Friday, 26 January 2018

Naguib Mahfouz: The Thief and the Dogs

"What a lot of graves there are laid out as far as the eye can see! Their headstones are like hands raised in surrender, though they are beyond being threatened by anything. A city of silence and truth, where success and failure, murderer and victim come together, where thieves and policeman lie side by side in peace for the first and last time.”

Bob Mason: Magic Circles: Another Side of the Beatles

"Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream."

Luis Sanchez: The Beach Boys' Smile

The Beach Boys’ story can be told as just one chapter in the history of popular music, a way to connect the birth of rock ’n’ roll to the rock revolution that presumably ensued, but this kind of narrative never seems like enough. What makes The Beach Boys’ story so compelling are those moments when it is at odds with the progression of rock history. They weren’t the only surf group to come from a particular time and place, but with more ambition and success than most of them, The Beach Boys brought their version of surf, and finally their version of America, to life. As a unit held together with the intimacy of family, they embodied all the suburban ordinariness, seething dysfunction, and optimism of an American dream where mastery of cultural inheritance and the chance to pursue one’s hopes is available to anybody, even if everybody can’t achieve it. What separates The Beach Boys—what makes them extraordinary—is that they not only lived this American dream, they transcended it, making music that fused the tangibility of their suburban background with Southern California topography, attitude, and aspiration. Then they invited their audience to find some version of themselves inside the fantasy. Which I guess, in the end, is all that audience could hope for.

It has often been said that Smile is a great lost album. The presumption is that for all the staunch forward march of the rock revolution, it was only a matter of time before the glint of The Beach Boys’ aesthetic should have been overtaken by the babel of hippie mindset. Yet the story of Smile’s rise and fall is so ingrained as myth that it has lost its power to lure and convince. For decades, writers and cultists kept the story alive by rehashing hyperbole and rumor that could only take the story so far. Writing about Elvis Presley in the early ’70s at the moment when the singer’s steady, public deterioration of self revealed that it was possible for even the greatest of rock ’n’ roll myths to lose its vitality, Greil Marcus bristled at the King’s lack of commitment to his music and showing his audience why it mattered in the first place. “Elvis has dissolved into a presentation of his myth, and so has his music,” he wrote. As a critic with an acute perception of the dimensions and value of myth in popular culture, Marcus shows us why myth alone is not enough. Without a personality to inhabit it—to recognize it, celebrate it, test it, revise it—what you end up with is music drained of life.

In a way, this is what has happened with Smile. The seeds of the myth were sown so close to the events that took place that the myth itself overtook and nearly consumed the artist and the music it was about.

Victoria Jamieson: All's Faire in Middle School

Mark Frost: Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier

Metaphors are beautiful ways of speaking about the truth. So are facts.

For instance, there is no light without darkness—and this troubles many of us—but without it, how else would we tell one from the other? We spend half of every day in darkness; surely we should make our peace with this.

Life is what it is, a gift that is given to us for a time—like a library book—that must eventually be returned. How should we treat this book? If we are able to remember that it is not ours to begin with—one that we’re entrusted with, to care for, to study and learn from—perhaps it would change the way we treat it while it’s in our possession.

A core fundamental of human existence is wonder—and its analogue is fear. You can’t have one without the other, flip sides of the coin.

I know the Blue Rose Task Force is charged with the investigation of matters that would make most average citizens—or the world’s most expert neurophysicists, for that matter—flee from the room with their hair spontaneously combusting.

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Jace Clayton: Uproot: Travels in 21st Century Music and Digital Culture

In 2001 I recorded a three-turntable, sixty-minute mix called Gold Teeth Thief. It was deliberately all over the place: I opened with R&B futurist Missy Elliott and ended with Muslimgauze, an obscure one-man band from Manchester who layered field recordings from the Middle East over trancelike electronic beats. I uploaded the mix to the Internet so my friends could listen. Who else would? One magazine reviewed it, then another, and soon a lot of magazines, leading to hundreds of thousands of downloads. Meanwhile, I had moved to Madrid, happily going about my days without regular Internet access. I didn’t know what was up. A few months after the mix went online, I got a phone call from a large European independent label. I’d used one of their songs on the mix. They loved it! It was the best DJ session they’d heard in ages! They wanted to license the Gold Teeth Thief mix and give it a proper release, assuming they could pay the various labels a fee of $1,000 per track. “That’d be fantastic,” I said, “but pretty expensive. I use forty-four different songs on it. Some of those are major pop tunes, and a bunch are unlicensable bootlegs. It’d be a nightmare to do legally.” They insisted that I send a complete track list so that their legal department could get cracking. Result: “Impossible. Our lawyers laughed at us.”

As a process, DJing is inevitable and necessary for our times, an elegant way to deal with data overload. As a performance, it’s what the kids are grooving to the world over. As a product, it’s largely illegal. If I were a band, and Gold Teeth Thief an album, not a mix, that would have been my big break. A powerful label, big advance fees, well-connected publicists, a coordinated tour. But it’s more common for even a popular DJ to receive a cease-and-desist order than to get a mix-album deal with a large label.

It’s hard to care. Viral culture doesn’t play well with intellectual property laws. I knew Gold Teeth Thief couldn’t enter the commercial world when I did it. I didn’t need it to. Word-of-mouth buzz and bootleg mixes are the DJ’s symbolic currency; live shows provide the cash. A few months after Gold Teeth Thief was posted online, I received my first real gig offer. A choreographer in Berlin wanted to fly me there, house me for a night or two, and pay me €500 to DJ. Good that he didn’t haggle over the fee—I would have done it for free. Being paid the equivalent of a month’s rent back in Madrid to mix my favorite records! My head spun. Little did I know that this was to be the first of many such offers; Gold Teeth Thief ended up being a great calling card.

In the years to come I would start performing in far-flung locales and cosmopolitan megacities: a sprawling, multitiered nightclub in Zagreb, a tiny gallery in Osaka, a former brothel in São Paulo, the American Museum of Natural History. All the while I was crossing paths (and in many cases collaborating) with a huge range of musicians, producers, fans, visual artists, technological visionaries, and fellow DJs from all over the world. Some of these were industry veterans who had toured the globe many times; others were teenagers leaving the confines of their sub-Saharan villages for the first time in their lives. The bottom line? I saw and learned a lot more than I would have had I stayed put in Massachusetts. Without realizing it, just as the music world was making its fitful, uncertain transition from analog to digital, I was getting a frontline education in the creative upheavals of art production in the twenty-first-century globalized world.

* * *

In 2009, almost a decade later, I appeared on a New Yorker Festival panel about the state of the music industry. The magazine had assembled delegates from every cross section of the music biz to weigh in. The panelists included a major-label bigwig, the owner of a prestigious downtown New York independent label, a veteran studio session musician (he’d played bass for everyone from Caetano Veloso to Henry Rollins), and a marketing guru who’d discovered Nirvana—and then me, I suppose as the representative of burgeoning digital culture.

I was the last to speak that afternoon, and I was a bit surprised by all that was said before I had my turn. One by one, everyone else onstage told his or her personalized version of the same story: that in the last decade the sky had fallen—the rise of digital culture had pretty much killed off every aspect of the music business, and we were left to react, defensively, to these harsh changes. Granted, I knew things were bad in a lot of ways. Around 2003 I started to see all my favorite record shops in Manhattan and Brooklyn shutting their doors. CD sales fell dramatically, and distributors and record labels were taking fewer artistic risks. Visionary musicians who for the last decade or two had been able to survive—barely—on a trickle of record-sale royalties were forced into silence and bad day jobs. As the money hunkered down around concerts and merchandise, corporations such as Live Nation started buying up independent venues across the States, replacing fan-built booking networks with a more streamlined, profit-maximizing approach. Ticket prices went up, and while live gigs continued to flourish, those profits didn’t necessarily reach the musicians sweating onstage each night. Everyone was a bit worried.

But, at the same time, my experiences have shown me that for each of the avenues closed down by the proliferation of digital technology, unexpected new pathways have opened up.

Philip Pullman: The Book of Dust, Book 1: La Belle Sauvage

He was liked when noticed, but not noticed much, and that did him no harm either.

Once we use the word spiritual, we don’t have to explain anymore, because it belongs to the Church then, and no one can question it.

Consciousness is a perfectly normal property of matter, like mass or anbaric charge; that there is a field of consciousness which pervades the entire universe, and which makes itself apparent most fully – we believe – in human beings.

It was the loneliness of his death that upset Malcolm most.

When it started to rain, so she went inside and made some coffee and did what she had never done in her life: tried the newspaper crossword. “What a stupid exercise,” said her dæmon after five minutes. “Words belong in contexts, not pegged out like biological specimens.