It’s pretty ballsy to call yourself the world’s greatest rock and roll band, but the Rolling Stones have got the talent, and the back catalog, to back such a boast up. They began their careers as eager teenagers with a love for American blues music and found themselves, upon tasting their first success, being compared to the Beatles because the Beatles had tasted success first. However, the Rolling Stones were more than just another British band to crash through in the Beatles’ wake. From 1968-1972, they were the world’s greatest rock and roll band. They were masters of the form who recorded what could quite possibly be the four best successive rock albums released by any band in the history of rock and roll, four discs that became blueprints for generations of aspiring rock bands to follow: Exile on Main St., Sticky Fingers, Let It Bleed and the album that started the impressive run, Beggar’s Banquet
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If you were lucky enough to wander into McNally Jackson Books in New York City on 30 September, employees from the Tarcher imprint at Penguin handed you a dollar attached to a postcard with information about the book The Power of Kindness by psychologist Piero Ferrucci. They explained to recipients that in these dark economic times, they didn’t just want to sell The Power of Kindness, they wanted to demonstrate it as well.
“It’s a real dollar, don’t throw it out,” advised a Tarcher employee as she handed me my free money. I happily accepted it, but couldn’t help blurting out, “I’m sorry, but from a marketing perspective, can you explain to me how this is actually a valid way for you to be spending your budget?”
She explained the plan: $1000 spread over five Manhattan bookstores. They expected that they could reach a lot more people that way than if they used the same amount of money to pay for a small ad in a trade publication. “It’s a kind of grassroots movement,” she concluded. Grassroots seems to be the way of the world right now, from fund-raising house parties to nomadic yoga studios to clothing swaps. What that means to me is that the rest of the world is following in the footsteps of the Internet.
Blogs have long offered promotions for readers, and writing on the Web is transmitted through direct sharing, either person to person, or within social networks. Essentially, The Power of Kindness is using a marketing strategy that adheres to the principles of the semantic Web; thus, it suggests a glimmer of hope for the publishing industry. People have argued that print is dying because people don’t want to pay for reading material anymore, but suddenly, today, while clutching my dollar, it dawned on me. It’s not about money, it’s about the power of kindness.
People read what’s on the Internet because it’s targeted at them, and that kind of specificity makes them feel special. When you send me an article you think I’d love, that’s kindness. When you comment on my blog, that’s kindness. When the Daily Kos delivers the stories I care about based on an implicit understanding of my politics, that’s kindness. If print industries can offer the same kindness to audiences that the Web does, they will thrive again.
Of course, not coincidentally, that is exactly the mission of Ferrucci’s book: to show that if we employ his eight principles of kindness, we’ll ultimately thrive ourselves. Times are bleak, not just for the print industry but for many others affected by the global recession. With an introduction from the Dalai Lama, the book shows us how we can take the kindness we receive at the beginning and ends of our lives and make it continuous and global. When we do so, we’ll be happier.
If print industries can follow Tarcher’s example and be a little kinder and a little less desperate to preserve the past and their own superiority, they may very well find that there is space for them to grow in the 21st century.
For months Chicago indie pop fans have been anticipating the arrival of fun.—the band that is—who played a colorful, energetic set to a sold-out crowd at Schubas last Thursday night. Apparently the show had sold-out in a mere five days, a month prior to fun.’s debut release Aim and Ignite. The evening started strong with Phoenix-based openers Miniature Tigers, but one could tell the audience was holding back for the main event.
Ainsley Drew, a guest blogger at Kottke, linked to this essay by Shane McAdams about how art collectors use the word important in describing the art they have invested in.
There is no better way to shield something from real criticism than to make it taboo or sacred. When that collector said “important” he was without knowing it creating a protective cloak of mystique around the work of art, because “important” is to culture what “holy” is to religion.
What was being protected was not the art’s allegedly important meaning, but its actual value in capitalist culture—its price. Investing in contemporary art is a matter of investing in the highly variable reputation of the artist; it makes more sense if you are in a position to bully public opinion about what sort of art is worthwhile—which makes it smart for collectors to get involved with museums and other institutions that validate art’s importance, staffing their boards and guiding their acquisitions and so on. The reputational issues provoke a lot of aggressive promotional and misleading talk—“over the course of the last 20 years we’ve watched ‘bad’ work somehow turn into ‘sensational’ work, ‘sensational’ turn to ‘provocative,’ ‘provocative’ into ‘important,’ and ‘important’ back into ‘good.’ It’s a collecting world’s semantic shell game”—that drowns out meaningful criticism, which presumably decides what is truly good. I’m skeptical of that—I think cultural capital is always at stake in determining what is “important” or aesthetically “good”, and the critics merely fight with words because they lack the money to fight on the collectors’ turf. That cultural capital plays in determining who is included and excluded in the art world more generally, which in turn feeds into the larger stakes of social class.
McAdams cites an essay by art critic Dave Hickey, “Frivolity and Unction” (pdf), where he imagines resigning from the art world after watching its emissaries try to defend themselves from an attack on its frivolity and corruption on 60 Minutes—a middlebrow attempt to demystify the art world and devalue its cultural capital. (Hickey calls it “bourgeois punditry.”) “The presumption of art’s essential ‘goodness’ is nothing more than a political fiction that we employ to solicit taxpayers’ money for public art education,” he concedes, though that is just one example (as McAdams points out) of the many political struggles art can be recruited to figure in to. Hickey ends up essentially wishing that cultural capital didn’t figure in at all—that contemporary art had no cultural capital and was widely ignored, regarded as unimportant, unvirtuous. Then we could go back to appreciating the actual work again rather than what it signified in class struggles, and in struggles for funding. “I could practice art criticism by participating in the street-level negotiation of value. I might disregard the distinctions between high and low art and discuss objects and activities whose private desirability might be taken to have public consequences.” His rallying cry becomes: “Art is bad, silly, and frivolous, so what?”
His contention is that the art world is or at least should be “an ongoing referendum on how things should look and the way we should look at things”—but in so doing, it also lays down aesthetics along class lines, with moneyed interests weighing more heavily in the referendum. Ordinary people, it seems to me, do their best to ignore the dictates of the art world, which doesn’t have their ability to appreciate art in mind at all, and instead derive their aesthetics from a hodgepodge of sources as a means of resistance. Taste is best-kept provisional, a work in progress, and all the judgments we share are probably best expressed that way, as theses rather than passwords into some discriminatory club.
Be Set Free
Releasing: 30 September
Langhorne Slim released his new album, Be Set Free today on Kemado Records. His U.S. tour kicks off October 15th in Brooklyn, New York. Dates after the jump.
01 Back To The Wild
02 Say Yes
03 I Love You, But Goodbye
04 Land of Dreams
06 Be Set Free
07 For A Little While
08 Sunday By The Sea
09 Leaving My Love
10 Yer Wrong
11 Blown Your Mind
12 So Glad I’m Coming Home
13 Boots Boy