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underrated 2014 music

So I made four playlists of songs released this year, but maybe you don’t have the four-plus hours of patience necessary to wade through all that. Presented here, then, are ten highlights from those mixes that I feel critics and listeners slept on in this season of year-end list-making.

First mix Jukebox goes well with a night on the town.

Pop Radio would sound best coming out of car speakers.

Red States highlights the year’s best musicianship and songwriting.

Crush started off as just a catch-all for songs that didn’t fit the other mixes’ tenuous themes but ended up being where I put a lot of underrated gems.


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cannes 2014

If you live in a part of the U.S. that’s not New York or L.A., it’ll be awhile before most of the 2014 Cannes line-up screens anywhere nearby. Opener Grace of Monaco, starring Nicole Kidman, will probably be at the multiplex shortly but it just sort of looks like a coffee table book to me.

With that delay in mind, I’ve put together this list of movies I’m anticipating at this year’s festival, accompanied by work already available to sate the curious and/or impatient among you. Please let me know what I’ve left out.

Clouds of Sils Maria is director Olivier Assayas’s second collaboration with Juliette Binoche after 2008’s Summer Hours. His pace in the interim has been impressive, what with 2010’s breakneck 5+ hour Carlos and 2012’s Something in the Air. Both are worth your time and, as of this writing, streaming on Netflix.

Since Assayas wrote the lead character of Clouds with Binoche in mind, I’ll point out that next month she’ll add the newest iteration of Godzilla to her more than thirty years of interesting work. Netflix currently has last year’s brutal Camille Claudel 1915 as well as her work with Abbas Kiarostami (Certified Copy), Michael Haneke (Code Unknown, only slightly less great than Caché),  and David Cronenberg (blink and you’ll miss her in Cosmopolis).

Speaking of Cronenberg, he’ll return to the festival just two years after debuting that mind-bending DeLillo adaptation. Maps to the Stars is written by Bruce Wagner, who gets a story credit on the second Freddy Krueger sequel (I haven’t seen it but reviews are actually pretty good). In addition to Cosmopolis, Netflix also has 1999’s eXistenZ, a movie I liked at the time but suspect doesn’t compare with his early horror / sci-fi (The BroodScanners) and recent highlights (Eastern PromisesA Dangerous Method). Stars Julianne Moore and Mia Wasikowska previously worked together on The Kids Are All Right, also available on Netflix.

Mike Leigh, who won Best Director at the festival in 1993 for Naked (a personal favorite) and the Palme d’Or in 1996 for Secrets & Lies, is back with Mr. Turner, starring Timothy Spall (you know, Peter Pettigrew) as “painter of light” J. M. W. Turner. Sounds a bit like Leigh’s brilliant Topsy-Turvy (1999), well worth the 160-minute run-time and the 19th century opera. Netflix has 2008’s Happy-Go-Lucky, a decent place to start with Leigh if you don’t mind rampant optimism (coming as it is from Sally Hawkins, I do not).

Two Days, One Night, in which Marion Cotillard hilariously plays a normal person for the Dardenne brothers, targets a Palme d’Or threepeat for the Belgian duo after Rosetta (1999) and L’enfant (2005).  That award would certainly elevate them over the six other directors that have two Golden Palms but the Dardennes also picked up the Grand Prix in 2011 for the great The Kid with a Bike (available on Netflix).

They just happened to share that Grand Prix with Once Upon a Time in Anatolia by Nuri Bilge Ceylan, back at Cannes this year with Winter Sleep. I can’t find any information about this new Turkish film but I dug that previous award-winner and I’m trying to find Three Monkeys, which won Ceylan Best Director at the 2008 festival.

Latin America’s sole competition film this year is Wild Tales by Argentine director Damián Szifron. Boasting a production credit from Pedro Almodóvar’s El Deseo, the movie stars Ricardo Darín (Oscar-winner The Secret in Their Eyes) and Darío Grandinetti (Talk to Her, sometimes my favorite movie) and looks insane.

Ken Loach won the Palme for The Wind That Shakes the Barley (featured on Netflix along with some others), the 2006 Irish war film that could have used some subtitles. I’ve only seen that and Tickets, which frankly had better contributions from Kiarostami and Ermanno Olmi, but maybe this one will be better than the trailer.

I don’t know anything about Alice Rohrwacher, whose The Marvel stars Monica Bellucci and debuts at Cannes, except that her 2011 film Corpo Celeste is currently available on Netflix.

Ditto Xavier Dolan: his new one is called Mommy and he has a few on Netflix.

And Abderrahmane Sissako: Timbuktu plays the festival and Bamako is on Netflix.

In the Un Certain Regard section, Jauja by Lisandro Alonso (whose Liverpool is on Netflix) stars Viggo Mortensen.



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cannes 2013

The Cannes Film Festival starts tomorrow.  Just like last year, I’m back to bore you with my excitement.  Tellingly, I’ve only seen five of the fifteen movies I wrote about last time, mostly due to limited distribution.  Here’s hoping that more of this year’s slate comes stateside, and sooner.

Here are the movies I’m most excited about, in no particular order:

Behind the Candelabra – Steven Soderbergh claims that this will be his last feature film.  He’s already lined up several projects, including a novella on Twitter (seriously) and a twelve-hour adaptation of a 1960 John Barth novel.  Considering his wildly prolific and varied filmography, following the neo-noir Side Effects with this ultra-flamboyant biopic should be no surprise.

Inside Llewyn Davis – As far as I can tell, the three years between this and True Grit mark the longest hiatus in the Coen brothers’ career.  This loose adaptation of The Mayor of MacDougal Street looks pretty fan-pleasing.

The Past – Asghar Farhadi’s sixth film is his first Cannes selection after 2011’s brilliant breakout A Separation, which picked up four awards at the Berlin Film Festival and went on to win the Oscar and the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film.  It’s also his first film made outside of his native Iran, shot in France and starring Bérénice Bejo (The Artist) and Tahar Rahim (A Prophet).

Only God Forgives – This re-teaming of Nicolas Winding Refn and Ryan Gosling looks like it has some similarities with their previous collaboration, the stylish and ultra-violent Drive.  Throw in a ruthless Kristin Scott Thomas and a Thai crime ring and it might just be an improvement.

The Immigrant – Speaking of re-teamings, this is director James Gray’s fourth collaboration with Joaquin Phoenix after The YardsWe Own the Night, and Two Lovers.  I actually haven’t seen any of those, but adding Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Renner to this cast is enough to get me in a seat.

[no trailer available]

Shield of Straw – Takashi Miike is very hit-or-miss for me, but 2010’s 13 Assassins featured such a bad-ass finale that I’ll probably end up seeing this one.

As I Lay Dying – Yes, this is that James Franco who has adapted Faulkner and brought him to the big screen, but I can’t resist.

The Bling Ring – Sofia Coppola’s rebound (hopefully) from the dismal Somewhere is based on a true story.

What did I forget?

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15 Underrated 2012 Records

Last year ended up being an extremely difficult one to condense into an Albums of the Year format, partly because it seemed like a year stacked with 8s — great records that didn’t necessarily seem destined for classic status.  I heard about 60 albums and was able to winnow them down to 40 for my usual Amazon buffoonery, but I couldn’t begin to rank records as disparate as Swing Lo Magellan and good kid, m.A.A.d. city.  I could have just devoted an entire post to 2012 wunderkind Ty Segall, but Douglas Martin already did that.  Let me just say that the three (!) 2012 records that bore his name were probably the most fun.

If you follow music with any seriousness (haw, haw), you know that a lot of great albums came out this year.  I loved most of the albums on that list, especially those by Frank Ocean, Fiona Apple, Tame Impala, Japandroids, Grimes, Beach House, Grizzly Bear, Chromatics, Sharon Van Etten, Cat Power, and the two I already mentioned above.  What I’ve chosen to compile below, then, is a list of records that you might have missed last year and that I hope you’ll check out in some form or fashion.  If there’s another unifying trait, it’s that most of these albums (with the exception of Killer Mike and El-P) probably wouldn’t end up on a party mix — they’re probably best enjoyed loudly on a dark highway drive alone.

Lower Dens – Nootropics [Ribbon]

I’ve been following front-woman Jana Hunter since her (insanely good) second solo album came out in 2007.  I hoped that her band’s second album would be their breakthrough, but it didn’t really turn up on any December lists.  Lower Dens share a home base and a certain languorous beauty with Beach House, but to my ears they sound more Berlin than Baltimore.

Cate Le Bon – CYRK [The Control Group]

Welsh Le Bon sounds like Nico with a bigger range.  She writes incredibly sturdy simple melodies and perfectly gloomy and textured music.  The song above was my favorite this year.

John Maus – A Collection of Rarities and Previously Unreleased Material [Ribbon]

This compilation of dark electro-pop was better than his pal Ariel Pink’s proper album AND that Bon Iver pablum from 2011.

Matthew E. White – Big Inner [Spacebomb]

This is soft rock and I like it.  I can’t really explain it, but maybe you like M. Ward or Randy Newman or Harry Nilsson?  Try this.

Lotus Plaza – Spooky Action at a Distance [kranky]

One of my favorite music writers wrote about why he listened to this album a lot in 2012.  I’ll defer to him.

Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music [Williams Street]

I included the video above because it is insane and awesome, but the real gem of this album is the anti-Reagan screed.  This record is joyful.

Frankie Rose – Interstellar [Slumberland]

Rose found new galactic territory to mine in this new century’s bad-ass rock girl groove.

Trembling Bells featuring Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy – The Marble Downs [Honest Jon’s]

As always, Will Oldham released an insane amount of music in 2012, including a pretty ingenious EP of self-covers that includes this bonkers version of his most famous song.  This collaboration with Glaswegian band Trembling Bells sounds like a booze-soaked break-up pretty early in the twelve-step process.

Xiu Xiu – Always [Polyvinyl]

Do not be fooled by the inclusive optimism of lead-off single above.  This record is dark.  There is a song called “I Luv Abortion” that I skip 99% of the time.

Jens Lekman – I Know What Love Isn’t [Secretly Canadian]

Most of this record is a big bummer in the all-relationships-are-doomed vein.  Lekman lets just enough light in to make the whole thing listenable.

Mirel Wagner – s/t [Friendly Fire]

Remember when Devendra Banhart was weird without being silly?  That’s what Mirel Wagner does.  Oh, you missed that whole “freak folk” thing?  Well, then Mirel Wagner writes spooky acoustic ballads.

El-P – Cancer 4 Cure [Fat Possum]

The first time I heard this album I was trying to follow someone on a hectic highway in a city I don’t know.  The music fit.

Grass Widow – Internal Logic [HLR]

I cannot resist an all-girl post-punk band.

Mount Eerie – Clear Moon [P.W. Elverum & Sun]

Mount Eerie released two albums in 2012.  Both include well-produced noise that muffles Phil Elverum softly singing about being small in the universe.  More, please!

Four Tet – Pink [Text]

This is a digital-only compilation of the vinyl-only singles that Kieran Hebden has been putting out lately.  It combines the jazzier electronic music of his early work with the dancefloor-oriented stuff that showed up on 2010’s There is Love in You.

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More Useless Noise

One of the things I hate about the internet (and there are millions) is the way that it makes every single argument a shouting contest and every jackass gets to air their (usually racist or misogynist) two bits without any vetting, regardless of qualifications. I’m going to throw my two cents in here though on the Daniel Tosh blow-up because it’s really rankled me. Feel free to ignore it.

The Daniel Tosh scandal is an interesting confluence for me because it combines two things that I loathe: the “comedy” of Daniel Tosh and rape. First, the “comedian.” I have never found Daniel Tosh even remotely funny. His smug, self-satisfied delivery style and sub-frat house level of discourse lights up my limbic system like the Fourth of July with rage. I’ve never once heard him say anything I find even remotely funny. His Comedy Central show is even worse. At this point, I don’t know anyone who either has trouble finding YouTube clips or likes it when their friends make them watch videos. Can you think of a more annoying sentence than “Hey bro, you GOTTA see this YouTube!!” Watching some grinning prick make Bob Saget-on-amphetamine-like comments about internet videos is about as appealing to me as a root canal sans novocaine. But whatever. He’s famous and I’m not so I’m sure somebody must find him funny. 

Anyone who has had the misfortune of speaking to me for an extended period of time also knows that there are few things that send me into as blind of a rage as sexual violence (Republicans and Yankees fans are about it). This is not a uniquely noble or notable view–I would hope that all rational humans agree–and I don’t bring it up to paint myself as some sort of folk hero. There are certain things about the world that set everyone off and mine happens to be rape. I don’t think there’s anything as dehumanizing or degrading and I can’t even begin to imagine the psychic and physical pain that accompany it. I think it’s a bigger problem than a lot of people realize, especially when you look at the statistics about unreported rapes. (It’s a little more than half, by this estimate). This shit destroys lives but it often goes unnoticed because of the shame and stigma attached to being a victim, to say nothing of the outright blaming of women who are sexually assaulted. In a fairer world, anyone who used the phrase “she had it coming” would have their tongue removed as they have conclusively proven themselves to be too stupid to contribute anything of merit to the human world. Still, look at the number of celebrities and athletes who have been accused of rape and suffered almost no consequences–Ben Roethlisberger, Jerramy Stevens, Mike Tyson, Ted Kennedy, Sebastian Janikowski, Ramon Castro, etc., etc. etc. Michael Vick served jail time for DOG FIGHTING. It is not a great stretch of the imagination for a woman in today’s world to imagine that her safety matters less to the criminal justice system than the life of a few pit bulls. Anyway, the point is this is a really big problem and it is absolute garbage for anyone–and especially a man whose risk is so much less–to trivialize the seriousness of sexual violence. That is contributing directly to the rape culture that makes this okay in the first place.

So, given all this, my blood pressure was primed to skyrocket when I saw the first reports that Daniel Tosh had made some rape jokes. (You can read about the incident and his weaksauce apology here). There has already been a lot written about this (excellent coverage here and here). What really brings my piss to a boil about this, though, is the need that other comedians feel to defend this scumbag. Here’s why:

NOTE: Before I begin, I will concede that there are multiple versions of this story and, as such, the truth probably lies somewhere in between all these accounts of the event. Still, I think her complaint bears hearing out.

1) Claims that the woman was in the wrong because she “heckled” Tosh. Patton Oswalt, in his supportive Tweet, was upset that Tosh would have to apologize for something he did onstage, especially since the woman was interrupting his show. Look, I get it. Hecklers are annoying. I’ve done theatre for almost my entire life, much of it for child audiences. It is incredibly frustrating when your show is interrupted by an audience member. But, as my friend Jeff pointed out earlier tonight, I don’t know that the woman’s outburst even qualifies as real heckling. She interjected her honest feelings about Tosh’s remark that rape jokes are always funny. It’s not like she was trying to divert the audience’s attention toward herself and steal the asshole’s laughs. It was about her sticking up for her viewpoint that RAPE IS A BIG DEAL. Moreover, it’s not like Daniel Tosh is a world-renowned classical musician or a fucking Barrymore. He’s a two-bit comedian with a shitty Comedy Central show. Heckling is a part of the stand-up tradition. I find it annoying too, but it’s not like she was throwing Skittles at Joshua Bell. Your JOB for which you get PAID QUITE WELL is to stand up and make people laugh. I once had a job delivering prescription medicine to housing projects for barely above the minimum wage. I walked in on drug deals and had my life threatened more than once. Yes, stand-up comedy is a daunting task. But it’s also a pretty cushy gig. If the harshest thing you deal with on a daily basis is someone yelling at you, I think you’ll live. 

2) Daniel Tosh’s response was COMPLETELY INAPPROPRIATE. According to the accounts of the show, people were laughing at Tosh’s assertion that rape is funny. I disagree, but fine, whatever. I wasn’t there. The woman voiced her disagreement, saying “Actually, rape jokes are never funny!” Here are, off the top of my head, three things Tosh could have said to diffuse the situation and regain control of his act:

“You seem to be in the minority on that one.”

“I was talking about animal rape, actually.”

“How many rape jokes have you even heard? Tell me one.”

Granted, none of these are comedy gold because it’s late and I’m not a comedian. They would, however, have shut down the heckler and returned the focus to Tosh. Instead, he said this: “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by like, 5 guys right now? Like right now? What if a bunch of guys just raped her…” Setting aside for a moment that this could well be construed as ACTUALLY CALLING FOR THE RAPE OF ANOTHER HUMAN (Note: Even though I think Daniel Tosh is despicable and irresponsible, I don’t actually believe he was asking anyone to rape this woman. I think he’s just a shitty comic without the ability to think on his feet) what if she’s a rape survivor? Are you telling me that your little nightclub act is so fucking important that you deserve to rip open perhaps the most profound psychic scar that a person could have so that we listen to your dumb little stories about spraying homeless people with Febreeze? You actually think that suggesting a human be brutally violated is an appropriate response to having your shitty stand-up act briefly interrupted? FUCK YOU.

3) The woman who wrote the blog post is being dismissed for not being able to take a joke. Now, it’s a perfectly fair argument that you don’t go to a comedy club to hear life affirmed or great truths told. But that also doesn’t mean that you’re a whiny asshole if you get offended. People do or don’t get offended by all sorts of shit all the time (see Gabe for more on this) and that’s part of what makes offensive comedy fun and edgy. The woman does concede that she doesn’t care for Dane Cook but decided to go anyway in hopes of seeing another comedian that might be funnier. You could argue, I suppose, that she must have known the other comedians on the bill would likely be similar and probably not to her taste. I don’t think, though, that the woman is upset because Tosh was telling rape jokes. I think she’s offended that he SAID IT WOULD BE FUNNY IF SHE WERE GANG-RAPED. What if, by some horrible coincidence, she’d walked outside and been brutally assaulted by a group of people? Would that change the conversation around what Daniel Tosh said?

4) I have been disheartened to see Patton Oswalt and Louis CK come to bat for Tosh on this. I don’t see why you need to Tweet support to him. I mean, for one thing, he’s still famous and probably doing quite well for himself. He’s a big boy and big boys have to deal with the consequences of the shit they say. Once words leave your face, you have to live with the world that you’ve created by saying those words. This is why I FUCKING HATE it when someone says “You shouldn’t have been offended because that wasn’t my intention.” Well, that’s not your decision. Once you say something, if it offends someone, you have to deal with that. THAT’S PART OF BEING AN ADULT. Anyway, I don’t see why much funnier and more successful comics need to help this prick whose insincere apology probably took all of thirty seconds out of his busy day of writing one-liners about dogs biting people on skateboards.

5) Speaking of Louis CK, he serves as an interesting counterpoint here. His comedy is often wildly offensive (he makes rape jokes himself and, while I still don’t find them among his better work, I think they’re better than Tosh for reasons I’ll elaborate on later) and, as has been noted, an episode of his current TV show deals with this very subject. The difference, though, is Louis CK’s comedy seems (and I says seems because it’s impossible to know what he’s thinking or feeling) to come from a much more thoughtful place. Take, for example, one of his most famous bits on offensive words. This entire monologue really suggests that he’s thought reflectively on the way we use words to hurt other people. He explores the same territory in another episode of his show when he and his friends as a fellow gay comedian if he’s offended by their use of the word “faggot” in their acts and personal lives. He really seems to want to understand and explore this as an issue. Moreover, CK makes himself a punchline more often than not. At least half of his comedy is driven by his own despicability as a human. When I see someone like Daniel Tosh–who I can’t imagine has ever thought critically about anything more complex than which ball cap makes him look least like Fred Durst and who seldom cracks a joke at his own expense–tossing off rape jokes, I don’t get the same level of reflection. He seems either unwilling or unable to make himself the butt of a joke. 

6) A brief tangent: when I was in college, Sacha Baron Cohen released the film Borat. My friends and I all loved the biting satire of Bush-era America, xenophobia, racism, and misogyny that he served up. On our way out of the theatre, though, we overheard a group of guys all excitedly swapping lines from the film unironically. They had taken Cohen’s satirical story at face value and really enjoyed the new set of misogynist and racist put-downs they’d acquired. This led to a long and productive discussion with our most thoughtful professor about the dangers of satire and being taken seriously. Similarly, I’ve heard people–educated people–use CK’s logic from the above clip to justify using the word “faggot” in daily conversation as an insult. It’s really easy for people in a position of privilege–white men most of all–to say and do things that are wildly offensive to marginalized groups because they can’t see the damage they’re doing. This is the problem with wishing gang-rape on an audience member.

I don’t know Daniel Tosh and I likely never will. All I know about him is his public persona which I find smug and grating. Perhaps underneath that he is a lovely and complex human being who would never dream of hurting another person. But he’s got to be aware of his audience. Putting ideas out about rape being funny may seem harmless to him but it justifies and strengthens the marginalization and downplay of rape as a crime. Certain segments of the audience don’t get the joke. Even people who do can eventually become desensitized to it. When you’re famous for saying funny things, there is a certain level of responsibility that you have to make sure your message is clear. Saying outrageous and offensive things can be incredibly funny and effective and it’s not your job to make sure the audience is comfortable 100% of the time. But when you make jokes that can be perceived as actual threats, you’ve crossed the line. That’s Tosh’s crime here. It’s not about his right to deal with a heckler and it’s not about the integrity of a performance or the nature of comedy or anything else. It’s about him contributing to a culture of violence and viciously singling out an audience member with a threat. And if you find that funny, you’ve got bigger problems than a cable TV host’s stand-up act getting pissed on.

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all silence

In an effort to distract myself from something stupid I did recently, I spent the bulk of today’s four-hour drive thinking about one word.  Specifically, I thought about the word “isn’t” in the song “A Little Lost” by Arthur Russell.  I’ll wait while you listen:


I probably fell first for the melody, the minimal arrangement, and the sort of dissonance between the positive, hopeful tone and the absence the narrator is dealing with.  Songs about longing are usually sad (though Björk wrote a notable exception, and I’m sure there are others), but Russell looks past his apprehension about this incipient affair and seems to relish in the insecurity.

Of course I’m only speculating here: this song was first released on a posthumous compilation and Russell only lived to see the limited release of a few full-length albums and various singles, only one of which bore his name.  It’s not even clear that he meant for this song to be released, much less analyzed by some navel-gazer in Tennessee.  Since his death, of course, several compilations and a documentary have been released to acclaim, but there will always be an air of mystery to this man and his work.

It’s that mystery and ones like it that I’m devoting this entry to.*  The verse in question can be heard around the 1:22 mark (punctuation and emphasis mine):

“It’s so unfinished
(our love affair) —
a voice in me
is telling me to
run away.
I hope your feelings isn’t diminished;
I hope you need someone in your life
(someone like me).”

The apparent grammatical error is subtle, perhaps even misheard.  I’m not sure when I noticed it, but it’s become one of my favorite parts of what I consider to be a perfect song.  Russell’s reasons may be simple: “isn’t” might just sound better than the correct “aren’t.”  I like to imagine, though, that he chose to condense the plural, complex, and sometimes conflicting feelings of a new love into the singular and all-consuming.

This got me thinking about other mysteries in pop culture: Why did Richie Tenenbaum say he was going to kill himself tomorrow and then immediately slash his wrists?  What did Tommy Lee Jones’ dream mean and did anyone ever catch Anton Chigurh?  Where did “Someone Great” go?  What is John Ashbury talking about?  What did Bill Murray say to Scarlett Johansson?  Why did J.D. Salinger not publish anything for the last forty-five years of his life?  How did Ted cost $65 million to produce?

If artists want to be heard (or seen, or read, or whatever), should they be heard clearly?

Maybe the word “umbrella” is just satisfying to repeat.  That would certainly make for a less solipsistic post.  It’s a fine line, too — I couldn’t care less about why Jake Gyllenhaal can manipulate time, who the mother is, or what Meat Loaf won’t do.  What makes a pop mystery compelling?  I’m not really sure.  I’m certainly not the first person to say that ambiguity in art allows for the injection of the self.  We like a little mystery because we get to play detective and argue with our friends about what’s in Marcellus Wallace’s briefcase, for example.  Some artists rely on that ambiguity (a few film directors famously won’t record audio commentary) and it’s easy to see why: they feel that their work should speak for itself.

It’s the complete lack of mystery, however, that infuriates me about the work of, say, Dennis Lehane** or M. Night Shyamalan.  Not unlike almost every network procedural, their movies are sealed tight, revealing every character’s motivation and connecting every dot in a way that completely excludes the viewer.  Don’t get me started on prequels: Midichlorians ruined the Force.  Ridley Scott seems intent on ruining the Space Jockey.  Why do some artists insist of imposing one single explanation on what could cause years of over-analysis?

Part of this, I think, is the Internet’s fault.  Anyone who has ever cropped a profile photo or deleted a LiveJournal post knows about curating an online persona.  This might be a stretch, but the connection I’m making is this: the delusion that a Facebook profile can somehow be an accurate (or even ideal or inscrutable) reflection of a whole human being makes us feel that every human action can be explained away.  I’m not innocent here — I’ve shared album streams and raced to be the first to link to breaking news in order to further offer my digital self to 500 some-odd “friends.”  I’ve scrolled through my Wall Timeline, content that friendly passersby would know me within a few clicks.

Before this devolves into that conversation about colors you had in middle school, allow me to point out that Abbas Kiarostami did a much better job of pontificating on the complete and overwhelming unknowability of everyone and everything outside of the self.  I suggest that you watch it soon so we can argue about what it all means.

*In the midst of writing this entry, I discovered that The A.V. Club did something very similar not two months ago, but oh well.  Simpsons did it first.

**I’m referring to the various film adaptations of Lehane’s novels, which I can only assume follow their sources pretty faithfully.

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This morning I watched The Terminator and read something that made me so mad I kind of wished it were a documentary. Now, I should point out that my anger is totally irrational and borderline sociopathic, but certain things really stick in my craw. American Idol, for instance. And this:

If you can’t be bothered to read the article (and I don’t blame you) let me summarize it: All Songs Considered summer intern Emily White has an iTunes library of 11,000 songs though she’s paid for only 15 CD’s in her entire life. I admire her post, though, if only because it is rare for someone not in the employ of Fox News to publicly depict themselves as such an unrepentant shitbag.

We (for better or worse) live in a capitalist society. The rules of that society dictate that you must exchange currency for goods. If you don’t, then you’re a thief. White seems to think the fact that she didn’t illegally download these songs insulates her to some degree from criticism. It doesn’t really matter, though, if she downloaded the music, ripped it from friends’ collections and the radio station she manages, or got it from a magical music unicorn–she benefited from the work of another person without compensating them. And that’s stealing. 

Now, I suppose I’m being too hard on Ms. White–after all, she’s a college senior. When I was her age, my biggest priority was tricking my wealthy roommate into buying a 30 rack of Coors pounders. I understand the budgetary constraints that face college students and it makes sense to save money by not buying physical albums if you don’t have to. And that’s not really my issue with her piece.

What makes me angry about Emily White–and all the people like her–is that she claims to care about something that is actually worthless to her. Look at her opening description of herself: “I’m almost 21 and since I first began to love music I’ve been spoiled by the Internet,” (emphasis mine). A self-described music lover, White later says that she is “an avid music-listener, concert-goer, and college radio DJ. My world is music-centric.” If that’s the case, why does White not find it necessary to compensate artists for making music? 

I concede that artists do benefit from concert attendance and merch buying. Former Camper Van Beethoven leader/current professor David Lowery makes a good point here, though, about why that isn’t enough: (In the interest of fairness, here too is a remarkably eye-opening piece by noted asshole Steve Albini from the 90’s about the flaws of record companies that Lowery seems to be trying so hard to flatter:

Artists make money from fans attending their shows and buying their shirts and posters, yes, but that doesn’t compensate them for the actual artifact that they produce. Unless you exclusively like listening to live music and wearing shirts, your refusal to pay for music does nothing to incentivize its creation. Even the laziest Weird Al parody that gets farted out in 30 seconds deserves SOME compensation. 

Claiming that you love something doesn’t mean you actually love it. Lots of people claim to love things because it makes them seem smarter or more worldly (I, for instance, claim to love L’Avventura, which I’ve never seen, when my favorite movie is actually Red Dawn). But I think that White actually is a music lover. She just does very little to support the thing she claims to love. 

On one level, this is emblematic of a huge problem with current society: we have little interest in making the arts a lucrative enterprise. It is monumentally difficult for any type of artist to make a living income solely by practicing their art. In spite of the fact that most people would say that, after spending time with other humans and drinking, art is the most meaningful thing in their lives (including television and movies) there is no economic reason to go into the arts. Only a fraction of the number of poets, novelists, actors, directors, guitarists, comedians, drummers, sculptors, painters, et cetera who go into the field will ever be able to support themselves with their art. As things stand now, only the children of the super-rich and people who are willing to live in hovels and eat grass soup stand to make it as artists.

Musicians are more vulnerable than other artists to this paradigm. Publishing companies still control the distribution of literature, movie studios and theatres produce films and plays, visual artists use galleries, museums, and fairs to disseminate their works. Music, however, is much more susceptible to piracy. Especially now, in the digital age, it is possible to be a “music lover” and never have to exchange a single cent to access hundreds of thousands of songs.

When a person like Emily White claims–remorselessly–on NPR that music has played a huge part in her life and she has obtained most of this music for free, it’s a giant middle finger in the face of all those musicians. What about the bands whose catalogues fill her iPod whom she has never seen live? And what about bands who don’t tour? Fuck those guys, I guess. One would believe that if music really played such a big role in Emily White’s life, she would be willing to OCCASIONALLY exchange some money for it.

I’m not interested in getting into a debate here about capitalism (which is a fucking scam and a half and SUCKS) or the virtues of the music industry (which is two scams). My problem is this: I consider myself a music lover. I read 20-30 pages of music journalism a day. I am constantly seeking out new bands and going to shows (EVEN ON SCHOOL NIGHTS YOU GUYS). And I buy CD’s AT LEAST once a month and usually more. It’s only fair that if I want a band’s product, I shell out for it. That’s the world we live in. And it’s not a perfect one, but it’s all we’ve got for now.

White spends some time complaining about the current system of music distribution without offering any alternatives, claiming “…I honestly don’t think my peers and I will ever pay for albums.” Well, why not? Because you’re cheap? Because you’re thieves and liars? Because you actually don’t care about music as much as you think you do? She the envisions some worldwide Spotify-esque database where artists can upload music and fans can access it on any device (if you’re bleeding from your nose now, just wait). She closes by saying (and this is fucking amazing): “All I require is the ability to listen to what I want, when I want and how I want it. Is that too much to ask?” YES THAT IS TOO MUCH TO ASK! “All I want is the ability to access 100% of humanity’s musical recordings anywhere at any time on a whim whenever any mood strikes me, an ability that has never been available to any previous people and requires zero effort on my part at all.” Can you not meet the bands or the labels half-fucking-way? You want us to invent a worldwide cloud for ALL MUSIC so that you can stream “Holocene” via iPhone whether you’re on the quad, hiking in Tibet, or taking a runny dump in the library??? Fuck me.

Emily White’s problem isn’t that she’s selfish. I’ve never met her and likely never will so I can’t say. That last line certainly makes it seem like the case, though. I just think she’s grown up in a world where certain things (arts) were assumed to have no value and she’s internalized that belief, even though she intellectually knows it to be wrong. As someone who 1) loves music and 2) works in the arts, I find it incredibly distressing that a well-educated young woman who works for one of the biggest proponents of culture in America could espouse these beliefs with so little remorse and with no suggestion for ways to improve the situation. 

I’m not saying Emily White has to fix the problem that Napster started. And I’m sure she’s a charming young woman who really does love music (and likely most of the same bands that I do). What I’m saying is that WORDS MEAN THINGS and if you want to claim that you love something, you had better stand behind it. In the (vaguely shitty, often stupid) world we live in, that means compensating people for their efforts. Psychopaths…oh, sorry…people who truly love capitalism often note that the market is beautifully democratic because it allows people to “vote” for the best goods and services with their dollars. Until we get rid of it (which could be any day now, the way things are going), the Emily Whites of the world need to put their money where their mouth is. 


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