clap clap blog: we have moved
Saturday, August 30, 2003
Valid reasons to hate hipsters--from the nyhappenings list:
I want to inform all decent partygoers in NYC that the [club name] in Brooklyn is full of racist bastards, I speak from personal experience. I am a white man who went to [club name] this Friday and I was turned away from the door because I was "wearing sneakers". Meanwhile 2 black guys wearing sneakers are ushered in without question. I went home to get changed and 3 of my white friends turned up and were charged $10 to get in while all black people were charged $5. They were then treated like outcasts for the entire night and were getting some seriously dirty looks.
Yeah, there's nothing more racist than black people being rude to you. Phrases like "all black people were charged $5" are particularly charming-slash-ironic. Don't let the terrorists win!
posted by Mike B. at 5:32 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Friday, August 29, 2003
Re: Britney and Madonna kissing--brr. I mean, girls kissing = me likee (and no, it's not "male self-loathing," as Charles Taylor so retardedly put it), but it's a bit like the Olson twins kissing, isn't it? (Which, for the record, I also find kind of creepy.) Or, to be more fair, like Lenny Kravitz kissing Hendrix, or the lead singer from Interpol kissing Ian Curtis, or Tori Amos kissing Kate Bush, or Billie Joe from Green Day kissing Ray Davies, or...well, you get the idea. Playing with your role model is one thing, making out with them is quite another. Brr. It gets into all these weird muse issues.
Although I must admit that I find the image of a drunk and jealous Guy Ritchie taking a few whacks at Britney kind of funny. Or, even better, a stone-cold sober Vinnie Jones telling her, "Look, luv, it's nothing personal, but..."
UPDATE: Video of the whole Like a Virgin / Hollywood / Work It opening number can be found here. Oh, and now that I've actually seen the whole thing, the kiss makes a certain narrative sense, so that's good.
posted by Mike B. at 1:11 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Tom Ewing over at NYLPM (whsew, glad I fixed the typo on that link in time) gives me a link based on an e-mail I sent him about licensing music for compilations, and says some very nice things about the blog. *blush* Which is appreciated! He also has some more good stuff to say about the SFJ debate like "there's way less point in saying that the new Flaming Lips album is good than the new Timberlake single is, because the 'music writing audience' is already favourably inclined to the Lips," and also brings up some good points in this post here about the different ways pop is appreciated.
Of course, as always seems to happen with these things, when someone gives me a link, it's vacation time. But I am staying in town, so I'll probably update at some point--I still owe you guys a post on the Klosterman book, and I can throw up a few other things that have been in the pipeline as well. So check back on occasion, I do hope to get some fresh material up here. But if not, there'll be loads more next week.
A few more bookkeeping notes: I updated the links, so if any don't work or if I've left you out (apparently a few blogs have been linking me without my knowledge, which is very nice, but you should let me know so I can reciprocate!) please let me know. Also, I'm much encouraged by the comments on the SFJ post, so I just want to say that I love comments, and I'm always eager to hear what you think--if you're a regular reader, it'd be great if you made your views known every once in a while. And I think there are at least 30 regular viewers, so...
posted by Mike B. at 12:31 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Thursday, August 28, 2003
Mark at k-punk reduces a number of the responses to his and others' critiques of the SFJ article on JT to "that hoary old chestnut, 'it doesn't matter what genre music belongs to, all that matters is whether it is a good song or not...'" Not mine, I hope, as I don't think that's what it amounted to. It's not that simple. It matters and it doesn't. Let me explain.
Mark clarifies the problem with this particular argument thusly:
And one of the many things wrong with the 'it's all just music right' line is the suggestion that Pop is separable from Image - or that it's desirable to make the separation - that must be spurious. The rise of Pop is just as dependent upon visual as audio technology; in fact, Pop's essential implication in the (photographic/ film) image is surely one of its defining features.
But since when is pop the only genre that relies on image? Is "the music" the only reason people go see Al Green, or jazz quartets, or The Locust, or, hell, classical orchestras? Of course not. The image always matters to the music, and as a matter of fact, it's the image that (for good or ill) we find ourselves mainly talking about. So if all music is connected to its image, is it impossible to separate the music from the image in punk/avant-garde/jazz/any purist genre you care to name? I'd be interested to hear his answer.
He goes on to talk about the way the music does just become the music on MP3s/iPod, and speaks of the "threats to Pop posed by the invisibility of the Mp3". Aside from the fact that "image" is tied up in every choice of instrumentation, lyric and production that you make, regardless of whether or not you know anything about the band, I gotta say that as someone who works at a record label, it looks OK from here. We're not doing great, don't get me wrong, but it sure doesn't feel like we're on the verge of extinction. Quite frankly, if I don't believe it when the RIAA says that MP3s are going to kill the industry, I don't believe it when a MP3 fan says it either.
Because--tie-in alert--the songs, by and large, can't exist without the image, and that's one of the things the industry is so good at providing. And the image, as I say, needs to be there for every kind of music for it to be widespread; the image is why, as Mark et al say, music is the most engaging artform we have today.
But here's the thing: I (and not a few other people) like the image of pop, just like some people like the image of punk or street-cred electronic music or whatever. That is to say, the image makes me like the music more. Whereas there are other genres where I will like a song from it despite the image: folk or hardcore or trance or even punk, to a certain extent. And so I recognize that other people have this kind of allergic reaction to pop, and I accept that, although I'd like them to get over that, just like I'd be happy if someone got me over my hardcore allergy. But in the meantime, I think you can look beyond the image to find the song underneath. I don't think we want to separate the image from the music, but what we can do is to--as the phraseology goes--recontextualize it so as to make people enjoy it more. This is the inclusiveness thing, and it's a vibe I think we don't necessarily get from fans of a lot of other genres.
At any rate, it's a thorny issue, I suppose, but I do think, ultimately, that a song as a composition, as opposed to an actual recorded piece of music, can be separated from its image, and thus, the cover song. This is what I mean when I talk about looking for the song. Maybe that'll make it more clear.
posted by Mike B. at 5:32 PM 0 comments Links to this post
I'm becoming a bit more convinced about the validity of a Wesley Clark campaign, but a bit from this article just made my eye twitch:
Doug Finley, who runs a publishing business in Hell's Kitchen, said he had promised $25.
And then I tried to stop my eye from twitching. Because, yeah, I know, that's a good perception for people to have. It helped with Bush. But it's an absolutely horrible reality, electability-wise. Dean does seem to have really good people, for whatever that's worth. We'll see, I guess. I'm not going to get too excited about Clark until he actually enters the fray.
posted by Mike B. at 1:23 PM 0 comments Links to this post
I got a little chuckle out of the fact that Fox has posted the 10 Commandments. Wshew! Finally the secret is out! That Freedom of Information Act thing is really working!
posted by Mike B. at 1:18 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Quo Vadimus points us to a great article by Tom Bissell about being your typical good-taste-urban-nerd in one area (literature) and being a total bad-taster in other areas; the article is entitled "Freddy, Jason, Megadeth and me," and what's so nice about it is the progression. Check it: first he gets in great jabs against Indie Snobs (love the half-irony in the capitalization) while also admitting the general badness of his loves (speed metal and slasher flicks) with lines like: 'Speed metal is transubstantiated human aggression played on three chords at 4,000 miles an hour by young men whose thoughts on every topic more or less provide the informal definition of "retarded."' It's a great little appreciation of the whole phenomenon, with a whole bunch of great reasons for loving certain cultural artifacts that should, by all reasons, be loved (including a justification based on a paper by a Duke professor entitled "Men, Women and Chainsaws," which is so nerdy and so good) and it carries a sense of defiance and self-righteousness against the Indie Snobs who Just Don't Get It.
But then it shifts, and this love is revealed as the obsessions of a man wholly given over to true guilty pleasures:
It could be that my love of peerless literature was forged due to a desire to remove myself from what I thought to be the unliterary environment in which I grew up, and my love of horror films and speed metal, which intensified in my early 20s, after I'd moved to New York, is related to a similarly reactive inclination. Which would of course make my motives as repulsive as those of the Indie Rock Snobs I loathe.
And aha! But this is a good thing, because fuck it, he's stuck to his guns. Still, it's definitely a guilty pleasure as I would define it: a true love for something that you no one else you know loves, where the guilt actually provides a decent bit of the enjoyment. (And let's be honest: for all the complaining he does about the problems this has caused him, he clearly feels a certain satisfaction from his elitism, too.) Moreover, it's important to note that not only does he not know anyone else who likes these things, he wouldn't even like the people who do like them. There's nothing about him going home to the Midwest and watching slasher flicks with his friends and remembering how good the Midwest is. It's clear he still doesn't like the ignorant assholes he grew up with, even if he likes the same kind of music and movies they do. He only respects this in someone like him, basically. Thus, the (wonderful!) ending:
Some time ago, near the end of a mostly inconclusive date, the young woman accompanying me pulled me into a bar and planted me on a stool, claiming the joint had a great jukebox. She was beautiful and hip-seeming, and so I sat there with a face-lift-taut smile, watching her make her selections, anticipating a doleful blast of the Cure or God knows what else.
Aww. That's actually really nice. But besides that, the point is that he wasn't looking for a traditional metalhead/slasher-flick girl; he was looking for a hot hip girl who secretly loved the same things he did. A nation of two, as Kurt V. would have it. And that's pretty interesting, guilty-pleasure-wise, especially in relation to the stuff I said before about guilty cultural pleasures and guilty sexual pleasures. But that's getting a bit too sociological, of course, so I'll leave it there and simply say: go read the damn article. It's a great one.
posted by Mike B. at 11:51 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Wednesday, August 27, 2003
To address another point K-Punk and Simon bring up: what's at stake with the championing of pop? Hasn't pop as a genre, by definition, already "won?"
Leaving aside the issue that pop-as-a-genre sounds pretty different today than it did thirty years ago, and speaking more for myself than for "popists," whoever they are, the point is not championing a genre but in looking beyond the stereotypes and morals associated with that genre to find the good stuff within it, a task made more possible by getting beyond the weird it's-only-good-if-everything's-good album-rock standards and embracing da song. (Which has now become so obvious that even PF is doing it.) I'm sure Matthew Yglesias would have some fancy Harvard term for this, but what Simon/K-Punk are accusing SFJ/etc. of is the sin of judgment-by-classification; only good things are in category Y, only bad things are in category Z. Classifying by worth, in other words, instead of actually by characteristics. Things that are pop are good. Things that are rock are bad. Not true, I hope: I'm just looking for a good tune. The genre it's working within is interesting and may make me more involved in the song, depending, but ultimately a melody's a melody, and I hope I stay true to that dictum.
So what's at stake? Well, a) finding good songs, but also b) trying to break down barriers and change critical standards within all the music we love. I think it's pretty clear at this point that cross-pollination in pop is one of the things I (and the folks I seem to agree with) like: the Bollywood in Missy, the rave synths in Outkast, the 60's-girl-group in Britney. But it runs both ways, because we still heart the "underground." So what's at stake is encouraging indie (of whatever stripe) to engage in the kind of joyousness, innovation (or innovation-as-reference) and mass appeal of pop, even if it doesn't actually work, because the songs that can result are, well, interesting. I mean, good lord, Wayne Coyne's already realized this. Why not collaborate with a producer? Why not pack in the hooks? Why should you always go for difficulty? I'm not saying I want everything to always be pop--I just want it to be an option open to more people, just like I think lo-fi and strong melodic songwriting should be options everyone tries out at some point.
This, in other words, is why Liz Phair matters: because whatever the results (and as we know, I at least find one song on the album well worth the experiment), it is worth a try, and she should not be brought down simply for the trying. Someone who has released an album made on a four-track should be able to release an album with a Neptunes track because they really love pop, not because they're "selling out." Moreover, they should be able to embrace all the glorious trapping of pop like cheesy photo shoots and advertising blitzes and the like because that's part of the game, part of the fun for everyone. Personalities are not unitary, folks, and you don't know the whole of a person based on one album, no matter how confessional it may seem. Don't tie us to mysteriousness. Don't call us lame cause we ain't listening. D-d-d-don't stop the beat.
UPDATE: The issue was also brought up at Mostly Weird, which is great because you get to see him seriously use the line "At best, critics who write about pop acts are just jacking off," a hilarious take because I wasn't aware that writing about music served any substantive purpose no matter which genre you're writing about.
posted by Mike B. at 11:49 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Not that I'm the biggest Sasha Frere-Jones fan, mind, but this article on Justin quite simply nails it.
The second single—produced by Timbaland, the only man challenging the Neptunes for critical and commercial consensus—was "Cry Me a River," a complete 180 from "Like I Love You"'s jackrabbit lust. "Cry" is puppy love directed by Douglas Sirk, a CinemaScope ballad full of generous detail and disjunctive leaps and Timberlake's second consecutive hit. The song got an obvious boost from gossip columnists reading it as Justin's kiss-off to his ex, Britney Spears, but less obvious was the response from New Yorker music critic Alex Ross: "In the past year, rock critics found themselves in the faintly embarrassing position of having to hail Justin Timberlake's Justified as one of the better records of the year." The embarrassment must be Ross', as the critics didn't exhibit much. Rolling Stone gave the album four stars, and Village Voice critic Robert Christgau gave it an A-. The daily newspaper reviews were uniformly positive. But The New Yorker has a track record of approaching pop music with one hand holding its nose, so calling Timberlake an embarrassment is simply par for the course. Eustace Tilley has never been down with the kids. In fact, there is a historical trend for critics to discount hugely popular artists who sell to kids, especially girls. Sometimes, critics, borrowing a little fantasy back from the kids, like to pretend that these artists don't really exist.
I'm too lazy to paste in all the links and italics, so go to the article for the full effect--there's lots more good stuff there. (Incidentally, Sasha: "Quick—think of a single solo disc by a famous producer … that's any good. We'll wait." John Cale, my friend. To say nothing of Eno's solo work.)
The whole thing addresses the "rockist" bias in, well, rock criticism, which is not all that surprising given its roots in Bangs/Christgau/Meltzer/Marcus/Wenner, the writes of the round table that forged "serious" rock-crit from whole cloth back in the "golden age," which currently is the 60's and which will be the 80's in another twenty years. (Just you wait.) What happened then though--and no one seems too eager to admit this--was as much a function of the business of music as the art of it. If you were a record company, and you're used to having to negotiate with generally very business-savvy songwriters (the producers of yesteryear) for publishing rights, given the opportunity to deal only with naive artists who also happen to write their own songs, which would you prefer? Which one would be easier to take advantage of? Hell, which one has been easier to take advantage of? The sudden shift in the 60's to music primarily played by the songwriters (Elvis v. the Beatles) and the newfound sense of legitimacy this conveyed was partially because the songs were better, sure. But while the songwriter-as-songwriter function persisted, it had become debased. Even if a songwriter could produce better songs than most artists, he was still a hack, a talentless nobody churning out tunes for cash instead of the love of the music. And then in the 80's this started to become the producer's job, to help write the songs, and here, too, the image of debased gun-for-hire persisted. If you're such a good songwriter, the logic went, why not just play and sing the song yourself? Well, because it can be better sung by someone else, of course.
So respect the song, my rockist bretheren, and the writers who write 'em. Don't be fooled by transparency into thinking it's legitimacy, and don't assume you know so much about the biz that you can make informed assumptions about the songwriting process of pop. It's easier to analyze personalities, sure, but sometimes the song matters more.
Simon Reynolds semi-replies here, and ends up touching on one of Sasha's pet subjects, race. (Ah, those Brits.) But what I think is more interesting is his previous entry, which quotes Nietzsche and talks about pop-ism as close to rock-ism:
Adolescence without hang-ups--what's the point? This is why I believe Pop-ism is a lot closer to Hornbyism than it may realise. It's an oddly self-cornering ideology, progressively eliminating more and more of what actually is good and worth celebrating about pop (freak characters, innovator producers, sonic weirdness) as rockist criteria, residues of crypto-auteurism that must be purged.
...which is funny because, right after talking about pop-ism's assailing of indie-snobbery as a straw man argument, he gives us this: one of the biggest straw-man arguments I've encountered. Since when does popism (outside of Sasha, who as I say, I'm no great fan of) try to exclude things? My whole point about pop--and that of lots of other people too, near as I can tell, Tom Ewing included--is that the beauty of pop is in its inclusiveness. This, after all, is what Simon likes about rave culture (I think) and yet he comes out strongly against "dilettantism" and sees honor in sticking to one narrow area of the musical spectrum. And that's fine, I guess, but I think there's a pretty big contradiction there. I don't know which popists he's encountered who get all snobby about rockist criteria sneaking into pop music, but I think the point of the popists is that, as Simon says, they're ex-rockists, and so those particular set of values are assumed, are already there to be employed when useful; the diference is that instead of being the only standard, the exclusionary measure, they are simply one tool in the enjoyment arsenal. We judge Dylan by the rockist criteria; we judge Missy by the popist. And sometimes we switch 'em, just to see what happens, and if there's a useful take on the whole thing there.
So I'd be with Simon if he were to point out popists who were being snobby like this, but frankly, I don't entirely see it. Unless he wants to bring up Beat Happening again, in which case I'm with him all the way--but I most definitely think that the NYPLM crew of popists aren't anything like Calvin Johnson and his posse of the unholy undead. Beat Happening is a good example of popism gone to horrible extremes, to be sure.
Incidentally, the pop-as-inclusiveness theme nicely counters the main thrust of Simon's post, i.e. that popism is just another (fairly traditional) move in Da Discourse and "an option available to uber-hipsters who want to distance themselves from middlebrow peers." (Horrors!) Because--ha ha ha--we don't care if we're uber-hipsters. That's fine! We don't hate indie kids, we just want them to be happier. I don't want anyone to stop liking Godsmack (or whatever), I just want them to start liking Nelly and euro-pop. Call me a hipster all you want, man, I'm cool with that. Just dance to the damn music, OK?
UPDATE: If you've gotten this far, it's probably worth reading K-Punk's comments on the whole thing.
Oops, I really need to go to bed.
posted by Mike B. at 12:09 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Tuesday, August 26, 2003
Toby Keith, hearteningly, is feeling a bit ambiguous about the war (non-subscription text here):
Away from the firepower of the stage, this fighting man from Oklahoma said that he has decided to call a cease-fire in his ugly feud with the Dixie Chicks ("We had fun with it, but I'm just done with it"), that he still has lingering questions about the necessity of the war in Iraq ("Honestly, I'm still doing the math on that") and that he wonders whether the hit song, "(Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue) The Angry American," has typecast him ("People think I bang the war drum, and that's not me").
But as I've asked before, how can an artist communicate this ambiguity to his audience without losing them? It's a hard proposition, and I think I have more sympathy for Toby than other people do.
posted by Mike B. at 4:38 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Um. Well, apparently he's said this before:
"A dictatorship would be a heck of a lot easier, there's no question about it."
Boy oh boy.
posted by Mike B. at 4:14 PM 0 comments Links to this post
That should go over well.
posted by Mike B. at 3:05 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Um...did I just read this right?
"Even the president is not omnipotent," Mr. Bolten [White House budget director and formerly Mr. Bush's chief domestic policy adviser] said of the House opposition to the AmeriCorps money. "Would that he were. He often says that life would be a lot easier if it were a dictatorship. But it's not, and he's glad it's a democracy."
He's...uh, he's being sarcastic there, right?
posted by Mike B. at 11:55 AM 0 comments Links to this post
This one's for Matt:
During a break at the New Pornographers show tonight, they had a Q&A session. There were some lame things about Canada and some random song requests, so I yelled, "What's your favorite song on the radio right now?"
Rather quickly, Kurt-the-drummer answered: "Shania Twain! Oh, that's embarassing, but I love that Shania song. It sounds like Abba or something."
"Yeah," Carl said, "we were just talking about this. When you hear a halfway-decent song on the radio, you have to be real supportive, like with a retarded kid. 'Oh, there you go, that's a good job!'"
Then they told some stories about Newfoundland (?) and did a rather lackluster version of "Ballad of a Comeback Kid," which is too bad really as it's my favorite song on the album. At any rate, it's an interesting comment.
The show was good overall, but the crowd was annoyingly lackluster. The rondo in "Testament to Youth in Verse" was really really good. They covered, pretty clearly without any preparation, three (!) Journey songs during the second encore, prompted by someone's random comment. They all seemed very comfortable--at times it felt like we were sitting in on a rehersal. Very nice. More dancing next time though, you New Yorkers.
posted by Mike B. at 1:10 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Monday, August 25, 2003
Best bit of the generally-good Salon article on Snoop Dogg:
We're waiting on Snoop at a small house in the Valley, where he'll shoot a segment for one of his final Jimmy Kimmel appearances. Crew members are discussing last night's show, which featured Snoop and the rapper he toured with this summer, the enormously successful performer credited with the recent East-Coast rebirth of gangsta rap: 50 Cent. "Is Snoop a real gangster?" one staffer asks me. Before I can respond, another staffer interjects. "You know who's a real gangster? That 50 Cent." All nod in reverent silence.
Yeah, "real." Hahaha.
On the other hand, the article kind of reads like it was written for some other publication, doesn't it? It's got more of an Esquire tone than a Salon tone.
posted by Mike B. at 3:33 PM 0 comments Links to this post
A few people rightfully took me to task for not mentioning the critical role that Bob Herbert played in helping get some belated justice for the Tulia defendants. Kudos to Mr. Herbert.
...which is funny, because I was just reading Bob's column and thinking that he always seems to go after fairly safe causes--the unjustly accused, preparation for a terrorist attack, etc.--and wondering why the only black columnist the Times has plays it so close to the chest. Well, that's the Times for you, I guess.
But regardless, there's no denying that the causes Herbert does champion are good ones, and Atrios makes a good point. To expand on it, though, I think the tradition of columnists trying to Help Out The Little Guy has not disappeared, but shifted. Newspaper columnists at outfits big and small are still very much interested in focusing attention on small-scale or individual events in local communities, in bringing the overlooked story to light--in other words, writing critical human-interest stories--but the impetus and the desired outcome have now changed. Whereas before the HOTLG story was written out of a sense of injustice and the desired outcome was a fair resolution to the situation, righting the power imbalance one case at a time, what you see now take the form of "outrages of the week!" and don't seem designed to actually, well, do anything besides further deepen people's faith in institutions. I think you know the kind of story I'm talking about. Conservative bloggers are real fond of these. The woman sues McDonald's because their coffee caused horrible burns all over her lower body; the campus conservative gets hauled before the judicial board for barging into a women's studies meeting; etc., etc. It's no accident that these stories often revolve around tort or liability cases and campus speech codes, while more often than not venturing into racial issues, etc.
The problem is, of course, that they don't seem to actually care what happens to The Little Guys in these cases. (It's also problematic that they're getting "outraged" about things that should, at best, provoke mild annoyance--you'd think they'd be used to the fact that there are unintelligent people out there--but that's a whole other issue.) Partially this is because they're often siding with the big institutions in the court cases, which directly contravenes the principles of the genre of HOTLG stories, but even in the case of the campus speech codes, where they're ostensibly siding on behalf of the individuals, it seems weird that free-market conservatives would try and force an independent institution which the individual has voluntarily placed himself under the care of to change its self-created rules. So it seems less like they want resolution in these independent cases and more that they want the bigger issues resolved--but even here, I don't think that's the case. The continued existence of campus speech codes, for instance, galvanizes recruitment efforts and provides a way to demonize anyone coming out of academia. The ability of individuals to sue institutions is a key weapon in the conservative arsenal, and without it, these sort of issues might be resolved in the legislature instead, which would be horrible, of course. They don't want change, they just want to score points, to work up more "outrage," to build a cause qua cause by deligitimizing institutions. In other words, they're performing that signature conservative slight-of-hand of appearing apolitical but doing so in a deeply political and partisan way--attempting to bring down the government for their own personal gain.
These stories are examples of what I like to call "Andrea Yates stories." They're widely reported and widely debated but they don't actually mean anything; no one's going to argue that killing your kids is OK. It's just news-as-entertainment, something to debate about to make ourselves feel like we're participating. And that's OK--I don't want to trash news-as-entertainment, which I think is peachy keen. But I do think that in reporting these stories, our commentators could have a bit better political perspective. And I don't just mean a liberal one.
This is all tied up in the state of political humor today--and, indeed, a lot of these "outrage of the week" stories end up being grist for the late-night-show-monologue mill. Because a lot of comedians take shots at political issues and would probably describe various jokes as "political," but they would also loudly claim to hate both parties and politicians in general. And that's stupid. But moreover, that's not political humor--that's just bitching. Political humor would take a stance, act as argument, present something to be attacked or defended. It would not simply put everything down like the stereotype of a cynical Gen-X slacker while purporting not to care about the whole business. Denis Miller, for instance, is the political version of an insult comedian. "Your policy sucks--aaaah, I'm just kiddin' guy, hey he's a good sport, give the guy a round of applause." It may be funny sometimes, but it ain't political.
Speaking of good HOTLG columnists, here is a fucking awesome Jimmy Breslin column.
posted by Mike B. at 3:32 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Saturday, August 23, 2003
Andrew WK will call the first 250 people who order his new CD.
How can you not love the man?
In other news, one of the hotbeds of AWK-hatin', the Velvet Rope, has a thread discussing this topic that ends up going almost unanimously pro-AWK! Be sure to check out the posts about his shows and about his MTV special.
posted by Mike B. at 1:32 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Friday, August 22, 2003
Wesley Willis is dead.
Go listen to some of his stuff, and laugh. He was a good guy.
My favorite thing about Wesley: when he would get some audience member up on stage and say, "When I say rock! You say roll! And then we headbutt! OK?" And then he would do it. "Rock!" "Rock!" "Roll!" "Roll!" *headbutt* And then he would give 'em a big hug.
Yeah, that's what music should be: rock 'n' roll, headbutts, and a hug.
posted by Mike B. at 5:31 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Probably not too much blogging today, but I wanted to mention that it just now occured to me how cool it is that Trevor Horn is producing the new Belle and Sebastian album. Like, real cool. I'm excited.
posted by Mike B. at 1:07 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Thursday, August 21, 2003
How do I hate you, Chris Ott? Let me count the ways:
1) "A sickeningly, painfully simple reconstruction of all the music that's ever really Mattered, The Constantines announced the Best Band in the World, and we-- critics, caricatures and cunts-- have been foaming at the mouth to crown another one for twenty years now." (Uh, yeah.)
2) "The Constantines are resurrecting rock music from the frigid, faggy dungeon currently overrun with a thousand self-obsessed, coke-snorting keyboard players." (Hmm, what do you think of that, Matt?)
3) "wresting abandon from effeminate black-and-dayglo pretenders" (effeminate? Like, uh, Sleater-Kinney? Bikini Kill? Huh?)
4) "Theirs is the sound of craven, drunk friend-fucking, of smoky, dead all-night bars and wondering how to keep the party going." (Uh, Chris, did you just never listen to Ladytron's "Playgirl" or what?)
5) "Unlike the chic Strokes or pretentious Interpol, they are truly opening their hearts..." (Good for them if they are, but you'd think if they are their supporters might be hesitant to close their hearts against others for no particular reason.)
Well, that's enough for now, I suppose. For more uptight music-snob assholery, check out Chris' WATW entry on the Constantines. And oh my god, he recycles half of it for the full review! Wow!
Here is more on Chris.
posted by Mike B. at 2:52 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Richard Thompson - Oops, I Did It Again
Hillary sent me this--it's from Thompson's 1000 Years of Music CD, available only from his website, and a pretty hilarious concept: a true "millenium of music," reaching back into madrigals and folk songs and like that. But in addition to covering things like "Trafalgar Square" and "Shenandoah," he does "Cry Me a River," "Tempted," Prince's "Kiss," and, of course, this Britney song.
The interesting thing about hearing people cover Britney songs is how they'll make it into something pretty new and interesting, and then this one little bit in the song itself will totally demolish the whole concept and bring it back to Britney herself. So Thompson's version starts off like a minimalist blues/rock song in either an Elvis or Steve Winwood vein, and it sounds very good and impassioned--but then he hits the chorus. And he hits the totally illogical (and totally masterful) mid-bar upswing to a major chord on "I played with your heart," and the whole thing just gets wiped away. It's Britney again, because as of yet, that kind of chord change just doesn't make sense outside of a hyper-pop, electronic arrangement.
My favorite Britney cover is probably Fountains of Wayne's version of "Baby One More Time" (which I have been asked not to post, but which you might be able to track down), which is brilliant because it totally turns it into a 60's girl-pop song; you can almost hear Ronnie Spector wanting to bust in during the choruses. And they wisely leave out the huge jump to falsetto that the backing vocals would require (i.e. "still beLIEVE!"), which helps a lot. But then, again, they hit the bridge, with its totally illogical, radio-pop-only chord changes, and it's a bit demolished. But not really. It only happens once or twice, and the rest of the track is truly awesome.
Do go check out that Thompson CD--both the concept and (what I've heard of) the execution are quite good, and thought-provoking:
The idea for this project came from Playboy Magazine - I was asked by submit a list, in late 1999, of the ten greatest songs of the Millenium. Hah! I thought, hypocrites - they don't mean millennium, they mean twenty years - I'll call their bluff and do a real thousand-year selection. My list was similar to the choices here on this CD, starting in about 1068, and winding slowly up to 2001. That they failed to print my list among others submitted by rock's luminaries, is but a slight wound - it gave me the idea for this show, which has been performed occasionally, and will hopefully receive a few more airings. The idea is that Popular Music comes in many forms, through many ages, and as older forms get superceded, sometimes the baby is thrown out with the bathwater - great ideas, tunes, rhythms, styles, get left in the dust of history, so let's have a look at what's back there, and see if still does the trick. I am unqualified to sing 98% of the material here, but me having a go could be considered part of the fun. Also, trying to render an Arthur Sullivan orchestration with acoustic guitar and snare drum is pretty desperate stuff, but may, at a stretch, be thought "charming."
Right on, Richard.
posted by Mike B. at 1:07 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Matt Y points us to a NRO article about the UN-in-Iraq bombing that's pretty good. Matt also points out just how illogical (and self-serving) it is for conservatives to be bringing up Rwanda as a prime example of UN-weenieness:
Based on these rightwing retellings of what went down in Rwanda, you would think that the UN has some kind of massive military at its disposal that it cowardly refused to deploy. In fact, of course, the actual UN personnel in Rwanda were all for an intervention, but no intervention happened because the US wouldn't stand for it. We feared that even if no US troops were involved initially, that something might go wrong and we would wind up in a situation where we had to intervene in order to assist our allies. It was American reluctance to use force, not some conspiracy of UN-weenies, that prevented intervention.
It's especially odd, I think, that conservatives get this history wrong, because the US government was under the leadership of one William Jefferson Clinton at the time. The right is not known for its kindness toward his memory and, frankly, the truth of this episode does not reflect well on him. The explanation, I suppose, is that Bush specifically stated during the 2000 campaign that he agreed with Clinton's 1994-issue Rwanda policy. Nevertheless, even this is a bit strange since even Clinton eventually disavowed his own costly error in a speech that wound up getting roundly mocked by the American right.
Yeah...um...well...Clinton sucks, anyway!
posted by Mike B. at 12:24 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Josh Marshall calls the idea that the attack on the UN in Baghdad was a sign of the Islamist resistance's weakness, not their strength, the "'paradoxically positive mass-casualty terrorism event' theory: that mass-casualty terrorism events show the success of our policy since they are a sign 'the terrorists' are becoming desperate." Whoof. Yeah.
posted by Mike B. at 12:09 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Dear Mr. Ashcroft,
As regards the name of your newly-proposed bill, the "Victory Act": could you pick a word that doesn't appear quite so many times in "1984," please? It shouldn't be that hard.
UPDATE: Just to clarify, it's not so much that I'm horrified as amused; I'll be horrified if it actually passes, but for now, I'm just giggling at the addle-headedness of it all. It does make me a wee bit embarassed that my government is this clueless, politics-wise. Oh well. I guess it's a good thing in the long run.
posted by Mike B. at 10:36 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Now, I don't engage in this kind of thing often, but: Frog Eyes are friggin' awesome. I just got back from seeing them, and the lead singer, Carey, is just a big pudgy sweaty spaz, and that's one of the biggest compliments I can give someone. And I mean spaz: like, red-faced, yelling, shaking, messy spaz. And really enthusiastic, too, despite some stage banter that edged uncomfortably close to bathos. And I couldn't even hear the words! But damn, it was neat. Here's a brief list of what I was reminded of:
The Pixies minus Joey
Meat Loaf (in a good way)
Tom Waits at 200 bpm
The Danielsen Famile, but louder and with less instruments
The best moment was probably when Casey sat down at the keyboard and took a while to adjust everything and you were expecting a slow piano ballad and then he turns to the drummer and she clicks her sticks four times and there's just this big whoosh of allegro noise. It was real neat.
Hopefully later today I'll post some more coherent stuff that I've been wanting to write for a while now. But if you get a chance to download some Frog Eyes, let me know what you think.
UPDATE: Upon further reflection and a good night's sleep (and a listen to the album) let me revise that to: Frog Eyes are friggin' awesome performers. The sound is much denser and faster and crazier live than on record. But it's still pretty cool.
posted by Mike B. at 12:33 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Wednesday, August 20, 2003
"This case is not about a monument, it's not about politics or religion, it's about the acknowledgment of God," he said during an interview on CBS' "The Early Show."
"We must acknowledge God because our constitution says our justice system is established upon God. For (the judge) to say 'I can't say who God is' is to disestablish the justice system of this state."
Moore, who installed the monument in the rotunda of the judicial building two years ago, contends it represents the moral foundation of American law and that a federal judge has no authority to make him remove it.
I don't think this is about politics or religion, actually. This is about not letting mentally unbalanced people serve in the judiciary.
posted by Mike B. at 3:43 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Good Matt Y post about not going to law school. The comments tangentially address a question I'm curious about, how to make a living as a politics person without a law school degree. I asked for more info, so we'll see.
posted by Mike B. at 1:08 PM 0 comments Links to this post
So am I gonna have to be the one to say the obvious about this?
Mel Gibson, "under fire from Jewish groups," according to Religion News Service, has agreed to "soften" his portrayal of Jews in his upcoming film's depiction of the death of Jesus Christ.
"The Passion," which will be released next March, will add sympathetic Jewish characters to the storyline and have them shout unbiblical words of opposition to Jesus' crucifixion, lest moviegoers get the impression that Jews actually wanted God's Son put to death.
Antisemitism = bad, and the guy's dad clearly has mental problems, but there seems a pretty good explanation for Jews (and everyone else invovled) not being bothered by Jesus' crucifixion at the time: they weren't part of the insane cult of people who considered him the messiah, and so they weren't particularly concered with this guy dying. Just because now there are millions of people who pretend that this possibly fictional man is the son of an imaginary, all-powerful entity doesn't mean that the Jews, or the Romans, should have realized that at the time.
I mean, no offense to my xtian friends, and I understand that there are practical implications, but come on now.
posted by Mike B. at 12:38 PM 0 comments Links to this post
A bunch of conservatives chuckle about UN workers dying. As always, proceed forthwith to the comments below.
"I'm sorry about the loss of life, but maybe now they'll know what it feels like to be an Israeli."
Yes, people working in international relations, especially in the mideast, definitely would have no idea what it's like to live in Israel unless they're blown up by a terrorist. Right on, soul brother.
UPDATE: Just found out the father of a friend, who works for an NGO, was in the UN building when it was bombed. He has had both of his legs amputated. Lemme just go peruse that forum again.
Hey, don't I remember you conservative guys complaining about "blaming the victim" or something like that?
posted by Mike B. at 12:32 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Tuesday, August 19, 2003
As someone who works in the commercial wing of art, let me tell these film clerks something:
When asked what solutions they would propose to bolster the film literacy of Hollywood's hit makers, the keepers and catalogers of our film heritage offer such helpful hints as "Give them all unlimited rentals! A gold card from our store!" and "Make them watch all the AFI Top 100 lists! Every single one!" But in a thoughtful moment after the fist-pumping fervor dies down, one of the Vidiots clerks ponders aloud the obvious: "The film world has such a rich history. It makes no sense not to know it if it's your business."
Au contraire, mon frere: it makes every bit of sense not to know it, and indeed, that's how I assumed the sentence read at first. Because as your "business"--and strictly as business--you want a memory as long as your customer, which it's fair (and, honestly, not insulting) to say is around 20 years long for most of the people you'd be marketing to. You want a memory and a perspective like theirs because then you'll have a better idea if it'll get seen. Now, it makes every bit of sense for people on the creative end to have a sense of film history--but the executives? Not so much.
posted by Mike B. at 6:28 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Few Americans will get teary for Tariq Aziz, faithful servant to the Butcher of Baghdad. But consider the case of Rafet Kamal, a 27-year-old shop clerk who went out for cigarettes one night two weeks ago and never returned home. Kamal’s father, named Kamal Sayit, an unemployed laborer with no connections and no English, went from prison to police station to hospital looking for him. At Camp Cropper, he was simply turned away at gunpoint. Finally, after 10 days of fruitless searching, Sayit visited Baghdad’s morgue last Tuesday. He suspected the worst by this point, if only because his son had taken a pistol out with him. It was for personal protection, Sayit says, but he knew Coalition troops forbade it. Attendants ushered the father to one of five refrigerated rooms, where bodies lay piled two or three deep, nearly all of them young men with gunshot wounds. There he found his son lying on top, his body riddled with bullets. Sayit beat his own head with both fists and cried, “I just want to know: was he killed by American soldiers?”
He will never know for certain, because no one will ever investigate. That’s partly because there is no codified system of justice in occupied Iraq.
I hope we can all agree, who's to blame aside, that this is a bad thing. Maybe Rafet took a shot at some troops; maybe he got killed by brigands. But either way, his father should not have to go digging through anonymous bodies in order to find out if he's dead or not. This is not civilization.
posted by Mike B. at 3:27 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Greil Marcus writes:
1) Patti Smith at Martin Luther King Jr. Park, Berkeley (June 15) Smith and Boots Riley of the Coup were performing in support of International A.N.S.W.E.R., a group affiliated with the Workers World Party, the left-fascist sect that uses Ramsey Clark as its dummy and the Palestinian Intifada as its true cause. It being Father's Day, Smith dedicated "People Have the Power" to her father. He was gone, she said--but there was still Ralph Nader, "father to us all." Or, as Paul Berman, author of the recent Terror and Liberalism, wrote two days earlier in Salon of the Nader cult, "I interpret the Green Party as a movement of the middle and upper-middle class, as actually having a certain satisfaction with the way things are--which is to say, the reason you should vote for the Greens is because you want to feel the excitement of political engagement, the adventure of it, but you don't really care what it's going to mean for other people if the Republicans get elected." You're voting not as a member of a polity, where each citizen is presumed tied to every other; you're voting to place yourself above not only your fellow citizens, but above the democratic ritual that presumes to make a republic. You're voting to affirm your own purity--like voting Republican, as Krist Novolesic put it when Nirvana was first accused of selling out, "so you can get tax breaks. Now that's sold out."
I went to see a free Patti Smith concert down at Battery Park, and I had a similarly distressed reaction to the kind of taken-for-granted politics she was going on about. (Suffice to say she didn't say anything this egregious, or you would've seen a post about it right away.) It was good to hear, I guessed, and I agreed with it, I guessed, but at the same time, I didn't. It was too easy, too pat, too nod-nod-yes-yes-right-on. It made me uncomfortable, in other words, or embarassed for her, or something, and while at the time I felt this was an impulse I should just get over, hearing her call Nader "father to us all," a deeply, deeply creepy act, makes me feel a bit more assured about my gut reaction.
It was just a bit odd to hear her start yelling about Bush in the space a musician would normally be yelling about how great a crowd we are, or something. Know what I mean?
posted by Mike B. at 2:41 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Steve Albini does not know who performed "Every Rose Has Its Thorn," which means that I don't like him anymore. Uh, hello Mr. I-cover-Cheap-Trick, it's Poison! Not "Bon Jovi or Guns & Roses. One of those horrible fuckin' bands." WRONG! He's probably just fucking around with us, though.
In other Albini biz, someone posts an interview with him to this thread (scroll about halfway down) in which Steve, besides admirably not telling the reviewer he's an asshat outright, gives a nice little clarification about "selling out":
Q: It gets a little annoying hearing how a band loses all their artistic credibility once they sell a certain number of records.
A: I don't know anyone who genuinely thinks that way. People who are critical of the independent music world postulate that as a strongman argument all the time. I don't know a single person who begrudges a band selling records. Not a single person. I do know that people in the independent world hold it against someone who makes overt changes in themselves and their music and their behaviour in the hope of selling more records… That argument is made all the time by people who are critical of the independent world, saying, "Oh, they're a bunch of elitists and they don't want anyone to sell any records." That's a load of crap. I love it when my friends' bands sell a lot of records. Everyone I know in the independent world is thrilled when their friend's bands sell records. It's not about money, either, because I'm thrilled when a band makes a load of money and they get paid a lot for a gig and they sell a shitbox of records. What people respond negatively to is when bands do things in an overt effort to cheapen themselves so they think they can be acceptable to a dumber audience. That happens all the time, and when bands do that it's transparent and of course people react [negatively] to it. I don't think there's any validity to the notion that the independent world views success with suspicion.
I commend Steve's attitude, even if I don't agree with it particularly. But I would say that "everyone [he] know[s] in the independent world" are musicians or people otherwise in the biz, and not snotty college-age indie fans, among whom the attitude of popular = bad is very much present.
posted by Mike B. at 10:54 AM 0 comments Links to this post
So I don't get a back-and-forth but Gerald fucking Cosloy does?!?! All right, you're both on my shitlist now. I'm signing with Touch and Go.
Seriously, though, this is a major embarrassment and a major fuckup; the fact that the headline for the letter is "Matador's head cheese checks in" indicates to me that PF might not be aware of how big a deal this is. The review in question was the lead review yesterday (which has--oh sweet Jesus--been changed without comment since then!), and the band in question, Interpol, is one that Pitchfork has been major boosters of. The review was negative, based largely around the assumption that the band's US label, Matador, was using this as a lame cash-in. Unfortunately, even though the reviewer (and editor) knew it was a foreign release, they apparently blamed the label without actually checking which label it's on. It is, instead, on the French group Labels, an imprint of EMI that Matador has nothing to do with. While I don't expect music critics to know the names of record execs intimately or anything, if they're going to try and analyze music in terms of the biz behind it--which, it should be noted, there's no reason for them to do--they should know shit like, oh I dunno, the fact that indie bands often sign with different labels in different countries in order to get distribution. They should at least look at the fucking CD and spend 30 seconds doing a Google search.
And yeah, this is the problem with reactive reviewing, which the Interpol review was a classic case of: it rests on objective instead of subjective facts, and since what you're largely doing is viewing those facts in light of preconceptions you already have (in this case, apparently, a desire to tear down a well-liked band), you're likely to actually get stuff demonstrably wrong. Once again, guys: don't do reactive reviewing. Just talk about the music. If you want to respond to other reviews the music's gotten or the biz behind it, respond to those, but don't assume that has a damn thing to do with the band or the music. Because hopefully that's all we care about.
It's telling that the review has now been changed to blame the band for all this instead of Big Bad Matador. Haven't learned anything, have they? It was probably the French label's decision, and at any rate, who the fuck cares if an import EP is bad? You're not really supposed to be listening to it anyway, jackasses.
posted by Mike B. at 10:45 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Monday, August 18, 2003
I was just listening to Z100 and Bowling for Soup's "The Girl All The Bad Guys Want" came on, and...well, just let me post the lyrics here without comment, except to say that it's a lot more joycore than, say, Good Charlotte.
8 o'clock, Monday night and I'm waitin'
To finally talk to a girl a little cooler than me.
Her name is Nona, she's a rocker with a nose ring,
She wears a two way, but I'm not quite sure what that means.
And when she walks,
All the wind blows and the angels sing.
She doesn't notice me!
Cause she is watchin' wrestling
Creamin' over tough guys
Listenin' to rap metal
Turntables in her eyes
It's like a bad movie
She is lookin' through me
If you were me, then you'd be
Screamin' "Someone shoot me!"
As I fail miserably,
Tryin' to get the girl all the bad guys want.
She's the girl all the bad guys want!
She likes the godsmack and I like agent orange
Her cd changer's full of singers that are mad at their dad
She says she'd like to score some reefer and a forty
She'll never know that I'm the best that she'll never have
And when she walks,
All the wind blows and the angels sing.
She'll never notice me!
Cause she is watchin' wrestling
Creamin' over tough guys
Listenin' to rap metal
Turntables in her eyes
She likes 'em with a mustache
Racetrack season pass
Drivin' in a Trans-Am
Does a mullet make a man?
There she goes again
With fishnets on, and dreadlocks in her hair
She broke my heart, I wanna be sedated
All I wanted was to see her naked!
Now I am watchin' wrestling
Tryin' to be a tough guy
Listenin' to rap metal
Turntables in my eyes
I can't grow a mustache
And I ain't got no season pass
All I got's a moped...moped....moped.....
She's the girl all the bad guys want!
I know, I shouldn't like the mall-punk, but we all know I love the pop-punk, and musical (and commercial) concerns aside, this is an impressively crafted set of lyrics--it's a lot of words for a punk song / radio hit, and the variations are witty and the whole thing is funny as hell--and goddamnit, I mean that. I especially like "but I'm not quite sure what that means" and "singers that are mad at their dad." I mean, it's no "Flagpole Sitta" or "Punk Rock Girl," but hey, it's kinda fun.
posted by Mike B. at 5:14 PM 0 comments Links to this post
In Pitchfork reader mail today someone comments on the WATW entry about "Stacy's Mom" by bringing up The Bouncing Souls' "I Like Your Mom," a brilliant comparison (and a great song) if there ever was one, even if the poor deluded fool seems not to like the FoW track. (He's probably ashamed of liking "I Like Your Mom," too.)
Perhaps I should also point out that the headline given to the letter is "Oh yes, but please do check out the video." Assuming, reasonably, that this is sarcastic as usual, they are making disparaging remarks similar to NYPLM's, and you know how I feel about that.
posted by Mike B. at 3:47 PM 0 comments Links to this post
For those of you wondering, as I was, exactly how Japanther "includes elements of hip-hop," as Pitchfork claims, it's because, um, they have samples at the beginning of every song.
Which is bullshit. That's an "element of hip-hop" if it's 1987. Right now it's "found sound," and it's about as hip-hop as Godspeed You! Black Emperor.
Japanther themselves are pretty neat, tho.
posted by Mike B. at 3:42 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Starlight Mints - "Submarine #3"
There's an indication of how good this track, the first off the Mints' first album, is going to be right at the beginning, leading off as it does with a violin-and-cello fanfare. It then leans into its great little dance of melody and counterpoint disguised as hooks, producing a perfect mix pleasurable partially because of the individual elements, but far more because of the arrangement, which at times goes beyond the well-trod Beach Boys symphonies to a more precise chamber music kind of feel--and I mean actual chamber music, not the kind of pop that's gotten tagged with that particular adjective, like The Divine Comedy or Belle & Sebastian (both of whom I love to death, but still)--even moreso than Momus, who strikes me as more specifically Baroque. (And then a lot of the artists who do get listed as Baroque Pop like Scott Walker or Nick Drake or Burt Bacharach sound more Romantic to my ears, but that's enough of that tangent.)
Anyway, theory-nerdishness aside, the real heart of the song comes after the end of the first chorus, which goes:
If you pull me apart
I'll swallow my...
And then there's a pause, and then they sing the word you'd expect them to. They go for the obvious rhyme, but one of the cool things about pop music is that sometimes they go for the obvious rhyme not because it's the only thing they can think of to put there, but because it's the best possible thing to put there--they take the obvious rhyme and make it evocative, or powerful, or referential, or funny. Or, as the Mints do here, they go totally over-the-top with it, embrace and celebrate it as something obvious and overused because it's just so damn good.
And so there's a pause, and they sing "heart," the obvious rhyme, and there are two bars of that great arrangement, ending with a natural fall to the tonic, and this girl's voice, sounding distorted, yells "HEART!" and there's a great whanging guitar noise for no particular reason whatsoever, a perfect little pop touch. And it's such a great little turn, following the sort of resigned tone of the chorus to make you think, "Well, that was the obvious rhyme, but I guess it makes sense thematically, and..." and then the girl yells the word again and there's the whang and you go, "Yeah, fucking right! Heart! Goddamn!" It's such a great little contrast and turn that it changes your whole attitude. People talk about the complexities of hip-hop recontextualizing other people's music, but what some folks miss about pop is the way it's forced to continually turn the familiar into the exciting and semi-new, and the minor miracle in it somehow continually doing that. Maybe it's because of the (beneficial?) absence of memory in pop, but it does manage to keep on keepin' on, and it's really neat to see moments like this, when enthusiasm overwhelms cliche.
Another nice aspect to the song is the way, after this first "heart-HEART!" turn (at around 0:47-0:54) they then manage to hold off on doing it again for almost the whole of the rest of the song, although the nice moves of the distorted female voice and guitar whang float back in during the bridge. But then it's reprised, chamber-music-like, at the very end of the song (1:40-2:00--also nice that this gem gets in and out under the Beatles-limit), with the female voice doubling the male in a much harsher tone. It's a different model of soft-loud contrast from either Nirvana or, say, Deerhoof (about whom more later, maybe), but I like it.
posted by Mike B. at 3:15 PM 0 comments Links to this post
So about this California recall thing: some blogs have been referring to the, um, Austrian Candidate as "Ahnold." Might I suggest the far more sprightly and evocative "McBain"? After all, if wingers are going to appropriate "cheese eating surrender-monkeys" for their own weird gloating about heat death purposes, I think it might be good to get a few of the more liberal Simpsons references out there.
posted by Mike B. at 2:44 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Saturday, August 16, 2003
Judging by the lack of response to my last Tom Tomorrow post, not many of you really care about it. But I do, and hey, what's a blog for? So let me highlight the end of his interview with Salon. The exchange begins with a very astute question:
Have you ever written positive cartoons?
Oh, come on.
I don't know. Some moment when you were overcome by a burst of cheerfulness?
It is not a frequent occurrence. But I wouldn't do what I do if there wasn't an inherent optimism there. It's an optimism tinged with bitterness and frustration but if I didn't believe that things can get better then I would go live in some remote farmhouse somewhere and ignore the world entirely.
No, my friend, that's not it. Everyone has an "inherant optimism" by that definition, otherwise they'd kill themselves. What you're missing is an actual hope in humanity. You don't seem to believe that people can actually do better.
The real reason you don't go off to a farmhouse is because then you wouldn't be able to constantly remind people that you're smarter than they are, which seems to be the real message of the strip most of the time.
posted by Mike B. at 1:02 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Two smart letters and one dumb letter about Northern State. I suppose it's worth noting that all three letters (all negative, I just think the second one's stupid--"why black people hate us" my ass) are written by males, or so I'm assuming from the names. Don't want to perpetuate logosism here at claps blog.
posted by Mike B. at 12:06 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Friday, August 15, 2003
I'm back from the blackout.
Oddly enough, the two hipster enclaves--Williamsburg and the LES--were two of the last neighborhoods in the 5 boros to get their power back. (Also Flushing and some of midtown, from what I hear.)
At any rate, a wallace-l'er writes this in:
I was watching CNN from my electricity filled living room here in Berkeley (the CA energy crisis isn’t so funny now is it?) learining about all the trouble, when the on-the-scene-reporter started to talk about the small wave of fires that were breaking out throughout the city, caused by people using candles to light their homes or whatever. So, after discussing the general dangers of open flames, the reporter exhorted “any one using candles right now to be very careful not to let them spill over” thereby risking fire. On CNN. To those who were using candles at the time. On cable TV.
Thank God for CNN.
Also funny was listening to the radio right after the blackout hit on Thursday. On Bloomburg news, they did a rundown of what was happening and then did a stock market report. On 1010 WINS, they cut off an interview with the mayor for a Subaru ad. Pretty neat.
All I have to say is: I really wish I hadn't watched 28 Days Later recently. Brr.
posted by Mike B. at 11:49 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Thursday, August 14, 2003
A while back Jesse sent me a proposal for an article he wants to pitch. I thought I'd take a crack at critiquing/commenting on/building on the idea, both for the good of the article and for my own selfish education. So lemme paste in his idea.
On the weekend of August 2nd and 3rd, the rock band Phish drew over 60,000 fans to a remote corner of northwestern Maine for a two day festival at a decommissioned Air Force base. They were the only band on the bill. Between a 2.5 mile stretch of parallel runways, amidst mud and grass, concertgoers erected a massive tent city. On the tarmacs, unlicensed vendors who follow the band from show to show hawked beer, cigarettes, homemade food, clothing, and marijuana paraphernalia in a colorful bazaar.
On a main thoroughfare sat a man campaigning for Democratic Presidential hopeful Dennis Kucinich. Faithful Phishheads filed by, few looking twice at their peer behind the table. Phish and, subsequently, their significant followers, are a notoriously apolitical bunch. With the exception of a pro-choice benefit played in 1995, Phish has never taken a public stand on a social issue, not wanting to wield what is potentially a lot of power. While few fans are cultish enough to follow Phish to the letter of their word, there is undoubtedly a general political apathy that courses through them.
Simultaneously, they have become a large demographic, the next generation of the Deadheads. "If every Deadhead voted, this country would be a different place," gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson recently groused. Music industry veteran and progressive activist Danny Goldberg has declared in a new book, Dispatches From The Culture Wars: How The Left Lost Teen Spirit, that the Democratic Party desperately needs to get in touch with American youth if they are to remain relevant, or even survive at all.
Disclaimer: it should be noted that while this is the theory of Danny's book, the reality turns out to be more of a half-memoir and a boomer reminisce / grumpy rant about how things used to be better back in the 60's and these darn kids etc. But the theory's pretty good, so we'll go with that.
Disclaimer 2: yeah, Kucinich ain't exactly representative of the Democratic party, but he's a pretty good one for deadheads, I think.
Thompson is right, as he still is a frightening percentage of the time, but his remark is telling: he's not talking about modern-day Phish fans, he's talking about the actual old-school deadheads, the products of the 60's, and pointing out that they themselves aren't (and weren't) actually all that politically active; they talk a good game, but through the rhetoric of the times (and of the scene), they tend to disdain regular politics in favor of localism, which to be honest is more a social than a political endeavor. So the issue seems to me to be about the apolitical nature of this particular demographic; what about the values of their group makes them avoid politics, and should they get involved in politics? And, for that matter, how would that happen? Phish, after all, is considered to have a certain political viewpoint (progressivism), even though, as Jesse points out, they don't really do anything progressive besides live in Vermont. How does this impression come about?
Hannah Arendt points out that a good portion of the citizens of almost every country are apolitical, and it's actually in the interests of the state for that to continue. She doesn't mean that in a Chomskybot, "they just want to keep you down, man!" kind of way--she simply points out that whenever this apolitical mass does get active, they tend to produce some pretty negative results. They go for demagoguery almost always, and totalitarianism seems to creep in there, too. I'm not saying that a motivated mass of deadheads would throw up a Mussolini, but as an abstract phenomenon, there is a certain value, democracy-wise, to having the apolitical stay apolitical.
Still, as a lifelong Democrat in a country that feels pretty Republican these days, it would be in my interest to have all of these people vote Democratic, as they hopefully would. (Brief sideline: would they? Certainly all the progressives that decided to vote for the Green party in 2000 had a bit of a negative effect, and it's unclear that the kind of kneejerk purists who seem to make up the jambands scene would be able to deal with the kind of compromises the Democrats have to engage in to get elected.) So why doesn't Phish, as Jesse asks, convert them? Partially I think it's because, as I've noted before, there's a weird repugnance to "political music," or to musicians who are political outside their music. Witness, for instance, reaction to Bono, or Thom Yorke, or the Dixie Chicks, or even Toby Keith--sure, some people get jazzed up about their particular stances, but a lot of people get pretty violently annoyed by them, far more annoyed than they would have been otherwise. It's simple mathematics, really, because politics is an energizing, divisive thing. You don't mind a musician one way or the other when they're singing about love or their own sadness or even, to a certain degree, Jesus or cowboys. (Tastes differ, of course.) You don't have such strong opinions on these things. But as soon as someone comes out, say, against abortion, it's a whole different matter. That you care about, and for whatever reason, it clouds people's judgment of the music. Clearly I think this is a fucking stupid thing to do, as a fan, but I also recognize that musicians are very aware of that possibility, which is why the causes you see them embracing are usually things like helping starving people or America being good or something. You get a vibe from them, like you do from Phish, but rarely policy positions, because that--as I say--is divisive. Partially this is an economic matter of musicians not wanting to lose fans, but it's also that it would suck if you made it harder for people to like your music, because you should be able to enjoy it. So even though it would be far less of a risk for Phish to take certain positions than it would be for other musicians too, I can sort of understand why they wouldn't. (This is leaving out the possibility that Phish, like many musicians, are themselves just plain ol' apolitical.)
But really, Phish shouldn't have to convert their fans; you would think, as Jesse does, that a scene whose values seem so firmly rooted in leftist politics would just vote Democratic anyway. The reason for this can maybe be found in a comparison with the kind of rightists who have driven the Republicans in recent years. They, being against big government and against taxes, etc., would appear to be apolitical, but are, in fact, deeply political, because (and this is impressive) they actually convert this apoliticism to a political stance. Deadheads, on the other hand, appear political but are in fact apolitical. Sure, they're environmentalists, but that mainly means they recycle, or are vegetarians, or buy organic food--consumerist stuff. Maybe they organize a group to lobby the local council to institute new conservation programs, but this is rarely taken nationwide, and it's rarely sustained so it can be allied with the Democrats. (It's important that interest groups be sustainable and somewhat widespread so that parties can help them, and they in turn can be helped; this is partially the theory behind the Greens, but it doesn't seem to be working so well so far.) Like I said above, a lot of their solutions tend to be social: they support local farmers, they ride bikes, they don't own guns, they live on communes. And while these things may have political meaning, they are not, in and of themselves, political acts; they do not constitute participation in politics.
And despite the dewy-eyed nostalgia of boomers like Danny (it's worth noting that Todd Gitlin seems to happily avoid this), like a similar kind of apolitical purism found in the indie scene, this flows directly from the idealism of the 60's. This idealism peters out when it comes to politics because it is utopian, and because it's never really accepted the true impact of their actions "back in the day," which from a contemporary perspective look far less impressive; the civil rights movement was driven by black leaders and Democrats, the gay rights movement by, well, gays, and even the war itself ended less because of the actions of a group of people who no one in "the establishment" ever particularly liked or agreed with, and more because it dragged out for so long and lots and lots of young Americans came home in body bags. Their favorite issue, ending the Vietnam war, was a success mainly because they were joined in their opinion by mainstream America, and most telling, they (by "they" you can substitute SDS or "the hippies" or what-have-you) never really managed to move beyond that issue to all the other ones they were so concerned about. It's not even certain that they managed to have an effect on the Democratic party--how many ex-hippies do you see today in public office or political activism? Hell, even the Trotskyites managed to change sides and elect themselves a President.
Hippies, as the 90's showed (how many startups bringing in millions were run by ex-hippies?), are only a step removed from being libertarians, although oddly it's this step that allows them to be politically active. You can see the ideology still active today, and see the problems it's caused. Search for a utopia which can never be found--dissatisfaction with anything less than perfection. Distrust of money--inability to get your voice heard. Search for the new--inability to appreciate the old.
But by far, the most pernicious and most damaging belief of the boomers is their distrust of authority. Up to a certain point, this can be a good thing--dictators and all that. But authority is a key component of politics, and politics is the way we hopefully get stuff done. It's a lot better than violence or payoffs, anyway. Without authority, without power, you can't do anything, can't start a movement, can't pass a law, can't change the way things work. It clearly makes folks like this very, very nervous to have authority over other people, and while I can sympathize, it's just these kind of people who we need to get over their discomfort and start moving things along, since otherwise it'll just be the ones who aren't uncomfortable with power taking charge. I can respect the rhetoric of equality and fairness, but until we are living in that perfect world, lots of other people are going to be getting rich and using that money to influence the political system, are going to be seizing power and using it for their own aims, are going to be leading movements antithetical to our interests. In the face of this reality, it's clear that a lot of jambands folks back away, get nervous, prefer to retreat and remain untainted.
And I have no doubt that it's this distrust of authority that plays a large part in Phish's refusal to be political. "Hey, do your own thing, man--we aren't going to tell you what to think." But people need to be organized, and telling them what to think is different than identifying a bunch of people who think the same way and getting them to all speak together to get something done. It is an unfortunate thing that they are not willing to take this risk.
I can certainly understand the people who say that they just want to listen to some music and have a good time. That's cool. But I think the opportunity is there, and I'm curious, at least, to see what would happen were someone to take advantage of it.
posted by Mike B. at 2:16 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Credit where credit is due: there's a pretty good Pitchfork review today of the new Ween album. Sure, it's a "quirky" review, but it's actually a pretty good impression of the album; if you can get to the end and still want to hear the album, you'll probaly enjoy qUEBEC.
Personally, I found the disc pretty boring and bland, but I guess it's not really my style, being kind of, um, proggy and sludgy. One of those where I didn't really notice it was playing, which for Ween is probably a bad thing. You'll notice there are no "Chocolate and Cheese" references in the review, and that's telling. Oh well.
posted by Mike B. at 1:05 PM 0 comments Links to this post
So I finally got my invite to the Harvard bloggerCon. And by "invite" I mean "direct-mail solicitation." As those of you who've seen it on other blogs doubtless know, they're not inviting me to speak (because, let's be honest, why would they?), they're asking me to attend. And pay $500.
For which fee I'd better get a goddamn blowjob from Elizabeth Spiers.
posted by Mike B. at 11:44 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Wednesday, August 13, 2003
A bunch of conservatives chuckle about French people dying. Priceless! Be sure to read the comments--they're awesome.
posted by Mike B. at 6:01 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Speaking of Fountains of Wayne, I haven't been up on my NYLPM reading lately, but here's a post that talks about the video for Stacy's Mom:
When hearing this song it works wonderfully, because it is assumed that the kid singing has just come home from college, and it is the kind of decadence that is completely mutual, a graduate for our post ironic ages.
Then the video comes, with enough sexual signifiers to make Foucault come, and enough paedo subtext to allow for everyone but gary glitter skeeze out. The kid in the video is 10, the mother in question is 27--Steacy is about 11. We see the boy floating in the pool until he sees the mother and has a pop bottle orgasm, we see Steacy wearing heart shaped sunglasses, and sucking a straw--a Lolita with a co-dependent Charlotte Haze and a Humbert Humbert about her age. After that, there is a fantasized pole dancer which puts Everclear's Volvo Soccer Driving Mom in proper perspective, a Bo Derek coming from the water and removing her bikini moment, and in conclusion the gentleman in question being caught masturbating in the bathroom.
The whole thing is supposed to come off as a cute way to look at wistful lust, but the results nibble away at a number of taboos we really should think about keeping.
Well, I dunno...
UPDATE: They also have a kind of familiar take on Liz's "Rock Me," including a nice interpretation of the "if it's alright" turn in the chorus.
posted by Mike B. at 3:39 PM 0 comments Links to this post
In a precursor to the long-promised but coming-soon (right, Jason?) academic celebrities page, here is a very nerdish page featuring the faces of great nerds which you can test your knowledge of by trying to identify, facial-wise. And I'll leave it to some other nerd to diagram that sentence. Facial facial facial.
UPDATE: The creator notes:
"all of wallace-l simultaneously accessing 1MB+ page = server kicked
massively and repeatedly in the nuts. if the page is taking more than a
minute to load then safe yourself the bother and come b ack later. it should
only take like 3 seconds to load on a fast connection. eye caramba. thanks
for stopping by but i am sadly not equipped to be wallace-led."
posted by Mike B. at 3:31 PM 0 comments Links to this post
If you're curious what noise I made when Rob forwarded me Ryan Schreiber's review of Fountains of Wayne's "Stacy's Mom," rest assured that it was a zombie-like "Muuuust...kiiillll!" (It was a late night last night.) Let's quote the damn thing and then write a letter.
Fountains of Wayne: "Stacy's Mom"
Can a song be too catchy? I'm afraid the answer is yeah, and this me-decade throwback is insidious proof. The hooks are so fucking easy-- it sound like the result of a record company's elaborate study to determine the most primally appealing hooks of all time. And that's not even getting into discussing its inane lyrics, or the topic cribbed from the only passable song ever written by Sub Pop's mid-90s proto-mallpunkers Chixdiggit! ("Where's Your Mom").
But somehow, the melody broke me down. I got past its shameless predictibility and the unforgivable refrain (the title character "has got it goin' on," among the most dated expressions you could hope not to encounter on the radio today), and really loved it-- for one day. Which is when I discovered that it's one of those rare tracks that subtly implants itself in your head where it creates an unshakable three-to-five day-long extended mix of itself. From there, it's a downhill battle trying to force in other simiarly catchy songs to overpower it. You will lose. And when you finally lie down, exhausted, defeated and stinking of 20-year-old bubblegum, you will curse yourself for not knowing how or why this track chose you for its victim. --Ryan Schreiber
Good christ, man, do you know anything about Fountains of Wayne? Did you just see their video on MTV2 and have an indie-kid allergic reaction? I mean, it's not like they're an obscure band--you've gotta know something, right?
Why then, claims that the "hooks are so fucking easy-- it sound like the result of a record company's elaborate study to determine the most primally appealing hooks of all time." What the hell is an "easy" hook? I've been playing guitar for 10 years and the only easy hooks I know are Nirvana's "Come As You Are" and the Violent Femmes' "Blister in the Sun," and the ones I hear in "Stacy's Mom" don't come anywhere close to that; the little turn at the end of the opening riff is particularly nice. Maybe you just mean it sounds familiar? Well, sure--the hit that similarly comes near the end of that hook is a reference to the Cars' "Just What I Needed," and I think that's nice, since the rest of the hook surrounding it doesn't have much to do with the Cars.
But more importantly, why the "record company" stuff? Are you really trying to imply that they made this song as a bid for international superstardom? Because the history of FoW is pretty clear on this point--yeah, they're pretty enmeshed in the biz, which I think is kind of a neato art statement myself, but anyway, I don't think they harbor any illusions that two men approaching middle age and playing a commercially debased genre (power pop) are going to be playing the Budokan anytime soon. They've got a video on MTV2? Great! It's a great song, and it should be played. That a good band has a label behind it willing to spend a little is, I think, a good thing.
But obviously you don't actually think a record company went through the elaborate steps you describe. What you're saying, instead, is that a hook that good could not have been crafted by the hands of mortal men, but had to have come out of some mystical / scientific process. This is clearly not true--I like the hook and all, but there are others that are just as good that were definitely written by individual human beings. So are you incredulous because Fountains of Wayne are actually getting heard and listened to by many people instead of languishing in obscurity--or instead of being heard by many people 30 years ago and forgotten today? Or are you incredulous because, surely, no one who could write such silly lyrics could ever write a good hook? (Won't address your thoughtless dismissal of the words here, but you might take note of the brief, sad twist at the end of the last verse which might redeem it for gloomy-guts such as y'all.)
Well, whichever it is, it brings us to your main, weirdest criticism: that it's, um, too catchy. Gotta admit that I don't know what's up with this, at least as a critical judgment. Sure, some songs get caught in your head (although "Stacy's Mom" never got in mine that much), and some of these songs are pretty bad, but what you seem to be saying is that you thought "Stacy's Mom" was a good song until it got caught in your head. What the hell is that supposed to mean? It suddenly changed in worth because you were too fucking stupid to hum the "Smurfs" theme a few times? Spare me.
All in all, it casts further doubts on the whole WATW revamp; OK, you like pop with drum machines now, but still not guitar pop? What gives, hombres? I'm beginning to think Matt P's comments on my first complaint were on-target.
posted by Mike B. at 2:42 PM 0 comments Links to this post