• Boyoyo Boys, "Back in Town" (Greatest Song of All Time of the Day)

    Everyone from Malcolm McLaren to Paul Simon heard something in South Africa's Boyoyo Boys that they wanted to appropriate. Their '80s records are lively and surprising, both original and emblematic of their time. You can hear where whole chunks of popular American music, from Graceland to Vampire Weekend, were born and raised. After listening to "Back in Town," you'd have broken a UN boycott to work with them, too.

  • Sex, technology, and diabetes

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    "A $6,000 insulin pump with an on-board computer chip is not alluring. Neither is the white mesh adhesive patch on my naked abdomen or the length of nylon tubing that connects the patch to the pump. There is only illness, and there is no way to make that sexy. After several years as a medical device wearer, I know."

    Those are the opening sentences of "Tethered to the Body," an essay the writer and teacher Jane Kokernak wrote about her adjustment to wearing an insulin pump and its affect on her sense of sexual self. It connects disability and sexuality in novel and moving ways (it also introduced me to the term "disability erotica"). The essay, which originally appeared in Bellevue Literary Review, has been reprinted in A Sweet Life, a site for the "healthy diabetic." The story is close to me for many reasons. I'm diabetic, too, although I am not insulin-dependent, and, more important, Jane is my wife, so the sex she's talking about in the essay is with, well, me. You may wish to consider my recommendation with that in mind, but I guarantee you that this will be the only piece you ever read in which the two tags are "Insulin Pump" and "Sex."

  • Amy Rigby, "Balls" (Greatest Song of All Time of the Day)

    When she's not dropping everything to catch up on Twin Peaks, transatlantic troubadour Amy Rigby sings, writes, and performs some of the funniest and some of the most heartbreaking songs you've ever heard. Sometimes she does both in the same number. "Balls" is an all-out rock'n'roll barnburner that captures the frustration and excitement of desire with anger and several great punch lines. It's nasty, it's welcoming. It's as confusing and wonderful and awful as your life. Did I mention the slide guitar? Did I mention how Amy tosses off the aside "this one's gonna hurt"? Did I mention it's on two great albums: The Sugar Tree (along with "Rode Hard," another greatest song of all time of the week candidate and perhaps the most convincing argument for bad behavior on disc this side of "Dead Flowers") and 18 Again (a terrific greatest hits record, but all her records are greatest hits records)?

    WARNING: The YouTube clip below, however worthy, is not the version I've just raved about. It's a live solo acoustic version, the only take available on the Interwebs. Rigby's song is great in any context, but you've got to see and hear her as a bandleader to get the full sense of how brilliant she is. Anyone out there got any full-band footage to share? The rest of you: invest 99 cents and buy the song at your favorite online outlet. It'll be the smartest and longest-lasting buck you spend today (do you really need another cup of coffee)?

  • Did Charley Patton play that way?

    copyright Blues ImagesOver the past seven years, I've had the outlandishly talented country blues singer and guitarist Charley Patton looking over me. (Don't know Charley Patton? Hear him here and then buy what may be the greatest CD box set ever.) For many years, a photo of Patton was as hard to come by as a pic of Robert Johnson, and — as with Johnson — the legitimacy of the image has been challenged. For our purposes today, let's assume that this is Patton.

    I draw your attention to his left hand, how it is posed over the frets like crab legs. Patton's style has always felt a bit eccentric compared to other country blues purveyors, and I wonder whether he might have fingered the frets in an unusual way, too. Now I know there are plenty of other guitarists from the 1920s and 1930s who have posed in similar ways, but I wonder: does this photo reveal something about Patton's style. I know there are a lot of guitarists here (hey, the guy who let me in here builds 'em), so I'm eager to hear any theories, no matter how dubious. And to learn more about the fellow in the photograph, see R. Crumb's comix history of Patton.

    (The Patton pic above belongs to Blues Images.)

  • Nina Simone, "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" (Greatest Song of All Time of the Day)

    In the 60s, Columbia ran a "Nobody Sings Dylan Like Dylan" advertising campaign. It's absolutely true that Bob Dylan's unprecedented voice is the ideal way to deliver his unmatchable compositions, but it's also true that the guy is one of greatest songwriters we'll ever hear, so it's no surprise that a long list of top voices have wanted to wrap themselves in his words and music. For example, everyone from Neil Young to Bryan Ferry have performed ace interpretations of Dylan's "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues," which I present here in Nina Simone's version. I recognize that Simone's RCA years aren't among her best, in part because she performed too many songs intended to ingratiate her with a young audience and this recording was probably part of that attempt. But this slowed-down take brings the original new places, most of them both luxurious and unsettling.

    I couldn't find a clip of Simone singing this song, but Jesse Dylan did locate a weird mashup on YouTube: Simone's performance as the soundtrack for clips from an unfinished Marilyn Monroe movie. (It's very mildly NSFW.) "Somehow it works," Jesse notes.

  • Free download returns: Tribute to The Clash's Sandinista!

    sandinistaprojectcoverlores.jpgA few years ago, I produced The Sandinista Project, in which 36 performers each covered one song from The Clash's Sandinista! It was a fun and crazy project. Last summer, on Joe Strummer's birthday, as reported by Mark, I made the record free for a day. The free download was a great success although what I learned from the experiment was more mixed.

    I've been having a wonderful time here during my guestblogging residency and I'd like to say "thank you" by making the record free again, for a limited time. Instead of making it free for one day, which slowed the hamsters running the guterman.com servers to a crawl because everyone downloaded at once, I'm going to make the record, along with digital images of the packaging, available until midnight U.S. eastern time on Sunday night, so you'll have plenty of time to download this before it goes away.

    The Sandinista Project, once again free for a limited time

  • Design thinking tips from the masters

    Photo: (c) Austin Kleon (Flickr/Creative Commons)As Mark noted in his post introducing me, I'm winding down a stint as executive editor of MIT Sloan Management Review. One of my greatest pleasures during that assignment was developing a special report on design thinking. Most of what gets published about design thinking focuses on getting analytical types to think more creatively. Usually there are a bunch of examples from Apple and IDEO, leaving CEOs and CFOs more confident about arguing over which shade of mauve to use as the background on a web page. Instead of taking that approach, we wanted to deliver some more practical and global lessons. Thanks to my fellow editor Sean Brown, two of my favorite elements of that special report, usually locked behind a paywall, are now available to all.

    In How to Become a Better Manager … By Thinking Like a Designer, I talk to two of the smartest people on the planet when it comes to presentations, Nancy Duarte and Garr Reynolds, and we talk about how to influence and persuade in different ways than executive usually do, regardless of whether you ever have to communicate via PowerPoint.

    In How Facts Change Everything (If You Let Them), I sit at the feet of the information design giant Edward R. Tufte. He explains how businesses would think better, make better decisions, and present themselves more powerfully if only they would learn to talk — both internally and externally — in facts. (Late-breaking Tufte news: he has just been appointed to the Recovery Independent Advisory Panel. In other words, someone whose whole career has been about promoting accountability and transparency will now be able to do so in the context of public service. We're lucky to have him.)

    I hope you enjoy these newly freed articles. And I hope you learn something from listening to Duarte, Reynolds, and Tufte. I know I did.

  • Ida Maria, "Oh My God" (Greatest Song of All Time of the Day)

    Regular visitors to my blog are likely sick of my outsize enthusiasm for the songwriter, singer, and guitarist Ida Maria; now it's time for you to suffer. I've written about the excitement of discovering her debut album, trying to get my then-12-year-old daughter into a 21+ club to see her (I received some hilarious help from the Internets on this front), succeeding at getting said daughter into a show, and my sadness at Maria's apparent genuine breakdown onstage one night. If you haven't heard Ida Maria, start here. "Oh My God" is ferocious in every way a great rock'n'roll song can be ferocious, climaxing with a scream as frightening as Johnny Rotten's and as powerful as Roger Daltrey's. There are few better ways to start the week.

  • Lawrence Lessig scares a room of liberals

    I should say upfront that I'm a big fan of Lawrence Lessig's causes and his presentation techniques. My favorite might be his 2007 tour de force at TED about John Philips Sousa, Jesus singing "I Will Survive," and the joys and dangers of remix culture. A few days back he spoke at TEDxNYED about what conservatives can teach the free culture movement. I may be getting into trouble recommend a talk about conservatives here — some of the email I received last week suggests that a good percentage of the readers here might find a Kucinich-Sanders ticket to be hopelessly middle of the road — but this talk is classic Lessig, from its "I Was a Teenage Republican" opening to his real-time Wikipedia fix, to a reminder that Republican Walt Disney (the guy, not the company) was something of a remixer. There's plenty to argue about here and he presents in black and white some issues that are full of grays, but chances are you won't spend 20 minutes today with a smarter person. It's worth watching and thinking about even if, like me, you agree with only part of it.

  • Magazine marketers give up on marketing magazines

    newfortune1.pngI fly a lot less than I used to (and I never flew that often), so I was surprised when I received this piece of mail that seemed to be about frequent flyer miles expiring. It was either open the junk mail or keep cleaning the kitchen, so clearly I had to open the junk mail right away. I was surprised to learn that the direct mail had hardly anything to do with frequent flyer miles; it was a solicitation to restart my subscription to FORTUNE.

    newfortune2.pngThis is how bad it's gotten for at least one prominent print publication: It has to masquerade as something other than what it is to entice customers to open an envelope. Time Inc., the newly AOL-free owner of FORTUNE, has a history of misleading marketing offers (example 1, example 2, example 3, example 4, example 5), but this particular maneuver feels like desperation. It's as if the marketers realize that their best chance to get readers to return to their product is to trick them. The marketing says, "Yeah, we're doomed."

  • Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs, "Wooly Bully" (Greatest Song of All Time of the Day)

    The back cover of the glorious compilation Best of Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs, which I am unable to locate online, portrays four strangely attired people running around a tree. They don't seem to know why they are doing this, but they are enjoying themselves immensely, and seem committed to continuing the action until they fall down. This is an ideal image for understanding the band.

    Sam the Sham, whose real name is Domingo Samudio, is a Dallas-born crazy (last we heard he was a street preacher and motivational speaker working out of Memphis) who loved raunchy, laconic rock and roll of the most giddily mindless variety, and his sidemen–Ray Stinnet, David Martin, Jerry Patterson, and Butch Gibson–were consistently able to carry him to a demented part of frat-rock heaven. They recorded briefly for something called Dingo Records and then moved to MGM.

    Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs are best known for their pair of Number Two smashes, "Wooly Bully," a masterwork of indecipherability that made "Louie Louie" sound like an enunciation class, and "Li'l Red Riding Hood," a hormone-laced fairy tale with a happy ending. If you're guessing an enormous Kingsmen influence on these organ-heavy folks, you're right. Hits aside, the modest gifts of the band were surprisingly malleable, as showcased on charming, wacked-out cuts like "The Hair on My Chinny Chin Chin," "El Toro de Goro (The Peace Loving Bull)," and "(I'm in With) The Out Crowd." All these songs were defiantly insubstantial, and all held out deep meanings to those with the right bent.

    How much fun is this nonsense? Even a lipsynched (?) version of "Wooly Bully" will improve your day (embedded at the top of this post). More after the jump. (more…)

  • Ennio Morricone, "Once Upon a Time in the West" (Greatest Song of All Time of the Day)

    Out of silence, a lone, distorted electric guitar begins its cry. The air around its wriggling notes swelters. Barroom shutters flutter in the dry wind, a stagecoach zooms out of town so as to escape the imminent confrontation. When the dust clears, two worn men, twenty feet apart, stand frozen. They stare at each other, legs spread, right hands hovering near hips. A harmonica bounces off the guitar, and the tension rises. The street is desolate. First one and then the other reaches for his six-shooter. The guitar screeches. One man falls to the ground, dead.

    We've seen this sequence or something like it in hundreds of Westerns ranging from the taut High Noon to Elvis's misbegotten Charro. They all climax with the gunfight that the audience has been screaming for. In the best of them, these blasts release both the actors and the folks in the theater. Starting in the late sixties, Sergio Leone directed a series of smart, barbed Westerns that took on the form's conventions only to tweak them obliquely. Morricone's austere, troubled score is integral to Once Upon a Time in the West, Leone's greatest film; Leone edited and cut the film to this majestic music, rather than the traditional other way around. This theme to the movie doesn't include the electric guitar or the harmonica (you have to go deeper into the film for that), but its orchestra does suggest something majestic and terrifying at the same time.

  • Thomas Dolby and ETHEL: Music for the morning after


    photo via Flickr, http://www.flickr.com/photos/cyanocorax/4360021697/, by cyanocorax
    Face it, music friends: plenty of times you come home from a club or theater convinced you've seen an amazing performance. The morning after, as evidence of the concert leaks onto the Interwebs, you are disappointed to learn that what you see and hear doesn't match what you experienced in the moment. It doesn't mean the moment was any less transcendent; it just means that the transcendence didn't last. That makes it even more welcome that rare time when the morning after is as great as the night before.

    People go to TED for many reasons: the quality of the content, the quality of the networking, the ability to say "I went to TED." (Mark has written about some of this year's standouts, among them talks by Bill Gates and Temple Grandin.) I go, in part, for the music. For many years, Thomas Dolby has been the conference's music director, booking an eclectic, surprising, yet entirely appropriate cast and also leading a house band (a new one every year) to kick off each of the conference's dozen or so sessions. This year Dolby chose the rogue string quartet ETHEL as his accompanists, and they were standouts through the event, playing a wide variety of covers (including Led Zeppelin, New Order, Tracy Chapman, and The Verve), backing other performers (David Byrne, Andrew Bird, Jake Shimabukuro), and showing up in at least one club and one hotel lobby for semiplanned jams.

    I've already written about what ETHEL's performances at TED made me feel and think about but today I got to experience the performances again, because today TED made unedited videos of last month's event available to people who attended. Turns out it wasn't just being there that made Dolby and ETHEL sound so stirring: they still sound fantastic. I know these are raw recordings, but they sound clear through my computer's speakers, perhaps because I'm not as surprised by their repertoire. But because the performances are clearer sonically, I get to hear wrinkles I missed in the big hall, so I guess I still am surprised. Under normal circumstances I'd expect people to laugh at me if I told them that the best hard rock and synthpop band I heard this year was a string quartet, but it's the truth. Now I have proof. I hope the whole world gets to see and hear how great Thomas Dolby and ETHEL are as soon as possible.

    (photo by cyanocorax)

  • Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, "The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel" (Greatest Song of All Time of the Day)

    As digital sampling becomes more and more pervasive as a recording technique, the belief that anything is possible in a studio nowadays is also on the rise. But in 1981 "The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash and the Wheels of Steel" took the cut-and-paste-sound approach used covertly on many records today (when they're not abusing Auto-Tune) and the scavenging of other songs as its very subject. The number asks: How smart can you steal? How slick can you mix? This technical apex of one of rap's leading disc-spinners is tremendously influential; many of today's dance-music and rock productions are unimaginable without it. Flash started as a South Bronx dance-hall disc jockey whose trademark was taking his favorite rock and rap songs and repeating their hottest elements for heightened effect. Although credited to the full vocal group he supported, "Wheels of Steel" was a solo shot by Flash designed to show off the wizardry that knocked 'em out live. After a stuttering intro, Flash lets Blondie's "Rapture," Chic's "Good Times," and Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust," as well as snippets from earlier Flash/Five singles glide in and slam out of the unwavering beat. These songs of different tempos all fit without being forced. Spoken sections, boasts, and song apexes are finely woven into an amazingly seamless whole. Before the serrated-edged righteousness of "The Message" and "White Lines (Don't Don't Do It)" turned attention to rapper and writer Melle Mel, the group was a showcase for Flash. This is why.

  • The physics behind flying sharks who can destroy airplanes

    First, we take it for granted that, with the possible exceptions of Chinatown, Top Hat, and the upcoming A-Team movie (see David's preview) Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus is the greatest movie of all time. I've written about it in Brief notes on taste and entertainment: A shark, an octopus, Celine Dion, and Batman.

    Second, we consider the greatest scene ever in the greatest movie of all time. Yes, you've seen it already and don't forget that the key line of dialogue is NSFW, but it's worth another 68 seconds of your time:

    Third, we need to be scientists about this. Could a shark (a) grow large enough to destroy a plane, and (b) generate enough power to fly in the air and reach that plane? Fortunately, the Interweb has someone who can explain all that for us. The greatest infographic of all time, one that both Edward Tufte and Nancy Duarte would have killed to create, is after the jump. You're welcome. (more…)

  • Jorge Ben, "Ponta de Lança Africano (Umbabarauma)" (Greatest Song of All Time of the Day)

    There's Brazilian music, there's African music, and then there's the occasional genius who can fuse the two. Rio's Jorge Ben, who came to prominence during the Tropicalia era, mixes samba, rock, and pretty much any West African rhythm you can think of. "Umbabarauma," from his 1976 album Africa Brasil, might have the wildest and most propulsive rhythm guitar intro anyone has ever heard. And then it gets wilder and more propulsive. Turn it up!

    "Ponta de Lança Africano (Umbabarauma)" enjoyed a second life a decade later among rock listeners when David Byrne used it to kick off Beleza Tropical, the first of his top-notch Brazilian compilations, which inspired this video remix:

  • "Ten Dollar Cover," an excerpt from a novel-in-progress/disarray


    photo via Flickr, http://www.flickr.com/photos/dehub/101850477/, by dehub
    Some (OK, two) of my friends have written me to suggest that, since I mentioned in my intro guestblogging post that I'm working on a novel, I should include some small pieces of that novel-in-progress/disarray here. I'm a bit nervous about this, but OK. The Rock Star Next Door (working title) is a sometimes comic novel about the pop music industry, this passage is pretty much all description with only the faintest tip to the plot, and I'll start the 1,300-word excerpt after the jump so those merely cruising the Boing Boing front page don't have to deal with fiction if you don't want to. (more…)

  • Meat: The Magazine

    I love magazines, and not just because I've spent about half of my career working for 'em. I love what magazines can do: the mix of text and graphics, the portability, the serendipity, the deep dives. I've worked mostly online since 1994 so I certainly welcome our new digital publishing overlords, but there are some things a print magazine does very well, even better than digital, just as the physical pleasure of devouring an LP or CD package is different from, sometimes superior to, clicking on an MP3 file in iTunes.


    meatpaper.jpg
    Magazines can surprise you. Even at this late age, there are so many magazines that there is one about pretty much anything. Hence Meatpaper, which Boing Boing has sort-of covered twice before (in the comments of 1 and 2). Meatpaper identifies itself as "your journal of meat culture" and it sure is. How did the meatiest country in the world develop a taste for soy? Did you want to know how meat figures in punk or soul music? Is rabbit farming sustainable? Where can you find a good brain sandwich? The answers are all in the most recent issue, given weight and context by vivid images that tell stories of their own and complement the ones the texts tell. I never wanted to read a magazine about meat, but my life is enriched because I did.

    How do I know about Meatpaper? Because I subscribe to Stack America, a superb curational service that selects independent magazines and sends 'em out every other month. (It's the stateside offshoot of a service that started in the U.K.) At a time when some aging mainstream print magazines are trying to convince readers that dead trees are still a commercial endeavor (wishful thinking), it's reassuring to come across an outfit that realizes that print magazines aren't just useful. They're cool. They're art. As noted on the Stack America blog, they're "independent, creative media at its finest."

  • Lagos Disco Inferno!

    Mark has written previously about DJ Frank Gossner's amazing podcast of 1970s West African pop music. That podcast is currently on hiatus, but Frank is keeping busy. In two weeks he'll be releaseing Lagos Disco Inferno, 12 rare and wild examples of the sound of Lagos in the late 1970s. As Dean Disi (formerly director of Lagos label TYC Records) writes in the liner notes for the album:

    "Lagos by the 1970s was a huge metropolitan city. Due to the oil boom, there was money to be made with music and nightlife and big international record labels like EMI, Decca and Philips had set up their recording studios that for a big part got equipped with vintage hardware handed down from their European franchises… EMI's house producer Emmanuel Odenusi had worked with Fela for many years, defining the sound of Afrobeat. Kayode Salami who produced another couple of tracks on this album also was responsible for the incredible sound of the famous debut LP by Psych-Rock group Ofege. Lagos, a uniquely vibrant, gritty, energetic and sometimes quite dangerous tropical metropolis has always been much more than just a city. A state of mind where third world poverty met the oil boom, where African traditions clashed with Western decadence. Make no mistake, this stuff will have you dance in a feverish rush in no time.

    Enjoy a taste of Lagos Disco Inferno.