Cutie’s never been much of a cat person, but when her granddaughters bring their new kitten for a visit, her heart melts. Tune in as Cutie goes “fishing” for kitty, tucks the critter into her top, remembers her Yiddish-speaking pussycat of many years ago, and sings a couple of adorable songs to her little furry friend. It’s a cute explosion, and YOU’RE invited!
Archive for August, 2010
I’m typing this in my neighborhood cafe. I just moved and I thought that the broadband transfer would be flawless. It has been anything but. An evil company* by the name of Ace Innovative lied and misrepresented what the true nature of service was in my new neighborhood was. (I will have more on this later. Also, please pardon the lack of contractions. I am typing this on a keyboard where I cannot do apostophres. This probably explains why I sound like Data from Star Trek.) I have also lost my landline number. So I cannot be contacted for a while. What this means is that I am essentially out of commission for the foreseeable future. Bat Segundo is now on hiatus. I cannot respond to email. Content has slowed to a halt. I hope to be back up and running sometime in the next few weeks. And hopefully I will be able to offer reviews of films that I have seen (which have apparently been released) and audio interviews that I have conducted. My apologies to the publicists who were counting upon timed release of said content and the readers and listeners who regularly come here. If you need to get in touch with me, try friends or email (very slow response time).
* — As is often the wont for expanding companies, Ace was wonderful until they decided to grow. It was a company run by Russian geeks. Now it is a company run by closet sociopaths.
9-1-10 UPDATE: I appear to have found alternative broadband service. A small independent company who has been nothing less than polite, professional, and transparent about getting this done. Should be back in about two weeks.
To look at the average supermarket drinks aisle, you might think that Americans are doing okay, in terms of beverage choice. Shelves teem with every imaginable sort of fruit juice, punch, soda, bottled tea, sports drink, branded water, and ginseng-infused whatnot.
Behind that apparent diversity, however, a scant handful of companies overwhelmingly dominate the market, as Philip Howard, an assistant professor of community, agriculture, recreation and resource studies at Michigan State University, recently underscored. He did so by publishing on his site a remarkable (and gigantic) info-graphic depicting the links between dozens of brands and the mega-corps that produce them. (His zoomable graphic looks a bit like a map of neighboring galaxies.) The Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo alone control 74 percent of the market share for soft drinks. Coke and Pepsi, the drinks, of course, account for a lot of that, but the companies market many, many niche brands as well. Add one more company, the Dr. Pepper-Snapple Group, and you’re up to 89 percent of the market.
One law professor, David W. Barnes, of Seton Hall University, has argued that companies should be required to make more clear which brands they oversee, so that the pseudodiversity of supermarket shelves would become more apparent and consumers could make more informed choices about the kinds of companies, and food pathways, they support. This could be achieved, Barnes has argued, by revamping trademark law to downgrade the protections accorded such subsidiary brands as Dasani, Powerade, and Sweet Leaf–all made by Coke. Coke, in turn, would be required to strengthen the “signal” it sends that it, in fact, is behind all these vaguely artisanal-sounding drinks.
Belgassem Bou Genna is how the person who sent me this music spelled it, although Google suggests that Belgacem Bouguenna is the more popular transliteration in online circles. Yesterday Cex referred to this sort of thing as “unwitting faith in algorithms.” We’re in deep, aren’t we?
Actually, Cex wasn’t necessarily referring to that at all, I’m taking him out of 140-character context. He wrote: “Bieberstretches combine modern music consumer’s unwitting faith in algorithms with his need for arbitrary communal reference point.” For all I know, Cex could be talking about granular synthesis algorithms or search algorithms or both or maybe even neither. Point is, we do believe in – rely on – embrace – algorithmic faith. And that’s an interesting thing to think about.
When Googley machine-filtration shapes facts’ factuality, the retreat into tunnels and bunkers of web 3.0 may bring about a Renaissance of rumor. (Which never goes away but can flourish…). Web 2.0 is so sincere — I don’t trust it at all.
Speaking of Belgassem Bou Genna, my friend in Cairo says: “a friend of mine who met him once said he is the most chill person in the world.” I believe this to be true. His voice is beautiful. Like, Actually Filled With Beauty. He’s a kind of Tunisian Mohammed Rouicha. Belgassem, the most chill person in the world. Let’s go to Tunisia and learn more about this man and his awe-if-not-faith-inspiring music. You get the plane tickets, I’ll bring cranberry almond trail mix for the flight over.
Your favorite sweaty Slovenian writer (after Vladimir Bartol) writes: “We believe not less but much more than we imagine we believe. Benjamin was thus indeed prescient in his remark that ‘everything depends on how one believes in one’s belief.’” Indeed!
Yesterday’s guest mix & interview by The Sick Girl(s) was excellent thumping late-summer fun, and I’m pleased to announce that on Monday September 13th, I’ll have South African boy wonder Spoek Mathambo live in-studio on WFMU 91.1 FM! Us black internationals gonna throw an on-air Tea Party.
I first encountered Spoek as part of Sweat X, his duo project that I wrote about for Fader’s Africa issue [PDF] two years back. That piece involved a lively interview and allowed me to get the following sentence into print: “Spoek Mathambo is a slippery post-Apartheid glam-rap prince from Soweto who is descended from distant African royalty, or Jewish, or both.”
Since then Spoek has been making steady moves for world domination, rapping, singing, sending me emails about mythical dinosaurs that can stop the flow of a river (and concept band/videos based on same), generally manifesting polyglot amazingness in all sorts of places (Johannesburg, Stockholm, Mrs Internet, Paris, Twitter), and, finally, AMERIKKKA, the country with the best hamburgers & weapons. Although I do love the gun-fetish object on Mshini Wam’s cover:
So. We welcome him to our strange land with open arms. Fader is streaming his album for the rest of today, and we can watch these 2 videos to get some angles into Mr Mathambo’s complex musical visions… (HINT: the damaged Joy Division cover I’ve been playing out since Pitchfork festival last summer is 100% Spoek…. he’s lost control…)
The classic bedbug strain that all newly caught bugs are compared against is a colony originally from Fort Dix, N.J., that a researcher kept alive for 30 years by letting it feed on him.Also (unrelated): download a free PDF of Lewis Shiner's excellent novel Glimpses....
But Stephen A. Kells, a University of Minnesota entomologist, said he “prefers not to play with that risk.”
He feeds his bugs expired blood-bank blood through parafilm, which he describes as “waxy Saran Wrap.”
Coby Schal of North Carolina State said he formerly used condoms filled with rabbit blood, but switched to parafilm because his condom budget raised eyebrows with university auditors.
Ron Charles raises the bar for us multi-platform journalist types. Plus, he gets in digs at Time, Michiko Kakutani (“a limning, lapidary masterpiece”), and Jonathan Franzen’s interest in unpleasantly post-digestive subjects. Also, songbirds.
The Stranglers’ “Tomorrow Was the Hereafter,” recorded in 1975 or so, was released as a single for their fan club on August 31, 1980.
Of course, Lovecraft being Lovecraft, he frequently rewrote nearly the entirety of the story he was merely supposed to revise. The result is something that should, in most respects, be considered a Lovecraft story. However, because he took seriously the notion that he was revising someone else's work, HPL did he best to retain as much of his client's ideas as possible, even when, in the final analysis, only the barest skeleton of non-Lovecraftian material can be seen in the revision. Thus, there's generally enough non-Lovecraftian concepts in these revisions to set them apart from the "pure" Lovecraft corpus, which is why some fans turn their nose up at them and treat them as "lesser" works.
I don't feel that way, since, as in the case of "The Mound," the story in question is massive in length -- over 25,000 words -- and filled with terrific Lovecraftian ideas. Written for a client by the name of Zealia Bishop, who lived in Kansas City, "The Mound" was begun sometime in 1929 and completed by 1930, but it did not see print until 1940, several years after Lovecraft's death. Even when it did appear in Weird Tales, it was a much abridged version, which probably contributed to the ill fame in which the story was held for many years. The full, original version of "The Mound" did not see print until 1989, in an Arkham House publication edited by S.T. Joshi and my reading of it a few years afterward convinced me that it is, in fact, a remarkable piece of work, one that ought to stand in the higher ranks of Lovecraft's fiction. [...]
When it opens, Avatar: The Last Airbender is a very simple show. The opening titles tell the whole tale: the world’s at war, and the Fire Nation (the bad guys) want to conquer everyone else (the good guys). Only one person, the Avatar (the hero) can stop them, and as luck would have it, he just showed up and he’s ready to fight. Of course, he has challenges: he’s been gone for a hundred years, he hasn’t mastered his powers, and he’s an immature little kid. But that’s okay; that’s interesting. Watching him make his Hero’s Journey sounds like a hoot.
Of course, as my kid and I have watched Avatar – we’re halfway through the last season – we’ve learned more and more about how this world works. In the first episode, the characters’ “bending” looks magical: you wave your arms and water floats or fire shoots or the air turns into a tornado. But as the show goes along we learn that it’s more like a martial art, requiring massive skill and discipline. We learn about the four elements and what they signify, in terms that match the characters we’ve met: fire, like Prince Zuko, is destructive and tough to control; earth, like Toph, is stubborn and stands its ground. We learn about politics in the Fire Nation. We pick up the history of the previous avatars, and meet the last two to hold the title. And the Earth Kingdom’s capital city, Ba Sing Se, plays a major role in the second season – but as far as I remember, we first hear the name when it’s dropped into conversation. The show has a rich backstory, but we only learn about it when we need it.
When we talk about worldbuilding, it’s easy to assume we’re talking about something really heavy and excruciating. Blame it on Tolkien: ever since he gave Middle-Earth dynasties, legends, and even its own made-up languages, the bar has been set high for “lore.” I know that my own childhood experience of reading the first three pages of Silmarillion gave me the idea that your made-up little story is lightweight if you don’t have a linguist on staff.
At the same time, most of us like things simple. Your decision to make an investment in a game, book, comic, or what have you, depends on whether the first few minutes make you care. And Tolkien apparently got that, too; as my dad once put it, that’s why he has hobbits.
Avatar’s world is rich, but never complex – and that’s what I like about it. And here’s the thing: thinking about Avatar, or Star Wars, or a bunch of my other favorite works, has made me think that simple is good. Give me a world, but give me a good guy and a bad guy. Keep the details in a shoebox until I really need to see them. Don’t do what they did in Mass Effect, where you have some computer encyclopedia with tons of stuff from your story bible that you crammed in there because hey, maybe five different people will read it someday. Why would you ever make things so hard?
And then I remember The Wire.
Sometimes, you want a world that gives a meaningful backdrop to a long-running story. And sometimes, the world is the story. If you’ve ever watched HBO’s five-season masterpiece, you’re probably know it’s a little complicated. There are dozens of characters, all of them morally complex. You’ll have trouble picking out a “protagonist.” There are clear conflicts in the story, but no clear resolutions, which fits the show’s vision. The city is a broken system, and we see all the reasons that noone can fix it.
Fans of The Wire revel in its complexity, but it didn’t come from nowhere. David Simon and his team built on many other works – Simon’s reporting on both the police and the drug dealers led to two earlier books that both became TV shows, and seeing Homicide and reading The Corner prepared me for what he was doing in The Wire. The Wire just does it better, and does it all at the same time.
Even a casual viewer can latch onto all the familiar cops-and-criminals tropes. Both white and blue collar workers, no matter how boring their jobs are, will see their own frustrations reflected in the storylines. You don’t need hobbits here, because all adults can see themselves somewhere in this show.
But more than Avatar, we’re drawn in by the entire world that we’re given – a system where tiny details have big impact, where a chance encounter in one season can pay off in another, where characters from all walks of life have a chance to change each other, and only the audience and the author get to see the whole picture. We want all the things that are only possible in a world this big.
I could probably write 20,000 words on the show and about 20,000 other people already have. But I guess what I’m getting at is that The Wire‘s complexity works because The Wire is based on real life. A fantasy world could grow into something just as complicated, but to make people care, you’d have to throw in some hobbits. And even then, you’d risk ticking off your audience. Imagine if someone made up a world that was as frustrating as The Wire‘s. Wouldn’t you hate the writer of that show? You’d want to know why they were thwarting their characters, why they made a clear win impossible, and why they’re not seeing a shrink like right damn now. You’d start to wish there was a hero – a really straightforward one, like the Avatar and his gang. And it would baffle you why they couldn’t just go out and save the day already.
A list of put-downs of authors by other authors, compiled by Michelle Kerns, of examiner.com, is making the rounds again. The ones that leap out at me come from two notoriously haughty litterateurs.
Gore Vidal on John Updike (from 2008):
I can’t stand him. Nobody will think to ask because I’m supposedly jealous; but I out-sell him. I’m more popular than he is, and I don’t take him very seriously … oh, he comes on like the worker’s son, like a modern-day D.H. Lawrence, but he’s just another boring little middle-class boy hustling his way to the top if he can do it.
Ah, yes, America, that class-free society. I don’t recall Updike ever suggesting that he was the son of Pennsylvania coal-miners, but never mind that. On to a genuine aristocrat, if an exiled and inheritance-free one, rather than an untitled American blueblood: Nabokov. Here is the author of “Lolita” on the author of “The Sun Also Rises” …
The Third Edition is a mutation. It is weightless, taking its shape in the digital realm. To keyboard it, Oxford hired a team of 150 typists in Florida for 18 months. (That was before the verb keyboard had even found its way in, as Simpson points out; not to mention the verb outsource.) No one can say for sure whether OED3 will ever be published in paper and ink. By the point of decision, not before 20 years or so from now, it will have doubled in size yet again. In the meantime, it is materializing before the world’s eyes, bit by bit, on line. It is a thoroughgoing revision of the entire text, expected to cost around $55 million, involving a permanent staff of 70 plus hundreds of freelancers, consultants, and volunteers in Oxford and around the world. Whereas the Second Edition just added new words and new usages to the original entries, the current project is researching and revising from scratch-preserving the history, but aiming at a more coherent whole.
The new Oxford English Dictionary, currently 28% completed, is expected to be done in approximately ten years. There’s been a bit of hubub in the news lately because when asked if they’re going to publish the newest version on paper, the response was “I don’t think so.” which was clarified with a statement saying that the completion was still a decade off and “a decision on format will be taken at that point.” Makes sense right? I’d love an OED that was keyword searchable even though I will always have fond feelings for the 20 volume set that I rescued from a dumpster [discarded because it could not be sold, thank you my unnamed librarian accomplice!]. In the short-but-growing discussion on MetaFilter, someone mentions that what are really precious are the original plates used to print the first edition. Simon Winchester tells a story about those plates in an Author’s Note to his book The Professor and the Madman. I am personally more interested in the Vault of Failed Words.
In a World Affairs piece that I linked to last fall, the linguist John McWhorter made the now-standard case against the idea that language shapes culture (famously promulgated by Benjamin Lee Whorf, circa 1940):
For the better part of a century, all attempts to conjure any meaningful indication of thought patterns or cultural outlook from the vocabularies and grammars of languages has fallen apart … with researchers picking up only a few isolated shards of evidence. For example, because “table” has feminine gender in Spanish (la mesa), a Spanish speaker is more likely–if pressed–to imagine a cartoon table having a high voice. But this isnt exactly what most of us would think of as meaningfully “cultural,” nor as having to do with “thought.” And in fact, Spanish speakers do not go about routinely imagining tables as cooing in feminine tones.
Thus the oft-heard claim that the death of a language means the death of a culture puts the cart before the horse.
But the New York Times magazine yesterday published an excerpt from “Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages,” by Guy Deutscher, an honorary research fellow at the School of Languages, Linguistics and Cultures at the University of Manchester. His central counterexample is Guugu Yimithirra, a “remote Australian aboriginal tongue” whose speakers orient themselves in the world through constant references to North, South, East, and West, for example, rather than “right,” “left,” and other so-called egocentric directions.
When a speaker of Guugu Yimithirra points at himself, he typically doesn’t mean “me.” He means “the direction on the compass in which I am pointing.” This need to constantly keep in mind one’s relationship to geography, it is argued, has subtle effects on how one sees the world. It’s a completely fascinating read, and I will be curious to see the responses from linguists and psychologists. (Mark Liberman, of Language Log, promises to discuss it soon–but first catches up with a related piece in the Wall Street Journal. He sounds quite skeptical of neo-Whorfism.)
As consumers begin to recognize the privacy dangers inherent in social networks like Facebook, some of them are deciding to delete their accounts. It makes intuitive sense, but it’s a bad idea, says Jason Burns, a tech-blogger and Microsoft employee, who posts at philoking.com. Doing so, Burns writes, “is at best a way to give someone a free pass to impersonate you and at worst giving someone a ticket to try to attack all of your friends.”
That’s because some time after you delete your account the user name becomes available again. Hackers may take note and sign up under your name, which in turn gives them cover to approach people inclined to take your name as a badge of trustworthiness.
So what’s the alternative?
[J]ust blank out all of the personal identifying information (PII) on the account and leave it active. If you didnt care enough to delete it, you shouldnt care if it’s still out there and full of junk info.
If the site wont allow you to empty it, just fill it with crap. Create a junk email address, change your primary to that, and fill it with made up information. Make up a name, etc.
The nice side effect is that if you ever decide you want that account back, you can just start using it again. No harm!
Ebooks aren’t just electronic books. They are a combination of certain file types, certain readers and certain software designed to keep people from migrating away from the approved file type and reader combinations. Confused? Jason Griffey explains.
Ladies and gentlemen, another candidate for the greatest song ever recorded: the Fall’s “Totally Wired,” released as a single August 30, 1980. Here’s a live performance from March 1981, if you’ll forgive the slight anachronism.
[The Sick Girls: A & J, pic by Push It]
Last I heard, the cost of living in Berlin was 1/4th that of New York City. Let’s think about that. You stop working in New York, buy a plane ticket, and can go there and stretch out your life for an entire season – spending roughly the equivalent of one NYC-month. True, the 1/4th thing was back when the euro was higher, but still…. Berlin exists as an alternate universe, where, despite the influx of cool tourists, the price of everything from coal-heated apartments to MDMA (so they tell me) remains very affordable. Plus it’s deliciously leafy and quiet and healthy, wide avenues and canals, if you want that. (Also: Turkish music! Let’s save that for another post.)
“Techno” famously rules within this alternate universe – one of my friends wakes up at 10am on Sundays to go dancing at one of those parties which hasn’t stopped since Friday night: she treats it as surreal morning exercise – so by playing crunked-up (non-techno) fantastic music and throwing a zuper party called Revolution no. 5 the Sick Girls are like rulers of an utopia moment within an alternate universe, which makes them superheros in our vaguely real world (and among its crowds of virtual doppelgängers). Which they are visiting tonight…
This is a roundabout way of saying: Jay-Oh, 1/2 of The Sick Girls, will be my special guest on today’s radio show. Berlin’s finest!
[Jay-Oh and someone's sneaker]
Jay-Oh will do a live mix and talk about Berlin’s musical climate, the upcoming Sick Girls compilation album, testosterone’s impact on club microgenres, promoting events versus producing beats, and, if we’re nice, we’ll get to hear some unreleased tunes from them…
Key Phrases: sick tricks, urban bass, scented revolution.
Note: the Sick Girl’s compilation will be released this fall on BBE Records, which is the same label putting out Fader coverboy Spoek Mathambo’s debut album. ‘Post-Apartheid post-hiphop posterboy’ Spoek will be my next WFMU guest, joining us live in-studio on September 13th.
- Toronto Star on dating/social sites that match by taste in books and the like. http://bit.ly/9ADO4a #
- Grumbler assesses NYT article claiming "social stigma" attached to reading books in public. http://bit.ly/cUZiir #
- Climb Inside Bookshelf Tower http://tumblr.com/xr4gn8y9n #
- Mushrooms + 40,000 Discarded Books = 1 Garden of Knowledge: http://tumblr.com/xr4gn2ydt (via @TreeHugger) #
- How To Turn Old Paperbacks into Custom Hardbacks http://tumblr.com/xr4gn2j7b #
- "50 Sad Chairs," cool-looking book. http://tumblr.com/xr4gk65xs #
- Science asserts that Greek statues were surprisingly tacky http://tumblr.com/xr4gk58m9 #
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This Saturday I went to my first Boston GameLoop, and I was one of 200 game nerds from Boston and beyond who spent all day at the Microsoft NERD Building, talking about games. I’ve been remiss about hanging out in the Boston scene – living in Portsmouth only puts me an hour away, but sometimes that’s enough. GameLoop made me realize just how incredible that scene is.
The big area companies like Irrational, Harmonix, and Demiurge were well represented – and so were hot indies like Dejobaan and Fire Hose. (Not to mention out of towners from No Fun Games, Shadegrown, and Haunted Temple.) I saw some folks from MIT’s Gambit program, and Boston’s storied history in text adventures (“INTERACTIVE FICTION!”) was well represented by Jason McIntosh and Andrew Plotkin, who led an impromptu training session in Inform7, a natural language authoring tool. And I met or ran into a bunch of awesome game journos and bloggers, including – and I’m really sorry to whoever I missed – Rob Zacny, J. P. Grant, Maddy Myers, Dan Bruno, Nicole Kline, and David Bolton. We had 200 really smart people, and all of them were up to something.
I’ll share a few notes on unconferences for anyone who’s never been to one. I knew that it’s an informal way to run a conference: people throw ideas on a whiteboard, and then you wheel out a second whiteboard where people vote on those ideas, and finally you move to a third, grid-lined whiteboard where you schedule the most popular sessions. Somebody steps up to moderate, and you’ve got a talk.
The sessions were usually either discussions or tutorials. I signed up to moderate a session on game journalism and game crit, but “moderate” is a loose word: I asked a few questions and tried to make sure people got a chance to speak, but generally, once the conversation gets rolling, it can go wherever the attendees want to take it.
We had a great, lively discussion, and I took away some takeaways to inform the loose community of “brainy” game bloggers – aka the brainysphere, and boy did that term get old as the hour went on. People agreed that there was smart writing about games on the ‘Net, but I heard from several people that it was hard to find. This is especially a problem for reviews: the classic format review is broken, because the write-up that appears the day the game launches is usually a simple consumer guide (“The graphics rate a 7, the gameplay rates an 8,” etc.) – but the terrific writing that comes afterwards, and that can show up a month after launch, has a harder time finding an audience. (For example, Michael Abbott’s terrific “I’m Your Huckleberry” post, which is a fascinating take on Red Dead Redemption but is not a review.) At the same time, I agree with Dan Bruno – it’s never been a better time to write about games, and nobody reported having a difficult time getting their work out there. Getting paid, of course, is another matter completely.
Anyway, that was one takeaway I can remember – if I find other write-ups I’ll link them here. And good news, I sold a bunch of copies of Kill Screen #1, and got some extremely kind feedback from people who had already seen it. K. Adam White even wore his KS t-shirt (and looked super-natty in it)!
The discussions were fascinating, even the ones I didn’t spend much time in. You’re expected to “vote with your feet,” and noone takes offense if you decide that a passionate discussion about prototyping in Unity isn’t your thing. Niche sessions were usually balanced out by more general ones, and there were a number of great tutorials: Jeff Ward gave a great introduction to XNA and the AngelXNA prototyping framework, and like I said, the Inform7 tutorial was fantastic. Even though Jason and Andrew said it was thrown together last minute (nobody really prepares their talks – it’s part of the genius of the thing), they did a great job of introducing the tool and walking us through a simple example, and Jason followed up later on Twitter with more links. An hour of that was just enough to get the gist of how the tool works and whether I’d want to learn more, and I’ve been to better-organized talks that weren’t as persuasive (or nearly as much fun).
I don’t know if the model would scale to a thousand participants; the scrum around the whiteboards might get a little intense. But for a small, superb crowd like this one, and under Darius’ and Scott’s impeccable and passionate leadership, it was perfect. GameLoop was a hit, and just as important, it was a great day for Boston – a town that’s been on-and-off as a games biz leader, but that’s proving itself a scene to be reckoned with.
I’ve been spending a lot of time digging up disco and electro records from India in the early 1980s. I was inspired by Ten Ragas to a Disco Beat– which I wrote about here and here — and figured that there must be a whole hidden cache of these records, a treasure trove of proto-techno sounds. The Charanjit Singh record, I argued, wasn’t a total anomaly; it was part of a zeitgeist. Disco was still a raging concern in India in the ’80s, long after it had peaked in popularity in the US and UK, and the idea of an acid house record coming out of India in ‘83 didn’t seem so far out of the question. So I set off trying to find that zeitgeist — a time in India when disco reigned supreme.
I found plenty of examples of rich, symphonic disco tunes from Bollywood in the early ’80s. Here’s one of my favorites in that vein, from a movie I’ve written about before — Disco Dancer (1982), a film that was campy to the extreme, with a plot that was utterly ridiculous even by Bollywood standards. The soundtrack included some sublime slabs of peak-time disco, including the hit song “Yaad Aa Raha Hai,” produced by Bollywood disco/funk legend Bappi Lahiri. A disco anthem for the ages, and one of the best songs Lahiri ever did. Check out how Mithun, the disco dancer, is rocking a blazin’ guitar solo with an electric guitar that isn’t even plugged in!
But I was more interested in finding more examples of minimalist disco, the sort of thing that, like Charanjit, was more on a techno wavelength. While nothing quite approached the techno tempo of Ten Ragas to a Disco Beat –- the tracks on that record clock in somewhere between 120 and 130 bpm — there were plenty of tunes from Bollywood in the early ‘80s that had a very futuristic electro feel to them. Here’s “Dil Lena Khel Hai Dildar Ka” by R.D. Burman, from the movie Zamane Ko Dikhana Hai (1981):
Here’s another song, “Poocho Na Yaar Kya Hua,” from the same movie. This is more of a conventional disco tune (complete with a light-up dancefloor and a Saturday Night Fever-inspired dance number), but there are a lot of interesting close-up shots of people jamming on synthesizers, including a shot of a woman making electronic sounds with a strange-looking synth, with a stack of vinyl and a turntable next to her:
Because of Bollywood’s surreal collision of influences, and preponderance of vocals, songs were rarely as ‘techno’ as they could potentially have been, even if they were pointing in a techno direction. The psychedelic grab-bag mentality of Bollywood film music reminds me of an article I wrote some years ago for the German magazine Groove on Yellow Magic Orchestra. When I interviewed Ryuichi Sakamoto, he told me that YMO was like a “bento box,” with a little bit of everything, while Kraftwerk was “conceptual, kind of theoretical, very focused”:
“Even in the beginning of that time when we were doing YMO, of course we knew Kraftwerk, and we thought their music was so German,” says Sakamoto. “It was conceptual, kind of theoretical, very focused, simple and minimal and strong. And even the timbre, the sound of their sense of sound, is German to us. It’s very strong and kind of heavy and solid. We wanted to make something very Japanese, in contrast. It’s a very good contrast, Kraftwerk and YMO. YMO had a mixture of everything–American music influence, European music influence, classical influence, pop–so many. It’s like a bento box. And we thought that was very Japanese.”
In 1981, Kraftwerk played two back-to-back concerts in one night in Bombay as part of the Computer World tour. The concept of Kraftwerk playing in India fascinated me. What was it like to be at that show? How easy was it to get a Kraftwerk record in India in 1981? In the memoir I Was A Robot, Kraftwerk’s erstwhile percussionist Wolfgang Flür recalls finding Kraftwerk bootleg cassettes in a market in Bombay in ‘81:
We found another shop that sold cassettes, and we even found some by Kraftwerk there. We couldn’t believe it. This was totally illegal, because our record company had no representation in India. There were no official imports at that time, either, so these were either bootlegged recordings or contraband, and apart from that the sound quality was miserable…
Even though it wasn’t so easy to come by Kraftwerk records in India, the two concerts in Bombay were well-attended. The shows took place at Shanmukhananda Hall, a venue best known for hosting marathon Indian classical music performances (Florian Schneider apparently stopped by one of these, and was mesmerized.) Flür remembered that the “audience was exclusively comprised of men…[at] the end of the performance, we walked off to thunderous applause. I hadn’t expected so much energy…” Kraftwerk didn’t play an encore in Bombay–they hopped on a plane back to Europe immediately following the concert–but Ralf Hütter apparently set the sequencer to run continuously during the last song of the set, “It’s More Fun to Compute,” and left it playing as they left the stage, to raucous applause.
1981 was also the year that the chart-topping album Disco Deewane, a collaboration between the late Pakistani pop singer Nazia Hassan and the Indian disco producer Biddu, was released. My favorite Nazia tune, though, which I linked to earlier, is “Boom Boom” (1982), with its sublime rip of the Moroder “I Feel Love” bassline and haunting vocals. Here it is again to refresh your memory:
There was a whole string of disco movies in Bollywood in the 1980s; several of them were directed by Babbar Subhash, the director of Disco Dancer. Here’s another disco movie, also starring Mithun Chakraborty, from 1984 — Kasam Paida Karne Wale Ki. The movie includes a heated disco dancing scene that takes place in a joint called “Studio 84.” Here’s the sign from the club in the movie, in case you don’t believe me. “Studio 84″ encapsulates the whole idea of disco in India in the ’80s, to me:
This is what it’s like inside of Studio 84:
Here’s the title track from the movie, another Bappi Lahiri production. Another disco anthem, but this one gets bogged down with too many flourishes. At 4:22 there’s a very techno-sounding interlude:
The movie also includes this out-and-out rip — er, homage — to Michael Jackson (for more on Michael Jackson and Bollywood, check out my essay in the book The Resistible Demise of Michael Jackson):
The blog Beat Electric points to a few more Indian disco tunes from the early ’80s worth listening to here. And here’s a Todd Terje re-edit of “Jimmy Jimmy Aja,” another song from 1982’s Disco Dancer which got a recent popularity boost from M.I.A., who did a pretty straight-up cover of the song a few years back.
8:12 PM Now he’s giving a speech. Somebody is crying in the audience. His speech is about how nice everyone on the show is. Good speech. Sincere. I am completely bored out of my mind. LIVEBLOGGING ENDS NOW.
8:11 PM Here comes “Mad Man” Jon Hamm and “Golden Girl” Betty White to present an award. Betty White is actively breaking my heart with her incessant sexual jokes. They’re presenting an award for “Best Actor on a Comedy.” Goddamn I haven’t seen a single one of these shows, ever. WINNER: Eric Stonespeak(?) from “Modern Family.”
8:10 PM Verdict: I need to watch more television so I understand its reality.
8:08 PM They’re gonna do a comedy retrospective about all the great comedy we saw on our TVs this year. Two fat schlubs accidentally touched their butts together; that got big laughs. Also, pratfalls and silly voices are making an appearance.
8:07 PM Jimmy Fallon is doing the Demetri Martin thing where you tell jokes and strum a guitar.
8:06 PM Now the Emmys are starting. The song is over. My verdict: I love Joe McHale(?), he’s totally cute. I also love the real Bruce Springsteen. Jimmy Fallon is hosting the awards. In case you didn’t know, Fallon got his start at Bananas Comedy Club on Route 9 in Poughkeepsie at the Best Western hotel, which I have been to.
8:02:30 PM Already bored at the Emmys!!! Time for my first break … see you when the awards actually start.
8:02 PM Okay, Betty White. Maybe it’s time to act dignified.
8:01 PM Okay, this is some kind of pre-taped comedy video short. I can’t liveblog this because I don’t know who all these people are.
8:00 PM The American Academy of Television Awards begins now!
It’s hard to believe that the summer is almost over.
A piece I wrote for Frieze on the intriguing videos of Oneohtrix Point Never.
In the August issue of The Wire there’s a piece by me on the tenth anniversary of the Detroit electronic music festival.
Writing a lot; thinking a lot. Stay tuned for: A review of the Brion Gysin exhibition at the New Museum of Contemporary Art for The Wire, an essay about a new John Zorn-edited anthology on music and mysticism for Rhizome, some features and reviews for FACT, features on Type Records and the Sonar festival in Chicago for the Spanish magazine Playground, a curated “box” on the history of house music for Sound and Music, a new essay for Loops, book reviews for Bookforum and Current Musicology, and some other stuff I can’t remember off the top of my head.
'Unboxing' is a viral marketing genre in which technology fans are shown taking products out of their packaging, commenting on each component as they go. There are thousands of 'unboxing' videos on youtube – all illustrating a strange cocktail of themes: the fetishism of unwrapping, the complex ethics of the gift, and the procured immediacy of the 'raw reaction'.
We’re in DC with my family and while our children nap I’ve been reading this good anthology of “experimental”/ disjunctive UK women poets, edited by the US-to-UK transplant poet Carrie Etter, and also reading this very good anthology of UK and US poets invited to Oxford by Christopher Ricks. They are thesis and antithesis, or avant-garde and retro, or something. I’ll have more to say about the apparent opposition between them elsewhere soon, with any luck.
If you are stuck somewhere with no book, but with your iPhone, do check out the Poetry Foundation iPhone app: shake it and you get a random poem; shake it again if you don’t like the poem you get the first time. It’s like a Magic Eight Ball that is also a rather good poetry anthology; if I’m not careful it’s going to cause me (and not only me) to hold up all sorts of long
queues checkout lines.
Zounds’ “War”/”Subvert”/”Can’t Cheat Karma” single came out August 29, 1980. Here are all three songs.
The Swinging Cats’ “Away”/”Mantovani” single came out August 29, 1980. Here’s footage of them performing “Away” around that time. Curious!
Linking the iEverything phenomenon to LOHAS (Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability) here's a packaging innovation already adopted by Coca Cola in Japan. This is said to use 40% less plastic than other PET bottles. The iLOHAS bottle, brought to us by japantrends.com
Glaxo Babies’ Put Me on the Guest List LP came out August 29, 1980. Here’s “She Went to Pieces” from it.
Okay, tomorrow night I will liveblog the American Television Awards, aka the Emmys. I will start whenever the show starts — unless I get inspired and decide to liveblog the red carpet entrances. (You know I love my favorite brands!!!)
One of the librarians showed me the secret room in the library if I’d write something about it. There is a secret room in the ceiling of VTC’s Hartness Library. You turn a key in a keyhole in a brick wall and a staircase descends from the ceiling with a great rumbling. Climing the stairs gets you into a disused room that used to be the bindery area but is now just used for storing shelves and old Eames chairs. It’s an odd and noisy room since it’s right next to the room where all the HVAC equipment is. They don’t use the room anymore because of ADA requirements and because it’s darned complicated to get into and out of when the library is open. I’ll add this freaky little room to my list of library attics and basements that I’ve been compiling. Places that don’t have elevators, places that are inaccessible or otherwise tough to get into. Thanks, Ben, for showing me another one. Here’s the list I can put together off the top of my head so far.
- Entering the sub-basement at Colorado College.
- Rubber stamps in the University of Alabama library basement (there was also a printing press)
- The stairs to the room upstairs from the Bradford (VT) library
- The Calef Library basement in Washington Vermont
- Old card catalogs at the Library of Congress
- Not quite on topic but the secret door [art piece, not functional to go someplace secret] at the San Jose State library is pretty nifty.
And speaking of power-pop, the Buzzcocks’ “Why She’s a Girl from the Chainstore” single also came out August 28, 1980. Here’s the original promo video. Steve Diggle A-side! That’s rare.
The feeling of understimulation drove me to begin (but not [yet] to finish, as neither quite struck my fancy, though the Delany is surprisingly page-turnery and the Home is, bizarrely, a book that seems to have been written exactly for someone with my reading history!) the two novels hanging around that seemed most likely to tickle the brain follicles, Samuel R. Delany's Dhalgren and Stewart Home's 69 Things To Do With a Dead Princess.
Polished off Lynda LaPlante's Clean Cut, which seemed to me better than the last mystery of hers I read, but had to chunk across the room in disgust the Royal Flush - Sleeping Cruelty omnibus due to utter unreadable trashiness.
Read Robert Harris's Pompeii during a couple hours of downtime on Wednesday afternoon, found it really rather good - it is a simple book, simpler I think than the Cicero series, but Harris really has the gift of storytelling and bestsellery pacing, something I admire and envy.
Finished Ambler and a couple other things that were hanging around, plus the Tristram Shandy reread (it is not truly a funny book, but Sterne is an interesting recapitulator and innovator); also dipping into Temple Grandin's book on animals and Scott McCloud's truly excellent Understanding Comics, about which more anon.
Will shortly head over to the Humane Society Book Loft to offload some of these volumes and see if I can pick out some good new ones.
XTC’s “Generals and Majors” single came out August 28, 1980. Here’s the original promo video.
I didn’t realize until I began writing this up, but this is my second Michelle Orange link of the week–this time, to her blog, Fade to Orange: Essays and Overflow.
Orange recently compared the versions of the essays that David Foster Wallace published in “Consider the Lobster” to their originals, published in an array of newspapers and magazines. She writes:
Often with essays that have a first publication you make concessions–you cave, you compromise–ceding to a house style or an editor’s whim. A book is a chance to avenge the little injustices, it’s true, but its perhaps more true that writers are never really done fiddling with their sentences.
She thumbed through the collection and the originals, looking for every discrepancy. In some cases, Wallace seems to have disliked the most minor of changes to his syntax. (I subscribe to the he-was-undoing-edits theory. The case study is a scathing review Wallace wrote for the New York Observer of John Updike’s “Toward the End of Time.”)
Observer: “Its that he persists in the bizarre adolescent idea that getting to have sex with whomever one wants whenever one wants is a cure for ontological despair.”
Lobster: “Its that he persists in the bizarre, adolescent belief that getting to have sex with whomever one wants whenever one wants to is a cure for human despair.
He also repeatedly brings some of his murdered darlings back to life–phrases excised (I assume) by a space-conscious editor:
Observer: “The books postmillennial elements are sometimes cool, and they truly would represent an interesting departure for Mr. Updike if they werent all so sketchy and tangential.”
Lobster: “The novels futuristic elements are sometimes cool, and verily they would represent an ambitious departure for Mr. Updike if they werent all so sketchy and tangential, mostly tossed off as subordinate clauses in the narrators endless descriptions of every tree, plant, flower, and shrub around his home.”
Somewhere in these changes, Orange concludes, “there is genius–not necessarily in the change itself but in the compulsive, unyielding scrutiny …” And she has many more examples.
Is any dad really ready for the day that he lets his kid watch The Phantom Menace? I should include the moms too, but I’m blinkered here: my wife has no horse in this race. She didn’t grow up with the Star Wars movies, while I watched the first one when it came out, when I was four. I grew up playing with Star Wars toys and cobbling them together into whole new universes; she was into horses. From the day my son was born I was waiting for the chance to show him the movies, and the plan was to raise him “original trilogy”: no clone troopers. No Jar-Jar. No l’il Anakin. Just the first three movies the way God intended them.
The thing is, kids hear things. They meet a kid at Flatbread Pizza who’s holding a Dorling Kindersely book filled with images of strange-looking space ships and Jedi. Who is this Darth Maul? Who’s that little blond kid flying a space ship? Wait, C3-PO looks weird. Dad, what’s going on here?
I probably don’t have to walk you through my position on the old movies versus the new. Red Letter Media took apart The Phantom Menace more painfully than I could. I’ve watched his YouTube review of that film a couple dozen times. I just like listening to the truth of it. Plus, it’s a fantastic course in the principals of storytelling. I honestly think he’s our era’s Syd Fields.
But I digress. I couldn’t show my kid the Red Letter Media review, on account of all the cussing. And to my opinion – my hard-won judgment – doesn’t matter to my son. So about a month ago, I just gave in and let him watch The Phantom Menace. I didn’t tell him much about it, except that it totally, completely sucked. Aside from that, I was ready to let him make up his own mind.
I don’t think it’s bad to feel possessive of the world of Star Wars, because more than any other great world I can think of, it depends on the imagination of the viewer. That’s why we love it so much. When I was four and saw that movie, it lit up my make-believe center. This was space and this was adventure and this was everything you could dream of. The three movies were not enough to hold our imaginations, and that was the point. The less you know about this world, the better. The stories and the effects and the vehicles and the weird alien bounty hunters that you see for three seconds are all a starting point. And then you buy a toy, and you make up the backstories, and then you make up your own stories. Or you just sit and dream about it all.
And so my complaint about The Phantom Menace, in one sentence or less, and excluding the fact that it totally sucks, is simply that they tried to tell us too much about that world without giving us anything new to dream about. Trade treaties? Senates? Come on – nobody cares about the plumbing in this place. We don’t need to know how anything works.
So I watched it with my kid. He realized, all on his own, that Jar-Jar was a mistake. He also thought Darth Maul was badass. He agreed that the scenes in the Senate were “like Meet the Press,” which is our family standard for dull. But he liked the droids and the vehicles and the shootouts.
And there’s one part he really, really liked, and that cemented in his mind that The Phantom Menace was his new favorite film: he loved the part where Anakin Skywalker jumps in a space ship, and just happens to take off, and just happens to fly to the droid control space station, and just happens to make a lucky shot and blow the whole thing up from the inside.
To an adult, the whole sequence is disgustingly dumb. Why did they leave Anakin in a space ship? Why didn’t anyone hide the keys? How did he make the lucky shot that turned the tide of the war? And who leaves a reactor sitting in their hangar, anyway?
But my kid loved it. Because a little blond kid just like him was flying around in a space ship and blowing the hell out of everything.
So, I get it. We’re not so far apart. He saw in that movie exactly what I saw in the first ones, when I was his age. And unlike me, he didn’t let the chaff – the backstory, the distractions, all that boring extraneous info – ruin the dream.
Depression is a disease of loneliness, and the privacy of a depressed person is not a dignity; it is a prison. Therapists can be perilously naïve about this. Marcello and all of us who loved Terry were locked out by the same privacy that kept him locked in. Privacy is a fashionable value in the twenty-first century, an overrated and often destructive one; it was Terry’s gravest misfortune. The unknowable in him, which I thought was just a kind of static, was actually his heart.