Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Everyone Thinks Your Music Stinks



 I still buy the occasional album, but it has to be GOOD.

I’m at the point now where if someone wants to share my music these days, or even talk about it, I take it as a huge compliment.  I’ve read several of these “Blame the Fans” (DMN, FORBES, GENE SIMMONS, QUIETUS) arguments now, and they're usually from a view that doesn’t quite grasp, let alone embrace, the last decade’s revenue shift or perhaps the value of a quality original production.  The assumption is that signed artists (i.e. those that “made it”) were making their heyday fortunes from recordings and touring.  Fact is, up until the late ‘90s album profits subsidized their tours.  Still true for mega-artists, perhaps, but I suspect that touring still creates the lion’s share.  Back in the day, ticket prices were generally cheaper (inflation-adjusted), productions more lavish and entertaining, and those concerts tested/teased upcoming material.  Oh, and the obligatory swag you sported in high school the next morning...

Good times.

But where are we today, exactly?  Generally speaking (because there IS some great new music out there), what we have now is factory-driven, formulaic, homogenized silt.  What musician gets out of bed in the morning and says, "Today I want to create something completely different.  Something never heard before."  Don’t take my word for it; people like Ian Anderson have been spouting this for quite some time.  No, it’s not the typical elder complaints ala Tony Bennett or Time (although I agree with parts of their reports concerning corporate influence).  Apparently, very few artists and producers strive for a well-conceived, sonically-excellent original work of ART these days.  Because of this, upcoming generations are all well and good with low-cost, massively-engineered, low-fi digital…and lots of it.  Who can blame them?  And concerts?  There’s not much out there special enough to justify $200 for a date night...or fan’s geek-on…or whatever the motive.  Us “older” folks aren’t much for shelling the money, or more importantly the time, to see their favorites simply stand on a prosaic stage, running a pacifying song list that took merely a week to rehearse.  Asking a kid to blow that kind of coin for couple hours away from their X-Box, or—how much Smirnoff Ice is that?—yeah, well, you see the economics. 

My takeaway from all this is:

Stop whining and UP YOUR GAME.
Be ORIGINAL, Make ART, give them a SHOW.
The public will decide if you’re worth their gonk.



WRITING LIFE UPDATE:

Still pounding away at the keys whenever a free moment arises, but the missus and I are in the beginning process of changing neighborhoods…so there’s that distraction.

Avanti!

/T


Thursday, May 1, 2014

Five for May

(My 50th published post!)


Writing Update!

For me, the personal Everest is character and plot development.  Each bullet of the outline a foothold, a carabiner cinched, another deep inhale before the next tug on the ascenders.  The scope of Dust’s sequel is so very wide.  I can only blame myself for deciding to chisel a Rushmore instead of oiling a standard portrait.  That’s why it’s taking so long.  Well, that, and the diversions of home ownership.  Oh, and BOLITA.  I wouldn’t have it any other way though, and that first word on the first page has yet to be inked, but I’m almost there…so very close.  I know how it begins.  I know how it ends (I knew it before that cruelest clap of thunder echoed through Cupertino, and then something changed).  And, thankfully, I know most of the in-betweensies, so I’m excited to loft the wily tendrils of creation soon.  By that, I mean get busy typing.  But first, a crack of the knuckles...


Dealing with The Bear

I suppose Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula would be akin our invading eastern Cuba from Guantanamo, and, while in occupation, calling for a popular vote to join the USA.  How’d  you think that would go?  Smell the mojo?  Coincidence the Russkies parked an intelligence ship in Havana last month?  Games.  Maybe not.  The same ship has reportedly been buzzing some of our eastern naval bases since.  I understand this is normal and the United States does the same, but timing becomes more important in these matters.  Messages.  We mustn’t become naive and/or complacent when real people in power are calling for Gorbachev’s head, publicity stunt or not.  Current actions in Ukraine speak to their sincerity.  I don’t know about you, but it was nice not sweating the bomb for the last 25 years.


Another Baseball Cheating Scandal?

Pitcher Michael Pineda of the New York Yankees was recently caught red-handed again, or rather brown-necked, using pine rosin for better grip.  His punishment was “10 games”— actually just one since that’s all he was scheduled to start.  That’s not even a hand-slap!  (Think what happens for drug violations), but it’s the explanation of enforcement by so many media outlets causing greater concern.  In essence, it appears that MLB says it’s okay to cheat as long as you‘re discreet (meaning not caught due to complaint).  Wrong message for our youth, methinks, like being a racist NBA team owner.


More DUST Trivia!

You may already know this, but if not, the book is crammed with self-indulged and largely arcane trivia, homage and references or “Easter eggs”.  Occasionally I’ll spill hints on this blog or Facebook—and I prefer that the readers have their own aha moments—but here’s a few just for grins:


  • A brain tissue sample jar someone facetiously labeled “Abby”.  This is a reference/homage to Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder’s comedy Young Frankenstein—one of my all-time favorite comedies.
  • Emily laments her reading assignments by snubbing Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone as “…that wizard boy book.”  Yes, I’ve read it and yes, I’m a fan of J.K. Rowling’s work.  You might sense that with Chris Miller’s response and jab at Emily’s horrible Cockney by using a My Fair Lady reference.
  • “You can always throw a sheet over him, or something.”  Chris said this to Emily when she was frightened at the prospect of another night with Xeno (her toy clown).  This is a reference to a classic scene from the movie Poltergeist.

There are over two dozen of these instances.  Look for them!


For Whom the Highway Tolls


The latest revenue hunt from D.C.  Have your heard about it?  I think most traffic engineers will agree: The greatest threat to the evolution of ground transportation is actually the brake pedal.  Think about this for a minute.  Much of all that energy expended on accelerating and maintaining speed is wasted on friction and resulting heat from your brakes.  Gone.  Zip.  And nothing to show for it.  That is, unless you’re one of the very few currently driving an electric or hybrid with regenerative brakes.  Lucky you!

Well, that’s just one of my gripes with installing toll booths on our interstates.  To me, it's plainly the spawn of yet more government, more procedure and eventual ambiguity while on the roads—roads that have been freely traversed without additional encumbrance since created by President Eisenhower in the 1950s.  I live near a major toll road and I can tell you firsthand it creates traffic, aggravation and bother.  This is all besides the feeling of constantly being pickpocketed by the state.

So the proponents of the bill are saying that the interstate program is about to run out of money.  Really?  After no troubles running it for 60 years, now it needs more funding?  Sorry, no.  This is likely not true, and yet another grab for revenue—revenue that, like the lottery, can be siphoned to other places than lauded. 

Argument #1:  It generates revenue (tax) from only those who actually use it.  Right, it does.  It also prohibits regular use by those in relative poverty, creating an additional class issue.  Slap from the Invisible Hand:  It also increases operating expenses for businesses and professionals who use those highways, and those expenses will eventually be passed along equally to those who might not.

Argument #2:  Electronic tolling.  Yes, I have a “SunPass”.  For those of you wondering, it’s a device placed on the inside of your windshield that a toll facility reads as you pass through it.  In many cases, you may select a special lane and pass through without stopping.  This works well in many places, but
Not all toll roads use e-tolling, or utilize full-speed gates.  Often you must merge (great fun in heavy traffic) into a special lane that passes under a narrow gate at a much reduced speed.  In my area, it’s 25 MPH.  Besides that, you must also create and maintain an account with the tolling agency.  This account must (and I laugh the loudest here) carry a balance sufficient to pay your tolls.  For those of you facepalming or silently screaming about the creation of government float at our expense, I’ve been doing that for quite some time.  Suffice to say, the lament of added waste of my valuable life regularly checking on that account.  Are you old enough to remember freely traveling without constantly stopping or worrying about money in yet another account?  I am.  I also remember not having so many bills and having a bit more time for friends and family…and myself.

Argument #3:  The government says “We need more money!”  No you don’t.  You were fine before without it, you’ll be fine going forward.  Mind your spending, negotiate better, reduce your size.

Anyway you look at this proposal, it means more taxes, more procedure, more government and slower travel...more waste.  Others might also froth at the potential for greater loss of privacy...being tracked and such.  I agree.

The laugher?  There is a bill currently on Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s table seeking to increase the speed limit on rural interstates to 75 MPH.  If passed, you’ll get to those proposed tollgates just a bit faster. 

What can we do about it?  Stay informed with groups like the Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates, make your thoughts known.

More Soon,

/T

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Oscar Picks



With most of the major contenders notched on my popcorn bag…
Okay, so maybe that particular use of a western colloquialism doesn’t work, but here’s what I think about the nominees and who I think should win.



Hoooold it!  As of this publishing, I haven’t actually seen all the contenders in every category.  Tisk!  Well then, avante!   Here’s what I think of the films in categories which I’ve mostly seen:

Film Editing:  Should go to Gravity.  The movie is well-made, through and through.  Maybe not the most original story off the planet, but the execution was superb.  Captain Phillips?  My gripe with that movie is the editing.  Not the quality, but the quantity.  Hmmm…maybe that’s what it took to make it palatable? 

Original Song:  Likely winner is Ordinary Love by the members of U2.  Ah, but that number from Frozen should place.

Original Score:  Really?  They nominated Her for this?  Yikes.  Honestly, the only score I remember from the nominees was Philomena.  Oh look, John Williams was nominated again, too!  Damn he’s good.

Makeup and Hair:  Easy one for me—Dallas Buyers Club.  Jared Leto.  Period.

Costume:  (cough)  Haven’t seen three of the five contenders, but between 12 Years a Slave and American Hustle, I’ll take Patricia Norris for Slave.  Think I should sneak The Grandmaster soon since it was nominated in more than one category, otherwise, I hear The Great Gatsby is a lock.

Production Design:  Gravity.  I’ll give a grunt to Her as well.  It truly felt like the dystopian, homogenized retro-future the millennials are doomed to create.

Visual Effects:  Unfortunately haven’t seen Desolation of Smaug yet (hard to convince the wife to sit straight through three hours of fantasy).  Out of the others, it’s a tossup for Star Trek Into Darkness or Gravity.  My bet’s on Gravity. 

Cinematography:  (cough) Again, Haven’t seen three of the five contenders.  Gravity should play though!

Sound Editing and Mixing:  Missing too many titles, but Gravity was memorable for these categories.  Captain Phillips and All is Lost, not so much. Lone Survivor, anyone?

Adapted Screenplay:  Easy choice for me:  Philomena.  Coogan and Pope were brilliant in the interpretation.  The story is both heart-crushing and uplifting.  

Original Screenplay:  This is a tough category.  I thought American Hustle’s weakest asset was its story, actually.  Just felt a little weak; not as good as it should.  The actors—all of them—deserve more credit for making a relatively platitudinous story have a little life.  Blue Jasmine?  Classic Woody in full stride, but completely forgettable after only a week.  Her’s screenplay was certainly fertile ground, but I just didn’t like the movie, so there’s that.  Bob Nelson’s Nebraska and Craig Borten’s and Melisa Wallack’s Dallas Buyers Club are the contenders for my nod.  It’s a tossup, but I think the Academy will favor, in traditional Hollywood PC fashion, Dallas.

And now, the most popular categories…

Best Actress in a Supporting Role:  Julia Roberts.  If you haven’t seen August: Osage County, do it, but not for Ewan or Benedict.  They had no business being in the film.  I must mention June Squibb as well.  Earthy good.

Best Actor in a Supporting Role:  Jared Leto, Jared Leto, Jared Leto.  Nobody else is close; not by a few clicks, but I always enjoy just about everything Michael Fassbender does.  Always engaging.  Jared Leto was spooky good, almost as if experienced…in…some...way.  Seriously easy choice here.  By the way, does anyone really think Barkhad Abdi should have been nominated?  I didn’t get it that one, and I'm still annoyed with the Academy for not recognizing the final lab zombie in World War Z.  Was that Michael Jenn?

Best Actress in a Leading Role:  This was another easy one for me as well—Meryl Streep in August: Osage County.  Then again, she’s probably just too good for anyone else to have a chance, which is why the Oscar will be handed to Cate Blanchett towards the end of the night.  She would have been peerless in Blue Jasmine, if not for Meryl.  Awesome performances from the both of them and Sandra Bullock.  Judi Dench too, for that matter.

Best Actor in a Leading Role:  Maybe you don’t want to let Matthew McConaughey (man, I hate typing his last name) have any glory because he presents himself in an irritatingly faux-southern-but-it’s-real manner.  Let’s face it, the man put himself out there in a gut-wrenching, raw, polarizing role, underwent extreme physical torture (Think starving is fun?  Try it sometime.), and absolutely transformed himself with the character and performance of a lifetime.  Elbow bumps to him!

Director:  Yikes.  Must play Process of Elimination here…  David O. Russell, American Hustle:  Well executed, no complaints.  Any innovations?  Not really.  Alexander Payne, Nebraska:  Same story.  Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave:  There were times when I thought the film simply tried too hard to overcome remembering Roots, which is a tough achievement.  I thought 12 Years excellent overall, albeit painful to watch at times, but it fell short on some technicals that ultimately are the responsibility of the director.  Sorry, I just don’t think slaves had perfect white teeth with gold crowns.  I’ll leave it as a strong contender, nonetheless.  Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street:  Scorsese will always have a place in my theater, Oscar or not.  Thing is, Wolf felt completely unnecessary.  We’ve been on the narrated excess trip before with Goodfellas, and Wolf became some sort of quasi-tangential epilogue.  Directed well?  Yes, but…  Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity:  Hollywood seemingly awarded Cuarón the Oscar before the nominations were announced.  The word is, “innovation”.  I can’t disagree.  Gravity hits all the marks except one—predictability—and that’s not on Cuarón.  For me, it’s either David O. Russell or Alfonso Cuarón, and I’m going with Cuarón this time.

Best Picture:  Stop right there.  Before you read any further, know one thing:
There wasn’t any “Best Picture” in 2013.  They were all missing something.  I could ramble on for paragraphs, but I’m not (okay, maybe a few).  I just didn’t think there were any major standouts that hit on all cylinders.  You see, to me, the best film should have the best in all categories, or at least the highest percentage of each overall.  None of the films nominated were overly exceptional this year.  Best Picture will be the best from a lot of almosts-greats.

That said, I can tell you that two of the nominees shouldn’t have been nominated in the first place.  Her.  No self-respecting geek would give this movie merit.  It’s a brow-beaten vision of what they abhor most, akin the legitimate athletes amongst the dopers in baseball, perhaps.  Cyber-(phone)sex is sooo’90s, too.  Just because it’s VOIP changes nothing.  A friend of mine used the word, “inventive”.  In some frames, yes.  Loved the abusive marshmallow midget from the video game, but that’s about it.  Worse, the Operating System (OS) named "Samantha" used incorrect grammar (“there’s” for plural) and not five minutes later announced she would correct spelling and grammar as a task.  Really?  Oops, rambling…high beltline trousers, mustaches, man bags…  Someone turn it off!  Think I'll throw on Minority Report for some bleach.

Captain Phillips.  If you know the story well, you know it missed quite a lot of the SEAL side buildup.  Regardless, any director using endlessly exaggerated handheld shots is an auto-pan for me.  Point-of-view feel?  Nobody moves their heads like that, and no, it does not create action; it creates headaches.  Poor technique that’s unfortunately all too popular.  On top of this, the film was so sliced, diced and pureed in editing that Tom Hank’s exceptional performance was ruined.  Best film?  Hardly.

This leaves me with American Hustle, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, Nebraska, Philomena, 12 Years a Slave, and The Wolf of Wall Street.  Hustle wins in every category except story.  Dallas won’t be known for cinematography or score, but winning actors and a decent screenplay.  It's my second choice.  Gravity put us in orbit for a fantastic ride along with Sandra Bullock, but again, a forgettable story.  Nebraska’s moral will stand the test of time, but the story and some ancillary considerations (some supporting cast) weren’t top-notch.  The Wolf of Wall Street suffers from déjà-vu, but it has a chance.  12 Years a Slave has it all, but a few unforgivable details slipped pass McQueen.  That brings me to Philomena.  Superior acting from Dench and Coogan, a touching and provocative story—a real story that recently culminated with a personal meeting with Pope Francis—excellent score, masterfully shot (why wasn’t this nominated for cinematography?)…  Most of all it moved me.  Isn’t that what a film’s supposed to do?  Well, I suppose the same could be said for a few of the others.  Some moved me quickly towards the exit.  Alas, Philomena didn’t sell enough tickets for broad support, and Hollywood is Hollywood.  They’ll give it to American Hustle, or 12 Years, or Gravity, but it should go to Philomena.  It was the most powerful...and I'll forgive Hollywood for thinking otherwise.

What do you think?     

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Five Thoughts 2

This is the second installment of a new blog series.


  1. Death of the World Wide Web?
    Interesting article
    in Wired regarding the movement from browsers to mobile apps.  A good thing?  I’m not sure.  I get chills every time I’m about to install one.  Hokey Pokey!  Why does a magnifying glass app need my contact list?  Ah, ”…and that’s what it’s all about.”  Regardless, It’s apparently just another migration in form factor.  Don’t forget the Palm Pilot!  Or maybe not.

    Fact:  PC’s and laptops are lasting longer.  Microsoft and Apple aren’t producing new operating systems every two years, productivity software no longer makes quantum advances, and content has become far less rich and dynamic than it was a few years ago during Flash’s heyday.  Media in general has become utilitarian, less art.  No different than album covers to CDs to MP3 (nothing physical, really).  There’s a death all right.  
     
  2. Peyton
    Old age and treachery…  Yeah, that was no less than 25 yards penalized on the Chargers’ defensive line for Neutral Zone Infraction / Off-sides simply due to Manning’s booby-trapped cadence.  Unreal!
    I’m looking forward to the AFC Championship.  And this coming from an NFC man.  To me, the Superbowl—the actual football game, I mean—will pale in comparison.  Manning, Brady, so many other great talents, not to forget the undeniable coaching greatness—and all of this at Mile High.  (How do you like the place now, Rivers?)  Next Sunday, I won’t be thinking of writing.  I’ll have an ale in hand, watching history. 

  3. Theaters Should Ban Phones And Be Done With It
    If you follow the news at all you heard about THIS – a man shot recently in a Florida theater (near my town, actually) for texting…during the previews.  Okay, I might get placed on an FBI list for having the Scrubs-style fantasy, but I’d be lying if I didn’t secretly yearn for full-on carnal annihilation every time a phone screen lit during a show.  But to act on it?  Not worth the penalty.  Increasingly, I wonder just how much time the theater industry has left before instituting bag checks, TSA-style body scans, profiling and so forth. Weapons are a matter apart from cell phones, however…well, usually.  Out of respect for the art and patron’s money, perhaps it’s time to trash any debate for “tactful” phone use by cheerfully mandating a ban, and actually enforcing it.  You won’t receive any complaints from me! 
    Speaking of the movies...

  4. Oscars On The Way
    I’ve seen most of the Best Movie contenders, but I can’t make any concrete predictions.  I saw no standouts except one, and I'll get to that.  All I know right now is that if there was a trophy for Best Performance From An Entire Cast, it should go to American Hustle.  If there was another for Preposterousness, it belongs to Wolf of Wall Street, hands down.  Hard to judge Best Actress too, but Judy Dench is simply superb in Philomena, and it’s a truly touching story with just enough homosexuality to satiate the most liberal West Hollywood coiffeur.  I've yet to see Nebraska, Inside Llewyn Davis, Blue Jasmine, All is Lost, and a few others. Working on it!

    12 Years A Slave?  I’ve heard friends and family say “It’s a painful watch.”  Very true.  It could be the modern Roots, and it has quite a bit of Oscar buzz, but I have few couple problems with it.

    • First, it just rips me to hear the N-word bandied as often as the F-bomb in Wolf of Wall Street.  MLK Jr. fought so hard to have it erased from the modern lexicon, but so many seem apt to keep it alive.  Okay for historical purposes, perhaps, but it carries less impact when spoken so often.
    • Second, what’s up with the blinding white teeth on everyone?  It’s 1841!
    • Tries too hard for landscape cinematography, and a couple tracking shots had noticeable bounce.  (Loved the authentic katydid background audio, though!)
    • Chiwetel Ejiofor’s performance is indeed superb, but scenes where he’s facing the camera and desperately avoiding it with his eyes, well…I almost chuckled after a minute straight of it the second time.  Grandfather Guilt made sure I didn’t.
    • The acting overall was hit and miss.  Mostly excellent, but a few stiff instances tarnished the entire film somewhat.
    • (Spoiler Alert!)  Lastly, Brad Pitt.  I suppose I should expect if he’s footing some of the movie’s bill, he would take the righteous character role as an abolitionist.  I was so much hoping for a baddie this time.  <sigh>  Thank goodness for Michael Fassbender.  Damn, he's good!

    Nonetheless, a great film and certainty in future art and history classrooms.  I can hear it now: “What did the violin symbolize?“

    Dallas Buyer's Club:  Easy choice for Best Actor for Matthew McConaughey, and probable Best Supporting win for Jared Leto.  I mean, spooky good!  (Golden Globes makes this easier, but I just didn't see anyone better last year).  DBC makes a strong argument for Best Picture too.

    Gravity:  Seems so long ago now.  We paid the extra for the full IMAX 3D ride.  $16@ left me with a cold-as-space feeling in the wallet, but I think that IF (big if!) one were to shell out the extra, Gravity is the closest movie to take full advantage of the format.  Acting? Not sure about a win, but Sandra Bullock deserves a nod at the very least for Best Female Lead Actor.  I'd also give strong nods (if not wins) for the technical side, effects, production, etc.  Even so, the overall experience did not justify twice the average ticket price, meaning, we likely won't go for it again.

    Quick word on Wolf of Wall Street:  No...can't.  There's just too much to comment.  See it, but make sure there's a nuclear scrubdown facility adjacent to the theater.  Or a brothel if you're single.
      
  5. General Aviation: Another Death?
    I don’t tout the fact that I possess a private pilot’s license because I’ve not flown as a Pilot in Command in over 20 years.  Sad, but true!  My excuse is simple: cost.

    From time to time, I reexamine my personal travel needs, weighing against dreams of keeping a skill alive.  After all, pilot’s licenses don’t actually expire; they revert to “not current” without frequent maintenance in the form of regular physical exams, take offs and landings, and biennial reviews from a government examiner.  The license isn’t the problem, it’s the cost of flying itself.

    Light aircraft are still relatively affordable, ranging from $15,000 to, well, sky’s-the-limit.  Once you factor in the regular maintenance, insurance, and the highest hurdle—100LL (100 octane low lead) avgas at over $6/gal, then you have a real cash-gormandizing dragon on your hands.  Unless you’re rich or very near it, that is.  I’m not.  And does owning a light aircraft these days make any sense at all even if you are rich?  Probably not.  Commercial flying is still relatively inexpensive and mostly reliable.  That begs the question: are we in this as a hobby—for the sheer joy of it—or as a matter of practicality? (saving time, convenience, and so forth).

    Perhaps this thought deserves a longer article sometime, but I wanted it tabled:  My personal observation was that a common middle-classer could afford flying, barely, 20 years ago.  Now?  I see planes wasting away at their tie downs, and I no longer hear the regular buzz of them overhead.

    I look at the manufacturer’s websites and their new planes are well over $125,000, averaging over $400k for a plane with no better performance than those of 40 years ago.  One exception, being Cessna’s diesel JT-A (Jet A fueled, almost half the consumption compared to its avgas twin), but it costs almost half a million fun tickets.  I’d better start selling some books!  Yes, I also looked into fractional ownerships and the light sport game.  Not my bag.  Too many question marks and, well, I’d just rather have my own toy.  But only if it made sense.

    So, where’s General Aviation headed?

  6. Six?  Well, this isn't really a thought but more of a pondering.  Do you think I should create regular topics and expand this?  Common themes seem to be:
    • Current Events / News
    • Music, Movies, and/or Sports
    • Tech
    • Politics, Politics, Politics!  (you have to say this ala Mel Brooks)
    • Personal Gripe or Praise.
    More Next Time,

    ~T

    (Join the conversation by using the comment tool below!)
    T. Nelson Taylor | Official Site | DusT | Bolita