Saturday, February 27, 2010

Ed's Tumblr

More link hectoring. Go check out Ed Panar's tumblr--currently my cat Rafi, looking rather imperial, is the first photo.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Palin and Hummers II

Hopefully my previous linking of Sarah Palin with Hummers means that GM's forthcoming shuttering of the SUV line bodes ill for the former governor. Then again, is it possible to sink lower than being a political commentator for Fox News?

Also, go check out my friend Nick's new blog, Coming Up for Air. He's already blogging at a positively alarming rate, throwing around words like "mountebank" willy-nilly. I'm sure he will appreciate being included in this, one of my more thoughtful posts.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Pop World Cup

Go check out--and vote in--Freaky Trigger's 2010 Pop World Cup, which is both fun and educational. This non-sports (er, I suppose that should be "sport") fan doesn't always understand the hilariously elaborate football/soccer metaphors, but this is still a fantastic way to hear music from all over the world. While I voted for Algeria, I don't know that I'd ever heard any music from Slovenia before that. And both Uruguay and Paraguay? I can name about four bands from either country, so I'm hoping they go far.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Day Jobs

In a post about the folding of hip-hop label Def Jux, journalist/blogger Jeff Weiss notes: "I’m not sure if rap is going through a crisis right now. There is a lot of good music being made, but no one seems to be getting paid. It’s become a favor-based economy where there is no pot of gold in the end and rather, just money selling pot (many of my interviews end with offers. I’m saving names for the book deal)."

Even if he's exaggerating, that is one sad anecdote. I remember gradually realizing, when I was younger and just starting to explore current music outside of the mainstream, that most of the indie musicians I liked probably had to have day jobs. Of course, back then many of those jobs may have involved working at record stores, labels, recording studios, and other places tied to the viability of the music industry. As Weiss says, this doesn't spell the end of music--one thing I do agree with freeloaders about: there is a lot of music out there--but it does signal a coarsening of our culture. We're entering a situation where musicians and many other creative workers can't even earn supplemental income from their work. Of course, we're already in a situation where lots of workers don't have any income at all, and real wages have been in decline since the 1970s--obviously there are systemic problems with the economy and the baffling iteration of capitalism under which we live--but I shudder to imagine a future where very few people can dedicate their lives to making the world more beautiful, wondrous, or strange.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Marcello Carlin Rocks, But Gently

Remember my profession of love for blogs that take the form of ambitious, slightly crazy long-term projects? If you share my ardor, then click over to Then Play Long, Marcello Carlin's blog wherein he plans to review "every UK number one album so that you might want to hear it."

I've only just discovered this, but thus far I've quite enjoyed the epochal '60s-into-'70s run of Abbey Road to Let It Bleed to Led Zeppelin II. Carlin deserves some kind of medal for not making those entries nauseating Boomer nostalgia trips--I certainly didn't think I wanted to read another lengthy piece on Abbey Road at this point in my life, but it's great. Two of his strategies pay off particularly well: 1) genuine musicological analysis deployed with a light touch and 2) frequent, surprising comparisons with music from much different eras: in one sentence about "Whole Lotta Love" he manages to reference both Eric B and Derek Bailey. Still, I'm almost more intrigued by the (previously completely unknown to me) likes of Val Doonican's Val Doonican Rocks, But Gently, which is a phrasing I expect to gain currency immediately.

Sunday, February 7, 2010


I suspect it's way too late, but it's reassuring to finally see some serious questions being asked by non-corporate music people about file-sharing. I've often thought about bringing this issue up as it's something I feel strongly about and find the attitudes of fellow music fans on this subject to be puzzling and immensely disappointing.

I haven't addressed it before because I find the pro-file-sharing camp to be incoherent and illogical. Reading the comments to this typically asinine Matthew Yglesias post*, I found this absurdly misleading (or perhaps 'willfully naive,' but I doubt it) article in the UK Times that purports to prove--with shiny graphs!--that musicians are faring better in the new system and only rapacious middleman labels are feeling the deserved pinch. Luckily some actual musicians post responses in the comments pointing out that lumping in, say, the Rolling Stones' annual windfall of concert money with what some indie band makes on a Monday night gig distorts the picture way past the point of universal applicability.

*I'm not an economist, but is Yglesias really suggesting that music should be free because (he claims) distribution costs are zero? He cannot possibly be that stupid, right?

Chris Ruen asks most of the questions I also have about what he aptly terms "freeloading." The people so anxious to dismantle copyright entirely and, more perniciously, defend file-sharing to any lengths always make me wonder: Why does the end of capitalism have to begin with music? When Eric Harvey writes in his "The Social History of the MP3" on Pitchfork that "there is nothing inherent or natural about paying for music, and the circulation of mp3s through unsanctioned networks reaffirms music as a social process driven by passion, not market logic or copyright," does he stop to compose a mental list of commodities that inherently demand to be part of a market system? Is it "natural" to pay for a book? For food? Why does Verizon deserve hundreds of dollars of my money every year, but the people who make music I love (and that could include not only the musicians, but anyone involved with the recording and even those who paid for the recording to happen) should settle for being appreciated?

Suddenly declaring that music--or "information" as the pro-file-sharers see it in their sterile view, pretty much making my point for me--should be completely free is a massive overreaction to corporate tyranny. And again, all this rage against The Labels makes me wonder: were music conglomerates (not to mention the independents, record stores, etc.) really the corporations that most needed to be brought to their knees? Disney repeatedly manipulating copyright legislation to ensure their characters not entering the public domain is despicable and troubling, but why not redirect that outrage towards, for example, KBR? Given that Disney's control of this issue hasn't been set back one bit, one might almost be moved to wonder whether "fighting copyright" is a rhetorical fig leaf for people just wanting music for free.

Ruen's point that "file-sharing" is in no way an act of genuine sharing is also damning. Harvey's quasi-mystical take--to be fair: in contrast to its introduction, the whole piece is more balanced and informative, especially with regards to the epic mishandling of events by the RIAA and their lawyers--crosses the line into pure fantasy when he writes "in the same way that Facebook visually represents 'having friends,' the mp3s coursing through file-sharing networks quantify the online social life of music by charting its path." I suppose he might be right in that my having a Facebook page only distantly connects to my having people in my life I consider friends, but that's obviously not the reading he's going for.

This kind of techno-utopianism feels like a relic of the silly hyperbole that characterized the late 1990s new economy/internet bubble. But just as the bursting of that bubble eventually resolved itself into Web 2.0 and our increasingly online lives, techno-utopianism has been so completely folded into the fabric of the internet in 2010 that anyone casting a critical eye on any of the deeply ugly, antisocial features of the Web is usually immediately dismissed as a crank, an elitist, or a neo-Luddite. As near as it is to my own heart, the damage done to the value we place on music is in some ways a relatively minor casualty of the ascendancy of the Web.