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Friday, Jun 16, 2006

I’m all for collaborative effort, but Jared Sandberg’s refutation of management-inspired brainstorming in The Wall Street Journal resonated with me (a rare instance when reading the regular “Cubicle Culture” column has reaped some dividends). Sandberg lists the main reasons why brainstorming fails—it degenerates into backslapping sessions because people are more intersted in being liked by everyone else than in producing workable ideas, or the session is hijacked by the loudest prick in the group, who cows everyone else into submission—and cites the hegemonic faith in teamwork as the principal reason the tactic is employed. My primary experience with it has always come in academic situations—mandatory group work, which I resented as a student and refused to institute as a teacher (unless I was underprepared and needed to waste class time). Group work allowed the weaker students to leech off the work of the stronger students, and the stronger students often seemed to be reinforced in their budding arrogance. Group work always seemed less about learning and more about socializing students for corporate bureaucracy, preparing them for middle-management group think, buck passing and contentment with mediocrity—developing strategies for seeing all decisions as someone else’s problem while perpetuating the idea that what’s really important is covering your back and maintaining a superficial level of amiability with everyone else. It’s a phony democratic method, where everyone is given a voice regardless of whether they have done anything to deserve it, regardless of whether they are cognizant of the responsibilities that come with having a voice (if that voice is to signify anything). It tends to obviate the notion that ideas can be fairly judged—that some are stupid and some are valuable—and reduces them to the level of opinions.


Collaboration, unfortunately, can’t be decreed by force—the various failures of collectivism seem to suggest at least that—it only works when people volunteer to cooperate, when they recognize shared goals, shared values, shared faith in specific methods. Everyone has to care about the goal more than having their own ego stroked, obviously, and our culture sepdns a great deal of effort telling everyone its their inalienable right to have their ego stroked all the time. Technology can afford more opportunities for such combinations to occur, and such groups could find more encouragement in a society that celebrates civic activity (as opposed to spectatorship, passive consumption and suburban-bunker individualism), but when these combinations are mandated, participants usually find petty ways to subvert them in hopes of resotring their sense of autonomy. No one likes to be lashed to the mast of a sinking ship, or to be strung together in a kind of corporate chain gang.


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Thursday, Jun 15, 2006

I was a bit surprised to discover that this 1976 AM pop classic has its own website but then I shouldn’t have been, because I found it in preparing to write my own paean to the song, the lone hit by Starbuck, from Atlanta. (I’m not sure if the band is named for the Battlestar Galactica character, but it seems plausible.) The picture of them is worth seeing, because it exudes the kind of bearded, mellow maleness that reached its apogee in the 1970s and which their hit delivers in spades. If you don’t know the song, it’s bongo-driven synth-pop (back when synth pop meant “Dream Weaver” rather than “People Are People” or “Don’t You Want Me”) with priceless dopey lyrics, which deserve to be quoted in full:


The wind blew some luck in my direction
I caught it in my hands today
I finally made a tricky French connection
You winked and gave me your o.k.
I’ll take you on a trip beside the ocean
And drop the top at Chesapeake Bay
Ain’t nothing like the sky to dose a potion
The moon’ll send you on your way


Moonlight feels right
Moonlight feels right


We’ll lay back and observe the constellations
And watch the moon smilin bright
I’ll play the radio on southern stations
Cause southern belles are hell at night
You say you came to Baltimore from Ole Miss
Class of seven four gold ring
The eastern moon looks ready for a wet kiss
To make the tide rise again


We’ll see the sun come up on Sunday morning
And watch it fade the moon away
I guess you know I’m giving you a warning
Cause me and moon are itching to play
I’ll take you on a trip beside the ocean
And drop the top at Chesapeake Bay
Ain’t nothin like the sky to dose a potion
The moon’ll send you on your way


Imagine those words delivered in a leering drawl and insert an epic marimba solo, and you have a pretty good idea of what’s happening with this song. “Ain’t nothin’ like the sky to dose a potion” always starts me wondering what the hell is going on, but the second verse is what takes this over the top for me: “The eastern moon looks ready for a wet kiss to make the tide rise again”? This is sublime nonsense, a perfectly paradoxical combination of trying too hard and not really giving a shit.


And that seems to be the quintessential idea evoked by the 1970s when we regard them with nostalgia: people working really strenuously to seem laid-back, people stressing out about relaxing. In the 1970s it became incumbent on everyone to visibly live a “lifestyle”. For perhaps the first time, relaxation itself became a medium for competitive consumption, and the imperative to be casual swept through the culture, generating effluvia like this song in its wake. My friend Brandon Young calls this genre “hot-tub music,”  what he imagined former student protester types of the 1960s, newly mature and family laden and cynically hedonistic, would play at 70s suburban backyard parties, when the smell of sneakily smoked joints and the promise of spouse swapping were in the air.  Think Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours album, the Peter Asher–produced Linda Ronstadt records, Elvin Bishop’s “Fooled Around and Fell in Love,” Walter Egan’s “Magnet and Steel,” the works of Little River Band, Mac Davis and England Dan and John Ford Coley, Lobo’s “I’d Love You to Want Me”, “Just Remember I Love You” by Firefall—immaculately recorded love songs that disguise the inevitable messiness of real feelings; ballads that push earnest sincerity into the realm of camp; crisp, seductive melodies from anonymous groups that come and go like so many sensuous and empty one-night stands, shimmering beyond coherence, barely surpressing the desperation: “I’m not talking about movin’ in and I don’t want to change your life, but there’s a warm wind blowing the stars around, and I’d really love to see you tonight.”


Starbuck should earn pop-radio immortality for evoking the hot-tub spirit better than anyone—the syrupy, simpering synth-note fills (Mweow, mweow), the little chuckles in the vocal, and the aimless cruising and lunar imagery in the lyrics all work to conjure cocaine-snorting couples waiting for something to happen, waiting to get the nerve to make a move or perhaps hoping they’ll all lose it. In its way this song encapsulates an entire generation staring down adulthood, waiting to see if it would blink, if it would reveal some gaps in which a sense of freedom could be retained in the face of its mounting sense of responsibility and disillusionment. There she is, a nubile coed, class of ‘74, hitchhiking by the ocean, looking to catch a ride and have a good time, and she’ll let you dose her potion and play your southern stations and she won’t ever stop and make you question whether or not what you’re doing “feels right.” This was what was left of the dream of freedom by bicentennial 1976: meeting this woman, or perhaps even more distressing, being this woman.


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Wednesday, Jun 14, 2006
by PopMatters Staff


The Lake House


Releasing: 16 June 2006 (wide)
Cast: Sandra Bullock, Keanu Reeves, Dylan Walsh, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Christopher Plummer
Director: Alejandro Agresti


The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift


Releasing: 16 June 2006 (wide)
Cast: Lucas Black, Shad ‘Bow Wow’ Gregory Moss, Nathalie Kelley, Sung Kang, Brian Tee
Director: Justin Lin


Nacho Libre


Releasing: 16 June 2006 (wide)
Cast: Jack Black, Hector Jimenez, Troy Gentile, Moises Arias, Lauro Chartrand
Director: Jared Hess


Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties


Releasing: 16 June 2006 (wide)
Cast:  Jennifer Love Hewitt, Breckin Meyer, Lucy Davis, Billy Connolly, Ian Abercrombie
Director: Tim Hill (III)


Loverboy


Releasing: 16 June 2006 (limited)
Cast:  Kyra Sedgwick, Matt Dillon, Oliver Platt, Marisa Tomei, Campbell Scott
Director: Kevin Bacon


Wordplay


Releasing: 16 June 2006 (limited)
Cast:  Will Shortz, Merl Reagle, Jon Stewart, Ken Burns,  Indigo Girls (II)
Director: Patrick Creadon


The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green


Releasing: 16 June 2006 (New York/Los Angeles)
Cast:  Daniel Letterle, Dave Monahan, Diego Serrano, Dean Shelton, Shanola Hampton
Director: George Bamber


Only Human


Releasing: 16 June 2006 (New York)
Cast:  Norma Aleandro, Guillermo Toledo, Maria Botto, Mariana Aguilera, Fernando Ramallo
Director: Teresa de Pelegri, Dominic Harari



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Wednesday, Jun 14, 2006

More on “music intelligence.” While music intelligence has obvious uses on the production side—sorting out talent, honing product—it seems to have even greater application as a filter and facilitator for music consumption. As I mentioned yesterday, this is the premise of Pandora, the online service that offers you new music based on its analysis of the bands you tell it you already like. Input “the Beatles” and recieve a stream of reasonably Beatlesque tunes from bands you might not have known about otherwise. I’d expect these services to move beyond using other bands as criteria and expand into accomodating other needs. You tell it you are angry, and it plays Fear and Minor Threat; you are lonely, and it starts streaming Gilbert O’Sullivan. Perhaps the interface would ask you questions to gauge your mood and then start providing appropriate music based on its assessment of your state of mind.  Just as Muzak provides music meant to create predesigned aural atmospheres, your computer could be striving to do the same for you as you work, with songs from your own iTunes library; in fact, I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Muzak corporation develop this software based on its own research into the subject, its own extensive cataloging of what music is suitable to which feelings. People may already tag songs in their personal collection according to how it makes them feel; music intelligence could automate that process and make one’s music library a searchable emotional database, a sensorium immediately responsive to one’s cues and capable of providing a suitable entertainment environment. If your mood calls for music you don’t already own, the software could thoughtfully direct you to the means for remedying that oversight. It could be the perfect selling tool in that it would anticipate how you feel and offer therapeutic pop-culture product as medicine—thus allowing the ailing music business to jump on the health-care bandwagon to megaprofits. Linking music to mood will allow entertainment to become more overtly like the pharmaceutical industry (we already discuss blockbusters in both industries); music intelligence is like a drug company’s R&D. To keep creativity alive we’ll have to struggle to discover off-label uses.


It just seems like technology will ultimately make culture much more instrumental—we’ll bring needs to it and expect them to be fulfilled rather than having culture help us find new desires and interests. The Internet is often characterize as a place we drift, but search technology will make it more a place that is responsive rather than random—paradoxically better search may limit what we experience rather than open up new vistas—it can assure that nothing that offends our sensibility slips through. We can personalize the information we receive to a degree where it consistently suits us but never surprises us, just as Muzak is supposed to do. As we surround ourselves with intellligent machines, it will become harder and harder for us to preserve a sense of spontaneity. We’ll become like the machines ourselves, which are famously incapable of generating a random number.


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Tuesday, Jun 13, 2006
by PopMatters Staff


Futureheads
“Skip to the End” [MP3]
multiple songs [MySpace]
PopMatters review: News and Tributes
PopMatters review: Futureheads
PopMatters interview: Back to the Future


Futureheads - “Skip to the End” [video]


Lily Allen
mixtape” [MP3]
“Smile” - Lily Allen on Top of the Pops [video] [YouTube]


Lily Allen - “Smile” Uncensored Version [video]


Francine
“Connectionless” [MP3]
PopMatters review: Airshow


Ane Brun
“Song No. 6 (featuring Ron Sexsmith)” [MP3]


Ane Brun - “Song No. 6 (featuring Ron Sexsmith” [video]


Evangelicals
“Here Comes Trouble” [MP3]


Zoppo
“Relapse” [MP3]


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