Nov 04, 2018

Hitsville on Jeremy Dylan’s ‘My Favorite Album’ podcast


Jeremy Dylan has been creating this weekly chat with someone in the music business for more than five years: The subject, most weeks, is the guest’s favorite album, and hence the name of the podcast.

Dylan is a journalist and filmmaker in Australia. I found him an attentive interlocutor who doesn’t miss much. You can hear all of his conversations here.

My chat with him about London Calling can be found here.


Nov 02, 2018

Notes on the Arizona McSally/Sinema race for Senate


I did a story on the Martha McSally-Kyrsten Sinema race for Phoenix magazine. For reasons that are neither here nor there, it was one of those articles where the process was a bit messed up, so I haven’t been sharing it on social media.

But there was something in it I have been thinking about and wanted to share.

My conversation with McSally was sour. The campaign gave us just a few minutes (like 11 minutes). The scene was in a nondescript office at a dusty concrete yard in Chandler after a small campaign event.

McSally spent the first minutes of the interview speed-talking about how “radical” and “extreme” Sinema was, with some side attacks on the economy of the state of California. (California has a $9 billion budget surplus and a significantly lower unemployment rate than Arizona.) When I finally got to ask some questions, things went south immediately. I made a bland statement about how Arizona was changing. (After all, there were two women running for Senate—when the state’s 11 previous senators had all been men, and had each served an average of 20 years.)

McSally disagreed, “I don’t know that I buy that the state is changing.”

I thought, OK, let’s talk about the changes. Her opponent identifies as bisexual. Did McSally support gay marriage?

“It’s a state’s issue and the Supreme Court has settled it,” she said.

I pressed her on her own views, and on her position on gay adoption as well, but she avoided the questions, saying it “wasn’t in her foxhole.”

“It’s not something that the federal government gets involved in.” That’s not true on several levels.

I was surprised at the lack of sophistication in her response. The right cloaks the hostility towards gays on the part of many church groups as a religious freedom issue. I would have thought McSally would have pivoted to that talking point.

You’d think that McSally would have been better prepared for such question given that her opponent was Sinema. Was McSally going to stand up in a debate and say her opponent didn’t have the right to marry whom she wanted, or adopt a child?

I moved on to Trump. I noted that a host of former top U.S. intelligence officials were criticizing his dealings with Russia, some saying he wasn’t fit for office.

“Who are they to make these decisions?” she snapped in response.

I was taken aback. “The former director of the CIA?” I ventured.

“Whatever,” she replied.

*     *     *

Again, it was weird she wasn’t prepared for the question. She could have gently suggested that the men were partisan, hinting that, in the past, other intelligence officials had criticized Obama. (They were people like Michael Flynn, but no matter.) I wasn’t prepared for “Whatever.”

This was the second time in two questions she didn’t have a coherent, non-risible answer to a predictable question.

We moved on to specifically the Russian meddling in U.S. elections. She downplayed these attacks on the American electoral process, referring to it as “propaganda.” “The Russians [always] meddle in elections,” she said. “They were doing it long before I was a kid out of the Air Force Academy, when we were studying the propaganda tactics of the Soviet Union.”

We weren’t talking about propaganda, of course. I asked her, “Are you happy with what the Trump Administration has done to fight it?”

To which she answered this: “Not everything is the government’s responsibility.”

*     *     *

She went on a bit, saying that the Department of Homeland Security had done “a lot” and that we “need to protect our election integrity.”

But you didn’t hear her criticize Russia. (But boy had she gotten exercised about California!)

The words “not everything is the government’s responsibility”—delivered in response to a question about attacks on the United States by Russia—I thought were pretty goofy. We see various poltroons deliver glib, nonsensical lines like that on TV (mostly on Fox), but you don’t generally hear them in the real world.

I lived in DC for six or seven years—I lived next door to George Bush’s press secretary—and as you’d expect found most people there smart and reasonable. I was caught off guard by an actual candidate for office in the state where I live deliver preposterous statements like that out loud.

I thought then, and think now, that for the third time in almost literally as many minutes, Martha McSally was not able to answer a simple question on an obvious subject in a way that wasn’t evasive, moronic, or, in the last example, almost patently disqualifying for someone running for national office who is supposed to be protecting the country.

Anyway, this is what happens when campaigns are run as so-called “air wars” of TV commercials. Phoenix magazine is obviously a major state publication, one that had invested a significant amount of time and money to get a story done. Her campaign offered the magazine—and by extension its readers—11 minutes for an interview.

And we saw what happened: When a candidate in a cocoon is exposed to actual substantive questions from an actual journalist, she shuts down.

McSally was the nation’s first female fighter pilot, and is now a U.S. representative from Tucson. She’s obviously not an insignificant person. But I got little sense of it in my chat with her—and certainly didn’t see someone qualified to be a United States senator.

Oct 23, 2018

Rob Feder, the broadcasting columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, leaves the paper on Friday after nearly 30 years there. There’s a item from Richard Roeper about him here.

Most cities have only one metro daily. There is obviously still the remnants of the great newspaper wars in New York. But even there much of what has kept the Daily News and the Post going are the egos of their very rich proprietors, who grimly subsidize them wen necessary.

In Chicago, the Tribune dominates, of course; it has traditionall been a serious newspaper with antional pretentions to importance and the classic metro daily’s dominance of the remunerative suburban market. So it remains slightly amazing to this day that against all odds a competitor, the CHicago Sun-Times has remained.

One of the ways the Sun-Times did it is by being a lot better than it had to be. It was a nuty paper (believe me, it was a nutty paper) but there still remained in it people who thought papers should try to win the old fashioned way, which is by pblishing things people wanted to read. In a weird way, I thought the Tribune never really got this. Again, a serious place, with serious peple, and with serious comitments to investigative journalism, for example. But one thing it was never good at is by going out and collecting information on a daily basis and pu blishing it in the paper and

I’m basing this from my time in Chicago

Oct 23, 2018

During the 1990s, in the San Francisco area, you ended up hearing a lot of hyperbolic philosophizing about the digital future. Some of it made a lot of people a lot of money; other parts of it lost another group of people a lot of money as well. In retrospect the mistakes were mostly due to timing. Everything is definitely going to change, but it all hasn’t happened just yet.

So on the day-to-day perspective, it’s hard to see what’s important and what’s not, who gets it and who doesn’t, what company is on the verge of riding the next wave and which one, doggedly sticking to old paradigms, is about to get swamped.

A new product called SlotMusic, wrong on so many levels, is a case in point. Its introduction was treated solemnly by the papers today. (WSJ story here; NYT blog entry here. AP’s version is here.)

The company introducing it, SanDisk, has gotten four majors to agree to market albums on one-gig memory cards. They fit into most modern cell phones and are said to be going to be sold with USB converters attached allowing them to be connected an downloaded to computers as well. The idea is to sell 320-kbps Mp3s, with album atr attached.

Depending on which paper you read, these will cost $15 (the WSJ) or $7 to $10 (the NYT).

Right now, you can buy a CD and easily import it into your computer and thence to your iPod or any other MP3 player. Or you can eliminate the physical fuss and download most albums; most smart phones let you do that as well.

This product seems to be directed at people for whom those two alternatives don’t work, primarily plain old cellphone users who for some reason want certain albums on their cell phones and can figure out that they can also stick the tracks on their computer so they won’t disappear with the cell phone. That may be a decent sized market; you have to assume the product was market-researched. But it has the feel not of a new mass-market media format but something like an impulse buy that will be hung up on racks in the cell-phone section of the Best Buy.

But, for the record, here’s what’s wrong with the format:

1) Consumers don’t want only to buy albums. The format is a transparent attempt to sell people songs they don’t want along with the ones they do—an they are trying to sell them to the audience most resistant to the album model: Kids comfortable with media on their phones.

2) Instead of weening consumers off physical formats, this is a step backward: The introduction of a new one.

3) The cost estimates vary so widely it’s hard to judge what the industry’s plans are, but it’s hard to believe they will try to market the things on the high end the Journal story mentioned.
p.s. By the way, an aside insome of the Times’ coverage of the format gives an indication o some of the pricing craziness that prevails these days:

SanDisk won’t say more than that it expects the price at retail to be about the same as a CD. One executive of a major record label told me he expected the albums-on-a-card to sell for $7 to $10. Since Wal-Mart is selling a 1-gigabyte MicroSD card (the size used for SlotMusic) for $15.98 these days, that seems like a fine value. (Yes, you can erase the music and use the storage on the card for something else.)

Here again, many questions are raised. Who woudl pay $15 for a one-gig card like that? How can SanDisk and the record companies afford to sell cards with a $10 CD on it for $7? And if the format does happen to be successful, won’t it effectively vaporize the MicroSD card market, with lots of the little SlotMusic cards floating around?

May 12, 2016

Recent articles by Hitsville

For the Columbia Journalism Review:
“Nate Silver unloads on the New York Times”

FIVETHIRTYEIGHT’S NATE SILVER ripped into The New York Times in general—and the paper’s new media columnist,Jim Rutenberg, in particular—on the FiveThirtyEight election podcast on Monday. The minutes-long rant included loaded words like “dishonest” and “unethical.”

Screen Shot 2016-05-12 at 5.03.30 p.m.

Silver and his operation had an alliance with the Times during the time of the 2012 election. The attack showed that there’s little love lost over the split, at least from Silver’s perspective. It also

 proved that Donald Trump, the apparent victor in a race that reporters across the spectrum called spectacularly wrong up until the very end, is still roiling the media world.

Screen Shot 2016-05-12 at 5.01.15 p.m.For Vulture (New York magazine website):
Radiohead’s Shtick Resonates Anew in the Trump Era With A Moon Shaped Pool

Now, with 48 hours notice, we have A Moon Shaped Pool, which is, leaving aside the annoying lack of a hyphen in the title, a capital-A album. Do you remember the opening passages of King of Limbs? The atonal beeps, like something out of a Terry Riley piece? A Moon Shaped Pool, by contrast, begins with a coursing and dramatic guitar line, as powerful an attack as we’ve heard from the band in more than 15 years, flecked first with some processed strings, and then a hysterical reedy bleat, like a bassoon about to undergo a tracheotomy.

For Vulture (New York magazine website):
His Name Was Prince. And He Was Funky. 

Screen Shot 2016-05-12 at 4.59.14 p.m.

With the death of Prince, let’s celebrate “this thing called life,” as His Purpleness himself put it. For him it was inseparable from love — his second and most heartfeltsubject — and from sex, his third and most lascivious. They were all part of the same thing. He was arguably the most crazily multitalented pop star we have ever seen: a singer, songwriter, producer, multi-instrumentalist, dancer, performer, and impresario of the first rank. He was also a dutiful actor, a worthy inhabitant of the Madonna-Kardashian-Trump ether of tabloid antics, a narcissist of dizzying dysfunctionality, a crank, and also, in the end — what’s the word? — a presence. I remember being at a Warner Bros. convention, sitting at a big ballroom table with a bunch of cynical journalists. Prince walked by — tiny, in purple and high heels — and we all dropped our drinks. A few minutes later he was onstage rolling around on the top of a white grand piano singing “Nothing Compares 2 U.” We all knew what he was trying to do to the piano. He was a fucker. No, I mean: a literal fucker. Beside everything else, he stood astride the world and fucked famously. He was the world’s most advanced rock star.