Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The mind of Wayne Shorter

Since Wayne Shorter is one of the greatest and strangest saxophonists of all time, this probably belongs in my jazz blog, but it's just so ... interesting that I thought it fit better right here.

I haven't read the new Shorter bio, "Footprints," but the book, along with a new album and trio tour, has put the spotlight on the man famous for tearing it up with Art Blakey in the '50s, recharging Miles Davis' post-Coltrane era quintet in the '60s, and forming the enormously successful, fusion pioneering Weather Report in the '70s.

In short, Wayne Shorter watches "American Idol," and thinks about crappy movies.

From Dan Ouellette's Q&A with Shorter in Billboard:

Q: Even back then, though, jazz records didn't make lots of money.

A: If something makes a lot of money, it doesn't make it cool.
People worry about missing out on that pot of gold. But what they're
really missing out on is their creative process. It's about
evolving. It's like that movie "Resident Evil" with Milla
Jovovich. Everybody was getting injected with something that made
the people feed off each other like "Night of the Living Dead,"
but it didn't have the same effect with Milla. Her injection didn't
work. So these guys were trying to destroy her, because she wasn't
mutating to be some kind of war machine. But one guy said not to
destroy her because she wasn't mutating, she was evolving.

on Joni Mitchell and "American Idol" (I've read in the Village Voice that Wayne prefers Clay over Reuben, calling the latter an r&b retread):

Q: Joni Mitchell is also on Nonesuch. What is it about her music that attracted you to play on so many of her albums?

A: She's talking about things in her lyrics, and she's a fighter.
She told me that around the time when she recorded "Don Juan's
Reckless Daughter" and "Mingus" that someone sent her a letter
accusing her of playing a minor second within a chord and how that
was destroying the "pop" feeling she was known for. It was like
saying she was going over to some other side.

It's like her song "Both Sides Now" that she wrote when she was
20 or 21. It was about an encounter she had with a man and the
daughter she had. She recorded it, and a record executive said to
her, "You know, don't you?" The words struck him on a business
side. She said she had to think fast, on her feet, so she said yes.
And the executive detailed it out: We get young artists, squeeze the
blood out of the stone, then throw them away and get another young
artist. That's what the industry is like.

Q: And you agree?

A: Yes, it's like this record executive who came on "American
Idol" one night who said he could see working in the studio with
one of the contestants. It was if he was saying, "I'm going to show
you how to judge." The inference was that he could make this singer
a star, that he could see and guarantee who could be a moneymaker.
That's what "American Idol" is about: giving someone all the
responsibility to do the thinking, the marketing, the moneymaking,
the making of the idol.

Now if Wayne Shorter, one of the most advanced thinkers in jazz, is watching "American Idol," am I missing something?

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Has blogging jumped the shark?

I've noticed over the last month that everybody -- and I do mean everybody -- is blogging. Just about every day, somebody I know is starting a blog, usually on Blogger (it's understandable, if not devoid of clunky HTML coding, and, most importantly, FREE).

Google, which owns Blogger, is either be feeling the strain or further plotting for world domination. And Yahoo must be wondering why it missed the blogging train completely. At least Yahoo Mail gave everybody a gigabyte of space to fend off Google's GMail. Worked for me.

But if nobody reads your blog, does it really exist? I guess you can tell from the comments if people are reading, but so far I have gotten none. I think there's some way to add a counter to the page. Guess I'll have to look into that one.

But blogging has already developed a style that is designed to attract people to your blog and perhaps lure them to bookmark and look at it on a daily basis.

First of all, you have to relentlessly read other blogs, then quote from and link to them when you find something interesting. Keep on doing this and tbose people will find your links through Web services that keep track of this sort of thing (I'm not sure how that works, either). Then they will check out your blog, curious about who's linking to them, and they might, in turn, put your blog address on their "favorite site" list to the side of their page, hoping, of course, that you will or have already done the same with them.

And that's how the general Web-surfing public finds out about new blogs, by reading about them on the blogs they currently read and following the links into the ever-more-vast world of the blogosphere, as it is called.

The whole Web is so webby, that I think there's even a way to figure out how many people have added your blog to their "favorites" menu in their browser. Again, I know nothing more about it.

Now that I've settled on a page design for this blog, I can proceed to add more to MY favorite blog list to the right of these posts. (That list gets wiped out every time you change page designs from the Blogger selection.)

So, back to the question, has blogging jumped the shark? Is it on the downhill side of the hump? I think the whole idea of making money by blogging is probably over with, if it ever had any truth to it in the first place. For Blogger and Google, it's just another way for it to place text ads and draw people into their orbit for future services.

Some say the Huffington Post, the big celeb-fueled, left-leaning political blog started by righty-turned-lefty Arianna Huffington, signaled the shark-jumping moment. Others think that it is the beginning of blogging's golden age. Still, others think it signals nothing.

Still, everybody is blogging, or at least thinks they should be blogging (or that somebody should be blogging for them). Newspapers are all pondering when and how they should be blogging. It's a media revolution in the making. But how to manage the cacophany of everybody and everything blogging around the clock about every topic large and small? I think most people, myself included, have neither the time nor the inclination to flood their blog with posts, madly search the Web for quotable, bloggable fodder and then assemble it and begin again. Making Blogger easier to use (I think it IS easier with Web browsers that aren't IE 5.0 and 5.2, which I use) would go a long way. I can do elementary HTML, but who the hell wants to? And you need a good computer that doesn't crash a lot, a lot of time, an obsessive-compulsive streak and a lack of willingness to leave the keyboard. Guess I'll have to work on it.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Scientology after all

The whole TomKat phenomenon has gotten me thinking about Scientology. I first seriously looked at the whole thing in the early '90s, when I was city editor at the Glendale News-Press (back in the days before the L.A. Times bought it -- another story for another time).

At the time, Glendale was the local nexus of a group called the Cult Awareness Network, which either participated in, or at the very least condoned the "de-programming" of members of Scientology and other groups. To add to the mix, Scientology had quite a presence in Glendale and neighboring La Canada-Flintridge.

Now the word "cult" is loaded; it's a pejorative term that is applied to all-encompassing religions or groups that either offer or demand total immersion from their members and, as a result, draw the ire of those members' friends and relatives. Due to the loaded nature of the word, I do not want to call Scientology a cult but rather a philosophy/religion that demands a lot of time, money and loyalty from its members and which, like most religions of this type throughout the centuries, tends to promote both separation from the public at large, as well as a mission of proselytizing to and bringing in converts from that very same public.

Enough of that. The whole deal for me was that the Cult Awareness Network, run in the L.A. area at least by a nice lady from Glendale named Priscilla Coates, was being drowned by a number of Scientology-backed lawsuits -- a technique that church opponents say is used to silence its critics.

Well, to make a long story somewhat less so, we did a few stories about the brouhaha, and eventually a local family who had a son that had joined Scientology contacted me through CAN and claimed the guy was either brainwashed or somehow being held against his will. There are a lot of such stories about Scientology, but the closer I looked, you really don't know who or what to believe.

Sure there's "group think" aimed at keeping people in the fold, and yes, I believe a certain sort of person is attracted to Scientology and other such groups. My observation is that Scientology appeals to intelligent people who are not well-educated and who need validation of their innate intelligence -- and that includes Tom Cruise and a passel of Hollywood actors who did not take the Jodie Foster route of higher education, or in many cases, even through high school graduation.

So eventually I go to some kind of anti-cult convention near the airport, and there are a bunch of Scientologists protesting the event outside. The Scientology PR people (yes, they chain-smoke generic cigarettes, and they watch your hand while you're writing in your notebook and pause until you stop, I assume to encourage you to get it all down) ushered me toward this guy, who explained that he knew his family was unhappy with his involvement in Scientology, but he, on the other hand, was very happy with it and had no wish to leave the church.

So what can you do with a person who joins a religion like Scientology ... or the Hare Krishnas, the Unification Church, or even the Hasidic Jewish group Chabad, for that matter? (I choose these because they are all immersive groups. And like it or not, that's how some people want their religion to be). It's nice to have a fully functioning bullshit detector, but for people who don't (and who are of legal age and sound mind), what are you gonna do?

I'm sure Katie Holmes can figure this out for herself. She's what, 26? And she's been around the Hollywood cul de sac for a while (that was her in "The Ice Storm," no?) Still, if anything, this is all the more reason for young Hollywood actors to GO TO COLLEGE. I can guarantee that Scientology is NOT populated by college graduates -- people who have found other outlets, uses and validation for their intelligence.

I don't like or respect Scientology, and it's pretty easy to see right through it. But the horror stories in the anti-Scientology community haven't been followed up over the years with a whole lot of hard evidence, especially in regards to people being held against their will. A lot of religions have their unsavory aspects, some more than others. I wish I had data on the number of people flowing into and out of Scientology and other religions, but I suspect that most people who get involved in it do extricate themselves, the great majority of them sooner, a few later.

So how did the story end? Eventually the Cult Awareness Network went bankrupt (I'm sure the lawsuits didn't help), and some Scientology entity purchased the assets at auction, took over the name and began operating CAN itself. In other words, the leading group opposing Scientologists was eventually taken over by its very own Public Enemy No. 1. So you'd call the CAN number, ostensibly worried about someone you know joining a "cult" religion, and you'd be connected to a member of the Church of Scientology. It would be akin to Phyllis Schlafly taking over the National Organization for Women, Howard Dean helming the Republican National Committee, Jim Brady's widow heading the NRA, Ralph Reed leading Planned Parenthood -- you get the idea.

In short, after a whole lot of research on my part, there was no smoking gun. And it's pretty hard to draw the line about what is a "cult" and what isn't -- and there are varying degrees even under that definition. If a 20/30/40-year-old American decides to forgo Western life, shave his or her head and join a Buddhist monastary, is brainwashing or cult-think at work? Are the Amish or Hasidic Jews, or even severe Catholic religious orders considered "cults." What about splinter Mormon groups, or the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for that matter? It's a slippery slope to be sure. Some people want or need an intense, all-encompassing religious experience, something more than the church-on-Sunday drill. The ugly truth, and one easy to spot, is that money makes the world go 'round for many, many religious groups.

I'm not saying coercion and intimidation don't occur in these all-encompassing religions. The same thing can happen in more "traditional" groups and should be abhorred in any setting.

Would I recommend that somebody indulge their curiosity in Scientology by taking its "Personality Test" or otherwise becoming involved in the church? No. I think it's bunk. Should their friends and relatives be allowed to plead with them not to do so? Yes. Should people have the right to explore Scientology if they wish? Also yes, even though I wish they'd do so from afar.

The last 18 days

I haven't blogged in 18 days. Time flies. I have all sorts of blog-worthy ideas, but since I can't speak them into a tape recorder wired continuously to my noggin and subsequently will them to appear here in some sort of grammatically acceptable form, it just hasn't been happening.

Traffic light from hell still bugs me. I turned the tables on it and used the new left-turn arrow on Woodley to turn left onto Victory one morning. Boy do I feel smug, self-satisfied and triumphant. None of those really, but what the hell? I guess the whole raison d'etre (no, I do not speak French, nor understand Latin) for this soul-sucking traffic light is the eventual arrival of the MTA Orange Line busway. Not that it makes any sense, since the busway travels east-west, the same direction as Victory.

I'll probably be on that busway when it begins service, which is supposed to happen later this year. If the buses come more often than once every half-hour, that is. Until the final westbound stop near Canoga Park High is built, the bus will run right by the Los Angeles Daily News, all the more reason for me to make it the instrument of my morning commute.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

They call them "speed humps"

Bigger than speed bumps, about 2 feet in length, actually, "speed humps" have come to the first portion of the long stretch of Hatteras Street between Van Nuys Boulevard and Hazeltine Avenue.

The reason (other than somebody calling and haranguing City Councilwoman Wendy Greuel) would seem to be that this portion of Hatteras is a pass-through street used by many who are not residents of the neighborhood and who, for some reason, want to get through it as quickly as acceleratingly possible.

Well, these "speed humps" will either slow you down or severly damage whatever is on the underside of your vehicle, usually the former, and they'll probably make pedestrian life (we walk their often due to the presence of ACTUAL SIDEWALKS), not to mention residential life, more worth living.

Now if only they'd resurface Martha Street -- which has become a pass-through of its own since the ever-popular Starbucks sprouted in the old Red Chariot serial-killer bar space on Tilden Avenue and Burbank Boulevard -- and put a bunch of "speed humps" there. Then I'd be in suburban heaven.

Remember: Speed kills. Speed humps kill automobile undercarriages.

Traffic signal from hell, part 2

The light at Victory and Woodley remains my traffic nemesis. At 6:20 p.m., the backup going east on Victory was all the way to the next traffic light. Sure there were some cars on Woodley crossing Victory, but they should expect to wait for at least a single light to cross what is one of the San Fernando Valley's main thoroughfares.

But to be backed up at least a quarter-mile and to be kept from crossing an intersection for 3 to 4 cyclings of the traffic light? something's not right. And on this stretch of Victory, running from the light West of Reseda Boulevard until the 405 Freeway, the speed limit is 40 mph, and the lights USED TO BE timed for 50 mph, turning the six-lane street into a virtual highway.

Clearly something must be done.