CMJ 08 – Gringo Star, the Ruby Suns, the Ettes

From the weirdly spacious, supercool white asymmetrical box of the Red Bull Space to the sweaty firetrap of the Delancey – here’s my first night of CMJ.

btw: music PR apparently floats on an ocean of Red Bull. Who ever needs purchase the stuff? It floweth like a mighty stream. The slender, shapely iced coolers full of the tingly, energizing Eurobeverage are discreetly available everywhere from the press area of McCarren Pool to the (okay, unsurprisingly) Red Bull lounge.

The crowd is sparse, perhaps reserving judgment lest they appear even faintly uncool for a second. But Gringo Star, an immensely likable quartet from ATL, thaws a few hipsters at the show, which essentially is the start of the whole five-day CMJ shebang. Gringo Star’s exuberant indie rock moves along at a great pace, subsuming Beatlesque refs and riffs, Southern pop, and Leone/Morricone references at high energy as three of the musicians circ among drums, guitars, and keyboards. They are surprisingly tight – no sloppiness despite the personnel rotation.

”]Gringo Star on stage at Red Bull Space
Gringo Star on stage at Red Bull Space [photo courtesy http://www.twi-ny.com]

Next up, cross and downtown: the New Zealand showcase in the basement of the Delancey. Say what I will about the low-temp, low-white-couch, high-ceiling, and low-energy Red Bull space (which isn’t even a public concert space) at least it allows attendees to see and hear the musicians. Many blocks east and south, the long, narrow, basement Delancey is about 80 feet long and 12 feet wide, ensuring that only the first, say, 20 fans in front can actually see the band. The ceiling, featuring a welter of jury-rigged wiring, hanging pipes, junk chandeliers, and dripping condensation, features a couple square yards of egg-crate foam over the stage in some kind of confused acknowledgment that there might actually be such a thing as acoustics. (Can you say “Great White” btw?)

No matter, the Ruby Suns, a guy (Ryan McPhun, Californian) and girl (a Kiwi, Amee Robinson) from Auckland, NZ, are whipping up the crowd with a drum pad, drum kit, guitar, and samples. Their indie pop swirls wistful arpeggios, snatches of melodies, layered vocals, etc. over every rhythm in the drum kit from calypso to steel drum to electronica – but it all goes by so quick and changes up so rapidly, the overall effect is pretty and charming. Music to play at work – wait. . . their song “Oh Movaje” is the theme in the WINDOWS VISTA commercial! Okay. check.

”]Ryan McPhun and a female Ruby Sun at the Delancey. Please note the ceiling (shudder).Ryan McPhun and a female Ruby Sun at the Delancey. Please note the ceiling (shudder) [photo courtesy http://www.twi-ny.com]

Rhys Darby (the actor who plays the band manager on Flight of the Conchords) emcees the end, then the stage clears (cumbersomely, since there is no side or backstage, and the musicians have to lug each instrument up and back thru the crowd). Next up: the Ettes, (replacing the originally announced Fresh Kills), whose lead singer Coco channels the Yeah Yeah Yeahs pretty exclusively while Poni, the incredibly hot female drummer, channels every male in the place to their knees, mesmerized by her 1) hot drumming 2) hot-ness 3) hot, mobile, supple, and extremely large lips.

”]OMG that drummer is so hot!
OMG that drummer is so hot! [photo courtesy http://www.twi-ny.com]

Say no more. Well, they were quite good, but every song sounds the same, and tho’ there were a few Ramones riffs in there, they could do with a variation in pace every once in a while.

Wants and Needs – art in the age of The Secret

My new favorite art site: Wants for Sale

Two nyc artists, Christine and Justin, started painting pictures of things they wanted. Visualizing, them, as it were, on canvas. Then they started selling those paintings for the exact price of that item. And voila, the item manifests.

They painted an iPhone; they sold a painting of an iPhone for $432. They got an iPhone.\

They wanted a slice of pizza; they sold a painting of a slice of pizza for about $3.00. They wanted the rent, a check for $1,056.07; they sold a painting of a rent check, and got exactly $1,056.07 for it.

They assign an arbitrary value to a painting = to what the image depicts. Each painting is about the same size, same style – what makes one worth $12.70 (buffalo wings) and another $1,000+?

The image = the reality. The Secret in action? Or the postmodern art market.

If I’m a collector, is the rent check painting worth more than the pizza painting? Not necessarily; the pizza is the earlier work, after all.

What value do we project on things? What web of interdependent wants and needs throws up this projection on a blank canvas, as it were?

Christine and Justin got the rent, after all. What’s real? What’s value? Do we make ALL this money stuff up?

And the subject of their painting is the actual object that they want. Can’t help but remind me of Ovid’s retalling of the original Greek myth of Pygmalion, the sculptor who scultped a woman so beautiful he fell in love with her; upon fervent prayes to the gods, she came to life and stepped into his arms.

So Christine and Justin’s iPhone materialized out of the canvas and stepped into their pocket. Making pictures or art into reality has long been a pattern–or a want–stuck in the patterns of the human brain. Look at the caves of Lescaux! Want a bison? Paint one and you’ll get one.

I would buy the iPhone painting. But I maybe I’ll just put an image of the iPhone painting. On my iPhone.

Like Butthead, who wanted to put a tattoo of a butt. On his butt.

Now there’s some postmoderism for ya.

Vroom! Viacom (& Simon & Schuster) vacuums up more rights

Today’s news marks a troubling grab for content rights in the book world — by one of the biggest players.

New book contracts from Simon & Schuster (a Viacom company) now stipulate that once an author sells book rights to Simon & Schuster (S&S), the rights are theirs forever – until the copyright runs out. Even if S&S lets the book go out of print. Even if they refuse to print and sell it.

Background: Authors own their writing. When they sell a book to a publisher, they sell only the rights to print and distribute that book. They own the copyright; they basically lease the printing and publishing rights to the publisher. When demand diminishes and a publisher does not reprint or supply copies to bookstores, the book goes out of print and the author gets the rights back. The authors can then sell it to another publisher or print it themselves. Let the free market rule! Let authors control their work.

But not if Simon & Schuster (S&S) has its way!

S&S claims that as long as they have the ability to make a digital copy of a book available to a potential buyer, the book rights stay with them, even if the book is nowhere available in physical form any more.

Why would S&S not want to sell books if there was demand? Cause there is not ENOUGH demand to justify the costs of printing. Why the hell does Amazon do such a big business in used copies of out-of-print books? There are TONS of titles people want that are just too expensive for big publishers to keep in print. But smaller publishers, with smaller overhead, can do just fine with them. They can work on a smaller profit margin.

Authors are freaking. They are ENRAGED. Agents are freaking. Less money for them! Lots o’ insidery coverage in
Galley Cat and Jim Milliot’s excellent summary in Publishers Weekly’s daily feed for the interested.

S&S is part of Viacom, one of the DUMBEST media groups out there when it comes to dealing with new technology. Witness their suit against Google/YouTube. They pulled all their MTV, Nickelodeon, etc. content off YouTube – even stuff they didn’t really own! They sued for copyright infringement — even tho’ the YouTube clips were basically free advertising.

Viacom seems stuck in one model and one model only: it’s MINE. i OWN it. TOTAL CONTROL.

Rather than use new technology in innovative ways, Viacom uses it to reinforce restrictive, rigid, old-model ways.

And I see this as a very, very bad thing for book publishing.

Viacom would have the power to keep authors’ books unavailable basically forever if Viacom deemed them unpopular or unprofitable. Based on greed, that’s capitalism. Were it based on politics, that’d be scary.

The possession of total control is easily subject to abuse of that control.

Decentralized, clearly limited authority – to publish, to print, to communicate ideas widely – is a very good thing for the free thought. And free markets.

And freedom, in general.

Taking more rights from creators and awarding them to corporations just isn’t a good thing. And it’s happening more and more, in ways both subtle and gross, both widely reported (Viacom v Google) and underreported (S&S v Authors Guild).

Keep your eyes open people. Watch the rights dissappear.

nyc street art – a plague of frogs!

a plague of frogs this morning, 15 May, on 28th St and Lexington Ave.!

there were a bunch of flies like these on 36th and 2nd, ’bout 3 weeks ago

they are very nice frogs. they seem sort of Japanese to me?

or maybe they are just a marketing ploy

whatever: frogs 12, ads 0, per me!
anyone know the truth? give a shout.

meta metric music mags, my a**

LIVE show time again in my house – woo-hoo! Going to see three shows in the next two weeks, & I’m back on the beat.

So to rev up, I’ve been checking out some reviews. And what should I find but two newish websites: criticalmetrics.com and metacritic.com. Both, in an earnest attempt to make sense of what can seem like the 20-foot-diameter pipe of information that threatens to blow us out of our computer chairs daily anyway, compile reviews and music recommendations. Into two neat sites. Critical Metrics tabulates how many times a new song is mentioned; metacritic.com checks out how many reviews are positive vs. negative – it’s rottentomatos.com for music, via megalith CNET.

Neat bits of quantitative stats on qualitative stuff. And you bet they try for kudos on their visual display of quantitative information — which isn’t too bad, actually, in the case of criticalmetrics.com

I will not be using them much, tho’ I’m happy I saw them. They do answer the questions: “Does anyone else like this? Are they cool or lame? Am I cool or lame for liking this?” (not questions I ask myself too often, I have to say.)

I might wonder, tho’: “how many other people liked this for the same reasons I did?” But stats won’t answer that questions. Every taste of the musical madeleine unleashes a separate set of stories for every individual. In these meta-meta-palimpsest-layers-of-reference times, one critic likes that song cuz it reminds him of that Cure record he played in a basement near Cleveland, in 1997; the other cuz it brings back a sweaty night at Malibu laughing about how Spin mag named Dead or Alive the best band of 1980-something, and then dancing to it anyway.

One likes the dance-punk sardonic-love-song lyrics cuz they just broke up with someone they never really went out with; someone else cuz the bass thumps them at the base of the ass and and then travels directly up the brainstem to the ass-shake neurons.

Some, of course, actually review the music and not any metacontextual madeleine memory bullshit.

One critic grooves on the 808 and the brass sounds, often performing feats of musical analysis far beyond mortal bloggers (that would be the inimitable Sasha Frere-Jones of the New Yorker – for his peculiar blog, which is nothing like his reviews, check out S F/J).

Anyway, I got a kick our of seeing what publications Critical Metrics surveys, compared to my own reading list.

Let’s see: I read Insound and Other Music’s mailers, sometimes look at Pitchfork, Fader and Filter, but not Blender, quite like Dazed & Confused, Fact (ooh, they don’t have that one yet! SCORE!), and earplug (they don’t suss that one, either, DOUBLE SCORE!); I click thru brooklynvegan and stereogum, and devour XLR8R’s every shiny issue. Can I eliminate those hours with my beloved magazines and blogs and just get a cool summation from CM and meta-C?

No fucking way. I misspent my youth among the piles of Creem and The Bob and the prized NME sucking down paper and printing and bylines and design – and Critical Metrics and Metacritic ain’t music mags, no matter how quantitatively cool. I’m sticking with the shiny paper covers.

And I’m going to see LCD Soundsystem tonight – a band with a name my hubby once referred to “the stupidest band name I ever heard” – well, thanks to his geek wife and piles of paper, at least he heard it way before anyone else.

and gets to hear it again tonight. YEEE-HAH.

A blog post tomorrow, I hope.

I don’t think it’ll make it onto the metacritic list. I don’t mind. Continue reading

Will You Sue Me in a Box? Dylan, Seuss, and Letting Us Play with Their Stuff

The fabulous so-called Bob Dylan versions of “Green Eggs & Ham” and “Cat in the Hat” that this blog (when it was on myspace exclusively) directed you to back on March 7 are gone.

Seuss sues swift and sure.

Per Dan Brekke in Salon.com, “When a musician recorded ‘Green Eggs and Ham’ in the voice of vintage Bob Dylan and posted it online, the Grinch estate promptly replied: One fish, two fish, cease and desist.”

Kevin Ryan, a music producer and author of Recording the Beatles (an amazing, slighly obsessive yet fascinating tome), created his brilliant pastiche of Theordore Geisel and Robert Zimmerman’s works just for the fun of it. But no fun in the new world for the little creators.

The heavy hand of copyright law is ready for a smackdown – more and more of the time.

A lot of people who work in publishing, esp children’s publishing, knows that the Geisel estate is somewhat insane over copyright.

NO one fucks with that Cat in the Hat. NO one mocks Fox in Sox. Seems a little contrary to kind old Teddy’s mild and wacky sense of humor, but that’s the way the will worked out.

So, what’s the point here? Another case of little guy getting squashed by those with corporate money and lawyerly muscle? Another case of how the Ecstasy of Influence – the wonderful mash-up sensibility that has informed so much of the current cultural landscape – is facing increasing opposition from the powers that be?

Well, yeah.

Look at what art and even advertising we see around us; EVERYTHING references everything else. Just about anybody born after 1960 who’s made anything has done this themselves in some way, even if they later abjure ironic reference or seek totally original nonselfconscious methods of expression.*

Culturally, the hip-hop sensibility of sampling and appropriation is arguably the biggest thing to happen since art entered the age of mechanical reproduction.

But it’s getting harder to cut up the pieces and play with them anymore.

Read the Salon article: Brekke talks about the 2LiveCrew case, and lots of other fascinating stuff. He doesn’t talk about how user-created or consumer-posted content, like YouTube, is causing conniptions among product owners like NBC and Viacom, who just don’t want us to play with their stuff! That’s the basic thing I see.

They just don’t want us to play w/their stuff. Even if it helps them sell more of it. . . .

btw: Ryan’s note-perfect “Dylan” versions of Seuss are still out there somewhere – find ’em for a smile. And to pay tribute to Ryan’s loving work – he just did it for the fun of it. He didn’t really deserve that big a smackdown.

Or did he? Weigh in your self.

*see David Foster Wallace’s seminal 1983 essay, “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction,” for the starter argument AGAINST ironic reference. Oh wait, I just used a long footnote, a marker of Wallace’s style, to talk about Wallace – Help! Dave! Don’t sue me!