Protests Erupt Over Opera

The opera The Death of Klinghoffer is causing all kinds of drama in NYC.  I just read the following New York Times article about it:

New York Times The Death of Klinghoffer

If you want to read a basic description of the plot and what people find controversial about it you can find it on Wikipedia:

Wikipedia The Death of Klinghoffer

I am not going to pretend that I understand the opera having not seen or heard it.  I do think Rudy Giuliani is an ambulance chaser, but that can be a conversation for another day.

Here is my question:  When is the last time that a pop song, let alone an opera, started a serious political discussion?  This is what art is supposed to do, to bring up subjects in a way that get people discussing things in a peaceful manner.  The opera may be great or it may be terrible, but it has gotten people talking about an important political topic, one of which there isn’t enough discussion on.  It doesn’t seem as it is, by design, meant to anger or offend people.  It seems like it is the work of a serious artist that is trying to get people to think.

People have the right to peacefully protest anything they want.  If they find the opera offensive it is their right to stand outside and provide people with an alternative viewpoint, as long as they do not threaten or harass those that want to see it.

However, when it comes to art I would rather see a free exchange of ideas.  I would rather see some kind of in depth and honest criticism of the work than a protest.

However, in this case, I think the protestors lose in two ways.  First they are meeting complex ideas with something simple.  Second, they are drawing attention to something that they don’t want people to see.  That never works.  Protests are a a great way to bring attention to things that aren’t receiving enough attention.  Let’s face it, operas have about 0% effect on popular culture in America.  I don’t even know the names of any newer operas other than this one and I listen to a ton of music, including on occasion opera.  Now I am interested in seeing this one at some point just to see what all the racket is about.

I remember when The Passion of the Christ came out.  There was a lot of controversy over that.  I don’t like to let others make up my mind for me, so I went to see a movie that I otherwise wouldn’t have seen, because I wanted to decide for myself what I thought about it.  I did not like the movie, because I thought it dwelled on all the wrong aspects of Jesus, but I was glad I went because it was a large part of the cultural conversation at the time.  In my opinion anything that makes one think is a good thing, even if at the end of the day what you think is that you don’t like it.

Blog as Collage

I view blogging as an art form.  I don’t mean to sound pretentious, but I’m sure to some it will come across that way.  Let me explain:

If you are doing something other than niche blogging, where you focus on one topic, you are kind of creating a collage of ideas.  You can’t quite categorize blogging as a writing endeavor, because often you are adding pictures, video clips, and other people’s ideas.  So you add all of these different mediums together, both things that you and others have created, and you end up with something unique to each person.

If you don’t like collage think of it as curating.  I’m not trying to make someone wanking off on their computer at home sound more important than it is.  What I am trying to do is make people that are interested in these sorts of things see it in  different light.  You are wanking off on your computer at home, but you might just do something individualistic and interesting while doing so.

A Little Bit of Magic

I have just put up over 900 posts since I started this blog in August of last year.  Slowly, but surely, the amount of people coming here has grown.  I can’t thank all of you enough for spending time here.

The first thought I have when I write something is, “Why would anyone care?”  I can only hope that there is enough people out there that have somewhat similar interests to me.  I’m throwing baseballs blindly over a wall and hoping that there are people on the other side to catch them.  I have only kept writing in public because of those of you that keep coming back.

Last night I played music in front of what looked like a couple thousand people at a festival in Conroe, Texas.  However, I have played plenty of nights where there were maybe five or ten people in the audience.  No matter what I try to always play my best.  When we read we read alone.  How many times have you gone to a movie and been one of the only people in the theater?  There is still that chance that that book or movie or album or live performance might connect with someone.  I can think of all the times that something connected with me in an important way when there was no one else to experience it.  Everyone matters.  If you do something and it even reaches even one person it has value.  That person’s life has as much value as your own or anyone else’s.  A connection with even one other soul has a little bit of magic in it.  As long as someone keeps coming back I will keep writing.

Thanks again to all of you that keep coming here.  If you would be kind enough to tell other’s of my writing I would be eternally grateful.

In the future when all’s well…

Jeff

Misplaced Passion

Reading Henry Rollins’s Get In the Van in our tour van.  I feel like I am looking in one of those endless mirrors where you see a reflection of a reflection and so on.  Not that I am experiencing any of the insanity that was part of those times, but perhaps reading a book about touring in a van while touring in a van wasn’t the best move. 

I have been obsessed with Black Flag though lately.  Once I dive into something I want to know everything there is to know about it.  I can’t help myself.  I dive into a world until I exhaust it and then I move on for awhile.  That is why on this blog you will see a bunch of posts about a topic and then a week later I’ll move onto a new set of topics. 

This blog is sort of a catalog of my obsessions.  I only hope that there are enough people that share my obsessions and/or I can find an angle that makes them interesting to others for a few minutes. 

There is so much great art out there.  How could anyone be bored?  Jail or lines are the only places I have ever found boring.  If you give me my ipod and access to books the days just melt away for me.  I feel sorry for people that have no passions or have passion and no outlet for it. 

I think in the modern world there is a lot of misplaced passion.  We are told by the television to have passion for money or items or religion. 

Past the pub that wrecks your body
And the church – all they want is your money
The Queen is dead, boys
And it’s so lonely on a limb

What is Selling Out These Days?

As I creep slowly up the music business food chain and have thought about the state of the music business, I have had to think about what the term selling out means.  I grew up when the music business was healthy.  I also grew up following the punk and independent music scene quite closely.  There were people who “sold out” and who “didn’t sell out”.  It meant various things to various people, and was never clearly defined, but it was more so than today.  Lou Reed made a Honda commercial, but I don’t think anyone could ever accuse him of selling out.  Meanwhile a band like Fugazi never even allowed themselves to be interviewed in magazines that had booze or tobacco ads.  Johnny Rotten, John Lydon, did a butter ad a couple years ago, but he claimed this was only to get Public Image Ltd, a very avant garde band, back to making records.  Sometimes things stick to artists and sometimes they don’t.   Really I think you have to measure someone’s whole career and determine if they have artistic integrity.

Back in the renaissance,  in Italy, there was a rich and powerful family named the Medici family.  They funded the arts heavily.  They were patrons of such artists as Michaelangelo.   Basically in one way or another artists need their Medici family.  It is preferable if this is done through funding through the general public, as lots of small patrons cannot really force an artist to compromise their vision. 

However, what do you do in an age when no one is buying records the way they once were?  Art costs money to make.  Bills still need to be paid. 

You see more and more artists making corporate partnerships in order to survive.  More and more artists also appear in commercials as mainstream radio has been neutered almost completely.   This makes me uncomfortable because large corporations often act unethically.  Part of the purpose of art is to speak truth to power.  It becomes harder to do, though it is not impossible, if an artist is funded by that power.  No one will accuse John Lydon anytime soon of biting his tongue.  But he was well established by the time he made a commercial.  I do think that the relationship between corporations and artists is corrupting,  if not to every artist, then at least in the industry overall.  If it is hard to pinpoint exactly who has been corrupted,  it does seem like there is less art speaking truth to power than during the 60’s or the punk rock era. 

I don’t have the answer to these questions.  I just think it is worth thinking about.  I do think that it is important that individuals support artists with their own money through buying of records, supporting radio stations that don’t have corporate playlists, etc.  In a capitalist society you vote with your money.  If you want art that means something you need to be willing to pay for it.  I am still a person that buys almost all of my records, because I view it as investing in an art that means something to me.  Music has, if not literally saved my life, definitely kept me sane.  I want there to continue to be artists that aren’t afraid to speak their mind and to expose their soul. 

An Interview With Terry Gilliam

Terry Gilliam: Hollywood is just “gray, frightened people” holding on for dear life http://www.salon.com/2014/09/19/terry_gilliam_hollywood_is_just_%e2%80%9cgray_frightened_people%e2%80%9d_holding_on_for_dear_life/
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An interesting interview with one of my heroes, director Terry Gilliam. 

The Problem With Pitchfork

pitchfork1.1

I read reviews at Pitchfork, even though I rarely agree with them.  Pitchfork at least takes reviewing albums somewhat seriously in an age where reviews seem more like tweets than actual criticism.  More and more magazines and sites seem to be mistaking a half a paragraph as enough information to base an informed purchasing decision on.  I’ll at least give Pitchfork their due in that they put out an awful lot of longer form criticism.  The problem, however, is that most of the opinions you encounter there are ones that you can pretty much guess in advance, especially when it comes to rock music.  Their writers seem to disparage anything where actual songwriting is involved.  The more an album is a collection of weird sounds, and the less it actually features well crafted songs, the better chance it has of being highly rated.

The thing is, really great songs are hard as fuck to write.  We actually need more artists that are actually saying something in a way that reaches people.  I love all kinds of music as long as I feel an artist is doing something that comes direct from their soul and they are not just following trends.

Their is a band called The Knife that I like.  Their last album, Shaking the Habitual, was a really interesting record.  It dealt in avant-garde soundscapes much more than it dealt in pop songs.  If it were a painting it would be more of a Jackson Pollock than a beautiful landscape.  But do you know how many times I actually listened to the entire record in one sitting?  I haven’t once.  It’s pushing the envelope and that’s important, but it’s not really enjoyable other than as an intellectual exercise.  As a musician I really appreciate that kind of thing, but it’s a hard thing to love.  Pitchfork gave it an 8.4 and called it the best new music.  If you read the artwork that comes with the album you know that The Knife have a political agenda, but you would be hard pressed to really get that agenda by actually listening to the music.

Meanwhile the new Morrissey record is really subversive politically and in a way that anyone listening could get.  It’s because he uses the form of the pop song as his platform.  There are intelligent lyrics that tackle everything from gender politics to animal cruelty, but they are all delivered with melodies that are undeniably catchy.  His new album World Peace is None of Your Business has some really interesting arrangements.  The album starts with tribal percussion and a didgeridoo.  I’m Not a Man, perhaps the most subversive pop song that I have heard in some time, with an incredible melody, even starts with a minute and a half of strange noises.  What I’m getting at is that this isn’t simple guitar, bass, drums stuff, although I love traditional rock n roll as much as anything.  But I can’t help but think that Morrissey was punished a couple points by Pitchfork because he actually dared write memorable melodies.  His album was awarded a 5.9.

The new U2 album got only 4.6 points.  I wouldn’t say that the new U2 album, Songs of Innocence, is one of their top three albums, but it’s really good.  Every song features really strong melodies and great playing from musicians that play as a true band.  I personally like it more than probably any record they have put out since Pop.  I think Bono as a lyricist was at his peak between The Joshua Tree and Pop.  However this new album has songs that deal with IRA car bombs and the death of his mother.  It’s not exactly bubblegum.  But out of the three albums it is the most traditional in terms of writing and arrangements.  This is a rock n roll band album by and large.  But anyone that has ever written songs with things like guitars and melodies will know that what they are doing on this record is not the kind of thing that is easy.  It would be much easier to get a bunch of weird instruments and make an atonal soundscape.

I want a world where I can hear both.  I like that I can flick on my iPod and shuffle between The Knife and U2.  Out of the three records I like the Morrissey one the best as I think it is the one that straddles the gap between the intellectual and emotional the best.  But out of the other two, I can tell you flat out I am going to listen to the U2 one way more.  It’s more emotionally resonant.  And also, even though it seems more traditional, creating great songs is actually the harder magic trick.

I feel lucky though that as a music fan I don’t have to choose.  There is different music for different occasions.  Everyone has slightly different tastes and opinions.  However, I can’t help but feel that Pitchfork tilts the scales too far in one direction.  I feel like our mainstream culture has been dumbed down too much. If you look at the music of the 60’s you will see that this wasn’t always the case.  There was a time when music could be popular and important.  Now Pitchfork alone isn’t responsible for this.  A great deal of it has to do with other aspects of our free market culture run amuck.  But sometimes I wish the writers over at Pitchfork would realize that intelligence and subversive thought don’t necessarily have to exist apart from accessibility.