Category Archives: Music

Graphic Representation: Politics, with art & music


Today’s graphic offerings look at American politics from the other side of the pond.

Our first offering, from the Guardian, translates an Olympic phenomenon and takes it to the political arena:

Ben Jennings: The cupping of Uncle Sam

BLOG Eurotoon Jennings Trump

And the Independent watches The Donald’s transformation:

Dave Brown: Lighter than air

BLOG Eurotoon Bronw Trump

Finally, from the Guardian once again:

Martin Rowson: Celebrating Syrian airstrikes

BLOG Eurotoon Rowson Syria

We love European cartoonists, in part because their works so often reference great artists of the past.

In this last case, Rowson is playing on a remarkable image created by a German artist in the wake of a succession of continent-wide sieges of bubonic plague the century before which had killed about 80 percent of the population of his country. Smaller outbreaks were still continuing at the time a German artist created one of the most memorable images in the history of art:

Danse macabre by Michael Wolgemut, teacher of Albrecht Dürer, from folio CCLXI recto of Hartman Schedel’s Historia mundi, printed in Nuremberg in 1493.

Danse macabre by Michael Wolgemut, teacher of Albrecht Dürer, from folio CCLXI recto of Hartman Schedel’s Historia mundi, printed in Nuremberg in 1493.

The Danse macabre was a frequent motif in Medieval art, with the earliest known instance appearing in a Paris cemetery in 1424, and it has stopped fascinating artists since.

One artist inspired by the dance of death was French composer Camille Saint-Saëns, and his work is one you’re already familiar with, because you’ve heard it on the soundtrack of countless movies.

Saint-Saëns took his inspiration from the poem by Henri Cazalis [1840-1909], translated thusly by Wikipedia:

Zig, zig, zig, Death in cadence,
Striking with his heel a tomb,
Death at midnight plays a dance-tune,
Zig, zig, zig, on his violin.
The winter wind blows and the night is dark;
Moans are heard in the linden-trees.
Through the gloom, white skeletons pass,
Running and leaping in their shrouds.
Zig, zig, zig, each one is frisking.
The bones of the dancers are heard to crack-
But hist! of a sudden they quit the round,
They push forward, they fly; the cock has crowed.

Forthwith, and from the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra, Euege Ormandy conducting:

Camille Saint-Saëns – Danse Macabre


You can also hear it played by a classical guitar trio, a Finnish accordion maestro, a bass clarinet quartet [and damn, those clarinets are YUGE], and a Korean viola quartet, all all-saxophone orchestra, and a 1930’s Argentine jazz band [grooovy].

Finally, the Danse Macabre itself [not the Saint-Saëns version] also attracted the attention of Walt Disney’s animators way back in 1929.

Enjoy [via Geoffroy Biencourt]:

Silly Symphonies – La Danse Macabre

Steve Benson: It makes political scents


Some bad news for a garrulous Arizona lawman, via the editorial cartoonist of the Arizona Republic:

BLOG Benson

Joe Arpaio, the Arizona sheriff who wants to bring justice back to the 18th Century, may be headed for the slammer, thanks to the ruling of a federal judge who finally had enough of the 84-year-old bigoted blowhard.

Just who is Arpaio?

From a 2009 New Yorker profile by William Finnegan:

The biggest part of the sheriff’s job is running the jails, and Arpaio saw that there was political gold to be spun there. The voters had declined to finance new jail construction, and so, in 1993, Arpaio, vowing that no troublemakers would be released on his watch because of overcrowding, procured a consignment of Army-surplus tents and had them set up, surrounded by barbed wire, in an industrial area in southwest Phoenix. “I put them up next to the dump, the dog pound, the waste-disposal plant,” he told me. Phoenix is an open-air blast furnace for much of the year. Temperatures inside the tents hit a hundred and thirty-five degrees. Still, the tents were a hit with the public, or at least with the conservative majority that voted. Arpaio put up more tents, until Tent City jail held twenty-five hundred inmates, and he stuck a neon “VACANCY” sign on a tall guard tower. It was visible for miles.

His popularity grew. What could he do next? Arpaio ordered small, heavily publicized deprivations. He banned cigarettes from his jails. Skin magazines. Movies. Coffee. Hot lunches. Salt and pepper—Arpaio estimated that he saved taxpayers thirty thousand dollars a year by removing salt and pepper. Meals were cut to two a day, and Arpaio got the cost down, he says, to thirty cents per meal. “It costs more to feed the dogs than it does the inmates,” he told me. Jail, Arpaio likes to say, is not a spa—it’s punishment. He wants inmates whose keenest wish is never to get locked up again. He limits their television, he told me, to the Weather Channel, C-SPAN, and, just to aggravate their hunger, the Food Network. For a while, he showed them Newt Gingrich speeches. “They hated him,” he said cheerfully. Why the Weather Channel, a British reporter once asked. “So these morons will know how hot it’s going to be while they are working on my chain gangs.”

Arpaio wasn’t kidding about chain gangs. Foreign television reporters couldn’t get enough footage of his inmates shuffling through the desert. New ideas for the humiliation of people in custody—whom the Sheriff calls, with persuasive disgust, “criminals,” although most are actually awaiting trial, not convicted of any crime—kept occurring to him. He put his inmates in black-and-white striped uniforms. The shock value of these retro prisoner outfits was powerful and complex. There was comedy, nostalgia, dehumanization, even a whiff of something annihilationist. He created female chain gangs, “the first in the history of the world,” and, eventually, juvenile chain gangs. The chain gangs’ tasks include burying the indigent at the county cemetery, but mainly they serve as spectacles in Arpaio’s theatre of cruelty. “I put them out there on the main streets,” he told me. “So everybody sees them out there cleaning up trash, and parents say to their kids, ‘Look, that’s where you’re going if you’re not good.’ “ The law-and-order public loved it, and the Sheriff’s fame spread. Rush Limbaugh praised him, and blurbed his book. Phil Donahue berated him.

Racial profiling for immigrant leads to citation

What landed Arpaio is legal hot water was his decision to turn his local local enforcement agent into a ruthless machine for tracking down immigrants.

Which is odd, because immigration violations are federal, not state, crimes.

But hunting down brown people played big with his political base, exploiting the same fears and sensation a certain presidential candidate would later pursue — a candidate Arpaio has endorsed, telling Fox News “He’s our only savior right now.”

The latest from the New York Times:

A federal judge on Friday referred Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his second-in-command for criminal prosecution, finding that they ignored and misrepresented to subordinates court orders designed to keep the sheriff’s office from racially profiling Latinos.

In making the referral to the United States attorney’s office for criminal contempt charges, Judge G. Murray Snow of Federal District Court in Phoenix delivered the sharpest rebuke against Mr. Arpaio, who as the long-serving sheriff in Maricopa County made a name for himself as an unrelenting pursuer of undocumented immigrants.

Sheriff Arpaio and Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan “have a history of obfuscation and subversion of this court’s orders that is as old as this case,” Judge Snow wrote in his order.

Sheriff Arpaio and Mr. Sheridan had also made numerous false statements under oath, Judge Snow wrote, and “there is also probable cause to believe that many if not all of the statements were made in an attempt to obstruct any inquiry into their further wrongdoing or negligence.”

More from the Arizona Republic:

Snow’s decision, announced in a federal court filing, answers the key question that loomed over more than a year of contempt proceedings: Was the sheriff’s disregard of orders a criminal or civil contempt-of-court violation?

But it creates a whole new set of legal questions for the embattled lawman.

  • Will the U.S. Attorney’s Office accept the recommendation?
  • What will the charge be?
  • If Arpaio is found guilty, will a conviction legally force him to resign?
  • Could Arpaio end up behind bars?
  • Will Snow’s decision affect Arpaio’s odds for a seventh term?

Reached for comment Friday evening, Arpaio said he hadn’t yet read the order but that it was being reviewed by his attorneys.

UPDATE: We found the perfect song for Sheriff Joe, sung in California’s Folsom Prison by the one and only Johnny Cash:

Johnny Cash — I Got Stripes

A Taiwanese take on California’s pot referendum


Those playful Taiwanese Animators have turned their attention to the November ballot measure that could turn California into the Acapulco Golden State:

California recreational pot: Can Sean Parker puff puff pass recreational buddha with AUMA!?

Program notes:

Looks like California might get high on its own supply after an initiative that would legalize recreational bud officially took its place on the Nov. 8 ballot. AUMA, the Adult’s Use of Marijuana Act, is backed by Napster co-founder Sean Parker and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.

AUMA would allow adults over 21 to possess, transport and blaze up to an ounce of buddha for recreational purposes and would allow individuals to grow as many as six plants. Problem is, if you have more than an onion, it’s a $500 fine and up to six months in jail.

The 62-page initiative is filled with dense legalese, but it’s basically about who gets all the green. All chronic revenue, including taxes normally meant for cities and counties, will get dumped in a special trust fund controlled by the Bureau of Marijuana Control.

A licensing regime will also be created for cultivators, distributors and retailers. Anyone licensed to sell booze or cigarettes will not be allowed to participate.

Opposition to AUMA is being led by law enforcement groups who benefit from the war on drugs. The teamsters are also opposed because they won’t be a part of the distribution system.

Supporters hope the presidential cycle will draw more young voters, but will they remember?

Note that Hollyweed sign

Back on 1 January 1976, a few weeks after esnl had moved from Oakland to Los Angeles, we lived in Hollywood, with the famous sign visible just outside our front door.

That morning we looked up at the hills and discovered the handwork of a student and some pals.

We burst out laughing:

BLOG Hollyweed

Dangerous Minds takes a look back in time:

On January 1, 1976, Tinseltown’s iconic sign read “Hollyweed” after art student Danny Finegood and 3 of his college pals used $50 worth of dark fabric to transform the famous Hollywood landmark temporarily. They had practiced it first on a scale model Finegood had crafted.

It was more than a simple practical joke, Finegood considered it a statement on the relaxed California marijuana law that went into effect that day.

He also turned it in as a school assignment which earned him an “A.”

Their stunt even inspired a folk song you can hear here.

And another song, just for the fun of it. . .

And if you’re wondering about that Acapulco Golden State reference in our first paragraph, here’s an explanation in the 1967 Rainy Daze hit, “Acapulco Gold,” with a vision of life in a pot-infused California. Billboard pulled it from the Hot 100 chart after they realized it was, shudder, a song about pot:

Headline of the day II: Time to paddle like hell


From the Associated Press:

Expert to Rio athletes: ‘Don’t put your head under water’

Not only are some 1,400 athletes at risk of getting violently ill in water competitions, but the AP’s tests indicate that tourists also face potentially serious health risks on the golden beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana.

And what better excuse for another classic from the great Tom Lehrer, a 1965 song. Just substitute Brazil for American and it applies just as well, including the parts about crime and air pollution:

Tom Lehrer: Pollution

And now for something completely different. . .


“Waltzing Matilda,” the ballad of a Bush Ranger who’d rather die by his own hand than surrender to authorities, is the unofficial anthem Down Under, a song that celebrates the origins of white Australia in the convicts shipped over the Old Blighty.

You’ve heard the song, no doubt, opening with the immortal words, “Once a jolly swagman [thief] camped beside a billabong [watering hole]. . .”

But one thing we guarantee you’ve never heard is the song sung in the language of those who had lived in Australia for 40,000 years before those first Brits, Irish, and Scottish prisoners arrived. The language she sings is Kriol, a creole evolved from contact between the Gurindji language of the indigenous people of the New Territories and the English of the settlers.

Well, here it is, for aboriginal vocalist Ali Mills, who performs a robust version which draws smiles aplenty from her studio musician accompanists.

From MGM Distribution:

Ali Mills — Waltjim Bat Matilda

And if you’re confused about the meaning of the words in the English-language version, we’re calling in our official interpreter, the Man in Black himself.

Take it away, Johnny Cash:

John Oliver takes on on Trump, music pilferage


He’s back from hiatus, offering his take on the Mistake by the Lake.

From Last Week Tonight with John Oliver:

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Republican National Convention

Program notes:

John Oliver discusses last week’s unsurprisingly surprising Republican convention.

And in another segment, Oliver teamed up with some well-known recording artists concerned about the appropriation of their work by candidates, including The Donald.

Featured artists include Usher, Josh Groban, Michael Bolton, Dan Reynolds, Ann Wilson and Nancy Wilson from Heart, Cyndi Lauper, Sheryl Crow, John Mellencamp, and Imagine Dragons singer Dan Reynold:

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Campaign Songs

Program notes:

John Oliver and some of America’s favorite recording artists remind politicians not to use their songs without permission on the campaign trail.

Political topography: Two different nations


The stark outward differences between the two major party presidential candidates are also reflected in the “likes” of the Facebook followers, as revealed in a new state-by-state analysis reported by the Wall Street Journal.

First up, their favorite actors:

BLOG CW Actors

Next, their favorite musical performers:

BLOG CW Music

And then there’s their favorite books:

BLOG CW Books