Xark began as a group blog in June 2005 but continues today as founder Dan Conover's primary blog-home. Posts by longtime Xark authors Janet Edens and John Sloop may also appear alongside Dan's here from time to time, depending on whatever.
It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine. REM
Once, the biggies controlled the pipelines, deciding whose content was disseminated and how. But no more. Thousands of little conduits are siphoning the power from the few and allowing art and information to flow up, over, around to audiences, albeit smaller ones, everywhere.
We've witnessed the phenomenon of Radiohead's Web-only album release. Here's another example of a breach in the wall: Ingrid Michaelson. The NY-based singer/songwriter's road to fame, if not quite stardom, ran through MySpace, where her music was found by TV types, scoring her an Old Navy commercial and a few seconds on Grey's Anatomy. Now she's gaining traction as an indie darling, with coverage in the likes of The New York Times and Rolling Stone. Her second album, Girls and Boys, has been rereleased and is doing nicely on Billboard.com (meaning there's radio play) and iTunes.
Why is this so cool? She's never been signed to a label.
This morning's confounder? A David Brooks column that ran locally under this headline: "Once-unifying music fragmented by society and technology."
The gist? Hipsters and technology are ruining the country. And the Long Tail (Brooks doesn't capitalize it, or explain it) is bad for the culture.
There is just so much here to discuss that perhaps a fisking is in order. But for those of you with lives and/or better things to do, I'll state my conclusions first:
Brooks' true subject isn't music or economics or technology or even the "hipsters" who seem to bother him so much. What he's really writing about is the desire for a world that is simple, a world mediated by trusted gatekeepers and ruled by institutions that set the boundaries of everything from legality to morality to taste.
That Brooks could write this piece without even mentioning the monopolization of commercial radio betrays his selective myopia. But for the love of Gawd how do you write about "all-purpose" Rock and Roll as some canonized marketing wing of The One True Establishment without even a trace of irony?
Brooks is popular because he speaks to a common anxiety: The world is spinning out of control. Then he provides a reassuring answer: People like you who remember the old values have the right answer. He explains how things got this way: Hipsters and elites have caused a general breakdown of authority and good order. And he prescribes a solution: Stop it!
But here's the way it's going to be, folks: The world is going to change. Rapidly. More rapidly than you remember. More rapidly than you may be prepared for emotionally. Values and ethics and cultural connections are going to be hugely important to us, as they are now, but they must be portable. Offering them as talismans against change will fail to prevent change and succeed only in damaging the very concepts you claim to hold in such esteem.
Imagining alternatives to your accepted reality is uncomfortable, but it's an absolute requirement for staying relevant in the 21st century. Our country's established conservative voices seem intent on disqualifying themselves from credibility with the next generation, and believe it or not, that's going to become a problem soon. We're going to need conservatives who understand cultural symbols, technology and change as a force of history. But that's a topic for another day.
Today's agenda wound up being unstructured. My recent push has gotten me back to a full-week ahead of my work responsibilities, and this morning I was asked to come up with profile subjects. So I did what I used to do: I went out.
The long-anticipated unveiling of Charleston's new statue of Gen. William Moultrie, the Revolutionary War hero of the Battle of Sullivan's Island, finally took place in June, and by all accounts the city's seer-suckered elites were suitably thrilled.
The eight-foot bronze atop a marble pedestal looks as if it could have been proudly cast and displayed in the 19th century -- or earlier -- making this one modern monument that got made without any any annoying input from those modern art smartasses, Bauhaus Marxists all...
Not that there was zero oversight. Back in 2000 Moultrie backers had to win approval for their concept from the city's Commission on Art and History, which wanted to see how the thing would fit in at White Point Gardens, better known as The Battery. Proponents propped nine feet of painted cardboard atop an existing (and since removed) monument to give the boardmembers some sense of its scale, then stood in serious contemplation while confused tourists tried to figure out why these locals were so interested in cardboard.
I had assigned a reporter to cover this event. At one point, a 6-year-old tourist boy standing beside the reporter turned to his parents and said, "That looks like a giant green penis."
Which, by the way, happens to be the smart-ass modern art/architecture critique of most heroic sculpture: It's phallic, intentionally projecting power and authority and control. Hence, smart-ass intellectuals and children see penises everywhere, while people who like such sculpture tend to be offended by the mere use of the word "penis" in public.
But I digress.
I finally stopped by to take a good look at Moultrie on Thursday while shooting a nearby artifact, and something struck me: It seems the artist has endowed Charleston's defender with a bulging manhood that would make the members of Spinal Tap weep with envy.
Has it always been thus? Perhaps. But what I see in this statue is a 21st century imagination of a 19th century work of kitsch -- blissfully inhabiting an irony-free world that refuses to acknowledge the miseries and awakenings of the 20th century.
Hence, in this one bronze we see the martial romance of the 19 century, plus the penis-size obsession of the 21st century.
Can a heroic figure today be truly heroic without the full package? One suspects Michaelangelo's David would bear a distinct resemblance to Johnny Wad were he to be carved in this horribly conflicted decade...
The band Radiohead has released their new album, "In Rainbows", via digital download, as I'm sure many of you have heard. I received my download pass last night (about 2am), and was impressed by how smoothly and efficiently the whole experiment worked. Within a few cyberseconds, the album was on my computer.
But one thing immediately struck me -- no cover art! This pretty much blew my mind. It's almost impossible now to find a product that doesn't pay close attention to its packaging, but in the world of music, the album cover is a sacred and inseparable part of the whole; often equaling and sometimes surpassing the experience of the music itself. What other medium can do a minimalist gesture like the Beatle's "White" album and have it recognized as an artistic statement? Sure, there are good and bad album covers -- but no cover at all? That seems to go against the soul of music consumerism as I've come to know it.
And the technology has followed this trend. The first generations of iPods were music-only, but subsequent models brought the ability to show the cover art, to the point now where the latest iPods let you navigate solely by album art, demonstrating how the technology has finally caught up with listeners' sensibilities. We need our cover art.
No no, Radiohead -- this will not do.
Left with this gaping gap in my new music experience, I did what any thoughtful person of my generation would do, which was to Google around and see if someone had solved my problem for me. I was thrilled when I came across a site with tons of homemade cover art for "In Rainbows." Some of these designs are incredible, and all clearly are labors of love. Now I'm spoiled with choices as to which one I want to pick for my iPod!
And this leads me to wonder: Although there are claims that official cover art for the album is coming soon, was Radiohead a bit cleverer than I had given them credit for? Releasing a pay-what-you-want album to the masses, and then encouraging fans to produce and distribute their own cover art.... Could this be the most participatory music experiment of the digital age? Stroke of genius, or happy coincidence? Either way, I got to experience an album and my thoughts about music in general from a new angle, and am thrilled by the creativity and energy of those others out there on the other end of my Wi-Fi.
For those of you who haven't seen this yet, this is the mashup Farrah Hoffmire made of a performance of Katrina Ballads at the 2007 Piccolo Spoleto Festival and the original CNN footage that inspired the passage. I think it's brilliant. Farrah and Mitchell run this on a loop in a viewing booth at the events they stage on OPP's Hurricane Katrina Media Tour (which, by the way, is going on tour with Ani DiFranco in November).