“Would an increase of thoughtfulness fundamentally change anything?”

David Moore, responding to the kerfuffle between David Lowery and the NPR intern:

I mean, it’s nice to pay artists for the work they do, and it’s often actively shitty not to pay artists for the work they do. “Hey you — you’re being kind of an asshole” is probably not an unreasonable thing to say to someone who seems to take a kind of perverse pride not paying for music (which is not the case in the original article, from what I can tell; being plugged in to your college radio station also doesn’t really make you an “average” music listener/downloader). But that makes the thesis of the piece “a lot of people are trying to self-righteously justify being thoughtless jerks, which is really irritating.” True! Defensive ad hoc justification is usually the first defense of a thoughtless person, though, and that’s as true of the Camper Van Beethoven dude as it is for anyone else. But would an increase of thoughtfulness fundamentally change anything?

It’s not clear to me that “direct purchasing of music as a means of supporting an artist’s living wage” has ever in the history of art been the most efficient or effective way of actually supporting “artist” as a full-time job. That isn’t to say it isn’t possible, but most of the filmmakers I know teach or do commercial work. The fine artists I know teach or do commercial work. The actors I know teach or do service work while they hold out the hopes for commercial work, let alone “artistic expression.” The musicians I know do all kinds of things — insurance sales, writing, teaching, commercial soundtracking. I think we should change the stupid maxim: “Those who can, teach. Those who can’t, teach.”

Wallace Stevens, my favorite poet, went to law school and spent his life in Hartford as vice president of an insurance company. As a guy who squirms whenever friends identify themselves as “writers,” I have little patience for the pieties of creation, nor do I think being an artist entitles one to special forbearance or indeed sympathy of any kind. While the life of a touring band isn’t the same as an execuctive’s, I don’t understand how holding a second job impinges on creativity. As David points out, plenty of writers hold them. I teach a couple of classes a semester and have a full time job at a local public university; the thought of hours to myself devoted to writing is so weird to me (e.g. Philip Roth, for example, spending days in a cabin in upstate New York without human contact churning out a short novel every fifteen months).

Beltway myths

David Atkins on the chimera of lamenting the dissolution of bipartisan cocktail parties:

But by far the biggest is that the bipartisanship of the mid-20th century was a special artifact of the uneasy alliance between traditional urban liberal tribes and religious Dixiecratic populists in the South and Midwest. As I’ve written before, FDR was quite able to aggressively take on the financial and corporate interests of his time with a broad coalition. But he couldn’t pass an anti-lynching law without destroying his support base, and he was all too willing to institute the Japanese internment camps. In other words, FDR could take on the power of big money with ease, but he couldn’t take on the power of Big Racism.

The result of this dynamic was an uneasy bipartisanship between otherwise competing interests. Men like Strom Thurmond would vote for “socialist” policies as long as only whites got the benefits.

The advent of the Civil Rights movement marked the beginning of the end of bipartisanship. As tax dollars were increasingly seen as going toward non-whites, Dixiecrats became Republicans and allies of big business interests. Similar dynamics occurred with anti-Hispanic sentiment in the West. All the religious fervor that had been reserved for progressive social justice issues by the “Progressive” movement in the late 19th century (which included, by the way, quite conservative ideas like the prohibition of alcohol: late 19th century progressives would have strongly opposed modern liberals on issues like marijuana legalization alone…) flipped to socially conservative issues. The women’s equality movement only added further fuel to the socially conservative patriarchal fire.

A compelling theory; I’d like to read more corroborating info about whether Jessie Helms’ gimlet glass left a sweat stain on Cokie Roberts’ coffee table. He is right, though, that if any institution can still boast of “bipartisanship” it’s the Democratic Party. This weekend beloved GOP all star Tim Pawlenty thought he had Austan Goolsbee in the corner when he chirped, “But would the Democrats nominate a John F. Kennedy today?” The tax-cutting “pro-defense,” “pragmatic” JFK. The answer: yes, yes, they would and have. A couple have even won presidential elections.

That was your first mistake?

“If you’re going to be eccentric, for goodness sake don’t be pretentious about it,” growled Robert Christgau in 1971. He’s right about “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey,” my vote for worst song ever released by a Beatle, beating impressive competition from a couple George songs because “Uncle Albert” was actually a number one hit and still gets airplay. The other ringer, “The Back Seat of My Car,” takes five-plus minutes, watery guitar, and strings to describe a lover’s lane grope. This isn’t tantric sex — this is staring stoned at a birthmark on Linda’s shoulder while she impatiently calls his name. Worse, it seems to have inspired Eric Carmen’s early solo career.

The rest of Ram is good, although no masterpiece. Paul McCartney never made a solo masterpiece. I wish critics would stop acting like he did or why it matters (we know why it mattered in 1971 but we outgrew flares too). Like I wrote recently, his best solo record consists of however many tracks you can fit in a CD-R or iTunes playlist. Ram isn’t as good as Band on the Run, Venus and Mars, Flowers in the Dirt, or even my beloved Press to Play, but it’s not much worse, which is the key to understanding Paul’s solo years. It has one great track whose maneuvering between the ephemeral and the essential is so sly that I’m tempted to overrate its creator: “Eat at Home,” a gnarly, surly, ecstatic ode to cunnilingus that also doubles as an affirmation of domesticity. The guitars — by Hugh McCracken and Paul himself — sound fabulous. Linda’s addled harmonies, as usual, are crucial. The other keeper is “Dear Boy,” in whose Paul falsetto and basic piano chords a rebuke transforms into the gentlest of finger wagging without softening its pain.

The rest have tricks you’ve heard before and will again. “Smile Away” and “Monkberry Moon Delight” boast a lot of yelling to signify Paul’s spontaneity. A sequel to “Another Day” if he’d written about the contours of the rest of his working day, “The Heart of the Country” is concise as “The Back Seat of My Car” is bloated. “Too Many People,” Ram‘s barmiest moment, is a riot. Although it’s supposed to be “about” John and Yoko because we’ve read all the biographies, a stoned-to-the-gills Paul just sounds paranoid, decrying people going underground and reaching for pieces of cake over a magnificent loping bass line. No one in 1971 had the imagination in 1971 to sound this functionally illiterate. “Let Me In,” “I’m Carrying,” and a series of doodles about dragonflies and mud on Red Rose Speedway would follow.

Funk versus dink: In Our Heads

Hot Chip got it right once: on 2006’s The Warning. Brittle, dense, gnomic, The Warning‘s beats didn’t take their cue from the vocals, which spoke to a private conversation to which the listeners weren’t privy. They reached listeners as though from behind a sheet of smeared but still transparent glass, as an act heard but not seen. Most of those excerpts were in the form of commands (“We’re in no fit state,” “Hot Chip will break your legs”). Even on moments like “A Boy From School” when vocalist Alexis Taylor moved into the center of the room the effect reminded me of “The 15th,” a Wire number in which the singer’s yearning doesn’t lessen the mystery locked behind melody and rhythm.

Two subsequent albums moved Hot Chip’s arch side to the forefront. In Our Heads, their best since The Warning, is a breakthrough: an album in which goofiness buttresses songs which attempt and succeed in delineating a romantic sensibility. The jokes have payoffs and the payoffs aren’t kneeslappers so much as reticent professions of love. Opener “Motion Sickness” experiments with an arpeggiated electronic pattern before changing tempo and adding a horn part and a set of ever-changing two-line verses, building to such an intensity that when resolution comes (“I am only seen and felt by you/A world I’m in to take within your hands”) it doesn’t stop the sense of a lovelorn speaker turning and turning in a widening gyre. The good songs compensate for the usual unevenness: Joe Goddard takes the lead in “These Chains” and doesn’t convince anyone he isn’t the lead singer of a Wilco-esque band. But “Night and Day,” which I dismissed not long ago as a triumph of dink versus funk, works beautifully in context; by now Hot Chip knows how to ride the absurd and the vulgar. The guitar-anchored songs transcend themselves thanks to bits of business. John Cale, of all people, is an influence. The thick-voiced goth let musical jokes undercut him as often as not. The aforementioned “Motion Sickness” evokes the Eno-Cale “Spinning Away”; “Always Been Your Love” dims its lead vocal and foregrounds keyboard and femme appearance as adeptly as John Cale’s “The Man Who Couldn’t Afford to Orgy” did.

Self-mocking but too long, In Our Headsis a triumph of a new mode without claiming “maturity” as a mantle of seriousness. Hot Chip are too smart for that nonsense.

Happy Bloomsday

STATELY, PLUMP BUCK MULLIGAN CAME FROM THE STAIRHEAD, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. A yellow dressing gown, ungirdled, was sustained gently-behind him by the mild morning air. He held the bowl aloft and intoned:

— Introibo ad altare Dei.

Halted, he peered down the dark winding stairs and called up coarsely:

— Come up, Kinch. Come up, you fearful jesuit.

Solemnly he came forward and mounted the round gunrest. He faced about and blessed gravely thrice the tower, the surrounding country and the awaking mountains. Then, catching sight of Stephen Dedalus, he bent towards him and made rapid crosses in the air, gurgling in his throat and shaking his head. Stephen Dedalus, displeased and sleepy, leaned his arms on the top of the staircase and looked coldly at the shaking gurgling face that blessed him, equine in its length, and at the light untonsured hair, grained and hued like pale oak.

Buck Mulligan peeped an instant under the mirror and then covered the bowl smartly.

— Back to barracks, he said sternly.

He added in a preacher’s tone:

— For this, O dearly beloved, is the genuine Christine: body and soul and blood and ouns. Slow music, please. Shut your eyes, gents. One moment. A little trouble about those white corpuscles. Silence, all.

He peered sideways up and gave a long low whistle of call, then paused awhile in rapt attention, his even white teeth glistening here and there with gold points. Chrysostomos. Two strong shrill whistles answered through the calm.

— Thanks, old chap, he cried briskly. That will do nicely. Switch off the current, will you?

Singles 6/15

Thanks to “The Keepers,” Santigold has the dubious honor of issuing two of the year’s best songs from one of the year’s shallowest records.

All songs on a ten-point scale. Click on links for full reviews.

Santigold – The Keepers (8)
Elle Varner – Refill (7)
Purity Ring – Belispeak (7)
Lupe Fiasco – Around My Way (Freedom Ain’t Free) (6)
The Magnetic Fields – Quick! (5)
Princess – I See Why They Don’t Like Me (4)
MØ – Maiden (4)
Phillip Phillips – Home (4)
Chris Young – Neon (4)
Justin Bieber – Die in Your Arms (4)
Due West – Things You Can’t Do In A Car (2)
The Black Keys – Gold on the Ceiling (2)
Lawson – When She Was Mine (1)

Posting flippy floppy

James Verini:

For younger listeners, and for older ones who never shared [Jonathan] Lethem’s infatuation, Talking Heads live on principally in one track: the sad, sweet “love song” titled “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody).” When was the last time you heard “Burning Down The House,” the band’s biggest single? Probably not recently. But chances are good you’ve heard “This Must Be The Place” very recently, whether you knew it or not.

Thirty years old this year, the song has slowly but surely embedded itself in the American songbook. You can’t walk into a good bar between Williamsburg and Silver Lake without an even shot that it will come on the stereo in some iteration. Lately, it’s been covered by Arcade Fire, MGMT, and the jam band The String Cheese Incident, among others. There are books named for it. Hip brides march down the aisle to it. It’s quoted in mawkish editorials. And last year, “This Must Be The Place” was made into a movie.

In my experience music fans born after, say, 1985 consider Speaking in Tongue‘s last track and second single their favorite Heads song; some even aver it’s their favorite love song, period (my favorite Heads love songs are “Creatures of Love” and “I’m Not in Love,” the latter being particularly lovebuzzed but I’m alone) But chances are you still hear “And She Was,” “Take Me to the River,” “Once in a Lifetime,” or their only American top ten “Burning Down the House” more often on radio, satellite or otherwise (for the record their only top forty hits: the Al Green cover and “Wild Wild Life”). The story boasts other oddities, with the song “dispenses about as much hope as Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” almost as hmm as “Byrne was the funkiest white man in pop until Flea showed up.” But I forget: Williamsburg = America.

The story also adduces the band’s reputaion among music journalists as one in constant need of curating (Varini notes that the song “immediately turned off Talking Heads purists already leery of the band’s newfound popularity” without evidence. This song?). I read a story in late 1999 published in Miami New Times to coincide with the fifteenth anniversary of Stop Making Sense in which Chris Frantz lamented how the band were victims of their own success. No one sounds like Talking Heads anymore, he said. By the time the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted them in 2002 the amiable Frantz had reason to smile; just about every new guitar band incorporated some kind of buttoned-down white funk sound. And none of them were covering “This Must Be the Place” just yet.

Credo quia absurdum: The Milky Way

An eighteenth-century Jansenist and Jesuit duel over the efficacy of free will. A maître d’ patiently explains the singularity of Jesus Christ. Schoolgirls at a summer show announce “This is anathema” in response to Roman Catholic heresies; with each exclamation the scene jump-cuts to marching soixante-huitards; it ends with a firing squad executing the pope, clad in rich ecumenical white.

Welcome to Luis Buñuel’s world and we are mere tourists. Suffused by the Spanish picaresque tradition, 1968’s The Milky Way, released between Belle de Jour and Tristana, dawdles, not quite solving the problem — as the earlier Nazarin (1959) didn’t either — of how to enliven chapters of theological disquisitions. Juxtaposing them against moments of deflating banality help but only just: in the scene mentioned above the head waiter concludes his monologue with “Get rid of this pear. It’s overripe.” During my Buñuel obsession in the early nineties The Milky Way appeared in every Blockbuster shelf that The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie didn’t, an odd twist which Don Luis would have appreciated. But the images flow and I get the sense that Buñuel was moving closer to the serenity of The Discreet Charm, in which the problem of narrative itself becomes a droll joke.

Play the bells and whistles included on the Criterion DVD. Co-writer Jean-Claude Carrière accounts of how he gathered material are as valuable as his illuminations into the nature of Buñuel’s incense-suffused atheism. A septuagenarian of formidable intelligence, fluent in several languages but devoid of vanity, Carrière himself is an ideal camera subject, as fans of Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy learned last year.

Ain’t that a kick in the head!


The recent recession wiped out nearly two decades of Americans’ wealth, according to government data released Monday, with ­middle-class families bearing the brunt of the decline.

The Federal Reserve said the median net worth of families plunged by 39 percent in just three years, from $126,400 in 2007 to $77,300 in 2010. That puts Americans roughly on par with where they were in 1992.

The news is so enervating that it exceeds the bounds of rational thought. We’re still discovering the damage wrought by the Bush administration. Bruce Bartlett:

During the 2000 campaign, Mr. Bush warned that budget surpluses were dangerous because Congress might spend them, even though Paygo rules prevented this from happening. His Feb. 28, 2001, budget message reiterated this point and asserted that future surpluses were likely to be even larger than projected due principally to anticipated strong revenue growth.

This was the primary justification for a big tax cut. Subsequently, as it became clear that the economy was slowing – a recession began in March 2001 – that became a further justification.

The 2001 tax cut did nothing to stimulate the economy, yet Republicans pushed for additional tax cuts in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006 and 2008. The economy continued to languish even as the Treasury hemorrhaged revenue, which fell to 17.5 percent of the gross domestic product in 2008 from 20.6 percent in 2000. Republicans abolished Paygo in 2002, and spending rose to 20.7 percent of G.D.P. in 2008 from 18.2 percent in 2001.

According to the C.B.O., by the end of the Bush administration, legislated tax cuts reduced revenues and increased the national debt by $1.6 trillion. Slower-than-expected growth further reduced revenues by $1.4 trillion.

However, the Bush tax cuts continued through 2010, well into the Obama administration. These reduced revenues by another $369 billion, adding that much to the debt. Legislated tax cuts enacted by President Obama and Democrats in Congress reduced revenues by an additional $407 billion in 2009 and 2010. Slower growth reduced revenues by a further $1.3 trillion. Contrary to Republican assertions, there were no additional revenues from legislated tax increases.

And if the Obama administration keeps using buzzwords and jargon like “austerity,” “spending cuts,” and “entitlement reform” not just indiscriminately but with sinister purpose for the sake of koombaya then we’re fucked.