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My favorite things of 2010


At the end of 2009 I put together a quick list of things I liked from the year. Earlier in December some friends asked if I would be making a similar list this year. And indeed, I have made one, and it is more ambitious than last year’s in its scope, volume, and design. Check it out here.

Inevitably, there are some things that I would like to mention that I liked during the year but, for one reason or another, didn’t quite make the list. Here are the honorable mentions:

Henri Cartier-Bresson at the MoMA — I’ve only gotten a quick preview of this show, but it’s very promising, and I can’t wait to take the time to really take it in. Without Bresson, the sort of photography I practice wouldn’t even be possible, so I’m looking forward to the chance to see so many of his prints in person.

Audrey Tautou — I love her acting, her films, her style, and the fact that she uses a Leica to photograph people she meets.

Difficulty — This one really should have been on the list, but I chose to write it into a couple other entries. I feel like we’ve become less and less patient when it comes to difficult things—people, art, technology, and work. But one of the things I learned in my life as a reader is that difficulty often conceals great value. And that’s something I remembered in 2010. Difficulty is something to engage with, not run away from, because the rewards for doing so can be so great. It’s closely related to insistent compassion and creating possibilities, which both made the list. You can find someone difficult to know and just throw your hands up and walk away or you can insistently try to know them because, perhaps, their worth will justify their difficulty. You can leave Gaddis and Proust and Foster Wallace and Pynchon on the shelf because their books are too long and confusing or you can take the time to read them and, perhaps, find yourself changed. And, ah ha, wouldn’t that be worth any level of difficulty?

Yanidel — The street photographer Yanick Delafoge calls himself Yanidel, and his post-processing techniques produce a look that it utterly unique and European and brilliant. I especially enjoy his photographs from Paris.

Cosi on rue de Seine in Paris — In April I returned here for the first time in nearly nine years. It still serves the best sandwiches in the world.

Ken Griffey, Jr. — He was the hottest minor league prospect in baseball at the time when I really became fanatical about the sport, and I followed his entire career until it ended this summer. His swing was beautiful, and he should go down as the greatest player of his generation. I got to see him play in the 2007 All-Star game when he started in the same outfield as Barry Bonds in San Francisco, something I’ll never forget.

Subjective Time — This is the simple but not often cited concept of how we experience time subjectively in relation to our age. It’s no secret that time seems to pass faster as we get older, but it’s not commonly known that this concept has been scientifically studied and verified. In fact, there’s even an equation that describes one’s perception of time based on her age. Given current average life expectancies in the Unites States, we feel like we’ve lived half of our lives before the age of 20. Twenty is the subjective halfway point of our lives. It’s no wonder that it seems like such a formative age!

Concord, Massachusetts — Walden Pond, Mount Misery, Sleepy Hollow, and ridiculously large servings of ice cream—and only a 30-minute drive from Cambridge!

Love and Its Opposite by Tracey Thorn — That no one else writes songs about the disappointments of middle age makes this a unique album. That Tracey Thorn does so with brilliance and nuance makes it spectacular.

Printing Photos — So much better than storing them in the “cloud.”

Generation Why? by Zadie Smith — This is one of the better things that has been written about online culture, i.e. what the Internet has done to our culture.

J.D. Salinger — Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.

Don’t forget to read the final list. Click on the images to reveal the descriptions. And click on the Away arrow to open the page for a random favorite.

Because the Night

All these years, I’ve assumed that Patti Smith wrote “Because the Night”—that is, until I was listening to Springsteen’s The Promise, yesterday. It turns out that Bruce started writing the song, and Smith finished it.

 

Songs from childhood

I’ve been listening a lot to Arcade Fire’s record The Suburbs this weekend, and I’m reminded of Flannery O’Connor’s line that seems entirely applicable to the Canadian band: “Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days.” Whoever picked one of their songs for the Where the Wild Things Are trailer could not have done better.

Listen to Tracey Thorn’s new album, “Love and Its Opposite”

This new record from Tracey Thorn will be replacing Katell Keineg’s At the Mermaid Parade in my stereo for at least the next week. Click here to order a copy. Or click here to hear an interview with Thorn on NPR. I was thrilled to see Sasha Frere-Jones’ review of the album in this week’s New Yorker and a gardening column by Thorn herself on a blog called Caught by the River.


Hear Tracey Thorn’s “Oh, the Divorces!” from “Love and Its Opposite”

More than, perhaps, any other songwriter, I’ve found Tracey Thorn’s songs from the past three decades to be consistently evocative. Every album has something that ignites my memory or feeling, and her new one is no exception. Love and Its Opposite is due in May, and its first track, “Oh, the Divorces!” isn’t a pop song; it’s a panorama of adulthood’s disappointment. Click here to download it as an MP3.


Tracey Thorn / ‘Oh, The Divorces!’ by buzzinfly

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Listen to the new K’s Choice single “Come Live the Life”

One of my favorite albums, which I discovered by chance at FNAC ten years ago, is Almost Happy by K’s Choice. The brother and sister duo broke up and is now back together, releasing their first album since. It’s called Echo Mountain and its first single is called “Come Life the Life.” I heard the band’s lead singer, Sarah Bettens, perform it live on Tuesday in San Francisco. I’ll be posting more about her show shortly. For now, enjoy the new single:

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Why the iPad buzz doesn’t matter

A lot of people are saying a lot of things about the iPad. It’s revolutionary! It’s too compromised to be useful! It lacks important features like a phone, multitasking, camera, Flash support, etc. What’s certain to me is that the reactions—pro and con—are pretty much meaningless right now. I was trying to think last night about previous Apple product launches and how I felt about them. As I recall, there have been two Apple products in the past ten years that, when introduced, immediately prompted me to say, I want that! One was the Titanium PowerBook in at MacWorld in 2001 and the other was the iPod with video in 2005. Both products were updates to existing product lines. In the case of the PowerBook, it added a design unlike any other that I had seen before. In the case of the iPod, I thought that video would be a great feature that was worth waiting for. (Everyone knew it was coming once Apple had introduced the iPod Photo.) But here’s the thing, I’ve ended up not using the video feature at all during the past four years, really. I watched one movie on a plane once, and that was it. It wasn’t until I got an iPod Touch with a larger screen and better battery life that I really bothered to use an iPod to watch video.

The greater point here is that no one disputes that the iPod and iPhone were both game-changers—products that people now love and that redefined Apple as a company and a brand. I can safely say that when they launched, I didn’t want either one. I didn’t have anywhere close to enough of my music in MP3 format to make the iPod useful, and it was expensive too! The iPhone was even more expensive when it launched, and I remember thinking that there was no way I would get one because it would never handle email as well as my BlackBerry did. Of course, I did eventually get one, and it still doesn’t handle email as well as my five-year-old BlackBerry. But I don’t care because it does so many other things that I value. I can read the newspaper—several newspapers—in formats that are actually useable! I can listen to Internet radio. I can listen to live baseball games. I can listen to NPR on demand. I can browse the web. I can read stories from the web that I started reading on my laptop. In short, I can do a lot of things that I either didn’t know I wanted to do or whose value wasn’t properly contextualized for me until I actually had and lived with the device for a while.

I’m not saying that the iPad will succeed, but I am suggesting that the factors by which people are predicting its success or failure are, more than likely, incorrect because they are captive to our previous experiences. Who knows that developers will come up with for the device? Who knows what features a second or third generation update might add? Who even knows what it’s like to live with an iPad in your bag or on your desk for even a week? If anyone can take a product for which I feel I had no need and make it desirable, it’s Steve Jobs and Apple. As usual, I’ll be rooting for them. More

Joseph Arthur at Rickshaw Stop or the GF1 and concert photography

I took my GF1 to a show by Joseph Arthur earlier this week, and although the noise at 1600 ISO is considerably higher than that of any dSLR, it held up reasonably well. I also tested out Panasonic’s EVF live viewfinder for the first time. Unfortunately, it is small, low resolution, and not particularly good. However, it was better than having the huge LCD on the back of my camera lit up in a dark venue. Click to enlarge the images below.

My favorite things of 2009

Here’s a list of things from 2009 that I particularly liked. The list has no order to it. And so:

Leica M9 — A full-frame camera that not only is not an intimidating SLR but also comes from the greatest line of cameras—the Leica M series—but is also a gorgeous rangefinder, but also gives you access to the best glass in the world. In short, it’s my dream camera—the one that leaves me short of breath and utterly destroys my syntax when I attempt to write about it.

New York Yankees — There’s something about this team that I really liked more than any Yankee team since the 2001 group that lost the World Series to the Diamondbacks. Teixera, Sabathia, Damon, Matsui, Melky, Burnett, a beautiful new stadium, and the Core Four! What fun they made October and November.

Albert Stash — A laptop bag with a handle that you can actually use to carry it for long periods of time—score!

A Gate at the Stairs — Lorrie Moore’s first novel in I don’t know how long is ambitious and acutely observed and flawed and wonderful. It made me relive, for the first time in years, one of the most intensely felt periods of my life. It reminded me what it felt like then. Can I ask any more of a novel, of a work of art?

Changing My Mind — Many of the essays in this collection by Zadie Smith have appeared in the New York Review, the Guardian, and the New Yorker, but reading them in sequence gives you a greater appreciation for the intellect and wit behind them. Smith’s new essay on David Foster Wallace alone is worth the price of admission.

Too Big to Fail — Andrew Ross Sorkin set out to write a book structured like the film Crash and as thrilling as the business classic Barbarians at the Gate. I haven’t seen Crash, but his book is every bit as thrilling as Barbarians and full of choice quotes and anecdotes from the people at the top of the financial world.

Hiroshi Sugimoto at Gagosian Gallery — I walked across town in nine inches of snow to see this show. Was it worth it? Absolutely.

Sag Harbor — Colson Whitehead’s latest novel should be read on summer evenings on Long Island. Funny and nostalgic with language that is full of vitality and of the 1980s, its effect on me was similar to that of Lorrie Moore’s book, but the world it gave me access to was entirely imaginary—Whitehead’s not mine—and altogether enjoyable. Dag!

Lamy Noto — Okay, so this pen really came out in 2008, but I didn’t see it anywhere in the U.S. until the summer of 2009. A well-designed Lamy for $10? Yes, please.

Dehumanized — Mark Slouka’s essay in the September issue of Harper’s was, perhaps, the most refreshing thing I read all year—someone standing up, for all the right reasons, to the wrongheaded bias toward math and science (and away from the humanities) that has come to pervade everyplace from the university to the corporation to the op-ed page of the New York Times.

Ellipse — Imogen Heap’s first album in four years is awesome and her live show is even more awesome. The leadoff track on Ellipse, “First Train Home,” was my favorite song of the year, and I challenge you to not like it.

iPhone 3GS — I’m still using the original 2g version of the iPhone, but this year’s update brings more storage, video capability, and faster speeds. It’s great to have a product that delivers both Apple’s design sense and a large library of applications. (The Macs I’ve used for the past 15 years have always delivered the former but never the latter.) Listening to baseball games wherever I am? Check. NPR shows on demand? Check. The New York Times in a format that’s easier to browse than NYTimes.com? Double check. Now, if only it was available on a network other than AT&T.

Panasonic GF-1 — It’s no M9, but it’s sort of a poor man’s, i.e. my, rangefinder. When paired with Panasonic’s 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens, it’s the closest thing to a great compact camera that I’ve ever used. See sample photos from others here.

Unibody MacBook Pros — These things look solid!

Range — Was this San Francisco restaurant new in 2009? I don’t know, but it’s good.

The President — Our country got a new one in January, and it was a glorious moment. The man can play basketball and speak and write in complete sentences, and he seems to have a genuine intellect and conscience and sense of ambivalence.

San Francisco Panorama — A very well-done one-time newspaper for a city that has no good regular publication.

Economic Recovery — The Dow and I are both lower than we once were, but we’re certainly better off than we were a year ago.

Cape Cod — I had never been before this year and now I hope that there won’t be a year when I don’t go there.

Empire State of Mind — Maybe this isn’t a new anthem for New York but Jay-Z’s new single is certainly fun. Sinatra needs a break now and then, anyway.

Some things that I haven’t yet gotten around to that came out this year but that I think I might like when I do: The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter, Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann, Wild Things by Dave Eggers and Where the Wild Things Are by Dave Eggers and Spike Jonze, and Wes Anderson’s film adaptation of the Fantastic Mr. Fox.

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What was Barack Obama reading during the campaign? “Be Quiet, Be Heard”

Screen shot 2009-10-18 at 6.59.56 PM

According to New Yorker photographer Platon, President Obama had the book Be Quiet, Be Heard: The Paradox of Persuasion by Susan and Peter Glaser on his desk during the campaign last year when Platon shot Obama for the magazine.

platon

Platon delivered this nugget during his talk at the New Yorker Festival this afternoon. Of course, there were several others, as well. When he shot Bill Clinton for Esquire towards the end of Clinton’s Presidency, Platon told Clinton, “Show me the love!” Clinton’s advisers frantically attempted to tell him to not show Platon anything. The President responded, “Shut up. Shut up. I know what he’s talking about,” before delivering the pose that landed on the cover of Esquire. When P.Diddy arrived at Platon’s studio, he told him to cut the Miles Davis record that Platon had on the stereo and put in one of Diddy’s own records. Vladimir Putin is a huge Beatles fan. The three things that Michael Bloomberg said he could not do without on a desert island are “Salma Hayek. Salma Hayek. And Salma Hayek.” One of Platon’s photos helped compel Colin Powell to endorse Obama for President.

MP3 of Platon on snooping through Obama’s desk

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Run This Town (New York Yankees Version)

Before the Yankees game on Friday night, the stadium’s PA played a special Yankees version of the Jay-Z song “Run This Town.” Is it just bad or is it so bad it’s good?

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Listen to Bon Iver at the New Yorker Festival, or how bad is the iPhone’s microphone?


I saw Sasha Frere-Jones interview Justin Vernon of Bon Iver as part of the New Yorker Festival last night. After the interview, Vernon played a brief solo set of the following songs. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my MiniDisc recorder with me, and I have yet to acquire a Tascam DR-1. So, I recorded the set with my iPhone, which sounds just about as awful as you would expect. Listen via the player below or download his set here. I’m not sure I got the title of the second song correct, and I couldn’t fine the lyrics online anywhere.

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  1. Hazelton
  2. Miss You Can’t (Real title? YouTube)
  3. Flume
  4. Hayward

I have to admit that I wasn’t as taken by Bon Iver’s album as most people I know were. However, I’ll certainly give it another chance after hearing him live. What I found fascinating was how Vernon talked about moving back to Wisconsin and doesn’t really have any interest in living anywhere else. Even after making several declarations of allegiance to the place that I’m from, I’ve left it three times this decade. And even though I intended to return each time, I still always left hoping that I would come back and never leave again. Vernon’s comments about place aren’t anything new, but given my personal history and my recent reading of Wendell Berry’s essay “A Native Hill,” hearing someone consciously commit himself to the place where he’s from, even as his work is expanding the possibility to be elsewhere, was valuable. Berry returned to Kentucky after studying at Stanford and moving to Manhattan, and he writes about his home, “Before, it had been mine by coincidence or accident; now it was mine by choice.”

It’s often bothered me than I don’t know many people who lived away from their hometowns after college and then returned to them. And I think Berry and Vernon are getting at something that I haven’t heard much among the young professional set—the value in having your geography be a set place that you serve rather than a place that simply serves your ambition. For Vernon, returning home to write the Bon Iver record For Emma, Forever Ago made geography almost invisible; place became a given, not a distraction. The artistic freedom that allowed Vernon to write a record unlike any other could only come from geographic restriction. And you can really only limit yourself to a place and know you’re not leaving if you love it, if you commit to and are responsible for it. Back to Berry: “…I never doubted that the world was more important to me than [New York]; and the world would always be most fully and clearly present to me in the place I was fated by birth to know better than any other.”

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R.E.M. and MoveOn collaborate

As much as I support the public option, I’m not sure about its political possibility right now. However, I am sure that my favorite band, R.E.M., and MoveOn collaborated to produce a video urging its inclusion in any upcoming health care bill. The video is simply a slideshow of MoveOn members holding signs with the names of people who need health care now, set to R.E.M.’s “You Are the Everything” from Green.

How to make your own ringtones for the iPhone

One odd limitation of the iPhone is that you can’t use songs from your iTunes library as ringtones. However, there’s an easy way around this restriction. Just create AAC files of 30 seconds or less that you want to use as ringtones and change their extensions from .m4a to .m4r and import them into iTunes. A full step-by-step guide is available here. What’s my ringtone, you may ask? Currently, I’m using the opening 30 seconds from Radiohead’s song “Fog.” Here’s a live version for those of you not familiar with the song.

My favorite iPhone and iPod Touch apps

I’ve been playing around with these devices for most of the year and have come to some conclusions about my favorite applications. Because Apple’s App Store is a bit of a mess, I’ve picked up most of my recommendations from other blogs and forums. So, here’s the list of apps that I wish I hadn’t had to spend time discovering because my iPod is better with them than without them, in no particular order:

  • The New York Times – I previously posted about this application and how I would be willing to pay a fair amount for it. The only things I can fault this application for are that it’s not always clear when it’s finished downloading the day’s paper and it runs sluggishly on the iPhone 2g. Otherwise, the ability to save and email articles is great, and the interface makes browsing the paper easy. This is probably my favorite app, in part because it downloads the paper for offline reading and because I love the New York Times.
  • MLB At Bat 2009 – This app costs $9.99, but it’s awesome. You can watch two live games a day and listen to any broadcast of any game live. I remember when I was a kid, I could barely get reception on the AM radio at night to listen to Vin Scully call the LA Dodgers games. Now I can listen to the Dodgers and the Yankees and the Red Sox and the Giants whenever I want. This app also features in-game video highlights from almost all games, which are nice, but the key feature is being able to listen to live broadcasts. More

Jonathan Lethem’s Fortress of Solitude mix CD

Apparently, Jonathan Lethem handed out CDs containing his own personal soundtrack to The Fortress of Solitude after the novel came out back in 2003. The Millions was able to unearth the track listings on the Internet Archive, but the Archive’s page is now down. So, I’m posting the track listings here in the hope of preserving them a while longer.

    Disc One

    1. David Ruffin — No Matter Where
    2. Four Tops — Ain’t No Woman
    3. Bill Withers — World Keeps Goin Round (live)
    4. Randy Newman — Short People
    5. Syl Johnson — Anyone But You
    6. The Spinners — One of a Kind Love Affair
    7. Marvin Gaye — I’m Goin’ Home
    8. The Prisonaires — Just Walkin’ in the Rain
    9. Hot Chocolate — Brother Louie
    10. Manhattans — Shining Star
    11. Gillian Welch — My First Lover
    12. Marvin Gaye — Time to Get it Together
    13. Phil Ochs — City Boy
    14. Billy Paul — Let Em In
    15. Howard Tate — Get it While You Can
    16. The Spinners — Sadie
    17. Pete Wingfield — 18 With A Bullet
    18. Marvin Gaye — You The Man
    19. The Last Poets — Two Little Boys
    20. Maxine Nightingale — Right Back Where We Started From
    More

Using Streampad to add a music playlist to your website

Inspired by Fred Wilson’s FredWilson.fm, I decided to see if I could add a playlist to my website using Streampad. As you can see, I now have Streampad’s player running at the bottom of this page. Here are the steps you’ll need to take to add it to your own site:

  1. Set up a Tumblr blog and start posting music to your blog in MP3 format. Tumblr allows you to upload one MP3 file a day or you could link to MP3s hosted elsewhere. This will become your playlist for Streampad.
  2. Insert Streampad’s code in your page template’s header between the <head> and </head> tags.
  3. Here’s the code to insert. Make sure that you change the Tumblr URL to your own URL: <script type=”text/javascript” src=”http://static.streampad.com/streampad-tumblr.js?api=YOURNAME.tumblr.com&autoplay=true”></script>
  4. You can delete the autoplay parameter if you don’t want Streampad to start playing automatically when a user loads your page. There are several other parameters you can add to the JS URL to alter the appearance of the player.

The New Yorker digital edition is already a disappointment

I spent two hours yesterday waiting in line, unsuccessfully, for tickets to the New Yorker Festival event with Haruki Murakami. The tickets sold out, though they lasted longer than I had anticipated. A walking tour with Calvin Trillin and an event with Stephen Colbert were the first to sell out. You can even see me standing in line on the New Yorker’s current homepage above.

Today I stood in the line in the same place for about 50 minutes to get books signed by Murakami, whose wife stamped them after he signed them. Of interest was a kiosk set up to preview the New Yorker’s digital edition, which the magazine expects to launch in one month. They’re currently offering four free issues and a free digital subscription for print subscribers through the end of their current subscription term. It sounded like they still haven’t settled on a pricing model for the digital edition. Or, if they have, the reps at the Festival headquarters weren’t aware of it. The magazine plans to make each week’s issue available digitally at 12:01 am on Monday morning and to provide digital access to their archive.

Digital issues don’t appear to be downloadable, though the New Yorker rep said that users would be able to print from the magazine using the digital edition. The magazine is forcing users to use an online, web-based viewer from Realview Technologies. Unfortunately, that means no PDFs and no offline access. Moreover, the printing functionality seems to be severely limited and only lets users print one page at a time. It would be nice if I could just print the entire magazine on Monday morning, but it would seem essential that users would be able to at least print out an article or two for later reading.

One of the great advantages of the magazine is that it’s portable. Once I get my copy of the New Yorker in the mail, I can read it in class, I can read it in bed, I can read it in a cab or on a plane. I can even read it in the subway when I have no reception on my BlackBerry. I don’t even need my computer or an Internet connection to read it. Yes, I also happen to hate reading on computer screens and even print out op-ed articles from the Times out of my preference for paper over pixels. By restricting both printing and offline access, the digital edition becomes far less useful than the print magazine or its website. Given a chance to expand its reader base and further engage existing readers of the New Yorker, it appears the magazine has failed with its digital edition to do any more than create a niche product with infinitesimal appeal. I really wanted to like the digital edition, but I don’t see how it, in any way, improves on the magazine.

I suppose that’s no surprise, though, given the New Yorker’s previous experience with digital content. Its website was absolutely anemic for years and years, and it prevented all but the savviest users from copying the New Yorker Archive DVDs to their hard drives, which created a slow product. Because the New Yorker has such great content, such a great product, I feel it has a responsibility to put user experience above its fears of digitization. Its digital edition offers another chance to get that right. Let’s hope it does so before next month’s launch.

On another New Yorker note, their Festival blog is excellent.

Update: I’ve now had a chance to try the launched digital edition. 

The New Yorker’s Arts Issue

Earlier this week, I had lunch with New Yorker writer Alex Ross, whose new book The Rest Is Noise is an excellent history of 20th century classical music. Ross has an article in this week’s New Yorker about how the Internet, commonly held to have had a deleterious effect on the music business, has lead to a revival in the classical music business.

What really struck me in the article is a passage Ross quotes from the blog of pianist Jeremy Denk about the experience of playing Oliver Messaien’s “Quartet for the End of Time”:

Somewhere toward the middle of the last movement, I began to feel the words that Messiaen marks in the part, I began to hear them, feel them as a “mantra”: extatique, paradisiaque. And maybe more importantly, I began to have visions while I was playing, snapshots of my own life (such that I had to remind myself to look at the notes, play the notes!): people’s eyes, mostly, expressions of love, moments of total and absolute tenderness. (This is sentimental, too personal: I know. How can you write about this piece without becoming over-emotional?) I felt that same sense of outpouring (“pouring over”) that comes when you just have to touch someone, when what you feel makes you pour out of your own body, when you are briefly no longer yourself—and at that moment I was still playing the chords, still somehow playing the damn piano. And each chord is even more beautiful than the last; they are pulsing, hypnotic, reverberant . . . each chord seemed to pile on something that was already ready to collapse, something too beautiful to be stable . . . and when your own playing boomerangs on you and begins to “move yourself,” to touch you emotionally, you have entered a very dangerous place. Luckily, the piece was almost over. . . . When I got offstage I had to breathe, hold myself in, talk myself down.

Denk does an excellent job of conveying simultaneously the the way it feels to be overwhelmingly moved by something and the very impossibility of expressing that feeling. Also in this week’s magazine is a relatively interesting piece by Sasha Frere-Jones about why indie rock is so white.

I laugh more often now

I attended two shows last week worth mentioned. The first was Peter Bjorn and John at the Wiltern in LA on Monday night. I missed the opening band, the Clientele, but their backing vocalist Mel Draisey joined PB&J for their performance of “Young Folks.” (I’m impressed by the fact that the Clientele quotes Jean Baudrillard on their website!) One thing I just learned about “Young Folks” is that the vocals in the album version are done entirely by the band, i.e. there’s no female singing the part that you think is sung by a female.

Overall, the band had a lot of energy, and I enjoyed the show quite a bit. Their set seemed rather short to me at only 14 songs, including most of Writer’s Block. Writer’s Block was the soundtrack to my summer, and “Young Folks” its theme song. However, it’s the song “Objects of My Affection,” that I’ve been thinking about recently. Its chorus: “. . . and the question is, was I more alive / then than I am now? / I happily have to disagree; / I laugh more often now, I cry more often now, / I am more me.”

In the song, these musings are prompted by encounters with writing and music that had been encountered before in another time. This reminded me of an article I read this summer in the New York Review of Books by Joyce Carol Oates. Her review of the “amnesiac” novels The Raw Shark Texts and Remainder includes this brilliant passage:

The amnesiac’s quest resembles the artist’s quest for inspiration: the artist must be alert to “messages” beneath the seeming disorder of the world, leaving himself open to disponibilité—availability of chance. For it is likely to be a “chance” image or encounter that will unleash a flood of memories, and allow the amnesiac to reclaim the narrative of his life.

I love the idea of the unexpected evocations, but the thing that really got me about this passage was the idea of reclaiming the narrative of one’s life, or as PB&J put it, being “more me.” It seems to me that most of my adult life has been devoted to returning to some narrative track that was set in adolescence. And nothing feels better than knowing that I’m back on it.

I also saw Arcade Fire and LCD SoundSystem play in the rain at Shoreline on Friday night. The venue seemed altogether too large for Arcade Fire; I wish I had been able to see them at someplace like the Greek in Berkeley or the Fillmore in San Francisco. However, I was delightfully surprised by LCD. One of my friends has been telling me about their song “All My Friends” for months, but I didn’t pay much attention to it or to the band, despite having picked up both of their albums. The live version of this song was absolutely amazing, soaring and wonderful. I haven’t been able to stop listening to it since the concert, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s likely the best song I’ve ever heard about the alienation and disappointment of adult life: “You spend the first five years trying to get with the plan / And the next five years trying to be with your friends again.” There’s also a decent cover out there by Franz Ferdinand.

Steve Jobs on DRM

Steve Jobs posted his “Thoughts on Music” on Apple’s website, calling for the music industry to end its insistence on DRM. As many have noted, the statement is aptly timed to address growing pressure on Apple to open the iTunes music store to other digital music players. I’ve never quite understood what the music industry is so scared of, anyway. Though I love my iPod, I’ve only bought 2 songs from iTunes because I couldn’t find them on CDs elsewhere. I still fail to understand why so many people are willing to pay for such inferior copies of songs. Seriously, play an AAC file from iTunes and a real CD; you’ll hear the difference.

Anyhow, Jobs writes:

In 2006, under 2 billion DRM-protected songs were sold worldwide by online stores, while over 20 billion songs were sold completely DRM-free  and unprotected on CDs by the music companies themselves. The music companies sell the vast majority of their music DRM-free, and show no signs of changing this behavior, since the overwhelming majority of their revenues depend on selling CDs which must play in CD players that support no DRM system.

So if the music companies are selling over 90 percent of their music DRM-free, what benefits do they get from selling the remaining small percentage of their music encumbered with a DRM system? There appear to be none. If anything, the technical expertise and overhead required to create, operate and update a DRM system has limited the number of participants selling DRM protected music. If such requirements were removed, the music industry might experience an influx of new companies willing to invest in innovative new stores and players. This can only be seen as a positive by the music companies.

Much of the concern over DRM systems has arisen in European countries.  Perhaps those unhappy with the current situation should redirect their energies towards persuading the music companies to sell their music DRM-free.

Sarah Bettens concert, or six years ago in France

In the fall of 2000, while shopping at FNAC in Toulouse, one of the listening stations was playing the new CD, Almost Happy, from a band called K’s Choice. I’m normally not one for listening stations, but the retro style of the album’s cover caught my eye, and so I put on the headphones and had a listen. The album’s first full track, “Another Year,” immediately grabbed me, and I returned home with a copy. When I told a friend, she said, “Oh yeah, they do that song, ‘Not an Addict,’” which I didn’t confirm for another few months or so. “Another Year” became a personal anthem of sorts for returning to school that fall at l’Université de Toulouse, and it’s aged well. At the time, I imagined that this album could be hugely popular in the United States if it only got a promotional push, but it wouldn’t. And it didn’t.

The band, which is composed of Sarah Bettens and her brother Gert, played a show in Toulouse while I was living there. It was good, and I remember staying until the end, but it’s the album that has stuck with me through the years, remaining one of my favorites.

By chance, this morning I discovered the video of a full acoustic show from Sarah earlier this month at a place called Paradiso, which, apparently, is in Amsterdam. Her cover of Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars” is especially good, and demands at least ten listens.

Since listening to this video reminded me of it, I might as well plug the wonderful tea salon Bapz in Toulouse, where I used to hang out and my friend Andrea used to work.

Sarah Bettens