Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Making people put their money where their mouths are on taxation

One of the most irritating right-wing/supply-side canards is 'tax cuts pay for themselves', i.e., the idea that reducing (ordinary, non-extreme, non-confiscatory) income-tax rates increases revenues.

I propose the following technique to make people ask themselves whether they really believe this: pick some sector of government spending valued by the proponents, say, defense or highway construction or police or farm subsidies or.., and designate some appropriate slice of revenues - e.g., x% of everything paid (differentially) at the highest rates and y% of everything paid (differentially) at the second-highest marginal rates - as its dedicated funds. Any changes in those rates then directly affect the budget for that sector.

Let's assume that we put in a 3-4 year moving average 'smoothing factor', lagged if needs be (say if it's claimed that behaviors won't change overnight in response to small incentive changes). I'm a reasonable fellow! Eventually, however, money must be put where the mouth was: if you really believe that tax cuts pay for themselves then you should have no hesitation whatsoever cutting the marginal income tax rates that fund, e.g., the military, as a way of boosting military budgets in the medium-to-long-term.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Marion Cotillard's iTunes playlist

is pretty excellent (except for the bit at the end about about all U2 songs being masterpieces).

Cotillard's Nina Simone selection had a cute/sinister claymation vid. back in the California Raisins era of MTV:

My Baby Just Cares for Me is one of at least two great songs that name-checks Elizabeth Taylor. The other that I'm aware of is Dylan's I Shall be Free from Freewheelin', which rousingly ends: 'I catch dinosaurs/I make love to Elizabeth Taylor . . ./Catch hell from Richard Burton!' Anyone got any others?

That NbNW 50th Anniversary Edn Cover Image

Many people have observed that the image of Cary Grant (above) on the cover of latest dvd and blu-ray editions of North by Northwest is from a Plaza Hotel scene and not from the apparent plains/crop-duster scene (that Grant's jacket is never buttoned out on the plains is a dead give-away!). But I've never seen the exact source image anywhere (for example, it doesn't turn up in any obvious google image search). Filling that gap, here it is (albeit in non-optimal quality):

I found the image in the cd booklet from the 1995 release of North by Northwest's original, Herrmann-conducted soundtrack. I suspect, however, that it's a publicity still rather than a frame-grab from the film, so it may well be available elsewhere and in better quality, e.g., in dvd extras of publicity materials. (I've misplaced my NbNW dvd so can't check this currently!)

Update April 26, 2011: On an even lighter note...

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Second-tier Madonna: Angel

Second-tier items and people's preferences with respect to them are very revealing: everyone likes the very best stuff in a given genre, or from a given artist etc. simply because it's excellent and because excellence often involves precisely transcending a genre's or an artists's limitations and specificities. Second-tier (and n>1-tier) stuff, by way of contrast, tends to be much more reflective of genre or artist norms. If you love that stuff then you love the sort of thing that genre is or that artist does, not just the occasional, super-achievements that are as if someone was taking dictation from God. You're a Jazz fan if you check out the jazz clubs in any city you visit, not if you just listen to Coltrane. You're not an Abba fan if you love Dancing Queen, you almost certainly are if you love its B-side, That's Me. And so on.

In the case of Madonna's singles, M. herself draws a fairly bright line between her first- and second-tier material: True Blue gets omitted from greatest hits/best ofs, etc., as does Angel (which M. apparently hasn't performed live since the Like A Virgin tour). Other second-tier M. singles (from her first 'imperial period' as it were) include Spotlight and Causing a Commotion.

While some of the affection that fans tend to feel for these tracks stems simply from the fact that they haven’t been overplayed the way beloved signature songs undoubtedly have, these tracks are also just good, unpretentious, uncluttered, dance-pop records - they're almost garage dance-pop. Unlike Borderline, Holiday, Like Virgin, Material Girl, Crazy for You, Live to Tell, etc., they’re not massively better than their non-M. competition at the time. They almost certainly wouldn't have made M. a mega-star, maybe no kind of star. But they're a lot of fun, and the simple/more human-scale M. that they project has a special place in fans' hearts. Or so it seems to me!

The third single from Madonna's Like a Virgin album, Angel didn't get a proper video, but the 'promo-only' vid. that Warners UK spliced together from previous outings is enormously fun:
What an intoxicating visual presence M. was in her first bloom of stardom, and what a debt M. owes to Mary Lambert, the director of the vids. for Borderline, Like A Virgin, and Material Girl. M. is very sexy in all of her early videos, including Lambert's three, but Lambert also (i) always gets M. to act, and (ii) connects M. with wider traditions of cinema representation of women (both Hollywood and indie/European art-house). The upshot is that Lambert's videos for M. are sexy, but they're also analytic and layering. Seeing them pulled apart from their original soundtracks and cut against other effective but comparatively one-dimensional video sequences is incredibly telling: Lambert's images lift everything around them. Madonna Studies starts here.

Soundtracked by arguably the paradigmatic, second-tier M. tune, Lambert's achievement is especially impressive: the 'promo-only' video for a second-tier single distils something like the essence of M's early style and appeal.

For a nice, unpretentious review of Lambert's video for Borderline, go here.
For some vid. of Lambert talking about a recent documentary of hers, go here.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Gaga does not write/perform Abba-worthy songs

To be fair, Gaga never said she did that I'm aware of (although, now, when her recorded output is becoming increasingly plodding and redundant and unpleasant, Gaga has exhibited a willingness to assert that her latest records are best-of-decade items), but many of Gaga's fans have made versions of the claim. Why it wouldn't have been enough to say that in 2009 Gaga got onto the sort of (largely producer-driven) hot streak of 3 or 4 excellent singles that Janet Jackson got onto with Control and then again with Rhythm Nation (and, beyond music, had one of those, culture-convulsing 'year of [insert artist name here]' years in 2009, the way only 20 or 30 pop music figures have ever done) is never explained.

Consider the following from The Stranger's David Schmader:

Lady Gaga's music is deeply conventional, but ingeniously so, marrying hooky verses to hooky bridges to hooky choruses (which are often split into two increasingly hooky parts), with one-off bonus hooks thrown in here and there for kicks, all of it produced with a consistency that's positively ABBA-esque. Just as Stephin Merritt (himself a die-hard ABBA fan) has made a career out of studious distillations of the Great American Songbook, Gaga's doing the same with dance pop, identifying the genre's most effective intoxicants and boiling them down into unprecedentedly effective pop crack.
Schmader never quite comes out and says that Gaga is as good as Abba or his beloved Stephin Merritt, but the overall impression is that, yes, Schmader thinks that that's her level.

Well, no. Not close. (I'm not sure that even Schmader thinks Gaga's so ingenious these days.) Just as Oasis had a few good songs but were never close to being as good as The Beatles and were made to look especially ridiculous by their own and others comparisons to this effect, so it's just obvious that Gaga 'is' Janet Jackson if she's lucky (although BTW isn't shaping up to be close to the equal of Rhythm Nation). That's still an amazing achievement for someone so young and relatively unformed, but if Abba-quality is going to be in the cards for Gaga, she's going to have to take some time off and really think about writing and about finding the right collaborators. Gaga's (evident to me at least!) manifest destiny - putting her piano and performance skills to work playing Jobraith covers and playing Judee Sill in a Sill bio-pic (or maybe playing both in some funky new miniseries for HBO) - remains undiscovered.

Caribou's She's the One

A new favorite. Can't believe I only just heard it!

Friday, April 08, 2011

The 5th Dimension's The Magic Garden

A seriously amazing record from December 1967, The Magic Garden is a concept piece about love and a specific love affair in something like the way Demy's films from the period tend to be.

Every song is excellent, but my two current fave tracks are:


I mean, good God, they kill. The album is definitely some kind of masterpiece. I almost can't believe I never heard of any of it until this Onion AV-Club article.

Ok, one more (this time w/ uncool dancing):
Just, wow.

Update April 11, 2011: All but one song on TMG is written by the legendary Jimmy Webb. The exception is a very soulful, funky cover of Ticket to Ride. This song (from Help!, e.g., here) is one of Lennon's best. It's the ancestor of all of the mildly perverse, bitchy ‘I’m not happy but I’m not sad either’ alt-pop-music (with, ha ha, triumphant pulsing music underneath) that so many of us have loved ever since. TtR claims the whole spectrum of vexation and boredom and general pissiness for pop music, and makes it danceable and almost metallic. A couple of days a week I’d say it was the best, most subversive pop hit since Heartbreak Hotel.

Anyhow, 5th Dimension's TtR cover is exemplary. In my view, too, Lennon's ode to nasty ambivalence (with its booty-shaking underpinning pushed to 11!) fits beautifully within TMG's overall song cycle (about a tumultuous relationship), albeit as a spectacular jolt of earthy energy. Some fans have wanted TtR pushed to the TMG's margins, and apparently some editions of the album, which has even had its name changed a couple of times, have accommodated that desire. I think it works great as a side-ender/mid-point:

An odd feature of 5th Dimension's TtR cover, however, is that they change Lennon's middle eight couplet from:

She oughta think twice/She oughta do right by me.
She oughta think white/She oughta do right by me.
The punchier, full rhyme of white/right sings better than twice/right, but it's still a surprising change, after all, if full rhyme singability was the principal concern, why not go with repetition, right/right? 'White' was evidently, quite specifically chosen, but with what purpose?

On the one hand, the Fifth Dimension were unfairly/absurdly criticized at the time for being 'too white', just as many Motown acts were (see this article for some of the details; it's evident that the nasty criticism is a class thing more than a race thing, but it's still painful). On the other hand, their TtR cover (on which the players were members of the racially mixed Wrecking Crew) is the 'blackest' thing on TMG by far (insofar as we can make sense of such ideas). Presumably the rhyme substitution is making some real point or specific inside joke. But what exactly? Does anyone have the political nous about the 1967 West Coast scene to really decode this matter?

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Source Code's Saul Bass-ish poster

Apparently it was made specially for the film's SxSW premiere. Love it.

Overall, it sounds as though Source Code hits several Hitch-related nerves.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Glasser's Mirrorage

I've had a stereogum-supplied remix of this track on my ipod since last year, but have only got around to listening to it in the last week or two. Tracking down the original mix and its vid. now, it's a song of the year candidate for me in 2011. Yum.