Wednesday, April 18, 2007

(04.18.07) Recommends:


I don't know what it is exactly about this blog of a New York City Venture Capitalist that has me obsessed, but I probably check this thing twenty times a day. He is a VC who focuses on the internet and technology sector (probably that's just one sector? internet is technology, right?). He's a big music fan. He's very enthusiastic and seems genuine and gentle. I rarely understand the business behind what he's talking about, but I'd say once a week I feel like I learn something, or glean some insight. Like I said, I've become obsessed with it.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

(04.17.07) Recommends:

A Reflection on Taxation.

Today we will hear lots of noise regarding the tax debate. They’re too high and they stifle an efficient flow of labor and capital! They’re too low and they prevent an equitable and just society! The debate has been ongoing for decades, and will continue to rage on for decades to come. And really, at this point, the debate is by and large boring, because it’s not a really a debate. Rather, it's a series of rants supported by ostensible facts and wholly dismissive of the other side. And of course, we all know that the facts don’t matter if you don’t agree on the issue.

So today, on this Tax Day, I want to leave the traditional tax debate behind. Instead, I would like to share with you all something I came across recently. To me, this video demonstrates the value of taxes. Not only that, it demonstrates the awesome potential of this country of ours. It demonstrates that while we may be in the midst of fighting a War on Terror, no fucking terrorists can ever destroy the spirit of this country. It demonstrates that while we’re entering the beginning stages of a shitstorm of a Presidential campaign in which both sides will insist that this is the Most Important Election of Our Time, the winner ultimately does not matter, because it is the people of this country who gives this country of ours its awesome strength.

In April of 1973, Stevie Wonder appeared on Sesame Street. The following video is the blistering result. This video to me is such a beautiful and strong distillation of the power and potential of our country that watching it literally brings me to tears. Here is a blind, black man invited to be the musical guest on a show that features a reality where humans interact with all manner of strange puppets. It’s a show that features a monster who eats – but cannot swallow – cookies. It’s a show that features two puppets – one orange and a lover of duckies, one yellow and the wearer of a unibrow – who might be roommates, or who might be gay lovers, or who might just be puppets made out of cloth. It’s a show that features a monster who lives in a trash can and is generally angry, yet always shows patience and compassion for his pet worm. It’s a show that features a big bird (Big Bird), and a big dog (Barkley) and a big wholly mammoth thing (Snuffleupagus). I could go on and on about the wonderful and charming characters, but it’s what those characters have done that’s even more remarkable. They’ve taught generations of children about letters and numbers and spelling and friendship and emotions and that it's okay to be a little weird or odd or a freak or an outsider or disabled or to be from a different country or to be a different color. It's taught about having and dealing with imaginary friends (the type that aren’t physically there) and imaginary friends (the type who you think are nice to you, but really aren’t). They’ve taught about tolerance. They’ve taught about the incredible power of language.

Fact: I remember the first time that I saw the “Letter B” skit, where a band of puppets sings “Letter B” as a play on the Beatles’ “Let it Be.” I remember watching this at maybe age three or four. And I remember realizing that language could be taken, and tweaked, to humorous effect. I was three or fours years old and I've tried to use that lesson every day of my life since. Are we really willing to say that TV does nothing but rot the brain?

And my god, look at the kids dancing in this video! The show has also taught generations of kids to get down with their funky selves! Stevie Wonder, a black man born blind in Michigan in 1950. He shows up on Sesame Street and puts on a performance, at age 23, that can unit kids and adults, puppets and people. White sax players and black drummers. This is the kind of thing that changes the world.

All of this goodness from Sesame Street. And how does this show get funded? Well, it gets funded from many different sources, but – and here’s the point of today’s lecture – lots of the funding comes from the Federal Government, and the Federal Government gets lots of its money from our tax dollars. So today, I am happy to give my Hard Earned Dollars to the Government. Because I know there is waste in the government. And I know there is inefficiency. Do I care about this? I do care. But my god, I want to give because every time I give it allows for the possibility of the funding of something as beautiful as Stevie Wonder performing “Superstition” on Sesame Street in 1973 to happen. The tax system isn’t perfect, and the government isn’t perfect, and Stevie Wonder isn’t perfect, and Sesame Street isn’t perfect. But, let's all remember the goal of the Founding Fathers in the preamble of the Constitution (this will be convenient since I’m sure you people already have your Constitutions out in order to justify your belief in the necessity or illegitimacy of taxation): they wanted to create a more perfect Union. More perfect. Perfection might always be out of the reach of us mere humans, but Stevie Wonder on Sesame Street in 1973 made things more perfect.

Monday, April 16, 2007

(04.16.07) Recommends:

Is Justin Timberlake a Product of Cumulative Advantage? by Duncan J. Watts.

Duncan Watts, a sociology professor at Columbia, describes his research thusly:
My research centers around the development of new models of large, complex networks that capture the general features of networked social systems, and a coherent set of metrics for characterizing them. The overall goal is to explore the role that network structure plays in determining or constraining system behavior, focussing on a few broad problem areas in social science such as information contagion, financial risk management, and organizational design. I am concerned with issues such as systemic robustness and stability with respect to cascading failures, efficient distributed information processing, and effective procedures for conducting global searches in networks using only local information.
Luckily for us, he takes that dry-sounding knowledge and applies it some of our most pressing issues, like How did Justin Timberlake become this generation's Michael Jackson? And how might the next generation's Justin Timberlake come about? This NY Times article is a mixture of Malcolm Gladwell, Steven Levitt, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, and Paul A. David (whose article "Clio and the Economics of QWERTY" on path dependence in the adoption of the QWERTY keyboard is easily one of my favorite academic articles of all time and really should be required reading for anybody who has ever pondered how a society arrives at choices it makes), and signals the arrival of Watts on my radar screen. I look forward to checking out his books and reporting back on them in this space.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

(04.15.07) Recommends:

The Jock Exchange, by Michael Lewis.

Portfolio is a new business magazine that Conde Nast is launching this month. Michael Lewis is one of our most interesting and thoughtful writers. His first contribution to the mag is a look into creating a stock exchange on which professional athletes are bought and sold. For regular readers of Lewis, there isn't much new ground covered here. But Michael Lewis could write a grocery list, and I'd still recommend reading it.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

(04.14.07) Recommends:

N = {fb(cm)*fb(tc)} + fb(Ts)+fc*ta.

Okay, this is too perfect to be real, but too ridiculous to be fiction. The NY Times has recently revealed the Perfect Bacon Sandwich. If somebody goes out tomorrow and discovers WMD or the whereabouts of Bin Laden, one might argue that such discovery could not possibly be as relevant or important as what the Times is bestowing upon us. This is the Rosetta Stone of modern nutrition. Open your umbrellas; a weary nation weeps in joy:

Friday, April 13, 2007

(04.13.07) Recommends:

Concert Photography, Vol. 8.
The Photo Atlas
Popscene, San Francisco, Calif.

I previewed the show the other day. Now I'm back with evidence from the crime scene. This band isn't for everybody, but I gotta say, they are a very tight unit live. I judge a band by whether they can blow the roof off of a small bar on a random weeknight. And these guys whipped the crowd into a frenzy. Plus, what I really loved, was that in this day of indie rock lead singers wearing massacre or girl jeans or too cute outfits, this lead singer appeared to be proudly wearing an indie-rock double chin. I, for one, can totally get behind that fashion statement. Have a look:

As always, click to enlarge.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

(04.12.07) Recommends:

Kid 606's contribution to the Xiu Xiu cover/remix compilation "Remixed and Covered" (Kill Rock Stars, 2007).

I tend to receive a disproportionate amount of messages about East Bay music, and the other day I was pointed to Kid 606. I'll let Wikipedia do the introduction. Anyway, Kid 606 contributes a track to "Remixed and Covered," an album full of bands, well, remixing and covering the songs of Xiu Xiu. Kid 606 tackles "Fabulous Muscles" and the result is pretty mesmerizing.

Kid 606 - Fabulous Muscles - mp3.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

(04.11.07) Recommends:

Meeting up at Popscene.

You've been to Popscene[1], right? Tomorrow night The Photo Atlas, the indie-pop-punksters from Denver, grace the stage at 330 Ritch Street. I'll be there slurping up Red Bulls, desperately trying to stay up past my bedtime. I'm not quite sold on the Photo Atlas just yet. I've heard their debut "No, Not Me, Never," and I gotta say, parts of it really rock. But other parts of it seem too emo or pop-punk for my tastes. But I'm going to give them a try live, because sometimes I can "understand" a band better once I see them live. Does that make sense? I'm not sure. So let me try an example. British Sea Power. I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do with "The Decline of British Sea Power" the first time I heard it. But then I went and saw them play[2], and everything made sense. I doubt a month now passes without me listening to BSP. I don't think we have Arcade Fire's "Funeral" or their live show, without "The Decline of BSP" and BSP's live show.

And, for that, I'll give the Photo Atlas a chance. Plus, plus, plus: rumor has it that everyone's favorite blogger-turned-music mogul will be flexing her iPod goodness as guest DJ.

So, show up. I might even buy you a drink.

[1] "San Francisco's premier indie nightclub." Okay, I don't know exactly what that means. Popscene's more of an idea, isn't it? (Almost) Every Thursday, the people behind Popscene present an up-and-coming indie bands and after the show, samesaid Popscene peeps then take the party to the DJ decks and spin jams for the kids. It all goes down at 330 Ritch Street, a really cool space. But 330 Ritch is a space independent of Popscene, right? And anyway, sometimes Popscene is at a different venue. This is why it confuses me that Popscene calls itself a "nightclub." Why not call it San Francisco's premier indie-music party? But anyway, semantics aside, it's a fun way to pass a Thursday.

[2] A band called Kaito opened. What the hell happened to that band? They were awesome.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

(04.10.07) Recommends:

Laura Veirs, Saltbreakers (Nonesuch, 2007).

Tuesdays have been particularly good to music fans in 2007. Today I've been fawning over the newest release from Laura Veirs. She is based out of Portland, OR and this album of restrained indie-pop music will immediately resonate with fans of other Northwestern bands (The Decemberists, Death Cab, The Shins, M. Ward, and on and on and on...). Here's the video for "Cast a Hook in Me." I think this is my favorite track off of the new album.

Her homepage.
Her myspace.

Monday, April 09, 2007

(04.09.06) Recommends:

Stumbling upon Joshua Bell busking in a Washington, DC subway station.

Here's a really cool article from the Washington Post.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

(04.08.07) Recommends:

Fountains of Wayne, the track "Fire in the Canyon" from "Traffic and Weather" (Atlantic, 2007).

I don't know too much about Fountains of Wayne other than every time they put out a new record there are one or two tracks of nearly perfect alt-country-pop-rock. "Fire in the Canyon" is the newest piece of awesomeness that will soon be lodged in your brain. Enjoy.

Fountains of Wayne - Fire in the Canyon - mp3.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

(04.04.07) Recommends:

Elvis Perkins, Ash Wednesday (XL, 2007).

So yesterday I mentioned the fun new Horrors record. Today, I need something ... gentle. So enter Elvis Perkins. This record -- his full length debut -- is fantastic. It's straight ahead folk rock music. Great lyrics. Catchy melodies. This is an album that you can listen to every track, in order. You get to the end, and you can repeat. You won't get bored. This might be my favorite release of the year, thus far.

Elvis Perkins - While You Were Sleeping - mp3.
Elvis Perkins - All The Night Without Love - mp3.

His website.
His myspace.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

(04.03.07) Recommends:

The Horrors, "Strange House" (Stolen Transmission, forthcoming May 2007).

I've been waiting for this record since I stumbled upon the band's EP last year. So I was excited to have the new album show up in my mailbox this week. The full-length is not quite as constantly explosive as the EP, but it's still a pretty entertaining 35 minutes. It takes us way back to those heady days of circa 2001, when overly fashionable bands were being called on to save rock 'n roll. The history book shelves will eventually be stuffed to the gills with books dissecting the crazy intervening years since 2001. In fact, I think if you were to try to stuff those years into music, it might come out sounding a bit like the Horrors -- crazy, chaotic, on the verge of collapsing all around us. And -- this is the hopeful thing -- there's momentum in this music. And -- wait for it... wait for it -- it seems like momentum in this country is shifting. Things happened in November 2006. I predict things will continue happening in November 2008. So there you have it. You heard it here first: The Horrors sound like our past and our future. And that sounds good enough for me.

The Horrors - Count in Fives - mp3.
The Horrors - Little Victories - mp3.

Monday, April 02, 2007

(04.02.07) Recommends:

A Musical Scavenger Hunt.

So tonight I dusted off a CD I randomly received in the mail back in January 2003. It is labeled "Best of 2002." I don't know the person who made this CD; I remember I received it through somebody on an internet mailing list of one sort or another (remember Listservs? Social networking late 90's/early00's style). But I listened to it for the first time in years tonight, and '02 was a good year in music. Here's the tracklist (song/artist, obvs.):

1. fight est/flaming lips
2. wait until dark/kelly willis
3. count me in on this one/richard buckner
4. terrible vision/rhett miller
5. the good girls goodbye/mayflies usa
6. station to station/jay farrar
7. war on war/wilco
8. hilo and in between/neil halstead
9. a damn good disguise/mendoza line
10. braintree/the possibilities
11. downtown/peter bruntnell
12. california/jay bennett & ed burch
13. fast train/solomon burke
14. my name is jorge/the gourds
15. ugly stories/josh rouse
16. the monk at the disco/bobby bare jr.
17. you're missing/bruce springsteen
18. the golden age/beck
19. jerusalem/steve earle

Check back to this entry periodically; I'm going to search the ends of the internet to try to find mp3s of each of these songs. Until then, for my Rhapsody-subscribing readers, put these songs (you should be able to find most of them) into a playlist; it's a pretty good one. And, if the mysterious maker of this CD is out there, get in touch! I'd love to hear your "Best of" comps for the years thereafter!

Sunday, April 01, 2007

(04.01.07) Recommends:

Mickey Avalon.

Seemingly born a fully formed rapper in the Hollywood nightclub scene, his influence now extends to the MySpace crowd, hipster parties, and even HBO. Equal parts Beck and J.T. LeRoy, Ziggy Stardust and the Monkees, Boy Bands and Silver Lake burnouts. He's got that Ryan Adams quality where you can't decide whether he'll be dead in a few years, or become a huge star. Adams decided to live. Or, maybe he's destined for the J.T. LeRoy route, and the hoax will all unravel at any moment. What will happen to this Mickey Avalon character? I'm not sure. For now I know he has catchy tunes with impossibly over-the-top offensive lyrics. It'll be interesting to follow the story.

Mickey Avalon - Jane Fonda - mp3.
Mickey Avalon - Waiting to Die - mp3.

(note: these mp3s require Windows Media player)