Don't go looking for the compact discs of country singer Toby Keith and jazz player Ellis Marsalis, Jr., in the same section of a music megastore. Don't expect to find a concert venue where downtown poet Patti Smith will share the stage with uptown pianoman Billy Joel. And don't even imagine that you will be able to tune in that magic radio frequency where Neil Diamond's croons, Pearl Jam's rocks and Van Dyke Parks explore the musical byways of Americana.
An examination of the CD collections of most Americans will still reveal the sort of diverse tastes that find room for the acoustic folk rock of the Indigo Girls, the alternative rock of Michael Stipe and REM, and the classic rock of Don Henley and the Eagles. But an increasingly corporate and commercial media rejects this very American penchant for diversity in favor of tightly formatted radio stations, lowest-common-denominator marketing strategies and the sort of homogenized and sanitized music that sounds as if it was created by a poll or a focus group -- as opposed to an artist.
Musicians of all stripes are starting to recognize that the galloping consolidation of American media -- especially in radio, where most Americans were first introduced to their favorite songs -- has reduced the ability of recording artists to take the risks that reshape our consciousness, to explore new ideas and new sounds and, ultimately, to be heard. Since Congress passed the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which removed barriers to the number of radio stations one media conglomerate could own, the largest of these conglomerates -- Texas-based Clear Channel -- has grabbed more than 1,200 stations and shaped a musical mix characterized by the homogenization of playlists, the death of programming diversity, less local programming, reduced public access to the airwaves and rapidly declining public satisfaction with radio and the music it plays.
Stanley Kubrick's brilliant 1962 black comedy about politics, power and technology is one of the greatest antiwar films ever made. And, now, forty years after it was released, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb seems like a satirical time bomb, more relevant in the age of "preemption" than ever before.
In light of the film's sadly enduring significance, a new group has emerged, Operation Strangelove, which as its first major action is orchestrating nationwide showings of Dr. Strangelove on Wednesday, May 14. Screenings throughout the US--in cinemas, living rooms, schools, offices and community centers--will be followed by panel discussions/benefits, many of which will raise money for activist groups and relief organizations working in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Operation Strangelove grew out of the Lysistrata Project, which inspired more than 1,000 staged readings worldwide of Aristophanes's bawdy antiwar play this past March. The readings also raised more than $100,000 for peace and humanitarian groups like RAWA, Madre and United for Peace and Justice. Organizers are looking to top that figure with the film showings on May 14.
Conservative talking head and former Bush speechwriter David Frum was quoted yesterday by Howard Kurtz in his online Washington Post media column criticizing my "amazing breath control" and "dazzling long-windedness" during a recent TV program on which the two of us appeared.
I must apologize if Frum felt deprived of his fair share of air time. As we all know, conservative pundits tend to be shy and reserved. Pity Frum and his comrades--Newt Gingrich, Richard Perle, Charles Krauthammer, William Kristol, Fred Barnes--for not being able to express themselves fully in the face of the widespread "microphone-hugging stunts" of the "hard left." Next time, I am on-air with Frum, I promise--really, I do--to throttle back so that his side finally has a chance to reach the public. And perhaps he will take that opportunity to engage the arguments at hand and not worry so much my breathing. Though if he is really interested, I can send him the name of a good yoga instructor.
About a month ago, George Soros sent me a letter along with a copy of a recent speech he'd delivered offering his views on "America's Role in the World." (I'm sure I was one of thousands to get the mailing.) Soros wrote that he was looking for a presidential candidate "who could articulate an alternative vision for America's role in the world and so far I have found two, Governor Howard Dean of Vermont and Senator John Kerry."
I thought of Soros' letter after reading that Kerry's campaign had blasted Dean's credentials as potential commander in chief. As Kerry's communications director, Chris Lehane, put it in attacking the former Vermont Governor's comment: "No serious candidate for the presidency has ever before suggested that he would compromise or tolerate an erosion of America's military supremacy." But who's talking about eroding US military supremacy? (Maybe Kerry went on the attack because he is stung from being derided for "looking French," by an unidentified White House official.)
It turns out that the former Vermont governor was quoted on Time.com as saying something eminently reasonable: "We have to take a different approach [to diplomacy]. We won't always have the strongest military." Some might consider this an alternative vision. I think it's just common sense. Dean's campaign manager, Joe Trippi, said all his candidate was saying was that Bush's foreign policy will ultimately leave the nation less safe in the war against terrorism by relying too heavily on military force at the expense of diplomacy.
So maybe we will find them yet,
Well stashed away in some place clever.
Or were they just destroyed in March?
Or never there at all? Whatever.