Monthly Archives: October 2007

Smooth Brazil photos

Smooth

I am finally sorting through our honeymoon photos. I’ll spare everyone most of the detailed LiveJournal-esque narrative for now. The essence of today’s vacation is the transformation of experiences into media, so photos.

Here I am snorkeling at Lagoa Azul on Ilha Grande:

Lagoa Azul

Brazil achieved oil self-sufficiency in April 2006, in large part through a system of offshore rigs in the waters surrounding Rio de Janeiro known as the Campos Basin. The area further west, where we were vacationing, has become a focus of more recent exploration by Petrobras. The month before we arrived one of the tankers that supplies these rigs cut off the main electricity supply cable for Ilha Grande, leaving the island without power for 15 days.

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Morrissey

We Hate Iams

So Morrissey began his 5-evening stint at the Hammerstein Ballroom last night (I resisted the “season pass” and will be attending none but Saturday night’s performance). Meanwhile, Wolfgang Tillmans’s newest show is up at Andrea Rosen Gallery through the end of November. Seems as good a time as any to mention Tillmans’s 2004 portraits of Morrissey and his canine friends, taken for Index magazine at the start of his reemergence as adult crooner.

Morrissey

Morrissey

Morrissey

Sasha Frere-Jones’s Color Theory

White Rock

My first thought on seeing Sasha Frere-Jones’s piece Why is indie rock so white? in the New Yorker’s TOC Tuesday night was: the Internet will be reacting to this. His argument is that indie rock started jettisoning rhythm and syncopation in earnest in the mid-90s with bands like Pavement, soon after Dr. Dre’s the Chronic was released. (Here rhythm = black; while that equation may seem casually made, S/FJ’s argument isn’t so much that the blacks are gone from rock—they were never there, really—as it is the rhythm’s gone, and he’s got the music history to show it.)

His diagnosis of the split is spot on, but the race aspect of it might just be symptomatic. Indie rock is about fifteen years into a process of avant-gardeing that has taken it away from catchy rhythms (which have endured in hip-hop) in favor of quirky sounds and other experimentation. Jazz did the same thing back in the day. It also moved away from dancing and rhythm into the various liberating potentials of noise after swing gave way to be-bop.

This change in both jazz and rock occurred just as each was eclipsed as the country’s dominant innovative musical form. That is, when they stopped mattering. Jazz went experimental roughly around the time when rock was being cooked up; by the time Miles Davis plugged in, rock dominated the musical scene. Likewise, the success of the Chronic that S/FJ places so much importance in (and he is exactly right) signaled the beginning of rock’s slow descent; with rap as the new popular music, rock was free to play around with other things.

Don’t assume that by experimental I mean unlistenable; it might be easier to just say they both went highbrow. Youth culture moves on and makes way for elite culture. (Most New York-based publications prefer the term “hipster”.) They start to get serious reviews in the New Yorker.

And around this time too, academic music grows curious and starts to pay attention. The famous anecdotes about Leonard Bernstein with his ear up to Ornette Coleman’s band’s bass when he first invented free jazz finds a loose parallel in Merce Cunningham’s collaboration with indie stalwarts Radiohead and Sigur Ros at BAM in 2003. (You might also note, on the subject of highbrow institutional respect, the two major museum shows this year of art inspired by Rock and Roll: Summer of Love at the Whitney and Sympathy for the Devil at Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.)

Ornette Coleman

As they changed, jazz and rock audiences shrank (or if you prefer, they self-selected). Jazz went from dance halls to smoky clubs (is that a romanticized generalization for you?), where it could be appreciated with full concentration. This has happened in indie rock shows today, where no matter how danceable the music, all the audience can do is drink beer and nod, like they’re at a tasting. (I have been shushed for talking in rock clubs many, many times.)

This is not an assertion that elite culture is white culture. Yes, rock’s fanbase is mainly, but not 100%, white. But when jazz went elite its audience stayed black for a long time. Hip-hop has managed to stay black even as it’s taken over the musical landscape; as that form wanes and goes all arcane sometime in the next 20 years, its highbrow audience will still be black too.

Since, as my financial advisor maintains, past performance is the best indicator of future results, I say we can expect rock to follow jazz’s long slow descent over the coming years, until eventually it creates its own equivalent of smooth jazz. (Smoothjazzy, it goes without saying, believes this has already happened, but that’s another post.) Meanwhile the hard stuff, lacking support in the market, will get propped up by patronage, public assistance, and tourism.

See you at Lincoln Center.

Semi-Related:
Black Kids
Sasha’s New Yorker Blog

Raymond Pettibon at David Zwirner

Pettibon Tom Friedman

Raymond Pettibon’s show Here’s Your Irony Back (The Big Picture) has to be the most immediate and compelling thing up in Chelsea right now. (And yes, I did hear that Ryan Trecartin is this season’s Murakami Vuitton bag.) If you can’t make it there by next Saturday David Zwirner’s reproduced 97 works at just-too-small-to-read size on the gallery Web site.

No Title (For Thomas Friedman) struck me most directly, maybe because there wasn’t too much to read on it, and maybe just because the guy deserves it. Now that the Times pay wall has quietly come down, artists are free again to engage with and respond to the paper’s Op-Ed columnists.

Updated: Read Fuck You, Ray. Here’s YOUR Irony Back (The Really Big Picture) at ArtCal Zine (via AFC)

The Deal with Britney Spears

Robert Johnson

You go away for such a short time, but the news keeps breaking without you. Feigned surprise: some people are shocked, shocked that Britney Spears lost custody of her children the same week that her new single hit Billboard number 3. Haven’t we all figured out by now that these occurrences are directly linked? There’s no unintended consequence of controversy, no irony, no who’d a thunk it. Two kids and a little bit of dignity are a devil’s bargain if the promise is eternal pop success. Especially, and this assumes no undisclosed back room haggling, she gets to keep her soul at the end. This probably explains her terminal wastedness. If you bought yourself that unchinkable Dorian Gray armor, wouldn’t you be drunk all the time?

Crossroads

It’s worth remembering in this context that Britney’s first movie was called Crossroads (2002, flop). And while that movie was ostensibly about sexual awakening, as it is everywhere in Britney’s narrative, it serves to show how successfully she converted her virginity into direct currency. It’s just the price of learning the blues guitar, baby.

Copacabana

Hunter Copacabana

Bob Bone: “I was driving an old MG convertible with a friend of mine along Copacabana Beach in Brazil, and I suddenly saw Hunter loping along. We picked him up, so now it was three of us piled in the tiny MG. Hunter was a little drunk, but he said, ‘That’s nothing. The thing that’s drunk is in my pocket.’ He had a drunk monkey in his pocket.”

Growing Up Gonzo: Excerpts From the Oral History of Hunter S. Thompson, Rolling Stone, October 4, 2007