iJAMMING! is a music and lifestyle web site hosted by
author, journalist and dee jay Tony Fletcher.
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You are in the right place for Tony's daily musings.
Friday May 2nd: Joe's Pub, 425 Lafayette Street, Manhattan, New York City. 6.30pm. Launch party for new Laptop album and screenplay Don't Try This At Home. Advance tickets $12.
Sunday May 11th: Shout!, Bar 13, University Place and 13th Street, Manhattan, New York City. 10pm-4am. Launch party for the Shout! compilation album, The Revolution Rave-Up Alive 1997-2003 featuring The Greenhornes playing live. Spinning on the top floor with Kid America.
I listened to the new Madonna album, American Life, on Tuesday, wondering if it could really be as bad as the reviews had made out. It is. To be fair, musically it's occasionally exciting, thanks to Mirwais' distinct production, though that quickly gets repetitive and tired. But conceptually, it's offensive. While denouncing the fame and fortune she has sought so actively all these years, Madonna depicts herself across the inner sleeve in various military chic poses, including several in which she is holding some form of machine gun. The front cover image, in particular, seems clearly based on that of Che Guevara, and one can't help but wonder which way the famous South American revolutionary would have pointed his own gun had he heard Madonna rapping, on the title track, "I got a lawyer and a manager, an agent and a chef, three nannies, an assistant and a driver and a jet, a trainer and a butler and a bodyguard or five, a gardener and a stylist, do you think I'm satisfied?"
Madonna and Che: spot the real revolutionary.
Assuming it's not a purely rhetorical question, then here's my answer. Actually, I do think you're satisfied, Maddy, or else you'd give all these perks up, wouldn't you? At the very least, if you were serious about embracing a revolution as something other than a fashion, you wouldnt be choosing as your first targets those who try and download your single for free off the Internet. (In case readers are not aware, Madonna spiked many of the peer-to-peer networks by distributing looped segments of 'American Life' that included Maddy herself asking "What the fuck do you think you're doing?" in admonishment of her apparently freeloading audience.)
Clearly then, rather than offering some kind of alternative to the celebrity culture, in her American Life guise Madonna simultaneously condemns it and capitalizes on it. It's for this reason that I get very frustrated when I hear that she pulled the original video for 'American Life' the one that featured her and a bunch of dancing girls tossing grenades around because it was anti-war and she didn't dare go up against the supposedly vast American majority that supported the war on Iraq. (Which was barely a majority at all before the troops actually went in.) After all, it's hard to consider how any of the lyrics relate to anything about either Iraq or Saddam Hussein in the first place.
I read The Face today (the one with Christina Aguilera on the cover, oh boy), and realize that much of the shock factor in the 'American Life' video must have come from director Jonas Akerlund, whose controversial credits also include The Prodigy's 'Smack My Bitch Up' and Robbie Williams' 'Come Undone.' Credit Madonna's business instincts then if nothing else, because by pulling Akerlund's video before it could be widely circulated she removed herself from much of the inevitable criticism it would have inspired, being a trivialization of war at a time when members of her audience were risking (and in some cases giving) their lives to rid the world of one of the most brutal dictatorships it's ever seen.
And credit her commercial instincts too, because American Life entered both the British and American album charts at number one this week. Once again she's having the last laugh. I'm merely a critic complaining from the sidelines. Though of course, unlike her paying audience, who appear to have been guilted into buying the album, I got mine for free.
The whole issue of how people do now buy music is receiving extra attention this week with the launch of the Apple Music Store. Funny that only about five years ago, I thought my Apple Mac might go the way of the dinosaur, and now here we are with Steve Jobs' company offering perhaps the first genuinely broadband-friendly method by which to purchase individual songs online at a sensible price while still, hopefully, benefiting the artist.
For its Music Store, Apple has licensed 200,000 songs from mostly major labels, crunched them into a new AAC format which claims to 'rival' CD quality at only 128 kbs file size and offers them for download and permanent purchase at only 99c a song. No idiots these days (at least when it comes to marketing, I've still got beefs about the hardware problems on my G4 PowerBook), Apple has also rolled out its new I-Pods this week: after all, what better way to advertise new software than by offering shiny new hardware to go along with it?
The catch? A big one. To use the music store, you not only need to be on a Mac - strike out over 90% of computer users but you need the latest operating system, OSX (strike out one of our two home computers, which is too old to accept OSX), the latest version of iTunes and a .Mac mail account too. Steve Jobs clearly learned a lot about proprietary software from watching Bill Gates these last two decades. We'll see if he learned it in time.
Where do Bill Maher and the Dixie Chicks fit into this? As with Madonna, over the war. Maher got thrown off his ABC programme 'Politically Incorrect' last year when he suggested that the word "cowards" applied not, in fact, to the September 11 suicide hijackers, but to those who press the buttons on cruise missiles hundreds of miles from their targets. And Texan-based The Dixie Chicks, as you probably know, got into hot water when they told a London audience "Just so you know, we're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas."
There are those who'd like to draw all three together and suggest a vast conspiracy of American censorship. But clearly Madonna, with the number one album in the two main countries that sent troops to oust Saddam Hussein (it also went in at number 3 in Australia), is not suffering. Nor, judging by his confident tones when I heard him interviewed on the radio yesterday morning, is Bill Maher. After being fired by ABC, he was quickly picked up by HBO for a deliberately provocative and seemingly quite successful late night show 'Real Time', he has a best-selling book entitled When You Ride Alone, You Ride With Bin Laden, and a one-man comic show entitled Victory Begins AT Home that has just hit Broadway.
Finally, the Dixie Chicks have received far more publicity in the 'high culture' media from their mild outburst than they'd otherwise have garnered in years, and their American tour (which, by total coincidence, opens tonight) has been almost entirely sold out for weeks. Much was made about country stations blacklisting their music and their album falling down the charts after their London comment, but as I wrote once before, after selling six million copies of Home in six months, it's hard to imagine just how many more copies they were expected to sell before taking a downturn. (Besides, the album has been climbing back up the charts for weeks, and is still in the top 25.)
Censorship or commerce? The Dixie Chicks express the naked truth...
I have some sympathy for Natalie Maines and the Maguire sisters, but only up to a point. Presumably they spoke from the heart in London, but they were also playing to the gallery; they wouldn't have made the comment if they didn't think it would be appreciated. So either they didn't pause to consider the reaction back in the country heartland or they hoped that their comments wouldn't be reported. Regardless, having won over the anti-Bush British audience, they dutifully apologized though not profusely enough for some people and are now reaping rewards both negative (loss of hardline conservative country fans) and positive (the Entertainment Weekly cover at right, for example).
None of this is censorship; it's commerce at work, pure and simple. Neither Michael Moore nor Bill Maher, Madonna or the Dixie Chicks, appear to have lost anything on the anti-war swings that they didn't make up on the roundabouts, and neither, I suspect, will people like the Beastie Boys, R.E.M., Lenny Kravitz, Zack la Rocha, Billy Bragg, John Mellencamp and all the other musicians who stated their point of view by way of song. Public discourse the central tenet of a free democracy, on a day when many countries celebrate the very notion of freedom - is alive and well and doing just fine.
Lots to say but no time to say it: believe it or not, I have a life outside this web site! Planning on seeing The Rapture tomorrow night and bringing you word of that Friday, assuming I have time in-between DJing for the launch party for the new Laptop album (and attached screenplay) Don't Try This At Home at Joe's Pub, the loungey performance space at the Public Theater on Lafayette Street. (Read about the last Laptop album here.) Meantime, if you're relatively local to Park Slope, you may be intrigued to check out my good friends behind the Warmth and SoundGizmo labels, who will be bringing their collection of "downtempo, dancehall, reggae, blissful rhythms, tranquil dub, with a little deep and soulful house thrown in" to the area's newest bar venue, Royale, on Fifth Avenue and 12th Street. Admission is free. Sounds good to me.
When I want to check out artist discographies, biographies, credits and offshoots, I turn to the All Music Guide (allmusic.com), by far the most thorough and accurate web resource I've come across. God knows how the site finances itself, but as well as all this purely technical information, AllMusic also commissions generally well-informed reviews of many a new and old release.
Indeed, there's already a lengthy piece up there about the new seven-song Flaming Lips EP 'Fight Test', of which I raved yesterday. Yet I find it particularly instructive that Heather Phares, clearly knowledgeable with regard to the Lips and who fully understands the reasoning behind the EP's cover versions of Kylie Minogue ('Can't get You Out Of My Head'), Radiohead ('Knives') and Beck ('The Golden Age') songs, seems as instinctively negative about the Scott Hardkiss remix of 'Do You Realize??' as I was inherently positive. "Pleasant enough," she offers as a back-handed compliment, "but strips away much of the original's poignancy and bloats the EP's length to over half an hour."
Though this is just one person's opinion, I have the feeling that as a Lips fan, Phares won't be alone in her dismissal, and to me this says much about the chasm that still exists in the States between the rock crowd and the dance crowd. After all, in my review yesterday, I praised the Hardkiss mix for the very fact that it had stripped the song down from its occasionally muffled album arrangement, that it had drawn out the length from three to nine minutes; I even celebrated the poignancy of how I first heard it. (And I only checked out the allmusic review after writing my own.)
I'd like to think then that even if the Hardkiss mix doesn't bring too many Lips fans to the nightclub, it may have the inverse effect and help bring maturing clubbers to the Flaming Lips catalogue. It ought to be no coincidence that there's a three-CD retrospective of early Flaming Lips material entitled Finally, the Punk Rockers Are Taking Acid, - except that, since posting a couple of quotes last week from British magazines about cocaine use in rock'n'roll, I then read the following exchange in Bang! between the Lips' lyricist and front man Wayne Coyne, and journalist Simon Price. Coyne is discussing how hard drugs have negatively affected band and family members
Things like heroin and crack, I've seen too many people get destroyed by them. Should they be illegal? People should control themselves. If people can't, then I guess I'm glad that society has a built-in mechanism where people can only get so desperate before we step in. What about you? You do drugs?"
(Price:) I'm a drugs hypocrite, I tell him. For the first 25 years of my life I was vehemently opposed to all drugs, even a cigarette. Nowadays, if something's going (and in rock'n'roll, usually it is), I'll usually partake. Cocaine and weed I enjoy. Cowardice keeps me sensible. And I hated E. Thought I was gonna die
Coyne: "Me too. Those sort of drugs
like when I took acid, I went insane and thought I was gonna die. Cocaine, you can see
Fuck, who wouldn't like it? What's not to like? You can get caught up in that."
This pretty much negates my comment of last week, that "it seems like the cocaine hangover has finally kicked in in Britain," though certainly I appreciate Price's honesty. Still, how many would have expected Coyne to be so dismissive of acid? (And assuming he's telling the truth, what does he think of that retrospective's title?) If I can draw any small conclusion from these rather disjointed thoughts, it's the odd connection between two people talking about how E and acid each made them feel like "I was gonna die" and a song that celebrates how "everyone you know some day will die." It makes me think that sparse nine-minute dance mixes of such material maybe only make sense to those who have experienced ecstasy in as many forms as possible and enjoyed them all.
The late night hardcore (we're talking 3am) groove to 'Tolokoshe Man'
In marginally related news, thanks to those who came out Sunday night to Shout! to hear me spin and/or celebrate my birthday. I didn't play any Flaming Lips, but on the subject of unusual covers (as we were several paragraphs ago), I did enjoy digging out 'Breaking Down The Walls Of Heartache' by Dexys Midnight Runners, 'Tolokoshe Man' by Happy Mondays, and one that should qualify on musical, if not technical, terms: an almost unrecognizably intense R&B version of 'River Deep, Mountain High' by the same Ike & Tina Turner as recorded it with Phil Spector. I had fun delivering 'I Gotcha' by Joe Tex, 'Funky Miracles' by The Meters, and staying on theme, 'Funky Mule' by Ike & Tina Turner again. I also enjoyed playing one of The Creation's lesser known cult classics, 'Tom Tom', one of the The Beatles' greatest b-sides, 'Revolution', and possibly my favorite Who album track, 'Can't Reach You.'
Working on the understanding that good music is good music is good music, I also played (and all on the original 7"s I purchased in years gone by), 'I Need To Know' by Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, 'I Don't Know Why I Love You' by the House of Love, and 'The Free Electric Band' by Albert Hammond (yes, the Strokes' guitarist's dad), a song that was dutifully recognized by at least one iJamming! reader who came up to talk about it. His partner was then one of hopefully a few people in the room who ID'd 'Want You To Know' as the same Rotary Connection song I'd raved about at the end of last week. Finally, they may not have been the hippest band in the world, but Northside made at least one great single in their career: 'Take 5'. I consider it a job well done when a self-confessed indie-pop/Britrock nutter dances like crazy to it and spends the rest of the night wondering how or why she'd never heard (of) it before.
Saturday afternoon found us driving in a miserable rain storm over to the West Side Highway in Manhattan, listening to the new Flaming Lips EP based around 'Fight Test', the lead track from the superb album Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots. 'Fight Test' is a wonderful song, of that there's no mistake, but most people I know who've recently traveled a Flaming Lips Road to Domascus cite instead 'Do You Realize??' as their inspiration for the journey.
'Do You Realize??' was saved until track nine on the last album, and on the new EP a Scott Hardkiss remix is, with equal reticence, hidden away as track number five. I'm only hoping that Warner Brothers has the sense to press this as a 12" and distribute it nationally, because Hardkiss, who has a long-standing track record for treating rock songs with a fan's reverence even as he dismantles and reconstructs them for rave kids, has delivered a truly reverential dance mix that lives up to the song's emotive promise. Stretching the three and a half minute album track to over nine minutes, he's given it a simple, bubbling beat, maintained the soaring synth strings that tear open the tear ducts, and otherwise kept it mercifully simple, providing ample space for Wayne Coyne's painfully truthful lyrics delivered in such plaintively honest style.
It's only coincidence that we were listening to this mix for the first time while passing within yards of the mass graveyard that was created in Manhattan on September 11, because the line "Do you realize that every one you know some day will die?" is inherently universal. (Then again, that doesn't dampen its poignancy.) I was on this occasion more taken with the manner by which the new mix allowed us to hear what on the album is a muffled assertion - that "instead of saying all of your goodbyes, let them know you realize that life goes fast, it's hard to make the good things last, you realize the sun doesn't go down, it's just an illusion caused by the world spinning round."
There aren't many perfect moments in pop any more, but this was one of them. We listened in complete, mesmerized silence, the lashing rain no longer anything other than a filmic special effect, our son's cheerful obliviousness to the lyric's cruel beauty as he played with his Transformers in the back seat all the more provocative. At the end, we looked at each other and, we realized, we'd both experienced the same emotional response. There was no need to hit the repeat button: the song had achieved its desired effect.
APRIL 21-27: Rotary Connection, War(n) Out, Cocaine Talk
APRIL 14-20: Belated London Musings on Death Disco and CPFC.
APRIL 7-13: London Musings: Madness, Inspiral Carpets, the Affair, the Palace, the Jam
MARCH 31-APRIL 6: Music be the spice of life, London Calling: Ten Observations from the Old Country
MARCH 24-30: Six Foot Under, Peaches/Elefant live, MP Frees and Busted Boy Bands
MARCH 17-23: Röyksopp live, Transmission, Worn-Out War Talk
MARCH 10-16: Live reviews: Stratford 4, Flaming Sideburns, Joe Jackson Band, Linkin Park. Why I Oppose The War (For Now).
MARCH 3-9: The Pursuit of Happiness, Weekend Players, U.S. Bombs, Al Farooq, A New Pessimism, Brooklyn Half Marathon
FEBRUARY 24-MARCH2: Orange Park, Ali G-Saddam Hussein-Dan Rather-Bill Maher-Jon Stewart TV reviews, Stellastarr*, James Murphy, The Station nightclub fire, the Grammys
FEBRUARY 17-23: Village Voice Poll, Singles Club, Smoke and Fire
FEBRUARY 3-16: Snug, The Face, Pink, Supergrass live, Keith Moon, Phil Spector, Gore Vidal
JANUARY 27-FEBRUARY 2: Communist Chic, Spiritland, Daddy You're A Hero, Keith Moon, State of the Union, CPFC and more on Iraq
JANUARY 20-26: Divisions of Laura Lee, Burning Brides, Words On War, Child Abuse of a Different Kind, Losing My Edge
JANUARY 13-19: Pete Townshend, Pee Wee Herman, South Park and more Pete Townshend
JANUARY 6-12: Interpol in concert, Tony Fletcher's Top 10 Albums and Singles of 2002, More on Joe Strummer and The Clash, Fever Pitch and Bend It Like Beckham.
DECEMBER 31 2002 -JAN 5 2003: A tribute to Joe Strummer, Radio 4 live on New Year's Eve
DECEMBER 25-30: NO POSTINGS: ON VACATION
DECEMBER 16-24: Metro Area, Breakbeat Science, Sting makes Wine, New York Downtown redesigns, Keith Moon anecdotes, Campbell's jokes.
DECEMBER 9-15: Tiswas, pledge drives, The View from Up North
DECEMBER 2-8 MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes Weekend Players and Snow Lit Piano Bars)
FOR NOVEMBER 25-29 MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes Joe Hurley, Thanksgiving, Sven Väth, Richie Hawtin)
FOR NOVEMBER 16-24 MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes Longwave, The Pleased, Get Your War On, Powder, Radio 4, Supreme Beings Of Leisure, Ben Neill, Baldwin Brothers, Thievery Corporation)
FOR NOVEMBER 9-15 MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes CMJ report including Datsuns, von Bondies and My Favorite, and political Eagles)
FOR NOVEMBER 2-8 MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes Halloween, the New York Marathon, and British Cuisine)
FOR OCTOBER 26-NOV 1 MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes live reviews of The Streets, Mooney Suzuki, Sahara Hotnights, Flaming Sideburns, Stellastarr*; Jam Master Jay; Halloween)
FOR OCTOBER 19-25 MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes Underworld live, Atlantic Avenue antics, Girls and Boys night)
FOR OCTOBER 12-18 MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes Bali Bombing and stupid editorials, the Electro-Clash festival, VHS Or Beta, Ballboy, Mindless Self Indulgence, 2 Many DJs, Tom Petty, The Streets, pointless stop-the-war e-mails)
FOR OCTOBER 5-11 MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes Steve Earle and John Walker's Blues, Dreaming Of Britney, Girls Against Boys and Radio 4)
FOR SEPTEMBER 28-OCT 4 MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes White Stripes live, Morel live, My Generation re-issue)
FOR SEPTEMBER 21-27 MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes The Creation live, Village Voice, Wine not Whine and more)
FOR SEPTEMBER 14-20 MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes Firefighter Andre Fletcher, Untamed, Uncut, and more September 11 Musings)
FOR SEPTEMBER 7-13 MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes Sep 11 memorials, Did Bin Laden Win?, Scissor Sisters and Electro-clash)
FOR AUGUST 31-SEPTEMBER 6 MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes The Strokes live, The Rising, Saint Etienne, Team USA, a.i., Tahiti 80, Dot Allison)
FOR AUGUST 17-30 DAILY MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes holiday musings, wine reviews, Luna at Southpaw, and more)
FOR AUGUST 10-16 DAILY MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes lengthy Who live review)
FOR JULY 27-AUG 9 DAILY MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes Area 2, 24 Hour Party People Party, Hootenanny Tour, 2 Many DJs and more.
FOR JULY 20-26 DAILY MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes Wilson Pickett, John Entwistle, rebuilding downtown NYC)
FOR JULY 13-19 DAILY MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes Love Parade, Teany, RenewNYC, Femi Kuti, NRA, Londonisation of New York, Britishification of Global Rock)
FOR JULY 6-12 DAILY MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes Mike Meyers as Keith Moon, the RAVE Act, John Entwistle, Michael Jackson, Southpaw, Moby Online, Layo & Bushwacka!,(accidentally deleted)
FOR JUNE 29-JULY 5 DAILY MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes World Cup Final, John Entwistle's legacy, The Who's decision to carry on, the meaning of July 4)
FOR JUNE 22-28 DAILY MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes World Cup diary, Dr. John, Doves, Mermaid Parade, John Entwistle's death, Timothy White's death, Clinic Firewater and Radio 4 live, The Who's decision to carry on)
FOR JUNE 15-21 DAILY MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes World Cup diary, Liars live, GiantFingers, the Big Takeover)
FOR JUNE 8 -14 DAILY MUSINGS CLICK HERE (includes World Cup diary, StellaStarr*, Jose Padilla, Dee Dee Ramone, suicide bombings)
FOR JUNE 1-7 DAILY MUSINGS, CLICK HERE (includes World Cup diary, Southpaw, Six Foot Under, Andrew Sullivan)
FOR LATE MAY DAILY MUSINGS, CLICK HERE
FOR MAY'S EIGHT DAYS IN A WEEK'S MUSINGS, CLICK HERE
FOR LATE APRIL LONDON MUSINGS, CLICK HERE
FOR EARLY APRIL MUSINGS, CLICK HERE
iJamming! Site Copyright Tony Fletcher 2003