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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Show Review: Dum Dum Girls, Young Prisms, SISU

Malia James, New bassist for the Dum Dum Girls Photo is From SCENE IN THE DARK

Dum Dum Girls
Young Prisms
@ The Belly-Up Tavern

   Yesterday, as I drove up and down the freeway from San Diego to Santa Ana to San Diego to Solana Beach  to San Diego, I had plenty of time to reflect on Pitchfork's 6.1 hammering of Best Coast's The Only Place.  One thing that came to mine was my own post from October 3rd of last year, discussing the drawing to the close of the so-called "Lo-Fi" revival from 2008-2011.  Certainly, this review of the new Best Coast LP is the nail in that particular coffin, FOR WHAT ITS WORTH. (1)

   It is the nature of Artistic trends and revivals that they have a fixed time period where new Artists emerge and are then introduced to the general Audience via a series of pre-existing institutions.  These institutions: Record companies, Venues,  Media Outlets extend beyond the limit of any specific Artistic trend.

  It is only natural that ruptures and traumas will occur when a specific Artists moves from a fringe or specialty Audience into the general Audience.    Issues can include "not appealing to a larger Audience,"  "Alienating early fans of your Art,"  "Conflicts with existing institutions that are responsible for mediating your relationship with the general Audience."

  The choices a specific Artist makes influences the relationship between the Artist and their Audience.  For example, if you are Best Coast, and Bethany makes a deal to design clothes for Urban Outfitters, you could predict that it will assist Best Coast in gaining access to a larger Audience AND that it will alienate early fans. Neither consequence is "good" or "bad" but they are both predictable.

   When I saw the choice of venue and night for this show I raised my eyebrows, I'll admit.  Wednesday night, Belly Up Tavern... I suppose the idea from the perspective of the Artist is to get out of your Venue comfort zone in an effort to reach new fans.  From that perspective, it's hard not to see a Dum Dum Girls show at the Belly-Up Tavern in Solana Beach, CA. as a small triumph of indie rock.  It wasn't a packed-out Belly Up show, but the looping slide show provided by the venue demonstrated the type of Artists who pack out the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach, CA., Dum Dum Girls are not Karl Denison's Tiny Universe-level big, not yet.

  Being well familiar with all three bands, my attention was more focused on the Audience.  I saw a collection of "girl's night out," "couples on dates," and "local music fans."  Other then Jeff Graves, McHank and a tweet I saw from Edwin Negado (Edwin Himself) the downtown crowd was absent.  C'est la vie.

  Belly Up Tavern has to be one of the most well-run venues in the Country (2) It's great that they are independent and Live-Nation free.  Between sets I considered that an equivalent sized venue is either House of Blues San Diego or SOMA.  Belly Up Tavern's staff is highly professional and they treat their patrons with respect.  It's surely not the "coolest" place to see a show, but it is one of the best.

Sandra Vu of SISU and Dum Dum Girls

   The first band to perform was SISU, featuring Sandra "Sandy Beaches" Vu on vox and lead guitar.  This iteration of SISU was five pieces strong with an added keyboardist.  The individual songs ranged from "needs practice" to really good and affecting. I had heard good things about their performance at the Austin Impose Imposition this  year, so I made sure to watch.  SISU's Demon Tapes, Volume 2 is available FOR FREE on their band camp, and it's worth a listen.

Young Prisms live, photo from Ellen's TUMBLR

   Second band was San Francisco's Young Prisms, who are doing their best to make a case for themselves on a national level.  Young Prisms possess a refreshing authenticity and lack of affectation that goes well with their trad-indie use of My Bloody Valentine derived song-writing technique.  I, for one, am a huge fan of both My Bloody Valentine AND bands that have My Bloody Valentine as a primary influence.  I will probably be "into" that sound forever.   Young Prisms are so committed to touring and recording that is hard not to see a pay-off somewhere down the line.

  Dum Dum Girls headlined.  This was the first time I had seen the post-Bambi version, with Malia James replacing her in the line up:

Malia James
Dum Dum Girls Bassist Malia James

  You can follow a tag of "MALIA JAMES" on tumblr of course.

     Other then that Dee Dee dyed her hair blond.  They looked to be in good spirits and having fun.  I know they have a new EP coming out in fall on Sub Pop.  It was cool to see Dum Dum Girls connecting with an older, less "cool" audience.  The fact is that a rising Artist is going to generate friction between potential Audience members, and playing a venue like the Belly Up is a good strategy to prevent inter-Audience friction.  The problem with the "cool" audience for music is that it is severely limited in terms of number and per member resources.   Illustrated by the fact that many people who likely consider themselves Dum Dum Girls fans didn't make the trip.

      The only way I care to look at a show of this size is in terms of the Artist connecting with a new or different Audience.  I think until you are pulling 500 or more, it's better to play different areas and maybe not do as well, vs. selling out a 2-300 person size venue for the 2nd time. Certainly the Belly Up's combination of geographic diversity and quality reputation make for a compelling opportunity.

     Presumably, when major festivals and similar opportunities are considering various Artists they review that information.  I'm sure everyone who can't pull more then 500 people is the same but you can def. show that you can pull a measurable Audience in different markets or at different venues in the same market.

  I see a vast difference- across genres of music for the Artists in the under 500 category vs. the 500-1000 territory.  There are many more markets where you can play a couple different cool "under 500" capacity venues, and you options get severely limited between 500-1000 people.   Just in San Diego you go from being able to play the Casbah, Soda Bar, or a billion other places to basically being able to pick between House of Blues and SOMA.  That difference is repeated a thousand times over.
  Something I've noticed about my local San Diego market is the overwhelming influence of the season that extends from roughly two weeks before SXSW through the end of Coachella.

  So, to take next year- SXSW music is between March 12 and 17.  So starting on March 1st and then running through two weeks after Coachella- which is the end of April.  Also, Record Store Day is the middle- which severely impacts the production and distribution of vinyl records.  Basically, between the beginning of March to the end of April you can't get anything made or booked without allowing for the influence of SXSW-Coachella.

   Starting in May it is the "Summer Festival Season" which is a nightmarish hellscape but lucrative for bands and great for general Audience. Dum Dum Girls will be making that transition on this tour as they head for Sasquatch, with Lollapalooza also scheduled.  But not Bonaroo.

  Really, if you wanted to do a weekly in San Diego, you'd schedule it in the weeks of March and April on a dead night, and then bands would just roll through on their way to wherever.



 As 2011 draws to a close, the so-called Lo Fi revival is closing with it.   Between 2008 and 2011 a number of Artists and Audience members embraced the Macintosh recording program Garage Band, and succeeded in gaining entrance to the music industry.  Like other musical revival movements, lo-fi trafficked in nostalgia  and limited budgets.  Artists who emerged from under the lo-fi banner in the period of 2008 to 2011 faced challenges similar to those faced by Artists who emerged in other revival movements.

      The Lo Fi Movement drew from American, British and European influences, but the sponsoring institutions were largely located inside the United States, with New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Southern California all seeing the growth of separate lo fi "scenes."   All of these separate scenes contributed Artists and institutions.

    Lo Fi is characterized by a heightened interest by the Artists in the institutions of the music industry- Lo Fi Artists have also been Label Owners and Writers/Thinkers.  Like other musical revivals, Lo Fi benefited from generational change over among  publications covering the music industry and technological changes in how the Audience listened to music.

(2) By "Country" I mean "United States" not a mis-spelling of the word county.

Jane's Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered The World by Claire Harman

Author Claire Harman

Book Review
Jane's Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered The World
by Claire Harman
originally published in Edinburgh by Canongate Books Ltd. 2009
American publication by Henry Holt and Company 2010

   Almost every facet of this book is worth singling out for praise:  The original publisher, the Author, the concept itself, and the execution of the concept.  It's all very inspiring for me, personally, on every level. Jane's Fame could have been called "The Rise of Jane Austen."  Harman tells the story of Austen's posthumous rise to world-wide, multi-century popularity in a crisp narrative style that maintains the best practices from both academic and general audience non-fiction.

   Since Jane Austen didn't really "rise" until the mid 19th century, Harman fills out the first few chapters with details related to the career and publishing of Jane Austen's works while she was alive.  The level of detail attended to is minute, for example, the index entry for "Mansfield Park, economies in production of, 46-47." discusses how it was published on commission (vs. the publisher buying the copyright out right.) and the thinness of the page and smallness of the type, a function of the economic impact of the Napoleonic Wars.

  The critical moment in Jane's Fame is the publication of A Memoir of Jane Austen by James Edward Austen-Leigh in 1869.  Prior to that date, Jane Austen was the 19th century equivalent of a "Cult Artist"- she had her fans- including important fans, like the very Authors who were more highly regarded by the general public then herself, but she didn't have a wide Audience.   Other Artists had "made it" to that point by 1869.  The mass Audience for a novel or a novelist was in existence, when Memoir was published.

  Austen was a prime beneficiary of the rise in the Academic humanities programs of the American and British University system in the 20th century, and her "Canonization" within that system has certainly created a positive feedback loop between Jane Austen and the general reading Audience- I'm talking about everyone who reads a book in this general reading Audience.

  The clearest evidence of that feedback loop in operation of the "Austen Revival" of the 1990s, which mainly manifested itself in movies and television.    According to a Google Ngram of Jane Austen vs. Charles Dickens, mentions of Jane Austen sky rocketed relative to Dickens in the 1960s, before tapering off afterward. Those who would have been students in high school's and universities during this period were making the movies and television shows in the 90s.
  The specific details of that 1990's film revival filling up multiple chapters towards the end of the book is forgivable, considering Amazon reviewers actually give Jane's Fame negative reviews for not including a discussion of Kiera Knightleys portrayal of Elizabeth Bennett.  Idiots are passionate about Jane Austen, it's just a fact. Jane Austen has a huge Audience, and this book describes how, exactly, she gained this huge Audience.  Worth reading for that reason alone.

 A note about this book- the same Author wrote a biography of Frances Burney called Fanny Burney back in 2001.  Meanwhile, I purchase Margaret Anne Doody's Frances Burney: A Life in the Works, and Amazon never connects the two books together.  Surely someone interested in one Frances Burney biography would be interested in another?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen


Mansfield Park
by Jane Austen
p. 1814
Wordsworth Classics Editions
with illustrations by Hugh Thomson
p. 1995

    Within the Jane Austen collected works, Mansfield Park is significant because it is the first of Jane Austen's novels based on original material, i.e. Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice had existed in different form long before their publication dates of 1811 and 1813. 

   An understanding of the artistic material of Mansfield Park is best gained by understanding the situation of the Artist, "Five months after the appearance of Pride and Prejudice, she had Mansfield Park read to publish.  As Jane Austen's first contemporary book, not using material generated in her teens and early twenties, Mansfield Park was..a leap in the dark for the thirty-seven-year-old author.  The themes- of neglectful parenting, bad ministering, sexual transgression, and the dubious origins of many a good man's gains- were much more somber than before, and the stifled central character, Fanny Price, quite a challenge to readers just getting used to the charms of the Dashwood sisters and Elizabeth Bennett."  (1)

  What does this passage tell us about the Author who wrote Mansfield Park?  It sounds like she was restless with the juvenile material she had reshaped in Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility.    
The Wikipedia entry on Mansfield Park would have you believe that it is the least popular of her novels, but the Google Ngram Viewer would seem to disagree with that assertion.

   Fanny Price is a more complicated character then her prior two heroines.  Her story highlights class issues in early 19th century England in a way that her first two books do not.  Within the various revivals of Jane Austen from the mid 19th century on, there have also been streams and counter-streams of the specific works, and Mansfield Park has been a main-stay of literary criticism since the late 19th century.  Anything ANYONE can say about Mansfield Park has been said by someone at some time.  Mansfield Park has been parsed so often that it makes me want to revere this, and other Jane Austen books, from a respectful distance, focusing only on the penumbra of Audience reception and leaving the work itself alone. 


(1)  Harman, Claire- Jane's Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World (London 2009)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Emma by Jane Austen

Jane Austen's Emma, Three Volume Set


by Jane Austen
p. 1815
Read on an Amazon Kindle

   I hesitate to write about a subject like Jane Austen books, but the bottom line is that she is a hitmaker AND her status as a hit maker was late in developing, which puts her into the exalted Romantic category of "misunderstood genius."  Her books were not in style when published.  Rather, the Audience favored the historic novels of Sir Walter Scott.  You only have to compare the two names on the Google Ngram viewer to see what I am talking about.

 Specifically, you can see a dramatic rise in the prevalence of Sir Walter Scott's name by Zeroing in on the period 1800 to 1830 on the Google Ngram Viewer.  The first notable uptick in popularity of Sir Walter Scott occurs in the period of 1818 to 1820.  Now, the number of books published during that time period was quantifiable, but much smaller then the number of books today, obviously.  Sir Walter Scott's Rob Roy and Ivanhoe were published between 1817 and 1819, so it's fair to say that those two books actually "moved the needle" upon release, unlike his earlier fame-making work of Waverely, published 1814.

    From the period of 1820 to 1830, Sir Walter Scott skyrockets and Jane Austen is a flat line.  This state of affairs persists into the mid 20th century, but Jane Austen doesn't even get off the Mat until the 1880s.   According to the Google Ngram Viewer, the eclipse of Sir Walter Scott by Jane Austen in popularity happened in the mid 1940s.   However you want to interpret the data, it's clear that Jane Austen was the beneficiary of what modern music fans and critics call a "Revival."

   Thus, part of the appeal of Jane Austen- in the 1890s up until today is the biography or "myth" of Jane Austen.   It's not true that she was ignored- her books were published, purchased, read and reviewed- it's just that they never "took off."  In subsequent decades the format that she published in (three volume set checked out a lending library) declined in importance and her books went out of print.

  The bottom line though is that Jane Austen wrote because it amused her, and the best evidence of this is Emma, which is either the best or worst of her novels- I can't decide which.   Certainly, recent Hollywood remakes, including the remake starring Gywenth Paltrow and of course, Clueless with Paul Rudd and Alicia Silverstone, probably weigh on the "worst" side of the scale.

  Austen's Emma Woodhouse, set in the context of her other heroines and contemporary fiction, comes off with shades of the Picaro of 18th century literature.  Like the Picaro, everything works out in the end, and it's questionable whether Emma learns her lesson.

   One of the initial criticisms of Emma was the "small town" setting: specific to a time and place but vague as to the exact details.  There are no trips to the pleasure gardens of London in the novels of Jane Austen.  Jane Austen never went to London.  At the time, this feature likely diminished the potential size of her audience, but over time the generality of ALL of Jane Austen's novels proved to be an enduring strength.   A pleasing vagueness of time and place, I suppose you could call it.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice
by Jane Austen
p. 1813
Public Domain Books 1998
Read on an Amazon Kindle, and Kindle For Ipad

  This book is number one in the Amazon category of "FICTION CLASSICS/FREE."
Pride and Prejudice was her next book after Sense and Sensibility.  Sense and Sensibility was the artistic equivalent of "LP1" and Pride and Prejudice was "LP2."   Since this is essentially the most popular classic in the world, I thought I would take the opportunity to make some general comments about the manner in which I read this book, which has been "in print" and  read continuously since being originally published in a 3 volume set in 1813.

   I "purchased" this item on my work computer for my Amazon Kindle on April 12th, 2012.  Between April 12th and May 2nd, Pride and Prejudice was sitting on my Kindle.   On May 1st, I finished reading  Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility.  On May 2nd, I began to read Pride and Prejudice on my Kindle at home but found it "too much" and dropped it after 20 pages.  On May 3rd, I was waiting to make a court appearance and read Pride and Prejudice on my Kindle in the Court Room, I read about 50 pages or so. Later on in the day on May 3rd, I downloaded the App for Kindle on my wife's IPAD and read Pride and Prejudice while A&E Reality television was being displayed on our television.  And then on May 4th I read Pride and Prejudice on my Kindle twice, and once on my wife's IPAD. 

  On May 4th, I watched most of episode 1/5 of the 1980 BBC version of Pride and Prejudice and thought about it.  I also finished reading Mode of Production of Victorian Novels by N.N. Feltes.  Although Feltes is discussing a later time period (1830s vs. 1810s) he discusses trends that were relevant to the publication of both Sense and Sensibility AND Pride and Prejudice.

  Novels published in the early 19th century were often published as an expensive 3 volume set.  The primary consumers were not direct purchasers, but rather circulating libraries, which would then make money by lending out and eventually re-selling the 3 volume set.  Sense and Sensibility was published in a 3 volume set. (HISTORY TODAY)  Pride and Prejudice was ALSO published as a three volume set, so it seems accurate to assert that her Audience was the Audience described by Feltes, lending libraries and their patrons, wealthier readers and then probably some kind of bootleg audience based on unauthorized editions. 

  I would argue that the early 20th century lending library was the functional equivalent of the 20th century juke box, or vice-versa, helping to disseminate works of Art in an Audience that "can't afford" to purchase a full work of art.   It would seem that it would bring a social aspect to the Act of reading a novel, a community aspect if you will.  Jane Austen herself was probably part of a community of that sort. 

  When you consider an early 19th century Lending Library audience, it's interesting that in Pride and Prejudice, the depicted class is not that of Lords and Ladies, but rather various strands within the trade and land bourgeois.  The essence of Pride and Prejudice in my mind is the scene near the end between Elizabeth Bennett (heroine) and Lady Catherine de Bourgh, the Aunt of Darcy (Elizabeth Bennett's intended husband.)

  In that scene Lady Catherine de Bourgh basically says, "Well, we are "commoners" but Darcy's family and the family of this other chick that I want Darcy to marry are a higher sub-class then your family.  And Elizabeth Bennett basically wins the argument by saying, :"No, if none of us are Nobility then we are all the same so there."  And then, most importantly, she gets the guy.  That must have been an appealing message to the women who were checking out books from these early nineteenth century lending libraries. 

  The Lending Library Audience for early 19th century fiction was important but small in terms of the numbers that were to come.  A successful work might print 5 to 10,000 three volume sets.  Not until the later part of the 19th century did a truly "mass" market begin to develop for the "one volume" novel, and this was preceded by a half century of publication by magazines and journals. 

  When you are evaluating art forms from different time periods you need to take account of the publication format, and how that format influenced the Audience.  Lending Libraries were not limited to fiction, they lent sheet music and non-fiction books as well.  The Editions they bought were meant to be passed around from person to person. It just shows that books were more valuable objects in the early 18th century.

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