How to protect your ears at a protest

Following decades of increasing police brutality and militarization in the USA and across the world, the Black Lives Matter movement has seen increasing numbers of protests occurring over the course of 2020. For those of us that have grown up listening to music made by Black artists and communities, now is the time to come out and support in whatever way you can those creators of the content you have been appreciating. 

Statements from those across the music and other industries echo this statement released by Pitchfork music website on June 1, 2020: ‘Black communities have been at the forefront of so many major American musical movements, including jazz, rock’n’roll, hip-hop, soul, and house. Loving this music means acknowledging the racial injustice that begat it. The fight for justice and equality is a matter of basic human rights, and we stand in solidarity with those working to demand change.’ Pitchfork go on to urge their readers to support the ongoing fight against injustice with a list of specific organisations doing more, such as: The Bail Project, Black Visions Collective and Movement for Black Lives. These coalition formed groups reflect the leaderless and rhizomatic working process of the movement, ensuring it as widespread and continuing without centering on key leadership roles. 

Whilst support can take on a myriad of forms, from donating to sharing or petitioning online or on social media, one active for in the resistance to racial equality is protest. With LRAD sonic weaponry being used by police in the USA, for those attending protests it’s important to be equipped in order to protect yourself from any lasting damage from incidents that may occur. Quality earplugs plus over-ear headphones are a must. If the LRAD is deployed it is recommended to shelter with dense or rigid surfaces to deflect the sound waves, or move left or right from it to deviate from its narrow audio path. 

Taylor Swift surprises with new album ‘folklore’

Announced just a day before its release, the 16 track album folklore by Taylor Swift came out on July 24th to a much surprised but very happy fanfare of appreciation from her worldwide audience. 

The 1 hour 3 minute long album includes tracks with titles such as ‘cardigan’, ‘the last great american dynasty’, ‘peace’ and ‘hoax’, which – known for her diary-esque writing process and time frame of the release – gives anxious fans a small insight into Swift’s lockdown mental state this year. The album features The National’s Aaron Dessner on 11 out of its 16 tracks. Of the unexpected collaboration he was quoted by Pitchfork as saying: ‘It was a product of this time. Everything we had planned got cancelled. Everything she had planned got cancelled. It was a time when the ideas in the back of your head came to the front. That’s how it started.’ So it is emerging from the COVID-19 lockdown that we are beginning to see the creative fruits of labours from that period of isolated time. 

Dessner went on to describe some of the songs from the album: ‘“Cardigan” is probably the closest to a pop song on the record—it’s this epic narrative.’ Other collaborations from the album include one track ‘exile’ with Bon Iver. The male and female parts were sung by Swift in a voice memo to Dessner in her pitch for the song: ‘ she sang both the male and female parts—as much as she could fit in without losing her breath. We talked about who she was imagining joining her, and she loves Justin [Vernon]’s voice’.

Pitchfork writer Sam Sodomsky notes a change in Swift’s sound in her new release: “Less than a year after 2019’s Lover, it marks a departure from the sharp, radio-friendly pop music that Swift spent the past decade-and-a-half building toward.”

Elton John’s ex says he breached their divorce terms and she wants him to pay a hefty price

Did you know Elton John has an ex-wife? Me neither. But he does, and she’s not happy with him. In fact she’s suing the “Levon” singer for £3 million.

Renate Blauel, a sound engineer born in Germany, married Elton in 1984, divorcing him four years later in 1988. Her lawsuit, details of which were filed this week in London, claims that Elton violated the terms of their divorce by writing about their relationship in Me, his 2019 autobiography.

Per the Independent, Elton did in fact excise sections of the manuscript at Blauel’s request. This was done before the book went to print. But she is still mentioned in Me (I haven’t read it yet), and she claims the book has led to a resurgence of psychological problems stemming from their marriage and divorce. (Her lawyers claim that Elton did not comply with her request to remove parts of the book, so the truth about that is still unclear.)

In the book Elton writes that he feels “huge guilt and regret” over their relationship, conceding that he did not do right by her.

“I’d broken the heart of someone I loved and who loved me unconditionally, someone I couldn’t fault in any way,” he wrote. “Despite all the pain, there was no acrimony involved at all. For years afterwards, whenever something happened to me, the press would turn up on her doorstep, looking for her to dish the dirt, and she never, ever has.”

He also revealed that he and Blauel are not friends, and that she refused his invitation to meet the two children he is raising with David Furnish, whom he married in 2014.

“But she didn’t want to [meet the kids],” he wrote, “and I didn’t push the issue. I have to respect how she feels.”

It seems she felt pretty awful for a long while. The Guardian reports, for example, that Blauel went so far as to change her identity to escape the memory and consequences of her marriage. She did this in 2001. In the years prior she reportedly suffered from severe mental distress, even undergoing electric shock therapy on a number of occasions.

Eventually, her lawyers say, she managed to put her past behind her. Then came Rocketman, the 2019 biopic directed by Dexter Fletcher, and she relapsed big time, complete with nightmares, anxiety, depression, and agoraphobia.

“Renate is particularly upset by the film which is inaccurate, misleading and insulting,” the lawsuit states. “In her mind, the film seeks to portray their marriage as a sham, which she wholeheartedly disputes and considers a false and disrespectful portrayal of their time together.”

We’ll see whether Elton’s guilt is “huge” enough to cover £3 million.

TikTok curries favor with American music industry

TikTok, the Chinese social media for teeny-boppers that has the US government all aflame, just signed an agreement with the National Music Publishers’ Association (NMPA), the American trade association that exists to protect music copyright and intellectual property.

In the NMPA’s words, the agreement “accounts for TikTok’s past use of musical works” and “ sets up a forward-looking partnership.”

According to Yahoo!, the NMPA has had TikTok in its crosshairs for a while. TikTok is a video-based app, and many of the videos feature music. Much of this music was presumably used in a way that breached copyright, hence the talk of accounting “for TikTok’s past use of musical works.”

There are reports that the NMPA threatened to sue TikTok earlier this year. If true, that’s what brought TikTok to the negotiating table.

In addition to holding TikTok to account for past violations, the deal makes it possible for NMPA members—mostly music publishers—to opt-in to a program that enables them to cash in if their music is used on the video app.

“We are pleased to find a way forward with TikTok which benefits songwriters and publishers and offers them critical compensation for their work,” said NMPA President David Israelite. “Music is an important part of apps like TikTok which merge songs with expression and popularize new music while also giving new life to classic songs. This agreement respects the work of creators and gives them a way to be paid for their essential contributions to the platform.”

TikTok claimed to be “excited” by the partnership.

“TikTok is proud to partner with music publishers and songwriters to enable artist and song discovery, and support revenue opportunities,” said Ole Obermann, Global Head of Music at TikTok. “We’re excited to partner with the NMPA to bring their member companies on to the platform and help hundreds of millions of people discover and enjoy their songs. We look forward to continuing to work with songwriters to help them use TikTok as a powerful and innovative channel to reach a global audience through a unique format of creation and engagement.”

As I alluded to at the start of this post, the US government despises TikTok because it’s a Chinese company and Washington hates all things China. It will likely be banned in the US soon. The major claim is that TikTok collects data from users and then relays it back to Beijing. This is probably true, but if we’re going to start banning apps that collect and misuse our data, we can start with Google, Facebook, Twitter, and all the other American tech monopolies.

As journalist/publisher Julian Assange stated back in 2011:

“Facebook in particular is the most appalling spying machine that has ever been invented. Here we have the world’s most comprehensive database about people, their relationships, their names, their addresses, their locations and the communications with each other, their relatives, all sitting within the United States, all accessible to U.S. intelligence.”

In case you forgot, Assange is currently being arbitrarily detained and tortured by the British government as he fights extradition to the US for his publishing activity.

Don McLean says modern music ‘doesn’t mean anything’

Don McLean, the man behind the smash hit “American Pie,” dislikes modern music, arguing that it reflects the “nihilistic” nature of Western society.

The 74-year-old folk rocker made the remarks during an interview (seemingly shot around Christmastime, but only uploaded this month) with Tom Cridland on Cridland’s “Greatest Music of All Time” YouTube program. I watched the interview while trying to get through to a 1300 number in Australia.

For McLean, music and politics are inextricably linked.

“Music and politics … flow forward parallel,” McLean said. “So the music reflects the politics and the politics reflects the music.”

So if politics goes into the gutter, music follows it.

“Now you have a kind of politics that is almost non-political, it doesn’t really mean anything,” he continued. “And the music doesn’t mean anything. The music reflects the spiritual nature of the society. We have a kind of nihilistic society now. No one believes in anything, no one likes anything, no one has any respect for anything much. And the music shows that. And the guy who is in the White House shows that.”

McLean was then asked about the quality of the music on the radio today.

“It doesn’t exist as far as I can see,” he answered. “Music is not on the radio. There is some form of music like sound, but it’s not music.”

As an example he cited an old TV show called “Name that Tune,” on which contestants had to identify songs as quickly as possible. In the ‘50s, he said, a song was instantly recognizable—you knew what it was after a few notes. Not so today.

“There is nothing on the radio [now] you can name in 20 notes. There is nothing there. It’s a single note, or it’s three or four notes repeated over and over again, with a chorus that’s done over and over until it’s drummed into your head or it makes you want to hang yourself. But it’s not a hook.”

“And the lyrics are not about anything much,” he added. “It’s very vague and vacant.”

Having said that, McLean believes that, while people no longer understand how to write melodies, “the quality of playing has gone way up.”

“The playing and the record-making are just phenomenal. Guitar-playing, drumming, bass-playing, man, I mean, that’s gone through the roof.”

As McLean sees it, the decline of American music began when Jack Kennedy was assassinated. That’s when “America lost its way” and people ceased to believe in anything.

“I think the most we can hope for is that if something happens we start to believe in each other a little bit more, and maybe that will be what happens,” he said.

Perhaps the coronavirus is that “something.”

Released in 1971, “American Pie” topped the US charts for four weeks. In 2001 the Recording Industry Association of America named it the 5th best song of the 20th century.

Taylor Swift accused of promoting ‘anti-Semitic conspiracy theories’

Taylor Swift is being accused of “anti-Semitism” after she used Instagram to lash out at her former record label for making an album of a live radio performance she did when she was 18. As she sees it, the “tasteless” new release was motivated by “shameless greed.”

“I’m always honest with you guys about this stuff so I just wanted to tell you that this release is not approved by me,” Swift wrote to her Instagram followers. “It looks to me like Scooter Braun and his financial backers, 23 Capital, Alex Soros and the Soros family and the Carlyle Group have seen the latest balance sheets and realized that paying $330 MILLION for my music wasn’t exactly a wise choice and they need money.”

She concluded: “In my opinion … just another case of shameless greed in the time of coronavirus. So tasteless, but very transparent.”

Scooter Braun bought Big Machine Records, the label to which Swift was signed earlier in her career, last year—much to the singer’s dismay. At the time she called the purchase her “worst case scenario.”

So where does the alleged anti-Semitism come into play? According to Swift, Braun’s activities are financed in part by Alex Soros, son of billionaire investor George Soros. The latter, a Hungarian-born Jew, has long been the target of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, which hold that Soros and his family are controlling world finance and world politics behind the scenes.

So people are taking exception to Swift’s having associated “the Soros family” with “shameless greed.”

“You have every right to be upset about others profiting off your music. But PLEASE don’t share antisemitic conspiracy theories about the Soros family,” Jewish political group Bend the Arc tweeted. “‘Shameless greed’ is a dog-whistle used against Jews. Your Jewish fans deserve better.”

And Tara Mulholland, a producer at CNN, tweeted that “Taylor Swift deploying a Soros dog whistle is … a choice.”

Swift has not responded to the accusations.

In 2016, Vice ran an article dealing with Swift’s curious popularity among white supremacists and neo-Nazis, some of whom refer to her as a “pure Aryan goddess.” At the time the article was published, a Facebook group called Taylor Swift for Fascist Europe had more than 18,000 members. Membership to such groups doesn’t show up in pre-employment screening, but perhaps it should, if only because you don’t want extraordinary idiots working at your company.

Rolling Stones release Covid-themed single (sort of)

For the first time in eight years, the Rolling Stones have released new music. The song, “Living in a Ghost Town,” is a howling, apocalyptic lamentation that speaks to the current times, wherein people are isolated and whole industries (including live music) are fighting to keep their heads above water, though there is still Equipment Hunt machinery for sale. The song so meshes with our collective situation that it seems to have been written as a direct response.

But that is only partially true, according to guitarist Keith Richards, who stated that the single was recorded over a year ago as part of a new album.

“We cut this track well over a year ago in LA for a new album, an ongoing thing, and then shit hit the fan,” Richards said. “Mick and I decided this one really needed to go to work right now and so here you have it.”

Mick Jagger made the same point, commenting that the Stones were “recording some new material before the lockdown and there was one song we thought would resonate through the times that we’re living in right now. We’ve worked on it in isolation. And here it is.”

It’s clear that some of the lyrics of “Living in a Ghost Town” were added after people began self-isolating and the streets of major cities became desolate. Like these ones:

“Life was so beautiful / Then we all got locked down … Please let this be over / Stuck in a world without end.”

It would be sort of eerie if Jagger wrote those lines a year ago, don’t ya think? Don’t worry; he didn’t. During a recent chat with Apple Music, he said he reworked the words after the pandemic hit. He also said he is “very aware how lucky” he is to have financial security while millions of people are being put out of work.

“It’s 20 million people lost their jobs completely for something that’s nothing to do with them at all. And also the less money you have, the more worries you have. So for lots of people, it’s really tough.

“I mean, I have friends and they live in really small apartments in a big city and they don’t have anywhere to go and they’ve lost their job. I’m very, very lucky and I’m very aware how lucky I am, but not everyone’s as lucky as me.”

In the same interview, Jagger was asked to respond to comments made by Paul McCartney that the Beatles were “better” than the Rolling Stones.

“[The Stones] are rooted in the blues,” McCartney told Howard Stern recently. “When they are writing stuff, it has to do with the blues. We had a little more influences. There’s a lot of differences, and I love the Stones, but I’m with you—the Beatles were better.”

Jagger was a good sport about it, saying, “That’s so funny. He’s a sweetheart. There’s obviously no competition.”

“The big difference, though,” he added, “sort of slightly seriously, is that the Rolling Stones is a big concert band in other decades and other areas when the Beatles never even did an arena tour, Madison Square Garden with a decent sound system. They broke up before that business started, the touring business for real.”

Jagger concluded that “One band is unbelievably luckily still playing in stadiums and then the other band doesn’t exist.”

So, what do you think? The Beatles or the Stones?

Or Zeppelin?

Roger Waters hammers Trump, Biden, American Exceptionalism, and Pink Floyd reunions

If you know Roger Waters, you know that he doesn’t shy away from expressing his political views. From supporting WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (who is stuck in a prison in London as he fights extradition to the United States) to calling UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson an “oaf and a complete buffoon,” Waters doesn’t like to mince too many words. He has also described US President Donald Trump as a “tyrant and mass murderer and mass destroyer of everything that any of us might love or cherish.”

So it follows that Waters would support the presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden against Trump in November, right? Not exactly.

Rolling Stone asked Waters about this in a recent interview. Specifically, the former Pink Floyd singer was asked whether he thinks voters ought to hold their noses, as it were, and cast their ballots for Biden in order to get rid of Trump.

“For the moment, I’m on the fence,” Waters said. “I’m so flabbergasted and gobsmacked by the way the Democratic National Committee has railroaded Bernie [Sanders] again. And has put in place a candidate who … I can’t imagine Biden beating Trump in an election.”

“I honestly don’t know where I stand on that lesser of two evils question,” Waters continued. “I’m not sure that the path to a new America that is not ruled by the current ruling class—by money, plutocracy, and a capitalist system—will be made any easier with Biden as president than with Trump as president.”

In case that’s a little too wishy-washy for your taste, Waters added bluntly:

“Biden is such a fucking slime ball. He’s so weak, and has no appeal to anybody. Trump, at least, is a snake oil salesman, he does tricks. He does them really badly, but people don’t care.”

“I’m so upset at the appalling bill of goods the American electorate is being sold, and they fall for it again and again,” he went on. “On the simplest of pretext, which is: America exceptionalism. ‘We are great. This is the greatest country in the world. We believe in freedom and democracy and human rights. We make everything better. We are the shining city on the hill.’ No you aren’t, you’re fucking awful!”

Perhaps Waters should look into moonlighting as an online tutor. At least until the pandemic ends and he can get back to playing live music.

Waters was equally blunt when the subject of a Pink Floyd reunion came up. To hear Waters tell it, it’s never going to happen. Check it out:

“No, it wouldn’t be nice. It would be fucking awful. Obviously if you’re a fan of those days of Pink Floyd, you would have a different point of view. But I had to live through it. That was my life. And I know in the wake of it, I’ve been cast as something of a villain by whoever, whatever, I can live with that. But would I trade my liberty for those chains? No fucking way.”

Apple has a handwashing music app

As you may or may not have heard, washing your hands is pretty important right now.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says you should wash them:

Before, during, and after preparing food

Before eating food

Before and after caring for someone at home who is sick with vomiting or diarrhea

Before and after treating a cut or wound

After using the toilet

After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet

After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing

After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste

After handling pet food or pet treats

After touching garbage

And it’s not just a matter of squirting some soap into one hand and rubbing your palms together under the tap for a few seconds. No, according to health experts, it should take you a full 20 seconds to wash your hands.

The CDC says to use the Happy Birthday Song as a timer: sing it all the way through, twice, to make sure you’re scrubbing for long enough. Sounds like something Howard Hughes would do, doesn’t it? Where am I going with this?

Here: Apple has created a shortcut that plays your favorite music for 20 seconds, in case you’re getting sick and tired of the Birthday Song.

Interested? First thing you have to do is install the Apple Shortcuts app on your device. If your iPhone is relatively new, Shortcuts probably came pre-installed. Otherwise just take a stroll over to the Apple App Store, where you can access all kinds of nifty things, like Zello Walkie Talkie, a 2 way radio app.

Next find the right shortcut and download it. The best way to do this is to simply search “washing hands music” in Apple’s gallery. Then, activate the shortcut by tapping the icon or barking an order at Siri.

The app will automatically begin playing the last song you listened to on your phone, and it will play it for 20 seconds, so start washing straight away. If you want, you can make it so that the app plays a song of your choosing every time. Your hand-washing song.

And if you’re one of the millions of weirdos that don’t ever wash their hands, here are some step-by-step instructions from the CDC:

Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.

Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.

Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.

Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.

Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

Now go and wash your hands.

Music venues combine forces as they fight to survive the coronavirus lockdown

We may be social distancing and sheltering in place to soften the sting of the coronavirus—which as of this writing has infected over 2.7 million people and killed over 190,000 worldwide—but we’re also banding together and organising in new and interesting ways. As economies and industries around the world continue to tank, people are beginning to understand the importance of social, political, and economic unity.

Take the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), for example. Created on April 17 by the leading independent music venues and promoters in the United States, the organisation’s express purpose is “to fight for the survival of independent venues, their employees, artists, fans and their communities,” all reeling from the blows inflicted by the pandemic. More than 100,000 independent music concerts have been canceled.

“Until now, independent venues and promoters have inherently been islands unto themselves, fighting fiercely in brutal, individual marketplaces,” NIVA writes on its webpage. “But the pandemic has brought a crashing halt to business operations of small and mid-sized venues across the country and threatens their existence.”

NIVA goes on to mention the significant cultural and economic role played by independent music venues, highlighting the fact that, per a 2016 study, the live music industry in the US generates approximately $23.5 billion in revenue each year.

Dayna Frank, the owner of First Avenue in Minneapolis and a NIVA board member, described the current situation facing venues as “brutal.”

“Music venues were the first to close and will be the last to open,” Frank said. “It’s just brutal right now, and the future is predictable to no one. We can’t envision a world without these music venues, so we’ve created NIVA to fight for their ability to survive this shutdown, which we hear could go into 2021. Our first order of business is to push to secure federal funding to preserve the ecosystem of live music venues and touring artists.”

To that end, NIVA has just addressed an open letter to the leaders of the US Congress. In it, the organisation thanks lawmakers for their relief efforts and lists steps it believes they ought to take in order to keep the industry from collapsing. These include: amendments to the small business loan program so that companies most in need are served first; tax deferrals and other forms of relief; further expansion of unemployment benefits (26 million Americans have lost their jobs due to coronavirus); mortgage and rent forbearance; establishment of business recovery funds; and more.

“In short,” the letter reads, “our members, employees, artists and local communities are facing an existential crisis as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and are in urgent need of targeted legislative and regulatory assistance.”

NIVA consists of over 800 independent music venues spanning 48 states.

This virus has been tough on us all. I don’t know what your sleep cycle is like these days, but mine is way out of whack. It probably won’t be right again until I can see some live music. Let’s hope independent music venues in other countries follow NIVA’s example and press their legislatures to provide the necessary assistance to keep this great industry afloat.