Rock Bands and the Road

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IF you've followed the debate about the post-label, post-album music world, you've heard the cries of the optimists: Just get in the tourbus! Even digital utopians will concede that revenues from recordings are way down, but they assure us that bands can make up the different by playing shows. It is part of a larger neoliberal gospel that says all that creative types need to do about the rigged … [Read more...]

Is El Sistema Authoritarian?

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A NEW book by a British academic has charged that the Venezuelan-born classical-music-for-all program is run like something between a corporation and a cult. I've not seen the book yet, but David Ng of the LA Times interviews its author, Geoffrey Baker. Here's Baker -- whose book is published by Yale University Press -- discussing Jose Antonio Abreu: El Sistema has a monopoly on classical music … [Read more...]

Ani DiFranco and New Orleans Jazz

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THE feminist singer-songwriter has been living in the Crescent City for about a decade now, and she works with a group that enlists kids into old-school jazz bands. DiFranco is the latest in my Trust Me On This series I'm handling for Salon. Di Franco told me about her first visit to New Orleans, where she saw the Rebirth Jazz Band perform. I ended up inviting the Rebirth on a tour with me and … [Read more...]

Aimee Mann: Roots of a Songwriter

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DESPITE our relentlessly gloomy attitude about the world of music and the arts, we CultureCrashers are major fans of Aimee Mann. We spoke to the LA-based singer-songwriter about artists who taught her something about songcraft -- Dylan, Elton John, Gilbert O'Sullivan, about her first steps into writing, and the importance of song structure and music theory. Here's my piece, which starts this … [Read more...]

“U.S. Orchestras Are Shrinking”

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IF you've been following the creative economy lately, it's hardly a surprise, but this makes for dispiriting reading: A New York Times story chronicles how American groups are responding to tough times. Through the 19th century, orchestras got bigger. But as some American orchestras struggle in the post-downturn economy, they are taking a page from the corporate world and thinking smaller: They … [Read more...]

Overeducated and Underemployed

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ONE of the oddest things about the brutal post-crash economy is that the average-is-over cries by neoliberals to educate the workforce for a global world have accompanied hard times for many educated people. It's especially true for academics caught in the adjunct trap, though it is not unique to struggling scholars. It's certainly an issue with troubling implications for the creative class, both … [Read more...]

Real Estate (the Band) on Tour

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LAST night I had the pleasure of seeing of my favorite current indie-rock groups play at the Belasco Theater in downtown Los Angeles. They remind me of several bands of past and present -- The Velvet Underground, the Feelies, Luna, the Clientele -- and have these gently transporting guitar harmonies. It will be hard to hear on a computer or even playing an MP3, but these guys manage to make two … [Read more...]

Billy Bragg: Taylor Swift vs. Spotify

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RECENTLY, I've been puzzled over how to frame the Taylor Swift vs. Spotify fight. Having to take sides in that battle -- between a plutocrat popstar and an exploitative streaming service -- really makes me feel like I live in a dystopia. It's sort of an illusion of choice. "Maybe I should just ignore it?" crossed my mind a few times. In any case, the British rock musician Billy Bragg -- a … [Read more...]

Are Books an “Essential Good”?

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IN France, bookstores and literary culture thrive, in part because of laws privileging books and protecting their producers and disseminators. A recent discussion in the New York Times Book Review asked if we need a similar system here. The provocative critic Daniel Mendelsohn starts by talking about cultural differences between French and American culture. Whatever the cultural reasons, … [Read more...]

Farewell to Clive James

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HOW much longer will the beleaguered polymath last? No one knows. But my friend and guest columnist Lawrence Christon has penned an appreciation of the great Australian-born writer. With no further ado: "THE LONG GOODBYE,"  By Lawrence Christon At 75, Clive James is close to the end of a battle with a form of leukemia that’s gone on so long that he’s expressed embarrassment over outlasting … [Read more...]