Thursday, February 28, 2008

LEEF art

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the cover of LEEF:



The art on this mofo was expertly executed by Alan Kahler (whose design is even more impressive when you consider that I was operating under pretty severe budget constraints). I would highly recommend Alan for any art project ya got.

"LEEF," by the way (I may as well explain it now) is an intentional mis-appropriation of one conjugation of the Dutch word for the verb "to live" (as in "I live," or simply a command: "live!"). Of course, since this is mostly a concert recording, I'm using "LEEF" as a way to play with the American word "live," referring to a performance in front of an audience (apparently this word doesn't translate very well into Dutch). Why embrace this linguistic slippage? I guess I liked the extra dimension that the (proper) Dutch usage brought -- cuz this album has basically been my life (though not my living) for almost two years now.

To complicate things even further, the Dutch word is actually pronounced "layf" -- though the picture of a leaf on the cover is meant to suggest the "long e" pronunciation.

Confused? Consider Läther as an inspiration.

(I must thank Steve Munley for helping me to understand some of these nuances of the Dutch language, by the way.)

What else? According to one urban dictionary, "leef" also refers to "excellence" (in American slang).

Oh, yeah, and there is also the Chaucerian word "lief," which, if I'm remembering correctly, can refer to "beloved," "dear," or "willing." (Too tired to link it right now.)

Why all caps? I dunno, I think it looks cool.

Take your meanings where you will.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Apropos of nothing...

Here's an awesome animal list (take it with a grain of wikipedia-salt, of course).

Did you know that if you want to say that someone is "alligator-like," you can call them "eusuchian"?

Or that a baby crocodile is called a "crocklet"? (Even better: a baby falcon is called an "eyass.")

Or that a group of earthworms is called a "sloop"?

Or that a group of siskins is called an "ebert"? Not to be confused with... (Okay, sorry, it's late.)

Or that the male and female armadillo is called a "lister" and a "zed," respectively?

(I'm picking these out more or less at random.)

Anyway, why?

Answer: this list is coming very handy in a song I am writing. Of course!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Friday, February 22, 2008

I figured it out

I know I've been blogging an awful lot about politics lately. This is not an explicitly political blog, and I don't pretend that any of my own musings on the subject are on par with the hardcore political bloggers.

But I realized while watching the debate tonight why this election has become so personal for me -- aside from the obvious fact that we're talking about the future of the country.

It's not much of an exaggeration to say that trying to make "creative music," in this day and age, and in this country in particular, is a highly idealistic (and perhaps even naive, and perhaps even foolish, and perhaps even self-destructive) enterprise. Zappa captured the scope and power of the obstacles musicians face by putting these words into the voice of his sneering "Central Scrutinizer" character (in the epic Joe's Garage album):

Joe has just worked himself into an imaginary frenzy during the fade-out of his imaginary song. He begins to feel depressed now. He knows the end is near. He has realized at last that imaginary guitar notes and imaginary vocals exist only in the mind of The Imaginer, and ultimately, who gives a fuck anyway? [laughter] Who gives a fuck anyway? So he goes back to his ugly little room and quietly dreams his last imaginary guitar solo...


Yeah, that about nails it: who gives a fuck anyway? More immediate (and depressing) evidence of this brick-wall-in-the-face-of-art can be found in DJA's moving writeup on the problem of musicians without health care (in general) and the crises of Andrew D'Angelo and Dennis Irwin (in particular). As Darcy puts it:

As jazz musicians in America, we gamble with our lives, placing a sucker's bet every month: health insurance or rent, health insurance or food, health insurance or buying an instrument, heath insurance or renting a rehearsal space, health insurance or making a record, health insurance or hiring a publicist to promote your record, health insurance or going on tour, etc. Not to mention that even those who do mange to obtain heath insurance often still end up bankrupted by medial bills. [...]
And then if the unthinkable happens -- if you are diagnosed with a brain tumor, or a spinal tumor -- the system says, "Too bad for you, but it's your fault for not having gotten a real job. If you cared about your health, you wouldn't have become a musician in the first place. But, hey, don't despair, I'm sure your fellow musicians can raise a few hundred bucks for you at benefit show. That'll really put a dent in those six-figure medical bills."


Again: when shit like that goes down, how could you not come away feeling like nobody gives a fuck?

Anyway, I realized (or perhaps recalled) while watching the debate that there are a number of similarities between the political industry and the music industry in this country. Both are configured toward the interests of the powerful. Both reward deception (run the trend into the ground). Both discourage innovation or creativity (avoid the risk at all costs). Both are plagued by cynicism (whatever, nevermind) and superficiality (that sounded "pitchy" to me, dog).

And yet, ironically but importantly, both are attended by contituencies (audiences) that are hungry -- maybe even desperate -- for the opposite of all that. This, I think, is why the Obama campaign has gained so much ground so quickly. Once people began to get the sense that, at long last, somebody good finally got through the system -- well, how do you stop that? Maybe, just maybe, we're not fucked. It's like struggling to break free from a lucid nightmare. (And in that sense, it's not really about Obama, so much -- it's about us.)

Isn't this what keeps us going as musicians, composers, or artists of any stripe? Sure, there is the undeniable pleasure of making art, but isn't there an idealist in all of us, holding out for the possibility that someday, good people and good work will actually get through the system? (Why would we do it if we didn't believe that were possible?)

Wherever this election goes from here (and who knows, maybe we're all just kidding ourselves about Obama -- though I suspect not), it's nice to have a palpable, resonant example of the fact that things-that-seem-impossible (be they artistic things or political things) can sometimes actually get done.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Woman of wonder



Sent to me by my lovely wife.

Thandie's big question upon being introduced to this classic super-heroine: "Why is she wearing that bathing suit?"

Why indeed, sweetheart. Why indeed.

(By the way, does anyone else have the impression that the voiceover in this commercial has been pitch-shifted downward? And if so, how exactly is that supposed to make someone want to buy the doll?)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Thank you...

...to nolalily and Jim Newell for writing this and this, respectively.

Newell does us the favor of including the footage of the interview, and nolalily links to hilzoy's spectacular overview of Obama's legislative record, which is as solid a refutation of this silly charge (that Obama doesn't have the experience or know-how to make laws) as I've seen.

But neither includes anything about the way in which, immediately after cutting back to the studio, Keith Olbermann (co-anchoring with Matthews) gently pulled the rug out from his pompous desk-mate by asking (I'm paraphrasing here): "To be fair to Senator Obama, can you name anything that Congress has accomplished in the last eight years?" At which point the real bluster began (Matthews responded with something to the effect that "That's too broad of a question to answer here"), and after a few more awkward exchanges, they were off to a commercial. I would've loved to have been on that set in the moments afterward, let me tell you.

(As I said, I'm paraphrasing the exchange -- YouTube it in a few days and I'm sure you'll find the clip.)

Anyway, so gracias to Olbermann too. I had been growing less and less fond of his reporting in recent weeks -- his stance on the Obama-Reagan thing and his seeming approval of Shuster's suspension were particularly annoying to me. But this is a welcome return-to-form.

UPDATE:

Crooks and Liars has the clip.

UPDATE #2:

hilzoy's response is beautiful. And the comments point toward Kirk Watson's own (pretty goddammed gracious and mature) take on what happened. (Watson is the guy Matthews grilled).

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Little victories where you can get them



So I bit the bullet this week (well, last week) and joined Garageband. Actually, I re-joined -- I had submitted a few tracks from our first album, Hardcore, way back in 2001, but because that was such a (relatively) long time ago (and because I "dropped out" of the Garageband scene shortly afterwards), I had to create a fresh account for the new stuff I'll be submitting. Hence the distinction between The Industrial Jazz Group and Industrial Jazz Group (yeah, I know, I should probably fix that at some point).

You can still read the reviews we got for the two Hardcore tracks I submitted: "Plus or Minus Eleven" and "Cozy 'n Tooty". They're kind of, well, funny. (For some reason the word "cute" pops up a lot, which I don't understand, but nevertheless find amusing.) Of course, you can also listen to the songs if you've never heard them.

This go-round, I've started with "The Job Song." Which, now that I think about it, allows me to do an unscientific comparison of the promotional usefulness of Garageband and Amie Street (where I uploaded the same tune a short while back -- as described here).

My first impression is that although both sites rely on user reviews, Garageband (which is, incidentally, connected to the "social music discovery service" iLike, and is the brainchild of ex-Talking Head Jerry Harrison) provides more tangible evidence that people are actually interacting with your work (and of course that's useful from the standpoint of getting to know your audience). This is possibly because the metaphor for Amie Street is "store" -- it is essentially a warehouse for MP3s, where prices are determined by demand (which is in turn reflected in user recommendations, or RECs -- all of these sites simply must have their own lexicon, I guess). So far "The Job Song" has received only one "REC" at Amie Street -- which may partly be because I have done very little to actually promote it on the site. But it may also be because of the site metaphor. I have no doubt that the folks who use the site are passionate music fans, but the M.O. seems less-than-urgent: users are simply browsing an online store.

In contrast, the metaphor for Garageband is "contest," with all of the trappings that entails: charts, the possibility for negative and positive reviews (remember, Amie Street only allows "recommendations"), a comparatively elaborate protocol for reviewing, and "prizes" like "track of the day."

Which, incidentally, is what "The Job Song" is going to be tomorrow (on the jazz page).

I don't know if that little accomplishment means anything beyond the (possibly lucky) fact that our first three reviews were pretty good (and also humorous -- apparently I should be writing musicals), but it does feel nice.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

A terrific plumber



It's late, but I just found out about this Carl Wilson book -- (ostensibly) about Celine Dion -- which came out in December. I haven't read it yet, but after discovering this Crawdaddy interview (c/o John Mark), I really really really want to.

A few posts back, I hinted at my own internal dialogue on the question of taste (check down in the comments of this post). I swear I haven't been out searching for a book that expertly sinks its teeth into this complex issue -- no time -- but apparently I just found it.

Here are some excerpts from the interview:

Celine presents some special qualities: everyone agrees that what she does is at a high level of musical accomplishment, for instance, no matter how much they dislike her, so that combination was striking to me; it raises a particular puzzle. (How can music be at once good and no good? What does the word "good" really mean?)


(These are apposite questions, but I feel I should interject that there are probably few music fans who would argue that "good" means "played with technical skill." (Maybe the real question is "what is technical skill"?) It's nice when interesting musical ideas can be combined with sophisticated physical execution -- but sometimes interesting ideas don't even need that. And sometimes something as hard-to-define as attitude trumps both the quality of the ideas and the execution.)

Most of all, though, as I say in the book, I think I had more of a personal grudge against Celine, and that edge made the project more compelling to me: why did she piss me off so much?


Yes. That is a really brave question for a critic to ask.

Maybe related: in grad school I came to the conclusion that it is impossible for a writer to achieve true objectivity when discussing art -- and the simulacra of objectivity that many writers actually attained was easily confused with boredom. When it comes to music criticism, I have always preferred writers who emphasize their subjectivity (see Lester Bangs, f'r'instance) -- including their failings and idiosyncracies. That way, I feel like I at least become aware of a specific context in which a given work succeeds or fails. And learning about the contexts for art is almost as important as learning about art itself. I guess.

Crawdaddy!: In your exercise to try to change your own taste, did you come any closer to being able to define what taste is, or how we develop our sense of taste? You quote the poet Paul Valéry, who wrote: "Tastes are composed of a thousand distastes." At the end of this experiment, do you agree with that?

Wilson: I think that tastes are composed of a thousand misunderstandings. And about half of those are wonderful misunderstandings, in which someone's imperfect expression of their sense of what it's like to be alive manages to squish itself into the tunnels of our own sense of what it's like to be alive, and we mistake their experience for ours, because music and pictures and words and so on have the power to simulate the experience of other minds, even though I suspect we're never really hearing what the maker thinks we're hearing. It's like taking things the wrong way the right way.


An interesting analysis, to say the least. And it raises the question of whether "communication" -- at least as it's understood within a language-based framework -- ever really happens in music. To put it another way: is "musical meaning" possible? (And if so, what is it? And if not, how do we determine musical "value"?)

And the other half of those are lousy misunderstandings, in which we take things the wrong way the wrong way, and imagine that another set of music and pictures and words represents an assault against us, that it's the manifestation of everything that makes our lives difficult. It has to do with how much code we share with the makers, to some degree, but also what pleasure we respect and what pleasure we don't. All artists, good or bad, are trying to build little machines that express meaning and give pleasure. What I've discovered, I think, is that this is very seldom done in bad faith -- or that, at least, whether it's in good faith or bad faith is generally irrelevant to our liking for it. I think Celine makes her music in as much good faith as, say, Ghostface Killah does. That I like what Ghostface does and not so much what Celine does has to do with a lot of social meaning and positioning that is implied by the trappings around each of them, and maybe with how successfully and creatively they do it, but it doesn't imply that there are bad intentions behind one and not the other. Maybe Ghostface is in his room laughing at his fans' gullibility. I'll never know. So taste is not moral in the way that much of the discourse around it implies. Art is always manipulative and taste is always a choice of collusions.

I do think that when you like something for being "not like" the mainstream, for being "not like" what people you don't like prefer, you're playing a status game and thinking very shallowly about art.


I love that metaphor of artists building "little machines that express meaning and give pleasure" -- though with all the "misunderstanding" referenced above, one wonders, again, how much meaning is really conveyed. (My own trajectory as an artist -- over the last ten years or so -- has been very much about becoming as interested in musical pleasure as I used to be solely in musical meaning.)

Amen as well to the bit about intentions. I guess we're into the issue of morality here; but if intentions don't necessarily have anything to do with the quality of the music, is "bad music" immoral? (Sometimes it sure feels like it is...)

Obviously I'm asking a lot of pompous, over-broad questions tonight. Sorry.

Anyway, if not intentions, then what about context (again)?

However, we're all aware that we need to be decent to people we don't necessarily love; that we don't need to love everyone in order to respect them. So I think what the book calls for is a bit of a renewal of the golden rule on an aesthetic level: you can say Rascal Flatts aren't your cup of tea, but you can still think, well, they're beloved of a lot of people who'd probably be extremely nice to me if I came into their house for dinner. And if we were eating some fried chicken and peas and chatting and they put on a Rascal Flatts record, maybe I'd have fun listening to it while I was talking to them. So there's a tone of contempt that we adopt about what we consider inferior music that I think is contextual: "This music doesn't make sense within my life." And maybe that does mean it's second-rate, or maybe it means that it'd be first-rate within another kind of life. The background sense that what we're debating is ways of living might make us slow down a bit in our snap judgments. It's probably not a way any of us can think all of the time, but like any sort of moral thinking, it can be a check upon our worst instincts.


So musical taste is a kind of social tool that can be used (to connect) or abused (to discriminate and divide)?

Note how the "digital revolution" has a tendency to make the social context of music much more visible than it has ever been. Aside from the obvious example of the blogosphere (where people are constantly confessing and sharing their tastes), software like iTunes (f'r'instance) keeps a running tab on the number of times a listener has played a given song -- and that history can then be recorded into a last.fm or Mog.com account (say), where it goes on display for anyone who wants to view it. Genres may split and subdivide, but, more and more, patterns of taste are represented, albeit imperfectly.

I ended up feeling that this is where criticism needs to go, really; that arid and witty dissections of culture aren't what I want to read —- whether it's reportage or reflection, I want to hear about what life is like for other people, and art is a vehicle for that exchange. It's more than just that, of course: I like to read technical and historical analyses, too. But critics who are merely trying to fix a numerical value to artworks, like a Consumer's Report on car tires, only help to kill the whole enterprise. (Although that ratings game can be a good subterfuge, the way that someone like Robert Christgau uses it as bait on his intellectual hook.)


I remember too many things about high school, but one of the less-pleasant memories is of watching a fellow student getting cut down (verbally, of course) by a peer, over the fact that the former was wearing a Led Zeppelin T-shirt. At hand was a question of whether the LZ-garbed student was an "authentic fan" of the band -- or whether he was wearing the shirt simply because he wanted to be perceived as such (so as to garner whatever dubious status that might earn him). You know, the whole "poser" debate.

Is the state of music criticism an example of the high school status dynamic writ large? A culture of "one-upsmanship"?

Related questions, none of which are new: why does music (more obviously, I think, than, say, dancing, or visual art, or literature) help to mark social status? Why is it so essential to identity?


Crawdaddy!: Was the book an outgrowth of wanting to become more democratic in your taste, or did writing the book cause you to become more democratic in your taste?

Wilson: Both. Mainly it was a concentrated period of trying to figure out what "democratic" means. I think it's a glorious paradox. It doesn't mean populism and majority rule. It means something closer to being vulnerable enough, brave enough, to listen to other people without interrupting. And then to give your own point of view just as patiently. It means looking for the lucky misunderstandings and not losing your head over the injurious ones.


Ah -- patience! What a beautiful concept.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Um, what?

Like Hilzoy, I have wanted to avoid piling on. But this is just too crazy not to post.



No, really. That's an official promo spot.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

How green, at a glance

For the voter-on-the-go:

Grist mag's handy chart on the candidates' environmental policies.

Nice!

Toldja



Guitar rising (or Guitar-sinking-to-a-new-low, depending on how you look at it).

Mania

I'll get back to musical posts soon, I swear.

* * * * *


Kevin over at Lean Left recently had an interesting take on the liberal credentials of Clinton vs. Obama. After addressing the greater progressiveness of Clinton's healthcare plan (said progressiveness seems to rest entirely on the inclusion of mandates -- which is of course only one way of looking at it), he goes on to say that

Obama has the better foreign policy. While he has been reluctant to lead on Iraq, his foreign policy seems sounder than Clinton. He was correct about the war in Iraq and he has directly challenged the framing of the security issues. He has attacked the politics of fear and the militarization of our foreign policy. His advisors are much less hawkish than Clinton’s, and his rhetoric has been much less “bomb first, ask questions later”. I believe that Clinton is sincere in her hawkishness. I think she and her people actually believe that American military might is an excellent tool for advancing liberal democracy and American interests. Obama is wiser than that.

The decision would seem clear: which of those policies is more important? Unfortunately for me, I don’t think there is much difference in their importance. The American economy and the American people desperately need our broken health care system to be fixed. It is the most important domestic policy consideration with the exception of dealing with climate change. But America desperately needs to understand that empire is no longer a viable foreign policy. Until that happens, America will continually spend more than it should to protect itself and will continue to needlessly create rivals and enemies.

There is one difference between the two issues, however. The progressive infrastructure and, to a certain extent, the country at large are to the left of Obama on this issue. The SEIU is going to spend 75 million dollars to advocate for universal health care. The Congress is likely to be Democratic, and perhaps even very democratic. It is possible, even likely, that the bills that come out of Congress will push Obama to the left on health care. Indeed, the primary criticism has lead him to start talking about punishing the free riders when they do come in for care. Not the best option, but it’s a start. In foreign policy, however, Clinton is solidly in the establishment consensus. Unfortunately for us, it is a bi-partisan consensus, so a Democratic Congress is not likely to push Clinton away from America as Empire. A popular President who advocates the opposite, and who fills the Defense Department and State Department with advocates for his position, is perhaps the best way of changing the terms of the foreign policy debate in this country.

So it’s Obama because where he is wrong there is the good possibility that the electorate and party can make him more right and where he is right he offers a unique opportunity to change the terms of the debate in this country in a very good way for a very long time.


That sounds about right to me.

* * * * *


I don't have the energy (or, really, the desire) to get into the minutia of "pimp-gate" -- which thankfully doesn't seem to have affected the voting this weekend. I have already indicated that I think Clinton is getting some unfair coverage in this election. Let me just throw out the following additional observations and be done with it:

1. I'm sure this is clear already, but just in case: the fact that there is (undeniably) sexism in the media (to whatever extent) is not a sound argument for Clinton's candidacy. Pity is not a good reason to elect someone president. To put it another way: the fact that Clinton is a smart, powerful woman -- and that many people don't like smart, powerful women -- does not mean that those of us who do like smart, powerful women should automatically vote for her. (A Politico commenter refers to a great Susan Sarandon quote: "I have no doubts that a woman can lead this nation. I do, however, have serious doubts about THIS woman.")

2. The Clinton campaign's ultimatum against MSNBC -- punish Shuster or no debate -- betrays exactly the sort of politics-as-usual approach that has so disenchanted me with the Clinton candidacy. And on top of that it makes the issue of Shuster's impropriety seem pettier than it actually is.

3. Robin Morgan could not be more wrong when she says: "I’d rather say a joyful Hello to all the glorious young women who do identify with Hillary, and all the brave, smart men -— of all ethnicities and any age —- who get that it’s [i.e., supporting Clinton is] in their self-interest, too. She’s better qualified. (D’uh.)" Not to put too fine a point on this, but I find it hard to see how Hillary's candidacy is in the best interest of, say, all the Americans who are over in Iraq right now (not to mention all the people who have already died there).

* * * * *


Andrew Sullivan (of all people!) recently cited this interesting article by Tish Durkin. Tish is no direct relation to me, as far as I know. That may explain why the piece is, ahem, brilliant:

If you want to know all there is to know about politics in the time of Clinton, look in your grocer's dairy section. Back in the early days of her New York congressional campaign the future Senator Clinton and the rest of Team Hillary made a crack-of-dawn raid on a supermarket in Rochester, complete with Secret Service, traveling press, local press, an army of Democratic regulars, and a handful of innocents who, God help them, just wanted a gallon of milk. After the greeting portion of the First Lady's visit but before the local-television-interviews portion came the faux-shopping portion, during which Clinton walked up to a huge counter, gazed into a world of Gouda, Swiss, and Cheddar under glass, and exclaimed with no small enthusiasm, "I'm a cheese person!"

It seems odd that this, of all moments to remember in the First Lady's historically unprecedented yet insistently uninteresting run for office, would be among those still blinking neon in the brain so long after the fact—but it isn't, really. Her pronouncement of self-identity as cheese was perfectly emblematic of the First Lady's approach to politics—and not just because it was one of her frequent, almost poignantly stilted attempts to make some kind of ordinary human connection without actually making any kind of ordinary human connection.

[...]

Hillary Clinton has been portrayed by friend and foe alike as all manner of things bold and incendiary—a lightning rod, a firecracker, a trailblazer. As a senatorial candidate, though, she was always a cheese person—or perhaps, to be more precise, a nondairy-processed-cheese-like-product person. She showed up in a lot of places, dressed inoffensively, and spoke in perfect paragraphs. The tone—and, for that matter, the content—of what she had to say would not have seemed out of place coming from Annette Funicello or Florence Henderson in their food-hawking heyday. "Choosy moms choose Hillary!" was not an actual campaign slogan, but only, one presumes, because the Jif people would have gone ballistic.


Wow.

I know we can't exactly say that Hillary Clinton's presidency would mirror her husband's, but I think there is some value in at least remembering what life was like under Bill. One unconventional technique for doing so would be to learn a lot of bad (okay, it's not all bad) pop music from the 90s (like I am doing now for a money gig that I really don't want to talk about, thank you very much). Suffice it to say that, for me, Bill Clinton and Pearl Jam will always be pretty much inseparable.

Anyway, it seems that since the Clinton administration was followed by the worst presidency ever, Bill's progressive shortcomings have significantly faded for most people. Maybe more importantly, there is the issue of circumlocution. Obviously, the key moment (at least in retrospect) was "that depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is." Not because anyone-who-was-not-directly-involved should actually give a shit (one way or the other) about the President's infidelity, but because this unwillingness to "tell it straight" seemed to establish a precedent -- in terms of just how brazenly evasive and deceitful a leader could be -- that would then be exploited (for truly heinous purposes) by Clinton's numbskull successor.

More to the point: how could Hillary continue to share her life with a dude capable of that sort of pathological double-speak and not internalize it as an M.O. somehow?

* * * * *


And finally, there's this: Obama picks up another grammy. Not a reason to vote for him, of course, but at least it makes me feel like we're living in the same universe (however much I dislike the grammies).

Friday, February 08, 2008

I want to take you higher

Physicist discovers how sax players hit high notes.

(You mean sax players didn't know that already?)

Now the secret is out, Mr Chen says it might be possible to teach budding saxophonists how to adjust their playing to hit those high notes.

"I believe its something most people could learn if they were conscious of it and practise hard," he said.

"It won't happen overnight."


Really? Not overnight? Rats.

(Scientists can sure be amusing sometimes.)

Mind your step (or your rudder)



See it enlarged for the full effect (and more details).

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Sketches on the draw

Anticipation


When I was a high school sophomore, I briefly (and under great duress) played for the Hanover Park junior varsity basketball team. It's the sort of thing you get sucked into when you are cursed with the genetics of tallness, and when you have an avid sports enthusiast for a dad. (I was horrible at the game -- I don't think I even lasted the season.)

Coach Wear (yes, that really was his name) used to get furious at our team because we had a propensity for generating very, uh, exciting contests -- "exciting" in the sense that the scores were always very close. "You've sure given the audience their money's worth," he would routinely grumble, whether we won or lost.

I'm getting to the point with this primary season where I understand that complaint probably better than ever. I'm fully addicted to the news, but I just want the damned thing to be over. Decisively.

History


I must admit that part of my support of Obama has to do with my daughter (who is half black), and my sense of responsibility for the world she is growing up in (corny, eh?). I know full well the pitfalls of investing in a candidate because of things like race or gender -- but somehow it feels much more significant to me that Thandie could actually enter grammar school during an Obama administration. (Thanks to DJA, I know I'm not the only one.)

It's very rare indeed that the kid ever watches commercial television, but yesterday I made a point of having the primaries on while we were working on a new floor puzzle. Just because something historic is happening.

Physiognomy


It's bunk, I know.

But I have really been expecting the Bag to say something about what I'd call the "Clinton grimace" -- this wide-eyed, jokeresque expression that seems to accompany each of her wins:



[EDIT: here's another, better example:]



I don't know what it means, really, I just noticed it. Perhaps it's not unlike the Dean scream. Or perhaps it's an unconvincing attempt at genuine joy (whoops, am I being presumptuous?). In either case, when the grimace bursts through, it makes the default Hillary appear that much more manufactured, that much more of a professional "mask."

In contrast, Obama seems more consistently integrated, more sure of himself, and, well, less of a liar:



It's remarkable to me that Obama tends to maintain this serious (but approachable) demeanor even in the throes of a victory speech. He seems even-tempered and cool (in the best sense of the word). And I suspect this has something to do with a kind of humility (which I don't have to tell you is ultra-rare in politics).

The first time I wrote about Obama -- in response to his first stirrings toward a possible candidacy -- I remarked at his appearance on Sacha Cohen's Da Ali G Show, and the fact that, unlike most of the other successful, high-profile people Cohen tricked into an interview, Obama didn't for a moment seem to be put out or offended by Mr. G's inane questions about politics. Many of Cohen's other subjects, unable to even fathom that they were being pranked, would typically erupt in anger partway through a discussion, or else would get up and leave the interview entirely (which of course was part of the point). But Obama was a model of equanimity -- it was as if, despite Ali G's clearly questionable intelligence, Obama didn't need to build up his own self-esteem by belittling the ersatz interviewer, but instead genuinely wanted to help him understand whatever issue was under discussion.

Of course, I could be totally mis-remembering this (it was a while ago). Wish I could find the damned clip on YouTube.

Perspective


As before, Publius has it about right:

Another significant aspect of tonight’s "draw" is that it undermines the “inexperience” argument against Obama, or part of it anyway. When people say Obama is inexperienced, they are referring either to (1) the pre-election; or (2) the post-election. With respect to the former, the fear is that he can’t hold up against the GOP machine (or that the risk is too high).

Fighting Clinton – with her universal name recognition – to a draw in a national primary directly refutes Critique #1. (Admittedly, it doesn’t really address #2, the post-election governing). In particular, people need to understand how he pulled tonight's stalemate off. The outcome wasn't the result of a single week of fawning media coverage. That helped, to be sure, but Obama has been meticulously building organizations in all of these states simultaneously for many months. He’s also brought in a ton of money to fund them – more than anyone (ever) at this point.

The bottom line is that if you can build this sort of organization with this much money this far in advance with such efficiency and foresight, then you can do the same thing in a national election. Super Tuesday is about as close to a trial November run as you can get, and Obama’s campaign has been extremely impressive on all fronts.


And then there's this piece of wisdom from Seth Godin:

ATM machines never screw up, voting machines do. A lot.


And here's MSNBC's wrapup, which I cite partly because of this question:


At some point, the question will have to be asked: When or how can he put her away?


Uh... "put her away"? It should be clear that I'm not pulling for Clinton in this campaign, but that phraseology sorta creeped me out.

Testimony


Finally, here's a "movie" of Lawrence Lessig's argument for Obama (link c/o Jill).

Lessig is an intellectual hero of mine, but I must admit I can't stand his fondness for PowerPoint (or his PowerPoint style -- which is nothing like David Byrne's). Still, this piece is informative and sound.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Paper or plastic?

(Apologies in advance to those of you whom I have already approached privately with this questionnaire. Further apologies to those of you whose responses I haven't yet responded to.)

Here's the deal: I'm getting down to the wire with the upcoming IJG release, LEEF (I hope to have it ready in plenty of time for our upcoming California tour). But I've been pondering the mechanics of the follow-through. To wit: I'm seriously considering putting LEEF out in a CD jacket instead of a jewel case.

That's right, I'm talking about a flat cardboard CD sleeve -- either 2-panel or 4-panel. (Not a digipack. I haven't entirely dismissed digipaks as of yet, but they're not my favorite option.) I'm also looking into the possibility of putting the disc in a JakeBox, but my research on that option is still incomplete.

As I've said before, I'm not yet ready to go download-only (much as I'd like to), mostly because we actually sell CDs at gigs and I don't want to lose that income. But I like the idea of getting away from jewel cases. Here are my top three reasons:

1. CDs-in-jackets are more environmentally friendly (no plastic, aside from (optional) shrink-wrap and the plastic in the center of the disc itself),

2. they are easier to tote to gigs, and

3. they are cheaper to manufacture (in a per-panel sense).

More philosophically, there is the whole question of the CD-as-a-format's evolving place in musical culture. I wonder: are we still living in a world in which CDs function as music's "end product" -- i.e., the playback technology of choice for most users? Or are we moving into a situation in which CDs are becoming more of a "delivery medium"?

In other words: people still buy CDs, sure, but what do they do with them exactly? I suspect that most people rip their purchases to iTunes (or some other digital media player), and then primarily listen to that etherealized copy (whether it's an mp3 or something of higher quality). Maybe CDs are now to digital files as LPs were to cassettes back in the seventies and early eighties?

For me the issue at hand is this: if CDs really are becoming more of a delivery medium for most people (and I think they are), why bother with all the fancy physical packaging? Why not something simple and efficient? Why clutter up your shelves with useless plastic casing when all you really need is an envelope or a sleeve?

Actually, a number of "serious" collectors I know don't even bother with shelves anymore. They chuck the packaging outright once they have procured a given album. The CD itself gets ripped, then goes into a binder (perhaps with the liner notes), and everything else goes in the trash, the recycle bin, or a resale box.

On the other hand, there are collectors like this one (who appears in the comments of the last linked article):

As a CD collector, there's nothing that can compare to the tactile feel of a smooth-sided jewel case from an early pressing CD [...] Again, it's back to quality vs. convenience. And convenience is for amateurs.


It's a stance I don't get. Often the response to "why not dispense with jewel cases (or, ultimately, go digital altogether)?" is "because I love the tactile experience of having a collection of CDs lined up on a shelf." But then you never get an answer to the question "why do you love the tactile experience of having a collection of CDs lined up on a shelf?" Does it, like, make the music sound better?

(The psych-enthusiast in me suspects that the underlying reason for the "tactile" argument actually has more to do with questions of social display and identity -- sort of like the books you leave on your coffee table -- than with the music itself.)

Of course, you'll be hard-pressed to find a music fan (yours truly is no exception) who doesn't appreciate a carefully-crafted context (of visual art and words) for the albums they buy. But can't we continue to get a great liner notes / album art experience while simultaneously tempering the materiality of the situation somewhat? An artist can fit some basic eye-catching art and textual details on a well-designed jacket (even of the 2-panel variety). And he or she can then use that initial frame to point a fan to something much more powerful and interactive -- something like a website with in-depth liner notes, interviews, tons of pix, videos, downloadable extras... the sky's the limit. If we can agree that everyone likes a frame for their art, why not choose a frame like that?

In fact, the only serious drawback I can see with the jacket idea is that there would be no spine (or perhaps only a very thin one), which I suspect might discourage brick and mortar retailers from wanting to carry a disc that was so packaged (although indie mainstay CD Baby will indeed sell discs without a spine, as long as there is art and shrinkwrap). Beyond that, I worry too that people are basically conservative when it comes to media, and that the possibility of having to deal with a newfangled packaging format would be enough to frighten them away from a purchase.

Of course, that may just be my paranoia talking. If a music fan is afraid of the newfangled, the chances of them being drawn to an IJG record in the first place are pretty slim.

Anyway, I'm wondering... where do you fall on this question, dear reader? Would the idea that something was being released as a CD-in-a-jacket deter you as a consumer? Would it excite you? Would it matter at all (i.e., am I overthinking this)?

Friday, February 01, 2008

Fair is fair

In response to this CL ad:

Beaverton Town Square Starbucks is reaching out to musicians and bands alike to come play for us. Gigs would be Fridays and Saturdays at 9pm, sorry but we can't offer reinbursment of any kind, but you can sell cd's and put out a tip jar. We don't provide equipment, and we don't comp drinks. If interested E-mail Paul at "blackbox098@gmail.com" for more information.

Thank you and we hope to hear from you.


There was this:

Come make coffee for me at my home!

I am reaching out to all Starbucks to come to my home and make coffee for me. The gig would be Fridays and Saturdays and sorry, I can't offer reimbursement of any kind, but you can put out your tip jar. I don't provide equipment, and I don't comp donuts. If interested email me for more information.

Thank you and I hope to hear from you.


It's all here.