Tuesday, December 23, 2008

David Byrne is no psycho killer

Who knew.

Who knew there were artists out there with not only opinions, but thoughts.

Sure, there are plenty of artists with opinions. Hell, their agent/manager/momma told them what opinion to have, and they blithely shared it with ET/Hollywood Access/TMZ or even Perez Hilton. But who really cares what LiLo thinks, or whether Jeremy Piven really has inflated levels of mercury in his system, or whether Kanye West really believes the pablum he raps.

There are a couple of real deals out there, and I'm pleasantly surprised to see that one old time anti-rock star has gotten involved (if only through one blog post) in the debate over media consolidation and the spate of cutbacks that have parsed America's newsrooms of some of the best and most informed reporters of this day. (not to say made this gig as a blogger that much more challenging, given the talent flowing in to this daily routine)

David Byrne hit the pop world right between the eyes over thirty years ago by donning LaCoste and playing at CBGB's on gigs with the Ramones, Blondie, Richard Hell, Television, and other seminal 70's bands. The Talking Heads went on to reasonable fame, and certainly great popularity, thanks in large measure to the taut writing of Byrne, the smart musicianship of Jerry Harrison, and the rythmic pairing of bassist Tina Weymouth and drummer Chris Frantz. The Heads were very cool, and Jonathan Demme captured them in my favorite rock movie of all time, 'Name of this band is......" back in the early 80's.

Now Byrne continues to perform, and also paint, and write, and collaborate with artists across the globe. He seems to be back with Brian Eno for his latest album, something I promise to pick up over the holidays. But beyond performing, Byrne seems to pay attention to the world we all live in, not the insulated world inhabited solely by celebrity.

So it's pretty remarkable to see his most recent post, from December 18th, http://journal.davidbyrne.com/ captures the problems the newspaper industry is facing, and contextualizes it by noting that the recording business went through the same crisis 25 years ago. He doesn't suggest it will all get better, but to have the person behind the lyric 'same as it ever was' from Life during Wartime noting with detail and interest that we need to have papers, and news, more than certain styles or tastes that we receive from art, is to me quite revealing, and refreshing.

Regrettably, what has happened in the music business, with the commodification of artists, and the drive for hits, and the dumping of artists and bands who don't create immediate profit, is precisely what we're seeing in the news business today. Oh, to be a swindler or cheat or liar on a grand scale these days, and know that the local paper no longer has an investigative reporter, or no longer has a reporter with tentacles spread throughout the community, let along a manager who recognizes that there's more to coverage than just an update on weather winter is cold, summer is hot, and other obvious points that have become the standards by which we gauge reporting today.

David Byrne, you still have it, and it's good to see you hold a hankering for news and information in our compressed twitter-centric media environment.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Dock Ellis

If you're a fan of baseball, then you know the name Dock Ellis.

Ellis was a star pitcher in the 1970's, mostly for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was on the the Pirates' 1971 championship team, as well as other good squads from that era, part of a decent rotation that along with a powerful bunch of hitters led the National League around a time that the Dodgers and then Reds were about to take off.

But what makes Ellis a real baseball legend, and the only person in a certain elite club, was his ability to succeed at the game while at times not taking it too seriously. Ellis addressed issues of race at a time that not many athletes did, and when it was more difficult for black athletes to be honest about their feelings about sport and society. That was the serious part.

Where he has earned an eternal star, and that hyper-elite club of one membership, was with the no-hitter he pitched against the San Diego Padres on June 12, 1970. Quite the spirit, Ellis decided to drop acid earlier that day, for some reason under the impression that the Pirates had a day off in San Diego. Not only was Ellis mistaken about work that day, but he was scheduled to be the starting pitcher in the first game of a doubleheader.

This was hardly a perfect game, as Ellis walked 8, and plunked one. But it was a no-hitter, the first and most likely only no hitter ever thrown by a pitcher on acid. One interview with Ellis that I recall reading had him remembering the catcher's glove looked huge to him that day, so he just aimed for the big thing staring right at him. I guess that helps.

Now we should find out whether Joe Namath dropped a tab before the Super Bowl III, or Gretzky before any Stanley Cup Final, or Jordan before Game 6 of the 1998 finals against Utah. That would be a story. And because it's not, it's what makes Ellis' contribution to the game that much more significant.

Monday, December 15, 2008

a very good reason why the public doesn't trust our officials

This could be a continuing series.

In just this decade, which you could also lede as 'in just this century alone', but that would be too grandiose.....in just this decade, there have been a number of major American insitutions that have taken huge hits on the credibility front.

While this list is by no means exhaustive, it shows the range and breadth of the fields hit by real issues that were either self-perpetuated, or for which the field did not have a response.

Starting with the infamous Enron scandal from 2000, there's the missing WMD in Iraq, Barry Bonds and his insistence that he did not take steroids, Marion Jones' steroid confession, as well as that of other track starts, Mel Gibson's racist rantings, and even the revelation last week that Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was attempting to cash in on his office and his authority to appoint a successor to the U.S. Senate seat recently vacated by President-elect Barack Obama.

But indulge me if you will, for I think we have something that might be a new winner, in need of a category all to itself.

Remember the $700 billion financial services industry bailout Congress authorized and the President signed way back in September of 2008. Of course you do. Not only your grandchildren, but their grandchildren will be paying off Chinese bonds for years to cover this debt. So this is dear to you, or at least it should be.

Well, it turns out that a central tenet of this legislation, the restriction on executive compensation (you know, bosses making $10 million a year, on top of corporate benefits and golden parachutes), is a toothless tiger.

According to this morning's Washington Post, the Treasury Department, after initially fighting any language that would restrict executive pay, came up with a supposed workable solution. Firms would be penalized for going over certain pay levels for executives only if those firms had received bailout money from selling thier troubled assets to the federal government in an auction.

So what does this mean, you ask. It means that if auctions were being used to sell troubled firms, and bail out their investors, then the government would have taken over, and restrictions would go into effect for executive pay. But the Treasury Department switched gears after the enactment of the bailout bill, and has instead opted not to use auctions, and has rendered the executive compensation language literally meaningless. No longer would their be automatic penalties for high pay, much in the way Major League baseball has a luxury tax. Now, as structured, firms can continue to do as they wish, paying senior executives whatever they can negotiate, without having to worry about the threat of their government partner questioning the pay scale.

With all the talk this past week about the pay scale of unionized American auto workers, it's remarkable that the billions that will go out the door as a result of this loophole uncovered by the Washington Post, a loophole that has not yet garnered the attention it deserves.

Where's the anger over this one?

And in case you're wondering, yes, this is another reason why there's less faith in our officials and our institutions than ever before.

You may now return to your previously scheduled diversion.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

a proud day to be an Illinois Governor

The old Mayor Richard Daley sure may have been the Boss of Chicago back in the day, but back then being a political boss meant you usually knew how, when and where to use patronage.

It seems as though Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich (D) has more than lost his way, must have misread some Machiavelli, or even Royko, and will soon have the official moniker Federal inmate R. Blagojevich, 65619.

There have been a rash of dumb things that big state Governors have done over the past few years. Former Connecticut Governor John Rowland seemed to start the trend for this century by selling out his office, redecorating his house both on the public dime and on a contractor, and also dipping in for trips to Las Vegas, among other places.

There's former New Jersey Governor Jim McGrevey, who didn't think that fucking his wife was enough for him, he also wanted, and had, often, his former driver and advisor along for ride. This story got much better when it was learned that his wife was not actually a woman ignored, but a woman invited, and active, in their occasional three ways. And on their honeymoon weekend, no less. Gotta love the Garden State.

And no one among us can forget former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, client #9, I believe, who found pleasure in $2000 call girls and the fast delivery that only Acela could provide. Hadn't this guy heard about wide screen television and the NBA All Access plan? Helluva lot less than 20 large.

Note to the Blagojevich camp: all of these men are now former Governors.

Of course there have been others, and I leave out former Governors from Rhode Island and Louisiana from this list. Hell, going to jail after a term as Governor is de rigour in those states after all. And of course Blagojevich's predecessor George Ryan went off to the slammer, but people know that, of course.

Yet Blagojevich has certainly raised the bar on corruption. Selling a United States Senate seat, a Senate seat vacated by an incoming President, a man who purports to be about message, and not urban politics, is truly priceless. He may well have shaken down one of the President-elect's closest friends, explaining her early withdrawal from consideration. And who knows who else he has dug into on this, over these past few weeks.

And there's still a great part to this story. Blagojevich does not have to resign his office, and reportedly has the authority to make an appointment for the vacant seat as long as he holds office. Only resignation, conviction, or impeachment would take away the authority, not indictment, under which Blagojevich now has been arrested.

How's that for starting at the bottom.

Perhaps the soone to be former Governor should get this over, drop the bidding process, and do something that could gain him some credibility, perhaps, in Illinois. He should just go ahead and nominate Sammy Sosa to the seat. That's about the only thing that might unite Chicago and Illinoians, and spare Blagojevich some skin. Imagine this scene at the next baseball steroids hearing!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

what to do when.....

What is the correct process for the following circumstances:

1) You're left bewildered and confused by a film purported to be among the best of the year by some of the best and brightest critics, but that you feel is a pompous POS? Film in question would be Synecdoche, New York.

2) You take in a surprising and original film based on a traditional story of love and hope and dreams, but can't find the right words of praise for a thoughtful review. This film is Slumdog Millionaire, and should garner Danny Boyle a best director nod.

3) You read a slam masquerading as an architectural review of a major opening, and see through the pretense and vitriol enough to note that the reporter really knows nothing of the field he covers, as though Clive Barnes had been sent to cover the New York Yankees or Chris Berman dispatched to review the New York Philharmonic. Is it worth bringing attention to his bosses at the Washington Post, or would it be possible that they realize there's a mistake with this posting, and this person, in this position, and that he more than just misses the forest through the trees in his pan of the Capitol Vistors Center? It's as though the name Frederick Law Olmstead would generate nothing more than a pause with this guy.