“American” songs

It’s the 4th of July again. This time around I want to talk a little about songs that I think are uniquely American. Well, that’s “Proud to be American,” or maybe something by Sousa right? No, not what I mean. Those types of songs could be written or performed anywhere. Paeans to nationalism are always welcomed by whoever is in power. The 4th of July always reminds me of rebelliousness and I want songs that typify that. I’ve lived in a country where these sorts of songs would not be allowed to air, but they are considered classics here. Now that’s American…

 

First up is “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival. This song seems to be misunderstood as often as “Every Breath You Take by The Police and “The One I Love” by R.E.M. I have no idea how though. “Fortunate Son” starts with the line, “Some folks are born, made to wave the flag. Ooh they’re red, white, and blue.” Seemingly this is as far as most people listen. It was played a lot for the 4th of July and other patriotic holidays. That lone line was also featured in a Wrangler ad complete with a waving American flag. Somehow the meaning of the chorus “It ain’t me!” eludes people even though they sing along with it. I’m pretty sure it came out in 68 or 69 and is clearly an anti-war, anti-powers that be song.

I ain’t no Senator’s son.

I ain’t no military son.

I ain’t no millionaire’s son.

It ain’t me…

It’s the kind of song that governments everywhere would ban, especially during wartime, but not here! Given the times, it was quite a bit edgier than it sounds now but is still a powerful song. Check out this performance from 1970 at the Royal Albert Hall. Can anything be more American? The look, the sound? The message?

 

 

The next song is also a protest one. There’s no question that black folks have had a rough time at the hands of the police over the ages. That’s the basis of “Sound of Da Police” from KRS-1. He weaves an amazing line between modern police forces and the overseers on southern plantations. He doesn’t allude to slavery, he doesn’t suggest that there are parallels, he says that the same thing is happening today. Once again, a direct confrontation of authority, all centered around the legacy of American slavery. Now that’s American! Can you imagine some of the founding fathers penning something similar? OK, maybe not but the same sentiment was there!

 

Woop-woop! That’s the sound of da police! That’s the sound of the beast!
Stand clear! Don man a-talk
You can’t stand where I stand, you can’t walk where I walk
Watch out! We run New York
Police man come, we bust him out the park
I know this for a fact, you don’t like how I act
You claim I’m sellin’ crack
But you be doin’ that
I’d rather say “see ya”
Cause I would never be ya
Be a officer? You wicked overseer!
Ya hotshot, want to get props and be a savior
First show a little respect, change your behavior
Change your attitude, change your plan
There could never really be justice on stolen land
Are you really for peace and equality?
Or when my car is hooked up, you know you want to follow me
Your laws are minimal
Cause you won’t even think about lookin’ at the real criminal
This has got to cease
Cause we be getting hyped to the sound of da police!
Woop-woop! That’s the sound of da police! That’s the sound of the beast!
Now here’s a likkle truth
Open up your eye
While you’re checking out the boom-bap, check the exercise
Take the word “overseer,” like a sample
Repeat it very quickly in a crew for example
Overseer
Overseer
Overseer
Overseer
Officer, Officer, Officer, Officer!
Yeah, officer from overseer
You need a little clarity?
Check the similarity!
The overseer rode around the plantation
The officer is off patrolling all the nation
The overseer could stop you what you’re doing
The officer will pull you over just when he’s pursuing
The overseer had the right to get ill
And if you fought back, the overseer had the right to kill
The officer has the right to arrest
And if you fight back they put a hole in your chest!
(Woop!) They both ride horses
After 400 years, I’ve got no choices!
The police them have a little gun
So when I’m on the streets, I walk around with a bigger one
(Woop-woop!) I hear it all day
Just so they can run the light and be upon their way
Woop-woop! That’s the sound of da police! That’s the sound of the beast!
Check out the message in a rough stylee
The real criminals are the C-O-P
You check for undercover and the one PD
But just a mere Black man, them want check me
Them check out me car for it shine like the sun
But them jealous or them vexed cause them can’t afford one
Black people still slaves up til today
But the Black police officer nah see it that way
Him want a salary
Him want it
So he put on a badge and kill people for it
My grandfather had to deal with the cops
My great-grandfather dealt with the cops
My great grandfather had to deal with the cops
And then my great, great, great, great, when it’s gonna stop?!
Woop-woop! That’s the sound of da police! That’s the sound of the beast!

 

 

Both of these songs were made in order to resist overbearing authority, I think that’s a fitting legacy. Happy Independence Day everyone!


Audioblog #22 Spending money. Econ, audio, sous vide

I hope to do some economics based audioblogs soon. No, they won’t be the final word on anything but I hope to spread some ideas about thinking in an economic way. Also, I’m plotting my spending ways. Looking forward to a new audio receiver and possibly a sous vide appliance. Since I recorded this, I have gone ahead and ordered a Digital to Analog Convertor (DAC). No, this will not replace the receiver, don’t be silly… With any luck both audio blogs and regular ones will start becoming more regular. Stay tuned…

 

 

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Audioblog #21 Podcasts

Every once in a while I get asked what podcasts I listen to. If you’re not familiar with podcasts you should be. There are hundreds of thousands of recorded audio programs available for free covering every topic imaginable. My list has changed a bit over the past year. Here is the current list:

Radiolab. A show that shows up on public radio. Very well done. They pick an interesting story and tell it talking to a variety of people and interviews. Highly recommended.

This American Life. A well known Public radio staple. Ira Glass’s show, they pick a topic and tell multiple stories revolving around that topic. They mix in true stories and fiction around the topic. Highly recommended.

The Talk Show. John Gruber talks (at length) with a guest about tech stuff in general and usually revolves around Apple. I do think he has a lot to say about excellent products. I’m only listening once in a while these days but still enjoy it.

The Critical Path. Horace Deidu from Asymco talks disruption, innovation, and competition in the tech and entertainment worlds. A high level view of different industries and how they evolve. Great if you’re interested in tech and/or econ.

Stratechery. This one is also a high level tech podcast with an economic bent. He talks about economic issues in the tech world, business models, and choices that need to be made by those companies. A new one, only three episodes old.

Econ Talk. Russ Roberts talks economics with a different guest every week. I don’t listen as much as I once did but still a compelling show. Russ is very good at talking to people that he disagrees with so you get a wide variety of guests on the show.

Free Thoughts. This one is put on by the Cato Institute and is part of libertarianism.org. I’m sure you can guess what this is about. Cato tends to be less strident and more scholarly. This is a great show if you are interested in libertarianism of course but also great for anyone interested in politics. There is a lot of discussion about political economy on there.

Discover ADN. This is a show made by Jason Irwin. He interviews people that are using app.net, a social platform that is a little different than the rest of them. What is great about this is that it shows how interesting regular folks can be. Everyone has a story to tell. That thought gives me hope for us all:)

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Life as I See it Audioblog #20

My first audio post in a long time. Will try to start up again. This is just a quick note to let you know what’s been going on with me. My usual service for hosting my audios is down so it will just live here for the time being. Be sure to subscribe with the link below!

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Getting there… (photography)

Do we remember this picture I took?

"Straight" out of camera

Original image

In my last post I kvetched about the endless possibilities making it difficult for me for me to previsualize my picture as I was taking it. There are so many possible changes that can be done that it makes it almost impossible to imagine what you can do beforehand. I’m sticking to that. I am, however, trying to learn what I can do with the tools I have and see if I can keep them in mind as I shoot.  I decided to hit the magic monkey button for a while to see what the possibilities were. Actually got some interesting images but once again, they didn’t feel like mine. They had been generated from my picture but I wasn’t involved in how they ended up looking. I then started to go through the preloaded effects in the plugin called Adjust. Most of them were hokey and I was giving up hope until I clicked on “color negative.”

Now usually color negatives are hopeless visually. Skies go orange, white people have a lot of green in them, and everything looks really funky in general. Foliage goes magenta when you reverse it. Once again, that is usually a big problem. This image wasn’t so bad though because it was mostly shades of green and yellow originally. That lead to shades of magenta and blue when reversed.

I really liked what I was seeing. The reversed light/dark tones gave it more structure. Now the image was mostly darker with spots of lighter areas inside. That keeps the eye inside the frame. It also helped bring out the complexity of the shapes and patterns of the leaves. I corrected the magenta out and turned it to shades of blue and violet. Darkened the image overall and did a few tweaks to the luminosity to particular colors and came up with this:

Color negative and various tweaks.

Color negative and various tweaks.

I really like this and I feel like it is mine. It doesn’t look anything like the original scene but I think I’m OK with that. This is going to sound weird but in some ways this is more how I “saw” the original scene.  I loved the density, the shapes, and the variation between light and dark. Doing the extreme adjustments brought out the things I liked.

I think I will put this technique in my tool box whenever I’m faced with a situation where the edges are lighter than I’d like. It’s also only going to be useful when dealing with a scene with small variations in color. Still, I’ll remember this.

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Why digital photography is frustrating to me

I had gotten a new lens and was on vacation. That meant that photographs would be taken! It was a really overcast day and I was wandering around in front of mom’s house when I saw a bush. I liked what I saw so I snapped a picture.

"Straight" out of camera

Original image

Doesn’t look like much I know but what attracted me to it was the shapes, the contrast inside each leaf, and how visually dense the picture would end up being. If I would have shot this with film, it probably would have been on 4×5 TXP shot at an EI of 200, developed in D-76 1:1 at n+2, printed on my favorite cold tone paper (zone 6 Brilliant) with a highish filter, and then toned with selenium. For those of you not familiar with darkroom talk, all that essentially means I would have shot and processed it to add some contrast. The toning means that I would take the image from a straight B&W to having the image (as opposed to the paper) turn a very slight eggplant color. Anyway, it would have looked something like this:

Like it would be from the darkroom

Old school processing

Truth be told, this is how I “saw” the bush when I brought the camera up. In my mind, this is the essence of modernist “art” photography. The process is there to bring out what the photographer sees in their mind. It is a unique window into how the artist sees the world. With practice, the photographer “sees” the world through his materials and understands what it will look like at the end. For me, this was the appeal of photography. Being able to see things a certain way and bring them into the world was very satisfying.

OK, fine, you were comfortable with the darkroom materials Isaac but it’s a brave new world. And yes, I fully admit that I’m not nearly as comfortable with modern photography processes. Photoshop is a world that I don’t plan on getting into. I find it to be complete overkill for most photo uses and better suited to graphic artists. I stumbled across Topaz Labs and they make a series of tools that I find more approachable. Mind you, I am still a bit bewildered over the sheer number of options it presents but I at least feel comfortable noodling around with it.

One of the more basic tools in digital photography processing is layers. Essentially, you are able to have different versions of the picture and you can blend them to various degrees. I had an idea of how I could combine the first two versions and get a third that I think would look good. With a little practice I might be able to anticipate this and use it in my previsualization while shooting. Here’s how it turned out:

digital process woohoo!

2 layers combined

It’s a little subtle, but there is a bleached out green undertone to it. There are also some interesting contrast implications to when you combine a lower and higher contrast image like that as well.

So OK, mission accomplished, right? Well… Like I said, I’m still trying to get my head around what is possible with a digital workflow. The Topaz Labs programs (all 13 of them!) have a button that is labeled “I feel lucky.” It is a pot luck button, giving you a random batch of settings in their program. Either that or it gives you a random pick from their presets. Either way, it’s pretty random. I clicked it a few times in their B&W app and the third time I got this:

Random settings #1

Random settings #1

This is a pretty straight conversion to B&W but it has really reduced the detail seen in the smallest features while possibly increasing the contrast for the larger details. I think there are also some interesting things going on with the contrast of the middle tones. It is simultaneously flatter and more dynamic (IMO) which is something I didn’t think was possible. I saved these settings and may try to use these with future pictures.

OK, so that is broadening my possible tools in my tool kit. I find these things manageable and reasonable to remember. But what about color? I loaded up the original into the color program and hit the “I feel lucky” button. Whoa:

SAM_0056 (4)

 

OK, this is nuts, and beautiful. It’s darker, higher in contrast and was made two tone somehow. The highlights have gone a sepia color and really stand out from the background. I think there have been things done to the various levels of contrast in the micro and medium levels of detail. I could never have guessed this beforehand, there are just too many moving parts. I saved the settings but I have no idea how I’ll be able to imagine this beforehand. Just for kicks, I hit the lucky button again.

Wow, but really?

Wow, but really?

This is just getting silly now. I really like how this looks, it’s very graphic and it retains the density I was attracted to in the first place. It is also completely unrecognizable as the scene I first shot. Yes, I saved these settings as well.

So what’s the problem? Isn’t making cool and beautiful images the whole point? Isn’t it great that buttons can transform your picture so completely? Um, no and no thank you. Once again, the “point” of my serious photography wasn’t to make pretty images (though that happens sometimes) but to bring out the way I was seeing that that scene or maybe even to explore and try to make visual sense of what I was seeing. There was intention to my pictures. Any monkey can punch buttons until they get something they think is cool looking. What I find bewildering is the ability to totally transform your image in every way. Back in the darkroom days there were significant restrictions to what could be done. I’d argue that was good for photographers like myself but bad for graphic artists. Working with constraints of some sort made you channel how you see. Without the constraints, it is much more difficult to “see” what you’re working towards when you snap the shutter.

And yes, it is possible to constrain yourself in theory. I think I could even manage to do it in practice for B&W. And yes, some kinds of pictures like people pictures don’t lend themselves to crazy adjustments. I continue to find color landscape and general scene photography difficult to do with any sort of forethought and intention. I will also admit to being a little put out by a button completely changing my original picture and doing things that are simultaneously completely unlike what I was originally thinking and cool at the same time. As nice as I think those versions look, they aren’t my pictures. Yes, I pressed the shutter button but I had nothing to do with how it ended up looking. Pictures that are unintentionally may be fun to look at but they are unsatisfying to make.

Maybe I should start all over again. Shoot with B&W in mind only for a while and eventually move into color again. I dunno. I do feel as though I’m starting all over again. Maybe that’s what is really bothering me…

 

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Life as I see it #19 MTV and Vevo

Anyone else remember this?

mtv-spaceman

MTV blew me away when I first saw it in 1982. It blew me away again when I heard it attached to a stereo system. I wasn’t always able to watch it growing up because we went a long time without cable. I remember staying up late to watch Friday Night Videos on one of the major networks. Started watching it again in high school and tried to catch the show called 120 minutes for newer music. MTV eventually became less and less relevant and now doesn’t bother showing videos at all anymore. Youtube is the new MTV but I miss the ability to turn on a channel and have music videos just play. I stumbled across Vevo streaming on my mother’s Samsung Blue Ray player. Wow, it’s MTV all over again! One video after another. But get this, I can skip videos! It really made me nostalgic. Alas and alack, I do not have access to Vevo streaming on my Apple TV or my iPad. Sigh. Just as well, there’s no telling how much time I’d waste sitting in front of it.

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Moving today? Probably not…

Was originally scheduled to move today. Sure glad I postponed that. Also glad I’m not going to try tomorrow. Even if all the snow miraculously went away, it’s supposed to be in the single digits (Fahrenheit of course) tomorrow. No, I’ll wait it out. Hopefully by the end of the week the streets will be clear enough and the temperature will be bearable. Then it’ll be time to move…

 

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Life as I see it podcast #17. I’m moving… eventually

 

Yeah, I gotta move. Took longer than I thought it would to get the place, but I really like it. Took the first week off of work to get the move done. Hired movers, reserved the truck, etc. Mother nature has different plans though. Now I’m not sure when I’ll get this done. Grrr….

 

UPDATE 3/2/14 I have cancelled the move for this week. Will try to do it on my next day off, the 9th. As it turns out, there is some ongoing weirdness and late fees due to the previous occupants. I’m not on the lease yet so it isn’t my problem. Hoping to sign the lease on the 5th and move in that weekend. Sucks that I’ve taken vacation time to sit around but I’d probably not be able to go to work in any case.


Yeah, I’m straight out of Compton

I haven’t been keeping track of the late night talk shows and I certainly haven’t kept up with The Tonight Show since Leno came back. I heard he left and that Jimmy Fallon took over. My problem is that I kept confusing Jimmy Fallon with Jimmy Kimmel. Hopefully I’ll be forgiven for not wanting to watch a talk show with Kimmel hosting… Turns out Fallon is  likable guy and seems to be funny enough to hold down the spot. The only reason I’ve seen any of the show is because of the popularity of the history of rap segments he’s been doing with Justin Timberlake. Haven’t seen those? Here’s the 5th installment:

 

 

I’ll start with the negatives. OK, yeah, it’s two white guys going over the history of a musical genre that was not only predominately written and performed by black folks but often spoke of a uniquely black experience. On top of that, outside of the band I don’t know if there were any black people in the building at all. If you wanted to be uncharitable you’d say that it’s another example of rich white people riding not only the efforts but the actual culture of black America for their own ends.

There was a little bit of that for me in this performance but I’m willing to forgive them mostly on the basis that they clearly love the music. They weren’t making fun of it, they were attempting as genuine a performance as possible, down to the dance moves and vocal mannerisms of the original acts. They were clearly having fun. Most of the songs they picked in this episode were top 40 hits. The exception is when they did a trio of “Gangster Rap” songs culminating in an aborted start of Straight Out of Compton. If you don’t watch any other part of that video, make sure to watch the few seconds starting at 1:50. 

That was gold. It’s a bit that everyone can laugh at. The idea that Jimmy Fallon could even attempt that song without descending into parody and/or become a laughingstock is just silly. As it was, he was able to pull it off for 4 seconds with only Timberlake seemingly pulling him back from the brink. Fallon went all in and took it as far as someone like him could. Timberlake making fun of him was the logical denouement. 

I think the reason that bit resonates with me so much is also the reason I think they “got away” with doing this. For those of you not familiar with Straight out of Compton, allow me to introduce you. To complete Fallon’s start…

”Straight out of Compton crazy motherfucker named Ice Cube

From the gang called Niggaz With Attitudes

When I’m called off I got a sawed off

Squeeze the trigger and bodies are hauled off…”

 

It is, in a word, horrifying. If taken literally, it consists of mass murderers bragging about their body count and especially taking glee in gunning down cops. Oh, it has some truly grotesque misogyny thrown in for good measure too. So why is it popular? Are the people that like it just cretins? I’m sure some of them are. I can tell you that from the perspective of a well off, white (late)teenager, it was exhilarating. A pure dose of testosterone wrapped up in a fantasy of anger unleashed. Straight out of Compton was probably the height of bragging rap. It was understood to be hyperbole. Well, it was understood to be hyperbole to its targeted audience. To everyone else it was self described “Niggas” talking about killing people and they were from Compton after all. No wonder they scared white people everywhere! It was attractive to me because, as a frustrated male coursing with hormones, violent thoughts weren’t all that uncommon even if, and maybe because, I never gave in to them. Why was I frustrated? I dunno, aren’t all teenagers? As attractive as this was to me, I can’t begin to imagine what the effect could have been on people actually living in Compton. You know, people that had real frustrations in life, the kind that lead to making that kind of music…

For 4 seconds, Jimmy Fallon channeled that teenager, giving in totally to the rush. And while playing the cassette in your car as a teenager gave you the freedom to feel totally bad ass, a white guy on national TV has no justification. Having Timberlake bring Fallon back to reality was a gentle rebuke to all of us. It is this awareness that kept the entire exercise from veering into the stupid. Acknowledging that there  are limits and using them instead of the off limits material is a sign of a mature performer.

For those of you that want “to witness the strength of street knowledge,” I give you NWA. If you haven’t heard it before, it is definitely NSFW. Those of you that have heard it before I’ll leave it to you to decide how gangsta you want to be at work…

 

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