The Riff - January 2008

There's No Accounting For Taste, Part 3: People Like What Other People Like

| Wed Jan. 30, 2008 3:04 PM PST

Celine Dion and hit parades

Lately, there's been an ongoing Riff debate about whether popular music totally sucks or just mostly sucks. Mother Jones staffers may be appalled to find the relative merits of "My Humps" being argued on the (virtual) pages of their esteemed publication, but I think it just shows the temerity of our journalistic commitments: we'll visit Iraq or Fergie-stan. The question of why people like what they like—or, more accurately, how in God's name they can freakin' stand that crap they're listening to—has popped up in a few other interesting places lately, and in both instances, it turns out musical taste has little to do with music.

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Video: David Bowie vs. Presidential Candidates Discussing Change

| Tue Jan. 29, 2008 6:54 PM PST

mojo-photo-bowie.jpgVia Towleroad comes this bit of video tomfoolery; it's kind of an obvious idea, cutting together our suddenly-change-obsessed candidates over the appropriately-named Bowie classic, but right around the 55-second mark when the editing makes them "sing along," it gets pretty great:

CDs Out Today and a Word from Critics

| Tue Jan. 29, 2008 5:20 PM PST

mojo-photo-cds.jpgIt's Tuesday, and that's when people like to put out new CDs in the US of A, for whatever reason. Yeah, with the intertubes leaking music all over the place, release dates are less and less relevant, for sure; but say you accidentally stumbled into a record store (or ran inside to get out of the rain)? Here's what you might find, and what people are saying:

New Gnarls Barkley Track Leaked

| Tue Jan. 29, 2008 1:04 PM PST

Gnarls BarkleyHey, a blogger seems to have snagged a new, "leaked" single off the forthcoming Gnarls Barkley album The Odd Couple. Update: oops, it's gone already, that was fast. But hey, I've just found it on YouTube, "sans" video:

Gnarls Barkley - "Run" (from The Odd Couple out April 8th)

The song is (as its title indicates) kinda speedy, tempo-wise; Vulture is saying "too fast," but don't they remember the almost drum-and-bassy tracks from St. Elsewhere, like "Go Go Gadget Gospel?" I kinda liked that one:

Not Much to 'Prost' About: Germans Losing Their Taste For Beer

| Tue Jan. 29, 2008 12:20 PM PST

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Germany's Federal Statistics Office reported yesterday that beer—"proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy," said Benjamin Franklin—is increasingly being replaced in German glasses by the likes of juice and bottled water. (Only six more signs until the Apocalypse, if you're counting.) Beer sales in the Fatherland have fallen to their lowest level since 1993. Between 2006 and 2007, beer consumption declined 2.7 percent, while non-alcoholic drinks rose 18.1 percent over the same period. The German government attributes the change to an aging population combined with an increasingly health-conscious public... in other words, beer drinkers are dying off faster than they can be replaced. (I have some German friends who are bucking the trend, but so far they've been unable to drink their generation out from trouble.) The overall decline in beer consumption comes at a time when beer prices worldwide, including in Germany, are on the rise. This seems not to have offended the Czechs too much, who recently surpassed the Germans as the world's most beer-loving culture. But with Germans abandoning their national drink, they still leave Americans in the dust: the average Deutschlander drinks 30.6 gallons of beer per year versus 21.6 gallons for the average American.

Qtrax Free Downloads Too Good to Be True?

| Mon Jan. 28, 2008 11:48 AM PST

mojo-photo-qtrax.jpgThe Drudge Report gave it a top-line link: Free, legal downloads of every song in the universe on some weird site called Qtrax! Come and get 'em! Qtrax claimed all the major record labels had signed on to their new service, an ad-supported, filtered P2P platform that would allow actual downloads of every song in the labels' catalogs, the files wrapped in DRM, but whatever, they're free, right?

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George W. Bush Misinterprets His Favorite Painting

| Fri Jan. 25, 2008 10:47 AM PST
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Slate's Jacob Weisberg has uncovered the real meaning of George W. Bush's favorite painting, "A Charge to Keep," which hangs in the Oval Office and is the namesake of his 1999 ghostwritten autobiography. It's not—as Dubya likes to tell visitors—an image of a steadfast Methodist missionary. Rather, as Weisberg explains in his new book, The Bush Tragedy:

...that is not the title, message, or meaning of the painting. The artist, W.H.D. Koerner, executed it to illustrate a Western short story entitled "The Slipper Tongue," published in The Saturday Evening Post in 1916. The story is about a smooth-talking horse thief who is caught, and then escapes a lynch mob in the Sand Hills of Nebraska. The illustration depicts the thief fleeing his captors. In the magazine, the illustration bears the caption: "Had His Start Been Fifteen Minutes Longer He Would Not Have Been Caught."

Ah, the irony. So where the heck did Bush get the idea that the painting wasn't of a rustler but rather a man—who just happens to bear a passing resemblance to him—on a mission from God? I suppose everyone's entitled to their own interpretations of art, but that's really a stretch, even for a president used to making his own reality. Anyway, this may explain why Bush keeps referring to that Picasso he calls the "The Party So Fun They Invited a Horse."

Friday Implies It's Music News Day

| Fri Jan. 25, 2008 9:56 AM PST

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  • The Time are definitely in and Amy Winehouse may be out at the upcoming Grammys ceremony. The first official announcement of performers was made yesterday, and the Minneapolis jungle lovers are on the list, while currently-(finally?)-ensconced-in-actual-rehab Winehouse was not. But Winehouse's father says she's hoping to get a visa—and, one hopes, get clean—in time for the ceremony February 10th. Meanwhile, Idolator is spreading the rumor that Michael Jackson may appear at the Grammys as well, but they're crazy.

  • Danger Mouse has been busy: he's working with Van Dyke Parks and John Cale on a new album by The Shortwave Set, producing Martina Topley-Bird's forthcoming album, and, yes, putting together the sophomore Gnarls Barkley album with Cee-Lo in Atlanta.
  • Whoops: I took a quick nap, and Lil Wayne went in and out of jail again. The rapper was arrested for possession of pot, blow, and E in Yuma, Arizona on Tuesday (one wonders what else there is to do in Yuma), but later posted bail and signed autographs outside the bondsman's office.
  • And yes, it turns out the teenage would-be hijacker of a Southwest Airlines Los Angeles-to-Nashville flight had a secret plan: to somehow crash the plane into a Hannah Montana concert in a blaze of Disney-exploding, neo-Ballardian glory. Is The Onion now in charge of reality?
  • Debra Dickerson Awesome on the Colbert Report (Again)

    | Fri Jan. 25, 2008 2:13 AM PST

    Debra Dickerson on ColbertAs promised, Mother Jones' own Debra Dickerson dropped by Stephen Colbert's show last night, and, as usual, held her own against the onslaught of satire. Two important things came out of her appearance, I think: a) the entrance into the lexicon of "sphincter-like" as probably the best description of Bill Clinton's recent purple-faced anti-Obama sputtering (let's hope it catches on) and b) the fact that she may be one of a handful of people in the universe who can actually beat Mr. Colbert at his own game, getting some actual content in there with the laugh lines and even having the last word. Plus Colbert's line about "I couldn't get away with that with my hair" seemed a little dumb, didn't it? Anyway, by the end he put his head down on his desk in an apparent acknowledgement of defeat.

    To read all of Debra's writing for motherjones.com, click here.

    You can't embed video from the Comedy Central website, but here's a direct link to the segment, although it opens a new window and you have to watch a Navy Seals ad to get to it.

    Growing Up Online, and Still Bored

    | Thu Jan. 24, 2008 5:54 PM PST

    Teens and parents from a New Jersey suburb deconstruct the ups and downs of social networking sites in Frontline's latest report, Growing Up Online, which premiered on PBS this week.

    The piece weaves together a handful of stories about how the Internet has tweaked family dynamics and how teens communicate with each other. With 90% or more of teens nationwide online, one mom calls cyberspace the "new wild west" for young people. One high school history teacher says that "walking into a classroom without any multimedia is like walking into a desert." Another teacher admits she's landed on the wrong side of the digital divide: "My time is over. This is not for me. It's not the educational arena that I entered into."