Three neo-soul newphytes bless Sanders Theater


America’s soul music revival swept through Sanders Theater last weekend as three neo-soul neophytes performed at BLSA’s Spring Conference Benefit Concert for the organization’s 2002 Spring Conference.

Audra, a former lawyer who now advises inner-city youth about their constitutional rights, kicked off the night with a series of spoken word pieces recounting her experiences in the black community. Her first piece conveyed the ridicule she received from spoken word lifers when they discovered that she maintained a day job working at a corporate law firm. Next, she delivered a biting commentary on “gangsta rap,” insisting that the rampant materialism within the genre only serves to damage the self-worth of impoverished youth.

Next on the lineup was Motown Records artist Lathun, whose debut album Fortunate will be on shelves this summer. Lathun could be described as a cross between Bilal and… Bilal. Nonetheless, the artist passionately presented his case for being the hot new soul descendant following in the footsteps of D’Angelo, Maxwell and, of course, Bilal. The budding Detroit native set himself apart from the increasingly crowded genre after introducing the audience to his guitar named Harmony and strumming a slow love song that left onlookers in a momentary trance. (Lathun is a self-taught pianist, guitarist and drummer, and normally sings his own background vocals.)

Toward the end of his performance, perhaps after catching a particular vibe from the crowd, Lathum began to take liberties with his clothing. In the tradition of R&B – but thankfully not yet a staple of neo-soul, – Lathun rubbed his belly to the rhythm of the music, casually exposing a little midriff. The crowd’s response was decidedly mixed.

Saxophonist Mike Phillips closed the night with his five-man band, remarkably turning smooth jazz into a memorable experience. His quintet rifled through original songs and a few covers, including a jazz version of Eminem and Dr. Dre’s hit single, “Forgot About Dre,” that spilled into a hip-hop version of the national anthem. Phillips’ screaming sax witnessed to the recent claims that soul has finally made a revival.

As a benefit concert, the event raised money for Vision for Youth, a non-profit organization seeking to improve teen girls’ relationship with mass media. The organization publishes a magazine called HeadZ Up!, which provides teenage girls with opportunities to write, research, and interview on a variety of topics pertinent to their community.



“I would use the word [“nigger”] to show people I have the right to use it, but I don’t condone it. I’m not a racist. My wife is Asian, my best friend is from India and I share an office with an African-American whose friendship, knowledge and resources I value.”-Matthias Scholl, quoted in the Harvard Crimson, April 5, 2002.

“If you, as a race, want to prove that you do not deserve to be called by that word, work hard and you will be recognized…. [A]s a result of your complaint I have actually begun using the ‘nigger’ word more often than before the incident.”-Matthias Scholl, in an anonymous e-mail to F. Michelle Simpson, April 1, 2002.

Fenno sat in the Lemann Lounge, feet propped up on one of its oddly heavy tree-stump tables. He put down his copy of the Crimson and sighed. He had never understood why some white people seemed to care so much about that word. Like Scholl, they talked about the “right” to use the word, as if by crying “nigger” they would let slip the forces of freedom and the First Amendment.

Fenno had always thought the word was like a really big sword. For a long time, whites swung it at blacks. Then times changed, and (most) whites finally realized they should drop it. So they did. Blacks later picked it up and started using it among themselves. But the way they used it was more like fencing – hit-and-release but no cutting. Some whites began to ask why blacks got to have all the fun. They wanted to play, too, but got frustrated when blacks wouldn’t let them. Which is where people like Matthias Scholl and Kiwi Camara, Harvard Law School’s very own broadsword lexicographers, come in.

What Fenno couldn’t understand is why they wanted the sword back. Scholl had told the Crimson that perhaps because of a language barrier – Scholl is Polish – the e-mail might have come across more offensively than he intended.

Stupid Polacks, thought Fenno, who suddenly thought of a variation on an old joke: “How do you sink Matthias Scholl’s legal career?”

“Send his e-mail to every firm and judge he applies to.”

Fenno chuckled. He also wondered if anyone had thought about sending Herr Kiwi’s outline to firms. Might be interesting to see what the Boy Wünder would do with that.

Due to the efforts of these two geniuses – and of course the anti-Semitic pamphleteer who opined, with a bold disregard for spelling and grammar (“Jews should ‘rot and hell’ with their ‘yarmukas'”), that HLS cares more about Jews than blacks – Harvard Law School was now embroiled in a mini-race war that seemed to become both more poisoned and more absurd with every passing day.

How did we get here? wondered Fenno, as he began to recall the events of the past few weeks.

It had all started with Kiwi, of course, which should have surprised no one. Puberty’s a bitch. So is being the smartest person at your tiny-ass school in Hawaii and then coming to Harvard Law School. Fenno snickered. Reality bites, huh Kiwi?

Then came that day in Rosenberg’s class. This one really disappointed Fenno, who had long admired the man’s deft balancing of education and abuse.

(Fenno had recently come across a copy of the latest Federal Litigation “core theory” composite, in which Rosenberg peppered anonymous excerpts of his students’ assignments with comments like “are you a pod person?”, “Commie, don’t you have a narrower position?” and “how cold was it Johnny?” Tough love, but what other member of the HLS faculty gives line-by-line feedback to students?)

Rosenberg’s careless dismissal of the contribution of “women” and “blacks” to tort theory – when what he meant was feminist and critical race theory, both fair game for the give-and-take of academic criticism – seemed to have taken on a life of its own. When approached after class, Rosenberg foolishly offered only a faint and awkward semi-apology, instead of simply saying, “I’m sorry, that was out of line, and I shouldn’t have said it.”

But the response was mushy-brained liberalism at its worst. One member of Rosenberg’s class, who clearly should have gone to Yale, convinced the administration to have speakers come in twice a week right after class and present – and here Fenno recalled the student’s e-mail – “alternative and marginalized perspectives on accident law” including “things like the feminist critique of Rawls’ original position and critical race theory.”

“The feminist critique of Rawls’ original position”? Fenno would have loved to see Rosenberg’s response to any sentence that contained both the words “feminist” and “position.”

The students actually seemed proud that they’d “convinced” the administration to agree to this plan. Fenno wondered how long it would take them to figure out that they’d just convinced the administration to (pleasepleaseplease!) ,i>let them spend more time in class. Must have been a tough sell.

Then, just when that fire was dying down, Matthias Scholl had to send out his little manifesto, in which he felt compelled to share that he now uses the word “nigger” more often. And that if blacks didn’t want to be called that, they should just work harder.

Fenno wondered what Scholl’s dear friend, the black officemate whose friendship Scholl so cherished, thought of that one. Fenno bet the officemate enjoyed a hearty laugh.

And then to top it all off, someone who apparently felt that the administration wasn’t responding sufficiently to the concerns of black students had to distribute his semi-literate anti-Semitic gem, which actually made CNN with the headline “Racist flier at Harvard Law School.” (If Fenno’s “special friend” were half as responsive, Fenno would be home right now instead of sitting in Langdell.) And people wonder why we’re number three….

Fenno shook his head. The price of freedom, Fenno thought, is that self-satisfied, underworked, reputedly smart people have enough time to make fools of themselves. Do you think anyone standing in a bread line in Russia had time to be racist?

Oh, and where was Charlie Nesson during all this? Calling for a mock trial of Scholl and offering to represent him. Fenno smiled. Good Time Charlie to the rescue! Someone get that man a joint and a giant ball of twine, stick him in a round room, and tell him to go sit in the corner.

Discover a top-flight taqueria in Somerville


Tacos Lupita may be mere steps away from Anna’s Taqueria, Boca Grande, and the Wrap, but its food is a world apart. Located at 13 Elm Street in Somerville (a 5-10 minute walk from the Porter Square T), it is a hole-in-the-wall that offers wonderful, authentic Mexican and Salvadorian cuisine.

It takes little more than walking in the door to tell this isn’t a typical burrito chain. You might first notice the Latin American soccer games on one of the dining room TVs; soon after, there’s the sight of the friendly staff, making tortillas by hand, flipping steak cooking on the grill or watching pork slowly roasting on a spit.

The best item I’ve had at Tacos Lupita sounds quite ordinary: chicken soup ($6). It may sound simple, but this version hardly resembles the plain canned variety. Served in a large, Vietnamese-style bowl, this soup first touches the senses with the steam wafting from the yellow-orange broth. The broth is anything but bland, with a chicken stock base complemented by strong touches of cumin and other spices. To kick it up a notch, drop in the small dishes of salsa and hot sauce and give a generous squeeze of fresh lime juice. Tender chicken leg meat falls off the bone, and is supplemented by several substantial breast pieces. The supporting cast includes chunks of carrot, potato, cabbage and zucchini, as well as a few pieces of elbow macaroni. Two hot corn tortillas, perfect for dipping, are served on the side. But be careful: The restaurant only offers soup on Friday (chicken), Saturday (beef) and Sunday (tripe).

The core menu is composed of various combinations of four ingredients: tortillas (corn or flour), meat (steak, pork, tongue, sausage or chicken), vegetables and cheese. The taco ($1.25) is the simplest combination, offering a choice of meat inside two homemade corn tortillas, served with a salsa of onion, cilantro, and tomato and green (mild) or red (hotter) salsa. The burrito ($4) switches to a flour tortilla and adds bean and rice.

For gorditas ($3), the burrito ingredients are stuffed with cheese into a corn tortilla. This dish stands out more because the corn tortilla provides a sharper contrast in texture with the interior fillings. The only tortilla/filling combination to avoid is the mulitas ($3) which are less interesting (only meat and cheese) and tend to be greasy. Those who prefer fillings to tortillas should opt for the combination plate of chicken, pork, steak, rice and beans (the most expensive item on the menu at $8).

To truly experience Tacos Lupita, move beyond the comfort zone of the tortilla and filling offerings. On the Salvadoran side, the pupusas ($1.25) are a griddle-fried combination of corn tortillas, pork and cheese about three inches in diameter and a quarter-inch thick. These are topped with a (pink!) pickled cabbage and jalapeno mixture and a spicy red sauce. Their texture is fascinating – smooth creaminess from the corn meal and cheese mixes with the crispness of the cabbage. The flavor explodes in your mouth – a bit too literally if you stumble into a couple of jalapeno slices. Tacos Lupita also offers a chicken tamale ($1.50) that is far more interesting than its often bland counterparts in Harvard Square.

The restaurant’s staff is extremely accommodating, but expect to wait a few minutes as they make each dish to order in a small kitchen. Beverages are non-alcoholic, and range from the usual sodas to unusual fruit juices. While the décor could definitely be improved, it’s no different than comparable haunts. Tacos Lupita may be slightly off the beaten path, but it offers an authenticity and value that is hard to find in the area.

Tacos Lupita13 Elm StreetSomerville, MA Hours: Mon-Sun, 11am-11pm(617) 666-0677

Letters from Berkeley


I called my third-year paper advisor today. It was the best conversation I’ve had with a law professor, ever.

Peter, my advisor, is an older gentleman who wears a Harvard tie. You might assume he’s of the conservative, close-minded sort usually dressed in this garb.

Peter says he’s returning my messages. I’ve just written him an e-mail asking him a question I need him to answer, expecting that his experience as chief counsel to the FDA will enable him to answer me quickly and simply – I want to know where the FDA gets its authority to regulate drugs.

When Peter begins speaking, I initially get the feeling that he thinks the answer is obvious. He tells me that Congress can legislate anything so long as it’s not unconstitutional. The legislature gives the FDA authority by statute.

His answer seems to meet my expectations, but only for a second. After a moment, I find myself feeling shocked by how simple and obvious the whole system really is. I start appreciating that what I momentarily interpreted as condescension on Peter’s part was not that at all. It is simply that he has realized long ago what I am now realizing: Congress acts, the President agrees, and a law can inflict harm on people until a few of those people have enough power and time to think about it and take it to court.

“And where does the government get the authority to regulate drugs?” This was the second question I had for Peter, but at this point it seems almost irrelevant.

“Congress gets its authority from the commerce clause,” he says.

“And what about the Ninth and Tenth Amendments?” I ask him. What about the idea that the rights not explicitly in the Constitution are “retained by the people?” Isn’t that what the Ninth Amendment says, explicitly?

Before Peter can speak, I am struck by the reality of the conception of government I was taught in the Eighth grade, the abstract and super-basic depiction of the powers of the three branches. But the real epiphany does not come until Peter answers my third and final question. He tells me that you have to look at sources outside the Constitution to come up with these Ninth and Tenth Amendment rights.

I immediately respond, “But there isn’t much outside the Constitution, the law, that’s considered legitimate. So our rights are only those the government decides are rights.”

And what does this all mean? If the law is the only thing the law considers to be a legitimate source from which to extrapolate our rights, then there really are no Ninth and Tenth Amendments. There are no rights outside the law.

Peter says I’m right; there’s very little that’s been left to the individual.

And meanwhile I have two weeks left to write a 50-page third-year paper on the right to use drugs.

In the end, this might all turn out all right though, right? Maybe if I refer to Locke and Hobbes enough times, I could one day be considered amongst the natural law types. But that’s only if what I say ever gets put into the law. And the tragic absurdity of it continues.

The HLS Race Problem


The past month has seen a shocking and unprecedented amount of racial animosity here at the Law School. Although individual students and professors are directly responsible for the incidents, it is time that HLS acknowledge that there is a larger, more specific problem at hand, and take steps to rectify it immediately.

All members of the HLS community must work to end a climate in which students and faculty feel that racist and disrespectful conduct is acceptable. The RECORD firmly believes that students and faculty members have the First Amendment right to say whatever they wish; however, conduct that is legally allowed does not have to be accepted or tolerated by others. The conduct in SectionIV was not academic or part of an academic debate; its intellectual merit is more akin to profanity scrawled on a wall. Students who suggest that letting others feel “comfortable” engaging in such conduct do a great disservice to the spirit of the First Amendment. This is not a speech issue, but a decency issue.

To that end, HLS must establish a formal mechanism to handle racial incidents. This could entail the creation of a new position to handle matters of institutional equity, possibly within the Dean of Students’ office. Such an office would not only be better equipped to deal with student complains, but would emblematize a stronger commitment to making black students feel welcome.

The climate of distrust and disrespect that black students refer to is not exclusive to them. HLS must work to build an institutional culture that shows respect and empathy for all its students. Most complaints – about professors, about facilities – tend to go unheeded. HLS is a small community whose size should mean greater interaction between students, faculty and administrators, not less.

One area where HLS can make improvements is obvious – the Law School can work to recruit a better student body. The students who perpetrated the Section IV incidents, and their crude methods, are an embarassment to this institution, and their utter arrogance in the face of black and other students’ anger represents the worst kind of elitist insolence. Students like these – who offend not by engaging in academic discourse, but by using the crudest and most offensive of epithets, have no place at HLS. An admissions committee that chose to interview students face-to-face could likely detect some of these faults. It is irresponsible, indeed, unconscionable that this Law School’s admissions committee provides incoming students what is essentially a direct route to wealth without ever looking them in the eye. That HLS’ peer institutions do not interview is not an argument against the proposal, but an even stronger suggestion that this Law School should regain its position as a leader.

Each of us has an obligation to do what we can to improve the Law School’s racial climate. That does not mean creating a culture of hypersensitivity or overt political correctness. It means creating a culture of basic respect, in which mistakes can be made and apologies resonate with action instead of apathy.

The philosophy behind the Allston move


To some here at HLS, the law school’s potential move to Allston is about tradition – cutting our ties with our venerable campus. To others, it’s about atmosphere – trading Harvard Square for an uncertain Allston future. To still others, the bottom line is about practicalities – getting better housing, a nicer gym, a modern student center.

But I think there’s something more at stake. It becomes clear through interviews with professors on the faculty committee charged with looking into the move. And it remains true even after Tuesday afternoon’s sparsely-attended forum, where the focus was very much on the practical plans.

Because in the end, our views on Allston will largely – though not completely – be decided by the answer to one question.

What is a law school all about?

Should law be seen as an academic discipline, like history or economics or chemistry? Or is a law school a place for professional training, to be grouped with Harvard Business School, the Kennedy School and the rest?

Consider the change in neighborhoods between the school’s present Cambridge home and the potential future site in Allston. Walking out our doors now, we’re minutes from the Arts and Sciences heartland – Widener Library, the Science Center, the college, the academic departments ranging from English to physics.

In Allston, things would feel different. Across the river, it looks like President Larry Summers would put into place the plan he outlined for the Boston Globe in February and, it seems, to the faculty committee all along: A professional school campus, with HLS, the Kennedy School, the Business School and the rest sitting next to (or near) each other, with integrated dorms and common spaces where students from the different schools could mingle.

That’s a big contrast, and it hasn’t escaped the faculty committee. But in their presentations and in their work, committee members seem to view the difference chiefly in terms of its practical, functional impact: How many students cross-register at the K-School? How many faculty have connections with HBS? How many students are Teaching Fellows at the College?

Some observers say that’s the right approach – or that, in any case, what students really ought to think about is the day-to-day practical impact. However fascinating its symbolic meaning, Allston would really be a brick-and-mortar move, and there are too many other issues for students to think about.

The metaphysical academic/professional thing just might not be as key as questions like these: The proposed Allston sites and Harvard Yard are far apart, so who’s gonna have the long walk? For that matter, would we trade for newer facilities in Allston but lose Harvard Square? Or would future HLS generations want to have student housing far from campus? That’s a good bet if HLS stays put, as the school is fast running out of space.

So the practicalities are important. But we shouldn’t ignore the symbolism, either. Our neighborhood says a lot about who we are. The buildings around us, the people we pass on our way to shop and dine, have an effect that can’t be tabulated and calculated. When it’s eventually made, the Allston decision will partly be an expression of where a law school belongs, an expression made by the leadership of Harvard University.

And make no mistake, the University will be making this decision – meaning President Summers and the leaders of the Harvard Corporation. No one at the Law School – not the students, not the faculty, not the dean – has a vote. The faculty committee isn’t even making recommendations.

Although we can’t vote or recommend, we can reflect. And for us twentysomethings, this is a fine excuse to think one more time about that existential “Why are we at law school?” question. Are the three years here a time for academic inquiry, in the spirit of the neighborhood around Harvard Yard? Or is this more a time for professional grounding, in the spirit of Summers’ Allston brainstorm?

Our answers won’t make much difference to the bottom line. But they could help us make up our minds about Allston. And they can surely help us to understand our law school experience in its fullest sense.

Welcome to the indoctrination


Imagine a society ruled by a priestly elite, mystics clad in ornate regalia who live among their flock but are not part of it, who hold themselves above ordinary citizens. They gain their authority from a sacred scripture that ritual training gives them secret knowledge about, and which they invoke to keep parishioners in line. They teach that they have been charged to protect the people from themselves, that they are benevolent tyrants who have taken the citizenry’s best interests to heart. The people, unable to decipher the secret construct built upon the scripture and cowed by the mysticism of the priests, obey.

It’s not hard to imagine this kind of society, because we live in it right now. As you read this you are in the middle of your priestly indoctrination. Harvard Law School is the heart of the elitist system of judges, professors, law clerks, legal academics and lawyers who have robbed the people of their Constitution.

Remember that the Constitution is a popular document. Its authority stems from its ratification by the people of the States. The Constitution was not handed down from on high to Moses, John Marshall, Christopher Columbus Langdell or anybody else. It was an arrangement hammered out by the representatives of the people, subject to change over time by more such representatives or by the people themselves.

But for the last 150 years, the Constitution has become a document that is not of or by the people, but claimed to be for the people by a group of elites who say that it protects the people from themselves. Cloaking their complicated pronouncements on what the Constitution means with obscure terminology and chains of citations that make opinions read like jumbles of jargon, judges tell the people what the people meant when they ratified the document. Opinions have become increasingly technical, longer and stylistically impenetrable. The result is that the very people who made the Constitution, and whose consent maintains its authority, are no longer privy to the document as it is applied to them.

Legal scholars should not be able to wield the Constitution as if it were the Ark of the Covenant when marching into battle against the uneducated masses. It is a document of the masses, and while it does check the power of the majority, it is always bound by its popular nature. The Constitution should not be and was never meant to be a wholesale grant of authority to an elite minority. It is a people’s document, and it demands a people’s court.

Aside from providing a strong argument for textualism, the alienation of the people from their Constitution also requires a return to a more deferent judiciary. When a law is passed, courts should only strike it down if it clearly conflicts with the Constitution. If there is any possibility that the law is constitutional, the benefit of the doubt belongs with the elected representatives of the people. This requirement of judicial deference is even more forceful for laws adopted directly through referenda.

When the Constitution does not clearly authorize or prohibit something, courts should not contort their interpretations to make it do so. If the people want a new right added or an old right taken away, they should amend the Constitution. Amendment proposals should not be regarded with horror but rather embraced as the sign of a healthy citizenry concerned with maintaining the Constitution as a receptacle of the will of the people. To regard the Constitution as anything else is to deprive it of its authority. In addition, while there is ample opportunity for highly technical lawyering, constitutional cases should be written in language accessible to all, with decisions that any civics-minded high school student can understand.

Many will reply with clever arguments to undermine all this populism. Ultimately what they say will collapse into some version of “We know what they want better than they do.” Anti-populist arguments necessarily rely on a distinction between the elites and the unwashed masses.

Any such distinction is pure arrogance. We are not better than ordinary people; in fact, we are ordinary people – we just convince ourselves otherwise. Everybody is an ordinary person, and that’s what’s great about America. The Constitution is ours as much as it is anybody else’s, but no more so.

As Judge Wapner said, “a judge is not a god or a king.” In America, nobody is. All of our law arises from democracy, from the people. We who drape the law in mystery and ritual would do well to remember that.

Creating demand; how corporations co-opted environmentalism


During the 1960s and 1970s, growing environmental awareness led to the passage of this country’s landmark environmental laws, a bureaucracy to administer them and a greater emphasis on environmental factors in administrative decision making generally. While current scientific knowledge demonstrates that we must go much further than any of those laws do to address the many threats to health, safety and welfare that our unsustainable consumer culture creates, there is little question that these laws produced dramatic changes.

As companies in the polluting and extractive industries were increasingly forced to internalize the social costs of their activities, they turned to the public relations industry for help. The consultants examined the grassroots organizing methods that had made the environmental movement and other social movements so successful, and recommended that their employers adopt similar methods. Of course, pollution and waste do not have the same public appeal as health and efficiency, so the industries involved needed to compensate for their lack of popular support with money. The enormous success of the counterrevolution that ensued has been evident in Republican and Democratic administrations and Congresses alike.

A primary tool for corporate public relations is the creation of front groups, allegedly grassroots organizations that dress industry’s preferred policies in the garb of “reason,” “science” and “public interest.” Take, for example, The Information Council on the Environment, a coal-industry front group. Documents outlining its media strategy described a plan to target “older, less-educated males from larger households who were not typically information-seekers.” Public relations firms like Merrill Rose encourage companies to “put your words in someone else’s mouth,” and the numerous “citizens'” groups supporting mining in the western states speak quite well for the companies who fund them.

Corporations such as Mobil, Du Pont, Ford, Philip Morris, Monsanto and Pfizer all support multiple organizations with deceptive names like “The American Council on Science and Health” and “Citizens for a Sound Economy.” These groups often share office space with more overt industry lobby groups. The Council for Solid Waste Solutions shares space with the Society of the Plastic Industry, Inc. The Oregon Lands Coalition has the same address as the Association of Oregon Industries.

Sometimes the groups even masquerade as environmental organizations. The National Wetlands Coalition, made up largely of oil and gas companies, was formed to protect its members’ “right” to drill wherever they please, and the Keep America Beautiful Campaign has fought aggressively against recycling legislation.

The media uncritically reports statements from these organizations and government officials cloak favors to their contributors in talking points these groups provide. Media reports also fail to dismiss the outrageous claims about the lobbying power of environmental and other social justice groups. The pollution lobby outspends them at least ten to one, spending over $1 billion.

So where can you go for reliable information? You may not take me seriously when I say “environmental groups,” but let me explain why this is actually a reasonable answer.

Industry’s power is grounded primarily in money. Because companies deliver their message through other people’s mouths, they can propagate lies as often as they like. When one group gets exposed, they start another and pump some money into it. Most people assume that corporate representatives are bending or ignoring the truth when they speak directly on the corporation’s behalf. Recent revelations about the tobacco industry provide only one of thousands of examples justifying such cynicism.

However, environmental groups have nothing if they lose their credibility. Their power is almost entirely grounded in their ability to convey accurate information in such a way that people understand its significance for their daily lives. When I worked for the Sierra Club, every fact that went into print, be it for press releases, information sheets handed out at street fairs or internal newsletters, had to be carefully checked. No exaggerating or fudging was permitted.

There are few incentives to do otherwise. Comparatively speaking, environmentalists have less to gain personally from the policies they advocate than do most lobbyists. It is fairly obvious why Ford Motor Company does not want stricter fuel efficiency standards, but it is less obvious why an upper middle-class Manhattanite would devote hundreds of hours to reducing the number of diesel bus depots in the Bronx. More to the point, organizations like the Union of Concerned Scientists (a real environmental group) could not plausibly have any reason for existing, other than to promote reasonable scientific solutions to real environmental problems.

Of Powdered Wigs and Black Coats

Last week, spring showed some sign of actually being here – lovely flowers, green leaves, bright sunshine and chirping birds. I was really enjoying the wonderful weather – having the temperature in the mid-’80s was nice. But in India, it’s much hotter – about 100 degrees right now.

As an attorney there, I didn’t get to wear light clothing. I wore a black jacket with a black waistcoat and a black gown over it. With air-conditioning a luxury in India, readers will sympathize with my brethren who bear the burden of the tradition.

When the British came to India, they brought not only their legal system, but their lawyer’s attire. And when they left, they left that legal system, along with black coats, bands and gowns. The same was the tradition in the United States. India persists in the tradition, whereas, the U.S. got rid of it a long time ago.

The new U.S. Supreme Court got off to a less than auspicious start on Feb. 1, 1790. The scene was at the Royal Exchange in New York, which lacked a key symbol of judicial authority – a bench. Three of the six justices were missing and there were no cases to try. The court adjourned to dine with President Washington. The next day, Justice Cushing from Massachusetts was jeered by a mob of youngsters when he tried to walk down Broadway in his legal wig.

Barristers only started wearing wigs in the beginning of the 18th century. According to Lord Denning, the celebrated English judge, “it conceals the personality and the bald head…. It is a mark of authority and source of respect.” But in the United States, the Court decided to take Thomas Jefferson’s advice: “For heaven’s sake, discard the monstrous wig which makes the English judges look like rats peeping through bunches of oakum.”

Besides tradition, there have been attorneys and judges who loved to dress – powdered wig, black coats, ruffled shirts, knee-breeches and similar things. Some trial lawyers considered their costume an integral part of their courtroom performance. William Howe, the senior partner of the famed and feared New York firm of Howe and Hummel more than a hundred years ago, wore clothes that matched Broadway personalities of the era, such as “Diamond Jim” Brady. In his New Yorker profile, Richard H. Rovere paints this portrait: “Old Bill” Howe was a stocky man weighing nearly three hundred pounds, with closely cropped white hair and moustache – pompous, gruff and with immense self-assurance. But apart from his versatility in the tricks of the legal trade, his face was not so much his fortune as his costume. He wore it, I suppose, in part to advertise himself and in part because it was his idea of elegance. Did not Mark Twain habitually wear a white Panama suit even in London?”

Howe always wore a blue yachting cap, sometimes a navigator’s blue coat and white trousers, but more often a loudly checked brown suit, with low-cut vest, displaying the starched bosom of a bright pink shirt, and a pink collar innocent of tie, in place of which he sported a gigantic diamond stud, with others of equal size adorning his chest. Sometimes he switched to pearls in the afternoon. Diamonds glittered on his fingers. On his feet were either yachting shoes or dinky patent leathers with cloth uppers; in his lapel a rose or carnation; in his breast pocket, a huge silk handkerchief into which he shed, with great effect, showers of crocodile tears while defending his clients.

There also have been lawyers and judges who did not care about their appearance. The best example may be John Marshall, the Chief Justice of the United States. As a lawyer, it was common to see Marshall strolling through the streets of Richmond, Virginia, dressed in a plain linen suit holding a straw hat under his arm filled with cherries. Even as the Chief Justice, he presented the appearance of a plain countryman. He had a farm in Fauquier County, Virginia and another near Richmond, and he would often return from the latter to take his seat on the bench with burrs sticking to his clothes.

Thinking back to the weather in India, I am forced to ponder the original thought with which I started – “To robe or not to robe?” Robes certainly do not add to legal prudence and intellect, however, they are great levelers so far as the Bar is considered. They distinguish an attorney from a litigant and imbue a seriousness of purpose and sense of decorum that is conducive to the dispensation of justice. But, there will surely be no serious impediment to the administration of justice without a black coat and gown.

The strange process of illusion


There is something confounding – embarrassing sometimes -about minimalism. So spare and pared-down, just a shape in itself, non-figurative. A reduction to the essence. But the essence of what – what does it mean?

It was in part to escape this confounding essence, this in-your-face physicality of minimalism, that Mel Bochner, one of the founding figures of conceptual art, turned to photography. He wanted to get away from the object, and get behind the object, get at the process and the ideas behind the art, rather than the art itself.

The first work in the Sackler Museum exhibit, “Mel Bochner Photographs, 1966-69,” attempts straightforwardly to do just that. In “36 Photographs and 12 Diagrams,” Bochner created a series of structures made of simple wooden blocks based on a predetermined mathematical sequence (which he illustrated with numbers on a grid). He then photographed the structures in black and white against a stark white background, transforming them into two-dimensional floating geometries. At first glance, this series of photographs of abstracted block structures looks like a wall full of Escher images, a bunch of black and white geometric structures reminiscent of the suspended visual puns of the famous Dutch artist. The numbered diagrams, which Bochner includes above each series of photographs of the block structures, evoke the graphite studies for paintings from the Renaissance, in which carefully drawn perspectival rays revealed the minutely calculated blocking of the figures and objects within the composition.

Which was exactly Bochner’s point with these photographs. He was interested in those semi-hidden systems that define art – things like perspective and scale – those choices that the artist makes without us knowing that there are any choices being made at all. The explicit point of this work was to illustrate his particular creative process of calculation.

But for all the self-proclaimed clarity of Bochner’s purpose, there is also something enigmatic and weird about these images. Even as Bochner seems to be revealing his hand, he is blurring his sources, reconfiguring wooden blocks to resemble flattened etchings. In two other works, “H-2” and “H-3,” the artist blew up to massive proportions those same images of the block structures, and then mounted them on masonite, turning them into sculptural wall hangings measuring four feet by six. The wooden texture of the unfinished blocks, the magnified shadows and light of the unsanded material’s natural crevices, become materials themselves. These images, which in the previous work had been subsumed in the idea of their ordering, mere elements of a methodical composition, suddenly become blown up again into objects. So which is the art part of the art – the method or the thing? Bochner can’t quite seem to get away from physical form.

There is a cheekiness in all of this geometric sobriety, the sleight of hand and messing with your head. In another series of works, called “Perspective: One Point (Positive)” and “Perspective: Two Point (Negative),” Bochner covered a large table in a grid of tape, which he then shot at an angle, creating huge images of perpendicular black and white grids. We are meant to be looking at the very concept of perspective: As the titles indicate, the system which allows artists to create the illusion of depth on a flat surface is the subject of the work. But in “Convex Perspective,” a large photograph of a distorted white grid on a black background looks stubbornly three-dimensional, as though the center of the image were raised out into a convex point.

Even as you get closer, with that anticipation and dread that the illusion will collapse at any moment, it endures. And in the moment when you’re close enough to want to reach out, actually tempted to feel what still looks so real – then photography has suddenly become sculpture. Even as the viewer looks at the representation, the representation is acting on the viewer, creating illusions. That’s the little frisson of this kind of art, which undermines any sense of certainty that what you’re seeing is really what’s there. And for Bochner, the thing the viewer sees is not what matters. What matters is that process of distortion behind the image of whatever appears to be there.

It’s almost relieving though, when these abstracted distortions give way to more physical ones. Bochner made a series of large photographs by crumpling prints and then re-photographing those, creating two-dimensional images of blown-up crinkles and texture, playing again on the sculptural potential within photography. In “Perspective Insert (Collapsed Center),” Bochner overlaid one of his crumpled images on the center of the original, pristine image, creating a strange internal window within the photograph, like a view into the disturbed core of some all-too-ordered exterior. The ultimate effect is physical and, strangely – refreshingly – emotional. A little crumpled rage amidst all this overbearing process.

From “Fight the Power” to “Bling Bling”


A 30-minute delay, audio and video difficulties and a sample of an as yet unreleased work-in-progress from an up and coming artist foreshadowed an informal exploration into the enigmatic genre of hip-hop. Sponsored by the Recording Artists’ Project (RAP), a Law School-based clinical program that provides legal services for local music talent, the panel, held in Austin North last Thursday, included a range of industry personalities, including Richard Frierson, a freelance producer; Jayson Jackson of Virgin Records, who has worked with the likes of Lauryn Hill and P. Diddy; Raymond O’Neal of Threshold Media Ventures, Inc.; Jameel Spencer of Blue Flame Marketing and Advertising; Len Burnett, founder of Vanguarde Media; and Brett Wright of Nu America Agency.

The panel provided for an interesting foray into one of the most visible cultures and musical genres in the world, presenting many of the same arguments that plague discussions among typical fans and critics alike. The discussions made several important points, many of them unexpected.

First, defining “the commercialization of hip-hop” as the utilization of the economic opportunities created by the music and its audience, rather than the more common euphemism for describing the genre’s increasing appeal to a non-black audience, and framing the issue as such might result in less vilification of the concept. After all, in a most basic sense, this “commercialization” is one means of economically empowering individuals from the inner cities who might not otherwise achieve the same sort of financial success. Second, cries that the true message of hip-hop is being drowned in ever-growing talk of money, clothes, cars and women (what those in the know call “bling bling”) might be unjustified. Hip-hop as a culture and as a musical genre encompasses a large spectrum of ideas, including music that addresses contemporary social issues as well as music that glorifies more material concepts. One could argue that this sort of multi-dimensional quality attests to the strength of hip-hop rather than detracts from it.

Third, the music never really crossed over. In other words, its current cross-racial/ethnic appeal was not necessarily initiated by artists going into studios trying to create a sound that would attract white suburban America. Instead, it was white America that that was attracted to the sound.

Fourth, accusations leveled at more commercial hip-hop artists for portraying images and lifestyles that many assume to be true of all African-Americans is a little unfair. Arguably, it would be ignorant for anyone to assume that the pictures that the videos and lyrics paint are representative of an entire race of people. After all, no one takes the sex, drugs and wild rock n’ roll lifestyles of rock acts like Motley Crue to be representative of all white Americans.

To be sure, this does not completely absolve hip-hop musicians of social responsibility. It is important that they use their exposure and market power to highlight issues pertinent to black America, white America and the world. Further, there is something to be said for that fact that most of the faces in hip-hop belong to a race that has not enjoyed much exposure in the media. Perhaps this should compel hip-hop artists to take their social responsibility more seriously, and consider what sorts of images of black America they want to share with the rest of the country and the world.

No One Is Safe


“Honestly, I would be sick of reading another story about me,” says 3L Murad Kalam, a soon-to-be-published novelist. He is sitting in Starbucks in an unassuming button down shirt and gray slacks. Between abrupt gulps of coffee, he is animatedly attempting to explain his book, his life and even his future.

A Harvard English major, Kalam won the prestigious O. Henry award last year for his short story “Bow Down.” Yet unlike most aspiring authors, he maintains that he fully intends to practice law.

His explanation of his path to these somewhat incongruous destinations unfolds in a mishmash of tangents and analogies as he treads a fine line between cynicism and inspiration. A conversation with Kalam puts one squarely in the center of a tornado of publishers, agents, authors, lawyers, fictional characters and the specters of famous past novelists who seem constantly to peer over his shoulder. He seems aware of his potential position in the grand pedigree of literary tradition, invoking the names of great authors as regularly as breathing.

“Toni Morrison said: ‘If there’s a book you want to read that isn’t out there, you’re supposed to write it'” he said. “…so that’s exactly what I did.”

Kalam describes his book, “Night Journey,” as a coming-of-age novel about a boxer growing up in poverty in southern Phoenix, AZ and moving to the corruption and greed of Las Vegas – a far cry from modern detritus that he dismisses as about “fornicating in the suburbs.”

“It’s about facing yourself,” he said. “It’s about love and the value of people. It’s about disillusionment, innocence and obsession with the past.”

Though he speaks excitedly and fluidly of authors and fiction, Kalam’s brow furrows when he begins discussing the somewhat less esoteric world of publishing.

“As a first time author, it is very difficult to find an agent. [It is] very difficult to find some one who will really take the time to work with you,” he said.

The genesis of Kalam’s novel began with a thesis, advised by Robert Cohen and mentored by Jamaica Kincaid. The various twists and turns on his six-year journey to publication include quite a few fortuitous occurrences, such as his introduction to his agent and the discovery of a publisher willing to work extensively with him. Kalam’s appreciation for all those that have taken their time to work with him seems refreshing – he seems almost unaware of the role his own innate talent must have played in getting them to invest so heavily in his work.

Kalam pauses for a moment to emphasize the contribution of “One-L” author Scott Turow, whom he met while acting as the vice-president of the HLS Forum.

“He’s really been great,” Kalam said. “His involvement really helped me get my foot in the door. Turow even offered to “blurb” Kalam’s book for him – without asking.

After graduating from Harvard in 1996 and taking a year to work on his thesis, Kalam moved home to work on his novel. He researched extensively, reading books and using the Internet. He would drive through the area where the book was set to “notice the little things.”

His research must have paid off. Last summer, while working at a firm, Kalam gave a chapter of his book which took place in a crackhouse, to one of the partners to read. The partner returned it, looking deeply troubled. “He said that he had done some work in a crackhouse once, and that my writing was a very accurate description. I had to tell him that I had read a book about it.”

Indeed, Kalam seems pleasantly isolated from the situations about which he writes. As the son of a doctor who grew up in the suburbs of Mesa, AZ in what he describes as a, “conservative” community; what authority does he wield when writing about subjects such as poverty, prostitution, drugs and gangs?

“The thing is, there are so many fewer degrees of separation in the black community between someone who goes to Harvard and the people that I write about,” he said.

He will have many fewer degrees of separation from the subjects of his next novel. His face lights up when he talks about his new project: “It’s about Harvard Law School. It’s a subtle satire about the other side of prestige. About the many complex and interesting characters we have here with access to power.”

He breathlessly expounds upon the theme, calling his experience here “real, but it could have been a novel, everything just worked out so perfectly.” He reminisces for a minute on the built-in love story-Kalam is now married to a fellow 3L Rashann Duvall. He will write, he says, not only about the experience and the “mindgame” but about “these humongous walking egos we call professors.”

Indeed, as Kalam describes different personalities, Cambridge starts to seem more like a scene from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – and that’s just how he likes it. “There are so many great characters. [So many] are incredibly brilliant, but poorly adapted to reality.”

So, with all this talent, why law? “Writers hate each other,” he said. “I like lawyers better. I have every intention of practicing once I graduate. Writing is isolating. I wanted to be out there in the world. I want to have conversations around the water cooler.”

But he plans to write about HLS first. “It will be a catharsis, a gift to my class.” He raises and eyebrow and grins mischievously, “and absolutely no one is safe.”



Ripping open his mail, Fenno couldn’t believe his eyes, but there it was. He had managed to accumulate $140,000 in debt over his three years at HLS, and the first payment was due soon. After the bar, all those computer loans would catch up with him. Fenno looked around his room and turned to his only hope for salvation.

He had already traveled this route unsuccessfully a dozen times, but Fenno reasoned that luck was in the air this week. The planets were in alignment for last time for a century. Shaking his computer out of hibernation, Fenno clicked on the “Westlaw Rewards” icon on his “Favorites” toolbar. The computer failed. Fenno clicked again. Failure. Tears streamed down Fenno’s face as he tried to enter the site again. He heard a chime. The screen said “Congratulations! You are the winner of Westlaw Rewards for the month of April! Proceed to Dean Clark’s office to collect your prize.”

Fenno jumped up and grabbed his jacket. He wasn’t sure if this meant that he was going to get a measly $100 or three years of tuition paid off, but either way he’d be able to eat tonight. He sprinted to Griswold and knocked on the Dean’s door. Clark was behind his desk, wearing a top hat and tails. There was also a nun, a soldier, and a short Ku Klux Klansman in the office. Fenno squinted and refocused. It was actually Kelly Hartline, Sasha Volokh and Kiwi Camara. Something wicked was afoot.

“You’re just in time, Fenno,” said the top-hat donning Clark. “We’re about to head over to pick up everyone’s prizes!”

“Prizes? You mean all of them won, too?” asked Fenno. Everyone nodded. Clark hopped from his seat and danced toward the door, beckoning the four students to follow. When they reached the Griswold doors, Fenno gasped as he saw the vehicle parked in front of the building. It looked like a huge, modified golf cart, but it was unlike any golf cart Fenno had ever seen. Golden, trombone-like pipes ran through thing, which was painted the most grotesque shade of green that Fenno had ever seen.

“Hop on!” yelled Clark as he jubilantly climbed into the driver’s seat. Fenno and the other four students squeezed into the cart and watched as Clark turned a number of knobs and switches. Fenno could hear a strange bubbling around him.

“What’s all of that noise Dean?” asked Hartline. “I’ve never heard any engine sound like that.”

The Dean laughed as the car started to roll. “That’s because this engine is my own design. It runs entirely on greed!”

Fenno felt something strange in his pants and watched in amazement as the trombone-looking tube next to him sucked four crisp $20 bills out of his pocket. The cart started to move and soon Fenno saw that they were approaching Hauser. Clark ran into the building and the four students followed. When Fenno entered he couldn’t believe his eyes. The bottom floor of Hauser had been completely transformed. The classrooms were gone, and a river of chocolate ran past them. Lush vegetation grew everywhere.

“I’ve got to try it!” yelled Kiwi, running up to the river of chocolate. Clark mumbled something that sounded discouraging under his breath, but it was inaudible. Fenno thought it was strange that he didn’t smell chocolate. As Kiwi dipped his head into the river, Fenno heard a scream and looked over. Camera turned toward them and Fenno saw that his face was now shockingly black. He seemed catatonic and was yelling that his lips were burning. Immediately what looked like miniaturized versions of two of the other Deans ran up and dragged Kiwi away. Their faces were blue for some reason Fenno couldn’t decipher.

“What in God’s name kind of chocolate is that, Clark?” yelled Fenno.

“Who said anything about chocolate? The drinking fountain overflowed. That’s just Boston tap water. It is a bit grainy.”

They continued to walk through Hauser when Hartline demanded that they stop.

“I don’t know where we’re headed Dean, but this vegetation looks delicious,” she said. “I mean, it looks just the way I picture all of the good vegetables looking in the Garden of Eden before Adam and Eve did that horrible, horrible thing.”

Clark mumbled something under his breath, but no one was listening. Hartline put some of the plants in her mouth. Almost immediately, she started twitching and yelling out about the taste of sin. She fell to the ground and began to insanely yell Madonna lyrics from the ’80s. Fenno thought he heard “Like A Prayer” as the two miniature deans dragged her in the direction they had taken Kiwi. One of the miniatures was rapping something about “oompas.”

“What kind of plants are you growing down here Clark?” yelled Fenno. “Technically, these aren’t plants, Fenno. Everyone knows that toxic mold is the only thing growing in Hauser,” replied Clark. He tipped his top hat towards Fenno.

“I guess it’s just the two of you left,” said Clark, looking at Fenno and Volokh. The Dean and Sasha started to laugh maniacally.

“Sasha! Think fast!” said Clark, as he whipped out a gun. Sasha reached for his, but before he could get to it, Clark had pulled the trigger and Sasha was lying on the floor dead. Fenno couldn’t believe his eyes.

“You shot him!” yelled Fenno.

“I always had a mild taste for irony,” said Clark, in a wooden tone. Fenno was in shock. Clark grabbed Fenno’s hand and pulled him towards the elevator.

“What are you going to do to me?” said Fenno, as the elevator doors shut.

“Oh Fenno, stop worrying. You’ll be fine. You won, just like I knew you would. Sasha and Kiwi and Kelly will all be fine too, as soon as the oompas finish with them. I needed to test you to see who would take my place and own all of this. Now I want to show you something.”

The Dean turned a key in the elevator and it began to move upward faster than Fenno had ever felt it travel. Twenty minutes later it burst through the Hauser roof, and Clark slid back a panel revealing a window. Fenno could see everything below. Langdell and Pound were visible, but the elevator was headed towards Allston. Below, Fenno could see construction on the new law school.

“This is where I’m building my new lawyer factory, Fenno. And I want you to run it. It will all be yours. Over there is where we’ll add the cynicism, and right there we’ll pump in B

Fenno covered up his ears and screamed.

“But I don’t want a factory! We’re not supposed to be mechanically making lawyers like so many automobiles, or bars of chocolate. Education is supposed to expand the mind, not stifle it!”

Just as he was building to a crescendo, Fenno stopped ranting, realizing Clark was lying on the elevator floor, laughing. Fenno stared at him for a monent, finally seeing the truth. He helped Clark off the floor.

“So where do I put the apathy?” asked Fenno

Finding your summer soundtrack


Ah…summer. You don’t have to be too much of a starry-eyed dreamer to instinctually associate the glitter-kissed rays of sunlight that fill long days of summer with the familiar caress of a favorite song, or give a pulse to the long warm nights with the gut-level jump of a catchy beat. The season basically begs a soundtrack….

As such, in my last piece for the RECORD this year, I wanted to leave y’all with a few leads in assembling your own summer soundtrack: a few websites, albums, tours and other sources for broadening your musical horizons. In the humble hopes that one of these avenues might turn up a song or a rhythm that propels your own musical memories, here is a quick-and-dirty blueprint for musical exploration in the months ahead:

The Web

While many people this summer might not have the same hot-and-cold-running-T1-access that we take for granted on campus, there’s no reason not to check out the following hot music websites in between Westlaw sessions at the firm: Imagine a program that basically ferrets out the preferences that undergird your overall musical tastes, and then uses those preferences to introduce you to a realm of stuff that you are almost guaranteed to like. Well, as it turns out, the demo available on this website does exactly that. Participants fill out an extensive survey, ranking different songs against one another, entering the names of artists who they enjoy, and commenting on the types of things they like in a song. Then the program generates a playlist featuring both familiar favorites and new finds. On the first try I was determined to beat the thing with the sheer depth and eclecticism of my musical tastes – confuse it by rating country crooners, ska bands, gangster rappers and operatic tenors with the same high marks. But, like the chess playing computer, it beat me at my own game – not only did I really like just about everything it suggested, but I ended up with a playlist with a varied, yet fluid tapestry of styles that even college radio at its best can barely pull off. While it scares me that there is some algorithm out there that can predict musical taste with eerie accuracy, I’m also pretty psyched that it has given me a few hints at what to look for next time I’m at the record store. One of the best, most eclectic legal MP3 sites. Aside from having an excellent collection of electronica, epitonic also features an extensive and cross-referenced array of indie rock, punk and folk listings. Just a few hours on this site will give you a great survey of a lot of music you might never hear on all but the most cutting-edge radio stations. Ever wondered whether you could be the next Paul van Dyk, John Digweed or BT? For those with a hankering to test their mixing and composing skills, acidplanet provides an interactive electronica production experience that may well be a harbinger of things to come. The site gives users the tools to remix favorite songs or compose new ones using a variety of loops and samples in conjunction with their free downloadable software. New wave phenoms New Order were so taken with it that they recently hosted a contest to see which users could create the best remixes of songs from their most recent album. After a few addictive hours putting your best tracks together, you’ll see why. A treasure trove of cutting edge hip-hop, Chuck D’s rapstation is another free, legal source of an amazing variety of MP3’s, with offerings from established artists and up-and-coming groups. With a healthy selection of hip-hop styles, this site is yet another revelation for those seeking a new groove or two. While it won’t turn you into Ken Walczak overnight, this site is quite possibly the best way to stay abreast of all the happenings in the indie rock world. Thoughtful interviews, thorough reviews and extensive coverage of some of the genre’s best bands make this an indispensable site for any music lover.


Although a revamped Lolapalooza will be MIA for at least another year, this summer still features a host of interesting road shows:

Queens of the Stone Age – In between battling Courtney Love in court and fronting the Foo Fighters, ex-Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl likes to relax… with some brutal, crunchy, bone-rattling stoner rock. Having produced Queens of the Stone Age’s newest album, Grohl plans to tour with them this summer behind the drum kit, an addition which promises to add just a little more octane to what is already one of the most kinetic outfits in rock today.

Elvis Costello – The word on the street is that his new album is his most gritty and propulsive since My Aim Is True. A big statement to be sure, but looking at the set-list from his NYC expo the other day, it seems that Costello has announced his intentions to return to guitar-rattling, brain-punk form, pulling out such favorites as “Watching the Detectives,” and “Oliver’s Army.” Touring a variety of large-and-mid-sized venues this summer, Costello and the Imposters will likely replicate the earnesty and magic that has made him one of rock’s most hallowed cult figures.

Warped Tour – Of all the festival tours, the Warped Tour has quietly been one of the most successful and best. This year’s lineup remains strong, featuring the Mighty, Mighty Bosstones, NOFX, Reel Big Fish, Bad Religion, No Use for A Name, the Damned and more.

From the Vaults

While you’re checking out new sounds on the web and catching shows at your favorite venues, don’t forget to catch that classic album you might have missed:

The Day the Earth Met the Rocket from the Tombs – The lost Rosetta stone of late 70s American rock, Cleveland’s Rocket from the Tombs (not to be confused with Rocket from the Crypt, who named themselves in tribute) was not just the launching pad for such luminary punk and new wave bands as Pere Ubu and the Dead Boys, but it was also the place where Dylan and the Ramones first met in grit and beauty. This recently released collection provides the only document available on CD of the group’s largely unrecorded career, including early versions of what would become Ubu’s “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo,” and Peter Laughner’s chilling “Amphetamine.”

Hound Dog Taylor and the Houserockers – There’s blues and then there is blues, and on his 1971 debut, the eccentric six-fingered (I’m not joking) slide guitar player Hound Dog Taylor managed to cut some the greasiest, skronkiest, most godawfully rockin’ roots music ever put to wax. A forgotten classic if there ever was one, this album is quite simply a boozy rollickin’ party in every track.

So there you go – just a few off-the-cuff suggestions for the musical season ahead. Enjoy.

Super Furry Animals rock the Paradise


An absolute thicket of gear onstage, video screens playing an endless loop of spiraling, colorful images, the constant rumble of waves and walls and wedges of sound turning the room into a giant reverb tank – it’s the type of stuff that makes critics want to start throwing around terms like “space rock” and make off-the-cuff comparisons to Kid A.

But if Monday night’s show at the Paradise Rock Club taught me anything, it is that there are very few genres that could even hope to contain the staggering phenomenon that is Wales’ Super Furry Animals. Swirling happily from balls-out rawk (replete with headbanging Sabbath members on the big screen) to the lushest of post-Lennon-sunny-day-Penny-Lane-British-Isles-on-a-postcard pop to dense, dense grinding electronica and back again, the Animals are wit, ambition, kitsch and abandon all rolled up into one.

In a set spanning their catalogue (with the exception of their Welsh-language release, Mwng), SFA counterpointed new songs like the chimey “(Drawing) Rings Around the World” with older whirlwinds like “The International Language of Screaming,” with the effect of knitting it all into one thick, heady tapestry.

Contrasted with the “Hey look, I’m not just rapping to myself in the shower anymore” antics of opener Cex (who did at least pull off two impromptu freestyles about college and mashed potatoes), one gets the impression that the average SFA gig, at least on this side of the ocean, might well be akin to stumbling across Bach in the corner at Jake Ivory’s.

What pains me now is that I’m going to have to buy all their albums, put my ear up to the speakers, and stare at a florescent light until all I can see is floaters to even begin to approximate the experience. Even then, it would be hard to replicate the last 10 minutes of the set, in which keyboardist/DJ/programmer Cian Ciaran created a beautiful din that sounded something like the Death Star stuck on spin cycle. And all through it, a video image of Arnold Schwarzenegger kept appearing on the screen uttering the words “best mindfuck yet.” I couldn’t agree more.