Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Good news, bad news: NBA season kicks off, Ron Artest launches rap career

Posted By on 10.31.06 at 07:37 PM

In honor of tonight’s Chicago Bulls season opener against the NBA's defending champs, the Miami Heat, I thought I’d give a listen to My World, the debut album by former Bull Ron Artest. (It came out today.) Artest now plays for the Sacramento Kings, and while I was initially bummed when the Bulls traded him for Jalen Rose back in 2002, it's been hard to identify with the guy given his erratic behavior -- most famously the moment in 2004 when he climbed into the stands during a Pacers-Pistons game, prompting a brawl.     

My World is a pretty ho-hum album, with production just as run of the mill as the Artest’s flow; a few hip-hop stars like Juvenile and Mike Jones have cameos, and they upstage Artest without breaking a sweat. But it’s tempting to spend hours dissecting “Haters," the lead track on the album (following an intro by Diddy) and an epic of  pathological self-loathing and self-delusion. The track focuses on the fallout of the brawl, interrupted by its chorus (though I'm being kind in calling it that): “You, you, you, and you, why you hating me? / I don’t know but a lot of people hating me.” If we’re to believe his synth-dappled jam, Artest is simply misunderstood, and folks too often obsess over the negative bits of his past without looking at what’s good about him. He equates smoking weed before games and drinking booze at the half as “rebel” behavior, and then he calls out Today’s Matt Lauer for being mean during an interview: “You look like a girl, don’t talk to me / We did the interview, you automatically hated me / Talked about the brawl, but didn’t ask about family.” At the end of the song, he compares himself to Jesus.     

I have no idea if Andres Nocioni or Luol Deng are good rappers, but I’m happy to know that I’ll probably never find out. I’d rather watch them play basketball.

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Federline has feelings

Posted By on 10.31.06 at 01:09 PM

Kevin Federline was by far the most popular costume at Halloween parties this weekend. Think about what that means: in 2006 Kevin Federline is actually more popular than Dracula. As a year-round fan of Dracula, I am disinclined to do anything to promote K-Fed, but then he went and dropped this surprisingly long combination autobiography-philosophical treatise in the New York Post, and I can't help myself. If you don't have the time to read it all, here are some of the choice quotes.

On finding his muse: "I started dancing a little bit when I was a teenager, when I was like 13. I quit when I was about 14. A lot of people, they were just like, 'Well.'"

On dancing for the opener on a Britney tour: "That was her tour -- opening up for my wife, in the future, that I had no idea about."

On the Britney and Kevin: Chaotic reality series: "[T]hat might have been a mistake. But then again, it might not have. I got a little piece of that."

On the media: "I honestly think the media is a give-and-take. It's not that I can say, 'Completely f - - k you.' I could just only say, 'Halfway f - - k you.'"

On his new album's message: "There's no real, like, message."

Long after we forget about Federline, I hope that everyone remembers that you can meet someone who you will be married to in the future and not even know it at the time, and I hope that the phrase "halfway fuck you" becomes an established swear form. Now, let's please get to the forgetting about Kevin Federline part.

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Not rhetorical questions

Posted By on 10.31.06 at 12:50 PM

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Why did a baby-boomer emeritus prof tell the Illinois Times that the reason students at the University of Illinois at Springfield don't protest the war much is lack of faculty leadership?

How could the Notebaert Nature Museum design a comfortable, spacious lecture hall without curtains -- so that no one can see slides or PowerPoint presentations on sunny days?  [This one's been answered by spokesperson Heidi Kise. Most of the events in the South Gallery are in the evening, she says; Saturday was the first daytime lecture usage, and they'll need to devise a fix for future daytime events.]

(After having belatedly viewed An Inconvenient Truth) How do you suppose George W. Bush would have spent the last six years if he had lost the closest presidential election in American history?

If low taxes go with more liberty, how is it that the slaveholding South had lower taxes than the free-labor North? (Historian Robin Einhorn has some ideas.)

What does Lynn Becker know that you don't, and why is he warning about "the effective end of landmark protection in the city of Chicago"?

If the Republicans are the party of ideas, why are they running more than 90 percent negative ads, most attacking opponents' character, rather than advocating privatizing Social Security and sending more troops to Iraq?


Why did the Tribune's otherwise admirable Thursday editorial, "If the bosses get away with this," fail to mention Richard M. Daley? Do the editors imagine that Cook County dauphin Todd Stroger was crowned against Daley's will?

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From slut-o-ween to educate-a-weenie

Posted By on 10.31.06 at 07:16 AM

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Twisty at I Blame the Patriarchy takes on the New York Times story (in its paid archive) about Slut-O-Ween, when women and grade-school girls alike can act out someone else's sexual fantasy. Vanessa at Feministing isn't pleased by the racial angle of some costumes, either.

Are these people are taking a silly holiday too seriously? Frequent commenter Mar Iguana at IBTP suggests one way of answering that question:

"I’ve twice been able to talk guys into dressing as a woman for Halloween. They both said it was one of the scariest nights they ever experienced and a real eye-opener. They were stunned by the number of males who felt entitled to feel them up, ogle, leer, say suggestive things, pinch and grab. Whiners. Welcome to our world, boys. . . .

"One of them was particularly amazed because he went as the bearded lady since he refused to shave his off. Didn’t seem to slow those boys down one bit. The other one was creeped out entirely because for weeks some guy kept coming into the tavern where the party had been asking for the large and lovely woman he’d met."

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Monday, October 30, 2006

Junior Wells -- those were the days

Posted By on 10.30.06 at 05:19 PM

Live blues in Chicago today is so often a robotic and soulless product, manufactured to delight tourists, that sometimes it's hard to believe the music once could really sound alive, purposeful, and spontaneous. Last year Delmark Records released a terrific 1976 performance by guitarist Otis Rush at Wise Fools Pub that was originally recorded for WXRT’s Unconcert series. (This was back in the days when blues was a regular part of the station's programming mix, rather than a bit of seasoning like it is today.) This month Delmark does it again, with a live recording (also for XRT rebroadcast) by harmonica great Junior Wells. The album was recorded at the legendary south side club Theresa’s, where he was a regular presence from the late 50s until 1983, when the club became a victim of gentrification and closed.   

Live at Theresa's 1975 captures an appropriately loose performance that suggests the band was playing for a roomful of pals rather than a club packed with camera-wielding tourists. Wells delivers renditions of classics like “Messin’ With the Kid,” “Juke,” and “Snatch it Back and Hold It,” the indelible tune from Hoodoo Man Blues, his 1965 Delmark disc with guitarist Buddy Guy that featured his first stab at evincing James Brown. In fact, Brown looms heavily over the proceedings: Wells whinnies and shouts much like the Godfather of Soul, and his crack band -- which featured Buddy’s brother Phil on guitar as well as Byther Smith or Sammy Lawhorn on rhythm guitar -- splits the difference between swinging and funking. One thing you won't hear is an emulation of rock music's leaden crunch. There’s loads of amusing between-song banter, including birthday wishes for sometime Reader photographer Marc PoKempner, whose work from the out-of-print book Down at Theresa’s . . . Chicago Blues graces the CD booklet. Eight minutes or so of chatter does get in the way of the music’s flow, but this is still a pretty wonderful document; Wells is in fine form, the band conveys that sort of looseness that can’t be faked, and the recording by Ken Rasek perfectly balances presence and precision. Maybe I’m engaging in lame nostalgia, but the blues certainly sounded better 30 years ago then it does now.

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Will Salon break the next bland thing?

Posted By on 10.30.06 at 04:31 PM

Salon has just started the public-voting phase of its Song Search contest, an open-submission Internet battle of the bands. I like the contest in theory -- I love a good battle of the bands, and it appeals to my "the Internet is free and everybody do a band with your computer" cultural-political slant. The only problem I see with it are the gatekeepers between between the 500 entries recieved and the ten that will be pitted head-to-head: "The sharp music minds behind Brooklyn Vegan, Blissblog, ultragrrrl, Largehearted Boy, Music for Robots, and Tofu Hut[.]"

I could be persuaded to guess that the type of musician who would be amped about entering a song contest on Salon is more likely to play wussy indie rock than, say, doom metal, but if there were any doom metal entries, they aren't likely to get past a group of similarly-opinioned indie-rock bloggers. So what we're ending up with is the average of opinions from a group of people with seriously average tastes. Given that both of the songs in the first showdown feature mournful-yet-also-somehow-naive-sounding female singers, the mathematical average of the six bloggers' tastes equals "Joanna Newsom." The odds of something unique-sounding slipping past them are minute. I got distracted for a second toward the end of the Colorforms track, and when iTunes went into a Corrina Repp song, I didn't even notice. The Caterpillars get filed right before Cattle Decapitation, so at least they didn't have the same problem.

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Department of dumb journalists

Posted By on 10.30.06 at 11:31 AM

According to its Web site, the Society of Environmental Journalists "is not a public relations or an environmental advocacy organization," and you can't even be a member if you or your employer lobby or do PR work on environmental issues. (I was a member for a year and recall how careful they are about that.) So I was unpleasantly surprised to read Katie Coleman's gripe about some sessions of the group's last two conferences. She's at Michigan State University's Knight Center for Environmental Journalism and posted on the conference blog.

She recalled a panel held last year on climate change:

"One of the panelists was a former Bush advisor; he was obviously intelligent, articulate, and motivated by forces other than those that inspire most SEJ members. On a subject on which we all most decidedly agree, his candor in representing the 'other' viewpoint was what made the panel interesting, informative, and unique. But somewhat unfortunately, what sticks out most in my mind from this event was the embarrassing behavior of some of our fellow SEJ members and journalists.

"There were those who, instead of seeing the session as an opportunity to learn from our invited guests, decided to use it as an opportunity to inflict their own viewpoints on the panel and its attendees through the mediums of shouting, interrupting, and jeering."

 

She observed a similar problem this year: "In this, our first day of 'real' conferencing, I’ve already experienced this rude phenomenon twice: once at this morning’s plenary session and again in the concurrent session on nuclear power. Both of these events presented intelligent, articulate panelists representing the views of real people in the real world outside of these conference walls. We may not all agree with those views, but, as journalists and as professionals, it is our job to at least listen to them."

 

Duh.

 

In her shoes I might have used a stronger word than "rude," although it still would have had a "u" in it.

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Where did the crime go?

Posted By on 10.30.06 at 06:43 AM

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Roughly speaking, there is about half as much crime now in the U.S. and across Chicago as there was in 1991. How come?

Northwestern political scientist Wesley G. Skogan, best known for his studies of community policing in Chicago, calls this "one of the most significant social facts of the end of the 20th century," (PDF) and "one of the least understood." In plain language, more than 3,000 people are walking around today in Chicago who would have been murdered if the crime rate had stayed where it was 15 years ago.

Skogan is pretty sure it's not because there are fewer young people (there aren't), and it's not due to economic boom times (at least in Chicago).

Is it that we're putting more people in jail? Then why did crime continue to drop after 1999, even as rates of imprisonment fell?

Has gun control made a difference? But the number of crimes committed without guns is down too.

Skogan speculates that a decline this long and this large is probably due to more than one factor. Although data are hard to find, he suspects that incarceration of hard-core offenders in the early 1990s, community policing in the late 1990s, and smarter policing tactics since then may be the important ones.

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Sunday, October 29, 2006

Farmer John is back, and this time he's got a spatula

Posted By on 10.29.06 at 07:53 AM

"I had seen too many people on drugs -- their personalities hardly recognizable, their voices slurred, their eyes glazed. I resented drugs. Drugs concealed who people were. I didn't want drugs concealing what my crops were. And what are farm chemicals but drugs by a different name?" 

That's the beginning of Farmer John's Cookbook: The Real Dirt on Vegetables: Seasonal Recipes and Stories from a Community Supported Farm, by Boone County's walking collection of ironies, biodynamic farmer John Peterson.  Its generous format encompasses more than 200 recipes (organized by vegetable and season) in more than 300 pages, and it's one of the few cookbooks you can enjoy reading when you're not hungry.

Which is good, because Peterson himself acknowledges being more interested in the stories, the reflections, and the connections between the soil and your dinner plate than in the recipes themselves. It was a team effort, and it's by turns personal, mystical, and practical. Slick-paper photos of his community-supported farm, Angelic Organics, are scattered among the rough workaday pages with identification charts and tips and recipes for everything from asparagus to winter squash.

Ideally you'd view the Farmer John movie or check out the Reader's 1994 (May 13) and 2006 (January 20) coverage first, so as to know where this guy is coming from. He's a farmer and an artist; a steadfast local whose neighbors almost ran him out of town; a Midwestern original who revitalizes himself with periodic visits to Mexico; and a businessman who believes, with Rudolf Steiner, that "the root primarily nourishes the head particularly; the middle of the plant, stem and leaves, primarily nourishes the chest particularly; and fruit nourishes the lower body."

OK, well, maybe you don't need to know. The proof is in the eating.

Or the reading. He's got an autobiography (I Didn't Kill Anyone Up Here) and a book of short stories (Glitter & Grease) in the works too. 

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Saturday, October 28, 2006

Rogerio Duprat, key sonic architect of Tropicalia, dead at 74

Posted By on 10.28.06 at 09:39 AM

On Thursday legendary Brazilian arranger Rogerio Duprat died in Sao Paulo at 74. Although he set out to be a composer, with a strong predilection for the avant-garde -- in the early 60s he traveled to Europe to study with Karlheinz Stockhausen and Pierre Boulez -- he ultimately made his name creating wild orchestral settings for singers like Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Tom Ze, Gal Costa, and Os Mutantes at the height of the tropicalia movement, making himself a key architect of its sound. He was often called the George Martin of tropicalia, but that analogy doesn’t suggest how progressive and weird his arrangements on those records were. He was part of the musical wing’s defining album, Tropicalia, ou Panis et Circensis, whose cover pictures him holding a chamber pot like it was a teacup.    

Even before the emergence of tropicalia, Duprat was espousing radical notions for a serious composer. He belonged to the progressive Musica Nova group, which, according to Christopher Dunn’s book on tropicalia, Brutality Garden, proclaimed the end of the musical vanguard in 1967. “In the words of Rogerio Duprat, the composer would become a ‘sound designer’ who would produce jingles, movie sound tracks, popular-music arrangements, and any other type of music for mass consumption.” In some ways this manifesto presaged the Marxist ideas of British composer Cornelius Cardew in the early 70s, when he launched the Scratch Orchestra, more in the rejection of bourgeois culture than the embrace of commercial forms. Duprat made good on his promise, but he hardly tempered his bold ideas when he worked with pop singers, using dissonance and pastiche to greatly enhance the performances. He went on the write arrangements for artists like Nara Leao, Chico Buarque, Trio Mocoto, Geraldo Azevedo & Alceu Valenca, and Joao Bosco, among others.    

His zany 1968 album, A Banda Tropicalista do Duprat, a dizzying patchwork of tunes all fed in the arranger’s frothy style, was reissued last year. He essays several tropicalia gems on the record, as well some English-language rock hits of the day (“Lady Madonna,” “Judy in Disguise,” and “Flying”) and some bossa nova standards. It’s a beguiling curiosity more than a major work, but it certainly offers a window into his peculiar aesthetic during that time. For most of the last few decades Duprat retreated from public view, living on a rural farm, afflicted by bladder cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.

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