Monday, April 28, 2008

‘The Great Chase’

“Flashing lights of thrills spurting from the glamorous prism!
Blinding death match for the first time between Etsuko Shihomi and Mach Fumiake.
Speed-Action-Chase Movie!”


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(“Karei-Naru Tsuiseki,” which Hiro translates as “The Glamorous Chase.” Toei, 1975, dir. Norifumi Suzuki.)

OK, there is one reason I wish I had been at Coachella


Via the Daily Swarm.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Olympic smothering of rock in China begins

Are the Olympics killing rock in China? Is Bjork?

Rock music — that is, pretty much anything tougher than the Spice Girls or a Jackie Chan ballad — has had a hard time taking root in China, ever since Cui Jian’s “Nothing to My Name” became an anthem of alienation and dissent at Tiananmen in 1989. As I learned, rock culture as we know it is an exotic and largely inconsequential fringe in China, although for those who go all the way with it, it does still signify real nonconformism and, therefore, protest.

For a decade or so now China’s rock culture has been growing significantly, with help from the Internet — which has exposed urban, educated youth to a new universe of pop culture — and from the general loosening of restrictions that tends to happen in a greedy, market-driven society. But those restrictions are starting to tighten again, thanks to two hot topics now roiling China: Tibet and the Olympics.

Last week word spread, first through Chinese cultural blogs and then to the Guardian and Idolator, that the Midi Festival, the oldest and most important pop/rock event in Beijing, was being postponed this year due to Olympics-related security concerns. The festival, which showcases the best of Chinese rock and imports some Western groups, usually coincides with the national holiday over the first few days of May — i.e. this weekend — and is in Haidian Park, near many universities. The Olympics will not start until August, and the audience for Midi is Chinese kids and local expats, not tourists. So what sort of security risk could this festival pose?

An ideological risk, of course. Bjork angered the Chinese brass last month when she whispered (loudly) “Tibet! Tibet!” at the end of her song “Declare Independence” in concert in Shanghai, basically forcing the Party’s hand. (Video here.) Tibet is one of a handful of strictly forbidden topics in public conversation, along with Tiananmen and whatever place the army most recently killed unarmed protesters. As an isolated event, Bjork’s comments may or may not have blown over. But in the context of the Olympics and the Tibet crisis, the government knows they cannot risk another spectacle that would embarrass them and, worse, cause people to think. Answer? Pull the plug.

Was Bjork brave or stupid? On one hand she should be applauded for having the balls to raise the issue and not sweep her liberal activism under the rug once the chance to vacation at the Great Wall came up, as Sonic Youth did. But by essentially saying, “Hey kids, let’s give the army an excuse to come in here and crack all of our skulls open,” she may have endangered the larger cause of cultural exchange. Saying “Tibet!” into a microphone in China is like an American exposing himself on national television: it’s foolishly, self-defeatingly outrageous. You can be sure the government will now work extra hard to keep out foreign musicians.

Sources in the Chinese music industry tell me that people there are expecting the worst over the Olympics. You can imagine the scenarios: protesting foreigners, soldiers going too far, people getting hurt, reporters digging up some very ugly stuff. Chinese politics is not moving as fast as the economy, and the government is learning the hard way what Marx taught about how economic realities stir up class conflict and determine the course of history.

I was recently asked by another writer working on a piece about rock in China whether I thought Tibet would have any effect on the music scene. The question baffled me at first, but it seems frighteningly clear now. The rock culture of China has been coasting because there have not been reasons for the government to pay it any mind. (Coasting in a lot of ways, including artistically.) Now it has a reason. And attention from the Communist Party is not the kind of attention you want.

Maybe this will all bring out some great, politically charged music; maybe Beijing 2008 will be the central theater of political rock ’n’ roll, the way London was in 1977. Or maybe all the kids who until now have been willing to hide oblique social commentary in their songs through censor-dodging wordplay will just say screw it and get a tech job.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

High-art Pixies

1. Boingboing points to a ballet interpretation of “Where Is My Mind?”:


2. Last night in San Francisco, Black Francis performed the premiere of his own score to the classic 1920 silent film “The Golem,” as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival. He did it with Eric Drew Feldman, of Pere Ubu/“Trompe le Monde”/“Frank Black” fame. One early report says it was OK but not that great.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The death and life of great Manhattan record stores

Second update to my story last week about the disappearing record stores of New York City (and the survivors’ efforts to stay in business).

As I said before, some stores were left out, mostly for the usual journalistic reasons: tight space, redundancy, difficulty confirming facts on deadline. Since the piece ran I’ve been contacted by a number of people about omissions, and while most of those stores I had already known about, some of them I hadn’t.

So in the spirit of bloggy completeness, here are all the record stores I’m aware of, each confirmed by phone, visit or reliable source. All the stores in Manhattan, that is. Brooklyn is a whole other can of worms.


I. Open

There are at least 44 39 shops in Manhattan whose primary business is selling CDs and/or records; assuming I have been able to pin down 90 percent of them, the full number might be somewhere around 50 45. I hope to get them all here:

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Other stores that have significant record sections (thrift shops with 100 dusty Mantovani and Ohio Players LPs don’t count):

Big Boxes with significant music sections:

  • Barnes & Noble, 97 Warren Street
  • Barnes & Noble, 33 East 17th Street
  • Barnes & Noble, 160 East 54th Street
  • Barnes & Noble, 555 Fifth Avenue, at 46th Street
  • Barnes & Noble, 1972 Broadway, at 66th Street
  • Best Buy, 60 West 23rd Street
  • Best Buy, 1280 Lexington Avenue, at 86th Street
  • Borders, 100 Broadway, at Pine Street
  • Borders, 2 Penn Plaza (33rd Street & Seventh Avenue)
  • Borders, 576 Second Avenue, at 32nd Street
  • Borders, 461 Park Avenue, at 57th Street
  • Borders, 10 Columbus Circle

Big boxes that do not have significant music sections:

  • Barnes & Noble, Broadway at 82nd Street
  • Barnes & Noble, 86th Street and Second Avenue


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(Updated and much more thorough map here.)



II. Dunno

Big boxes that I don’t know about because I’m tired of calling and visiting big boxes:

  • Best Buy, 529 Fifth Avenue
  • Best Buy, 622 Broadway
  • Best Buy, 1880 Broadway
  • Circuit City, 232 East 86th Street
  • Circuit City, 521 Fifth Avenue
  • Circuit City, 52 East 14th Street
  • Circuit City, 2232 Broadway

Not sure if this one counts:

  • InMotion Entertainment, Grand Central Station

Status unclear, any info welcome:

  • Discomania, 3883 Broadway, at 162nd Street (open but with liquidation sign up 8/24/08)
  • Discorama Annex, 40 Union Square East (been closed every time I go by there)
  • Bondy’s, 38 Park Row
  • African Movies and Music, 1265 Broadway, Room 600, at 32nd Street (here’s a YouTube tour! though I haven’t been there to confirm)
  • Samassa Records, 1225 Broadway, Suite 319, at 30th Street (comments on YouTube tour above suggest it’s closed)
  • Audio Video Interactive, 915 Broadway
  • NY Music, 151 Canal Street (J-pop?)
  • Always Buying Records, 325 East Fifth Street
  • El Ra, 215 West 101st Street (this appears to be just an apartment building)
  • La Pachanga, 2149 Third Avenue
  • Satellite, 259 Bowery

III. Closed

Here are stores that I can confirm are kaput. Most have closed in the last five years; those are noted in red on the map. (Some stores have continued online, such as Midnight Records.) For purely historical/nerdy reasons I am also including many shops that may have closed long ago.

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  • A Classical Record, 547 West 27th Street (owner, Albert ten Brink, passed away 7/08; for a while after closing store, he continued to sell by appointment out of a storage unit)
  • Accidental CDs, 131 Avenue A, near St. Marks Place (closed 7/06)
  • Adult Crash, 66 Avenue A, between Fourth and Fifth Streets (lease taken over in 1998 or 1999 by Etherea, below)
  • Barnes & Noble, 675 Avenue of the Americas, between 21st and 22nd Streets (closed abruptly 3/31/08)
  • Bate, 140 Delancey Street
  • Bobby’s Happy House, 2335 Frederick Douglass Boulevard, at 125th Street (closed 1/21/08)
  • BPM, 334 Bleecker Street (electronica)
  • Breakbeat Science, 181 Orchard Street
  • Cool Runnin’, 73 Second Avenue (reggae; had been open in 1984)
  • Culture Records, 31 Carmine Street (reggae; apparently had been open in 1995)
  • Dance Tracks, 91 East Third Street (closed 11/07)
  • Decadance Inc., 119 Christopher Street (electronica)
  • Downstairs Records, 1026 Avenue of the Americas, between 38th and 39th Streets (closed 11/04; moved to Copiague, N.Y.; had once been at 35 West 43rd Street)
  • Dub Spot, 437 East 12th Street (closed within two years of 2003; is it associated with the Dubspot DJ school?)
  • Eightball Records (a.k.a. The Shop), 105 East Ninth Street (closed 1/22/04)
  • Entertainment Warehouse, 835 Broadway, at 13th Street (long gone; it was open in 1996 — when did it close?)
  • Etherea, 66 Avenue A, between Fourth and Fifth Streets (closed 2/09; took over lease from Adult Crash in 1998 or 1999)
  • Finyl Vinyl, 208 East Sixth Street (closed 12/07)
  • Footlight Records, 113 East 12th Street (apparently closed 8/28/05)
  • Future Legend, 796 Ninth Avenue, at 53rd Street (closed 2/08)
  • FYE, 1290 Avenue of the Americas, at 52nd Street (closed 11/06)
  • FYE, 390 Avenue of the Americas, near Waverly Place (closed 1/05; had been a Sam Goody)
  • Galaxy, 3633 Broadway, at 150th Street
  • Harlem Music House, 567 West 125th Street (closed 11/10/05)
  • Harlem Record Shack, 274 West 125th Street (evicted 7/08, now sells CDs on the street)
  • Heartbeat Records, 107 West 10th Street (closed 11/30/04)
  • HMV, 234 West 42nd Street (closed 4/04)
  • HMV, 308 West 125th Street (closed 5/15/04)
  • HMV, 565 Fifth Avenue, between 46th and 47th Streets (closed 12/04)
  • Jammyland, 60 East Third Street
  • Joe’s CDs, 13 St. Marks Place (closed 6/06)
  • Kappy’s, 91 Pinehurst Avenue, at 181st Street (closed 5/10/04)
  • Kim’s Mediapolis, 2906 Broadway, near 113th Street (opened “late April” 2001, closed 9/15/08; now a Ricky’s)
  • Kim’s Underground, 144 Bleecker Street (How long gone? I’d guess it closed circa 2004-05. It became a Duane Reade.)
  • Kim’s West, 350 Bleecker Street (long gone)
  • Los Amigos, 3444 Broadway, near 141st Street (closed 12/07)
  • Midnight Records, 255 West 23rd Street (closed 3/6/04)
  • 99 Records, 99 Macdougal Street (No Wave landmark, closed in the mid-’80s; some info here; MySpace tribute here)
  • Nostalgia, 217 Thompson Street (jazz)
  • NYCD, 426 Amsterdam Avenue, near 80th Street (store closed 12/25/05; online operation closed 7/07)
  • Rainbow Music Shop, 102 West 125th Street (closed 01/09/04)
  • Record Explosion, 384 Fifth Avenue, near 36th Street (closed 8/04)
  • Record Explosion, 507 Fifth Avenue, near 42nd Street (closed 5/06)
  • Records Revisited, 34 West 33rd Street, room 214 (closed in 2006)
  • Revolver Records, 45 West Eighth Street (had been open at least until 2005)
  • Rocks in Your Head, 157 Prince Street (moved to Brooklyn 5/1/06, then closed — when?)
  • Route 66 Records, 258 Bleecker Street, at Carmine Street (had been there as of at least 1/99 [per old receipt of mine]; at some point moved to 99 Macdougal, then closed — when?)
  • Santo Domingo, 4323 Broadway, near 185th Street (closed 12/07)
  • Second Coming, 235 Sullivan Street (long gone; was raided for bootlegs in 1996)
  • Shrine, 441 East Ninth Street (I think I remember Mark Ibold from Pavement working here; or perhaps it was Strange?, two doors to the east)
  • Smash Discs, 33 St. Marks Place
  • Sonic Groove, 206 Avenue B, near 13th Street (closed 5/28/04)
  • Sound and Fury, 192 Orchard Street (Anyone know when this closed? I remember almost buying a vinyl copy of Oneida’s “Each One Teach One” there, which was 2002 — really regret not getting it, BTW, the handwritten burn I have just ain’t the same)
  • Sounds, 16 St. Marks Place (closed 1/04)
  • STMARX, 80 East 10th Street (closed recently?)
  • Stooz Records, 122 East Seventh Street
  • Strange?, 445 East Ninth Street (long gone)
  • Subterranean Records, 5 Cornelia Street (at least no longer at its longtime address — can anyone confirm that it has closed and not moved?)
  • Temple Records, 29A Avenue B (or was it inside Liquid Sky at 241 Lafayette Street?) (closed within two years of 2003)
  • Throb, 211 East 14th Street (closed 10/31/03)
  • Tompkins Square Bookstore, 115 East Seventh Street (carried a lot of used vinyl; it was a mess but it was a cool place)
  • Tower Records, 721-725 Fifth Avenue, between 56th and 57th Streets
  • Tower Records, Broadway at 66th Street (closed 12/06)
  • Tower Records, Broadway at East Fourth Street (opened 1983, closed 12/06)
  • Tribal Soundz, 340 East Sixth Street, a funky little store with exotic musical instruments (I met Damian, master of the pan flute, here in 2004) and some CDs, shut down recently, details mysterious
  • Triton, 247 Bleecker Street
  • Venus, 13 St. Marks Place (long gone, right? anybody know when they closed?)
  • Vinylmania, 60 Carmine Street (closed 3/17/07)
  • Vinyl Market, 241 East 10th Street (must have closed pretty recently; there were still boxes lying around when I peeked in couple of weeks ago)
  • Virgin Megastore, Times Square, 1540 Broadway, at 45th Street
  • Virgin Megastore, Union Square, Broadway and 14th Street
  • Wowsville, 125 Second Avenue, near St. Marks Place (closed 2/05)
  • Zapp Records, 258 Bleecker Street

Need confirmation/details:

  • Two Record Factory stores, at 17 West Eighth Street and 108 East 23rd Street (they were open in 1984)
  • Two Vinylmania stores: 52 Carmine Street (disco) and 30 Carmine Street (rock) (1984)
  • King Karol, 126 West 42nd Street (was open as of 1984; also had a jazz shop at 33 Park Row)
  • 96 Music (or Ninety-Six Music?), formerly Joe’s CDs West, 96 Christopher Street, possibly closed 4/07
  • Proud A Ras, 119 East Seventh Street, supposedly a tiny reggae shop
  • Free Being, 129 Second Avenue, at St. Marks Place (1984)
  • Downtown Music West, 57 Leroy Street (“satellite store of the original Downtown Music Gallery ... specializes in vinyl singles of dance music from the 1970s onward, but also carries its fair share of avant-garde music by local composers, jazz, blues and alternative rock,” NYT 1994)
  • Watu Records, 41 Carmine Street (reggae)
  • Citidisc, 2264 Broadway, near 81st Street, was an early all-CD shop
  • Orpheus Remarkable Recordings, 1047 Lexington Avenue, at 76th Street (1984)
  • Barry’s Stereo & Sound, 119 (or 111?) East 23rd Street (was open in 1984)
  • Beyond Bass, 60 East Third Street (according to this, it is/was an electronic shop with some assocation to DJ Danny “Buddah” Morales)
  • Delirium Records, 382 West Broadway (according to some guy in 1995)
  • Darton Records, in the back room of Patelson’s sheet-music store, 160 West 56th Street (1984)
  • Music Masters, 25 West 43rd Street (1984)
  • Dayton’s, 824 Broadway (1984)
  • Infinite, 208 Mercer Street (1984)
  • Pyramid Records, 201 Seventh Avenue, near 21st Street (1984)
  • Jimmy’s Music World, 400 Fifth Avenue, at 37th Street (1984)
  • Stackhouse, somewhere in 10012, closed 5/07
  • Star Music, somewhere in 10002, closed 3/08
  • A few Sam Goody’s stores, closed by end of 2003 (there was once one at 1011 Third Avenue, at 60th Street; I believe the former FYE on 6th Ave in the Village used to be a Sam Sam Goody’s — anyone remember the others?)
  • SoHo Music Gallery, 26 Wooster Street, at Grand Street (1984)
  • Music Inn, 169 West Fourth Street (1984)
  • Village Jazz Shop, 163 West 10th Street (“a comfortable, down-home room with sporadic hours and a vast collection of jazz CDs,” NYT 1994)
  • The Zone, somewhere in 10001, said to have closed 5/04

More:

  • A page with info on dead stores


Updates, corrections and any other relevant information is appreciated, and will be incorporated here. Viva la vinyl.

Last updated: September 2009

Watchmen TV spots and contest

I don’t know if there’s anything I care less about than YouTube contests — Dave Grohl, say it weren’t so — but the latest chapter of the Watchmen hype campaign is a YouTube channel where you can create TV spots for Veidt products using downloadable images and video snippets. A couple of samples that they put up include a spot for Nostalgia, the perfume whose billboards are all over place in the original book:


... and high-top sneakers, which I don’t believe were in the book but are historically suitable for the Air Jordan/British Knights era — although it’s not clear to me how they would contribute to Veidt’s manipulation of the zeitgeist. Thoughts?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Pixies on Rock Band

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I hadn’t seen this over the weekend, but it was announced that the video game Rock Band will now be selling complete albums, and that among the first to go on sale will be the Pixies’ “Doolittle,” in June. Even better, I have to say, is that the very first offering will be Judas Priest’s “Screaming for Vengeance,” coming this week. (For those who were not in the fourth grade in 1982, it’s the one with “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’.”)

Albums will cost $14.99, and individual songs $2. “Wave of Mutilation” is already on the game, as the “100% expert” drummer video below testifies.

“Interactive” or not, the price sounds a bit high to me. But at least this is better news than “Saints of Los Angeles.”


Sunday, April 20, 2008

A welcome correction: More record stores

Well, not exactly a correction. But since my story on Friday about the gradual disappearance of record stores in New York — at least 80 have closed in Manhattan and Brooklyn since 2003, and several more are now on the brink — I’ve been contacted about some that I hadn’t included.

As the map with the story noted, there are around 70 stores now open in Manhattan. I arrived at this number through both my own research — which involved tracking down on foot and bike a long list of addresses compiled through means too tedious to mention — and information from the Almighty Institute of Music Retail, which maintains an extensive database of stores nationwide. Joel Oberstein, the president, helpfully crunched numbers for me and sent several pages of listings from Almighty HQ.

PhotobucketThe map could legibly cover only from 59th Street to Delancey Street. That left out J&R World and a bunch of stores uptown, among them a number of important Latin outlets. We included one Best Buy, one Barnes & Noble and one Borders to have those chains accounted for, but otherwise didn’t include the big boxes — partly because, much to my irritation, I couldn’t confirm on deadline exactly which carried CDs and which didn’t.

But I’m delighted to report that in the last couple of days I’ve learned of two more independent shops. One is Deadly Dragon, a reggae store on Forsyth Street. (Vivien Goldman had actually mentioned to me another reggae outfit besides Jammyland, but I misunderstood and didn’t realize it was retail.) The inventory on their website is impressive, and they also promote live events.

The other is Malachi Records, on Fulton Street downtown, which says it opened in November. Not much else on their website, but this blog says the store specializes in “hard-to-find LP’s, 45’, 12”, and CD’s. Musizik from Abba Zappa, Funk, Soul, Jazz, Latin, and movie soundtracks.” The pictures show a pretty standard Village-style vinyl mix of rock and punk standards (Ramones, VU), snob catalog (“Vincebus Eruptum”!), bubblegum guilty pleasures (Donny Osmond) and those soundtracks (“Barbarella”!). But it looks good.



I’ll be happy to add more if they come in, though first I will post a list of shops I knew about but couldn’t include, and I’ll also try to post a list of closings. But don’t even get me started on Brooklyn, which it broke my heart not to include. Please believe me, people, I had to draw the line somewhere.


UPDATES: A building list of Manhattan record stores, alive and dead; and map of same.

Thanks to JD for the tip on Malachi.

And doth Zed be dead?

A LiveJournaler named Kevin Pease has a clever, clever post of scenes from “Pulp Fiction” as if written by Shakespeare. Here’s one, sort of a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern moment; there are some more in his comments.

ACT I SCENE 2. A road, morning. Enter JULES and VINCENT, murderers.

V: And know’st thou what the French name cottage pie?
J: Say they not cottage pie, in their own tongue?
V: But nay, their tongues, for speech and taste alike
Are strange to ours, with their own history:
Gaul knoweth not a cottage from a house.
J: What say they then, pray?
V: Hachis Parmentier.
J: Hachis Parmentier! What name they cream?
V: Cream is but cream, only they say la crème.
J: What do they name black pudding?
V: I know not;
I visited no inn it could be bought.

(Via Boingboing.)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Gnarls Barkley backwards

Those wacky guys in Gnarls Barkley have released a backward version of their new album, “The Odd Couple.” Literally: it’s a single, 38-minute MP3 of the entire record played backward, and it’s titled “ELPUOC DDO EHT.”

Link: fronttobackbacktofront.com.

So far I haven’t found any Satanic messages.


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Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Tale of the Black Freighter

I may be a sucker for all this early Watchmen hype, but I don’t care.

The Boredom Festival has an impressive reconstruction of “Tales of the Black Freighter,” the grisly comic-within-a-comic in Watchmen. It’s an excellent example of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s multilayered storytelling style, and it’s a great story to boot. In it, “Black Freighter” panels alternate with scenes of New York in 1985, where a boy reads the vintage-E.C.-style pirate book at a newsstand. (On the corner of 40th and Seventh — lemme hear it for my nerds.) Reflecting multiple threads of the larger “Watchmen” narrative and foreshadowing the bloody climax, it’s also a tribute to the comic form itself.

Here’s what it looks like. The round word balloons are for “real life,” the scrolled text for “Black Freighter”:

Black Freighter

Evidently with some time on his hands, the Boredom blogger isolated the pirate story by scanning every page on which its panels appear and eliminating all non-“Black Freighter” art and text, then consolidating the panels to form one continuous 20-page book. (In the original, the “Black Freighter” story is interspersed between Chapters 3 and 11.) The resulting pages look like this:

157710020_a83366e95e_o

The pirate story isn’t hard to follow in the original, but this brings it to the forefront and removes all possibility of distraction. The plot is brutally concise: Shipwrecked castaway races phantom pirate ship home, riding a raft made from corpses (and fending off sharks along the way); ashore, thinks pirates arrived first and goes on mad killing spree to reach family; realizing mistake, accepts his damnation.

The clever thing is that pirate stories were never a major part of comics’ Golden Age. Superheroes, horror and sci-fi were the dominant genres, at least in the action/young-male category. (Romance titles were also huge, but never developed the same tradition or literary weight.) As explained at the end of Chapter 5 in a fictitious comics history, Moore and Gibbons’s idea was that kids in this alternate 1985 would not have been interested in masked vigilantes because those characters were already a part of real life, and in fact were sanctioned by the government. Rather, young readers preferred the world of pirates, a moral vacuum of criminality and murder in which authority figures were largely absent.

Gruesome fatalism sets the tone for the late-Cold War society depicted in Watchmen. The black pirate sails match the black-on-yellow triangles of the ubiquitous fallout shelter signs, and in both cases there’s no hope of survival. The fallout shelters, of course, offer no real sanctuary from war: people are going to die when the bombs drop, just as the poor schmuck in “Black Freighter” has no way out once the black sails arrive. And the one-man-against-the-world theme satisfies a desire to both escape from civilization and dominate it — like Adrian Veidt in his fortress in Antarctica, and Dr. Manhattan in his on Mars.

Last month David Hajdu, who has written books about Billy Strayhorn and the Dylan-Baez-Fariña-Fariña folk/love/BS quadrangle, published The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America, about the public crackdown on comics in the 1950s. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s been getting good reviews, and I’ve always considered this an important topic that has never been sufficiently explored. The comics scare was a low-culture reflection of the witch-hunts that were already claiming intellectuals and entertainment figures, with dubious experts like the psychiatrist Fredric Wertham testifying in Congress about how violent comics were corrupting our youth. Among his many absurd and inflammatory quotes: “Hitler was a beginner compared to the comic book industry.”

“Black Freighter” is a 100-proof distillation of what so frightened Dr. Wertham. Besides its graphic violence, besides its themes of slaughtered innocents and last survivors bound for hell, the language itself is merciless, with gross and appropriately turgid lines like: “I’d swallowed too much birdflesh. I’d swallowed too much horror.” That’s both a homage to the gore and melodrama of E.C. and an illustration of how cruel the Watchmen society had become. Horror comics, and life in general, just kept getting more dreadful, increasingly focused on war and extinction. Even the salvation Veidt seeks is still mass murder.

In Chapter 5’s fake history, it’s explained that the government stepped in during the ’50s crackdown and protected comic book publishers, since superhero-like figures were on the federal payroll:

With the government of the day coming down squarely on the side of the comic books in an effort to protect the image of certain comic book-inspired agents in their employ, it was as if the comic industry had suddenly been given the blessing of Uncle Sam himself — or at least J. Edgar Hoover.

So comics never got censored or homogenized, never forced underground. And the publishers — who in the real 1950s were selling 80 to 100 million books a week — never lost their grip on youth culture. In fact they might have made things worse for the society at large, by becoming a de facto propaganda machine: the destruction that Dr. Manhattan and the Comedian wrought on Vietnam and elsewhere could be justified — and Nixon could elected for four terms — precisely because all-American comic book heroes were involved.

This is the genius of Watchmen. More than any other book — especially during the 1980s, the heyday of literary comics — it drew vivid and frighteningly plausible connections between reality and fantasy, and used the mythology of comics to explain the psychology and politics of its time. (Remember, this was still very much the era of Russkies, the Berlin Wall and Chernobyl.) That’s the highest achievement any book of any kind can hope for.

The movie will suck. That’s pretty much a given. (The director, Zack Snyder, has already said he’s going to soften the ending. Need another reason? “Tales of the Black Freighter” will not be part of the movie, though it will be on the DVD release — hey, it’s not an important part of the story, after all, just a carrot to entice retail sales.) But any opportunity to revisit the book is welcome. It’s more brilliant every time I read it.

“Fame ’90” addendum: “Back at Your Ass for the Nine-4”

Added to the List: The New 2 Live Crew’s attempted comeback album, Back at Your Ass for the Nine-4 (from 1994, of course). It’s available on both eMusic and iTunes, FYI.


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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Watchin’ the Watchmen production video

Just posted to the Watchmen movie blog: a nearly four-minute behind-the-scenes video showing set design and construction.

video

Very impressive on first glance. I’ll scour for errors later, but so far the only major one I noticed is that the midtown street corner is wrong: In the book the Gunga Diner and the newsstand, etc., are at 40th and Seventh, not 43rd and Sixth as they have it here. (43rd and Sixth, as New Yorkers know, has Town Hall and the International Center of Photography on the west side and the Hippodrome on the east, with office towers to the north and Bryant Park to the south. Not Times Square at all.)

Above is the “medium” resolution video. Better quality videos are available, including some HD ones.


UPDATE: Now that I’ve watched the HD version, there’s a nice Easter egg in there: on one of the street signs, 43rd is called “Burroughs St.”

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Breaking: Legally blind governor still legally blind

From the front page of today’s New York Sun:

Seeking to establish himself as a fiscally prudent leader, Governor Paterson is signaling that he will cut spending and eschew tax increases to weather the economic storm barreling down on the state...

“Though our budget is sound now, it will be dependent on whether or not people get the message that we so vitally need to understand, which is that our economy is reeling,” he said yesterday...

Mr. Paterson, who is legally blind, delivered the more than 30-minute speech from memory, at a breakfast at the Hilton Hotel in Midtown hosted by the Association for a Better New York.

That’s right, the man who has been governor of New York for three weeks now — and was first profiled as the clear successor to Spitzer four weeks ago — still needs to be identified in news stories by his disability. Because that fact has serious importance when it comes to delivering speeches on budgets and spending. How can Gov. Paterson expect to see the effects of his policies when he’s the first legally blind governor of New York? He claims that the state’s budget is “too big and bloated” — but can he actually see the bloating, or perhaps do his totally blind left eye and legally blind right eye only detect some sort of fuzzy, shapeless budgetary swollenness? Is this governorship sponsored by LensCrafters?

The news world took notice of his blindness, legitimately, in the midst of the Spitzer scandal. Until then I had no idea who the Lieutenant Governor was, and I’ll bet you didn’t either. But most news sources have cooled on it since then. The Times, Journal, Daily News and Post haven’t mentioned it in weeks. Why did the Sun throw it in there? And in the fourth graph of the story, before the details of his actual proposal?

Is it notable that he made a 30-minute speech from memory? I doubt it. Politicians like to talk. And from the sounds of it this was a pretty rote speech with promises to create a commission to study transit spending, Bloomberg’s traffic plan, blah blah blah.

The Times covered it in an unbylined 213-word story that said nothing about either his blindness or the heroic feat of talking for 30 minutes. The Post managed the same in its 167 words on the subject. (And also avoided the temptation in an editorial, as did the Daily News.)

Many papers have policies that they refer to physical disability — or to race or religion — only when relevant to a story, or when necessary for a thorough biography. This doesn’t qualify in either case should have been blue-pencilled immediately.

The worst thing about this is that it smacks of exoticism. Clearly there’s no news relevance, but I also doubt that there’s any real concern for whether this is breaking a significant barrier or changing our perceptions of blind people. Helen Keller pretty much took care of those perceptions a hundred years ago. But not for the readers of the New York Sun.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Press release(s) of the day: Hawkeye ’n’ Bobbi Flekman ’n’ Saint-Saëns ’n’ Lerner & Loewe

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Received within 25 minutes of each other:

The Chamber Music at the [92nd Street] Y series finale on Tuesday, April 29 and Wednesday, April 30, 2008 at 8 pm, welcomes back a longtime friend of Jaime Laredo and the Y, the venerated actor / writer / director / producer Alan Alda. Mr. Alda returns to the Y to unite two of his longtime passions--theater and music--directing and narrating two audience favorites: Saint-Saëns’ The Carnival of the Animals and Stravinsky’s The Soldier's Tale. The evening also welcomes actor Noah Wyle (ER's Dr. John Carter), who, in The Soldier's Tale, performs onstage and in a film shot by Alda on location in California.

And:

Fran Drescher, known to millions as the star of the former television series, The Nanny, will make her New York Philharmonic debut as the sorceress, Morgan le Fey, in the Philharmonic’s semi-staged presentation of Lerner and Loewe’s Camelot, May 7–10, 2008. She joins a star-studded cast featuring Gabriel Byrne (King Arthur), who recently starred in HBO’s In Treatment; Marin Mazzie (Guenevere), who was nominated for a Tony Award for her role in Kiss Me Kate; acclaimed baritone Nathan Gunn (Lancelot), who has sung in opera companies around the world; Christopher Lloyd (Pellinore), the stage and film actor who appeared in the Back to the Future trilogy; and Marc Kudisch (Lionel), nominated for Tony Awards for his work in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Thoroughly Modern Millie.

Alda’s a fine actor, of course, and he has musical cred: he was nominated for a Tony Award in 1967 for his role in Jerry Bock’s “Apple Tree.” But Noah Wyle? Same goes for “Camelot” at the Philharmonic. Gabriel Byrne, yes. Nathan Gunn, yes. Fran Drescher and Christopher Lloyd? Good God, no.

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Headline hall of fame: ‘Nazi’ + ‘orgy’ + ‘Grand Prix’ = superdeliciousness

“Possible Nazi Theme of Grand Prix Boss’s Orgy Draws Calls to Quit”

The great thing about this unusually juicy headline in the Times today is that not only does it combine “Nazi” and “orgy” and “Grand Prix,” but its writer basically had no choice but to use precisely those words. I can only imagine the orgy of editorial flagellation that went on trying to soften this one. (“Orgy,” of course, is a perfect headline word because it is so short and vivid. “Bacchanal”? “Debauchery”? “Saturnalia”? No way.)

The story is about Max Mosley, capo of grand prix motor racing, who was caught “in a sadomasochistic orgy with five supposed prostitutes in a London sex ‘dungeon.’” This particular sadomasochistic dungeon orgy involved what appears to be either some utterly sick Nazi-themed role-playing or an enthusiastic re-enactment of a rejected “Sprockets” skit:

In a video the paper [the Murdoch-owned News of the World] posted on the Internet but later removed, two of the women wore black-and-white striped robes in the style of prisoners’ uniforms. The video showed Mr. Mosley counting in German — “Eins! Zwei! Drei! Vier! Fünf!” — as he used a leather strap to lash one of the women.

“She needs more of ze punishment!” he cried in German-accented English. One woman appeared to search his hair for lice while another called off items on an inspection list. Mr. Mosley, naked, was bound face-down and lashed more than 20 times.

Even better: according to the story, which was written by John F. Burns, one of the Times’s most serious and distinguished writers — two-time Pulitzer winner and current former Baghdad bureau chief — the man’s family has a dark association with fascism that extends all the way to Hitler:

Mr. Mosley, 67, is the younger son of Britain’s 1930s fascist leader, Sir Oswald Mosley, and the society beauty Diana Mitford, whose secret wedding in Berlin in October 1936 was held at the home of the Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels and included Hitler as a guest of honor.

The whole thing calls to mind Prince Harry’s unfortunate appearance at a costume party three years ago in a swastika armband:

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Of course British aristocrats are not the only fools to get their kicks from whips and chains and cries of “Eins! Zwei! Drei! Vier! Fünf!” But there is something peculiarly British about bondage and S&M, so much so that it is sometimes called “the English vice.” Presumably that goes back to laced-up Victorian days. But the president of a sport synonymous with sex, privilege, wealth and danger? A man who has “presided over the expansion of Formula One racing into one of the world’s richest sports”? Are the whores of Cannes and Monaco just not kinky enough anymore?

The irony is that in the end the Times’s just-the-facts hed is much more lurid and enticing than the one that the News of the World editors surely drooled over their computers to write: “My Nazi orgy with F1 boss Max Mosley.”

It’s just got no sting to it.



Update: Dude was vindicated!

Friday, April 4, 2008

I’m Too Sexy 2007

Problem: Shitty song becomes incredibly popular, raising followup expectations that two retarded gym bunnies could never meet. Years and years and years go by and no one has paid even the slightest bit of attention to your six subsequent albums — even “Fredhead”! What to do?

Solution: Wait until the song makes its way so far down the pop-culture karma chain that it is used to sell laundry detergent (“I’m too sexy for my whites”). Time is right for a return! So quickly — you don’t know how long you’ll have to wait for the dog food commercial — cough up a few grand to remix it ever so slightly, slap a new date on that 16-year-old fluke, and shoot a new video that conveniently gives far more screen time to the hot 20-year-old dancing girls than the aging original artists.

Ladies and gentlemen, “I’m Too Sexy 2007.”


When I saw the following comment on the video’s YouTube page I thought it had to be fake:

WOW! This relaunch brings a new feel to the 1992 [sic] classic. The video explores the cinematic sinplicity [??] and stylistic ingenuity as viewed in other videos, such as Alex Gaudino’s “Destination Calabria” and CAbin Crew’s “Star 2 Fall”. FANTASTIC!

Then I checked the identity of the commenter, and it’s two Italian DJ’s named Paps’n’Skar who look like even bigger douchebags than our beloved Freddies:

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And the beat goes on.


Download “I’m Too Sexy 2007 (Tastemakers Radio Mix).”

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Watchpeanuts!

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Evan Shaner’s brilliant answer to the self-posed question “What if Charles Schulz created the Watchmen?”

(Via Boingboing, via Rob. Thanks, Rob.)

Press release of the day: Pissy statement from champion rock statement-maker

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Perhaps you’ve missed the delicious press feud that has unfolded over the last few days from the world’s worst rock band, otherwise known as the Velvet Revolver. Members of this Grammy Award-winning supergroup, which features the former Wasted Youth guitarist Dave Kushner,* have been making nasty public statements about each other, and yesterday the inevitable happened and they fired their singer, Scott Weiland.

Press release connoisseurs have long known Weiland as one of the most colorful and prolific in the biz. I’ve received innumerable bizarre announcements from his camp over the years, mostly denials over DUI arrests/drug arrests/etc. followed by “clarifications” of same, such as this one from 2004 about how his stay in a “sober living facility” was not against the court’s wishes.

This morning Mr. Weiland — or, as he’s usually identified in these things, WEILAND — issued a Courtney Love-worthy response to his dismissal. Conveniently, it is also a chance for him to plug and confirm reports of the imminent reunion of his old band, Stone Temple Pilots. WEILAND, baby, we love you. Don’t ever stop ... issuing crazy statements.

And remember — “don’t be fooled by veiled trickery”!

STATEMENT FROM SCOTT WEILAND

After reading the comment by Duff, Matt, Dave and the illustrious “GUITAR HERO,” Saul Hudson, a.k.a Slash, I find it humorous that the so called four “founding members” of Velvet Revolver, better known to themselves as “the Project” before I officially named the band, would decide to move on without me after I had already claimed the group dead in the water on March 20 in Glasgow. In response to Slash’s comment regarding my commitment, I have to say it is a blatant and tired excuse to cover up the truth. The truth of the matter is that the band had not gotten along on multiple levels for some time. On a musical level, there were moments of joy, inspiration, fun ... at times, but let’s not forget the multiple trips to rehab every member of the band had taken (with the exception of one member, no need to mention his name). Personally speaking, I choose to look forward to the future and performing with a group of friends I have known my entire life, people who have always had my back. This also speaks to my commitment to my music and my fellow band mates in STP and to the fans who I feel would much rather watch a group of musicians who enjoy being together as opposed to a handful of discontents who at one time used to call themselves a gang.

p.s. don’t be fooled by veiled trickery

p.p.s good hunting lads, I think Sebastian Bach would be a fantastic choice.


* as well as members of Guns N’ Roses and Stone Temple Pilots.