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A penny for your thoughts indeed. Around here that would be a raise.

What makes a good blog? I think thematic consistency, a little exhibitionism, and honest writing. I can promise you the last one.

Most of my posts seem to be about music or politics. Some of them are funny. But all of them would love to hear a comment from you.

Oh-- and please welcome God to the APW team. We're thrilled and humbled to serve as His earthly vessel.

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Location: NYC

I was born at a relatively young age. Growing up consumed the better part of my childhood. As a young man I chased a lot of girls. But they kept getting away. Then I got older and even slower, so I got married. I've lived in New York City almost since before I moved here. I summer in Manhattan, which is like New York City, but with more humidity.

Here's me, without baby, thinking big thoughts. (Actually, what I'm thinking is, "Hey, these aren't Pringles!") I think I look better with baby.

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All the News, in Fits
Friday, May 27, 2005
I was reading Newsweek’s letter to their readers in this week’s issue, written by Chairman and Editor-in-Chief Richard Smith. (I don’t know why I’m so compelled by this topic; I have nothing to do with the news business.) In the letter, he notes:

“We will raise the standards for the use of anonymous sources throughout the magazine. Historically, unnamed sources have helped to break or advance stories of great national importance. But overuse can lead to distrust among readers and carelessness among journalists. As always, the burden of proof should be with the reporters and their editors to show why the promise of anonymity serves the reader. From now on only the editor or managing editor, or other top editors they specifically appoint, will have the authority to sign off on the use of an anonymous source.”

Certainly one cannot take issue with this policy. But it occurs to me that we are now waste deep in a quantum sea change in the way news is gathered and disseminated. There appears to be a risk/reward dynamic in journalism, or more aptly, in reporting; the less risks you take (i.e., the place you draw the line on “editorial integrity”), the less potential reward you will reap (scoops.) In short, the ones who play fast and loose with journalistic standards will get some right and some wrong, but because they swing at more pitches sooner, pretty much all the real news will appear there first (and much of the fake news). The journalism brands with more “editorial credibility”—which is to say, the mainstream media—will now serve the function of confirming and expanding on news, but not breaking it.

If this sounds overly dramatic, remember what Matt Drudge’s editorial standards are, and then remember who broke the Monica Lewinsky story. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 6% of US adults have created a blog—11 million persons, or 1 in 17 persons. Sixteen percent of US adults, or 32 million people, are blog readers; that’s 20% of the newspaper audience and 40% of the talk radio audience. (Also as per Pew.)

Newsweek’s readership is nowhere near 32 million. And too, I am reasonably certain that fewer than one in seventeen Americans writes for a major newsweekly.

Which means that there are rapidly growing and almost limitless appetites (and outlets) for “factal data”—stuff that may or may not be true, and which includes truths, spins, innuendoes, gossip, lies, rumors, and disinformation. All of this will be aired in the blogosphere; ultimately a subset of it will make its way to mainstream news. But inevitably, if mainstream news outlets maintain traditional standards of journalistic integrity, while not every Joe Blow with a laptop and a wireless card does, eventually everything noteworthy will get out first through the less rigorous source.

Indeed, I suspect even old Dick Smith of Newsweek agreed with this assessment, when he also wrote in that same letter:

“While there will always be an instinct to get an exclusive story into the magazine quickly, we will continue to value accuracy above all else. We are committed to holding stories for as long as necessary in order to be confident of the facts. If that puts us at a competitive disadvantage on any particular story, so be it.”

So Newsweek will sit on a story as long as they have to in order to be sure it is right. Even if by the time they run it, the story is yesterday’s news.

I don’t mean to knock Newsweek. Again, I support the stand they are taking. However, we should realize the implications of this articulation of editorial integrity in today’s environment. No longer are the big, familiar news brands the sources from which major stories first emerge. Sure, their resources will allow them to better cover known stories (how many bloggers had news vans and satellite uplinks at the Vatican when the Pope died?) But I think we are in an age where “scoop” and “journalistic integrity” are becoming an either/or.


Posted by: --josh-- @ 12:48 PM  0 comments

Thursday, May 26, 2005
I have decided to fillibuster until the entire senate fillibuster situation is resolved once and for all.

Dog mouse catnip puppy argument goldfish Mapquest hungry Hungary Budapest golden awesome fecund scintillating ramrod glory days stolen car Mexico bojangles apples big sur cauliflower dubious epinephrin fascetious goober hegemony idiotic jawbone killer lascivious model nutritious olfactory peppy queer rotary sanitary tipple unbelievable victrola wag xenophobe yahoo Yahoo! zipper dungarees clock orange agent smart aleck sugarcube moons droplet tab sheet scroll metronome wrap--

Christ! This is harder than I thought. I yield to the blogger from the great state of Indiana.


Posted by: --josh-- @ 11:39 AM  0 comments

You Can Be Twenty On Magnolia Mountain
Monday, May 23, 2005

After the Rock’n’Roll album, it may have seemed like Ryan Adams was going to be his generation’s Paul Westerberg. He certainly made a record to lay claim to the title, and had a celebrity feud with Westerberg to boot. But as I listen to and absorb the exquisite Cold Roses, I think I finally have him sussed. I think he’s going to be his generation’s Neil Young. And frankly, a fella could do a lot worse.

I think when Ryan Adams is 60, people will look back at his catalog, and it will be meandering, inconsistent, spotty, unpredictable… and jaw droppingly spectacular. There will be unpopular work—- hell, there might even be an album as ill-conceived as Young's Everybody’s Rockin’ (or as I called it, Everybody’s Whinin’). But there will be five, ten, more albums as transcendent as Déjà Vu, Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, On the Beach, Zuma, Harvest, Tonight’s the Night, Ragged Glory. As far as I’m concerned he’s got at least three already—- Heartbreaker, the incandescent and classic Gold, and now Cold Roses.

Cold Roses is supposed to be one of three albums he’s putting out this year, although I’ll believe that when I see it; in 2002 he was supposed to put out five records, but they got collapsed into the single Demolition (although if you looked you could find the studio session bootlegs Suicide Handbook, 48 Hours, Pinkhearts Demos, and Exile on Franklin Street, which attest to the quality and proliferation of his output in that time.)

In 2003 I saw Neil Young with his band Crazy Horse, at the age of 58, play an entire concert comprised exclusively of his latest album, which at the time many in the crowd had never heard (indeed it wasn’t even out yet.) People were pissed; someone called out for “Cinnamon Girl,” and Young deadpanned, “Sorry, we don’t know that one.” He did blast off about five chestnuts in his encore. And by the way, the concert was great; the following spring I saw him do it again, but the album was out, people knew the songs, and suddenly everyone loved him again.

I’m listening to a recording of Adams right now from May 12 of this year, and the fans are calling for songs they know. But Adams, stubbornly but with grace, is sticking to his guns, filling the set with new and unfamiliar material. If you don’t want the artist to challenge you, if you want it to be easy, then you probably don’t want to follow Ryan Adams, because if you expect the last tour, you will be disappointed. But this is what makes him great, and lies at the core of what I think he has in common with Neil Young.

The first couple of times through Cold Roses, I heard it as a folksy riff on Gold-- less a reinvention of classic rock, more alt.country. But then I read that the new album—- recorded with his new band the Cardinals—- was his homage to American Beauty-era Grateful Dead; think “Uncle John’s Band,” but more morose. At first I didn’t quite believe it… but then I remembered that the last time I saw him live he used the Dead’s “Wharf Rat” as a show piece for his set, playing an extended and heartfelt version. And when you open the gatefold of the CD, there as plain as day is a shadow image of a bear handing a rose to a little girl. The only way this could be a more deliberate reference to Grateful Dead iconography would be if instead of a little girl it was a skull.

The album opens with “Magnolia Mountain,” which Adams says is about an '80s porn star, but which rings and sobs and lilts and sighs like some great forgotten album track by Van Morrison, Neil Young, the Band, even the Mick Taylor-era Stones. Neil Young could have sung this one on Harvest. First you hear Adams softly count the song in; then a single plaintive acoustic guitar, as the song creeps over you. Cindy Cashdollar’s pedal steel, and some combination of her and bassist Catherine Popper’s backing vocals, lend color and texture, giving the song—- and indeed the whole album—- a warm organic feel. J.P. Bowersock’s lead guitar work is tasteful and never flashy, not entirely unlike, say, James Burton.

The refrain to “Magnolia Mountain" goes like this:

“Lie to me
Sing me a song
Sing me a song until the morning comes
If the morning comes
Will you lie to me
Hold me down till the morning comes
And if the morning comes
Will you lie to me
Will you take me to your bed will you lay me down
Till I’m heavy like the rocks on the riverbed…”

The trick isn’t writing lyrics like that. The trick is pulling them off. And damn if Adams isn’t just earnest enough to do it.

The songs keep coming, easy as a porch swing, lots of minor chords and strummed guitars. And Cold Roses is a double CD, even though at about 76 minutes it could have all fit on one disc. But instead of giving us a single, overlong song cycle, Adams gives us two beautifully crafted records that each stand alone, or work as a seamless whole. In the CD age, when most albums are too long by 15 minutes, it is a pleasure. And of course, the thing is priced as a single.

It would be easy to call this Adams’s Harvest—- and to call Heartbreaker his Tonight’s the Night, and Gold his Everybody Knows This is Nowhere—- but that isn’t fair to him, any more than it was fair to blame Mantle because he wasn’t DiMaggio. Where Adams most evokes Young is in the fact that I have absolutely no idea what his next record will sound like, but I do know I'll buy it the day it comes out. I can be pretty sure that it won’t sound like this, though, and that the folks who are booing his shows now because they want to hear the old stuff will be equally vexed come autumn when he’s on to the next gig and they want to hear Cold Roses. If you want to hear the last record, you can’t help but be disappointed.

And Adams has a reputation for spotty live work. He is, I can attest from live recordings and having seen him two times, great. But he is not consistent, and you can indeed catch an off show. To me that is sometimes the price you pay for artistry; I have a business colleague who is fond of saying "Stars have rough edges." In this respect he reminds me, and I’m sorry to put the weight of the world on his shoulders but I think he’s up to it, of Van Morrison or Bob Dylan. Both are great artists, and I can produce several friends who will tell you each has done one of the best and one of the worst concerts they’ve ever attended.

I was going to write a little bit about a whole bunch of records, and I will, soon. But this one has grabbed me so thoroughly that it needed its own spotlight. It is possible that I am just so besotted with the guy that I cannot be objective, although it might help to know that I was less than keen on Rock’n’Roll when it first came out (but crazy for Love is Hell, which came out the same day, and which was the less publicized but far more essential release.) So hey. Don’t take my word for it. Check it out here.

I've mentioned in this space that my wife, who is no music geek, nonetheless has an uncanny golden ear. When she falls for something I play in the house, it is always a mark of a great album. She loved Gold, and she said of it in the car one breezy afternoon, "It has the sweet familiar ring of every album you loved as a kid." Precisely. She digs this one a whole lot.


Posted by: --josh-- @ 8:59 PM  1 comments

Its Better to Burn Out...
In the current issue of Rolling Stone, within the first 16 pages, there are close-up, recent concert photos of both the Rolling Stones and Cream.

As far as 40-year-old rock bands are concerned, here's where I come out. I'll go this far. But I will draw the line at rockers performing with catheters and feeding tubes. Please. Let me remember you as you used to be, before you had to gum down your blow.

I may consider cutting Keith Richards some slack on the feeding tube.


Posted by: --josh-- @ 8:54 PM  0 comments

The New Folk and Me
Friday, May 06, 2005
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I consume pre-recorded music. And also, about the new music I’ve consumed…

For years, I’ve tried to keep up on what’s hot and new. But as I age, I’m becoming more comfortable with my tastes, with knowing what I might like. And I feel less and less compelled-- less obligated, really-- to check out all the hot new releases. No Franz Ferdinand for me; no Kills, no Raveonettes, none of these bands that harken back to 80s synth pop, which I didn’t really like in the first place. I mean, I rushed out and bought records by Elastica, Oasis, and Blur in the early 90s when they were the rock bands du jour, and I’ve gotten rid of all of them long ago. No, I’ve actually decided that I will be far more judicious in my record purchasing. I’m going to severely limit what I buy from past years, and try to zero in on new releases that I have reason to believe I will like based on my tastes, and not what’s hot and happening. Which sounds funny, I know, but I’ve decided to give in to my hokey, melodic tastes and stop trying to “keep up.” Stop checking out albums because "I really should." Indeed I recently cleaned out my CD collection and put about 200 into storage; I know I won’t be playing Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation or the Jesus and Mary Chain’s Psychocandy any time soon. No matter how great these albums are, how seminal, I just never seem to want to hear them. And if I suddenly get the itch, well, I can get my hands on them in a few days.

So here’s an example. Animal Collective put out a record last year, Sung Tongs. All the rage. Amazon keeps recommending it to me. So I listened to the clips. They did nothing for me. Five years ago I would have bought it because, you know, I like to stay hip and current and down with the music the young people dig. But no. Not anymore. Also, I have passed on Los Lonely Boys and Kings of Leon, who are the hot new rockers. I think Los Lonely Boys are OK, but hell, give me the Los Lobos live album any day. I’m old and cranky. And besides, the Lonely Lads stood up the Allman Brothers when they were supposed to open last summer, and the Allmans are my home boys, so I’m holding a grudge. And double besides, rock’n’roll done well is actually not a scarce commodity in my collection. Do I need the Kings of Leon or Los Lonely Boys if I have every Tom Petty, Los Lobos, Silos, and Faces album ever released? Seriously, not a rhetorical question; if you have an opinion, post a comment.

So anyway, I’m not going to buy anyone’s back catalog releases unless I’m really, REALLY bowled over by something, or unless there is a glaring hole in my collection somewhere (doubtful.) I am no longer a completist..

This year, some of the new things I’ve heard include:

Bright Eyes, both Digital Ash in a Digital Urn and I’m Wide Awake Its Morning. Mostly I like the former. People are calling Connor Oberst the new Dylan (I think he’s the new new new new new new new new Dylan), and of course that sucks for him. The last New Dylan I heard was the guy who recorded the late 80s album Oh Mercy, which was pretty darned good. The kid is, I guess, 24, and has a ton of stuff out already. Clearly he isn’t there yet, but I think Wide Awake is a nice listen, and the guy he reminds me of, oddly enough, is Steve Forbert (remember “Goin’ Down to Laurel”? Apparently it’s a dirty stinkin’ town.) Mostly it’s something in the vocal timbre. I’m not going back catalog on this guy, but I will keep my eye on him. I think he’s a real comer, the hype notwithstanding. Songwriting is the thing, I think, that gives an artist like this legs, and the kid can write.

Iron Wine, Our Endless Numbered Days and this year’s Woman King ep. The former came out last year but I made an exception because I really thought I would like them, or him as it were, and I was right. Iron and Wine is one guy, Sam Beam, a professor from Florida. He’s supposed to be part of this new, neo-folk thing, which I don’t really get; but I will say that this record is made out of what seem to me like organic sounds—you know, acoustic guitars, light percussion, the human voice. It doesn’t sound like the early 70s; it doesn’t sound like any era at all. But it is an easy, pretty, soothing listen, not challenging but still rewarding. So I got the ep that came out this year—more of the same—and I am impressed enough that I ordered his/their first, which is supposedly a classic of this so-called “New Folk” genre, The Creek Drank the Cradle, from 2002. It is official: I like Iron and Wine. Enough to go back catalog.

Josh Rouse, Nashville. If you don’t own his 1972, from last year, stop reading (I can wait) and go buy it. This one continues in the same vein; 1972 was an homage to music of that year (the kid was zero at the time). This one is not, but I think it goes down just as easy. More power pop, less nostalgia, but also more pop than power. I like the poppy end of the power pop spectrum; I’m more McCartney than Cheap Trick. And I just downloaded an FM broadcast of his April 29, 2005 Nashville gig from Dime a Dozen; great stuff. Everyone I recommended 1972 to has become a fan; my wife, who is no music nut but still manages to have impeccable taste, really likes him and put both 1972 and Nashville onto her iPod.

Beck, Guero. I like Beck, but with the exception of Midnight Vultures, which I liked more than everyone else (it was derided as his “Prince album,” but I like Prince albums), I always end up wishing I liked the album more than I actually do. This one is no exception. He remains one of the most interesting, innovative, daring major artists around, but I just wish he spoke to me more than he does. This one echoes Odelay, which was his monster breakthrough, and even has the Dust Brothers again. So I guess if you dug that, check this one out. I guess the sound byte is, the humanity of Sea Change and the hip hop eclecticism of Odelay. I think it deserves more of a chance than I’ve given it.

Arcade Fire, Funeral. Another one of those “new folk” albums from 2004 that I just got around to. I don’t know what makes these artists share a genre, and I think it is somewhat forced. For example, Animal Collective, who seem to share many fans with Arcade Fire, sound nothing like them, and neither sound anything like what I’d consider folk, old or new. I believe this band is from Montreal, and they are a 5-piece. This record, to me, has some very compelling moments, but there is something about it that keeps me at arm’s length, whereas I like records that invite me in. I think you have to be more attracted to angst and alienation than I am to really dig this. The story goes that band members collectively experienced three deaths during or right before the making of this album (hence the title). It is not what I’d call peppy. Indeed the CD comes with an insert which provides the lyrics, and it is laid out like the program from a funeral. Whoo hoo, let’s party! I am not loving it, but damn, every time I am ready to pull it out of the changer some moment floats past that is eerie, ethereal, compelling. I feel like this album is too good to dismiss, but not enough up my alley to embrace. Again, I feel like I may dig it out in a year, drop it in the player, and somehow suddenly “get it.” That happens sometimes. But then, I thought that would happen with the Jesus and Mary Chain too.

Devendra Banhart, Rejoicing in the Hands. Yes, more “new folk” from 2004. At least this guy sounds like a folk musician; many songs are just his voice and his finger-picked guitar. But I’d probably call this post-folk; these are artists of a generation where someone like Jeff Buckley is probably occupying a place in the pantheon akin to the one Woody Guthrie occupied for Dylan and Springsteen. I don’t hear the remnants of dust bowl balladry or protest songs in this music; I think if you craned your head and listened hard enough you might hear, say, Buckley, Cobain, and whatever other touchstone 90s troubadours you might mention. But I like this guy. Interesting, oddly off-kilter compositions, and something about the cadence and voice vaguely reminds me of Tiny Tim—which is not to belittle Banhart, but rather to try and place his sound in some sort of context. His guitar picking does have a sort of ukulele vibe to it, and his songs sort of lope along. I can put this on Sunday mornings and have it on while my wife is reading the paper and I am playing with the baby. I’m not going back catalog on him, but I might just get his next one.

If you’ve clicked through some of these links to Amazon, you might have noticed how often these artists appear under each other’s releases in the “customers who bought this record have also bought” section. Apparently I'm supposed to check out someone named Sufjan Stevens as well. Rouse probably is the exception, but the rest of them probably occupy some similar head space. They don’t sound alike, at least not to my mid-life crisis ears, but then sometimes there’s something happening and you don’t know what it is-- do you, Mr. Jones?


Posted by: --josh-- @ 9:02 PM  0 comments

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