Monday, February 27, 2006

Charlotte, are you in the house?

If you're feeling like doing the bugging out thing
Just wanted to quickly note, for our North Carolinian readers, that none other than CJC, my co-proprietor in this effort, has put together a stirring string of African-American films for the inaugural NoDa Film Festival, the web site for which is here. The fest began yesterday, and runs through tomorrow, so run don't walk. But leave your wallet at home: movies are FREE. Remaining on the schedule:
Monday, Feb. 27
(Great Black Directors)
7pm: To Sleep With Anger (1990)
9pm: Do the Right Thing (1989)
Tuesday, Feb. 28
(One-Time Indie Wonders)
7pm: Daughters of the Dust (1991)
9pm: Chameleon Street (1991)
Films will be shown at the Neighborhood Theatre, 511 E. 36th St.
Details: 704-608-9146

Creative Loafing, Charlotte stylee, gives some background dope.

Yes, I really thought it was good.

Outside the strict jurisdiciton of this blog, but wonderful nonetheless: The Guardian's collection of personal stories about the redoubtable Samuel Beckett on the centennary of his birth. Some priceless bits from far-and-wide, but none more touching than this from Paul Auster that helps to humanise the rather intimidating Mr. B:

During the conversation, he told me that he had just finished translating Mercier and Camier, his first French novel, which had been written in the mid-forties. I had read the book in French and had liked it very much. 'A wonderful book,' I said. I was just a kid, after all, and I couldn't suppress my enthusiasm. But Beckett shook his head and said, 'Oh no, no, not very good. In fact, I've cut out about 25 per cent of the original. The English version is going to be quite a bit shorter than the French.' After that we started talking about other things. Then, out of the blue, five or 10 minutes later, he leant across the table and said, 'You really liked it, huh? You really thought it was good?' This was Samuel Beckett, remember, and not even he had any grasp of the value of his work. No writer ever knows, not even the best ones. 'Yes,' I said to him. 'I really thought it was good.'

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Fear of (less) music.

A few quick thoughts re: The Good Prof's insightful "Ways of Hearing" post and the rather curmudgeonly comments they inspired. Seems to me that the main victim in terms of so much music being so easily available for free is that we gain a superficial knowledge about a ton of different artists but don't delve deeply - and form that crucial emotional bond - with much of anything. As a result, we think that no music out there is really exciting us and hey, aren't we in a position to know since we're sampling so much of it? But really we're victims of own exhaustion without realizing it. Or maybe that's just me.

The best albums and music often require that you sit with them for a while. Many of my all-time faves took many spins and exposure in a variety of contexts before they clicked. But I stuck with them because I had already invested the cash and wanted to see if I could fan the flicker of interest they inspired into something more sustaining. Sly's "There's A Riot Going On," Pere Ubu's "Dub Housing," Tricky's "Maxinquay," DJ Shadow's "Entroducing," Miles Davis' "Nefretiti," even George Jones "Greatest Hits" all took real effort for me to crack, but now I can't imagine my life without them. I'm sure everyone has their own list. The effort was a big part of the payoff, etcetera. But today when I come across something new, even a reissue that I've coveted for years, I'm tempted just to right-click, add it to a playlist, listen a few times, then file it away and quickly move onto the next. Pere Ubu - Check. DJ Shadow - Got It. Arctic Monkeys - Sure. Now what else you got for me?

Borges talks about how much more we would know if we only read one book - but really knew it inside and out - instead of ingesting an entire library. And there's much truth to that. There's a real hollowness to the rapid ingestion of music that the web inspires. And music blogs tend to exacerbate this feeling. Everyone's looking for the next thing and burning through so much music - much of it often before it's even officially released - that the thing itself seems D.O.A. by the time it hits the shelves. All the excitement and mystery drained from it. Or else we feel like everyone else has already had our reactions for us and what else could we possibly add to the conversation? (Quick fr'instance: the new Destroyer).

Now The Prof talks about how his edge is so dull, but I'd wager that part of his (and certainly my) obssessive reading of music blogs is because he's still trying to keep up! We want to know what's the hippest new shit even if we don't get to hear it because at least then we're participating to some degree. We can't stand the idea of being left behind. Even as we feel ourselves becoming more and more alienated from the music itself.

Time spent reading music blogs = less time spent actually listening to music. Especially for those of us who are juggling precious little free time in terms of job, family, and social life. There are some obvious answers to this situation, but they seem a bit specious coming from a music blog. Perhaps some practical solutions to follow at a later date. Comments welcome.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Ways of hearing.

Perhaps you’ve heard about this report, which links ease of access to web-based motherlodes of music to listener apathy, and a devaluing of music in general. I’d link to the many blogs that have taken this up, but for this post, anyway, will refrain, because such links can be, for me, part of the problem.

Which isn’t the overwhelming availability of (free) music, but the time-sucking, addictive, overwhelming presence of recommendations for new music. I’ve turned into a pathetic consumer of music journalism; I’ve fallen down the blog-hole. Where ten years ago I might’ve got my music news from a handful of friends, the Village Voice, the radio, and the occasional Spin or Pulse, I can now read the sometimes daily piquant assessments of an army of talented, opinionated writers (an uncommonly well-selected assemblage is here for your browsing pleasure), from Canadian Carl Wilson to Oregonian Mike McGonigal to the ILX kids. I’m a music-porn addict.

I fetishize the information. My edge was lost so long ago I can’t cut cream cheese. And yet it’s all I can do to keep up with that never-ending tunnel of insidery music news that feels like connection and only later reveals itself, in the form of a vast empty feeling, as a waste of time. I’m collecting unpackaged, hand-lettered CD-Rs at a rate whereby the technology will be rendered obsolete by the time I absorb each disk. All based on solid information, mind you.

The upside, of course, is awareness of and access to a host of fantastic sounds I wouldn’t otherwise have encountered. No quibble there. The downside—and this extends beyond music—is nothing more that the loss of time, and serendipity, and a dangerously outgunned aesthetic sense. This is where the devaluing comes in, not from unfettered access to music, but the avalanche of copy that carries this music into the world. The same press release fatigue that must sap the enthusiasm of all but the hardiest journalists now creeps its way into the hearts of lowly bloggers.

Not that I blame the avalanche. It’s my choice to be buried. And maybe this is how the organism survives: only those able to maintain limits, deeply held loves and hates, equilibrium on the sea of words, lives to enthuse about the next big thing. I’m reminded of someone’s recent call to celebrate one’s inner nerd, the tastemaker in the machine, the one that pays no heed to hipsterism, lastest-thingism, or even the NME. This is the struggle, one of the largest there is: with all-access passes to every gig going, what show do you catch? What’s your time worth? What do you like?

(No, not you; that guy next to you. With the Rvng pin.)

Lines discovered this morning at 5am while experiencing unusually strong gastric distress, from John Berger (the lines, not the distress): Publicity is the life of this culture—in so far as without publicity capitalism could not survive—and at the same time publicity is its dream. ¶Capitalism survives by forcing the majority, whom it exploits, to define their own interests as narrowly as possible. This was once achieved by extensive deprivation. Today in the developed countries it is being achieved by imposing a false standard of what is and what is not desirable.

In other words, time to wake up. One might also add that today (the Berger quote is from 1972) it is also being achieved via the opposite of deprivation.

Hm. I wonder what SFJ has to say about all this…

UPDATE: SFJ, not so much, but the inimitable Paul Ford, he of Gary Benchley fame, had something tangential to relate earlier last week, on the subject of fetishizing the object, sorta:
I think of my fascination, at 13, with the CD on the concrete in the office park. CDs had a brief chance to become objects of veneration, less time than vinyl, a few decades--just an eyeblink in time when compared to books, which have had over a millennia to build up mystique. So the CDs are easier to throw away. They don't resonate. But ultimately books are just as disposable (even the one I wrote).

Monday, February 20, 2006

Ds, p.

Sweet article from the weekend's New York Times on fab drummer Susie Ibarra's latest activities.

There's also a rundown on Andrew Hill's '63 Blue Note Smoke Stack over at Bagatellen, possibly occasioned by his return to Blue Note after a 15-odd year absence. Many comments speak to Hill's chilliness, which some find off-putting, and others oddly compelling. That's me: I don't always get what Hill is up to, and sometimes his playing sounds clinical, but some probing quality always draws me back. As always, seeming someone live helps, and his duet with Jason Moran a year or so ago went a long way toward thawing Hill out for me.

UPDATE: Friday's New York Times featured a lengthy article on Hill by Ben Ratliff, one in their "listening to CDs with" series. Hill picks Bird and Brubeck, mutters a few inscrutable comments, while Ratliff gives a good potted history of the man. There are also a few audio clips.

Friday, February 17, 2006

You GOT to know your chicken.

Lethem, at Moistworks' writers' week, on the ever-funky chicken, parts one and two.

Thursday, February 16, 2006


Just blazed through the UK version of Simon Reynolds’ RIP IT UP AND START AGAIN, his preposterously comprehensive and readable history of the post-punk years 1978-1984. It’s freakin amazing, and all the clichés apply: I think I actually learned something new on every page. And in the case of Depeche Mode, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, The Human League, and ABC I learned things that I didn’t think I’d care to know, but didn't mind learning.
Ah, romance
The fastest 600 pages I’ve experienced in a long time. The book is all about velocity. The interested reader’s, but mostly that of the surge of innovation that was released when the punk wave crested and broke over the British Isles. (And Cleveland. And LA.)

Reynolds manages to balance his obvious interest in the deeper underpinnings of pop (see his blog) with thoughtful and meticulous mini-bios of all of the key bands discussed. One of the great accomplishments here is how Reynolds is able to stand up real people --- with ambitions, lusts, artistic blocks, hates, grandiose dreams, dumb-ass ideas --- behind canonical (“Love Will Tear Us Apart,” say) and near-canonical (“Mind Your Own Business”) songs that long ago shed their attachment to the corporeal world.

Though my own interest in the bands Reyolds takes on flagged considerably after about page 300 or so, just after the transitional Two-Tone bands turned the innovative spirit back to the past, it's a tribute to Reynolds' rigor and sugared-pill writing that I saw him through the pop transformations of the bands listed above. He's also got a serious Scritti Politti jones.

The US edition is available later this month (tomorrow, at Amazon). Reynolds earlier blogged about the differences in the two editions, but I’ll be damned if I can find this now. The UK book is now out in a cheaper edition. His UK publisher got as far as setting into type an extensive discography, and thought better of printing an 800 page tome. Reynolds has made this available to all, online [opens, slowly, as a 26-pg PDF]; not a bad place to start for a snapshot of the territory he covers (a snapshot the size of Colorado). The book site has more, including mention of a companion CD.

And attention NYers: TMFTML has the details on an upcoming panel (28 Feb) in NYC featuring Reynolds and assorted characters from the book.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Kraut Rock.

Never been a fan of Julian Cope's music but the man does seem to know his Krautrock. He's written a book on the subject including a list of his Top 50 essential albums from the genre. Worth a look even if he tends to favor the really obscure.

If you think the whole idea of Germans rocking out 1970s stylee sounds like a premium time waster for cash-flush collectors, I highly recommend checking out Can ("Monster Movie" = Early Floyd meets Early Sabbath; "Ege Bamaysi" = Stereolab meets James Brown), Neu! ("Neu! 75" = Sonic Youth meets Kraftwerk), and Popul Vuh ("Hosianna Mantra" = Brian Eno goes to India). All satisfaction guaranteed. And that's just the tip of the Teutonic iceberg.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

St. Bernards come out of the sky, and they stand there.

Yes, it is easy to make fun of Yes. But that does not mean that doing so is not also funny.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

On fire.

More list freak action: Several years ago, The Wire polled critics about about "Albums that Set the World on Fire (When No One was Looking)." The result: a roll-call of underappreciated gems by everyone from Al Green, Kevin Ayers, and Johnny 'Guitar' Watson to more obscure acts like The Spontaneous Music Ensemble and Annette Peacock. Some of these albums have been reissued as a result, others are still languishing as collector bait for the curious. A kind soul has recreated the list - have a look.

He'd be a right good librarian.