Monday, February 28, 2005

The Price of Obscenity- why is homicide more cost effective?

Intriguing article from Rolling Stone: FCC Censorhip. Writer David Swanson explains that under the new fine system that Congress is approving for obscenity on the airwaves, Howard Stern could have gotten off easier and cheaper if he actually killed someone in a hit-and-run or poisoned the New York water supply. Needless to say, I don't advocate either of those as alternatives but someone's definitely wrong here and our government's priorities are obviously screwed up.

The Fiona Apple album her record company hates

Extraordinary Machine may or may not see the light of day because Ms. Apple's record company (Sony) doesn't think it's hit-bound enough- her official site (run by her label) still only has info about her last album up. Granted that I like her previous record When The Pawn more than what I've heard of the new one but it should be heard by the public nevertheless- I'll take her over Sheryl Crow or Tori Amos anyday.

Want to do something about it? You can hear five of the album's songs here and you can also sign an online petition, telling Sony to release the record.

Worse comes to worse, I hope that she can buy back the masters and release it on her own. In an ideal world, it would then sell a boat-load and prove Sony wrong. Don't laugh. Remember what happened to Wilco and Reprise Records...?

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Gates of the West- Christo and Jeanne-Claude

As it now enters its final day of display, who doesn't love Christo and Jeanne-Claude's "The Gates" installation in New York's Central Park? Endless news stories gush about how the couple has turned the whole park into a giant work of art- there's shades of Nam June Paik turning the Guggenheim into an installation piece and maybe the Statue of Liberty is next for some aspiring artist. Also, the Gates brightens up the park during the cold weather and it's estimated that one million visitors will come to see it, especially since the 7,500 gates are only up in February and then gone for good.

One person who doesn't love it is the Washington Post's Blake Gopnik. He calls The Gates "unusually slight" and notes how artificial it looks, going against the grain of the relaxing nature that the Park is supposed to provide to blighted New Yorkers after the initial gawking at the site of the structures. Other than complaining about the loud orange colors that the gates provide, strewn across the park, Gopnik notes that the installation is par for the course with a city infrastructure and art world consumed by "bourgeois beautification."

Being a New Yorker, it's de rigeur that you'd have to see it for yourself nevertheless. No doubt that many locals (and many tourists) probably wouldn't have bothered to stroll there through the cold if there wasn't a spectacle like this to see. Indeed, when you do lay your eyes on it, even after seeing news photos and videos, it IS a sight: the bright colors, the sheer number of them, the look of them lined up over hills and rocks. I love the park in the spring and summer just to see everyone else also enjoying the nice atmosphere and weather. Even in the freezing cold, it's heartening to see other people trudge out to enjoy a public spectacle and no, most of us wouldn't be out there otherwise. I wondered what the ratio of locals to tourists might be- according to my girlfriend, the default clothing color for NYC is black so following this theory, we definitely weren't the only New Yorkers.

As fun as it was to walk through familar pathers and see these huge things dotting the landscape, I saw Gopnik's point after a while. I was snapping pictures like mad at first but after walking around for an hour, I got the point. It was everywhere and it got tiring as such. After some time, you wanted to see areas without them. I understand the point of having them everywhere so you could enjoy them at any place in the park- to the artist's credit, they seeded them up to Harlem, where many downtown and midtown dwellers don't bother to venture. But seeing them again and again, you don't need to see them anymore. Maybe it's best to get a taste of them and then to move on. Maybe it would be more special to have less of them. No doubt that when they're gone though, they will be missed and remembered.

Wouldn't it have been even bolder to not have such a loud color? It surely wouldn't have attracted as many people if they would have been say, white or black or gray. The meaning would then be much different- instead of being bright and light-hearted, they would have carried along other meanings (government, authority, etc.).

Having them as temporal structures also impose another meaning. Because they're only there for a short time, they don't become yet another ho-hum regular part of the city landscape that we all know is there and we'll see someday but may not (i.e. Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building). We're forced to come out and see them now (Steve Reich reference there) with everyone else or miss everything. If such a time constraint makes us all want to experience the Gates, especially when we wouldn't be roaming around, that at least is a notable success. Other than New Year's what the hell would drag us out into the freezing cold all at once? Huge public spectacles like this don't happen often either and since it's something that we can enjoy in a known common place as opposed to a gallery or museum, it fulfills another great mission of public art.

And what else will bring us all together in such a way? I always love to transport such ideas to other mediums. Bryant Park and Battery Park occ. have film series outdoors but you'll never see them attract numbers like the Gates do. Central Park itself has the yearly Shakespeare festivals that draw good numbers but again, nothing like what you see now for the Gates. No, the only thing that you'll find that comes close is yet another event that happens in Central Park- concerts. You know, Paul Simon, Diana Ross. But even those are one time events that are probably going to get dwarfed by the numbers coming for the Gates.

But again, most of these things happen in the same place. Maybe Central Park really is a hub, not for business but for more intangible things. Walking around the Gates will cost you the same as the concert series in the Park which will also cost you the same as strolling through there in warmer weather. No charge. Sure, the hot dog vendors, the horse carriage rides and such will profit from visitors but all of that is optional spending. We enjoy the Park (or anyone other park) because it's attractive public space, which means it's for everyone. As many thrills as we find running into restaurants, clubs or galleries, nothing else we have in a city really compares to a space like that. I don't think I need to see the Gates again but I'm glad that I did and I'm glad they're there, if only to remind us of how valuable the area they inhabit is.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Public Enemy #1

Any rap fan would drool and swell with pride to learn that NYU has devoted a two-day weekend confernence to Public Enemy. And indeed the first day had plenty of fun, ideas and contention, which is all you could hope and expect from a PE conference.

Friday night started out with a tour film covering the group's 1988 visit to London and a recent trip there: Lathan Hodge's London Calling. Though candid moments and interviews, you were able to see the band members up close and personal. Chuck D was thoughtful and philosophical about the group and its history while Flavor Flav was the out-of-control comic foil (swearing up and down about fast food places) and Professor Griff trying to address his place in the band, including not only the infamous comment about Jews but his downplayed contribution to the group in general. For the later, I don't buy all of it though it's good to see in the film that the guy does have a sense of humor and gotten a lot wiser from his experiences. This film is a fascinating document that deserves wider release.

Next up was a critic's gathering about PE's second album It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back. The panel was well moderated by Jon Caramanica, featuring Robert Christgau, Greg Tate, Vivien Goldman, John Leland, Alan Light and Armond White (Nelson George sadly couldn't make it). Considering PE's early history of skewing critics, it was kind of funny to see a thing like this and sure enough, a lot of the panel was upfront about their early criticisms of the band. Once Nation came out though, all of them became fans and believers. Christgau spoke of hearing the record on the beach for the first time and still being moved by it despite the off-beat context of his environment. Though he bemoaned how the band failed politically in that it unfortunately didn't create 1000's of black leaders, he later had to rethink that in the light of not just the rap world but also academia and the activist world. Leland (wrote a brilliant review of "Bring The Noise" for Spin when that record came out and it will rightfully appear in an upcoming Spin anthology) talked of how the record brought together the avant, politics and commercialism in a way that had never been done before in rap or any other style of music. Tate spoke of a great house party he threw in the sweltering summer of '88 where everyone hearing the record for the first time acting like it was already their favorite record. Also, he believed that PE was picking up the political/social mantle that Bob Marley had left behind when he died.

With all due respect to the rest of the panel, White had the most salient and provocative things to say throughout the evening. "Blacks like R&B but PE was different because they really brought the noise to it" (for context, it should be added that White is African-American). He also marveled at how the band brought a "naive certainty to rap." One of the closest comparisons he found to the band was the Sex Pistols in terms of effrontery. Goldman agreed, adding that Chuck had written an intro to a recent book about Joe Strummer, saying how much he admired the Clash when he saw them doing their string of dates in 1981 at NY's Bond Casino with Grandmaster Flash opening (and getting booed). White went on to say that PE "encapsulated the promise of hip hop." When comparisons to Spike Lee came up, White (who also works as a film critic) said that Lee was actually closer to John Sayles in terms of style. If you had to pick a film-maker that was closer to PE's frame of mind, he thought it should be Jean-Luc Godard. That didn't seem to sit well with the crowd but thinking about the jarring edits and overt political content of the French director, it certainly made sense.

One thing I was wondering about was how NWA might have overshadowed and thwarted the impact of PE and Caramanica wisely brought that up. White speculated that NWA might have had a weaker, more regrettable social/political agenda but had a better commercial package to present to the consumers.

The Q&A session at the end was a let-down as a group of blow-hards in the audience endlessly peddled their agendas. A Source writer complained that the panel's thought on PE weren't as legit as others whose lives were changed by it. White took exception to that and said that every time he hears the record, he felt that "no one could fuck with me." Then there was some religious/science BS. An Italian gent who said that PE did reach out politically to people in his country had some heartfelt moments but became rabid after a while (which might be appropriate considering the subject).

Unfortunately, there wasn't much time otherwise for other questions but I did wonder about a few other things that I hope to learn more about someday.

- Though it was touted how NYU served as the birthplace of PE's label Def Jam, the group itself was birthed in Long Island, specifically at Adelphi University. Shouldn't that area also be proud of its native sons and have their own conference? Also, I wondered how LI itself figured into the band's music. I think they took more of a universalist approach but you have to think that LI had to be in there somewhere, right?

- Though Nation was critical smash, what about its commercial impact? How did make itself felt outside of New York? The panel seemed to think that its political impact wasn't what it should have been but Christgau speculated that it's very difficult to get radical politics into the mainstream discourse.

- Nation seemed important also because it was an album as an album and not a bunch of singles and/or filler songs. It was a total statement and mindset. Was that in and of itself influential in the rap world? There didn't seem to be a lot of records that did that before Nation.

- What about PE's musical legacy after Nation? White thought that Fear of A Black Planet was a better album but there won't be any conferences about it, partly because it came out in the wake of Nation. PE's ideas and sound definitely evolved a lot and it's worth thinking about and discussing. For the record, after Nation, my favorite PE album is Apocalypse '91 (which Wire magazine was chided for show its love for it).

Sad to say, I won't be able to go to today's part of the PE conference. It's going to feature Chuck himself, Harry Allen and the Bomb squad so that should be amazing. You should definitely go if you can. As Chuck said, we only get 28 days for Black History Month so we should make the most of it.

Friday, February 25, 2005

One Million Bodybags- Hotel Rwanda

Some movies are difficult to watch because they present something unpleasant to us that we can't stand to see. That happens with a lot of horror movies obviously. Why do we put ourselves through this? We like to live on the edge sometimes and do it especially in a removed way where we can experience these things in a (literally) one-dimensional medium like film.

Another unpleasant thing that we can experience through the movies is tragedy. As we see through reality shows, other peoples' misery can be turned into entertainment fodder. Maybe the thinking is that we like to forget our own problems and then feel better about ourselves by watching other peoples' suffering. Thankfully, the writing on the way is that these kind of shows are on the wan as viewers want to see shows where people getting helped instead of humiliated.

Maybe that explains part of the appeal of one of the most difficult movies to watch that I can remember. Hotel Rwanda documents part of the unimaginable slaughter that happened in that country. With a movie based on real events, part of the strength (or weakness) of the film can play on the audience's knowledge of what they already know about the story. This works very powerfully with the movie as it's evident that this is a story of modern holocaust. In the middle of it is Paul Rusesabagina, played by Don Cheadle, who offers a home for some 1600 war refugees in the hotel that he runs, meekly protected by the U.N. and various local generals. In the meantime, the U.S. and Western Europe shrug their shoulders and let the body count soar: see Clinton Kept Hotel Rwanda Open for more details. In a moving scene, a U.N. diplomat (Nick Nolte) explains to Rusesabagina that he, and by association his people there, are nothing, nobodies that no one outside of Africa cares about. The obvious implication is that they are of no strategic value so why intervene?

And then there's the scene where the European residents of the hotel are led out on buses with the local people left at the hotel. The Europeans sit in the bus and look on with long faces at a group of people who will likely not survive long, unable to do anything. The Rwandans look back at them, almost resigned to what will happen since there is no one to help them anymore.

As moving as Cheadle is (as well as Sophie Okonedo who plays his wife and is also Oscar nominated) and as well-written as the film is, it's hard to keep watching, knowing that horror upon horror will be coming- the final death of the war toll was one million people. It is painful, even knowing that it is a movie and that it's only a recreation. Part of what the movie is trying to do is to remind us what happened, albeit too late. Maybe it's also to remind us what happens when we (the West) ignore such horrors.

In the film, we actually see little blood and murder on the screen. What we see instead is the result of it on peoples' lives- mourning the dead, wondering if they'll be next, wondering if they can survive another day or escape. Most horror movies today liberally splash as much blood and body parts around for shock value, totally ignorant of the fact that what we don't see can be as frightening (if not more) than what we do visably see.

And as good as Cheadle is in portraying a man who tries to keep order in the middle of chaos, he will probably not win an Oscar for his efforts. He deserves it and before anymore might think this is another case of Hollywood racism (see this excellent Alternet article on Black Hollywood), the fact of the matter is that the award will probably go to Jamie Foxx instead. Foxx did indeed do uncanny imitation of Brother Ray but Cheadle's performance was more difficult to pull off- it's much more nuanced and multi-dimensional. Foxx will be rewarded partly because audiences and Oscar voters can feel better about toasting a great American artist than re-opening the wounds of a far away tragedy. That isn't to disparage Foxx or Charles himself (one of my all-time favorite artists) but it's a shame that Cheadle and his movie won't get the props that they deserve and by association, more recognition for the horrible ongoing problem that the movie exposes.

Compare this to other films with a theme of heroism in the middle of a holocaust: Schindler's List (seven Oscars including best picture) and the Killing Fields (three Oscars). Other than Chealde and Okonedo, the film is also nomimted for best screenplay but again, it faces strong competition and may come away with no Oscars. As Nolte's U.N. commander notes, this might be because too many people in the West don't care enough about what happens in Africa but I'm willing to bet that it also has a lot to do with which PR firm and studio can provide the best publicity for their movies.

As for the regional conflict itself, ABC News reports that not only is the militia that caused the Rwanda killings regrouping in the Congo while the U.N. watches powerlessly (saying that they have no mandate to stop them) but the U.N. themselves there have been accused of everything from rape to pedophilia in the area. And still the people there will wonder how much they have to suffer before any helps them. And still, the real life Paul Rusesabagina (now living in Belgium) is understandably not prepared to return to his home in Rwanda.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Can art fornicate peacefully with mammon?

In one of those "did I just read that?" moments, I found an L.A. Times/San Francisco Chronicle article about the turmoil that a Rand Corporation study is causing about how to sell the idea of art funding to local and state governments: Arts funding study causes stir. The crux of the argument is this: should the idea of art funding be pushed from the idea that it helps to create jobs and money (which Richard Florida has been trying to push) or should the idea of funding art simply be tied to the idea that it's good for the public aesthetically. Reading over Florida's ideas, I'm pretty sold on his thoughts. It makes sense not just for artists, patrons, bohos, etc. who want to see this happen anyway but it's also very sensible in a very basic economic way. As of now, many arts organizations are also sold on the idea and trying to push for support based on Florida's work.

Arts groups are mad because it's being suggesting that we only need more of the arts in our lives to feed our soul and spirit, regardless of financial considerations. Wouldn't you think that they would embrace this idea instead of shun it? Art and commerce have tussled for centuries and a study like this basically says that there's no need for this fight.

Are these groups really suffering from so much tunnel vision that they don't see the problems with their approach? In an ideal world (which this one definitely ain't), there would be all the time and means for any artist to realize any project that they'd like. Obviously, this almost never happens because of money. If the Rand study is to be taken to heart, this would mean that the municipalities should just pony up funding because it's in the interest of every citizen to support something regardless of immediate monetary returns. Would that be so bad?

The only problem with this approach is that it's not realistic in this day and age and that's the problem that the arts groups have with the Rand study. In Canada and Europe, there's much more widespread support for a larger range of arts but in the States, NEA and PBS are frequently attacked by self-appointed cultural conservatives who look for a liberal agenda even in cartoons. Even though the NEA is looking to expand its work, part of what its pushing is Shakespeare plays. I have no beef against the Bard but shouldn't there be more of an emphasis on modern American art? Shouldn't someone like playwright August Wilson be just as worthy of government support? Canada actually supports some of its rock bands with funding. Honestly. I'm not holding my breath for that to happen in the U.S. but I just wanted to point out about how behind we are with supporting the arts.

The smartest strategy I would think would be to adopt the Rand suggestions along with the Florida model, which is what the art groups are suggesting themselves. That way, if you can't convince the elected officials to loosen the purse-strings one way, you also have another way to appeal to them. Maybe some of the arts groups are suspicious of the Rand model because they think that the politicians are a bunch of artistic morons or if they do have any interest, it's not with much of anything that came after the 1950's- if you're truly brave, check out Orrin Hatch's recording career or the Singing Senators. Listening to the droning talking heads (not the band) on the Sunday morning news programs, I don't doubt this and would go even further to say that most (not all) of our politicians will have little interest in these ideas unless the Florida model is shoved in their face, which is to say that they're thinking about dough. So go ahead and flash dollar signs in front of them but also appeal to their aesthetic sense too. Hell, some of them must have souls, right?

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The Media fights back against the FCC & Thompson addenda

It's pretty gratifying to see that some of the big media companies are finally going after the FCC to demand that they clarify their rules for 'indecency': Test of Decency Rules Likely. If they can get the courts to force the FCC to explain itself, maybe they won't have to live in a world of self-censorship, having to second guess themselves about what they might be fined for. Stay tuned.

Another note about Doc Thompson that I forgot about. There's one immortal quote from him that I would forward to every aspiring musician. I'd advise them to take it to heart and if it doesn't spook them too much, then they should persevere. "The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side."

Monday, February 21, 2005

Goodnight Doctor- Hunter S. Thompson's legacy

"It was hard to say sometimes whether he was being provocative for its own sake or if he was just being drunk and stoned and irresponsible. But every editor that I know, myself included, was... willing to risk all of his irresponsible behavior in order to share his talent with their readers."
- Paul Krassner of the Realist, quoted in an Associated Press story

What might be more amazing than the fact that Dr. Hunter S. Thompson killed himself is the fact that he was even around as long as he was. The guy was a tough old bird for sure, which makes both circumstances so puzzling. Other than Keith Richards, few other people have cheated death so long despite their on-the-edge lifestyle. No doubt that details will soon come out about the circumstances of his death but I'm inclined to agree with Sam Smith of Lullaby Pit for now: "Given the language and tone from the family, I'm just about willing to be that there's more to the story. I'd be not at all surprised to learn that he had something terminal eating him to death, and chose to go out on his own terms. We may never know for sure, but there is nothing in his history to suggest that he'd lay down and quit if there was the slightest hope."

In light of the many obituaries that we'll see from other literary figures and editors, I also wonder about Krassner's quote above. Most of the articles about Thompson will probably cover the same ground- he was a self-absorbed nut who nevertheless did wondrous things in print. Just as Susan Sontag had her detractors when she died recently, you can bet that Thompson will too. Though it might sound too weak-kneed to proclaim, I think his fans and detractors both have good points.

I first learned about Thompson in a New Journalism class I took in college. There were other writers who fell under this mantle but no one quite as colorful as Doc T. He definitely wasn't the first journalist to insert himself into his noirish narrative reports in articles but rarely was it done with such abandon. Sometimes, the original subject of the story became only a backdrop for his own story. Of course, such a bold move would be cheap egotism if it weren't for the fact that he made his life into an intriguing story. The 'gonzo' journalism that he pioneered effectively murdered off the silent non-paristan narrator and presented in its wake, manical brutally honestly, to-the-bone assessments and accusations. Unless anyone wants to peg him as a wide animal who learned how use a typewriter, Thompson was also enamored of classic American literature and in some ways, took what he wanted from other masters- the bluntness of Hemingway, the impish spirit of Twain, the wild flights of fancy of Faukner, the muckraking of Sinclair and so on.

In the end, Thompson's greatest story was his ongoing autobiography. A peer like Tom Wolfe would be known more for his distanced narrative stories than for his own life since he took almost the opposite approach, crawling into a character's brain and letting them tell their own tale. Likewise, an Oscar-nominated movie can easily be made about Jackson Pollock's life (full of manic alcoholic episodes, much like Thompson) while any studio would be hard pressed to finance a film about say, Mark Rothko who led a much more sedate existance. Which isn't to say that Thompson and Pollock were necessarily any better or worse at what they did than Wolfe or Rothko but to say that the added detail of a public rough-hewn life does add to recognition and sad to say, overall worth to many.

Going back to Thompson's work itself, it's easy to see why many people were intrigued by what he did. It would be one thing if he made up the narratives about his involvement in a story but even if some of it was hyperbole, the fact that he was able to recount it so well and such vivid, gory detail was something special indeed. But since he many times didn't cut a distance between his life and art, it was inevitable that it would have a toll on him, as it's done for many artists who've taken the same path before. Where he always carried around with him a righteous anger, his work in the last 20 years didn't have quite the fire and bile that his early, best-known work did even if he did still have great instincts for who the real enemies of the people were. Maybe it was because enough hacks had tried to pick up his mantle or maybe we were just used to his point of view by now or maybe it was because his self-immersed rancor is so prevalent in political debate nowadays. Maybe it was also painful for Thompson to watch cheap imitators try to mimic his best work- think of Dale Peck turning literary criticism into an empty contact sport or artist Chris Burden recently quitting his teaching position after a student tried to copy his gunfire-as-art idea.

A headline covering the Burden story can be just as applicable to Thompson's life/work: "Violent art can act as social commentary." At least that's how Thompson would have wanted it though it didn't always appear that way. I was never enamored of his most famous work, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and when Terry Gilliam turned it into a movie, it seemed like a high art version of Cheech and Chong. That isn't to take anything away from Gilliam or Johnny Depp playing Thompson in the movie but that's how it appeared. The bravest thing about Thompson's indulgences were his unashamed and unapologetic embrace of them, taking it to ultra-comic lengths. Only towards the end of the film did we hear any kind of worthwhile commentary and observations about the world around Thompson that he was trying to escape- not just Vegas but also the American war machine and the faltering counter-culture. Similarly, David Cronenberg (like Gilliam, another great director) mistakenly imagined William S. Burroughs' The Naked Lunch as a stylized, surreal monster movie, ignoring any kind of message beneath the surface. Burroughs also lived an on-the-edge overly-medicated lifestyle but like Thompson, there were many innate truths lurking behind the bizarre narratives for the perceptive reader to find. Almost none of that was evident the other film based on Thompson's life, Where the Buffalo Roam, starring Bill Murray, where again, the wild details of the Doctor's lifestyle were seen to be enough of a story in and of itself.

And what about Thompson's impact on the music world? Other than his association with Warren Zevon, his most noted connection were his Rolling Stone pieces. Even after he had long given up on writing there, his name still appeared in the masthead. This wasn't surprising as his own work was part of what originally made the magazine so unique. Like Krassner, RS publisher Jann Wenner surely knew that and likely put up with a lot to get stories, or not get stories sometimes. Thomspon's irreverent, reckless style surely connected with rock fans who found the freedom of his work reflecting the music they loved. This in itself wasn't unique as writers from Amiri Baraka to Langston Hughes to Ishmael Reed (note a pattern there?) were able to do something just as magical with their work.

And then there was another Rolling Stone writer named Lester Bangs. You've probably heard of him. He also led a rambunctious life and inserted himself into his stories. Though Doc T preceded him in terms of chronology, and I'd warrant influenced him, Bangs was in effect his contemporary at RS. While Thompson took up and trashed the campaign trail, Bangs did the same for the rock/pop world. Even though he's been canonized in book and film, one thing I come back to about Bangs' legacy (and which connects to Thompson) is a class that critic Jeff Solomon of the Austin Chronicle taught about music journalism. As part of the class, Solomon had the students study not only pop culture but also the people who had chronicled it, such as Bangs and Robert Christgau. When Solomon had the students write their own reviews, which writer did they most pattern themselves after? As it turns out, it wasn't Bangs. No matter how entertaining his work was, it seemed that it wasn't as easy to imitate and do it well. Unfortunately, we've seen that proven too many times.

And such is the case with Thompson. Imitated but not equaled? Maybe but it's more accurate to say that as with Bangs, many writers know that they don't have the goods to do so, even if they wanted. Also, it takes a lot of guts, egotism and insanity to live and chronicle an out-of-control lifestyle. The lifestyle part of it can and is being done by thousands of idiots but few of them have any interest in writing about it in a meaningful way, much less having any adventures or observations that are worth writing about. What Thompson (and Bangs) presented was an inspiring type of literary freedom. Most of us writers admire that in some way, even if we don't want to fully follow in their footsteps.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Excuse me, what's the proper context for "f*ck"?

The New York Times tell us "PBS Warns Stations of Risks From Profanity in War Film." Not surprising when you consider that the FCC has the most arbitrary of standards when it comes to imposing fines for their ever-shifting definition of 'obscenity.' Lawyers for PBS are not convinced that any foul language heard in the station's war documentaryA Company of Soldiers will be 'appropriate,' even considering the context- that is to say that they can't promise the affiliates that they won't be fined so PBS itself is asking them to sign a waiver if they want to air an uncensored version of the program. They cite FCC chair Michael Powell's cowardly after-the-fact vindication of ABC's airing of Saving Private Ryan: he told the stations AFTER they aired the special that they wouldn't be prosecuted for any obscenities in the movie. In other words, he left them to risk such a punishment beforehand, with them not knowing what the verdict would be later. Remember that Ryan aired on network television a few years ago with no complaints to the FCC but we live in a different hotly-contested overly moral atmosphere now.

So, will the PBS stations be safe with airing this other war film now? Maybe. There were still complaints about Ryan after it aired most recently but the FCC decided not to investigate. If there are enough complaints, regardless of the precedent, the FCC will figure that it might investigate this time with the PBS film. This is what happened with the Bono incident where at first, the FCC said that it wasn't a problem for him to say the word "fucking" during the Golden Globes awards and then when they got complaints, all of a sudden, it wasn't appropriate and they were ready to hand out fines.

I'm guessing that Saving Private Ryan was let off the hook permanently not because Powell, the FCC and the Parents Television Council (who have filed a majority of complaints to the FCC) thought there were artistic merits to Stephen Spielberg's film. Much more likely is that they didn't want to appear that they were coming out against soldiers. Most likely, some PBS affiliates will count on this to shield them when they run this documentary. I hope they're right but I wouldn't take any bets on this.

How easy is it to file a complaint with the FCC? If you go to their website to do this, you're greeted with the words: "Filing a Complaint with the FCC Is EASY." That's right- anyone can do it and that's why anyone has. Of course, whether they decide to act on it or not is another matter. If it's a perceived obscenity case, they'll waste no time. If it's thousands of people complaining about the FCC's policy of media consolidation, ol' Michael will have to table that one for now.

But back to the obscenity question and context... If Ryan and the PBS doc actually do become precedent, what will that mean for other arts? A drama teacher of mine explained to me that there are appropriate contexts for swearing. If a soldier has a body part blow off, they will be less likely to say "Oh, darn..." and more likely to say "MOTHERFUCKER!!!" I agree with that and I've used that as a guideline for writers that I've worked with. The question now is whether this will or can become standard policy with broadcasters. I'd say that's doubtful but let's follow along with this scenario- could this then be construed to be a precedent also for music, for example? If a radio station broadcasts a song with swearing in it, is there an appropriate context for it? Let's say it was a song about the soldier in our example- if it washes on TV, will it also be OK on the radio? If not, why is there a discrepancy?

Many labels side-step this question by offering 'clean' and 'explicit' versions with the former obviously targeted to the radio. Still, I'd love to see Powell and the FCC try to maneuver around such a problem as to distinguish what's permissible in a song. If movies can have proper context for curse words, why can't some songs? I don't expect the FCC to become philosophers about this and isn't because they claim to not impose an agenda onto the media and the public in general (which contradicts what they've been actually doing) but more likely because they don't have interest in addressing such a question- even Michael Copps, the Democrat FCC member who's insisted on public debates about media consolidation, is gung-ho about pushing for tougher standards to fight 'obscenity.' And sadly, by comparison, he's the closest that Commission has to a sane, responsible public servant.

Thankfully, print is not part of the FCC equation here when it comes to fines and regulations though there are other ways that this medium can be prosecuted (i.e. the recent Valerie Plume case). The assumption is that somehow, this objectionable material won't find its way into kids' hands because of parental supervision or some such thing. Also, it's likely that the print medium is so undervalued compared to others that there's little outcry against any perceived obscenity there (yet, I should say). In the way that it's considered so low on the whole media spectrum, that's not necessarily a good thing. However if it's the last refuge of a freer type of speech, we should cherish it as long as we can.

As for TV, Congress and Powell have both threatened that they may consider similar regulations for cable and satellite programming that they already are applying to network television. When it gets to the point that we all have to interact with and through the media on a grade school level, our only refuge otherwise will be to do what we used to do in class- secretly pass dirty notes around to each other.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Coldplay Vs. Sum 41

Sorry, no spiel or think piece this time. Just wanted to note a great mash-up of Coldplay and Sum 41. Never had much use for Sum until now. Also, I find it kind of interesting that this is one of the few non-dance bootleg remixes I've heard. Hope there's more out there or more to come.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Newsgroups dying? Why music fans should care

Gather around kids. Grandpa's gonna tell you about the early days of the Net, all ten, fifteen years ago it is already. Back then, we were still using computers but we didn't have such fancy graphics and multi-media little do-dads that you young'uns love. Nope, back in the early '90s when grunge was the next big thing, we were just a bunch of text-based geeks on the Net. Most companies (much less artists) didn't have webpages. Not even the Beastie Boys or Public Enemy, who each had some of the most far-reaching and visionary plans for their sites later on. Hell, even the major labels didn't get it.

Before the World Wide Web gobbled up all the interest about the Net, there were all these other neat little applications that let you get information and find other nut-jobs who had the same interests as you. They had all these cute names like Archie, WAIS (my personal fave), Finger, Gopher. You also had things like Telnet, Ping, IRC, BBS and FTP that are all still used by us geezers and the young techies.

And then there was Usenet aka newsgroups. You could think of the these as specialized discussion groups where everyone/anyone could and would post their two cents about a particular topic. Mailing lists serve a similar purpose except they come to you through your e-mail program while Usenet was something you accessed through a special program (a newsreader) or some kind of Web interface. You could find newsgroups about cars, dogs, outer space, Judaism, tennis, travel, alcoholism, fetishes, fashion, guns, etc. and then even more specific groups under each of those topics.

And of course, there were plenty of music newsgroups. Need to talk about art rock, death metal, hip hop, new age, 60's pop, flamenco, barber shop, chamber music, gospel, ragtime, Iranian music, soundtracks, Celtic music or jam bands? Want to share tips or advice with other people playing drums, french horn or bagpipes? No problem- there's a newsgroup to cover each one. You could have heated discussions, good conversations and find worthwhile information there. And of course inevitably a lot of spam too. It became such a problem that even if you posted a legitimate message there, you'd be greeting by dozens of pieces of spam in your e-mail inbox thanks to unscrupulous companies who trolled the newsgroups.

Maybe as a result of this, Slashdot now reports that a major provider is closing down its newsgroup services. As they point out in the article, newsgroups are something of a Net relic by now, not widely known or used. America Online also (maybe coincidentally) decided that they wouldn't provide their users with newsgroup access anymore. It might be just as well since their NG service was pretty bad to begin with but it still makes it harder for people to access these things. Luckily, Google has a decent newsgroup/web service that lets you read and post messages. Some of my faves are,,, (and there you see my proclivities on display). Don't worry though if you're wondering about your favorite music- do a search at Google groups and you'll find your own faves. Unfortunately, you will find spam there too but how is that different from a lot of your other online experiences?

Sure, mailing lists take up a lot of slack for discussions, musical and otherwise. But when any way to keep communication open and foster it is in danger of disappearing online, I think we all lose out in some way. That's why I'd like to urge you to check out some newsgroups, find kindred spirits, share your thoughts, ideas and observations there. Hell, like they used to say on Fat Albert, you might even learn something!

OK, Grandpa has to get back to his sitz bath. Next time, I'll tell you about how the Web won't be the dominant online medium in five to ten years and how to find a good pair of shoe supports when your arches are falling...

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Clinton and Bush Sr. face the music

Praise be to the Independent Film Channel (IFC) for recirculating a lot of great indie classics such as this.

One year after Bill Clinton won the 1992 presidential election, Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker (who also did Don't Look Back, Ziggy Stardust and Monterey Pop) came out with The War Room, a behind-the-scenes look at the Clinton campaign, focusing on his strategists. You couldn't find more diverse styles than James Carville (the Ragin' Cajun) and George Stephanopoulos (the demur boy, future White House spokesman and ABC News host). Though I'm a political junkie and note that the Democrats can definitely learn useful lessons for the '06 and '08 elections, I'm a music junkie too and note some poignant musical moments there also.

- After H. Ross Perot's concession speech, the music that he and his wife dance to is Patsy Cline's "Crazy." Carville and crew of course find this hilarious as they watch it on TV with Carville calling Perot's $60 million campaign "the biggest case of public masturbation in American history."

- After a TV interview, Republican consultant Mary Matlin shakin' it and singing (actually pretty well) "Hey Good Lookin'." Presumably, this was aimed at her love and rival Carville.

- Grateful Dead music blaring at one of Clinton's final campaign stops. Presumably, they DID inhale and the association had to be a sly joke on the pot controversy.

- Jerry Lee Lewis fan Jason D. Williams belting out a song at a rally (his bio says that he later played at the White House too), firming up Clinton's rock and roll connections.

And of course there's the Arsenio Hall performance where Clinton donned shades and belted out "Heartbreak Hotel" in another brilliant sop to the boomers. The performance itself wasn't very good but for cultural significance, it was defining. Once again, style overpowers substance.

And then there's Clinton's Democratic Convention appearance. In his 4500 word acceptance speech, these are the words, almost at the end, that you remember: "I still believe in a place called Hope," he says figuratively and literally (referring to his home town). And then the convention hall fills with gentle piano tones and a caressing string synthesizer as Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop" begins. You couldn't ask for a better piece of political theatre. Even watching it today, it's very moving.

Who cares that Christine McVie almost certainly had no intention that it was a political song? Its context was wrapped in up the brutal emotional outpourings over perfect pop music that made up the Rumors album. But as you know, context is always up for grabs once a song is out in the market.

Not long after the Democratic Convention, Bush Sr. decided to take some cheeky shots at Clinton, playing the music card. Harping on his many stances on the political issues, Bush quipped that he (Clinton) was all over the place and there was more sightings of him than Elvis. Of course, the connection between the King and Gov. Bubba was already cementing in his favor and Poppa Bush was probably unknowingly playing into that. Bush I went on to say that after the November election, Clinton's theme song would be Buck Owen's "Crying Time." You have to wonder if Bush himself wasn't hearing that when HE lost that November.

When Clinton appeared at the Govenor's mansion in Arkansas to deliver his victory speech, the proceedings did in fact end with a song. It was the same Fleetwood Mac tune heard at the convention months earlier.

Loose ends- Electric Six, More Grammy Fun, Classical Music as pesticide

ELECTRIC SIX: At first, I couldn't get a handle on these guys. The music sounded good but the vocals/lyrics are just too freaking annoying. After seeing them live, I realized that they're a glam/disco version of Spinal Tap, only not as funny but as such, much easier to take. If you don't believe me, listen to their new record (out now only in the UK).

GRAMMY AWARDS ARE THE BOMB: Literally. The ratings were the lowest in years. 'Guilty pleasure' hit Desperate Housewives beat it out, reminding me of years ago when an episode of Friends trounced the Beatles Anthology special in ratings and making people make silly predictions like 'sitcoms are the new rock and roll' (mind you, this was years before sitcoms got nuked by reality TV).

Needless to say, there was no shortage of post-mortems about why they failed. Grammy Awards Get Lowest Rating Since '95 screamed a Yahoo/AP headline, coincidentally the same year that Friends beat the Beatles. The 'problems' were that a dead guy won too many awards (Ray Charles) and there wasn't enough controversy (you know, no Michael Jackson duet with R. Kelly). For Ray, unless someone knew the winners beforehand, they wouldn't have known already that he'd win that night. For the non-wardrobe-malfunction evening, I actually give NARAS credit for not zooming to the lowest common denominator: not that they'd have much choice in that any perceivable slip could get them a hefty FCC fine. It was messy, overlong evening but they did try to pull out many stops and if their worst sin is that they honored Ray and didn't parade strippers around, I say that's good for them and ratings be damned (never said I was an entrepreneur).

NARAS is definitely in a sticky situation. What are they going to try next time to recoup? The young'uns did tune in but if they're willing to give up a few ounces of hip quotient, NARAS might consider some grayer entertainment to rope in everyone else. I admit that this wouldn't thrill me next time but since when are editors/bloggers desirable demographics?

CLASSICAL MUSIC AS DDT: Interesting article in the L.A. Times: Halt, or I'll play Vivaldi, noting that the classics are now being used to clear out hoodlums from public areas. Of course, since this is classical music, it can't be considered noise pollution, right? Also, imposing the white man's burden of educating savages (note heavy sarcasm here) is kind of counter-productive, as the article notes. If the sound systems are actually scaring aware undesirables, is it really good to turn off people from classical music and reinforce bad stereotypes about it? I wonder how happy composers and musicians are to hear about this. Even if you're willing to accept the limited statistics on this being effective (I don't), who are we defining as 'undesirables' here? Does that mean that if you're not a criminal but you don't dig classical music, you're out of luck if you're around these public places? I'm not quite ready to pull out a race card on this but this does stink of some sort of slimy elitism. Should we blast death metal to break up a debutante ball gone bad? Should Celine Dion be used against out-of-control frat parties?

If we've learned anything about the rash of staph infections sweeping through major U.S. cities, isn't it that if we overuse certain cures, the viruses will develop into super-resistant strains that will be harder to fight. Won't we then be breeding a group of classical-resistant super crooks that we can't control then if we keeping using music to thwart them? I shudder to think of the consequences...

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Unformed brains explains musical deaths?

Interesting article article from ABC News: Teen Brain Blamed for Reckless Driving

That would certainly explain many a dumb, dangerous thing that I did in my teen days (and I'm sure you all did a few too, right?). I also wonder if that explains a number of pop music casaulties that happen at tender, young ages. Think of Kurt Cobain, Tupac, Biggie Smalls, Janis Joplin, Duane Allman, Sid Vicious, Brad Nowell (Sublime), Bobby Fuller and Johnny Ace. Maybe also include Jimi Hendrix, Gram Parsons, Brian Jones, Jim Morrison depending on how you think they really expired. Mind you, I'm only talking about 20-something's here.

It's no secret that young-un's are thrill seekers but now maybe we see part of the reason why. When you're given the trappings of fame, the temptation to live on the edge and experience everything to the fullest obviously has a cost sometimes.

Maybe scientists are already thinking about how to modify our genes so we don't have this 'problem' when we're young. And then what'll happen to our heroes? Sure, it'll be nice to have them around longer. Can't we admit though that part of the reason we adore them is because they live on the edge and we live vicariously through them in some way?

Monday, February 14, 2005

The Grammy Awards- NARAS, my ass

I don't really have a problem with the Grammy Awards so much as the people behind them. To their credit, NARAS has turned around the ceremony from a joke (Jethro Tull as best metal band, Milli Vanilli's award) to something respectable in the pop world. Also, unless it's hidden it very well, you don't see any of the slimy campaigning to smear competitors like you do with the Oscars- i.e. A Beautiful Mind (accusations of anti-semitism against the real life protagonist) and Million Dollar Baby (euthanasia debate). But three and a half hours is too long for any show and there were inevitable dull spots.

Among the dozens of entertainment award shows out there now, the Grammy Awards does draw in some of the biggest stars in the industry and the winning artists find that they do get a sales boost. Also, unless I miss my guess, Queen Latifah was the first rapper to host the show- if she wasn't the first black woman to host the show, surely the list can't be that long either and it's about time.

Some of my favorite moments:

- Ellen DeGeneres' Iggy Pop T-shirt. If Madonna can get down with the Stooges, why not her?

- Lifetime Achievement Awards for Pinetop Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Art Blakey, Eddy Arnold, the Carter Family, Jelly Roll Morton and that English band that sang "Stairway To Heaven" (too bad Plant was on tour and couldn't join his mates). Ahmet Ertegen got a new award that even presenter Rob Thomas had trouble spitting out the name of. And in a truly surreal moment, Hoobastank gave it up for compser Morton Gould.

- The Southern Rock Jam with Skynyrd (representing Red America) and Tim McGraw (represeting Blue America), Elvin Bishop and Dickie Betts without the band that tossed him out. Oh yeah, Gretchen Wilson and Keith Urban were there too.

- Jaime Foxx, Alicia Keys and Quincy Jones paying tribute to Brother Ray. I admit that when the word "Georgia.." came out of Foxx's mouth, I was tearing up even more so than when Bonnie Raitt and Norah Jones paid him tribute later though producer Phil Ramone's acceptance speech for Album of the Year came close. Foxx himself will be a recording artist in his own right one day, rest assured. And as much as a surprise as it was that Ray Charles trumped favorites Usher and Kanye West for awards, I still have to wonder how much of it was paying tribute to his passing as opposed to his music.

- Bono giving a choked up, sometime unintelligible tribute to his dad, the Edge saying hi to his daugher and Larry Mullen Jr. apologizing to their fans.

- During Green Day's acceptance for Best Rock album, Billy Joe saying "rock and roll can be dangerous and fun at the same time." Very naive but a very sweet thought nevertheless.

- Kanye West's choked up, carpe diem speech after winning for Best Rap Album, going from a whisper to a scream, grateful to proud. Too bad he didn't jam together with the Blind Boys of Alabama in the gospel segment though they each sounded fine there.

- The auctions and I-Tunes Grammy nominee album with money going to the Music Cares Foundation.

- Loretta Lynn winning (I lost it again, I admit it) and Jack White reminding everyone that country radio wouldn't play her latest album.

- The tsunami benefit choir was definitely not a great musical moment but in terms of theatrics and symbolism, it was pretty moving, especially when Stevie broke into a harmonica solo. Also great to see him break into "Isn't She Lovely" later and try to read a winning envelope. But back to the choir, is anyone really going to want to download that for their I-Pod? (I'd advise making a donation instead) And why did they think Velvet Revolver would be the ideal backing band for this?

- Trustee awards to Hoagy Carmichael, Alfred Lion (Blue Note records), Billy Taylor and Soul Train's Don Cornelius (who was present).

- Lightning fast tributes to artists who died in '04 included Rick James (who got singled out for applause), DJ Scott Muni, Artie Shaw, Traffic's Jim Capaldi, Johnny Ramone, Ol' Dirty Bastard, Skeeter Davis and producer Terry Melcher among others.

Lowpoints included the messy opener (I like Black Eyed Peas but how many times can they use them?), the way that the Trustee and Lifetime people weren't brought up on stage to speak, the small-type announcements flashed at the bottom of the screen for the pre-ceremony awards, the endless "ONLY ON THE GRAMMY'S" annoucements (OK, we get the idea), the endless movie tie-in's with a parade of awkward screen stars, the sub-Vegas stage sets for some of the songs and the Janis Joplin tribute without Big Brother (they're not only still around but also touring right now!) even though Melissa Etheridge rocked hard with her Sinead hair-do (she was reluctant to appear at first since she's going through chemotherapy for breast cancer).

Unless your squinted to see the parade of non-televised winners flashed on the bottom of the screen, you might not have known that Britney Spears, Bruce Springsteen, Motorhead, Wilco, the Dixie Chicks, Bill Frisell, Randy Travis, Keb Mo, Etta James, Steve Earle, Toots and the Maytals, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Bill Clinton (yep, the former prez), John Stewart (the Daily Show), Zach Braff and John Adams all won among others. You don't think NARAS shouldn't have squeezed a few of them into the show? Some of them were actually there. And shouldn't it have been notable that an online only album took a Grammy?

I was also really disappointed to see no classical, jazz or blues musicians up there, unless I blinked. Previously, they'd at least trot out one of each just to remind people that the Grammy Awards celebrate music other than pop/rock/R&B/rap. Granted that NARAS is an American concern but isn't music supposed to be international? Again, I might have missed it but who was there outside of the States? I mean besides Franz Ferdinand.

And oh yes, there's the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences who put together the show. Usually, we have to sit through ponderous speeches from each figurehead over the last few years who tell us about the evils of illegal downloading. And there was the sneaky plugging of their What's the Download campaign, part of their education program. But no direct mention of their lawsuits. Strange, eh?

I actually received an unsolicited application from NARAS for membership a few years ago. Other than the fee, I wondered what it would really mean to be part of the organization. Membership doesn't mean that you get to vote for any Grammy category. What happens is that you pay the fee and fill out an application, THEN they decide if you're worthy to vote. Neat, huh?

Then they helped me make up my mind. Once their buddies at the RIAA (sorry if I can't separate the two in my mind) started flooding the courtrooms with lawsuits against downloaders, there was no question any more what they all were about. And on and on it went. My money supporting these lawsuits? Like hell. If they could assure me that my membership would go to Music Cares and not a penny to the lawyers, maybe it would be worth it but I'm not hopeful that they'd consider that- NARAS isn't directly behind the lawsuits true but don't try to tell me that that they're not in cahoots with the RIAA on this. They all must know this is a losing battle and they can only try to squeeze a few thousand dollars each from a tiny percentage of users. The money won't pay the lawyer bills and that's not the point- the point is trying to scare the rest of the fans so that they won't want to get dragged into court.

On Grammy night, RIAA prez Neil Portnow started out praising the tsunami relief efforts and MusicCares program but then he had to remind everyone how the organization was fighting for artists' intellectual rights (even though they don't get a penny of the settlements) and the upcoming Supreme Court case again some of the P2p services (i.e. Kazaa)- you went two out of three there, Neil and we can't say that we didn't see it coming.

Since Neil and co. aren't far sighted enough, it took other organizations to step in to find more realistic solutions to the problem of 'fair use' of music. Creative Commons and their notion of flexible music licensing will hopefully become the wave of the future and build a bridge between the music industry and the fans without the use of courtrooms. Even former RIAA head, the enfuriating apologist Hilary Rosen has expressed support of CC. It's a shame that the RIAA itself today doesn't embrace CC and try to promote the idea with record companies and artists. If they had enough brains and guts to do so, I might even reconsider my membership. NARAS, my check may be in the mail then and I might even respect you in the morning.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Pazz and Jip?

Right off the bat, I have to say that Robert Christgau and Chuck Eddy are two of the best editors that I've ever written for- I owe each of them A LOT, not just in terms of giving me a break but also helping me become a better writer (despite all of the grammar, punctuation and spelling mistakes you'll find in my blog). Having said that, I do have a particular beef about the Village Voice's Annual Pazz and Jop poll that they organize and execute. I don't mind the horse race quality of it- it's actually kind of a fun parlor game to see who wins, places and shows or even finishes. The problem that I do have is with some of the elitism that's applied to the poll.

I do like the fact that they get more and more online people involved in the process, even if it's mostly Pitchfork people, who supposedly the Voice music section is being pressured to emulate. But some of the P&J regulations and restrictions are ridiculous. One that isn't concerns how much you can vote for your own records, something that the Ego Trip people exploited badly a few years ago.

One P&J rule is that reissues don't get their own category. This wasn't always true. The reasoning for this is that "people vote for them for the wrong reason." If that's true, then you might as well eliminate the albums and singles category as that obviously happens there all the time too. What this means ultimately is that readers (and other writers) don't get to find out about great reissues because each P&J voter has to squeeze any of their favorites there into their album ballot. Just to indemnify myself, I've worked on several reissue projects (Kleenex, Essential Logic, Oh OK, DNA and more coming). Aside from that, I learn from the reissue picks that writers used to include. Now that it's no more, we all lose out. Another thing that happens is that they don't get the serious attention that they should in an important poll like this. What kind of effect would that have on future reissues?

The same problem happens with singles. It used to be that you could vote for an A-side and B-side together in the singles category but that's no more. It's a shame because for an artist, these things quite obviously go together- I mean, they were put out together for a reason, right? Again, you have to vote separately for them, thus losing a space where you can tell the readers/writers about another song. Noting the voting patterns at P&J, it seems that not a lot of writers don't even bother to vote for any single at all. Not a good sign and you have to wonder what's gonna happen with that in the future.

For that matter, what's going to happen to the album category if the pundits are right and the format is deceased? I wouldn't worry too much about that scenario though- we humans like information somewhat organized into containers like the album or CD format. Otherwise, what are writers going to vote for in year-end polls? Their hard drive? Doubtful but... they could nominate their own homemade mixtapes CD's. I'm sure editors wouldn't dig that but it would be a lot more realistic as to what's happening more and more.

Another beef is the name of the poll itself. There's the obvious use of the words "jazz" and "pop." Pop is certainly represented but jazz definitely isn't (except for the occasional crossover artist). Shouldn't it be? The feeling from the top is that P/J isn't really a jazz poll so that jazz journalists are not included in this. Needless to say, some jazz writers take issue with this. They wonder "don't we matter?" and "doesn't the music that we cover and love matter?" This has been opposed and challenged with no luck so far by The Jazz Journalists Association (which I used to be a member of).

For Pazz & Jop, one thing that all writers find frustrating is that the comments they send in don't get used. Honestly, all of us critics like to feel like we're part of a community so we like to vote in P&J and we have a certain sense of pride when our comments make the cut too- two of mine did this time and honestly, I felt really good and grateful about that. In fairness, it would be impossible to use all of the comments that are sent in but it's understandable that writers feel bad that their bon mots disappear, never to be read or seen otherwise. Some of them probably aren't worth printing but you can bet a lot of them are worth seeing and would add to the store of human wisdom.

That goes double and triple for essays sent in- only two or three are used for each P&J each year. Knowing that, and having to potentially compete with 100's of other writers for the spot, is it worth writing a zeitgeist piece that's likely not to be used and thus not seen otherwise? All that time you would pour into would add up to what then? Again, I'm sympathetic to Christgau and Eddy because there's obviously not enough space to include even close to all of the essays sent in. But again, I worry that a lot of thoughtful essays will disappear into the void otherwise.

Since I'm obviously just speaking for myself here, I'm somewhat vainly including some of my own words of wisdom below that didn't make the cut but that I think are worth sharing with the online world. I would encourage any other P&J voters out there to do the same and not let your unused comments that you're proud of disappear into the void.

- Quote of the year, from Congressman Barney Franks: "I think a large part of the public likes the conservatives' theme music. Now they will be tested on whether they like the lyrics."-- Barney Frank, Brookline TAB, Nov. 4th, 2004.

- Lazyboy's "Underwear Goes Inside the Pants" isn't a rap (there's no rhythm to it) but a comedy monologue of edgy observational humor worthy of George Carlin or Bill Hicks. Marijuana laws, diet pills, the value of strip-clubs and online porn, stupid terrorists, an epidemic of pork chops and fast food, minimum wage blues, not getting a job because of poor hygiene. Like him or hate him if you will but his finger's closer to the American pulse than any late-nite talk show monologue.

- No need to worry about online radio wiping out the old stations and making the Billboard charts obsolete: the Live365 and RadioWave charts which monitor streaming services have the same hits on them. Nice to see that we can't escape the same consensus online or offline.

- Speaking as a fan, I'm genuinely glad and relieved that Beasties, PJ, U2 (and SY) didn't make great albums this year. It should be a relief for them that they don't have to make masterpieces all the time, sobering relief for fans who don't have to unconditionally love everything they do

- Some in the know are predicting that the thing that will kill off the I-Pod isn't some competing MP3 toy but instead the phone, once it gets it broadband on. Can't wait to see what then replaces the phone.

- Handsome Boy Modeling School (along with Outkast) prove that radio isn't dead- free-form formats live on albums now so who needs a DJ anymore?

So when all is said and done, will I continue to support this poll? Yes. I think (and hope) that we all can disagree about certain things. I don't agree with everything about P&J or some of the writers who participate there and what they say but that's no reason to abandon all of it. P&J is about trying taking a pulse of the world of music journalism and to some extent, it succeeds. Some will complain that the winners are all pre-ordained but a consensus will inevitably always come out of such an undertaking. Winnie Churchill once said that democracy is the worst political system out there, except for all the other ones. Some would tell you that P&J might be the worst poll out there but how is it any worse than any other music poll out there?

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Michael Jackson and the media both on trial

Whenever I think of Michael Jackson, I always go back to a skit from In Living Color (when it was still a good show). Tommy Davidson plays Jackson in the "Black or White" video. He jumps up on a car, pulls his crotch and then starts smashing the windows with a crowbar, imitating what actually happens in the real video. A cop comes by and says "OK pal, why don't you come down here?" Jackson comes off the car and says: "Officer, can you tell me whether I'm black or white?" The cop says "I don't what you are but I do know that you're under arrest" as he handcuffs him. The Jackson character is obviously upset by this and delivers the punch line as he's taken away: "Well, I guess I AM black..."

Granted that by the 90's, Jackson was an easy target and he's even more so now. But even though you'll get your fill of pokes at him on many channels and publications, rest assured that they won't be as poignant or meaningful as that skirt.

That's because a media feeding frenzy is approaching over his court case. When one spectacular trial ends (Scott Peterson or JonBenet Ramsey), there's always another one to take its place. Robert Blake will be overshadowed for his day in court and he should be grateful for that. Ditto Phil Spector. The Tyson and Enron trials which added up to billions of dollars in fraud and thousands of jobs? A mere piffle. They can't match up to the King of Pop in terms of media interest.

It goes back to OJ Simpson and the media-constructed 'trial of the century,' especially with having the cameras rolling during the proceeding. Even the prosecutors who lost the case became news stars. This was built up to real-life celebrity drama that no mini-series could match. It became a mini-series itself obviously.

With Jacko, he already has a well-documented eccentric history and unbeatable name-recognition so they're ready to milk this for all it's worth. There are undoubtedly books and TV movies based upon this already in negotiation. Any kind of pertinent issue brought up by the case will be lost in the spectacle. The judicial system itself and having a fair day in court? The problem of child molestation? The price of celebrity? They're all laughable asides that will be quickly brushed by. What will be the focus of the trial is the horse race of which side won each day and which juicy tidbit comes up during the course of the trial. Is it too much of a stretch to say that an already-damaged journalistic trade will also be on trial, seeing how they respond? Unfortunately, they'll go for the lowest common-denominator and deliver tabloid trash at its worst. Any real news about the Middle East or the on-going battle of the United States budget will get buried and that's definitely good news for the Bush administration.

And oh yes, isn't Jackson a musician too? Sometimes. As far as I'm concerned, I haven't heard anything extraordinary from 'the king of pop' since Thriller or Off the Wall (which are both justifiably classic albums). He obviously doesn't do himself many favors, does he? Between the many faces of Jacko, oxygen tents and Elephant Man worship, he's an eccentric guy to say the least. Though it was obviously music that got him to be a celebrity in the first place, it's all the freaky details that makes him a media favorite. "What new bizarre detail of his life can we reveal now?" editors around the world wonder each day. And so they constantly exploit him, making his life worse and hoping that he'll still be a punching bag who'll come back into the spotlight long enough to get knocked around again. His only real hope would be to hide out and stay out of the spotlight but as a celebrity who wants attention (good attention actually), he has little choice, even though he must know that he fights an uphill battle by now.

At this point, it doesn't matter what the verdict of the trial will be. In the eyes of the media and the court of public opinion, he's already guilty. The real winner, again no matter what the outcome, will be all the networks and publications that have reporters staked out around the court to deliver the story and good ratings. It's only going to get better for them and worse for Jackson as the prosecutors pull in people like former teen heartrob Corey Feldman to testify against him and then who knows? They might try to get Brooke Shields or Liz Taylor on the stand too for some high profile star power. Knowing that, how would you not feel bad for the guy in some way?

Well, maybe not. There's two sides to a story and there's still the matter of the original complaint against Jackson. If there is any basis to the molestation charge, what's going to happen to the kid who pointed the finger? Other than the inevitable raking over by the lawyers and the media, the best they can hold for is probably a settlement and then trying to get on with their lives. And then who will care about them? They provided good story fodder but then it's on to the next trial of the century- child abuse isn't a story that sells or interests major media unless they have an angle with a big star. Again, the big winner will be the media covering this. That's unless people start to tell them how sick they are of this or stop watching and reading about their coverage. Call me a dopey optimist but it could happen...

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Ward Churchill and KRS-One- 9-11 is no joke

When I heard about University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill's controversial comments about September 11th victims, the first thing that came to mind was KRS-One. Last fall, he participated in a New Yorker panel with Henry Rollins and Nirvana's Krist Novoselic about politics and music. Rollins talked about visiting troops in the Middle East and Novoselic was in full politico mode, saying "I can't WAIT to vote for John Kerry!" (kind of sad to think now). KRS had some interesting insights about the rap community and then claimed that some of them cheered when 9-11 happened and thought that justice had been served. He did in fact say that- I was there and I heard it. I was in disbelief. Surely, he would qualify his comments. He didn't there though. When it came to question and answer time, almost no one would call him on it, maybe afraid of attacking a respected member of the hip hop community. I was disappointed that moderator Sasha Frere-Jones didn't call him on it either.

And I was disappointed with myself for not calling KRS on it either then and there, probably for the same reasons above. He seemed to be saying that he was speaking for his community but I wondered about that. I flashed on Dr. Dre saying how he cut a check for a million dollars for the Trade Center fund. There was also the Coup who eerily released Party Music on September 11th with a cover of them destroying the towers. Needless to say, the record company changed the cover and the group disavowed that they had any solidarity with what happened that day. Their intent was not to cheer the murder of people there but the destruction of the institution that the Towers represented. Al Qaida didn't just want to destroy the institution figuratively but also literally and take 1000's of lives with them.

I wanted to believe that KRS was down with the Coup. Surely, he couldn't be down with Osama? Of course not but he didn't do himself any favors by throwing out a controversial statement and not explaining himself fully. By the time that he did explain himself in an article, he was already reviled in the press for appearing to be a terrorist sympathizer. During the panel, he also got into a spirited argument with Novoselic about the futility of voting (KRS was against voting) but obviously such a debate isn't going to interest any tabloid.

And then there was Churchill's recent comment were he likened the September 11th victims to Adolf Eichmann. Obviously, there had to be more to this than meets the eye and there is. Like KRS, he didn't explain himself well and the press had a field day flaying him for this. Think about his comparison. Of course, if he had used Stalin or Pol Pot in a comparison, he'd barely raise an eyebrow but when you bring up the Nazis, look out- which is to say that they were all horrendous murderers but for some reason, we only truly revile the Third Reich (who murdered a lot of my family during WWII). Also, Churchilll didn't name Goebbels or Himmler or Rommel or even the Furher but instead Eichmann. Why? Eichmann was the one who implemented the Nazi's 'final solution' which meant the extermination of six million people. So, by association, the people killed in the 9-11 attacks were thus planning the extermination of an entire race?

According to part of the logic of Coup/KRS, the occupants of the Trade Center were indeed spreading poison worldwide. Were they actually ordering the killing of people? No, obviously not.

If you want to make the leap that the policies of multi-national corporations that they work for were involved in international genocide, you're ignorant of the way these companies work. There's not enough room or time for a full critique of capitalism's international agenda but the bottom line is that business is business. Sometimes this does lead to horrible events that kill people (like the Bhopal disaster) but I don't see that as the intention, as opposed to the Nazis who actively pursued a program of mass extermination. Things like that are simply bad for business, which sounds callous but it's true- that's how they work. This doesn't mean these companies are benevolent but that too many times, they ignorantly or arrogantly ignore some of the consequences of their actions. To say that all of their employees then have blood on their hands and must be punished is too much of a goddamn stretch for me, especially when you think about who deems themselves worthy to decide this and carry out judgment. Don't fool yourself- if you want to take things to their logical conclusion, does Churchill think that the U of Colorado or any other organization he represents is totally 'innocent'? You could take this to ridiculous lengths and ultimately point the finger at all of us. But that's ridiculous and I don't buy it. I don't buy that multi-national companies shouldn't be held accountable for misdeeds but mass murder and terrorism isn't the solution. I'll make no bones about this- I denounce violence, period.

Churchill and KRS are ultimately saying that 9-11 is an example of what happens to America and its corporations as a result of abusive power, arrogance and such. Even if you're willing to go along with that argument, does that necessarily make the actions of terrorists noble? I don't believe that it does. If you take a look at Israel and Palestine for example, you see exactly what happens with an endless cycle of attacks and retaliation. What you see there is that an old saying holds true- an eye for an eye leaves us all blind. In this particular example again, you see now that both sides are only now again having any hope at stabilizing their worlds because both sides are ready and willing to talk sensibly about peace.

Though Churchill's been acting pretty defiantly as of late, when he was speaking of his initial reaction, he admitted that "it's not completely reasoned and thought through." Indeed.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Hold that Tiger- M.I.A. as musical terrorist

Much has already been made over up-and-coming dancehall singer M.I.A. even before she's had anything more than a single officially released. The mixtape Piracy Funds Terrorism has already become an underground legend and her debut album Arular leaked out enough so that people were able to chant along with her new songs during recent gigs.

All of this would be noteworthy alone for coverage of the newest hot young star but there's more to the title of her mixtape than many fans think- most fans know about her connections to Elastica and Peaches but not about her family per se. Maya Arulpragasam originally hails from Sri Lanka, where her father was a member of the rebel group Tamil Tigers, fighting the government there and infamous for recruiting children for their cause. When the rest of her family fled to London, Maya didn't disavow her background, instead using it to fuel her own art. Though schoolmates would ridicule her strange tongue, Maya was smart enough to exploit her uniqueness to land a place in art school and eventually the music industry.

By now, most people know her bouncy single from last year "Galang" but so far, there's little talk of her political side. That's probably because her album isn't out yet but expect that to change once it's released. In a Club LK interview, she makes no bones about her politics, attacking American foreign policy, giving a shout-out to the PLO and defending the Tigers' actions.

The Sri Lanka conflict is still pretty obscure here in the West but I don't doubt that when her album comes out, various wing nuts will brand her some kind of terrorist and demand a boycott. Of course, such a thing may just boost her sales since it'll paint her as being "dangerous" and give her extra hip cache. As far as she's concerned, I'm sure she'll be gratified that she's helping to get some attention for the Tigers and I don't doubt that she's sincere in her support of them and other similar groups.

What will be most fascinating will be to see if the deafening buzz that's surrounded her single and mixtape will lead to bigger commercial success even with her edgy political views. It didn't hurt Rage Against the Machine or Billy Bragg or (probably) Steve Earle but the rock, folk and country fields aren't the same as the dance realm. Hip-hop and reggae have had long histories of politicos so it's not much of a stretch to find social commentary there but M.I.A. isn't wholy in those worlds. Larger publications will undoubtedly feel compelled to chronicle her and even if they don't do their homework about her background, she'll no doubt bring it up: in an interview with the Independent last year, she likened mixtapes to guerilla action, which I'm sure warms the hearts of the RIAA. Even with the hype, she's still a cult figure at the moment and it will be interesting to see if she can get past that level despite of or thanks in part to her politics.

I have to say that I'm not entirely comfortable with what I've read about the Tigers' tactics so far (see this BBC report), no matter how admirable their cause might be. If you want to see their side of the story, the Tigers themselves have their own website. To be honest, I'm up in the air as to how I feel about M.I.A.'s art in relation to this though I like to think I can sometimes separate politics from music (i.e. Richard Wagner, Guns N' Roses). I hope to give her album a fair hearing in more ways than one.

Single Babies Makin' Babies- Fantasia Barrino's message

God help me, if I had to chose between the mindless, hateful bantering on Fox News or the diva-wanna-be's on Fox's American Idol, I'd probably go with O'Reily and friends- at least there's some real entertainment value there. The bits of Clay and Reuben that I've caught on the radio were pretty painful and didn't make me want to join the millions who do love Idol though I admit it was hilarious when Simon Cowell actually chided his audience for voting for the 'wrong' contestant last season. Nevertheless, it does continue to be a cultural phenom so that even if you hate it (like me), it still can't be totally ignored unless you want to turn a tin ear to all pop culture.

Still, I was amazed that someone like Fantasia Barrino made it through the process. I don't know if I'd call myself a fan but her album from last November, Free Yourself, has some pretty enjoyable R&B on it. But now some two months later, one particular track has gotten good and bad attention. Reports are that "Baby Mama" has gotten some criticism because it's seen by some to promote single motherhood and teen pregnancy. In the stories that I researched on this, I couldn't find one source that actually named anyone in particular who was complaining, which usually leads me to believe that the artists and their record company are playing something up for publicity. But in a world where SpongeBob and TV rabbits on PBS are seen by conservative watchdog groups to promote (gasp!) tolerance toward homosexuality, I can't entirely doubt that there are indeed detractors out there.

To Barrino's credit, she's unrepentant about the song. She had a child at age 17 and now takes her daughter along as she tours, which is really admirable. She does admit that she wished that she would have waited to have a kid, explaining "I didn't say it was acceptable - it just is." That quote comes from the same (highly recommended) Myrtle Beach Online article which notes that the problem Barrino faces obviously isn't unique among other black women. Want to guess what percentage of black children are born without two parents? Seventy percent. Unbelievable. Truly a mind-boggling crisis, well-documented by Luther Keith in the Detroit News two years ago.

But it gets worse when you look at a larger picture. According to the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services: "Nearly 500,000 teen births occurred in 2000. About 80% of these teen births are non-marital; thus, about 400,000 non-marital births are to teens."

The usual conservative prescription to this problem is abstinence but that's ignorant and unrealistic today. Being open and honest with teens (and let's face it, grade schoolers too) is the only way to really address a horrible problem like this. I don't have the space or authority to fully address prescriptions about this but hopefully that's a start.

And who else confronts these issues in pop? Not many. It's a little too controversial, too personal to cover. Another recent song that came out about this was country singer Kelly Lang's "Single Mother" (Destiny Row records), which became a theme for The National Organization of Single Mothers. Hopefully, Lang's and Barrino's tunes will reach enough people to get them thinking about this.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Paulie cleans and flushes the Superbowl

One year after Janet Jackson's right breast sent the conservative world into a tizzy, the NFL is presenting former Beatle Paul McCartney as the face of their half-time show. In terms of cleaning up the image of the great American past-time, they probably considered some ultra safe performer to counter the hoopla over last year: Celine Dion (too girlie for a mostly male audience), Wayne Newton (not hip enough), Tom Jones (some hip cache among younger audiences but not enough), Tony Bennett (ditto). Obviously, any recent rock or rap act would be pushing it as I'm sure they realize that all eyes are on the half-time show, looking for any minor controversy that will let the watchdog groups have another excuse to push their morals on the broadcasting world.

Rightly thinking that Macca would not have a wardrobe malfunction (great name for a band), they're relying on him to keep some kind of hip quotient with boomers. The Rolling Stones could provide that too but even with Mick knighted, Keith's still unrepentant lifestyle won't sit well with football's current mission to clean their image up. Springsteen? Too politically polarizing now. The Who? Not bad but Paulie's got more pull on the heart-strings of the 60's generation now.

I'm not stupid enough to expect that Drive-By Truckers, Tom Waits, Mos Def, Bjork or any other beloved critics favorite would make the cut for the big game either but then again, even with all the great publicity, would they really want to? I think some would and others would figure that the venue size and crowd doesn't favor them. Luckily, we boosters can experience them in other venues.

It's instructive to take a look at who's provided music entertainment for past Superbowls. Not surprisingly, when they start out in the late 60's, they mostly play it safe with marching bands and not the Dead or the Airplane. Slowly, the NFL began an uneasy back and forth with popular culture: Anita Bryant and Carol Channing (twice) to Charlie Pride (1974) and Ella Fitzgerald and then back to the marching bands and then Up With People (1976) and Cheryl Ladd of Charlie's Angels (1980). By the 80's, Up With People become regulars but the league also drafts Diana Ross and some safe choices like Neil Diamond, Barry Manilow and Herb Alpert and then ends off the decade with Billy Joel and a Chubby Checker rock revival. Obviously, the league was still mistrustful or probably ignorant of most rock and even though rap was becoming a national phenom around then, they wouldn't have dared to put say the Fresh Prince or De La Soul in the show, much less Public Enemy or NWA.

By the 90's, the football gods were still paying tribute to pap and crap (New Kids, Whitney's lip synch, Natalie Cole, Kathy Lee Gifford) but also starting to make more strides into a broader cultural plate: Aaron Neville and Doug Kershaw (1990), Garth Brooks and Michael Jackson both in '93 (which isn't edgy but having them both on the bill is pretty progressive for this realm), 94's recognition of country's resurgence (Clint Black, Tanya Tucker, Travis Tritt, Wynonna & Naomi Judd), ZZ Top (the Bowl's first rock band) and James Brown ('97), Boyz II Men and Queen Latifah (the Bowl's first rapper) meets Motown ('98).

And then at the turn of the millennium, rock/pop culture were in full swing at the Bowl and seemed unstoppable. In 2001, Aerosmith bizarrely got teamed up with N'Synch, Britney and Nelly, all performing together for the half-time show. Guess they figured that they'd throw everything they could in the mix and it would stick somehow or take a cue from Grammies and slap together performers who usually wouldn't share the stage to create a unique (if not satisfying) moment. 2002 had Mariah and then U2's half-time with Bono flashing the flag in his shirt (wotta ham). 2003 gave us
Dixie Chicks, Shania Twain and No Doubt. And then you probably heard what happened last year though not many people remember that before the half-time show, Beyonce sung the national anthem.

Which leads up back to Macca. As I said, a lot of eyes will be on him from old fans to cultural watchdogs to anyone curious about pop culture. I'd even wager that a lot of people who don't dig football (like me) are going to keep flipping or Tivo'ing there just to see what he does. I probably will too, just out of curiosity even though I already know that he'll try to trot out some newer material and ultimately get the audience and crowd swooning with some Beatles hits.

My favorite Sunday morning politico Chris Matthews weighed in on his upcoming appearance, correctly noting that Macca was an antidote to Janet, likely not in terms of music but in terms of presentation, and also that many more people would see his performance today than first saw him on the Ed Sullivan show. Yes Matthews noted, Paulie had written drug songs and been busted for dope in the past but for the last few decades, he's maintained a respectable appearance as an elder statesman of rock. Saying that he's "sharper and hipper" now totally ignores the last 30 years of his career though. Matthews even divined a lesson from McCartney's life that if he could straighten up and fly right, there was hope for us all.

Maybe so but the real message is an old guy who's never pushed his sexuality in public but can still draw in interest across generations is exactly what the NFL need now to repair their image. You'll likely see the same trend happening for a long time at the Bowl though they're definitely not going for marching bands again. There's plenty of safe and clean performers in the pop and rock and even rap worlds for them to rope in for their balancing act of drawing in viewers to something exciting without getting too edgy. And rest assured that one day, the pendulum will eventually swing back and they'll try to push the envelope again but I'd wager that's something we might be discussing next decade, not this one. When an inevitable backlash sets in against this horrible puritanism that's strangling our goverment, then we might be able to freely enjoy entertainment that's suitable for audiences above a grade school level, which likely includes you.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Burn the stages OR Turn the musicians into the audience

Thanks to my girlfriend Robin, I got to see PS1 in Queens- a wonderful museum (under the umbrella of MOMA) that still has the set-up of a school, with the classrooms and everything. What's most impressive about this space are the enormous rooms which give works a lot of space to be seen and appreciated, especially Czech photographer Katharina Sieverding's huge prints and Hans-Peter Feldmann's 100 Years project (photos of 100 subjects from 8 months to 100 years old) occupying one room for itself.

What struck me about the exhibits wasn't just the imaginativeness of the works themselves but how the space was being used so well and the fact that the space itself existed. Back in Manhattan, the uptown Guggenheim is the only major museum that doesn't have the usual stale, one smallish room leading to another (though the re-opened MOMA does have some nicely expansive areas). Obviously, a major part of this is rent- thanks to the cozy relationship between the Mayor's office and developers for the last two decades, it's harder and harder to open a new space and maintain it. Many galleries are flocking to Chelsea now but once they start opening Duane Reade's in the area, the artists are going to have to run away to another, cheaper area. Eventually, NYC is going to run out of these areas for them to run off to and then where do all the artists and galleries go? NJ? Long Island? Connecticut? If NYC is going to be turned into a huge strip mall, what's the allure of this place going to be anymore?

But enough ranting about gentrification... what I'm also really concerned about are how music is presented to the public. The large spaces of PS1 which made many Manhattan museums look inadequate made me wonder about music performance spaces in the city also. You know the routine- box office in front, then maybe a coat check, then maybe a bar, then the floor to mill about with the stage at the front. It's a nice model that's worked for decades now but with the rest of the music industry in flux why do we have to keep using this same old boring model?

Where else could the band be? Where else could the audience be? What should be their spatial relationship to each other? Should it be direct? Could the musicians become the audience and vice versa? Think of PIL's riot show at the Ritz? Not something that clubs would want to repeat but it did demand questions about how music is presented. Also think of some of La Monte Young's museum performances- he would show up at an un-announced time during the day and perform for an unspecified time. Again, because of rents being what they are, these questions can't be asked except in theoretical terms. There once was the Anchorage, which was an adventurous space within the Brooklyn Bridge but that was closed after 9-11 because of security concerns. Then there are some multi-room art spaces like the Cave in Williamsburg where different multi-media performances happen in difference areas, sometimes simoultaneously. What you see too often instead are small, overstuffed spaces with triple bills where the opening act doesn't go on until after 11PM, even on a weeknight. That's not even mentioning the 50% mark-up that fans have to endure from Ticketmaster.

City Hall comes into play again here because of the hostile stance that they've taken about clubs with both Gulianni and Bloomberg- all the fines they hand out from old Cabaret laws they dust off the books and their 'quality of life' mission, which again seeks to turn the area into a tourist-friendly mall. Unless you think this is unique to NYC, Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribute did a brilliant article last year about the same problems happening there: Clubs and the City.

So again, I'm left wondering if we can still maintain clubs, is there any creative way to present live music? With clubs struggling for their livelihood now, they might unfortunately not even have the time to consider such a question. That's a shame because just as the I-Pod makes us rethink our relationship to recorded music, these clubs can also make us rethink our relationship to live music.