People’s History

Why does school happen before you’re grown up?  There are so many things that I would have valued more now that I’ve grown.  there is a book called the People’s History of the United States, by historian Howard Zinn.  When I was a rising junior in high school I remember that we had to read this tome (it was a very thick book) as summer reading and write a summary of each chapter.   By the end of this assignment I should have had a solid overview of all of the major events and time periods between 1942 and Today.  HOWEVER, because i was young and dumb and on summer vacation, I somehow found a way to do the work without actually paying attention to anything.  And nowadays I feel like my historical knowledge is a little patchy, so I’m actually planning to read the whole book again!

Just think of the time I would have saved if I had cared more earlier.  But I guess you can just never predict when a future conversation about the musical  Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is going to make you regret your attentiveness in 11th grade.

I also occurs to me that I should probably look for those summaries the next time I’m home at my folks house.

Did this need to be invented?

I’ve got a lot of friends with gift registries right now: for babies, for weddings, etc.  Actually.  Those are the only two reasons I can think of.   the end result is that I’m getting a huge array of home goods paraded in front of me, and some of them are quite funny.  Usually I think their funny because they are so specific. Here’s on i saw today:

The All-in-one avocado tool

Now. I love avocado almost as much as I love air.  In fact,  you’ll notice it ranks well on my all time list of favorite things:

  1. Air
  2. Alligators/Hippos from Fantasia
  3. Avocado
  4. Playing the piano
  5. Singing
  6. NPR
  7. Stationary
  8. Funny Drag Queens
  9. Surprise Endings
  10. Bodybuilders

But do you really need an all-in-one avocado tool? maybe a knife and spoon would get the job done.

Meet your Hero 2 weeks from today

I have a pretty cool job, at a pretty cool place.  and that’s good enough for me.  But sometimes something really cool happens at my job that makes me giddy.  It just so happens that one of these things has happened!

Alan Alda is coming into my office in a few weeks and I’m totally stoked.   You’re all asking: are you a really be fan of M*A*S*H?  No, I’m not, but I was a somewhat regular viewer of the PBS show Scientific American Frontiers when I was growing up.  Something that I’ve always admired about Alan Alda is that he’s an artist (an actor) that spends a lot of time explaining and promoting science.  I actually once read him referred to as “actor and science communicator” because that’s what he does. He himself isn’t really a scientist, he just communicates the science, and makes it interesting and digest-able to laypeople.

Sometime this last year I decided that this exact activity, interpreting science for people using art and media, was just about my favorite thing in the world.  It happened when I got obsessed with NPR’s RadioLab and then I realized that my ideal job in life would be to host science documentaries.  My mind raced: who are my heroes in this field?  I came up with two answers:  1) Bill Nye the Science Guy.  I follow him on twitter, but unfortunately many people have told me he’s a jerk… or was it that his stand-up is really dirty? (or was that Bob Saget?)

2)  Alan Alda. Because He’s so genuinely fascinated by the science and I gotta love him.

Did I get to the point yet?  He wrote a book about Marie Currie and I work for the company that’s publishing it. And in a few weeks he’ll actually be coming into the office to meet everyone.  I have friends who claim they’re used the secret to make things happen. Perhaps this is my own version of that.

Jonah Lehrer and Imagine

Right now I’m reading a book by Jonah Lehrer, called Imagine.  It’s pop-science about how creativity works.  Author Jonah is this prodigy reporter who at the age of 31 had become become a staff writer at the New Yorker and found himself in line behind Malcolm Gladwell as the modern “Idea Man.”  Then his world fell apart.

You can read all about it here, but basically he fabricated some Bob Dylan quotes in his newest book and he has been forced to resign from … his life.

What really interests me is that his publisher Houghton Mifflin has recalled his book, Imagine, the book I’m reading.  The BF asked me if they were also recalling digital copies, which reminded me that Amazon, B&N, and Apple can actually REMOVE books from your digital readers.  Am I alone in thinking that this is crazy and a bit authoritarian?  It’s like you don’t really own it, you just own access to it.  For a while i wasn’t turning my Kindle’s wifi on because I was afraid that the book would evaporate the moment I did! (and I haven’t finished it yet!)

It’s a shame that this guy’s life fell apart.   He was developing into a hero of mine: Smart and driven, all about thinking and science, and not bad looking in certain pics (see below).  If he had been gay too I would have been in love!

Jonah Lehrer

Copy Left

Today I heard an interesting quote (over pizza) from my good friend Cale.  In regard to copyright he says, I believe works should be free as in speech, but not as in beer.  What does that mean? I ask with prosciutto hanging out of my mouth.  It turns out that it means he holds the belief that people shouldn’t have the right to distribute others’ content for free, but that once someone has bought a work they can have free reign with it. Apparently this is a belief touted by “the copy left,” a group of people who believe copyright law stifles creativity and stalls advances in art.  A big topic, sure, but It was exactly what I wanted to hear today.

This all came up because I just made a new mashup last night (Katy Perry vs. Coldplay) and when I tried to post it to youtube it got BLOCKED because they detected that there was copyrighted material in the video.  Give me a break.  DJs work to promote the music that they love, not to decrease sales for the original artists (or gatekeepers).  And in this scenario I have made a new product, it’s taken from found materials, yes, but it is arguably more, and different than the original.  But youtube blocked it, so instead my boyfriend posted the video on his vimeo account and we blew it up all over facebook from there. Problem solved.

There’s a mashup party based out of San Francisco that absolutely adore, called Bootie.  It’s an awesome site, with a pirate as their mascot, and I have gone to every New York party they have thrown except for one.  I’ve been following their blog for about 3-4 years, so long that I have no memory of who introduced me to it, or how I found them.  Nevertheless, despite the long time we’ve spent together it was only recently that Bootie + Pirate came together in my mind to form the realization: oh! pirated, like music!  because mashing up is potentially a violation of copyright.

I argue: Violation, but not defamation.

A few weeks ago I attended an Off Broadway show called 3C, by a playwright named David Adjimi.  The stage show lifts characters and environments directly from the show 3’s company, apparently with the intention of mocking past eras for their homophobia and racism. Now the TV series is suing the production for defaming the show and it’s characters.  Defamation is a weird thing, because couldn’t I right editorial after editorial describing how I thought a show was terrible? I’m defaming it then, but for some reason it’s different if you use names and text from the original work. 3C was definitely painting the 3’s company characters in an unappealing light (although I had never seen the TV series before), but there’s no conclusive proof that this could actually be damaging to the franchise.  I read later that the TV series people were also planning a stage show and that their complaint was mostly focused on perceived damage to this specific project.

Now, I ask you: is remix culture defaming original pop? no way. I wonder why Youtube and Soundcloud can’t look studios in the face and say “get real”. Studios: I can’t understand why you’re not excited that people are blowing your stuff up all over the internet.

I’m not really in the mood to rant, but I’ve been increasingly interested in copyright conversation recently.  For about the past year it’s been one of my favorites, ever since a NPR (or something) sparked it as an interest of mine.

Below is the video my boyfriend made to accompany the mashup. Comments on the work, or the morality are welcomed.



Putting on my yarmulke


A Different Sort of Morning

A Thursday out of the office.  A different sort of morning.

For me, a new test. Ground-breaking.

With hot sun on our faces we planted you there in an orchard of stones.

Our eyes released their sorrows, and we let you down easy.  Death absolves many sins.

He took his turn with the shovel and I held him afterword. He has always prayed to his grandmother, but now he can pray to you as well.

Was it already time for this type of worry? How old we suddenly seem. How married, even if we’re not.

I think: can there really be 3 more of these ahead?

The ride home leaves family reaching for the precious take-away, or perhaps a take-back in the face of what they’ve lost.  Stories and jokes are easiest to find, but perhaps there’s a lesson as well.  All agree:  Even in death you went gently, and without rage.

Farewell father, farewell fighter. 

Thank you, man who made the man I stand by.

Farewell father, farewell fighter.

Enjoy your rest. Amen.

Famous Pop Singers Who Record on a Bus

If you have talked to me in the past 4 weeks chances are I brought up a New Yorker article I’ve been reading. Every time I talk about this article I laugh because it sounds like i’m name dropping the New Yorker to sound smart, so I quickly correct and explain: no no no it’s about Rihanna. Well, I suppose it’s about the team behind Rihanna- her producers and top-liner Ester Dean.

As a “manufactured” artist Rihanna really has a village behind her (which doesn’t bother me so long as she’s dong her part well).  But even if I knew that other people wrote the songs, and R only sings them, I was still surprised to hear the process from beginning to end, including the strung out recording schedule. Apparently Rihanna is the most prolific pop singer, with an album every year and a tour that never stops.  This leaves little time for actual recording. Article writer John Seabrook reports:

“The production notes for Rihanna’s single “Talk That Talk” say that her vocal was recorded on “the Bus” in Birmingham, Alabama, in Room 538 of the Sofitel Paris Le Faubourg, and in Room 526 of the Savoy, in London. When I remarked on this peripatetic recording method to Hermansen, he replied, ‘It’s music as aspirational travel.'”

This is the tid-bit I quoted to friends again and again.  How funny that a song, which is almost always experienced in full over 3.5 minutes, would take multiple weeks and three countries to complete.  It’s kind of a let-down to think of the internal swells of the verse and chorus that never actually poured into one another- It was all just assembled after the fact.  

I wonder if this is sad for Rihanna. I’m sure at one point in her life she told someone that she loved music, otherwise, why would she be where she is today?  Do you think Rihanna likes recording two lines here, and 5 lines here.  Maybe she would rather go into the studio and blare the whole this out at once… if she would ever stop touring.

But then again, usually an article is enjoyed in one sitting- and i somehow made this one last 4 weeks. Imagine me finding the time to read Game of Thrones.Image

Why Mashups Work

It surprises even me how often mashups work musically.  I’m pretty sure this is a result of popular music following a few very basic chord progressions:  1, 4, 5, 4;  1, 6, 4, 5; etc…

Because I’m the type of person who randomly applies science to my art projects I’ve been toying with the idea of creating a huge spreadsheethat charts the chord progressions of all othe current pop songs, classic tunes, and my personal favorites. Then I should be able to sort the list and have like with like:giving myself a short list of songs to consider?

Only problem is this might be more work than just listening carefully and letting that sort happen in your brain…

Touch at a Distance

I’m listening to Radio Lab while at work and they are conducting sort of a meta show where they discuss how they use sound and music in their editing process. For a long time I have been fascinated by this broadcast because of their savvy, imaginative productions. Jad is interview one of his personal heroes, Walter Merch, who edited such films as the Godfather, cold mountain, etc. Mr. Merch explained that the oldest senses creatures have according to the evolutionary progress is Touch, or smell. Hearing, by contrast is the last sense to truly develop. because what is hearing but an extremely sophisticated sense of touch at a distance?

Interestingly, the sense of hearing is the first sense to develop in unborn children during gestation. With the barrier of the mother’s body the child cannot see, touch, smell or taste the outside world… but they can hear it. Hearing is the only sense that travels through matter.

There needs to be a new word to describe the type of joy I feel when I learn about the world from programs like this. It’s fascination at the topic. It’s inspiration derived from the skill of the teachers. It’s hopeful. It’s joy. — j

Momma’s Hip Hop Kitchen

Yesterday afternoon I got an urgent text from my dear friend Erin telling me to come up to the Bronx and watch a show that she was stage managing.  “Get here Now” was the message.   The show was called Momma’s Hip Hop Kitchen, so I was obviously interested right off the bat (this is how well my friends know me). Now in it’s third installment at Hostos Community College in the Bronx, MHHK is a spirited and eclectic showcase of Women in Hip-hop. 2+ hours of dance, song and spoken word for the advancement of women.

Of course I loved it. But beyond the obvious attraction between gay men and women of color, it was nice to be at something so…  positive and relaxed. The whole thing was very welcoming, especially for spoken word, which has to be the most exposed art form ever. there’s nothing but you and your thoughts. Standing in the wings of the show (I watched from backstage) I realized just how much I love spoken word.  It’s such a  fun intersection of rhythm and rhyme and wordplay.

There was young girl who performed yesterday afternoon who couldn’t have been older than 21 and she was brilliant.  As I watched I was thinking to myself – Why don’t I try this sometime?  I’m in NY city, why don’t I go find some slam poetry club and give this a shot? I might not even tell my friends and boyfriend that I’m doing it.  The anonymity would be nice.

I don’t have very many experiences with spoken word, sadly.  When I was in college there was a guy who was around the theatre department who wrote amazing spoken word pieces and I remember him bringing one into an acting class one day to workshop in front of the class. Our teacher at the time gave him some direction, good direction… but maybe not right for spoken word.  Because it’s not a monologue.  And he clearly wanted to do perform it in that very fascinating pattern and rhythm – the same rhythm that intimidated ME when I thought about writing my own pieces.

I guess for now this will hang out on the “someday list” after aerial silk dancing, but hopefully I can go and watch some more spoken word soon. Here’s the trailer for Momma’s Hip-Hop Kitchen: