Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Let Them Eat Cake!

in an era that takes cultural, social and artistic relativism to unprecidated heights, it's not surprising to find a serious article in the los angeles times calendar section about so-called crossover music (a melding of classical and...rock, jazz, pop etc)—this time featuring the "new" sensation david garrett and his recent violin cd mixing classical hits from beethoven, vivaldi etc with the pop music of nirvana, aerosmith, led zepplin and paul mccartney.

well, this is america and classical music is largely european; we've been shirking off those viking roots for the past 150 years. though garrett (born in germany, now an american citizen) studied at the julliard with itzak perlman and has played with some pretty heavy classical hitters like zubin mehta, he has yet to record a so-called serious classical piece (one that is familiar enough and challenging enough so as to accurately gauge his talent) so it's impossible to know how good he is—not that it matters. we need another virtuoso violinist like we need another dylan album...

what irks me is how readily this music is now being marketed and sold to the general public with abject impunity. particularly, for me anyway, this album featuring vivaldi's four seasons, the first movement from the fourth concerto called winter (the original piece includes all four concertos; spring, summer, autumn and winter and lasts up to 45 mins)...garrett's version with drums, rock guitar and u2 last about 4 mins. (i would love to have been a fly on the wall when some genius producer or perhaps garrett himself decided that what this classic tour de force needs is a little bit of u2's vertigo thrown into the mix "yeah yeah yeah yeah..!").


vivaldi's four seasons, a late baroque composition (four violin concertos: spring, summer, autumn and winter) is perhaps the most abused piece of music ever written. it has been used in countless films and tv commercials and it has suffered countless re-interpretations, from standard orchestral versions (played on contemporary instruments w/modern size orchestra), historically aware versions (same but with allowences for the period ie, smaller orchestra and baroque ornamentation), horrible period versions (original period instruments with godawful baroque ornamentations-that, in the view of this writer, are horribly overdone and in some cases, completely unauthentic). i prefer vivaldi in a more classical period style, more closely alinged with mozart than with more early baroque composers and all the more recent recordings on period instruments reek of re-interpretation and over ornamentation. this most recent bastardization of vivaldi's four seaons comes from david garrett has him pairing the first movement, a scant 4 minute piece (the original set of concertos lasts about 40 minutes) with electric guitars, drum tracks and u2s vertigo.  crossover, the melding of classical music with popular styles of music; jazz, pop, rock etc, has been around for ages. most classical composers realized early on that to make money writing music, they would have to dumb it down and "popularize" it. the tradition of so-called "lite-music" is a long lasting and great tradition; one needs only to reference the great music heard on the titanic and featured in the james cameron film (they used the original "white star line" book of arrangements for the of the few things he got right in the film).


i remember my vivaldi phase distinctly. it started in 1972 with the film "the cowboys" with john wayne and bruce dern. vivaldi's mandolin concerto was used in a couple of key scenes (the mandolin concerto is rarely heard on mandolin—the guitar has long since eclipsed the mandolin for most recordings of the piece). the scene started out with a young cowboy (played by robert carradine, david carradine's younger brother) innocently plucking a steel strung dreadnought guitar and then majestically, the theme is lifted into a wonderful orchestral arrangement by the great film composer john williams...okay, its not the original piece but it didnt have hendrix in the background either. the same piece was used powerfully in the cult classic "a little romance" with lawrence olivier and the 12 year old diane lane in her first screen performance. this time the piece was original. 

i soon moved on to vivaldi's four seasons, a set of four violin concertos whose themes are as recognizable to most classical lovers as the beatles sgt. pepper is to most fans of pop—again, all original sans drum track and electric guitars.  what i find curious about david garrett's version is not that it's never been done before—vanessa mae did this back in 97, but she only re-arranged the piece for violin and rock band...

nigel kennedy, an acknowleged master violinist, staked is entire career on the notion of "crossover" music, the melding of classial and pop music—he performed hendrix on the violin back in the 80s, much to the horror of classical purists and to the mild delight of so-called "crossover" fans—but, he also made an original version of vivaldi's four seasons (this original version was quite "shocking" at the time, relatively off course, for its overt showmanship and ostentatious interpretation-which was nigel kennedy's capture the rock/pop crowd and it's often cited as being the highest selling classical album of all time, one of the few classcial cds that might be found in the library of a pop/rock lover, along with coltrane's "a love supreme," another legendary genre crossover cd). at least nigel had the good taste to leave well enough alone and use the original text.

please listen to these three versions and tell me honestly which one you like. if you like david garrett's—go fuck yourself (sorry...), this conversation is over...and so are your hopes of ever learning to enjoy the classics. if you like vanessa mae's version, there might just be hope for you. it, admittedly, rocks...and at least it's the original music albeit arranged for rock band. if you like nigel kennedy's version—well, need i say more...
let me make myself perfectly clear—i dont give a flying rat's ass what music you like or dont like. iv'e been out of the recruiting business for years and if you have bad taste in music i have no sympathy for you. what i find interesting is that we've just about completely lost our great musical heritage in this country; from classical music to jazz...even so-called classic rock—(i'm not taling about all the great independant music out there, and there is a lot of it...i'm talking about what's being peddled to the masses, to the general populace whose taste, for better or worse, governs 99% of all the art we make.  our tastes have all gone lowest common denomenator with highest bidder taking all. in this case, the highest bidder is the typical american consumer who has lost his once great cultural and artistic soul to a bunch of corporate whores that pander to 12 year olds by selling them teen idols, american idols and lady gaga.

well, i say: "let em eat cake!"  i've got my great musical heritage on my ipad and i can pull up stravinsky's histoire du soldat or shostakovich's preludes or bartok's string quartets or hindemith's ludas tonalis or britten's peter grimes or bach's kunst der fuge or even the beatles, the who, captain beefheart, dylan, gentle giant, led zepplin, neil young, king crimson, david bowie, talking heads, sonic youth, kurt cobain, beck, radiohead, jack white, wilco, eliot smith, or even our great jazz tradition, arguably america's only true original art form; charlie parker, thelonius monk, charles mingus, miles davis, dave brubeck, horace silver, john coltrane, eric dolphy, ornette coleman etc. 

do you remember that classic scene from jerry maguire; the scene where the emasculated male character, played to perfection by todd louiso, rambles on about miles davis and the bastardization of jazz etc...he is the defacto geek, unable to get laid and plying his pitiful trade in the only venue available for losers; jazz, classical and progressive rock, the elephant graveyard of america's great musical tradition.  well, the music that was playing during that classic bedroom scene was not miles davis with coltrane in sweeden, it was charles mingus (the title of the piece escapes me at this writing).  here is a clip of charles mingus, during his bleak period in the mid 60s, broken, forgotten and relegated to a dilapidated apartment building in which he is being evicted by the city.  the reason you don't recognize charles mingus in this clip is because you are a victim of the great sell-out, the corporate theft of america's great musical tradtion...but, it's not too late!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Jacksonian Democracy Spreads to the Farmland

this video of one of george carlin's last stand up routines has been floating around on my facebook for a few weeks now.  i love carlin as much as the next guy but this is some bitter shite.  what i find interesting about this clip is the extent to which people now relate to the use of non-specific, non-entities like "they" and "the people that control.."  who the hell is he talking about and why the hell are people eating this shit up.  one guy on my facebook warned us that "they" might take the video down because georgie boy is telling it like it is and "they" don't want you know this shit.  it's the rise of conspiratorial morons like David Icke "The David Icke Guide to the Global Conspiracy," James W. Loewen, "Lies my Teacher Told Me," Howard Zinn "People's History of the United States," (who, by the way, got his start by being matt damon's next door neighbor and getting a plug in the film "Good Will Hunting") and even to a certain extent Wiliam Cooper's "Behold a Pale Horse," and the godlike status of heretofore jackasses like Noam Chomsky who now reign happily in the idiotsphere thanks to geniuses like Zach De La Rocha from Rage Against the Machine.  raise your hand if you think the moonlanding was staged...then pat yourself on the back because you're a fucking moron!

barnes and noble up for sale

first off—i want to make it clear that i love barnes and noble and i want barnes and noble to succeed and i want to continue my working relationshio with barnes and noble..!

ive been strugling with this recent barnes and noble thing, the potential sale.  i knew something was coming but i didnt know it would be this quick.  honestly, i think that most people are overacting to the e-book revolution.  we're putting too much emphasis on e-books now in our store—which is to say that we are putting all our emphasis on ebooks.  i dont think that ebooks are in our future.  i know that barnes cannot support the superstore model that it has sustained for the last ten years.  we peeked as a viable business model in the early 2000s and now we are on the downside and have been for over five years.  but of course, its a combination of a lot of factors, ebooks being only a part of the problem.  

on a side note:  ive notced that all of the "buyers" of our electronnic book reader (the nook) are not "readers." these are fical consumers who dont read.  they believe like many many people that they should be reading.  even serious readers think about ways to increase their commitment to reading and this nook, the ebook reader, is being used by non-readers as a way to increase, or in some cases begin, their reading.  i think that this phenomenon is hilarious—zero regular customers are buying into this ebook thing...its only non-readers or non-barnes and noble customers who have never walked into our store before.  i cant help but think that these customers think that the reason they dont read is because there was always something inherently wrong with the physical book—and now thanks to technology, reading is now viable on a little computer screen.  

well, electronic books have their use and place—but we've had the technology for decades...its called a computer.  of course, tablets like the ipad are potentially more helpful than computers for "some" applications—but not for pure reading, not for pleasure reading.  the fact remains that its more enjoyable to read a physical book than an electronic one, for practical as well as emotional and other intangible reasons.  music is different.  we made the transformation to digital media years ago and the onset of the ipod and mp3s is just a natural progression.  listening to 20,000 high quality pieces of music on a device the size of a credit card is just better...again, for practical as well as emotional and other intangible reasons.  that transition made sense.  ebooks do not and anyone that says different is not a reader or a serious consumer of information.  

now, that said; i also believe that our culture is changing.  people just dont read as much as they used to.  i include so-called serious intellectuals in this group.  ive noticed that most news articles on google news include most of the pertinent info in the intital paragraph, that is, in the actual web link to the article.  i sometimes wonder why i bother clicking on some news article links because there is almost no additional information and if there is any additional pertinent info, its almost never more than a page—NEVER!  wow...what does this say about our culture in general.  of course, its possible to find all the information you need and more on the internet...but whats being peddled to the general populace is superficial, "lite" and totally compressed.

alright—to keep things in perspective; 99.9 percent of our cultural and social attention is focused on the general populace—the dear, sweet, lovable unwashed masses who hertofore, "in olden times," were completely ignored, largely because they had no disposable income.  we are still free in our society to read books until the cows come home, or until we go blind.  you can still find gobs of information on the internet if you make half the effort (i'm talking about serious scholarly information by so-called reputable sources—not bloggers posting their dietary habits).  the problem is that the current barnes and noble model, that of the three story superstore behemoth that has creeped up in the last 10 to 15 years, is focused on the general populace and their reading habits or lack thereof.  the market is saturated for this model and has been for over five years.  what we're seeing now is a correction in the market.  

Monday, August 2, 2010


Origin of Club Diogenes

"There are many men in London, you know, who, some from shyness, some from misanthropy, have no wish for the company of their fellows. Yet they are not averse to comfortable chairs and the latest periodicals. It is for the convenience of these that the Diogenes Club was started, and it now contains the most unsociable and unclubable men in town. No member is permitted to take the least notice of any other one. Save in the Stranger's Room, no talking is, under any circumstances, allowed, and three offences, if brought to the notice of the committee, render the talker liable to expulsion. My brother was one of the founders, and I have myself found it a very soothing atmosphere."    Sir Arthur Conan Doyle