Recently by FlyOver
The web-based culture magazine The Curator kindly published this piece on mine in August exploring the future of music magazines and the difference between them, the music industry they cover, and all the buzz over the fate of newspapers. Thanks to AW.
Few things get Quincy Jones riled up like death.
First, it was Michael Jackson’s. Then, it was Vibe’s.
The monthly magazine covering black pop culture was shuttered suddenly last month 16 years after Jones co-founded it. The private equity firm that owned it failed to find a buyer. That was the only way to keep it solvent. The next day, after the news emerged, Jones vowed to revive it: “They just messed my magazine all up,” he told the Associated Press. “I’m’a take it online because print … is over.”
The problems facing newspapers right now have convinced some, like Jones, to think print is over. But what newspapers are facing seems categorically different from the current plight of music magazines. Significantly, newspapers haven’t had to deal with piracy, which over the past decade has reconfigured the entire recording industry and by extension reconfigured the landscape that music magazines cover. For newspapers, news is news, whether in print or online. Distribution is the problem, not the nature of journalism. For music magazines, the problem is existential. What is the purpose of a music magazine in light of the dramatic shifts of the past decade?
In 2000, CD sales, having survived Napster 1.0, continued their decline, but slowly. By the middle of the decade, they were in free fall. Just two years ago, estimates ranged from 1 to 2 billion illicit downloads a year. That figure is surely low now. The marketplace value of music has cratered. It’s expected to be free. Few really expect paid downloads to match, much less surpass, former profits. Most industry insiders, including musicians themselves, consider CDs to be a marketing device for live concerts. To have a hit record, furthermore, is almost meaningless when that means selling a few hundred thousand copies. Meanwhile, those able to top the charts are fewer and fewer in number. When people say Michael Jackson’s death signaled an end to an era, they in part mean there won’t be superstars like him ever again.
Pat Conroy’s South of Broad is a dud. Which is really, really too bad, too. Fans have been waiting since 1995 for the Lowcountry author to produce a brand-new novel. Here’s my review for Atlanta’s Creative Loafing.
The title South of Broad, Pat Conroy’s first novel in nearly 15 years, refers to the informal name given to a section of Charleston, S.C., almost exclusively inhabited for generations by the city’s de facto aristocracy. Living south of Broad is a point of pride for Conroy’s hero, Leopold Bloom King. Leo comes from truly common stock. His father is a science teacher; his mom a former nun. Leo, however, sees himself reflected in the neighborhood’s gorgeous cityscape. The fact that he’s also the ringleader of an audaciously diverse group of friends suggests a kind of redemption for this former seat of the Confederacy. It’s a well-intentioned moral that could have been more affecting if South of Broad didn’t fall apart at the end.
South of Broad begins with the suicide of Leo’s older brother Stephen in the late ’60s. The 10-year-old’s death nearly destroys Leo. His parents send him to a sanitarium where he experiences psychological horrors only a handful of people might ever understand. Leo manages to befriend other damaged psyches, though, and together they grow up, grow apart, and reunite in an attempt to save one of their own from a dark end. Most of the novel comprises episodes that illustrate and re-illustrate how people of such diverse backgrounds could become lifelong friends. And how friendships like theirs could withstand unfathomable acts of pure evil. Unfortunately, Conroy’s band of brothers and sisters proves fairly cumbersome.
Amid the flap over Rick Warren giving the invocation at President Obama’s inauguration was the fact that it marked the end of an era: Billy Graham as an evangelical force in American politics. Now that he’s 90 years old and in frail health, the tendency is to remember Graham as a spiritual leader—a man who since the late 1940s has been so focused on saving souls that he’s risen above the mundane quibbles of politics. Indeed, compared to the more vociferous pillars of the Christian right, like Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell, Graham has seemed almost politically neutral, a model of moderation, humility and Christian charity.
But, as the independent scholar Steven P. Miller reminds us in Billy Graham and the Rise of the Republican South, Graham played a key role in shaping the American political landscape of the second half of the 20th century, as confidante to presidents and adviser on domestic issues (particularly civil rights) and foreign policy (Communism and the Cold War). Much has been written about Graham the evangelist, contends Miller in this edifying but hardly accessible book of academic nuance, but less has been said about Graham the de facto politician, especially his role in paving the way for the South’s seismic shift from a Democratic bloc to the bulwark of the GOP.
From an interview with Andrew Cherlin, author of The Marriage-Go-Round: The State of Marriage and the Family in America Today, published in the Baltimore City Paper, where the billboards in question first sprang up.
You have seen them on bus stops and on billboards along the interstate—advertisements boasting a pair of beaming newlyweds, rice showering over their heads, teeth radiant, and eyes agleam with the promise of the future. Above their heads is the takeaway: married people earn more money.
Funded by a private organization called Campaign for Our Children, the advertisement is one of nearly a dozen launched in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., in 2005 to sell the idea that marriage deters teen pregnancy. The messages came in a variety of forms. Other ads promised that marriage leads to longer life, better health, happiness, and smarter children. Whatever the variation, the bottom line was the same: first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in the baby carriage. In other words, marriage works.
Except when it doesn’t, which is about half the time according to most American marriage statistics. Yet a roughly 50 percent divorce rate is only a piece of the puzzle of marriage and family life in America, according to Andrew Cherlin, a professor of sociology and public policy at Johns Hopkins University.
In his recent book, The Marriage-Go-Round: The State of Marriage and the Family in American Today (Knopf), Cherlin observes that the United States is the only developed country to put such a premium on marriage. Marriage has become a social marker coveted by individuals in every strata of society—from the affluent to the working class, from the near-poor to the impoverished. It is the most valued structure of family life, influencing when a child comes of age and has children of his or her own.
Yet increasingly marriage and a traditional family structure are the preserve of a privileged few. Divorce rates of the college educated are mostly flat. But for poor whites, a stable marriage is a coin toss, even for the religious, such as Southern Baptists. Put another way, the people who most want a traditional lifestyle—those in what used to be called the working class—are the same people most likely never to see that dream come true.
“Philosophy begins, then, with the questioning of certainties in the realm of knowledge and the cultivation of the love of wisdom,” Critchley writes in a witty miscellany of death called The Book of Dead Philosophers. “Philosophy is erotic, not just epistemic.”
That word, “erotic,” leaps at you. Who knew syllogisms were so titillating? Yet Critchley isn’t kidding (though the book profits from the New School professor’s deadpan humor). By “erotic” he alludes to phenomena that defy rigorous systems of evidence-gathering, hypothesis, and verification. Obviously, “erotic” has other senses, too—hunger, desire, arousal, sex. Again, these are apt in describing the spirit that animates pursuits of knowledge and understanding. That spirit is, you might say, a real turn on.
Put “religion” in place of “philosophy” and you might have a viable introduction to Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg’s ambitious, erudite, and—there’s no other word to describe its dizzying effect—psychedelic book, The Murmuring Deep: Reflections on the Biblical Unconscious. Religion, Judaism in this case, is erotic in that it’s a human institution built on non-concrete things like language, tradition, and faith. But religion also mirrors eros by manifesting a primal human urge to look into the void and make sense of it.
Whole review at Search magazine.
Cats: Philip Bimstein, the composer, wrote a piece called Cats in the Kitchen. It was performed during the Music in Time series. It calls for oboe and flute to play along with prepared soundtrack that featured the sound of cats meowing and purring. Meanwhile, Kassys, the Dutch theater collective, parodies in Good Cop Bad Cop the unreality of reality television by imitating cats (and one dog) on stage with projections of the same characters (as people) in video interviews behind them.
Stomping and Clapping: Todd Palmer, the clarinetist, arranged Aaron Copland "Hoedown" for flute, clarinet, two violins, viola, cello, and piano. The piece called for lots of stomping and clapping that raised the excitement level, especially when pianist Stephen Prutsman raised and thwapped his shoes to the floor in appropriately operatic fashion. Meanwhile, Noche Flamenca, the Spanish dance troupe, makes its living stomping and clapping. Those lie at the heart of flamenco, the people's dance.
Popping and Locking: Japanese dancer Hiroaki Umeda combined styles of street dance with light and sound technology to create an entire environment that either engaged you or didn't, depending on your sensibility, I think. Much of his dancing was of the popping and locking sort, but better -- elegant, seamless, and poetic. Meanwhile, the American premiere of Don John by Cornwall's Kneehigh Theatre features a goofy tangent in which a schlubby, lovable and, in the end, courageous character by the name of Allen electrocutes himself twice (he's preparing for his wedding with the Polish beauty Zerlina; she's an 8 while he's more like a 3). With lightning in his veins, Allen proceeds to entertain the audience with a comic break-dancing sequence with his own version of popping and locking.
Dead people: Both fictional and real. Don John, the ultimate womanizer, meets his match when confronted by the dead father of one of the women he ravages. Actually, Don meets him in the middle of a drug-fueled psychosis and anyway, the point is that that's the end of Don John. Over at Story of a Rabbit, Hugh Hughes wraps the story of his dad dying into a story about a rabbit dying, and then all that into a story about the process of telling a story. It's all a lot funnier than it sounds. Meanwhile, the real dead people came into play with the 50th anniversary of Alvin Ailey's dance company. There was a video tribute to the American icon prior to the troupe's stellar performance in the beginning of the festival. Peter Lorre, the classic Hollywood actor, was revived for Addicted to Bad Ideas by the World/Inferno Friendship Society. Another real dead person coming to the fore was Gian Carlo Menotti. Mayor Joe Riley made a big deal about Charles Wadsworth, who's retiring this year, sticking with Charleston after Menotti, in a fit of rage over the role of his lover-son, pressured everyone involved in the American festival to defect to the Italian one. Tim Page, the overview critic for The Post and Courier, rightly noted that Menotti wasn't much good for anything in later years and probably did us a favor when he left.
Distractions: The pianist Stephen Prutsman has stopped playing at least three times due to noisy interruptions. Two of those were cell phones. To be fair, the other was just a squeaky chair, but to him, it must have sounded like a cell phone. Meanwhile, the opening of Dogugaeshi suffered from poor seating design. The festival built an ad-hoc black box at Exhibition Hall at the Gaillard and had set it up to be long and narrow, with the puppet theater at one of the narrow ends of the rectangle. That made it hard to see from the get-go. Moreover, the festival had also arranged two rows of chair per riser, each of which differed maybe by a couple of inches in height. Kindly ushers scrambled to find ways to help people see better, eventually coming on the idea of pillows to boast people up off their chairs. All has been remedied, I'm told. Then over at Beverly "Guitar" Watkins' blues concert, word has it her Telecaster took a shit that night, which explains why her performance was ungodly short. That and the sound guy never figured things out. The poor trombonist was blasting his brains out. Finally, Florin Niculescu's performance didn't get rained out thanks to quick thinking by festival organizers to move it to Charleston Music Hall. Unfortunately, if you were sitting on the orchestral level on the right side, you could hear everything over at Coast, too.
Video: It's getting rarer that the performing arts don't include video now. The Ailey company used it to pay tribute to its founder. Story of a Rabbit used video, as did the dancer Hiroaki Umeda, Addicted to Bad Ideas, Dogugaeshi, and Good Cop, Bad Cop. This counts under moving images but not video per se: Pianist Ramberto Ciammarughi did a recital that evoked the great Hollywood soundtracks featuring Hollywood's great but unheralded concert pianists.
Barnyard animals: I already mentioned cats and dogs, but there's more. Obviously, Story of a Rabbit counts. But so does Deuce Theatre's political satire The Emperor Is Naked? a fictional land peopled not with people but with "sheeple." Composer Philip Bimstein's piece called Garland Hersey's Cows uses various recorded sounds of cows doing cow things. You'd be surprised how cool-sounding harmonized moos are. Dogugaeshi features mostly beautiful slides to tell the story of the art form, but it also features a beautiful silver-maned, golden-toothed fox.
Trash: One of the "cats" in Good Cop Bad Cop gets stuck in a trash bag. It's hilarious and nearly worth the price of a ticket (nearly worth it; fortunately, there's much more). Meanwhile, a turning point in Don John occurs when one of his conquests, drunk and essentially out of her mind, finds a revolver in a trash bag. And finally, the last trash reference comes from a headliner writer for The Post and Courier who thought "'Don John,' brash; 'Rabbit' trash" would be clever atop mixed reviews of both Don John and Story of a Rabbit by Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Tim Page. There's a special place in Hell for headliner writers like that.
Untethered writers: 2008-2009 has been brutal to media people who covered Spoleto for years and years. I have met journalists and critics who used to represent venerable newspapers like The Post and Courier, The State in Columbia, and the Charlotte Observer, but who are now flying solo. If you Google "Spoleto Festival USA" in the news section, you'll find mostly articles in The Post and Courier (done by stringers, mostly) and City Paper (which were also written by freelancers, but not mostly). The times they are a-changing.
Originally published in Charleston City Paper
Reality TV isn't really real. Maybe you've noticed. It's more like an enormous vetting process that demands, if not humiliation, then a deep and abiding display of humility before the eyes of God, America, and Simon Cowell.
If you can endure that, and game the rules a bit, too, you might be a star.
Ironically, those rules can have little to do with the task at hand. Judges for So You Think You Can Dance, for instance, have shown less interest in a contestant's dancing ability than in his or her willingness to mug and preen and be subjected to all manner of invasive interrogation: Show us your dirty laundry or pay the price.
This was brought into sharp relief in 2007 when Danny Tidwell, an elite dancer and former member of New York's American Ballet Theater, was ridiculed by judges for appearing to be, as he awaited their decision, "God's gift to the world." He flew in the face of television storytelling convention -- arrogance is always a thin veil for deep-seated insecurity. If you don't show your true self -- the self that is ostensibly, in Tidwell's case, a vulnerable little boy -- you're not being true to yourself or to the rest of America.
And that, my friend, is bad TV.
Such is the power of television that it makes even elite dancers like Tidwell behave in ways inconceivable before his appearance on the show. And it's this power to manipulate people into pretending to be something they are not that fascinates Liesbeth Gritter.
Gritter is a founding member of Kassys, a Dutch theater company based in Amsterdam. She and partner Mette van der Sijs are making their American debut during Spoleto with the premiere of Good Cop Bad Cop.
They travel around the world creating abstract works for the stage, using live acting and lots of film to exploit the bizarro world between the authentic self and the invented self.
Their production, called Good Cop Bad Cop, was inspired by reality TV, which, while commonplace in the U.S., is still somewhat novel in the Netherlands. Gritter, being relatively new to its perverse appetite for humiliating otherwise proud individuals, believes TV encourages fear of being normal. Good Cop Bad Cop therefore examines what ordinary people do in extraordinary situations, like a reality TV show.
"People are asked all the time to comment in news stories about things
they know nothing about," Gritter says. "But because they are on TV,
they feel compelled to talk about something, even when what they are
saying is actually saying nothing at all."
When Ezra Pound said, "Make it new," he was urging modernist artists, mostly poets, to find value in the past from the point of view of the present. Orchestras and dance companies have done just that, but over time, they eventually inverted Pound's edict, as if saying to living composers and choreographers, the oldies are the real goodies.
So orchestras and dance companies have become, over the past half century, more like cover bands. All method and technique, but little creative spark. Why dick around with the new and convince your donors to give it a try, when you can offer Beethoven and Brahms? And The Nutcracker? Don't even think of it. Those tutus are here to stay.
Benoit-Swan Pouffer understands how art sometimes becomes a sacred cow. The artistic director of Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, which performs for the first time at this year's Spoleto Festival, is keenly aware of stagnation.
"Our mission is to bring attention to new work by international
choreographers," Pouffer says from Switzerland. "We try to make a
comprehensive environment for them to work. They are all different, and
the dancers are all eclectic, and, somehow, it all works."
OK, so he has a face like Clive Owen. OK, so he has a physique like Matthew McConaughey. OK, so he’s also a gymnast — limber, strong, durable.
OK, OK, OK. Enough, already. And by the way, so what? Some of us know how to type. Really, really, really, really fast.
Who does Mr. Fabulous think he is? Don Juan?
Well, yes. In fact, he does.
Gardarsson originated the lead in the American premiere of Don John. The play is the contemporary update of the classic myth of Don Juan, the original ladykiller, the first international playboy, the proto-womanizer, the Ur-man of mystery.
“Every man has wanted to be Don Juan and love 1,000 women at some point in his life.” Gardarsson says by phone from London. “It’s really interesting to play a devil like that.”
Sheesh, Señor Gisli. You don’t have to rub it in.
Director Emma Rice adapted the story from Mozart’s operatic version, Don Giovanni. But she set the story in the context of a carnival to suggest the uninhibited and unleashed sexuality of the hero. In fact, the staging is extremely physical. Much of what’s communicated between characters happens with the body.
But the master is Don John. He’s a real 60-minute man. He prowls and then he comes over. But never too soon. He smokes, he drinks. He takes pleasure in not just his women but in seeing other men looking at him looking at women who are looking at him.
And no one stops him. Why? Because he behaves badly, and it rubs off easily. Others follow in his wake, like sloppy seconds. Yet he’s convinced he’s not such a bad guy, Gardarsson says, trying to explain some of the tangled up psychology at work inside Don John’s head. He knows he’s breaking hearts, but he’s lost. He’s looking for something, but he doesn’t know what it is.
And — in the hope that we hate him an eensy-weensy bit less — it turns out he’s in pain.
Scandal has a half-life that’s all too brief. Take Madonna for instance.
Her “Like a Prayer” video was hugely controversial. Religious ecstasy mixed with interracial schtupping led to Pepsi’s pulling out of sponsoring Ms. Ciccone’s global tour.
Then came forays into transgendered S&M. MTV wouldn’t commit to Madonna’s “Justify My Love.” But what’s a few riding crops, silver chains, and black masks compared to the trashy delights of Rock of Love? Or the raw splendor that is YouTube?
Right. And the Scandal-O-Meter amounts to a whopping … meh.
After French kissing Britney Spears was met with yawns, Madonna knew the end had come. Time to meditate, adopt children, and by the way, from now on, just call me Esther.
Like the Material Girl, Gustave Charpentier’s opera Louise had its share of scandal, too. But time hasn’t been kind.
After all, the plot centers on Louise, the daughter of traditional working-class parents, who falls in love with the boy next door, and they venture off for bohemian Paris to live a life of free love.
Shocking? Yes. Once upon a time. Now? About as titillating as Sisqó’s “Thong Song.”
Bloggers We Love
Bridgette Redman and Lansing Theater
Drew McManus' "Neo Classical" at the Partial Observer
Marc Moss (Missoula, MT artist)
Mary Louise Schumacher's "Art City"
Other Great Sites
American Composers Orchestra
Arts & Letters Daily
Center for Arts and Culture
Cultural Policy and the Arts National Data Archive
National Arts Journalism Program
NEA Arts Journalism Institute for Dance Criticism
NEA Arts Journalism Institute in Classical Music and Opera
NEA Arts Journalism Institute in Theater & Musical Theater
New Music Box: American Music Center
USC Annenberg/Getty Arts Journalism Program