Dedicated to classics and hits.

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.

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"


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.

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.


Radio tower

Downtown Augusta Radio Tower

Radio Tower, Berlin

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Invention of the 45 rpm single

       In February 1949, RCA Victor released the first 45 rpm single, 7 inches in diameter, with a large center hole to accommodate an automatic play mechanism on the changer, so a stack of singles would drop down one record at a time automatically after each play. Early 45 rpm records were made from either vinyl or polystyrene. They had a playing time of eight minutes. (WIKIPEDIA)


Rhythm and Blues Notes Billboard Magazine January 1955

  The Billboard is presenting in this issue its "Spotlight on Rhythm and Blues."  It is a survey of the r&b field, covering all types of activities of r &b artists, including recordings, one-nighters, talent r&b packages and much more. Articles and stories cover all areas of the country and are active in r&b, recordings including g New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.
  This is an especially felicitous time to spotlight the r&b field.  For the swinging, infectious and melodic tunes that have come out of the r&b field have, over the past year, swept all before them.  Not even when country tunes were dominating Tin Pan Alley was there the same air of excitement and the commotion as there are today about r&b tunes and r&b artists.  At the moment and perhaps for a long time to come, r&b records are the pop records of the day and every single diskery (even those that never neew what r&b records were a few rears ago) are now issuing their own r&b styled disks.


Monday, July 05, 2010

Movie Review: Rivers and Tides *Andy Goldsworthy Working With Time*

egg in snow 1

Rivers and Tides:
Andy Goldsworthy Working with Time
d. Thomas Ridelsheimer
p. 2002

    Streaming Netflix continues to rock my existence, though I've noticed some limits.  For example, the aspect ratio of older black and white films makes them look terrible when streaming onto my home television using the Wii system, whereas the same films look perfectly fine streaming on my computer.  Also, I continue to be perplexed by the display system of Netflix itself, which seems to conspire against a user trying to get a full list of what, exactly is available, be it streaming or otherwise.

   One of the issues I've been thinking about recently is the systems theory/cybernetics/biofeedback complexity.  Basically, that's three different ways of looking at the way that systems interact.  Systems theory uses the vocabulary of technology, cybernetics the vocabulary of western philosophy, and biofeedback the vocabulary of new age hippie bullshit, but my hunch is that they are essentially correct in that in order to understand ourselves we need to understand the way that our biological systems interrelate within ourselves and the way that humans interact with the various systems that compose our environment.

    Rivers and Tides is a documentary about the British landscape artist Andy Goldsworthy.  Goldsworthy designs sculptures in specific landscapes.  Sometimes he replicates those structures in museums, other times he takes photographs of those sculptures in natural environments.  Prior to this film, the only artist I was really familiar with who fit into this category of art was Christo and his wife- and I only know about them because they are so ubiquitous in our popular culture (ATT ads, for example.)  However, it seems to me that there is something profoundly interesting about landscape art/sculpture in that it specifically places art in the path of the environment, and then takes note of the impact on one on the other and both on the viewer.

    I found Rivers and Tides to be deeply interesting- it pushed me to think about the role of sculpture in the 21st century, as well as the thoughts I mentioned in prior paragraphs.  Goldsworthy comes off as a deeply cool guy- doing his thing without regard to what the public thinks.  He works outside of a studio environment, which is also very cool.  Also, his work combines a traditionally fine art medium (sculpture) with a medium that is less traditional (photography) to create an impact in the viewer that is greater then the impact that either approach would have by itself.

  Rivers and Tides is worth seeking out on streaming netlfix- I think my readers would agree that watching it is a rewarding use of time.

Friday, July 02, 2010

How To Survive a Night in Jail

    Happy Fourth of July weekend everyone!  Fourth of July represents a high point for dui arrests- lots of special funding for check points, etc.  That means, statistically speaking, you have a better chance of ending up in jail this weekend then any other.  Now, I counsel a lot of people AFTER they've been to jail, and I always think to myself, "Gosh- I wish could talk to people about this experience BEFORE they went to jail."  Here are my tips:

  1.        Be aware of how your behavior while you are in jail effects your loved ones.  Hey, everyone knows that being in jail sucks, but being in jail overnight is not the end of your world, and you should not be baby when you are calling your wife, husband, girl friend, boyfriend, etc.  Take a deep breath and grow a pair because....
  2.       95% of the time you are only going to be in jail one night.  The Cops can hold you for up to three days, but in most standard dui scenarios, it's just the one night, then you get out.  Trust me, I see people getting released out of jail almost every day- usually in the mid morning.
  3.        Be aware of your specific type of jail environment.  There are two main types of jail- the first is the big city central lock up- lots of drunk people, some hobos and a few guys/gals who are regulars.  The other type is the small town lock up.  You need to figure out which of these you are in, because if you are in a big city lock up, the guards will be your friends and the inmates potential problems, whereas if you are in the sticks, you need to watch out for the guards.  Small town jail personnel can be big time assholes.
  4.        Enjoy your time!  For most people, that one night will be the only time they see the inside of a jail cell- don't spend your time being a cry baby bitch- you want an anecdote that will stand up over time.
  5.        Do not talk shit.  To anyone, about anything.  Winning an argument inside jail is worthless and potentially life threatening. 
      Have a happy and save July 4th weekend- if you are going to be out indulging take a spin on the internet for dui checkpoints in your area before you go out- they are often made public right before the weekend starts.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Movie Review: Pandora's Box d. GW Pabst *1929*



PANDORA'S BOX directed by G.W. Pabst *1929*

     Inspired by Netflix streaming service, I've decided to make a move into film writing.  I'm not going to review contemporary releases, nor am I going to bitch about Hollywood.  I don't see the point in telling the world about crappy Hollywood movies.  I do see a strong link between film/cinemas/movies and other subjects I write about on this blog: the production of cultural objects, the relationship of artists and audiences and the nature of creativity in the world of mass media.  As a forum for discussing those subjects, film actually surpasses music in that the film industry both proceeded AND directly inspired the music industry.  For example, the practice of calling a cultural product a "hit" was INVENTED by film and ADOPTED by music decades later.  Thus, movies are relevant to the project of this blog, and Netflix streaming service is the break through I need to carry out my project.

      I wanted to start by discussing how I watched Pandora's Box- I started at my office, watching it in two twenty minute increments while I waited for people to arrive for their free consultations.  Netflix actually keeps track of where you start and stop the film.  I noticed right away that the prospect of not having to sit in front of the television to watch a two hour plus silent film cheered me immensely. When I went home, I had dinner, then my wife had a business meeting, so I watched the remaining hour and forty five minutes in two more blocks, interspersing the watching with reading a book.  This was so revolutionary for me that I wanted to write about it, even though it is 'boring' material.

    If you are going to address film in a comprehensive manner, you need to understand the pre-talkies era.  Perhaps the most important fact to understand about the era is how the commonly used "SILENT FILM" term is hugely inaccurate.  Films where never "silent."  The introduction of characters talking on screen was a technical innovation, but films were accompanied by sound from almost the very beginning. Popular films were typically presented with a live orchestra.

   The technical achievements in this era were in no way primitive, but the preservation of the master films was primitive, and that impacts the ability of the audience to appreciate the merit of "silent" movies.  I can personally attest to having seen multiple silent era films that were so poorly preserved as to make them literally unwatchable- and these were commercially available dvd's put out by major film studios.  Also, when watching a silent movie you need to have some concern for the audio soundtrack which accompanies the film.  Silent movies worked because you saw them in a live setting, with people playing instruments.   The "quiet theater" aesthetic of the talkies era was not shared with the silent film aesthetic, which more resembles a circus or vaudevillian show.

   Might I suggest watching silent era films released by Criterion Collection?  Whatever the film, you know Criterion Collection is going to do a bang up job on the re-release.  Pandora's Box (Criterion Collections Spine #358) was released in 1929, directed by G.W. Pabst.  The first talkie was released in 1927.  The thing to understand is that Pandora's Box represents the end of the silent era, and thus the techniques used and themes are as sophisticated as any in silent film.  The film looks beautiful- no small task for a 1929 movie produced in Germany and Criterion has provided four separate sound tracks.  I believe the track that Netflix uses is track one, an "orchestral score similar to what was heard at the big European music palaces of the day."

  It was the first time I had ever been blown away by the sound accompanying a silent film and it made quite an impression.  How can you be fair to these films without considering the impact of a live orchestra on the audience?  It makes for a significantly different product.

  The second fact to understand about Pandora's Box is that Pabst made it in the pre-code era.  It has a frankness and openness about sexual relationships that is in many ways more insightful then the pablum one gets in contemporary rom-coms.

    The third and final fact to know is that Pandora's Box made Louise Brooks a fucking star.  The story of Pabst "discovering" Brooks playing a circus acrobat in a Howard Hawkes film is the ur-Hollywood Starlet story.  I'm not going to lie: I found parts of Pandora's Box extremely tedious.  I could NOT have watched it on DVD- ever- ever- I would have turned it off after twenty minutes.  However, given the opportunity to cut it up into smaller segments over the course of a whole day, I found the viewing experience to be close to exhilarating.  As I watched Pandora's Box, I had plenty of time to think about silent films, Louise Brooks and G.W. Pabst.  All those topics are worth some quiet contemplation.  Louise Brooks: one of the first Hollywood starlet/it girls; G.W. Pabst- a filmmaker sophisticated beyond his place and time; Silent movies- not that annoying if they have a kick ass sound track and you break them up a little.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Museum Review: *Calder to Warhol* Introducing the Fisher Collection @ The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Andy Warhol-Triple Elvis
Triple Elvis by Andy Warhol (1963): Modern Art Triumph.

From Calder to Warhol:
Introducing the Fisher Collections
@ The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)

   This exhibition is notable because it acknowledges a collection accumulated in a single "person," "Donald Fisher."  It's important to observe in passing that "David Fisher" likely represented a combination of four or more people, the Donald Fisher, his wife, their agent and the museum itself.  The market for fine art is cultural economics 101:  high level of interest in the audience, high level of attention from specialists, and, most importantly, a s*** ton of money.  What is it about the successful capitalists' soul that he or she seeks solace in painting, sculpture and architecture?   Historically, "art" was limited to those three subjects.   If you are talking about fine art subjects, it's important to recognize that the discourse for the three subjects has developed in tandem.  It is proper to speak of the philosophy and history of art being wholly concerned with painting, sculpture and architecture.

    It is well known that the original use of "post modernism" was in the field of architecture.  It was a term that was developed, by the artists and critics of architecture, to describe specific groups of buildings built in the twentieth century.  From architecture, it's use spread to anthropology, sociology and the other social sciences.  From those disciplines, it spread through college education to the general public.  Post Modernism represents what you might call a "Kuhnian Paradigm Shift" that goes MODERNISM---POST-MODERNISM.  Now, after a generation of post modern everything, perhaps it's appropriate for a shift back to MODERNISM or an updated version.

   If one was looking for institutions to participate/lead in this shift BACK to Modernism, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is a good place to start.  First of all, it has "Modern Art" in the title.  Second of all, it showcases other fine arts and is itself an interesting example of architecture.  Therefore, it is a place where a total discourse about art and meaning can occur.  Donald Fisher founded the GAP, and as such he represents a later day Medici or Pope, using his vast resources to accumulate large quantities of fine art.  Much of this work is painting, but the presence of Alexander Calder as a major feature brings sculpture into the mix.

  Although most of Calder's corpus precedes World War II, everything else in the collection is post War World II paintings, starting at abstract impressionism and running strongly through pop (the triumphant "Triple Elvis" that anchors the last room of the exhibition is a true stunner.)  It left me with a distinct sense of what was in and outside the canon of Modern Art/Painting.  The presence of so many Alexander Calder mobiles left me craving a little space between the works.  It's hard to really observe a three dimensional Alexander Calder mobile when there is another one right behind it.  The exhibition notes mentioned that Fisher has about 50 of these mobiles which brought to mind the car warehouses of comedians like Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld.  I'm sorry, is that like a mental disorder or something with these rich guys?  Are they "proud" of buying so many objects?  If you can figure that psychology out you should be able to become rich.

   But I think the most important to take into the Fisher collection is some well collected thoughts about the relationship of the artist, collector, critic and museum and how they interact to create the experience you have as you view a Roy Lichtenstein painting a the SFMOMA.   Such observations are particular valuable to those who work in the popular cultural arts world.  While it is no longer accurate to talk about "high" and "low" art (how bourgeois can you get?) the distinction between "fine" and "popular" art markets is, if not a full dichotomy, an easily described continuum.  On the one end you have: painting, sculpture, architecture, on the other end:  advertising, commercial signs, consumer product design.  In the middle, movies, music, literature.  You can use the same disciplines to talk about all of them: history, art criticism, economics and they share a common critical vocabulary.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Museum Review: Birth of Impressionism: Masterpieces of the Musee D'Orsay @ The De Young Museum in San Francisco

The Birth of Impressionism:
Masterpieces of the Musee D'Orsay
at the De Young Museum
San Francisco, CA.
May 22- September 6th

   A critic is a lot like a surfer.  The surfer sits in the ocean, on his surf board, assessing the waves.  The waves come in groups or "sets."  The first task of the surfer is to assess which set to pick.  Once the set is selected, the surfer selects a wave within the set, and puts herself in position to ride the wave.  This involves being in front of the wave and paddling away from it so that the combination of forces carries you to the top of the wave.  Then the surfer stands up and rides the wave to shore.
   For the critics, the ocean is the universe of things he can write about.  The sets of waves are the specific discourse the critic chooses to have opinions about.  Riding the wave is the act of criticism.  In both scenarios, the person standing on the shore, watching the surfer, is the audience.
   Aside from the analogy itself, the comparison offers other insights.  For example, the figure of the person watching the surfer is key.  That person might be there just to watch the ocean, specifically to watch the waves or even to watch the surfer.  Also, the same person might argue first, that the person on the shore doesn't matter to the surfer AND that the audience doesn't matter to the audience.
   What can a critic say about the impressionists?  Only that they are the most financially significant group of artistic products produced in the 19th and 20th century- at present, in fact, impressionist paintings dominate the top painting 100 sale prices of all time.  A materialistic take on great art for sure, but the impressionists are the most appropriate group of cultural products to subject to economic analysis because the records are so clear.

  This fact stems from the nature of the art market in Paris, France in the second half of the 19th century.  The market was made by a royally designated art show called "the Salon."  The Salon was a yearly show where individual patrons decided how to buy art.  These patrons are what you would call "institutional" purchasers: government officials, city fathers, church officials.  The Salon was a fully developed culture industry institution, and though it antedated the rise of bourgeois art market as well as market capitalism,  it none the less directly influenced painters working then through it's all pervasive roll as the arbitrator of what patrons would buy.

     In addition to being the market maker, the Salon also had it's own art-presentational aesthetic.  All readers are familiar with the contemporary museum aesthetic in current art museums: low lighting, one painting for x amount of wall space, etc.  That was not the style of the Salon.  The Salon filled every available inch of the wall surface (and these were big walls) with huge canvases in ornate frames.  In that sense the Salon represented the taste of the patrons: looking to fill wall space, pretty vulgar, etc.  The prominent time period of the Salon was from 1725-1890s, when modern art really got it's game on.

     The Museum Audio Tour manages to incorporate the voices of various Impressionist figures, though obviously read in English and not French.  I think, actually the speaker was Claude Monet (1840-1926).  Anyway, he complains that people won't buy his art because his art isn't in the Salon show. The Impressionists as a group became known as such because they were the first group of artists to D.I.Y.  Specifically, in 1874 the Impressionists had their first art exhibit in a photographer's studio in Paris, and the rest is fucking magic.

      Strolling through the Birth of Impressionism exhibit, I was struck by how thoroughly the individual artists just  nailed it.  These guys... understood what the bourgeois purchasers wanted to see.  Dark colors, realistic themes, interesting use of color, abstraction.  It's not like these intellectual themes were somehow unique to French painters, they were just anticipatory, they were in the right place at the right time and they had the technical ability to integrate techniques utilized by sophisticated "Salon" style painters in the service of their own modernist vision.
      Through staging their own art show, they managed to create their own market, outside of the salon.  This move coincided with the emergence of the industrial class as art purchasers.  Wealthy French, British and Americans, in some cases the children of wealthy industrialists, in other cases the industrialists themselves, had money to spend and they didn't give a FUCK about the Salon.  In fact, you could say they hated it, seeing as it was directed toward the pre-capitalist aristocrats and autocrats of French society.

    Ultimately, success validates itself, and at this point, as the Impressionists continue to sell museum tickets and paintings at the highest level of the art world, there isn't anything left to do but ask "how?" and "why?"  A viewer in 2010 doesn't need to see impressionist paintings AT ALL to appreciate their splendor, since their own advances in technique were incorporated by subsequent modernist artists and THOSE art works were hugely successful.  It's not like "Impressionism" has any possible current relevance to the world except to just say, "Man, what a hit."  but that is surely enough, since Impressionism is such a huge smash.  Furthermore, the triumph of impressionism is so utter complete that it could serve as the basis for observing a documented change in the culture taste of the entire world.  That makes Impressionism a worthy subject of thought, as indeed, it has been, almost literally since inception.  As it continues today, and as it will be for as long as this particular world is still around.


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