Mixed Media

Sympathy for the Drivel

| Tue Nov. 13, 2007 1:42 PM EST

With all the articles that have been written about the TV writers' strike (how crappy the signs are, Eva Longoria's strike breaking, neonatal guild members birthed onto the picket line, career-change opportunities for Hollywood hacks, and Dowd's space filling), no attention has so far been paid to the real victims here. "I shudder to think what's happening to all the kids who keep in touch with world news by listening to reports of late-night comedians," some guy told Dowd portentiously. The kids? 'Excuse me while I whip this out: Screw the future. That's right. Bump them and focus on the least fortunate in all this, those ugly, peg-legged fawns baying bravely in a media forest aflame with irrelevance and starlets' lady parts. Without late night satire, where do minor league, one-issue wanna-pundits like myself go to rent ourselves five minutes at the 'popular' table? A very bad thing has happened to good blow hards.

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Party Ben's European Vacation Tour

| Sat Nov. 10, 2007 5:13 PM EST

mojo-photo-europe.jpgLike I mentioned in this week's Top Ten, your grammatically-challenged guest blogger Party Ben is heading off on a European DJ tour tomorrow. It's pretty cool, since, honestly, I'm not really that popular of a DJ, but somehow I managed to cobble together appearances in Poland, Germany, Belgium and France over the course of about three weeks. Because of the tight schedule (and probable unreliability of internet connections at the, ahem, budget accommodations I'll be patronizing) it's unclear how often I'll be able to keep up with my Riff duties, but I'll do my best to post updates now and then on What Life is Like on the Road for a Basically Unknown DJ Guy, or Random Cultural Trends Sweeping the European Continent with Enough Significance to be Obvious Even to a Drunk Tourist. Hopefully the MoJo Arts & Culture Team (I'm capitalizing a lot here, aren't I?) can cover my beat—i.e., anything that happens in the world of Arcade Fire and M.I.A.—while I'm gone, and I'll be back in December.

If for some reason you're more curious about specific locations and venues you can look at the schedule on my website here. Now I'm off to enjoy the favorable exchange rates and general love for Americans that's shared all over the—what? What are you saying? Not so much? Ah.

Mothers for Vapid Kid Culture

| Fri Nov. 9, 2007 3:46 PM EST

It's easy to laugh at High School Musical, and kid culture in general. Metrosexual Zach Efron as MoonDoggie. Vanessa Hudgens as...er.. Vanessa Williams. It couldn't be more bland and divorced from reality. I'd worry about my kids if they weren't mesmerized by it.

Only 6 and 4, when High School Musical queues up, and it does so often, the yelling stops, the toys drop. Tiny eyes fuse on the set. They go ballistic dancing to the high octane numbers while my princess-obsessed four year old squeezes her lids shut and twirls about, all alone and deliciously sad, on 'Gabriella's' heartbreak songs. They go to the same magical place all of us yearned for as children. While aimed at teenagers and tweens, I'm guessing that mine aren't the only tots moved by the extremely silly High School Musical and it's burgeoning spin offs the same way I was mesmerized by the pop music, 40's blockbusters and movie extravaganzas of my childhood. If I'm lucky, dumb old HSM will stay with them all their lives.


Friday Says Bye-Bye Music News Day

| Fri Nov. 9, 2007 2:29 PM EST

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And now, the Riff's crack Music News department follows up on stories we brought you here first. ...Well, maybe not "first," but, uh, in the past at some point, at least?

  • Okay, sorry, Prince. The Minneapolis superstar says he's not suing fans (as we mocked here on the Riff the other day), but in fact just the opposite: his promoter released a statement saying that Prince wants to "provide Prince fans with exclusive music and images entirely free of charge, and bypassing unofficial and unauthorized phony fan sites that exploit both consumers and artists. The action taken earlier this week was not to shut down fansites, or control comment in any way." So this turns into another one of those "he-said, Prince-said" things.

  • My Bloody Valentine: is really, truly going to release something new before the end of 2007, says bandleader Kevin Shields. The album will likely consist of "this 96-97 half-finished record, and then a compilation of stuff we did before that, and a little bit of new stuff." Whatever, anything, who cares, just give it to us!!!
  • Radiohead are denying stuff too: they're contradicting the recent reports suggesting 60 percent of fans who downloaded In Rainbows paid nothing, calling the data "wholly inaccurate," and saying it "in no way reflected definitive market intelligence or, indeed, the true success of the project." Hmm, sounds like one of those denials-of-everything-but-the-facts. Anyway, you'll be able to buy the physical version of In Rainbows on December 31st, and hopefully somebody will count those.
  • And finally, following up on the continuing Amy Winehouse saga: police raided the singer's home and then arrested her husband, Blake Fielder-Civil, in East London on Thursday, while a tearful Winehouse was present. Fielder-Civil was allegedly involved in an attempt to fix his own trial in an assault case of a bartender earlier this summer. The victim was apparently offered $400,000 to keep quiet. Mr. Winehouse sounds awesome, can I just say that? Anyway, Winehouse's wobbly, slurring performance at the MTV Europe awards last week raised some eyebrows as well, and oh, it's Friday, why not watch that here:

  • John Coltrane, 101

    | Thu Nov. 8, 2007 10:00 PM EST
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    I love jazz biographies as much as the next music nerd, but Ben Ratliff's latest book on jazz giant John Coltrane, Coltrane: The Story of a Sound, transcends typical expectations of a biography. It documents how one of the most famous and revered jazz musicians of all time actually developed his sound, style, and technique.

    Coltrane, in the hands of this New York Times music critic, is a man constantly searching—and practicing—and pushing himself to the next level musically. He's also a music theory-obsessed saxophonist that people didn't always know what to make of, but he was consistently invited to play anyway; and repeatedly blew people away with his power and tenacity.

    The first-person accounts given by fellow musicians, friends, peers and admirers are the charm of the book. French-horn player David Amram recalls Coltrane sitting outside of a club, eating a piece of pie and talking about Einstein's theory of relativity. Testimonies from rock musicians help contextualize Coltrane's influence outside of New York's jazz clubs. The Stooges' singer Iggy Pop, known for his wild physicality on stage, explains "What I heard John Coltrane do with his horn, I tried to do physically." Mike Watt, bassist for the post-punk band The Minutemen, says "[Coltrane] didn't want to get fuckin' nailed down. That's the anarchistic spirit."

    In short, it takes Ratcliff 200 pages to describe how an amazing, controversial jazz man worked to transform himself and the instrument he played, and as a result, challenged what people thought (and still think) jazz music should sound like.

    Carrie Brownstein : NPR :: Party Ben : The Mother Jones?

    | Wed Nov. 7, 2007 5:00 PM EST

    mojo-photo-brownstein.jpgOr maybe it's the other way around. National Public Radio has recently taken your tax dollars and contributions and thrown them at another kooky artist: Carrie Brownstein, guitarist and vocalist for the toweringly-awesome on-hiatus Portland trio Sleater-Kinney. The "Monitor Mix" is NPR's second music blog after "All Songs Considered," and Brownstein gets it all to herself, and even gets a picture of herself and her dog up at the top. Lucky! A first glance over there shows she's into Curb Your Enthusiasm, the Ramones, and bands with "cat" in their name. Me too!

    Hey wait a minute, why am I talking about competing liberal media blogs with superstar (ahem!!) guest writers? Don't go over there, stay here on the Riff! Besides, Brownstein hasn't figured out how to post pictures yet, and we have way more of those, and even videos. Speaking of, Sleater-Kinney, how awesome? For a few years right around 1996-99, they were absolutely the best band in America. Throwing a dart at the board of my 1000 favorite S-K songs (or, more accurately, doing a quick video search) brings us:

    Sleater-Kinney – "Get Up" (from The Hot Rock, 1999)

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    Marxism in the Eye of the Conservative Beholder

    | Wed Nov. 7, 2007 4:06 PM EST

    At least, in the eyes of those who find out that being an apologist and fellow traveler to rapacious capitalism still won't provide you access to that which is being conserved. Doing 'the club's' dirty work just isn't the same as being invited to join 'the club'. Even worse is realizing that you've only be invited in to clean it. Wonder how long it took these worshippers of the fat-cat capitalist class to convince themselves that this isn't utter hypocrisy?:

    Five authors have sued the parent company of Regnery Publishing, a Washington imprint of conservative books, charging that the company deprives its writers of royalties by selling their books at a steep discount to book clubs and other organizations owned by the same parent company.
    In a suit filed in United States District Court in Washington yesterday, the authors Jerome R. Corsi, Bill Gertz, Lt. Col. Robert (Buzz) Patterson, Joel Mowbray and Richard Miniter state that Eagle Publishing, which owns Regnery, "orchestrates and participates in a fraudulent, deceptively concealed and self-dealing scheme to divert book sales away from retail outlets and to wholly owned subsidiary organizations within the Eagle conglomerate."

    Imagine these conservatives' horror to find out that a big, profitable business put more energy into deflating their authors' royalties than into publishing more odes to child labor and deforestation. But, then, these are the deep-thinkers who wrote bestsellers swift-boating Kerry and 'proving' that Bush is really winning the war on terror. My, how sudden, how selective, their distaste for fraud, deception and self-dealing. Sorta like the slaves who narc'd on runaways only to find themselves still put to the lash for minor infractions. No honor among thieves, guys. Certainly, there's no intellectual consistency, not when money's concerned. Here's my favorite part:

    "It suddenly occurred to us that Regnery is making collectively jillions of dollars off of us and paying us a pittance." He added: "Why is Regnery acting like a Marxist cartoon of a capitalist company?"

    Here's another question: why do they think Regnery's (alleged) business practices are Marxist when it is in fact these authors' critique which is? Where you stand really does seem to depend on where you sit.

    'Ghost Punk' Alive and Well in Brooklyn

    | Wed Nov. 7, 2007 2:40 PM EST
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    My infatuation for the week? Brooklyn's noisy, three-piece band These Are Powers. Their 2007 Hoss Records debut, Terrific Seasons, is loud and creepy, and I mean that in a good way.

    The band describes their sound as "ghost punk," I'm guessing because the music is intense, dark, and ominous, and influenced by (as they put it) spiritual mysticism, supernatural phenomena, and the prophecies of a UFO-obsessed cab driver. They also call their sound "future primitive" (whatever that means), which, combined with incomprehensible echo-heavy vocals, make this album sound like background music for a chase scene in a bizarre horror flick.

    I can see how that might sound awful, but it's not. It's mesmerizing; and probably best seen live, if these video clips are any indication. Try to imagine a combination of early Sonic Youth mixed with some Bauhaus and a lot of sarcasm.

    Now I Feel Dumb For Actually Paying For the Radiohead Album

    | Wed Nov. 7, 2007 2:40 PM EST

    In Rainbows

    And those British Pounds are like real money and stuff. As everybody who has internet access knows, Radiohead recently released their latest album In Rainbows as a digital download via their own website, allowing buyers to name their own price. While the band themselves still aren't talking about how many people downloaded the album (or how much they paid), a consumer research firm did a study and found that a large majority paid, well, zip:

    Some 62 percent of the people who downloaded "In Rainbows" in a four- week period last month opted not to pay the British alt-rockers a cent. But the remaining 38 percent voluntarily paid an average of $6, according to the study by comScore Inc. …The results of the study were drawn from data gathered from a few hundred people who are part of comScore's database of 2 million computer users worldwide. The firm, which has permission to monitor the computer users' online behavior, did not provide a margin of error for the study's results.

    Interestingly, the percentage of American fans who paid at all was slightly higher than the non-U.S. average (40% to 36%), and amusingly, the average amount paid by people who did pay was way higher in the U.S., $8.05 compared to $4.64 outside the U.S. I'm going to take a guess the exchange rate came into play there: I bet there were quite a few fans like myself whose casual entering of a number that seemed like a nice compromise—say, £5—were in for a bit of a shock when their credit card bill came back saying that turned out to be $10.43. Even those of us with impending European tours who are keeping their eye on the now-so-low-it's-barely-visible dollar (€1.46 today!!) (er, wait, I mean, €1 is $1.46 today. See this is part of the problem right here, Americans can't do math) succumbed to mathematical habit; I mean, paying somebody 3 of anything for an album just seems mean, even though £3 is like $6.25, which isn't bad for ten 160kbps mp3s from a band who doesn't need the money. Ah well, consider it my contribution towards the downfall of the record industry.

    Technological TMI

    | Wed Nov. 7, 2007 12:48 PM EST

    Wanna know how many calories sex with the hubby, versus sex with the mailman, burns?

    Over at Slate, Amanda Schaefer tried out a gadget that allowed her to incessantly track exactly how her body was responding to food and exercise. As if we weren't self-absorbed and techno-obsessed enough. Those of us with low self esteem and border line OCD might do best to steer clear:

    This week, I discovered how many calories I burn climbing stairs, riding trains, sleeping, and having sex. The data come courtesy of a plastic device called the bodybugg, which is currently strapped to the underside of my right arm, like an oversized ladybug about to nuzzle the armpit. The bodybugg is designed to measure the number of calories burned minute by minute over the course of a day, in order to help people lose weight (or gain—it's apparently popular with bodybuilders).
    Bodybugg is part of a new wave of personal monitoring gadgets that promise to track various aspects of our health, fitness, or risk of disease. Nike + iPod, for instance, uses sensors in sneakers to track a runner's time, distance, and calories burned. An experimental alarm clock works with a headband that monitors sleep stages, promising to wake you up in a lighter phase so you feel less groggy. A specialty shirt, currently in clinical trials in Europe, is packed with sensors that monitor heart rate and breathing. A toilet now on the market in Japan tests urine streams for glucose, gathering data that could be used to monitor diabetes. These gadgets threaten to serve up more data than we know what to do with, not to mention make us ever more self-absorbed. But they also dangle the hope of better understanding and better health. What's it like to spy on one's own body 24/7? I decided to find out.