Sunday, December 21, 2008
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
American elites wanted to form a national sport to replace the European sports of soccer and rugby, which most Americans hated. The "Founding Fathers of American sport" got together in two meetings in 1880 and 1882, at Harvard and Penn State respectively, to "fix" the game of soccer. Their first innovation was to add the first down, which enables the team to "capture territory, hold it and defend it" -- an allegory for the doctrine of Manifest Destiny. The next innovation was to add a general called the quarterback, the "cowboy outlaw figure" and "main protagonist" who "tells the story of the game as it marches across the field, just as we marched across the continent."
Thursday, September 25, 2008
It's also glibly self-promoting. As it turns out, the art is actually a subtle image ad for Starbucks itself. Take, for instance, the piece that pictures a tree of words -- words such as "coffee," "love," "passion," "place," "community," "people." And various inspirational sayings, or presumable comments from satisfied Starbucks customers. The piece is captioned: "The Deeper the ROOTS, the Higher the Reach." What is that supposed to mean? Nothing, really. Like an Obama campaign speech, it has no meaning; it's about how they'd like you to feel about the brand.
Generally, the faker and more uncaring and more remote a huge corporate business is, the more it has to advertise to us about how real and caring and community-focused it really is. While I don't know the hearts of the folks behind Starbucks, it's not really about their conscious intent; it's about the system, and system logic inevitably drives out diversity and individuality.
The irony is that one block away from the local Starbucks store where I first saw the "tree" piece was the former location of an actual community coffeehouse -- founded by a guy I went to high school with -- that this Starbucks had helped kill off. In a Starbucks world, "community" is marketing copy and corporate art emanating from a headquarters hundreds of miles away. The people you live with? Ha, screw 'em -- they're just a revenue stream.
Sunday, September 21, 2008
Actually, I prefer nonduality : (skeptical take on Eastern mysticism and "enlightenment")
"When we're not on, we're not watching either": not-really-that-juicy gossip on local TV news folk
Bringing stars back down to earth: the one redeeming thing about celebreality TV
Siamese Band Names: I've added some new ones.
Jen, Jane -- whatever: A synchronicitous meetup with a onetime date who actually may be my cousin.
Bright, happy, and deadly : selling birth control pills like candy
10) Timbaland, Neptunes, and Lil Jon producing everything
8) Simpering whiny-boy vocals in R & B
7) Female artists obliged to sing angry-bitch man-dissing songs
6) Every R &B single using the same drum sounds and synths borrowed from trance music
5) Hip-hop replaced by snap rap
4) Abandonment of chords and chord progressions (this was actually deteriorating in the mid-90s but has really hit rock bottom in the last 10 years)
3) Abandonment of melody (Covering a 2-or 3-note range in an entire song barely qualifies as melody.)
2) The loudness wars, -- leading to fatiguing all-loud-all-the-time recordings, lacking space and dynamic and emotional range. *
* I mean, have you listened to anything on vinyl lately? Check out anything from the '60s, '70s, '80s, even '90s, and compare with stuff released in the last decade. This digitally laser-polished, glossy-finished, over-compressed, up-in-your face, all-loud-all-the-way-through sound that's been going on in pop and rock music for the last several years is nice as an occasional effect to signal "this is some extreme shit -- check it out." But any extreme effect used all the time becomes fatiguing. Especially when it's on every fricking song.
The other day I was listening to Frankie Valli's "Grease" and some '70s Hall & Oates stuff, like "Bigger Than Both of Us." What a reminder of how refreshing it was when recordings allowed space -- space for loud and quiet, for surprises. You remember how good the sizzle of a high hat sounds against a mellow background that's not all up in your face. You know. Percussion? Remember that?
Monday, September 08, 2008
* The only thing more disgusting than the Bush administration is some prancing, preening Brit mincing in on a high horse and telling Americans how they ought to feel about the Bush administration. We'll figure that out ourselves, thank you very much, Mr. Russell Brand. Also pretty disgusting: tasteless jokes about deflowering the Jonas Bros. and slamming them for their chastity pledges.
* The best way to view Rihanna doing "Disturbia" -- her zombies-with-lightsticks-"Thriller 2008"-filtered-through-"Dirty"-era-Christina-Aguilera number -- was with the volume down and, preferably, to avoid viewing her face. (She made that part easy, though, what with the thigh-high boots and fishnets.)
* Katy-come-lately Perry: "I Kissed a Girl"? Hey, nice original song title! And what a refreshingly subversive, "dangerous" concept: lite bisexual experimentation! Wow, we're really shocking the bourgiousie now.
* Pink is hard to categorize. She's clearly kinda punk in her origins and attitudes, so I wanna like her. Yet the vehicle she's chosen to ride to the top is pure glossy, gimmicky pop in the worst way. She lets just enough of her punky persona shine through -- in fact, she has to dial it up to overdrive just to overcome the sheer shiny plasticness of the music underneath it all. I've heard just about all of her hit singles, but I can't remember a single one, except the one that's out now -- again, disturbingly slick in its production, disturbingly like everything else out there, but at least I like the galloping beat (cribbed from Gary Glitter) and the Irish-jig "na na na" hook -- that's a little different.
* Kanye? Kanye, you out there? Look, you're from my hometown, I got mad respect for your story and your achievements an all ... but come on. Does the world really need another rapper trying to Auto-Tune himself into a singer?
For all you rappers who wants to sing, do like Kid Rock did and actually learn how. Drop some of that cash you're stackin' and get a respectable voice teacher. L.A. is crawling with them.
* Speaking of Kid Rock, he provided one of the best and realest performances of the night. (The rap by Lil Wayne: totally superfluous. And speaking of Lil Wayne: will someone please kill him already?)
* And last but not least: I think I have watched about one episode of American Idol, total. So I had no idea who Jordin Sparks was until I saw her on Larry King Live a couple years ago. And I thought: Wow, she's an amazing singer (though she deserves better material) and she's gorgeous and she's intelligent. What? Seventeen?
She carried herself and spoke with a maturity and charisma far beyond most 17-year-old girls. I mean, I don't go ga-ga over stars and I generally haven't been attracted to teen-agers since I was one, okay? Yet I found myself getting a mini-crush on this girl. But then, "girl" is not the word. As I watched and listened to her, the only comparison I could make was to some Christian homeschooled young adults I've known: they stick out like neon signs, since they tend to act and speak more like, well, adults than like the typical silly kids their age. As it turns out, Sparks actually was homeschooled, for a few years at least. And from K-8 she attended a Christian school.
So it's no surprise she showed the courage to slap back at VMA host Brand for his desperate, leering jokes about sex with the Jonas Bros. and crude putdowns of their chastity pledges. Sparks, who has pledged herself to premarital chastity as well, stepped up and reminded the world that "not everybody ... wants to be a slut." Good for you, Jordin. Keep being beautiful and talented and mature beyond your years and non-slutty.
Sunday, July 27, 2008
It's my longtime friend from the Internets - Heather Bradley. This chick is wacky crazy talented -- I think the name of her production company, "Country Breakdance Inc," says it all.
UPDATE JUNE '09: Aw, she's taken all but three of her songs down, as well as her "Chicken Butt" skits. I hear she's preparing some new stuff to put up, though.
Friday, July 04, 2008
Does anyone take seriously anymore the founding documents of the uSA and the antecedent philosophical manifestos, except as a source of empty slogans and selective prooftexts in support of a few “approved” causes here and there?
I guess not. If Americans were familiar with this country’s history we’d realize we have already become the tyrannical empire that we rebelled against in 1776. The difference is it’s not London, but Washington -– followed by its once-proud creators-turned-subsidiaries, the states – who crush us with taxes, regulations and indignities small and large. And they do this with an intensity the British Empire never could have imagined. Rather than redcoats, it’s black-pajama-clad, masked, body-armored FBI, BATF and SWAT teams and local cops stomping around like imperial stormtroopers, grabbing people left and right, demanding our papers, surveilling us everywhere we go, trampling our rights and our lives. Shooting first and asking questions later.
Rather than a King George overseas, we now have a would-be King George ensconced right here at home. Of course, the overgrowth of Washington government didn’t begin with Ridiculous George; the disease has been growing for decades.
I indict the so-called education system, particularly the government schools, which simply don’t teach American history, don’t teach civics, don’t teach us the meaning of those vague terms like “freedom” and “liberty.” As Orwell prophesied, such words have become Newspeak – their meaning surreptitiously replaced with meanings almost diametrically opposite. When George W. Bush talks about “freedom” today he means something very different from what George Washington meant.
Whereas freedom used to mean the right to pursue happiness unrestricted by coercion of any kind – above all, government coercion – now it means the right to a feeling of security. Whereas freedom once was understood to be a right inherent in man, now it is a privilege meted out by government as it pleases. Whereas freedom once was understood in explicitly political terms -- as noted above, it meant freedom from government coercion -- now it’s been conflated with consumer choice: since you can choose from millions of products to buy, you are therefore free. Where once upon a time everyone understood freedom could not be imposed and foreign militarism could not achieve it, now we drop it on other countries from B-52 bombers. Why don't we just drop all the pretenses and call ourselves the New British Empire?
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
I'm thinking of that one for YAZ birth control pills. ("Yaz"? They did that song back in '83, "Move Out," right?) A bunch of girls being ebullient and smiley and happy, skipping around, having great times together, while all around them colored balloons are floating up into the sky. Apparently market research says the way to manipulate young women is not to talk sense -- show them smiles and balloons. Over all this, the bouncy rejection anthem "Goodbye to You" plays. It's just a big party! As oval balloons (eggs?) float away into the distance and these girls say goodbye to them, meanwhile some fine print flashes on the screen -- I didn't quite get what it said. Of course, that's what they want. Remember beautiful bouncy girls, smiles, carefree defiance; forget that it's a fricking synthetic hormone that screws with your every physiological process, may increase risk of breast cancer, and can even give you a stroke -- which happened to a friend of mine in her 20s. But that's the price of "liberation," I guess.
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
With its musical illiteracy
Just packed full of gimmicry
I'm goin' outta my mind ...
(To be sung to the tune of "Suffocate" by J. Holiday)
THERE'S THIS HORRIBLE R & B song, currently seeing endless radio rotation, that's emblematic of what's so wrong with the genre these days -- and its listening audience, assuming that this is the stuff they actually prefer. This purported love song, "Suffocate," suffers from many of the problems that plague most of its recent counterparts: the copycat beat and sound, the four-chord monotony, the plodding dreariness, the constricted melodic range. Most of the melody consists of a single note; in its more adventurous phrases the singer might actually cover three or even four notes).
The vocals present the annoying whiny-boy persona that has become cliche. And then, on top of the insipid tone are the inane lyrics:
I can’t breathe when you talk to me
I can’t breathe when you’re touching me
I suffocate when you’re away from me
So much love you take from me
I’m going outta my mind ...
I don't care how caught up you may be in the throes of teenage infatuation: If you are literally having problems breathing when your crush talks to you, you'd better either get yourself checked for asthma or allergies -- or give her a mint and tell her to get that halitosis looked at.
More than ever, R & B is dumbed down -- even if one accounts for the fact that its audience has been dumbed down as well. The bright spots, such as Keiysha Cole and old-timers like R. Kelly, are the exception to the rule. When I grew up in the '80s and '90s music was performed not always by adults, but at an adult level, in the sense that it was mature and well-crafted.
While cleaning and trying to organize my stuff recently, I rediscovered my cache of old music tapes. You know, the mix tapes of your favorite songs that you taped off the radio or from library-borrowed LPs back in the day. With the rare exception -- including some dance mixes from Q101 -- I stopped caring enough to tape stuff off the radio around 1998. Going through my eclectic collection (Tears for Fears here, the Gap Band there, Common, SOS Band, Led Zeppelin, and here's a little Mos Def!) was like a trip back in time. How strange and different were the radio stations of then and now, especially the urban formats such as WCGI. In just over 10 years, it's as if someone pulled a plug and let out all the soul -- not to mention the music -- out of the stuff that we still call rhythm and blues.
Listening to this stuff, I found myself wondering: Where have they locked up all the real artists, writers, arrangers, producers? The ones who came up in the '70s and '80s, even early '90s -- who knew their way around an instrument or two, maybe more? (In addition to singing, Stevie Wonder and Prince often played all of the parts on their records.) How did commercial R & B go, within the space of just a few years, from the sophisticated sounds of Angela Winbush, Quincy Jones, Jam & Lewis, Teddy Riley, Tony! Toni! Tone!, Bell Biv Devoe, Al B. Sure, early Puffy, early R. Kelly, to the faux-soul whining and hollow vocal acrobatics that dominate today?
How did we go from masterfully melded rhythm and skillfully crafted, intricate melodies and harmonies, to hollow, mindless chants where entire songs get by on barely five notes and three, two or no chords? To high digital sheen but no emotional content? To subsonic bass, yet in every other respect, complete shallowness?
Why have even those who used to produce good music -- hello, Diddy? -- now selling bottom-of-the-barrel shlock? (Well I know the answer in P. Diddy's case -- "because he can" and because the music marketing machine as it exists today rewards image, hype and payola, not art.)
And I'm not even getting into the lyrics yet.
Nowadays, "producers" (are there any songwriters still working, let alone arrangers?) seem to think technology can do everything. Computers can do a lot, but they can't compose or arrange or emote; they can only help those who have those skills. There's more processing power and speed, more features, more plug-ins, more effects, vaster digital sound libraries than ever in the history of man; and less artistry.
Yeah, I'm getting old, but what's that got to do with it? I also like new music that's good and creative. It's just that you can't find it that easily any more.
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
What brought on this admixture of uncontrolled laughing and paranoia? Well I was sitting there with Brian Wharton, a.k.a. Sharkula, and his sidekick Kick Ass Alyssia, a.k.a. The Drunk Odd Kid, in her living room, for my first screening of their surreal YouTube video "Dirty Boys and Dirty Girls."
Yes, admittedly, my paroxysms were in part fueled by some kind of herbal product we were enjoying, as well as by some beer (and possibly, some weird chemical in the Chinese take-out). It elevated every Sharkula belch, every shot of him gesturing maniacally while sporting a Burger King crown, every shot of Alyssia on an exercise bike tossin' back Old Style -- to outer-space hilarity. Even the lurching beat and burping bassline made me laugh. Or:
Rhymes like these are straight breezy, easy for me
To think, I'm the opposite of Young Jeezy
Please me, my style's sick
I'm a flea in your D-O-G
I'm in the place to get b-b-BUSY
(The "b-b-BUSY" made me bust out laughing even harder; so did typical Shark lines like "Solar polar bear stopped on a staircase"...)
But even without herbal assistance, this is some off-the-planet stuff. I am proud to know such talented and crazy people -- even if their humor is kind of raunchy, at least they are so cartoonish about it that no one could take it seriously. Brian is just a tremendously talented guy blessed and cursed with mental and physical hyperactivity, who I think really just wants everybody to like him. In the meantime, he boasts a virtually random freestyling skill -- he just grabs words and pictures out of the ether and strings them together, often to hilarious effect.
Alyssia is also multitalented, sweet, and smart, and one of the first things she said after we met was that I reminded her of her high school boyfriend, who even had the same name as me. The more we hung out, the more it became evident that we think alike. Well, except nowadays she likes people of the same sex and I like people of the opposite sex. That's a pretty major difference.Anyway, the video. Here you go. (Warning: these lyrics may offend sensitive listeners...)
This is too good to be true. This is the online TV show starring one of my musical heroes doing music from his solo albums and, of course, from his thirty-odd-year partnership with John Oates. The latest episode co-stars KT Tunstall, a capable guitarist and singer who makes some beautiful harmonies with Daryl, and is not so shabby solo either. But best of all, Episode 1 (in the archives) kicks off with "Everything Your Heart Desires," a song I've never seen Hall and Oates do live -- not in the two H & O shows I've attended, not in hundreds of online videos. After that comes a acoustic-guitar-touched version of "Cab Driver," from Hall's solo album, which captures even more of the dark, misty mood of the original single, then expands into an acid-jazz jam. Then, out of left field, comes the forgotten "It's a Laugh," a late '70s single that had only modest chart success but was nonetheless a good song.
If all you know about Hall and/or Hall and Oates is their jingle-slick, radio-ready hits, you don't know the half. They're one of those acts who continually remake their songs: the live version is always new and improved, and usually extended. In episode 1 Hall's voice is in relatively good shape (not always the case anymore as he approaches 60). Do the brief registration and log in and see for yourself. The man's still got it.
Saturday, January 05, 2008
We were in the midst of silent meditation, and he just suddenly decided to say that. The other yoga students sitting cross-legged in the room, including my brother, laughed good-naturedly, as if they were in on the joke. But, to whom was Prasad responding? No one had said anything. At least, I hadn’t said anything aloud -- I had only thought it.
Are psychic powers proof of enlightenment? Not necessarily.
See, I was there at the meditation/worship session, let’s say, less than willingly. My brother, a devout member, had invited me to what I thought would be a New Year’s party. A “celebration,” he'd called it. It wasn’t at all what I had envisioned. I had told him I might come to a party but I wouldn’t get involved in the religion stuff. However, as it turned out, it was all religion stuff: meditating, chanting to various deities I don’t believe in, venerating statues and pictures. It all made me queasy: I didn’t like the spirit in that place. I consider the statues and pictures to be idols. And because of that, I was silently praying -- for protection, not only for myself but for my brother’s two little boys who were also there and who did not understand what they were doing. Because, you know, you have to test the spirits -- many are up to no good.
Did Prasad sense my silent prayers about all this? In Eastern thought praying to a separate, personal, transcendent God, or believing in discrete, personal demonic spirits, would be “dualistic” -- i.e., backward and unenlightened.
Except, curiously enough, when it comes to certain dualistic practices these guys favor, such as arranging dozens of idols, vessels, censers, pictures of their guru, and other items of worship or ceremony on the altar. And bowing down to those idols (or as I like to call them, “non-action figures” – from the biblical observation that they have eyes but cannot see; ears, but cannot hear, and mouths, but cannot speak). It's puzzling that these ones who are going to teach me and other benighted Westerners to transcend the evils of dualism, the attachment to material reality, are here literally worshiping material things.
Religions that worship images and relics and other objects tend to deny that they do so. Each has some rhetorical way to finesse the fact. Roman Catholics bow to statues and graves of saints, pray to them, and petition them for supernatural intervention. But relax: this is not worship, it's "veneration." (Orthodox folk would say the same thing, plus add that they are better since they venerate icons but not statues; but if "veneration" is not worship, what's it matter? They could've saved themselves a schism, seems to me.)
According to my brother, he and his fellow believers do not view the statues as gods; they are “deities.” They “represent various aspects of the divine.” For the time being I'll lay aside the parsing and simply ask: Why do people need a visual representation of the divine?
How enlightened are you, really, if you need pictures? When you grow up, you are expected to be able to read books without pictures. How much more should that be true in spirituality? Wasn’t this exactly the point of the second of the Ten Commandments?
If we’re striving for complete unity and devotion to the Source of all things alone, why then would we fragment our attention upon things, the creation – and some of the lowest, crudest things at that : mere pictures and objects made by human hands? It’s a great example of how a very lofty-sounding principle is negated in practice.