Side A: January 1st, 2010

Pop Potential

I woke up this morning with Karen O in my head.

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs “Maps” as perfect a pop song as you’ll ever hear. Its a clear example that sparse lyrics doesn’t mean dada and 00’s pop doesn’t automatically equal Hip-Hop or Country.  That’s increasingly hard to believe with the latest word from the radio industry:

“Based on data from Nielsen BDSradio, which monitors radio stations throughout the United States, the most-played song on any station from Jan. 1, 2000, to Dec. 17, 2009, was Tim McGraw’s “Something Like That,” released in 1999. It received 487,343 spins, beating out the most popular song on Top 40 radio, Usher’s “Yeah!,” from 2004, by a fair margin. “Yeah!,” featuring Ludacris and Lil Jon, has been spun 416,267 times.” NY TIMES

Its also telling about the radio industry as taste-makers or an ability to see the forest for the trees. The industry’s inability to understand or react to its potential listeners has been its downfall and as its now well known foes internet radio and the ipod and ipod-ish machines may combine for the deathblow that the cassette, compact disc, and vinyl weren’t able to muster.  Unless the industry recreate itsself and prove that “they don’t love you like I do….”

Promises, promises

By mid day, I found myself consumed by Radiohead’s 90’s pop hit High & Dry:’

The song is widely regarded as Radiohead’s most accessible pop hit, and was a live favourite, though it has not been performed in a decade. In a 2007 interview with Pitchfork, Thom Yorke stated that he did not like the song, saying “It’s not bad… it’s very bad.“” – wikipedia

Sometimes an artist underestimates themselves. Radiohead’s Thom Yorke is just this type of artist. He’s spent most of his career giving self deprecating if not self loathing interviews, often taking jabs his bands earliest works on their debut album Pablo Honey and followup The Bends. Its hard to criticize an artist whose work has soared as his career as lept forward with a distinguished run of albums including albums that defined (OK Computer), expanded (Kid A), and smashed (Amnesiac) their genre. Could my love of this “very bad” Radiohead song mudstomp my music tastebuds?

What’s more plausible is that fans of whatever art over estimate the value of song, or image, film and our arts get caught in our overemoting. What’s even more plausible is that the answer is trapped in that ever crowded middle that no one claims and everyone has one toe in. Many artists find their gut punches from that middle, they articulate  simple sublime moments in popular form. High & Dry like Radiohead’s Creep, or much of pop rocks saccrine staples from The Beatles’ In My Life, Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, or Everything in the Eagles catalog and even easily hate-worthy yet unforgetable 80’s songs like Kansas’ Carry on my wayward son.

There’s something so absorbing,  so helpless, so aching about everything in this song. Every lyric aches apart of a dissolving ephemeral dust bowl as the guitar licks solider on whipping the moment away. In a moment of weakness, its enough to make a grown man cry.

Rejections: Buying the War

Bill Moyers Journal: Buying the War
Regular Airtime
Cast: Bill Moyers
US Release Date: 25 April 2007
By James A. Brown


“Journalists are supposed to be skeptical, right?”
– Warren Strohbel, Knight Ridder Reporter

“George Bush is the President. He makes the decisions and you know as just as one American, where ever you want me to line up just let me know.”
–  Dan Rather on The Late Show with David Letterman, Former Anchor CBS Evening News

When it Matters Most

After 9/11, when we as a nation, locked arms, stood in solidarity and didn’t ask questions, with all honesty, its not surprising. The American public has always depended our major news outlets to ask hard questions on our behalf, whether we like those questions or not. We know that these outlets have let us down before, but we always thought they’d come through for us, when it matters most, when our lives are at stake. Bill Moyers Journal: Buying the War chronicles overwhelming failure of our mainstream news media between 9/11 and the Iraq War.

For Moyers, this is a continuation of a theme that he’s followed for the better part of a year. His two most recent series, Faith & Reason and Moyers On America focused on the culture wars that grip our nation, its entertainment, and its politics in the years since 9/11. The two series methodically explained the effect of the losing network neutrality, how modern storytellers handle religion, and the dark truths about the Jack Abramoff/Tom Delay scandal. Buying the War follows that template.

Moyers zeros in on the near-immediate effect of post 9/11 hyper-patriotism on reporters, from a tearful Dan Rather admitting on Letterman, to MSNBC ordering Phil Donahue to have two pro-war supporters for every one dissenter. Moyers also interviewed multiple reporters, and media critics all concurring that there was a sea change that overwhelmed modern American journalism.

Walter Issacson, Former Chairman and CEO of CNN claimed that the news outlets fell victim to a “Patriotism Police”, a combination of corporate bigwigs, viewers, Bush Administration officials, and Fox News applying constantly applying pressure on the rest of the media. These forces would pounce if any story offered a dissenting view or could be misconstrued as unpatriotic. Dan Rather admitted to working in fear of a pro war “slime machine” and believes the fear that machine inspired, forced him to ease his questions in times of war.

But the most intriguing interview was that with CBS News’ very candid Bob Simon. Simon who worked for most of his career in the Middle East revealed a quiet murmur between Middle East based journalists. According to Simon, it was a commonly held belief that the Washington Press Core got the story wrong. Yet these journalists kept quiet. Simon also admitted caving to the unsaid consensus that dissenting views needed to be softened.  In response, Simon buried his facts about the lack of a connection between Iraq and Al Qaida in a 60 Minutes piece about, ironically enough, how the White House marketed the war in Iraq.

Moyers also praises “shoe leather” reporters, like Knight Ridder’s Jonathan Landay and Warren Strohbel, who got the story right. His reasoning for these Knight Ridder’s success was because Knight Ridder reporters aren’t part-celebrity and operate primarily outside the Washington DC bubble. Moyers uses Knight Ridder as a counterbalance to the proliferation of pundits, and reporters who were driven by top level access to Washington’s power class.

Landay’s research and sources inside and out of the government, led him to the correct conclusions about the Bush Administration’s erroneous claims. The work of Knight Ridder’s reporters was largely ignored, because their conclusions ran contradictory to larger more influential news outlets like the New York Times and The Washington Post.  But in the end, those few journalistic bright spots were just that, few and far between.

War is painstakingly well crafted, convincing, and well researched. Its only flaws are due to those within Washington Press Core who refused to be interviewed. And the only major player within the core, Meet the Press’ moderator Tim Russert, was used sparingly and provided little insight caving objectivity of the mainstream press during the lead up to the Iraq War. He like so many other reporters featured seemed powerless as if they helpless, falling victim to an awful accident.

In the wake of any trauma, we become a bundle of fried nerves. We deal with shock and grief and are at our most vulnerable. In these situations, when it matters most, we need to trust to those charged with asking hard questions even in hard times. Whether naive or not, every journalist and reader, viewer, or listener have quietly agreed to a sacred trust, that trust requires that they at least get the facts right. If that trust isn’t already shaken, Buying the War will do it.