25 February 2009

Slumdog update

Jai ho indeed. Well done Danny Boyle and collaborators for the Slumdog win. I am still skeptical. I did run across a great piece that delves into urban history/planning and the protests over the title of the film in India--most coverage of these protests focuses on the "dog" bit, but the authors of this piece focus on the "slum" bit: calling Dharavi a slum (or the biggest slum in Asia) takes away from the incredible accomplishment it is.... they write:
you won’t be chased by beggars or see hopeless people loitering — Dharavi is probably the most active and lively part of an incredibly industrious city. People have learned to respond in creative ways to the indifference of the state — including having set up a highly functional recycling industry that serves the whole city. Link.

The authors both work with PUKAR, a Mumbai-based scholarly and public policy organization that hosts seminars, talks, films, and funds research into the new urban challenges facing megalopolises like Mumbai.

22 February 2009

After one listen

No Line on the Horizon, the complete album, is now streaming on u2.com. Rolling Stone gave it 5 stars. Neil McCormick at the Observer liked it a lot. And the guy at the Irish Times says it makes up for their 'lost decade' and is clearly the album they should have made after Achtung Baby!

Any u2 fans knows you absolutely cannot judge a u2 album after one listen. A commenter on the Rolling Stone site said it best:
I remember the first time I listened to Achtung Baby, I thought and said out loud: "What the f--- is this?!!?"

Achtung is one of the greatest albums ever created.
So, this is not a review in any way, shape, or form (stay tuned for that).

But I can say this:
  • it's more of an album than anything since Achtung
  • they take more chances here than they have since PoP
  • GOYB makes a LOT more sense in the context of the album (like the Fly)
  • there's a lot of War in this album
  • I have high expectations; that is, I already have a feeling that's it's not only in the top 3 u2 album category, but that it might even have a shot at competing in that league [I liked the last 2 albums - hell, I loved Pop - but I haven't said something like this about those albums]

20 February 2009

Finally....the cover

After all those hours looking through images, and all that discussion here (that is, here, here, and here), the cover ended up as a creation of the designer and should appear something like what you see below. Despite the fact that, in the end, I/we didn't really get to pick the cover, I wanted to offer one last round of thanks to everyone who helped in the process...

12 February 2009

In the howling wind comes a stinging rain

So the fly has been hard at work, blogging up a storm (at least by the standards around here) of late. It seems TOaO is now a site for song-analysis, and as you can see by the comments sections, I'm an avid reader.

But today my thoughts turn from song analysis to album analysis, or better, sequence analysis. This was spurred by Amazon's u2 sale today!!! Since I already own every song, I picked up my 4th copy of The Joshua Tree (that's not a typo: my original + tekne's original + the version from the complete u2 + today = 4). I imagine I've heard this album at least 1000 times, and I've heard many of the songs on it live more than a dozen times. So what struck me when I listened to it today, twice? It's this:

A large portion of u2's success, of u2's mythic status, of who and what they are as a band is owed to the sequence of the first 4 songs on this album. For those for whom this isn't written into their brains, that's 1) Streets, 2) Still Haven't Found, 3) With or Without You, and 4) Bullet the Blue Sky. All were huge hits. With or Without You might have been a bigger single at the time, but Streets and Bullet are played at EVERY u2 concert - something that can be said for very few of their songs, with only Pride going back farther. But the 'thing' about these 4 songs isn't about the individual songs; only the last is one of my favorites. And it's not clear that today songs like these would even be hits. Streets and Still Haven't Found just aren't those sort of catchy, poppy, rockin' songs that usual make hits.

But there is just something about the way they go together, about the way they create a space that is the American desert, set a mood, establish a sound. Bono has commented that later albums (like ATYCLB) had a lot of great songs, but had the wrong playing order, or for some reason just didn't come together as an album. The Joshua Tree definitely comes together as an album.

Even more interesting, to me at least, is the fact that these 4 songs really don't sound all that much like most of the 100s of songs that u2 has recorded. Indeed, now that they have 12 studio albums, it becomes even clearer that their biggest album is in many ways the one that's most distinct - more ballads, more anthems, less rock, more weirdness that's not easy to categorize (e.g. Zooropa has weirdness, but it's synthetic weirdness, whereas Joshua Tree has hippy moments on it).

Perhaps the fly can tell us, in future writings, about how to make an album. How to fit songs together. And how to come up with an opening sequence of 4 songs that make it possible to play an album 1000 times without the slightest hint of getting sick of it.

10 February 2009

Why isn't that guy on TV campaigning?

I found President Obama's press conference last night to be quite a revelation. At the beginning, there was something about it that just felt odd to me, and about half way in I realized what it was: he wasn't acting out the character of the would-be president, he wasn't deflecting every answer the way a candidate would (and the way he often did as a candidate). In short, he wasn't campaigning for the next election, he was just describing the actions he was taking and that he thought were necesary - one might even say leading.

It hit me that I've never really experienced this phenomenon. At least since Reagan, the US president has played the role of president, even when in office. Even the 'policy-wonk' Clinton did this, and surely W. did it in a way we've never seen before.

I'm not saying that I love the current stimulus bill, or that I'm a huge fan of the politics of the last few weeks, Obama's politics included. (Although, on this front, I'm teaching the Federalist today and I was struck by Kesler's introduction in which he points out that the opponents of the Constitution thought it was tyrannical [as we know] but that the 'friends' also worried the thing would be a total failure [as we don't often emphasize]). But whatever happens, it's a source of some comfort and some pride to think that Obama might be making some decisions and taking some actions not as a 'democratic strategy' or as tactics for midterm elections, or for 2012 (or whatever). But rather, he might actually – at least some of the time – be moving down a path that he thinks is genuinely in the public weal.

02 February 2009

Position opening: Patron to pay the extortionists

Job title: Patron

Responsibilities: To underwrite the costs, both in terms of up-front expenses as well as in terms of post-publication lawsuits, related to the publication of scholarly material. For example, one article published in 2006 with 13 images cost $450 out of pocket for the author (no royalties/earnings result from any publications). Book, with 19 images, cost $1200, including one image that cost £250 just for the permissions. These costs may or may not include the cost of producing the actual reproduction, and they will not include the cost to the press of producing the images in the publication itself (that is a separate cost, and blessedly the responsibility of the press). You as patron, on behalf of scholar, are only responsible for acquiring the reproductions and the permissions to publish.*

Skills required: Have a great deal of extra cash lying around. Desire to participate in supporting freedom of thought, as the high cost of reproductions impacts directly the type of research project undertaken by those participating in the study of visual culture. Be a lawyer or able to hire a lawyer, as the likelihood of lawsuits due to the fuzziness of the rules surrounding fair use, copyright, and global and electronic publication rights are such that a 3rd c. BCE sculpture, well out of copyright, may in fact be "owned" by an individual, corporation, or state government, and certainly the photograph itself may also be "owned" by someone who may wish to "sue" your "ass" at some point down the line for, well, doing your job and being a scholar. Thus, the patron's job is to protect said scholar from these types of threats so that scholar can do his/her job.

Additional qualifications: Ability to do major provenance-based research projects through legal documents that you probably don't have access to, or the ability to hire someone at great expense to do same. Or, willingness to spend over half of your research/writing time on researching reproduction permissions.

Note: this job is dependent on the continuation of the extortionist economy requiring massive fees for the non-profit, educational, scholarly uses of images (usually largely available to the public anyway). By the way, the use of these images in said scholarly publications often *increases* their value, thus accruing more benefit to the copyright holders. For which the scholar must pay a hefty fee.

*Unless, as is more and more the case, presses are in fact unable to publish more than a small number of images (say 10 in a book, in black and white) and you require a higher number to make your argument (which in fact is dependent on images). This will require you to ask for money, on the order of £1500 at a minimum, in order to publish the book with the required number of images. This is in addition to the reproduction fees and rights, of course.

[Article coming out soon, for which I'm currently working on permissions--current tally: $540. There are 5 images in the article. Three of the objects were produced in the 1830s. Two are photographs from the 1940s, available by googling. I may, in future, simply direct folks to Google Image Search.]