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by Bill Gibron

15 Apr 2008

Once upon a time, in a freaked-out future that’s already a decade past, the entire planet is in the grip of BIM. You can’t go anywhere without experiencing the magic that is…well, that is BIM. BIM is a pop song. BIM is a mass-marketed body sticker. BIM is a tall triangular glass and the ruby red joy juice drunk from it. BIM is…you have no idea what BIM is, do you? Guess what, neither does anyone else in the pre-Apocalyptic world of…well, the world.

Yes, the planet is run by the music industry (at least one accurate prediction that even Nostradamus, Alvin Toffler, and Jeane Dixon all missed), and Mr. Boogalow is the business’s chief chart-topper. He pairs up innocuous tone-deaf teens with names like Pandi, Dandi, Bibi, and Alphie, and turns their trite tunes into a regular opiate for the masses. But there is more to the demented Don Kirshner than meets the eye. You see, Mr. Boogalow is…wait for it…the DEVIL! And he is trying to hypnotize the entire world toward the ways of wantonness via that objet d’evil - the hit record.

So when a couple of rubes from the backwater burg of Moose Jaw enter the World Vision Song Contest with the hope that their self-penned anthem “Love: The Universal Melody” will whip up on the overwhelmingly more popular “BIM is the Power,” Boogalow uses the infamous red tape (no, not bureaucracy—an actual crimson cassette) to rig the results (apparently, Jem and the Holograms took third). He then applies the marketing-appropriate mantra, “If you can’t beat ‘em, own ‘em,” and tries to get the couple to sign away their souls…sorry, publishing rights. Soon, Bibi is indentured to this hyper-mega-super-duper conglomerate Boogalow International Music (B…I…M…oh, yeah…like BMI. Now it makes…no, it doesn’t) and it’s up to Alphie to save her from an incendiary afterlife. But it will be hard. After all, she’s had a bite of The Apple literally.

Did you ever wonder what the world would be like if God were a white-leisure-suit-wearing tycoon type who drove his solid gold Rolls down from Heaven to transport a commune of hippies over to a brand new planet? Or if Satan were a fey music mogul who resembled Udo Kier’s interpretation of the role of Carmen Ghia from The Producers? Perchance, what if Adam and Eve - or at least a “babes in the woods” folk-rock and roll interpretation of same - were an Australian idiot boy and the star of Night of the Comet? And let’s just say for the sake of silly argument that the Devil employs a few mediocre minions who are incredibly sad excuses for Roger Daltrey, Nina Simone, and Meshach Taylor. Layer on the worst musical score since Sly Stallone’s brother proved why “Staying Alive” is not necessarily a good thing, and you’ve got The Apple, a gamy glitterdome of outrageous kitsch passing itself off as a futuristic fable.

Resembling a stage show version of the Rapture as interpreted by Disco Tex and his Sex-o-lettes (“Get Dancin’,” y’all!), this aimless allegory about the battle between good (or at least kind of decent) and evil (or as construed by this film, the flamboyantly fashionable) has all the subtlety of a steam-powered enema and reeks just as pungently. If you ever wanted proof of the madness that meanders through the mind of Menahem Golan (famous Cannon Films producer of such classical gas as The Happy Hooker Goes to Washington and Breakin’), look no further than this tale of Mr. Boogalow and his plans for a dictatorial fascist state based in and around the culture of the pop song (and this predates boy bands by a good decade).

The fact that this concept did not work out too well for either Brian DePalma (his Phantom of the Paradise is a noble failure) or 1977’s abortive TV series A Year at the Top (costars Greg “BJ and the Bear” Evigan and Paul “David Letterman” Shaffer never got past the first couple of months of the titular time frame) didn’t stop Golan from pursuing his crappy cinematic concept album. Indeed, it appears that the entire entertainment world in the mid to late 1970s was fixated on two divergent, yet still forced to cohabitate together, themes - mainly, that the future would be a dire, dreary place dominated by Bob Mackie’s designs, and that rock and roll would have to step up to save all of our mortal souls.

From the Bee Gees / Peter Frampton flop based on The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band to the just plain awful Americathon, everyone was predicting that the 1990s would be the time when the population finally paid the piper for lousing things up. Oh, and for making such beat-heavy horsecrap as “Push in the Bush” and “Boogie Oogie Oogie” Grammy Award-winning and popular. And, aside from grunge and the introduction of the mp3, they may have had a point.

The Apple indeed polishes its loopy fruit via this future shock silliness. According to this sci-fi fart, 1994 was to be the temporal space when everyone wore multicolored prism stickers on their faces and caked on more makeup than Boy George after a night at TABOO, and when police give citations for failing to “BIM” (whatever the Hades that anagram really stands for—“Beelzebub’s Irritating Musical,” perhaps?). It will take a group of radicals to stand up to the persecution and provocation of this wah-wah pedal man-goat-backed police state, so you’ll never guess who The Apple pegs for its protectors. Why, the great unwashed, otherwise known as hippies.

That’s right, gang…hippies. Peace, love, and flower power. In the realm of The Apple, when faced with the prospect of Hell on Earth, mankind will turn to a Jerry Garcia clone and his “still somehow relevant” roundup of peaceniks to save the world from eternal damnation at the hands of ersatz Duran Duran (the Barbarella version). Who cares if they live in a cave, avoid soap and water, and warble Moby Grape songs to each other - these are the saviors of the universe!

Worse yet, when all appears lost, Mr. Topps - AKA old Yahweh himself - cruises down the horizon in his sacred stretch limo and decides to send Jerry and his kids to another planet, to start over again without the influence of Boogalow and what he represents (i.e., rock and roll). So the ultimate message of The Apple is that (a) music is bad, (b) the Devil is bad, (c) letting your freak flag fly wins you a ticket to a new cosmic homeland, and (d) producers of B-movie mung should never be allowed to interpret the Good Book via power ballad.

And that’s the main issue here. More important than all the Biblical bull broth is the fact that The Apple is, for want of a better term, a musical. Really, it’s more of a Gilbert and Sullivan light operetta than a rock and roll opus - if, of course, the particular creators you’re thinking of are Gottfried and Annie. Such a spectacular sonic scourge that your tightly honed sensibilities may never recover, the score here is the antithesis of melody and harmony. You name a genre or style - reggae, ‘50s ballad, disco dirge, Broadway-style show tune - and The Apple rapes it like the Sabine women or the swan-serving Leda. With lyrics composed by a random phrase generator, and an old-fashioned Eastern Bloc Iron Curtain interpretation of contemporary accompaniment, the tunes here put us through the aural equivalent of a painful rectal itch.

Lines fail to rhyme, emotions are so spelled out that inbred invertebrates can figure out the meaning, and everything feels like it was produced by Georgio Moroder’s insane brother, Earl. Like a baby watching magic (an actual line from one of the hackneyed horrors here), The Apple‘s musical cues confuse and frighten us - not because of how bad they are, but for how painfully close they come to the Billboard ballyhoo actually arcing across radio dials all over America circa 2008 (add a guest rap or two by 50 Cent or Ludacris, and it would be impossible to tell the difference).

Sadly, The Apple is not a cult classic - unless, of course, you’re referring to the kind of fodder that would actually cause the Branch Davidians to answer their “calling.” It’s not bad/good like Can’t Stop the Music or awful/artful like KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park. No, this surreal seminar on the abuse of filmmaking power is in a deranged category all its own. It tends to dwell in the “What the Hell?” or “How Can This Be?” realm of the ridiculous. The film is so unfathomable that you can’t imagine anyone walking away after reading this script and thinking, “Now there’s something sensible.” With an overall design scheme that recalls Blitz kids with leprosy, and a narrative that never really understands the requirements of a parable, The Apple plays more like the fever dream of a deposed priest, an awkward overreaction to the popularity of religiously-based rock musicals (as if we didn’t already have reason to hate Godspell).

Perhaps the best way to watch this film is to turn on the English subtitles and read along with the kindergarten song craft as game performers belt out completely incompetent brain busters. It may be worth a look, and there could be a few who actually tune in, turn on, and drop out - of the gene pool, that is - based on the befuddling film before them. The Apple should be a celebration of all that is camp. Instead, it’s just seriously disturbed.

by Rob Horning

15 Apr 2008

When people are driven to protest because they can’t afford to buy food, it’s pretty unsettling.

Rioting in response to soaring food prices recently has broken out in Egypt, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Senegal and Ethiopia. In Pakistan and Thailand, army troops have been deployed to deter food theft from fields and warehouses. World Bank President Robert Zoellick warned in a recent speech that 33 countries are at risk of social upheaval because of rising food prices. Those could include Indonesia, Yemen, Ghana, Uzbekistan and the Philippines. In countries where buying food requires half to three-quarters of a poor person’s income, “there is no margin for survival,” he said.

The NYT quotes IMF honcho Dominique Strauss-Kahn as commenting that “the food crisis posed questions about the survivability of democracy and political regimes.” According to Strauss-Kahn “sometimes those questions lead to war.” Great. The possibility of a soylent green future is being casually bandied about in the newspaper by some of the world’s most powerful bankers.

“As we know in the past, sometimes those questions lead to war,” he said. “We now need to devote 100 percent of our time to these questions.”
This chart from yesterday’s FT shows all the locations of the recent rioting.

In the article, the authors explain how globalization has made food-importing countries extremely vulnerable to the whims of producing nations, who ultimately have a lot less invested in making sure foreigners don’t starve.

today’s high and volatile prices make it increasingly costly to cushion the blow for consumers and many of the poorest countries’ governments cannot afford indefinitely to hold food costs down. Instead, they have started to remove import tariffs and impose export bans in an attempt to transfer income directly from farmers to consumers – in effect preventing farmers from selling their produce at the highest price they can find on international markets.
Such measures may alleviate domestic supply problems in the short term. But they also create shortages in global markets, accentuating the problems of those who have to depend on imports – particularly when highly efficient net exporters of grain such as Argentina and Ukraine restrict exports. Joachim von Braun, director-general of Ifpri, calls them “starve your neighbour” policies.

Famine no longer depends entirely on natural causes—weather, depleted soil, no arable land, etc.—now economic interdependence itself can create shortages and politicize food supplies on an international scale. Hence, as quoted in the WSJ article, the Indian and Turkish finance ministers direct barbs at U.S. energy “policy”:

“When millions of people are going hungry, it’s a crime against humanity that food should be diverted to biofuels,” said India’s finance minister, Palaniappan Chidambaram, in an interview. Turkey’s finance minister, Mehmet Simsek, said the use of food for biofuels is “appalling.”

The intent of the juxtaposition is clear; people in India or Turkey or anywhere else shouldn’t be starving so Americans can salve their conscience when driving and/or wasting electricity. And it’s not just energy policy that is problematic. Economist Martin Feldstein took to the WSJ editorial page to argue that Fed rate cuts are pumping up commodity prices and fueling global inflation, exacerbating the food problems.

Yves Smith points to this Telegraph editorial by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard for some forceful rhetoric on the subject. “Hedge funds played their part in the violent rise in spot prices early this year. To that extent they can be held responsible for the death of African and Asian children. Tougher margin rules on the commodity exchanges might have stopped the racket. Capitalism must police itself, or be policed…. A new Cold War is taking shape, around energy and food. The world intelligentsia has been asleep at the wheel. While we rage over global warming, global hunger has swept in under the radar screen.”

Though Evans-Pritchard seems to want to discredit worry over global warming as much as raise the alarm about food shortages, the specter of global unrest motivated by famine is pretty scary. It’s one thing to try to convince people to give up an anti-modern and anti-democratic ideology (the alleged purpose of the “Global War on Terror”), but quite another to try to convince them to go hungry.

by PopMatters Staff

15 Apr 2008

Constantines
Hard Feelings [MP3]
     

Clipse
What’s Up [MP3]
     

The Gossip
Yr Mangled Heart (Live) [MP3]

Kelley Stoltz
Birmingham Eccentric [MP3]
     

The Dodos
Ashley [MP3]
     

Alejandro Escovedo with Bruce Springsteen
Always a Friend [Video] (song from Escovedo’s new record, Real Animal, releasing 24 June)

Colin Meloy
We Both Go Down Together [Video]

by Nikki Tranter

15 Apr 2008

'Open Secret', Anthony Caro, 2004. Ivory PressCourtesy VAM.ac.uk

‘Open Secret’, Anthony Caro, 2004. Ivory Press
Courtesy VAM.ac.uk

Opening this week at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum is Blood on Paper, an exhibition showcasing works by artists such as Miro, Matisse, and Lichtenstein in which books become the artists’ canvas.

The Guardian Arts Blog is raving about the show, calling it “a sumptuous celebration of the endurance of the book as one of the most perfect forms of art, even in the face of the nebulous digital age”. Arts and design magazine, Wallpaper, notes that the exhibition is “an opportunity to challenge our idea of what constitutes art and to re-examine the cultural significance of books, but perhaps more interestingly, and more simply, it is a chance to view a wonderfully eclectic range of lesser-known work by some of the most important artists of the 20th and 21st centuries.”

Read up about the whole thing here. The V&A website has some photos, too, of the various exhibits. If, like me, you can’t make it to London in the next few weeks, a Google Image Search will bring up a number of the exhibits, including Francis Bacon’s “Detritus” and Henri Matisse’s “Swimmer in a Tank”.

by tjmHolden

15 Apr 2008




John A. Wheeler passed this week. If you haven’t heard of him, he’s the physicist who coined the word “black hole”, along with “worm hole”. Rumored to have invented the liver loaf on whole wheat, topped with quantum foam. Actually, that part I made up (although he is associated with the foam part).

Part of this peripatetic life we live is trying to keep up with the passings. Our lives are so full of the lives of so many others. They come and go each day—to our great good fortune, filling our lives, making us wholer-than-before; unfortunately, many of them never return, leaving voids which, though not quite black holes, can still suck some of the life from us.

Because our world is so vast and because there are so many passings, trying to make note of which passing is noteworthy—and why—can be a full time activity. I don’t know if you have the time, but I generally don’t. Fueling my ever-accreting sense of insensitivity and sensory overload. Thus (I guess) in the case of Wheeler, I will invest a few seconds—registered in these sentences. I can begin (and nearly end) with the obit, as physics is not my field. According to the text, Wheeler was among the major players of his age. Tabbed as physics’ “most imaginative adman. He was also science’s Zelig, seeming to be present at every important event or discovery.” Consorting, did he, with Niels Bohr, Robert Oppenheimer, Edward Teller, and Albert Einstein.

Pretty heady stuff (pun intended?) if you think about it.

 


 

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