Saturday, December 26, 2009

French Texas?

Would you like some honey Dijon mustard with your barbecue sauce? Didn't think so. I'm not sure how this is going to sit with the Freedom Fries crowd, but thanks to Wikipedia's "Today's Featured Article" (which previously gave us "Anti-tobacco movement in Nazi Germany"), I've just discovered that the first Europeans to colonize Texas were not the Spanish, but the French. Sacre bleu! Apparently a French colony named Fort Saint Louis existed between 1685 to 1689. This has to be the most pathetically doomed expedition I have ever read about. Its sense of existential futility seems tailor-made for a Werner Herzog movie. Absolutely nothing appears to have gone right. Infighting, disease, inaccurate maps, Native American attacks, shipwrecks, you name it. The hero, or rather, anti-hero is one Robert de la Salle. Where do we start?

According to the article, La Salle "intended to found the colony at the mouth of the Mississippi River, but inaccurate maps and navigational errors caused his ships to instead anchor 400 miles (650 km) west, off the coast of Texas near Matagorda Bay." Hey, Columbus got lost too, all right? Granted, he was aiming for India and instead discovered a whole new continent, whereas La Salle was aiming for New Orleans and instead discovered ... Texas. Not quite as impressive? "Although Hernando De Soto had explored and claimed this area for Spain 140 years before,[2] on April 9, 1682, La Salle claimed the Mississippi River valley for French king Louis XIV, naming the territory Louisiana in his honor.[3]" Sure, why not? What was De Soto going to do, file a lawsuit? Apparently Spain had declared war on France in 1683, but "shortly after [La Salle's] departure, France and Spain ceased hostilities, and Louis was no longer interested in sending La Salle further assistance." Have fun on the trip! Nice knowing you!
The chronicler of the expedition, Henri Joutel, described his first view of Texas: "The country did not seem very favorable to me. It was flat and sandy but did nevertheless produce grass. There were several salt pools. We hardly saw any wild fowl except some cranes and Canadian geese which were not expecting us."
Welcome to Texas.
Against Beaujeu's advice, La Salle ordered La Belle and the Aimable "to negotiate the narrow and shallow pass" to bring the supplies closer to the campsite.[20] To lighten L'Aimable's load, its eight cannons and a small portion of its cargo were removed. After La Belle successfully negotiated the pass, La Salle sent her pilot to L'Aimable to assist with the navigation, but L'Aimable's captain refused the help.[19] As the Aimable set sail, a band of Karankawa approached and carried off some of the settlers. La Salle led a small group of soldiers to rescue them, leaving no one to direct the Aimable. When he returned, he found the Aimable grounded on a sandbar.[18] Upon hearing that the captain had ordered the ship to sail forward after it had struck a sandbar, La Salle became convinced that the captain had deliberately grounded the ship.
As if the Indians and the terrain weren't bad enough, you gotta start playing games with me.
On March 24, La Salle took 52 men in five canoes to find a less exposed settlement site. They found Garcitas Creek, which had fresh water and fish, with good soil along its banks, and named it Rivière aux Boeufs for the nearby buffalo herds. Fort Saint Louis would be constructed on a bluff overlooking the creek, 1.5 leagues from its mouth. Two men died, one of a rattlesnake bite and another from drowning while trying to fish.[24] At night, the Karankawa would sometimes surround the camp and howl, but the soldiers could scare them away with a few gun shots.
That probably wasn't going to work for long. Also, "drowning while trying to fish"? Can't an expedition catch a break?
From January until March 1686, La Salle and most of his men searched overland for the Mississippi River, traveling towards the Rio Grande, possibly as far west as modern-day Langtry.[29][30] The men questioned the local Native American tribes, asking for information on the locations of the Spaniards and the Spanish mines, offering gifts, and telling stories that portrayed the Spanish as cruel and the French as benevolent.
Smooth, guys. Real slick.
While La Salle was gone, six of those who had remained on the Belle finally arrived at Fort Saint Louis. According to them, the new captain of the Belle was always drunk. Many of the sailors did not know how to sail, and they grounded the boat on Matagorda Peninsula.
Not knowing how to sail. That may be a problem.
By early January 1687, fewer than 45 of the original 180 people remained in the colony, which was beset by internal strife.[34][36] La Salle believed that their only hope of survival lay in trekking overland to request assistance from New France,[35] and some time that month he led a final expedition to attempt to reach the Illinois Territory.[34] Fewer than 20 people remained at Fort Saint Louis, primarily women, children, and those deemed unfit, as well as seven soldiers and three missionaries with whom La Salle was unhappy.[36] Seventeen men were included on the expedition, including La Salle, his brother, and two of his nephews. While camping near present-day Navasota on March 18, several of the men quarreled over the division of buffalo meat.
It always comes down to the buffalo meat, doesn't it?
That night, one of La Salle's nephews and two other men were killed in their sleep by another expedition member. The following day La Salle was killed while approaching the camp to investigate his nephew's disappearance.[34] Infighting led to the deaths of two other expedition members within a short time.[37] Two of the surviving members, including Jean L'Archeveque, joined the Caddo. The remaining six men made their way to Illinois Country. During their journey through Illinois to Canada, the men did not tell anyone that La Salle was dead. They reached France in the summer of 1688 and informed King Louis of La Salle's death and the horrible conditions in the colony. Louis did not send aid.[38]
"Excuse me while I wipe my hands of this whole sordid affair. So tell me, what is for dinner?" It must have been nice to be a king back then.
La Salle's mission had remained secret until 1686 when former expedition member Denis Thomas, who had deserted in Santo Domingo, was arrested for piracy. In an attempt to gain a lesser punishment, Thomas informed his Spanish jailers of La Salle's plan to found a colony and eventually conquer Spanish silver mines. Despite his confession, Thomas was hanged.
Hey come on! That's cheating! Not fair. And now, to the scene of the wreckage:
The fort and the five crude houses surrounding it were in ruins.[30] Several months before, the Karankawa had attacked the settlement. The Native Americans left a great deal of destruction and the bodies of three people, including a woman who had been shot in the back.[42] A Spanish priest who had accompanied De León conducted funeral services for the three victims.[30] The chronicler of the expedition, Juan Bautista Chapa, wrote that the devastation was God's punishment for opposing the Pope, as Pope Alexander VI had granted the Indies exclusively to the Spanish.[42][43]
That's it! That's why the expedition failed. Not because they were ill-equipped, disorganized, and morally repugnant, but because they were opposing the Pope. Thank you, Spanish, for putting it all into perspective. Speaking of perspective, the Spanish received a note from one Jean L'Archeveque, consisting of the following:
I do not know what sort of people you are. We are French[;] we are among the savages[;] we would like much to be Among the Christians such as we are[.] ... we are solely grieved to be among beasts like these who believe neither in God nor in anything. Gentlemen, if you are willing to take us away, you have only to send a message. ... We will deliver ourselves up to you.[43]
Oh, so now the Spanish aren't so bad, huh? Not after you've been living with the savages, eh?

Sorry French. You and Texas were just not going to work out.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Why Do I Not Like Jazz?

I want to like jazz. A lot of very intelligent people say jazz is really good. Some people say it is the best music ever. Those people all seem to be very serious and brooding. Am I not serious and brooding? I like a lot of other music that people say is really good. I'm intelligent. I want to agree with people. Why is it, then, that I still don't like jazz?

I never thought I'd like country music, but I like it now (or at least country music pre-1975). I never thought I'd like rap, but after taking the effort to explore it, I like rap now as well. You would think that, since I probably have more in common with jazz artists than I do with either country or rap artists, I would prefer jazz over those other genres. You would also think that the Raiders would be able to find a decent quarterback around here somewhere.

About this time last year I decided to give jazz another try. My former attempts at "getting into" jazz felt so much like slamming into a brick wall that I resolved only to try it again when I had fully exhausted exploring all the other genres I already knew I liked. I tried rap before trying jazz again; that should give you some idea. But this time I gave it a good, concentrated attempt. I downloaded about fifty albums from jazz's supposed "peak period," or at least peak period of albums (which didn't exist before 1948, when Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington were dominating the genre). Maybe the problem was that I didn't have context for jazz's many supposed innovations. That was part of my problem with rap. So, as with rap, I decided to listen to the albums I downloaded in roughly chronological order. The results?

Some improvement, perhaps. I don't outright dislike jazz anymore. Every now and then I've even heard something I've liked. Jazz does emit a vague "standing on a Manhattan street corner in 1957" vibe that I enjoy, although other music also gives me same vibe, with the added bonus of me liking it more. I recognize that jazz is not supposed to be listened to in the way that The Rolling Stones or Pink Floyd are supposed to be listened to, when you devote your full attention to the lyrics and the running order of the songs and the production choices, etc. I think when you listen to jazz you're just supposed to space out and not necessarily give your full attention to the music.

But overall, I feel like I am listening to music that I am never going to fully appreciate. I will listen to a Sonny Rollins or a Charles Mingus album, and hear a song I like, and then read the AMG review and apparently find out the song I like is not an important track at all! Oops. You know there's a problem when you don't even understand the terminology of the review you're reading. Here's an excerpt from Thom Jurek's review of Bill Evan's Sunday at the Village Vanguard:
His thematic statement includes the briefest intro, hesitant and spacious before he and pianist enter into a harmonic and contrapuntal conversation underscored by the hushed dynamics of Motian's snare, and the lightning-fast interlocutions of single string and chorded playing of LaFaro. The shapshifting reading of Miles Davis' "Solar," is a place where angularity, counterpoint, and early modalism all come together in a knotty and insistent, yet utterly seamless blend of post-bop aesthetics and expanded harmonic intercourse with Motian, whose work, while indispensable in the balance of the trio, comes more into play here, and is more assertive with his half-time accents to frame the counterpoint playing of Evans and LaFaro.
Now come on. Do you really think all that stuff is really going on in there, or is the reviewer just trying to show off? I feel like there is something about jazz I fail to understand at its core. Or perhaps I really do understand it all too well - and that is my problem. Some other possible reasons why I may not like jazz:

1) I like lyrics. Sue me. Most jazz does not have lyrics. I'm a writer. I was an English major. I still have that "English major" mentality. You gotta give me some words. I'm lost without those words. I really do not know what Charlie Parker is "saying" with his saxophone. I wish somebody would tell me. The jazz aficionado would say, "Man, you can't explain what Charlie Parker is 'saying,' you just feel it. It's like the saxophone is his voice." No. It's not. His saxophone is his saxophone. I'm sorry. A voice is a voice.

2) I like music with an overt sense of humor. I like music that is ridiculous, outrageous, irreverent, silly, and often deliberately lowbrow. Jazz seems to take itself very seriously. Very, very seriously. It's like these guys are all Van Morrison. Lighten up a little. When jazz does try to be silly or humorous it seems to do so in a very low-key way that doesn't much appeal to me. I'm sure it didn't start out this way, but it certainly feels this way now: Jazz seems so "proper," so "tasteful," so "refined." I spit on proper, tasteful, and refined. That's what I like about rock. I don't care how many years pass: when will "Tutti Frutti," Wooly Bully," or "Land of 1,000 Dances" truly become "tasteful" or "refined"? Sure, these songs aren't as rude and disrespectful as they once were, but let's see a Ken Burns documentary about "Do you know how to pony/Like Bony Maronie." I don't care how many universities teach classes on Chaucer; his raunchy sex jokes are still raunchy sex jokes. That's the problem with jazz: it just isn't any fun.

3) I am not a musician, nor do I understand music theory. I suspect that it would help if I had such a background. But I don't. I would like to think, however, that if music is good, I should be able to enjoy it even if I know nothing about music theory. When I was a child I didn't know anything about film theory, and yet I still enjoyed Star Wars and The Wizard Of Oz. Maybe jazz is like the Godard of music; it's only theory. Honestly when I hear jazz aficionados talk about jazz, and then when I go listen to the jazz they're talking about, I feel like I've had a stroke. Because one does not really seem to follow from the other. I'm almost inclined to think these people are lying. But I don't think they are. I think they actually do like jazz.

Maybe if your parents liked jazz and you simply related to it when you were younger, and then later you heard pop music and thought, "Oh, this is silly, real emotion is only expressed by a saxophone solo," then I could sort of understand. Or maybe if your parents only listened to pop music, but you hated your parents and wanted to establish your own identity and one day you heard jazz and thought, "Well, even if this isn't any good, I'm going to listen to it anyway just to be different from my family," I could understand that as well. I just need an explanation.

It's funny. When I listen to jazz, I wouldn't say I think the music is bad. Bad music sounds like something different. Obviously the musicians are very talented, and they are playing with a great deal of passion. Then why does it say so little to me? It's like I'm A.M. and jazz is F.M. Why do I not like jazz? How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll pop? The world may never know.

Monday, December 14, 2009

So That's The Plan In Afghanistan

If, like me, you've been wondering just why, exactly, Obama has decided to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, you might enjoy this article in Time. The essence of the situation seems to be captured in the quote below:
Back in 2002 or 2003, when the U.S. looked almost invincible, the Iranians appeared willing to concede a lot simply to forestall a U.S. attack. Now, with the U.S. mired in Afghanistan and Iraq, they are less afraid and thus less willing to deal. Similarly, the Taliban have little incentive to break with al-Qaeda so long as they feel they're gaining momentum in the Afghan war ... The harsh truth is that the U.S. is significantly weaker in the Middle East now than it was in 2002.
Hmm ... what happened in 2002? I can't seem to recall. Oh, wait I got it, wasn't that when our then-president decided to invade a country that essentially had nothing to do with al-Qaeda? Unilaterally? Without a proper strategy? Thanks George. And of course thank you Dick, thank you Don, and thank you Condi. In other words, we had a million options, and now we don't have any. We went from looking like the most bad-ass empire on Earth to looking like a bunch of circus clowns on roller skates. Sort of like this year's Pittsburgh Steelers.

So what's an Obama to do? Apparently he can't do much. Seems like he's calling the "war on terror" off (such as it was), because, lo and behold, we actually don't have a military that can just invade five different countries at once. His plan is to basically look strong while pulling out - sort of like Nixon's beloved "peace with honor." But as the article says, "It is worth noting that while many historians applaud Nixon's retreat from global containment, his decision to cozy up to dictators in Beijing, Moscow and elsewhere elicited revulsion from Americans on both left and right." And shrugs from the middle?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Best of 2009: The Videos

So here we are, we've made it to the end of another year (and another decade, but we can save that for a later post). I thought I'd kick off the Cosmic American's look back at the year with a look at some of the funnier clips you may have missed.

First up is the Literal Video Version of Bonnie Tyler's Total Eclipse of the Heart. Literal Videos take a music video (preferably from the 80s) and change the lyrics to match what we're seeing in the video. Just watch the above version and you'll get what I mean.

Next up is "Mall Kick". I originally saw this one on my new favorite show on Comedy Central "Tosh.0". It involves a European reality show where some guy is trying to throw a net over unsuspecting people in the mall - with the most unexpected (read: hilarious) results. I'll just let Daniel Tosh explain it:
Breakdown - Mall Kick
Web Redemption2 Girls, 1 Cup ReactionDemi Moore Picture

Let's not forget the drunk guy buying beer:

Or the Talking Kitty (or Lizard if you prefer):

Ah, 2009! What a year. Not only did we get all these amazing videos above, but we covered some right here at the Cosmic American, such as that awful guy singing or the Muppets doing Bohemian Rhapsody. We also took a look at the Kanye West/Taylor Swift interruption moment and the countless parody videos. I learned the importance of not copying digital media. We had some good times with Jimmy Fallon, Brett Michaels, and a Cool Cat. And lastly, we saw just how cool Ron Howard was when we was up in the club. Thank you 2009 for all the crap you've given us.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Beatles: A.V.Club, Stones: Cosmic American Blog

Sometimes I look around me and I feel so terribly alone. Why am I so different from everybody else? Are there others like me? Where is my "crowd"? The answer: sitting at their computers leaving comments on the A.V. Club message boards.

These are my people. We share the same sarcastic humor, the same pop culture reference points, and the same urge to constantly analyze works of art that we should probably stop analyzing and simply just enjoy. I imagine these people are either a) killing time at the office or b) unemployed. Sometimes their mastery of rock scholar ephemera astounds me; some of these jokes are like references inside references. Yes, these message boards provide that little tickle inside of me that makes my day a little lighter. But what's sadder than spending your whole day posting comments on a message board? How about cutting and pasting your favorite comments and posting them on your own blog?

Often the message board comments are stronger than the articles from whence they came. Steven Hyden's Beatles Or Stones: An Argument for Imperfection is certainly worthwhile, although the author isn't the first British rock aficionado to stumble upon this insight (Yoggoth can attest to many late-night phone conversations in which I made the same observation):
I love The Beatles for the same reason everybody who loves The Beatles loves The Beatles: they were pretty much perfect. No bad albums, no embarrassing career moves, no bad songs. Sure, nitpickers can nitpick. Magical Mystery Tour isn't such a hot movie. That cover of "Til There Was You" on With The Beatles is sort of cheesy. "Octopus' Garden" is a bit twee. But by any standard that isn't maniacally critical, The Beatles batted 1.000. And that's why their case for G.O.A.T. is airtight.

But I don't really care about G.O.A.T. When I'm standing at the jukebox and picking my beer-drinking music, Internet debates over rock bands seem, I don't know, inconsequential for some reason. Words like "best" and "greatest" are just more official ways of saying "favorite" anyway, and The Stones have been my favorite rock 'n' roll band (tied with Guided By Voices) for most of my life. I just wrote 4,000 words explaining why, but I left out one big reason: I love The Stones because they didn't bat 1.000.
Yes. The Beatles were so perfect sometimes it's almost intolerable. I mean, who can relate to perfection? It's like rooting for the 2007 New England Patriots. I also associate The Beatles with a certain period of my life that had its ups and downs. So these days I am rarely in the mood for The Beatles, although, when the mood strikes me, I am inclined to agree with Harry Nilsson when he said that "The Beatles aren't the best band; they're the only band." But perhaps The Beatles are the only band too good to listen to. This is why imperfection is not merely the appeal of the Stones, but also of every other band besides The Beatles. So I know what Hyden means.

Still, leave it to the message board not to take this discussion very seriously. Highlights:

How about Beatles as Shakespeare and Stones as Hemingway? Both masters of Western lit (rock), except that one is more sublime and inexplicable, and the other is a little more clearly Earthbound. (I'm trying to think of the British equivalent of Hemingway, but since the Stones are so fixated on American roots music, the comparison to an American author doesn't seem all that baseless.)

I think your analogy would work better as "Shakespeare and Melville" because Melville was shooting at much the same linguistic and thematic targets as Shakespeare, but in a sloppy, passionate way and without the elaborate precision of Shakespeare's language. If Hemingway were a band he'd be The Ramones, or, at his best, Wire circa 'Pink Flag'.

The Beatles are Shakespeare
The Stones are Marlowe butthumping young John Webster after leaving Thomas Kyd with a limp

Beatles: Leonardo da Vinci. The Stones: Van Gogh.
Beatles: Tom Hanks. Stones: Johnny Depp
Beatles: Thomas Jefferson. Stones: Andrew Jackson
Beatles: Jeff Gordon. Stones: Dale Earnhardt
Beatles: Michael Jordan. Stones: Charles Barkley or Shawn Kemp
Beatles: Martin Luther King. Stones: Malcolm X
Beatles: Paul McCartney. Stones: John Lennon
Beatles: Zack Morris. Stones: A.C. Slater
Beatles: Bill Nye the Science Guy. Stones: Beakman's World
Beatles: Doug. Stones: Rugrats

I like this discussion because I'm always trying to explain things in terms of the relationship between rock bands. Were you aware for instance, that Kant is like Pink Floyd, Nietzsche is like the Sex Pistols, Sartre is Gang of Four, and Camus is The Minutemen?

Beatles: Luke Skywalker. Stones: Han Solo
Beatles: Betty Cooper. Stones: Veronica Lodge
Beatles: McDonalds. Stones: Burger King
Beatles: DC. Stones: Marvel
Beatles: Superman. Stones: Batman

Marianne Faithful & Anita Pallenberg > Yoko Ono & Linda McCartney

Let's put an end to this:
The Beatles = An unopened 1.5 ounce bag of Lay's barbecue-flavored potato chips
The Stones = A cancelled check for 1250 dollars
The Kinks = A 40-watt soft while light bulb
Elvis = A blue Post-it Note
I think that should end the confusion.

Beatles = oxygen
Stones = hydrogen

Beatles: The Godfather, Stones: The Godfather, Part II
Just kidding, I don't actually even know what we're talking about anymore.

You know you're a hipster douchebag...If you actually think that the Kinks > The Beatles.

god that's so true
one could argue that the Kinks greatest songs were better pop/r&b songs than the beatles greatest pop/r&b songs, and one could argue the same thing about the stones' rock numbers. But there are 3 problems with these arguments:
1) elanor rigby
2) helter-skelter
3) you would be a hipster d-bag

Stones Vs. Zep were the big debate when I was a kid. The Beatles were such a Grand Poobah it was crazy to compare anyone to them. But my friends and I were Stones People. Led Zeppelin had too much Druid Faerie stuff. Then Punk came along and we were New York Dolls People. And years later it was R.E.M. Vs. The Replacements. I realised how silly it was after I shot a guy in the head for saying "Document" was better than "Tim" and I had to cut him up into little pieces and flush him down the toilet to get rid of him. But I was playing "Document" all through that so you can't say I'm a bad person.

People who consider Zep's turgid, self-mythologizing bullshit in any way a challenge to the Stones for "greatest rock band" is a dumbshit stoner asshole whose sex life consists of rubbing one out to fantasies about trolls banging a female hobbit using a mythical sea creature.

And don't tell me QWERTYUIOP is good.

the beatles broke up 37 years ago. the stones (kinks who etc) have had much more time to solidify their legacy.

If by "solidify" you mean "fuck up," than you're right. The Beatles' breaking up early is an advantage, not a detriment.

Johan Sebastian Bach:
I've been dead two centuries now, but is my work "solidified" or "fucked up"?

Fire > Air > Water > Earth
And don't you forget it!

Air Supply>Earth, Wind, and Fire

Dinysion vs. Apollonesian: Probably both spelled wrong, but are you familiar with viewing the Beatles and Stones using Nietzsche's dichotomy between things that follow Apollo (bright, creative, cerebral) vs. those that follow Dionysus (dark, passionate, sexual)? It's a slight oversimplification, as is any theory of two of history's biggest bands as reduced to a message board comment, but as far as oversimplifications for the sake of comparisons go, it's my favorite.

Yes, spelled wrong: Dionysian vs. Apollonian. Don't know how completely Apollonian the Beatles were, but as oversimplifications go, this one's reasonably apt, esp. given the comparisons above (i.e. Beatles: my mom, Stones: your mom).

Not an apt analogy. I never had sex with the Beatles or the Stones.

How d-baggy a world we would live in if The Stones and The Beatles and The Kinks and The Dead and Cream all and Dylan all sat around bitching about how much better one is than the other. I'm just glad that Rock & Roll once upon a time kicked ass and it didn't seem to matter what quantity of love or respect you had for one group or another, all that mattered is that you showed up to the party and LOOK! you brought BEER! Why can't we go back to that?

God, I fucking hate Birthday.

Give it a cha-cha-cha-chance.

Stones are Saturday night... Beatles are Sunday morning.

The Bay City Rollers are Saturday Night.
The Velvet Underground are Sunday Morning.
and The Moody Blues are Tuesday Afternoon.

Faith No More covering 'Easy' is like sunday morning.

The Beatles>There Will Be Blood>The Rolling Stones>blowjobs>Abraham Lincoln>No Country for Old Men>The Kinks>most things>Juno>The Doors>Warren G. Harding>Ronald Reagan>George W. Bush>picklesickles>Pol Pot>Hitler>Creed>Batman & Robin

I love that the Kinks are mayo.
ZZ Top must be Texas BBQ sauce.
I guess Santana is...mole poblano.
You thought I was gonna say salsa didn't you. Nope.
War gets to be salsa.

Beatles = Rum Tum Tugger
Stones = Griddlebone
Kinks = Skimbleshanks
Who = Pouncival
Led Zeppelin = Jennyanydots
Velvet Underground = Tumblebrutus

"Black And Blue isn’t a great or even particularly good record, but it’s an honest one, even if what The Stones reveal was supposed to be concealed."
Oh god, that is the most kiss-ass thing I've ever read. Black and Blue was a piece of shit, pure and simple, and you call it "Honest"?
Wow, that's a fan for you.
But then again, how many other bad things can be justified by the pure honesty behind them.
"Adolf Hitler was a murderous lunatic but there was an honesty to his madness that exposed a certain purity to his work."
"As reprehensible as her actions were, one has to admire the honesty behind each slice as Bobbit relieved herself and her husband of the wicked source of their misery.”
Hey, this is actually kind of cool!
“As she ran by the production assistant in tears, Ms. Simpson knew that her newly exposed attempts to sell her lip-syncing as a live performance was an honest mistake meant to disguise the fact that she honestly has no musical talent.”
“Howard Stern may be a washed-up, fifty-something millionaire who uses what’s left of his celebrity to coheres young girls to strip naked, but he does it in such a bold, honest fashion that one does not always feel the need to take a shower after listening to his broadcasts.”

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Eat Your Heart Out Japan

Has anyone else noticed the odd internet ecosystem growing beneath the Zrbo's July "Eat Your Heart Out Elton" post? I plugged the post into Google translate and chose Chinese -> English...only to find that it was actually Japanese.

The first comment is a bit plain:

"Travel Host said ...

Increase in female membership per person is taking a business trip out of the host site. Women visited the home or hotel, so we are seeking part-time job can get you the help you meet the man who desires, who are interested to register for free thank you from the page TOP"

A little bit of an internet dating feel to it.

Then we get:

"Away from home said ...

Young people on board ran away from home has been recently introduced in the media has been runaway girl wrote a number of messages that stay the local cafes in walking across the country. They are going to play as soon as I met a man I have no money on board. Why even write you back an answer"

Woah, where did that come from? Is it the friend of a runaway? Despairing at ever seeing her again? Fearing the worst?

Then we get some posts mentioning erotic photographs and cyberfriends. I think I know what those are about.

We also have one apparently seeking male gigolos:

"Delivery Host said ...

I want to make a delivery host for women sex travel sites? Expensive part-time job two million yen per hour. After free registration, so you just wait for a call from a woman, trial registration is also welcome. If you are interested please Motareta now. "

You don't see that every day. Anyone need a summer job?

Then there's some random weirdness:

"Hyundai has dramatically increased the number of gay Horseman" - Who knew?

"Virginity is like robbing the women" - a bit chauvinistic don't you think?

"women are hungry for love that is rich" - even more chauvinistic

SEX is a man emptying stores of the everyday stress through the circle every day" - uh huh

Very popular, you know the wildlife hidden in teddy bears!" - no, I didn't know actually

"Carnivore might actually even think she was grazing system." - poor, deluded carnivore

"Checker left brain and right brain can use any blind date party! School or intuitive right brain to analyze your brain, left brain can diagnose whether a Me school. Diagnosis may result in unexpected discoveries!" - sounds like a fun blind date party

"Waiting for God said ..
God is waiting to board an increasing number of girls write to the runaway anxiety." - I bet he is

"Sponsored by the National Federation of promiscuity" - interesting organization

But it also gets a bit sinister:

"I was afraid of the stalker tracked. The most frightening phone will notify every night. Please help peach -.-"

What are they doing to Peach???

So, either some poor young woman who ran away from an abusive home is lost amid the Tokyo underworld--or Japanese dating/sex sites have colonized one of our low-hanging posts. You know, now that I watch that video it appears to be making fun of a disabled person. Maybe this vile infection was sent to punish us for our transgressions, like a shameful internet disease, a scarlet email. Repent brothers, lest we are doomed to wander a neon mutant robot filled reality, the cries of Peach ever calling to us past a mirrored glass corner...

Friday, November 27, 2009

Inglourious Basterds (Tarantino)

Well, I don't quite remember World War II happening like this. But who's keeping track? My 10th grade history teacher was barely able to cover World War I, let alone World War II. On the last day of class he showed us three pictures. "This is Hitler. This is Stalin. This is Roosevelt. Got it?"

Anyway, just when you thought nothing new could have possibly been done with the World War II/Holocaust film, I believe Tarantino has actually gone and done it. This is truly a World War II/Holocaust movie I have not seen before. Give the man credit where credit is due.

I suspect Inglourious Basterds is also a film studies major's dream, in that a film studies major will have a field day with its treatment of the subject matter. I no longer associate myself with "film studies," so in one sense I could really give two shits. But this movie is begging to be attacked, defended, psychoanalyzed, deconstructed, and so on. The Holocaust is a subject most academics treat with the utmost gravity. Tarantino, suffice to say, has taken a different approach. I imagine there will be many useless and ineffective essays written by film professors and grad students along the lines of Dana Stevens' review in Slate, declaring this film misguided, irresponsible, and insulting. Let me tell you something, film professors: Tarantino is laughing at you.

This movie and Downfall would make a great double feature. The painstakingly accurate depiction of Hilter's last days vs. the completely ridiculous depiction. But I learned a lot from both. Personally, I think Tarantino's gleefully unfaithful approach to the World War II/Holocaust film actually made me think about that period of history in at least as many ways as Downfall did. Contrary to what some might say (including the enfant terrible himself) I think he actually takes the subject matter quite seriously; he just isn't stuffy or reserved about it. Basterds is like an emotional thought experiment. Just how would it feel to do this to the Nazis? Honestly I don't think it would have felt that great. Basterds was like the ending of The Wild Bunch minus the last scene with Thornton and Sykes. I don't think if the Nazis had really died in this way, we would feel any better about the whole thing. But see - at least now we have our answer!

Nevertheless, as strong as this film is, I feel there is a certain element missing that is present in most of Tarantino's other work: I didn't actually find any of these characters likeable. Aldo Raine and the basterds were on the "good" side, but I can't really say I was rooting for them. The Jewish girl was more like a symbol, not a character. There wasn't really a positive moment of human connection to be found anywhere. Tarantino does excel, however at showing just how much these characters really hate each other. When one character kills another in this movie, they do so from a place of pure, unfiltered, spontaneous rage. There is a scene where a young man is about to be spared from death, until, just for shits and giggles, he superfluously calls someone a "traitor" and he is shot (he would have been better off keeping his opinions to himself). That seems to sum up the whole driving force behind Nazism: "We lost World War I, we're angry, we want to take it out on other people, and we don't even care if we live in the end."

So even though this might not be Tarantino's most violent or disturbing movie, I found it to be his most nihilistic. "Come on, what about Reservoir Dogs?" you say. Was it just me, or was the misguided friendship between Tim Roth and Harvey Keitel in Reservoir Dogs amazingly poignant? In Pulp Fiction certain characters learned to grow and change. I even liked Bill in Kill Bill more than any character in Basterds. Yes, Tarantino has made a creative, interesting movie, but so has Lars von Trier. "Well, why should a World War II/Holocaust movie be life-affirming and joyous?" you ask. Honestly, very few of my favorite movies are World War II/Holocaust movies. Casablanca is a World War II movie but it's not about the Holocaust. Schindler's List is impressive simply because I'm sitting there the whole time wondering just how long Spielberg can hold that cold, distant tone without blinking. But have I watched it more than twice?

Final observation: What other director working today, besides Tarantino, possesses such name-brand drawing power, he can make almost no concessions to the audience and still pack the seats? Well, Grindhouse aside. Not a franchise, mind you, but a director. Peter Jackson? Martin Scorsese? Tarantino can pretty much do anything he wants at this point and the audience is willing to follow him there. Subtitles? You'll take it and you'll like it. Long passages of dialogue? Go ahead, get up and leave, I dare you. The poor girl next to me with a Bloomingdale's shopping bag lasted about 20 minutes. So, not everybody I guess.

Film critic rating: ***1/2
Little Earl rating: ***

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

You Ain't No Friend of Mine

If you haven't heard already the New Oxford American Dictionary has chosen their word of the year. What is it? 'Unfriend' - as in to remove someone you've 'friended' from your social networking sites. While this is an interesting pick that reflects our growing use of social networking sites (facebook, myspace, etc.), to quote another phrase culled from the internet: 'ur doin it wrong.'

Looks like people are getting fired up about the NOAD's choice of word because many people, myself included, have already been using the similar-yet-different word 'defriend'. In fact, I don't know a single person who says 'unfriend', yet according to the NOAD and Google, unfriend is searched for more often than defriend. Searching around online on this topic it's amusing to see people attempt to justify the usage of either word, often through complex grammatical reasoning ("unfriend is a negative participle!"). The folks at the NOAD say 'unfriend' has "real lex-appeal" which to me sounds like marketing-speak has invaded the dictionary world.

Ok, so the debate is fairly trivial, but that doesn't stop me from scratching my head at their choice in this matter. It would be like if a dictionary came out and said the proper word to use regarding the influx of cash into the economy by the federal government was to be called 'catalyst' instead of 'stimulus'. I wonder if this will turn out to be a generational thing. Perhaps one day I'll use the word 'defriend' around my grandchildren who will wince upon hearing my anachronistic usage. So, for those of us out there who do use facebook or whatever, what's your preference. Do you prefer to unfriend or defriend?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Bit of Variety

Our last three posts are about Pitchfork articles? Is this what our existence consists of?

Here are some other interesting things I've read lately:

Our brains are hardwired for math.

Corporatist ideology at work in West Virginia, where the state Chamber of Commerce opposes health care reform so that Obama won't have time to work on cap-and-trade environmental legislation.

Lebanese-American author Khalil Gibran's early story "Khalil the Heretic," in which the author's namesake, an obvious stand in for Jesus, confronts oppressive clergy and feudal leaders, inspires his fellow countrymen to cast off their shackles and seize freedom and prosperity, and is so generally wonderful that a young and beautiful virgin woman falls in love with him. It's nice to know that even successful people write embarrassing stories like this when they are young.

Only On Pitchfork

The capsule summary of their new Live in New York review:

"The much-maligned band makes a case for itself on this sprawling 6xCD collection..."

In the actual review we discover that in Pitchfork-land the Doors are "less hip than Journey."

The Doors are much-maligned and less hip than Journey? And they're going to redeem themselves with a six CD live box set?

I'm not convinced.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Lou Reed Outdoes Himself Again

Apparently I've only decided to post on Pitchfork interviews with '70s cult legends while recycling old blog post titles. Why mess with success? Here we have a very game Lou Reed being interviewed about Metal Machine Music. He's so jolly I wouldn't be surprised to spot him dressed as Santa Claus at the local mall next month:
Lou Reed: Hello, hi. How are you, Amanda?

Pitchfork: I'm great.

Reed: How do you say your last name?

Pitchfork: Petrusich.

Reed: Wow. A name name. That's a real name. You should be a movie star. What nationality is it?

Pitchfork: It's Croatian.

Reed: It's a great, great name. Are you married? What's your husband's name?

Pitchfork: Stetka. Which is a Czech name.

Reed: What's it like when you say them both?

Pitchfork: Petrusich-Stetka.

Reed: That's pretty good, don't you think?

Pitchfork: It's not bad.

Reed: What if you got knighted? That would be pretty good.
Say what you want, but damn it, I still like the guy.
Pitchfork: There's always been considerable chatter about whether or not Metal Machine Music was intended as a joke, or a stab at the record industry-- do you think the continuing conjecture about your intentions for the record is, now, as much a part of the art as the music?

Reed: The myth-- depends on how you look at it, but the myth is sort of better than the truth. The myth is that I made it to get out of a recording contract. OK, but the truth is that I wouldn't do that, because I wouldn't want you to buy a record that I didn't really like, that I was just trying to do a legal thing with. I wouldn't do something like that. The truth is that I really, really, really loved it. I was in a position where I could have it come out. I just didn't want it to come out and have the audience think it was more rock songs. It was only on the market for three weeks anyway. Then they took it away.

Pitchfork: Right, I read that it was the most returned record at that time...

Reed: It still may be the all-time champ.
See, fans? The man really cared. He wasn't just spitting in your face and mercilessly raping your ears.
Pitchfork: Were you anxious about Metal Machine Music's initial release? You must have had some sense that it was going to be shocking to people who bought and loved "Walk on the Wild Side" or "Sweet Jane".

Reed: I honestly thought "Boy, people who like guitar feedback are gonna go crazy for this." Count me among them. If you like loud guitars, here we are.
This reminds me of the closing line of the All Movie Guide's review of the 1978 Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band film: "For those who want to hear Peter Frampton and the Bee Gees cover Beatles tunes, this is your Citizen Kane."

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Domed One Speaks Again

Highlights from Pitchfork's interview with Brian Eno:
Brian Eno: I'm old enough to remember exactly what happened to ABBA. When ABBA were around, to admit that you liked them would have condemned you to absolute coventry. No one would talk to you because you liked ABBA, because they were considered to be hopelessly pointless pop. Now, of course, everyone likes ABBA. Everyone realizes that they made some great music, and you're allowed to like them now. Kitsch is a way that posh people admit to themselves that they like things that ordinary people like...they were completely popular with the people and totally unpopular with...artists. [laughs] People who were culturally aware. I can remember it very clearly, because I was part of the snobbery! I can remember really liking ABBA songs, and kind of resenting that I did! [laughs]

Pitchfork: Obviously the music you've made has been very influential, but it's tough to name people who are clearly "Brian Eno influenced."

Brian Eno: I don't know. A lot of people tell me they are, but they might be making it up! [laughs] I think if there is an influence, it's not in terms of style so much but in terms of approach to working. For instance, some quite odd people have said, either in interviews or directly to me, that they were influenced by me. Prince, for example, said Another Green World was a very important record for him, apparently, in an interview. I've never met him, so I don't have this from his own mouth, but it was in an interview. Now, that's rather surprising! Hank Shocklee, from Public Enemy, said that their whole thing really started with My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. So that's a very surprising connection, I think. Another very surprising one is Phil Collins! He worked with me in the 70s, and he said it was then that he understood that he could make records himself. He'd always been in a band before, but I always went into a studio with nothing, really, and just kind of made something up there and then. He said he'd never seen anyone work that way, and it really started his solo career. He always thanks me for that.
And so we can thank Brian Eno - for Phil Collins' solo career. "Against All Odds" indeed.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Music, or a Response to a Post Cryptically Entitled Thanks, Peter

Maybe everything that could be done in the Rock 'n Roll genre has now been done. The same basic thing happened with Jazz after the 1970s or poetry after the 1950s.

Ah, but the Marxist in you wants some sort of sub-structure explanation for this? Okay, kids aren't taught grammar and don't memorize poems any more. Playing the trumpet or the saxophone isn't cool anymore. Playing the electric guitar remains somewhat cool, but kids have more exciting things to do with their time. Such as playing video games. But video games are in the position that movies were in around 1940? 1950? It's very expensive to make an A-list game. Creative individuals can't compete in the market without adhering to some predetermined genre to secure funding. It's like those movies you watch because of some new development in camera lenses, or where the commentator spends the whole time talking about mise-en-cine instead of the plot or characters. The character model from the new World War X game has how many polygons?

On top of that, Rock 'n Roll isn't an alternative to anything. It's the default. There's no rebellion. Nothing to get hung about...

So who remains? The academics and the obsessives. That's why every new album sounds like a well-intentioned mush of other, better bands.

What can you do now to generate excitement? M.I.A. advocates terrorism and they put her on the Grammies. The great Rock 'n Roll swindle was a swindle, but at least it was fun.

Let's throw a test into this post for good measure. If the Smashing Pumpkins(a good lowest common denominator I think, at least I'm not prepared to go any lower...) are more fun to listen to than your band and the Counting Crows are more profound then just go home.

P.S. For Sarah and other people actually in bands: This is targeted at mass-market/media music. Live music is great, and is generally fun and worthwhile no matter the skill or creativity level. You got signed to a label and released an album even if only digitally? That sounds like a pretty good accomplishment to me.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Dolphins Are Actually Evil!

You knew it all along, didn't you? Behind those beguiling eyes and that innocent giggle lay the heart of a murderous beast. And who is their victim of choice? Porpoises. Those porpoises, who do they think they are? Perhaps dolphins have finally decided to help humans out in our attempt to destroy all known marine life. Hey, why go around killing porpoises ourselves when we can just have dolphins do it?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Thanks Peter

I think I might actually like this BBC article more than the Pitchfork one, free as it is of any pseudo-academic posturing. John Harris is, I assume, the same John Harris who authored that Britpop book I quote all the time. I do take some issue with his purely celebratory stance, however. He claims this is the "golden age of infinite music." I would say instead that it may be the golden age of infinite music acquisition, but perhaps not the golden age of memorable music making. In order words, an idyllic time for rock scholars such as ourselves, who would like to hear Metal Machine Music and every bad '80s Rolling Stones album without having to pay any money to do so, but a bad time for anyone who wants to hear great new music that is challenging and honest and yet unites people on a broader social level. In one sense, yes, downloading is a rock scholar's wet dream. But as Newton once said, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. And if we take a step back and stop and think about what downloading has wrought, we realize, "! We'!" He writes:
For musicians, it's self-evident that there are all kinds of new openings for their music, but even if they break through, much less concerted attention will be paid to it. They may get an audience, but it will be very easily distracted. After all, endlessly playing the same album so as to extract your "money's worth" is behaviour that will soon seem like something from the dark ages. Woe betide the act that decides to make the kind of record that tends to be charitably described as a "grower" - something that may account for, say, the scant interest paid to the last U2 album. Certainly, as a record company MD told me a couple of weeks ago, stuffing your albums with mere filler is no longer a sensible option.
So why is it that, in an age where "stuffing your albums with mere filler is no longer a sensible option," how come every album now sounds like it is stuffed - head to toe - with filler? I would kill for a couple of "growers" right now, if by "grower," you mean "great album that I could play over and over again and rank up there with my other favorite albums." But there is no incentive in this current climate for a musician to put in the effort to make a "grower." A musician in 1968 could realistically have sat in his room and thought, "Well, if I could write an album's worth of great songs right here on this guitar, in a couple of months I could reach millions of people all over the world with my life-changing art!" In 2009, not even the Billboard #1 album reaches 300,000 people. Harris ends his piece by saying, "Really: what's not to like?" I'm not saying the "death of music" is something we're supposed to dislike, exactly. I'm just saying I'm not quite as excited about "the brilliant first album by Florence and the Machine" as John Harris is.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Grandpa, Could You Tell Us What An MP3 Was?

There's a big feature on Pitchfork covering the last decade of music (they've dubbed it "P2K"), and while I don't even want to start laying into their "Top 200 Albums of the 2000s" list, I would like to call attention to an interesting article by Eric Harvey named "The Social History of the MP3." It's the kind of piece you'd almost see in a literary journal, where the author tries to milk more profundities out of his observations on the music industry than are perhaps truly there. Nevertheless I found it enlightening, although (please no angry comments from Sarah) I don't quite agree with his description of The Beatles and Michael Jackson as artistic equals. Some highlights:
One of the promises of leak culture was the possibility of a thousand new Greil Marcuses and Robert Christgaus blooming-- hundreds of new fan-critics, or critic-fans, starting conversations about music that were accessible to anyone, arousing reader-listeners enough to buy music the same way radio and print used to. To a degree this happened, and is still happening: Careful searching and curious clicking through blogrolls will reveal plenty of wonderful music blogs, with styles ranging from affective to academic, with writers penning more poignant, sophisticated, and funny things than many "professional" scribes.
You're damn right.
If, as so many newspaper trend pieces assert, the number of "tastemakers" has exponentially proliferated through unmitigated access to music, that means that, on average, individual tastes are on the upswing as well. It's hard to argue this fact, if only through anecdotal evidence. While the Internet does not represent "the world," and there are plenty of folks who are just fine keeping with their old habits, those who keep up with online music have the capacity to turn into bona fide musical dilettantes, and occasionally straight-up experts, in no time flat. But broadening out to the aggregate, this trend looks different, and less rosy. The ideal would have been that a new network of independent music lovers would have elevated different types of music, or even found new ones, the way nascent rock'n'roll, honky tonk, bluegrass, and R&B benefited thanks to the 45. But online, new genres risk being strangled in the crib before anyone knows they exist, and people are "done" with new albums before the cover art has been approved. This time-compressing aspect of mp3-based music culture does not flow naturally from the technology itself-- it's a result of a lot of people, at the same time, publicly failing to resist their most basic passions for acquisition. Experiencing music in small, never-ending bursts is exciting, sure. But it's far from sustainable.
I guess this only applies to people following contemporary music? I'm not sure some of these new genres deserve a fate better than "being strangled in the crib before anyone knows they exist." And you can't expect people to "resist their most basic passions for acquisition." That's like preaching abstinence. I think if a piece of music were really strong, it could withstand a "small, never-ending burst." Maybe the reason "people are 'done' with new albums before the cover art has been approved" is because those new albums aren't very good.
So I'm not sad that print magazines, or newspapers, are dying; I'm sad that music criticism and journalism are endangered. I'm sad that publishers, advertisers, and corporate owners have lagged behind so incredibly long, holding onto an outdated critical model out of blind faith, leaving so many talented writers in the lurch. People expressing their musical taste to an eager audience in the offtime of their day jobs is one thing, and by all accounts a very good thing. But alongside these folks, we desperately need people to get paid to listen, discuss, contextualize, and critique music on a full-time basis.
Do we really? Maybe Eric Harvey does. Sure, perhaps our society as a whole would benefit, but "desperately need"? That's a bit strong. And this coming from someone who would love to get paid to write about music!
These sorts of nostalgic recollections, to a large degree, are facilitated because the old industry, built on selling magic, purposefully obscured all the backstage collaborators that helped superstars to emerge. But now, we find ourselves within a historical moment that allows us access to all the previously hidden aspects of music-making. Instead of approaching this situation as if the "magic" were gone, wouldn't it be much more productive to seize the opportunity to create an entirely new crop of idols? In other words, if "fan" is going to continue to have any resonance as a passionate listening strategy at a time when its definition is up for grabs, it's clear that fans themselves need to do the defining. The first step in this process-- the establishment of new infrastructures and technologies-- has already happened.

The second step is much tougher: using these new tools to push against the illogical constraints of those who think the old model is still viable, and set about redefining music's value. We've been conditioned for the past century to think about music as a commodity. While in good faith ("support the artists"), this way of thinking only propagates the most fundamental ideal of capitalism: getting the most stuff for the least money. Otherwise known as "downloading." Artists need to make money for their music (if they want to), and they need a set of flexible legal and technological guarantees to ensure this. But these guarantees need to be flexible enough to allow the fans themselves to use their collective intelligence and passion to help the artists themselves, without being exploited, or written into a script fit for retired actors. If the networked public sphere shaped by mp3s could collaboratively re-imagine itself not as an audience or a market but as members of a civil society, who feel that they deserve a stake in its own culture, then the rules going forward, and our appreciation of music's social and affective values, might emerge like mp3s themselves: from the bottom up. We've long since figured out how to grab and recirculate music. Now, let's make something with it.

Amen! Unfortunately, just like the rest of us, Harvey has no idea as to what kind of music we should begin making. But yes, the power rests with us "fans," even if we haven't realized it yet. We're like Dorothy with the ruby slippers: we could have gone back to Kansas whenever the fancy struck us, we just didn't know it! I do like Harvey's phrase about not feeling like we have "a stake in our own culture." When I was a kid, all I knew was that I really enjoyed music, and that I didn't have any money, so I needed to acquire music as cheaply as possible. The "artists" seemed like distant, ephemeral apparitions. Acquiring music was like a game, where I needed to "outsmart" the record companies by taping music off the radio, or by borrowing CDs from the library. I never really did feel like I was part of the same world that musicians were a part of. There's another quote earlier in the piece where Harvey writes, "There is nothing inherent or natural about paying for music, and the circulation of mp3s through unsanctioned networks reaffirms music as a social process driven by passion, not market logic or copyright." Was there once a "golden period" where music did not come with a price tag, but was simply a social activity that was generated for free by Grandpa on the porch, or Ol' Joe and Crazy Sam down by the river? How did we start "paying" for music? I guess people started paying entry to clubs in Harlem or other urban places of that nature. At some point I guess capitalism completely took over. And it wasn't entirely natural?! Maybe there became a situation where the people making music needed a lot of money in order to keep making the music we started to like. And that's not really true anymore. It still costs some money to go into a studio, but much less than it did forty years ago.

And now it costs nothing to "buy" music. On the one hand it's great, but on the other hand it's killed the art form entirely. "Making money" was not the sole, or even primary, motivation behind the careers of The Beatles or The Beach Boys, but it was definitely a key motivation. I think part of what drove those bands to great artistic heights was the vague notion that they could also become obscenely rich one day. In a couple more years that notion may officially be untrue.

And, although seemingly an annoying obstacle, it's clear now that back when the music scene was being run by a small elite group of people, it forced people to concentrate their attention in a few places at once. We used to think it was a bad thing that we couldn't get our hands on music very quickly, or that we had to wait for hours and hours before we could see our favorite music video. Turns out there were benefits to such a system after all. Be careful what you wish for, eh Grandpa?

Monday, October 19, 2009

There's Still Hope for The Beatles

This post is mostly for Little Earl, but everyone else might find this interesting as well. The Liverpool Hope University recently announced that they will be offering a degree in, you guessed it, The Beatles. This is actually a pretty legitimate thing. It's a year long, intensive MA track and dissertation. It promises to be a "serious academic study" of the fab four and their place in popular music. Sounds kinda cool to me.

Start saving up for that plane ticket, LE. Zrbo; this might be a good thing for you to do in your off time as well. Anything's better than that We Built this City video, right.

Worst. Video. Ever.

Sorting through my mp3 collection recently I came across "We Built this City" by Starship (Jefferson?). I had a hazy recollection of the music video that went along with it so I fired up youtube and took a look. Boy, was I rewarded with a gem. Ladies and Gentlemen, I think we've found the Worst Music Video of All Time.

Before rushing to the Cosmic American to share my thoughts though, I did a little research. Conveniently, Wikipedia has a whole entry on the song, and it looks like others share the same opinion. In 2004 Blender magazine named it the worst song of all time with editor Craig Marks saying the song "seems to inspire the most virulent feelings of outrage. It purports to be anti-commercial but reeks of 80s corporate-rock commercialism."

Ok, but I'm really just talking about the video. It's just so bad. I mean, I grew up watching loads of MTV, and I remember lots of silly, poorly done videos. But this one is just so awful. Sure, the style of clothing has changed, and it's pretty obvious from the first few seconds of watching that the video is dated. But the 80s hair and stylings are the least of your worries once the video gets going.

First there's the montage of people's faces looking thoughtful and contemplative. Why are they looking so stern while lost in their innermost reflections? Why? Because they're all looking at the Lincoln Memorial of course! Now, I wasn't aware that Lincoln built this city, or country, on rock and roll. Actually, I'm pretty sure he didn't found much at all. And I'm damn 100% sure he didn't listen to rock and roll.

But then, what follows afterwards! I'm just going to call it folks, it's the MOST cringe-worthy moment in music video history of ALL TIME. As our oh-so-80s rebel protagonists look on in adoration at Lincoln, the statue comes to life, raises his fist, and sings the chorus! It's just so, so awful. Even in 1985 this scene must have been perceived as awful. Words can't honestly express how truly awful it is. Not only that but it's creepy as hell.

The video just proceeds to be awful from there on out. Grace Slick sings about corporations and how annoying it is that they're constantly changing their names (boohoo!), all set to the backdrop of... Vegas casinos?! I wonder if the band realized the irony in these lyrics, as Starship are well known for having changed their name multiple times. Then a bunch of people are running away from giant tumbling dice. Why? I guess those dice represent those pesky corporations and their pesky habit of changing their names.

Then there's the radio announcer part during the bridge. I think it's there to give some 'street-cred' to the band, but if you listen to what the announcer says it makes little sense. He starts with "looking out over the Golden Gate Bridge on another gorgeous sunny Saturday." Ok, that sounds pretty good. Then: "and I'm seeing that bumper-to-bumper traffic." Huh? If you're trying to get the the radio guy to hippen-up the song, do you really want him talking about bumper-to-bumper traffic? How about something like "and there's no traffic today!" My reaction to this part is something like "Bumper-bumper traffic?? Oh well, I'll just stay in today and let someone else build this city."

During the next sequence we see a montage of skyscrapers pop-up in the background as the band plays. Hey look, there's the Chrysler building! And the World Trade Center, soooo rock and roll!!

And that's pretty much it. The whole thing is just so bad that I can barely watch. The song was already bad enough, but then someone must have said "Hey, let's make an equally atrocious video!" And one last thing, just why is Marconi playing the mamba?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Blog Is Dying

No, it's not dying dying. But I think our best days may be behind us. We probably peaked right around late 2007/early 2008 with our Top 10 lists. Since then we have gradually lost our mojo. Yoggoth is finishing up law school and working part-time; he doesn't even leave comments anymore, let alone post. I'm not exactly sure what's happened to Zrbo since, the last I heard, he was still unemployed. And Ninquelote is busy creating other humans.

Well what about me, you ask? Let me tell you. In addition to not being able to surf the internet at my job, I am finding my low-budget short film acting career quite rewarding and time-consuming, and I am also writing a short story that is becoming longer and longer and may end up being a book. So I am becoming less and less concerned with lengthy blog inactivity. It's just a question of where best to place my energy in this crazy old world. The true moment of realization was last month. We'd only had nine posts for September. Normally I would have written one more post so that I could boost our September total to at least ten. But I decided not to do so. I decided ... to let it go. I'm still shaken up.

For a while we seemed to be gaining some serious traction. I assumed that our audience would simply expand and expand. But at some point last year it seemed to ... plateau. Quite how some of these other blogger sites gain a mass audience I can't really say. It certainly isn't their content; I remain quite proud of our high standards of witty repartee. Perhaps other bloggers put more energy into marketing. I was never really into that. "Marketing." Sounded like effort. Perhaps what's hurt us is that we're not specifically a "movie blog" or a "music blog" but rather a "whatever's on our minds and might make our friends laugh" blog. I have to say that if the shoe were on the other foot, I would probably not read this blog on a regular basis, because I am a very picky internet surfer. I might enjoy certain posts, sure, but would I remain a loyal reader of a blog with subject matter so diffuse? Yoggoth isn't even a loyal reader of the blog anymore and he's one of our bloggers!

Of course, this is cyberspace, and the blog does not need to go anywhere. Let us not forget the blog's original purpose, which was for Yoggoth and I to make our clever and insightful e-mail exchanges slightly more public and see what would happen. After only a month or so, I would say the enterprise surpassed our wildest expectations. I'd always walked around saying I was a writer, but suddenly, I sort of was! Smelling even a sliver of an audience, my ambition kicked in and I began putting some serious effort into my posts. Why not? I was sitting at a work and I had nothing else to do. Little Earl the blogger was, shall we say, overdue.

So the blog has certainly served its purpose, and it may well serve its purpose again someday, when I am allowed to surf the web at my job and I am not busy writing five other things first. I am just not going to worry about posting something every three days lest we "lose our audience." I mean, let's face it: we really worked our asses off on this thing. Look at our posting history. That's almost three years' worth of hardcore Cosmic American content right there. I always knew in the back of my mind that there was no way we could have kept that up forever. So a lull is in order. Nevertheless, every now and then, there will be that certain little internet link that I'll simply need to share with the world, or a rant that I know Zrbo will find irresistable. And Cosmic American Blog will be here.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

That's Like The Pot Calling The Taco Black

So I'm watching TV and on comes this commercial: "Black boots ... black pants ... black eye ... black sheep ... black taco ..." And there I see a picture of what looks like the same crappy Taco Bell taco with the same crappy ingredients, only now with a black tortilla shell instead of a yellow one. Are only morons breeding at this point? You're telling me there's some kid out there who's watching that ad and he's thinking, "Wow! A taco that's a different color! I must try that in the near future!"

Just give up now, people. We're doomed.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Nobel Please

Come on. I mean, I actually support the guy, but in the words of Nobel Prize-winning author William Faulkner, "WTF?" Obama hasn't done anything yet. Yeah, sure, maybe he might do something Nobel Prize-worthy in the future, but this is absurd. What did he do, give good speeches? Run for president and not get shot? You mean to tell me there wasn't anybody else who was more deserving? Hell, I probably deserve a Nobel Peace Prize just as much as Obama does. So let's see, he gets it for his "vision of a world free from nuclear arms"? Guess what, I've got a vision of a world free from nuclear arms too. If all it takes to win the Nobel Peace Prize is a vision, then Miss Cleo should get a freaking Nobel Peace Prize. You always knew those Norwegians were just a bunch of starfuckers.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Westworld (Crichton, 1973)

I confess the sole reason I decided to watch Michael Crichton's Westworld is because I was trying to track down a sample used in a VNV Nation song ("notify ground crews"). That particular phrase is uttered within the first five minutes of the film, but luckily I stuck around for the rest of the film.

Can someone please tell me (perhaps Little Earl) which movie did the whole "robots/theme park gone crazy" motif first, because watching this movie felt like so many others I'd seen before, but then of course this film came long before any modern day blockbusters.

Westworld was written and directed by Michael Crichton, which by the first 15 minutes came as no surprise. As far as I can tell, Westworld is simply a rough draft for Jurassic Park. Good looking well-to-do white folk go on vacation to a theme park with a slightly futuristic concept - theme park goes haywire - theme park becomes hostile - escape is made.

Westworld stars James Brolin doing his best John Wayne impression and Richard Benjamin. Their characters are on their way to Delos, a futuristic theme park where one can live out their fantasies in one of the Disney inspired theme parks, Roman World, Medieval World, and Westworld. Our heroes choose Westworld and upon their arrival find it to be a fully realized recreation of the wild west, with all the parts played by extremely convincing life-like robots. In fact it's nearly impossible to tell who's human and who's robot, which makes for half the fun.

On their first trip to a saloon Benjamin's character is accosted by the Gunslinger, played with menacingly cold conviction by Yul Brynner. After a quick gunfight Benjamin takes out the Gunslinger and all seems well. Soon we are given a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the inner workings of Westworld, where we see the Gunslinger being repaired so he can be used again. We also learn that some of the robots are starting to act strange. Needless to say, the robots all eventually go haywire, with the final third of the film consisting of the Gunslinger as he hunts down Benjamin's character with nary a syllable of dialogue spoken by either for a good 30 minutes.

This is also where I realized that not only was Westworld a rough draft of Jurassic Park, but must have also strongly influenced James Cameron and The Terminator series. Yul Brynner does the relentless robot out-to-kill perfectly. I swear there's even a few shots that Cameron ripped straight off of Brynner's performance. The way Brynner walks, his cold, robotic gaze, even the Terminator's infamous half ripped-off face with the glowing red eye - here the Gunslinger is given strange white glowing eyes, but the effect is nearly identical. I felt like I had seen this all before as I watched, but then again, Westworld came first. Really, I'm half surprised Crichton never sued Cameron for stealing his idea and imagery.

All in all, it's not the greatest film. The characters are fairly boring, not much really happens overall, and there's virtually no falling action after the climax, the film just ends. But Westworld was interesting just for the realization of how many things it's influenced, from The Terminator, to the Simpsons (Itchy and Scratchy land anyone?). And damn, does James Brolin think he's John Wayne.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Saturday, September 26, 2009

It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad (Men) World

Every now and then I'll hear some reasonably intelligent media critic say that "television these days is probably better than movies." Some of you may know my opinion of television drama. It has not been high. To be fair, I haven't bothered to delve much into the cream of the supposed crop. Never saw The Sopranos. Haven't caught The Wire. I have heard they are fine shows. Anything else I've seen tends to pale in comparison to even a marginally competent feature film. But a year ago someone loaned me the first season of Mad Men. By Jove, I enjoyed it. While I did not feel it was not as strong as the best in contemporary cinema, I had to admit that it was actually better than most of the movies that end up being released in the theater these days. In short, I decided it was worth my precious time (and that's saying a lot).

I was not able to catch the second season, but cable has now made its presence known in my apartment and I have been watching episodes of the third season when they happen to be on. Part of me initially wondered whether I should dare watch episodes of the third season without having seen the second season beforehand, but the other part of me just said "Screw it."

Here is what I like about Mad Men and why I think it is stronger than other television dramas:

1) In addition to being a drama, it's also a historical and sociological study. I feel like I am actually learning about the early '60s when I watch the show. How many shows in the history of television have not been set in the present? Little House On The Prairie? M*A*S*H? That '70s Show? Not quite the same sociological study thing going on there. I heard the Mad Men creator talk about the decor on the set, and he said, "We have decor that is from the '30s and '40s and '50s, because not all of the buildings in the early '60s were brand new." Hmm, good point. Hadn't thought of that. See, this guy really knows what he's doing.

2) The characters are, for the most part, rather unsympathetic and morally ambivalent. I like that a television drama has the balls to make so many of its characters unlikeable. But the show also does a nice job of making some of the characters occasionally likeable every now and then; otherwise it would probably just be too draining. To tell you the truth, I may find the characters on Mad Men more likeable than other supposedly "likeable" characters such as Jack Bauer or those cretins from Sex And The City.

3) The show is not afraid to include odd pauses and scenes that do not seem to make an obvious point. We the viewer are allowed to wonder why exactly we are seeing a particular character do a particular thing.

4) Attention is paid to cinematography, editing, and set design. Many people who say that "television is as good as movies" don't watch movies in the same way that I do. They simply watch the plot. I watch more than the plot. There is not a high demand for creative cinematography from most television shows' target audiences. Thus, most television shows simply point the camera at the action. The makers of Mad Men are much more creative and thoughtful. They generate extra meaning through the choice of images they present to us. Mad Men's cinematography is not as good as, say, The Conformist's, but it is better than Sorority Row's.

Some people might be inclined to say that a show like Mad Men is simply "a great movie broken up into hour-long pieces." I would not go that far. Here are, in my opinion, some of Mad Men's limitations:

1) Because the length of the show's run is indefinite, I think it suffers from a symptom that all television shows, in my experience, tend to suffer from: the show doesn't know where it's going. Frequently I get the sense that the writers are making up the plot as they go along. Now, I have learned, after many years of puzzlement, that a work is usually stronger when the author knows how the story is going to end when he or she commences the writing. There is a certain unity that cannot be concocted on the fly. Often while I'm watching Mad Men I feel like the writers are throwing a bunch of crazy plot twists at us, knowing that they don't make any sense, but they figure, hey, we'll have plenty of time to make more sense of them later. Great movies never do this. But I suppose, given the nature of the television medium, such a shortcoming is hard to avoid.

2) Even the best episodes of Mad Men don't really "lift my spirits" the way my favorite movies do. I think this is because the target audience of the show (middle-class Americans) probably sees itself in the characters all too well. Most of the characters on Mad Men are searching for money, status, power, influence, alcohol, and consequence-free sex. I would say that most middle-class Americans are, sadly, searching for the same things. Although most of the show's viewers are watching and laughing and saying to their family members, "Oh God, isn't that terrible what Don Draper did?," I'll bet that deep inside they are so much like Don Draper it is not even funny. I imagine corporate executives watching Mad Men with their buddies and thinking, "Yeah, I know this show is ostensibly supposed to be dark satire, but come on, these people understand what life is really about." And, I'm sorry, I'm just not that cynical.

But, hey, it's better than CSI:Miami.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Better Than The Beatles

I mean sure, the Beatles were good ... for their time. But their time is over people. Those 12-string Rickenbackers just won't cut it in today's dark and menacing world. Enter Beatallica. The Fab Four's Merseybeat harmonies have finally been given the thrash metal make-over they've deserved. Meet Jaymz Lennfield, Grg Hammetson, Kliff McBurtney and Ringo Larz. Bask in the glory of their metal concept album Sgt. Hetfield's Motorbreath Pub Band, featuring such classic tracks as "Blackened the USSR," "Leper Madonna," and "A Garage Dayz Nite." Or revel in the splendor of their sophomore release Masterful Mystery Tour, sporting timeless tunes such as "Fuel on the Hill," "The Thing That Should Not Let It Be," and "I Want To Choke Your Band." And who can forget their Our World satellite broadcast anthem "All You Need Is Blood"? Sorry Beatles, as a '60s artifact you're quaint and cute, but that was then, this is now. A Beatallica time is guaranteed for all.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Finally, Pitchfork: A Band Worth Reviewing

I was wondering if Pitchfork was going to make any sort of acknowledgment of the Beatles remasters. Boy, did they ever. Last week we were treated to a brand-spanking new review of each release (apparently no one at Pitchfork had reviewed any of them already). Rather than try to play the obnoxious Gen-X contrarians, the writers mostly fall over themselves trying to toss superlatives at this music. Hey, if I usually spent my time reviewing Scarlett Johansson/Pete Yorn collaborations, I'd probably be excited about a chance to pontificate on the wondrous depth of a certain Liverpudlian discography too. I find the ratings curious but not outrageous. Tom Ewing gives the early Beatles albums ratings like 9.3, 8.8, and 9.7. Sure, I guess. Scott Plagenhoef doesn't mess around and simply gives Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour all a 10.0. Honestly, if these albums are not a 10.0, then what albums are? Mark Richardson mercilessly dishes out a 9.1 for Let It Be and a 9.2 for Past Masters, but saves the big Ten-Point-Oh for The White Album and Abbey Road. Of more interest than the ratings are the reviews themselves, which I think do a nice job of offering a fresh perspective on these canonized warhorses - something Pitchfork usually tries way too hard to do with '60s re-issues, but here they try just hard enough.

I don't know if I agree with Tom Ewing on Please Please Me being a better album than With The Beatles, but I like his reasoning:

Rather than an accurate document of an evening with the pre-fame Beatles, Please Please Me works more like a DJ mix album-- a truncated, idealized teaser for their early live shows. More than any other of their records, Please Please Me is a dance music album. Almost everything on the record, even ballads like "Anna", has a swing and a kick born from the hard experience of making a small club move. And it starts and ends with "I Saw Her Standing There" and "Twist and Shout", the most kinetic, danceable tracks they ever made.

The "evening with the band" feel makes Please Please Me a more coherent experience than other cover-heavy Beatles albums: Here other peoples' songs work not just as filler, but as markers for styles and effects the band admired and might return to as songwriters. McCartney, for instance, would go on to write songs whose drama and emotional nuance would embarrass "A Taste of Honey", but for now he puts his all into its cornball melodrama, and the song fits.

He also nails the appeal of A Hard Day's Night as a pure piece of mind-blowing Beatlemania (although I could do without some of the pseudo-industrial adjectives like "steamroller," "gleaming," and "blast"):

But the dominant sound of the album is the Beatles in full cry as a pop band-- with no rock'n'roll covers to remind you of their roots you're free to take the group's new sound purely on its own modernist terms: The chord choices whose audacity surprised a listening Bob Dylan, the steamroller power of the harmonies, the gleaming sound of George Harrison's new Rickenbacker alongside the confident Northern blasts of harmonica, and a band and producer grown more than comfortable with each other. There's detail aplenty here-- and the remasters make it easy to hunt for-- but A Hard Day's Night is perhaps the band's most straightforward album: You notice the catchiness first, and you can wonder how they got it later.

Scott Plagenhoef essentially toes the party line on Rubber Soul and Revolver, although I don't know if agree with him that "McCartney ... oddly comes off third-string" on Rubber Soul (were George's two songs really better than Paul's four?) or that "She's Leaving Home" is the second-best song on Sgt. Pepper. He seems to be a big fan of this tune:

"A Day in the Life" has only grown in estimation, rightfully becoming one of the most acclaimed Beatles tracks. "She's Leaving Home", by contrast, has slid from view-- perhaps too maudlin to work on classic rock radio and too MOR for hipster embrace, it was nevertheless the other headline track on Sgt. Pepper's when it was released. The story of a runaway teen, it misses as a defiant generational statement in part because it's actually sympathetic to the parents in the song. In the second verse, McCartney defies expectations by not following the young girl on her adventure but keeping the track set in the home as her parents wake to find her goodbye letter.

In the end, we learn "She" left home for "fun"-- a rather churlish reason, and when paired with McCartney's simplistic sentiments in "When I'm 64" (the aging couple there will be happy to "scrimp and save"), the young girl seems more selfish than trapped. In fact, for a group whose every move was a generational wedge, and for such a modern record, the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's is oddly conservative in places: "Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite" takes inspiration from a Victorian-era carnival; "When I'm 64" is a music-hall parody that fantasizes about what it would be like to be the Beatles' grandparents' age; "Fixing a Hole" has a rather mundane domestic setting; the fantasy girl in "Lovely Rita" is a cop.

This "conservatism" Plagenhoef describes is party what I think has helped Sgt. Pepper age so well; it is not, in my opinion at least, a "naive, peace and love, hippie album," as some people have sneeringly complained, but a more multi-faceted view of the modern world. I'm also not sure that "the group's every move was a generation wedge" or that the most notable aspect of "Fixing A Hole" is its "mundane domestic setting" and not its poignant analysis of interpersonal relations. But at least Plagenhoef is trying. Witness his attempt to quantify the exact number of " moments in pop music history in which you can mark a clear before and after": "In the UK, it's arguably happened only five times, and on just four instances in the U.S. (Thriller here; acid house and punk there, and Elvis everywhere, of course); in both nations, the Beatles launched two of those moments." Well, OK, if you say so buddy.

Plagenhoef and I are more in agreement on the accidental but nonetheless immensely rewarding merits of Magical Mystery Tour (Jason be damned), which is perhaps not a"major" album, but somehow manages to be delightful precisely because of its "lesser" nature, as it catches the late-period Beatles essentially coasting on transcendence. Here are a few large excerpts of his passionate defense:

The remaining four songs released exclusive to the EP are low-key marvels-- Paul McCartney's graceful "The Fool on the Hill" and music-hall throwback "Your Mother Should Know", George Harrison's droning "Blue Jay Way", and the percolating instrumental "Flying". Few of them are anyone's all-time favorite Beatles songs, only one had a prayer of being played on the radio, and yet this run seems to achieve a majesty in part because of that: It's a rare stretch of amazing Beatles music that can seem like a private obsession rather than a permanent part of our shared culture.

Of the three singles, the undisputed highlight is "Strawberry Fields Forever"/ "Penny Lane", John Lennon and Paul McCartney's tributes to their hometown, Liverpool. Slyly surreal, assisted by studio experimentation but not in debt to it, full of brass, harmonium, and strings, unmistakably English-- when critics call eccentric or baroque UK pop bands "Beatlesesque," this is the closest there is to a root for that adjective. There is no definitive Beatles sound, of course, but with a band that now functions as much as a common, multi-generational language as a group of musicians, it's no surprise that songs rooted in childhood-- the one experience most likely to seem shared and have common touchpoints-- are among their most universally beloved.

In almost every instance on those singles, the Beatles are either whimsical or borderline simplistic, releasing songs that don't seem sophisticated or heavy or monumental (even though most of them are). In that sense, they're all like "All You Need Is Love" or childhood memories or Lewis Carroll-- easy to love, fit for all ages, rich in multi-textual details, deceptively trippy (see Paul's "Penny Lane" in particular, with images of it raining despite blue skies, or the songs here that revel in contradictions-- "Hello Goodbye"'s title, the verses in "All You Need Is Love"). More than any other place in the band's catalogue, this is where the group seems to crack open a unique world, and for many young kids then and since this was their introduction to music as imagination, or adventure. The rest of the Magical Mystery Tour LP is the opposite of the middle four tracks on the EP-- songs so universal that, like "Yellow Submarine", they are practically implanted in your brain from birth. Seemingly innocent, completely soaked through with humor and fantasy, Magical Mystery Tour slots in my mind almost closer to the original Willy Wonka or The Wizard of Oz as it does other Beatles records or even other music-- timeless entertainment crafted with a childlike curiosity and appeal but filled with wit and wonder.

On the whole, Magical Mystery Tour is quietly one of the most rewarding listens in the Beatles' career. True, it doesn't represent some sort of forward momentum or clear new idea-- largely in part because it wasn't conceived as an album. The accompanying pieces on the EP are anomalies in the Beatles oeuvre but they aren't statements per se, or indications that the group is in any sort of transition. But if there was ever a moment in the Beatles' lifetime that listeners would have been happy to have the group just settle in and release songs as soon as possible, it was just before and after the then-interminable 10-month gap between the Revolver and Sgt. Pepper's. Without that context, the results could seem slight-- a sort-of canonized version of Past Masters perhaps-- but whether it's an album, a collection of separate pieces, or whatnot matters little when the music itself is so incredible.

Thank you, Scott. Finally, Mark Richardson has some nice observations on Abbey Road:

One more "like we used to" was how Paul McCartney framed it to producer George Martin; a chance to make a "good album" was George Harrison's take. They were hoping to bounce back after the serious downer that had been the Get Back sessions, which, months after they wrapped, had yet to yield an album anyone was happy with. But what "like we used to" meant, exactly, was rather hard to pin down: The Beatles' life as a band was so compressed, with such a massive amount of music and change packed into a short time, that there was never a single moment that could be used as a reference point for what a Beatles record was supposed to be. So when they returned to the EMI studios on Abbey Road in summer 1969, it wasn't clear how it would go. They still weren't getting along; their musical interests continued to diverge; John Lennon didn't really want to continue with the Beatles; Paul McCartney did, but on his own terms, which meant that he set the pace and got what he wanted. Though it was unspoken, they all had a good idea that this could really be the end. So what now? One more, then.

And what a finish. The Beatles' story is so enduring in part because it was wrapped up so perfectly. Abbey Road shows a band still clearly in its prime, capable of songwriting and recording feats other groups could only envy. Working for the first time exclusively on an eight-track tape machine, their mastery of the studio was undeniable, and Abbey Road still sounds fresh and exciting 40 years on (indeed, of the 2009 remasters, the improvements and sonic detail here are the most striking). Even if it's ultimately the Paul McCartney and George Martin show, as demonstrated on the famous second-side medley, everyone brought his A-game. Where Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band strained for significance, The Beatles was schizophrenic, and Let It Be was a drag streaked with greatness, Abbey Road lays out its terms precisely and meets them all. There's not a duff note on the damn thing.

Other bands wished their last album was this perfect. Oasis, I'm looking at you. Finally Mark makes an unintentionally revealing comment:

The Beatles' run in the 1960s is good fodder for thought experiments. For example, Abbey Road came out in late September 1969. Though Let It Be was then still unreleased, the Beatles wouldn't record another album together. But they were still young men: George was 26 years old, Paul was 27, John was 28, and Ringo was 29. The Beatles' first album, Please Please Me, had come out almost exactly six and a half years earlier. So if Abbey Road had been released today, Please Please Me would date to March 2003. So think about that for a sec: Twelve studio albums and a couple of dozen singles, with a sound that went from earnest interpreters of Everly Brothers and Motown hits to mind-bending sonic explorers and with so many detours along the way-- all of it happened in that brief stretch of time. That's a weight to carry.

In other words, the difference between music released in March 2003 and music released in September 2009 is ... what, exactly?