(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘music

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it”*…

You could fill a small library with books on right-wing populism. Some authors argue that these movements emerged in reaction to relatively recent events, such as the financial crisis of 2007-09 or the advent of social media. Others look to longer-lasting regional trends, like European integration or racial politics in America.

Thomas Piketty, an economist, became famous for a book that analysed 200 years of data on wealth inequality in a wide range of countries. This month he published a paper, co-written by Amory Gethin and Clara Martínez-Toledano, which applies a similar approach to the relationship between demography and ideology. Its findings imply that the electoral victories of Donald Trump and the Brexit campaign in 2016 were not an abrupt departure from precedent, but rather the consequence of a 60-year-old international trend.

In a paper in 2018 Mr Piketty noted that elites in Britain, France and America were split between intellectuals who backed left-of-centre parties—he dubbed them the “Brahmin left”—and businesspeople who preferred right-wing ones (the “merchant right”). His new work expands this study from three Western democracies to 21. It combines data on parties’ policy positions with surveys that show how vote choices varied between demographic groups.

The paper finds that income and education began diverging as predictors of ideology long ago. In 1955 both the richest and the most educated voters tended to support conservative parties. Conversely, both poorer and less-educated people mostly chose labour or social-democratic ones.

Today, wealthy people still lean to the right. In contrast, the relationship between education and ideology began to reverse as early as the 1960s. Every year, the 10% of voters with the most years of schooling gravitated towards left-wing parties, while the remaining 90% slid the other way. By 2000, this had gone on for so long that, as a group, the most educated voters became more left-wing than their less-educated peers. The gap has only grown since then.

This trend is strikingly consistent. It developed just as fast in the 20th century as in the 21st, and appears in almost every Western democracy studied. This includes both two-party systems and proportional ones, in which green parties now lure educated voters, and nativist parties attract the less educated. Such breadth and regularity make the rise of right-wing populists like Mr Trump—and of left-of-centre technocrats like Emmanuel Macron or Justin Trudeau—look like a historical inevitability.

Although the authors do not identify a cause for this trend, the simplest explanation is that it stems from growing educational attainment. In 1950 less than 10% of eligible voters in America and Europe had graduated from college. Any party relying on this group for support would have had scant hope of winning elections. In contrast, more than a third of Western adults today have degrees, which is enough to anchor a victorious coalition. And once candidates and parties began catering to educated voters—who often put living in a liberal society above lowering their tax bills—rival politicians could start winning elections by taking the opposite position.

From the always-illuminating Economist Graphic Detail, a new paper by Thomas Piketty makes the rise of right-wing populism and a progressive left look like a historical inevitability: “Educated voters’ leftward shift is surprisingly old and international.”

* Upton Sinclair

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As we ruminate on representation, we might recall that it was on this date in 1956 that city authorities in the California beach town of Santa Cruz announced a total ban on the public performance or playing of rock and roll music, calling it “detrimental to both the health and morals of our youth and community.”

It may seem obvious now that Santa Cruz’s ban on “Rock-and-roll and other forms of frenzied music” was doomed to fail, but it was hardly the only such attempt. Just two weeks later in its June 18, 1956 issue, Time magazine reported on similar bans recently enacted in Asbury Park, New Jersey, and in San Antonio, Texas, where the city council’s fear of “undesirable elements” echoed the not-so-thinly-veiled concerns of Santa Cruz authorities over the racially integrated nature of the event that prompted the rock-and-roll ban… (source)

rock ban

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

June 3, 2021 at 1:01 am

“I did not attend his funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it”*…

Do not let the “new age” label fool you—David Young’s music is damn catchy. With simple melodies, played on the recorder and repeated with slight variations, the songs run through my head hours after listening, and I’m not exactly a new-age fan. Young’s catalog covers a who’s who of adult contemporary—from Miguel Bosé’s “Lay Down on Me” to “Con te partirò”—but even the melodies in his original songs exude a similar familiarity. Young may not work for Muzak, but his music sure sounds like he’s studied their scores.

From a wardrobe of puffy shirts to the gimmick of playing two recorders at once, David Young seems about as cheesy as new-age music gets—think Tim Robbins’s character in High Fidelity, but with less home-wrecking libido and more harpsichord. But, non-threatening as the image may be, this self-described “pied piper of romantic music for the 21st century” has independently released more than 16 albums, including Celestial WindsRenaissance, and Songs of Hope, and claims to have sold more than one million copies (500,000 in 2002 alone!).

I first learned about David Young from an ad in the quarterly trade magazine of the Dodge Company, the world’s largest supplier of mortuary chemicals. The Spring 2008 issue of Dodge Magazine included articles on “airbrushing cosmetics for funeral professionals” and how funeral directors should respond in the case of a mass murder in a small-town shopping mall (be “like French waiters…[who can] do the job and not be noticed”). In addition to embalming chemicals, Dodge also has a hand in the sale and distribution of miscellaneous funerary goods—including memorial collages of softly lit photos that “make women squeal with delight when they see the portraits for the first time.”

That there is a “funeral industry” in the first place can seem morbid and indecent. Anyone who remembers Six Feet Undermay feel they know the ins and outs, but the reality is certainly more disturbing. Flipping through a trade magazine advertising “vibrant” urns and pink-hued arterial conditioners does nothing to contradict this impression, nor does Young’s ad. In the full-page color layout, Young’s musical oeuvre is described as “perfect background music for your funeral home.” Wearing dangerously tight pants and a puffy shirt coyly unbuttoned to reveal a shadow of chest hair, David Young hawks a new age of new-age music for funerals. “In emotional times such as these,” the ad claims, “it’s important to set the right tone.” 

In 2004, Craig Caldwell of the Dodge Company met Young at a funeral directors’ trade show in Chicago. Impressed, Caldwell made a distribution arrangement with the musician and has since been selling Young’s recordings to his clients—funeral directors who rely on Dodge for everything from embalming fluid to a disinfectant called Lemocide. On the phone from his office, Caldwell explained that the music’s emotional restraint, being “lighter, airier, more enticing to sharing feelings and thoughts, than dirges,” made it seem like a good match for funeral homes. This preference for lightness mirrors other changes in modern funerals, a business that, though still traditional by many accounts, is becoming increasingly secular and informal. “People rarely wear black to funerals anymore,” Caldwell told me when I interviewed him in 2008. “Except for the older generation. But children today, they don’t even wear a coat and a tie anymore.”

Young is the theme song to your grandmother’s memorial, the pop radio of your cousin’s wake. That funeral homes now have a soundtrack, one that provides us with a subtle, uncomplicated sense of recognition—as minimalist guru Brian Eno would call it, an ambience—shouldn’t be a surprise. Rather than a nuisance or intrusion, this easy listening could be a way of mitigating disruptive grief. 

Many of America’s funeral parlors rely on one man to provide the theme music for your grandmother’s memorial service, the pop radio for your cousin’s wake. Welcome to “semi-spiritual” ambient music and the stuff of contemporary mourning: “Songs in the Key of Death,” from The Morning News.

Image above from the series “More Scena” by photographer Rachel Cox, via BOOOOOOOM.

* Mark Twain

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As we acclimate to ambience, we might send melodic birthday greetings to Claudio Giovanni Antonio Monteverdi; he was born on this date in 1567 (or so it is believed; we know for sure that he was baprised on May 15 of that year). A composer, string player, choirmaster, and priest who created both secular and sacred music, he was a pioneer in the development of opera, and is considered a crucial transitional figure between the Renaissance and Baroque periods of music history.

Much of Monteverdi’s output, including many stage works, has been lost. His surviving music includes nine books of madrigals, large-scale religious works, such as his Vespro della Beata Vergine (Vespers for the Blessed Virgin) of 1610, and three complete operas. His opera L’Orfeo (1607) is the earliest of the genre still widely performed; towards the end of his life he wrote works for Venice, including Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria and L’incoronazione di Poppea.

Among his works were several funerary pieces, including a Requiem Mass for Cosimo II de’ Medici (in 1621).

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“An office is a place where dreams come true”*…

Working late at the W.R. Grace Building in NYC, 2019

If You Believe the Headlines, the Office Has Been Dying for Half a Century…

August 1969: “We can now provide each individual with a choice of … working at home, where he can carry out his duties for all his assignments through computer access.” (“You’ll Never Have to Go to Work Again,” Washington Post)

April 1974: “Homework. The word conjures up the overworked executive. But everybody’s doing it. Part time. Full time. Some time.” (“The Home Office: Nice Work If You Can Stand It,” New York Magazine)

May 1982: “One joy of the coming telecommuting age is that people will be able to choose to have virtually no government by congregating with like-minded neighbors.” (“Why Men Die,” The Economist)

April 1989: “We may be at the very end of the tremendous boom in office construction and office rents that was triggered when Napoleon III created the modern city’s prototype in 1860 Paris.” (“Information and the Future of the City,” Wall Street Journal)

July 1990: “Is it possible that the shining new skyscrapers towering proudly above American cities could become the next industrial wasteland, as outmoded as the rusty factories that were the symbols of American productivity a few decades ago?” (“Are Skyscrapers Becoming Obsolete in the Computer Age?” Oregonian)

November 1995: “A few companies have tried ‘hoteling,’ in which office workers are given a space temporarily, on an ‘as-needed’ basis.” (“A U.S. Irony: Demand for Tall Buildings Is in Short Supply,” Chicago Tribune)

February 1996: “Across the US, 500 million square feet of office space stand empty, much of it in skyscrapers built during the 1980s building boom. Some experts are now predicting that this oversupply might never be absorbed.” (“Death of the office?” Irish Times)

October 2001: “More people are asking to work from home, wanting to avoid high-rise offices and be closer to family.” (“Telecommuting From Terror,” San Francisco Chronicle)

September 2014: “On 30 June the business world changed forever. From that date the government gave employees across the UK the legal right to ask for flexible working. For business leaders, including the IT team, this may have been greeted with horror, with visions of desolate offices and a mass exodus of staff, with all kinds of weird-and-wonderful home-working tech requests flooding in.” (“Legal Right to Flexible Working Spells the End of the Office,” Legal Monitor Worldwide)

May 2020: “What will become of the office buildings themselves? There are already concerns that bacteria is building up in their plumbing systems, which were never designed to be left unused for this long, leading to risks like Legionnaires’ disease.” (“The End of the Office As We Know It,” New York Times)…

As we await the verdict on post-pandemic work, a look back at 150 years of cubicles, corner offices, all-nighters, and the holiday party: “Remember the Office?” (soft paywall)

* “Michael Scott,” The Office (Season 5 Episode 13: “Stress Relief”)

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As we contemplate recommencing commuting, we might recall that it was on this date in 1973 that The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd (recorded in Abbey Road Studios) hit number one on the Billboard chart, beginning a record-breaking 741-week chart run (957 weeks in total… so far).

Side Two opened with the band’s first top 10 hit in the U.S., “Money.”

You get a good job with good pay and you’re okay

Money

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

April 28, 2021 at 1:01 am

“I daydream about a high school where everybody plays the harmonica”*…

Lee Oskar, seen here performing with WAR in 1970, was so frustrated with the quality of Hohner’s harmonicas at the time that he eventually founded his own harmonica company

In the late 1960s, as the general manager of Don Wehr’s Music City in San Francisco, Reese Marin sold guitars, drums, keyboards, and amps to the biggest psychedelic rock bands of the late 1960s. His customers ranged from Big Brother and the Holding Company and Quicksilver Messenger Service to Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead. Guitarists as musically diverse as Carlos Santana and Steve Miller could find what they were looking for at Don Wehr’s; so did jazz virtuosos George Benson and Barney Kessel, who would walk down Columbus Avenue from Broadway in North Beach—where the jazz clubs competed with strip joints for tourists—whenever they were in town.

These legends were some of the most demanding and finicky musicians on the planet. So it should have been easy for Marin to sell a couple of $5 harmonicas to Lee Oskar, whose melodic riffs on hits like “Cisco Kid,” “The World is a Ghetto,” and “Low Rider” gave one of the biggest bands of the 1970s, WAR, its signature sound. Oskar, however, heard imperfections in his chosen instrument that Marin didn’t know existed. Oskar was not tentative in his quest for what he considered a “gig-worthy” harmonica. “I spent all my money on harmonicas,” Oskar told me recently, “just to find 1 out of 10 that was any good.”

Marin says Oskar was exaggerating, but not by much. He was actually behind the counter when Oskar made his first of many visits to Don Wehr’s and asked to play all of the harmonicas the store had in stock in C, A, F, G, and E—the keys where rock bands live and die. On any given day, Marin maintained an inventory of 10 to 20 harmonicas in each key for each model they sold. That was a lot of harmonicas for Oskar to put his mouth on, so Marin decided to be firm. “I said, ‘You can’t play ’em unless you buy ’em,’” Marin told me, “and he said, ‘I don’t mind.’”

Shrugging, Marin rang him up, then Oskar proceeded to play every single harmonica on the sales counter, which he then divided into two piles—one for the gig-worthy harmonicas and another for the rejects, which were 80 to 90 percent of the total. “When he was done, I said, ‘Lee, what do you want me to do with all these harmonicas?’ and he said, ‘I don’t really care. I can’t use them.’” Marin ended up giving away a lot of used Lee Oskar-played harmonicas. “Lee did this over and over, every time he was in town,” says Marin. “It was crazy.”

Until relatively recently, playing a harmonica was sort of crazy, too, since doing so was essentially the same thing as destroying it. For harmonicas like the Hohner Marine Bands Oskar road-tested that day at Don Wehr’s, a player’s saliva would soak into the wood inside the instrument, causing it to swell. At the end of a gig, the wood would dry out and shrink. This process would repeat itself over and over, until the wood had swelled and shrunk so many times it would split and splinter, often causing a player’s lips to bleed. “I used to hack off the ends of the combs on my harmonicas with a carpet knife,” recalls Steve Baker, a London-born harmonica player and an authority on the Marine Band. Most players would never do that, of course, content to just toss their worn-out wrecks in the trash.

For Hohner, this must have seemed like a very good business model. After all, the Marine Band had been Hohner’s most popular harmonica brand almost since 1896, the year it was introduced. In the United States, in the first half of the 20th century, American folk musicians and blues artists alike embraced the Marine Band as their own, giving the instrument originally designed to play traditional German folk tunes an aura of cool. With sales soaring after World War II, Hohner found itself making an instrument everybody wanted, even though it needed to be replaced regularly. How could a manufacturer’s product get any better than that?

Well, answered harmonica players and a small but influential community of harmonica customizers, how about an instrument that doesn’t wear out, is built to be serviced and tuned to a musician’s needs, and is made out of materials that don’t cause our lips to bleed?

In the 1970s, Lee Oskar and Steve Baker were at the forefront of a movement to get those questions answered…

In the 1970s, Hohner, the world’s largest harmonica manufacturer, changed its flagship model– and in the process, its signature sound. A few musicians and harp customizers waged a quiet rebellion. And they won. The full (and elegantly told) story: “The Return of the Harmonica.”

* Richard Brautigan

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As we blow, we might recall that it was on this date in 1979 that the classic film Rock and Roll High School was first publicly shown. (Some sources report that the movie opened on August 4 or August 24 of that year– and “officially,” one of those dates is likely right.  But according to director Allan Arkush, in an interview with The Village Voice, the movie played in April in Texas and New Mexico, and did not reach New York City– and national consciousness– until August.)

A Roger Corman production featuring a remarkable cast, it is nonetheless probably best remembered as “the movie with The Ramones.” Amusingly, Corman originally wanted Cheap Trick or Todd Rundgren to play the band, but schedules didn’t mesh, so he was forced to find an alternative… at which point Paul Bartel (who played a key role in the film) suggested The Ramones.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

April 25, 2021 at 1:01 am

“Now I wanna remind everyone of the House of Mouse Rules: No smoking. No villainous schemes. And no guests eating other guests.”*…

Alligator and python

In addition to being home to men with questionable decision-making skills, Florida also seems to have some issues with bizarre animal behavior, whether it’s freezing iguanas dropping from trees or alligators battling pythons in the Everglades. When it comes to those animals, however, Floridians can truly put the blame on non-natives. Neither pythons nor green iguanas made the Sunshine State their home until we brought them there as pets.

In fact, there are lots of problematic invasive species that have spread through the pet trade, from predatory fish that can drag themselves between bodies of water to a crayfish that clones itself to reproduce. Those high-profile cases lead to some obvious questions, like whether pets really are more likely to be invasive and, if so, why?

Two Swiss researchers, Jérôme Gippeta and Cleo Bertelsmeier have now attempted to answer these questions. And their conclusion is that yes, our pets are more likely to be problems.

To answer the question of whether pets really are problematic, the researchers generated some basic statistics for different groups of animals (mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish). These included estimates of the total number of species, as well as the number of those that are classified as invasive and the number that are part of the pet trade.

If pets were no more or less likely to be invasive, you’d expect to see the invasive ones occupy similar fractions of both the pet trade and the total number of species in that group. But that’s not what we see in any of the groups. Invasive mammal species were present at five times the rate in the pet trade as they are in the wild around the globe. There was a similar result in birds; for amphibians, invasive species were eight times more common in the pet trade and about 10 times more common in fish.

Overall, invasive species were 7.4 times more likely to be kept as pets than you’d expect based on their frequency among vertebrate populations.

But cause and effect can be difficult to disentangle. Do we choose species that are more likely to be invasive as pets? Or have pets ended up with more opportunities to invade new environments because we transport them around the world?…

Spoiler alert: it’s the former… A new study finds the factors making them easier to keep also help them spread: “Unfortunately, we like pets that are likely to be invasive species.”

* Mickey Mouse

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As we ponder proliferation, we might recall that it was on this date in 1964 that a different kind of “invader,” the Beatles, set a record: they became the first artists to hold all top 5 spots on the Billboard Hot 100 on the same week, on April 4, 1964. 
#1. Can’t Buy Me Love
#2. Twist and Shout
#3. She Loves You
#4. I Want to Hold Your Hand
#5. Please Please Me
More Beatles on the Charts that week: #31 – I Saw Her Standing There, #41 – From Me To You, #46 – Do You Want To Know a Secret, #58 – All My Loving, #65 – You Can’t Do That, #68 – Roll Over Beethoven, #79 – Thank You Girl

At the time, the best-selling piece of Beatles merchandise was the “I Love Ringo” button.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

April 4, 2021 at 1:01 am

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