Posts Tagged ‘Music’

My blogroll-ed friend Ted Reinert badgered me into going to this show and I’m glad he did. I had seen the Arcade Fire and their awesome openers Spoon twice each and didn’t expect much from either this time around. Both bands put on better shows than I thought were possible.

UPDATE: After many, many posts and articles for MIL, this is my first piece to rise to the top of the Most Popular list! Literary folks love the Arcade Fire.

“How are the people on the hill doing?” asked Win Butler, Arcade Fire’s lead vocalist, of the fans crammed onto the sprawling lawn behind the Merriweather Post Pavilion amphitheatre in Maryland. “That’s where I’d be,” he announced proudly. Before launching into the encore, he shared a story from his suburban Houston childhood: as an usher at an outdoor venue in Texas (not unlike the 16,500-person space he was now headlining), he would turn a blind eye to eager fans from the cheap seats sneaking down to the stage.

Experiences like these colour the band’s third album, “The Suburbs”. Most of Arcade Fire is native to cosmopolitan Montreal—the adopted hometown of Win Butler and his bandmate and brother William—yet the new record sounds like it came straight out of the American rust belt: “Some cities make you lose your head/Endless suburbs stretched out thin and dead/And what was that line you said/Wishing you were anywhere but here/You watch the life you’re living disappear.” Butler delivers these lines on “Wasted Hours”, a song that echoes the Midwestern malaise of The Replacements, who first proclaimed that “Anywhere’s Better Than Here”.

Even the stage was set up to evoke the claustrophobic sprawl of middle America: a lone streetlight was visible in the rear left of the backdrop, with an image of cracked pavement and a bridge overpass enveloping all eight members of the touring band. A giant billboard, which doubled as a video screen and lighting display, rose out of the rear centre of the stage, tying the suburban motif together.

I first saw the Arcade Fire six years ago in the Midwest.

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Photo credit: NRK P3 (via Flickr)

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This is my second piece for PBS MediaShift, which is again looking at new opportunities for journalists. Although the quotes I got were much less explosive than in the previous piece, I still managed to work in a great anecdote about dropping inappropriate Sarah Palin references into blog posts to drive traffic.

In my first article for our special Beyond Content Farms series, I examined the opportunities available to writers at some of the biggest content farms. Today, I look at jobs covering hyper-local news.

What hyper-local news organizations are aiming for is nothing short of revolutionary: AOL’s two-year-old Patch network and established players like Examiner.com are attempting to recreate a profitable business model for professionally produced local journalism in the digital age. Unlike companies like Demand Media that pump out largely face-less content, the hyper-local sites allow writers to build a name for themselves on one geographic or subject area.

These companies are hiring a lot of journalists in communities all over the U.S., which means more and more people will find jobs in hyper-local news. So what’s it like to work in the new hyper-local journalism space? I spoke with a few writers and editors to learn more.

Going Through a Rough Patch

Jennifer Connic works as editor of the Millburn-Short Hills, N.J. site that’s part of Patch’s expanding hyper-local network. But she bristled at the hyper-local tag. “I think it belittles in some ways the journalism people like me are doing,” she said.

No matter what you call it, the job she is doing is not an easy one, as Connic readily admits. Patch editors are all basically one-woman news organizations. “You’re really the only person who’s running the site,” Connic said. When people have a news tip or there’s breaking news, she said, “I’m the one who gets contacted, I’m the one who has to be on top of that.”

Nearly two years into the job, Connic is still putting in long hours. She had a very difficult spring where, Connic said, “I had a lot of days where I’d get up in the morning and start working and I wouldn’t be done until after midnight.”

Most of that time was spent providing invaluable coverage of how the New Jersey state budget crisis was impacting the Millburn public school system. Well-known media industry reporter Joe Strupp highlighted some other great Patch reporting from Cecelia Smith, the former editor for Darien, CT. She broke a story revealing the criminal history of a candidate running for the town’s First Selectman (similar to the mayor). Smith discovered the candidate had an attempted murder conviction, and he eventually lost the race.

Like most Patch editors, Connic has a degree in journalism and her pay is likely relatively modest (although she declined to give any hard figures for her salary). As Andria Krewson reported on MediaShift, Patch competitor MainStreetConnect pays editors a salary of roughly $40,000 a year. “It is what it is,” sighed the New Jersey transplant, doing her best to adopt the local patois.

Connic was more forthcoming about the pay rates offered her freelancers…

Click here to comment and read about freelancing for Patch, becoming a D.C. English Springer Spaniel Examiner for Examiner.com and, yes, Jello wrestling with Sarah Palin.

Photo credit: brianbutko (via Flickr)

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Keep Jazz Real

According to the National Endowment for the Arts, in 2008 jazz fans were less numerous and much older than ever before.  Stuffy, stodgy jazz aficionados couldn’t figure out why. I explain.

In his lament for the state of jazz, Terry Teachout began by noting that in 1987 Congress passed a measure honouring jazz as “a rare and valuable national treasure,” which accorded it an “institutional status commensurate with its value and importance”. The resolution, introduced in the House as HR-57 and later confirmed by the Senate, could just as easily have applied to the blues, also “a uniquely American musical synthesis and culture through the African-American experience”.

Blues musicians should be glad they were spared the tribute. It clearly didn’t help jazz, which has been declining in popularity in part due to such well-meaning measures. The move to institutionalise and aggrandise jazz has placed it on a pedestal, far above the innovation and vibrancy that made it great. The effect has been to make the music more rare and less valued in contemporary American culture.

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Photo credit: Tom Marcello (via Flickr)

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I would like to thank both Sue Kim for bringing me to this show and Ted Reinert for giving me a couple Regina Spektor albums–good times, good tunes.


Regina-Spektor-Corbin-HiarBy the time I spotted an exuberant couple swing-dancing in the wide carpeted isles of the Daughters of the American Revolution ballroom, I’d already quit trying to guess what would come next. A Regina Spektor neophyte in a CBGB T-shirt, I knew I was out of place as soon as the DAR’s chandeliers dimmed and Spektor’s devoted fans began cheering. But it didn’t take long before I was clapping along with the rest of the crowd.

A captivating performer with a voice like velvet, Regina Spektor has that effect on people. Raised in Moscow and then the Bronx, Spektor developed her distinctive style playing all over New York City, in small clubs, basements and synagogues–anywhere she could find a piano. Fast forward a decade and Spektor is signed with an imprint of Warner Brothers, playing a concert in one of the most patrician venue in all of Washington, DC. Her song “Chemo Limo” is rumoured to be featured on a forthcoming release from the president of hip-hop, Jay-Z.

None of these details do much to explain her utterly unique music. Combining poetic and occasionally bizarre lyrics with beautiful, halting melodies, Spektor’s style is difficult to describe. Her sound has been labelled everything from “anti-folk” to blues to indie rock. MTV’s James Montgomery calls it “twisty, turny, timeless and tangible music”, yet others have complained that her songs are too precious. Her latest album, “Far“, released over the summer, has been both praised for its ingenuity and maligned for its cuteness.

Though her recordings do occasionally border on twee, Spektor’s live show is raucous. Click here to read the rest of this MIL blog post.

Photo credit: crazybobbles (via Flickr)

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In case the post doesn’t make it totally clear, for the record, I love the Rock. And the insightful use of profanity. And funny shit.

Chris-Rock-Corbin-HiarChris Rock may have been wrong about AIDS—but only slightly. In his second blockbuster comedy special for HBO, “Bigger and Blacker” (1999), Rock emphatically suggested that:

They ain’t never curing AIDS. Don’t even think about that shit. There ain’t no money in the cure. The money’s in the medicine. That’s how you get paid. On the comeback. That’s how a drug dealer makes his money. On the comeback. That’s all the government is. A bunch of motherfucking drug dealers. On the comeback. They ain’t curing no AIDS.

It seems Rock may have been right to suspect that a cure would not come from the pharmaceutical industry. A new AIDS vaccine has recently shown promising experimental results, owing to the efforts of a California non-profit called Global Solutions for Infectious Disease.

Rock has had an impressive track record in speaking foul-mouthed truth to power.

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Photo credit: modomatic (via Flickr)

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Singer/songwritter Paul Hipp has put out a little YouTube ditty in mock-celebration of the US’ thirty-seventh place ranking in the World Health Organization’s most recent ranking of health care systems around the world. Like the best Dylan tracks, this one is more about the message than the music (i.e., Hipp’s got a terrible voice). Give it a listen anyway and remember what’s at stake in the health care debate.

Click here to watch the MoJo blog music video or make a comment.


(Hat tip to my father for forwarding this video to me.)

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corbin-hiar-closed-record-storeThis is in response to a series of posts on MIL about the demise of the album. It was originally an impassioned email to my editor that ended up, well, like this:

The album’s grave-dancers would deny it, but I believe the album is music in its finest form. No one can resist the power of a catchy single or perfect pop song, but to sustain a listener’s attention for 35 to 70 minutes (or longer, with the prehistoric relic known as the double-album) is a work of art no less impressive than a compelling film or play. Although making comparisons between art forms is inherently suspect, I would even venture to say that a successful album is more impressive given that it can engage its audience only on an aural level and so must work that much harder to sustain listeners’ interest. As an added bonus, one can return to a rewarding album more often than a great film because, while it rewards close attention, it does not require it.

I also take issue with Brett McCallon’s dismissal of the hip-hop skit. While some acts have proven incapable of crafting a good skit (eg, Snoop Dogg, Dr Dre and the Wu Tang Clan–except for when they’re sampling kung fu movies), there are a handful of groups that use their skits to build tension or provide listeners with a welcome respite from the lyric barrage. Nas’s lone skit on “Illmatic” opens the album and generates some energy before he tears into “NY State of Mind”. Jay-Z’s “Reasonable Doubt” uses the dialogue of a drug kingpin to similar effect before “22 Twos”, and features the turntable work of DJ Premier on the skit “Friend or Foe” (call it a very, very song if you want to quibble). OutKast’s “Aquemini” is bookended by two hilarious, self-referential skits that take place in a record store.

The real problem is that we’ve lost the record store…

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Picture credit: ecastro (via Flickr)

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