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?