Posted on December 29, 2005 at 01:19 PM | Permalink
I wrote and produced this radio essay about my former violin teacher Mitchell Stern (pictured at far right with Richard Rood), just about five years ago. Reading it on NPR was about the coolest gig a recent college graduate could hope for, and an amazing chance to do something more than meaningful with the writing and radio skills I was beginning to hone. All recordings are culled from Stern concerts you can't hear anywhere. I sound young (both vocally and narratively). Plus the audio streams a little choppy on the Web. But after finding that the audio file still exists on the NPR server, I had to link to it and share. It's been quite a half-decade, that's for sure.
P.S. In a bizarre coincidence, the picture at right was taken for an NPR-broadcast Copland concert/event I had helped work on just a few months earlier. I don't think the people I worked with at the time realized there was an image of Mitch on our servers when I came to them with the essay after he passed. For those without audio, Stern founded the American String Quartet, studied with Ivan Galamian and Arnold Steinhardt, and played on the ex-Zimbalist Guadagnini that Rudolph Serkin bought for him when he was just a competition-winning student at Curtis. He continues to be celebrated.)
P.P.S. Read a little Copland Internet chat I hosted with writer/critic Terry Teachout of the inimitable About Last Night -- it's from the Web site for the Copland event mentioned above, which I also edited and produced (featuring an invaluable lost audio interview with Copland himself that I transfered and cut from reel-to-reel tape) . In the aforementioned text chat, I am "npr_host" and Terry( "npr_guest") is, as usual, brilliant and lively -- the consummate culture expert teaching us all about one of America's most important composers.
Posted on December 29, 2005 at 02:45 AM | Permalink
Why I moved to L.A. is anyone's guess. There are too many reasons to list, and frankly I'm not sure I want to get that personal here. Still, on the cusp of the New Year, I'm proud to proclaim that I love it. For all its craziness (and perhaps because of it), L.A.'s the first place I've found as an adult that feels like home. See part of the reason. And sorry, Mom.
See the post-continuation for the ideal Beeferman gift.
Posted on December 29, 2005 at 02:14 AM | Permalink
I curated and wrote this Gear of the Year: Design piece for GQ's Men.style.com. It's not the literary work of the year, of course, but I took my responsibility seriously, and enjoyed the challenge: to pick the best designed products--those that won my respect for their form and function, including five that abused our senses (see Prince's Schimmel piano above) and five we're looking forward to. Delve.
Posted on December 29, 2005 at 12:42 AM | Permalink
Since I write about culture and tech as well, I thought I'd start a little annual tradition. Here are my gripes about 05's gadgets in relation to how they hindered my enjoyment of culture, my job, my life. Call it the Digital Culture Gripe list, installment 1. Collect them all, add to them, and share with your friends.
1. Sirius s50 portable satellite radio product. This device, for all its jet-black beauty and sleek goodness, doesn't work at home unless you have an FM radio to run it off. And while plenty of true music lovers might rail me for this admission, I do not have a traditional stereo system or FM radio in my current domicile. So I can only download content onto this player while it's in my car (say hello to true Grand Theft Auto), and then play songs back to myself when I come home. Not what a portable satellite radio player should be. And I own Sirius stock.
2. Push to voicemail on cellphones. It took me a while to start loving cellphones. I say that because I don't love them yet. Verizon Wireless is supposed to have the best network, but it's terrible in my apartment, where I spend much of the day. SMS spam is a new problem, to boot. But my most important gripe about how cellphones have bothered this writer in 05 was by continuing to force me to make a phone call into my voicemail, and then inputting my passcode, simply to hear my messages. By god, cellphone companies: Simply put a button on these devices, let the phones download voicemail messages as audio files as they hit us, and let us play them back to ourselves on demand with one push of a button. Or else, do it walkie-talkie style. As it is, I waste three minutes every time I have to retrieve a cellphone message. That's three minutes I could have spent listening to a new song.
3. iPod speaker system companies. Build us some long-long-range remotes with big LCDs that actually allow us to search our iPod's menu. I am not satisfied sitting near your device and squinting into my iPod's dark screen so I can try to figure out which Shostakovich Prelude or Radiohead bootleg I'd like to hear. You are supposed to be a solution. Take yourself seriously.
4. Cellphone TV clips. EV-DO services are not broadband speed, my friends. And your clips suck. $15 a month to watch a few Jon Stewart monologues among all your dumb pop videos and weather forecasts with only passable buffering speed in big-ass airports is the most collossal waste of money I can think of. Plus, doesn't most of America spend its time in cars, and at work? When am I supposed to watch you? It's not like you work on subways.
5. Pricey GPS navigation devices with MP3 players. I cannot enjoy my music when I'm constantly trying to figure out how to correct the navigational mistakes you have made. I am aware of error quotients. I am human. But you are not. Get me where I need to go, or else don't advertise yourself as the expert. I can plug my iPod into my stereo and write my directions on a piece of paper. I shouldn't have to know the area I'm using you to navigate. Plus, it's actually kind of fun to find something on my own. Call me a Beat. I dare you.
6. Bluetooth headsets that switch from music to cellphone rings. You're great, except that you're going to give me brain cancer. I loathe you, and hence cast you all to hell.
7. Any device that claims to take digital notes for me with a stylus or QWERTY "thumbboard." I have tried you all in bookstores or movie theaters or cafes where I need to record my thoughts and story ideas. I still prefer paper.
8. Text message users that choose to use the form for anything more complex than telling me what time to meet them somewhere, and passively request lengthy responses from someone without a Sidekick and a trust fund. You are adding more distractions to my life, and I'm already quite distracted. So much so that the latest David Foster Wallace essay collection has sat on my desk, half-read for a week since I bought it. And that is a record for a DFW release in the home of Baer. Stop texting me about your personal life. Phone conversations work for these issues, but in-person meetings are better. Make time for them, and perhaps you won't have time to amass all the personal anxieties about anxieties you must text me about.
9. Web video. You're fantabulous. The only problem is that whenever someone wants to watch you, everyone wants to watch you, and you stream at such slow rates (even on T1 lines) that you aren't worth my time. Don't be cheap with bandwidth. Imagine what life would be like if you had the budget of a Midwest symphony orchestra.
10. iPod Nanos with sensitive voice recorder plug-ins and software that turns voice comments into text. Where are you? I need you for my interviews. Microcassettes cannot be trusted for all their nostalgic charm, and I believe you, not the children, are our future.
Posted on December 28, 2005 at 10:43 PM | Permalink
Jason Kottke has clearly got a hold on what makes a great blog, and part of that is the beautiful skill of compiling links for an audience with a discernible, unique character. Check his best links of 2005 (my subjective favorite is this interview with David Foster Wallace) and get lost on the Web in a good way, for once. My second favorite Kottke 05 link: Surf smart and read Jon Krakauer's 1995 Outside magazine piece on late big-wave God Mark Foo's last ride, and bask in what great magazine writing should be.)
Posted on December 28, 2005 at 09:35 PM | Permalink
In the last two days, I have read two stories about seemingly upstanding people going bonkers for having gone off their drugs. And by drugs, I mean anti-depressants. And by mentioning this, I am NOT, please let it be said, on the side of Scientological freaks who think anti-depressants are the work of the devil. Still, it's an interesting story: First Peter Braunstein, the WWD journalist who sexually tortured an innocent woman and then led cops on a national chase, claims that he committed his crime for having kicked his Prozac habit after he lost his insurance (I do not have sympathy for this man, please let it be said again, but this is what he's claiming). And now comes the story of otherwise sane and wealthy Jeff Reardon, former star relief pitcher and a mainstay in my1980s baseball card collection, who apparently lost his son last year, stopped his medication recently, and wound up robbing a jewelry store. What's going on here? I have to wonder as I'm facing my own potential health insurance crisis. Thankfully, there's no concern of having to find a way to keep taking some kind of drug. But what if there was one? Would I go off the deep end and rob or abuse someone? Not likely, of course. But the Reardon story does seem unusually bizarre, and I can only wonder that since all crazy movements like these begin in threes, who our lucky third famous deviant med-kicker-turned-criminal will be. If only someone could find some L.Ron-modeling big-flick action star's old, nasty bag of Paxil and charge him with kidnapping that poor young thing he has clearly zombified. Dare to dream...
Posted on December 28, 2005 at 11:03 AM | Permalink
Posted on December 24, 2005 at 06:28 PM | Permalink
Every year I make a big habit of listening as much as I can to WKCR's BachFest; Alex Ross was kind enough to remind people about it earlier in the week, but I'll help out as well, since the broadcast has already begun (click here for the RealAudio stream). BachFest is an all-day traversal of every Bach work recorded. WKCR is Columbia University's maverick radio station: a home for jazz fanatatics and new-music lovers alike (KCR jazz luminary Phil Schaap deserves credit for teaching me about Bird), it's one of the last reminders that before our decentralized, Internet-linked world, Columbia was once the absolute epicenter of New York intellectualism (and I use that word in the most positive way). No matter where I have lived--Upper Manhattan, Baltimore, Colorado, California--I have always listened to this channel's Internet stream as a way to stay connected to mindful sounds. Do the world a favor and hear some of it yourself. And then pledge some money. At a time when so-called "non-profit" public radio makes more money from underwriting than you or I will ever hope to see, it's important to support radio stations that actually need, and deserve, your help. (Of course, Columbia's doing fine itself, but I've always known KCR to actually need the money it asks for. It doesn't pull in the same big bucks as all that valuable Columbia-owned real estate, that's for sure. ) And, in the end, I believe it's important to worship a few things on an annual basis. I may not be theological or liturgical, but reminding yourself who you are by delving deeply into the music you have always loved (Bach, John Lennon, etc.) is a tradition I like to adhere to. Bach is God.
Posted on December 22, 2005 at 06:30 PM | Permalink
Unto Us a Hit is Born: Why Handel's Messiah is a Holiday Soundtrack for the Ages. Slate Magazine, December 18, 2001.
Posted on December 22, 2005 at 10:26 AM | Permalink
So, surprise, Bar Mitzvah Disco queens: Jews are "hip," as well as "creative, neurotic and brainy." And oh yeah, they play heavy metal, and Rrrap. Or so the latest VH1 list show would have it. Remember that one week, many years ago, when "I Love the '80s" was actually comedic? Remember when it was so, so shameful to be a Jew that everyone thought all the studio heads and top writers and comics were "goyim"? Get the lowdown on VH1's most tired attempt at pop cultural classification yet from THR's Andrew Wallenstein. And Happy Hanukkah, all you boring and conservative CPAs.
Posted on December 20, 2005 at 03:31 PM | Permalink
I think this is the first year, since perhaps 1984, when I haven't been in the state of New York during Christmas. This isn't particularly notable, since I don't celebrate Christmas. But nonetheless, it is making some sort of impression on me, this being in Southern California during the holidays issue. For one thing, you get to enjoy the fake snow that falls from the benevolent sky atop outdoor malls like the Grove, where I recently had a personal encounter with Winona Ryder (see more details on Defamer; fourth item) and where I have often ended up while attempting to escape my home-office if only because it's intriguing to see the place function. And it does function at this time of year. Differently than say, 5th Avenue. The Grove isn't just a consumer hell, it's a buzz icubator: For as many people that visit the place to score a new iPod or see a movie, there are scores of people who visit simply to see people who want to be seen. The Grove at Christmas is becoming the premiere safe-haven for celebrities looking to up their personal stock. Matthew Perry doesn't stand in front of the movie theater smiling at passerbys because he "just wants to be normal." No, he visits a closed, controlled environment, staffed with security personnel, and he makes sure to look at the people looking at him. What was endearing about my Winona encounter was her decidely New York attitude: She was clearly trying to go incognito. It's also interesting to me to see more people don warm clothes in SoCal during the month of December--even if it was colder at other times during the year, when they still wore T shirts without scarves (in fact LA is much colder, day to day, than most New Yorkers who don't visit the place regularly think -- so much for Beach Boys marketing). In fact, someone once asked me, why do stores sell winter coats in LA? I think the answer isn't that people travel, it's that many people need to feel seasons, to enact seasonal behavior in order to give their likely routine lives some narrative background. Overall, though, I wish it were warmer in LA this month. If I should choose to forego NY's wintry environs at this time of year, I think I should get some summertime weather in return.
Posted on December 20, 2005 at 09:31 AM | Permalink
Jonathan Alter's piece on how Bush summoned the NYT top brass down to D.C. to discourage the paper for running with their Snoopgate story. It is stories like this that push me towards the rap escapism of Chris Parnell. Tru dat.
Posted on December 20, 2005 at 08:55 AM | Permalink
As Supertramp once said, give a little gift. Mine is this guide to high-performance digital cameras, just in time for the holiday season. I'll be honest: When faced with each new assignment like this--as opposed to, say, profiling a musician, ranting about culture, or writing a personal essay--I wonder what I have to offer my audience. Clearly there are people who know more about digital photography than me--take, say, digital photographers. And clearly as more and more magazines and newspapers get more and more obsessed with the gaggle of consumer technology available there are too many people buying products they simply don't need. Consider, for instance, the tourist at L.A.'s Grove I saw last week, strapped with a $10,000 digital camera--replete with big-ass power flash--all to snap a photo of his loving wife in front of a fountain. A fake fountain in an outdoor mall, mind you. What I mean to say with this is that when I write something about cameras, I am, often, consciously attempting to explain why you don't need a certain product as much as I am trying to highlight one's gifts. I, for one, don't need a digital SLR camera that costs more than $800 (don't know what SLR means? check the guide). But some of you National Geographic photograhers may. I just know that I'll probably play with mine for years, adding lenses, messing with speed and light meters, and likely still be able to publish my shots alongside my travel stories, as I am beginning to do. The cameras are that good now. See for yourself, and by all means, if you must capture a mall-shopping trip--here or abroad--please don't use anything other than a point and shoot. Or else I'll take a picture of you. And share it.
Posted on December 20, 2005 at 08:15 AM | Permalink
Bleary-eyed as a flu victim can be, I recently found interest in how Radosh takes compelling issue with James Suroweicki's Slate piece about the dangers of videogame graphics that skew too real, and I'm with him. But I did write a piece for The New Republic over a year ago, pegged to the release of the first Atari Flashback, that made a few claims fairly pertinent to the argument. My take?
[A]s game-developers create more sophisticated real-life-like titles, it becomes harder and harder to simply "play" a game. What emerges instead is a highly corrupting and advanced form of intriguingly retro Dungeons-and-Dragons role-playing: The game, which on the surface practically begs for you to play with a buddy in your living room, is so complex, so enveloping, so escapist, you become a part of it yourself, and hence lose any ability to socialize honestly. In the latest version of John Madden's football game, for example, there are so many mind-numbing plays and customizations for you as coach to choose from, you may as well be playing yourself (in fact one option is to simply call a play and let the thing unfold in front of your eyes without manipulating the control pad). Faced with the broad cultural proliferation of such games, network football telecasts have even begun to emulate a 2004 video game's camera perspectives, creating for TV-watchers a violent reality flip-flop and hence coloring real sport trivial and fake (if not oppressively real) on the tube.
Dumbed down, have you not noticed how all football telecasts look like Madden these days? For that reason, I'm down with Radosh on how zombie-ish the players look in Top Spin tennis. It's when the characters don't look zombie-ish but realish that we have a problem. Interpretations of reality are always fun things to escape the real with, true attempts to reproduce reality are what give me the heebie-jeebies.
Posted on December 17, 2005 at 01:49 PM | Permalink
As if you don't read the local newspaper, let us remind you that John Lennon was killed 25 years ago today. BBC's Radio 4 has a well-balanced Internet tribute with lots of audio, including Lennon's 1970 interview with Jann Wenner. Speaking of JSW, Rolling Stone's "Lennon Lives Forever" site features the same file as a podcast, as well as an interview with Pete Hamill and lovely writings by Mikhal Gilmore. NPR's Steve Inskeep has a Morning Edition remembrance of a Lennon Dick Cavett show appearance (eh). My peeps over at GQ's Men.Style.com choose to remember JL for his "delightful acerbic-bastardness" (cool, but I'm not diggin' y'all calling his music "spotty"). You can see video of live performances of "Imagine" and "Jealous Guy" at MTV.com. Fordham's WFUV has special Lennon-audio features online all day. And I'll just offer my tribute with a reposting of the following words:
There's room at the top they are telling you still
But first you must learn how to smile as you kill
If you want to be like the folks on the hill
A working class hero is something to be
Posted on December 08, 2005 at 07:26 AM | Permalink
So I'm currently attempting to listen to every decent movie score of '05 for both a large print piece and extensive online supplment, and therefore offer a call to the film-music peeps: Feel free to suggest to me something I may not have heard, and get in touch if you're interested in being considered, even if you wrote the music to, say, King Kong. And if you've never written, sold, produced, marketed, or edited any movie music but still want to get in touch, please do that too. The holiday season makes shallots lonely.
Posted on December 07, 2005 at 10:54 AM | Permalink
Does anyone remember when it was a fun and exciting experience to receive the holiday season Sharper Image catalogue? Peering through this year's edition, I can't seem to find a product that hasn't been written up in the local newspaper, to say nothing of all the glossy magazines that help me pay the rent. We have now officially begun living in The Future. So for God's sake, someone pass me one of Marty McFly's flying skateboards, and let's start giving each other books as gifts again. I think I've blogged so much, I've forgotten how to read.
Posted on December 06, 2005 at 09:52 AM | Permalink
I have realized that when I post about comedians, I receive five times my average number of visitors more than when I post about something political, classical-music-related, or completely unrelated to something zeitgeisty. Am I fool for not having realized this sooner? Maybe. Will I begin to post only about comedians in search of more regular visitors? No. Is there a limit to how many pointless rhetorical questions blog readers are willing to stomach? Probably.
Posted on December 06, 2005 at 08:38 AM | Permalink
For me, taking in "Syriana," wasn't a pleasant experience. That's not because I don't support George Clooney and his film's message (I do). That's not because I found the film weak (I didn't: I agree wholeheartedly with David Denby's assertion that it's "outrageously complicated" and feel as if the scenes are nastily curt and the product of an Internet-age screenwriter but that in the end, things come together, the camerawork and acting impresses, and I buy the simultaneity.) Nor was the movie unpleasant simply for broaching subject matter I don't like to think about (I think about this subject matter often, which, I hope, explains my need for comedy). "Syriana" was unpleasant, though not in the redemptive way, because I felt as if its form, while impressively emblematic of the blogosphere and current media landscape, was too manipulative for a viewer raised on multi-tasking, Web site links, and too many cable channels. In "Traffic," Stephen Gaghan's multiple drug-trade stories seemed better connected and fleshed out. The threads were strong, they didn't reek of anomie or seek to cause chest pains in its viewers. In "Syriana," the stories and scenes felt more than nastily curt; they felt random and explosive like dirty bombs that explode in distant locations killing innocent people. To be sure, I'm a fan of using form to communicate messages in a narrative. And this technique, of jumping from one semi-related story to another in a film over the expanse of oceans and cultures, gets right to the perimeter, if not to the heart, of many problems plaguing our world. But "Syriana" left me with free-floating anxiety lacking specific cause when it should have left me with concern for its subject matter. It might have worked differently, of course, for someone who isn't already concerned with its subject matter, and it should, certainly, be seen by people who don't delve into pop culture for reasons of fun and escape. Still, I felt like the script needed better connections, more shape and depth to its individual stories, and less of a suicide bomber's technique. Hence, the most gripping portion of the movie for me: 10 seconds of Clooney driving across the desert, while Alexandre Desplat's minimalist score sang; the music of the moment--playing urgently repetitive cells beneath long, searching melodic cries--speaking to the historic, conflicted pain pulsing in the ground. Music that tied together much more than a script that, for all its ambition, drama, and responsible urgency, could.
P.S. Desplat also wrote the music for "The Beat That My Heart Skipped" -- my favorite crazy pianist film of the year.
P.P.S. The line I stood in at L.A.'s Grove mall to get into the movie was impressively long. This as Range Rover after Range Rover dumped more happy buyers into the outdoor consumer paradise than I had ever seen at the site.
P.P.P.S. In response to numerous queries, I am not related to Robert Baer or Max Baer, for that matter.
Posted on December 05, 2005 at 09:45 AM | Permalink
The only two films playing all day at the Sunset Five other than Sarah Silverman's are about transsexuals. Is this some sort of hint-statement that America's most desired young Jewish female -- the dark-locked anti-shiksa causing good Jewish boys everywhere to reconsider their ban on kosher mates -- is something other (or more) than a (mere) woman? Idea for a short film: A sequel to Woody Allen's "Oedipus Wrecks" in which a hot young female potty mouth comic from Sheepshead Bay grows to King Kong-like proportions, whines sardonically about baby-killing and rape in Times Square for all who will listen, and dominates the inner lives of every Semitic young man within 15 blocks of a New York City subway until their very souls, to say nothing of their wallets, are hers for the taking.
Posted on December 02, 2005 at 05:40 PM | Permalink