Monday, October 31, 2011

The Scary New York

The New York Times has a photo essay from photographer John Conn who spent the late 70's and early 80's photographing the subway system.  For Halloween, the piece is titled When The City Was A House of Horrors.  

This was a great time for music in the city. I was going to college in the Bronx and riding the D Train at least once a week.  I remember taking those graffiti laden trains at all hours of the night coming back from shows downtown. It would be myself and a few girlfriends.  I look back now and say "What were we thinking?"  When you're in college and there is a band you want to see, you are fearless.

These photos brought me back to that time when it cost 50/60 cents to ride a filthy train downtown to see and hear great music. 

This photo to the right titled Trick or Treat, as well as others of Conn's can be purchased on his website. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

Searching the MC Hammer Way

MC Hammer announced he and his partners are creating a new search engine called WireDoo.   The WireDoo site is in pre-Beta, which means you can give them your email address and they might get back to you.  His announcement came at the Web 2.0. Summit in San Francisco this week.

In his own question and answer pitch he said, "Do we really need another search? Of course not."  His theory is this one will be more about relationships and topics rather than keywords.

This is not his first foray into the tech world.  Billboard noted:   In 2008 he launched, a video sharing site for dancers, he develops iPad apps and has investments in multiple online start-ups.

Of course I envision a search that no matter what keywords you submit, you will get redirected to this. where you will also have the option of buying harem pants.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

6 Reasons To Dislike Coldplay

The New Yorker rarely has articles like this.  When I saw the title Why I Don't Like Coldplay, I thought for sure it would be because they are so good, because the lead singer is married to Gwyneth, etc.  I was surprised to see a true-to-title analysis by Sasha Frere-Jones. 

He makes his case in a 6 point investigation. It's worth a read.  My favorite point is #5:

Seven out of ten times, Coldplay sound almost exactly like U2—the U2 that exists now, not the wiry, feral U2 of 1980 (which would be a decent idea). U2 have not broken up. This is inefficient. Coldplay should consider copying Big Star or The Monkees.

The songwriting doesn't really get much better than Big Star or the Monkees.  It's a sound suggestion. 

Lead singer Chris Martin seems to be a likable guy. He came across that way in a CBS Sunday Morning interview.  It just seems like the band is missing something.  Maybe Sasha is right, they need a ride on the Last Train To Clarksville. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Acetates: The New MP3's

“The goal is to have surprises.”  In this ever-changing world of advancing technology, director/editor Alex Steryermark is surprisingly using a piece of recording equipment from the 1930’s to expose recording artists of the 21st century. “It’s about getting together with the artist in an authentic way.”

Alex has been accumulating PRESTOs, which inspired The 78 Project.    The PRESTO was considered a “portable” recorder (it weighs in at about 50 lbs). Alan Lomax used one for his field recordings. One of the most famous uses of the PRESTO was by a reporter and engineer who were sent to cover the Hindenburg landing.  Obviously a disaster ensued and they were able to record the events as they unfolded and interview survivors for an on-the-scene account. 

The 78 Project is an ongoing collection of mini-documentaries, which run from 6 to 9 minutes.  Explains Alex, “We asked artists to do their take on a public domain song:  folk, blues or murder ballads and one of their own songs. The piece is centered around the cover song.  The artist picks the recording location. Recording is an excuse to see artists in an exposed, intimate way.”

A PRESTO records directly from one mic to the acetate disc, so it’s a live recording.  “It’s one mic and we have three minutes. We can screw up, they [the musician] can screw up.”  Dawn Landes performed the inaugural recording.  “Since it’s the first one we did, everything went wrong and we still got a great record.”   To date, they followed with two other recordings. The Reverend John Delore & Kara Suzanne recorded the early 19th century murder ballad Omie Wise.  Their updated version incorporates the OJ Simpson story.  The third piece takes place at an outdoor gathering with the Mynabirds.  

Per the Project’s website:

As it cuts, the PRESTO throws up a thread about the thickness and texture of human hair.  That’s the negative space from the sound!  But not only is it INCREDIBLY FLAMMABLE, it can also become lodged under the cutting needle if it isn’t constantly guided away with a brush.  You want to ruin the shirt you’re wearing?  Try being the one holding the brush as the record spins.  Guaranteed to make you sweat.

Alex was developing the project with the executive producer Erik Nelson when he decided to just start recording. He had the equipment needed to film and record and knew the musicians.  These would be low-pressure situations (unless you worry about the PRESTO catching on fire). The original TV show idea was redeveloped as a web series.

Along with writer/producer Lavinia Jones Wright, they have completed three episodes.  They’ve done a great job of giving us just enough with the three trailers to whet the whistle of curiosity:  What are they going to give us next?  The first full-length piece should be posted this week.

The anticipation for a new music project used to be fever pitch. You could mark your calendar for the next Clash release and you were there at the record store waiting to buy it.  This has been lost in the current overload of music.  Wouldn’t it be nice to get a regular email alert that an admired musician has just recorded for The 78 Project?  It would be 6 minutes of rediscovering music and the people who make it, a nice surprise indeed. 

Note on Alex Steyermark:  Music is always a big component of Alex’s work.  He’s a master at placing appropriate music in the right film scenes (music supervisor on films such as Malcolm X, The Ice Storm, For Love Or Money, Subway Stories).  His most recent directorial endeavor is Losers Take All, the story of the trials and tribulations of an indie  rock band trying to make it in the 1980’s. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Rock's Royal Couple Splits

After 27 years of marriage, rock's reigning couple, Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon are calling it quits.  Matador Records released a statement saying that Sonic Youth will complete their November South American tour, but there is no word on the fate of the band or the European tour dates that are posted on the band's website.  

Kim & Thurston in happier times.
My hypothesis on what caused the split.

1.  First there was the move from New York City to Massachusetts a few years back. This stunned the indie community.  No one every thought they would leave the city. I can't say I blame them for wanting a more "human" existence, but they were synonymous with downtown.  This may have changed their world a little too much.

2.  Thurston's inability to say no to every music documentary producer.  Is there one film out there that he doesn't appear in?  My friend and I have a running joke.  We time it to see how long a music documentary can play before Thurston appears. I haven't seen the George Harrison piece yet, but it wouldn't surprise me if he had a cameo.

Scene at home:
Kim: "Where are you going  Thurston?"
Thurston:  "Out"
Kim: "Don't tell me you're guesting on  another documentary.  You never have time for me and the kid."

Friday, October 14, 2011

moe. Plays One For Steve Jobs

moe. performs the song Crab Eyes solely with their iPads. It's a trip. 

If bands continue to do this, more and more roadies will be out of work.  It would make touring a lot cheaper.

What Xactly Is Simon's Goal?

I haven't been watching faithfully, only a bit here and there, but I'm confused by what Simon Cowell's goal is for the X Factor as far as presenting an entertaining TV show. 

Last night contestants were broken into groups:  Girls, Boys, Over 30 years olds and Groups.  Each judge was at an outdoor location with one of the groups. This is where it lost me. This didn't add a thing to the show, in fact it was outright boring.

    -This type of auditioning does not lend itself to an outdoor setting.  There are vast rolling hills in the background, long vistas and poolsides.  If it were an athletic competition, it would be the perfect backdrop.  Singers without live bands (in almost all cases, I'll get to this later) shine in intimate settings. 

    -This week Simon set himself apart from the other judges.  Simon is in Paris, everyone else is in the US. Two are in California locations and one in the Hamptons.  Simon is the only sole judge.  The others all have a celebrity co-judge with them.  After a contestant sings and leaves the Paris performing area, three men crowd around Simon's feet like his harem. It conjured up images of those pictures of Jesus surrounded by children.  They are adoringly looking upward at this most sacred man.  This has got to be intentional. 

    -Simon looks like he came from Miami Vice's central casting.  Reclining on his couch, he is attired in a white shirt open to his navel, bare feet, one leg on the couch and sporting a tan.  Is he suppose to look more "American?"  I hope that's not the Brits impression of us.

    -From what I saw, only those auditioning in front of Simon had live musicians.  There was a piano set up poolside and a guitarist.  The other judges' contestants sang to recorded backing tracks. 

    -The singers seemed lost in these vast settings.  I think it was a nice change from American Idol to have the auditions in front of an audience.  They are looking for an entertainer, not just someone with a good voice.  The ability to win over an audience is key and this setting added to the show.  The outdoor locations, do not. 
      I'm having a hard time finding one good reason for shooting in these locales.  If Simon needed to be in Paris or was vacationing there, it does make sense.  Beyond that, I haven't got a clue.

      Wednesday, October 12, 2011

      No More Chicken Dance!!

      What is with females singers and the chicken dance?  I'm starting to see it way too often.  It appears to come with the other ridiculous epidemic:  Shoes with 5" heels. No wonder these women can't walk across a stage with ease.  Are those shoes really necessary?  How many times do they have to visit orthopedic doctors?

      The latest chicken dance siting was on Good Morning America.  Nicole Scherzinger performing this morning did an abbreviated version, which amounted to a few steps to the viewers left.  The move entailed walking across the stage as if you were tiptoeing in a Bugs Bunny cartoon while simultaneously  moving the head front to back to mimic the walk of a chicken crossing the road. (no joke will follow)

      Focus on the white chicken in this video.

      The ultimate grande dame of  chicken dancing is Carrie Underwood.  I saw her open for Keith Urban a few years ago and she was all over the stage looking like she was ready to lay an egg.   The move starts one minute into this video:

      Lose the shoes and lose the dance. Have fun on stage.  Do not be beholden to a 5" heel.
      In this case, don't break a leg.

      Wednesday, October 05, 2011

      It's Hard To Believe Steve Jobs Is Gone

      In almost my entire working career, I've used Apple products and Steve Jobs has always been there, well except for that span where the board kicked him out (what were they thinking?).   It's hard to believe that Steve Jobs will not be around to introduce a new product. 

      When I was growing up, I couldn't wait for the latest release of my favorite band. It was a time of anticipation and excitement.  As new record releases became less import and music was leaked, Steve Jobs slowly crept into that role of creating excitement.  The speculation on the latest iPhone was building for months and just yesterday the iPhone 4GS was revealed.  The talk leading up to it, could only rival that of the next Led Zeppelin record in the 1970's. 

      Steve was probably one of the most important people of past 25 years and yes he left the world way too young at 56.  He was here and he did make a difference and I certainly benefited from it. 

      The Low Energy of The Writer's Writer

      I've been an avid reader of the New Yorker for years and finally made it to an event at this past weekend's New Yorker FestivalThe Writer's Writer featured three authors whose works I have read and enjoyed: Jeffrey Eugenides (Middlesex), Nicole Krauss (The History of Love) and Jhumpa Lahiri (Unaccustomed Earth).

      The eye opener from the evening was Jhumpi's comments on an author's first piece.  “Everybody writes their first book with a certain innocence, a purity of vision.”  There are no guidelines when writing a first book, no pressures to write a certain way or to answer to your publisher, editor or PR person.  She believes a writer's writer keeps that purity of vision throughout his/her career.

      Her comments would ring very true for lots of recording artists, especially now, as musicians can make records for and by themselves.  I've heard some musicians say "I only had one record in me."  A song writing paralysis sets in when more is demanded of them.  There is a sense of innocence that is lost.  Does that mean that writers (and musicians) who can hang on to that innocence and purity end up in obscurity? Not necessarily, but the writers did seem to think that more times than not, the writer's writer is not selling a lot of books.  I think of a musician's musician as one who can play anything with anyone.  More times than not, that person is usually a side musician, not the one selling millions of records. They are making a really good living, but not in the limelight.  Deborah Treisman, the fiction editor of the New Yorker and the moderator of the panel relayed a description she once heard of a writer's write as "someone who lives at or below the poverty line."  This elicited a chuckle from the audience.

      An audience member asked how does an author deal with having either a screenwriter or a director take his/her work and morph it into something else.  Jeffrey said you have to realize that they are going to make it their own.  He said a director was true to his writing (Virgin Suicides) and another used the first 20 minutes of the movie as the basis of his story and then went from there. He said that was necessary as he wrote a short story (Baster) and they continued it. 

      With the exception of Jeffrey, the night was low on energy.  It could be the late start time of 9:30pm. If it were a concert, the time would have made sense, but for writers discussing  writers, it's late.  Deborah Treisman could have moved the evening along a little faster, but she was courteous in letting the authors complete their thoughts.  I also think the topic did not lend itself to elaborating.  Once an authors stated their definition of a writer's writer and listed their favorite authors (each panelist read from their favorite author) , there wasn't much to play off of.

      I've seen plenty of authors speak about their own works and it's been very engaging.  Maybe when authors speak of others works, it doesn't resonate the same way.

      Of Note: Jeffrey's new book, The Marriage Plot which comes out  on the 11th, has a publisher who decided a Times Square Billboard was necessary.