Monday, August 31, 2015

Don't Even Think About Using Prince's Ping-Pong Paddle

This was is a good article about true Advancement (not like that Kanye) found by someone in the Facebook group. It's about Prince and a young man who has "worked himself up to a prime position in the Paisley Park hierarchy." But here's the good part:
Forget the “Chappelle’s Show” skit about the blouse-wearing, basketball-playing Purple One, because table tennis is now the preferred pastime at Paisley Park. “Prince can beat pretty much everyone at pingpong,” says Welton. “He’ll stand in the same spot the whole time — sometimes with one hand behind his back!” He points over at Prince’s paddle, which no one else is allowed to touch. It’s well-worn, the rubber frayed, “because it’s always on fire,” quips Welton. (Sadly, it’s green, not purple.)
Admit it, you also immediately thought the paddle was purple, right? Anyway, there's lots of good stuff about how Prince maintains an aura of mystery.

Kanye Not Advanced Yet and His Appearance on the VMAs Proves it

Kanye West comes up a lot in discussions in the Advanced Genius Facebook group and I'm asked by people on Twitter whether Kanye is Advanced. I lean that way, but this morning I realized what holds me back: If Kanye were Advanced, he would be not be involved in the VMAs. At least, not right now. The Advanced don't need your love or approval, but it seems like he still does. He is so much more than the VMAs, so why would he stoop to being a part of it? Sure, it could be Advanced to be there, but I don't think that applies for him. Prince, yes. Leonard Cohen, maybe. But Kanye, no. I feel this to be true but I can't prove it.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Stephen King Can Write a Book in a Week, and That's Fine

Interesting piece by Stephen King in the NY Times. He asks, "Can a novelist be too productive?" Here's a good part:
No one in his or her right mind would argue that quantity guarantees quality, but to suggest that quantity never produces quality strikes me as snobbish, inane and demonstrably untrue.
 Of course he would say that, you might think, he writes a ton of stuff. But:
This is not a roundabout way of justifying my own prolificacy. Yes, I’ve published more than 55 novels. Yes, I have employed a pseudonym (Richard Bachman). Yes, I once published four books in one year (shades of James Patterson … except mine were longer, and written without the aid of a collaborator). And yes, I once wrote a novel (“The Running Man”) in a single week. But I can say, with complete honesty, that I never had any choice.
People just write differently. When I wrote my book, I would sit down with a cup of coffee and knock out 1000 words on Saturday afternoon while my son was napping and then do it again on Sunday exactly the same way. Most of the words stayed in the final version of the book, for better or worse. Some people struggle over every word, and the output is amazing, but sometimes it feels like it was labored over so there is no life to it. I don't know why we feel the need to think there is a better or correct way to make art, but maybe it's just that we think if only the writer or director or whatever would have put a bit more time into something, that would have fixed all the things I don't like about it. Maybe there is a sweet spot between "The Running Man" and "Chinese Democracy," but I suspect it is different for everyone.

John McEnroe Covers Nirvana

I really wanted to add "You CAN be serious," but I just couldn't do it.

Happy Friday

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Salon Thinks It's Possible to Pick the Best Songs of the 1980s

The Overt Salon asks, "Are these really the best songs of the ’80s?" in response to the Pitchfork list that came out the other day.

Here's a bit:
The list excels at documenting of the years when hip hop evolved from Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message” to pop pastiche like De La Soul and word-drunk one-offs like the Beastie Boys’ “Paul’s Boutique.” The descriptions of how various kinds of ‘80s production shaped what we hear from music today – or the way the music and vocals of Yoko Ono’s “Walking on Thin Ice” echoes through contemporary bands — shows some very good ears among the site’s staff. The nods to music outside the Anglo-American axis (a bit of Brazilian and West African) are well chosen. The shaping up of Prince as the artist of the decade makes sense, whether you look at today’s musical landscape or just look at the ‘80s in isolation.
But if you reject the list’s contrarian/ Poptimist subtext – if you think that music played mostly on guitars, that comes out of country and folk and acoustic blues still matters and had a pretty good run in the ‘80s – the list is less satisfying and full of holes.
For a few seconds I was surprised by the lack of more songs by the music I like, but then I remembered: these lists mean nothing, are more or less arbitrary, but people like to read about them. When I was working at Spin, I saw firsthand how these things are assembled, so I can tell  you that a lot of choices, and their rank especially, were basically "sure, why not?"

It's fine to have this reaction of course, and a reaction is what Pitchfork wants. But here's the part that bothered me:
Okay, I know — there’s only so much room, even on a list of 200 songs. But was it really so urgent to put George Benson’s “Give Me the Night” (just about all of his jazz guitar songs are better and less overplayed), Michael McDonald’s “I Keep Forgettin (Every Time You’re Near),” Tears for Fears’ “Head Over Heels,” Hall and Oates “I Can’t Go For That,” or Phil Collins’ drum machine nightmare “In the Air Tonight”? Okay, part of this list is really great. But I just can’t forgive them the Phil Collins.
First of all, rejecting the premise of your own article is never a great idea. Of course there is only so much room, so why are you nitpicking? And no, it was not urgent, they just though they were making good choices, or good enough choices to provoke some discussion. Finally, after starting out rejecting the premise, he finishes by saying it's one song he really has a problem with. Well, my problem is that he has a problem with Phil Collins! So I will see his pointless article and raise him a pointless blog post.

Gogo Wifi Sucks, and Such Small Portions!

Not much going on in the Advanced world today, so I'll talk a bit about a technology I would love to embrace, but haven't been able to.

One of the hallmarks of the Advanced State of Mind is humility (ironically, I guess, since it sounds so grandiose). By that I mean, you have to accept that some things seem terrible only because you don't fully understand them. This article about Gogo in-flight wifi made me think of that because I absolutely hate Gogo more than just about anything in the world.

I'm a fan of Louis C.K. so I know that I'm supposed to just appreciate the miracle of being able to log in from the skies, but that doesn't help. Basically, it feels like Gogo breaks the promise of wifi (you can get on the Internet and do stuff), and I don't care about the technical issues that prevents them from keeping that promise, especially now that it is more expensive. After reading this article in Bloomberg Business, I understand why maybe I should. Perhaps unsurprisingly, getting wifi on airplanes is complicated! There aren't that many airplanes so testing is limited. The hardware is hard to update/replace. And the more people use it, the worse it is.

The ideal solution is to just make it better--and satellite service is coming--but until that happens, the best option is to charge even more for the lousy service until so many people stop using it that it becomes good again (it's called price optimization).  If you're sitting in your middle seat with no legroom and want to write a blog post, this may be infuriating, but deciding not to pay for something that doesn't work that well is a good thing. Still, for some reason I want the price to be affordable even though I know the service will suck.

Part of that is that I don't like that rich people (or corporate-card holders) benefit from the high price, but again, paying just enough for something terrible is worse than paying nothing while someone gets something wonderful. There is certainly some value in sticking it to other people, but not enough to offset the anger you feel when you lose service or have to sign in again.

Anyway, nothing earth shattering, but I did find the article interesting and I almost felt sympathy for Gogo, which I never thought would happen. Kind of like I never thought I'd like anything by Stone Temple Pilots.

And now, Woody Allen in Annie Hall telling a joke about elderly women complaining about wifi, I mean food.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Are Magazine Covers "Worse" Now? It's JFK vs. Amy Schumer

boingboing has a link to a piece in Medium called The Evolution of Magazine Covers ("A look at how we've changed in the past 100 years"). In the original piece you'll find this sort of thing:
Cosmopolitan covers started out with women dressed conservatively. Then they started showing some skin. Then more skin. Finally, they started posing in sexy positions. As women have earned more rights throughout the years, they’ve also earned the right to wear whatever they damn well please. Or maybe that just sells more magazines?
The Seventeen logo has stayed the same, but almost everything else about the design has changed. There was a time when the cover was delightfully simple. Then things just got more and more cluttered. The magazine cover’s job is to sell the magazine — it has to stand out in a rack full of other magazines. So the design starts to get louder and louder.
And about the GQ covers comparing JFK in 1962 to Amy Schumer's Star Wars cover from earlier this year (see below), the comment is:
“Hey, we can sell more magazines with women in bikinis instead!”
The writer at boingboing, David Pescovitz, says, "I don't like the old ones because they're old, I like them because they're better." That statement is hardly believable. How does he know that's why he prefers one to the other? The JFK cover seems bland to me (the Great Man at his desk), and the text that accompanies it is "new fashion frontier in the American manner." So a boring picture of a president and an article about fashion using a cliche ("new frontier") is better than a memorable image of one of the funniest comedians working today subverting not only the world's most popular movie but also the idea of women appearing in bikinis on the cover of men's magazines. (I don't know how successful she is at getting her message across, but it's certainly more interesting than a man standing at a desk.) But that has nothing to do with nostalgia? I don't buy it.

But speaking of buying, the writer at Medium was exactly right about what covers are supposed to do: attract attention on the newsstand and sell magazines. Occasionally you hit on a great cover (like Caitlyn Jenner for Vanity Fair) that not only sells magazines but is art as well. That has always been the case, though, as you can find plenty of terrible magazine covers in any Golden Era.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Today in Overtness: AV Club's "HateSong"

I really enjoy much of what A.V Club (and of course the Onion) does, but there is one regular feature that bothers me. It's "HateSong," in which someone talks about a song they hate. Among the hated:
  • One Direction
  • "Broken Wings" (Mr. Mister)
  • "Happy"
  • "Wonderful Christmastime"
  • How Three Men and a Baby "ruined 'Groove Is in the Heart"
It would be one thing if the object of the feature was to challenge the way people think about a song, but instead it's just a bunch of people not liking something for some reason. What bothers me about it most is that unlike the Onion, which is so successful because it satirizes without judging the people it is satirizing, this is just another place for people to say they hate something other people love. There is no wit or originality, just common negativity, which is pretty much taken care without A.V. Club helping it along.

In their defense, they have a feature, "Hear This," which is a celebration of songs people love. Of course the reason people love these songs is as arbitrary as why others hate other songs, but I ask you: is your life better reading about how Three Men and a Baby "ruined" one of the all-time great songs for someone (and maybe, as a consequence of reading the article, it will ruin it for you), or to revel in the beauty of Ween's "Buenas Tardes Amigo"?

Not Advanced: Daft Punk to release new action figures costing £100 each

From NME:
Daft Punk has released a new line of action figures, featuring the all-white outfits they wore during their 2015 Grammy Awards performance. The figurines will be released by Medicom Toy and Daft Punk's official merchandise company Daft Lite in March 2016 and will cost 21,600 Japanese Yen (roughly £100) for each figure of Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter.
They are just the Banksy of the French robot space disco scene.

Monday, August 24, 2015

BuzzFeed Wants to Know How Overt You Are (Paraphrasing)

BuzzFeed asks you, "How Much of a Music Snob Are You?" but it could have easily been "How Overt Are You?" Some sample questions are have you ever...

Shamed a younger person for not knowing a musical reference that was before their time?

Been dismissive of someone for buying a greatest hits album?

Made a point of telling people that you preferred an artist's earlier work?

Stopped liking an artist because you're embarrassed to be associated with their fans?

Shamed someone for buying music at a chain store?

And so on. My guess is that you are supposed to want to get a high score on this (you answer "yes" to these questions), but so many of these questions point to making someone feel ashamed about what they like or not allowing yourself to like something that you would like to like. Maybe I'm a snob about snobs, but that sounds pretty sad to me.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to the Barnes & Noble music section to buy Bob Seger's Greatest Hits 2.

Yes, Jon Stewart Qualifies for Advancement (And Hosting the SummerSlam Event Is a Great Start)

Jon Stewart's decision to be a part of SummerSlam reminds me of a joke from an old SNL skit. Norm Macdonald played Burt Reynolds, who was coming off the success of "Boogie Nights." He was on the Barbara Walters (Cheri Oteri) show, and she says, "One thing's for sure, after your critically acclaimed performance in 'Boogie Nights,' directors from Gus Van Sant to Quentin Tarantino will be banging down your door. Burt, what's your next project?" His response is: "I'm doing a, ah, car picture with Dom DeLuise. Funny guy."

Stewart is one of the most powerful men in America (sure, why not), and he follows up the "Daily Show" with SummerSlam. Not only is this awesome, but it is perfectly in keeping with the Advanced tradition. The Advanced love wrestling. A lot.

Really looking forward to seeing what's next.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Are We Are Selfies? What Selfies Say About Our Culture (Nothing)

Selfies strike some weird chord with right wing lunatics and journalists. They are absolutely sure that they are evidence of, well, whatever they think is wrong with whoever they think is the sign that Rome is about to fall. Narcissism is the thread that ties it together, but what could be more narcissistic than writing op-ed columns telling people what to make of their world?

The latest comes from Molly Haskell in the Washington Post. The op-ed, called "No more selfies, I promise (if you’ll do the same)," is about how selfies make her feel:
I just received an e-mail, photographs attached, from a friend in Maine, who with another friend of mine is undoubtedly having a great time. I don’t know for sure because I didn’t open the attachment. I didn’t need to. Because it is a selfie, it goes without saying that it does not picture my friends frowning or frustrated by bad weather or not getting along. Instead, there will be bright smiles on their side and resentment on mine. I have just realized why I dislike selfies. There is a huge gap between what the sender intends (to include you in the fun) and the receiver receives (excluded from the fun).
The next and last sentence should be, "I realized that it is silly for me to resent that my friend is having fun, so I decided to be happy for them and move on to more productive things." Instead, we get this: 
You are sitting at the computer or on the bus with your iPhone, editing out promotional e-mail from and Library of America and TCM and West Elm and eBay, or opinion nuggets from Bloomberg, when along comes this intrusively vivid reminder of what you are missing and can’t even buy. You may not be on the bus; you may even be in a fabulous place such as Rome or Wimbledon, having a great time . But the moment you open the picture you are immediately assailed by an acute sense of something missing in your life. This is ignoble and feels terrible. Do other people experience this, and if so, how can I have done this to them? The picture I sent from outside a revival theater on Paris’s Left Bank! Or the view from my terrace of the ocean at sunset!
She goes on to say:
this form of electronic epistle is doomed by its very nature to erode communication and therefore friendship. The rarely resisted impulse to send our latest thrill-filled moment reveals the narcissist in all of us, the failure of empathy, the inability to remember our own feelings of resentment when the time comes for us to unleash an update on the world.
A tad overblown, I'd say. Selfies are not eroding communications and definitely not friendship. With real friends, we spend time together in the physical world and we communicate just fine. Sometimes we take pictures of ourselves and send them to other friends or post them on facebook. Some of those people say, "how nice" or "I'd like to see them again sometime soon" or "that looks like fun, maybe I'll go there someday." I guess some, like this writer, say, "I hate that they are having fun, and I hate them for rubbing it in." She is worried about a failure of empathy purely on the part of the sender,  not her own inability to feel others' happiness. I should note, too, that I would love to write op-eds in the Post, so why is she rubbing it in that she gets to write this when she knows how much others would like to? What a selfish thing to do!

She concludes by saying that it is okay if friends send pictures of their grandchildren reaching milestones or having a good time because "I don’t feel I’m missing anything." This is the person who thinks her selfie-snapping friends lack empathy.

I've tried not to write that articles about selfies reveal more about the writers than the people snapping selfies, but it's just too true to leave out. I imagine some terrible people are weaponizing their selfies to make others feel bad, but they were terrible before selfies came along and will be terrible when something new comes along. But for almost everyone, selfies are just pictures we take because we all have cameras with us wherever we go, and nothing more.

Now, the Fixx:

Saturday, August 22, 2015

No, Banksy Is Not Advanced (Yet)

Everyone is loving on  Banksy for his Dismaland "bemusement park," and probably for good reason. Almost everyone I went to college with had an idea like this (maybe even exactly this, it's so hard remember), but none of us got it together to actually do it, so while the idea itself is so-so funny (Disneyland is an easy target), the execution of it is good. It also sounds like it came about, at least partially, because he has an affection for the location: "I loved the Tropicana as a kid, so getting to throw these doors open again is a real honour." But still, it's Overt because the idea is just the opposite of something (bemusement, not amusement, get it?), which is not Advanced. Banksy is not even an Advanced Irritant because people are so delighted with the work.

I have to confess to an Overt dislike of Banksy, but it could very well be because the name irritates me. My attitude is changing, so maybe he was just ahead of my time and he will Advance one day.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Napster Didn't Make Metallica (or You) Poor, and Other Things You May Not Have Guessed About the Digital Economy

There is an interesting article in the NY Times Magazine that is relevant to us. It's called The Creative Apocalypse That Wasn't. The gist of it is that Napster and things like Napster, were supposed to kill the music industry and, more generally, "In the digital economy, it was supposed to be impossible to make money by making art." But that hasn't happened for a variety of reasons, some of which were not on anyone's radar at the time. Here are some good bits:
The problem with the culture industry is no longer its rapacious pursuit of consumer dollars. The problem with the culture industry is that it’s not profitable enough. Thanks to its legal troubles, Napster itself ended up being much less important as a business than as an omen, a preview of coming destructions. Its short, troubled life signaled a fundamental rearrangement in the way we discover, consume and (most importantly) pay for creative work. In the 15 years since [Napster hearings, for which Lars Ulrich gave testimony], many artists and commentators have come to believe that Ulrich’s promised apocalypse is now upon us — that the digital economy, in which information not only wants to be free but for all practical purposes is free, ultimately means that ‘‘the diverse voices of the artists will disappear,’’ because musicians and writers and filmmakers can no longer make a living. 
The trouble with this argument is that it has been based largely on anecdote, on depressing stories about moderately successful bands that are still sharing an apartment or filmmakers who can’t get their pictures made because they refuse to pander to a teenage sensibility. When we do see hard data about the state of the culture business, it usually tracks broad industry trends or the successes and failures of individual entertainment companies. That data isn’t entirely irrelevant, of course; it’s useful to know whether the music industry is making more or less money than it did before Ulrich delivered his anti-­Napster testimony. But ultimately, those statistics only hint at the most important question. The dystopian scenario, after all, isn’t about the death of the record business or Hollywood; it’s about the death of music or movies. As a society, what we most want to ensure is that the artists can prosper — not the record labels or studios or publishing conglomerates, but the writers, musicians, directors and actors themselves.
It turns out that...Napster did pose a grave threat to the economic value that consumers placed on recorded music. And yet the creative apocalypse he warned of has failed to arrive. Writers, performers, directors and even musicians report their economic fortunes to be similar to those of their counterparts 15 years ago, and in many cases they have improved. Against all odds, the voices of the artists seem to be louder than ever. 
What follows all that is a bunch of data and talk about how different industries have fared. It seems like the music business has suffered, but not when it comes to performances, and that business was always kind of awful. Movies, TV, and books are all in good shape. ("But contrary to all expectations, these stores have been thriving. After hitting a low in 2007, decimated not only by the Internet but also by the rise of big-box chains like Borders and Barnes & Noble, indie bookstores have been growing at a steady clip, with their number up 35 percent (from 1,651 in 2009 to 2,227 in 2015); by many reports, 2014 was their most financially successful year in recent memory.")

I love this article because it doesn't take what seems intuitive (if content is free, artists can't make a living) as the truth. It seems like every time something new comes around, someone can only see it as the death of the old thing. In the last few years, I've tried to read books by economists, engineers, and mathematicians because they see the world in a very different way than artists. Ironically, they seem to be far more adaptable to changes than artists because they are grounded in universal principles that aren't subject to trends or fads. Linear algebra isn't going anywhere, but if you are in the Soul Stirrers, Little Richard is going to seem like a sign of End Times.

The Advanced are never sentimental about the way things used to be, which is why they embrace technology as they do. In a way this is maybe self-defense--if you don't stay current, you seem old-fashioned--plus replacing sentimentality with novelty. Yet I think it is more likely the result of experience--they killed some old way of doing things, after all, and thrived. It's similar to how an economist will be fine with robots taking over Mel's Diner because they know that someone has to build the robot and that's probably a better job than taking orders and getting yelled at.

One thing will never change: making a living as an artist is next to impossible. The digital revolution hasn't changed that, it's just given us new excuses why we have to have a day job.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Marlon Brando Wanted to Play a Dolphin in the Island of Dr. Moreau, But I Ain't Mad At Him

I just got around to watching Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley's Island of Dr. Moreau last  night. As you might expect of documentary about the making of a movie starring Val Kilmer and Marlon Brando, Advancement was rampant. But was there "madness" as the headline for this article says? Let's see what happened...

Richard Stanley had had some success in a couple of small movies (Hardware and Dust Devil) and had an idea to make a version of H.G. Wells' The Island of Doctor Moreau. Stanley, is should be said, is quite an Overt weirdo, and I mean that in the best sense. For instance, he may have relied on witchcraft to convince Brando to sign on and later, after he was fired, he disappeared into the countryside only to come back as an extra in the movie (he was in a beast mask). Delightful! He also seems to have been quite the pothead, but there's Overtness for you.

Anyway, he lost control of the film for a lot of reasons, but it seems like he just wasn't prepared to direct a movie with a huge budget with big stars. Also, he wouldn't leave his house to go to meetings, but that's just another fun quirk. The movie is falling apart and Brando's daughter killed herself, so he left to deal with that, which means he couldn't protect Stanley. They fire Stanley and bring in John Frankenheimer, who had a reputation as someone who could handle big egos. He also yelled a lot because that's what "old school" directors did. This is where things get interesting in terms of Brando:
Finally, Brando arrived on set, and filming recommenced … after a fashion. From that point on, a typical working day ran as follows. Brando would arrive at 9am or thereabouts and go directly to his trailer. Frankenheimer would follow, and the pair would discuss the film in private. Around an hour before lunch, the duo would emerge and tour the set, while Brando suggested various ideas he’d had for the general improvement of the movie, and the script would be rewritten to accommodate.
Okay, that's not that unusual. Stanley's script was being rewritten anyway, so you could see this being necessary. Only...
Some [ideas] that made it into the finished film include: Moreau covering his face in thick white make-up outdoors, Moreau occasionally wearing an ice bucket on his head, and Moreau never appearing without an identically dressed midget – the original Mini-Me, right down to the tiny grand piano – after Brando took a shine to a two-foot-tall actor in the supporting cast. One of the few Brando brainwaves that did not end up on screen was the actor’s suggestion that Moreau would wear an elaborate hat throughout the film. In the final scene, this would be removed – revealing him, in a dramatic twist, to have been a dolphin all along.
Madness! But maybe not. Fairuza Balk says in the documentary that she approached Brando about how their characters should interact. He told her something like, "Darling, no one is going to watch the movie, so just relax and have a good time. Don't worry about it." There are two possibilities here (as I see it): one, he was trying to get a young actress to relax because he knew she was nervous to work with him. The other is that he knew that the movie wasn't working and his advice was perfect. Or maybe a combination of the two.

Let's assume that the second explanation is true and he knew the movie was a lost cause. What were his options? Soldier on and make a middling movie that no one would ever remember or do what he could to make the movie at least interesting. The latter is the Advanced move because mediocre is safe, and the Advanced are rarely safe.

The point I'm trying to make, again, is that what often looks crazy or lazy or easy, is really just an artist making a decision (unless they are on drugs or mentally ill). If you decide to focus on the oddness of the decision, it's easy to dismiss whether it was a good idea. The "mini me" approach was successful, in my opinion, because it created some of the most memorable scenes in any movie I can recall. As for the dolphin, my guess is that he wasn't talking about turning into Flipper, but perhaps some kind of human-dolphin hybrid, which wouldn't have been that far out considering the movie was filled with mutants. Or he was just saying something completely ludicrous to make it easier to convince the director to let him use the ice-bucket bit. It's very easy just to laugh at Marlon Brando's eccentricity and say he was just a crazy former genius, and the documentary certainly plays up that element. But it seems worthwhile to at least entertain the notion that he knew exactly what he was doing and achieved exactly what he hoped for. After all, no one would be talking about this movie all the years later if the part would have been played by someone who never would have though of playing a dolphin, say, Dolph Sweet.

I recommend the documentary, even if you just want to think Brando was nuts and Kilmer was an asshole.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Jeff Tweedy on Dylan and the Asshole Side of the Spectrum

I came across this article in Rolling Stone in which Jeff Tweedy had this to say about Bob Dylan (Wilco toured with him a while back):

JT: We've talked a little bit, and I actually get a really warm feeling from him. I felt very inspired just being in the presence of somebody that has that few fucks to give about anything. There's a lot of middle ground there between somebody like Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney, who totally gives it up every night for the people and the songs. But if I had to choose one to be more inspired by, it's definitely on the more curmudgeonly asshole side of the spectrum.
RS: It can be frustrating, though, if you go and see him on an off night.
JT: I would think that he would think that you're just frustrating [laughs]. It's really what you bring to it — you're bringing all of his other records and what you want him to do, and he's bringing his passion for jump blues right now. He's bringing his newest sets of fucking impeccably crafted lyrics, which are really astonishing. I don't think people appreciate it, you know? He's just curious. He's just really still pushing and curious and, you know, people mistake [that] for phoning in and being withholding. I think it's just the way he's lived.
This is an important point about Advanced Artists. We really don't know what motivates them, and while lesser artists will try to explain it to their audience, the Advanced just don't care. So we end up frustrated, and then take out that frustration on the artist (but they still don't care). Paul McCartney gives it up in concert, sure, but he has always done exactly what he wanted on his records without apology. Two different styles of endless curiosity, but a similar result: confused and often disappointed fans.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

No, Snoopy Did Not Kill Peanuts

I came across an article called How Snoopy Killed Peanuts. It is the essence of overtness. Let's take it blow by blow. The article starts like this:
By the end of its run in 1999, Peanuts was an institution. It had become an omnipresent part of American culture, and that’s not a compliment. The general response to reading the average Peanuts strip in the 80s and 90s was a ‘meh’ half-smile — a snicker, maybe, but never a full-blown laugh. 
Is the second part supposed to be some sort of proof of the assertion that being "an omnipresent part of American culture" should not be considered a compliment? I can't tell, but my guess is that the writer just wants to use the familiar argument that ubiquity is proof of mediocrity, and then follow it up with another assertion about the "general response" being a half smile. Is it the writer's own general response or the response of the general reader? If the former, are we to believe that the writer read Peanuts cartoons every morning and said, "meh" (generally)? If the latter, are we to believe he has done some sort of survey of readers? Not sure. Let's move on.
Perhaps Bill Watterson, creator of Calvin & Hobbes, had the right idea. He stopped working on his strip after only 10 years — a fifth of the time that Schulz spent working on his — and he never licensed his characters. Because as legendary as Peanuts is, it was only ‘great’ for a 15-20 year period — from about the mid-50s to the early 70s. And even by the 70s, there was a slow, but definite drop-off in quality. By the 80s, with the exception of a few notable storylines, the strip was essentially dead. The 90s was just more of the same. 
Ah, yes, the "quit while you're ahead" idea. It's odd to say that an artist should stop creating out of fear that they might not be able to produce great work when it is fearlessness (coupled with talent and vision) that leads to the great work in the first place. And of course licensing one's characters is a terrible thing because it makes a few people unhappy and millions (billions?) of people very happy. I know my daughter looks at her snoopy doll with contempt when she cuddles it at night. My son can barely to manage to read his stack of Peanuts books out of disappointment that Charles Schulz sold out. And the idea that 15 to 20 years of greatness merits the word "only" goes to show you that there really is no pleasing some people. So the writer has 20 years of greatness, and he is complaining that the person who gave him that gift had the audacity to change his comic strip based on his own tastes and make money off his creation (much of which goes to various charities). And then to say that "the 90s was just more of the same" is not exactly enlightening, even though the writer says the decline was "definite." Still, let's hear more if see if we can pinpoint where it all went wrong.
And unfortunately, much of the blame for this can be traced back to Snoopy, the most beloved of Schulz’s creations. As the strip progressed, the beagle hogged more and more of the spotlight in increasingly negative ways. And the intelligence and darkness of the strip, which once made it so distinctive on the comics landscape, was replaced by more mainstream, cutesy humor. 
I do wonder if the writer is aware that Snoopy was a character drawn by an artist making a conscious decision to pursue characters he finds most interesting and not an actor looking for a bigger part. 
Now, granted: the earlier years of the strip had plenty of easy, cutesy humor — Schroeder, Linus, and Lucy were toddlers and infants at the beginning of the strip’s run, instead of the seven and eight-year-olds they would eventually become. But it was still expressive humor — Schulz played around with facial expressions and wordless punchlines to hilarious effect. 
So this is the classic Overt Critic trap. The earlier stuff was also easy and cutesy, but it was a kind the writer likes, therefore it was better.
Schulz started repeating some earlier jokes, but in their retelling, he gave them additional depth and subtlety In this case, then, more of the same is good! 
On to our villain, Snoopy…
Snoopy began the strip as a normal dog, and the majority of his gags were of him doing traditional dog stuff. But a couple of years in, Schulz figured out how to characterize Snoopy; he was a dog who resented being a dog. So, Snoopy spent most of his time trying on other identities — usually those of other animals, and occasionally those of humans. 
I always thought Snoopy was fine with being a dog, proud even, he just had a big imagination and never let his dogness get in the way of doing things he wanted. He also served a Kramer-like role in that he was not constrained by conventions that keep most people from doing the things we really want, and we got to enjoy that freedom vicariously. Of course that it takes a possibly delusional dog to make us experience the joys of freedom is just the usual easy, cutesy late-era Peanuts.
Failure was the key to Snoopy’s charm….
No it wasn't.
But near the end of the 60s and well into the 70s, the cracks started to show. Snoopy began walking on his hind legs and using his hands, and that was the beginning of the end for the strip. Perhaps he was technically still a dog, but in a very substantial way, Snoopy had overcome the principal struggle of his existence. His opposable thumbs and upward positioning meant that for all intents and purposes, he was now a human in a dog costume. 
This is actually a good point. It does seem to me that it's a form of cheating when an artist starts to change his characters' essence to supply new storylines. 
It was just a series of Snoopy in new costumes, almost as if Schulz was anticipating merchandise demands. 
So much for the good point.
Cuteness had replaced depth in a strip that had always celebrated the maturity and adult-like nature of precocious children. And since the strip had become globally, universally loved, there was little impetus to revisit the darker social commentary of years past. 
Does the author know what impetus there was in the beginning of the strip to visit dark social commentary? Does he know why the strip steered away from that (or give us any proof that it was any less dark than before)? We can't tell from this article, and that is pretty important given that the writer talks a lot about Shulz's motivations, including accusing him of whoring out his art for merchandising royalties.
Snoopy even passed for a human in many circumstances — Peppermint Patty referred to him as the “funny-looking kid with a big nose”… thus, the ‘humanizing’ of Snoopy also meant that the real kids were used less and less. 
Oh, please. Marcie calls Peppermint Patty "sir," but that doesn't allow Patty to be a boy. Patty mistaking Snoopy for a kid was just one of the thousands of quirky things Schulz decided to do for his own reasons (and I couldn't pretend to know what they were).
By the end of the strip’s run, the artwork had also started suffering. Sometimes, due to poor health and unsteady hands, the lines were no longer clean. Schulz stopped detailing the characters’ facial expressions, and they all took on a bland, monotone sameness — but then again, most of the characters were subdued versions of their former selves, and rarely projected emotions with their words either. 
Okay, this article is about how Snoopy killed Peanuts, so why talk about how old age and illness resulted in inferior artistry? Also, the strip he chose to illustrate this is actually funny to me. 
Occasionally, Schulz threw us some abstract thoughts and reflections, but they were neither fleshed out nor followed up on — they seemed like random, depressed musings, rather than fully-formed jokes or insights. Per usual, Snoopy (and now, multiple members of his family) dominated the strip to its detriment. And look at all those ellipses 
Earlier the writer thought the early Peanuts was great because he brought darkness to the comics section, but I guess in later years it was too dark. Again, his examples of the decline are funny to me. So why are we even having this discussion?
Yes, the movie will make a lot of money. 
And yes, it will likely put Charlie Brown and his friends back on the pop culture landscape, at least temporarily. But to be truly successful, it needs to have the thoughtfulness and sincerity that these characters were originally imbued with. Less Woodstock, more Linus. Less Snoopy, more Marcie. It needs to have a little darkness and a little sadness to balance with the silliness. Because as Schulz proved over 60 years ago, it’s the combination that will make the audiences laugh — and cry — even harder. 
I think this guy loves Peanuts, just like I do. When I was a kid, I wanted to take over for Schulz when he retired, even though I was unknowingly enjoying the inferior version. The earlier stuff is great in a certain way, the middle stuff is great in a different way, and the later periods are great in yet another way. My suspicion is that the version you started out with colors your perception of which version is best, just like people who discovered R.E.M. when "Losing My Religion" came out probably think that was their best period, while people who discovered them via the Hib-Tone single think those people are nuts.

The reason I love Advancement is that it has allowed me not to judge artists too harshly for making decisions I wouldn't have made or think less of the fans who approve of those decisions. Enjoyment is always good, even if it is "cheap" or "easy." It would have been impossible for Schulz to write a strip as long as he did without evolving, and, as a consequence, disappointing some who liked the strip for what it was originally. Well, not impossible, but if he hadn't there would be an article about Peanuts complaining that it was all more of the same, and why didn't he develop that dog more?

Update: Now the same guy is telling Pixar how to make a better movie!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Johnny Depp's Hollywood Vampires Playing Live Dates

From Rolling Stone:
Hollywood Vampires, the supergroup featuring Johnny Depp, Alice Cooper and Joe Perry, have announced their first live dates, set for next month. Rounding out the lineup will be former Guns N' Roses bassist Duff McKagan and drummer Matt Sorum, both of whom also play in the supergroup Velvet Revolver. The name "Hollywood vampires" references a loose collective of rockers, including Cooper, John Lennon, Harry Nilsson and Keith Moon [plus Micky Dolenz if the pic below is to be trusted], who got together in the early Seventies and drink on the Sunset Strip at the Rainbow.
I like that Cooper was a part of the real group the band is named after! It's like Gene Simmons playing bass for a Kiss tribute band. I also love the set list:
As for the Vampires' music, the crew plays a mix of cover songs by members of the original Hollywood vampires, including the Who's "My Generation," the Doors' "Five to One" and "Break on Through," Nilsson's "Jump Into the Fire," Lennon's "Cold Turkey" and Jimi Hendrix's "Manic Depression."
Of all the participants here, I'm going to have to say that only Alice gets my Advancement vote on this one. My Alice kick continues...

One more note on the picture: Anne Murray. (Source)

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Hey, Slate: Is Alphabet Really the Worst Name the New Google Could Have Called Itself?

Google is now a part of a company called Alphabet. This is probably due to some combination of wanting to pursue "moonshots" and wanting to avoid antitrust trouble. Interesting enough. So, naturally, Slate's managing editor, Lowen Liu, felt the need to critique the least interesting part about this: the name. Liu is not impressed!
Compare the plodding, striving, uncool Alphabet with its subsidiary, the Dadaist Google, which as the story goes is a bastardization of Googol, itself a word invented by a child. It technically means nothing yet suggests so much—magic, mathematics, play. Has a corporate title ever lent itself so easily to becoming a verb? Has any rhyme pair done more work to defuse corporate suspicion as the Google Doodle? Google is the kid in the corner humming and dancing and creating worlds out of Play-Doh. Alphabet is the one stacking blocks in the middle of the room shouting, “Look at me!” 
That’s why Google’s transubstantiation into Alphabet is a bully move, made more so because of the company’s size and importance. Nearly gone are the simple days when you named an enterprise after yourself (“Abercrombie & Fitch” remains one of the most delightful things to say, however odious the brand), or stated clearly what you do (the beautiful run of syllables that is “American Telephone & Telegraph”). The Super-Google could have called itself anything it wanted. So naturally it has made the the biggest semiotic land grab it could, and simply crowded out all the previous squatters who previously made the mistake of using the word.
Oh, those bullies and their semiotic land grabs! Seriously, I have no idea what the problem is here. Yes, Google was turned into a verb, but that was just luck and it feels inevitable because it actually happened. The doodle is fun, but does it really defuse corporate suspicion? I'd like to see some evidence to back up that claim. And "nearly gone are the simple days" is one of those phrases that tell you that you should completely ignore what is coming next because it is the product of nostalgia. In this case, nostalgia for corporate names, of all things. But oh, the headline: "Alphabet Is the Worst Name the New Google Could Have Called Itself." There isn't a name worse than that? How about Stalin Holdings or Ebola Group or Felcher Industries? For someone who is so worried about language, Liu seems unconcerned with using it properly.

I'm not saying that Google's split is an Advanced move, exactly, but I can just imagine an angry Liu at Newport in 1965, convinced that music has been mortally wounded.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Paul Stanley in a Soul Music Cover Band

From Rolling Stone:
This fall, Kiss singer-guitarist Paul Stanley will begin a surprising new gig: soul singer. His new side group, Soul Station, which plays a mix of Sixties and Seventies soul classics, will perform its first-ever concert at Los Angeles' Roxy Theatre on September 11th. "I don't play guitar in the band and we don't do a single Kiss song," Stanley said in a statement. "That's not what this is about." The vocalist's nine-person Soul Station backing band consists of musicians who have played with artists ranging from Christina Aguilera to Bobby Brown. Its drummer, Eric Singer, also plays with Stanley in Kiss. The group will play a mix of songs by the Stylistics, Dramatics, Temptations, Smokey and the Miracles and Blue Magic, among others. Their repertoire includes the Miracles' "Ooo Baby Baby," the Temptations' "Just My Imagination" and the Stylistics' "You Are My Everything."
We all think that Gene is the Advanced one, but maybe it's Paul? I'd like that.