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Wednesday, Feb 21, 2007
by PopMatters Staff

Neil Young: Live At Massey Hall (release date: March 13), produced by Young and the late David Briggs, is the second Reprise Records release in the Neil Young Archives Performance Series, following last year’s Live at the Fillmore East album. Both are in anticipation of the Archives Volume I collection, due this fall. That eight-CD, two-DVD audiobiography will include Young’s music from 1963 to 1972, and feature a treasure trove of previously unreleased recordings, both studio and live, along with concert footage and rare memorabilia from the first decade of Neil Young’s long and unequaled career.


“This is the album that should have come out between After the Gold Rush and Harvest,” Young says now. “David Briggs, my producer, was adamant that this should be the record, but I was very excited about the takes we got on Harvest, and wanted Harvest out. David disagreed. As I listen to this today, I can see why.”


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Tuesday, Feb 20, 2007


In much the same way he mined hip-hop culture for his acclaimed debut Hustle & Flow, writer/director Craig Brewer turns his attention to the blues for his equally musical sophomore effort Black Snake Moan. A newly slimmed down Christina Ricci plays Rae, a young, white trash tramp whose horniness possesses her like Linda Blair in The Exorcist, which leads her into the bedroom of any willing man in the county. After a particularly rough night, she is dumped on the side of a road and left for dead, only to be found and subsequently held captive by ex-bluesman and struggling Christian Lazarus (Samuel L. Jackson).


Up until this point, Black Snake Moan presents a fantastic concept; a god-fearing man looking to reform someone of their wicked ways, and by force if necessary. Wrapped up in the trappings of blues mythology, it promises some intriguing developments. But Brewer’s script never finds the right tone. Both over-the-top and deadly serious, ironic and earnest, Jackson, Ricci and the rest of the talented cast give excellent performances despite writing and situations that at times are laugh-out-loud ridiculous. Worse, Brewer seems to try and alleviate the problem with supporting characters and plotlines that enter and leave the picture on a whim. Rae’s relationship with her longtime boyfriend Ronnie (Justin Timberlake), Lazarus’ fledgling romance with local pharmacist Angela (S. Epatha Merkerson) and Reverend R.L.’s (John Cothran Jr.) efforts to bring Lazarus back to the church are largely underdeveloped and leave more questions than answers.


If there is any bright spot in this otherwise pointless exercise in Southern exploitation melodrama, it is the music. Samuel L. Jackson’s singing, particularly his stunning version of the traditional blues cut “Stagolee”, is far more evocative here than the puerile “It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp” that became the center of Hustle & Flow. But like that film, Brewer addresses and even embraces African-American stereotypes but can’t transcend them. Black Snake Moan amounts to nothing more than another picture in which damaged white characters find healing in the ways of slightly off-the-radar African-Americans and their culture. That certainly isn’t to mention the film’s preoccupation with African-American male’s genitalia - a source of constant wonder for Rae.


I wish I could say Black Snake Moan was simply poorly made and inconsequential, but Brewer’s film goes a dangerous step further. Rather than turning stereotypes on their head, by the film’s truly cornball ending, he practically embraces them and tries to sell them as authentic drama. At least for myself, and the audience I was with, we weren’t buying it.



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Tuesday, Feb 20, 2007

Do we really have to wait That long???


 


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Tuesday, Feb 20, 2007
by Harlem Shakes

Harlem Shakes w/ Deerhoof
Diary #5


Being in a band with five go-getters means that someone always wants to show the other guys some cool new music (“dude, have you guys heard “Mental Perturbation” by Morton Feldman”), tell a joke (“how many indie rockers does it take to screw in a light bulb? What—you don’t know? Yeah… you should really go check that out”) or point out a sign that says something like “No Jesus No Peace, Know Jesus Know Peace.” Such fun can turn a good Shake bad.


To counteract all this over-stimulating, anxiety-attack-inducing fun, we’ve been taking solo walks around venue neighborhoods, putting on Jose’s gigantic, ear-enveloping headphones, and, like we did today, heading to the Gainesville public library to visit separate sections.


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Tuesday, Feb 20, 2007

A week ago Joel Kotkin wrote an article for the WSJ about fading American “supercities” (New York, San Francisco) and the B-list cities (Las Vegas, Phoenix, Charlotte) that are gaining population at their expense by providing better value (mainly via cheaper real estate) and catering to a more family-oriented middle-class lifestyle. That is, they are pseudo-urban suburbs. I lived in Las Vegas and Tucson and have been a frequent visitor to Phoenix, and I am always struck by how similar these places are: they all feature walled-in middle-class housing-development fortresses, a logical rectilinear street plan which makes finding shopping zones seem almost instinctive, chain retailers predominate, but small businesses pop up in the interstices if you are looking for them. What makes them most suburban-like is how one’s insulation from the lives of others is upheld pretty well—traveling in cars assures that. More than anything they resemble the interzones between Eastern cities—take away the climate and mountain views, add some trees, and they become indistinguishable from the suburbs of New Jersey and Connecticut. Suburbs often get a bad rap, obviously, which may be unfair (but then again…)


That B-list cities would thrive seems to fly in the face of theories about the so-called creative class who flock to urban centers in pursuit of alternalife and almost incidentally happen to fuel all sorts of innovation that business can seize upon. As much as I am suspicious Richard Florida (though since when is he a leftist?) and his cheerleading for the supposed creative class, I think cities such as Phoenix are geared toward ordinary life and ordinary aspirations; they are no place for the unusually ambitious or curious. According to Andrew Beverege, a sociologist Kotkin cites, New York must find “ways to address the basic issues that affect the middle class — high housing costs, taxes, regulation, schools and lack of support for diverse small businesses, particularly in the outer boroughs. How else can New York hope to create opportunities for a population already overwhelmingly minority and predominately working class?” And that would probably be a good thing (though it will only make the outerboroughs more like suburbs and less like the city), but it has little to do with the larger premise of the article, that Manhattan has become, in the mayor’s words, “a luxury product” and this bodes ill for its future.  The city, it seems, is not necessarily threatened by the loss of a middle-class at its core. Instead it is a magnet for those unsually ambitious people who want to work on a cosmopolitian scale, who aren’t particularly motivated (at least yet) by procuring middle-class security and Wobegonian above-averageness. New York seems necessary not only to siphon off the self-aggrandizing egomaniacs (like me) to prevent them from spoiling the pace of life in B-list America, but also to put the pleasures and benefits of Middletown in proper perspective. That such big-dreaming people will live beyond their means and be surrounded by outsize examples of luxury and wealth may only help to motivate them; such accoutrements provide the backdrop necessary to sustain the whole overachieveing ideology that values global influence or essentially unspendable wealth over the refreshments of a quiet, steady life.


What drives Kotkin’s piece is instead a chance to heap scorn on “trustafarians”:


The high-price trend is further exaggerated by the large concentrations of “trustafarians,” or those with large amounts of inherited capital, in these areas. Many of these people have multiple residences — in some Manhattan buildings as many of half of the owners are non-residents — but can still drive up prices. Together with top-end business types, they can create what Mr. Gyourko describes as “the Vailization” effect: that is, turning part of the city into something akin to a high-amenity resort area, a “scarce luxury good” for a relative few and those who must remain behind to service them.


This has obvious middle-class populist appeal (the poor middle class, always under assault if you listen to American politicians) and seems to suggest that there is something galling about inheritance in general. Which calls to mind this astute remark economist Brad DeLong made on the subject:


The very first thing that any society’s wealthy try to buy with their wealth is a head start for their children. And the wealthier they are, the bigger the head start. Any society that justifies itself on a hope of equality of opportunity cannot help but be undermined by too great a degree of inequality of result.


What we see in New York’s “trustafarians” (and it would be nice to see a figure on their numbers) is a group who are so far ahead, they presumably no longer need to run the race. The waste (Bataille-style expenditure?) is evident and seems to express a kind of contempt on the hard-working burghers who carry more than their share of the economy’s productivity load. It exemplifies the income inequality, much discussed recently, that has supposedly begun to sour the mood of the average bourgeois (the article’s target audience). Presumably the dead hand of inherited capital would work to dissuade those ambitious types who give New York its specific character, and trustafarians also are assumed to drive up the costs of everything in pursuit of their meaningless and inefficient status displays. Still, the trustafarian seems like a straw man; if anything they probably serve to patronize the production of nonmainstream culture, not stifle it as this response at BoingBoing suggests. Kotkin’s article brandishes its antielitism:


This is something of an oddity, where the fashionable “left” defines successful urbanism by its ability to lure the superaffluent, the hypereducated and the avant garde — or what Dr. Florida calls “the greatest number of the most skilled people.” One wonders what true progressives like Harry Truman or Fiorella La Guardia would think of such an approach.
La Guardia or Truman understood that great cities become so, in large part, due to the strivings of the upwardly mobile middle class and families, not the elites of any stripe.


But this smacks more than a little of flat-out anti-intellectualism, stopping just short of championing mediocrity. Middle-class existence is not incompatible with intellectual pursuit; I wonder why commentators like Kotkin imply that it is.


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