Hey, Carbon Leaf has a new record out!

My wife was asking about a song that was playing on 89.1 KCLC, one of the few remaining listenable radio stations in St. Louis, tonight. She thought it was Aimee Mann; I thought it was Tori Amos. We were both wrong. You gotta love any radio station that publishes its playlist.

And then I saw my favorite from a couple of years ago, Carbon Leaf. She said yeah, she heard a song that sounded like them earlier today.I’ve been listening to the local Christian station the last few weeks. I got tired of it because they play mostly the newest Michael W. Smith and Steven Curtis Chapman, but since it’s been a year or two since I listened regularly and both of them have new records out, it’s a little less irritating. They throw in enough David Crowder into the rotation these days to tease me into listening more.

So that’s how Carbon Leaf snuck a new record past me.

Carbon Leaf, in case you don’t know them, is a quintet based out of Virginia. Their music is a combination of roots music and what I’ll call for lack of a better word, alt-pop. They would have fit in with the early ’90s alternative scene, when bands like Toad the Wet Sprocket were popular. Of course that makes sense, because they were together then, just not on a major label. They aren’t anything new; they’re just recently discovered.

So it looks like thanks to them, I might actually buy something that was recorded in 2006 this year: Love, Loss, Hope, Repeat by Carbon Leaf. Give it a listen.

My first impressions of Pandora

So I’ve been messing with Pandora, a new music service.

It’s interesting. Not foolproof, but interesting.The theory goes like this: Have highly experienced musicians overanalyze pop music, identifying its tonal qualities, and based on the qualities you find in a song that the masses (or any given individual) like, predict other songs that will have the same appeal because they share the same tonal qualities.

So I signed on, and it asked me for the name of a band or a song that I liked. So I picked “City of Blinding Lights” by U2 out of the air.

Two songs later, it played “Read ‘Em and Weep” by Meat Loaf.

Say what?

I gave it a chance. I thought more of Meat Loaf when he was a one-hit wonder than I did after he made that comeback in the ’90s. And this song is the epitome of why.

Let the record state that I don’t like over-the-hill wanna-be hard rockers singing songs that were originally written by Barry Manilow!

Note that I’m emphatic enough on that point to break out the italics and the exclamation point. I’m almost emphatic enough to break out the blink tag.

If I lose coolness points for not liking Meat Loaf-sung Barry Manilow cover tunes, then so be it.

I suppose it did have somewhat similar musical qualities to U2’s City of Blinding Lights. But this just goes to show there’s more to music than just, uh, the music.

To its credit, it did pick out a song by Delirious? that I liked.

But I guess U2 isn’t exactly the best experiment for something like this. While U2 has a reputation for all of its songs sounding the same, any serious U2 fan will point out that it’s several of U2’s hits that sound similar. But if I were to whip out a few of U2’s lesser hits, like, say, “A Day Without Me” off Boy and “The Fly” off Achtung Baby, to name two of the better songs off their two best albums, you might be hard-pressed to identify the band.

And since that’s one of the things I really like about the band, I abandoned the experiment. Tonal qualities alone won’t find another U2.

I forgot about the first time I ever heard “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” The reaction? “U2 records albums?” Yes, when I was 13, I thought U2 just toured and put on political demonstrations and that making records was an afterthought.

Sometimes the appeal isn’t just the music and how it’s played. Need another example? Anyone care to do a survey of how many people watch Jessica Simpson music videos with the volume muted?

So now that I’ve talked about why Pandora can’t work, let’s talk about when it does work.

After the Meat Loaf indignity, I typed in “What About Everything, Carbon Leaf” into Pandora. And it came back and said it didn’t know that song. So I just typed in “Carbon Leaf.” It came back and described Carbon Leaf as a band that uses subtle harmonies, electric instruments up front, a mixture of acoustic and electric in back, and prominent percussion.

I’d never thought about it that way, but that was what made the band catch my ear in the first place. The line “What about aeroplanes?” had a lot to do with it too, but Pandora’s technical description tells how the band said, “What about aeroplanes?” Had it been Pantera asking “What about aeroplanes?” I probably wouldn’t have liked it as much.

But when I think about the alt-rock that was being recorded in the early 1990s, before it became all-grunge-all-the-time, that description of Carbon Leaf pretty much could apply to the songs by Sugar, Material Issue, Aimee Mann, The Connells, and, for that matter, even Weezer, that I liked.

So out of curiosity, I punched in “The Sisters of Mercy.” It came back and asked if that was a song or a band. I had the band in mind, rather than the Leonard Cohen song. Leonard Cohen is an example of someone whose lyrics I like, even when I often don’t like the music.

It identified the Sisters of Mercy as having hard rock roots, electronica influences, and an emphasis on minor key tones. Fair enough.

Problem is, it gave me Pig Society by Dope, Loco by Coal Chamber, and Set Me Free by Velvet Revolver, followed by Big Truck by Coal Chamber (which sounded like a monster truck rally).

How much does Andrew Eldritch know about monster trucks, anyway?

Once I gave it enough thumbs-downs, it tried Sonic Youth on me. Sonic Youth isn’t very goth, but it’s a much better fit than something called “Big Truck.”

So I decided to see what it said about Joy Division. “Punk influences, mild rhythmic syncopation, extensive vamping, electronica influences, and minor key tonality,” it said. OK, basically Sisters of Mercy minus the heavy metal with a little punk instead? I’ll buy that. I let it play. So far, no songs about monster trucks, but the songs it did play were songs I wouldn’t mind hearing again. Tactic learned: If you punch in one band and don’t like what it finds you, punch in the name of a somewhat similar band and see what it finds.

For entertainment value, I have to give Pandora some props. Sometimes the entertainment value is unintentional. But hey, even Babe Ruth only hit a home run 8.5% of the time. There are worse ways to discover new music than this.

Like turning on the radio, for instance.

Maybe someone in the music industry is starting to get it

I remember just a couple of weeks ago, I was driving home from work and a song caught my attention on the radio. I was pretty sure I’d never heard it before, and given the nature of my two favorite radio stations, there was every possibility I’d never hear it again either. And the DJ never told me who it was.
And I had a thought. If more stations would play something other than the same 50 or 60 songs over and over, and the DJ would actually tell you what each song was, and you could run home and buy it for 75 cents,
I reasoned, then the music industry would be in a whole lot better shape. They might not sell what they wanted, but they’d be able to sell something. Which, if you listen to them, doesn’t exactly describe their present situation.

Now in the age of the Internet, if I’d been able to remember or jot down a couple of lines of the song, I’d be able to search Google for it and probably come up with an artist and title. The RIAA hates it when people post song lyrics on the Web or on Usenet, and while technically it is a copyright violation, I know I’ve bought tons and tons and tons of records that way. I hear a song or remember a song from the past, search for it, find out what it was, and then I buy it. Case in point: One of the first songs I remember hearing on the radio was “Steppin’ Out” by Joe Jackson. I think the last time I heard it on the radio was sometime in 1983. I remembered the tune and one line: “We’ll leave the TV and the radio behind.” One day I couldn’t stand it anymore, searched, was shocked to hear it was Joe Jackson, went to CDNow, listened to the sample, and bought his Greatest Hits album on the spot.

Now I would later find out that I can pretty safely buy a Joe Jackson record for one song and there’ll be at least one other song on it that I like a lot and one or two others that I like. I found out through experience that’s not usually the case. My CD rack is full of discs I bought for one or two songs and weren’t worth the price of admission.

There’s an Offspring song called “Gone Away” that I really like. But I don’t like Offspring. Similarly, I can’t stand Sugar Ray because all of their songs are about either getting sloshed or getting laid, and I don’t care for that lifestyle or music that celebrates it. There’s so much more to life than that. But somewhere along the way, that band recorded one song that I like and would like to own.

I don’t care much for Matchbox Twenty because all of their songs pretty much sound alike and the lyrics are almost all about shallow and empty relationships that started in bars or ended in bars and how lonely and empty they leave Rob Thomas feeling. If I want mope rock, I’ll listen to The Cure because at least they’ve found more than one thing to be depressed about and found ways to make it sound different over the years. But I’ve heard one or two Matchbox 20 songs that I like and wouldn’t mind owning.

Listen.com offers downloadable tracks for under a buck but it’s a subscription service. Apple’s iTunes has the right idea, with a fair price and no subscription, but of course it’s Mac-only at least for the moment. And now there’s Buymusic.com, which is completely Windows Media Player-centric. I tried visiting the site with Mozilla and it told me to download Internet Explorer. When I visited with Internet Exploiter, it gave me a popup saying I needed a newer version of Windows Media Player. I closed the window and it let me browse.

I’ve looked at both Listen.com and Buymusic.com, and they both have holes in their catalogs. I know some bands don’t want to be listed because they want to sell albums, not singles. To which I say record great albums and I’ll buy them. When I put in U2’s The Joshua Tree, more often than not I skip past the first four or five tracks that contained all of the album’s hits. There wasn’t a single hit on the second half of the album, but the songs are better. “One Tree Hill” and “Red Hill Mining Town” are two of the best songs they’ve ever recorded, and most people have probably never heard them.

I’ll almost always listen to Disintegration by The Cure and Straight Up by Badfinger and Whatever by Aimee Mann all the way through. But the last great album I bought was All That You Can’t Leave Behind by U2, and that was two years ago. I can’t tell you the last great one I bought before that.

But hey, at least now I’ve got a way to buy some singles with a clear conscience. I kind of like the idea of being able to buy all the big-label music that’s caught my attention the past five or six years for about 20 bucks. And I do want to buy it legitimately. I’ve spent some time writing songs and I know a lot of work goes into it. And even more work goes into recording songs. I’ve spent some time in a recording studio too, and all I know is that I don’t know half the time and effort that goes into recording a song. Most of the people you hear on the radio work longer and weirder hours than I do and yet make only slightly more money than I do. So I really don’t want to steal from them.

Now I need to go find some good indie stuff. I’m pretty sure that’s where I’m going to have to look if I want great albums or something that sounds a little different.

Eldred loses, and so do the rest of us

It’s obvious from today’s ruling in the Eldred v. Ashcroft case that copyright law will never revert back to what the Founding Fathers had in mind. Corporate interests will be able to continue to buy extensions to copyright law to prevent the overwhelming majority of works made after 1924 from falling into the public domain unless for some odd reason it gets abandoned.
The problem is that when you and I want something, all we have to offer to our congressmen is our vote every two or six years, and maybe a campaign contribution. Disney doesn’t vote, although its employees do, but Disney can give a congressman or a political party more money in a year than I’ll earn in the next decade.

The result is that companies like Disney can profit off the public domain (that’s where they got The Jungle Book–author Rudyard Kipling didn’t make a dime off the Disney movie) without ever putting anything into the pot. Movies like Casablanca, The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind, which would be public domain by now if the Sonny Bono Copyright Act hadn’t passed in 1998, remain locked up.

I doubt the public domain issue is something that’s going to energize the masses enough to force the issue into Congress. At least not in the short term. Most people have no clue what “public domain” means. They just know that around Christmas, suddenly 50 of their cable channels start playing It’s a Wonderful Life 24 hours a day. If any of them ever bother to ask, they find out it’s because the movie is in the public domain and anyone can broadcast it without paying for it. Then they shrug their shoulders and reach for the remote and look for tanks or bulldozers or football.

But this is a battle we have to fight.

Since writing to our Congressmen is futile–I may do it anyway, hoping that maybe my word carries a couple of grams’ worth more weight since I have produced a number of copyrighted works–we’re going to need to resort to something else: Civil disobedience. If a law can’t be counted on to be kept by 70 percent of the populace, it’s not enforcable and the law will chance. The most recent example of this is speed limits.

This doesn’t mean I’m going to run out to Gnutella and Kazaa and download everything in sight. As much as I may disagree with Aimee Mann’s political views, she has more than the right to be paid–she has the need to be paid. She’s not working a steady 40-hour-a-week job so she needs those record royalties to pay her bills. Taking her music without paying for it is no different from withholding my 40-hour-a-week paycheck.

But when the copyright would have rightfully expired by now anyway, I see no moral or ethical problem in taking it.

For example, there’s the Non-US Online Books Page that lists old books that are out of international copyright but not U.S. copyright. Books make you look smart, right? Download them, unwrap them with a text editor like Metapad, and then you can load them into Word and set the font and size to whatever you want. Duplex-print them (or print the odd pages, let the pages cool, then put the pages back in and print the even pages) and comb bind them or put them into cheap $1 3-ring binders, or take up bookbinding as a hobby. Fill up your bookshelves with free books you may not necessarily ever read. Be sure to include legitimate public domain books in your collection as well.

Or, since I know the majority of you won’t do that, amass a huge collection of early ’50s rock’n’roll tunes. The copyrights have expired in Europe. Import cheap European bootlegs, or get them through Gnutella. Share them with friends. Record a shelf full of CDs. If your hobby is music, sample and re-use the living daylights out of them. If you’re a European musician, do us States-siders a favor and use a 1950s-era sample in every song you record so that your colleagues over here start wondering why they can’t do that.

Sometimes civil disobedience is the only way to overthrow oppressive laws.

Too busy for Aimee Mann

One of my friends e-mailed me and asked if I’d be breaking my usual policy of not watching TV except during the World Series to catch Aimee Mann on some TV show called West Wing tonight. Or maybe it was tomorrow. Whenever it was, my response was terse.
“Dang it! I don’t have time for that!”

I’d mention our ensuing dialogue, but I’m afraid some of it might be taken out of context and haunt me later. Oddly enough, it was my second conversation of the day where illegal mind-altering substances came up.

Most of my attention is going towards moving. If Aimee Mann were single, I’d probably take time out to watch her and swoon, just because I’ve heard far too many comments lately from single girls about Bebo Norman. But Aimee Mann’s not single so I shouldn’t be oogling her, and I don’t have to have an inferiority complex about Bebo Norman.

No, that money on the dresser isn’t my savings fund for an acoustic guitar. No, those aren’t lyrics in that notebook. No, I don’t have an inferiority complex about Bebo Norman! I don’t know what I’ve got but I know it’s not that!

I’m looking for an easy cure, easy cure
An easy cure for my ills


I could never find my way
You said you were the way, the truth, and life
They said it was impossible
You said anything is possible
With you
And that’s why I celebrate faith

Ha! Did Bebo Norman ever write any lines as good as those? He did? Rats.

OK, fine. I’ve got an inferiority complex about Bebo Norman. So sue me.

I’m gonna go move big, heavy stuff and assert my manliness. (I bet Bebo Norman couldn’t LIFT THIS COUCH all by himself!) You go read a comic strip or something so you’re laughing at it and not at me.

Feeling cynical

I went out looking for a fridge and washer/dryer.
I came home with the new Aimee Mann CD and Office Space on DVD.

Yeah, I’m feeling really cynical. Yeah, something happened at work Friday. No, I’m not at liberty to talk about it (but Charlie knows because he was in on the project too).

Aimee Mann’s Lost in Space is a very typical Aimee Mann record. She plays half a dozen different instruments and she’s as cynical as usual, though she’s lost the potty mouth. I went looking for this record’s “I Should Have Known”–the tune that reaches out and grabs your consciousness and won’t let go of it–but didn’t find it. This one will have to grow on me, like most of her records.

And Office Space… Well, I started building up a Windows box with my DVD drive out of some spare parts, and ran into a lot of problems. First, my junk Cirrus Logic-based AGP video card didn’t support DirectX, which my DVD app needed for playback. So I pulled it and replaced it with my old STB Velocity 128, which had nVidia’s first chipset. At the time, it was the fastest video card I’d ever seen. Seems really slow now. Well, that card caused any OS I tried to install to hang. I guess it’s the end of the road for that card. A shame, really.

So I figured I’d install Debian and see if I could figure out how to make it play DVDs. The Velocity 128 worked a lot longer in Linux than it did in Windows, but eventually it kicked into a corrupted text display similar to what I got in Windows. So I couldn’t just blame Windows. Rats. So the Cirrus Logic–definitely the Neifi Perez of video cards–came off the bench.

I couldn’t get any of the rogue DVD software for Debian to work, so I ended up pulling the S3 Savage4 card out of one of my working systems to put in there, since it supports DirectX. I need to order a couple of ATI Radeons from Newegg.com to replace some of these junk cards I’ve got. They’re solid and cheap–$42 delivered.

Windows 2000 ran fine with the S3 in it.

I think this is God’s way of telling me I’m a better journalist than computer tech at this point.

This is so ridiculous I can’t parody it

OK, Steve provoked me into coming back. He sent me something enraging. Irresponsible. Stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid.
I know three specimens of South St. Louis White Trash who’ll be waiting in line to buy their copies at some midnight sale. They live in a large, fenced estate, locked and posted. There are signs saying they have alarms, although that’s not true. They do have guns though. Lots of no-trespassing signs too. And if you value your life, you’ll take them seriously.

They hoard guns and cars. They only venture out to buy groceries, and for the occasional trip through a restaurant drive-thru. They trust nobody. The outside world is a conspiracy. Everybody’s against them. They don’t trust each other either, for that matter, but they mistrust each other less than the rest of the world, so they mostly put up with each other.

Their idea of balanced news reporting is Rush Limbaugh. They un-balance him with harder-right-leaning people like G. Gordon Liddy. The government is a vast conspiracy. I think they might have tried to tell me once that the X-Files is actually a documentary. They did tell me the national park system is now owned and operated by the United Nations, in order to promote and fund one world government.

Yeah, I think Steve found a book these guys will like. It’s leftist, so it’ll balance out some of the right-wing stuff, but it’s wrought with conspiracy. And conspiracy theories can get so far out there that rightist conspiracy can flip around and touch leftist conspiracy. And vice-versa.

You see, according to this thing, Sept. 11 never happened. Nope. You’ve been duped by the government and the media both. Those supposed hijackers aboard those four planes? They’ve been spotted in the months since. (I wonder if they were hanging out with Elvis? Or maybe Kurt Cobain. Cobain’s alive, you know. Wait. No, wait. Cobain was murdered. I’m having trouble keeping my conspiracies straight.) The Pentagon was struck by a U.S. missiles, not an airliner. The planes that hit the WTC towers were operated by remote control. It was all a plot by a right-leaning government to find an excuse to increase military spending.

Now, never mind the mising airplane and the people inside. The author of this–umm, do I really have to call it a book? After all, I wrote a book, and I’d really rather not have anything in common with this guy. I mean, it’s bad enough that we’re both carbon-based and breathe oxygen. And if I find out we have the same blood type or something, I’ll really be mad. OK, OK, the author of this garbage which happens to be sold in stores that sell books says he can’t account for the missing plane. He hasn’t had the recources to investigate his theory.

I’ll bet he didn’t even bother to ask Billy Joel his opinion, which seems to be the defining attribute of a journalist these days. OK, just a CNN journalist. Not that I care what Billy Joel thinks about current events. Now, Aimee Mann, on the other hand…

Where was I?

Oh yeah. And they say America is the land of opportunity. Here’s this flunky with a wild theory. He can’t prove a word of it. Hasn’t even started to research it. But somehow, he gets a book advance so he can write out all of these wild allegations. And then the publisher actually goes through with wasting all that ink and paper and glue? Then it sells 200,000 copies? And then, adding insult to injury, someone thinks enough to take the garbage, translates it into English from its original French, and releases it in the States?

I’m thinkin’ France is the land of opportunity, baby! Time for me to go get one of those $995 lessons-on-tape sets, change my last name to Croissant, go find a publisher and spew onto some paper! Ooh la-la! Just wait until they hear Dwight Eisenhower met with space aliens in 1954!

Only problem is, when you do this kind of thing, as Ms. Mann would say, I know there’s a word for it. So now I know what I can call this, since I’m loathe to call it a book.


And I’m no fan of litigation, but I hope the parties wronged band together and sue French author Thierry Meyssan for every dime he’s made off his piece of libel.

Copyright terriorists can’t take what they dish out

Aw, poow widdle awe-aye-ay-ay! Poow widdle bay-bee!
The RIAA, if you recall correctly, is endorsing legislation that would permit copyright terrorists holders to knock off or hack into computers they suspect are being used to violate copyright law. So I guess calling what they want “copyright terrorism” is apt. Read more

My next project

I’m in the Web design phase of my next project, which I’ve alluded to in the past. I’ve got a fast machine here (I’m still trying to figure out why my site’s slow–CPU usage is low, memory usage is way low, and there’s no disk activity) with tons of capacity. I’ve got a fantastic piece of software. I’ve got the world’s best server operating system. And my guest has compelling and important things to say.
All we need is a kick-tail design. So I’ll put a design up there, and hopefully that’ll goad her graphic designer son-in-law to say, “Hey, I can do better than that!” and she’ll get her kick-tail design. (But nobody’s gettin’ their mitts on mine. I’m doing my own design, writing, and editing, to leave my mark on my site. It’s the same reason why Aimee Mann sometimes plays every instrument on one of her songs.)

I said Sunday it would go live Sunday. That didn’t quite happen. But soon, very soon.

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