Read an amazing book…

and then procrastinated writing about it until the very last day when I had to take it back to the library because I’m awful.

Ta-nehisi Coates, my role-model in writing, my best friend in my imagination, had this to say about the Brad Paisley/ LL Cool J collaboration, so astute I hooted out loud:

One of the problems with the idea that America needs a “Conversation On Race” is that it presumes that “America” has something intelligent to say about race. All you need do is look at how American history is taught in this country to realize that that is basically impossible.

Eula Biss, a white (although she complicates this in her book) writer, wrote a book called Notes From No Man’s Land: American Essays, in 2010 and it is extraordinary. Reviewing this book in Salon, Kyle Minor writes,

Eula Biss’ “Notes From No Man’s Land” is the most accomplished book of essays anyone has written or published so far in the 21st century. If it has not taken up residence in the popular imagination of readers in the same way Joan Didion’s “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” did in the late 1960s, perhaps it is because we live in a time in which it is more difficult for books to assert themselves with great cultural force in the way they once did, or perhaps because Biss, unlike Didion, has yet to receive the strong support of the systems of power that bring great books to the attention of a broad readership.

I would also argue this book hasn’t received the attention it deserves because it is a prickly and uncomfortable book about race. Ta-nehisi has always been incredible on the subject of why this “conversation on race” is so rarely done right:

I have had conversations with very well-educated people who, with a straight face, have told me that there are Black Confederates. If you ask a very well educated person how the GI Bill exacerbated the wealth gap, or how New Deal housing policy helped create the ghetto they very likely will not know. And they do not know, not because they are ignorant, stupid, or immoral, they do not know because they are part of country that has decided that “not knowing” is in its interest. There’s no room for any sort of serious conversation when the basic facts of history are not accessible.

Eula Biss, in an interview about revising the essays in this book in 2008:

I was revising this collection during Obama’s campaign and I remember feeling dismay at one point because the national conversation about race in that moment felt so misguided, so atrophied, so impoverished. Almost everything I heard about race on the news was silly or stupid and so I began to worry that my book assumed some basic understandings that just didn’t exist in this country yet.

In one of her great essays, Biss describes teaching a class at the University of Iowa while working on her master’s degree:

Racism, I would discover during my first semester teaching at Iowa, does not exist. At least not in Iowa. Not in the minds of the twenty three tall, healthy, blond students to whom I was supposed to teach rhetoric…. Sexism does not exist either, at least not any more. My students considered my interest in these subjects very antiquated. These things, they informed me, with exasperation, had already been resolved a long time ago, during the sixties.

This book is so rare and so uncomfortable because it is tackling a subject most people refuse to acknowledge even exists, or refuse to acknowledge as complex. I need to buy this book, and re-read it, and stew in it, and write longer on it soon. But please read it, if you want to be challenged, and amazed, and floored.

Advertisements

Oof. Why do I keep whining?

A woman named Karina Longworth wrote a review of two reissued Ellen Willis books at Slate. It was an okay review, sort of itself a bad attempt at writing like Ellen Willis. I hate when I read something mediocre about something I love, knowing that if I had tried to write it, I might have (probably would have) written it a bit better. BUT I didn’t; I don’t; and I won’t. So, good for Karina Longworth for actually writing and not whining like a jerk all the time.

I was living in Park Slope, nearly three years ago, when I was offered a full-time job with benefits writing film criticism in Los Angeles. I was 29, and this sort of job was the only thing I had even thought about wanting for years, so I jumped at it, without giving any real thought to the enormous ways in which the decision would change my life.

Although, boo fucking hoo. You got offered an actual journalism job in the middle of a recession, in the scorched earth era of journalism.

This is how Ellen Willis does this kind of ennui better:

One day, sometime during CCR’s banner year, 1970, I was feeling depressed and confused about music, politics, writing and almost everything else that was important to me. In an effort to shake off the mood, I stacked all five of my Creedence albums on the stereo and danced to them, one after another.

And me? No writing happening here. No Creedence dancing either. How to get started again?

Many fits of rage were had over the reading of these three articles….

First of all, a year ago, this awesome post was written about an NPR music intern at All Songs Considered. Note the word music.

Now, I’m all for discovery. The learning process. Expanding horizons. But friends, this tyranny cannot stand. How is it acceptable that you’re an intern at a music site, and you’ve never heard, for example, Cream’s Disraeli Gears? OK, OK, while I consider that particular album to be Eric Clapton’s only palatable work, not to mention a critical album in a mini-age of rock power trios, let’s try another one. Something a bit more obvious. Say… Beach Boys Pet Sounds. No? Haven’t heard that? How about maybe The Velvet Underground & Nico? Not influential enough? Doesn’t ring a bell?

Here’s one. How about the fuggin Joshua Tree? U2? Know that one? “With or Without You”? “Where the Streets Have No Name”? “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”? 25 million copies sold? No?

Geezer alert on this, but since when is it OK to be seeking a career in music journalism and not have heard this stuff? How did this come about, exactly? Here’s a better question: When did dignity get so scarce that you might be an intern at a music website and actually admit to never having heard this stuff? In the words of Pantera, “Is there no standard anymore?”

Earth, I quit. There is nothing more I can do here.

Now yet another genius 21 year old intern at All Songs Considered wrote this:

I never went through the transition from physical to digital. I’m almost 21, and since I first began to love music I’ve been spoiled by the Internet.

I am an avid music listener, concertgoer, and college radio DJ. My world is music-centric. I’ve only bought 15 CDs in my lifetime. Yet, my entire iTunes library exceeds 11,000 songs.

I wish I could say I miss album packaging and liner notes and rue the decline in album sales the digital world has caused. But the truth is, I’ve never supported physical music as a consumer. As monumental a role as musicians and albums have played in my life, I’ve never invested money in them aside from concert tickets and T-shirts.

Luckily, someone wrote a really fucking smart letter about this. Read the whole thing:

On a personal level, I have witnessed the impoverishment of many critically acclaimed but marginally commercial artists. In particular, two dear friends: Mark Linkous (Sparklehorse) and Vic Chestnutt. Both of these artists, despite growing global popularity, saw their incomes collapse in the last decade. There is no other explanation except for the fact that “fans” made the unethical choice to take their music without compensating these artists.

Shortly before Christmas 2009, Vic took his life. He was my neighbor, and I was there as they put him in the ambulance. On March 6th, 2010, Mark Linkous shot himself in the heart. Anybody who knew either of these musicians will tell you that the pair suffered from addiction and depression. They will also tell you their situation was worsened by their financial situation. Vic was deeply in debt to hospitals and, at the time, was publicly complaining about losing his home. Mark was living in abject squalor in his remote studio in the Smokey Mountains without adequate access to the mental health care he so desperately needed.

I present these two stories to you not because I’m pointing fingers or want to shame you. I just want to illustrate that “small” personal decisions have very real consequences, particularly when millions of people make the decision not to compensate artists they supposedly “love”. And it is up to us individually to examine the consequences of our actions. It is not up to governments or corporations to make us choose to behave ethically. We have to do that ourselves.

And also this:

What the corporate backed Free Culture movement is asking us to do is analogous to changing our morality and principles to allow the equivalent of looting. Say there is a neighborhood in your local big city. Let’s call it The ‘Net. In this neighborhood there are record stores. Because of some antiquated laws, The ‘Net was never assigned a police force. So in this neighborhood people simply loot all the products from the shelves of the record store. People know it’s wrong, but they do it because they know they will rarely be punished for doing so. What the commercial Free Culture movement (see the “hybrid economy”) is saying is that instead of putting a police force in this neighborhood we should simply change our values and morality to accept this behavior. We should change our morality and ethics to accept looting because it is simply possible to get away with it.  And nothing says freedom like getting away with it, right?

But it’s worse than that. It turns out that Verizon, AT&T, Charter etc etc are charging a toll to get into this neighborhood to get the free stuff. Further, companies like Google are selling maps (search results) that tell you where the stuff is that you want to loot. Companies like Megavideo are charging for a high speed looting service (premium accounts for faster downloads). Google is also selling ads in this neighborhood and sharing the revenue with everyone except the people who make the stuff being looted. Further, in order to loot you need to have a $1,000 dollar laptop, a $500 dollar iPhone or $400 Samsumg tablet. It turns out the supposedly “free” stuff really isn’t free. In fact it’s an expensive way to get “free” music. (Like most claimed “disruptive innovations”it turns out expensive subsidies exist elsewhere.) Companies are actually making money from this looting activity. These companies only make money if you change your principles and morality! And none of that money goes to the artists!

And believe it or not this is where the problem with Spotify starts. The internet is full of stories from artists detailing just how little they receive from Spotify. I shan’t repeat them here. They are epic. Spotify does not exist in a vacuum. The reason they can get away with paying so little to artists is because the alternative is The ‘Net where people have already purchased all the gear they need to loot those songs for free. Now while something likeSpotify may be a solution for how to compensate artists fairly in the future, it is not a fair system now. As long as the consumer makes the unethical choice to support the looters, Spotify will not have to compensate artists fairly. There is simply no market pressure. Yet Spotify’s CEO is the 10th richest man in the UK music industry ahead of all but one artist on his service.

Dear god. Okay, first of all, C and I buy all of our music. We just do. It doesn’t feel right not to. I realize this puts us in a very small minority. I hate, nay DESPISE Apple, as a company, but unfortunately, we buy our music through iTunes. We partly do this because we are both artists who eventually would like to be fairly compensated for our work someday. The person who wrote this letter is also quite right  —

The existential questions that your generation gets to answer are these:

Why do we value the network and hardware that delivers music but not the music itself?

Why are we willing to pay for computers, iPods, smartphones, data plans, and high speed internet access but not the music itself?

Why do we gladly give our money to some of the largest richest corporations in the world but not the companies and individuals who create and sell music?

This is a bit of hyperbole to emphasize the point. But it’s as if:

Networks: Giant mega corporations. Cool! have some money!

Hardware: Giant mega corporations. Cool! have some money!

Artists: 99.9 % lower middle class. Screw you, you greedy bastards!

Congratulations, your generation is the first generation in history to rebel by unsticking it to the man and instead sticking it to the weirdo freak musicians!

I am genuinely stunned by this. Since you appear to love first generation Indie Rock, and as a founding member of a first generation Indie Rock band I am now legally obligated to issue this order: kids, lawn, vacate.

You are doing it wrong.

Okay, I hate internships. I think in the vast majority of cases they should be illegal. Even in the case that these interns are getting college credit and actually learning something from this experience, they should be getting paid. I think this whole thing is such a giant clusterfuck, that intern Emily could easily respond to this letter saying, “maybe if I got paid to do my work, I could actually buy music,” etc., etc. Maybe I am just a crotchety old person, but if these interns are the people seeking a career writing about music, then I worry about the future of  music journalism. But since I worry about the future of everything, all the time, perhaps I should just go back to my coffee.

Interesting…

Pink topics. An interesting opinion I like this:

Now, history clearly shows that many talented women writers have been relegated to what we might generally call “lifestyle” pieces or otherwise “soft” journalism, so I understand the surveyors’ interest in testing this category. However, the distinction between, say, “woman-specific health or culture” and serious politics is not at all apparent. Much of the writing that I (a man) and my colleagues (mostly women) do in DoubleX seems explicitly political to us, but by the metric of “Pink Topics,” we don’t count.

The authors of this report are obviously on the side of women, but I can’t help but feel that the crude distinction among subject matter actually enacts the same kind of stereotyping and pigeon-holing that it seeks to critique. If even women journalists’ advocates are buying into these arbitrary boundaries, how can we expect less enlightened editors to assist with their dissolution?

To quote Spirit of the West: “Every little thing is political”

Something to think about…

Due to excessive busyness, school-ness, travel-fatigue, etc., I largely avoided the 9/11 ten year hooplah. This, however, is one of the only things I read from the weekend, and it’s damn good.

Check out Laura Miller’s essay at Salon.com

Charged with looking beneath, behind and around such images, the novelist comes up against the question of what makes these particular violent deaths so very different from every other violent death. That isn’t easy to answer, and any answer you do come up with is likely to sound disrespectful, cynical, unfeeling and insufficiently solemn. A novelist may decide to push onward anyway, whether into sentimentality (“Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”) or smarmy self-aggrandizement (“The Good Life”), but in such cases, the results feel thin, vaguely false and meretricious. “It’s kryptonite to novelists,” a critic friend of mine once said about 9/11.

Reading lots…

The Beekeeper’s Lament by Hannah Nordhaus is awesome.  This is one of my favourite parts. Entomologist Justin Schmidt made an index ranking the pain of insects stings, and it’s quite poetic and lovely:

1.0 SWEAT BEE: Light, ephemeral, almost fruity. A tiny spark has singed a single hair on your arm.

1.2 FIRE ANT: Sharp, sudden, mildly alarming. Like walking across a shag carpet and reaching for the light switch.

1.8 BULLHORN ACACIA ANT: A rare, piercing, elevated sort of pain. Someone has fired a staple into your cheek.

2.0 BALD-FACED HORNET: Rich, hearty, slightly crunchy. Similar to getting your hand mashed in a revolving door.

2.0 YELLOWJACKET: Hot and smoky, almost irreverent. Imagine W.C. Fields extinguishing a cigar on your tongue.

2X HONEY BEE AND EUROPEAN HORNET: Like a match-head that flips off and burns on your skin.

3.0 RED HARVESTER ANT: Bold and unrelenting. Somebody is using a drill to excavate your ingrown toenail.

3.0 PAPER WASP: Caustic and burning. Distinctly bitter aftertaste. Like spilling a beaker of hydrochloric acid on a paper cut.

4.0 TARANTULA HAWK: Blinding, fierce, shockingly electric. A running hair drier has been dropped into your bubble bath.

4.0+ BULLET ANT: Pure, intense, brilliant pain. Like fire-walking over flaming charcoal with a 3-inch rusty nail in your heel.

When entomologists are also amazing writers, everybody wins.

Joan Walsh nails it…

NAILS IT!  Specifically, on how the Republicans and Obama don’t understand how to fix the economy:

In fact, China and Brazil have robust growth because unlike the U.S., they’re building a middle class, not taking it apart, the way we are. These supply-side economics groupies distort what’s wrong with our economy: Thanks to unemployment and the foreclosure crisis, plus almost 40 years of no income growth for working and middle class families (and even income declines for some subgroups), Americans can’t help the country consume its way out of the recession, or contribute to the recovery with tax revenues (for those who think the deficit is the biggest economic problem.) The recession itself is making recovery much, much harder, and maybe impossible: Too many workers are draining public revenue, rather than producing it. The resulting lack of demand makes employers nervous about increasing hiring or even capital investment. Obama’s inability to respond with a bigger stimulus bill and other measures to use the federal government to stimulate demand again will hurt the country, and may hurt him politically too. But it’s possible it won’t, because in 2012 he’s almost certain to run against a right-wing kook or a formerly-moderate dissembler in next year’s election.