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November 30, 2008

Obsession

Filed under: Pop Life — Tags: , , — Alex Rawls @ 3:10 pm

 

During today’s Saints game, a friend observed, “Sean Peyton with Reggie Bush is like a guy who learned a 50-cent word and can’t stop using it.”

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Christmas at Copeland’s

Filed under: Pop Life — Tags: , — Alex Rawls @ 6:41 am

One year, a neighbor who decorated her house in white lights found the flashing, colored Christmas lights I’d strung on my iron security bars a bit much, and she wondered if I could replace them with something more tasteful. I was only half-joking when I told her Christmas isn’t about good taste, and all manifestations of exuberant celebration beyond the bounds of taste win my holiday approval. Not surprisingly, I’ve always loved Al Copeland’s Christmas lights display at 5001 Folse (where Transcontinental meets the lake). It’s too much cubed, with the palm trees in the yard wrapped with colored rope lights, a lit up Santa and his reindeer taking flight in front of the house, and a 30 or so foot lit Christmas tree all on the lawn. And a Nativity, of course, but nobody in it lights up.

Saturday night, 50 or so people gathered in the rain to watch Copeland’s family turn on the lights for the final time. Copeland died this year of Merkel Cell Carcinoma, so “This is a year of remembrance,” Al Copeland, Jr. announced at the lighting ceremony. Next year, the lights will move to Lafreniere Park as was planned before Hurricane Katrina. As much as visiting his lights was a part of so many people’s Christmas, they were never popular with the neighbors, what with the amount of light they generate and the traffic as cars lineup to slowly troll by. It’s hard to imagine how they’ll have the same impact, though. Part of the beauty of them is the raw density of the display; spread them out for a Celebration in the Oaks-type display and they’ll almost seem tasteful.

If you go to see them, park nearby and walk up because you miss too much from the car. Last night my wife spotted nine cherubs with different looks and ages on the front wall and speculated that there’s one for each of the Copeland children or grandchildren (Copeland, Jr. mentioned nine kids in his comments. I thought he was talking about Al’s kids, but there were nine young ones who helped push down the plunger to turn on the lights.). If you don’t get out, you miss the story of Copeland’s history with Christmas under a photo of him surrounded by holly leaves. You miss the Popeyes helicopter and jet flying in a front window. In short, you miss a whole dimension of the too much-ness if you try to see it from your car.

Shortly before the lighting ceremony, friends and family who were at the house for the lighting party came around to the street in front of the house. One of the highlights of my tenure at Gambit was the year I was given Gambit’s invitation not to the lighting party but Copeland’s Christmas party. I remember seeing Marlin Gusman there, and I suspected that if I knew Jefferson Parish politics better, I’d recognize most of the significant players at the party. Like the light show outside, there were some extreme examples of dubious taste inside – a lot of unconvincing hairpieces and some unfortunately obvious boob jobs, one most memorably on a woman for whom her chest was a quarter to a third of her overall weight. It was surreal, extreme and brilliantly entertaining, and the perfect strangeness started when we walked in the door. Copeland and his wife were greeting guests at the door, and I was at the end of the a short line behind two couples of women and my wife. As they walked in, Copeland gave each a lei to go with the Christmas party’s Hawaiian theme. When I got to him, I introduced myself, and he said, “I don’t do guys” and shuffled me off to the cadre of young hula girls standing beside the chair in which his then-pregnant wife was sitting. I couldn’t have asked for a more entertaining Al Copeland memory.  

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November 26, 2008

Star Time

Filed under: Pop Life — Tags: , , — Alex Rawls @ 9:06 am

 

[Updated December 5, below]

Reading Dave Thompson’s I Hate New Music: the Classic Rock Manifesto, listening to the new Lil Wayne mixtape Dedication 3 and discovering that Ashlee Simpson and Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz named their baby Bronx Mowgli Wentz got me thinking about rock stars. Thompson’s book expresses a confusing preference for days when rock stars were larger than life and almost everything they did was interesting, even when it was retarded.

That book next to the news about the baby Wentz made me realize that naming the kid after a borough and the manchild in The Jungle Book was the first interesting thing a Fall Out Boy has done other than run around with celebutantes, which really doesn’t count. There’s nothing exotic or dramatic about anyone who has starred in a reality TV show or led her life as if it is one. Dating, boinking or marrying one makes you part of the soap operas that they act out for the tabloids, MTV and E!

On the other hand, Lil Wayne is a rock star. He made Dedication 3 with Atlanta’s DJ Drama and it’s not great but it’s fascinating. He has discovered the joys of AutoTune on it – not to the extent of Kanye West, another rock star, on 808 and Heartbreak, but enough – and it gives him yet another voice to employ, even if it’s not clear why he’s using it. The set isn’t as ambitious as Tha Carter III, but it seems like he’s so compulsively creative that he can’t stop recording. Or, he’s in love with himself and can’t stop recording. Both are equally possible, and the two aren’t mutually exclusive. But that drama is interesting. Praying onstage during his Voodoo set is interesting. Getting enlightened and asking people if they believe in God and if they’re voting, then celebrating pimp life in the next breath by getting the crowd to chant “Fuck bitches, get money” is interesting. Consistent? No. The logical follow-up? Not obviously, but those seeming contradictions and the willingness to play them out in public is interesting.

After only three official releases, he talks about things he hasn’t done yet on Dedication 3’s ”What Else is There to Do” : “Grammys, Emmy, Angelina Jolie, Katie Holmes, Martha Stewart, Oprah Winfrey, Mama Blanco, [snicker] Sarah Palin. I love a bitch who wears glasses. Bitch, you can keep those glasses straight on.” The casual slide from awards he hasn’t won or shows he hasn’t been on (again, one or the other or both), he slides to a more sexual meaning of “done” and shows pretty wide-ranging tastes, but as he cracks himself up riffing on Sarah Palin and her glasses, it’s not clear if he means anything he said, or if it was all just calculated outrageousness. Only he knows for sure – maybe – but few other artists are sufficiently compelling at their best and intriguing under any circumstances to make paying attention mandatory. And that’s the definition of a rock star for me. 

Update: He can scratch “Grammy” off the list.

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November 24, 2008

A Decade of New Order

Filed under: Pop Life — Tags: — Alex Rawls @ 10:45 am

Rhino recently reissued the first five New Order albums under the subtitle “The Factory Years,” and more than anything else, they confirm the suspicion that this was first and foremost a singles band. 1981’s Movement shows the band trying to figure out what to do without Ian Curtis, and for the most part, they made a Joy Division album without him. The results suggest Curtis’ role as a song editor because little sticks. On the other hand, the singles collected on the bonus disc are all winners: “Everything’s Gone Green,” “Temptation,” “Procession” and “Ceremony.”

Power, Corruption and Lies and Low-Life feature the band at its peak, creating memorable pop out of dance music and memorable dance music out of pop. Almost every song is tinged with melancholy, but no track succumbs to it. Both the albums and the accompanying bonus discs contain indispensible songs and versions, and the 12-inch remixes feel just as organic and musically considered as the shorter album versions.

Brotherhood’s album tracks are overshadowed by the Shep Pettibone remixes of “Bizarre Love Triangle” and “True Faith,” but the band sounds a bit short on song ideas after a year of touring Low-Life. Much better is Technique, which is as poppy and immediate as Low-Life once you get past the shaky opening track, “Fine Time.” Technique has the weakest bonus disc, with the British World Cup anthem “World in Motion” the only essential track.

Unless you’re an obsessive or completist, 1990’s Substance still represents the band best – a best-of that collects the highlights through Brotherhood. After that, download what you need and don’t miss the first three tracks from Republic, a reunion record of sorts recorded after the formal framework of this series.

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Checking Out the Prospects

Filed under: Pop Life — Tags: — Alex Rawls @ 8:21 am

Anecdotally, it sounds like Prospect.1, the biennial art festival that CAC curator Dan Cameron has brought to New Orleans, is a modest success. I don’t hear a lot of buzz nor do I get a sense that there has been a lot of art-oriented tourism coming to town to see it, but traffic is up at the CAC, and that’s something.

I’m going to try to get out this weekend and see what I can see of the exhibits, which are scattered around the city. What I know of sounds interesting with unusual venues paired with big, idea-oriented art installations. In the New York Times, Roberta Smith wrote:

you are rarely viewing artworks in isolation, but rather measuring them against their contexts. On one level the show is a lively competition between so-called site-specific art and portable art objects whose meanings are expanded by their settings. On another, it is a tour of the city’s rich past, recent trauma and often struggling arts organizations.

For other takes, here’s blogger Matt Smith’s walkthrough of the CAC and the show at the US Mint, and another from the Gathering of the Tribes blog. Not surprisingly, Doug MacCash at The Times-Picayune is more or less the last word on Prospect.1.

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November 21, 2008

Theresa Andersson meets David Byrne

Filed under: Pop Life — Tags: , — Alex Rawls @ 2:08 pm

A few weeks back, Theresa Andersson texted me to say David Byrne had heard her album and asked her to sing on his new album. At the time, I sat on this because I didn’t want to hype something that hadn’t happened yet for fear of jinxing things before the recordings had happened. Today, Jason Songe confirmed that she recently flew to New York City to cut a vocal for a song called “Here Lies Love.” More about the track and the album’s release when we know more.   

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It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Harry

Filed under: Pop Life — Tags: — Alex Rawls @ 2:01 pm

In the upcoming issue, we take an obligatory look at new Christmas CDs. Sadly, Harry Connick, Jr.’s new What a Night! didn’t arrive in time to be included. The Cleveland Plain Dealer’s John Soeder interviewed Connick about his the Christmas album recently:  

Q: Was it a challenge to bring something fresh to your arrangements of warhorses such as “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” or “We Three Kings”?

A: No, not really. I don’t know how fresh the arrangements are, but they were certainly new to me.

When you’re dealing with songs like that, the melodies are so strong and the lyrics are so great that you can rip ‘em apart as much as you want and they still remain standing.

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Borders’ Soft Opening

Filed under: Pop Life — Tags: — Alex Rawls @ 10:39 am

The new Borders bookstore Uptown at St. Charles and Louisiana officially opens Monday, but its soft opening is today at 1 p.m.

[Update:] I almost wrote about how Borders might or might not fit into the Uptown bookstore community and what it’s impact might be when I wrote that announcement, but decided against it. Then I saw Noah Bonaparte Pais’ post on the subject at Gambit’s blog. Saturday is ”New Orleans Unchained,” which he explains is

an extension of America Unchained, a national campaign aiming to steer consumers toward the Octavia Books of the world rather than, say, Borders, which just happens to be holding its soft opening in the Garden District on (you guessed it) Saturday, Nov. 22. 

It’s a ‘buy local’ initiative and the sort of thing I normally support. But the marginalization of Starbucks in New Orleans is instructive. Starbucks didn’t make the same inroads in New Orleans that it made in other cities because of any self-conscious ‘buy local’ movement. Rather than confront Starbucks on their terms and make a similar edge-of-burnt cup of coffee, PJ’s, CC’s and countless independent coffee shops in town offered something different – something that people couldn’t get at Starbucks, something that they liked better, and the local coffee shops have done just fine.

The Uptown bookstores that try to offer the same thing as Borders are going to suffer; those that figure out how to offer an alternative will do fine. That sounds a little Darwinistic, but New Orleans has long needed a bookstore that is independent in sensibility as well as operation, and if this helps someone evolve in that direction, so much the better. There’s no place in town like Pages in Toronto or St. Mark’s Bookshop in New York City – stores that reflect an aesthetic and carry books that a Borders doesn’t shelve.

Before we all worry that the sky’s going to fall on Garden District Books and Octavia Books, it’s also useful to remember that there was a lot of hand-wringing before Walmart opened on Tchoupitoulas as people stewed about how it would kill Magazine Street. Even the places that compete with it most directly – the groceries and Harry’s Ace Hardware – seem to be doing okay, or as well as anybody’s doing these days. All things being equal, I prefer local to chains, but if the locals are giving me chain bookstore-lite, then I might as well have the chain bookstore. 

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November 19, 2008

Why Silence?

Filed under: Pop Life — Tags: — Alex Rawls @ 9:06 am

Last night, Bill Ayers spoke on NPR’s Fresh Air. Earlier in the day, a lengthy interview with him ran at Salon.com. Both are fascinating, though there’s a lot of overlap between them. Needless to say, he’s not quite the person that the McCain/Palin tried to insinuate he was. His response to the question of why he didn’t try to clear his name during the campaign speaks interestingly to the shameful, shadowy nature of the charges and the media’s tendency to frame news events into narratives. Here’s his explanation to Walter Shapiro at Salon:

Well, what I didn’t want to comment on was the political campaign. I didn’t want to enter into that. The reason is simple: I thought that I was being used as a prop in a very dishonest narrative — and I didn’t want to be part of the narrative and I couldn’t find a way to interrupt it. Anything that I said was going to feed that narrative. So I felt that part of this was the demonization of me — certainly that I’m some kind of toxic agent that has to be feared.

The second thing, and perhaps more important, is that I was being used to try to bring down this promising new leader by the old tactic of guilt by association. The idea that somehow — and this is deep in the American political culture — that if two people share a bus downtown, have a cup of coffee, have several conversations, that somehow means that they share an outlook, a perspective, responsibility for one another’s behavior. And I reject that. That guilt by association is wrong and we shouldn’t buy into it.

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Defeat is Complicated

Filed under: Pop Life — Tags: , , , — Alex Rawls @ 8:26 am

One thing covering music in one city tells you is that good music and bands fail to find audiences for a host of reasons that rarely have to do with quality or talent. Peter Holsapple’s excellent series of blog entries for The New York Times document his life as a songwriter including today’s entry, “Anatomy of a Flop.”  In it, he walks through the making of the dB’s Like This album and particularly the song “Love is For Lovers,” which he felt was a possible hit. The story of how it didn’t become one has to do with band egos, weird relationships, rock stars and the business – some of the usual suspects when it comes to stomping out perfectly good music. In the piece, producer Chris Butler recalls a meeting with Bearsville Records’ owner/former Dylan manager Albert Grossman:

“In the drive to our digs on Albert’s compound, I gushed about to Albert how hard the band had worked in pre-production: how we had taken Peter’s great songs and worked them and re-worked them, and how we were going to make a great record and how grateful everyone was to get the chance to record in a world-class studio. After listening to me silently for a while, he stopped me mid-sentence and said in a rather nasal baritone, ‘Chris…all I am interested in these days are restaurants and wood.’ It was going to be a long autumn.” 

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