A.A. Bondy
American Hearts

Leaves in the Gutter

For What I Don't Become

The Thick of It
BBC America

Saddest Ghost Lamp

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Kiss Me Katie

Brighter lights than me have weighed in on Today's Festival of Couric. But I couldn't let it pass without noting that Ann Curry is as close is it comes to a real-world Brick Tamland, Steve Carell's functionally retarded weatherman. And Couric hates her. Click on the screengrab above to watch Katie kiss Matt Lauer, then kiss Al Roker, and then icily turn her back to Curry, whose underdeveloped social antennae don't pick up on the chill. And then cringe as Curry kisses Katie anyway. Awkward.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

And the Smell! What, They Can't Afford Soap?

Something has been lost in the furor over new White House adviser Karl Zinsmeister's Stalin-esque revisions of his own quotes when he republished a Syracuse New Times profile on his web site. As Ana points out, here's what Zinsmeister--ironically, that was Howard Zinn's nickname back in his Delta Chi days--said:
"People in Washington are morally repugnant, cheating, shifty human beings."
And here's what he changed it to:
"I learned in Washington that there is an 'overclass' in this country stocked with cheating, shifty human beings that's just as morally repugnant as our 'underclass.'"
What concerns me isn't that Zinsmeister massaged his quotes. It's that his idea of making that quote more palatable is to describe all poor people as morally repugnant.

UPDATE: I said it first.

Drinking on the Job

For the record, it's not gay if your lips accidentally touch when you're sharing a mic.

I don't have anything to add to what Daniel Radosh and others have written on the National Review's top 50 conservative rock songs. But I will say I was taken back a few years by the selection of the Rainmakers' "Government Cheese" as the 36th greatest conservative rock song of all time. NR's John J. Miller describes The Rainmakers as a "Kansas City band that deserved more success than it got," and he's absolutely right. They were an atrocious band, which I learned the hard way after spending $7.99 on their debut LP on the recommendation of some jackass.

And yet they deserved the world, because they wrote what continue to be the best four consecutive lines in any rock song, ever. In "Drinking on the Job" (scroll down), buried amid the gag-Americana schlock--"Everybody's drunk / Everybody's wasted / Everybody's drinking on the job"--the discerning listener can find the following gems, which have stayed with me for nearly two decades despite having listened to the record just once:

"FBI / CIA / DWI / USA."

Sounds about right.

UPDATE: The jackass conveniently--and falsely--denies ever having recommended the Rainmakers. Don't believe him.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Avocet on the Information Superhighway

Avocet has a cool new Flash website, courtesy of Erik the Viking Bass Player. By accessing said web site, you can listen to Avocet songs, view flattering photographs of Avocet band members, and read extraordinarily detailed accounts of Avocet performances. Carry on.

Matt Drudge, Douchebag

On CNN a couple of minutes ago, Dana Bash reported on a new message that went out to locked-down Rayburn HOB staffers over the loudspeaker detailing how they can be sure that the person knocking on their office door is a police officer as opposed to, say, a gun-wielding madman. Bash wisely decided to withhold some of the details just in case a gun-wielding madman happened to be watching CNN and was curious how to make frightened office-dwellers open their doors to him. Enter Matt Drudge:



Thursday, May 25, 2006

Does This Man Creep You Out, Kinda?

He shouldn't. It's Joe Mansueto, the exceedlingly gracious and exceedlingly loaded founder of Morningstar and owner of Inc. and Fast Company magazines. I profiled him for the June issue of Chicago Magazine, which was kind of fun since he actually tried to buy Chicago Magazine a few years back, but the Tribune Co. somehow managed to swipe it from him with a lower bid.

My favorite thing about him is his web site,, which he designed and coded by himself and which looks nothing like the web site of a billionaire.

It's not online yet, but a pdf can be found here if you absolutely need to read it right now!

Well, That Settles It

Who knew? Oprah Winfrey's brave determination to prove once and for all that the Holocaust happened--thanks, Oprah!--apparently qualifies as an international development. From today's White House press briefing (I wish I knew who asked it, but my money's on this guy):
Q: Now, from time to time [the] Iranian President threatens Israel, and last time he said that the Holocaust never existed. But last night, Oprah on her show showed everything -- what really happened -- so where do we stand now as far as all those statements destroying Israel and no Holocaust and supporting Hamas?
Come on, Oprah's got the balls to take him on! When's the White House gonna get tough on this little midget, Tony?

Monday, May 22, 2006

Don't You Wish You Had One of These?

You want it? I'm selling it. It's an Otari MTR-10 1/4-inch mastering deck. And it's awesome. E-mail if you're interested.

Mixed Messages

"There is nothing wrong with holding an opinion and holding it passionately, but at those times when you are absolutely sure you're right, go find someone who disagrees."--Condoleezza Rice, May 22, 2006

"I'm aware of the press reports about what [Bill Maher] said. I have not seen the actual transcript of the show itself. But assuming the press reports are right, it's a terrible thing to say, and it unfortunate [sic]. And that's why ... they're reminders to all Americans that they need to watch what they say, watch what they do."-- Ari Fleischer, September 26, 2001

Friday, May 19, 2006

He's Gonna Need It.

From today's Washington Post:


Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The New York Times on Merritt, Frere-Jones, Hopper, and Me

Friday, May 12, 2006

"Please Get It Together, Gene."

Via Metafilter: Priceless out-takes of a word-slurring, out-of-it Gene Siskel and a pissed-off Roger Ebert taping promos in the 1980s. Sample line: "That's this week on Siskel...and Ebert... and the movies. And the asshole. And that's Roger."

Well worth the download time. Clip One. Clip Two. Clip Three.

Deal or No Deal

UPDATE: Or not.

A little baseless speculation, which will in all likelihood be confirmed or disproved in a matter of minutes: Bush wants network time on Monday night to talk immigration. The networks always whine and balk when the president wants to horn in on primetime, but they will be especially vigorous this time because they're in the middle of sweeps right now. And they've grown increasingly skeptical Bush's primetime requests over the past couple years because they believe the White House uses the speeches for political purposes. As one (conservative) network executive put it to me a while back: "We have an obligation to give over time to the White House when the president needs to address the American people, but we don't have an obligation to give him time to help him politically." He complained that the White House always seems to ask for time when it's in a political tight spot.

And it's abundantly clear that that's what is going on right now: He's trying to change the subject. And why a legislative initiative like immigration reform--one that's been endlessly debated and on which the White House has had ample time to communicate its position--deserves a primetime speech is unclear.

Add to that the fact that the president is weaker than he's ever been, and I think you just might see the networks stiff him this time.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Zip Gun

Dust off those critical race theory textbooks and get ready for some social damage, kids!
A "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah" Day on WFMU with Guest DJ Stephin Merritt
Friday, May 12, noon-3pm.

Tune in as guest DJ Stephin Merritt joins Monica for a celebration of
the song "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah." My, oh my, it'll be a wonderful day.

Deck Chairs

Do you own or manage a major metro daily newspaper? Circulation blues got you down? Are you desperately afraid that you may be leading your paper into oblivion, engaging in evermore spastic and frantic attempts to engage readers while your budgets shrivel and your parent company's stock price spirals down so low that you actually pray for the inevitable bargain-basement buyout, if only to lift your retirement nest egg back above its 1999 level? Do you feel like you're losing control, like you just have to do something?

Well, why not tidy up a little? And while you're at it, rob your beleaguered reporters of the stupid kitsch with which they litter their cubicles to remind themselves of who they used to be before they started working for you!

From a memo written to the Metro staff by Chicago Tribune Metro editor Hanke Gratteau:
Spring is here, and we are overdue for a newsroom cleanup. Is that cheering I hear? For inspiration, I suggest you visit the desks of folks like Todd Lighty, Jon Anderson and Bill Rood. Seriously, the rubble has gotten out of control, and so we will designate May 4-5 (next Thursday and Friday) as Metro cleanup days. We'll have extra trash cans and cleaning products on the floor to make the job easier. Some simple guidelines to keep in mind: Get rid of stacks of papers and files you don't need. Pictures, fliers, calendars, posters need to be taken off public walls and pillars that aren't bulletin boards. You can have it in your cubicles or on your desks. In the same vein, all the stuff on tops of filing cabinets and cubicles--including statuettes, snow globes, stuffed animals, etc.,--needs to come off the (faux) wood trim around the desks. Yes, it can be on your desk tops. Files cannot be stacked on the floors--they need to go into drawers or be put in boxes and moved to storage.

But, please, please spend some time weeding! Keep what you need and toss the rest.
Gratteau does an admirable job of concealing the fact that the impetus for the Bligh-esque project is, of course, Tribune editor Ann Marie Lipinski, who forced all her editors to send similar notes to the newsroom staff. The reason for the clean-up order, I'm told, is that Lipinski recently led a delegation of North Shore Ladies Who Lunch on a tour of the newsroom, and some of them were shocked at the mess! What kind of reporter keeps piles of paper lying around, anyway? Next to Godliness, people. Next to Godliness.

Here's Gratteau's follow-up memo, issued when her reporters naturally ignored her rantings:

I walked the newsroom last night about 8 p.m. and was struck by two things:

1. I was extremely pleased by the heroics some of you performed in trying to clean up the newsroom.

2. I was extremely dismayed by the number of you who made no effort at all to even make a dent in the rubble.

Today, we'll try again. Here are the guidelines:

1. Stuff on public newsroom walls and pillars that are not on bulletin boards needs to go. This includes the exterior of cubicles. You are welcome to keep it on your desks.

2. Stuff must be taken off the tops of filing cabinets and cubicles, including the faux wood trim around the cubicles--no matter how cute or treasured.

3. Paper towers stacked on and along desks need to go into filing drawers, into storage (which is currently full!) or get tossed. If you look, you will find stuff to toss. Please look.

4. If you have to keep the piles of books under your desk, get a box from Maggie. Ditto with stacks of paper.

The dumpsters will be on the floor again today.

If you cannot get the job done today, you need to tell me why, and I'll give you a new deadline within the next week.

To those who might wonder if I don't have more important things to do, you're right, so please let me get to them.

Last Call

Hopper and Frere-Jones have both made "enough already" noises here and here, respectively. I wash my hands of this debate until photos emerge in a couple months of a smiling Stephin Merritt wearing a confederate soldier's uniform on the set of "Gods and Generals," in which case don't come after me, because my point was that they lacked the evidence and arguments to substantiate their claims and insinuations, not that Merritt is or is not actually a racist.

Although I'm kind of worried. Did you know that track five of the German printing of "Get Lost" was called "You and Me and the Moon and Our Racist Biker Gang"?

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

My Analysis Weighs a Ton

I'll begin with factual stuff, points of order, etc.

1) Frere-Jones and Hopper object to the use of the word "campaign" to describe what they've written about Merritt. I wrote that they have engaged in a "two-year online campaign of brand Merritt a racist." I relied on a total of 12 posts on both of their blogs going back to May of 2004. Frere-Jones helpfully compiled his own list of Merrittalia (Merrittiana?), which included two posts that had previously escaped my attention. That brings us to 14 posts. I chose to append the words "of sorts" to "campaign" to soften the term up a little bit and indicate that it is, in fact, something slightly different from a campaign, and I think that the phrase "campaign of sorts" accurately represents their efforts, on 14 occasions over two years, to repeatedly imply that Merritt is a racist. They returned to the notion repeatedly. Hopper even brought the debate out of the rhetorical world of the blogosphere when she announced her intention to confront Merritt directly, face-to-face, at the Pop Conference.

What I find curious is why Frere-Jones and Hopper would be uncomfortable with the notion that they have engaged in a campaign (of sorts) against a man they evidently believe to be a racist (Hopper acknowledged to me that that's what she is saying; Frere-Jones prefers to make the charge indirectly). Aren't people supposed to campaign against racists?

2) Frere-Jones says I "ignored" the fact that Hopper retracted her comments about the Pop Conference, as well as a post that he says he qualified his comments on Merritt. I wrote that "later, when confronted with a transcript of the panel, Hopper retracted her comments." So there's that. As for Frere-Jones' "qualifications," the post in question rhetorically assumes the opposite position--that Merritt was simply describing his taste in music--and then presents a quote from Merritt that may or may not be considered racially insensitive. (He once again raises the "coon songs" libel--bad!--but also wants more Top 40 stations--good!) Then Frere-Jones says he's going to a birthday party. No conclusions, no qualifications, no arguments.

3) Hopper objects to being called a journalist. I did not call her a journalist.

4) Frere-Jones writes that "the Times playlist seems kinds of small beer now and would have been better left out of it." That is an artful use of the passive voice. If I may presume to complete his sentence for him: " me, when I used it to accuse Merritt of harboring a 'bias' against women, black musicians, and white musicians who like black musicians."

5) Frere-Jones refers again to Merritt's New York Magazine colloquy with Sufjan Stevens, saying that Merritt "prefers Prince when Beck is channeling him." Here is what Merritt said: "Beck has started appropriating Prince in an interesting way. I wish I could sing like Beck. He's got a gorgeous falsetto and that low, husky voice. It's very sexy and very soothing in a way that I will never be."

OK, that's the pro forma stuff. To the arguments: Frere-Jones, because he can't remember what outrage would drive him to use the nickname "Stephin 'Southern Strategy' Merritt," pulls a quote (search for "Merritt") from the wayback machine in which Merritt self-mockingly anticipated by a decade Hopper's beef against him that his music sounds "white," says "white blues" is "fundamentally racist," and wishes that John Lennon, Keith Richards, and Mick Jagger had never made the music that they did. He also says he's not concerned with rhythm and syncopation, which he identifies as "the main concerns of black music after Duke Ellington."

I should point out that, in all of the above-referenced 14 posts, neither Frere-Jones nor Hopper linked to or otherwise mentioned this interview in their brief against Merritt. When I called Hopper and asked her for places to go to look for signs of Merritt's racism, she didn't mention it.

So what to make of them? Frere-Jones, I think, fairly sums up what they are: Sharp, pointy opinions. No, I am not surprised that they ruffled some feathers. But does the act of ruffling Sasha Frere-Jones feathers constitute racism? Is it racist to not be interested in rhythm and syncopation? Is it racist to acknowledge that your "aesthetic universe" is composed in large part of music made by white people? What if it was in 1995, and then 10 years later you said that you like Run DMC, and that "911 Is a Joke" was the best recording released in 1990? Is it racist to not like it when white musicians appropriate, or musically reference, or adopt the stylings and compositions of, music made by black people? Seriously, I'm asking. Frere-Jones still hasn't answered the question: Is Stephin Merritt a racist?

What he does say is that Merritt "has a problem with black music." Let's assume he's right. (I will set aside for the purposes of this argument my belief that it is not useful to apply the descriptor "black" to a word like "music.") What is Merritt's "problem," exactly? Is it that the music was created by black people? Is that what Frere-Jones means when he calls Merritt a cracker--that Merritt's musical preferences are informed by the race of the people who created the particular musical document that he is praising or dismissing? Or is it possible to have a "problem" with certain types of music that Frere-Jones (and Merritt) want to call "black music" because of aesthetic and stylistic elements often associated with that music?

Let's assume that, when Merritt said he wasn't concerned with rhythm and syncopation, he was speaking as a listener, rather than a musician--that, generally speaking, he doesn't enjoy listening to music that is heavily rhythmic. Is it not possible to feel that way for reasons that have nothing to do with the race of the people who created the music? At some level, the man simply doesn't like music with beats. There are exceptions--Public Enemy, early Run DMC. But generally speaking, when he spends energy, money, and time listening to or thinking about music, he chooses to spend it on music that isn't heavily rhythmic and syncopated. Where is the justification for the leap that Frere-Jones takes from that aesthetic judgment to Stephin "Southern Strategy" rockist cracker Merritt?

Frere-Jones' answer seems to be, "Aw c'mon. The dude was asking for it." Which is a fine answer if he were saying, "Stephin Merritt is an idiot for tossing the most interesting things about music over the past 50 years out the window." But he's not saying that. He's saying, "Stephin Merritt is an idiot for tossing the most interesting things about music over the past 50 years out the window because he has a bias against black people."

And if you say that, you ought to have evidence for it.

Rickshaws Are Available For Transport To And From the Fairgrounds; It Is Recommended That You Avoid Eye Contact With The Hipsters.

From Vanity Fair:
For the second year in a row, surrounded by the ghosts of the 1968 Chicago Seven riots, Lollapalooza takes place in Grant Park, in beautiful downtown Chicago, just minutes from the Four Seasons Hotel.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006


Sasha Frere-Jones and Jessica Hopper have responded, here and here, respectively, to my Slate piece. I'll respond in turn shortly, perhaps tomorrow morning.

Stephin, Why Do You Hate Black People?

I have a new piece on Slate about the baffling "Stephin Merritt is a racist" meme knocking around the Internets, thanks in large part to the post-structuralist, angry blog-mush spouted over the past two years by the New Yorker's Sasha Frere-Jones and Jessica Hopper, who writes for the Chicago Reader and elsewhere.

Links to their "arguments" about the hatred that lurks in Merritt's soul--he doesn't like hip-hop; need they say more?--can be found in the piece.

On an unrelated note, I do encourage all comers to have a listen to The Sands, Frere-Jones' band, which is actually quite good. Free mp3s are on the site. I listened in the hopes of finding in his music some ammunition to wield against him--like, What's such an ardent anti-rockist doing in a very pro-rock band?--but ended up just liking it, mostly because it features James Lo, of the late, great Chavez, on the drum kit. Whether the New Yorker's pop critic ought to be shopping around his demo on the Internet is another story.

Monday, May 08, 2006

In the Manner of Anne Frank

If you get the headline, then you'll appreciate the fact that Mac McCaughan has started a blog. He's working on a new Portastatic record, which is good news for good music.

Some Legal Proceedings Are More Ongoing Than Others

"Special Counsel Fitzgerald's investigation and ongoing legal proceedings are serious, and now the proceedings -- the process moves into a new phase. In our system, each individual is presumed innocent and entitled to due process and a fair trial." --George Bush, October 2005

"The fact of the matter is that this is a legal proceeding and an ongoing investigation involving this administration. It's being headed by a special prosecutor, Mr. Fitzgerald. We don't want to do anything that could jeopardize this ongoing investigation, legal proceeding. We want there to be due process. We want there to be a fair hearing. And that's why we made a policy not to comment on it while it continues." --Scott McClellan, April 2006

"They will get their day in court. One can't say that of the people that they killed." --George Bush, May 2006. "They" refers to the detainees at Guantanomo Bay, who are apparently, after more than four years of extra-judicial imprisonment, now the subjects of "ongoing legal proceedings."

DJ Jazzy Jack

Former Chicago Tribune editor and loaded retiree Jack Fuller revisits his old stomping ground--you left the place in tip-top shape, Jack!--with a courageous op-ed arguing that jazz is an art form.

That's right--you read it in the Trib first. While most of us think of jazz as devilish music suitable only for gin-joints and mixed-race dancing, Fuller boldly makes the case that it is something more. He draws our attention to a little-known art-world prize called the Pulitzers, which are known for singling out visionary artists ahead of their time. This year's music prize went to an enterprising young fellow named Thelonious Monk--keep an eye on him, he sounds like a comer--and Fuller sees in it evidence that maybe this jazz thing was more than a youthful fad:
But the Pulitzer for Monk was an especially big step forward. I hope jazz artists recognize its significance and are emboldened to enter work they might previously have thought could never win, because Monk got the prize for nothing more than his tunes--jagged variations on the American popular song.


The recognition of jazz extends beyond the Pulitzer Prize and trendy restaurants. You can find evidence of it at length in the 852-page Oxford Companion to Jazz. Or in the inclusion of many jazz musicians and other references in the Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music and Musicians by Don M. Randel.
Holy shit. Jazz has its own Oxford Companion. Who knew? If these jazz-types keep up the good work, it may one day even become America's only home-grown art form, a national institution, a wellspring of our national culture. Keep dreaming, you young jazz-players! Because--unlike some newspapers--a Pulitzer Prize is no longer beyond your reach!

Thursday, May 04, 2006

And Ink Shall Spill

Hitch Makes It So Hard to Hate Him

Christopher Hitchens writes a piece attacking some guy.

The guy responds that Hitchens--a British writer--is a well-known drunk and must have been drunk when he wrote it.

Andrew Sullivan rushes to Hitchens' defense, saying he was with Hitchens when he filed the piece, and that Hitchens was "stone-cold sober."

And here's what Hitchens says in response, on Hugh Hewitt's radio show:
Well, good for Andrew. How nice of him.... And well, I mean, I don't know about stone cold sober. I'm sure with Andrew, I must have had a drink to celebrate the piece. So he may be exaggerating that.
How can you not love the guy?

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Cooksie This Saturday 5/6 at FitzGerald's

Another cool poster from Jennifer Frank.

The elusive Cooksie makes a rare appearance this Saturday, May 6, at FitzGerald's in lovely Berwyn, Ill. We're playing with the Thin Man and Church Bus. Music starts at 9:30; it'll cost you eight well-spent bucks.

Here are some Cooksie songs if you want to know what you're getting into:

Please Slow Down (mp3)
Carson Iceberg (mp3)


The Thin Man
Church Bus

6615 Roosevelt Rd.
Berwyn, Ill.
(708) 788-2118

Cover: $8
9:30 p.m.


You know what would have been funny? If he had approached the podium, cleared his throat, retrieved his speech from his jacket pocket, and proceeded to read, word-for-word, Colin Powell's February 2003 address to the United Nations. That would have been fucking funny.