2013 - %3, November

"Songs for Slim" Is an All-Star Benefit for the Replacements' Ailing Guitarist. It's Good, Too.

| Mon Nov. 18, 2013 6:00 AM EST
Slim Dunlap

Various Artists
Songs for Slim
New West

This dandy two-CD set is subtitled Rockin Here Tonight: A Benefit Compilation for Slim Dunlap, which says it all. Former Replacements guitarist Bob "Slim" Dunlap suffered a severe stroke in early 2012, prompting friends and admirers to launch a fund dedicated to his care. Songs for Slim is one part of their efforts. Most of the cuts are covers of little-known, '90s-era Dunlap compositions, which are raucous, funny and tender, and well deserving of belated discovery.

The first disc compiles the 18 tracks originally featured on limited-edition 45s that were auctioned earlier this year. Among the highlights: the reunited Replacements' "Busted Up"; John Doe's stomping "Just for the Hell of It"; the swaggering "Ain't Exactly Good," from underrated, long-running Australian band You Am I; and Drive-By Trucker Patterson Hood’s poignant "Hate This Town." (There's also Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, Wilco's Jeff Tweedy and more.) The second disc offers previously unreleased performances, including a dreamy reading of "When I Fall Down" by Replacement Chris Mars, and for you old-timers, there's "Love Lost," by The West Saugerties Ale & Quail Club, with none other than Lovin' Spoonful leader John Sebastian on harmonica.

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Hindu Lore to Racial Politics, MIA's "Matangi" Delivers

| Mon Nov. 18, 2013 6:00 AM EST

Maya Arulpragasm (best known as MIA), predicted the NSA spying scandal. She is pop's most rebellious musician. And after a delay of several years, her new album, which she has described as sounding like "Paul Simon on acid," was finally released earlier this month. Whether or not it lives up to her characterization, Matangi—titled after MIA's namesake, the Hindu goddess of music and the spoken word—is decidedly eclectic, ranging from reggae rhythms to club beats, hip-hop vocals to slower love songs, and Eastern instrumentation to a mainstream pop style.

An MIA album would be nothing without a complex, varied message, and Matangi delivers. It's replete with allusions to Hindu stories and spirituality, alongside more current (if slightly outdated) pop-culture references: "YALA" (you always live again) plays off the cultural meme YOLO (you only live once) popularized by Drake's "The Motto." MIA's response explores the Hindu concepts of reincarnation and karma. "YOLO?" she sings. "I don't even know anymore…back home where I come from we keep being born again and again and again." "Come Walk With Me," ostensibly a song about modern love and romance, is accompanied by a an animated video of Hindu imagery.

Matangi also offers a strong (if ambiguous) political message. "Brown girl, brown girl, turn your shit down. You know America don't want to hear your sound," she raps on the short track "Boom." Meanwhile, "aTENTion" was "written with all the words that have 'tent' in them," she told NPR. "It's sort of to describe the refugee philosophy—people who live in tents—because I feel like they are the modern-day untouchables…they're faceless and placeless." The song, weirdly enough, was written with the help of Wikileaks' Julian Assange, who came by her London studio while she was working on his TV series. Mixed messages aside, Matangi, is everything you'd thought it would be, and gets better with every listen.

Mike Tyson, Former Boxer and Convicted Rapist, Makes Charming Film With Spike Lee

| Sat Nov. 16, 2013 6:00 AM EST

Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth affords Mike Tyson yet another big opportunity to open up. Spike Lee's new film (premiering Saturday at 8 p.m. ET/PT on HBO) documents the controversial boxing legend's one-man Broadway show. Tyson—sharply dressed, sweaty, charismatic—commands the stage for an hour and a half, dishing on his public and private ups and downs. (The show was written by his wife, Kiki Tyson.)

"I came from the gutter," he says to the packed theater. He discusses (in full-on emotional vulnerability mode) his rough childhood and deaths in the family; his star-making fights and his history of substance abuse; his adrenaline rushes and his rude awakenings. He cracks a lot of cheap jokes, including one about Mitt Romney's whiteness and one about George Zimmerman.

This documentary and one-man show are the latest steps in his years-long effort to reinvent himself. Instead of a drug-addled, off-putting, ear-chomping fighter, he's now a sensitive, vegan funnyman who writes for New York magazine, appears in the Hangover franchise, dances with Neil Patrick Harris and Bring It On cheerleaders, and makes fun of Oscar-bait and George W. Bush with Jimmy Kimmel:

Tyson's life story—the grit, the career renaissance—is no doubt compelling. But there is a hugely significant part of his "truth" that is very much disputed. On stage, Tyson ever so briefly addresses his 1992 rape conviction. Tyson served three years in prison for the rape of 18-year-old Desiree Washington, a contestant in the Miss Black America pageant. Medical examination following the incident found Washington's physical state to be consistent with rape. High-profile lawyer Alan Dershowitz tried and failed to get him off on an appeal, and Tyson maintained that the encounter was consensual and that Washington had a history of crying rape. "I did not rape [her]," Tyson says to the applauding New York audience in Undisputed Truth. (What makes this more awkward is that, in the same performance, Tyson jokes about not knowing whether to beat or sexually attack young pretty-boy Brad Pitt, who he once caught supposedly having an affair with ex-wife Robin Givens.)

Could This New "Church" Make Atheism Cool?

| Fri Nov. 15, 2013 6:00 AM EST

Last Tuesday in the basement of a bar in San Francisco's Financial District, more than 50 people united to celebrate the universe's godlessness. The group—mostly white, mostly hipster, and one kilt-wearer—congregated over drinks as pop-electronica played in the background. It was San Francisco's first-ever gathering of the Sunday Assembly, a recently formed organization of atheists who want to participate in "all the best bits of church" but without the believing in God part, according to the Assembly's co-founder and event facilitator, British comedian Sanderson Jones

The only prayers to be heard at the event were during a karaoke-style sing-along to Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a Prayer." Later in the evening came a YouTube viewing of Carl Sagan's atheist anthem, "Pale Blue Dot."

Although 'atheist' is defined as a person who does not believe in God, "14 percent of those who call themselves atheists also say they believe in God or a universal spirit."

The Assembly was the idea of Jones, who wore a plaid shirt, a long, scruffy beard and and thick-framed black aviator glasses to the meeting, and his friend and fellow British comic, Pippa Evans, who wasn't in attendance.  The two founded the Assembly to create a global community based on the belief that "we are born from nothing and go to nothing," according to the group's website. The Assembly—which has been called by Salon and Time an  'atheist mega-church'—is currently traveling around the world on its road show. The meetings have already attracted hundreds of attendees and a barrage of media coverage.

Sanderson says that the group has already gotten some flack from "fundamentalist, evangelical" atheists, as he put it, who've told him "the way we don't believe in God is not the right way to not believe in God." There is some evidence that atheism is becoming slightly more popular in the United States: In 2012 an estimated 2.4 percent of Americans said they were atheists, up from 1.6 percent in 2007. However, according to the Pew Research Center, the meaning of the word atheist is a source of confusion: Although 'atheist' is defined as a person who does not believe in God, "14 percent of those who call themselves atheists also say they believe in God or a universal spirit."

Although San Francisco's Sunday Assembly did have some serious moments—including a speech by Pixar's Daniel McCoy about how, like science, storytelling can reveal truth—the overall tone was light and tailored to the crowd, with plenty of Twitter and tech jokes. Sanderson and Evans believe that Sunday Assembly's tongue-in-cheek tone is part of what will attract followers. At one point during their crowd-funding campaign video, the duo assures viewers that Kool-Aid will not be involved and that "It's not a cult!" Though, they admit while wearing togas and carrying large glasses of wine, "That's exactly what we'd say if it were a cult."

World's First Xbox One Guarded by Sharks in New Zealand; Shark Expert Questions Effectiveness

| Thu Nov. 14, 2013 3:50 PM EST

The Xbox One—Microsoft's latest video game console and successor to the Xbox 360—goes on sale at midnight on November 22. It will face-off against Sony's new PlayStation 4 in the holiday-season spending sprees. People love their video games, and global anticipation is sky-high for both consoles. Xbox celebrations across the globe will include zombies and Roman soldiers occupying Times Square, for instance. But the most interesting way Microsoft is exploiting the anticipation is through a publicity stunt that involves sharks.

At midnight on the appointed night, the world's first official Xbox One will be handed to one lucky person in New Zealand. That console is currently on lockdown at Kelly Tarlton's Sea Life Aquarium in Auckland, NZ—where it rests in a waterproof container in a tank filled with 20 sand tiger sharks.

For footage of aquarium personnel and Xbox guys setting this up, click here.

As a stunt, the idea makes sense. Sharks have a special place and reputation in popular culture as the ultimate aquatic killing machines in the natural world. But in real life, sharks rarely hurt people, and you are more likely to get maimed by your own toilet than by a scary shark. So how effective would these guardian sharks be if an Xbox enthusiast dove into the tank in an insane attempt to steal the coveted console?

"I wouldn't recommend falling/diving into a shark exhibit, mainly because the sharks may get startled and injure themselves by swimming into walls."

"You would have nothing to worry about if you fell into a tank of sand tiger sharks—they are rather docile," explains Carl Meyer, shark expert and assistant researcher at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology. "Even with [much bigger] tiger sharks, the most likely case scenario is that they would startle and bolt to the other side of the tank."

Many big aquariums have sand tiger sharks on display because, while they may look frightening given their teeth and being sharks and all, they are relatively easy to keep in captivity. Meyer doesn't recommend jumping into a shark tank to retrieve anything, even Xboxes. But it's not humans' safety that he's worried about.

"I wouldn't recommend falling/diving into a shark exhibit, mainly because the sharks may get startled and injure themselves by swimming into walls," he says. "The odds of being bitten by a shark (or 20 sharks) in an exhibit are incredibly low if you are just entering the water. You could up the odds of getting bitten by poking and harassing the shark(s) in question, but they will still try to get away from you."

We can only hope that the non-shark security at Sea Life Aquarium is better prepared to protect the console if someone tries to pull off a heist.

The aquarium and the Xbox publicity team did not respond to Mother Jones' requests for comment about sharks and Xboxes.

Watch Taylor Swift, Bill O'Reilly, Barack Obama, and Marco Rubio Recite the Gettysburg Address

| Tue Nov. 12, 2013 3:07 PM EST

To mark the 150th anniversary of Gettysburg Address, acclaimed documentarian Ken Burns is leading a nationwide project called "Learn the Address", which encourages Americans to record themselves reciting President Lincoln's landmark speech. To set an example, a bunch of celebrities, politicians, and TV personalities participated. The video above strings together many of them, including clips of President Obama, Jimmy Carter, both Bush presidents, Bill Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Marco Rubio, Taylor Swift, Usher, Uma Thurman, Rachel Maddow, Bill O'Reilly, Steven Spielberg, and more. It's a bipartisan affair because, hey, who doesn't love Lincoln? (Almost everyone loves Lincoln.)

"This was a chance to do something in concert," Burns tells Mother Jones. "Everybody yells and screams at each other all the time...But the respect for this speech brought everybody out."

Burns' related documentary, The Address, is set to premiere April 15 on PBS. The film examines the history and impact of the Gettysburg Address, while telling the story of the Greenwood School, a Vermont boarding school for boys with learning disabilities. Each year, students are encouraged to memorize and recite the Address. Burns has previously lent a hand in judging the school's recitation program, and The Address is even narrated by Greenwood students.

"I was so moved by these young boys with their own learning difficulties and how hard they were working to learn, memorize, and publicly recite it—no small task," Burns says. "I realized we had to challenged everybody to learn the Address." According to Burns, everyone he and his team managed to contact was more than happy to help. It took them about a month and a half to curate their politically diverse, celeb-filled, video gallery.

The selection process for politicos and big names involved "hit-or-miss" brainstorming, and also Burns reaching out to some of his famous friends. "I'm a huge Uma Thurman fan, and she serves on the board of my wife's nonprofit," Burns says. "I'm a huge fan of [Taylor Swift], as are my daughters...I didn't know her personally, but she instantly said yes when we asked."

Other participants include Whoopi Goldberg:

Louis C.K.:

Stephen Colbert:

and Alyssa Milano:

Check out more videos here.

In the coming weeks, Burns and his team will post to their website mash-ups of ordinary citizens reading and reciting the Address. You can submit you video here.

"I hope our site is broken by the number of people joining in," Burns says.

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Another Posthumous Jimi Hendrix Release? Yep, and It's Worth a Listen

| Mon Nov. 11, 2013 6:00 AM EST

The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Miami Pop Festival

Experience Hendrix/Legacy

While a nonbeliever might dismiss the steady stream of reissues and "new" releases that regularly emanate from the Jimi Hendrix archive, they're usually worth investigating if you're the least bit interested in the greatest rock guitarist ever. Exhibit A: this crackling live set from May 18, 1968. Though the repertoire is limited, drawing on the Hendrix oeuvre circa Are You Experienced?, his debut album, Jimi never played anything the same way twice.

These versions of "Purple Haze" and "Foxey Lady" offer subtly inviting twists on the studio renditions, while "Hear My Train A Comin'" and "Red House" find Hendrix reinvigorating the blues (and vice-versa) in his uniquely riveting way. Only the noodling "Tax Free" is less than compelling, hinting at his growing interest in pursing more "grown-up" musical paths. Miami Pop Festival was recorded nearly a half-century ago, but has the urgency of now.

Swearin's "Surfing Strange" Is Pretty @#%$! Cool

| Mon Nov. 11, 2013 6:00 AM EST

Swearin'
Surfing Strange

Salinas Records

Sometimes you just want to feel the noise, meaning be damned. Surfing Strange, the second album from Allison Crutchfield's Swearin', may contain thoughtful lyrics aplenty, but they're buried under layers of thrilling guitar noise that demand immediate attention.

Formerly of P.S. Elliot, where she shared the spotlight with twin sister Katie (who now leads the more introspective Waxahatchee), Crutchfield has mastered the fine art of tender brute force with her current band, subjecting resplendent melodies to rough handling in the tradition of early '90s faves The Pixies and Nirvana. "Echo Locate" suggests a bracing hillbilly variant of Kurt Cobain's crew—the Crutchfield siblings were raised in Birmingham, Alabama—though "Glare of the Sun" reaches all the way back to the psychedelic heyday of later Beatles or early Pink Floyd. Let's hope Crutchfield and fellow singer-guitarist Kyle Gilbride will resist the urge to refine their sound. Swearin' is pretty @#%$! cool as is.

15 Minutes With Internet Rap Sensation Danny Brown

| Mon Nov. 11, 2013 6:00 AM EST

Of all the artists at last month's Treasure Island Music Festival, Danny Brown (born Daniel Sewell) was the only one I was really excited to talk to. This may seem bizarre, given that he's not such a big star as Little Dragon or Disclosure. (I wasn't even going to try for a Thom Yorke interview, and Beck—he insists that photographers sign a waiver that applies "throughout the universe.") But Brown, to my eyes, is the most exciting rapper out there right now.

While his 2011 mixtape, XXX, made him wildly popular in certain corners of the internet, it was Brown's latest record, Old, that ushered Daniel (as he introduces himself) into a new phase of prominence. Music critics like to frame him as two-sided: the sex-and-drug obsessed party mutant vs the dark, meditative poet who came up rough. With Old, Brown strives for three dimensions. And while many rappers are continuously trying to redefine themselves, he manages to exude a unique integrity of character in the face of recent media attention and major internet buzz. "I'm old enough now to where I can handle that," Brown says. "I'm 32. If I was 22, it might have been different." (Thirty-two, by the way, is pretty ancient in the rap world.)

Music Review: "El Oso de la Guarda" by Juana Molina

| Mon Nov. 11, 2013 6:00 AM EST

TRACK 8

"El Oso de la Guarda"

From Juana Molina's Wed 21

CRAMMED DISCS

Liner notes: Swirling overdubbed voices en español and clattering instrumental textures, all supplied by Juana Molina, create a delicious vertigo.

Behind the music: The daughter of a tango singer and an actress, Argentina's Molina was the star of television comedy shows before putting out her first album in the '90s. More recently, she provided the voice of Elastigirl for the Argentine version of the Pixar film The Incredibles.

Check it out if you like: Björk, tUnE-yArDs, Micachu & the Shapes, and other madcaps.

This review originally appeared in our November/December 2013 issue of Mother Jones.