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CINEMA: Suffer The Children

Friday, September 8th, 2017

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It (2017, directed by Andrew Muschietti, 135 minutes, U.S.)


Buskirk AvatarBY DAN BUSKIRK FILM CRITIC This week the movie industry bemoaned there limpest summer ever, hopefully giving some studio honchos a moment to rethink the trend of larding up what was once a season of innovation and fresh ideas with a seemingly endless string of sequels, remakes, franchises and corny old super heroes. The fall trend of Oscar-worthy releases might relieve us a bit yet one of the most-hyped films of the early fall season is another Hollywood no-brainer: an adaptation of horror icon Stephen King’s 1986 novel, It, previously brought to the small screen as a mini-series in 1990 starring Tim Curry as a maniacal clown Pennywise. While originality is not this big-screen adaptation’s strong suit, it is undeniable that the film has been brought to the screen with a lot of loving care, aided by an able cast of young actors and Chan-wook Park’s cameraman Chung-hoon Chung (who shot 2016’s exquisite The Handmaiden) bringing the terrorized New England town of Derry eerily to life. If only a real shot of inspiration could bring the story’s creepy possibilities to life.

The timing is right. It sounds like I’m typing a line from a dystopic novel but we are currently citizens of a society where the once-common figure of “The Clown” has gone from romping on children’s shows to being legislatively outlawed by town’s fearful of violent clown-painted mayhem. We’re in a “scary clown” moment where Juggalos march on Washington and seemingly-sane friends will protest loudly if you put a clown picture on your Facebook timeline. King’s story captures the temper of our times, Pennywise the clown is first spotted crouching in a sewer where he soon snatches little Georgie, pulling him down into the abyss. It’s a primal moment set in a world that’s recognizable, making it a lot more visceral than all the CGI’d quasi Hellraiser-style effects to come.

Taking a cue (and one if it’s stars, Finn Wolfhard) from Netflix’s Stranger Things, this version moves the action from the late 1950’s to the late 1980s, with lots of MTV-era hits blurting out on the soundtrack. Turns out it is not just Georgie but other Derry kids are disappearing with alarming frequency, and seven put-upon kids known as “The Loser’s Club” start a banana seat investigation of who is behind the the evil deeds. Pennywise isn’t the only monster stalking these kids, there’s sadistic bullies and even more devious adults who makes these kids everyday lives pretty nightmarish as well. Over the course of 135 minutes the rag-tag bunch of kids will face down their horrors, both in this dimension and beyond.

Purists might’ve screamed but focusing on a group of seven kids makes this adaptation pretty ungainly and repetitive, as each kids gets a scene of being bedeviled by an adult and another “jump-out” moment with Pennywise haunting them from the dreamworld. Inexperienced director Andrew Muschietti gets some good performances from the kids but seems clueless on how to thread these events together gracefully or how to supply any building drama in the story. Swedish actor Bill Skarsgård ain’t necessarily bad as Pennywise but stretching his head with CGI effects has all the wonder of screwing around his some dopey photo app. Rather than building a sense of momentum the film just goes big in the end, making the kids battle a giant underground dungeon of animated demons Goonies-style in a deadening sequence that seems like it is a just few keystrokes of modification away from being included in any effect-driven blockbuster.

With that evil is conquered, at least until It Too (not its real name alas) hits theaters with the concluding half of King’s story, set 27 years after the events here. Most fans know the adult section is a bit of come down from the punchier first half, and after this ultimately dispiriting opening section it will take more then Pennywise to drag me down this sewer of mainstream studio horror for its closing round.

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BEING THERE: QOTSA @ Festival Pier

Friday, September 8th, 2017

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Photo by JOSH PELTA-HELLER

It’s hard to recall a cool breeze on an early September evening in Philly, during that limbo time of the year, post-Labor-Day and pre-Equinox, where devout fans of the Endless Summer dig in with resentment, resist the cold, and get rewarded most often up here by an Indian Summer’s reprise of temperatures and humidity that tend to verge on unseasonable.

Not these days though. Not last night, standing outside, watching Queens Of The Stone Age, where you needed maybe one more overpriced domestic brew to counter the chilly breeze blowing off the Delaware, and to maybe mellow you a little too to the ocean of inebriated bros flying their devil horn fists (Gene-Simmons-patent pending).

Queens are at their best when they’re able to channel punk petulance and sneering sarcasm, as quintessential-rockstar frontman Josh Homme punctuates his soaring goth-crooner and trademark falsetto vocals with his own unique take on Elvis’ curled upper lip. At their worst, they create an ugly, impossible ouroboros out of their own self-aware genre subversion, as overwrought layers of distortion, “accessible” hooks and the addition of saccharine synths steer them into that special Muse- or Imagine-Dragons-brand of over-engineered radio-rock garbage.

The Mojave-baked rockers played eighteen songs and an encore last night, the majority of which felt like an excuse to offer a near-full edition of their barely-two-weeks-old Mark-Ronson-produced Villains. The adjective posed most often in reviews of Villains is “accessible,” which counts at times as critic-code for unsophisticated, uninteresting, even derivative — music that trades on the tried and the true and rephrases retired rock riffs. Cue song #12 of the evening, new album title track “Villains Of Circumstance,” with an opening slide guitar riff that only makes you wanna hear either “Walk On The Wild Side” or “Can I Kick It” instead.
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BEING THERE: Polish American Family Festival

Friday, September 8th, 2017

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One of the most famous relics of Polish identity is the painting of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa [pictured, above]. Poles who migrated to this country and longed for some aspect of their home, some celebration of their identity, set up a chapel in the 1950s up in Doylestown dedicated to the Black Madonna. These days, the shrine is impressively large, in fact it’s one of the largest monuments to the Polish identity around. Last weekend, Doylestown hosted the Polish American Family Festival & Fair celebrating diverse aspects of the Polish identity, from music to food to beer and dancing. While I’m not Polish, I went with a friend of mine just to see what it was like. (It’s happening again this weekend, if you are interested in checking it out.)

There are some standbys of any festival that never fail to appear. The white-top tents selling stuff you aren’t sure you want or need. The food stalls that you’re pretty sure are overpriced, but what choice do you have? The carnival games that appeal to children, and those who still think they’re not rigged. These all made appearances, so what about it signified the Polish cultural aspect? There were stands selling T-Shirts for you to proclaim your heritage, as well as a man-at-arms you could take a selfie with. The beer tents only sold Polish beers — bocks and lagers I’d never heard of, but what I tried was tasty. There was a huge tent that blasted polka all throughout the day. The food was classic: kielbasa, stuffed cabbage, and pierogi, though you could get a hot dog or hamburger if you preferred. A small stage displayed what seemed to be some sort of cultural play, but, because I don’t speak Polish, I couldn’t understand it.

Having looked around the festival and sampled the drinks, we needed to find the bathroom. Not seeing anything on the festival grounds, we realized the only bathrooms available were in the chapel itself. So, after refreshing ourselves there, we took the liberty of exploring inside. We found a room with relics and displays of Polish heritage, including medals from the Second World War, a replica Szopka, plates with fish painted on, and more curious objects besides. We wandered into an art exhibit, some of which was really excellent and some of which was bizarre. Overall, we got the feeling of just how expansive the shrine is, and how much it means to the community involved with its efforts.

My friend was chomping at the bit to go one some rides, so we tested them out. The few designed to entertain adults were actually quite enjoyable, though there were only three. We were whirled, lifted and spun around several times, leaving us laughing as we walked away. As we had done everything else, we got some dinner and then hit the road, listening to Blonde on Blonde to clear our heads of the polka. I can honestly say I had a good time, but it might have been better if I spoke Polish. As it was, we just had to make do. – CHRISTOPHER MALENEY

THE POLISH AMERICAN FAMILY FESTIVAL & FAIR RUNS THRU SEPT. 10TH

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AFTER BERN: Q&A With Senator Bernie Sanders

Friday, September 8th, 2017

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EDITOR’S NOTE: A shorter version of this interview appeared in the Sunday November 27th, 2016 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer we present this reprise edition on the occasion of Senator Sanders’ 76th birthday.

BYLINER mecroppedsharp_1BY JONATHAN VALANIA FOR THE INQUIRER In the fullness of time, future historians may well declare Senator Bernie Sanders the biggest winner of the 2016 election, arguing that although he lost the battle for the Democratic nomination he won the war of ideas. Meanwhile, his one-time nemesis Hillary Clinton will almost certainly lose the Electoral College on December 19th despite winning the popular vote by a margin of 2.2 million and counting, effectively ending her political career and putting a period at the end of the Clinton dynasty. Likewise, a Trump presidency may well prove to be a ‘careful what you wish for’ proposition for both the nation and Trump himself, given the manifold legal jeopardies his sprawling global financial holdings will inevitably present when they come in conflict with the national interest. This is already happening.

As the smoke clears on the 2016 election, Sanders emerges with an approval rating 10 points above both Clinton and Trump, full on rock star status with Millennials who will be the largest voting block for the forseeable future, and appears poised to remake the Democratic party in his own image as an authentic, unapologetic populist who has declared war on the billionaire class on behalf of the vanishing middle class. All of which would have been unthinkable a year and a half ago when the wizened, wild-haired 75-year-old democratic socialist from Vermont declared his candidacy and was met with derisive laughter by the political commentariat.

Mocked by the right, undermined at every turn by his own party’s grandees and largely ignored by the press, Sanders refused corporate donors and super PAC dark money and instead campaigned tirelessly on a shoestring budget made up of bundled $27 donations, relentlessly railing against evils of ever-escalating income inequality, and went on to win 22 states and 13 million votes. All of which is told in granular detail and vintage Brooklandic patois in Our Revolution, Sander’s 450-page recap of his cinderella story candidacy and the resulting political revolution that almost was, and his detailed issues-oriented roadmap for Democrats to find their way back into the hearts of white working class voters. We caught up with Senator Sanders last week in the midst of a whirlwind book tour that stopped at the Free Library last night to get his post-mortem on the 2016 election and his progressive vision for the way forward.

What is your takeaway from the election? I told you so?

The Democrats don’t control the Senate, they don’t control the House, they don’t control some three quarters of the governor’s chairs in the country, and they lost some nine hundred legislative seats in state houses in the last year. It’s time, I think, to take a very hard look at what the Democratic party now stands for, what they’re projecting to the American people, and, in my view, it is time for very, very profound changes to the Democratic party. We need to make it clear what side the Democratic Party is on. It has got to be on the side of working people. It has got to be on the side of young people. It has got to be prepared to take on a billionaire class, and Wall Street, and insurance companies, and drug companies, and the fossil fuel industry. It has got to be prepared to have a new vision for where this country, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, can go. That is what the Democratic Party is going to stand for, and when it does that, I think working people, who have deserted the Democratic Party in droves, whether it’s whites, blacks, Latinos, Asian-Americans or whatnot, are going to come back and know that this is their party where they can feel comfortable and represents their dreams.

What are your thoughts of the role that the FBI and the Russian government played, if any, in the election of Donald Trump? 


I think what Comey and the FBI did was one-hundred percent inappropriate and I think it had an impact. How big an impact? Well, again, nobody knows the answer. It could certainly had an impact on Clinton’s campaign.


Given that Trump’s margin of victory in the key swing-states that won him the Electoral College was razor thin, what message, if any, do you have for the so called “Bernie or Bust” voters who refused on principle to vote for Hillary?

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NPR 4 THE DEAF: We Hear It Even When U Can’t

Thursday, September 7th, 2017

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FRESH AIR: I’m Terry Gross. My guest Loudon Wainwright seems to have been an imperfect partner, husband and father. But he’s written remarkable songs about family and how we hurt and heal each other only to do it all over again. Now in his new memoir, Liner Notes, he writes in more detail about his life as a husband, father, son, philanderer and musician. His first wife, Kate McGarrigle, was a singer-songwriter, too. And she wrote songs about their relationship from her point of view. Their two children, Loudon Liner NOtesRufus and Martha Wainwright, are now well-known singer-songwriters. Loudon had a long-term relationship with another singer-songwriter, Suzzy Roche. And their child, Lucy, also became a singer.

The book, the memoir, includes lyrics to Loudon’s songs as well as some of the columns written by his late father who worked for Life magazine from the 1960s through the ’80s. Loudon is officially Loudon Wainwright III. His father was Loudon Wainwright, Jr. Loudon brought his guitar and is going to perform some of his songs. I’ve emphasized his more autobiographical songs. But he’s also known for his topical songs. He’ll do his Donald Trump song a little later. He’ll also do his first and only big hit, the 1972 novelty recording “Dead Skunk.” And he’ll do some really great autobiographical songs. MORE

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CONTEST: Win Tix To See QOTSA @ Festival Pier!

Wednesday, September 6th, 2017

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We have a coupla pairs of tix to see the mighty Queens Of The Stone Age — currently on tour in support of their excellent, Mark Ronson-produced new album,Villainsat Festival Pier tomorrow night. To qualify, all you have to do is sign up for our mailing list (see right, below the masthead). Trust us, this is something you want to do. In addition to breaking news alerts and Phawker updates, you also get advanced warning about groovy concert ticket giveaways and other free swag opportunities like this one! After signing up, send us an email at PHAWKER66@GMAIL.COM telling us a much, with the words SONGS FOR THE DEAF in the subject line. If you are already on our mailing list, just send us an email saying as much. Either way, please include your full name and a mobile number for confirmation. Good luck and godspeed!

QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE @ FESTIVAL PIER THURSDAY SEPTEMBER 7TH

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2000 LIGHT YEARS FROM HOME: Q&A w/ Brian Jonestown Massacre Cult Leader Anton Newcombe

Wednesday, September 6th, 2017

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BY JONATHAN VALANIA If you’ve not seen Dig, stop reading and go watch it. We’ll wait. [two hour pause while the reader watches Dig and learns everything he/she needs to know about The Brian Jonestown Massacre and probably more than he/she needs to know about The Dandy Warhols] I know, right? Told ya. Anyway, Brian Jonestown Massacre play Union Transfer tonight. To mark this auspicious occasion we present this reprise edition of our 2012 interview with BJM main man(iac) Anton Newcombe. Discussed: drugs, mental illness, early 70s disco, Dig, Dandy Warhols, the CIA, and Marilyn Monroe fucking John F. Kennedy. In other words, the usual small talk.

PHAWKER: You are living in Germany these days. Since when? Why?

ANTON NEWCOMBE: Well I’ve been living here since 2008. I really really really enjoy living in Berlin. People just leave me alone so I can work on my ideas. Just go about my business.

PHAWKER: New album sounds pretty cool. Tell me about making that. It’s the basically all the classic line up with some additional looks like German-named musicians.

ANTON NEWCOMBE: Well you know I’ll rope anyone in that I can to record you know. Basically. But live thing is half the group that I’ve been playing with for ten years and the other half for twenty years or so. I keep coming back to playing music with the same characters live pretty much. But recording you know I won’t let anything get in my way.

PHAWKER: Tell me. What’s the typical day in the life of Anton Newcombe these days?tumblr_lqp32clVRg1qditffo1_500

ANTON NEWCOMBE: You know I get up — I live here with my wife. I get up and we drink coffee and read the paper like normal people and we eat something and then I ride my bike up to my studio and make stuff up.

PHAWKER: I know this is kind of ancient history for you but can I ask you a couple questions about Dig?

ANTON NEWCOMBE: If you feel like it.

PHAWKER: What is your take on the film? Were you happy with how it turned out? Not happy to do with how it turned out? Did you feel it was fair and accurate?

ANTON NEWCOMBE: I don’t feel it’s fair and accurate. So you know the people sort of arranged it to make it have its own narrative. That’s not really so much it’s not really chronologically correct. It’s sort of assembled out of footage to tell some story and I don’t think it was fair to the Dandy Warhols really.

PHAWKER: Are you still friendly with the Dandy Warhols?
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NPR 4 THE DEAF: We Hear It Even When U Can’t

Tuesday, September 5th, 2017

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FRESH AIR: If John le Carré’s espionage novels seem particularly authentic, it may be because the author has first-hand experience. Le Carré worked as a spy for the British intelligence services MI5 and MI6 early in his writing career, and only left the field after his third book, 1963’s The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, became an international best-seller.

Le Carré’s latest book, A Legacy of Spies, revisits some of the characters from his earlier novels, including his most famous protagonist, George Smiley. It follows a protégé of Smiley’s, Peter Guillam, as he re-examines some of his actions from when he was a Cold War spy, including his role in the deaths of another agent and a recruit.

The novel mines the moral tension inherent in espionage — a tension le Carré himself remembers. “I felt I had to suppress my humanity,” he says of his time as a spy. “The lies straight into the face, the befriending, the false befriending. … I suppose I’ve been a lot of people in my 85 years, not all of them very nice people.” MORE

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WORTH REPEATING: Making A Monster

Monday, September 4th, 2017

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GQ: Among the friends he reconnected with that summer was Joseph “Joey” Meek, who knew Dylann in middle school. Meek, a young white man with bloated chipmunk cheeks, had a serious marijuana habit and a permissive mother who had been asked by Amy years before to encourage the boys’ friendship. When Roof found him again, Joey was living in a rented trailer in the unincorporated area outside Columbia with his mother, his girlfriend, Lindsay Fry, and his two younger brothers, Justin and Jacob. As the summer passed, Dylann would start to crash there at times. Later, Joey would do a flurry of interviews in which he described his friendship with Roof and explained why having a friend he hadn’t seen in years stay in an already crowded trailer wasn’t at all strange. He was just that kind of person, who helped people who were down and out.

The Meeks’ rented trailer is tucked away in a circle of mobile homes that are not mobile at all. Instead, they look very lived-in, bolted down to the rough times and the twists of fate that landed their owners there. It was drizzling when I pulled into the Hideaway Park development, and a man whose face I could not see stepped out of the shadows. He was dressed in an oversize hoodie and was carrying a small pit-bull puppy in his arms. He walked out toward the road without saying a word to me, even when I asked him if he knew the Meeks. Out front, there was a child’s play kitchen with a sink full of stagnant, reedy water and a white car whose whole front had been sideswiped and deeply dented.

During the time he stayed there, Roof would often drive Meek and his friends to swimming holes, but then he would leave because he complained that his body could not bear the South Carolinian heat. Even in the trailer, Roof kept to himself. Meek’s mother noticed that at times Roof would get agitated and retreat to his car, where he would blast classical music and opera to quiet his nerves. But what had made him so upset remained unknown.

In most of Roof’s friends’ accounts, there is one indisputable fact: That summer, they all did a lot of drinking and a lot of pot smoking. Roof had already been arrested the year before for possession of a Schedule III controlled narcotic. He was stalking employees at the Columbiana Centre Mall and asking them “out of the ordinary questions.” When police responded to a call, they searched him and found a “small unlabeled white bottle containing multiple orange in color square strips.” Suboxone is typically used to wean opioid addicts off their dependence, but it can also give non-addicts a sense of euphoria, coupled with intense nausea.

In his jailhouse journal, Dylann wrote: “I don’t like it when people try to read into things, or try to find, or create meaning that isn’t there. I don’t like it when people put so much weight on the things I say. Sometimes, more now than before the incident, I feel that the people I talk to hang on my words as if they were all important or offer some sort of insight into my being. But this isn’t the case; it never is with anyone. For example, I stated before I never used drugs to ‘drown the pain,’ or ‘self medicate.’ I used drugs because they get you high. There is no deeper meaning behind this. There is no deeper meaning behind any of my behavior.”

One person who spent time in the trailer park with Roof agreed to talk with me on the condition that I didn’t name them. When I asked what was most memorable about Roof, the answer came quickly: “He was quiet, uncomfortably quiet, strangely quiet. I mean really strange.” But in this wasteland, with this group of listless friends, Roof could talk about shooting up a college, brandish his gun, use racist slurs, all without being considered outlandish. These instances evaporated into their ears as liquored-up loose talk. To this day, Roof’s friends seem to have a striking inability to process the gravity of what he did. They have said things like: “He would talk about killing people, but none of us took him seriously.” MORE

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MODEST PROPOSAL: Set Made In America Free

Saturday, September 2nd, 2017

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This essay originally appeared in Philadelphia Magazine in 2012. It’s no less true today.

BY JONATHAN VALANIA Time is short, and Labor Day weekend is almost upon us, so I will cut to the chase: Made In America, the genre-bending, two-day concert curated by Jay-Z and sponsored by Budweiser to be held on Ben Franklin Parkway on Saturday and Sunday, should be made a free concert, and all ticket holders refunded the full ticket price PLUS the $15 in service charges. Why? There are many good reasons, not the least of which is it would create the kind of goodwill for the Jay-Z and Budweiser brands that money simply can’t buy.

But the biggest and best reason Made in America should be free is this: In a city that is as impoverished as ours, it is unconscionable to fence off public space and charge the citizenry of Philadelphia the princely sum of $95 a day to stand on land they already own. That is just plain wrong, even if Skrillex is spinning.

Before we go any further, let’s go over some numbers.

In Philadelphia, a whopping 26.7 percent of the people live below the poverty line—i.e., an annual income of $22,314 for a family of four or $11,139 for an individual—which puts us way out front of Chicago (21.6 percent), Houston (20.6 percent), Los Angeles (19.58 percent) and New York City (18.7 percent) in the race to the bottom. And that’s just the working poor. Currently, unemployment in the City of Brotherly Love hovers at 10 percent which, in a city of 1.5 million, means 150,000 Philadelphians are currently without work.

Jay-Z’s net worth, according to Forbes, is $460 million. The bulk of that fortune comes from a number of recent business moves. In 2007, Jay-Z sold his Rocawear clothing label for $204 million. The next year he signed a 10-year, $150 million concert tour deal with Live Nation, which more or less means that Live Nation gave him $150 million and for the next 10 years every cent of his concert revenues will go to pay off that advance. Presumably the Made in America concert, which is being produced by Live Nation, is part of that deal. He currently holds stakes in the Brooklyn Nets, the 40/40 Club chain, and an ad firm called Translation. As recently as 2010, he was pulling down $63 million a year in income. That is a remarkable financial CV, especially when you consider the fact that Jay-Z, aka Shawn Carter, came from nothing. He grew up in Marcy Houses, a housing project in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn in New York City, which, it is safe to say, doesn’t turn out a lot of mega-millionaires.

Jay-Z is the living embodiment of the American Dream, never mind that his ticket out of the projects wasn’t rapping, but the sale and distribution of crack cocaine. At the height of his drug dealing days, when he oversaw a distribution network that extended out of Brooklyn to Trenton and down to Maryland and Virginia, he was moving upwards of a kilo of cocaine a week. At the time, the going rate for a kilo of pure coke was $20,000, but if you turned it into crack, you could quadruple your revenues, according to his business associates at the time. There are many words you could use to characterize such an operation: ruthless, immoral, felonious. But I prefer the most accurate and honest name for it: raw capitalism.

While Jay-Z is widely applauded, and rightfully so, for his accomplishments as a recording artist, performer and entrepreneur, his philanthropic activities, or lack thereof, have been roundly criticized as of late. In a recent interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Harry Belafonte, long the moral compass of black America, calls out Jay-Z and his wife Beyonce for having “turned their back on social responsibility.” Earlier this year, reports surfaced that in 2010 the only out-of-pocket charitable donation Jay-Z made was a whopping $6,431 to his own scholarship fund in the form of a loan to cover operating costs that he later forgave. That year he earned $67 million, while his wife brought home an additional $87 million.

This tightfistedness is not without precedent; even back when he was slinging rock in the projects he was known as something of a miser. As his associate at the time, DeHaven Irby, recently told the New York Post:

“Jay was more efficient. I would overpay the runners so they would be happy and not steal, and he would pay exactly what they were worth,” Irby says. “I kept 15 runners and he had two people and was doing pretty much the same numbers.” When it came to selling, Jay-Z was strict: No discounts for anybody. “A lot of people thought of him as stingy,” Irby says. “If the product was $10, you couldn’t get it for $9.”

Another highly successful drug dealer is Anheuser-Busch InBev, Budweiser’s parent company, which sold roughly $35 billion worth of suds in 2011. That impressive sales volume is due in no small part to a $1.3 billion annual marketing budget, roughly $350 million of which goes towards the marketing of Budweiser products, which includes sponsoring things like the Made in America concert. Those remarkable figures are underwritten by the enormous social costs associated with alcohol. According to the World Health Organization, alcohol kills more than 2.5 million people every year—more than AIDS, tuberculosis or violence—and is the number one risk factor for death for males aged 15-69. Every year, 11,000 people die from alcohol-related car accidents in this country. That’s three 9/11s every year.

I only bring all of this up because, as I said at the top, I think Anheuser-Busch should eat the cost of putting on Made in America and make it a free concert, and Jay-Z is the one person who could convince them to do so. He could start by waiving whatever fees he’s charging to curate, promote and perform at Made in America, as well as any profit-sharing he would have participated in. I don’t pretend to know exactly how much putting on a concert like Made in America will cost, but for the sake of argument let’s say it’s $10 million, a figure I am fairly confident is well above the actual operating costs. Anheuser-Busch spends that every three days on global marketing. Making Made in America a free concert would be one small step for Anheuser-Busch but one giant karmic leap for the Jay-Z and Budweiser brands, both of which, in my estimation, could use a little halo-polishing. Yes, I heard that Ron Howard is planning to film the concert and an undisclosed portion of the proceeds are going to the United Way. Now I love Opie as much as any other Andy Griffith Show fan, but I’m not impressed by undisclosed portions and besides charity begins at home. So what do you say, Shawn? Look into your heart, man, the right answer is in there. Noblesse oblige. Or, as Spiderman’s uncle put it, with great power comes great responsibility.

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DIVINE INTERVENTION: Q&A W/ Matthew Sweet

Wednesday, August 30th, 2017

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BY JONATHAN VALANIA In advance of his appearance at the Haverford Music Festival on Saturday September 9th, we got power-pop legend Matthew Sweet on the horn. DISCUSSED: making Girlfriend, life in Athens GA circa 1983, Richard Lloyd, leaving Los Angeles, Robert Quine, moving back to Nebraska, Michael Stipe, Kickstarter, teaching Peter Buck the chords to “Femme Fatale,” Tomorrow Forever.

PHAWKER: Honor to speak with you, long time fan. Actually, I was getting my start in Sweet Tomorrow Foreverjournalism when Girlfriend came out; I was working for the Allentown Morning Call. I think it was Altered Beast that came out when we actually spoke. I’m sure you haven’t forgot about that conversation, and think about it everyday and I’m calling to tell you to get over it, it’s time to move on with you life, Matthew!

MATTHEW SWEET: [laughs]

PHAWKER: In all seriousness, the new record sounds really good. You have not lost a step at all—the guitar playing is still really sharp and blazing, and your voice is as good as it was 30 years ago; and I always thought you sang like an angel. You used Kickstarter to finance the recording, can you talk a little bit about the Kickstarter financing model and the advantages and disadvantages, compared to the old-school, major label plantation business model?

MATTHEW SWEET: Well, you know, it’s different in the sense—I think the difference about the thing you do with a Kickstarter campaign for instance, you get a certain amount of funds that you’ve raised, and I think that the Kickstarters themselves even forget that that’s not money, that you’re just making that money. You have to pay for everything that’s been promised, and so, as a way to make money, I don’t think, maybe, it’s the best way—unless you were able to raise huge amounts. For me, I started with a modest goal, and we outweighed that goal, so we were happy. But in my case, it took me kind of a long time to deliver the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, and so, stretching that over time is kind of like working of something without making money until the afterwards. The great thing is that I can take the record and be able to release it through Sony Red, and, they’re doing a great job for it. And so, talking about the economic model, that’s sort of the hope, that if we can sell enough to make some profits.

PHAWKER: And, quick side question on streaming: my general impression is that most artists find it unfavorable, and a fraction of the revenue that you would receive from hard copy sales; what are your thoughts on that?

MATTHEW SWEET: Well, yes, that’s unfortunate. For me, I’ve always wished that music would Sweet-Altered-Beastbe free, and that we could somehow make money some other way, like, through a benefactor. And we could make music that anyone can have, you know? So, part of me, I like the idea of streaming and, you know, I use Apple Music, and when I just think of something that minute I can go and find it easily, and check it out. For making money, and for artists—and sure the general thinking is right that we don’t make as much money from it and it takes away from selling—but you know we still have to sort of sell to the amount of people who seem to pay for their own personal ownership of the music.

PHAWKER: A few years ago you moved back to Nebraska from whence you came, packing up your Hollywood Hills home heading back to flyover country—what prompted that decision and how is that working out for you?

MATTHEW SWEET: Well you know we have had this house where, over the time you’ve lived there it had sort of tripled in value and it has sort of become our nest egg, and we have always been planning on cashing in on it at some point and when the recession happened, it went quite a bit down in value. So we had it in our heads when it gets to a certain amount again—which took many years—that we would then think about selling it. And, we were ready to have some kind of change, move somewhere, and we were planning on it. We thought of lots of places more exotic than moving to Nebraska. We thought we wanted to go to Hawaii, or way on the way remote North California coast. But the problem was that it didn’t make much sense for my work not being anywhere near airports or being far away somewhere like Hawaii, and having more difficulty for our families, here in the States, who are pretty far apart. And I don’t know, I guess at some point my wife said let’s look at something in Nebraska, and then it was kind of fun looking around to see what we could find; and then we found this house we really liked in Omaha, and flew out there to check it out, and it just happened kind of quickly. We had a realtor who, himself decided he wanted to buy our house. So we negotiated instantly with this guy and were able to move really quickly. So it was kind of magical how it happened.

PHAWKER: Did you have any famous actor neighbors?

MATTHEW SWEET: Famous neighbors—I’m trying to think. I know that we did…

PHAWKER: Like Jack Nicholson, I know he lived in the area.

MATTHEW SWEET: Oh Jack Nicholson, no [laughs]…

PHAWKER: And Marlon Brando, that would’ve been awesome…Okay, let’s move on: GirlfriendGirlfriend_Cover, still awesome album, one for the ages. I’m sure you’re getting tired of being asked questions about it—but nonetheless, I have you on the phone, I’m a huge fan and have to ask you these questions. Tell me something that nobody knows about making that record, or writing that record, or recording that record—or, why do you think the stars aligned on that and you know, the light shined on you at that moment.

MATTHEW SWEET: Well I mean that’s really hard to answer, you kind of asked two questions: one was tell me something nobody knows, and then I was starting to think about concrete like, maybe people don’t know that the record was recorded in batches of three songs. We would record for a few days, and then I would go home and rest, and then we would pick another three. And that also allowed me to write more, incase something bumped something and came out of it…That’s something that I don’t think many people know, that it was made in several batches of recordings.

PHAWKER: And where in the writing process did “Divine Intervention” come?

MATTHEW SWEET: “Divine Intervention” I think I had had for a while. It was during a demo I had had for awhile—I think it was one of the earliest, that would be one of the earliest songs that I had for that record.

PHAWKER: And getting Richard Lloyd and Robert Quine to play on that record—was that the plan all along? How did you get them ending up on the record?

MATTHEW SWEET: It was because there were people I knew and have worked with—I met Quine through Fred Mar who I was good friends with and we produced the record together. And he knew Bob from the Voidoids—I did know all those records so it was excited, I mean I thought this is somebody really cool you know. And Bob had this thing where he really sort of liked The Birds—things that are poppier than you’d think he’d be into. And so, he came in kind of doing almost more jangly stuff on the record before Girlfriend, and Richard Lloyd I met when I was playing for The Golden Palominos, and he filled in for our guitar player. And we were kind of friendly and we met up at some point and he played along to some demos of mine and then he ended up playing on that record before Girlfriend as well. So I had known them a little while. Richard’s guitar playing really hit this sort of blues rock end of things, and Bob’s guitar playing was more esoteric, sort of jazz, and like, almost this folky kind of viewpoint from things that he was inspired by.

PHAWKER: And, in more simple terms, was Richard Lloyd playing the more “raunchier” sort of leads and rhythm parts, and Quine was playing the more ringing and jangly parts…

MATTHEW SWEET: Well Quine also played artsy—like the solo on “Girlfriend” was sort of a Sweet 100 percent funjazzy, artsy thing—art rock. Richard plays lead on on “Divine Intervention,” and it’s more of that piercing blues kind of rock.

PHAWKER: Okay, and, speaking of “Divine Intervention,” the decision to go with the long “Strawberry Fields”-like outro, was this improvised? Was this planned all along? Kind of doing all of the “Strawberry Fields” feedback…

MATTHEW SWEET: It was not a plan all along, I think we were just playing and probably, Jim Rodinelli, the engineer, faded it in and out, we were all just sitting there coming up with ideas—I don’t really remember—but that stuff, the beauty of it was that it wasn’t planned. We liked it because it was kind of, natural.

PHAWKER: And is that you doing all of the background vocals on that song?

MATTHEW SWEET: Yes, I did all the background vocals on that whole record.

PHAWKER: The background vocals are drop-dead gorgeous. Okay, one more quick question and I’ll let you go. Can you tell me a good R.E.M. story in Athens circa ’83, ’84, or maybe not even an R.E.M. story, just something good from that era…

MATTHEW SWEET: Yeah I’m trying to think of a good story…

PHAWKER: Did you hang out a lot at 40 Watt, I’m guessing…

MATTHEW SWEET: Okay okay, I can tell you this: I knew Michael, he sent me some postcards after I met him when I was in high school in Lincoln Nebraska, so when I lived in Athens I had sort of known those guys for a little bit. And so Michael asked me one day to learn a couple Velvet Underground songs off of a record. It’s funny, I don’t know how he knew I could do that. I had originally learned, I was a base player, and would listen to records and learns things from them. So, I guess it was something that was pretty natural for me to do, to learn something off a record by ear. And so Michael had this idea for me to do it. And so I learned “Pale Blue Eyes” and, maybe, “Femme Fatale.” And so, what Michael wanted me to do was go over to Peter’s house and show Peter those songs. So it was sort of like I learned them, and I went over there, and I can’t remember much about it, but I went over there and showed him the chords of those songs. I don’t know why I did it but then what happened was they were doing a big show at the University of Georgia—and this was a big outdoor show—and this was just when they were starting to make it, and I ended up going on stage with them and playing guitar to those songs—the Velvet Underground cover. So they did sort of give public credit for being involved somehow. I don’t remember much else around it, but it’s kind of an interesting story.

MATTHEW SWEET PLAYS THE HAVERFORD MUSIC FESTIVAL SEPTEMBER 9TH

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WORTH REPEATING: Man Who Knew Too Much

Wednesday, August 30th, 2017

Sun Ra ON JUPITER

 

NEW YORKER: For decades, jazz musicians have joked about Schaap’s adhesive memory, but countless performers have known the feeling that Schaap remembered more about their musical pasts than they did and was always willing to let them in on the forgotten secrets. “Phil is a walking history book about jazz,” Frank Foster, a tenor-sax player for the Basie Orchestra, told me. Wynton Marsalis says that Schaap is “an American classic.”

In the eyes of his critics, Schaap’s attention to detail and authenticity is irritating and extreme. He has won six Grammy Awards for his liner notes and producing efforts, but his encyclopedic sensibility is a matter of taste. When Schaap was put in charge of reissuing Benny Goodman’s landmark 1938 concert at Carnegie Hall for Columbia, he not only included lost cuts and Goodman’s long-winded introductions but also provided prolonged original applause tracks, and even the sounds of the stage crew dragging chairs and music stands across the Carnegie stage to set up for the larger band. His production work on a ten-disk set of Billie Holiday for Verve was similarly inclusive. Schaap wants us to know and hear everything. He seems to believe that the singer’s in-studio musings about what key to sing “Nice Work If You Can Get It” in are as worthy of preservation as a bootleg of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural. Reviewing the Holiday set for the Village Voice, Gary Giddins called Schaap “that most obsessive of anal obsessives.”

That’s one way of looking at the matter. Another is that Schaap puts his frenzied memory and his obsessive attention to the arcane in the service of something important: the struggle of memory against forgetting—not just the forgetting of a sublime music but forgetting in general. Schaap is always apologizing, acknowledging his long-windedness, his nudnik tendencies. “The examination may be tedium to you,” he said on the air recently as he ran through the days, between 1940 and 1944, when Parker might have overdubbed Goodman’s “Chinaboy” in Bob Redcross’s room at the Savoy Hotel in Chicago. (“His home was Room 305.”) Nevertheless, he said, “my bent here is that I want to know when it happened because I believe in listening to the music of a genius chronologically where possible, particularly an improvising artist.” The stringing together of facts is the Schaapian process, a monologuist’s way of painting a picture of “events of the past” happening “in real time.” […]

By the time Schaap was established on the radio, nearly every musician who passed through New York was aware of his mental tape recorder. Twenty-five years ago, the bandleader, pianist, and self-styled space cadet Herman (Sonny) Poole Blount, better known as Sun Ra, swept by a night club and, before having to give a speech at Harvard, “kidnapped” Schaap. Sun Ra claimed that as a young man he had been “transmolecularized” to Saturn, and thereafter he expounded a cosmic philosophy influenced by ancient Egyptian cosmology, Afro-American folklore, and Madame Blavatsky. In order to prepare for his audience in Cambridge, Sun Ra insisted that Schaap fill him in on the details of his existence on Earth. Schaap obliged, telling Sun Ra that, according to his musicians’ union forms, he was born in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1914. “I could tell him things like what 78s by Fletcher Henderson he was listening to in the thirties and about his time playing piano for the Henderson Orchestra later on,” Schaap said. “He was vague about it all, but what I said made sense to him. I also knew that his favorite flavor of ice cream was the Bananas ’n Strawberry at Baskin-Robbins. It was a hot summer night, so I went up the block and bought him a quart, and we ate sitting in the car.” MORE

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I WAS A TEENAGE SEX PISTOL: Q&A With Sex Pistols Bassist & Principal Songwriter Glen Matlock

Monday, August 28th, 2017

 

BY JONATHAN VALANIA Glen Matlock was the original bass player in the Sex Pistols, and he was also one the band’s principal songwriters — all the classic Pistols tunes (“Anarchy In The UK,” “God Save The Queen” “Pretty Vacant”) bear his imprimatur. So why haven’t you heard of him? Because he left the band — whether he quit or was fired depends on who you ask — just before the Pistols went supernova and was replaced by human car wreck Sid Vicious whose onstage self-mutilation, epic dope appetite and ignominious demise (dead from a heroin overdose while being jailed for the murder of his girlfriend/Courtney-Love-role-model Nancy Spungen) rendered him iconic. Matlock plays on the first three Pistols singles, and shares songwriting credits for all but on track on Never Mind The Bollocks — with Steve Jones playing his bass parts on the recording. After the Pistols, he formed the New Wave power pop band The Rich Kids and various other side projects and tours with fellow veterans of the great punk wars of the 70s and 80s. By the mid-90s, Matlock was back in the saddle for an intermittent series of Pistols reunion concerts that continued well into the last decade. In 2007 he penned his tell-all memoir, I Was A Teenage Sex Pistol. Phawker spoke with him back in 2012 when the book was reissued. 

PHAWKER: Can you please identify yourself so I can get a [recording] level…

GLEN MATLOCK: Hello I am Glen Matlock, I am from England but I am temporarily in New York in my friend’s apartment looking out the window at the Empire State building and it’s very cool!

PHAWKER: I would like to talk about some ancient history as far as the Pistols go, I hope you’re cool with that.

GLEN MATLOCK: Well, there ya go. I can’t do much better than that can I?

PHAWKER: Let’s start at the very beginning. How do you meet those guys? How did the Sex Pistols come together? How does Glen Matlock become part of the Pistols?

GLEN MATLOCK: Well, basically I ended up working for a guy called Malcolm McLaren, who is quite renowned – our manager at the time. He used to runGlen_Sex_Pistols_3_CROPPED.jpg a Teddy Boy clothes shop in London. I got a job working there. Every oddball and weirdo used to come in on a Saturday afternoon because all the bathtubs and bars were closed from three o’clock til about five thirty, which encouraged people to go shopping down at King’s Road, which is where the store was. His place was kind of weird, his place would attract the weirdest people. That’s how we all met. [Sex Pistols guitarist] Steve [Jones] and [Sex Pistols drummer] Paul [Cook] would come in and try to steal things, basically. I kind of got matey with them. I overheard that they were putting a band together and the bass play never used to turn up. I happened to be learning the bass guitar – well, I had a bass guitar at the moment, it didn’t mean I could particularly play. I just said, “Well, I’ll play bass,” and they were like, “Oh, man, great. What bands do you like?” The only band that was really worthwhile listening to at the time was The Faces. I said, “Well, I dig The Faces.” So that became our common ground. We started rehearsing away, you know, mainly playing covers and things. We really had a kind of a spirit, but we didn’t necessarily have somebody to encapsulate that and put that into words. Steve was the singer at the time originally – it soon became quite clear wasn’t going to cut it as our singer. We were on the lookout for a singer among all the other weirdos and oddballs that hung out at the store was Johnny Rotten. So we called him in. Basically that was it, that’s how the band started.

PHAWKER: You’re credited with the music for nearly all the songs on Never Mind the Bollocks, correct?

GLEN MATLOCK: All the ones worthwhile listening to, yes. It was agreed, not necessarily by me, that we would all share songwriting credit for the songs — I was not particularly happy about that, but it was three against one. But there you go, I mean, a song like “Anarchy In The U.K.,” as far as I’m concerned that’s my music and John [Lydon]’s lyrics, “God Save The Queen,” that’s my music and John’s lyrics. “Pretty Vacant,” that’s my song, I wrote the lyrics to that as well.
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Via BuzzFeed

Cost of the War in Iraq
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