Category: Popular Culture

The Sure Thing Called Imitation

The movies that most Americans watch are like the music most Americans listen to, which are like the television shows most Americans prefer and the books most Americans purchase (but don’t have time to actually read). They’re all, in varying degrees, imitations of something that came before and had some measure of commercial success. The...

Why Entertainers Earn So Much Money

A friend who appears on a highly-rated situation comedy on television told me that every time he gets his weekly paycheck he feels as though he’s stolen something. He earns more in one week of inspired buffoonery than most people earn in a year, but even if his pay was half — or a quarter,...

The N Word

The Los Angeles Times, in a recent review of a live concert, mentioned that the rapper Kanye West performed one of his songs in a “G-rated” version. The audience, however, sang the choruses for him including the original lyrics, which, the reporter noted, contain numerous mentions of “the N-word.” Stories about West in the paper...

The Life Coach

Not long ago a new instructor at the local gym introduced herself as a Pilates teacher, kickboxing trainer, and life coach. This being Los Angeles, all three professions are common, but the life coaching bit is a newer phenomenon, newer even than pierced lips. I don’t know what training one needs to become a life...

Learning from Piracy

In a gesture of international goodwill — and because there’s a big trade meeting coming up — the Chinese government recently shut down an enormous bazaar in Shanghai that exclusively offered counterfeit goods. Merchants and shoppers admitted to reporters that the closure would be momentarily inconvenient but that the bazaar would soon move to another...

Vocalizing Versus Singing

Beautiful vocalizing is often mistaken for beautiful singing. Both sonic phenomena require the production of a ringing tone that exploits the peculiar vibration of the ligaments and muscles — the cords — at the back of the human mouth. Both require an acute sensitivity to intonation (being “in tune”). And both demand a steady flow...

The Mathematics of Jazz Radio Programming

Last week in this space, I posted an essay describing the disheartening difficulty in getting independent releases evaluated for jazz radio airplay. The crux of my complaint wasn’t that our nation’s jazz music programmers have bad ears, it was that they don’t use them enough. The main problem is that submissions to the hundreds of...

The Perspective of a Tiny Jazz Record Label

I run a tiny jazz record label called FreeHam Records, which recently released new albums by Zaxariades (“Mr. Z”) and Charmaine Clamor (“Searching for the Soul”). Hundreds of individuals like me dedicate much of their life (and most of their savings!) to jazz music, with no realistic expectation that it will ever earn a penny...

Colorblind Music

No matter how insistently racism tries to insert itself into our social interactions, a few transcendent arenas remain where the truth is immune to strenuously repeated stereotypes and preconceived notions. One of these rare places is music. Either you swing or you don’t; you’ve got soul or not. There’s no faking it. Jazz and blues...

Arab Madness

The recent fuss over Dubai Ports World, a well-known shipping company based in the United Arab Emirates, illustrates once again that the facts never get in the way of a good story. Or, depending on your outlook, a bad one. Sadly, our news media, increasingly rabid for the ratings that drive corporate profits, seems more...