Video Game Roundup

Apple reduces (some) developer fees, Roblox announces IPO, Google Stadia may never be good, but cloud gaming is coming regardless. Plus some techno breaks courtesy the Launchpad app from Amplify.

For more video game business news, check out NYU professor Joost van Druenen on the Prof G podcast and follow @Joosterizer on Twitter.

Thanks so much for taking a ride in the Escape Pod!

Listen on AppleSpotify and everywhere else you listen to podcasts.

I’m the last person that should give anyone financial advice, but between my time in crypto and my new-found love of video games, financial tech and news has become something of a hobby. So, without further ado, here are some stories from the past week that interested me

— —

Apple has announced that developer fees will be cut in half for smaller developers that sell their apps on the Apple App Store. Currently the fee is 30%, which means that if I am developer and I have either an item for sale in the App Store OR if I’m selling ,an item in-game, Apple gets 30% of every dollar. Starting on January 1, 2021, if the developer makes less than $1million per year n the App Store, that fee will go down to 15%.

The App Store is where Apple is most vulnerable to regulation and anti-trust scrutiny. The app market is so consolidated that Apple has amassed the power to engage in very anti-competitive practices. A lot of this has been in the new lately because of the dispute between Epic (Fortnite) and Apple. Fortnite refused to pay the fee and Apple deplatformed the game. As much power as Epic has (Fortnite is a massive world-wide success for many years now), it is nothing compared to Apple. So if the biggest customer can’t fight back, it would seem that regulation is a fait accompli.

Apple’s move can help displace some of the bad feelings about their de facto monopoly, but it does nothing to settle the dispute with Epic, since Fortnite revenue is WAY beyond the $1 million cap. Good PR move for Apple, but I’m not sure what effect this will have. I did hear an interview with Senator Amy Klobuchar (D) of MN who is looking to have a lot of influence in the Biden administration, even if the Senate retains a Republican majority. She is writing a book about anti-trust and appears to be burnishing her credentials in anticipation of the growth industry of anti-trust regulation. That’s going to be a hot area over the next ten years.
— —
Google Stadia has arrived at my house and I am pretty impressed. It came with a pretty legit game/pad controller, very similar to what I have for the PS4. It also came with the current generation Chromecast. I was skeptical at first because the idea is that you don’t even have to download the game. The actual code of the game lives not on your device, but in the cloud. So it’s as if the gaming console is in another location and there is a long wire (called the Internet) just connecting your TV as a screen to see the information that off-site game console is pumping out.

And it’s not like that off-site console is really very far away. Google has now peppered the world with enough data centers that the physical distance between the computer that is running your game and the screen and controller you use to play that game is not excessively long. It’s still miles away, to be sure, but the decentralized design spreads out the labor.

In the meantime, them gaming experience has been pretty good. There is more lag than what I see with the PS4, but it’s not enough to turn me off to the platform, and I’m expecting improvement.

This is a much better model, if it can be made to work as well as an in-home console, because it gives Google a recurring revenue model (something Sony has to grasp for with Playstation), which also means a smaller up-front investment for the consumer. There is added convenience as downloads and updates are all handled off-site and without the need for consumer intervention or wait times.

One possibility which I’m hoping Google can get right, is the YouTube integration. Youtube is Google’s biggest brand and a healthy chunk of YouTube content relates to video games. Will Stadia integrate in a way that allows streamers and YouTube creators to go make a long-standing home on Stadia? Too hard to say at the moment, but the potential is there.

— —
The Roblox IPO is very exciting. If you don’t know, Roblox is an online gaming platform that emphasized community and connection over game design and graphics. It is a tool for building and hosting games games which look, well, blocky. The characters are more like Lego figures than actual humanoid beings. But the interactivity is so slick and seamless that it really doesn’t matter.

Roblox is a place with thousands of games you can play for free with people from all over the world. The games are diverse, but many of the most successful titles have extraordinary depth in terms of the virtual geography, and the ability to engage in a variety of activities on a competitive basis. For every successful video game out there, someone has tried to make a Roblox version, and some of them are pretty good. More importantly, some of them are wildly popular.

Over the past several months, the most popular games have been life simulators where players form families, get jobs and houses and basically just play grown-up. There are some very good car games, shooting games and even a skateboard sim that I enjoyed for a bit.

The one bad thing about a lot (most?) of these games is the fact that, although everything is free to play, the advantages gained from spending money on the in-game economy (Robux) goes directly too the heart of the games’ competitive features. In other words: free0-to-play, but pay-to-win.

That’s not a great model for players, but if you are REALLY into one of the many games on the platform, the micro-transactions needed to stay competitive don’t feel too burdensome. Also, as proven by the impending IPO, these micro transactions are a proven model for revenue and growth. The platform will have to find ways to innovate to keep the shareholders happy. I don’t think it can just be left to the developers, because the whole Roblox community is a walled-garden. If the contours of that garden remain static for too long, the platform will undoubtedly become stale.
— —
I guess the fact that COVID isn’t going away any time soon is leading to a little more movement in the video game economy. It could also be that my interest is stimulated because EVERYTHING is new to me right now. Either way, I’m interested in the platforms, delivery methods, marketing, etc.

After playing just on mobile for a while, I was gratified at the similar use of downloads and free to play on PS4. Here, I had thought that everything was buying a physical disc, CDROM/DVD whatever. Glad to know how wrong I was. I’ve thought a lot about the difference between gaming on a console, which is designed to do one very big task at a time, and playing on my MacBook Pro — which is designed to do a few big things or a ton of small things all at once.

It’s no surprise that gaming on a PC that is not a dedicated gaming machine, provides a pretty lackluster experience. At the same time, I like being in front of my computer. The paradigm has ben my son’s gaming, which is a lot of Roblox, which works exceptionally well on computer. I have learned the basics of keyboard gaming: which buttons work for direction and picking things up and what the mouse does. I understand why a lot of people prefer that mode of gaming, and I’m sure most. Use PCs that are designed with that task in mind.
So, here I am, liking the PC gaming experience, but with no good way to play PC games on my laptop with SSD. I can’t start downloading massive files via Steam or Epic, even though this platforms work on Mac.

And then Stadia came along and really legitimized the idea of cloud gaming for me. Stadia actually works on my MacBook Pro without too much glitchy ness or lag. The issue with Stadia is that there aren’t many free games. Talk about a carefully curated ecosystem. They need more choices ASAP.

So now I am looking for other cloud based gaming platforms that really require almost nothing more than a decent internet connection. That’s when I discovered, from the same people that have brought us That’s some serious muscle, although not the kind of muscle that has a lot of influence in the US. could change that.

It’s a cloud-based gaming platform that can now be downloaded onto windows computers and will provide a premium gaming experience with the user needing to own dedicated hardware and without downloading monstrous files. This is like Stadia, but the number and type of game is in a different universe. God knows what the Russian spyware will do to your computer, but the whole thing is incredibly predictable. This is an instant replay of the move to cloud music, which came just before streaming movies. I guess those shiny DVDs and blu-rays don’t do for people. They definitely don’t do it for me.

Now, to me the interface looks a lot like an Android emulator I have tried. That emulator theoretically turns my MacBook into an Android phone or tablet and makes all the games and other apps in the Android ecosystem available. That increases the number of games you can play on a Mac exponentially in no time. I’m practice, however, I’m not that impressed. There port is having to do too much work, so the benefit of the lightweight Android software is quickly lost.

Despite this similarity of appearance, is much more like Stadia and less like android. (Parenthetically, it is NO coincidence that Apple’s new M1 chip for the new version of my MacBook are designed with the goal of unifying Apple’s mobile and Mac operating systems. If this tech existed now, I wouldn’t have to download a damn emulator). The main difference is that the big working part of the game — the code that makes it look so pretty and do all the things it can do, that big chunk is somewhere else — not on any of my hardware. That’s the Stadia model and that what this Russian outfit is doing — With the Android emulator, large portions of the game need to be downloaded, just like it would be on your phone.

Just to put this into some perspective — a game like PUBG on a console is a download of over 80GB. An a phone or tablet, that gets cut all the way down to about 4GB, with the rest of the game being remote. Google Stadia has PUBG also. Download = zero. That’s the magic trick. currently has about 60 free-to-play games (with in-game purchases) and another 45 games that require payment to access. Prices are MUCH lower than what you find in the Playstation online store or on the paying part of Google Stadia. In both of those places, games can easily get into the $60-$80 range and beyond. selections go from .99 up to $25, but none of these are known titles. The real quality is in the free-to-play catalog which looks like it includes a lot of console quality RPG, shooting and action games. Two titles in particular (Warface and Skyforge) are available in the same form on PS4, also free-to-play. This appears to involve some high-end European distribution deals for Chinese games that have quality and depth but not a strong reputation in the US.

Interestingly enough, while I was looking up info about, it’s website remained unavailable. Not a good look for a company owned by the conglomerate that dominates all internet in Russia. “Site can’t be reached.”

News reports indicate that, despite their non-functioning website, will soon be moving outside Europe (seems like that has already happened) and will be available on a variety of platforms, including Mac — still waiting for that one.

The point is that this s clearly where the gaming industry is going. COVID has sped everything up, but the cloud gaming experience is already here and spreading faster than VR and self-driving cars.

Neil Young Archive II (Preview)

Neil Young is a BIG part of why I love music. Listening to and collecting his work, and seeing his remarkable performances, became a template for how I would approach musical genius. Now, with the impending release of his second Archive set that will cover his most vibrant, creative and turbulent period, I give a preview of what will be on the ten-disc release, and also reflect what makes “Shaky” Neil so vital and why this brief period of his massive catalog is so extraordinary.

As always, thanks you so much for joining me in the MPOMY Escape Pod!

Listen to the podcast on Apple and Spotify.

Reissues vs. New Music

Let’s hear it for the old guys who kicked our asses when we were younger! Sure, new music by Bruce Springsteen and Buddy Guy and Neil Young and Steve Hackett and David Gilmour and Mark Knopfler (all my heroes!) just doesn’t hold a candle tho their prior work. It’s fucking understandable. I mean that’s a pretty high bar. And I give the new stuff a chance, but it just lacks the urgency and immediacy of what we got when these artists were young and hungry.

There are exceptions. Bob Dylan’s latest material knocks me out just as much as his old stuff. No lie. Lindsey Buckingham too. The music is so simple, but it seems to never sound derivative. It’s never a question of recapturing that old glory. It’s always looking forward.

So you want to look back to your glory days? I’m a huge fan of the archive, the official bootleg. The unalloyed “hot ticket,” warts and all. This is how I became nuts about music. I learned from a cousin who would go to see Peter Gabriel on multiple nights, even if the show was largely the same both nights. That inspired me to start collecting bootleg recordings, so I could analyze the difference between Pink Floyd playing “Careful with that Axe, Eugene” on a Friday in August to them playing the same song on the following Saturday. I put up with a lot LOW fidelity enjoying those fan-made recordings.

As a fan of old Genesis, I did NOT want to hear them play watered down version of their old songs as they got into their dotage. And the new music, while much of it was quite good, was in no way anywhere near the calibre of what they created previously.

So, for me , the answer is the Archive release. And so many of my favorite rock artists have done it so well, including Pink Floyd, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, King Crimson, (NOT Genesis BOO!) and even Neil Young.

Take a look at what’s on the box set
-four terrific years of music making
-lots of stuff we’ve never heard before

Tuscaloosa, AL; Feb 1973
-four months after Danny Whitten died.
— concert sounds good — pretty together
— Time Fades Away seems to straddle both periods — The Tonight’s the Night content, which is darker. It’s almost like an unraveling is happening in real time, in front of an audience. The drummer had to be replace, Neil had trouble with his voice, Crosby and Nash had to come and kind of bail him out at the end of the tour.

When that tour ends, Neil assembles the Santa Monica Fliers, which is basically a combination of the Stray Gators (Harvest band) and Crazy Horse, but with young Niles Lofgren replacing Danny Whitten.

This is such an amazing period of music, and the whole thing is problematized by the fact that we have to look BACK on it. No one but the people on the record and the people in the audience really got to see this play out in sequence. As ever, the music industry was fraught with peril and the result was an album of stunning importance (Bitches Brew level importance) was not released until almost two years later. Remember that his entire TEN DISC box set only covers four years. So, that two years is an eternity.

Reprise (record company) decision not to release the record looks pretty bad in retrospect. And when it was finally released in June of 1975, it didn’t serve up the success of Harvest and was seen as a failure.

Neil Young definitely didn’t see it that way. He ha to fight to get the record released and once he succeeded in that, Young began one of the most productive and successful periods of his career. As a result of Tonight’s the Night, Young crystalized the second incarnation of Crazy Horse — Billy Talbot, Ralph Molina and Frank Sampedro. That band changed music forever under Neil’s guidance, starting in earnest with Rust Never Sleeps.

But in terms of transformational songwriting, in both music and lyric, Tonight’s the Night cannot be touched. It is without question the finest Neil Young record. The rawness of the emotion, the sincerity and directness of the guitar and piano and everything else you hear on that record is mind-blowing. It can be a hard listen, depending on your mood, but there is an unmatched richness and texture to everything in there, and I swear you don’t need to know about all the backstory to understand just how good the record is. You just have to listen to it.

— —
But now we get this detailed insight into the music that came before and after that pivotal moment. That’s really the moment that made Neil Young the legend. It was the dawn of a second act that had such a monstrous and profound impact on me. Made me want to play guitar, made me a music freak.

So let’s see what all is gonna be on this thing.

Mandy (2018) – extreme psychedelic horror

Is it in the splatter / revenge genre with a b-movie budget, or is it ‘High Art?” YES! Mandy is such a wild ride and has so many fascinating features to discuss. Join me in the Escape Pod to break down just a bit of the modern horror masterpiece.

Listen to the podcast on Apple and Spotify.

I finally saw Mandy, which was released just two years ago. It feels like it was much longer, because the meme-worthy incarnation of Nicholas Cage seems like it has been a thing for much longer than just two years. And yet, I associate this version of Cage (over the top, scenery chewing, b-movie) with this particular film, an unrated, itself over-the-top gore fest that may have Lovecraftian elements and also features a blood-soaked Cage looking exceptionally deranged for a very large part of the film. I feel like those images of him have been roaming the internet for a lot longer than two years.

More recently (2019) Cage has starred in the Color Out of Space, which came up hot on my Lovecraft radar, although I haven’t seen it yet. Based on posters for Mandy and Color out of space, I assumed they were part of a set – The Nic Cage cosmic horror series or something. I figured Cage was now the muse for some aspiring cosmic horror film auteur and I could expect loads of these B-grade masterpieces. As it turns out, that’s not the case at all.

These two movies are emblematic of Cage’s recent career trajectory, but it’s not as if he’s JUST doing cosmic horror. His full embrace of camp is recently evidenced by Cage landing the title role in an upcoming Joe Exotic series. Cage works incessantly and seems to have top billing in almost everything he does. These are not movies that end up on Oscar short lists, but, on the whole, they seem to make money and give younger and independent filmmakers a chance to work with a living legend.

And despite the similar poster art, Mandy, which I knew nothing about, is not at all related to Color Out of Space, which is based on a Lovecraft story with the same name.

But let’s linger on the poster art for a second, because it is not just marketing, or I should say it’s more than marketing in the same way that a gatefold 2-LP cover is more than just a way to protect two twelve inch wax discs. The art is part of the product presentation and gives the audience an expectation that will, hopefully, enhance the experience that the artwork provides. Sure, you can listen to the record and get maximal enjoyment without ‘experiencing’ the cover art, but you are missing out on part of the art-form. Yes, it’s all one product, but there is a sweet spot, which in some ways is the purpose of this blog/podcast where the items that were specifically designed and created to earn money can also find a way to communicate, perhaps even on a massive scale (by going viral), something beyond just the need to put up great numbers.

The better analogy, and the more obviously conscious source material for the Mandy poster, are those VHS covers from the horror section in our local video stores from 30 years ago. This is a key era, though very brief, in the history and evolution of cover art, so let’s take just a second. First, you have to acknowledge that even before COVID, the video store experience was long gone. For those of you who don;’t remember, or are too young, these were purpose built stores that, even in the suburbs of Philly where I grew up, had the feel of a used book store. The boxes, like old books, were constantly being picked up and moved around as more titles came in. For the most part they were empty, but the images on the boxes, especially for the horror titles, were often extraordinary and sometimes disturbing. Boxes for movies like “I Spit On Your Grave” and “Faces of Death” promised something so subversive and obscene, if only you could ever find a way to actually watch the video.

And that’s the big difference with even the most extreme heavy metal cover art from the same era. There was so much great stuff in that class too: Iron Maiden (shout out to Eddie!), Megadeth, DIO and Judas Priest, just to name a few. But note the difference. No matter how much weed you smoked, these LPs didn’t have images beyond album art. You put on the record and you get sound only.

Not so with the horror and sci fi titles in my video store. Whatever was on the cover MIGHT ACTUALLY BE DEPICTED – if – I was daring or stupid enough to watch the movie. I might actually get to see that image come to life, or at least that was what my 13-year-old self thought.

The artwork the accompanies Mandy is not nightmare fuel by any means, but it is you first visual experience of the movie, unless you’ve seen publicity stills. And the visual aspect of Mandy is its most important attribute. Unlike the lurid images from the video store, there is a haze and lack of clarity with the Mandy poster. It make me ask whether this film is going to be a b-movie splatter fest or whether it is going to be art.

The answer, of course, is yes.

So, as to the cover – the basic plan appears to be, like the early and iconic Star Wars poster, sort of a trailer/still that just shows a lot of the characters from the movie. The use of red/purple/pink hues, as well as the Mad Max like image of Cage in the middle of the iconic pyramid/triangle really makes the image stand out. Unlike the cover for a lot of 80’s horror, where the artwork OVER-promised and the movie UNDERdelivered, with Mandy – this is EXACTLY what the movie looks like.

The era of VHS artwork is now completely ended. Scrolling through your Netflix choices, no matter how gleefully gruesome the image might look, is just not the same as being in that musty store, with that smell, and holding the box for “Chopping Mall” and wondering if the movie really featured anything like the gore fest depicted so vividly on the cover.

Should we actually talk about the movie now? Yes and no. The first thing that hits me when I hit play is that this movie features one of the great prog-rock masterpieces for its opening credits. No less than King Crimson’s elegiac ‘Starless’ from 1974. It’s an epic without peer and many Crimheads would swear it is the best composition from any era of the band’s storied history. I might be one such head. So, ‘delight’ does not begin to describe my reaction. HOW COME NOBODY TOLD ME! I mean, it’s one of those things that would (ON ITS OWN) be enough to get me to watch the movie even if I knew nothing else about it or was otherwise DISinclined to watch.

As soon as we start talking about the actual movie, the key description, for the plot anyway, is that it is impenetrable. Most revenge stories are not depicted in what I would call a realistic manner, but Mandy really chucks it out the window. The fantasy elements do not mean that there is no plot. It’s a revenge story – so that’s the plot. But it’s really the style that takes center stage. So we don’t ask how we got here, or why any of this is happening. There is an unspeakable act of violence against the title character and her boyfriend Red (played by Cage) has an opportunity to mete out some extreme justice.

But, oh that style!

Look. There is a subjective line between annoyingly pretentious high art and a glorious defiance of dominant conventions. Many of the greatest filmmakers, like early Coen brothers, sneak in the unconventional and discomforting stylistic elements into a delicious treat – makes the medicine go down smooth!

But there are always those who want to destabilize your world view. To make you question your place in the cosmos and the nature of reality itself. That’s a heavy burden to take on, frought with risk. But, as a friend recently pointed out, sometimes you get the casting of 4’2” Billy Curtis in High Plains Drifter. Young director Clint Eastwood may have thought this was an artistic flourish that nodded to absurdist and new wave art, but the gimmick doesn’t land and we’re just left feeling like it’s exploitative. Yes, it’s destabilizing when you see it, but it adds nothing to the sweep and aura of the film.

On the other hand, when you look at all the decorative nonsense crammed into Raising Arizona, you can argue, as a viewer, that everything is doing something valuable in there. I may not know what the intention behind each flourish, but there is a continuity leaving me with the feeling that these “gimmicks” are in the service of a completely realized work of art. Of course, Raising Arizona is that rare movie where almost everything works. Most movies I’ve seen can’t make that claim.

Mandy’s most immediate referent is the only other film by director Panos Cosmatos. Beyond the Black Rainbow was released in 2010 and presents a stylistic vision that overshadows its own performers and plot. The appearance is sumptuous with color, lighting and texture all on the table to create mood. Despite its artistic achievements, Black Rainbow never broke through. I found it by chance on a streaming service and just assumed it was some drug-fueled experimental genius from the 70’s.

Mandy’s use of the revenge paradigm means that you can do all sorts of wacky stuff without loosing the very simple, very familiar plot thread. In this way, the revenge genre is not only enthralling, but somewhat user friendly for the artist.

The next big difference between Mandy and Black Rainbow is Nic Cage. Yes, he is a force of nature, big and fearless on the set. But there is also a tone of experience that he brings. While he doesn’t seem too worried about becoming a filmmaker himself, he has made SO many films that there is no question he knows the business, knows what it takes to get a film made. In a way, he is the new, ‘old Hollywood,’ and having him anchor something as ‘out there’ as Mandy smooths the road a great deal. Cage is the ringer. Everyone in the cast and crew bows down and he repays them with massive generosity and genius.

And he goes off. I get the impression that director and star made some kind of bet to see who could go off more, who could bring more insanity to the screen. I’m not sure who won, but they both did great. The moment Cage’s character begins to understand the depth of his loss is a scene of screaming anguish in a gaudy bathroom with warm but harsh lighting as Cage, in a t-shirt and tighty-whities, pours a large amount of vodka down his throat and all over his wounded body. It’s lit like no other scene in the film – all the soft pinks and purples are eliminated as the stage is set for an orgy of blood and revenge which can’t just come out of nowhere.

So, this bathroom scene is the pivot point between the first half of the movie, which is all about foreboding and tension-building, and the second half of the movie where everything, including humanity and reality are chucked right out the window.

The rest of the film doesn’t disappoint. Each act of vengeance is its own set piece, including the sword fight where chainsaws are used instead of swords. When Cage confronts the primary antagonist Jeremiah Sand we get the additional element of script and dialog to amplify the moment. Linus Roache, who plays Sand, talks in interviews about portraying the hypocrisy and withering cowardice of the overcharged male ego, but he really doesn’t have to say a thing. It’s plainly obvious what this character is about (especially in the Trump era), perfectly positioned as the psychotic religious cult leader whose penchant for LSD has turned his whole murderous belief system into a REALLY bad trip.

The legendary Bill Duke appears to help Cage get kitted out for his epic odyssey of revenge. You can’t help but remember Duke in Predator talking a little revenge to Jesse Ventura’s corpse:

“who ever got you, they’ll come back again. And when he does, I’m gonna cut your name right into him.”

So you can say “what is Bill Duke doing in Mandy?” I say he’s connecting us to Predator and a whole different generation of action / horror movies, but he’s also one of only a handful of people who has more gravitas than Cage. Duke’s endorsement of Cage’s revenge plan is important because he’s seen the shit go down, as a character in his only scene in the move, but also, undoubtedly, as an actor. Another pro. Another survivor. There is something about Duke’s strength which makes you believe that a mere mortal can defy a maelstrom of pure evil and come out at least looking like his humanity is intact. This may not be Cage’s fate at the end, but it makes for a weird kind of pep talk to get us ready for the blood and torture that is about to be unleashed.

(Excerpt starting at 1:10:00)

It is a bit wrong to make an audio-only podcast discussing this movie. So much of what happens is both visual and indescribable. There is a graininess to some of the images that makes the film feel like a real exploitation flick from the 70’s. The lighting, and overall use of color is so bold and so effective.

But the cool thing about this scene with Bill Duke is that it relies, just for this interim part of the film, between tragedy and revenge, it gives us script. First of all, Bill Duke’s character is called Caruthers. That takes me right to Scatman Crothers’ incredible performance in The Shining as Halloran. There is so much genius in Kubrick’s work that we sometimes overlook his flaws. The inclusion of a magic negro trope (right down to, and including, the character’s tragic death) is such a flaw. That element adds nothing to The Shining and it shouldn’t be there for a variety of reasons. That’s a subject for another podcast, but I like to think that, even though Bill Duke’s character spells Caruthers differently, that there is a connection between the characters. Certainly both performers are well known for their bald heads, and you can hear the Mandy script take a cheeky shot at that when Red says to Bill Duke – I’ll get out of your hair. It’s a cheap one, but I still love it.

Mandy is the promise of Black Rainbow realized. All the style and panache is now well grafted onto a basic (i.e. easy to understand) revenge movie. As much as Mandy has white knuckle action, it is also remarkable for its patience. If anything, Black Rainbow can be a bit slow, but this isn’t an issue in Mandy. All the lingering over style and lighting and framing is in the service of building tension. If it appears as self-congratulatory at times, that is because the congratulations are well-deserved. Cosmatos seems to be a filmmaker primarily interested in making a film that he himself would enjoy. In Cage he seems to have suitably anarchic and insightful fellow traveler and I am hopeful they will collaborate again. If not, then Mandy, which is so much, will have to be enough.

Miles Davis – Dark Magus

I’ve been waiting to do this one for a while. It’s the third song/side from Miles Davis “Dark Magus,” live at Carnegie Hall in 1974. This is the psychedelic funk at it’s finest, and I get way into the minutiae al the way to the triumphant finale. p.s. No YouTube for this one, but you can listen to the podcast on Apple or Spotify.

Thanks for checking into the Escape Pod!

This is such a wonderful and disturbing album. It’s right near the end of Miles electric 70’s chapter. Just a few months later he went into retirement that proved temporary, but no one knew that at the time. He probably would not have survived without that break.

To a certain extent you have to mine the depths with these albums and you have to be patient. Once this became the Al Foster era, things got looser and crazier. There is even more emphasis on improvisation and incorporation of rock music ideas.

The version of the band on Dark Magus, which is a performance from Carnegie Hall from March 30, 1974, is Foster on drums, Reggie Lucas, Pete Cosey and Dominque Gaumont on guitars, Dave Liebman and Azar Lawrence on saxes, Mtume on percussion, Michael Henderson on bass, and Miles on trumpet and keyboard. There is no piano or keyboard player on this set like there is on ‘In Concert’ from another New York show in September of 1972.

Incidentally, we are so fortunate to have these single-night-of-music recordings from one of the greatest musicians in history. I realize they are produced, but they still offer a pretty accurate snapshot of where Miles was at before he went into ‘retirement.’

I was introduced to this era of Miles through the last ‘official’ recordings, released as Agartha and Pangea. They are both from February 1, 1975, and when you know this is the end, it is hard not to hear the pain and sadness which must have gone into the decision to step away. The music, like all albums from this particular period of Miles’ life, is challenging and rewards the listener with some deep emotion. The substitution of Sonny Fortune instead of Liebman and Lawrence on sax is an improvement over an already favorable situation.

But let’s get back to Dark Magus. There is no question that you hear a lot of the pain and difficulty Miles is experiencing. I imagine that the keyboard is there to compensate for some of the trouble he is having now with trumpet. Bob Dylan would pull the same stunt in the last decade, opting for keyboard as the guitar proved to be too much of a strain. And you can hear that strain in a lot of Miles’ trumpet work, not just on this record, but from all the live shows in this era.

And yet, there are moments in this set where it all falls away and you hear a sound so strong and demonstrative that there is only one human being who could have played those notes like that.

The most obvious choice to listen to on this beefy set is the second side of the first lp – Wili. The song / side titles are simply the Swahili words for one, two, three and four. Wili means two.

Michael Henderson, who struggled at times in the 1971 band with Kieth Jarret and Jack DeJohnette, lays down one of the funkiest bass parts you’ve ever heard. The tone and the feel, matched with Al Foster’s wide open playing suggests such a monstrous jam to come. And believe me, it’s a good one, but for me it doesn’t match the intensity suggested at the outset. Give a listen:

—play first minute of Wili pt1

That is some skanky intro. Miles comes in with these disruptive chords on his synth. But the drums and bass just keep chugging along with that skank. The problem is that they can’t get back to that vibe and the jam ends up being a bit draggy for me in the second half.

The next tune, however, is the one where I want to go through and detect every turn and trick because it is 25 minutes that could be the best of the best, a culmination of all that Bitches Brew promised and threatened, and also a testament that needs to stand for a bit. By shutting off the fountain for a while, Miles is ensuring that the music of this end point will get extra scrutiny. Scrutiny it deserves.

So, we go to Tatu, which would have been Side three of the double LP set (and which is the Swahili word for three). This is loosely based on songs that have elsewhere been titled “Prelude” and “Calypso Frelimo.” Both of these can be found on other live albums and compilations from this era. I will confess that I didn’t know that when I first prepared this essay, but I also think that is part of the point. By not otherwise identifying these songs, we are forced to deal with them as individual units. And I think that’s the right approach, because these are not the COMPOSITIONS the Miles is known for, now that we are a few decades down wind from his passing. Instead, these are the improvisations that he is known for, and the way he activated his band to rise into a high plane of existence where the music in his head could finally become real. That’s what is very special about this era.

Miles had done this with live records before – the ‘At Fillmore’ album was another double LP set where each side was one continuous song – in that case the titles are Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. A posthumous release of the same album came out in 1997 has the actual titles and track divisions, meaning that you don’t have to listen to the whole 25 minute track, if you just want to hear Bitches Brew, for example. A later release of Dark Magus breaks up the sides also, but does not use the actual names of the “songs” to identify the breaks.

By the way, I’m referring to time (minutes and second) in this essay. These times relate to the later version of Tatu, which is split in two. This is not how I go tot know the song, but this is the the version I have for reference. So if you are following along, that’s how to use the time references.

Anyway, I’m discussing this as if it is ALL made up on the spot, because that is essentially what is happening, but as we begin, know that this jam is somewhat based around themes from Prelude and Calypso Frelimo, maybe also Big Fun/Holly-Wuud. I really can’t say for sure.

So Miles starts this off, on keyboard playing a theme that I think is basically the song “Prelude,” but it doesn’t really matter. It’s simple enough so that audience and band alike can follow the “narrative” without knowing the “song.” At 1:40 Henderson basically takes over on bass. And this is easier for a guy who has been in the band for several years now. He holds up to create some early drama. Whether that’s his idea or Miles conducting his band, I don’t know (there is apparently no video), but it works great.

Pete Cosey is soloing with his array of effects through the first couple minutes here and you can really understand why Miles was so totally knocked out by this guy’s playing. It’s pretty close to that jam with Jimi he never got to have, but with even more effects and mayhem.

It’s a monster of a solo (sometimes with effects that make you forget you are listening to a guitar, but it doesn’t actually move the band from one place to another. Rather than big narrative shifts (which are reserved for Miles himself), this is a chance for the bandleader to relax and enjoy his lead guitarist’s amazing skills. So Cosey has a great amount of space to work in, but to me these jams, which are frequent in this era, tend to sometimes feel a little static. That being said, there is some hooping that sounds like it could be coming from the horn section. So even though the drums and bass are keeping things cool (after all, there is a long way to go), the guitar’s intensity is built to a dynamic crescendo with some help from the band. Again, hard to know if this is Miles directing traffic or if this is more of a spontaneous phenomenon without video.

Around 6:37 it sounds like Cosey is wrapping up, even throwing in his own version of some Miles-like riffs with the sinister wah-wah. Miles comes and bails out him / cuts him off with some keyboard hits. This pushes the jam to a new place, that’s the power of Miles. It also signals a transition is coming.

Break at 7:30, with a tease to go back, but really a much needed breakdown. This is the lower depth and volume where you can explore. Cosey writes his finale on the fly by using the space that Miles is giving him for the transition. But at this point things take a very different turn.

The exploration comes courtesy an incredible double sax solo, and this is just such a successful and satisfying turn of events where the two horns are able to pull off this trick where they had to solo together. It is at times almost like delay that is so dramatic and effective on Bitches Brew. Miles urges them on with sinister side-eye synth chords, which then breaks us all the way down (10:32) to some major chord comping from the rhythm guitar. The bass is relegated to a single note on rhythm. It’s an amazing effect. I believe the major chord comping is Reggie Lucas (or Gaumont? Anyone?), who must have had one of the hardest jobs on stage as second banana to Cosey. Cosey uses all the effects and has all the big solos. What is rhythm guitarist to do?

There is a great effort to keep everything in this nice, quiet and cool space, but it keeps threatening to go too far. It is such a sweet groove, but the band is restless. A little more synth at 13:50, descending as if to tell everyone to stay chill. Miles seems to be coming down the stairs on his synth with the intention of entering the ring and doing some damage.

This leads to some additional hype and setup from the sax and an enforced break at 15:31. Sax suggests we may be entering more relieved moment, relating back to the rhythm guitar’s major chords, but Pete Cosey storms back after the break to dial to up the evil.

This is the moment Miles’ trumpet can finally make its very first appearance of this jam. Whatever unknowable monstrosity Cosey can call up on guitar, no matter how deranged and soul destroying, it is nothing NOTHING compared to the power and glory with which Miles enters the fray. The last 90 seconds of this track culminates Michael Henderson and the rest of the string section laying down the Sly Stone-esque groove, and it is supreme. But nothing so perfect can last. And we move to the second part of Tatu. A little over six minutes to go.

The band pauses and Miles returns to the DX7 and there is some noodling followed by a simple chord progression that appears to be an “A” part, that matches with a hurried “B” in a different key. (I think this relates to Calypso Frelimo, but also maybe Holly-Wud – any help out there? Also, this back and forth reminds of how an earlier band used to play Masqualero live in 69-70) So the band can vacillate between these very different sounding feels and play together but also have a ton of space to improvise. And nobody can occupy that space better than Pete Cosey. He drops another doosey with lots of organ to urge him on.

Meantime, even during the hurried part, Reggie Lucas rhythm guitar continues to suggest the quiet part which they get back to at 2:45 of the Tatu Pt. 2.

Now Miles will play the happy little keyboard chord progression with tuned percussion to back him. This is another classic Miles cool vibe that’s mellow and atmospheric as anything he played throughout the 60’s. The tuned percussion is really the attraction here, but the keys, guitars and drum vibe are getting so tasty as we get hyped for a major helping of trumpet. No one can set up an entrance for himself better than Miles. In some ways this is the same trick as in the first half, but there is even more strength and confidence this time. It’s almost like all the hard work for this track is over and now Miles is going to take everyone out for happy hour. You can picture him stalking he stage as the horn snaps at each member of the band and audience. The blues he leaves us with is transcendent and I just want it to go on forever.

Arena Battle Games - to relax you!

On this episode of the Escape Pod, I discuss Raid: Shadow Legends and AFK Arena, both of which present a compelling and calming arena battle experience. Get lost in the game economy and a rainbow of currencies to help you level up the legendary heroes!

[listen to the podcast on Spotify or Apple, and watch on YouTube.

OMG these games are so annoying! This is the third time I am starting on this piece. First I just wanted to talk about Raid, because it is more of a marketing effort than a game, but it’s glossy and has some charm. Then I started talking about tappers, which doesn’t really work with Raid, but is appropriate for this other game AFK: Arena. Despite that somewhat cheeky title, this is a lovely and simple game that I find enjoyable and relaxing. So, now, on the third try, I’m going to talk about both, and particularly in contrast with the some of the other online games I’m playing, where there are vast virtual worlds to explore.

OK — what do we have here? First Raid: Shadow Legends. (This is not to be confused with a first-person shooter that I played for a little while on AppleTV, which is called Shadowgun Legends. Raid is not a first person shooter and it doesn’t involve any kind of large scale virtual world. Instead, Raid is a turn-based arena fighter, where you build a team of characters. The game is comprised of hundreds of characters with varying traits. The ‘action’ of the game occurs in these arena battles, against an AI, or against other players, depending on what type of progression you are trying to achieve. There is GREAT artwork for the appearance of the characters. The arenas are nothing to write home about, but the animated action you see during the bouts is pretty terrific.

The main WORK of the game, however, takes place outside the arena, in a town square type scene where you can manage your resources before and after your battles. The action is really in the resource management. Battles can be carried out on your behalf by the AI if you want to just watch your characters thrash about with varying degrees of success. Attack decisions vary by the skill the character employed and the opposing character against whom the skill is deployed.

As with pretty much every free-to-play game I have tried, Raid is enjoyable at the beginning because you can take advantage of the relatively easy rank-up process and amass a decent amount of resources out of the gate. This isn’t just good because it’s satisfying. It also teaches you how to use the myriad different types of in-game currency. In other words, you can’t properly manage resources without knowing how they work, what they’re for and which are the most important/valuable. Later on, the necessary resources for upgrading characters and gear becomes much harder to come by, unless you start paying. But if you don’t mind slow progress, the game is pretty fun for a freebie.

Before I get to AFK Arena, which has a similar philosophy and economy, I want to touch on this issue of in-game currencies. This is a common feature with these free-to-play games and, for me, it was incredibly daunting. It seemed like i would have to learn an entirely new language just to have a chance to thrive in the the game’s economy.

Let’s go back to my Real Racing 3 experience. This is a racing game that goes all the way back to 2013. You can amass a ton of the regular currency, but that doesn’t always get you what you want in the game. Most of the really fancy cars can only be purchased with a ton of the premium currency, which is harder to come by. In the past couple years Real Racing has added a third type of currency, but that’s it for now.

The different types of resources in Raid are almost too numerous to count. There is primary currency, used for upgrades and some purchases at the market. There are rubies, which are the premium currency that the game wants you to buy with actual USD. There is a special coin for taking part in PvP matches, there is also energy that is required to enter campaign matches vs the AI. There are time-limited tournaments which each have their own currency that is then redeemed for other currencies, resources and artifacts. Artifacts are their own type of currency in that they work as gear or equipment for the characters and enhance their ability, but also work together as various sets that, when properly matched based on the character’s abilities and affinities, can add an additional boost in the battle arena.

There are so many other resources that act as special currencies having specific enhancement functions. The ‘tavern’ is where you can rank up, which means that special brews are available to speed up the process. The brews come in a variety of flavors to match the character’s affinities. There are also tomes that are extremely hard to come by and offer the quickest way to level up. And by the way, this is not an exhaustive list and there are parts of this game I haven’t even unlocked yet.

The characters themselves are also a form of currency because the lesser characters are routinely exchange or ‘sacrificed’ to level up the stronger characters. This is a good place to talk about the characters, which is my favorite part of the game. Raid is splashy and attractive and the character design is top notch. I think it uses the Unreal engine, even though it is not really an action game. Also, there are a ton of characters. There are over 475 that I know about and more that remain hidden. Each character can be viewed 365 degrees and the small versions that do battle in the arena are a delight to watch. The quest for more powerful, rare and unique characters is what drives me to keep playing.


This is a good point to take a look at a related but also very different game, AFK Arena is serious, despite it’s casual sounding name. As someone who didn’t know this until recently, AFK is gamer-speak for ‘away from keyboard.’ I only learned this recently from watching hours and hours of YouTube gaming videos with my 8-year-old son. I still don’t know if OP is ‘on point’ or ‘over powered’ but usually both seem to work. Anyway, sorry for the aside.

As the name would suggest, AFK ARENA has things that happen in the game when you are not playing it. This is a well-established model. Tapping games allow you to gain resources just by tapping the screen. Many (probably most) of these games eventually level up to the point where the tapping is automated, meaning you can earn resources while NOT playing. Ahhh, the sweet smell of passive income.

The inclusion of passive or idle income in AFK Arena is the biggest difference with Raid. In almost every other aspect they are very similar. AFK has a seemingly endless selection of characters, each with their own strength, attributes and affinity. Whereas the Raid characters have a pleasing animation, the AFK characters are beautifully rendered, but still very two dimensional, and very static. When they fight, the movement is Monty Python-esque, but you can still watch hit points and ultimate talents and everything else we expect to see in an area game.

To make up for the much lighter graphics load, AFK Arena gives each character and detailed backstory that locates them in the mythology of the game. I find this to be incredibly endearing since the more developed characters stay with you for a while. Also, the stories and even fighting depictions include some humor. It’s all very delightful.

Like Raid, AFK offers a long progression in campaign mode that gives your heroes the experience to keep enriching your team and leveling up. Instead of head-to-head contests, the PvP aspect is played out on leaderboards. I don’t even know if that classifies as PvP, but it does give the dedicated player a chance to special rewards by beating his fellow players.

There is also a team aspect for both games, but I haven’t sufficiently progressed in either one to really understand how they work. I am part of some cooperative network of players in AFK, but it’s more me following prompts and allocating resources rather than actually knowing what’s going on. IN raid, I haven’t even touched this part the game yet.


I look at both of these games as super casual. They both present an engaging resource-management scenario wrapped in some Dungeons and Dragons type style. The battles themselves are not even necessary (I automate half my battles in Raid and all my battles in AFK), although they are both enjoyable to watch. The real success is the interface of rewards, currencies, incentives and progression requirements that are designed to keep you play and get you paying. And even if you don’t pay, those interfaces still offer a satisfying experience. Progression slows down dramatically as you consider whether it’s worth it to pay for this kind of entertainment.

I was surprised that I got hooked on these games and ended up taking a genuine interest. My video game awakening is quite recent, despite my advanced age, and the idea of a big virtual world to explore (like in Fortnite and PUBG) has been a big part of that. These games, on the contrary go nowhere. But there is still exploration. The artistic and economic designs are so varying and detailed in how they work and fit together that playing both of these has still helped me escape the everyday.

Miller’s Crossing (1990) – scene breakdown

This one ALSO got blocked on YouTube for copyright. May have to stop posting there.

Also, since video is completely optional, you can check out the commentary as a podcast on Apple, Spotify, or wherever else you like to listen to podcasts.

It is time to talk about one of my favorite all time movies. One of the things that the Escape Pod is for, I am learning, is taking a microscopic look at something in one of these works and just slice the pastrami so thin you can see through it. Fatty, of course, but sliced thin! Anyway, here is my chat about just one scene in the great 1990 Coen brothers film Miller’s Crossing .

In another life I worked with attorneys who had represented real live mobsters. For better or worse, that was never my job,. But I got to enjoy a few very memorable dinners with these elite defense attorneys of the Philadelphia Bar and I got to hear some of their war stories from representing organized crime lieutenants and kingpins during Philadelphia’s violent 1980’s. At one of these dinners, the discussion turned to mob movies, and there was a lot of love for The Godfather and Goodfellas, of course.

But one of these attorneys, Robert Simone, who had been disbarred in state court, prosecuted and convicted on suspicion that he himself was an active member of Philadelphia’s organized crime syndicate, who kept on representing defendants in Philadelphia’s Federal Courts, who eschewed the exquisite custom tailored suits favored by most of the assembled, THE Bobby Simone said that his favorite mob movie was Miller’s Crossing. Most of the others at the table had never even heard of it.

Needless to say, this endeared me to Simone in a way I cannot begin to describe. Me, a young civil litigator, petrified of anything having to do with criminal court, could bond with this GIANT of the defense bar over one of the greatest movies ever made. Simone has long since passed, but I will never forget that moment and it made me love one of my favorite films all the more.

There is vast amount of scholarship available about the Coen brothers and certainly about this film in particular. I don’t know what any of that stuff says. I do know that my experience of this film is that it is perfectly constructed, an entire universe of script, edits, performances, lighting, wardrobe, music and camera angle where everything fits perfectly like a complex and decorative watch or an insanely detailed ship in a bottle. There is so much here, but nothing is wasted. All the gags work, the violence is brutally disturbing. The protagonist’s opacity, especially to himself is perfectly fine for the only partially resolved ending. John Torturro’s over-the-top whining and pleading for his life is no easier to watch today than it was when the film was first released three decades ago.

You could literally have a field day breaking down every scene and describing the details which make it special. I don’t have the energy for that. But I do want to delve pretty deeply into one particular scene, and it is not one of the many set over-the-top set pieces, like Albert Finney’s Tommy gun skills as mob boss Leo, or the aforementioned Turturro pleading with Gabriel Byrne to spare his life, or ANY of the scenes featuring Philadelphia’s own John Polito as rival gangster Johnny Casper. Polito, by the way, should have gotten an Oscar for this movie. He absolutely controls every scene he is in with such wit, timing and an amazing physical presence.

Judging from what you can find on YouTube, the scene described above are more popular than the one that is the subject of my discussion. Yet, when I knew I wanted to write something about Miller’s Crossing, the only thing I could think of was this relatively early scene between Gabriel Byrne’s Tom Reagan, the consigliere, and a young Marcia Gay Harden’, who is Albert Finney’s mob mol Verna. And by the way, Verna and Tom are carrying on a relationship behind but is also sleeping with Tom on the sly.

Tom is drunk and has mounting gambling debts. He is trying to avoid Leo going to war with Johnny Casper’s gang over Verna’s brother. Tom wants Verna to stop using Leo to protect her brother. We pick up the action at 21:37. Tom has had a bad meeting with Leo at the club and goes looking for Verna. This whole sequence is bookmarked with a literal ‘whoosh,’ as the camera pans through the club to the bar and Tom masculinely says “get me a stiff one.” The bartender, who is also Tom’s bookie, tells him Verna is in the Ladies Lounge.

The music rises as Tom steps away from the bar (without paying for his drink) and it sounds like a bit of period jazz orchestra.

As Tom enters the ladies room, camera movement and position continue to be essential. We see through his eyes as he comes in all ready for a tussle with Verna. All the pretty ladies in pastel rise and fly from the room as this predator invades their space. They regard him with annoyance, but they accept that he’s in charge. There is one shot of Tom walking in with the camera moving at the same rate, keeping a constant distance as Tom advances. The other shot is from Tom’s point of view, you see what he sees. Motion is constant and at the same speed for both cameras. The effect is kinetic. I know you can’t see the action on a podcast, but even just hearing the ‘whoosh’, the conversation with the bartender, the rising of the music and the bravado as Tom gets into the ladies room is worth it. Here it goes.

(BREAK to show the scene up to this point)

Now that Tom has reached Verna, the next chapter of this sequence can begin. Verna who is calmly applying makeup while seated in front of a large mirror. The camera settles behind Verna’s right shoulder with Tom sitting behind her left shoulder. We see her back, we see her front in the mirror, and we can see Tom’s front also reflected in the mirror. Plus, there is ANOTHER mirror that is behind them both. Funhouse, right? It seems complicated when you break it down, but the result is that they appear right next to each other in the frame. Because Tom is drunk and a little bit behind where Verna is seated, he comes across as somewhat out of focus.

The rat-a-tat dialog increases as Tom gets up to talk about intimidating Verna while trying to maximize his physical presence. She’s not impressed. Now we’re vacillating from a camera over Verna’s left shoulder, showing her front in the mirror and camera at approximately the same location, but aimed up at Tom who is now looming over Verna. Drunk Tom is getting more and more frustrated as Verna continues to blow him off (while also confirming his suspicions). But Verna can use Tom’s obvious attraction to her as leverage and he doesn’t want to admit that she has that leverage. So he puts his hands on her and yanks her out of the chair.

This is some old-school, hard-boiled Humphrey Bogart type stuff. While he is basically assaulting her, Tom comes in for a kiss. Despite their having been lovers the night before, Verna hauls off at Tom with a substantial right hook to the jaw. He is thrown back and stumbles into a rolling makeup cart, spilling some of the contents. He then takes his whiskey glass and hurls it at Verna’s head, smashing the mirror as she ducks out of the way. She straightens up, grabs her mink and calmly walks toward Tom:

I suppose you think you’ve raised hell.

Tom drunkenly rotates his body to watch her leave. He is defeated in this encounter, but he has the style and audacity to try and claim victory anyway. The camera is now moving, following Verna out from a very low angle, putting her butt, well silhouetted by her slinky green dress, in the center of the frame. As she approaches the door, you can start to hear the party music again.

Tom steadies himself against a chair and the camera pulls away at the same speed it was moving to show Verna’s departure. I guess the view from her butt. Tom says:

Sister. When I’ve raised hell you’ll know it.

And he rubs his chin where she decked him.

What has this scene had such a profound effect on me? Is it my love of strong women? Is it the snappy dialog that is so close to being a parody without going too far? Is it the fact that Verna is Jewish? I don’t think I worried too much about who was Jewish in movies back then, but maybe. Like, I didn’t know that the Start Trek guys (Shatner and Nimoy) were both Jewish back in 1990.

Well, I think the moving cameras are a big part of the attraction. The way we have multiple angles following characters at the same speed may be filmmaking 101, but it really strikes me in its use here.

The whole thing is over in about three minutes.

Jimi Hendrix – Lover Man (commentary)

This one got blocked on YouTube as a result of copyright claim. I’m sure I’ll be dealing with more of that in the future.

Also, since video is completely optional, you can check out the commentary as a podcast on Apple, Spotify, or wherever else you like to listen to podcasts.

You can’t really talk rock guitar without a bow to Hendrix. This is a look at a smaller, less well-known song that still gives clear insight into much of what made Hendrix so special. His passion and emotion often mask the amount of planning and precision and economy he was able to summon. This little tune lets us see all of it in a very tidy package. Here’s the written edition of my Hendrix essay:

This came up the other day and it highlighted for me how we take Jimi Hendrix for granted. There is no way that I, born in 1972, can imagine the hysteria and the revolution that happened when this man was alive and making new music. And to make my ignorance worse, during my formative years I rebelled against Hendrix because he was “too popular.” In junior high and in high school I ended up spending a lot more time listening to the people Hendrix had influenced and the people he was influenced by. In a way, I’ve been only enjoying the bread and missing out on the best part of the sandwich.

Someone with more knowledge than I could do a whole season worth of podcasts on different aspects of Hendrix’s music and life, but for now I just want to focus on this one song and even just this one version of this song.

Now, this was a live version from an album called Hendrix in the West. The studio version can be heard on Both Sides of the Sky, which is a posthumous release. Hendrix’s catalog has victimized by disputes over his estate, so it’s a little hard for someone like me who only has a peripheral knowledge of the history, to know what version is “definitive.”

This live version, however, just jumped out of a shuffle and really got to me, so that’s the one I’m talking about. It’s from a show at Berkley on 5/30/1970 and it’s with Billy Cox on bass and Mitch Mitchell on drums. This is the Cry of Love tour and the recording takes place about four months before Hendrix’s death. Based on YouTube videos from around the same time, Hendrix was regularly playing Love Man on this tour.

A lot of people think about Jimi’s epic (i.e. long) guitar solos, like Voodoo Chile and Machine Gun. We also tend to focus on the hits, like Hey Joe and Are You Experienced? But even in such an all-too-short career, Hendrix managed to cover a really diverse palette of music that was forward thinking, highly experimental, but also very organized and deliberate.

What makes Loverman worth talking about is that it is short at 3 minutes. It is structured somewhat like a twelve bar blues, but it has some easy decoration that makes it more of a rock or pop song rather than just a straight Blues interpretation. It has a great rock riff that anchors the song, but it also has a bridge at the end, which make it more of a narrative piece, rather than a blues that keeps going around the same progression. And this particular version has a few special moments that help highlight why I should have been listening to Hendrix from as soon as I could listen to music.

At three minutes, you might think there is not a lot to talk about, but when it comes to Hendrix, there are things that take literally two seconds that you can meditate over for hours and longer. It’s like what Talmudic study. And this it true all up and down the catalog, but there’s just a few things in this version of Lover Man that need mentioning.

The opening riff is the same as the studio version and has a classic Hendrix feel. That sequence takes seven seconds and then you are into the introductory Blues solo. It’s not a twelve bar, but just a one-four jam lasts about another six seconds. The solo (or fill, if you prefer) has a slow bluesy phrase, followed by some stinging right hand harmonics way up the neck and then darting back down to echo the opening riff right before the vocal starts. This is an example of how compact and efficient Hendrix’s play was. He could show you a Buddy Guy riff that was immediately followed by his disruptive technical innovations, and get right back to his blues all in the same phrase. That’s unequaled musical adroitness.

The verse has a twelve bar structure with Hendrix offhandedly doubling has vocal melody on guitar. There is no rhythm guitar, but the doubled notes (voice and saturated guitar) fill the space while giving extra deference to the rhythm section, which you couldn’t get with a second guitar.

After a second verse which basically repeats the structure and feel of the first, we get the intro riff again to prep for the solo. And what a solo. I think it’s much harder to really light up a solo in such a short space. There is no runway. Of course, to Hendrix this not a problem. Here we get the innovation of pedal effects that enhance the already distorted guitar without obscuring tone. As the extra distortion and sustain announce themselves, Hendrix slows way down – not to make silence, but to give the bends and sustain a chance to show themselves. Then we get the Octavia and more right hand harmonics to give us almost a San Francisco psychedelic amble. At the end of the first 12 bar cycle of the solo, Hendrix hits the Blues hard, very familiar turf to set up the very unfamiliar trick he’s about to attempt.

For the second part time through, Hendrix starts playing a grisly version of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee. Although its a fairly ubiquitous piece of Classical music, it’s still Classical music! And yes this is a gimmick rehearsed with its own bass part and appearing similarly on other live recordings from this tour. But think about what this stands for. Hendrix is the Walt Whitman of rock guitar here – he contains multitudes. He hears all the music at the same time, it seems .- ALL the music. What’s so extraordinary and so hard to understand is that he could pretty much play it all at the same time too. I don’t want to dwell too much on the gimmick, but I think as we consider Hendrix’s legacy, this is inescapable proof that he was listening to and playing Classical music, even if its meant to be tongue in cheek.

After the stunt, we get a classic Hendrix innovation where he puts his stamp on the blues by going back to his I-IV jam (or I-IV-VII-IV), but this time for a vocal refrain instead of a guitar solo. This is Jimi inventing new music, creating a space for rock music that is based on existing forms, but still totally new and unique.

After this vocal jam there are some closing hits and a walk down, but they are merely transitions to Jimi doing his very special solo guitar trick, and by solo, I mean no bass and no drums. Just Jimi, Star Spangled Banner style. There are a lot of these moments, even in his too small recorded legacy. I don’t know if this type of expression grew out of Jimi’s competition with The Who to see who could get crazier at the end of songs, or what. I can, however, say with certainty that this is a trick that Jimi really enjoys and was really good at. It sounds like he can completely lose himself in these moments, almost like taking a victory lap to celebrate the end of the song. A lot of people have messed around with this paradigm. Stevie Ray gets pretty close. Neil Young did a whole album of these feedback endings,. But no one ever did it like Jimi. And the could do these several times per night, but they don’t get old or repetitive.

Whatever these solo bits are, and however you want to describe them, they are sonically astonishing. And the one that closes this version of Lover Man is no exception. Though modest in size, it has all the elements: Whammy bar, riffs to die for, just the right effects.

And that’s it. All that in jut three minutes of music. And the last thing you hear is Jimi tuning up to deploy the next masterpiece on his appreciative audience.