Archive | Karl Schwartz RSS feed for this section

Discover New Music with Great Music Documentaries Available from Kanopy

14 Aug

I love discovering new music, especially stuff that is strange and forgotten. I’ve spent hours countless digging through the crates of record stores looking for the weirdest albums I can get my hands on. Kanopy has a ton of great music documentaries that have exposed me to artists I would have never heard of otherwise. If you are looking to expand your musical palette to new realms, I highly recommend the following three music documentaries.

Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll
Very few people will go into John Pirozzi’s Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten knowing anything about the vibrant rock and pop music scene in that existed in Cambodia in the 1950s and 60s. Much like how the U.S. and Europe celebrated The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, Cambodia had its own mega-succesful stars during this time who turned the city of Phnom Penh into a flourishing center of the arts. I had previously known absolutely nothing about Cambodian rock music and was blown away by the talent of the performers showcased at the beginning of the film, leaving me to quickly wonder why all of the country’s biggest stars are so unknown.
The modern history of Cambodia is one of tragedy. During the Vietnam War, the U.S. carried out a secret bombing campaign of the country that killed tens of thousands and devastated the rural countryside. Out of the rubble rose the Khmer Rouge, an extremist group who systematically killed artists, musicians, and intellectuals. The Khmer Rouge almost entirely wiped out any memory of the Cambodian rock scene. Many of the most talented performers died in the notorious Killing Fields and the only surviving recordings were ones that were hidden or smuggled out of the country. While the film is ultimately a tragedy, the fact that the legacy of these incredible musicians has finally been resurrected is nothing short of a miracle.

Are The Residents the strangest band to ever exist? Are they even a band or are they something else entirely? Theory of Obscurity documents the Resident’s 40+ year career as closely as you can follow a group whose members conceal their identities with giant eyeball masks and top hats. The Residents have always thrived on anonymity and experimentation, creating elaborate performances that appear more like avant-garde theater than a rock show. Playing a Residents album at a party could quickly clear the room. They are the type of band that takes many listens to “get” if it is ever possible to get them at all. With that said, I think everyone should at least experience this film to see if they are one of the “weirdos” who might be strange (or cool) enough to enjoy the Residents.

In Search of Blind Joe Death: The Saga of John Fahey
John Fahey was an acoustic guitarist who influenced everyone from Pete Townshend of the Who to Sonic Youth. While lots of famous musicians cite his influence, he is little known to mainstream culture, some of which can be attributed to his style of playing called “American Primitivism” which harkens back to the early delta blues and ragtime. Even though he started making records around the same time that rock music was breaking out, Fahey’s playing sounded so rustic that he liked tricking people into thinking he was forgotten early 1900s blues musician named Blind Joe Death. Fahey was also notorious for self-sabotage. He was an alcoholic who was too eccentric, too difficult to work with, and too out of step with the modern world to have material success. Despite his shortcomings, one cannot deny that Fahey was a breathtaking guitar player and entertaining personality. There’s a reason so many musicians talk about him in reverence and In Search of Blind Joe Death makes a compelling case for his importance.  BCCLS patrons also have access to the documentary on DVD.

Written by:
Karl Schwartz
Young Adult Librarian

How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States by Daniel Immerwahr

3 Jul

How to Hide an Empire
After Hurricane Maria ravaged the island of Puerto Rico in September of 2017, a poll went viral showing that almost half of all Americans did not know that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens. As thousands of Puerto Ricans waited for humanitarian aid from the mainland, lots of historians expressed shock that a large number of Americans seemed to have so little knowledge about an island that is a part of their country. In his provocative new book, How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States Danniel Immerwahr argues that people living in the contiguous 48 states have always mischaracterized the size and scope of their country and sets to expand American history beyond the borders that readers are likely to be familiar with.

Unlike the British, Spanish, and French empires, which were all global in scale and clearly understood to be massive colonial empires, many people in the U.S. grow up learning that their country was founded as an anti-empire or a republic that sought to do away with the colonial ambitions of the European monarchies. This idea is an important part of America’s mythology. Immerwahr’s fascinating book shows why this conception of U.S. history leaves out so much. While many people have little understanding about Puerto Rico’s relationship to the mainland of the U.S., even fewer know that the Philippines was a part of the U.S for almost fifty years. Some maps from the early 1900s even showed the Philippines alongside the United States.

Even more obscure is the history of the hundreds of tiny islands that the U.S. has occupied and claimed. Some of these earliest claims were called the “guano islands,” which were literally uninhabited islands covered in the droppings of seabirds. These islands were valuable because the guano could be scooped clean and bought back to the mainland to be sold as powerful fertilizers.  Another set of islands called Bikini Atool was used as a nuclear testing site after the U.S. forcibly relocated over 100 indigenous inhabitants. Other tiny islands throughout the Pacific became important naval bases. All of these islands remained hidden to the average American.

After World War II, most of the world began giving up their colonies. However, the U.S. would go on to maintain 800 military bases around the world. Immerwahr calls this a “pointillist empire” where instead of powerful countries occupying less powerful ones, a pointillist empire maintains power through hundreds of tiny points on the globe. What I learned from reading How to Hide An Empire is that it’s wrong now and has always been wrong to think of the U.S. as one contiguous land mass. Our history has always been much more complex and expansive than that. This fascinating book made me conceptualize my entire understanding of American geography in a whole new light.

If you are interested in Hoboken history our local history collection is again accessible on the second floor of the main branch.  You can email reference @ to make an appointment with our Local History Librarian.

The staff of the Hoboken Public Library wishes you a terrific Independence Day!

Written by:
Karl Schwartz
Young Adult Librarian

%d bloggers like this: