28 April, 2009

Jello sings the blues.

"I saw the Berlin Wall go up and watched Vietnam being fought on TV every night. And my parents, rather than shield me from reality the way some many other Eisenhower-generation parents did to their kids, tried to explain to me what was going on and why they felt it was bad for cops with dogs to be hosing down civil rights demonstrators in Selma, Alabama. My dad actually drove me through the slums of Detroit one time to show me why people were rioting in the cities.

So when people around me complain-- you know. 'Why don't you ever write any personal stuff? We want to hear some personal stuff. We want to hear the real you.'--I tell them that this is basically what comes out of me. This is my way of singing the blues."

-Jello Biafra, Option Magazine, 1991

27 April, 2009

my boyfriend's back? - a monday morning web meander.

While wandering around Flickr, looking for free, creative commons images to use in the design for my new website (stay tuned!), I came across this gem:

Which, as the title of this post suggests, reminded me of The Angel's 1964 hit My Boyfriend's Back. ["My boyfriend, Revolution, is back, and you're going to be in trouble."] Which, given the creepy quasi-chivalrous vibe --(knight in shining armor?)--reminded me of this song, first introduced to me by Andrew Tholl:

Which lead me to ask: When will Marilyn Manson cover this song? I mean, it would be absolutely perfect.

(Stay tuned for a complete theory of the transformative application of persona in the cover songs of Marilyn Manson, which I swear I will write about someday....once I finally finish my dissertation.)

22 April, 2009

Susan Boyle / Martin Tanner

Feministing has an interesting, if ultimately bleak, analysis of Susan Boyle's recent triumph on Britain's Got Talent. The Boyle Situation suggests a trend from that show: the person-everyone-thinks-will-suck-based-largely/solely-on-how-they-look, who then blows the audience out of the water. (Remember Paul Potts?)

This is likely done for ratings--everyone loves an "underdog". But at a deeper level, it frames things in a way that accentuates the "ugly" so that it can be all the more moving then it is finally accepted by the "beautiful" on the basis of merit. (They really play it up in the edit room, showing shots of Boyle chomping on a doughnut before the show, complete with "fat kid" underscoring.) And the hosts are totally up front about it--Amanda Whatever calling Potts "a lump of coal" that can be transformed into a diamond. And it's okay for them to do this, the editing tells us, because, based on the reactions in the crowd it's just what everyone was thinking anyway.

I am not really qualified to get into this topic in any actual depth, but I wonder: to what degree is this a matter of the tension within an insider/outsider dichotomy? I dated someone once who used to boast that she'd "performed at Carnegie Hall." And while this was factually true, the performance took place in the context of Carnegie as a rental space, not as a presenting institution. I say this not to criticize, but rather to illuminate the dichotomy. For her, there really was no difference between Carnegie Hall and "Carnegie Hall," but for anyone who "knows better" there clearly is.

To bring it back to BGT: if you are an outsider like this, then--like Potts and Boyle--you might just not understand "how it works." (You might think Carnegie is "Carnegie".) You thereby might "do things wrong"--by insider standards--like wear the "wrong shoes" or "have bad hair" or whatever other socially prescribed nonsense. In some cases, this extends even to the point of having no clue as to what constitutes "good music," which we're fed regularly on American Idol. (Idle?)

Anyway, on some level the whole situation reminds me of this song by the late Harry Chapin, about a cleaner from the Midwest, who decides to make a go of it and try to have a professional singing career. As a young musician, I thought often about the distinction he makes between music-as-life and music-as-livelihood. Check it out:

21 April, 2009


So, I know it's been said elsewhere, but I have to hand it to Life's a Pitch for putting together a pretty brilliant/fun PR activity to promote the performance of Michael Gordon's Trance coming up tomorrow at LPR. (Though she notes that it was actually Michael Gordon's idea!) Some Newspeak regulars will be playing, and EM and I will there to embrace the work's wondrous pummeling.

20 April, 2009

Slow and Steady

Congratulations to Steve Reich, whose Double Sextet was just awarded the 2009 Pulitzer Prize in Music. Double Sextet was commissioned by eighth blackbird, and was premiered by them at the University of Richmond last March. The NYC premiere took place at Carnegie Zankel Hall on April 17, 2008, exactly one year before the first annual New Music Bake Sale.

Welcome / Bake Sale / Brooklyn Phil

Welcome to new readers arriving here here via Createquity, and many thanks to Mr. Moss for the kind shout-out. As for the note that this blog is infrequently updated, I'd like to restate my on-going promise to post more often. If the last few months are any indication, this may be a bit of a losing battle, but to willfully misquote Orwell's Boxer, I re-affirm: I will try harder.

So a few things have been going on. Some excellent and some not so excellent; and both, oddly, in Brooklyn. First the not-so-great: I just read that the Brooklyn Philharmonic has not only canceled the rest of this season, but ALL of next season's programming. They've been in the news a lot recently, since they are also being sued by Nathan Currier over what seems to have been a rather unpleasant situation all around. (And one on which I will take no sides, though am tickled to read posts by those who will!)

This is a sad thing, obviously, but the Brooklyn Phil is one of those arts organizations that was destined to get slammed by this economic disaster greed-fest. AA and I were recently talking about this; how the groups to survive this recession/depression will be the mammoth groups and the small-DIY groups. The mid-sized groups will be the ones with the greatest likelihood of going under. The large groups are so--ahem--well-endowed, that they can weather anything, while the smaller groups live on basically nothing as it is--and generally have little or no staff to support--so they too will survive.

And speaking of small-DIY organizations, now for the good news: New Music Bake Sale! Newspeak and Ensemble de Sade have been working like mad for the last four months or so to present the First Annual New Music Bake Sale. And I am pleased to report: we actually pulled it off! And not only that, but it was great, far exceeding our expectations!

This was a union of the small and DIY, and I really mean union. There were groups of all aesthetic varieties, and there was--to be blunt--no bullshit. There was none of the old, storied uptown/downtown nonsense. There was no competitiveness. There were just people who love new music enough to work really hard at it, for little or no money, on a regular basis for a long time. It was a diverse but amazingly supportive vibe. As James Holt mentioned in his kind addendum over at Sequenza 21--"we're all in this together." Another blog noted that "everyone at the tables was charming, friendly, convivial," saying that it was "like a modern day Woodstock minus the mud and the rain."

And I think this is sort of a great way to think about it. Woodstock had Hendrix, Sly Stone, Sha Na Na, and CSN&Y. We had Newspeak, Talea Ensemble, Red Light New Music, So Percussion, Wet Ink, and Dither (and, like 20 others). All at the same event. All very different. All equally supportive. I think it says something powerful about the current DIY generation, and about the sense of community we embrace. Not to get ahead of myself here, but maybe this is how/why we'll ultimately survive. At least I hope so.

Photo from Feast of Music.

06 April, 2009

Staff Sgt. Phillip Myers Comes Home

The Times recently had a brief but very sobering post about Air Force Staff Sgt. Phillip Myers, the first KIA service person to be photographed in his flag-draped coffin, returning home. As per the conditions of the recent ban lift--the result of an executive order from President Obama--Myers family gave their consent to the press attending the ceremonial and sad homecoming.

Some things in the article really struck me. The first is how quickly things change, perhaps in general, but in war in particular: Myers was awarded a bronze star on March 19, yet just over two weeks later he was dead, and days later returns home draped in a flag. The second--and this is really nothing shocking, but brought things home for me--is that Myers was 30, as am I.

But the sentence I found particularly chilling was this: "Dover Air Force base, in Delaware, houses the largest military mortuary in the country and is the Pentagon’s point of entry for service men and women killed abroad." One assumed that there had to have been a location for something like this, but actually learning where it is sort of shook me. It is as if Pentagon has built its own private San Michele, which I somehow found troubling. I wonder if, among the military, there is the sense that one wants to go home, unless it's to Dover.

Those opposing the lift on the ban fear that the images of the draped coffins could become politicized. While this is certainly possible--(some might say inevitable)-- these images provide an essential dose of empathy, an illuminating look at how the military works, and in particular how it deals with their dead. Being able to see these photos has the potential to open eyes and alter perceptions.

It reminds me of something my grandfather--a WWII vet from the European Theatre--said during his interview for Soldier Songs, paraphrased here:

At First Army Headquarters, keeping a record of all the casualties--the dead the wounded--and that's about the first time it hit me, when you see all the casualties coming through, he dead the wounded...though I never recognized any of the names.

Just reading this short blog entry in the Times, well, in some ways it's really the first time it hit me. It made the war more real, more dreadful. It made the sacrifices of those who fight it--and of their families--all the more vivid. Is this somewhat unpleasant? Perhaps, but it is also very important. If this ban lift will help the American people better see the true (if difficult) cost of this war, then it is nothing if not positive.

04 April, 2009

Guerrilla Music

The best thing ever? Maybe.