Night, Elie Wiesel, Grade: A

“If in my lifetime I was to write only one book, this would be the one.”

This new translation of Wiesel’s Night is a masterpiece in 120 pages. I know my holocaust books, and this is one of the most chilling I’ve read. This story of the young Elie being taken from a Hungarian ghetto to Auschwitz and Buchenwald is full of despair and horror. And as events unfold, unspeakable events, Wiesel recounts the death of his faith in the God he was raised to believe in.

I’ve been to Buchenwald and Auschwitz. There is a feeling there that cannot be described in words. The rare book like Night imparts a little of it, just enough to break your heart.

Remind me to send this book to the guy who made sure to tell me that Jews owned Werther’s Toffee company. He needs to read it and suck on some hard candy.

State of War: The Secret History of the C.I.A. and the Bush Administration, by James Risen, Grade: A

Written by the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who broke the Bush domestic spying scandal, this book is amazing. Filled with secret details about the mismanagment of the war on terror, the distraction of Iraq, the complete lack of WMD intel. Wow, this is how we’re going to look back on this era of American history, provided we open our eyes. Read it.

One thought has come to mind as to why the Bush administration refuses to go through the FISA courts. I wonder if they are monitoring way too many communications to get a warrant for every call/e-mail collected by NSA computers. Can’t wait to see what this is all about, once the secrets come out.

Read a lot this month, eh? Must be winter in Utah.

Ghost. Truly dreadful. If you want to read about a guy who rescues women from being raped to death by terrorists and then rapes a girl before saving the Pope from being nuked by Al Qaeda (I am NOT making this up), you will love hating this book. F

Just Another Soldier: A Year on the Ground in Iraq. What can I say, it’s another look at the life of a soldier in Iraq. Why are all the books about Iraq post-invasion written by soldiers and all the books about the actual invasion written by journalists? The author of this one is another blogger, like Colby, who gets busted for having a blog. Also like Colby, he got busted in high school for publishing an underground newspaper. Wonder why Colby thinks he’s a dick? The book bogs down after a while, but it’s got its moments. B

The UN Gang. Is this the bitchiest political book I’ve read in a while? Yeah. Hilarious. Pedro Sanjuan comes across as this grumpy old man, and the funnest parts of the book are when he’s snapping back at some incompetent UN official. He certainly doesn’t suffer fools. Still, would need more bitchiness and less oh-my-gosh can you believe it? to score higher. C

Mandela, Mobutu, and Me. Love it. Great stuff about some of my favorite places: Congo and South Africa and some others. Lynne Duke provides some great insights and behind-the-scenes descriptions to some of the world’s momentous, though ignored, people, places, and events. B

Talking Back. Unfortunately, this book fails as both a primer of recent White House history and an insider’s look at the same. While there are some interesting insights into the Reagan presidency and the Clintons, it’s not enough to sustain interest. C

My War. Colby, you pulled it off! This book is a great read, putting you into the life of a soldier in Iraq. This book is what I assumed Jarhead, C, would be. Colby has a real eye for detail and irony, and this is a hard book to put down. And it’s so nice to see another suburban punk actually create something that will last. Ranks with some of the best combat writers of the past ten years. A

A Dirty War. Wow. Russia fights this horrendous war with a ruthless spirit and total disregard for collateral damage, and you’ve got Anna Politkovskaya (the author) running around writing stories about Russia losing its soul due to the unbelievably cruel disregard for the Chechen (Russian) population. Imagine Aunt Bea writing scolding articles calling George W. Bush to account for the continuous missteps in his Iraq policy. That’s this book for the second Chechen war. Highly recommended for Chechnya/Russia/War junkies. A

Chechnya Diary. A great look at Thomas Goltz’s trips to cover the war in Chechnya, and the unintended consequences of his friendship to the Chechens he met. It’s close to an A, but I’ll reserve that for a couple other Chechnya books that I’ll list in the blog. B

The Tenth Circle of Hell: A Memoir of Life in the Death Camps of Bosnia. This is a chilling book, and should be required reading for all. The atrocities committed in Bosnia should be studied and understood. We must figure out how to put an end to the violence of mankind. A

A Sniper’s Journey: The Truth About the Man Behind the Rifle. A cool read, tailored more to the issues of dealing with unspeakable acts you’ve committed that you just can’t tell your friends about. I can relate. C

Nuclear Showdown, North Korea Takes on the World. This book, on the crazy-weird North Korea, is so scatter-brained I couldn’t take it. I quit on page 194. D

American Hardcore, A for fans, B for anyone else.

Thanks to Grayson, I ended up with two tickets to a showing of the punk documentary American Hardcore at the Sundance Film Festival. The film re-lives the eruption of the often brutal underground scene from 1980-1986.

From the start of the film, when the frantic Bad Brains track “Pay to Cum” is blasting away, it was striking. Hearing that music in a movie theater, or anywhere out in public, was a completely novel experience.

American Hardcore follows the growth of the hardcore scene with a spotlight on bands in LA like Black Flag and Washington, DC’s Minor Threat and especially the Bad Brains.

The movie starts brilliantly, contrasting the feeling of the times- the saccharine 80’s, Ronald Reagan as president, skinny ties- with the alienation so easy to feel in such a conformist era. The political similarities to today were amazing, and in fact it’s scary how today it’s so much worse. I remember wearing an anti-Ronald Reagan button around in high school. Today it feels almost illegal to make the same statement against Bush. Maybe that’s just the mood in Utah, but I doubt it.

So they mix all these clips of the fine and dandy 80’s with interviews with Vic Bondi and Keith Harris who have so many great lines about rebelling and the need to be different. The need to scream at the rest of society. It’s a great entrance to the film.

A bunch of other bands are featured as the movie hops from one thought to the next. Bands that quickly appear and vanish include MDC, DOA, Zero Boys, 7 Seconds, Agnostic Front, and a bunch more. At some points, it feels like they’re just cramming people in, as many as they can. And since this film is twenty years late, and there are so many bands worth mentioning, that’s exactly the idea. Not like there will be another in depth movie about 80’s hardcore.

The film doesn’t really explain how amazing the growth of the scene, across the United States, really was. There wasn’t any MySpace for bands to promote themselves and their shows. Hell, there wasn’t any Internet at all, let alone cel phones. Too bad the film didn’t spend more time on fanzines and other people who documented the scene. The only two ways to keep up on things were going to shows and reading cheaply-made fanzines, often xeroxed illicitly at someone’s parent’s business office.

There is one glaring hole in the movie. Almost no mention about San Francisco’s Dead Kennedys. The DKs were a huge band from that time. They put on an amazing show. But the recent history of the band has been very ugly, including a court case where control of the band’s recordings was taken from Jello and given to the other band members. After the film, during a Q&A, the film-makers basically said that Jello wasn’t talking and getting rights to the DK music was way too difficult. So leave it to the DKs to tell their own story. It will never happen.

The cut we saw clocked in at 98 minutes. And after an hour or so it started to drag. There are some segments that just don’t fit. Like, who ever liked the band Flipper and why are they in this movie? The film-makers say they left out the Misfits because they weren’t a real hardcore band. Okay, then take out Flipper. And that horrible Nig Heist segment is just stupid.

A short segment on gangs in the punk scene goes nowhere as well. It comes and goes so quickly that you just get confused.

As the scene klunks along into the mid-80’s, the film claims to record the death of the scene. Their position is that the scene just burned out and was over by 1986. Bad Brains had stopped playing hardcore in favor of reggae. And clips of Black Flag in their awful metal stage seem to offer proof that things were over. But the film misses the point.

I came into the scene around 1985. The fact is that the scene didn’t die. The legendary bands that were going strong in 1983, like Circle Jerks, Black Flag, Dead Kennedys, Minor Threat, and Bad Brains, were all pretty much broken up or past their prime by 1985. They had made their amazing contributions and were done.

Let’s face it, you can’t blame them. How much longer could they go on making no money, touring in broken-down vans, sleeping on the floors of fans. It was a hard life.

But the scene lived on and evolved after these original hardcore bands died out. Bands like RKL, SNFU, Ill Repute, picked up the flag and ran with it. I could name a hundred more. It was crazy how many good bands would play a single show at the Farm, the On Broadway, even Ruthie’s Inn.
The point is, the scene evolved. And it’s easy for it to leave you behind as new kids flood into the scene and write music that comes out of their lives.

Throughout the film, I thought to myself that this is finally the movie that explains how I feel, where I come from. The way these bands were just exploding with energy, how everything was built from the ground up with an amazing passion. That’s how I’ve tried to live and create. But the film encompasses so many bands and so many people that I could hardly claim these feelings as mine alone.