Parties, Partisans

DVD: 24 Hour Party People — I missed this 2002 film about the Manchester, England, music scene from the late 1970s into the ’90s when it hit the theaters, and after finally seeing it on DVD I’m kicking myself for that, as it’s one of the most delightful music-based feature films ever made. The thread of the story is Tony Wilson, a TV news reporter who started Factory Records—which launched Joy Division, New Order and other post-punk bands to fame—and the legendary Hacienda nightclub in the Midlands city with worldwide impact. Filmed with a charming breeziness and cinematic wit, it wonderfully recreates the energy of a bustling music scene as well as the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants craziness of independent music entrepreneurs and the often-odd ways of the musical artists they deal with. It’s a film about being young and enthralled with music and nightlife that for all its cinematic differences from the actual tale feels like real life, and no more so than in its sense of fun, play and creating a music scene that brings an energy to its depressed locale with global reverberations.

CD: City That Care Forgot by Dr. John — With a title that accentuates how the disastrous effects of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans have been all too quickly overshadowed by later events, this album by one of the Crescent City’s greatest musical exponents both celebrates the spirit and laments the state of America’s most culturally rich city. The splendid charms of New Orleans music are only abetted and never overshadowed by star guests such as Eric Clapton, Willie Nelson and Ani DiFranco, while the good Doctor also brings in such Louisiana talents as Terence Blanchard and Terence Simien to spice up the local flavor. Of all the albums that raised funds and/or paid tribute to New Orleans since Katrina, this is the one that best embodies what is so special about its music and captures the complex emotional impact the tragedy of the floods on the place and its people.

CD: Mr. Love & Justice by Billy Bragg — No contemporary musical artist has worn a commitment to leftist politics and social and economic justice on their sleeve with the fervent dedication displayed by England’s Bragg, and always with a heart and musicality that has always kept him free of stridency and polemics. And as implied by the title, his knack for blending the personal and political has never been as sweetly expressed as on his first new album is six years. Bragg’s vision and voice have all matured to help create and deliver his finest set of songs yet, ably delivered by his band The Blokes with a distinctively progressive pub rock sound. It’s his best collection of songs and performances yet and proof positive that the best political thinking begins with the human heart.

From The Progressive Populist, July 1-15, 2008

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