Not so Swift

Taylor Swift recently posted a modest, tasteful, but firm tirade about the monsters in the investment industry who purchased her back-catalogue from  another monster, Scooter Braun.

I haven’t been able to locate much real information about this deal through Google but I am pretty sure what happened was this: Taylor Swift, early in her career, was offered a typical music industry contract that offered her fame and riches in exchange for, oh, don’t read the fine print, just sign…. here.  Thank you.  As the years went by, she, like the Beatles, and Tom Petty, and just about every other musical artist, discovered, to her astonishment, that she had signed away the rights to “her own” masters and the actual mechanical recordings of her albums.

I put “her own” in quotation marks because Swift is obviously a product of the machinery of super-stardom, the system that creates, manipulates, and manufactures celebrities who do something “act”, “sing”, shoot baskets, and then get promoted to death through social media, talk shows, magazines, and so on.  Those albums are certainly partly hers, and substantially the product of her “artistic” vision, but they are also certainly partly the product of the “star-maker machinery” (as Joni Mitchell termed it).  This is not Bob Dylan walking into the studio and the engineer pressing “record” and putting the result on vinyl.

Swift wrote three of the album’s songs alone and co-wrote the remaining eight with Rose, Robert Ellis Orrall, Brian Maher, and Angelo Petraglia.  Wiki

She was signed to Big Machine Records by Scott Borchetta and here’s where the original sin probably happened.  Here is where her contract probably specified that BMR owned the master recordings.  Here is the deal with the devil: BMR invested in Taylor Swift, bought studio time, paid expenses for engineers and back-up musicians, make-up artists, fashion designers– who knows– and, in return, took ownership of the masters.  [BMR would argue that that is only fair– look at how much they invested.  They would argue that they made Taylor Swift.  I would argue that it’s still exploitive and unfair and if they can’t live with an agreement that requires them to defer ownership of master recordings to the artist, then tough– go screw somebody else.]

Enter Scooter Braun.  He arranged the deal.  He had his entity purchase Borchetta’s entity (and Borchetta may be the more appropriate target of Swift’s fury) and thus ownership of the masters.  It’s a common deal in the industry and Swift, to be fair, does point that out.  Fair enough.  And fair enough that a young artist in the process of being signed is vulnerable to exploitation and the exploitation here is in persuading them to sign contracts that, if they are successful, benefit the agents and managers far more than the artist.

She discovered that Scooter Braun was a businessman, not an aesthete.  Braun got into the business by — I’m not making this up– organizing parties for touring musicians Eminem and Ludacris.

Taylor Swift examined his cv and decided, yes, that’s who I want managing my career.  Well, not exactly.  But Braun,  like so many of the unseemly people who work in the entertainment business, quickly grasped how to leverage himself into bigger and bigger roles within the industry.  He got Ludacris to endorse Pontiac.  Yes, the car company owned by GM.  Then he helped the Atlanta Hawks squeeze more revenue out of their fans.  And then he saw Justin Bieber on a Youtube video and he was off to the races.

The point is, Braun is a kind of the madame of an entertainment brothel and it does strike me as a little disingenuous of Taylor Swift to suddenly jump up and scream about who she is working for.

Braun, it is reported, made over $400 million by selling Swift’s catalogue to Shamrock.

In 2022, Braun met with Joe Biden in the White House to discuss the rise in hate crimes against Asians.

And this is delightful:

In 2018, Braun was honored with the Music Biz 2018 Harry Chapin Memorial Humanitarian Award for his philanthropic efforts in 2017.[67] He also received the Save the Children’s Humanitarian Award that year.  Wiki

You get the complete picture.  You’ve seen this character over and over in movies about the industry, the hustler, the glib manager, the guy who snorts cocaine with hip rich party-goers, makes the right noises about the environment and justice and Democratic politics, donates to the right causes, attends or hosts the right fund-raisers.  He’s a walking cliche.

He donated to Hilary Clinton and Kamala Harris.

He married a Canadian, Yael Cohen, founder of “Fuck Cancer”, in 2014.  Alas: divorced in 2022.

Taylor Swift is also known for her liberal politics.  It’s a bit odd to see this clash play out this way.

She is right to be outraged.  Not so right to blame it all on sexism.  Seriously?  She thinks the men in her industry don’t have this problem?  She thinks that it’s only the men who perpetuate this arrangement?  You think Tom Petty was given a pass because he was male?

Here is my response on Facebook:

I really doubt that male artists in the same predicament are not just as supportive as female artists– it doesn’t need to be made into an issue of sexism, even if that plays well with a certain segment of fandom. I also suspect that Swift signed a contract that gave control of her master recordings to these entities, something young artists find it hard to resist when a prospective glittering career is on the line. But I agree with her 100% that these deals are exploitive and unfair and I have long believed that Congress should regulate such contracts to protect young artists from signing away rights that should absolutely belong to them as artists in perpetuity. I also think a law should prohibit industry producers, arrangers, managers, recording engineers, etc., from claiming co-writing credits for songs on which their contributions were marginal at best. Bravo to Swift for standing up to the creeps.

So, yes, I generally support her, but I almost wanted to rescind my support when I realized that she– probably knowingly– decided to try to exploit the wave of feminist support by blaming institutional exploitive arrangement on men.

One last thing, Ms. Swift.   I’m glad to see you on your high horse about principles and integrity and honesty and truth and justice and all that.  May I bring up a little item you can do something about?


Perhaps someday we might hear you perform songs from your glorious catalogue in your real honest voice.

One critic says:

Though some of her loyal fans will never admit it, we all know deep in our hearts Taylor is an average singer at best. Taylor Swift is flawed, clumsy, and in many ways, uncool. She’s a flat-chested, pencil-thin, pale and awkward little girl with perpetual neurotic love drama brought on by self-esteem issues.



The $4K Concert Ticket

“Regardless of the commentary about a modest number of tickets costing $1,000 or more, our true average ticket price has been in the mid-$200 range,” he continued. “I believe that in today’s environment, that is a fair price to see someone universally regarded as among the very greatest artists of his generation.”  NY Times

I never find it not weird that people will pay astronomical sums to sit squeezed into a sports stadium to see Paul McCartney, the Eagles, Bruce Springsteen,  Elton John, the Rolling Stones, and others, mainly for songs they created 40 or 50 years ago (which recent McCartney song did you really want to hear?).

Full disclosure: I recently went to see Bruce Cockburn at the Centre in the Square in Kitchener.  But he performed solo, just him and his voice and acoustic guitars, and he didn’t cheat.  And it was my wife who really wanted to see him.

Years ago, we paid a wee little amount to see Nellie McKay in Toronto at the legendary  El Mocambo. We were right up at the front of the stage, and we got to chat with her afterwards (I still have my autographed CD). She was at the stage of her career where she was producing the songs that people would today be paying $4,000 to hear, had she not opted out of the plastic-ware star-making music machinery because of creative differences with her publisher.

It was a fabulous concert experience, amazing songs, engaging… so much better than sitting in row 9,999 a thousand feet away from the stage to watch someone who, to be generous, is somewhat past his prime. Sometimes, as with the Beach Boys, the REAL keyboard player is in the shadows behind the drummer. Sometimes the real drummer is behind the drummer. Very often, the performance is autotuned, “live”. Very, very often additional instrumentation has been pre-recorded and added in– even vocals.

At least I rather expect that Springsteen won’t be autotuned. But then again, the logic seems to be “if everyone else is doing it” (and they are)…

If you like live concert experiences, I heartily recommend looking for an up-and-coming performer playing smaller, intimate venues.

Uneducated Comedians

I have a theory that a college education is not an asset to a comedian.  Some comedians, including Woody Allen, ridicule pretty well all education.   Their teachers were stupid.  They were smarter than their teachers.  Schools suppressed their creativity and imagination.  Most of what they learned is irrelevant to their lives.

They are right that the education system needs to be improved but I wonder what they think would be a good alternative.  I suppose, better teachers.   Hollywood loves movies about inspirational teachers who are attacked and repressed by soul-less repressive authority figures.  If the movie is based on a true story, I guarantee you that the enemy of the inspirational teacher is fiction– audiences need a villain.

The comedian– in today’s comedy– thrives on the “arrested thought” (my term).

If you make a joke that is subtle or complex, you risk a dud in front of a live audience which may not ever get it.

George Carlin, bless his soul, regularly does take this chance. But he is exceptional. And I am disturbed by the fact that he is now widely honored, even revered. I’ll bet he worries about it too.  When the establishment falls over itself to hand you awards (Kennedy Centre honors), you have obviously become part of … the establishment.

For example, it’s funnier to mock abstract art if you don’t quite process the real thing. If you don’t get into the question of shape or color or visualization or composition, or how hard it is to actually create an abstract painting (try it, if you don’t believe me). If you process it that far, it’s not funny anymore. It’s plausible that there might be something to abstract art–and that the criteria for judging it might be different than, say, for figurative art– and that is the joke’s death. It’s funnier to describe a painting as a bunch of splatters and lines and say, “I’m supposed to be amazed by this?” The young high-school educated working class males in the audience respond enthusiastically because they don’t get it either and they hate feeling stupid.

Louis C. K., a comedian I like very much, recently appeared on David Letterman to mock the Common Core. I’m not sure about Common Core. I haven’t studied it carefully. It may well be a very significant, important, and effective reform. But Louis C. K., with his high school diploma gets to describe Common Core math as “Bill has three goldfish. He buys two more. How many dogs live in London.” London, of course. There is something, to the working-class male, foreign about this Common Core. Elitist. Fucking Common Core. Hilarious. Drink up.

Where is the joke? The joke is half of fourth graders in the U.S. can’t read a thermometer accurately. The joke is that American adults rank in the bottom 20% in math skills among 20 developed nations. The joke is that A&W’s 1/3 pound burger bombed in the U.S. because most customers thought it was smaller than the quarter-pounder at McDonald’s. The joke is that Americans are the worst at math in the entire world and Louis C. K. yuks it up because any attempt to improve math scores involves challenging, intellectually demanding effort, and you can’t seriously expect an American man to give a shit about anything other than beer, football, and large breasts. And if you think otherwise, it’s because you’re an elitist snob who thinks he’s better than us.

The joke should have been, Louis C. K. makes an appointment to see the teacher but can’t find the room for the meeting because it has more than two digits in the number.

Mitch Hedberg died on April Fools Day, 2005. That’s why it took so long for people to realize he was really dead. That’s no joke.

Bob Hope was actually pretty witty and funny and charming. I never liked him because for me, growing up in the 1960’s, he was the quintessential establishment comedian: he used writers and cue cards instead of creating and memorizing his own material; and he was white, safe, homogenized, and a classic Republican Chicken Hawk: a passionate supporter of the Viet Nam War who– of course!– never got within a hundred miles of actually serving in a war, though I’m sure he felt very brave doing comedy at a military base somewhere near the location of actual warfare.

Also like a classic Republican, Hope carried on several affairs while married, including a long-term one with actress Marilyn Maxwell. Why is this so inevitable?

When Hope was honoured by Queen Elizabeth with an honorary knighthood, he quipped, “I’m speechless. 70 years of ad lib material and I’m speechless”. Well, no. Seventy years of cue cards, Mr. Hope. But an interesting line. I’m quite sure he doesn’t mind most of fans believing that he writes his own quips or thinks of them on the fly.

Great comedy really is a mark of genius, and the best comedians around today like Louis C. K., Stephen Wright, Doug Stanhope and others might be among the smartest people in the entertainment business.

That doesn’t make them the smartest people.  Just from that select group.  But the sad trend among comedians to ridicule education at every opportunity sounds to me like musicians dumping on music critics.  Did you forget why a lot of people started listening to your music and bought your albums?  Because they read a review somewhere.


Why is it that our society seems to admire, without reservation, those who strive for the best in sports and athletic endeavors, and despise those who strive for the same thing in the arts?

If you love the world cup of music, the championship of films, the record-setting paintings, and poetry that is better than anyone else’s poetry, you are considered a snob and an elitist. And I’m not talking about Oscar or Grammy winners here, which are the equivalent of TV reality show competitions. I am talking about “The White Ribbon”, “The Third Man”, “Blade Runner”, “Solaris”, “The Seventh Seal”, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Velvet Underground, Tom Waits….

All right… I see how it breaks down. We know the exact time of the best 100 meters, and the exact score of the seventh game of the Stanley Cup final.

We don’t know if Leonard Cohen is really just a hack or not.

We do know that we love a lot of films that people like me consider to be utter drivel, like “The Reader”, “The Book Thief”, “Shawshank Redemption”, “Forrest Gump”, “Hugo”, “The Departed”, and so on, and so on.

The Pearl with the Girl Earring

Just because Hollywood made a film about it does not mean that “The Girl with a Pearl Earring” is now the greatest Vermeer, evah. Even if it was Scarlett Johansson as the girl.

It is a mediocre film not worthy of it’s subject.  It isn’t even worthy of Scarlett Johansson, who spent most of the film trying to look innocent and sultry at the same time.

It’s not even close. I personally find the painting a bit off-putting myself. Give me “A Girl Reading a Letter by an Open Window”, “The Music Lesson”, The Kitchen Maid”, “The Geographer”– yeah, pretty well any other Vermeer painting, except for the “Study of a Young Woman”, which I also find off-putting.

Camille Claudel’s Mother

Auguste Rodin may have behaved dishonorably towards Camille Claudel (b. 1864)– he carried on an adulterous relationship with her for several years and finally refused to leave his “other” wife of 20 years and marry her– but he was not the one who had her committed to an asylum March 1913 at the age of 49 and he was not the one who refused to allow her to be released for the rest of her life though her supportive father and several of her physicians and caretakers urged it.

There were reasons: Claudel had become paranoid and hysterical and destroyed much of her own work. More importantly, she became an embarrassment to the family.

It was her mother who wanted her kept, and it was her mother who insisted she remain in her prison (though it was her brother who signed the admission papers).

Claudel died on October 19, 1943, in the asylum Asile de Montdevergues). She left many letters, mostly to her brother, describing her predicament. He had no pity on her.

Claudel destroyed most of her work in 1905, but about 90 works survive. In the opinion of some, between her and Rodin, she was the greater talent.

The Subcommittee on Authentication of Authenticity

An original painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat from 1981-1983, regarded as his “peak” period, can sell for up to $16 million. No– wait: $29 million.

Basquiat made some money from his own work but artists almost never make the really big money, for two reasons. Firstly, works of art don’t sell for all that much until the artist is dead. Secondly, art is a racket. By “racket”, I mean that nobody really knows what the value of a work of art is until the institutional forces that manage, manipulate, and arrange the art world take hold of it. Basquiat is definitely safely dead, and his works are distinctive, so the art world can now play it’s role. He must be desired to be desired, wanted to be begged, and rare enough to be valuable. But Basquiat’s works will never be as rare as collectors think because it is in no one’s interest to promote the idea that there are a lot of Basquiats out there. [I just heard that someone living in a flooded are of Calgary had an original Van Gogh painting in his house.]


There was, for a time, something called the “Authentication Committee”. You see, a Basquiat is not valuable to anyone because of what it looks like, in spite of utter drivel you will hear:

“he painted a calculated incoherence, calibrating the mystery of what such apparently meaning-laden pictures might ultimately mean” (Marc Mayer, Basquiat in History).


Basquiat paintings are very, very valuable because they, like all other collected art, have become a form of currency. They might as well be currency. Above is a $7 million bill.

I was going to write something snarky about rich people who don’t appreciate real art and only collect it as an investment, and for it’s snob value. That’s probably all true, but there’s not much new to say about it. I was just struck by the idea of an “Authentication Committee”. We all need an Authentication Committee: this is real, this is not real. This is a hoax. This is phony. All of this is phony. Everything is phony. If everything is phony, then everything is real. You need to sort it out for yourself. You need to stand in front of the painting and decide whether or not you find it entertaining in some way. Then you need to decide if it is entertaining to you because it is shocking that people pay a lot of money for it, or because the colors and shapes and design tickle your eye. Or because other people think that it is only entertaining because it cost a lot of money but you are smarter than that. Or because you can see why people pay a lot of money for it but you have no idea why this particular work, and not some other work by a completely unknown artist, is any good. All of our perceptions can be corrupted. All of them matter. None of them do. But then all of them do.

I like the painting. I think it’s original and interesting and expresses something about Basquiat’s desire to express something. I would be willing to pay more than $100 for that painting, if I ever get a chance to buy it.


I love this:

“It hung above a desk in a hotel suite where Coco Chanel lived for more than 30 years and was only discovered to be important last summer, when the hotel shut for a 27-month renovation in the face of stiff competition from newer hotels. ‘It is a magical discovery,’ said Cecile Bernard, a Christie’s expert…'”

The magic, of course, is the fact that this painting was not “important” until an expert from Christie’s got onto her solemn podium of high art and pronounced it so.

The painting is “Le Sacrafice de Polyxene” by Charles Le Brun from the 17th century. It is worth about $650,000.00 (U.S.).

The Ingenue

An ingénue is a dramatic and literary archetype. “The ingénue symbolizes the mutable character par excellence, the blank slate in search of an identity,” the French scholar Julia V. Douthwaite wrote about the role of the ingénue in Ancien Régime French fiction. The ingénue is defined by her age — that crepuscular moment between adolescence and adulthood — and also by her innocence. A naïf in a complex, urbane, foreign world, she moves unaware of the hypocrisy, duplicity and exploitation all around her. She is credulous and vulnerable and dependent on a protective paternal figure and lives in constant peril of being exploited or corrupted by some lurking cad or villain. This threat is the central tension of her life. What makes her interesting are the questions of how she will navigate this world, who she will become and what will become of her. Traditionally, there have existed two possible outcomes: marriage (whether successful or ruinous) or death.

From New York Times, Carina Chochano, April 22, 2011

Link to the Full Article

So, at the very heart of it, the ingénue doesn’t know she is about to be tricked into having sex.

Once she realizes that the men in her life are willing to use her, she becomes a different person. Either she takes control of her life and becomes “worldly” or “cool”; or she becomes a victim, destined to appear on Oprah.

Kim Yu-Na, the Olympic figure skating champion, appears to me to have almost perfect proportions.  Waist, trunk, thighs, arms, shoulders: perfect.  If I was looking for a model for a sculpture of “Eve”, I’d ask her.

The Perfect Car

To me, you are just perfect.

My dream car. At least, when I was 14, this is the car I dreamed of. I saw a dark, maroon version of it in a movie once– I forget which one. Probably some kind of spy film. I remember that it was occupied by a very large, bald man and he was coming to kill the hero. He wasn’t the real bad guy– just a henchman. That’s the car I dreamed of owning some day.

I saw this in an ad a few years ago. I suddenly realized that, if I had really wanted to, I could have bought it right then and there. It was about $14K.

Anywhere, here, for my own personal contemplation, the actual car.  Fourteen thousand dollars.  I could have bought it, but I’m old and more sense than that.


Fast Cuts: Mediocre Directors

All right, you’ve finished shooting. You assemble your video and your audio and your special effects and start trying to pull it altogether into a coherent whole. You think you’re finished and the big moment arrives– you show it to your friends, some crew, film company execs, sponsors, whatever. It’s boring. It’s dull. It doesn’t “move”.

You are mortified. What can you do? Don’t give up! You promise everyone you’ll go back into the editing suite and fix it. But you can’t reshoot, because the actors have gone home, the crew is dispersed, the light’s different…

No problem. Just shorten every cut. Shorten every cut to about .6 seconds. That’s right, less than a second. Cut, cut, cut. Then add some more sound effects, lasers, metal on metal, whoosh! More cuts. More, until you have about 40 cuts a minute, if not more. Loud music, loud effects. Now, let’s jiggle the camera, as if your camera was drunk, staggering around in circles, totally discombobulated. That’s it– makes it look like this is really happening to Brad Pitt, right. You can tell it’s really happening because the camera man is jiggling the camera, man. That like a documentary! Looks real. Looks really real.

Fast cuts never make any scene look great, but they prevent lousy scenes from looking really, really bad. You can’t tell any more– each shot is only on the screen for a second or less. What you have is the illusion of action and movement, which is analogous to being able to be the eyes in the heads of five different people in rapid succession. This does not reveal anything to the viewer: it merely keeps him from realizing that the director is unable to develop an interesting sequence of actions from a single point of view.

This is not the same as Eisenstein’s theory of montage: in Eisenstein’s view, each cut provides a comment on the previous and succeeding cuts, thereby creating a coherent sequence that gives meaning to the action. The famous scene of the baby carriage rolling down the steps and the Cossack holding his sword aloft and the woman about to scream…. Modern action films simply provide a succession of shots without any inner coherence at all. That would require work.

Sergei Eisenstein, also known as the Soviet Eraserhead.


Why do ALL the previews now have quick cuts going to black? Can’t anyone do anything on their own nowadays? Who started it? Who did it first? Who said now everyone has to do it the same way: short, quick cuts, fade to black, fade to black, fade to black. The audience can really tell that this film has lots of action, so they will want to see it. Do not, under any circumstances, give the audience any idea of what the movie will actually be about, because it’s not about anything: it’s guns, helicopters, and babes, and moving cameras, and explosions, and revenge and mayhem.

Event the trailers for the films that appear to be about relationships or character are now chopped into tiny little disconnected shots, fading to black…