Quality Scribing

by Jason Gross

13 January 2008

Bronze medal: great story ideas, well executed.

Mike Boone: “Local Art Lovers Step in When Heavy Metal Turns Dangerous
(Montreal Gazette, October 25, 2007)
While heavy metal makes for a convenient scapegoat for all that’s wrong with teenagers today, it’s an even more serious issue in a Muslim nation where metal is seen as a corrupt and unwanted influence by some. It’s doubly serious when that country happens to be a place where the U.S. government replaced their dictator with a civil war full of old rivalries and ethnic cleansing. The band Acrassicauda had to hide away to Damascus for their safety. Unfortunately, their visas are about to run out which means that they’ll have to find somewhere else to go or risk their lives getting shipped back to their own country. As such, they’re looking for help in the form of donations.

Geoff Boucher: “You Too Can Rent a Rock Star”
(Los Angeles Times, January 11, 2007) [link no longer available]
One hour of George Michael for a Russian magnate’s party: $3million. A birthday party show staring Christine Aguilera: $1.5 million. A bat mitzvah staring 50 Cent, Aerosmith, Don Henley, Tom Petty, Stevie Nicks and Ciara: $10 million. A corporate affair with Styx: $100,000 to $200,000. A semi-conductor company show staring Bob Dylan: price unknown. Seeing your favorite act have to shill for a company party: priceless. Writer/editor Al Spicer observes: “Ahhh, the eternal appeal of the rock ‘n’ roll rebel… the guitar-slinging outsider sticking it to the man…”

Chuck Crisafulli: “Shut Out at Radio, Emerging Artists Turn to TV”
(Hollywood Reporter, April 18, 2007) [link no longer available]
It’s kind of sad and kind of funny that artists like Devo and Camper Van Beethoven are happy to sell themselves out since their original material isn’t making them any money. Also see Jeff Leeds “Remaking Old Hits to Earn New Money” (New York Times, April 18, 2007).

Justin Davidson: “Better Make It Sing”
(Newsday, March 6, 2007) [link no longer available]
A good story about how opera singers go through their own trials to become real divas, but also worth it for this canny observation: “...having a good larynx and knowing how to use it is helpful, but hardly necessary for stardom, particularly for men. (How far would Bob Dylan, 50 Cent or Kurt Cobain have made it on American Idol?)”

Dean Goodman: “U.S. concert business slumps despite reunion tours
(Reuters, December 23, 2007)
The problem wasn’t just a lack of high profile acts but also that Dave Matthews, Bruce Springsteen and Hannah Montana dared to not overcharge their fans for tickets (i.e. Celine Dion). That’s nice for their following, but that doesn’t help the overall business, does it?  How selfish!

Spencer Leigh: “Unfit for Auntie’s airwaves: The artists censored by the BBC
(The Guardian, December 14, 2007)
How not just profanity but also using the Lord’s name in vain and degrading the European masters were at one time serious crimes for BBC censors. That must mean that they would have loved to burn Spike Jones at the stake for the later while Tom Lehrer and Bob Dylan each actually got the axe from the radio playlists for the former. Their policies also meant that such menaces to society as Liberace, Mantovani, Johnny Ray and Frankie Lane got nixed alongside the Sex Pistols and Donna Summer years later. Of course, who wouldn’t want to be among such illustrious company today?

Marc Fisher: “Exposing Fake Bands: The Truth in Music Bill
(Washington Post, January 18, 2007)
Groups touring under false premises without any original band members? There’s a bill in Virginia to stop it, though it is a time-honored rock tradition. More than the story itself are some of the thoughtful comments following it, making a great argument for interactive dialogue. My favorite, from ‘Irony Detector’: “So is the Berlin Philharmonic prohibited from touring under that name, as none of the original members are still alive?”

Michael Geist: “Gov’t Commissioned Study Finds P2P Downloaders Buy More Music
(Michael Geist blog, November 2, 2007)
Sacrilege! How will the RIAA spin this?

Suzy Khimm: “Cambodia: Decades After the Bombs, Enter the Beatboxers
(Alternet, December 24, 2007)
The massive bombings and the withdrawal of U.S. troops that left Cambodia at the mercy of the bloody Khmer Rouge are now distant memories as almost 70% of the country is now under 18 and fascinated by Western culture. As part of its goodwill, hearts-and-mind initiative, the State Department sent this New York hip-hop crew to tour there. It’s a nice gesture, but truth be known, we won’t have a good image worldwide until someone saner occupies the White House.

James Montgomery: “Things That Suck
(MTV News/Punknews.org, July 25, 2007)
Ah, the good ol’ days when Creem magazine could be disrespectful to stars and still get access to them. That’s not how the business works anymore, with artists’ access being much more carefully walled-in by management. A shame that Montgomery’s article only briefly appeared on the MTV site, only to be pulled because as he explains it “a representative for one of the artists I singled out was unhappy—and made her feelings known to my higher-ups.” This sends a clear message to other outlets and publications who try the same thing. Not great writing per se, but you gotta get kind of nostalgic to see that kind of moxy in a mainstream outlet nowadays. Could Blender or Spin do this?

Questlove: “Father You See King the Police
(MySpace Blog, April 23, 2007)
Even if you think he’s being hysterical and that maybe a fraction of his rant is overreaction, what happened to him at the hands of DEA is disgraceful. Shame on him for winning a Grammy but not being featured in the current issue of Spin or Vibe that the agents found, right? He remembers what his friend Dave Chapelle said: “...with police, you gotta do your best job interview voice. Be as non-threatening as possible.” But we should also remember what comedian (and Chapelle writer) Paul Mooney said: “Everybody’s black now. Don’t believe me? Goto the airport.”

Ethan Smith: “Can Music Survive Inside the Big Box?
(Wall Street Journal, April 27, 2007)
An interesting but maddeningly article. Steve Jobs isn’t the only one who’s got the industry on its knees, subject to his bidding. Walmart and other ‘big box’ stores sell most of the CDs in the US and can dictate what’s being offered in their small store selection (which is just bait for appliances anyway), including best-sellers that don’t have ‘clean’ versions available. But if the big boxes are now talking about cutting back on their music selection does that mean that they’ll have less influence on the music industry?  Sadly, that’s never explored in the article.

Unknown Writer: “If a Patented Gene Appears in a Song, Who Gets the Royalty?
(Genome Technology Online, July 30, 2007)
The US government in its infinite wisdom decided to grant a patent to “music generated by decoding and transcribing genetic information within a DNA sequence into a music signal having melody and harmony.” What’s most amazing is that there is now someone greedier than the music publisher houses and the major labels.

Unknown Writer: “Music chart company urged to drop lawsuit against freelance journalist who questioned its practices
(Reporters Without Borders, February 9, 2007)
And you thought you had problems as a writer in the States? Hiro Ugaya, a Japanese freelancer, was sued because he dared to query the accuracy of a music chart. That’ll teach him to question authority…

Unknown Writer: “Rockers Cause a Stink with New Rotting Meat Album
(PR-Inside, March 5, 2007)
To go along with their scratch and sniff album, the band has thoughtfully pre-empted critics by writing their own review: “the album’s gonna stink.”

Eliot Van Buskirk and Sean Michaels: “Amplifier Magazine Allegedly Trades Reviews for Ad Buys
(Wired, January 18, 2007)
A story like this usually raises eyebrows, but as you see in the readers’ responses, it’s old news by now and it doesn’t seem like people are surprised by this. What that says is 1) it’s an old dirty secret and 2)the opinion of the media is so low that it doesn’t even get a shrug nowadays. Also, as one of the responders points out, it’s a lesson that you don’t pass along slimy offers via e-mail, unless you want them forwarded around the Net.

Daniel J. Wakin “From Lead Percussionist to Different Drummer
(New York Times, February 6, 2007)
A tenured orchestra member who’s used to the good life decides to pack it in to sleep in his van and play small clubs in an indie band. He’s either very committed to his work or he should be committed, but you gotta admire his chutzpah either way.

Gene Weingarten: “Pearls Before Breakfast
(Washington Post, April 8, 2007)
Much as we’re supposed to love stories like this, the title’s pretty condescending (as a morning commuter, I can attest that the millions of us are performing marathons just to hop trains, buses and subways) and for a paper that’s been looking to make articles shorter and punchier, this could have used some editing. Still, it’s hard to ignore the (staged) story of a world class violinist busking for relative peanuts, generally ignored by the morning crowd.

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