We didnt see much of him; he was in Boston, the rest of the family is mostly in New York. But he inspired me to be a history major (and a half written dissertation, sadly ran outta money!) and to keep current in the field. His voice may be silent now, but not his words. 

Name: Tom Williams

Hometown: Malta, NY

Addendum to Pierce: If Parson Meacham wants to write intelligently about the National Prayer Breakfast, he first might add to his nighttime reading a copy of The Family (Harper Collins, 2008). Jeff Sharlet's revealing account of, among other things, the origins and purposes of that bacon-and-eggs civility-fest. Or, perhaps Parson is already one of the "key men" hobnobbing with the breakfast-happy Family, whose members pledge to their brethren in its C Street townhouse and other retreats that they will keep discreetly mum about certain, uh, delicate foreign-policy and other matters concerning that outfit. 

Name: Jon Delfin

Hometown: New York, NY 

"...even lifelong anti-Sullivanites like myself, Brad Delong and Matt Yglesias."

"One day he loves George Bush and Dick Cheney and wants to put myself and Susan Sontag into a concentration camp."

"Oh and if you wanted to see Melissa and myself with Bill Moyers...."

You have something against the word "me"?

Eric replies, "Who? Moi?"

Name: Joan Clark

Hometown: Shorewood, WI

That's "Melissa and me," not "Melissa and myself."

'Myself' is reflexive, as in, "I did it myself."

I don't know how this has taken over, but it is dead wrong.

Eric replies: "OK, Ok, I give up…"

Name: Harry Binswanger

Hometown: New York, NY

As one of those "pathetic souls" who agree with Ayn Rand's philosophy, I have to ask: Do you have some argument to support the coercive altruism you advocate? Or are you just counting on Christian myth to ground that morality? 

As a philosopher, I'd like to know, because I've never seen an argument for altruism--it's always just preached (and I do mean "preached").

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