Slate takes a look at those looking at Nick Hornby
. (There are a ton of links in the original article, which I haven't read yet, but we jolly well should).
. In a flashback to his days as the rock critic for The New Yorker, the archenemy of music writers everywhere popped up on the New York Times op-ed page last week to moan that "contemporary rock music no longer sounds young." (He also set out a middlebrow manifesto T.S. Eliot would have approved of—rock should have "recognizable" "influences that are not only embedded in pop history, but that have been properly digested.") He might as well have waved a red cape over blogland. Hornby's successor at The New Yorker, Sasha Frere-Jones, denounced him line by line for championing "as conservative a conception of rock as one could imagine." Critic Keith Harris was pithy: "I felt more pity for this sad old man than disgust." And Seattle Weekly music editor Michaelangelo Matos dispatched Hornby with relative mercy (the piece "reveals every one of his worst instincts all in one go"), only to turn on Salon's critic, Thomas Bartlett, with a lengthy and detailed evisceration.
More brief looks at how censorship can "kill music"
or change its course.
Another Day Late and Still a Dollar Short Dept.
(The following press release is courtesy of Bob Sarles and his electrifying Music Wire.)
The Way the Music Died
Thursday, May 27, at 9pm, 60 minutes
In the recording studios of Los Angeles and the boardrooms of New York, they say the record business has been hit by a perfect storm: a convergence of industry-wide consolidation, Internet theft, and artistic drought. The effect has been the loss of billions of dollars, thousands of jobs, and that indefinable quality that once characterized American pop music.
"It's a classic example of art and commerce colliding and nobody wins," says Nic Harcourt, music director at Los Angeles's KCRW-FM. "It's just a train wreck."
In "The Way the Music Died," airing Thursday, May 27, at 9 P.M. on PBS (check local listings), FRONTLINE follows the trajectory of the recording industry from its post-Woodstock heyday in the 1970s and 1980s to what one observer describes as a "hysteria" of mass layoffs and bankruptcy in 2004.
"This is the story of how the pressures to perform financially have affected the ability of many pop musicians to make the art they want," says FRONTLINE producer Michael Kirk. "The starkness of the difference between the environment that exists in the midst of this 'perfect storm' and the way the business once operated is nothing short of astonishing."
The documentary tells its story through the aspirations and experiences of four artists: veteran musician David Crosby, who hopes his newest album will cash in on the resurgence of baby boomers buying music; songwriter/producer Mark Hudson, a former member of The Hudson Brothers band whose daughter, Sarah, is about to release her first single and album; and a new rock band, Velvet Revolver, composed of former members of the rock groups Guns n' Roses and Stone Temple Pilots, whose first album will be released in June.
But how will these artists fare at a time when the record industry is clearly hurting?
"It's a big moment," says Melinda Newman, West Coast bureau chief for Billboard magazine. "There are about 30,000 albums released a year, maybe a hundred are hits. Sales have fallen from $40 billion to $28 billion in just three years."
FRONTLINE follows the trends in the record business that led to
unprecedented growth of more than 20 percent per year in the 25 years following the industry watershed at Woodstock. Crosby, for example, recalls how his new band's album made millions after Crosby, Stills, and Nash performed at the legendary rock concert.
"It was the moment when all that generation of hippies looked at each other and said, 'Wait a minute! We're not a fringe element. There's millions of us! We're what's happening here,'" Crosby tells FRONTLINE.
FRONTLINE follows the career of rocker Mark Hudson, whose group The Hudson Brothers began as a 1970s rock band. "It was post-Woodstock, pre-disco, pre-MTV. So it was a point when music still had truckloads of integrity," Hudson tells FRONTLINE. "Somebody was getting ready to exploit rock and roll."
Hudson tells his story of how the business changed him and how The
Hudson Brothers ended up becoming TV stars as the summer replacement for the Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour.
In the early 1980s, MTV fueled a further explosion of interest and
seemed to broaden the appeal of rock music.
"I thank God for the music video channels because they're another way of getting people to hear music," says music industry veteran Danny Goldberg, now president of Artemis records.
But surprisingly, there are those who now argue MTV was a negative
"What it did really is make the business a one trick pony--and
everything became about the three minutes, the single, the hit single," entertainment attorney Michael Guido tells FRONTLINE. "I think the album died with MTV. The culture in the record companies in the last twenty years has been to reward artists for three minutes of music, not for forty minutes of music."
Some critics fear that the industry's need for quick hits has made it difficult for more adventurous artists to offer the unique sounds and challenging themes that have long been the hallmark of the best album artists.
FRONTLINE also examines the effect of consolidation of ownership on the music industry. "What you had were these people who had been tremendous entrepreneurs...bought up by a multi-conglomerate," Billboard's Newman says. "And it just changes the complexion. The whole way you're having to make decisions is based on different models."
Michael "Blue" Williams, manager of the Grammy Award-winning OutKast, agrees. "We're run by corporations now," he says. "We have accountants running two of four majors now, and they don't get it. It's a numbers game. And music has always been a feelings game."
The consolidation of the radio industry also negatively impacted the recording industry, observers say.
"Thousands of radio stations changed hands, and companies that wanted to really get on radio were able to pull up some enormous multibillion dollar mergers," Los Angeles Times reporter Jeff Leeds tells FRONTLINE. "Suddenly a company that once owned three dozen stations could suddenly own a thousand."
With programming decisions centralized at the corporate level, most stations follow a mandated play list. In some cases, it's just fourteen songs per week--leaving little airtime for the introduction of new artists.
FRONTLINE profiles Mark Hudson's daughter singer/songwriter Sarah
Hudson as she prepares to release her first album at a time when the music industry is struggling. "For any new artist, the odds are almost insurmountable. I think if they knew the odds, they would never get in the first place. You know, the vast, vast majority of records go absolutely nowhere," Newman says.
Vying with Hudson for a place on the Billboard charts is Velvet
Revolver, a "super band" backed by RCA Records, a label that is betting heavily on the group. FRONTLINE follows the marketing of the band as its members struggle to return to the spotlight. Velvet Revolver's manager says success takes more than an expensive video and a marketing campaign. "It's still all about the kids. If the kids want to request it, it gets played more and more. The more it gets played, the more people buy. The more people buy, the more records they sell. The more records they sell, shazam, you're a rock star," David Codikow says.
"The Way the Music Died" is a FRONTLINE co-production with the Kirk Documentary Group. The producer, writer, and director is Michael Kirk.
FRONTLINE is produced by WGBH Boston and is broadcast nationwide on PBS.
The irrepressible Rock and Roll Report
breaks the news that this broadcast will be streaming on the internet beginning May 29. Good news for fanaticos, tho I'm still a dollar short.)
Easy Browsing Section Now Open
Three Looks at the Celebrity Trend
(Like People Magazine, only better).
What Celebrity Is: The Annotated Culture of Celebrity
How Celebrity Is Viewed: If You're Famous, Do You Own You?
Celebrity as "Brands": Image and Icon
Teaching an old "brand" new tricks: Reviving Dormant Brands
(Thoughts on Nostalgia)
Saturday Contemplation Hut is Now Open
"For some readers, website reviews by an amateur critic may be more in line with their tastes than that of a highbrow cinèaste
in a broadsheet. Moreover, some online critics write in a 'webby style' that suits a generation accustomed to instant messaging and text messaging."
In light of the gathering of the tribes mentioned below, two articles leaped out today which describe some current trends in two areas of criticism. Two out of four ain't bad ... and some parallels can be inferred about the current trends in music criticism:
A look at literary criticism in The Slightest Sardine
Everyone's a critic, even online critics
(via Arts & Letters Daily
and Arts Journal Daily
And then there's Jane Dark's Sugar High!
The Song Remains Different (+ Ann Powers)
Why good writing is honest
And for perpetually tardy music journalists, an exercise in Prompt.
A Day Late and a Dollar Short Dept.
If you insist on habitually showing up a fashionably forty minutes late, you'll have missed the first ever convention of arts critics who represent a broad spectrum of the arts. That's right, you're too late to attend this year's Arts Critics Joint Conference.
"The Music Critics Association of North America was founded in 1956 by music critics as a service organization to promote high standards and ensure the future of classical music criticism in the press of the Americas. MCANA provides a communication network among critics through annual conferences, a quarterly newsletter and a Web site. The organization also provides educational programs for professional development as well as advocacy for the field. These include Institutes in which members have the opportunity to travel to music festivals or major musical events to get a behind-the-scene look at an arts institution. Nuts and Bolts, hands-on writing workshops, bring emerging critics into close contact with some of the finest music editors and writers in the field and offer a chance for professional development. The quarterly newsletter keeps members informed about job opportunities, upcoming conferences, institutes, available fellowships, and colleagues' activities. The annual conference includes three days of symposia, panel discussions, social events and performances."
Saturday Reading Room (Periodicals Section)
"Hey, Good Lookin' "
Devon Powers explores the role of image in music and music criticism.
"Rock of Ages"
Nick Hornby edges towards a look at ageism in music and music criticism.
"It (rap) is really close to young people because it speaks their language and it speaks about their real-life problems and social life from their point of view. We really needed this in the Arab world"
Egyptian rap star
Aljazeera news reveals today that "Arabs rap to a different beat"
Elsewhere in current news of the Arab world, Utusan Malaysia reports on the first major post-Taliban concert held at Kabul stadium
. Some criticism implied of those starchy old-fashioned conservatives who secretly hope to harshly punish any Afghanistani woman caught singing, and this bright ray of hope:
"As one concert-goer, who witnessed the execution at the stadium of a woman who murdered her husband, told AFP: 'That was the darkest period of our life under the Taliban -- but now it is over, you see we have music.' "
The rough justice of becoming a music journalist
in today's world, or how you might succeed in getting published, with important practice points:
"Now you have got that, do it as much as you can. Do it until you are bloody sick of it."
Scene: a scene is the cultural space that a subculture occupies. It can refer, but is not limited, to live performances by bands, discourse and debate that takes place, and the physical places where fans hang out.
(from a Lexicon
of strange new dysfunctions in strange new times)
Strange New Dysfunctions for Strange New Times
May 12, 2004
This CD will self-destruct in twenty, thirty years. Yes, the Washington Post today reports on how techno-rot affects the supposedly indestructable CD.
(And you thought music from your favorite era would last forever).
(via today's AJ
June 1, 2001
A much earlier piece from Canada's Chart Attack long ago informed me of the existence of CD fungus
, discovered by a scientist from Madrid. I held the information from that article close, as there was something about it that inspired me to wage the quiet fight.
I have regularly mailed all those unlistenable, unwanted, unrecyclable, unsaleable, untradable promo CD's and a bunch of the ones I just don't like to a fictitious person, who appears to be traveling and receiving mail at General Delivery postal addresses in various cities along the coast of Belize. A harmless though often expensive practice I have dutifully, quietly, and anonymously continued since that early date.
Online guide to A Short Guide to Writing About Music
(The shortest guide from author J. Bellman: Distrust good ideas.)
School Is Out At Last Section
Looking to explore the some of the big questions like "Why do people feel compelled to talk about and write about music? Does writing about music contribute anything to our understanding of the music? Of the author? Of society?"
Yes? Then looky here: "The Rhetoric of Music Writing".
(Be sure to check out the papers available for downloading and reading.)
The Goodness, What's A Working Music Journalist To Do To Have An Original Thought Dept.
(Hint: try reading good stuff by other critics for awhile)
Writing about music: two books get it right
This Just In Dept:
SAN FRANCISCO - After hearing Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld dress down the media at Pentagon (news - web sites) press briefings, two San Francisco musicians came to an inevitable conclusion: his words simply must be set to chamber music.
Read all about it here, national music news less than 10 minutes old: "Rumsfeld's 'poetic' voice set to music
Today's Headline: Leading music critics agree musicians must get political
Body: A discussion of what went on at a recent gathering of music critics.
Closing remarks from a distinguished member of the public: "Overall, I think musicians should leave politics alone and just talk about everyday life. I think people prefer escapism."
The relentless sweep of time and persistence of human memory dept.
Remember that famous beatnik quote from folk singer Barbara Dane that opened a biography of Lenny Bruce: "When Lenny Bruce died, I owed him thirty dollars ... "
Amazing but true parallel history: When Sandy Bull died, I owed him thirty-five dollars.
Here's Sandy Bull's website
. Buy some of his records old and new and if you love music, you'll never regret it. His music is so rich, it will last you a lifetime.
The view from the other side of the pond
from the Herald
Blair's Live Aid Report
from the May 8 Guardian
John Harris in "The Bland Play On"
Rock'n'roll is the latest victim of corporate globalisation -- and it shows
"Put bluntly, Anglo-American popular music is among globalisation's most useful props. Never mind the nitpicking fixations with interview rhetoric and stylistic nuance that concern its hardcore enthusiasts -- away from its home turf, mainstream music, whether it's metal, rap, teen-pop or indie-rock, cannot help but stand for a depressingly conservative set of values: conspicuous consumption, the primacy of the English language, the implicit acknowledgement that America is probably best."
Armed with this new list of books about music as previewed by Jim Rogatis
, you can open your own reading toom.
Colleagues mourn the passing of a music critic/journalist you've likely never read. Goodbye to Lebanon's Khazen Nimr Abboud
Just a few excerpts dept.
A World that Starts with Art
Vendler didn’t use the usual weasel words of people who make a living celebrating the loveliness of art. She wants to put art first, which is not an argument for art as an adjunct to life, or merely something the well-bred individual has attended to on his resume, or something with which to end the weary day after toiling at the biotechnology plant. This is an argument for art as the basic, most fundamental, first access to the world.
In Vendler’s reordered world, politicians would turn to poetry, rather than history, to make sense of the competing claims of the world. Statesmen would consult Dante before Machiavelli; students would be rewarded for anatomizing Aristophanes’ “The Frogs” and frogs from formaldehyde vats.
“I’m not sure we are greatly helped to live our lives by history, since whether or not we remember it, we seem doomed to repeat it,” she said. This is an astonishing thing to say, especially in Washington, especially one year after the last Jefferson lecturer, historian David McCullough, ambled through a dreary speech of platitudes about the importance of educating ourselves with a lively understanding of U.S. history. Vendler is thumbing her nose at all the threadbare permutations of “know your history or you’re doomed to repeat it.”
Talking up the arts isn’t radical; talking up the arts as more fundamental to life than history is. That this seems utopian, if not downright silly to most people, is based on a prejudice against which Vendler has struggled with her life’s work. Her analysis of poetry, methodical, conservative and brilliant, has yielded an argument against the notion that art is somehow less real and less substantial than the material things of the world. In her little book on Seamus Heaney, Vendler quotes the Irish poet getting to the heart of this problem: “In one sense the efficacy of poetry is nil -- no lyric has ever stopped a tank.”
But in her speech last night, Vendler groped at a response. “The arts exist to relocate us in the body,” she said. “They situate us on the Earth.”
Far from being unreal, a poem is part of our physical world, sitting on a page, agitating the air with sound waves and, ultimately, animating us right down to our heartbeat and glands. If it’s real, then it can effect change in what we so casually call “the real world.”
Loudon Wainwright III offers his latest song "President's Day"
free of charge to the world at large, with this as his reason:
April 9, 2004
Good People - Kindly lend an ear or even 2 to this March 27th recording of my song Presidents' Day," captured live at McCabe's Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, California. Due to its particular timeliness with regard to our nation's impending electoral decision in November, I have made the rather unusual (for me) decision to cast it into the ether of cyberspace, there to be had gratis, absolutely free of charge for citizens armed with an MP3 player and a taste for broadside material. It is my sincere hope that those of you who like the song and approve of my plan will assist me in spreading the word about "Presidents' Day" in order to inform and/or inflame any swing voters out there who remain at all ambivalent or apathetic about the current administration and its reckless, dreadful policies. I also look forward to performing this song in the coming seven or so months anywhere within reason, to anyone willing to listen. It is not the least I can do and therefore seems to me worth doing. Thanks for listening - Loudon Wainwright 3rd
(Thanks to rock n rap confidential
for pulling my coat)
Reading about reading dept.
"There is something very English in the marriage of boredom and catastrophe, and the England that existed immediately after the Second World War appears to have carried that manner rather well, as if looking over its shoulder to notice that lightning had just struck a teacup."
So begins "Back in the US of A", a NY Times book review by Andrew O'Hagan
on a new book on the Beatles, "the superboomer's house band."
Magic Circles: The Beatles in Dream and History
by Devin McKinney
Harvard University Press, 420 pp., $27.95
Saturday Reading Room Extended Hours
More on music critic Francis Davis
plus a few of his works available online (at Atlantic.)
"The music critic Francis Davis doesn't see himself as a frustrated artist. 'Music journalism at its highest level,' he writes in this collection of published and unpublished essays, 'is a valid literary genre, not a vicarious alternative to mastering an instrument.'
(Read more in this review by Eugene Holley Jr. of JAZZ AND ITS DISCONTENTS A Francis Davis Reader By Francis Davis.
Da Capo, paper, $20. Like ....
"Though his verbosity sometimes gets the better of him, his profiles can be insightful and illuminating, as shown in his descriptions of the tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins's struggle with the muse, and of Abbey Lincoln's evolution from pinup girl and actress to protest singer. Davis comes up with some zesty one-liners, like his characterization of the avant-garde bandleader Sun Ra, known for his space-age garb, as 'the only jazz musician assured of a gig every Halloween.' Davis's insights, investigations and opinions are funny, fierce and fair, and are as diverse as the music he loves. "