Sunday, March 29, 2009

Cézanne and Beyond - A Day at the Museum

March 29th, 2009
Sunday Afternoon, 5:38 PM

I am not an Art critic, far from it actually. I am a casual art fan. I have taken art study classes at school many moons ago, have traveled through Europe visiting many exhibits and I have gazed in wonderment (& disgust) by the excess of art commissioned by far too many Kings and Popes. Many times that excess created artistic gold, but I have always wondered at what cost. I have walked the halls of the Vatican, during a private tour by a Restoration Specialist, going in eyes wide open and coming out amazed at the beauty and feeling alienated by the religion that would flaunt such extravagance. Still, you have to admire the vision, creativity, and sheer brilliance of the artist and it's creations.

Since the beginning of the year, I have toured two Exhibits and have had two distinctly experiences. In early January I visited Barcelona and explored the Museum dedicated to the works and mind of Pablo Picasso. In the begging of March, I visited the Philadelphia Museum of Art for an exhibit focused on the works of Paul Cézanne. Two giants of the art world and two incredibly different experience. I am not going to write a review of why one artist is better then the other or how one inspired the other. This post will be about the experience and the time, energy and care put into the exhibits themselves. One was fantastic and one was pedestrian, both were educational, but one was transcending. One is reinventing the way people experience Art in the early 21st century. That was the experience I had in March and one that has made me appreciate Cézanne above all others in his field.

March 7th was a drab and cool late winter day. My sister asked to take my children to the Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia, which we live about 45 minutes away from now baring road work being done on the decaying infrastructure of one of America's oldest cities. We packed the car with the idea that we would have a couple of hours to spare between the kids being at Please Touch and a late afternoon meal. I recently read an article on the Cézanne show in the New York Times and was intrigued by the review. Plus, it had been years since I walked the halls (not the infamous steps, too touristy) of the Philly Art Museum. My wife and I decided to kill time by going back to one of the places of our first dates and enjoy the afternoon sans the little ones. It turned out to be a wise move and an afternoon I have reflected on many times since it transpired.

The Cézanne exhibit is exceptional. The experience is a stark contrast to the Picasso show I witnessed just 2 months prior. What makes the Cézanne experience so compelling is the interactive and educational nature of the show. It does this without preaching or coming across as too avant-guarde. Your tour guide comes in the form of a headset which has the Curators of the show describing the significance of each work of art and why it is being included in the exhibit. While the Picasso show in Barcelona, and many of the other shows I have walked through, consist of room after room of the same artist, this show incorporates the works with the genius of Cézanne and the artist that were inspired by him. This tactic includes international artist such as Picasso, Braque, Léger and Matisse to Giacometti, Mondrian, Morandi, Gorky, Kelly, Johns, and Marden. The Curators Joseph Rishel and Katherine Sachs, who provide the soundtrack for the show, incorporate the present day with photographs by Jeff Wall and sculptures by Francis Alÿs.
The show starts with works from Cézanne's posthumous exhibition at the Salon d'Automne in 1907. Artist such as Braque, Matisse and Picasso were so inspired by this show that they each embarked on a new journey of exploration in expression that resulted in radical movement and creativity in the Art world. Seeing these Artist render their own interpretations of Cézanne, only helps to magnify the importants and originality of such a master. It reminded me of all of those British Invasion acts as they would try desperately to topple or even stand in the same league as The Beatles. For every Rolling Stone's song that created something new, there were 10 Dave Clark Fives. Mick Jagger always knew, there was only one John Lennon and Picasso knew there was only one Master. Later in life Picasso famously stated, "Cézanne is the father of us all." This exceptional show exhibits the works of all of his children, lovingly.

Richard Dorment of the U.K.'s Daily Telegraph sums the show up much better then I could this way, "Not many exhibitions can be said to change the way you think about art, but Cézanne and Beyond at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in the US is one of them. As powerful a show as you are ever likely to see, it brings together 50 paintings, watercolours and drawings by the painter from Aix-en-Provence to hang alongside the work of 18 20th-century artists who fell under his spell." Those Brits are really up on their Art, high bloody praise indeed.

For all of my readers in the Philly area or even in New York/New Jersey, take the train or drive down to Benjamin Franklin Parkway and lose yourself for a couple of hours in the majesty of greatness. You will feel rewarded and replenished all the same. The show will be playing until May 17th of this year and due to the robustness of the collection, is unlikely to tour. Catch it while you can.

After the show, take caution as the picture states, and head down to The Water Works which is a nice little restaurant right next to Boat House Row. It is the closest bar/restaurant to the Museum and is nestled right on the waters edge. There you can unwind and let the works of Cézanne sink in as you try to figure out how a river spelled Schuylkill is actually pronounced Skukill.

Friday, March 20, 2009

A Watchdog?

March 20th, 2009
Friday Morning, 11:20 AM

As a follow-up to my post last week, "Who's Watching the Watchdogs", the best piece of journalism (It's ALVIE!) that I read this week comes from Matt Taibbi over at Rolling Stone online. In an article titled, The Big Takeover, Taibbi paints a disturbing picture of what truly is going on in the halls of Washington and Wall Street "while Main Street sleeps". According to Taibbi, while the American public tries to figure out "who moved our cheese", Wall Street and Washington are creating a New World Banking and Political Order. It's Orwell meets "Woodstien" reporting, thoroughly investigated, with a bitter, real-time, inauspicious tone.

As Taibbi did time and time again during the Election, he continues here to peak behind the curtain to see who is benefiting from the economics of Politics. In this story he is focusing on one of the greatest economic blunders of all-time, crystallizing for the taxpayers the parties involved and the impact their actions will have to our way of life. All the time know that we will be on the sidelines watching and financing one of the most costly, ominous power grab in American history.

I ask again:
- Why isn't the mainstream media, The NY Times, Wash Post, Wall Street Journal, providing this type of in-depth, gripping, fact-based expose?
- Why does this type of reporting have to come from a Music Magazine?

You wonder why Tim Geithner is coming under fire from the "Populist" on the left, right and Main Street this week? Read this and weep:

The Big Takeover by Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone
(click to jump to the article)
The global economic crisis isn't about money - it's about power. How Wall Street insiders are using the bailout to stage a revolution

Friday, March 13, 2009

Who's Watching the Watchdogs

March 13th, 2009
Friday Morning, 11:30 AM

My first Major choice in College was Journalism. See, I grew up in the golden age of Journalism. The profession was romanticized by embedded Journalist in World Wars, dignified by Uncle Walter every night at 6:30, and canonized by two journalist that brought down the President of the United States with a tip from a guy dubbed "Deep Throat". It also helps when Hollywood has two of the best actors of the generation play "Woodstein" in one of the most riveting movies of that decade. This golden age refined the profession and validated the power of freedom of the press in our democracy. At a young age, I was impressed by the majesty of the profession and I held these journalist as nobility. And then I went to college.

I remember being in my journalism class and having daily debates around the power of figures like Marrow and "Woodstein" and the influence that local evening news holds when they literally promote "fear and death" every single night to sell advertising space. My Professor was adamant about making sure we understood the role of Journalism in the marketplace. He made sure that we focused, in classic "Woodstein" fashion, on the power of "watchdogs" and the significance of an independent view when reporting a story. I always respected him for his idealism and always knew that he generally believed in "watchdogs". But, and there is always a but, life and people are not always as black and white as the print that those Journalist stories are published in. People are complex, life is a labyrinth, and commerce comes into play for even the most noble of watchdogs. It's easy to teach nobility in a classroom setting. It's easy to banter about the "right things to do", but what happens outside of that bubble. What happens when someone's vested interest, be it financial or ideological, comes into play? I would always focus on that latter in these discussions.

See, I learned a valuable lesson at a young age from my Father. In the summer times my family used to spend a week down at the "shore". That is strictly a Philly/Jersey term and to the rest of the outside world that would simply mean "going to the beach". During these trips of sun and fun, we would go out in the evenings to go on rides on the boardwalk. I vividly remember on the way to the rides that there would be these toys and stuffed animals hanging from the ceilings of these little shacks offering for someone to play a game to win one of these toy prizes. I would hound my Father, begging him to win a toy for me. I was relentless. In the process I most likely spoiled the night for everyone involved. Each time we walked by one of these shacks my Father would say "no thanks". Fortunately my attention span waned and I found the rides and arcades and my night would be complete.

I do remember one night I would not take no for an answer and my Father caved in. He gave money to the man and and tried to get three softballs into a wicker basket. It looked simple enough. I thought it was layup for Dad. Every night we played catch and I thought he had the greatest throwing arm in the world. The Stuffed Whatever It Was would be mine, I thought. But, the three throws came and went and Dad could not get the softballs to stay in the basket. I was crushed. How could this be? If Dad couldn't do it, then how would I get the Stuffed Whatever It Was. In classic short attention span fashion I wanted to leave then and there. Dad wanted no part of that, it was lesson time. For the next fifteen minutes (for a ten year old boy that is like 15 hours) we stood there and watched the people as they tried to do get the softballs in the basket. With each toss, failure. With each toss, regardless of age, sex, race or creed, no one was winning my Stuffed Whatever It Was either. And then there was a rash of winning. After about twenty different people tried, about three people won, in a row. "Come on Dad, you have to try again." "No thanks," he said.

On the walk to the rides my Father explained to me a number of valuable lessons that I just learned. First, not everything is what it appears to be. Second, not everything is easy. Third, when money is involved, the playing field is always different. And fourth, its probably cheaper to just go to the store and buy the Stuffed Whatever It Was then stand there and try to win an rigged game. Now there may be other lessons in this parable that I am missing but, those are the ones that still stick with me the most to this day. My Father the "Watchdog" & the ball toss "down the shore" episode, has helped me more in everyday life then any other lesson.

So what does this have to do with a Journalism class that I took 15 years ago, "watchdogs" and what is going on in my world today? Well, those lessons always taught me to be mindful and to try to look at things from all sides. It taught me to believe in t he power of doubt, just as much as the power of trust. In Journalism class you had the ones that believed in the profession as not just an institution, but as an Utopian right which was draped in the fabrics of our Constitution. You had those that saw it as a means to Commerce and as a business. You had those that believe in the power of controlling the word and influencing the word and in turn, peoples worlds. Then you had people like myself, the skeptics, picking and choosing parts of each of those. And then you had our Professor who looked at this prism from all angles, constantly asking what is the role of the watchdog is in society and what that means for all of us.

In hindsight, his was another valuable lesson I took with me to the working world. A world which turned out not in Journalism. The money was bad, really bad and I didn't have the passion needed for it. Plus, I don't think I would have been a good journalist "watchdog". I could never take the "me" out of the story or edit out my opinion. That is a special trait and skill that I truly believe there are not many out there who do this today. I went on to be a Business and Political Science Major and then went on to work in the Computer field (go figure) where I take his lessons of leadership and accountability into every meeting with a customer or every conversation with one of my colleagues. To me that is what a "watchdog" is, regardless of the business.

Doubt, trust, leadership and accountability, what do these qualities have to do with "the now"? Well, I thought about these last night while I was watching TV. At 11pm last night, I watched a multi-millionaire get fleeced by a not-as-rich-guy. In a past life one was a trained Financial Trader from Philadelphia and one was a trained Stand-Up Comedian from New Jersey. Now they are both "entertainers". One sells laughs and one sells crystal ball advice. In the grey lines of "Journalism" in the 21st century, they both have news/entertainment shows. What struck me was the guy from the fake news show, was being a "watchdog" while the Trader was being attacked for poor leadership, lack of accountability and changing the rules of the game for their own benefit, just like that Softball Toss Guy. I sat there thinking "why wasn't a trained Journalist doing this?", "when did the fake news comedy show become the thought leaders in 21st century journalism?", "thank God someone is doing this, stepping up and showing leadership.", "I wonder if my College Journalism Professor is watching this and what he thinks?"

The lines between Journalism and Entertainment are obviously blurred as we stand here in the America of March 2009. I understood this all along, but last night solidified that for me. It's important to always know which corporation or entity is behind the news you are reading, to know what their political or social interest are and who those interest benefit. As "Deep Throat" said, "follow the money." My minds eye says that this will lead people even more to the Web or Social Networking for their tools and news. This on-line revolution will continue even more with the current Financial Crisis and people will demand accountability.

The Blog world evolved dramatically during the last Presidential election. People like Nate Silver and Andrew Sullivan dominated and streamlined the election news coverage last year. Sure there were the great articles done by the Washington Post on the Vice President and an "entertaining" interview Katie Couric did with Sarah Palin, but the work of the Web Reporters overshadowed the MSM by leaps and bounds. The youth of today, the 18-34 demo, obtain much more news via the web or their laptops or their iPhones. They obtain news in real-time. This is why the newspapers are dying in print form and why they will survive in web form only within 3-5 years. The "fishwrap" buyers are dying and not being replenished by the young. Game over.

With this game changer in place, the lines of Entertainment/News will continue to be blurred. It will be harder to find the independent product, but it will be there and less filtered. I for one firmly believe we will receive a better product. You will just have to "Digg" harder for it. It won't be severed up to you by Uncle Walter on the six o'clock news. It won't be spelled out for you in some Corporate Op-Ed page. It will be posted in real-time by the frontiers of an industry, embedded to your iPhone by a friends email, and talked about on Twitter or Facebook. We, will have more control and hopefully the public can tell the difference, through the blur, between the Trader who got caught "moving your cheese" yesterday and the Comedian fighting for your rights today.

Watch for yourself and give me your thoughts. I will reach out to my Professor soon about this and hopefully get his take on the situation. What do you think? Let me know your answers to some of the other questions that came to mind when we watched The Daily Show last night. Questions like:

- Does a Comedy Show count as much as the Murrow trained nightly news talking heads?
- Have we learned our lesson in all of this Finical Meltdown mess?
- Why don't Independent Analyst have their own show on CNBC?
- Have our traditional news outlet failed, while they lose millions daily and are overwhelmingly outmaneuvered by their more nimble on-line counterparts?
- Where do you get more of your news from - NY Times or your Daily Shows?
- Who's watching the "Watchdogs"?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Kindle 2.0

March 3th, 2009
Tuesday Afternoon, 4:53 PM

Last Wednesday my Kindle 2.0 came in mail. It was a gift from the Girls for my birthday earlier in the month. Between the time of the purchase and my birthday, Amazon announced, to great fanfare, that they would be shipping the 2.0 version of the product out in March. I was delighted by this news. Being in the Software field, I know first hand the benefits of using the second version of a product. My thinking is the beta period was over and now the 2.0 version should/would be ready for prime time. Don't get me wrong, I would have been just as happy with the original Kindle; I was looking forward to the experience as much as the features. The 2.0 news was merely icing on the proverbial birthday cake.

Much to my surprise, the product arrived in the mail a good 3 weeks prior to my expected date, just in time for a handful of business trips. So far, so good Amazon.

My first impressions from opening the box were that you could tell the Amazon Engineers spent some time at the Apple gadget school of design. The product is sleek offering a slim design and lighter then one would expect. To put it into context, it is much lighter then your average hardcover book; it feels more like a larger paperback in some respects. Once I plugged the power cord into the ebook, the product was on and ready for use. In the span of my first 30 minutes with the device, I was registering my account with Amazon (10 minutes tops), was browsing through recommendation of books I would prefer based on my past Amazon purchases (another 10 minutes), buying selected titles and registering for free newspapers (another 10 minutes). So far, so good Amazon.

Much to Amazon's credit, using the product and the Amazon store is easy and intuitive. I proceeded to spend the next two hours navigating through the device and the store. The keyboard is easy to use, especially if you are a blackberry user like myself and now possess superhuman thumbs. The buttons and home features make it easy to keep track of where you have been and where you are going. The Kindle Store is merely a condensed version of the store that you use and have been using for the past decade on your computer at All of this is made possible by free wireless being built into the device. Good form Amazon.

By far the smartest feature the Amazon has built into the Kindle is this free wireless. Imagine if you will when you first bought your first iPod many moons ago (6 years and about 72 moons for me), you plugged the device into the wall to charge up and you still had to go through the arduous task of uploading all of your CDs and files. Now imagine if you will that first iPod and imagine if that iPod had wireless access and iTunes built into the device. I understand that the iTouch and iPhone have this wireless feature now, but just imagine that power at the inception of the tool. That is why the iPhone & the App Store are so powerful currently and Apple has close to two thirds of the Mobile App business based on a recent report. Amazon wisely noted this and realized that, in Business 101 terms, the razor blades and easy access to the razor blades are as important as the razors themselves.

The next best feature of the Kindle and the Kindle Store is the "first chapter for free" option. Not only are most of the books 50% off of the list market price via the Kindle Store, but the first chapter of each book they offer online is free. When you are building up your book collection and searching through the quarter of a million options from the Store, it is good to know that you can download in seconds, store indefinitely and read at your leisure a chapter from a book you might be interested in. Now I fully understand that I can do this at my local Barnes and Noble but, do I ever? This "try and buy" feature is more reminiscent of something from a library to me. Clever Amazon, clever.

Over the course of my first week with the Kindle I purchased four books all for less then $10 each. I think the only times that I have purchased four books at one time was either the first week of every semester in college or during Christmas. Based on my normal reading appetite, I should be content with these four books for the next month or so. But, if you factor in being able to download first chapters for free and keep them on my homepage (Brendan's Kindle), I already have three other books waiting in the wings, a 2 week trial to the NY Times and some work PDFs I emailed to myself so I can read them on the plane. This only enhances the Kindle experience, and makes we want to continue to turn it on and visit the store. This way Amazon manages the distribution and enhances the personalized experience. Checkmate Amazon.

Mind you the product is not perfect; the "experimental web" access built in reminds me of my dial-up access from 1997. Not having a backlight built in, while helps with cooling the device and battery life, does take some getting used to since I have had this feature on every other device to date. Not being able to create sub-folders on my homepage would be nice, still that is nit-picking. For every "I wish it had", there are at least two "that's sweet". Don't like the "My Clipping" feature? Well how about a built in dictionary which lets you move the cursor to the word and have a real-time definition at the bottom of the page. "Oh cool." How about four different font options so you can decrease or increase the size of the font? "Double cool." You get the point. Oh by the way, the thing can read to you if you get tired of reading that big font. Bottom line - the product is solid.

So, if you are an avid reader, a gadget lover and have $350 to spend for a razor during the Great Depression 2.0 (don't forget the expense of the razor blades) then this is the next product you should pick-up and experience. As you can see from the picture of my little digital world above (my desk), there is room for the Kindle 2.0 and it fits right into the mix.

New Music Tuesday - March 3rd, 2009

March 3rd, 2009
Tuesday Afternoon, 1:21 PM

It's been a busy week so far (including this past weekend) so New Music Monday has become New Music Tuesday for the time being. What can I say, it's evolving. As I type out my most recent music post, I am listening to the latest U2 album, hoping and wishing and praying to Saint Bono that it will be a grower. Sorry Rolling Stone, the jury is still out in my book, I don't hear five stars here. I would recommend to fellow U2 fans to listen to NLOTH in the intended album song cycle format; it plays much better that way.

I have some new material that I will be sharing with you over the next couple of days (i.e. Kindle 2.0 review, A Day At the Museum, etc.) as I get some peace and quite on the airplane tomorrow, so stay tuned faithful readers.

Each week I start with the most recent song downloaded to my iPod. This week that honor goes to...(click on the highlighted track to find blogs to download the song from)

Tinted Windows - "Kind of a Girl" from Tinted Windows
Ah, Power-Pop, oh how my untrained ear is so instantly smitten for thee. Be it The Raspberries, Badfinger, Big Star, The Knack, The Buzzcocks, Jellyfish, The La's, Matthew Sweet, or Ok Go, your big fat hooks, harmonies and three minutes of teenage love & lust, always grab me. This time around, in the form of the Tainted Windows, we have what the indie blogger community is calling a "Power-Pop Super Group". I call it my number one musical "guilty pleasure". This latest "super-group" features the singer of Hanson (ummm), the bassist and lead songwriter from Fountains of Wayne (yeah!), the drummer from Cheap Trick (awesomeness) and the guitarist from The Smashing Pumpkins (the other guy). How's the song? Not half bad. To my minds ear, has it as basically a Fountains of Wayne song sans the witty banter and pithy story telling. Still, it's Power-Pop and it clocks in at 3:13 and its about a girl and it takes me back to 1981. Good times.

The Office - "Enter Me, Exit You" from Mecca
While we are on the topic, here is another Power-Pop group that I have grown fond of over the past couple of years, The Office. As Spin described this past year, they have mastered the fine art of "handclaps and sunny harmonies". On this highlighted track they even throw in the sleigh bells for good measure proving that they are evolving in the studio. I hear some mid-90 Manic Street Preachers "Why So Sad" in this track. The Office has caught the free download bug and are offering the tracks on Sendspace. Click on the link for a listen to this song and all 10 tracks.

A.C. Newman - "Take on Me" from Sweetheart: Our Favourite Artists Sing Their Favourite Long Songs
Many of you might know A.C. as the leader of the Canadian band The New Pornographers. Back in 2004 he started to perform solo, finding an outlet between TNP releases. Four years later he has two solo albums under his belt, including this years infectious Get Guilty. This track is a cover of a-ha's classic 80s keyboard and MTV hit which mysteriously arrived via a Saint Valentine offering from Starbucks. A.C. replaces the famous keyboard chords with an acoustic guitar and slows the track down to ballad territory. The result is as fresh and inspiring as my daily Grande Vanilla Non-Fat Latte (which is a compliment, I love me some Latte).

Animal Collective - "Summertime Clothes" from Merriweather Post Pavilion
The music world's Conventional Wisdom has already handed Animal Collective the album of the year. I have read reviews that calls Merriweather Post Pavilion the Pet Sounds of the 21 Century and as Uncut dubbed it "one of the landmark American albums albums of the century so far". Big praise, big praise indeed. While time will tell if these critics are inline, I will have to agree that MPP is memorable, atmospheric and inventive; in other words, an analog wet dream. MPP takes me back to the first time I listened to YAZ's "Upstairs at Eric's" and Radiohead's "OK Computer" and reminds me how quickly you can get lost in a great album. I also recommend getting lost in the single "My Girls" on the iPod.

Christopher O'Riley - "Everything In Its Right Place" from True Love Waits - Christopher O'Riley Plays Radiohead
Speaking of Radiohead and music that you can lose yourself in, I offer classical pianist Chris O'Riley as meditation and with admiration. This isn't new per se, it has not been released in the past year, it was released in 2003, but I found myself listening to it at my local vinyl record store recently and was truly mesmerized by it. Hearing Radiohead stripped down to the basics of a classical piano forces you to appreciate the music, melodies and the sheer originality of the band. O'Riley, who can be heard weekly on his NPR radio show, also has paid homage to Nick Drake and the late/great Elliott Smith most recently. Rumors persist that he has a Nirvana album in the works.

Okay have to run and get back to my day job. I am going to keep the post to 5 tracks this week and might include another one of the U2 tracks after I have had a chance to digest the new material. Enjoy and be on the look out for more activity then usual on the IMNALY blog this week.