Back when Mark Johnson founded Playing for Change, the concept was simple: Unite the world through music. His first success story was a video featuring musicians from around the globe performing "Stand by Me," the old feel-good hit by Ben E. King. It starts with a street guitarist in Santa Monica and proceeds around the world adding new musical layers as it goes. So far that video has received some 13 million hits on YouTube, and Johnson's project has spawned a PBS documentary, CDs, a DVD, an upcoming concert tour, and a foundation to bring music to disadvantaged communities. I caught up with Johnson last week to talk about the monks that inspired him, his unusual mobile recording studio, and how he's seen music change lives.
To listen to the podcast of this interview, click here.
Mother Jones: In a nutshell, what is Playing for Change? What inspired it, and what are you trying to accomplish?
Mark Johnson: Playing for Change is a global movement using media, music, technology, and inspiration to try to unite as many people around the world as possible. The original idea came about 10 years ago. I was recording music at a New York City studio, and I was on my way to work one day, and I saw two monks painted all in white from head to toe. One was playing a nylon guitar and the other one was singing. I saw about 200 people stop, and everybody's watching this performance. Some are crying and jaw-dropping and smiling, and I look around and see a collection of people who normally just run right by each other, and here they are coming together for this music. Then I got on the train and I went to the recording studio and I realized the best music I ever heard in my life was on the way to the studio, not in the studio. That's when I realized great music, great art—they're just moments in time. They exist everywhere, and we can use these moments in time to connect people and bring inspiration. And that led to the idea of traveling the world with a mobile recording studio and cameras, filming, recording, and interviewing musicians, and connecting them together with songs around the world, such as "Stand by Me" and "One Love."
Maybe he said to himself, "What can I do to distract people from the fact that I worked at Lehman Brothers, the downtown–New York–based bank that collapsed disastrously and nearly took the entire financial system with it? I know! I'll name it in homage to an even worse collapse, one that actually killed people and precipitated several long and tragic wars! Then everyone will think whatever I am doing is not nearly as bad."
The Ground Zero Strategic Commodities Fund will begin trading by the first quarter of 2010, and they're hiring!
In this issue's expose of Fiji Water, Spin the Bottle, we write about the company's image as the water of choice for celebrities. Now, with New York Fashion Week approaching, it's another opportunity for the water to brand itself as an upscale product. The company is sponsoring a contest for one water fan to win backstage tickets to one designer show at New York Fashion Week.
There are two issues I have with this. Firstly, why only one show? There are dozens of shows at the New York fashion week, it would be better if they could at least let their winner go to more than one. Secondly, the blinged-out logo here is kind of ugly, and I don't get the connection between diamonds and fashion. Maybe because both couture and diamonds cost money? Like ...Fiji Water? As we pointed out in the article, Fiji does often cost up to three times as much as competitors, so yeah, maybe the diamonds do make sense after all.
Since I got a tip that Fiji Water made an appearance. You see, our next issue's cover story is on the ubiquity of the fashionable water that may be the epitome of cool, but is also imported from a military dictatorship and is far from eco anything.
From what I can tell, and I'm not really a sex-tape connoisseur, this particular three-minutes-I'll-never-get-back offers up naked C- and D-list actors (Grey's Anatomy's Eric Dane and his wife of Noxema fame, Rebecca Gayheart) hanging out with a whiny lady (and apparently former Miss USA, how those pageants embolden) who makes phone calls half-naked for the camera and complains about the staying power of lighted rubber duckies. (Since this is a family channel I am not embedding the video here, but you can head over to Gawker at your own risk for the link.)
They just talk about getting it on; there is no real action. And we only care, apparently, because there are lots of boob shots. And talk about how sexy and cool they are. ("You're the prettiest girls this side of Mulholland;" not a great boast when your competition stops at the ocean.) And would it be the talk of the entertainment news shows proclaiming the glory of "Dane's Anatomy" if it were two dudes and a girl? Maybe, but Dane's career might head in a different direction. Not to mention, the last sex tape that was actually a "tape" was probably something George Michael was involved in in the early 90s. Enter the sex MP3!
Even by Berkeley standards, Café Gratitude is considered hippy-dippy. The menu items are organic, vegan, and mostly raw, and ordered via affirmations like "I Am Beautiful," "I Am Luscious," and "I Am Sassy." On my first visit there last week, I was offered a free algae shot and asked what nourished me the most that day ("Ummm…the food here was pretty nourishing," was the best I could muster.)
When I ate there, I found traces of the Landmark Forum—a corporate descendant of the famed 70's movement est (Erhard Seminar Training). The bookshelf by the front door was stocked with copies of The Secret, and a card at my table contained creeds such as "Look at your life and see what you say you 'should' or 'have' to do, that you don't enjoy...Consider you are the one creating it as a 'should' or 'have' to."
In theory, there's nothing wrong with this—coconut water with a side of self-help never hurt anyone. But as the Express reports, the café discriminates against staff not on board with Landmark's ways. It also requires managers to attend the introductory Landmark Forum and cough up half the $500 fee, and in at least one case, fired a manager who refused to do so.
And this is hard to stomach. If you're going to endorse open-mindedness and acceptance, shouldn't you be, well...open-minded and accepting?
Ever fantasized about Tom DeLay doing the foxtrot? Then you're in luck: Today, it was announced that the former House Majority Leader will grace the stage during the upcoming season of Dancing with the Stars.
So does DeLay have a shot at beating out fellow contestants like Macy Gray and Donny Osmond? Word is he fancies boogying with his wife, and has a daughter who won the country dancing championship. But a better indicator might be his political track record:
PETA is like your eccentric uncle who shows up drunk at weddings: Most of the time, his annoying antics are sort of harmless and funny, and let's face it: Were it not for him, your family wouldn't have a whole hell of a lot to talk about. But sometimes he totally crosses the line and does something truly mortifying.
To people whose last whiff of Sub Pop came sometime in the late '90s—as grunge's last fart lingered just a little too long—Pissed Jeans probably sound like an evolution of sound. Their hard, slow-swinging punk is soaked in the patented, scuzzed-out heaviness that once made the label a king maker.
A critical distinction, though: Pissed Jeans have an absolutely ferocious angst creeping through each song, and deep punk roots, which makes them palatable to people (like myself) who could never get down with the Northwest grunge scene. Hailing from Allentown, Pa., the band draws its sound more from the old Amphetamine Reptile roster of noise rock or, going further, from the hectic noise of Touch & Go's Jesus Lizard and Butthole Surfers, or even Flipper.
In case you're not familiar, M.I.A. is half of the musical genius behind the Slumdog Millioniare theme and the person you can blame for those neon jeans on the clearance rack at Urban Outfitters. After a pair of mega-watt albums, 2005's Arular and 2007's Kala, she's as recognizable for her DayGlo schizophrenia-as-fashion-sense as for her music. A song like "$20" layers New Order's "Blue Monday," The Pixies' "Where is my Mind," and Arulpragasm's own languid rapping: I put people on the map that never seen a map/I showed 'em something they never seen and hope they make it back. As of this second, she's back in the studio, making even moreseizure-inducing gangsta mash. Distill that into 140 characters, and you've got liquid platinum. In theory, at least.
President Barack Obama speaks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) by phone in the Oval Office on July 17, 2009. He is joined by Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs Phil Schiliro.