Art For Art’s Sake?

Last fall, my wife and I drove up to Peekskill to see some folk music in a guitar store.  The main reason that we went was that our friend Judy Kass was performing with her new trio, Us!.  There were three acts, Jeremy Aaron, a young, but very accomplished, fiddler, guitarist, singer and songwriter (and, reportedly) tap dancer, the Karen Hudson River Trio, featuring Hudson on guitar and vocals, Jim Petrie on guitar and vocals and Suzanne Davenport on violin and vocals.  Hudson has been compared by others, accurately, to Rosanne Cash and Linda Ronstadt, and her music is both dark and funny.  Finally, we heard Us!, featuring Judy, Amy Soucy and Glen Roethel, all singing and playing guitars.  They were a very new group, and performed originals, covers and one co-written song, and they sounded great (and I’m not just saying that because Judy knows where I live).  The show was sponsored by Tribes Hill, a nonprofit that supports musicians in the Hudson Valley and connects them to each other, to patrons and audiences.

So, we heard about two hours of excellent music from 7 musicians.  During the show, my mind began to wander a bit, and I started to think about the fact that they all came to Peekskill on a Sunday afternoon to perform before about 20 (at most) people, who maybe paid a suggested donation of $15 per person.  Which made me think about all of the people I know who pursue some sort of art, for little or even no money.

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Michael Cohen’s Lament

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I’m trying something different here.  I don’t think Weird Al has anything to worry about, though.  Put suggested improvements in the comments.

Sung to the tune of “Stormy Weather,” of course.

Don’t know why
She ever had sex with my guy
Stormy Daniels
All the sleazy things we did together
Now I’m being raided all the time

My files are bare
Gloom and misery everywhere
Stormy Daniels
They’re gonna put two and two together
Making payoffs all the time

Everything seemed to be OK, ‘til the Feds walked in and met me
If I refuse to flip, I fear the law will get me
I have to pray that POTUS will pardon me
Stay out of jail some more

Can’t go on
If my law license is gone
Stormy Daniels
Can they stop us from working together?
Worried that I’ll do time

I walk around, heavy hearted and sad
News cycle comes around, I’m still feelin’ bad
Charges pourin’ down, the boss is getting’ mad
This Avenatti gloatin’, smilin’ and crowin’ gets me mad
Sex, sex, sex, sex,
This fixin’ is just too much for me

Can’t go on
If the attorney client privilege is gone
Stormy Daniels
If you put crime and fraud together
Like I did all the time

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Spring Cleaning

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Van Morrison: Cleaning Windows
[purchase]

Although it is mid-April here in the New York suburbs, it hasn’t really felt like spring at all, with the exception of a few random days (or parts of days).  If it wasn’t for the fact that my Mets have been playing well (pooh, pooh, pooh), it would seem more like football season than spring.  But it is still appropriate to engage in some spring cleaning, with a rundown of my writing on other sites since the last one of these space-fillers.

At Cover Me, I wrote two features, the first about Five Good Covers of the new wave classic, “Another Girl, Another Planet,” by The Only Ones, and then switching genres completely, writing a “That’s A Cover?” piece about the pop/disco hit, “Gloria,” by Laura Branigan, originally sung in Italian by Umberto Tozzi, which included a discussion of my miniscule part in promoting the song during the summer that I worked at Atlantic Records.  I also contributed to a staff written article about the “best” Talking Heads covers.  (Look for our next collection, about Fleetwood Mac covers, at the end of April.)

I’ve continued to post fairly regularly at Star Maker Machine, too.  The first new theme for the New Year was “Sinking & Falling,” and I wrote about Rancid’s “Fall Back Down,” and in another big genre-hop, about Dixie Dregs’ “Free Fall,” both of which prompted memories of seeing the bands live.  Next up was “Aliens,” prompting articles about Klaatu’s (not The Beatles’) “Calling Occupants of Planetary Craft,” featuring a rare (for me) Carpenters reference, and a Jon Anderson solo track, “Flight of the Moorglade.”

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Just My Luck

So, on March 13, I posted a long piece here about how much I think that social media, mostly Facebook, has improved my life.  On March 17, the Cambridge Analytica/Facebook scandal hit, and since then, we’ve heard even more bad stuff about Facebook.  This has predictably led to an anti-Facebook backlash, with friends and public figures threatening to leave Facebook, or actually doing so.

I’m not going anywhere.  As an initial matter, I kind of expected that my Facebook postings and the like were going to be scooped up and used, although I admit that I didn’t expect douchery of the Cambridge Analytica type.  Although a company founded by the Mercers and run at one point by Steve Bannon is definitely likely to act in a douchey fashion.  Second, and most importantly, I don’t see any alternative that would provide me with the benefits that I get from Facebook.

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In Praise Of Social Media

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Phish: Connection
[purchase]

Most things that you read or hear about the effects of social media are negative.  They often focus on the effect on young people and include the usual suspects–isolation, bullying, stress, etc.  And even with us Old Guys (and Gals), there are complaints about the effect on personal interactions, and the facile (if accurate) stereotype of people at dinner interacting with their phones and not each other.  A few weeks ago, in fact, I was privileged to hear a remarkable speech by Daniel Mendelsohn, at Princeton Alumni Day, which linked the erosion of civility today to the internet, “with its no-holds-barred rhetoric,” and the advent of personal devices “that allow us to be in our own space pretty much all the time.”  Here‘s a link to the speech, which was entertaining, thought provoking, and about as well constructed a talk as I’ve ever heard.

But, as the title indicates, I’m a fan of social media, although I’m certainly not blind to its negatives.

I somewhat reluctantly signed on to Facebook 9 years ago, sitting at home one day during a blizzard that prevented me from getting to work.  I started writing this during a snowstorm that is supposed to drop maybe a foot of snow–but now I work from home, so we are open for business (but it is still quiet).  It made me think about how my interactions on social media have improved my life.

The reason that I was reluctant to get on Facebook was rooted in my underlying introversion, which I’ve written about before.  I didn’t think at the time that I had any interest whatsoever in getting involved with a social network that would encourage me to connect with people, share with them, and read about them.  I was wrong.

I found, relatively quickly, that Facebook interactions were perfect for my type of introversion.  As one commentator has noted:

Everything about Facebook serves the emotional and psychological needs of introverts. It gives them a place to socialize and chat with people they like, without having to deal with the elements of in-person dialogues that make them uncomfortable. It allows them to say their piece, without being interrupted, scowled at, or patronized.

I also found that Facebook has allowed me to reconnect with friends, mostly from high school and college, that I hadn’t had contact with in years.  This prompted me to attend my 35th high school reunion (after not attending any since our 10th), to be excited about our impending 40th, and has led to in-person meetings with old friends.  But beyond that, the ease of being someone’s Facebook friend, meaning both that it is a “one-click” process, but also that the status of “friend” requires basically no effort, encouraged me to connect with people that I barely knew, if at all, in real life.  Often with very positive results.  Social media has also allowed me to keep a toe into the AYSO world, which I left a couple of years ago, but which is still filled with people I like.

Some of these people have become pretty close “friends,” even if we don’t hang out in a traditional sense.  Instead, we interact through Facebook comments (and lately a little on Instagram–I’ve still avoided Twitter), and that has, on occasion, resulted in face-to-face meetings which never would have happened without the social media connection.

In addition to reconnecting with high school friends, as I’ve written here, over the past few years–almost exactly the same period that I’ve been on Facebook–I’ve gone from uninvolved to an active volunteer for my Princeton class.  I had a nice, small group of friends in college, but was not really close with what was our class leadership.  (If anything, my involvement in college politics was a direct slap at the politicos).  But due to the relatively frictionless Facebook interactions, I found myself getting involved first with Reunions organization, then with Annual Giving, and now, I’m class secretary.

All of this has also given me the opportunity to engage in interesting discussions with people with all sorts of opinions.  Working alone, as I have for the past five years, has eliminated the “watercooler” type conversations that I had at previous jobs, so Facebook has replaced that.  I’ve been challenged to defend my positions by smart people, and have learned to respect (some of) their differing beliefs.  Admittedly, I’ve been angered by friends who seemed eager to stir up trouble, and frustrated by people (often friends of friends) who are simply trolls, but overall, I think that most of my Facebook discussions have been reasonably respectful (until I’m insulted, and then the gloves are off).  And my Facebook friends have pointed me toward articles on diverse topics, including music, politics, culture, race, and science that I never would have heard about without them.  Also, I make jokes, engage in discussions about sports, music, and food, among other interests, and occasionally (OK, more than occasionally), get to vent my spleen.

In the pre-social media age, one of the more notable social networks was the amorphous collection of Deadheads, who created and perpetuated a culture initially focused on following the band and trading music.  Other bands picked up the mantle of the Dead (which was never completely dropped), most notably, Phish.  Like the Dead, I appreciate Phish, but am not a enormous fan (like my friend and fellow blogger Hal).  Although I have written about the Dead, I’ve never written about Phish, until today.

“Connection,” today’s featured song, is a 2:23, concise, radio-friendly pop song, an anomaly for a band best known for long, radio-unfriendly, sprawling jams.  It was on the album Undermind, which was at the time supposed to be the band’s final album.  It is within the realm of possibility that the lyrics refer to the impending breakup of the band.  Interestingly, though, it wasn’t played live during the “final” tour, although it has been played four times since the band reunited.  Here’s a live version from 2010, stretched out to nearly six minutes, with some nice guitar and piano solos.

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My Favorite TV of 2017

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Dianne Reeves: TV Is The Thing This Year
[purchase]

[Edited on 2/2/18, to add a show that I forgot]

As I’ve mentioned, I watch a great deal of TV, and as many people have discussed, we are currently in a period where TV is filled with great shows. The model of creating bingeable high quality shows (which Netflix didn’t create, but is probably the largest beneficiary of) has raised the bar across streaming and more traditional networks.

I was, however, shocked, when I put together this list of shows that I liked in 2017, because it is so long. And it doesn’t even include every show that I watched in 2017–I have some guilty pleasures that are fun (like, say Supergirl or Hawaii Five-0), but don’t rise to the level of even this bloated list, there are some shows that I watch because I’ve stayed with them for a number of seasons, even if they aren’t all that great anymore (like Homeland), there are some shows that were good, but just didn’t have the same spark this year (like Veep or Transparent), or shows that were intriguing, but somehow didn’t grab me at the level of those on the list (like Legion or Runaways), and there are some that are perfectly fine shows that my wife really likes, and we watch together (like Grace and Frankie).

And, I know that there are shows that made many year-end best of lists that I didn’t watch, because you can’t watch everything, or because their premise didn’t seem interesting, or because I’m already too many seasons behind. Some of them I may watch down the line, and some I won’t.

Which is why, as with my music list, I call this a list of “my favorites” not a list of “the best.”  Note that there may be some minor spoilers below, although I’ve tried hard to avoid anything major:

My Favorite:

It may not have been the “best” show of 2017, but the one that I have thought the most about has been Bojack Horseman (Netflix), which I wrote about in greater detail here. It may be atop my list because we binged all four seasons over a short period of time, allowing its brilliance to really sink in.

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My Favorite Music of 2017

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On the one hand, there really is an incredible amount of great music out there, and on the other hand, as I noted last year, I’m not listening to music as much, or with as much focus, as I did in the past.  Yet, I’m still going to opine about my favorite music of 2017, because I set up this blog to write about music, and that’s what music writers do, right? And despite my protestations, there’s a lot of music discussed below.

My Favorite Albums of 2017:

If you know me at all, either personally or through my music writing, you have to have expected that my clear favorite album of 2017 was Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit, The Nashville SoundThis is the one album from last year that I listened to regularly and which has stuck with me.  It rocks harder than his last two albums (which were credited to Isbell only), and yet the songwriting remains as personal, as poignant and as political as anything that he’s done.  As a result The Nashville Sound came in first, or very high, on many year-end lists, and I’m proud to add this one to the pile.

I don’t think there’s a bad track on the album, but “If We Were Vampires” stands out, and “Hope the High Road” and “White Man’s World” aren’t far behind (and if I were writing this on a different day, I might pick different songs).  My write up of the band’s live cover of “Whipping Post,” as the 50th best cover of 2017 can be found here.

Check out this video interview of Isbell by George Saunders, award winning novelist, for a mutual love-fest, and an interesting discussion of their crafts.

The rest of the albums that I liked, in alphabetical order by artist name:

Nicole Atkins, Goodnight Rhonda Lee–A collection of retro-sounding pop/soul/country/blues (if you are thinking Dusty Springfield, you are on the right track) from a Jersey girl relocated to Nashville who is dealing with her personal demons.  Too many good songs to pick just one.

Bash & Pop, Anything Could HappenTommy Stinson, former Replacement, revives the Bash & Pop name for a very Replacements sounding collection of rockers.  “On The Rocks” was one of my favorite tracks of the year.

Jack DeJohnette, Larry Grenadier, John Medeski & John Scofield, HudsonFour top instrumentalists join together for an interesting, beautiful collection of jazz originals and jazzy covers of rock songs.  My favorite is their cover of The Band’s “Up On Cripple Creek,” which ramps up the New Orleans funk.

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