A night at the opera, President Ilves (left) and Paul Krugman.PhotoXpress/ZUMA Press (left) ; Mister Shadow/Agencia Estado/ZUMA Press
There is a new European musical production, sung and performed in soaring operatic style, that tells the true story of the June internet war between Paul Krugman, the noted Keynesian economist, and Toomas Hendrik Ilves, the president of Estonia. The first shot rang out when Krugman published a blog post titled "Estonian Rhapsody" criticizing the Baltic state's austerity measures. Later that day, Ilves, a national figurehead who commands no real executive power, retaliated by opening up a salvo of indignant and sometimes vulgar tweets, decrying Krugman as ignorant, "smug, overbearing & patronizing."
Naturally, someone would have to see this and think of it as musical-theater gold: "I couldn't avoid the tweets," Scott Diel, an Estonia-based American writer and lyricist for the show, tells me. "They just sort of recommended themselves."
This is not the Onion. It's the true story behind an original production that debuted Sunday night to a packed house at the historic House of the Brotherhood of Black Heads in Tallinn, Estonia, as part of the Estonian Music Days festival. A subsequent performance is in the works for the Estonia business conference Pärnu Konverentsid in the fall, and for a performance by Sinfonietta Riga in Latvia on October 18. The piece, titled Nostra Culpa, which means "our fault" in Latin (the expression was used in one of Ilves' angry and sarcastic tweets), isn't satirical, does not stake out a partisan position, and is not particularly critical of either Krugman or Ilves.
Margaret Thatcher at Ronald Reagan's Funeral.Navy Tech. Sgt. Scott M. Ash/Wikipedia Commons
For a lot of young liberals just coming of age, the 1980s were tinted by a certain malaise owning to the lingering cultural backdrop of Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who, as if you didn't already know, has died at the age of 87. Our consolation prize, of course, was that all that angst inspired a lot of great, often angry, and sometimes even danceable music (see just below) that became the soundtrack for my generation and came to define the era almost as much as the pols we put in charge. (Well, I didn't put 'em in charge: In 1984, the first election in which I was eligible to vote, I cast for Mondale, who got walloped by the incumbent Reagan.) Thatcher and Reagan alike were ideal targets for musicians, from folk to punk to reggae. I pulled out these seven notables. Why not 10? Hey, I'm no conformist!
1. The English Beat, "Stand Down Margaret": From the flipside of I Just Can't Stop It, the Beat's first record, which I listened to pretty much constantly in high school. I still have it on vinyl, suckers! Here's a live rendition. Wow, those clothes! I'd, like, totally forgotten.
2. Crass, "How Does It Feel (to Be the Mother of a Thousand Dead)?" — This isn't actually a video at all. The English anarcho-punk band Crass, as its fans well know, was way too anti-commercial for any of that corporate BS. But you could always depend on them for strident protest music. Because we were kids, after all, and youth is strident. This song was Crass' response to the Falklands invasion.
3. Frank Turner, "Thatcher Fucked the Kids": Okay, this isn't from the 1980s at all. Frank Turner only pretty recently passed 30 (Don't Trust Him!). No, he's totally great, so there. Here's a short profile, if you're interested. This older (2008) tune is pretty self explanatory.
4. Linton Kwesi Johnson, "It Dread Inna Inglan": On his debut LP, Dread Beat an' Blood, the dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson, who usually sets his rhyming creations to dub tracks, pressed a track of himself speaking by megaphone at a rally for George Lindo. Lindo was a black man in his 20s who was framed by police in Bradford, England, for a robbery. He was later freed and received compensation for his ordeal, according to the Guardian, which profiled Johnson. Listen to the original track here. In addition to Dread Beat an' Blood, I'd recommended Johnson's albums Bass Culture and Forces of Victory—also key parts of my high school soundtrack.
5. Pete Wylie, "The Day That Margaret Thatcher Died": So I actually never heard this one way back when, or at least I don't remember it. But you know a lot of people are going to hear it today. Here's a live supergroup version. The sound quality is pretty godawful, but you'll get the general idea:
6. The Clash, London Calling: Okay, I'll go out on a limb and say much of the Clash's later career was in some ways a response to Thatcher's England—much in the same way that X came to define 1980s Los Angeles (for me at least). London Calling came out the same year Thatcher came to power. In the clip below, frontman Joe Strummer screws up the title track's opening lyrics. (Clearly Thatcher's doing.)
7. Billy Bragg, "Thatcherites": The inimitable Billy Bragg was never one to step back from a fight. He has this knack for crafting clever protest songs that manage to be in-your-face, yet at the same time are genuinely pleasurable to listen to. That's rare. Here, Bragg takes on Thatcher's followers, speaking to them directly: "You privatize away what is ours, what is ours / You privatize away what is ours / You privatize away and then you make us pay / Yeah, we'll take it back some day, mark my words, mark my words/ We'll take it back some day, mark my words." Again, this is just audio, so don't expect anything exciting to happen.
By the way, if you know of any songs celebrating Margaret Thatcher, I'd love to hear about them in the comments. (For some reason, when people write songs about conservative heroes, they end up being stuff like Item 3 in this post.)
The Black Angels' Alex Maas at the Prophet, a Dallas bar.nffcnnr/Flickr Creative Commons
The Black Angels Indigo Meadow
Blue Horizon Ventures
I was first introduced to The Black Angels back in 2007 as I wandered dusty Tennessee fields at the Bonnaroo music festival. As it happened, they were covering Iggy Pop's "I Wanna Be Your Dog" and I found myself drawn in. The Austin, Texas, four-piece has come a long way since then, releasing three studio albums and winning fans for their modern interpretations of '60s-era psych rock.
It is impossible not to think of Pink Floyd or The Doors while listening to the new album, Indigo Meadow, which came out last week. The fuzzy, wobbling guitar and pounding bass immediately evoke a psychedelic-rock museum, revisiting the spacey riffs unearthed by Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd on Piper at the Gates of Dawn, and the acid-fueled organ of The Doors first album.
Liner notes: The spooky Oakland quartet unleashes a perfect storm of brooding guitar pop, smothering everything in delicious echo.
Behind the music: Wax Idols' debut was basically a solo effort by Hether Fortune (a.k.a. Heather Fedewa), who assembled a band for this mesmerizing album. She's also worked with Hunx and His Punx, Blasted Canyons, and Bare Wires.
Check it out if you like: Moody noisemakers from Love and Rockets to Lush to early Dum Dum Girls.
I was first introduced to Dawes on a stretch of deserted highway in 2010, following the band's first release, North Hills. It was a fitting introduction. My production team and I were struggling to film a grueling cross-country video series, but we lost our motivation somewhere in Mississippi. Our cinematographer thankfully plugged his iPod into the van stereo and launched the opening track, "That Western Skyline." It was soft, simple, and became a prescription for our myopia.
Changsha, Rian Dundon's first monograph, could be aptly subtitled My Six Years Hanging out in China. Not unlike the country itself, Changsha is big and sprawling, a photo diary akin to something Anders Petersen, Morten Andersen, or Jacob Au Sobol might put together. There's no real narrative, no particular story set out to be told in pictures. It's just Dundon carrying his camera and loads of black and white film as he tumbles from one adventure to the next. It's my favorite kind of photo project.
Dundon set out on his journey without any real background in the country or its languages, landing in Changsha, the capital of Hunan Province, located on a branch of the Yangtze River. He expected to be there for a year. He wound up spending six.
It's the absence of any agenda that makes this book work so well.
Dundon dove into the city headfirst, exploring its alleys, skateboarding its streets, eating, drinking, smoking, and, of course, shooting constantly. What emerged was a view of China we don't often see in the West, a chronicle of daily life for a younger generation.
It's the absence of an agenda that makes the book work so well. The in-between moments, direct flash shots in nightclubs, landscapes, city details, and otherwise mundane street scenes come together to create a more telling experience of life in China than any formal photo story could hope to. Changsha offers its perusers a chance to live vicariously through Dundon, and it's a far more interesting armchair-travel experience than anything you'll find in an airline magazine.
Perhaps the best way to review this kind of book is simply to let the photos sell you on it (or not). So here's but a very small glimpse at some of the 200 pages of photos in Changsha, which I recommend highly.
"Do you know any gay players?"Keith Birmingham/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/ZUMAPress.com
The NBA career of Hall of Famer Phil Jackson spanned six decades: He played 12 years and snagged two league titles for the New York Knicks before winning 11 more championships as the coach of stars like Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Kobe Bryant, and Shaquille O'Neal. But during all of his time in the league, he said in a Huffington Post Liveinterview earlier this week, he's "never run into" gay professional basketball players.
Maybe Jackson's Zen-ness got in the way of the 67-year-old's memory and common sense, so let's help him out:
In 2011, fellow Hall of Famer Charles Barkley said, "Every player has played with gay guys. Any professional athlete who gets on TV or radio and says he never played with a gay guy is a stone-freakin' idiot." So there's that.
John Amaechi, who came out in 2007 after he'd retired (and who's mentioned by Kurt Rambis in the above clip), played five seasons in the league in the 1990s and early aughts. He played in 12 games against Jackson's teams during his career.
More generally, the time when athletes and coaches can deny that there are gay players in pro locker rooms seems to be coming to end. Earlier today, Brendon Ayanbadejo, the former Baltimore Ravens linebacker whose gay-marriage advocacy was criticized by a Maryland state legislator (who in turn was famously blasted by Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe on Deadspin), told the Baltimore Sun today that "up to four" NFL players were considering coming out simultaneously sometime in the not-too-distant future:
"I think it will happen sooner than you think," Ayanbadejo said. "We're in talks with a handful of players who are considering it. There are up to four players being talked to right now and they're trying to be organized so they can come out on the same day together. It would make a major splash and take the pressure off one guy. It would be a monumental day if a handful or a few guys come out.
"Of course, there would be backlash. If they could share the backlash, it would be more positive. It's cool. It's exciting. We're in talks with a few guys who are considering it. The NFL and organizations are already being proactive and open if a player does it and if something negative happens. We'll see what happens."
The two most-recent big-name athletes to come out of the closet were both soccer players: Robbie Rogers, who played for the US national soccer team, made his announcement in February, while women's star Megan Rapinoe came out before last year's Olympics. And while no NFL, NBA, or Major League Baseball player has ever come out of the closet while still playing, that looks like it will change sooner than later. So if the Zen Master ends up taking a job in an NBA front office, maybe he'll finally run into an openly gay NBA player.
Roger Ebert (center), with his wife Chaz Hammelsmith Ebert (left) and actress Nancy Kwan.Chuck Boller/Hawaii International Film Festival
Chances are good that Roger Ebert, who died Thursday at age 70, was the first film critic you ever heard of. He was also the only one in recent memory to rate a eulogy from the White House: "For a generation of Americans—and especially Chicagoans—Roger was the movies," President Obama said in a statement released Thursday afternoon.
Ebert's decades as a critic in print and on television made him easily the most influential man in the business—and his ability to adapt in the rapidly changing landscape of news and media only made his dominance more evident. "A [Roger Ebert] tweet is worth as much traffic as a small Digg or YCombinator hit. Crazy. That's some distribution power," Atlantic editor Alexis Madrigal observed last August.
Ebert passed away just days after announcing a "leave of presence" to deal with a recurrence of cancer. In 2006, Ebert had a near-death experience during surgery to remove cancerous tissue; following that operation, he lost his ability to speak and part of his lower jaw. He'd recently expressed a desire to devote more time to writing about his illness.
Beyond his career as a Pulitzer-winning movie critic, Ebert was an author (I recommend his excellent 2011 autobiography), a raging liberal (especially via social media), and a screenwriter (he wrote the 1978 Sex Pistols film Who Killed Bambi? that was junked after financing fell through). When a figure of this caliber leaves us, they inspire a deluge of praise, listicles, and remembrances; I will leave it up to you to choose the most comprehensive or definitive.
But what I will remember Ebert for is this: It is rare for a man of his influence and fame to so gleefully and unabashedly embrace (and I write this with the greatest enthusiasm) cinematic trash. No snobbery, no pretentiousness, and absolutely no shame in indulging in guilty pleasure—that's what impressed me the most about his criticism. His favorite films of all time were critically acclaimed gold mines like Werner Herzog's beautiful and notorious Aguirre, the Wrath of God or the 2011 Oscar-winning Iranian film A Separation. But he had a soft spot for popular garbage: Remember that ridiculous and disposable Vin Diesel action flick from 2002—the one so groggily titled XXX? If you don't remember, it's the Vin Diesel movie where Vin Diesel goes snowboarding in an avalanche. Here's an excerpt from Ebert's loving, nearly four-star review:
If Bond is a patriot, [Diesel's] Xander is a man who looks out only for No. 1, until Gibbons threatens him with prison unless he agrees to go to the Czech Republic and stop a madman with, yes, a plan to destroy and/or conquer the world. This villain, named Yorgi (Marton Csokas), apparently lives in the Prague Castle, which will come as a surprise to President Vaclav Havel. He's a renegade officer of the evil Czech Secret Service; the movie doesn't seem to know that the Cold War is over and Czechs are good guys these days, but never mind: The movie was shot on location in Prague, part of the current filmmaking boom in the republic, and the scenery is terrific.
Is "XXX" a threat to the Bond franchise? Not a threat so much as a salute. I don't want James Bond to turn crude and muscular on me; I like the suave style. But I like Xander, too, especially since he seems to have studied Bond so very carefully. Consider the movie's big set piece, totally in the 007 tradition, when Xander parachutes to a mountaintop, surveys the bad guys on ski-mobiles below, throws a grenade to start an avalanche, and then outraces the avalanche on a snowboard while the bad guys are wiped out. Not bad. Now all he has to work on is the kissing.
That's what did it for me: An earnest, glowing review of an inconsequential popcorn flick, and laced with political observation and a modest wit. Ebert's flair for this sort of thing lasted right up until the very end. And it's just one of the reasons why he is already sorely missed.
In an industrial Siberian village, underwear-clad girls parade around a gymnasium as Ashley Arbaugh, a dead-behind-the-eyes model-turned-scout, recruits talent for a Japanese market ravenous for youth. One hot prospect is Nadya, a 13-year-old fawn of a girl who is uprooted to Tokyo and left to fend for herself. The unsettling film is made intimate in close-ups and confessionals by the obviously troubled Arbaugh, who lives in a nearly literal glass house and is frightened at night because anyone can peer in at her. Likewise, her models, lacking autonomy, never know where their pictures might end up, and just who might be looking at them.