tonight at 10/9c, cnn will air the first episode of their original series, “chicagoland.” because my employer was involved with some of the filming for this 8-part documentary, this past tuesday night i was able to attend a special debut showing at the bank of america theater in chicago. based on the first episode that i saw, i would strongly recommend it to anyone interested in an insider’s view to how a modern american city works (or, sometimes, doesn’t).
their crews were given access to intimate & uncensored moments we members of the public rarely get to see, if ever: with the mayor, with the principal of a school which needs metal detectors, with the police chief, with grieving families, and—in the episode’s most haunting moment—with 10-year-old students who are literally scared for their lives just walking to school.
but, as someone who loves this city dearly, i want to give all of you not from chicago a viewer’s guide to the things that the cameras didn’t capture, or were edited out, or just plain weren’t explained…
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if it hasn’t been made abundantly clear on this blog, i can assure you that at least my friends are already well aware of my antipathy toward music streaming services. it’s not because i’m an audiophile (my hearing never fully recovered after nine inch nails’ “fragility” tour back in 2000). it’s not even because i have a janky internet connection at home (which i do). it’s because i’ve yet to be convinced that any of the pay-for-service music streaming companies actually compensate artists fairly.
i know that my friends are aware of this opinion because one of them was good enough to email me a link to an article on the guardian this week regarding that very issue. independent musician zoe keating shared her payouts in 2013 from iTunes, youtube, spotify, and other services—even going so far as to make the figures available publicly in a google document. the guardian did some quick math, revealing that 92% of keating’s income still came from album sales, not streams.
it’s worth noting that the guardian also supplied an october 2013 quote from keating on this very topic:
I don’t feel like streaming is the evil enemy. I think it’s a good positive thing to get music out there… All I’m asking is make a direct deal with me, let me choose my terms.
while i do find keating’s transparency here quite admirable, i’d like to reiterate my earlier statement that, as a fan, i don’t actually care what the exact numbers are. i don’t even care if a streaming service pays all artists the same rate (as beats music claims to). what i care about is artists feeling like they’re getting a fair deal. if they feel the system is equitable—regardless of where a given artist is at in their own particular career arc—that’s what i’m interested in. and regardless of what numbers appear in keating’s spreadsheet, the thing i’m going to remember, and the thing that’s going to continue to keep me away from streaming services, is that keating still lacks control over who profits from her music.
p.s. on a somewhat related note, last week new republic had a nice article on how/why book publishers haven’t exactly been as devastated by the digital revolution as the music & film industries.
so, there’s been this trend lately to be, like, all positive & shit when reviewing books. which i kinda understand. technology has enabled us all to be content producers. anybody & everybody can not only write a book, but publish it. and negative reviews help no one more than the writer. especially if that writer hasn’t come up the old school way and/or become part of a writing community, building up a stable of editors they trust to critique their work—but it’s also true for established writers, who could be otherwise unchallenged because of their burnished reputation.
as readers, however, we might get a perverse thrill from a literary takedown by a critic, but do we really need negative reviews? if the end objective for readers is to know which books to (not) read, couldn’t we more or less glean that by seeing which books never get (positively) reviewed anywhere, ever? on the other hand, is a critic who only writes glowing reviews in danger of becoming overly fawning, or desperately sifting for gold where little (if any) exists?
it is in that context that i wonder what the fate of ruth: woman of courage would be were it published in 2014. it is, ostensibly, a children’s retelling of the story of ruth (i.e., from the bible) which was published in 1977 & beloved by tiny young christians across the land. but let’s pretend it was released today. would it come out on a vanity press, and be panned by academics and lovers of literature alike as unserious, barely(?) sensical words spewed on a page? or would it be snapped up by some by some indie publisher, and hailed by the masses on html giant as a pre/post-ironic deconstruction of contemporary amerikan language which delves into the myth of feminist biblical moral strength? tough to tell.
whether or not the world needs negative reviews in 2014 is up for debate. but i submit that if you’re going to use the *literal* word of god as source material, you’re setting yourself to an awfully high standard—a standard which some reviewer should hold you to. and, paula jordan parris: for you, that reviewer is me.
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february 3, 2013
thanks for your letter & let me begin with this: congrats. your beloved seahawks made peyton manning’s record-setting broncos look completely ineffectual (even in denver’s best moments). how do i know they did that? cuz i watched the super bowl. kinda. steve almond was right in that this game has practically become a secular holiday. friends of mine host a big party for it every year—and there are actually some friends of mine that i only see at that super bowl party (yes, their kids are fine & life is pretty good, in case you were wondering). so, i did see that safety to start the game. and then basically nothing else until the 2nd half. but i was there, and i definitely stole glances at the tv screen (was that james franco with a fucking tiger?). i even watched a good part of the 2nd half as more&more guests headed home (yes, those parents are responsible & their kids do have bedtimes, in case you were wondering). but that does kinda prompt the question, wtf, jason?
so let me also acknowledge this: i didn’t exactly maintain a strict ban on watching my beloved bears this past season. i tried to stay away. but then some guys would invite me to the bar to watch monday night football with them, and i’d want to hang out with them because i haven’t seen them in a while, and then i’d see alshon jeffery make an absolutely sick catch against dallas, and then i’ve fallen off the wagon, as it were.
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i wanna get this outta the way right up front: i live in a deep, dark hole w/r/t pop culture. and also, yes, i’m maybe a bit racist (especially w/r/t hip hop). i just wanted to remind you. in case there was any confusion as to why this whole macklemore/grammys backlash has me perplexed. i totally get the whole “recording academy is out of touch” argument. but, fuck, what awards association isn’t? bitching about macklemore winning grammys is like bitching about a biopic winning too many damn oscars. pissing & moaning about why *your* guy didn’t win (whoever *your* guy is) only serves to legitimize the whole absurd enterprise. if you’re gonna attack the grammys at all, why not make it about the ludicrous prospect of giving awards for art?
but maybe you wanna make this about race. and, to be fair, because we’re talking about america, you can pretty much bet race is a factor. but is it the factor? have we already forgotten that kanye west swept the 4 rap categories of 2011, and 4 of 5 in 2007? or that lil wayne won 4 of 5 in 2008? in fact, other than a handful of awards given to eminem, and a single award to the beasties in ’98, the grammy’s rap category has been completely dominated by black artists since the recording academy began awarding them in 1988. so someone whingeing about a white artist in 2014 strikes me as someone actually having an issue with their own long/short-term memory. if you’re gonna get on the grammys about diversity, why not make it about the GLARING omission of female hip hop artists (and not just in 2014, but for 25 years now)?
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this past tuesday, beats music debuted. if you haven’t heard of it, it’s a new streaming service being offered by a collective of pretty d*mn impressive people, including dr. dre, trent reznor, and jimmy iovine. i did some searching around the internets and, near as i can tell, most of the media coverage around this launch was focused on that music dream team & how their product is different from pandora, rdio, spotify, rhapsody, itunes radio, youtube, etc. (the main talking point being that beats is an actual service, one curated by real humans instead of robots or algorithms or whatever).
but rather than a summary of beats’ product model, what i hoped to find was some music journalist who had broken down beats’ business model. on none of the articles i found (even with click-bait titles such as “7 things you should know about beats music“) was the topic of artists’ revenue ever seriously covered. i was most disappointed to not find any mention of that from pitchfork or sound opinions—until i learned that pitchfork & sound opinions were both “curators” on beats. it was especially disappointing to not hear from the sound opinions co-hosts, not least because i’m a huge fan of greg kot, but also because jim derogatis tried to take pitchfork founder ryan schreiber to the woodshed over journalistic ethics for curating an online music tv channel.
the closest i found to any reporting on the issue was a throwaway graf at the end of a rollingstone piece:
Beats Music is also focused on creating a service that is fair to the artists whose music it streams, and will pay the same royalty rate to all content owners. “Beats Music is based on the belief that all music has value and this concept was instilled in every step of its development. We want it to be just as meaningful for artists as it is for fans,” Reznor said in a statement. “We’re committed to providing revenue to artists, while helping to strengthen the connection with their fans.”
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so, do you remember that time i was talking about my favorite cover version of “ring of fire“? i might have to stand corrected. ray charles, performing the song— on, of all places, the johnny cash show in 1970—is basically too good to be true. but don’t take my word for it…
i heard a piece on the radio on the other day which proposed this question: did ikea (the swedish/enormously successful maker of furniture) have any moral responsibility to challenge russia’s anti-gay laws? the background here is that ikea had published an article in their lifestyle magazine which featured a lesbian couple, but then removed that particular article from the russian edition of the magazine, citing russia’s homosexual propaganda laws. an ikea spokesman said the company had to abide by local laws, but gay-rights activists say ikea missed an opportunity to move the needle on social progress.
from a legal perspective, of course it’s absurd to insist that a private company from one country wage a battle for human rights in an entirely different country. even if it was the same country, any given company still would have no legal imperative to advance human equality. it wasn’t even until 2009 that u.s. companies had a legal imperative to promote economic equality between the sexes in america. so even if ikea claims to value diversity, it’s not like anyone can force them to match deeds to those words.
but, somewhere along the line, it seems like we decided that corporations are people. it weirds me out a bit to think of a company as a “they” (and merely hearing the phrase “corporate citizen” makes me feel pukey), but our supreme court has clearly ruled that “their” speech is protected—even if “they” don’t have the right to vote (yet). now, i’m not a lawyer, but if we’re going to accept the conceit that corporations somehow morphed from an abstract legal construct into an actual being with guaranteed rights, then we should take this idea to its logical conclusion: if corporations have rights just like people do, then surely they must also have the same responsibilities as people do. they must be held accountable to the same laws as people, and subject to the same punishments as people.
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timothy edward kane, playing the role of the poet in “an iliad” at the court theatre in chicago
war is hell.
how many times have i heard that phrase? just from hollywood movies alone, it must be dozens. but rarely, if ever, did it provoke an emotional response from me. which is probably as much my fault (for not really thinking about it), as it is hollywood’s fault (for employing the phrase with so little care or conviction). and yet, if there ever was a true statement, that may well be it.
war is hell.
i might just be projecting my own thoughts on the entire country here, but i think that this phrase, this cliché, this particular bit of Truth, has lost its power—and its meaning—in america. the concept of “war.” the concept of “hell.” for so many people, they’ve become just that: concepts. abstractions. things we can think about almost like a mental exercise, without any real/emotional/psychic connection to our own, actual lives.
war is hell.
i was thinking about that phrase, and about how i’m often haunted by dfw’s belief in the “great and terrible truth” that lurks beneath clichés, when i was driving home after seeing a stage production of “an iliad” last week: after i’d sat through that one-man show & cried—cried like a faucet turned all the way on, complete waterworks, silent-but-absolute-and-unstoppable weeping—so much in 90-some minutes that i really did lose track of how many times i cried.
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a couple of the hand-bound issues of birkensnake 6 – only 150 copies of each were made.
issue 6 of birkensnake can be a bit tough to get your hands around. figuratively, and, as it turns out, literally, speaking. the magazine’s editors wanted to try something different for issue 6—and they decided to create seven different versions of it. not like when tv guide features “ncis” or x-men releases a first issue, and you get seven different covers for the exact same issue inside. but rather seven completely different versions, with each version put together by a different pair of editors who had never met each other previously. it was a convoluted process to say the least, but also a fascinating experiment in collaboration… which didn’t stop at its publication.
in the main editors’ own words, birkensnake 6 was about “strangers working together toward diverse yet uniformly glorious ends.” that was true not only of the issue’s genesis, but also its distribution. last week i attended the chicago stop of the birkensnake 6 “tour,” because readers couldn’t simply order copies of the issue from the publisher, nor could they walk into a store & buy one. because they weren’t for sale. to obtain a copy, you had to attend an event, peruse the various versions of the issue, find a piece that somehow spoke to you, and read it in front of your fellow audiences members.
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