Wednesday, November 19, 2008


this originally ran in the 11/20/08 issue of METROLAND

Like many of you, I’ve been obsessed for much of past last year or two with the presidential campaign. And of course, this obsession necessarily involved a whole lot of depressing and mind-numbing exposure to the political media. As far as TV goes, I stayed with MSNBC, mainly out of an inertial allegiance to Keith Olberman, who started ringing the bell of opposition in mid-2006 with his at-the-time stunning and courageous “special comments.” But the schtick got increasingly tedious over time, with Olberman’s expert “guests” reduced to trotting out to sycophantically agree with Olberman’s theories de jour. Even the “special comments” lost their luster, their “specialness”, as they devolved into exercises in method anger, hubris, and crankiness.

But I hung in with MSNBC, because there was nowhere else to go. What, I was going to do, go to CNN and watch Lou Dobbs and Glenn Beck? Fox?

Anyway, I glad it’s all over. For the present, I’m keeping the TV quiet; maybe I’ll check in on Rachel Maddow now and then, because she’s flat-out great, but that’s about it. And by the time the 2012 campaign cranks up, should anyone have the temerity to challenge King Barack I, I hope things are a little different.

Specifically, I hope, I demand, that a number of grammatical terms disappear from the lexicon of the pundit class. These folks, some of whom show flashes of humanity and decency from time to time, all lapse into a weird kind of unblinking shorthand of descriptive phrases when describing the events of the day. Unfortunately, it’s a shared weird kind of shorthand; it’s almost like the use of these phrases is a mandatory feature of being in the pundits’ club. And it leads to unimaginative discourse, a swarmy and almost childish sameness to what is supposed to be enlightened, independent insight. Which it never is.

Here are some of the phrases I want to see banished henceforth and forever from our political commentary:

flip-flop – a Karl Rove term concocted to unfairly malign John Kerry 2004, an unnecessary exercise, since there are plenty of things that could be used to fairly malign John Kerry. Like John Kerry. Anyway, this became a ridiculous word that lazy, fabulist journalists seized on whenever a candidate made the unthinkable decision to change his/her position. About any damn thing. It’s a toxic term. We got into the mess we’re in precisely because we’ve had a cretin in power who refuses to reflect, to capitulate, or change course. I’m just waiting for one public figure to say to some journalist, “Look, asshole, I changed my mind. Bite me.” Then, and only then, “flip-flop” will be rightfully relegated to the dumpster of history.

close the deal – This is where the pundits mind-meld with The American People from their perches at the bar at the Hay-Adams, or wherever they go to be seen, and determine from on-high whether or not a candidate has, simply, convinced everybody. Obama was constantly accused by the pundits of not having “closed the deal” with The Amercian People as if public policy advocacy was the equivalent of selling The American People a 2003 Hyundai Sonata with a few nicks but low miles. Huh? As if an appreciable percentage of The American People weren’t white-trash cracker racist rat-bastards with whom Obama couldn’t close a deal on free Girl Scout Thin Mints with ice-cold milk on a hot day. It’s a meaningless term. What if, prior to the election, Obama had, in fact, “closed the deal”? What would we have done then?

thrown under the bus – I guess this is a pretty good phrase, but I heard it used 5-10-15 times a night on pundit panels, especially in reference to infighting within first Hilary’s, and then McCain’s, incompetent campaign staffs. Somebody needs to be blamed for (a) a primary loss; (b) a gaffe; (c) bad polling numbers; (d) false claims of dodging gunfire; (e) an inexplicable wardrobe expense, etc., so, usually through a “leak” from an unattributable campaign source. some poor bastard gets “thrown under the bus”, that is, blamed, that is, royally screwed, humiliated, and fired.

blame game -- a term that has its roots with Bush butt-boy turned neocon traitor Scott McClellan. During a 2005 press conference, then-Bush press secretary McClellan was trying to avoid talking about Bush’s complicity in the murder of the City of New Orleans. He blabbered the term “blame game” like a fat stupid third grader caught stealing candy about 90 times during the course of a 15 minute press conference. This year the term was usually used in conjunction with “thrown under the bus” during descriptions of infighting among white Hilary and McCain people who couldn’t figure out how to stop that black man Obama from becoming our President. It was overused by McClellan in 2005 and it’s been overused by every one who’s used it ever since.

maverick – a word that became a meaningless brand as soon as McCain accepted the nomination and whored out his soul. The term then became even less than meaningless when Bible Spice, the Tool of Wasilla, started using it to describe herself.

comeback kid
– this term comes with the nightmare vision of Bubba Clinton and that phony squinty smile saying “yeah, I’m the comeback kid” in 1992. And lazy, stupid pundits have used it every single time some pathetic candidate wins something he or she wasn’t supposed to. John McCain’s up by ½% among rural, uneducated white women over 80! Could he be the comeback kid?

The answer is no, he could not.

Monday, November 10, 2008


OK, the first CRUMBS Night Out panel discussion, the music critic panel, was a blast. We were still going strong after 75 minutes, answering a ton of questions, and the conversation more philosophical that I was expecting, but that’s where it wanted to go.
Next week, the 13th, the Scientific Maps will perform, followed by a panel talking about licensing music to TV and movies. While we’re blessed with a couple local commercial radio stations and a bunch of college stations that regularly play local music, for the most part radio’s dead and irrelevant in terms of getting music heard. These days more songs break, and more money is made, on television shows and commercials and in movies. Find out how it works from Steve Ellis, the president of the on-line music placement service Pump Audio, musician and music publisher Gary Burke, television composer Rich Tozzolli, music attorney Paul Czech and yours truly. If you’re a recording musician you want to be here.

This being the local music edition of Metroland and all, I’m gonna list some things a local musician ought to be thinking about:

Look beyond Albany. Listen, being the king or queen of Lark Street doesn’t mean squat, unless you primary goal is getting laid. Open your eyes; We’re within three hours from a couple a dozen markets roughly the size of the Capital District and a couple of major markets. Go to them, even if the trips are money losers to start.

Demos. Don’t submit “demo versions” of songs hoping to get some kind of deal. You can circulate demos to fans (in fact, that’s a really powerful way to keep your fans engaged), but when you want to really make a move, take the time and make a recording that’s ready to ship. With decent recording studios on everybody’s laptop, it’s not a money issue anymore.

Record deals. A record deal doesn’t need to be your goal. You can do it all yourself. You really can. There’s plenty of good reasons you might wanna be on a label, but it’s not the only path anymore. And for a lot of you, it’s probably not the best path.

Internet. There’s no such thing as working the internet too hard. A major music consultant recently suggested that any serious band should have one full non-performing member whose job it is to work the internet. These days, the number of MySpace hits matters; the number of fans you can blast matters; you have the ability to have a one on one relationship with your fans. Have it.

Competition. Don’t diss other bands on the scene. That’s small-time crawfish-in-the-bucket stuff. (see Look beyond Albany, above). If your big “competition” on the scene gets signed and goes double platinum, guess where the labels are gonna be sniffing for their next big thing?

Collectivise. One of the really exciting trends I’m seeing is local music collectives, groups of artists that pool resources and expertise and act as DIY labels and event producers. Create your own scene, share expertise in graphics and production, share equipment and music talent, cross-pollinate fans. One of you breaks, everybody’s connected. Who knows? Your cheap-wine apartment-based music collective could be tomorrow’s major indy label.

Free works. Understand that payment for music is more or less voluntary these days, so don’t be stingy about giving your tracks away from time to time. Would you rather have 1000 free copies of your song on peoples’ iPods, or 10 copies people paid you 99 cents for? Which alternative is more valuable to you in the long run?

Work your fans. Involve them, engage them, feed them information, make them part of your world. There’s a theory floating around that if your band has 1000 real fans per band member, you can make a comfortable living. And I’m sure you can squeak by with a lot less than that.

Learn about the biz. These days, being the aloof artiste, man, just doesn’t cut it. You have to understand how the business works, where the money comes from, how royalties work. Read a book like Don Passman’s All You Need to Know About the Music Business. Once you understand how this stuff works, you can pretend to be the aloof artiste, man, with confidence, till the cows come home. Knock yourself out.

Saturday, November 01, 2008


OCTOBER 25, 2008

About 20 years ago, I got sick of reading about Richard Thompson in the rock press and went out and bought “Shoot Out the Lights”, his 1982 record (with then-wife Linda) that still shows up on most “best album of all-time” lists. I felt terribly behind the curve, as Thompson had already over 20 years worth of stuff out. But I got stung bad.

I don’t remember how many times I’ve seen him since then, 6-7 times? Always brilliant, no more so that in 2004’s “1000 Years of Popular Music”, the last time I saw him.

Until now. Saturday night’s show at Great Barrington’s little Mahaiwe Theater was so manifestly provocative, focused, entertaining, and astonishing that it’s hard to know where to start.

Thompson was solo, which means we didn’t get to see him play electric guitar, but he made up for that in spades— he assumes a fighting stance, legs slightly splayed, leaning slightly forward on the balls of his feet, and precisely batters his guitar with a mesmerizing firebrand thumb and fingerstyle technique. He actually rocks harder, much harder, when he’s alone that when he’s fronting a band.

The show was close to a career retrospective, with a couple things from 2007’s Sweet Warrior, including the anti-war “Dad’s Gonna Kill Us” (“Dad” being Baghdad), big old rockers like “Feel So Good” and “Valerie”, a couple of super-dark-to-the-point-of-hilarity treks into madness like “Hope You Like the New Me” and a devastating “Shoot Out the Lights” complete with heart-stopping guitar work, and delicate tear-jerkers like “From Galway to Graceland” and “Beeswing.” There’s always gonna be some absurdo-comic material (who can forget “Dear Janet Jackson” and “I Agree With Pat Methany”) and we got a new Brit dance-hall ode to brainy women “Hots for the Smarts”, which was chock full of money lines. My fave: “She likes to be goosed while reciting from Proust”. We even got a super-obscure Left Banke cover. And he happily took requests.

All of this was served up with dizzying guitar technique, good cheer, pathos, and more than a little machismo. Maybe it was the stage backdrop of ever-changing cool colors that made Thompson look like some kind of Celtic bohemian super-hero. Maybe it was the exquisite sound, comfortably loud, dense, and all-enveloping. The only rational response to this barrage of brilliance was to grin like a monkey and shake one’s head back and forth. And just maybe, to further the analogy Seth Rogovoy made in his blog about Thompson’s music being like a good complex scotch, maybe the guy is simply getting better and better with age. I think that’s it.