Archive for Aesthetics

  • Rob Spectre
  • 16
  • Nov
  • 09

Avatars appearing in popular rhythm games are inciting the outrage of music fans and artists alike. Taking the experience of feeling like playing in a blockbuster rock band to a new level, games like Band Hero and Guitar Hero 5 allow players to give themselves the appearance in-game of their favorite rock stars.  While the experiment was an almost universal success with Slash in Guitar Hero 3, the developers behind the breakthrough hits are discovering in iteration that few other rock stars are taking kindly to computerized visages of themselves appearing in their pantomime experiences.

Gwen Stefani and No Doubt have filed suit against Activision claiming the video game maker “transformed No Doubt band members into a virtual karaoke circus act.”  Courtney Love and the former members of Nirvana have threatened the same over an avatar of Kurt Cobain, saying “It’s hard to watch an image of Kurt pantomiming other artists’ music alongside cartoon characters.”  Players have filled YouTube with images of Johnny Cash singing The Village People’s “Y.M.C.A.” and Kurt Cobain giving a rousing rendition of Spice Girls’ “Wannabe.”

While that controversy is brought to a boil, rock and roll tragedy of a different sort starts to land on retail shelves.  Songwriting legend Bob Dylan has released his first Christmas record Christmas in the Heart to the simultaneous disgust of popular criticism and joy of big box cash registers.  The record’s royalties going to charity may be in the true spirit of Christmas, its content remains entirely in that of the 21st century’s commercial holiday.

This record is not an artistic reinterpretation of Christmas standards by the longtime master of American folk songwriting.  This thing is an abomination; a shambling derivative, pure-Nashville foray into pitch perfect cliche.  Only moments into the video for the polka single “Must Be Santa” and the horror starts to knot into the listener’s gut, each note tolling like a gravedigger’s bell to get to burying the reputation of the one man the music industry supposedly could never buy.

It leads the post-modern music consumer to wonder which is the most vile parody – rock and roll artists represented in pixels or those same rock and roll artists representing themselves?

How can we parse Courtney Love flips her often used middle finger at corporate America for exploiting her husband’s image while she releases a DVD of Cobain’s personal video project in 2006, an uncut DVD of his Unplugged appearance in 2007 and a live record of Nirvana’s performance at Reading Festival in 2009?  How can we reconcile Gwen Stefani’s artistic outrage over her likeness appearing during other people’s songs in Band Hero just a few years after she sang “Walk This Way” at a Super Bowl halftime show?  And how can we take seriously the music industry’s claim they are getting insufficient compensation for the popularity of music games when they just put out a Christmas record like Bob Dylan’s?

It seems the first industry in America to go entirely green is corporate rock and roll – they’ve been recycling everything for years.  Whether it Elvis Presley singing Slipknot or a band without Bradley calling themselves Sublime, they are all manifestations of the same modern model of the business of music: license exploitation.  Whether it is Guitar Hero 5 or Christmas in the Heart, all we are doing is buying the familiar brand names on shit warmed over.

If these artists can file suit over consumers getting to pretend they are them for a few minutes, maybe music lovers have a class action claim against a music industry pretending to be the same one it was a quarter century ago.

I wonder what kind of damages the 45 minutes of my life gone from listening to Bob Dylan’s Christmas record would fetch.

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  • Daniel Austin
  • 21
  • Sep
  • 09
This entry is part 27 of 40 in the series The (d)SP0T

Westfield Mall

Summer Beckons

SF Bay Bridge

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  • Daniel Austin
  • 06
  • Sep
  • 09
This entry is part 25 of 40 in the series The (d)SP0T

Rob and I waited 45 minutes for that train

Rockit Room Bartender

Waiting for the owl

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  • Rob Spectre
  • 01
  • Sep
  • 09

My ma, perplexed after another one of my signature strings of unwieldy language hewn with reflective voice, stopped a moment, disregarding whatever it was we were arguing about.  Her eyes flit back and forth, undoubtedly parsing through a public education in a shitneck town and impoverished upbringing.  Unable to connect the obscure vernacular with the childhood that produced it, she wrinkled her nose and delivered a mild  profanity.

Source: Joystiq

Source: Joystiq

“Where in the hell did you learn to talk like that?”

“Comic books and video games, mom. Mostly comic books.”

Now years later, that grammar schooling that came $1.25 a copy is worth big bucks, if the $4 billion price tag Disney paid for Marvel Entertainment is any indication.  The New York comic book company Hollywood transformed into an intellectual property heavyweight, Marvel was bankrupt only a decade ago with its value dwarfed by its Gotham competitor DC Comics.  DC had blockbuster film franchises with Superman and Batman.  Before Tobey Maguire became Peter Parker and Hugh Jackman made my haircut the object of universal derision, Marvel was in the shitter, printing superheroes that meant the world to dorks like me, but had a fair market value barely above the paper on which they were printed.

But thirteen years and a couple $100 million summer blockbusters later, a number of digits no one would ever imagine being attached to the value of a comic book maker now seems completely fair.  Four billion dollars?  Measuring the product I bought as a kid with my mother’s change on such a scope makes my mind reel.

But even more disconcerting that the price tag is the buyer that bit on it.  Disney has long been for girls more than boys, so Marvel scratches an obvious itch, but the potential for the disaster makes the little boy inside want to wee himself.  Disney is not an intellectual property creator; it is an intellectual property exploiter.  Still riding the craftsmanship of the company’s early genius, Disney is the straight-to-DVD, boxed goods, brand machine that grinds the memories of our youth into sacks of cash money.  They have long ago stopped telling compelling stories or creating original characters.  Heroes aren’t made at Disney so much as manufactured, built with the toy/ride/ice-skating-tour tie-ins standard.

Some have observed Disney purchased Pixar and only an increase in the quality of that studio’s output has been observed.  They posit Marvel would be the benefactor of that good beginning, building off the relationship model they built.  While it’s true the equilibrium Pixar seems to have reached with its bigass corporate daddy continues to maintain the production value it had pre-purchase, there is a big difference between the unparalleled 3D animation studio and Marvel: Pixar knew what it was doing.

Disney was buying subject matter expertise when it bought Pixar.  It had lost its own way in the 2D animation business some time before and was completely lost in the emerging standard of 3D.  Pixar knew how to make movies; Disney knew how to market them. It’s natural that Pixar got a more hands-off approach than most.

With Marvel, however, the same isn’t true. Hollywood came to them, not the other way around, and the occasions that it has gone it alone on the big screen have failed more often than they have succeeded. Lacking the spotless track record of Pixar (Daredevil?  Two failed Hulks? Wolverine: Origins?) and missing any technological edge, Marvel is not the sort of fire-and-forget sure-hit acquisition Pixar was.  Disney is really buying Marvel’s IP with the intent to exploit.  Spider-man on Ice?  Xavier’s School Musical starring The Jonas Brothers?  A new Junior Avengers title featuring a mass of mutant Mouseketeers?

Buckle the fuck up kids.  Disney just bought your childhood to sell it back to you, one shitty installment at a time.

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  • Rob Spectre
  • 29
  • Aug
  • 09

“Lollapalooza killed rock and roll!” the hipster cried, clutching her soy mocha in one hand and her ironic Betty Page sunglasses in the other.  Seemingly oblivious to her own role in its demise, her entreaty was an overture to the soap opera that would follow, detailing how Perry Ferrell unintentionally destroyed the work of Paul Westerberg by creating the festival show as a commercial juggernaut.

With its $4 bottles of water and $12 20 ounce beers, she argued, Lollapalooza turned rock and roll into a cinema megaplex offering an ever more absurd number of screens while attaching obscene concession stands on their hips. She said that the poor outdoors sound makes it impossible for the true music lover to appreciate the performance and the increasingly prohibitive expense conflicts fundamentally with the ideals of rock.  And most damningly, she said, it makes it impossible to see one’s favorite bands individually between July and September, as they have now been sucked into all the offshoots that sprung from Lollapalooza’s trailblazing.

The lumbering circuses that followed Ferrell’s brainchild including Lilith Fair, Family Values, Taste of Chaos, Warped, Ozzfest and the dozen regional festivals like The Bamboozle, Fun Fun Fun Fest, Coachella, SXSW, and this weekend’s contribution to the genre in San Francisco Outside Lands were abominations of commercialism, she argued.  The experience of a festival show was always inferior to seeing your favorite band headline a club show and the true aficionado should never accept anything less.

Though I’m not the first, I stand in wholehearted defense of the festival show.  Yes, the hotdogs are shitty and expensive and yes good beer is hard to come by.  The sound is always shitty no matter what festival it is and the pure experience of appreciating a live performance is undoubtedly diluted.  And, what she didn’t observe in her tirade, is that the performers never have the same compelling delivery at a festival that they do at their own shows.

But there are more than a few reasons to get up at the crack of noon to go to an Outside Lands over one’s favorite music hall.

1) Curation

Every promoter for these festivals finds a way to insert their personal taste into the lineup.  Obviously, they are wont to commit cardinal sin in the pursuit of profit, but they always manage to fit surprises that one would never find on one’s own.

I first heard Teddybears at Coachella.  I found The A.K.A.s at Warped.  I picked up my first Sage Francis record from the back of a car at a WBRU Birthday Bash.  All now near-daily spins on any playlist on any of my devices, I never would have made it out to their shows when they came through town.  The gold nuggets promoters sprinkle in their lineups are easily the best part of festival shows.

2) Collaboration

One of my favorite memories of Rage Against The Machine’s reunion was actually outside their performance when Tom Morello, Perry Ferrell and The Coup’s Boots Riley getting together for a stirring rendition of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Our Land.”  A few years later Riley and Morello would form Street Sweeper Social Club, a music project whose genesis those in attendance at Coachella got to witness with an American standard on acoustic guitar.

Festivals are the only spots we mere mortals get to see our favorite bands join one another in onstage for some spontaneous merrymaking.

3) Concentration

Only when having that many bands in one place can one efficiently find the trends that will define the next year’s releases.  Always filthy with industry employees and press, the trickle of news one gains at club shows is a river of valuable intel at a festival show.  Somebody at these things know when the next hot record is going to drop or when the next band is likely to break up.

For those of us who live for knowing what’s next, the festival is an irresistible font.

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