I Made My Madness Reality (The War Machines)

It’s June 25th, 1966. Between now and July 16th, a three-year-old girl will die at the Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison, Wisconsin after crawling under a restraining fence and being pulled into an elephant cage. Hundreds will die across the midwestern United States in a six-day heat wave, including 149 in St. Louis, and as many as 650 in new York City. Eight student nurses will die in Chicago when Richard Speck breaks into a dormitory and strangles them. This is in addition to numerous deaths in the Vietnam War, the deaths of Polish poet Jan Brzechwa, French painter Julie Manet, and the world edging ever closer to the eschaton. Also, The War Machines airs.

Looking at it in 2020, the two things that jump out about The War Machines are how prescent it is and how prescient it isn’t. On the one hand, its basic concerns about the destructive possibilities of computer technology are clearly ahead of its time. It’s not that evil computers were unknown in 1966—they started appearing in sci-fi literature in the 1950s, the same decade that Alan Turing broached the subject of whether a machine could think in his landmark paper “Computing Machinery ...

A Man On My Back (Me and a Gun)

CW: Rape

 

Me and a Gun (1992)

Me and a Gun (live, 1992)

Me and a Gun (TV performance, 1992)

Me and a Gun (live, 1996)

Me and a Gun (live, 1997)

Me and a Gun (official bootleg, 2007, Pip set) 

Ibid, video version

It is one of the most harrowing things in the history of pop music. The bulk of adjectives for it seem to fall short, fatally undermined by the fact that they’ve already been used for so many lesser songs. Brave? Raw? Powerful? Obviously. But all of these are understatements. Ultimately, the vocabulary of pop music begins to falter here. “Me and a Gun” exists in a different space than anything else. Alex Reed, writing about industrial music in Assimilate, notes that nose forms an extreme limit that you cannot progress past: there is simply a boundary past which you cannot create more or harsher noise. In its own way, “Me and a Gun” does the same thing. Its aesthetic project is closed definitively after four minutes; nothing else like this can ever be done except as a pale and frankly offensive imitation.

In January of 1985, a few months after moving to Los Angeles ...

Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror Review

Were I of a cynical mind, I might suggest that the show is in dire straits when a great man of history story that proclaims the future to belong to a white guy and suggests that it’s good to be a billionaire stands out as a relative highlight of the season. Except we all know that the show is in embarrassing shape, with a showrunner who continues to struggle with the notion of aboutness in narrative. Why take an episode whose sins all fall under the heading of “basically the same shit the program does in all its celebrity historicals” and complain about that when it breaks a five episode streak of the show breaking down in far more fundamental ways?

All of which is to say that “Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror” is pretty good, which is to say that it has the basics down in a way nothing since “It Takes You Away” has really come close to. There’s a refreshing sense of conceptual unity—the conflict between Tesla and Edison, where Tesla is a visionary inventor and Edison a more cynically pragmatic and business-oriented sort, is mirrored by the technological scavenger villains. There’s a sense of actually getting ...

This Primitive Planet and Its Affairs (The Crusade)

It’s March 27th, 1965. Between now and April 17th, 470 people will die in a dam burst and landslide in Chile, 20 will die when a car bomb is detonated outside the US embassy in Saigon, two will die when the first aircraft lost in air-to-air combat during the Vietnam War are shot down during a strike on the Thanh Hóa Bridge, and somewhere north of 250 people will die in the Midwestern United States in what are called the Palm Sunday Tornadoes, while Richard Hickock and Perry Smith will be executed by hanging for the murders of the Herbert Clutter family, Princess Mary wll die of a heart attack on the grounds of her estate at Harewood House, and the world will edge incrementally closer to the eschaton. Also, The Crusade airs.

Acclaimed Doctor Who critic Philip Sandifer (whatever happened to him?) once attempted to classify the historical stories into two moulds defined by the Season One writers of the genre. Like most of his work, this is insightful but ultimately over-simplified. The more productive approach is to read the historicals as advancing dialectically between John Lucarotti’s harder edged approach to historicals, in which they are a vehicle for ...

Fair Boy Your Eyes (Song For Eric)

Song for Eric (demo, 1990)

Song for Eric (live, 1991)

Song for Eric (1992)

Song for Eric (live, 1994)

Song for Eric (live, 1996)

The b-sides for Little Earthquakes are a mixture of fine songs that it’s difficult to see how missed the album, or that if it is clear, it comes down purely to tonal fit instead of quality—“Upside Down” and “Take to the Sky”—and the usual mix of songs that fall just short of the album tracks that did make it—“Mary” and “Sweet Dreams.” And then there is “Song for Eric,” the only song among the Little Earthquakes sessions to simply be bad. An a capella love song framed entirely in fantasy romance pablum about a “fair maiden” who will “wait all day for my sailor” that unironically includes the phrases “over hill and dale” and “you know me like the nightingale,” it is at best a cut rate version of “Etienne,” and at worst a rehash of the character-based love songs she wrote as a teenager. (It’s worth comparing specifically to “Rubies and Gold,” which is essentially the same song only with a baroquely complex musical arrangement instead of an a capella ...

Orphan 55 Review

An episode with its heart in the right place and its head largely on the moon. In this regard it resembles Himes’ previous effort. The problem is that where “It Takes You Away” moved among a bunch of elements that were batshit weird and largely unlike anything we’d ever seen before, “Orphan 55” moves through a bunch of Doctor Who standards. These are generally among the more interesting Doctor Who standards—a dodgy resort a la The Macra Terror or Delta and the Bannermen, the main reveal from The Mysterious Planet, and a big heavy-handed environmental message like it’s The Green Death. These are all basically good components.

Unfortunately, Himes’s sugar rush sense of momentum keeps any of them from going anywhere. The supporting cast is overstuffed and undercooked, feeling at times like a cut-rate Voyage of the Damned. Interesting ideas flop oddly around the screen, briefly contemplating becoming significant plot threads before declining to. What exactly are the Dregs doing, killing some people and weirdly torturing Benni in a way that doesn’t actually make him stop being a weird comic relief character? What’s the actual substance of the relationship between Kane and Bella? There are stories here, but they’re being ...

He'll Burn Everything; Us Too (The Daleks)

It’s December 21st, 1963. Between now and February 1st, 1964 128 people will die in a cruise ship fire north of Madeira, 25 people will die in riots in the Panama Canal Zone, 100 will die in anti-Muslim riots in Calcutta, three will die when an American fighter jet accidentally strays into East German space and is shot down, while Pamela Johnson will be murdered in Manchester, New Hampshire, T.H. White will die of heart failure, and the world will edge incrementally closer to the eschaton. Also, The Daleks will air on television.

The Daleks sits suspended between two eschatons, the seemingly defeated threat of fascism on one side, the thus-far averted threat of nuclear annihilation on the other. In one sense these are distinct threats, although 1960s Britain remained broadly aware that fascism was not eliminated forever and that it required a perpetual vigilance lest it arise in a period where it could find itself in control of a nuclear arsenal. But the Daleks are both too much and too little to quite fit into the straightforward “what if Hitler had the bomb” framework. It is a truism that pop culture nazis are curiously devoid of substance—an empty ...

The Dream King (Tear in Your Hand)

Tear in Your Hand (1992)
Tear in Your Hand (live, 1992)
Tear in Your Hand (live, 1998)
Tear in Your Hand (TV performance, 2002)
Tear in Your Hand (official bootleg, 2005)
Tear in Your Hand (official bootleg, 2007, Tori set)
Tear in Your Hand (live, 2014)

 

Preludes and Nocturnes

We all know where this is going, but let’s start with the actual song: a comparatively uptempo breakup song. The temptation to make another Y Kant Tori Read comparison is obvious from the description, which makes the song all the more surprising given how radically far from that it actually ends up. There are obvious reasons for this. For one, “Tear In Your Hand” is, like most of Little Earthquakes, built around Amos’s piano, which offers a jaunty descending riff doubled by Amos’s initial “yai la la lai lai lai lai” vocal line. This is not a song of swaggeringly wounded pride or of pained yearning, but something altogether more trickster-like. Amos is teasing in her vocal, maintaining a sense of humor throughout, as with “I don’t believe you’re leaving cause / me and Charles Manson like the same ice cream / I think it’s that girl.” Amos is clearly hurt ...

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