02 July 2007

Before the Fireworks

It's Monday. I haven't had caffeine yet, and did have a short night.

  • Free — fully testosterone-enhanced teenager. Doesn't work. Does eat. (And, fortunately for me, doesn't drive.)
  • So, over three months after the fact, Marvel is finally going to bury Captain America. That must be one helluvan embalming job... or maybe it was the steroids. As I said at the time, good riddance.
  • Universal Music Group is (publicly, anyway) balking at renewing its idiotTunes agreement with the Clowns From Cupertino. Cory Doctorow's rant at BoingBoing reminds me all too much of that awful Led Zeppelin concert film (if you were in St. Louis when it first showed at the Varsity, I was probably the guy in back who screamed "That's because they all are the same!" when the title came up), but in substance he's correct.

    It's pretty obvious that the recording industry paid no attention to the 1980s at all; the obvious rejoinder to DRM is "CopyIIPC." It really doesn't matter a whole lot that chapter 12 of the Copyright Act on its face makes it illegal to break DRM. Illegality doesn't seem to do much about fireworks, either... and that's only one day a year.

  • Contrast UMG's $20 bet at the poker table with yet another screed on the demise of classical music. With all due respect to Mr Rothstein — which is to say without a whole helluva lot — he's missed the target as widely as have both the author of the book he uses as a springboard and the ivory-tower-ensconced defenders of the classical tradition. The real difficulty is that the audience demographics for "dominant art" have changed so radically that this was largely inevitable. The visual arts present a parallel case: It's not just that moving pictures are more widely accessible than imperfect reproductions of centuries-old frescoes — it's that the subject matter is more accessible to the audience. Far too much "classical music" — to name just a few of the major culprits, most of Mozart, most of the mid-19th-century Paris crowd, early Tchaikovsky, and almost all mid-19th-century-and-later Italian opera — depends upon reaching a very, very narrow cultural Weltanschauung, and communicates both its form and meaning fully only to those who share it. I do not think it a coincidence that Prokofiev's greatest, and most accessible, works all date from after his first exposure to film. Neither is it a coincidence that "contemporary classical" music largely reminds one of navel-gazing.

    Defenders of classical music have two choices, and they're not mutually exclusive. On the one hand, they can bring that Weltanschauung forward to more-contemporary communication and contexts. This may mean sacrificing some of the snobbishness (early scene in Amadeus: "Italian is the proper language for opera. All educated people agree.") for communication; it will also mean vastly greater efforts to communicate context to real audiences. The continued absence of Gilbert and Sullivan from film and from Broadway continues to mystify me, particularly in the face of some highly successful scenarist updatings of Shakespeare (Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet and Akira Kurosawa's Ran are obvious examples, but there are many others). On the other hand, those defenders also need to accept that classical music was never the most popular part of any European musical culture/tradition; it's just that the history-writers weren't in taverns in Westfalln, or pubs in Yorkshire (or even Southwark), listening to what most people of the time actually wanted to listen to.

    I love a great deal of classical music; I also acknowledge its warts. I despise a great deal of "lower-brow" popular music; I also acknowledge its occasional genius. Another "movie moment" comes to mind: the riff on the Kinks by Jackie and Daniel in Hilary and Jackie, which is a lesson that appears to have escaped Mr Rothstein.

  • Today's obligatory Harry Potter item: Both the NYT and The Observer (UK) continue to include more whingeing about how bookstores aren't going to benefit from early sales of HP(7) and the Deathly Hallows. This says more about antitrust problems in the book-distribution industry than it does anything else. I know that's my usual refrain, but that makes it no less true than it was on Friday.

    For $34.95, I'd bloody well better be getting a fully Smyth-sewn binding with a full cloth cover on low-acid, high-opacity paper. The irony that this pipe dream concerns the packaging, and not the contents, is purely intentional.