Friday, January 28, 2005

Great post Marc. And Stuart, that's a nice shirt, it brings out the colour in your nipples.

It's true that there's a little bit of spoiled childness lurking behind the lamentation that an artist can't consistently produce stellar work. Okay, you won the Nobel Prize for literature, went into hiding to avoid death threats that were a reaction to your art, and continued to write moving fiction that seamlessly melds Eastern and Western storytelling traditions with humour and candor but...what have you done for me lately, Mr. Rushdie?

You asked, “What gives us the right to expect intellectual immortality of them when we so often dream of not having to work so hard at what it is we do? “ and you’re right, it is unfair. But I guess because I find what a musician, visual artist, or writer does is far more interesting than what I do, I expect a little more. There's also a precedent that the artist sets with his baby.

I have to back up Stuart's critique of your claim that art was never about wealth. Were it not for the patronage of some very wealthy people, there would be precious few paintings hanging in the great galleries of the world. Agree that any worthwhile artistic effort is not going to be motivated by commercial concerns but the impact of money, and the realization by some that compromising one's standards may lead to an increase in sales (hello Treble Charger, Liz Phair) is a very real phenomenom. What I find most frustrating is the lack of commercial success of really great bands relative to the success of the countless braying jackasses (Simpson sisters, minute 14 just ticked by) whom I am subjected to every time I open a paper, turn on a radio, or turn on a television.

All this talk of JS gets me thinking not about Johann Sebastian but Jeremy come he never posts? Gotta send him another invite.

Thanks for the jazz lists, Brian and Derek. I had that Mobley disc in my hand a few weeks ago and decided not to buy it, for no reason in particular. Clearly, that was an idiotic decision that should be rectified in the near future.

Hope to see you all very soon, white teeth stained pink by multiple glasses of Spanish red.

I think you are right Stu, when you say that you can't point to any one condition that will produce great art...if you could then we would probably loose much of the mystique and wonderment that surrounds it; maybe we would all be creating it if one would identify that magic touch.

...and you are right about the socio eco comment, there are countless examples when you start to think about it.

Interesting, when you start to think the pressures of producing "the next great piece of art" and relating that to the pressures of producing art when you are the progeny of a great artist...Jacob Dylan, Sofia Copola, any one of a given Bach's etc. ...just try and be true to yourself!!! ...yeah right.
Phew, lots of great points marc, I dont know how you guys can put such effort into blogging, I seem to find it hard to focus on just reading these lengthy dissertations. ( since no one has replied to marc yet I think I am not alone???)That said, a few things filtered through my addled brain, reading this marc, ...there is a new controversial book out about the history of western music, ( I may have mentioned this to some of you so forgive my repetition), and in it, ( having only read the book review and forgetting the authors name),it purports to draw a strong link between the artist and their socio economic context. For example , contrary to a point of marcs', some famous artists like Chopin, were wealthy and catered to from birth and lived in what we would consider stardom from inception, yet he still produced this great body of work. Just goes to show that there are holes in all our theries and that you cant pin down artistic impulses to any one set of rules. I do believe hartily with marc that we expect far too much from our artists and I think that was the thrust of my first reaction to Brians original comment, ( marc expressed it much more eloquently)...

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Once again, long overdue…

Three billion monkeys stroking away at their keyboards… is it any wonder that some of them are going to come up with a few great ideas now and then?

I have been thinking long and hard on this topic, and the more I reflect upon it, the more closely I relate it to our society as a whole. How different is the plight of the artist from the struggles of the banker, the politician, the scientist or the schoolteacher. We all have moments of relative greatness and moments we would rather have wiped from our hard drives. Why is it we have come to expect so much from artists?…so much from people?…so much more than we might be willing to give of ourselves. What gives us the right to expect intellectual immortality of them when we so often dream of not having to work so hard at what it is we do?

The late 20th century has brought us an unprecedented access to and inundation of media and entertainment that has warped (or simply changed) our perspective on pop culture and art… and where do we draw the line between art and pop culture. One must be careful not to confuse one for the other. They are neither mutually exclusive nor one in the same and sometimes when we refer to artists I think we should be referring to pop culturists. The line draw between the two is grey, fuzzy and fraught with interpretation.

Never before has society had access to and consumed so much media…of all sorts. We gobble it up. We consume so much of it that some of us have to leave it unwrapped on our shelves for a time when we have room to digest more!!! Would you like to supersize that sir? Through all the belly aching of the record companies and the entertainment industry, unit sales for cd’s have risen once again to outstrip the growth rate of our GDP. More music than ever with ever less to be said…so it would seem. One of the more ironic tales I have heard, is of how The Wallflowers firs Album grossed more to Jacob Dylan than all of Bob’s albums had combined to that point in time. Hard to comprehend.

It is interesting when one compares art and artists of the time before the advent of mass media with those of the 20th century. I think that many of what we deem to be great artists, were, ahead of their time, unnoticed in their time, excommunicated by the church, starving, prone to cutting of their ears, and none were as rich as the richest have become today! Art was never about wealth. It was something that had to be done in spite of its financial shortcomings and lack of recognition. A hardship that had to be endured and that informed the work. Something that came from the heart. The ability to create art is a luxury and a self indulgence and yet people have come to complain about how hard it is to make a living as an artist. Supply and demand baby! If you can’t make a living at it, you ain’t no good at it! Give it up and get a real job!…sorry I don’t really believe that, but there are far too many people who feel that it is within their right to make a living as an artist. Truly great art is seems to bear little relation to its value.

Art is a tapestry…a time and place cross with a mind that expresses a new and significant idea…the threads are woven together to form a fabric that is a critical reflection of society. Time and place make ideas significant, without them, provocative concepts become meaningless. The fabric of the tapestry is delicate and forever in flux. Work created yesterday can be relevant and brilliant but meaningless and insignificant if created tomorrow. The interesting thing is that great works of art usually remain great maintain their significance over time.

Someone mentioned Louis Armstrong, and he was without a doubt, one of the key figures in defining modern jazz. You work a theme through for a few decades and that becomes who you are…what you play…it is part of your core value…the way you play your music….what did you want him to do next? invent jazz-fusion?

The problem is that we are all a product of a time and a place …a great artist makes a statement about the world in which they live… the world changes, in part due to the contribution that the artist made and the statement becomes valuable and viewed for its value in changing society. An artist can only explore an avenue so far. At a certain point the artist needs to redefine himself. The better the artist, the more readily the artist can redefine themselves. In our day and age, change seems to be occurring on a logarithmic curve . Through sexual revolutions , cultural revolutions and technological revolutions, an artists world changes but the artists core values can no longer change the world since the world has changed around them. Compounding this problem, the lives we live are becoming longer and longer and it becomes more difficult to live out a lifetime of creativity when so much change occurs though our lives. People are still alive who saw the birth of the automobile, flight, the radio and the telephone, the world at war (twice) space travel and the computer…what changes did J.S. Bach see in his 65 years on earth…probably seemed like a lot to him…what changes will your children see in the years to come? And speaking of J.S….there is a very good example of someone whose artistic contribution was largely written off for about a century…how did that happen…who has been overlooked within our generation?

As we grow older our bodies and souls change and our core value change. Things that were important to us when we young (like getting laid in the back of Dodge) seem to be replaced with more meaningful pursuits (like getting laid in the back of our X5 or Land Cruiser). You need to grow and change as an artist as the values in your life change but it might well be that you are not able to successfully translate your matured values into art. Maybe the matured you does not care at all about anything…you are numbed by the existence of your success. It is an impossibility to isolate yourself from the reactions to your art, be they monetary or critical.

Geniuses are hard to come by but we have come to look for them all around us…the next big thing. Through the escalating changes in the world we seem to reject and accept icons of pop culture and art and discard them with ever increasing rapidity.

Art is never something we do in isolation. We draw from those around us whether they be lovers, family, friends, partners or collaborators. Would U2 be what they are without Lylywhite, Eno or Lanois? The dynamics of these relationships are always in flux and that will invariably affect the quality and content of our work. I think that we can never underestimate the contribution that others make in the support of the artist; after all, if the there ain’t no audience there just ain’t no show!

The flow of an artistic career has much to do with the discipline in question and the way it changes in society. Musical pop stars seem to reach their pinnacle shortly after puberty these days while the saying still goes that you are not an Architect until you are 40! (and yes I believe that good architects are artist, as few and far between as they may be)…..(but in this I have experience…I might hazard to say, that an architect is only as good as their client)….hmmm, if the there ain’t no audience there just ain’t no show! Language and the stories that are told in print seem to change at a much slower pace than film or music that seem to be much more affected by progresses in technologies and are so much more quickly digested by pop culture and run quickly through change. This might have a lot to do with the way that the product it consumed. Good books tend to be consumed slowly, sit on shelves and are borrowed from libraries and are around for a lifetime while movies are publicized to death, are run for a few weeks and then go to dvd where they are once again publicized to death, consumed and put in the delete bin. It is no wonder that the career of a writer can be so much more enduring than that of a musical pop star (artist) or film maker?…or can it?

What are you going to do to change the world?

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

I was kinda wonderin' what happened to Wayne. I would put most of the discs I own by him up on anyone's top jazz albums list. Besides "Speak no Evil" I would throw in "JuJu", "Night Dreamer" and "Adam's Apple".

Some of my other faves:

Ben Webster - Soulmates (Webster on sax is smooth as silk and his classic rendition of "Chelsea Bridge", unfortunately not on this disc, is one of my favourite all time jazz numbers)

Sonny Rollins - Tenor Madness - this disc features the two sax giants of the era, Rollins and Coltrane in 1956, on the first track. Along with Coltrane the other 3 players on this disc make up Miles Davis' quintet of that era which leads me to my next choice(s),

Miles Davis - with Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, Philly Joe Jones on the skins and Coltrane and Davis any one of the 4 albums, from 1956 "Cookin", "Relaxin", "Steamin" or "Workin" make for extremely listenable and pure pleasure jazz.

J.J. Johnson - Proof Positive - if you're going to have one "trombone" jazz disc in your collection and everyone should have at least one, you can't go wrong with this beauty featuring the highly underrated Harold Mabern on piano.

Stan Getz - Focus - a jazz album from 1961 featuring violins, viola and cello along with the cool sound of Getz on sax. Unlike some of the more saccharine classical string-jazz efforts this one has a definite edge and is great meditative music.

Joe Henderson - Inner Urge - as Brian mentioned one of several that you could pick from his large body of work

Eric Dolphy - Out to Lunch - certainly far more "out" than pretty much anything else on this list but while it might send your granny running for the earplugs its a good start in to the more adventurous side of jazz. The combination of sweet and sour on the first track "Hat and Beard" is pretty much how I picture the jazz scence of the early 60's. One of those album openers that never tires.

Freddie Hubbard - The Body & the Soul - hate to go on about album openers but "Body and Soul" with Dolphy on flute and Hubbard on trumpet is a killer smooth jazz track as is "Dedicated to You". The ladies will be sure to love them. If you dig Freddie on this album seek out some Clifford Brown.

John Coltrane - "Giant Steps" but again there are very few of his that wouldn't make the list.

And I suppose if picking an album featuring piano any of three by McCoy Tyner - Inception, The Real McCoy or Supertrios.

Forgot one that I love as much or more than any others on that list - Wayne Shorter's "Speak No Evil" (1964). Magic.

Monday, January 24, 2005

I'll start with a list of my most listened to jazz music. This isn't the best, most significant yadds yadda list, but jazz being as musically "out" as it sometimes is, some of the the really important stuff can be harder on the ears, and doesn't get the late-night spins. And some of the below-noted is the best of the best. It's worth mentioning that I prefer the jazz era from about 1952 to 1966 - a great period for sure, but many think jazz was already dying by then, along with the original be-boppers like Parker, Powell, etc. Me, I think it's the best combination of groovy beats, true musical expression outside the first wave of bop (which at times has a sort of "look at me I'm playing a flat fifth and sharp ninth back-to-back" bravado quality to it), and some incredible experimentation and re-thinking of form. Though, as I say, none of the stuff I'll list is could be described as hard listenining (so, no Shepp, Coleman, Bley e.g.).

I poked around my collection and came up with ten. OK, fourteen. In no order they are:

Sarah Vaughan - with Clifford Brown (1954) (this one is a must have)
Anita O'Day - Anita Sings the Most (1956)
Helen Merrill - Dream of You (1956)

Miles Davis - Kind of Blue (1959)
Bill Evans - Interplay (1962) ....this was a tough choice. He is my favourite jazz man of all, but this record is unusual in that he's playing with a guitar player (Jim Hall) and trumpeter (Freddie Hubbard), whereas he typically led a trio. His trio stuff is gorgeous and equally (probably more) essential, particularly Portrait in Jazz, Explorations, and Live at the Village Vanguard, thought it all has some quality to it, but this was the first Evans disk I fell in love with, and I think for a newcomer to jazz the extra instrumentation adds melody and life.
Hank Mobley - No Room for Squares (1963). I'm a huge fan of this guy's catchy hard bop (blues-based jazz), though he's considered a bit of a non-innovator. He has about five records that are all mighty fine.
Charlie Parker - Bird's Best Bop on Verve (1951 - 53)
Charles Mingus - Ah Um (1959) - so much soul, guts, and energy, and beautiful composition.
Bud Powell - The Best of Bud Powell on Verve (1950 - 55). My second favourite pianist after Evans, though utterly different....flamboyant, bold be-bop.
Lee Morgan - Search for the New Land (1964)
Chet Baker - The Best of Chet Sings (1952-53) - no better choice if you're trying to get a girl to...oh right, we're all married. Despite the cliche, this is some of my favourite music.
Joe Lovan0 - From the Soul (1991) - my favourite "modern" jazz tenor man...though even Joe's gotta be in his mid-fifties by now.
David Murray Quartet - Body and Soul (1993) - my other contemp fave, this album is the hardest thing on the list, though it's really not that tough - angst, energy, and creativity combined into amazing soundscape.
Joe Henderson - In and Out (1964) Could have chosen any of his from this period...he was teaming with trumpeter Kenny Dorham.
Coltrane - Africa Brass Sessions (1961) . Same story, pick a Coltrane record and you're likely fine, though careful with anything from 1965 onwards (unless you want to clear Sarah out of the house). I love the huge passionate cacophany of this record, played with a horn section arranged by Eric Dolphy, consisting of, among other things, nine French horns.

That'll do for now. Top 50 would have been easier....lots of gaps which I'll let the other guys fill if they're so inclined.

And as for writing on other subjects, that'll have to wait for another night.

Maybe "Best Canadian records" isn't hat inspiring after all. (No, goddamn it, I will blog on this tomorrow).

Stu, Feb 27 at the El Mo sounds cool. And I'm going to be at The Shoe this coming Monday (31st) to see a neighbour's nephew's band play a little showcase if anyone's looking for an excuse for a beer.

Excellent points, Kyle
My comment on Jaggers , was meant to say that he is an exception for producing great work ( along w Richards, Jones , Taylor etc) for a long 15 to 20 years. The last 5 from the early eighties are not great but still good. This is an exception to the 3 albums and your out rule. I think all this discussion warrents drinks and I know M. Ward is playing the elmo on the 27th of February, any takers????
Kylie, a most excellent answer, and I agree that the temptation is to make some bland generalization about the nature of art and artists irrespective of media. Which of course, is what I was trying to do....and in fact, I am still planning to do so when I write on this later tonight.

Also, have been giving some thought to your jazz CD question, and to my roundly ignored best Canadian album question (I wonder, what if I'd said best English...), and will post on them tonight too. Most happy to hear that you are contemplating entering the murky, annoyingly pedantic and yet damned rewarding world of jazz appreciation. Between me, Derek, Stuart, and Marc we should be able to get you started.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Clearly I haven't kept my resolution pertaining to the close editing of blog posts. I'll complete my response to Derek here:

As much as I grumble about the ubiquity of such appalling untalented and bland celebrities like Ashlee Simpson, or the lack of any decent radio station in this city, at least I have access to resources like the internet and live in a city that offers a variety of cultural options. With very little ease or expense, I can usually find interesting music, books or films. I'm not sure if this was possible even 10 years ago.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Sorry for the delay in responding but it's been a pretty hectic week and hey, you've bitten off quite a bit here with your questions, Brian. I'll attempt to do them justice.

Several times this past week I've found myself typing a response, definitively answering one question only to find myself coming up with a stream of examples that immediately contradict my own claims. For example, to your first question,

"Why (or whether you agree) there appears to be a tendency in the "modern" world towards unfinished artistic careers?"

I've come around to the view that it's difficult to come up with an answer that covers all the different forms of media you referenced.

When it comes to popular music, I agree that there is definitely a tendency towards an 'unfinished career'. I think this is because pop musicians 1) really only have a handful of really good releases in them at best (the '3 albums and you're out rule') and 2) are at their creative peak when they are young, fairly ignorant of past trends and influences (and therefore more risk-taking and less contrived), and can honestly articulate the frustration, anger, and impatience with the world that is inherent in youth. That's not to say that someone over the age of 40 can't release a good pop album, it's just they probably would have released a better one in their youth.

I won't comment on classical or jazz musicians because I just don't know enough about either genre to make any intelligent contribution. [And to those who would suggest that I am equally out of my depth when it comes to pop music, my advice is that you attempt the anatomically impossible and let me define my own parameters of self-deprecation].

With literature, I think some authors actually produce work that gets better with age, or at the very least go through a middle-years slump that is overshadowed by later, more impressive work. Philip Roth may be best known for 'Portnoy's Complaint' but some of his recent work is excellent and I think John LeCarre's last two novels are better than anything he wrote in the past. While I'm the first to bemoan the recent efforts of perennial favourites like DeLillo and Rushdie, I still think they will surprise with better efforts in the future. Again, there may be a finite number of artistic points/statements about the state of humanity/reflections on socio-political-cultural phenomena that each writer can make before he or she runs out of steam. But age can bring perspective and there are probably countless other modern examples of writers whose crowning glory was achieved in their later years; okay, this is a bit of a copout for not providing examples here but I'm pressing on cause there's still a lot of ground to cover.

When it comes to filmmakers...well, let me answer here by referring to one of your other questions, namely,

Is it the necessary balance between money and art?

Here I think is a medium most affected by the demands of commerce and where money plays the biggest role in determining or denying artistic legacy.

Some very actors and directors consistently make great choices but along the way, all seem to make some really big stinkers (ie. recent Coen Brothers, Julianne Moore, Ben Kingsley) in the name of the almighty buck. Other directors attempt to keep making great films but no longer have anything relevant to say anymore, perhaps because the've said all they really wanted to say in the first place (ie. Oliver Stone, Hal Hartley, Whit Stillman, David Mamet). Others may have reached their apex years ago, still strike out occassionally but still hit a home run every once in awhile (ie. Spike Lee, Robert Altman, Woody Allen...okay maybe he should be in the Oliver Stone category...). And still others consistently churn out thought-provoking, intelligent work (ie. Mike Leigh, Michael Winterbottom, Pedro Almodovar).

What separates this latter group from the former groups mentioned? Is it a singular artistic vision or the inner strength required to resist materialistic overtures from Hollywood?

I remember a Q&A at the Festival a few year's back where Gary Oldman was answering questions about his very personal and difficult film "Nil By Mouth". He stated bluntly that he takes on roles in such unspectacular fare as 'Air Force One' and 'Lost in Space' so that he can raise enough cash to work on projects that he truly cares about. I'm sure he's not the only one cashing in from time to time, for noble reasons or not, but his revelation speaks to the reality that 1) putting together a film requires a hell of a lot more money and collaboration that most other artistic endeavours, certainly more than recording an album or writing a book, and 2) the temptation for to abandon their quest to push the boundaries of the medium in order to make more sellable fare is so great that only a select few artists are willing or able to resist.

So to summarize my answers:

Pop Music=small time window in which to express a limited amount of artistic energy
Fiction/Literature=disagree, art may improve with age
Jazz/Classical=i am a moron, requiring the purchase of a 'dummies' book or enrollment in a proper finishing school

To your question,
Are we too close to these events to see how history will judge them?

Pop Music=No.
Jazz/Classical=i am a moron, requiring the purchase of a 'dummies' book or enrollment in a proper finishing school
Film=Let's discuss the next time we all have a pint in our hands

Derek, you asked,

"At a time when we have available to us more forms of entertainment than could ever have been imagined 100 years ago are we suffering because of this surfeit?"

I'm not sure that we are suffering any worse than anyone would have 100 or even 10 years ago. I think there's always been a tendency towards mediocrity in the mainstream. As much as I grumble about the ubiquity of such appalling untalented and bland celebrities like Ashlee Simpson, or the lack of any decent radio station in this city, at least I have access
I don't know if that was always the case.

Stuart, while I applaud your concession that Tony Bennett, while possessing the charisma and the pipes to do that one trick really well, isn’t still producing great work, I question your assertion that Mick Jagger is still producing great work. I think the Stones are one of the best examples of a group that 1) hasn’t produced a decent record in almost 25 years (1981’s Tattoo You was probably the last to qualify) and 2) should channel any artistic impulses into what they still do well, namely banging hot young women. And with the exceptions of a couple of non-terrible singles, the bulk of Mick’s solo/duo projects are egregiously pathetic ('Dancing in the Streets' w/ David Bowie and 'State of Shock' with Michael Jackson are two cringe-worthy examples). If you think Mick’s Golden Globe win this week bolsters your case, I’d say you only have to look at the list of recent winners (schmaltzy dreck from Sting, Elton, and Celine) to see what a non-achievement this really is.

Marc, every time I take the subway, I have to fight the urge to belt out 'I'm waiting on a subway line/I'm waiting for a train to arrive' from the Walkmen's 'Thinking of a Dream I Had'. I love the sort of rambling intensity in his voice and the swirling guitars. Very suited to standing on a platform in these frigid days.

Okay, enough rambling of my own for now.

What top 5 or 10 jazz albums should I rush out and buy immediately?

Monday, January 17, 2005

Well, I for one am breathing a little more easily. Thanks Marc. And yes, it hadn't escaped my notice how your top five are all rock or kind-of rock records. Interesting evolution on your part.

I will await Kyle's reply to my note of a few days ago (since he promised that one was forthcoming when we bumped into each other at Dora's the other night) before re-jumping in with my somewhat nebulous take on artistic longevity.

(Though I will say that Derek's note had me one step from suicide, or the 2005 equivalent - channel surfing - until, incredibly, I found God, in the form of the SI Swimsuit Model Search. TV, at least, continues to shoot for the stars.)
I know, I know…you have all been waiting with baited breath for the release of my list of top 5 albums of 2005…anxiously wondering what pearls I’ve had squirreled away in the piles of walnut dust in my shop. Well I am sorry to disappoint, but there is nothing new for you boyz on my list but what is a surprise (at least to me), is what I find I have been drawn to most over the past year and can’t get out of the cd player

Top 5 in no particular order…and you’re lucky I managed to actually nail down five!

Arcade Fire – Funeral
Interpol – Antics
Walkmen – Bows and Arrows
Wilco – a ghost is born
Jolie Holland – Escondida
What I find interesting about my top five is that amongst them, there is not a single album that falls into a jazz/afro/electo/latin/dancey slots that got me off in the past number of years. With the exception of Holland, it’s all music in the straight up, pop/rock genre.
The other thing that I find interesting about several of the choices, is that they follow albums that were considered by many, to be stronger. I came to know Interpol, Walkmen and Wilco recently and revisited earlier works only after falling in love with their current releases.
I think that this resonates with the discourse on the blog (which I must admit I find very provocative) in that our perceptions of an artist’s work can’t help but be altered by our understanding or familiarity with their other works. Is it possible for me to hear a ghost is born in the same light as someone who has grown up with Summerteeth or Yankee Foxtrot? (two albums with which I was wholly unfamiliar) Is my perception of Ghost intrinsically different from yours because I was never a fan of theirs before? In any case, The direction that Wilco has gone with Ghost grabs me in a way that Wilco’s work never has before…have I simply entered a new headspace…was Wilco waiting for me to come to them or was I waiting for Wilco to change? I love the album with the exception of all the wanking of the last ten minutes….it’s all been done before and what ever you’re trying to say is either lost on me or empty…and no “you will never hear this song on the radio”!
Interpol’s – Antics? Super strong follow up to their debut…stronger still. The problem with it is that it may be seen by some as “more of the same” after their stellar freshman release. At a session of the cd club a while ago, someone, I think it was Brian, said, and I paraphrase, “if you own one of their albums do you really need to go out and buy another….it’s good music, but is it not just more of the same?…am I really gaining something from this album that was missing in my first experience?” If you ain’t got any Interpol, make it Antics. Antics outshines in its energy, dynamics and production.
Arcade Fire…didn’t see the show at the beginning of the summer so I could not be disappointed by the lack of energy captured on the album as I have heard some were. Again, it’s all about expectations. To my ears the sound is fresh, creative and full of the stuff of life.
The Walkmen?…all I want to know is what’s in it for me?
Jolie…a warm breeze…a swing on the veranda…the scent of magnolia…oh! for an afternoon to do nothing!
…and I gotta say that I’m not hugely disappointed with the year in music…I’ll grant you there was no Nevermind or London Calling

Friday, January 14, 2005

Don't mean to be a prat but I have to present these partial lists to back up my little part of tackling the matrix as Stuart so aptly put it.

Best-selling books of 2004 (presumably US)

1. The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
2. The South Beach Diet - Arthur Agatston
3. Angels and Demons - Dan Brown
4. The Purpose Driven Life - Rick Warren
5. The Five People You Meet in Heaven - Mitch Albom
6. The South Beach Diet Good Fats Good Carbs Guide - Arthur Agatston
7. My Life - Bill Clinton
8. The Notebook - Nicholas Sparks
9. Deception Point - Dan Brown
10. Digital Fortress - Dan Brown

Of the top 100 perhaps only 10 could be considered actual works of literature (and they sure ain't in the top 10, rather hard when the ubiquitous Mr. Brown had a hall of fame season) and 4 of them only made the list because hey Oprah liked it why shouldn't you.

Top 10 grossing films of 2004

1. Shrek 2
2. Spider Man 2
3. Passion of the Christ
4. The Incredibles
5. Harry Potter and etc
6. Day after Tomorrow
7. The Bourne Supremacy
8. Meet the Fockers
9. Shark Tale
10. Polar Express

Wow, 4 cartoons (don't give me that high falutin "animated feature bs), 5 sequels, and despite having seen nary a one of these films I can safely assume no more than 30 seconds of real life adult dialogue (unless you count Aramaic) or authentic situations. Combined gross in the US alone for these 10 master works: $2.5 billion.

Top 10 selling CDs of 2004:

1. Usher - "Confessions"
2. Norah Jones - "Feels Like Home"
3. Eminem - "Encore"
4. Kenny Chesney - "When the Sun Goes Down"
5. Gretchen Wilson - "Here for the Party"
6. Tim McGraw - "Live Like You Were Dying"
7. Maroon 5 - "Songs about Jane"
8. Evanesence - "Fallen"
9. Ashlee Simpson - "Autobiography"
10. Various - "Now That's What I Call Music 16"

Insert your own version of Charlie Brown's patented scream here.

Where the hell did we go so horribly wrong? I hate to be a cultural snob but these lists speak to me of a species that's lost the plot.

My point. How does an artist, one who cares passionately and intelligently about his craft, reconcile what these lists say to him and the time, energy and the search for next month's rent that is required of him to create something he deems meaningful and hopefully with lasting effect. Radiohead anyone? Is it any surprise that directors, authors, musicians, put out 1, 2 maybe 3 movies, novels or albums never to be heard from again. I think the astounding thing is that there are any at all staying the course. An author like James Kelman, a band like Low, a director like Jim Jarmusch god love them all for at least struggling on despite the complete lack of any mainstream success.

And these are artists I know. There are undoubtedly thousands, (millions?) of others wallowing in complete obscurity. Our "give it to me now and forget about it 30 seconds later " society has no patience to allow an artist to mature and develop an oeuvre that would be remembered for decades to come. At a time when we have available to us more forms of entertainment than could ever have been imagined 100 years ago are we suffering because of this surfeit?

In a world where people never tire of telling us that there's just not enough time to relax and yet where more diligence than ever is required to sift through the crap that passes as art to extricate the real gems I truly believe that we're not likely to see any artistic giants from the current era striding through the landscape of future generations.

Can I go watch Fear Factor now?

I was attempting to answer your questions in my first ( rather biligerent reply) , unfortunately my long winded ramble is not very clear. If you reread from the part about venereal diseases down, what I was trying to say is that I think the artisitc decline is inevitable but for a few exceptions. One aspect of this decline is I think the fact that the artists who succeed tend to get treated to a lifestyle of fawning and they eventually lose touch with the world that they are attempting to create art in response to. I think you are on to something with media because novelists , who dont get the same publicity (and thus stardom)seem to maintain their impulses longer then most. Also Classical musicians of the past , though treated somewhat like rock stars , they were still not as recognizable as todays stars ie in peoples magazine etc... Classical musicians also tend to be more rigouously prepared for the world with education and practice habits etc.... that they may be better equipped to maintain their creativity, this may be especially so with performers, like Perlman etc..)
So in summing up I think these sociatle issues play a fare roll in the decline....
I hope that is clearer,though it only answers part of the matrix. It was also way less fun to write. ..
Actually, I believe performers are artists, generally speaking. Like anything creative it's a question of accomplishment, and of significance. Creating can be in the execution as well as the concept as far as I'm concerned. e.g., Louis Armstrong is primarily known as a performer (didn't write all that much), and yet he almost single-handedly created modern jazz in the mid-twenties. Or so the story goes. And while we're talking about Louis, I would place him in category (c) rather than (a), seminal early output, followed by less and less relevant stuff, slow-ish fade to black (pardon the quasi-racist pun) and almost a caricature of himself by the 1960's/70's.

Nobody's actually answered (or attempted to) my questions by the way.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Can I assume that when we talk about consistent artists that we are strictly talking about people who actually create rather than simply perform. I bring this up after Stuart mentioned Keith Jarrett who I tend to agree is certainly one of the most consistent (if not entirely loveable) performers. But is he a consistent creator of art?

Especially for jazz guys this is an important distinction as Jarrett for one has seen many of his recent releases inlcude many works not written by Jarrett or anyone else in his trio. I understand that that by definition they are giving us their interpretation of the original but that's far from the creative process that I think the original discussion at Betty's had in mind.

And where do people like Maxim Vengerov, Martha Argerich and Hilary Hahn fit in to this discussion? Does someome who performs for much if not all of their adult life like a Perlman not count because once again they are only interpreting someone else's baby? Can we thus discount all classical performers (at least those who only play and not compose) and say that none of them are true artists?

Back to the point about musicians with longevity and quality I think we'd have to include guys like Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong.
My partner Bills, inlaw has been a member of the small ensemble who tours with Tony,
and apparently Tony is so uber professional and generally a good guy all around , that just impresses the hell out of me for an icon of that magnitude. This inlaw also has some obscure connection to Keith Jarret , who is one who I must say still puts out very edgy stuff for now over a quarter of a century in both jazz and classical. I wonder if he wins the catagory of maintaining quality for the longest time?
Sure Tony's lost a bit of his edge, but he's in his late seventies now, so I'm OK with that....and apparently he rocked the house on the last Apprentice.
I take your point Brian, but I just reread my comment and I think I lost all credibility earlier when I inferred that Tony Bennet was a example of someone still putting out great work, .... what the ???....( maybe I really should edit my emails and blogs)

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Good point big guy. I guess what I should have said was that the long-term view of the artists in question (rather than the art) will be tarnished by their years of consistent wretchedness. The thought of Stevie Wonder, for example, already provokes serious cringing (and justifiably so) despite the genius of Songs In the Key of Life et al. 'Cause it's been twenty four years of crap. Not every example is pronounced but you get my drift.
Well I agree with your career catagories , roughly, and think it a worthy debate, as most debates that originate at Bettys tend to be, I do take some issue with a few of your points . I would have to say questioning the merit of earlier works simply because there later work is bollocks is , well, simply bollocks. Steve Wonder put out at least 5 great albums in the early seventis and another 4 or so good albums in the sixties over a span of 10 years, Rod put out about 8 very good discs over about 6 years ( including work w Jeff Beck and also Faces, ) MIles Davis , well you did qualify he might be safe from this. I realise your argument was more that these artists did have there quality drop off and I agree there is no doubt about that. Pop music sets the worst example here , think Paul McCartney , The Band, the list goes on and on and the greater the musician the greater the perceived crime. Classical music fares considerable better , but most of them died from venereal diseases ( tut tut) and that moves them into another category, although few doubt Beethovens late years and many more like him.
I think pop music which is born of a non schooled youth , non intellectually rigoris roots has less to fall back on. Thes people are mere babes , who get thrust into the media limelight and treated in a manner which would cause damage to most. It is, I think, the norm- to loose touch with the reality (which early work of pop musicians descibes so beautifully) when you live in such a rarified sterile existent of brown nosing false friends catering to your every whim. Only a massively fucked up person ( Dylan, Coltrane, Neil) or a massively strong person ( Mic Jaggers, Tony Bennet) can servive this and still produce great work. Others rest on the money and laurels and so be it.
I am rambling now , but I think it pointless to dismiss early great work simply because they can no longer pull it out of themselves anymore. As far as the one trick ponys , I think that is simply another category of humanity, and the artists who maintain a group dynamic ( Led Zeppelin, Stones, the who, U2 , have a better chance as they feed of the artistic impulses of others rather then just having producers tell you that the dreck you just recorded is bliss.

Rod Stewart - yeah baby! Prime example of a musician/artist who was once cool, who once understood and engaged in the creative process, who slowly, inexorably became spiritually and artistically flabby, ultimately and luridly fascinatingly moving into Monty-Python-Meaning-of-Life-Fat-Guy-Eating-One-Thin-Wafer level of revoltingly obese artistic nothingness. To give him credit, when he said "fuck off" to making good music he did it on a leviathian-like scale. Some Guys Have All the Luck. Impressive.

(prologue to next comment....this next thought is not entirely my own and has been the subject of much discussion at Betty's) seems to me the twentieth century is filled with examples on both sides of the ledger of artists working in various media who create meaningful, remarkable art early in their career, and either (a) continue throughout their lives to pull their souls apart and contribute artistic output with passion, spirit, and iconoclasm, e.g., (all lists subject to debate of course) John Coltrane, Leonard Cohen, Dmitri Shostakovich, Philip Roth, Pablo Picasso, Robert Altman; (b) appear unable to "grow", make similar artistic statements time and time again and quickly self-select (in the annals of art history) as one-trick ponies - e.g., Kazuo Ishiguro, John Fowles, Pearl Jam, Jesus and Mary Chain, Hal Hartley.... or (c) make increasingly bland and/or misguided and/or commercial and/or superficial art that, as time passes, will inevitably call into question their initial, strong work (long list here....Rod Stewart, Stevie Wonder, Miles Davis (he may be safe from this), David Murray, Brett Easton Ellis, Oliver Stone, Francis Ford Copolla, and (sadly and reluctantly admitted) the Coen Brothers. Tons of others.

There are (d) and (e) categories that suggest themselves (d) artists who die or stop early thereby preserving and possibly enhancing their reputation for what might have been seen as a limited artistic idiom in the fullness of time (Salinger, Rothko, Modigliani, the Doors, Hendrix, etc), and (e) artists that produce remarkable work for a significant period of time before tailing off (Dylan, Stones, Norman Mailer, Stravinsky....OK Miles Davis probably belongs down here), thereby likely preserving their reputation, but these two catergories don't necessarily fit well into my upcoming question(s), so I'll put them aside for now. Too many categories makes for poor blogging.

Basically, I'd like to hear your opinions on why (or whether you agree) there appears to be a tendency in the "modern" world towards unfinished artistic careers. Is it the necessary balance between money and art? the intervention and influence of mass media? are we too close to these events to see how history will judge them? or is this simply a natural inability in artists (and people generally) to lose your "edge", to rest on your laurels and stop searching (if so, are we all doomed to this)? What does it take to have longevity in your artistic and creative impulses, and why don't more artists appear to have it?

Your thoughts.

Another subject of discussion presents itself to me. WARNING: It concerns lists, and encourages you to think about and/or publish a list.
The below list of top 25 Canadian albums of all time is posted on the Pitchfork site - not sure if any of you have come across it. It was compiled in 2000, and is (to my reading) in turns pretty funny, bang on once or twice, and blatantly idiotic a lot of the time. Any of you interested in posting your favourite or best Canadian albums of all time? I'm going to try to come up with a top five or ten in the next couple of days, with requisite rationale.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Mea Culpa ,
The second album is Gasoline Alley, ....Every Picture the 3rd album, ( I should have verified on all music guide before I posted) The 2 albums I prefer are The Rod Stewart Album and Every Picture , though Gasoline Alley and the aforementioned A nods as good as a wink ( Faces )are pretty terriffic too.
I have to confess, Stuart, that the only reason I'm aware of 'Handbags' is its use in the opening sequence of "The Office" and yes, episode 4 is probably one of the best in the series, from the guitar playing to Gareth's response to a question about his ultimate fantasy: "Two sisters. Lesbians. I'm just watching."

Thanks for the suggestions re: Rod. I remember my mother had the singles for 'Tonight's the Night' and 'Maggie May' but the only other one of his I recall with any clarity is 'Do ya think I'm sexy?' which I reckon would not make an appearance on your list. I'll have to check out those earlier albums. Gracias.

Kyle I couldnt agree more with you about the pure Nordic Bliss of the first (for me ) 2 albums of Sigour Rios.On a separate note I have been experiencing recurring Rod Stewart moments as of late... 1st Derek makes an oblique reference on the metabeats site, Then Kyle gives me a mix disc with Handbags and Gladrags on an otherwise recent releases mix, Then Yvette and I start watching "the office" on DVD and Handbags and Gladrags is the theme music. ( by the way the 4th episode of the office wherin our hero serenades his staff on guitar is pretty damn funny , but thats another topic).I thought I would recommend to any who missed Rods early career the first 3 records...The Rod Stewart Album..(with Handbags), Every Picture tells a Storey and Gasoline alley ( and maybe the Faces disc ..A Nods as Good as a Wink.... All of these (in particular the first 2 Rod discs) are still favorites of mine that get regular play and seem timeless in a Stones or Dylan kind of way.

Monday, January 10, 2005

While Marc is mapquesting his way through the birth canal and Stuart is presumably sweating through an upper body workout and Brian is cursing me for insisting that Green Bay would easily beat up on Minnesota and he would be foolish not to pick the Packers in his elimination-style pool (do they allow first week and Derek is....Derek is....well, he's either skipping the last hour of work to catch a movie, is on his way home to or from hmv/soundscapes, or returning a rental car, I'm thinking about how great the first Sigur Ros album is and how it's a soothing complement to the month of January.

A couple of other tracks that I've recently downloaded and found are similarly channeling the essence of Janus:

"An Adagio for Tandems Stacked" by 'Teargas & Plateglass', is an ambient, drum-driven track that recalls DJ Shadow, Portishead and Massive Attack. There's a building sense of menace for the first four or five minutes that gives way to quieter, slow paced (the titular adagio?) softer beats. A perfect accompaniment to those cold nights of drunkenly stumbling through Regent Park or Allen Gardens. [Note: After clicking on the link, you'll find this track on the bottom of the page. Right click to download it or choose some of the others if you want to hear more].

"Kjammi" by Stafraenn Hakon [note: if the link doesn't work, try and then click on the Sounds link on the left], another Icelandic musician who crafts some beautiful instrumentals with some pretty string arrangments, a few cymbals, and bass guitar.

Hopefully you won't think they channel the essence of anus.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Still awaiting a moments rest and opportunity for rebirth…look for the remainder of my top 2004 picks to be posted late in 2005/ early 2006

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

You didn't think Glass Tiger was an inspired choice? Just wait until Broken Social Scene headlines New Years 2019!!

Marc, are you still alive darling?

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

That's a pretty eclectic list of Top 10's. When I don't recognize even half of somebody's list I figure they're just making most of it up or these are all bands their friends belong to.

As for Canada being New England I know we have similar weather, topography and good seafood but I've never been much of a Red Sox fan and I know we have much more talented writers than people like Stephen King.

As for the wheelhouse reference all the discs I've mentioned have received heavy rotation (listened to at least once through) chez moi and while good in fits and spurts just don't come together as what I would consider a "great" record. And maybe I'm getting pernickety in my old age but 2004 just didn't see the emergence of too many great records.

Already looking forward to some new releases for 2005 including one that Stuart will be pleased to hear about. M. Ward's new disc "Transistor Radio" comes out in February and Lou Barlow has his first solo record out this month.

And by the way Royal City are local boys which begs the question: with all this great local music (perhaps the strongest scene in years) why the fuck were Glass Tiger the "headliners" at Nathan Phillips on New Year's Eve? Was Casino Rama booked?
Happy New Year!!!

My resolutions:

1) To post more often
2) To sharpen my writing and editing skills so that I don't look back at earlier posts and wince
3) To avoid the urge to compile or solicit lists
4) To open up every wrapped cd Derek has in his possession without his knowledge
5) To get a year round movie blog up and running a la the toronto film festival blog
6) To follow thee more nearly, day by day by day by....

It's funny that you should mention the Panada Bear song, Brian. I downloaded it a day or so after our last cd club meeting and then several days later, I was sitting in an airport, listening to it on my walkman, reading the NYTimes art section that I picked up off the seat beside me, and what do I come across but an article on Panda Bear and the Animal Collective.
The track (Track One?) is still in my 'hmmmn' column, along with the Fiery Furnaces disc but at least I no longer fear either.

I'm not sure what 'haven't found my wheelhouse' means, Derek. Do you own the cds but haven't listened to them? Have you listened to them but haven't warmed up to them yet? Or is there a sillier interpretation of this phrase that I could come up with as a third option to make you all groan but would again underscore the need for clarification of said phrase?

The inclusion of Royal City in your final list from 2004 serves of another reminder that there's a lot of really good music coming out of montreal these days.

It also gives me a reason to throw this question out for all to consider:

Is Canada the new England, as an editor from Artforum recently suggested? [Note: this site, like many others, asks that you 'register' in order to read their articles, so I go to a site called Bugmenot, which will give you a password to use so you don't have to keep registering at different sites.]