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Two Books, Two Recordings: Four Reviews

I’ve been listening to a CD titled The Natural Sweetness of Cream the past couple months. This disc is the third effort from the LA-based band Stoney Spring. Plainly stated, The Natural Sweetness of Cream rises above many other new releases.  It remains a shame that hardly anyone has heard (or even heard of) this band.  Their lyrics run from the tongue in cheek to the contemplative, with episodes of what I call rhythmic onamatopoeia.musically sprinkled in. The disc is superb. The compositions, the arrangements, and the musicianship are all things of beauty. There are rasta beats and rock, twenty-first surfer twang and swinging jazz.  Stoney Spring is part of the growing garden of musical conglomerations sprung from Los Angeles’s premier country folk rock band I See Hawks in LA.  A mixture of old and young personnel full of wit, incredible playing and a joie de vivre born of California sunshine and tinged with just enough cynicism one needs to stay sane.  I find myself listening to this over and over…and over.  You might too.

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Philip Proctor, founder and lifetime member of the acid-rock comedy group Firesign Theatre, recently published his autobiography. One of the many stories he tells is when he did television commercials for a car dealership in Los Angeles. The commercial ran incessantly (and would be one of the inspirations for Firesign’s car salesman Ralph Spoilsport of Ralph Spoilsport Motors) As Proctor tells it, the advertisement ran so often his friends started complaining. “I was cuddling up to my wife,” one pal hassled me, “and the television was on and there you were, in that stupid commercial again. I was too distracted to make love.”

Proctor shares tales of his childhood in private schools and Yale, where he embraced theater and jokes at a young age. His storytelling does not disappoint. Indeed, by the time the four members of Firesign are finally performing together, the narrative occasionally reads like a Firesign script. In other words, it is clever, hip, and hilarious. What more can one ask for?

 

I’m usually not a big fan of Hollywood biographies, but my affinity for Firesign theater’s comedy and Proctor’s sense of humor made this a very enjoyable read, even with the name-dropping one can’t help but put into this kind of text. There’s tragedy too, like the story of Peter Berman’s girlfriend who after returning from Vietnam as a war reporter, overdosed on drugs and died in Bergman’s arms. Speaking of the Vietnam war and associated events, Proctor injects a fair amount of politics into his narrative. Indeed, most interesting to me was his political analysis of Firesign Theater’s first album Waiting for the Electrician or Someone Like Him: it is a routine having to do with the abuse of power, with the electrician being the authoritarian figure in the scenario.

There are tales of beautiful women, cocaine, Hollywood escorts and Russian mobsters in this book. Mostly, though, there is the story of one of the best comedy troupes to ever play planet Earth. Told with the humor and general smart-ass wit associated with the Firesign Theater, Philip Proctor’s Where’s My Fortune Cookie? was not written in vain. In fact, I have a feeling it was mostly written in Los Angeles.

***

Wadada Leo Smith is my favorite living trumpet player. Having first been introduced to his music less than a decade ago after getting in touch with a high school friend then touring with Smith, I have given a fair amount of my listening time to discovering his earlier works and keeping up with his prolific output. Most recently, a recent release titled Solo: Reflections And Meditations On Monk has been in heavy rotation on my music player. This disc is exactly what the title says it is. It is a collection of compositions by Thelonius Monk performed as solos trumpet works by Smith. Monk released a number of records that featured him playing the piano. Those records (and any released posthumously) are meditative and relaxing, simple and complex. They are Monk at his purest, fingers, keyboard and mind function as one instrument. Wadada Leo Smith’s take on this solo approach equals the mastery of Monk. Indeed, Monk’s tunes are given a depth of soul via Smith’s horn I have never heard in my years of listening to Monk’s solo work. Smith’s playing is impeccable and his tone is one with the music of the spheres. This music is transcendence defined.

***

Those who follow the news concerning Palestine today are quite familiar with the massive economic and political support provided Israel by the United States. Most estimates state that Israel gets eight million dollars a day from the US. Israel could not exist as it does without that money and political backing. Despite the substantial support granted to Israel by the United States today, it wasn’t always this way. Indeed, it was Great Britain who not only “gave” the Zionist movement the go-ahead to settle on Palestinian lands, it was also Great Britain which supported the settlers with military and economic aid. Then, when Israel became a state—thanks to Britain’s lobbying and even greater support—Britain continued to provide military and economic aid. All the while, its treatment of the Palestinians on the land was racist and discriminatory. This was in spite of its claim that it was trying to be fair to both the settlers and the Palestinians.

While most casual observers know this about Britain at least in a general way, the recent centenary anniversary of the Balfour Declaration has once again put the details of this “support” in the public view. It is this history that is the subject of a recently published book titled Balfour’s Shadow: A Century of British Support for Zionism and Israel. The author, David Cronin, a journalist and author whose focus is the Middle East explores Britain’s crucial, ongoing role in the founding and support of the Zionist movement’s colonization of Palestine and the existence of Israel.

The most important aspect of this history is that it proves the mindset of the occupation has not only been in place for a century but so have many of its mechanisms. Whether it was the use of the same tactics used by the British against the Irish or the blatant racism of British politicians and military leaders in their considerations of the Palestinians, Cronin’s litany of British crimes against the Palestinians on the ground and in the world of diplomacy is a brutal indictment of the history spawned by Lord Balfour’s letter to the World Zionist Organization.

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

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