Monday, November 29, 2004

Graphic design's loss.

Also dead: designer Gene Grief. He was responsible for the album cover for The Clash's Give 'Em Enough Rope, which the NYTimes obit makes out to be a turning point in punk graphics, favoring found art. I had always thought that The Vibrators' Pure Mania had more to do with this look, but in the end what difference does it make? We'll give it to Grief, as he's gone, and The Vibrators, astonishingly, are still vibrating.

Publishing's loss.

Legendary editor Cork Smith died. I've worked in book publishing in New York since 1991, and though I didn't know who he was at the time, it turns out he embodied the role of gentleman editor better than even my feeble imagination could envision. The notion of people like Smith, and the distant likelihood of working with such people, kept me in the industry long after any lingering literary dreams went up in a foul-smelling smoke, the source of which might well have been pulped reference books being torched by the ton. Smith acquired and edited Thomas Pynchon's first two books -- and acquired but left before editing Gravity's Rainbow -- and then look what happened -- which puts him in the pantheon as far as I'm concerned. I later worked for someone who worked for him, and by her accounts he was as swell a guy as this obit makes out.

Monday, November 22, 2004

"It's entertainment versus politics."

Oh. Since we blue-staters got licked in the political arena, the NYTimes appears to be jonesing for a fight on the entertainment side, wagging a limp finger in the general direction of "value voters" who seemingly enjoy sex on TV. I can just imagine their shame. The undercurrent of moral supriority --- it reads as just a cut above "nyah, nyah" --- here and in Sunday's cultural map [linked to on the page above] that outs Playboy readers in Iowa and Wyoming reminds me all too well of my days as a grudge-bearing high school yearbook editor. "Cheerleaders talk about themselves," indeed.

Anyway, entertainment won, McPherson. Relax already.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Louder than Cats.

The Smiths may soon get the Mamma Mia! treatment, as a musical is in the works based on their oeuvre, with plans to feature more than 20 rearranged Smiths songs. Given the number of kids who, like me, found The Smiths in high school and also did musical theatre in high school, this was perhaps inevitable.

Starring William, as the Boy with a Thorn in His Side. Will must steer clear of the Vicar in a Tutu, as he desperately attempts to get some "hand in glove" behind the fountain. Act I closes with a soaring rendition of "How Soon Is Now?" sung by Kristin Chenoweth.

Destination: Out!!!

Dropped my book proposal off at my agent's office on 57th Street on Monday. It felt like an accomplishment, even if all we've done on it recently is tweak tiny little editorial inconsistencies. And surreptitiously make a dozen copies at work. A handful of editors around town will probably get the thing next week, or just after the holiday. It all feels somewhat anticlimactic --- or like some slow motion handoff: nothing to do now but wait until the play develops. Or doesn't.

The book, for now called Destination: Out!!! after a Jackie McLean Blue Note, is an introduction to free jazz, focusing mostly on great recordings from the late 1950s to now. Here's a teaser from the proposal:

Welcome to the world of free jazz—a place of outsize personalities, outrageous stories, and uncompromising music. Here you’ll meet the performer who plays so hard that keys fly off the piano. The bandleader who claimed to be from Saturn and outfitted his twenty-piece orchestra in space gear--—and sustained the enterprise for over thirty years. The saxophonist whose ragtag gospel marches were cited by Paul McCartney as a major influence on Sgt. Pepper’s. The world traveler who found a common ground between the music of Marrakech and Brooklyn. The pianist who created spectacular glissandi by dragging his knuckles across the keyboard, playing until his hands bled. The sax player whose ear-shattering shows often ended in fist fights with the audience. The electronic noise pioneer who later found success as the composer of the “Taxi” theme song. The avant gardist whose recital moved President Jimmy Carter to tears at a White House Jazz Festival. The musician many believe was killed by the CIA. The group that dons tribal gear and doctor’s lab coats, performing music that swings between vaudeville and African chants. And the free jazz legend whose music touched so many lives that a church was founded in his name and uses his music as liturgy.

Hope that appeals to someone. This music gets some decent coverage in the major jazz record guide, from Penguin, but generally is given pretty short shrift. As noted previously, we're trying to find a free jazz-friendly celeb to pen a foreword, try to up our profile. Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth fame will probably get the proposal I sent him (by request) on Monday. Here's hoping. He's already proved to be a huge supporter of the music, having assembled and written for a Jazz Actuel mini box set.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Haven't the kids suffered enough? dept.

Book deals of limited interest dept.

Rock journalist Lonn Friend's ROCK A MILE: Adventures and Observations of a Music Journalist, a narrative journey about his relationships with Aerosmith, Guns N Roses, Roger Daltry, Elvis Costello, Bon Jovi, Soundgarden, Metallica, Alice Cooper, The Eagles, Brian Wilson, and more, sharing revealing mind-warping and decadent moments witnessed from his particular POV, was sold to Morgan Road Books.

For all those Metallica/Eagles/Beach Boys fans. Not sure how an A&R guy at Arista qualifies as a rock journalist, but I guess it doesn't really matter. Also not sure how it could be told with any other POV than his, in particular.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Here I sit so patiently waiting to find out what price you have to pay to get out of going through all these things twice.

Dylan being appropriate without even trying. All too appropriate to this political season. As are these lines that practically screamed off the pages of Chronicles, volume one, as he talks about reading Clausewitz:

When he claims that politics has taken the place of morality and politcs is brute force, he's not playing. You have to believe it. You do exactly as you're told, whoever you are. Knuckle under or you're dead. Don't give me any of that jazz about hope or nonsense about righteousness. Don't give me that dance that God is with us, or that God supports us. Let's get down to brass tacks. There isn't any moral order. You can forget that. Morality has nothing in common with politics.

I added the italics, but damn if he isn't writing protest songs again. The book in question is from 1832, but it just as well could've been written before the Flood.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

A large vanity should be no problem, Ms. Aguilera.

WFMU's newsletter [sign up for it yourself here] highlights "sites for sore eyes," among them The Smoking Gun's new, expanded collection of backstage riders: contractual language that governs every conceivable detail concerning an artist's backstage experience, from homemade soup [Bruce] to Planters Fancy Cashews [the Nuge].

Did he just say "cross-promotional recontextualization?"

Thought so. Sorry about that Xgau story, to which I linked before I thinked. Next time I read through before making with the hypertext. There are nuggests of critical thinking in there, but somewhere around "the proper study of discourse is other discourse" I began to experience the sweaty palms and "phantom turtleneck itch" that suggest the onset of a semiotics flashback. You were in college in 1989, too? Gotta figure Christgau's deanship comes with tenure, or there's no way he makes it beyond "functional pop that fetishizes its own status as aural construct." Alright, Baudrillard in the house.

Here, to make amends, one of my all-time favorite bits of rock crit. Hoary? You bet. Relevant? I bet.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Deja vu.

Further to the rockism conblogfab sparked by Kelefa Sanneh's NYTimes article (link expired, but excerpted at Gerard Cosloy's blog), historically minded readers may wish to avail themselves of this long article, c. 1990, in which Dean Christgau chases down the Rock(ism) in a decade summary that he might've thought would've been the last 6,000 words on the subject. But no.

That the word rockism makes my skin crawl and my head hurt and the backs of my eyelids suddenly interesting makes me realize that I was never cut out to be a true music critic --- and there are tens of dead links in cyberspace that, were they available, would attest to this as well. (Not that this is stopping me from trying to write a book about music. More on that later.)

Ev'rybody's losing.

The Sonics ... THE SONICS. Heard my beloved Sonics singing "Have Love, Will Travel" in support of a Range Rover ad on television last night. This is an old story (see also Zep, Stones, Iggy, Modest Mouse, Nick Drake, etc., etc., and, inescabably, U2), but it hurt, more than most. Part of it is probably rock snobbery -- the admen found my guys and put 'em on tv -- but some of it is due to context. The Nick Drake/Volkswagon ad seemed an equal pairing, showcasing the song as much as the car; both parties got something out of the deal, which probably explains why a Nick Drake moment followed. In the U2/iPod ad, as has been noted elsewhere, it's hard to know what's being shilled the hardest. With the Range Rover ad, the song is just a token bit of "found rock," some background noise to soundtrack the rough riding on the screen. I suppose I could be happy for the possibility of more people sharing my Sonics love, and I don't fault any group for trying to make some extra cash off their creativity, but this ad is so much more about the car it turns something that has given me immense pleasure, something that has filled otherwise moribund rooms with a massive and joyous WHOMP, into wallpaper.

And for the love of Ford, why not go with the full-on car song, "Boss Hoss?"

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

The crying of Ned Beatty.

Love this tidbit at Maud Newton's blog today, where she discusses yesterday's Laurie Anderson concert in Seattle:

During the show, Anderson reportedly mentioned that her plan to write an opera based on Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity's Rainbow “was nipped in the bud when he stipulated that the orchestra must be comprised only of banjos.”

True or not -- well, it should be true. JJ and I, through some friendly intermediaries, got a copy of our proposal to Pynchon; we wanted to ask him to write a forward. Odds: slim to none. Response: none. Overall feeling of tagential connection to literary greatness? Not so much. Next up: Thurston Moore, the Pynchon of alt-rock, given the difficulty we've had tracking down contact information for the guy.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Greil Marcus' imagination, dead at 64.

Marcus imagines a future GWB obit, which adds little to the post-election mood except a healthy dose of bad taste. But the kicker comes right after the article ends:

Greil Marcus is with Sean Wilentz co-editor of just published The Rose & the Briar: Death, Love and Liberty in the American Ballad (Norton); his book Like a Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan at the Crossroads will be published next May by PublicAffairs. He is working on a book about prophecy and American identity.

Which is to say, he's republishing the same book three times. And this book has already been published, first as Invisible Republic and later as That Old, Weird America.

"This is very, very synth-duoist."

Michaelangelo Matos argues strenuously and at great length for something that affects three of his friends and someone he doesn't get along with that well, but who voted along the same lines in the last Voice poll. [Thanks, JJ]

I'm on the list.

Sunday's Washington Post [reg. req.] has an unfortunately tedious overview of bestseller lists, revealing again that they're hardly the accurate barometers of book sales that most of us presume. That making a list is so important to authors and publishers only reinforces the need for a variety of lists using a variety of investigative methods. Though bestseller status may only influence a small fraction of book-buying decisions (from the consumer's point of view), it also effects where huge chunks of cash go (from the publishers' and agents' points of view) for subsequent books and marketing.

Friday, November 05, 2004

One man designs while the other man screams.

Solidly enjoyable and admirably eclectic music 'zine Perfect Sound Forever has moved to a new, dedicated site address; dropped the old, unslick but workable design; made most of their back catalog unavailable; and in the process have become completely irrelevant. They appear to have incorporated some kind of post-Pitchfork scheme that favors crampiness over ease-of-use, or, you know, readability. They're also rather optimistic on the ad front, based on the number of "your ad here" boxes on the front page, and while I wish them well, the utter lack of takers might be cause to at least scale back the operation for the time being. Or fake it. I'd link to one of the new stories, but it's so hard going I'm not able to venture deep enough to know if they're worth reading. The serif: check it out, guys. Please.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Pogo: right again.

Garry Wills boils the election down to Karl Rove delivering the fundamentalist vote, which to me is an oversimplification, but certainly part of it. I will listen to Garry Wills on religion and American history. The lines that really make me queasy:

"The secular states of modern Europe do not understand the fundamentalism of the American electorate. It is not what they had experienced from this country in the past. In fact, we now resemble those nations less than we do our putative enemies."
Aiieee. We are becoming THEM. There are things our supremely tolerant nation will not tolerate, and that's other people's intolerance. Largely because tolerance, at home, is in practice such a bitch. But the real drag is not that Bush is back (bad enough), but the sad realization that he is merely a representation of what a majority of Americans want. (Or as Sasha Frere-Jones put it: People want THE EVIL, and they want it MORE than they did last time.) The notion of an American political process devoid of religion now seems hopelessly lost, and while I still believe money is the root of the issue, religion makes a nice cover story to roust the faithful from their hovels. And faith is what it's all about.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

I'm losing my edge ... to the middle-aged.

Simon Reynolds catches up with the two guys behind DFA Records. Britney Spears apparently got together with the DFA crew one afternoon to try to make some magic. Not surprisingly, nothing resulted, owing to a complete lack of shared musical touchstones, and for all I know there was equivalent lack on both sides. But I'm left wondering just how the producers at this tiny label came to Britney's attention. Was it the afternoons she spent listening in at fmu and digging lcd soundsystem? Or does her entourage include cool-seekers who probe the underbrush looking for the next flavor before it reaches full tanginess?

Also, did it really take a moment of full-on Ecstasy bliss to recognize that "Loose" by the Stooges would get the kids up and jumping? I could help you out there, Murph, without the hypotension. Of course, Reynolds has his own feelings about the drug, so there may have been a leading question or two involved. But, given that I can't even drink anymore, it's also possible that I'm just bitter.

Other Voices, Other Rooms

I like how this guy folds his political commentary into his usual arts coverage schtick. I'm not sure if the blogopshere took it on the chin last night or not, but at the least I appreciate a persistent perspective. Teachout didn't run out and get a new soapbox just for this November occasion.

I also value the pre-election level-headedness of
this guy, who despite lacking the consistency of TT, does his part to head off any unseemly hand-wringing.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Why Not Us?

This is writing practice, no more, no less. Lurking around all kinds of wonderful blogs -- listed to the side -- lo these many months of 2004 makes me feel enthused to add my voice but suspect that I'll have anything to add to the existing dialogue. Every relevant/odd/kinky/sassy article/review/op-ed/freakscene gets amply linked and given the once-over. But with the country suspended in electoral limbo right now, all eyes comfortably glued to whatever screen glows brightest, it's high time to get some words down for my own sake. No readers presumed. Focus, if any, will be on my efforts to get a nonfiction book sold. Just met with my agent this afternoon, who had constructive and not terribly involved notes on the current proposal. Coauthor JJ and I should be able to turn this sucker around in a week's time easy, and then out the door with the thing. Let the rejection letters begin! Or worse still: pure silence, the editorial void. But first, here's hoping the country sidesteps its own abyss. Go John-John.