Archive for October, 2007

I’m Doing It

I’ve decided to write a novel.

Not just any novel. I’m writing a NaNoWriMo novel.

That’s right. I’ve signed up to write a craptastic 50,000-word novel in November. I think my biggest problem (other than physically being able to sit at my computer long enough to force that much output) will be not editing. I’m sure this is a common issue. I edit text as I read it even — any text. Novels, non-fiction, instructions, blog posts, etc. I can’t help myself. I can’t let go.  I’m a better editor than writer.

Still, I think I have it in me. My inspiration is Paul Simon’s lyrics, namely, “Graceland“. That song in particular has so many snippets of stories that can be elaborated upon. His songs were about isolation, loneliness and life as an artist long before Thom York came along. And I love art inspired by art, or reactions to other pieces of art. Like Arcade Fire’s “Neon Bible”. It’s the new thing, kids.

I’m excited! Now I just have to stick to it.

Segregation in Music

This is a response to A Paler Shade of White: How Indie Rock Lost its Soul by Sasha Frere-Jones in the New Yorker. It’s a long article, so I’ll summerize it for you here: Sasha believes that indie rock is not influenced by black music, as rock music has been from the beginning. And he thinks that’s a bad thing. He’s not anti-indie rock, it’s just an observation. It’s a great article, and I highly recommend reading all 3.5 pages.

I feel like the article opened a can of worms, which is probably why I liked it. He was doing just fine until he brought up Wilco, specifically, “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot”. He brings up that Wilco had been an alt-country band, playing country as the Stones played it.

Wilco and Tweedy, presumably under the influence of other indie bands, drifted from accessible songs toward atomization and noise. On “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot,” the lyrics are embarrassing poetry laid over plodding rhythms. The album features synthesizer squeaks and echoey feedback-, which fail to give shape to the formless music. A little more syncopation would have helped.

Ring ring. Um hello, Sasha? Yeah, it’s me music. I just wanted to let you know that I’m evolving.

Rock cannot continue to be derivative of itself after decades of feeding from the same source (black blues, which gave birth to country, then rockabilly, then rock as we grew to love it). It’s a generational thing. Bands today are farther from the black roots of rock than the Stones were. Of course Brian Wilson is a major influence on indie rock. He was one of the few biggies in the 60s who created his own unique style. He was ahead of his time, and he was uniquely American. The British bands of the 60s were so heavily influenced by the blues and black American music — they depleted the source. So, what’s left?

What I hear in indie rock today is the influence of early 20th century white music — banjos, accordions, autoharp, slide guitar, interesting finger picking styles, etc. And it’s a breath of fresh air for me. The sound is richer and I like the emphasis on melody. So what if it’s more European than African? Rock needed to be revived in the 90s, and it looked beyond the old influences.

The pic caption on the first page says, “Why did rock and roll, the most miscegenated popular music ever to have existed, undergo a racial re-sorting in the nineties?” My answer – Hip hop became more popular than rock and even pop to some extent at that time. Rock has a fundamentally different sound than hip hop, so the borrowing had to end. For the most part, black musicians haven’t been doing straight up rock for 50 years. Who segregated who?

And you can’t tell me this started with indie rock. What about punk? New wave? These were angry and romantic/nerdy white boys speaking their minds for the most part. They were creating bare noise with electric guitars or layers of noise with synths. Neither are very rhythmic.

Maybe I’m biased, but I think the important thing about indie rock today is that it’s more inclusive of women. A lot of the big bands include female musicians and even lead singers. This is a major step up from the Lilith Fair style of “women’s rock” of the 90s. The women aren’t up there as women, they’re up there as musicians, plain and simple. It’s getting us closer to equality.

If this guy misses rhythm in rock, he can go back to his old CDs. Indie rock shoots for beauty above bouncing. It commands you to really listen, not just mindlessly tap your foot or shake your booty. Hip hop talks about sex more than enough for the entire industry anyway. As for indie rock missing “soul”, I don’t know how he can bring up Grizzly Bear and not realize he’s wrong. They have beautiful, soulful voices; it’s just that they aren’t smashed against a wall of beats.

Maybe it has something to do with indie rock being associated with “college music”. I’m not saying that indie rock is more sophisticated than rock in the past or other music, but it certainly appeals to people in a different segment of society.

I think the last page of the article sums everything up great. “Thirty years ago, Banhart might have attempted to imitate R. Kelly’s perverse and feather-light soul. Now he’s just a fan.” I think this is key. Even 40 years ago, there was a need to bring black musicians to the forefront by copying them, because they were ignored by the masses. Now, they’re everywhere. They don’t need white man’s sympathy to get acclaim and fans.

It is embarrassing how white the shows I go to are. At Interpol, there was an older black man sitting a couple rows behind me. I wondered what he liked about these downtown New Yorkers up on stage. Maybe he’s never been into blues or soul, or perhaps he’s not as hung up on the apparently loss of soul as Sasha is.

The Fake Golden Obstacle

Three quick reviews for y’all.

1. Interpol, live at the State Theater in Minneapolis. I was not looking forward to this show. A recording up on NPR from 2005 is terrible and I’m not that into their new album. My worst fears from the SPIN interview came true: they were dry and clinical. As my friend said, it simply sounded like someone was blaring their songs from a stereo. It was kind of boring. They never really came alive until the encore or played songs from the first album. Even then, they have absolutely no camaraderie. I never even saw them look at each other. The only exciting one to watch was the guitarist, who I did not expect to be interesting. He danced around a lot and seemed to really appreciate the audience. Carlos D was super boring and dorky looking. Like I could push him and he’d cry. Still, I rocked out heavily to “Obstacle 1″ and “Evil”. Liars, the opening band were very cool, I thought. Their album is nowhere near as good as they were live. The lead dude has watched “Gimme Shelter” a thousand times, clearly. Quite a showman.

2. “Elizabeth: The Golden Age“. First of all, this isn’t really about Elizabeth’s Golden Age, right? It’s about the lead-up to the Golden Age. I could be wrong about that. Clearly a third installment could be made, but what would it be called? Secondly, let it be known that the Helen Mirren “Elizabeth” mini-series on HBO is far superior. In the special features to the DVD, an expert says that the HBO program is by far the most historically accurate piece on Elizabeth he’s ever seen. So, obviously I was looking for story differences. And boy were there a lot. I suppose that doesn’t mean “The Golden Age” is wrong per se, but it does cast my doubts on the writers. Cate Blanchett is just as good as Helen Mirren (and that is saying a lot in my world), but the film didn’t spend enough time with her. Her sense of humor and eccentricity was gone after about half an hour. We never get to truly get in her head like we do on the HBO show. Even her pep talk at Dover was a downer — her horse gave more command than her words did (here is the actual speech). In the Mirren version, she walks among the soldiers shouting, which gives a much more interesting and meaningful perspective. Overall, a 6 out of 10.

3. “F for Fake“. This is Orson Welles’s last completed and released film, which is really sad because I thought it was absolutely brilliant. I’ve always liked Welles as an artist. He was the Woody Allen of his day, only weirder and less lucky at getting financing. I don’t know why I hadn’t heard of this film before. It encompasses a few things I’m very interested in: Howard Hughes, documentaries, hoaxes, and Welles himself. The film is not even really worth describing here — it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen. Just go rent it. It’s part of the Criterion Collection, which used to mean more before they added “Chasing Amy”.

Autumnal Message

Fall is upon us here in the Twin Cities. Thanks to the prominent wind, the leaves are nearly gone before we could even see their colorful glory.

It’s not the pretty colors that I regret though. It’s the good ole green leaves that I will miss. Little depresses me like a bare trees does. Especially now with “climate change” (which appears to be the new term for global warming), where we don’t even get snow until after Christmas, the trees are ugly and naked for months before they are dressed with white. And even then, their shimmer is too temporary for me to bask in. Plus, with beautiful snow on the trees comes lots more on the ground, which is no fun for a wimp like me.

So, it’s a good thing that TV is here to save people like me. Along great music releases and a few trips to the movies during Oscar season (which is apparently starting already this weekend with the opening of “Elizabeth: The Golden Age“), I’m set to quasi-hibernate.

TV-wise, since when does the CW kick ass? “Aliens in America” is like a modern “Wonder Years”, sort of, and shows great promise. “Reaper” is supposed to be the best new show, so I’m Tivoing that too. Way to go, 4th place network! I wish I’d stuck to my cheap guns and bought all your new shows on my TV Bigshot fantasy game. “Chuck” is my other new show. Is that dude trying to look like Jimmy Fallon? What ever happened to Jimmy Fallon anyway?

ChuckJimmy

Local folk: don’t forget to make one last treck to the great outdoors (i.e., St Paul) for the Lowertown Art Crawl this weekend. Yes, it feels like the spring art crawl just ended but so what? Did you really get to snoop in all the lofts last time?

I’ve just got to keep telling myself that it’s only fall. It’s not winter…yet.

I love you Radiohead, but…

…I can’t order your freakin’ new album if you don’t let me.

The one image with hot spots as a web page thing sure is clever security for you folks, but it sucks for the rest of us. I’ve been trying all day to pre-order the download, but it never works. First the image verification was wrong. Then the link to the download pre-order was gone. Then I couldn’t get past the welcome page. And now it’s saying my card number is invalid, which I think has something to do with a probably UK-only, and slightly fishy, MasterCard verification thing that I denied. Argh!

In other music news, I saw Arcade Fire last night and it was just as anyone else who has seen them would expect: amazing. LCD Soundsystem opened, but luckily we missed most of them. It was so loud and irritating — one of the 2.5 songs we heard was way too long. I do love the guy’s voice, but the music seems like it can’t decide whether it’s cheesy, rock or electronic. And they don’t do any successfully.

The show was at Roy Wilkens Auditorium in St Paul, which turned out to be really nice. It wasn’t crowded and the beer was reasonably priced. However, there were two security areas to enter and at the last one they take your ticket. WTF? And then if you’re lucky, on your way out, you could grab a random ticket from a lady at the exit.  What is the point in that?