The horizon trembling, shapeless. We are all of us brothers.

On Popular Music Criticism: a Blog Review of Blogs

Posted: March 31st, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Art, blogosphere, Culture, Music | No Comments »
PSH as Bangs

This may not be the real Lester Bangs, but he is in my memory.

A week or so ago The Daily Beast published an article titled “Music Criticism Has Degenerated Into Lifestyle Reporting.” In it, musician and jazz critic Ted Gioia claims that contemporary music criticism is little more than celebrity gossip.

Gioia calls for more high-minded criticism that hearkens back to the music journalism of his youth:

When I was a child, Gunther Schuller’s byline appeared in Saturday Review, and Leonard Bernstein hosted music specials on CBS. In my teens, I could read smart, musically astute critics in many magazines and newspapers. I might disagree with the judgments of Harold Schoenberg, John Rockwell, Winthrop Sargeant, Robert Palmer, Leonard Feather, Martin Williams, Alfred Frankenstein, and others, but they knew their stuff.  Many of them were musicians themselves. Sargeant had served as a violinist with the New York Philharmonic. Frankenstein had played clarinet with the Chicago Symphony. Palmer gigged in bands before he started writing about them. Feather had recorded as a pianist, and although he would never put Oscar Peterson out of business, he knew his sharps and flats.

Then he blames Lester Bangs because “the language of lifestyle squeezed out musical assessment.”

Now I don’t imagine Gioia wishes that Billboard were written in such a way that would demand a degree in music theory to decipher, but he surely ventures into “Get off my lawn!” territory with his send up of music journalism. He is, however, gracious enough to admit that various blogs treat contemporary music with the care it deserves, but he chooses to focus his attention on the most popular periodicals.

I do believe that this lambasting of music writing is mostly unnecessary, but it did bring about a few posts from Owen Pallett–who has a new album coming out in May–that dissect pop tunes to determine why they are successful. The first examines Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” and the second takes on “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk.

For this music theory layman, the articles are just technical enough to be over my head but not so heady that I can’t get anything out of it. The problem, though, is that I don’t believe contemporary music fans want to know why they like the music they do. It’s seeing sausage made. Perhaps we’re simplistic, but contemporary music is for consumption and we’re not much interested in production–despite Beck’s best efforts.

If you dare, venture into the comments of those Slate articles from Pallett. Theory nerds get down and love to argue–especially if they get to drag down a relatively well known artist. (Of course, theory nerds aren’t alone in this. The internet is particularly great at bringing out the worst of any community) The danger, for Billboard and Rolling Stone, is that they live and die on the cool. While I disagree with this sentiment, the average fella doesn’t find music theory too hip. If the comment sections of most music reviews devolved into esoteric theory arguments, some magazine executive is unhappy.

They’d much rather leave the nerding out of their publications and in the realm of non-mainstream blogs.

These thoughts are all half-baked. I love thinking about music production and theory but I cannot imagine that most music fans share my affinity.

What about you? What do you prefer out of music journalism?


The Love is Wide

Posted: March 21st, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Culture, politics | Tags: , , | 1 Comment »

As you probably have heard, Fred Phelps–the notorious inflammatory preacher who once famously protested outside the funeral celebrating the life of Mr. Rogers–died on Wednesday night. During his life, Mr. Phelps said dreadful things. He claimed that the killing of American soldiers was appropriate punishment and picketed their funerals to let the world know that he believed the God I worship hates gay people. He stated that the attacks of 9/11 were appropriate punishment for the sinfulness of the United States. He believed that God duped Pres. Bush into starting the war in Iraq in order to be able to kill more Americans and punish us more fully.

I cannot fathom how a person can read the same Bible I have, read the story of Jesus with the Samaritan woman in John 4 and believe that God hates anyone.

I also cannot believe that God hates Fred Phelps anymore than he hates Ian Thomas.

God’s love is wide and it covers liars, false prophets, and gluttons alike.

With all the hubbub surrounding his death, with folks saying and writing that they’re happy he’s dead, I can’t help but remember this image:

Osama Is Loved

This shocking image was created by graphic artist Jim LePage for a post titled “Jesus Christ: Terrorist Killer?” Written shortly after the US military killed Osama Bin Laden, the image challenged me to consider the notion that grace covers absolutely everything.

 There is truth in the words that extends to Fred Phelps. I believe it is simply unacceptable to rejoice in the death of another human being if we call ourselves Christians. Not to go too Donne here, but as humans we’re on the same team. While the world may no longer experience the hate speech from Fred Phelps, his family will no longer experience the man they loved and that causes me pain.

Amid the tweets and fb posts gleefully announcing the death of Phelps, I was struck by this:

Be gentle. Love one another.


My MOOCmester

Posted: January 10th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Academy, Technology | 1 Comment »

mooc art

It feels appropriate that as I return to the classroom in my capacity as an instructor, I should also embark on a new educational endeavor as a student. I am setting the spring 2013 semester as my MOOCmester.

In case you’ve been hiding under a rock (or you simply don’t read the CHE as frequently as I), MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course and the concept has been largely talked to death over the past few months.

While I am wary of the next-big-thing in education, I think I’d better give it a shot, so I’m jumping in with both feet. (And going crazy with cliché.)

Over the next four months, I will attempt to complete four courses through Coursera and two through edX. If you care to join me, here’s the list of the courses  I will attempt and links where you can sign up too.

As you can probably tell, many of these courses overlap and some are more for fun than professional advancement. For me, all the repetition w/r/t computer programming is helpful and fun is fun. Additionally, I want to be able to compare the different services and see which better fit me as a student.

I plan to provide updates as the courses progress covering my progress in the courses, the structure of the different MOOCs, and thoughts on massive online education.

Wish me luck.

Image by Flickr user heloukee used under Creative Commons licensing. 


My Accent

Posted: October 30th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Culture | Tags: | 2 Comments »

Since moving back to the South I have worked to not give in to a southern accent. I rather enjoy my bland central Ohio accent and I plan to keep it. That being said, sometimes I feel left out when it comes to accents. I’ve never been able to affect accents not my own, but I find them fascinating. After a friend posted a vlog (incidentally my least favorite online portmanteau) cataloging her accent, I decided I should do the same.

The task is to pronounce a list of words and answer a few questions. Here’s the prompt:

Say the following words:
Aunt, route, wash, oil, theatre, iron, salmon, caramel, fire, water, sure, data, ruin, crayon, toilet, New Orleans, pecan, both, again, probably, spitting image, Alabama, lawyer, coupon, mayonnaise, syrup, pajamas, caught.

And answer the following questions:
What is it called when you throw toilet paper on a house?
What is the bug that curls into a ball when you touch it?
What is the bubbly carbonated drink called?
What do you call gym shoes?
What do you say to address a group of people?
What do you call the kind of spider that has an oval-shaped body and extremely long legs?
What do you call your grandparents?
What do you call the wheeled contraption in which you carry groceries at the supermarket?
What do you call it when rain falls while the sun is shining?
What is the thing you use to change the TV channel?

And here’s the video:

My Accent from Ian Thomas on Vimeo.

I’m sure that the lag is video/audio sync is the fault of my janky computer. Feel free to make fun of me in the comments.


Tiny Book Review: The Sugar Frosted Nutsack

Posted: August 8th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Literature | Tags: | No Comments »

Though I haven’t yet finished it, Mark Leyner’s The Sugar Frosted Nutsack is worth the effort of reading if for nothing but this academic book title:

The Jade(d) G(l)aze: Twelfth-Century Goryeo Celadon Pottery and Ceramics by Trevor Donovan—Abercrombie & Fitch model and 90210 star.