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by Diepiriye Kuku

25 Feb 2009

When is the last time you listened to a song for the first time and said Damn! That’s what I said when I recently heard Tina Turner sing I’ve Been Loving You too Long. The song is vaguely familiar. Otis Redding popularized the song enough for regular radio play in 1965.

“Sock it to me baby,” Tina moans, then shouts at the top of her register. The concluding riffs of this song are chilling and can make any listener stop dead in their tracks. Wikipedia has dissected the track and revealed the lyrics to Ike and Tina’s “provocative, seductive conclusion of the song.” The Wiki article largely refers to live performances where, Tina is “handling the microphone in a raunchy way.” Indeed, the YouTube performances of this song do tend towards the perverse. It isn’t that Tina slides her extended fingers up and down the stiff microphone that makes this performance so perverse. Rather, it is the love and abandon. She is ready to give up each and everything for this man.

“You got what I want,” Ike says in his deep base voice on a microphone from behind. Somehow, his heavy handedness even pours through onto the stage. Noticeably, the Ikettes continue with their sharp moves, despite this song neither having any doo-wop type back-up chants, nor hefty call and response sequences like YOU bend over, lemme see YOU shake it like a tail feather! The band is meticulously on beat and key. It’s just Ike on his bass guitar, roaming the stage and then ever so often materializing over the speakers giving commands. He’s the man!

He grins slyly after spitting each of his lyrics while Tina responds, again grasping the mic and stand as if imitating something intimate. In one scene, Ike nearly chides at the audience after giggling is overheard in response to his feigned crooning. He’s really hamming it up in a way that so starkly contrasts the seriousness that Tina is bringing in the forefront, grunting and moaning like lovemaking. He looks like a dry pimp getting his rocks off. The overall scene betrays any sincerity towards the woman that stands before him abandoning her whole life for his sake. He seems none too gracious for this sacrifice, and that’s what makes the live performance so chilling and perverse.

“Try it one mo’ time,” Tina says after Ike sucks and slurps salaciously into the mic. This was 1969, and according to her memoirs, they were thick in domestic abuse. Ike was tapping that ass on the regular. Interviews from the movie-makers upon the release of her biopic What’s Love Got to Do With It, claimed that the film version totally tones down Ike’s abusive talk, insults, beatings and marital rape of Tina.

Looking at Ike and Tina through these lenses, one wonders what kind of leash Ike is tugging. Was their apparent bond really bondage? Was Ike’s mojo so tough that Tina really was A Fool in Love? Was it evidence that they suffered from the Stockholm Syndrome, where captives and captors share a tie through the mutual experience of trauma? Were these live performances part of Ike’s brainwashing of Tina, wrecking her self-esteem right before our eyes? In other performances, Tina has visible bruises and an eyelid or two is swollen shut. Were crowds and teams of screaming fans obvious at the time? Elsewhere, Tina shouts: Here are my lips, you take ‘em, you made them, do as you wish. You use ‘em, abuse em, I’ll be your witch! Ike and Tina’s repertoire is thick with lyrics talking about how his love’s got her chained- anyway he wants her. On a certain level most of their lyrics consisted of this pitiful kind of love, the sort for which one mourns more than celebrates.

I’ve Been Loving You too Long. was originally released on their ’68 Outta Season album, which the website Discogs gives a measly two and a half stars, noting “there’s a lot of very ordinary, rote blues on tap”. Perhaps this is one of those rare instances where anthologies give us a needed break. Therefore, The Soul Anthology has to be one of the greatest releases of modern times. Anthologies are like cherry picking, allowing us to reject and delve into any rhetorical fodder at will. From this perspective, I’ve Been Loving You too Long. is one song better heard than seen.

by Sean Murphy

25 Feb 2009

Of few writers can it more accurately be said that it is the work, not the life, that matters…That O’Connor was one of the great writers of the 20th century is now beyond argument.

What he said. He being Jonathan Yardley, writing in Sunday’s Washington Post (farewell Book World, hello expanded Arts & Living section) about Brad Gooch’s new bio of Flannery O’Connor here.

While I’m not certain that we need a 448-page biography of Flannery O’Connor, I’m not certain that we need another biography of any writer, no matter how many pages. Actually, that’s not fair. Who buys these types of books, after all, but people who have already read all (or most) of the works written by the author being dissected (within these books that are equal parts operating table and shrink’s couch). Still, I could probably be forgiven for making the unoriginal observation, again, that we exist in an era where the life too often outweighs the work.

Wait. The preceding paragraph, while applicable to most writers, does not apply to O’Connor. In point of fact, if there is any writer I would care to read about, and learn from, it would be her. Not surprisingly, her unwavering allegiance to her craft leaves little to the imagination: she wrote, she talked about writing, she thought about writing and she wrote about writing. Allegedly, she ate and slept on occasion. “In my stories is where I live,” she said, a statement applicable on a variety of levels. And so, the people who stand to be fascinated by this distinctly uneventful life are the very people who might be enlightened by reading about it: writers. O’Connor’s life, and her monk-like approach to her vocation could and should be a study guide for all aspiring scribblers. Never mind that dedication like hers is probably impossible to imitate today because of all the noise, electronic and digital, distracting us. There is also the inconsiderable reality that her work is inimitable. The style, the substance, the entire package is pretty much unparalleled in American letters.

I tend to feel uncomfortable throwing the G word around, unless I’m speaking about jazz musicians. But if any writer in the last 100 years could be called a genius, O’Connor is near the top of the short list. She did not manage to write the great American novel (though she may well have, had Lupus not stopped her at the insultingly young age of 45), but her best collected stories go toe-to-toe with any of the great white males (and females for that matter). She also happened to approach perfection on at least three occasions, with “Revelation”, “Everything That Rises Must Converge” and “A Good Man Is Hard To Find”. It is the last of these three that most people know; like Beethoven’s Fifth and the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, its ubiquity tends to diminish its actual import: it’s even better than most people realize (and most people, if for no other reason than that they are told, recognize these things as immortal).

What O’Connor manages to do, in less than twenty pages, is nail the essence of what Dostoyevsky and, to a lesser extent, Tolstoy grappled with in their biggest (and sometimes bloated) novels: the nature of man, the existence of God, the possibility of Grace and the symbiotic tension between violence and love. When The Misfit declares (ironically, truthfully) “It’s no real pleasure in life”, he is (O’Connor is) expressing, in remarkably succinct fashion, the fundamental philosophical and literary dilemma, post-Descartes. Beyond whether God exists (Tolstoy) or why God torments us (Dostoyevsky), and right to the heart of the matter: we may betray God, but God betrayed us first.

Anyway, O’Connor remains somewhat of a conundrum: one can learn a great deal by studying her stories. Has any other writer so consistently applied mechanical precision with such emotional heft? Has any other writer wrestled with the so-called big issues without using stick figures or preachy didactics? Take “Revelation”, for instance: O’Connor fits class issues, southern identity dilemmas, religious fervor, old-school bigotry and redemption into one story. In fact, she pretty much pulls it off on a single page (and that last page not only invokes, but obliges the use of such otherwise unforgivable words as “haunting”, “chilling” and “moving”). This type of writing, needless to say, is inspiring but is also intimidating. My initial (and in many cases, ongoing) reaction to reading an O’Connor story is to ask, in awe, “How did she do that?”

Yet aside from the singular example she sets, what is one, living today, to take from her hermetic life style in terms of practical application? Probably the same thing one might take from any worthwhile practitioner: whatever one can. It’s that simple, and it’s that unfathomable. For starters, one could be heartened (or, more likely, devastated) by the fact that even our greatest artists often struggle, and realize that the life they embark upon is likely to be painful and unprofitable. “What first stuns the young writer emerging from college,” she wrote in 1948, “is that there is no clear-cut road for him to travel on. He must chop a path in the wilderness of his own soul; a disheartening process, lifelong and lonesome.” What she said.

by Rob Horning

25 Feb 2009

I’ve mentioned here before that Twitter seems like the perfect advertising medium; it distills all communication to the level of the slogan, making advertising messages fit right in among the messages from our friends and “followers”. For Twitter to make any sense, one has to use it constantly—so it supplies the eyeballs advertisers are after. And since it is liable to be integrated with social media, the stream of ads can be hyperpersonalized so that we end up reading them rather than filtering them out. If you think ads are just useful and timely information about how to satisfy our wants, you are probably relishing this future; if you think that ads make up an insecurity-generating discourse designed to obscure our desires from ourselves, this future is somewhat less appealing.

Anyway, I was surprised to find how many people in the ad business hate it. (But then, any right-thinking person in the ad business generally hates themselves as well.) Consider this post, by ad consultant George Parker. Or this one, titled “Twitter This You Douchenozzles!”

And, via this AdPulp post, these posts by ad exec Bob Hoffman. They are full of extremely entertaining bile and skepticism regarding the transformational potential of Twitter (“It’s how the narcissistic keep in touch with the feckless”) and social media generally, which he recognizes are “inherently anti-social”. Noting the idiocy of Twestivals, at which the attendees “didn’t have the social skills to say hello and instead communicated with each other at the event via Twitter,” Hoffman argues that social media

are telesocial. The prefix ‘tele’ means ‘happening at a distance’—as in television, telegram, telecommunications. Social media are pseudo-personal interactions happening at a distance.

This seems a bit self-evident; really what he is saying is that social media is a form of telecommunication, not a superior replacement for it. The big innovation in this new mode of telecommunication is that it does away with real-time reciprocity.

Hoffman argues that Twitter allows you an ersatz sense of belonging:

I’ve always loved the promise implicit in the magazine Us.
Who is Us?
Brad and Jen and Angelique and Paris and Oprah and Brit and You. Yes, you! You are part of one big connected group of celebrities. Don’t think you’re special or important? Think you’re a pathetic loser? Nonsense! You’re one of Us! Come over here and let me give you a hug. Oh, and while you’re here, that’ll be 4 dollars, please.
Twitter is digital Us.

That seems right, and it fits in with the way online sociality has destroyed our sense of what makes for a realistic scale for our social being. We feel obliged to try to gain recognition on a global scale rather than a local one, and our expectations for that recognition need not be conditioned by any limitations inherent to our geographic community. That sounds like theoretical gobbledy-gook, so let me try to explain that a different way. The appeal of self-broacdasting identity online, of Twittering and being “followed,” is that we can feel like celebrities and imagine the natural audience for our high jinks is the entire world rather than, say, the people who share our household or work with us or live on our block or what have you. This initially seems like a good thing, because it holds out the promise that we can craft communities ideally suited to us online rather than deal with the one we were born into in the physical world. But dealing with the contingencies of that real world may be what allows us to grow into a mature self and set realistic goals and limits and put an end to chronic dissatisfaction and restless yearning for impossibilities. If there were some online/offline balance that was easy to strike, the aggrandizing tendencies of online sociality wouldn’t matter so much, only technological developments seem to be pushing in the direction of supplanting real-world socializing with online self-absorption, exploiting the desire for convenience (not having to deal with other people’s crap) that is perfectly natural when the local community sets inescapable limits on our selfishness, i.e. when we can’t escape a certain amount of dealing wiht other people, but becomes creepy when that limit has been eroded. It’s easier to manage friendships online and treat friends as our fans than it is to make the mundane efforts of actually being friends with them—scheduling time to spend with them and actually being present with them without multitasking.

by Sarah Zupko

24 Feb 2009

One of our favorite bands around these parts, the Avett Brothers, has recently moved over to Columbia Records from North Carolina indie Ramseur. Their new album will release this spring and they’ve got a pretty packed tour schedule coming up (dates below). The Avetts recently joined in the “Hangin’ Out on E Street” to celebrate Bruce Springsteen’s new record and covered the classic “Glory Days”.

TOUR DATES
3/18 Austin, TX Stubb’s Bar-B-Q: NPR SXSW Showcase
3/19 Austin, TX Radio Room – Paste Magazine/Brooklyn Vegan SXSW Party
4/16 Indianapolis, IN The Vogue
4/17 Danville, KY Centre College Carnival
4/18 Chattanooga, TN Tivoli Theatre
4/19 Orange Beach, AL The Warf w/ Widespread Panic
4/22 Raleigh, NC TWC Music Pavilion w/ Dave Matthews Band
4/24 Charlotte, NC Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre w/ Dave Matthews Band
4/25 Birmingham, AL Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark
4/26 New Orleans, LA New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival @ Fair Grounds Race Course
4/28 Alpharetta, GA Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre at Encore Park w/ Dave Matthews Band
4/29 Alpharetta, GA Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre at Encore Park w/ Dave Matthews Band
5/1 The Woodlands, TX The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion w/ Dave Matthews Band
5/2 Dallas, TX Superpages.com Center w/ Dave Matthews Band
5/5 Albuquerque, NM Journal Pavilion w/ Dave Matthews Band
5/6 Phoenix, AZ Cricket Wireless Pavilion w/ Dave Matthew Bands
5/7 Tucson, AZ Rialto Theatre
5/9 Los Angeles, CA Henry Fonda Theatre
5/10 Solana Beach, CA Belly Up Tavern
5/12 Hanford, CA Hanford Fox Theatre
5/14 Santa Cruz, CA Rio Theatre
5/15 San Francisco, CA The Fillmore
5/16 San Francisco, CA The Fillmore
5/22 Portland, OR Crystal Ballroom
5/23 Portland, OR Crystal Ballroom
5/24 George, WA Sasquatch! Music Festival
5/30 Philadelphia, PA Trocadero Theatre
9/4 Camp Mather, CA Strawberry Music Festival

by L.B. Jeffries

24 Feb 2009

One of the inevitabilities of doing critiques of video games is encountering a game that has an interesting design but dull story or good story but bad design. In the former’s case, it’s not really necessary to finish the game because after a few hours you’ll have learned the gist of the system. So I’m going to be frank and admit that I didn’t finish The Thing, but saw a lot of interesting ideas going on. I ended up quitting at about the same point as Alec Meer in his retrospective piece at Rock, Paper, Shotgun.  After the tenth time of doing the same 20 minute battle only to fall off a piece of scaffolding and start over, I’d had enough. A brutally distant save point system combined with too many awkward insta-kill puzzles resulted in a game that was too tedious. The plot itself is what would happen if you took the script of Aliens and swapped out all the words with ones from The Thing. Minus the interesting female lead, motherhood overtones, and space travel. But, beyond all of that, there is a very interesting squad game design along with an excellent illustration of misusing cutscenes.

Like any survival horror game, this is a system of managing finite resources. Going outside drains your stamina, meaning you can only be out for a certain period before you start to freeze to death. Ammo and health packs are often in short supply while enemies are in abundance. What gets added to this mix is squad mates who each have a specific job. One is a glorified key card (they’re the only ones who can fix certain electric panels), another is an unlimited source of health, and the third is an extra gun. What’s interesting is that your squads have both a trust and sanity bar. Most people you meet will think you’ve been infected by the alien (and thus under its control) so you have a variety of ways to earn their trust. What’s interesting is that all of these involve sacrificing resources. You can give them a gun, heal them, etc. This trust can also be lost if you accidentally shoot them, hide from a fight, or just ditch them. No trust means they don’t accept orders, and in the case of the medic or engineer you often need them to. The catch is that anyone you come in contact with may also be infected by the Thing. So when you’re handing over health kits to keep a squad mate alive, you might find out a few minutes later that the whole thing was a giant waste. This is a perfect example of a game design using two conflicting needs to create tension. On the one hand, you can always use an extra gunner and the medic is obviously handy. On the other hand, they are eventually going to get infected and turn on you. You can get your ammo and gun back from the corpse after you kill them, but the much rarer health kits will be long gone. Making that choice adds an unexpectedly unique kind of resource management to the game. The game does destroy the replayability of this feature by making the infections linear. The people in your party will either die or cross an invisible line and instantly become infected. There is no keeping them intact after a certain point, making it possible to maximize resources when such an ability shouldn’t exist.

 

Another interesting thing about the squad game design is the sanity meter. Whereas the average player may be quite desensitized to gore and swarms of aliens coming after them, the AI of your squadmates is not. Walk by a shredded corpse and someone on your team might vomit. Leave them in the blood filled room with human entrails and their fear will spike up. They typically tend to be less responsive to orders and less able to handle their weapons when they are frightened as well. If they get scared enough they’ll either curl into a ball crying or worse, shoot themselves. What’s remarkable about this is that the system forces the player to be aware of all the violence and gore. Most research into how games desensitize people is fairly suspect, but the more probable reason the player gets desensitized is that they are seeing the same death scenes and visuals repeatedly. To someone whose never played GTA IV, watching someone screw around with a rocket launcher might seem horrific. To that player, it’s just the same reaction they’ve seen dozens of times. Preventing that desensitization from happening, that tuning out of the game’s themes and focusing purely on victory, is a laudable goal. Every time the player notices a squad mate freaking out, looks around, and thinks “Hey, This is pretty gross”, that player is dragged back into the experience. Every time I’m getting swarmed by enemies and one of my squadmate wets their pants (this will happen) I’m reminded of how crazy the whole situation has become. Finding a new way for the game design to communicate what the plot is telling me is a remarkable accomplishment for any game.

The game suffers from a classic case of ‘I wish I was a movie’, and you get this sense from the constant barrage of cut scenes that aren’t induced by player input. Mixing cutscenes with a game is a tricky work because they always need to be voluntary, never an interruption. Given the intense difficulty the design creates, there’s no need to turn it into a cutscene every time I see someone that wants to talk. The player probably going to be willing to hear them out just to get their help. Since they don’t resemble any of the other enemies, you’re not going to accidentally shoot them like in a game full of humans. The trust meter will also deter this kind of conduct since accidentally shooting another person means they won’t take orders. If the game has to keep taking control away from the player because they don’t care what people are saying, that’s a foundational problem with the design, not an excuse to force something on the player. Any incentive to obey a game’s plot is always going to seem artificial when you look at it purely from the design perspective. You can’t let the engineer die because you need him to open a locked door. You need health so you need the medic. The motivation isn’t the much pleasanter “I can’t let him die because he’s a fellow human being” that the plot is conveying, but is that really a flaw? Every good story has basic rules of conduct and morality governing it. A system of rules is not going to generate an emotion by itself anymore than the Penal Code of your home country is going to make you love everyone because murder means going to jail. The rules establishe a mode of conduct that you cannot engage in without consequences, the people you meet and personally enjoy are what generates the higher emotions of concern. That’s how the plot/art/sound and game design interact, the design is the skeleton, the rest is the flesh & blood that gives it life. The cookie cutter plot, parade of grizzled soldiers, and the generic plot twists make The Thing do little for this idea of games. Its skeleton, however, is quite a remarkable piece of work.

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