It’s Nothing Personal

I am not mourning the death of Michael Jackson. It’s nothing personal. And by that, I mean that’s the reason I’m not mourning. I didn’t know Mr Jackson. I don’t even know anyone who did know him.

It’s like the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. The world wailed and cried. I was sorry that she had left two young sons without a mother. Likewise, I am sorry that Michael Jackson’s young children will be without their father. I am also sorry for the thousands each day throughout the world who become orphans and feel the same loss as Prince, Paris, and Blanket (otherwise known by their real names: Michael, Paris, and Prince). But grief and mourning are based upon a personal loss.

He was a significant contributor to popular culture, though I can’t say that’s necessarily a particularly laudable thing, either. I don’t know that we are better off for the moonwalk, the crotch grab, or faux militaria and the single glove. Like I said, it’s nothing personal.

I am also sad for the thousands of people who appear to be beside themselves at his death. They seem lost for meaning or purpose and shocked that he is no longer “with us”. Why it should be remarkable that a 50-year-old man who constantly abused his body with surgery and drugs has died, I don’t know.  It speaks volumes about state of world.  Those volumes make up a very sad story (again, about the world, not about Jackson).

When it comes to people I know, with whom I have a relationship as family, friend, or even acquaintance, when they mourn, I mourn, for I participate in a small way in their loss. This is why as Orthodox Christians we have panikhida services in our parishes. We share each others’ love and temporary loss in hope of the Resurrection of the Dead and the life of the world to come. We light our own candle for a loved one now beyond the veil, but we light our candles from each other and they shine together. Together we sing, “Memory eternal!”

The wall-to-wall coverage of the death of Michael Jackson cheapens death itself. It shares something with the constant images of violence and death that are the substantance of so many films and video games. We no longer see it as our common end, a pointer to our own mortality. It is a spectator sport.

Let Michael Jackson’s family and friends grieve and mourn his loss. He has secured his place in history. Let it be for us to remember that as he has become, so shall we all one day be, awaiting the Final Judgement.

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Money for Nothing Becomes Nothing for Money

Regular readers may have noticed that whilst I am very conservative about many things, I am somewhat progressive on the issue of digital intellectual property rights. And I practice what I preach.

For example, there are television programmes that have been scattered electromagnetically into the atmosphere for everyone with a television to enjoy for free. While the technology is there for those waves of son et lumière to go anywhere in the world, they have been limited to certain geographical regions, so they can be sold and resold and resold in different markets to make already obscenely rich people even more obscenely rich. I only use the word “obscenely” twice in the same sentence because my megre vocabulary is insufficient to appropriately modify the word rich.

The Internet has created a giant ocean of ones and zeros drifting in and out of the millions of connections within it. It has eliminated the borders and the broadcast restrictions, even if there are companies out there trying as hard as they can to claim part of these high seas as their own. Or you might say they are trying to dam the ones and zeros within their territorial waters. You might say they are trying to limit fishing in their territorial waters by trying to keep hold of the fish. But that’s the problem: you can keep boats out, but you can’t keep fish in.

The fact of the Internet Ocean is that 90% of the music fish are swimming freely. In other words, even given all of the “legal” download sites and services, 90% of music is downloaded without the express written consent of the music industry.

The British Phonographic Industry (BPI) is the face of the record industry cartel in the UK, the British equivalent of the RIAA.  They claim that file sharing has cost the industry £1.1 billion a year. What they mean is that they have identified £1.1 billion that they could have accrued and didn’t. It didn’t actually cost them anything. It didn’t cost anyone another yacht in the Med or a twelfth sprawling estate in another exotic and exclusive location. It didn’t take any money out of a tax-protected off-shore account.

The BPI have bullied the British Government and the major ISPs in this country into forcing the ISPs into sending letters to customers based on the BPIs spying. If the BPI thinks a particular IP address is uploading an illegal file, they contact the ISP, which is then obliged to send a letter to the account belonging to the IP address giving details of the alleged file-sharing incident. I got such a letter the other day.

Was it about television programmes or films or even various albums (most of which don’t even get copied to CD and end up in the recycle bin)? No, it was about a single Britney Spears track that no one in our household has ever uploaded, downloaded, or otherwise loaded. You would think with all of the billions of pounds the BPI’s member labels have made, they could afford to get the information even somewhere near correct.

Legal threats aside, in reality what has happened is that the revenue stream is concentrating more and more on live music. That is the one thing that is not copyable. But this means that musicians have to work harder and maybe make less money. Perhaps some of you will pity them for this. I don’t.

It used to be that musical acts had to invest huge sums of money in studios and technology to produce records. Now top selling CDs have been produce in bedrooms with digital recording equipment. Making records has become easier and cheaper, thus increasing the profit margins. Now these recordings are going to have to be adverts for concerts where real music will have to be played in real time for real people.

I have been saying for a long time that the developments in technology mean concepts about intellectual property law will have to be dramatically reformulated. Those who are profiting the most, those piggybacking on the actual creators of ideas, are trying to formulate new revenue streams so they can continue to make money for nothing (sound anything like the bankers who have precipitated the world economic collapse?) but music cartels will eventualy have to realise that music is only worth what people are willing to pay for it and increasingly (if you can keep increasing from 90%) they aren’t.

Swiftly to the Top

I got the new Taylor Swift record a few days ago. Like her first album, it knocked my socks off and it hasn’t been out of my CD player, other than to give it brief relief while I listen to her Christmas EP. It replaced my copy of the latest Kellie Pickler CD at the top of the stack.

I am at the top end of the Taylor Swift listener demographic and her lyrics do not reflect my level of life experience. Part of the appeal of her music, beyond drawing out the false nostalgia of high school and young adult experiences I always wished I had, is the relief from the overly sexualised themes that seem unavoidable in most music today.

The rumour recently raced through the Internet that Taylor was pregnant. Not only that – she was reported to pregnant by Joe Jonas. There was dripping salivation at these stories, because Swift and Jonas are both Christians and both virgins. This was almost as good a story as Jamie Lynn Spears’ second teen pregnancy. The world is desperate for good people to turn bad.

I’m glad that Taylor doesn’t do “Christian” music. There are probably still those out there that live in the same sort of musical bubble I did, where there is Christian music and secular music and if you are a Christian and a musician, it is assumed that you to the former because if you do the latter, there is something spiritually wrong with you. On top of that, if you do Christian music, you are expected to have a music ministry. If you aren’t out there to evangelise or worship, you need to have some sort of spiritual goal for your listeners.

Unlike a number of successful artists who have started a music career at her age, she does not presume (or presumably even desire) to have a ministry. She just writes good music on the themes of her life, most of which involve a revolving door of innocent relationships.

To review Fearless itself, it is satisfying because it goes where it wants to go and gets there. In constrast, while I like the Kellie Pickler CD, it doesn’t do this. It appears that Kellie is trying to do a country-pop cross-over thing, even including a re-recorded or re-mixed song from her last album.  I never heard her on American Idol, but she has a voice made for country. Taylor’s voice isn’t as intrinsically country, and her style is less distinctly country, but it isn’t all over the place.

The songs are as good as the first album, which is difficult for a sophomore project. Even though she isn’t a sophomore herself, as when she record the debut, she also doesn’t have a catalog to draw from that dates from the 6th grade. (Who else is so talented that they have a song written in elementary school on a multi-platinum record? Or début with a smash single written in freshman math class? There are some old unsuccessful songwriters out there that find this very irritating.) I can hear at least four or five radio singles.  It sold over 200,000 copies on the first day it was released and was certified gold by the end of the week. It had over 129,000 legal downloads in the first week.

I’m glad she (or her record company) has stuck with Nathan Chapman as her producer. He’s clearly got what it takes to tap Taylor’s talent onto tape.

Not As Easy As It Looks

At our house we’ve already started ballet, karate and Scouts. The next logical step is musical instruments.

The Older Child has been on about learning to play the guitar for some time. He was even looking into taking lessons at school. While the former seemed plausible, the latter is ridiculous, given that the Older Child’s father has been playing guitar for almost 29 years and has taught guitar for almost as long, including teaching children not much older than the Older Child.

Because my acoustic guitar is way too big for the Child to use, we considered repairing a 3/4 size guitar belonging to the Unnamed Woman. It ony needed a bridge, nut, strings, and perhaps a few other bits and bobs, plus I’m not sure the tuning mechanism even holds. And it’s still a bit big for his hands. Or we could buy a new one. We took the Woman’s guitar to a repair shop to get an estimate for bringing it into working order. It was only £15 more to get a new half-size guitar.

We went with the latter option. He had money from his grandfather and at least he was putting some of it into something of more value than most of the toys he buys.

The Older Child was under the same impression about guitar playing that I was about snow skiing when I was 5. You just put on the skis and away you go, right? As soon as he got the guitar, he did the musical equivalent of standing still in the snow. He wanted to play a song and the Woman wanted me to buy him a guitar book.

After explaining how the strings and frets are numbered for reference, he tried his first chord. E minor. I always start with E minor because it is the simplest. The finger positioning wasn’t a problem for the Child. Pressing down with his fingertips and not touching anywhere else on the neck of the guitar was another matter. He had no idea that guitar playing involves pain.

His enthusiasm began to wain a bit. He finally began to understand that he will not be playing “Johnny B. Goode” like Michael J Fox in Back to the Future any time soon.

This morning he was strumming on his guitar again, playng a muted E minor. I hope he has the interest to follow through, even with the pain in the fingers. He is starting 10 years earlier than I did. I hope one day he is better than me.

Sharing Another Difference Between the US and UK

Another contrast between the US and UK has become apparent today when the FCC ruled against Comcast hampering file sharing. In the UK, people have been getting warning letters from their ISPs if they have been suspected of file sharing.

The British Government want to cut file sharing by 80% by 2011. British Phonographic Industry – the trade cartel for the UK record industry – has cut a deal with six of the UK’s biggest ISPs. The ISPs have agreed a three-strikes policy against customers who are suspected by the BPI of file sharing.

And just because the ISPs are agreeing to boot offenders, this doesn’t mean the cartel won’t take people to court for damages. They have and they will again. That’s not to say the equivalent US cartel, the Record Industry Association of America won’t sue people. They also have and will again.

The difference is the approach by Government. The BPI have Whitehall in their pocket. You’re thinking those must be very big pockets to fit Whitehall in them, but trust me, the BPI and its members have big pockets. Much bigger pockets than the private individuals they like to pick off and litigate into financial oblivion.

I’m not suggesting the record industry isn’t hurting from the downturn in CD sales. But they’re not losing money. Let’s be straight about this. You can’t lose someting you don’t have. Unless you have either pocketed someone’s money and it gets taken out of your pocket or you have invested money and end up with less than you’ve invested, you haven’t lost money. But they are hurting because it must be emotionally painful to be used to wallowing in billions and billions of pounds and to now have fewer billions in which to wallow. Think of what it must be like to be filthy rich and after a huge slump in sales to be, well, filthy rich.

Let me say this again: when you are making huge profits and then you are making less huge profits, you are not losing money.

In the US, the RIAA has had to face accusations of the obvious – they are an antitrust violating monopoly. It appears from my brief look at existing litigation that the RIAA are in retreat. Most recently it seems they have tried to drop cases in such a way as to punish the defendants by forcing them to pay their own legal fees, which, when fighting giant corporations and their lawyers, can be enormous. They have now been losing at that tactic.

In the UK, the courts have not been so enlightened. it is strange to think that in a very capitalist country like the US, the courts and even Congress can see through attempts at creating illegal monopolies and bullying the consumer, while in the socialist UK, big business wins.

So once again in the UK we have to deal with a heavy-handed totalitarian-aspiring Government and their collusion with industry cartels that are determined to maintain their profit levels. I haven’t even touched on the Government supporting the energy utilities putting up their prices by 35% in a single hike to maintain or even increase their profit levels in the face of rising energy costs.

Country Music Goes PC

As I have mentioned before, I’m a big fan of country music artist Taylor Swift. I may not fit her target demographic, but clearly she has a broad enough fan base to be the only female artist in the history of the Billboard country charts to have five consecutive Top 10 singles from a debut album.

I was pleased to learn that she got her high school diploma through a Christian homeschooling organisation. Families have to agree with Aaron Academy’s statement of faith. I’m guessing that means Taylor and her family are Christians.

I acquired a copy of the available-only-at-Wal-mart EP Beautiful Eyes. Since we have no Country radio in this country, I had never heard the radio mix of “Picture to Burn”. I was disappointed that the PC lobby apparently got to her record company. The lyrics originally said:

So go and tell your friends
That I’m obsessive and crazy,
That’s fine
I’ll tell mine
You’re gay,
And by the way,

Now the last part says:

That’s fine,
you won’t mind
if I say

The thing is that the original lyrics weren’t even offensive gay listeners, if the 90 comments on the 9513 blog are any indication. It’s only politically correct straight people who couldn’t get the context and the usage. The original lyric is about retaliation and fighting fire with fire. (Not exactly turn the other cheek stuff, but when have you ever known an offended young woman to thinkabout that when it comes to lying ex-boyfriends?) The new lyric makes no sense.

A perfectly good lyric has been sacrificed for the sake of a group who don’t even care.

Another Country Queen

Being on the wrong side of the ocean for any radio exposure to country music, it takes a while for me to pick up on what’s hot. First I discovered Carrie Underwood,  and more recently Taylor Swift. Now with Kellie Pickler, I have completed my collection of the current triumvirate Queens of Nashville.

Once again, I have found an album that knocks my socks off. What distinguishes Kellie and her songs are the reality of them. Country music tends to have a real-life feel about it generally, but Carrie and Taylor have fairly conventional happy family backgrounds. Nothing wrong with that and I’m not denying that conventional or happy is just as real-life as any other. Kellie was deserted by her mother at age two. Her father has been in and out of prison and she was raised by her grandparents, until her grandmother died when Kellie was in high school. Not surprisingly, there’s a little more pain in Kellie’s songwriting.

I’m sure that there are male country artists who are worth a listen. It’s just a matter of finding a way to squeeze them into my playlist amongst the three beautiful blondes.