“Ha” Is All You Need, All You Need Is “Ha”

As abbreviations and l33t-speak dominate conversations on the Internet, words tend to get shorter. “Be right back” becomes, “brb,” for example. What is so peculiar and somewhat bothersome to me is how “laugh out loud” was chosen to be abbreviated as “LOL” while the far superior and shorter “ha” is not as popular.

Similarly, the variants ROTFL (“rolling on the floor laughing”), ROTFLMAO (“rolling on the floor laughing my a** off”) are also annoyingly long. Why not just “hahahahaha”?

My message to Internet users everywhere: STOP USING “LOL,” “ROTFL,” “ROTFLMAO” and any other abbreviation that conveys laughter. “Ha” is accurate, short, and has thousands of years of history behind it.

SPECIAL NOTE TO EMILY, AUSTIN AND RYANN: tell your friends! “Ha” is all you need! “LOL” must DIE!!!

Oy Vey, These Kids Today and Their Series of Tubes

Can you handle the meta? I’ll be commenting on Mark Morford’s comments on a piece in New York Magazine about these kids today and their internets. Here’s Mark’s ever-eloquent, ever-snarky summary:

“If you believe the media skew, if you see it all through a lens of fear or lack of nimble perspective, suddenly it’s all drooling MySpace sexual predators and binge-drinking frat-boy idiots and millions of lost brain-rotted teens snorting ketamine off each other’s stolen iPods and then shooting each other in the face after playing 6 million hours of Grand Theft Auto, one giant violent sexed-up gum-snapping body-pierced eating-disorder STD-ready freak show ready to implode at the drop of a hat or the shave of a Britney.

And it’s also one big dumb, overblown lie. Well, most of it.”

The message to parents: calm down. Raising kids today isn’t weirder or more dangerous than it used to be, it’s just differently weird and differently dangerous. In the 50’s, conventional wisdom was that rock and roll was dangerous, and now people pay upwards of $100 to see crusty dope fiends like the Rolling Stones play at their local arena. Yes the Internet allows kids to put more of themselves online, but the threat of online predators is about as valid as that of muggers in Manhattan: real but rare.

For everything you gain, you lose something. What kids gain with the social Internet (MySpace/LiveJournal/Flickr/Facebook/et al) is a way to express themselves, a platform for communicating more easily with their friends, and an archive of their adolescence that they can refer to throughout their lives. What they lose is perhaps some measure of safety/privacy, the ability to escape past mistakes/embarrassments, and maybe some fresh air.

There’s a real temptation for a parent who grew up in front of a TV watching cartoons to feel disconnected and paranoid about their kids growing up in front of the Internet, because it’s a different world from the one they grew up in; but isn’t that always the case? Personally I’m more afraid of kids growing up eating so much fast food and/or microwaved crap as fewer parents seem to cook these days.

And for heaven’s sake, if the sight of your kid glued to a laptop all day bugs you, take them outside! I had my nieces and nephew over Monday night, and when I saw each of them playing online games, I immediately suggested we go play frisbee. Fortunately they have not lost their zeal for real world activities.

Tears for Fears Tour Journal

Curt Smith, one half of Tears for Fears, has been keeping a tour blog. Here are some good thoughts from a man who’s seen everything in the music business:

“If you’re of the opinion that wealth will bring you happiness, dream on. You’re either happy/content by nature (or work) or not – money won’t change that. At the richest I’ve ever been I was the least happiest, consequently I chose to leave TFF and my homeland in search of better things, I’m “grateful” everyday that I found them. I live in Los Angeles, “I see rich people” every day, I can’t say the majority of them are happy. They seem to spend inordinate amounts of time talking about their earnings/position and how much they spend. Most of them are medicated in some way, be it through alcohol or the antidepressant du jour. Not only are they not happy, they’re dull to boot. To sum up – it’s my experience that the same percentage of rich people are happy/unhappy as poor people, status doesn’t change anything.”

Basic Music Math

Artist with major label contract sells 100,000 albums @ $15, gets $1 per disc* = $100,000
Independent Artist sells 10,000 albums @ $15, gets $10 per disc = $100,000

Granted it takes a lot of touring and sweat and word of mouth for an independent artist to sell 10,000 albums, but if you are truly an excellent, original act that electrifies people at every show, you can do it. For a generic band with a big marketing push from a major label, 100,000 copies isn’t all that hard to do, and even then it’s unlikely you control your publishing (royalties), and the $100,000 you made still has to go back to the label to recoup your advance and your recording costs (subtract $50,000 and do not pass go).

Fortunately, ProTools allows any musician the ability to produce a decent-sounding album. Which is ironic, given that ProTools also allows people like Ashlee Simpson to have their pitchy vocals corrected. For everything you gain, you lose something.

* Best case scenario, given standard industry rates.

The Decentralization of the Music Industry

For the last few years I’ve been wondering about the Internet’s impact on the music industry, specifically what will happen to cash-cow national acts when the Internet empowers more independent and regional artists. If more people are using MySpace and iTunes to check out music based on word of mouth and their own ears, rather than the tastemaking churn of radio/MTV/magazines, then those tastemakers will be at a loss for words. How can they generate a buzz nationally about the latest hip new band when they can’t get everyone to listen to it?

As the first potential proof for this suspicion, I give you this terrifically lost and confused MTV roundtable discussion on SXSW at MTV.com. All the writers involved seem genuinely saddened at the lack of any individual “It Band” at SXSW.

Plink, plink…do you hear that? That’s the sound of the world’s tiniest violin. Cry me a f*cking river, MTV.

Here’s hoping that 2007 gave us a bellwether SXSW and the days of the “It Band” are numbered. Maybe music fans will start listening to what they like because it’s what they like, not because some pretentious weasel at MTV or Spin or Clear Channel decided to orchestrate a “buzz” campaign.

By far the best comment was from writer James Montgomery:

“I’m struck by how all these points we’re making about the festival are also completely interchangeable for the music industry. I was struck by how it’s like a microcosm of all the problems the industry is facing now: It’s too big, there’s too much to see out there, you have no idea what’s going to be big, it’s too splintered, there are too many ways of consuming music.”

Buddy, if too much music is your idea of a problem, start looking for a new career. The music scene should be big and splintered and not easily digestible. This will make it easier to weed out the generic bands that the industry chooses to foist upon us. I guess it might be difficult for casual listeners to choose, but I’m sure they’ll be OK with whatever comes their way. Lord knows they are entirely too contented with the crap they’re listening to now.

SXSW 2007

Finally have some free time to catch up after a long 5 days in Austin for my annual birthday trip to South by Southwest, the massive music shindig. Here’s the run down:

Tuesday: I discovered that my Wednesday flight was in fact NOT for 7pm but 7AM. How I made this error I have no idea, but my boss was kind enough to let me take an extra day off, so I hurried around to get everything taken care of and tried to sleep.

Wednesday: Meredith got up at 5:30AM to take me to the airport, bless her. I made it into Austin around 10AM and slept until 1PM. Tara and I went to End of an Ear music, where I bought a bunch of CDs. After that we stopped by South Austin Music, the one guitar store I had not visited in previous trips. This may have been a mistake. As I opened the door, there it was. An Ernie Ball Music Man Steve Morse model guitar. Dammit. Price tag: $999. I said $800, and it was done. It had to be done. I’ve been looking for that guitar for a long time. Afterward we wandered around downtown, checking out Architecture in Helsinki, Jefferson Starship, Lily Allen, and my all-time favorites, The Soft Lightes.

Thursday: We saw an in-store performance by Sparklehorse, then over to Antone’s for Blonde Redhead. After that…Pete Townshend. He was playing acoustic guitar at the “Attic Jam,” a gathering of random singer-songwriters. He did a few of his own tunes and played along with the others. As someone more accustomed to playing stadiums, he was clearly enjoying the chance to play to an intimate audience. We wrapped up the night at 1AM with a show by the gorgeous sights and sounds of The Bird and the Bee.

Friday: We just happened to be passing by the Yep Roc Records party where Little Rock’s own American Princes were playing. They opened the show, with John Doe following them. We ran down the street to catch the infectious sounds of The High Strung. After that I caught up with Rob McCorkindale of The Broken West. We’re not directly related, but we’re most likely distant cousins, given the dearth of McCorkindales on the planet. We have very similar eyes. Talking with Rob behind the stage, I saw Hüsker Dü’s Bob Mould signing autographs and comedian Zach Galifianakis being generally hilarious. After that we went to the other side of the river to see Ozomatli, X Clan, and….Public Enemy. PE incited the crowd to chant “F*ck George Bush, F*ck Dick Cheney, F*ck Tony Blair, F*ck Condoleezza Rice.” The only thing more amazing than getting a crowd containing families with young children to do this, is that apparently there was no community uproar afterward. That’s Austin for you. After that we checked out Perry Farrell’s Satellite Party featuring guitar hero Nuno Bettencourt. It made me so happy to see a guitar solo being played in front of a large audience. Apparently the embargo is being lifted. Or maybe Perry just exists in his own world. After that, Badly Drawn Boy and the amazing, the earthshaking…The Good, the Bad, and the Queen.

Saturday: Dirty Projectors. We saw them last year at the same venue, but this time the crowd was twice the size. Good to see. Later that night: Kings of Leon, Spoon, and Iggy Pop. Not a bad birthday.

Sunday: Slept in! Ate breakfast burritos, stopped by Cheapo Discs and bought a couple more parting CDs before hopping on the plane back to Little Rock. By the way, fly Southwest. They have a sense of humor and free donuts, coffee, and juice at their gates.

Interview with Nicholson Baker

I came across this Nicholson Baker interview today and thought I’d pass it along:

“When an interviewer asks you what was important to you when you were learning how to write, what were the texts, you’re tempted to come up with people like Henry de Montherlant or the Brothers Goncourt. You don’t want to say John Updike because he’s commonplace and familiar and it’s not exciting.”

I’m the same way. I don’t even want to listen to Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin because they belong to everybody. I want my influences to myself so I’m always seeking out the lesser-known, the obscure.

“I do seem to be attracted to things I think are unsung. Or, if I’m writing about literary figures, I prefer to write about the guy Alexander Pope copied from, rather than celebrating Pope, since he has plenty of people making a fuss over him. I’m still by nature a contrarian.”

I’m a musical contrarian. Or as Douglas Coupland would say, I often engage in “underdogging,” the tendency to almost invariably side with the underdog in a given situation. Seeking out the unsung and siding with the underdog….what is the root of this condition? A desire for originality in the face of popular things being automatically less valid? We’re living in artistically confusing times because, as the middle class has ascended over the last 60 years, middle class tastes dominate the culture, and so often what is popular is crap. Then popularity gets equated with crap, so it’s not cool to like what’s popular because if it’s popular it has to be crap. Which is a lie of course, but it’s easier to cling to that dogma than to decide for oneself what is artistically valid.

“The unpleasant, distracting feeling of wanting to protect your ideas is dumb and contemptible. Still, it’s one of the unfortunate emotions that comes with any attempt to say something new.”

This is another thing that I think about in music. Ask any truly great musical artist and they will tell you that music comes through them. It does not start with them. The best musicians are instruments themselves of music, which comes from somewhere else. Being a creative musician means getting out of your own way and letting the music flow through you. So, the ideas are not yours to protect. The ideas belong to Music and Music was nice enough to let you transmit them. So how can you claim that any idea was truly yours? Unfortunately you have to in order to make a living in any economic society. It’s just a compromise you have to make between art and commerce.

Anyway, as I pressed on in search of more Baker interviews to digest I found that the man was apparently following my musical train of thought:

“I got interested in time in the 4th grade. I had the discovery that you could split up the present moment infinitely. There’s no present…As a musician, I used to love the fermata. I loved the chords that you could sustain it with. It’s a nice looking symbol with a nice name. It sits on top of a chord and just looks at you.”

And then he goes and wraps up with another thread that has been running through my head lately: Frank Zappa used to say that the most important thing in art was the frame, which took me by surprise. Then it became even more apparent to me when I found this Art or Crap Quiz, which rather elegantly states “For the purposes of this quiz, ‘art’ is something that has been exhibited as such by an artist.” It seemed a pretty good definition of art, regardless of the quiz’s context. Anyway, here’s what Baker said:

“I want the books to be about things that you don’t notice when you’re noticing them. You kind of notice things in passing, and never put a frame around them — and then somebody like me comes along and writes a book about them. And then that book itself becomes the frame.”

My Theory

Anna Nicole Smith was offed by the CIA to draw the public’s attention away from the war. I also suspect that Britney Spears had her Red Bull spiked with LSD to continue the diversion.