Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Two good music stories this morning.
One is the "Jack" format. I feel every so slightly ahead of the curve on this one. Last year, while riding the subway in Toronto, I saw a poster advertising JACK radio with all sorts of artists swirling around demonstrating what a darn eclectic format it was. I missed the point and thought J-A-C-K were the call letters for the station and tried to figure out what the naming protocol was for Canadian broadcasters.

Nope, "JACK" (which American stations are importing from Canada) means eclectic, broad playlists. The country version is called "HANK". The Chicago Tribune thoughtfully published a playlist:

The Doors, ''Love Me Two Times''
Switchfoot, ''Dare You to Move''
Sonny and Cher, ''I Got You Babe''
a-ha, ''Take on Me''
Toad the Wet Sprocket, ''All I Want''
Manfred Mann's Earth Band, ''Blinded by the Light''
Del Amitri, ''Roll to Me''
Tom Petty, ''I Won't Back Down''
Five for Fighting, ''Superman''
The Pretenders, ''Back on the Chain Gang''
Cracker, ''Low''
Boz Scaggs, ''Lowdown''
Prince, ''1999''
Cheap Trick, ''Don't Be Cruel''

So far, this seems like it might be Jean Teasdale's ipod but I'm willing to give it some time. Hard to argue against radio broadening playlists, even if it does mean adding that fucking Del Amitri song.

A great, great story in Slate by Jody Rosen about the musical genre "chill". An NYC radio station has changed its format from "smooth jazz" to "chill" and the helpful press release has described chill thusly:

It's an "attitude," a "lifestyle," an "audio aphrodisiac" whose "smooth hypnotic texture" enables listeners to "transcend from stress."

Which means what exactly? The story is great and well worth reading but I've pulled out a large chunk below.

Pop genres are famously nebulous things—just corner a music critic and ask him to explain postpunk or microhouse—but chillout may well be the most elastic category of them all, encompassing virtually any moderately laid-back music you can name.

Chillout really is just the latest brand name for easy listening, a genre that gets reinvented every decade or so. Lounge, soft rock, adult contemporary ballads, smooth jazz: As successive pop generations have rounded the corner toward age 30, each has lowered the volume, embracing music geared toward relaxation in the home. (Nineteenth-century parlor songs were the easy listening of their day—chillout for Victorians.) The current boom market in chill music is an indication that many former ravers now have jobs and mortgages and children, and have traded in nightlife for bourgeois domesticity. Sooner or later, every club kid has to grow up and make peace with dinner music.

But the genius of chillout is how it plays it both ways. The sounds are mellow, perfect for folding laundry to, but the sleek album-cover graphics, which could be on a club flyer, and the images of young bodies splayed on Balearic beaches, insist that the party's not really over. Your hairline may be receding, the baby might be screaming; but stick a Hotel Costes CD on the stereo, and your living room becomes the Chillout Room. As altered states of coolness and hipness go, it's hard to beat incipient middle age. For millions of record buyers, chillout offers an antidote.


Tuesday, June 07, 2005

A good news morning thusfar.

From the Washington Post, a nice story about Tokyo's Akihabara district which is believed to be the first urban enclave that caters to nerds (or in Japanese "otaku")

In a Chinatown you will find dim-sum restaurants. In a gay-borhood you'll find rainbow colored doo-dads. And in a nerd enclave?

Well there are "costume cafes" where the waitresses wear anime outfits and speak in squeaky voices. There are transparent lockers where nerds can arrange little dioramas of their action figures to show them off. There are comic book stores, of course, and game arcades. Also eyeglass adjustment kiosks.

As the story points out, there is a very weird undercurrent in some anime. One of the otaku, a 34 year-old computer programmer, maintains a collection of 130 life-size pillows of female anime characters.

"There are some people who do lose their grip on reality, but that is not me -- or most of us," said (the nerd), a chubby man with glasses who this year started dating a woman steadily for the first time. She's an anime artist. "For me, the pillows have been my source of unconditional love, a reminder of when I used to be hugged by my parents. There is nothing strange about it."

The other story that I find totally fascinating (and I'm afraid I don't have a better transition than this very sentence) is the phenomenon of "Trucker Bombs".

Roadside litter comes in all shapes and sizes — from dirty diapers to syringes — but there's one category that out-grosses the rest: trucker bombs.

Most drivers whiz along the nation's highways largely oblivious to their roadside surroundings. But next time you are out there, take a closer look.

"As soon as you look for it you’ll see it," says Megan Warfield, litter programs coordinator at Washington state's Department of Ecology. "You just see them glistening in the sun. It’s just gross."

They are trucker bombs, plastic jugs full of urine tossed by truckers, and even non-truckers, who refuse to make a proper potty stop to relieve themselves.

The link has a lovely photograph of several bombs arranged on a grassy slope.

As you might imagine, when mowing roadsides, these bombs do indeed "explode" when mowers hit them.

Other than the total gross-out factor, my favorite part of this story is how very on-message Leigh Strope, a spokeswoman for the Teamsters union, is when discussing this topic.

"You won't find Teamsters urinating in jugs and littering the nation's highways," she says. "Our drivers are guaranteed rest and dinner breaks because it's in their union contract."

Go Union!