Monday, December 27, 2010

Where Am I?

I haven't been writing much because most of my time is taken up by my job, raising kids, and working on new book ideas. However, I am regularly updating...

Twitter: @advancedgenius
facebook: Advanced Genius Theory

And writing a weekly column each Friday at...
Death + Taxes.

I'm sure I'll get back to blogging eventually.


Sunday, November 07, 2010

Lou Reed Creates Video for Susan Boyle

Lou Reed creates 'intimate' video for Susan Boyle's 'Perfect Day' cover | News | NME.COM

A bit of it:

Lou Reed has masterminded the video for Susan Boyle's version of 'Perfect Day' just months after banning her from covering his 1972 classic.

Reed refused to let Boyle cover the track on an episode of America's Got Talent earlier this year, but had a change of heart a few weeks later and allowed her to include the track on her album.

Following the u-turn, Reed asked to be in involved in the production of the video, which was shot on the banks of Loch Lomond, according to the Sunday Mail.

"I wanted to create a beautiful and intimate piece shot in Susan's native Scotland and she quickly agreed," Reed told the newspaper.
So sweet! And Advanced, of course.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Moe Tucker: Tea Party Activist

Is Moe Tucker a mama grizzly? Here's the background:
In April 2009, WALB-TV aired a story about a Tea Party rally in nearby Tifton, Georgia. About two-and-a-half minutes into the feature, one "Maureen Tucker, Tea Party Supporter" was quoted as saying, "I'm furious about the way we're being led toward socialism. I'm furious about the incredible waste of money, when things that we really need and are important get dropped, because there's no money left."

Eighteen months later, the news story somehow ended up posted on YouTube, and the blogosphere started buzzing. Could this actually be Moe Tucker, former drummer for the Velvet Underground, one of the most influential and iconic rock bands of all time? All signs pointed to yes. It certainly looked like Tucker, and it was well known that she'd moved to southern Georgia with her family decades earlier. The Huffington Post confirmed the story by reaching Tucker at home; she wouldn't discuss the matter or her political views any further.

For a few days - practically dog years in Internet time - the reaction was swift and furious. Liberals declared themselves depressed and shocked that one of their idols was caught on tape speaking out against a Democratic administration. Some conservatives, meanwhile, congratulated her on her courage and welcomed her to their presumptive fold next to noted right-wing rockers Johnny Ramone and Alice Cooper.

We were curious to know more from Tucker herself, so we tracked her down and asked for an interview. She agreed to answer some questions via email.
Read the interview here. Short answer is that she thinks poor people shouldn't have five pairs of shoes, unions shouldn't be helped by the government, we shouldn't build turtle tunnels, and all politicians are liars and cheats.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Stephen Colbert Advanced? A Reader Wants to Know

Got a note from Kathy, who asks:
Do you think Stephen Colbert is an Advanced Genius or merely a genius? He is a best-selling author, Emmy and Peabody award winner, has his own virtual country (the Colbert Nation) and his own TV show. Yet his recent appearance before Congress has caused many people to ask "What was he thinking?" Others have said he was making a mockery of Congress. And this is a man who has:

a) Skewered President George W. Bush TO HIS FACE at the White House Correspondents Dinner in 2006;

b) Made the cover of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED as a "member" of the U.S. speedskating team at the Vancouver Olympics;

c) Had a treadmill in the new wing at the International Space Station named for him;

d) Had his head shaved by General Ray Odierno while entertaining US troops in Iraq.

Need I say more? Has this man raised satire to heights never seen before or what? I rest my case.
At first I sort of dismissed the idea that Colbert could be Advanced. Great, sure, but Advanced? Then I started to think: he was a part of the brilliant Dana Carvey show, which was underappreciated and misunderstood. He has been doing great stuff for 15 years. He was Tea Party (if satirically) before the movement began, so he was ahead of his time. He is religious. He has embraced technology (see space treadmill). And he went solo, leaving The Daily Show for his own program. These are all good things. The only issue is that everyone respects him, or at least all of his original fans,who are the ones that must be betrayed.

I will say that his counter rally to the Stewart Rally to Restore Sanity could be seen as an almost Ralph Nader-like undercutting of what could actually create serious conversation about whether we have all gone crazy. I kind of wish he weren't doing it, so that's kind of promising. But really, he's yet to make his base mad and no one would argue that he has lost it.

I think that if anything he is an Advanced Irritant for the reasons Kathy listed above. He went in front of the President of the United States and showed him no more respect than the comedians showed Chevy Chase at his celebrity roast on Comedy Central. Jon Stewart accused "Crossfire" of hurting America, but he wasn't in the same room with them, as I remember, and regardless, those guys were clowns.

His latest appearance in front of Congress was arguably even better because he was there for a serious cause that he really believed in, and yet he stayed more or less in character the whole time. For people who think James Franco is doing some chancy stuff, let's seem him be "James Franco" during a hearing in front of a judiciary subcommittee.

If he wants to Advance, he can, but until then, he'll just be the second funniest guy from South Carolina currently working today.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Annoying Critics' Tricks: Zach Galifianakis Edition

A.O. Scott has a review of "It's Kind of a Funny Story" in today's New York Times. Here's the annoying part:
Mr. Gilchrist is a friendly, somewhat tentative screen presence, but Craig has enough intelligence and humor to be both an agreeable central character and a charming guide to life in the adult psych ward. (The teenage ward is closed for renovation). He has a morose roommate named Muqtada (Bernard White), and a chorus of would-be mentors, the most important of whom is Bobby, a soulful, scatterbrained schlemiel played, it is almost redundant to say, by Zach Galifianakis.

Mr. Galifianakis is everywhere these days — the most in-demand tubby comic sidekick since the heyday of Jonah Hill, which I guess was about six months ago. Mr. Galifianakis’s Gleasonesque movements and deadpan, behind-the-beat timing serve him well in this role, as does his ability to seem completely in earnest even when his actions and utterances are bizarre or nonsensical. Bobby is credibly troubled, neither a holy fool nor an over-the-top goofball, and his moments of wisdom are as believable as his bouts of instability.
Why would Scott feel the need to make such snide remarks about Galifianakis when apparently he is good in the movie? And I really don't see why he feels the need to insult Jonah Hill. Or is he insulting filmmakers who use him? Or us for liking it? Or society for quickly changing our preference for "tubby comic sidekicks"? The review is perfectly fine without this bit that adds exactly nothing to our understanding of the film's quality.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Annoying Critics' Tricks: B. R. Myers Edition

B.R. Myers reviewed Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom. Here are the annoying parts, or, at least, some of them:
The language a writer uses to create a world is that world, and Franzen’s strenuously contemporary and therefore juvenile language is a world in which nothing important can happen.
It's difficult to tell if Myers is objecting to the use of contemporary language or just using it strenuously, but "contemporary" does not necessarily mean "juvenile, even if you put the word therefore before the pronouncement. Furthermore, important things can happen in a world built of contemporary or juvenile language. Critics enjoy noting that a work of art violates some universal rule, making it inferior. This despite the fact that many great works violated some rule or another. For instance, not many writing instructors would tell you to stick a bunch of details about whaling into your novel that is about much more than a whale. But Melville made it work.My point is not that it is unfair to say that something has made choices that the critic doesn't agree with, but it is not enough just to say, "the author did this, therefore the book sucks." There are no universal rules. (I know what you're thinking.)
The same narrator who gives us “sucked” and “very into” also deploys compound adjectives, bursts of journalese, and long if syntactically crude sentences. An idiosyncratic mix? Far from it. We find the same insecure style on The Daily Show and in the blogosphere; we overhear it on the subway.
The first part of this is a list of adjectives that I suppose are to be taken as pejorative, but Myers gives us no reason to think so other than a snarky tone. Then he brings up a pop culture reference, which according to him makes a work of fiction unserious. Guess it's okay for a review. But anyway, is there something insecure about The Daily Show? And are the show's writers known for using compound adjectives? And if I hear one more person erupting into bursts of journalese, using long if syntactically crude sentences, I'll explode! By the way, not everyone reading the review lives in New York, so what's the "we" business? How about "one" or "New Yorkers"?
Emphatic lines of dialogue continue to appear, chat-room-style, in capital letters sans exclamation marks: “I KNOW IT’S NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN.”
First the blogosphere, now chat rooms! What does Myers have against the Internet anyway? And why do we have to know what something sounds like when we read it? Maybe Franzen is challenging you to use your imagination or has created some unique? Maybe not, but the mere fact that Myers can't imagine it doesn't make the technique a bad one. One more thing: my personal rule is that people who say "sans" are unserious, and therefore this review is completely bogus.
Why was Freedom written? The prologue raises expectations for a socially engaged, or at least social, narrative that are left unmet. Too much of it takes place in high school, college, or suburbia; how odd that a kind of fiction allegedly made necessary by America’s unique vitality always returns to the places that change the least. Franzen clearly has little interest in the world of work. (The same applies, incidentally, to whoever edited the novel.) Of the four main characters, only Walter has a real job, about which we learn nothing until it becomes a matter of traveling around with an admiring young assistant. (American novelists never tire of the student-don romance; they just dress it up in different clothes.) Walter is constantly holding forth on issues he has researched, but not dramatically experienced. They are entertaining tirades, but this is not what fiction is for.
Myers doesn't tell us what fiction is for.
When Joey and a girl fly to Argentina, Pirates of the Caribbean is playing on the seat backs in front of them. Facile, yes, but Franzen knows his market. Many people who eschew great books for the latest novels do so because they want precisely this kind of thing. (Every new book we read in our brief and busy lives means that a classic is left unread.) These readers want a world that is recognizably their own in every trivial particular, right down to Twitter, even if the book says less of real relevance to their lives than one written a century ago.
And now Twitter! Myers not only imagines what Franzen's "market" is, but what they want. He also knows it is inferior to what it is they should want, and that is: to read old books. I'm going to finish with a thought about that ridiculous line, "Every new book we read in our brief and busy lives means that a classic is left unread." Is he saying we should read only classics? Do we need to be told beforehand that a book is good before we should waste our time reading it? And who defines classic? And what reader hasn't had the very same thought (should I be reading Balzac instead of Stephen King)? Myers would have us discover nothing on our own, ignore contemporary writers who have the audacity to write about what they see today rather than pretending those things don't exist because it violates what "should be" featured in a work of fiction.

I think that sucks, dude!

Friday, October 01, 2010

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: It's Okay, Even With All-Star Jams

I've started doing a weekly column with a site called Death and Taxes. The first entry is about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Here's a taste:
Every year when Hall of Fame nominees are announced, I hear the same two complaints: “so and so isn’t rock and roll” and “there shouldn’t even be a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.” These reactions reveal something interesting about rock and roll: no one can say definitively what it sounds like. Though most would agree that Elvis Presley was one of the first rock and roll singers, his music was as diverse as that of this year’s nominees. Even in the early Sun sessions—rock’s nativity scene—Elvis did a version of “Blue Moon” that is less rock and roll than just about any Donna Summer song. Aerosmith, the Police, Joy Division, the Doors, Devo, they are all recognized as rock bands, and yet they have almost nothing in common.

Of course most of us recognize that rock and roll means different things to different people, and for the most part we’ve made our peace with it. So instead of trying to define the genre in terms of chords, time signatures, or lyrical content, we have decided that the one thing all rock and roll must have is a spirit of rebellion against the establishment, or The Man. Therefore many reject the premise of the Hall of Fame because putting rock and roll in a museum is an admission that it has been officially annexed by The Man. But this makes very little sense, and here’s why:

Go to the site to find out why. (Lame trick, but it wasn't totally on purpose.)

Friday, September 24, 2010

Excerpt From Advanced Genius Theory: Joe Walsh

As a kid, I was fascinated by the weird noise in the middle of Joe Walsh's single "Life's Been Good." To this day, I still don't really know how it was made, but I like to think that it is what Walsh hears inside his brain, sort of like the way kids in Charlie Brown specials hear adults. Much later I discovered the James Gang, the best American rock trio of all time, which made his participation in the Eagles confusing. He was so great in his own band and as a solo artist, so it made little sense that he would join a band where he would be relegated to writing a couple of songs, playing an occasional solo, and being a backup singer. At one time I thought that maybe that arrangement was pretty good for him: He got to be in one of the biggest bands in the world without having to be the front man, which would leave plenty of time for his true loves, drinking and doing drugs. Since the Theory came to me, however, I've realized that the problem was that I was trying to make sense out of someone who makes no sense. You could go out of your mind trying to figure out why one of the greatest rock guitarists ever would make an album called Got Any Gum? There's just not a satisfactory answer to it. Sadly, though I'd like to say that his behavior is attributable to Advancement, I really can't. True, he did go solo, join another band, abuse drugs, and clean up, which is commendable. But he doesn’t quite make the cut, and belongs in either the Refined Overt class or perhaps the Authentically Weird class.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Annoying Critics' Tricks: Woody Allen Version

A.O. Scott has reviewed Woody Allen's latest movie in the NY Times. Here are the annoying parts:

"The metaphysical pessimism that constitutes Mr. Allen’s annual greeting-card message to the human race — just in case we needed reminding that our existence is meaningless — is served up in “Tall Dark Stranger” with a wry shrug and an amusing flurry of coincidences, reversals and semi-surprises."

Note that he brings up Allen's record of making a movie each year, which is an implicit criticism of the director. It is to be understood that he makes movies too fast--we don't know how fast a movie should be made, but we know one per year is too fast! He goes for a double by pointing out that all of his movies are the same, because Scoop, Match Point, Vicky Cristian Barcelona, Small Time Crooks, Everyone Says I Love You are basically identical. Except they aren't, but why think about it more than you need to when you can take a cheap shot?

"At this point in his career — 40 features in about as many years — Mr. Allen has both mastered his craft and grown indifferent to it. Does he take any pleasure in making these movies? Does he expect the audience to take any? It’s hard to say, since he seems to make films, and we seem to watch them (at least those of us who still do), more through force of habit than because of any great inspiration or conviction. Given the nonexistence of any controlling moral order in the universe, what else can we do? And what else would we want him to do"

Ha ha ha ha ha! The annoying trick used here is to imagine that Allen has become indifferent to making films. What is the evidence? Certainly not that he chooses to uproot himself from his New York home to shoot films in other countries because he can't get financing in the US. If he were truly indifferent, he would allow US financiers to give him notes, thus making it possible for him to stay at home where he is happiness. The other annoying trick is that Scott pretends to know why "we" watch Woody Allen's movies. I don't watch them out of habit, unless watching movies that I know are going to be at least decent and sometimes great. Scott watches them because he gets paid to!

"Since Mr. Allen is a notoriously nondirective director of actors, the performances in his movies tend to be all over the map, and “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger” is more scattershot than most. Mr. Brolin, angry and sweaty, with a bad haircut and a wardrobe stolen from a graduate student’s closet sometime in the late 1970s...."

There's that indifferent Allen letting his actors go wild. If only he cared more, maybe some actors in his films might get recognized for their work with, oh, Academy Awards nominations. But wait! Lots of actors have been nominated and even won for their work in his movies. Of course, that's before he let his actors sweat and have bad clothes. Wait, is that a criticism of the movie? The hair and clothes?

"The more ridiculous manifestations of faith — notably Helena’s spiritualism, which leads her into romance with the owner of an occult bookshop — are more charming and more persuasive than the earnest pursuits of love and success that drive most of the people in this overcrowded movie. For the most part, everyone struggles through, with at best mixed success. The audience included."

Here he goes lumping himself in with everyone else. Don't say "the audience," when you mean "the paid reviewers whose preconceptions need to be overcome for them to enjoy the film." But I guess it's a hard habit to break.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Tom Waits and the Internet: Death of Wonder

I just got finished reading a book about Tom Waits, "Lowside of the Road" by Barney Hoskyns. One line struck me, and luckily it is in this review, so I don't have to type it:
As Hoskyns points out, "Waits's deepest conviction was that truth was overrated." He quotes the singer ranting about a "deficit of wonder in the world. We live in an age when you can casually say to someone, 'What's the story on that?' and they will run to the computer and tell you within five seconds. That's fine but I'd just as soon continue wondering." On this occasion, I'm with Tom, and despite all his efforts, by the end, I've a suspicion Hoskyns is, too.
I disagree with Waits and the reviewer.  I think being able to look up things that have easy answers just gives us time to wonder about stuff that is more interesting, mysterious, magical, etc. For instance, the very thought of being able to find answers that quickly should inspire wonder. Pretty good book, though. I found it on the Internet.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Excerpt From Advanced Genius Theory: Roy Orbison

No one is more revered by great musicians of a certain age than Roy Orbison. Luckily before he died he got to play with many of them—Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, Bruce Springsteen—for a show that will definitely be a part of your next PBS pledge drive. Orbison’s great claim to Advancement, as opposed to plain greatness, is his look: all black clothes, dark sunglasses, and ragged, black hair that looked like a crooked wig (which it may have been). He was also in the Traveling Wilburys, which is another notch in the win column. But what intrigues me is that he wrote maybe 10 of the greatest songs in the history of rock’n’roll, but growing up I thought the only song he ever did was “Oh! Pretty Woman,” a perception he helped along by playing only that song on TV appearances. This is very similar to Lou Reed’s playing nothing but “Walk on the Wild Side” for about 15 years. I can only imagine how frustrated Tom Waits must have been watching Orbison play that song to Johnny Carson for the ninetieth time, especially since a lot of kids were probably wondering why some weird old guy was covering a Van Halen song. I don’t think, though, that Roy Orbison is truly Advanced, even though he was such an inspiration to so many Advanced Musicians. Ultimately I think he was just an angst-ridden, slightly mysterious nerd who wore black because it was a way for him to seem cool. I guess you could say he was the Trent Reznor of his time, only without all the weightlifting.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Jeff Beck: A Reader Weighs In

I got an email from a reader named Julian, who takes issue with the issue I took with Jeff Beck. I have to admit, that I had not given a ton of thought about Beck before dismissing him. After reading Julian's email, I have to say that I might have missed out on something. Here's the email:

Let me get to the point. Jeff Beck on your blog is in a top 10 worst category . I suggest, instead, he reached the level of Lou Reed. He is one of the most advanced musicians (or guitarists, not necessarily the same) of our time. Why?

First, your reaction right now, which is likely, "No way in Hell!" I imagine other readers would share this sentiment. But let me make a case (as briefly as possible).

In the 60’s, Jeff plays in the Yardbirds, and unlike Clapton, he goes 'Hollywood', loving every minute of fame (they kick HIM out). Following that, he gets Rod Stewart to make an album at least as good as Zeppelin I (Truth). How good? Jimmy Page steals much of the material for Zep I. Any artist would duplicate his initial masterpiece (as Page did with Zeppelin II), but Beck switches gears. To make a long story short, after a bit of time, he ventures into fusion, which is weird, and cool. During this time, he plays with Stevie Wonder. Perhaps a clear early sign of advanced potential is that he gets asked to join the Rolling Stones and turns them down. OK, snobby overt folks could say this is a sign of his great love of making pure music. But the stage is set. At this point (mid to late 70’s), he is seen as a serious jazz player, having seemingly banked his reputation on serious music

Then, in the 80's he puts out Flash which is destroyed by every critic. It is a big pop, drum machine sell-out. But, the album (as you say in the context of the 80's) is actually his best in a decade, and he clearly kicks major a**. He admits at the time and to this day that he wanted a big hit to make lots of money (not an overt stance at all). He's dead as far as anyone is concerned, and he goes to work on cars for a couple years. Out of nowhere, he puts out Guitar Shop (around 1989?) and everyone (critics and public) flips out because this is an incredibly perfect album. If I remember one review, it said only this, "put down your magazine and go buy this album". All his irritated fans are back now.

So what does he do? He works on cars again. He tours a bit, sure, but spends much of the early 90's building cars. Then he comes back with a couple Techno albums. Techno? These go nowhere. In the techno period, he does an obscure 50's tribute album to Gene Vincent, but DOESN'T put on Be-bop-a-lula, Vincent's biggest hit.

A series of live albums and then the odd recent release in which he plays an opera tune, Somewhere Over the Rainbow, and I Put a Spell on You. Let's not forget covering Jeff Buckley (not cool according to overters). While everyone was expecting a guitar showcase album, he put out an odd, eclectic piece.

He wears sunglasses and a sleeveless leather vest (which may be even cooler than a leather jacket). He has a mullet.

He is a 2x Rock and Roll HOF inductee, yet he plays at 2,000 seat theaters. Everyone today acknowledges, it seems, that he is THE guitarist of our era, another crazy shift in thinking by the media/critics.

There are over-rated guitarists, and clearly, Clapton heads that field. There are annoying guitarists that (like you said) are soulless and nothing without pedals. Jeff, however, is so odd in terms of career and talent and thinking that he really needs special consideration. Is there a greater irritation to fans than NOT playing music and working on cars?

Written off dead, written off as just a guitar noodler (err, even by talented authors), he is truly ahead of me, you, and I think, everyone. I still can't figure out the techno albums and I am putting them on as we speak in an advanced state of mind. Maybe I can figure out what his last release is all about (Emotion and Commotion).

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Annoying Critics' Tricks: NY Times Review of Stephen Hawking's “The Grand Design”

I wrote a while ago about the annoying habit some critics have of saying that a work of art would have been better had the writer/singer/director/etc. had only changed it in a way that the critic approves of. In other words, "I would have liked it more if it were more like I like it." In his NY Times review of Stephen Hawking's "The Grand Design," Dwight Garner uses another trick critics use that I think is unfair. He writes:
The real news about “The Grand Design,” however, isn’t Mr. Hawking’s supposed jettisoning of God, information that will surprise no one who has followed his work closely. The real news about “The Grand Design” is how disappointingly tinny and inelegant it is. The spare and earnest voice that Mr. Hawking employed with such appeal in “A Brief History of Time” has been replaced here by one that is alternately condescending, as if he were Mr. Rogers explaining rain clouds to toddlers, and impenetrable.

“The Grand Design” is packed with grating yuks. “If you think it is hard to get humans to follow traffic laws,” we read, “imagine convincing an asteroid to move along an ellipse.” (Oh, my.)

What I find unfair is that he says the book is "packed with grating yuks" and then gives us one example that isn't particularly grating. I find his commentary, "oh, my" (don't leave out that comma, smart guy!) much more grating than the joke itself. I understand that the there is limited room in the review for other examples, but if you are going to assert that something is "packed" with something awful you need to provide more evidence for the reader. Otherwise leave out the assertion.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Labor Day Special: My Role in the Jobless Recovery

I have long believed that it takes only one jerk to ruin something for everybody: the cigar smoker in a bar, the neighbor who lets his dogs bark all night, the hacker who sends out a computer virus, and so on. So it came as no surprise to me to find out that the current "jobless recovery" is the fault of just one jerk. But it was a bit of a shock to find out that the jerk is me.

Paul Krugman, professor of Economics and International Affairs at Princeton University and op-ed columnist for the New York Times, was the first person to recognize that our economy's frustratingly weak job market could be attributable to my being a jerk. "He [me] is almost impossible to reach because his apartment is in a cell-phone dead zone, and he refuses to get a land line" Mr. Krugman opined. "This alone," he added, "has cost 10,000 manufacturing jobs in the Midwest."

Almost immediately after that editorial hit the stands, the press ran with the story. James K. Galbraith wrote, "He [me] is such a know-it-all…15,000 textile jobs gone." The Economist ran an article detailing how my insistence that the Beatles are underrated led to the loss of 67,000 jobs in the steel industry. And USA Today ran a pie chart showing that my habit of correcting people's grammar was the single biggest obstacle to job creation.

And it wasn't just the press: Greg Mankiw, the former chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said, "I'm on record as stating offshore outsourcing is a 'good thing' and 'just a new way to do international trade.' But for that to be true, he [me] needs to stop monopolizing conversations at dinner parties. Then the positive effects of outsourcing could be seen." Former Treasury Secretary O'Neill said in an interview that even though President Obama is not doing everything that could be done, "things would not be so bad if he [me] would pay for dinner just once."

I can't quite figure out how I'm having such a big effect on the jobs market, but these people know a lot more about economics than I do, so I'm just going to have to take their word for it that I'm the jerk.

I sincerely apologize, Happy Labor Day.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Advanced Genius Theory: Hearts and Minds

Here is a nice example of someone embracing Advancement and finding some good stuff out there he might have missed otherwise:
More than any other contained period, Summer 2010 has been a musical exploratory explosion for me on a personal level. So much wonderful music abounds in the wings and unforeseen sharp corners. I do give credit where credit is due, so I'll admit that part of that is from having a roommate with good music taste. I have to give credit to Jason Hartley for his wonderful book "Advanced Genius Theory," which explores music made by stars that most people perceive as crap. (Lou Reed and Bob Dylan's careers during the eighties.) Anyway, in a nutshell the book says to take all music on a positive level from the beginning. Find what is good about it before you focus entirely on the bad. It's a wholly optimistic way of looking at music.

So this summer I started to open my mind to the fact that there is more out there than the handful of bands I couldn't go without. The songs on this week's playlist are reflections of that. They're the wonderful discoveries that eased the stress of a high-drama filled summer. For some people, music is the noise in their lives backgrounds. For me, music is my life's soundtrack. Occasionally bitter, often sweet, it's honest, true, and sounds fantastic. Summer 2010, I bid you adieu. It was entirely unique and special, and now that it's over, I have these songs to remember it by.
Go here to see what songs he's talking about.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

“On the Inevitable Decline...” : The New Yorker

“On the Inevitable Decline...” : The New Yorker

Title: On The Inevitable Decline Into Mediocrity of the Popular Musician Who Attains a Comfortable Middle Age

Poem: O Sting, where is thy death?

Remember that your poetry is not good enough for the New Yorker. Also, this is so Overt I can hardly stand it.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Why Eric Clapton Is Like Keanu Reeves in The Matrix

An excerpt from Advanced Genius Theory:

I want to like Eric Clapton, I really do. He seems to be the ideal candidate for Advancement—aging rock'n'roller, sold out by doing beer commercial, participated in a Cream reunion—but I think he's just authentically terrible. I know that some people, people I respect, revere him, but I find his style of guitar playing incredibly boring. And his songwriting is truly dreadful. The obvious examples are "Tears From Heaven" and "You Look Wonderful Tonight," neither of which I can sit through from beginning to end. Don't even get me started with his idiotic nickname, Slow Hand. I think the biggest reason I can’t get on board with him is that he is so devoted to the blues, which I also really can't stand. (Again, my fault.) I say he's devoted because he says it, not because there is much evidence that it's true, at least post-Unplugged. That aside, the kind of blues he worships is particularly irritating to me. If there is anything more predictable, it's straightforward electric Buddy Guy-style blues, especially played by a chinless, wife-stealing British white guy. At the very least he could have emulated Robert Johnson, whose style was genuinely strange. Of course, Johnson is the most Overt of all possible blues influences.

As usual, I'm perfectly willing to accept the fact that I'm probably the idiot here. Clapton was in the Yardbirds, a decent band, but he quit them for his Overt love of the blues. Pretty tedious, but at least there was a principle involved that he could later betray. Cream was in fact a pretty good betrayal of those principles, and they rocked pretty hard at that. If there were an argument to be made inside my head for the Advancement of Eric Clapton, it would have to be his involvement with Cream. It was one project that he didn't ruin by his presence, kind of like how people loved The Matrix because Keanu Reeves wasn't all that terrible in it. Clapton, then, was the Reeves to Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce's Lawrance Fishburne and Carrie-Ann Moss. Just as Reeves was needed in The Matrix to play a character in permanent "whoa!" mode, Clapton was necessary to keep Cream grounded. Without his wah-wah solos, "Tales of Brave Ulysses" could have wound up sounding ridiculous, and that's a possibility I'd prefer not to contemplate.

Everything after Cream has been awful as far as I can tell. There wasn't even a "Dream of the Blue Turtles" for me to look to as proof that he could achieve something as a solo artist. Even still, I'm leaving the door open for someone to prove me wrong about him. It's possible that, like Sting, he is just beyond my comprehension. He could have lapped boring into being interesting. I do find it somewhat compelling that he has gone preppy in the last few years, wearing khakis and short-sleeve cotton shirts on stage instead of the suits he wore there for a while. He's chosen a look that reminds me of what a retired man who has given up suits would wear to a nice restaurant. It's strange, yes, but not Advanced. If he shows up in leathers for the next Cream reunion, then I'll be ready to change my mind.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Paul McCartney, Lou Reed, and Egg Rolls

From showbiz411:
While most New Yorkers spend the last few days of summer wondering what we did to anger the weather gods, the A list plays on.

It does turn out that Hamptons celebrities like pricey Chinese food–that’s the kind where you don’t have to say, Hold the MSG. (To rock stars, MSG means Madison Square Garden anyway).

As with its city counterpart, Phillippe Chow in East Hampton is a hit. Paul McCartney was there the other night, and so was NFL star Marcus Allen. (No one asked him about Nicole Simpson, I’m sure.) Lou Reed was also there, and brought a little dog to dine al fresco.
You scream, I scream, we all want egg rolls.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Reader Friedrich Nietzsche Weighs In

Got another interesting note from a reader of the blog and my book. His name is Frederick Nietzsche, and he has some good stuff to say about why the Advanced State of Mind is so powerful:
Whoever wants really to get to know something new (be it a person, an event, or a book) does well to take up this new thing with all possible love, to avert his eye quickly from, even to forget, everything about it that he finds inimical, objectionable, or false. So, for example, we give the author of a book the greatest possible head start, and, as if at a race, virtually yearn with a pounding heart for him to reach his goal. By doing this, we penetrate into the heart of the new thing, into its motive center: and this is what it means to get to know it. Once we have got that far, reason then sets its limits; that overestimation, that occasional unhinging of the critical pendulum, was just a device to entice the soul of a matter out into the open.
Nicely, put Friedrich! That's super, man.

Keep the emails coming...

Friday, August 20, 2010

Steve Miller to Teach at USC

And here's a bit of the story for the NY Times:
On Thursday, the university’s Thornton School of Music said that Mr. Miller, the guitarist and front man of the Steve Miller Band, will serve as an artist in residence starting in the current term. In that capacity, he will present master classes for undergraduates enrolled in its popular-music and music-industry programs, and lead seminars on tour planning and record production as well as workshops on more specific topics like guitar tone. (Dude, ask him how he got that wah-wah sound on “The Joker”!)

“Every time he comes into contact with students, he just comes away energized and wants to work with them on more of a sustained basis,” Chris Sampson, associate dean of the Thornton School, said in a telephone interview. “I just thought, well, let’s make this happen. Let’s find an outlet and an avenue to get you involved.”

Mr. Sampson said Mr. Miller has been connected to U.S.C. for several years, as a guest artist who worked with the school’s jazz studies students and helped them create arrangements of his songs, and as a guest speaker in Mr. Sampson’s songwriting class. More recently, Mr. Sampson said, Mr. Miller consulted on the Thornton School’s curriculum for its two-year-old popular-music program, which now enrolls 55 students.

Mr. Miller is expected to be on campus at least twice a semester, following a schedule similar to the Thornton School’s other artists in residence, Patrice Rushen, the pianist and singer, and Lamont Dozier, the songwriter and producer.

“What we’ve agreed upon,” Mr. Sampson said, “is that any time he is in Los Angeles, he will just add an extra day, and he will make that his U.S.C. day, and we will build out a full day of activities for him.”
This should soften the blow of having those victories from the Reggie Bush years erased.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

What Happened to Bob Dylan? 60 Minutes Interview

Watch this on YouTube then watch the whole interview.

See Bob Dylan: Cash Only

This is interesting (LA Weekly):
Beloved Malibu entertainer Bob Dylan has just announced a show at the Warfield in San Francisco for August 25. Doors will open at 5:30 and the show is scheduled for 8 pm. Nothing really unusual about this, except that the show is CASH-ONLY and there will be no advance sales of tickets. It's unclear what made Bob join bad-neighborhood bodegas, "colorful" Italian restaurants, street vendors and others in the "Cash-only" lifestyle. Maybe it's a nod to the mega-recession and the calamitous loss of credit (and credit cards) that afflicts millions. Maybe he likes to get a big ole bag o'cash at the end of the night, like his beloved '30s minstrels (at $60 the ticket, he's gonna need a couple of suitcases).
 I love it when people try to guess what Bob Dylan's thinking. It is truly one of the great pleasures of my life.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

More From Readers

Got an interesting note from Brad O'Neill from Berkeley, CA, who I expect is smarter than I am. I'll include his nice words because books sales are slow and I need to feel better about myself, but it's the questions that are more important:
1. You are correct about James Joyce. I do encourage you to give Pynchon a chance for the same reasons when you make it to the late 20th century in your readings. V and Gravity's Rainbow are his Overt works of genius. He activated higher circuits like Joyce. I actually suspect that its why you're drawn to Joyce, based on the beautiful way you described your interactions with his writing and its unfolding of spirit over time. The few writers we have who have stepped into higher levels of consciousness and can write FROM it, but not ABOUT it, are the real gifts of the species.

2. You're also 100% correct regarding Woody Allen. Its fun to find other gen X Americans who will say and write this. We are not legion. I judge all women I potentially date based on reactions to a procedural watching of Crimes & Misdemeanors, Hannah & Her Sisters, and Annie Hall... All approachable lay-up stuff. We proceed from there, as merited.

Two questions for the author:

1. Have you given any deeper consideration to intellectuals or scientists who may be Advanced? You're clearly a fan of science and letters and allude to Einstein several times... just wondering what your thoughts are. There is a rogue's gallery of interesting off-the-rails scientists and thinkers who have some hallmarks of what you describe.

2. Also, what about when Middle and Late Advanced Stage behavior ends up becoming co-opted and territorialized by lesser artisits/thinkers? Is there a distinction pro/con in your mind relative to Advancement when the Advanced artist's Advanced work does become comprehensible to a wider audience and they then "reconnected", "forgiven" or "saved" or even more overtly, direct homage is paid to their work through imitation, incorporation, etc? Or does that mean it was Overt or a reversion? I'm trying to ascertain your structural parameters. Related: Does it matter if this happens in their lifetime?
And my response:
I've definitely thought about intellectuals and other scientists, but I feel like I need to be something of an expert in the field to judge Advancement or the genius's Advancement has to transcend my limited understanding of their work. Wherever there are top minds working, I would imagine Advancement would also be there.

As for your second question, I'm have a difficult time following you, but here's my best try: if a work is immediately understood, it's Overt. If it takes a long time for people to get it AND it is done by an Advanced artist, then it is Advanced regardless of how many Overt people coto appreciate it. Whether an artist is appreciated in his/her lifetime has no bearing on Advancement.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

NHL Advanced? A Reader Makes the Case

A reader named Jeffrey Benson wrote me a note asking whether the NHL might be Advanced. Actually, he wasn't so much asking as making his case. Here it is:
1. You Must Have Done Great Work For More Than 15 Years

The NHL has been around since 1917, and NHL teams play for the most historic and prestigious trophy in professional sports, the Stanley Cup.

2. You Must Have Alienated Your Original Fans

The Lockout of 2004 ...cancelling an entire season is literally the most alienating thing a sports league can ever do.

Coming back from the lockout with rule changes like the shootout, goalie trapezoid, and 4 on 4 OT that did not go over well, and still are not popular with old school, original hockey fans.

Losing ESPN and National TV contracts, going to "the Outdoor Life Network," now known as Versus, made it so fans couldn't even watch games if they wanted to...also pretty alienating.

3. You Must Be Completely Unironic


4. You Must Be Unpredictable.

As a sport - I think the NHL certainly qualifies as unpredictable. Constant upsets in the playoffs, random fighting, feuding, trading, season ending injuries, and over long periods of time, the NHL as a business has had a great deal of franchise-moving and expansion. Up-and-down surges in ratings and popularity (think the huge interest in hockey during the olympics) along with rule changes, equipment changes, and etc I think all help qualify the NHL as being somewhat unpredictable. Also, the random suspension process (some people getting suspending for headshots, some not, the whole Sean Avery suspension) also helps the case.

5. You Must Lose It. Spectacularly.

The "glowing puck" - remember this? This might be the best example of a sport losing it ever.

The major expansion movement into "non traditional" hockey markets, specifically, Atlanta, and Nashville, having THREE teams in California, and two in Florida. Not to mention a team in Minnesota moving to Dallas, a team moving from Canada to Phoenix, and a team moving from Hartford to Carolina.

I think a major sport going from national broadcasting on channels like Fox, NBC, and ESPN to a network people have never heard of, called Versus, is certainly losing it....can you imagine if the NFL moved to the Oxygen network?

The inane CBA, that allowed crazy-long term frontloaded deals, until recently, the Devils signed 27-year Ilya Kovalchuck to a SEVENTEEN year deal, which the NHL then decided to reject even though it fit all the rules. A pretty good amount of the legal rules and issues could be used to further this argument, but those are a little more boring...
I reminded him about the high frequency of mullets among hockey players, and he added:

I can't believe I forgot the mullet....that and the whole complete disregard-for-front-teeth thing are clear examples of advancement.

The idea you had that got me thinking was the whole "perception" argument you make, which I feel backs up the NHL theory. The same way people can't understand later-day Lou Reed, Sting Wind-chimes albums, Geoge Lucas or Orsen Welles, and write them off due to low commercials sales, reviews, popularity, etc...its not because the art is bad, it's because it's advanced and beyond average consumer comprehension. Reminds me of the NHL always being mocked for low ratings and people not understanding the's not because the sport is bad, it's because it's advanced.

Also - I'm sure something about the old school NHL goalie mask turning into something worn by a famous movie serial killer can somehow be used to prove advancement.
Keep those emails coming!

Friday, August 13, 2010

One Last Response to Mark Athitakis: What Is the Role of Critics?

I've thought a lot about the role of critics, probably more in the last few months because they have an influence on people who are considering whether to buy my book. I have something of a bias against most critics because I have known quite a few people who wrote record reviews. Most didn't really want to do it because either they were more interested in writing features or because they couldn't write what the truly felt. This meant they put the minimal amount of effort into it, which was evident in the reviews. I've also copyedited a lot of reviewers who clearly did not know what they were talking about, yet their ignorance was either unnoticed by the reader or hidden by an editor.

Another issue is that a critic who sits down to review something is very much like a student who has been assigned a book for the purpose of writing a paper. I'm not saying you can't enjoy an assigned book, but you do read it differently than someone who is reading for pleasure. If a critic has time to read for pleasure first and then read again as a critic, they can reduce the problem, but this is rare, I suspect. And anyway, they still know they are reading for the purpose of reviewing when they are reading for pleasure.

Finally, critics not only have to judge a work, they have to write about that judgment. This brings a level of artificiality because the critic has to create a narrative that will interest the reader. Maintaining the narrative can become more important than giving a true sense of the quality of a book or record. In other words, good writing sometimes beats out good criticism.

But there are critics who love what they do, have the time to do it, write well, and know what they are talking about. What is their role? Off the top of my head, I can think of three legitimate ways critics are valuable and conveniently they all start with "e":
  1. Entertainment. It's enjoyable to read good writing about art by someone who is informed.
  2. Education. The best critics are able to see things in art that many of us would otherwise miss. Reading them deepens are appreciation for art because they teach us new ways to think. We don't have to agree with them, we just have to be stimulated.
  3. Empowerment. When a critic agrees with you, it makes you feel confident in your own ability to process art. If you are more confident in yourself, you enjoy things more.
Of course I've fallen into the critic's trap with my cute E series. I would probably have more things to write, but I can't think of any other valid things that start with "e." I'll have more to say about this topic later. But my final thought for now is that what a critic can't do is judge whether something is good or bad. Yes, it can be pointed out that a writer uses poor syntax or a song's tempo is unsteady, but there are plenty of great books with convoluted sentences and great songs with meandering beat. All the critic can do is to tell us whether they like the book or record they are reviewing. That opinion is valuable to readers only if they believe the critic either knows what they are talking about or if the critic's judgment often coincides with their own. In my case, I include the artist in the criticism continuum, and if the artist's judgment most often seems right to me (even if at first I don't agree), then I can be persuaded that my judgment may not be sound.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Largehearted Boy Playlist: Advanced Genius Theory

Read it here. Here's a bit of what you'll be reading:
Jason Hartley's The Advanced Genius Theory puts forth an interesting hypothesis, that even though the true advanced geniuses in the arts may seem to eventually slip, it is our own critical response to their latter works that is lacking. Though I didn't agree with all his examples, I did enjoy the book from its first page to the last.

This is one of the year's most thought-provoking books about music and pop culture. Some will agree and others will disagree with this book's theories, but The Advanced Genius Theory is sure to spark debate and discussion.

In his own words, here is Jason Hartley's Book Notes music playlist for his book, The Advanced Genius Theory: Are They Out of Their Minds or Ahead of Their Time?:

About six years ago, Chuck Klosterman wrote an Esquire article that brought the Advanced Genius Theory out of my bedroom and into the larger world. Though I did a terrible job of explaining it to him, he managed to summarize the spirit of theory perfectly, writing, "When a genius does something that appears idiotic, it does not necessarily mean he suddenly sucks. What it might mean is that he's doing something you cannot understand, because he has Advanced beyond you." Hopefully the following list of songs will add to your understanding of the theory, and you will then start on a journey of self-discovery that is Advancement.
The songs I chose are:
  1. Original Wrapper (Lou Reed)
  2. Jokerman (Bod Dylan, Late Night version)
  3. If I Can Dream (Elvis)
  4. Time After Time (Miles Davis version)
  5. Interstellar Overdrive (CVB version)
  6. All For Love (Sting, Bryan Adams, Rod Stewart)
  7. When Love Comes to Town (U2 and BB King)
  8. Third Uncle (Brian Eno)
  9. Take Me Home (Phil Collins)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Another Response to Mark Athitakis: Part Two

So let's answer another part of the question I asked in the first part of my response to Mark Athitakis: why go through the torture of listening to music you don’t like so you can eventually like it?

It is not to prove anyone wrong, as in his example of Bob Dylan's Christian albums or to avoid appearing “stuffy,” “tweedy,” “unimaginative,” or “smug.” I think these are examples of why a critic might embrace questionable music by otherwise great musicians, but the benefits are really for regular people. I can speak from experience that once you embrace Advanced music you will discover great things that you would not have otherwise. Having a negative reaction to music is certainly valid, but I do think it's worthwhile to question why you had the negative (or positive) reaction. I've merely laid out some alternatives to the accepted idea that most artists lose it when they're old.

Mark (I believe we can use first names now) wrote in the comment section that Levon Helm's cover of "Long Black Veil" did not have an emotional impact on him regardless of Helm's intentions. He argues further that his opinion is still valid even if others, or everyone, have a different opinion. We're in total agreement here. Where we diverge a bit is that I'm giving a certain extra weight to Helm's opinion because I believe he is wiser than I am. He is essentially a critic of his own music; he chooses what to play and how to play it, and if his band can't do a good job on a song, it doesn't make it into the set. So by virtue of playing the song for an audience, Helm is showing that he's giving the song at least one thumb up, if not two. If we look at the artist as self critic, then it makes perfect sense to compare his opinion to other critics. Few would argue with me that a review by Edmund Wilson is likely more valuable than one by, say, me. I just think of Helm as part of the chain of people evaluating his music. Since he knows his stuff, I'm inclined to think that there is something I'm missing. He isn't infallible, but neither am I.

This leads me to one last thought: I didn't like Exile on Main Street until three weeks ago. If I look at technically, I can say it is a jumbled mess of tired blues licks by a bunch of rich British guys pretending to be poor black Americans. As much as they complained about the lack of tea in France, they were there because they wanted to be rich. Plus they were criminally negligent in their treatment of their children. For most of my life, I have never liked the blues because my idols stayed away from that style of music. I didn't like solos, the same chord progression over and over, the self-pitying lyrics, etc. Now, with more experience and hopefully wisdom, I realize that I was just being stupid and Exile on Main Street incredibly good. Mark authentically did not like the cover of "Long Black Veil" but that doesn't mean he wouldn't like it 15 years later. My hope is that people will use the Advanced Genius Theory to revisit some things they have dismissed and/or never tried.

I have one more thing to address: What is the role of critics? Should they even exist? That's for part three.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Another Response to Mark Athitakis: Part One

Mark Athitakis, my worthy adversary, has written some more about Advancement and my responses to his earlier post. He makes a number of great and challenging points that I would like to address. So let’s get started:

Athitakis went to the Newport Folk Festival recently, where he saw Levon Helm and his band (not The Band). He was troubled by their cover of “Long Black Veil,” about which he wrote, “There was nothing especially bad about it, but nothing especially good about it either.” He goes on to note that he isn’t required to like this version just because Helm is who he is, but that he shouldn’t reject it out of hand just because it’s slower than he might like or that the song choice is a cliché. Though he tried to like it, he found the experience not worth the effort because it gave him “no particular pleasure.” Finally he asks what, exactly, is the point of trying to find the good in something that he truly doesn’t like, giving two examples: 1)To prove that critics had it all wrong about Bob Dylan‘s Christian records? 2) To not appear “stuffy,” “tweedy,” “unimaginative,” “smug,” or any of the other adjectives people use when a critic dislikes something other people enjoy?

I want to start out by saying that it’s clear that Athitakis has made an honest effort to approach music with an open mind, or perhaps a mind rerouted toward Advancement (I concede that there is a distinction). But I’m not surprised he failed to enjoy Helm’s performance, if for no other reason than I believe that Helm isn’t Advanced. A cool guy, but not Advanced. However in my book, I claim that once you approach things with an Advanced state of mind, you can like anything, even if it isn’t up to genius standards. So let’s ask what is the value of reaching that state of mind in the context of this particular performance of “Long Black Veil.”

The song has been covered by just about everyone, including Nazareth, but I’m not sure why this should count against Helm. The song might have achieved cliché status, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad song or that it is necessarily a bad choice to cover it. And I would bet that some people in the audience were exposed to that song for the first time or at least had their interest in the song renewed. To expand out a bit, the festival itself is a cliché and Athitakis went to see it because it has some cultural value. I’m sure there are purists who would deride the current version of the festival and argue that it is no longer relevant. But that doesn’t mean the choice to continue the festival for those who are interested in it is a bad thing necessarily. The question is whether this version of the festival is good, and so it goes with the cover of “Long Black Veil.”

Aside from the idea that the song is overdone, Athiakis notes that it was done too slowly. This is the kind of judgment that is impossible to prove. Tempo was likely not the problem, but the performance within that tempo. Any song can be played at any speed as long as the musicians can find a groove that satisfies the listener’s particular needs. Which leads us to the question of how everyone else felt about the tempo. Some people are more inclined to slower music, and I would guess that many people in the audience loved it. Are they incorrect in their judgment? And Levon Helm knows just about everything there is to know about that style of music, and yet he chose that tempo (presumably, given that he is the drummer and it’s his band). Why would he make this error? If you’ve followed this blog or read my book, you’ll know that I think that there is no obvious right or wrong when it comes to art, and of course this is not a new thought. But I’ve added on a piece which is, if the choice is among me, other people, and a musician who has been playing music for 50 years, then I’m better off siding with the guy with the 50 years experience. If there is such a thing as right and wrong, then he’s probably right.

Okay, but why go through the torture of listening to music you don’t like so you can eventually like it? Coming in part two…

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Advanced Genius Theory Pretentious?

One thing I hear from time to time is that the Advanced Genius Theory is pretentious. I really don't understand why, exactly. It's true that I tried to construct a logical argument to prove that there is merit to Advancement, but I don't use big words or many highfalutin arguments ("highfalutin" sounds too much like "rootin' tootin' to be pretentious), so I would have thought I'd be in the clear. I do mention some brainy folks to support my argument, but just as often I quote guys like Powers Boothe. My favorite instance of pretentiousness is my acceptance of Jar-Jar Binks rather than declaring him a CGI rendering of the death of George Lucas's credibility. I compare him to Chewbacca, not Othello. Perhaps the issue is not that I'm pretending to be smart but that I'm pretending to be dumb? Or maybe that I'm saying that being dumb is actually smart? Of course, I'm not doing either of those things, I'm just guessing.

Mesa just no get it.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

The New Yorker Review of "Get Low": Make It Like I Would Have!

I've not yet seen Get Low, so I can't say if the New Yorker review is fair or unfair. However, there is one part that I completely reject:
The funeral is a lively affair, yet it signals the demise of the movie. There is a carnival air, with food being grilled and fiddle music played, but Felix, largely in closeup, takes the microphone and confesses to an ancient sin. He is wholly in earnest, of course, no more likely to fool us than if he were sitting on Oprah’s sofa. Had I been in that crowd, I would have been tempted to shout, Don’t tell us, old man! Keep your mystery, and your land, to yourself! Duvall could have done it; imagine him bending down to whisper his guilt into Spacek’s ear, with Murray close by, eavesdropping, and the rest of us shut out. Or imagine if Felix had died beforehand, leaving his baffled mourners to do the whispering. “Get Low” is deftly played, and it rarely mislays its ambling charm, but what a forbidding fable it could have been if the truth about Felix Bush, rather than emerging into sunlight, had slunk back into the woods.
This form of criticism--the movie would have been better had they made the movie I would have made--is common, but totally invalid. It's not very surprising that a critic thinks he would like the movie he made better than the one somebody else made. This is especially true when the critic doesn't actually have to make it. Comparing an ideal to something that exists is not a fair fight. So let's stick with critiquing what was actually filmed rather than what might have been filmed, shall we?

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Paul Westerberg Advanced?

A reader (Tom) sent me a note this morning, and I thought I'd share the exchange...
Tom: [Westerberg] Advanced or not? Former slop-rocker does kids movie soundtrack (Open Season) which is probably one of his best solo albums, and has a guitar made by First Act sold at Walmarts. Also Lou's concert for dogs was one of the most advanced acts by an artist. If he releases a CD, that is inaudible to humans, made for dogs, I will rejoice.

Me: Great stuff about Westerberg. I didn't love the Replacements, but enough of my friends do to make PW qualified. I didn't know about the Wal-Mart deal, but obviously that is awesome.

As far as the dog album goes, a release on CD would be one-upping Cage because Reed's actually has sound that you can't hear, whereas Cage simply "created" nothing, which is just the opposite of something.
Keep the emails coming!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Ben Allen on the Advanced Genius Theory: Interview

Had a great conversation with a guy named Ben Allen, who has known about the theory for a while and was kind enough to get me a little press. Read the bit below, then see the whole thing here so the picture of the blue elephant makes sense.
Ever wondered how Lou Reed could release a double album of nothing but guitar noise and feedback and still have it advance his career? “What the hell was Bob Dylan thinking doing a television spot for Victoria's Secret?” Or, “what would motivate Brian Wilson to release a rap song entitled ‘Smart Girls’ in the late 80’s?”

Your immediate reaction might be something like "most artists occasionally create work that sucks, and don't always make the best decisions." I too, felt this way for many years.

Now what would you say if I told you there was a theory that would allow you to appreciate all of the work by your favorite artists? Twenty years ago, Jason Hartley came up with one.

In 1990, he and a friend developed The Theory while dining at a Pizza Hut. Although he has been writing and talking about it for years, he gained an increased level of exposure when Chuck Klosterman published an article attempting to explain The Theory in Esquire Magazine in 2004.

Recently, Simon & Schuster published Hartley's first book, The Advanced Genius Theory: Are They Out of Their Minds or Ahead of Their Time? I spoke with Hartley to help explain further what all this means and if The Theory is for real.

Advanced, See if you can explain Advancement Theory in 30 words or less. Go.
Jason Hartley: There are certain artists who are so good, for so long, that it is foolish to dismiss them, no matter how out of touch, ridiculous, or crazy they may seem.

NM: That was exactly 30 words, nice work!
JH: I’ve been talking about it for almost 20 years, so I’ve had a lot of practice.

NM: Don't you think it's possible that even geniuses create subpar work on occasion? What about when they retrospectively declare their previous efforts as "garbage?"
JH: First of all, never trust a genius, especially an Advanced Genius, when they talk about themselves. Not only do they lie all the time, they also judge from their own Advanced perspective. That’s why they talk disparagingly about their work (except for their latest work, which they inevitably describe as the best they’ve ever done).

Answering the first half of your question second, yes, it is possible for geniuses to create subpar work. But “subpar work” by Advanced Geniuses is more interesting than other artists’ well-received output. Of course, the trick is identifying when an Advanced Artist does actual subpar work. But that’s hard because we are so behind them in terms of our ability to understand their work. Ten years ago, no one would have argued with you if you said that Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music was worthless, but now people are starting to get the hang of what he was doing. So maybe the Advanced never do subpar work. I guess the point is that I don’t think many of us are in a position to judge.

NM: Isn’t a little pretentious to explain music being brilliant just because the general public isn’t smart enough to understand it?
JH: Only slightly less pretentious than dismissing an album by Bob Dylan.
One confession: I sort of cheated on the 30-word bit.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A Response to Mark Athitakis: Part Two

Mark Athitakis wrote about his relationship with the Advanced Genius Theory, and I'm responding in bits and pieces. Here is part two. (Read part one)

From the post:
[Hartley] writes in the book’s conclusion: “Once you have achieved the Advanced state of mind, something amazing happens: you start to like everything.” He’s not arguing against discernment: “You can still have ‘good taste,’” he writes. “It’s just that the question becomes how much you like a work of art rather than whether you like it.” It’s a powerful counter against critics who come up with contrived reasons to dismiss things. But how much better is it to come up with contrived reasons to like them?
A fair question, albeit one I think might be his duty, as a critic, to answer. My take, though, is that it is far, far better to come up with contrived reasons to like something than to dislike them because liking things is more pleasurable. (In a pure sense of the term, rather than the pleasure one gets from being miserable.) However, I’m not asking people to make up reasons to like the later work of Advanced Artists. I do write that if you need to trick yourself into liking Advance art by pretending to like it, that is fine, because eventually if the work is truly Advanced you’ll discover its real greatness. I started out laughing at Lou Reed’s later work, and ended up sincerely loving it. The fact that I thought it was funny at one time doesn’t diminish my eventual appreciation for it. I just needed a way in.

Another point is that I don’t think it is a contrivance to say that an artist’s full body of work can tell us something of the quality of that artist’s latest work. Or at least it’s no more of a contrivance than other ways to judge quality of a work of art. It seems to be perfectly acceptable for critics to talk about an artist’s “relevance,” which is really a measure of the audience’s reaction to a work rather than the work itself. Between judging a recent work of art based on an artist’s history versus that work’s relevance, I think the former is less of a contrivance. But you could easily say the opposite, and there would be no way for me to argue because ultimately we are talking about art. There’s just no formula for what is good, which leads me to two final thoughts:

If I say a song is good, then that probably means that it meets a certain set of conditions. But there are songs that I like that don’t appear to meet any of those conditions. These are often called guilty pleasures. It may be the guilt is what I like, but I don’t feel guilty about them in private, just around others. Anyway, if I like something that violates my rules for goodness, that means that the rules are flexible, which means I can’t always count on them to guide me in the right direction. The second, related thought is that some songs I don’t like at first I eventually like after something has changed. Usually the reason is that someone I respect tells me I should listen to it again, but there are lots of other external factors. The whole point of the Advanced Genius Theory is that you should take a chance on some things you might have missed. I encourage you to look everywhere, but the best bets are those artists that you at one time loved but for whatever reason you stopped.

So going back to the original question, “How much better it to come up with contrived reasons to like [Advanced Artists]?” As long as it allows you to discover new things, then much better. When you say yes to something there are endless possibilities, but when you say no, then that’s the end.

I Didn't Write What I Know

We had been waiting on the launch pad for about three hours when the phone rang. It was Mission Control. "The guys at IT think there might be a problem with the navigation coordinates, so you might as well eat your hamburgers now." The burgers were a little cold and the bun was soggy, but no one complained. "I'll make it up to you guys when we get into orbit," I said, as I opened the pickle jar. My crew and I had been through a lot together, starting with our sorties over the DMZ. You don’t get hamburgers—soggy or otherwise—when you’re out fighting Migs over the Pyongang desert.

In addition to my usual crew was a new guy named Olaf. He was a Dane who stood about six feet eight and went about 300 pounds. Olaf was as strong as the rest of us put together, and he was going to need every ounce of that strength for his part of the mission. We were taking our rocket ride to fix a satellite that had gone out of orbit, and he was going to have to haul it into the capsule so we could adjust the transponders. Of course they weren’t going to tell us what the satellite was for, but we all knew it wasn’t so you could get ESPN Deportes in Tuscaloosa. We also knew that Olaf was going to be doing some serious heavy lifting out there.

It took a while for Olaf to fit in, which is only natural. Me and the guys had been together in the trenches—literally—and you can’t help but bond when your tin rations run out, you’re waist-deep in God knows what kind of filth, and Jerry is pointing his .22 at you fifteen away across No Man’s Land. Jerry, our Jerry I mean, Jerry Rodriguez from San Antonio, that is, even took Olaf for a spy. “I no trust his accent,” he said to me at the NASA bar with the honesty that comes from one cerveza too many. But I think he just wanted to prove to the guys that he was as American as the rest of us, even though his father and father’s father was on the wrong side of the Alamo. Funny thing is Olaf thought Jerry was a spy, too, which he confessed to me over some Danish rum his mum had mailed him. Everything worked out okay, though. Jerry and Olaf got to be best of friends because they both loved Tom Clancy novels and suffered from mild schizophrenia that they covered up during their psych evaluation by pretending to be each other.

“Damn, captain, are they going to light this candle or not?” Chuck grumbled from the backseat. He was always in a hurry to get wherever he was going, which was funny because he was a doctor before he got drafted. “For a doctor, you sure don’t have any patience!” Harold joked for the millionth time, and we laughed not at the joke itself but the absurdity of its repetition. Plus, Harold and Chuck were lovers, which added a depth to the joke that only a military man can appreciate.

I called up the tower and said, “You’ve got five guys up here who are ready to get on with this mission. I don’t care if I have to steer this thing with a rudder, let’s launch.” Sometimes you had to kick those eggheads in the ass to get them to do anything. “No can do,” shot back Carol, exhaling her cigarette as she spoke like Marlene Dietrich. Now, if she was an egghead, she was a Faberge. (I was big into collecting those at the time.) Some of the guys didn’t like Carol because she was so pretty and was sleeping with Rodriguez. But she was top-notch in the control tower, and that’s all I cared about. Besides this was NASA, where everybody slept with everybody. We used to joke that the initials stood for National Aeronautics and a whole lot of interagency Sex Agency. That’s before the Moral Majority got interested in the space program.

“Roger that, Carol,” I said, knowing that if we weren’t lifting off now, we probably were going to be spending the night aboard the capsule because it was going to be dark in about 20 minutes. But just as I was ready to give up hope, the status light turned from red to green. I looked at Jerry, who knew all about the navigation systems, but he just shrugged. “What happened down there? We’ve got a ‘Go’ sign here,” I said to Carol. “Yeah, we’re not sure what happened,” she responded. “But the problem seems to have corrected itself. We’re going to start the countdown in a T-minus 30 seconds.” I looked around at my crew, who were busy putting away the condiments with the kind of no-nonsense professionalism that comes only with years of experience, and thought to myself with pride, “Yeah, the New Kids on the Block hit the nail right on the head.”

And the countdown began: 100, 99, 98, 97…

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Response to Mark Athitakis: Part One

Mark Athitakis, who has a well-respected literary blog, wrote a fascinating post about the Advanced Genius Theory. He wrote some very kind words about the book, especially with regard to my sense of humor. I intend to trot out some of his quotes the next time my wife rolls her eyes at one of my jokes. Anyway, Athitakis has had a long history with the theory, going from annoyed to curious to downright respectful. But I haven't won him over yet; he still has issues with the theory and lays them out very tidily on his blog. I thought I would spend a little time answering some of his criticisms, not to prove him wrong, but merely to engage in the type of conversation the book was supposed to inspire. Today, I'm writing to address his observation that my critiques of single works of art (rather than a body of work) is unsatisfying:
The problem with Advancement—and the reason why it’s easy to regard it as a parlor game, if not an outright prank—is that its scope is limited. The theory only applies to artists who have a proven history of unquestioned brilliance (15 years, Hartley suggests), so the theory tends to get caught up in details about whether a musician’s acquisition of sunglasses and “world beat” musicians signifies Advancement or not. (Yanni would be the ultimate Advanced musician, I suspect, were he ever any good.) Another limitation is that Advancement mainly considers careers, not individual works—or at least doesn’t consider individual works in any interesting way. (They’re always better than you think! Because an Advanced artist made them!) Hartley is never more flat-footed as a writer then when he writes about a particular album; when he considers Dylan’s album Shot of Love, he lapses into the kind of fanboy fawning fit for a message board. (“The second song, ‘Heart of Mine,’ is a lovely, piano-heavy tune that shows off Dylan’s ability to sing in a conventional style when called upon to do so….”)
To this I say, well, a few things. First, there was a lot of ground to cover in the book, so I made the decision not to get too deep into particular works. I could write a book about Shot of Love, but I chose instead to address just the idea that he "can't sing" because that is a major hurdle for many listeners. It might be better to say that my  purpose was not so much to explain why you should enjoy certain Advanced music but, rather, to convince you that it is possible to enjoy it. As for fanboy fawning, if truly feeling that "Heart of Mine" is lovely constitutes fanboy fawning (or just bad music criticism), then I'm guilty. But I wanted to write like a fan rather than a critic because I hoped that my sincere enthusiasm would inspire people to give Dylan and other Advanced artists another shot. 

It seems that Athitakis's primary complaint with the book/theory is that I'm not fulfilling the role of critic adequately. He mentions in his post that I am averse to criticism and I'm suggesting that others should be as well. I'm not saying that, or not exactly that. I'm just trying to put criticism into some sort of context. What does it mean if Kurt Loder doesn't like a Bob Dylan song, but I do? Am I wrong? Is he? Is it possible that we're both right (or wrong)? In the process of trying to answer this, it seems valid to me to look at Dylan's body of work and, especially, the contemporary reaction (critical and popular) to his separate works. My position is that Dylan is right more often than he is wrong, so I give him the benefit of the doubt. I would like to say that it is possible to judge a work by itself, but I don't think it is.

I have more to say about all this, but I wanted to get some thoughts down while they are fresh. 

Friday, July 23, 2010

Who Really Typed Shakespeare: Bingo or Pancakes?

On April 23, 1915, Dr. Ravel Giancarlo set out to prove that if you gave enough monkeys enough time and enough typewriters, one of them would eventually reproduce the complete works of William Shakespeare. He got the idea from a book by Émile Borel, who used metaphorical monkeys to illustrate the stability of the laws of statistical mechanics. Inspired by this "infinite monkey theorem," Giancarlo rounded up fifty actual monkeys, chained them to fifty typewriters, and locked the doors. In the fall of 1948 Bingo, the first monkey that was recruited for the project, pulled from the carriage of his typewriter the final scene from The Tempest, vindicating Dr. Giancarlo, who had been ostracized from the scientific community. Giancarlo had always maintained that one of his monkeys would prove the theorem, so it was not a surprise to him that the experiment met with success. However, he was astonished that success came so quickly—and by a monkey with such humble beginnings.

Bingo's unlikely story began in the 1890s at Glover's Animal Preserve in Warwickshire, where he received the standard monkey education of the day. Most of his time would have been spent memorizing portions of Lily's Cercopithecus Latina as well as attending church. After Warwickshire, there is a gap in the timeline of nearly ten years, commonly known as the "lost years." Some scholars believe that Bingo might have been the same monkey—alternately referred to as "Bongo" and "Banjo"—who was rumored to live in the household of the wealthy Huffman family near Lancashire around the turn of the twentieth century. Details about Bongo or Banjo are murky because at the time monkey ownership was frowned on by the Anglican Church, so the Huffmans would have had to keep their monkey as secret as possible. Though we'll probably never know for sure if the Huffman monkey was indeed Bingo, it is nearly certain that near the end of these lost years he attached himself with a small circus, probably Lord Strange's Monkeys, which would have taken him to London.

It was shortly after he arrived in the city that Bingo was sold to Dr. Giancarlo. For the next thirty-three years Bingo typed away, starting with the sonnets, moving into the comedies and histories, and, finally, the tragedies, just as Shakespeare had done. His pace was remarkable from the beginning: While other monkeys were struggling with the stage directions of Titus Andronicus, Bingo was putting the finishing touches on Hamlet's famous "To be, or not to be" speech. After Bingo was finished with Shakespeare, he rejected Dr. Giancarlo's offer to give Faulkner or Joyce a try, and decided to put away his typewriter for good. He retired to Warwickshire, where he died a few years later as the most celebrated monkey typist of all time. But his legacy would not be left to rest in peace.

In the 1960s, some scholars asserted that Bingo (the "upstart monkey" in the words of one of his contemporaries) hadn't actually typed the plays and that a much more likely candidate was Marshmallows, who was also a part of Dr. Giancarlo's project. They believed that Bingo, having merely attended the King's New Monkey School back at Warwickshire, would not have had the education to randomly type Shakespeare. Marshmallows, on the other hand, was a celebrated monkey typist who had been to university at Cambridge as part of a number of lab experiments, so it was argued that he would have been exposed to a wide range of science, history, and literature. However, the Marshmallows theory was disproved definitively in 1968, when it was discovered that he had been killed in a brawl over a bunch of bananas before the typing of Romeo and Juliet. The Marshmallows theory was replaced soon thereafter by a group who posited that it must have been Sir Francis Bacon who typed the plays. This theory, too, was shot down easily, as it was revealed that the "monkey" Sir Francis Bacon was not even a part of Dr. Giancarlo's experiment, having died a few hundred years before it began. It was also discovered that Bacon was in fact a human being famous for works such as Essays, Colours of Good and Evil, and the Meditationes Sacrae. Amazingly, there are still some Baconists who cling to the idea that their man was the monkey that typed Shakespeare.

Since then there have been several theories proposing alternatives to Bingo. Indeed, for the last thirty years a veritable cottage industry in the publishing world has grown out of the question, "Which monkey really typed Shakespeare?" The latest offering is from Rubin James and Brenda Williams, who have written a new book, The Real Monkey Shakespeare: Bingo Was Not His Name-O. In it, they claim that it was not Bingo but Pancakes, another monkey in the Dr. Giancarlo's experiment, who typed Shakespeare. They point to the fact that Pancakes was well educated, had traveled to all the countries used as settings in the plays, and had a life that matched up with the action and settings of the plays. Williams has suggested that the aristocratic Pancakes, who was a distant relation of Bingo, would not have wanted the publicity that was sure to follow any monkey who typed Shakespeare and might have wanted to give his "his poorer cousin a paw up" by attributing the typing to him.

James said that he began exploring the connection between Bingo and Pancakes about eight years ago. "It was really an accident," James explains. "I was reading Bingo's dedication for the sonnets, trying to figure out who this mysterious 'Mr. P K' was, when I noticed something strange, something that didn't quite make sense." That something, says James, was a secret code that, when deciphered, read "thy monkey," followed by "Pancakes." After cracking this code, he then checked the names of the monkeys used by Dr. Giancarlo's. He verified that one of the monkeys was indeed named Pancakes, who had been the monkey to the ambassador of France. This time with the ambassador would have given Pancakes the insight into the inner workings of courtly life that Williams and James feel any Shakespeare monkey typist would need. Plus, Williams discovered that Pancakes had been imprisoned in the Paris zoo for siding with Émile Zola in the Dreyfus Affair, which would explain his uncanny ability to type the tragedies, particularly Hamlet. "It's fantasy to believe a monkey like Bingo could have typed such sophisticated plays," says Williams. "Pure fantasy."
Most Bingo scholars disagree. "It's just snobbery," claims Dr. Peter Zeus, recent recipient of the Davy Jones Professorship in Monkey-Typing Studies at Warwick University. "There is plenty of evidence that Bingo received a quite good classical education at Warwickshire, not to mention he was a part of the vibrant London circus society that placed a high value on random-typing skills." Dr. Zeus points to the fact that Bingo would have associated with monkeys from all over the world and therefore would have been familiar with all the cultures that Shakespeare wrote about. "There's just no real evidence that points to any monkey but Bingo." But Dr. Zeus says that people will go on believing that it was simply impossible for a monkey with such a "common" background to have typed Shakespeare's plays. "It's a shame," he says ruefully, "because this was one special monkey. That anyone would deny that Bingo typed Shakespeare just drives me bananas."