Sunday, February 25, 2007

Timeless Raps, Vol. 2

David Bowie (materializing suddenly): “Are you ready to go, small child?”

Small Child: “Where?”

David Bowie: “Outside all Time as you know it, little one.”

Small Child: “You mean to grandma and grandpa’s house?”

David Bowie (smiling gently, inscrutably): “No, little one, to


[Ice Cube]
“I’m hard on ‘em,
yeah I’m ruthless.
You like a stress-sack,
boy you useless.
You know the side, trick.
Better get up on it.
Cuz it must be a single with Nate Dogg singin’ on it.


[Mack 10]
It ain’t a hit till Nate Dogg spit.”

Rappers: Ice Cube & Mack 10, “Gangsta Nation” (radio edit), off Westside Connection’s album Terrorist Threats

Grounds for entry
: truth


I admit that from a strictly technical standpoint, this song features no killer verses—the rhetorikal skillzz of the 3 members of the thuggy, unknowingly self-parodic Westside Connection range from pedestrian (Mack 10) to passable (W.C.) to legit (a fading Ice Cube). No, the song is all about those tooting keyboards—hot damn, those keyboards—and Nate Dogg*. And these here clarion lines at the end.

To hear the 3rd and 4th lines cited above is to come across a lovely unexpected spring flower beside the path during a February walk in the woods, one of those revealing little lines in a rap song which, surrounded by all the posturing, all the posing, all the dick-swinging, tells you just a sweet little something about the MC. In this case, we now categorically know what Ice Cube doesn’t use to relax when he’s on tour or on the set of one of his many movies: Stress-sacks! In fact we know his exact valuation of their worth: Useless! Such a grim verdict leads us to imagine that Ice Cube, at some very stressful point in his life, turned desperately to stress-sacks for sweet succor, sat down with stress-sacks for an intense few moments of heavy breathing and heart-pounding and squeezing, was let down horribly by stress-sacks, and has never forgiven stress-sacks for this.

The 7th line is just true. True. That is all. Robustly, powerfully, terrifyingly true in a way that our sickly postmodernity has not equipped us to deal with. It is The Nate Dogg Axiom, and in identifying it Ice Cube displays a searing, veridical awareness of the mechanisms of his trade, and also of life, kind of.

The final line comes right before the instrumental climax of the song, in which the keyboards—oooooh those keyboards—are just unleashed. Mack 10 utters this during one of those end-of-the-song conversational rants that rappers will do, where they’re just kind of talking smack at no one in particular. Oftentimes these rants are curious mixtures of unversified and versified natter—the rapper will chat in measured conversational prosodies one second and then totally slip in a little rhymed, iambic couplet the next. This is a great example of that: a slight variation on The Nate Dogg Axiom in the form of a condensed, nearly perfect gnomic verse such like children might learn and recite at grammar school. You know, like “A stitch in time saves nine,” or “The early bird gets the worm”. I want my children to learn and recite this line at grammar school.

For it is timeless.

*Link leads to the uncensored song's utterly baffling music video

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Right Back Where We Started From

The following article is from the now defunct Associated Press's ASAP

DOOMED TV -- 'The O.C.' takes a long look at itself


What makes us who we are?

Is it an untouchable essence at our core that guides our actions, or does our environment sculpt our character?

Nature versus nurture—an age-old question, indeed.

Wrestling with it, and often punching it in the face, was Ryan of "The O.C."—a smart, respectful kid who just needed a change of scenery and some wealthy benefactors to fulfill his potential.

Likewise, the once-beloved, soon-to-be-deceased "O.C." is a charity case— a winner at heart, but not making many new friends while stuck in a Thursday night ratings war (read: massacre) with "Grey's Anatomy."

If surroundings killed "The O.C.," then its introspection made it what it was.

Despite its notorious attention to all things pop, the program remained even more fascinated by its own reflection, brimming with self-referentiality both vainglorious and self-deprecating. To eulogize this cannibalistic impulse, we offer a list of the show's most memorable moments in self-awareness.

While not the first show given to navel-gazing (lest we forget Seinfeld's "show about nothing"), never before has a mainstream television program so thoroughly borrowed from its own cultural impact to develop new material. Come the last episode, don't be surprised to see the whole Newport gang mourning over its own grave, the program finally having swallowed itself whole.

These are the great meta moments in "O.C." history.



1. Ryan Atwood, Russell Crowe doppelganger: Coming back from a date, Ryan and Marissa stop to chat in front of the Cohen house. They have just seen "Master and Commander," and Marissa says: "I don't know, Russell Crowe—he just doesn't do anything for me. I mean, people say he's good looking ... but I don't see it." Despite Mischa Barton's less-than-convincing acting, she speaks volumes with a side-of-the-mouth smirk.

2. Big Korea takes on Big Japan: Summer's revenge prom date is the hottest pop star in Korea. The front man for Big Korea may not speak a word of English, but he is fluent in the insider nod. Adam Brody plays drums for a band by the name of Big Japan.

3. Mischa Barton salutes the Union Jack: British-born Mischa Barton helps steal back her sister's Montecito school crest with her feminine wiles, posing as a British stripper, and summoning a suspiciously authentic British accent.

4. On the ongoing, now-moribund relationship between Adam Brody and Rachel Bilson:

Seth: "Over-exposure Ryan, it's a major source of conflict in new relationships. Summerith, Sethimer? You understand what I'm saying?"

Ryan: "No no, but that's normal."

5. "I'm not reading that, that's like 'The Ring.' I don't want to die," says Seth, getting all intertextual on us. (Adam Brody was in "The Ring"!)



1. Ryan and Seth discuss Grady, from "The Valley":

Ryan: "He's kinda like you."

Seth: "What, handsome and charming?"

Ryan: "No. Geeky and sarcastic."

Seth: "Oh god, he is like me ... except with his own TV show."

2. "I wish I was from the Valley." - Summer.

3. "The Real Valley," the "O.C.'s" scathing riposte to MTV's "Laguna Beach."



1. "Ooooh god, what if its starting ... the Chrismukkah backlash ... what if its getting too big and commercial. ... Dude, I knew this would happen, it's like it starts out as this really cool, cult holiday, you know, flying beneath the cultural radar—and then all of a sudden it crosses over and then there’s too much pressure. I mean truthfully, can it really be the next Thanksgiving—can it top Halloween?" - Seth, talking about something larger than fake holidays. Perhaps he is referring to the show's very own unique propensity toward blowing up indie rock acts? To wit:

2. The politics of listening: "Ugh! They're playing Death Cab on 'The Valley'? (I'm) never listening to them again." - Kaitlin Cooper echoes the sentiments of all those "underground" music fans at home.



1. Upon Zach's return from Italy, Seth characteristically drops a fourth-wall shattering line to make you wonder if he isn't watching the show with you. "Hey man, you came back ... people never leave and come back!"

California, there you go.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Upon Passing By a Communist Rally in my Childhood Town

"Communism doesn't work because people like to own stuff."
-Frank Zappa

picture of my childhood house in Münster

One sunny summer Saturday in 2006 I took a train out to visit Münster, Germany, the town where I spent a few years of my young life. My family lived in Münster, in theory, because of Communism—my dad was in the Army, and the American army had to be in Germany because… you know… because of the Reds. And as I was poking around the depressingly unfamiliar streets of my old town I stumbled upon a Communist rally in full swing. Now wait just one hot minute,” I said to myself in a moment of impulsive patriotic-nostalgic fervor, “I grew up in this town to get rid of you assholes.” But as I watched them enjoying their rally, the flash of anger cooled, and I walked on with shouts of “Down with the American butchers!” and “Israel has no right to exist!” pealing off the walls of the square, thinking to myself “Aww, let ‘em have their fun. Rallies are so much fun.

Though we spent the first years of our lives dumbly watching its spectacular headswell and collapse, Communism evokes a relatively weak and passed-on behavioral distemper in my American generation, not like the visceral fear and hatred of our foregoers. Sure, almost all Americans, regardless of age, share an essential dislike of the thing. The contemporary weakness of the communist ideology in America (especially in comparison to our cultural relatives, the Western European nations) is a running testament to this. Still, my generation learned its anti-Red catechism just and even as we learned to speak language—passively and without critical understanding—and right before we entered the phase of American life where we might have begun to regard its presence with synapse-setting, hormone-infused, culturally mediated intellectual loathing, it was gone, just like that, with a Wall. Unlike the previous three crops of Americans, we were a generation without a nemesis. This happy state of things would, of course, last only a decade.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A deft technological improvisation, of which I am proud, but for which I cannot take credit

"Whether you're making a mix tape, archiving vinyl, or recording from a live source, TDK audio tapes are pure performance perfection."
- The TDK website

One day, in 1999, I spent an entire Trigonometry period absorbing a classmate’s detailed instructions on how to download mp3 files. Later, at home, I navigated my Netscape browser to a primitively coded forum style website with neon green text on a black background. This site had errant html code and no search capabilities, but it did have music files. It had these little music files that took hours to download. Soon, my collected melodies squeaked from the pitiful single speaker of my Power Computing Mac Clone Tower.

And so it began. I joined Rapster, the Mac version of Napster designed for my obsolete operating system (OS 7.5, I think it was). I eventually amassed a small but respectable fleet of melodies to play over and over. The only one I remember was “Bling Bling,” by the Cash Money Millionaires.

This was all happening long before suggestively hip black silhouettes danced in front of psychedelic rainbow splatter spaces. My precious little tunes were hardly portable. CD burning had not yet come to the masses, or at least anyone I knew well. With patience uncommon in sixteen year-olds, we endured the hours of downloading, but we could never have our songs to go.

But then, a good friend, let’s call him Guillermo Hatleroy, had a great idea that rescued us from this tortuous technological purgatory. Borrowing an instrument from the Compact Disc era, Guillermo concocted a baroque marriage of analog and digital technologies, boldly introducing the infant mp3 era to its outmoded ancestor, the cassette tape. The result was a recording Rube Goldberg.

The set-up hinged upon a car audio cassette adapter. This looks like a regular TDK without the tape inside and a long headphone cord snaking from its corner. This headphone jack plugged into the sound out port on the computer, and the cassette adaptor at the end of the cord was inserted into one side of a dual tape deck. The other side of the dual tape deck held a blank tape. This is where the mix was made. Hit play on the mp3 player and the blank tape at the same time (the adapter tape was just left running constantly), wait for the song to finish, and presto: mp3s onto tapes. To this day I marvel at Guillermo’s ingenuity.

I relate this story with a great deal of pride that my friend and I inhabited a corner of recording history that is now completely forgotten, and was likely never known by more than a few. At the time, we were scientists, rebuking the established mode of planned obsolescence and forcing an elegantly brutal anachronism. Now our lot is cast with characters like Copernicus and Phrenology, our work disqualified and overthrown by superior theories and techniques. Today, we have nothing but our stories of frontier recording. But my friend’s historically contextualized genius lives on in my memory, as well as my mix tapes, many of which I still have.