I am a history professor who grew up in Western New York, but now find myself teaching in Western Montana. My primary areas of interest and research are in American cultural history, especially in relation to the intersection of popular culture and politics. This blog is primarily to help me keep in touch with my far-flung family and friends, and give me the chance to spout off a bit on whatever happens to be on my mind.
Dr. John's Record Shelf is my weekly radio program on KDWG, 90.9 FM broadcast from the University of Montana Western. My goal is to offer an eclectic mix of various styles, genres and eras, focusing primarily (but not exclusively) on music that you won't hear anywhere else on the dial (at least not in SW Montana). My co-host, Art Vandelay and I (with the assistance of station flunky Rico Muckman) also provide some additional bits to liven up the show, including Three People I Know (where I mention three people I know), The Cultural Corner (where we engage in lively banter on art, literature and poetry), Dr. John's Top Five (where we take a shot at ranking almost anything), and Record Shelf Theater (where we re-create a scene from some famous movie, play or TV show). If you find yourself in Dillon, tune us in; otherwise, below are some lists of songs that have been aired on recent shows:
Dr. John's Record Shelf 121104
Bill Fay, "This World"
Steve Goodman, "Turnpike Tom"
Ani DiFranco, "Which Side Are You On?"
Bruce Springsteen, "We Are Alive"
Decemberists, "Don't Carry It All"
Carole King, "Pleasant Valley Sunday"
Bruce Cockburn, "Wondering Where the Lions Are"
Neil Young & Crazy Horse, "Oh Susannah"
Bob Dylan, "Soon After Midnight"
Charms, "American Way"
Belle & Sebastian, "I Want the World to Stop"
Krayolas, "Find a Girl"
Beatles, "Tomorrow Never Knows"
Neko Case, "Things That Scare Me"
Avett Brothers, "Will You Return"
Craig Finn, "New Friend Jesus"
Dr. John's Record Shelf 121028
Fleet Foxes, "Helplessness Blues"
Golden Shoulders, "I Will Light You on Fire"
Spoon, "Finer Feelings"
Girls, "Just a Song"
Devandra Banhart, "Shabop Shalom"
Gaslight Anthem, "The '59 Sound"
Those Darlins, "Mystic Mind"
Son Seals, "I Can't Hold Out"
Johnny Ace, "Pledging My Love"
Charlotte Gainsbourg, "Dandelion"
Aimee Mann, "Borrowing Time"
Elliott Smith, "Between the Bars"
Carpenters, "It's Going to Take Some Time"
Hayes Carll, "Girl Downtown"
Fiery Furnaces, "Even in the Rain"
Billy Ward & the Dominoes, "Chicken Blues"
Anna Kramer & the Lost Cause, "You Think You Know Me"
Sophie Zelmani, "Most of the Time"
Dr. John's Record Shelf 121021
Cabaret Voltaire, "No Escape"
Us3, "Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)"
Hank Mobley, "The Break Through"
Rodriguez, "Sugar Man"
Mary Weiss, "My Heart is Beating"
Pete Shelley, "Think For Yourself"
Buddy Holly, "Take Your Time"
Raincoats, "No One's Little Girl"
Detroit Cobras, "Ya Ya Ya"
Public Image, LTD, "Public Image"
Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, "Bad Reputation"
Love Is All, "Wishing Well"
Louie & the Lovers, "I KNow You Know"
Forty-Fives, "The Devil Beats His Wife"
John P. Strohm, "Better Than Nothing"
The Naysayer, "Currency"
Sir Douglas Quintet, "Who'll Be Next in Line"
The Seeds, "Mr. Farmer"
Dr. John's Record Shelf 121014
TV on the Radio, "Second Song"
Can, "Oh Yeah"
White Stripes, "300 MPH Torrential Downpour Blues"
Mary Lou Lord, "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go"
T-Bone Burnett, "The Murder Weapon"
New Bomb Turks, "Statue of Liberty"
Ramones, "Surfin' Bird"
Paris Sisters, "Dream Lover"
Lee Dorsey, "Ride Your Pony"
Michael Hurley, "Sweet Lucy"
Gary Numan, "Cars"
Neil Diamond, "Delirious Love"
Undertones, "We All Talked About You"
Shadows of Knight, "Shake"
Cub, "Magic 8 Ball"
Rilo Kiley, "The Frug"
Terry Allen, "Lubbock Woman"
Kinks, "Lincoln County"
Dr. John's Record Shelf 121007
Corin Tucker Band, "Summer Jams"
Go-Betweens, "Too Much of One Thing"
Feelies, "Change Your Mind"
Billy Bragg & the Blokes, "Baby Faroukh"
Marcia Griffiths, "Don't Let Me Down"
Velvet Crush, "Hold Me Up"
Chris Mills, "Calling All Comrades"
Insect Trust, "Hoboken Saturday Night"
Broken West, "So It Goes"
REM, "Exhuming McCarthy"
Dire Straits, "Twisting By the Pool"
Tom Rush, "Urge for Going"
Paul Westerberg & Joan Jett, "Let's Do It"
Fred Astaire, "Cheek to Cheek"
The Who, "I Can See For Miles"
Liz Phair, "Uncle Alvarez"
Steve martin & the Steep Canyon Rangers, "King Tut"
Here's the last summary post of movies I saw some months ago, but never got around to writing up. At this point, anyone of these would make a great rental or on-demand choice (since they are long gone from theaters). For the record, my favorite movie of the summer was Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom, but Beasts of the Southern Wild was pretty close (the picture above is from that film).
Safety Not Guaranteed (Colin Trevorrow)- I was won over by this movie almost immediately. Low key and somewhat meandering, the story turns on a great hook: a guy advertises for a companion to join him in time travel. The reporters who pursue the story behind the ad start out cynical and even somewhat predatory, but the sincerity of their target slowly erodes their disbelief in various ways. The cast is filled with TV stars (Aubrey Plaza of Parks and Recreation, Jake Johnson of The New Girl and Mark Duplass of The League), which is not often a good sign. But in this case, I think their small-screen skills keep this on an easily relatable level. I'll be looking forward to what the guys who made this come up with next.
The Dark Knight Rises (Christopher Nolan)- I've been something less-than enthusiastic about the spate of super-hero movies in recent years. Many are entertaining, but few are memorable. I think this one maybe breaks that mold. There are elements of its plot that I find disturbing, especially it's lack of faith in democratic institutions, or the subtly fascistic obeisance to corporate might. But I have to admit that it treats such themes seriously and not just as a pretext for pyrotechnics. Nolan seems to recognize that the whole concept of a superhero raises disturbing questions about power and how its wielded, and I'd say I felt disturbed leaving the theater, which counts for a lot in making sure a work or art sticks with you.
Carlos (Olivier Assayas)- Okay, technically this was a made for TV miniseries which I saw on DVD. But it was released theatrically, I just never had a chance to catch it. This tale of terror and politics in the 1970s was immensely gripping and the charisma of Carlos (famously known as The Jackal) sure comes across in Assayas' account of his career. It's actually an interesting counterpoint to The Dark Knight, with the politics much more in evidence and the violence more often deferred, lending considerably to the suspense. Carlos begins as a somewhat misguided but sympathetic character but evolves over the three plus hours into an obvious monster. This is the perhaps inevitable result of vigilante-type justice-- no matter how noble the cause. When you set yourself up as judge and jury it becomes impossible to continue exercising such power in the interests of others (despite one's rhetoric), in real life anyway if not in comic books. Assayas is masterful in bringing his audience along to draw just such a conclusion.
Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin)- This was a truly one-of-a-kind movie, in terms of both narrative and style. It recounts the adventures of a youngster growing up in a remote (physically and psychologically) part of the Mississippi delta, where the inhabitants are so deeply embedded in their environment that the consequences of natural disaster are taken to be almost entirely the fault of human error (in this case, the construction of a levy). On one hand, it's a bit hard to generate much sympathy for most of the characters in this story; but in the end there's something ennobling about how fiercely they protect their prerogative to live life their chosen way. It was difficult not to view this as a political allegory, given its election year appearance, but I doubt that was foremost in the filmmaker's mind. Instead, the young protagonist's sense of herself as a part of something much bigger while nonetheless battling to protect her own independence has much broader implications than any narrow current events link would suggest. Overall, a magical, thought provoking movie-- and that combination does not come along very often.