e-mail me at billdeg@umich.edu


Warhol at the Y

The long row of television monitors at the YMCA has always struck me as a Warhol-like spectacle. They emanate no sound, only de-contextualized visuals. Most frequently, the talking heads of ESNP or FoxNews. Silkscreen the series of Bill O'Reilly heads...pure Warhol.

Add the treadmills to the canvas and the spectacle becomes less Warhol and more Orwell. Remember the two-minutes hate from the opening sequence of 1984? Winston Smith's morning dose of anti-Emmanuel Goldstein propaganda? The line of bleary-eyed treadmill afficionados at the Y stare at the monitors and WALK, WALK FASTER, RUN.

Images from the soundless (my batteries went dead) morning news: Robert Blake's attorney wearing what looked like a tuxedo in the courtroom (Warhol again). A report about a painkiller's deadly side effects followed by a commercial for that same painkiller (Warhol again).


best of '04

Let me add to the year-end-music-geek-list-making cacophony...


1. "99 Problems" by Jay-Z. Jay-Z uses a tired hip hop trope: The Run-In With the Law. But he manages to make that trope fresh because, well, he understands narrative poetry. Not to mention dialogue: "My glove compartment's locked/so is the trunk and the back./And I know my rights so you gon' need a warrant for that."/"Aren't you sharp as a tack?/Are you some type of lawyer or something?/Somebody important or something?"/"Nah I ain't passed the bar but I know a little bit./Enough that you won't illegally search my shit." If you doubt Jay-Z's skills, try to sing along.

2. "Alive and Amplified" by The Mooney Suzuki. This is like Lenny Kravitz meets "Jesus Christ Superstar" meets the Sanford&Son theme.

3. "Monkey Man" by The Rolling Stones, off their latest cash cow, err, live album. Next to "Dead Flowers" this is my favorite RS song, and the new live version is brilliant. Creepy piano effect, slide guitar, and paranoid lyrics. If you don't mind making a contribution to the RS empire, give i-tunes your .99 for this one.

4. "An Open Letter to NYC" by Beastie Boys. Their new album was so-so but this was the stand-out track thanks to the sample of "Sonic Reducer" by the Dead Boys.

5. N*E*R*D--Fly or Die. My favorite album of the year. The most diverse thing I've heard in a while, alternating between funk, bubblegum pop, psychedelia, and hardcore punk.

6. "Take Me Out" by Franz Ferdinand. This is why music snobs need to stop bad-mouthing 80s new wave pop. Catchy, loud, and post-punk, this is a song that could have been on heavy rotation on MTV in 1981.

7. Northern State--All City. Why aren't Northern State huge? This is why I'd make a lousy record executive...because I'd have predicted this would be the biggest album of the summer. Stand-out tracks: "Girl for All Seasons," and "Last Night." Far-left politics mixed with hip hop party anthems...what more could anyone ask for?

8. Danger Mouse--The Grey Album. Absolutely worthy of the hype. DM mashes up the Beatles' White Album and Jay Z's Black Album..get it? Okay, the titular pun is cheesy, but the final product rocks, especially the "Glass Onion"-sampling "Encore" and the "December 4" remix fueled by "Blackbird." One of the (many) strokes of brilliance here is the thematic unity of the pairings. "Glass Onion" and "Encore" are both about fame. "December 4" and "Blackbird" both tackle coming-of-age. This is William Burroughs's cut-up method with a beat.

9. "Might as Well" by Something for Rockets. I think this is only available of SFR's website. This song reminds me of Joe Jackson. Just a really pretty keyboard-heavy tune. SFR's headed up by the son of Itzhak Perlman and the classical influence shows. I wish commercial radio played songs like this.

10. (tie) "Toxic" by Britney Spears and "Neighborhood #2" by Arcade Fire. The commercial juggernaut's best single. Britney must have heard Travis' cover of "Baby One More Time" and realized that guitars aren't completely incompatible with her bubbly confections. Can't believe she went and followed this up with that crappy cover. Yikes. The Arcade Fire song, like the SFR track above, is another pretty song that you won't hear on the radio. A huge critical success, though, and we're surely going to hear more from them. Bonus points for being Canadian.


Democrats bashing Moore

Matt Taibbi at alternet has a great piece on how factions of the democratic party are blaming Michael Moore for Kerry's loss. The Democratic Leadership Council has decided that Moore and "Hollywood liberals" (and we should be very afraid when the left starts blindly adopting the epithets of the far-right) are dragging down the democrats. Taibbi, speaking about Moore's "Farenheit 911," points out that
...it was, according to exit polls, a much better demographic success than the actual Democratic party. A Harris poll conducted in July found that 89 percent of Democrats agreed with "Fahrenheit 9/11," along with 70 percent of independents. That means Moore outperformed John Kerry among independents by about 19 points, if we are to go just by the data presented by bum-licking power-worshipper Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times at the DLC roundtable.

This worries me a great deal. Michael Moore is *exactly* the kind of voice (a pro-labor, class-conscious, patriotic critic of the media, unchecked corporate power, and senseless war) we on the left should be embracing. Why do democrats think they can win by out-republicaning the republicans? At every turn, dems run to the right, thinking they can pull a Reagan and attract voters from the other side. What Michael Moore, Howard Dean, and Dennis Kucinich recognize is that there's a humongous segment of the population (lots of working people, lots of underemployed and disenfranchised individuals) that doesn't vote--tap them, not the knuckleheads who think that critical thinking and social commentary are marks of anti-Americanism.

Some democrats and progressives are making a similar mis-step in terms of looking at Bush's popularity with "religious" voters, concluding, for example, that the left needs to prove its own viability as a choice for voters who've "got religion." Leave organized religion and religious beliefs out of the political sphere. You want a society whose public policy is based on religious beliefs? So does the Taliban.


buried under paper but tapping my toes

I find myself in the midst of the second-to-last week of the semester. With the term's end comes the inevitable rush of papers. First drafts of multi-genre essays. IRB proposals from the master's students. Student evaluation forms. Dossiers from applicants for our job opening. To-do lists composed on legal pads during five-minute bursts while students freewrite. I wade into my office instead of walking into it during the final weeks of any given semester.

Good background music for these weeks:
1. The Swell Maps. Great punk rock music. At times as snotty and simple as the Dils or Dead Boys...but at other points they show an appreciation for keyboards, melodies, and various odd sound f/x. Highpoint: "HS Art" from their '79 debut A Trip to Marineville. Inspring lyric: "Do you believe in art?"

2. U2's new album. Not their best work (didya expect it to be?), but I love the "Vertigo" single (i-pod shilling and annoying ubiquity nonwithstanding), as well as "Love and Peace Or Else." Early reviews suggested the album might be a return to their early-80s guitar band mode. It's not. More like a continuation down the earnest path of All That You Can't Leave Behind. Only complaint (and it's the same complaint I had about the new REM disc): how about some more fast tunes? After all, I'm wading through a stack of rough drafts here!