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26 August 2013

Six pictures from Detroit

This post could also be accurately titled as “What I learned on my summer vacation” because, well, we remain children forever in a way.

I went to Detroit on what could be mistaken for a disaster tourism expedition. I saw a Caucasian man who might have been dead winched into a Port-a-Potty at an awkward angle. I ate some BBQ and saw some street art and happened upon a letterpress printer located in an old meat-processing facility near Eastern Market. (They let me use their bathroom. That was very nice of them.)

I think the city poses interesting questions about education, art, technology, industrialism and especially community. Here are some pictures of those questions. Please take them as more than ruin porn. They’re not intended as such. And, come to think of it, there’s not much in the way of ruins to be pictured in the pictures I pictured.


Implicit commentary on the fate of the record industry from the Heidelberg Project?


A photo taken near Service Street.


A friendly group of motorcyclists in front of the Motown Museum.


Chicken wings.


Wall art in Corktown, wherein resides the city’s most self-conscious gentrification vibe. Wasn’t that into it. But the BBQ restaurant was quite good.


Co-ops designed by Mies Van Der Rohe in LaFayette Park.

Here is a very short reading list of materials I read before and just after I went. I found them all helpful.

  • The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century by Grace Lee Boggs with Scott Kurashige
  • Detroit City Is the Place to Be: The Afterlife of an American Metropolis by Mark Binelli
  • “36 Hours in Detroit” by Jennifer Conlin for the New York Times
  • Read more »

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    10 November 2010

    Brief thought on political art: Houellebecq, Bob Dylan, Kaiser Permanente, Shepard Fairey and the possibility of making a difference

    I won’t pretend like I trust or respect political art. I think it’s inherrently suspect. Which is not to say that art cannot have a powerful galvanizing effect on politics, or that it cannot be great art.

    My problem with political art is not qualitative; it’s that political art is destined to become logically incoherent in the long run.

    Political situations are fixed in time; history only sort of repeats itself. Art, by contrast, should be eternal; music lasts even as the interpretations of a given piece of music change and shift; in fact, I’d argue music’s meaning should be allowed to shift over time. Viz:

    Frankly, the use of the archtypical protest song — Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are a-Changin‘” — in an advertisement for insurance company Kaiser Permanente does offend my sense of propriety in a fairly intense way. But the question of whether it truly ruins or modifies the meaning and significance of the song is much more complicated. Dylan’s position within & belief in the protest movement of the 1960s was at least partially opportunistic; the most important aspect of his participation in the protest movement was that it helped align his art with the interests and experiences of his generation; and, circa the 21st century, what is more aligned with the interests of his generation than health insurance?

    In any case, this brings me back to Michel Houellebecq who I was quoting here just the other day. I’ll make no great claims about his art. I’ve only read a couple of his novels; I was intrigued by them but I can’t say they struck a particularly deep chord in terms of their poetry or artistic resonance. But the thematic resonance = wow. This guy has thought deeply about the ailments of our age and, in many ways, he’s got our number.

    Does he understand the joys of our age? I’m less certain of that… Anyhoo, without further adieu (that’s French!), here’s another great passage from his interview with The Paris Review.

      Interviewer: What is your concept of the possibility of love between a man and a woman?

      Houellebecq: I’d say that the question whether love still exists plays the same role in my novels as the question of God’s existence in Dostoyevsky.

      Interviewer: Love may no longer exist?

      Houellebecq: That’s the question of the moment.

      Interviewer: And what caused its disappearance?

      Houellebecq: The materialist idea that we are alone, we live alone and we die alone. That’s not very compatible with love.

      Interviewer: Your last novel, The Possibility of an Island, ends in a desolate world populated by solitary clones. What made you imagine this grim future in which humans are cloned before they reach middle age?

      Houellebecq: I am persuaded that feminism is not at the root of political correctness. The actual source is much nastier and dares not speak its name, which is simply hatred for old people. The question of domination between mean and women is relatively secondary — important but still secondary — compared to what I tried to capture in this novel, which is that we are now trapped in a world of kids. Old kids. The disappearance of patrimonial transmission means that an old guy today is just a useless ruin. The thing we value most of all is youth, which means that life automatically becomes depressing, because life consists, on the whole, of getting old.

    (Image at the top of this post via Kotaku. It’s by Shepard Fairey. It’s for a video game called Civilization Revolution.)

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    2 November 2010

    A deep thought about election day (before)

    I love this song for the same reasons I love America — the synthesis. It’s a little bit country, a little bit hip-hop, a little bit rock’n’roll. That’s the way we used to roll all the time, but not any more. Yes, history is a straw dog. “How things used to be” is a hollow promise. But still, let’s take a moment, an dedicate it to how things used to be, at least in my imagination.

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    21 September 2010

    Some quick thoughts on the death of the record as object

    I hope my last post did not strike you as too morbid. But it’s true, sometimes I worry the songbird is dying…

    As some of you may know, I founded and run a record label. As of about six months ago I was running another one as well. And about two months before that I was still lending a hand on a third label. I’ve slowly but surely sloughed off some of these responsibilities in the last year, taking on new ones working in artist management. Because I’m no idiot. I can attest to the fact that it’s rough out there for recorded music. I’d like to be able to pay my rent a year from now — and artist management seems to be the way to do it. (Not to mention the fact that getting to manage artists gives me access to a level of talented people far more advanced in their respective careers, and their respective art, than I was ever able to draw to any of the small, relatively underresourced labels I helped steer.)

    But what is lost as record labels go the way of the choo-choo train and the typewriter?

    As the death of the record seems ever more evident, more & more important figures are starting to realize what will be missed — the latest, it seems, being Sufjan Stevens‘ record label Asthmatic Kitty and a member of the band Radiohead. First a word from Asthmatic Kitty that went out to those who purchased Sufjan’s recent All Delighted People EP at Bandcamp.

      “So. We have it on good authority that Amazon will be selling The Age of Adz for a very low price on release date, not unlike they did with Arcade Fire’s recent (and really terrific) The Suburbs. We’re not 100% sure Amazon will do this, but mostly sure.

      “We have mixed feelings about discounted pricing. Like we said, we love getting good music into the hands of good people, and when a price is low, more people buy. A low price will introduce a lot of people to Sufjan’s music and to this wonderful album. For that, we’re grateful.

      “But we also feel like the work that our artists produce is worth more than a cost of a latte. We value the skill, love, and time they’ve put into making their records. And we feel that our work too, in promotion and distribution, is also valuable and worthwhile.

      “That’s why we personally feel that physical products like EPs should sell for around $7 and full-length CDs for around $10-12 We think digital EPs should sell for around $5 and full-length digital albums for something like $8.

      “So you might wonder why we’d ‘allow’ Amazon to sell it for lower than that. [Editorial note: I have participated in some of these Amazon “deals” with Brassland — and believe me, at times you “allowed” to participate in the same way that a mob enforcer might “allow” you to pay them protection money.]

      “There are several reasons why, but mostly it’s because we believe in you. We trust you and in your ability to make your own choice.”

    The fine folks at Asthmatic Kitty went on to offer a range of options to direct order the record, pre-order it at a neighborhood independent record store, et. al. Radiohead’s bassist Colin Greenwood got closer to the heart of the matter with a piece he wrote for Index on Censorship. I’d never heard of the publication but it seems to be a kind of British equivalent to the ACLU, with less focus on freedom of speech and more focus on freedom of expression. (Yes, it would probably take a constitutional lawyer to really parse the difference.)

    Take it away Colin, who describes the band’s thought process a few years after releasing the pay-as-you-will breakthrough In Rainbows:

      “Three years later, we have just finished another group of songs, and have begun to wonder about how to release them in a digital landscape that has changed again. It seems to have become harder to own music in the traditional way, on a physical object like a CD, and instead music appears the poor cousin of software, streamed or locked into a portable device like a phone or iPod. I buy hardly any CDs now and get my music from many different sources: Spotify, iTunes, blog playlists, podcasts, online streaming – reviewing this makes me realise that my appetite for music now is just as strong as when I was 13, and how dependent I am upon digital delivery. At the same time, I find a lot of the technology very frustrating and counter-intuitive. I spend a lot of time using music production software, but iTunes feels clunky. I wish it was as simple and elegant as Apple’s hardware. I understand that we have become our own broadcasters and distributors, but I miss the editorialisation of music, the curatorial influences of people like John Peel or a good record label. I liked being on a record label that had us on it, along with Blur, the Beastie Boys and the Beatles.

      “I’m unconvinced that the internet has replaced the club or the concert hall as a forum for people to share ideas and passions about music.”

    Well put. For once in my life, I’m speechless.

    (Image via the New York Times.)

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    17 August 2010

    Crass & Mary Margaret O’Hara de-recluse themselves


    In the overmediated age we find ourselves in, I have a kind of kneejerk negative reaction to the entire notion of the recluse. Especially when the semifamous are accused of such behavior, it strikes me less as a desire for obscurity, than an assertion of self-respect, a meek demand for privacy, and/or a slide into a more decent sort of existence. Viz Salinger, admittedly a tad more famous than some of the “obscure” musicians whose work I admire.

    In any case, there’s no denying two of my favorite icons of ’80s music have been accused of reclusive behavior. But today I woke up, fired up the internets, and bumped into two fine examples of them speaking loud and clear. So, without further adieu:

    CRASS in VICE MAGAZINE
    MARY MARGARET O’HARA on Q TV

    One of the great archival photographs that appears alongside the great Crass interview appears above. Another right below.

    And here is the Mary Margaret O’Hara interview in its entirety.

    If you click on the tags to this post you can find a fair bit more of my internet ramblings about these two folks. And, because I’ll always appeal to prurient interests when given the chance, there’s one last image of Crass — a nudie shot! — after the jump.
    Read more »

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