Artists and performers joined together for an inauguration concert today at the Lincoln Memorial, and despite the nearly unlimited potential for bombast at an event called "We Are One," it managed to be both restrained, mostly, and watchable, more or less. The concert opened with a rousing, moving rendition of Bruce Springsteen's "The Rising," with Bruce backed by a soaring gospel choir. It's a great song, but I must admit that for some reason I only started to get choked up later, weirdly, during John Mellencamp's "Pink Houses," which I never really liked but seemed to take on greater significance today. The footage of Marian Anderson singing on the same spot back in 1939 was also profoundly moving, but then, returning to the present, who pops up on stage as a contemporary? Ladies and gentlemen, Josh Groban. Ugh. But the camera cuts to Malia Obama, adorably taking a snapshot of Groban, Sasha demanding to see it.
Put this in the "creative marketing" file. Bliss Spa is offering an inauguration special, 20 percent off Brazilian bikini waxes for ladies who want to say "farewell to Bush" in more ways than one. I think I'll pass on Bliss's "presidential transition savings," but I speak for my uterus and myself when I say that we're truly pleased to see the last of Bush's presidency.
The airwaves around Los Angeles are just a little emptier today, as Indie 103.1 is officially done, with Spanish music where the Buzzcocks used to be. We're getting some more details on what happened. First up, the LA Times had an interview yesterday with Chris Morris, a DJ who was recently let go from the station. He reminded us that Indie had retooled a few months back to be more mainstream in a last-ditch attempt to grab some ratings, but he reminisced about the station's heyday, saying the "amount of liberty I enjoyed was unbelievable." The Daily Swarm has an exclusive chat with Music Director Mark Sovell, who has some very interesting tidbits. First, while the station is currently advertising that it has moved to the web, it turns out that "none of the primary DJs or music programmers at the station are involved in the website and it's not being run by people who ran the station there may be one person from the station." Maybe that explains why the web site has such screwy grammar: "LISTEN INDIE LIVE NOW!" He reveals that the whole announcement about not playing "the corporate radio game" any more is a farce, since none of the station employees had anything to do with it—the on-air treatise about "corporate radio" was read by the head of sales. However, he teases us a little, offering that "there are people who are making an effort to bring the station back on the air with the same people, but I can't say specifically." Good luck with that
The new U2 full-length, No Line on the Horizon, isn't out til March 3, but they've just released the cover art, and as Pitchfork put it, it's rather "zen." Even the Fork admits they're intrigued, since U2 are "most interesting when they step out of their comfort zone," although it's getting hard to remember when that last was. In any event, the album cover features a photograph by Hiroshi Sugimoto of a barely-rippling ocean superimposed with a big gray equals sign. No, I didn't just say "big gay equals sign," but the Human Rights Campaign might want to check into doing at least a "cross-promotion" or something. I also see a couple other influences: first up, the haunting video for Joy Division's "Atmosphere" (that features bleak, black & white horizons and the prominent use of "+" and "-" symbols) was directed by Anton Corbijn, who famously took the iconic photographs of U2 for their Joshua Tree album cover. How's that for a connection. The rest of my proposed theory of how the band came up with the cover (in visual form), plus a tracklisting, after the jump.
Nadav Kander's 52 portraits of "Obama's People" for the New York Times Magazine is exceptional not just for the photography, but the breadth of people covered in the shoot — from Eugene Kang, Obama's personal assistant, up to Joe Biden, Hillary, Pelosi and plenty of politicos in between.
But the real fun of this shoot is the back story.
Rob Haggert at A Photo Editor has the best take, in a laugh riot, comic book style, filled with insidery photo jokes.
Alternatively, in the Editor's Letter section of the Magazine, Gerald Marzorati explains the hows and whys of the shoot in a typically stuffy NY Times way (hey, stuffy can be good).
Via the SF Bay Guardian's Pixel Vision blog comes this charming little tidbit: what may very well be the first Obama joke made on Comedy Central. It was Bay Area comic W. Kamau Bell who picked the Senator out of almost-obscurity for a bit on black leaders in a stand-up routine back in 2005. He tells the Guardian that Comedy Central actually informed him that it was Obama's first mention by a stand-up comic on the network, so, you know, he's not just spinning. The jokes are, in fact, rather tame, imagining how Obama's name might strike people as a little "too black" if he were to run for president, but for that reason they're actually kind of cute—that was us, just a few years ago! Awww!
Broadcast radio just got a whole lot less interesting, as Los Angeles alternative station Indie 103.1 has announced it will stop broadcasting today, turning to a web-only format. A statement on the station's web site alluded to "changes in the radio industry and the way radio audiences are measured" which forces stations to "play too much Britney, Puffy and alternative music that is neither new nor cutting edge." I love you Indie, but I have to say, that's not exactly a new situation.
Americablog may not know who Daft Punk or Adam Freeland are, but you do, gentle Riff readers, since I postsomethingaboutthe formerat leasteveryweek or two. But that doesn't make this video, called "Aer OBAMA," any less baffling. The musical accompaniment consists of French duo Daft Punk's "Aerodynamic" (from their 2001 album Discovery) remixed by UK breaks legend Adam Freeland to have a Speak-and-Spell-y Obama theme; the video is a jittery stop-motion story of the President-Elect jetting in from space to, I guess, dance around at a Daft Punk concert. Okay. Let's just stop for a second. I'd like to point something out. First, I'm a huge Obama supporter who blogs for the Mother Jones magazine. Also, I'm a DJ, and in my radio career I managed to actually interview both Daft Punk and Mr. Freeland, to say nothing of the multiple times I've seen them DJ and perform. I've got the political and the musical sides of this pretty much down, so I don't think it's a stretch to say that I, personally, am at the very center of the intended audience for this video. However, it makes absolutely no sense to me whatsoever, and after watching it, I feel vaguely disturbed, not, you know, "hopeful." Plus, isn't sampling a Speak-and-Spell kind of tired? On top of it all, the very idea that France's greatest robot exports would get remixed by a breaks superstar for a stop-motion video featuring a bunch of Kubrick toys all in tribute to an American president is making me feel like the very laws of physics are collapsing around us. Or maybe I've just had too much coffee?
One of the first maxims of good criticism is also one of the toughest to maintain: review the work based on what it is rather than what it isn't. Sure, it sounds simple, but then you get an album like Scots Franz Ferdinand's third full-length, Tonight: Franz Ferdinand, and you can't help but want to flog it for not being their wry, catchy, Mercury Prize-winning 2004 debut. Do more "Matinees," dammit! Instead, the quartet have mostly abandoned the guitar-blasted riff-gasms of their past for spare, quirky disco and new wave, and if I focus really hard on ignoring their past, it's actually not so bad, I guess.
If you thought it wasn't possible to hold Charles Schulz's brilliant "Peanuts" comics in any higher esteem, think again. Today's NY Times describes how scholars are pointing out that the strip's references to music were anything but random. It turns out the notes displayed above Schroeder's piano often referenced actual pieces that add a level of humor:
"If you don't read music and you can't identify the music in the strips, then you lose out on some of the meaning," said William Meredith, the director of the Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies at San Jose State University, who has studied hundreds of Beethoven-themed "Peanuts" strips. ... Mr. Schulz also mined Beethoven's life for material. He had numerous books in which he underlined details about Beethoven's love life, clothing, even his favorite recipe (macaroni with cheese).
For instance, in the strip above, with Schroder working out beforehand, the notes pictured are the opening bars of Beethoven's "Hammerklavier" Sonata (Op. 106), known for its extraordinary difficulty. All this is part of an exhibit, "Schulz's Beethoven: Schroeder's Muse," at the cartoonist's eponymous museum in Santa Rosa, where you can learn such details as the fact that Schulz's favorite composer was in fact Brahms, but he just thought the name Beethoven looked funnier on the page. He was totally right.