The Riff - June 2008

US Retaliates for Martha Stewart Snub By Refusing Visa to Boy George

| Tue Jun. 24, 2008 2:35 PM EDT

mojo-photo-marthaboy.jpgOkay, I have absolutely no evidence that there is any connection between these two events, but how awesome would it be if there were? Imagine: an escalating war of visa denials, forcing our two nations' greatest instructional homemakers and '80s pop stars to remain trapped within their borders. Sorry, Adam Ant; turn around, Rachel Ray; no thanks, Feargal Sharkey; some other time, uh, Robin Miller. The U.S., deprived of the sweetly androgynous British singers of yesteryear, makes Ryan Adams tie bows in his hair and put on an oversized "Frankie Say Relax" T-shirt, and in the U.K., dinner parties hang in the balance until Helen Mirren is dragged into the BBC and forced to instruct a hapless populace on proper construction-paper craft techniques. Finally, a peace deal is brokered at the so-called Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) Accords, but not before thousands are injured by rubber cement mishaps and Foreigner records.

What was I talking about? Oh yeah: Boy George has been denied a visa to enter the U.S. for a summer tour, scheduled to begin July 11, due to his current legal problems involving a Norwegian escort who accused the singer of false imprisonment and assault. And who hasn't been there. The case is still pending, with a trial date set for November. A spokesperson for George said the singer was "astounded" by the decision and that he was hoping to "repay his American fans' loyalty." Now, if he wants to come clean up our streets again, that would be okay.

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Barack Obama for Graphic Designer In Chief

| Fri Jun. 20, 2008 9:23 PM EDT

mojo-photo-obamaseal.jpgI've written before about the artwork inspired by Barack Obama's run for the presidency, as well as his own campaign's choice of fonts, and it's all good, but their latest design choices are apparently causing some controversy. While the campaign's eschewing of the candidate's name on podium placards raised eyebrows, their current podium design has even the Drudge Report giving it an alarmist link: "Obama Changes Presidential Seal," he claims. It turns out the campaign debuted a new design (right) that appears to be "inspired" by the actual presidential seal, but with some important differences, as the Associated Press reports:

Instead of the Latin 'E pluribus unum' (Out of many, one), Obama's says 'Vero possumus', rough Latin for 'Yes, we can.' Instead of 'Seal of the President of the United States', Obama's Web site address is listed. And instead of a shield, Obama's eagle wears his 'O' campaign logo with a rising sun representing hope ahead.

After the jump: the dreaded "P" word, and I don't mean "public financing."

New Music: Italians Get Gritty

| Thu Jun. 19, 2008 10:17 PM EDT

mojo-photo-italy.jpgIt's funny; back in my day, kids, Italian dance music meant "Italo-House," anonymous producers splicing soul vocals onto piano-heavy tracks, like Black Box or the 49ers. You remember "Everybody, Everybody," right, complete with models lip-synching in the video? Well, perhaps reflecting what the New York Times called "a collective funk" in the land of tasty pasta, Italian electronic music has become surprisingly dark these days. XLR8R has a great roundup of some of the current crop of tough-sounding artists, describing the sound as a variety of musical styles "smashed together, chopped, rewound, sped up, and run through a washing machine." If you add that the washer is broken and buzzing and 800 feet tall, then I think you've got it.

After the jump: Bang, scronk, buzz, zoom!

Industry Trends: Radio Down, iTunes Up

| Thu Jun. 19, 2008 5:26 PM EDT

mojo-photo-itunesradio.jpgI know: Pope Catholic, sky blue. But it's the numbers that are pretty surprising. Radio & Records Magazine reports that radio revenue fell even more than everybody expected in May, and the normally staid publication called the numbers "a horror show." Local revenue was down 9% (aaaagh!), national revenue off 13% (eeeek!), people listening down a zillion % (noooo!) . Okay, I can't prove that last one, but I wouldn't bet against it.

On the other side of the industry, iTunes, in contrast, can't be stopped: the online music retailer just sold its five billionth song, also announcing that they're renting and selling over 50,000 movies a day, making iTunes the world's biggest online movie store too. Crimeny, if they start selling groceries I'll never have to leave the house.

New Guns N' Roses Tracks Leak Online

| Thu Jun. 19, 2008 4:20 PM EDT

mojo-photo-chinese.jpgGuns and what now? Oh yeah, there used to be a band called Guns N' Roses, I guess, back in the 19th century or something. For some reason they stopped making music, and then the wait for their new album, Chinese Democracy, stretched into the ridiculous. Okay, it's actually been 14 years since the band's last new material, and now a set of what appear to be real G n' R tracks have leaked online, reports Billboard, prompting a quick cease-and-desist from the band's management. Yesterday, the music site Antiquiet.com briefly posted nine tracks, which have now spread about the intertubes like some sort of liberty-based political system in a large, crowded country. So, do they suck?

Well, if you believe the commenters on Antiquiet, not hardly. "To call this groundbreaking is like saying outer space is 'big,'" explains Johnny Firecloud, and Sam can't even muster up a complete sentence, gurgling, "the energy the musical diversity!!!!" Yes I said yes I will yes!

After the jump: Check 'em out yourself, if you dare...

Warning: This Durex Condom May Be Completely Useless

| Wed Jun. 18, 2008 7:56 PM EDT

condom.jpeg


If you happened to read the tiny print on the back of a box of Durex Avanti condoms before you bought them, you'd see this: "The risks of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STD's), including AIDS (HIV infection), are not known for this condom." Hmm. Since most people, I think, actually use condoms specifically for those purposes, and not for the diminished sensation in their genitals, should this product really be on the market?

"Perfectly reasonable question," said company PR rep Mark Weaving. "And the answer is that these [studies] were completed. When the Avanti first came out in the US, it formed a completely new category of product, so the FDA wanted some extra studies to be done" on the (novel) polyurethane (as opposed to traditional latex) condoms. In the meantime, Durex could sell the condoms as long as it printed the inconspicuous warning on the box. Those additional studies have since been completed and shown slippage and pregnancy rates to be "well within the normal range." (Durex recently announced that it is discontinuing the Avanti, not because of any issue with the product, but to make way for a new version of it.) Still. As you can't really be too careful when it comes to condom effectiveness, it seems the FDA probably should have made the company postpone Avanti's release until the studies were done. And why wouldn't Durex have voluntarily waited to sell the questionable—and crucial—product in the first place? Speculated Weaving, "I think the pregnancy studies can go on for quite a long time."

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Navy Spends Your Precious Tax Dollars ... Buying Crate After Crate of Manga

| Wed Jun. 18, 2008 6:19 PM EDT

manga.jpg

Residents of Yokosuka, south of Tokyo, are concerned about the massive nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington, which is set to be permanently deployed outside their city. Some say the American ship will hurt the fishing industry; others have safety concerns, especially justified after there was a fire on the George Washington last month.

Solution: charm offensive! Specifically, the Navy dropped $72,000 to commission "Manga CVN 73," a 200-page Japanese-style comic book. Produced by two Japanese artists and named after the ship's hull number, it follows the experiences of fictional Japanese-American Petty Officer 3rd Class Jack Ohara. Over 20,000 copies were printed and, earlier this month, a huge crowd lined up outisde the American base to get their free copies. Commented a naval spokesman to the Navy Times:

"The most-read, most-used medium is manga — not TV, not radio, not the Internet. Manga is a traditionally read, heavily sold medium in this country. We went, OK, there you go, the Japanese people have given us the way to talk to them."

Here's my question: Where does this sort of thing appear on the Navy's budget justification? Download the 18 meg .pdf file here here, in Kanji or English text. (via)

Lil Wayne Breaks "A Milli"

| Wed Jun. 18, 2008 5:52 PM EDT

mojo-photo-lilwaynesm.jpgTake that, internet naysayers: Lil Wayne's new album Tha Carter III has sold over 1 million copies in the US in its first week, the first time such a figure has been reached since 50 Cent's The Massacre way back in early 2005. Since Wayne has been, shall we say, slatternly when it comes to online mixtapes and file-sharing downloads, the press seems astonished: why are people buying CDs from an artist with so much free stuff out there? The New York Times even set up the dichotomy in the headline, proclaiming that "Despite Leaks Online and File Sharing, Lil Wayne's New CD is a Hit." Maybe they should change that "despite" to a "because"? As file-sharing tracker BigChampagne CEO Eric Garland says in the article, fans who download Lil Wayne grab an average of ten of his tracks (as opposed to two for other artists) and "while people who like an individual song are not going to open their wallets for you, people who like 10 songs will." So having a prodigious amount of your work out there for people to hear may actually help you sell more CDs? Karrr-azy!

Although, as Vulture points out, people may just like candy-themed oral sex metaphors, as both The Massacre and Tha Carter III feature lead singles that "compared a sexual act to the consumption of lollipops." Although if that's the case, why wasn't Lil' Kim's "How Many Licks" a smash?

After the jump: Was Party Ben wrong about Tha Carter III?

Why Do We Care If First Ladies Can Cook?

| Wed Jun. 18, 2008 2:14 PM EDT

Back when there was still potential for the first spouse to be a man, Parents magazine asked the contenders to submit their favorite recipes for cookies.

Minor scandal ensued. Cindy McCain, revealed Wonkette, actually totally cut and pasted her tasty oatmeal butterscotch cookie recipe from the Hershey Corporation. Sure, she substituted "brown sugar" for "light brown sugar," but (asked pundits) is that really enough of a change?

A better question is: Why do we ask presidential spouses to submit their baking ideas to the nation at all? Even before Hillary Clinton gave the world her 1992 recipe for chocolate chip cookies, presidential cooking contests were nothing new—and always a little forced. Martha Washington provided America with a recipe for mincemeat that likely only slaves had ever produced. Julia Grant offered a somewhat frightening recipe for veal olives. Even Jackie O sallied forth with a recipe for white rum cocktails.

But these days, when unofficial first lady bake-offs finally pit one high-powered corporate exec against another, can't we at last drop the illusion this matters?

—Daniel Luzer

Six Degrees of Jello Biafra

| Tue Jun. 17, 2008 8:16 PM EDT

jello-biafra-250x200.jpgJello Biafra, the green latex glove-wearing front man for arguably one of the 80s' most prolific punk/hardcore bands, is celebrating his 50th birthday this week by performing two shows in San Francisco alongside the Melvins and Jello's latest band, the Axis of Merry Evildoers, which includes members of Victims Family, Faith No More and Sharkbait. I'm told that a sweaty, shirtless Jello did his share of jumping into the crowd at Monday's show, which was reportedly a mix of "old punk dudes" and younger folks who were born well after Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables dropped in 1980.

After the jump: Ministry, who got their start that same year, gave an amusing shout-out to Jello this week: