Populist Picks/Rob Patterson

Before the Wire

DVD: Homicide: Life on the Streets and The Corner — Are you already missing The Wire as much as I am? Then do as I have and delve back into its antecedents. Homicide was inspired by Wire creator David Simon’s book about a year in the life of the Baltimore police homicide unit—also well worth reading as I did a decade or so ago—and was a landmark in TV crime dramas by being less about the crimes and more about the people who try to solve them and how they relate among themselves and with the rest of the world. The Corner was adapted by Simon and Wire co-creator Ed Burns (a former Baltimore cop) from their book about a year in the life of the denizens of a ghetto street corner prior to The Wire, and covers much of the same territory of American poverty and race issues. Like the groundbreaking anthropological book Tally’s Corner that preceded it by many years (and I imagine had to be some sort of template), it show us how the other America lives and struggles in a way that is both sympathetic yet unstinting in its graphic reality. Both are fine examples of how TV, that frequent vast wasteland, can bring into our homes the powerful stories about how certain Americans live in way that can’t help but affect the hearts and thoughts of anyone with intelligence and empathy, and make the case alongside The Wire for Baltimore as the best metaphor for American urban life at its most telling.

Book: A Deeper Blue: The Life and Music of Townes Van Zandt by Robert Earl Hardy — Van Zandt is not just a Texas musical icon but one of the greatest country-folk songwriters who ever lived, and the life he lived all but embodied the notion of “tortured artist.” Suffering from both severe alcoholism and bipolar disorder, Van Zandt also created songs of stunning eloquence, beauty and humanity that will echo through history as some of modern folk music’s greatest creations. Writer and musician Hardy renders the sad yet still inspiring tale of Van Zandt’s personal and musical journey with a fine depth and directness that lets the reader make their own assumptions about the tangled intertwining of muse and emotional dysfunction.

Music: sundirtwater by The Waifs — I caught this Australian two woman/one man folk-rock trio opening for Bob Dylan, which serves as a fine expression of just where their music belongs. There’s a spirit in their sound that’s missing from so much of today’s folk-based and acoustic music, but The Waifs somehow recapture the energy and innovation of ’60s folk-rock to create its contemporary equivalent. Fans of folk, singer-songwriters and female musical artists looking for something new and exciting will find it here.

From The Progressive Populist, May 1, 2008

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