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July 31, 2008

A Good Idea

Filed under: Pop Life — Alex Rawls @ 12:36 pm

Today’s New York Times has a feature on Brooklyn Bowl, a bowling alley/music venue with food. “To sit at a show, cock your head back, watch a band and then leave, it’s been done,” [Peter] Shapiro said. “But to come see a show, do some bowling, eat some French-bread pizza from Blue Ribbon — that hasn’t been done.”

Yessssss. That is a, uh, new idea. I wonder if something like that would work in New Orleans.

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Walk it Like you Talk It?

Filed under: Pop Life — Tags: , — Alex Rawls @ 12:07 pm

In my post on the Gabe Dixon Band, I wished that there was a little more at stake in his music, and that the moderateness of it made the album seem as if nothing was at stake. I understand the sensible nature of the music; it must be tough to live when you spend your life worried about hit-level sales. I suspect that many of us would end up like Britney in the armoire if we experienced some of the pressures she’s dealt with.

This comes to mind listening to Tricky’s Knowle West Boy. The album sounds outflanked by time, and M.I.A. and Dizzee Rascal immediately came to mind as artists in more dangerous or more progressive places – the places Tricky once occupied. Particularly absent is the murk and ickiness of Maxinquaye and the albums that followed it, and while it must be easier to live in a less dour, self-consciously outrageous place, the music lacks urgency and edge. The trade-off makes sense – the emotionally exhausting, high risk short term for a long haul you get to enjoy – but the loss of edge is a tough loss.     

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July 30, 2008

A First Step

Filed under: Pop Life — Tags: — Alex Rawls @ 5:04 am

Yesterday, a friend and I were bemoaning the generally blah state of roots rock as a genre that had pretty thoroughly picked over the bones of Gram Parsons, Hank Williams, Buck Owens and Johnny Cash, one that overvalues authenticity and undervalues individuality. Exceptions to these thoughts come pretty easily – Plant/Krauss, James McMurtry and Mary Gauthier for three – but bands that fall into that zone are too numerous to mention. It often sounds like the bands are satisfied to write songs that could be mistaken for Music Row products in Nashville’s heyday. That some successfully do so is a testament to the artists’ craft, but a knock-off is a knock-off, no matter how well done.

I got some flicker of hope from the Gabe Dixon Band’s self-titled album. Not an inferno of hope – the title doesn’t risk hype or ratcheting up expectations – but Dixon puts down roots rock’s holy guitar and bases his songs on the piano. Perhaps for that reason, he develops more melodic hooks and isn’t above batting his eyes at the pop marketplace. He doesn’t embrace it entirely, doling out just enough hooks for each song without making anything gaudy. But he knows it’s there.

I hear Dixon as part of the singer/songwriter tradition, primarily in the moderate earnestness of the music, and particularly his vocals. Every word is sung as if it’s important, and anything that could be viewed as superfluous is suspected or rejected. If there’s wit, it’s undersold. That monotone mood is a problem for me, but it’s nice to hear someone take a step in some direction. 

 

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July 28, 2008

Just Say N.O.

Filed under: Pop Life — Tags: , — Alex Rawls @ 8:47 am

In this year’s Jazz Fest issue, we were pleased to indulge Rob Walker’s obsession with “St. James Infirmary” and publish his liner notes for a ficticious compilation CD featuring versions of “SJI.” Unfortunately, the piece isn’t available on our Web site, but Rob has posted it here on N.O. Notes, his blog focused on all things New Orleans and, of course, all things “SJI.”

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This Slip’s for You

Filed under: Pop Life — Tags: — Alex Rawls @ 6:33 am

At Salon.com, James Hannaham writes about Nine Inch Nails’ The Slip, which takes Radiohead’s In Rainbows one better by not only making the album available as a free download (among other formats), but its component tracks are available for download for amateur remixers.

For another artist with a less cultish following, letting fans complete an official release could turn into a kind of suicide: Imagine what might happen if Britney Spears tried it. Taken in another way, however, Reznor could also be working through some ambivalence toward his status as an aging rock star. “Got these lines/ On my face,” he sings on “1,000,000.” “After all this time/ And I still haven’t found my place.”

From the simplicity of some of the songs, built mostly on relatively unexciting breakbeats, distorted guitar chuffing and fuzzed-out vocals — pretty standard for NIN — it seems like Reznor’s revisiting the more straightforward constructions of his early songs, or at least scaling back. Instead of using freaktified studio or laptop gimmicks and whiplash dynamics to add verve, he has opted for industrial ambience — even on that badly mixed ballad “Lights in the Sky” and the final song, “Corona Radiata,” which could be the soundtrack for a 7.5-minute slasher movie, complete with a sinister electronic heartbeat at its core. This minimal, familiar music has left lots of room for NIN fans to splice in their own musical DNA.

Nine Inch Nails headline the Voodoo Music Experience the weekend of Oct. 24-26.

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July 27, 2008

The Future is Long

Filed under: Pop Life — Tags: , — Alex Rawls @ 11:26 am

Julian Temple’s The Future is Unwritten is his 2-plus hours-long valentine to Joe Strummer. The love for an artist that motivates filmmakers to shoot a documentary on the subject seems to blind them to length as they scrutinize the life in great detail. Fortunately, the lead singer for the Clash’s story merits the treatment because his life’s journey had a fairly epic scope. He was born a diplomat’s son to some degree of privilege, but he reinvented himself first as a busker, then as a squatter, then as a punk, then as a rock ‘n’ roll star, then as the humbled star who had become everything he despised. Finally, with the Mescaleros and free of the baggage of the Clash, he found the music and way of life that it sounds like he was born to make.

Because Strummer has become a cult figure since his death, Temple’s decision to film interviews with those who knew him at a bonfire across the river from Manhattan seemed particularly resonant. It also echoed the communal theme of his days with the 101′ers and the rejuvenating circle he established at Glastonbury. Temple treats Strummer as a spiritual figure, but that doesn’t tempt him to shine him up as St. Joe. There’s hilarious, drunken footage of him and Mick Jones, surpassed only by a passage during which Topper Headon was so loaded he couldn’t untie his shoes. 

  

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July 24, 2008

Patience Required

Filed under: Pop Life — Tags: — Alex Rawls @ 4:44 am

It’s easy to see why Daft Punk’s 70-minute film Electroma could drive fans crazy. It’s wordless, as two robots – men in black wearing Daft Punk helmets – travel through the American Southwest, and the traveling shots take their time. The landscapes are lovingly portrayed, and the juxtaposition of the shiny helmets, the flat black suits and the desert is unquestionably arresting. But those shots linger on and on and on, and in a time when film and television is dominated by quick cuts, long takes make people nervous. The film, though, is surprisingly moving. When the robots’ efforts to pass for human fail, the time it takes one to give up his ruined disguise says everything and foreshadows the ending. 

In ways, the movie’s very Daft Punk, but not Daft Punk at all. The last place you’d expect to find two men who dress like the electronica duo is Arizona, and Electroma moves at a tempo far slower than their music. (Perhaps for that reason, they’re not on the soundtrack, though Curtis Mayfield and Todd Rundgren are.) On the other hand, the film’s deliberate remoteness and fascination with textures is very them. Does it have more style than content? Maybe, but style counts.

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July 18, 2008

Tales of the Cocktail in Daiquiri City

Filed under: Pop Life — Tags: — Alex Rawls @ 11:04 am

This week, Tales of the Cocktail returned to New Orleans, and it’s always an event I’ve been a little suspicious of. Its celebration of cocktail culture has always seemed like a slightly odd fit in a city where the most popular drink is the drive-thru daiquiri, rivalled closely by Miller Lite in a go-cup, a spicy bloody mary, a hurricane and anything poured freehand. Tales’ focus on carefully poured, balanced concoctions typified by its championing of the Sazerac felt to me as being of a piece with Jackie Clarkson’s efforts to preserve a French Quarter that only exists in her mind, one that had artists and urbane Bohemians but none of the louts, drunks, addicts, thugs and ne’er-do-wells. I worried it was a celebration of what we’d like to think we are, as opposed to what we are.

And in a sense, it is, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I remember a friend from out of town who was  embarrassed when she took her stiff Jack and Coke back to the bartender and said, “I’m sorry, but I can’t drink this.” More hooch for the dollar might be good value, but I’d like to think we want something more out of a drink than something that’ll get you there, and that we’re not quite the slackjaws we’re often thought to be.  And we’re not. I know people who actually factor flavor into their drink selections. I know many who just want something inoffensive or blandly pleasant that they can knock down all night long, but there are people for whom the drink, not the drunk, is the sought-after experience.

Besides, in my experience, conferences and get-togethers like Tales are more about what you want things to be like, not what they are. When I taught, teachers conferences weren’t about maintaining the status quo; they were about trying to improve education. People who come to conferences want things to be better – in this case, people to think about cocktails in the same way they think about food, and it’s a noble goal. I suspect if we compared the percentage of the population interested in fine drinking, we’re probably on par with other cities or just slightly below, more a result of the party associations people make with New Orleans than a lack of taste. 

And, to Tales’ credit, it’s a national event; New Orleans is just its site. I heard last year’s Tales drew 12,000 attendees, and a quick eyeball makes me think there are probably more here this year. The conference/meeting of the shake-and-muddle tribe is also a larger part of the life of the Quarter and CBD than ever before. It might not quite reflect its home city, but I doubt it really reflects any city better.  

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July 17, 2008

Your Call

Filed under: Pop Life — Tags: — Alex Rawls @ 7:44 am

I’m generally skeptical of the value of petitions, but I’ll pass this along because the cause is good and the principals have, well, priniciples. This one is addressed to both McCain and Obama:

To the Presidential Candidates:

Since the 1800’s, New Orleans has been a birthplace for culture and talent unique from the rest of the world. The immeasurable impact that New Orleans and Louisiana music has had on the people of our nation over the years is just one of the elements which makes the city and region such a treasured part of the United States. Despite the invaluable contributions New Orleans has made to the music and culture of the nation, the city continues to struggle to recover.

In the almost three years since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita ravaged New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, new efforts have been initiated to help restore the health of the Gulf of Mexico and protect coastal Louisiana from future devastation. To succeed, these efforts will require years of work and continued federal leadership. We are asking that the future President of the United States direct the resources and attention necessary to restore coastal Louisiana and secure the future of Louisiana’s communities.

In order for New Orleans and the region to be assured a sustainable recoveryt it is imperative that steps are taken to restore Louisiana’s coastal wetlands. Due to the nation’s need need for energy and dependable shipping lanes, we are losing a football field’s worth of wetlands every 45 minutes to erosion. This unrivaled land-loss threatens the nation’s fishing, our energy, our ports, and most importantly, leaves New Orleans increasingly vulnerable to storms such as Katrina.

Thankfully, solutions exist to utilize the land-building power of the the Mississippi River to stem the tide and rebuild our critical coastal lines of defense. Through stronger, better levees and wide-scale coastal restoration, our communities can be protected.

Google/YouTube and New Orleans universities are sponsoring a Presidential forum on September 18th which would be the ideal place to spotlight this devastating yet largely unacknowledged crisis. We write to ask you to commit to attend and share your vision for leading the Gulf coast’s recovery.

The health of the Gulf of Mexico and the surrouding states are vital to our nation’s energy, economy, and culture. Unfortunately, the future of the Gulf coast will be in jeopardy until serious action has been taken to secure healthy water and wetlands. The time to act is now. We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

… and the undersigned is a Who’s Who of New Orleans and Louisiana music, led by Tab Benoit, Monk Boudreaux, Cyril Neville and the members of the Voice of the Wetlands All-Stars. You’re asked to add your name to this list by contacting Aaron Viles at aaron@healthygulf.org or by calling (504) 525-1528, ext. 207. 

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July 15, 2008

Don’t Be a Stereotype … Don’t Be a Stereotype … D’OH!

Filed under: Pop Life — Tags: , — Alex Rawls @ 7:20 am

It’s so depressing to be represented in the media by cliches. When I heard that a Metairie beauty salon owner was going to be a contestant on CBS’ Big Brother 10, I was worried. When she dressed and talked like Bunny Matthews’ Nat’ly down to the leopard-print cat-eye sunglasses, I was so bummed. Once again, we look like a city of the self-consciously eccentric – a bunch of people trying too hard.

Then this morning on NPR, mystery writer Julie Smith was profiled. During the segment, she talks in faux-conspiratorial voice about Uptown mansions as places where lots of intrigue and secrets could live, and she describes the Algiers levee as ”just a divine place to dump a body. If you should need to. I hope you never need to.”  Both could well be true, but the theatrical nature of her pronouncements and Big Brother’s Renny make us sound like a city too in to our contrived eccentricity to deal with the most basic survival questions, including holding the government accountable for leaving us to die.

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