The Riff - September 2007

Teacher Fired For Giving Student Brilliant Comic Book

| Fri Sep. 21, 2007 5:42 PM PDT

Eightball 22

A Connecticut teacher has been forced to resign after he gave a copy of Dan Clowes' "Eightball #22" to a 14-year-old female freshman student. The English teacher gave the student the comic book as part of a "make-up" assignment and not as part of regular curriculum. The comic contains mature subject matter, for sure: references to rape, various sex acts and murder, and a naked woman. That is, a drawing of a naked woman. While the feelings of the student about the situation are not explained, the parents are letting everybody know how they feel:

The girl's father, who asked that his family remain anonymous because it has already been the target of criticism, described the graphic novel that English teacher Nate Fisher gave the student as "borderline pornography... it's not even like a gray area," the father said. "It's clearly over the line."

And more:

"I personally don't ever want him teaching again," he said. "There is nothing that he could say that would account for this. … That poor judgment is something you can't take back."

Apparently the student has now been the target of ridicule (and perhaps even threats) because the teacher was quite popular, which is pretty easy to understand, considering he assigned a super-cool comic book as make-up reading.

Why is it that this kind of overreaction or censorship always seems to happen in the most ironic way possible, to the works of art that are actually the least harmful in the ways they're being accused of? The "Eightball" subplots that eventually became the acclaimed graphic novel (and film) Ghost World are told from the point of view of young women, and not only are they complex and heartfelt, they're also empowering in the best sense of that overused word. They bring up the tribulations of young womanhood without condescension or whitewashing, and when I read them, my first thought was "my little sisters need to read this." I think they can handle a drawing of a boob. At this point I guess it shouldn't be surprising that nuanced, honest work raises hackles while truly moronic, pornographic pablum seeps into children's brains from TV or advertising without protest. But just once, couldn't backwards, hypocritical parents like these get somebody at MTV fired for "The Hills" instead?

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Friday a Viable Day for Music News

| Fri Sep. 21, 2007 11:06 AM PDT

Johnny Rotten

  • John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten, says some pretty silly stuff. In an interview yesterday on the UK's Virgin Radio, the Sex Pistols and Public Image Limited frontman called Sting a "soggy old dead carcass," said that Amy Winehouse doesn't have "much going on in her head," and that the music industry is "disgusting." Actually, wait a minute, this stuff isn't silly, these are just facts. Where's the outlandish punk-rock spirit, Johnny? When did you become Tom Brokaw?
  • Jay-Z's new single, "Blue Magic," gets played on the radio, ends up on the intertubes.
  • UK combo Keane follows Coldplay's lead in the "drum up interest in our new album by announcing it's influenced by something incongruous that people actually like" sweepstakes, saying rapper Dr. Dre may influence their new album. Drummer Richard Hughes posted on the band's website that "there's a lot of interesting stuff coming out of America ... I've been listening to people like Dr. Dre for a long time... we're going to try and do something different."
  • Possibly my most favoritest headline in the history of news reporting: "Nickelback In No Rush to Make New Album." You guys just relax, preferrably in a country without recording studios.
  • The Dust-Off: Kate Bush - The Dreaming

    | Thu Sep. 20, 2007 5:29 PM PDT

    Kate BushCould we be witnessing an unlikely resurgence of interest in Kate Bush? Two pieces of evidence: one, on a recent trip to local record emporium Amoeba, I bought a CD copy of The Dreaming (to replace a warped vinyl copy, in order to write this piece) and the clerk said "Hey, we're selling a lot of these lately." I said, "What? Kate Bush?!!" And he goes, "Yeah, a couple just today." I was completely baffled, until watching TV that night, when I happened upon exhibit number two: a Kate Bush song, "This Woman's Work," is being used to promote an upcoming episode of "CSI."

    Accordingly, the song jumped into the iTunes Top 100. Weird! As the zeitgeist turns away from one Bush, is it turning for solace towards another? If so, I hope people don't forget The Dreaming, a shockingly strange album that may be the dark star around which the Kate Bush solar system rotates. Released 25 years ago this week, The Dreaming was Bush's fourth album in five years, but the first she produced herself, making it a sort of statement of intention, and that statement is "watch out."

    The singer had burst onto the UK scene in 1978 (at age 19), hitting #1 with her comparatively accessible single "Wuthering Heights." While she didn't entirely escape the cynical marketing techniques of the music industry (her label notoriously used a publicity photo that emphasized her, uh, voluptuous bosoms) Bush forged a path on The Dreaming that's hard to imagine any of today's young female singers taking. While the album features a variety of guest musicians, it revolves around Bush's use of the Fairlight synthesizer, whose sound has aged surprisingly well; its imitation trumpets and violins have unique depth and timbre, and Bush wrangles the instrument like a pro. Her production work is all the more astonishing considering the pre-Pro Tools era: track five, "Leave It Open," features at least three unique vocal effects, including a thick flange, a thin, sped-up reverb, and a flashy reverse-echo that zooms in from the right to the left channel. Try it on headphones, it's hella weird. And yes, that voice, one of the more impressive in pop music, or anywhere. While her mannerisms are easily mockable, they're never show-offy; on the contrary, in almost every song, she's willing to push her vocal chords to extreme lows, gravelly shouts, piercing hollers, all in service of the song. Like her beloved Fairlight, her voice is a malleable instrument, a tool for making sounds; this is a singer who makes Bjork look like Ashlee Simpson.

    Opening track, "Sat In Your Lap," alternates between 3/4 and 2/4 time; the title track trips along in 6/8; didgeridoos, bongos and even a bouzouki make appearances; this is one kooky listen, for sure. So it's surprising how simple and, in fact, childlike the central element of the album turns out to be: a piano, played in basic, loping chords, like a waltz or a march. It's with this familiar, comforting motif that Bush balances the album's eccentricities, like a children's story that uses the conventions of genre to introduce the surreal and fantastic. Appropriately, Bush's awe-inspiring collection of singles, The Whole Story, was one of my favorite albums as an insufferable 15-year-old; it's hard to separate how much of my feeling for her music now is nostalgia for my early adoration, or unbiased present appreciation. I think it can be both. For an artist whose career contains multiple masterpieces, The Dreaming is where she took control, an exhilarating moment where she aimed her career straight into uncharted territory.

    After the jump, mp3s and a video.

    Beasties to Add Lyrics to Mix-Up

    | Thu Sep. 20, 2007 11:19 AM PDT

    Beasties
    Hey, those guys are stealing my idea for a mash-up album! Oh wait, if you made the original I guess it's not stealing. Billboard reports the no longer boyish (if basically beastly) Beastie Boys are planning to release a remixed version of their instrumental album, The Mix-Up; artists tapped for inclusion on the new mix include rapper M.I.A., former Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker, and visa-denial poster child Lily Allen. In other words, as Adam "MCA" Yauch said, "a bunch of British people."

    No word on whether the vocalists will be contributing existing a capellas or writing new material for the album, either would be interesting I guess, although it'd be hard to make The Mix-Up more boring. Perhaps the band were inspired by The Beastles, the multiple-album project from Boston's DJ BC?

    Pitchfork's Gender (and Name) Imbalance

    | Thu Sep. 20, 2007 10:43 AM PDT

    PitchforkPitchfork, like it or not, is at the center of the indie-rock whirlwind. The music site has been credited with launching the careers of Arcade Fire, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, and more; a good review can create a fan base (hello, Girl Talk) or push you off the map (too many to count). And yes, we're aware that music criticism is a traditionally male enterprise (just as indie rock is), but Gawker points out today that the male-to-female ratio over at the Fork may be even higher than you'd suspect. In an accounting of the genders and names of reviewers on 10 days of four random months, they found that reviews by guys named Mark always outnumbered reviews by women of any name, usually by at least 2-to-1. For instance, in March of 2007, out of 50 sampled reviews, there were two by women, and ten by dudes named Mark. Well, what can I say: dudes named Mark like bands named Animal Collective.

    People love to hate on Pitchfork, but you have to know how to read it: ignore their snarky, sub-3.0 reviews, meant to make a point of some sort; don't feel bad if one of your favorite CDs gets a 5.3; but always, always search out and listen to things they like. Overwhelmingly male (and Mark-y) or not, it's hard not to celebrate a home for such in-depth music criticism of usually-overlooked artists. I just wish they weren't becoming the judgemental high school clique that I'm sure oppressed all of them in actual high school.

    Daytime TV Providing New Cross-Promotional Opportunities for Today's Music Stars

    | Wed Sep. 19, 2007 3:23 PM PDT

    Days of our Klaxons?

    Timbaland is trying something new. The 35-year-old rapper-producer, who has collaborated on No. 1 songs for Justin Timberlake and Nelly Furtado, will appear on ABC's "One Life to Live" on Oct. 9, the network said Wednesday. "This is a new experience for me, I am looking forward to having a great time and sharing my music!" he said in a statement. - AP

    "It just seemed like a natural fit," said Madonna in a statement. "By appearing on 'Guiding Light,' I hope to show America what a guiding light the Kabbalah has been for me." The singer is one of many following Timbaland's lead by appearing on daytime television, in what some are calling the most inspired cross-promotional concept since the Chicago Bears' 1985 hit, "Super Bowl Shuffle." Meg White plans to use her "down time" to join "The Young and the Restless" for an exciting seven-week subplot about anxiety disorders, and look for UK sensations Klaxons to ride their post-Mercury Prize publicity wave to a guest appearance on "Days of Our Lives," where the band will play a trio of adorable space aliens who come to Earth and discover that Earth women may be more than they bargained for.

    "As the World Turns" attracted Ricky Martin, although he maintained the show's groundbreaking gay love story had "nothing to do with it." "Any hot three-ways I engage in with the two actors will just be, you know, acting," said the Latin heartthrob in a statement.

    Intriguingly, the members of legendary UK combo The Smiths plan to take over an entire season of Dr. Phil, where the notoriously ornery psychologist will try to get to the root of the band's "issues" over the course of 70 heart-rending episodes. "Honestly, I think we just need to 'get real,'" said lead singer Morrissey in a statement, "and if we're ever going to reunite as a band, we'll have to 'shape up.' Plus I really think Dr. Phil can help me lose these last 5 pounds."

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    Kanye West Pummels 50 Cent (and Slaughters Kenny Chesney) in Sales Race

    | Wed Sep. 19, 2007 11:36 AM PDT

    50 vs. KanyeIt's official: Billboard is reporting Kanye West's Graduation sold 957,000 copies in its first week of sales, over 250,000 more than 50 Cent's still-impressive 691,000. West's total is the biggest one-week sales total for any album in over two years—and what, pray tell, was the album that did better, two years ago? That would be 50 Cent's The Massacre, which sold 1.1 million copies in March of '05. Ouch! Poor 50! I suppose a consolation prize is the fact that this is only the second time since SoundScan began its, er, scanning of sound in 1991, that the top two albums both sold more than 600,000 copies.

    Graduation also set a digital sales record, with legal downloads of 133,000 copies, crushing Maroon 5's record of 102,000 set earlier this year. Lost in the hip-hop battle was Kenny Chesney, whose Just Who I Am: Poets & Pirates (what? what does that mean?!) sold 387,000 copies, making it the biggest country debut since the Dixie Chicks' Taking the Long Way.

    New York magazine's Vulture blog says West's sales figures were probably inflated by fans who were inspired by 50 Cent's promises to retire from the music business if West sold more copies; i.e., buyers didn't really care about Graduation, they just wanted to get rid of Fiddy. Vulture proposes that labels create more of these scenarios to pump up record sales: say, if Britney's new album goes platinum, Avril Lavigne will retire. They may just have something there.

    MoJo Staffers Spar Over The Weakerthans' Newest Album

    | Tue Sep. 18, 2007 6:47 PM PDT
    weakerthans180.gif

    Gary Moskowitz, Online Editorial Fellow: I know I'm supposed to think all indie rock from Canada is cool (Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene), but The Weakerthans' newest CD, Reunion Tour (Epitaph's Anti-, 2007), is weak—no pun intended. The songs are soft and gentle and polite, and not that memorable. In fact the music puts me to sleep.

    Anna Weggel, Editorial Intern: Listen, Debbie Downer. You obviously didn't get past the fourth track. I dare you to listen to "Virtue The Cat Explains Her Departure" without looking upward with quivering lips and slowly reliving the happiest moment of your life. Tell me, when was the last time you listened to a song sung from the viewpoint of a loveable, housebroken kitty?

    GM: Loveable, housebroken kitties are cute and all, but these songs just aren't that fun. The fact that the band would even consider naming a song "Virtue The Cat Explains Her Departure" is, to me, further proof that this music is best for sleepy time, not party time. That said, "Elegy for Gump Worsely" (once again, with the terrible song titles) has some cool banjo parts. "Night Windows" is one of those cutesy-pie indie songs that has pretty melodies, Johnny Marr-inspired guitar licks, and a pulsing, repetitive kick-drum. I'm cool with some of that.

    AW: One of the most infectious little ditties I find is "Sun in an Empty Room," with its clear, repeated chorus that might make for a good prospective Kidz Bop tune someday (and we know once you've hit Kidz Bop, you've made it big). "Night Windows," which originally made me take notice of the band, is getting some play on The Current, my hometown indie public radio station. The Weakerthans is Ben Kweller meets Snow Patrol meets Ben Lee meets the Polyphonic Spree, minus the child chorus and, you know, the weirdness. And might I remind you that sleepy time tunes have just as much a place in the cool-kid music world as party time jams. Everybody likes a good nap, man.

    iTunes Losing Download Dominance?

    | Tue Sep. 18, 2007 2:41 PM PDT

    Stupid FrogSpiralfrog.com, an ad-supported free download service, launched today, and your iPod isn't invited to the party. By the way, doesn't that idiotic name bring you back to those heady internet startup days, when companies seemed to throw a dart at a color and an animal chart for their names? Redgorilla.com! Bluegiraffe.com! Anyway, that was good times. This Frog plans to feature over 2 million tracks within the next few months, most notably from Universal Music; the label had famously refused to renew a long-term contract with iTunes over pricing disagreements. SpiralFrog's business model, such as it is, requires you to click on their ads to keep downloading songs, and they promise "no threat of viruses," which I totally believe; I mean, why would the intertubes lie to us?

    This development comes on the heels of NBC/Universal's recent decision to jump ship entirely from iTunes and take its video content to Amazon's new download service, the nearly-as-stupidly-named Unbox. It's a box, but not a box! Derrrr! Apparently 40% of iTunes movie content was from Universal, and this became all too clear for me recently. I was searching through the iTunes movie section to grab some entertainment for a plane trip, and found slim pickings (sorry, Wild Hogs and Aeon Flux, but I'd rather read the in-flight magazine). NBC's TV shows will also be exclusive to Amazon's service, which totally sucks since I watched the whole season of "30 Rock" on my iPod last year, and that's how I realized that was a good show. Sorry, Tina Fey.

    While I'm all for competition, pulling your products from a popular store for spite just seems ridiculous, like, sorry, no orange juice at Safeway, we want to charge you twice as much at Albertson's. Customers forced to search for their favorite shows will just give up and buy something else, or do what I did and grab a Bittorrent of the Simpsons movie, and feel only slightly guilty during the scene of Bart writing "I will not illegally download this movie" on the blackboard.

    Tuesday: Doozy of a Music News Day

    | Tue Sep. 18, 2007 11:03 AM PDT

    God Save the Queen

  • Reunion mania continues: John Lydon tells NME that the Sex Pistols will come together for a one-off concert at Brixton Academy November 8th, their first show since... oh, just since 2002. Yawn. NME tries to drum up excitement by spearheading a campaign to send "God Save the Queen" to #1 on the charts for its 30th anniversary, a position it was supposedly denied in 1977 by, you know, chart freemasons or whatever, desperate to preserve the Queen's dignity in her jubilee year.
  • With Kanye West on track to outsell 50 Cent by at least 100,000 records this week, Fiddy cancelled his U.K. promo appearances after selling less than Mr. West there as well; he had threatened to retire from solo albums if West won the sales race.
  • The venerable management company The Firm has dropped Britney Spears as a client, after only one month. The Firm was to spearhead Brit's comeback, but released a statement saying "current circumstances have prevented us from properly doing our job." Ouch.
  • Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor, frustrated by high CD prices and distribution problems in Australia and China, respectively, is telling concert-goers to steal his music. A YouTube clip shows him telling a Sydney audience, "Steal it, steal away, give it to your friends." He also told a Beijing audience that because Western music is difficult to find via legal channels in China, that "downloading from the Internet is a more acceptable options than buying pirated CDs."