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Category Archives: Opinion

On LCD Soundsystem and Starting Back Up

lcdsoundsystem

Sometimes I wonder about the state of affairs on the Internet of Things, like this recent faux-tumult where everyone has been worked into a lather about the return of LCD Soundsystem even though Murphy & Co. previously declared things over – as if anyone knew with absolute certainty that they were done making music under that moniker when they “retired” about five years ago.

Here’s the thing: Murphy is an artist. Part of my understanding of artistry is that there is an inherent need to create. The artist – whoever he or she is – can’t simply switch it off, even if they really want to. He or she has to do it. Wine bars and coffee and shows in the subway aren’t going to be fulfilling as getting the fucking band back together and making music again. It’s just not. (And the allure of that sweet, sweet Coachella cash probably didn’t hurt much either.)

Do I think all the farewell tour stuff was a cash grab? Maybe, but I’m hedging my bets toward no. I can’t imagine that Murphy was being insincere when he said he was finished. I’m just not that cynical.

Do I think it cheapens the MSG Farewell Show Sendoff Extravaganza for people who attended (many of whom were gouged by ticket resellers)? No, I don’t think that’s the case either. It was probably a cool, communal experience for anyone who was there, and while they might be a little hurt that they weren’t one of the last 50,000 people to see LCD Soundsystem perform, they haven’t lost out on that experience. Maybe they’ll be a little gun shy about final shows in the future, but they really aren’t worse for wear.

If you think about concerts, there’s always been an element of “I was there!” to any of them. No one is angry that the show happens again the next night in a different city. Any concert is always a singular happening – particularly when the artist is good at what they do.

What the hell is my point here?

I don’t know, but this seems to dovetail nicely into the idea that I’d like to write again, or write more, or write differently than what I do in my normal nine-to-five routine. I’d like to delve back into a greater music scene that has packed up and moved on without me (not that they really noticed I was along for the ride in the first place). I’ve kept abreast of some of the larger things going on, but I was enjoying blogging more when I was into the minutia of the scene, heralding artists because they were good, and not because their PR team was begging me to or because it’d be cool if a lot of people liked it on Hype Machine. (We’re not even on Hype Machine anymore. I think our feed is there for posterity, but it’s not updating.)

That’s how it starts. We start to figure it out.

[sports] Richie Incognito and Basic Humanity

incognito

I don’t have any other outlet for my musings when they aren’t about music, so this is going up here. It’s not the first shot over the bow of Grantland or anything – just some thoughts I’ve been mulling over for the past few days.

I have read with interest the ongoing saga of Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin, two players for the Miami Dolphins, first because it is incomprehensible to me that someone has the last name Incognito, and second (and more importantly) because I am always fascinated by discussions of race and how our national perspective on it rears its head when these things happen. Usually I just keep my mouth shut, because the last thing the world needs is another middle-class Caucasian male parroting on about race in the 21st Century. With this situation, however, I think there is more that needs to be worked out, at least in my own head.

If you’re unaware, Martin left the Dolphins rather abruptly last week. In the time since his departure from the team, it has been revealed that Martin, a rookie, was on the receiving end of Incognito’s particularly misguided, churlish form of hazing, which included the use of racially charged language, threats to Martin personally, and threats to Martin’s family. (Incognito, it should be said, is white, whereas Martin is not.)

Since that revelation, all manner of reporting chaff has been offered up in order to explain what transpired. Current and former teammates have given Incognito a pass for using the word that he did (you know the one), even going so far as to claim that he is an “honorary brother.” Others are dismissive of the entire incident, chalking it up to nothing more than rookie hazing, a longstanding tradition of any sports locker room, though it usually ends at making the rookies carry bags or dressing up in costume (at least in baseball). Still others are directing the blame on Martin himself, calling him soft, or feigning outrage that he went outside of the normal hierarchy of the locker room to voice his concerns.

None of those things seem important about the story. What is important, and what has been lost in the discussion, is that it does not matter what latitude Incognito had to say what he did, or whether it was permissible as mere rookie hazing, or whether it amounted to bullying. Instead, what does matter is how Martin himself felt about the situation, and his departure from the team because of it makes it abundantly clear that he did not count himself among those who think it was copacetic.

All the rest of the spin surrounding the story is, in light of that fact, rendered irrelevant. We spend our lifetimes learning to be mindful of other people’s beliefs and feelings when we speak; it is not always successful, even for those that are well-versed in it. But we do this as an acknowledgement that other people’s feelings are important, and when we hurt them – inadvertently or not – we need to make amends for that fact, even if we were joking, and even if everyone else around us was doing it as well. That Incognito was more unabashed in his offense makes it that much worse.

Exceptions are not made to this rule simply because an individual plays professional sports, can lift more weight than another other person, or because they have played for a certain team for a longer period of time. If anything, being older should make a person more aware of this. But for a group of men playing (or reporting on) a glorified version of an after-school game, these basic lessons about humanity seem to need to be retaught.

[rant] On the New Vinyl Single from Arcade Fire

Reflektor Single Artwork

Last night at 9PM, Arcade Fire released their new single, “Reflektor” on 12” vinyl to various record stores throughout the world. At only 8,500 copies, the single was destined to be something of a collector’s item, like any limited run vinyl from a popular band is bound to become.

I dutifully drove myself to the record store in the Rochester area that was supposed to receive copies of the single, arrived about 15 minutes before 9PM and asked the people at the registers if there were, in fact, Arcade Fire singles available there. After receiving an affirmative response, along with an apology that they couldn’t sell them prior to 9PM, I kicked around the store for a bit and then got myself (first) in line when the time came. (That was more a function of me looking at the stacks of 45s in the front of the store than it was my desperation for getting my hands on the new single before anyone else in town.)

Those who were in line all got their vinyl, and then, before anyone paid for it, we took a group picture for the label (apparently), looking stoked to have our hands on this limited run of wax. After that, we dutifully got back into line, and then, because I was the first who’d asked about the single, I received a t-shirt with the Reflektor artwork on it, as well as a bunch of pins, a poster, and a sticker as well, all for $10.79 including tax.

After paying, I walked out, having been a small part of something much larger. There wasn’t a lot of fanfare – the store was playing the single as we checked out – but there were no balloons or confetti or large cutouts of the band adorning the walkway into the store. It was all pretty understated – just a handful of people excited to have new material from Arcade Fire in their hands, and to have it in a format that only 8,499 people would have it.

And then, not 15 minutes after I got home – around 9:20 or so – I searched for “arcade fire reflector vinyl single” on Google, and found that two people already had the single for sale on eBay, one seller asking for $49.99 for the privilege of owning it. As of this morning, there are a dozen copies for sale.

Fuck that.

If you collect vinyl, you understand that it’s not really about getting your hands on everything limited you could possibly want, because that’s realistically (and monetarily) not going to happen. If a limited run of vinyl sells out before you get it, that sucks for you, but it’s great for the band. Chances are that you’ll be able to get the two songs for a couple of bucks on iTunes. Yeah, it sucks that you can’t set it on your turntable and spin it endlessly, but you do realize that it’s not the end of the world, right? Don’t you?

Please don’t go out and spend some exorbitant amount on two songs that were available for $10 to feed someone else’s greed. You don’t need it that badly. Hell, I’ll sell you my copy if you can prove to me that you need that single so much that you’re willing to shell out $50 just to have it. (Note: the only way to convince me is if you have a tattoo of each band member’s face on your body, or something equally idiotic.) Let’s collectively decide that, right here and now, we won’t support individuals who try to profit from your fandom. (Blog pal Rich reminds me that this also goes for ticket resellers.)

Now, I also understand that my inconsequential ranting isn’t going to bring about a sea change in people’s attitudes or how shitty people can be in general. But man, if you’re that seller in Pittsburgh that had that copy of the single up not 30 minutes after it was made available, please do me the favor of not ever setting foot in a record store again, because you clearly don’t understand what it is to love anything other than yourself. Stop taking advantage of the people who do.

[thoughts] After My Sixth Time Listening To Kanye West’s ‘Yeezus’

kanye west yeezus cover

This piece doesn’t review Yeezus, per se. It assumes that you’ve already listened to the album and come to some conclusion on your own about its merits (or lack thereof). A couple of better efforts to get you thinking are available in The Needle Drop’s review, and We Listen For You’s Citizen Kanye piece.

There’s a dichotomy to Kanye West. It’s not difficult to decipher, but it’s crucial to understanding his current effort – or any of his albums, really. On one hand, West is blessed with an innate ability to create textured, forward-thinking music. Yeezus bears this out. 808’s and Heartbreak did the same. West is on a different plane than his contemporaries in any genre, not simply those in the rap game. Whether he’s flipping Nina Simone samples or putting Justin Vernon on his tracks, West has a musical direction that is wholly unique and largely visionary.

Along with that vision comes the fact that Kanye so desperately seems to want to be considered something more highbrow. He’s familiar with Hungarian rock and high couture and Basquiat, and he undoubtedly has access to the homes and people in the Hamptons that he so often derides in his songs. To his detriment, however, he mixes those references with such lowbrow pop culture (The Waterboy, for example, or his tabloid relationship with Kim Kardashian) that he ends up remaining an outsider in both worlds.

And it is there that Kanye West ultimately breaks down on Yeezus. He flirts with issues that should be discussed – innate racism, Chicago’s murder rate, the United States’ difficulties with race relations and their placement in a wider historical context – but he never explores them on more than a cursory level, merely acknowledging them as problems, but ultimately concerning himself more with the money he is making or the next woman that will be performing fellatio on him.

That dichotomy, however, is precisely what makes West so popular. For everyone who listens to what he has to say, there’s something uncomfortably familiar; personally, for as much as I can appreciate a Harmony Korine film, I still enjoy Judd Apatow movies. For as much as I appreciate Cy Twombly prints, I still laugh at dorm room beer posters. And though I might like to have a deeper grasp of race relations in the United States, it’s much easier to state that they are problems than it is to address them in any meaningful way.

In that sense, perhaps calling West out for his inability or unwillingness to bring about action on any number of fronts is disingenuous. West is simply an artist, beholden only to himself and the art he creates, and not required to make any effort to raise social consciousness about any issues. Expecting him to do more when the majority of us – myself included – have reduced our own action to simply liking the Facebook pages of causes we support, might be unfair. But for an artist that considers himself a god, and who likely has the means of one, it might not be.

[opinion] The Value of Good Writing

If you’re in tune with the ceaseless chatter that makes up Twitter, you may have run across the most recent item to get everyone worked into a lather: the fact that The Atlantic asked a writer to repurpose a story of his for their website, and do it for free. That writer subsequently took to his own blog to regale his readership (and now the masses) with the unfortunate story, and The Atlantic has since pushed back in their own way, issuing semi-apologies and justification for the fact that they, indeed, asked someone to work for free.

Now, I freelance, but to the tune of $350 for the year, and only for a single publication. I don’t do it because I need the money, and I don’t often write more than a hundred words. My posts for this blog are generally double the length of what I write for City Newspaper. That being the case, I don’t have much of a dog in this fight. I think it’s unfortunate on both sides – that Nate Thayer was asked to work for free, and that The Atlantic has apparently fallen so far that they need to ask someone to do just that. But I do think that good writing – particularly writing that’s recognized by individuals at The Atlantic as having merit – needs to be rewarded with more than vague promises of exposure.

On the wholly opposite end of the spectrum is the strange case of another music blog called Indie, Bikes, and Beer, who have run a now-successful Kickstarter campaign for $12,500 in order to further their blog’s design and reach. If you follow us on Twitter, you’ll know that I’ve been rather vocal about my disdain for the blog itself, and for the fact that they had the audacity to even ask for money at all. I reduced the affair to mean-spirited jokes and hashtags, but the question is this: why do I even care? Why does it matter that another music blogger asked for, and subsequently received, a large sum of money from individuals he may or may not know? In reality, that blog doesn’t affect me on a personal level, and it doesn’t diminish what remains of our blog’s readership, and it doesn’t negatively affect any other blog(ger) that we happen to like (which is an admittedly small number).

I don’t have a good answer to those questions. It’s possible that, in some sense, receiving $12,500 to write a music blog that has been in existence for less than six months is an affront – and not to me per se, but to the other bloggers that do a better job of it than I could hope to, and who have grinded out their blogs for years without any significant monetary compensation.

It’s possible that my hackles are raised from the thought that a music blog that is centered in Boston displayed an utter lack of regard for all the other bloggers located in the same city – blogs that have been combining beer and music for much longer, blogs that already have their own acoustic shows, blogs that are already sponsoring SxSW showcases. That sum of money could bring everyone up, and the inclusion of other blogs would have undoubtedly made the project more worthwhile.

It’s possible that I’m annoyed because asking for $12,500 to write a music blog smacks of an inflated sense of how important that “job” really is. Writing a blog has always demanded a balance between self and band promotion. Sure, we want to be read, and commented on, and respected among our peers. But more important than that is the fact that these bands we love, who entrust their creative output to us, are really the ones who should be promoted, and asking for money to get your own name out there before the bands you’re promoting seems to me to be putting the cart before the horse.

It’s probable that I’m annoyed because $12,500 could do a lot of good for a lot of bands who deserve that money more than any blogger does. That kind of funding, used wisely, could fund the next best album we’ve ever heard. Or it could let a band tour outside of their home city, or fund a 7″ release, or any number of things that have more tangible value than any blog does.

And it’s also possible that I’m angry because I never thought to ask for money to do this. Perhaps it’s always been that easy, and I never needed to fund this endeavor out of my own pocket.

But really, there’s not a “right” or “magic” way to start a music blog. Whether or not the trio at Indie, Bikes, and Beer is $12,500 richer doesn’t negate the fact that there have always been – and will continue to be – outlets writing about music that are doing it for what we’d all consider to be the right reasons, and not simply to inflate their own brand. And it doesn’t force me to navigate to the site to support their endeavors.

In the end, whether Thayer goes unpaid by The Atlantic or Indie, Bikes, and Beer has $12,500 to produce carelessly worded and poorly edited reviews, both seem to me to be about the same issue: good writing, like any good art, has value, and when the least common denominator is rewarded, it’s discouraging.