Archive for March, 2010

Middle Class Rut (MC Rut)

March 25, 2010 Leave a comment

One week ago, I went to see Alice In Chains at Sound Academy, and it was the best concert I’ve been to in a long time. This was the first time I’ve seen AIC live, and it was everything I wanted it would be. Going to a live show and seeing your favourite bands / artists perform is an experience beyond anything else!

The great surprise of the night was the opening band, Middle Class Rut from Sacramento, California. MC Rut shares some similarities with Filter and Jane’s Addiction, but with a more “apocalyptic” feel in the sound, and in particular, the live performance. MC Rut is a two-piece band, drummer and guitarist – รก la White Stripes – and the two members share vocal duties. What a very pleasant surprise!

The sound was loud and thundering in the live performance (though interestingly, they sound much more dry and muted in the studio). The live show was a relentless pummeling of the senses that left me with a powerful feeling not associated with a particular memory of my own, but created out of the music itself.

The kind of “apocalyptic” sound prominent in MC Rut’s music might even be the direction that new music will take. Such a description certainly seems appropriate as we move into the second decade of the 21st century, just as “grunge” was an appropriate label at the end of the 1980s, when a minimalistic form of new music emerged out of the incredibly superficial and materially-obsessed decade preceding. We just need to come up with something more marketable, and less tacky than “apocalyptic” music.

The elements in MC Rut’s music are not new, but the presentation and the song structures, at least on some level, are a real revelation. As an old quote about creative writing goes, “About the most originality that any writer can hope to achieve honestly is to steal with good judgment” (Josh Billings). This is a joke, of course, but it holds true, especially for new generations. Truly, great creativity must come in the form of innovation, with good judgments made on the influence.

Check out MC Rut:

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SXSW – Wraps and reviews

March 25, 2010 Leave a comment

A few posts earlier, I commented on the fact that there doesn’t appear to be much new and great in popular music in the first ten years of the 21st century. The 4-day South by Southwest festival that took place over the past weekend offers an interesting look into the state of new and emerging music, and also – perhaps, more-so – the old, familiar favourites.

There is some debate on what the spirit of the SXSW festival is really about: some believe that it is a breeding ground for new independent acts that are being given an opportunity to showcase their talents and product to industry people and fans; others will argue that the indie element is only a small part. The bulk of the attention may inevitably be reserved for bands and artists of way-past generations to show that they still have it (Smokey Robinson), and maybe get industry backing for a reunion tour; and for come back attempts from the likes of the once-popular Hole, and the still-relevant Stone Temple Pilots. FYI, STP is about to release a new album.

Whatever the case, it’s difficult to ignore the reality of the latter opinion, as cynical as it may seem. SXSW ultimately is an industry event, and industry people – managers, producers, record labels, etc. – are interested in the tried and true, especially in the absence of the undeniably new and bold. They are also interested in come back stories. Come backs sell! Come backs, by definition, have a market and a fan base already established, and they can market the old to the new – market to a younger fan base.

This is a formula very much like the one used for movie trilogies and franchises, ahem.. Star Wars, Terminator…

And then there’s the trouble that some reviewers of the 4-day event didn’t really feel much of a buzz about any of the performances, that everything seemed more or less muted and unoriginal. Not to say that the event wasn’t a success, it certainly featured plenty of great music and artists; it’s only that nothing very interesting was said to have emerged from the performances.

Nevertheless, I’ll say this: if you’ve never been to a festival concert before, make it a point to go this summer. It’s an experience worth having – like driving 10,000 km back and forth across Canada ๐Ÿ˜‰ – and new or not, great music is still great music! Even veteran concert-goers can find new reasons to go back again and again.

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The art of persuasion – a new age of reverse psychology

March 22, 2010 Leave a comment

Major League Baseball commissioner, Bud Selig, has been reported to be considering a re-alignment idea that would allow teams to switch divisions year to year based on geography, payroll, and intentions to contend for a championship. It’s difficult not to wonder if this is really as ridiculous as it sounds.

An article in the Toronto Star written by Richard Griffin suggest that Selig, not being as dumb as the floating re-alignment idea makes him seem, “must [have] another motive behind this initiative,” and “must be angling for something else… for instance, a few additional wild-card teams” to give more teams a chance to contend.

Griffin’s suspicion seems reasonable, and it seems to be a certain kind of reverse psychology in an attempt to get what he wants without having to take responsibility for suggesting it. It’s clever, and really very simple.

I recently saw a repeat episode of That 70s Show in which Donna forces Eric to help register for their wedding. As you might imagine, Eric does not want any part of the shopping excursion, and so his dad advises Eric to suggest registering items that are so incredibly ugly and unappealing that it will force Donna to say, “Oh forget it, I’ll just do it myself!” Eric takes the advice and it works like a charm.

It’s so simple! And maybe event a little immature; yet, these are the tactics that sports leagues like to employ so often to get their way without having to propose the changes themselves.

Meanwhile, all the talk in the hockey world has been about a problem with head shots. The recent Matt Cooke incident was the last straw for the NHL, and every hockey observer on both sides of the legal and illegal hits debate stood up and said that something has to be done… RIGHT NOW!

A General Managers meeting took place and it was agreed that a new rule will be enacted to outlaw blind-side hits to the head. The NHL releases the news on the decision, explaining that once the new rule proposal is reviewed and accepted by the competition committee – a separate representative players committee – it will be entered into the rule book for the start of next season. At this point, it’s hard to believe that the rule proposal would not be accepted.

On the same day that this news is released, the NHL makes a surprise decision to NOT suspend Matt Cooke for his blind-side head hit on Marc Savard. Not surprisingly, the decision is met with incredible controversy, considering the severity of the hit, and that Savard is out the rest of the season suffering the effects of a serious concussion. Back in October, a very similar hit was delivered by Mike Richards of the Philadelphia Flyers, which also did not result in any supplemental discipline, so the NHL says, the ruling must remain consistent with the rule back and with past precedents.

It appears consistency is the name of the game for the NHL (however contradictory this may seem for the NHL, perhaps good fodder for a whole other discussion). As long as they can argue consistency, the league seems to believe they cannot be questioned.

And so it goes as planned and the NHL is now faced with outside pressure to not wait until the start of next season, and put the rule into effect as soon as possible. After all, Cooke was not suspended because the new rule is not currently in place. That means until the rule comes into effect, it remains open season on blind-side head shots. Clearly, nobody wants this violence to continue any longer, so for the protection of the players and in the best interest of the league, the decision is made to not wait for a full review from the competition committee, and the NHL will go ahead with the necessary training for referees and have the rule entered into the book before the start of the playoffs.

Considering the importance and severity of the issue at hand, the NHL probably could have made the decision to speed up the process on their own without waiting for outside pressures to build. Surely, no one really would have questioned the NHL for making a bold executive decision for a speedy rule change. Yet, it’s possible they even played out this charade to force the hand of the competition committee and the players association, generating the necessary outside pressures to avoid a brouhaha with stubborn athletes. Ultimately, it’s really just so much easier to respond to external pressures than to honestly acknowledge their own responsibilities.

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March 10, 2010 3 comments

After scoring the “golden goal” in the Olympic men’s hockey final against the USA, Sidney Crosby was offered to appear on David Letterman to read the Top 10 list. Sid turned down the offer.

The New York Post released the story, claiming that Sid “snubbed” Letterman and ruined a – pun intended – golden opportunity to promote the NHL in America. Ironically, the “snub” story is now all over the Internet, and has probably created more publicity than what could have been created with a simple appearance on the show.

Journalists clearly wanted to see the appearance and write about it, and the story of Letterman’s invite and Crosby’s “snub” ends up being written about anyway. This shows something about how the media operates in the information age. If they are already interested to write something before the story even happens, they will write about it whether there ends up being a story or not.

The potential for a story is enough to believe it will be written. The question is about WHAT will be written.

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Jay vs Conan: a generational discourse

March 8, 2010 Leave a comment

Jay Leno is back hosting The Tonight Show. I can’t say I really care, and as I’ve always done with late night shows, I’ll watch it if there is a guest appearance I want to see.

As for the Jay Leno-Conan O’Brien debacle, I am firmly in Conan’s corner. But for the record, I do not feel bad for Conan, nor do I have any real sentiments for or against Jay.
If you are unfamiliar with what happened, here is the full story.
Apart from simply taking sides, what really stands out to me is that Jay and Conan represent two very different attitudes and views on life, and it appears to be a matter of specific generational differences.
When Jay was offered to take back the 11:35 time slot, he accepted the offer without too much consideration for Conan’s position. Jay defended, “Where I come from, when your boss gives you a job and you don’t do it well…” He doesn’t really finish the thought, but we get the point. When Mr. Boss Man offers you a job, you take it. And if you don’t do it well, you get canned and leave quietly.
Meanwhile, Conan was offered the opportunity to keep The Tonight Show, but bumped back half an hour, with the half hour from 11:35 to 12:05 reserved for Jay’s show. Conan turned down the offer, saying in a statement that he does not want to be part of what he believes to be the destruction of The Tonight Show legacy. He essentially calls out his bosses for poor management, embarrasses them publicly, and leaves with full severance for him and his entire staff.
We can see pretty clearly here that the Jay vs Conan debate is about much more than just late night TV and a fledgling network. It’s also about the conveniently well-defined differences in life views between Jay and Conan, and between their respective audiences. The lines are clear, and there is very little middle ground to speak of.
Jay and his audience represent the attitudes of Baby Boomers. In a competitive world, you have to look out for your own interests, and you have to play the game to achieve stability. Conan didn’t get the job done and he didn’t get the ratings as host of The Tonight Show. The Jay Leno Show also tanked and Jay gets cancelled too. The fall back for Jay, of course, is that The Tonight Show with Jay Leno has a history of success so Jay gets The Tonight Show back.
Conan and his followers are the Gen-X’rs who are willing to sacrifice their jobs and other symbols of life stability to hold strong to their principles. Maybe it’s a little naive, or maybe it’s the generation of people that have faced less competition than their predecessors and have the luxury to stand more firmly for their beliefs. Maybe having the option to explore the world more freely and the right to refuse breeds a certain kind of cynicism notorious in Gen-X’rs. This is a generation of people who have had far greater opportunities for insight into the kinds of injustices and power struggles that exist.
Even Conan can see the underlying discourse here. At the very least, he certainly knows his audience.
In his parting speech near the end of his last Tonight Show episode, he directs his final statement particularly to “young people”:
“Please do not be cynical. I hate cynicism. For the record, it’s my least favourite quality. It doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard, and you’re kind, amazing things will happen. I’m telling you, amazing things will happen!”
In a moment of true clarity, Conan takes a step back and appears to transcend the obvious generational differences. His self-awareness is impressive, and in his parting words, he chooses to extol the virtues and break down the pratfalls of both generations. And we must admit, we can all learn a thing or two from both sides.
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Where has all the good music gone?

March 7, 2010 1 comment

Recently, I’ve had many discussions with friends regarding the state of popular music today. The common opinion seems to be that there is very little new music that is worth hearing anymore.

I listen to a lot of music, and I am in constant search for new music, for my own enjoyment, and also for the purpose of understanding past influences on new and emerging sounds. And I can’t help but notice that the observations are true: it is becoming rare to hear any good quality new music, let alone anything that can be said to be influential or inspiring.
The twentieth century was full of great music – from one decade to the next – and we can point to each time period that gave rise to emerging genres, unique styles, and interesting revivals and hybrids.
From jazz music emerging at the beginning of the twentieth century and finding its popularity in various different forms in the 20s, 30s and 40s; to rock, hip hop, r&b, dance, and electronic in the latter half of the century; music in the twentieth century was well-inspired, and continues to influence new music today.
The first ten years of the 21st century, by contrast, has been simply dull and uninspired. Not to say there have not been bad trends in music in the past. Just consider disco in the 70s and superficial glam rock and hair metal of the 80s, and we can see that not everything is wonderful. But while there were misfires, great quality music existed in the meantime, with rock music in its heyday in the 70s, and the emergence of hip hop, rap, and pop in the 80s. 
In the first part of the 21st century, rock has evolved into little boys whining about lost love and broken dreams. Pop music that emerged with Madonna and Michael Jackson in the 80s is now just a derivative of the sappy boy bands and bubble gum teen pop that emerged in the late 90s. And hip hop and rap have turned into punchlines, thanks to the likes of Kanye West and 50 Cent.

Nothing has come out in the last ten years that we can realistically expect to be influential to artists twenty years from now.

Is it a problem of recycling? One friend theorizes that music today is simply trying to revive music of the past, only in very poor quality. This seems pretty accurate since nothing new has emerged since the turn of the century, and the only good that we hear seems to come from bands and artists that emerged in the 90s or earlier.
Given the historical perspective, perhaps we’ve simply reached a point of saturation when new ideas are much more difficult to come by. Maybe all that’s left to do in music will be left to creative DJs and mashup artists to put different spins on previously created sounds. I’m hoping that it’s just a temporary lull in the history of new music, and we will soon begin to see quality music emerge again.
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Musings of a Gen-X’r

March 5, 2010 Leave a comment
It’s come to a point in my life when it seems appropriate to start a blog. The trend is out there, after all, and it couldn’t hurt to follow, right?!? But writing a blog is about more than just following a trend and indulging in a new medium that imposes few restrictions. It’s a self-reflection. And contrary to popular opinion, it’s okay to draw on the virtues of post-modern self-reflexivity to achieve some much-needed style points.
I understand that it scares many who aspire to any influential level of intelligent thought to take the advice of any post-modern theory. But it can’t be all bad! Just think of it like the 80s: most of it is self-indulgent, unintelligible crap, and in a word – SUCKS!
But it influences us all.
This is not a diary, or a “story of my life.” Quite frankly, I’m just not that interesting to justify such self-indulgence, like what my brother once said about Twitter: you really have to be pretty interesting to have people “follow” your tweets. (Sadly, the culture of kids out there today have significantly lowered standards of what is “interesting.”)
What this blog will be about – at least as a jumping off point – is a kind of observational self-reflection of our current and past cultures. It will be about news and politics, music and entertainment, popular culture and counter-culture; and basically anything and everything relevant to our collective and individual lifestyles and attitudes.
Call it Seinfeld on a computer screen, specifically focusing on topics that contain a certain kind of cultural relevance.
These are the musings of a Gen-X’r.
I am technically NOT a child of Generation X, based strictly on my birth year. Yet, Generation X is not really about when you were born. It is an attitude and a lifestyle post-Baby Boom.
I am a late Gen-X’r, the youngest child of the Baby Boomers.
I am a child of a particular generation of children who understand that we never really need to “grow up” in order to grow old (and wise). I consider myself to be one of these children who can reflect society and culture upon itself, in order to understand the self and the other (Hegel); and observe previous generations and their places in history, and its influence on me.
THAT is what this blog is about.
Generation X is the generation of people we see in 1990s sitcoms, like Seinfeld and Friends. These are forms in popular culture that teach us that adventure and misadventure is an acceptable way of life.
This is the generation of The Simpsons, from which come these musings – treasures, if you will – that are found somewhere “buried under a Big T” (The Simpsons S05E11: Homer the Vigilante).
And if I digress, well, that’s what the people of my generation do. Call it a personality disorder – *cringe* – or very simply, an attitude bred in me. We are an argument you can’t possibly refute.
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