Thursday, December 22, 2011

Closing of Laemmle's Sunset 5

IT was one of those places that seemed like it would be there forever. But the Laemmle Sunset 5 -- which always seemed to me the key indie cinema in Los Angeles -- closed last month, largely because of competition from other theaters.

The good news -- or some variation of that -- is that Sundance Cinemas will renovate and reopen the space, and the Laemmle family just opened a seven-screen arthouse on Lankershim in North Hollywood.

HERE is my LA Weekly story on the ups and downs of the local arthouse scene.

I spoke to a number of people, including filmmaker Gregg Araki, dilm critic Bob Koehler and company president Greg Laemmle. One source I didn't have room to include was Rose Kuo, now executive director of Film Society of Lincoln Center, who haunted the theater constantly when she moved to L.A. "I lived near Franklin Avenue  and Gardner so I went to movies there every weekend, sometimes seeing 2 or 3 movies in one day." 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

2011 in Music

IT'S always a bit daunting to have to sum up an entire year's musical output -- even the best of it -- so I'm not gonna try to do that. But I'd like to mention a few unexpected highlights.

First, I'm a surprised as anybody that Chapel Hill's '90s heroes, Archer of Loaf, reunited and managed to fill the Troubadour for not one but two nights. Those guys have not lost a bit of energy from the days of Icky Mettle (which has been reissued.) I'm still not sure how Eric Bachmann bulked up like that.

A record that's crept up on me over the years if Eleanor Friedberger's Last Summer. I don't love everything on it -- and I find myself alternately loving and hating its baroque production -- but it's beguiling at the very least. It'd also, despite EF's Brooklyn origins, an LA record -- "Inn at the Seventh Ray" namechecks not only the famed hippie cafe, but several of my favorite Highland Park hangouts. (I spotted her at my coffee shop there one day.) She also helped Wild Flag with "Beast of Burden" for its Troubadour encore.

The Troubadour show by Sleater-Kinney sequel Wild Flag kicked about as much ass as I expected. But my favorite "new" band -- at least to me -- is Veronica Falls, a British combo that combines noise with melody in a way that reminds me of shoegaze crossed with '60s girl groups.

The first song that grabbed me on their self-titled LP, on Slumberland, is Bad Feeling, but the whole thing is strong and tuneful. If you like the strain that runs from Jesus and Mary Chain through Ride and onward, you'll like these guys.

I saw a lot of good shows this year -- old favorites like Stephen Malkmus at the Music Box and Grant Lee Phillips at Largo, new favorites like LA indie band Army Navy at the Satellite -- but the show that startled and engaged me the most was the reunion of the Jayhawks. This was a show I was told by a music-journalist friend who'd seen them play before that this show would be a snooze.

The Minnesota alt-country gods had spent the last decade or so effectively broken up, so seeing Gary Louris and Mark Olson on the same stage was a thrill from the beginning. But I'm not so die-hard a fan that that was enough, and the new album, Mockingbird Time, had not yet kicked in for me. The show's mix of warmly acoustic instruments, vocal harmonies and electric guitar was absolutely devastating, though, and new songs like "Hide Your Colors" sounded of a piece with '90s Jayhawks classics like "Two Angels" and "Miss Williams' Guitar." Wow. That new record now sounds to me pretty close to Hollywood Town Hall and my favorite of theirs, Tomorrow the Green Grass.

The record that's called to me the most this year has probably been the new Gillian Welch/Dave Rawlings LP, The Harrow and the Harvest. (I spent a couple hours with the two this summer -- here is the ensuing story. The duo are also on the cover of the new issue of Acoustic Guitar.)

Quiet, downbeat, delicate and introspective, the record grabbed me first with the songs "Dark Turn of Mind" and "The Way the Story Ends" and didn't let go. (I'm now playing "Down Along the Dixie Line" every morning on guitar.) The album, and the triumphant show at the Music Box, reinforced not only how wonderful their songwriting is, but how intricate and original Rawlings guitar playing is. My only criticism is I want more from these guys. But as the eight-year wait since Soul Journey showed,  you can't rush this stuff.

Our biggest lost opportunity, here on the West Coast, was the chance to see The Feelies, one of my all-time favorite bands, which reconvened this year and played a number of East Coast dates. But they didn't make it out here. That new record, Here Before, may be there best since The Good Earth, the warm, Peter Buck-produced record that dominated my last two high school years. In any case, I keep my fingers crossed for this wonderful band to come to California.

And the musical development I'm most looking forward to is the return of Spain, the classic indie-meets-country-folk band led by Josh Haden that should have a new LP, and more shows, in 2012.

And a happy holiday to all the music fans out there, in Los Angeles and beyond.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Death of the Clerk

TODAY I've got a new story from my Salon series on the demise of the creative class. It looks at the humble store clerk and asks, What does it means that these people -- and the places they work, like Rocket Video, Tower Records, Dutton's Brentwood Books, and so on -- are disappearing?

I spoke to a video store clerk, writers Jonathan Lethem and Dana Gioia, an MIT research scientist and others.

Here is that story.

UPDATE: Here are some late-breaking figures about the decline of creative jobs in Southern California.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Introducing the Best Burger Poll

THE LA Weekly has just announced a sure-to-be-controversial top-10 burgers list. Over here at the Misread City, we can occasionally lift our noses out of Faulkner (you'll see that one next week) and foreign film (next week also) to consume quantities of ground beef and carmelized onions. To inaugurate the poll, here is a short ode to the burger written by Wendy Fonarow, a UCLA-trained anthropologist, LA native, and longtime friend of the Misread City. 

Don't forget to vote.

Here she is:  

As an anthropology professor and researcher in indie music, I find it funny that over the years, students have asked me to write about burgers more than anything else.  

There are few subjects that will derail me from the topic at hand, but the beloved cheeseburger is one of them. From espousing the placebo effect of In-and-Out burgers (don’t be jealous you don’t have such an amazing placebo) or railing against those who bag on McDonalds for being disloyal, burgers are in my blood and perhaps make up 20 percent of my body mass.  Being a native Los Angeleno makes one extraordinarily well positioned to discuss burgers.  

We are the cutting edge of fast food, hybrid cuisine and the innovators of so much including the drive through squawk box. I’m often asked what is the best burger and my answer is “only a heathen would ask that.”  It’s like saying what is the best dessert. How can you compare a pie, to an ice cream cake or a donut? Only a person who doesn’t like sweets would do that.  

There are genres of burgers: the thousand-island, the mayonnaise, the restaurant, the mustard, the chiliburger, and the hickory. These are the major ones and I might include the outdoor grill, sans cheese, and bacon-added as well. It is perhaps these distinctions that capture the imagination of my students. Most people tend to have a favorite style and therefore use their favorite flavor profile to trump these enormously different categories of food. 

So if there is going to be a discussion, let’s be precise. Shall we begin with a vote for your favorite restaurant style burger? I’d tell you mine, but then I’d have to make you take me there.

Christopher Hitchens, R.I.P.

SOMETIMES even when you know something's coming, it knocks the wind out of you when it arrives. That's the way I felt this morning when I opened the paper and saw that Hitchens had succumbed to cancer that virtually every reader knew he had. (Here is the New York Times obit.)

I've spent the last few mornings reading an essay or two in his latest collection, Arguably. I don't always, or even often, agree with Hitchens, and on some political matters, such as the Iraq War, I tend to disagree rather strenuously. But I can't think of a livelier or wider ranging writer: The essays on turmoil in the Middle East, rebel John Brown, Abraham Lincoln, Orwell's Animal Farm, or conservative hero Edmund Burke could only have come from Hitch.

I'd long enjoyed Hitchens' writing, but thought of him as a kind of witty, debate-club contrarian until I met him in 2004, during an article I was writing about his friend Martin Amis. Hitchens and I had a drink -- it was about noon, so mine was lemonade, his a double (or was it a quadruple?) Johnny Walker. Hitch was funny and engaging as we spoke about shared interests -- the life and work of Salman Rushdie, George Orwell -- and entirely sincere on the matter of the Iraq War. (Which ended, sort of, the same week he died.) I was not convinced of this war launched by an incompetent boy king, but I was entirely persuaded that Hitchens had his reasons, and they were not merely for show.

(Here is a smart piece for Salon about the told-you-so by religious zealots after the death of the atheist writer.)

Since then, out mutual friend and literary agent Steve Wasserman, who was at his bedside last night, has kept me apprised on Hitch's condition; I felt like I knew him even though he would not likely have recognized my name. I'll wager that Hitchens, because he wrote so personally and so forcefully, had that effect on a lot of people. We won't see his like again.

UPDATE: Here is a fascinating Katha Pollitt obit that does not let him off the hook for his political switch, his bullying or his self-destructive drinking.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Author Chuck Palahniuk

ODDLY, it was a very pleasant evening the night I met with Chuck Palahniuk in Portland a few years back to discuss his then-new novel, Snuff, over dinner. (The book is not as appetizing.)

The Fight Club author has a new novel, Damned. And HERE is my conversation with him.

Here's part of my profile:

Palahniuk's method is to sniff out such subjects, then pounce. "Things that last in the culture tend to be those unresolved issues," he said. "Like Ira Levin's 'The Stepford Wives' was a wonderful, entertaining way to discuss what Susan Faludi would later call backlash. Levin did that again with women's health and abortion with 'Rosemary's Baby.' He was always so ahead of the curve."

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Classical Violin and Heavy Metal

RACHEL Barton Pine walks both sides of the fence -- a classical violinist who plays a 1740s instrument but also rocks out to Black Sabbath and Guns N Roses. I get into her wide range of musical passions in the latest of my Influences column in the Los Angeles Times.

The violinist, by the way, plays this Sunday at one of the most amazing places I've ever seen chamber music -- UCLA's Clark Library in the West Adams district. Most of the time, the place is an important repository of rare books, 18th century English history and material related to Oscar Wilde. But the wood-lined room in which the chamber series takes place is intimate and resonant -- and very hard to get into.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Making of The Artist

SOMETIMES it takes the French to appreciate the best aspects of American culture. Whether it's jazz, detective novels or the films of Howard Hawks, the Gauls have often seen something in our own art that we've overlooked.

The silent, black and white movie The Artist is the latest example. It's an homage to American cinema of the '20s and early '30s. I wrote an extensive feature HERE for the Hollywood Reporter that looks at how an outlandish idea by director Michel Hazanavicius became a damned fine movie and a credible Oscar contender.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Roots of Preservation Hall

THE latest installment for my Influences column is Ben Jaffe, son of the founders of Preservation Hall Jazz Band and the New Orleans institution's current leader. (My story is here.)

Jaffe, who marched in carnival parades as a 9-year-old and later attended Oberlin College, described classic  Crescent City figures -- Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong -- as well as some lesser known musicians and a few wild cards, including Andy Warhol.

The group will be at Walt Disney Concert Hall next Tuesday, in collaboration with a contemporary dance group, the Ben McIntyre Project.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Kenny Burrell and The Future of Jazz

LAST week I wrote a story about the jazz guitarist Kenny Burrell, who celebrates his 80th birthday with a concert at Royce Hall on Saturday. In the course of it, I corresponded with music historian Ted Gioia about Burrell and some related issues concerning the past and future of the art form.

I've included here our exchange. Gioia's The History of Jazz, on Oxford University Press, was recently published in a new edition.

1) Two of his Midwestern contemporaries -- Wes Montgomery and Grant Green -- had signatures: Octaves and an expanded harmonic sense for the former, a churchified single-line style for the latter... Does Burrell have anything as immediately recognizable? What defines his playing?

Younger jazz players pride themselves on their skill in mimicking different styles or approaches, but Kenny Burrell embodies the jazz tradition.  He is a master of the blues.  He understands Ellington, bop, hard bop and cool at a very deep level.  When I hear him, I feel as if the best of the music's past is channeled effortlessly through his guitar.
I sometimes think that phrasing is a lost art in jazz, and perhaps especially among guitarists.  Even first rate performers can end up playing with their fingers, when they ought to be guided by their heart and ears.  But Burrell knows how to shape a phrase, where to place the proper emphasis, how to construct a solo.  He has unerring instincts -- like a great boxer, who has a feel for right move at the right moment.

2) He's outlived those two, and most musicians of his generation. Has his style evolved or his playing deepened since then, or did he sort of peak around the time of Midnight Blue?

Burrell has made outstanding recordings in every decade.  His early albums, such as Guitar Forms and Midnight Blue, are probably the best known, and rightly praised.  But check out his 75th birthday album, which shows him still at the top of his game.  And don't underestimate the poise and self-confidence Burrell demonstrated during the fusion period and after, serving as a champion for the jazz heritage even while his peers imitated the theatrics of rock.   With his mastery of the guitar, Burrell would have been forgiven for watering down his music in exchange for a taste of rock auditorium fame, but he stayed true to his own core values.

3) JL Collier describes the guitar as being unusual among jazz instruments in being pioneered and defined largely by white players -- Lang, Django, and on. (It strikes me that today's Big Three are also all Caucasian.) Is there anything to this, and if so, what do we make of a player, like Burrell, who is so consistently drenched in the blues. There's something interesting, isn't there, about his use of an African-Amer form for an instrument that has not been defined by African Americans.

The African-American tradition in the development of jazz guitar is much stronger than Collier's comments may suggest.  No one had greater influence on the role of the guitar in jazz than Charlie Christian, and the whole blues guitar tradition -- which strongly shaped the jazz sensibility -- is almost entirely the contribution of black players.  The more interesting  change happened later.  With the rise of rock music, the electric guitar entered the mainstream as a default instrument of Middle American teenagers and the defining sound of popular music.  Burrell came of age during this period, but he held firmly to his own tradition, his own approach, his own set of values.  In any era, jazz artists earn praise by channeling their own personal vision through their instrument, but Kenny Burrell did this at a time when there were many, many ways for a jazz guitarist to go astray. 

4) Burrell faults the classical establishment for not embracing jazz as "America's classical music," leaving this stuff to be crushed by the pop world...He admires Wynton's formal take on jazz and his assertion of jazz's status as an art music that needs the kind of support and concert halls as orchestras/chamber music. I recall this battle from the early '90s and founding of Jazz at Lincoln Center. How do you come down?
I feel that much of the hostility aimed at Jazz at Lincoln Center or Wynton is misguided.  We need institutions to preserve the tradition.   This does not come at the expense of those who want to move the tradition ahead.  Blowing up the Mozart Festival does nothing to enhance the opportunities for modern composers.  Burning old books doesn't get people to read new ones. 

5) Because of the number of talented and well-trained players leaving universities to find limited playing opportunities, Burrell wants to launch an LA based big band (18 pieces) that will start small but eventually have a real season and become a West Coast version of Jazz at Lincoln Center and inspire similar projects in other cities. Does this seem at all feasible?

You need more than great players to create a vibrant jazz scene, you also need the right institutions.  People who only know Kenny Burrell as a guitarist probably aren't familiar with all the work he has done off-stage to support and advance jazz on the West Coast.  His vision of a LA-based counterweight to JALC is very much in accord with his other efforts over the years.  I hope he succeeds.

6) I imagine Burrell, who has taught at UCLA since 1978 and founded the jazz program in '96, is to some a symbol of the move of jazz into academia. Does this transition from brothels and commerce into universities seem to have helped the music at any level?

If I can compare the jazz scene today with the situation when I was coming of age during the 1970s, most of the conditions have worsened.  There is less jazz on the radio today, less jazz on TV, fewer jazz clubs and less visibility of jazz in the broader culture -- but the single area that has changed for the better is the growing support of jazz from universities and arts institutions.   Many complain about jazz turning into an academic discipline.  But those of us who remember what it was like when jazz was excluded at universities find it hard to see this as a negative trend.  

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Remembering Spalding Gray

THERE'S a new collection of journals by the great actor and storyteller Spalding Gray, with a tribute event tonight at the Laemmle Sunset 5. (More detail here.)

Soon after Gray's 2004 disappearance -- it was eventually deemed a suicide -- I spoke to several theater and performance figures who walk in Gray's footsteps. I wrote:

With his mix of despair, humor, preppy shirts and New England dryness, he was sometimes called "the WASP Woody Allen." But many of those inspired by his techniques went in very different directions. Some created aural collages; some explored their ethnicity; others became ranters. John Leguizamo, Danny Hoch and Eric Bogosian, at various times, did all three.

HERE is that story, which includes discussions with Anna Deveare Smith ("He introduced me to the idea that normal human behavior is performative") Julia Sweeney, Tim Miller and Eric Bogosian.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Kenny Burrell and the Jazz Guitar

RECENTLY I had the pleasure to walk down memory lane with one of my musical heroes, who marked his 80th birthday over the summer and is still going strong.

Here is my story on jazz guitarist Kenny Burrell, who will mark that milestone with a concert on Saturday Nov. 12. Burrell's playing is a very elegant and disciplined take on the blues.

Burrell told me a lot of interesting stuff -- including that his original inspirations were Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins, and that he's generally more influenced by horn players than other guitarists.

Burrell's record Midnight Blue, which has Stanley Turrentine on tenor, was one of the first jazz guitar records to really turn my head around. (I can play the line from its opening track, "Chitlins Con Carne," a little bit.)

One bit I didn't have time to get into the story: When I asked Burrell what the most important thing for him to do when he improvised was, he said, "I listen."

More later.

Wild Flag at the Troubadour

THERE was so much buzz about Wild Flag – the indie super group made up of members of Sleater-Kinney, Helium, Quasi and the Minders – that the question going into Thursday night’s show at the Troubadour, the second of two packed Los Angeles shows, was whether this would be a good night of indie rock, or something transcendent.

The answer turned out to be, a little of both.

The Portland/DC four piece is a kind of back-to-basics girl-group garage band. There’s also a bit of jazz-damage to the guitar playing – Helium’s Mary Timony, who took up more space onstage than I expected and seemed to smile a lot more than I recall from the 1990s, has aways played chords that were harmonically strange and arrayed up and down the neck of the guitar. With Carrie Brownstein, in an outgrown Joey Ramone haircut unleashing rockstar kicks and Pete Townshend windmills, this was a band – despite a keyboard replacing the bass – harkening back to the great two-guitar groups of punk New York.

So it’s hard not to miss with this combination, and Brownstein was a killer frontwoman and oddly friendly host. A New York Times review from early in the tour described the band as having trouble syncing up – that was certainly not a problem last night.

When the show was only good, or perhaps really good, the songs were simple three-chord stomps, with some great guitar freakouts near songs' end. But they were a little straightforward and easy to predict.  Of two new songs, one was not quite ready despite a cool bridge.

The very best stuff – the two opening songs ("Black Tiles" and "Electric Band," both from the very fine debut LP on Merge) and few tracks across the middle of the set, and the triumphant encore – made clear why we're all so excited about this band. These songs saw one of the best drummers in the business, Quasi's Janet Weiss, kicking it hard, and a weirdly affectionate combat between the two guitars evoking memories of Verlaine and Lloyd.

The encore made these roots explicit: Television’s See No Evil (above), the Stones’ Beast of Burden, and a Ramones-inspired Do You Wanna Dance. The Fiery Furnaces' Eleanor Friedberger (who I seem to be running into a lot recently – she hangs at my coffee shop when she is in town) came up to sing the last two songs.

Let’s hope this band has a long and rich career. They’re not enough to save indie rock, but they might save a few souls, one night at a time.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Philip Glass With the New York Philharmonic

COMPOSER Philip Glass is making his debut this week at the New York Philharmonic. Yes, you heard that right. Let's move on -- it's awkward for everyone involved. But he's glad to be there now.

Glass's appearance is with his own ensemble and the orchestra itself, playing behind Godfrey Reggio's film  Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance, the score for which may be the composer's best-known work. (I saw Glass and company perform this at the Hollywood Bowl a summer or two ago -- truly kickass, and this film about technology's impact on our lives seem even more pertinent now, I think, than it did when it appeared in the early '80s.)

I spoke to Glass -- who I seem to running into a lot lately -- for a story in the Playbill. Here it is. Glass was happy to look back at what became his first feature film score and one of his first big pieces.

(For all my West Coast partisanship, wishing I was in New York right now.)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Digital Parasites

THE Internet has brought us lots of good things; it's also put an enormous number of people out of work, especially members of the creative class who've been turned into underpaid, unstable content providers. Information, after all, wants to be free.

"It's tempting to believe that the devaluation of creativity we've seen over the last decade was somehow inevitable," writes former Billboard editor Robert Levine, "that technology makes information so easy to distribute that any attempt to regulate it is futile."

Levine's new book -- Free Ride: How Digital Parasites are Destroying the Culture Business, and How the Culture Business Can Fight Back -- argues that it didn't have to be this way. Various industries -- music, newspapers, publishers -- swallowed a lot of b.s. about how the Web was going to make everyone rich, and now they're living with the consequences.

I spoke to Levine for today's Salon here. It's part of the Art in Crisis series I'm writing with a number of other scribes. Please check it out.

UPDATE: And here is a review from Sunday's (27 Nov) NYT Book Review, calling this book an important statement.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Roots of Christine Ebersole

YOU'VE got to be in awe of an actress who can portray both Little Edie and Big Edie from Grey Gardens. Winning a Tony for the feat is not likely easy, either.

I spoke recently to Christine Ebersole, the actress and singer who's done everything from Tootsie to Saturday Night Live to Noel Coward. That piece, part of my Influences series for the LA Times Culture Monster page, is here.

I should not spoil it, but despite the very fine names on her list (Carol Lombard, Joni Mitchell), I was most impressed with the words of the late New York theater director with whom she closed out our conversation.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Novelist Neal Stephenson

ONE of the smartest, as well as the toughest, writers I've ever encountered in Neal Stephenson, who is somewhere between a cyberpunk writer, a science-fiction novelist and a cultural historian.

I met Stephenson, who has a new novel out, in his hometown of Seattle just before the publication of Anathem. HERE is my interview with the author of Snow Crash and The Baroque Triology.

One of Anathem's observations seems more and more true to me as we move into the future.

"That idea kept coming back to me, because it still seemed fresh," Stephenson said, "the idea that book-reading people were more and more diverging from the mainstream, that they're a separate culture invisible to media culture."

And here is a Salon review of his new thriller, Readme.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Hell of Freelancing - or is it Purgatory?

FOR some people, going it alone is a blast, and lucrative as well. Advocates of the "free agent nation" see it casual, flexible, energetic -- a way to tap into your real talent and potential.
Free agent Reggie Jackson

They say we've moved beyond the stodgy, gray-flannel-suited Organization Man of mid-century, who was all about conformity and corporate loyalty.

But for many writers, artists, musicians and so on, dealing with a collapsed economy and a shifting culture driven by the Internet, it's not much fun. These stories tend not to get told.

The second piece of my Salon series on the fate of the creative class is up. Please check it out.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Catalina's Jazz Club at 25

SOMETIMES culture works in strange ways. Twenty-five years ago this month, Catalina Popescu, who had emigrated to LA from an authoritarian Romania, a country without an especially rich jazz tradition, met the horn player Buddy Collette, and within a week had opened a jazz club.

A quarter century later, Catalina's on Sunset is still open. With the demise of the beloved Jazz Bakery (soon to rise again), it's become the most consistent place to see major national acts in Los Angeles.

Here is my piece in today's LA Times about some of musicians who made Popescu want to open a jazz club and keep it going through good times and bad.

Happy birthday to the club, which celebrates with a bash on Monday night.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Introducing Pacific Standard Time

IT'S finally happened. After a lot of talk, the postwar art blowout Pacific Standard Time has opened at dozens of museums and spaces across Southern California.

Your humble blogger wrote a piece for Los Angeles magazine about the origins, offerings and meaning of the whole thing -- it includes a dozen recommended shows, from the Getty's overview, Crosscurrents, to a show of swimming pool photography in Palm Springs. Here's an image that describes what I liked about this period:

Walter Hopps, the curator-genius who steered the gallery in its radical early days, originally supported his art habit by working as a psych-ward orderly. Kienholz lived, as he put it, “on the fringes of society, like a termite,” so poor that he bartered a painting for the removal of an aching tooth. Irwin made his money winning dance contests—the lindy mostly—and betting on horses. Billy Al Bengston was so broke that he couldn’t afford a battery for his car: The art school dropout parked his ’37 Pontiac facing downhill, nose toward the Malibu surf, so he could roll-start it.

Here's something art critic Dave Hickey just told the New York Times:

Wildman Ed Kienholz
“It’s corny,” said Dave Hickey, an art critic and a professor in the art and art history department at the University of New Mexico. “It’s the sort of thing that Denver would do. They would do Mountain Standard Time. It is ’50s boosterish, and I would argue largely unnecessary.”

You be the judge.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Perils of the Creative Class

WE were supposed to be entering a laptop wielding, latte-sipping world where the Internet made us all more "connected," weren't we? But the Internet, combined with the bad economy and a restructuring of American life, has led to an erosion of the very creative class it was supposed to invigorate.

HERE is my new piece in Salon which looks at the state of the much hyped creative class in 2011. It's the first of a series in which we look at how artists, writers and people who deal with culture are faring -- a story that has been largely untold.

I spoke to a number of sources, including artists and writers struggling with the creative life and Internet skeptics Jaron Lanier and Andrew Keen.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Colin Meloy on Gillian Welch

YESTERDAY I had this story on country/folk duo Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings, who perform in LA Thursday night.

One thing I did not have room for that in that article was a long quote given to me by Colin Meloy, who employed the two on The King is Dead, his latest record by the Decemberists. Meloy turns out to be a longtime fan -- here's his entire thought. Thanks to Meloy, whose last Decemberists show for several years we caught in Portland a few weeks back.

I was introduced to Gillian at Rockin' Rudy's, a very fine record store in Missoula, MT. I think a friend turned me on to her first record right after it came out. I was immediately smitten. It happens that I also spent the summer of '97 working in the vineyards of the Willamette Valley in Oregon and the song "One More Dollar" felt particularly auspicious.

Tucker Martine and I were wanting to create a kind of vibe on The King is Dead that we had always loved in old country records -- the idea of pairing a male and female vocal really hot in the mix, like every song was a duet. I'd always loved Neil Young's record, Comes a Time, and was really taken by the fact that the late, great Nicolette Larson sang on nearly every song, lending a tone and tenor to the record that just wouldn't exist without her voice. We wanted to do something similar with The King is Dead.

Gill and Dave very clearly work in a completely different way than many people I know. I get the feeling for all their love of simplicity and clarity comes from a kind of insanely finicky place. Which is funny; so many of her songs feel so off the cuff, so underthought. But there's a lot of thinking that goes on, I think, to get to that place.

Like all great artists and musicians, she and Dave, as far as I can tell, are just great lovers of music -- of all sorts. Their collective voice tends toward the Americana/country side of things, but their hearts don't necessarily hew to just one thing. And it all makes perfect sense to me -- they are the bridge between Robyn Hitchcock and the Louvin Brothers. And if you think about it, that bridge isn't necessarily that long.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Refracting the Tradition with Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings

I DON'T think I've been this starstruck since I interviewed Martin Scorsese a few years back. Meeting Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings -- two of most distinctive and harmonically complex figures in the new acoustic movement -- was one of the thrills of the summer.

My story on the duo -- and recent years and a solo album have shown how important Rawlings contribution is -- runs today in the LA Times. (It precedes their show Thursday at the Henry Fonda Music Box.)

Part of what intrigues me about the two is the way they take the tradition of pre-rock Appalachian brother bands -- the Louvin Brothers, the Blue Sky Boys, the Delmore Brothers -- and cross them with a more modern harmonic language. It's all over the new record, The Harrow and the Harvest.

Rawlings, who is emerging one of the most individual guitarists of his generation, is steeped in old-time mountain music but is also informed by Gang of Four’s spiky post-punk, Johnny Marr's weeping riffs and Richard Thompson’s otherworldly chime. (Check out his recent LP, A Friend of a Friend, as Dave Rawlings Machine. The song "Ruby" and the cover of Neil Young's Cortez the Killer are good places to start.) His 1935 Epiphone archtop, often played with the capo us as high as the 9th or 10th fret, has lately become one of my favorite things to hear.

“If I could compare it sonically to ‘Time (The Revelator),’ ” he said abour Harrow, which he produced, “I’d say this record comes forward out of the speakers, and creates the atmosphere more in the space you’re in,” as opposed to what he calls the shy and “retiring” quality of the earlier album. “This record is more intimately recorded – we’re sitting around and gently playing the songs. The way we play when we’re not recording.”

Welch, who grew up on LA's Westside in the Reagan years and not in 1930s Appalachia, is sensitive about the issue of her authenticity.

In one key way, in fact, she had a pre-modern upbringing: While she grew up singing classic folk and country music, she never heard recordings of them: She knew the songs only through an oral tradition. Years later, she attended UC Santa Cruz, and was at first a bit lost, personally and musically – she sang briefly in front of a psychedelic surf band – but was exposed to old recordings by a bluegrass deejay housemate. 

“And I have this complete, strange epiphany,” she recalls. “I’m hearing these sounds I’ve never heard before, but they’re the songs I’ve known since I was as kid.” The experience turned her head around. “And then presto, we’re done. And then I’m just like every other person who just needed a record player, these records and a door that locked.”

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Sonny Rollins, Saxophone Colossus

THE other day I was lucky enough to speak to Sonny Rollins, the tenor saxophone legend who performs at UCLA's Royce Hall tonight, Thursday, and at Segerstrom Hall in Orange County on Sunday.

These days, the once-brash, mohawk-rocking Rollins is 81, and, he's many decades from authoritative, agenda-setting records like Saxophone Colossus and Way Out West.

But the Rollins I spoke to was easy to speak to, boyishly enthusiastic, and sort of innocent in his love of other musicians, like composer Jerome Kern, who he called his favorite, and saxophonist Don Byas, who he called "One of my first idols and I prided myself that I could play a little bit like him." (He spoke specifically about falling for a '40s recording of "How High the Moon" Byas made with Jimmy Jones on piano.)

In thinking about what he and other jazz musicians really do when they are improvising, he came back to another saxophonist's description of telling a story. "I think Lester Young put it succinctly -- it's about logic. You can't just play anything. When I take a solo, the music has to make sense. I just happened to be one of the guys, along with John Coltrane, who stated playing long solos. Back then, everything was geared to shorter records."

And while Rollins' records have not matched his '50s classics, as a live performer he has reached another peak, says jazz critic Gary Giddins. My full interview with Sonny Rollins HERE. See you at Royce Hall.

UPDATE: Here is the set list from last night's very potent show. Especially pleased with guitarist Peter Bernstein, wielding an old-school archtop.
1.       Patan jail
2.       Serenade
3.       Blue Gardenia
4.       Nice Lady
5.       They Say It’s Wonderful
6.       Nishi
7.       Don’t Stop the Carnival

Monday, September 19, 2011

Pacific Standard Time's Life and Times

WE'RE getting close to the launch of a gargantuan art blowout -- much bigger than an exhibit, not as cheesy as a "celebration" -- called Pacific Standard Time: Art in Los Angeles 1945 to 1980. This will be a six month initiative involving museums and galleries from Santa Barbara to San Diego, Santa Monica to Palm Springs.

For Sunday's LA Times I put together a timeline intended to be helpful in orienting interested parties. I hope it's a good read too and tells part of the story of this remarkable state. The chronology -- HERE -- tracks things from the work of Salvador Dali's (right) with Hitchcock, through Ed Ruscha and the Ferus Gallery and the Watts Towers (above), up to the presidential election of Ronald Reagan.

I'll be writing more about Pacific Standard Time: Please stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Violinist Ray Chen Nods to Elvis

Ray Chen is a young classical violinist who's got both a golden tone and the kind of catholic taste I find all too infrequently in conservatory trained musicians.

Chen is the latest subject of my Influences column: Here he talks about his love of J.S. Bach, Yo-Yo Ma and Elvis Presley.

The Taiwan native also wrote to me about his love of friends and family, food and drink, and exercise. For a touring musician, especially one who plays repetitive motions on an instrument like a violin, it's serious business. He told me had just gotten back from the gym.

I love keeping myself healthy and in shape, especially if it means that you can eat more! But on a more serious note, exercising is a great way to provide stress relief, keep one's endurance on the road, and also prevent common problems that musicians can get, like carpal tunnel syndrome and other muscle-related injuries.  My goal is to still be playing violin when I'm 85 years old - like my former teacher Aaron Rosand who can still give me a run for my money when he takes out his violin!

Chen plays tonight here in SoCal at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.

Photo courtesy Ray Chen.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Pres. Obama and the Plight of the Middle Class

FOLKS, I'll be appearing on KCRW's To the Point with Warren Olney, which will broadcast today at noon on 89.9 FM in Los Angeles and later, presumably, elsewhere around the country on the PRI network.

We'll be talking about Obama's jobs speech and the larger issue of the middle class during the economic downturn. I'm there to discuss my experience as a laid off newspaper reporter who's struggled with the collapsed economy.

One bit of Obama's speech was especially resonant for me: 

These men and women grew up with faith in an America where hard work and responsibility paid off. They believed in a country where everyone gets a fair shake and does their fair share -- where if you stepped up, did your job, and were loyal to your company, that loyalty would be rewarded with a decent salary and good benefits; maybe a raise once in a while. If you did the right thing, you could make it. Anybody could make it in America.

Anyway, we'll be discussing this and more shortly.

Update: With the show now up and broadcasting from KCRW, I want to recommend a very intelligent discussion in which your humble blogger was just okay.

One point: Chicago small business owner Jay Goltz, who wrote a smart piece for the New York Times about hiring, took issue with something I said about taxes and the rich. He made the point that someone making $250,000 is in very different shape than a billionaire hedge fund guy. I did not have time to respond, but I agree completely. (We need more small business owners like him and fewer too-big-to-fail corporations.)

Finally, this matter connects to a larger point which I did not get time to make, but: The most affluent 400 people in this country hold as much wealth as the bottom 150 million. So to even talk about the middle class is a bit of a nostalgic fiction, at least in the way we used to discuss it as a robust center of American life.

These days, politics dances to the tune of the top 1 percent, not the middle class. There is class warfare in this country: It's that very richest tier against the rest of us -- and they're winning. Bigtime.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Struggle Over Middlebrow

I JUST finished a very intriguing Louis Menand piece on culture critic Dwight Macdonald and the notion of middlebrow. (For those Easterners snorting that I am getting to the story so tardily, let me quote my friend and fellow Angeleno Manohla Dargis, who says that most weeks we get the New Yorker so late it seems to've been delivered by pony express.)

The notion of cultural hierarchy -- which works are good, which are "good for" us, and so on -- has fascinated me for a long time and had shaped a lot of my cultural journalism. I engaged with the highbrow-middlebow-lowbrow question in a reported essay for the LA Times that I expected no one would read. Instead, I heard more from it than almost anything I've written.

HERE is the piece, which begins in a discussion of Macdonald's writings on middlebrow and Clement Greenberg's "Avant Garde and Kitsch." (The pugnacious but also supportive relationship between the Ivy League-ish anarchist Macdonald and Jewish art critic Greenberg is a big part of Menand's piece.)

This is the kind of piece that I consider the beginning (or continuation) of the discussion -- it's hard to have the last word on anything as complex and ever changing as culture and what it does to us.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Christianity and Tom Perrotta

ONE of my favorite-ever author meetings was a lunch interview with Tom Perrotta around the time of The Abstinence Teacher. (I was in New England and swung to the fringe of Boston to meet him.) The novel's film adaptation was already rolling despite the fact that the book hadn't come out yet -- credit the success of Little Children for that one.

The Abstinence Teacher, like his new one, The Leftovers, is partially about latter day Christians and the culture of the religiously devout, not often examined in literary fiction.

Perrotta and I spoke about a lot of things -- rock music, fatherhood, literary craft -- and especially his upbringing as a not-terribly-devout Catholic in New Jersey in the '60s and '70s, in the wake of Vatican II and other softenings of the church.

With The Abstinence Teacher, I was struck by the way Perrotta balanced satire with an unexpected empathy. Here's what I wrote at the time:

More than anything, though, his work is defined not by a type of character or a setting in the suburbs but by a tone of voice: cutting and observed with a kind of oracular detachment, but with forgiveness and respect for old-fashioned decency. It's also a tone, rooted in realism, that doesn't draw attention to itself.
In a funny way, the premises and the novels themselves seem to be rendered by a different writer.
"The setups to my stories are often more satirical," he said, "but the execution isn't. In the course of writing, my sense of the characters deepens, and the story becomes something different from what I intended."
HERE is that interview and profile. Looking forward to his new one.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Roots of Philip Glass

THE minimalist composer is the latest subject of my Influences column in the Los Angeles Times.

We spoke about his teacher Nadia Boulanger, sitar player Ravi Shankar, composer/philosopher John Cage, Gandhi and Allen Ginsberg, who Glass got to know well.

I mentioned to Glass before we started to talk for real that I had a new respect for anyone who wrote music since I'd started a very amateur study of music theory. He told me it's not hard for kids -- as his nine-year-old son is showing him. "Their minds are much more agile."

HERE is the full piece.

He'll be at the Hollywood Bowl next Tuesday.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Return of Brian Selznick

IF you’re the kind of grownup who enjoys smart, well-drawn children’s novels, you might be as excited as I am to hear the Brian Selznick has a new novel, Wonderstruck, coming in September.

I met Selznick a few years back on the publication of The Invention of Hugo Cabret, his nearly wordless  book about an orphan hiding out in a Parisian train station. (I have another, more recent connection with his work: He illustrated Barbara Kerley’s The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse and Hawkins, a favorite of my dinosaur-loving son.)

Selznick – who is descended from film producer David O. Selznick – and I spoke about the literary tradition of orphans, silent movies’ genius of telling stories through images, and the groundbreaking work of Maurice Sendak. I’m not the only one interested in the Cadecott Medal-winning book: Martin Scorsese’s 3-D adaptation, with Jude Law and Ben Kingsley, comes out comes out in November.

Here is my LATimes interview with Selznick.

Wonderstruck, according to a story in the latest School Library Journal, will involve “two interconnected  tales,” one all text, the other in black-and-white images. The first will tell of “12-year old Ben Wilson as he leaves rural Minnesota for New York City, a few months after his mother’s death, in search or a father he’s never known. And the wordless companion story follows a New Jersey girls who’s deaf and who embarks on a risky quest of her own, in 1927.” 

Friday, August 12, 2011

Jazz, Joni Mitchell and the Hollywood Bowl

YOU'LL get less of the introverted poet of Blue and only a hint of the lipstick-and-beret chanteuse of Court and Spark. Instead, Wednesday night will summon the jazz phase Joni Mitchell went through in the mid-to-late '70s.

HERE is  my LA Times story on the Hollywood Bowl show, Joni's Jazz, which will include all kinds of good people -- including Herbie Hancock, who recently took some well-aimed criticism about the pedestrian nature of the Bowl's jazz offerings, Glenn Hansard, Aimee Mann, Cassandra Wilson and Wayne Shorter.

I enjoyed speaking to several of the above -- though I must admit Shorter and I got lost walking down memory lane a bit: He mused about his years in the army, during which he met Lester Young at a mid-'50s Canadian gig (Pres took him downstairs to the wine cellar to see if they could find better cognac than what they were serving at the bar) and raving about the open-mindedness of European jazz fans. ("The crowds -- they're poppin'. All the generations; 13-year-olds into really out stuff. Really feeling it.")

Michell's jazz period included the album The Hissing of Summer Lawns -- which has what we'd later call "world music" touches and which will be performed in its entirety at the Bowl -- and ends with her tribute to bassist/composer Charles Mingus, who died a few months before its release. (Though some very good people play on Mingus, its fusion vibe makes it a lost opportunity for me.)

Mitchell is of course a major figure and innovative guitarist -- Richard Thompson is fascinated with her alternate tunings and his old band Fairport Convention covered "Chelsea Morning" and "I Don't Know Where I Stand" -- who I find it easy to like and hard to love. I'm happy for the the Bowl concert -- which has a mix of the usual suspects and some imaginative choices -- to change that.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Simon Reynolds Goes Retro

HAS the end of cultural history ever been so much fun?

Your humble scribe has been reading Simon Reynolds since his work was a well-kept secret of the British music press. (He was also, during the ‘90s, one of two rock-crit Simons in the Village Voice, the other being the code-cracking rock sociologist Simon Frith.)

He’s written with insight and intelligence about rock n roll, subculture, shoegaze, “post-rock,” electronica and rave culture. His biggest hit stateside has probably been Rip It Up and Start Again: Post Punk 1978-1984, published in this country in 2006. (Due to Henry Rollins plug for the British edition, I had my Manchester-dwelling sister drag one home for me for Christmas one year.)

Reynolds’ latest book – which arrives about a year after his move to Los Angeles – is Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction to its Own Past. The book concentrates on popular music, but it stretches to include all kinds of related subjects, among them memory, hipster retro culture, the psychology of the collector, the "big in Japan" phenomenon, commodity fetishism, YouTube and digital means of recording and storage.

I read nearly everything I find by Reynolds, but this book taps into several longtime passions of mine: In college, as I tried to make simultaneous sense of postmodern theorist Frederic Jameson and the emerging sample-madness of hip hop, I wrote an essay called “Pop Will Eat Itself” which laid out some of the issues that would continue to fascinate me for the next two decades. But I only scratched the surface what Reynolds gets into here. (I also had no idea how much of a retro cat I would become as an adult.)

Now please allow me to slip back to my Vox tube amp, collection of ‘60s jazz records and stash of prewar noir novels: Here’s Simon.

When did you realize that it had gotten this bad? That we were not just living through garden-variety nostalgia but might be poised to swallow our own future?

Shortly before deciding to do the book! Which would have been 2007 or so. But the feeling had been creeping up on me for a while, I’d been blogging stuff with retro themes for quite a while.
The book comes out of this mounting sense of bemusement at the phenomenon of retro that built up over the Noughties, and from a feeling of alarm at what it seemed to herald for the future – which is to say precisely an absence of future, the repetition of the already-heard.

It also comes from curiosity about how things had gotten like this, and how far the roots of retro could be traced. Because as soon as I started thinking about the subject in depth, during the writing of the proposal, I realized that retro had been this spectre on the periphery of my consciousness going way way back. There is a piece I wrote in a fanzine in the mid-Eighties, when music seemed to be stagnant and deadlocked, where I mention en passant that there’s been a glut of reissues and retrospection and that hasn’t helped the situation! So one of the things the book is showing is that retromania as a phenomenon is not an overnight development, it’s something that’s built up over a couple of decades.

What happened in terms of the swarming, ever-expanding digital archive of pop culture that has accrued over the past decade — filesharing, Wikipedia, YouTube, etc etc etc — that was the fruition of tendencies and directions that go back to long before the Internet. So part of the book is also an investigation of the history of retro; I’m looking back at pop’s own looking back, the history of revivalism and what I call “timewarp cults’.

You open the book describing the 17th century origins of the word “nostalgia." For how long have human beings longed for the past? Did Cro-Magnon man pine for the days when he was pushing the Neanderthals aside?

I think looking back to the past and venerating it is something that runs through the entirety of human civilization and is almost certainly part of every culture on the planet. The idea that things were better in the some glorious earlier time, that the ancestors were wise and just and existed in some kind of perfect state of equilibrium, but that at some point things went awry and the current situation we inhabit is fallen or lesser...  this is a near-universal way of seeing things. And on the individual level, we are all prone to nostalgia, I’m sure. Certainly daydreaming about my personal past, feeling wistful about lost moments, is a big part of my make-up.

Nostalgia in the sense of nostalgia for the popular culture and everyday trappings (food, clothes, transport, how stuff looked and was designed, etc etc) of an era that you personally lived through...  I think that is a relatively recent development, though. It seems like a 20th Century thing. That kind of nostalgia is inextricably linked to how fast fashions, entertainment, and so forth, change: they’re two sides of the same coin. And that cycle definitely got faster and faster as the 20th Century proceeded. Hence there’s more to be nostalgic about.

That kind of nostalgia is different from antiquarianism or an interest in history or the olden days. When I was very young I wanted to be an archaeologist and that impulse is to do with the thrill of treasure seeking (I had a very na├»ve idea of what being an archaeologist was like, which was shattered when I attended my first dig) and a fascination for how differently people lived in olden times. There are many ways of being interested in the past that don’t have anything to do with nostalgia. People who form Early Music ensembles aren’t nostalgic, I don’t think. They don’t want to go back to the days of bubonic plague and petty criminals being drawn-and-quartered.

But retro is something a little different from nostalgia, right?

In the book I talk about retro in two ways. There is a sort of vague use of “retro” as an umbrella term for anything to do with phenomena that have some relationship to the past; usually it’s a derogatory or slightly mocking use of the word. 

All the things that get loosely described as ‘retro’ are dealt with in the book: nostalgia, reunion tours, heritage culture, rock museums, revivals, reissuing, remakes, etc. However ‘retro’ actually has a more specific meaning that actually has little to do with nostalgia as an emotion of genuine loss and longing towards the past. Retro in this narrower, precise sense refers to a cultivated appreciation of past styles, usually with a sense of irony as opposed to anguish. Retro aesthetes are charmed by the quaintness of things from the past, but they don’t want to go back in time. This “pure” retro is much more aestheticized and style-oriented. In a non-pejorative sense, just a simple statement of fact, it is superficial: it attends to and delights in the surface properties of the style.

That’s why ‘retro’ in this sense first manifested in the world of fashion and graphic design. Then it gradually spread into, or emerged within, music. And initially it was a rarefied, sophisticated sensibility, and in the rather earnest context of rock culture in the 70s, it was cutting edge. The pioneers of it in rock would have been figures like Roxy Music, or later the  B-52s. Art school and/or gay musicians.  Nowadays it is really widespread in “post-indie” music culture and a lot of the most enjoyable and thought-provoking operators currently active approach the past as this gigantic flea market of sound and style and imagery through they sift for style signifiers to play with.

Haven’t cultural critics decried this kind of thing before? Paul Weller and company went retro decades ago, and I recall a 1986 Esquire article calling the ‘80s “The Re Decade.” What’s different now?

It’s a recurrent complaint that’s emerged at moments of seeming stagnation in music. In the Seventies, journalist and cultural pundits noticed that there was a lot of revivalism going on, particularly the Fifties revival that was big in rock but also took in things like American Graffiti and Happy Days, but I think there was also in the Seventies a bit of Twenties revivalism going on and probably some other decades got dabbled with too. 

In the Eighties postmodernism reached the music and youth press as well as mainstream magazines, so I’m not surprised to hear about that Esquire article; I can remember pieces in The Face about ‘The Age of Plunder’. There was recycling going on all across from music (with so many Eighties pop groups referencing Sixties soul) to Swatch watches with their use of Constructivist and Suprematist imagery. In the early 90s I wrote a piece whose working title was actually ‘Retromania’ for the Guardian and it talked about the reissue explosion and also two then-new rock magazines, Mojo and Vox, that had a very pronounced orientation towards the rock past, collector culture, and so forth.

As I say this has been building for years, but I think what makes it different now is the scale and intensity, and how it’s been affected by digital culture, how that has induced a state of atemporality. Also this current stagnant, directionless phase has gone on much longer than any previous lull: it’s been like this for about a dozen years, where no new major movement or genre in music has come forward.  Indeed, tying in with what I said about digiculture, I think you can loosely time the onset of the current malaise-without-end-in-sight to when broadband kicked in and a whole bunch of things to do with the Internet took off and started pushing us towards the Cloud and the state of perpetual connectivity.

If someone wrote a book this year about the dangers of pollution, or overpopulation, or global warming, I don’t think anyone would say, “oh we’ve heard this before, there were lots of scares about environmental issues in the 1970s, or people were worried about the ozone layer back in the early 90s...  ’. 

Someone in the UK compared Retromania to An Inconvenient Truth.  I think there’s some truth to that in so far as the problems I’m examining didn’t come about overnight and at various points people have remarked upon these syndromes before and expressed alarm about them.

The advent of recording and photography made retro possible. How has technology – which we associate with the future – quickened the process?

Well I go into this in some depth in the book, obviously. It’s a BIG topic. To keep it short, I will say that we’ve seen in the last twenty years a bumpy but implacable transition from the Analogue System to the Digital System, with things like CDs and iPods as transitional formats and technology that will disappear as all culture becomes subsumed as the Cloud.  The Analogue way of experiencing culture involved dearth, distance, and delay: there was a limited number of cultural artifacts that most individuals could afford, these took a solid form that had to be physically transported (in the case of magazines, recordings, if not radio and TV, although the latter were limited by broadcast range), and that involved waiting (for things to be released or published or broadcast). The Digital way of experiencing culture is organized around super-abundance, post-geographical proximity, and instantaneity/immediacy. There are no limits. Yet human beings remain stubbornly analogue entities and as many many people are discovering there is a lot to be said in favour of limits.

This can’t be good. What does it tell us about Anglo-American society in the 21st century, that we’ve become -- as your subtitle has it -- addicted to our own past?

Well, it could be telling us lots of things. That we’ve become victims of our technology. That we bought into the ideology of convenience as a supreme value. Or could it be that old stuff seems comfortable at a time characterized on the one hand by mind-blowing technological changes (the aforementioned digiculture stuff) but on the other hand characterized by an anxiety-stoking sense of political-economic deterioration/deadlock/instability. The past seems alluring because the present is a mess and the future is hard to envisage in positive terms. “Better days” have become something it’s more plausible to project backwards in time rather than forwards in time.