Friday, December 02, 2005



I've never heard of Mitchell Akiyama, but I do like this.
Deeply Concerned

Scott McClellan declared the White House "deeply concerned" over reports that the U.S. military has been planting psych-ops stories masquerading as news in Iraqi newspapers. Clever by half: if the White House had OKed the propaganda, of course they'd be concerned if the plan for that progaganda became public knowledge. McClellan made a true statement whose intent was propaganda itself.

Remember how in the aftermath of Katrina voices in conservatism talked of using the New Orleans rebuild as a chance to put conservative policies into action, to use the rebuilding as a labratory to test and prove the efficacy of their ideas? If they envisioned that opportunity for New Orleans, imagine the testing ground they imagined Iraq could be. Iraq provided a chance to create a government - and by government I don't mean the government for public viewing, I mean (to borrow Groom's term) the junta - of a conservative's most fervid dreams. Control of the press, the right to imprison anyone at anytime for any reason, to deny that prisoner habeus corpus, to torture; the freedom to decide, without open competition or transparency, job contracts, the rewarding of patronage, the rewarding of the powerful by the powerful of more power. Etc.

There is an old adage: morality is not what you do when people are watching, morality is what you do when you think no one is watching.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Smart Marks

The majority of pro-wrestling fans, real pro-wrestling fan, know that the matches are predetermined. Non-wrestling fans don't use the word predetermined: they use the word "fake." Pro-wrestling is no more fake than an episode of "Friends" or "Will and Grace" or "Law and Order," and just as the fans of scripted shows like these willingly and happily and hopefully suspend their disbelief and buy into the fiction, so do wrestling fans.

And, just like fans of "Law and Order," fans of professional wrestling co-exist symbiotically with the viewed product. There is contract: play us for smart marks - swerve us, lie to us, astonish us, frustrate us, please us - just do it respectfully, smartly. Just because we enjoy the fiction, it doesn't mean that we don't recognize it as fiction. You, the producer of the product, cannot give us repeated story lines, poor acting, bad-faith writing, and worse, keep repeating those sins, and continue to expect us to buy your product.

The number one sin: to forget that we are smart marks, or to remember we are smart marks but insist on pandering to the dumb marks, or to - worse sin of all - convince yourself that there are no smart marks. We can take being played, we enjoy a good shoot, love a good swerve, wait for new angle that makes us wonder if it's a shoot or a swerve. What we can't take is being played for fools.

Pro-wrestling fans, they can turn off the TV, not buy the pay-per-view, not buy a ticket to the arena, when they stop giving a shit after being insulted for the umpteenth time. What about the body politic? Did you know that there's a privileged white male nominated for the Supreme Court of the United States who aims to enact as much as possible all tenets of privileged white male fatbastardness he can?

I no longer think that Bushco does ANYTHING competently enough to have masterminded the emergence of mass apathy as a methodology of gov't. They're so imcompetent, if they HAD contrived to do it, they'd have screwed it up. This is an administration that has such a deep disdain for its audience that it thought, Let's put Bush up on a platform with "Plan for Victory" painted for every conceivable camera angle and have him repeat the same tag lines for the 436th time, and THAT will change the debate.

If enough people stop watching the WWE because its product sucks, the WWE will go out of business. If enough people stop watching our gov't because of its product, we may stop watching, but the gov't's still in business, and there are people out there, controlling what's important, who may or may not have planned on getting to this moment, who certainly see the benefits of what happens when the smart marks stop watching.
Oy, Mate

No better way to start this than by posting the first paragraph from this article in today's Guardian:

It will be the biggest sports event in German history. But yesterday it emerged that the lavish opening ceremony for next year's World Cup will be almost entirely devised by British artists - including Peter Gabriel and Brian Eno. Gabriel, who co-founded Genesis, is to be the musical director of the show in Berlin which will kick off the month-long tournament.

Now, I am looking forward to next year's World Cup as much as anyone I know, and I posted here about Eno recently, and I expected at some point to write about the tension between commercial success and selling out, but never did I expect to read the word's "Gabriel" and "Eno" and "World Cup" in the same sentence. Eno, btw, according to the first sentence of the next paragraph, is "composing a 2006 World Cup anthem." "Sven Goren Erickson's On Fire" (which he will be when England crash out in table play*)?" "Blank Frank" Lampard?

What amazes me is that the whole concept of selling out has been as devalued as once the music of someone branded a sell-out once was. I remember the furious eschatological angst over Eric Clapton's decision to do Michelob commercials, not whether he was a sell-out for signing (all agreed he was) but whether he needed to be dedeified for violation of sacred code.

Hopelessly romantic and dramatic and naive and solipsistic, I know, but real. What's remarkable is not only that selling-out is not a concern for today's rocksters, not not selling out is. Death Cab for Cutie scores an appearance on "The O.C," Delays first single becomes the background music of a diamond company's Christmas commercial last year, The Postal Service is sued by the US Postal Service over brand infringement, wins in court the right to the name, and then is hired by the USPS to provide music for their commercials.

Eric Clapton, of course, didn't have to worry about his next record contract, much less his next meal, or having to drive his gear around in a parent's borrowed minivan, or working as a waiter to make ends meet, when he took Anheiser-Busch's money, which is to say that I still have a residual issue with Clapton's decision (tainted by my never thinking him all that anyway, I suppose). I begrudged Clapton. I don't begrudge Death Cab for Cutie making while the making is good. Clapton was fattening on his success; DCfC was struggling to succeed. What about Gabriel and Eno now?

There's much to unpack here, and I'm not going to do it all at once, and I expect that the unpacking will take the form of recurring themes in subsequent posts. It is fair to compare and contrast music and musicians from 1980 and 2005, but it's imperative to consider the differences in how the marketing and delivery of that music to consumers has dramatically changed and how those changes have changed the way that music and musicians are judged. Life is much busier on our peripheral vision and noisier in our peripheral hearing and we are much more conditioned to absorb the constant commercialization of everything now: is there a rock musician whose choice to tie his art to a bottle of beer would now outrage us? I can't imagine Fugazi shilling for Pepsi. I'd be saddened, disappointed, but outraged? Not anymore.

*I'm just taunting the England fans among you - I don't think they'll crash out till the round of 16.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A very good commentary on Wallace Steven's "The Snow Man" on last night's All Things Considered by Jay Keyser, focusing on the how the structure of the poem mirrors its subject. I went through a Stevens phase a couple of decades ago. Perhaps it's time to take an evening and revisit.

Here's the poem:

 One must have a mind of winter

To regard the frost and the boughs

Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time

To behold the junipers shagged with ice,

The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think

Of any misery in the sound of the wind,

In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land

Full of the same wind

That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,

And, nothing himself, beholds

Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

Pitchfork reports on a new Stephin Merritt project to be released in February. It's not MagFields, not Gothic Archies, not 6ths, not Future Bible Heroes. (And just below the Merritt story on Pitchfork is news of a new Destroyer album - good news, that.)

Last night on NPR's All Things Considered a lengthy audio article about the success via the Internet of the much-raved over Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah. Quick synopsis: independent band makes good by way of Internet buzz and blogs. Very worth a listen for numerous reasons, not the least of which is that you get to hear some of the band's music.

I've enjoyed the cuts I've heard off the Verve Remixed albums, but have wondered the same thoughts I always wonder when considering remixing/sampling. Too busy today to delve into the subject, but Salon has an article posted today about a new remix by King Britt of Sister Gertrude, both of whom are new to me. The thrust of the article: the merit of the remix depends on the motive of the remixer. Well yes, but it's a bit more complicated, no?

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

30 Years Ago This Month

I had just turned 16. All the people I'd been hanging out with through junior high and the beginning of high school were either banging with Led Zeppelin or bonging with Pink Floyd. I was bored. A kid everyone thought weird played *Horses* for me. Sometimes certain music at crucial moments can change everything.

She recently performed live on KEXP, and you can hear the archived performance here.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Where are the war protest songs? I don't hear them on commercial radio when I'm (fortunately infrequently) exposed to commercial radio - though apparently there is a pro-war, pro-Bush song from some country band that's big now. The station I listen to most, KEXP, could be expected to play explicitly anti-war songs, and I've heard exactly one, by Mike Doughty (man behind Soul Coughing) called "Move On." (My Morning Jacket's "Gideon" could be construed as anti-war, but is by no means explicitly so.) I sure there are others that I just haven't heard, but.

It would be easy to blame corporations for squelching songs of dissent, but that would be wrong. The big record companies care more for profits than they do for any particular administration or its policies, and as soon as there IS a breakthrough anti-war song that rakes in the dough those corporations will rush to produce at least fifty more copycats than the market can bear. Big radio might be more prone to gov't pressure, answering as they do to the FCC (not to mention the political leanings of some of the more fatbastardish of them). So while certain members of a certain administration no doubt WOULD advocate censorship, I don't believe censorship is what's keeping political, much less anti-war songs, off the radio stations I'm listening to.

I would hope there's a market for music of dissent and musicians with both the anger and the appetite to create new music of opposition and dissent. Perhaps there is and I'm just not tuned into it: I have no idea what's being written in the worlds of goth and slash and metal and hip-hop. And I recognize the perceived dangers of politicizing one's music from a personal standpoint: selling out comes in many flavors, and though one's heart may be true and the music good, art for art's sake is a strong policeman - heaven save the artistic reputation of a band that makes it big on the wave of a topical song.

When contemporary classical was being written during the Vietnam era, what pieces where explicitly anti-war? Are there composers now writing anti-war, anti-Bush (or pro-war, pro-Bush) music? I'd like to think that most composers and listeners of contemporary classical music (as well as progressive rock) lean left politically if they lean politically at all - need I be disabused of this notion? How apolitical or political is much of the music I'm now listening to on some of the streams some of you have aimed me at?

What I've been feeling is not outrage fatigue but post-outrage fatigue. Jerry's just posted about domestic spying. The Abramoff scandal may take down more than half of the GOP congressional leadership, the British opposition party may act like an opposition party and challenge Blair's complicity in pre-war lying, and Bushco has stolen Democratic plans for troop withdrawal from Iraq and claimed it as their own while simultaneously bashing Democrats as unpatriotic cowards.

Yawn. I'm feeling like I'm no longer a Slothrop worth studying by the scientists at the White Visitation.And what I fear is that when the crucial moment to decode the secret message comes I'll not be excited enough at the outrages to produce the agent that reveals the kryptosam. One side effect of total exposure to total stimulation is the devaluation of that stimulation. What's that, the vice president drinks virgin blood of tortured albino bunnies? I'll hear worse next week. Just don't ask me for a hardon.

I'm sure that this isn't a Bushco strategy, brilliantly planned and executed, but it IS, if not a strategy, a foreseen and time-tested symptom of consumerism-ism, part and parcel of our indoctrination and subordination as pay-for-play citizenship. As our tolerance builds, more stimulation is needed just to keep us docile and even more stimulation needed to keep us jonesing.

Which is why the idiocies and dishonesties and immoralities of Bushco, seemingly crucial in their own mendacious ways, serve purposes greater than the political fortunes of the United States or even, in his own mind, the legacy of dWarf. There's something happening, or about to happen, in the realm beyond paltry nationalistic interests. Power is more transnational, post-national, than ever before, but the goal of power, in whatever configuration those currently holding it use, is to render its subjects impotent. If we're impotent, we won't be able to read the kryptosam.