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Twilight of The Velvet Underground

| Sat Nov. 14, 2015 6:00 AM EST

The Velvet Underground
Loaded: Re-Loaded 45th Anniversary Edition

The Complete Matrix Tapes

Loaded was the most conventional of The Velvet Underground's four studio outings. With gifted multi-instrumentalist John Cale long gone and drummer Maureen Tucker largely absent from the studio, Lou Reed steered the band away from the notorious sonic and emotional extremes of its early work, trying out a more mainstream pop approach, albeit with more wit and a darker undertone than your basic Top 40 song. The album features a few clunkers but also two of his most-lovable compositions in the form of "Sweet Jane" and "Rock & Roll." After the confrontational brilliance of early songs like "Heroin" and "Sister Ray," these engaging anthems seem positively carefree.

This six-disc package includes a mono version, a surround-sound mix, a previously released live set from Max's Kansas City, and a very lo-fi, previously unreleased live performance from Philadelphia. The high point is the disc containing demos and early versions, which offers hints of what Reed would have sounded like as a folk singer in an alternate universe, and shows him getting warmed up for his impending solo career. "Satellite of Love" would be one of the standouts of Transformer, his second post-Velvets effort and biggest commercial success, while "Sad Song" resurfaced on his third long-player, the harrowing masterpiece Berlin.

Prior to the sessions that produced Loaded, the Velvets played a series of shows at the San Francisco club the Matrix in November and December 1969. Four of those sets appear on The Complete Matrix Tapes and portray the quartet as a cohesive and efficient rock'n'roll band, not simply a vehicle for Reed's solo aspirations. With Doug Yule taking over on bass and psychedelic keyboards, the group ranges from early gems like "I'm Waiting for the Man," presented in a bluesy 13-minute version, and "Sister Ray," which unfolds over 37 mesmerizing minutes, to the not-yet-recorded "Sweet Jane" and "Rock & Roll," heard here in looser, funkier incarnations. Much of the material on this fine four-disc collection has previously been released piecemeal on other archival packages, but The Complete Matrix Tapes is the best way to get a feel for the later Velvet Underground onstage, no longer revolutionary but still compelling.

Jennifer Lawrence Slams Her Republican Roots, Predicts "End of World" Scenario for Trump Presidency

| Fri Nov. 13, 2015 10:09 AM EST

In the newest issue for Vogue—and umpteenth edition of Jennifer Lawrence being so "real" and so "hilarious"—the Hunger Games actress reveals why she's disavowing her Republican roots, particularly in light of a potential Donald Trump White House.

"If Donald Trump is president of the United States, it will be the end of the world," Lawrence tells Vogue's Jonathan Van Meter. "And he's also the best thing to happen to the Democrats ever."

Lawrence, who is the world's highest paid actress, also didn't mince words when it came to Kim Davis, the defiant Kentucky county clerk who made national news by refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses back in September.

"I just can't imagine supporting a party that doesn't support women's basic rights," she said. "It's 2015 and gay people can get married and we think that we've come so far, so, yay! But have we? I don't want to stay quiet about that stuff."

When Van Meter asked her about Davis, Lawrence called her "that lady who makes me embarrassed to be from Kentucky."

"All those people holding their crucifixes, which may as well be pitchforks, thinking they’re fighting the good fight," she goes on. "I grew up in Kentucky. I know how they are."

As for Trump, Lawrence describes her opinion as "pretty cut and dried."

Somewhere, Hillary Clinton is nodding in agreement.

The First Viral Video Ever Was Recorded 45 Years Ago Today

| Thu Nov. 12, 2015 8:06 PM EST

On November 9, 1970, George Thornton, an engineer at the Oregon Department of Transportation, had a mission: remove a 45-foot sperm whale washed ashore the Oregon coast just south of the Siuslow River. But how?

As The Oregonian's Stuart Tomlinson puts it in Thornton's obituary in 2013:

ODOT officials struggled with what to do with the whale. Rendering plants said no thanks. Burying was iffy because the waves would likely have just uncovered the carcass. It was too big to burn.

So the plan was hatched: Let’s blow it up, scatter it to the wind and let the crabs and seagulls clean up the mess. So Thornton and his crew packed 20 cases of dynamite around the leeward side of the whale, thinking most of it would blow into the water. At 3:45 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 12, the plunger was pushed.

The whale blew up, all right, but the 1/4 mile safety zone wasn’t quite large enough. Whale blubber and whale parts fell from the sky, smashing into cars and people. No one was hurt, but pretty much everyone was wearing whale bits and pieces.

At that moment on November 12, 1970—45 years ago today—the decaying whale erupted into the public consciousness and eventually became a viral sensation. It was keyboard cat before cats had keyboards. "[It] went viral before the internet had the infrastructure to support viral videos," Andrew David Thaler wrote in Vice's definitive history, "when mailing a six minute clip via USPS was faster than downloading."


Aziz Ansari Just Hilariously Burned Television's Diversity Problem to Stephen Colbert

| Wed Nov. 11, 2015 1:59 PM EST

There's just no stopping Aziz Ansari.

The comedian reached another level of hero status on Tuesday, appearing on the Late Show to promote his brilliant new Netflix series Master of None. Just seconds after settling into his guest seat, Ansari wasted no time calling out Hollywood's problems with diversity.

"Stephen's the first late night host from South Carolina and the bajillionth white guy," he said, responding to Colbert's comment that the two of them hailed from the same state. "Very interesting measure of progress."

When Colbert jokingly asked if his spot on the show counted as a show of progress, Ansari replied, "It's really diverse right now. It's 50 percent diverse. It's like an all-time high for CBS." Colbert couldn't contain his admiration and shook Ansari's hand.

The appearance comes on the heels of rave reviews for Ansari's new show, which explores everything from romance and the first-generation immigrant experience, to the insidious racism still preventing people of color from securing top-billed acting roles.

On Tuesday, viewers also had a chance to hear from Ansari's real father, who also plays the father of Ansari's character on the show. After their appearance together, Ansari posted the following Instagram:


My dad took off most of his vacation time for the year to act in Master of None. So I'm really relieved this all worked out. Tonight after we did Colbert together he said: "This is all fun and I liked acting in the show, but I really just did it so I could spend more time with you." I almost instantly collapsed into tears at the thought of how much this person cares about me and took care of me and gave me everything to give me the amazing life I have. I felt like a total piece of garbage for all the times I haven't visited my parents and told them I wanted to stay in New York cause I'd get bored in SC. I'm an incredibly lucky person and many of you are as well. Not to beat a dead horse here and sorry if this is cheesy or too sentimental but if your parents are good to you too, just go do something nice for them. I bet they care and love you more than you realize. I've been overwhelmed by the response to the Parents episode of our show. What's strange is doing that episode and working with my parents has increased the quality of my relationship to my parents IN MY REAL LIFE. In reality, I haven't always had the best, most open relationship with my parents because we are weirdly closed off emotionally sometimes. But we are getting better. And if you have something like that with your family - I urge you to work at it and get better because these are special people in your life and I get terrified when my dad tells me about friends of his, people close to his age, that are having serious health issues, etc. Enjoy and love these people while you can. Anyway, this show and my experiences with my parents while working on it have been very important in many ways and I thank for you the part you all have played in it.

A photo posted by @azizansari on

John Oliver Slams the Criminal Justice System for Setting Former Prisoners Up to Fail

| Mon Nov. 9, 2015 8:25 AM EST

On Sunday, John Oliver dedicated his show to exposing yet another aspect of our broken criminal justice system, this time focusing on what happens to former offenders once they leave prison and attempt to re-enter society. As the Last Week Tonight host explained, it's an especially timely issue that comes on the heels of the government's recent release of 6,000 federal inmates once accused of committing low-level crimes.

"The fact that around half of people who leave prison end up going back is horrifying, but when you look at the challenges they face, it gets a little less surprising," Oliver said. "In fact, let me walk you through what it's like when you get out of prison—and let's just start with minute one, because when inmates exit that gate to start a new life, they could find themselves in the middle of nowhere, with little to nothing in their pockets."

Oliver then sat down with a former prisoner, Bilal Chatman, to help address the seemingly unending number of obstacles he and countless others faced upon leaving prison—starting with society's negative approach to ex-inmates.

"People are judgmental—people that don't know," Chatman said. "I don't want anybody to look at me as the ex-con. I want them to look at the person I am now. I'm a supervisor. I'm a good employee, I'm an employer."

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Trump’s First Term According to SNL: Americans Can't Handle How Great Everything Is

| Sun Nov. 8, 2015 12:40 AM EST

While demonstrators yelled outside NBC's Manhattan television studios protesting his immigration policies, billionaire mogul and reality TV star Donald Trump became the first presidential front-runner to ever host Saturday Night Live. Starting with a self-aggrandizing and self-mocking monologue while flanked by two SNL Trump imitators, the presidential hopeful then starred in a sketch set in the oval office a year into his first term as president.

"I bought you the check for the wall," says the visiting President of Mexico. "Consider it an apology for doubting you." Syria is fixed. There's a new national anthem, and Ivanka Trump is having the Washington Monument plated with gold. "Wow, that's going to look so elegant," says Trump. Watch below:

And of course, there was Trump dancing to the internet thing of the moment, Drake's "Hot Line Bling":

At Least There's Now One Black Manager in Major League Baseball

| Tue Nov. 3, 2015 3:23 PM EST

Nearly a month after the Seattle Mariners fired manager Lloyd McClendon, the Washington Nationals on Tuesday ended Major League Baseball's brief period without a full-time black manager, when it hired veteran Dusty Baker. But as Mother Jones reported last week, the hiring of one black manager does little to solve the league's larger diversity problem in the coaching arena.        

Baseball's diversity problems go beyond the manager's seat, of course. For the last three decades, the percentage of African Americans in the big leagues has declined (though that figure has remained relatively flat at 8.3 percent in the last five years, leaving a pinch of hope). And while the Selig Rule was intended to surface more minority candidates for front-office positions, a mere 13 percent of general managers are people of color.

Major League Baseball will continue touting its international pipeline and its efforts to bring the sport back to kids in America's inner cities. But for now, managers of color may continue to feel, as McClendon told the New York Times in July, "like you're sitting on an island by yourself."

And now, Baker joins Atlanta Braves manager Fredi González on that island. You can read more about baseball's coaching diversity problem here.

John Oliver Explains Why Tuesday's Elections—Not Trump or 2016—Demand Your Immediate Attention

| Mon Nov. 2, 2015 8:48 AM EST

Update, November 4, 2015: Kentucky voters elected Republican businessman Matt Bevin to office on Tuesday, potentially jeopardizing Medicaid expansion for roughly half a million people in the state. As John Oliver explained just a few days earlier, this is why all elections—local, gubernatorial, and presidential—matter. More on that below:

As he bluntly told Stephen Colbert a few weeks ago, John Oliver truly couldn't "give less of a shit" about Donald Trump or the 2016 election.

Yet, as the Last Week Tonight host lamented on Sunday, the national conversation remains fixated on presidential candidates, largely ignoring several key races that could ultimately determine the expansion of Medicaid and Obamacare in their states. It's an issue, according to Oliver, all Americans should pay close attention to, even if you don't live in one of these three states.

"There are American lives at stake here, because a number of these elections could determine whether hundreds of thousands of people remain in or even fall into what's known as the Medicaid gap," Oliver said.

"I know that sounds like a terrible clothing chain where you can buy khaki hospital gowns sewn by children in India, but amazingly, it's even worse than that."

Meet the Guy Behind Your Favorite Rock 'n' Roll Songs

| Mon Nov. 2, 2015 5:00 AM EST

Various Artists
Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock 'n' Roll
Yep Roc

"Invented" might be a slight exaggeration, but Memphis, Tennessee's Sam Phillips discovered and/or produced some of the greatest voices in blues and early rock 'n' roll, releasing many of them on his own Sun Records label. This wonderful 55-track compilation illustrates the staggering range of electrifying music he midwifed, from Elvis Presley ("Mystery Train") and Jerry Lee Lewis ("Whole Lot of Shakin' Goin' On"), to Howlin' Wolf ("How Many More Years?") and B.B. King ("She's Dynamite"), to Carl Perkins ("Blue Suede Shoes") and Johnny Cash ("Big River"). Not to mention Roy Orbison, Ike Turner, Junior Parker, Charlie Rich, and many other lesser-known but vital performers. For newcomers, this is the perfect introduction to an essential body of work; for everyone else, it's merely a thoroughly satisfying collection.

Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock 'n' Roll was compiled by journalist Peter Guralnick as a companion piece to his absorbing new book of the same name (to be published November 10 by Little, Brown, and Company). The author of the best biography of Elvis Presley to date, as well as a host of other excellent studies of American roots music, Guralnick is a captivating enthusiast and exhaustive researcher, who never lets a mastery of the facts obscure the visceral thrill of the art he celebrates. At 600 pages, his thoughtful account of Phillips' complex life is not for the casual reader, but it's hard to put down once you get started.