Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Days-off-o'sphere.

Having a few days off, either impromptu (due to frikkin' swine flu) or promptu (as today technically was, although I still feel like a landed jellyfish with a sore throat), teaches me that it really is impossible to OD on teh internets. I know I'm only processing about 70% as fast as I normally do, but good old interwebs have produced the usual abundance.

I had a sketchy WinTV file from MTV that had missed its timepoints (due to MTV not broadcasting on its published schedule) and was slathered in ads. I don't have Video Re Do and I've never gotten Adobe Premiere Pro to even get out of bed and look like it might be able to find its high heel sneakers - so I downloaded Sony's Vegas Movie Studio on free trial and spent two hours trying to bend it to my will by staring hard at its GUI and demanding each part do what I wanted it to do, without reading the (nonexistent) manual. Didn't quite work out so smooth, but I got somewhere, and I now have the MTV file put back together in one piece and Vegas is cheerfully rendering it into something I probably don't want (MPEG-2 for NTSC?) in the background, while I:

Download some really fun sounding party mixes of music I already have from a fansite I frequent. Megaupload, often a complete bear, let me download all three massive zip files without delay.

Download some musical fun stuff I don't have and couldn't buy legitimately, for trial purposes.

Browse about a dozen Flickr accounts for Dead Weather pictures, some of which are astonishing, but I can't reproduce here because they're under copyright, but my, are they good. Take my word for it. That backdrop alone is a work of art. And of course, I can save them all, because Flickr may disable right-click-save-as but has no defense against PC tricks like print-screen-paste-graphics_program.

Search for Video Re Do, which is what I think I really want (does not re-code video if all you are doing is snipping out ads, just sews it back together, saving hours), but actually costs $20 more than the complete editing suite that is Sony Vegas. Does not having to re-code result in better quality videos? I don't know! I need moar days off surfing teh interweb to find out!!

Download about 40 high quality YouTube videos of The Dead Weather using Orbit Downloader (my fave, although friends swear by the more versatile Bit Recorder) so fast that I haven't actually seen them all. Need moar days off to watch what I've actually captured!

I saw my stockbroker today. He's about 20 yrs old, maybe less, still in the first-good-suit phase of life. I was there to ask him about investing for the future. He showed me the way around his firm's excellent website, all actually working and stuff, with no 404s or Flash intros and no-stylesheet comic sans pages with marching ants. Great site. Technically I could just go from there and plan my retirement. And when I do retire, I'll be able to spend moar time on teh internets!

Ooh, Sony's Vegas is 94% percent through rendering my video. Gotta go.

Health Care Reform

The papers today say that Obama's universal healthcare plans are foundering, which is a son of a bitch. I was looking forward to universal healthcare. Every country in the civilized world has it, except for the US. The one I came from, Britain, does, and spends a lot less per person than the US does for its supposedly optimized-by-the-free-market private system.

If you're worried about "rationing", rest assured it already goes on in US. Everyone who has no insurance has their health care "rationed" to the amount of cash they have in their pocket. For some reason no-one seems to mention that 45 million Americans have healthcare rationed this way. Even those in the US who have insurance are, of course, rationed. Most insurances have maximum yearly payouts, and most insurances have lists of 'experimental' drugs and procedures they will not pay for. Those who love scaring people by saying that a European country would not give a drunk a liver transplant are obscuring the fact that a US insurance company often will not give a drunk a liver transplant either. Livers are scarce - it's not like there's a warehouse full of them in Poughkeepsie and if only the meanie on the security desk would let you in, you could go grab one off the shelf.

The costs of government-provided healthcare are far lower than private, too. In 2006, the US spent 6,714.0 per capita and the UK spent 3,361.0 per capita. Don't know where this strange fantasy comes from, that people working for profit - to pay their shareholders a divided and keep their stock price high - will do something more cheaply than people working in a non-profit. It's not even logical. Paying the CEO $124 million a year also might eat into the amount available for caring for the sick, too, don't you think?

What really chaps my ass, as they say here, is the fact that insurance companies, being the 800lb gorillas, make part of their profit by not paying providers enough to perform the procedures. The providers then carve enough money to live on out of the hide of the uninsured. Here's some facts and figures I know well, because they're *my* facts and figures.

In 2006, I had a cancer operation. The hospital, which apparently has a billing section staffed by hallucinating wallabies, sent me the 'uninsured person's bill', about $27,000. I sent it back with a note to the wallabies to shape up, and they billed the insurance instead. The insurance paid $2,118 and asked me to co-pay $250.

The hospital wrote off the other $24,000+.

Later that year I had reconstructive surgery. The hospital's first bill was for $29, 550 (approx.). The insurance this time paid $1,424 and asked me to pay a whopping $356 out of pocket.

Once again, the hospital wrote off the rest, a staggering $27K or so.

Since similar operations for cosmetic surgery purposes cost somewhere around $9,000, I'm pretty clear on the cost of the procedures. This hospital spent about $18,000 on me and got about $4,000 back from me and my insurance - not enough to stay in business. The remaining $14,000 it no doubt dug out of the flesh of the next uninsured person with a blunt spoon - by charging them almost three times the actual cost of the procedure, as they tried to do to me.

This is a system badly in need of reform.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Acapella Sci Fi

Acapella, meaning "without accompaniment" has been a popular singing style for years. In the Sixties, a couple of singing groups brought acapella to the fore, and for some hitherto unexplored reason, put it in the service of Science Fiction. One major group in that regard was the Swingle Singers, about whom I got nothing, and the other was the Mike Sammes Singers. Their tunes were not always acapella, but even when instruments were involved the smooth and easy scat singing, a mellifluous doobie-doobie-doo-dooby-dooby-doo sound, was all over the skiffy landscape.

You'll remember the Mike Sammes Singers theme tune for Supercar, of course, a Gerry Anderson beaut.

And the Mike Sammes Singers theme tune for Gerry Anderson's Stingray. Anybody who doesn't love the theme tune for Stingray is not allowed in my club.

And while we're at it, there's the Mike Sammes Singers theme tune for Gerry Anderson's The Secret Service.

Ok, maybe it was just Gerry Anderson and the Mike Sammes Singers. The rest of science fiction probably just muddled along on the theremin until Massive Attack was invented.

Today, I came across this, and was made new again.

(Edited to improve links, 07/2017)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Cornucopia of Jack White sounds

Cover Me blog does a retrospective of Jack White's career o'covers, with a plethora of tracks to listen to and information about each one.

It covers
Goober and the Peas: Snoopy's Christmas (The Royal Guardsmen)
Jack White and The Bricks: Ooh! My Soul (Little Richard)
The Upholsterers: Ain't Superstitious (Willie Dixon)
The Raconteurs: Keep It Clean (Charley Jordan)
and many more.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Oh, and I forgot...

Sorry. Told you I was woozy. Here are other amusing things from the internets, best viewed when you have the flu and have taken drugs.

Vader and the Stormtroopers dance to "U Can't Touch This".

Somebody with far, far too much time on his or her hands (perhaps has flu?) mashes up Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit and Rick Astley's Never Gonna Give You Up and meshes them perfectly. In fact it seems eerily fun, but perhaps that is what twice the recommended dose of Theraflu plus two of each painkiller found in the kitchen cabinet does to you.

Well, it got me moshing, at least metaphorically speaking.

And here is what happens when a town's steel band tackles the local folk songs. In this case, the local folk song is Joy Division's Transmission. It's not quite trad arr. yet, but I suspect the combination of its ancientness (1979) and its relevance to the city of Manchester makes it a favorite.

Catchy, huh?

Someone from work just phoned me to tell me not to come in tomorrow - for his safety and the safety of his co-workers. Such sweeties.

Moar painkillers...

Roundup of teh internets

I have either the world's worst cold or the world's mildest swine flu, so I haven't exactly been pouring sparkling prose into the internet recently. I have, however, watched about a thousand dumb YouTube videos and laughed my way through old faves like "Cake Wrecks" (dire professional attempts at cake decorating), "Photoshop Disasters" (really dreadful professional photoshop mistakes), and boggled to the strange denizens of political wastelands who write in to the BBC's Have Your Say website, as skewered by "Speak You're Branes" (alas, now defunct - edited 07/2017).

Photoshop Disasters has captioned this one,
Fantastic darling , turn to the left , wonderful, now turn a little to the right, yes, wonderful, now lean a bit as though you are falling over, OK, lovely, OK, now fall over, lovely.

Adventures in DIY

There, I Fixed It has lots of ideas for the handyman (or handywoman).

I always used to call these cars, "The cars with the swimming pool in the back" but I'd never seen one full until now.

And here's how to ensturdify a rickety porch column.

There, I Fixed It has many more of these, most of which seem to be potentially more lethal than the problem they are endeavoring to fix, so you might want professional advice before trying them at home.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Vault unearths a new gem - Me!

I'm talking a lot about The Dead Weather and their label's subscription Time Sink service, The Vault. I was going to shut up for a while, except today Thevault (pronounced Tivo, our affectionate name for it) put up videos of The Dead Weather's show at the Roxy in LA on June 17th. I was there. Which means I'm in the videos.

Here's me.

I'm the left-mostest person. I'd gone to gaze at LJ, but the entire audience (including me) is staring at Baby Ruthless. It was impossible to take your eyes off her. Even though Jimmy Page was somewhere up at the back (which is where the band is looking).

Now, I'm sure someone is thinking, if Lyle is in the video, that means she'll rip it and put it up here. Well, no. I have a vested interest in Jack White making money on this venture so I can continue to get great videos on a regular basis. I'm not going to do anything to mess with the business model. You can join for $7 a month.

And anyway, this one is already gifted out. The show will be on MTV this weekend, it says here. That I'm happy to tell you. Alas, Thevault did not give a time. But - here's the secret - once it's been on MTV, it'll be on YouTube within two hours. I'll post it then.

Thanks to O'gal who saw me before I did.

Edit: That didn't take long. Here's the videos (featuring: Me!)

Cut Like a Buffalo

Hang You From the Heavens

Treat Me Like Your Mother

Will There Be Enough Water

Bone House

Oh Shit

Obama has made former Monsanto lobbyist Michael Taylor the Senior Advisor to the FDA's Commissioner on Food Safety. And it's rumored that Dennis Wolff will be the Under-Secretary of Agriculture for Food Safety.

Wolff and Taylor are responsible for not only bringing in, but in many respects enforcing the use of, genetically engineered foods and in particular recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH/rBST).

I'm not a crank about genetically engineered foods - I'm actually a qualified genetic engineer, though I'm not currently practicing - and I've no objection to a little tweaking here and there. But the damage that Monsanto in particular, and genetically engineered foods in general, have done to America's standing as a food producer, and to the health of American citizens, is saddening.

For Obama to appoint a former lobbyist for Monsanto to any position except restroom cleanliness maintenance officer is a sign of soft-headedness.

Here are some articles on the subject.

Prison Planet
Huffington Post

The Dead Weather - From the Basement. And Led Zeppelin comparisons, because everyone else does it

For my correspondent, Julie of the Jimmy Page Doll 360 Project, here's the wonderful and high quality on-line set From the Basement : Live : The Dead Weather.

Nice stage set, and I love Alison's clothing style in particular. Everyone wearing black, check, desaturated video, check, black amps, check. Some moron has allowed a red light to glow on their amps, but I'm sure he or she's been fired and the light has been replaced with the correct black light that lights up black to let you know when it's juiced. (I'd also recommend Jack to change his name, but since Jack Black is taken, he'd have to go with with Black Jack.)

Enjoy this for as long as From the Basement have it on the web.

Many reviews have compared TDW to LZ. I wasn't convinced, but then I've been a Led Zeppelin fan since 1971. It's not like I just looked them up on iTunes last month, and I'm very familiar with the Led Zeppelin that doesn't sound like Dead Weather. Tangerine, for instance, or about uh, 80% of their songs.

If I had to explain The Dead Weather in Zeppelin terms to a long-term LZ fan, I'd say The Dead Weather is what Led Zeppelin would have been like if they'd never met Robert Plant, Jimmy Page was a cracking lead singer in full Dark Lord mode and they had a rather prettier and more rhythmically-inclined Peter Grant on drums. (Though JW would be a Grant who never met his Richard Cole, for which I am truly grateful.) John Paul Jones in this new band would have to give up writing riffs that boggle the mind (like Black Dog, although I admit that song has a great Dead Weather-style name) and instead stick to big-ass riffs that alternate two or at most three notes from a regular blues scale. And be the guitarist/organist. And the bassist would be Lori Maddox with a flat iron, glasses and bass guitar chops.

The most deadweathery expression on Jimmy Page I could find

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

News and Weather

Work has been a pain in the ass recently, and to top that off, I discovered today I maxed out on my vacation time, which not only means that I worked overtime (unpaid) but also that I've lost four hours of pay by not accruing more vacation. So, I've booked some time off in August. Yippee!

Anyway, a couple of days ago I joined The Vault (edit: now at The Vault), or as my friends affectionately refer to it, Thevault (pronounced Tivo). This means I get to watch a lot of White Stripes, Raconteurs and The Dead Weather videos in far higher quality but far crappier streaming than at other sites, and have the benefit of 'exclusives', which are videos Jack White hasn't yet given away to some other site in a fit of gifting. I suspect that like the Q&A Video (Full name The Dead Weather, Their Oral History and Future Plans, an explanation and an apology from the band themselves) which was given away to Boing Boing, they'll all escape sooner or later. Until then, they're exclusive (man).

Normal Dead Weather.

I lucked out because the very day after I joined, The Dead Weather did a little impromptu live show for teh fanz. Everyone who got the word in time - Thevault tweets us - sat on the website to watch Jack and the boys and girl go through two songs, Rambling Man (Hank Williams) and a light version of So Far From Your Weapon, apparently while in their dressing room waiting for tonight's real live show. Cool it was, although it was possibly a mistake to upload an entire rock band through a laptop webcam attached to a 56k modem. It was a 56k modem, wasn't it? It streamed like one. It's a wonderful idea and they looked as happy as The Dead Weather ever looks (somewhere between dejected and thunderous, rather than their trademark depressed and furious). It was an intimate little gathering that combined the quality of feeling invited into something special with the qualities of neither party having to dress up and interact with other people. It put a smile on my face anyway.

Happy Smiling Live Dead Weather.

The fans failed to reciprocate TDW's unusually good nature and lobbed complaint messages about the sound and video frame rate into the chatroom. Bloody kids. In my day we had to chivvy the whole village into banding together to form a public limited company with enough wherewithal to buy a clipper ship before we were able to bring rock stars over from America. It took six weeks with a fair wind and even if they avoided being boarded by pirates [nasty] they all had scurvy by the time they landed. You have to admit this modern streaming whatsits is better than *that*. At least they keep their teeth.

I've just realized it's called The Vault, i.e. where vampires live. I'm kind of slow. I suppose all the upbeat, sunlit names like Stately Pleasure Dome were taken or something.

(Edited: The Vault moved from Modlife and its famous stream rate.)

Monday, July 20, 2009

A Technicolor Dream (DVD) 2006

The story of the 1967 14 Hour Technicolor Dream in London, going from the Beat Poets appearance at the Albert Hall, through International Times, Indica Gallery, the entire history of Pink Floyd as told by surviving Floyders and managers, Kevin Ayers, Hoppy and others, and all through the Technicolor Dream. Fascinating stuff, and as a bonus there are three original Pink Floyd "music videos" (it says here), including one of Astronomy Domine that I had never seen before. Recommended if you have any interest at all in the Underground, London in the Sixties or Pink Floyd.

Hm. It has no IMDB listing. Well, we got it through Netflix, so it must exist.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

This is England (DVD, 2006)

A surprise from Netflix in the arrival of Shane Meadow's This is England. I think I rented it because it was set near where I grew up in Yorkshire, England, and set only about seven years after. I expected it to be grim, unrelenting and kitchen-sinky (and I was right) but I didn't expect it to be so nuanced.

A 12 year old whose father has been killed in the Falklands war is accepted by a group of older skinheads. The group is all about belonging, and that's what the fatherless kid is looking for. One of the gang is a rude boy, a West Indian. The gang is knocked apart when an older "original 1969 skin" is released from jail and deposes the leader.

This is where the film turns away from the expected path. Combo, the new leader, has correctly identified that his working class culture is being ripped apart and his traditional way of life consigned to the dustbin. There's a war on, many people are unemployed and the future is dark and unwelcoming.

Deep down he knows that the architect of this radical dismantling of society is Margaret Thatcher, but he makes a common error, or perhaps goes for the easier path - blaming instead the immigrants who are 'flooding' Britain and 'swamping' his society. He's at a personal disadvantage. He has no strong family ties - no father, no relatives to take him in. He, like the kid, needs to belong, and belonging in his case means joining the National Front. As an "original" skin, he's had West Indian friends before and undergoes a personal struggle on whether to accept the local skins' West Indian member as a friend.

Of course, this being a movie, all this complexity eventually collides with awful consequences. The 12 year old is resilient and probably young enough to recover and move on. Others are left dead or damaged. Excellent acting from Stephen Graham as Combo, and many other good performances to boot.

Much of the movie was familiar to me. The clothes they wear are the same - the cherry-red DMs, Ben Shermans, Crombies for dressing up. The 'innocent' fun - smashing up the abandoned houses in the northern wastelands - was a part of my friends' childhoods too. The Falklands war. The awful life-sapping voice and visage of Thatcher that was everywhere, grinding the country into little bits from which it's barely recovered. Of course my friends didn't have strange Liverpool and Lancashire accents, but you can't expect a movie to get everything right.

Here's a piece of music from the film. Louie Louie by Toots and the Maytals who, along with Lee "Scratch" Perry, Desmond Dekker and many other West Indian musicians, were regulars on northern turntables, skinhead or not.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Lucius Malfoy in Shades.

I haven't seen Half Blood Prince yet - I may break my vow and go to the cinema to catch it on the big screen.

Lucius Malfoy is my idea of the perfect man. Here's a nice picture of him relaxing in mufti. He's with, I think, Radio one DJ Elizabeth Bowman, but for the purposes of squee, let's assume she's a witch and the mic is a wand. What sort of infernal potion shall we assume the bottle of water is?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Roxy Music, when they were young

Earlier today, I was considering writing an ode to Little Jack Lawrence - possibly the coolest man alive, viz:

--when I decided that it's always better to use a ready-made.

The first Roxy Music album came out in 1972. It engendered extreme shock, as I recall. It was not a normal record, bearing no resemblance whatsoever to Deep Purple, T Rex or for that matter The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards or Chicory Tip. The single, Virginia Plain, had all the Roxy Music characteristics in a nice digestible, chart friendly format - but was not on the album. I know people think it was; that's because it's on the CD. But it wasn't on the vinyl, which was an unadulterated slab of alternate-universe rockabilly lounge singing, with rhythm piano and lead saxophone and a raw, intense and unrockist mature passion. The sleeve notes, by publicist...I feel the word extraordinaire coming extraordinaire Simon Puxley were fake stream-of-consciousness blurtings, possibly because there was no widely-understood language to describe this music at that time.
piccadilly 1972: taking a turn off main-street, away from the cacophony and real life relics, & into outer spaces myriad faces and sweet deafening sounds of rock ’n’ roll. And inner space…the mind loses its bearings. What’s the date again? (it’s so dark in here) 1962 or twenty years on? Is this a recording session or a cocktail party? …on the rocks, please…where’s the icebox?... oh! now! that is… so cool… (there’d been rumours, of course, nothing certain, but the suggestion of truth). musicians lie rigid-&-fluid in a mannerist canvas of hard-edged black leather glintings, red satin slashes, smokey surrounding gloom… …listening to the music re-sounding, cutting the air like it was glass, rock 'n’ roll juggernauted into demonic electronic supersonic mo-mo-momentum – by a panoplic machine-pile, hi fi or sci fi who can tell? Wailing old time sax, velvet/viscous, vibrato/vicious or ensemble jamming ( & more)...synthesised to whirls and whorls of hard rock sound...mixed/fixed/sifted/lifted to dirving, high flying chunks and vortices of pure electoring wow-gyrating, parabolic, tantalising etc (Simon Puxley)
In fact, there was too much passion for me. I ran out and bought the record as soon as it came out but spent a long time growing into it. The vulnerability and melancholy can still get to me today, even with 38 years of armor grown solidly into place around. At the time, Black Sabbath's Paranoid was about as emotionally mature as I could get in my music. (I kid of course; a Led Zeppelin fan wouldn't have been caught dead listening to Black Sabbath. Tch.)

Two tracks in particular stand out on Roxy Music for me - 2HB and the sublime If There Is Something.

Ignore the first verse and the obligatory guitar break. After that, the music drops into Big Melancholy and Bryan Ferry's vocals get ragged and charged with emotion. That's the part I'm thinking of as the ode to LJ; and then come wind instrument solos that make the standard rock band's guitar solos sound as deep as a monkey playing a banjo. And at last the long yearning call and response to the fade. Mighty stuff.

Pop groups didn't do it before this album, and they don't do it now, either. You have to buy this one to hear it.
I've forgotten why I need an ode to Jack Lawrence.
Oh, I remember. In an interview with Clash Music, the interviewer asks about albums leaking on to the internet before the release date, and LJ says,
Jack Lawrence: I just don’t... I just can’t find an answer in my head, or talk to anyone and get an answer, but why do people want to ruin the surprise? What is the big deal? Why do they need to know? A surprise is good. It’s nice to be surprised. Just let us surprise you.
Hear hear. I waited until the day Horehound was released to listen (to my downloaded mp3 copy, because it'll take three days in the mail before the CD gets here). It was tough but I made it.

TDW Updates

I've updated the post on the short Dead Weather film Treat Me Like Your Mother to include the credits, courtesy of The Inspiration Room.

Here's where to listen to The Dead Weather's picks on WOXY yesterday and today (streaming recorded audio). They mainly play themselves, but hey, that's showbiz.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Dead Weather video on Cinemax last night

The short Dead Weather movie Treat Me Like Your Mother debuted on Cinemax last night.

I liked it. I didn't expect to like it. I was a bit miffed at the whole concept. Also, I'd seen a spoiler for it (which turned out not to be true) that I thought had ruined it for me. But I liked it. Maybe because I have revenge fantasies too, and this is a great big one. We sometimes say two people in a toxic relationship are sniping at each other. This couple are in an all-out firefight.

The Dead Weather - Treat Me Like Your Mother


There's a copy here and one of the commenters, Ryan, hits the nail on the head, I think.
Their raw attitude towards each other, along with them singing the words, work together to tell you a story that you don’t even need to see. You get it. Shit went horribly wrong and they are pissed. And now they jumped into this fantasy where they literally shoot each other until one dies. And that cigarette break was literally that: a break. Some time for her to realize she probably will die, and us to take a breath. This is Jack’s characters dream, most likely, since he’s the one that walks away. That’s right, characters. Minimalist it may be, they acted, and without pretentiousness.
I think they both walk away, and I think it'll happen again for both of them. Neither one scored a victory.

It may sound odd to say, but I liked the way they've taken care in firing in rhythm, rather than just on full auto, at least at first. A musical director normally fits the sound to the action; it must have been difficult to fit action to a pre-existing song. I love the way the sun glints through the bullet holes as the combatants finish up. The break for a cigarette is a sublime moment.

I wonder if they left the brass in the field? If it weren't thousands of miles away it might be nice to go an pick some up as a souvenir.

According to The Inspiration Room, the credits are as follows:

Treat Me Like Your Mother was shot by director Jonathan Glazer via
Academy Films, London, and Hello!, Los Angeles, with director of photography Max Malkin, executive producers Liz Kessler and Sheira Rees- Davies, managing directors Lizzie Gower and Line Postmyr, producer Rachel Curl, production designer Jeremy Hindle. The Dead Weather video marks the beginning of a reciprocal arrangement between Los Angeles-based HELLO! and London-based Academy Films.
Video commissioner was Dilly Gent.
Editor was Paul Watts at
The Quarry, London, with assistant editor Anne Perri. Visual effects were developed at One of Us Ltd, Stranger and Smoke&Mirrors by producers Rachel Penfold (One of US); Belinda Grew (Smoke & Mirrors); Paul O’Beirne (Smoke & Mirrors); Leigh Warner (Smoke & Mirrors), colorist Mark Horrobin, and VFX line producer Chaya Feiner. Sound was mixed by Johnnie Burns at Wave Studios, London.
The Dead Weather is Alison Mosshart, Jack White, Jack Lawrence and Dean Fertita.

I'll bet Dilly Gent wasn't born with that name.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Punk aesthetic and the Wall Street Journal

"Tangible" vinyl, subscription-only tchotchkes, building an on-line fan-base...The Jack White business model has reached the hallowed halls of the Wall Street Journal, which lead them to publish to such unintentionally hilarious sentences yesterday as “You can’t help but have a punk aesthetic, to rebel against technology and the way music is presented to people these days,” spoken by a man whose sales techniques are designed to force fans to sign up to Twitter if they want to catch "spontaneous" streaming video performances and take part in giveaways in on-line chat rooms on a website to which they pay to subscribe.

This is funny because White hates Twitter and says, "I don't want to give in to the digital age", among many similar quotes. One hopes Jack does not end up like the pigs in Animal Farm, "Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which." No insult intended; I'm The Man in that paragraph. I'm the one who spends all my time on the internet.

The article, which includes an excellent video and interactive graphic is here on the wsj site.

There's also a short article on his business model at techdirt.

To Hell With Forgiveness

The Dead Weather full length video premieres in the US on Cinemax on July 11th at 9:55pm and in the UK on Channel 4 on July 13th at 00:10.

Now available on YouTube
"Treat Me Like Your Mother" for The Dead Weather directed by Jonathan Glazer. The new album Horehound is in stores from 7/14/09. The Dead Weather is: Alison Mosshart, Jack White, Jack Lawrence and Dean Fertita.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Paid in Blood

Well, today I sold my blood. (Not all of it.) That grossed $180, which means about $120 after tax (yes, you're taxed on your blood). That's enough to pay for the first few months' subscription to The Vault. Hooray! Downside: I'm too tired to actually sign up at the moment. But I do have until the 21st to take iron tablets and recover.

While we're on the subject, new lobby card for The Dead Weather's film here. Called "Love You Always, " it's an example of what happens to the appearance of that font if the text is too short - increasing the size puts the text out of proportion with the film frame. Far less cool than the longer texts in smaller letters. Nice picture, though.

At the gym today, I was facing a sports TV. I usually avoid that one, but it was pretty crowded tonight. The news was mainly about someone called Chad Ochocinco, who had decided he would tweet during NFL games next season. With a name like Ochocinco, he's probably a virtual man anyway, like Lonelygirl15.

But if he's not, it's an interesting illustration of how far people will go to stay connected to teh interwebs. Nothing will keep people away. I remember in the eighties, when I was writing SF, I often (possibly always) wrote about protagonists with implants that allowed them to stay in contact with what became the web, and I wasn't the only one writing that by about a gazillion and a half. The critics called it body hate - they thought we must regret the flesh, want to denigrate the meat, be violated and penetrated by silicon, purified by inorganic, anti-life hardware.

I didn't, as it happens - I just wanted a cooler Walkman.

It's only twenty years later and even NFL football players seem to be getting with the program. I wonder if the critics would even bother to do that type of analysis any more? Probably not, as they're most likely too busy interacting with someone miles away through their Bluetooth headsets.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Jack White on The Vault

I continue to wonder if I have enough money to pay for a subscription to The Vault. Apparently I missed Jack White hisself blogging about why I should consider it. 

"Dear Suckers,Welcome to the vault. Stop, pause, breathe, and open your ears to what i’m here to tell you. You’ve been swindled! Ha ha! Why would we do this to you? Is it true? The answer; It is if you want it to be. Pleasing people. What’s it like? Someone should let me know. Pleasing fans? Is it possible? Let’s find out! Does third man care? C’mon! We who brought you the limited silk screened poster for every show possible? The record store open to anyone with legs able to come to our headquarters? Of course we care. We live to show it. And more importantly we live to share it. We wanted to devise a system that would incorporate the best of what the internet has to offer fans, along with a way to get exclusive recordings directly into the hands of people who can’t make it to shows or the third man store to get all of the limited items we produce. This place is for that fan. The community we are building here will be like no other you’ve been a part of in regards to music. We hope to have a place where positivity and beauty in music and art can be shared together as a community. A place that has content that you can only see if you truly want to explore the deepest depths of the third man records vault. The vinyl records we are producing are only available to you! That’s no easy thing to do mind you! We won’t be selling these in stores, and even if any of the songs we have coming your way appear on some other God forsaken disc someday, they won’t be in the form you got them in; the third man records vault vinyl pressing. Now all of you who never got a tri-colored vinyl of any of our releases will have something to wave in your friends faces. You can swap with that kid in illinois who has that Rob Jones poster you’ve been dying for. But most importantly, you can listen and hopefully love the music that is on these discs. They are meant for listening and experiencing. So don’t be afraid. Experience is what this is all about, if it’s not enough, no problems; just don’t reenlist in it. Hopefully it will be beautiful enough, and interesting enough for you to join into and inspire others and yourself. Without you the fans, we wouldn’t be able to make more records, so we sincerely thank you for joining this world of ours, and we hope to keep you well pleased."
- Jack White's Introduction to Third Man Records via the online portal
It starts out, unpromisingly, "Dear Suckers" and goes through a very defensive patch, but clambers out of it about a third of the way through, swells into a plea to those who appreciate positivity, art, beauty, inspiration and experience, adds a stirring admonishment to those of us who might suffer fear, and climaxes with a shout out to 'the fans' without whom 'we' wouldn't be able to make more records.

I'm skeptical of the idea that I am guaranteed my money back if I don't like it, by selling the 'tangible' items I've received on eBay. It occurs to me that everyone who was prepared to pay a fortune on eBay will have joined the Vault. Since the upfront money paid to the Vault is used to press as much vinyl as there are Vault members, the market's de facto saturated.

The only people left to buy on eBay are going to be the stupid who didn't foresee this happening. Oh, and future fans, but who wants to sell expensive vinyl to a new fan? Usually older fans like to give new fans shows for free. That's what fans do. (And why I am very grateful to other fans, who have turned me on to some wonderful stuff over the last few years.)

But it's not really the value of the 'tangible' items that bothers me. It's the streaming. For it to work, you have to join Twitter and respond to the times given in the tweet, get in front of a computer and watch a stream. Streaming's a form of DRM, and the very worst kind. You're strictly limited in the device you can watch it on, but more importantly, like no other media anywhere, you are limited to watching it in real time. It's like going back to the 1960s!

Now, I stayed up all night to watch the moon landing in 1969, but am I going to pull a sickie at work to watch a Dead Weather interview or attend a chat with someone famous?

Oh, you know the answer's yes.

(Edited because Modlife is no more, so the original link decayed. Full text of his blog post now placed here. 07/2017)

I'm on the road to nowhwere

It was off to the gym again tonight, to run on the endless road to nowhere for thirty minutes. These running machines are in a row, with the outside world behind you, so that you're running away from it, and before you , like wasps' nests, hangs a set of TVs. They aren't supposed to have sound, but the patrons have defeated the little metal plates covering the volume knobs, so as you run towards them, you are faced with sound from different channels at different volumes from various sources.

Today, the TV facing me was playing the Spike channel - the men's channel - silently, while a TV around the corner and invisible to me was showing Fox "news". This means that as I ran, I was watching UFC fighting while toad's cloaca Sean Hannity worked up a froth of stupid and pointless anger over some trifling thing that most adults can deal with silently and with due respect. It was an odd montage, then, noses exploding in gouts of flying blood while Hannity called for all kinds of mayhem to be perpetrated on various fellow Americans.

I used to be able to listen to Fox "news" and manage to find some kernel of actual fact every now and again. Now the level of violence and antagonism - not to mention idiocy - is so high that it's not worth the damage to my blood pressure. This is why you bring mp3 players to the gym, of course, and this is why highly compressed music, music that's very loud all the time, with minimal dynamic range, is essential in that environment. [1]

With Hannity disappeared, the UFC spectacle is very different. I don't know what the rules are but the gloved, bare-footed fighters seem at liberty to box, kick box, wrestle and strangle their opponents. Usually one boxes while the other backs away and occasionally kicks. Eventually one falls over, and the pair wrestle on the mat. One will get a hold on the other who will continue to kick and punch, so it's a case of one trying to strangle the other before he breaks the first's nose. There's plenty of blood but it's a curiously violence-free sport; Spike cuts from the punching to the participants chatting mildly (after their bruises have healed) about what they did wrong in the bout. Occasionally the ex-combatants hug each other. There are continuous interruptions of this type, and coupled with regular applications of the filmic effect where a few seconds of normal speed motion is followed by a split second of undercranking, the serious business of one man knocking someone's brain against his skull until he lets go of the other man shrinks to a small part of the experience. Possibly because it's the man's channel, or more likely because it's an American experience and living here for a long time is not sufficient to completely internalize the rituals, I didn't really follow it. I know where I've seen a similar thing before - in bondage porn, after the session is finished, the couple is often shown sitting together, smiling and hugging. Look, it's just a game! We're friends!

But if the take home message of UFC is that Americans don't like conflict with their violence, then what do I make of Sean Hannity? Apart from the fact that he's an elderly badger's fanny, of course?

[1] That and the fact that sudden loud sounds after a quiet passage really hurt my ears. My stapedial reflex isn't fast enough to damp down my hearing sensitivity.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Michael Moorcock and London

Mike Moorcock, Allan Moore and Iain Sinclair held a talk in front of an audience in London on June 29th. The talk was, of course, about London. David Mosely's tape is available for viewing here - Part 1 and Part 2.

It's an interesting talk ranging from psychogeography (two of them don't seem keen on the term but the replacement that was suggested, "deep topography" didn't seem to get many votes either), to rock and roll and exactly how tired a writer has to be to find words flowing from his/her subconscious to the page. (Very tired and on a deadline, preferably already missed.) They cover mythologizing, the history of comics, the appearance of war-torn London, living in Ladbroke Grove and, from Allan Moore, Northampton. JG Ballard is mentioned, as the personification of Shepperton. Allan Moore is ridiculously funny. Moorcock is erudite and impressive. Sinclair has a phenomenal knowledge of London and its history and is passionate in his descriptions. I liked hearing the writers talk about their influences and how they are inspired to write, and especially enjoyed Allan Moore's description of the way in which the act of writing about a place changes the place written about.

Thanks to JGB, the JG Ballard list on Yahoo for the heads up on the existence of the video.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Memories of the Space Age

The Internet Review of Science Fiction (iRoSF) has an article from Gary Westfahl on JG Ballard and the space race. It's called The Man Who Didn't Need To Walk On The Moon.

This month is the fortieth anniversary of the first Apollo moon landing, so I'm sure we'll see a number of articles on the subject. Covering JG Ballard is a little weird under the circumstances, as he regarded the space race as a dead loss - though he found it a very fertile ground for stories. Many of them concern crazy astronauts, dead astronauts, abandoned Cape Canaveral buildings, rusting rockets and a general air of total rejection of outer space, a sense of it being pushed in to the past to be safely compartmentalized and dealt with as history. When he began writing stories on the subject, that was an outrageous position to take. Fifty years on, it has almost come true. The astronauts have not gone nuts, though at least one - Lisa Marie Nowak - has not been exactly normal. There's a few rockets still wheezing half-assedly into Earth orbit, but the zip, pizzazz and vigor has gone. Generally, the space age seen from today seems to be more of a Taj Mahal than a great leap forward for civilization. More pretty than useful.

Westfahl seems to be approaching the work of Ballard as a fortune-teller or futurologist, though this could be the slant the editors asked him to take. I doubt if Ballard saw himself as the Faith Popcorn of the Space Age. But apart from that, it's a decent round up of Ballard's infatuation with strangling the space race at birth. He describes the corpses and monuments to the Space Age that litter Ballard's works like some Ozymandias of Apollo.

One interesting point was:
But Ballard did make one error: he assumed that humans would abandon space
travel because they were shattered by the revelations brought by ventures into
space; instead, humans have largely abandoned space travel because they are in a
state of denial about those revelations. That is, I would regard the following
phenomena as direct results of the Apollo lunar missions: a huge resurgence of
belief in the absurd pseudoscience of astrology, which maintains that the
positions of stars and planets are primarily important as reflections of, and
influences on, human behavior; [and] a growing refusal to accept the validity of
Darwin's theory of evolution by people who would rather trust in the wisdom of
an ancient religious text which explicitly argues that human beings live at the
bottom of a crystal hemisphere surrounded on all sides by water.
He concludes, although I don't really agree with him, that part of the pullback from space was a Ballardian realization on the part of humankind that Earth is sufficient to drive us crazy; we don't have to be astronauts to go mad. The alienation and insignificance we get on the surface of our own planet is quite enough for us.

Thanks to the JGB, the JG Ballard mailing list at Yahoogroups for pointing this article out to me.

Traveling Riverside Blues

Discovering something is always a joy, and I can well remember when I discovered Traveling Riverside Blues by Led Zeppelin. I was a pre-teen, alone in my room when Radio One played a few songs it had recorded earlier with the band. (The others were Whole Lotta Love and Communication Breakdown.) The insistent, lyrical slide guitar figure hypnotized me as I listened to Robert Plant sing about something at least as alien as those I read about in my beloved science fiction books. He sang about a place where he can barrelhouse by the riverside, with his rider whose front teeth were lined with gold. "She's got a mortage on my body, got a lien on my soul," Robert sang in that high voice he had in those days, "She's my brownskin sugar plum." And then, of course, "Squeeze my lemon, 'til the juice runs down my leg. Squeeze it so hard I'll fall right out of bed. [Lower, spoken:] I wonder if you know what I'm talkin' about."

Well, I did know what he was talking about - being pre-teen is no guarantee of ignorance - but the place he met her was what took my fancy. Still does, even though now I know most of the songs he borrowed the lyrics from. Even though I have most of those songs on an mp3 player that means I can hear them instantly.

I couldn't hear them instantly in those days. Finding out that the set was to be broadcast was hard enough. Hearing it and recording it on a cassette tape was a minor trial. Once I had it, I could listen to it over and over again, and I did. I don't think I ever met another person who had a copy. For all I knew, I was the only person who had listened to the broadcast, let alone kept it to secretly enjoy. For about twenty years, from 1970 to 1990, it was unreleased. After that, everybody could hear it, of course.

It's still my favorite Led Zeppelin song, mostly because of the sublime riff and the way it moves and swells and seems to wriggle with piscine strength and joy - a thoroughly riparian motif befitting a song about barrelhousing on the riverside. It's up on YouTube, so have a listen to the most distinctive voice in rock counterpointing the strongest guitar player.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Violence is golden

The Dead Weather – another round up.

Rockerparis' beautiful pictorial blog of The Dead Weather show at Cigale, Paris on June 29th.
Emelineuh's lovely photos of the same show, Cigale, Paris, June 29th.

A video I previously mentioned, of The Dead Weather touring a vinyl record pressing plant, is now up on YouTube, with a soundtrack of Will There Be Enough Water. At the end is an important message regarding how you can win a chance to tour Third Man Records. Interesting document. Weird concept.

That track's a cracker, isn't it? Far better than live, in fact. And it's fantastic live.

In other news, The Dead Weather has shot a short film (don't call it a music video!) called Treat Me Like Your Mother which will premiere on Cinemax on July 11th at 9:55 PM. The short will then premiere in the UK on Channel 4 on July 13th at 00:10.

According to MOG,

“It was overwhelmingly electric working with Jonathan Glazer on this project, which feels more short film than video,” said White. “I’ve never felt an intensity like I did on the set of this shoot. Absolutely violent, explosive, and poetic.”

“Theirs was a beautiful energy to tap in to,” explained Glazer. “You can’t ask for anything more.”

It's directed by Jonathan Glazer, the guy who did Sexy Beast, and looks to be spot on with all the pop culture references. For instance, check out the font on the ad above. It's a beautiful bit of typography. It provides an abundance of information about the motion picture it represents. It's lovely.

You can tell it's by an artist not a writer as most writers, by which I mean I, would have just written "you beautiful scumbag" because "you beautiful little scumbag" just doesn't swing. Does it, poppets? Be honest. It swingeth not. It does, however, fit the aspect ratio of the shot perfectly – you couldn't get away with any fewer letters than that in the composition. And for the foreign, or non-pop-culture people, Cinemax is the channel people call Skin-e-max. You know, that sort of channel.

Neither the typography nor the style matches the clip that's currently on The Dead Weather's site right now. (More "visuals" are promised in the days leading up to the premiere.) There Jack is sticking a magazine in a rifle, chambering a round and looking purposeful as he strides across a dry dirt field. It's got everything – gun, leather jacket, Jack White's ass, a brooding row of exhausted-looking suburban buildings, the death of grass.

Here's the clip preserved in bytes because it's bound to go away from the DW website (possibly rifling your wallet and stealing your car as it leaves) in the next few days. (Edit: I've substituted the whole film as the original link has decayed 07/2017)

The film – it says here – is uncensored (pass the smelling salts!) .

Do I want to watch rich rock stars in their mid-thirties who say things like 'overwhelmingly electric' apparently discovering sex and violence and art house movies? I found it charming at first - it seemed to be for real - but the short makes me wonder if it's not cynical marketing. It was a lot of fun during Punk to discover sex and violence, Sam Peckinpah, Faster Pussycat Kill Kill and John Waters and all the insane panoply that went on at the Scala in those days, but at the time I was 19 years old - and so were the bands.

Then again Jack was recently asked about his idea of a 'rock star'. Here he is at the IMGL premiere, talking at great revelatory length about a strategy of being silent and mysterious. It makes you want to pass him a note and let him know, doesn't it? He doesn't exactly sound like Malcolm McLaren here.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

We Made Our Own Fun, part 94

One of the characteristics of the modern day (where 'the modern day' is today, whatever day that may be) is that progress seems to have been getting exponentially faster right up to this point. It may be an illusion, but it's a very strong one. A Victorian probably felt the same way, what with electricity and photography and god knows what, an Edwardian felt the same as physicists lost every laymen when they described quantum mechanics and relativity, the Sixties saw a man on the moon, and so forth. The feeling of rising, onrushing change has recently led to the concept of the Singularity, best described in a book by Charlie Stross which is named after the musical notation for "faster and faster' - Accelerando.

One of the times When It Changed for me was getting my first Walkman. I was suited with it - I even took it to bed. It was a saltatory moment. One moment you just had record players and boom boxes, and the next you could listen to whatever you liked in the privacy of your own head. And people did - by the millions. Early on, traveling on the London Underground, the sound of that quiet ticking, the outward manifestation of loud music going directly into someone else's ears, actually got annoying. We all loved to wear the earphones. So much so that we were all softened up for mobile phones, because we'd had ten years or more in our own aural world, so what would otherwise be an unthinkable revolutionary idea - talking to someone miles away as if they were next to you while carrying on duties entirely devoted to the space you currently occupied - just seemed normal. We'd lived with the disconnect between the sound and the vision for so long that it came naturally.

BBC news, for some reason, decided to see what would happen if one of today's teens got hold of a Walkman, the drawback being he had to give up is iPod for the duration. The story is told in the magazine, in Giving up my iPod for a Walkman. Not surprisingly, given the improvements in mobile music over the last twenty years, he was not as enamored of it as I was. "My friends couldn't imagine their parents using this enormous box," he reveals.

Some of his problems should have been sorted out by his parents - he thought the metal/normal switch was for listening to differenct genres of music, which is a great guess, but you can't possibly know the real answer unless you've had experience with different types of cassettes. But his revelation that you can do "shuffle" on a linear tape is funny.
Another notable feature that the iPod has and the Walkman doesn't is "shuffle",
where the player selects random tracks to play. Its a function that, on the face
of it, the Walkman lacks. But I managed to create an impromptu shuffle feature
simply by holding down "rewind" and releasing it randomly - effective, if a
little laboured.
(His dad told him not to do that or the Walkman would chew up the tape - another thing he couldn't really have guessed at.)

In the comments, however, someone points out that a good quality Dolby tape has richer quality, higher dynamic range music than an mp3 player. It's possible that some young people will never hear analogue music again. There's worrying.

He says,
I'm relieved that the majority of technological advancement happened before I was born, as I can't imagine having to use such basic equipment every day.
By definition, of course, the majority of technical advancement takes place before you're born. I wonder when he'll feel the accelerando kick in and wonder whether he'll be able to keep up with what the kids use twenty-five years down the line?


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