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Wednesday, Nov 28, 2007

Hair metal is making a comeback in a big way. Thanks to a sweeping wave of nostalgia buoyed by the children of the ‘80s, now financially coming into their own, the much mocked and maligned genre is suddenly cool again. With the recent musical success of Motley Crue’s comeback tour, and the Crue’s Nikki Sixx and Poison’s Bret Michaels jettisoning themselves into the current landscape of pop culture relevance (albeit at very different ends of the spectrum), other alumni from the pop metal scene are trying their hand at a possible second-wind. In spite of having fallen off the radar, many of these bands never really went away. Still cranking out pentatonic-punctuated albums, these bands are finally re-emerging from the Aqua Net mist. The light-hearted, yet musically solid hallmarks of hair metal lend themselves perfectly to this sort of compilation. With tracks ranging from the good, such as Winger’s “Happy Christmas (War Is Over)”, to the cheesy-fun of Danger Danger’s “Naughty, Naughty Christmas”, Monster Ballads Xmas is a well-rounded disc of re-worked holiday favorites. Its charm lies within its lack of saccharine sap and the tongue-in-cheek presentation of many of the artists on the album. Although these bands have been out of the public ear for some time, devotees of the hard rock/pop metal genre will instantly recognize the signature sounds and styles of some of their favorites. This latest disc in the Monster Ballads franchise swells with a sizeable gift of holiday cheer. Just keep your Aqua Net-ted locks away from your menorah or Yule log.


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Wednesday, Nov 28, 2007

Radio is a sound salvation
Radio is cleaning up the nation
They say you better listen to the voice of reason
But they don’t give you any choice
‘cause they think that it’s treason.
So you had better do as you are told.
You better listen to the radio.


Elvis Costello, Radio, Radio


 



If you live in LA, you drive. No other option. Unless you work out of your home. But even then, unless you have livestock in the kitchen or a garden in the driveway, you gotta get in the car to stock the shelves. No other way to get around and get it all done. There is just too much space to traverse and too few locomotive options when picking up the coffee beans and bran muffins that get you going in the morning; the diet Dr. Pepper and donuts to get you over the afternoon hump; the pasta and salad stuff that fills you up in the evening; and the wine that brings you down, after the long day away.


Driving.


It’s like that R.E.M. song: about the constancy, the monotony, the inexorable crush of motion:



Maybe you did. maybe you walk.
Maybe you rock around the clock
Tick-tock. Tick-tock.
Maybe I ride. maybe you walk.
Maybe I drive to get off, baby.


—R.E.M., Drive



Over here, in L.A. maybe everyone drives to get off. Oh. Baby.


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Wednesday, Nov 28, 2007

The legacy of one of the finest rock mags ever is still being battled out, literally and figuratively.  This New York Observer article has news of dust-up between two factions, including publication of a recent anthology of articles.  As a former writer there said, since it’s debatable at best if the rights have been cleared with the individual writers (they probably haven’t actually), that could be grounds for suit in addition to the other court activity that’s swirling around the magazine.  Also note comments from Connie Kramer (widow of founder Barry Kramer) and Dave Marsh at the bottom of the article.


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Tuesday, Nov 27, 2007
Book Sculpture by Su Blackwell

Book Sculpture by Su Blackwell


Google granted a magazine patent


Techcrunch reports on a patent issued to Google called “Customization of Content and Advertisements in Publications.” It speculates that Google is about to create a magazine template that people can insert personalized content into, and wrap advertising around, and may even go as far as creating kiosks where people can print out and quick bind copies of “their” magazines. Techcrunch pulls a description from the patent application in which Google describes what it sees as the limitations of current magazine publishing.


Consumers may purchase a variety of publications in various forms, e.g., print form (e.g., newspapers, magazines, books, etc.), electronic form (e.g., electronic newspapers, electronic books (”e-Books”), electronic magazines, etc.), etc. The publishers define the content of such publications, and advertisers define which advertisements (ads) may be seen in the publications. Since consumers have no control over publication content or advertisements, they may purchase a publication that contains at least some content and advertisements that may be of no interest to them.


Publishers often lack insight into the profiles of consumers who purchase their publications, and, accordingly, miss out on subscription and advertisement revenue due to a lack of personalized content and advertisements. Likewise, consumer targeting for advertisers is limited, and there is virtually no standardization for ad sizes (e.g., an ad that is supposed to be a full page may need to be reduced in size to fit within a publication). Accordingly, advertisers sometimes purchase sub-optimal or worthless ad space in an attempt to reach their target markets. Advertisers also have difficulty identifying new prospective market segments to target because they have limited insight into the desires and reactions of consumers.


Magazine Dreaming


For a while I’ve been dreaming about a magazine template, and on April 23rd, I published a list of features I wanted for a magazine I’d call REFLECT.


The most radical thing about this magazine is the editing software. There’s no “editorial” content in Reflect. It’s just an empty electronic shell that people fill with their own content, it reflects the readers interests, not the editors, but there would be an “issue profile” on de.licio.us that shows how various readers, including the editors of the magazine, are compiling the content of their own magazines, that anyone could upload to read.


The name of the magazine, Reflect, suggests a careful thoughtful reading of articles or images, but there would be design prompts coded into the images and articles downloaded that would ‘reflect’ the intentions of the writers and photographers and magazine designers. Although Flickr has an option that allows a photographer to show the photograph in several sizes and suggest an optimum size, Reflect could take things further, and make colour and texture adjustments (matte or glossy) and position the image on a page, much in the way that movies are letterboxed to show how they originally appeared on a larger screen.


A Little Background


Writing about the media rather than being in the thick of the fray suits me. By nature I clip and treasure and hoard pieces of journalism: radio shows as podcasts in i-Tunes, articles and photographs published online in a de.licio.us file, and pieces of print journalism pasted into scrapbooks. I admire and reflect on what other journalists report and the reporting that I do carry out (stories on mythology, technology, business, genetically modified foods and agribusiness) emerges from reading and interpreting symbols, financial documents, government reports and scientific studies. Being edited well is more important to me than being published prominently, which is how my career has taken some strange turns into side-alleys that have no connection to the media. My favourite portfolio pieces are the text for a book on the retail design interiors of James Mansour, published only in Japanese, that I no longer have the English translation for, and an essay on the telerobotic art projects of Ken Goldberg, now Director of the Berkeley Center for New Media, that was translated into Portuguese and Spanish.


I have a sideline custom book-binding business. By reverse-engineering what I now know to be a poorly made hardcover book that I bought for a dollar at the monthly book sale at the Los Feliz branch of the Los Angeles Public Library, I formulated a rapid binding technique. The method is close to the comb-bound documents that can be made up at Kinko’s, but the document looks like a genuine hardback book. The whole thing can be taken apart and put back together again, endlessly and easily. I imagine hybrids of electronic and paper books using paper components now available: solar-power sources made of paper, cardboard speakers, transistors “printed” onto paper. I’m an early conceiver but an extremely late-adopter. I identify with the statement William Gibson made when I heard him read from his novel All Tomorrow’s Parties at my neighbourhood bookstore in Los Feliz in 1999. He’s ambivalent about owning technological objects, he said, and he’d only just opened an e-mail account because he only wanted to e-mail when even dogs and children could.


Amazon's Kindle electronic book reader

Amazon’s Kindle electronic book reader


I want to make electronic / paper books when the components can be easily pulled together from the hardware store (where I bought most of my bookbinding supplies), in a world where the standards are no more complex than A4 or A3, smooth or shiny, b&w or color and there’s no problem with backwards continuity or disruptive standards making something obsolete. Many pages rather than a single screen is my guiding principle. It doesn’t matter to me if these are electronic or paper pages or a combination of both, only that a sequence of thoughts is available, the journey to an idea rather than just the destination.


Amazon.com’s newly released electronic-book reader, Kindle, is expensive and has many of the limitations of Sony’s book reader, and it’s ugly. However, it has vastly more titles available to download than Sony’s and the ease of Amazon’s one-click purchase system that loads titles wirelessly into the Kindle. It represents a move towards the mainstream and making the concept of a bookreader something less specialist, even ordinary. My heart is warmed by its release, a little.


Not A Blog


My tendency is for coolness, distance, and an impersonal tone to my stories that’s the antithesis of blogging. It’s the second thought of the edited draft not the first words of a conversation that interest me in recording my impressions. And while I maintain a few blogs, on bookbinding, electronic paper materials research, mythology and Australian food production and agriculture, I couldn’t find my “voice” because I needed the posts to look like they were published in a newspaper. I wanted everything to appear as if it were published in the International Herald Tribune.


All has changed with a new Wordpress blog design template called The Journalist.


Tagged as: googe, media
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Tuesday, Nov 27, 2007


He’s the most visionary filmmaker of his generation, a genius toiling away in relative obscurity while others of his ilk milk the Internet and festival circuit for every last fame whoring morsel. Yet when compared to their weak minded (and kneed) efforts, Damon Packard stands apart. Born in the ‘60s, reared in the ‘70s, and gifted with the amazing ability to channel post-modern moviemaking into a stream of savant-like subconsciousness, he is single handedly reinventing the idiom of film. Along with fellow free spirit Giuseppe Andrews, Packard is turning celluloid on its humdrum, hackneyed ass, while kicking conventionality and conformity to the neo-No Wave curve.


And he’s done it by cannibalizing the past. To say that this filmmaker is obsessed with cinema’s “second” Golden Age would be as great an understatement as suggesting he’s merely an underground artist. In fact, Packard is so plugged into the Me Decade, so intertwined with the efforts of Coppola, Lucas, and especially blockbuster savior Steven Spielberg that he’s a one-man West Coast renaissance reference map. Toss is a few California quirks, a healthy knowledge of ‘70s television (including the iconic ABC Movie of the Week), and a love of the laid back, Summer of Love hangover that was the world after Watergate, and you’ve got an entire multimedia encyclopedia locked up in one slightly psychotic 40 year old brain.


To listen to Packard talk, film officially ‘ended’ in 1977. Star Wars had substituted unnecessary spectacle for smarts and other favored auteurs were locked in aesthetic battles with themselves. Some would win (Apocalypse Now). Others would fumble and appear to flame out (1941). As the ‘80s ushered in the era of the high concept, elephantine budgets, and overemphasis on special effects, that lasting impact of the Vietnam era motion picture revolution was glossed over in favor of opening weekends, box office returns, and sordid celebrity scuttlebutt. A movie was no longer a work of uncompromised art. It was a cold and calculated commodity, a chance to turn a befuddled business model into a consistent combination of clever marketing and demographic manipulation.


But with his amazing body of work, films that defy description as easily as they embrace their inevitable portrayals as “experimental” and “avant-garde”, Packard has repackaged the ‘70s, turning them into the symbolic acid reflux flashback they really were. Part celebration, part condemnation, and all wholly original, the bold statements that make up his creative canon are easily the most synapse firing freak outs since Kubrick concocted some mirrored process shops to symbolize spaceflight in 2001. All that’s missing here is a giant monolith, an ex-pat’s predilection for perfection, and a few million dollars in financial support. That Packard’s no budget affairs can easily match those of grander repute speaks volumes for his viability as a titanic talent.


It all starts with samples - film clips and snippets - material gathered from a lifetime as watcher and cultural observer. Packard has everything: trailers from obscure British sword and sorcery epics; soundtrack albums from equally unremembered science fiction flops; TV ads from the network’s annual new season blitz; homemade footage crafted from early childhood efforts; newfangled digital technology; old school video wipes and dissolves; analog effects; gallons of blood; untold imagination; unfounded paranoia; and a deep seeded belief that film - not music or any other meaningful media - is the true soundtrack to our lives. In fact, it may just be the support system of our soul.


He accomplishes this amazing feat by melding material that otherwise wouldn’t be considered for combination or comparison. For example, the trailer narration and underscoring for the film Jaws will be superimposed over that popcorn phenom’s closest b-movie counterpart - the killer bear schlock fest, Grizzly. Then Packard will add self-produced scenes of slapstick and grue, just to remind everyone that the entire reality - original merged with copycat, new footage filtered in - is part of the way the nu-industry movies work. Film is, today, no longer a result of one person’s applied vision. Instead, it’s a volatile stew of suggestions, hubris, incompetence, originality, and reliance on the tried and true. When placed before the public, responses are measured and what works is retained. And what doesn’t? It’s tweaked and retweaked until someone decides it’s fiscally sound…or unsalvageable. 


All of this is reflected in Packard’s approach. He will combine old horror films, memorable moments from TV terror, add in his own scripted material, mash it all up in a computer editing program, add in music from other forgotten movies, and ball it all up into a work of wounded intelligence. It’s shocking how effective it can be. Where once you had a simple sequence of girls running in slow motion, now you have a frighteningly faithful homage to those subtle, atmospheric ‘70s scarefests. In Packard’s world, every film is a drive-in classic, every shot a reference to some seminal movie moment from the past. Even better, he makes the material his own, turning his glorified geek tendencies into McLuhan-esque statements of cultural commentary.


Indeed, unlike his close artistic ally Andrews, Packard isn’t out to define what makes a film. He’s not using a camcorder and a bunch of trailer park residents as an echo on what makes basic cinema. Instead, this dedicated director (he once mailed out 23,000 free copies of his epic Reflections of Evil in hopes of getting some attention) believes in the foundations of the format. He’s out to present the previously scene and already recognizable in a new and fascinating light. It’s something akin to holding up a foggy funhouse mirror to the medium that’s given him so much joy, hoping that everyone else sees the insular insane ravings that made motion pictures his personal passion. And he does it all without a single whiff of insider support. While noted pal Sage Stallone (son of Sly) has been a longtime accomplice, Packard has typically functioned so far under the radar that his misguided masterpieces barely get a media mention.


Until now. As we do with any cinematic trailblazer that the rest of the out of touch fanbase fails to embrace, SE&L will present an overview of Packard’s wonderfully perplexing works in tomorrow’s update. Hopefully, such a variety will inspire you to contact the filmmaker and buy one (or hopefully, more) of his devastating directorial deconstructions. Along with their novelty, and desire to remain both nonsensical and knowing, they touch on so many facets of filmmaking (both past and present) that it’s impossible to argue with their insight. Call him a self-indulgence mental case or the single greatest independent artist of the ‘90s/‘00s, but one thing is for sure - Damon Packard is an unqualified moviemaking maverick. And each and everyone one of his fascinating films proves this over and over again. 


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