[the palaverist]

Saturday, September 30, 2006

[because his pants say "m"]

At very long last, I think I've found an online copy of the video for "Muomnika?" ("뭡니까?") by Shim Tae-yoon (심태윤) that can actually be watched by people without the South Korean citizen ID number required to log in to many Korean sites.

Go here and click on the image of the guy with the afro who's saluting.

Once you've installed all the various ActiveX controls, you should see an unattractive man chatting amiably in a language you don't understand. Be patient. He babbles for a minute or two, but then comes the video. It's not exactly genius or anything, but it's a helluva catchy tune, and Shim's goofy little dance, silly afro and M-pants are what it's really all about. That and the Korean raggamuffin rapper with the fur gloves.

Oh, and just so you know, the name of the song means "What is it?"

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Friday, September 29, 2006

[mtv-k is here]

Some time back, I told you about MTV Desi and MTV Chi, for the South Asian-American and Chinese-American markets respectively, and I mentioned that MTV-K was in the works.

MTV-K is now here.

And, as with the other two stations, I have helpfully done the work of combing through the top-ten candidate videos, weeding out the weepy piano ballads, the overblown hip-hop extravaganzas and the talentless girl bands who mostly shake their tiny, tiny booties, and leaving you with only the gems (or at least the bearable videos).

NB that this is an IE-only exercise, and that I can't link directly to the videos, so you just have to go to the site and click on them yourself.
Big Mama have gotten a lot of attention for being overweight, ordinary-looking women with great voices in a country whose music industry has tended to reward beauty over talent. "Break Away" was their breakthrough single.

Bobby Kim has a pleasant enough voice, and "Falling in Love" is a pleasant enough song, with a pleasant enough video. Get the idea? Perfectly pleasant. Not bad. Not great, but nice. The sort of song that you would let date your daughter but not marry her.

Far East Movement is a SoCal hip-hop trio, of whom two members are Korean and one is Japanese and Chinese. They apparently did a song for Fast and Furious II: Tokyo Drift, which I somehow managed not to see. "Holla Hey" is good silly fun.

If you love Shakira's rock numbers, you'll like Jaurim's "Fan Yi Ya." Enjoy a video of an English version at their MySpace site.

"Obvious (Want You)" is a nice little punk dis from a girl who can play bass. Check out Maggie Kim's website for her cover of "Raspberry Beret."
And there you have it. Enjoy.

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Thursday, September 28, 2006

[still more of that damn korean song]

아름다음 강산 (Beautiful Rivers and Mountains) by Lee Sun Hee (이선희)

To view the videos, click on the links next to the light-blue words on the left, in the third section down from the top. Especially worthwhile is the third such link (이선희 - 아름다운 강산, 아카라카치, for those who read Korean or like to sqint) You will need to install an ActiveX control, and if you're using Firefox, you'll need to restart afterwards. IE is a better bet. Sorry it's so much trouble!

Okay, you're probably sick to death of hearing about "Beautiful Rivers and Mountains" by now, but here are three versions by the sexiest Korean woman ever, Lee Sung Hee, who has become something of a feminist hero simply for looking like an actual human being, with glasses and human hair, instead of like your typical K-pop starlets, who are all rail-thin and have fake hair. (I suppose it's no surprise that prefer the nerdy girl in glasses with the powerhouse talent underneath to the vacuous beauty queens.)

Of particular interest is the third link in the list, in which Lee performs for a World Cup crowd in 2002. It's kind of amazing to see this song, once regarded as a subversive attack on the state, performed as the centerpiece of a gigantic nationalist pageant. But then, it was also weird seeing thousands upon thousands of South Koreans urging each other to "Be the Reds." As I have said before, a sense of irony is not Korea's strong suit.

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[kim's video debut]

Any New York City film buff is familiar with Kim's Video. Especially in the days before Netflix and GreenCine, Kim's was the place to go for your obscure cinema needs.

The video chain's founder, Korean-born Yongman Kim, dropped out of an NYU Film School class that included Jim Jarmusch and Lees Ang and Spike. He has now at last gotten around to making his own film debut as director of 1/3, a psychological thriller set in the East Village and involving both a Buddhist monk and the snorting of cocaine from off someone's ass.

The film opens in New York City on Friday, October 6, at City
Cinemas Village East

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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

[있어요! / i have it!]

At last! At last I have it! From the Koryo Bookstore on West 32nd Street, I have procured a region-free, English-subtitled edition of the first Korean movie I ever saw, and one that I have wanted to see again ever since: Barking Dogs Never Bite, a.k.a. A Higher Animal, a.k.a. Dog of Flanders. More when I've actually re-watched it.

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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

[let me count the ways]

It was Elizabeth Barrett Browning who asked every English major's favorite math question: "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways." It is, of course, a question the poem utterly fails to answer, or even adequately explain.

If Browning were Korean, however, she might be able to put a number on it, or at least on the number of ways to say you love someone.

It all comes down to verb endings and their proliferation in Korean. I'm sure you're comfortable enough with verb conjugations that change the tense or person, but that's not what I'm talking about. Roadmap to Korean: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Language, by Richard Harris, provides a list of 18 different ways to say "I'm going to school" and 23 ways to ask "Do you know?". That's all with the same verb root, in the same tense and person. The shifts change the levels of politeness and formality, and some of them have subtle meaning shifts as well, like expressing surprise or leaving an open-ended feeling.

Fortunately, most of these verb endings are relatively rare. Still, it's discoveries like these that make me worry I'll never really grasp this language.


[more on shin jung-hyeon]

아름다음 강산 (Beautiful Rivers and Mountains) by 신중현 (Shin Jung-hyeon/Shin Jung-hyun) (Love, Peace & Poetry: Asian Psychedelic Music)

I have a bit more to share about Shin Jung-hyeon (신정현), the Korean singer I mentioned yesterday.

First of all, I think a better translation of the title is the more literal "Beautiful Rivers and Mountains." In fact, with Young's help, I translated the lyrics — she did a rough translation, then I went through and tried to make it into more coherent poetry, spending a lot of time flipping through my Korean-English dictionary to look at secondary meanings of words. But we'll get to the translation in a moment.

The story of the song is also interesting. It came about when Park Chung Hee (박정희), the longtime military dictator of South Korea, asked Shin Jung-hyeon to write a song in praise of the Blue House, the official residence of South Korea's president — the equivalent of a sitting U.S. president requesting a song in praise of the White House. Shin refused, which is not something to which dictators take kindly. Not long afterwards, he released "Beautiful Rivers and Mountains":
Beautiful Rivers and Mountains

Blue sky
White clouds
A thread of wind rises
To fill my heart

Blue-green leaves
Blue-green river
In this beautiful place
You're here and I'm here

Hold my hand, let's go and see, run and see that wilderness
Let's come together and speak of our new dreams

Blue sky
White clouds
A thread of wind rises
To fill my heart

Into this world
We were born
This beautiful place
This proud place
We will live

The brilliant red sun
Glitters on the white waves
Together they overflow the ocean
How good it is to live here!

I will love you with the song I sing

Today I'll go to meet you and we'll talk
Time will pass
We will live together, then fade and fall

In this everlasting place
I hunger to create
Our new dream

Spring and summer go,
Fall and winter come
Beautiful rivers and mountains!

Your heart, my heart
Your heart, my heart
Yours and mine are one heart
You and me
Our love is eternal, eternal
We are all, all in endless harmony
Now, somehow President Park got it in his head that this song was a political snub, and he probably wasn't entirely wrong. According to what Young has been able to dig up in various Korean blogs and in an interview with Shin himself, the trouble began when he and his group, The Men, performed the song live on television. Shin had shaved his head for the performance, and the backing group had put up their long hair with traditional women's hairpins, all of which was considered outrageous at the time. Park's wife saw the performance and was deeply insulted. The insult was compounded when Shin gave the song to Kim Jeong-mi (김정미), who had a reputation as a twepyejeon (퇴폐적), or decadent, and recorded the song in an exaggeratedly breathy, sexy style.

But what really did Shin in was a conviction for dealing marijuana. According to a recent interview, he played a gig at one of Korea's biggest theaters, and the many Western hippies on hand — apparently some of the hippie vagabonds on the Asian trail made it all the way to the Hermit Kingdom — gave him so much marijuana that he ended up supplying the whole Korean rock scene for a while, though never indulging himself. (This is what the man says, anyway.) Once he was busted, the authorities had every excuse to ban Shin from performing and to ban a number of his songs from being played on the radio. Still, he remained an important pop composer, and his songs were often major hits recorded by Korea's biggest stars.

The ban was finally lifted in the 1980s, when Shin began recording and performing again. In 1997, there was a major tribute concert and a renewed interest in Shin's career, and he is now widely respected as one of the most influential Korean pop artists of all time.

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Monday, September 25, 2006

[dumbo fest]

While we're on the subject of art happenings, DKNY reminded me that there is another festival coming up: the 10th Annual Art Under the Bridge Festival, put on by the DUMBO Arts Center, will be taking place on the weekend of October 13-15. (And for all you sticklers, yes, I do believe that Friday night is technically part of the weekend.)

Like AGAST, the DUMBO Festival has been thoroughly worthwhile in years past, both as an exhibition of much interesting art and as an opportunity to peek inside parts of New York you don't usually get to see. New York is a great walking city, and there are few greater ways to enjoy this town than to spend a crisp autumn day strolling from gallery to gallery in a warehousey neighborhood, eating candy corn and M&Ms that starving artists bought for you.

Try it. You won't be disappointed!

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[korean psychedelia]

아마 늦은 여름이었을 거야 (It Was Probably Late Summer) by 산울림 (Sanullim/Sanulrim) (Love, Peace & Poetry: Asian Psychedelic Music)

아름다음 강산 (Beautiful Landscape) by 신중현 (Shin Jung-hyeon/Shin Jung-hyun) (Love, Peace & Poetry: Asian Psychedelic Music)

Yesterday, in a thrift store in Park Slope, I stumbled upon a fascinating artifact of the roots of Korean pop culture: a compilation called Love, Peace & Poetry: Asian Psychedelic Music, which includes two Korean psychedelic rock songs from the 1970s. The CD is part of a series of psychedelic rock compilations from all over the world. On this volume, curator Stan Denski has also turned up tracks from Japan, Cambodia, Turkey, China and Singapore.

Today I showed my new CD to my colleague Young and was surprised to find that she recognized both Korean artists. Sanullim is a trio whose name means "mountain echo." They're well known as one of the founders of Korean rock, and this song is from their 1977 debut. When I then showed the CD to Counsellor Yoon, a music buff whose office is across the hall from mine, he immediately began humming "It Was Probably Late Summer" and told me he and his friends had seen Sanullim live back in '77 or '78.

Shin Jung-hyeong is even more important, and Young claims he's one of her favorite singers. He began his career playing for American GIs in 1955, and gradually he developed his own style, becoming the Jimi Hendrix of Korea, as Yoon put it, and launching Korean rock pretty much single-handedly.

The song showcased here, "Beautiful Landscape," is a hit from 1972 that has been widely covered. The translation of the title doesn't quite do it justice — the word used for "beauty" is the Korean rather than the Chinese term, giving it an earthy feel, while the word for "landscape" is literally "river-mountain," a much more poetic term. It's essentially a paean to the Korean landscape, but the paranoid, authoritarian regime of Park Chung Hee managed to find something wrong with it, and with similarly simple lyrics from other songs, and made Shin suffer for it.

As with the Brazilian Tropicalists who were similarly persecuted, Shin was eventually rehabilitated and today is recognized as one of Korea's greatest musicians. According to Young, he receives tributes from Korean pop stars of all stripes, who see him as an inspiration.

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Sunday, September 24, 2006

[agast again]

It's comin' round again: the Annual Gowanus Artists Studio Tour, aka AGAST, which I documented in detail last year (1, 2). I don't know whether I'll work so hard again this year, but I do intend to make the rounds. As always, I highly recommend this opportunity to see a lot of very good art and explore some of the homes and warehouse spaces scattered around the Gowanus Canal area. (Via 423 Smith.)

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[the news from iraq]

Wolf Semper Fi is a new blog by my brother-in-law Major Eric Wolf of the United States Marine Corps, who is currently at the beginning of his second tour of duty in Iraq. He is a hardworking, thoughtful, curious and competent man who manages to maintain an extraordinary optimism that is clearly a product of his very strong Christian faith. His wife is my wife's older sister, and she and their four kids are settling into a new life out in California, fortunately not far from her parents and other siblings.

On his first tour, Eric sent back fascinating emails that revealed the boots-on-the-ground experience in a vividly personal way. His job was to assess the performance of equipment in the field, see how the boys were actually using things like bulldozers and trying to learn from the improvisations how to send more useful supplies in future.

This time out, Eric is Deputy Mayor of Al-Taqaddum Airbase, a bit west of Baghdad. Already he's taught me something I didn't happen to know, which is that the camp dump is run by a small Indian firm called Blue Marines. I don't know if this matters to you in the least, but to me, this kind of detail is fascinating. If you want a window into the day-to-day bureaucratic operation of an American airbase in Iraq, written by an honest and intelligent person, check out Eric's blog.

Oh, and as for the name, the URL and the layout, that's all my work. Don't blame Eric if you hate it. He always signs his letters "Semper Fi," though, so it seemed appropriate, as did the image of the Marine emblem, the Eagle, Globe and Anchor, from an officer's dress uniform. (I thought about using a major's oak leaves, but I didn't want to presume he wouldn't be promoted.)

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Friday, September 22, 2006

[tasty treats]

Today in Gothamist, 32nd Street mainstay Mandoo Bar gets a writeup from Youngna Park, who also profiled one of the finer Carroll Gardens cuisineries, Chestnut. The reviews are written in a way that suggests English is not Ms. Park's first language, but hey, pretty pictures.

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Thursday, September 21, 2006

[why korea needs to be reunified]

[women leaders]

Minister Kang Kyung-hwa (강경화 공사님) of the Republic of Korea has been appointed UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Minister Kang was serving here at the Mission when I started, back in 2004. She is an extraordinary woman: intelligent, articulate in both English and Korean, charismatic, passionate about her work. She has been especially focused on pushing through an international Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the text of which was agreed this August after five years of negotiations. Ms. Kang's particular emphasis was on the rights of women with disabilities, and she was able to get a paragraph on the subject included in the final text.

It is presumably in recognition of this work that Minister Kang was appointed Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights. As a pro-Korean feminist, I'm personally pleased to see a powerful Korean woman coming to international prominence. On a global scale, Korea does pretty well by its women — they're educated, they have lots of professional opportunities, they vote — but for all that, there is still plenty of sexism and inequality. Minister Kang's career is part of changing that.

I also find her inspiring as a model for Jenny, who is also attractive, intelligent, hardworking and capable. Last night Jenny caught sight of an old classmate, Caolionn O'Connell, in a Nova episode about E=mc2, and it got Jenny worrying about whether she's made the right choices in life or tried hard enough.

I personally think Jenny's doing just fine. She tends to have degree envy, but unlike science majors, humanities majors who go straight to grad school tend to waste their time there. If Jenny had gone straight into grad school, it would have been to study Provençal poets some more, and that would mean that she couldn't go get her Ph.D. in something she's passionate about — Central Asian religious development, say — after she'd built up some solid knowledge about the subject. So I don't think it was a mistake for Jenny to strike out into the real world after college.

Jenny has never gone in a straight line, but that's just part of who she is: someone with wide-ranging interests and diverse talents. Still, I can understand her worry. She's building up a formidable set of skills in her current job — everything from management to programming — but what are they all for? Being good at getting things done is only meaningful if you have something meaningful to get done. And for all the value and importance of good corporate management, and of getting women into the higher echelons of the business world, I agree with Jenny that there has to be more to her life than helping insurance companies be slightly more efficient.

That's why Minister Kang is an inspiring model. Jenny and I still want to join the Foreign Service in a few years, but even if we don't, there are other ways for Jenny to follow her passions. New opportunities will arise, interesting doors will open, and Jenny will choose which ones to step through. When she does, she'll have the necessary skills to be successful. Could Jenny one day be UN Deputy High Commissioner for Something Important? Absolutely. And even though she hasn't gotten her Ph.D. yet, I think Jenny is doing all the right things to become someone like Minister Kang down the road.

Well, except for being Korean. There are some things even Jenny can't do.

But fewer than you'd think.

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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

[ridin' nerdy]

When I was maybe 10 or 11, there was this girl at summer camp named Leah Spieler. She had straight brown hair down to her shoulders that curled in at the bottom, feline eyes and pouting lips, and breasts — real, actual breasts — and so I was in love with her. We hadn't actually talked or anything, but I was still hoping to ask her to the camp dance, so when another boy, taller and more popular than me, beat me to the punch, I was devastated. I spent the night of the dance hiding in my bunk, listening over and over on my Walkman to borrowed cassettes of "Weird Al" Yankovic's first three albums.

I grew up — learning, among other things, that there is better breakup music in this world than "Slime Creatures from Outer Space" — but thankfully "Weird Al" never did. Today, from DKNY, the link for the video above arrived in my inbox, along with this note:
I'm sort of amazed that he's managed to sustain a career for, jesus, 23 years now, not to mention that he actually manages to pretty capably flow (shit, better than Fiddy). Plus it references the Star Wars Holiday Special, which I appreciate...
Likewise. And in case you're not familiar with the original song, it's "Ridin'" by Chamillionaire, featuring the ever-incomprehensible Krayzie Bone, and you can see the video here.

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Saturday, September 16, 2006

[beep-beep, mmm-beep-beep, mmm-yeah!]

BBC's coverage of Nepal is always excellent, and today is no different, as they are the only ones brave enough to cover the Nepal VW Beetle rally. Enjoy.

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[korean names]

In response to a comment from DKNY, I thought I'd do a post on how Korean names work.

In Korea, almost everyone has a three-syllable name. The first syllable is the family or clan name — Kim, Lee, Park, etc. — and the following two syllables are the personal name. So, for example, Roh is the family name of the Korean president, and Moo-hyun is his personal name; with the foreign minister, the family name is Ban, the personal name Ki-moon. They should be addressed as Mr. Roh and Mr. Ban, never as Mr. Moo-hyun or Mr. Moon, although Koreans have a tendency to make this mistake in reverse with foreigners, which meant that I was "Mistah Joshi" throughout my time in Korea. In China and Japan as well, the family name comes first, followed by the personal name.

Interestingly, this pattern of largest-to-smallest is followed throughout the Korean language. Dates are stated year-month-day-hour-minute, locations are given with the largest area first — country-prefecture-city, for example.

Occasionally Korean personal names have one syllable rather than two. This was more common historically, but seems to be out of fashion these days. Nevertheless, the Korean Mission currently has two deputy permanent representatives, Joon Oh and Cho Hyun.

With me so far? Good, because now it gets confusing, in three ways.

Word order: Unlike Koreans, Americans and Europeans put their family names last. Many Koreans who live in the West or deal frequently with Westerners have adopted our pattern. Thus, if you meet a Korean-American born here, she's probably going to introduce herself as Susan Kim, not as Kim Susan. This is straightforward when the person in question has a Western personal name, but when the whole name is still in Korean, it gets difficult. DKNY cited what is probably the most famous of such reversed names, Reverend Sun Myung Moon. His family name is Moon, and in Korean, using the official government translitaration system, his name is Mun Seon-myeong. Which leads us to our second area of confusion ...

Spelling: The South Korean government has adopted an official transliteration system that nobody likes, which replaces an older transliteration system that was full of diacritics. Koreans who want Americans to pronounce their names right have thus gotten creative. For example, though the most common spelling of the Korean family name is Park, the transliteration system would render it Bak, and in my two years at the Mission, I've also seen a Mr. Pak and a Mr. Bahk; these folks all had the same name in Korean. Probably the most famous crazily spelled Korean name is Syngman Rhee, the first president of the Republic of Korea, whose name in official transliteration would be Yi/Li/Lee Seung-man. Which leads us to our third area of confusion ...

Sinicization: It is deeply upsetting to most people when I tell them that there are, in fact, no Koreans named Lee. The name that is rendered Lee in English is in fact simply I, though that pronunciation is usually rendered Yi. The mysterious L is there because that's how the name — and its associated character — is pronounced in Chinese. This is also true of all Koreans named Lim, who are really named Im. Even weirder is that the Korean name Roh is pronounced Noh, so the current president of the Republic of Korea is, in the official transliteration system, No Mu-hyeon. (How Syngman Rhee came up with his spelling remains a mystery.)

Short note on stray E's in the transliterations: eo is pronounced like aw in awesome, eu like u in put, ae like a in save.

So now you know why he's Minister Ban, not Minister Ki-moon.

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Friday, September 15, 2006

[a groovy way to sleep]

Raga-Riff by The Punjabs [via Office Naps]

Thanks to Moistworks for alerting me, via soul sides, about an excellent music blog: Office Naps.

Devoted to obscure yet funky 45s, Office Naps offers some truly weird and fascinating music from deep in the archives of our collective musical memory. I particularly enjoyed the post about 1960s sitar grooves. For some reason it pleases me enormously that there was a group called The Punjabs back in the '60s, even if it was just a name slapped onto a cut by L.A. studio musicians.

Nice. Very nice.

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[yes, minister]

The office is currently abuzz, with everyone racing around to prepare for the arrival this afternoon of His Excellency Mr. BAN Ki-moon, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade of the Republic of Korea, as we refer to him around these parts (the caps are to prevent a recurrence of the unfortunate recent incident in which a Congolese representative referred to the Minister as "Mr. Moon").

Minister Ban will be making his longest stay ever in New York, hanging around until the early morning of the 28th. During this extended visit, he will be speaking at the United Nations General Assembly, holding bilateral meetings with as many foreign ministers as he can manage, and otherwise meeting and greeting anyone and everyone who might have some influence over the selection of the next Secretary-General. This dense schedule will no doubt keep the Mission staff ferociously busy during the next week, leaving only us scribes to twiddle our thumbs until the Minister once again heads home.

As for Minister Ban's bid to become the next Secretary-General, it's looking good at the moment. In the latest straw poll of the Security Council, Ban came out with 14 "Encourage" votes and just one "Discourage," putting him at the top of the list. The big question, of course, is whether that "Discourage" came from Japan, which has no veto power, or from either China or the United States, which as permanent members could quash his candidacy. There is always the possibility of a dark-horse candidate, but whatever happens, it looks like the Security Council will vote no later than October.

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Thursday, September 14, 2006

[korean lyrics]

So there's a rap song in Korean with a funny video. Dandy. But what the hell are they saying?

Until today, I figured the only way I would find out would be through another six years or so of diligent language study. But then I discovered Aheeyah, a database of Korean lyrics translated into English.

It doesn't have everything — no Crying Nut, for example — but it's a damn sight better than the nothing I had before.

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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

[fung wah funk]

Chinatown Bus by Project Jenny, Project Jan (EP) [via Gothamist]

China Girl (YouTube) by David Bowie (Let's Dance)

Feng Shui by Gnarls Barkley (St. Elsewhere) [via undomondo]

Fung Wah, the original Chinatown bus company, may have had some trouble lately, but it's still the cheapest way to move around the Northeast Corridor — with tolls and gas costing what they do, even driving your own car is more expensive if you're going solo — and it still carries the frisson of the exotic and forbidden. Plus you don't have to go to Port Authority, a horrible place that abuts another horrible place. Here's hoping that the era of cheap travel is merely down but not out.

So, the music. Project Jenny, Project Jan is a Brooklyn duo that offers helpful advice for Fung Wah travelers. David Bowie is some kind of space freak who offers an unhelpful narrative about his little China Girl. And Gnarls Barkley is an enormously hyped duo in goofy costumes who offer what appears to be a paean to the principles of feng shui, the Chinese art of arranging space. (I'm guessing the Lo and the Mouse would not approve of the spacial relations pictured above.)

Bonus by Request: Crazy by Gnarls Barkley (St. Elsewhere) [via clever titles are so last summer]

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So the results are in, and beyond the obvious and expected wins by Hillary Clinton and Eliot Spitzer, the biggest news is Andrew Cuomo's surprisingly big win over Mark Green in the primary for state attorney general.

In our Congressional district primary in Brooklyn, which essentially decides who will hold the seat (a Republican win here is as likely as a Democratic sweep of all public offices in Provo, Utah), City Councilwoman Yvette Clarke narrowly won the field against three opponents. It was a contentious race because the 11th District was created as a result of the Voting Rights Act and has been held by African-Americans ever since, but one of the strongest candidates was second-place finisher David Yassky, a white city council member.

The seat came open this year because Representative Major Owens is retiring. He tried to give his son, Chris Owens, the keys to the fief, but Chris never had much to offer except his crown-prince status and a tendency toward vicious campaigning. State Senator Carl Andrews was the other candidate, but he was hurt by his ties to Clarence Norman, the former Democratic Leader in Brooklyn who was convicted last year on corruption charges.

I didn't like any of the candidates, but I held my nose and voted for Yassky, who wants the Atlantic Yards project to be reduced in size (Clarke supports the project, the others are against), who has a relatively distinguished record on the city council, who didn't take over his mother's seat on said council (Clarke replaced her mom, Una Clarke), and who didn't forget to graduate from Oberlin. Nevertheless, I think Clarke is a reasonable choice and will hopefully do a decent job in Washington.

In our local state senate primary, Ken Diamondstone's expensive campaign failed to unseat Albany lifer Martin Connor.

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Sunday, September 10, 2006

[if it's in the dictionary, it must be real]

The good folks over at Merriam-Webter — you know, the people who decide what's American English — have revealed some new words for 2006, among them polyamory, which they define as "the state or practice of having more than one open romantic relationship at a time." Not a bad job for a first go at it, though I'm sure someone somewhere will be writing a furious post to a message board insisting polyamory is something else.

Other excellent new entries include drama queen, manga and ollie.


Friday, September 08, 2006

[the miseducation of cee-lo green]

Trans-DF Express (YouTube) by Dungeon Family (Even in Darkness)

Closet Freak (YouTube) by Cee-lo (Cee-Lo Green and His Perfect Imperfections)

Crazy (YouTube) by Gnarls Barkley (St. Elsewhere)

Cee-lo has finally done it. In the company of Danger Mouse, under the loopy name of Gnarls Barkley, Cee-lo has crafted one of the finest singles ever made. "Crazy" is genius, pure and simple. It achieves its effect without cameos, guitar solos, lengthy intros, psychedelic outros or bootylicious videos, in three minutes that feel like two and are over way too soon. You can dance to it, fall in love to it, break up to it, drive to it. You can play it in front of your kids, but it's not childish. The lyrics are richly allusive, deeply moving and easy to memorize. "Crazy" harks back to the tight and driving three-minute symphonies of the Phil Spector era. About the only song I can think of from the stereo era that matches its compression and force is "We Will Rock You," which hits harder but carries less transcendent emotion.

I first discovered Cee-lo in Korea. I was late to the whole Dirty South phenomenon, but in a country where Uhm Jung Hwa's (엄정화) "DaGaRa (YouTube)" (다가라) was about as funky as things ever got, we were desperate for whatever scraps of American cool came our way. When I caught Dungeon Family's "Trans-DF Express" on late-night TV, I knew I had to find the album.

Despite its cheeky reference to Kraftwerk's "Trans-Europe Express (YouTube)," "Trans-DF Express" is utterly American and a fine introduction to the startling talents of the Goodie Mob-OutKast. But even surrounded by so much talent, the unusual voice and lyrics of Cee-lo stood out. His snap ends as follows:
I wouldn't be amazing without God's amazing grace / I can travel outer space while standing in one place.
In that one couplet, Cee-lo managed to transcend the default nihilism of mainstream hip-hop, tap into the spiritualist universalism of late-sixties Black Power soul and the sci-fi tropes of seventies funk, and deliver a legitimately evangelical declaration of Christian faith. And all with a slight lisp.

Everywhere he popped up on Even in Darkness, Cee-lo brought something special, so when I caught the video for "Closet Freak" later that year, I ran out and bought his solo record as soon as I could. Unfortunately, Cee-lo Green and His Perfect Imperfections was, well, imperfect. One good single does not an album make, and Cee-lo just couldn't keep the intensity going over the length of the album. It never made it into my regular rotation, and when his next record came out, I ignored it entirely.

Considering how much the Dungeon Family has done to broaden hip-hop musically, it seems strange to suggest that Cee-lo needed a different producer, but with Danger Mouse he seems to have found his muse. Like its lead-off single, St. Elsewhere is admirable for what it omits — cameos, skits, filler — and for clocking in at just over 38 minutes. It also manages to overcome the limitations of genre, venturing as far afield as "Gone Daddy Gone," a pretty straight cover of the classic Violent Femmes song, and "Smiley Faces," which has a beat Andrew Ridgeley could dance to. Admittedly there is nothing else as good as "Crazy." But then, no one else has produced anything as good this year either.

To read more about this extraordinary song and the many cover versions it has inspired, check out Jody Rosen's article in Slate.


Wednesday, September 06, 2006

[the end of the world as we know it]

Russians (YouTube) by Sting (The Dream of the Blue Turtles)

(Nothing But) Flowers (YouTube) by Talking Heads (Naked)

My father has, from time to time, grown wistful about that beautiful period between the invention of the birth control pill and the discovery of AIDS. I try not to think too hard about what this time meant for him specifically — he was, after all, married by 1965, when he was 19 years old — but certainly I see his point.

The time between the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the fall of the Twin Towers in 2001 was a kind of political equivalent to that earlier episode. The terrifying spectre of total war, which had grown ever more sinister since it first appeared in 1914, had at last given way, while the postmodern tribal warfare of distant peoples had not yet impinged upon our society in a way we couldn't ignore.

Five years after 9/11, The Onion's AV Club has inventoried 8 Musical Artifacts That Capture What Nuclear Paranoia Felt Like At The End Of The Cold War, and it's a good reminder that though we are now afraid of finding ourselves in the middle of a terrorist bombing or abandoned by the government in the wake of a natural disaster, we are no longer terribly concerned that the end of all civilized existence is imminent (just as the arrival of AIDS didn't spell the end of the sexual revolution).

When it comes to grandiose statements of late-Cold War paranoia, Sting's paean to Russian child-loving is pretty much the cream of the crop, and I appreciate The Onion's point that "this song had the odd effect of criticizing the policy of mutually assured destruction while explaining how it worked."

A very different and much cleverer post-apocalyptic vision animates the classic Talking Heads song "(Nothing But) Flowers." It's a video that makes you keep hitting the pause button so you can read the little facts (which I suspect should be taken with a grain of salt), and it is, in Talking Heads fashion, a very clever little piece of art.

Bonus: New Wave Breakdancing

Crosseyed and Painless by Talking Heads (Remain in Light)

Girl U Want by Devo (Freedom of Choice)

Along with paranoia, the 1980s gave us hip-hop, the pop music sound that in the 1990s took over the world. But back in the early days, before "rap" was a mainstream term for a kind of music, what first got people's attention was a confluence of dance and visual art: graffiti and breakdancing.

And, curiously, it wasn't mainstream black artists who embraced it at first — you will find no breakdancing in Prince or Lionel Ritchie videos of the era — but arty white New Wave groups. The two videos above are both from albums that came out in 1980 and both feature breakdancing. The Devo video is not much more than a goofy lark, but the Talking Heads video for "Crosseyed and Painless" is a breakdance ballet of sorts. The video effects are laughable, and the dance has little to do with the actual song, but the dancers are extraordinary. And, for the record, it exhibits significant quantities of moonwalking from well before Michael Jackson released Thriller in 1982.


Tuesday, September 05, 2006

[bollywood hip-shake]

Hips Don't Lie (Live at the VMAs) (Google Video) | Hips Don't Lie (YouTube Video) by Shakira

According to the BBC, Shakira so enjoyed the Bollywood costumes and choreography she tried on (with moderate skill and success) at the MTV Video Music Awards that she is now hoping to do a Bollywood-style music video with that night's choreographer, Indian director Farah Khan (no relation to Louis Farrakhan).

Considering that Shakira has long blended genres, combining Latin, Middle Eastern, hip-hop and rock music and dance, throwing in a little Bollywood flavor should be easy enough. And I am generally in favor of artists of all stripes dabbling (1, 2, 3) in what I want to call "Indiana" but can't because a certain Midwestern state has stolen the term. I'm also generally in favor of Shakira's hips, whose veracity is open to question but whose booty-shakin' snap-and-shimmy skillz-with-a-Z are not in doubt.

I therefore look forward to seeing how this musical polymath incorporates Bollywood's masala into her multi-culti stew. (And yes, it is pleasant to think of Shakira as fusion cuisine, isn't it?)

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Previous Posts

[things i'd like to write about but haven't]
[drop the red lantern]
[how not to apply for a job]
[pop is the new alternative]
[what does it all mean?]
[national fears]
[lies, damn lies, and sound effects]
[our pakistan moment?]
[how to fail like an olympian]
[cold winters]


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