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by Rob Horning

14 Jan 2009

I generally have my portable MP3 player on shuffle, playing random songs from a 5,000-track grab bag. In effect, this makes my device an ad hoc radio station, and as such, I find that it requires radio edits of songs that will be wrenched out of whatever context they originally garnered from their place on an album. I used to scorn the radio edits of songs—the truncated version of “Green-Eyed Lady” is especially egregious, as is the radio edit of Fleetwood Mac’s “Sara” in the original and disgraceful CD issue of Tusk. But now I am seeing their usefulness. When yo are not listening to the songs in the environment they were designed for, you must adapt them to suit your particular circumstances.

At first, for me, this was a matter of removing things like the tedious sound-clip intros on Wu-Tang Clan songs, and removing unnecessary space from the beginning and end of songs that once were hidden bonus tracks on CDs. (What a horrible trend that was.) Then I found that I had started to remove boring musical intros and long fades—the sonorous organ solo at the beginning of Led Zeppelin’s “Your Time Is Gonna Come,” and the drum machine loops at the end of Eric B. and Rakim’s “Microphone Fiend,” for instance.

Emboldened, I now have even started to remove parts of songs I don’t like no matter where they fall—that pointless drony part in Nirvana’s “Drain You,” the noise solo in Pere Ubu’s “The Modern Dance” and so on. Who has the time? Just give me the hooks.

When I first began doing this, I felt like a philistine tampering with the artistic vision embodied in these songs. Before I could re-edit them, I had to deal with them as they were, as did everyone else. We could only differ in our interpretations and opinions about what we heard. Now we can all make our own customized versions—the triumph of read/write culture! (Tom Slee makes some skeptical remarks about read/write culture in this review of Lawrence Lessig’s Remix—the key one, I think, is that hobbies in the digital age have become more subject to depersonalized commodification because the internet is eroding face-to-face interaction in localized, hobby-based economies—what he calls small-scale culture. The internet can entice us with a limitless audience, prompting us to underrate, or worse, ignore, the ready-made audience of friends and family we would have had without it.)

Gradually, I ceased to have any qualms about my song re-editing. Now I wonder if I am going to end up in Girl Talk territory, composing my own Stars on 45 mashups, or somewhere even more radical. And I wonder if this is a good thing, a liberation from top-down, culture-industry domination. I wonder if I am making laudable strides toward making my consumption more like production.

Consumption always is production, in the sense that we are reproducing ourselves (reconstituting our labor power, as Marx would have it). The problem is that even though I am being “productive,”  I reproduce myself precisely as a consumer, an identity I alternately dread and wallow in. That’s not what I’m usually hoping to accomplish when I exhibit a bias toward “being productive”: I’m thinking instead about trying not being passive in the face of the onslaught of data and products and messages and images and such, but trying to engage it actively—usually in a doomed-to-fail attempt to manage it all. (Hence so much of my “leisure” time is spent on organizational tasks.)

But the problem with consumerism may lie specifically in that kind of engagement with cultural goods, particularly when it fails to bring the pleasure that it seems to promise or delivers the pleasure in addictive microdoses that create prolonged interludes of suffering want. In such productive “creative” activity, I am still reproducing myself with consumerism’s preferred tools and reinforcing in myself the desires that it suits consumerism for me to have—though I am not sure if I have any alternative.

This is the problem with the Situationist approach of detournement. Derivative by definition, it seems neutered, forced, circumscribed. Its subversiveness never actually registers on the level it would need to in order to fundamentally alter social relations or capitalism; for all its confrontationalism, it’s not actually disruptive. It just permits those subjected to capitalism feel as though they are struggling if they choose to; it permits us to redecorate our cages with more individualistic creativity, with signs of our unbroken but ineffectual spirit.

by Elena Mertus

14 Jan 2009

Me:  I love Jenny Lewis.
Mom:  Don’t you have a boyfriend, right now?
Me: Yeah, but, well I’m in love with Jenny Lewis.
Mom: Who?

I could scream it from the rooftops. Unfortunately, those listening, like my mother, would have probably not heard of this enigmatic singer/songwriter. Once a child actress, Lewis has emerged and developed as the lead singer of the band, Rilo Kiley. Within the last couple years she has explored her own voice—pairing up with the soul singers, the Watson twins. Her first solo album Rabbit Fur Coat, has been housed in the CD player of my car for the last three months. Her voice is sweet, but not too saccharine. Her melodies have done everything from mix Southern blues, with gospel, and folk with indie rock. Her lyrics, are simple yet biting: “I’m in love with illusions, so saw me in half / I’m in love with tricks so pull another rabbit out of your hat.”

But, what is it exactly about Jenny Lewis that makes women love her? A fair share of women I have conversed with have admitted that she is their one and only “girl crush”. I believe that Jenny Lewis is the archetypal free-spirited woman; she is smart and talented enough to write her own music, and doesn’t seem to give a damn about what other people think. She looks like a fashion icon with her short mod dresses and her signature red hair. There is no reason to be jealous of Jenny Lewis because we all secretly want to be her. I want to emulate that confident, quirky, versatile woman. She has a past and marches to her own drum, a drum that happens to coincide with the music she writes. Check out one of Rilo Kiley’s earlier videos…

by PopMatters Staff

14 Jan 2009


The Bush Years: Farewell, Mr. President
The Daily Show profiles the final days of George W. Bush’s years in office as Barack Obama waits in the wings.


The Bush Years: He’s the Decider!
George W. Bush makes his case for the most bumbling presidency in history.



The Bush Years: Dubya Economics
Compassionate conservatism and tax cuts highlight eight years of finance under George W. Bush.


by Mehan Jayasuriya

14 Jan 2009

Photos: Mehan Jayasuriya

In June of 1998, while on tour in Canada, Champaign, Illinois alt-rock quartet Hum was involved in a car accident that destroyed their van and brought their tour to a screeching halt. Though the band was forced to cancel most of the remaining dates on their tour, they managed to soldier on and play two of the 13 scheduled shows. Shortly after the accident, the band flew from their hometown to Boston for a headlining gig and then travelled via caravan to Milwaukee, where they would play one of the largest shows of their career, as an opening act on the Smashing Pumpkins’ Adore tour. “The Milwaukee concert is such a huge show, and it’s so close to home that the band just decided to make do,” Hum publicist Gina Orr told JAMTV at the time of the accident.

Meanwhile, my brother and I—aged 13 and 15, respectively—were eagerly awaiting the bands’ Milwaukee date. Sure, we were Smashing Pumpkins fans, having seen that band on their Mellon Collie tour two years earlier. This time around, however, we were far more excited about the opening act, a little-known band from nearby Champaign that we had learned of through word-of-mouth. While the Pumpkins had largely abandoned guitar rock for moody electronic pop at this point, Hum still ably carried the flag of so-called alternative rock, marrying a driving rhythm section with layers of heavily textured guitars. Atop it all was frontman Matt Talbot’s trademark monotone, singing willfully inscrutable lyrics that, as with many shoegaze bands, served only to reinforce the relative unimportance of vocals to the band’s aesthetic. There’s a reason, after all, why people sometimes refer to Hum as a space rock act, alongside such luminaries as Slowdive, My Bloody Valentine and Spacemen 3.

The day of the show, my brother and I found ourselves at the home of a family friend, eagerly awaiting our drop-off at the Marcus Amphitheater by our father. As the clock ticked closer to the scheduled time of the show, the two of us started pestering our reluctant escort to drive us to the venue. Ever the procrastinator, our father shooed us away, assuring us that there would be plenty of time to get to the Marcus in time.

by Zeth Lundy

14 Jan 2009

Elvis Costello wears a silly hat throughout this episode of Spectacle. It distracted me. (The offending accessory is a red, short-brimmed fedora that appears to be made from, ahem, velvet.) Is he attempting to be ironic, given that this episode deals with, among other things, pop standards—and, furthermore, that he opens the show with a winking cover of “If I Only Had a Brain”? (A performance that seems to say, Get it, if I only had a brain? Obviously I do have a brain, a big one at that; ergo, what I’m doing here with this song amuses me so.) Does he think that this sort of questionable fashion choice is, in fact, the sort of thing that would impress or entertain a gay man? His guest, after all, is Rufus Wainwright, who makes no mention of the hat, this velveteen red elephant sitting atop the host’s head in a cocked, taunting fashion. (Wainwright does, however, stumble through many an answer—behavior that one could logically attribute to the absurd trauma of having questions posed to you by a man in a funny hat.)

//Mixed media

Cage the Elephant Ignite Central Park with Kickoff for Summerstage Season

// Notes from the Road

"Cage the Elephant rocked two sold-out nights at Summerstage and return to NYC for a free show May 29th. Info on that and a preview of the full Summerstage schedule is here.

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