And, for yet another mildly interesting article, go read this piece about the online music-sharing world at The Economist. It’s pretty basic, but for those of you who have been under a rock and have no real idea what post-Napster life is shaping up to be like, it’s a good start.
Okay, this has nothing to do with music, rock and roll, etc. But it is important, and it’s a great read, perhaps one of the most important pieces of journalism that I have read in the past few years. And fuck it, I’ve got the power to post this here, so I’ll abuse that power. It’s the nature of power to abuse it, right? Coca Cola thinks so, anyway. And that’s what this article is about. So for something totally off topic, go to Guerrilla News and read this article.
It’s long and it’s complicated; it concerns copyright law, covert oprerations by the CIA, bribery of judges in Chicago, and about a dozen other issues, most formidably that Coke has been screwing a single artist whose pop can designs they stole in 1989. Force yourself to read through the whole thing, it’s well worth it. And finally, thanks to Pat for digging this one up and forwarding me the link.
So I got my dead tree copy of the LP News in the mail yesterday and, lo and behold, it has an article on the front page: The Top 25 Liberty Songs. It’s a pretty cool list, and more enlightened than you might expect. Check it out. Not only is the Libertarian Party “The Party of Principle,” but it has good music taste too. That should be more than enough reason to vote for Harry Brown in the next election. (And yeah, I know there are two Rush songs on the list, but what do you expect—we’re libertatians, we have to like them because they like Ayn Rand.)
Detroit’s White Stripes embark on world domination
By Phil Wise
It wasn’t so long ago that Detroit was the butt of all jokes. Everyone from Jay Leno and David Letterman to the writers of Kentucky Fried Movie were taking whacks at the Motor City. But it seems times have changed and Jack and Meg White of Motown’s own White Stripes are laughing now.
Not in recent memory has an indie band commanded so much attention as the White Stripes. With mentions in Entertainment Weekly, Time and twice in Rolling Stone, the White Stripes seem to be America’s sweethearts—or peppermint lollypops. Now the Stripes are taking their red and white fleet to the UK and finding the fickle British music press more than willing to sign on for a ride.
Last week’s NME had a one-page, full-color spread of Jack and Meg soaked in their Detroit sweat and signature red trousers. The headline screamed “White Noise, White Heat” as a double nod to Detroit’s only political/musical movement of worth, The White Panthers, and to the White Stripes’ Velvet Underground-influenced affinity for stripped-down jams. By reading the gushing write up you’d think Jack White was the second coming of Wayne Kramer, not the snotty little brother of John Spencer. But that was just a shot over the bow.
The coup de grace has this week’s NME features our heroes on the cover and declares them the “Sound of NOW!” How do they do it? I’m a fan of the Stripes and wish them all the best, but how have they seduced the media to the point of turning mild-mannered Arts & Entertainment editors into multi-national spinmasters?
The White Stripes have pulled off a major marketing coup with this media assault and the rewards could be great, but dancing with the British media can also be dangerous. If you thought the American media’s treatment of Milli Vanilla was bad, you should have seen what the NME and now defunct Melody Maker did to Johnny Marr when he left the Smiths. You’d have thought he killed Paul Weller!
So forge on, White Stripes, and find your fortune on the high seas. But beware the English congeniality, for even the great Spanish Armada met its brutal match at the hands of a British gentleman.
There’s a low grumble across America and it seems only Salon.com can hear it.
By Phil Wise
Since the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1995, there has been a steady consolidation of media in this country that threatens to choke our already anemic music business. The decisions for A&R, radio programming and concert promotion are falling into fewer and fewer hands. There’s a reason you only hear the same 12 songs on any Top 40-radio station (what happens to the other 28 songs you might ask). Intriguing stories of corporate bullying, backroom payoffs and political manipulation used to be the stuff of good reporting and would make an editor-in-chief dizzy with thoughts of Peabodies and other self-congratulating industry awards. But it seems nobody’s interested…well, almost nobody.
It’s long been popular to blame the failures of deregulation on Republican policies. I mean, it is their philosophy to let the market place set the rules and concerns of safety and anti-trust be damned. But Bill Clinton, no friend to the GOP, signed the Telecommunications act into law. And Clinton left the liberal base of the Democratic party behind long ago, contrary to what Rush Limbaugh and other rightwing blowhards would have you think. So if this failing policy that so blatantly spits in the face of liberal market controls is such an easy target, then where is the supposed liberal media? Now’s their chance to make fools of those stalwarts of free enterprise and they’re dropping the ball.
Enter Salon.com. Salon has been running a series of articles covering the disturbing consolidation of media. From the FCC chairman, Michael Powell’s (Bush buddy and son of Collin) revealing slip of the tongue in front of congress, to the heavy-handed market manipulation by Clear Channel Media and a certain good time pop-punk band. Salon seems to be the only high profile media source that smells a story.
It’s not to say that other left-leaning media sites haven’t also reported on these troubling trends, but none have Salon’s profile. And you can forget any reports from corporate hacks like Peter Jennings or GOP apologists like Fox News’ Bill O-Reilly. The rightwinger’s conspiracy theory of liberal media manipulation seems to fall flat when you consider that the parent companies of NBC, ABC, FOX, CBS, AOL/TIME WARNER and other “mainstream” media outlets stand to make loads of money from these consolidations.
So, as the summer heat takes its toll on your good mood you can rest assured knowing that Clear Channel and Sumner Redstone know what’s best for you. Just flip on your radio to “the morning zoo” and listen to the banal sounds of Britney, Mandy, Christina or Mariah and hope to win tickets to see Lance, AJ, Joey, Mickey or Minnie. They all have homes in Orlando to pay for and we all need to do our part.
As we (I) are often prone to dissecting the relationship between corporate AmeriKKKa and popular culture (by way of advertising, “marketing”, etc.) on this site, I figured I’d throw this out there today. It’s something I have thought about a great deal, but it all came to a head while “reading” a copy of Men’s Health (gag, I know) during lunch. Forget why I was looking at such a worthless piece of dreck for a minute though, and concentrate on my point: We have lost the ability to be critical in today’s society.
I think we all realize that much of what we “consume” in our consumer culture, at least where entertainment and media are concerned, is garbage. But how did it get to be this way? I often hear the old dudes proclaim that “It’s always been this way” but I refuse to believe this. It’s gotten worse, for sure, and the biggest reason is that people are afraid to call something crap when it obviously smells, even when it’s stuck to their own shoe.
I was recently guilty of repeating that grandmotherly phrase, “You get more flies with honey than you do with vinegar,” only to be repudiated by a fellow GloNo scribe: “But you get the most flies with shit.” And that’s it in a nutshell.
Take a look at Men’s Health (or any other magazine for that matter) and you find our culture reflected, the price tag still attached. Political Correctness dictates that they can’t really call a spade a spade; advertising revenue and the necessity to guard against ever saying anything that might offend anyone for any reason (for God forbid anyone take issue with something and make anyone’s job any more time consuming or difficult) make the rest of the self-censorship complete. And what are you left with? A bunch of drivel about nothing, with that cheeky (or “cute”, as one ridiculously corporate-brainwashed friend would say) tone that substitutes for voice.
What’s clearly missing from most media today is commentary. Analysis. Opinion, good or bad. Criticism. And it’s no wonder. We as individuals never want to have to defend anything we say or believe, because dammit, that’s hard work: thinking, forming complete sentences, arguing, writing, acting in a manner that inherently accepts responsibility for the outcome. All of these are frowned upon by society today. We’re taught from a very young age to look for the bright side, to view the glass half full, to be happy and content with whatever our situation in life might be. Seek comfort in like others. Work within the system. Do as you’re told. Advocate, but don’t agitate. Most importantly, respect others’ right to have an opinion—no matter how stupid or uninformed that is. “Hey, maybe Brittany Spears does have something to say!” After all, 50,000,000 Elvis fans can’t be wrong, can they?
Well, the Elvis fans weren’t—but they could have been. The Brittany fans, their opinion and right to hold it respected (of course), are fucking morons. But that’s not the point. The point is that someone needs to say this, out loud and loudly. Speak up and defend the opinion: Sting is an irrelevant and pompous blowhard; George Bush is the dumbest man to ever walk through the Oval Office, let alone sit behind the desk there; Modern R&B sucks so bad, it tarnishes the very term “rhythm and blues” (of which it has neither); Robert DeNiro has forgotten how to act and is but a caricature of himself. And on and on and on.
These are the things that need to be said. These are the ideas that will form a better society, which will allow us to differentiate, choose, and grow. If you’re not comfortable with having your own voice, fine; sit there and shut up. But remember, those who criticize are to be encouraged and appreciated, not vilified.
“In criticism I will be bold, and as sternly, absolutely just with friend and foe. From this purpose nothing shall turn me.” –Edgar Allen Poe
If you haven’t checked out Last Plane to Jakarta yet, it’s time do so now. It features some of the best music writing I’ve read since I was first cc’d on a note by Johnny Loftus. There’s a particularly great explication of a song by Chuck Berry on there right now. I love it when people go off the deep end over something they love. To me, that’s what it’s all about.
At the end of the article, the author dismisses his revelation like this:
…this isn’t exactly news. It’s nothing you’d want to admit to not knowing if you didn’t already. But every so often some song from the distant pass puts the fire of God on you and you gotta preach. I thank you for indulging me.
Preach on brother, preach on. We’ll stay tuned and continue to indulge you.
Ringo Starr and his All Starr Band
By Phil Wise
The Today show has a summer-long concert series in which artists perform outdoors at ungodly hours in the early morning. It seems like a nightmare to me, but the series has featured an eclectic mix of acts from ‘NSYNC to Tim McGraw. Not a particularly hip or cutting edge line-up, but this is morning TV.
Today’s featured act was none other than Ringo Starr and his All Starr Band. This year’s band features an equally perplexing mix of artists including Sheila E. Ringo’s been touring with a different line-up in his All Starr band for about a decade and the roster reads like a roll call of Ringo’s AA meeting: Joe Walsh, John Entwhistle, Jack Bruce, Levon Helm, Rick Danko, Todd Rundgren, Nils Lofgren, Dave Edmunds and many more. Now, no doubt this is a stellar line up of seasoned (sometimes seasoned and sautéed) veterans. No doubt they have some war stories to tell that I’d love to be privy to. Hell, some of these guys are bona fide legends. But, how do they play together some 30–plus years after some of them have made an impact on the musical landscape?
The Today show appearance started off with an interview with Ringo by Katie Couric. Despite Ringo always being presented as the affable, cheeky Beatle, he usually comes across in interviews as a bit sour and arrogant. Today was no different. Ringo seemed put-off that he had to appear on TV before noon and even after 35 years of press conferences, junkets and interviews, he still gets miffed when answering the same old questions about the Beatles and when or if the surviving three will reunite. Get with it Ringo, without the Beatles you’re painting houses—Ask Pete Best.
But let’s forgive Ringo his lack of nuance with the media. After all he was never the mouthpiece for the Beatles. He was the drummer and content in that role. So, let’s just look at the band.
Ringo took the mic for a few songs, including a Mattel-like karoke version of Yellow Submarine, and then handed vocal duties over to former Supertramp front man Roger Hodgson. Ringo’s taken plenty of heat for his “vocal stylings” over the years and I’m not going to throw another log onto that fire. Let’s just say that age has not turned a bottle of sour grapes into wine. Hodgson, on the other hand, still has that clear muppet-like voice he had on 70s hits like “The Logical Song” and “Give a Little Bit.” I hate those songs and always have, but if you like them then you wouldn’t be disappointed in their rendition today. But the accompaniment on all of those songs left a bad taste in my mouth. I had immediate flashbacks to a bowling alley “play room” and the smell of diapers and disinfectant-and-cigarette-smoke-smelling shag carpet. The combination of songs I’ve hated since I was three years old and the sweltering Chicago heat sent me into an immediate toxic shock.
But all things must pass and as Katie and Matt led us into a commercial I thought about poor old Ringo and his All Starr band. These are guys who at some point in their careers were at the topper most of the popper most only to end up in a two-bit cover band fronted by a short, angry half-legend. Do they miss the madness of their earlier careers? Are they content in life? And was it better to have been at the top and fallen than to have never seen the view?
1. This is not one of the long, thoughtful pieces that appear below on this page. If you’re looking for that, well, simply go below
2. I am becoming somewhat disturbed that I even noticed this topic and even annoyed that I have essayed this band more than once on this site.
Here’s the thing: Has anyone else noticed that the cover of ‘Nsync’s Celebrity is an updated rip of St. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, an update that is seen through the cockeyed lens of “Entertainment Tonight,” “E.” People, Teen People, Homunculi People, etc.?
Ah, the debasement continues.
On the eve of Quadrophenia’s release, the Who’s most articulate message finds a new audience
Rhino Records is releasing the Who’s Quadrophenia on DVD in September and the film is enjoying a limited theater release to celebrate. After countless viewings of the film on an old VHS bootleg, I recently saw the film for the first time on the big screen last week and was again taken back to my own days of teenage angst and Anglophilia.
Originally released in 1979, Quadrophenia was slated to be the last word on England’s Mod scene of the mid-60s from the pretenders to the throne of Modfatherhood, the Who. Loosely based on the album of the same name, the film stands on its own and succeeds where other rock movies failed. It’s not an extended music video like the Who’s earlier venture Tommy. It’s not a vanity plate like Prince’s Purple Rain. It’s not a vehicle to promote the career of a singer-turned-bad-actress like any one of Madonna’s embarrassing films. And it’s not an art film like those produced by many of the Who’s brethren of the 60s, including the Rolling Stones (the simultaneously exhilarating and disappointingly tedious Sympathy for the Devil). In fact, the movie may have suffered for its affiliation with the Who. Its producers’ audience couldn’t possibly take it seriously as a movie because of the above-mentioned attempts.
Quadrophenia follows Mod Jimmy Cooper (Phil Daniels) through the trials of teendom where young adolescent males discover some of the hardest truths of life: working sucks, you don’t always get the girl (even when you DO!), and your heroes have day jobs.
Excellent performances by Daniels and exquisite Mod Girl Steph (Leslie Ash) bring to the screen the complex rules and disappointments of young love. The story unfolds as Jimmy struggles to find his own identity in a peer group rigid with conformity. His affiliation with the Mods is strengthened in a weekend trip to the resort town of Brighton where he falls in love; fights for his gang; and meets his hero, played with utmost restraint by Glono’s own favorite corporate hack Sting in his pre-Jaguar days (the scenes of him on a Vespa GS could just as easily act as a commercial for the ultimate Modmobile, but that’s for another day). Everything he believes about being a Mod is confirmed in that quick, violent weekend.
Those beliefs are just as quickly challenged upon Jimmy’s return home to London’s working class Flatbush district. Jimmy attempts to recapture his ideals in a desperate, pill-headed return to Brighton. The trip is introduced by a genius nod to the Beatles’ Hard Days Night train scene with Jimmy riding first class among the very suits and “third class tickets” he hates. Jimmy arrives only to have his dreams further dashed on the rocks of the Brighton shoreline.
Quadrophenia acts as the ultimate guy movie from the ultimate guy band, but not because of the violence, sex and ass kicking rock and roll. It speaks to most guys, American or British, through its portrayal of the confusion and uncertainty of teenage soul searching. In a time when most guys are struggling hard to project an image furthest from their true self, Quadrophenia asks “Can you see the real me?”