A dimly-remembered version of the Mr. Belvedere theme song has gotten stuck in my head. It’s a little worrisome. It’s not unlike the process behind Dirty Projectors’ Rise Above, except (a)I am not a classically-trained, conceptually-minded musician; (b)it’s the Mr. Belvedere theme. So I have an old-timey combo making music in the dimly-lit corners of my mind, and the crooning lyrics that go over it sound something like this:
Two: Also returning: Kat Bakes, with a post about weddings, cakes, and their union.
Three: Shla Scanlon — whose serialized novel I really need to start reading — profiles the Seattle band ULGM for The Rumpus. I’m presently listening to the songs on their myspace page, and I like what I hear so far — notably, how there’s just a slight Dead Kennedys-esque air of menace to the vocals that contrasts nicely with the restraint of the music.
Four: Also being listened to around these parts a lot lately: 24-Carat Black’s Gone: The Promise of Yesterday, “I Want to Make Up” in particular.
Two: The Chicago Reader on onetime Punk Planet editor Dan Sinker’s new project: CellStories, in which short stories are delivered to subscribers’ phones once per day. The article goes on to discuss the aesthetic benefits of print and digital, as well as the ways in which they may be compatible.
Three: Matthew Yglesias weighs in on the Chris Anderson/Malcolm Gladwell debate on free pricing, and says some smart things about business models in the process.
As I write this, I’m somewhat pressed for time, and thus don’t have the ability to write up an amazing line of thought connecting the three pieces linked below. However, I suspect that one could be created; were I more professorial, I would write this post up in the form of an essay question.
One: At the excellent new Atlantic Correspondents blog, Hua Hsu discusses limited-edition books/magazines/art. It’s a good argument, and I’m glad to see it made in a high-profile place. (Odd case in point: I just ordered the upcoming issue of Yeti. It’s one of my favorite publications out there, both in the scope and quality of what it covers — but I also like the way it’s assembled: the digest size, the artwork, the way it fits together. And, I think, to an extent — a lot of that accounts for Yeti’s appeal and, dare I say, charm. Which is not to say that its editor, Mike McGonigal, is unaware of making work available for the web — quite the opposite, in fact.)
Two: Rudy Wurlitzer — whose The Drop Edge of Yonder is definitely worth your time — discusses the upcoming reissue of several of his novels.
Three: At The Rumpus, Peter Selgin explores Amazon’s customer reviews and shares some particularly memorable swings at modern classics.
1. Scott Esposito at Conversational Reading on bookstores large and small, and the trend pieces that do not necessarily reflect them accurately.
[Apologies for the delays between posts; home internet service has been spotty for the last two weeks, a condition which seems to have been ameliorated as of Monday night.]
Two essays appeared last week, each addressing changes in the media landscape, each presenting a pragmatic kind of optimism present. And yet one sustains its mood and manages to infect the reader with its optimism; the other, unfortunately, is marred by a strange shift into meanspiritedness that
First: Robert Christgau on the end of Blender. (Douglas Wolk has thoughts on the same topic that are also worth reading.) And via musing on the end of Blender, we get a capsule history of music magazines in the last decade: editorial politics, histories of criticism, and shifting word counts abound. It’s eloquently done, and leaves you thinking that, hey, most things might turn out okay.
Second, Mark Morford on assorted future-of-newspapers pieces. Morford’s piece is an attempt to digest multiple theories of where newspapers are going, and the fact that he openly bristles at the bizarre quasi-joy some seem to be taking in watching an industry contort is welcome. And his analysis seems solid — there’s a good mixture of the theoretical and a sort of ground-level practicality, a solid knowledge of how the industry works.
But there’s one particular section of his that, I suspect, may well have caused a good chunk of the people who read this who’d be inclined to support his argument to shake their heads and walk away, and it’s this one:
Look, I’m all for media upheaval and revolution. I’m all for seeing what will emerge from the ashes of print, should it die out completely. But there’s a reason the traditional newsroom model has lasted 150 years, that professional journalism is still considered so vital to a healthy democracy, that it’s still a profession requiring years of training and education, and not just a casual hobby you engage in when you’re a little drunk and you’ve read a few McLuhan books and you don’t get enough sex so hey, might as well mosey over to that Planning Commission meeting and scribble some notes.
Specifically — I probably don’t need to say this — it’s the “casual hobby” bit, which very nearly made me abandon the reading of Morford’s piece. Morford makes a fine argument about the reputations and resources of, say, the New York Times — and then completely undermines his credibility by deciding he’s going to throw in some random blogger stereotypes. (I guess “hard-drinking and undersexed” is a step up from “pajamas-wearing basement-dwellers,” but not by much.) And it’s a shame, because the points and critiques he’s making are largely sensible and worthwhile. But it’s also hard to read this and wonder whether its author threw out a lot of his essay’s appeal in order to pick a relatively random fight.
As promised, some further thoughts on Reihan Salam’s “The Hipster Depression”. The first thing that struck me about the piece was that, despite its initial reference to Ian Svenonius’s “Rock, Real Estate, and Alan Greenspan”, Salam’s piece also works as an irreverent companion to Richard Florida’s recent Atlantic cover story on the recession’s effects on American geography. His theory — that the recession will lead to a significant increase in the amount of numerically large bands — seems tailor-made for a Might magazine revival; not a bad thing at all.
It’s the last line of the piece, though, that gives me pause:
…we can at least be sure that the dingy bars and nightclubs that keep outsider music alive won’t be turned into condominiums any time soon.
Maybe not condos per se, no. But there’s a key question that comes to mind — whether Salam’s talking about actual venues (which seem to me to be in a constant state of flux) versus the overall number of venues (which does not). It’s occasionally unsettling to realize that most of the venues at which I saw live music a decade ago are either closed or no longer hosting live music; at the same time, though, new venues do seem to be constantly opening, at least around these parts.
*-as a quick aside, it’s weirdly disconcerting to see a piece on SXSW written for an audience that isn’t automatically familiar with the festival and all that it connotes. It’s an experience not unlike the one I just had reading Jami Attenberg‘s The Kept Man, which has as its primary setting the North Brooklyn of a year or two ago, and thus occasionally caused me to mentally backtrack, trying to figure out whether the setting of a particular scene was, in fact, somewhere I frequent. (Also, as it should be said: The Kept Man is quite good.)
Earlier this week, the Washington Monthly ran a Charles Homans piece on the brief life of Culture11, a site that began its existence as a right-of-center answer to Slate and morphed into something altogether different. (Ta-Nehisi Coates has a good take on why this matters, regardless of where you fall, politically speaking.) The piece as a whole is absolutely worth a read, but it also brought to mind some questions on — essentially — criticism and ideology.
I’ve been meaning to link to Alan Jacobs’s Text Patterns — which began its life at said now-defunct site — for a while now, as I find to be one of the smarter takes on the broader questions and implications raised by an increase in reading on digital devices. (You’ll note that it’s now included in the sidebar.) But I’m also curious as to whether a work of criticism, whether a standalone review or ongoing coverage, regardless of its author’s politics, can be inherently considered to be of the right or the left. Putting it another way: if the same record review appears in Slate, the American Prospect, or the National Review, does its context matter? And while I realize I’m nowhere near the first to ask these questions, they remain worth asking — and as the idea of a more ideologically polarized media is predicted by some, I suspect they’ll continue to be relevant.
I’m reminded of J.D. Considine’s Experience Music Project Pop Conference presentation from last year — here summarized by Ned Raggett — in which he looked into the inherent politics of pop songs. Some further digging through the Pop Conference vaults also brings up Michael Daddino’s piece on the aforementioned National Review and its music criticism since the 1960s. Which, in many ways, echoes the Homans piece that brought us here in the first place.
Two NY Times pieces, each of which offers a different take on shifts within Rust Belt cities in recent years. I read this Alex Kotlowitz piece on condemned buildings in Cleveland earlier in the month and was devastated by the picture it painted — one of confused institutions and urban collapse, in which abandoned neighborhoods deteriorated rapidly.
One can look at this Toby Barlow op-ed on artists seeking remarkably cheap housing in Detroit [via Waxy] as the flipside of that, then.
When Jimenez arrived in Cleveland, he learned that the house had been vacant for two years; scavengers had torn apart the walls to get the copper piping, ripped the sinks from the walls and removed the boiler from the basement. He also learned that the city had condemned the house and would now charge him to demolish it. Brancatelli asked Jimenez, What were you thinking, buying a house unseen, from 2,000 miles away? “It was cheap,” Jimenez shrugged.
Detroit right now is just this vast, enormous canvas where anything imaginable can be accomplished.
All of which makes me wonder: are these two different viewpoints on nearly identical conditions? Or is there something inherent to Detroit that allows for optimism while Cleveland slides into disrepair? After reading Barlow’s piece, I’m left feeling somewhat inspired — but I’d also really like to know what makes a $1,000 house in Detroit a source of inspiration even as a $1,000 house in Cleveland is a source of despair.
Later this year, Featherproof is releasing Blake Butler’s Scorch Atlas, a book about which I’ve already rambled a bit. And, as it turns out, they’re also seeking remixes of one story for a digital collection to be released concurrently with Scorch Atlas.
We really hope you’ll join us in killing and reviving Blake’s fiction. It’s going to be fun.
Butler has more on it on his blog. Given that Chris Eaton’s The Grammar Architect and Rick Moody‘s “The Double Zero” (among others) have brought the concept of the cover version into fiction, it’s nice to see the remix collection doing the same. And I eagerly await seeing how the mixtape translates into literary terms.
[Brooklynites may also note that Butler is taking part in a reading at Greenpoint's Word Books on Thursday.]
Half-truths, obfuscations and apparent deceit — these are the wages of a world in which newspapers, their staffs eviscerated, no longer battle at the frontiers of public information. And in a city where officials routinely plead with citizens to trust the police, where witnesses have for years been vulnerable to retaliatory violence, we now have a once-proud department’s officers hiding behind anonymity that is not only arguably illegal under existing public information laws, but hypocritical as well.
Both a gripping narrative and, ultimately, a righteously angry (and ominous) encapsulation of the consequences of the consolidation of media. Seriously: read it.
Two interesting links on media and technology to start off the week.
Also, Christopher Bird on filesharing, fair use, and comics, in response to the recent closure of Livejournal’s scans_daily community.
It’s a frustrating period in culture right now, where the closure of Touch & Go Distribution seems to hover much of what I encounter in art. Example: today’s Lit Mob update brings with it a short piece on what the guys from The End of the World are reading. Understandable enough — especially given that Stefan Marolachakis is an editor of the online culture magazine Take the Handle — but also relevant to the above argument: The End of the World have released a pair of albums, including 2008′s fine French Exit, via Flameshovel and Pretty Activity, labels that have been significantly impacted by the Touch & Go situation.
In a more general update: both Chicago Public Radio and the Chicago Reader have pieces up talking with some of the affected labels. Menti0ned therein is an upcoming album from the generally kickass Chicago band Mannequin Men, its own release date potentially fluid at this point.
Said garage-rock group, then, provide a segue into what I hope will be an upbeat conclusion — five songs from the band Shrimpss, consisting of members of the aforementioned Mannequin Men, Lustre King, and The Narrator*. It’s a conscious slow burn, never bursting into the unfettered rock that the group is capable of, but instead building hardscrabble pop songs that work for every hook they lodge in your mind.
*-whose final show was well worth the destruction of a pair of glasses, you may recall.