Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Alien Hexagon On Saturn; President Bush Oddly Silent

A hexagon has been discovered on Saturn’s north pole. The nutcases will have a field day with this one.


Dismuke said...

Elvis put it there. It even has a visitors' center where they serve deep fat fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches in the snack bar. I don't think he spends all of his time there, however. Just last week, he and JFK along with Marilyn Monroe and Vince Foster were all spotted together in the snack food aisle of a Piggly Wiggly< just outside of Memphis. I know it is true: the Weekly World News that I read while standing in line at my local supermarket said so.

Myrhaf said...

But were Jim Morrison and Andy Kaufmann there?

Dismuke said...

" But were Jim Morrison and Andy Kaufmann there?

Actually, I had to google the names to know who either of them were. But, then again, I almost never watch TV the closer one gets to the present from about 1942 or so, the more utterly ignorant and clueless I am about pop culture stuff.

Harry Houdini, Rudolf Valentino, Russ Columbo and President McKinley had the opportunity to join them - but I suspect that they consider Elvis and JFK to be rather low class. And, from what I read of Morrison in the google search, it sounds like even Elvis was too classy for him.

Myrhaf said...

You had to google Jim Morrison? As one who works with Classic Rock radio stations every week, that amazes me. But I certainly don't think less of you. 100 years from now rock will be nothing but a cultural joke when people talk about America's dark age. You might live in the past aesthetically, but really you're the future.

Dismuke said...

" You had to google Jim Morrison? As one who works with Classic Rock radio stations every week, that amazes me."

His is one I never had heard of before. The name of whatever group the article said he was associated with was one I had heard mentioned before - but I sure wouldn't be able to associate the group's name with any of its "music." I do my best to avoid placing my situations where I am going to be exposed to such stuff - and when it is unavoidable, hopefully it is not played too loud so I can at least try to tune it out as best as possible.

My other problem with things like that is I don't follow sports either. And I stopped watching television pretty much around the time that Falcon Crest and Dynasty went off the air which was years ago. So I don't know the names of TV stars either. Plus I have pretty much stopped going to movies as well and the only time I will go to any effort to watch a modern one on DVD is if it is HIGHLY recommended by someone whose tastes I trust. I have a nice pile of VHS and DVDs of pre 1940 movies at home that are on my list to watch when I have time - and my odds of not being disgusted by one of them are much greater than with a modern movie.

So, for that reason, I very often have no idea who famous people are. And very often I will recognize the name from having heard people mention it but have utterly no idea what they did to become famous.

Remember when they talked about it being impossible to find a perfect OJ juror because he was so famous? I would have been that perfect juror. My only previous knowledge of him was from television commercials for orange juice or something.

Remember when it was announced that Magic Johnson had AIDS? Someone at work told me about it when it happened and my reaction was "Magic Johnson? I have heard that name before. Is he a rock star or something?" The person who told me was in shock and could not believe I did not know who he was. I basically had to keep guessing - was he a Dallas Cowboy? A Dallas Maverick? Of course, I know why he was famous now.

And the only reason I knew who Anna Nicole Smith was when she died was because, a few years ago, I kept hearing her name and finally googled it to see who the heck she was and why she was well-known.

Just compare the celebrities of 70 plus years ago with the ones today in terms of their demeanor and how they presented themselves. In the 1930s had style, class, grandeur, glamour. Think Fred Astair. Think Garbo. Think Franchot Tone or Joan Crawford or Jeanette MacDonald - or anyone who was big in Hollywood at the time. Regardless of whatever messes their personal lives might have been, their public persona was that of someone of STATURE. Compare that with the big name celebrities of today. We are lucky if they come across as merely being grown ups or civilized - and even that is becoming increasingly rare.

The only modern celebrity I follow at all is Rush Limbaugh - I think his sense of humor is wonderful. There are times when he gets on certain topics that I simply have to turn the radio off. Despite whatever disagreements I may have with him, he has a lot of very admirable characteristics.

On the other hand, how many people today recognize the names Annette Hanshaw, Ruth Etting, Ben Bernie or Don Redman?

"You might live in the past aesthetically, but really you're the future.

I sure hope so - that is if there is to be a future worth living. A world without decent music and decent art would be pretty bleak indeed

Billy Beck said...

myrhaf: History is never going to get over Jimi Hendrix, if only for technical reasons.

And I think that Eric Clapton will do far better than "100 years", for reasons of cultural re-pollination from America to Britain and back to America.

I never did take up your arguments on the nature of rock music, and it's something that I still think about from time to time. For the moment, I'll just state my opinion that your attitude is getting in the way of clear judgment, and nut-shell the thing like this:

If what you say about rock music is true, then it never could have produced something like "Layla", not to mention "Roundabout" or "The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway".

Here's a question: what do you make of the prospects for jazz in future historical estimations?

Myrhaf said...

I think jazz will survive. The music of the '20s and '30s that Dismuke loves is jazz. I don't think the more melodyless jazz of be-bop, such artists as Eric Dolphy, will fare as well.

Of course, we're speculating about the future, and no one has a crystal ball.

My point about rock and backbeat is that it is hard for us to get perspective on it because we have grown up with it and it is everywhere like the air we breathe.

I was listening to "Somebody to Love" by Queen a while back and it struck me how oppressive and heavy handed the drumming typically is in rock. The song is a ballad, and there was that boom-THWACK-boom-THWACK playing throughout. I speculate that at some point in the future, when backbeat is no longer the cultural norm, people will listen to old rock recordings and find them in bad taste. They will recoil in disgust at the beat.

Billy Beck said...

"My point about rock and backbeat is that it is hard for us to get perspective on it because we have grown up with it and it is everywhere like the air we breathe."

I think the discussion quickly founders on the shoals of definition.

If we're going to stand on "backbeat", then a great deal of what I still call "rock music" is excused from the indictment. I could not list here all the songs with multiple time signatures -- or even all the groups whose whole styles -- are marked that way.

Even so: let future generations think, say, Chuck Berry a joke. They will have missed the party, but I didn't.

"I know: it's only rock & roll, but I like it."

Myrhaf said...

I like rock, too. As a rock guitarist who used to own a pre-CBS Strat (that I sold for peanuts during hard times, alas), the beefy sound of Hendrix's strat sends me. Like you, I have broad musical tastes. I can listen to Verdi or Chuck Berry, Louis Armstrong or Led Zeppelin. I even like Gwen Stefani.

Music tastes can change over eras. Medieval listeners used to Gregorian chants would not have understood Bach. 18th century classical listeners would have found Beethoven harsh and strange, and so on. Tastes will change again, on that we can be certain. Neil Young sang, "Rock'n'Roll can never die." The evidence of history alone would make me disagree.

Billy Beck said...

Not to harp or anything, but here's another thought (well, two, actually) --

*** If future cultural juries condemn rock music and give items like Glenn Miller's arrangement of "Little Brown Jug" or Ella's "A-Tisket, A-Tasket" a pass, then I say, "Who needs' em, anyway?"

My point is that there is a hell of a lot of room to talk about "jokes" in American 20th Century popular music.

*** The "backbeat" in popular music, goes way beyond rock, which is certainly not its origin. It's just a mathematical artifact, although unquestionably an element of distinctive styles. My point, however, is that if that's a principal point in the indictment, then a lot of characters outside rock music will ride the tumbril, too.

Sorry to hear about the Strat. Jeez. It's a common tale, although nonetheless sad.

On styles: no dispute. However, all that means to me is that we're having an argument with a hypothetical future, at the end of which everybody gets to stand back and say, "Well, that's what you think, and you get to listen to what you want and so do I." IOW: there's just no accounting for some peoples' tastes.

And even if things go out of style, they often return. No question: people will slag rock music. It is also unquestionable to me that it will remain prominent in history for people to do that, or hail its revival. But I'm with Neil: it's never going to go away.

Listen: don't you have lines to work up or something? Get the hell out of here, man.

Billy Beck said...

I should have hastened to add, "Break a leg!"

Here it is, better late than never, I hope.

Dismuke said...

Gee - there are more interesting points here than I have time to respond to.

"However, all that means to me is that we're having an argument with a hypothetical future,

Indeed. And one has to keep in mind that none of us has any idea of the context that future generations will have when they approach the music of the past. And the different contexts of different generations will play a very important role in how the aesthetics of the past are viewed.

A good example for illustrating this point is the music of the 1920s. For many decades, interest in the music of that decade was all but dead. Until the Internet and stations such as Radio Dismuke came along, there were very few places one could tune in and hear it outside of New York City where Rich Conaty has been playing it on his weekly program for over 30 years. Unlike the so-called "oldies" that people today listen to, interest in 1920s music pretty much ended with that decade.

Radio Dismuke focuses primarily on music from 1925 (the advent of microphone and electric recording) to 1935 (the year that "swing" music took over and the so-called "big band era" began). People today look back those years and regard it as a unique era and sometimes refer to it as "The Jazz Age."

At the time, however, the perception was very different. In 1935, recordings from the mid 1920s were considered to be hopelessly old fashioned and out of date. Certain songs survived and continued to be performed - but they were performed in a very different and "updated" style.

People in the 1930s and 1940s generally held a negative view of the 1920s - and this even included many who had come of age in the '20s. People who were dealing with the hardships of the Depression and World War II looked back on the decade as a time of a shallow, giddy, juvenile sort of frivolity - a world at odds with the sort of hard knocks and serious reality that they were having to deal with. And then came the 1950s when anything that was considered "old" was looked down upon as inferior. There are countless pre 1930s buildings in downtowns all over the country where once beautiful and breathtakingly lavish interiors were gutted in favor of drop ceilings, florescent lights and blank walls painted in garish colors and beautiful facades of incredible craftsmanship were covered over with bland and ugly aluminum panels in an attempt to make everything look "new." It didn't matter if "new" meant butt ugly - it was new and that is all that counted. Look at photos of any big city skyline in 1932 and again in 1952 and with very rare exception they will look almost identical. Because of the Depression, the war and post war shortages that lasted several years, people in the early 1950s were still living in houses, working in buildings and, in many cases, still using the same furniture and appliances from the days before the 1929 stock market crash which was the last time the country experienced a decent economy. They were sick of the 1920s as a result of having to make do with its hand-me-downs for 20 years plus.

In 1969, 40 years after the stock market crash, it was VERY difficult for a person who did not have a vintage record collection to hear 1920s music. Contrast that with the hippie generation of the late 1960s - today it is not at all difficult for them to tune on the radio and hear the songs of their youth.

By the time I discovered 1920s music as a child in the 1970s, it was dead and forgotten - even by the people from that era who were still alive. Someone on my message board once described seeing the great 1920s and 1930s jazz violinist Joe Venuti perform in the 1970s. He was performing 1970s style jazz and when the person suggested that he perform some of the songs he played in the 1920s he became angry and referred to that period as garbage.

For me, however, the music was an exciting new discovery - and it and its era stood in sharp, brilliant contrast to the 1970s ugliness that surrounded me. And that seems to be the case with the people today who are in their teens and twenties who are becoming passionate fans of the music. Those of us who grew up in the post-counterculture see it through very different eyes than those who came of age prior to the counterculture. Our appreciation for that era is not based on nostalgia. It ended decades before we were born and we are not blinded by the same biases that earlier generations had to it. For us, it underscores all of the many wonderful things that were lost as a result of the counterculture and we feel a yearning to experience those things in the world today. Thanks to the Internet, the number of people who are discovering the music and coming to the same conclusion is growing very rapidly.

An intelligent person in 1969 trying to predict the future of interest in 1920s music would have had no way of knowing that such factors and developments would come along and lead to it eventually being rediscovered.

And, of course, the same difficulties are true for us trying to predict the future.

"If future cultural juries condemn rock music and give items like Glenn Miller's arrangement of "Little Brown Jug" or Ella's "A-Tisket, A-Tasket" a pass, then I say, "Who needs' em, anyway?""

While I certainly wouldn't consider either to be a shining example of the virtues of the swing/big band era, I am curious as to why you pick those out as being specifically objectionable. The only thing about them that stands out in that respect is the fact that they both have rather trite lyrics. Is that the aspect of them you find objectionable? If so, then I would argue that when discussing the merits of various musical genres, one must pretty much leave lyrics out if it (except, perhaps to the degree to which one genre verse another allows one to adequately express lyrics in general). Lyrics are more important to some people than others - to me they are very much secondary to the music itself. There are a great many songs I really enjoy that have utterly horrible lyrics. And I rather dislike Frank Sinatra's recordings - they put me to sleep. But the lyrics on his stuff are often rather nice if I can stay awake long enough to notice. For those who consider lyrics important, my best suggestion when judging genres is to do so assuming that all of the examples you are comparing are recorded in a hypothetical foreign language you do not understand. If a genre has merits with English lyrics, it should be the same case with German, French or Arabic lyrics.

Now, I will go out on the limb and make some predictions about the future.

I think all genres of music, including rock, have a far better chance of surviving into the future than they ever have before. Until very recently, ours has been a world dominated by a mass media based popular culture. It has been a world where everybody in town listens to a handful of FM stations which are almost identical to the FM stations in every other town. It has been a world where, until recently, everybody was reading the same newspapers and watching the same Big Three television networks. Technology and the Internet in particular are blasting that world apart.

Under the mass media dominated popular culture, older styles of popular music did not survive at all except to the degree that they could be marketed as "nostalgia" to those who lived in that era. Nobody at all assumes that younger generations will want to have anything to do with them. The assumption is that younger people are programmed to blindly follow their peers.

A good example of this is the so-called "nostalgia" format on radio - sometimes marketed as "Music of Your Life" or "Stardust" formats. It mostly consists of late 1940s early 1950s "easy listening" music, cheesy 1960s and 1970s non-rock pop and the token Artie Shaw, Glenn Miller or Tommy Dorsey recoding thrown in once every hour or two. Such stations play only the songs which were big hits in their day and they play them over and over again year after year - giving new meaning to the term "moldy oldie." I occasionally listened to such stations as a kid at least in hopes of catching the occasional big band recording - and I developed a very thorough distaste for that "easy listening" sort of pop - especially after listening to the same old songs over and over again. A few years ago, I corresponded briefly with a person who ran an Internet radio station devoted to that genre and, more or less out of politeness, gave it a listen. To my surprise, it was not as bad as I thought it would be. I heard a great many recordings that I had never previously heard. His station had a VERY large playlist and, unlike AM stations of the same format, he did not just focus on the big hits. He had a lot of recordings that were not hits and have more or less forgotten about. And, in many cases, they were better than the hits.

The AM stations that carry the "nostalgia" format view the music as nothing more than a means to sell laxatives and retirement homes. Perhaps the people who listen would enjoy hearing something different played once in a while - but before the Internet came along, where else could they turn? Even those younger persons who might be receptive to that genre of music will likely grow tired of such a station very quickly once they have heard everything a couple of dozen times. They will soon want to hear something "new" i.e. not the same old swill over and over again.

Thanks to the Internet they can find it.

Thanks to the Internet, it is now easy to explore new genres of music - and that is precisely why the RIAA is trying to shut down Internet radio and why the major record labels have fought digital music from the get go. Their survival depends on their ability to generate "hit" recordings - and in the digital world of the future, there will not be very many hit recordings.

What is going to happen to the mass media dominated popular culture is it is going to be replaced by a niche dominated culture. In the future, it won't be a question of whether one listens to rock music or country music or jazz - it will be what kind of rock music, what kind of country, etc. As costs of production and distribution come down, you will see mass market movies and television shows replaced by programing targeted towards audiences that were once unprofitable to cater to. Pop culture will be replaced by an endless variety of subcultures - some good, some horrible - and people will comfortably float from one subculture to another in different aspects of their life.

It is already starting to happen. My online life is primarily spent floating between three subcultures - vintage 78rpms/music, the wider early 1900s retro crowd and the online Objectivist community. Those subcultures are currently in their infancy - expect to see them become more defined and grow along with all of the many other emerging subcultures over the next few years and decades. You will eventually see more and more businesses that come into being that exist to serve each of those subcultures. You will see online radio stations, websites, television/movie productions etc aimed at such highly specialized audiences - and people will be able to make money serving them.

The recording industry? There will not be a recording industry in the future. That is a dinosaur that is trying to hang on by governmental means and by the increasingly diminished economic momentum that is left over from when it was relevant. The cost of producing and distributing recordings has fallen enormously and will continue to do so. Sell recordings? Most recordings will be produced by and given away by the artists themselves for free as a means of promotion. Artists will make their money from live performances - which, actually, has always been the case as very few recording artists sell well enough for them to ever see a penny in royalties as the record label first deducts its production and promotional expenses. In the future, the market for live music will blossom as people will spend the money they once spent on CDs to see musicians perform in person. And the future of music radio, Internet or otherwise, will be entirely based around live performances. Why would anyone tune into a radio station playing recordings when you can access those same recordings from a huge database and program your own playlists? But you might tune in in order to hear something that has never been performed before - which, by the way, was how music was presented in the early days of radio when networks were all live and when large stations had in-house bands and vocalists. More musicians will be making money than ever before - but the days of super rich mega stars are probably over for good.

I also think we will see less of the generational aspects of music than we have over the past number of decades. So much of that has been the result of mass media marketing. They were able to get away with it because there were only a limited number of radio stations on the dial - thus everybody was exposed to the same stuff that the marketers of the big four record labels managed to peddle to a handful of trend-setting major market FM stations that other FM stations followed and copied. In a world where there are tens of thousands of stations and where darn near every song that has ever been recorded can be streamed or downloaded for free or nearly free, there will be no longer be the audience concentrations that are necessary for mass marketing to work. Today, if a record label throws enough money at it and kisses enough ass or buys enough hookers for the program directors at enough influential FM stations, it is very possible to generate fame for and put across an otherwise crappy product as being "cool." In the niche world of the future, people will have far more opportunities to explore different artists and types of music and make their own minds up about what they do and do not like. With so much competition and no opportunity for mass marketing hype, the only way for an artist or group to stand out will be through quality - and as a result, I think the quality level of all musical genres is going to increase.

So will there be a future for rock? Sure. It will cost very little money to store and preserve today's music in digital format and make it available to future generations. It will be out there for anyone who wishes to access it. The question will not be whether people can or will access it but rather how may will choose to do so.

I am looking forward to such a world. The RIAA is doing everything it can to prevent it. They will fail - as I am sure they already realize. My guess is they are trying to use their lawyers and their bought and paid for pawns in Washington and on the Copyright Royalty Board to merely push that date as far back as they can. In the end, however, their rebellion against the realities and possibilities of the digital age will be futile and the major labels that dominate the RIAA will go the way of buggy whip manufacturers. Pirates and illegal downloaders are only a secondary threat to them. The biggest threat is that the Internet opens up a playing field where they must compete against independent artists and specialty genres and, unlike the past, they will no longer have any special advantage. In a world where production and distribution costs are low and success is no longer determined by getting the all-important FM airplay, why on earth would an artist sign away his future to a very much one-sided contract with a major record label? More than piracy, the RIAA labels are more worried about the fact that the day is coming when they will no longer be in a position to offer much of anything that anyone will want to steal.

Anyhow, like I said, there are a lot of interesting aspects of this issue one could discuss.

Myrhaf said...

Thanks, Billy Beck for the break-a-leg; the shows I'm rehearsing don't open until May, but I'll remember. Thanks to all for interesting thoughts.

There will always be a need for tastemakers. The average guy does not have the time or knowledge to look at a list of 5,000 artists and know what to download. In the 20th century record companies and radio stations were tastemakers. In the 19th century, critics and salons served that function, and they will come back if record companies and radio stations go the way of the horse and buggy.

I agree that generational differences will not be as great in the future. The Baby Boomers (m-m-m-my generation) were a freak cultural occurance. We came along with a radically new music, Rock'n'Roll and the New Left counter-culture that accentuated the generational difference. The world has revolved around us since we were born and it will until we die. In the 50s and 60s, youth culture was idealized. It was wisdom not to trust anyone over 30 -- until Baby Boomers hit 30, then that idea suddenly disappeared. Now that we are old we think it only natural that our music, rock, dominates. We think it only natural that young people should listen to what we listened to when we were young. When we die, we'll probably have figured out some way to make people worship the recently deceased. We will haunt America long after we are dead. We are the f***ing world.

dismuke said...

"There will always be a need for tastemakers. The average guy does not have the time or knowledge to look at a list of 5,000 artists and know what to download. In the 20th century record companies and radio stations were tastemakers. In the 19th century, critics and salons served that function, and they will come back if record companies and radio stations go the way of the horse and buggy."

That's true. But the new tastemakers will be far less centralized. Mass media and mass pop culture as we have known it all our lives will no longer exist. There will be an endless variety of vibrant mini-cultures that flourish within a larger cultural context that exists only to the degree that it will be necessary for various subcultures to interact. And, of course, we as individuals will find ourselves interacting and participating in different subcultures to different degrees. And within those subcultures, there will be tastemakers. Some of them will be people such as yourself who have a blog or some future equivelent. But it will be a world in which anyone who has a strong opinion can become a tastemaker to whatever degree other people around him value his opinions. How is it that certain video clips become runaway "hits" on YouTube? In many cases, it is individuals emailing links to all their friends and they end up doing the same. Tastemaking will be done based on the people's passions for the music or entertainment itself.

I think eventually ipods and downloads will become obsolete. I suspect that all you would need to do to listen to music is just do a search in a database that contains darned near every recording ever made and to which artists are adding new stuff all the time and it will stream to you as many times as you like wirelessly. Imagine having instant and virtually free access to any recording ever made. That is what I think the people in future generations will be able to enjoy.

In such a world where there will be what amounts to an enormous glut of recorded music I think the value that people attach to recordings will go down as well. And while even the newest and most obscure artist will enjoy the same widespread distribution as any other artist, trying to stand out in the clutter and making a name for one's self by recordings alone will be much, much more difficult. I think the entire focus of the music industry will once again come back to live performances. I think we are going to see many, many more venues for live music appear in future decades and the shows that artsits put on will become more and more elaborate. That certainly was the case back in the 1920s and 1930s - bands featured up to 30 musicians sometimes and the big nightclubs in Harlem had floor shows with scantily clad chorus girls and they peformed week after week, year after year and made money. All of that ended when electronic entertainment took the place of live entertainment. My guess is in a world where people will have endless choices of cheap and/or free electronic entertainment, it will start to lose some of its novelty and people will become bored with it. That will help bring back an audience for live entertainent and with rising standards of living it will once again be profitable for people to cater to such audiences. And those live performances will have a big impact on the recorded music people listen to - just as many of the pop songs of the 1920s and 1930s became famous as a result of being featured in successful Broadway musicals.

And one more thing on the survival of genres. If our civilization survives, I think all genres of recorded music will have a strong chance of surviving. But if we collapse into another Dark Age - well, it may well be that music recorded on 78 rpm is what will survive. One of the big problems facing music archivists right now is the fact that the lifespan of digital media is not as long as it was first thought to be. The very early CDS are now starting to fail. Many archivists are very skeptical of the so-called "archival" quality CDs being marketed to day. The lifespan of hard drives is not all that long. Tape recordings from the 1960s are now starting to turn to vinegar. The best advice archivists have for preserving digital material is to transfer the information to new media every few years. That is not especially difficult or all that expensive - but it requires someone to be there to do so and for that media to exist.

By contrast, I have 78 rpm discs in my collection that are over 100 years old and, assuming that they were taken care of, they still play just as good as the day when they were new. People who find a CD in the rubble of our civlization centuries from now will have a pretty hard task figuring out how to come up with the technology needed to retrieve the information on it. It would not be too difficult to figure out how to get the 78 rpm record to play. So, in a worst case scenario for our civilization, it will most likely be the 78 rpm records that survive. Hopefully it will be the good ones that survive. Sadly, the chances are that the ones most likely to make it will be the crappy and still very easy to find junk of the early 1950s when all the exciting music had moved to 45 rpm and 33 rpm and the only people who were still buying 78s were mostly those who were into the likes of Guy Lombardo, Lawrence Welk and Mitch Miller. Imagine that being the surviving legacy of 20th century music. Yikes!