Thursday, January 31, 2008

I can see your house from here...

The new web trend map is out.

(For those who like superimposition.)

(Or practical jokes?)

Some commentary.

Who are you?

Alright. I'm going to be very picky for a moment.

A pox upon the individual who started the conceit by which bands are described (or describe themselves) in terms of other musical artists confabbing in some kind of hypothetical scenario, all of which is supposed to convince a reader how good the music in question is.

Here's an example that I came across in a recent Entertainment Weekly. The subject is Vampire Weekend, but since they didn't actually write the sentence, I don't feel bad quoting it here:

Imagine New Order sitting down with Paul Simon and talking about the first Talking Heads record, while Pavement plays over the cafeteria loudspeakers.

For one thing, I'm a little confused re: the analogy. The author (Randall Poster, a well-known music supervisor for film) is comparing the music to -- what? A conversation in a cafeteria?

(A cafeteria?)

Like I said, I'm being picky. Maybe grouchy too. But to my ear, this trope (it's a popular one) fails every time. It's what George Orwell would probably have called a "prefabricated henhouse" solution to the (admittedly boring) task of listing an artist's influences and the (admittedly challenging) task of trying to describe an artist's sound.

This is not to downplay the sad truth (for those of us in the "music is the part that matters" camp) that most people are more likely to read (or, probably more accurately, to see) something about a band before they ever hear the actual music. Obviously, the words have to tell.

But why not play with the limitations of language vis a vis music? Make the influences clear, but then come up with something more creative to get the point across? Invent a genre, say?

Hell, VW does this themselves, right on the front page of their freakin' website, when they write

We are specialists in the following styles: "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa", "Upper West Side Soweto", "Campus", and "Oxford Comma Riddim."

That made me laugh. And call me crazy, but it made me far more interested in actually checking out the band.

(Which I just did. Alas, the music is not taking my grouchiness away, but maybe it's just one of those days...)

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A late-night tertiary primary post

Larry Lessig has been doing some brilliant blogging about the horse race (a development that has apparently been in line with a re-focusing of his intellectual efforts -- from copyright issues to corruption in politics).

Here's a recent post (pre-South Carolina) that makes a number of insightful points. F'r'instance:

Let's start with the disappointment: Debates are not Obama's forte. If he were running for Prime Minister, I'd have second thoughts. I can't understand why he isn't better prepared for the obvious exchange that was going to happen. It took way too long to get to (w/r/t the Reagan absurdity): "I obviously don't agree with his ideas and never said I did, and indeed, I worked against them." It took way too long to get to (w/r/t the "present vote" issue): "In the US Senate, voting present would be bad Senatoring. In the Illinois Senate, it is how the system works. My 180 votes out of 4000 is just the same as ...." And w/r/t health care, he never got to "my plan IS universal because it is made available, in an affordable way, to everyone. I just don't believe in fining poor people. I believe in helping them." Again and again, the echo of Obama's message was "it's legitimate for us to disagree about ..." What good is that line doing -- especially given the completely illegitimate charges raised against him by HRC? Someone has go sit him down and force him to spit back 10 second responses to these questions. It isn't rocket science. It is practice and training.

Who better to pick up on this sort of thing than a lawyer? (Oh, wait, Obama was a lawyer too...)

Anyway, after further explicating a few of last week's more astounding Clinton fibs, Lessig wraps things up with these observations:

We've heard this about the Clintons from the start: they would do anything. But watching her utter words she knows are false, or words which even if technically true, create a plainly false impression, was, again, disgusting. Just how small is this person now apparently leading the Democrats? Just how small have we become?

Now of course I am totally open to the charge of naivete. But I don't think it just naivete. When you think about all the virtues that Obama plainly has over HRC -- indeed, in some ways, the Reaganesque ability to inspire, set a vision, speak across divides, etc. -- this cheapness feels different. The loss seems greater.

I might quibble with the word "naivete" here -- as someone who has argued before the Supreme Court, and helped to spearhead a movement that routinely challenges the assumptions (if not the actions) of some of the most powerful forces on earth -- Lessig has probably had to wrestle with more than his share of ugly realities. Doing so does not require naivete, but something more like "passionate idealism."

What a strange concept, that! Especially for a cynic like me. And especially in the early years of a century like this.

Yet I too find myself entertaining the possibility of cultural and political optimism when I consider the Obama candidacy. It's not quite a "last fifteen minutes of Return of the Jedi" moment -- but I find myself imagining that we may actually make it out of this mess yet.

Why? Could it be desperation? Perhaps. In any case, it's deeper than the buzzwords of "change" or "hope" or "political outsider" -- though those are relevant. For me, it comes down to the question of tone.

In music -- as in many other areas of expression -- tone is crucial. Of course, "getting the notes right" is important too, regardless of whether they are "your" notes (in an improvisation, say) or you're reading them off somebody else's page. But tone is the sine qua non of personality, emotion, individuality, narrative. Tone is what makes sound sing. (Of course, it's also frustratingly difficult to quantify.)

Is it naive (or delusional) to try and imagine a new mood for this fucking country? Doesn't everything start with the imagination?

Monday, January 28, 2008

Like rats on a sinking ship...

For anyone who is still of the opinion that the RIAA's fight against illegal downloading (and piracy in general) has anything to do with a sense of responsibility to the artists (as opposed to the big institutions that live off the artists), there is this.

A long-ish excerpt (the italics are mine):

On Monday, January 28, the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB) begins the hearing that will determine mechanical rates for every songwriter and music publisher in America. It will be the most important rate hearing in the history of the music industry because in addition to setting rates for physical products, rates will be set for the first time ever for digital products such as digital downloads, subscription services and ringtones.

The National Music Publishers' Association (NMPA) will be representing the interests of songwriters and music publishers and will be fighting vigorously to protect those interests to ensure that musical compositions are compensated fairly.

On the other side of this fight stands the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Digital Music Association (DiMA). Both the RIAA and DiMA have proposed significant reductions in mechanical royalty rates that would be disastrous for songwriters and music publishers. This is literally a fight for the survival of our industry.

To give you an example of what is at stake, the current rate for physical phonorecords is 9.1 cents. The NMPA is proposing an increase to 12.5 cents per song. The RIAA, however, has proposed slashing the rate to approximately 6 cents a song - a cut of more than one-third the current rate!

For permanent digital downloads, NMPA is proposing a rate of 15 cents per track because the costs involved are much less than for physical products. The RIAA has proposed the outrageous rate of approximately 5 - 5.5 cents per track, and DiMA is proposing even less.

If you find that troubling, it gets worse. For interactive streaming services, which some analysts believe will be the future of the music industry, NMPA is proposing a rate of the greater of 12.5% of revenue, 27.5% of content costs, or a micro-penny calculation based on usage. The RIAA actually proposed that songwriters and music publishers should get the equivalent of .58% of revenue. This isn't a typo - less than 1%. And DiMA is taking the shocking and offensive position that songwriters' and music publishers' mechanical rights should be zero, because DiMA does not believe we have any such rights!

And here's the "official notice" of the hearing, with an extensive list of all the documents submitted in the case.

Friday, January 25, 2008

The couple who follows the horse race together...

...well, let's just say it's a good thing we share the same political affiliation. (Though she is a bit more of an Edwards fan than I.)

Anyhow, we recently got some discursive mileage out of the following topical items:

First: Eugene Robinson in the Washington Post. How wonderful to see a progressively-oriented journalist who finally had the cajones to not only point out the aggressiveness of the Clinton campaign, but to contextualize Obama's controversial comments on the asshole-in-chief who helped make my adolescence so unpleasant (you know the one):

Obama's candidacy not only threatens to obliterate the dream of a Clinton Restoration. It also fundamentally calls into question Bill Clinton's legacy by making it seem . . . not really such a big deal.

That, I believe, is the unforgivable insult. The Clintons picked up on this slight well before Obama made it explicit with his observation that Ronald Reagan had "changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not."

Let's take a moment to consider that remark. Whether it was advisable for Obama to play the role of presidential historian in the midst of a no-holds-barred contest for the Democratic nomination, it's hard to argue with what he said. I think Bill Clinton was a good president, at times very good. And I wouldn't have voted for Reagan if you'd held a gun to my head. But even I have to recognize that Reagan -- like Margaret Thatcher in Britain and Mikhail Gorbachev in the Soviet Union -- was a transformational figure, for better or worse.

Bill Clinton's brilliance was in the way he surveyed the post-Reagan landscape and figured out how to redefine and reposition the Democratic Party so that it became viable again. All the Democratic candidates who are running this year, including Obama, owe him their gratitude.

But Obama has set his sights higher, and implicit in his campaign is a promise, or a threat, to eclipse Clinton's accomplishments. Obama doesn't just want to piece together a 50-plus-1 coalition; he wants to forge a new post-partisan consensus that includes "Obama Republicans" -- the equivalent of the Gipper's "Reagan Democrats." You can call that overly ambitious or even naive, but you can't call it timid. Or deferential.

I was completely in earnest with my above characterization of Reagan -- I found it very tedious (and often miserable) growing up amid the cookie-cutter dreariness of not only his political leadership, but also the cultural tone he set for the country. So I understand why even the mention of his name inspires wrath in the progressive community. But even my second-favorite living newcaster, Keith Olbermann -- my first favorite is Bill Moyers -- was basically unfair to Obama in the aftermath of the Reagan comments, framing the story with a downright scolding tone, and utterly failing to contextualize it (as Eric Zorn rightly points out, Obama never spoke approvingly of the actual content of Reagan's ideas). Up until that point, it seemed very much that there had been a kind of hunger building in the mainstream media, a sense of anticipation that could only be fulfilled when Obama finally tripped up somehow. And if he didn't trip up? Well, at the time it almost felt like somebody wanted to push him.

How interesting, incidentally, that this has become the close-reading, new critical election! (Thank heavens for transcripts, eh?) Silly me, thinking that a PhD in English Literature was worthless.

Item number two is this hilarious item from that paragon of quality journalism: C-N-fucking-N. Interestingly, it's a self-critique (I suppose when it comes down to it, CNN doesn't care whether you love or hate them, as long as you watch / read what they publish). The flap is essentially over the cable station's somewhat simplistic argument that black women will have a hard time choosing their candidate in this year's democratic primaries, because they will be conflicted over going with a racial choice (Obama) vs. a gender choice (Clinton).

Daphne's favorite part is also mine:

An e-mailer named Tiffany responded sarcastically [to the original CNN report]: "Duh, I'm a black woman and here I am at the voting booth. Duh, since I'm illiterate I'll pull down the lever for someone. Hm... Well, he black so I may vote for him... oh wait she a woman I may vote for her... What Ise gon' do? Oh lordy!"

* * * * *

And how 'bout them campaign theme songs?

Romney has used Elvis Presley's "A Little Less Conversation" as his entrance music to convey his can-do style -- in other words, less talk, more action. But Romney's supporters might just want to ignore the part of the song where Elvis tells his paramour to "close your mouth and . . . satisfy me, baby."

Now that's going to give me nightmares for sure.

Popping the balloon, no. 2

I just realized something: a little way into the Led Zeppelin tune "Hey Hey What Can I Do," the lyric goes like this:

Sunday morning when we go down to church
See the menfolk standin' in line

And I ask you, Robert Plant: "menfolk"?


Is that the word you wanted there, no foolin'?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Speaking of jobs...

How would you like to be one of the drones at the Blue Ball Machine?

I have actually worked in factories that seemed very much like this -- a long time ago, of course.

My favorite bit is the pair of stick figures, one expressing surprise, one expressing a query of some sort. See 'em?

Also fun: opening four or five windows of this simultaneously -- so that you have four or five soundtracks running slightly out of phase. (I just discovered that this drives my cats crazy.)

Ah, modernity.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

LEEF trax: "The Job Song"

Those of you who have been checking the IJG MySpace site (and considering the clunky functionality of MySpace, why the fuck would you?!) may have noticed that I recently started sneaking in a few close-to-final mixes from the upcoming IJG album (which will indeed be called LEEF).

I'll have more to say about the album in a bit (I'm taking a pass at mastering it this weekend), but for now I just wanted to alert everyone to the fact that I have "released" a "digital single" of sorts, via one of the (seemingly) millions of new music / networking websites out there. To wit: "The Job Song" (in a higher quality version than that found on MySpace) is now available at the new music site Amie Street.

Amie Street is based on a pretty good idea, actually. For one thing it incentivizes musical curiosity -- "early adopters" of a particular song or album are "rewarded" by not having to pay top dollar for it (actually, on Amie Street there is no such thing as top dollar: the highest price any track can attain is 98 cents). The price rises with the track's popularity -- the more it is downloaded, the more it costs. As of this writing, "The Job Song" is up to a whopping 9 cents! (Hey, I just posted it on Monday.)

It seems to me that the motivation to listen works the other way as well... once a track has made it to the 98 cent mark, that might suggest (to a casual observer) that it has passed an early test of likeablity. (Not that the tracks who don't make it to the 98 cent mark are no good. From the artist's perspective, there is still a certain amount of luck involved here: one can only roll the dice and hope that the music will reach the sort of people who can enjoy it).

I dunno, it's all too new for me to be sure of the longer-term implications. But I sure do like any model that seems to be about empowering music fans.

* * * * *

And now: more than you can possibly want to know about the tune in question.

"The Job Song" was the first thing I wrote for the Evelyn Situation, the NJ-based spastic vocal ensemble I headed up back in the early nineties (this group also featured IJG singer Jill Knapp: for those of you who don't recognize her without the bee costume, she's the left-most head in the above promo shot). If I recall correctly, I brought it to the Evelyns sans title, and it was vocalist Donna Van Der Gaag (the middle head) who started calling it "The Job Song" -- a generic-but-quirky title that somehow stuck.

Since 1995, when Evelyn broke up and I moved to California, I have re-worked this fucker probably more than anything else I've written. The Evelyn arrangement was basically a full-on polka affair, of which a recording was made but never released. "Never," that is, until that group morphed into a studio project called Jay's Booming Hat. And when that studio project briefly morphed into a live JBH project, I arranged two other versions. So in all, there are four versions of this tune: the pure polka (circa 1993-1998), the moody acoustic version (1998), the arty jazz version (1999-2000), and the wacky jazz (IJG) version (2005-now). The latter is the version that will be released on LEEF, and which you can hear on Amie Street.

(Still following this?)

The IJG-ified version of "The Job Song" is characterized by some of the same tactics I have been bringing to bear in a lot of our other music. For one thing, it features two judiciously-placed musical quotes. There is the "Pomp and Circumstance" march that gets layered over the third verse (the verse that begins: "Having just finished school"), which results in all kinds of groovy harmonic tension. (BTW, am I the only one who feels that "P & C," though associated with graduation ceremonies, is actually more like a funeral dirge? I know, I know, it's in a major key, but if you've ever performed it, doesn't it always... seem... just... destined... to... slow... way... the... fuck... down...? Hard to imagine that the thing got two encores at its premiere.)

The other quote, which kicks in during the closing chaos, is from Beck's slacker anthem "Loser." I actually improvised this quote at the piano during a performance in San Francisco in 2006, and then edited it into the soprano parts shortly afterward (cuz no one can really hear the piano at the end of this tune). Aside from the Beck song's thematic parallels with the lyrical content of "The Job Song" (in different ways, they both express dissatisfaction with "the system," yeah?), the former (and all of Mellow Gold, actually) was one of those recordings that helped me mark my transition from New Jersey to LA in the mid 90s -- so quoting it helps to bridge the NJ and LA versions of "The Job Song," at least in my own mind.

And speaking of bridges: if you compare the IJG "Job Song" with the original, you may notice that the jazz waltz that kicks in at around 1:18 (in the IJG version) actually splits the song's "bridge" section in half. The bridge is the part that begins

Well don't you want to be like the people on TV
So bored and jaded and doing something that you have always hated?

After those lines, the bridge is cut off by the waltz. And only after the waltz is over do we get to hear the second half of the bridge:

Just give in -- how could it be a sin?
The big machine must keep on rolling on.

In part, this is me making fun of my own penchant for tightly-constructed bridges (tightly-constructed bridges were an obsession of mine during the Evelyn years). But the waltz is also logically placed, because it is meant to be an example of "something you have always hated." There's a certain amount of (affectionate) kidding going on here, but the idea is that the waltz is supposed to sound a bit corny, a bit too much like commercial, library jazz. This may make more sense if you consider that I wrote the waltz much earlier, sometime around 1988, when I was at Berklee (getting my first taste of what commercial/library jazz actually is). That piece was originally called "Waltz for Wanda," but when I played it with Jill in one of our pre-Evelyn bands, she dubbed it "Waltz for Weather," because of the way it sounded like background music for the Weather Channel. All of these seemed to me to be great reasons to resurrect the thing for a second (ironic) life within an IJG arrangement.

I guess underlying all this stuff is the question of humor. After the various jazz blogosphere threads on this subject over the last year or so, I'm still stuck thinking about what exactly constitutes musical humor for me. In this tune, some of it is obvious -- the lyrics, for instance -- or programmatic (the descending horn part just before each chorus is meant to sound like wicked laughter). Some of the humor is derived from things I have already mentioned, like the quotes (which are supposed to be surprising the first few times around). However, I suspect that these things are all "funny" (to the extent that they are) in relation to the "real world," or more specifically, in the case of the quotations, in relation to the associations that go along with already-existing music, and the ways those associations are juxtaposed with the thematic content of this tune.

But there is also the question of the ways in which music can be in and of itself funny, without reference to extra-musical concerns like satire or social context. To me, this sort of "inherently musical humor" (which I hear done so beautifully in the music of Zappa, Satie, Monk, Raymond Scott, Carla Bley) might have to do with (for instance) something as simple as the unexpected or (at first glance) "illogical" shape of a melody. In "The Job Song," forcing Jill to jump a full octave (and higher) on the word "job" in the chorus is, to me, fairly comical for exactly this reason (though I don't suppose Jill finds it too funny because it ain't the easiest thing in the world to sing). But there are better examples from my own music -- I'll get to them whenever I'm able to write about the other cuts on the new album (i.e., soon).

Another example of "inherent musical humor": introducing a simple idea and taking it to some absurd extreme, like the descent into noise at the end of this track, which probably doesn't really need to go on for as long as it does.

And speaking of going on too long, I'll shut up now.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A: 100

Q: How many pieces were in the floor puzzle that Thandie did (entirely by herself) the other day?

(Here's the one.)

There are still a few months left until she turns four.

So I've decided: to hell with Obama, I'm going to write this kid in for president.

(Sorry: I'll try to keep Annoyingly Proud Dad (aka APD) away from this computer keyboard from now on...)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Smart guy

If you haven't seen it already, Seth Godin's quick summary of the state of the music business circa 2008 is chock-full of all kinds of analytical exactitude. In a way that few such summaries are.

Some samples:

The music business had a spectacular run alongside the baby boomers. Starting with the Beatles and Dylan, they just kept minting money. The co-incidence of expanding purchasing power of teens along with the birth of rock, the invention of the transistor and changing social mores meant a long, long growth curve.

As a result, the music business built huge systems. They created top-heavy organizations, dedicated superstores, a loss-leader touring industry, extraordinarily high profit margins, MTV and more. It was a well-greased system, but the key question: why did it deserve to last forever?

Why indeed? It's funny the way things can seem inevitable after they've been around for a mere fifty years or so.

On the other hand, it's important to remember that the above-inferred decline (and the generally gloomy media prognostications) do not necessarily signal the crash of the CD market as a whole. A few weeks back I was actually wondering -- again -- do I really need to release the next IJG album as a CD? Why not, from this point onward, just create a spiffy website "frame" (i.e., an online equivalent of liner notes, artwork, etc.) in which to "house" each new "album" (i.e., collection of downloadable audio files)?

And then I was reminded: yes, the major CD releases are tanking more and more every year, but indies seem to be doing better than ever -- as in, indie CD sales are up by 35%. (Of course, this suggests a whole other can of worms: potential disagreements over what exactly the definition of "indie" is.)

Copy protection in a digital age is a pipe dream

If the product you make becomes digital, expect that the product you make will be copied.


Most items of value derive that value from scarcity. Digital changes that, and you can derive value from ubiquity now.

The solution isn’t to somehow try to become obscure, to get your song off the (digital) radio. The solution is to change your business.

You used to sell plastic and vinyl. Now, you can sell interactivity and souvenirs.

It's not that music itself is less valuable. It's just that the ways people are connecting with it are... potentially different. Again, it's easy to forget that the carefully catalogued CD collection is a very historically (and culturally) limited phenomenon -- one that owes a great deal to, say, nineteenth/twentieth century practices of book collecting (hello, Walter Benjamin!). It is not at all the default position via which to experience music (though, alas, until recently it has happened to be my favorite).

Perhaps this moment is about the gradual de-commodification of music itself, and the simultaneous commodification (or ramping up of same) of the activities that surround music. And if the commodification of music is what led to nonsense like this, then perhaps undoing those commercial entanglements would be a good thing -- you know, for art's sake.

But perhaps I'm being too naive and optimistic (I've certainly been guilty of that before). Perhaps the commodification of music is somehow vital to our perception of it as "art"? (Or is that just a historical coincidence? Or an inherent western weakness?)

Interactivity can’t be copied

Music is social. Music is current and everchanging. And most of all, music requires musicians. The winners in the music business of tomorrow are individuals and organizations that create communities, connect people, spread ideas and act as the hub of the wheel... indispensable and well-compensated.

How does one create a community around the idea of jazz? Let alone "new" or "avant" or "wacky" forms of jazz?

It should be the easiest thing in the world. These art-forms are generally improvisatory, which means (to me, anyway) that they are not just opportunities to showcase the mad extemporaneous skills of specific performers, in a top-down way (see Kris Tiner's heartbreaking account of this idea taken way too far), but that they are customized; i.e., responsive to the specifics of a particular environment or audience. In a very real sense, the audience and the space participate in the creation of the music itself.

To the discriminating ear, performances always vary, regardless of the genre. But with jazz -- yes, even big band jazz -- one of the charms is that the performance (and to some extent the "content" of that performance) is going to be really different from night to night. What could be more interactive than that?

Many musicians have understood that all they need to make a (very good) living is to have 10,000 fans. 10,000 people who look forward to the next record, who are willing to trek out to the next concert. Add 7 fans a day and you’re done in 5 years. Set for life. A life making music for your fans, not finding fans for your music.

The opportunity of digital distribution is this:

When you can distribute something digitally, for free, it will spread (if it’s good). If it spreads, you can use it as a vehicle to allow people to come back to you and register, to sign up, to give you permission to interact and to keep them in the loop.

Again, selling the experience, not the product.

And 10,000 fans? Holy shit, that actually seems do-able. Who needs a gold record?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Quotable quotes from an ex-cop

For reasons I don't fully remember, I recently stumbled upon this (see also below, assuming the embedding works).

(And speaking of stumbling upon, how cool is stumbleupon?)

Anyway, the subject matter here is interesting enough (though I've never seen the film under discussion), but partly I'm just curious to try out the Internet Archive's video posting interface, which I have never used.

And the promised quotes (yes, I watched the whole damned thing):

We did indulge in occasional gratuitous emotional violence, mostly out of boredom.

Film composing is not art, it's craft. [...] Playing in a rock band, that's art. [...] It's your own collaborative artistic vision. So you're an artist. But when I'm scoring a film, there's only one artist, and that's the director.

(Interesting. At the risk of wandering too far from the point here, I feel compelled to cut in briefly and say that "craft" is always what I thought the Police were about. I don't mean that as a critique, necessarily -- I know they had great songs, that they were great musicians, and so on. I was never a huge fan, but I was an appreciative observer of Police-mania, which hit as I was entering high school. But despite my respect for them, the group always reminded me of the real policemen I have known -- more upstanding than artsy.)

[Advice for an aspiring musician:] Get on the mic... cuz the drummer works for the singer. Even when the drummer is the singer.

The Sex Pistols invented this cool thing called punk. And we stole it.

In our day we'd go from radio station to radio station, city to city, and we would meet the local guys, we'd shmooze them, we'd press records into their hands -- and other things -- you know, just a little payola, and you could do it. [...] Breaking in [today], I don't know how you do it anymore.

Q: "You mentioned that you were the can of beans. So why the gym shorts, tee-shirt?"

A: "The short shorts [...] That's what everybody wore back then [...] If I wore those publicly today I'd make some new friends.

Rock and roll is basically the mating dance of the human being. [...] It's human plumage. The purpose of music is to... it's a sex dance. The way we display our wares. Did you ever notice how when music plays people start to shake their hips? They thrust their pudenda at each other? In a way that would be otherwise socially unacceptable? It's all about sex.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Numbers game, game primaries

If you are as trepidatious (whoops, is that a word?) as I am about the (oh-no-not-again!) return of American I-dull tonight, consider the following possible statistics:

If 4% of the US population is tone deaf, and if the US population is somewhere around 300 million, and if the viewership of the show is around 30 million (these are all guesstimates based on cursory google searches), then it's possible that nearly half of those who enjoy the show are tone deaf.

Yes? I'm just saying it's possible, is all. (Math was never my forte, so I'm winging it here.)

Recent news about tone deafness.

* * * * *

Recent webological coincidence (hmm, I think not):

(Thanks to transterrestrial for the screenshot.)

The "establishment media" (which I'm defining here as any powerful, moneyed opinion-makers) is really bobbling things with this election (surprise!), and that ad (which has inundated Yahoo! (at least) over the last week) is a great example. As I've inferred, Clinton is not my first choice for prez, but this ad campaign has been pretty unfair, and one has to be suspicious of the motivations behind it.

Friday, January 11, 2008

RIP Dan Morris

For some time before I snapped up an (unwitting) Mr. Schnelle as our "official drummer" -- and let's face it, the honor has been all mine -- we had something of a "drummer problem," in that we couldn't get any of our tubs-men to actually stay in the band. From 2000 to 2005 we went through, by my count, six "main" drummers, and maybe a few more who subbed with us from time to time. That's changing drummers more than once a year -- no way to build a solid rhythm section, especially when you're dealing with complex, written, original music. It was maddening.

Not that it was anybody's fault. Sometimes economic reality intervenes. Sometimes schedules just don't mesh. And sometimes, even in the case of players who can handle all of the aesthetic / economic / logistical challenges you want to throw at them, the chemistry of a given lineup might be slightly askew. (As a bandleader, sometimes you've just got to suck it up and recognize that the greatest musician in the world might not be the best fit for your project, if he or she isn't "vibing" with everyone else.)

Still, I like to think that I have learned something important from everyone who has played in this group, no matter how briefly. And I know that's the case with Dan Morris, who took a turn in the IJG drum chair for maybe four or five months in 2003. Dan and I lost touch shortly after his tenure as our drummer -- until recently, when he came back to my attention in the worst possible way. There are so many dimensions to this tragedy, but the one I keep coming back to is the untimeliness of it all -- at 37, he was, simply and horribly, way too young.

Dan's good friend Alex Shapiro has a moving tribute (as well as some context) here (thanks to KT for the link).

* * * * *

I met Dan at a James Carney trio concert (at the aforementioned club Rocco) sometime in 2002 (Dan Lutz was on bass, I believe). For me, it was a moment of great growth -- the IJG (such as it was) was fully into its septet phase, and was in the process of becoming a distinct presence on the LA "avant jazz" scene (such as it was). I was at the Carney concert both to hear the trio live for the first time (I had been a fan of their recorded work for a while) and to check out the club, which I had never been to. It was a mellow evening, audience-wise, and at the break Carney and Morris both came over to my table and we had a long chat about music and LA. They confessed their admiration for our City of Angles album (which had just come out), and we talked about that for a little while. I was a little naive, and a little overwhelmed, frankly -- as an interloper on the scene, I couldn't believe I was getting totally unsolicited and genuine respect from the very guys I was trying to show unsolicited and genuine respect for. It was a nice connection.

I noted right away that Dan had a big, fun, outgoing manner; as a result, the conversation seemed to fly right by. At the end of the night, I filed that interaction somewhere in the back of my mind -- with a note that said "If you ever need a drummer, be sure to give this guy a call."

* * * * *

Dan was on board for our very first San Francisco performance (which, coincidentally, took place on the day after the Iraq war started, and was thus a fairly emotional event for me -- I can still vividly remember the street protests that almost prevented me from actually making it to the venue). If you squint, you can see him in the above pic, between Garrett Smith (bone) and Cory Wright (soprano).

But Dan's first performance with us was a Rocco show (by this time the club had moved into the theater next to the performance space depicted in the "AMC" video), on February 22, 2003. It was only our second performance as a nonet; in addition to Dan and myself, the personnel was Aaron Kohen (bass), Cory Wright (tenor), Beth Schenck (soprano), Evan Francis (alto), Kris Tiner (trumpet), Justin Ray (trumpet), and Garrett Smith (bone). Dan helped us debut a number of tunes which would eventually be released on The Star Chamber.

To my ear, he lent a unique beefiness to the overall sound of the group. Check out his take on the opening section of this (shitty live recording of) "Anger Management Classes" (I know I've been going on about this one lately -- sorry):

Whatever my insecurities about this tune, I have long drooled at the prospect of doing an orchestra + drumkit arrangement of it -- and what Dan plays here pretty much nails what I would be looking for from a drummer in that scenario: a driving beat punctuated by "sporadic raining hellfire" fills. Or something like that.

Although he was comfortable slopping around in the bog of progginess exemplified by "AMC," I personally think that where Dan really shone was in the freer, more improvisatory stuff. In this excerpt from a performance of "Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboy-Presidents" (recorded at the same Rocco show), notice how he expertly displaces the big "drum downbeat" that you so desperately want to hear at the end of the first four-note horn sequence (to put it another way: there's a roll that begins at around :21 and feels like it could end in a crash at :26, but hangs on for another two seconds). That, plus the sudden shifts in feel/texture that follow, give this section an apposite frenetic tone (which ended up evolving in a different direction by the time we got around to recording the tune "for real"):

Of course, Dan could lay down a plain old comical backbeat groove (the sort of thing that we would start doing more of in 2004, after he left the group). This is from a later section of the same recording of "Mamas":

And so on.

* * * * *

I certainly don't want to suggest that Dan's participation in the IJG was the high point of his career, however much I personally appreciated it. To really hear him at his best, I recommend checking out any of the recordings he made with James Carney. There are three of them, and they are all stellar -- here's a sample from one of my very favorite of Jim's tunes (that's Peter Epstein on soprano -- good golly!). There is also the work he did with Alex Shapiro, which I am less familiar with, but which sounds great to me in the excerpt that can be found at her own post. And yes, there's more stuff listed at this bio.

The bigger issue, however, is that whatever recorded legacy he left behind, Dan was a significant force on the LA new music scene in the early years of this century -- and perhaps in ways that are frustratingly harder to measure than through the evidence of a simple discography. He was one of those dedicated, unsung people who was always out hearing music as well as making it. He was curious, he was an advocate, and he helped to keep the scene alive. He was there in a way that mattered -- a quintessential soldier in one of the best "good fights" a person could embrace: the fight for culture.

For that, and for everything else, this ex-Angeleno would humbly and solemnly like to say: thank you, Dan. You will be greatly missed.

Speaking of politics...

I got what America needs right here.

I know that's the title of the piece, but seriously -- how cool would it be if we actually lived in a country where presidential candidates could publicly speak like this?

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Primary coronaries (but not, thankfully, coronations)

I haven't posted anything about politics in a long time. But boy oh boy have I ever been following the "big race." You might even call me a junkie at this point.

Junkies don't always make the best writers. So I'll take the easy way out by pointing you to this post, in which the political blogger Publius comes pretty close to describing my own take on the events of the last week. Some salient excerpts:

Coming of political age in the Gingrich/late Clinton era, I’ve never really been inspired by any politician. It’s been a mix of outrage and ironic detachment from ’94 on. So you should forgive Ezra – and our generation more generally – if we use some flowing rhetoric from time to time. It’s a newfangled thing for us – and we’re not that good at it. It’s like getting drunk for the first time. You may utter some stupid stuff, but it’s still fun, so you don’t really care.

When the primary fumes pass, we’ll all come around to Clinton, especially compared to the GOP monstrosities. But with Clinton, my perception is that none of this inspired future is possible. Hers will be a competent, moderate, K Street-friendly administration. But I want more – and I think the nation could get more.


The problem is that the specific types of policy disagreements I have with Clinton are ones that generate strong emotions. Thus, it’s easy to mistake emotional-yet-ultimately-policy-based critiques with unfair sexism (though I’m not denying that sexism plays a role for many opponents). Here then is a brief rundown of those policy disagreements.

First, and most fundamentally, I think her actions on the national security front disqualify her. The Dems should not reward radio silence on Iraq, torture, etc. during the years it mattered with a presidential nomination. Period. It doesn’t make her a monster, or even a bad person. But it should at least mean you don’t get to be president. If you make an insincere political gamble, you have to pay that bill if you lose. Kerry paid it, and Edwards did too.

Second, and relatedly, I have fears about her national security judgment going forward. Specifically, I fear that she’s so afraid of looking liberal that she either won’t attempt bold change (e.g., Cuba, Israel/Palestine), or will be bullied into doing something foolish (Iran). Her past positions are strong evidence of what she’ll do in the future – see, e.g., Kyl-Lieberman – and it’s not good.

Third, on domestic policy, I think she’s got all the right stuff – she’s brilliant and has great policy proposals. But the fear is that those proposals will just collect dust in the White House policy shop. I’ve seen nothing since 1994 that indicates the slightest willingness to take political risk for something she believes in. She’s too cautious and scared (just like Kerry). Turning back to Obama briefly, I’m more convinced that he’ll at least try to aim high. I also believe that an Obama victory would create more favorable underlying social and political conditions for real progressive change.

Yes. Let me add (to expand on Publius's "underlying social and political conditions" point) that a vote for Obama, by legitimizing political idealism and imagination again, would at least start to pave the way for a world in which someone like Dennis Kucinich -- who in my view has a much saner, more humane, and more progressive platform than any of 'em -- could actually have a viable candidacy. (Assuming there was no horrible mis-step to inspire a conservative backlash, of course.)

There's also this interesting bit in the comments, from Adam:

I still think Obama can pull it out -- and man am I hoping he will -- but then I remembered that my nightmare scenario was Hillary coasting to the nomination and then getting annihilated in the general election, a la Kerry. [...] But right now that worries me less than it did just two weeks ago. Kerry's problem -- and Clinton's too, up 'til this point -- was not engaging, not being human, working off polls, etc. Gore made the same mistake. Clinton finally, blessedly, got something of a clue, and that shifts the whole dynamic of the race. This is about the Presidency, after all. Clinton a month ago didn't stand a chance in the general; Clinton in the last week could actually win the Presidency. In retrospect, I feel like her unfavorables might have been less about Hillary-hate than revulsion at the robotic brand of politics that's typified so many ridiculous Democratic losses.

Again, yes.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

More fun with the PDX Craig's List


I have been hailed as the greatest guitar player in the world. I'd like to hook up with 16 other guitarists to make a 17 piece guitar band called "Guitar-o-rama". I have looked the name up and it is not taken. I feel like the type of music played is inconsequential as 17 guitarists playing at once will splatter everyone's brains onto the venue's floors. I've already got 3 coffee shops pretty much locked into doing a gig. Obviously you see where I'm going with this.

Please respond to this with a cover letter, references and resume to be considered.

Thank you and have a wonderful day.

I actually like the concept here (though of course it's already been done, in one way or another).

And then there's this:

Musicians are assholes

Ya you heard me right!!!! . My girl left me for a dam drummer today, and he is ugly. she met him at a bar that he played at last night . he is just going to use her like you all do and then dump her with a STD. I have a real job , a nice car and I am romantic, and a very nice guy with a real job So I just want you all to know that I am going to spread the word about you Musicians. SO take your drum sticks and guitar picks and put them in your ASS

Location: HELL


Thanks, fellas, for making the gig-searching process that much more enjoyable.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The departed

It's not complete by any means (are they ever?), but Locust Street has posted a list of a few of 2007's notable departures -- with accompanying music clips (if you've never heard that Kenton version of "Everything Happens To Me" (a Bob Graettinger arrangement) do yourself a favor and check it out now).

There is never enough time to blog about everything you want to blog about -- but I sure would have appreciated a few extra hours this year to write up a post on Lee Hazlewood. Ah, well.