Michael Mechanic

Michael Mechanic

Senior Editor

Michael landed at MoJo after six years as an award-winning features editor at the alt-weekly East Bay Express. He's written for numerous publications, including The Industry Standard, the Los Angeles Times, and Wired. He lives in Oakland, California, with his wife, two kids, four chickens, striped cat, and way too many musical instruments to master.

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Michael landed at MoJo after six years as an award-winning feature editor at the alt-weekly East Bay Express. He's written for numerous publications, including The Industry Standard, the Los Angeles Times, and Wired. He set out to be a scientist, and as an undergrad spent a year in an organic chemistry lab at UC-Berkeley, where he was a biochemistry major, trying to synthesize natural poisons found in the skin of certain tropical frogs. He later earned a masters degree in cellular and developmental biology from Harvard University and a second masters in journalism from UC-Berkeley. In 2009, he was a finalist for a National Magazine Award for public service, as one of five writers in MoJo's "Torture Hits Home" package. The father of two mostly charming kids and an only occasionally charming striped cat named Phelps, Michael lives in Oakland, California, where, after years of classical piano and raucous punk-rock drumming (and putting out more than a dozen CDs on his former DIY label, Bad Monkey Records), he has retired to old-time and traditional music, guitar finger-picking, and more recently fiddle and mandolin. He has four chickens—Lucia, Podge, Cat, and Weed Whacker—but what he really covets is a hedgehog.

Quick Reads: "You're All Just Jealous of My Jetpack"

| Mon Apr. 15, 2013 7:00 AM EDT
Courtesy Drawn & Quarterly

You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack
By Tom Gauld
Drawn & Quarterly

Readers of the Guardian and the New York Times Magazine may recognize the poignant and often dark humor of Tom Gauld, whose new collection of mostly unpublished cartoons pokes fun at literature and media of all stripes—a Beckett spin on Tintin, a Bronte sisters video game!—not to mention futurism, religion, modern art, and the hubris and frivolity of humankind in general. In one strip, a pretentious worm reproaches his unseen inquisitor for asking, "Are you happy?" So the questioner instead turns to a bird that has just swooped in to devour the worm. Answer: "Yes." Ideal for your coffee table—or that rack by the shitter.

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Review: Bruce Molsky's "If It Ain't Here When I Get Back"

| Mon Apr. 15, 2013 5:20 AM EDT
Bruce Molsky is a master of three instruments.

Bruce Molsky
If It Ain't Here When I Get Back
Tree Frog Music

I owe Bruce Molsky 15 bucks.

That's for the time a Mother Jones intern ripped me an illicit copy of Soon Be Time, his sixth solo CD, which I've pretty much listened to death. But I figure I actually owe Molsky, a master of old-time Appalachian music, way more than that, because it was his playing that inspired me to pick up a fiddle and attempt to play the damn thing to the point where it no longer sounded like a wounded cat.

I believe I have succeeded in this. You'll have to ask my cat.

Plus, I figure that if Molsky could ditch a stable career as a mechanical engineer and become a professional musician at age 40, there was hope for me yet. (Hey, a man can dream.)

Molsky is easily one of the nation's most talented fiddlers, and he plays a mean claw-hammer banjo and blues guitar to boot. He's also been known to break out the occasional a cappella tune or harrowing ballad consisting of naught but vocals and sparse fiddle. He puts all of these skills to use on his latest solo album, If It Ain’t Here When I Get Back. "It's meant to be kind of an honor to people who I learned with and people who I hung out with years ago," Molsky told me recently. "Not in a sad, totally nostalgic kind of way, but it's kind of a look backwards and a look forwards for me." (Read the interview: "Bruce Molsky Is Not Fiddling Around.")

This Is Not a Playlist for Margaret Thatcher's Funeral

| Mon Apr. 8, 2013 4:31 PM EDT
Margaret Thatcher at Ronald Reagan's Funeral.

For a lot of young liberals just coming of age, the 1980s were tinted by a certain malaise owning to the lingering cultural backdrop of Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who, as if you didn't already know, has died at the age of 87. Our consolation prize, of course, was that all that angst inspired a lot of great, often angry, and sometimes even danceable music (see just below) that became the soundtrack for my generation and came to define the era almost as much as the pols we put in charge. (Well, I didn't put 'em in charge: In 1984, the first election in which I was eligible to vote, I cast for Mondale, who got walloped by the incumbent Reagan.) Thatcher and Reagan alike were ideal targets for musicians, from folk to punk to reggae. I pulled out these seven notables. Why not 10? Hey, I'm no conformist! 

1. The English Beat, "Stand Down Margaret":  From the flipside of I Just Can't Stop It, the Beat's first record, which I listened to pretty much constantly in high school. I still have it on vinyl, suckers! Here's a live rendition. Wow, those clothes! I'd, like, totally forgotten.

2. Crass, "How Does It Feel (to Be the Mother of a Thousand Dead)?" — This isn't actually a video at all. The English anarcho-punk band Crass, as its fans well know, was way too anti-commercial for any of that corporate BS. But you could always depend on them for strident protest music. Because we were kids, after all, and youth is strident. This song was Crass' response to the Falklands invasion.

3. Frank Turner, "Thatcher Fucked the Kids": Okay, this isn't from the 1980s at all. Frank Turner only pretty recently passed 30 (Don't Trust Him!). No, he's totally great, so there. Here's a short profile, if you're interested. This older (2008) tune is pretty self explanatory.

4. Linton Kwesi Johnson, "It Dread Inna Inglan": On his debut LP, Dread Beat an' Blood, the dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson, who usually sets his rhyming creations to dub tracks, pressed a track of himself speaking by megaphone at a rally for George Lindo. Lindo was a black man in his 20s who was framed by police in Bradford, England, for a robbery. He was later freed and received compensation for his ordeal, according to the Guardian, which profiled Johnson. Listen to the original track here. In addition to Dread Beat an' Blood, I'd recommended Johnson's albums Bass Culture and Forces of Victory—also key parts of my high school soundtrack.

5. Pete Wylie, "The Day That Margaret Thatcher Died": So I actually never heard this one way back when, or at least I don't remember it. But you know a lot of people are going to hear it today. Here's a live supergroup version. The sound quality is pretty godawful, but you'll get the general idea:

6. The Clash, London Calling: Okay, I'll go out on a limb and say much of the Clash's later career was in some ways a response to Thatcher's England—much in the same way that X came to define 1980s Los Angeles (for me at least). London Calling came out the same year Thatcher came to power. In the clip below, frontman Joe Strummer screws up the title track's opening lyrics. (Clearly Thatcher's doing.)

7. Billy Bragg, "Thatcherites": The inimitable Billy Bragg was never one to step back from a fight. He has this knack for crafting clever protest songs that manage to be in-your-face, yet at the same time are genuinely pleasurable to listen to. That's rare. Here, Bragg takes on Thatcher's followers, speaking to them directly: "You privatize away what is ours, what is ours /  You privatize away what is ours / You privatize away and then you make us pay / Yeah, we'll take it back some day, mark my words, mark my words / We'll take it back some day, mark my words." Again, this is just audio, so don't expect anything exciting to happen.

By the way, if you know of any songs celebrating Margaret Thatcher, I'd love to hear about them in the comments. (For some reason, when people write songs about conservative heroes, they end up being stuff like Item 3 in this post.)

Click here for more music coverage from Mother Jones.

Quick Reads: "Odds Against Tomorrow" by Nathaniel Rich

| Tue Apr. 2, 2013 6:00 AM EDT
book cover

Odds Against Tomorrow

By Nathaniel Rich

FARRAR, STRAUS AND GIROUX

Did Nathaniel Rich see Sandy coming? His protagonist did. Rich's second novel follows Mitchell Zuckor, a perpetually fearful Wall Street quant whose lucrative niche is calculating the odds of worst-case scenarios—fires, floods, power grid collapses, pandemic viruses—and helping corporate clients plan for the unthinkable. When a hurricane inundates New York City, Zuckor embarks on a post-apocalyptic adventure in an objet d'art canoe bought at a gallery for 29 grand. It's fiction, thank heaven, but fiction with an edge: Zuckor's job description and his paranoid calculations are well grounded in reality, and Odds Against Tomorrow underscores the tenuous line between order and chaos.

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