Dive into the archives.
- Urban China Source Material 01
These days I’m working on a book with Urban China (城市中国), an often amazing magazine about China’s ever-changing/never-changing urban culture. Up until now it’s only been available in Chinese, but the book will be in English. I’m psyched about it, but at this point I’m just praying that too much won’t be lost in translation. I’m also pulling double duty editing and designing it, so I’m not sure how much time I’ll have for this blog in the next month or so.
But I think one of the best ways to keep VERY FEEL alive and maybe generate a little advance interest in the project is to put up some of the material. Urban China has an absolutely incredible archive of images from past and present China and going through it has been my arduous pleasure for the past few days. Anyway, I’ll put up some examples every few days. In honor of Thanksgiving, here’s a couple of images from Urban China #19: The Chinese Family. [click to enlarge]
- Day ‘N’ Nite
Every once in a while a song comes along that touches you in a way that others don’t. It could be any or many of several factors – the lyrics, melody, rhythm, the timbre of the singer’s voice, the sentiment expressed… – but somehow a chord is struck deep within your soul (or, as we atheists call it, your “joint”).
I recently came upon one of those. It’s called ‘Day N Nite’ and its by an artist straight outta Cleveland named Kid Cudi . I don’t have much else to say except I feel this song and want to share it. So here it is…
Kid Cudi – Day ‘N’ Nite
I realize I’m arriving a little late to the party with this one, but fuck it, if you take this song to heart they way I do that sort of thing doesn’t matter.
Here’s the Crookers remix. Also jamming. (What up Tomas!)
- Daytime Television in Post-Obama America
It didn’t receive widespread coverage, but on the same day that Barack Obama was elected president a referendum was held – and eventually passed – that stipulates that all daytime television programs throughout the continental US must include at least one segment in which a suburban white woman jokes awkwardly with a black man in sunglasses. Below is a recent example.
Martha Stewart & Snoop Dogg prepare Cognac Mashed Potatoes.
Part 2 here.
No one said it would be pretty.
- Premo: Behind the music
The man pictured above is DJ Premier, legendary hip hop producer and DJ. From about 1992-1995 this man provided the soundtrack to my life. I realize that I’m prone to overstatement, and maybe I big up people too much on this blog, but in this case no superlative can capture the love I had for this man’s music as a teen or the hold it possessed over my adolescent eardrums. Perhaps a barrage of statistics will do it: As of 1994, DJ Premier comprised 50% of my favorite group Gangstarr, had been responsible for about 50% of my favorite album Illmatic, and was 50% co-author of my favorite song Come clean. That is a triple crown championship, never to be matched again.
I bring all that up because SEM my friend from those days just sent me a link to a great feature put together by Derezon & Tre two DJs from Berlin for their show Sound Scan Radio. It’s called 14 Deadly Secrets and in it Premier tells the stories behind 14 of his greatest productions. If you enjoy his music, this is a MUST…
right-click + ‘save link as’ (mac) / ‘save target as’ (windows)
At one point, Premier tells the story of how he came up with the sample for ‘Nas is like’, one of his most loved (and played out) songs. It’s a pretty funny story (‘I found this old record that I was gonna throw away. It was an old 10 inch record from a Lutheran church, and it was pink with a black fish on it…’) but it’s way funnier if you hear the original song he’s talking about. Here it is…
John Rydgren – Cantata of New Life
(I wish I had the digging skills to have come up with that on my own, but I definitely do not. I got it from Kevin Nottingham’s great site.)
Anyway, if you doubt Premier’s genius or that sampling is in fact an artform, check that sample track against what it eventually became – the 5 star, Mount Olympus, still played at almost every hip hop party in The Netherlands to this very day jam Nas Is Like…
- Tim Maia, Rational Culture, and Stupid Intelligence
A couple months ago, my homey Jeroen started a blog called stupidtelligent. This fact is exciting to me because, for all the nymphomaniac groupies and corporate endorsement deals that it has brought me, blogging is in my estimation some lonely shit. But it seems a little less so when you have friends to link with. Jeroen and I have worked together many times in the past and, though he does not share my neo-conservative political views, on issues of culture we share much in common. So now that he’s officially blogmatic, it might be cool every once in a while to split a topic between our sites. Who knows how or if that will work, but fuck it these are uncertain times…
Anyway, a couple of days ago he posted up some info and a bunch of awesome songs by Tim Maia, the legendary musician who helped bring soul music to Brazil in the late ’60s. The focus of the post was on a period in the mid ’70s when Tim was overwhelmed by, what is stupidtelligently described as ‘an infatuation with the religious/philosophical sect called Cultura Rational (Rational Culture)’. So anyway, the post is mostly about the (amazing) music he made during that period, but I figured to support I’d provide a little of the back story. Here’s what I found in an old issue of The Fader magazine:
Following a particularly heartbreaking parting with a girlfriend, Maia’s lyricist friend Tiberio Gaspar introduced him to Rational Culture, a marginal religious sect with beliefs that involve UFOs, extraterrestrials and more. His conversion was nearly instantaneous. Maia gave up his personal possessions, cut his Afro and stopped partaking in drugs and booze–an impressive move considering his talents as a world-class abuser. Nelson Motta, music impresario and friend, recalled the results on Tim Maia Vol 1 & 2 to Brazilian magazine Trip, “Tim was at the top of his game as a singer. Strong and healthy, without smoke in his lungs, nor cocaine or alcohol in his blood, he was colossal! His vocal performances on these two albums are some of the best of his career (and of Brazilian pop music).”
WTF is Rational Culture (bka Cultura Racional) you ask? In a review of Racional Vol 1, the first of 3 albums Tim made about Rational Culture, I found this little rundown:
Cultura Racional was founded by Manoel Jacinto Coelho. He was born in 1903 in the Tijuca quarter of Rio, and it is said that at the moment of his birth, a comet or cosmic mass landed in his neighborhood and entered his body, thus supplying him with knowledge heretofore hidden from the rest of mankind.
Despite his many messianic qualities, he never claimed that Cultura Racional was a religion or that he was a god, he was simply a bringer of the truth of truths which he outlined in his series of books, The Universe in Disenchantment. Among some of the truths he elucidated was that human beings are parasites and that the arrival of an extraterrestrial race of creatures on Earth was imminent. To that end he even built a motel for their lodging at his estate in the suburbs of Rio.
It all fell apart eventually – rumor is that after a couple of years watching the skies for aliens and after having converted his entire band to Cultural Racional Tim left the sect and never performed any of the songs he recorded about them ever again. They only started to see re-release after he died in 1998.
So there it is, for whatever it’s worth, a footnote to THIS POST that you should immediately check because it has many many great songs in it.
Here’s a sample to groove to:
Also, you can download all the Racional albums from Música pra quê?, an admirably random music blog from which I jacked the above photo. I strongly recommend this. I’ve been bumping Vol 1 all day. Haven’t even been able to get through to Vols 2 & 3….
- Bad Times: What’s Happening!!
Since arriving in Beijing, I’ve found myself in a lot of discussions about the international financial crisis. For China, the timing couldn’t be worse – this mess lands at their feet just as they were beginning their victory lap following the triumphant Beijing Olympics. People are being laid off , there are reports of riots, and faith in the already shaky as hell Chinese stock market is disappearing. There’s a Murphy’s Law sort of sensibility that says it’s just the PRC’s luck that just as it prepared to up its speed, the system that’s its spent the past thirty years figuring out is breaking down. I, as an American, am usually asked to provide some sort of insider knowledge on the US’s role in triggering this avalanche, but even after having spent most of the last two months in the US obsessively monitoring the news (mostly for the election, but some financial stuff sneaked in there as well), I still can’t provide anything resembling a coherent or useful response.
It’s my fault, obviously, but I also think the difficulty stems from the poor quality of coverage. Generally, in the US at least, you get two forms – hyper-technical jargon from trade sources like CNBC or sappy human interest stories from CNN and most of the major new publications. To try to get a handle on things I spent a few hours today looking for different sorts of coverage. I found some interesting, helpful things formatted in ways that I find it easier to rock with. So here’s a little inventory (accounting by Arthur Anderson LLP):
1. A Visual Guide to the Financial Crisis
I’ve spent enough time around Dutch architects to know that their is no single element of the human tragedy that can not be represented a multi-colored diagram. For me, this little gem crafted by the online money management company Mint is the first case I’ve found of a player in the financial industry communicating itself to the public without talking up themselves or talking down to us. [click to enlarge]
I can imagine that some would accuse this sort of diagram of putting a friendly face on behavior that was reckless, destructive, and above all STOOPID. So I also think it’s useful to take a look at exactly how full of shit the designers of the financial and real estates bubbles were (probably still are). Here’s a couple tragic-comic pieces of evidence for the prosecution.
2. The End by Michael Lewis
Michael Lewis is a former bonds trader turned author who’s spent a lot of the past 20 years chronicling the excesses of America’s bubble-based economy in books like Liar’s Poker and The New New Thing. In this piece for portfolio.com he writes that the crotch-grabbing Wall Street culture that he hoped to expose in the 80s is finally dead, just 20 years later than he expected.
Six months after Liar’s Poker was published, I was knee-deep in letters from students at Ohio State who wanted to know if I had any other secrets to share about Wall Street. They’d read my book as a how-to manual.
In the two decades since then, I had been waiting for the end of Wall Street. The outrageous bonuses, the slender returns to shareholders, the never-ending scandals, the bursting of the internet bubble, the crisis following the collapse of Long-Term Capital Management: Over and over again, the big Wall Street investment banks would be, in some narrow way, discredited. Yet they just kept on growing, along with the sums of money that they doled out to 26-year-olds to perform tasks of no obvious social utility. The rebellion by American youth against the money culture never happened. Why bother to overturn your parents’ world when you can buy it, slice it up into tranches, and sell off the pieces?
At some point, I gave up waiting for the end. There was no scandal or reversal, I assumed, that could sink the system.
Very long, but very good.
If you’re looking to put a human face to the greedy jocks he describes in the piece check out these clips of Peter Schiff, the president of Europ Pacific Capital, speaking what we now know are undeniable truths about the US economy and being openly mocked by a bunch of bridge&tunnel meat heads who, one would hope, are currently in fear for their lives due to the enormous debts they owe to their coke dealers.
If you don’t have the time/interest to read a long article, check out this very on point radio program created by my favorite radio show This American Life. It covers many of the essential features of the crisis with the intelligent, gentle firmness that defines that program. Here’s a little breakdown.
A special program about the housing crisis produced in a special collaboration with NPR News. We explain it all to you. What does the housing crisis have to do with the turmoil on Wall Street? Why did banks make half-million dollar loans to people without jobs or income? And why is everyone talking so much about the 1930s? It all comes back to the Giant Pool of Money.
DL the transcript here.
- ’98 Tramps cypher circa ’08
Semtex, my favorite DJ on 1Xtra, just posted a video of this wonderful impromptu performance featuring De La Soul, Will.I.Am, Mos Def, and Nas. They were all together in London at a party thrown by Kanye West. Winter’s coming and that’s a nostalgic season for me. I guess this clip reminds me of fun times of a bygone era – specifically Tramps, if any of the NY heads remember that. Probably not as entertaining if you don’t love these artists, but I enjoyed the hell out of this clip and felt I had to pass it on…
Observation 1: I have a picture of myself at a St. Patrick’s Day parade in 1986 sporting the exact same sweater that Nas is wearing.
Observation 2: I miss the Mos Def seen on this clip – the Mos Def of the late 20th century, before he launched his campaign of making bad albums and worse movies.
Observation 3: I could have done with some more De La.
Observation 4: My heart goes out to the DJ. Your vibe killing, record skipping flake out I know only too well. I am cringing with you, not at you.
Observation 5: Who is Damon Albarn?
(Just kidding… That one was just to piss off English people.)
via Very Friend nahright
- Miriam Makeba 1932-2008
[Photo by the great William Coupon]
As you probably already know the legendary South African singer Miriam Makeba passed away this week. I am an enormous fan, and it’s times like this that I wish I had more time to really work on this blog, because there are many things I’d like to say about Ms Makeba and what her music has added to my life. But for now at least I’ll have to keep it brief and unoriginal. For some background, here’s a selection from the New York Times obituary:
Widely known as “Mama Africa,” Ms. Makeba was a prominent exiled opponent of apartheid since the South African authorities revoked her passport in 1960 and refused to allow her to return after she traveled abroad. She was prevented from attending her mother’s funeral after touring in the United States…
As a singer, Ms. Makeba merged the ancient and the modern, tradition and individualism. Her 1960s hits “Qongqothwane,” known in English as “The Click Song,” and the dance song “Pata Pata,” which would be remade by many other performers in the next decades, used the tongue-clicking sound that is part of the Xhosa language her family spoke. Traditional African ululation was also one of her many vocal techniques.
But Ms. Makeba was also familiar with jazz and international pop and folk songs, and while South African songs would always be the core of her repertory, she built an ever-expanding repertory in many languages. Her voice was supremely flexible, and she could sound like a young girl or a craggy grandmother within the same song.
With tenderness, righteousness and playfulness, Ms. Makeba sang love songs, advice songs, spiritual songs, anti-apartheid songs and calls for unity. In bringing African music to other continents, she was a pioneer of what would be called world music, reworking her own heritage for listeners who might never hear it otherwise while creating fusions of her own.
Yet for all her internationalist hybrids, and through three decades as an exile, her music always made it clear that South Africa was her home.
As an exile Ms. Makeba lived variously in the United States, France, Guinea and Belgium. South Africa’s state broadcasters banned her music after she spoke out against apartheid at the United Nations.
“I never understood why I couldn’t come home,” Ms. Makeba said, as quoted by The Associated Press, during an emotional homecoming in Johannesburg in 1990 as the apartheid system began to crumble. “I never committed any crime.”
Here’s the earliest and latest clip I could find on youtube. This one is taken from Lionel Rogosin’s film Come Back, Africa:
This is from her performance on November 5, five days before her death:
Wouldn’t be right without some songs…
The first is Miriam’s first international hit and still probably her best known. Covered and sampled like crazy. This is the original…
Pata Pata (OG Version)
Next is a wicked live version of maybe my favorite MM song…
Last here’s a more recent song made together with her countryman and husband Hugh Masekela. This one has a lot of sentimental value to me and I hope the person with whom I shared this song sees this post…
But this is a weak selection really. If someone puts up a mix somewhere please let me know and I’ll include it.
UPDATE: Check this amazing interview conducted by Roger Steffens in 1988 to coincide with the release of Sangoma. (Thanks to Robin for hook up. XX)
Rest In Peace MM
- Habitus 04: N.O.L.A.
A few months ago I mentioned a trip I made with my friend Josh to the great city of New Orleans. He was putting the finishing touches on the fourth issue of his magazine Habitus and I was tagging along. (Wrote a post about, want to hear it, here it go…)
The issue is out now and it’s very good, probably my second favorite so far. (Issue 02: Sarajevo is still holding down #1) Here’s a little blurb on the content…
Our edition features some of the leading writers and thinkers from the city and beyond: including Rodger Kamenetz, Andrei Codrescu, Nancy Lemann, and others. In addition to our usual array of terrific fiction and poetry, we have a meditation on disaster and memory from Ari Kelman, a celebrated environmental historian, a photo essay documenting the city’s unique and exuberant street culture from photographer L.J. Goldstein; an extraordinary memoir of the intersection of African-American and Jewish roots in one New Orleans family from Ronne Hartfield; interviews with musician-historian Ned Sublette and the Brazilian urban-planning innovator Jamie Lerner; and many more exciting features.
Regardless of the fact that’s its my friend’s project, Habitus really is a unique and constantly edutaining publication. Order a copy yesterday or better yet subscribe…
To celebrate the issue I want to post up a conversation that I sat in on while I was down in NO. It was between Josh and Ronald Lewis, an advocate and spokesperson for the city’s Lower Ninth Ward and the founder of The House of Dance and Feathers , a museum that honors the cultural traditions of the Mardi Gras Indians and Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs of New Orleans. The conversation provides as much background as you’ll need, so I’m just gonna get to it. VERY good read for anyone interested in New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina, parade culture, or hearing a southern black man describe the horrors of eating Gefilte fish…
Joshua Harry Ellison: How did this place get started?
Ronald Lewis: Well, you know, I started this before Katrina. I had a little building called The House of Dance and Feathers…
RL: Yeah. But it was a smaller building that faced the street. That picture in front of you there, that’s how the interior of the original building looked. And Katrina took all of that. And I remember, right after the storm, me and LJ [Goldstein] made contact with each other, and he came out with his little club – the 69 Social and Pleasure Club, Krewe du Jieux, and everybody – and got me some help to clean out my house and get my life back started.
Then I spoke at a conference called Reinhabiting NOLA at Loyola University, with Rachel [Breunlin]‘s husband Dan Etheridge and Dr Helen Regis. I spoke and told them that I needed help to rebuild to show that this could happen after all of this devastation. And the help came, and out of that came this: the new House of Dance & Feathers – a living story out of all this pain and suffering and misery.
- YES WE DID: The Obama Victory Ecstatic House Mix
Since the election, I’ve avoided talking much about my reaction. Being abroad, I’ve sort of missed out on the communal catharsis that my ride-or-die Obama supporting friends back home have enjoyed. I wasn’t sure what to do about that, then last night my friend Jeremy suggested that I make a mix to express the joy of the moment. So I went ahead and did that and contrary to my initial plan, it ended up being nothing but house. Uplifting, joyful, soul cleansing house. So this is how I feel. As they say, a mix is worth a thousands words.
Expensive Jewelry – The Obama Victory Ecstatic House Mix
right-click + save link as (mac) / save target as (windows)
Or DL it here.
How sweet it is…
UPDATE: As I mentioned before, I’m in China these days and I can report that the citizens of Beijing give exactly 0% of a fuck about Obama’s victory. Things are very different in America of course. Based on the conversations I’ve had with my friends there, the mood is jubilant. If you’re looking for a visual, this seems about right…
Well November 4 is finally here. I’ve sent in my absentee ballot, hassled my unregistered friends, written a few respectful, pleading emails to my undecided relatives, I even attempted to bribe my on-the-fence Grandma with a free lunch at Pizzeria Uno. All there is left to do now is wait.
This is by far the most important election in my lifetime. The stakes have never been higher or the choice clearer. I’ll be watching the results from Beijing, where I’ll be working for the next couple months. In some ways I’d rather be back in the USofA tightly snuggled into a pro-Obama pocket somewhere, surrounded by kindred citizens in whose company I can celebrate/mourn tomorrow. But I spent most of this election cycle abroad, monitoring obsessively online so I guess it’s appropriate that I end it that way.
I’m not a religious man, but I may even pray tonight. In addition, I may have a nervous breakdown. Such are the wages of hope. But before I tune in and drop out, I want to post up one final artifact from the election. My friend Josh put me on to this and I actually consider it a powerful argument in defense of America’s much maligned democratic process. It’s a clip of students from Ron Clark Academy in ATL performing (with gusto) their song ‘You can vote however you like’ at a UN event. This was bit of a sensation in the US last week and I think it speaks volumes to the pride, energy, and (corny as it sounds) hope that the Obama campaign has inspired within a country that’s been running on empty. It also indisputably supports my theory (first arrived at on the dance floor at the opening of ‘Rio Cruzeiro’ last week) that human beings grow progressively less interesting as they age.
In case you’re wondering, the song is an interpolation of this song, which is ubiquitous in America at the moment. Enthusiasm trumps clarity at a few points there, but it’s worth reading the lyrics. Check em out after the jump…
- Studs Terkel: Born to live
This weekend Studs Terkel, a giant of American literature and a personal hero of mine, passed away at the ripe old age of 96. Over the course of his 6-decade career Studs played a lot of roles – from script writer to actor to host (radio then TV then radio again), but these titles don’t even provide elementary sense of the man. To quote from the Guardian’s obituary “to register him as “writer and broadcaster” would be like calling Louis Armstrong a “trumpeter” or the Empire State Building an “office block”. For many (including me), Studs Terkel is best described by the title given him by the writer Calvin Trillin – “America’s preeminent listener”.
Studs was an oral historian who over five decades interviewed more than 9000 people from all stations of life about life. He didn’t achieve literary fame until well into his fifties, when he released his first masterpiece Division Street, a transcript of 70 conversations he had with citizens from his adopted hometown of Chicago. Although over his career Studs interviewed many famous people – from Bertrand Russel to Bob Dylan to Marget Mead to Arnold Schwarzenegger – he spent most of his time in discussion with the Z-List, providing a venue for the voiceless and insisting on the importance of every person’s story.
And so, over the years, a 10-year-old immigrant girl found the courage to tell him “I may not live to grow up; my life was not promised to me.” Another interviewee described being black in America as “like wearing ill-fitting shoes”. A US serviceman, speaking of Hiroshima, recalled: “We were sitting on the pier, sharpening our bayonets, when Harry dropped that beautiful bomb. The greatest thing that ever happened. Anybody sitting at the pier at that time would have agreed.”
My favorite Turkel book is Working (I’m not alone in that feeling, he won a Pulitzer Prize for it). It’s full title ‘People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do’ sums up the basic premise. The book brings together all sorts of people – from Lovin’ Al the parking valet, to Dolores the waitress, to Babe Secoli the supermarket checker – and bonds them in a shared discussion of labor with its myriad irritants and salves. It was published in 1974, at the heart of what Tom Wolfe described as “the Me decade” and in that era of psychoanalysis and self-finding Studs work heroically denied the zeitgeist by insisting that the most important question to ask is not ‘Who am I?’ but ‘Who are you?’.
He was an interviewer of enormous curiosity and subtlety and an understanding (even loving) editor. In an age in which many journalists smother their subjects’ voices with their own simplifying personal commentary, the generosity and discretion shown by Terkel seem like more than virtues, they’re almost super powers. Particularly as we head toward ‘the worst economic crisis since the Depression’ I can’t help but feel the world is much, much poorer without him, but immensely richer for the body of work that he leaves behind.
One of the highlights of Studs radio career was ‘Born to Live’, a program of interviews, spoken word and musical responses to the nuclear age. Listen to it here
Here’s also a lot of good material at the site of WFMT, Studs radio station for over 40 years.
Not to mention at his site, studsterkel.org
Thank you ST.