Saturday, September 24, 2016

Revisiting Watergate With The Films All The President's Men (1976) & Dick (1999), Plus A New Watergate Revelation

Photo: Huffington Post

Recently, I revisited two excellent films about Watergate, the realistic (based on true events) All The President's Men and the comedic fantasy Dick. I wanted to show Dick to someone who wasn't born yet at the time of Watergate, therefore the situation called for a refresher in the form of a screening of All The President's Men.

All the President's Men (1976), directed by Alan J. Pakula
The Watergate era ended on August 9, 1974 when Richard Nixon resigned the presidency and left the White House in disgrace. Before the year was out, Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein published a book about how they investigated and broke the story of the Watergate scandal and cover-up. Two years later, the book became a major motion picture with Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman starring as Woodward and Bernstein. The movie was nominated for eight Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director. Jason Robards won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Executive Editor, Ben Bradlee.

All the President's Men is a gripping detective story, and even though it covers plenty of territory regarding the burglary and cover-up, you still find yourself wondering as the movie nears its conclusion, if they are going to get it all in within the 138 minute running time. The movie is satisfying on every level, and viewing it now in 2016 their technology looks kind of quaint. The detective work is all leg work and phone calls, with no cell phones and no internet; the resulting stories were typed on manual typewriters and handed in to the editor.

Like most of America, I found the Watergate scandal to be completely riveting. I followed every detail both in the newspaper and on the evening news, which was presented on CBS by (Uncle) Walter Cronkite. Cronkite delivered each of Woodward and Bernstein's revelations from that day's Washington Post. We knew all about the arrest, the money, the connection to the Committee to Re-Elect the President; was there ever a better acronym than "CREEP"? We knew all the names including: G. Gordon Liddy, E. Howard Hunt, James McCord, Jeb Stuart Magruder, John Mitchell (Attorney General), Maurice Stans, H. R. "Bob" Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, and John Dean.

There was no better national theatre than when the Watergate Senate hearings were carried live on television in 1973. The Senate Select Committee to Investigate Campaign Practices was chaired by "Sam" Ervin, Jr.. Senator Sam was an old-fashioned, southern lawyer from North Carolina, born in 1896. In his obituary, the Washington Post described him: "With his arching eyebrows and flapping jowls that signaled his moral indignation at much of the testimony before his committee, his half-country, half-courtly demeanor and his predilection for making points by quoting the Bible and Shakespeare and telling folksy stories, Ervin quickly became a hero to many."

In addition to the national news, I devoured every issue of New Times Magazine, but my ultimate favorite read during Watergate were the pieces penned by Hunter S. Thompson. When each new issue of Rolling Stone hit my college mailbox, my world stopped until I read Thompson's latest screed. Such as, "Nixon will be remembered as a classic case of a smart man shitting in his own nest. But he also shit in our nests, and that was the crime that history will burn on his memory like a brand. By disgracing and degrading the Presidency of the United States, by fleeing the White House like a diseased cur, Richard Nixon broke the heart of the American Dream."

From the bungled burglary on June 17, 1972 to the interworkings of CREEP and "the plumbers", to the daily revelations such as the Nixon tapes, Nixon's secretary Rosemary Woods' "accidentally" erasing a key portion, to the Senate hearings, the midnight firings to the live coverage of Nixon's resignation and departure from the White House by helicopter, I gobbled up every morsel.

Watch the CBS News coverage of Nixon's departure from the White House (reported by Dan Rather).

A New Revelation: I thought I knew pretty much all there was to know about Watergate, but as I watched All The President's Men this time, I was positively floored by a detail that I had somehow missed in the past. On the surface, Watergate is the story of how a bungled burglary of the Democratic National Committee offices wound up bringing down a president. There's no denying that this is the obvious headline of Watergate. But, I think the bigger story of Watergate is contained in a small detail right there in the movie.

I mentioned above that late in the movie I wondered how they would get all the facts in. In the final fifteen minutes the details fly fast and furious. Woodward and Bernstein state that "the plumbers" were a group of ex-CIA agents and other operatives directed by G. Gordon Liddy, who had a long history of perpetrating dirty tricks on behalf of Nixon. As a direct result of Watergate, we learned that one of the goals of these dirty tricks was to manipulate the Democratic primaries in 1972, such that Nixon would run against the candidate he could most easily beat. History tells us that at the outset of primary season, the most likely candidates were party insiders such as Maine Senator Edmund Muskie and former Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey. In November 1972, Nixon faced Senator George McGovern in the general election.

McGovern was the anti-war candidate, champion of the youth movement with his pledge to end the Vietnam War. When the votes were counted, McGovern won just one just state. Nixon won the election in a landslide. Or, more to the point, Nixon stole the 1972 election by rigging the primaries. All these years later watching All The President's Men and there it is, right in the movie. They go by it quickly, you have to listen carefully or you'll miss it. This is the bigger story of Watergate. The bugging of the DNC seems minor in comparison to the years of illegal acts ("dirty tricks") performed on behalf of Richard Nixon. That, and the fact that their strategy was successful in 1972. Nixon's men may have lost the battle (Watergate arrest), but they won the war (the presidency). Nixon's comeuppance on August 9, 1974 didn't come a moment too soon.

What follows is quoted from the Washington Post (October 10, 1972) by Woodward and Bernstein. It details what "the plumbers" did in their attempt to torpedo the campaign of Ed Muskie.
Law enforcement sources said that probably the best example of the sabotage was the fabrication by a White House aide -- of a celebrated letter to the editor alleging that Sen. Edmund S. Muskie (D-Maine) condoned a racial slur on Americans of French-Canadian descent as "Canucks."

The letter was published in the Manchester Union Leader Feb 24, less than two weeks before the New Hampshire primary. It in part triggered Muskie's politically damaging "crying speech" in front of the newspaper's office.

Photo: Phoenix Pictures

Dick (1999), directed by Andrew Fleming
Dick is a delightful comedy about Watergate, which imagines that all of the Watergate revelations were due to the inadvertent actions of two fifteen year old girls. One of the teenagers lives at the Watergate Apartments, and when the girls sneak out one night to mail a letter the door they blocked open to get back into the building is discovered by the night watchman. He calls the police who arrive in time to find the five Watergate burglars in the offices of the Democratic National Committee.

The next day, the girls are on a class trip to the White House, when they recognize (and are recognized by) some of the Watergate burglars. Richard Nixon ("Call me Dick") appoints the two girls to be the official White House dog walkers. At the White House, they happen upon sites of paper shredding and mountains of cash for payoffs.

It goes on from there with the girls involved with everything from the famous 18½ minute gap to being a source for Woodward and Bernstein, who are played as buffoons by Will Ferrell and Bruce McCulloch, respectively. The movie suggests that these girls are the secret source that Woodward and Bernstein refer to as "Deep Throat". At one point, Woodward tells the girls that the true identity of Deep Throat will never be revealed. "For our safety?" "No, it's just too embarrassing."

The more details you know about Watergate the funnier this is, but even people with only a rudimentary knowledge of these events will find much to like about Dick (the movie). The casting is excellent especially Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams as the two girls, and Dan Hedaya as Nixon. The direction and cinematography are first rate as well, but what really makes this movie special is the writing. The movie has a fantastic soundtrack loaded with the songs of 1972, everything from The Jackson 5 to Elton John. Especially great are the movie's final scenes. First we have Nixon's resignation, together with high fives at the Washington Post, while we hear "I've Seen All Good People" by Yes. I won't give away the ending, but let's just say that never has a Carly Simon record seemed more appropriate than during that final helicopter ride when Nixon looks down to see the message that the girls have gone up on the roof to deliver. It's a perfect ending, just perfect.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Myzica - Love & Desire, Their Debut Album Just Released, Shimmering Synthesizers, Meticulous Production, Sumptuous Vocals, and "Love In A Time Of Likes"

Photos courtesy of Myzica

It's well known that Nashville is called Music City because it is the home of country music. What may not be so well known is the fact that Nashville is a hotbed of all kinds of music, not just country. A prime example of Nashville's musical diversity is Myzica, a pure pop duo that has just released their debut album Love & Desire on Peptalk Records.

Myzica is composed of Micah Tawlks who writes, produces, and plays most of the instruments, and Isaaca Byrd who handles the vocals. Myzica came together in 2014 when they recorded their first single, “Ready Or Not.” According to their press release, this is how it happened.
The roots of MYZICA can be traced back to spring 2014 in the hollows of Tawlks’ basement. After a few weeks of tinkering with the bones of some new tracks, he finished what would become the band’s first song, “Ready Or Not,” during a co-writing session with singer-songwriter Matthew Perryman Jones. He immediately turned to his longtime friend Byrd to lend her voice to the track. Three weeks later, the newly formed duo had finished three additional songs with even more written, and MYZICA was officially born.
I found Myzica on a British blog called Teases and Dares, written by fellow blogger Lee from Suffolk, north of London. More precisely, I found Myzica's enchanting cover version of the Cars' "Drive" on Teases and Dares' amazing August playlist. His blog never fails to amaze me. Lee is constantly on the search for quality pop records and it's quite incredible what he finds, which he both writes about and posts to his Spotify playlist. He invites you to click on the links (below) for each month's playlist, and once you do you can then click "follow" and the playlist is synchronized, which means that when Lee adds new songs they appear on your Spotify playlist.

I'm trying not to overuse the word amazing but I will point out that his August T&D playlist has 128 songs running a total of 8 hours. These are all new songs released within the month of August and when you hear it you'll realize that his slogan "All Killer No Filler" is true. I won't claim to be any kind of expert when it comes to the pop chart, but I do keep track of the Billboard Top Ten, and I will say that I have not found more than a few releases to get excited about recently. Then I listened to the T&D playlist, and I'm finding the quality and the quantity so good it's hard to believe. It's like having your own satellite radio channel devoted to quality pop. And so, I was listening to the August playlist yesterday (yes, I know it's September) when "Drive" by Myzica caught my ear. A quick Google search revealed that their debut album was released the same day, so with a little bit of synchronicity I was listening to the album and thinking, "Thank you Lee".

When I listen to Myzica I am hearing solid songcraft, a rock based pop that is without pretension. I hear the energy, or perhaps more accurately the spirit, of those early Madonna albums. That's no accident; they say they are going for an eighties musical vibe, and I believe them. This is dance oriented music with none of the cliches of either disco or EDM. Myzica has meticulous production with shimmering synthesizers and a fresh sound, especially Isaaca's captivating vocals. The press release has more to say about their music.
Although written and recorded throughout 2015 and into early 2016, Love & Desire hearkens back to the sumptuous classic pop of the 1980s. Filled with soaring synths, punchy, propulsive drums, and Byrd’s honeyed vocals, the album’s 10 songs thematically tackle love in the modern age – or, perhaps what’s best described as ‘love in a time of likes.’ Love & Desire reminds, implores, and emboldens its listeners to ‘just say it’ in an era where romance can arguably feel more complicated and ephemeral than ever.
All those things contribute to an enjoyable listening experience. The bottom line on Love & Desire by Myzica is that I like it. I like it a lot.

Watch the music video for "Wait Just A Minute"

Buy at Amazon
Buy at iTunes
Stream on Spotify

Tracklist: Click on linked titles to listen.
01. Dance Hall Blues
02. We Belong Together
03. Love & Desire
04. Ready Or Not
05. We Started a Fire
06. Endless Love
07. Believer
08. Wait Just A Minute
09. Drive (The Cars cover feat. Ezra Carey)
10. I Will Never

Bonus Videos:
This Kickstarter video offers a nice introduction to Myzica. Please note that the campaign was successful, 198 backers pledged $11,862.

Watch “Ready Or Not” at the BTR Live Studio [ep436]

Watch this live session featuring "Drive" from Acme Radio

Myzica Website
Myzica Facebook
Myzica Twitter
Myzica Instagram

Teases and Dares Website
Teases and Dares August Playlist
Teases and Dares September Playlist

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Lydia Loveless - Real, It Will Restore Your Faith In The Power of Rock

Photos courtesy of Lydia Loveless

One of the best things about writing a music blog is that when you hear a really great piece of music you can tell people about it, play some tracks, and show some video. This was precisely the thought I had when I first listened to Lydia Loveless' new album Real.

It was a Friday, I was reading the list of new releases, as I like to do, sampling the ones that seem interesting. The Lydia Loveless was one of the records I marked for a complete listen that weekend. It turned out to be, in my opinion, the best new release of the week.

It only took a minute or two to realize that I was hearing something special. The drums jumped out at me first. This is the guy you want drumming for your band, really solid, powerful drumming that locks in with the bass to propel the song. Then I noticed the guitars; they sounded so good together, the chunky rhythm guitar and the fiery lead guitar. Finally the vocals, so direct, so clear, so "real" if you will. And that was just the first track, "Same To You".

"Longer" came next, and I'm liking it even more. This track settles into a really nice groove, so well written it sounds like a hit. Add to that some more exquisite guitars and Lydia's irresistible vocal.

I'm finding the twin guitars in this band work so well with the vocals that the overall effect is quite delightful. Also, a couple of tracks neatly incorporate an acoustic guitar into the mix. I love the way "Heaven" begins with the bass line, then the guitar strums sound like an old soul record.

Since its release, many good things have been said and written about this album. It's pretty clear that Loveless was looking to shed her cow punk genre pigeonhole, preferring to go, as her label (Bloodshot Records) puts it, 'genre-agnostic'. "Lydia and her road-tightened band pull and tease and stretch from soaring, singalong pop gems, roots around the edges to proto-punk. There are many sources, but the album creates a sonic center of gravity all its own."

I've finished listening to the album, most impressed. I resolved to listen some more to make sure it was as good as it first seemed. It was, and it is. Real is one of those albums that is so enjoyable that you are not ready for it to end. Loveless is new to me and not knowing about that country punk label, I placed this record squarely in the category of rock; in fact, the best rock album I've heard in a long time. So just who is Lydia Loveless? The following is from Bloodshot Records. Please note that Real is her fourth album, and that she just had a birthday and is now all of 26.
Blessed with a commanding, blast-it-to-the-back-of-the-room voice, the 25-year-old Lydia Loveless was raised on a family farm in Coshocton, Ohio—a small weird town with nothing to do but make music. With a dad who owned a country music bar, Loveless often woke up with a house full of touring musicians scattered on couches and floors. She has turned this potential nightmare scenario (eww....touring musicians smell...) into a wellspring of creativity.

When she got older, in the time-honored traditions of teenage rebellion, she turned her back on these roots, moved to the city (Columbus, OH) and immersed herself in the punk scene, soaking up the musical and attitudinal influences of everyone from Charles Bukowski to Richard Hell to Hank III.

Loveless's Bloodshot debut album Indestructible Machine combined heady doses of punk rock energy and candor with the country classicism she was raised on and just can’t shake; it was a gutsy and unvarnished mash-up. It channeled ground zero-era Old 97s (with whom she later toured) but the underlying bruised vulnerability came across like Neko Case’s tuff little sister. Indestructible Machine possesses a snotty irreverence and lyrical brashness that’s an irresistible kick in the pants.

On her second Bloodshot album Somewhere Else, released after a few 7" singles and an EP, Loveless was less concerned with chasing approval – she scrapped an entire album’s worth of material before writing the set – and more focused on fighting personal battles of longing and heartbreak, and the aesthetic that comes along with them. While her previous album was described as “hillbilly punk with a honky-tonk heart” (Uncut), this one couldn’t be so quickly shoehorned into neat categorical cubbyholes. No, things were different this time around—Loveless and her band collectively dismissed the genre blinders and sonic boundaries that came from playing it from a safe, familiar place. Creatively speaking, if Indestructible Machine was an all-night bender, Somewhere Else was the forlorn twilight of the next day, when that creeping nostalgia has you looking back for someone, something, or just... anything.

2016's Real is one of those exciting records where you sense an artist truly hitting their stride, that their vision is both focused and expansive, and that their talent brims with a confident sense of place, execution and exploration. Whether you've followed Lydia's career forever, like us, or if you are new to her ample game, Real is gonna grab your ears.
Very well said. The only thing I'd add is that my first reaction was to place Lydia Loveless somewhere between Lucinda Williams and Sheryl Crow. Thinking about that as I listened, perhaps I would modify it to a cross between Juliana Hatfield and Aimee Mann. That's the thing about reference points, they just aim you in the right direction. During "Out On Love" I was even picking up a little Patti Smith. Ultimately, Loveless is not like any of her forebears and Real is refreshingly unique; it will restore your faith in the power of rock 'n roll.

More from Bloodshot Records -
"Always a gifted writer with a lot to say, Lydia gives the full and sometimes terrifying, sometimes ecstatic force of the word. Struggles between balance and outburst, infectious choruses fronting emotional torment are sung with a sneer, a spit, or a tenderness and openness that is both intensely personal and universally relatable. It is, as the title suggests, real."

“Real was recorded at Sonic Lounge Studios in her hometown of Columbus, OH and was engineered and produced by Joe Viers (Dr. John, Twenty One Pilots). 'I chose to work with Joe Viers, engineer and producer of my last three releases, again because I trust him completely not only with my music but with my words,' said Loveless. 'There was a lot to say this time around and I wanted to return to that sort of playground and (sometimes literally) throw things at the wall. Whereas our previous records could be described as blunt or raw, this one I wanted to be known as honest, as true, as real (rimshot)...'”
Watch the official video of "Longer"

Buy at Amazon
Buy at iTunes
Stream on Spotify

Track list: Click on linked titles to listen.
01. Same To You
02. Longer
03. More Than Ever
04. Heaven
05. Out On Love
06. Midwestern Guys
07. Bilbao
08. European
09. Clumps
10. Real

Lydia Loveless - vocals, guitar
Todd May - vocals, guitars, keys
Ben Lamb - bass
Jay Gasper - guitars, pedal steel, keys
George Hondroulis - drums, percussion, keys
Andy Harrison - guitar, keys
Joe Viers - percussion, guitar

Bonus Videos:

Watch Lydia Loveless discuss the making of 'Real'.

Watch Lydia Loveless perform on Audiotree Live, July 8, 2016.

Watch the official video for "Clumps"

Lydia Loveless' Website
Lydia Loveless' Facebook
Lydia Loveless' Twitter
Lydia Loveless' Instagram