Monthly Archives: September 2009

A Take On The White Album


Steven Goldman throws in his 2 cents worth on The Beatles remasters and goes into some lengths on the White Album.

Speaking of those Beatles CDs, I’ve been assiduously working my way through the remastered stereo set and enjoying the heck out of it. The music is much clearer, as if you had been listening through some kind of murky haze all of these years. You can make out small touches in the playing and singing that you couldn’t before, perhaps not even on the original vinyl, though I confess it has been years since I listened to those.

Coincidentally, yesterday I came across this quote from the late Kurt Vonnegut in my notes:

The function of the artist is to make people like life better than they did before. When I’ve been asked if I’ve seen that done, I say, ‘Yes, the Beatles did it.’

… I wonder if John Lennon knew he had won the battle of the White Album. The Beatles were writing and basically recording separately by this point, with each composer using the other three as backing musicians (and in Paul McCartney’s case, sometimes leaving them out altogether), so you can attribute each track individually and sort the sprawling mess that is the “The Beatles” (IE “The White Album”). George Harrison and Ringo Starr got a combined total of five tracks; as good as George’s are (“While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Long, Long, Long,” “Piggies” and “Savoy Truffle”) you can’t call that more than an EP’s worth of material, whereas John and Paul each contributed a standard album of material. John’s White Album looks like this:

1.    Dear Prudence
2.    Glass Onion
3.    The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill
4.    Happiness is a Warm Gun
5.    I’m So Tired
6.    Julia
7.    Yer Blues
8.    Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey
9.    Sexy Sadie
10.  Revolution I
11.  Cry Baby Cry
12.  Revolution 9
13.  Good Night (sung by Ringo, but written by John)

I haven’t yet listened to the remastered “Revolution 9,” but in a perverse way I’m looking forward to it. If you look at this track listing, it anticipates John’s early solo albums. He wasn’t trying to write pop singles anymore (though “Dear Prudence” could have been one) and instead concentrated on emotional work that tried to express a deeper mood or feeling than good time rock and roll. Given that this is the same man who was primarily responsible for “I Feel Fine” and “Ticket to Ride,” both No. 1 singles, Lennon’s turn towards introspection is, retrospectively, shocking and a harbinger of the group’s dissolution.

Here’s Paul’s White Album:
1.    Back in the U.S.S.R.
2.    Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
3.    Wild Honey Pie
4.    Martha My Dear
5.    Blackbird
6.    Rocky Raccoon
7.    Why Don’t We Do It in the Road
8.    I Will
9.    Birthday
10.  Mother Nature’s Son
11.  Helter Skelter
12.  Honey Pie

Here you have three tracks that could have been singles but weren’t — the Beatles’ 1968 singles releases were non-album tracks like “Lady Madonna” and “Hey Jude” —  “Back in the U.S.S.R,” the Beach Boys parody, “Ob-La-Di,” which did get a belated single release in the US eight years later, and perhaps the irritating and ubiquitous “Birthday.” A souped-up version of “Revolution” was the B-Side to “Hey Jude,” but that’s the closest the group came to taking a single off the album. McCartney was still working the pop song-craft part of the street, with one song even inspired by his sheepdog. “Back in the U.S.S.R.” and “Blackbird” were initially attempts at political relevance, though one’s enjoyment of those songs is greatly enhanced by being unaware of the discarded subtext. Or the sheepdog.

John’s would have been the better album. Take this, brother. May it serve you well.

Not a bad little take on the most vexing of Beatles albums. It’s no secret that it’s probably my fave Beatles album and has been for some time. There are songs on other albums that I still like but the rest of the catalog is really hard to listen to in units of albums today.

For instance, I really only like ‘I Am The Walrus’ and ‘Baby You’re A Rich Man’ off Magical Mystery Tour and I don’t know if I can stand listening to ‘Shes Leaving Home’ on Sgt Peppers even though it’s integral to that album. Revolver’s the other album I can still enjoy, but Abbey Road gets boring, Let It Be is up and down, and the earlier albums seem more and more like curios today.

So I keep come back to the sprawling double album, warts and all. And it’s true, I can’t stand ‘Ob-la-di Ob-la-da’ or ‘Bungalow Bill’, there’s enough there to think about.

Had the Beatles not split up, they would have made some pretty cool records in the 1970s. It’s a game worth playing up until 1975 when John Lennon stops, and even with Double Fantasy in 1980, there’s something to be said about this parlour game.

Anyway, it’s nice to see other people are tangling with the White Album.

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On The Jason Taylor Sacking

Cretins Ru(i)n The Game

I’ve long since given up on Rugby League. It happened at about the time North Sydney Bears were forced into a shotgun wedding with Manly of all teams, and then when the marriage didn’t work, Norths were relegated out of the top league with no recourse, no chance of getting back in. That was it.

This was after they’d been loyal to the ARL in the Super League debacle too.

As weak and crappy and Red-Sox-like with their 70+years of non-winning hoodoo, they were my local team and I did pay to watch them play at North Sydney Oval. Jason Taylor was the last captain of that franchise before it all went to shit; and I’ve always felt a twinge of loyalty for that alone, plus a few other things.

Recently, Jason Taylor has been coaching South Sydney, and got knocked out by one of his players and as a result, got sacked. No matter how you look at those facts, there’s something rotten in the boardroom of South Sydney and it’s not just Russell Crowe being Russell Crowe.

It is my responsibility as one of the custodians of our great club to make sure that the message embedded in our code of conduct is understood by all and to ensure that it is adhered to.

When Shane Richardson let me know of the conversation he had enjoined in with Jason Taylor on the subject of a potential “Mad Monday” function, a conversation where Shane put his views firmly to Jason and told him clearly that the club does not condone, encourage or fund public celebrations of this type, I should have let my opinion be known.

I blame myself for not acting on my instinct and calling Jason to remind him of the pressures surrounding the game and the importance of being a sobering influence on the players.

I blame myself that no matter the examples we have put in front of Jason and the many functions we have had as a group that no incident has arisen from, the lessons did not hit home with him and he has not adhered to the methods and standards set by example.

As I write this, [chairman] Nick Pappas and [CEO] Shane Richardson are deliberating over what Jason has submitted to them in response to the breach notice that was handed to him last week at the instruction of the South Sydney Football Club Board.

I will point out that although I do not sit on the board, I appoint two of the seven board members.

Peter sits on the board and has two board votes.

The member company vote in two board members and the Juniors have a seat as well.

The question before the chairman and the chief executive is: Did Jason Taylor break the code of conduct that he is contractually bound by? And also, did he breach his actual employment contract?

I’m not sure that there is much room for interpretation – sympathies aside, it is a yes or no question.

I smell something very wrong going on there. I’m glad to find I’m not alone in this observation, as Phil Gould has weighed in on the matter of Taylor’s sacking:

THE sacking of coach Jason Taylor by South Sydney is one of the more disgraceful things I’ve witnessed in my time in league.

For the record, Taylor is not a close mate and no one has asked me to speak on his behalf. I just think he’s been dudded.

I wish I could swear in this column, because without the over-use of expletives I haven’t the ability, vocabulary or journalistic skills to adequately express my disgust at the people responsible for this decision.

This whole episode is typical of many of the gutless, thoughtless, attention-seeking, ladder-climbing, brown-nosing, disloyal or self-serving administrators we seem to have in the game today.

A coach of a football team goes to a private function (God knows we can’t allow today’s NRL players to drink anywhere near the general public any more) to have a few beers with his players at the end of a long, hard season. At this private function the coach is king hit by a player (one who has already announced he is leaving the club to play in another country) and, as a result, the club holds a week-long, media-stoked inquiry before sacking the coach and replacing him with someone aligned with the CEO.

What would you call that?

I don’t care what Taylor is alleged to have done before this incident, but I’m sure he neither intended to rile nor did anything to warrant the over-reaction he received from David Fa’alogo.

As I see it, it is obvious, for whatever reason, certain people within the club wanted to get rid of the coach and they have used this incident as a lever to shove him out onto the street.

… And so it goes for 2 pages. I’m guessing Phil Gould isn’t going to be eating lunch at the South Sydney leagues’ club any time soon. But you know what? I agree with him. Don’t know if I ever have on any other topic, but just this once, I’m in total agreement.

I’m not defending Taylor or his actions during the incident in question. As a coach I made myself pretty scarce on these Mad Monday drink-a-thons. I would call into the pub early in the day while the players were still reasonably sober and say my hellos; then it was “good bye” and I’d go and have a drink with a couple of mates as far away from the players as I could get.

Maybe this is inexperience on his behalf; maybe he was trying to bond with the players to get things happening for next season.

Whatever he did, it hardly justified being king-hit by a player and I can’t believe this incident has led to his sacking.

I admire the way Taylor conducted himself on The Footy Show on Thursday. He was obviously hurting but showed great courage in presenting himself only hours after getting the sack. He held his decorum and spoke with great honesty and integrity.

That’s more than I can say for the people who sacked him.

That about sums it up properly and that’s why I’m glad as all hell I don’t support NRL or Rugby League in general.

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Creative Destruction

My old man is an old Economics grad. The latest guy with a Theory of Everything at the time he finished university was Joseph Schumpeter. And the way it was understood at that time was that there was Marx, Keynes and Schumpeter. That’s how important his writings were received way back before Milton Friedman or ‘Trickledown economics’ and Michael Miliken and junk bonds and Liar’s Poker and mortgage bonds and ‘Greed is Good’ and Global Fried Chickens, was this Austrian dude who wanted Capitalism to be understood in the right context.

Schumpeter? I can hear you ask. Joseph Schumpeter in a nutshell is the theorist who started offering ideas after the capitalist system got under way and delivered so much, so quickly.

Considering just how much Marxist criticism has abounded and how Keynes and Bretton Woods set the frame work for 60years of relative prosperity, it’s sort of weird to find not many people are talking Schumpeter.

The Economist is, and they’ve started a column with his name.

Joseph Schumpeter was one of the few intellectuals who saw business straight. He regarded business people as unsung heroes: men and women who create new enterprises through the sheer force of their wills and imaginations, and, in so doing, are responsible for the most benign development in human history, the spread of mass affluence. “Queen Elizabeth [I] owned silk stockings,” he once observed. “The capitalist achievement does not typically consist in providing more silk stockings for queens but in bringing them within the reach of factory girls in return for steadily decreasing amounts of effort…The capitalist process, not by coincidence but by virtue of its mechanism, progressively raises the standard of life of the masses.” But Schumpeter knew far too much about the history of business to be a cheerleader. He recognised that business people are often ruthless monomaniacs, obsessed by their dreams of building “private kingdoms” and willing to do anything to crush their rivals.

Schumpeter’s ability to see business straight would be reason enough to name our new business column after him. But this ability rested on a broader philosophy of capitalism. He argued that innovation is at the heart of economic progress. It gives new businesses a chance to replace old ones, but it also dooms those new businesses to fail unless they can keep on innovating (or find a powerful government patron). In his most famous phrase he likened capitalism to a “perennial gale of creative destruction”.

For Schumpeter the people who kept this gale blowing were entrepreneurs. He was responsible for popularising the word itself, and for identifying the entrepreneur’s central function: of moving resources, however painfully, to areas where they can be used more productively. But he also recognised that big businesses can be as innovative as small ones, and that entrepreneurs can arise from middle management as well as college dorm-rooms.

Schumpeter was born in 1883, a citizen of the Austro-Hungarian empire. During the 18 years he spent at Harvard he never learned to drive and took the subway that links Cambridge to Boston only once. Obsessed by the idea of being a gentleman, he spent an hour every morning dressing himself. Yet his writing has an astonishingly contemporary ring; indeed, he seems to have felt the future in his bones. The gale of creative destruction blew ever harder after his death in 1950, particularly after the stagflation of the 1970s. Corporate raiders and financial engineers tore apart underperforming companies. Governments relaxed their hold on the economy. The venture-capital industry exploded, the computer industry boomed and corporate lifespans shortened dramatically. In 1956-81 an average of 24 firms dropped out of the Fortune 500 list every year. In 1982-2006 that number jumped to 40. Larry Summers, Barack Obama’s chief economic adviser, argues that Schumpeter may prove to be the most important economist of the 21st century.

I read Schumpeter in the late 90s, just to try and understand where the hell my old man was coming from when he radically championed free trade. He’s still a fierce free trade advocate, and I have to admit that on the whole I am firmly on the side of it rather than against it. And if that perplexes you, then I recommend you go and read some Schumpeter.

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I’m Working On…

A Novella For An Omnibus

I haven’t done the sort of writing that gets you in literary journals for a while. Make that 14 years. I gave it away when I decided to concentrate on screenwriting, except the screenwriting market has dried up in Australia so it’s off to doing something I can control – namely writing a project that ends in print as opposed to oblivion, which is the usual case with screenwriting in this country. It’s a bleeding miracle anybody is a full member of the Writers’ Guild under the age o 45.

I don’t feel like I want to talk about what the novella is about but I do want to say it’s going to take me away from this blog for a while. My posts will be more sporadic. I’ll be back in full swing once I get the first draft done. By then I’m hoping the Yankees to have won the World Series. If they haven’t, you WILL hear from me. 🙂

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The Other ‘W’

False Recovery

The world’s markets aren’t repaired. they’re just being propped up. That is what John R. Talbott thinks. I can’t quote the article in detail because it’s privileged content but the link is here (and it’s worth signing up for the Business Spectator).

Isabelle Oderberg: You’re coming out to Australia to promote your book, The 86 Biggest Lies on Wall Street. If you had to pick one, the biggest and most damaging lie told by Wall Street that helped get us into the crisis we’re in, what would it be?

John R Talbott: I think it would be this lie that I think originated in the United States back in 1981under Ronald Reagan that free markets work best without any government interference and it was taken almost as a religion that if there was any government regulation at all, it interfered with the proper functioning of a market and the supply and demand curves and we ended up at sub-optimal levels of equilibrium.

What we found out is that that’s complete nonsense and if you’re a student of economics, you should’ve known it beforehand, because students of economics know that you can’t have a free market unless you have lots of regulation. You need to protect against fraudulent behaviour. You need to enforce contracts. You need to protect property rights. You need to have a very well developed judicial system and if you look at the countries of the world, this is what the poor countries of the world are lacking. They don’t have the rule of law, they don’t have good institutions and thus they don’t have strong markets and good economies.

Talbott’s advice is to watch for commodity prices to fall next year when the stimulus runs its course. Also, this isn’t the recovery you thought it was. This is merely the first drop and rise in a ‘W’ curve. And Obama’s not doing enough to fix Wall Street.

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Pricing Cinema

What It Looks Like From Outside The Biz

Here’s an article that shares some insight from what the non-film making portion of the population feels about the pricing of cinema tickets in Australia.

Imagine what the cinema industry could do if it matched innovation within the core product – the movie – with a more innovative in-cinema experience. Yes, big cinema chains are adding “extreme” screens, “gold-class sections”, specialist 3D cinemas and better sound and seating.

They deserve kudos for their technical innovations. But there is more to the customer experience than that. Price and service, two areas cinemas are weak on in my view, play such a big part.

I reckon cinemas could do so much more on pricing innovation, an area many entrepreneurs overlook.

Of course there are “cheap Tuesdays” but ticket prices are generally the same. So cinemas are mostly empty during the early part of the day, and crowded at nights, especially weekends.

Why not offer more innovative pricing structures that encourage people to spread their attendance.

What about $10 an adult ticket before 5pm, and $17 after 5pm? Would that get you to movies you otherwise would have missed? Would it make cinema chains more money overall by helping them sell more fat-margin candy and drinks, the real driver of cinema profits?

And there’s the crux of the biscuit right there. You understand that exhibitors want to get as much on the premium product and the freshest product, but at the same time not all products are created equal, not all seats are created equal, not all times are created equal.

If the common punter has noted this:

Cinema executives will probably cringe at the thought, yet a strategy of just lifting ticket and food prices each year – without a comparable lift in value – is not great either.

…then the game is up. People are (and have) adjusted their spending strategy accordingly.

Which also goes to problems the film industry is facing globally. The ticket prices go up to pay larger and larger fees for  stars. people like stars because it telescopes a whole pile of narrative issues, namely, figuring out who the story is about. It helps to be able to say, “Oh, that’s Brad Pitt/Tom Cruise/Matt Damon, the leading man. It must be about his character.”

Which is all part of the audience’s willful suspension of disbelief. This phenomenon in turn feeds the need to procure an A-List star for your movie because the paying audience will on the whole prefer a star-driven vehicle over one that is an ensemble piece or a foreign film.

And for some time now the cost of the A-List talent has been soaring, and this has been passed directly on to ticket prices without much debate, and it has been evenly distributed across all movies, regardless of budgets and costs. So, an Australian film with a $5 million budget equally charges a $17.00 per ticket that an American film with a $250 million budget gets. In a sense, the Australian film is forced to subsidise the excesses of Hollywood movie’s budget as well as the Exhibitor’s real estate value – and nobody in the industry is talking about this!

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A Fable Of Fallibility

In a most inopportune way, Oliver Stone came out with a biopic of the last POTUS in the last year of his office. And as much as Oliver Stone’s pictures intrigue me for their bombast and over-reaching claims, I couldn’t bring myself to put myself through this movie in the cinemas. Bottom line, the story of 2008 was Barack Obama, The GFC, and how the Neo-Con vision for the future all turned to shit, and everybody could see it – except the usual cabal of micro-cephalic right-wingers.

Bottom line for me as a paying audience was that I really didn’t want to go over the GW Bush presidency all over again just to understand why it was such a faulty presidency. Nevertheless, Oliver Stone was making a film that was perhaps a little too soon, rather than a little too late.

What I’ll talk about here is all under the caveat that Oliver Stone and his researchers have gotten their facts about 85% right. I am totally open to the possibility the accuracy is much lower, but in order to discuss the film, you sort of have to take on board the claims at face value.

What’s Good About It

It’s a film that helps us understand how we were in the grips of an idiot in the White House for 8 years. Eight Years! EIGHT FUCKING YEARS!

It’s a bit like picking at a recently formed scab, where the itch is the worst. You come to realise the serious intellectual and conceptual limitations of the people involved. If George W Bush is an overly eager frat boy who simplified everything into silly little dichotomies, the people surrounding him seem equally maxed out on the Peter Principle scale.

There’s nobody in the room smart enough to frame the issue properly. Collin Powell, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleeza Rice, are all insufficient to the proper task of combating the terror threat, as George W Bush eagerly marches into Iraq, convinced of the long term benefits. Worse still, Dubbya is making fundamental assumptions about people and faith and ignoring what is known in order to bring his vision to fruition.

He is so pathetic when it all unravels, you feel sorry for the guy – which is as Oliver Stone intended, whatever that is worth – and that is a weird feeling. Considering just how much he fucked up the world, it seems weird we feel sympathy for how much he fucked up his own presidency. And this is without considering the GFC.

The performances in this film are marvelous. Brolin’s W., Cromwell’s Bush Snr, Toby Jones’ Karl Rove, Elizabeth Banks’ Laura Bush are all great portrayals – especially considering the real figures are so fresh in our minds.

What’s Bad About It

Some of the scenes where they discuss policy remain deeply unconvincing. We get the arguments and we get the direction of the rhetorical positions of Cheney and Powell and Rumsfeld, but because they’re telescoping the story down to the bare essentials, they sort of miss the nuanced, very subtly inflected polemic that was at the heart of the Iraq invasion.

I mean, I get the ideas and what Oliver Stone wants to tell us about Oil and Iran and geopolitics, but these scenes are so ham-fisted you think was the world really given to such nincompoops to drive into the ditch? Was this really the tenor of these meetings?

I guess I’m left incredulous and this is why I think this is a bad aspect of the film. But I can’t offer how it might have really gone, so I don’t really know; and in the absence of that knowledge, maybe Stone’ version of it is as good as it can be. Shame it looks like a parody of the war room scene in ‘Dr. Strangelove’ – and heaven only knows we’ve seen a tonne of those over the years.

I don’t want to be mean about it, but Thandie Newton’s Condoleeza Rice was the second weakest portrayal next to the dude who played Tony Blair. The problem for Newton however is that you never stop seeing Newton enough to see Rice, whereas Brolin’s Bush is so good, you see GW right there as we know him.

What’s Interesting About It

The amount of importance attached to faith by the characters is noteworthy. The film spends a lot of time talking about Bush’s faith and it’s understandable that it does, given what a born-again Christian GWB was. The creepiest type of Christians are the most zealous ones, and we see that zealousness in abundance.

Then there is the depiction of Tony Blair as somebody who was motivated by his own conversion towards Catholicism which motivated his riding shotgun with GW Bush right into the Iraq fiasco.

There’s also a argument to be made (and is hinted at in the film) that the world might have been a better place had GW Bush become Baseball Commissioner instead of Bud Selig. it might have fucked up MLB, but it would not have killed so many people.

Bud Selig’s tenure has been *interesting* to say the least, but I can imagine GW Bush as commissioner being a bit more helpful, bit more decisive, bit more quick on the draw with respect to PEDs and what have you. And no war in Iraq.

The film also wastes no time on the 2000 election which may or may not have been stolen in Florida. That’s an interesting choice given how dodgy GW Bush’ ascension was in the first place; but it also frees the film up to investigate the actual agenda carried in to the White House by George W. Bush and how it went all awry.

Like a lot of Oliver Stone’s films, this one is deeply thought-provoking and leaves a lasting impression. I have to say I liked it a lot more than I thought I would.

Dubya, Jeb And Dad

The singularly interesting thing about the dynamic between bush Snr and Jnr is the amount of disdain Dad has for his son. This is a disdain that seems to stem back decades and just might not be spent.I always assumed that the rise of GW Bush was a Bush family push to re-mount a second Bush term as such; but the film indicates that Bush Snr placed much more faith in Jeb and not W. Indeed,the Bush Snrs. try to talk W out from running for Governor of Texas, which is an interesting scene.

It’s really hard to get a handle on George Snr.’s legacy because the man himself is strangely opaque. Interviews with the man yield remarkably banal observations, and his record essentially stands on war, whether it is his service during WWII or the war with Panama and the first Gulf War.He only went one term because his term was like an appendix to the Reagan administration – yet he was a very important President as time has shown.

The intractable Freudian struggle W. is forced to endure with George Bush Snr. thus may have been the greatest tragedy of our time. And I have to admit that I was largely unaware of how much of a gap existed between the two men. It may be the case that Jeb was always the better Presidential candidate but we may never get to find out thanks to W’s legacy. There’s something very strange about that dodged bullet.

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