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11 November 2011

Two deep thoughts on community from other people

I post these two passages side-by-side because they’re more connected than you might imagine.

First, a rant by the eminently make-fun-able (but still preeminent) music industry firebrand, Bob Lefsetz.

    Once upon a time, centuries ago, when we all lived in little villages, you had your fame. You were the blacksmith, the singer, the storyteller. You had a defined role and if you did it well, you received accolades, everybody in your hamlet knew who you were. As far as worldwide fame goes, most people had barely been to the next town, the concept of spreading your ideas far and wide didn’t even cross your mind.

    And then came modern transportation and media and suddenly, you could reach everybody.

    This was a thrill. Not only for the performer, but the audience. Instead of being restricted to the talent in your local burg, you could be exposed to others, with a different voice, a different viewpoint, in many cases with superior talent.

    And by time we hit the era of network television, there were very few slots, and if you made it through, you’d truly made it. That was the goal, to make it.

    Artists want to be heard by as many people as possible. If someone tells you they’re satisfied with a tiny audience, they’re lying. Art is expression. It foments understanding. You’re filling a hole inside yourself and the satisfaction comes when you realize you’re filling the same hole in others. And no matter how many holes you fill, you still feel empty, it’s the artistic temperament.

    And then the filter was tightened even more, during the MTV era. It was harder to make it, harder to get your video on television, but if you did, you were instantly nationally famous. You achieved that goal of mass exposure overnight.

    But now that’s impossible. Unless you stab or shoot someone, commit a crime. If you do something outrageous, there are Websites devoted to exposing you, never mind YouTube. But shy of that, it’s nigh near impossible to reach everybody.

    And this has got all artists scratching their heads.

A next a passage from The Geography of Nowhere, the similarly excellent, albeit similarly ranty book by James Howard Kunstler.

    For all practical purposes, Schuylerville became a colonial outpost of another America. Its impoverishment is one of the untallied costs of the policy of limitless “growth.” The leading business establishments in Schuylerville these days are the two convenience stores, each operated by large chains — call them X and Y. The main east-west road through town, Route 29, has become a major “feeder” for Interstate 87, and the convenience stores were built to take advantage of that traffic. They sell gasoline, milk, beer, cigarettes, soda and snacks. Plenty of local dollars are spent at the X and Y stores too — at times, the whole population of town seems to subsist on Pepsi Cola and Cheez Doodles. Perhaps in the future people will look back at convenience stores with fond nostalgia, because they are the late twentith-century successors to the old general store that sold a little bit of everything. But there is one big difference — the X and Y stores are not owned by local merchants.

    The X and Y corporations pay property taxes to operate their stores in Schuylerville, and a percentage of the county sales tax they pay is returned to the village via a rather abstruse political formula. The stores also furnish a handful of minimum-wage jobs. But what they take away contribute to the town is far less significant than what they take away: the chance for a local merchant to make a profit, to keep that profit in town, where it might be put to work locally, for instance, in the upkeep of a hundred-year-old shopfront building downtown, or a Greek Revival house on Pearl Street, or in the decent support of a family. But that profit does not stay in town. Instead, it is funneled directly into distant corproate coffers. The officers of the X and Y Corporations, who do not live in Schuylerville, have no vested interest in the upkeep of the 100-hundred-year-old shopfront buildings or the Greek Revival houses there. (They may not even know what they town looks like, or a single fact of its history.) Their success is measured strictly by the tonnage of Cheez Doodles and Pepsi Cola they manage to move off the shelves. Read more »

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21 November 2010

Channeling something weird

His name is Malcolm Holcombe. He’s from Asheville, North Carolina.

I heard about him on Lefsetz of all places. (Say what you will about him but Bob delivers many such surprises.) The standard source certainly don’t give this much love. He’s on Wikipedia, but only in Dutch.

Imagine if Tom Waits had no shtick. Or, better yet, just listen…

The kind of music that either makes you a fan for life, makes you want to help, or

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8 December 2009

U2 manager Paul McGuinness: for & against

paulmcguinnesswithedge
(Photo via Fotki)

Up this past weekend at Financial Times went this excellent sit down with U2’s manager Paul McGuinness. His views & his evident self-satisfaction are likely to be polarizing. Here’s some sample Tweets which prove my point — one from the resolutely independent Pampelmoose aka Dave Allen, the bass player for Gang of Four & owner of various small music businesses, the other from Bob Lefsetz, an LA based music industry figure known mostly for his email newsletter & his criticism of the old line music businesses. (Only a true believer could criticize it as he does.)

twits

I think journalism is best viewed with an agnostic eye, as a collection of facts. In this case, facts that are particularly well presented. Here’s a sampling:

    McGuinness met U2 at a Dublin gig in 1978 – they were supporting a band his sister managed. “They were doing quite badly what they now do well,” he says. “Edge was playing notes rather than chords – this was punk and it was almost frowned upon to be playing individual melodies. Bono was very keen to make eye contact, and physical contact sometimes, with the audience. He was very hungry for making them look at him. He was then and is now an exhibitionist, as all great performers ought to be. It was just quite exceptional.”

    McGuinness, who was managing a now forgotten folk rock band named Spud, signed them up in the pub next door, over pints the band members were too young to be drinking, and laid down some business rules. “I recommended very strongly that they split everything because I’d read about other bands where there were officers and men – the Rolling Stones being a classic example, and the Beatles – where the songwriting members of the group earned significantly more than the others.”

    From their first deal, all four were credited as writers. “It has stood them in very good stead because it backs up the democracy of a decision if everyone’s making the same amount of money,” McGuinness says.

    Unusually, McGuinness negotiated an equal share for himself. Do you still get 20 per cent, I ask? Apparently not. “That was, in fact, reviewed later,” he says. “I had to build the management company, and they had to build the production organisation that makes the records and does the tours. If our overheads were going to be intertwined, that would be to ignore the reality. There should always be a division between client and manager.”

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28 May 2009

Celebrity Crisis: a short attention span essay about famous people.

memorable
Picture featuring (left to right, amidst lots of others) Bjork, Ben Sisario from the New York Times, Amrit Singh from Stereogum, Olof Arnalds, Dave Longstreth from the Dirty Projectors

Well, aren’t I late?

A few weeks ago, on Friday May 8th, Housing Works hosted a show featuring The Dirty Projectors enhanced by Bjork. In true internet vulture style, it was rapidly documented by its sponsors, analyzed by the paper of record, and parsed for tidbits of celebrity gossip. S’all good! — I just wish all the looky-loos put equal time into considering the songs: The Girls precision & lightness; Mr. David Longstreth’s persistence of vision, his eternal return & ever-tightening focus on certain musical ideas & lyrical notions (i.e. brown finches!); Bjork’s inspiring power & her voice which seems less like human singing than a natural force.

But, hey, this is the internet. Why would you want to read about this when you can hear it? Without further adieu here’s the introduction to the suite of songs written for the event…

After the jump I’ll post the second song from a different point of view.

So, yeah, no need for me to go deep on the music. The event and its insane afterparty has, however, aroused some thoughts about celebrity. In part that’s because it abutted two other fame-dense events I’ve attended in recent weeks — first, the Dark Was the Night benefit concert at Radio City (which my partners in Brassland so ably curated) and, second, a star-dusted appearance by Vampire Weekend at the Happy Ending Reading & Music Series at Joe’s Pub. (I am helping the series’s founder Amanda Stern here and there as an informal music advisor, gurudom being my latest career aspiration. But no, I had nothing to do with this booking.) As well, an unusual number of internet postings on the subject of fame have stuck in my mind of late. How could I forget this Craiglist ad offering “Many Items from Old R. Kelly House – $1 (Northside Chicago), and this recent edition of Bob Lefsetz’s crotchety internet newsletter about his dinner with Malcolm Gladwell.

Fame fame fame lingers in my membrane like a persistent Apple Macintosh rainbow wheel of death.

waitcursor-300p
Yup, yup, that’s how we do!

It’s not like I’d ever deny the internet and our culture at large are awash in celebrity, but I’m usually able to avoid it. From my perspective, our celeb-fascination generally focuses on American Idol contestant this, Justin Timberlake that; Oprah this, and reality-tv-star-I’ve-never-heard-of-before that. I’m barely aware of such things because I spend most of my life so deep in a niche — television as much a blip on my horizon as classical composition is to most normal people. I’d more likely recognize Elliot Carter at a crowded bar than I would a cast member of Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County. And, here’s the thing, I don’t even know or like Elliot Carter’s music. It’s just that he is a larger personage in the world I’ve chosen to construct for myself.

In the past few weeks, however, the famousish people I actually care about seem to be, for lack of a better word, “around.” Last month I went to my neighborhood hangout for my morning coffee and noticed Spike Jonze sitting down next to me. (It took an IM from my assistant to inform me he was dating the most famous resident of my ‘hood, but still…)

In case you ever are victim to this kind of thing, here’s a guide to recognizing Elliott Carter at your local coffee shop:
A helpful guide to recognizing Elliott Carter at your local coffee shop.

Anyhoo, it feels as if my universe is gentrifying, both literally (Boerum Hill is a much fancier place than when I first moved here) and metaphorically. Many of the artists I work with are now well-known enough that mentioning them in casual conversation causes even non-music fans to pause and say things like “Oh yeah, they are totally a buzz band?” — voices rising on that last syllable like the awed sound of yr average American teenager.

I wish I could say this was amazing or useful or even whatevs. Instead, it is mostly…awkward. Do I sound like a douche because I’m mentioning the name of a friend and the fact that they are making the kind of art I think makes life worth living? Or is it more douchey to play coy & alluring and only talk about the weather?

*sigh*

Now, let me make something clear. Other than the folks I’ve been working with for years, I don’t generally try to talk to the ambient Famous People, mostly because it’s hard to do so. There’s nothing casual about their presence. I recall the scene after a Nick Cave concert in Los Angeles many years ago. (This Nick Cave, not that one.) I was with some new friends from the indie rock sector of the music economy. Many of us were meeting one another for the first time but, as we introduced ourselves around the circle, I couldn’t help but feel a strange twinge of “C’mon now?!?” when the preliminary hellos got to the one-of-those-people-that’s-not-like-the-others, i.e. Christina Ricci. Yes, we’d all seen Beetlejuice. It felt a bit like being introduced to your own mom, simply unnecessary.

That was, perhaps, the first time I was struck by celebrity’s real & unfortunate gravitational force. A few more thoughts about this from someone other than me after the jump.

Read more »

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