Thursday, June 12, 2008


Late last year, Sanjeevani tried to convince me to join Facebook. She told me about how she'd reconnected with old friends from grade school, how totally amazing things could be done with music and images:

"And it's easier to communicate on it. It's so cool. We can send each other really cool virtual things like hatching eggs and stuff, and put on music and all sorts of good things."

It seemed vaguely tempting, but I never hopped aboard that bandwagon. Everything that excited her about Facebook seemed like a hassle to me. It represented little more than another web site to keep up with at a time when the amount of free time I had to devote to blogging, reading other blogs, reading music websites, etc. was steadily dwindling. So our long friendship has remained a strictly e-mail based thing, and we're both cool with that.

But I had other aversions to Facebook. Namely, past phantasms emerging from the ether, and the accompanying bullshit niceities involved in the what-you-been-up-to back'n'forth that continues for a week or two before you and that person you haven't been in touch with for so, so long - "holy hell, has it been that long? Wow, we're getting old" - fall, predictably, back out of touch. Yeah, sometimes I do get to wondering: hey, whatever happened to Quincy Johnson, Brendan Sullivan, Monrovia von Hoose? Buffy from Massachusetts whose last name I can't remember, whose example got me into zinestering? Dan Zeller? What does Stu Hartman do for a living? Is Rhoda Farris a high-powered exec, and is she still pals with Zita Thomas? Is Amanda Sherman still alive? Time hasn't burned those names out of my memory yet, but I'm in no rush to re-establish connections that clearly weren't strong enough to last in the first place. Good times? Good times are reading Wiggles books to my son and chasing him around, cracking jokes with my wife, getting lost in dense thickets of noise and rhyme and melody, writing arts copy for the outlets nice enough to pay me (and the one remaining mag that doesn't pay but is such a great honor to be involved with that I don't care - what's up, Pete Gershon?), and emailing/telephoning/ILXing with friends old and new - you know who you are.

Which is a long-winded way of explaining why decided to disable this blog's comments feature. Actually, it isn't. Or is it? Incoherence becomes me - which is part of why I don't post much anymore. What it comes down to is this: unconsciously or not, comments sections have become a measure of a given blog's value. I find that when I visit other blogs, my eyes immediately shoot to the total comments a post has received. Then in the past I'd put those numbers up against my own, and think: Jesus, I suck, no-one (or almost no-one) cares what I think about anything. If people agree or disagree with whatever, they can always shoot me an email or counter on their own blogs.

This is where I'm supposed to tie all of the above into America's hyperactive plugged-in-ness and decry our collective inability to just go outside and walk around. Or something. But I'll leave that to you, the reader - and hope that you'll email me a link to whatever round-robin summary you come up with.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Ah; but what do I mean by "orphaned"?

An article that's been orphaned was slated for publication in a magazine or newspaper but was, for one reason or another, dropped from the schedule. In this case, the newspaper was caught in a space crunch, resulting in an article idea that was pitched and accepted in the March/April timeframe, due in early May, and set to run this week being killed, oh, the other day. I mean, no bad vibes to my editor, she fought for this story but couldn't find the space/money, and I know the newspaper biz is getting more erratic and spendthrift with every passing week, but damn. It's enough to make an arts writer consider other options, if they exist, really. How else could I expend my energies? Is it even worth it at this point to come up with concepts for long stories that pay considerably more than short ones when the likelihood exists that nothing with come of the finished product except posting the thing on a blog no-one reads? In the past 12 months I've had a bunch of copy "lost" or ignored or whatever, and it's starting to get really, really old. A magazine I work for at least posts reviews on its site when there's no space in the book - but when that happens, the writers in question don't get paid. Would it be better to broaden my pool of outlets and simply write a little for a lot of editors, instead of bunching pitches to 2-4 editors? Something to seriously ponder.

An Orphaned Article The Size Of Kanye's Ego

How Kanye West Lost His Halo (And How He Can Get it Back)

By Ray Cummings

Let's talk halos for a moment. You know that political one Barack Obama's wearing right now? Not so long ago, rapper/superproducer/fashion-plate Kanye West was modeling its pop-culture equivalent. So: when, exactly, did he jump the shark? When did the Louis Vuitton Don's manufactured b-boy/savior complex-construct - swallowed hook, line, and sinker by a besotted media and a disillusioned public - fall apart? Answer: midway through 2007's Graduation, during a smug collaboration with undeflagable New Orleans MC/It-Boy Lil Wayne titled 'Barry Bonds.'

Arriving there, the line of demarcation is difficult to locate. Not only is the Mountain-quoting, stoned-at-metropolitan-dusk beat crafted by West and Nottz distractingly seductive, but our host repeatedly buys into his own Grammy-validated hype:

'It's what you all been waiting for, ain't it?/What people paid paper for, damn it'

'I done played the underdog my whole career/I've been a very good sport, haven't I, this year?'

'The flow just hit code red/Top 5 MCs, you don't gotta remind me/Top 5 MCs, you gotta rewind me/I'm high up on the line, you could get behind me/But my head's so big you can't sit behind me'

Don't get me wrong, now: 'Barry Bonds' was hip-hop at its finest, a pair of genre titans coming together, Marvel Teamup style, to exploit and celebrate their individual stratospheric popularity. Indeed, West's outsized, all-up-in-your-grill arrogance has always been a part of his appeal. Trouble was, we'd come to expect more from him. On The College Dropout (2004) and Late Registration (2005), he successfully balanced out this chipped-shoulder 'tude with a healthy dose of empathy, progressivism, and humor: slyly calling industry and government out on oppressive class tactics, commisserating with minimum wage-mall slaves, lampooning gold-digging, self-loathing groupies, decrying (and mocking and self-implicating himself in) hip-hop's gluttonous materialism, illuminating the inhuman working conditions that produce Sierra Leone diamonds. West's tendency to express himself in intentionally clumsy, groaner couplets might've sunk a lesser MC, but he cannily harnessed his bars to the luscious, soul-sampling production that gained him access to the industry in the first place. West's common-man appeal reached its zenith when, during a post- Hurricane Katrina Red Cross telethon, he declared 'George Bush doesn't care about black people.' Graduation resembled Obama's leaked remarks this spring about bitter small-town residents clinging to firearms and religion; while it didn't sink his ship - the album outsold 50 Cent's workmanlike Curtis in a manufactured 9/11/07 retail tussle and wound up on plenty of year-end lists - Graduation took some of the wind out of his sails. It was something of a shallow pleasure, a vapid victory-lap that substituted eclectic sampling (Elton John, Daft Punk, Michael Jackson, Mountain) for meaningful lyrical content, outsourced production duties, and fed heartily on the sort of celebrity excesses West once eagerly flipped into anthemic questions of conscience. One of his running themes has been success and the many obstacles separating him from a stardom finishline; by the time Graduation dropped, he'd effectively won, and in so winning succumbed in spit sixteens to the demons he'd campaigned against. At the time, a small subset of critics extrapolated wildly, praising West for - supposedly - exploring the dark side of life as tabloid-fodder and/or allowing fans to live vicariously through him. In an ironic coda to this bubbly, hedonistic hip-pop statement, Donda West - his mother and number-one fan - died weeks later due to complications resulting from cosmetic surgery. West - who's presently headlining the Glow In The Dark tour with Rihanna, Lupe Fiasco, and N.E.R.D. - told Time earlier this spring that he's just recently begun writing rhymes again. While we don't begrudge anyone the ability to make a living, we think West would be better off in the long run - not to mention more likely to reclaim that vaunted halo - if he heeded our advice. Check this, Mr. West:

1. Get back to into producing and dropping guest verses. Prior to 2006, you freelanced like mad, cropping up behind the boards or on top of the beat on singles and albums from, it seemed, every rapper and R&B star popping. A return to your roots would keep you grounded and humble. Plus, should your rap career ever falter, you'll have a fail-safe still in place. Also: get back to producing your own shit.

2. Encourage the next generation of snotty backpackers. No ID and Jay-Z fostered your latent talents, and look at how far you've come. It's time to think about becoming a mentor yourself. Sure, it's super time-consuming to sift through all the demos and MySpace links, but you never know when you'll stumble onto the next big thing and solidify your legacy in the process. Remember: Dr. Dre made Snoop Dogg into a star and found Eminem's demo on the floor of his garage; he's effectively ridden the coattails of their successes to the point where he remains stunningly relevant even though he hasn't released a solo album this decade.

3. Step up your mixtape game. So you've sold millions of albums and appeared on countless magazine covers. That doesn't mean you should slack off and stage compact disc 'events' every two years; that's isn't enough in 2008, and you know it. As any successful or aspiring guitar hero will tell you, tireless woodshedding is crucial to artistic development; this is probably half of why all of Lil Wayne's mixtapes and guest verses are so amazing these days. Now that you're dropping rhymes again, why not round up some of Donda's favorite songs, troll through your fondest memories of her, and channel that lingering sorrow and anger into a sort of tribute mixtape? You'd be able to vent, and you'd be right back in the game.

4. Dial down the bling. Dude, you're a role model. Dude, you're always preaching about materialism's pitfalls. Prove that you can resist the temptation to be the showy, self-indulgent fool many of your peers are by auctioning off all your ice and gold and giving the proceeds to charity.

5. Not so much with the fly designer couture shit, 'kay? We know you're defiantly fond of Maroon 5, John Mayer, and any number of indie/underground/art rock acts. You rapped over a frickin' Thom Yorke track, for Christ's sake. Why not put your money where your torso is and start sporting Coldplay or Young Jeezy tees and Wal-Mart jeans instead of extravagantly expensive clothing your fans will never be able to afford? Part of why we used to love you is because, in some weird way, we felt that you were one of us - an omnivorous, hipster geek-turned-superstar. Help us feel that way again; help us to help you get that halo back.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008



There's a post (or 15) to be written about the dynamics and conflicts surrounding the 2007/2008 Democratic primary campaign, but for lots of reason I won't be tackling the subject anytime in the immediate future, or maybe even ever. SO: I stole these photos from, and they'll have to stand in for my feelings, I guess. I will say that offering Hillary Clinton the VP slot would be a pragmatic-if-not-ideological-pure move, and Obama and his folks are hopefully weighing the pros and cons as I type this. Let's hope. Also: anybody know whether Obama long-gone rap fandom involved Public Enemy? Jesus, wouldn't that be awesome?