Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

Americas Got Talent surprisingly lets the incredible Acro-Dunk go back to Houston.

America's Got Talent surprisingly lets the incredible Acro-Dunk go back to Houston.

America’s Got Talent people — What were you thinking? You sent Acro-Dunk home??

Acro-Dunk kicked ass every millisecond they were onstage. Just incredible stuff.

Not that Voices of Glory wasn’t excellent — they’re amazing. And the Fab Five was alright. They were good.

But nobody’s been anything — AN-Y-THING — like Acro-Dunk, least of all in their semi-finals performance. Which culminated in an astounding multiple-flip-through-a-flaming-hoop dunk.

Oh, did I mention that the basketball hoop was on fire? So there was that, too.

Holy cannoli, spiccoli.

Now two of my favorite acts — that Indian dance group, who were stunning, and Acro-Dunk — are gone.

In my mind it’s down to Grandma Lee and Kevin Skinner. Either one would make a great story. The 75-year-old standup comic and the Louisiana ex-chicken catcher.

You couldn’t write this stuff.

I’m pissed about Acro-Dunk, though. Especially considering how it went down. The final three were Acro-Dunk, The Voices of Glory and The Fab Five, and then AD was sent home leaving the judges to select one of the remaining two.

They decided to throw the rules out and send both of them through. Cool, cool, good for both of them, but WHAT ABOUT THE BEST ACT OF THE WHOLE SHOW?

(In case I was unclear before, that would be Acro-Dunk)

I’ll never watch the show again. Not until it’s on next week. Those bastards.


Read Full Post »

Dropped like the Rock Of Boston


Boston music fans and longtime residents received a jolt last week when it was announced that venerable rock station WBCN (104.1 FM) would, as of August 13, be no more.   In its place, Mix 94.5 would move to WBCN’s station address at 104.1 while 98.5 would become Boston’s first FM all sports talk station.

While most music fans, and surely many listeners from BCN’s “salad days”  (ie 70s and 80s), probably have not listened to the station for years (it did enjoy a brief boost in listenership when Howard Stern’s syndicated show replaced longtime BCN morning host, and FM radio legend Charles Laquidara’s Big Mattress show in the 90s), most folks I’ve spoken to in the Boston area displayed sadness of some sort.    Even though musically, in recent years WBCN seemed more like it was in 1997 rather than 2009, the station still had some aspects that drew people in (local music show Boston Emissions, re-energized by new host Angelle Wood, afternoon drive switched to morning drive DJs Toucher & Rich, etc) it is still sad time for  Boston and national radio.

Now it’s no secret that music industry has been hurting the last several years, and nowhere has that been more evident than the radio landscape.  Article after article and industry pundit after industry pundit point to the rise of iPods and mp3s and downloading and, of course, illegal file sharing/stealing have been pointed out as the cause of these issues.   I would argue that these things are less the cause of the downturn of radio than the effects of an industry that, long ago, lost touch with its cutomer base and has no idea what their customers want (hence the rise of the shock jock and the right wing talk show host – not that people don’t want these things, but controversy is the easiest thing to garner attention and sell… and controversy is what both groups deal almost exclusively with).

No, the modern problem with radio began with the telecommunications act of 1996, enacted under the Clinton Administration.  In that, the FCC (that is The Federal Communications Commision – that is the SOLE arbiter of our limited resources, the public airwaves, an APPOINTED, not elected body I might add), removed all the limits that had been put into place nearly 70 years earlier to the amount of radio stations any one entity could own in one geographical area.  Similar laws exist to restrict ownership of television stations and newspapers as well.   These laws were enacted to make sure media moguls such as William Randolph Hearst or, more relevant to today, Rupert Murdoch wouldn’t have a monopoly on (and therefore strict control of ) the media in one geographical location as this was viewed to be a dangerous thing.

But the argument went, with so many networks and media outlets today, that this was no longer a concern, and so media monopolies were no longer an issue.   So what happened?   Well, immediately a few companies, most notably Clear Channel, went on buying sprees and created networks of hundreds or thousands of radio stations owned by a single corporate entity (here I will note that both 98.5 and wbcn have been owned by CBS Radio for sometime).

“Coincidentally”  (or, uh, not) around the late 90s is when radio playlists, for all kinds of music, started to change from a period when a wide variety of songs/artists/playlists to a very structured, narrow one.   Ever notice how, whatever the genre of a station – though it’s particularly noticeable on the oldies stations – that you can hear the same 10-15 songs over and over again in the course of a week or so?    On Top 40 stations, or those that purport to traffic in “new” musics, this is less noticeable as we all have become used to the hit songs being beaten into the ground.   But on oldies stations this issues becomes easier to notice simply because there are soooo many oldies to play, no matter if it’s country, rock, jazz, skiffle, whatever (ok, maybe not so much skiffle), that one could easily play the hits from the past and not have a repeat for weeks.

I bring all this up because there was an article in yesterday’s Boston Globe lamenting the loss of WBCN as a boston institution, which is very true.  Signing on in 1968, WBCN was one of the original FM rock stations that showed that both rock music AND stations on the FM radio band could be viable, popular and profitable.   It started out as free form radio a.  J. Geils Band lead singer Peter Wolf was an early DJ (before joining the band).   The station helped break new bands in the states (both the Police and U2 had Boston as their first US tour date and were both heavily promoted by WBCN – as any recent listener heard the station trumpet ad nauseum in recent years).

The problem with the article, who’s focus is that young folks today do not look to radio for new music, is that it says that iPods and downloading, and that people finding new music from the internet, from blogs and podcasts, is the CAUSE of this phenomema.    I would argue that this is not the case at all.   The internet is not the cause of radio no longer being the main introduction to new music and artists.

Back in the late 90s, in the shadow of that telecommuncations act, file compression technology – ie, the ability to shrink the size of a music file without great loss in sound quality (CDs can hold over 700mb of data, but that still only translates to a little more than an hour of recorded music without compression) – combined with most internet connections being only of dial-up speeds made file sharing and digital music files on computers little more than a pipedream.    Yet this was also the time the consolidation of radio stations began in earnest.

Through out the 1980s, WFNX (101.7) was the new modern rock music kid on the scene in Boston and, much like BCN 12 years earlier, was considered a major innovator and taste maker – with a national influence as well as local.  While BCN had come of age in the classic rock era, and played a role in making much of what is considered classic rock classic, FNX came of age in the second, or new wave, of british invaders.   They were one of the first stations nationally to regularly play the Sex Pistols, The Smiths, The Cure, Bauhaus, and a host of other (at the time) modern rock artists.

But in the late 90s and early 2000s, as consolidation continued, the FNX and BCN playlists got closer and closer together.   Both stations played Incubus and Staind and Radiohead.   The differences would be in the “classics” they would play (when they played them).   BCN would occassionally play some Hendrix or Zeppelin, while FNX would occasionally play Morrisey or New Order.

Since Radiohead, name 4 acts that have become huge on a body of work (ie, not one or two songs or records… and not bands that have huge hits that seem to annoy nearly everyone and then dissappear after a few years – you know, Limp Bizkit, Korn, Creed, Nickleback, etc).

You can’t, can you?   And the Flaming Lips do not count.  Why?  Because outside of circles of folks who are obsessed with modern rock/pop music, I’ve found many folks who have still never heard of the Flaming Lips and are surprised at the name.   As a kid, my dad hated rock and liked jazz, and my ma listened to “beautiful music stations” – so I never heard what most folks grew up with as classic rock… yet I still had heard of Led Zeppelin and Hendrix and CCR and The Doors.   Only Radiohead seems to have that sort of cache today.

Is it any coincidence that since the consolidation of radio both no new artists of substance have emerged (Radiohead snuck in just under the wire and, as much as I like them, I think they are slightly more critically praised than they would have otherwise been because of the hunger for newer, relevent and innovative artists)?

I think not.  Disgraced former NY Governor Eliot Spitzer was the NY Attorney General before he was governor.  And many musicians and music fans knew of him because he helped break up what had become a modern payola scheme in the radio industry, and it was consolidation that made it possible.

These corporate conglomerate owners, with 1000s of stations under their control, began to run them like they would run any retail franchise….  like the product list for sale at a Best Buy, or  a Wendy’s menu, they established their “menus” (ie, radio station playlists) at their corporate headquarters and sent the same playlists for each radio format/genre to the stations they owned.   Hence the oldies stations playing the same pool of maybe 100 songs seemingly over and over and over again.

This left no room for DJs to program their shows, to play the hot new tracks they heard from some record they’d just purchased or some tip they got from a counterpart elsewhere in the country, or europe, or from college radio.   It also left no more room for regional hits, which could often expand to become national hits.

Additionally, little “consulting” firms sprung up, in which the people in these firms had contacts high up in companies like Clear Channel.  If a record company wanted to promote a new artist’s song, or even a new song from an established artist, it had to go to one of these consulting firms and pay them a substantial amount of money to have the firm “exert its influence” over the corporate station owners to add a song to a playlist.

This would be the payola scheme that Spitzer was in the forefront of prosecuting.   Record companies testified that they had to pay a million dollars in most cases to get a single song on national playlists.   Even in this day and age of 700 billion dollar corporate bailouts, one million a song will seriously cut down on the amount of songs that, regardless of the quality of the song, have a chance to become a hit.

And yet some records still sneak in somehow.    Though it still seems far fetched today, it seems less far fetched than in 2000, that a record of old time bluegrass and southern spirituals could sell millions of copies, but that’s exactly what the soundtrack to the Coen Brother’s 2000 film “Oh Brother Where Art Thou” did back in 2001.

People crave music, new music, real music.   More than teenagers listen to and enjoy music, yet most music today is clearly packaged and marketed to teenagers.    For something of substance, something in which the make up artist and the wardrobe assistant don’t even exists, let alone share equal importance with the producers and songwriters, one generally has to hunt to find music.   The internet provides tons of it.  And there is a ton of good stuff.   But as always, there’s more terrible stuff than good stuff.

Clearly, in the age of google, the internet is NOT a filter of information.  This was the role radio played.  It tossed songs up against the wall for us to check out and then decide if we liked or not.   Now we actively search, and we search in a much more fragmented world.   It’s not many people’s jobs to tell the world of new great music these days.  And those few who do, tend to be bottomline business folk and not music fans.

And this is the opportunity I believe CBS Radio and the rest of the WBCN braintrust, in their decision to turn the station into an all-sports talk station, are missing.    I admit I am a sports fan, and I do love football and the Patriots (who’s games WBCN has carried for the last several years) HOWEVER, in this era of 24 hour news cycles and 24 hour sports channels that are devoted to a single sport, I believe we have reached over saturation.   Yes, in difficult economic times many folks turn to entertainment, of which sports is a very prominent member, to get them through.   But this sports era is very different than previous sports eras during economic hardship.  This is the first one to deal with petulant players whinning over how the millions they receive are not enough, and boldly act like prima donnas in the process.   Team owners regularly fleece their home cities for tax breaks, and handouts of public funds to build bigger stadiums to give billionaires even more profit sources.

The new Yankees stadium has, in recent months, been found to have secretly used public funds to help build while charging initially over $2,000 a seat for prime seats.   As a result, one of the big stories early in the baseball season was the amount of empty seats at Yankees games in the new stadium – empty seats for a team that throughout its history has been the singularly most popular american sports franchise kind of says it all, no?   Sure the team reduced those $2k seat prices by half, but they were still reportedly over $1200 a seat.

It is into this climate, which if the economy gets any worse I think a serious pro-sports price gouging backlash could occur, that CBS Radio is beginning yet another sports station in an already over saturated with sports culture.

They *could* have taken a chance and had WBCN make its own, less tightly regulated, program list.  I believe it would be no riskier than the sports talk station, and yet they would be able to revive their “innovative” reputation and, if it were run the right way and given time to find its legs, could grow into something new and money making.

The reason those Mike FM stations are popular is NOT because of the lack of DJs, but rather because they play a wide variety of music.  Most people who like music like a wide variety, yet companies niche market and narrow playlists to death because of this.

And now the Boston Radio Landscape has been niche marketed to the death of a Boston Institution.  Even if we hadn’t really listened to the station for years, it’s loss is a loss for all of us.

Read Full Post »

Has anyone noticed that the weather in Boston this summer has been, to put it gracefully, completely fucking sub-par and horrendous?

Yes?  You have?  Then you have also probably noticed that starting on Friday, there was a miraculous (and probably temporary) transition to spectacular, low-humidity sunshine.  In honor of this beautiful weather, here is a little dog with some kind of flotation device around its neck (via Cute Overload):


And a song that always, always, always makes me think of sunshine, warm weather, and fun road trips:


Read Full Post »

The scene: a Somerville house party, late 2008, me playing DJ for a room full of drunk hipsters.  I leave to refresh my drink, confident that my brilliantly conceived playlist will get everyone dancing.  Imagine my horror when I hear strains of “Billie Jean” coming from the living room.  NO!  I cry, rushing to the scene of the crime, slapping people’s hands away from my iPod.  IT’S TOO EARLY FOR MICHAEL JACKSON!

Michael Jackson is a legend.  Thus it is extremely important to deploy his music very carefully.  For maximum effectiveness, Michael Jackson needs to go on AFTER people have already started to dance.  Putting on Thriller, for example, before people are good and ready for it (around 12:30-1 a.m. for any parties that start between 10 and 11, which, at my age, is all of them – I’ll check with Van Hammersley to see when the old folks get hammered) is a total waste.  People simply aren’t prepared.  They’re still wandering around, checking out who’s who and what’s what, and may even still have some semblance of game.  Michael Jackson needs to go on after party guests have abandoned their dignity.

By following this simple guideline, you will not only honor Michael Jackson’s memory, you will also win the (temporary, drunken) admiration of your friends.

Good luck.

Michael Jackson – Billie Jean


Read Full Post »

There’s a wondrous place tucked away in the foothills of Boston where dreams really can come true.  It’s the town of Dedham, MA, to some, a standard strip-mall-ish suburb showcasing capitalist giants such as Costco, BJ’s and other outlets whose products require a dump truck to transport.  To others, like me (who happened to grow up in the adjacent town) the home of hidden gems such as the oldest standing timber frame building in all of North America (!) , a storefront with the name James the Tailor, and the Museum of Bad Art.

Nestled in the sticky-floored basement of the until-recently-sticky-floored (and now very cool) Dedham Community Movie Theatre, MOBA is the place where anyone – anyone – can get their shot at stardom, where wings take dream, where some dude can paint “Reef Garden” and not be arrested.   Indeed, the painting’s description says it all:  “On a silent cue, one pulsating incubator bursts, hurtling an anxious and curiously aged little merman upwards to the unknown world above the surface. ”

"The dancer stares, hypnotizing the viewer. We find ourselves forced to stay -- feel the music or drown."

"The dancer stares, hypnotizing the viewer. We find ourselves forced to stay -- feel the music or drown."

Long a fan of MOBA (yet admittedly sometimes feeling like a shower was needed after a visit), I was delighted to see that the nation – nay, the world – is finally catching on.   Kudos ABC News, for articulating what many of us in the Boston suburbs have been thinking this week: Tehran Shmehran, the real revolution starts in a basement.

ABC News Video: Museum with an Eye for Bad Art

ABC News Video: Museum with an Eye for Bad Art

Read Full Post »

Kates haircut, for the 100,000,000th time

Kate's haircut, for the 100,000,000th time

Did anyone see this coming? I mean, really??

Seriously, isn’t this like announcing that the first day of Summer is here? Everyone knew this was coming — so no surprise there — and it’s already happened anyway.

I don’t even pay attention one iota to this crap, and I feel like I already knew this. Same with the girlfriend. I got home from rehearsal last night, she told me the ‘news,’ and a brief discussion of the newsworthiness unfolded.

Even forgetting about the moldiness of the news, this is seriously a story worth this coverage, eclipsing Iranian election protests and the North Korean nuclear standoff and the Styx visit to the White House?

Read Full Post »

Last weekend, Van Hammersley and I went to New York City to eat too much, drink too much, spend too much money, and look at all the beautiful people.  I’m happy to report we succeeded wildly on all counts.  On our first night in town we hung out in the East Village and the Lower East Side.  We endured bad service, overly loud jazz, and wonderful French food at Jules Bistro on St. Mark’s.  I had the mussels and pommes frites – predictable and tasty – and VH had hanger steak with a shallot sauce and asparagus risotto, which was also delicious.

Jules Jazz

We wandered around a bit after dinner and eventually found ourselves in the back room at Piano’s watching Wolff, slack jawed in utter amazement.  Wolff is, as best as I can describe it, an indie electronica/technorock tuba player.  He uses loops of tuba and vocal samples to create rich, layered, innovative songs that maintain a real sense of accessibility and beauty.

Wolff and Tuba

Wolff and Tuba

The lush music, combined with amazing background visuals from the movie Koyaanisqatsi (a precursor to the stunning Baraka, as well as the Planet Earth series), removed us completely from the frenetic Friday night city.  We found ourselves wrapped up in a totally visceral multimedia moment.  I could have watched for hours, but the night was still young at 1:00 a.m.

We moved on to the Back Room, a 1920s speakeasy style bar, complete with comfortable couches, fireplaces, and drinks served in teacups.  We were actually able to get into the exclusive back room of the Back Room due to VH’s little brother’s endless social connections and general awesomeness.  It was extremely exciting:

Rachael Ray's husband was here.

Rachael Ray's husband was here.

VH and I, used to our Boston 2:00 a.m. bedtime, headed back to Ft. Greene shortly afterwards.  We spent much of the rest of the weekend wandering around Williamsburg.  We especially enjoyed The Main Drag, a fantastic music store in which the friendly and helpful employees basically let us fuck around for well over an hour (me on keys trying to understand the intricacies of a rack synth, VH in a private practice room with an assortment of badass pedals and a beautiful guitar), and the (relatively) new riverfront park.

Play time!

Play time!



Hipster love.

Hipster love.

We had a beautiful South African dinner on Saturday night at Madiba on DeKalb in Ft. Greene after deciding to get adventurous.  VH had a mutton curry served in a hollowed out loaf of bread, and I had bobotie, a traditional beef meatloaf-like dish with a baked custard topping and sliced almond crust.  Both were served with an assortment of transcendent sauces, including marmalade, raita, fresh salsa, and my favorite, a creamy banana coconut.  It was easily our favorite meal of the trip.  Next time perhaps we’ll try the steak with monkey gland sauce.  Or not.


The best part of the trip, though, was finally purchasing my dream umbrella at the Mini Mini Market on Bedford Ave in Williamsburg:

Nothing will ever be the same.

Nothing will ever be the same.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »