Things That Don’t Suck 4/22-4/28

1. The Wider Release of Swans’ Live Album
The tour following the release of My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky was one of the most brain-shattering1 live-music experiences I’ve ever had, but for reasons too boring to go into here, when the special-edition, hand-numbered, wooden-box-enclosed live album was released to fund the eventual release of the next studio record, I was unable to grab one of the thousand extant copies2. Since the announcement was this week, this counts as something that doesn’t suck this week. Expect a follow-up item when I actually have the thing in my hot little hands. Given that there’s only been somewhere in the neighborhood of a dozen truly interesting releases on my radar so far this year, I think you’re probably going to hear about it a lot.

2. We’re allowed to start sentences with “hopefully”
This is important for two reasons, actually. The first of them is that the argument against starting sentences with “hopefully” – which was to be treated as a standard adverb, like “quickly” or “lasciviously” – was that it was meant to describe the verb – I ogle quickly, I ogle lasciviously, and I ogle hopefully – unfortunately, decade upon decade upon decade of usage has given “hopefully” another meaning. Compare: “I ogle hopefully” with “Hopefully, I ogle.” That’s not the same thing. So on the one hand, it makes me happy to see a change entrenched in the language. But the added benefit is the amount of handwringing and headless-chicken style complaining that happens any time any previously-established grammatical rule is changed. The fact that even modern English has gone through almost five hundred years of changes means nothing to these people. No, allowing “hopefully” to be used as people already use it is yet another heavy, heavy straw on the camel of the language. It’s two of my favorite things – documenting the change of the language and watching people flap their arms like morons.

3. Pretending Calvin Johnson is Calvin Johnson
I am not a football fan. Like, at all. Everything I know about football comes from my youthful flirtation with Tecmo Bowl, and periodically watching a Super Bowl because everyone I know is watching the Super Bowl. But I never really know what’s going on – I’m dimly aware that the idea is to charge through the people that are trying to keep you from running around, and cross the line at the end for some points3. So the only off-season football news I’ve had any exposure to is Kotaku (and other video game-type sources) talking about Madden, and specifically who gets to be on the cover. Luckily for me, I know a great deal about Beat Happening, and the person who won the honor this year happens to share the same name with Beat Happening’s (and K Records’) resident baritone macher. And really, I think it’s pretty worth it to imagine The Wimpiest Man Ever to Rock charging over steroidal giants on his way to another touchdown. Portland needs a football team like Ohio needs a train, folks.

4. This ATM
I wonder if you get your money in the official language of the church, if that somehow makes it more sanctified? Furthermore, I wonder how all of this works vis a vis keeping the money changers out of the temple, given that it’s probably an official incursion by the church upon the money-changers. Still and all, it’s good to see that some people won’t take their inability to function in something so common as Italian in a place literally surrounded by Italy as a sign to do different things with their time. They want their cash, and they want it now. Of course, the only things I use cash for are going to the bar and going to the laundromat, so now I think that maybe they are trying to lower the register of their activities. And I support them. Plus, it gives me the excuse to wonder about the Holy Roman Laundry. Sure, all the robes and stuff have got to be dry clean only, but I’m sure they were drawers, right? And undershirts and stuff? I bet they get the good laundry carts, with wheels that all work together in tandem and hanger bars that aren’t bent into s-shapes by the abuses of the unwashed masses. Jesus hooks people up.

5.New conspiracy theories
I thought about writing an entire piece on this, got a few words into it, and then decided that there really isn’t anything to say. A dude who offers nothing to corroborate or back himself up claims that he was at a meeting of all of the important people to the music industry over twenty years ago, and they decided to promote gangsta rap as a way to encourage black youths to commit crimes and end up in private prisons. It does all of the great things that a conspiracy theory should do – “explain” something that really doesn’t require explanation, looking like it makes sense without actually making any sense, and presenting as firsthand information stuff that sounds like it came from the fever-dream of a middle-aged weirdo. Now, that’s nothing new. These things happen all the time. What makes this one worth your time is that the letter that was written4 reads like a goddamn Ed McBain novel. You just don’t see this kind of suspenseful prose in your average conspiracy theory lunacy. Most importantly, it passes the Patented Februarymakeup Conspiracy Theory Total Nonsense Test, which goes like this: can you legitimately imagine someone trying to talk about this article without saying, at some point “Dude, if you think about it…”? No. No you cannot. And that’s what separates the great conspiracy theories from the non-great.

1 Both in the sense that it improved my ability to live and the literal sense, which is that I’m pretty sure I suffered some damage.
2 I must say, however, that in the abstract, my disappointment over not being able to snag a copy for myself is more than mitigated by the fact that the entire project sold out in 24 hours, which points to a thriving and sustaining community of Swans fans, which is much more important than one semi-blogger in Ohio owning the record.
3 they are called “points,” right? I think so.
4 actually an email, and apparently a bunch of hip-hop media-type people got it all at once.

Things That Didn’t Suck April 15-21

1. It being legal in at least one place to murder anyone who feels compelled to mention that IT’S 420 DUUUUUUDE.
that link doesn’t go anywhere because there’s no fucking way I’m encouraging these people.
Yes, we get it. You’re enthusiastic about marijuana. That’s very good for you, and I couldn’t be happier. Unfortunately for you, there must be a place in the universe where that is a capital offense, punishable by your swift and completely justified execution. April is indeed the cruelest month, but instead of the lilacs and the memory and the desire and the dull roots it’s just filled with days that only really annoying people ever feel compelled to commemorate. The fact that it falls in a week with Tax Day really sets a pall over the entire week, making it hard to find things that don’t suck1, but I persevere: the universe is an infinite place, which means that there is an infinite probability of anything existing somewhere in it, which means that there’s a 1:1 likelihood if you have infinite time to search for it. That means that, somewhere in the universe, there is a planet just like Earth, except for when someone makes a reference to and/or joke about the date, you are legally permitted to kill them. And that’s all I need to keep going2.

2. Pentametron
Creative uses for Twitter are basically-nonexistent. As a joke-delivery system, it’s great. As a way to announce that you’ve dropped a new mixtape, it’s also great3. But beyond that, it’s really not a thing. I can sort-of understand the appeal of letting people know what’s up4 blah blah blah someone boring talks about twitter. The point is: aleatoricism is a fine thing to introduce to this, the least expository of media. In fact, I daresay it needed it. All it does, really, is find tweets that are in iambic pentameter and string them together, so they appear as a poem. The effect, due to human apophenia, is actually pretty compelling. Of course, when I clicked on the link to look for an example, the third one on the page was someone who was super-duper excited that it was almost 4/20, so the lesson we must take away is that even the purest of intentions can be ruined by people who have no GOD-DAMNED SENSE OF DECORUM.

3. Record-Store Day
It’s tomorrow, guys! And while it hasn’t technically happened yet and so still has the opportunity to suck in and of itself, what are the odds of that happening, really? My record-collecting days are mainly behind me (and I was never one of those people who was particularly serious about the “record as fetish object” aspect of things, mainly because I wasn’t interested in spending that kind of money), but it’s still exciting to start out the day overlooking the slate of exclusives and releases. What are the odds that I could score a copy of the extremely-small run of Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s Hummingbird EP? Or Black Bird Jungle Dub? Or Ryan Adams covering Bob Mould? It doesn’t matter. The point is the possibility.

4. The fact that it was the last week that Levon Helm was alive for
I’m choosing to call this a thing that didn’t suck because it’s the last time we’ll get to say that. I’d give him his own post, but it would be a lie – I don’t have any kind of personal relationship with Levon Helm’s work, but he was clearly an undeniable talent, both as a signer and a drummer, and it’s hard not to respect how good he was at what he did, and for how long. So it definitely sucks that he died, but there’s something to be said for getting to see the end of another winter, and having the kind of time to put himself together, and to see the kind of outpouring of respect and adoration that he received in the process. Alright, so it sucks. But it didn’t on Tuesday.

5. The opportunity to clumsily insert my name into a piece of public-domain fiction.
Because why wouldn’t I want to fulfill my lifelong dream of seeing a literary character named “John”? I could finally read The Wind and the Willows as it was meant to be: with a badger named John, instead of Badger5! Actually, for the price of having this done, I got a copy of Treasure Island in which I was the main character, a copy of Little Women in which I was what’s-her-name’s teacher, a copy of Sense and Sensibility where I’m the idiot with all the money, and best of all in Dracula as the guy who proposes to Lucy. And since they’re all public domain already, it cost me nothing! I look forward to taking advantage of their service further.

1 at least Arbor Day isn’t until next week
2 I’m an optimist.
3 somewhat less so, unless your mixtape-dropping announcement also contains jokes
4 albeit not enough to be a part of much twitter-operation myself
5 actually, since the other characters are all named after animals – Mole is a mole, Rat is a rat, so John would be…a john. Although I suppose that would explain the crankiness.

On Money

So David Lowery posts a long, drawn-out, long argument about why the economics of the music industry were better under what he’s calling “the Old Boss.” He’s been a professional musician, entrepreneur and all-around mensch for longer than I’ve been alive, and everything I know about his music and career leads me to have respect and praise for him1.

As an examination of the economic realities of being in a band, I have no capacity to argue with him. My knowledge of such things is extremely tangential, and his is deep and founded in a great deal of logic. And, at its foundation, I can’t fault his argument: I believe people should be paid for their property, physical or intellectual. I believe that compensation is a good thing, etc. And I believe this despite not always being as faithful to the spirit of that sentiment as I ought.

The argument he makes is fine, and hard to disagree with. The problem is that it seems to point, through the fear-mongering and emotional appeals, to loftier “I should be rich” goals that are, frankly, not helpful to anyone, and it raises the question: how much money should there be in the business in the first place?

I am someone, and presumably you, the reader, are as well, that has seen the entirety of the three-legged digital model (it’s in the article, but it breaks down to file sharing/streaming/actual sales) come up and entrench itself. Which means that we’ve watched a lot of the money flow out of the content-provision wing of the business and into the platform-provision business. Mr. Lowery would have that as the enemy, but I would say it’s just…change. And there is a real problem when there’s a model being put in place that actively discourages compensating people for their time and effort, and after this sentence is where I’m no longer talking about David Lowery’s argument.

Due to a confluence of things that I like, I end up paying more attention to the economy of artistic production than I think I probably would otherwise. It seems that the people whose work I find the most interesting also tend to be people who have strongly-worded opinions about the matter. So it’s a thing I think about from time to time, and the place I always come back to is: so what? Obviously that’s an appeal that comes not from an emotional place – I want The Thermals to sell billions of records, I want Tim Hecker to have enough money to keep him in peeled grapes and oral sex for the rest of his natural life, and I want Michael Gira to be able to afford to have an unnatural life after he dies if he so chooses2. But that said, I would also completely understand if the economic benefit of continuing to make music was no longer in line with the amount of effort or whatever, and that caused them to stop making music.

It sounds pie-eyed and all that, but good records are – invariably – made by people who want to be making good records, not by people who are making records in order to make money. Sometimes there’s an admixture of the two motivations, but there’s no way to make a good record if your intention is not to make a good record, a record that you legitimately want and feel it is your duty to make. Taking the money out of the system is regrettable, for reasons I’ll address in a moment, but it wouldn’t change the fact that there would still be people who wanted to make records, just as many of you have probably been in bands, or around bands, or in some way a part of bands, that didn’t set out with commercial prospects in mind, and just wanted to do what they (you, we) did. It doesn’t diminish the accomplishment, nor does it negate the benefits – the joy of playing music, of being seen, etc. – that come with the act itself.

For a long time, due to the forced-captive-market that the record industry could control – the handful of corporations that handled the physical products that they then moved into stores by agreement etc. – there was, effectively, a limited number of games in town. When the product stopped being tangible, it stopped being controllable. So how much money should remain in the system, really? People do things all the time without needing to make a living off of them. Every time I have thrown a basketball in the general vicinity of a hoop, I have not, upon succesful completion of the act, then said “ok now I need to be a professional basketball player, and famous enough that Connie Britton will let me build a nest in her hair.”

Now obviously being in a band is a little different – to touch on the David Lowery piece again, there is significant outlay in recording, for starters3, and even in the mechanics of starting a band itself – a few hundred dollars worth of equipment for a three-piece-couple-of-stringed-instruments -and-someone-banging-on-something” setup4, but the point remains the same: there’s a great deal you can get out of putting effort into something without it automatically having to be revenue-generating. Hell, most people that own a guitar never do anything in public with it anyway, it’s not a jump to say that people would continue to do things in public for little restitution.

Ultimately, I guess what I’m saying is that there is a lot of debate about which is the best and most equitable system for artists, and the people that try to answer that question fall into two camps: the old camp (in which some people did well and lots5 of bands ended up crumpled on the floor, and the new camp, in which people do seem to go out of their way to avoid paying for anything. But I think both of those two groups of people beg the question: how much money does there need to be? It seems to me to be the case that money in the music industry has always been inflated, and it skews things.

Imagine a future of hobbyists, in which music is made by people who are driven to make it. Maybe they make enough to cover expenses, maybe it’s only something they do when they’re kids and have that kind of time to spend, or older people who have that kind of money to spend, but maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s a world in which the economy of the business stabilizes, and people get paid what they’re worth. It’s an overly-rosy view of the world, sure, and, to be honest, also unlikely, but shouldn’t it be what we shoot for, instead of fighting over which unfair system deserves our backing?

Finally, dimoko hates it when I write things that aren’t funny, so here’s the best joke ever: two atoms are in a bar, and the first one says “man, I think I lost an electron.” His friend says “are you sure?” and the first atom says “I’m positive!”

1 there really isn’t much history to ONAT, but I would like to point out that, in this case, I have a bit of establishment, praising his criminally-overlooked solo album from last year in my “Best Songs of 2011” post.
2 Maybe I’ll start a kickstarter for the Zombifiction of Gira*.
* I should also start a band called The Zombification of Gira.
3 although a main point of contention here is his implication than an album can either be recorded badly, or recorded expensively, an attitude that may be true in his experience, but doesn’t really hold up to any kind of examination.
4 although it’s worth pointing out that hip-hop has already created a tiered economic system that rewards just about everyone for doing what they do – it’s always cheaper to be a rapper, and the fact that Lil B and all the many A$APs and their ilk can manage to do what they do in economic isolation from any of these concerns means that I don’t have to necessarily talk about hip-hop in this vein: it’s already adjusting just fine, and it turns out to even support my point further. Which is nice for me.
5 and, it must be said, lots

Things That Didn’t Suck April 8-14

My name is makeup, and you’re here with me now.

1. Lil B’s talk at NYU.
The more prominent the career of Lil B becomes, the more impressed I am with how it appears that he really is just like that. Hip-hop has had record collectors before, but they were more likely to be involved in making sturdy, “serious” records and not dashing off ephemeral statements every few weeks. There are people who have made a virtue out of in-the-moment prolificity, but they generally aren’t as thoughtful. There are people who are as thoughtful, but they’re rarely as funny, and they’re never as silly. There are people who elevate the humor of their records, but they’re never as philosophical. There are people who are as philosophical, but they’re never as relentlessly positive1. The point is that he’s as singular a figure as they are, and his speech at NYU (delivered extemporaneously) is a good look at how hard it is for people to know how to accept him – it’s full of people laughing at seemingly-serious statements, not laughing at things that appear to be funny, and shouting throughout. Lil B not only says what he came to say, but changes courses several times to address the things that were being shouted, as though that’s exactly what he wanted the whole time. As a speech, it’s a discursive mess. As an extension of what he does, it’s a high-proof extraction of exactly what it is that makes him so interesting.

2. This Joe Esterhas/Mel Gibson thing.
If you’re not into following that link (and actually, this is still spilling out, so some extracurricular googling is a good way to make this kill more of your morning), the upshot of it all is: Mel Gibson has been talking about making a movie called The Maccabees, which is, presumably, the tale of the taking of Judea by the titular army. Joe Esterhas signed on to write it, thinking he would be writing “the Jewish Braveheart2. He also seemed to think that it would be ol’ Martin Riggs’ apologia for his, what, twenty-odd years of anti-semitism? That was a silly thing to think, Joe. So it didn’t turn out to be, and Mel Gibson, over the course of their time together, turned out to be a psychotic, angry lunatic (as per usual), and Joe Esterhas eventually wrote a nine-page letter begging for Mel Gibson to return the script he’d turned in for the movie, on account of Mel Gibson is a dangerous crazy person that hates Jews3. Mel Gibson fired back with “well it was late and it sucked so I think we’re done here” and some claptrap about being an intense artist who says things because his craft blah blah blah. What makes it all so amazing is that Joe Esterhas is clearly also an egomaniacal weirdo (not to mention his official response said “not all of what I wrote was fiction.” huh.), and has been for about as long as Mel has been a Nazi. Basically it’s become this huge fight that no one can win, except for us, the audience. I should go watch Showgirls again.

3. The AV Club’s five-part walkthrough of Freaks and Geeks with Paul Feig. (link goes to part 1 of 5.)
I don’t have anything to add. You probably already love Freaks and Geeks. If you don’t, you should probably be ashamed of yourself forever. But it’s cool. I love all of my little Trainers4 equally, except for the ones that are hurting society and human development by not liking Freaks and Geeks.

4. The Mechromancer
It’s not enough that Borderlands 2 is probably going to be the most awesome thing that happens all year, on top of all that, Gearbox is being really cool about letting people know what they’re doing in a reasonable way, and keeping in touch about the things that made the first game the awesomest thing of a couple of years ago. The Mechromancer itself (despite looking awesome, having a name with awesome implications, and having built-in puns5) is more a catch-all for Gearbox, at a time when video game developers are increasingly seen as the enemy, acting like a mensch and making sure the fans know that they know why we’re fans. Also: it’s a mechromancer. At the least, it points to a future where we don’t spend an aggregate of a hundred hours shooting the same bandits over and over and over again.

5. Best Friends Forever
It’s a good show, people. It got a 0.9 in the ratings last week, despite having two strong episodes in its run. I was so depressed by that information that I had to go for a long, long soak in the puddle of gold coins in the bottom of my money silo, and that always leaves me feeling disoriented and out-of-sorts, albeit better. So go watch it. You’ll laugh, you’ll become a better person, and you’ll make everyone at the ONAT Compound East happy. It’s not the best show on television, but it’s an awfully good one, and there’s only one episode of Community a week anyway. Besides, maybe if we all keep it going long enough we can get another of those awesome think-piece articles from the usual hand-wringers about “women on television.” Those are always a hoot.

1 there are people who hammer a point home, but they never beat a horse to death with it.
2 which, to be fair, is exactly what I’d think as well, and it would be awesome.
3 which, again, is not new information. There are many things I love about Joe Esterhas (no, really), not the least of which is his earnestness and enthusiasm for the things he does. I think it blindered him to the fact that he was writing a movie about supercool, ass-kicking jews for a man who he himself described as having “the mindset of Hitler.”
4 This is how I’d like you all to begin referring to yourself in public. Thank you.
5 with puns being the only thing more numerous than guns in the world of Borderlands.

Things That Didn’t Suck April 1-7

1. April Fools Day being on a Sunday
Is there anything worse than April Fools Day, really? I mean, really. We can all agree that it’s just about the shittiest thing in the world1. 2012, then, is the Year That Did the World a Favor and kept that shit safely locked into Sunday, when normal humans were too busy doing stuff with their actual social circles to fuck up the internet (not that anyone would’ve noticed, what with the doing stuff blah blah blah), and nobody had to deal with their idiot coworkers. It’s basically the best-case scenario for the whole situation, and I would like to propose that, rather than being on April 1, we just permanently move April Fools Day to the first Sunday in April, so that terrible people can go ahead and be terrible while the rest of us aren’t compelled to pay them any mind.

2. The CASH Music Project
The CASH Music Project2 is a nifty cause, basically designing tools and mechanisms for musicians to better be able to properly share/distribute their own work in an efficient and effective way. All of which is super-cool. The board includes Jonathan Coulton and Toby Vail (among a lot of other people, but clearly those two are the coolest ones). It’s actually been kicking around for awhile, and I’m associating it this week with the sampler they gave out to their kickstarter donors3, even though that actually came out last week. Basically this entry is a big ol’ fraud, but go give them money or something anyway out of love for me. DO IT.

3. The Gothsicles – Save Dat Mermaid (TBM IS SRS BIZ Mix by Mangadrive)
I like album samplers. Back in the paleolithic days when I bought a lot more cds, they were always a gem at used record stores. And I’d buy any of them – especially for labels I’d never heard of. I’ve still got some of that mindset, so when I hear tell of a free label sampler from Amazon (which happens relatively often but which, for some reason, I can never remember to keep an eye on), I pick it up. I don’t know what Wtii Records is, really, beyond a record label that apparently trucks in nineties-esque semi-industrial semi-dance4. And that’s all well and good. It’s a good way to auditorially kill some portion of an hour, but special props must be given to The Gothsicles’ “Save Dat Mermaid” remix that’s on there. I’ve never heard the original, non-remixed version, and Youtube suggests that there is a high degree of wackiness in The Gothsicles’ music, so it’s probably a dangerous crapshoot as far as getting into the band itself, but “Save Dat Mermaid” is exactly what I want out of a silly semi-novelty song, and it includes the line “YOU’LL BE ONE RESCUED-ASS MERMAID,” which I think is probably enough to sell me on all sorts of things.

4. The temperature in Baton Rouge, Louisiana
It’s sixty degrees in Baton Rouge, Louisiana at the time of this writing. I don’t know the exact temperature in the ONAT Compound East, but when I stepped outside to enter the transport tube that brings me here, all of my fingers flash-froze and then fell off. It’s actually taken me several hours to type this, as I’ve had to learn to type with handstumps. It’s absolutely dreadful, but it doesn’t suck that somewhere in this fine and fabled land, there are people who can go outside without risking death by hypothermia.

5. The Dan Harmon/Chevy Chase feud ending and managing not to take anything with it.
Because “Asshole is an asshole to asshole, asshole gets offended” is not a good headline, and it was just making everyone really uncomfortable, because we had to choose which of these kind-of unsavory5 people we were in agreement with, and it’s easier to appreciate their show (which is currently the best show on television, and, because I’m still me, this is a fact, not an opinion, so please understand that if you didn’t think so before, you were wrong and can now consider the error of your ways) if you don’t have to think about the number of kind-of terrible people that are involved in its production. Anyway, the feud came and went with nary a hiccup to much of anything, except for a little bit of chatter, but it didn’t really catch fire and become a “thing.” Hopefully it got them a little increased publicity, and the whole thing can be put to bed in the “positive” column. But not HIV positive, that would be more depressing. It still wouldn’t be as bad as April Fools Day, though.

1 that’s not hyperbole. I think if you do your research you’ll find that it really is worse than dead kittens, people who whine about hipsters and Arby’s combined.
3 if I may editorialize* – you cannot put what sounds suspiciously like an accordion on top of an existing Elliott Smith song and call it a “new” Elliott Smith song. It’s the only bum note they’ve played, and it’s more than made up for by Xiu Xiu’s cover of Why?’s “Yoyo Bye Bye”.
*I’m not actually asking your permission. In the words of Jack Bristow: It’s like when you say to your neighbor, “We’re having a loud party on Saturday night, if that’s alright with you.” What I really mean is, “We’re having a loud party on Saturday night.'” I get to editorialize, backstitches.4 I’m actually not doing it as much justice as I should be – it’s a fine label, at least judging by the sampler, which can be found here. It doesn’t cost anything and, as you have probably guessed, that Gothsicles song would be worth it at literally (literally!) twice the price.  Which is nothing. I’m still not selling this very well. Dammit.
5 but unabashedly, and unequivocally, funny. I come not to bury these two men, but to praise them.