Friday, September 5, 2008

The Twilight of an Era

Update. I will be taking some time off from posting – just for a week or two, depending on how relaxed I’m allowed to get – and when I return, my schedule is going to dramatically change. What this means is: I’m not sure what the future holds here at (B)HA(B)F, but you can bet it will be full of unsolicited commentary, timely or not…

Before I go, I wanted to leave you with some good stuff to ponder, but I couldn’t think of anything. So here’s some other stuff to check out:

Rhyme Culture links to a sizable collection of photographs from Iraq. Scary place, intense photography.

The Cool Hunter turned me on to the new RV scene. Forget the Winnebago, check out this thing. Remember, it’s not just a hobby – it’s a lifestyle. If I could only afford the gas…

If you need another reason to laugh at Britney Spears, here is a video of a typical Brit performance. Note: the only audio you will hear is coming directly from her microphone. Consider yourself warned. Thanks to Ladies Love Matt E for the link.

I guess Taipei is the new Tokyo, at least that’s what I gather from reading Transmissions from Wintermute. They do some entertaining blogging from Taiwan. Awhile back, they posted about an all girl band called GoChic!. I had to copy and paste their bio:

Biology: this is go chic (caution!! we're electro-hyphy-chiks hybridized punk-blues-rock psycho-fatherfuckeeeeeers, jump yr feeeets uppppp!!! or we'r gonna ATTACK u!)

I wish jazz bios were more like this.

And now for some bloggy ranting. I find it so cleansing. This time, the target is one of my favorites – to bash. He is a musician so overrated I feel compelled to call attention to any wrongdoing I can. Yes, his career has been long and he has won countless accolades from folks with dubious taste… Sorry, I don’t mean to be off-putting, but I’m talking about Eric Clapton. I really can’t stand his music. I don’t personally know the man, but apparently he’s racist, or was back in the seventies.

I can’t begin to cover whole story, though it’s very interesting. By all means, check out the full narrative. My purpose here to simply pile on the man responsible for so much adult contemporary garbage. And I’ve found a good one.

Here is a direct quote from a 1976 concert where we find Mr. Clapton expressing support for Enoch Powell, who was running for Prime Minister at the time:

“ I think we should send them all back. Stop Britain from becoming a black colony. Get the foreigners out. Get the wogs out. Get the coons out. Keep Britain white. I used to be into dope, now I'm into racism. It's much heavier, man. Fucking wogs, man. Fucking Saudis taking over London. Bastard wogs. Vote for Enoch, he's our man, he's on our side, he'll look after us. I want all of you here to vote for Enoch, support him, he's on our side. Enoch for Prime Minister! Throw the wogs out! Keep Britain white!"

I bet that was a fun concert, huh?

Speaking of politics - which I try not to do much of on this blog. But I can’t help it, I’ve been keeping up on things with Darcy James Argue – have you seen the footage from outside the Republican National Convention? Check out this, this and this. Two words: Police State. One more reason why they’re already calling this the “Post-American Era.”

Now that I’ve got that out of my system, I can’t leave you with all this negativity, can I? That’s not how I want to be remembered over the break. So in the interest of goodwill and fellowship, I’m ending this post with a video certain to bring a smile to even the most heartless of bastards. It’s dedicated to the Republican Party. Enjoy…

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Authenticity for Sale, Part 2

Running the Voodoo Down linked to a recent article in the NY Times discussing the resurgence (again) of vinyl LPs. For all you youngsters, LP stands for LONG PLAYING, as opposed to EP which means EXTENDED PLAYING as opposed to a SINGLE which is… never mind.

It seems that in the ongoing quest for individuality, some have discovered that records are a cool way to say Look at me, I’m unique! While I agree that records are cool, this dependence on stuff for distinctiveness is not. If you’ve read some recent posts, you’d know that this kind of thinking really bothers me. Consumerism should not be a requisite of the counterculture (or any culture).Weren’t we supposed to be getting away from all of this? Haven’t we already agreed that rampant capitalistic behavior, if unchecked, is not healthy? Like, in a planetary sense?

Besides, it’s just so corny. All these quotes are straight from the article:

…As soon as she opened her door his instincts were confirmed: she had a turntable. So did he. They both spoke the language of vinyl… There was this immediate mutual acknowledgment, like “we both totally understood what we define ourselves by (Honestly, if you heard someone talking like this, would you be able to keep a straight face?)

Remember, its all about money. Do not think for a second that this “resurgence” is some precious underground movement…

“Even if the industry doesn’t do all that well going forward, we could really carve this out to be a nice profitable niche,” said Bill Gagnon, a senior vice president at EMI Catalog Marketing, who is in charge of vinyl releases. He said that people who buy vinyl nowadays are charmed by the format’s earthy authenticity. “It’s almost a back-to-nature approach,” Mr. Gagnon said. “It’s the difference between growing your own vegetables and purchasing them frozen in the supermarket.(Whaaa?)

If you’re looking for a conspicuous way to advertise your connoisseur status, I guess vinyl is the new Pabst. Just like the guy says:

When I can have all the music in the world in the palm of my hand, what does it say about me that I spend $15 to $20 for this format that is a pain to store and move and is easily damaged?

Let me take a stab at this. What it says, to me at least, is that we are on the eve of the apocalypse and your place in heaven will entirely depend on how you spent all your monopoly money.

Here’s a much more productive use of your time. This link will take you to a nice blog where you can learn how to:

- record vinyl to digital

- make glasses from old records

- clone a vinyl record

- Make your own vinyl record

I’m not going to get all preachy (too late?) and sum up this post with a plea for common sense or self reliance. Do what you want, by all means. But if you happen to appear in newspaper articles talking about how you attribute your identity to a fucking consumer product, you can expect at least a little bit of backlash. Peace.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Coordination Daddy

Here at (B)HA(B)F, we get tired of simply blogging. Sometimes we even start to feel like we’re a legitimate publication(?!) with a responsibility to provide original content for our loyal readers. It’s a rare feeling, but nonetheless…

On that note, we would like to welcome you to a brand new series tentatively titled: Interviews With Extremely Interesting and Talented People.

Since this is primarily a blog about music, most interviews will be with… yep, musicians. However, we reserve the right to interview anyone we think is particularly interesting. Maybe even you*.

Extremely Interesting and Talented Person #1: FRANK DUFAY

Who? You mean you don’t know Frank Dufay? Sadly, you are not alone - which is one reason why we started this series. It could also be titled: Great Artists That You’ve Probably Never Heard Of. However, that would go against the optimism that we’re currently channeling. As long as there are people with taste, there will be an audience for artists with something to share… like Frank.

Frank Dufay is best known for being the one man band – known simply as FRANK - that outdoes all other one man bands. Incorporating a full drum kit, keyboards, effects and vocals, a FRANK performance is something to see. His compositions - which are played live with no sampling or pre-recorded tracks – go beyond the spectacle of his unique talent and attest to some serious songwriting chops.

Of course, it is the guy-who-plays-everything hook that tends to garner the most press. But even a brief exploration into his work will reveal much more than an ambidextrous wunderkind. The beauty of FRANK lies in his ability to fuse some pretty heady musical ideas with clever and accessible pop music.

FRANK was gracious enough wax poetic on topics that the readers of (B)HA(B)F want to know about. We sent him some open ended questions, hoping he would run with them. Luckily, he did.


(B)HA(B)F: As a one man project, you have a unique perspective on the process of musical creation. I’m not referring to songwriting so much as actually putting a group together. As someone who has performed with a group and is now doing it all themselves, explain what led you to eschew the traditional “rock band” approach.

FRANK: I'm a one-person band 'cause I wasn't able to find the right partners - conflicts of commitment, skill, temperament or musical preferences. Finding good co-musicians is like finding a good girlfriend, it's hard and rare. After a couple years of Craigslist, hooking up with friends, starting bands 'cause it was better that nothing . . . I just got tired of waiting to get going. I finally got selfish and driven and desperate enough to try and do it myself.

(B)HA(B)F: Were there unexpected benefits and/or obstacles in going completely solo?

The benefits are easy - commitment, musical compatibility, skills - that was all me . . . I don't get mad at myself for not showing up to practice. But the disadvantage is that there's no one else to bounce off of, to give feedback and stuff. I miss the cooperative nature of writing in a band - though it's only worth it if it's with the right people, which was the problem in the first place.

(B)HA(B)F: Part of your uniqueness comes from the fact that you purposely do not use any sampled or recorded parts when performing. Although this has become commonplace for many, you have always held this “no sampling” as a standard. Is this something that will always be part of FRANK? Could there be a time when you incorporate the technology - to explore different ideas?

FRANK: My band, FRANK, will probably always be live, but that doesn't mean that I, Frank Dufay, won't do other projects. I love jamming and playing and doing new things with different people and always try to branch out. But, FRANK is around to better my writing and playing and maybe make a living. It'll be live - the goal is to make it good.

(B)HA(B)F: Recently on his blog, David Byrne railed against the tendency for contemporary composers to make music that is purposely difficult, that alienates as much as it entertains. As someone who has studied composition but who also has their feet firmly planted in popular music, how do you see the relationship between artist and listener as it stands today?

FRANK: All music is difficult for someone. I think the real difficulty lies in making difficult music fun. Hard music has it's place in the world. It challenges and pushes boundaries. That doesn't mean I like all of it, but like is a relative word. In my earlier years, I would dismiss music I felt was technically inferior. What I came to realize is it's the creativity that I value. I can freely dislike or like simple and difficult music for the same and different reasons - it's about context and sincerity.

There are tons of bands and artists who distinguish themselves through class, be it the snooty composer that refuses to have a beat, or the snooty rocker that refuses to play in 5/4 time. It's all a lack of creativity and effort in my opinion - which is fine, it's just not my thing. As for the relationship between artist and listener, music doesn't have to be liked to be good, and just because music is liked doesn't make it good. It's all relative.

(B)HA(B)F: How has [the artist/audience relationship] changed since you started playing and where do you see it headed?

FRANK: I don't think it has changed - that's part of the problem. I have seen many, many shows that are serious or arty or whatever that are just boring . . . masturbating is fun, but that doesn't mean I want to watch someone else masturbate. A lot of difficult music I've heard is stuff I'd enjoy writing or playing, preferably inebriated, but wouldn't necessarily want to present to the world, or pay money or time to hear.

(B)HA(B)F: An LA Times music writer wrote “There are no more genres… it’s all just music now . . .” Your influences span the musical spectrum, where do you see yourself fitting in the modern musical landscape? Are there other composers/performers out there whom you identify with?

FRANK: I'd love to compare myself to Igor Stravinsky, Brian Eno, Sly Stone, Frank Zappa, the Beatles - or tons of other music - but I'm not really making the kind of music they made. I've asked lots of people to describe my music, and haven't gotten any consistent answers - makes it hard when someone asks me what my music sounds like.

I've never been very good with genres - I usually don't know what they mean. I tend to ask the instrumentation and the time period to get a sense of what the music might sound like. I'd rather just hear the music, which is pretty easy now thanks to the web.

Basically, I don't really know how to place my music in the landscape.

(B)HA(B)F: Not too long ago you moved from Portland, OR to the Bay Area. Both places are currently known as creative hot spots. From your perspective, how are these respective scenes similar or different? Are the environments as vibrant and supportive as they are made out to be? Is there anything that you'd like to see change?

FRANK: For music . . .The Bay sucks. Portland is less sucky. That's my flippant response, but I'll go into more detail . . . First off, the people here are great - nice, sincere, open, caring. Everyone I've met has been very kind and inviting, and I really appreciate that - really. But for the music scene . . .

I haven't found a lot of good music in the Bay - not that it's not there, I just can't find it. In Portland, both Willamette Week and the Mercury have lots of paragraph-long descriptions of bands playing each night of the week, and they're mostly local bands. Here in the Bay, there're as many reviews a week as there are a day in Portland, and they're mostly national or international groups. The Bay papers will list all the bands, but It's up to me to Google the names to know if it's something I'd be interested in. A little frustrating when you're trying to find some good music to see tomorrow night.

There just aren't enough clubs, and there's no easy way to find local bands. I attribute some of this to the high cost of living, and most of the rest to the little information available for people who want to hear music. Of course, I've been here less than a year, whereas I spent my whole life in Portland, so I need more time for a better perspective.

(B)HA(B)F: Hypothetical question: You are on a desert island and you are allowed only five records. What would they be?

FRANK: Well, that depends - do I get a record player, an amp and speakers, too? If I had all that stuff, I'd probably be more interested in trying to use it to get off the island so I can listen to more than five albums for the rest of my life. If that didn't work, I'd still rather record my own stuff - to leave what little trace I could of my existence and sensibilities.

Anyway . . . my five favorite albums . . . that's a hard one. I guess I'd have to pick Brian Eno's Taking Tiger Mountain or Here Come the Warm Jets, Frank Zappa's We're Only In It for the Money or almost any Zappa album, Igor Stravinsky's Soldier's Tale and Rites of Spring - in a double album, so that only counts as one, the Beatles' Revolver or Magical Mystery Tour or Sgt. Peppers, Sly Stone's Life (’95 edition with the song Only One Way Out of This Mess) or Fresh or Small Talk, plus Frankenchrist by the Dead Kennedys. I guess there's more than five there, but it's kind of like asking a parent which child to sacrifice - pretty tough choice.

So there you have it. For more information on FRANK, check out his site and Myspace page. And if you’re in the Bay Area, be sure to catch him in person at the Ivy Room (Albany, CA) on September 8th and at the Mama Buzz Café (Oakland) on September 16th. Thanks Frank!

*PS – we weren’t kidding. If you think that you are extremely interesting and talented, send us an email, if we agree – you’re in!

Monday, August 25, 2008

What Is The Mark Of Greatness?

And what exactly does he look like?

Last week’s hipster post sparked off some interesting debate – similar conversation is still happening at the original ADBUSTERS post – and I wanted to use this opportunity to segue into another loosely related topic. While compiling my “research” for said post, I read another contemptuous denunciation of hipster culture - this time in Time Out New York, by Christian Lorentzen, titled “Why The Hipster Must Die.”

Let’s try to get off the subject of hipsters for a bit. Although the article is doggedly focused on the topic, he manages to mix in this zine [specializing in hipster-type stuff] critique:

The Believer lavishes its literary and pop-culture idols with a uniform layer of affection that renders it near impossible to distinguish the great from the mediocre. This aesthetic of relativism grants everybody an A for effort and allows anyone projecting the image of an artist to conceive of himself as such.”

If you ask me, it’s a clean and solid blow. His assessment of The Believer might be apt - I wouldn’t know, I haven’t explored the site yet - but I’d apply his critique in a larger perspective. The way I see it, the whole “A for effort” doctrine has distilled much of the current cultural crop - migrating out of nursery schools and pee-wee soccer fields to become the mantra of a generation.

While this is great for those with low self esteem, what does it mean to the critics of the world? I’m only half-kidding... It seems we live in a time where rambunctious self expression is welcomed by all would be trend-setters (and followers) as an adolescent rite of passage. Rock and roll camps for kids, anyone? How punk rock is that?

This support for creative output, no matter what the quality, has got to be a direct response to the lack of arts education in public schools. That’s my best guess. And at its core, I would agree that it’s a good thing. However, every coin has a flipside and in this case, side B is just a bunch of filler.

I have a theory that this blind acceptance of amateurism (musically speaking, anyway) is the inevitable evolution of Punk Rock. On an old blog, I wrote an essay titled: The Unspoken Influence of Punk Rock: The Hacker Years. The basic premise: One thing that made Punk exciting was the idea that anyone with the will could do it - three chords and the truth, etc. Almost thirty years later, the bar for even the most rudimentary skills has dropped pretty low. The rule today seems to be that it’s the self-expression that has value, not the actual craft. It’s kind of reminiscent of the abstract expressionalism argument, now that I think about it…

(On a completely side note: two funny books that play on the abstract expressionalism debate – Tom Wolfe’s The Painted Word and Kurt Vonnegut’s Bluebeard. Good stuff.)

So what is the critic to do? And by critic I mean anyone with tastes that don’t mirror popular culture (or ALT culture for that matter). If you read Portland’s local weekly papers, you’ll see that critical evaluation has largely given way to a more syrupy and caffeinated form of hype. This manufactured excitement has the ability to instantly legitimize any artifact, no matter what the dimensions or quality. This legitimization strengthens with each subsequent blog post, Myspace hit and party pic. The mediocrity becomes transparent when shared across the spectrum - since all compatriots are fashioned from the same cloth.

Lorentzen is not impressed. He does not find the nurturing of adolescent creativity a valid artistic genre. He takes a stand against the “A for effort” artistes and their calls to arms. He writes:

“…It proliferates as a social plague among hipsters who invite their entire address book to readings, shows and art openings. The e-mails arrive, and though it is known in advance that the art will be nothing much, the trek is [hopefully] made. The avant-garde illusion ultimately sustains itself on free beer.”

I remember reading one of our weekies’ recap of the 2008 PDX Pop Now! Festival where the author, after surviving a week’s worth of original bands du jour, and upon hearing the final act (whose name I can’t remember) who apparently could play their instruments quite well, felt compelled to remark: “Wow… and they were like, real musicians!”

Wow, indeed.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Always bet on the Underdog

Via National Public Radio:

Considered to be Charles Mingus’ Magnum Opus, Epitaph is a difficult piece of music. Composed for a 31-piece jazz orchestra, it is somewhat infamous for having an incredibly monstrous score - four feet high and 4,235 measures long – and was discovered in Mingus’ closet 10 years after his death (1979).

The only performance of the piece during Mingus’ lifetime was, by most accounts “ a travesty.”

Conductor Gunther Schuller:

"There's this famous, legendary disastrous concert and recording session in Town Hall [in New York], where I happened to be present, And it was one of the most chaotic and frustrating and disastrous concerts that anybody has ever heard, because the music was so difficult and so strange. He hadn't had a chance to rehearse it properly and the copyists were, indeed, even still copying some of the music –- it wasn't even fully ready. And so the musicians couldn't handle it, and so eventually the concert was aborted…”

Apparently Mingus was so distraught from the experience that never visited the score again in his lifetime.

It’s been revisited a few times since its resurrection in 1989. They’ve even added an ending. Listen to the July 24, 2008 performance of Epitaph at the Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducted by Gunther Schuller.

Also, read Beneath the Underdog, if you haven’t already.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Quest for Aesthetic Authenticity

It started with a clever, if depressing ADBUSTERS article by Douglas Haddow entitled Hipster: The Dead End of Western Civilization. I don’t need to summarize, the title spells it out well enough. Read through the article and you will be treated to a particularly scathing denunciation of this current pop culture phenomenon. Haddow provides many tasty and well aimed quotes like:

…We’ve reached a point in our civilization where counterculture has mutated into a self-obsessed aesthetic vacuum…


…While previous youth movements have challenged the dysfunction and decadence of their elders, today we have (a) youth subculture that mirrors the doomed shallowness of mainstream society…


…the youth of the West are left with consuming cool rather that creating it… We are a lost generation, desperately clinging to anything that feels real, but too afraid to become it ourselves. We are a defeated generation, resigned to the hypocrisy of those before us, who once sang songs of rebellion and now sell them back to us…

Whoa. Pretty harsh, no? As much as I enjoyed the author’s analysis, I can’t help but note that this condemnation is awfully reminiscent of previous youth culture critiques. After all, Punk wasn’t heralded by anyone outside the few who actually “got it” back in the seventies. And at it’s inception, it certainly wasn’t a “movement.” More like an anti-culture, if you’ll indulge my turn of phrase. It’s only through hind sight that Punk’s angry rebellion is now regarded as having significant cultural value.

But that’s not my point…

Aside from the wanton shelling of hipsters, what I found most interesting was the suggestion that this particular youth “movement” added up to nothing more than a consumer trend – one that has little to do with anything truly cultural or rebellious. To quote Haddow:

…Hipsterdom is the first “counterculture” to be born under the advertising industry’s microscope, leaving it open to constant manipulation but also forcing its participants to continually shift their interests and affiliations. Less a subculture, the hipster is a consumer group – using their capital to purchase empty authenticity and rebellion…

It always comes back to money, don’t it? Has it always been like this? Sadly, yes. However, the scale does seem to be unprecedented.

But don’t stop yet, there’s more…

What really made me pause – in a related blog post titled: Cheap Beer. Why Do Hipsters Drink PBR?” - was the story of how a good old fashioned corporate façade (Pabst Blue Ribbon beer) managed, literally without any effort on their part, to become the de facto symbol of today’s youth counterculture. I know, I know, its too ironic to be true. Yet…

Did you know that Pabst (and parent company) has severed all ties to its Milwaukee heritage? The only thing linking it to the former brewing capital is a P.O. box address. Did you know that years ago, it completely eliminated its blue collar work force and outsourced all production (of Pabst and 29 other brands including Schlitz, Carling Black Label, Falstaff, Olympia, Stroh’s, Lone Star, Rainier, Old Style, Colt 45, St. Ides and Old Milwaukee) to another corporation based in South Africa? In addition to staff involved in the battle over the denied retirement benefits of former employees, Pabst is now just a company full of salesmen. In the post, Dennis E. Garrett, a marketing professor at Marquette University (in Milwaukee, Wisconsin) is quoted:

“…PBR’s blue-collar, honest-workingman, vaguely anti-capitalist image-image attached to it by consumers-is a sham. You really couldn’t do much worse in picking a symbol of resistance to phony branding.”

I’ve heard it said, not sure if it’s true, that my city, Portland, Oregon consumes more Pabst Blue Ribbon per capita than anywhere. Go figure. I find the beer too sweet, myself. But the point is…

…What was the point? I don’t even remember. Maybe, the point is that it’s waaay too easy to make fun of hipsters - no one would dare consider themselves one anyway. Maybe, its that all this “corporate vs. authenticity” bullshit is our own damn fault because we place too much importance on things that speak to who we are as individuals - but in the end is only stuff. Everything is for sale and only has value if value is attached to it. My Converse All-Stars are now made by Nike. My Pabst is now no different than Budweiser… What can I buy that is authentic anymore?

Maybe, we have all become too individually focused.

If everyone has their “own personal brand” that defines “who I am” by saying “this is me, I’m unique” then we’re all going to be uniquely similar in our parallel quests for individuality. Along the way, we’re going to end up doing some questionable things… Like drink Pabst because we think it’s blue collar and anti-corporate.

We could end up going a step further and start believing all the things that get posted online, accepting every entry (including this one) as valid and meaningful.... Or, we could post every hope, fear, dream, nightmare, exploit (and rant), every minute of the day - putting our psyches on display in a raw attempt at cultivating some sort of celebrity (who me?)…. Maybe, we will someday allow our whims to dictate what holds value and let our over stimulated and underdeveloped impulses take charge in the name of self expression and aesthetic originality, doing things…that really don't…make…sense…at all… even shooting ourselves in our proverbial feet (or worse) because everything cool has already been done…and just not authentic enough

Hello, in case you’ve just joined us, this is me ranting. It was just a (clever, if depressing) article in ADBUSTERS…

Monday, August 18, 2008

I Heart L-A-S-W-E-L-L

…I came across another old interview (isn’t the internet just wonderful?). This time with one of my all time heroes: Mr. Bill Laswell. Possibly the most productive artist EVER, Laswell is simply a machine. He has a very unique take on things. Check it out:

Interviewer: You’re probably the most prolific musician on the face of the Earth. It’s rare for a week to go by without at least one new Laswell-related album coming out. What motivates you to maintain this pace and output?

BL: It's responsibility really. A lot of it has to do with commitment. A lot of it has to do with the responsibility of helping people resolve or realize something. There's a part of it that's me just trying to get it done because I have that commitment. And certain times there's money involved. I have an overhead, so I have to create projects. The only way I make money is by making records. I'm not from a family of money. No-one's given me anything. I have to pay people, so I have to produce. I have to make records. That’s combined with helping people who realize they’re in trouble—you know, somebody from somewhere needs a record deal so they can have a family, so they can have a life. That's all part of it. So, we just keep pounding away to get everybody in place, including myself. It's not that I’m obsessed with an overabundance of activity. It's all just responsibility and commitment to staying alive—to keeping everything in place, not just for myself, but for a great deal of people. So, when people review things, they may not be talking about an artist who sat down and figured out something and said "This is my goal. This is what I want to do and I’m trying to impress somebody." It might be reviewing somebody who’s trying to save somebody’s life. So, good or bad, it means absolutely nothing compared to life. You’re just trying to help.

How about that?