Dedicated to classics and hits.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010




3) CAJON (drum)

4)  QUENA  (flute): THIS VIDEO IS F***** AMAZING.







Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Art Fag Recordings Best Coast 7" is Rolling Stones #24 Single of the Year

  Far East Movement Like a g6 is no. 1 of course:

24. Best Coast, "The Sun Was High (So Was I)"
I loved Bethany Cosentino's previous band, Pocahaunted, two quite-possibly-baked girls playing twenty-minute psychedelic guitar jams with titles like "Heroic Doses." I was listening to Best Coast for months before I realized it was the same Bethany, just a lot more baked. Note: she appallingly left this song off her album, so I briefly considered listing "Boyfriend" here instead, but it's not as good, and when I slacken my quality standards, who suffers? We all do!  (ROLLING STONE)

Monday, December 20, 2010



The Barbarian Conversion:
From Paganism to Christianity
by Richard Fletcher
p. 1996
Henry Holt

      We take Europe's status as a repository of Christianity as a given, but it wasn't always the case.   As late as the 14th century, the pagan Duchy Lithuania ruled over a wide swath of central Europe.   Many parts of Germany weren't converted until the 900s.  Scandinavia was largely pagan until after the turn of the first Millennium.  Christianity just seems overwhelming because we know so little about the Pagan religions which proceeded it.  But when you think about it... is there really such a big difference between what happened in the Baltics in the 13th century and what was to happen a little more then 200 years later in Mexico and Peru with the Aztecs and Incas?

   The whole process of conversion of Europe from Paganism to Christianity is ridiculously complicated, particularly when one considers the rather straight forward way that the same religion triumphed within the Roman Empire. (Converting the Emperor helps!)  In Western Europe, Christianity pretty much continued in the footsteps of the Roman Empire.  The conquering Barbarian tribes in places like France, Spain and England emulated the Romans and their leaders saw the adoption of Christianity as a way to carry on the Roman tradition.  This approach met with various degrees of success: In Spain, Muslims stormed in and wrecked the place.  In England, Germanic tribes came in and wrecked the place, and also gradually converted to Christianity.  In France, Charlemagne formed a solid dynasty and went to work on the Germans.  This process of conversion coming from the West through Central Europe and into the East continued for several centuries, until the Lithuanians finally completed the process in the 14th century.

  As Fletcher persuasively argues, the success of Christianity was attributable to a combination of religion as a motivating factor for power hungry warlords to go out and conquer, and a corresponding desire by leaders outside the Christian area to get with the winning team.  Nowhere but nowhere does Christianity come "from below."  At the end of Barbarian Conversion Fletcher brings up the idea that perhaps conversion was not a particularly deep experience for many in Europe.  That seems about right to me.  For the great majority of people in the Middle Ages, converting to Christianity was something they did because their local Duke or whoever made them.  Christianity: big whoop.

Friday, December 17, 2010



The Label:
The Story of Columbia Records
by Gary Marmostein
p. Thunders Mouth Press 2007

   I grew up basically in ignorance of everything associated with Columbia Records.  When I did learn about Columbia, it was in the period after they had been sold to Sony Corp., which is where this book ends.  The Columbia Records of today is like a ghost of the original.

  The glory days of Columbia Records came in the pre-rock era.  You can actually feel the domination coming to an end during the chapter in which Clive Davis is described cavorting at the Monterey Jazz and Pop Festival while long-time head of label Gordon Lierberson broods in his suite of offices in New York City.

  Today, we think of Record Labels as being little more then a generic off shoot of the global culture industrial complex, but twas a time, my children, when bold entrepreneurs invested millions in the idea that Americans and the World would buy recorded music in large numbers.  In the beginning, there was classical music.  In particular, the early chapters of The Label are devoted almost entirely by the high minded attempts by Columbia to bring the best in classical music to the masses.   In attitude they resemble the indie tape labels of today, determined to bring the music to the audience whether the audience wanted to hear it or not.

  In the 30s and 40s, Columbia developed a catalogue of Jazz and Pop music, but eschewed blues and rhythm and blues- let alone rock and roll.   Columbia is like...the label of the world of Mad Men: smooth, suave but kind of scared of black people and smug and superior about rock and roll and country music.

  At the same time, it was Columbia Records where Bob Dylan recorded his most seminal albums of the 60s.   In the 70s, Epic Records (a subsidiary) brought the world arena rock- one of the most interesting asides in the entire book is when Marmorstein's describes how Columbia had to bend "Union Rules" to allow producers to work in the basement studio of  Boston writer/singer Tom Scholz- how DIY is that?  And of course... there was Michael Jackson.  Columbia Records continued to pump out hits, but they didn't really control the Zeitgeist after the one-two punch of the Beatles and the "Summer of Love."

  Once again, the mid-60s proves crucial in the story of a large American culture corporation.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Columbia Records Invented the LP

      I love giant businesses.  I know that isn't a very "DIY" attitude, but most people who subscribe to the ole' DIY ethic are poor failures and that ain't me, babe. One of my favorite writers about business is Alfred Chandler and if you are ever looking to understand modern business corporations without being indoctrinated or terrified, Chandler is your guy.  The fact is, enormous corporations exist because they get the job done.  One of the great things about corporations in the context of capitalism, is that if they fail, they cease to exist.  No one ever give Corporations credit for that quality.  This is especially true as we move closer to the present day: impressive.

     Music is no exception.  For most listeners, the fact that large corporations control the distribution of music is of no concern.  For those to whom it is a concern, 95% of the people who have stopped to think about it HATE the role that giant corporations play in distributing music.  This is an attitude that was carved out by Theodor Adorno in the 20s and 30s.  It's not like this viewpoint was a given.  Adorno's contemporary, Walter Benjamin, thought that mechanical reproduction of sound had a liberating quality regardless of it's mode of distribution.  It is most ironic that the discourse surrounding the role of business in culture has been shaped by a bunch of European intellectuals who didn't understand anything about genres like jazz, let alone rock and roll.

     The fact is that music has a liberating quality even when it is distributed by giant corporations and it is in fact true that we have giant corporations- and only- giant corporations to thank for fantastic innovations that make modern diy culture feasible.  This point is brought out in a book I'm currently reading about Columbia Records.  It is called, Columbia Records: The Label by Gary Marmorstein and it is quite incredible because it is a business, rather then artistic history of Columbia Records.

  Columbia Records invented the LP record in 1948.  Before this point, records were made out of shellac and played at 78 rpms.  These records were bulky, could only hold a song a two a side, expensive and broke easily.  At the time of the invention of the LP, Columbia is one of only two companies that had the resources to create something like the LP- the other was RCA/Victor.  Neither Columbia NOR RCA/Victor had any real interest in upgrading from the 78- they just saw it as what they had to deal with.  Everyone had record players that played 78s- in order to accommodate the LP people would need to buy new record players.

  After that, RCA/Victor responded with the 45, or as the kids know them "7"s."  So...your punk as fuck vinyl record that you just made 300 of to sell at shows- wouldn't even exist if it wasn't for two enormous corporations battling for market share in the recorded music industry in the 1940s.  And let me tell you something else: It's not like everyone was like "OH- the LP AWESOME- thanks COLUMBIA RECORDS!!!"  No- they bitched and moaned, and people predicted catastrophe.

  All in all, it's a great example of a major corporation- a record company- no less- making the world a better place. Stick that in your DIY pipe and smoke it.

Monday, December 13, 2010


The Triumph of Music:
The Rise of Composers and Their Art
by Tim Blanning
p. 2008
Belknap/Harvard University Press

    I don't like to start book reviews by quoting a paragraph from the introduction, but I think it's the best move here:

    Status, purpose, places and spaces, technology, and liberation- these are the five categories I will explore to explain music's march to cultural supremacy.  What follows is an exercise in social, cultural and political history, not musicology- no technical knowledge of music is required.

      Often when I read a good book, I'm unsure whether I find the thesis convincing because I already agreed before I read the specific book (the book just reinforced pre existing belief) or whether the argument was just objectively convincing.  In this case, i can firmly declare that both are true- first- I totally agreed with the above stated thesis before I picked up this book AND that Blanning- the Professor of Modern European History at Cambridge University- writes in such an objectively pleasing fashion that is hard not to get swept up in his five stage analysis of "the triumph of music."

   When this book begins, musicians are servants and slaves.  The examples selected are the German composers of the 18th century.  At the beginning of Chapter one, musicians like Handel, Haydn and Mozart are writing their masterpieces at the bequest of various German princes, and for them alone.  Over the course of the 18th century and into the 19th century, this model of musicianship is overwhelmed by the now familiar idea of musicians as cultural celebrity.  A recent still-relevant example is Liszt- whose "demonic" piano playing inspired the kind of swoons a modern associates with the Beatles.  This initial transformation from musician/composer from court servant to celebrity is  embodied by Wagner.  Wagner's triumph in German culture remains largely unequalled, at it is to Wagner that all subsequent musicians must look for a benchmark of "how far you can go."

   The role of the purpose of music in the march towards triumph is the focus of the second chapter.  Here, the point is embodied by a sub chapter heading "The Secularization of Society, the Sacralization of Music."  Blanning described- in matter of fact fashion how music moved from being an Assertion of Power on behalf of a specific monarch, to an instrument used in worship, to it's more or less present state as a good to be consumed by the public in the form of concert.  Along the way, music audiences were convinced to take music very seriously, a process referred to by Blanning as "Sacralization"(i.e. making something sacred) at the same time, the movement of music appreciation out of the court and into the bourgeois and working classed meant that the audience for music exploded.

   Then he is on to the role of physical space (an interesting summary of work about how places to hear music became more 'church like' and how the number of places to hear music expanded to included venues for the middle and lower classes (specifically pleasure gardens and music halls in the late 18th century and 19th century.)

  Finally, Blanning handles the role of technology- a subject I've written about so often here that I found his writing duplicative of books I've already read and a final, weak, chapter on the liberating power of music for disempowered minorities.  On the whole, it's an excellent, recent summary of the ways in which music is a social project composed of composers, performers and audiences.  Blanning assumes that music does not actually exist without all three individuals- music is a social experience, no matter what romanticists and their followers may claim.  I recommend this book for anyone looking for a cogent  thesis about the role of music in modern society.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

We Are What We Speak

Ad Infinitvm
A Biography of Latin
by Nicholas Ostler
p.  2007
Published by Walker and Company

       I like author Nicholas Ostler because he is one of those folks trying to write about academic subjects in a popular way.  So far I've read Empires of the Word, which was basically a history of the world from a llinguistic perspective.  Then I read the Last Lingua Franca, his most recent book, which focused in on the historical career of English.  Ad Infinitum is his biography of Latin, and it was published in between the first two books.  Like the other two, the idea is to bring a historical sense to bear on a specific language.  Here, the language is Latin.

       Ostler starts off with a bang, showing the great extent to which Latin was influenced in it's infancy by its northern neighbor, Etruscan.  Ostler even illustrates that point with an appendix which contains a glossary of Latin words that came directly from Etruscan.   From then on it's a familiar history written from a novel history.  Basically, Ostler tells the story of the rise of Europe through the eyes of its common language.    The split up of Latin into the descendant languages of French, Italian and Spanish is perhaps the best attested example we have in all of human history of that the process by which one language becomes many languages.  Ostler, both int his book and in the last Lingua Franca, uses this example to illustrate what might happen to English in the future.  Of course, the split up of Latin was contemporatenous with nasty events like barbarian invasions and a general break down in civilization, so the possibility of the same thing happening to English is not a particularly positive prospect.

    As the story draws closer to the present day, Ostler shows the ways in which Latin lost its role in the world, a process which was still being completed during the 20th century.  Today, Latin is an archaic relic, it's use limited to arcane fields like botany and it's influence more likely to be demonstrated through the use of its descendant languages than Latin itself.

   Perhaps Ostler's main point is that Latin speakers always had a somewhat unique viewpoint that saw the limits of Latin and the Roman Empire as the limits of their world.  This perspsective: That of the Latin speaker as the only meaningful agent in world history, has been transmitted quite directly to successor cultures around the world. 

Tuesday, December 07, 2010


   Hey guess what this is the biggest local show of the month until special shit starts popping around NYE:


   Calling your band "Teen Porn" or "Nude Boy" or whatever is just a class move- sure to attract the page views.  The JEANS WILDER Nice Trash LP is out on La Station Radar FROM FRANCE and Atelier Ciseaux which sounds like a character from the Asterix cartoon series.  I hear Raw Moans is "what's up."

  Only one thing can be said for certain: JEANS WILDER...FOR...THE KIDS... And I totally would be there but I have to prepare for an important hearing tomorrow- work sucks!

2010: The Year Lo Fi Broke

   The end of the year is the time when music writers assemble lists of things like "top albums" "top singles", etc.  As I've noted here, there is something about the human mind and ordering things in numbered lists.  You can see a compilation of such lists published this year over at the excellent blog Largehearted Boy.

  I have almost nothing to add to that conversation except the following:  On ranking the Caribou LP in the top ten:  Really? Did they put out a second record that I didn't hear? Because the record I listened to was not a top anything kind of effort; and Beach House really won me over during the course of the year and their record is a huge winner.

   For me, 2010 was interesting in a musical sense because it was the year many of my friends and acquaintances put out formal albums on reputable indie labels.  Some of these people are I consider friends and business partners, others just happen to be artists who I was fortunate enough to be writing about and listening to prior to their 2010 break out year.  For example, here is a show poster from July 17th, 2009, which shows the Beaters as the headliner at a show at THE WHISTLESTOP:

  At the time of this post (July 17th 2009) I wrote:  

     I said I wasn't going to do too much on this show because I want to actually enjoy it myself, but the whole world is talking about Best Coast (i.e United States and the U.K.) and, to a lesser, extent, Pearl Harbour. She's got a 7" coming out on Art Fag Recordings... 2010? Anyway, personally, I'm very excited for this show. And it's free, which is just stupid.  

    I'm just providing that paragraph for the purpose of comparison: between a time (last year) and what everyone knows to be the case this year.

     For me, 2010 was all about learning what happens to artists when they firmly move up a weight class, from local scenes to national and international scenes.   A surprising insight I had about this movement is the air at the national level is just as thin, if not more oxygen deprived, then the air of the local scene.  Every single artist I've personally witnessed succeeding in moving up a weight class (or moving from the minors to the majors if you prefer a baseball metaphor) in the world of music in 2010 did it with a mixture of intelligent song writing, a steady diet of touring and a degree of personal sacrifice.

  The reward for all this hard work is not fame and fortune, but rather a legitimate shot at a professional career as a pop musician. 

     2010 was also notable for the rise of a class of American Independent Record Labels, that, in my mind at least has the potential for hall of fame status.  You think about all the negative things that happened to independent record labels in the the last several years- it's important to balance out the picture.  For example, the Altered Zones post on Sacred Bones (which was AWESOME btw) mentions that Sacred Bones formation happened as follows:

      Taylor: I’m from Chicago. Caleb and I became friends five years ago. I was a Sales Rep at Touch and Go, and Caleb was one of my buyers. Then Touch and Go laid off their whole staff. (ALTERED ZONES)

    Here we see what I believe to be a pattern and explanation for the rise of many Independent Record Labels in the United States in the years leading to 2010:  A dedicated record store clerk or independent musician who started an independent record label in the mid 2000s, leading to a partnership with either a cast off from the music industry proper or an entrepreneur  interested in starting their own independent record label.  The combination of planning with passion creates a solid foundation for future growth.
  Sacred Bones (2007) is a good example.  Also on the list are the following: Captured Tracks (2008), Hozac Records (2006),  PPM (2005?),  Art Fag Recordings (2005).  All of these labels have been directly inspired by the American Independent Record Labels of the 1980s and 1990s, but all have benefited by being completely divorced from the economic pressures facing older record labels.  These labels have in turn inspired an even newer batch of Independent Record Labels run by bloggers and artists.

   The seminal event in 2010 from the Independent Record Label view-point is the release of the Best Coast LP by Mexican Summer.  Mexican Summer purchased the record after the recording and mastering was completed.   They released with a very short turn around.  Mexican Summer ITSELF was founded in 2008, as a "sub label" of Kemado Records- which has been around since 2002.   Another good example this year were the releases of LP's by Lefse Records (2008?) by artists like Neon Indian and How to Dress Well.  A third example is IAMSOUND (2006) releasing the Salem LP This second group of labels is characterized by a shorter learning curve and the presence of sufficient capital.

  However, it is the nature of the relationship between music and technology that few, if any, of the trends that were relevant in 2010 will continue to be so in 2011.  Artists or Record Label owner looking to draw lessons from 2010 should be warned that a primary impact of technology on music is that consumer taste changes rapidly.

  I would expect 2011 to be characterized by the same thing that happens every year ever- bigger music labels will try to figure out who to sign up, and indie labels will fight to maximize the attention for their artists.  Perhaps the most interesting thing to witness for me personally in 2010, is the ways in which more established Independent Record Labels from the 80s and 90s, particularly Sub Pop and Matador, are reacting to the trends I am talking about.  In 2010, Matador actually acquired True Panther Sounds (2004).  2010 also saw the development of co-operation between Mexican Summer (2008) and Captured Tracks (2008).  I would expect to see more of this in 2011.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: The Last Lingua Franca by Nicholas Ostler


The Last Lingua Franca
English Until The Return of Babel
by Nicholas Ostler
p. 2010 Walker & Company

    You might consider Ostler a popularizer of the field of Socio-Linguistics.  His new book, published in the US on November 23rd, is an extended essay on the role of English as a Lingua Franca in the modern World.  Having recently read the author's earlier book Empires of the Word, I recognized both the theme and some of the details from the earlier book, which covers much of the same territory as the Last Lingua Franca, but in a more general manner.

  Specifically, in The Last Lingua Franca looks to historical examples of other Lingua Francas, and how they failed, and asks questions about whether or not English, the current Lingua Franca, might suffer the same fate. I very much place this book along the same continuum where you find pop intellectuals like Malcolm Gladwell or, shudder, Jared Diamond.  This group of writers familarizes itself with specific social science disciplines, distills the knowledge into modern magazine quality prose, and attempts to generate a hook that will interest readers who normally wouldn't give an eff about the field of "socio-linguistics."

     As such, I would be inclined to think that Ostler has the right angle, since the "decline" of English is a subject that obsesses both liberal members of the education establishment and political right wingers who sponsor "English Only" bills in the legislatures of the southern states.

     Most of Ostler's focus in this book is extended examples of different Lingua Francas, how they functioned, and how they collapsed.  The reader is treated to chapters on the role of Latin, Persian & Sanskrit in their respective societies, followed by his take on the rise of English, and what "the future holds" for English or any other would-be Lingua Franca.  Ostler's ultimate conclusion is spelled out in the title of the book itself, "The LAST Lingua Franca."  Ostler takes the position that the rise of Machine Translation and non-English speaking countries like Brazil, Russia, China & India make English's survival as a the language of the world far from secure. However he also acknowledges that it is difficult to imagine ANY language replacing English.

   Lingua Franca is a worth while read for a reader with a passing interest in linguistics and a college education, but it's hardly intellectual heavy lifting.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Little Symphonies For The Kids: The Phil Spector Story


Tearing Down The Wall Of Sound
The Rise And Fall Of Phil Spector
by Mick Brown
Published 2007

    Phil Spector, currently doing a life sentence, is a personal hero of mine.  I don't think there is any one person who is more emblematic of the story of popular music in the 20th century then Spector.  Spector was born in NYC, moved to LA as a kid, had a hit record before he was out of high school, gave up on a career as a performer before he was 20, hung out with the Brill Building Gang in NYC in the early days of rock n roll, invented the Wall Of Sound in a Los Angeles studio- recording in Mono, ran his own record label and publishing firm, made a Beatles record, made a John Lennon record, made a Ramones record, became an alcoholic, lived as a recluse for twenty years and killed a woman after a lifetime of drinking and playing with guns.

  It is clear from Tearing Down the Wall of Sound that Spector had mental illness running strong in his family (his father was a suicide and his older sister spent her life in and out of mental institutions.)  Independent of any issues regarding mental illness, he also had a lifetime inferiority complex that led him to isolate himself from humanity and led to the disintegration of almost human relationship he every formed.

   Spector's main contribution to the history of popular music was his creation of the rock producer as star.  That was his goal from the very beginning- he wanted to be 'bigger than the music.'  He created the Wall of Sound by jamming dozens of musicians together in the same room and having them play the same note at the same time.  The fact that he accomplished Mono, is perhaps the most impressive part of the Spector legacy.  He called his approach "writing little symphonies for the kids" and was the first person to take the art of rock and roll seriously.  He understood that pop music for teenagers could be art before anyone else.

  How this book has avoided becoming a movie is beyond me- Spector even had his lead actor picked out (Al Pacino.)  I'd love to see a movie about Phil Spector.  When can that happen?

Sunday, November 28, 2010


monte albam, oaxaca.

The Zapotecs
Princes, Priests & Peasants
by Joseph W. Whitecotton
p. 1977
University of Oklahoma Press
Civilization of the American Indian Series

     Crazy people like to make a big deal out of ancient pyramids, and about how,  you know, aliens came down from space to inspire them in different places around the world, but if you stop and think about it... a pyramid is a pretty useful way to get closer to the sky.  Furthermore, any group of people that moves beyond hunt and gather style live is going to be obsessed with the sky and rain... because they are practicing agriculture.  When you are farming you are reliant on sunlight and rain- that shit is important.   What better way to get closer to whatever God you've dreamt up then to make something to get you closer.

     The Zapotecs are a people of Southern Mexico.  Their civilization was centered around what is presently Oaxaca. Oaxaca is in a valley south of Mexico City.  It has two main branches, and between them is Monte Alban- Monte Alban is considered the culture center of your classic era Zapotec civilization.   Afterwards, the Zapotecs were invaded (or something) by the Mixtecs- a different culture that moved in as conquerers and ended up living side by side with the Zapotecs, often in different neighborhoods in the same village.  Both groups were subjugated by the Aztecs prior to Spanish arrival, but it was a paying tribute kind of domination.

  The Zapotecs remain in the state of Oaxaca, they also spread to the south into the Isthmus of Mexico and west to the coast.  Their cultural situation is complex- Zapotecs never considered themselves a nation, and their tradition of governance maintains identity to the individual community of which they are members- similar to the situation in Italy in the Renaissance.

  What is significant about the Zapotecs is that their language comes from a different linguistic family then that of the Aztecs.  The Aztecs speak a variety of Uto-Aztecan, while Zapotec is part of the Oto-Manguean family.  Zapotec and Mixtec are the most successful of the Oto Manguean languages, and linguists generally agree that some form of this language has been present in Mexico since 4000 B.C, giving the Oto Manguean's a prior claim to Mexico.

  If you look at a map, it seems likely that the Uto-Aztecan speaking peoples moved south, pushing the Oto Manguean peoples south in the process.  It's not like the Zapotecs were inferior- they may have introduced writing into Classic Era Mexico.  It's hard to know, since the Spanish did such a great job of eradicating and co-opting the pre-Contact Zapotec culture, but it's useful to know that pre-Contact Mexico was more then just the Aztecs.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Tiwanaku/Nazca Lines


   One of the things Westerners like to do about non-Western civilization is deny their sophistication by pointing to some non-local antecedent/inspiration.  The most notable iteration of this mind set is the persistent attribution of New World civilization to either alien, western or eastern inspiration.  For example, the Nazca lines 

Nazca Lines: Spider

are often described as being the product of some "unknown civilization," a line of argument suggested in the wikipedia entry itself.  But even the earliest observers recognized a relationship between the pre-Incan civilization of the Nazca area and the Tiwanaku civilization of Bolivia/Southern Peru.  However, the insistence that these lines are alien inspired is ridiculous.  The Tiwanaku civilization developed on or near the Altiplano of Bolivia- a region that looks a lot like the place where the Nazca lines are located.  The Tiwanakus were building temples and statues and junk like that BEFORE the Nazca lines were inscribed in the desert.

  The idea that these lines couldn't be created from the ground is also ridiculous- anyone who has looked out a second story window at one point in their life would be competent to direct their creation.   The fact is...these Tiwanakuns- they had potatoes- before anyone else in the world.  They cultivated coca.  Both of those items were inherited by the Incans.  You look at the impact of the potato and cocaine/coca leaf on the world TODAY.  It's impressive.

  It seems more reasonable & respectful to just credit the Andean region for creating one of the world's autochthonus civilizations.  There aren't that many places in the world where civilization began independently.   Also, if you take the general spreading out of the human race from Africa through Asia to the new world, the Andean Civilization was the last, chronologically, to "get in place."   Thus, when we look at the Incans, it's like looking at an analogous time in the ancient world of the Middle East, Egypt or India.

  So drop all the crazy hocus pocus about the Nazca lines, Aliens and the Incas.  You don't need that shit to make it relevant.  The reality is more interesting.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Inca Highway

paved stone Inca "highway"


Thursday, November 04, 2010

Decline and Fall of the English Language


p. 2006

   An English speaker/reader of 2010 could be forgiven for a spot of triumphant jubilation. Though English may not be spoken by the most people on Earth, it's status as a "lingua franca" or international trade, science and culture is unmatched.  How could English disappear from the face of the Earth, joining extinct but in their time important languages like Sanskrit and Latin?  Nick Ostler writes this very interesting book from the perspective of a modern English speaker.  It's no secret that his Language History of the World ends with a Chapter on the extraordinary career of modern English.

   However, Ostler holds his hand on English- other then the last chapter, the rest of Empires of the Word is a straight forward "language history of the world."  Particularly interesting are the chapters on the language families of North and South America prior to Contact, and the history of Sanskrit and it's progeny in South Asia.  Ostler builds up to the big Western Languages towards the end of the book and then starts asking the big questions like "Why did German never take off as a World Language?"  Ostler seems to maintain the position that English's run as a world wide lingua franca is bound to come to the end, but I'm hard pressed to see what will succeed it on the world stage.  It seems to me that the internet might create some polyglot machine translation influenced successor language to English.  I don't know.


Monday, November 01, 2010

What's Next: No Joy, Best Coast & Dirty Beaches

   Upcoming events in November for San Diego, CA....

       This Sunday November 7th,  No Joy, La Sera (Katy Goodman of Vivian Girls/All Saints Day), Heavy Hawaii and Dirty Beaches are playing the Tin Can Ale House.

      One Wednesday from now, on November 10th, the San Diego edition of the Best Coast/ Sonny and the Sunsets tour comes to town with locals the D/Wolves and Dirty Beaches playing in the Atari Lounge.  Dirty Beaches, unlike some bands, will actually be appropriate for the Atari Lounge space.

   I  also wanted to mention that I attended the Heavy Hawaii record release party at the new Till Two club and I was impressed by both the venue and the Espirit de Corps of those present.  A thought I had at that event was that if it is clear that core group of any musical "scene" is going to number +/- 50, growth requires that those 50 people work hard to draw in non-members.   It is incumbent of each member of whatever group to proselytize to outsiders in an attempt to increase the group size in a dignified manner.

     You can see an effective display of this in the rise of any "blog" band.  The phenomenon is actually best described as the increase in size and volume of a specific artists' fan base in geometric, rather then arithmetic fashion.   Arithmetic progression is one person telling another about an artist and "converting" that person.  Geometric progression is twittering something and having 20 people retweet it.

    The phenomenon of "blog bands"  also represents the point at which music professionals take notice of a certain artists' geometric progression out of obscurity.  You take as the starting point for any artist as "0."  Perhaps one of a hundred thousand artists will draw professional attention at zero.  However, as the attention level rises, professionals will increasingly become interested in that artist regardless of the "quality" of that attention. Music bloggers are particularly effective at racing the attention level from "nothing" to "something."  Getting from "something" to "success" requires the assistance of professionals in every case.

   Would that music blogs more actively focused on the mechanics of raising public interest in a specific artists from "nothing" to "something."  I think that is a very interesting subject, worth of much contemplation.

     It is also true that effective networks of artists can generate this movement of the meter from "nothing" to "something" THEMSELVES.  Unfortunately, artists themselves are less skilled then amateur music enthusiasts, perhaps because artists are so cramped about expressing appreciation for other artists.

  One of the great mistakes amateur artists make is to assume that there is some mysterious "other" that is actively keeping track of their artistic activity.  This is simply not the case.  The expected level of attention of any new public artistic project has a median of "zero."

Monday, October 25, 2010

Mayans, Toltecs & Aztecs

    It's hard to ignore the present-day drug violence in Mexico.  I've been thinking about Mexico itself, and realizing that my present state is "sadly ignorant."  The ignorance starts at the beginning.  For example, I don't really know the difference between Mayans, Toltecs and Aztecs.  The truth of Pre-Columbian civilization is that it blended elements of pre-Western middle Eastern civilizations with aspects of solidly "middle ages" civilizations.  These civilizations spanned a thousand years in time, a large diversity of geography, the migration of different peoples, numerous ecological catastrophes and eventually contact with Europe.  Although they are treated as "extinct" the people continue to exist.  In many cases they continue to speak their own language, practice their own syncretic rituals and maintain an ethnic identity that has resisted Western assimilation for half a millennium.

   Pre Contact Central/Southern Mexico was a diverse place culturally speaking. The first generally identifiable group is the Olmecs, documented back to 1100 B.C.   The next significant group are the Mayans, whose civilization, occurring  from about 300 AD to 800 AD, is generally considered the "golden" age of Pre Columbian Mexican civilization.  The Mayans were clustered in Southern Mexico, on the Yucatan peninsula and into Guatemala.   If you consult any edition of the Ethnologue, the entire Yucatan peninsula maintains Mayan speakers.  A hoary entry point into any discussion of the Mayans includes belabored theories about the "mysterious" collapse of the Mayan Golden Age, but if you just look at the environment, hot, humid and jungly, it seems like a precarious place to build an enduring human foot print.   They had a 500 hundred year run, but it's not like they went away, they just weren't quite so awesome.

   After the Mayan's Golden Age collapsed, the center of gravity shifts North to the boundary of the valley of Mexico and the Northern Mexican hinterlands.  Here, there was the familiar interrelationship between settled farming people and barbarous Northern tribes. As you can see by the similarity in names, the Toltecs and the Aztecs both came from the same cultural milleu and occupied the same general area around present day Mexico city.  During this period, there were also separate Zapotec empries in present day Oaxcaca- languages maintained till today.  Also, the Mayans were still around.  But the Toltecs were the geographic predecessors of the Aztecs.  The Toltecs height was about 1000-1250.

   It's only after this point that the Aztecs enter onto the scene.  The idea that the Aztecs were a dominant people is embedded in European "knowledge" about Pre-Columbian Mexico, but they were really just one tribe in a wider cultural area where the people all spoke various dialects of Nahuatl.   You have to consider the Nahuatl languages were spoken in the area of the Toltecs/Aztecs from 700 AD onward, and the Aztecs had only been in control for a century when the Spanish showed up the 15th century.  It's also important to recognize that Nahuatl is just a sub-group of the enormous Uto-Aztecan language group, which extends all the way from the Northern Plains of the United States, to Southern California, down to Central Mexico.

   It's quite breathtaking to consider that the Arizona river indians spoke a language from the same family as the Aztec empire.   There is a continuity there that is generally not appreciated.  The Northern branch of the Uto Aztecan language family include California tribes like the Mono and the Paiute.

   At the time of the Spanish conquest, the Aztecs ruled over the valley of Mexico in a manner somewhat analgous to Mongol rule over China: Their immediate neighbors were more "civilized" but the Aztecs were tougher.  The story of the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs is not the last chapter in Spanish/Native relations.  The Spanish still had to subjugate the Maya, the Zapotecs, and relationships with the tribes North of the valley of Mexico were troublesome for centuries.

   And while the natives suffered from the familiar depredations of diseases, the Spanish were slow in sending colonists abroad, so that the native peoples were never really surpassed numerically and they have endured, even as they slowly loose distinct cultural characteristics.

   I think the reality of the War on Drugs in Mexico is that the vast majority of poor people in Mexico simply do not give a shit about the Mexican state, because its institutions are foreign and poorly representative of the needs of their people.  Given it's ethnic/cultural history, Mexico would be better off looking towards India then the United States and Spain.  Spain is in fact, a terrible model for Mexico, as is the United States.  For the vast majority of people in Mexico, the situation today is no better or worse then it always has been, and that is the reality.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Monday, October 11, 2010

I Find the AK 47 Cliche

   I try to stay away from the ak 47 in terms of assault rifles, unless I find myself participating in some savage third world civil conflict.  I mean sure, the ak 47 fits the classic definition of "assault rifle" but we've come so far since those days in terms of the use of light weight materials and other features that showing up at  your typical urban/western crime scene with an ak 47 marks you as an unsophisticated rube.  What are the true ballers using when they need a go-to assault rifle?  I have two suggestions.  First, the IMI Tavor TAR-21 is has been tipped to be THE new assault rifle for the Israeli military- and they can be surprisingly loose with the goods if the price is right.  You also might want to check out the Belgian designed (again, Belgians can be loose with their guns) FN F2000- sure to get people talking when you point it into their chest and make popping noises with your mouth.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Where Does Folk Music Come From?

Book Review
A.L. Lloyd
p. 1967uk/1975us

     I've been thinking about folk music.  Folk music is a category of popular music that precedes the term "popular music" itself.  Folk song is the original popular culture "revival."  The first folk song revival occured in the UK at the turn of the century inspired by the collecting of people like Cecil Sharp and Vaughan Williams.  The second folk song revival started in the United States in the 1930s.  This revival was brought about by a combination of spontaneous and state supported conditions, i.e. union activity in the appalachians and the work projects administration.  Lloyd appears to have written Folk Song in England before the hippie revolution, which was obviously and deeply influenced by what Lloyd calls the second folk song revival.

     I'm not sure if the post-60s hippie folk rock scene would constitute the "second folk song revival" or represents a "3rd folk song revival."  At any rate, Lloyd, writing in the 1960s adopts cultural marxist attitude towards popular music.  In fact, he specifically makes a distinction between folk song and popular music of the 19th and 20th century.  Lloyd's description is priceless until he gets to the industrial revolution- the later chapters on Sea Shanties and Industrial Work Songs pretty much stink of tired 60s academic marxism.

     It's interesting to see how Lloyd handles references to non-English folk music cultures.  He is aware of similarities between folk songs in different Indo European languages but simply doesn't have the back ground to make any kind of in depth analysis.  Lloyd is at his strongest marshaling sources that were cited by the first wave folk revival writers in the UK.  For example, he talks extensively about "Common Place Books" that were kept by merchants in the 18th century- they would write down song lyrics, recipes or whatever.   He's read these books.  While Lloyd is obviously aware of American sources, he hardly mentions the fact that many English folk songs were preserved in the Appalachians into the 20th century.

   Lloyd gives copious amounts of song lyrics- he prints the musical notes, too.  Folk Song in England is pretty rad in that regard.  What a treasure trove of proven lyrics.  You could cover these songs and have a big hit with the geriatric crowd in the UK.  GREENSLEEVES.

   The design of the book itself is worth nothing- it's a 70s era paperback- with a cool illustration of a man carrying broadsheets for sale in the country side of England in the 18th century.  Broadsheets- selling lyrics to a song a sheet- was an established business in England as early as the Elizabethan period.
 Lloyd repeatedly notes that educated people thought folk music was not worthy of attention. Much of what might be known about song of the 16th through 18th centuries was also lost because censorious collectors substituted "proper" lyrics for bawdy ones.   Lloyd also notes that many of the attributes that American writers attribute solely to Blues and African American folk idioms are common to many folk traditions-both in England and in places like Hungary and India (not to mention France, Germany and Scandanavia.)


The Triumph of Vulgarity
Rock Music in the Mirror of Romanticism
by Robert Pattison

     I've come to the conclusion that is pretty cheap to blame "major labels" and "technology" for the decline in music sales.  I think a more accurate observation is that the forms in which artists sell music to audiences have become obsolete, in the same way that the rolls that powered player pianos became obsolete when people stopped buying player pianos.  Blaming the institutions that mediate the artist/audience relationship for a decline in audience support is like blaming the mayonnaise because your mayonnaise and broken glass sandwich cut your mouth up.

     I've come to the conclusion that the failure lays jointly with artist and audience, and that the specific failure involved is an artistic analogue to shitty parenting.  In other words, contemporary artists and audiences interested in popular music have absorbed the artistic equivalents of ignorance and laziness from their artistic idols.  Those attitudes have in turn been transmitted from artists to their audiences (and back to the artists) in a  feedback loop whose end result is contemporary popular music culture.

  But what attitudes, specifically?  What is the original sin that can explain the triumph of youth oriented popular music in the late 1950s all the way to it's present, oft maligned state?  That is the subject of this book, Robert Pattison's The Triumph of Vulgarity: Rock Music in the Mirror of Romanticism, published in 1987.

    In Pattison's opinion, the original sin in rock music, and all music derived from rock music since, is the projection of contemporary middle class fantasies about Romanticism and its idols onto African American artists who played blues and jazz in the United States in the early part of the 20th century.  Although written in 1987, what Pattison says about rock can be equally applied to any popular music artist today.  Pattison is also arguing against people who deny the validity of rock music as an artistic form worthy of appreciation.  Surely, it is this part of the argument which sounds stale.  It's hard to say that rock music is less

    To really understand what Pattison is talking about you need to understand the influence of romantic poetry from the 19th century on British and American rock musicians of the 60s and 70s.  You also need to understand that there was a time before which popular music wasn't treated seriously by academics, so that an entire book written on this rather obvious subject was not written until the mid 1980s, and by an assistant professor at Long Island University at that- it was published by Oxford University Press, so that tells you something, too.

     Artists quite consciously address the themes of the romantic tradition via their lyrics.  One of the most winning aspects of the Triumph of Vulgarity is the author's recognition of the Ramones as one of rock's greatest bands.  That reminded me of the recent musical history of New York where the author claimed that the Ramones initial performances at CBGB's were perceived as "performance art."

         The most significant aspect of this book is its winning refutation of the "don't talk/write about music- just experience it." school of artist/intellectual.  Pattison points out that rock and roll wouldn't exist without a self conscious emulation of 18th century and 19th century poets, coupled with an appreciation for American musical forms.  Rock music and its descendants: punk, new wave, heavy metal, indie, emo, etc etc etc could not exist without both influences.  Furthermore, starting with the Rolling Stones, such attitudes fully dominated artists and audiences for 20 years, only to be usurped by punk/new wavers who were even MORE obsessed with the same subjects.

     Without the self awareness inherent in any modern revival of 18th century poetry, rock music would not exist.  Therefore, any discussion of popular music possessing some inherent authenticity beyond the revival of romantic fantasies is tainted by conceptual failure.  Pattison also points out that rock lyrics are not poetry, and the power of rock lyrics lies in the accompaniment by music, rather then as having any independent worth.  To me, good popular song lyrics are like haiku, so I'm not sure I agree with him about that.



Sunday, September 05, 2010

Forgotten History of American Independent Music

Record Makers and Breakers
Voices of the Independent Rock n' Roll Pioneers
by John Broven
p. 2009

     I was stunned to learn that this book was published LAST YEAR.  It is, to my knowledge, the ONLY comprehensive history of the Golden Age of American Independent Record Labels, from 1949 through 1960.  Golden Age?  By Golden Age I mean that in 1957 independent record labels had 60% of the chart records, and the majors had 40%.  Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, modern indies.

   This is a time period that should be openly worshipped by those who participate in the production and consumption of independent popular music today.  Independent record labels never had it so good either before or since.  I blame the neglect of this pioneering period on the romantic affections of the 60s rock scene- 60s rock guys act like the Beatles invented rock and roll and like the youth market didn't exist before Woodstock.  Independent label owners have also picked up a bad rep from the artist canonizing writer intellectuals of the last 30 years.  You can't pick up a book about a black musician from the 20th century without hearing about some white independent record label owner "ripping them off."   Like these guys got rich while the artist starved.  FALSE.   As author John Broven demonstrates, reality was much more complicated then simplistic artist vs. capitalist exploiter narrative.

   Perhaps the single most insightful observation in a book filled with 500+ pages of interviews is made by Mimi Tepel.  Mimi Tepel was the department manager for London Record in America- the American licensing arm of Decca in the UK.  It was through this relationship that rock came to the UK and Tepel was the WOMAN who made the arrangement between the NYC/American indies and Decca itself.  When asked about the payment of royalties by American Indies to their artists- and we're talking about th 1950s here- she says "It's hard to blame the label owners because they were taking artists who were simply being ignored... and making it into something."

   As this book recounts, as soon as the major labels figured it out, the independents started to die.  The story of the record men of the 1940s and 1950s is the most inspiring case study in the history of the culture industry.  Individuals with little or no resources, acting loosely in cooperation with one another, were able to beat corporations at their own game for several years running.  During this period they partnered with individual artists to create an enduring artistic movement (early rock and roll) that stands up in terms of quality, with any group of french painters or greek sculptors.

   I suppose there are people out there who don't think that Roy Orbison and Elvis Presley stack up to Beethoven or Rembrandt, but I'm guessing those folks don't read this blog.   Also, I have to circle back to the fact that this book was published in 2009.  The paperback edition was published in January.  I'm 100% sure that there is nothing else even APPROACHING this book in coverage of this subject.

     The analysis of economic history was most striking, specifically because it is such a f****** train wreck.  The individuals- artists and business men alike, who come out alive are the ones who held on to the rights to hit songs and those who moved up the ladder of corporate capitalism.  EVERYONE gets absorbed or goes bankrupt before the end of this book.  Record Makers and Breakers is primarily a book of interviews- no grand historical narrative here, but it's hard to ignore the financial ruin that accompanies every #1 hit.  The immediate response of every business man who scored a hit record during this period is to pour more money into the pursuit of another hit, and failing.  The economics of record production in this period were simultaneously flush and incredibly harsh in a manner that reminds me of Dickensian era factory capitalism in Manchester, UK.  The people in this book- the businessmen- would sell millions of records in 1957 and literally be out of the business in 1958.  Most of the interviews were conducted in 2006-2008 with these old former label owners and Broven actually writes sentences like "he would never recover from the loss of those copyrights."  Unbelievable.  Sobering.

    Here is the take away from Record Makers and Breakers:  If you are an artist or a professional, and you get a hit, you better hold on to the rights.  If you're an artist, it is much better to be a song writer then a song performer.  There is an amazing infrastructure to maintain and maximize payments made to song writers.  Song performers on the other hand, can eat a big ole dick.  The 60s rock romantic rock star image has def. blurred what used to be a fairly straight forward division between the song writer and the song performer.  Usually, they aren't the same person- or they weren't in the past.  If you have a long term hit, more money will be made through administration of the performing royalties and the publishing (paid to the writer) then any money that can be made through the sale of the recording or payment for the live performance of the song.

  Whatever crazy crap has happened to artists and record companies, none of that bothers the performing rights societies (ASCAP/BMI/SESAC) and music publishing.  That shit is...rock solid.  It's so rock solid you don't even hear about it.  In conclusion, it was hard to ignore the role of the "hit" in this massive history.  Broven actually notes chart position when he talks about specific recording.  The history can be complicated because it used to be quite common for different companies to pay separate artists to record the same song, and then the songs would compete on the charts.

   This book made me appreciate my friend Josh Feingold, who works for SESAC, which like ASCAP and BMI, administers performance royalties for song writers.  Some of my musicians friends are so successful that they get quarterly checks to represent the fact that their music is widely distributed and listened to.  After reading this book I realize that this system has been supporting song writers (but not the performers unless they wrote the song) since the recording industry existed, and it is many of those people who continue to play a role in nurturing contemporary independent musicians.

   None of this works unless you have a song that you wrote, that is recorded and then widely listened to.  If you are a musician who writes and performs music but doesn't understand how publishing and performing rights royalties work... you are an amateur.  This book conclusively proves that fact.


Saturday, August 14, 2010


     The woman working at the NPMT said that "1500" people were attending the NPMT.  I'm assuming that includes panelists and musicians and junk but it seems like an unfathomably large number, especially considering the 35 my panel "Making Your Music Town" drew.  It was video taped (cam recorded?) and is going to be somewhere sometime.  I was more then flattered to be on a panel with Mitchell Frank (SPACELAND///ECHO/ECHOPLEX) and Tim Mays (CASBAH) and Vicky Hamilton.  We talked about making a "music town."  Lyn Chickrawker came as well as one of the guys from the Moviegoers - check out the cool cover art to their 7"... and their record release party at Tin Can Ale House on September 4th.

      Tonight check out ABE VIGODA (PPM) and HEAVY HAWAII (ART FAG RECORDINGS) and ANCIENT CRUX (ZOO MUSIC) with Disc Jockey sets from Martin Ordontez and the Crocosmiles. The event is hosted by SESAC "WE LOVE PEOPLE WHO ARE SERIOUS ABOUT THEIR MUSIC."  It will no doubt be a manageable alternative to what is certain to be a north park clusterfuck, come one and all, especially those with badges and attached lanyards displaying such badges.

  Oh yeah and the guy who owns 11 is a punk because he won't let underage bands play there.  Try being cool.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

NPMT: Advice to a Young Musician

    Here are some thoughts in the form of "advice to a young musician" in honor of the 2010 NPMT.

    Everyone has friends.  Today, those friends take different forms, facebook friends, for example.  But as a young musician, the only friends you should be considering are your real friends, for your success or failure in your chosen endeavor is likely to be shaped by your actual friends.  You can dress up the music business in whatever digital blah blah blah you want, but at it's heart the music business has always been about the collaboration of business men and artists and audience.  Sure, there are other sorts of music, but people who like to sit around a camp fire and sing along with an acoustic guitar are not at the NPMT, and those of you that are here are likely here because you want to understand more about the relationship between artistic endeavor and business.

   When I talk to artists, be they musicians, record label owners or writers, 99% of activity is based on the people they are already friends with.  In fact, making new friends exclusively through your musical output should be a HUGE milestone- since most people never get there.  I would suggest to the young musician that the failure to energize your immediate circle of friends about your musical output suggests one of two things:

 1.   Your music is good and your friends are stupid.
 2.   Your music sucks and your friends are trying to be nice.

  It could be either one.  If you are living in the sticks, or the city, both options are possible because people tend to have friends who knew them before they were musicians.  Here is a good piece of advice for a young musician:  try to make friends with people before they hear your music.

  I went to law school, and there is this anecdote they tell you about what things were like "in the old days."  It goes:

   The Dean of Harvard Law School stood up on the first day of class and said to the assembled first years, "Look to your left, look to your right- one of you is not going to make it."

   I would adapt that for young musicians to, "Look around you- who are your friends right now, because your success and failure is most likely to ride or die on the strength and creativity of your friendship.  If those friends aren't going to get you where you want to  need to work on that immediately.  Just being persistent, by itself is not going to get you there.

  If you decide to make new friends, realize that the more successful an artist or professional is, the more likely they are to be solicited for friendship, and adjust your attitude appropriately.   This is a reason that creative partnerships between amateur artists are so important, be they in the form of artistic collaboration (band) or creating a "scene" etc.  Amateur artists tend to have the time and energy to form new relationships in the hopes of improving their status.

  However the young musician can't let one form of collaboration dominate his or her artistic development.

  For example, the idea of forming a "rock band" is certainly a method by which young artists can become friends, but it is not necessarily the most productive use of a young musician's time right now.  That doesn't mean the young musician is relieved of the function that forming a band serves.  He or she still needs to create interest in their friends.

  Working around the  triangle of popular music you have three groups:  artists, music industry professionals and audience- all three overlap.  A young musician is an artist.  An artist wants to build up friendships with people in their own category and the other categories.  Each specific relationship is going to have general and specific characteristics.  For example, relationships BETWEEN artists are often fraught with envy and jealousy.  Relationships between artists and professionals often carry mistrust.  Relationships between artists and audience members are largely characterized by disinterest.  These negative characteristics are the things that inhibit the formation of friendship, and so the young musician is advised to keep these common characteristics in mind as he or she goes about their craft.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Description of My Panel @ The North Park Music Thing

North Park Music Thing Confirmed Panel Topics:

Creating a Music Town
        We’d all like to see our respective music communities grow and thrive, and this panel will feature discussions on just that. From increasing audience size and working with other artists to grassroots efforts and corporate tie-ins, discover methods that have worked to strengthen music scenes in the past as well as new techniques for the future.
Panelists include: 1 - Josh Feingold (SESAC), Scott Pactor (Law Office Of Scott Pactor), Scott Sheldon (, Mitchell Frank (Spaceland), Tim Mays  (The Casbah)

    I will be quietly listening to the people on the panel who know a lot more about music then me. 

    The North Park Music Thing is August 13th and 14th and you can buy tickets here

     I will share all of my secrets, and after the panel ends I will be giving a lecture on the book that I'm writing on the troubled relationship of intellectuals to music in history inside the bar area at the Hotel.  My lecture will be 20 minutes in length and accompanied by a hand out.  You can register for my lecture by going to my law office website and sending an email through the link there.   You must already be attending the North Park Music Thing to attend my bar room lecture.  The lecture is limited to five attendees.  

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Wallich's Music City Los Angeles CA

Wallich's Music City Los Angeles, CA.

Irving Berlin's 9 Rules for Successful Songwriting

1. The melody must be within the average voice of the average singer.
2. The title must be planted throughout the song via use of repetition.
3.  The idea and lyric must be appropriate for both that both will want to sing it.
4.  The song should contain 'heart interest'(pathos) even for a comic song.
5.  The song must be original... success is not imitating the hit song of the moment.
6. Your lyric must deal with ideas, objects or emotions known to everyone.
7.  The lyric must be euphonious: simple and pleasing to the ear.
8.  Your song must be perfectly simple.
9.  The songwriter must look upon his work as a business.

 American Magazine, October 1920.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Aesthetics of Popular Music

  I'm not sure if this is a cut and paste job or whether there is some brilliant anonymous author behind it, and the underlying blog, but this blog post on the aesthetics of popular music is first rate.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Interaction Rituals of Intellectuals

    The distinctive Interaction Rituals of intellectuals are those occasions on which intellectuals come together for the sake of their serious talk: not to socialize, nor to be practical.  Intellectuals set themselves apart from other networks of social life in the act of turning toward one another.  The discussion, the lecture, the argument, sometimes the demonstration or the examination of evidence: these are the concrete activities from which the sacred object “truth” arises….
    The basic form of intellectual communities has remained much the same for over two thousand years.  Key intellectuals cluster in groups in the 1900s much as in the 400b.c.e.  The personal contacts between eminent teaches and later to be eminent students make up the same kinds of chains across the generations.  And this is so even though communications technology has become increasingly available, and the numbers of intellectuals have increased enormously from on the order of hundreds in Confucius’ China, to the million scientists and scholars publishing today….
       Intellectual discourse focuses implicitly on its autonomy from external concerns and its reflexive awareness…
    .This, then, is the intellectual ritual.  Intellectuals gather, focus their attention for a time on one of their members, who delivers a sustained discourse. That discourse itself builds on elements from the past, affirming and continuing or negating.  Old sacred objects, previously charged up, are recharged with attention, or degraded from their sacredness and expelled from the life of the community; new candidate sacred objects are offered for sanctification.  By reference to texts past and texts future, the intellectual community keeps up the consciousness of its projects, transcending all particular occasions on which they were enacted.  Hence the peculiar guiding sacred object- truth, wisdom, sometimes the activity of seeking or research—as both eternal and embodied in the flow of time.

    Collins, Randall 1998.  Sociology of Philosophies: A Global Theory of Intellectual Change Cambridge: Belkap/Harvard University Press

Movie Review: Soul Power *Zaire 74*

   When We Were Kings is a 1996 documentary about the "Rumble in the Jungle," the 1974 heavy weight title fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in Zaire.  As it turns out, there was a big music festival held at the same time.  It was called Zaire '74: the headliner was James Brown.  Other performers included B.B. King, Bill Withers as well as some stand out numbers from African artists  Miriam MakebaTPOK Jazz, and Tabu Ley Rochereau.  The concert promoters, a "Liberian Business Group" hired a first rate documentary crew- this movie looks great- and then the "Liberian Business Group" ran into "serious legal issues" and the footage sat on the shelf for three decades- until 2008, apparently. when the guy who made When We Were Kings finally got this footage released as Soul Power.

  This movie had a low over all rating on netflix of 3.3 which seems really, really low... I mean When We Were Kings was a big deal and this is like a lost classic of the 60s/70s era rock festival concert films.  Think um WOODSTOCK?  FYI- did you know that Netflix has 31 listed pages of Rockumentaries?  The fact that this movie didn't come out for 30 years doesn't effect the underlying merit of the films.  Don't people recognize a five star rockumentary when they see one?  I guess not.

   Just watch the part with the representative of the Liberian Business Group- a guy who looks kind of like me actually, reacts to the fact that President Mobuto unilaterally advanced the start date of the concert one day.  He gets super pissed off about it, ultimately realizing that there isn't a damn thing he can do.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Relationship Between Art and Ritual

      The title of this book may strike the reader as strange and even dissonant. What have art and ritual to do together? The ritualist is, to the modern mind, a man concerned perhaps unduly with fixed forms and ceremonies, with carrying out the rigidly prescribed ordinances of a church or sect. The artist, on the other hand, we think of as free in thought and untrammelled by convention in practice; his tendency is towards licence. Art and ritual, it is quite true, have diverged to-day; but the title of this book is chosen advisedly. Its object is to show that these two divergent developments have a common root, and that neither can be understood without the other.

Harrison, Jane. 1913. Ancient Art and Ritual London: Williams and Norgate

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Racism and Popular Music in the 1940s

     The conventional wisdom when it comes to the creation of rock and roll is that it is a musical combination of country music and rhythm and blues: both of which have there own distinct categories.  The primary division in these categories was race: white people played country music and black people played rhythm and blues.     From the perspective of the music industry institutions during this period, they saw the audience in terms of race.  Racism in the marketplace was institutionalized to an extent that it almost apriori in any discussion of music industry institutions.

      When you look at the creation of a musical genre like rock and roll, you can't underestimate the impact of racism on the behavior of institutions.  Institutions are inherently conservative: amalgamations of people who share mental attitudes while being focused on the common goal of the 'bottom line.'

      Before Country and Western was called "Country and Western" it was called several different things by Billboard Magazine as well as the general public, following the lead of the institutions of the culture industry.  First of all, Country and Western was wholly subsumed within the larger category of "Folk" almost from inception.  In the 1940s, Billboard Magazine created a Folk category that included Hillbilly, Western and Americana.  The important fact to understand here is that Hillbilly WAS Country music.  It wasn't like, a sub-category of Country music- it WAS Country.

     Ok, now if you then stack up the economic impact of hillbilly music in the 40s and 50s up against rhythm and blues:  There's no comparison.  Hillbilly music was big business BEFORE Billboard started covering it in 1943.  Hillbilly music was big business before the recording industry itself grew to maturity.  Rhythm and Blues still didn't 'exist' in the same way.   This reality has been obscured by two generations of  music critics focusing on neglected blues artists.  The economic discrimination, explicit and overt, negatively impacted the ability of African American artists and business people to reach the mass media audience that had been invented by Radio and Television.

      The impact of racisim on music was to push African American artists towards experimentation and improvisation, while white artists were pushed toward increased sophistication of arrangement and vocal technique.  Undoubtably, the experience of racism in the day-to-day lives of skilled  African American musicians-artist-professioinals would induce the kind of creativity that has historically led to great art in many western settings.  Hillybilly music was different only because white artists  both shared some of the same values and methods as African American musicians in blues and jazz.   At the same time, the music industry was cognizant of the market value of Hillbilly music at a much earlier point in time then they were aware of a similar value in rythtym and blues.  The hits of the late 1940s are neither hillbilly nor 'race records' but hillbilly is a lot closer to breaking through.

    As a result of the percolation of African American artistic technique into the market for Hillybilly music, audience taste was transformed and developed a new found appreciation for the experimentation with vocals and instrurments that characterized the music produced by Hillbilly artists in the 30s and 40s.

    One of the areas to look at here would be the way that non-Hillbilly pop music in the 1940s incorporated vocal or insturmental techniques from Hillbilly recordings.  Presumably, there was a period before Hillbilly records were being marketed to the general 'pop' audience, where music industry professionals analyzed the techniques involved even as they eschewed the style itself and you would be able to observe some level of infiltration.  The incorporation of rawer techniques from blues into popular music would have to wait another decade, giving Hillbilly/Country a decade head start in impacting general audience taste in the United States market for popular music.

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