Sunday, June 19, 2016

Happy Father's Day (May You Stay Forever Young)


Written as a lullaby for his eldest son Jesse, born in 1966, Dylan's song relates a father's hopes that his child will remain strong and happy. It opens with the lines, "May God bless and keep you always / May your wishes all come true", echoing the Old Testament's Book of Numbers, which has lines that begin: "May the Lord bless you and guard you / May the Lord make His face shed light upon you." Not wishing to sound "too sentimental", Dylan included two versions of the song on the Planet Waves album, one a lullaby and the other more rock oriented.

In notes on "Forever Young" written for the 2007 album Dylan, Bill Flanagan writes that Dylan and the Band "got together and quickly knocked off an album, Planet Waves, that featured two versions of a blessing from a parent to a child. In the years he was away from stage Dylan had become a father. He had that in common with a good chunk of the audience. The song reflected it. Memorably recited on American TV by Howard Cosell when Muhammad Ali won the heavyweight crown for the third time."

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Alphabetical Assassins of Hip-Hop

"Alphabet Aerobics"
Producer: Cut Chemist
A2G (1999)

"Alphabet Soup"
Masta Ace
Producer: Domingo
Disposable Arts (2001)

"Alphabetical Slaughter"
Producer: DJ Kay Slay
Streetsweeper, Vol. 2: The Pain from the Game Mixtape (2004)

"Alphabet Assassin"
Lowkey & Faith SFX
Producer: Nutty P
Dear Listener (2008)

"Alphabetical Slaughter Part II / Z to A"
Producer: StreetRunner, DJ Kay Slay
The Nacirema Dream (2013)

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Tokyo Police Club

The TOKYO POLICE CLUB with special guests WE WERE PROMISED JETPACKS performance originally scheduled for June 7, 2016, at the Gothic Theatre has been moved to the Bluebird Theater.

Nothing gold can stay, but radness is forever.

So say Tokyo Police Club, who are set to release their first batch of new music since the enterprising and vaulting 2014 LP Forcefield. Now ten years on from their 2006 debut EP, the Toronto four-piece are looking back to the energy and spirit of that formative era while keeping an eye on the future. And with the two-part and self-released Melon Collie and the Infinite Radness EP's being let loose on both ends of 2016, lead singer/bass player and principal songwriter Dave Monks, drummer Greg Alsop, keyboardist/guitarist Graham Wright, and guitarist Josh Hook have harnessed that primal and instinctual joy to make Tokyo Police Club's tightest, brightest, and certainly raddest batch of songs to date.

When you start a band as a group of teenage best friends in your small Canadian hometown, it's hard to imagine that a decade later you will not only still be together and making music but also touring the world, playing shows to legions of fans, and putting out a steady stream of acclaimed albums. As the years have worn on, Tokyo Police Club continue to defy the odds, having pushed themselves and their art to the limit. Having completed their grandest statement in the form of their fourth and most time-intensive album to date, the boys took a little time away from each other. Monks moved to New York City and put out a solo record, while Alsop returned west to Los Angeles, Wright bunkered down in Toronto to work on a film, and Hook settled in rural Ontario on a patch of land. Enjoying their time apart to recover, experiment, explore, and evolve as people and not just as a band, the foursome reunited for the lengthy Forcefield tour, and during a brief break in the cycle at the end of 2014 they took what Monks refers to as a "New York vacation" together to record two new songs he had written earlier in the year.

"We knew we didn't want to work like we did on Forcefield, which was two-and-a-half years solidly writing and rehearsing while holed up in a studio in Toronto," says Alsop. "And we all live in different places now, so that week in New York was our first attempt at experimenting with what happens if we all fly in to be in the same place and decide to work on music together." Says Monks, it was "more just capturing the moment and being ourselves. It was this spontaneous feeling of, 'These songs are rad, let's put them out.'"

That pair of songs, "Ocean" and "Please Don't Let Me Down," recaptured the urgency and attitude of their earliest material, all the way back to the A Lesson In Crime EP and 2008's full-length debut Elephant Shell. It inspired the band to find more downtime breaks during which to reconvene and record in brief bursts of creativity and cohesion, and they were super-charged by the efforts. "There was something about the energy when we knew we only had two or three days together at most," says Alsop, "and we had to get a couple songs done each time, just making the most of it, and trusting our gut and each other. What we were creating was exciting us in the moment."

During one such break in the winter, the band recorded "PCH" with their old engineer Jon Drew, one of their earliest collaborators, in Canada. The song had been written by Monks months earlier in Los Angeles. "I was at this studio that ran on solar power in the middle of a canyon in Malibu," says Monks. "There was no one around, and I was singing over a drum beat and looking out at this canyon and the water, and these really big melodies came out. And that's the feeling of 'PCH,' like you're singing it into a mountain range. It's got an LA vibe. It was so funny to be recording that song later on in the winter with Jon." They would eventually work on sessions with two more former crew members, Rob Schnapf and Doug Boehm, and the existing rapport made the band feel even more at home. "It was great going back to trusted sources who knew who we were and how we work," says Alsop.

That shorthand language and inherent trust only amplified the static energy and the frequency of creative electricity sought by all bands when recording music. But perhaps most of all, it was simply the reality and pace of adult life that most informed and inspired these Tokyo sessions, in a world where their best friends and bandmates weren't necessarily down the hall nor in the bunk next door

"We're sort of in a new spot and we're redefining how we work creatively and as a band," says Monks. "And with this EP we're exploring that, and what it's like to be different places and to work together as adults and with a time limit, and how that makes things more exciting, and lighter, or more stressful. It brought a new energy and there was a creative time limit to it; we're more firing it off and trying to capture lightning in a bottle. The band has stayed so flexible and elastic that it keeps going; it's evolved. But if people hear 'Not My Girl' and feel like they were meeting an old friend again-like it was taking them back a decade-that would make me happy."

If Tokyo Police Club's past is represented here, then it must be said that their present and future selves are as well. In these songs is the familiar, upbeat charm and wry, earnest likeability that endeared them to fans a decade ago, but with a tighter sense of rhythm, changes, and tempo, as well as an updated subject matter. The bookends of "Not My Girl" and "Please Don't Let Me Down" usher the feverish TPC sound in and out, leaving the listener breathless and, naturally, wanting more. Ever present is the band's good-natured sense of humor, perhaps nowhere more clearly than in the EP's title itself. But it's more than just a pun or an overt nod to a formative album; it's a reminder that Tokyo Police Club's moment-their vitality, their radness-extends far beyond the now.

So dawn goes down to day; long live the radness.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Muhammad Ali (1942-2016)

"Spirituality is recognizing the divine light that is within us all.
It doesn't belong to any particular religion; it belongs to everyone."
The 74-year-old boxer and civil rights champion died Friday from respiratory complications after a three-decade battle with Parkinson's disease.

After he missed 3 1/2 years of his prime, his sentence for opposing the Vietnam War and refusing to sign up for battle, Ali returned to the ring and jump-started a golden age for boxing. By this point, his reputation and persona went full-blown international, and the depth his popularity was demonstrated when he and George Foreman fought in Zaire in 1974. The heavyweight championship was a first for Africa, and the developing country and continent were abuzz. The attendance was 60,000, a staggering number considering it was held at 4 a.m. local time to appease American TV.

Ali was a uniter, a man of peace. And he was also a man of the people. He could walk the streets of South Central LA and the shops in Beverley Hills the same day. He shook hands with poor Latinos and rubbed shoulders with the well-heeled from Wall Street. He embraced the media and never had a PR person standing by like a sentry and shouting, "last question." He was the first to be surrounded by an entourage but never used it to shield him from the public. The superstar athletes today either cannot match that or will not, and their fame is only a fraction of Ali's. There are a billion stories circulating today about Ali because he met a billion people. The common man could touch him.

Daily Beast:
After boxing legend, cultural icon, and civil-rights activist Muhammad Ali passed away late Friday evening at the age of 74, the rest of the boxing world collectively mourned. In a statement, George Foreman, Ali's opponent in the famed "Rumble in the Jungle" match, described the late boxer as "one of the greatest human beings I have ever met." He said: "No doubt he was one of the best people to have lived in this day and age. To put him as a boxer is an injustice." Alongside a picture of his younger self seated with Ali, Mike Tyson tweeted: "God came for his champion. So long great one." Oscar de la Hoya, a fellow ex-world champion, remembered Ali as "a legend who transcended sport and was a true champion for all." "He stood for something that he really believed in," five-time champion Evander Holyfield said. Famed fight promoter Don King lamented, "It's a sad day for life, man." Manny Pacquiao tweeted a dramatic photo of Ali, with the caption: "We lost a giant today. You will always be [greatest of all-time]." Frank Bruno called Ali a "mentor, friend and earthly god of humanity", while Lennox Lewis said: "A giant among men, Ali displayed a greatness in talent, courage & conviction, that most of us will EVER be able to truly comprehend." Floyd Mayweather Jr. told Fox News there will never be another Muhammad Ali: "The black community all around the world, black people all around the world, needed him. He was the voice for us. He's the voice for me to be where I'm at today."

NBC News:
The New York Times described Ali as a "Titan of Boxing and the 20th Century."

President Barack Obama held the champion prizefighter up as a man of integrity and said in his private study he keeps a pair of Ali's gloves on display just under an iconic photograph of when he beat Sonny Liston in 1965.

"Muhammad Ali was The Greatest. Period," Obama said in a statement Saturday. "If you just asked him, he'd tell you. He'd tell you he was the double greatest; that he'd 'handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder into jail.' But what made The Champ the greatest — what truly separated him from everyone else — is that everyone else would tell you pretty much the same thing," the president added.

A photo posted by Questlove Gomez (@questlove) on

A photo posted by Robert Griffin III (@rgiii) on

A photo posted by signalnoise (@signalnoise) on

More information:
» Newsweek: "Key Fights in Muhammad Ali's Legendary Career"
» NPR: "Muhammad Ali, The Boxing Poet Who Inspired Liquid Prose"
» Chicago Tribune: "Muhammad Ali's exile years in Chicago: 'Learning about life'"
» Washington Post: "President Obama remembers Muhammad Ali as a man who ‘shook up the world’"
» Slate: "The Time Muhammad Ali Stopped a Man From Leaping to His Death"
» "Remembering Cleveland's Muhammad Ali Summit, 45 years later"

John Oliver Started a Debt Collection Company to Relieve 9,000 People's Old Medical Debt

"Oliver and the Last Week Tonight team bought $14,922,261.76 worth of unpaid medical bills for $60,000 or less than half-a-cent on the dollar. He gave the portfolio of 9,000 debtors' personal information to RIP Medical Debt, a nonprofit that forgives medical debt with no tax consequences for the debtor... Oliver called the giveaway the 'largest one-time giveaway in television history.'"

Sunday's episode of Last Week Tonight With John Oliver featured a segment exploring the unparalleled scuzziness of the debt-collection industry, and overall it was pretty excellent. Oliver lays out the way that barely regulated agencies buy and sell old consumer debts in bulk and use all manner of (often illegal) intimidation tactics to scare people into paying up. There's lots of nuanced policy talk (of course). There's a surreal moment in which a collector threatens to eat somebody's dog. Aside from Jake Halpern's book Bad Paperpaper is the industry term for old debt—it's the best treatment of the subject I've seen.*

I need to quibble, however, with the segment's grand finale. At the end of the report, Oliver reveals that he and his staff went ahead and started their own debt-collection agency, just to demonstrate how trivially easy it is to get into the business with zero qualifications or oversight. “We called it Central Asset Recovery Professionals, or CARP, after the bottom-feeding fish,” the host quips. Within no time, CARP was able to purchase $15 million of unpaid medical bills for mere pennies on the dollar.

“I could legally have CARP take possession of that list and have CARP start calling people and turning their lives upside down,” Oliver explains. But, kind and decent soul that he is, the host announces that he's forgiving the debts as part of the "largest one-time giveaway in television history"—purportedly beating out Oprah's $7 million “you get a car!” extravaganza in 2004.

Here's the thing. Oliver is not actually forgiving $15 million of debt. Realistically, the figure is a lot lower.

How come? Debts get less valuable every time someone tries to collect on them. Large, semirespectable agencies purchase paper directly from banks, phone companies, hospitals, and such for something below face value. Whatever they fail to collect on, they then sell to smaller shops for an even bigger discount. As the cycle continues and the paper gets passed down the food chain, its market price drops. Once you're talking about debts selling for a penny or less on the dollar, it's paper that's probably proven almost impossible to collect on, either because the debtor has died, declared bankruptcy, or refused to pay for some other reason.

So while Oliver is certainly right that CARP could have started calling up the debtors on its list, chances are it could not have collected $15 million. The host says CARP paid around $60,000, or less than half-a-cent on the dollar, for its paper, which was “out-of-statute”—meaning the debts were so old that creditors technically couldn't even sue over them anymore. That suggests the seller thought the debts were worth no more than, well, $60,000.

Now, it's possible the seller was wrong. In general, distressed debt is hard to value, since you never really know how much of it can be collected. It's even hard to say that $60,000 is the “market value” for CARP's paper, since there's very little price transparency here; it's not like consumer paper sells on a public exchange where everybody can see what 10-year-old medical debts past their statutes of limitation are going for on a Tuesday at noon. Some buyers are also better equipped to collect on old paper than others. For instance, the bottom rung of the collections business is basically occupied by law firms that specialize in suing debtors, whether or not they really still owe the money. The lawyers bank on the fact that most people don't show up in court to defend themselves, and thus lose by default. (This works even with debts that are past their legal expiration date, because the defendant still has to show up and say the debt is out of statute. Which is why, if you are sued over an old debt, you absolutely should go to court and contest it.) But the chances that CARP's paper was worth a lot more than $60,000 are fairly slim.

With that all said, John Oliver likely just saved a whole lot of people some harassing phone calls and potential lawsuits. It was a wonderful gesture. He just didn't really one-up Oprah.

Whether Mr. Oliver is explaining the history of Donald J. Trump’s family by leading a campaign to change Mr. Trump’s surname to Drumpf or starting his own house of worship to better explain how tax-exempt megachurches work, “Last Week Tonight” is continuing to perfect the art of explaining by doing.

On the latest episode, Mr. Oliver said buying the debt was “absolutely terrifying, because it means if I wanted to, I could legally have CARP take possession of that list and have employees start calling people, turning their lives upside down over medical debt they no longer had to pay.”

“There would be absolutely nothing wrong with that except for the fact that absolutely everything is wrong with that,” he said.

"It seems to me the least we can do for debt I cannot fucking believe we're allowed to own is to give it away," Oliver said before joking, "Fuck you, Oprah. I am the new queen of daytime talk!"

Saturday, June 4, 2016

"Idiocracy seems to be happening really rapidly"

Early in the 2016 primary race, comedy screenwriter Etan Cohen began to notice some similarities between the Republican candidate, mendacious former reality star Donald Trump, and Cohen’s 2006 movie Idiocracy, which features fictional wrestling champ-turned-president Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho (Terry Crews). Ever since, those similarities have only grown, leading to Cohen and Mike Judge, who wrote and also directed Idiocracy, now working on a series of anti-Trump ads with Crews reprising his role.

Cohen and Judge have always maintained that the movie had a kernel of truth to it, but, Cohen said, “We just thought it would take much, much longer to get to this point.” The film was meant as a satire of the obsession with celebrity and entertainment culture in America. “Obviously, when writing the movie, we knew that that was true about TV and movies and pop culture,” he said. “But it was a crazy joke to think that it could be extrapolated to politics. It seems to be happening really rapidly.”

In February, Cohen tweeted, “I never expected #idiocracy to become a documentary.” Soon, The Hill, the Huffington Post, Business Insider, Entertainment Weekly, and the Washington Times, to name a few, turned the tweet into a headline. There’s even a Facebook group called “Movement to Classify ‘Idiocracy’ as Documentary.”

“I didn’t think anyone would see it,” Cohen said of the tweet, which has since been retweeted more than 4,000 times. “That was just an interesting, eye-opening thing, like, wow, this is just tapping into something that a lot of people are feeling right now.”

After his tweet gained so much traction, Cohen called Judge and they decided to seize the moment and write campaign ads for Camacho satirizing Trump. They plan to shoot the ads after Fox clears the rights with Crews (“There’s only one Camacho,” Cohen said).

“The most dangerous contrast to Trump is that Camacho actually realizes he needs advice from other people, and knows that he’s not the smartest guy in the room,” Cohen continued, noting that he would “definitely” vote for Camacho over Trump. “Also, not a racist.”

Rolling Stone:
The electoral roadshow, that giant ball of corrupt self-importance, gets bigger and more grandiloquent every four years. This time around, there was so much press at the Manchester Radisson, you could have wiped out the entire cable-news industry by detonating a single Ryder truck full of fertilizer.

Like the actual circus, this is a roving business. Cash flows to campaigns from people and donors; campaigns buy ads; ads pay for journalists; journalists assess candidates. Somewhat unsurprisingly, the ever-growing press corps tends in most years to like – or at least deem "most serious" – the candidates who buy the most ads. Nine out of 10 times in America, the candidate who raises the most money wins. And those candidates then owe the most favors.

Meaning that for the pleasure of being able to watch insincere campaign coverage and see manipulative political ads on TV for free, we end up having to pay inflated Medicare drug prices, fund bank bailouts with our taxes, let billionaires pay 17 percent tax rates, and suffer a thousand other indignities. Trump is right: Because Jeb Bush can't afford to make his own commercials, he would go into the White House in the pocket of a drug manufacturer. It really is that stupid.

The triumvirate of big media, big donors and big political parties has until now successfully excluded every challenge to its authority. But like every aristocracy, it eventually got lazy and profligate, too sure it was loved by the people. It's now shocked that voters in depressed ex-factory towns won't keep pulling the lever for "conservative principles," or that union members bitten a dozen times over by a trade deal won't just keep voting Democratic on cue.

Trump isn't the first rich guy to run for office. But he is the first to realize the weakness in the system, which is that the watchdogs in the political media can't resist a car wreck. The more he insults the press, the more they cover him: He's pulling 33 times as much coverage on the major networks as his next-closest GOP competitor, and twice as much as Hillary.

Trump found the flaw in the American Death Star. It doesn't know how to turn the cameras off, even when it's filming its own demise.

The problem, of course, is that Trump is crazy. He's like every other corporate tyrant in that his solution to most things follows the logic of Stalin: no person, no problem. You're fired! Except as president he'd have other people-removing options, all of which he likes: torture, mass deportations, the banning of 23 percent of the Earth's population from entering the United States, etc.

More information:
» Rolling Stone: "Darwin, Dar-lose: The Genius of 'Idiocracy'"
» Loudwire: "Maynard Weighs in on Donald Trump: 'Idiocracy is where we are.'"
» New York Daily News: "Donald Trump, President of Idiocracy"
» TIME: "We Have Become an Idiocracy"

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Beck - "Wow"

Beck stated to Zane Lowe that he almost did not give "Wow" to his record label, because of his fears that it came together too quickly. However, his children talked him into it, and Capitol Records ultimately released it as a single. Hip hop artist Chance the Rapper was originally intended to make a guest appearance on the track: Beck told NME, "Four or five months ago we tried to get Chance on 'Wow.' I'm not sure what happened with that."