Steve Heller posted a fascinating entry on Design Observer about pricing graphic design ephemera. Are you a bin digger like me, trying to find treasure in the trash?
Archive for May, 2009
Playlist from The Acousmatic Theater Hour with Jason G and Karinne on WFMU, from May 31, 2009
This week’s edition of Here’s What’s Awesome seems quite householdy – I guess working in the garden and trying to fix up the house geared me toward green, domestic awesome links. Just be thankful I didn’t run across any stories about Saturday afternoon reruns, I guess. “University researchers have discovered that Urkel can power up to 16,000 homes…”
The power of prayer
Covers etc has added a photo to the pool:
Artist is J. Pollack, this edition from 1959.
Covers etc has added a photo to the pool:
Should read some Lew Archer.
I jammed all evening in the garden at Dick & Jane’s party on Friday, and I had a great time.
We had good players, including mandolin, fiddle, and resonator guitar, and IMO we made a crunchy little beat happen. You could tell by the gushy reactions when we got up to leave.
So here’s my plea: hire us! We don’t need amplification, you don’t have to give us money, we’re not going to steal silverware, and we’ll make it a happening little party. It’s easy — just send me driving directions and I’ll do the rest.
His mix is a sythetic alien mime with a sexy walk. Pretty much.
Incidentally, the guitar tone on that recording comes from the unique instrument — a 1930s remake of an 1890s parlor axe. That small-bodied style of guitar has a distinctive boingy sound in the bass. No low end thump at all, but lots more wiggly high end than on a modern instrument. Here’s photos:
I need to find a way to cover or remix contemporary internet-based stuff like this without abandoning my premise. It’s good to make my stuff available for other people to remix, but it’s narcissistic to do it without also remixing other people’s music.
I wish that my own genre of guitar instrumentals had some way for me to make remixes. It’s selfish for me to not do it, not never RTing.
you could do covers of other people’s songs. You do that now, but it’s like you’re RTing long dead people.
Obviously I could just become a remixer, but the world already has plenty of those. I’ll make better music by sticking to what I know.
Any ideas? How can acoustic real-time musicians engage with remixers?
Anyhow, as always you are welcome to reuse the Alvin and Lucille recordings in mixes or videos. They’re under a creative commons license, and I’m happy to use just any license that suits you. There are full-resolution AIFFs available. The mixes keep vocals in one track and guitar in another, so that you can demix the parts. I like the music Tequila and I made, and I’d prefer to have it go to good use.
Incidentally, the song that me and Tequilla were playing is “Romance Without Finance,” by the long forgotten minor swing guitarist Tiny Grimes. I owned a cassette of it because Charlie Parker played in Grimes’ band back before Parker got his superpowers. The song has a sly sense of humor and raw rockinness along the lines of Luis Prima. The cassette was a Bird comp, not a Tiny comp, btw. Tiny’s gone gone gone, like a gravestone you can barely read any more.
Oops. I posted something here that belonged on the blog for my music making. Go there if you want to see it.
I keep these blogs separate because I don’t think there’s much overlap between people who like one or the other.
With elements of arena rock, hair metal, punk, and classic rock, "rock urbano" in Mexico describes a genre of music and a subculture that flourished in the outer slums of Mexico City for many years before being eclipsed by new rock currents and by reggaeton.
Largely forgotten, rock urbano has not entirely disappeared. You can still find toquines on the D.F.'s fringes that celebrate this scene -- although the rockers present can often be a bit on the gray side. Above, a king of the genre, El Haragán, or Luis Antonio Alvarez, blasting through his anthem "Muñequita Sintetica." It's sung in that unmistakably barrio, rough-around-the-edges manner. Enjoy.
* Previously, "Excavations: The rock underground in 1980s Mexico."
Another book I read with absolute delight and in one sitting was Lee Child's latest Jack Reacher novel, Gone Tomorrow. I went so far as to have it Amazon Primed (along with Charlaine Harris's Dead and Gone) to my hotel in Florida so that I could read it on the plane home - I was cracking it open in the Orlando airport, and pretty much the next thing I knew, I was turning the last page as the plane began its descent into LaGuardia. Lee Child is a genius of light reading - in fact, I am hoping to channel a little of that genius as I inject some superior thriller-type pacing into my sequel rewrite...
Also: Rebecca Goldstein's The Mind-Body Problem, which I bought some time ago without quite realizing the extent to which it would fall under my self-imposed ban on reading academic novels. One year post-tenure, my disgust for such books has worn off - I needed a small light entertaining paperback to take with me on the subway the other day, and in fact I polished the rest of it off later that night with considerable enjoyment. It is an appealing and engaging novel, with some funny similarities to Fear of Flying; though I will say again that the academic novel I am most wanting to read is Terry Pratchett's Unseen Academicals, forthcoming in October (hmmm, maybe someone has an ARC for me?).
Other things that have struck me over the last couple days:
Nancy Drew as childhood role model for female Supreme Court Justices.
"Prediction is very difficult, especially of the future" (a review of Giles Foden's Turbulence, which it looks to me I should pick up a copy of in England in July - ditto Jake Arnott on the fictional lives of Aleister Crowley).
"Five crosses and the Rasmussen factor": belief in the overriding power of the female line in horsebreeding continues to characterize twenty-first-century American breeding practice...
Finally, Christopher Ricks very much likes Stanley Plumly's Posthumous Keats, and Oliver Sacks is speaking about hallucinations and the life of the visual brain on Wednesday at 5pm as part of the "Narrative Medicine Rounds" - might be that I should temporarily slip out of the coils of sequel-revising and triathlon training and go to that one...
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, this week, to the following high-, low-, no-, and hilobrow heroes. Click here for more Hilo Hero birthdays.
Back when rock’s head was swelling, when the attention deficit disorder of a Keith Moon could be mistaken for genius, JOHN BONHAM (1948-80) was largely dismissed as a ham-fisted lout. Now we know that the quintessence of rock is the ham-fisted lout. As such, Bonham’s volume and physical command, his concern for rhythmic commitment rather than finesse or filigree, lends his sounds the meaty presence of a Rodin sculpture. The funkiest of classic rock drummers, Bonham peeled away the sluttish sauciness of the groove to reveal a chthonic vein of bubbling pitch that rooted his rhythms in the earth. Though many find the use of such organic metaphors a dodgy move in criticism, with Bonham one must simply bow before the upwelling force. If we do not acknowledge how low the lo in hilo can go, we are lost in the muddle of the middle, the fussy fill before the resounding return to the beat. — Erik Davis
An intellectual historian and historian of intellectuals, CHRISTOPHER LASCH (1932-94) picked up the torch offered by negative-dialectical curmudgeons (T.W. Adorno, Dwight Macdonald) who’d rejected the shibboleths of liberals and conservatives alike. Pinpointing the social, political, cultural, and economic ills of the 1960s-80s, Lasch traced their origins to crucial moments in American history when reformists and change agents compromised their principles or lost their way. Why did the Left embrace a secular-messianic vision of an all-encompassing change in the human condition, achieved through the revolutionary transformation of society? Why did the Right abandon its suspicion of capitalism and its disastrous effects on traditional institutions? Lasch answered such questions with every bit as much anarchical lucidity as Thomas Pynchon and Woody Allen, whose greater wit made them not one whit more capable of preventing their Boomer juniors from exacerbating the errors of earlier rebels-with-a-cause. — Joshua Glenn
In the endless metamorphoses of Black Flag, it fell to DEZ CADENA (born 1961), son of a West Coast jazz producer, to be the band’s third lead singer, and then its first second guitarist. To both tasks he brought a weight of soul and a purity of intent that were the definition of Black Flag’s early years: hoarse, skinny, and existential as a frontman (”Just around the corner, there’s a bed of cold pave-ment, waitin’ for meeeeee….!!!!”), he switched to guitar upon the arrival of Henry Rollins and immediately added a dimension of almost limitless solemnity to the sonic brainstorms of Greg Ginn. There’s a lost-gospel feel to this brief five-man incarnation of Black Flag: scantily recorded, its heaviness is best commemorated on YouTube clips wherein you can also admire Dez’s beautiful and punk-enraging long hair. — James Parker
There are two kinds of people in this world: Shaft and Superfly people. But while Shaft and Isaac Hayes have long enjoyed an irony-driven revival, the far superior Superfly and CURTIS MAYFIELD (1942-99) are overdue for a comeback. Paralleling the films’ qualities, Mayfield’s soundtrack is simultaneously more campy, more moving, and more subversive than Hayes’. Mayfield did have his share of hits, both in and out of The Impressions: among them, “People Get Ready,” “Move On Up,” and “Freddie’s Dead.” But considering his influence on artists as diverse as Whitney Houston and Bad Brains, and his unique ability to chronicle urban black America from the tumultuous ’60s to the apocalyptic ’70s, we should be surrounded every day with Mayfieldiana. — Jason Grote
With his casual athleticism and big white teeth, with his good-looking features that somehow fail to coalesce into good looks, BRUCE DERN (born 1936) is the dropout personified — the kid who had every advantage but turned out bad. For all his superior acting chops, he seems most at home in an old Gunsmoke or a Movie of the Week. He’s usually playing some combination of motormouth, dreamer, or hustler, and he’s always at least a little unhinged. He strikes us as someone we’d like to go on a bender with. Maybe it’s all those Roger Corman movies (The Wild Angels, The Trip, Bloody Mama); Dern just seems like he’d be up for anything. — Mimi Lipson
PANCHO VILLA (born Doroteo Aranga Arámbula; 1878-1923) was an outlaw with a world-class strategic intelligence who became a general during the chaotic and unending Mexican Revolution. John Reed was present in the Governor’s palace in Chihuahua when Villa was honored by the elegantly turned-out officers of his artillery corps: “He was dressed in an old plain khaki uniform, with several buttons lacking. He hadn’t recently shaved, wore no hat, and his hair had not been brushed.” He slouched on the throne during the speeches, “his mouth hanging open, his little shrewd eyes playing around the room.” When they gave him the medal, he peered at it and said, “This is a hell of a little thing to give a man for all that heroism you are talking about!” Then he spat violently on the floor. (Insurgent Mexico, 1914) Actors who have portrayed Villa include Wallace Beery, Leo Carillo, Alan Reed, Yul Brynner, Telly Savalas, and Freddy Fender. — Luc Sante
Filmmaker CHANTAL AKERMAN (born 1950), the arthouse precursor to Charlie Kaufman, Jem Cohen, and even Sam Mendes, took one small step for a woman, and one giant leap into interstitial space, with her investigations of what lies between the subject and the object, the intention and the action, the you and the me. Akerman works against the phallic thrust of narrative climax by alternating between leisurely investigations of domestic details (Jeanne Dielman, shown above), and manic picaresque activity (Toute une nuit), the kind usually left out of “the story,” in order to show how we build our lives between the overlooked and the busy. Refreshingly feminist, and often very funny, she uses absurd and unrelated settings and events to release the tethers from our stories and set them free. — Peggy Nelson
“The most important piece of musical equipment of the last 10 years is not an instrument or a physical object. It’s called Auto-Tune and is used on roughly 90 per cent of all pop songs. It is what’s known as a ‘plug-in’, a specialized piece of software made to be inserted into other, bigger pieces of audio software. Auto-Tune bends off-key notes into pitch perfection.
Auto-Tune was initially used discreetly to smooth over wrong notes. It is fitting that Cher’s 1998 single ‘Believe’ brought the first cosmetic (rather than corrective) use of Auto-Tune to mainstream visibility: when the taut skin and other side-effects of repeat plastic surgery form their own aesthetic, we can think of it in terms of Auto-Tune. Where you can hear certain phrases on ‘Believe’ go robotic – that’s Auto-Tune at work. Within a few years the production secret (and illegal copies of the expensive software) had seeped into studios worldwide, problematizing the connection between voice and body along the way.”
The Woman in the Woods has added a photo to the pool:
Cover by Oliver Brabbins. Corgi Books paperback (1958).
Until Friday, it had not occurred to me to subdivide yoga into cultural and lingusitical categories. Enter Lisa Grunberger, author of Yiddish Yoga, who documented “an act of translation” that involved yoga and her grandmother Ruthie.
It has been suggested by more than a few parties that my BookExpo coverage betrays a sourpuss disposition. It has also been insinuated that I was predisposed to find negativity within this three-ring exposition. Not at all.
Here are some positive observations: The fine folks at Firebrand managed to set up a booth at BEA that proved to be a popular destination point for any number of quirky literary types. The many perspectives that will emerge from the fairly open press credentials policy will certainly assist Reed Exhibitions (and others) in determining BEA’s future. There are a number of passionate people who still believe in books — perhaps epitomized best by the emerging consultant/communal evangelist Richard Nash, who has hit upon the very sensible idea that writers are also readers — and who are making slow but steady progress in getting others to understand present developments. 7×20×21 suggested that there was no shortage of young energy willing to take on the troubling problems of the future. If the interest and presence from the big publishers were reduced, there remained many small presses and university presses who saw a consistent level of foot traffic comparable to previous years. (I didn’t quite find the crazy guy hawking his self-published book in a rented booth, much less the guy with the toilet seat around his head who had showed up at previous BEAs. But there did seem to be a larger makeup of aspiring authors cropping up at panels.) If Penguin wasn’t exactly promoting Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice at BEA (as Kirk Biglione wisely observed) and China Mieville remains one of those names that people get excited about on the floor but that Del Rey seemed strangely diffident in pushing, there remain numerous advocates under the radar. The book bloggers panel, which seemed to me a strange repeat of the 2004 litblog panels, attracted a fairly packed house. The wheel may be reinventing itself, but the one-two shuffles haven’t stopped and the enthusiasm hasn’t permanently quelled. And for all of my complaints about the Book Reviews 2010 panel, there was nevertheless a healthy swarm of spectators. People may not understand the present forms, but they certainly want to. It’s just a question of how much they are willing to adjust their thinking. And it’s also a question of whether the publishing industry wishes to latch onto the unhelpful panacea of Chris Anderson-style generalizations.
My suspicions about BEA have more to do with whether this massive conference is presently in the right form with which to bring together these many viewpoints. Perhaps the manner in which we unite publishers, booksellers, authors, and assorted parties needs to match the drastic manner in which the industry is changing. The digital enthusiasts need to understand the perspective of a 60-year-old publisher who will never use a Kindle. And the frightened publisher needs to comprehend why readers aren’t jumping up and down about DRM. It has become vitally important for us to listen to the opposite perspective. We can’t just keep to the comfortable corners of the room.
Matt Wieters got his first major-league hit tonight, a stand-up triple. I wondered: was he the first catcher ever to have a triple as his first hit in the bigs? This is the kind of question that the amazing Baseball Reference Play Index is made to answer, and the answer is nope: in fact, Yorvit Torrealba did it — in his first major league plate appearance, no less! — in 2001.
Update: In fact, want to know another catcher whose first major-league hit was a triple? Dane Sardinha, the opposing catcher in tonight’s game!
Guthrie has 10 strikeouts in the first 6 innings but keeps getting in trouble; I think of it as being kind of hard to pitch a bad game when you strike out 10 batters, but in this connection B-R PI pulls up last month’s stinker of a start by Toronto’s David Purcey; 10 strikeouts, but 6 walks and 5 runs allowed, and he didn’t make it out of the 5th.
I always meant to keep going with it, you know. Thanks to those of you who emailed wanting more! It’s been so long since the last episode that I’m not sure I remembered how to code it properly to show up in iTunes, but you can download an mp3 of me reading Act I, scene iii of The Rules for Hearts here.
And hey, if it doesn’t show up in iTunes within the next day or so, let me know…especially if you can help me make sure it does!
Edited to add: In case you missed the first two episodes, you can download them, too:
This has been a very exciting few months not only for my own music but for a lot of the projects I’ve been involved in as a collaborator. The most immediate and exciting thing is that Nadia Sirota’s CD First Things First has been released on New Amsterdam Records. You can buy it via iTunes here or via New Amsterdam here. This is an awesome disk not only because it has three pieces of mine on it, but because it’s a very brave statement: a solo viola CD made up of only commissioned works. I guess I say brave because it sounds really depressing if you don’t know better! Anyway, it’s a fabulous CD that everybody should buy.
The next thing that’s been going on is the release of Grizzly Bear’s album Veckatimest. Now, everybody’s been freaking out about this album for good reason because it’s totally great. Most exciting for me was that I got to make arrangements for the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, as well as the ACME String Quartet, which is my favorite: to keep everything in the family.
Here’s the song Cheerleader:
I managed to sneak in a Security Blanket Gesture:
Did everybody see the weirdly mean-spirited review in the Times of the Grizzly Bear show last night? You know you’re in trouble when a review begins with the sentence:
Music moves; it can’t do anything else.
Ahahahahah. God. What does that even mean? I’ve been thinking about it all day and I still have no idea. It goes on:
There is a nearly suffocating fussiness in this band. It can’t be altered: it’s the life force of the music, which is full and tense, and extremely cold.
Now, I agree with the use of the word Fussy. I like the implications of that word; it doesn’t seem problematically un-musical and I would agree that their music is fussy (the opposite being a Hot Mess, I suppose?) I would say that, you know, Prokofiev is fussy whereas Shostakovich is not fussy. Anyway, life-force. . . I’m a little suspicious of, and “cold” I’m very suspicious of indeed (as a word to describe music, that is).
Rhythm is a frozen concern here, several orders less important than harmony.
What? A Frozen Concern? It sounds like a vegan popsicle.
Then it goes on, and is basically just descriptive, and basically fine, but then comes this horseshit:
But wow, these songs are precious, and they occasionally came spangled with extras that made them even more so. The chorus was one of those elements, sorry to say.
Oh snap! Apology accepted. Now, I have major objections to the word “precious.” It tends to be borderline homophobic in its coded usage, first of all, but second of all, it’s a derogatory adjective with no alternative. It’s reviewspeak. What I mean is: if you say, “that’s ugly” somebody else can say, “no, it’s beautiful.” If you say, “it’s over-stuffed” somebody can say, “really, I thought it was pretty thin.” So the problem with a word like precious is that the scale of adjectives with “precious” on it belongs solely to the reviewer and is just a way of being mean. Case in point: this whole nonsense about Sufjan Stevens’s’s BQE Thing. Words like fey, twee, and precious have become these little nuggets of coded disdain, but they are really just useless self-congratulatory gestures on the part of the reviewer. What is the opposite of twee? Muscular? It all reminds me of the insane misogynist critiques of Jane Austen’s novels. I guess the place for a word like that would be in a larger piece about the music world — there was an enormous brouhaha in Iceland about the so-called Krútt scene. Krútt is probably the closest approximation in Icelandic of “precious” — it refers to Múm, kind of Sigur Rós, and a lot of imitators: it denotes little bells, reversed glockenspiels, fairytale vocals, cutely-outfitted brass bands. Now, all of that is just a description and not derogatory; my iPod overflows with this shit. Anyway, to go to a concert of that kind of music and be like, “it’s precious,” all you’re doing is going to a Chinese restaurant and being like, “wow, they were serving mad chinese food up in there!”
Another irritating thing that comes up in reviews sometimes, too, is the word pretentious. Now. Beloveds. The word literally means Having Pretensions, like, the Thing is Pretending to Be a Thing that it is Not. Pretentious is these houses in New Jersey. It’s Madonna’s accent. It’s big entryways in the suburbs. It’s a whole lot of things but what it always requires is The Object or Person in Question referencing, in his or her head, Another Model, Object or Person. Pretension moves; it can’t do anything else. Monodirectional binary! Anyway, all of this is shorthand for me saying, my show got called pretentious in the Guardian and I was like, okay, maybe you didn’t like it all that much, but it’s the wrong word. (The review actually isn’t that bad). I would love to know what my show is attempting to be; if anything, I have the opposite problem of not having any directional concept for it aside from just playing music well, in a pleasing sequence. There’s something irritating, also, about being called pretentious by somebody who has taken it upon himself to learn how to make an umlaut, and then proceeds to fuck up Valgeir Sigurðsson’s patronymic all in the same gesture. Anyway: my music isn’t a McMansion, I swears it!
Moving on. Everybody should also buy these amazing remixes Son Lux did of My Brightest Diamond. I love her — one of the things I like about her so much is how she’s not scared of the weirdness of her voice. If I were a female vocalist with an interesting voice, I would find it incredibly difficult to have a solo career – especially an electro-acoustic one – because of the looming shadow of Björk. No matter what all you want to do, she’s done it already, and done it really, really well. In fact, that whole Krútt business: it all comes from the landscape of Wespertine. You want to scream? She did it before you were even born. Beautiful song with a choir in the back? She got you. Dance anthem that builds slowly? She got that, too. Zap Mama doing Icelandic Folksongs? She’s on it. Anyway. I’d be paralyzed. Good job, My Brightest Diamond, for not giving a shit and plowing ahead anyway! Album & Remixes sound great!
Here are some kids listening to some MCs spit at the fancy Nike theme store on Teotihuacan in Condesa, Friday night. Who were they? Don't know. We were passing through, and they were wearing really bright colors.
Anyway it appears the real stars of the party were the brands: Nike, Dos Equis, and Vitamin Water. Gotta do what you gotta do, I guess.
Panel: Book Reviews 2010: What Will They Look Like?
Participants: John Reed, The Brooklyn Rail (Moderator); Ben Greenman, The New Yorker; Otis Chandler, Goodreads; Bethanne Patrick, The Book Studio; David Nudo, Shelfari; Peter Krause, Tactic Co.
I certainly went to this morning’s NBCC-sponsored panel with an open mind. Alas, with stiff moderator John Reed reading word-for-word off of his list of questions and the question of whether book reviews were even worth saving largely ignored, this was, as you might expect, business as usual, with Ben Greenman and Otis Chandler offering the only real substantive commentary. The rest was buzz words and bullshit dichotomies. Expert content vs. user-generated content, book reviews versus book recommendations, Coke vs. Pepsi. While Bethanne Patrick was very careful to ask everyone not to contain their silent fury, I kept my hand raised during the Q&A and was not called upon. I presume that they found out about the cherry bomb I planted in the boys room toilet.
You knew that something was off with this panel pretty early. But the question percolating in my mind had more to do with whether these people even loved books anymore, or even cared about lively writing. And I suppose it was answered when Reed asked the question, “Is there anything that you’re looking forward to leaving behind?” There was uncomfortable silence from the quintet, before Bethanne Patrick replied that she was very interested in leaving behind the idea that there were plenty of places for authority.
(It is worth noting that as I type these words in the BEA Press Room, I am listening to a robotic-sounding author talking in a very stilted tone about the “emotional charge” in his book. I have no idea who he is, but that’s part of the problem. Yes, this is the mechanical level of excitement here. Dare to express even the slightest feeling and you will be dragged away by Jacob Javits security.)
I think the fact that these five people don’t have any value or excitement for what they are offering — or are diffident about expressing such value or excitement — should say it all. Don’t sit there in silent fury or anything. Except that there’s really no place for you here.
“What is authority?” asked Peter Krause, who offered several dollops of generalized Gladwell/Anderson-style terminology for the crowd, including some of the silly dichotomies I have described above. How does Twitter give you authority? Does it come when somebody follows you? Or is it the way in which you link?
I wanted to get the panel discussing the all-important question of whether one should tweet in one’s underwear or not. Or perhaps they might consider the side effects of drunk tweeting. Or how you might lose a few followers if you tell an off-color joke that offends a few people. That seemed a far more intellectual discussion pertaining to “Book Reviews 2010″ than anything presented at this joke of a discussion.
At least Ben Greenman was wise enough to suggest to the crowd, “You should probably listen to yourself.” He cited John Leonard as a critic whom he disagreed with 70% of the time, but who wryly pointed out the benefits of adversarial writing. Yes, I thought to myself, if only we could have some of that right now to counter all this groupthink bullshit.
“We do need a guide to navigate through the wilderness,” said Otis Chandler. “Who are the experts?” All well and good, but it all seemed comparable to some rich guy hiring a guide to hack his way through a jungle. It also seemed to me that Chandler’s position — despite the apparent egalitarian nature of Goodreads — was very much rooted in discounting the audience’s intelligence. Part of the success of Goodreads, as I ranted and raved to a few gracious listeners after the panel, is because there is no longer a place for enthusiasm or excitement in the newspapers. While I did agree with Chandler that people are more inclined to listen to their friends, what Chandler (and the other panelists with the possible exception of Greenman) missed was the possibility that critics never present themselves as trusted friends to the readers. They dictate rather than get people excited. And the hoary heads stuck up the sad ass of this industry seem to misunderstand and underestimate the ability for people to find an alternative when they’re talked down to as if they’re wearing dunce caps.
Forget about Book Reviews 2010. What about Book Reviews 2009? Or Book Reviews 2004? These are the real questions these people should be asking. But they won’t. Because I don’t think they really have any answers.
The Life Inc. Dispatch series is a collection of brief videos encapsulating key concepts and ready strategies from Douglas Rushkoff’s Life Inc for de-corporatizing our lives, abandoning the speculative economy, and rebuilding both commerce and community from the bottom up.
Life Inc. Dispatch 01:
Crisis as Opportunity
by Anonymous*: Glug glug glug? Both Walter Benjamin and Hannah Arendt believed it so, yes, but throughout the 1960s and into the early ’70s, I was a HUGE Beach Boys fan, thus I vastly prefer “Chug-A-Lug” (Chug-A-Lug). To those who disagree another term at the Gravesend School of Doo-Wop might be in order. “Fuck that, Pops— I have a gub” ya’ll reply? I’m hardly shook. This is still BK All Day: who doesn’t have a gub? Sometimes in Rockapulco, Queens**, large aquatic mammals wash up on shore and we wonder, hmmmmm… how would that taste grilled? A similar question arises every time I peep this silver finned devil mounted on the wall. Much respect to The Creator, of whom nothing is certain— a trick nearly as impressive as the getting up itself these days, when everyone wants to tell ya’ll everything, constantly, no matter how little they actually know. So tell us Great Sages of the Blogidad: is it street art, graffiti or… dinner?
* Caz Dolowicz was born on Sands Street in 1923. A retired New York City Transit Authority Tower Operator, today he’s wearing black ankle socks with his Air Max 95s, so what? He does not want your peas, your rice, your coconut oil, nor all arrogance of earthen riches although he will be getting jerk chicken on Utica Ave later— see ya’ll there?
I don’t want to make the blog take any longer to load than absolutely necessary, so if you liked the Street With A View post a couple of weeks ago, click here for ten new tENTATIVELY A cONVENIENCE videos.
“Citizens of the Republic (of Letters) carried no passports, but they could recognize one another by…”
- Anthony Grafton, Worlds Made by Worlds: Scholarship and Community in the Modern West, pp. 20–1. The Republic of Letters was a web; its nodes were the printing houses and libraries of great scholars; its members were scholars but also printers, artisans, apothecaries, botanists, and the like. This motley network emerged in the violent years of Reformation and Counter-Reformation. The printing press was its engine, perhaps, but its media were travel, learning, and letters in which, as Grafton puts it, “the outlines, highways, and capitals of the Republic can be seen most clearly.”
During the course of my BEA journalism, I encountered the large and appealing figure of Clifford the Big Red Dog. Since I was feeling that this year’s BookExpo America simply wasn’t cutting it, I attempted to put forth some questions to him and get his thoughts on the subject. The above video reveals his answers.
Recall from the previous post that if f is a pseudo-Anosov mapping class on a surface Σ, there is an invariant λ of f called the dilatation, which measures the “complexity” of f; it is a real algebraic number greater than 1. By the spectral radius of f we mean the largest absolute value of an eigenvalue of the linear automorphism of induced by f. Then the spectral radius of f is a lower bound for λ(f), and in fact so is the spectral radius of f on any finite etale cover of Σ preserved by f.
This naturally leads to the following question, which appears as Question 1.2 in Koberda’s paper:
Is λ(f) the supremum of the spectral radii of f on Σ’, as Σ’ ranges over finite etale covers of Σ preserved by f?
It’s easiest to think about variation in spectral radius when Σ’ ranges over abelian covers. In this case, it turns out that the spectral radii are very far from determining the dilatation. When Σ is a punctured sphere, for instance, a remark in a paper of Band and Boyland implies that the supremum of the spectral radii over finite abelian covers is strictly smaller than λ(f), except for the rare cases where the dilatation is realized on the double cover branched at the punctures. It gets worse: there are pseudo-Anosov mapping classes which act trivially on the homology of every finite abelian cover of Σ, so that the supremum can be 1! (For punctured spheres, this is equivalent to the statement that the Burau representation isn’t faithful.) Koberda shows that this unpleasant state of affairs is remedied by passing to a slightly larger class of finite covers:
Theorem (Koberda) If f is a pseudo-Anosov mapping class, there is a finite nilpotent etale cover of Σ preserved by f on whose homology f acts nontrivially.
Furthermore, Koberda gets a very nice purely homological version of the Nielsen-Thurston classification of diffeomorphisms (his Theorem 1.4,) and dares to ask whether the dilatation might actually be the supremum of the spectral radius over nilpotent covers. I have to admit I would find that pretty surprising! But I don’t have a good reason for that feeling.
Back in April, it was revealed that the galley for James Ellroy’s Blood’s a Rover contained a note asking all of Ellroy’s readers to become his Facebook friends. Well, since Ellroy happened to be at BookExpo America, I decided to ask him about what the nature of this “Facebook friend” relationship entailed. Ellroy promptly placed his arm around my shoulder and gave me his explanation. I think it’s safe to say that Ellroy’s idea of “Facebook friend” is much different from Jonathan Franzen’s.
Is it immoral to give to the arts when there are people dying from poverty-related causes?
The main thing I have to show for the last couple days, sad to say, is a two-page chart in tiny handwriting of all of the plot developments in the first novel, with loose ends and mystery back-story marked in various colors:
(I used the camera for that one, as it gives a better sense of the 11"x15" watercolor pad I purchased the other day for precisely this purpose; the scanner images below are probably more legible.)
I had a couple stages of chart-making when I was writing the first book - this was a preliminary map of the whole plot:
And this was a reconfigured version once I had a clearer sense of what needed to happen in the second half of the book, which was largely a blank when I began (barring Sophie's discovery of zombiefied girls at IRYLNS and the dynamite factory showdown):
I am contemplating introducing epistolary interruptions into the sequel, but it remains to be seen whether I can find the right voice for the letters I envisage - I suddenly wonder whether I could turn the whole thing into a kind of pastiche of letters and documents? But no, perhaps that is not really the right idea...
Has Warren Buffett gotten a bit soft in his old age? Michael Lewis thinks it’s possible. Has there ever been a better time to bet against him? No. Would Lewis bet against him? Nope. He’s done so before, and regretted it.
There’s a desperate atmosphere evident even in the panels. And I’m not just talking about the execution, but the conception. One such panel that I walked out on, featuring the likes of Chris Anderson and Lev Grossman, was devoted to whether or not publishers still hold the keys to the castle. It was a sad and lifeless discussion that felt as pathetic as the hired dancers attempting to drum up some attention in the vestibule for some book that most people will forget about by tomorrow morning. (Indeed, it might be argued that people will probably remember their free cocktails over prospective titles. It is worth noting that agents are already wary of being solicited, and it’s just the early afternoon.)
But back to the panel. Chances are that if you’ve attended an O’Reilly conference, you’ve seen this type of generalism before. A bunch of men sit before some microphones and begin to spout off a bunch of technological libertarian nonsense. The participants often believe that, because there is some rumbling in publishing’s plate tectonics, now is the time to espouse some new sentiment or to seize some desperate stretch of land. It’s the dawning of a revolution! But these new politicos — who seem more inspired by Thomas Friedman than Thomas Jefferson — don’t understand that serfs can’t adapt from an agrarian economy overnight. Meanwhile, the old dogs never seem to understand that they can’t hold onto their vassal system forever. But there’s no time like the present to make impetuous statements that can only advocate one side or the other, but can never find a middle ground for both.
I spent ten minutes watching this “Big Ideas at BEA” conference, in which the only big idea that anyone wished to consider was whether or not Chris Anderson would have to hold a microphone after the trusted lavalier attached to his shirt couldn’t communicate his predictable patterns of prediction. There was something fittingly symbolic in the microphone’s failure. The very system that had catapaulted Anderson to fame was beginning to fall apart.
And the very discussion that Anderson and his cronies here wished to promulgate was no less interchangeable with any number of talks given at any number of conferences in any number of locations.
When in doubt, go for the predictable. It’s the only “new” or “big” idea that people seem to have in this melancholy landscape.
People actually paid hundreds of dollars for this when they could have stayed home and curled up with a Malcolm Gladwell book.
Last night, I pried myself away from the televised Scripps National Spelling Bee so I could see Anvil: The Story of Anvil at a local movie theater. Directed by Sacha Gervasi, the film follows Anvil, a Canadian metal band, as it works on their 13th studio album and tries to make it big after 30 years as a band.
There is so much to love about this movie, I don’t really know where to begin. I’ll start with the group itself: Steve “Lips” Kudlow is the guitar player, songwriter and singer. His mouth collects saliva as he talks, and it seeps out the corners of his lips in an expression of foamy eagerness. Robb Reiner is the drummer (double kick drums, but of course!), an Edward Hopper fan and a painter himself; in both of his artistic endeavors, he vacillates between self-effacement and self-aggrandizement. Lips and Robb have been playing music together since they were 14. They act like brothers, like lovers and like best friends. If nothing else, Anvil: The Story of Anvil is the best bromance film of the year. Yes, but it’s so much more.
Within the fickle and fleeting world of rock stardom, it’s hard to imagine keeping the dream of fame and fortune alive for longer than a few years. By the time we’re in our mid-30s or early 40s (if we’ve lasted that long), most of us would think that if it hasn’t happened yet, it’s not going to happen at all. We’d pack up the guitars, go back to school, find other work, get married, have kids, move on. We’d especially give up if we were 50, particularly if the goal wasn’t just to have fun and play gigs, but to achieve worldwide domination. But Anvil has not given up, nor have their families.
What makes the story of Anvil so touching is that Lips and Robb exist in an incredibly insular world (both literally, in a small Canadian town, but also figuratively), as if the only way to live out their fantasy is to ensure that reality can never seep in. Of course, it inevitably does, in frustrating, maddening fits, but they return to this strange, dreamlike place — almost spiritual in nature — that allows them to believe, and for the people around them to believe.
For example, Robb has a wife who still sports an ’80s hair-to-the-heavens ‘do, and who hasn’t given up on the notion that she could be a rock star’s wife. And Lips’ siblings — doctors and accountants — collectively hold his wishes in their hearts as if Lips were still a child and had his whole life ahead of him. Anvil: The Story of Anvil expresses both the fragility and the futility of hopes, both attainable and false. And how, frankly, most of us don’t have the nerve or the humility to continue on with those early ambitions and dreams.
Following the movie, I was trying to think of other bands who have simply not given up despite years of near or nonexistent success. Guided By Voices? Nada Surf? Dead Moon? Or, more likely, there are other Anvils out there: middle-aged musicians still hoping for that one big break. Go for gold.
Feel free to share your thoughts about the movie, about similar bands, or about your own early dreams of fame that you’re still striving for, or that you’ve had to let go of.
Graphic designer Logan Mills has made some pretty amazing changes to the pretty lackluster Wu-Tang Clan album covers: he’s redesigned them as if they were on Blue Note.
The two words that come to mind are “junior size.” With Macmillan off the floor altogether and even HarperCollins seeing reduced foot traffic, one wanders BookExpo’s floors in search of innovation, only to find one’s self subsumed in a heap of remainders. Perhaps BookExpo needs a reboot. The panel discussion is chintzy. The conversations are desperate. And everybody asks around for the remaining parties containing an open bar.
The most profound floor interview I have conducted so far was one with Clifford the Big Red Dog. He did not answer my questions about BookExpo’s future, despite my persistence. And regrettably he offered neither bark nor bite about the future of the publishing industry. I will be posting a YouTube clip later when it is possible to do so. But I keep thinking of BEA as a Big Red Dog. Perhaps shaggier and with less appeal than Clifford.
Some authors dress in desperate costumes. Others ask talk show producers how they can get on without a publicist. BookExpo feels very much like the live version of an issue of a monthly writing magazine. You’re just waiting to run into the human equivalent of some classified ad in the back hoping to scam you for some writing contest. I’m surprised there aren’t more people here with jars asking for tips.
I don’t even know why journalists are covering it. I don’t even know why I’m covering it really. I ran into Bella Stander this morning and, within our jocular exchange, she asked me why I was here. I told her that I was here to have fun. But it is difficult to get people excited when they are determined to remain so gloomy.
If BookExpo doesn’t do something fast, it will become some ossified corpse without even the consolation of a wake. But there is no Ronald D. Moore around to remind us why it is so important.
The second Transformers movie — robot-cars, Megan Fox — is about to hit theaters, but the cerebral architect Rem Koolhaas beat noisy director Michael Bay to the punch with his own, more artful Transformer in Seoul. Koolhaas was asked by the Prada Foundation, the nonprofit wing of the noted fashion company, to come up with a temporary structure to house a variety of cultural events this summer in the South Korean capital. He devised a building that will change character every few weeks with the help of some heavy-lifting cranes.
Koolhaas’s Transformer — that’s what Prada is calling it — sits next to Seoul’s 16th-century Gyeonghui Palace. It is essentially a steel frame wrapped in fabric, tetrahedral in shape. Each side of the frame is flat but distinctive, presenting to the world a circle, a cross, a hexagon, and a rectangle. (The shapes are slightly softened by the fabric.) Through Sunday the structure will rest on the hexagon, which creates a layout particularly suitable for a Prada fashion show, according to the architect. In June, cranes will flip the Transformer onto the rectangle, and it will serve as a movie house. (The director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, director of “Babel” and “21 Grams,” will curate a festival.) In August comes another rotation, and an art exhibition; in September, yet another flip and another fashion show …
Apropos of which, a bit I like from one of Burke's Letters on a Regicide Peace:
I remember in a conversation I once had with my ever dear friend Garrick, who was the first of Actors, because he was the most acute observer of nature I ever knew, I asked him, how it happened that whenever a Senate appeared on the Stage, the Audience seemed always disposed to laughter? He said the reason was plain; the Audience was well acquainted with the faces of most of the Senators. They knew, that they were no other than candle-snuffers, revolutionary scene-shifters, second and third mob, prompters, clerks, executioners, who stand with their axe on their shoulders by the wheel, grinners in the Pantomime, murderers in Tragedies, who make ugly faces under black wigs; in short, the very scum and refuse of the Theatre; and it was of course, that the contrast of the vileness of the Actors with the pomp of their Habits naturally excited ideas of contempt and ridicule.
I have written a number of essays for anthologies published by academic presses, who can be pretty clueless when it comes to promoting or even understanding their books beyond the narrow (and…
“That a famous library has been cursed by a woman is a matter of complete indifference to a famous library,” Virginia Woolf observes quite early in A Room of One’s Own. “Venerable and calm, with all its treasures safe locked within its breast, it sleeps complacently and will, so far as I am concerned, so sleep for ever.”
Woolf (in the person of the protagonist of this barbed and brilliant, fiction-kissed essay) has just attempted to follow a train of thought through the library doors at “Oxbridge,” intending to examine a Milton manuscript mentioned in a stray quote which, it seemed to her, might illustrate the fragile nature of just such trains of thought. She was stopped at the door by a kindly old verger, however, who explained that women were not allowed in the library unless accompanied by a fellow of the college or a letter of reference. For the second time in her story, a fragile, nurtured fancy has been injured by male privilege.
It’s one thing to observe that a Fellow, necessarily male, would enjoy a standing not given to a woman; it’s another thing to grant that same privilege to a written document, to grant it a kind of surrogate masculine standing.
It would be useful to explore the ways in which written things are granted such standing, but that’s not my purpose here. The relation of writing to gender deserves a chapter unto itself—or better, its presence demands acknowledgment in every chapter of a book about writing. From those clay-smudged scribes of the Fertile Crescent, to the Chinese elite and their calligraphy examinations, to the Grub Street Hacks who strove to colonize writing’s provinces with all the rough vigor of a commodified vernacular, writing has been an overwhelmingly male enterprise. But this doesn’t tell us anything important about writing itself—except that it is born as an intrumentality of power, and as such suffers the gendered cramps and tensions of all such instrumentalities.
What it does remind us is this: alongside writing’s career as an instrumentality of power, it has pursued a flickering existence as a modality of conciousness. It’s this career, I’d wager, that matters more to most of us in the end. And in this regard, writing has far to go in achieving anything like a full flowering. Writing’s achievements are woven through with a yellow thread of injustice and alienation; pull it, and the whole thing unravels into a tawdry tapestry.
Woolf’s contribution to the mode of literary invention called “stream of conciousness” is a staple of standardized tests. And yet it’s not often remarked how thoroughly Woolf demonstrated (in A Room as well as Three Guineas and much of her political writing) that the putative “stream” itself is already a material thing, subject to expropriation and alienation long before it’s bodied forth in writing. For Woolf (and, she shows, for all women of her time) this most ephemeral product finds its enemies long before it is committed to the page—in the sons and brothers who are chosen to receive the fine education, in the restrictions and proscriptions that guard the library door. Like other women writers before her, Woolf transformed those provinces of writing traditionally most open (or restricted) to women—the letter and the diary—into sumptuously productive sovereignties of invention. But she explored further countries by bringing the material power of writing to bear upon ever more intimate (and previously unassailable) regions. In bodying forth consciousness itself, she wins a kind of triumph over writing, a desegregation of writing’s gendered magisterium. Her achievement of style is in fact one of substance, irrevocably transforming and expanding the possibilities of writing itself. She turned her back on the library that Oxbridge morning—but she did not leave it to sleep complacently. In her wake, the library was altered in all its arrangements.
The new global battle for ownership of @ is in a way heartening: the old orthodoxy had it that it was merely a ligature used for accounting purposes. It was a combination of the letters ‘e’ and ‘a’ to designate ‘ea(ch)’, or of ‘a’ and ‘d’ for the Latin ad: ‘at’ or ‘to’ or something of equally diabolical simplicity. Either way, it had an aura of empire, whether derived from Britain or Rome. It was certainly in accounting for stuff that it made its way into the 20th century: it appeared as a key on the 1902 Lambert typewriter, made in New York, and it was as shorthand for pricing items – 60 widgets @ $2 = $120 – that it subsisted until 1971, when Ray Tomlinson of arpanet invented email. And now, of course, it’s ubiquitous. No one would know where anything was meant to go if it wasn’t for the amazing @.
Tomlinson, when interviewed on the subject, claimed that he simply needed a handy symbol to separate the user (‘nixon’) from the domain they resided at (‘whitehouse.gov’). He also said: ‘I sent a number of test messages to myself from one machine to another. The test messages were entirely forgettable and I have, therefore, forgotten them.’ This insouciance – or evasiveness? – is clearly suspicious. What was he trying to say?
Bill Slammon reviews the newest releases from Britpop stars Jarvis Cocker and Graham Coxon.