Archives for category: Media

The Big Rewind, Nathan RabinThe Big Rewind is a collection of autobiographical essays by Nathan Rabin. Rabin is the third author to be featured at the panel discussion I attended last month over at the DePaul Center. He was the first to read a selection and the sound engineering was not entirely worked out so I missed much of what he was saying. To compensate for that I picked up The Big Rewind before leaving the discussion and now am going to give it a shot.

Roger Ebert described Rabin’s life as reading “like a fanboy’s collision with Dostoevsky.” I got to talk briefly with Rabin after the panel discussion, mostly pleasantries and a brief discussion of the Watchmen t-shirt I was wearing at the time. This was stark contrast to the themes of the essay he read for the crowd earlier. While I do not consider myself an artist I try to always be looking forward to new forms of expression and creative endeavors. And insights into the hyper-accelerated pop culture world in which I find myself are have been curiously entertaining to me in the past. It is what drew me to reading Chuck Klosterman, and Klosterman is now the indirect catalyst for me reading Rabin.

Publishers Weekly writes:

Rabin, a writer for the Onion‘s arts section, endured a dysfunctional childhood marked by parental abandonment, a stint in a mental hospital and an adolescence spent in a group home and a drug-ridden co-op house. And in this memoir, he views his life through the blurry lens of formative cultural influences. His episodic narrative recounts a sarcastic, insecure youth’s gonzo misadventures with a cast of freaks, misfits and aloof or cruelly promiscuous girlfriends, then moves on to adult run-ins with air-sick celebrities, bored prostitutes and nutty Hollywood types. Convinced that cultural tastes reveal the soul, like a My Space page, Rabin opens each chapter with an earnest (though rarely incisive) appreciation of some favorite in a personal canon that ranges from rap albums to The Great Gatsby, and intrusively peppers his writing with pop culture references. There are, alas, limits to the evocative power of pop culture references, and the author’s arcane allusions — Susanne and Jack’s relationship was like a gender-switched version of the star-crossed duo in the Stephen Malkmus song ‘Jenny and the Ess-Dog’ — test them. Rabin’s vigorous, smart-assed prose sometimes brings the sideshow vividly to life, but it’s marred by self-conscious fanboyism and labored jokiness.

Print EditionsI just came back from the panel discussion over at the DePaul Center. Three authors were there promoting their books and talking about music.

Chuck Klosterman: Fargo Rock City; Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs; Killing Yourself to Live; Chuck Klosterman IV; Downtown Owl.

Greg Kot: Wilco: Learning How to Die; Ripped; “Turn It Up” Chicago Tribune.

Nathan Rabin: The Big Rewind; “The A.V. Club”.

Each presented a reading from their work. Rabin started with a section of his book dealing with drugs and the challenge with his reading was more technical than anything. The sound system in the basement of the DePaul center seemed to have been set by bonobos with a penchant for reverb. Big hollow room and nervous spoken word came out as a booming, sometimes incomprehensible mess.

Rabin Klosterman KotBy the time Klosterman took the microphone, they had figured out the sound system. Klosterman’s new book Downtown Owl is a novel. It is his first. And instead of reading from that novel he read an essay from his forthcoming book, Eating the Dinosaur. He explained this decision by saying that authors reading from their own novels can never end well. A reading should select a small section of the book and present it in an entertaining way. If you do that successfully, the audience is left wondering what the other 400 pages are all about and walk away thinking the novel is craptastic, pretentious fluff. After all, they have already heard the best part. And if the author flounders in making the selection for the reading, then the reading goes poorly and the audience walk away thinking the author is craptastic, pretentious fluff. So he reads essays. Essays are about the right size for this sort of event. And so he selected an essay about Chicago’s favorite musician: Garth Brooks. (His claim; not mine.) The essay focused on the need for our music to be both authentic and staged and looks with laser-like relentlessness at Chris Gaines. Klosterman tries to answer the question nobody is asking: why did Garth Brooks create Chris Gaines?

Greg Kot, just off the highs of the Pitchfork Festival, joked that if he wasn’t as successful in entertaining the audience he would be brief so that we could get out of there and catch the Billy Joel/Elton John concert at Wrigley Field. And if we couldn’t afford that we might get more entertainment from perusing the reader comments of his review of Thursday’s concert. Nevertheless, he selected a short section of Ripped that dealt with how the Internet has hyper-accelerated the development time bands have previously enjoyed. It was a theme he repeated in some of his reviews of acts at Pitchfork.

Chuck Klosterman 2After the readings the panel took questions with Kot, the journalist, firing the first few off to his fellow authors. The topic focused on the health of media: specifically print and music. The authors contrasted the two fields, how even if all music were available for free, musicians had a revenue stream unavailable to authors: live performances. They talked about the role of record companies, the apparent uptick in nostalgia formats like vinyl and eight-track.

And at the very end each of the authors patiently stuck around for at least an hour to talk to audience members and sign books. After all, that is how authors make their money: they sell books. Kot underlined this point at the close of the panel when he asked the rhetorical question: Let’s be honest how many of you would have paid $15 to hear us?

Quiet laughter filtered through the room.

Dinosaurs may have consumed my boyhood attention from time to time but space was one of those concepts that fascinated me. Today is the 40th anniversary of one of the defining moments of mankind’s attraction to space. It’s an easy date to remember. (It’s also my sister’s birthday.) This piece of work from one of my colleagues in Baltimore provided me another element of photographic inspiration.

Reaching Tranquility, Karl Ferron, The Baltimore Sun
Karl Ferron, photographer on staff for The Baltimore Sun shot and produced this video commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission. He has intercut archival footage obtained from NASA and the JFK Library with eight months worth of time-lapse video of the moon travelling across the Baltimore skyline. Steve Sullivan, Multimedia Editor for The Baltimore Sun, describes the result as: “an extraordinary convergence of history and art.”

Look up.

Ripped, Greg KotGreg Kot is joining Chuck Klosterman and Nathan Rabin at the DePaul Barnes and Nobel next week to talk about the role of music in their work and lives. I’m planning on attending for a number of reasons. Music is a topic I’m very interested in. Klosterman is an author I’ve come to enjoy a great deal over the past several years. And most coincidentally, Greg Kot is the music columnist for the Chicago Tribune where I work. But that’s not all. Kot’s latest book, Ripped: How the Wired Generation Revolutionized Music, chronicles the massive changes roiling through the music industry in the past fifteen years. Much of the book discusses the ways the Internet has changed music. But before that, Kot spends several chapters discussing the transformative effects of radio consolidation that gripped the industry in the 1990s: for example, the second chapter of Ripped details the practices of Clear Channel under the direction of Randy Michaels. Randy Michaels is now the current Chief Operating Officer of Tribune Company. Several other key Clear Channel executives were recruited to Tribune eighteen months ago when Tribune Company went private. Meet the new boss, indeed.

So we have a fascinating constellation of topics — personal, professional and accidental — that have come together in a book that has landed almost literally on my doorstep. And much of that, while interesting to me, says very little about the quality of research and attention Kot pays to the subject at hand. Still, I found this quote in a review of Ripped by David Thigpen, former Time music writer, particularly poignant:

Kot’s insider access and the chops honed as a music critic give this book a richness that makes it an indispensable survey of the turbulent turn-of-the-century music scene. Ironically, with the digital revolution also putting newspapers on notice, it’s unlikely the “wired” generation of legions of bedroom bloggers and earnest but unprofessional amateurs will soon produce a writer with the broad perspective and access it took to achieve this book.

The Apotheosis of WashingtonThis past week work sent me on a trip to Washington DC. I went to assist with the relocation of the news bureau and to there and to perform some network changes on Capitol Hill. I have not been back to Washington DC since I was a very small child. When I say very small, I mean two years old. My parents have pictures and stories of me visiting the various sights around the city. But my memories are much fuzzier. I think I remember it raining once. Maybe I was just crying. Who knows.

Anyway, so I flew into Dulles on Sunday night and met up with Jim at Union Station Monday morning. I went early to take a few pictures. I wasn’t sure how much time, if any, I was going to have to do anything remotely touristy, so I just packed a little camera for some snapshots. I must say Washington DC’s Union Station trumps Chicago’s Union Station by quite a margin. It’s an impressive piece of architecture and serves as a hub for by Amtrak, MARC and VRE commuter railroads, and the Washington Metro transit system. Chicago’s own architect Daniel Burnham designed the station in the Beaux-Arts style. It opened in 1908.

From there we hiked over to Capitol Hill and obtained visitor credentials for me. I gained access to the Senate Press Gallery workspace and telecommunications attic above. While we waited for the Senate IT personnel to arrive and escort us up to our equipment, Jim gave me a quick tour of the Capitol. Jim showed me the rotunda, Statuary Hall and the Old Supreme Court Chambers before we met up with the Senate technician. Our equipment is mounted in the attic above the press galleries. To get there we had to walk up a very narrow brick spiral staircase past the “Wall of Shame”. The righthand wall of the staircase is littered with grafitti of names and dates. In my quick trip by the oldest dates I saw were from 1936. Jim informed me later that the wall is named the way it is as you do not want to get caught writing on it: so of course lots of people try.

Union Station Colonnade We spent the rest of the day working on the logistics of the office move. Tuesday and Wednesday were much the same, moving back and forth between the old and the new offices and working out details. I had some specific technical things I needed to accomplish to get the network up and running in the new space. That went well and then I assisted Jim with the myriad little details that go into moving an office of this size and complexity. Long, hot days, with not much in the way of sightseeing breaks. We did take a few minutes to go up onto the roof of the old bureau and look out over the city Tuesday afternoon.

Washington has height restrictions on the buildings. There are no skyscrapers. Nothing can obstruct the view of the Capitol. The result is that there aren’t any buildings much over 10 stories. That gives the city a distinctive feel. A park can effectively wipe out the feeling that you’re in the middle of a city as the trees block the view of all the buildings. Nothing rises above them.

I had some delicious crabcakes — the signature DC dish. I drank a beer at the Post Pub across the street from the Washington Post. And I came to the conclusion that no one is actually from Washington DC. Everyone there is actually from somewhere else, often another continent.

All in all, it was a good trip. Hot and humid, couple of thunderstorms, lots of work. I got to see several of the people I worked with last summer during the political conventions and I got a brief glimpse of the nation’s capitol after thirty-plus years of being away.

Pay To Play, Elizabeth Brackett I feel I’ve been on a political roller-coaster this year in Illinois. I’m sure part of that has to do with my work at the political conventions last summer. Another factor you may have read about in the newspaper. And then there’s this story. The story about the Illinois governor arrested on on federal corruption charges last December. January 8th, the Illinois House of Representatives voted to impeach the Governor 114–1. The Illinois Senate subsequently convicted and removed from the Governor from office on January 29, 2009. The Illinois Senate’s vote was unanimous: 59–0. To add insult to injury, the Illinois Senate also unanimously voted to bar the now-former Governor from holding any public office in the state of Illinois. Ever.

All of this raises the question: How did we get here? Veteran Chicago journalist Elizabeth Brackett attempts to explain in her book Pay to Play.

From the back cover:

In Pay to Play, Elizabeth Brackett uncovers new details as she goes behind the story of the first governor to be impeached by the Illinois legislature. All the time tracing the background of corruption in Illinois politics and its implications for state government executive branches across the country, she tells precisely how Blagojevich’s personal biography and his political upbringing paved the way for his reckless fall; what the dilemma of selecting replacement senators means for other states; what secrets the federal trial of the governor is likely to produce; why Roland Burris was selected for the U.S. Senate seat for Illinois; and how a man named Obama could emerge with integrity from the swill of this same political environment.

Smokes found this 2008 TED Talk by Jill Bolte Taylor and pointed it out to me. I was hooked immediately. In her talk Taylor takes us through the dramatic self-analysis of a massive stroke she suffered in 1996 and shares insights about the nature of perception, personality and creativity. What makes this talk interesting to a general audience is that Taylor is a neuroanatomist — a brain scientist. The stroke provided her with an opportunity that few people come across — and perhaps even fewer would desire. Taylor has made the most of the opportunity, rejoining:

“How many brain scientists have been able to study the brain from the inside out? I’ve gotten as much out of this experience of losing my left mind as I have in my entire academic career.”

What make this talk interesting to me as a specific audience are the similarities between her experiences with her stroke and my experiences with my own brain trauma. Four years ago nearly to the day I underwent a second brain surgery to clear a large blood clot and relieve fluid pressure on my left frontal lobe. It was an illuminating event for me that sparked my own slow return to something resembling normal. It also awakened a latent interest into brain function. This blog’s first major purpose was to chronicle my experience and recovery and from time to time I have gone back and re-read some of those rough initial posts from 2005 and sought out new insights into what transpired. I don’t mean to equate my trauma as identical to Taylor’s, but to draw a loose line of similarity between these life-changing events and underline the complexity of brain function and neuroscience with a personal perspective.

The chance for Taylor present her talk at TED is huge. I highly recommend the 2007 documentary The Future We Will Create for a look inside this annual conference and its mission to illuminate “ideas worth spreading”. The documentary is available as DVD and live streaming through Netflix.

She concludes her talk with a challenge to the preconceptions of personality and creativity. She challenges the audience to choose to live inside the creative power of our minds:

Which do you choose? And when? I believe that the more time we spend choosing to run the deep inner-peace circuitry of our right hemispheres the more peace we will project into the world and the more peaceful our world will be. And I thought that was an idea worth spreading.

Steph here. John K. suggested we live blog the Oscars this year and since I’ve never live blogged, I thought it seemed like an interesting thing to do. So, here goes. The Oscars 2009.

All times listed below are Central Standard Time (CST), because that’s our territory.

6:59pm: The sound just went out on our television, so this has potential to be the quietest Oscar eve… oh, there, it’s back. Disaster averted.

7:00pm: Robin Roberts informs us that “the excitement is starting on the red carpet,” so I prepare appropriately by fluffing my pillow. She and Tim Gunn are hosting this embarrassment.

First up, Kate Winslet. Her hair looks pretty cool – nice and sleek. The dress is gray and I’m reminded of elephants, which I like. So, I guess that means I like her dress. She’s thankful she’s not tripping. Sadly, I wish I was.

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Shine A Light, Rolling Stones & Martin ScorseseYou’re the Rolling Stones. You want to film one of your concerts. Who do you ask to do that? Martin Scorsese! Just let that image percolate in your mind for a minute. A Rolling Stones concert shot as a Scorsese film. Don’t worry. The concert doesn’t end with a pile of dead bodies across the front of the stage. Jagger, Richards, Watts and Wood are very much alive. And they rock! The result is Shine a Light.

Scorsese intercuts the concert footage with behind the scenes looks at the pre-production concerns. Jagger’s fixation on the danger of the big boom cameras. Scorsese’s neurotic obsession about the absence of a fixed playlist. Historical news clips and archival interviews with band members round out the rest of the film and provide a more three-dimensional look at where the Stones fit into the history of rock and roll. Add Jack White, Buddy Guy, Christina Aguilera and Bill Clinton to the lineup and you have a fantastic, star-studded evening in a beautiful venue: the historic Beacon Theater in New York City.

Scorsese has often used Stones music in his films. In an interview about the documentary Jagger joked that Shine a Light may be the only Scorsese film that does not include “Gimme Shelter”. Brilliant entertainment.

News WarThis morning Whirl and I concluded watching the PBS public affairs program, Frontline, turn a critical eye on its own world: modern American journalism. “News War” is a four-part in-depth series about a myriad of issues facing journalism today. Employed as I am by a large media company saddled with debt and riding into an uncertain economic horizon, the topics of this series were near and dear to my heart.

In the first two hours of the series, “Secrets, Sources & Spin,” Frontline talked to the major players in the debates over the role of media in U.S. society. They examined the relationship between the Bush administration and the press, the use of anonymous sources. The centerpiece of this discussion was the use of anonymous sources and their consequences in the Valerie Plame leak investigation. In the second hour, the series followed this discussion into another area of journalism to highlight unnerving similarities and concerns: sports journalism. We saw interviews of the journalists facing jail for refusing to reveal their sources in relation to the BALCO investigation. San Francisco Chronicle reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams. Their investigative reporting of BALCO made national headlines exposing steroid abuse in professional baseball.

President Bush praised their stories and commended the reporters for their public service. But in May 2006, his own Justice Department authorized the issuance of subpoenas that would compel the reporters to appear in court and to identify the source of the leak. The reporters fought the subpoenas. But this week, the leaker came forward and publicly identified himself, thus releasing the reporters from their promise of confidentiality.

Control of the message is a critical issue. And that issue can often be at odds with the public service mission of the free press. Frontline’s discussion of the development of the legal concept of privileged communication between reporter and source fascinated me. The erosion of that concept terrified me.

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