The Riff - June 2007

Webcasters Counting Down to Day of Silence

| Wed Jun. 20, 2007 5:41 PM EDT

mojo-photo-radiosilence.jpgWith just over four weeks until online royalty rates are set to increase, internet broadcasters and the people who love them are starting to get nervous. I wrote about this back in March, and amusingly, it looks like "Save the Streams," the organization set up to help stop the rate hike, got my message about their icky name and folded themselves into a new group: SaveNetRadio. Whew! Anyway, these new rules would reportedly increase fees by up to 1200%, putting many broadcasters out of business, and on Monday, the SaveNetRadio people held a concert outside of the Capitol to raise awareness of the issue. Unfortunately, nobody had ever heard of the bands who performed: Yugo, Nadir, and, um, The Mother Jones Band. Talk about royalties -- shouldn't we get a dollar every time they sell a T-shirt? The new rules are set to go into effect July 15th, and actually sound pretty unfair, the most troubling aspect being that the same rates are applied to both commercial and public broadcasters. And thus, next Tuesday, June 26th, a coalition of webcasters are participating in a "Day of Silence" to protest the new rules, and yes, that means no KCRW for 24 hours, unless you actually live within range of its 39 (or so) actual FM transmitters! Gulp!

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iPoo? Really?

| Tue Jun. 19, 2007 9:10 PM EDT

iCarta.jpg

Well, the time has come. The latest iPod stereo dock is out, the iCarta, designed, and refined, to hold toilet paper. The product comes with docking materials, collapsible tissue holders that can be used as the stereo dock and you guessed it — moisture-free speakers.

In honor of this ground-breaking invention, here is a list of actual products relating to iPods that you may not have heard about but are popping up all around the Internet.

  • iBuzz. Half iPod, half sex toy. Enough said.

  • Bevy. Bottle opener/keychain/earbud wrap/iPod shuffle case.
  • Tadpole. Wheel-design iPod case for kids (a.k.a. virtual babysitter).
  • Redwire jeans. Totally expensive jeans that let you retract your headphones and supply a joystick controller in your pocket (or are you just happy to see me?).
  • iBeams. Snap a flashlight or laser beam onto your iPod.
  • TuneBuckle. Wear your iPod whilst holding up your pants.
  • —Anna Weggel

    Nan Kempner the Anti-Paris Hilton: Classy, Dignified, Relevant

    | Tue Jun. 19, 2007 8:42 PM EDT

    nan.jpg

    Nan Kempner grew up in a wealthy family, and she married rich. Like many women of her generation and background, the socialite occupied her time with charity work and fashion, but no one could accuse her of dabbling. Over thirty years, she raised $75 million for cancer research. In many ways, her collection of designer clothing and accessories is even more impressive.

    Kempner, whom Diana Vreeland famously called the one chic American woman, had an eye for detail and she knew how to make the most of her body (flat chested, flat bottomed, leggy). She got her first couture dress for her debutante ball in 1949 and never really stopped shopping. She liked Dior and Valentino; she loved Madame Gres and Yves Saint Laurent. Chanel bored her.

    A small portion of Kempner's Imelda Marcos-sized collection has traveled from the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute to the de Young Museum in San Francisco. Arranged by Harold Koda, "Nan Kempner: American Chic" opened June 18 and closes November 11.

    —Ellen Charles

    Amy Winehouse Sets US Tour Dates, Hits Top Ten

    | Tue Jun. 19, 2007 6:36 PM EDT

    mojo-photo-amywinehouse.jpgIt wouldn't be surprising if you missed British R&B singer Winehouse the last time she came through your town; most of the venues were booked long before her recent, extraordinary rise to fame in the US, and thus were too small for the crowds. This time she's planning ahead: booking, for instance, two nights at the 3,000-capacity Warfield in San Francisco. However, with "Rehab" rocketing 38 slots (!) to land just inside the Billboard Top 10 this week, and her album, Back to Black, selling over 560,000 copies in the US to date, those dates will probably sell out fast. If you're a fan of Winehouse's neo-soul (and I wasn't at first but I have to say it's really growing on me) get your tickets soon.

    Dates and some videos after the jump.

    Top Ten Stuff 'n' Things: 6/18/07

    | Mon Jun. 18, 2007 10:27 PM EDT

    Ah, time off, when you can do things you don't usually do, like rent a car and head for the desert and eat fast food and not think about stuff. I'd say the Top Ten this week is influenced by what sounded good on the stereo while driving through the immense, desolate landscape around Joshua Tree, but, turns out this atmospheric electronica and groovy hip-hop really isn't that different from what I usually listen to in my little apartment. Go figure.

    mojo-cover-stateless.JPG10. Stateless – "Inscape" (from the self-titled album out tomorrow on K7)
    (MySpace, mp3 via Get Weird Turn Pro)
    "How did it get so cold out here?" asks vocalist Chris James in this downtempo number from the UK combo's debut album. Well, here's an idea: maybe DJ Shadow-style beats and Portisthead atmosphere isn't exactly a recipe for turning up the heat, Stateless. Jeez.

    mojo-cover-bluescholars.JPG9. Blue Scholars – "North by Northwest" (from the new album Bayani on Rawkus)
    (MySpace, iTunes)
    The Seattle hip-hop duo gives their rainy region some love on this track from their just-released sophomore album. Politically aware hip-hop is kind of uncool right now, and nobody wants to be preached at, for sure. But it's the jazzy, surprising backing beats, reminiscent of Dilated Peoples or A Tribe Called Quest, that keeps the project on track.

    mojo-cover-maps.jpg8. Maps – "Back + Forth" (from the new album We Can Create on Mute)
    (MySpace, iTunes, YouTube video of live performance)
    Much has been made about how UK producer James Chapman created this electronica-inflected album in his bedroom without the use of computers, laying down everything to good old 12-track tape. I'm not sure if I can tell how this affects the music, but whatever floats your boat, Jim, especially if it helps you make ethereal pop this good. "Back + Forth" ends up sounding a bit like Leisure-era Blur, of all things.

    7. People reacting to a first taste of Pepsi Ice Cucumber, now available in Japan
    Just say that a few times: Pepsi. Ice. Cucumber. Pepsi. Ice. Cucumber.

    mojo-cover-chicas.JPG6. Bitman & Roban – "Answer 2 the Beat" (from The Chicas Project on Nacional)
    (MySpace, iTunes)
    This various-artists CD (accompanying the reality TV show) provides an quick fix of contemporary Latin music, most of it united by a mellow, summery vibe. Of course, I gravitate towards the strangest track: a Groove Armada-style instrumental with what appears to be a Speak 'n' Spell doing some lyrical stylings.

    Winner for the 'Man Takes Crap' Headline of the Day...

    | Mon Jun. 18, 2007 1:56 PM EDT

    Headline: "Dallas Elects Businessman As Mayor"

    Lede paragraph: "Choosing a wealthy retired businessman over an openly gay city councilman, voters elected Tom Leppert as Dallas mayor Saturday by a wide margin."

    Duh.

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    Ripened Yet Rocking: Young @ Heart Chorus Keeps it Real

    | Fri Jun. 15, 2007 6:30 PM EDT

    I thought my grandma was cool because she uses e-mail. Little did I know the only reason she uses it is because my parents tricked her into thinking Web TV isn't the real Internet.

    But Internet-using grandmas aside, there exists a set of elderly folks in their 70s to 90s that are possibly cooler than that. Not only do they go on tour and dance choreographed routines, they have the musical taste of hip 25-year-olds.

    Singing songs by Radiohead, Coldplay, the Clash and Outkast, the group, called Young@Heart, has been around since 1982. The members range from once-professional musicians and actors to those with virtually no experience.

    Check out the group's heart-wrenching live version of Coldplay's "Fix You".

    —Anna Weggel

    Geek Love -- The Long Awaited Follow-up

    | Thu Jun. 14, 2007 7:24 PM EDT

    After 17 years, fans of the cult (and personal) favorite Geek Love by Portland-based author Katherine Dunn are finally getting their wish for a follow-up. Knopf, Dunn's publisher, will release Dunn's second novel, The Cut Man in September 2008. Back in 1989 Dunn told The Guardian, "'The cut man in boxing is the person who stops the bleeding in a boxing match. The new novel is about boxing and serial killers."

    In the meantime, you can get your Dunn fix here, where Dunn is guest blogging for a bit. Be sure to check out the comments section below posts where the host blogger asks her questions about her life and writing. She gets into the nitty gritty of how the writing process works for her.

    She is especially interested in the sound of the human voice, writing yesterday, "I keep trying to remind people that the hen scratches are just symbols for the sounds of the human voice. That it's the sound that communicates. You've got to hear this stuff as you read it. It's gorgeous, this process. Alone in a room you hear the sounds and note them down in silence and they go out to others who read them in silence and hear the sounds again."

    Her first post on the blog is the essay "Just as Fierce," which was originally published in the Nov/Dec 1994 issue of Mother Jones.

    --Martha Pettit

    So Long, Farewell, We Say Goodbye With an Obit

    | Thu Jun. 14, 2007 3:14 PM EDT

    Okay, so this is a little strange. The San Francisco Chronicle's Executive Editor Phil Bronstein is writing short, eloquent posts remembering former colleagues let go because of the paper's downsizing.

    The paper announced this spring they were laying off 25 percent of the newsroom by end of the Summer, and readers can now learn tidbits about folks who were let go. For example, one former Style editor was a "renaissance guy with broad knowledge of jazz, literature and other subjects," and one editor was able to deconstruct complicated stories and reassemble them as mini-masterpieces every day.

    What's odd is that the blurbs say things like "Her departure after 32 years of faithful, professional service represents an irreplaceable loss," which sounds more like an obit. But sensitive remembrances don't make good on the fact that many talented journalists are going jobless. As the Project for Excellence in Journalism points out in its 2007 State of the News Media report, two important journalistic pursuits — monitoring of local governments and regional issues — are losing out to newsroom downsizing. (Other Bay Area news staff reductions get frequent updates here, and MoJo's "Breaking the News" investigation digs even deeper.)

    If news companies do not assert their own vision and take risks, the PEJ report argues, their future will be defined by those less invested in and passionate about news than the heroes being eulogized by Bronstein.

    --Gary Moskowitz

    You Can Go Home Again

    | Thu Jun. 14, 2007 2:53 PM EDT

    police_50s.jpgLast night I relived my childhood. I saw The Police in concert. The sound of Sting's voice filling an open-air stadium (this time in Oakland) really took me back—though the biggest Proustian moment came when I saw Police posters for sale. Posters!

    The performance was fantastic. Sting can still sing gorgeously. He's still got a winning little twist to his mouth as he does it, and if my ass and biceps look as good when I'm 55, I will be seriously, seriously happy. (I'm not sure if it was an ironic note or not, but the band revisited its 80s look, headbands, sleeveless shirts and all.) The really great thing about the show was seeing the band feeling free to delve deeper into their influences. Sting got a little scat into "Roxanne," which might have been borderline cheesy in a solo performance, but with Stewart Copeland there to reign him in, it was amazing. There is obviously still some interpersonal tension, but, damn, hearing them let their songs get a little abstract and airy, but then—POP!—bring them back down to earth, made me really wish they had been able to make that compromise as a band. In my younger years, I would send a dozen roses backstage for Sting at every concert. Last night, I thought the roses were for Stewart. (Andy came across as a man with ample skills but little soul.)

    One disappointment: There was no political statement or undertone. Correction: During "Invisible Sun," a song about the bleakness of the industrial age, the video monitors showed footage of what might have been Iraq. But, come on, "Bombs Away" was an obvious follow-up:

    The President looks in the mirror and speaks
    His shirts are clean but his country reeks
    Unpaid bills
    In Afghanistan hills
    Bombs away
    But we're O.K…

    "Walking in Your Footsteps" also begged to become a song about exploding the carbon bomb instead of the atom bomb (Hey there mighty brontosaurus / Don't you have a message for us? You thought your rule would always last / There were no lessons in your past. … / If we explode the atom bomb, / Would they say that we were dumb?).

    Nonetheless, the songs revealed their well-craftedness as the band turned some major chords minor, filled up some places that had been emptier, and emptied out some places that had been fuller. The Police aren't just the pivotal band of my youth; they're also a band that has earned a significant place in musical history.