The Riff - February 2008

Grammys Ceremony Like a Terrible Curse That Ruins Even Good Ideas

| Mon Feb. 11, 2008 2:45 PM PST

There's been a lot of post-Grammys snark around the interblogs, and of course there were a million things to hate about last night's broadcast. So here I am, trying to think of a "Top 5 Good Things About the Grammys" post; you know, "accentuate the positive" and all that. But I can't do it. Every time I think of something halfway decent that happened on the seemingly endless broadcast last night, I remember something that disqualifies it. Take, for instance, Kanye and Daft Punk. A funky, jazzed-up combo performance by the eccentric rapper and the French techno duo, followed by a heartfelt ode to Kanye's mom: what could go wrong? But the imitation Daft Punk pyramid looked like it was made out of cardboard, and its goofy game-show-reminiscent opening-up to reveal the duo in their light-trimmed suits just looked cheap. Right afterwards, Kanye sang his heart out, but they had to accompany his performance with a laughably cheesy projection of a slo-mo angel; did they think the "MAMA" shaved into the back of Kanye's head wasn't going to be a big enough clue?

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Striking Writers Reach Tentative Deal

| Sat Feb. 9, 2008 3:49 PM PST

mojo-photo-strike.jpgHey, TV might be coming back! Hooray, TV! Union leaders and production companies have reached a tentative deal that covers online streaming: writers get $1300 for the rights to stream a show, and then 2% of the revenue. That's something, right? Guess it depends on who's counting revenue. They also get residuals for downloads, and if certain thresholds are met, they get one of those fruit bouquets. Not really. The New York Times called negotiations "sometimes heated"—ya think?—and Drudge has linked to Nikki Finke's dramatic (and endless) minute-by-minute timeline of the events this weekend. Okay, fine, but all we need to know is that Conan and Colbert and everybody have already invited their writers back, to start on Monday. Not that their efforts to waste time haven't been amusing.

Photo: LA Times

Neato Viddy on the Intertubes: Dance Lessons With Khris Khaos

| Fri Feb. 8, 2008 3:49 PM PST

Okay, lately the Riff's been all super-serious, and commenters are starting to get mean. So in an effort to lighten the mood, and perhaps also help out those of you planning to hit the clubs this weekend, I present: Learn How to Dance for Women with King Khris Khaos, the King of Style!

Obama Musician Endorsement Update!

| Fri Feb. 8, 2008 3:04 PM PST

It's Obama-rocker-mania!Just when you thought it might end with the Grateful Dead, more musicians are coming out for Obama. First up, Bright Eyes frontman Conor Oberst spoke at an Obama rally in Omaha on Thursday (hmm: Obama, Omaha; Obama, Omaha), telling the crowd of 11,000 Nebraskans (and maybe Iowans) that he predicts Nebraska Democrats will caucus for the Illinois senator. He later apparently performed that annoying "When the President Talks to God" song at an event downtown.

Moving on to less whiny (and less youthful) musicians, Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon tells Wonkette that she's supporting Obama, even though she admits that it's hard to distinguish him from Hillary, policy-wise. Wonkette points out that Obama is eight years younger than Sonic Youth's bassist.

And in "anti-endorsement" news, John Mellencamp has been asking the McCain campaign to stop using his songs, and they finally agreed, reports the AP. Mellencamp was an Edwards supporter, naturally; perhaps he can come along when Howard Dean tries to broker that deal. Ain't that America?

Music News: Winehouse Sings Via Satellite, Neil Young Gives Up, Timbaland's On the Phone, Beck Admits to Nonsense

| Fri Feb. 8, 2008 1:39 PM PST

News - Feb 8


  • Amy Winehouse, denied a visa to come to the States for the Grammys on Sunday, will appear on the broadcast via satellite from London. Winehouse actually used the phrase "raring to go" in a statement.

  • Neil Young either got up on the wrong side of the bed, or has given up all hope for the future of mankind. Introducing a film in Berlin on Friday, he told the audience that "the time when music could change the world is past." Some of us are so cynical we'd make a joke about that time not existing ever, but we got up on the wrong side of the bed, so we don't really care.
  • Hello, Timbaland calling: the super-producer has announced a deal with Verizon Wireless to create a "mobile album," available only on the carrier's service. And you thought mp3s sounded bad! A Verizon spokesman managed to keep a straight face while calling the deal "a marriage of promotional opportunity and a large distribution platform," but I bet he was doing something funny with his fingers behind his back.
  • Beck has confirmed that some of the lyrics on his seminal 1995 album Odelay were "scratch" lyrics, i.e., nonsense meant as a placeholder during the recording process. "We just grew attached to them," said the singer. So you're telling me those years I spent on my dissertation trying to parse "mouthwash jukebox gasoline" were a waste?
  • Candidates Earn Their Hipster Cred

    | Thu Feb. 7, 2008 2:16 PM PST

    deadhead-obama-200.jpgWalking home from work earlier this week, I came across a ginormous crowd outside San Francisco's Warfield Theater waiting to attend a "Deadheads For Obama" show. Patchouli hung heavy in the air, and radios played jam-band music while eager fans waited to get inside and hear members of the Grateful Dead rock out.

    Maybe I live in a cave or something, but I had no idea that the deadhead scene had become politically engaged, let alone caught Obama fever. But they're not the only ones endorsing candidates:

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    Pearl Jam Ensures Clinton Victory With Obama Song

    | Thu Feb. 7, 2008 1:53 PM PST

    mojo-photo-pearljambarack.jpgAlright, perhaps I'm biased: Pearl Jam have always bugged the crap out of me. Back in the grunge era (do I capitalize that?), I was a fan of almost all of the Seattle bands, and even 3rd-level grunge-rock like Alice in Chains and Screaming Trees landed in my vinyl collection. But I hated Pearl Jam: "Jeremy"'s warbling, maudlin self-righteousness and aimless melody grated on me like a Celine Dion ballad, and the highest I've ever rated any of their songs is "tolerable." However, the more I learned about Eddie Vedder and crew, the more I grew to have grudging respect for them; a radio show Vedder hosted in 1995 featured fantastic music, and the band's fight against Ticketmaster was admirable (if fruitless). I realized that I like what they like, just not what they make.

    New CDs Out Today and a Word From Critics

    | Tue Feb. 5, 2008 1:46 PM PST

    Hey, there's actually a couple interesting albums hitting stores and internet emporiums today. Perhaps I shall list them in order of how much I'm enjoying them (or anticipating I'll enjoy them), from "most" to "least"?

    PBS Does its DNA Magic with Celebrities for Black History Month Again

    | Tue Feb. 5, 2008 12:17 PM PST

    Skip the usual suspects ranting and raving in kente cloth this month and check out some worthy black history:

    "African-American Lives 2," a four-part series on PBS that begins on Wednesday night, belies its sleepy name with the poetry of history, the magic of science and the allure of the family trees of Morgan Freeman, Chris Rock, Tina Turner, Don Cheadle, Tom Joyner and Maya Angelou.
    It is the latest incarnation of the highly rated, critically successful star genealogy program that its host, the Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., presented in 2006. Then Oprah Winfrey, Chris Tucker, Quincy Jones and Whoopi Goldberg were among Professor Gates's eight guests for "African-American Lives." That was followed in 2007 by "Oprah's Roots."
    This time scientists use DNA samples, and scholars peruse slave ship records, wills and other documents to recreate the histories of 12 people, including Professor Gates and one Everywoman guest.

    Check the link for a video excerpt of the show in which Chris Rock learns that his great great grand daddy fought in the Civil War, or that Tom Joyner's two great uncles were likely lynched back in the day.

    Yes, yes, non-blacks want to know their history, too. The only difference is, that if your ancestors didn't keep your stories alive, that's on them. Keeping us invisible, except as property or criminal cases, was against our will.

    I got myself invited onto the Colbert Report. Wonder how I get myself a free DNA test and have PBS investigators find out how I came to be me.

    How Obama's Autobiography Convinced One Writer to Vote for Him

    | Tue Feb. 5, 2008 8:35 AM PST

    In the spirit of my post on the literature of campaign endorsements, I had to pass this on. Gary Kamiya (with whom I worked) at Salon has made up his mind on Obama after reading his autobio, Dreams From My Father. Biracial himself, Kamiya's appreciation of Obama's odyssey to understand himself, and his race, takes us along as the candidate allows himself to transcend that crazy category and move on to full humanity. It's a beautiful, beautiful piece, as Kamiya's always are. Should read the whole thing, but here's a taste: