Archive for October, 2007

The Viking of 6th Avenue

Moondog remains one of the most enigmatic and unlikely presences in modern music: Blinded in an accident involving dynamite, Louis Thomas Hardin’s interest in percussion came early in life, eventually leading him to create his own instruments and to become a pioneer of modern minimalist composition. (As if blindness wasn’t enough of a hurdle, he was also homeless in New York City for quite some time.) Although Moondog recorded albums for Epic and Prestige, his music continues to defy any attempt at categorization. By deconstructing standard ideas of rhythm and repetition, shedding all notions of acceptable instrumentation, and adhering to a fashion sense that was utterly otherworldly on the streets of mid-20th century New York City, Moondog single-handedly created his own world of music, in which seemed to be the sole performer and participant (a fact that never seemed to bother him). To celebrate the release of a long overdue biography that has recently come out, here are two Moondog tracks to absorb:

Audio: Moondog – “Themes and Variations”

Audio: Moondog – “Enough About Human Rights”

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Gentlemen, This Is the War Room

Each week, the Science Times supplement of the New York Times presents a moral quandary: As I immediately relegate it to the recycling bin, the front-cover stories about global warming and the energy crisis (exactly how many natural resources were wasted to bring this paper to my doorstep?) only further add to my guilt. But this week’s front cover was all about destruction, so dive in! A detailed piece titled “Why They Called It the Manhattan Project” retraces the New York locations that led to the clandestine creation of the world’s first atom bomb, including the project’s first headquarters, “a skyscraper hidden in plain sight right across from City Hall.” Click here to read this piece, which also includes some hair-raising “Atomic Tourists” video footage. For more on Robert Oppenheimer (pictured here), a native of Riverside Drive, NPR offers this biographical information.

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Why Greg Tate Matters

Writer Michael A. Gonzales, a regular contributor to STOP SMILING (click here to read an excerpt of Gonzales’ interview with The RZA; and here for his interview with Barry Michael Cooper) has written a lengthy tribute to the “cultural critic, short story writer, musician and Black aesthetic lightning rod Greg Tate,” who recently turned 50. The full text is available here.

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Change Is Afoot in France

Last night’s at-times contentious 60 Minutes interview with France’s new America-loving president, Nicolas Sarkozy (click here for more on “Sarko the American”) capped a recent string of stories about the country’s cultural shifts. An editorial in last week’s New York Times focused on France’s new Chicago-cultivated finance minister, Christine Lagarde, who is “trying to change the psyche of the French people in relation to work” and ditch the “cold-war hangover.” In the New York Sun, a piece with the intriguing subhead “What we talk about when we talk about France is not what you might think” traces transformations back to the days of map-making and the Revolution. The STOP SMILING interview with the Paris duo Justice mentions David Lynch, who said recently that the country’s smoking ban was a betrayal of French culture. But relax, says Philip French (actual name!) of the Guardian: “Film fans will always have Paris.”

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Time for Cormac… and the Coens

After breaking his abstinence from interviews with Oprah this summer, Cormac McCarthy has returned in another high-profile outlet. This time it’s Time, where the Santa Fe-based author is interviewed by Joel & Ethan Coen, who have also kept a low profile in recent years (even a cover story in New York earlier this month offered no original quotes), in anticipation of the release of their collaboration, No Country For Old Men. (Click here to read “What Happened When a Very Private Writer…”, which features, among other highlights, Cormac’s shout-out to Terrence Malick.)

Also bouncing off the backboards of this rebound issue of Time is a survey of what some of the country’s best chefs, among them Mario Batali and Thomas Keller, would eat for their last meals. In all, good food for thought.

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Fun Boy Three – The Lunatics Have Taken Over the Asylum

The early Eighties group Fun Boy Three featured former Specials members Terry Hall, Neville Staples and Lynval Golding. Formed directly on the heels of the Specials, the Three pushed their sound to the future with the self-titled album, FB3. The band released two records and several singles. The second record, Waiting, was produced by David Byrne and begot several UK hits, one of them being a great version of the Terry Hall co-written tune “Our Lips Are Sealed” made popular by the Go-Go’s. Waiting is a little slicker than FB3 and does not have that timeless-yet-ahead-of-their-time sound of the first. FB3 also features Bananarama (before their hit singles) as backing vocalists. “The Lunatics Have Taken Over The Asylum” is their most powerful, moving and political tune.

Audio: Fun Boy Three – “The Lunatics Have Taken Over the Asylum”

Post by Damon Locks of the Eternals

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Behind the Gates of Gossip

The whispers behind whisper campaigns have been reverberating throughout the press as the practices of media outlets that thrive on gossip have been called into question. A recent cover story in New York magazine turned the tables on the media-centric blog Gawker; in September, New York also sought some human interaction with the elusive Matt Drudge (pictured here), the founder of the seventh-most-viewed news website, the Drudge Report; this week Slate proofread Drudge’s red letter item about the controversy surrounding The New Republic‘s “Baghdad Diarist”; Drudge also landed on the front page of the New York Times this week in a piece about how Hillary Clinton is “learning to play nice” with Drudge (related: Jack Shafer of Slate commented on the “black art” of Clinton’s media management in a piece titled “The New Clinton Propaganda Machine“); and the Times‘ Week In Review section last month explored the anatomy of an “open secret” in the age of the blogosphere — the piece, titled “Oh, Everyone Knows That (Except You),” quoted Michael Kinsley, who believes journalism should have an “intermediate standard” for publishing rumors.

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It Came From Camden Town

Diehard fans of the 1987 wine-dark comedy Withnail & I will be overjoyed (or perhaps conflicted) by Sunday’s announcement that the film’s two principal actors — Richard E. Grant and Paul McGann — will reunite on screen. As reported in the Guardian, a short film titled Always Crashing In the Same Car, which is scheduled to screen at the London Film Festival, “sees both men almost taking their characters up 20 years on, although they haven’t become actors. Rather, they play a pair of powerful political men with shades of Blair and Brown.” The short film was made without the involvement of the writer/director of Withnail, Bruce Robinson (featured on the cover of our UK Issue: click here to read an excerpt, as well as our interview with Richard E. Grant). But what’s to become of Presuming Ed?

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Existential Book Buying

NY Times art critic Michael Kimmelman, in an article in today’s Arts section, breaks down the “cultural divide” of the book industry in Europe and America. Over the last two decades, big-chain bookstores in the US and the UK have put most mom-and-pop shops out of business nationwide. In Germany, however, there are big and small bookstores on every block in cities and rural towns. Germany’s book culture is sustained, he writes, by an age-old practice requiring by law that all booksellers sell books at fixed prices, save for old, used or damaged books. This allows small German publishers to cater to neighborhoods and communities that the big publishers may ignore. This has been a “source of special pride until Switzerland jumped ship this spring,” overturning the fixed-price law, allowing discounted books to be sold across the border. Germany’s biggest fear, of course, is that small- and medium-sized bookshops will be abolished, which brings the debate back to quality over quantity. Elisabeth Ruge, who runs German publisher Berlin Verlag, told Kimmelman: “Three-quarters of our list will never make money, but it’s important to publish those books because we believe in them and because they create an atmosphere of quality. People trust us when we say a book is good.”

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MLB: The Agony & the Ecstacy

With the pennant race over and the World Series underway, the media has been abuzz with high-minded pieces about the national pastime: Slate tackles Manny Ramirez (pictured here) and the “Manny being Manny” phenomenon, affirming that the ambivalent slugger “knows more about baseball than you do”; Ben McGrath of The New Yorker sizes up the super-agent Scott Boras in a piece aptly-titled “The Extortionist“; the Rocky Mountain News investigates the “malicious attack” that sapped online sales for Rockies World Series tickets; and, most poignantly, the Cleveland Plain-Dealer allows the readers to summarize their grief in a piece about the Cleveland Indians‘ season titled “Freakish collapse leaves fans scratching their heads… again.”

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