Thanks to Bob Dylan, rock 'n' roll has finally broken through the Pulitzer wall. Dylan, the most acclaimed and influential songwriter of the past half century, who more than anyone brought rock from the streets to the lecture hall, received an honorary Pulitzer Prize on Monday, cited for his "profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power." It was the first time Pulitzer judges, who have long favored classical music, and, more recently, jazz, awarded an art form once dismissed as barbaric, even subversive.
Hip-hop has finally broken the boundaries of time and space, as the Nobel Foundation announced today that Snoop Dogg would be awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics. Gunnar Öquist, Secretary General of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, presented Snoop with the prize in a ceremony in Stockholm, citing the rapper's "inquisitive lyrical themes concerning the behaviors of liquids ('Gin and Juice') and gases ('Chronic Break')," as well as his "hebetudinous delivery which has been proven to alter the listener's perception of time." Snoop pronounced the medal "fly."
Back in the States, in a move that has been anticipated for weeks, Miley Cyrus was awarded a MacArthur Genius Grant for her work as Miley Stewart/Hannah Montana. The MacArthur foundation heaped praise on the singer for her contributions to "the advancement of syncretic metafiction," describing the singer, real name Destiny Hope Cyrus, as a "a web of multiple identities, the first true post-human creation of the digital age." Cyrus reacted to the news by hugging her dog and thanking her role model Hillary Duff, who won the Pritzker in 2007.
In related news, it was screaming mayhem at the Nickelodeon Kids' Choice awards last week as host Jack Black presented Richard Dawkins with the award for "Favorite Male Evolutionary Biologist." "Up yours, Gouldy," he exclaimed, referring to the writer Steven Jay Gould, who had famously been nominated 14 times for the award, yet never won. Attendee Tiffany Wright, 11, clutching a tear-stained copy of The God Delusion, told reporters she had actually touched the writer's tweed jacket. "Religion is the opiate of the masses," she exclaimed, "Ricky is totally my idol!"
At this point, waiting for a release date, putting on your hat and coat, runing to the record store and plunking down cash bills for a plastic-wrapped compact disc is so retro, it's almost a novelty, like a horse-and-buggy ride through Central Park. Remember, kids, back in Grandpa's day, we couldn't just google the band's name and "Rapidshare" to find variable bit-rate mp3s in a password-protected RAR file three months before the release date, I tell you what. Awww, Grandpa!
If you were out and about this weekend and noticed a lower ratio of geeks hanging around than usual, there were two reasons why: the season premier of Battlestar Galactica on Sci-Fi Friday, and a hyped episode of Torchwood on BBC America Saturday, its third-to-the-last before the season finale. So, how were they, and was there any significant political/religious allegory or sexual identity boundary breaking, respectively?
After the jump: flying away from Earth makes my head hurt, and seeing it burned to a crisp makes me holler.
The organic, gritty sound of your favorite band, strumming out their rockin' jams on stage: nothing could be more purely live, more essentially human, right? Well, recently it seems like the line separating a live show from, say, a movie, or, um, a pre-programmed roboticized fantasia, has become more and more blurred. Just a few weeks ago, up-and-coming UK duo The Ting Tings opened for The Duke Spirit at Rickshaw Stop here in San Francisco, and I had mixed feelings about their performance. On the one hand, they make incredibly catchy, exciting, playful music, and both members are clearly accomplished musicians and singers. On the other hand, they made no effort to disguise the fact that they were playing along with a backing tape. For instance, during the chorus of their current single "Great DJ," the sound stepped up a notch, with a second guitar line and possibly extra percussion filling things out. However they did it, it was performed flawlesslythe "taped" material was never out of synch, and it definitely made the songs richer, more intense. Parts of the crowd responded, dancing and singing along. But others seems to hold back, more so than even a typically stand-offish SF audience; did people have a sense of being "had"?
"We'd do well to think before we post": That's the advice that the editors of the Columbia Journalism Review offer to bloggers in their March/April editorial. Matt Yglesias (of Atlantic fame) and Ann Friedman (of Feministing) would do well to heed it. Both bloggers appear to have been taken in by a cleverly-done April Fools' prank. At first glance, this "New York Times" article about the Navy creating all-female crews for two submarines seems fairly believable. It mimics Times style fairly convincingly, and the page looks right. But the URL isn't quite right, the "multimedia" links don't work, and the "related stories" include several other April Fools'-related items. And that's before you even get to the content of the story, which includes a photo of "Rev. Dusty Boats," is written by "Seymor Conch and James Boswell," and contains the requisite sentence about "mixing with seamen". And then there's this over-the-top "quote":
I went to submarines to get a breather from my wife and her mother. Especially her mother. Now I have to spend 60 days underwater with women? You know how long they take in the bathroom.
Would anyone who actually thinks that way about his wife and mother-in-law tell it to the New York Times? The quote came at the end of the story; perhaps Ygelsias and Friedman, fine bloggers both, didn't quite get there. Friedman has already acknowledged she was "belatedly gotten". Is Yglesias trying to pull a fast one on his readers, or has he, too, been "got"?
Recently, our three major presidential candidates have made high-profile appearances on TV talk shows, with varying results. Does an ability to share easy jokes and gentle ribbing with our nation's nighttime sleep-inducers and afternoon time-wasters correlate to success in the polls? Let's take a look at some clips and see who's best at the gabfests.
Welcome back to the "staff picks" shelf at The Riff. Six tracks got some love from our editors today. Don the headphones and join us for a listen:
1. "Blue Trane," John Coltrane.
Gary: I went to the Facebook pages for Obama, Clinton, and McCain this week, hoping that their musical "faves" might give me some keen insight into their platforms. Well, when he's not playing basketball, writing, or "loafing with kids," Barack Obama listens to Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bob Dylan, and the Fugees. So in honor of Obamamania, I'm listening to Coltrane's "Blue Trane," a 50s jazz classic.
2. "Think," Aretha Franklin.
Gary: And to answer your burning question, Hillary's into U2, Carly Simon, Aretha Franklin, and the Rolling Stones. (McCain left the music queston blank. Booooring.) In honor of Hillary, I'm listening to "Think," the song Aretha belts out in The Blues Brothers.
3."Your Belgian Things," The Mountain Goats.
Kiera: MG front man John Darnielle is sick. Don't worry, he told his fans on his blog this week—it's nothing too serious, but it's gnarly enough that he's canceled some shows. In his honor, here's one of my favorite old MG songs.
5. "Blackbird," Sarah McLachlan's cover of Paul McCartney.
Laura: The first time I heard this beautiful song, I thought for sure Sir Paul had lifted the lyrics from an old gospel ditty. They have that same haunting, hymnal quality. I was wrong, but the tune does have a noble backstory: Paul McCartney wrote it in honor of Rosa Parks and the civil rights movement. This deserves a listen in honor of the anniversary of Dr. King's death.
6. "Free Man," The Ethiopians.
Laura: iTunes calls The Ethiopians one of Jamaica's best unsung classic Rocksteady bands—and then files it under Reggae, which could explain why. Rocksteady, if you don't already have the genre in heavy rotation, is a sliver of a music niche from the late 60s that bears the same relationship to reggae that Latin does to French. Leave me a comment if you need that explained. Either way, I dare you to listen to it at your desk without a goofy head bob or two slipping past the office filter.
You know, when Björk isn't decking journalists or inspiring revolutions, she actually makes music, and continues to hire ground-breaking artists for collaborative efforts. A recent NY Times feature looked into the making of the video for her new single, "Wanderlust," and while the song is (perhaps intentionally) a bit aimless, the video is a hypnotic combination of elaborate puppetry and eye-popping computer graphics. The best part of the Times feature is the interviewer's hysterics after the San Francisco-based director reveals matter-of-factly that he was inspired by a nature walk whilst under the influence of psychedelic mushrooms. I know, Times gal, it's sooo crazy! What's actually crazy is that a Björk video gets a 6-figure budget in this day and age. I'm assuming she made a loan to her campaign? Watch "Wanderlust," and some classic Björk videos in which glorious Nature plays a major role, after the jump.
[Update: a reliable source got in touch to say that the interviewer wasn't shocked at the mention of drugs as much as she was surprised that the apparently mild-mannered directors had indulged. Okay, fine. Also, I forgot to mention that the "Wanderlust" video was filmed in 3D, and a DVD version complete with 3D decoder glasses will be out April 14th.]
While Brits themselves may be lying back and dramatically fanning themselves over their embarrassment of festival riches, the US is just starting to get a taste of "festival mania." The announcement last month of Outside Lands, set for San Francisco's Golden Gate Park and featuring Radiohead, Beck and Wilco, was just the latest addition to a growing trend of large-scale events. It's hard to believe that just ten years ago, the American summer music festival sure seemed dead in the water.
Wow, it turns out that the ease of typing stuff and posting it on a web page and a day dedicated to hoaxes combine perfectly to produce a veritable maelstrom of comedy good times. Here's some of the April Fools yuk-yuks speeding through everyone's favorite series of tubes today:
This via Idolator: Rock FM in New Zealand thought it would be hi-lar-ious to spend the day advertising a fake Foo Fighters concert in Auckland. The DJs, who have apparently been living under rocks, expected "around 50 listeners" to turn up to the venue, where they would be treated to a Foo Fighters album being played on a tape deck. Instead, throngs of alt-rock-deprived Kiwis left their jobs and homes to get to the show, forcing the station to come clean.
NMEposted an actually rather amusing (if somewhat geeky) story about Amy Winehouse being scheduled as a guest star on British sci-fi TV series Dr. Who, portraying "an evil scientific genius rogue timelord" who "enslaves entire planets." Not much of a stretch, wocka wocka. Gigwise piled on with a story about Winehouse licensing her hairdo to a wig company who would dub the hairpiece "The Wino." Leave... Amy... alone!!!
And finally, the Brown University Daily Heraldreports a campus bookstore will be renovated to make it "a little less gay." Ha?
Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Flickr user Edward B.