The Riff - March 2009

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Backing Tracks: Still Controversial!

| Mon Mar. 30, 2009 3:57 PM EDT

Back in April, I posted about an enjoyable live performance by The Ting Tings where the UK duo used some form of backing track or sequencer for extra harmonies, bass and percussion. It got me to thinking about what the boundary is between "live" and "not live" music in a performance setting, and why audiences are willing to accept certain amounts of prerecorded material in some live shows, but not in others. I even drew a little graph in an attempt to define what we call "live." Of course, as an electronic music enthusiast and DJ, I wasn't passing judgment, just trying to describe the phenomenon, but commenters (always a charming bunch) went on the attack, saying I didn't understand anything about live music and insulting me in vivid enough terms they got their comments deleted. Crazy! Well, today the folks at NPR's All Songs Considered blog waded into the topic, and I hope they get nicer comments. They noticed backing tracks a-plenty at the recent SXSW music festival in Austin:

My Super Awesome Maddow Pre-Show Playlist

| Mon Mar. 30, 2009 2:26 PM EDT
If you missed it, then I hate to rub it in, but Yerba Buena Center for the Arts was totally the place to be here in San Francisco on Saturday night, as Mother Jones' dynamic editorial duo of Clara Jeffrey and Monika Bauerlein shared the stage with everybody's favorite MSNBC host Rachel Maddow at an event packed with enthusiastic supporters of good journalism. In addition to having the most enviable cowboy shirt this side of Jack White, Maddow was also charming and informative, although I'm still troubled that this TV star doesn't actually watch any TV. Not even Aqua Teen?! Anyhoo, those of you who showed up early to get a good seat may have noticed a delightful little music mix playing over the loudspeakers. And who, pray tell, could have put together such an awe-inspiring CD? Why, your idiotically-named DJ and contributor, of course. Organizers asked me to come up with an hour of tunes to entertain the early arrivals, so I took it upon myself to find tracks that were not only diverse and entertaining, but also had (perhaps wryly) appropriate lyrics. Unfortunately, when I showed up at 7:45, the CD was just starting, so I don't know if the whole thing got played or not. But if you're curious about what you heard (or what you were supposed to hear), look after the jump for the full list of tunes. And yes, I totally included "The Bleeding Heart Show."

KFC Now Filling Potholes...With Ads

| Fri Mar. 27, 2009 5:23 PM EDT

In the latest sign that the economy is even more screwed than we thought: The city of Louisville, Kentucky has struck a deal allowing the fast-food chain Kentucky Fried Chicken to fill in the city's potholes—in exchange for stamping the pavement as "Re-freshed by KFC."

KFC explains that the company's foray into highway repair is a tie-in to its new "fresh" campaign, which focuses on food quality. Well, nice to know that it isn't part of the "take advantage of the county's economic collapse" or "appropriation of municipal public works" campaigns. According to Ad Age:

Black (and Brown) Can Only Be Just So Beautiful

| Thu Mar. 26, 2009 1:06 PM EDT

Kim Kardashian got airbrushed lighter, smoother, and thinner for a photo shoot. Happens every day in Hollywood, I know. I don't know if she was in on it, but I know I wasn't when it happened to me.

A while back, my hairdresser asked me to be photographed for a black hair magazine. Trust me: we sisters LUV those things. I was beyond psyched. Until I saw the photos. I threw the magazine away in disgust, so I can't show it to you, but they'd airbrushed me at least five shades lighter and gave me gray eyes. Gray!

This was a totally black-run operation. They wanted my kinky hair (checks my twists on this page), but not my actual blackness. How pathetic.

When I first started doing TV, the makeup chicks (I've rarely had a non-white one) would cagily, carefully, ask me questions about what kind of foundation I wanted. "Whatever matches...?" Were these trick questions?

I figured there was something special about being made up for TV that a newbie like me just wasn't hip to. Finally, when they figured out that I wasn't going to go off, they told me that often blacks wanted to be made as light as possible. You'd be amazed at some of the names, but I ain't going there.

Pathetic.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Who's Afraid of The Big, Bad Zit?

| Thu Mar. 26, 2009 10:38 AM EDT
Residents of Nottinghamshire in the UK, apparently tormented by a scourge of young ruffians, have come up with a new addition to the cottage industry of anti-teenager technology. (See my earlier post about a New Zealand shopping mall's use of Barry Manilow's music to disperse unwanted teenage loiterers.) In this case, members of the Layton Burroughs Residents' Association have installed pink lights in three locations, which amplify the ugliness of pimples--a practice meant to embarrass teenagers and drive them away in search of softer, more sympathetic light.

From the BBC:
Tony Gelsthorpe, chairman of the Layton Burroughs Residents' Association, said the lights were important for the residents.
"We've had problems with underage drinking, drug dealing, anti-social behaviour and general intimidation.
"I was a little bit dubious about the pink lights at first but it's done the trick. We've got to think of our residents and we've got to live here at the end of the day.

Rihanna Gets a Gun

| Thu Mar. 26, 2009 9:53 AM EDT

Two of them actually. Tattoos. Click here to see them. Wonder what that means?

I hope she's staying silent just because she refuses to play the game and not because she's either ashamed or...who knows what's she's feeling.

But guns....? I hope it's a warning to any other man who ever puts his hands on her. But only Rihanna knows for sure. Maybe she meant it for people like me who won't get out of her business. Regardless, I'm impressed by her silence. I hope I'm right. I hope she's all right.

BTW, I spoke with some high school girls this weekend and yup, they blame Rihanna. Not for "making" him hit her but for taking him back. If she really has. They also introduced me to this.

 Ah youth. 

Friendly Reminder: Amadou & Mariam Album Out Today

| Tue Mar. 24, 2009 4:38 PM EDT
National borders not only make traveling to my summer compound in Monaco incredibly bothersome (ahem!), they also really gum up CD release schedules. Especially here in the United States of Kiss My Ass, where great music from around the world often gets delayed for months, if not years. Either labels are scared that us slack-jawed yokels just won't get it, or I guess they need a couple extra months to form brilliant marketing strategies? Whatever, it makes me mad, since we do have the internet in America, and an internationally-savvy press, desperate to jump on the Next Big Thing, isn't going to wait for a release date 90 days away, so then anybody reading that review has to go searching around for a little Rapidshare RAR file. Who would be so thoughtless? Oh. Well, to make up for it, I'll act as your release-date alarm system: Malian duo Amadou & Mariam's Welcome to Mali is finally out today here in the Homeland. Hooray! That means you can give them money on iTunes and everything. Welcome to Mali was for a while the highest-ranking album of 2008 on Metacritic, although the site has since moved it to the 2009 list out of respect for our flag, I guess (where it's currently tied with Animal Collective for best-reviewed album of this year). Back in November (I know, I'm sorry) I gave the album an enthusiastic review, and I only like it more now; its mishmash of styles and traditions feels both guilelessly celebratory and deeply respectful, even moving. Plus I'm a sucker for that Afropop guitar sound. After the jump, the oddly affecting video for the Damon Albarn-produced "Sabali," a more electronic-based track than the rest of the album. You can also isten to the whole album at their web site.

NPR Kicks GMA's Butt

| Tue Mar. 24, 2009 4:21 PM EDT
Speaking of NPR, those guys are going great gangbusters, ratings-wise. Bucking the trend experienced by just about every other media outlet, NPR has seen major listenership growth in the past eight years, reaching a record in 2008. While there are no nationwide radio ratings, NPR adds up local ratings for stations that carry its programming, and that total has grown 47 percent since 2000, with nearly 21 million people tuning in to their daily news programs every week. Broken out into specific programs, this means that NPR's "Morning Edition" has an average daily audience of 7.6 million, which the Washington Post says is "about 60 percent larger than the audience for 'Good Morning America' on ABC and about one-third larger than the audience for the 'Today' show on NBC." Who knew? Of course, as many of us in the non-profit world are aware, increased audience doesn't necessarily translate to increased revenue. The broadcaster was recently forced to lay off 7 percent of its news staff due to revenue shortfalls (primarily because of a pullback in corporate giving) and they're still about $8 million short for this year. At this risk of sparking flames of populist rage, I'd like to point out that NPR's entire annual operating budget is $160 million, which happens to look pretty similar to another recent number, something to do with bonuses? Flames... of populist rage... rising...