Monthly Archives: October 2009

Critics Talk Shop Video

A (Pulitzer Prize-winning) food critic, a movie critic, a book critic, and a music critic sit down in a room — discuss. Roll the video. Thanks to Dinah Lenney and Brighde Mullins for hosting this.

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Critics Talk Shop

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American Idol: Can We Move On Now?

I was once an American Idol fan — first season, until I interviewed Christina Christian after her breakdown/collapse, and realized how packaged and damaging the show is. It’s nice to hear people finally coming out and speaking out about how scripted this “reality” is — and how patently unfair to performers. And racist. And … oh don’t get me started. Kudos, Ju’Not. Will critics finally stop apologizing for this travesty?

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Where Have All the Women Rappers Gone?

Oliver Wang wrote a great post last week about the deletion of the female rappers category from the AMAs this year. No Trina, no Missy, no MIA. Why is it that women could have been so dominant at the VMAs and Grammys, but are almost entirely absent in hip-hop? I know; big topic. I’ve written about it myself in the past. Good occasion to address it.

I remember in the ’90s, when the Grammys dropped the female rock category. A bunch of us in a group called Strong Women in Music protested. Kim Gordon showed up. Kurt Loder read my press release verbatim on MTV. And women have been rocking it on the Grammys and elsewhere ever since.

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Tharp's Creative License

Twyla Tharp conducted her lecture at USC’s Bing Theatre Oct. 13 a little like a therapy session. She was speaking about “creative skills,” drawing upon her 2003 book The Creative Mind. These skills are rather like self-help exercises, except Tharp drew upon the works of such great artists as Mozart, Shakespeare and David Byrne, not such great psychiatric thinkers as Freud, Reich, or Jung.

I find that when I’m having creative failure (aka writers’ block, and when I say writers’ block, I mean sinking into that abyss where I wonder who am I fooling thinking I can write and start combing the help wanted ads for a “real” job, any job), I often get inspiration by revisiting the work of a favorite inspiration. When Tharp is stuck, she reads Shakespeare sonnets so she can be assured that “someone once knew where they were going.” Choreographing the Milos Forman movie Amadeus, she was endlessly inspired by Mozart’s genius and work habits. He wrote “clean scores,” she marveled — that’s the 18th century equivalent of recording a hit song in one take.

Tharp herself is a bit of a great artist. So I took her adages more as koans than cliches. “When you’re working you can not be critical,” she advised — i.e., when the juices are flowing, don’t stop them by self-censoring. “You get energy from secrets,” she said, explaining why she never reveals what she’s working on next. “Collaborations offer tutorials in reality,” she said. “In the long run, you learn something from everyone and everything.”

The latter words of wisdom are lessons offered in her forthcoming book, The Collaborative Mind. Tharp, after all, has worked with such artists as Byrne (The Catherine Wheel), Billy Joel (Moving On), and Frank Sinatra, or at least his estate (her current show, Come Fly With Me). Having recently read and reviewed Byrne’s new book Bicycle Diaries, I really liked her description of the former Talking Head as a polymath and a poet. She said that The Catherine Wheel is likely to get restaged in 2015, the 50th anniversary of her life as a creative mind.

Ordinarily, I might have found Tharp’s presentation too touchy-feely for my punk hide. And I’m sure glad that I wasn’t the woman who had to go up there and lie on the stage like an egg. But I had just come from a class where a bunch of students had been scoffing at the idea of the artist as some Romantic vestige. I thought such postmodern Barthesian concepts of the death of the author had finally been bankrupted — as Jeff Chang would say, “that’s so 9/10.” (Jeff was talking about the idea of “branding,’’ but I love that phrase and now say it every chance I get.) “Pomo no mo’” is my motto. In the age of content, creativity has been woefully commodified and needs celebrating. So I was up for exercising the creative mind.

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Vote for The Chantels

The-Chantels The Chantels were teen friends from the Bronx when they had their hit “Maybe” in 1957. That was years before what we think of as the Girl Group era. Plus, as you can see in this photo, they also knew how to play. They’ve finally been nominated for the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame, that laughable institution of exclusion. So if you’re among the anointed few, vote. Thanks to author Randall Grass for the great photo and tip.

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Social Media and the Arts: A Podcast

Are social media creating a new army of citizen journalists, rendering us professional types obsolete? Or can they be tools to further the trade of arts journalism? These questions and more were discussed at the National Summit for Arts Journalism that USC hosted Oct. 2. As part of a group assignment for school, I wrote, recorded and mixed a podcast on Social Media and the Arts.  For it, I interviewed Jeff Change and Laura Sydell — two pros I happen to know from my old Voice days. (Laura interviewed me about 18 years ago for a NPR story on the Nuyorican Poets Cafe; it was funny to turn the tables all these years later. Jeff and I were fact-checkers and copy-editors, respectively, and writers.) Keep in mind that I missed the radio workshop where we were taught how to do this. I had a crash course on mixing mostly by trial and error. The segues are pretty rough. But not bad for an amateur, if I do say so myself.

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