Not so fast but it looks like the Mayor is at least considering it. Thanks to these decades-old laws that were dusted off by Giuliani, club life in New York took a severe blow and has had trouble recovering. Lifting this antiquated veil would go a long way to reviving an important part of the artistic life in what’s supposed to be a cultural hub. Now if only the mayor would also look into more affordable housing and practice spaces for artists and easing Visa restrictions for visiting artists…
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Kate Summerscale has won the BBC Four Samuel Johnson Prize for her book, The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: or the Murder at Road Hill House (Bloomsbury). Summerscale spent the better part of two years researching and writing the book which details the investigation into the murder of a three-year-old boy at Road Hill House in England’s Georgian countryside. The book focuses primarily on the efforts of Jonathan Whicher, the Scotland Yard detective who solved the crime but destroyed himself in the process. Whicher and his investigations are believed to have directly influenced the detective fiction genre, and the case is credited with creating ongoing public interest in crime and criminal detection. Whicher was one of the first eight Scotland Yard detectives.
The Times reports on Summerscale’s win, quoting prize judge Rosie Boycott, who commented that The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher is “a dramatic page-turning detective yarn of a real-life murder that inspired the birth of modern detective fiction. Kate Summerscale has brilliantly merged scrupulous archival research with vivid storytelling that reads with the pace of a Victorian thriller”.
Summerscale left her job as literary editor at the Daily Telegraph to write the book. The book is written in the form of a Victorian murder mystery, but Summerscale is quick to point out that her book is not a novel. She tells UK television’s Book Zone that everything in the book is pulled directly from her research from the clothing worn to the weather. It’s a great and lasting tribute to Mr. Whicher, a man Summerscale admits becoming rather fond of as she wrote his story. Her life-altering dedication to telling this man’s story is commendable to say the least. She tells Dan Vyleta at Raincoat Books:
The most interesting facts I gathered about his private life were hard-earned, the fruit of long hours in archives and records offices. His professional life was much easier to unearth. Thanks to digital archives, I was able to find accounts of dozens of cases on which he had worked, and from these I tried to deduce what kind of a man he had been.
On a personal note, I’m thrilled the book is now out in Australia. It’ll certainly make the wait for the next Erik Larson book a little easier to bear.
Summerscale discusses the book on Book Zone:
Council Estate [Video] (from Know West Boy releasing 9 September in the US)
Cavern of the Mind [MP3]
The Kicking Machine [MP3]
Gentleman Auction House
We Used to Dream About Bridges [MP3]
Veins to the Sky [MP3]
At Slate, Michael Agger narrates his efforts to put a flattering picture of himself online. This strikes me as a topic that gets more and more depressing the more one thinks about it, because it ultimately forces us to recognize the arms-race quality of self-advertisement.
Remember for a moment how much attention people used to lavish on the perfect quote for their e-mail signature. Now that self-conscious energy is applied to a photo. There’s nothing inherently bad about the rise of Web head shots. They just turn what was once a space for burgeoning Cyrano de Begeracs into a space for burgeoning Brad Pitts.
When you expect to be judged by your photo—in the context of countless other such photos—and the technology exists to improve that photo, it becomes virtually incumbent on us to deploy that technology, present our visual selves in the most state-of-the-art way. We are forced to see our face as a brand or logo, and we must isolate and reify the qualities that we want to use to market ourselves, and in realizing we are marketing ourselves we must also recognize how we have devised these instrumental means of achieving our particularized goals. We say to ourselves something like, if I capture my face from the right angle, people will think I’m mysterious. If I relax while I take this picture, I might look natural. I might come across as authentic, as “real.” Until I get the right photo, I am in danger of being unreal. I don’t quite exist. And then you have to think about how sad that is, reducing our complexity to a pinpoint, or a desperate calculation, and having our being reduced to a lighting effect and a camera angle and a set of well-chosen props—ontology as mise-en-scène.
But it is probably true that how we look forms the basis, the starting point from which people will get to know us, and it supplies the framework into which are actions and behavior are integrated. Managing how we develop social relations online provides a stronger feeling that we can manage the entire process—provide the flattering picture as the launching point and then carefully groom the online profile to present ourselves as the attractive and appealing product we want to be. But then we are at the same time inviting people to consume us as a kind of reality-TV program, a well-edited entertainment product whose purpose is merely to please them and nothing more. When we objectify ourselves (with online photos and the like) we seem to be liberating others of having to conceive of a reciprocal responsibility toward us—we want to be looked at and approval rests in that, and when we look back at others, we do it in a different time, with a different mind-set altogether. That is to say, social relations online don’t occur in shared time; they are by definition managed, mediated exchanges even when the messaging is “instant.”
Agger mentions a new site called Facestat, on which you can post a picture and have people evaluate it through a series of questions that are vaguely research-like.
To date, Facestat has collected 16,818,344 judgments on 126,090 faces. The people behind the site, a group of programmers called Dolores Labs, have played with the data in fun ways. They noted which pairs of tags tend to appear together—athletic and driven, gay and cowboy, old and sour, young and uninterested. They’ve also built a graphical explorer, with which you can follow the webs of adjectives for an entire afternoon. The promise of accurate “market research” hasn’t been totally fulfilled. Looking around the site, I’ve found the crowd-sourced judgments to be fickle. For every person who thinks you’re “not bad,” there’s another that thinks you’re phony—or worse.
This seems to suggest that our efforts at face management are wasted. It may seem like we can better control how we will be perceived online, and it’s almost irresistible to make the attempt, but other people will see what is useful for them to see anyway. So it may be that the illusion of control is the lure of posting photos online, and it ultimately has nothing to do with the results the picture yields. This may be true of social networks in general; they let us pretend we are controlling something that is inherently slippery and fluid. They allow us to forget about the contingencies of friendship by making specific friends and whatever specific response they are having to you beside the point. The trick works because we are able to prevent ourselves from seeing how the pools of eyes in the networks we construct for ourselves become mirrors.
We Make the World Go Round (Featuring The Game and Chris Brown)
Miami-based duo Cool & Dre provide the production for this. The track has a feel similar to their work on some of DJ Khaled’s massive posse cuts. The beat contains looped synths, hand claps, a quiet 808 baseline, a harmonizing Chris Brown, and a few other elements mixed in. There is a lot going on, but it’s the exultant synthesizer melody that rises from the layers of sounds and becomes the essence of the song; Chris Brown repeats the song’s title in the chorus to the same, turned-up melody. Before each repetition in the hook, Nas provides quick one-liners, proposing toasts between hustlers, gangstas, ballers, and finally “all us”.
The deliberate, mainstream sound of the song seems more intended to bridge a gap between Nas—whose appeal in today’s hip-hop market is more underground—and popular rappers of the moment than to earn radio-play. It can be considered as sort of a peace offering to mainstream rappers—those hustlers, gangstas, and ballers—who were offended by Nas’s Hip-Hop is Dead campaign two years ago. A lot of hip-hop fans view pop-concessions by respected artists as immature moves, but this song proves quite the opposite. Nas has matured since his last album; he has abandoned his rockist sentiments and learned to accept what is popular now, however far it deviates from what purists consider “real hip-hop”, as legitimate art. This change of philosophy is best categorized when he mentions his own platinum records but also congratulates the rappers of today’s market by telling them, “Y’all is ringtone-platinum / But 99 cents adds up / I don’t hate ‘em / I congratulate him.” The hip-hop and R&B generation gap is finally bridged when Nas ends his last verse, boasting about having “the New York prince and young Mike Jackson on the same track”.
The braggadocio in the lyrics is celebratory of the level of importance black artists have gained in entertainment worldwide and, consequently, the affect they have had on public consciousness, hence the song’s title. The Game’s second verse is impressive, but its contribution to the song is somewhat minor causing his usually strong presence to get a bit lost in the mix. In the end though, “We Make the World Go Round” is a triumphant ode to African American success that fits well into the context of the album.
Hero (Featuring Keri Hilson)
Speaking of Nas’ acceptance of popular trends, I’m really happy he ended up working with Polow Da Don on this album. If synthesizers and Southern rappers were more respected amongst hip-hop purists, Polow’s work on last year’s Rich Boy album would have earned him respect just short of a DJ Premier-type level. Plus, he has been the driving force behind a lot of genuinely good songs from uninteresting artists. His beat on “Hero” is incredible. The song starts out with a chime-sounding loop over hard drums and from there goes through all kinds of movements, incorporating different synths, electric guitars and other sounds. Polow has a true composer’s sense of music. Whether dropping the beat or pulling and inserting sounds, he always seems to find the right combination of elements to properly emphasize what the lyrics are saying. Keri Hilson comes in for the huge, synthed-out chorus and the song has a very cinematic feel.
Nas addresses the whole N-Word controversy more directly here than anywhere else on the album. His insanely energetic verses serve as a defiant affirmation of his career accomplishments in the face of naysayers and a statement of desire to carry on and fight in his role as people’s champion. He keeps things relatively vague until the third verse, where he applies all of the preceding sentiment to specifically address the censorship of his title:
This Universal apartheid
I’m hog-tied, the corporate side
Blocking y’all from going to stores and buying it
First L.A. and… [Doug Morris, censored in released version]… was riding with it
But Newsweek article startled big wigs
They said, Nas, why is you trying it?
My lawyers only see the Billboard charts as winning
Forgetting - Nas the only true rebel since the beginning
Still in musical prison, in jail for the flow
Try telling Bob Dylan, Bruce, or Billy Joel
They can’t sing what’s in their soul
So Untitled it is
I never changed nothin’
But people remember this
If Nas can’t say it, think about these talented kids
With new ideas being told what they can and can’t spit
I can’t sit and watch it
So, shit, I’ma drop it
Like it or not
You ain’t gotta cop it…
…No matter what the CD called
I’m unbeatable, y’all!
“Hero” is Nas’ best radio-friendly song since “If I Ruled the World” (“One Mic” was a masterpiece but I wouldn’t call its sound “radio-friendly”, despite the fact that it was a hit). With a producer and singer involved who are both currently hot, this might be his best chance to seriously break into the mainstream since 2001, when he was one side of the highest-profile battle in rap history. No hip-hop artist has ever sounded this relevant so many years after what a lot consider his prime.
To be continued…