Archive for July 2008
One of the unexpected side effects of moving this blog to WordPress was easy access to real-time statistics. I could tell, pretty quickly, whether a particular post or type of post was getting picked up or ignored. It’s seductive stuff — as anyone who has followed his or her book- or record-selling stats on Amazon knows so well. The bad part, aside from the time-wasting, is that the easy access to stats makes a blogger think too much about audience before posting. Blogs, I believe, are supposed to be about unvetted expression, capturing a moment, embracing the amateur and enthusiast in you even if you’re a professional writer in your real life. I intended to title one of my previous blogs “Quality over Quantity,” to celebrate that, but as old-timers know, I committed a typo and wound up titling that blog “Quantity over Quantity,” an unintentional joke too amusing to fix.
Now I’m not so sure. It’s 2008 and almost everyone has a blog (or has at least tried):
Is blogging getting old? Over the past two years, Twitter and Facebook status messages have emerged as media for distributing thoughts deemed too evanescent for a blog post. And now there are so many such services that aggregators such as FriendFeed and Ping.fm have emerged. More are coming. Nothing is so mundane that it can’t be shared immediately via many media. As Philip Greenspun’s blog puts it in its tagline: “A posting every day; an interesting idea every three month.”
I am a bit too enamored with my own ideas, as are many of us. As Jane said to me once and probably thought many more times, “Tell it to your blog.” The blogosphere is a wonderful place, but it’s one by definition full of noise. Although I value that noise and revel in it sometimes, I think too many of my posts are mostly noise, little signal.
Sometimes statistics reveal a truth. The two posts here that received, respectively, the most traffic and the most pointers in recent weeks were Barack Obama, Rolling Stone, and the secret of one great magazine cover and Neil Young and Crazy Horse: Twin “Hurricane”s in Rio. They’re two of the more substantive posts here from the past month. Neither post will change the world and both of ‘em featured pointers to more interesting content elsewhere. But they both sought to do a bit more than point to something and say, “Cool.” So, as this blog trudges forward, I’ll stop posting just to post. If I have something interesting to offer, I’ll try to communicate it in a substantial and entertaining way. If I don’t, I’ll try to shut up.
You may have your own opinion; I’ll tell you what I think on Monday.
You might be a normal person who hears a child chant, as I just did, “Made you look/Made you look/Now you’re in the baby book,” and forget it immediately. I envy you, friend. I, unfortunately, am not a normal person and I am therefore troubled by a number of things in that nyah-nyah:
- Why does making someone look put him or her into the baby book?
- Why is being in the baby book bad and, as a result, tauntable? I like babies. Wouldn’t being in the baby book be a good thing?
- If being in the baby book is indeed a bad thing, what sort of person would trick another person, probably a friend or family member, into looking just to get him or her into a baby book?
The questions could go on forever (and it felt like they did in the original version of this post), and by now the person once sitting next to me would be running away as surely as if I had been pitching scientology, Atlas Shrugged, or CDs of the New Kids on the Block reunion.
(2007) Starts around 7:02:
(1978 ) Fellow old-timers may prefer this one (solo starts around 8:18):
(1975) Even older people may be taken by this one (no guitar solo, but no guitar either, barely a picture to be honest):
Buried in Apple’s new App Store is the ebook reader app eReader. It’s pretty good, considering the small screen, but the best news is that all the ebooks I bought from the eReader store when I thought I’d be on the PalmOS forever work again. Now if Apple could squeeze a competent tasks app into the iPhone I wouldn’s miss my Treo so much.
Key sentence: “Police said the man was possibly on drugs during the incident.”
Neil Young week is behind us at Jewels and Binoculars, but I must share this unexpected Beatles cover he’s been playing. Stay until the end; it’s all about the feedback:
UPDATE: Someone else has linked to the video — and, unlike me, has bothered to describe it.
I’m a student of magazine covers. I’m a hardcore Loisite, and I’ve spent decades exploring the best way to mix words and images so people cannot ignore the cover and must grab the magazine.
I’ve had the great pleasure of spending much of my career editing and writing for magazines. Those reading this who know me know that I love magazines. As a reader, I spend way too much time at newsstands. I love the immediacy of magazines. As an editor, I love getting words and pictures to tell stories together. I love trying to fill infinite content into a severely finite space. I even love the disposability of magazines: after this issue is done, I get to work on another one!
Some disclosure: I voted for Barack Obama in the Massachusetts primary and intend to vote for him in November, but I am not among his more enthusiastic supporters. I wrote more than 100 reviews and articles for Rolling Stone during the ’80s, but I lost interest with it during the ’90s and receive it now only because it came as a free offer when I bought a DVD earlier this year. The text of the recent issue is full of both cliches and factual errors (sample of the latter: the Kinman Brothers will be surprised to learn that Alejandro Escovedo “fronted” Rank and File), so I’ll stop receiving the magazine as soon as they stop sending me free copies. That noted, I believe the cover of the new issue of the magazine, featuring Obama, is the most arresting magazine cover I’ve seen in years.
Magazines are about words and images working together, although sometimes words can detract from an image. Is there anything that the cover image of Obama doesn’t say to the reader? It tells you who it’s about and what Rolling Stone thinks about him: everything about content and approach is embedded in the bold image. The smile is 1,000-watt, the (digitally enhanced?) wrinkles coming out of his eyes convey that this guy isn’t too young for the job he wants, and the American flag lapel pin wouldn’t pop more unless the cover was 3-D. And how important does Rolling Stone think Obama is? Important enough to cover half the words in the name of the magazine. That’s an old trick, but it’s especially powerful here.
This cover is particularly powerful when you compare it to this recent one that tried to accomplish something similar with its design (although, of course, the politicians and their predicaments are far different):
The Rolling Stone cover makes a starker impact because the designer went 100% of the way: no words. The New York cover cheats. The “<-Brain” thing works because it’s as much a pure graphic element as a word with an arrow, but the words in the top left of the page are a waste. They distract. “The Governor’s Fall” reads the headline. Please. When that cover appeared, mere days after Spitzer and his power evaporated, did anyone in the New York reading public not know who Eliot Spitzer was or what he had done? (The subhead, with its pointless navigation, adds to the offense.) The cover, a step away from brilliant, loses its way because the committee that vetted it didn’t trust the arresting image at its core. Words are important. But sometimes words get in the way, too.
So there we are, both of us sitting on her floor. I am typing on my laptop. She is supervising yet another wedding between Barbie and Ken.
Grace: What are you doing?
[Grace stands up, walks behind me, and sees what's on the laptop screen.]
Grace: That’s email. You do work in email?
8:49am: Child #3, a little weepy, begs to be kept home from camp today because she has a “stomach ache.” Father suspicious but acquiesces.
9:26am: Child #3, surprisingly lively, takes a break from lining up snow globes on her rug to say, “Dad, can we get Coldstone iced cream tonight?” Father asks about that stomach ache. Child #3: “Oh, I’m much better.”
I’d like to add, belatedly, my voice to the chorus of praise for R.E.M.’s Accelerate. I tend to distrust comeback storylines, so for a while I distrusted my own affection for this record, but Accelerate isn’t merely a comeback; it’s one of the band’s best and the only one they’ve made since Bill Berry left that’s worthy of the band.
R.E.M. is a singles band: a great singles band, but a singles band. Even full-length records of theirs that I have enjoyed — from Lifes Rich Pageant to Monster — have had long stretches of dull. Hey, the only R.E.M. album I like beginning to end is Chronic Town, which has a mere five cuts. But, for four minutes at a time, they can feel like perfection.
Accelerate is not perfect. The slow and midtempo numbers are a step above the snorers on the band’s last three records, but the rockers are outstanding: snarling, angry, bursting with life, the closest they’ve gotten to punk since their debut EP. Most people have pointed to Peter Buck’s rattlesnake riffs as the difference here, and they are sharp and surprising, but the greatest triumph here is Michael Stipe’s. He’s way outside his comfort zone here, both as a lyricist and a singer. On recent records, he’s been most comfortable overenunciating and overemoting. On Accelerate‘s fast cuts, he manages being both pissed-off and openhearted simultaneously. Maybe it takes someone who’s been at this for 30 years or so to sound so raw, so surprised by what he’s come up with?
“Living Well’s the Best Revenge”