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by Sean Murphy

13 Nov 2009

Back in 2006, I recall reading many intriguing reviews of Daniel J. Levitin’s book This Is Your Brain on Music. It’s been on my Amazon wish list ever since, and writing about music as much as I do, I occasionally have friends ask me if I’ve read it, or tell me I should read it. The latest reminder came from a friend who wrote the following email to me and a few of our mutual (music loving) friends:

In his brilliant book… Levitin relates the tale of how an elderly colleague and he used to dine every Wednesday and discuss music. During one of these dinners the colleague, an octogenarian, confessed that he did not understand rock music, but wanted to be able to. He asked Levitin to choose six songs that would capture “all that was important to know about rock and roll music.” Levitin chose the following songs:

“Long Tall Sally” (Little Richard), “Roll Over Beethoven” (The Beatles), “All Along The Watchtower” (Jimi Hendrix), “Wonderful Tonight” (Eric Clapton), “Little Red Corvette” (Prince), “Anarchy in the UK” (Sex Pistols).

What would you guys choose, and why?

by Rob Horning

13 Nov 2009

Slavoj Žižek has a good essay in the LRB about the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. He looks at the idea that the end of the socialism brought in its wake a realistic mind-set grounded in the “truth” that markets and capitalism are the only basis for a social order that works. He basically argues that after the Wall fell, the same sort of people maintained political control. Neoliberalism has its power elite, just as Warsaw Pact countries had their Politburos. What’s striking about the velvet revolutions, Žižek argues, is that after the fall of the Wall, these elites turned out to be the same people:

Indeed, one could argue that, when the Communist regimes collapsed, the disillusioned former Communists were better suited to run the new capitalist economy than the populist dissidents. While the heroes of the anti-Communist protests continued to indulge their dreams of a new society based on justice, honesty and solidarity, the ex-Communists were able without difficulty to accommodate themselves to the new capitalist rules. Paradoxically, in the new post-Communist condition, the anti-Communists stood for the utopian dream of a true democracy, while the ex-Communists stood for the cruel new world of market efficiency, with all its corruption and dirty tricks.

He sums up the ideological usefulness of this misrecognition: free marketeers can argue that their revolution was betrayed and demand more radical reforms.

In the 1990s, it was believed that humanity had finally found the formula for an optimal socio-economic order. The experience of the last few decades has clearly shown that the market is not a benign mechanism that works best when left alone. It requires violence to create the conditions necessary for it to function. The way market fundamentalists react to the turmoil that ensues when their ideas are implemented is typical of utopian ‘totalitarians’: they blame the failure on compromise – there is still too much state intervention – and demand an even more radical implementation of market doctrine.

Markets don’t exist by virtue of natural law; impersonal exchange is hardly inscribed into human genetic code. Violence, or its implied threat, establishes the terms of exchange, or worse, the arbitrary neutrality of a society governed by unimpeded markets fosters an anything-goes climate where violence between competitors is tolerated, and is inevitable.

by Eleanore Catolico

13 Nov 2009

Check out the stupendously hilarious video for White Denim’s “I Start to Run”. Here, White Denim seriously induces a ROFL moment.

by Eleanore Catolico

13 Nov 2009

Dayve Hawk’s inventive musical brain trust, Memory Tapes, remixes Yeasayer’s new song “Ambling Alp” off their upcoming record, ODD BLOOD. The glo-fi engineer carves ornate sonic shapes into “Ambling Alp”, making the refrain all the more urgent.

Ambling Alp (Memory Tapes Remix) [MP3]

by Bill Gibron

13 Nov 2009

One of the most intriguing things about the early ‘60s cultural craze known as The British Invasion is how little impact the actual music had back home. While bands like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones had their frothing fan-base, the UK’s government controlled radio rarely played their songs. That’s because the BBC dedicated less than two hours a week to rock and roll, believing that the listening audience deserved a more “sophisticated” fare. No, most English youth got their daily fix of The Hollies, The Kinks, and The Small Faces from pirate stations located on ships, off shore, in the international waters of the North Sea.

Now Richard Curtis, the writer/director behind such well-loved Brit-wit comedies as Four Weddings and a Funeral, Bridget Jones’ Diary, and Love Actually, is fictionalizing the story of England’s broadcast revolution in Pirate Radio, an America-mandated retitling of his Spring 2009 international release The Boat that Rocked. Trimmed of some 20 minutes and yet still overflowing with character, plotting, and subtext the story centers on Carl (Tom Sturridge), a young boy who finds himself kicked out of school. “Sentenced” by his mother to a visit with his godfather Quentin (Bill Nighy), our hero finds himself on ‘Radio Rock’, a rundown cargo vessel broadcasting all the biggest hits 24 hours a day.

Among the crew are several madcap DJs, Felicity (Katherine Parkinson) a lesbian chef, a ‘thick’ intern, and a mysterious bloke named “Bob”. Chief among the throng are US ex-patriot The Count (Philip Seymour Hoffman), returning “king of the airwaves” Gavin (Rhys Ifans), lumbering ladykiller Dave (Nick Frost) and “nutty” New Zealander Angus (Rhys Darby). As their popularity soars, the British government grows desperate. They want the pirate stations shut down, and put Minister Dormandy (Kenneth Branagh) in charge. He brings on an assistant named Twatt (Jack Davenport) and gives him a simple mandate - shut down Radio Rock in 12 months, or he’ll never work in the UK again…EVER!

Winning, witty, and wearing out its welcome toward the end, Pirate Radio is either a noble failure or the slightest of successes. Instead of being the kind of bracing, insightful docudrama that sheds light on a subject few outside the UK know about, what we wind up with is a bloated effort that tries to be everything to everyone—coming of age comedy, pop art period piece, political satire, crafty character study, ensemble romp, and/or hilarious history lesson. Toss in a regular stream of sensational ‘60s rock songs, a weird last act switch into action movie mode, and an abundance of keen individual moments, and you’ve got a movie that needed a narrower focus to truly succeed. What we have here works in phases, but just can’t come together as a cohesive experience.

Part of the problem is the introduction of the Carl character. Clearly meant as a device to bring the audience into the wacky world of Radio Rock, Curtis gives the wide-eyed innocent little more to do than sit back passively and pine away for some female companionship. It’s the typical dreary teen material, made no less weepy by actor Sturridge’s blank expression. He’s a void in the middle of some amazing talent. Indeed, while they only have small slots of time to make an impression, Hoffman, Frost, Darby, and Ifans are fascinating as disc jockey archetypes. Had the entire Carl support system been jettisoned in favor of a more “warts and all” look at these guys, Pirate Radio would have been so much better. Instead, we can instantly tell that Curtis means everything to be very courteous and polite, and if there is one thing rock and roll is not, it’s gentile.

And then there’s the government material, handled with all the subtlety of an episode of The Young Ones. Branagh brings a certain stifled, stiff upper silliness to his reading of the super-square Minister, but Pirates of the Caribbean‘s Davenport is rudderless. Having little purpose except to pursue Radio Rock’s status legally, he stands around in each scene and looks lost. Curtis’ attempts at undermining their philosophy are so heavy handed and arch that we can see the stilted, surreal Christmas party scene coming 30 minutes before it happens. Then, as Branagh and his ostrich-like wife wince at the crackling pop of traditional holiday favors, we can instantly tell that there is no affection for these buffoonish, button-down bureaucrats. Instead, Curtis means to make them look as lame as possible - and does so with a sledgehammer.

Since it’s not our legacy, since America has its own aural missteps that could readily make for cinematically incisive - of in this case, slick - entertainment (the demonization of early rock and roll, the blatant racism and payola of the ‘50s - ‘70s pop charts) we forgive most of Pirate Radio‘s excesses. Granted, by the third or fourth time Carl is seen sliding into a hormonal malaise, we’ve long since stopped caring, and the finale, which finds Radio Rock sinking Titanic style, is an odd juxtaposition with all that’s come before. Like any overlarge canvas, Curtis puts too much up on the screen, even in this supposedly truncated version. And yet oddly enough, we feel like we want more. We want more facts and famous faces. We would love to see how British citizens really reacted to the limited access to their favorite bands (the sunny vignettes with teens and various office workers dancing along to the tunes doesn’t cut it).

But more importantly, Pirate Radio needs more realism. Everything here is a fairytale reconfiguring of the truth. Sure, there is enough validity in what Curtis is doing to deliver a semi-rollicking good time, and his cast more than captures the spirit and the cunning of these counterculture revolutionaries. And yet the most intriguing aspects of the story - the who, what, when, where, why, and how - are left mostly to myth. This is not lethal to Pirate Radio‘s end result, but it’s definitely not something all the ‘Viva La Rock!’ pronouncements can fully compensate for. It’s still hard to believe that with all the amazing music coming out of the UK during that time period, most in the BBC thought the pop charts littered with junk. Richard Curtis’ retelling has its own issues with unnecessary excess. In both cases, the beliefs are more bewildering than fatal. 

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