LCD’s disco-electro-clash-angle-funk sound doesn’t end up on my headphones every day. (Although “Yeah (Crass Version)” is truly one of the great songs to workout to.) But Murphy is a smart and interesting guy who has ideas I think apply to writers and any other brand of artist. Some key quotes:
It’s more interesting to me in 2007 to have a band that pursues an idea like that of any kind that specifically and that doggedly and that relentlessly. I feel like bands’ ideas get become really mushy. They get too democratic; they get watered down.
And this bit of brilliance. (For context: Murphy is a chubby 37-year-old doofy looking guy who plays these incredibly high-energy shows filled with disco, punk, and dance music.)
[Q: Who do you think is your competition?]
Nobody. Straight-up hands-down nobody. Other people are better at the things that they do, but what we do, nobody can touch us. Nobody can play live like us. Nobody tries. And there are more talented people that should be better; that’s what I take exception to. I think it’s insulting. It’s like coming into the ring out of shape. Don’t fucking come into the ring out of shape; that’s disrespectful. Don’t play a show with us and then bring your fucking B-game and phone it in and pose and pull a bunch of rock bullshit moves and emote and shit like that, because I’ll punch you in the fucking face. That’s bullshit.
[Dude, that’s awesome.]
Well, it’s true! I’m killing myself up there! I’m not charismatic or particularly talented. I know what I’m good at. I have good rhythm. I have a good note sense to a certain degree. But I’m not Bowie. I’m not Eno. I’m not Lou Reed reinventing rock. I’m just a fucking dude with a band, but I fucking take it seriously. I’ll go play terrified with anybody. I’ll go onstage with anybody. And when I see bands, they just roll over and think it’s OK, like, “You go, man! You guys are crazy!” And then they go and they play, and I’m just like, “Holy shit, dude, seriously look at yourself! You’re a fucking burlap sack full of somebody else’s gestures!”
Which leads into this challenge to Coldplay lead singer Chris Martin and, by extension, lazy talents everywhere:
I’ll make a bold statement that I think Chris Martin is as talented as Paul McCartney. Paul McCartney’s a hack. The difference is that Paul McCartney was a pop star in an era when the single would come out and then the Rolling Stones would put one out and you had to step it up. The Who would put one out, and you’d step it up. The Beach Boys would put an album out, and you’d be like, “Oh my God, we gotta take this all seriously.” They wanted to be everything to everybody, and there’s something really beautiful about that. It’s impossible, but there’s something magical about that. Whereas now, Chris Martin by his own admission will be like, “Oh, my lyrics are kind of dumb.” And it’s like no, come on, don’t say that! Fucking go try! Fail! Go face-down! Listen to the Paul McCartney records; he went face-down a lot, but you don’t get “Temporary Secretary” if you’re not willing to go face-down. You don’t get these songs that are above and beyond what that guy is. There’s such low expectations of artists. I’m not trying to say anything bad about Chris Martin; he seems like a totally nice guy, and he has an incredibly good voice, a great melodic sense. But come on!
We could have used him during our recent Nieman Fellows Take On The World Soccer Tour, in which a ragtag group of fellows and their spouses challenged various other area folks to a series of matches. Some facts you should know:
— There are 30 fellows, and maybe 20 spouses. Roughly equal number of men and women. We’re all “mid-career journalists,” which for most fellows means they’re, oh, 38 to 50. (I’m one of the youngsters at 31.)
— Being journalists, we mostly sit in front of computers all day. Also — and I overgeneralize here, but only to a point — we have no athletic skills.
— Half of us are Americans, which means we, in our hearts, consider soccer a plague and an abomination.
For reasons that have not yet been explained to me, for our first match we chose to challenge…the Sloan School of Management, MIT’s business school. A business school which currently enrolls 1,110 students, average age 28. Thirty percent of whom — that is, over 300 students — are “international students,” by which I mean “Pele.” Their team had uniforms, with uniform numbers. They were all 26-year-old Latin Adonises, setting up plays by yelling out directions in Portuguese.
You may be surprised to learn we did not, in fact, win.
Props to Helene Cooper and the NYT for doing a good job with the Ahmadinejad story. Much better writing than the Times might have produced a few years ago, frankly, and even a smidge of dreaded authorial voice. I like how she managed to make fun of both the Iranian president
He said that there were no homosexuals in Iran — not one —
and Columbia President Lee Bollinger:
Mr. Bollinger praised himself and Columbia for showing they believed in freedom of speech by inviting the Iranian president
That “not one” is a slap a lot of newspapers wouldn’t have taken, and the phrasing of “Mr. Bollinger praised himself” is both subtler and more pointed than it could have been.
Some time ago, I promised some regular blogging about the New Orleans Saints. The Saints have now lost the first three games of the season and looked unspeakably horrible doing it. They may be the worst team in football. I suspect I may not be inspired to blog about them much this season, so I figure I’ll get it all out of the way now. (Non-football fans are excused from this post.)
One of the few downsides of last year’s miraculous season — in which the most downtrodden franchise in professional football, perennial losers, somehow blossomed into one of the league’s best teams, playing truly artful and beautiful football and getting within one game of the Super Bowl after the crushing blow of Hurricane Katrina — is that the Saints have the capacity to make Louisianans sad again. Year after year of failure make even mediocrity aspirational. You get used to losing, and 8-8 seems like a blessing. But a brilliant year gets hopes up. The Saints were heroes, honest-to-goodness heroes to an entire state. And now their miserable start — and it has truly been miserable, bafflingly miserable — feels like a kick to the kidneys every week.
But even more depressing: Now Deuce McAllister, the heart and soul of this team for the past seven years, a local product, and one of the best guys in football, has blown out his knee and is done for the season. Probably forever, realistically having blown out the other knee just two years ago and having already been a noticable step slow this year. It’s just depressing.
Two quick Deuce memories. The first is from his earlier days with the Saints, when he was perhaps the key mover in one of the most brilliant plays in NFL history, the River City Relay. Of course, in classic Saints fashion, the brilliance was ruined moments later when the Saints’ kicker missed the biggest gimme in sports — the extra point after a touchdown. (The Saints would have made the playoffs that year had the kick been good.)
Finally, a happier one, from January, when Deuce completely dominated the biggest Saints game ever played in New Orleans, the second-round NFC playoff game against the Eagles. He generated 163 yards of offense and scored two touchdowns — one of them arguably the most inspiring run in Saints history, when he was driven to a dead stop at the five-yard line, but kept churning and working and pumping his legs until he had driven five determined Eagles defenders into the end zone. Here’s not-so-good video of it:
Then came the final key play of the game. Third down and one to go, 1:37 left to play. If the Saints could get one more yard — or, as every Saints fan was chanting at the moment, “ONE! MORE! YARD!” — the Saints would get a first down, run out the clock, and win. The handoff went, of course, to Deuce. Who rushed for five yards. Five being a number greater than one, as you may be well aware.
Here’s the TV version of it:
But here’s the view from the stands, which gives you a better idea of what an amazingly cathartic moment it was for the people of New Orleans.
Which led to scenes like this and this into the wee hours of the morning.
Of course, the Saints lost the next weekend. But even that generated moments like this for our quarterback Drew Brees:
It was nearing three a.m. when Brees walked up the steps of the Uptown New Orleans home he and his wife, Brittany, had bought the prior winter…[Brees] had taken the team charter back to New Orleans and driven himself home from the airport. The drive, normally 30 minutes, had taken him nearly two hours. Saints fans had lined the road from the team’s private air terminal, forming a two-mile collection of cars and people and banners and umbrellas. Brees had inched along in his car, signing autographs and shaking hands while people thanked him for turning in the best season of his six-year NFL career — one that earned him the starting quarterback’s job in the Pro Bowl — and for leading the Saints to their best season in the team’s 39-year history. For hurricane-weary New Orleans, the Saints’ success could not have come at a better time.
The fans at the airport were just the beginning, though. When Brees got home to his empty house, he found that he wasn’t really alone, after all. “I had balloons tied to my front door,” Brees says, recalling the scene…“I had cookies sitting on my porch. I had brownies. I even had gumbo there, in a Tupperware container, on my front doorstep. Only in New Orleans are you going to have one of your neighbors leave you gumbo on your doorstep. It’s pretty awesome.”
This season, the Saints were the chic pick to make the Super Bowl. See, it’s not proper to get a city’s hopes up like that and then go 0-3.
So it’s been forty forevers since I updated here. I’ve been busy! I went through a three-week orientation period for my fellowship here at ol’ Harvard, and then a stretch of class shopping and now plain old class attending. It’s a bit odd getting back into a college class frame of mind. On one hand, the sheer luxury of spending time listening to smart people talk about subjects they know well feels mighty plush. On the other hand, I’m also seeing the parts of academia I never really cared for — the self-absorption, the exclusionary jargon, the indulgence-not-in-a-good-way. (Whatever you think of writing in the popular media, academic prose makes it seem 200x better. I keep wanting to red-pen all my reading and scrawl “Clarity! Clarity!” on the top of every page.)
Anyway, I’ve completely oversubscribed myself, as is my wont. I’m taking six classes at the moment:
— An English class on the literature and culture of the 1960s. Lots of JFK, black power, Philip K. Dick, Tom Wolfe, Mailer, Warhol, et cetera. Should be entertaining.
— Two (count ‘em, two) classes on the economics of immigration. They will, I hope, be complementary: one focuses on the impact of immigrants on their new countries, the other on the economic motivators that determine who migrates and why. The first’s taught by George Borjas, the somewhat controversial expert on the topic, the other by migration-pattern czar Jeff Williamson. I suspect that sometimes in the next 10 days I will hit the outer boundaries of my economic knowledge and throw my hands of econometric concepts, but I’m hoping to push on through.
— A history of jazz class, which promises to be pretty light stuff. It’s my mental break, knowing a fair amount of the territory already. Although it promises to move into turf I’m really interested (jazz’s intersections with African independence movements, etc.) later on. Am I a bad person for wishing the class could fast-forward to post-WWII stuff? Until we get to Bird/Monk/Miles/Coltrane, I’m bored. I’ve heard the “early 20th-c New Orleans was a unique social mixing pot” schtick 300 times now.
— Two writing classes taught through the Nieman Foundation, one on fiction and one on narrative non-fiction.
All that, plus the three mandatory events of the Nieman week (each multihour), plus going to the gym six days a week (!), plus a yoga class (!!), plus weekly soccer matches (!!!), plus random other soopersecret projects, and I’m busier than I was when I had a 9-5 (well, 10-7) job every day. But it’s a good busy, a creative busy. I just don’t spend nearly as much of my day in front of a computer, hence the decline in postings here.
(Did I mention this blog had its sixth anniversary two weeks ago?)
Anyway, I have a big backlog of things to post, so I’ll let those dribble out in the coming days.
Noted for anyone who wants to buy me something: Tim Hollis’ The Land of the Smokies: Great Mountain Memories, a history of the Tourist Trap Belt of Tennessee, which stretches roughly from Chattanooga in the west to Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge in the east. I’ve written about it before, but that’s where my family spent a couple vacations in the late ’70s, back when we had the money to do things like a family vacation. (Noted from this review in the Knoxville alt-weekly when I was driving through there a few weeks ago. By the way, that’s a really doubleplusungood alt-weekly they have there in Knoxville. Just awful, at least the one issue I saw.)
Time lists the 50 worst cars in history. At first, I was taken aback by how, well, un-Time-like the piece is — lots of voice, lots of slang, and kinda well written. (Time is traditionally where authorial voice goes to die.) But then I saw the author was Dan Neil, the Pulitzer-winningenfant terrible of the car-review biz. (Most car reviewers are either enfants or just plain terrible; Dan magically combines the two.) His current reviews are here.
All that said, 25 bad cars might have been enough.
This has the whiff of reality TV about it, but that doesn’t make it sound any less fascinating. A BBC doc transported members of a small Vanuatuan tribe to the U.K. to get their impressions of British life.
Most surprising is what Yapa, Joel, JJ, Posen and Albi find either enjoyable, or shocking. In the Norfolk countryside, they were deeply upset by the practice of artificially inseminating pigs (“a crazy thing…undignified…goes against nature”), but delighted by ferreting for rabbits, which they considered a sort of land-based fishing. In Manchester they were staggered by the phenomenon of homelessness (in Tanna, your family provides a home, come what may), but felt relatively at home in a nightclub, since ritual dancing is an important part of their culture. In London, where they spent a week in a penthouse flat in Docklands, they learnt to love Marlboro Lights and fish and chips, but were left cold by the hustle and bustle of city living.
I reserve a full endorsement until I see it, since a Mark Burnett could make it junk, but from the Independent article, it sounds like the producers are relatively human. And perhaps it’s good for Vanuatuans to get to know the rest of the world, since their islands will likely be among the first victims of global warming.