Live Free or Die Is Shit Hot Funny

lfod.jpgThere’s nothing like seeing your town on the big screen, and for many in attendance at the “Live Free Or Die” premiere tonight at the Claremont Cinema, that was the only draw. It isn’t a film for all tastes, and the old-timers sat patiently through moref F-bombs in 90 minutes than they’d probably heard in their entire lives.

All for a glimpse of Shirley’s Donut Shop – now that’s what I call dedication.

The film’s profanity certainly shocked a few people, but that’s the way a guy like fast-talking loser John “Rugged” Rudgate would operate. It’s to the credit of Greg Kavet and Andy Robin , who wrote and directed “Live Free Or Die,” that they didn’t flinch when creating him. Played perfectly by Aaron Stanford (“The Hills Have Eyes”), small-time criminal Rugged blusters with nearly every breath as he plots low-margin scams and pays his rent with ill-gotten state liquor store rebate checks. All the while, a real crime wave grows around him in a parallel universe; it’s a neighborhood Rugged will, of course, ultimately stumble into – and at just the wrong time.

Stanford’s good, but it’s Paul Schneider (“Family Stone,” “Elizabethtown”) who quietly steals scene after scene as Rugged’s reluctant sidekick, the dimwitted Lagrand. Schneider helps give the film a “Napoleon Dynamite” meets “Blood Simple” charm. It has the Coen Brothers’ sensibilities, but without the wood chipper that turned happy-go-lucky “Fargo” into Midwestern Gothic.

Contributions from top-notch character actors like Judah Friedlander (“American Splendor”), who has a memorable turn as a foul-mouthed hardware store owner, and Ultimate Fight Club wannabe Alex Gazaniga, played with equal parts stupid and sinister by Ebon Moss-Bachrach (“Mona Lisa Smile”), could well lift “Live Free or Die” from a cult sensation (it won Best Narrative at the last years SXSW) to a solid smash on a par with “Clerks” or “Garden State.” The writing’s certainly good enough, and the performances are dead-on.

I only wish Zooey Deschanel (“Elf,” “Failure to Launch”) had gotten more on-screen time as Cheryl, Lagrand’s sister and apparently the only competent adult in the fictional town of Rutland who isn’t a police officer. On that last note, there were plenty of Claremonters in Monday’s crowd chortling hard at THAT bit of dramatic license.

What I’m ultimately saying is that you should go see “Live Free or Die” when it opens in Claremont, Lebanon, Concord and Portsmouth this weekend – and not because it was filmed in Claremont, New Hampshire. Hell, I’d hate for this film to be the only reference point for people who don’t live here.

See it because it’s a shit hot funny movie.

Clinton DMCA Architect’s Mea Culpa

geist.jpgLeave it to Canada to bring some clarity to the ongoing U.S. copyright debate. McGill University in Montreal hosted a “Digital Dystopia” seminar last week. The money quote swirling around the Internets is, of course, Bruce Lehman’s – “I’m afraid our Clinton Administration policies didn’t work out very well,” said the architect of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Ironically, he prefaced that statement with the hope that his remarks “won’t be quoted in the American press” – guess he isn’t as tech-savvy as he’d like to think.

Lehman said, “I think at least with regard to music, I believe that we are in, if not entering the post-copyright era.” He also observed that in the pre-copyright era of Mozart and Beethoven, patronage made the arts possible, but artists themselves were quite undervalued. Now, of course, the Internet has made musical performers paramount, and they now have more control their own destinies. But like Springsteen today, Mozart had to tour to make the really big bucks.

“In the absence of copyright,” said Lehman, “there will be a new form of patronage for industries that require music for their business.” Lehman went on to observe that the policy failures weren’t the fault of consumers as much as it was the industry’s failure to adapt to emerging technologies:

We’re going that way because people have lost respect for the copyright laws. But I don’t just blame college students and teenagers for this. I blame the moguls in the music industry, because had they been thinking about these business models when we were doing our work in 1994 in the Clinton Administration, had they been working on effective online distribution models when the Internet first came into business … perhaps we would not be in the situation that we are. But the culture of that industry was such that those people were concerned with developing artists and public taste. They weren’t interested in technology – minions did that.

Michael Geist has a nice summary on his blog, and he also delivers an effective riposte to Lehman and Canadian Patent Trademark Office representative Ann Chidowitz, who is a much more strident defender of the old order:

When our security researchers spend a third of their time talking to lawyers about what they can and cannot say I think you’ve got a problem. I think you’ve got a problem when someone like Felton (a Princeton security researcher) knew about Sony’s rootkit problem [for] months” before it became public in a blog.

Geist talks about the many ways this stifles innovation. “It’s the untold stories of the DMCA that are the most harmful,” he says.

Check out the entire 3 hours on Google Video.

Today’s Free Download – Marnie Stern

In Advance of the Broken Arm

If this song’s title is true, then I’m truly bummed – I can barely understand what Marnie Stern is singing. But “Every Single Line Means Something” is punchy, aggressive pop, a three minute and forty second tantrum that gets more addictive with every listen.

Marnie’s got Rage Against The Machine’s slash-and-burn guitar ethics, paired with an updated Lene Lovich hiccuping vocal style. The short strum/slap guitar bridge mid-song is hypnotic. It’s like getting thrown in a cauldron and getting bitch slapped by the girl you thought you were making points with.

Download “Every Single Line Means Something” (mp3)
from “In Advance of the Broken Arm”
by Marnie Stern
Kill Rock Stars

More On This Album

NMPA Sues XM

Time-traveling back to 1979 in an attempt to re-fight the cassette tax legal battle, there’s another music biz lawsuit happening.  This time the National Music Publishers Assocition, or NMPA,  has sued XM Radio for making a device that’s able to record broadcasts.  Via ARS Technica comes this precious quote:

“Filing a lawsuit was our last resort, but we felt that we had no choice,” said David Israelite, NMPA president and CEO. “We want new technologies to succeed, but it can’t be at the expense of the creators of music. All that we ask is that music publishers and songwriters be fairly compensated for their efforts.”

What Israelite really means is that new technology can only succeed as long as it doesn’t change anything.  Seriously, though, these guys have been trying to skim from any and all duplication technologies since the advent of the piano roll.  It’s not like XM isn’t paying royalties – they pony up plenty.  NMPA, like RIAA, doesn’t appreciate paradigm shifts unless they don’t cost them a dime.

The notion of NMPA’s enthusiasm for the new electronic order is as laughable as George W. Bush calling for “bipartisanship.”  It means the same thing – in Bush’s case, “putting political differences aside” really means “shut up and do what I say.”  ARS Technica’s Eric Bangeman  sums it up quite well in his piece:

Despite assurances from music publishers that they “want new technologies to succeed,” the music industry has demonstrated that they are opposed to any and all devices that pose a threat to their business model. New technologies and devices are fine and dandy, as long as they allow the music industry to control how, when, and where we listen to their offerings.

In RIAA Protest, Chicago’s 9 FM Bans CD Giveaways

In a post-millennial update to the Loop’s legendary 1979 “Disco Sucks” record-smashing party, NewsWeb Radio Company’s 9 FM in Chicago has banned CD giveaways and invited any and all past winners to return their discs; they’ll get a station T-shirt for their efforts. Via FMQB:

“When I read that the RIAA and SoundExchange needed money so badly that they were going to price gouge independent Web streamers and radio stations who stream online, I knew we had to do our part,” said Matt DuBiel, Director of Programming for 9 FM. “In the face of the RIAA’s struggles, it just doesn’t seem fair for us to be giving away CDs (for free) to music fans fully capable of paying for the music themselves. We’re inviting everyone who has won a CD from 9 FM or any other radio station in Chicago this year, to return it to us and we’ll exchange it for a 9 FM t-shirt and give the CDs back to the RIAA. Radio stations need to be able to stream online affordably.”

One piece of advice to fans sending back their discs – be sure to rip them to MP3 first!

Ten Minutes With Mary Chapin Carpenter

Mary Chapin Carpenter’s tour in support of her new CD “The Calling” will make several New England stops, beginning tomorrow night in Northampton, Massachusetts.

Mary Chapin graciously took time out from tour preparations – “the bus is waiting outside,” she said – to speak with me yesterday (Thursday, March 22, 2007).

The songs on the new album date back to 2004, when you were opening shows with “Why Shouldn’t We?” How did “The Calling” evolve?

When I finished “Why Shouldn’t We?”, I had a very strong suspiscion that I wanted it to be on a record, whatever that was. A year or two passed, and I really started working in earnest. In terms of how it all came about, I don’t really have a pat answer for that, but just the same way all records come about – you just start writing. Things kind of come to you. For the first time, actually, I had a lot more songs going into the studio than I’ve ever had before. Usually I have barely two extra songs. This time I had 23 songs going in, assuming I’d use 13. Matt, my co-producer and I narrowed it down. These were the songs that made the cut.

You mention the author Anne Lamott (“Bird by Bird,” “Traveling Mercies”) in the new CD’s liner notes, and I detect her philosophical essence on a lot of the songs – is this the case?

Annie and I have been friends for the last couple of years, we’ve done shows together. It’s great fun, it’s called “Words and Music,” and she’ll read and I’ll play a song or two. I’ve also done that with Billy Collins, our poet laureate. Annie is someone I absolutely adore, I love her work, and it was just a wonderful thing to finally get together and do these shows together. I feel that we’re kindred spirits (laughs). I don’t know if we could do what we do together if we didn’t feel that way.

You’ve described your music as “personal yet universal,” yet “On With the Song” is very direct – how did it come about?

Well, I was I guess the best way to describe it was that I was kind of at the end of my rope. I just felt a lot of despair at what was going on in these last few years with our country and the world, the war in Iraq and this very secretive administration, and I just felt great frustration. One day, that’s the song that came out. It was just a moment where I felt I had to put everything I felt on paper.

You dedicate the record to your father, Chapin Carpenter – how did he influence you?

My father’s a guy who’s always … I have three sisters, and we all do different things. I think that I tried to figure out how our parents didn’t lose their wits bringing us up, because we were a handful. Our folks were just very supportive of us, whatever endeavor we were undertaking. My father, for example, never said to me when I was stopping by his house four nights out of five to get dinner because I couldn’t afford to buy groceries on my own, he never said to me, go get a real job. He was very supportive of me just trying to find my way playing in clubs around Washington and doing open mikes and temping during the day, and trying to figure out what I wanted to do with myself. He never lost patience with that. I know a lot friends and artists, you hear stories about people who said, “my parents never gave me any support, they just didn’t believe in the same things that I believed in, about myself or for myself.” I just feel it’s very important, I wanted my father … he knows how I feel, and I’ve alwayas appreciated everything he’s done for me, but I wanted it in print. Because he’s always been such a great support.

After almost 20 years with Columbia Records, you’ve moved to Rounder, a small label with a lot of history. Why?

Around the time that I made the decision to leave Sony, the most wonderful man, John Grady, who was the last label head there – I made “Between Here and Gone” under his regime as it were. He’s an extraordinary guy, and when they merged with BMG John decided to move on. It just felt like everything was kind of aligned and I was ready to make the same kind of decision for myself. I felt like the time had come, you just know those kinds of things organically. It made sense, it was the right time, and I have nothing but really good memories and gratitude for everything that took place while I was at Columbia, and I’m very proud of my time there.

Are you familiar with Lucy Chapin, your opening act in Lebanon? Her father John remembers booking you at Lloyd’s in Hartford during the late 80’s, and told me Lucy watched you perform there as a young girl.

I’m not familiar with her. Oh, right he [John Chapin] was wonderful! He’d bring John Jennings and I up to Hartford and we’d play his club, he’d rent out a restaurant or venue each time. He was really supportive, great guy.

To this day, he’s a patron of the arts, he books 363 nights of music a year.

Good Lord, he deserves a medal! That’s wonderful. He sure gave us a lot of help, and I sure appreciate that.

As an artist, you’ve sustained your career without really relying on hit records, though you have had a few. What advice do you have for performers who are just starting out?

Well, I’m pretty bad at doling out advice. I think it would be a lot easier if there were some kind of road map to finding contentment in a business such as this. But there is no road map, as you well know. While it may be an enormous cliché to say, write about what you know, do what makes you happy, I don’t think those are empty words. But I also think that you have to find your own way, I don’t really have concrete steps to tell someone to take, but rather just make sure you’re happy doing what you’re doing, because if you’re not, you’re just feeling like it’s tortuous, then you definitely should be doing something else.

You kind of put that forth in “We’re All Right”

That song is definitely about finding the answers within yourself as opposed to looking outside of yourself every which way to find the answers. They do reside inside of us.

When the Dixie Chicks received a Grammy for Best Country Record, Natalie Maines joked that they were “without a genre” and I thought of you. Did winning CMA and Grammy trophies make a difference for you?

Oh yes, they did. What that does is helps get your music out to far more people than might get a chance to hear it. Those shows get attention in that kind of way. I’ll always be very proud of the five Grammies that I have. They mark different times in my life. I think the thing about them that makes it so wild is that it’s not something that I ever thought in a million years would come my way. I look at them with pride and happiness.

Who’s playing in your band on this tour?

We call this tour “Acoustic Incarnation,” – but that’s sort of a misnomer, because we have an electric guitar and bass. The band is a quartet – There’s myself, with John Jennings on bass, Kevin Barry on guitar and John Carroll.on keyboards.

How did you get so many guitars?

Over the years, being in the right place at the right time; they kind of come along. I’m a great guitar fan, and I’ve been really lucky to play some special instruments. I love my guitars.

It shows.

Thank you.

Here’s a rundown of Mary Chapin Carpenter’s New England dates:

  • Calvin Theater, Northampton, Massachusetts – Saturday, March 24
  • Music Hall, Portsmouth, New Hampshire – Sunday, March 25
  • Opera House, Lebanon, New Hampshire – Friday, March 30
  • Flynn Center, Burlington, Vermont – Saturday, March 31
  • Stone Mt. Arts Ctr., Brownfield, Maine – Monday, April 2
  • Warner Theater, Torrington, Connecticut – Friday, April 13

 

What’s Missing In Music

Via my favorite maven Bob Lefsetz comes a letter from Bob Ezrin that addresses the reasons why there’s so much commerce and so little art in music today. It’s not on Lefestz Letter yet, so I’ll quote rather than link.

Ezrin praises Trent Reznor for refusing to capitulate to his handlers’ demands over the years. Like Lefsetz, he sees this as the reason for Nine Inch Nails’ enduring success. Single minded vision defines true artists. By contrast, the business is now the enemy of art; it wasn’t always this way, Ezrin says:

Once upon a time, we had a business built by passionate amateurs who revered the artists and who became their protectors, advocates and promoters. These folks didn’t presume to tell their artists what to do. Oh, every once in a while, they might beg and plead for more or different to help them to do their job, but they NEVER imposed their creative will on the people they most admired in all the world. And so we had a landscape of determined individualists who made very individual music – lots of it. We all know who they were – and some still are. But now the biggest part of the business is run by cold hearted professionals whose reverence is for the bottom line first and last – and who think nothing of imposing their ideas and will on the people they sign. And most of those signings are not because they are enthralled by genius or art but because they smell “a hit” or know that someone else does and that they’d better get in there first.

We need a few more “passionate amateurs” – but really, there are many already. With a focus on blockbuster hits and conventional wisdom, we tend to miss the fact that there are a lot of artists who manage to be true to their vision. Everyone else is auditioning for American Idol, but who cares? Ezrin ends with a nod to the O.G. of music men, Ahmet Ertegun:

So, what’s the biggest lesson here? It is that, if we can all agree to do as Ahmet recommended and surround ourselves with brilliant people and help those people to develop their craft, their own voice, and become artists making things of real value, we might see our way into the next golden age of popular music.

I’m not saying that blockbusters aren’t “things of real value,” but there’s not much on the charts these days to convince me otherwise. Even today’s blockbusters are selling poorly compared to the last golden age – when Ezrin was unleashing Alice Cooper on the world and producing “The Wall” – so it seems that I’m not alone in my thinking.