Friday, January 29, 2010

Music Defined

A wise man (English art critic, painter and author John Berger) once defined music by saying that it “began as a howl, became a prayer, then a lament, and still contains the elements of all three.”

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Apple Mind Control

On the eve of Apple’s much-anticipated Tablet debut, this is a provocative article from Macworld speculating on the company’s subtle behavior manipulation strategy. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out in coming years. Personally, I’m not opposed to losing the keyboard, but I think it’ll take some getting use to typing on the screen that you’re also viewing on when it’s something bigger than a handheld device. But, as the article notes, Apple has already successfully led us down the behavior modification path before (and anybody who has worked in retail in recent years, has already been doing this on the cash register interface).

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Retype It

I’ve been reading Jann Wenner’s “oral biography” of Hunter S. Thompson’s life, Gonzo, which Little, Brown put out in 2007. While not drawing much on the Rolling Stone founder’s intimate experience of the Hurricane Hunter from their many years working together (perhaps he couldn’t remember many details given the … ahh … chemistry between the two), the book does contain some interesting anecdotes and reflections from people who knew the Gonzo journalist – going all the way back to his youthful days haunting Louisville’s Cherokee Park.

One of the remembrances that particularly struck me was from Porter Bibb (gotta love these old Southern names), a teenage friend of Thompson’s who recalled how the aspiring writer would methodically retype prose selections from F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. While Bibb thought this was silly and pretentious, Thompson reasoned that it was a good way to get a sense of how it felt to write those sublime words.

Now that’s not something that I ever considered doing as a writer, but it makes sense to me. It seems like an effective exercise to get a feel for the particular nuance and flow of a master’s writing – from the writer’s perspective, as opposed to the reader’s. There is something to be said for the forced deceleration of writing out each word, rather than just reading it – seeing those words reveal themselves on the page as a result of the action of your fingers. It’s analogous to a musician tirelessly practicing the riffs of a favorite record – and, in so doing, honing skills and absorbing a style that, ultimately, are transmuted into something more personal and original.

And H.S.T. was certainly an original – in both prose and personality. That said, you can readily see the influences of Fitzgerald and Hemingway in his writing – particularly the more (ironically) lucid writing of his heyday.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Bytes for Thought

Artist: Rob Vargas / Source:

Americans consume almost 19 hours of data a day, according a recent study by researchers at the University of California at San Diego. As for the zettabytes (a zettabyte is 1 billion trillion bytes), I’m not sure how they made that translation from time spent to bytes of data consumed, but it sounds impressive ... or alarming.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Bonzo Jams, A Speciality!

This week marks the 30th anniversary of U.S. release of The Clash’s landmark London Calling album. I can’t claim to have been on the band wagon at the time. I had only a couple of friends who we’re in the vanguard musically and hip to the group back then. My main association with the album in those days was the two songs that got mainstream radio play: “Lost in the Supermarket,” which I pretty much loathed (still not too crazy about the flaccid melody and musicality on that one, though the lyrics and guitar solo aren’t bad), and “Train in Vain, “ which I thought was OK for a radio-friendly pop tune.

It wasn’t until a few years later that it began to dawn on me what a great album it truly is, and, in fact, what a great band The Clash was in that period. Unlike with most bands, my appreciation for The Clash has only grown over the many intervening years. Only The Rolling Stones (in their heyday) were as effective in alchemizing early rock and roll, r & b and reggae influences to create something unique and brilliant of their own.

Many would argue – and I would agree – that with London Calling, The Clash not only hit the high point of their recorded catalog, but also produced one of the best double albums ever. There’s virtually no padding, every song earns its place and plays its role on the record. (OK, maybe there were weak links in “Lover’s Rock” and “The Right Profile,” though any song that name checks Montgomery Clift in the chorus can’t be all bad.)

From its Elvis homage cover to its multifaceted musical content, the band’s third album stands as a unique fulcrum in rock history. It encompasses pop, Brixton reggae, turbocharged rockabilly, Diddley-esque r & b, white-boy funk and politically charged anthems. There’s some humor, too – you can’t help but love the sproingy spring sounds on “Guns of Brixton.”

With hallmark tunes such as “London Calling,” “Brand New Cadillac,” “Revolution Rock,” “Spanish Bombs,” "Death or Glory," the aforementioned “Guns of Brixton” and the unlisted track, “Train in Vain,” the album contains many of the true standouts in the band’s serpentine recording career.

This record more than any other cemented The Clash’s place in rock history. It transcended their punk origins with its nod to musical forefathers, left-leaning politics and multiculturalism. Yet, attitudinally at least, it reaffirmed that they were the thinking man’s punk band. The fact that their best work holds up so well three decades on is testament to that fact.

The “making of” documentary that came as a bonus DVD with the 25th Anniversary Legacy Edition of the CD sheds light on the recording sessions in which eccentric producer Guy Stevens’ approach seems to have been to provoke the band into performing with the grit and cool restraint we hear in the grooves (OK, bytes now). His “production” method included tossing furniture around the studio while the band was attempting to work out song arrangements and record. It leaves one amazed that the band was able to complete any album at all – much less one of the all-time greats – under the circumstances.

“After all this, won’t you give me a smile?” ... indeed.

I wanted to include the “London Calling” video, but it’s not available for embedding, so the above will have to do.

R.I.P., Joe.