Saturday, December 30, 2006

Insecure Men with Money Like Guitars, Apparently

I tried not to notice this trend. But then I looked at the Restoration Hardware catalog at the in-laws (for those whose travels do not bring them into contact with boutique furniture emporia, RH is neither a place to buy a screwdriver, nor a source of powdered wigs and ruffs for consumers who are particularly excited by the overthrow of Oliver Cromwell by the Stuarts in the late 17th century, but a cousin of the upscale aspirational lifestyle home decor palaces Pottery Barn and Crate & Barrel... places at which it is also surprisingly difficult to buy pottery, crates, or barrels), and couldn't help but notice that among the overpriced geegaws on offer in the back pages was a Fender stratocaster and amplifier. Huh?

Insomnia has also brought me face to face with the prominent place given to guitars in infomercials. The ghastly yet fascinating Zorro impersonator Esteban has been peddling a guitar/amp/dvd package on every channel, leaving a "z"-shaped imprint on my gray matter that will never heal.

Bowflex, a company I had previously assumed was a money-laundering front for the Genovese crime family or the Trilateral Commission, on the basis of its tireless advertising in the back pages of the New York Times sunday magazine, along with the other undoubtedly fake products ("European style beret"; "one-lane endless indoor swimming pool"; "The St. Thomas More School"), is another late night advertiser that uses guitars. Well, they don't sell a very 400 lb. guitar, which I might actually buy, but they do use a peculiar bald man with a goatee to sell the Bowflex home gym. The ad begins with the bald-goatee man by his home gym, talking about how much he likes muscles, and how his muscles have helped him realize his dream of rocking out with a hot rock band with his shirt off, even though he is 49 years old. Then we see footage of him on stage at a nightclub, shirt off, fender bass slung around his knees, looking for all the world like a genetic splice of the children's toy where you drag magnetic filings on the bald man's head to give him different beard/hair combinations, and Spinal Tap bassist Derek Smalls.

Finally, there is the new Volkswagon ad, where you can plug a matching guitar into the dashboard and rock out. Yep, they give you the guitar. The Germans have lost their shit!!!! Free guitar? WHAT THE FUCK???!!! You spend 50 grand, and they give you a free 75 dollar "axe" made by toddlers in a chinese sweatshop? Is this the scenario that plays out in the R&D guru's brain: "Um, I don't know honey, the Acura has a longer powertrain warranty and passenger-side airbags..." "But this VW is the one endorsed by John Mayer! On the commercial it almost seems like the car enables you to play the main riff from Stevie Ray Vaughan's 'Pride and Joy' and wince meaningfully!" "You're right. Not buying the car with the guitar would be sort of like selling out on our rock and roll values..."

I am not a violent man, but if I ever showed up at a gig, and someone in the other band had a Volkswagon guitar ("yeah, its cool, I bought a VW and it just came with this guitar!") I would punch him. As Sara Silverman is fond of saying, for a jew to buy a VW is like the "opposite of FUBU." No jury would convict.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

My Christmas Present to the World: Japanese Videos A-Z

Once when I was a child, I went over to my friend's house sometime in December. His father was what my mother would call a "chnyuck," a word for which there is no exact English equivalent, but which means something like an "overbearingly pompous religious person who is constantly trying to one-up all of his other coreligionists with his superior knowledge of the arcana of religious ritual and law." Really, Judaism is the only religion that would need such a word. Anyways, my friend's dad decided that he would no longer say "Christmas," because even mouthing the words "Christ" might seem to indicate that he secretly believed that Jesus was the reason for the season. So, he pronounced the name of the yuletide holiday "Eccccchhhhhhssss"-mas, taking care to inflect the guttural "ch" sound with extra hostility and bile.

Here are some Japanese music videos. Happy "Ecccchhhhhssss"-mas, everybody!

Kaoru Abe:

The Boredoms:

"Country Road" from Studio Ghibli's Whisper of the Heart:







First video that comes up when you type "j-pop" into youtube:

an Mikami:

Les Rallizes Denudes:

Sachiko M

Nobukazu Takemura:


Acid Mothers Temple and the Melting Paraiso U.F.O & Escapade:

Quicksilver Messenger Service; people in Japan seem to understand that John Cipollina was a much better guitar player than Eric Clapton; for god sakes, he was a better guitar player than Pablo Casals was a cello player:

yoji Ikeda:


The Mops:


Blue Cheer, "Summertime Blues" from Vincebus Eruptum; people in Japan seem to understand that Blue Cheer are better than the Doors:

Japanese Ventures cover band; people in Japan seem to understand that the Ventures are better than the Beatles:


The guitarist from Loudness plays a guitar that looks like an "X":

Otomo Yosihide

Trailer for Seijun Suzuki's Tokyo Drifter (with great music, too):

Friday, December 22, 2006

Comments Return from the Dead; Zorn's Dilemma

Hey I just recovered all of these great comments that have been lingering in some to-be-moderated file... Apologies to dbr, mzn, and johnny too bad, who I hope will keep reading even though their comments have only just published. Check the Lessig piece especially for dbr and mzn's very thoughtful comments to my mostly ranty critique of LL.

Johnny Too Bad asked me what I think of John Zorn and Masada re: elitism and their musical construction of jewish identity four months ago, and I guess a response is better late than never.

I feel really conflicted about Zorn. "Spillane" was the first out record I ever got, in junior high, and it permanently rearranged my brain cells. Seeing him on "Night Music" with the kneehigh striped socks and leather jacket doing the whole squeaking/skronking/muting against the inner thigh alto thing was a revelation when I was a freshman in high school. Between interviews with him in music magazines and his curating at the Knitting Factory and Tonic and Victoriaville and the records he put out on Tzadik and Avant, he is probably the individual through whom I learned about most of the music I like. I also remember the Zorn concerts I have seen very fondly, partially because his personal charisma is so strong.

But musically, I must say that I hate just about all of his music. I hate the quick-change cross-genre stuff, hate the game pieces (although mostly because the groups that recorded them in the post-parachute period were so awful... all of that digital reverb and gutless han bennink-lite drumming, and macho berklee horn playing), hate the quasi-Ligeti string music (more than all the other stuff combined), and really hate the whole way that "radical jewish music" is correlated with minor scales and modal ostinatos in Masada.

Also, what's with the seeming need for every male American "eccentric musician" to embrace hyperoverdocumentation and egomania? It's really creepy and Ayn Randy. Like, knock it off.

But, that said, I saw Masada in Jerusalem with my mom when I was 19 and it was really nice. As I think about it, the big problem at a technical level really is that he does the whole Duke Ellington/ICP thing of writing for the voices and talents of particular musicians, and at the end of the day, the musicians he likes don't appeal to me... I just never want to hear Joey Baron or Wayne Horvitz or Dave Douglas or Bill Frisell-with-electronic-effects or most of the other people Zorn seems to love. With the exception of Marc Ribot and Otomo Yosihide and Zorn himself in his extreme duck call solo improv persona, the whole Tzadik stable seems kind of really bad. But Zorn blowing his crazy noise? I still think it's a good sound.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Personal Best

Inspired by the very thoughtful annual lists compiled by Nick Hennies, I am going to provide my growing readership (hoping to get it up to 4 by 2009!) with an edifying glimpse into my year as a music consumer.

I don't think I bought 10 CDs of newly produced music this year, so I will have to list music that I heard for the first time in 2006. But then, I don't have much to say about most of these records in particular... so here is my edited list.

9. Harry Pussy "Fuck You" Tour Only 12" (1997)

Throught the magic of filesharing, I have been able to catch up on a lot of the underground American, Japanese, and NZ noise that I missed the first time. I basically enjoy a lot of it, but the fact that I have an old computer without a hi-speed USB connection, and an ipod that is always at 29.9999 GBs with irreplaceable Ernest Tubb bootlegs means that I delete most of it. Of course there are a few things that one finds that are absolutely life-changing, such as the music of Harry Pussy. It is basically the antidepressant I have always dreamed of. I swear it would make even otherwise unthinkable tasks, like getting a flu shot or going to Burlington Coat Factory fun.

I don't believe they are on youtube so here is some caroliner rainbow,another one of the reasons to go to the barricades to protect p2p music swapping:

8. Mats Gustafsson "Solos for Contrabass Saxophone" (Table of the Elements 10", 2004)

Whoa... what a great record.

The video below is not Mats. It appears to be some sort of kung fu comedian. Speaking of which, Jackie Chan's "Drunken Master" was on TV the other day, and was as incredible as I remembered. Especially when the kung fu council holds an earnest council debating the pros and cons of drunk boxing.

Nevertheless, kung fu man is demonstrating the massive contrabass saxophone. More or less phallic than a tenor saxophone. Is hugeness emasculating? Are sumo wrestlers considered sexy? Or sexless? What about Gerard Depardieu? Prediction for 2007: massive backlash in hipsterville against manorexia. Oddly enough, kung fu man seems to have a Swedish or Norwegian accent. One doesn't always think of the martial arts as a scandivian phenomenon.

7. Scorpions "Lonesome Crow" (1972)

Until I got totally plastered with a Franciscan friar in full habit at a local Olive Garden-knockoff last Friday night, drinking beer with Tetuzi Amkiyama at Ginny's Little Longhorn with Cogburn in June was the hands-down winner of the best clashing cultures alchohol night of 2006. Akiyama and I had a great conversation about critically neglected 70s rock guitarists, (my personal obsession, shared I think by Aaron Russell, is always Uli Jon Roth) wherein he hipped me onto the pleasures of early 70s UFO, Pink Fairies, and Scorpions. "Lonesome Crow" is just an utterly sublime fucking record. Thanks, Tetuzi!

6. Judee Sill "Heart Food" (Geffen, 1973)

I am prety sure that I am the last passenger on the Judee Sill boat. I did hear this record in "soundscapes" record store on College Street when it was first reissued, but it was ruined for me because the manorexic guy who worked there started frothing at the mouth about Sill's "crazy life"-- you know, that toxic hipster disease of fetishizing "outsiderness"-- talking about how she had been a "prostitute" and a "jesus freak." God, what a bunch of fascists those dudes are, yes? Once again, the magic of the electronic potluck party allowed me to get lots of Judee Sill for the first time. Besides Mother Hen's eponymous lp, "Heart Food" is probably my favorite singer-songwriter music of the 1970s. And Buddy Emmons, my favorite pedal steel player ever, plays on it. Was Jim O'Rourke responsible for the Judee Sill reissues? How much of my musical taste since 1997 has been subtly shaped by JO'R? Why does this make me sort of uncomfortable?

5. Mastodon "Blood Mountain" (Warner Bros., 2006)

Yeah, everybody loves Mastodon. For good reason. They really are quite heavy.

Urgh, DragonForce I had such high hopes for you on the basis of this video. I really hoped the band would be just these weird sounds and guitar faces. Unfortunately, your music is terrible. But I cannot hate any guitar hero named Herman Li. On the contrary, I must love him.

1. Eric Chenaux "Dull Lights" (Constellation, 2006)

Of course this is the best record of 2006. It is off the chain.

No youtube of Eric so far as I know. So here is a movie that I think he would like. I am sure that Atticus books wouldn't mind a few minutes of Steeleye Span either, right? In my dreams, one day Eric and I will tour the world under the name The Zambellis.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Reading Lawrence Lessig Makes Me Nauseous

Right now, I am: 1) finishing up a paper on music and intellectual property for my policy history seminar; and 2) quietly delighting in the death of evil fuckwad Augusto Pinochet. The connection? Among my researches, I have forced myself to sit down with some books by Lawrence Lessig, which I always thought I would enjoy, but find instead that I want to chuck violently at the wall.

As it turns out, this putative champion of freedom speaks from one of the most antidemocratic and repressive world-views ever. Lessig's jeremiads, as welcome as they may be for those of us who also hate the FCC and Hillary Rosen, derive from a free-market evangelism indistinguishable from that of the Milton Friedman-trained "Chicago Boys" who helped Pinochet and others wage their prolonged and deadly class war against the Chilean people. No thanks, Larry.

So, to backtrack: the goal I set for myself for this paper was to write about music and intellectual property and not mention napster, digital copyright issues, or "piracy." Instead, I am trying to look at attribution and exploitation, issues related to popular music as a form of collective work. My long-range interest is tracing the development of the idea of the employer's "shop right" in the creative output of session and studio musicians, which contradicts in many ways the abstract legal rationale that gives composers copyright in the first place.

This project represents, in one way, an attempt to bring my own personal history as a musician to my scholarly work. It is only very recently that I have come to realize that most of my life as a musician has been as a guitar-playing "sideman," not an "author" or "songwriter." I like coming up with parts for songs, writing little riffs, sometimes playing solos. Even in my forays into musical territory both more "out" (free improv) and more "in" (learning country pedal steel), I have been atttracted to a more or less homologous role. I like playing guitar in bands. I like hanging out with people who play music in bands. Incidentally, I tend to hate gesamtkuntswerk-crafting "geniuses" (which, amazingly, is what the Supreme Court of the United States has tended to require if you want to argue that your work is worthy of a copyright monopoly). That is probably neither here than there.

Whenever I have mentioned my philosophical opposition to the very idea of intellectual property to the lawyers in my extended family, they have typically responded: "but don't you feel bad if someone steals your music and you don't get paid?" In the past, I have found this something of a conundrum; in retrospect I can't imagine why. I never get paid for my music anyways. I am not an author or composer. On the other hand, most pop music (including, I think, that to which I have contributed guitar parts) gains its quality and substance from the collective contributions of many different performers, none of whom get any royalties or compensation (even when the parts they play are totally integral to the song, as is the case with Procol Harum's "Whiter Shade of Pale," whose keyboard player is finally suing for a cut of the royalties). My view of whether anyone can "own" permutations of musical materials held in common (such as "my" guitar parts, or "Elton John's" melody line) is simple: nope.

So, my concern is not to start a campaign to get royalties for session players, but to link the observation that the real authors of pop music don't get paid to the fact of widespread popular resistance to copyright to a larger agenda of capitalist critique. To wit: private property is stupid, let's make a better society not ruled by the whims of the market and the values of accumulation, acquisitive inidividualism, and liberal "equality." This is where Lessig's politics seem to jibe so weirdly with his "free culture" agenda. Besides the fact that his bio proudly trumpets his having clerked for heinous conservatives like Richard Posner and Antonin Scalia, Lessig's writing is rife with alarmingly wrong free market nonsense. Additionally, his books are written in that distinctively icky management literature Hudson News paperback style that tips you off that you are in the intellectual universe of Good To Great and Who Moved My Cheese?

I will have more damning evidence soon, but here is a soupcon of Lessig to tide you over. The background details are unimportant, except that you should note that the "farmers" discussed by Lessig had both ancient common law and nineteenth-century legal precedent on their side, and that they were, seemingly with a lot of justification, protesting airplanes that were flying over their land and driving their chickens crazy; notice the embarassing business jargon, the atrocious mixed metaphors, the pragmatist "common-sense" justification of technological change as an autonomous force demanding unquestioning obeisance, and the portentous cape-twirl at the passage's end:

"The Wright brothers spat airplanes into the technological meme pool; the idea then spread like a virus in a chicken coop; farmers... found themselves surrounded by 'what seemed reasonable' given the technology that the Wrights had produced. They could stand on their farms, dead chickens in hand, and shake their fists at these newfangled technologies all they wanted... But in the end, the force of what seems 'obvious' to everyone else-- the power of 'common sense'--would prevail. Their 'private interest' would not be allowed to defeat an obvious public gain."

Holy fuck that is dumb thinking and bad writing.

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