Monthly Archives: March 2010

Why Is This Night Different From All Other Nights?

This evening, I’m flying the red-eye to London Heathrow, headed to England to spend Passover with my family.

It’s funny. I feel like things that for so many other people are special and exciting, are simply the norm for me. Such as flying to England. Sure, I’m excited, but this is my third time there and I know more of what to expect. It’s less of a tourist vacation and more of a family visit.

On the other hand, things that for so many other people are normal, even boring or rote, are new and fascinating to me. Such as a family with whom to spend Passover dinner. I’ve been to many a seder in my life, but never a family seder — especially one I’ve been promised is “rowdy and unorthodox.” To say I’m looking forward to it would be a gross understatement.

Passover is one of my favorite Jewish holidays. It’s anchored in shared traditions and a common narrative — every year, the seder is shaped around the same text, the same recollection of ancient events, the same symbolic foods on the seder plate. The Passover seder — at which, the Four Questions explain, you conduct yourself differently than you do at any other meal — is really a meta-meal. You don’t just eat something; you have to wonder why you are eating it. (And trust me, there is always a good, rabbinic reason.) The meal is just a medium for storytelling and reflection. In true Jewish fashion, it provides an opportunity to overanalyze everything.

For me, this Passover can’t help but be a meta-meta-meal. As we embark on our annual renewal of centuries-old traditions, recounting history through lamb shanks and several glasses of wine, I will be studying a second history. I will look around the table at a family that is somewhat new to me and try to figure out my place in their narrative. Forget Four Questions; I have about four thousand.

And hopefully, in the blissful haze of good food, good drink and good company, I’ll forget them all.

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Waxing Nostalgic on WOXY

When I started my current job in 2004 and finally had an office to myself (at Boston.com, I essentially shared a giant cube with five other people), I had one thing on my mind: internet radio. I did some research and tried out a few stations, such as KCRW and the live stream of WERS. But eventually, I settled on WOXY.com, “The Future of Rock and Roll.” I appreciated the station’s history, shifting to an online-only model after their radio-dial identity folded, determined to rock no matter what.

For me, WOXY was an all-you-can-eat buffet of music, and I had an insatiable appetite. Incorporating internet radio into my musical landscape changed the way I learned about new music, and an incredible number of bands passed through my ears. When I covered SXSW in 2005 for Splendid, I made it a point to hit the WOXY.com day party at the Blind Pig, where I saw the incredible lineup of Giant Drag, Feist, Earlimart and the National (pictured here). It was an amazing afternoon, with a great vibe and incredible music.

Eventually, after a few friends began raving about it, I switched my workday allegiance to KEXP, where my browser still turns at the start of every workday. Still, I kept an eye on WOXY, saw its occasional struggles to stay afloat, as well as increasing numbers of music fans I know coming out of the woodwork as loyal WOXY.com listeners.

Now, WOXY appears to be ceasing transmission once again. While the door is not shut on WOXY entirely, the station’s future is uncertain.

Independent radio — whether it is WOXY or KEXP or my early morning mainstay WERS — has been a constant of my workweeks for the past five and a half years. It has kicked off my mornings, inspired my projects, soundtracked key events (whether the election of Barack Obama or the death of Alex Chilton) and otherwise kept me company through the ups and downs of professional life. I owe a lot to independent radio, but I perhaps owe the most to WOXY, for being the first and setting the example of what it could be.

I know it’s nothing but an uphill effort for these stations to stay afloat. It makes the benefits we reap from their existence all the sweeter. And it makes me feel bad that, for all my enjoyment of WOXY, I never donated to the station. I hope I get a second chance.

I also hope this tribute is premature, that as happened in 2004, anonymous benefactors will come to the station’s rescue. Or perhaps not-so-anonymous benefactors. At any rate, whatever its fate, WOXY will always have a special place in my heart and my eternal gratitude for always putting one thing first: the music.

Take Five

In the News

Alex Chilton died.

I probably heard a half-dozen covers of “Thirteen” before I ever heard the original. I most certainly heard the Replacement’s eponymous tribute to the man before I picked up “#1 Record/Radio City.” I definitely came to appreciate the songs and cultural impact of Big Star later in the game than many of my peers.

But appreciate, I do. And the news on Wednesday that he had died of an apparent heart attack was an unexpected gut-punch.

It’s already been a tough year for rock music, with the loss of Chilton preceded by the deaths of Vic Chesnutt and Mark Linkous. (As a worthy sidenote, I very much appreciated Bill Janovitz’s blog posts on Chesnutt and Linkous, as well as Brad Searles’ reflection on the death of Linkous and Kristin Hersh’s tribute to Chesnutt.) A lot of talent and inspiration has departed all at once, it seems.

For the next few days, the center of the music universe resides in Austin, Texas, for the SXSW music festival, where Big Star had been scheduled to perform on Saturday evening as well as participate in a panel on the band’s legacy. The show will go on, of course. But in the absence of Chilton — Chesnutt and Linkous, to boot — the music on Sixth Street will seem a little quieter.

    Find of the Week

    I learned about the Radio Free Song Club via Freedy Johnston’s e-mail list. Turns out one of my favorite musicians is part of a collaboration of veteran songwriters — including Peter Holsapple, Laura Cantrell, Victoria Williams and others — who write a song a month on deadline for an online radio show, where they then get together and talk about the process. I always get a kick out of these types of projects, where musicians sit down with musicians and give a peek into the creative process. The show just kicked off in January, so they’re only two episodes in. Let’s hope it runs on for a while.

    RIYL…

    This week, John in the Morning on KEXP — who I listen to every morning at work — played a song by a Canadian band called The Acorn. I loved it, took note of the band and looked them up when I got home. The songs I’ve listened to so far have been from their 2007 album, “Glory Hope Mountain,” and they sport lush, vibrant folk arrangements, inspired in part by the life of the lead singer’s Honduran mother. Rad stuff. Go check them out.

    CD Audit Project

    It’s done! All of the CDs are listened to and the list has been updated accordingly. All that remains is selling off whatever didn’t make the cut. I’ve listed a bunch on Amazon (who knew my Brendan Benson EPs were worth so much?) and plan on hauling the rest to Newbury Comics this week. I’ve already sold two via Amazon!

    I wonder, is it weird to, well, first of all, bother auditing my CD collection, and secondly, to approach the project with such verve? I guess it relates to a couple of things. One, I like projects. Two, I dislike clutter and dead weight. Three, I like accuracy (and my list was terribly out of date). Four, I like forcing myself to listen to stuff and make decisions about it — it makes my music collection less of a dead thing on a shelf and more of a living library. Five, I’m a nerd. What more can I say?

    Looking Ahead

    I’m going to London next week! I’m going to have some free time to myself in the city, and I’m wondering if I should be a music nerd tourist and find some real geeky landmarks to visit. Any suggestions?

    I’m also creating a spring running mix. What are some must-adds from new music? I’ve already got Ted Leo, Surfer Blood, MGMT, Thunderhawk, Mumford & Sons, The New Pornographers and Gorillaz.

    Take Five Returns

    As part of my effort to re-examine my blogging, I realized that I hadn’t blogged about music in a long time. When I started this blog, on Fridays I would try to collect some random observations about music in a post titled “Take Five.” So today, I’d like to attempt to revive that feature, with a few tweaks to the formatting and a couple of bonus bullets since it’s been so long.

    Live Music

    Last week, I reprised the one-two punch that prompted this blog post last fall: I saw Girlyman and Mike Viola in the same week. It was not the best show I’ve ever seen from either performer — the Mike Viola show was an early, tack-on, one-hour affair, a type of set unheard of from a musician who typically has to be peeled off the stage in the wee hours of the morning — but I enjoyed both shows a lot. For Girlyman, it was the closest I’ve ever sat to see them at Club Passim, and after last seeing them at the Somerville Theatre, it was nice to return to those intimate basement environs. While their new album, “Everything’s Easy,” did not immediately gut-punch me as their previous albums had, it has definitely grown over time. But, as with all Girlyman songs, they are best heard live.

    Find of the Week

    Do you like Aaron Perrino (of Dear Leader/The Sheila Divine) fame? He released a free, MP3-only covers EP earlier this week, and it’s pretty good, especially his version of Bon Iver’s “Blood Bank.”

    RIYL…

    WERS (88.9FM in Boston) continues to introduce me to amazing music. It was on WERS that I first heard Mumford & Sons‘ “Little Lion Man.” I had seen the Mumford & Sons buzz on the MP3 blogs I scan daily, but I hadn’t yet picked up the scent. When I heard “Little Lion Man,” loved it, and discovered on the WERS playlist that it was by Mumford & Sons, I quickly hit Google and began searching for MP3s. On Saturday, I went to Newbury Comics and bought the album. I highly, highly recommend. They are what NPR refers to as “overseas Americana,” folk-rock with a uniquely UK bite. Imagine if Frightened Rabbit and Great Big Sea formed a band together, you might get Mumford & Sons.

    New Releases

    Picked up but as of yet unlistened to: the new Broken Bells, the new Frightened Rabbit and….John Hiatt‘s greatest hits? After hearing his semi-hit “Cry Love” for the first time in an eternity (via “Arrested Development” of all shows), I then picked up his new album, “The Open Road,” via Amazon MP3 and ordered his greatest hits from my trusty source for all things archival, YourMusic. I did pass on the new Peter Gabriel covers album after some lackluster reviews (and while I loved his cover of the Magnetic Fields’ “Book of Love,” his version of Radiohead’s “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” underwhelmed). Any contrasting opinions out there?

    CD Audit Project

    I’ve embarked on a project to audit my CD collection. This has involved multiple stages.

    1. Finish listening to all unlistened-to CDs piled on top of the stereo
    2. Print out CD collection list as-is, scan through CD collection and make updates (e.g. some stuff I’ve purged is still included on the list
    3. Pull out CDs I want to weed from the collection
    4. Pull out CDs I am on the fence about weeding from the collection
    5. Listen to all of the CDs I am on the fence about and sort accordingly
    6. Update CD collection list with final decisions
    7. Attempt to sell weeded CDs at Newbury Comics.

    I am currently about halfway through step 5, which is the toughest step. With so much new music coming in, it’s hard to sit down that old Mood Elevator album and listen through it. But I’m determined to have this done by the time I go to England at the end of the month.

    Bonus!

    Looking Back/Looking Ahead

    Preliminary candidates for Album of the Year? Yeasayer‘s “Odd Blood” or the Magnetic Fields‘ “Realism.” According to my list, I’ve only bought 14 albums in 2010 so far. Looking forward to the rest of the year, especially the new National album due in May.

    Second Thoughts

    I might be coming around on Animal Collective. At the very least, “What Do I Want? Sky” is one of my favorite songs as of late. Also, true confessions: I’ve lately been obsessed with Lady Gaga‘s “Bad Romance.”

    And apparently, that is the note on which this return of Take Five will end!

    Recipe for Weak Sauce

    I’ve been doing some blogger self-examination, and I’ve come to the conclusion that lately, I’ve been hawking some weak sauce. For future reference, I’ve compiled the recipe here. Appropriately, I’ve broken it out into 5 Fs…:

    • Faking it to make it. Sometimes, when you walk into the temple, it’s easy to get blinded by the idols and forget your own religion. Meaning, if you spend all day reading (and perhaps being intimidated by) the wisdom and insights of Chris Brogan and Christopher Penn, it might be easy to feel that you should be more like them. Not true. They’re them. You’re you. I’m me. And that’s all we can be. Speaking of that…
    • Forgetting your roots. At the beginning of the year, everyone was talking about their “three words” to which they would tie their goals and actions for the year. I feel like a blog should have three words, too. With what purpose did we set on this blogging course, and what are the stars that guide us? Lately, I feel like I’ve neglected some of the subjects that, when I started this blog nearly a year ago, made blogging really exciting for me. I realized, while strolling the Commonwealth Mall on Saturday, that it had been a long time since I had blogged about my own urban tourism. And while pecking away at The Project, I realized I hadn’t blogged through any of my thoughts or ideas on that topic in a while.
    • Forcing it. Per my earlier post about not publishing just because the shiny blue button lets you, only a well thought out post should see the light of day. I’m usually pretty good at this — lots of drafts never make it to prime time, some after hours of hacking away reveal the seed of an idea just can’t quite become a flowering plant — but sometimes, the shiny blueness gets the best of me.
    • Falling in love with your own words. The toughest thing about being a blogger is being your own editor. At first blush, we adore our ideas and fawn over our wordcraft. But independent bloggers have a responsibility to police and challenge themselves. Sometimes, that’s like ratting on your spouse.  When it comes to writing, though, true love is tough love.
    • Flying blind. One of the great things about blogging is the potential for spontaneous pontification or response. But that doesn’t replace the need to have a plan in place. Call it an editorial calendar, call it a half-dozen drafts in WordPress, whatever works for you. But at least having the general framework of a schedule and a structure around your blogging can help alleviate the anxiety sometimes causes by the blank editing pane or the increasingly distant date of your last post.

    I don’t lay this all out by way of a giant mea culpa or as a self-flagellatory exercise. But as I was thinking through how I might improve my blogging, I thought others might find these reminders helpful.

    What helps you keep your blog on track?

    Photo by Creative_Tools, Flickr/Creative Commons

    Green With Admiration

    On the bus yesterday, I saw this ad for the Celtics. Specifically, it was for their Twitter account. Yep.

    Lots of brands are blindly promoting their Twitter presences because they feel they should. But I think the Celtics are an example of an organization that has thought the whole process through quite well — not just their use of Twitter, but how they promote their presence there.

    There are a lot of things I like about this ad.

    • It’s simple. The most dominant visual element is the destination they want you to visit, @celtics. If you don’t know what “@celtics” implies, they repeat the same entreaty in more detail right below. No matter how savvy or not savvy you are, you can get it.
    • It speaks the language. By using “@celtics” and including the word “retweet” in a list of other Celtics Pride-type keywords like “replay” and “resilient,” they show that they grasp the vernacular, and it doesn’t come off in a hokey, “the kids and their Twitters” kind of way. It also implies that Twitter — or at least the viral, information-sharing aspects thereof — is woven into the fabric of Celtics (team and fan) characteristics.
    • It shows that they get the medium. The photo on the ad is a crowd shot. Even though stars like Paul Pierce are on Twitter, this isn’t about them. It’s not even about the team, really. It’s about the fans. It shows that they understand Twitter as an immersive, infectious medium, which I’ll touch on more in a second.

    So, the ad worked. It got me to follow @celtics. Sure, my days of NBA devotion are behind me (in middle school, I was a hardcore Miami Heat fan, listening along to games on AM radio), and I am just a casual supporter of the Green. But this ad intrigued me to the point that I pulled out my Blackberry and joined more than 30,000 other followers.

    At first glance, here’s what I like about how the Celtics are using Twitter

    • They get the medium, using Twitter for in-game promotions like upgrades to courtside seats. They know that people are having multidimensional experiences, watching the game while using their phones to read #celtics chatter or tweet about the game. I think that concept is difficult for some people to grasp, so the fact that the Celtics embrace it stands out to me.
    • It’s rewarding. With in-game contests, updated information like player game status or postgame quotes, there is a value-add for followers compared to what they get from other Celtics resources.
    • It’s conversational but not overly casual. The tweets are friendly and don’t sound like ad copy, but it doesn’t come off too informally. It’s authoritative without being authoritarian.
    • They push to web, driving people to video, postgame updates, player chats and more on Celtics.com. They understand that no matter where your social outposts are, it all comes back to the web.

    If you think about it, a basketball game is already an immersive experience. You’ve got the game on the floor, your interaction with your own friends, your experience in the crowd, the scoreboard, the music… a lot is going on. The Celtics seem to see Twitter as just one more layer to that experience — as well as a way to tie those different elements together. Good on them. And go Green.

    A Bargain-Bin MoMA: Content Curation on a Budget (Presentation for Ignite Boston 7)

    Right now, as this post is publishing, I am getting ready to give my first real presentation at Ignite Boston 7. Hopefully, all is well and paramedics have not been summoned to the Microsoft NERD.

    I’ve set up this blog post as a repository for the presentation, related links and photo credits. So even if you are not at Ignite Boston 7, I hope you find these materials useful.

    EDIT – Video now available:

    Related links:

    Commentary

    Seggr Report on Digital Curation

    A List Apart: Content Strategist as Digital Curator

    YouTube Blog: Key to Curation is Curiosity

    Read Write Web: Baratunde Thurston on Parsing Content, Real-Time Search and “Analytics Porn”

    Publish2: Social Journalism: Curate the Real-Time Web

    Scoble: The New Billion Dollar Opportunity: Real-Time Web Curation

    NYTimes.com Bits Blog: Curating the Best of the Web: Video

    Magnify.net: What Is Curation?

    Business Insider: Can Curation Save Media?

    Chris Brogan: Grow Bigger Ears in 10 Minutes

    Content-Ment: Curation vs. Aggregation

    Poynter Online: Next Trends from ONA

    Examples

    Jumble

    The Wooster Collective

    Mixx.com

    Crib Candy

    Vidque

    Brainpickings.org

    Twitter Times

    NYTimes.com chile-earthquake Twitter list

    Chris Brogan’s shared items on Google Reader

    Amy Gahran’s Delicious feed

    Grist on Publish2

    WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) Viewer Voices (YouTube Direct)

    I Can Has Cheezburger

    My Parents Were Awesome

    Austin Heat Posterous

    Passive-Aggressive Notes

    Blog” of “Unnecessary” Quotation Marks

    talk370z.com

    Smashing Telly

    YouTube and curators

    PopURLs

    IBM’s A Smarter Planet

    Photo credits:

    All photos from Flickr/Creative Commons

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/mister-e/2247141772/ – Elephant

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/metalcowboy/1326505963/ – Firehose

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/cambodia4kidsorg/260004685/ – Tags

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/djdroga/4123356555/ – Museum

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/hurleyfamily/221524933/ – Sifting for gold

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/bennyseidelman/4249682142/ – Bookmark

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/ficken/2123505096/ – Handprints

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/jessicafm/77286332/ – Wrapping up

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/ndevil/3616547019/ – Stopwatch