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Thursday, Jul 12, 2007

A sentence in one of Walker Percy’s essays from The Message in the Bottle has had me thinking of this Kinks song: “People take pictures of each other, just to prove that they really existed.” It’s one of my favorite Kinks songs, partially for the crisp sound and perfect timing of the first snare drum hit in it, but mostly for the lyrics, which aren’t exactly cynical but close; there’s too much sadness in them to be entirely cynical. The verses end with this: “Pictures of things as they used to be, don’t show me no more, please.” For a song on an album album often accused of reveling in nostalgia, it’s a pretty stark sentiment. “The nostalgia is sickening,” these lines seem to say, “I’ve wasted my life being a spectator of myself.”


The sentence from the Percy essay comes after a discussion of the dilemma humans are confronted with in the modern era. Because science makes a general case out of all individual cases, and scientific discourse is regarded as the only authentic discourse, people find themselves to be inauthentic, recognized only insofar as they resemble other people. “This is why people in the modern age took photographs by the million: to prove despite their deepest suspicions to the contrary that they were not invisible.” This struck me as another way of understanding the overwhelming urge people have to mediate their lives through communication technology—recording themselves and their impressions in an endless stream of digital photos and blog posts and text messages and so on. The cell phone seems above all a portable self-mediation device, capable of recording anything and reliably putting people at a remove from whatever situation they find themselves in. In that way it works most of all like a security blanket, making sure one is never abandoned to naked reality, forced to really experience what is there and nothing more, with no ability to preserve it or project it in to the future, to put oneself in a position to consume it rather than experience it.


Percy makes a similar argument about tourism, that people surrender their sovereignty over interpreting what they experience in order to be able to consumer their own experience as something packaged, something storeable and fungible—we may secretly prefer experience as currency rather than something ineffable and irreplaceable. Or as Percy claims, we are made vaguely uneasy by the fact that we are deprived of our own ineffable life experience, but we are powerless (due to our habit of language) from preventing ourselves from commodifying everything. “The consumer is content to receive an experience just as it has been presented to him by theorists and planners,” Percy suggests. We consume representations and we remained estranged from things in themselves, and we judge experience in terms of how well its been translated into information—by what kind of story it would make, by whether others will be jealous, etc. I wonder if there are any alternatives, though


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Thursday, Jul 12, 2007

Thanks again for all the smart responses to my classical posting- I have some more thoughts to add here but first, I wanted to address something really galling.  Unfortunately, the title says it all: Web DJs silenced by royalty fees.  All this to squeeze more money out of other sources because profits are down at major labels?  This stupid, short-sighted disastrous policy is not only going to hurt music fans, it’s also going to hurt labels, publishers and ultimately artists too.  With less stations out there, that means that there are less opportunities for artists to get exposure and less money coming in from these broadcasters since they’re going to shut down and then not have to pay any licensing fees.  And guess where music fans are going to flock to more than ever to hear music?  The P2P downloading services that the majors are fighting against.  If the music industry as we knew it is indeed dying off (I think it is), the majors only have themselves to blame for not only dragging their tail on technology and mounting wrong-headed lawsuits but also using tactics like this which kill over promotion sources for their artists.  With all of this wrong-headed and catastrophic decision making as well as idiotic stubbornness, I’m beginning to think that these guys are also putting together Bush’s Iraq war policy.


But now there’s late breaking word that the labels and their minions might have come to their senses: seethis Wired article for details


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Thursday, Jul 12, 2007

Sorry if I drool over her work again but Ann Powers really deserves the praise.  She’s doing some of her best work ever for the L.A. Times now.  But a recent piece of hers about Sinead O’Connor made the wonder about the whole idea of the “guilty pleasure.”


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Thursday, Jul 12, 2007
by PopMatters Staff

Justice
† Medley [MP3]
     


D.A.N.C.E. [MP3]
     


Spank Rock vs. Justice
Thunderous Bumps [MP3]
     


“As the mainstream dance artists of yesteryear become more and more involved with making “important” music, the throne of Dance Floor Dominance lies wide open (with Justice and Simian Mobile Disco both making triumphant runs for the crown).  In the end, Justice has the stronger record over Simian Mobile Disco, but such a statement is dangerously close to splitting hairs: both albums are fantastic, but their individual achievements are undermined by what these artists are representing: a complete overhaul of modern dance music that’s taking Big Beat back to its roots.”—Evan Sawdey, PopMatters review [8/10]


Blitzen Trapper
Sci-Fi Kid (Principal Participant ‘Kingswood’ Remix) [MP3]
     


Country Caravan (live at KVRX) [MP3]
     


“Blitzen Trapper, you romance my senses. Your mélange of homespun ballads and raucous anthems amuses and delights. It is as though you’ve written the soundtrack to some vivid western picaresque. We traipse merrily from snowboarding exhibition to drug-induced hallucination. Here, an excursion with a brash country maiden. There, a slow wagon-ride to Paw Trapper’s lodge. What joyful adventures! Though I may not understand you, I pay homage to your musical wit. Good show.”—Tyler Womack, PopMatters review [7/10]


The Stanley Brothers
Rabbit in a Log [MP3]
     


Dock Boggs
Down South Blues [MP3]
     


Smithsonian Folkways Recordings has released Virginia Roots as a digital-only compilation in conjunction with the 41st annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival.  The compilation highlights artists from Virginia this year as it’s the 400th anniversary of Jamestown, Virginia settlement.  Watch for an upcoming review of this intruiging collection by Justin Cober-Lake on PopMatters very soon.  In the meantime, check out the classic bluegrass of the Stanley Brothers. Buy at: URGE or Zune.


Yacht
The Summer Song” (feat. Claire L. Evans) [MP3]
     


It’s Coming to Get You” (Eats Tapes Remix) [MP3]
     



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Wednesday, Jul 11, 2007

India is a massive, crowded country of hustle and grind.  With so many people, competitive drive isn’t just inevitable, it’s admirable.  Indian audiences look up to stars who they believe exemplify the rugged warrior virtues that spell success: lithe, statuesque Amitabh Bachan, brawny Sanjay Dutt, or Salman Khan.  It’s rare that someone comes along who represents the average Indian, and is loved for it.  India doesn’t usually have the wistful admiration for the reticent, yearning everyman. But if the country had their own versions of Jimmy Stewart and Gary Cooper, they’d probably be very close to Dilip Kumar, Naseeruddin Shah, and Shahrukh Khan.


For connoisseurs of Indian cinema, in terms of acting, there’s B.D.K. and A.D.K. - before Dilip Kumar, and after Dilip Kumar.  In 1949, he gave an intense, anguished breakthrough performance as the unrelenting love interest of Nargis in Mehboob Khan’s Andaaz.  Throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s, he was one of the leading stars, and the only one who was respected for his genuine acting talent. In character and career path, Kumar resembles Laurence Olivier, an urbane tragedian with an occasional penchant for light comedy, as well as Humphrey Bogart—someone wounded by life, cynical, but still rising to the occasion.  His greatest performance, as the defiant prince Salim in Mughal-E-Azam (1960), brought together his fascination with history, his theatrical desire to inhabit a great historical character, and his nuanced, vitalizing performance. It is one of the greatest Indian movies with the archetypal dilemma of all Indian heroes at the center - the choice of pride vs. duty.


Naseeruddin Shah is the great maverick of Indian stars. He’s so off-beat and unconventional in his choices, that he’s not even your traditional star.  Sharp-eyed and wiry, he resembles Jack Lemmon in the ‘60s, full of nervy energy and mordant wit.  He’s best known to international audiences as the resilient patriarch of Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding (2001).  In the ‘70s he collaborated with art film directors like Shyam Benegal, Shekhar Kapur, and Muzzaffir Ali in contemplative pieces, like Junoon (1978), Masoom (1983), and Umrao Jaan (1981).  In Umrao Jaan, Shah proved his sublime gift for character-acting by taking a minor role, that of a brothel-madam’s son and indolent pimp, Gauhar Mirza, and transforming him into an unforgettable comic portrait of ineffectual dandyism (the scene where he tries to pass off Umrao Jaan’s poetry is his own is marvelous in its feigned pomposity).  Shah continues to show off his skill year after year in films like The Great New Wonderful (2005), director Danny Leiner’s bittersweet series of vignettes about New Yorkers coping with their lives in the wake of 9/11, and in an enigmatic portrayal of a shady Bihari politician in Vishal Bhardwaj’s take on Othello, Omkara (2007).


Shahrukh Khan’s reputation precedes him. He’s huge. His celebrity is at level with Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor at the time of their Andy Warhol silkscreen portraits: movie actor as cultural icon. Swarms of people gather at his shows, his movies, and whenever he is hosting an event.  How did someone whose appeal is that he’s an accessible, everyguy grow into a superstar? Something similar happened to Tom Hanks, yet few people want to mob him when he’s in public.  People have to be literally restrained when Shahrukh walks by, and not just teens, but middle-aged women and men as well. Shahrukh’s movies in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s had him as an awkward, yearning teen.  Early on he showed great range in playing both heroes and villains.  His relentless stalker in Yash Chopra’s Darr (1993) was a disarmingly poignant portrayal of a morally repugnant character, not unlike Peter Lorre’s child-murderer in M


His affability and gift for musical performance shot him up the ranks to being one of the most versatile, bankable actors. In 1998, two movies made him the most popular star in Indian commercial cinema, the deliriously inane, but wildly popular Badshaah and Karan Johar’s endearingly schmaltzy Parent Trap send-up, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. His popularity grew, and in recent years he’s shown a gift for nuanced acting in films like Kal Ho Naa Ho (2003), Veer-Zaara (2004), Swades (2004) and Don (2005). He’s one of India’s most well-rounded stars, a thoughtful actor as well as a great dancer and performer, but most important, he’s someone Indians identify with intimately; he could be the teasing neighbor, or the winsome cousin, or a protective brother. Watching him talk to his awe-struck fans on the game show he hosts on his off-season from making movies, Kaun Banega Crorepati (the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? ) is really quite amazing: he’s unusually giving and open for someone so famous, and the audience responds with unabashed enthusiasm and gratitude. In spite of all Shahrukh’s celebrity, he’s never forgotten from where he came.



Dilip Kumar, early ‘50s



Naseeruddin Shah



Shahrukh Khan in Swades, 2004


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