Neko Case

Middle Cyclone

Neko Case, the lead singer for the New Pornographers, has a new solo album (her second, I think) that I like the more I hear it. (Middle Cyclone)

I like the New Pornographers (name comes from some fundamentalist preacher who said “rock music is the new pornography” or something like that), and Case’s voice is an emphatic part of this group.

Solo, she’s different, and I’m sliding from “I like her better with the New Pornographers” to “Hmm…solo stuff…good.”

Either way, Neko Case – like Natalie Merchant (with or sans “10,000 Maniacs”) – is worth a listen.

Me likes both.

Listen; decide for yourself!

Deep Thoughts

Beware of thoughts that come in the night. They aren’t turned properly; they come in askew, free of sense and restriction, deriving from the most remote of sources. Take the idea of February 17, a day of canceled expectations, the day I learned my job teaching English was finished because of declining enrollement at the college, the day I called my wife from whom I’d been separated for nine months to give her the news, the day she let slip about her “friend” — Rick or Dick or Chick. Something like that.

— William Least Heat Moon, “Blue Highways”

“You’re still in touch. I guess that’s the test.”


“A psychiatrist could help. There’s a good man in Albany.”

Finnerty shook his head. “He’d pull me back into the center, and I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center.” He nodded, “Big, undreamed-of things — the people on the edge see them first.”

— Kurt Vonnegut, “Player Piano”

In a real dark night of the soul, it is always 3 o’clock in the morning.

— F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The Crack Up”

First Step for Newspapers

Newspapers have been struggling lately (see my Writing the Obit for Print Newspapers), and the industry has been flailing about looking for revenue.

One of the (many idiotic) ideas the industry has latched onto is to make Google pay to link to them.

Hit them with a cluestick – sure, Google will drop you, and your page views go down, as do ad revenues…yeah, that’s the plan.

But on April 7, 2009, Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt addressed the attendees at the annual meeting of newspaper publishers, and he had some very basic, hard-to-ignore advice for the crowd:

I would encourage everybody, think in terms of what your reader wants. These are ultimately consumer businesses and if you piss off enough of them, you will not have any more.
— via

Yet the newspaper industry still doesn’t see this – it’s more of a, “well, we do real journalism, so pay us for stuff.” It doesn’t look at the customer – it looks at the bottom line. It assumes that what they produce is the shit from the Golden Goose: We’ll all gravitate toward this golden fertilizer…

(Full disclosure: I’ve worked at many trade publications and for a large newspaper group; reader surveys – if done – were an exercise in how to get more blood out of the turnip. Overall [a gross generalization that I stand behind], content was about the $$, not a good customer [reader] experience.)

Craigslist does provides a great customer experience – ugly, but fast and free (for all but a small subset of paid content postings). And Craig Newmark keeps turning down bazillion-dollar offers for this ugly little site(s).

Why can’t newspapers get that customers have changed; that online is different from print? I guess that’s partly because newspapers can’t get away from “papers” – can’t divorce themselves of print and the insanely high profits newspapers enjoyed until about a decade ago.

This is a very basic first step that publications will have to embrace before they can do anything in the new journalism – online – world. The audience and expectations have changed – whatever: Keep them happy.

Webster’s Third New World Dictionary in print: bad. good.

Life magazine in print: bad (gone). Flickr: good.

The first rule is to keep the customer satisfied. Newspapers, today, don’t seem to really give a rat’s ass about that.

The debate of the merits of Life vs. Flickr etc can come later. Or newspapers can build the better Why not?

Newspapers: Fix this, and then we’ll discuss ways to make money. Because you could have the coolest 3D, community-driven, paradigm-breaking, AJAX-outfitted [fill in more buzz phrases] web site, but if you piss off your customers (in whatever way), well, they’re gone. As is your potential revenue.

Really. Think about it.

Edvard Munch

Collection of the Art Institute of Chicago

About 10 days ago, we took the train into Chicago to see the Edvard Munch exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago. (Yes, it is Edvard, with a “v,” not a “w.”)

While it was the institute’s current big exhibition, it was thinner than some blockbusters the museum has had in the past. However, for Munch, this worked out really well.

Munch is not one of those prolific artists like Picasso, who would crank out drawings and paintings until they filled his apartment…and then he’d move.

Since there are not as many “big” paintings of Munch, the museum curated an exhibition that highlighted some of Munch’s influences, including some Impressionist-era paintings from the Art Institute’s private collection (Monet, Seurat).

Munch really was a sponge; you could see examples of him almost directly ripping off another painting, but putting his own twist on things.

Much more than just “The Scream.”

We picked a bad Friday to go, however (3/27/2009) – it was spring break, and the museum was lousy with packs of students doing just about anything other than looking at art.

Yeah, “those damn kids!” [shakes fist….].

The photography exhibit going on was “Yousuf Karsh: Regarding Heroes”. Karsh is one of the best portrait photographers ever, but his images are almost sometimes too iconic. Yes, shows the man (think Churchill or Hemingway), but rarely broke through the idealized image of the individual like Arnold Neumann or Irving Penn did.

I think one of my favorite Karsh portraits was his very un-Karsh take of cellist Pablo Casals. Instead of a giant head – an icon – filling the frame, it’s taken from the back, shows the player small in the frame…just lost in the music.

That’s nice.

That’s one of the benefits of living in/near a big city that I appreciate: Hey, that was two major exhibitions we saw in one day, same building. This is going to only happen in a handful of cities across the world, to be honest.

Even though I haven’t been to many of the Chicagoland area’s major (or minor) museums in decades – Shedd Aquarium, Adler Planetarium for just two examples – they are right there if I do suddenly wake up some morning with an itch to see some fish or stars.

It is an embarrassment of riches, and one I should take advantage of more often than I do.