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."

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Review of Page 86 of A Visit From the Goon Squad

Writers spend years of their lives working on a book, then someone writes a 500-word review of it, 65% of which is a recap of plot points. So I thought I’d write a review of a single, somewhat random page of Jennifer Egan’s fairly amazing but regularly flawed A Visit From the Goon Squad. Before getting started, though, I should confess that I don’t think I’m up to the task of reviewing this or any other book—I don’t like metaphors, I don’t get symbols, I miss symbols, irony goes right past me, it takes a lot of time to review a whole book—which is probably the main reason I’m writing about one page, rather than out of respect for Egan’s work. But anyway, here goes…

We start with a cliché, the perfect country club woman whose “prodigious childbearing had left no mark on her narrow waist and well-tanned biceps.” (You don’t often hear of the effects of childbearing on biceps.) This woman represents Crandale, the white-bread destination for other clichés, especially hedge-fund managers, though the hedge-fund manager doesn’t appear until the bottom of the page. Tennis is used to establish the uncomfortable surroundings for Stephanie, who “came from nowhere,” but unlike her husband, Bennie, she is from a Midwestern suburban nowhere. (Bennie is from an urban nowhere.) But Egan makes an interesting choice to make Stephanie have a history with tennis—she “achieved a certain greatness at around age thirteen—though she falls back onto cliché, comparing the “greasy burgers” of Stephanie’s youth with Crandale’s salade nicoise (italics hers).

Later, Stephanie and Bennie have gin and tonics, while watching fireflies and listening to a pianist playing “harmless melodies on a shining upright.” Like the childbearing biceps bit, I find the word harmless a strange choice; is it a value judgment? Should a pianist play harmful melodies while people have cocktails? Is there even such a thing as a harmful melody?

We find out that the couple has moved here to mark Bennie’s success in the music business, and its value is put in terms of its distance (physical and mental) from his life growing up in his urban nowhere and his “dark eyed” grandmother. (Another meaningful description where I can’t find enough meaning to satisfy myself that I’ve gotten it.) We are meant to realize that this is just another nowhere, but the women have “shining ponytails,” not dark eyes.

At the end of the page, we find out that the hedge-fund manager is a bit more than just a type, in that he appreciates the band that made Bennie’s reputation. This is a nice touch because it makes Bennie fit in, but in a way that would make him extremely uncomfortable. Bennie, after all, had been the bassist for the punk band the Flaming Dildos (a fake band name that sounds fake, though I’ve not seen many fake bands with names that don’t sound fake), and while hedge funds and dildos are often associated with other, the punk in Bennie would never want to be approved of by a hedge-fund manager named Duck.

And so the page ends with Duck asking whatever happened to Bosco, the guitarist for the band Bennie discovered. Bosco is recording an album, Bennie tells Duck, but leaves out important details. That happens on the top of the next page, so that’s off limits.

As for the book as a whole, I liked it quite a bit. I did feel like there were a lot of characters I’ve seen before in Dead Milkmen videos, but in some cases I guess that was the point. It’s very possible that something is going on with these characters that is more interesting than I realize. But I just couldn’t help thinking that Egan could do better than the runaway with uncaring parents, the suicide, self-destructive musicians, record producers named Lou with underage girlfriends, and country club types who befriend people from nowhere only if they make a good tennis partner (and have dark-eyed husbands they can sleep with).

I am in the minority in some of my criticisms, but I think some are valid. My biggest problem was that a lot of importance was attached to things like “greasy burgers,” which are mildly evocative, but only of something so familiar that it has no meaning. Where’s the beef, you might say.

Again, the book is really quite good, and I recommend it to anyone. It’s complex and moving, plus Egan creates a touching Powerpoint presentation, which is something you rarely see. Her method of storytelling is so compelling that I think the characters in the story might suffer from the comparison. If the characters had been as unpredictable as each new chapter’s style is, A Visit From the Goon Squad would have been one of the best books I’ve ever read.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Woody Allen in the Digital Age: Still Miserable

You can now get audiobooks of Woody Allen's short stories, read by Allen himself. He seems to have enjoyed the project immensely (NY Times):
Q.What was the recording experience like for you? Did you make any new discoveries about these pieces in rereading them? Did it take you back to the frame of mind you were in when you first wrote them?

A.I imagined it would be quite easy for me and in fact, it turned out to be monstrously hard. I hated every second of it, regretted that I had agreed to it, and after reading one or two stories each day, found myself exhausted. The discovery I made was that any number of stories are really meant to work, and only work, in the mind’s ear and hearing them out loud diminishes their effectiveness. Some of course hold up amusingly but it’s no fun hearing a story that’s really meant to be read, which brings me to your next question and that is that there is no substitute for reading and there never will be. Hearing something aloud is its own experience but it’s hard to beat sitting in bed or in a comfortable chair turning the pages of a book, putting it down, and eagerly awaiting the chance to get back to it.
 I'd like to imagine the process being more like this.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Excerpt From Advanced Genius Theory: Mick Jagger

Mick Jagger is clearly Advanced, and were it not for his guiding hand, it’s easy to imagine the Rolling Stones being just another band that was good for a while, like the Animals or Ebn Ozn.

The case for his being a genius is airtight, so there’s no need to go over that. I think he began his move toward Advancement when the Stones started playing disco music. To clarify, I don’t really hear the disco in their disco songs, plus the songs were huge hits and very good, but still rock purists were pretty unhappy with the development. He embraced internationalism in the form of Bianca Jagger, he was in Freejack, he went solo, reunited with his band, sang with Bette Midler, appeared in a sitcom, sold out a million times over (starting in the sixties with a Rice Krispies commercial), and played the Super Bowl. And then there’s the matter of his look, which may be the most Advanced thing about him.

At various points he had the correct hair length, leather color, and sunglasses tint, but he developed a style of dress that no non-Advanced person could have ever dreamed up. I’m talking about the tights with knee pads, the jerseys, the striped leotards, and the puffy jackets that he has worn on stage the last 30 years or so. What is so baffling is that he was such a stylish dresser at the start of his career; no one has ever rocked sweaters and oxford shirts like he did (Eddie Haskell came close). But once the dress code was relaxed for rock musicians in the late 1960s, his Advancement blossomed. He lost the bad boy in nice clothes look, choosing instead a wardrobe that was a mixture of Gandalf and Philadelphia Eagles cheerleader. Even more amazing is that he dresses normal, even well, offstage. So what’s going on?

One thing about Advanced front men is that they cannot be embarrassed. They will sing in falsetto, sing with a pronounced southern accent even though they are from England, dance like a chicken, and do Inkspots-inspired voiceovers about fine Arab chargers. It is this fearlessness, though, that makes them able to give full voice to their genius. In the case of Jagger’s clothes and general onstage persona, it does seem ridiculous, but he is an incredibly effective performer. He comes from an era where entertainers took their jobs seriously, which included wearing clothes that separated them from the audience. Jagger certainly meets this objective. As I said before, he is the reason the Stones are still around, and a big part of that is because he is still so interesting to watch. Make fun of his clothes, his pointing, and his lip contortions all you want, but the guy gets the crowd worked up, even those who are sitting in the top row of a football stadium a half-mile from the stage. (I think he got into the garish costumes when they were playing in stadiums before the advent of Jumbotrons. It was just a way to be seen.)

Many Overt people feel like he shouldn’t be on the stage anymore, regardless of his clothes. They say that Jagger and the Stones tour only for the money and their recent records are just irrelevant throwaways. This is ridiculous, as they certainly have more money than they could possibly need, and it would keep pouring in whether they were touring or not. They tour because they love playing live, and all the musicians they worshipped played until they couldn’t play any more. If they didn’t like it, they wouldn’t do it. As for the records, it is extremely difficult and time consuming to make a record, and they really don’t make that much money for an artist. Sure the records since Steel Wheels are hard to get into right away because they don’t sound like the old Stones, just as it is difficult to enjoy any new music put out by a musician whose “prime” has passed. But if you haven’t listened to Voodoo Lounge as many times and with as much care (or drugs) as you did Exile on Main Street, how do you really know it’s not as good? You may dismiss this idea, but you probably also dismissed Voodoo Lounge before you even heard it. There aren’t that many musicians as Advanced as Mick Jagger, so you could only benefit from giving him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe you’ve been hoping that there would be another great Stones record some day, so wouldn’t it be great if it’s already on your iPod?

Friday, July 16, 2010

So My Review Wasn't Helpful, Huh?

I'm going to get the guy who didn't find my review of "Steve Miller Band: Greatest Hits 1974–1978" helpful. I mean, I'm really going to get him. Eighteen people read my review, and seventeen found it helpful. Now you tell me if I've got a problem or that guy does. It's him, right? Well, now he's got another problem: I'm coming after him.

This guy is seriously dense if it doesn't help him to know that "Swingtown" builds a foundation of rhythm piece-by-piece, then adds contrapuntal layers of melody, and finally bursts into an understated chorus that is surprisingly effective. What does this guy want, anyway? He's probably just bummed that "Abracadabra" isn't included on the album. I admit that "Abracadabra" is a great song that had Miller furthering his visionary exploration of synthesizers that began with songs like "Fly Like an Eagle" and "Rockin' Me." But it came out after 1978! If you want "Abracadabra, get "Young Hearts: Greatest Hits" you moron.

By the way, jerk, "The Joker" is not about cards or Batman. It's an exploration of the divide between appearance and reality. It also deals with the decline of traditional ideas of masculinity in an increasingly yonic society. I mean doesn't he hear the guitar making that whistling noise? And can't he understand that "Take the Money and Run" is about the importance of personal responsibility in an era dominated by moral relativism? I tell you who did understand it: seventeen other people. So take that, jackass.

Hey, I don't even like Steve Miler that much. I'm much more of a Bob Seger guy. But I like to help people who don't know as much about music as I do. I guess some people just can't be helped. Anyway, when I find "justamusicfan," he's going to regret he ever read that "Wild Mountain Honey," while considered an afterthought by many, shows that Miller is in the same class of singer-songwriters that includes James Taylor and Jackson Browne.

Yeah, he's really going to regret that he ever read that.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Sting at Chastain Park - Concert Review

As you may know, I have had a difficult time judging whether Sting is Advanced. I wrote about it in my book and included one of his songs in a song list I did for the New York Times. But I had never seen him live before, which I thought might be the reason why I felt it so difficult to judge him. So I was excited to find out he was bringing his "Symponicity" tour to Atlanta's Chastain Park. As you will see this concert experience did little to clear up the matter of Sting's Advancement.

I had arranged to borrow my brother's car to get to the show because my wife was out of town with ours. I printed out my ticket at work, put it in my bag, and raced to my brother's house, catching both trains just in time. A perfect start. I got the keys to the car from my sister-in-law, then went out to the back of the house, where the car was parked. His car doesn't have a trunk, so I was worried about leaving my bag in it during the concert, so I cleverly hid it behind a post in the back yard, under the deck, then headed off to the show.

I got there about 35 minutes early, so I was feeling good. As I pulled into one of the last free parking spots, I realized that my clever idea with the bag was actually stupid, because that is where my ticket was. It was going to take me at least 45 minutes to get to the house and back, but I figured he wouldn't start exactly on time. I realized on my way that the car was low on gas, so low that I would have to stop. Five more minutes down. I put $10 in, got to the house, grabbed my ticket, and headed back to Chastain Park.

When I got there again, almost all the parking was taken up, so I drove around and around, killing another 10 minutes. As I drove by, I heard a snippet of "Englishman in New York," which sounded fantastic. As an aside: why do DJs always cut off the end of that song before the "it's a big enough umbrella" line? Anyway, I found a ($15) parking space and ran up a huge hill in the sweltering Georgia heat.

When I arrived at the gate, he was just finishing a beautiful version of "Roxanne." I gave the woman my ticket and asked how long he had been playing. She started to say "not long," but then stopped, looked at my ticket, and revealed to me that it was for the next night's show. I didn't know there were two shows, so I didn't even bother to check. People at the gate all got a good laugh.

The next morning, I woke up feeling a little funny, and by the time I started to go to  work, I realized that I was too sick to drive. There would be no Sting concert for me, and my frustrating relationship would continue.

My rating of the 38 seconds I heard: 4 stars

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Liz Phair Wants to Be Advanced

According to her post "how to like it" on her site:
You were never supposed to hear these songs. These songs lost me my management, my record deal and a lot of nights of sleep.

Yes, I rapped one of them. Im as surprised as you are. But here is the thing you need to know about these songs and the ones coming next: These are all me. Love them, or hate them, but dont mistake them for anything other than an entirely personal, un-tethered-from-the-machine, free for all view of the world, refracted through my own crazy lens.

This is my journey. Ill keep sending you postcards. 
 She had me for a moment but then it occurred to me that it's a little bit too close to an apology or at least an attempt to distance herself from any criticism one might have. The Advanced don't say, "Hey, this is Advanced, so that's why it sounds strange." I also find her reference to her "own crazy lens" to be on the Overt side, as everyone Overt wants people to think they're weird. Still, I do like that she raps.

Sting Is Pretentious (And We're Both Okay With It)

A couple of bits from the NYT:
The apartment’s host can sometimes seem like the ultimate version of that co-worker or college-reunion acquaintance who is always one-upping your anecdotes: ask Sting about the 19th-century aluminum double bass he keeps near his bookshelves and he will say he uses it to play “one little piece of Purcell every day and that’s it”; mention the two chess sets he keeps on his coffee table and he’ll tell you about the matches he played against the grandmaster Garry Kasparov. (“Of course he beat me every time. But you know, he can’t sing.”)

And if that same eclecticism has led Sting far from his origins as a rebellious rocker, he knows how it makes him look to some listeners.

“Of course I do,” he said. “I come off as being pretentious and all that stuff. Don’t care.”

Sting, 58, said the appreciation for classical music he cultivated from the piano playing of his hairdresser mother and BBC radio of the 1950s was not something he could readily confess to back in his Police days.

“It was frowned upon,” he said, “and that’s the whole ridiculous premise of rock ’n’ roll becoming this Taliban-esque, closed thing. ‘You can’t do that, you can’t do that.’ What’s the spirit of rock ’n’ roll except freedom — freedom to do whatever you want?”
This being Sting, conversation with him naturally turned to subjects like the BP oil spill, the possibility of sustainable fuel sources and Eastern mysticism — in this case via the decorative Tibetan dZi stone he wears around his neck. (“They say they are planted by Bodhisattvas,” he said. “I have no way of verifying the truth of that, but it’s a beautiful thing.”)

It also returned to the meaning of the word pretentious, which Sting pointed out comes from the same root as the word pretend. Though he embraces the label, Sting said: “I’m not pretending anything. I’m curious, I’m finding out. I’m enthusiastic about stuff.”

He added, “What am I supposed to do, stay in my box?,” cheerfully punctuating the remark with a vulgar phrase more closely associated with his punk-rock days.
Rock on, Sting.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Jacobpedia Is Funny

This person is not a fan of my book, writing:
Hartley states that most people think his theory is a joke, although he insists it isn’t. I can’t believe he is earnest. I have been a Dylan fan for as long as I can remember, and Reed’s work with the Velvet Underground is enough to put him in the pantheon of rock musicians. But, no matter what mental gymnastics you want to go through to prove otherwise, Dylan and Reed actually lost it. (Dylan, though, climbed out of his ’80s trough, beginning with 1989′s Oh Mercy.) Whether the issue was apathy, drug and alcohol abuse, or simply using up all their good ideas, many of the artists who made their names in the 1960s and early ’70s lost their way in the ’80s. And although Hartley equates the “advancement” of the ’80s with Dylan going electric in 1965, no artist of that generation released anything in the ’80s that matched his/her/their earlier output. Plus, Hartley instantly loses his argument by including Brian Wilson’s “Smart Girls” on his list of examples of Advancement in practice. By insisting that “Smart Girls” is anything but a crime against the hearing public, Hartley reveals that he is an irrational person.
That's fine. But now he's going after Lou Reed and his photography:
[Reed's] “horseshit-generating powers” have been pretty spectacular throughout his career, but since the early-’70s, he hasn’t done much of anything that warrants paying attention to his pompous pronouncements. And, being the driving force behind the Velvet Underground doesn’t earn you forty years of good will. At this point, I’m mostly just amused by how awesome he thinks he is and how seriously he takes himself.
I'm going to pretend to be rational for a moment: if my defense of "Smart Girls" shows that my theory is without merit, what are we to make of someone who makes a statement like, "since the early-’70s, he hasn’t done much of anything that warrants paying attention to his pompous pronouncements"? Not much since the early 1970s? Talk about pompous pronouncements! I guess all of us who like The Bells and New York and Magic and Loss and so on are just idiots. But not as big of an idiot of Lou Reed, of course, who has the audacity to show his photography in an exhibition and call one of his photos "Gorgon." Lucky for Reed the blogger does admit that the Velvet Underground was great. What a relief!

Friday, July 09, 2010

A Note to My Next Mugger

Before you begin mugging me, I'd like to give you a few pointers:

If you're feeling nervous at all, don't worry: I have lots of experience, so I can walk you through the process. The main thing to remember is that I'm more afraid of you than you are of me. If that doesn't help, just imagine me in my underwear. Better yet, make me take my pants off and you can see me in my underwear. If you don't have a gun, tell me that you do, and I am certain to believe you. If you do have a gun, you can shoot me with it, but that should be a last resort.

If you are a woman, as three of my muggers have been, I apologize in advance for telling people that you were a man.

It would be great if you didn't yell too much because that makes me panic a little, which will make you yell more. It's sort of an unpleasant cycle that usually ends with my getting shot or stabbed, and I'd like to think that we both want to avoid that. Also, if you could make an effort not to rush me, I think everything will go much more smoothly. Ironically, it seems like the less I'm rushed, the quicker the mugging is. I could be wrong, but it has always seemed that way to me.

If you plan to attack me, I would appreciate your not attacking me from behind. I might instinctively try to resist if I don't see you coming, and then you might instinctively shoot or stab me. I would prefer, of course, that you not attack me at all. A menacing look is all that is required.

I keep my wallet in my right back pocket. Don't worry, there's no chain or anything. I keep an emergency twenty in my sock, but I would prefer your not taking in it. In exchange, I won't report my credit cards stolen for 24 hours. This way, I get to take a cab home, and you can get a few things with my credit card.

I do not wear any jewelry, but after the mugging, since you'll have my credit cards, you can buy some if you'd like. I know a good jeweler. He's a friend of the family, so if you say you know me, he'll give you a deal.

When you've gotten everything you need, you can tie me to a nearby fence or sign. Just for this purpose, I always keep some rope that doesn't chafe against my skin but still holds fast.

That really covers everything. Every mugger has his own interpretation of how to do a proper mugging, so I will respect your decisions. But if you follow my advice, the whole mugging can be as quick as a handshake.

I look forward to being mugged by you, and good luck!

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Advanced Genius Theory Book Review

There is a very nice interview at My favorite part had only a little to do with the book:
Sitting back while Hartley elaborates the theory and reasons whether so-and-so has Advanced or is a even a candidate for future Advancement is a true pleasure. If you and your friends have ever taken an absurd idea to the extreme, The Advanced Genius Theory should strike a chord with you. For instance, one night my buddies and I came along a copy of Face Value by Phil Collins and “discovered” Collinsization, which is simply playing Phil Collins to one of your friends when they don’t expect it (and it predated the Rick Roll by a good 5 years). So that night we called our one friend who admitted the first cassette he owned was Invisible Touch, and another friend who is English and so was guilty by geography, and simply played a little “In the Air Tonight” and “I Missed Again” into the telephone. It was such a fun humiliation game that we spent the rest of the night hashing the theory out: If you hear Collins, it’s Collinsization, but if you hear a Genesis song it’s Genesicide, and if you listen to Phil Collins on purpose it’s called Sussudiocide. In those years it wasn’t strange to see someone cover their ears and run out of a bar to avoid the humiliation. Debates carried on about whether you could be visually Collinsized simply by seeing his face, or if his voice and/or drum breaks were the only valid means to the end. Side theories developed such as Enomunization, or the idea that listening to Phil Collins in small doses as the drummer on Brian Eno’s solo records makes you less susceptible to harm through Collinsization. It is this rigorous and imaginative spirit that Hartley channels when detailing Advancement.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Bobcat Goldthwait to Turn Kinks Album Into Movie

Oh my (Guardian):
Raspy-voiced comedian Bobcat Goldthwait will direct a film based on the Kinks' Schoolboys in Disgrace, according to reports. The manic funny man, best known for appearing in the Police Academy films, has written a screenplay based on the 1976 album. Ray Davies will act as executive producer.

The original Schoolboys in Disgrace is a musical about a young trouble-maker, who transforms into super-villain Mr Flashs after being humiliated by his headmaster. "Schoolboys in Disgrace is a story that any kid who has felt that they are not being treated fairly can relate to, all set to some of the greatest rock songs you'll ever hear," Goldthwait told the Hollywood Reporter.
I hereby declare this the most exciting--and potentially Advanced--project of the year! (Thanks to Jeff)