News from the world of music, entertainment, communications, and technology.
Most books on Blondie were written a quarter century ago, so where so you go if you want the continuing story of the influential dance-punk band? You might want to look at Blondie, From Punk to the Present: A Pictorial History. This huge paperback volume covers the band from their beginnings in 1974 to the recording sessions for their new album, coming later this year. It also includes singer Deborah Harry’s solo period during the late 1980s and early 1990s. There are a hundred pages of black and white photographs to look at and extensive reference material.
Blondie, From Punk to the Present doesn’t shed much new light on the band, but it is so comprehensive that it is your logical starting point if you want to understand the Blondie story. The book was put together by Allan Metz and is published by Musical Legacy Publications.
And the new Blondie album? Band member Chris Stein says the album is “aptly titled” The Curse of Blondie. The album is almost ready for release, and the band is preparing for a tour starting with Japan and Australia in August.
Rock composer Paul Nordquist’s 2002 song about being trapped in a car nearly came true last month. Paul describes “What’s the Number (for 9-1-1)” as “the story of someone who bought a Microsoft car and was trapped inside when the car’s ‘Windows’ froze up.”
Life imitates art, and last month it happened — to the finance minister of Thailand, no less. As Reuters reported the story: “Suchart Jaovisidha and his driver were trapped inside the BMW for more than 10 minutes before guards broke a window. All doors and windows had locked automatically when the computer crashed, and the air conditioning stopped, officials said.”
The BMW car computer that crashed was based on Windows CE — the latest version of the notoriously unreliable Microsoft Windows operating system. In the old joke, “If Microsoft made cars, they would crash every five miles,” yet inexplicably, BMW decided to take the chance with Microsoft Windows. News reports since the release of the computerized cars have mentioned frequent glitches and unexplained recalls. There is no report of a collision or injury resulting from the computer failures, but after Suchart’s “harrowing experience”, BMW and BMW drivers have to be wondering when it might happen.
The new BMW 7 cars with the car computers started shipping last year, but when he wrote the song, Paul explains, he hadn’t heard about BMW’s plans to computerize their cars, and he thought it was safe to assume that “no one would be dumb enough to actually use Microsoft Windows to run a car.
“Look how wrong I was!” he concludes.
Apple Computer has sold 3 million songs in one month of operation at the iTunes Music Store. Considering that the store’s customers are limited to Mac users in the U.S. who have Mac OS X 10.2 and have downloaded the latest version of iTunes, it’s an impressive rate of sales, and other companies are looking for ways to duplicate Apple’s online retail model for music. In the computer industry, analysts are citing the store as a demonstration of the success of Apple’s Xserve server computers. The online store has operated without any reported problems except during the heavy volume of opening day.
Jumping on the online singles bandwagon, Apple Computer announced the iTunes Music Store on April 28. The new addition to the online Apple Store sells songs for download. Apple says it has 200,000 songs to choose from, priced at 99 cents each, but they are currently available only to Mac users in the United States. There are also some complete albums for sale.
Apple also announced a new, even smaller line of portable music players. The new iPod models are slightly thinner than previous models, but they hold more songs, up to 7,500.
A new version of iTunes includes a link to the iTunes Music Store. Apple also released an update to its QuickTime software.
At around 1 dollar a song, iTunes Music Store prices are similar to regular record store prices for CD singles or albums. However, the ability to buy an individual song from home in about 5 minutes may appeal to music fans. The iTunes Music Store differs from other legitimate online music sources in charging by the song or album instead of the more complicated subscription-based pricing of other services.
Earlier in April, a published report that Apple was prepared to buy Universal Music Group had Wall Street dumping shares of Apple stock. Investors were concerned that Apple could lose most of its cash buying the possibly unprofitable major record label. Apple stock rebounded after denying the rumors and again after the iPod and iTunes Music Store announcements.
Fleetwood Mac returned in April with their first studio album in nearly a decade. The band recorded the new album Say You Will without their keyboard player and most important singer, Christine McVie, who departed after their last tour. Christine’s absence lets them focus more attention on their two other singers, Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. The result is a surprisingly strong experimental pop album.
Fleetwood Mac is promoting the new album with streaming audio and video on a new web site. The band is setting out this month on an extended summer tour.
Fleetwood Mac: http://www.fleetwoodmac.com
A virulent new respiratory illness, dubbed SARS by scientists, has been spreading around the world this year and is slowing down the entertainment business as people avoid public places where they might contract the disease.
Areas like China, Hong Kong, Toronto, and Taiwan are affected, with many events canceled and venues temporarily closed. Only a few thousand people have contracted SARS, but around 1 in 20 of those have died from the disease. Scientists have identified the SARS virus and say it seems to spread primarily by sneezes.
The Mozilla Organization is changing direction in a bid to make its standards-based open-source browser smaller and faster. Starting near the end of this year, the Mozilla user interface will be based on code from the Phoenix project, a Mozilla offshoot that three months released a lightweight browser loosely based on the Mozilla design, but built with XUL, an Internet-oriented user-interface language. Phoenix, meanwhile, says their project will be changing its name shortly.
Left Brain split up a decade ago, but recently the two principals of the band, singers Paul Nordquist and Amy Guskin, have been quietly performing together at events such as art openings and festivals. Does this mean a new Left Brain album is on the way? We put the question to Amy, who responded in the affirmative: “There will definitely be a Left Brain album this year.”
Ayshah has her first video release this month with Veil of Illusion. The 40-minute video shows the versatility of the young belly dancer with a mix of ancient and modern dance technique.
The video’s all-original soundtrack comes from Rick Aster. The instrumental world beat music is a surprising departure from Rick’s usual guitar-driven rock.
Breakfast Records, in its first venture into video, has Veil of Illusion ready for an April 8 release.
Ayshah is preparing an overhaul of her web site to coincide with the video release.
Madonna, Jewel, and Ringo Starr are among the notable music artists who have album releases ready for this spring.
The new Ringo album Ringo Rama was released at the end of March. It is at least partly a tribute to Ringo Starr’s former bandmate George Harrison, who passed away a year ago. Ringo plans a summer tour with the All Starr Band, his pick-up band of noted rock musicians.
Madonna’s album American Life promises to be a more complex social commentary than any of her past work. Described as a portrait of a country on the edge of war, and also a measure of American culture, the album was recorded over the last two years in England and Los Angeles. Its release during the current war is coincidental, but it sure to bring the album some extra attention.
Jewel recently completed recording for her new album, which she describes as more high-energy and closer to the dance pop category than her previous work. The album is not yet titled, and Jewel says she is looking for a word that sums up the album’s positive feeling. A late May release is expected. The recording of this album was the fastest of any Jewel album to date.
Ringo Starr: http://www.ringotour.com
Aisling Willow Grey release her second album of shamanic journeying music last month. Whale is a CD of three journeys, each based on the energy a different animal spirit.
Departing from the deliberately primitive approach of most shamanic music, Aisling creates modern studio recordings with a combination of acoustic and electronic instruments. This approach yields a degree of subtlety not usually found in shamanic music and a sound that may be more familiar and comfortable to ordinary music fans.
Aisling Willow Grey: http://www.fjordstone.com/twilight
A new album from former Yes guitarist Trevor Rabin features Trevor’s early demo recordings of several Yes hits. Yes’s greatest commercial success came on their numerically titled album 90125, so the new Rabin album is called 90124. In a recent interview, Trevor said he plans to record a fresh solo album soon. Since leaving Yes, he has been too busy with movie soundtrack work to do much else.
Another note from the Yes family tree: Trevor Rabin’s son Ryan Rabin is performing around Los Angeles with his band The Anthem. Another former Yes member, Billy Sherwood, is producing a series of demo recordings of The Anthem. Meanwhile, Billy says he has completed Conspiracy II, the second album in his ongoing collaboration with Yes bassist Chris Squire, and is close to completing a new solo album.
Harpist Nathan-Andrew Dewin, formerly of The Red Masque, is working on a solo album. He expects to finish recording in May.
When the Madonna Project was live, you would click a link graphic such as this one to connect to the Madonna Project web page.
Record companies don’t make money on singles. It costs nearly as much to make a CD single as it does to make a CD album, and a 4-dollar price tag covers little more than the manufacturing and shipping and the wages of the record store clerk who rings up the sale. But record companies and recording artists need singles to get attention for their other products, especially albums. So as long as singles aren’t profitable, they at least ought to be a little more fun. That seems to be the idea behind the Madonna Project, which is partly a promotional gimmick for the new Madonna single, “American Life,” and partly an experiment in music distribution.
In the Madonna Project, affiliates (such as Fish Nation) place graphic links (such as the one shown here) on their web pages. They receive “referral credits,” which may or may not have any value, for everyone who clicks the link to the Warner Records site and then buys the single online. U.S. customers who have PayPal accounts pay $1.49 and download the song from their e-mail when it is released on March 24. This price includes the right to burn the song on a CD, load it onto a digital music player, or just save it in a digital collection.
The Madonna Project is billed as a “top-secret initiative,” but it couldn’t be much of a secret if it took Fish Nation less than an hour to learn this much about it and to create this web page as part of the project. The important thing, as far as Madonna and Warner Records are concerned, is that everyone knows that Madonna has a new album coming out.
Whether large numbers of music fans will pay the lower price for an e-mail single remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: it couldn’t work much worse than the traditional approach. Record companies and recording artists need to try new ways of distributing singles, and this web-based variation of the old word-of-mouth technique just might work.
Two separate incidents in February that left over 100 people dead have raised concerns about safety at nightclubs and have the nightclub industry looking for answers while many of its customers stay home.
A fight in a dance club in Chicago and the use of pepper spray had people scrambling for the exits and led to a fatal pileup in a stairwell where exit doors were illegally locked. It took rescue workers about 30 minutes to untangle everything, and by that time, many people had been squeezed to death.
Less than two weeks later, a rock concert in Rhode Island ended abruptly when sparks from pyrotechnics onstage ignited plastic foam used to control echoes in the room. The fire spread with astonishing speed, burning the entire building to the ground in less than three minutes. Three fourths of the audience got out alive; others, overcome by smoke and flames, died inside.
Both scenes are almost unimaginable. Video from the disaster in Rhode Island shows that it happened but does not come close to explaining how such a thing could be possible.
As tragic as these events were, the nightclub industry may have hurt itself more by its reaction to the events. Of particular concern were the very public statements by owners and employees of prominent nightclubs claiming unfamiliarity with pyrotechnic displays. These denials were effectively refuted by musicians, other club owners, and ordinary rock fans who could attest to how commonplace pyrotechnics are in rock shows. The few voices who stepped forward to say that nightclub operators take safety seriously and might need to examine their operations to see how they could do better were drowned out by others who seemed more intent on passing the buck, leaving nightclub patrons to wonder which other nightclubs might also be death traps.
There is little reason to imagine that the crowds will return to the clubs before the answer to that question is known. Questions about licensing and inspections, building materials, sprinkler systems, the number of patrons that can safely occupy a room, security procedures, and other matters may have to be addressed before it can be said with confidence that similar disasters will not occur again in the near future.
The sooner these questions are addressed, the better it will be for nightclubs. Nightclubs are a marginal business, most operating close to the financial edge even in good times. Several have already closed subsequent to the recent nightclub disasters; many more may have to close if the public does not believe soon that things have changed.
Changes are especially likely to occur in building codes, government rules that dictate what features a building must have and may not have to be considered safe. The Station, the Rhode Island club that burned down so quickly, was not required to have a sprinkler system because it was so old and small. It has already been suggested that perhaps every indoor entertainment venue that holds hundreds of people should have sprinklers. The government in Rhode Island is planning to construct and burn a mockup of the Station to try to see how a fire could spread so rapidly. This kind of inquiry may lead to answers and new rules that could prevent future disasters.
As for pyrotechnics and pepper spray, people will surely be thinking twice about using them indoors in the near future. Some things, perhaps, just don’t belong in a crowded building.
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld a 1998 law that extended many copyrights to 95 years, but the decision contained hints that the duration of copyright could not be extended much farther. The majority opinion suggested that the law was “bad policy” but said that Congress had the authority to make that decision.
The U.S. Constitution requires that copyright be temporary, and dissenting opinions in this case argued that the extension to 95 years made the copyright term “virtually perpetual.” In U.S. law, contracts are limited to a duration of 99 years, and perhaps that length of time would also represent the limit for the measurement of a copyright term.
The 95-year copyright term was perhaps of greatest interest to Disney, which maintains exclusive rights to its early animated features for another two decades.
Death: Maurice Gibb; member of the Bee Gees.
The Super Bowl broadcast included musical performances by Shania Twain, No Doubt, Sting, and Santana. Sting’s appearance with No Doubt, performing a Police song, proved to be a natural combination. Magicians Penn and Teller used their magic skills to predict the game’s outcome.
In January Apple Computer introduced its Safari web browser, available now as a free download. The browser runs on Mac OS X only, and even in its current preliminary form, is the most stable browser available for Mac. Apple also introduced new computers across most of its product lines and new and updated video software.
Audio software company Steinberg is being acquired by video software maker Pinnacle. The move is the latest in a series of video companies’ acquisitions of audio companies.
Nashville vocal coach Renee Grant-Williams has written a book “for anyone who uses their voice to do anything.” The techniques described in Voice Power are mainly for singers, but the book extends them to speaking, which Grant-Williams says may be just as important: “Whether we’re talking to the cat, the kids, or the cartage guy, we could all stand to benefit from improvements in the way we communicate.”
Maybe it was the single “Christmas Tree from Hell.” Maybe it was a Christmas-week appearance on CNN. Or maybe it was just the need for some mirth in a Christmas season in which the news was dominated by economic decline, violence, and rumors of nuclear war.
Whatever the reason, it was a record year for Bah & the Humbugs. By Christmas day, the Christmas comedy rock band found itself with impressive chart positions not just on the Philadelphia comedy rankings of music-download site Mp3.com, where they held the top 13 spots, but also with entries on the U.S. comedy chart and a #5 song on the Philadelphia pop chart.
The Humbugs were interviewed live on the news program CNN Sunday Night on December 22. During the interview segment, they performed bits of three songs, prompting thousands of listeners to look for the band online.
Death: Joe Strummer, December 21, 2002; guitarist for The Clash and several other bands.
Apple Computer is expected to introduce a new, smaller, faster line of desktop computers on January 7 at MacWorld Expo. Rumors about the new computers started last summer when CEO Steve Jobs said that in 2003, Apple would no longer make computers that boot with Mac OS 9, an older version of Apple’s Mac operating system still used by an estimated 25 million computer users. Jobs’ comments were a conspicuous departure from Apple’s usual policy of not commenting on or even acknowledging unreleased products.
The Two Towers, the second movie in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, got off to a fast start and looks to become one of the biggest-grossing movies ever. The movie was released a week before Christmas.
Retailers’ hopes for a holiday spending spree by U.S. consumers never materialized. Many stores specializing in entertainment and electronics reported sales within 1% of prior-year levels. In spite of the uncertain economic climate, retailers had planned for an increase around 4%.
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