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by Joseph Kugelmass

4 May 2009

“There’s a new Dylan album coming out,” my father announced, at the end of our weekly conversation.

“Have you heard any of the songs?”

“No. It’s supposedly an album of love songs.”

For me, growing up amidst the ‘60s hangover of small town Northern California, Bob Dylan was always one of those artists whose work provided a bridge back to the lost Eden of the ‘60s. He never seemed to date himself or to become a novelty: his classic albums were always digressive and angry enough to keep their relevance and cool from one generation to the next.

Thus, when Dylan began his mighty comeback with Time Out of Mind, I bought it right alongside albums by Radiohead, Pavement, and Tori Amos. I’ve followed him fairly closely ever since, and, like parents and friends, I’ve taken an interest in the new Dylan books and films, including Chronicles, I’m Not There, and Scorsese’s No Direction Home.

by J.M. Suarez

4 May 2009

There are plenty of reasons why Chuck is currently on the verge of cancellation. Its location on Monday nights leading into Heroes was supposed to be a great idea, but as Chuck began its first season, Heroes embarked on what would go on to be a universally derided sophomore slump of a season and unfortunately, Chuck seemed to be one of its casualties. In addition, the series has had to contend with the Dancing With the Stars juggernaut, the very established House, and CBS’s run of successful half-hour comedies. 

What should be just as obvious as all the obstacles facing Chuck in the ratings war is that this is a series that has managed to meld comedy, drama, romance, intrigue, and action with just the right balance to keep the story fresh and the audience it does have invested. This season’s final two episodes showcased brilliantly just how deftly it’s kept all these elements alive while creating a story with just as much over-the-top silliness as subtle emotional depth to keep fans rooting for its return. Oh, and there’s also that cliffhanger it ended on.

by Lara Killian

3 May 2009

Sometimes there’s just nothing like a dog-eared hand-me-down copy of a dusty science fiction story to spice up your leisure reading for a day or two. Seeing an ‘80s-era paperback in a friend’s hands recently I inquired about it and was told that it was a borrowed copy of one of another friend’s all-time favorite books. Naturally I got myself put on the next-in-line list.


The book is Robin McKinley’s 1982 The Blue Sword and it’s a classic coming of age story coupled with some pioneer rhetoric where the native ‘Hillfolk’ possess a bit of magic and a whole lot of amazing horsemanship, while outposts of barracks-inhabiting invaders attempt to hold the border with their inferior attitudes about property-ownership. Naturally these ‘Outlanders’ don’t believe in magic.

Harry is a young Outlander woman living at such an outpost, and after a run in with the king of the Hillfolk, come to parlay with her hosts, she finds herself uprooted and suddenly thrown into an adventure she has no control over. The same magic that protects the Hillfolk from discovery deep within their mountains has chosen Harry as an integral part of the fight that is to come between the Hillfolk, the Outlanders, and the inhuman Northerners who threaten all of them.

McKinley tells a great story, and it’s always fun to live vicariously through a character who turns out to have untapped strengths and also to be suspiciously quick to learn a foreign language as well as to master the art of fighting from horseback. Don’t we all wish we could do those things? Harry is supremely likable, however, and constantly questions her place in the coming fight. She has a role to play that none can foresee, and the fact that she is a foreigner in the Hillfolk’s midst complicates the part she finds she must play.

Consider asking a friend this week about any dusty classic favorites they keep tucked away in a corner bookshelf. Especially the ones you have never heard of. One hundred reviews over at Barnes & Noble give this book five stars, while almost three hundred at Amazon add up to a solid 4.5 stars out of five. It has been reissued every few years for almost three decades. If your friend is willing to entrust their treasured copy of a favorite story to you, you might find a new favorite yourself. Let me know if you find any gold mines.

by Jason Gross

3 May 2009

You might be sick of all the chatter about Twitter but beyond the Oprah/Ashton hype, it’s definitely worth mulling over, even in another medium like a blog.  In fact, talking about Twitter here is a good way to point out some of its strengths and pitfalls.

For Twitter’s strengths, what do Spin, the Village Voice and the L.A. Times have in common?  They’re all on Twitter of course but they’re also using it not just to post info about what’s new and upcoming in their publications (which is good promo) and some breaking entertainment news but also for concert reviews.  (Note: I occasionally write for the Voice and Spin)

Last night alone provided a lot of show tweets. Spin had details about an Atlantic City gig for No Doubt (“Tiny room! It’s almost bar mitzvah sized!” and “Gwen… dancing to Sublime at afterparty”) while the Village Voice’s live blog Sound of the City covered another big show (“If your armpits smell, you should not be at the Bat for Lashes show”).  Meanwhile, Ann Powers of the L.A. Times was also out, covering a show by Robin Thicke and Jennifer Hudson: “Thicke does know how to bump n grind! My my the girls in the front are fanning themselves!”

The advantages here are obvious.  You’re getting real time coverage of the show and not having to wait for the review to get published in the print edition the next day or appear on the website hours later (which means the middle of the night), if that.  There’s something special about hearing the details of a show as it happens that conveys the whole excitement of a live event.  Also, you can get filled in immediately about a show that you couldn’t make it to or get pumped up about a show that hasn’t reached your town yet.

I got caught up in it myself when I went to see the Dead at Madison Square Garden last weekend.  Unlike Spin/Voice/Powers, I made the mistake of not showing enough restraint in tweeting, actually doing it a few dozen times, which I don’t recommend.  I enjoyed filling in people with ongoing details about the show (set list, the crowd), but when you’re doing it at that kind of pace, you’re bound to trip up on details and facts- one downside to immediate live coverage is that you don’t always have a chance to edit or fact check right away.  I found that out when I flubbed some dates and part of the set list.  When writer Ben Lazar was tweeting from a Springsteen show last week, he was actually relieved when he couldn’t report anymore- “I’m actually glad the phone died - it allowed me to concentrate fully on the show instead of partly on what I’d tweet.”

But another problem with live tweeting is that while you can pull off lotsa good one-liners, finding out something poignant and thoughtful to say there ain’t easy.  It’s not just the restraint of 140 characters at a time but also coming up with bon mots quickly and succinctly (which is why I think Twitter will supplement and not replace live review articles in pubs).  I’ll have more to say about cramming in hefty ideas into a tweet in my next blog post here, where I talk about some interesting and instructive arguments and discussions I’ve had on Twitter.

One piece of advice to anyone who’s doing a bunch of tweets for a live show.  Use hash tags (#) to group your posts.  It helps to give some context to what you’re talking about without having to repeat the subject in each tweet and it’s easier to find your group of tweets in one place this way.  There’s some good advice about how to use them at this blog.

by Jason Gross

2 May 2009

With over 100,000,000 online views of her video, who isn’t moved by the story of Susan Boyle?  Suddenly, it seems that after her performance last month on Britain’s Got Talent, this 48-year-old, ‘plain looking’ church volunteer Scot was an instant celebrity when she wowed everyone with her soaring rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream.”

Boyle does indeed have talent but how much of a coup was this really?  As blogger polyannacowgirl noted: “Is it really that noteworthy that an unattractive woman can sing, and has the confidence and desire to share her voice? People are behaving as if a dog performed open-heart surgery, and I find that pretty alarming.”

In the context of the show, it is kind of surprising, on the surface.  BGT is produced by Simon Cowell’s company SYCO (without the P).  Cowell you know from another little franchise he has called American Idol.  On a show like Idol, someone like Boyle would be a laughable novelty like William Hung.  You might remember WH as he was also made famous by a Cowell franchise (Idol) and has more in common with Boyle than you think.  Hung was someone who should have been screened out because he ain’t no singer (to put it mildly).  Instead, he was put on the show as a cute distraction- the guy was lovable but he had a crappy voice.  Because of that, he became an instant celebrity and got a record contract, releasing three albums.  Cowell knew how to milk the novelty of the guy well.

//Mixed media

Because Blood Is Drama: Considering Carnage in Video Games and Other Media

// Moving Pixels

"It's easy to dismiss blood and violence as salacious without considering why it is there, what its context is, and what it might communicate.

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