Return of the King

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in action in 1967 - Associated Press Photo“If a man hasn’t discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., murdered Apr 4 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee

Today is the observed holiday commemoration of the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr., born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta (as Michael Luther King, Jr.), four days back and 75 years ago. I’m sure there’s some esoteric reason why this couldn’t fall last Friday, but whatever. A holiday’s a holiday, no arguing with that.

No holiday for me, though. At my Day Job we get either Martin Luther King Day as a day off, or Columbus Day, which lands in October. We can have one of them, but not both. Every year this puzzles me. It’s an enigma, wrapped in a riddle, rolled up in a tortilla, served with a DayTimer on the side.

Choice is a funny thing. We love the idea of it, if not the reality. Coke or Pepsi, Britney or Xtina, MTV or VH1. Choice is a blunt instrument most days of the week, a handy device to mash possibilities flat rather than explore them. Coffee vs. Vanilla Hazelnut Pistachio Peach-Velvet Extract Decaf Essence de Java hot beverage; Budweiser vs. Coors. Something you might care about ponied up against something convenient or overdressed, or two equally poor options and no way out. False choices discourage depth and knowledge, and proper ones encourage thought.

“Love is not emotional bash; it is not empty sentimentalism. It is the active outpouring of one’s whole being into the being of another.” – M.L. King, Jr.

If your choice is Britney or Christina, for example, the correct answer is probably Julia Darling. Or Amy Speace. Or Tricia Scotti, who doesn’t even have a website any more but was the best pop-rock voice you never heard, hands down.

In David Lynch’s Wild at Heart (1990), a warped, twisty, uncomfortable road fantasy equal parts Elvis and Wizard of Oz, Nicolas Cage defends his unusual wardrobe by saying, “This snakeskin jacket is a symbol of my personal freedom” (I paraphrase, I’m afraid, it’s been a while). Americana in a druggy nutshell: give me the appearance of choice, or give me death.

Every year I’m briefly torn. I’d like to take Martin Luther King day as a holiday. Of the few individuals we honor each year, King is closest to my world. I would like to think about him over a late cup of coffee, at the start of a quiet day spent home working or in aimless wander. Columbus? They have nothing to do with each other, and the juxtaposition is silly and faintly insulting.

But work is a pragmatic realm, and when push comes to shove I’ll take a free and footloose day in sweet October, when New York has its best weather and I’m usually desperate to be out in it, over dark and frigid January. So Columbus it is, and apologies to the good Reverend Doctor.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – M.L. King, Jr.

Posted in General Musings |

Pitchin’ Some “Woooo”

Dear Rock Music Person:

I like your music. I do. That is why I am at your show. Even if I came to see the band playing before you/ after you/ yesterday (oops), I am here for your set as well, which should indicate that you are talented/ cute/ interesting/ naked enough that I decided to stay (choose all that apply).

Due to circumstances possibly beyond your control, you are starting at least 30 minutes late. If this is Don Hill’s, it may be after midnight and you are probably over 90 minutes late. I might be having a bang-up whizzo time standing around waiting for you to play, but I also might be thinking about other places I could be and other things I could be doing while I sip a drink that would be a better drink if I were elsewhere.

There is nothing you can do at this point to whip us into a frenzy. If we have not provided this frenzy by your second number, then there will be no frenzy this time out. Shouts of “Let Me Hear You New York” and “Make Some Noise Out There” do not make us spontaneously leap about like a whooping hooked fish, nor will come-hither questions like “Do You Like to Rock, New York???” followed by the inevitable “I Can’t Hear You” bait us into shouting “woo” with feeling. Please stop asking. We are too cold or tired or bored, and we are not in the mood.

In future, you might wish to consider one or more of the following:

(1) Start on time.
(2) Don’t suck.
(3) Less time at the tattoo parlor, more time with the music teacher.
(4) NO ENCORES WHEN YOU START LATE.
(5) You call that a song?

Also, please quit referring to us as “New York” when you’re also from here. It’s just embarrassing. This ain’t Madison Square Garden.

Love,

The Audience.

Posted in Music Theory |

It’s Not Just A Theory, It’s A Good Idea!

“Former Vice President Al Gore will deliver an address on global warming at the Beacon Theater tonight Thursday, January 15.”

The Newspapers

Observed at Central Park, New York
3:51 PM EST on January 15, 2004:

Temperature 14 °F / -10 °C
Windchill -3 °F / -19 °C
Wind WNW at 18 mph / 29 km/h
Wind Gust 26 mph / 43 km/h

Tonight

Partly cloudy…blustery…and dangerously cold. Lows around zero. Northwest winds 25 to 30 mph. Wind chill values as low as 30 below.

The Weather Service

He should demand a recount…

Posted in General Musings |

Just Walk Away, L.A.

While we sit here gnashing in the cold, and Nancy from Leaving Los Angeles posts commiserating comments about how those 70-degree days in California get boring after a while (sigh), and as our Ethan Lipton business spins up to a froth and a tizzy (are those master discs sitting over there on my desk? Why yes they are!) and there’s no time for sleeping or blogging anywhere in the land, it looks like the rest of the world is going right to hell as well. So at least I’m not alone in my scratchy handbasket.

For one thing, major movers in major shaking labels are dropping like Coco-de-Mer nuts this wacky week, and it’s about time.

If you thought the trouble with the modern music business stemmed from piratical digital downloading, you bought a bad line sold by an increasingly-notorious and ruthless bunch of lobbyists pretending to be advocates of rights and propriety. The problem never really had much to do with those squawky mp3′s and broadband campus lines. It was the usual trouble endemic to our current incarnation of vicious slash-and-burn capitalism, and had to do with opportunism and money-grubbing. When ruthless execs flog finance out of a horse that’s been getting sicker by the decade, and nobody bothers to feed the horse (why waste money on all that expensive food?), eventually the horse is going to vomit up blood and keel over. At this point the execs cluster around the corpse, look serious, clasp their hands behind their backs, and sagely say, “It’s downloading did this. Damn shame. Those thieves need to be taught a lesson.” Um, right.

Mind you the downloading thing does need to be dealt with. But it’s a small part of a very mean high-stakes puzzle.

Can the beating be far behind?Arista’s prez Antonio “L.A.” Reid (Outkast, Avril Lavigne) is suddenly out of a job, so apparently I wasn’t the only one who thought giving Whitney Houston somewhere between $20 million and $40 million to sweeten up her deal wasn’t such a hot idea. The rumor rope says that Elektra’s Sylvia Rhone will be toast by the end of next week (she is likely to free-fall to Universal), soon to be followed by Atlantic’s Val Azzoli and Craig Kallman, and Roger Ames at Warner. Even elder guru Clive Davis at RCA is fingered to be out sooner than later – and it’s about time.

Don’t worry if you don’t know who these people are. You’re not supposed to. Some are the ones who get fat by making music suck, and some are their agents. That’s fat like hundreds of millions of dollars fat. And that’s suck like what radio sounds like, as compared to the recordings you actually love and own and like the music that makes you wonder if music didn’t used to be better back in those days (hint: yes). That’s suck like goo produced to lubricate a system that runs on mammoth payments of graft for airplay, that takes bald-faced advertising and gussies it up to look like a reflection of popular taste. George Steinbrenner is just about saintly and idealistic by comparison.

Roger Friedman puts it well in his column today for the Fox news channel:

Is this mess in the record industry all because of downloading? In a word: No. It’s about radio being run by a monopoly, and A&R guys and gals who refuse to sign new talent with lasting futures. It’s about rap and hip-hop junk, and sampling replacing actual composition.

The group getting fired this week isn’t especially evil: they’re just the first pins to go down in a crisis that has finally reached the executive level. The industry has downsized – that’s “fired without warning” in the Low Speech – a few thousand trench-level employees recently, and most of them made workman’s wages and loved, loved, loved their jobs and were thrilled to live and breathe music. More cutbacks are coming down the pike. If execs had been tossed out first and the grunts kept in the field, the world might sound a little different. Wouldn’t that be nice? But the execs were making that decision, so the ship sails on. Attention: iceberg ahead. And it’s about time.

There is some justice in this crazy world. Oldish news perhaps, but I just found out today that the Uniform Code Council (the bar code people) has been told by the Courts that no, they may not charge annual fees to customers like me who bought lifetime access to their bar codes. So that’s something. Nyah nyah.

A propos of nothing, Velcrometer has an exquisitely funny entry from Monday about the ins and outs of Max Payne 2 and Atari’s old chestnut Super Breakout. The blog – “Throwing Stuff at the Internet to See What Sticks” – is beautifully written and wry, and this post is a corker.

And our man in Los Angeles, never one to leave an icebound New Yorker in peace, checks in to update us on the weather out there.

Today: Mostly sunny. Highs in the mid to upper 70s.
It was so nice this morning — I put the top down on the Mercedes to drive into the office.
Writing this message in my short pants and t-shirt.

Bleagh.

Posted in Music Theory |

Ice Ice Baby

Today, as New York creaks under a spell of record cold temperatures, our man in Los Angeles sends a spontaneous e-hail under the subject line “I’m Sorry…” which reads, in its entirety:

I was sitting on my balcony in short pants and no shirt enjoying the mid-70′s sunny weather today, when I happened to notice a weather report from New York City.

Just a jump to the Left (Coast)Haw. Haw. Haw.

I can’t really complain, though. I deserve the tweak because I’ve done the same. Last year at some frigid point, January or February or April or June or whenever it was, I spent a balmy week out there. Once the rain stopped – it rains whenever I’m in L.A., even when I just change planes at LAX thunderheads gather – the rest of my spell was a textbook experience in beautiful sun-drenched West Coast winter. In the middle of it I emailed this photo of me having a morning coffee moment to a bunch of snowlocked New York friends … and it felt good.

Of course there’s the downside as well.

Linus in L.A.: What a beautiful day!
L.A. Person: Hi! Wow, you need to do Atkins.

Last night I went to a birthday party in Park Slope. The birthday boy, a West Coast transplant, came to the door with his digital camera and clicked off a shot of me in my long coat (grandfather’s), fuzzy scarf, bunny hat. “Sending it home?” I asked. “Yep,” he answered. “I want to show them what zero degrees looks like.” If I can run down a copy I’ll post it here. Meantime, that up there? That’s what 7o degrees looks like. I don’t want to hear it.

Posted in General Musings |

Like a Record, Baby

Tunes, tunes, everywhereWe’re at the soft world-is-our-oyster all-the-possibilities stage of our next Home Office Records release, a heaping helping of a live EP by Ethan Lipton. I haven’t talked much about Ethan here, since Pepper of the Earth is about blogging, not flogging our wares. On the other hand, it is about My Favorite Things, so there.

New parents post about their kids, and record guys post about their records. The sky is blue. You know how it goes.

Deadlines are breathing close – we have a publicity thing looming near on the horizon and nothing is quite done yet, not quite – but the mixes are resolving, like film in the chemical pans, from streaks of raw grain into images, taking on texture and weight and personality. The graphics are spiffy, light-hearted, and fun. Last night the advance rough mix of “Lonely Poor and Fat” winged in from Boston, and a whole section of the sequence snapped into final form. And we’ve got the end and we’re nearly there on the beginning, and all of this is good.

This record won’t be for everyone, and as an indie label that’s pretty much how we like it. Ethan is like a well-mannered but brash dinner guest toasting Tom Lehrer over aperitifs at Randy Newman‘s dinner party. If those names don’t mean much to you, here’s help: Tom Lehrer is a Professor of Mathematics who translated The Wizard of Oz into Latin, taught extensively at Harvard and MIT (and at last call was teaching courses in math and musical theatre at University of California, Santa Cruz), and spent a chunk of his life writing and singing truly classic satirical songs (“Poisoning Pigeons in the Park,” “The Masochism Tango,” and “The Vatican Rag” are just a few). He also wrote and sang the “Silent E” song from The Electric Company. Randy Newman – well, come on, you know Randy Newman. You do. Brilliant, crusty, insightful, expressive, unique, plays piano. That’s the one. Yes, all right, “Short People,” fine, if we have to be cheap about it.

Ethan Lipton is a playwright and a transplanted Los Angeles surfer writer, the kind of sharp observer who says the sorts of things most people don’t. That’s good two ways: it’s good that most people don’t, and it’s good that Ethan does. When Pierre and I first saw him perform it was solo, in the enviable but difficult dressed slot between burlesque dancers (this is a position with an inescapable subtext: “Hello, I’m not going to take my clothes off, but I hope you’ll like me anyway.” Though in compensation you get to hang out backstage with the girls). We were transported by the sheer wonderful folly of a well-turned-out guy in a good suit singing gentle tweaks at life, a capella and alone and oblivious to the strangeness of it.

“That,” I said to Pierre, “takes balls.”

If that sounds like fun to you, you can listen to some Ethan Lipton rough mixes. Rough mixes. That means what it says, they aren’t done, they’re just there for your checking-out pleasure. If that doesn’t sound like fun, you might be interested in Ethan Lipton’s helpful suggestions for coping with life, the universe, and everything. Or not. He’s got recipes, too.

Ethan’s CD is part of our new family of SQUIRT recordings, about which more later, but in short SQUIRTs are limited-release hand-numbered boutique editions that are kinda special and personal in a tousled kind of way … we’ll get into this another time.

Robert Burke Warren - ...To This DayLast night Robert Burke Warren sang at The Living Room, a welcome break from his Babylonian Captivity of 2003 (only one gig the whole year in New York, bummer). I wrote a piece on Robert Burke Warren a few years back when I was doing regular columns for MusicDish online. It’s excitable and overwritten, but it touches all the bases, if not exactly in order. Ah, youth. Maybe I’ll rewrite it some day.

Today Robert’s music is as spry and dry as ever, and if anything he has sharpened his already fine sense of leave-taking, regret, and rambunctious sorrow. A regulation set was far too short to address everything that needed to be said after a year of recording and family life upstate (they have TREES and ANIMALS up there, or so I hear). His new songs were tender and delightfully complete, his old favorites well-missed and welcome back. Robert’s new CD, Lazyeye, should be out sooner than later. His 1999 debut record, …To This Day, is simply glorious.

Posted in Music Theory |

Panem Et Discos Compactos

My old CD player is balking. More and more often it just sits there blinking, and pretends there’s no disk in its maw. Normally, I wouldn’t mind much since I hardly ever listen to recorded music these days –I don’t like any distraction when I’m writing code– and when I do it’s usually mp3 samples to check out a new band for inclusion in the New and Improved Gigometer™; that, I do on the computer.

But there’s some nasty IRQ conflict somewhere (Hate PCI! Hate PCI!) and I can’t play CDs unless I have freshly rebooted; since I reboot only every 3 or 4 weeks, that does not leave much time to go through my ever-accumulating pile of stuff. I still have some CDs from last year’s South By Southwest that I probably should go through before this year’s conference rolls around! And so it came that I got a portable CD/mp3 player, a Philips EXP503.

The Philips Expanium 503First of all, I hate the name. “Expanium“? Or –as they so madisonavenuely put it– “eXpanium“? “Panium is the genitive plural of panis, but what would expanis mean? “Former bread” I guess… I’ve bought a “Of The Croutons”? Gimme a break!

On the plus side, it’s downtown black –always good enough, as the saying goes, until something darker comes along– and it’s got this dark blue LC display, hard to read but very stylish. (The headphones are dark blue as well, but I think they were made for elves; human ears don’t bend that way…) Never mind, Art Tatum is sounding pretty good right now, and the claim is that this contraption will go on playing for 20 hours on its two, puny AA batteries. Does physics really allow that?

All I need to do now is to figure out how to burn all that old vinyl onto CD-R; and since yesterday was Elvis’s birthday, I should mention that I still have the very first record I ever bought:

RCA 86.304 E.P.

Three continents, four countries, and four transatlantic crossings. Still going strong!

Posted in General Musings |

The Other Chicken Soup

My mind is still soap from my throat being sawdust (oh, the joys of illin’). The curative powers of chicken soup should never be underestimated, especially when there are Jews about. I had some this afternoon, and now I’m wanting a nap.

Last night, as my fingers froze one by one, plinking from my icy hands to shatter in the gutters (I dislike wearing gloves, and a few nights each year I really regret not having them handy), I hustled down Montague Street to Andy’s Chinese in Brooklyn Heights.

It’s wonderful what a good bowl of hot and sour soup will do for the throat and the soul. It may not replace chicken soup any time soon, but it does the job.

Andy’s is closer to the subway than to the house, and on the swarm home the streets were stone empty, but for the splinters of abandoned fingers here and there. The wind howled a bit less than on the City side. It was good to burrow down inside and make more Yogi tea.

Posted in General Musings |

It’s a Man’s Word

Jess is suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous breaking-up on her public gibbet at Blind Cavefish, where her Blogger configurations don’t allow links to individual entries. She’s been working her way attentively through the six seven stages of breaking up, as identified by feel-good diet doc Stephen P. Gullo in his book Loveshock: How to Recover from a Broken Heart & Love Again, a treatise that I personally have not read. Though I’ve been there, of course, and plenteously.

Amazon’s page for Loveshock gloriously suggests that if you like this title, you may also be interested in File-Rescue Plus: Recover Deleted Files software.

The six seven stages, as per good Ph.D. Gullo, are 1. shock, 2. grief, 3. blame/ anger, 4. resignation, 5. rebuilding, and 6. resolution, to which we will add 7. blogging. Kübler-Ross? Who’s that? Doesn’t she make cookies?

Today Jess laments that guy friends call her “dude,” which fails to address her proper Girl-Nature. This is an interesting problem, since the true opposite-gender equal term for “dude” is clearly “babe.” These days, that either gets you smacked or earns raised eyebrows, depending on what genre of women you hang out with. (Guy is to Doll as Dude is to ______________, and I rest my case.)

My dictionary – Webster’s Deluxe Unabridged, Second Edition, 1979 – gives “dude” only as a man’s word, and has no listing for female alternatives. The two correct (air quotes) possibilities, “dudine” and the less-favored “dudess,” are not listed at all.

I favor “dude” as a sexless term, though, like “Sir” in Star Trek. Dude-itude is a state of mind and has nothing to do with sexual characteristics. Of course there’s only one true capital-letter Dude, and that is Jeff “Bridges” Lebowski in The Big Lebowski. But you knew that.

Home sick today, with a throat that feels like one of those cheap white athletic socks they sell at the discount stores. Little by little my collection of Yogi Tea Company products is soothing it back into flesh. In the meantime, it’s amazing how much a body can sleep.

Posted in General Musings |

Perchance to Dream

Panoramic view from the Mars Lander. NASA/JPL Photo.
HG Wells - War of the WorldsEdgar Rice Burroughs - Princess of MarsRay Bradbury - The Martian ChroniclesRobert A. Heinlein - Stranger in a Strange Land

Last night while I was ruminating on past New Year’s antics, the Mars Exploration Rover named Spirit bounce-landed in the Gusev Crater, a basin about the size of Connecticut lying southeast of the small Cerberus mountains, between the Elysium plain and the Utopia mountain range in the upper section of the southern hemisphere of the fourth planet in our solar system. Unlike the other landers which have hit Mars at high speed in the last few years, Spirit rolled to a stop and then called the folks, checking in after a trip of 302,600,000 miles from its home in Florida.

Spiffy New NASA Front PageIt’s spectacular news. When I was growing up we didn’t have a newfangled television thing, and we rented TV sets (in glorious black and white) for moon shots and post-assassination state funerals. I still get a thrill thinking that we left footprints in the Mare Tranquillitatis. Now there’s a new set of tire tracks on Martian soil. It makes me think that we might, for a few moments, actually matter. Just a bit. Enough for here, and for now. If we can survive long enough.

The news is so exciting that NASA can be forgiven its burst of exuberant post-ironic graphics. <– That’s not an ad poster for the newest motion picture action vehicle starring the Governor of a Large State Near You; it’s the new NASA web site front page, complete with CNN-style slogan – “Roaming the Red Planet” – and missing only a set of corporate endorsements. Nike, Coke, Xbox, what, are you people asleep on the job?

If I were ten years old today I think I would never stop leaping and shouting and shivering in the pull of dreams of frontier and future.

See that bit on the left, with the three rocks? That’s where we’re going to put the Starbucks.

Posted in General Musings |