Thursday, June 25, 2009

"Crowdsourcing Killed Punk Rock"

Look at that! I'm excerpting a talk from 140 Character conference despite my deep annoyance with Jeff Pulver. Consider this Chris Weingarten speech a follow-on to the "You Can't Tweet Science" post. Call him a grumpy aging Twitter-hater, except most of his points are correct. Crowdsourcing kills most intelligent art appreciation, including music. Crowdsourcing is LCD because most members of crowds are idiots.

Sound elitist? You betcha. To Twitter-paters who insist that "Anything that can't be said in 140 characters isn't worth saying," I have dozens of two-word responses for you: James Joyce. Thomas Pynchon. Lester Bangs. I'd even go so far as to posit the opposite, "Anything that CAN be said in 140 characters probably isn't worth saying," and its corrolary, "Brevity is the soul of superficiality, so go long."

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Memo to Musicians from Timothy Geithner

Attenzione Artists:

It has come to our attention that failure to address the balance between 2009 releases and available lines of corporate credit has led to a useful creativity surplus, but a significant distribution and current-account deficit. Therefore, following the June 30 releases from Wilco and Tortoise, calendar year music releases will be limited to those pre-approved through RIAA-NSA-Treasury Department advance notices. These currently include, but are not limted to:

Son Volt, Arctic Monkeys, Shirley Manson, Pere Ubu, Robert Pollard (permanent trade exemption per GbV Central Dayton Free Trade Agreement), Flaming Lips (subject to irony quotient testing), Susan Cowsill, Built to Spill, Wrens, and Roxy Music if Andy Mackay participates (Eno on at-will basis). Retro acts with new works in preparation, including but not limited to Devo and Gang of Four, are urged to hibernate. Acts known to fail to meet fiscal deadlines, including but not limited to Built to Spill and The Shins, should slack off until 2010 numbers are prepared. Sunburned Hand and Ashtray Navigations are free to release at will, since no one cares and we can't catch them. Everyone else, go home.

This temporary restraining order applies to iTunes digital files, though eMusic and Rhapsody can apply for exemptions. It does not apply to limited-supply works sold through Web sites, fan tables at concerts, and trunks/truck beds/back doors of vans. Any secretly-Canadian attempts at foreign pressings will be stopped at the border.

If you are not on the pre-approved list and feel the government is taking too active a role in setting trade limits, keep in mind that the music community has been far too prolific and creative in a year pre-anticipated to be a crisis period, when all good U.S. citizens were urged to feel sorry for themselves, stick their thumbs up their butts, and whine. Your government is prepared to make good on delays by taking a majority ownership in U.S. labels prior to 2010 releases. That is all.

Timothy Geithner
Department of Redundancy Department
U.S. Treasury

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Very Rainy Juneteenth

We get told endlessly by the geniuses with Doppler radar that we're just about at the end of this endless cycle of rain, but it didn't stop in time for the start of Juneteenth. Above, Rose Harris Lytle, president of Colorado Springs NAACP, introduced Max Hale of Pastors for Peace. Below, 13-year-old Aarun Anderson gives us a history of the declaration of Juneteenth in Texas.

This was a young Juneteenth. Two more 13-year-olds were the backbone of the blues band that played all day long, Young Austin and No Difference:

Also, plenty of middle-school and high-school dancers in David's Generation:

Follow the link here to hear Blair Smith sing Beyonce's "Listen." And there were a few old folks with some talent, such as the gospel group Rev. Dennis Mose pulled together for the afternoon.

I made sure to pull off a quick interview with Brianna Frenchmore, who won the Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission's Peace Scholarship in 2009 for her work with PeaceJam:

The sun had almost come out by the time I started interviewing Brianna, and the Doppler-gangers swear to us that a sunny and warm trend will begin on Father's Day. Really. Seriously.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band

I first saw Conor Oberst in the mid-1990s in an early incarnation of Bright Eyes, when he was playing with a cellist and still in the midst of teen angst. The last time I saw Bright Eyes was at Radio City Music Hall at Thanksgiving 2007, where the delivery was top-notch but the acoustics were rotten. Soon after that, Oberst retired the Bright Eyes logo and went down to Mexico, where he since recorded two albums with a bunch of close friends (including Nik Freitas) under the name "Mystic Valley Band."

Conor and MVB opened their national 2009 tour June 17 at Colorado Springs' lovely dive, Black Sheep, and it struck me how much he and the band have morphed into rowdy Americana of a Flying Burrito Bros. or Jayhawks flavor.

Before going further, I should mention he chose two fine opening acts to tour with him: the singer-songwriter Michael Runion, who I regret have no videos of, but who offers dynamite harmonies with his cousin Sarah; and Jessica Dobson, the new guitarist for Beck, who records under the name Deep Sea Diver. Jessica has an EP out, with a full-length in the works, and here's a sample of her new material:

I couldn't begin to video all the tunes I really liked, since Conor played a long set - particularly sad not to get his excellent rendition of "Cape Canaveral." Did capture some pretty nice songs, including "Slowly (Oh So Slowly)", "Get Well Cards", "Souled Out!", and "Big Black Nothing." Then it was on to an acoustic version of "Lenders in the Temple":

Later highlights in the evening included "Cabbage Town", "NYC Gone Gone", and "Hospital"(sorry, I only caught an excerpt at the end). Before his final encore song, he said he had just seen Noam Chomsky a couple nights earlier, and Chomsky put him in the kind of mood he was in when he wrote "Roosevelt Room":

Conor heads to Telluride Bluegrass Festival for a lineup that includes Elvis Costello, Jenny Lewis, and David Byrne (since Conor's sung a lot with Emmylou Harris and she'll be at Telluride, I would expect surprises), then it's on to the West Coast for opening dates with Wilco. Don't miss him!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Twitters and Echelon and Iran and Planetary Management, Oh My!

Yes, I've avoided commenting on the Iranian elections for a week now, even after the State Department credited the always-annoying Twitter with enabling street protests. And I've ducked a lot of comments on the National Security Agency's growing problems with Congress until the NSA made the front page in The New York Times today. Then, with members of Congress expressing faux-shock at NSA, even as Jeff Pulver's 140 Character conference told us this week that Twitter will make us smart and strong and free forever, I simply melted down. AUUUGGGGHHH! Here, some related observations on all topics.

First, Iran: Obama is right that Moussavi's record as PM during the Iran-Iraq War doesn't raise a lot of hope that he'd be that much of an improvement over the lewd and rude Ahmadinejad. But the shout-mouth tendencies of the latter is precisely why he probably won the election fair and square, albeit not with the percentages claimed. One dependable tendency that applies globally is that people like dumb loud-mouthed populists more than they like democratic reformers. When the populist claims that the world is picking on Nation X, the people of Nation X will roar their approval. Funny how Kim Jong Il isn't trying this in North Korea, though his people are too cowed and starving to respond to the "us against the world" rhetoric.

I love seeing young Iranian demonstrators sacrifice all for the sake of a pseudo-reform. And it is indeed great to see them use tools like Twitter to bypass state censorship. But they can often forget that rural, unconnected and highly traditionalist people in Iran (and in Thailand and in Venezuela and even in the good ol' US of A) are often the ones that determine elections, and they like to hear strong messages from their jingoist daddy. And unfortunately, they often cheer when some group like the Basij starts cracking the heads of the demonstrators. The plain fact of the matter is that Iran will never have democracy until the Council of Guardians, the Basij, and the Revolutionary Guards are destroyed, and the clerics are hanging from lampposts. I don't see that happening very soon.

Now, to the role of Twitter with democratic forces in Iran and Gaza, and with repressionist forces within the Israeli Defense Forces and the US Defense Department: Yes, Twitter can be a tool of liberation. But, as always, the Twitter network is now dominated by messages from corporate PR headquarters, Wall Street monetizers, and the power brokers who control the large armies of the world. Just as the al-Qaeda terrorists realized quickly that they had to stop using satellite phones, those who say they are in opposition to the planetary powers will quickly learn that they cannot tweet without providing information to those that would keep them down. Meanwhile, Jeff Pulver tells attendees at the 140 Characters conference that Twitter is a tool for transforming our lives. Puh-leeze. Twitter is a temporarily-interesting social network that will be replaced by another social network soon. And its underlying technology, like that of SMS or simple e-mail, can be monitored by the good old National Security Agency.

Which brings us to the front-page NYT article on NSA. Its one relevant point is saying that few in Congress are intelligent enough to understand NSA's underlying technology. Hell, few in Congress are intelligent enough to write a freaking bill on any topic. The NSA relies on a worldwide monitoring network called Echelon, that is managed by the five members of the UKUSA Treaty, who truly are a "white boys' club": US, Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand. No NATO, no anyone else. Echelon operates largely from space on a 24/7 basis, and its default state is "on." Satellites do not recognize national boundaries. The NSA is always intercepting analog voice traffic and digital TCP/IP traffic (including email, Twitter, packet voice, etc.) on a global basis, and has to figure out ways to filter out the US citizen traffic. And it claims to "mistakenly" collect this traffic? Really? Seriously? Please don't insult our intelligence.

If there is any advantage to decentralized, short-message systems like Twitter, it's that widespread use will flood the NSA's capabilities, making it harder to implement planetary management. Unfortunately, the NSA will use that as an excuse to build gargantuan new storage facilities like "Storage Station Freedom" near Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. And Congress will be dumb enough to give NSA the funding. And US agencies will cheer the brave decentralized use of Twitter even as NSA scrambles to intercept the messages. And pundits will cheer the use of Twitter even as it is twisted around for nefarious purposes, while encouraging more ADHD-style thinking in the populace. And we will watch faux battles for democracy played out between populists and faux reformists. And little will change. And since Echelon has been around for nearly 60 years now, we can truly say we've seen this movie before. And we will see it again and again and again. And sorry, Jeff, we will not be transformed by Twitter or anything else, though we will certainly be monitored.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Custer Died for Ronald McDonald's Sins

Hats off to Tina Griego of The Denver Post, who handed her June 13 space over to the like-named Tim Giago of the Oglala Lakota Sioux tribe. Giago chronicled the short-lived history of George Armstrong Custer as a Happy Meal toy in South Dakota cities. Really. Seriously. McDonald's doesn't get major atrocities? If it hadn't been for Giago, corporate headquarters would have recalled all copies of the toy and claimed they had never really offered this giveaway. After all, there's no Stalinism quite as bad as corporate Stalinism.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Flobots Community Space Opens in Denver

I'm always writing about Flobots because I'm so impressed that they walk the talk, more than any band I can think of (check this blog's archives for more). The band runs two interlinked nonprofits for social change, and On June 12, they opened a special Larimer Street community space in Denver for nonprofits to work on social, political, arts projects. The evening began with Serafin Sanchez's jazz band:

Then, Flobots poets/singers Jonny 5 and Brer Rabbit did a welcome/thank-you session:

I talked with the new executive director Laura Bond about plans for the site:

... and then talked with board member Sarah Gill about how this crazy opportunity arose:

The evening ended with some very moving speeches from Lesley Johnson and Joshua Watkins, about what it meant to become a member of the Flobots' Street Team:

Now, even in the midst of a world in turmoil, how can you stay pessimistic in the midst of energy like this?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

No Dark Night for You, Sailor!

The June Wired magazine had a nice little article about America's favorite mash-up pirate, Danger Mouse, getting together with the mysterious Sparklehorse, and with filmmaker David Lynch, to give the world the star-studded album Dark Night of the Soul. Alas, by June 8 it was clear that EMI would not allow this project to proceed.

It's not as though this could not be foreseen. Johnny Rotten was warning us about EMI in 1977. Danger Mouse had his own problems with the non-release of the Jay-Z/Beatles Grey Album. I guess that the realities of certain projects like Gnarls Barkley just stood in the way.

In any event, this should clarify the stance taken by Trent Reznor, Jeff Tweedy, Terra Naomi, and thousands of other artists: Musicians must be a sworn enemy of their record label. The hand that feeds you must be constantly bitten. And piracy is the only ethical and moral means of acquiring music any more. Yo ho.

(This can be found, though I won't tell here. See me backstage.)

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Green Hall of Fame

Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission and Green Cities Coalition launched a new "Green Hall of Fame" in honor of the UN's World Environment Day June 5. PPJPC Executive Director Steve Saint shared MC honors with Clear Channel's Chris Brooks, in an event at the Cornerstone Arts Center at Colorado College. The three initial recipients (below) were local businessman and former City Council member Richard Skorman; Mark Joyous, founder of Global View Foundation/Earthseeds; and local open-space advocate Annie Oatman-Gardner the still from the top video is Chris Brooks, not Skorman, whose wife accepted for him).

After a cocktail hour sponsored by Bristol Brewing and Whole Foods, the awards were preceded by speeches from James "Jay" Amato of UN Association, who talked about the U.S.'s less than admirable role with Kyoto and other treaties; Carrie McCausland, the City of Colorado Springs' Sustainability Coordinator, who listed new efforts the city is making even in a recessionary year; Manitou Springs Mayor Eric Drummond (below), who talked about the many reasons why the small town west of Colorado Springs is re-defining sustainable city and walkable community; Larry Patterson, utilities director in the City of Fountain, discussing how Fountain is ratcheting up recyclables; and County Commissioner Dennis Hisey, reminding people of the important hazardous waste recycling facility east of town.

When you're in a heavily-military town like Colorado Springs, there's bound to be continuing controversy. Patterson made sure to mention how Fort Carson's 5th Brigade and Pinon Canyon expansions, currently on hold, would help the region, despite their very non-sustainable nature; and Hisey talked about how different assumptions have to drive military and industrial needs. But all in all, it was an auspicious inuagural event for Green Hall of Fame.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Leonard Cohen at Red Rocks

Leonard Cohen is 74 years old and can still put on a concert in excess of three hours, and be skipping around the stage at its conclusion. His collaborator and guardian angel, Sharon Robinson, has saved him from his embezzlement foibles of a few years ago, and he seems energized to a level that even exceeds the late 1980s with Jennifer Warnes.

Westword did a fine review of the concert which you can see here. Management was being pretty tight about recording videos, so I only did a few covertly, such as "Who By Fire" above, and "Everybody Knows" here. (I also used a couple stills from photographer Soren McCarty.) One thing the Westword reviewer didn't mention is that Cohen sticks to a pretty firm setlist, understandable given the intense orchestration and engineering of the show. The Denver show was very similar to the "Live in London" CD and DVD released earlier this year. Nevertheless, there were some surprises, including "Famous Blue Raincoat," which I didn't get a chance to record; and "Chelsea Hotel #2," which I grabbed a slice of below.

Of course, no Cohen concert would be complete without "Hallelujah," and here's an excerpt. Other crowd pleasers were "Anthem," "Democracy," "Suzanne," "Sisters of Mercy," etc. The only favorite of mine that he didn't play was "Avalanche," so I'm leaving you with a wonderful interpretation from last year, that I found on good ol' YouTube.