Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Fun With WMP

Unlike virtually everyone else I've ever met, I primarily use Windows Media Player to organize and listen to my digital music collection. I've got iTunes, too, and I use that maybe 20% of the time, mostly to burn CDs and sync with my iPod. But I've been stuck with WMP since 2001, before iTunes even came out for Windows -- partly because of the whole learning effects thing (I know how to use it) and partly because WMP works uncommonly well at organizing a large music collection. In particular, my collection spans multiple hard drives -- which iTunes just doesn't do as well. (At least, I don't know how to make it do it as well).

As it turns out, Windows Media Player 11 Beta has recently been released. There are things about it that drive me nuts -- for example, the "monitor folders" feature has improved, but it's impossible to easily add just one file or folder to your library. Instead, it scans your entire collection to see if you've added one new track. Eventually, I figured out a fix -- you have to disable the monitor folders feature for most of your folders. Which is sort of like shooting your horse so you can get in the saddle. But I digress.

What WMP 11 does particularly well -- once you figure out the meant-to-be-intuitive-but-really-isn't interface -- is give you multiple views on your music. For example, you can choose to view by album, album artist, contributing artist, year released, etc. -- then re-sort within each grouping. The sorting doesn't just change the order, but also groups each category entry together. So, for example, if I sort by Artist, then select "The Flaming Lips," then sort by year, it'll group all of the entries according to the year released, with little subheadlines for each category: "2003," "2004," etc.

So recently, I selected "Artist," then sorted by total number of tracks -- so I can see which artists take up the most space (at least by track number -- I could also do it by total file size). Some of the results in my top 20 were a little surprising:

1) Various Artists -- 1706 tracks. (Duh. This includes compilations, box sets, etc.)
2) Bob Dylan -- 450
3) The Beach Boys -- 298
4) The Beatles -- 294
5) The Rolling Stones -- 248
6) The Mountain Goats -- 224
7) Pavement -- 194
8) The Flaming Lips -- 190
9) Talking Heads -- 179
10) Yo La Tengo -- 178
11) Dylan Thomas -- 173
(I downloaded a free box set of Dylan Thomas recordings about a year ago.)
12) Johnny Cash -- 172
13) The Who -- 165
14) David Bowie -- 159
15) The Kinks -- 154
16) Guided By Voices -- 152
17 [tie]) John Lennon -- 149
17 [tie]) Magnetic Fields -- 149
19 [tie]) Original Soundtrack -- 143
19 [tie]) Smog -- 143
The Mountain Goats at #6 were the big surprise for me -- I mean, yeah, John Darnielle and co. are prolific, and I have most of their stuff, but it's mostly attributable to the fact that (like Guided By Voices) The Mountain Goats write really short songs. If you re-sort by total time, they drop below the top 20, while John Coltrane and Miles Davis shoot to near the top. Guided By Voices' 152 tracks only wind up being about 5 1/2 hours of music -- Jim O'Rourke covers almost an hour more with only 36 tracks.

Likewise, I was surprised by The Beach Boys -- I'm a huge fan, but not a completist of theirs at all, and I don't think I have more than three of their studio albums. It's buttressed by a couple of box sets and the complete bootleg sessions for Smile and Pet Sounds. But I still would have thought that Dylan would have blown them away by much more than he did.

Surprises at the low end -- only twelve tracks each from The Breeders and The Sex Pistols -- which, when I was a teenager, I thought were two of the greatest bands ever. (I've got a cassette of Last Splash around here somewhere.) And only six from Ornette Coleman (The Shape of Jazz to Come), eight from Rod Stewart (Every Picture Tells A Story -- a criminally underrated album by an artist who, when he was good, was very, very good), and just thirteen from Paul McCartney. Apparently I don't have any of Sir Paul's solo stuff except Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, which came out last year. A situation I shall have to remedy.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

More Music: Songs about NYC

Alright, kids; I've got another mix CD for any and all interested. This one I made over the past six months for my sister Kelly, who moved to New York City late last year. It's called All Directions at the Same Time, and it's chock full of songs about New York -- mostly songs about moving to New York. I also tried to stay away from some of the tried-and-true pop standards (Sinatra, etc.). Also, to make it manageable, I picked (again) a generic focus on indie and classic rock, plus some soul and disco sides.

This one also includes an album cover, in the form of a Microsoft Excel file I made, which you can print up if you dig it and want to make your own CD.

Lastly, I would love to hear what anyone who downloads these albums thinks about them -- feel free to comment, criticize, suggest alternatives, etc.


1. "New York City" (Home Recording) -- John Lennon
2. "Marching Bands of Manhattan" -- Death Cab for Cutie
3. "The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth" -- Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
4. "Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard" -- Paul Simon
5. "Song for Myla Goldberg" -- The Decemberists
6. "Living for the City" -- Stevie Wonder
7. "Stayin' Alive" -- The Bee Gees
8. "The Big Country" -- Talking Heads
9. "Hard to Explain" -- The Strokes
10. "The Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side" -- Magnetic Fields
11. "Chicago" -- Sufjan Stevens
12. "Poses" -- Rufus Wainwright
13. "We've Been Had" -- The Walkmen
14. "NYC" -- Interpol
15. "Waltzing Matilda" (Short Version) -- Lou Reed
16. "When You Got to New York" -- Saturday Looks Good to Me
17. "The Irish Rover" -- The Pogues/The Dubliners
18. "100,000 Fireflies" -- Magnetic Fields
19. "After Hours" -- The Velvet Underground

Monday, May 15, 2006


Surprise is the title of the new Paul Simon record -- just released Tuesday -- and it is freakin' great. Stephen Thomas Erlewine at All Music Guide has two nice write-ups of the album: an enthusiastic review and a timeline comparison of Simon's career with that of his surprising collaborator on Surprise, legendary glam-to-prog-to-punk-to-ambient-to-producing U2 electronics innovator Brian Eno.

I don't know if anyone in the history of pop music has been as consistently good for as long over the course of a career as Paul Simon. All of the other long-career greats -- Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Johnny Cash, The Rolling Stones, Neil Young, Madonna, Prince, David Bowie -- had stretches or at least whole albums that even most diehard fans would rather forget. In 35 years as a solo artist, Paul Simon has released ten albums. None are bad, and if you strike Songs From the Capeman and One Trick Pony, songs associated with a musical and movie, respectively, you have eight albums that nearly everyone acknowledges to be great, and at least three -- Paul Simon, There Goes Rhymin' Simon, and Graceland -- widely considered to be among the very best of their era, even outright masterpieces.

I think Surprise needs to be considered in those same terms. I don't know whether everyone will like it. You have to get over a few things. Most of the album doesn't really jump way over the line in terms of sonic experimentation -- the closest parallels I can think of to its overall sound are Dylan's two albums with Daniel Lanois (Oh Mercy, Time Out Of Mind), albeit leaning towards Eno's production work on Talking Heads's Remain In Light or U2's Achtung Baby. It's listener-friendly, perfect for the slightly graying progressive audience already warmed up by indie composers like Sufjan Stevens on NPR. When I first heard the opening riffs of "Outrageous" (Track #3), the implausibility of the nearly 65-year old Simon sassy-skatting over punk-funk guitar took me aback. But by the time you get to the classic-Simon chorus (I predict that virtually everyone will call this song "Who's Gonna Love You When Your Looks Are Gone?"), all is forgiven. The push-pull between Eno and Simon is like that over the whole album: two aging superstars stretching their limits and showing the kids how it's done. I told some friends the other day that it was like going to a family wedding and watching your parents get up, go to the dance floor, and start to break dance. You just can't entirely believe it.

Simon's always occasionally dipped into the well of funk, albeit more often Spanish-inflected grooves than Parliament-Funkadelic. But the music on this album, while as sweet and wry and smart as anything that's come before, has an overt aggression that Simon's almost always masked. The drums, electronics, and guitar that kicks in at the end of standout "How Can You Live in the Northeast?" sounds closer to Zeppelin's "When the Levee Breaks" or The Smiths' "How Soon Is Now?" than anyone could have expected to hear. Yet the album still has the same lyrical and intellectual preoccupations: aging, relationships, God, history, escape, family, America. Simon's always had a sharp edge in his lyrics that people often miss -- here the razor just sticks out a little farther from the candy wrapper. There's a terrific line on another great track, "Once Upon A Time There Was an Ocean," that sums it all up:

I figure that once upon a time I was an ocean.
But now I'm a mountain range.
Something unstoppable set into motion.
Nothing is different, yet everything's changed.
That's Paul Simon, and that's this album. Very highly recommended.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Hot Naked Greek Brotherly Love

More in Philly-gazing news: the Philadelphia Daily News's cover story is on Philly's not inconsiderable chances of winning the bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics.

From the article:

Let's play ball: Who can argue with a region where so much is already in place? The sports complex offers a great opportunity to consolidate, and the Navy Yard offers the kinds of acreage that could handle an Olympic Village and track and field stadium. Then there's Franklin Field and the Palestra, a number of universities with new facilities, plus the Convention Center and Fairmount Park. And what better test of an Olympic cyclist or triathlete than the Manayunk Wall?

A TV network's dream: With sites recently in Nagano, Sydney, Athens and Turin, and bound for Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012, Olympics viewers have learned to do two things: Buy TiVo or learn to enjoy events on taped delay. An East Coast venue would do wonders for live TV and a subsequently bigger audience.

Tolerable summers: OK, so the temperature does occasionally creep into the 90s. But what's the last hot spell you remember? Overall, you can't argue with a climate that's accommodating to everything from soccer to cycling to track and field.

Great track record: OK, it's not quite on the grand scale of the Olympics, but supporters obviously were cheered by the overall grades the city received for handling Live 8 and the Republican National Convention. Both serve as a springboard to this interest in a bid for the Summer Games.

It's Philly's time: With the 2012 Games going to London and the 2020 and the 2024 Games seemingly bound for cities in Africa and South America, the 2016 Games seem to be the USA's to lose.

So why not Philly? Will Bunch knows why:
(I)t is the rest of the world that will decide whether Philly gets the 2016 Olympics.

And the rest of the world hates America today, and probably won't like us much better when the votes are cast in 2009.

Our Olympic hopes are dead on arrival -- and for once it's not even Philadelphia's fault. It's those clowns 130 miles to the south of us.
But even still, let's look at the bright side -- Philadelphia hasn't had this kind of optimism since Ed Rendell was mayor back in the 1990s -- and then, it was really an optimism of last resort. When Philadelphia doesn't feel itself to be personally hated by the rest of the world, and when Philadelphians, including the Philly's snarkiest news blogger, can't even really muster up the energy to hate themselves, you know things are looking up... Or the end is near.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

This, Too, May Come Into the Light

The first two paragraphs of this NYT story ("Rove Is Using Threat of Loss to Stir G.O.P. ") took me by surprise:

WASHINGTON, May 5 — To anyone who doubts the stakes for the White House in this year's midterm Congressional elections, consider that Representative John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, the Democrat who would become chairman of the Judiciary Committee if his party recaptured the House, has called for an inquiry into the possible impeachment of President Bush over the war in Iraq.

Or listen to Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, who would run the Senate Judiciary Committee if the Democrats took the Senate. Mr. Leahy vowed in a recent interview to subpoena top administration officials, if he got the chance, to answer more questions about their secret eavesdropping program and what he considers faulty prewar intelligence.

My reaction was -- of course fear of these things will motivate the Republican base. But I wonder whether the Democrats could/should use this -- in direct mail, if nowhere else -- as a positive motivation to turn out Dems and others disgusted with the Bush White House.

Tired of the Bush administration stonewalling questions about warrantless eavesdropping or the war in Iraq? Support your local Democrats in the 2006 election.
Then we just might be able to get some answers -- and some real accountability.

Mix CD #1: The Book I Read

Longtime readers of Short Schrift know that I sometimes blog about music, but that this has never been a music blog. This week and periodically hereafter, I'm going to try to mix things up a little bit by including links to some of the mix CDs I occasionally tinker with and distribute to friends. The first project is my most recent completed mix, but one I've been fooling around with for a long time: a collection of my favorite songs about books.

The Book I Read -- named after a favorite song by Talking Heads (included here) -- mostly foregoes songs referencing individual books ("Romeo and Juliet," etc.) in favor of songs that contain notable but passing references to books, writing, or reading. I'm especially fond of songs that physically describe reading or use books (or a book, or reading) as a well-framed/-phrased conceit to describe or make an analogy to something else.

Also, there are two songs on this version of the album that don't use the word "book" or mention books at all in the lyrics. One is "Read, Eat, Sleep" by The Books. (How "books" figure here is I think self-explanatory.) The other is one of the New York demo versions of Bob Dylan's "Idiot Wind." The album version features the line "I can't feel you anymore, I can't even touch the books you've read." It isn't included in the demo, but you can imagine that line here as present in its absence, keeping close company with "Someone's got it in for me, they're planting stories in the press" and "Idiot wind, blowing through the dust upon our shelves." Ah, intertextuality. Gotta love it.

Of course, the disc skews towards my musical likes -- virtually all of my favorite bands and artists are represented, and some of my favorite songs. There's blues, soul, folk, and some acoustic-electronic stuff, but it's mostly filled with classic pop and indie rock. I broke mix CD form a little bit by including two Beatles tracks, but they have two different primary singers, and c'mon -- it's The Beatles. Not including more than one Belle and Sebastian track was tough -- I think they have more songs mentioning books or with the word "book" in the title than any other band -- but in the end, it was easy to choose "Put the Book Back on the Shelf" as both the B&S selection and album closer.

An earlier version also had The Decemberists' "Song for Myla Goldberg" -- I struck it in favor of Joanna Newsom's "This Side of the Blue" both because I was including "Myla Goldberg" on another disc I've recently completed all about New York City, and because my good friend Brandon Kelley reminded me that Newsom's line about Camus was better than I remembered it being.


1) "John the Revelator" -- Son House
2) "The Book of Love" -- The Monotones
3) "The Book I Read" -- Talking Heads
4) "The Way You Do the Things You Do" -- The Temptations
5) "Picture Book" -- The Kinks
6) "My Book" -- The Beautiful South
7) "Everyday I Write the Book" -- Elvis Costello
8) "Paperback Writer" -- The Beatles
9) "Cemetry Gates" -- The Smiths
10) "The Obvious Child" -- Paul Simon
11) "This Side of the Blue" -- Joanna Newsom
12) "Read, Eat, Sleep" -- The Books
13) "The Book Lovers" -- Broadcast
14) "A Day in the Life" -- The Beatles
15) "Some Kinda Love" -- The Velvet Underground
16) "Idiot Wind" -- Bob Dylan
17) "Pink Bullets" -- The Shins
18) "Poor Places" -- Wilco
19) "The Book of Love" -- Magnetic Fields
20) "Put the Book Back on the Shelf" -- Belle and Sebastian
Most of you are probably familiar with how RapidShare works, but in case you aren't:
1) follow the link above,
2) Scroll down and click the button marked "Free",
3) Wait around 60 seconds for a download-ticket to clear,
4) Enter the three-character security code,
5) Download and unzip the compressed file,
6) Listen on your computer, mp3 player, or roll your own ~80-min CD.
Also note: I believe the file for "Some Kinda Love" lists the artist as "W.E.B. Dubois" instead of "The Velvet Underground." It's an easy fix; I was, uh, thinking of something else. Enjoy.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Language and the Erotic Body

Saturday (May 6) is Sigmund Freud's 150th birthday, and Marty Moss-Coane -- Philadelphia's stalwart Charlie Rose-meets-granola-mom NPR/PBS interviewer -- hosted two professors of mine, Liliane Weissberg and Jean-Michel Rabaté, for an hour to talk about Freud's thought, its influence, etc., in an academic way for a non-academic audience.

So if you're at all interested in "the deep eroticism of everyday life," how "Freud does not equal Freud," why The Interpretation of Dreams is both "Freud's autobiography" and "the book of the 20th century," how Freud may or may not have invented neuropsychology, or just wondering why in the world anyone in literature departments is still interested in Freud, I heartily encourage you to check it out.

And since this is partly tied into people who figure in my academic career, I have footnotes.


1) Moss-Coane mispronounces Liliane's name: it's actually "Lily-Ahnna."

2) You can see that Liliane and Jean-Michel are as noteworthy for their accents as the acuteness of their wits. I'm especially fond of Jean-Michel's "Yes!" and Liliane's "Well..." You can tell a lot about their personalities from their two favorite interjections.

3) Every Penn undergrad talks and sounds exactly like the first telephone caller.


It's short, but this Reuters article ("Hollywood wonders, 'what would Jesus direct?'") is one of the better analyses I've seen of the trend towards Christian-friendly (and from Christian-friendly to Christian-targeting) movies from Hollywood. And it includes a coinage -- "godsploitation" -- that I am hoping and praying to Jesus will take root among the moviegoing and moviemaking culture.

Two highlights, both from Jonathan Bock, head of the marketing company Grace Hill Media:

On Sunday, 43 percent of America was in church... For studios to not recognize that [Christians are] an audience is like them saying, 'We're not marketing movies to men'...

There were these 'blaxploitation' films made for very small budgets, then (it went) through maybe you can make a buddy comedy, and (then you) get to the point where stories of African-Americans could be out there... There have been movies made that were low budget, lets call them 'Godsploitation films.' If they make money, they'll try more...

Hollywood, meet Christianity; Christianity, Hollywood. We know the two of you've had your differences in the past, but we hope the two of you will bond -- if nothing else, over your aspirations to universality and your lapses into shallow-minded cynicism.

Now, play nice -- or at least nicer than either of you did with science. Look at him, he's crying. Go apologize.

Update: Talk about shallow-minded cynicism -- go look at this douchebag. Right down to the soulpatch.

You know who else rocked the soulpatch? Satan himself. Since then it's been the mark of assholes everywhere. So we may know them by their ridiculous faces. And people think we should be afraid of Opus Dei or scientology. This is the guy who's going to fuck up our universe -- him and the teeming millions just like him.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Roll, Roll, Roll and Go

I just came out of what was really a quite good neighborhood group meeting, and I'm feeling charged. Now normally, neighborhood group meetings are now as they always have been -- awful. Even when they're productive, they're awful: people want to talk longer than they should, everyone has long-standing feuds, and they usually degenerate into incommensurate expectations. One person wants to talk about encouraging an increase property values while another is worried about increasing property taxes. One person wants to increase parking, and another wants to save every tree, shrub, and flower. If somebody wants to examine a copy of the group charter and apply for nonprofit status, the other complains that no one sent her neighbor a card while she was sick. And so it goes.

But there's a lot of excitement in our corner of Philadelphia -- home prices are going way, way up, homes are being renovated and kept or sold, younger people are moving in, including more white people and gay people than anyone's ever seen. At the same time, however, the older and established residents of our neighborhood, especially those who own their homes, are open, welcoming, and inclusive -- partly because it's long been an established middle-class neighborhood (if once but no longer an inexpensive one) and home values aren't shooting up so fast that they're creating vast inequalities in wealth and income, or radically changing the neighborhood's racial makeup -- as many middle-class black families are moving in as white ones. Also, the size and spacing of our houses is sufficient such that three houses turning over on a single block in the course of a year can make a big impact without being (as in some blocks of Center City Philadelphia) an unmanageable deluge. We seem to be pulling off a surge in development without full-fledged gentrification, which is kind of like economic growth without inflation -- as elusive as it is precious.

There's also political excitement in Philadelphia, too, with a full-blown mayoral race. Well, actually, it's not really full-blown. There's no Republican candidate in sight, and none of the Democratic candidates have officially declared their candidacy, due to an interpretation of Philly's new campaign finance reform bill that says its provisions only apply to "declared" candidates for mayor. Hence, the mayoral candidates are all "exploring" a mayoral run until the deadline to declare. Likewise, declared mayoral candidates have to resign from city council positions -- hence my favorite councilman Michael Nutter, who is obeying the donation limits set by the campaign law -- and is party to a lawsuit suing the other candidates to do the same -- isn't an officially declared candidate either. Welcome to Philadelphia.

There's been lots of political infighting, too. Essentially, there are three -- well, at least three -- Democratic parties in Philadelphia.

1) There are the labor guys, mostly white, who usually represent South Philadelphia and the Northeast. John Dougherty (aka "Johnny Doc") is the mayoral candidate from this group. Rick Mariano, a city council member who was recently convicted and jailed on corruption charges (he traded a plug for Erie Steel for a ~$25,000 loan to pay off credit card debts), was also big with the electrician's union and had close ties to Dougherty.

2) There's the established and mostly black political elite, mostly established in the Northwest part of the city where I live. It's all about committee members, ward bosses, relationships between state, local, and federal representatives, the city council's office, and the mayor -- everyone knows each other, and they run it very much like an old-fashioned political party, deciding on candidates, who will run, who will win -- at least until recently. Kia Gregory in a March issue of Philadelphia Weekly had a great write-up about Philly's Northwest Alliance and their feud with the third Democratic party in Philadelphia, which is...

3) The independent but increasingly powerful independent political operation in West Philadelphia run by U.S. Representative (and current Mayor John Street-anointed) Chaka Fattah. Fattah's people have their own networks, hire and support their own staffers, and increasingly compete with the Northwest Dems for turf. And there's probably a fourth Democratic party -- every once in a while the well-moneyed and well-educated white people in Chestnut Hill or Center City field a candidate independent of the major power bases of the party. Like Tom Knox, for instance. Although most of the people I know from this group support Nutter, who's reform-minded and pro-business; it's just that Nutter's scruples have both kept him from raising serious bank and alienated him from the political kingmakers whose support he'll ultimately need.

Anyways, that's what's happening around here. I remember in 2002 telling some friends that it was an exciting time to be living in Philadelphia, and an especially an exciting time to be on my South Philly street, which at the time was in the birth pangs of gentrification and is almost unrecognizable today. In 2003, Republican Sam Katz and John Street squared off, and Street ultimately swept to victory when it was determined that his office had been secretly wiretapped in he course of a federal corruption investigation. Anti-Republican paranoia and the feeling that someone was playing dirty politics -- hell, everyone already knew that Street was dirty -- turned turnout tumescent among the Dems, and we got John Street -- who really is the Democratic city equivalent of George W. Bush, a nice guy who's not very effective and doesn't always seem too bright, and who's up to his eyeballs in crooked shit that you can't ever really stick him with -- for four more years. Four years after I moved to Philly, going into 2007, the times have changed, and my street has changed, but I still feel just as excited to be living here.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Like she's Clarence Darrow

Best New York Times headline ever:

Anna Nicole Smith Wins Supreme Court Case

Need I say more?