Saturday, November 30, 2013

Why I'm Reading “Jeeves and the Yule-Tide Spirit” in Rittenhouse Square

The simple reason, and the glib one, is I'm doing it to do it. Look to the anarchists and Situationists for that logic: the purpose of the act is the act itself; all other goals are incidental and impossible to predict. There is a larger reason, but it doesn't touch on politics or art. The core purpose remains, and always will remain, to do this because I think it'll be fun.

I could say the root of the idea goes back to college when I wanted to prank the street corner preachers by shouting from Green Eggs and Ham from the opposite corner, but the real root came from Occupy Philly. Their encampment at City Hall had a kids' corner and the occupation was happening during October. The natural thing seemed to be to read Bunnicula out loud to those kids. I never made it happen though. It just remained another one of those ideas that I never followed through on.

Only this idea stayed with me. If not at Occupy, then in Rittenhouse Square, the next most public gathering place in Philly. The text changed as well. Bunnicula is only compelling in the run-up to Halloween. I thought about reading a Wodehouse book all the way through, doing a new one every weekend in fact. Become a strange fixture in the park, performing but never asking for money, arriving, reading, then leaving all without comment. Keep it strange.

I'm a big fan of keep it strange. Philebrity has “keep Philly weird” as their slogan and I appreciate that sentiment. As quiet and middle-class as I am (and existing in every state of privilege that one can), I've never been a fan of suburban normalcy; I've always felt like the freak and I've always felt like I've been getting everything wrong. I do mean “everything:” how to be a man, how to be an adult, what I'm supposed to enjoy, what life I'm supposed to live, what, ultimately, dreams are okay to have and which ones aren't. That's what this really comes down to, insisting that different ways of dreaming are okay.

Reading a Wodehouse story out loud is not a radical act and no amount of intellectual gymnastics can make it one. However it does represent an opening of possibilities. This act, any act, asserts that this is a world where these things can happen and if these things, why not others? I want to create moments for people where they wonder later if that really happened, if they understood what was going on, if there's anyone else who can confirm it for them. I want a world with moments of inexplicable beauty and I don't want that in some eye-rollingly cliched hippy sense. Thinking about doing this makes me giddy because I know I'm going to be really self-conscious while doing it, that probably no one will pay attention, that I might even get in trouble because if you do anything that steps even slightly outside of what's expected, people get snippy. But I want that.

I'm 33 and want the world to still make me giddy so I'm going to read in Rittenhouse Square.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Story Slam: Close Quarters

Story Slam piece about dancing at a gay bar with an ex-girlfriend. Video here. Possibly NSFW so not embedded. Plus the thumbnail gives away the big surprise of the piece.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Story Slam: Power Trips

I won with this story and so will be competing in the next Grand Slam. Honestly, though, not one of my favorite pieces.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Internet, You Have Disappointed Me

Guys. While typing in the address for Questionable Content, I realized it's only 1 letter off from "Questionable Context." So I typed that in--and there's nothing there! How can this be? Who hasn't seized that opportunity? Both .net and .com are available. I may need to start a web-only literary magazine devoted to stories about conspiracy theories. I am serious here.
Internet, you have disappointed me.

Monday, June 17, 2013

On the Economics of Music and the Moral Dilemma of Google All Access

Hallelujah the Hills posted this Facebook status update:
FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Our last album has had 17,274 Spotify streams equaling $88.55 in revenue - If 1/3 of those streams were $1/song downloads we'd have about $6000. I point that out not to be all "waaah we could be rich" but rather to say we'd have enough funds to record a kick ass new studio album RIGHT NOW. And that's all we want to do... :)
I ended up responding with the following, partly to hash out my thoughts on Google Music All Access, partly to respond to a sense of people sneeringly responding, "You're getting paid so stop complaining" which always seem to arise in these debates.

There's the bigger problem of the shift in the economics of music, and let me note that I'm saying this as a consumer of music, not in any way a producer. This is the change I've seen and felt on my end.

Pre-streaming there was potentially a little money from album sales and airplay, but the majority of the money for artists came from touring and selling merch. Once downloading hit, people weren't paying for the music, but would buy a shirt at the show on principle to support the band. Now I find myself treating the albums like the shirts; I'll buy them at the show when I can (if the album's for sale and I haven't already bought it) to kick a few extra bucks to the band. In other words I'm no longer buying records from bands I like (or, equally problematic, from my local stores) because I can stream them.

I just signed up for Google Music All Access, $8 a month, all the expected Spotify/cloud stuff, and it does the job. It immediately recommended the new HtH album to me as well as albums that I would have had to work pretty hard to find otherwise. For $8 they were just there waiting, which is admittedly nice, as a consumer. Beyond that though, and the part that makes me worried, 3 albums I'd been looking forward to came out this month. Albums that I would have bought in the store, that I'd marked my calendar to make sure I didn't miss, but that also showed up on Google so I didn't buy them. Because I had them. For $8.

I could claim that I took the $45-60 that I would have spent on those records and plowed it back into my local scene by seeing more concerts, buying more merch, buying music not on Google, but I didn't. I used that money for rent. There is an element of the downward pressure working on all of us that's ignored by limiting these discussions exclusively to how bands make which penny where or what's the most efficient way to be a music consumer or if it's okay for artists to not make a living off their work because their work is fulfilling.

In the discussion of the economics of music lies an unspoken discussion of the economics of all our lives. We're increasingly trying to maintain a culture and lifestyle, as a nation, on a shrinking budget. Taxes aside, our collective wages are what form the capital pool that our culture draws from and with stagnant or shrinking wages, that pool is drying up. I think one of the simplest ways to make musicians--and any artists'--lives easier is to make their lives easier. Increase wages generally so there's more disposable income to support artists through crowd sourcing/shows and so that artists can survive if they take a little extra time off from their day jobs because they rely less on tour income; have universal health care and pensions so artists can leave those jobs without worrying about benefits or not worry about bankrupting the band if they break their ankle at a show; and go ahead and just have the government pay artists through increased grants, paying for public concerts, or subsidizing venues for such art.

I don't think anyone in this discussion would minimize what music is worth to them emotionally or materially so the question becomes how do we get that money into music? Alternately, a question that addresses the root issue a little more, why do we want that money in music and what do we want it to do? I want more money in music, I pay for music, because I want the musicians to keep making music, want them to be able to make a living doing what they and I both love.

Hallelujah the Hills' latest album is a collection of singles, b-sides, and non-album tracks entitled Portrait of the Artist as a Young Trash Can and is available on their Bandcamp page as are their excellent full-length albums.

Update: Tim, in an act of the most elegant timing, posts a more concise take on value and creativity.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Story Slam: Overnight

And back to the regular Story Slams with virtually no break. A story about my most memorable phone call while a DJ at WYEP. This piece was selected as audience favorite.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Story Slam: Power

This is my performance for the Grand Slam competition where I talk about a teacher who tried to have me expelled over a paperwork error. The entire night was full of amazing stories and you can see all of them here.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

This is the End Review

I didn't go into this screening with high expectations, didn't expect the next Hamlet or Citizen Kane, just wanted a relatively silly, quick-witted comedy. I mean, I liked Pineapple Express. It was fun. Thought this would be the same. Instead, when it isn't aggressively boring, it's annoying.

So the end of the world hits during James Franco's party. The only survivors are the guys on the poster. The movie could go a lot of ways and even touches on some of them--goofy videotaped confessionals breaking up bigger action scenes, explicit parodies of other supernatural/apocalyptic films including title card. The characters are stupid, which is fine, but they don't do anything. They literally just stay in the house.

You know those guys you run into at parties who think everything they say is the funniest thing ever and think even more of themselves when high?

Imagine being stuck in a house with six of them--and only them--for an hour and forty-five minutes.

This movie feels like Rogen and his crew sat around, got high, and kept going, "You know what would be funny?" and then made that the script without editing it.

By the way, the movie has horrible editing which is a weird thing to notice, but, with nothing else to notice in the movie, it becomes real clear.

A disappointing film--doubly-disappointing because the cast is solid, the idea is sound, and the trailer promises a much better film. Goofy actors facing the apocalypse in LA? I'm in. Give me all the Hollywood jokes you can. What's going on in Beverly Hills? Do they still worry about traffic? What happens to the Hollywood sign?

They don't even show the Hollywood sign. That's like setting your movie in New York and never having a shot of the Empire State Building. That's how lazy this movie is.

And don't give me grief about, "It's just supposed to be a stupid comedy." It's not even that. Want to see sharp, dumb-fun comedy done well? Watch Super Troopers, Bridesmaids, or Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle. These movies are funny, have characters, and stuff that happens. If This is the End met even one of those three criteria, it'd be a two-star movie. Sadly, it's not even that.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Story Slam: Free

The story of how I left Houston. This piece won me not only best story for the evening, but audience favorite as well. I was so stoked. I've been trying for a year.