Saturday, April 21, 2007

Now I'm looking for the dum dum boys / The walls close in and I need some noise

Wow, what a strange, and bloody, week it’s been. That massacre in Virginia came a day after I had to answer an email from some person… Virginia…about whether Bali was safe to visit. That’s neither here nor there but it’s an interesting aside when viewed from my bale.

It certainly bought out the nutters though, especially the very vocal minority in the US (and I think, from memory, that the NRA maintains a fund to back this sort of thing) writing letters and comments to newspapers and forums worldwide decrying their fact that there are too few guns in the USA. Yep, too few 38s in the hands of the populace…the argument being that if the teachers and the rest of the students were armed then the killer would've been taken out by the pistol tottin' students and staff. The second amendment at work......Ted Nugent made the point, rather poorly, on CNN’s site today, and others, in the comments, cheered the man, whose only really claim to authority is releasing several of the most appallingly low rent hard rock albums ever made some decades ago, on.

It makes perfect sense to me. Arm the students and teachers to the teeth, so those same bullet-proof, hot-headed young men that cause such mayhem on our roads can sort out their arguments over girlfriends with a shootout. Yep, that’ll lower the carnage in a nation where the urban murder rate is 12.1 per 100,000…about 12 times New Zealand’s rate, and 5000 children under 15 die by the bullet every year…more than the rest of the developed world combined.

I’ve yet to hear a rational argument against gun control, but the tones and literacy level of the comments and letters in these forums provide a reasonable argument for keeping deadly weapons out of the hands of the authors of such.

Then there is the video of the guy, shown all over the world, and criticised for such. But lets be real, we all, myself included, have a morbid fascination with such things. Perhaps those that loudly decry such things even more so…..Indonesian television has this gruesome habit of showing, in some detail, the charred remains of those killed in our relentless air accidents…at least they are honest about the demand. And I think any footage from CCTV that exists of the shootings in Virginia would garner a massive audience. I have to admit to being fascinated as I saw it on, I admit, Fox. What did strike me about the footage was the Rambo-ness of it all. It was so fucking Hollywood. There were those of course who claimed the Cho’s look was a lift from all those videos taken of potential suicide bombers in the Middle East. There is some merit in that argument, but the point that the argument misses is that they too, in some odd way, are lifting the look and stance from that gun toting all American cinematic lunatic in the seventies.

The T-shirts, and PC wallpaper are not far off, and that the guy will find himself as some sort of twenty first century iconic equivalent of Travis Bickle is inevitable. It will take Hollywood about three years for the bio-pic but I believe the URLs have already gone. And then there will, inevitably be more blood. And the clamber for more guns, more movies, and so on....

Myself, I found some of the other student's comments on Fox almost as terrifying as the shooter's. Clearly this guy was not a happy puppy but the degree of isolation and bullying this guy had clearly endured, whilst offering no valid excuse, was scary. Remember, these are the kids that the NRA wants armed too.

Large parts of this country are very sick indeed (and large parts are obviously not..this is not a blanket condemnation ). Which brings me to the glorious Charles Krauthammer. A man more offensively dangerous it would be hard to find. He has serious blood on his hands…far more than the 32 taken out by Cho. Hundreds die every day partially as a result of this man’s cheerleading and bloodlust. And yet he still commands large sums to speak (the mainstream American right is host to some mightily horrendous minds…it’s very hard to criticize rationally even Michael Moore when all you’re aligned to this guy, Coulter, Malkin and Limbaugh) and is awarded with columns in the Washington Post and, for decades, Time. He comes across as demented at times, the logic he follows makes little sense beyond pushing his agenda. But, I bet he’s allowed a gun. Glenn Greenwald does a fine job of dismantling his hypocrisy today after his bizarre claims on, where else, Fox, of some Islamic link to events at VTU. That’s desperate, predicable and very sad.

The news from the rest of the world doesn’t seem to get any better either………..despite the philosophy that if you repeat a lie often enough it garners an air of truth. I don’t think that works anymore….especially when you don’t matter anymore. Krauthammer’s buddies seem as utterly divorced from day to day reality as he is too. Murder, blood, mayhem, rising death tolls outside Baghdad, with even the commanders on the ground admitting things are not good, and to the neocons, it’s all going swimmingly well.

What a fucking bizarre world we live in.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Mama said there'll be days like this / There'll be days like this my Mama said

Ok back to the rants...

For David Bowie, sometime mime artist, musician and opportunist, the period from May 1972 through to October 1973….eighteen months…was a very busy one. Not only did he record and release three albums of his own, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, and Pinups, reinventing himself and utterly dominating European pop; he also mixed (with some controversy but subsequent remixes have vindicated him) Iggy’s Raw Power, produced Lou Reed’s Transformer and wrote and produced Mott The Hoople’s worldwide pop-punk smash, All the Young Dudes. At the same time he was touring and seemingly in every bit of available media, and, in a way unseen since The Beatles, was being imitated and was influencing a whole generation. And just to top it off, to add some cream to Bowie’s achievements, is the unassailable fact that at least three of those albums can reasonably be said to have changed the direction popular music took thereafter (and Bowie would do it again in 1977). We can still feel it today.

Let’s call it a creative hothouse. But as astounding as Bowie’s artistic tsunami was, its not an unusual phenomena across the past century of creative musical innovation. Witness the Holland-Dozier-Holland Motown roll of 1964-66, or the similar Gamble Huff era of the early seventies; the be-bop explosion in the early forties; NYC’s rhyme revolution of 1979-82; and the 1986-87 revolution in Chicago and Detroit that is still sending shockwaves around the world. Music thrives on these short, incredible bursts of energy, which act like a scythe, cleaning out the dead wood. Without them we would still be sitting in a world with big record companies trying to sell us recycled versions of the safest thing they could possibly think of, over and over and over again. As they’ve tried to do over the past decade. Without them, to put it delicately, we would be totally fucked….

Almost without exception the little explosions that have driven popular music are artist driven, or at the very least driven by sharp independent managers or label owners in conjunction with a collection of compliant acts. They have never, not once over the past fifty years, been pushed by major records companies…with one glaring exception…Warner-Reprise in the early seventies when it was a little major behaving like an independent label (and making squillions doing it). The music industry is and has always been artist or svengali driven. The majors have always been the money making dedicated followers of fashion. And they have fought these little revolutions tooth and nail, surrendering only when it became inevitable.

And to my mind this is where it all started to go wrong. That’s where the record industry as we know it started to loose their grip, when they decided to drive rather than follow. The industry had always been wise enough to be aware of this and temper it by employing music orientated people to run the labels. Be it the Warners Communications label heads (actually WC were smart enough to buy successful indie labels and keep the music men to run them…the human assets were what made those labels what they were in the first place) or Clive Davis (perhaps the most successful record man ever, over four decades), the corporates that owned the majors knew that music was more than spreadsheets. That was what made them successful…crazy illogical passionate people. But in the late eighties they began to lose track. PolyGram (now Universal) bought, separately, Island, A&M and Motown, and in each case failed to grasp that those labels were little more than vehicles for the egos of Blackwell, Moss & Motown. None of them are now any more than logos on a disc now, with no meaning beyond a marketing department. Of course, in Motown’s case the purchase came with an incredible catalogue which must provide a good annual return, and catalogue acquisition is a major’s cornerstone policy. But in the case of A&M, they paid half a billion dollars only to close the bloody thing down within a few years. It’s a hell of a price to pay for Sting’s back catalogue.

Yes it started to go wrong when the bean counters and the career “industry” people took over and they started to rationalise. Warners, Sony and, especially Universal are all cases in hand. All are essentially faceless and really have little to do with music. As one friend, who knows, said to me yesterday, these people have, in recent times specialised only in selling people things they don’t want. Universal may make money now but they’ve largely opted out of the future. Like the others, they largely stopped developing viable acts with careers and went for a culture of quick return pop shit and endless fast buck shitty compilations, banged out with a quick TV campaign (with fast decreasing returns as that system collapsed too) for maximum return to the bottom line. An artist’s career was only as good as the last album, or single. I know of one act who had a number one single with their debut, the second was deemed too hard, and that was it. The philosophy of commitment and development they bought with Island and A&M was thrown out the window. It was bound to bite back sooner or later, and it has. In 2004-7 Robert Palmer or Bob Marley would not have stood a chance with Island.

But people haven’t stopped listening to music…quite the opposite. They simply stopped buying into the shite foisted onto them by the behemoths that the major record companies became in the nineties and beyond. In the midst of all the downsizing and panic, incredibly, what does Warners do? It signs Paris Hilton for god’s sake. Any one of those music people I mentioned before would have, and probably did, laugh scornfully. It was so bizarre. As far as I can see, Warners is a perfect example of a company that has no-one near the top who has any grasp on the essence of the passion that made them what they were….its utterly beholden to pension funds and the same boss who fucked over PolyGram / Universal. And one could argue that the consolidations, done under fear, and driven by panicking shareholders, have made them not only, obviously, less competitive, but less in touch with the reality of the services they provide, and the customer who wants that service. The bizarre Jobs /EMI announcement last week was a pointer to that, offering the customer more expensive than physical albums, with the decidedly odd carrot of DRM free files…..why would you. Don’t they get it? People were laughing at them.

I watch, with a little irony and bemusement, as the big three or four (or whatever it is this week) make themselves largely redundant to the industry they helped create. They will, I think, in the sort, rather than the longer term, become little more than holders of vast catalogues, to be endlessly recycled until copyrights expire.

My daughter, aged twelve came to me the other day, and asked about how she should pursue her musical ambitions (and she wants to be a “star” into the bargain…good on her, that’s the drive she’ll need to at least give it a go..and she’s 12 so the aura of such things hasn’t worn off yet). I went through a check list of things she needed to do…of the steps and options open to her, including vast amounts of hard work and self belief. And it occurred to me afterwards that I didn’t mention a record company. I talked about the various web options including the Web 2.5 outlets and p2p (which sits easily in the future far more than Universal, at least on the cutting edge, where it matters). A decade two ago a record company would have been a big part of the game-plan, but no more. Its on relevant on the periphery, as a way to get some CDs into stores, and in 2007 there are other ways to do that.

And that, in a convoluted way, is where these somewhat disconnected thoughts are heading to. In mid 2007 we are in the middle of a series of musical and technological revolutions. We are in a creative hothouse, just as Bowie was in 1972, but times ten, and increasingly the major corporate players of years past have become irrelevant to such. Rarely a day goes past when I don’t hear or see something that takes my breath away. But just as rarely do I see the names SonyBMG, Universal, Warners or EMI attached as any more than minor bit players. Even the music that does use their services….and I mean the exciting stuff that signposts the future, uses them as little more than a means to an end…as a foot in the door to traditional retail, or as a means to a publishing advance, and not much more.

The end is nigh and the future, increasingly, is here.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

From the mountains on down to the sea / Cool cool water keeps on coolin' me

I bought a new camera. Now I can, without one of those clumsy big plastic things, take photographs in the sea, or pool. Thus, I can take shots like the two taken whilst up to my chest in water, below:

You’ll note, I’m no photographer. Not even close...

I was hunting for coral but found only sand and plastic bags.

However like all new toys, the technology, as simple as it is in this case, enthralled me. Boys like gadgets, and I’m no exception. Anything with a reasonably sized manual, a menu and lots of buttons is dandy.

And I do like to snap…my hard drive (s) are full of thousands of (mostly awful) photographs which I assume, like most photography in this digital age, will eventually be lost to a dead hard drive or on obsolete removable media.

I’ve already misplaced god knows how many “saved” CD-Rs of photos and data, in the bottom of a box or some cupboard, across the world. But my dusty boxes of printed snaps from my younger years remain at hand.

Here is another photograph, underwater, for the ages….

Oh, and one of two dogs trying to get away from an owner set on filming them underwater…

I have no idea why I’m posting this…its funny what one does when one finds oneself at a loose end on a Sunday evening after a week of solid drinking.