Thursday, January 30, 2003

Another thought about the digital rights debate from a somewhat pudgy Jimmy Thudpucker.

The posting of anything by Harry Shearer is almost certain to generate a response. This time, it came from Warren in LA. Keep in mind, Warren's in the entertainment biz, so he has more background then most in this debate over digital rights. For Harry's comments, see the post further down this page. I'll respond to Warren bit by bit.

Warren writes: As for Mr. Shearer's bizarre comments, practically every sentence is inane or at the very least, born of a twisted logic.


He speaks of the customer's "right to enjoy, copy, and move the artifacts he or she "buys."" Maybe it's me, but I don't remember that part of the Constitution. Copyright law is centuries old -- if something is copyrighted material, duplication for purposes of distribution is illegal. It's true of books, newspaper articles, and recorded performances.

A common ruse when faced with a complex, modern issue is to go back to some ancient text and then say, "I don't see it mentioned in the Constitution, Bible, Bill of Rights, Magna Carta, etc, etc." The tactic is a red herring. Although copyright law has existed since the 1600s, it's modern applications have been established more recently via new laws and court cases (often due to the push of technology). I'm pretty sure - though I can't find the specific case right now - one modern addition confirmed the rights of people who properly purchase some piece of media to make a copy of that media for his or her own personal use.

The classic example is someone who buys a musical record and then makes a cassette recording of that some record so that they can hear it in their car when they choose. Without such protection, blank tapes would not be sold nor would audio recording devices of any kind. VCR/TIVO would not be sold with the ability to record TV signals (all copyrighted, yes?). Interestingly, many kinds of recording tape and devises include a user tax to pay various entertainment industries for the copying everyone knows will occur with that machine (Lord know artists never see a meaty slice of that pie). If industries are so willing to accept the funds generated by that tax, I offer that they are essentially okaying the actions. It's kind of like accepting the monies of a contract - you can't cash the checks and then fight the terms. It's all or nothing.

BTW - consumers are also allowed to dispose of owned media as they choose, including resale of the item. Otherwise, we'd have no used CD shops.

Oh, one other thing - the word "copyright" doesn't appear in the Constitution either.

As Warren rightly notes, duplication for the purposes of distribution is illegal. Agreed there, and I don't think Harry would disagree either. Of course, there's also the reality of our digital age - has anyone with a CD burner not ripped a copy of CD for a friend? Is that distribution? Yeah, we're all guilty.

Beyond that, it's immoral, it's stealing. Real human beings (not ever-so-hateful media corporations) make music and films because it's their job, and duplicating them or using duplicates instead of the real thing takes real money out of their real pockets. And most of these people don't have mansions in Beverly Hills, and they never will under Shearer's thinking. Perhaps that's how he wants it.

Socialist innuendo aside - as somebody who has created (copyrighted) music for a living and knows that industry pretty well, I can tell you that corporations do in fact make music. They hire people to write and record songs, they pat them on the back and put their names on the covers, but the lion's share (or all) of dollars generated into the company's pocket, not the artist's. As far as the label is concerned, the company owns the work. Bill Nelson (of 70s group Be Bop Deluxe) recently wrote in his blog that he still hasn't seen dollar one from EMI for the many Be Bop Deluxe records released (and re-released and re-released again) over the years. He also can't do anything about it because the company is simply too big to sue. It would bankrupt him. Record companies know that, so they continue to rip off artists.

Dollar for dollar, I'd say record companies have stolen far more money from musicians than file sharing ever has or will.

He goes on to chide the entertainment industry for its policy of "sue the customer." Of course, they're not suing the customer -- they're suing the non-customer, the person who won't pay for music or a movie, but downloads it for free.

Semantics. Maybe "suing the fan" would be better. Those guys in the black t-shirts downloading Metallica mp3s were certainly fans of the band likely past customers. But after Lars and the boys went after them, I'd guess some dropped the group. The rest probably remain fans and customers too. So I don't think Harry's too far off on his logic here.

And his proposed solution is the most laughable of all: to market to that segment of the population with more money than time. Does he really think that a music industry geared to people over 30 would be one worth having? Does he really endorse the death of rock and roll, that idiom so historically linked to the yearnings and ambitions of teenagers?

Agreed...partially. There is a much older and vital consumer segment of the population that companies ignore. Warren and I are both part of that demographic. I'd say a huge chunk of rock recordings (especially those super-profitable catalog releases) are purchased by this older segment. But no, an industry like that can't ignore their meat and potato youth market. How else would the world find the next Brittany?

Really, Harry's primary suggestion is one Republicans like Warren should love - stop asking the government for help. The government has already perverted copyright law by the many extensions they've tacked on. Copyright was developed not only to protect the creator and purchaser of original works, but also to make sure that after a period of time, works flowed back into the public domain, refreshing the well from which more inspiration could flow. From the Association of Research Libraries Timeline of Copyright Law:

The 1710 act established the principles of authors' ownership of copyright and a fixed term of protection of copyrighted works (fourteen years, and renewable for fourteen more if the author was alive upon expiration). The statute prevented a monopoly on the part of the booksellers and created a "public domain" for literature by limiting terms of copyright and by ensuring that once a work was purchased the copyright owner no longer had control over its use.

Currently, US copyright law is something like 75 years beyond the death of the author. Companies like Disney want even more, as they're terrified of lost royalties should The Rat end up in public domain (which, by all rights, is where it should be right now). The fact that Disney made much of it's fortune exploiting older public domain works for which they paid nothing is something they don't like to bring up very much.

Here's the thing: I download music. I use Limewire to check out a track or three of an artist I am interested in, especially in the case of music that is not traditionally radio-friendly. If I like what I hear, I buy the CD. If I don't, I trash it. This process has helped me find the Vines, as well as saved me 15 bucks on a Norah Jones album. (The Vines' "Highly Evolved" by the way, is my favorite album of the last 10 years.) There is a responsible way to use downloading, and my friends in the music industry heartily endorse it.

Here's the real thing - white-hat hacker logic aside, you are stealing music and ripping off somebody when you download music for free. To the record companies currently arguing this point, it makes no difference that you might go and purchase a CD based on your downloads. In their minds, they've lost sales of Norah Jones and others because you got them via file sharing. You should have been required to pay $15 to check out each CD (and if record companies had their way, you wouldn't have been able to resell the bad CDs on either). You want to download music? Join or something like it.

Mind you, I agree with your use of file sharing and downloading. But that fact is, record companies are years behind new technologies and and they're running scared, trying to herd cats at this point. Had they been smart, they would have made it super easy for people to download music and accepted the fact that the distribution business was changing. Instead, they've fought tooth and nail because they knew once distribution became computerized, a guy like Bill Nelson could simply request the download numbers and demand payments of royalties (which is what I did to my former CD distributor with Soundscan info). As long as record companies can hide sales on their books with bogus expenses and returns, they own and operate the bank.

I can't say I know the solution but we're at a turning point in media history. Technology has made ownership of media a curious thing - are we buyers or renters? Can Microsoft set my software to expire after 2 years and force me to upgrade to the new version? Will I soon purchase a number of listens of song instead of the recording itself? Will hackers figure out how to bypass all these restrictions and let information be free? When it comes to technology, I think people are smarter than companies, so I'm willing to let this play out for a while and see what solutions/problems arise.

It's a fun time, no?

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

I found a cool link at TRASH HEAP (thanks JK). It's the kind of web stuff Grad students seeking corporate funds spend way too much time on (because that Peace Corp. thing was just such a time drain!). But it also makes one reconsider the power and future of a web browser. Check it out here. Wait for the pen to finish writing by itself. When it's done, users can clear the page and write/draw in the brower with the pen using mouse control.
Lane Steinberg was once in a band called The Wind. I also knew him as manager of Water Music, a recording studio in Hoboken. I don't know him at all anymore, however CB of Hoboken sent me this installment of Lane's ongoing series THRIFT STORE RECORDS & CHEAP RED WINE. It is lovely, inspired stuff - heartfelt, informative and proof that creativity can be born from the most modest of inspirations.


The Record: Herman's Hermits - "Blaze" - 1967 (MGM) - $2.00 (right)

The Wine: The Evans Wine Company, King's Valley Cabernet (Australia) 1998 - $5.00 (discounted)

I've always read how this was the "serious" Herman's Hermit's record, so I always kept a mental note to pick it up. Finally, I saw a so-so copy at the Salvation Army in Jamaica, N.Y. I always try to convince these people that they're charging too much for records. $2.00? Who are they kidding? The majority of their selection has been on display for years. Mostly lots of poor, scratched classical and Latin records. The best thing I've ever found here was a mint copy Spanish-language cast album of "Annie Get Your Gun". Trust me, one hasn't lived until they have heard "Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better" sung in Spanish.

This Herman's Hermits record must have been part of a new shipment, though I couldn't find any other records around it that were stylistically related. Probably a mistaken Christmas gift from long ago. As usual, I make my stink at the register about the price. The nice overweight Spanish lady with the dice earings and the gold teeth, points to the sign: "Records: $2.00". Then she waves her hand, "I sorry. Me no make-a the price". Probably, the price will never go lower. They'll just get rid of records altogether. The Salvation Army is some racket.

But I'm pleased to report that tonight we have a winner in the grape department. More damaged-label sale stuff at the snobby wine store. Five bucks a pop, enter at your own risk. The selection seems to change every few days, and things I intend to buy disappear. Sometimes there are three or four bottles of the same wine and sometimes, like with tonight's selection, there is a single sample with a ripped label. This had a beautiful nose the second the cork came out. Nice, sweet blackberry jam tones. Very strong smells! The taste right out of the bottle did not disappoint either: lemon peels, wildflower honey. I got really lucky this time. I tried to do some research on this wine on the internet but came up empty. So many bottles by so many different wineries. Like hunting down LP's in thrift stores, no matter how much you think you know, there's always stuff you've never seen hide nor hare of before. I'm in a real cabernet mode these days. Good cabernet sauvignon can be pushed in any direction the winemaker wants. This one is lighter than most I've tried, both in taste & color. Most classic Bordeaux is a blend that predominantly features cabernet. This is surely God's grape.

The LP is not in as bad shape as I thought. A wipe of the Discwasher revealed no scratches under the dirt. I love these old MGM labels. They're so forbodding to me, with a picture of the same MGM lion that greets us before all the old movies. Would be kinda cool if he actually roared on the label as well. This and the old United Artists label always used to creep me out as a kid. I'm always reminded of all these dark, heavy sountracks in my parents' collection. The first song on this is called "Museum". The credit says the composer is "Leitch", so I'm assuming it's by Donavan, especially because the record is produced by Mickie Most. The first line is double-tracked Herman (Peter Noone) singing , "I drink sweet wine for breakfast". Good for Herman0.. Or Donavan. I like certain sweet wines, especially Port, but drinking a sweet wine for breakfast smacks of alchoholism to me. I realize that wine is a slippery slope. Like pot, this is a gateway drug. Probably I'll be writing
"Thrift Store CD's & Rotgut Vodka" in a few years.

Ha, this record is fucking good. Either that, or it's exactly what I'm in the mood for. Very unpretentious. Not what I expected. It's very simple for 1967. Not a backwards guitar in sight. I've heard that Herman & the boys had a big hand in creating this this one. Like the Monkees' "Headquarters", this was the record where they insisted they play and write the majority of the material themselves. The second song is a cover of Graham Gouldman's "Upstairs, Downstairs". The Hermits already had a hit with Gouldman's "No Milk Today" on the previous LP, so I suppose they tried to get twice lucky. I love the original on the Graham's "Graham Gouldman Thing" solo LP, but this stands its' ground. Noone is a GOOD singer. He's very economical, but his pitch is excellent and he has great phrasing. A very clean singer. Almost like a clearer, less vibrato-laden Robin Gibb.

This is also very good wine. I've always wanted to go to Australia. Australia always seemed to me the place where someone could make a new start in life. Something very remote, yet very familiar about it at the same time. After staying open for about a half an hour the honey smell from this wine is ridiculous. This is one of the reasons to get into wine. These kind of smells are just totally intoxicating, mystical. It's amazing how wine is made from grapes, and how the smells and tastes suggest a million things, but rarely what one associates with the fruit of its origin.

The third track on this LP is one of the group composed numbers, "Busy Line". An innocuous bit of fluff, but the middle eight is very sophisticated and the second time it comes around there is a very songwriterly key change on the last bar that leads into the last verse in the new key. Like Irving Berlin was passing by and pitched in an idea for that little part. The instrumentation is very sparse, but the earnest qualities of the song are well served. The next song, "Moonshine Man" sounds like it came from some 60's LA Byrds knockoff band. There is nothing English about this cut. There is a vague "Taxman" thing happening in the bass, but it sounds like it crossed the Atlantic before it hit tape. There is a line about drinking homemade wine and I assume the song is about a bootlegger. I drank moonshine once. It was pretty nasty, but it tasted like nothing I ever tasted before or since. Sort of like Southern Comfort, but much, much stronger.

After the honey scent starts to fade, I'm noticing a faint aroma of violets. Am I in love? People often talk about good wines as having balance. This has so many competing, yet muted flavors of sweet, tannic and sour. Verry little oak here, though. My wine friend, Jay, tells me that an oaky taste is an essential component of really great wines, that the barrels they are stored in add to the complexity. I'm probably just a vulgar neophyte, but over-oaked wine tastes disgusting to me. I'm probably connecting with an unfortunate experience I had with Jack Daniels in my youth, and every time I taste that smokey flavor in a drink, I get nauseous. He says I'll grow into it.

The second side of the disc bolts from the gate. The first song, "Don't Go Out Into The Rain" is just bass, guitar, drums and a sparse string arrangement. Very inspired call & response vocals. Great, melodic hook. The acoustic guitar sounds a tad distorted in places. Mickie Most was legendary for cutting his tracks to the brink of breaking up. The next track, "I Call Out Her Name" is another Byrdsy thing. The influence is sort of like "I've Just Seen A Face" fitered into the West Coast and back into England. Weird. Very reminscent of "Time Between" from the Byrds' "Younger Than Yesterday". Next, a very sweet tune, "One Little Packet Of Cigarettes". The vocal is almost whispered. All these songs have the beautiful sound of an acoustic basic track compilimented by colorful string charts. I could picture the Harper's Bizarre doing this cut. On the next track, "Last Bus Home", the added electric guitar adds much color by contrasting the acoustic sound of the previous tunes.. Again, very cool background vocals and inventive harmonies. They sound like they're having genuine fun throughout this LP. But all this just sets the stage for the last cut, which is about as balls-to-the-wall as Herman's Hermits could ever hope to get. "Ace, King, Queen, Jack", like the previous song, is written by someone named "Cowap", but sounds more like a Graham Gouldman raveup. It's actually a total Yardbirds rip, circa "Roger The Engineer" (and what an album that was!). The bass is intentionally overdriven & distorted, like they were shooting for the sound on the Yardbird's "Lost Woman". Yet Herman, like Keith Relf, is laying back and understating the vocal. Cool as ice. I love this stuff. Classic line: "I called her a trollop/She gave me a wallop". Herman's Hermits? Is that who I'm listening to? They should have made at least two or three even greater albums after this one. They were just getting started.

OK, I was good tonight. I left a little less than half the bottle. My wife thinks I'm imbibing a bit too much. The AMA says two glasses a day will do me well. I cut out the articles and show her, but she just looks at me & makes a face...

Lane Steinberg, 1/03

Monday, January 27, 2003

Inspired by some nice comments from friends and fellow bloggers, I'm trying to get it together to write more regularly (and often). Thanks to all for the emails. As for the new look, I really liked what Terra did over at Every Little Thing I Do Is Magic, so I kinda lifted her ideas and hacked them onto my site. Despite the update, I don't think I'll ever get those stupid Archives links to appear properly in IE. However, they show up perfectly in Chimera and Safari, so that should give you another reason to dump the Empire.
I'm just back from Sundance, where, I'm proud to say, I saw not one film, although I did see two film critics. In the formative stages is an op-ed piece, your comments welcome at this point, regarding the currently tanking music industry, and its ally the film industry, and their attacks on the customer's right to enjoy, copy, and move the artifacts he or she "buys" from them.  My premise is that any industry whose business model is "sue the customer" is in big trouble.  Nobody twisted these industries' arms to make them make and market product overwhelmingly to the 13-24 year old market.  Too bad for them that happens to be the segment of the population with more time than money, so the segment most eager to spent the time downloading to save the bucks on (possibly overpriced) CDs.  The solution for both industries is to leave the customer, and the government, alone, and learn (or re-learn) to market to that very large segment of the population with more money than time. 

Sunday, January 26, 2003

Passed along from CB in Hoboken

This was posted very briefly on the McDonnell Douglas Website by an employee there who obviously has a sense of humor.  The company, of course, does not have a sense of humor, and made the web department take it down immediately (for once, the "IMPORTANT" note at the end is worth a read.

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Thursday, January 23, 2003

Good friend and currently hot novelist Christian Bauman (The Ice Beneath You) was interviewed for 30+ minutes yesterday by Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air. You can hear a Real Audio replay of the event at

Tery was kind enough to play a song by Chris. As Chris noted, "I can't believe she even played my music. It took me quitting fucking folk music to get NPR to play my music. It won't sell as many albums as dying a young, tragic death, but quitting might be second in smart career moves to make as a rock star."

Of course, the real question is does an interview on Fresh Air sell books. CB informs us, "Yesterday morning my Amazon sales rank was 400,000-something. This morning it was 207. Pretty decent."

There's a book out there that needs to be written, and for some reason the Muse has tapped me to bring it to the world.

It's about shit.

Specifically, it's about shitting in your pants. Or on a chair that you drunkenly thought was a toilet. Or on your kitchen floor at 2 AM. Or in yourdriveway. Or in your pants on the 14th tee. (Some of you know very, very specifically about these things.)

My idea is to collect short (but importantly, all true) stories of adults hearing nature's call and not addressing it in the usual fashion. I will then rewrite the stories as I see fit, changing names to protect the soiled, and publish them with great fanfare under the title "Sh*t Happens." Or "Fecal Matters." Can't decide.

Call me crazy, but these stories crack me up. I know that if such a book existed, I would want it as a holiday gift, and I would keep it by the toilet for reading about it while doing it. The notion that I was safely in my bathroom while some poor woman crapped herself by the road in Texas while jogging at her in-laws' house -- well, somehow it just makes me
feel warm inside.

So here's what I ask of you. Tell me your stories. Tell me stories you know of personally that happened to your friends, as long we can find the person involved and verify the details. They can be stories of not making it to the toilet, of "gambling and losing", of filling your pants or soiling the roadway. Remember, real names will not be used.

Feel free to include as much detail as possible. Don't worry too much about the writing. I will want to give all of the stories a similar style. If you don't have time to write them, let me know you have one, and we'll figure out a way for you to just tell it to me.

And if you have friends you might have tales to tell, go ahead and send this e-mail to them, and forward their replies to me.

I will thank you all when I'm on Oprah.



I haven't decided if this idea ranks above or below Warren's stint as a writer on Uncle Buck. But if you have the urge to share your sphincter tales, send them to me and I'll forward them onward.