I’ve got a new “Think Again” column called “Rupert Murdoch and the Myriad Means of Misinformation” and it’s here.
And I did a podcast interview with World Policy Journal editor, David Andelman here about Obama’s foreign policy. (I’ve been a senior fellow of the World Policy Institute since 1985.)
I feel sorta guilty that my post on the worst songs of all time inspired such thoughtful posts by others, particularly Mike Tomasky in the Guardian, and this really smart guy in something called, I kid you not, “Flowering Toilet.”
The latter even did me the favor of dating each song and adding the artist. So check them out there if you’re curious/sadistic. And he should feel free to do the same with the below. In the meantime, there is a great deal more to be said about the question of what qualifies and why, but I’m too lazy to do it here and so a few small points in response:
1) Tomasky is defending “sentiment.” That’s fine. I can be as sentimental as the next guy. I cry when they sing “La Marseilles” in “Casablanca” and when Jimmy Stewart’s friends come through at the end of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” “I’m the son of Hickory Holler’s Tramp” makes me tear up every time it shows up on my iPod. What I object to is the cheap exploitation of sentiment, which alas, is the basis of so much American “entertainment” and, as I think about it, a pretty good dividing line between the likes of say, Hank/Patsy/Merle/George and so many of their big-hatted counterparts of today. But anyway, that’s going off topic. And I am staying largely away from country music because as Jackson Browne says, “it’s such a fine line….” But the point is, sentiment has to be earned, which is why I put “Imagine” as the unchallenged #1 worst song of all time. (A truer version would have replaced the line: “Imagine no possessions” with “Imagine an apartment in the Dakota just for the storage of my furs. Oh wait, I have one of those aready.”)
Anyway, I largely concur with Mr. FT that objective criteria in music are chimerical, which is not to say they are not there. (God is not definable. Does that determine His absence definitively? Of course not. God’s existence or lack thereof is independent of our ability to define it. And it’s the same with music. This point was originally driven home to me when, as a teenager, I called up the great DJ, Jonathan Schwartz to berate him on the air for “selling out” by leaving WNEW-FM where he could play all kinds of cool stuff for WNEW-AM where he played lots of Sinatra-style songs. He lectured me on the air that he played “good” music, period, and I should maybe open my ears a little. Boy was he right and I wrong. As someone who thought he was too cool to like Led Zepplin in junior high—and hence, blew his only chance to see the band--I look back on my past music snobbery/narrow-mindedness in sorrow and shame. And in that spirit, I will take up Tomasky’s challenge and submit myself to universal ridicule for really liking the following:
(Oh, and sorry there’s no mail, but I did steal some of the suggested songs. I didn’t include the letters because most of them were obviated by the below. I’ll take more suggestions for tomorrow though, assuming you’ve read the below).
A Horse with No Name
Almost everything by Neil Diamond
About a quarter of Barry M’s Greatest Hits, including especially “Mandy.”
About half of of John Denver’s Greatest Hits
All of the early Bee Gees, about a quarter of the disco period.
Most of the Monkees
House at Pooh Corner and much of Mr. Loggins’ oeuvre. I will even confess that I saw him do a solo performance in a ski resort once and it was like the greatest thing ever.
In the Year 2525
I’m Not in Love
Reflections (Of My Life)
The Pina Colada Song
Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes
All the dead girl songs including most particularly and profoundly “Tell Laura, I Love Her”
But back to the real me: Here are more awful songs that would have made the earlier list of just plain awful if I had either more spaces or a better memory:
I Write the Songs (Barry didn’t even write that one)
Silly Love Songs (Sorry, he really does excel in this category)
That Billy Joel song where he just rattles off historical events as if he’s saying something profound.
Hot Stuff (Stones, not Donna Summer)
That Supertramp song that goes “There are tiiiimmmeesss…”
Didn’t McCartney do a song with Michael Jackson too? That one.
Me and You and a Dog Named “Boo”
Sinatra’s version of “(Bad, Bad) Leroy Brown”
Candle in the Wind, both versions
Oh and I confused some, including Mr. FT, with an editing error. "Who’s Ruling Who?" is not a
Song. It was the name of Reed Richardson’s essay in the wrong place. Sorry
Another controversy: Is “Sweet Home Alabama” a right wing or a left wing song?”
My new take: I think what has happened is that the song has morphed, from a left wing song into a right wing one. I'm was watching Skynyrd perform from 1977 in San Francisco (on WLIW last night from Wolfgang's Vault, with Peter Frampton, the "Day on the Green" concert) and Ronnie Van Zandt was wearing a Neil Young/"Tonight's the Night" T shirt. And the chick backup singers were definitely singing "Boo-hoo-hoo" after "In Birmingham they love the guvnah."
But now, if you want to have a right-wing, redneck dare I say it, Nascary event for older people--like say, picking a band for an RNC show, which I had peripheral involvement with last time around--your choices are what's left and pretending to be Skynyrd and CDB. And now they do it with confederate flags and not Neil Young t shirts and I'm guessing not so much feeling in the "Boohoohoos."
I'm not so crazy about Tom Petty, but this story....
And I’m deeply saddened to learn of the death of Abbey Lincoln.
One of the fortunate things in my life was the fact that for a while I got to see Abbey sing in small clubs around the city twice a year for quite a while and it was the closest thing I could imagine to seeing Billie Holiday. She was really in her own category as a singer and always put together great bands. If you don’t have the album she did with Stan Getz, “You Gotta Pay the Band” you don’t have one of the best jazz albums of all time, and that’s just for starters.
Also, Herman Leonard died. I collect photography and the very first pieces I ever bought were a Leonard and a Belloc at the Gallery for Fine Photography in New Orleans. I bought a complete portfolio of his work later on and I agree with Fred that as jazz photography goes, he was the tops. As an added bonus, if you want a visual representation of my (and Mordechai Kaplan’s, in my opinion) vision of the meaning of the word “God,” then take a look at Leonard’s “Ray of Light” photograph of Duke Ellington. It hangs over the desk in my home office.
Oh and if I were you, I’d go to the New Yorker home page and read:
1) Francois Truffaut’s last interview before his death
2) Sean Wilentz on Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg
3) Roger Angel on Bobby Thompson
And if you’re in the city, The Film Society at Lincoln Center is having… wait for it… an Eric Rohmer festival. Hooray for that!
Now here’s Reed with some serious stuff.
Reed Richardson writes:
All the Small Things
Much has already been written about Monday’s revelation that Fox News’ corporate parent recently donated $1 million to the campaign coffers of the Republican Governors’ Association through its News America PAC. It’s a large figure, but, the largesse involved was mostly notable only because it wasn’t evenly divided between the two major parties. That News Corp.’s PAC has also donated $234,700, in mostly even amounts, to the two political parties this election cycle or that NBC News corporate parent GE has also given a combined $450,000 in roughly equal portions to both Republican and Democratic governors since last year was mostly treated as footnotes in the reporting. And a quick search of the Open Secrets website shows that political campaigns are routinely awash in millions of dollars from the corporate parents of almost every major American media outlet.
Of course, a GE spokesman denied that the parent company’s donations would have any effect on the editorial decisions of NBC News, echoing a similar sentiment about Fox News’ editorial independence given by News Corp. spokesman Jack Horner to the Wall Street Journal yesterday: "The corporate donation has no impact on the reporting activities of our newsgathering organizations. There is a strict wall between business and editorial and the corporate office does not consult with our newsgathering organizations ... before making donations."
But the Journal is owned by Dow Jones, which is itself another subsidiary of News Corporation, and yesterday’s Journal article conveniently overlooked this legendary front-page blunder at the News Corp.’s other New York newspaper, an erroneous story whose source was widely acknowledged to be a pretty prominent member of the News Corp.’s business side—none other than the Chairman himself. Of course, direct intervention in editorial content like this is still, thankfully, the exception. The rule, however, is more pernicious and long-lasting—as parent companies consolidate and squeeze their media subsidiaries for greater efficiencies and higher profits, news organizations are increasingly forced to close domestic and foreign bureaus, shrink their news holes, and sacrifice accuracy in the name of slashing staff overhead.
Or, as was noted in the most recent Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism survey, former CNN president and Los Angeles Times publisher Tom Johnson once said, “The single most important element in the life of a media company is who owns it.”
But to give credit where credit is due, News Corp. is at least consistent when it comes to letting the newsroom enjoy the same rights as the boardroom—Fox News being the only major TV network whose ethics policy allows for political donations by its editorial employees. The rest of the broadcast and cable networks, along with almost every major newspaper in the country, ban any kind of individual campaign contribution and most forms of political advocacy by their newsroom staffs, regardless of an employee’s beat or job function. These rigid ethical rules are in place, we’re told, in the interest of maintaining the appearance of objectivity, but what they really do is institute a two-tier class system where a reporter or editor now has fewer free speech rights than the corporation that employs them.
One might argue that these draconian ethics policies would be justified if they were to succeed in preserving the publics’ trust in the press, but this past week we again saw proof that this isn’t the case. After the collectively bungled news coverage of the runup to the Iraq War, you might think that the traditional media would have learned its lesson. But, alas, its recent horse-race focused and process-obsessed performance covering the health care debate has left many Americans armed with little more than competing talking points and confused about its real impact.
Sadly, the next three months leading up to the midterm elections promise more of this fundamentally flawed news coverage, if this story is any indication. When a Washington Post reporter waits until the very last sentence to reveal that one of the primary subjects seriously featured in her story on the “Ground Zero mosque” controversy is casually demagoguing the issue “for fun,” I can understand why the public now questions the press’s commitment to the truth.
Likewise, when a story in today’s New York Times, which seeks to detail all the conspiracy theories and tabloid lies about the president’s birthplace and religion, can’t be bothered to do more to set the record straight than to couch the truth in mealy-mouth campaign-trail journalese like: “Despite repeated denials by Obama aides…," I fear for our democracy. Rather than something unequivocal like: “In fact, Mr. Obama is a Christian who was born in Hawaii,” this guarded, on-the-one-hand, on-the-other language actually creates breathing room for more doubt. Tellingly, the Times has now changed the story to read: “Despite evidence to the contrary from Obama aides….,” making no mention of this earlier version. The change is subtle, yes, but nevertheless telling. It speaks to a media beholden to broken value system, one that continues to let corporations dictate the future while the press continues to hedge its bets, leaving the public without a grasp of the factual record and our democracy poorer because of it.
Editor's Note: To contact Eric Alterman, use this form.