Copyright Keeps Books Out of Print

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Copyright advocates have long (and successfully) argued that keeping books copyrighted assures that owners can make a profit off their intellectual property, and that that profit incentive will “assure [the books’] availability and adequate distribution.” The evidence, it appears, says otherwise.

Rebecca J. Rosen outlines that evidence in an article at the Atlantic, “The Hole in Our Collective Memory: How Copyright Made Mid-Century Books Vanish.”  It’s always worth asking ourselves just what use present copyright law is for anyone but the massive copyright hoarders like publishers and entertainment retailers. It certainly doesn’t benefit the public and now it’s even clear that it doesn’t even benefit the author whose “intellectual property’ it’s alleged to protect and promote.

Copyright law does, in any case, provide a good lesson in American civics. It demonstrates loudly and clearly whose interests our government has nearest and dearest to its heart.  It’s not the people, of course, but always the intellectual property barons. We can rely on our faithful public servants in government, when given a choice between liberalizing the law (which would have the effect of enriching the creative atmosphere for all) and making it more and more constipated, to always choose the path of most constipation. Call it the trickle out theory of American culture.

Random Double Feature: Eating Raoul and The Naked Kiss

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I watched a couple of movies in quick succession this weekend, and when I was through with the second, I realized they had a lot more in common than I was aware of when I chose them pretty much at random from a pile of DVDs I borrowed from the library. For starters, they’re both Criterion releases: Paul Bartel‘s 1982 Eating Raoul and Samuel Fuller‘s 1964 The Naked Kiss. Though the former is a sophisticated (albeit at times purposely ludicrous) black comedy and the latter on the surface a lurid exploitation picture, the two also share several central themes: innocence vs. experience, sexual kinkiness and moral hypocrisy, the commodification of the body and desire, violence as a means to an end, the failures of capitalism and more. They would make an excellent double bill for a film class or art house cinema, or just a lively evening with friends. Continue reading

Ronnie Dawson: Greatest Rock and Roller Ever?

Here’s just a little taste from 1995 of the late great Texan rockabilly king Ronnie Dawson, with Lisa Pankratz (on drums) and High Noon. If you like country, rock, punk rock, and just plain party music, you’re probably going to love Ronnie Dawson. He began in show biz in his teens, changing his name briefly to Commonwealth Jones in the early 1960s to avoid confusion with another Ron Dawson. He died too young, in 2003.  No doubt now he owns the name.

Congressional Record by Dean Drummond, played by Newband

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I was reading today’s paper, looking at the obituary of George Jones, when I glanced across at a photo of someone who looked familiar. I realized it was Dean Drummond, an American composer, musician, teacher and acolyte of Harry Partch, whose musical instruments and scores Drummond assembled as founder of the Harry Partch Institute at Montclair State University in New Jersey. I was wondering what an arts piece was doing in the front section of the New York Times, when I realized, shocked, that I was looking at an illustration for Drummond’s obituary. Continue reading

#FreePussyRiot: “Punk Prayer” Translated

To mark the impending ban of Pussy Riot from the Russian Internet for being “extremists” dangerous to the state, I’m reproducing  Carol Rumen’s translation of the Riot’s “Punk Prayer,” the song that gained them a trial for “hooliganism” and world attention in the first place.

(Chorus)

Virgin Mary, Mother of God, banish Putin, banish Putin,

Virgin Mary, Mother of God, banish him, we pray thee!

Congregations genuflect,

Black robes brag gilt epaulettes,

Freedom’s phantom’s gone to heaven,

Gay Pride’s chained and in detention.

KGB’s chief saint descends

To guide the punks to prison vans.

Don’t upset His Saintship, ladies,

Stick to making love and babies.

Crap, crap, this godliness crap!

Crap, crap, this holiness crap!

(Chorus)

Virgin Mary, Mother of God.

Be a feminist, we pray thee,

Be a feminist, we pray thee.

Bless our festering bastard-boss.

Let black cars parade the Cross.

The Missionary’s in class for cash.

Meet him there, and pay his stash.

Patriarch Gundy believes in Putin.

Better believe in God, you vermin!

Fight for rights, forget the rite –

Join our protest, Holy Virgin.

(Chorus)

Virgin Mary, Mother of God, banish Putin, banish Putin,

Virgin Mary, Mother of God, we pray thee, banish him!

Tax Increases or Books: A Library Fights Back

This video tells the tale of how Troy, Michigan’s public library cleverly and successfully fought back (with the help of an ad agency) against a Tea Party effort to shut it down in lieu of authorizing a 0.7% tax increase to keep it open. This story is probably a common one in the age of austerity. Although the election was almost two months ago, this is the first I heard of the campaign.

I’d like to believe that the Tea Partiers are sincere in their chagrin over the sense that they’ve lost control of their government. We on the left certainly can understand that. But they repeatedly show poor value judgment, as in this instance in Michigan. They can often seem to embody Oscar Wilde’s quip about a cynic knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing. But they’re witless cynics if they don’t know that 0.7% added to a yearly tax bill is a very small price to pay for a library.

Random Double Feature: The Barefoot Contessa and Ladri di Biciclette

Every once in a while (in truth, probably a little more often than the average person), I will watch two movies in one sitting. Thanks to Netflix instant streaming and my handy-dandy Blue-Ray player with built-in wi-fi, I am able to select two movies almost at random to watch on my TV anytime. Of course, if it were truly random, the potential list would include every film ever made and I wouldn’t have any choice in either of them. That would be an interesting experiment, indeed. But since I do have a say in the matter, I pick films from my bloated queue (usually), which means I must have a pre-existing interest in any given component of any given “random” double feature.

Last night, the films I chose were Joseph L. Mankiewicz‘s 1954 Hollywood melodrama The Barefoot Contessa, and Vittorio De Sica‘s 1948 Italian neorealist classic Ladri di Biciclette. Although made within a few years of each other and each taking place at least partly in Italy, the movies are worlds apart in theme, look and sensibility. It may even seem unfair to compare them, like comparing apples and clothes hangers. But I found this pairing surprisingly useful in clarifying some of my personal cinematic tastes. Readers of this blog will no doubt have different takes and tastes. I’d be interested to hear what you think. Continue reading

Unhappy Anniversary

DOUG KANTER/AFP/Getty Images

What an awesome image this photo is! (To get the full effect, click on it.)

The Twin Towers were not terribly beautiful when they stood over lower Manhattan for the thirty years of their lives: just two big awkwardly long rectangles on their sides stretching far above everything in their surroundings. They were  iconic, of course, but they achieved their stature cheaply, just by virtue of being the tallest things around.

In death, however, the Towers’ architecture has achieved a powerful iconicism of chaos and doom. The twisting, torn shards of its wrecked lattices look like ghostly hands reaching weakly for help, or bombed-out miniature cities–in a way, fractals of the larger destruction around them. How utterly ruined they were on that day! How totally devastated was their straight, clean sharpness!

The man in this photo, according to its official AFP caption, is calling out to see if any survivors answer. Patriots will quickly note the most alive looking object in the image: the American flag yet waving in the smoky sunlight. Eleven years on, you have to wonder what became of the land and home it represents.

The Profound Beauty of Micachu and The Shapes

Here’s a new band on me: Micachu and The Shapes (with multi-instrumentalist Mica Levi, keyboardist Raisa Khan and drummer Marc Pell)  have been playing and recording highly idiosyncratic pop music since 2008. I’m glad to say I’ll be seeing them with another eccentric pop band I’ve written about, tUnE-yArDs featuring Merrill Garbus, as well as Delicate Steve, about whom I know almost nothing. Of course tUnE-yArDs is my main reason for going to the show (June 1st at Terminal 5 in New York City), but researching the other bands on YouTube, I discovered this is promising to be an extraordinary evening. Continue reading