Monday, November 30, 2009

Sounds of Beijing advertising bullhorns


Here’s something I’ve been meaning to post for a long time.

Two years ago I went to China and wrote two stories about the music scene there. Most of my time was spent working, but I also did some sightseeing, and one day I went to the Forbidden City.

A beautiful, arresting place, and also an example of how awkwardly the art of tourism has taken root in China, at least by the standards of a Western snob like myself. Many of the rooms in this world-famous cultural treasure are visible only through scratched Plexiglas, and are too dimly lighted to see much anyway. Absent or poorly translated display copy kept much of it obscure. There was a Starbucks in one of the ancient buildings, and scaffolding was everywhere. Surely, I wondered, the bulldozer won’t eat this like it seems to have devoured 90 percent of the rest of Beijing, right...?

I was especially struck by something near the ticket windows out front. Around a corner I could hear a loud, scratchy voice barking something in a short loop. Didn’t sound like a very friendly message. From the tone of the guy’s voice he seemed to be saying, “All hail our glorious state; move along, Workers,” over and over. I found the source in a small courtyard, where a bullhorn was strung from the roof of a souvenir/food stand. Not a soul was around.

I held up my trusty digital tape recorder and got this:

When I came home I downloaded the audio, along with dozens of interviews and some other found sounds, like this city bus:

Pretty ordinary, I know, but it still transported me when I listened, as did the megaphone message, still untranslated months later. I enjoyed fantasizing about what it could mean. A warning of some kind? “Don’t touch the power lines”?

Then I contacted my friend Qing, who helped me in Beijing. He was a relative of one of my sister’s co-workers, a Beijing native who also happened to be a SUNY Albany grad. He stands as probably the most hospitable person I have ever met, interpreting interviews, helping me get around town, picking me up in a heartbeat whenever I called, and taking me to some fabulous, fabulous restaurants. The food alone was an adventure I will never forget.

Anyway, Qing, being so helpful, thorough and scholarly, crowdsourced the audio file I sent him. Sounds like it wasn’t easy, but here’s what he came up with:

Finally, we came to this: “kuai4 can1 he2 fan4, tai2 wan1 kao3 chang2” (2 phrases, as pronounced in standard mandarin) — this seemingly makes sense.
  • kuai4 can1 (fast food)
  • he2 fan4 (box lunch)
  • tai2 wan1 (Taiwan)
  • kao3 chang2 (broiled hotdog sausage)
Then you see, it might be someone selling the fast food lunch featured with Taiwan style broiled sausage.

So it was broiled sausage, not a totalitarian commandment. I wonder how the old Yankee Stadium “cold beeah heeah” sounds to a Mandarin speaker.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Chinese bands back to SXSW

South by Southwest just announced an initial list of a couple hundred showcase bands for 2010 (it’ll climb up well over 1,000 eventually), and two of the Beijing bands that recently toured the U.S., P.K. 14 and Carsick Cars, are on it. I interviewed two members of those bands, and from what I saw in Brooklyn they were pretty well received by the crowds.

It’s not unprecedented: Lonely China Day and Re-TROS came in 2007 and got thumbs-ups from Jon Pareles. The big question is always whether they will return again. P.K. 14 and Carsick Cars might have a slight advantage here, since they’re already somewhat known, and have gotten their share of critical props: Alex Ross singled out Shou Wang of Carsick Cars in his mega New Yorker piece on Chinese music, and also chose a performance by him as one of his top 10 of 2008.

(HT to China Music Radar.)

Happy Art Week


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Tuli Kupferberg’s ‘Daily Perverbs’

His YouTube channel is tulifuli, and at age 86, despite ill health, he still posts quite frequently — looks like two or three times a week, usually. Here are a few examples over the last month:

I profiled the Fugs in 2003, on their last reunion, and I still have the two gifts Tuli gave me before their show at the Village Underground: a copy of his book Teach Yourself Fucking and a button that says “Impeach the President (Generic).”

And here’s his Christmas show for Revolting News in 1992, which, according to its description, features “performances of ‘Christmas in the Workhouse’ and Tuli’s own song, ‘The 8 Days of Hanukah.’ Also stories, poems and a partial reading of ‘A Child’s Christmas in Wales’ by Dylan Thomas.”

Ed Sanders tells me a benefit concert for Tuli is being readied for January with the help of Hal Willner.

The Young Prince of Bel-Air

VHS youth: ‘Angel’ (1984)

Now and then I like to think about the videos whose empty boxes I remember seeing again and again back in the day, but which I never saw. Previously: Basket Case; The Last American Virgin.

Today, more sexploitation.

Monday, November 23, 2009


Museum of propaganda: ‘We Must Have More Men’

Via Vintagraph (same folks behind Shorpy), from whom you can also order prints.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Beautiful old photos

I’m hooked on a number of historic-photo blogs, like If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger, There’d Be a Whole Lot of Dead Copycats, which is responsible for a lot of lost productivity daily. My favorite new one is Shorpy — named after this Dickensian “greaser” — which not only runs a lot of cool, random old photographs, but also links to them in mouth-watering full-size. Click on these to see:

For the record, since I’m highly, cynically suspicious of blog endorsements, I have nothing to do with either of these or the people behind them; I just like the pictures. This disclaimer brought to you by Pizza Hut.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Mariah’s leak strategy


A somewhat ballsy story in The Times of London about Mariah Carey's business schemes — it calls her "one of the few people successfully to screw a major record label" — includes this nugget explaining how Mrs. Nick Cannon manipulates paparazzi at her public appearances via leaks to selected, and presumably controllable, fan-bloggers:

Carey’s itinerary, which is supposed to be top secret but which an aide has helpfully left lying on a table, reveals that she uses the Internet to leak details of each appearance to favoured bloggers and Facebook groups shortly beforehand. This way, only the most devoted fans turn up, and freaks and weirdos are weeded out. The selective leaks also help to make sure there are enough paparazzi but not so many that there’s a scrum. Just before she is due to arrive at the Asahi studios to appear on Music Station, Carey’s aides “leaked the time she will appear at entrance through social online sites, blogs, etc. We are expecting to have 100 fans and some paparazzi”, the schedule reveals. The cybertrickery works to script. Just after 6pm, Carey pulls up in her stretch limousine and steps out into a small but perfectly formed crowd.

According to the article, we can also expect to see Carey in a lot of tourism ads:

She has a house in the Bahamas on the island of Eleuthera. She won’t say if she is paid by the Bahamas tourist board to talk about how great the place is but you’d be forgiven for thinking she is, given the amount of time she spends doing so. ... Carey also plans to team up with the New York tourist board to attract visitors to her adopted home town. When she had her 18th No. 1, the city authorities lit up the Empire State Building in her favourite colours: pink and lavender. It was good publicity for Carey and for New York. Expect to see “Mariah in New York” advertisements soon.


‘Hammer time’ at WSJ

This isn’t the kind of thing I would normally pay attention to, but while waiting for a fax this morning I glanced at a pile of Wall Street Journals and saw this front-page story from last Friday about harem pants. From a non-fashion perspective it is just a hilarious read, starting with the classic WSJ hed and dek:

Ridicule Keeps Fans of Harem Pants From Getting Too Big for Their Britches
* * *
Slaves to Anti-Fashion Suffer Taunts of ‘Hammer Time,’ Bike Accidents

And these two wonderful grafs:

A radical departure from the skinny-pants trend of the past few years, the baggy trousers can take some getting used to. Jean Hall, 24, says the low-slung crotch of her American Apparel African-print harem pants got caught on her bike pedal while she was riding through Brooklyn, causing her to fall off. Her friend, who was riding with her, wrote about the incident on Twitter.

“Everyone has something to say about them,” Ms. Hall says. Recently she was chased down the street by a bunch of young boys in her neighborhood who were fascinated with the pants.

But what really clinches it is the hedcut, which you don’t see in the online version of the story (sorry for poor iPhone photo quality):

Now, if you google “harem pants” you get 363,000 hits, including stories at Vogue and MSNBC, so this is nothing new. But this must be like what non-music nerds feel when they stumble upon a piece about Grizzly Bear and/or Dirty Projectors and just think, “What the...?”

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Update to 2010 release dates

Updating my earlier calendar post, Tony Allen has been bumped to “spring/early summer,” per his U.S. publicist. Too bad, dude might miss out on Fela! hype, unless of course that show makes it to the Tonys, which is very plausible.

Silver lining: A new Magnetic Fields album has been announced for January. Pitchfork reports:

The bathroom-door-sleeved follow-up to the Magnetic Fields’ 2008 album Distortion is called Realism and it is out January 26 on Nonesuch. It features a song called “The Dada Polka” which may or may not be an actual polka song.

On the band’s website, Stephin Merritt calls this one the “folk” counterpart to Distortion, which also had a bathroom sign on the cover:

So they’re doing Shakira tricks now? Meh.

Friday, November 13, 2009

‘Deus ex Mexican’: Funniest movie review ever

Wow. As I tweeted, I’m pretty blown away by this review of “2012” on The Awl, by Mary HK Choi. This woman is a genius:

You know who I love? I love anyone who hated this movie because I would like to fight them to the death for being wrong as balls. Fuckouttahere. I wanna be on the 2012 thrill park ride, playing 2012 on my Nintendo DS, eating the 2012-branded chocotaco and watching this movie at the same time because I am greedy for this brand of INCREDIBLEBANANASINCREDIBLE. Everyone who says otherwise may as well have written their reviews on their faces in marker because they are obviously batshit crazy and should be ignored. Seriously, will somebody tell me what people expected other than 158 minutes of apocalypse BUKKAKE? Roland Emmerich knows how to destroy himself some world and sure it isn't so much a story but a sprayfest of rapid-fire money shots but what else would it be? And what else would make it THIS AWESOME? It's like the movie has ultra-oxygenated blood and sleeps upside down in a hyperbaric chamber and eats tiger penis like it's its job because it has psycho endurance that feels GREAT in your brain.

It goes on.

Also, I really want to see “2012,” but I knew that once I saw the preview, in which John Cusack does Millennium Falcon daredevil flight moves as the earth vomits out Los Angeles and then swallows it back up again.



Monday, November 9, 2009

VHS youth: ‘The Last American Virgin’ (1982)

Another flick from the video-store racks of my childhood. Never saw it, although we all saw the girl here, Diane Franklin, as Monique the foreign exchange student in Better Off Dead.

Previously: Basket Case.

Friday, November 6, 2009

stinkard, n.

1. One who stinks. Formerly often used as a term of abuse. Now rare or Obs.

c1600 Timon I. ii. (1842) 6 Out, out, thou stinckard, mans grand enemy. 1601 B. Jonson Poetaster iv. i, The Gods were a sort of Goslinges, when they suffred so sweete a breath to perfume the bed of a stinkard. 1612 Chapman Widows' T. I. i. C3b, Your vnapprehending Stinckerd is blest with the sole prerogatiue of his Wiues chamber. 1684 Otway Atheist I. i. 7 The most insufferable Stinkard living. 1700 Congreve Way of World IV. xi, Your Turks are infidels, and believe not in the grape: your Mahometan, your Mussulman is a dry Stinkard.

†b. See quot. 1777. Also attrib. Obs.

1777 Robertson Hist. Amer. IV. (1778) I. 344 Among the Natchez ... Some families were reputed noble... The body of the people were considered as vile... The former were called Respectable; the latter the Stinkards. 1792 W. Bartram Trav. Carolina 464 Those numerous remnant bands or tribes ... generally speak the Stincard language.

2. A name given to various ill-smelling animals.

1774 Goldsm. Nat. Hist. III. 380 The Stinkards. This is a name which our sailors give to one or two animals of the weasel kind, which are chiefly found in America. Ibid. IV. 80 [The musk rat] is denominated by them [the savages of Canada] the stinkard. 1822 Southey in Q. Rev. XXVI. 281 The stinkard, who it seems is a sure shot at five feet distance, retreated leisurely..and stopt when the unhappy Jesuit drew nigh. 1843 J. E. Gray List Mammalia Brit. Mus. 69 The Stinkard or Teledu. Mydaus meliceps. Java.

3. A shark of the genus Mustelus.

1883 Day Fishes Gt. Brit. II. 296 Mustelus vulgaris... Smooth-hound,..Stinkard, in Ireland, due to its colour.

4. = stinker 5, stink pot 3.

1850 Scoresby Cheever's Whalem. Adv. iii. (1858) 40 Gonies, stinkards, horse-birds ... had all many a good morsel of blubber.

Copyright © Oxford University Press

One reason to get excited about the ‘Doolittle’ tour

They open with the B-sides.

Here’s “Dancing the Manta Ray” in Los Angeles last night.

UPDATE: Stereogum informs us that the Pixies have released a free live EP on their website, with four songs recorded in Paris: “Dancing the Manta Ray,” “Monkey Gone to Heaven,” “Crackity Jones” and “Gouge Away.”

Michael Jackson’s Prince envy?

One of the odder things to come out of the news about the Michael Jackson film is his apparent anxiety about Prince. It’s a rivalry I was unaware of, but a couple of prominent statements by executives of AEG Live recently suggest that Michael had Prince very much in his mind when planning the show.

I believe this first came up in comments by Randy Phillips, CEO of AEG Live, who’s been the loudest inside voice about all things Michael. Here’s what he told Josh Rottenberg for Entertainment Weekly’s recent cover story:

With the budget already past $24 million, Jackson told his team he wanted to re-create one of the world’s largest waterfalls — Victoria Falls in southern Africa — on the stage. “I was ready to jump off the balcony of my office,” Phillips says. “We went and met with Michael, and Kenny said, ‘Michael, you’ve got to stop. We’ve got an incredible show; we don’t need any more vignettes.’ Michael said, ‘But Kenny, God channels this through me at night. I can’t sleep because I’m so supercharged.’ Kenny said, ‘But Michael, we have to finish. Can’t God take a vacation?’ Without missing a beat, Michael said, ‘You don’t understand — if I’m not there to receive these ideas, God might give them to Prince.’ ”

A great, if secondhand, anecdote, the kind that makes other reporters jealous. Seemed pretty random, though, until I read this report about a “This Is It” roundtable at Billboard’s touring conference this week. Again, this is sourced directly to Phillips and other top AEG execs:

The Jackson/AEG partnership resulted in a contract that initially included 31 dates, a number chosen by Jackson because it would be 10 more concerts than Prince performed. The number planned shows at the 02 Arena in London later grew to 50.

That’s the first time I’ve seen the number 31; the initial on-sale was for 10 shows, and I believe the run was extended straight to 50.

Another parallel: For Prince’s 21 shows at the O2 in 2007, he had a company called Kraken Opus — which designs “the world’s most expensive sports, arts and fashion books” — to put together a lavish, $2,100 commemorative book. Guess who MJ got to do his book?

And what does Prince think? There was chatter after MJ's death about how Prince had not made any comment. When he eventually did, in a French newspaper only a few weeks ago, it was with apparent reluctance and clear diplomacy:

Qu'avez-vous ressenti à la mort de Michael Jackson ?

(Prince, visiblement, ne veut pas s'étendre sur le sujet.) On est toujours triste de perdre quelqu'un qu'on a aimé.

[As translated by Michael Jackson fans:

How did you feel at the death of Michael Jackson?

(Prince, obviously reluctant, does not want to dwell on the subject.) It is always sad to lose someone you loved.]

‘We Intend To Create Havoc’

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A ‘cantankerous and cunning’ new Mickey Mouse

My colleague Brooks Barnes has a great story in tomorrow’s paper, online now, about Disney’s attempts to reboot Mickey Mouse, out of concerns “that Mickey has become more of a corporate symbol than a beloved character for recent generations of young people.”

“Mickey is never going to be evil or go around killing people,” sez the creative director for Epic Mickey, a new video game. But he adds: “I wanted him to be able to be naughty — when you’re playing as Mickey you can misbehave and even be a little selfish.”

Somewhat frightening: “The game also features a disemboweled, robotic Donald Duck and a ‘twisted, broken, dangerous’ version of Disneyland’s ‘It’s a Small World.’ ”

Brooks has been on a roll with Disney stories recently, all of them must-reads.

VHS youth: ‘Basket Case’ (1982)

An occasional series highlighting movies I remember from the video-store racks of my childhood but never actually saw. First up: “What’s in the basket?”

Nor have I seen Basket Case 2 or Basket Case 3: The Progeny.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Attention antedaters: ‘Air guitar’

I doubt that it dates only to 1983. Also, strange to cite a Sopranos script for use of “air guitar,” isn’t it?

air guitar, v.

orig. U.S.

1. intr. To mime the action of playing a guitar, esp. to a recording or performance of rock music. Cf. air guitar n.

1983 J. McKenna & M. Moffitt Compl. Air Guitar Handbk. xii. 49 (caption) Neil Young air guitars with Joni Mitchell and Robbie Robertson in The Last Waltz. 1990 Surfer Aug. 62 Martin Potter ... air guitaring and lip-synching to the Aerosmith Run/DMC version of Walk This Way. 2003 Bang Apr. 13/1 The former Spacemen 3 leader nearly knocks his pint over while air-guitaring.

2. trans. To mime the action of playing (music) on a guitar.

1994 Toronto Sun 17 Sept. 40/2 Cocker knew the arrangements so well that on occasion he would start air-guitaring a solo a few beats before his guitarist started picking. 1999 J. Cahill Guy walks into Psychiatrist’s Office in Sopranos (television shooting script) 2nd Ser. 42 (stage direct.) He drums the wheel, air-guitars the heavy riffs. 2006 Denver Post (Nexis) 17 Nov. ff7 We had fans go and upload to YouTube their videos of them ... air guitaring the song.

Copyright © Oxford University Press

Monday, November 2, 2009

Some 2010 dates to circle

For new albums:

Jan. 12:

  • Vampire Weekend, Contra (XL). From the single it’s clear they can write more than one good song. Whether the world will still be interested in the multi-culti preppyboy thing in 2010 — more than two years after it began its hype cycle — is yet to be seen.

  • Tony Allen, Secret Agent (World Circuit/Nonesuch). There will be a Fela Kuti assault beginning shortly, loosely centered on the opening of Fela! on Broadway on Nov. 23. His entire catalog — 45 albums — will be reissued again, this time by the reactivated Knitting Factory label. Here’s the latest by Tony Allen, Fela’s drummer, who has made some very good solo records, and his appearance on World Circuit (run by Nick Gold, the guy behind Buena Vista Social Club) promises something high-quality.

Jan. 26:

  • Spoon, Transference (Merge). It hasn’t been proclaimed enough, but Spoon is the best band in America, and everything Britt Daniels has touched over the last 10 years has been just about perfect. Were there a healthier and less splintered mediasphere right now, and were there some justice, a new Spoon album would be celebrated like This Is It. UPDATE: Here’s a stream of a new song, “Mystery Zone.” Sounds great, though I’m not sold on the mellotron. (Or is it just a mellotron-esque sample?)

  • Beach House, Teen Dream (Sub Pop). Victoria Legrand’s voice is the most wonderful thing to emerge from indie-rock since Cat Power. Which, to remind you, was nearly 15 years ago.

FebruaryFeb. 10:

  • Yeasayer, Odd Blood (Secretly Canadian). I really dug the prog-psych the last time around, even with the bassist’s haircut and mustache. Hoping it still sounds good. I guess I can’t complain about the facial hair anymore, but it would be good to see that gone. It has, after all, been more than two years. UPDATE: Free download of first single, “Ambling Alp,” here.

Dirty Orchjectors, and Chuck Biscuits update

Dirty Projectors has become the umpteenth touted, smart, beloved, but not huge-selling alt band to do the indie-orchestral thing, playing with the Los Angeles Philharmonic on Feb. 27.

It was probably inevitable. They follow Death Cab for Cutie, M83, Grizzly Bear, the Decemberists, Belle & Sebasitan, Air and Bright Eyes, all at the L.A. Phil; Joanna Newsom and, again, Grizzly Bear, both with the Brooklyn Phil; and Ben Folds with the Boston Pops. UPDATE: Even as I typed, Grizzly Bear was doing yet another orchestral gig, in London.

I didn’t expect when I got up this morning that I would be giving thanks to Henry Rollins. But thanks, Henry, for never singing “T.V. Party” with the Boston Phil at Tanglewood.

In other sorta Rollins-related news, it appears all but certain that Chuck Biscuits is alive and that his death was a hoax. Read more about it, if you’re not already too disgusted and offended by the whole thing.