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by Jason Gross

21 Oct 2008

Nasty Little Man, who manages Radiohead’s affairs, posted this info about sales from their last album.

* In Rainbows has sold three million copies thus far, a figure that includes downloads from Radiohead.com, physical CDs, a deluxe 2-CD/vinyl box set, as well as sales via iTunes and other digital retailers.

* The In Rainbows deluxe edition sold 100,000 copies via Radiohead fan service W.A.S.T.E.

* Radiohead made more money prior to In Rainbows’ January 2008 physical release than its total take on 2003’s Hail To the Thief.

* The physical release of In Rainbows entered both the US and UK charts at #1 in January, despite having been freely available since October 2007.

Pretty impressive, right?  Yes but… it would be interesting to hear who much of the 3 million sold were downloads and how many were CD’s as a measure how the two balanced against each other.  Nevertheless, in this digital age, you can’t scoff at sales like that- fewer and fewer acts are able to rake in multi-platinum sales.  Even more impressive is that they could have a number one record after offering it up for pay-what-you want.  The initial impact of this revolutionary release idea shook up the biz but these sales figures should cement how much of a success it was and why other big acts shouldn’t be scared to take chances like this.  No doubt that the pay-what-you-want model got them lots of publicity and sales but the fact that they made more money this time than when the just did a regular release through a major label should give artists some good for thought and make the majors start worrying even more about how uncreative and unprepared they still are to deal with an Internet-age audience.

by L.B. Jeffries

21 Oct 2008

It was only a matter of time before I took a stab at the console wars with a satire. The trick with the console wars is that it’s a bit like making fun of narcissism in Baby Boomers. The target audience inherently does not find the topic funny. Yet one of the quirkiest aspects of the console wars is how much only gamers care about it. In several surveys with Baby Boomers on video games, many did not even understand why there was a difference between consoles. Why can’t you just stick one game disc into any particular machine? It’s not like a DVD player? Which made me wonder about how to best explain the differences between the machines and their quirks. What would be the best satire of the 7th generation of consoles that a broad audience could follow? So…uh…I wrote down the script to an episode of ‘Golden Girls’ and replaced all the key words with video game terms.


DS knocks and Wii answers the door. DS is holding a little cartridge,

DS: Momma, I just got a new release and I need you to babysit Call of Duty 4 for me.


by Bill Gibron

20 Oct 2008

It’s about time that the urban comedy landscape got its shit together. It seems like every few years, another supremely talented mofo is set up to take the high hat of humor and wear it proudly. For a while, Dave Chappelle got the chapeau. He did the best he could with it, slanting the satirical brim ever so slightly until the brain inside started to sizzle and slide under the weight of sudden fame. One quick trip to South Africa later, and the crown is looking for a new king.

Previous mirth merry men of color included Chris Tucker (who traded it in for a great deal of kung fu phoniness) Martin Lawrence (who took the “you so crazy” concept of his comedy act literally) and that misplaced Buckwheat wannabe Eddie Murphy. Actually, the SNL artist formerly known as funny has donned and doffed the cap of cleverness so many times that it has a permanent dent where his always bruised ego seems to fit perfectly.

But apart from Richard Pryor, whose genius usurps practically everything it touches — even Gene Wilder — the sad truth is that since one righteous brother gave up the title of funniest man on film, the world of the inner city jokefest just hasn’t been the same. Instead of looking for someone with this man’s style and stamina, or picking through the stand-ups for the next big thing, they should simply acknowledge his greatness and give up looking.

Like Little Richard — except without all the wannabe drag queen dreariness — he was the originator, a party record pioneer who turned his novelty-based fame into a string of films that forever fractured the world of blaxploitation. While audiences in the ‘70s were lining up for more of those sweet Sweetback’s black man’s revenge fantasies, one sanctified soul man wanted to make people laugh…and laugh some more. He also created one of the most singularly original characters in the history of the genre. The main man he made was named Dolemite, and the brazen bravado bringing him to life was none other than Rudy Ray Moore.

Frankly, all modern minority comics, as Spike Lee once said, can kiss Rudy’s rather ample rump—TWO times! Moore was, and remains at 68, a master, a randy rappin’ fool who occasionally spoke in verse (part of a comedy tradition of saucy poems), peppered his presentation with all manner of catchphrases, and practiced a kind of crackpot kung-fu that had shortsighted Shaolin monks scratching their bald heads in defensive skills disbelief.

One trip through his original oeuvre (not counting movies where he made cameos, or worked in a less than superstar capacity) provides glimpses into a guy whose personality was all about fun and fuckin’—hopefully both at the same time. He only got medieval when the man — or some other manufactured version of the cancer known as the Caucasian — came down on him. Then the prerequisite pull top can of Me Decade whoop ass was opened up on anyone who didn’t see eye to eye with this sub-genre Superfly.

Moore’s first film was Dolemite. He played the title role, a street hustler framed by a bunch of crooked cops for being black and badass. While in the slammer, pimp provocateur Willie Green takes over. With the help of an oversexed Mayor named Daley, Green aims to overrun Dolemite’s club (almost all blaxploitation films revolved around nightclubs). With the help of Queen Bee and his kung fu karate kicking biz-nitches, our man Moore shoots shit up and repeats rhyming material from his stand up act. In between there is some sloppy sex, misguided martial arts, lots of ladies dressed in polyester nightmares, and a character known as the Hamburger Pimp, whose kind of like Popeye’s Wimpy, except with a mumbling problem and a severe chemical addiction.

Moore was different than his genre counterparts in that he wasn’t looking for a moral in his movies. Unlike his prosperous progenitor, who constantly queried over the bottom line and above-title billing, Moore wanted to have a good time and give the predominantly urban audience what they wanted - sex, slang and lots of butt whipping. Keeping completely within said formula, Moore delivered his next film The Human Tornado. Returning again as Dolemite, this pseudo-sequel is just plain strange. When he’s caught in bed with a racist sheriff’s wife, the mighty Mite is on the run. He heads to L.A., where he learns his favorite spot (again with the nightclub), Queen Bee’s ultra happening Total Experience, has been overrun by the mafia. Mr. Cavaletti even has Dole’s dames providing some carnal curb service.

Revenge is a little more complicated this time around. Dolemite first hits Cavaletti where it hurts—in the spouse. Posing as an erotic art salesman, our hero humps some info out of Mrs. C., and then heads off to find a spooky old ghost house where the mob is holding some of his la-dies. He throws down more pseudo-judo hand signs, beats up an old woman in bad voodoo make-up, and even comes back to life when the bigoted sheriff supposedly shoots him dead. He’s unafraid to look the fool (new generations should take note) Dolemite is part conqueror, part dumbbell here. Between the opening stand-up comedy routine (Moore’s act and onstage demeanor are priceless) to Mrs. Cavaletti’s naked black muscleman sex fantasy sequence, this is one amazingly messed up movie.

Perhaps the most supreme example of this Hellzapoppin’ humor chutzpah is Petey Wheatstraw (the Devil’s Son-in-Law). Though it begins on a very somber note (Petey and his pals are killed in a gangland assassination over — you guessed it — a nightclub) things quickly turn twisted when Petey makes a deal with the Devil. He will marry Satan’s mutt-ugly daughter if the Fallen One performs a little afterlife CPR. Suddenly, things are back to normal, except along with a new lease, Petey has also swiped Lucifer’s wishing stick just to be a betrothed bastard. As he runs around the ghetto granting favors, Beelzebub sends demonic minions up from Hell to help Petey keep his word. But the amazing Mr. Wheatstraw has other plans. He’s going to screw Legion over, and continue his regular earthbound routine.

This may just by Moore’s masterpiece, a surrealistic sensation where nothing makes much sense, and we abso-friggen’-lutely like it that way. Today’s comedy cats would never think of featuring the ferociously un-PC mugging of Leroy and Skillet, a scene where a man slinks away in disgrace after crapping his pants, or a Benny Hill style fast cranked session of oral action with several Satanic sex-pots as part of their plot. That’s what makes this freak show fright fantasy is unlike any movie — blaxploitation or otherwise — that you’re likely to see. Moore would do anything to amuse. Petey Wheatstraw has race-based humor (when Petey’s mother gives birth, it’s a watermelon that arrives first), some strange social satire (all the weird wishing stick stuff acting like wealth-driven welfare) and some downright peculiar ideas (Satan looks like Booker T. Washington with a bad barber).

Yet after Petey, something happened to Moore’s muse. Suddenly, our stubby stand-up stud had an inexplicable and unexplainable desire to be taken seriously. Unfortunately, social consciousness just didn’t jibe with his juke joint jive. While The Disco Godfather is not a complete waste of time (it does contain a couple of Moore’s more memorable catchphrases, including the classic dance floor come-on “put your weight on it”!), it does meander where Tornado and Wheatstraw soared. Since the main theme here is drugs (Moore’s Tucker Williams is a crusading local NIGHTCLUB DJ who looses a nephew to ‘dust’) there is lots of preaching and screeching. Narcotics are even envisioned as an outlandish female demon, and Moore has his own standoff with the wasted witch.

Though the title suggests Michael Corleone leaving Las Vegas for the bright lights of Studio 54, The Disco Godfather is just not endearing. Moore is no good when he is playing semi-serious, and his acting goes from amusing to mannered—especially when trying to dive into the drama. Instead of extended his range, it ended his reign as a box office champion. He made occasional cameos (in flops like B*A*P*S*) and even tried the direct to video market with a What’s Up, Tiger Lily? style redux of an old martial arts movie (which he then dubbed Shaolin Dolemite). Sadly, today he is nothing but a footnote, a throwaway line in a stupid House Party film.

Still, it’s hard to deny what Moore accomplished. He was fiercely autonomous, making the movies he wanted the way he wanted. Yes, he occasionally slipped into the role of a stunt man for his own crap karate moves. Certainly, the self-penned love ballads he inserted in the score were as saccharine sweet as anything tickled out of Barry Manilow’s ivories (Tornado‘s “Miss Wonderful” is an amazingly arch treat). And honestly while he may have been a ladies man, Moore was a tad too plump to be pulling off his clothes to knock boots with the babes. Yet Moore’s films endure because they are funny, and filled with a kind of clever racial irreverence. The “Man” might get miffed when they see that all the villains are lily-white louses, but Moore’s movies were equal opportunity indicters.

There truly is no modern version of Moore. The closest anything comes to his style of no-holds barred brazenness can be found in, of all places, the tent revival as Christian comedy plays of Tyler Perry. Madea is nearly the next best thing to a contemporary Dolemite, even down to the collection of quotable lines. Both characters satirize and polarize the black experience, using wholly idiosyncratic means to get their message across. Both trade in stereotypes, minstrel mannerisms, and an unapologetic frankness that causes the audience to focus on not only what they are seeing, but also what it says about them as a subject. Moore was that important link (one that Richard Pryor was just starting to explore on film) between the party record mystique of vulgarity-laced laughter and the mainstreaming of minority comedy. Everyone who came after him benefited from his unyielding desire to do whatever it takes to entertain an audience—value and virtue be got-damned.

So take your Rocks and your Tuckers, hang onto your Murphys and your Chapelles. Rudy Ray Moore was first, and he was the best. There is more peculiarity, more profanity, and more outright pleasure to be gained from a trip into the Dolemite dimension than in any combination of big budget urban excuses. It is nearly impossible not to be entertained, or fall in love with, this brave, brilliant, and boldly bawdy brother.

by Rob Horning

20 Oct 2008

At the Atlantic Monthly (love the new retro nameplate), Virginia Postrel, of The Future and Its Enemies fame, grinds her ideological ax in this essay that argues we should not be worried about levels of consumer debt. The figures cited are often flawed, she suggests, and we are far too pessimistic in thinking that it is possible for Americans to overspend. Such an attitude gets prominent press play out of a desire to “moralize.”

Personal debt, for better or worse, has been a moral matter throughout Western civilization (see, for example, Tawney’s Religion and the Rise of Capitalism)—and this seems to be the argument Postrel wants to have, that debt shouldn’t be seen as a personal failing, and that debt on a national level has brought unprecedented prosperity, as measured in terms of the consumer goods we get to own and use.

The expansion of consumer credit is one of the great economic achievements of the past century. One institutional and technological innovation after another has made borrowing easier and cheaper for rich and poor alike. With each development have come fears—sometimes fueled by the unforeseen problems that inevitably accompany new practices—that this is the change that surely will lead to disaster. Yet a half century after Black’s warnings, doomsday has not arrived, the “consumer-credit explosion” continues, and most consumers are much better off.

Gripes about personal debt are merely attempts to make us feel guilty for enjoying prosperity (“Still others felt guilty about buying luxuries even when they could afford them”—horrors!), and they let the scolds and snobs of the world “paternalistically” tell us what we can or can’t have on the installment plan. Better access to credit, from Postrel’s perspective, means more freedom of choice within the market, which seems to be her definition of freedom itself—achieving the images of the aspirational lifestyle.

Whatever the merits of that argument—weighing the benefits of material prosperity against the psychic burden of living in a consumer society; assessing whether vigorously pursuing market freedoms hampers the development and protection of other types of liberty—Postrel fails to deal with a different kind of problem that consumer credit faces in our current economic climate, one that has nothing to do with an individual’s morals but with overborrowing at unsustainable levels. That there is more credit in the economy is a neutral fact, but the rise in defaults is unequivocably bad. And people are starting to default on their credit-card debt. Postrel thinks bankruptcy is no big deal for individuals:“If you default on your Visa bill, nobody comes to repossess your refrigerator or auction off your shoes. The biggest penalty you’ll face is trouble getting future credit.” But on a macro level, loan defaults contribute to the chaos we are now experiencing.

Felix Salmon links to two articles that undermine Postrel’s case. The first is a post at the Earn What You Spend blog (which has a bias, I’m guessing, against consumer credit), which points out that while credit may be cheaper and more convenient than ever, that has nothing to with whether or not consumers are “overleveraged.” Just because we like debt, that doesn’t make it good for us, anymore than it makes it automatically bad for us. The post concludes:

There are plenty of valid cases to be made for consumer credit and debt; if Postrel had written about why it makes financial sense to use a mortgage to buy a house, about amortizing costs over long periods of time, that would have been one thing.  But to say that all is well in the land of consumer credit, particularly through the use of misleading examples and irrelevant anecdotes, is bit reckless in a time like this. Credit card delinquencies are on the rise.  Consumers are overleveraged, and the chickens are coming home to roost.

The problem is not with debt as a concept. It is with overborrowing for one’s financial conditions.

The other post Salmon links to is from Henry Blodgett, who lays out the data that indicates a consumer-led recession.

the US consumer is finally broke.  For thirty years, we piled on debt and then spent almost every new penny we got.  This borrowing spree was made possible by a smorgasbord of no-money-down lending products and ever-appreciating asset prices. Unfortunately, the situation has now changed. The lenders who created those products have now been demolished, and asset prices are falling fast. And this is leaving American consumers with no choice but to cut back.

Consumers need to cut back not because borrowing and buying things is bad or morally wrong, but because they have no more money to borrow—no one will be willing to lend to them anymore if the prospects of their paying the loans back are bad. And there is no more money to draw out of home equity.

No one doubts that Americans want to spend as much as they can—they are well primed for that by our cultural norms and our pervasive marketing infrastructure. But we’ve reached a point where there may be a will, but there’s no longer a way. Postrel’s essay, it seems, is a plea to maintain the will in the face of changed circumstances, and to preemptively strike at the possibility of consumers adopting priorities other than spending as much as possible.

by Jason Gross

20 Oct 2008

Recently, the Metropolitan Opera got the bright idea of selling videos of some of its performances online.  Seem silly?  They also recently broadcast some of their shows in movie theaters.  The end result was that they got packed audiences for these viewings.  Don’t be surprised if they have good sales of their broadcasts too.

So the obvious question after this is… why aren’t more venues doing the same?  Not everyone can make it out to shows- you have a busy schedule or maybe you happen to live in an area where your favorite band isn’t doing a show.  For the millions of people in either of those boats, paying a couple of bucks to see the show might not be a bad idea, especially if it’s filmed well.  You have the bonus of saving money on traveling to the club, not paying for over-priced drinks and not having to push around for a good view of the band.  Plus, if you can keep the video, you can slow it, play it back, fast forward through parts you don’t like or see parts you love again and again.  And if you wouldn’t have to wait until it gets released as a DVD, that’s even better- even if it’s offered for sale online a day or two later, it’s still current and fresh.  Seems obvious. 

So why ain’t it done? My guess is that part of the problem is that you not only have to pay the artist involved but also the label and the publishers for the songs they’re doing.  But if the band’s got their set list planned in advance, that can be arranged too.  I was at a Lucinda Williams concert where they had burned copies of the first half of her show ready for buyers who came there after the second half but in that case, she was covering her old albums so it was a set group of songs.  The Pixes and Phish did this too for their concerts but as we all know, good shows are more than just good audio- the visuals are the important missing component.  Fans want it and some smart entrepreneurs will figure this out, make deals and give it to ‘em.

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