The Drones of Transient Pitchyness

This is how it’s done.

This is the death of real singing.  Any half-decent singer can now sound “decent”, that is, on pitch.  The penalty is obvious if you know what to listen for: that odd ambient tunnelling of the voice, the weird tiny echo, the synthesis of algorithm and vocal expression.

From the point of view of an “artist”–but especially a producer or engineer– the appeal is irresistible.  A singer only has to be close– not perfect.  Before Autotune, you needed twenty, thirty, or forty takes to get something “right”.  Now a take or two and a software application can do it in 20 minutes or less.  It will iron out the flaws and fluctuations and produce perfect pitch with a tiny smidgeon of robotic tone, for the lead, for harmonies, for background vocals.  But the cost is the hard to describe: the feeling of authenticity, of humanity, of real human tone.

Most people in the industry would find my distaste for it bewildering.  Don’t you want perfect pitch?  Don’t you want flawless musicality?  Don’t you want that style that buzzes by your ear without the slightest hint of variation or personality or character or the richness of the random?  Don’t you want music that anesthetizes and soothes and washes over you like silky bubbles of insubstantial gloss?

No, I don’t.  I would rather listen to Frank Watkinson.  Give me his all too human flaws any day over Beyonce or Katie Perry or Taylor Swift and all the other manufactured factory drones that pass for artistry nowadays.  And what do I love about Frank more than anything else?  This comment:

“I’ve never had an ambition to go out at night, traveling, going to places and playing and that, because I personally wouldn’t pay to see myself.”

There will be a small constituency for the real out there.  But most pop has succumbed to the Autotune disease.

Give me Leonard Cohen and Neil Young and Iron & Wine and the Civil Wars and Tom Waits and Neutral Milk Hotel and Bruce Springsteen and, yes, Bob Dylan, instead.  And the next time you listen to one of the drones and think they sound just great, thank you, remember: you’ve been cheated.

 

Free Speech, if you Already Have it

‘I am against censorship that goes far beyond the law. If people want less free speech, they will ask government to pass laws to that effect. Therefore, going beyond the law is contrary to the will of the people.”’  Elon Musk.

Because people sometimes ask the government to make speech less free?  Censor us!  We don’t deserve to have a voice in our nation’s affairs!  I wish to disagree in silence!

What Musk is really talking about, of course, is the obligation we are beginning to impose on gigantic social media entities to regulate and restrict what kind of speech they allow.  We are beginning to realize that shouting “fire” in a crowded virtual theatre through Twitter is potentially just as harmful as it is in a real theatre.

The whole essential principle of free speech is to protect the rights of minorities, not the right of a majority to shut them up.

CNN’s Election Coverage 2022

CNN was rather meticulously explaining why counting votes from urban districts with very large, more educated populations that tend to vote Democrat takes longer than counting the relatively small number of votes from rural areas that tend to vote Republican.
It was like Sesame Street for Election deniers. I kept expecting them to bring on the Count to demonstrate how some numbers are bigger than others.
Except, I think the Count counts faster than Arizona or Nevada.

Nick Cave is Getting Old

Q.  This is semi-random but did you see the Elvis movie?  [The hit movie “Elvis,” directed by Baz Luhrmann and starring Austin Butler as Elvis Presley.  from this year?]

A.  Yeah. I was confused by it. Elvis is my hero. There was an aspect to the story of his later years that is almost religious to me.  NY Times

First of all, a journalist should not be telling Nick Cave that the movie is “a hit”.  What is your point?  That it was popular and successful?   [Well, pardon me– but, as if to prove me right, he didn’t say “hit movie”: the NY Times website attached a note to the article that my copy somehow picked up.]

I take it Cave was confused because Luhrmann, striving for some kind of credibility, I suppose, ended up allowing some ambiguity in the film as to just how “heroic” Presley was.  He clearly refused to stand up to his manager, “Colonel” Tom Parker, who made so many bad decisions for him, and Elvis’ greatest success came in Las Vegas– a cesspool of kitsch– but he is worshipped by the credulous American public who can’t believe that someone that rich (he wasn’t, really– Parker took most of the money) isn’t also virtuous and deserving.

Firstly, I know someone reading this will, sooner or later, leap up and shout “but he had a great voice”.  Yes he did.  So does Celine Dion and Michael Bublé and a hundred other irrelevant “artists” who merely produce pleasant-sounding confections.

Is there anything more bereft of artistic merit than a Michael Bublé song?

As another aside: the film could have done one brilliant thing to lift itself above the messy contrivance that it is:  it should have contrasted Elvis in Vegas– and his audience– to the nascent punk movement in London and New York, and their audiences, just to clue the audience in to just how far from “shocking” Elvis had become and how much he had become, instead, an establishment icon.

It means very little to me, who would rather hear Bob Dylan sing one verse of “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” or  “Tambourine Man” or Leonard Cohen croak his way through  “Famous Blue Raincoat” or Tom Waits wail “Cold, Cold Ground” than an entire concert of Elvis.

There is a reason Elvis impersonators are so popular.  What Elvis produced is easily imitated. It’s all surfaces and gloss.  It’s that warble in his voice, the breath, the thirsty lips.  It’s audio scenery.

I won’t hide my crushing disappointment at hearing Nick Cave admit he admired perhaps the most corrupt and conformist rock-pop artist in history.  Elvis was always only ever about getting rich.  Okay– yes, he was a white artist doing black music in the 1950’s.  What did that mean to him?  That he was progressive or activist or even liberal?  He “shocked” the establishment.   Into what?  Hurling their panties onto the stage in Las Vegas?

And gosh, yes indeed, he was very attractive to girls– because, one suspects– he was a girl.  He was definitely a mama’s boy who couldn’t bear to have sex with his wife after she had become pregnant.

He was also a credulous believer in old time religion, producing several albums of the most banal, conventional gospel tunes imaginable (he made Tennessee Ernie Ford look positively conscious).   He used his money to build himself a playground at Graceland and surrounded himself with men who were willing to act like kids and horse around and eat too much and keep real people away.  He begged a fat old Dutch hustler with the cultural palette of Gumby to please, please take 50% of all of my earnings because I am too dumb and too weak to  get myself a lawyer– without your permission– and challenge you on any point on any issue including those monumentally stupid movies you signed me up for.  This was no “shock” to the establishment: it was a slobbering wet kiss to everything the white patriarchal society represented at the time.

Elvis joined the army.

Seriously– Elvis never, in his 20’s, a powerful (in terms of potential earnings power) celebrity, never challenged Parker’s control of his career, of his social life, of his engagements, his politics, his clothes?  Just how gutless exactly was the man?  Regard the Beatles, who exploded into four solo-careers, fired their manager, hired and fired lawyers and accountants, started a company, bankrupted the company, promoted new artists, demonstrated for peace, and so on, and so on, all while Elvis was sitting on a toilet in Las Vegas.  (It has to be noted here that the Beatles, too, admired Elvis, and the Beach Boys.  But they were more influenced by Bob Dylan.)

That’s not merely weird.  It’s nauseating.

Nick Cave says:

The final Las Vegas concerts were the Passion of crucifixion and redemption and resurrection.

Nick Cave– do you even know what Las Vegas is?  Have you ever been to Vegas?  Have you toured the hotels, the strip malls, the casinos?  What is there about this place that doesn’t strike you as hell?

There is a man who’s suffering on such an epic level to be onstage and to perform and to live.

No, there is a man who didn’t have the backbone to make any decisions for himself for his entire life.  You admire him for it?!!

I have always found Elvis repellent for the same reason Cave says he admired him: he played Vegas.

Growing up in the 60’s, my generation had the courage (for better and worse) to begin to think independently of the established pro-war, pro-growth, anti-sex, anti-drugs culture and strike out boldly with new values and ideas and lifestyles.  Sure, a lot of it went off the rails, and a lot of it did not endure.  But think of the environmental movement, the feminist movement, civil rights, and the antiwar attitudes that do still prevail.  Elvis had nothing to do with any of it.  It was a conscious decision, made for Elvis by the “Colonel”, to never, ever have an intelligent opinion about any of these raging issues during the entire decade.

What was Elvis doing, during the time of “Ohio”, “The Times They are a ‘Changing”, “For What It’s Worth”, “Eve of Destruction”, Woodstock, Kent State, Viet Nam, Love Canal, etc., etc., etc.?

A medley, arranged by the great songwriter Mickey Newbury, of “Dixie,” “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “All My Trials” that Presley frequently used as a centerpiece of his later concerts.

(Another note from the NY Times referring to a segment of the documentary, “This is Elvis”. )

Suffering?  Elvis wanted the worship, the attention, the money, the corrupting lifestyle, the entourage, the limousines, the bullshit.  It is what he lived for.

That changed my life as an artist. It was the most stirring thing that I’ve ever seen musically. There was something that was happening at those shows that I’ve never seen anywhere else.

Well, that part is right.  You watched a generation of obese, self-satisfied, smug, contemptible Las Vegas consumers wet their panties over a  vacuous washed-up celebrity icon.  This wasn’t a crucifixion, and it certainly wasn’t redemption (Elvis had long ago lost the younger generation: he was now appealing to the teenagers of the 1950’s, who were now middle-aged and settled into their suburban homes) and Elvis wasn’t courageous or innovative or inventive or noteworthy in any artistic sense at all, aside from the fact that he was a white man performing black music.  All that blather that you read about his “come-back” is from a bunch of hacks being overwhelmed by Elvis’s popularity and coercing themselves into sucking up to the myth.

What, really, at this point in his career, was the difference between Elvis and a mediocrity like Engelbert Humperdinck?  Not much.  Elvis was louder.

We are told that Elvis died on the toilet.  Elvis lived on the toilet, on the Las Vegas of culture, literally: trashy spectacle and banal confections.


The only thing that could be more disappointing than Nick Cave’s admiration of Elvis would be Eric Clapton finding Jesus and becoming an anti-vaxxer or Van Morrison comparing Covid restrictions to slavery.

And yeah, Eric Clapton found Jesus and is now a pro-Trump anti-vaxxer and Clapton and Van Morrison compare Covid restrictions to negro slavery.

Has Clapton changed?

In 1976, Clapton said this, publicly:

Onstage, Clapton told his audience that it was important to “keep England White” and that “the Black wogs and coons and Arabs and f—ing Jamaicans don’t belong here.”

You might say, and I might say, that an incident that happened 45 years ago should be forgotten.  I would strongly agree, if it was an “incident”, like groping a groupie, or stealing your best friend’s wife (yes, he did).  But it wasn’t: it was Clapton inadvertently forgetting to hide his opinions from the public.  Clapton, who made a career playing the blues, a style created by black musicians, has never played a role in any protest or civil rights movements.  He has been conspicuously silent on those issues.   He choice to not publicly support those movements is, in fact, a statement in itself.

When he appeared in photos with Greg Abbott in Texas, one can’t doubt that that too was Clapton lettings his opinions slip into the public stream.

Now he complains that his old friends don’t call.


I was curious.

Articles on the web defending Elvis seem to think there is a constituency out there that thinks Elvis is racist.  I never thought that.  I don’t know of anyone who does.  Then I realized— that’s the strawman.  Prove that Elvis wasn’t racist and you have therefore salvaged his reputation from allegations of triviality and irrelevance– the kind of stuff I am asserting here.  So there are numerous articles on line showing that Elvis had many black musician friends and none of them thought he had any racist attitudes.  He grew up in Tupelo, Mississippi, a mixed race community.  I’m fine with that.

However, I thought it was interesting that so many sites felt the need to make that defense.  In any case, I was curious: did Elvis agree to play for segregated audiences?  The Beatles refused.  Did Elvis refuse?

The rider for the September 11 concert “explicitly cited the band’s refusal to perform in a segregated facility,” writes Kenneth Womack at Salon. When concert promoters pushed back, John Lennon flatly stated in a press conference, “We never play to segregated audiences, and we aren’t going to start now. I’d sooner lose our appearance money.”  From Here.

It’s easy to find references online of the Beatles refusing to play segregated audiences.  The Rolling Stones are known to have recorded songs by obscure black artists as b-sides to their hit singles, to give them some income.

Regarding Presley’s first hit, “That’s All right Mama”:

Arthur Crudup was credited as the composer on the label of Presley’s single, but despite legal battles into the 1970s, reportedly never received royalties. An out-of-court settlement was supposed to pay Crudup an estimated $60,000 in back royalties, but never materialized.[15][16] Crudup had used lines in his song that had been present in earlier blues recordings, including Blind Lemon Jefferson’s 1926 song “That Black Snake Moan”.[16]  (Wiki)

It is hard to believe that there would not be a record of it– as of the Beatles– if he ever had.  There is a clear record about one thing: Elvis virtually never stood up to Tom Parker (can we all please STOP calling him “Colonel”: he was never a Colonel anywhere)  and challenged any of his decisions, and Tom Parker obviously didn’t give a fuck about civil rights.

There is a video— by “fans”, of course– that claims that Elvis performed a beautiful, powerful song (“If I can Dream”) about truth and beauty and justice and brotherhood at the end of his 1968 NBC TV special.   But the song is anodyne at best, banal, and unspecific, and safely generic.  Not a single line that even approaches “battle lines being drawn” or “tin soldiers and Nixon’s coming” or even (of course) “Imagine there’s no country”.

People love Elvis.  I never have.  The people who love Elvis will twist themselves into a pretzel to find some way to rationalize that love, to find virtue in the man that is commensurate with their esteem.   That esteem is a reflection of ourselves, our good taste, our own virtue, but not of the reality of fat , sweaty Elvis leaning in and kissing the women taking a break from the slot machines in the front rows of the International Hotel ballroom.

Pretty Good Discussion of the Racism

We Hum Along to Infidelity

There is a video of a group of children performing the song “Gentle on My Mind” in this cheerful, anodyne style that makes you sit back and think, oh, how wonderful that he (the songwriter) has such warm thoughts about his girl.  She must be so pleased that he’s thinking about her after he stayed a few nights and then ran off.

Have you ever hummed along to it?

Have you ever taken note of the lyrics:

And it’s knowing I’m not shackled
By forgotten words and bonds
And the ink stains that are dried upon some line

There are many strange paradoxes in popular culture: our contempt for men who “love ’em and leave ’em” for their cruelty and selfishness, and our worship of songs like “Baby the Rain Must Fall” and “Gentle on my Mind”.  Our cancel culture, about men who cheat.  Our public disapproval of philanderers.  But most people still hum along, as they do with a song about killing an unfaithful wife (“Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town”).

“Gentle on my Mind” is pretty poetic about it:

I dip my cup of soup back from a gurglin’
Cracklin’ caldron in some train yard
My beard a rustling, cold towel, and
A dirty hat pulled low across my face

This gets kind of weird.  Not only is he dumping her– like Gordon Lightfoot in “For Lovin’ Me”, but he’s wandering around like a hobo, not working, evidently, and surviving on soup with his fellow derelicts in “some train yard”.  Quite a picture for his beloved, while she’s warming to the idea of being “gentle on his mind”.

So the gentle part means she isn’t going to put up a fuss about him dropping in for sex now and then, leaving his sleeping bag behind her couch, and then taking off whenever he feels like it.

Elvis Presley recorded it.  So did Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra.  But, Aretha Franklin?!  Yes, she did.  Well, that’s liberating!

John Hartford wrote the song, he says, after watching “Dr. Zhivago”.  And from personal experience.

Maybe I misunderstand the lyrics.  Maybe the poor guy had no choice but to move on and eat soup in the train yard.  But it doesn’t sound like it:

Though the wheat fields and the clothes lines
And the junkyards and the highways come between us
And some other woman’s cryin’ to her mother
‘Cause she turned and I was gone

Who’s right?  Well, let’s expand it a little.  Let’s consider Hartford’s wife.

The story of the song narrates the reminiscences of a drifter of his lost love, while moving through backroads and hobo encampments.[2] Betty Hartford, who later divorced her husband, noted to him the similarity between herself and the song’s female character. She questioned John Hartford about the man’s negative feelings toward his marriage. Hartford said he likened her to Lara and attributed the man’s feelings about being trapped in a relationship to his “artistic license”.

There you go.

It was, at one time, one of the most played songs (in all versions) on radio in North America.

Men thinking kindly — or not– about the women they abandoned

Google is Getting Useless

Google made their name as an efficient search engine delivering streamlined results quickly and effectively. Is it just me or has Google the search engine become mostly useless nowadays. Too many paid results, and even more bad results– pages that might have a word or two of your search string but are otherwise irrelevant. I used to feel confident I would find a few useful results in the first few pages. Lately, I’ve actually– gulp– resorted to Bing, occasionally. And sometimes I just actually give up. I don’t have time to go through a hundred pages to find the one that actually helps me.

As IBM discovered when the Department of Justice was investigating them for monopolistic practices (way back in the 1960’s), too much information is as useless as no information.

In fairness, it’s not just Google’s fault.

Oh yes, it is.  By mastering the competition for profiting by manipulating search results, Google is king of turd island, the exemplar, the model for all that has made the Internet a fucking monstrous garbage heap of  excrement.  Facebook is a close second.

Facebook is TV With One Channel

“Facebook’s standards for suggested content in Feed:
Our goal is to make recommendations that are relevant to each person who sees them. Through our Recommendations Guidelines, we work to avoid making recommendations that could be low-quality, objectionable, or particularly sensitive.”  Facebook

This is a lie. My news feed is a constant stream of “low-quality, objectionable” items.

Facebook gives you the option. they claim, of stopping that feed; then they cleverly feed you even more “low-quality, objectionable” items under a different source name, and then another different name, and another. Like “Elvis – Team Berlin” (??!!). Or “Idiocracy News Media”. Or “The Singing Contractors”. Or “Newsmax” (the one that should be named “idiocracy”). Or whatever. Facebook claims these items are not paid for– that too is a lie (they are paid for by advertising $ dependent on levels of “engagement”.)

Facebook offers very little control. It essentially operates like a TV with one channel.

The New McCarthyism

There are two kinds of news sources prominent today. One, the older institutional part, identifies a story, sends a reporter, interviews people, acquires documents, submits to an editor, contacts the parties for possible confirmation or not, and then publishes. The other one goes to air to millions of listeners immediately with, for example, provocative claims that there is no 10-year-old girl in Ohio who was raped at 9 and was pregnant and had to go out of state to get an abortion, claiming this was all a plot by the Democrats to steal more votes. When it emerges that the story was true, they don’t apologize because … well, why don’t they? Because their listeners don’t really care about facts and information? I don’t know. It’s not just this one story: there are dozens of examples, maybe hundreds. They rarely publicly admit they got it wrong, or lied, and even more rarely apologize. They have discovered that most of their listeners don’t seem to mind; they aren’t about to change the channel.

Their listeners aren’t watching the January 6 Congressional Committee hearings, even if almost every witness has been a staunch Republican, and Trump’s own appointees to the judiciary have consistently rejected claims of a stolen election. The “Deep State” is so deep that even Trump, apparently, was fooled at times.

I don’t know how we get past polarization if people don’t listen even when their own side is telling them they are wrong. People like Mitch McConnell, Lindsay Graham, Marco Rubio are complicit: they don’t like Trump but are frightened of standing up to him.

In the 1950’s, McCarthyism had the same dynamic. Respectable conservatives didn’t like him but were scared to call him out. Eventually, he was found to be ridiculous and people moved on. (He once accused Santa Claus of being a communist infiltrator.)

One can only hope.

Watch Me Risk My Life

I am ambivalent about films and stories about men and women who unnecessarily risk their lives, on mountains, in cars, under water– for…  well, that’s the question.  For what?

Almost no documentary or book about these individuals would dare suggest that these people are selfish, self-centred individuals interested primarily in self-promotion and ego gratification.   (I make an exception for “Into Thin Air”, the amazing book by Jon Krakauer which considers the issue at some length.)  Think about why that’s so.  Why doesn’t “The Last Mountain”, for example, seriously consider the issue?

Could that be because the viewer, who adores these stories, would feel implicated?  I get pleasure by watching other people put themselves in grave peril at the expense, sometimes, of their lives?  Could it be because the writers (often the daredevils themselves) or film-makers (ditto) really want you to believe they are doing something important and admirable?  Think of how often they claim there is some higher purpose to their activities: to learn more about sharks, to extend human endurance and achievement, to fulfill personal goals?

Hollywood Aristocracy

How do you get to be a Hollywood actor?

  • Dakota Johnson is the daughter of Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson.
  • Melanie Griffith is the daughter of Tippi Hedren.
  • Laura Dern is the daughter of Diane Ladd and Bruce Dern.
  • Maggie & Jake Gyllenhaal’s mother was a screenwriter/director.
  • Sean Young’s father was a television producer and her mother, Lee Guthrie was a screenwriter and pr executive.
  • Sigourney Weaver was the daughter of NBC executive Sylvester  Weaver.
  • Ione Skye is the daughter of folk singer Donovan.
  • Jennifer Grey is the daughter of Joel Grey.  Her daughter, Stella, is also pursuing an acting career.
  • Natasha Richardson is the daughter of Vanessa Redgrave and Tony Richardson, and granddaughter of Michael Redgrave.

There are many, many more.

The jobs in Hollywood movies are too good to be available to any sort of riff-raff or some talented nobody without any relatives in the industry.  No, it is only right that the children of established stars should inherit the privilege of glamour and wealth and fame.

And how do you get to be a pop star?

For a while Rufus was running around as part of a “sons of” club, a group that included Sean Lennon, Chris Stills and Harper Simon. “They were all getting signed and written about and had publicists and photo shoots and beautiful girlfriends,” Ms. Wainwright says in the memoir. “Were their songs better than mine?” The chip on her shoulder led her to write a grand statement song, its title a vulgar epithet. Contrary to what she has told journalists in the past, the song isn’t about her father — or, rather, it isn’t exclusively about him.   Martha Wainwright

That’s Rufus Wainwright III, son of Loudon Wainwright Jr., John Lennon’s son, Stephen Stills’ son, and Paul Simon’s son.

Now what would the children of celebrity Hollywood stars be doing with their lives if they were not the crown princes and princesses of entertainment royalty?  Some job that has measurable performance parameters with a demanding skill set?  I’m sure they have all seriously considered it.  Or would they seek a job that you get because your father or mother knows somebody in the industry and the talents in this industry are judged according to manifestly subjective standards that anyone can, as a favor, manipulate into your favor?

In other words, I am not saying they are without talent.  I am saying that many young people have talents, but very, very few of them get the opportunity meet with a powerful agent or director or producer and get privileged access to the machinery that gets you into the movies, or tv, or the recording studio.

Take Dakota Johnson.  As she grows up, she sees her parents leading the wonderful lives of movie stars, celebrities, privileged by fame and exposure.  She wants to be an actress too, of course.  Does she have special gifts?  Is she exceptionally talented?  Does she work incredibly hard to refine her craft?  Maybe.  Like hundreds of other young, ambitious women.  But does she also get opportunities that others do not get, and a few acting classes, and some cosmetic surgery, and then the privileged access to casting directors and producers?

Here’s a trashy site that gives you a glimpse of just how privileged actors have become.  It is my view that most of these films will be artistically diminished by serving the vanities of the actors rather than the imperatives of the artistic vision, of the writer and director.  But the die is cast when they seek funding: if Leonardo Di Caprio agrees to be in your film, you have guaranteed yourself millions of dollars for the production.

Without him, or someone like him, you will be forced to actually make a good film and hope for critical recognition and a small profit.

Children are inheriting their parent’s Hollywood Privilege

The extended musical family in New York, 2012, from left to right: Martha Wainwright, the singer-songwriter Suzzy Roche, Rufus Wainwright, Loudon Wainwright III and the singer-songwriter Lucy Wainwright Roche.

Martha Wainwright, Suzzy Roche, Rufus Wainwright III, Lucy Wainwright Roche.